Viva Italy! When you’re standing on a cliff on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, don’t look down. Look up, mumble a prayer and jump.

I had always imagined that Southern Italy would be hotter. But in April, it was a mild 15.6°C. Thrashing against the current and the icy water that stung the lobes of my ears, it felt more like December in Pennsylvania than spring break in the Mediterranean.

After swimming towards shore, I crawled up jagged rocks onto flat ground. Grabbing a towel, I blotted my bloodied knees and covered my shivering shoulders. I was in Massa Lubrense, home to music producer and local farmer Peppe De Angelis. After waiting for several other adrenaline-rushed college students with whom I was taking a travel photography class, I walked barefoot uphill to Peppe’s house.

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Those who are daring enough can jump off a cliff and into the sea, at Punta San Lorenzo in Massa Lubrense. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When most people think of Italy, they think of the northern and central regions. They imagine the starched white columns of the Vatican, the gruesome history of the Colosseum, the fashion district of Milan and tourists in photos “pushing upright” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

A charm that lasts

But I think of Southern Italy – the colourful houses of Positano, the lemon trees of Capri, the exhausting hike down to Peppe’s cottage, and the hardworking people who run the local shops. Although not as wealthy or as popular as its older brother in the north, Southern Italy has a charm that sticks with you long after you’ve returned home.

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Reflections in the water at Naples. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Lance Mountain

Of all the beautiful places, Naples proved to be most worthy of a photographer’s attention. Smelling of cigarettes and tomato sauce, this vibrant, bustling city delivers more than the quintessential Italian experience. There are no shops to rent mopeds, no miniature versions of the Trevi Fountain, no open-top tour buses. If you can escape the chaotic traffic and crowded streets for a few moments, stop and people-watch. The exuberant, fashion-forward and expressive people of Naples love to pose for the camera.

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Dressed up in a colourful suit, coat and tie, an elderly Italian man walks confidently along the graffiti-ridden walls. Photo: TNS

Naples is similar to New York City, but instead of being covered in consumerism, the city is decorated by consumers. Walls are splattered with authentic Banksy art, graffiti in the form of political messages, inspirational quotations and even the occasional image of male genitalia. Residents’ appreciation for art and creativity turns what is seen as deviant in America to something to be admired.

Neapolitan cuisine

When your legs grow tired from exploring, the best way to rest is by enjoying some authentic Neapoli­tan cuisine.

Sitting down for a traditional Italian supper, assume you won’t be leaving any time soon. The table lined with 12 dark green bottles of bitter red wine is a sign that your meal will last about three hours, from the moment the platters of Mozzarella di Bufala and freshly baked bread hit the table to the last sip of limoncello.

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Limoncello bottles sitting pretty in Capri. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jorge Royan

Dinner in Italy is a meal to be cherished, no matter who you are with, whether it be a class of American college students or family and friends. Out of respect for the chef and your guests, it is buona forma (good form) to take your time and enjoy the meal.

And there is no shortage of food to be enjoyed.

The courses start with antipasto, crispy sciorilli (fried zucchini flowers) and buttery rocche (fried mashed potatoes). For the main course, choose from heaping helpings of Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta Puttanesca and Pasta Pomodoro, followed by an array of locally caught fried fish. Even when there is no platter on the table, there is always bread and wine to enjoy.

Desserts and drinks

For dessert, if you’re lucky, you will be presented with an Italian holiday delicacy known as Pastiera Napoletana, a rich and delightful pie made with ricotta cheese and candied citrus fruits. Often, you’ll simply receive a shot of limoncello, which is to be sipped slowly, never gulped.

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Surrounded by a traditional Italian wine vineyard, a quaint house stands out along the grape vines. Photo: TNS

Walking back to your hotel in the quiet of the night, take a moment to look off the coast. The looming figure of Mount Vesuvius quietly watches over the city, waiting to erupt. Even in the face of eventual destruction, Naples remains as lively as any city could be.

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Mount Vesuvius in Araucaria, Southern Italy, looms over the city, waiting to erupt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After it’s all over and you’re finally flying back home from your Italian adventure, don’t be afraid to look down and take it all in, just one last time. – Tribune News ServicePittsburgh Post-Gazette/Alexis Book