If you dream of traveling to those destinations in Italy that are off the travelers’ radar, you’ve come to the right place. Do you want to experience Italy off the beaten path? Do you want to know some of the charming villages, natural areas, cities, and historical landmarks that are authentic hidden gems in Italy? I will uncover 20 destinations from most of the Italian regions that you can add to any classic tour of Italy to enjoy the local attractions and culture without the crowds. Be inspired to visit those places where you have the chance to connect with the locals easily, travel slowly, where the majority of travelers are Italian. Some of these dream destinations even the Italians have never heard of…
ABOUT THESE HIDDEN GEMS IN ITALY
The following ideas to explore Italy off-the-beaten-path are recommended by experienced travel writers who are passionate about Italy and Italian culture, and by Italians who want to help to develop the incredible potential of their country. You have everything to gain by opting for an alternative itinerary in Italy: lesser risk of scam, better prices, the possibility to book last minute at convenient rates, a warmer welcoming, food of better quality, more kids-friendly facilities, and more surprises… Try and visit some of these secret spots on your very first trip to Italy. Let go of the fear of missing out on the famous cities. Make these hidden gems in Italy be the base from which you will tour to the places that are on a classic Italy bucket list… but then come back here and enjoy the best Italy has to offer to a traveler.
Glorenza or Glurns in Trentino Alto Adige: off the beaten path on the Italian Alps
This beautiful city, itself one of the smallest cities in the world, can be found nestling amongst the mountains of Sud Tyrol, in the Upper Venosta Valley. A historic trading center for salt at the busy junction along the Via Claudia Augusta, this relatively unchanged and intact medieval city boasts an enclosed fortification, complete with picturesque tower gates and fully preserved ramparts.
What are the best things to do in Glurns, a hidden gem in Italy’s Stelvio National Park?
- The Schludernser Gate Tower has an exhibition about the city which includes information about local trades and curiosities, with another permanent exhibition on a local artist called Paul Flora. There is also the opportunity to walk the battlements.
- The surrounding Alpine landscape is beautiful for walking and exploring the Stilfserjoch national park.
- Wandering within the city walls, all the while enjoying the atmosphere and medieval surroundings. Spend time relaxing in a square with a drink, or sampling some of the delicious local food at the restaurant Grüner Baum.
You can reach Glorenza by car, either along the apple-lined and scenic SS38 and SS41 roads coming from Merano and heading towards Austria and Switzerland, or by descending from one of the impressive mountain passes that bring you in from the other direction. These make amazing drives in both directions that are well worth doing anyway, even without the beauty of Glorenza as a reward along the way.
By Rachel from Children of Wanderlust
Asinara National Park in Sardinia
Asinara island is one of those unknown places to visit in Italy that many have never even heard of. This small island off the north coast of Sardinia is home to some of the best beaches in Sardinia, but don’t let this fool you: there are many more reasons to visit. Perfect in the summer, this is a destination worth considering throughout the year.
A prison and leper colony for most of the 19th and 20th Century, Asinara became a National Park in 2002. The fact that nobody other than prisoners and prison guards lived on the island for more than 120 years helped protect its environment, and wildlife thrived there. At the moment, it is a highly protected place, with bans on fishing, docking on certain parts of the island (especially where marine turtles lay their eggs), and even actually walking on some beaches.
Nobody lives on the island other than park rangers and the staff of the only hostel and boutique hotel, which are located in the tiny village of Cala d’Oliva.
You can visit Asinara on day trips departing from Stintino or Porto Torres, but to make the most of all that it has to offer plan to spend at least a couple of days there so that you can hike one of the many trails, enjoy the beaches, and visit all the historical landmarks such as the Fornelli and the Cala d’Oliva prisons. The latter one is where mafia bosses, including Toto Riina, were held in custody.
The best way to explore the island is by bike. You can rent bikes either on mainland Sardinia or once you arrive – the best option is to use an e-bike, as Asinara is actually quite hilly. Alternatively, you can rent e-golf carts but you need to book them in advance.
