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Finding memorable destinations that qualify as off-the-beaten-path in Italy isn’t difficult in a country of such astonishing beauty.

Whether you’re in search of beach-blessed cities with romantic hearts, less crowded destinations in headline regions, or just outright beautiful medieval hill towns, you will find the answer to your dreams in Italy. There’s arguably no other European country studded with so many hidden gems.

From the trulli houses of Alberobello to the medieval towers of San Gimignano, Italy will never fail to surprise and enchant you, whether it’s your first visit or your 50th.


Off the beaten path Italy - Orvieto


One of the best day trips from Rome, Orvieto is a gloriously attractive hill town set on a dramatic escarpment that rises above the lush green hills of central Italy.

It’s little surprise that such a plum spot on the landscape has been continuously inhabited for 3,000 years. However, while the view as you approach Orvieto is remarkable—especially with the grandiose duomo in full sail above the rooftops—what lies beneath the foundations is just as awe-inspiring.

Beautiful architecture of Duomo di Orvieto

Duomo di Orvieto

Over the millennia, the Etruscans, Romans, and medieval Orvietani have drilled down into the volcanic bluff. An entire network of caves, grottos, and wells has been created, the latter particularly useful for withstanding lengthy sieges.

Today, the only sieges are in high summer in Italy when those in the know arrive for guided tours of the atmospheric underground. Up above, the views from the city’s restaurants are dynamite while enjoying a chilled glass of the local Orvieto DOC wine.


Beautiful skyline of Perugia


The regional capital of Umbria, perfectly formed Perugia is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. While well-known internationally for its two universities, due to its central Italy location it’s frequently overlooked by leisure travelers.

However, this wonderfully preserved medieval city is a treat as a day trip. Enter through one of its five Etruscan city gates, and you have a wealth of history and culture that await you on the cobbled streets ahead.

Street view of Corso Vannucci, Perugia

Corso Vannucci, Perugia

Corso Vannucci, named for the famous Renaissance artist Pietro Vannucci, also known as Perugino, is where locals idle with their espressos while swifts flit past overhead. Get acquainted with Perugino’s work at the Galleria Nazionale Dell’Umbria and discover how he trained Raphael to become one of the Renaissance’s guiding lights.

Afterward, wander the streets and listen to cigar-chomping buskers belting out Italian ballads before exploring the charms of Borgo Bello, the loveliest of the city’s five neighborhoods.


Beautiful city of Taranto


A treasure trove of outstanding beaches, Taranto is an unassuming port town with an ancient history, unique centro storico, and even a romantic nickname: “the city of two seas”.

Tucked in the arch of Italy’s “boot”, this Puglian city was founded by Spartans in the eighth century BC. The history is tangible in Isola Della Citta Vecchia, the city’s water-encircled historic center.

Taranto is also known for its National Archaeological Museum of Taranto (aka MArTA). One of the country’s finest museums, it’s an astonishing repository of treasures.

After your visit, sink your toes into one of the exquisite sandy beaches found all around this off-the-beaten-path Italy gem.


Off the beaten path Italy - Ravenna


Once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, Ravenna has, over the centuries, been eclipsed by its larger neighbor, the city of Bologna. Despite this, Ravenna, in turn, eclipses Bologna when it comes to UNESCO-listed monuments.

Close to the gentle breakers of the Adriatic Sea, Ravenna is one for the history buffs. Its ancient buildings are luminous with Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. You’ll lose your sense of time gazing up at the fifth-century artwork adorning the interiors of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Church of San Vitale, and the Neonian Baptistry.

But the magic isn’t all indoors. Ravenna’s Piazza del Popolo is an impressive 13th-century power center enclosed by historic buildings. The Saint Mark’s Lion atop the column found here is indicative of when Ravenna fell beneath the sway of mighty Venice, La Serenissima.

Santa Margherita

Off the beaten path Italy - Santa Margherita

Santa Margherita

Outshone in reputation by its Riviera neighbors, Portofino and the towns of Cinque Terre, that’s probably how the Santa Margheritani like it with their cool, classic seafront town.

With its palm-lined promenade and Art Deco architecture, the rhythms of the town revolve around the bountiful, yacht-dotted waters of the Gulf of Tigullio. Appetites do, too, as Santa Margherita is renowned for its outsized red shrimp, often entangled in pasta on al fresco tables.

