Travel brings out the pioneer in us all, makes us long to be the first to discover someplace new. But can you still find places around the world like that, even places like Italy where tourists just can’t seem to get enough? Absolutely! We do it all the time as slow travelers.
We’re always in search of the hidden gems in Italy, the lesser-known routes and secret small towns as yet undiscovered by mass tourism. Oh sure, Italy has its iconic must-see places like Venice and Rome, and huge regions like Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast that everyone wants to visit but few want to drive. And you should see them, at least once.
But here’s our ideal way to visit Italy — sipping a cappuccino in a small, slightly untidy and local cafe in some small mountain town along a mule path that’s so high up it overlooks an alpine lake or the sea, where no one speaks our language and we struggle with theirs. And it’s a good thing too because what they’re secretly saying is Who are these idiot tourists drinking cappuccino at 3 o’clock in the afternoon? And that’s just fine with us.
Hidden Gems in Italy
But let’s be real for a sec — “sometimes the road less traveled is less-traveled for a reason!”, right? Do you honestly want to venture out beyond the tourist cities on everyone’s Italy bucket list to the hinterlands of a more authentic Italy, and go local for a while? Of course you do!
There are so many quaint small towns in Italy with the friendliest people who would appreciate your business and love to show your their town — and some, even their home. They’ll help you with your poor Italian, and suggest things to see and do, and eat. Just like the small towns of your own country, these places — these hidden gems of Italy — are where you’ll discover the undiscovered. The places with real people living real lives.
So get ready to explore more of Italy off the beaten path, those hidden gems Italy has at every turn. Whether this is your first visit to Italy, or you’re a seasoned traveler, we hope you find some new places to explore safely, away from the crowds, in a part of Italy you never could have imagined. Put away the virtual expectations of what most tourists come to see, search for the secrets, and find your own undiscovered Italy among these 28 gems!
Hidden Gems in Northern Italy
The Antholz Valley (Valle di Anterselva) South Tyrol
Way up in northern Italy lies the lush Antholz Valley (Valle di Anterselva in Italian and Antholzertal in German), one of the alpine hidden gems of Italy that feels more like Austria, just 9 kilometers away.
Known for their world-class Biathlon Center — the Olympic event which combines Nordic cross-country skiing and rifle shooting — the Antholzertal is a Mecca for biathletes and winter sports fans, hosting the annual Biathlon World Cup event as well as other opportunities for hikers, bikers, day trippers to the Dolomites, and outdoor lovers in general. Remarkably, it’s a place of pristine beauty few take the time to explore, but should. The valley also makes a great base for discovering nearby Lago di Braes, more of South Tyrol, and the northern Dolomites.
Outdoor enthusiasts should plan to hike the Rieserferner-Ahrn Nature Park, a paradise for ski mountaineers and nature lovers. Encompassing more than 31,000 hectares, the Park also has the largest number of glaciers in the region. If you’re looking for a less-strenuous hike on flat terrain with stunning views and photo ops, scenic Lake Antholz is next door to the Biathlon Center and a perfect day hike.
Be sure and explore the culinary side of this alpine valley. Hearty dishes like homemade dumplings, braised meats and home-smoked cheeses, washed down with a bit of homemade Grappa will set the tone for a unique and exceptional Italian foodie experience.
The Valle di Anterselva is one of the hidden gems in northern Italy waiting to be slow-traveled.
>>> Where to Stay in the Antholzertal?
The Hotel Messnerwirt is definitely a favorite place to stay. Family owned and operated, the service is excellent, and the food is even better. You’ll be amazed by the culinary creations that come from their kitchen.
Punta San Viglio, Lake Garda
Lake Garda is northern Italy’s playground, where locals and tourists come to escape the cities of Milan, Venice, and Bergamo, to splash in the cool mountain water, taste the best Bardolinos and Valpolicellas in Italy, and enjoy their holiday. Overall, it’s a well-traveled destination. but here’s the secret — it’s filled with small out of the way hidden hideaways you’d never know were there if you weren’t keeping up with the slow-moving band of heavy traffic congestion that circumnavigates the entire lake throughout the busy warm weather months. Don’t even try and sight-see lest you end up in the back of the car in front of you!
If you are looking for quieter parts of the Lake to visit and explore, small towns like Limone dul Garda and Riva del Garda on the northwestern shore, and Malcesine on the upper eastern shore are all good choices.
But if you’re longing for a secluded getaway — or a tranquil day trip — tucked away on a promontory on the eastern shore of Lake Garda just 5 kilometers south of Malcesine is Punta San Viglio, an elegant resort and restaurant set in a dreamy 16th-century estate setting. The hotel makes the romantic weekend Lake Garda getaway for a few days or more, and it’s open for lunch and dinner for guests and visitors alike. If you’re watching your wallet and just want to walk around a smaller portion of the property, visitors can park and enjoy the pool, local beach and shower amenities for a nominal day rate.
For the most spectacular view over Lake Garda, take the gondola from Malcesine to the top of Monte Baldo, and stroll the malecon after dinner at one of the excellent restaurants in town.
Spend the day or week at Punta San Viglio on Lake Garda
>>> Where to Stay in Punta San Viglio?
The Locanda Punta San Viglio is the perfect getaway destination and surprisingly affordable on Lake Garda.
Bologna Apennine Mountains
The Apennine mountains traverse the entire peninsula of Italy north to south from Liguria to Sicily offering visitors the chance to see some of Italy’s most wondrous sites up close. From mountain climbing, chasing countless waterfalls, and cultural gems scattered throughout, there is much to explore. But a good start would be the Tuscan-Emilia Apennines between the north-central regions of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany in north-central Italy, known to the locals as the Bologna Apennines.
