Italy’s monuments and must-sees are well known to most travelers in the world. The historic streets of Florence, Rome’s Coliseum, the canals of Venice, Pisa’s leaning tower, and the rocky cliffs of Cinque Terre; we’ve seen pictures of them and we’ve all daydreamed about them. But the truth is, while most people flock to these well-established sites, they are leaving a huge chunk of the country unexplored. We’ve teamed up with the travel experts at AllTheRooms to compile a list of the best spots in Italy that are venture off the normal tourist route.
About two hours south of popular destinations Pompeii and Naples sits Pisciotta, just inland from the country’s western coastline. According to lore, many claim Trojans escaping the sacking of Troy founded the small town of only about 2,500 inhabitants. Nowadays, the attractive little town on a hill is sometimes overlooked. A town this pretty and accessible, just off a national highway, can’t stay secret forever.
Located in the Palermo region of Italy’s largest island Sicily, Cefalu is not necessarily off the radar for tourists, but being away from mainland Italy does deter some folks. Those who do end up in the sun-stained village will be rewarded with amazing beaches set in front of dramatic, mountain plateaus.
The largest city to make the list, Trieste, which is the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, is often missed because of its proximity to Venice. Trieste’s Grand Canal, attractive piazza, and Castello Miramare, one of the most awe-inspiring castles in Europe, are all favorite things to see. Aside from in-city hotspots, it has numerous day trip excursions across to Slovenia, Croatia, and other small Italian towns like Aviano.
Quickly being discovered by the Instagram crowd, Burano shares the Venetian Lagoon with its ever-popular neighbor Venice. Also built on canals, Burano lacks Venice’s glitz and ornate design, but makes up for it with charming seaside buildings all painted in incredibly bright colors.
Located on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Stresa is a great little resort town to stop in as a hub for accessing many of Northern Italy’s other lakes teeming with luxurious villas. From town it is an easy boat ride to the small Borromean Islands, many of which are outfitted with their own basilicas and gardens.
Tucked way on the “spur” of Italy’s boot, Vieste, in the Gargano region, is a seaside treat unknown to many. Vieste’s unique beach vibe plays perfectly to its tranquil bed and breakfasts and pristine turquoise waters. Outside its cute town is Gargano National Park, one of Italy’s most stunning untouched pieces of land.
Perched atop, and within, a rocky promontory, Matera is one of the most special spots in Italy. The uniformly stone city is illuminated by sharp sunlight, which gives away to a golden glow of street lamps at night. Matera is also home to very unusual homes. Occupied up until the mid-20th century, Matera had a series of cave dwellings, which have since reopened as museums for anyone curious about how people used to live within the hillside.
Another city on the outskirts of Venice, Treviso is probably best known for its airport, which provides cheap flights to and from the Venetian region. However, there is no need to rush out of town. Treviso is home to a small walled city center where brick-lined canals flow by homes and micro-gardens. While other travelers pile into the confines of Venice, tourists who stay here feel as though they have the place to themselves.
It is hard to imagine anywhere in Tuscany to be undiscovered, but we will call Sovana just that. A literal blip on most maps because it is only home to a couple hundred people, the stone village is one of the most beautiful in the country. While it seems like the whole town could be seen in about five minutes, Sovana compensates by welcoming guests to spend time in enchanting eateries and shops.
Cinque Terre, which translates to Five Lands, refers to the five picturesque towns that incorporated themselves into the jagged cliffs on the Adriatic. These towns are heavily trafficked by tourists but many don’t realize Portovenere, an equally attractive fishing village, lurks just around the corner. Unconnected by train, like the other towns, Portovenere is frequently forgotten, as it is not convenient to reach. However, those who have visited think Portovenere to be just as nice as Cinque Terre, if not the gem of the region. UNESCO agrees as it granted the town a World Heritage Site designation just like Cinque.
One of the world’s newest World Heritage Sites, named in 2017, Bergamo is a remarkable town consisting of incredibly well-preserved Medieval architecture. The “upper town” is especially historic and rises above the rest of the city. This area is even more impressive on cool mornings when fog obscures the town below and drifts in and out of the narrow stone boulevards.