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  • Southern Italy's Hidden Gems
    Discover secret attractions in the country's southern region - even in some of the places you've likely already been
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Summer is the time of year for vacations. Although the weakening dollar and rising cost of gas is making trips to Europe seem impossibly expensive, many Italian Americans are still returning to Italy. I can testify to this because my recent Eurofly flight to Naples, Italy was full to the brim. After all, many of those flying to Italy on that airline are like me - they have to pay for the costly plane ride but they save on accommodations by staying in their own Italian homes or with family and friends. If you're among those making the trek to Italy, here are some hidden gems of the south - some in the most obvious of places - that you might consider:

    The Mountains of Capri
    Americans are especially drawn to Capri, an island off the coast of Naples that is famous for its VIP tourists - from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Keanu Reeves. Most everyone on the island speaks English, and the tourists flock to hot spots such as the Blue Grotto and the pricey designer shops.

    To see Capri in a whole new light, hop aboard the island's ski lift-like swings and journey to the mountains. Along the way, you'll see the glorious gardens of the island natives, cows they have on hand for milk and food, some chickens, and a spectacular view of the entire island. If you're smart, you'll pack your own lunch - say Caprese salad stuffed between two hunks of crusty Italian bread and some vino or Coca-Cola - and you'll picnic when you get to the top of the mountain.

    Ischia's Buceto
    This island, which neighbors Capri in the Gulf of Naples, is still a hidden gem in and of itself with Americans. But it might not be that way for long. It seems to be gaining popularity and was recently featured in Life and Style magazine and mentioned in Elle.

    To get away from the growing crowds in my family's native Ischia, you can make like my papa' and hike to Buceto. Find a native in the Barano section of the island, get a map, and make the trek up hill. Bring empty bottles to fill with the fresh spring water you'll find, say hi to the German tourists with their walking sticks in hand, and don't mind the ghost of Nicola u' pazzo (Nicola the crazy one) who used to regularly climb the mountains and is somehow related to me - and just about anyone else who can trace his or her roots to Ischia. My only suggestions for those going to Buceto are to bring a buddy for company and in case you get lost. Also, wear long pants to protect you from the thickets of thorn patches you'll find up there.

    Benevento
    Many Italian Americans left this town about 40 minutes outside of Naples to become Americans and start a new life. Nowadays, however, there are "agriturismo" properties (think bed and breakfasts with a farm) popping up to offer tourists the chance to get up close and personal with ponies, goats, chickens, and even a turkey in some cases. You'll get to know the owners, who will cook and serve dinner to you - and stick around to chat. In the early summer, you'll be able to pick cherries right off the tree. However, I do think you should rent a car, so you can get into the town, walk around the piazza, pick up some gelato, and unwind.

    Alberobello
    Largely unknown to Americans, this town outside of Bari in Puglia is a magnificent stop for the many Baresi Americans and anyone who is in the neighborhood for a visit. The charming town is composed of trulli, cone-shaped houses and stores. A walk down the main street is like going to a whole other world with cobblestone paths and these white washed cone-domed homes and businesses. Besides the magnificent view of the rooftops, the shopping is great. I found the most beautiful bath towels and dining linens there. You can also check out handmade pottery and affordable, adorable miniature replicas of the trulli.

    Di Meglio is the guide to Newlyweds for About.com, where you'll find information on everything from setting a romantic table to choosing a perfect honeymoon destination. You can find more information on all things Italian at www.francescadimeglio.com.

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