Asinara can be reached by ferry from Porto Torres (around 90 minutes) or Stintino (around 30 minutes). If you plan to spend a few days there, make sure to book your accommodation in advance. If you have the budget, opt for the boutique hotel – called La Locanda del Parco – which is a significantly better option.
Claudia Tavani from Strictly Sardinia
Lake Bracciano and Martignano Park, an off-the-beaten-path natural reserve near Rome
Since most of the travelers don’t pay enough attention to this natural treasure located 30 km north of Rome, the Lake Bracciano and Martignano natural reserve keep being a favorite getaway for Rome citizens and a quiet paradise for a few Northern Europeans who come and stay with their motorhomes in one of the campsites on the shores of the lake. You need to stop here if you’re on a road trip to Tuscany from Rome. and want to discover Italy off the beaten path. There are three lovely ancient towns nestled on cliffs around the lake, two of which, Anguillara Sabazia and Trevignano Romano, have direct access to the beach and promenades that are a delight to walk along. There are actually so many activities to enjoy on and around Lake Bracciano for every type of traveler. Are you interested in swimming, paddleboarding or windsurfing on the crystal clear waters? Or maybe you prefer visiting the elegant rooms of the Bracciano Castle that still displays the original Renaissance frescoes and furniture? Besides strolling around the curated alleys of the three ancient towns, during the summer, I enjoy the aperitivo at one on the kiosk on the shores of Anguillara Sabazia or sunbathing on the Vigna di Valle beach, which is actually one of the best beaches near Rome. But you can even go further and discover a couple more hidden gems in this part of central Italy: hike from Anguillara Sabazia to the secluded Lake Martignano or through the ruins of the ghost town of Antica Monterano, which is just a 10 km drive (or ride!).
Perugia, Umbria: a hidden gem in Italy’s greenest region
This picturesque, medieval city is the capital of the Umbria region. It’s located right in the middle of Italy, between Rome and Florence. The trip only takes 2 hours from either of the cities, whether you’re going by car, bus or train. If you’re short on time, visiting Perugia would be a perfect day trip from Rome or Florence.
Perugia is on a hill, which means that the views from the city are gorgeous. However, be prepared for some steep walking, at least if you’re arriving at the train station since it’s at the bottom of the hill, or take the tram that goes all the way up to the top.
If you’re into architecture, art, history, and amazing sunsets, Perugia is the perfect destination for you. Stroll around the narrow streets, try Italian food (and gelato!) and admire the beautiful buildings. One of the hidden gems in Perugia that you shouldn’t miss, is Rocca Paolina – a Renaissance fortress located underground! Another attraction that is worth a visit is the Piazza IV Novembre, where there’s always something happening. Perugia was inhabited by the Etruscan civilization, to which the ancient Romans awe much of their traditions and technology. Near Perugia, you can visit the Necropolis of Strozzacapponi and the Volumni Hypogeum. If you’ve got a thing for mysterious Etruscan tombs, consider adding a detour to the Tuscia region, my favorite destination to experience Italy off the beaten path.
For the perfect end to your day in Perugia, walk to the edge of the hill for amazing views – especially at sunset!
The charming town of Reggio Emilia is located in the center of northern Italy on Emilia-Romagna’s popular gastronomic route linking its larger neighbors Parma, Modena, and Bologna. Running along this ‘Via Emilia’, the E35 highway linking Milan in the north to Florence in the south, means Reggio is easily accessible.
Reggio Emilia is often overlooked but it is far more than the little brother in a region famed for its cheese, balsamic vinegar, dry-cured hams, and Modena’s pasta-making classes. It is also known as the ‘tricolor town’ as it is here where ‘il tricolore’, Italy’s famous green, white and red flag was in 1797 adopted for the first time.
Small its old town center maybe but it is one of the most stylish and elegant you will come across in all of Italy. Perfect for an evening stroll its narrow streets surrounded by many grand buildings dating back to the 16th & 17th centuries bring architectural delights such as the Basilica Della Ghiara.
