Le Quattro Spezierie cocktail bar offers great finger foods on a stylish terrace overlooking the Baroque buildings.
Restaurants Arte dei Sapori and Rifugio della Buona Stella serve traditional menus at good prices (don't miss special pasta called "orecchiette").
A great place to stay is B&B Palazzo Bernardini in the center, an historic and elegantly restyled accommodation.
Mantova (or Mantua) was the hometown of Rome's most celebrated poet, Virgil. The pearl of the rich Lombardy region, it's loaded with artistic heritage and has been inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Splendid buildings and a great skyline echo the grandeur of the Gonzaga, a powerful Renaissance family that helped make the city a rich power and trade center.
Dubbed "Tuscany's angel in the north," Palazzo Ducale, the Gonzaga's historic residence, is a city within the city: 34,000 square meters of masterpieces by artists including Rubens and Raffaello (www.turismo.mantova.it).
Guided tours offer a chance to see the frescoed Palazzo Te and the Bibien scientific theater, a baroque venue that hosted in 1769 the performance of a young Mozart.
The 1472 Clock Tower's internal mechanism still works.
Art mingles with nature. The foggy Mincio river and lakes create an ideal habitat for many bird species.
Food is a lifestyle here. The pumpkin "tortelli" (a tortellini variant), zafran risotto and pike served with polenta at Antica Osteria della Fragoletta or La Cucina are superb.
Caffé Modì (+39 (0)37618 10111) has the best aperitifs, while the central Rechigi Hotel showcases a permanent contemporary art collection.
Matera is a prehistoric "underground" stone village in the middle of a desolate southern region of Basilicata.
But it's worth driving for hours to see it.
It is one of the world's most ancient cities, provided part of the set of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and its 'sassi' (settlements cut out of the stone) and rupestrian churches are inscribed on UNESCO's World heritage List.
Along the streets you can't help notice the various layers on which the town was built over the centuries: Christian, Byzantine, Greek-Roman and the Metal Ages all feature.
Some 155 stone churches have been carved out of the rocks -- frescoed ashrams and crypts lie close to cathedrals and medieval and Renaissance buildings (www.comune.matera.it).
The road that circles the town, suspended above a deep gorge, provides a view of the many holes carved into the mountain on the other side.
For centuries up to the 1950s, farmers lived and worked in these caves while bandits took refuge there from the authorities. No cars are allowed in and there's a magical "Lord of the Rings" atmosphere.
Traditional restaurants Alle Fornaci and Trattoria Lucana both serve rich menus.
It's really worth spending the night here for the scenery: the famous Sassi Hotel, woven inside the city's fabric, is a restyled 18th-century building.
But if you prefer to sleep in ancient cave-houses, hotel Le Grotte della Cavita offers rooms with breakfast served in a rupestral church (www.sextantio.it/grotte-civita).
This Umbrian village was built 3,000 years ago on top of a rocky hilltop above a yawning canyon, cut through by a black river.