If you’re keen to visit Bologna — and we know you are if you’re a foodie as it’s Italy’s top culinary destination — take a few days longer and slow travel Bologna through the surrounding hills and countryside. It’s truly one of the most authentic travel experiences in Italy. Tall claim, we know. You won’t be disappointed!
In these hills, you’ll discover incredible Michelin-rated restaurants, quaint airbnbs, cultural gems and quirky castles like Rochetta Mattei. Or explore Tole, a charming small town with hundreds of painted murals adorning every corner. In Borgo la Scola, a historic and practically abandoned small town, you’ll have the streets to yourself for incredible photo opps.
The street art in Marzabotto alone is worth a day trip from Bologna — a quiet and powerful protest to the tragic events that occurred in the region during World War II. Or spend the night in historic Vignola after exploring its fort — Rocco di Vignola — from top to bottom. Foodies shouldn’t miss the truffle town of Savigno where you can take a truffle hunting tour then enjoy dinner at Trattoria Amerigo 1934, a yummy Michelin trattoria.
If you’ve exhausted your First Timers Guide and are looking for more of Bologna’s hidden gems, spend some time in the Apennines, and walk, bike, hike, or drive through some of the most amazing small towns in Italy.
You’ll have the streets to yourself in secluded Borgo la Scola a hidden gem in the Bologna Apennines.
>> Where to Stay in the Bologna Appenines?
The Locanda Amerigo in Savigno is just down the street from the Michelin Trattoria Amerigo 1934 — and so worth the elegant overnight stay after an amazing dinner! Closer to Tuscany, in the quaint town of Badi, B&B Borgo Massovrana has a gorgeous view of Lake Suviana and is close to so many natural sites and hiking trails.
By Coni from Experiencing the Globe
The lovely village of Misurina sits on the shoreline of an Alpine lake with the same name in the heart of the Italian Dolomites, one of the most impressive sights in Europe. The town is 1,754 meters above sea level, surrounded by the Cadini, Sorapis and Cristallo massifs, and the landmark of the area, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The town is known for being a center for the cure of respiratory illnesses thanks to its special microclimate and pure air.
In wintertime the lake freezes over, giving Misurina an enchanting look and providing visitors with a great base for winter sports. During the rest of the year the white is replaced by shades of green, transforming the village into an ideal setting for hiking and mountain excursions. The lake’s perimeter is 2.6 km long — an easy walk in the woods, but there’s literally dozens of other paths around for the ones that want to explore the area, with different difficulties for all levels.
Staying in Misurina is possible, with a limited amount of available beds. The good news is that there are alternatives for any budget, from a 4-star hotel to rustic camp sites. If you don’t want to spend the night, make sure to leave a bit of time to sit by the lake in a café and enjoy the nature around you.
Lake Misurina is one of the hidden Italian gems in the Dolomites
>>> Where to Stay in Misurina?
The chalet-style in the pics of Lake Misurina is the charming Hotel Lavaredo — close to the lake and ski lifts!
Lecco, Lake Como
by Harmony Skillman of Momma to Go
Located on the south east tip of Lake Como in the northern part of Italy, the charming town of Lecco is just a short drive from Milan. Not to be confused with Lecce in Puglia in southern Italy, it’s a wonder Lecco is a hidden gem in Italy and not more of a tourist destination with its amazing setting in Italy’s Lake District. Despite the envious locale, this lake town comes without the high price and big crowds of nearby towns like Como or Bellagio.
Take a stroll along the lake and see the famous bell tower near the waterfront and the bustling Piazza XX Settembre and Piazza Zermenati. Then cross the pedestrian bridge over to its sister town, Malgrate. Lecco is the perfect base for local hiking spots in the region. At the top of Magnodeno Mountain you’ll get stunning panoramic views from below (at 12400 m). The downtown or centro storico is where you’ll find your choice of top restaurants, chocolate shops, bakeries, and retail stores. A favorite stop is Capo Horm Gelateria Artigianale — there’s even a Grom in Lecco. What more could you want!
If you want to see how the rich and famous live, take the ferry over to Bellagio for the day. With so much to see and do, Lecco is the perfect spot for your next off the beaten path Italy adventure. It’s easily accessible by train from Milano and close to the airport. If you rent a car it’s an easy ride from towns like Millan, Verona, even Venice.
Lecco on Lake Como is a lesser-visited hidden gem in northern Italy
>>> Where to Stay in Lecco?
The popular Hotel NH Pontevecchio overlooks Lake Como and is steps from historic downtown Lecco.
Book an overnight stay at this amazing little Airbnb apartment in Malgrate right along the lake for less than $120 per night.
The Hotel Griso (Clarion Collection) in Malgrate, also right on the lake, features a rooftop sun terrace with hot tub and free parking.
Bassano del Grappa
by Milos Mitrovic of Happy Frog Travels
Bassano del Grappa is an incredible medieval town in the foothills of the Alps. Famous for its beautiful old town, wonderful views, and the renowned spirit grappa, the main site in Old Town is the 16th century wooden pontoon bridge.
No other than Palladio himself designed the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Equally impressive are the fantastic 12th century castle and cathedral that are close to the bridge. The whole old town, with its cobbled narrow streets and quirky squares, has a lovely medieval atmosphere. The City Hall with its large clock towers above the Piazza Libertà, Bassano’s main square. In the past, massive city walls surrounded the Old Town but today, only two entrance gates still stand: Porta delle Grazie in the northeast and Porta Dieda in the south.