Delightful Piazza San Prospero is home to the local market and the grander Piazza Camillo Prampolini perfect to sit back and watch the world go by with local wine and antipasti.
Varese, Lombardy | Off the beaten path in northern Italy
Milan is definitely the main entry point for northern Italy. If you’re on a road trip to northern Italy, know that a few dozen kilometers north of Milan lies Varese, a small town close to the border with Switzerland. Developed as a holiday destination for rich people from Milan in the XIX century, it features elegant villas and parks built during that time. The main public gardens, inspired by those of the Schonbrunn Imperial Palace in Vienna, are just magnificent.
If you love walking in nature, Varese has plenty to offer outside the city. The region is famous for its seven lakes, all visible from the top of Campo Dei Fiori, the main peak in this area of the Prealpi Mountains. Possibilities to hike are endless, including short trips to neighboring Switzerland, only ten kilometers far from Varese.
To conclude on the charm of the region, there are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Varese. The most famous is the Sacro Monte (Holy Mountain). It consists of a cobblestone road with fourteen chapels representing the Holy Road, one of the best examples of Lombard art of the 17th century. During sunny days, climb the Sacro Monte to enjoy a rewarding meal at one of the great local restaurants on the top. If you put this on your Italy off-the-beaten-path bucket list, consider staying at this comfy apartment at the heart of Varese.
Erice, a village off the beaten path on Italy’s biggest island
Historic Erice (pronounced “ay-ree-chay”) enjoys a commanding location atop Mount Erice, looming high above the much larger and more popular Trapani. Erice was founded by the ancient Phoenicians and served as an ancient fortress to a wide range of different rulers throughout the centuries, each of whom left behind a collection of fascinating historical remnants.
Despite its small size, Erice boasts not one, but two, castles – the Pepoli Castle of the Saracens and Castello di Venere, a 12th century Norman castle built on the remains of the Temple of Venus. Both offer tremendous views of the surrounding countryside and Trapani far below. In addition to the city’s quaint, cobblestoned streets, there are also many sections of stone walls remaining from both the Phoenicians and Elymians.
Erice is most commonly visited as a day trip from Trapani, as the two are connected by fast and scenic cable car, but don’t underestimate just how much colder it can be up there. the “Appartamentino Pomelia” is a nice little apartment that was formerly part of a medieval fortress, as evidenced by unique little touches like the arrow slits in the bathroom.
With its varied history, expansive views, and exceptional architectural attractions, Erice is small enough to enjoy in a day but is still an essential stop on any classic Sicilian road trip. The town of Siracusa, on the Eastern coast of Sicily, is one of the hidden gems in Italy that most of the travelers to Sicily tend to skip. It’s certainly worth your time if you’re interested in the history of Greeks’ influence in southern Italy and traditional Sicilian cuisine.
Dean and Laynni from Routinely Nomadic
Camogli, an alternative to Cinque Terre
Camogli is one of Italy’s beautiful fishing villages not yet invaded by tourists – although popular with the Italians from Milan and Turin. It’s set on the coast down from Genova, a little way before the famous town of Portofino. Tourists tend to flock to the five villages of the Cinque Terre further down the coast.
Camogli is perfect to visit because of its low-key vibe. Most of the houses on the seafront are painted in different pastel colors and, together with the old fishing harbor, this makes Camogli a work of art.
As you would expect, the seafood is delicious and there are numerous restaurants to try local dishes at a reasonable price, compared to other destinations. Every day, boats still depart the harbor going on fishing runs to stock up the local restaurants.
There are some good hiking trails outside the village, including a 7km trail to Portofino itself. Failing that, you can just grab a boat there for the day. And of course, there’s the sea to swim in and a wide shingle beach to go with it – not the most comfortable but, in a place so beautiful, you won’t hold that against Camogli.
