Travel

Skip Rome and Florence: These Are the Best Italian Adventures to Take Right Now

Someone's gotta take in all the ancient fortresses and temples.

Lucky Team Studio/Shutterstock
Lucky Team Studio/Shutterstock
Lucky Team Studio/Shutterstock

There’s something about crawling into the bowels of Italy-way beyond well-trodden Florence and poor, overwhelmed Venice-that makes you feel like Indiana Jones. Whether you’re in a Holy Inquisition prison, a treasure-filled WWII bunker, pagan temples next to mud baths, or even near the oozing lava of volcanoes, the country’s more underground sightseeing will have you reaching for a flashlight, brown fedora hat, and ripped-open khaki shirt.

Despite the goosebumps and maybe just a tinge of claustrophobia, you can combine these already fascinating excursions with adrenaline-filled paragliding, jet skiing, scuba diving, and cross-country cycling. And, fine, there may be a gentle sheep or two along the way.

We love bucket list destinations like Florence as much as the next guy. But when you’re ready to go beyond the tourist hubs, you can prove that not all roads lead to Rome with these unique adventures in Italy.

imageBROKER/Rolf Fischer/Getty Images
imageBROKER/Rolf Fischer/Getty Images
imageBROKER/Rolf Fischer/Getty Images

Shear sheep in Tuscany

Italians go wild for agriturismi, which are farms turned into restaurants and B&Bs just screaming with rural vibe survives-and often also animals. Don’t be surprised if you see geese, rabbits, goats, and hens running freely in courtyards.

Tuscany in particular is the heaven of agriturismi, where several farmers turned hoteliers keep small herds of sheep so guest can learn how to make cheese-and also how to shear the animals. With the help of shepherd-tutors, you’ll learn the secrets of cutting off fluffy, woolen fleece from a cute baa-ing animal. It’s quite an idyllic, archaic throwback.

hobo_018/E+/Getty Images
hobo_018/E+/Getty Images
hobo_018/E+/Getty Images

Climb the Etna volcano

Mount Etna in Sicily is Europe’s biggest volcano-and the most active. There are frequent eruptions that draw even the most amateur of volcano lovers from across the world to admire the natural fireworks and the so-called ‘sciare’ red lava flows that scorch the mountain slopes and leave deep burn scars.

You’ll need an expert guide and at least some level of fitness for a long hike of about two to five hours. Prepare for a stunning scene of jet-black volcanic rocks dotted with bright flowers and heaps of ashes lined up along roads.

astasiaodor/500px/Getty Images
astasiaodor/500px/Getty Images
astasiaodor/500px/Getty Images

Scuba dive in the Tremiti Islands

Myth has it that Greek warrior Diomedes threw a handful of stones into the sea that turned into the pristine Tremiti archipelago. Hopefully, for that reason, this scuba diving mecca has tuna fish the size of sharks.

There are a handful of diving centers to choose from. The toughest, most thrilling dive of all, the Devil’s Eyes, requires good buoyancy: it’ll take you through two underwater caves with holes and pointed edges that resemble a demonic face.

spooh/E+/Getty Images
spooh/E+/Getty Images
spooh/E+/Getty Images

Sleep in a ghost town while biking across rural Sicily

There’s no better way to explore rural Sicily than by bike, cutting through sleepy villages, rolling green hills, and wheat fields. A country route stretches from coast to coast, from Trapani to Catania.

Along the way, cyclists can sleep in farms and B&Bs located in bucolic semi-abandoned hamlets. You’ll also find shops to fix wheels or buy whatever you may need along the way. Top highlights include Marsala’s pink-reddish salt pans, Sambuca’s Orange Lake surrounded by vineyards, and the ghost hamlet of Ghibellina.

BAHDANOVICH ALENA/Shutterstock
BAHDANOVICH ALENA/Shutterstock
BAHDANOVICH ALENA/Shutterstock

Take a ride to the mud baths on the coast of Naples

You could easily spend an entire day roaming the old districts of Naples, the buzzing Spaccanapoli road that cuts through the city, and then on to the coast to explore the volcanic Phlegrean Fields and admire the view of Capri, Ischia, and Procida islands. In the town of Pozzuoli, you’ll find a bubbly mud bath with oozing vapors and pagan temples covered in fossils.

The best way to get around Naples is via taxi; and if you’re lucky, you may come across one of many drivers who not only knows all the hidden spots but also all the storytelling that goes with it. You might hear the mythological tales of how Odysseus descended into the Underworld right below your feet and then get one of the best ricotta-filled sfogliatella pastries you’ll ever have at Attanasio pastry shop.

Jet-ski on the Tiber River

Just outside Rome’s city walls, the Tiber River flows through pristine fields and ancient Roman settlements. Locals may be out here lunching on the banks-but while the people watching may be tempting, there’s another, more unusual twist you could opt for on your Roman holiday.

The clear, calm waters are perfect for anyone trying out jet-skiing for the first time, pulled along by a tiny motorboat. You can also opt for wakeboard and fly board lessons inside two natural ponds filled with river water. Be on the lookout for otters along the way.