In the verdant hills that rise gracefully above the town, the scent of pine is ever-present in the almost year-round pleasant temperatures. Looming above the umbrella pines are villas in pastel-perfect attire, including the famous Villa Durazzo, recognized as having one of the best gardens in Italy.


Off the beaten path Italy - Alberobello


Southerly Puglia used to be quintessential off-the-beaten-path Italy. Today, it’s become a major destination for beach vacations, known for its quality produce (olive oil in particular), warm translucent seas, and distinctive trulli-style houses, with their cone-shaped roofs.

Alberobello offers the most perfect example, and greatest density, of this quirky Puglian architecture. Located north of Taranto, its whitewashed streets bristle with conical rooftops.

The history of the trulli is intriguing; they’re designed to be disassembled quickly as part of a medieval tax dodge. Learn more at the Trullo Sovrano museum in town.

Now UNESCO-listed, Alberobello’s rooftops remain firmly in place. The Rione Monti is the most touristy neighborhood, so wander over to the Rione Aia Piccola instead, where the life of the town is at its most natural.


Beautiful shoreline of Cetara


It’s easy to pass Cetara by. On the Amalfi Coast, Cetara could be viewed as just another stunning seaside village located in one of Italy’s most glamorous regions.

But hidden treasures lie within, especially for seafood lovers. In Italy, Cetara is famous for its colatura di alici. Made from anchovies, this rich, dark sauce is liberally applied to Italian dishes in Cetara’s family-run restaurants.

Locals love the salty, umami punch these tiny fish can bring to a dish, and colatura is anchovy deliciousness in its purest form.

Try it in fusilli cooked with colatura beneath the sky-blue awnings of the locally beloved Cetara Punto e Pasta restaurant.

Read: Best Things to Do on the Amalfi Coast


Off the beaten path Italy - Trieste


Trieste was a significant jewel in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its famous café scene was a European intellectual hotspot, home to great thinkers such as James Joyce and Italo Svevo.

And while it remains an important port, geographically Trieste is a far-flung outpost on the eastern edge of Italy. Its menus and local linguistic quirks speak to its proximity to Slovenia and Croatia. Among this cultural patchwork, you’ll encounter world-class museums, art deco bars, and haughty hotels.

Trieste is also a fabulous city to stroll around, marveling at the imperious dimensions of its squares, Canale Grande, and Audace Pier.

Read: Best Things to Do in Trieste


Street view of Lecce


Less famous than other Italian cultural centers simply due to its location in relatively far-flung Puglia, this under-the-radar gem is one of the best places to visit in Southern Italy.

Wandering the maze-like lanes of this university town’s centro storico, passing one baroque edifice after another, you quickly understand why Lecce is known as the “Florence of the South”. The streets are also golden in color, thanks to the honey-hued Lecce stone.

Exterior of Basilica di Santa Croce

Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce

The highlight is the ebullient Basilica di Santa Croce. This hallucinatory take on 17th-century design took 100 years to build.

A less acquired taste is the delicious pasticciotto, Puglian pastries filled with custard. Pick up a bagful at Natale Pasticceria, but save room for dinner at the renowned Alle due Corti.


Off the beaten path Italy - Camogli


A strikingly attractive cluster of curves, corners, and Ligurian pastels on the Italian Riviera, Camogli seems unpretentious compared to many of the more thrusting towns of Liguria. Based in the Riviera di Levante, it offers a good dose of history and culture alongside its laid-back beach scene.

Beautiful waterfront of Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Camogli

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Camogli

The 12th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta sits comfortably among the beachfront houses. Admiring the town, you notice how it’s undergone a switch of colors, with the houses a beachy yellow and the beach’s pebbles the stone gray of Camogli’s atmospheric Dragonara Castle.

Camogli’s warm hues were a pragmatic decision. It’s easy to imagine the relief of sailors, returning in a sea fog, to see the glow of their town guiding them home.


Off the beaten path Italy - Matera


While Matera’s star has risen since its appearance in a certain British spy movie franchise, this Basilicata city remains something of a left-field destination. This is more a case of geography than anything else, as it’s located in an underexplored southern region of Italy.

