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7 Unique and Unusual Travel Destinations in Italy

A look at some of the more quirky things to see and do in Italy.

Mike Grindle is a digital nomad and culture writer sharing insights from his travels

Italy is known for its many iconic locations. But while everyone has the leaning tower of Pisa and Rome’s Colosseum on their travel bucket list, there are also many offbeat and less well-known destinations for the more inquisitive traveler. So, if you’re looking for something a little more unique or unusual from your next trip to Italy, check out these seven attractions.

7 Unique and Unusual Places to Visit in Italy

1. The Sunken City of Baia in Napoli

2. The Gardens of Bomarzo in Northern Lazio

3. Valle Dei Mulini in Sorrento

4. The Tree Cathedral in Bergamo

5. The Pyramids Of Zone in Cislano

6. Libreria Acqua Alta Bookstore in Venice

7. Ötzi Peak Viewing Platform in South Tyrol

1. The Sunken City Of Baia in Napoli

Built over natural volcanic vents and famous for its hot springs and spas, Baia was once a popular resort city where the rich and powerful reveled in luxury. That is until a Muslim army sacked the town during the 8th century. After that, Baia never quite recovered, and by 1,500, people abandoned it altogether. And soon, the water that once drew people to the city rose and submerged the ruins the people had left behind.

Today, Baia continues to draw in people in a very different capacity. That being as one of the world’s few underwater archaeological parks. Not only can you view the remains of the once luxurious city from one of many glass-bottomed boat tours, but you can even scuba dive and swim among the ruins.

2. Gardens Of Bomarzo in Northern Lazio

Gardens may or may not be your thing, but don’t go expecting pretty hedgerows and ornate fountains if you visit the Gardens of Bomarzo. Instead, expect moss-covered stone monsters that are as bizarre as they are wonderful.

The gardens were built in the 16th Century by Pier Francesco ‘Vicino’ Orsini. Orsini was a military leader and patron of the arts, but no one knows what message Orsini was trying to convey with these sculptures. Some believe that the strange stone structures were inspired by classic literature. Others claim they were born out of personal tragedies in Orsini’s personal life. In any case, they remain captivating centuries later.

3. Valle Dei Mulini in Sorrento

Valle Dei Mulini is a deep mountain cleft caused by a volcanic eruption that occurred some 35,000 years ago and is an incredible sight in its own right. However, what makes this natural phenomenon particularly unusual is the weed-covered remains of the ancient mills situated within the gorge. These mills were once a major source for Italy’s booming food industry and were active until the 20th century. Eventually, the industries abandoned the site due to its difficult-to-reach location, but today it remains a popular location with hikers and sightseers.

4. The Tree Cathedral in Bergamo

Italy is known for its old churches and cathedrals. But at the base of Mount Arera in Bergamo, you’ll find a cathedral quite unlike any others—it’s not made of stone, but of saplings.

The Cattedrale Vegetale (“the plant cathedral”) is made entirely of trees. Its aisles, arches, and walls were created from a mix of carefully placed chestnuts, beeches, hazels, and firs. The frame of this ‘structure’ first took shape in 2010 to celebrate the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity, but today it remains an ever-evolving and must-see attraction.

5. Pyramids of Zone in Cislano

The Pyramids of Zone might not be as well known or grand as their Egyptian counterparts, but they do have the added intrigue of being a product of nature instead of being man-made. These pyramids, known as hoodoos or tent rocks, result from prolonged erosion, where layers of clays are washed away around the boulders sitting atop them. The result is a surreal and almost dreamlike landscape. Though be aware if you visit, the erosion is still happening, and caution should be taken when walking under the pyramids.

6. Libreria Acqua Alta Bookstore in Venice

Running a bookstore in a city where the waterways regularly flood the streets and shops is a daring endeavor. But the owners of Venice’s most famous bookshop, the aptly named Liberia Aqua, have found a way to keep their stocks safe and flourish despite the canal’s waters regularly frequenting the shop.

Instead of bookshelves, the owners of Liberia Aqua have taken to using all manner of buoyant containers, including bathtubs, canoes, waterproof bins, and even a gondola to store books. Add in a few stray cats, a fire escape that leads to the canals, and a vast collection of books, and you have one of the most whimsical stores you are ever likely to frequent.

7. Ötzi Peak Viewing Platform in South Tyrol

Close to the Austrian border in South Tyrol lies a part of the Alps known as the Schnals Valley Glacier Ride. And, should you reach the summit some 10,666 feet above sea level, you’ll find one of the most peculiar viewing platforms in the world.

Built from weathering steel, capable of withstanding the elements, the structure known as Ötzi Peak was carefully designed so it only touches the ground where necessary. As a result, those standing upon it will feel as if they are perched over the glacier. The result is some incredible sights awaiting those willing to master the hike.

© 2022 Mike Grindle

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