Though they may be drab, winters are the perfect time for trip planning. It’s time to read, research and place your dream trip to Italy. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What Italian experiences do you dream of?
A first-time visit practically requires time in Rome and Florence, Venice and Tuscany (as visitors tend to think of travel there, lumping together all the gorgeous tiny towns of the region). It’s time well-spent. But one of the particularities of Italy is that it’s more than just its capital city – the entire peninsula is worth visiting! This year, let’s examine our other options. Where can we go to escape the crowds? To try something new? We all know option A, what’s option B?
We all know the number 1, bucket-list spot, but if you’re looking for something new, different and away from the crowds,
Here’s where to go instead:
If you want rolling hills, try Umbria
We all think of Tuscany for it’s gorgeous hills, but it’s not the only option, maybe not even the best option!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you want beautiful greenery, hills, hill towns and delicious food at a lower price, Umbria is the place to be.
If you want to save money, try Le Marche
Italy isn’t cheap, but choose the right place and you won’t have to stress over the budget. Le Marche is that place!
Italy’s big cities tend to cost more. If you’re on a strict budget, steer clear of Rome, Milan and Venice, as well as the coastlines during high season. Italy’s south is mostly inexpensive, but prices still rise noticeably during the summer season. If you want to see Italy without financial worry, visit central Italy. Le Marche, Abruzzo and Molise are some of the least expensive destinations in the entire peninsula.
If you want the mountains, try Valle d’Aosta
We all dream of the beautiful views in the Dolomites, but the prices are nearly as steep as the mountains and the walking paths can get so crowded you feel like you’re in line at the bank instead of among the world’s most notable peaks. It can take away from the sense of adventure to say the least. Instead, head to Valle d’Aosta.
The panorama in Valle d’Aosta is the cathedral-like peaks of some of the highest and most known mountains in the world. Monte Bianco, Monte Rosa, Cervino, Gran Paradiso. Here you’ll find glaciers, alpine lakes, nature reserves, forests and mountain traditions that trace centuries. Hike some of the best Alpine peaks in the world, mountain bike, ski or simply partake in the grand thermal culture and cuisine.
If you’ve already seen the major cities, head South
Italy’s south is just now starting to get the fame and attention it deserves, but the lack of tourist infrastructure means it still doesn’t have the crowds of the rest of the country. Though a bit more difficult to navigate, it’s infinitely worth it. Jam-packed with beauty, culture and and a laid-back calmness that is at once inspiring and infuriating, Italy’s mezzogiorno is unlike any other part of the boot.
If you want the views of the Amalfi Coast without the crowd, try hiking
There’s little escape: the Amalfi Coast is crowded. One of the most popular spits of coastline in the world, the tiny towns along the Amalfi Coast are inundated with tourists most of the year (though winter enjoys a noticeable decrease in visitors). That said, it’s worth visiting. When you go, rise above the tourist trifles, literally, by hiking the Sentiero degli Dei.
The Sentiero degli Dei, or the Path of Gods, links the tiny hilltop town of Agerola with Nocelle, a fraction of Positano. Many also start in Praiano, but expect hundreds of stairs to get to the start of the trail. The entire trek is about 8 km (nearly 5 miles) and takes roughly 3 hours, but the name alone should be enough to motivate hikers. The path runs past grazing sheep and goats, Mediterranean scenes with heather and rosemary and magnificent views of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri.
If you want to be the only tourist, try Molise
Molise was a part of Abruzzo until 1963 when it formally split from the latter region. The transition became effective in 1970 making Molise the youngest region in Italy and also nearly completely unknown. Here you can enjoy the Appennines that rule most of the region as well as miles and miles of sandy beaches along the beautiful Adriatic coastline. Here peace reigns and you’ll never have to fight for a spot of sand!
If you want small-town Lombardia, try Oltrepò Pavese
In population-dense Lombardy, it can be hard to find an unpopulated countryside. But there are places to explore with room to breathe. The Bergamo Alps are full of towns with fewer than 20 people in them, like Piazzolo, a town near my family’s cabin, but visitors short on time don’t need to drive hours to get away from it all. Instead, head south of Milan to the Oltrepò Pavese. South of the Po River, the Oltrepò Pavese is a mix of rolling hills and flat, vast tracts of land perfect for rice production, conveniently a part Lombardy’s most noted dish, risotto. You’ll also find plenty of vineyards to drive past, through and visit.
If you want a unique wine experience, try Franciacorta
Nobody thinks of Lombardy when they think of Italy’s wine culture, but it holds its own with one of Italy’s most sophisticated sparkling wines, the Franciacorta DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). With more than a hundred wineries, there’s plenty to tour and taste, and the gorgeous vineyards east of Brescia practically beg to be explored by bike. Try the Strada del Vino Franciacorta, an 80 km route for cars, cyclists or hikers that passes vineyards, hotels and restaurants. Beyond this and Tuscany’s infamous vineyards, you can tour the gorgeous white wines in Friuli Venezia Giulia or try the burgeoning industry of volcanic reds, cultivated along Sicily’s Mount Etna.
If you want the charm of Cinque Terre without the fees, try Golfo Paradiso
Let me preface this by saying that the Golfo Paradiso isn’t necessarily less crowded, it does tend to be less crowded by international tourists, however, and more by vacationing Italians and in-the-know Europeans. Further north from Cinque Terre, the Golfo Paradiso is made of five small towns as well that are equally breathtaking and well worth the visit! Bogliasco, Pieve Ligure, Sori, Recco, and my favorite so far, beautiful Camogli, have all the atmosphere of the Italian Riviera yet are often overlooked for overcrowded Cinque Terre.
If you want to celebrate Italy’s famed carnevale in a unique way, try Ivrea
Venice’s famed Carnevale is mystical. The masks, the parades, the wine, it seems the entire city of Venice with its canals and arches was created as the perfect backdrop for Carnival season. But there’s another Carnival celebration in Italy that’s just as unique: Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges. More than 50,000 oranges are trucked in for the epic battle, reenacting a Medieval fight between the nobility and the townsfolk and the fight lasts for hours. Head in and get behind the safety nets, once the oranges start flying there’s little you can do to protect yourself!
If you want to experience Italy’s diverse cuisine, try Sicily
Normans, Byzantines, Arabs, Greeks, Sicily has been ruled by them all, and not only! Though an island, it’s anything but isolated. No place is Italy’s tumultuous past better meshed together than Sicily. In its architecture, language and above all else, its food, Sicily is a veritable melting pot of cultures. Though chaotic and a bit gritty, the island is entirely authentic, and begging to be explored! Besides your typical Italian influences, here you’ll find abundant spices like nutmeg, cloves, pine nuts and cinnamon thanks to the Arab domination of Sicily. Peppers, tomatoes and saffron again from Spain. Abundant fish, olives and pistachio from its years as Magna Grecia and even couscous from its North African neighbors.
Italy doesn’t have just one must-see spot – the entire country is brimming with beauty! So whether you’re on your 11th trip or planning your first, consider branching out and trying something new. Instead of the well beaten tourist itineraries, why not add a little spice? And tell me about it when you do!