Matera is unequivocally an Italian treasure, straddling a deep gorge. Its sand-colored skyline is striking, but it is what lies beneath the cliff edge that’s the real story.

Street view of Matera


The gorge’s walls are gouged with a honeycomb of “sassi”, ancient cave dwellings that were possibly the first human settlements in the Italian peninsula. Dating back to 7000 BC, they were inhabited as recently as the 1950s.

It’s possible to explore the UNESCO-listed Sassi, which now house B&Bs, bars, and tiny museums that transport you back to the realities of 20th-century cave dwelling. Up above on the city streets, Matera is one of the most romantic places in Italy, a city that effortlessly balances its impressive history with the modern world.


Scenic landscape of Ischia


Like an earthly paradise beckoning the population of vibrant Naples, Ischia is a stunning island a short ferry ride from the home of pizza.

Awash in lush greenery and with striking sea cliffs plunging into turquoise depths, its natural charms are enhanced by a tourist infrastructure ready to receive the Neapolitan invasion every school holiday.

Waterfront of Ischia Porto

Ischia Porto

This is the island where Naples vacations. Here, you’re immersed in Italian culture at its most easygoing. Stay in the town of Ischia Porto for the full-beam beach holiday vibe, or catch a bus to Barano for a more rustic, authentically Ischian stay.

There’s plenty of room. The largest island of the Neapolitan Archipelago, Ischia is over endowed with sandy Italian beaches and pizzerias.

The island is also blessed with thermal waters. The extensive Poseidon Thermal Gardens, with its 20 thermal pools, offers sea views over the west coast.

Civita di Bagnoregio

Beautiful landscape of Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio

Officially designated as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy”, Civita di Bagnoregio is a remarkable sight.

Just under two hours’ drive through the rustic Lazio countryside north of Rome, you arrive at a sandstone massif. The buildings perched on it seem to rise organically from the sedimentary cliffs that encircle the village.

Street view of Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio

To access this fairytale town, visitors approach via a pedestrian bridge. Access by motorbike or bicycle is reserved only for the village’s 16 remaining inhabitants.

This Italian gem is rather poignantly known as “the dying city” due to the constant threat of erosion that puts its 2,500 years of history at risk. The ancient Etruscans built Civita di Bagnoregio, and as you wander among its beautiful medieval and Renaissance-era buildings, you’re following the original Etruscan street plan.


Waterfront of Sperlonga


An Italian favorite that’s authentically off the beaten path for foreign travelers, Sperlonga is a gorgeous coastal town located roughly halfway between Rome and Naples.

Sperlonga, situated on cliffs above a vast sandy beach near Rome, is best known for its evocative historic center. Similar to the Puglian town of Ostuni, Sperlonga’s streets, with their whitewashed buildings, have a distinct Grecian feel.

Street view of Sperlonga


Of course, browsing the stalls at the outdoor market, or sitting down to a super fresh linguine alla vongole at Ristorante Gli Archi, it’s pure Italy.

And it’s not just modern Italians who adore this dreamy seaside spot in Lazio. Emperor Tiberius built a villa here with a stunning cave grotto, the remains of which you can explore today.

San Gimignano

Lush landscape of San Gimignano

San Gimignano

A medieval village in the rolling Tuscan countryside surrounding Siena, San Gimignano is famous for its unusual medieval skyline. Rising above its terracotta rooftops are 14 brick tower houses.

When San Gimignano was at the peak of its power, the skyline bristled with 72 tower houses. You can see a ceramic model of how it looked in the San Gimignano 1300 museum.

Street view of San Gimignano

San Gimignano

The town, although compact, flourished in medieval times as a stopover point for pilgrims en route to the Vatican.

Aerial view of Torre Grossa, San Gimignano

Torre Grossa, San Gimignano

The UNESCO-protected historic center feels as if it hasn’t changed since the 1400s. It’s even possible to climb the town’s tallest tower, Torre Grossa.

The views of the encircling Val d’Elsa are well worth the hike. That fertile landscape is another reason the citizens of San Gimignano built such high towers. The town is feted for its food, including a sumptuous golden ham and aromatic white wine called Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Read: Tuscan Food: Incredible Dishes to Try

Off the beaten path Italy - Ischia


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