January is traditionally the month when we impulse book a holiday. As we awaken in the dark one morning too many, we finally crack at some point before rounding the corner into February – and why not? Who doesn’t need something lovely, along with the promise of some warmth, to look forward to?

This year, we have our sights set on Italy (again, who doesn’t?) And while we have enduring affection for all of our old favourite Italian sun-drenched idylls, this time we’re heading to the spots where the Italians themselves holiday. We long ago sussed that eating in the restaurants populated by Italians as opposed to Brits is the key to feasting well while on hols; the same is true of where they holiday.

These are the places that Italians head to when they are in need of some respite and repose.

Camogli, Liguria


Every Italophile knows all about Portofino and the Cinque Terre with their exquisite twinkling waters, their multi-hued houses – and their eye-watering prices. But what about the rest of Liguria? Venture west and you will find Camogli, an unspoiled fishing village where you still get the colourful buildings thronging the waterfront, but none of the swish designer stores nor the millionaire-trap bars and restaurants. The food purveyed in the unassuming little fish restaurants that abound makes it heaven for seafood lovers, while the beguiling narrow streets are every bit as higgeldy-piggeldy and bougainvillea-scented as any romantic could possibly hope for. To spend a week here is to return to the simple life and thus re-emerge fully rested.


Stay at Hotel Sublimis, which is in the heart of Camogli and has views over the water and, for a treat, make like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip and eat at La Cantina in San Fruttuoso.

Lake Orta


Most Brits headed for an Italian lake holiday end up at Como. And there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, spectacular (although we would argue that Lake Garda, which is more popular with German tourists, has the edge). However, if you want to go off the beaten tourist track, try Lake Orta, or Lago d’Orta, which is far smaller and much quieter than the neighbouring Maggiore, but where visitors can spend happy days exploring its perfectly preserved medieval town in Orta San Giulio, as well as exploring the island of San Giulio, which is almost unreal in its beauty, thronged as it is with floating palazzi and gardens to marvel at. Stay at the arabesque Villa Crespi, which is also home to the Michelin-starred restaurant of Chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo, and eat at Osteria Speranza Omegna, a family-run establishment whose casual air belies the beauty of its cooking.

Pantelleria, Sicily


Panetelleria is an island off an island – a tiny dot in the Med between Sicily and Tunisia (you can get there by taking a boat from Trapani, or even get a flight to its own tiny airport). Small, hilly and rugged, it long ago gained traction with the chic set. Forty years ago, Giorgio Armani set first foot on the island and, although he wasn’t immediately enamoured, something about it stuck with him, and he would go on to buy a holiday home there – one that he has kept on ever after. As he told Condé Nast Traveller, ‘I found it stark, hostile, and coarse. Then I realised something haunted me.’


For anyone hoping for the usual trappings of better-worn tourist destinations, this is not the place. The road less travelled brings with it a no-frills simple life – although not quite as simple as when Armani first arrived and there was no electricity on the island and water had to be pumped by hand. It also brings an extreme kind of beauty. This isn’t the average white-sand island; instead you can sunbathe on volcanic slabs and experience a place that, although better connected these days, is not too far a cry from what it was like when the Romans came through it two millennia ago. However, these days, there are restaurants to go to – Osteria il Principe e il Pirata is local favourite thanks to its views of the twinkling sea and its sublimely fresh seafood. We think Airbnb is the way to go on Pantelleria, but you could also book into the island’s first-ever boutique hotel, Sikelia Luxury Retreat, which is an oasis of peace even amid an island which is about as far from hectic as it gets.

By Nancy Alsop
January 2024