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Did you know the Colosseum is in Italy? Along with pizza, pasta and a leaning tower everyone calls Pisa? Of course you did. Six pages of Google will tell you as much.
We’re here to dig out the dimes in a big bunch of well-knowns. They might not be conventional, a few might raise an eyebrow or two, but we’re bored of the over-done, here are six things the tourists DON’T do in Italy.
Inside Pompeii: Not just a bag of rubble.
1. FICO Eataly World food theme park
*Okay, the tourists will very much do this, but it’s incrEDIBLE… edible, geddit?
If you consider gluttony a human right rather than a deadly sin, Italy’s latest theme park will satisfy both your stomach and your taste buds. Don’t expect roller coasters and whizzing tea cups at this food-athon; 20-acre Eataly World features food stalls, workshops, mini food factories, orchards, pastures and farmland.
Animals of every food source clomp and cluck around the arena, you can chat with both cheese-makers and bakers, dine at 3-Michelin starred food stalls, drink a hundred different gins, and attend a unique culinary class, from pasta making to beekeeping. You can also purchase an entire pantry of olive oil and cheese en route - popping it in one of the park’s 500 adult-sized tricycles, complete with shopping baskets and a miniature fridge for your perishables.
HOT tip: The park is open seven days a week, 10am – midnight and admission is free.
2. The secret cabinet of Roman erotica
Hard core Roman erotica would shock even the most open-minded of 21st century individuals, but not the Romans, they loved it.
The god Priapus was idolised for being an enormously well-endowed chap, his ginormous credentials were seen as both a good-luck symbol and a means to scare off thieves. Better than a dog they say. Therefore, sex-themed artworks embellished every Roman home and when the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were unearthed, many of the eye-watering artefacts were looted, including those that the Romans adored so much: stone penises and phallic wind chimes (for example).
Over time the ‘erotic’ collection became so infamous Francis I ordered the offending articles to be locked away in a secret cabinet, but this only increased their notoriety. Eventually, in 2000, the authorities opened the cabinet (let out the beasts so-to-speak) and created a public gallery for the deviant items to be admired.
HOT tip: As intriguing as they are, we can’t stress enough how graphic these objects are. Go and take a peek, but unless you want to answer many awkward questions, don’t take the kids. Find them at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
* Real imagery too hot to publish!
3. The closest thing to time travel
Don’t write Pompeii off as just another historic ruin, this is one of the best preserved relics in the world. Literally frozen in time, everything sits just as it did in 79AD when Mount Vesuvius blew its volcanic lid. Walk the same paved streets as the Romans did centuries prior, ducking into bath houses and Roman villas; from the murals to the heavily adorned floor tiles, Pompeii isn’t a stack of crumbling rubble, it’s life as it was hundreds of years ago.
Look hard enough and you’ll spot Roman graffiti scratched into the walls: Gladiator stickmen and the equivalent of “Umberto was here.” With dazzling Mount Vesuvius views in the background and plaster casts of her victims, step into Pompeii and you’ll step back in time.
HOT tip: You can now pick up a virtual 3D headset which will show you what Pompeii originally looked like - such is the genius of modern technology.
4. The sunken Roman city of Baia
In Roman times, the city of Baia was the biggest party town in the empire. Akin to Las Vegas today, the richest of Romans, including powerful Emperors such as Julius Caesar, would descend on the city for scandalous escapades. It was a rich man’s hangout where the chariots were fast and the women even faster. However, by 1500 the luxurious Roman city was submerged in water.
Fast forward six centuries and you now take a glass bottomed boat to see this spectacular archaeological park. Alternatively, slap on your flippers, don your gogs and go for a dive. From paved roads to lavish villas, brush away the gritty seabed and you'll reveal a city that vanished beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea. You could be treading in the same neighbourhood where Caesar once roamed, except now it’s an eerie abandoned aquarium.
HOT tip: Situated on the northwest shore of the Gulf of Naples, Baia archaeological park is 240km south of Rome and 80km north of Pompeii.
5. Michelangelo was a hoodlum and here’s the proof
There’s a piece of graffiti in Florence which was scrawled by one of the greatest art masters the world has ever seen. Michelangelo. Yes, the same man who painted the Sistine Chapel; the poster boy for all High Society Renaissance artwork, and yet here he is, vandalising walls like a common thug.
Take a walk towards Florence’s historic Palazzo Vecchio, and sitting discreetly amongst Tuscan stonework, on the side closest to the Uffizi Gallery, there’s the sketched profile of a man’s face. Etched crudely into the stonework. It is in fact, the handiwork of a listless Michelangelo. Some say he was simply bored, others say it was a dare. Either way, if you’re in Florence and don't have time to queue for an art gallery, slip down a side street and find a Mickey original in the wall.
HOT tip: Not sure what you’re looking for? Keep your peepers peeled for this:
6. Umbria: Step out of Tuscany’s shadow and into the spotlight
We like Tuscany. The whole world likes Tuscany. We bet you like Tuscany too. Which is why we’re going to talk about Umbria. Hardly anyone visits neighbouring Umbria. And they should!
Sitting rather grandly on the Colli hillside, the small medieval town of Montefalco is an Umbrian highlight. Not so much because its pretty churches and sleepy lanes all lead to a handsome piazza (this is Italy, all towns are pretty and agreeable), but because Montefalco is home to Sagrantino di Montefalco. A red wine made from a grape so unique to the Umbria region, it’s found virtually nowhere else in the world. Embark on the town’s official wine trail, the “Strada del Sagrantino” by following the purple signs guiding wine aficionados from one cellar door to the next. You’ll be a Sagrantino enthusiast by lunchtime.
HOT tip: Montefalco's indigenous grape dates as far back as 1549, and tastes excellent with a large plate of prosciutto ham.
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