Expert opinion: Revisiting Italy, what fresh experiences are there to do?

Simon Tancred first went to Italy as a backpacker in 1980, later lived and worked in Italy as an academic and started Hidden Italy walking tours in 1993.

Q. Many Australians are revisiting Italy and looking for fresh experiences. Any suggestions?

A. There are whole regions of Italy that are barely a blip on the tourist trails and just as beautiful and fascinating as the classic destinations. For example Valle d'Aosta on the French border, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia on the Austrian/Slovenian border, Le Marche and Abruzzo between the mountains and the Adriatic Coast, Basilicata and Calabria in the south and Sardinia.

Base yourself in a provincial centre (as rich in history as the cities but without the fuss) and soak up the ambience. Cremona, Mantova, Udine in the north, Parma, Ferrara, Ascoli Piceno in the centre, Lecce, Matera and Alghero in the south.

Go in the off-season. In winter Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome go local and the calendars abound with exhibitions and concerts. Five exceptional retreats in out-of-the-way places are Hotel Bellevue in Valle d'Aosta, La Subida in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Sextantio in Abruzzo, Palazzo Magherita in Basilicata and Su Gologone in Sardinia.