If you enjoy a good scenic view, Bassano is your place. Besides, you’ll be enjoying them without crowds. For the best views of the old town go to the new bridge on Viale Armando Diaz. Likewise, head over to Viale Dei Martiri to admire the Alps in all their glory.
Bassano del Grappa makes a perfect day trip from Venice or nearby Lake Garda. You can’t leave Bassano without trying its world-famous Grappa spirit. Locals are so proud of their pomace brandy that they dedicated an entire museum to it. An absolute must!
Ponte Vecchio bridge in Bassano del Grappa
>>> Where to Stay in Bassano del Grappa?
Spend the night in Bassano in a historic hotel — a favorite is Terraglio Rooms, an exclusive boutique hotel set in a neoclassical villa with outstanding views.
Cornaiano, South Tyrol
by Anya Carion of Unexpected Occurrence
The small town of Cornaiano sits along the South Tyrolean Wine Route, one of the oldest wine routes in the country. Located near Bolzano and the foothills of the Dolomites, Cornaiano offers spectacular food, hearty mountain cuisine, and an amazing variety of wines. It’s also an outdoor lover’s paradise, with hundreds of kilometres of hiking and cycling paths.
Cornaiano is so small and quaint, and definitely worth a visit, as there are plenty of vineyards and wine cellars nearby. Because of it’s small size, you get to experience the slower pace of Italian life, which is harder to find in bigger cities. It only takes 30 minutes by bus to reach Bolzano, so everything you could need is just a short trip away. If you love spectacular views, living la dolce vita, great food, and incredible outdoor activities, Cornaiano is one of those hidden gems Italy has in abundance, and you have to visit!
Colorful Cornaiano is another of the hidden gems in northern Italy
>>> Where to Stay in Cornaiano?
Staying overnight in Cornaiano is the perfect way to break up your trip along the wine route, as there are so many amazing farm stays nearby. The Locherhof agriturismo offers small apartments with incredible views of the mountains, and they even have pigs and goats that run around the vineyards below.
by Elisa Subarits of France Bucket List
The pretty fishing village of Camogli in the Italian region of Liguria is bathed by the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a perfect day trip from Genoa, the capital of Liguria, or road trip it from the French Riviera — the easy drive from Nice to Camogli is only 2.5 hours.
Camogli is perfect to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and enjoy a beach day in the summer or a relaxing stroll in winter. With its pebble beaches and colorful architecture, it’s not much different from other coastal towns nearby like Portofino or the Cinque Terre. Despite that, few people know about Camogli, so it’s perfect for those wanting to avoid the crowds.
Spend the day walking around Camogli, taking beautiful pictures, and enjoying the sea breeze. The Castle of Dragonara and the Camogli lighthouse are particularly picturesque and a must-see in town. Also, Camogli is a great place to taste regional Italian cuisine like troffie al pesto, pasta al sugo di noci or a piece of oily fugassa (focaccia) on the go. There are a couple of restaurants by the sea with huge windows which are great for a Sunday meal in Camogli.
Getting lost in the quiet alleys of Camogli is always encouraged
>>> Where to Stay in Camogli?
Because of its small size, many travelers choose to visit Camogli on a day trip, but if you wish to spend a night, La Locanda I Tre Merli looks very good and with an unbeatable location near the lighthouse.
Gorizia, Friuli Venezia Giulia
by Larch Gauld of the Silver Nomad
The small, pretty town of Gorizia sits in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy. From its medieval origins, Gorizia has absorbed the influences from Slovenia, Austria and Italy, and its Habsburg past is evident in its wide boulevards and hidden squares. The 11th century Gorizia Castle sits above the town and rewards with stunning panoramic views over the town and into neighboring Slovenia. The castle was heavily damaged during World War I but was rebuilt in 1937 is now a museum of the Middle Ages.
One the way up to the castle are two museums: the Museum of the Great War includes a reconstruction of a trench and the hardships of life during the war. On display are uniforms, weaponry and items recovered in the area. The Museum of Fashion and Applied Arts was established in 1999, which charts the history of textiles in the area, weaving and displays of clothing styles and fashions through the ages.
The town is small enough to walk around and is mostly flat. In the centre is Piazza della Vittoria, a large triangular square with a pretty fountain at one end depicting Neptune. On one side of the square, the baroque St. Ignatius’ Church dates back to the 17th Century and has an interior decorated with marble and inlaid wooden furnishings. A must-see in Gorizia for a historic glimpse into another northern Italy hidden gem. A little further out of the centre is the beautiful Palazzo Coronini-Cronberg. The 16th Century palazzo is now a museum with paintings by Tintoretto, Rubens and Monet on the walls and original furniture throughout. There are also examples of the delicate lace made in Gorizia.
>>> Where to Stay in Gorizia?
The Grand Hotel Entourage is the perfect place to stay and have everything within walking distance.
Ponte di Legno, Lombardy
by Isabella Biava of Boundless Roads
Ponte di Legno is a renowned little resort town in the north of Lombardia bordering Trentino, in Italy’s Brescia province. A dormant small village in the low season, it comes to life during the ski season in winter from December through April, and in July and August for family summer holidays.
This is quite a unique destination, much loved not only for the multiple outdoor activities available but also for the quaint and cozy atmosphere, the high-end shops and restaurants, and the little cafes and bars where people gather before dinner for the traditional aperitif. You don’t need to be an outdoor sports addict to appreciate Ponte di Legno, but if you are, you have plenty from which to choose.
