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Lago di Resia | © Sander van der Wel/Flickr
Lago di Resia | © Sander van der Wel/Flickr
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12 Surreal Places in Italy You Have to See to Believe

Picture of Livia Hengel
Updated: 21 August 2017
Possessing some of the world’s most beloved landscapes and steeped in artistic and cultural heritage, Italy is a must-visit location for any discerning traveler. And for those who seek more unusual and surreal attractions during their journeys? Italy has plenty of incredible sights that will take your breath away with their mystic, beauty and improbability.

Civita di Bagnoreggio

This picture-perfect town in northern Lazio is a veritable fairytale come to life. Perched atop a tufa rock hill in the Tiber River Valley, it was founded by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago but has been largely abandoned due to its friable terrain slowly eroding over the centuries, earning the town its nickname la città che muore, the dying city. The Civita is connected to the mainland by a footbridge and famously has less than 15 residents year round, though tourism is thriving thanks to its enchanting position and affable charm.

Civita di Bagnoreggio
Civita di Bagnoreggio | © Livia Hengel

Cinque Terre

Italy’s fabled Cinque Terre, or five villages, are one of the most iconic scenes in the country. These cliffside fishing towns are located in the country’s northwestern Liguria region and include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare: five places that each espouse their own unique histories and charm. Although they are each stunning in their own way, Vernazza is often touted as the loveliest town for its quaint and photogenic harbor.

Vernazza
Vernazza | © Livia Hengel

Reschensee

Situated in the Italian Alps, Reschensee is an artificial lake that is famous for the visible steeple of a 14th-century church that lies submerged in the lake. The lake was created 1950 when a dam was put in place by an electricity firm in order to generate seasonal electricity; a number of towns, including Graun and Reschen, were flooded in the process and the church steeple is all that remains. It can be reached on foot when the lake freezes over in the winter months.

Trulli

Puglia‘s conical trulli, reminiscent of hobbit homes set in a fantasy world, were constructed as dwellings and storehouses in the 19th century. The roof is constructed with limestone voussoirs, arranged in a tilted fashion so the structure remains waterproof, and then topped with a closing stone. Most trulli have one room beneath each roof and additional rooms in arched alcoves within the structure.

Trulli in Alberobello
Trulli in Alberobello | © Eduard Marmet/Flickr

Grotta delle Poesie

Grotta delle Poesie, or Cave of Poetry, is a stunning sinkhole located at the edge of the Adriatic sea in Puglia. According to legend, it was the favorite watering hole of an ancient princess and the sight of her swimming there inspired poets to write about her. Today, it is mainly used for cliff jumping and scuba diving thanks to its crystal clear water, underground caves and natural scenery.

Grotta delle Poesie
Grotta delle Poesie | © andresumida/Flickr

Matera

Once considered the shame of Italy, Matera is now one of Italy’s pride and glories. The ancient city is comprised of hundreds of ‘Sassi’, or stone dwellings, that date back to prehistoric troglodyte settlements. The homes were dug out of the calcareous rock and hollowed out to create sparse rooms for entire families to reside in. The evocative city has been used for filming numerous times due to its similarities to ancient Jerusalem, such as in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Scala dei Turchi

Scala dei Turchi, or ‘Stair of the Turks’, is a tiered rocky white cliff located in southern Sicily. Made up of soft limestone rock and white marl – a sedimentary rock – the stretch of coastline has withstood millennia of lapping ocean waves and salty breezes that have created natural terraces on the territory, giving the formation its name. It is also named for Turkish pirates who invaded Sicily numerous times over the centuries.

Castello di Sammezzano

Sammezzano, a stately palazzo located near Florence, was built at the beginning of the 17th century by a Spanish nobleman, Ximenes of Aragon. An extensive property with 365 rooms, it is notable for its Moorish Revival architectural style and Arabesque decorative details. The prismatic Peacock Room, featuring intricate patterns and colors, is one of the many highlights of the castle.

The Peacock Room in Castello di Sammezzano
The Peacock Room in Castello di Sammezzano | © Sailko/Wikicommons

Rocca Calascio

Rocca Calascio, a mountaintop fortress that dates back to the 10th century, resembles something you would see in Game of Thrones. Located in central Italy’s Appenine mountains, the fort was damaged during an earthquake in 1703 but this only adds to its mystique. The fort is incredibly dramatic, especially when set against Abruzzo’s snowy mountains in the background.

Rocca Calascio
Rocca Calascio | © Luigi Selmi/Flickr

Giardini di Ninfa

The landscaped Gardens of Ninfa will make you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a secret world with nymphs and fairies. Described as ‘the most romantic garden in the world’, it is an evocative oasis that includes was created in 1921 in the English garden style and features thousands of exotic plants and trees, medieval ruins perfectly integrated into the natural landscape, a crystalline river with water fresh enough to drink, an ancient stone bridge and more.

Giardini di Ninfa
Giardini di Ninfa | © Livia Hengel

Tempio del Valadier

Located inside the impressive Frasassi Caves, a karst cave system with stalactites and stalagmites, the Tempietto del Valadier is a Neoclassical temple tucked into a sanctuary-chapel. Built in 1828 by Italian architect Giuseppe Valadier, the temple echoes the Tempietto del Bramante he designed within the San Pietro in Montorio church on Rome’s Gianicolo Hill. The temple is intended as a pilgrimage site where sinners could seek forgiveness.

Tempio del Valadier
Tempio del Valadier | © Alicudi/Wikicommons

Blue Grotto, Campania

The entire island of Capri is a feast for the senses but its famous blue grotto is a truly mystical sight to behold. The vibrant blue hue that illuminates the cavern is caused by sunlight passing through a deep underwater cavity and shining back up through the water. The mouth of the sea cave is only a meter high so visitors can only enter the Blue Grotto with small boats when the tide is low enough to permit entry.

Blue Grotto
Blue Grotto | © Brad Coy/Flickr