Rome. Venice. Florence. There’s a reason this holy trinity of travel is world-famed. You can stand in awe of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. You can glide down Venice's Grand Canal in a gondola. Or, you might scale 463 stairs to the dome of Florence’s Duomo.
Believe us, they’re all must-do Italy experiences. But being known to tourists around the world has its drawbacks – crowds, especially in high season. ((This is why we pre-reserve entrance tickets and guided tours – no standing in line with grumpy-and-sweaty tourists)).
So, we’d like to share some of Italy’s lesser known towns and hamlets. You may never have heard of them – but that’s exactly why they’re worth a visit:
Ragusa is one of Sicily’s most postcard-perfect villages. Ragusa boast Baroque palaces and an easy-to-navigate grid of streets, making it a perfect place to wander and explore on foot. The old town is called Ragusa Ibla and is located on a hilltop overlooking valleys. Having been rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1693, Ragusa’s architecture reflects the Baroque style – including florid details, sculpted facades and ornate columns. Download your Guide to Sicily Minus the Crowds.
INSIDER TIP: Enjoy one of the best views in town at the Giardino Ibleo – a manicured garden with vistas of the nearby valleys. You can spot generations of Sicilians arm-in-arm for an afternoon stroll here.
Deep in the Salento region of Puglia (the heel of the boot), you’ll find the quiet seaside jewel of Otranto. Surrounded by sapphire-blue seas, Otranto boasts 10 kilometers of beaches and salt-water swimming holes. The city’s old town features family-run trattorias (specializing in seafood), a 12th-century cathedral and a lovely seafront promenade – perfect for an early evening aperitivo (pre-dinner drink) or leisurely passeggiata (stroll). Discover 5 Hidden Beaches in Southern Italy here.
INSIDER TIP: Some of the best beaches in Puglia are reachable only by boat! From Otranto’s port, you can enjoy a private mini-cruise through Otranto’s liquid blue waters and secret coves. Along the way, you’ll drop anchor for swimming and explore the stunning sea caves.
Travelers in-the-know call Gubbio Umbria’s Siena. Framed by lush mountainside, Gubbio is a classic medieval town – perched high above a valley and filled with meandering stone streets. The town seems to emerge straight from the slopes of Mount Ingino. For a stunning view, you can take the funicular cable car to the top of the mountain. History lovers can unearth the ancient past at Gubbio’s largely-intact Roman theater. Download your Untouched Umbria itinerary here.
INSIDER TIP: For lunch, try the local favorite called crescia – a wood-fired or grilled flatbread filled with cheese and meats.
After Pienza’s most famous citizen, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, became Pope Pius II in 1458, this Tuscan town received a Vatican-worthy renovation. In fact, Pienza has been called “the ideal Renaissance city” – boasting harmonious avenues and open-air piazzas. Located in the lush Val d’Orcia area south of Siena, Pienza is framed by golden hills and verdant vineyards. Get your free TASTING TUSCANY itinerary here.
INSIDER TIP: Visit Pienza in September to savor the annual Pecorino Cheese Festival—this prized cheese is produced in the surrounding pastures.
Being located high atop a mountain in Southern Italy doesn’t make Matera easy to get to. But, its one-of-a-kind beauty is well worth the curving roads. Matera was built on a craggy outcrop, overlooking a canyon. Caves – called sassi in Italian – pepper the area. Buildings seem to sprout up and down the mountaintop here – seemingly carved from the rockface. Numerous sassi have been converted into deluxe boutique hotels, where travelers can relax away from the Southern Italian sun. ((Who needs AC when the walls of your room are made of cool stone?)). Check out our sample Matera & Puglia travel tips here.
INSIDER TIP: The best way to explore Matera’s stone labyrinth is on foot with a local guide. You’ll traipse back alleys, where ivy grows overhead. You’ll discover hidden courtyards with sweeping views of Matera’s tiled roofs and the rugged canyon below.
Do you want to return to Italy? We’d love share our off-the-beaten-path Italy with you. Just click the button below to request your custom-designed journey:
We offer 24/7 on-site support and experiences you won't find on your own! Let our team of Italy experts help you make memories from scratch. Click the button above to start planning today!
Below you'll find 3 Experiences Food Lovers Will Adore in Rome:
Say arrivederci to inauthentic and overpriced tourist menus -- by cooking with a real Roman family! First, you'll select ingredients together at an open-air market. Then, you'll learn the secrets of Italian cooking in the family's kitchen!
Keeping kids occupied on a European vacation can be tiring. So, why not make your kids smile while also treating your tastebuds? With our fun chef, you'll unlock the tricks to a perfect Italian pie -- including shaping the dough and baking.
For a true taste of Rome, skip the Colosseum and head straight to the Trastevere quarter. In the company of our Roman guide, you'll enjoy a tasting of Rome's typical dishes -- including focaccia, pecorino, carbonara and organic gelato.