Where To Next? 15 Amazing Places in Italy That You Didn’t Know Existed But Are Well Worth Discovering
When visiting Italy, tourists usually find themselves caught between the charming atmosphere of Rome’s Trastevere, the busy markets of Florence, or romantic evenings at the Venetian Piazza San Marco, never getting the chance to experience the real feel of Italy. Living in this peculiar country for a few years now, I’ve learned the best of Italy can be found in small villages, hilltop towns and seaside communities that aren’t crowded and offer a real glimpse into Italian culture – which is not just about beautiful piazzas and delicious pizzas.
That’s why I bring you a selection of some of the most picturesque cities in rural Italy that most people don’t know about. Visiting these authentic pockets of Italy is definitely a better way to make the most from your stay in Italy that than losing time in long cues to Galleria degli Uffizi or the Vatican Museums. Are you ready to embark on a breathtaking journey through Italian hills, valleys and seas? Andiamo!
Our journey beings in the north of Italy – the lovely region of Valle d’Aosta, which boasts a stunning and characteristically bilingual city of Aosta. Aosta was once an important Roman settlement and recent history brought it a breath of life once the Mont Blanc tunnel was opened in the 1960s.
How to make the most from your visit to Aosta? Stroll around the ancient town walls of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum and admire their famous towers – among them, you’ll find one called Leper’s Tower, which was made famous by Xavier de Maistre in his novel Le lépreux de la cité d’Aoste. The town’s alpine feel and its ancient roads and arches offer a very unusual combination – something that you won’t find on the other side of the border. Make sure to have a look at the stunning Cathedral standing among the Alpine peaks that surround Aosta.
Nature lovers will find a moment of tranquility at two national parks located nearby – Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso and Parco Nazionale Mont Avic, which both offer some truly breathtaking natural sights.
This is a real marvel that doesn’t get enough attention, even though it is located just north of Naples. Considered the Versailles of Italy, Caserta and its amazing Royal Palace will surely make an impression on you. The palace is what Caserta is known for – it was build in the 18th c. and today it’s listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prepare to spend some time visiting it as it boasts around 1200 rooms, each decorated in completely different style.
But that’s not all Caserta has to offer. If you’re a nature lover, you’ll have an opportunity to admire the park surrounding palace. Have a stroll and explore it – you’ll see beautiful fountains, waterfalls, lakes, as well as an English garden.
Once you’re done visiting the majestic Reggia di Caserta, remember to stop by the picturesque Aqueduct by Vanvitelli and the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, which used to serve as a summer residence
Another Italian hidden treasure, Vieste used to serve as an actual treasure for many people who wanted it for their own – pirates, Saracens and other numerous enemies of the Kingdom of Naples. Today, Vieste offers breathtaking sights and architectural wonders. The town’s castle and cathedrals, set against the characteristic rock formations, are a sight you won’t see anywhere else.
Among those unusual rocks, you’ll find the Pizzomunno, a 25 meter-long vertical monolith that rises directly from the beautiful blue waters that surround the town. Have a walk along its marvellous beach called Spiaggia del Castello and take a look back at the night-lit skyline of Vieste. Your evening cannot get anymore charming.
You’ll find this little hilltop town on the west side of the traditional tract between Florence and Siena. The charming town of Volterra has become a favorite of those who were enchanted by a certain vampire-themed trilogy during the last couple of years. Volterra serves as the headquarters of the bloodthirsty vampire clan, the Volturi, but for the locals the town is mostly known as a real medieval jewel.
Walk around its narrow streets and enjoy the view at its central piazza, housing the impressive Palazzo dei Priori, which is accidental also the oldest town hall in Tuscany. Have a walk on the beautiful Balze cliffs, admire the fantastic panorama of Chianti valley and visit Volterra’s historical Duomo.
Finish your day at a local wine bar or trattoria, accompanying a glass of Tuscan sweet liquorish wine Vin Santo with one of the typical sweets of the region – salame di cioccolato or castagnaccio.
This pearl can be found among the beautiful hills of Umbria. Orvieto is known for its breathtaking Duomo, which is considered a true masterpiece of Italian Gothic architecture and houses frescoes by recognized early Renaissance artists, Luca Signorelli and Filippo Lippi.