For the winter season, they’ve recently expanded the complex of ski lifts that connect multiple towns from the popular sky resort Tonale down to Ponte di Legno and then Temu with a total of 28 modern ski lifts and 41 slopes suitable for any level of skier, including the little ones. A skating track, a cross-country ski trail, and a heated swimming pool are also attractions to enjoy, and a huge luxury spa center equipped with state-of-the-art modern amenities in the middle of town is in the works.
In the summer, the white slopes turn to soft green carpets dotted with colorful flowers and marked by endless hiking trails that anyone can enjoy. You can even walk for weeks from peak to peak sleeping under the stars or in the available cabins, free to use — it’s a paradise for professional and amateur hikers. Don’t forget to try the delicious local cuisine as well!
>>> Where to Stay in Ponte di Legno?
The Hotel Garni Sorriso is top-rated and has a stunning panoramic view with free parking and WiFi.
by Lisa Rivera of Following the Rivera
Cobbled streets, Palladian architecture and a specialty fish dish is what you can expect on a visit to Vicenza. The province of Vicenza lies in the region of Veneto in the north of Italy. It’s not as well-known as neighboring Verona or Venice, but Vicenza has plenty of historic charm.
Its historic centre (centro storico) is where you’ll find the city’s main attractions. Begin your tour of the city in the Piazza dei Signori. The largest square in the city, it’s home to the jaw-dropping Basilica Palladiana. Built in the 15th century, the building has two standout features: the 82m bell tower (Torre Bissara) and the loggia, the covered exterior corridor or gallery supported by arches and columns of the basilica. The Renaissance-period building is one of many notable works in Vicenza of renowned architect, Andrea Palladio. You can see a statue of the man himself nearby the Basilica Palladiana.
A short walk from here is the equally splendid Teatro Olimpico. Palladio’s last project before he died, it was the first closed theatre of its time. Impressively, Teatro Olimpico is the world’s oldest surviving stage set. One feature Palladio didn’t approve of, was the faux sky painted on the roof’s dome. It was done after his death to give the illusion of a classic open-air theatre. While it may not look out of place, many locals who object will probably have a far livelier response! You can buy tickets to tour the theatre, or depending on your level of Italian, take in a show.
Like many regions and provinces across Italy, Vicenza also has its own delicacy, baccalà alla Vicentina, a typical dish consisting of dried cod fish. It’s cooked with onions, garlic and parsley and then served with grilled polenta. Another popular version is baccalà Mantecato, a traditional Venetian dish, that’s creamier in texture given the milk in the recipe, and an equally delicious alternative. Baccalà Mantecato is typically served with polenta, or as a cicchetti, a quick snack spread on top of crusty toast.
>>> Where to Stay in Vicenza?
As for where to stay in Vicenza, stay right in the heart of the historic centre at Antico Hotel Vicenza. The building dates to the early 1900s, and it’s just 1 minute from the Basilica Palladiana.
Another option is the 4-star Hotel Campo Marzio located in a prime spot in Vicenza, with rooms featuring a city or garden view.
by Pamela Drager of The Directionally Challenged Traveler
An amazing hidden gem in Italy to add to your list is the tiny micro-country of San Marino. The oldest country in the world, San Marino boasts breathtaking views of the Italian countryside while being home to an impressive castle. Traveling to San Marino is a must for anyone visiting Italy. Located three hours south of Venice, we decided to trade visiting Bologna for a night in San Marino, and it was worth it!
The first thing you’ll notice about San Marino is the towering castle on the peak of Monte Titano. There are three towers to explore, dating back to the 11th century. The first tower, Guaita, is the oldest tower built in the 11th century and most famous. The second tower, Cesta, is on the highest peak and home to a museum holding over 1,500 weapons dating back to medieval times. Montale, the third tower, is on the smallest summit and is not open to the public.
Visit Ristorante Il Beccafico for a delicious meal. Hand-tossed, fire-grilled pizza with local wine overlooking the countryside? What’s not to love! If you still have time to explore, visit the National Museum, the Basilica de San Marino, or for something a bit different, the Torture Museum. Yikes!
>>> Where to Stay in San Marino?
If you’re able to stay in San Marino, stay overnight at the Hotel Cesare. Many hotels are located at the bottom of the mountain which means you’d miss out on the views. Hotel Cesare is located at the top of the mountain and has a patio overlooking the hillside.
by Maria Berneiser Haase of Europe up Close
If you’re looking for a true hidden gem in Italy, head to the small village of Balbido, the painted village in the north Italian region of Trentino. In the 1980s, the residents invited artists to paint murals on the buildings, showing the various professions of its residents, and scenes from the rural way of life back in the day. The artists used a traditional method for the frescoed murals. While murals are quite common in Europe in general, this small village of less than 200 inhabitants has 222 murals that you can admire during your visit. The murals depict mainly scenes from the past, showcasing the local heritage and traditions, old trades and professions that no longer exist, and other scenes of the daily life of the villagers.
Life in the rural regions of the Dolomites was not always easy. Most people in the region were small farmers, who had to become traveling tradesmen during the winter months. Some turned into salesmen, others offered their services as day laborers, while the women stayed at home rearing the children and looking after the home and farm.
It was a tough life, but people came up with some really creative ideas to make extra income. One man hatched an idea to repair and sell used umbrellas and traveled Europe in the winter. He made a pretty penny and was copied by some of the other villagers and Balbido became known for its traveling umbrella traders.
When you visit Balbido, a guided tour is highly recommended so you can learn more about the history and meaning behind each of the murals.
TIP: Also visit Rango, a small village just a few hundred yards up the hill. It was recently named as one of the Most Beautiful Medieval Villages in Italy and has some incredible architecture and stunning farmhouses.
>>> Where to Stay in Balbido?
