Italy Off the Tourist Trail

Meta Description: Explore some of the lesser know parts of Italy. Discover mountain ranges in the north, historic towns in central Italy, and stunning coastal destinations to the south.

Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. And yet, much of the tourism is concentrated on the ‘big names’ like Rome, Florence, and Venice. While these incredible cities are most definitely worth visiting, there’s also another way to explore Italy.

Away from the main destinations, there are many stunning places to see. From Mountain ranges to historic towns, Italy has so much to offer adventurous travelers. This article suggests just some of the lesser-known places to help you start planning your next trip. 

Know Before You Go 

Essential information to know before you travel to Italy:

  • Currency: Italy uses the Euro (€) 
  • Language: Italian, English is widely spoken in tourist areas
  • Transport: Trains for intercity travel. City buses, trams, and metros are efficient
  • Entry requirements: Schengen visa policy applies*

Italy is in the European Union and Schengen Area. Travelers from countries including Australia, Canada, and the US can visit the Schengen Area for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. To travel to Italy without a visa starting in 2025, you’ll need a new authorization called ETIAS. If you’re not from a visa-exempt country, make sure you apply for the relevant visa before you travel.

Now, it’s time to explore Italy.

Northern Italy: Mountain Ranges and Lakes

Northern Italy is home to many beautiful places to visit beyond the popular destinations of Venice and Milan. 

The Dolomites

The Dolomites, also known as the Dolomite Mountains or Dolomite Alps, are a mountain range in northeastern Italy. A UNESCO World Heritage site and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, the Dolomites are not to be missed on your trip to northern Italy.

The Dolomites are a great option whenever you’re traveling. The stunning peaks and valleys offer fantastic hiking opportunities in summer and skiing in winter. The region is also dotted with charming villages where you can explore local culture and traditions. Ortisei is a popular choice for tourists, and it is celebrated for its wood carvings and Ladin culture. Castelrotto, on the other hand, is the place to go for beautiful views and a peek into the Alpine lifestyle. 

Top tips for visiting the Dolomites:

  • Take part in outdoor activities: Enjoy activities like summer hiking and winter skiing for all skill levels.
  • Visit local villages: Discover the local culture and traditions in villages like Ortisei and Castelrotto.
  • Appreciate artisan crafts: See Ortisei’s renowned wood carvings, showcasing regional artistic heritage.
  • Enjoy the Alpine cuisine: Try the local cuisine for a blend of Italian and Alpine flavors.

Lake Orta, Piedmont

Lake Orta is a peaceful alternative to the more well-known Lake Como and Lake Garda. In the middle of the clear waters of Lake Giuliowe, we find the islet of San Giulio with its 4th-century Romanesque Basilica. The nearby village of Orta San Giulio boasts charming streets where you’ll even find a Michelin-star restaurant by chef Andrea Monesi

This area is perfect if you’re seeking peaceful surroundings and a deeper connection to Italy’s past. 

What to do in Lake Orta:

  • Explore Orta San Giulio: Wander the cobblestone streets and take in the architecture and lakeside views.
  • Visit the island of San Giulio: Take a boat to this island and explore the Basilica di San Giulio.
  • Walk the Way of Silence and the Way of Meditation: Two paths on the Island of San Giulio that encourage contemplation and tranquility.
  • Climb Sacro Monte di Orta: Visit this sacred mountain with its 20 chapels dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. You’ll get panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area.

Central Italy: History and Landscapes 

Central Italy is a region rich in history, art, and natural beauty, attracting tourists from all over the world. With Rome, Florence, and Pisa nearby, these destinations are often overlooked by visitors.

Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio

Civita di Bagnoregio in Lazio is known as the ‘dying city’ due to its constant battle against erosion. The town is perched on a fragile plateau that is being gradually eroded by wind and rain. Only accessible by footbridge, getting there is an adventure in itself. 

The ancient town is characterized by its narrow streets, stone houses, and peaceful courtyards. Key sights include the Renaissance Palazzo Alemanni and the church of San Donato. 