Famous for its artisanal pottery, Orvieto has made a name for itself thanks to its annual Corpus Domini festival. During one day each year, you can see more than 400 citizens of Orvieto marching through its narrow streets dressed in medieval costumes – that’s quite a sight!
Breathe in the town’s air of tranquility while having a glass of the local Classico Amabile white wine with your early evening aperitivo in a charming enoteca. This is how you do it the Italian way.
Lounging at the shores of the famous Lake Garda, you might stumble upon Sirmione. Don’t let it fool you as just another another cute village. Sirmione is much more than that.
Overlooking the beautiful waters on the notorious Lake Garda, you’ll have a selection of ancient ruins at Grotte di Catullo, as well as the cream of Italian medieval port fortifications at Rocca Scagliera. After a whole day of sightseeing, it’s best to simply rest on the beautiful Giamaica beach or head to the extravagant Terme Virgilio for an evening of true relaxation.
Located in the heart of central Italy, in a historical region called Ciociaria, Anagni will stun you as a real hidden gem. Anagni has been tied to papacy for centuries. It was already mentioned by Virgil in one of his historical accounts and from the 5th century this ancient town served as an important point of reference for the Catholic faith. It became a favorite of many popes – especially those who didn’t appreciate the daily hustle and bustle of Rome.
Stroll around its historical center and take in all the sights – medieval palazzos and other architectural wonders that boast such ancient history that they’re bound to take your breath away. Don’t forget to visit the beautifully decorated tomb of Anagni’s patron, Saint Magnus, which you can find in the crypt of the city’s cathedral.
This is also the place for admiring the marvelous masterpieces of Byzantine art, as well as a breathtaking floor mosaic, which was created by the notorious Cosmati family. If you’re in Rome and you’ve got one day to spare, journey south and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of this ancient gem of Lazio region.
for the royal court. There’s no better place to soak in the atmosphere of royal Italy!
This southern jewel is something you shouldn’t miss once you find yourself in Puglia. Moving along its picturesque coast, you simply must stop at Alberobello. This little town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its iconic architecture.
Named after an oak forest Arboris Belli that used to surround the area, Alberobello is famous for its district called Zona dei Trulli, which boasts some 1500 small, white beehive-shaped houses. A visit to Alberbello must include sleeping in one of those little houses – you’ll find out that they’re more practical than they seem.
Once you accommodate yourself in one of the cute trulli, take an evening stroll among the charming streets of Alberobello and admire the towering sanctuary of Parrocchia Santuario Basilica S.S. Cosma e Damiano.
If you’re an opera lover, there’s no better place to visit than this little town located west to Florence and very close to the shores of the Ligurian Sea – it’s the hometown of one of the most famous opera composers, Giacomo Puccini.
Lucca is an antique town that deserves your attention because it boasts something you won’t find in any other city in Italy – a set of impressive and fully-intact walls that surround the historical center of the town. Inside those walls, you’ll find a selection of the most beautiful piazzas of Tuscany.
Wandering through its streets, you’ll stumble upon Piazza San Michele, Piazza Napoleone and Piazzale Verdi and all of them are bound to amaze you with their architectural beauty. A definite must see of Lucca is the characteristic, oval-shaped Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.
Have an aperitivo in one of its charming trattorie and enjoy an evening in the tunes of Puccini’s famous arias from La Bohème and Tosca.
This is one of the top towns to see if you find yourself between Florence and Milan – in the long stretch of land called Emilia Romagna, that’s where you’ll find the small city of Ferrara.
Today a small municipality with its own university and quite a few attractions, Ferrara used to be the possession of d’Este family, which added a lot to its historic architecture – one look at the characteristic Estense Castle should be enough to show you the power of the family.
Walk around its narrow medieval streets and arrive at its large and open shaped piazzas that will simply take your breath away. Admire the rich architecture of its beautiful churches and palazzos. What I find truly unique in Ferrara are its picturesque red brick houses, so very untypical for Italian Renaissance cities.
