Etruscan villas, Roman palazzi, Renaissance castles and even coastal campgrounds all prove one thing: those Italians sure love their vacations! We’ve been exploring the hidden corners of this historic, food loving nation for years and love discovering places to visit in Italy that are off the beaten path. Take a look at these hidden gems, and perhaps explore them yourself!
Matera, located in the “heel of the boot” in the province of Basilicata, is developing quite a brisk tourist industry centered on its historical old town, a UNESCO world heritage area known as the Matera Sassi. “Sassi” is Italian for “stones.” The limestone caves that flank the base of the old city have been inhabited since prehistoric times.
Matera is a super example of reinvention, which is just another example of why holidays in Italy are always a good choice. Abandoned for decades, many of the caves have recently been refurbished into luxury hotels and apartments, swanky cocktail bars and boutiques. Spend a day clambering up ancient stone walks, enjoy views out across the lush green valley, and consider your place in human history.
The fascinating Casa Grotta is a refurbished sassi home, providing a fascinating and provocative glimpse into local lifestyles as recently as the 1950s. The city shimmers at night, when modern electric lights glimmer and sparkle off crystals in the native limestone.
Another Italian village, another World Heritage UNESCO site: Alberobello is a tiny, sun blistered village in Puglia, near Bari. Its unique cone-shaped homes are known as “trulli.” The rhythm of pointy roofs evoke the caps of gnomes or the houses of woodland sprites.
The houses were initially built using limestone without mortar so that the feudal lord who owned the land could avoid paying property taxes. Today, Alberobello provides a completely unique experience: the pointy domes shelter compact shops and cafes, divine rooms for rent and a character all their own.
The surrounding countryside is scattered with award winning farm-to-table restaurants and vacation villas. The heat of the day melts away with a refreshing glass of the local wine. As you take a dip in a cool swimming pool, you’ll be reminded why this is one of your favorite hidden places to visit in Italy.
Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello has been graciously hosting tourists for over a thousand years. Wagner, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Gore Vidal were all inspired by its splendor. One glance and it’s easy to see why this is a favorite holiday place to visit in Italy.
Lush gardens cascade dramatically down cliffsides. Roses and bougainvillea tumble a riot of color as the scent of lemons and rosemary wafts in the air. The impossibly blue Tyrrhenian sea sparkling kilometers below. This is truly Italy at its best.
The central Piazza del Duomo is flanked with cafes, art galleries and boutiques. It also offers a fantastic opportunity for a mid-day picnic or late afternoon gelato coupled with fabulous people watching.
Visit during the world-renowned Ravello Festival, when musicians from around the world perform at the edge of the sublime Villa Ruffolo. Exquisite music, exquisite views: you’ll never want to leave this magical place in Italy.
Just 20 kilometers south of Rome, at the foot of the Alban Hills, the Parco Castelli Romani is a wonderful forest ringed by a series of medieval villages. While away a day or two visiting the park and enjoying some of the villages.
The small village centers are a relaxed break from the hustle of the big city. Take a few meandering drives along country roads revealing dozens of natural springs, which are visited for health as well as spiritual reasons.
At the edge of the Alban Lake, the village of Frascati was a summer escape for Renaissance nobility, and the luxurious villas that remain offer a glimpse into the luxuries of the papal and mercantile classes of the 1600s; the sparkling wine named after the town is best enjoyed while watching the sun set over the lake and village.
Nearby Castel Gandolfo remains the Pope’s summer escape, and the various neighboring castles are often the site of society weddings and other fabulous soirees.
Just past the eastern edge of the Cinque Terre National Park, Levanto is often overlooked. It is the perfect base for travellers that have small children or mobility issues and still want to explore the fabled Ligurian coast.
The traffic-limited old town is relatively flat. It is also right along the well developed coast, and features a wonderful playground in the main piazza. Kids from all around the world run and play while parents discover the unifying language of a smile (and a gelato!) The wide sandy beach is perfect for sea glass and shell hunting. Small cobbled streets offer lovely wandering discoveries.
The local train line connects visitors to each of the villages of the Cinque Terre. This is a must when you are gathering your list of places to visit in Italy. Enjoy a morning caffe in Levanto, then head out for a full day of walking with well timed breaks for pasta alla genoese, frutti di mare and insalata caprese. Finish the day with a breathtaking sunset at the shore.
What are your favorite hidden places to visit in Italy?
This post is in partnership with Voyage Privé, a members only luxury travel club that offers European getaways for discounts of up to 70%. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.