Camogli is recommended by Dave Chant
Ascoli Piceno, a stunning city in Le Marche
Ascoli Piceno is located in southern Le Marche, an underrated Italian region of mountains, rolling hills, and long sandy beaches. The town is an excellent destination for a short break or as a base for a holiday in Le Marche.
Ascoli’s most famous sight is the delightful Piazza del Popolo, a square so perfect that it is often described as the most beautiful piazza in Italy. It’s certainly a perfect spot for lunch or a coffee. The square is paved in travertine marble which shines in the sun. Ensure you sample the deep-fried stuffed olives whilst you’re there, a delicacy of the area known as “olive ascolane” which is also one of the most popular street foods in Rome and Italy. Piazza del Popolo is home to the Liberty-style Café Meletti which is popular for its homemade liqueur anisette.
Ascoli Piceno has an excellent art gallery, the Pinacoteca which features art by Titian among other artists. The gallery can be found in the town’s other main square Piazza Arringo which is also home to the cathedral and the town hall.
Ascoli can be reached from Rome in about three hours by car, alternatively, the nearest airport is Ancona on the east coast. For an enchanting stay just outside the town center, head to Villa Chicci, a small hotel with a swimming pool.
Annabel Kirk from Smudged Postcard
Off the beaten track in the Italian Dolomites: the Lago di Sorapis
Lago di Sorapis is a sparkling turquoise lake set on a remote ledge, backed by the craggy buttresses of the towering 3,200m Mount Sorapis. It’s a stunning location and being a 2-hour walk from the nearest car park, it’s a stunning sight that remains well off-the-beaten-path in Italy.
The trail up to Lago di Sorapis includes a lush forest path and a few narrow ledges with breath-taking views across the Italian Dolomites. It’s a beautiful walk with just the right amount of heart-pumping exercise to make you truly appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Once you make it up to the lake, the tranquil turquoise waters – shimmering in the soft light reflected off the impenetrable wall of rock – make the effort all worth it.
As an added bonus, the hike back includes a traverse over one of the most rugged and vertiginous mountain passes in the area. It takes a bit of work (and is entirely optional) but the views over Tre Cime and the eastern Dolomites are sensational.
The hike to Lago Di Sorapis begins from the car park at Passo Tre Croci, which is a 20-minute drive from the town of Cortina dʼAmpezzo.
Paul from Anywhere We Roam
Fossano, a fascinating small town in Piedmont
Fossano is a beautiful, small town located in the Piemonte region of Italy. Since it’s outside of main tourist routes, you’ll experience authentic Italian culture while wandering through. It’s a little under an hour’s drive from Turin, making it easily accessible by car, or by bus or train – both have stops in Fossano.
The city has a mix of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. Today, the Castle of the Princes of Acaja is the focal point of the historic district. Built by Filippo d’Acaia and completed in 1332, it still stands in the city center and now houses the region’s public library. The city is also home to two stunning cathedrals and a few museums.
Each year in June, Fossano holds a city-wide festival to honor its history. There’s a parade with residents dressed in period clothing, and a series of traditional games played in a temporary stadium built outside the castle. The city’s neighborhoods each have their own teams to compete.
The town is a great home base if you’re interested in genuinely exploring the region since it’s centrally located between the other small, significant cities in the area like Alba, Bra, and Cuneo. If you’re looking for a peaceful, off-the-beaten-path local town in the heart of the Piemonte region, Fossano is a perfect choice.
Lyndsay from The Purposely Lost
Ostuni, hidden gem in Italy’s sunny Puglia region
Ostuni is a charming white city on top of a hill, in the middle of the olive groves of the beautiful Apulia region. As you look at Italy’s boot-like map, you will find Ostuni in the heel of the boot, close to the Adriatic Sea coast. The easiest way to travel through Apulia is to rent a car and be on your way. Ostuni is about an hour south from Bari. As you get close to the city, the white city appears on top of a hill after a curve of the road.
The old walled-city is relatively small but it will take you a few hours to explore the narrow alleys and streets, visit the beautiful churches and take it all in while sipping a cappuccino in the main square.