Other must-sees include: St. Anthony monastery, Via delle Volte and the basilica of San Giorgio Martire. If you appreciate good art, head straight o Palazzo Diamante – it offers great exhibitions housed in a building that is just another example of Ferrara’s stunning architecture.
If you’re traveling from Florence to Siena, it would be a sin not to stop at the little hilltop village of Montalcino. Famous for its delicious Brunello di Montalcino wine, it will surely steal your heart.
Montalcino actually dates back to the Etruscan times and offers several examples of Renaissance wonders typical for the region of Tuscany. Coming towards the city, you’ll spot the towering Rocca fortress or the impressive thin tower of Palazzo dei Priori.
Montalcino is located in the heart of Parco Naturale della Val’Orcia, so you can only imagine what kind of sights you’ll see from the town’s panoramic balconies. Explore this Tuscan gem and you won’t regret it – a visit to its stylish wine bars and cozy trattorie will help you to quickly fall in love with this charming town.
Montalcino is nothing like a sleepy town on the hill – every July lots of people come here for the famous Jazz&Wine Festival.
Another northern gem found in Italy’s alpine regions, Trento is a picturesque town surrounded by beautiful mountains. Trento is full of historical jewels waiting to be discovered by curios travelers – having a walk along its narrow stone streets, you’ll spot characteristic Renaissance-era pastel-colored palazzi with their wooden balconies.
Trento offers a vibrant cultural atmosphere and is definitely more Italian the nearby Bolzano. Have a look at Trento’s spacious Piazza Duomo and the stunning architecture of Case Cazuffi Rella. Another must-see is the impressive Castello del Buonconsiglio, which houses some truly breathtaking frescoes by Romanino and the Dossi brothers.
If you find yourself in Florence with a free afternoon to spare, you can find a moment of peace in the little town of Fiesole that stands on the surrounding mountains. A 10-minute drive from Tuscany’s permanently overcrowded jewel will take you to a place that offers some spectacular sights on the Florentine Duomo.
But that’s not all. History buffs will feel at home – you’ll have the opportunity to see a beautiful Roman amphitheater dubbed teatro romano, as well as a selection of Etruscan wonders, such as the ancient Etruscan Acropoli and walls.
Insider’s tip: the top spot for admiring the local panorama is Fiesole’s casa del popolo – drinks are cheap and views are to die for.
Siracusa or Syracuse is a Sicilian town that will be just the perfect spot for those of you who simply love the culture of ancient Greece. Once an extremely important city in the Mediterranean world, today the entire city of Syracuse, as well as the nearby Necropolis of Pantalica are part of UNESCO World Heritage.
Walk around the city and you’ll see Greek marvels you could only dream about – the Fountain of Arethusa, the Temple of Apollo and the impressive Greek Theater, which is one of the largest buildings of that type built by the ancient Greeks.
You’ll find a Roman amphitheater as well, together with a towering Duomo and military fortress Castello Maniace, built by Frederick II who was constantly fighting with the Papacy and needed a good point of military defense.
Part of the Cinque Terre region, Manarola is a real seaside gem. The sharp rocky lines of Liguria’s coast are combined here with pastel-colored houses, which together create one of the most beautiful sights of the Italian seaside.
The beauty of Cinque Terre is that you cannot reach it by car, which obviously reduces the number of tourists that travel along the coast. Taking the local train, you can visit all 5 towns by the seaside – each of them is beautiful in its own right.
Manarola will be perfect if you like hiking – there are lots of interesting trails that lead towards land – you’ll surely enjoy the beauty of Cinque Terre national park while exploring the green vicinity of Manarola.
The list above should make it clear that Italy isn’t just about the touristic giants like Rome, Florence, Milan or Venice. Small villages and towns are definitely worth a visit – you won’t have to survive swarms of tourists, you’ll see your fair share of amazing art and architecture, and you’ll get to taste local specialties that aren’t made for tourists or overpriced.
All in all, leaving the crowded and noisy streets of Italy’s main cities for the beauty of its small towns and countryside is a great idea. Maybe you’ll discover a true hidden gem for yourself as well?
About The Author: The article was contributed by Weronika Lass of http://www.profesjonalne-pozycjonowanie.pl/
Photo Source: Google Commons