Mitch Diamond/Photodisc/Getty Images
Mitch Diamond/Photodisc/Getty Images
Mitch Diamond/Photodisc/Getty Images

Go underground in Umbria

In the Umbrian town of Narni, you can descend inside a secret garden right into underground prisons where the Holy Inquisition tortured so-called heretics. Cells are covered in old writing, and there’s a torture room with the skeleton of a burnt witch. Nearby, there are guided tours inside a dark ancient Roman aqueduct wide enough for just one person, where you need to walk bent over wearing a torch mounted helmet.

canadastock/Shutterstock
canadastock/Shutterstock
canadastock/Shutterstock

Paraglide over a bunker in Latium

Imagine jumping off the cliff of the mystical Mount Soratte, where medieval hermits once took refuge, to paraglide over a World War II bunker where it’s said the Nazis hid stolen treasures. Turns out flying in the sky with Avventura Soratte is one way to take in some history. From up in the air, you might also spot wild boars.

Within the Soratte Bunker lies a maze of tunnels frescoed by soldiers, while chapels, rock altars, and purple rocks dot the hills and old trails cut through a dense forest. At the top is a panoramic sanctuary of Saint Sylvester, a location cited by Dante in The Divine Comedy.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Silvia Marchetti is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Find Volcanoes, Wine Islands, and Thrills in Auckland

One minute you're on a ferry to wine island, the next you could be bungy jumping off of New Zealand's tallest tower.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

The city of Auckland is a free spirit. It is easily the most geographically blessed city in New Zealand. Within an hour, you could be tasting wines on an island, chasing more than 50 volcanoes, or leaving footprints on a black sand beach. Keep in mind, that Auckland is the country’s most populous city but certainly doesn’t feel cramped.

Instead, the city is buzzing with trendy eateries, boutique shops, quiet streets, and expansive green parks. Around every corner, you’re never too far from something beautiful to see.

From world-class wines to kickass thrills, here’s where to find what you’re looking for in Auckland.

things to do auckland

Seek the thrills

If you thought Queenstown was the home of the adrenaline rush, wait until you see Auckland. In the middle of the city, you can jump off a sky tower or a bridge, zip through the jungle, and scream on a high-octane jet boat ride. The Sky Tower, which can be seen from every corner of Auckland is more than just a landmark. Take a ride to the top and sign up for a Skywalk, where you can wander around the platform, which just so happens to be 192 metres above the ground. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you can always jump off it. It’s New Zealand’s highest jump, and can only be described as just like being a movie stuntman, or a superhero. 

The other iconic place to jump off of is the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Unlike the Sky Jump, this one will have thrill seekers dipping their hands and head in the ocean. It’s a 40-metre Bungy, and a great experience. Although, if you’d rather still take advantage of the bridge views, book a climb, which takes you right to the top for sweeping views of the city.

Another way to take in the city is via Auckland Adventure Jet, which takes passengers for spins and tricks on the water.

Just a 35-minute boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island, where thrill-seekers will find Eco Zip Adventures. Across three separate lines, you will zip high above a working vineyard and lush, ancient forest canopies, soaking up incredible views back to the city and beyond.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Sip wine on Waiheke Island

Whether you want to spend a weekend or a day, Waiheke Island is a must-visit. It’s around a 35-minute ferry ride to the island from Auckland, and once there you can hop from winery to winery. The island is quite large and the terrain is rugged, so trust the experts and book a tour with Ananda Tours. The small, family-run business is owned by Jenny who has been on the island since before the vines were planted and she’s the best person to seek out when getting the Waiheke Island experience. You can book a private tour or group tour, and they can be catered to your preferences and tastes. A few standout stops include Kennedy Point, where they produce fully certified organic Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay wines. You can also state estate-grown olive oils, which the island has plenty of. Enjoy a tasting on the deck with views of Kennedy Bay, or enjoy a picnic under the olive grove.

For the best views on the island, head to Batch Vineyard. As the highest vineyard on Waiheke, you will be treated to panoramic views of the rolling hills, blue waters, and even Auckland city. Their sparkling wine, Blanc de Blancs is a must-try.

When it comes to lunch, there are two spots to choose from. The first is Stonyridge, which is also where you can taste premium award-winning wines, including a Cabernet blend Larose‚ÄĒNew Zealand’s cult wine. The second is Mudbrick, a romantic spot, set amongst beautiful gardens with even more spectacular views, and a bar and bistro serving up some of the best dishes on the island.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Eat your way through the city

Auckland’s dining scene isn’t pretentious, but the food quality is good enough to rival the best restaurants in New York‚ÄĒbut the city doesn’t like to brag. Instead, it celebrates good food in every setting, from waterside restaurants to trendy Mexican eateries in a shopping centre.

Inca, is helmed by critically acclaimed chef, Nic Watt. Inspired by Watt’s travels to Peru, diners can expect to find Nikkei cuisine, including spicy chicken karaage, hand-pressed corn tacos filled with pork cheek and spicy tuna. You wouldn’t expect to find such a good restaurant in a shopping centre, but there it is.

