Discover Italy’s Eden destinations before the crowds

Each year the European Union selects a number of non-mainstream destinations which promote sustainable tourism

These places are awarded an EDEN (European Destinations of Excellence) classification, with the aim of drawing attention to areas – many off the beaten track – and national treasures.

The aim of the Eden project which began in 2006 is to draw  attention to examples of good practice in sustainable tourism and help de-congest over-visited tourist destinations.

And this week the Italian Tourist Board in London unveiled three different destinations which already have Eden project status, with the aim of encouraging tour operators to promote them in the UK.

This is a brief introduction to those places – gems which are relatively undiscovered so and  accommodation and food are a good deal cheaper than in the traditional tourist centres in Italy. There are five star hotels but there are lots of holiday farms and bed & breakfast accommodation, eating at traditional trattorias and inns.

As someone who has travelled all over Italy I was very intrigued to learn about these destinations.

Valli Del Mincio – Lombardia

Valli del Mincio, is in Lombardia, in norther Italy – in the area between Lake Garda going south towards the River Po.  The Mincio is a river which flows from the lake to the Po, which is a national park.  Alongside the river there are nature trails and cycle and pedestrian tracks which take you through historic towns and villages, and the largest city in the Mantova region.


I note that the riverside tracks are flat which is great for those of us who want gentle exercise!

It also contains the largest inland wetland in Europe – so a haven for birds (149 species) and other wildlife, including herons and storks.  A few English tourists do travel here (4%) but the majority of visitors are Germans (26%) who enjoy the perch and trout fishing.

Outside of the city of Mantova there are many villages to visit including Grazie, Rivalta sul Mincio and Soave.

To find out more:

Specialist travel agency in the park

Corciano – Perugia, Umbria

Corciano has the accolade of being one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.  So its a worth a visit just to see it.

But there is a wealth of attractions and activities to enjoy – even if you are only staying for a weekend – its only 22 kms from Perugia airport. There are four museums including a new archeological museum; Etruscan remains and the Necropolis of Strozzacapponi which contains more than 60 tombs.


Corciano’s ancient past

And if nature is more your thing, there are two mountains, Tezio  (961m) and Malbe (482m), plus two natural parks where you can mountain bike, wall climb and walk.

Local festivals are always a lively affair and Corciana has several – the Corciano cultural festival in August, the Castello di Vino and Dolce Borgo, both in October

Castel del Piano – Grosetto, Tuscany

The commune of Castel del Piano is in a relatively untouristic part of Tuscany.  Yes there is such a thing.  And here you find unspoilt villages where the cost of food and accommodation is cheaper than in the rest of this popular destination.

Castel del Piano

Rooftop vista of Castel del Piano in southern Tuscany

This village is situated in a truly magnificent situation – between two mountains – one covered in beech and chestnuts – one of the largest such forests in Europe.

As well as nature and outdoor activities…each year in September, there is the Palio, a fast and dangerous horse race. The riders represent the four contrade (quarters) of the city and the race has taken place since 1402.


A palio to rival the famous one in Sienna

This area is also known for its thermal waters so its possible to bathe outdoors in natural hot-springs.

In winter the village is above the snowline and the nearby ski runs are popular with locals but remain relatively undiscovered by UK winter holidaymakers.

The town has museums and as you could expect ancient churches.  There is also a famous artesian biscuit factory which its possible to visit.  And a cheese factory

There are plenty of places to stay and eat.  We are recommended the Borgo Tepolini, a country-house hotel on the outskirts of the town. It does have a swimming pool and offers various discounts i.e. stay 3 nights and save 15%/stay 5 nights and save 20%.

These are must visit destinations – so get there before the crowds…


Vinotherapy in the green heart of Italy

At Elixir we promote the anti-ageing properties of red wine – it is full of antioxidants, including resveratrol.  And we thought the only way to sample the anti-ageing effects was to drink it!  So you might perhaps understand my shock when I sampled vinotherapy for the first time.