Balbido is so small that you’d have to find accommodation nearby. There are many small hotels and Bed and Breakfasts in the region that are affordable, clean and homey.
For something a bit more luxurious, stay at Grand Hotel Terme & Spa in Comano Terme, a stunning hotel with an amazing spa.
Hidden Gems in Central Italy
Sorano, Maremma, Tuscany
by Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now
Think you’ve seen all the hidden gems in Tuscany Italy? You might be surprised to learn that there are still places in Tuscany that tourists have yet to discover. One of them is the medieval village of Sorano in Maremma, a secluded region in southern Tuscany. Perched high on a cliff, Sorano has been called the Matera of Tuscany and all of the buildings that line its narrow laneways are built out of a volcanic rock called tufa. The village is steeped in ancient history dating back to prehistoric times.
The imposing Orsini Fortress and Medieval Museum towers over the town. It was considered to be a feat of military engineering in Renaissance times. Today, you can cross the drawbridge over the dry moat and explore the architectural marvels.
The best thing to do in Sorano is to wander the old streets and soak in the ancient atmosphere. Be sure to visit its two sister tufa towns nearby, Pitigliano and Sovana. From Sorano, you can hike the Vie Cave, an ancient sunken path carved through the stone to connect the villages and secret burial grounds. End your day with homemade pasta and hearty fare at Fidelma, a delectable local favorite.
There are plenty of hidden gems in Tuscany Italy. Have you visited the ancient tufa town of Sorano?
>>> Where to Stay in Sorano?
Stay overnight in Hotel della Fortezza. You’ll wake up to church bells and a fabulous view of the town.
Etruscan Tombs of Tarquinia
By Soumya Gayatri of Stories by Soumya
If you want to do something unique in Italy and wish to explore beyond Roman history and architecture, try the Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia, located just an hour from Rome. The Etruscan civilization flourished in central-western Italy between the 8th and 3rd century BC which is before the Romans took control. Etruscans were well-known for their expertise in art and architecture which you can experience in Tarquinia. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as the Monterozzi necropolis, has nearly 6,000 ancient graves, the oldest one dating back to the 7th century BC. All of them have an underground chamber (some have two) that you can reach by climbing down a flight of stairs.
The walls of 200 of these tombs are adorned with beautiful Etruscan art. Colorful frescoes cover the walls and ceilings depicting Etruscan life, ceremonies, and myths from centuries ago. Make sure you look out for depictions of the Etruscan robe which was actually a precursor to the Roman toga!
Some of the most notable tombs you need to visit are the Tomb of Leopards, Tomb of Hunting & Fishing, and the Tomb of the Triclinium. Don’t forget to stop by the Tarquinia National Museum which houses some interesting sarcophagi.
You can easily do a day trip from Rome since Tarquinia is a little over an hour away from the Italian capital. A combination of train and bus works pretty well.
>>> Where to Stay in Tarquinia?
If you wish to stay overnight, check out Palazzo Castelleschi, a resplendent heritage home converted into a hotel with all modern amenities.
by Shelley Lee of Travel Stained
When the heat and humidity of a Roman summer starts to wear you down, a trip out to Ariccia in the Castelli Romani for an incredible meal is sure to fix what ails you. Located 20 kilometres southeast of Rome, Ariccia is known for its refreshing micro-climate and the best porchetta on the planet. Don’t miss Osteria Aricciarola, but you’ll find a line of traditional restaurants, called fraschette, along the Via Borgo S. Rocco. They’re all good. Order an incredible spread of antipasti which includes Ariccia porchetta, plump olives, bruschetta, salami, and cheeses. Wash it all down with a carafe of sweet, fizzy wine.
If you have room, indulge in a rich pasta dish. Opt for one made with cinghiale or wild boar to keep it truly regional. When you’ve eaten more than you ever thought possible, walk off all that food with a stroll around Ariccia’s pretty historical centre. You’ll find the 16th Century Palazzo Chigi, baroque main square, and the Church of Santa Maria dell’Assunzione — all of which were redesigned by Bernini.
Ariccia and the Castelli Romani are really the perfect distance for a day trip from Rome, so it’s not really necessary to stay overnight. If you do decide to stay, there’s a ton of B&Bs, hotels and apartments available all over the region. Frascati, Nemi, Ariccia, and Castel Gandolfo are appealing towns, but be sure to check specific locations, since many accommodations are only accessible by car or taxi.
>>> Where to Stay in Ariccia?
Just 16 miles from Rome is the Agriturismo La Vite e gli Ulivi with a lovely pool and room for the whole family. It makes the perfect base to explore the Etruscan tombs and the quieter part of Rome.
by Philip Kelly of The Gap Decaders
Scanno is set deep in the Sagittario Valley, high in the raw Abruzzo mountains and is perhaps most famous for its glistening heart-shaped lake, Lago di Scanno. If you’re road tripping Italy in summer, the lake is a busy camping spot where locals and visitors alike go to swim and paddle board in the turquoise waters, before enjoying various music festivals and hot summer’s night parties.
Away from the lake, Scanno appears much like any other Italian hill town rising from the mountain in a jumble of buildings and towers. Spend some time here and you’ll find a fantastically well-preserved medieval mountain town with a beguiling history. The women of the town in their traditional dress and distinctive headwear have been captured and preserved on camera by some of the best photographers of the 20th century, including Cartier-Bresson and Giacomelli, and were known as the most beautiful women in Italy. Visit the higgledy-piggledy, tiny Museo della Lana to understand the very special photographic history of Scanno.
