Italy is a stunning country that’s full of incredible cultural experiences and one-of-a-kind sights.
Many travelers make room on their itineraries for more popular Italian destinations like Rome, Venice, or Florence, and for good reason. However, there are many lesser-known towns in the country that offer the same Italian charm without the crowds.
If you’re planning a trip to Italy, consider visiting at least one or two of these lovely, underrated spots.
Roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes east of Naples is Castelmezzano, a small town nestled into a stunning mountainscape. If you can take your eyes off the architecture and dramatic scenery -- and that will be difficult, since the town is as pretty as a picture -- you’ll find plenty of fun outdoor activities that will only increase your appreciation of the locale.
There’s a lot to love about Alba, located about an hour south of Turin. First, of course, is the stunning architecture: Colorful rooftops adorn the city, and the meandering streets are teeming with local life. Some of the town’s standout features are its two brick towers.
The fall is a great time to make your way to Alba. Each weekend in October and November is the International Alba White Truffle Fair, a festival that celebrates the culinary delicacy the region is best known for. Foodies from all over the world travel to Alba to get in on the excitement. You’ll learn just about everything there is to know about the truffle, and you’ll taste the delicacy in every form imaginable.
Another must-visit Italian destination that doesn’t see as much tourist traffic is Trento. It’s larger than Castelmezzano and Alba, but it still has a small-town feel to it. A lush mountain valley with rocky outcrops serves as the backdrop for the city, which is full of personality. You’ll find brightly colored buildings and more of the gorgeous architecture Italy is known for. Plus, there’s no shortage of interesting things to see and do: Check out the majestic Trento Cathedral, or simply make your way through the town square to experience authentic Italian small-town life.
4. Santa Margherita Ligure
This town has everything you’re looking for in a relaxing Italian vacation. The gem of a waterfront is certainly a sight to behold, and the white beaches lined with palm trees paint a lovely picture. While the area is home to a bustling port and fishing scene, that won’t detract from your time on the beach or keep you from checking out all this off-the-beaten-path town has to offer. In fact, the harbor itself has become popular with locals and visitors alike for its excellent food and entertainment.
You can reach Santa Margherita Ligure by following the coastal road southeast from Genoa. The town is due north of Portofino.
Despite being a larger town with a population of just under 50,000, Mantua remains an off-the-beaten-path destination for travelers wanting something a little different from their Italian vacation. In 2016, the city was named an Italian Capital of Culture by the European Union. It has long been an artistic, cultural, and musical hub in Northern Italy, and theater, literature, and opera lovers will find much to love in the city. The city has also been named a European Capital of Gastronomy, so you can expect the city’s culinary treasures to rival its cultural ones.
Mantua is located about 2 hours west of Venice.
6. Civita Di Bagnoregio
One of the neatest towns on this list is Civita di Bagnoregio, the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure. Some people refer to it as the Dying Town. This isn’t because of any misfortune that befell the residents; rather, it’s a reference to the town’s precarious location. The town is perched atop a crumbling hill, and the only way to access it is via footbridge. This, of course, makes for some incredible photo opportunities as you approach the town.
Only 11 people currently live in Bagnoregio, and the town is much admired for its architecture, which spans several centuries and is remarkably well preserved. Due to its isolation, the town avoided destruction during the World Wars and modernization in the decades that followed. But visit soon -- erosion has already taken a toll on the town, and it continues to pose a threat to its existence.
Civita di Bagnoregio is located 2 hours and 30 minutes south of Florence and 2 hours north of Rome.
It’s not often you can say you’ve been to a place that looks straight out of an oil painting, but Varenna is just such a destination. The town is located between the gorgeous waters of Lake Como and a beautiful mountain region. Almost all of the homes in town are brightly colored. Imagine a waterfront town painted in fall’s most vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges -- that’s Varenna. Be sure to take your time and enjoy some coffee by the waterfront at one of the many coffee shops in town.
Varenna is easy to reach by car -- it’s just 80 minutes north of Milan.
There are so many incredible off-the-beaten-path towns in Italy that it would be nearly impossible to list them all. If you’re looking to get away from the tourist hot spots and see Italy as the locals do, rent a car and check out some of these beautiful, culturally rich destinations for yourself. You’re sure to pass through some other amazing Italian towns along the way. Don’t forget your camera!