“Look at this crostata!” Marco was gesticulating wildly to a piece of nutella pie, or crostata in Italian. Sure it looked good, but not enough to scream across the small Italian cafè. “It only costs 1.50!”
Then I understood.
See, in Lombardia, things aren’t cheap. The region produces about a fifth of all of Italy’s GDP. It’s one of the richest regions in all of Europe. Productive and rich, people who live and work there have finally found a piece of the pie, and they’d never sell it to you for 1.50. In the countryside of Le Marche, however, it seemed to be a regular occurrance.
“This would be 4 euro minimum in Milan!” Marco said, like an antique collector who just made the deal of a century. Who knows how many crostate Marco ate on that trip…
Italy isn’t cheap, but choose the right place and you won’t have to stress over the budget.
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. If you want to see Italy without financial worry, head inland.
Central Italian regions like Le Marche, Abruzzo and Molise are some of the least expensive destinations in the entire peninsula.
And though Italy’s mezzogiorno regions in the south tend to cost less than the north, many are still popular tourist destinations with prices to match in the summer months. Instead, Le Marche, Abruzzo, Molise and even Umbria stay reasonably priced year-round.
Unassuming and overlooked, central Italy has just as much beauty as the rest of the Bel Paese, with half the crowds and at half the price.
Small Molise is a split-away region from Abruzzo. Formed in 1963, it’s Italy’s least-known region – even among Italians! (See: 7 Reasons Molise (Yes, Molise) is Italy’s Best Kept Secret) But it’s their loss; In Molise peace and quiet reigns. Visiting the region is like stepping back in time and truly soaking in the nature. Though most of the region is mountainous, Molise also houses miles and miles of sandy beaches along the beautiful Adriatic coastline with space to breathe. Meanwhile, in Liguria thousands of day-trippers and tourists are fighting for square footage on rocky beaches.
With three national parks, one regional park, and 38 protected nature reserves, Abruzzo is a nature lover’s dream. More off the beaten path than Umbria and the coastline of Le Marche, it’s easier to reach than Molise. Just a three-hour drive from Rome, there’s even an airport in Pescara with daily flights to European cities.
Visit Abruzzo to get a taste of “real” Italy, to try something most tourists don’t and to explore some of Italy’s most beautiful villages. According to the article linked above, “Abruzzo boasts 20 villages belonging to the “Most beautiful borghi in Italy” circuit, second only to Umbria.”
Le Marche offers a true glimpse at Italy’s countryside, delicious food bordering the Emilia-Romagna border and, if you’re willing to “splurge”, discoteca-filled beachside towns along the coast. There are more big-hitters in Le Marche, such as Rimini, Urbino and the pilgrimage site of Loreto, yet the region sits largely unhampered by tourism and not entirely unhappy about it.
Finally, Umbria has all the attractiveness, recipes and landscapes of Tuscany, at a lower price. Any reader to this blog will know my extreme love of Umbria: with town after incredible town to explore and some of my favorite food in Italy, I can’t get enough. That said, it is probably a bit more expensive than the other central regions. Easy to reach and bordered by Rome and Tuscany, it’s popularity is growing fast. Go before the small town charm is dampened.
Anytime you leave the tourist-trodden path prices tend to go down. For some, this simply comes with less tourist infrastructure, less to see, less beauty. Others see fewer crowds, kinder locals and new experiences. In Italy you’ll certainly find less English in the countryside, but there’s still plenty to see, and plenty of beauty.
Budget travelers can save money anywhere with a bit of planning and care – even in super-expensive Milan – but they can breathe easy in the remote towns, hidden castles and beautiful countryside of Italy’s central regions.