Amongst the beauty of Scanno’s medieval alleys and honeyed buildings you’ll find a handful of good restaurants and bars, and workshops making and selling traditional local crafts such as lace and jewelry, perfect slow travel souvenirs from Italy. For authentic local food, head to Ristorante Alla Fonte by the church before heading to the Hotel Garnì Mille Pini for a warm local welcome.
>>> Where to Stay in Scanno?
The mountain-style Hotel Garnì Mille Pini is a great choice to stay. They’ll even help organize horse riding and fishing on Lake Scanno.
by Leyla Giray Alyanak of Women on the Road
The hilltop village of Norma is a perfect day trip from Rome, about 1.5 hours from Fiumicino airport through some of the more delightful scenery of Latina province. After a picturesque drive through lakes and low mountains, the first sign of Norma will be the Da Ninfa gardens, set at the bottom of the hill and open only a few days a year. With its flowers, stone bridges and medieval ruins, it has been described as the Most Romantic Garden in the World.
And now it’s time for the tortuous switchback climb to Norma (don’t worry, there is an easier though longer road at the back of the mountain). If you dare look out into the open, you’ll see some of the views this village is famous for. You’ll erupt into the village center almost accidentally, suddenly surrounded by a church, a pleasant café-lined street and a bustling town in which people go about their everyday business.
There are many superlatives about Norma: it has few tourists, impossibly gorgeous views, delightful food, an outstanding set of Roman ruins, and an old section with cobblestones and winding streets. On weekend evenings, take part in the age-old tradition of the passeggiata — the stroll, as men walk with men and women with women, telling each other the day’s business as undoubtedly has been going on for centuries.
>>> Where to Stay in Norma?
B&B La Passeggiata in Norma with a garden and terrace to enjoy. It’s also close to both the Ninfa Oasis and the train station.
Hidden Gems in Southern Italy
by Nadine Maffre of Le Long Weekend
If you want to experience an authentic slice of Italy, head to Puglia. And once you’re there, be sure to take a day to wander around the charming small Italian town that is Nardò. Situated just a stone’s throw from some of the region’s best beaches on the Ionian Coast, yet completely unscathed by tourism, Nardò is a true gem in the rough. Here you can wander through quiet streets and feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Iconic Piaggio Apes (3-wheeled mini trucks) rumble down the streets, and children play games around the 18th-century column in the town piazza while their parents dine on the cafe terraces. The baroque architecture and colorful façades add to its appeal, and you’ll find serene scenes hidden behind stone archways.
Pop your head into the Nardò Cathedral to take in the medieval frescoes, and don’t miss the town’s public gardens, which are a welcome respite from the heat in the summertime. Stay just outside the town among ancient olive groves and agrarian landscapes at the affordable B&B At The Aia. Here you’ll receive a warm welcome from the owner Giulia, who can give you personal recommendations and insider tips to enjoy your stay in the region.
>>> Where to Stay in Nardò?
The charming B&B The Aia is a great choice to overnight a day or longer in Nardò.
Asinara Island, Sardinia
Claudia Tavani of Strictly Sardinia
Off the north coast of Sardinia, Asinara island is one of the last hidden gems of Italy and a truly beautiful place to visit. There, you’ll find some of the best beaches in Sardinia, and so much more to see and do.
Formerly a leper and prison colony for the last 120 years, the island was declared a National Park in 2002. Because of its unique past, nobody other than prisoners and prison guards lived on the island, which helped preserve its beautiful landscape. Once the last prisoner was moved away from Asinara (which throughout time became a maximum security prison, thought to be the Alcatraz of the Mediterranean), it became a national park and its coast and land became heavily protected, to the point that some beaches — where turtles lay their eggs — are not accessible, and fishing is prohibited throughout the island and the sea surrounding it. Currently, only park rangers and seasonal personnel working in one of only two accommodations and restaurants live on the island.
The best way to explore the island is either on foot — there are many hiking trails — or by electric bike. Alternatively, you can rent an electric car in Cala Reale once you get off the ferry (booking in advance is necessary in high season). If you are short on time, guided jeep tours are a good option too. Some of the highlights of the island include the beaches at Cala Sabina and Cala del Detenuto, the bunker where mafia boss Toto Riina was kept and the main prison in Cala d’Oliva, the views from Punta della Scomunica, and the wild donkeys living on the island.
You can visit Asinara National Park on day trips from Stintino (20 minutes by boat) or Porto Torres (about 90 minutes by boat), but to fully enjoy it, make sure to spend at least two days there.
>>> Where to Stay on Asinara Island?
As the hostel is quite basic, it’s best to stay at the boutique hotel La Locanda del Parco, in Porto Torres, the island’s only village.
Ariano Irpino, Campania: An Authentic Taste of Italian Life
By Jackie Gately of Enjoy Travel Life
Located amongst the fertile hills of Italy’s Campania region, two hours east of the Amalfi Coast you’ll find Ariano Irpino. Also known as la Città del Tricolle (“the City of the Three Knolls”), a visit to this destination provides an authentic experience of daily life in southern Italy minus the tourism.
In Ariano Irpino’s historic city centre, friends gather for cappuccino or wine at a small cafe Agrodolce Zincone. You’ll mostly hear Italian spoken, but with an Irpinian dialect similar to Neapolitan. The centro storico is home to several small shops, some offering the traditional Arianese maiolica, a colorful glazed earthenware made here since the Middle Ages. Across from the cobblestoned piazza bearing the city crest, you’ll find the Cathedral de Santa Maria Assunta. This Romanesque church built upon the ancient ruins of a temple of Apollo is at the heart of the Arianese spirit. Your perfect day here includes sampling delicious, locally sourced Campania cuisine, embracing community festivals, and admiring panoramic views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Ariano Irpino is steeped in history, so don’t overlook the Silver Museum or the 9th Century Norman Castle.
