8 Hidden Gems of Italy You Need to Discover
If you’ve been to Italy before, chances are you’ve taken every requisite pic from the Rialto Bridge and each little canal in Venice, befriended a random group of strangers while waiting in line to see the Colosseum in Rome, and also crossed Milan, Florence, and Verona off your travel bucket list. But to experience a rich, undiscovered part of Italian culture, we suggest going off the beaten path to regions and smaller cities that fewer people think to visit. Whether you’re looking for a wine-tasting vacay with your girl squad from college or a fabulous solo adventure consisting of naps on the beach followed by a dip in the Adriatic’s crystal blue waters, scroll on to see some of Italy’s less-traveled locations for an unforgettable European getaway.
For Your Movie Moment
1. Crema, Lombardy: If you still have all the feels from the last scene of Call Me By Your Name (we’re with you — Timothée Chalamet gives us heart palpitations too), you can escape city life to relive the love story in the picturesque town of Crema, just an hour-long train ride from Milan. Visit the Duomo, the town’s main cathedral, sip a cappuccino in the same piazza where Oliver and Elio stopped on their bike ride, and wander through the town, popping into all the charming small shops along the way. Hungry? Don’t forget to stop at the Pastificio Salvi shop for the town’s specialty of handmade tortelli cremaschi (giant, sweet and spicy cheese-filled tortellini) to stuff your suitcase — and your face. Sadly, the villa that they filmed much of the movie in is in a different town in the Lombardy region and is not open to visitors, but you can daydream about purchasing it while you explore Crema.
For That Summer Camp Feel
2. Lake Iseo, Lombardy: Tourists flock to Lake Como on a summer day to walk around the water, eat from overpriced food trucks, and possibly catch a glimpse of George Clooney, but if you want to really get away from it all, rent a cabin or small villa along Lake Iseo, which is closest in proximity to Verona. Then, you can ferry over to the largest lake island in Italy, Monte Isola, to see stunning views of the Alps and discover some medieval castles like Rocca Martinengo. To eat like a true local, catch and bake some tenca, the most popular fish in the region. In the winter, you can ski at nearby resort Montecampione before returning to your cozy abode for a glass of Pinot Noir, abundant in Lombardy, to warm up (so that part definitely didn’t happen at summer camp, but it’s the best part of #adulting).
For the Ultimate Wine Tour
3. Bolgheri, Tuscany: You can get fabulous wine pretty much anywhere in Italy (see Orvieto below), but if you are a true connoisseur or aspire to be after too much boxed wine shame from the past, Bolgheri is the perfect not-quite-yet-discovered town in Tuscany with an incredible local selection. Get a driver if you want to immerse yourself in the true experience without having to get behind the wheel afterwards, or sign up for a guided wine tour. You’ll be sipping on the town’s renowned Sassicaia and Ornellaia red varieties everywhere from the Castello di Bolgheri winery back to your hotel room and in between.
For a Foodie Getaway
4. Orvieto, Umbria: A quiet village nestled just over an hour north of Rome, Orvieto is the place to go to fill up on rich food (and, of course, wine). To start with, its Gothic-style Duomo is one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Europe, and like everywhere else in Italy there are several other churches in the small city so you can get your fill of beautiful architecture in minutes. But really, the main event here is the food. The rare white truffle is a delicacy in Orvieto, and you can pretty much get it year-round there, as opposed to only in the fall like other truffle hotspots. Pair it with some roasted wild boar, another popular staple of the city, and more than a few swigs of the light, crisp Orvieto Classico white wine for an unforgettable meal. (Trust us on the wild boar — you can get it in a ragu sauce over thick, fettuccine-like pappardelle pasta, which is a game-changer.)
To Surround Yourself With Nature (and Cheese)
5. Anversa, Abruzzo: Your Italian getaway isn’t complete without a bit of agriturismo, or a farm stay, in the mountainous Abruzzo region, and most either produce wine or cheese, so you can’t go wrong. Anversa degli Abruzzi is the quintessential mountain escape (you may want to rent a car from Rome because public transportion gets iffy, but keep in mind that the roads are narrow and windy, so you may prefer to hire a driver). As soon as you arrive, the fresh air will lift your mood immediately. Try out a farm like La Porta dei Parchi, which specializes in sheep’s milk cheese and other products like farro pasta and mini chickpeas. The hospitality there is incomparable: You can eat fresh ricotta made that morning with your breakfast, watch 10-day-old sheepdog puppies and baby pigs frolicking through the pastures, adopt your own sheep to receive its cheese whenever you want, and retire to your own private casetta (small house) at the end of the day. Meals at the restaurant are included in the price of lodging, and the food is essentially all you can eat. Take a stroll sometime through the center of town, or venture to a less populated area on the picturesque hiking trails to walk off all that cheese.
For a Glimpse of Old-World Italy
6. Alberobello, Puglia: There’s nowhere else in Italy where you’ll see anything like the famous 15th-century trulli huts with cone-shaped roofs, unique to the area of Alberobello in Puglia; it feels like a village frozen in time. Though most of the residents don’t actually still live in the trulli, you can stroll in and out of these little houses and watch the artisans hand-making fresh pasta like orecchiette, and buy crafts like woven baskets and tapestries. Climb up to one of the rooftops to capture a view of them from above, and then don’t forget to stop for a fruity ice cream in a flavor like lemon of Capri at Gelateria Gentile, an Alberobello tradition.
For a Sick Insta Post — and the Best Coffee
7. Polignano a Mare, Puglia: While you’re in Puglia, you can’t miss Polignano a Mare, one of the most gorgeous coastal areas on the Adriatic. In the center of the town, there are two cliffs with a gap in the center for the greatest Insta-worthy view of the clear blue sea (make sure to snap a photo of the city all lit up at night too). During the day, lay on the numerous beaches, including the private lounge beaches like Ponte dei Lapilli. At night, hit up a bar or club (we recommend the beachside Plenilunio Punta Paradiso) if you’re in the mood to enjoy the nightlife and the bustling town. And you cannot leave Polignano without getting a caffe speciale, a creamy espresso with Super Mago almond liqueur and a hint of lemon, at the famous old Il Super Mago del Gelo, a Polignano favorite since 1935.
To Get Your Sports Fix
8. Avellino, Campania: Bet you didn’t think basketball was a thing outside of the NBA, but Avellino is well-known for its team SS Felice Scandone, which is pretty much the best team in the country; catch one of their games at the Palasport del Mauro. Rather than indulging in the standard American sporting event fare like hot dogs and popcorn, taste the classic Margherita pizza at Degusta Ristorante before the game instead. The province is right by Naples, the birthplace of pizza, so you know it’s going to be legit.
What’s your first stop in Italy? More importantly, what will you eat there? Let us know on Twitter @BritandCo!
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(Photos via Getty)