After one of the best massages I can ever remember I was relaxing in the vinotherapy bath tub, containing what I assumed to be grape extracts when my spa therapist uncorked a perfectly good bottle of red wine and poured its contents into my bath. Seeing the look of pure horror on my face she relented and saved a glass, saying it wasn’t good to drink too much in the spa.

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So with glass in hand I not only tasted but relaxed and bathed in  the revitalizing and antioxidant vapours of one of the fine wines of Torgiano – a hilltop village in the heart of the famous DOC and DOCG wine region of Umbria.

The Bellauve Winetherapy Spa is indeed a gem. It is peaceful and beautiful, with indoor and outdoor pools, Turkish baths, gym and outdoor relaxation areas surrounded by olive groves and views of the Umbrian Hills.

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The spa  is set in one of the region’s most exclusive five-star hotels, the Relais Hotel Le Tre Vasalle. The hotel, in a 17th century house and whose name refers to the ancient ceramic winejugs, is in a narrow street in what was once a fortified village in the Middle Ages, near  ancient towns of  Perugia (5 miles) and Assisi (10 miles).

Surrounded by antique furniture and paintings, each of the 60 bedrooms is furnished differently, giving it has the atmosphere of a grand country home – perfect for a romantic getaway. The restaurant, Le Melograine, reworks traditional Umbrian specialities such as pasta with black truffles, as well as diet menus served with famous local wines.

Le Tre Vassale brings together wine, art and hospitality. This is because the hotel is the passion of one family – the Lungarottis, first and second generation winemakers who have made Torgiano their own.

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The family has filled the town. As well as the hotel, there is a wine museum and olive oil, museum and the nearby Cantine Lunggarotti which produces the finest red wines  grown on surrounding slopes (Sangiovese, Anaiolo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), including Rubesco. The whites (Trebiano, Grechetto, Chardonnay, Pinot are grown on cooler hillsides. And there is also an excellent sparkling Lungarotti Brut made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Giogrgio Lungarotti and his wife and Maria Grazia, an art historian run the winery business with daughters Chiara and Teresa and produce around three million bottles of wine annually.

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A visit to the Wine Museum and the Cantine are a must. Housed in the 17th century Palazzo Graziani-Baglioni, it has one of the most comprehensive collections of viticulture artifacts anywhere in the world – from its earliest stages in the Mediteranean to the Middle Ages and beyond – covering five thousand years of winemaking history. The theme of Bacchus runs through the collections which are housed in 20 rooms, featuring working tools, the ….of pleasure, fine prints, drawings, antiquarian books and graphics by Picasso and a glass by Jean Cocteau.

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The hotel offers a range of activities including truffle hunting, cookery classes, as well as scooter hire.

I have always wanted to go truffle hunting.  And it was not a disappointment.  No need to get up at the crack of dawn.  After a lazy breakfast we are driven to a nearby forest to meet our guide Matteo and his English setter Asia.

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The black traffles, known locally as “black gold” can fetch up to 150 Euros a kilo and the rarer white 3,000 Euros so the cost of buying your truffle dog – 4,000 euros in the case of Asia can pay dividends.


Asia was no disappointment.  She was driven by a reward of a cheese slice each time she found a truffle. Sniffing the ground and as if by magic she would start digging with her paws, finding truffle after truffle.  Standing on her back legs she put her front paws on Mateo’s hips to claim her reward.


As we walked in the woods we passed groups riding horses – this is also riding country. And back at the minibus we were greeted by table laden with a feast of antipasti and red wine – and it was only 10.30am! A bit early even for me but sometimes a girl has to do what a girl has to do! It would be rude not to.


Hotel Le Tre Vaselle, via Garibaldi, 48. Torgiana – Perugia. T: + 39 075 9880447 Double rooms from  Â£194 ($297, €220), also look out for special packages and promotions on the website.

Cantine Giogio Lungarotti T: + 39 075 988661 information on wine tastings

Wine and Olive and Oil MuseumsT: +39 075 9880200


Getting to Torgiano

Alitalia to Rome

Ryanair to Perugia