>>> Where to Stay in Ariano Irpino?
To turn in for the night, you might opt for luxury accommodations at The Grand Hotel Biffy, which offers private saunas and spa services.
Budget travelers can look to The Sisters of the Holy Spirit for hostel rooms inside the monastery.
For an authentic Italian agrituismo, our recommendation is Agriturismo Tre Colli, a family run farm stay with a restaurant favored by the locals. From your rooftop terrace, you can watch the morning mist rise over the valley of this picturesque Italian countryside.
Isola di Ponza, Tyrrhenian Sea
by Linda Faison of La Dolce Fit Vita
When dreaming of Italy, we all fantasize of that Italian la dolce vita moment — gelato in hand as you zip through the coastal streets on a vespa overlooking the coast. Or perhaps sipping a limoncello as you ride around a boat alternating between quick dips and aperitifs? Whatever the case, your experience doesn’t have to be pricey and packed with tourists and selfie sticks. Yes, Capri and Positano might seem glamorous, but you’re guaranteed a much more exclusive and budget-friendly experience on an island off the beaten path.
A mere two hours from Rome you’ll find crystal waters, fine dining and have that exact island adventure you’ve been dreaming of… all on the island of Ponza. Frequented by mostly Italians, Isola di Ponza is still virtually untouched by international tourism. The largest of the Pontine Islands, you will be able to explore the island both via land (say, on a rented vespa) and via sea on your own private boat! Take a boat tour (though renting your own boat grants for a more memorable and private experience!). There are hundreds of little coves to explore and if you’re a diver, this is a great place for snorkeling and scuba diving. Just outside Cala dell’Acqua Cove you can dive down and explore an American World War II sunken ship.
Back on land you can bask in the sun at Piscine Naturali, natural pools that over the years have formed amongst the smooth rocks of the cove itself. Not only is the water here unbelievable, there are actually two restaurants right on the rock. If instead you’re into great panoramic views, make sure you don’t forget to include a sunset happy hour at Chiaia Luna towering over the most gorgeous bay.
Because Ponza is such a marvelous island packed with activities and sights to see, it’s not a recommended day trip. Instead stay overnight, relax, mingle with the locals and absorb all you can. Sun-kissed skin, boat rides and spritz at an affordable price — this is the place to go if you’re looking for one of those rare hidden gems of Italy yet to be discovered. Go before the secret is out!
>>> Where to Stay in Isola di Ponza?
There are many B&Bs to choose from for all budgets, but the Casa Acqua Marina, a little apartment just 5 minutes from the port is super convenient for quick access to restaurants downtown.
Minori, Amalfi Coast
by Isabelle Hoyne of Issys Escapades
The Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s most tourist-trodden regions, but there is still some relief to be had from the madding crowds that flock towards the popular destinations of Positano and Amalfi town. One such hidden gem is the little town of Minori, which sits just under Ravello along the coastline. Perfect for whiling away hours on the beach and watching the bustling hive of cars beeping and local Italians going about their daily lives, this is a location where Italians come to holiday — you’d be hard-pressed to find many English-speaking parties during your stay.
Within its heart, Minori offers an excavated Roman villa, which was covered in layers of ash during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. There are also two fantastic restaurants — the upscale Giardiniello and local trattoria Ristorante la Botte — popular with locals and so good, it’s worth more than one visit. Minori is also a superb satellite location for reaching other destinations along the Amalfi Coast, with regular ferries departing from its port.
>>> Where to Stay in Minori?
Stay at the Minori Palace, an elegant and reasonably priced four star boutique hotel located mere minutes from the beach.
Val di Noto, Sicily
by Veronika Primm of TravelGeekery
Noto, together with other towns in the Sicilian region of southern Italy that form the historical region of Val di Noto, is a uniquely beautiful Baroque town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the other cities from Val di Noto – Catania, Ragusa or Modica — are quite famous, Noto is still relatively off the beaten path. Except for one place – Caffé Sicilia.
The café, which was featured on the popular Netflix show Chefs Table, has recently attracted quite a few tourists. No wonder – it’s run by a local patriotic family who specialize in a strict usage of local ingredients and make one of the best granitas in all of Sicily (a frozen sorbet dessert and local Sicilian specialty). They have even helped revive the local almond growing industry.
But Noto is more than that. The number one site to see is undoubtedly the Noto Cathedral. The monumental Baroque structure suffered in an earthquake in the 1960’s and took eleven years to reconstruct. Noto is rich in magnificent churches. The Baroque architecture clad in white and sand-colored limestone is what most people come to admire in the town. Churches nearly outnumber residential houses in the historical city center — you can find most of them on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele Boulevard.
Noto can be easily visited on a day trip from Catania, but if you want to experience especially eerie streets, stay overnight in one of the numerous hotels or Airbnbs.
Local Sicilian Food TIP: Try an Almond Granita with a warm Brioche bun, for breakfast in Sicily — traditional and exceptional!
>>> Where to Stay in Noto?
For a truly unique way to experience the Val di Noto, we love the IUTA Glamping & Farm has a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, lovely garden and free WiFi.
by Paul Rought of The Two That Do
The historic town of Otranto, 45 km south of Lecce in the Salento region of southern Italy, typifies why this is a country that can be visited time and time again. Its strategic coastal location has been of fundamental importance for millennia. Over the centuries Otranto has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks and during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 18th century the French. Each contributing to the understated but rich architecture of the town. Particular highlights you should see include the Otranto Cathedral and its 12th century mosaic depicting images of religious and pagan legend from Noah’s Ark to King Arthur. Here too you’ll find the rather gothic display of the bones of the Martyrs of Otranto.