Another great trendy restaurant is Hello Beasty, which is home to the famous, prawn and crab toast. This work of art starts with a slice of crispy deep-fried bread, smothered with prawn and crab mousse. On top, there are slices of wagyu, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce. Although, there are plenty of other great dishes on the menu, including a Sichuan tuna tartare, Korean fried cauliflower, and potstickers swimming in chilli oil. Try the yuzu mandarin soda if you’re looking for something fizzy to go with dinner or lunch.

Deli De Bossi is a recent opening and already becoming a favourite breakfast spot. Apart from coffee, you can get all kinds of toasted sandwiches, filled with everything from mushrooms to hams and salamis.

Another iconic eat-hit list is Parade in Ponsonby. Here, the burgers are served in a pretzel bun and filled with chicken or beef.

Most of these restaurants are casual, but if you’re looking for something a little fancy, book a table at Kingi. Taking cues from Sydney’s own Josh Niland, the dishes at Kingi focus on sustainable seafood, caught locally by local fishermen. The blue cod wings are a must. They’re covered in burnt lime and served with a ranch sauce for dipping. The stracciatella with feijoa is also a standout dish, that’s light and a great start to a meal. Inside, the dining room is cosy with bench seats, fire heaters, and exploded brick walls.

After dinner, walk down the street and grab dessert from Miann. The flavour of the day is always chocolate, and they serve up seriously good desserts. Try the tasting platter for a piece of each pastry on the menu of the day, or pick one that is most desirable to you. Although, the tasting platter is only $23 and you’d be missing out on tasting a little of everything they offer if you didn’t get it.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Discover art, culture, and movie magic

One of the best ways to learn about a city or country is by visiting its top museums and galleries. The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits atop a hill in Auckland’s Domain, which also happens to be the city’s oldest volcano. This museum is one of the most important as it tells the story of New Zealand’s natural and military history. Take a self-guided walking tour to explore at your own pace. There are plenty of interactive features for the kids and adults. The museum also hosts exhibitions. An ancient Greek exhibition is currently on display and is one of the largest exhibitions the British Museum has ever loaned to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Art lovers, spend a few hours wandering around the Auckland Art Gallery, Toi O TńĀmaki. You will find artworks from around the world, including a Picasso or two. Although, the exhibitions are a real treat. Yona Lee’s, An Arrangement of Five Rooms is an incredible installation, spanning multiple rooms, which you can sit on and touch‚ÄĒto immerse yourself in the artwork. Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, is another must-see exhibition exploring the most pressing issues of our times: climate change and resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice.

While art and history museums are insightful and a great way to educate a visitor, there are some other museum types that can be a lot of fun and interactive. Weta Workshop Unleashed is a new Auckland attraction and an incredible experience you don’t want to miss. Step into the world of filmmaking, explore how horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films are made and at times feel as if you’re in a movie. Comedic tour guides will introduce you to movies that are in production and explain every aspect, from prop making to effects, and more. There are even mysteries to be solved, making it fun for the whole family. It’s truly an unmissable experience in Auckland, and one of the best, unique tours you might ever experience.

things to do auckland
Photo: @sidwithlens

Walk on a volcano

Erupting over 100,000 years ago, Pukekawa is one of Auckland’s oldest and most popular volcanoes. Today, the Domain parkland is the remains of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of Pukekawa. Most days you will see people running around the park, families picnicking on the weekend, and tourists snapping photos by the pond or under a magnificent tree, grown from an experiment conducted by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society. Enter from one end, enjoy a picturesque walk, and exit through the historic Parnell shopping and restaurant area. On a sunny day, the atmosphere is charged with romance, but even in the rain, it’s a moody, beautiful sight to see. The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s large neo-Greek architecture is also a standout, commanding top-of-the-mountain views.

where to stay in auckland

Where to stay in Auckland

If you’re looking to sleep on top of the world, you can’t beat a room in Cordis Auckland’s new Pinnacle Tower. From the pillowy-cloud-like beds, guests have sweeping views of the city from the Sky Tower to Rangitoto and Mount Eden. Enjoy a breakfast buffet in the Eight restaurant downstairs, and canapes and drinks in the Cordis Club lounge on the 14th floor. There’s also a health club, spa, and swimming pool. The hotel is within walking distance to some of the best eateries in Auckland, making it a prime option.

Although, if you’re looking to stay in the heart of Britomart, Auckland’s hub of shopping, eating, and drinking, then The Hotel Britomart is where you want to be. From its exterior of hand-made bricks to its beautifully timber-lined rooms, The Hotel Britomart does detail like nobody else. Plus, the best of downtown waterfront Auckland is just outside your front door. With 5 Green Star Design and Build ratings from the NZ Green Building Council, The Hotel Britomart is the country‚Äôs ONLY 5 Green Star hotel, and has sustainability built in from the ground up.¬†

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