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.
Conquered by the Romans who called it Narnia, the dominating Albornoz fortress and lion statue, the symbol of the town, apparently inspired C.S. Lewis in his "The Chronicles of Narnia."
It's worth visiting the impressive Augustus bridge, built in Roman times, and the city museum showcasing Renaissance masterpieces (www.comune.narni.tr.it).
June is the best time to visit, when a traditional festival transforms the town into a medieval carnival with horses and dressed-up warriors.
And if you're looking for something spooky but exciting, don't miss Narni's Holy Inquisition underground tunnels, featuring spectacular prison cells covered in graffiti, Masonic symbols and alchemic formulas, and the guided tours in the 700-meter long Formina Roman aqueduct, one of the few open to the public in Italy (www.narnisotterranea.it).
Part of Narni's mystical status comes from its location: right at the geographical center of Italy.
B&B Podere del Cardinale offers accommodation in a former estate of Pope Giulio II, who commissioned Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.
Il Gattamelata restaurant (+39 (0)74420 717245) facing the sculpted Cathedral has great wild boar and delicious porcini mushrooms.
Set in Val D'Orcia, Tuscany's most charming area, Pienza is a tiny jewel, the perfect Renaissance city designed by native Pope Pio II.
Everything here is clean, perfect and tidy. Incredibly restyled with a spectacular Duomo, the historic center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies atop a hill with a circular path around the town walls offering a 360-degree view of the valley.
The main attractions are the cathedral featuring Gothic designs, the papal Palace Piccolomini and the Diocesan museum with breathtaking Renaissance chef d'oeuvres (www.ufficioturisticodipienza.it).
The streets have romantic names -- "Love Street," "Kiss Street" -- echoing the concept of an ideal city.
La Buca delle Fate (+39 (0)5787 48448) or Latte di Luna (+39 (0)5787 48606) provide nice lunch stops, with the typical Tuscan menu items including "picci" pasta.
Hotel picks include Hotel Relais Il Chiostro di Pienza, inside a Renaissance convent, or cozier Piccolo Hotel La Valle.
Tuscan olive oil and local Pecorino cheese can be found in any of the many boutiques.
Cycling is another popular pursuit here, enhanced by the area's green hills, vineyards and olive-trees fields. Guided tours (www.ibiketuscany.com) are popular and Siena lies just an hour's drive away.
San Felice Circeo, Lazio
San Felice Circeo is a picturesque, centuries-old village built on top of Mount Circe, where mythology meets nature.
The place is marked by steep walls, vertiginous ridges and peaks, gorges and pebble-stone coves. Solitary lookout towers scan the ocean.
Between Rome and Naples, this promontory stretches out into the sea and rises along the coast where it is said Aeneas landed from burning Troy and the sorceress Circe bewitched Odysseus.
She kept him prisoner for years in a grotto -- the Maga Circe Cave, accessible by sea. The enchantress's profile is sculpted on the hilltop: its skyline has the shape of a sleeping woman.
At Torre Paola, 30 caves contain evidence of settlement by prehistoric men. The Templar's Tower and impressive giant walls of the ancient Circei citadel are also noteworthy.
Bus and boat tours head out to what has been dubbed as "a Gods-kissed land," including the nearby isles of Zannone and Ponza (www.prolococirceo.it).
Part of a lush protected reserve to explore on guided trekking trails, the promontory overlooks the miles-long sand dunes of the Mediterranean bush, buffalo-grazed fields and shimmering lakes.
La Terrazza bar (+39 (0)7735 46303), swarming with people at sunset, is suspended above a precipice. Elegant lounge Bar Centrale in the village square (+39 (0)7735 48098) has great cocktails and delicious home-made ice-cream.
For fresh fish there's Il Grottino restaurant at the chic port while beach Hotel Maga Circe is one of the best places to bed down.
A mix of Greek, Roman, Arabic and Baroque architecture can be found in the vibrant open-air market at the center of this 2,700-year-old Sicilian city.
Each winding alley has a particular beauty and there's so much to see, from Apollo's temple and the magnificent Piazza del Duomo to the eerie catacombs that are second only to Rome's.
The city's archeological park features one of the greatest Greek theaters and a Roman arena once used for gladiator fights.