Castello Aragonese dating back to the 1400s forms part of the town’s impressive defenses, is open to the public and often houses temporary exhibitions and town events. The city walls encircling the old town district can be walked for panoramic views over the town and the Strait of Otranto. On a clear day you can even see Albania some 45 miles east.
In addition to walking the narrow streets of the charming old town Otranto, browsing in souvenir stalls and watching the world go by in one of its delightful bars or restaurants, Otranto offers a small central beach. Other beaches are easily accessible to the north and south providing visitors with a picturesque spot to absorb the year round sunshine and dip in the crystal clear waters.
>>> Where to Stay in Otranto?
To make the most of your time in Otrano book a room in the Palazzo de Mori housed in the town’s bastions.
by Helen Rapp of Helen on Her Holidays
Procida is a tiny island in the Bay of Naples, less than 2 square miles in area. It’s only 20 minutes from neighboring Ischia and only a short distance from glitzy Capri. But while Capri and Ischia get millions of visitors every year, Procida is far quieter. Most people visiting Procida arrive at Marina Grande, probably the busiest place on Procida. From here, it’s just a 10 minute walk through Procida’s pretty back streets to Piazza Dei Martiri and the lemon sherbet-colored Santuario S. Maria delle Grazie Incoronata.
Turn left at the church and you’ll reach the Terra Murata, a fortified medieval village at the highest point on Procida. The view from Terra Murata is one of the most beautiful in Italy, looking down over the pastel colored fishermen’s houses of Marina di Corricella. Turn right at the church and you can take the narrow lanes down to the harbor. There are lots of peaceful restaurants down here, mostly selling fresh fish brought back by the fishermen who still moor their boats here. As well as beautiful views and historic sights, Procida also has a surprising number of beaches, plus a nature reserve.
>>> Where to Stay in Procida?
Most visitors to Procida come on a day trip from Naples or Ischia, but if you do want to stay overnight there are a few hotels, apartments for rent and a campsite offering luxury safari tents and even an Airstream caravan.
Procida Camp & Resort is very cool!
Love being inspired to travel by movies set in Italy? If you loved The Talented Mr. Ripley and fell in love with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law’s summer seaside flat — that was filmed in Procida!
by Annabel Kirk of Smudged Postcard
Located in the centre of Sicily, around 150 km from Palermo and 95 km from Catania, the town of Enna is the highest regional capital in Italy, and offers visitors incredible views across Sicily’s wheat fields which stretch for miles beneath this underrated Italian city. The best time of year to visit Enna is at Easter when the streets are filled with atmospheric parades during holy week. Locals dress in traditional hooded robes and make their way to the city’s cathedral.
If you continue through Enna from the cathedral, you eventually reach Castello di Lombardia, a 13th century castle which commands particularly awe-inspiring views from one of its towers. In the spring, there are carpets of flowers across the castle’s grounds and the wheat fields glow a bright green.
Close to Enna is the little railway museum at Villarosa, which offers a glimpse into Sicily’s 19th century past. You’ll need to call in advance so that the curator can unlock the museum and let you in. The exhibits are housed in old railway carriages behind Villarosa train station.
Enna is a great place to visit and experience Sicily with kids. Children will love exploring the castle and visiting the museum. It’s undiscovered Italy, a chance to slow travel with your family, and experience rural Italy off the beaten path.
>>> Where to Stay in Enna?
Although Enna itself doesn’t offer a great range of accommodation, there are some excellent agriturismo properties to stay at nearby including the lovely Baglio Pollicarini.
Torre Canne, Puglia
by Nicole Malik of Wandertooth
After a whirlwind trip through Rome and Venice, we enjoyed staying in the quiet fishing town of Torre Canne in Puglia. This picturesque little village is perched right on the beautiful Adriatic Sea. And with a population of less than 500 residents, it’s truly a quiet getaway in one of southern Italy’s hidden gems.
Enjoy your time strolling the pretty streets or visiting the iconic Punta Torre Canne Lighthouse. Stop for a delicious lunch of fresh seafood and local wine at one of the seaside cafes. Or spend the day at one of the many beautiful beaches that stretch south along the coast.
You can even visit the local wineries or take a day trip to Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for the unique and white-washed trulli buildings. Regardless of what you do or where you stay, you’ll have a relaxing and quiet getaway in this charming Italian city.
>>> Where to Stay in Torre Canne?
The beautiful Canne Bianche Lifestyle Hotel is a small beachfront resort just south of Torre Canne — take a short taxi ride or borrow the complimentary bicycles from the hotel and ride over.
If you prefer to stay right in the heart of town, there are a few hotels with apartment style rooms, or several private Airbnb rentals as well.
Are you looking to slow travel Italy for the first time or explore more of the hidden gems in Italy?
We hope you find your own corner of Italy off the beaten path, connect with the locals for a while, and enjoy this beautiful country outside the ZTL tourist zones. There are so many gems of Italy waiting to be discovered!
Questions? We’re here to help. Just drop a line below for more info, to share your own hidden gem in Italy, or let us know if we’ve inspired you to go. Arrivederci!
“Lori Sorrentino is the Editor and Photographer for Travlinmad, a food and travel blog specializing in slow travel and local food experiences. She caught the photography bug as a kid, and started traveling soon thereafter, a combination that eventually led to a career in tourism and destination marketing. She hails from New Jersey but now calls Florida home, and she travels full-time making local connections, discovering new food experiences, and photographing the colors, details and textures wherever she goes.”