JK's insider guide to Italy

By John Kirwan

Herald guest editor John Kirwan's guide to getting the best out of his old homeland.

Food is an important part of Italian life.
Food is an important part of Italian life.

I lived in Italy for 12 years, although I've been going there regularly since I was 20, and for me it's just the most incredible place with such a great lifestyle.

People often ask me if I'm a good tourist and to be honest I'm not. Most tourists go around and see the different museums, the churches and other interesting sights, but I just go straight for the menu.

When I arrive somewhere new the first thing I ask is "what's the best plate of food around here?" because every Italian place is famous for different delicacies and I love trying them all.

While places like Venice, Portofino and Napoli are the big names on most tourists' hit-lists, I'd like to tell you about a couple of satellite towns that are really close to the main spots but are less known. These are stunning little gems.

Fishing boats in Camogli.
Fishing boats in Camogli.

TREVISO

Everyone's got to go to Venice once in their lives, but what I'd recommend people do is stay nearby in Treviso or catch the train in for the day. Treviso is this beautiful town that offers everything you need. You eat really well, there are bars and restaurants galore and it's lovely without the incredible rip-off tourist prices.

It's a town with a moat around it so you can walk everywhere. You've got to go to the pescheria which is where they sell the fish and there's a place called Muscoli which is run by two mates of mine who sell little tapas.

There's also the best fresh fruit stall in town belonging to a mate of mine called Lele and all around that area is just great dining. Behind the centre there's a place called Le Beccherie which is famous for being the place where tiramisu was invented.

Carlo's great- great-grandmother created it for Queen Margarita when she felt faint on a visit to Treviso so you've got to go there - Carlo has only traditional food from Treviso and every night he'll have a different rugby tie on, so if you are from New Zealand and you're going there, take him a tie. He's a big rugby man, but is right into his food - I'm addicted to his "stinco" or roasted pork hock.

ASOLO

This spectacular town was built by the Romans. It's not far from Treviso and well worth a day trip. It's an arty town with lots of alternative types of food and people. Find out what day the market is on and go up and check it out. They have a really neat antique market with heaps of homemade grappa and limoncello.

On the way up there's all the factory outlet shops like Replay and Diesel. I guess when you've come all the way from New Zealand and you walk around the town and know the Romans built the roads it's pretty spectacular.

CAMOGLI

Not far away from the tourist mecca of Portofino, Camogli is like a postcard with different coloured houses stuck right on the hillside by the sea. You just drop out of the mountains and into this spectacular village. We stayed there for three days and it's famous for seafood so all I did was eat seafood for three days.

It's about 10km down the coast from Portofino and halfway along is an incredible statue underwater called Al Cristo della Abissi, or Christ of the Abyss, sitting in about 17 metres of water. It's a large statue of Christ with his head and hands raised skyward, offering a benediction of peace. You can swim over it, which is a pretty remarkable experience.

Christ of the Abyss.
Christ of the Abyss.

SCARIO

Napoli is scary and beautiful all at once. It has had some fascinating people living in it throughout its history and is a must-visit place. But around the coast we went to Scario which is a quaint fishing village; you can take a day trip there by boat.

For a New Zealander, I think it's how we would live, Italian-style. You can hire a little boat and go fishing or swimming in the crystal clear water. Up the coast there are some bays with really unusual bars that you can only reach by boat.

We spent the day diving off the rocks nearby and swimming, stopping into a few of the bars and having a picnic lunch. It's just a beautiful part of the world that's a lot less populated than the metropolitan hubs and much more picturesque.

Enjoying Italy's hidden bays and crystal-clear waters. Photo / John Kirwan
Enjoying Italy's hidden bays and crystal-clear waters. Photo / John Kirwan

- NZ Herald

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