The region sometimes even the Italians forget about is a blissful mix of uncrowded beaches, atmospheric villages and hill towns
Feel like your perfect holiday destination doesn’t exist? It’s a growing problem, with pre-pandemic issues about overtourism mixing with post-Covid wariness of cities and crowded beaches. The answer could be Molise, a region that doesn’t even exist for most Italians (it’s the one usually missed out by people asked to name all 20) and whose non-existence – “Il Molise non esiste” – has become a meme, a hashtag and the subject of thousands of Instagram posts.
Molise has, in fact, existed for millennia: it was home to the Samnite civilisation in the fourth century BC, and later part of the Kingdom of Naples. But it was mashed together at unification with Abruzzo, from which it didn’t effectively split until 1970, making Molise the youngest region in Italy. And through all this, its sandy beaches, rugged mountains and ancient settlements have stayed – rarely intentionally – well under the tourist radar. For much of the 20th century, depopulation rather than crowds was its main problem. Robert De Niro’s forebears headed to the US from the 2,000-year-old Molisean hill town of Ferrazzano, but he never shouted about it. Which leaves this sunny, hilly, friendly region ripe for exploring.