Don’t shy away from trying the local delicacies based on local olive oil in any of the small shops of the old town.
Most people visit Ostuni on a day trip, enjoy a walk and a good lunch, but you can always stay in some quaint accommodation in the old city. My personal choice was staying in a Masseria close by, Masseria Moroseta. A Masseria is an old farm-house, restored as a boutique where you can enjoy the peace of staying in a country-side residence.
Anda from Travel For A While
Mantua, one of the most underrated towns in northern Italy
For a different trip in Northern Italy, look beyond the overcrowded Venice and Milan: head to Mantova, a hidden gem with magnificent palaces to visit over one or two days.
Mantova is located south of Verona, approximately half-way between Venice, Milan, and Bologna. You will have to change a couple of highways or train lines between these three cities to reach it. The historical downtown is built on a peninsula surrounded by three lakes formed by the Mincio River – the lake promenades are wonderful for relaxing walks, but watch out for mosquitoes.
The city center is a postcard from the 14th-16th centuries: a charming labyrinth of porticoed streets – nowadays lined with fashionable boutiques and cafés – that expand from the main squares, Piazza Delle Erbe and Piazza Sordello.
Among the different things to do in Mantua, the highlight is the visit of the Ducale Palace, composed of over 500 rooms that house stunning works of art such as the Bridal Room. The iconic Castle of St. George towers next to the Palace, overlooking the lakes and protecting the city.
Another landmark is the Basilica of St. Andrew, which looks almost invisible with its humble facade. Its interior, instead, is defined by an enormous central nave, topped by an even more impressive dome.
Finally, Palazzo Te is another treasure of incredible art and history: the mind-blowing fresco of the Fall of the Giant will have you twist your neck in wonder.
By Giulia and Derek from Traveling Sunglasses
Undiscovered villages in Tuscany
Tuscany is one of the parts of Italy that are most popular among first-time travelers to Italy. It would be more accurate to say that Florence and Siena, the Chianti region, and Val D’Orcia are the most touristic destinations in Tuscany. Tuscany, though, holds some of the hidden gems in Italy that are unknown even to the Italians. These include scenic villages of Sovana, Sorano, and Pitigliano, which were built on tuff cliffs and with the tuff stone gathered in the area after the explosions of nearby volcanoes. The three villages are way beyond beautiful. Two of them, Pitigliano and Sorano, have dramatic, spectacular views on the lush valleys and canyons that surround them. Sovana is the smallest, its architecture fascinating with two Romanesque cathedrals and all the little houses decorated with flowers and plants. The three villages are connected by more than 20 “Etruscan cuts”, the mysterious, monumental trails carved by the ancient, pre-Roman inhabitants with the chisel, that are found all over the area known as “Tuscia“. Archeo trekkers would be thrilled to spend a couple of days walking through these magnificent paths, among the most underrated historical landmarks of Italy, which are naturally shaded, quiet, and lead to thousands of tombs caved in the stone. This area is the ideal base to visit the Saturnia hot spring, and some of the best thermal baths near Rome as well. The adventurous travelers could also experience swimming in the Fiora River. There are so many things to do in this region that the best thing you can do is planning a road trip to Southern Tuscany.
Tucked up on a steep hillside of the Lucane Dolomites and away from the main traffic, the village of Pietrapertosa is not a tourist hot spot. With some 1000 residents, it is a perfect off-the-beaten-path Italian village where you will find yourself among the locals. The village is in the province of Basilicata in the south of Italy and you can reach it via road E847 between the city of Potenza and the seaside resort town of Metaponto.
If you are on a road trip around southern Italy, Pietrapertosa is a lovely spot to take a break. The small settlement offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside and the ancient buildings in the village are a charming and picturesque sight as well. Check out the remains of an ancient castle called Castello Saraceno. It’s perched on top of a narrow rock and there is a bit of a hike up many stairs, but the magnificent view will be your reward.
Take a walk along the winding narrow streets. The houses are built on a solid rock which also makes part of the walls of many houses. If you have time, stop by for lunch in one of the four local restaurants.
