Central Italy has a special place in my heart. It’s where I learned Italian and fell in love – both with Italy itself and my own Italian.
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Every chance we get Marco and I make our way south of the Po River to explore Tuscany or hop among the various medieval towns in Umbria and more recently Le Marche. This year, we have plans to spend a few days in Lazio, exploring the antique and wonderful gardens that dot the countryside outside of Rome.
Central Italy has prime weather, excellent countryside and just the pace of life that we need for the perfect getaway.
Of course most tourists zip between the major cities on the high-speed train (I did it too) or at most decide to venture into the Tuscan countryside, but if I had one recommendation it would be to consider flying into Rome, then renting a car and heading off to explore central Italy – from the cities to the coast to the countryside.
What actually constitutes central Italy seems to be slightly contested. Some consider Abruzzo and Molise as a part of central Italy, while others lump it in with the south. Emilia Romagna is often a swing region also – it’s a part of north Italy or central Italy depending on who you ask. But I find that central Italy is most widely considered to be: Tuscany, Le Marche, Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo and Molise.
Central Italy is home to the capital of the world, Rome and of course the Caput Mundi is a must-see along with Florence to the north, but beyond these two big-hitters are dozens of medium-sized cities and small towns that are absolutely splendid.
Right in the middle of the two is Orvieto, a glittering town carved into the tufo rock found throughout central Italy. Continue on into Umbria for a religious experience in beautiful Assisi or go even smaller and stroll the streets of minuscule Spello. And right on the border of Umbria and Lazio is the incantevole city: Civita di Bagnoregio, a destination that’s been on my wish list for awhile now!
Central Italy also offers the chance to see two different city-states within the borders of Italy: the Vatican City and San Marino in Le Marche.
For something different but still glamorous, tour Elba off the coast of Tuscany or the Pontine Archipelago off the coast of Lazio, the region of Rome. But central Italy is the perfect region to consider the Adriatic Coast. Forget the dramatic cliffs of the Mediterranean, here you’ll find miles and miles of long, wide, sandy beaches and a gently sloping seaside. It’s perfect for kids but also for anyone hoping to find a free space to lay down their towel. You can choose a beautiful coastal resort town like Pesaro or Senigallia in Le Marche or if you don’t mind pebble beaches, Numana and Sirolo near Monte Conero offer wild, unspoiled beaches.
Central Italy is perhaps one of the only places where you can still find an “off the beaten path” of Italy. To really escape it all, try the Costa dei Trabocchi in Abruzzo or head to Molise and find something that truly hasn’t been found (I can’t even say where!). If you do, you’re bound to be the only international tourist.
Perhaps my love of central Italy is thanks to its gorgeous countryside. Italy, and especially Monza Brianza where I live, has a high population density. And though I love exploring Italian cities, I prefer green spaces, a bit of elbow room, a sky I can actually see. Sometimes I just need a bit of space to reset, relax and truly enjoy my explorations and there’s all that and more in Central Italy.
Only in the country can you drive as fast or as slow as you want. Can you reach up and pick freshly ripened figs off of trees, stop by nonna’s house just because and find pin-prick towns with loads of personality. Only in the country does a small summer fest welcome you like a neighbor and any type of dress is welcomed, Italian-style be damned. That’s what I love.
The countryside here is all the land between the towns you’ve came to central Italy to see. It’s the car trip, the journey, the complete lack of crowds and cruise ships. If you’re new to the area, the most popular countryside to explore is Val d’Orcia. A valley located just south of Siena in Tuscany, here you can explore small towns like Montalcino and Montepulciano, Pienza and nearby Colle Val d’Elsa.
You can enjoy the countryside in abundance in all of these regions, but the real off-the-beaten-path gem, largely devoid of tourists is in Abruzzo and Molise. In Abruzzo there are three national parks, one regional park and several nature reserves. Visit Majella National Park, the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, or Gran Sasso National Park, the one I personally am dying to visit.
It’s impossible to see all of central Italy on just one trip, but you can easily create an itinerary that explores the city, coast and the countryside! Stick to just one region (except Umbria that doesn’t have a coastline) or go for the great Italian road trip and be prepared to put some miles on the car – in central Italy, the journey is part of the visit!
What’s your favorite central Italian destination?