Interesting facts about Civita di Bagnoregio:

  • Etruscan foundations: It was founded over 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans, a rare direct link to this ancient civilization.
  • Limited population: Civita di Bagnoregio has a very small year-round population, sometimes as few as 12 residents.
  • Film and literature inspiration: The town’s unique landscape has made it a source of inspiration for filmmakers and authors. 
  • Renaissance Architecture: The Palazzo Alemanni is evidence of the town’s medieval and Renaissance architectural blend.
  • Cultural vitality: Civita hosts festivals and events, including a donkey race and religious processions.

Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

Val d’Orcia in Tuscany is a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its picturesque landscape typical of the Tuscan countryside. The area features rolling hills, olive groves, and vineyards and is well known for its agriculture and winemaking activities. You can visit historical towns such as Pienza and Montalcino to see examples of impressive Renaissance architecture and discover the area’s medieval history

Visit Val d’Orcia for its scenic beauty, contribution to the arts, and its influence on agricultural practices. It’s a fantastic representation of Tuscany and a great place to visit away from the region’s main tourist destinations.

Key Highlights:

  • Iconic landscapes: Rolling hills, cypress trees, and fertile lands characterize the area.
  • Historic towns: Pienza, Montalcino, and San Quirico d’Orcia are all worth visiting.
  • Famous wines: Produces esteemed wines like Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
  • Thermal Springs: Offers natural relaxation spots, including Bagno Vignoni and Bagni San Filippo.

Southern Italy: Architecture and Coastline

When you think of southern Italy, Naples, Sicily, and Capri probably come to mind. Here are some other places to add to your southern Italy itinerary.

Alberobello, Puglia

Alberobello is located in the Puglia region of Italy and you may know it for its trulli — distinctive white, conical-roofed houses. The architecture, which has been preserved through generations, is so unique that Alberobello has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site

That’s not the only reason to visit Alberobello. It also boasts an interesting cultural heritage with traditions and festivals celebrating local history and craftsmanship. Visit Alberobello for an immersive experience in a historical community.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit to Alberobello:

  • Explore the trulli zones: Walk through the Rione Monti and Aia Piccola districts to see the best-preserved trulli.
  • Visit a trullo house: Some trulli are open to the public, go inside to see the interior layout and traditional lifestyle.
  • Attend a local festival: Plan your visit around local festivals to see Alberobello, which is filled with music, dance, and traditional celebrations.
  • Stay in a trullo: For the full Alberobello experience, you can even book a stay in a trullo. 
  • Guided tours: Consider a guided tour to learn about the history, architecture, and culture of Alberobello.

Tropea, Calabria

Tropea is a picturesque seaside town on the coast of Calabria. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for beaches, stunning scenery, and rich history. Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrrhenian,” Tropea will wow you with its crystal-clear waters and ancient architecture. 

The town’s history stretches back to Roman times, which you can see in the historic buildings and the impressive Santa Maria dell’Isola monastery. Interestingly, the region is also famous for its red onions — known as Cipolla di Tropea — with their sweet flavor and unique shape. 

Ideas to enhance your visit to Tropea:

  • Sunset at Santa Maria dell’Isola: Visit the monastery at sunset for views of the sea and Tropea’s coastline.
  • Beach day: Relax on one of Tropea’s beautiful beaches, such as Spiaggia di Tropea or Spiaggia della Rotonda.
  • Tropea’s onions: Make sure you order dishes featuring the famous Cipolla di Tropea. Order at a restaurant or buy fresh from a market.
  • Boat tour: Explore the nearby coastline with a boat tour. Visit hidden beaches and even the stunning Aeolian Islands.
  • Local vineyards: The Calabria region is known for its wine. Consider visiting a local vineyard for a tasting session.

Hopefully, this article has persuaded you to explore Italy beyond the big names. Of course, this list only scratches the surface. There are countless places to explore across the country, each offering a unique travel experience. Time to get planning your next Italian adventure!