Other points of interest are the churches: Chiesa Madre di San Giacomo Maggiore and Chiesa Madre di San Giacomo Maggiore. And if you are in for a thrill, you are in the right spot: Volo dell’Angelo is one of the fastest ziplines in Italy and it takes you to the town of Castelmezzano on the opposite hill.
Thanks to Slavka from On 2 Continents
The Bologna Apennines
If you love traveling to Italy but long to find more off-the-beaten-path destinations, especially now, you have to visit the small towns of the Bologna Apennines. Slow traveling in this part of Italy is for the adventurous traveler who wants to go deeper and communicate with local Italians even if you don’t speak the same language. Located between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, it’s an authentic part of the country and so worth spending a week or more discovering its hidden gems.
The Apennine mountains run the length of Italy from Liguria into Sicily, offering stunning natural landscapes from craggy and mountainous forests to rolling green hills. But tucked between these hills and valleys are dozens of small towns that reflect the local culture and history. Don’t miss the barely-inhabited Borgo La Scola and the stunning medieval castle of Rocchetta Mattei. The Michelin-star dining at Trattoria Amerigo 1934 in Savigno shouldn’t be missed for an authentic Italian dinner, then stay the night in their locanda just around the corner.
Exploring the Bologna Apennines is a rare hidden gem in a country known more for its famous landmarks. While a good GPS is essential, this kind of authentic travel makes you fall in love with a place even more.
By Lori from Travlinmad
Ferrara, Emilia Romagna
In case your itinerary includes the Emilia Romagna region, there’s a city you need to add in order to experience Italy off the beaten path: the historic town of Ferrara. There are lots of interesting things to do in Ferrara if you enjoy history, architecture, culture, and great food!
Ferrara was ruled by the powerful House of Este in medieval times, and they were patrons of art and architecture. In the historic center, the Castello Estense, the fortified residence of the Este family, is one of the most popular attractions in Ferrara. With an imposing exterior and an ornate interior, the castle is worth touring in depth. Many of the rooms feature beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings, and you get great views of the city’s rooftops from the towers of the castle. The town’s cathedral, located right next to the castle, is also beautiful.
You should also allow time for wandering the historic center, to admire the marvelous Renaissance architecture. In particular, walk the Corso Ercole I d’Este, where you can see the stunning Palazzo Dei Diamanti. Also be sure to tour the older Jewish Ghetto, with its narrow winding streets. And while in Ferrara, you must make time for the local cuisine, and gelato! The local pasta, stuffed with butternut squash, and the bread shaped like a cross are both delicious.
You can visit Ferrara for the day from nearby large cities, or you can choose to spend a few days here. Arrive by car, or by train. If you like Ferrara and wish to see another small city that can still be regarded as a hidden gem in Italy, head to the nearby Padua.
By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
The remote town of Ginosa in Puglia, southern Italy is famed for its impressive structure and history, and while it is most definitely off-the-beaten-path, it still attracts visitors from around the world.
Located in the cradle of a ravine created by the river that flowed towards the Gulf of Taranto, Ginosa is a small yet perfectly-formed town that allowed the inhabitants to both survive and thrive for more than a millennium.
The most famous sites in Ginosa include the Castello Normanno (Norman Castle) built in 1080, and the Chiesa Madre (mother church) built in 1554, and the clock tower situated in the Piazza Orologio. The Troglodyte villages carved directly into the rock faces during the Middle Ages are located just outside the main town too, which are well worth a visit! These can all be visited while spending a couple of days in Ginosa and the tourist information center are happy to recommend tours if you wish to learn more.
While the major sites such as the castle and the church were built since 1000 AD, the Peucetian tombs date back much further. The remains of the tribes who lived in the Apulia region of Italy are located outside the Town Hall.
By Chrysoula from Travel Passionate
Do you think there are more hidden gems in Italy I should add to this list? What place you know could inspire other travelers to explore Italy off the beaten path? Share it with us in the comments!