What do you do when travel abroad is severely restricted during a global pandemic?
One thing you can still do, in most cases, is to travel around your own country, and this is what I did this year. Instead of taking one or more trips abroad, as I usually do every year, I decided to embark on a two-week road trip around Italy.
I planned this trip to let me visit some locations that I had been wanting to see and photograph for a long time, but had never found a chance to do.
What we ended up doing was driving for more than 3,500km, from the north, where I live, almost to the southernmost tip of the Peninsula, driving on the western coast on the way down and on the eastern coast on the way up, with occasional detours to the interior.
It was a thoroughly satisfying journey and I managed to photograph almost all the spots I had on my list. In some cases, the light wasn’t great, so you won’t see any photos from those places in this article. In others, I found just the right conditions to create the photograph I hand in mind. In a few more, I discovered views that I didn’t even know existed.
Another delicious (pun intended) aspect of a trip across Italy is that, wherever you go, you are able to sample regional food specialties that vary a lot from location to location. Just as I always try to savor the local cuisine of every country I visit, I treat Italian regions the same way. When it comes to food, each region is its own country and I believe you should always strive to eat local.
In the following sections, I am presenting a selection of my best captures, together with a description of the location. I hope they will inspire you to come to Italy, when it will be possible, and see those places with your own eyes.
Pitigliano is a city in southern Tuscany that sits, as is typical of many other cities in that region, atop a large block of tuff, surrounded by deep ravines dug by rivers over the course of millennia.
Originally, the town completely covered this rocky outcrop, so new buildings could only be built elsewhere. This fact has left the old town visible from three sides, with no modern artifacts blocking the view.
The ancient houses seem to hang precariously onto the edge of the precipice and provide quite a unique and spectacular view.
There are two spots from which you can photograph Pitigliano. One is on its eastern side, where a terrace provides a view with a good perspective. I went there for sunrise, but the light wasn’t that great, so no pictures this time.
The other spot is on the south-western side, near the sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie. We went there for sunset and were much luckier. The setting sun to our left hit the city sideways, bathing portions of it in warm light that enhanced the colors of the buildings, which are made from the same material as the rock they stand on.
Other parts of the scene remained in the shade and the interplay of light and shadow gave the scene a definite three-dimensional feeling.
As the sun set, I was almost ready to pack my gear, but saw a number of floodlights at the base of the rock starting to light up, so I decided to delay dinner a bit and wait for the blue hour, which regaled us with a different, but no less stunning, kind of light.
Not many people know that the Gulf of Naples includes three major islands. Most tourists will only visit Capri and some other might venture to Ischia, but only a few step down from the boat on the island of Procida, which is a shame, because this small island (4km only from tip to tip) has a lot to offer to photographers.
If for nothing else, you should come to Procida to photograph the neighborhood called Corricella. On this side of the island, dozens of pastel-colored houses cover the hillside that slopes gently towards the sea.
You can photograph this beauty from a terrace just below the old castle, on the islands highest point. The climb is easy on foot and the view is magnificent.
Once again, I took a few shots at sunset, but decided to also wait for the blue hour. I’m not really sure which one is my favorite. What do you think?
This was the southernmost location we reached and it was worth the extra driving. We spent quite some time at the beach, since the waters here are crystalline, so photography took the back seat for a while.
I still went out with the camera on a couple afternoons to shoot the sunset. On the first outing, I was standing on the belvedere overlooking the sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola as it was being hit by the last rays of the setting sun.
On the following evening, I went up to the rock where the sanctuary is, with the intention of shooting towards the city, but I didn’t get anything satisfactory in that direction.
What I didn’t expect was that the sun would be setting right on top of the volcano island of Stromboli, which lies a few dozen kilometers across the sea to the west of Tropea.
This only happens for a few days, twice during the year, and we were lucky to be there exactly at the right time! I switched from my wide-angle lens to a telephoto to capture a few shots just as the sun was about to disappear, seemingly swallowed by the volcano itself.
The fact that the volcano, a few minutes before sunset, billowed the cloud of smoke that you can see on the left of the cone didn’t hurt either.
Vieste is a beautiful city that sits at the easternmost point of the Gargano peninsula, the “spur” of Italy’s boot. Being on the east coast meant an opportunity for shooting sunrises, even if that entailed an early awakening Luckily, this spot was a few steps from our strategically placed B&B.
Even with the sun at my back, I got a very colorful sunset and the lighthouse on the small island at the entrance of port was just waiting to be photographed.
After spending our last days on the coast, we ventured to the interior, specifically to a location within the confines of the Gran Sasso National Park, Rocca Calascio.
This spot sits atop a 1,500m high mountain and from the top you get a 360° view of the surrounding mountains and valleys that is a sight to behold.
There are two buildings up there that are also worth including in the frame or making them the main subject of your composition. One is the church of Santa Maria della Pietà, here photographed at sunset. The peak you see in the distance, behind the church is the Corno Grande, the tallest mountain in the Italian Apennines, at 2,921m.
The other interesting building is an imposing, ruined castle. This particular castle was used as the location for some movies, most notably Ladyhawke, featuring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer.
I didn’t get any good shots of the castle at sunset, mostly because there were too many people around it and also because it was hit straight-on by sunlight, which made it a rather flat subject. So I decided to climb up again the following morning, before sunrise. Once again, choosing an accommodation in the town at the foot of the mountain meant I only had to drive a few minutes to get to the car park and from there it was just a short, but steep, walk.
Even at dawn, before sunrise, the light was just magical and having the place all to myself added to the sense of awe. In the right condition, the place evokes almost mystical feelings.
Given that the forecast predicted clear skies, on the previous day I calculated that, before reaching the ground, sunlight would hit the Corno Grande and maybe create some nice alpenglow. That’s exactly what happened.
I then turned around and waited for the sun to start peeking from behind the distant mountains. Stepping my lens down to a small aperture (f/16) created a superb sunstar effect, while the side of the ruin was getting illuminated.
If you ever travel to Rocca Calascio, I recommend getting there for sunrise. You’ll avoid the crowds and might get some amazing pictures.
It would be insensitive to say I am grateful for Covid, but the silver lining of this state of things is that it has allowed me to discover parts of my own country that I might not have seen this year and maybe never. After having seen them, I can safely say it would have been tragic to miss them.
If you’d like to come and photograph Italy, please let me be your guide. Next year, hopefully, I’ll be leading tours here again. I have the Best of Italy and the Heart of Italy tours already planned for 2021.
I am also available for private, bespoke tours. Just let me know where and when you want to go and I’ll create the perfect plan for you, maybe including some of the locations in this article.