Sure, Rome, Venice and Cinque Terre are all incredible. But the country boasts so much more.
So in case you’re wondering whether travelling off the beaten path in Italy is even possible, the answer is a resounding yes. To prove this, we have 8 destinations that are equal parts far-flung and underrated. And, bonus, they’re all visited on Intrepid’s wide range of tours in Italy.
Check ’em out:
Charming Umbria is quintessentially Italian but without the tourist hordes. Apart from strolling the cobbled streets of its pretty capital and university town of Perugia, visitors to the region have the opportunity to mingle with pilgrims by visiting the birthplace of San Francesco d’Assisi in the World Heritage listed town of the same name, indulge in regional dishes in beautiful and timeless Gubbio which is overlooked by Monte Ingino, a prime spot for truffle hunting, and lose sense of time in tiny Spello which is enclosed by medieval town walls and can be entered by walking through one of the gates dating from Roman times.
Umbrian cuisine is a class all of its own, with a strong reliance on seasonal produce such as mushrooms, asparagus, fava beans and – of course – truffles. And the best part: it’s conveniently located en-route from Venice to Rome.
Does Naples belong into this list you may ask? Considering that most travellers only pass through to get to Sorrento or down to the Amalfi Coast, and leave with an insufficient (and often negative) impression, then yes, it does deserve a lot more attention: Italy’s third largest city is loud and chaotic, and crossing the street is not for the faint-hearted. But it is also ancient. In fact, it is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.
Apart from its claim to fame as the inventor of the pizza (try it at Da Michele), it boasts a huge historical centre in which to get lost, and it is possible to explore a series of ancient caves dating back to the Greco-Roman period, all located right underneath the city’s streets.
Naples is visited on Intrepid’s Rome to Amalfi trip.
Lucca is often and unjustifiably overlooked by travellers in favour of its close-by heavy-hitting neighbours of Florence and Pisa. Both these cities absorb much of the region’s tourist traffic, leaving delightful Lucca to the more intrepid of travellers. Hence, Lucca has retained a very local feel, with locals filling the streets in the afternoon for an aperitivo. Completely enclosed by its city walls, most streets are car free.
Still, both Florence and Pisa are only a short train ride away, making Lucca the perfect base from which to explore Tuscany. The top of the city walls are now home to a walking and cycling path, so it is possible to take in the city skyline by riding or walking the 4km loop. Alternatively, head further afield and ride a bike along the Serchio River.
No doubt you know about Pompeii, the ancient city frozen in time due to the volcanic eruption of nearby Vesuvius in AD 79. Covered in ash and pumice, it was sealed from oxygen and moisture and was therefore perfectly preserved until its rediscovery 1,500 years later.
But what most visitors don’t know is that there is also the modern town of Pompei (only one i) right next to it, a pleasant base from which to explore the ruins and embark on an excursion to the summit of Vesuvius, the very volcano that destroyed the city in the first place. Modern is relative, as the new town was founded in 1891, and has since become a pilgrimage place for Catholics paying homage to Our Lady of the Rosary at the town’s cathedral.
Cadenabbia & Lago di Como (Lake Como)
Centrally located in Italy’s Lake District and half-way up the western shore of Lago di Como (Italy’s third largest lake), Cadenabbia is a small community hemmed in by the craggy mountains on one side and the dark blue rippled surface of the lake on the other. Frequent ferry services to Como, Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio make this the perfect spot from which to explore the region, yet allows you to come back to an idyllic and quiet hamlet right on the shores of the lake.
Lago di Como is visited on Intrepid’s Best of Italy trip.
Ragusa and the Val di Noto
Quintessentially Italy, but then again, not like Italy at all, Sicily doesn’t deserve its often raucous reputation. Ragusa is one of the most scenic towns in Sicily, yet is off the radar for most travellers as it is located in the remote Hyblaean Mountains in the south east of this enchanting island. By visiting Ragusa you essentially visit two towns. The upper town (Ragusa Superiore) is home to a stunning cathedral and many fine baroque buildings all built in the 18th century, after a massive earthquake had levelled the city. Across a deep ravine and one of four bridges you will reach the lower and older town (Ragusa Ibla).
Val di Noto is also home to the town of Noto with yet more masterpieces of beautiful Sicilian Baroque architecture, an architectural style in its own right. One of the region’s specialties and a must-try is Spaghetti ai Ricci (pasta with sea urchin).
Ragusa is visited on Intrepid’s Highlights of Calabria & Sicily trip.
Matera is unlike anything you have seen before. Built into a steep sided canyon carved out by a river, the city looks like it has come straight out of a strange fairy tale, with buildings seemingly built on top of each other, little passageways and staircases opening up to spectacular vistas across the valley, and many of the inhabitants living in ancient caves carved into the side of the canyon walls.
The caves have been inhabited since at least 12,000 years, even though some were evacuated in the 1950s due to overcrowding. It is even possible to stay in cave hotels and eat in cave restaurants, all carved from the soft honey-coloured lime stone of the canyon.
Matera is visited on Intrepid’s Explore Southern Italy trip.
Calabria is Italy’s least visited and most southern mainland region. Often skipped by international travellers, Italians have long ago discovered its multitude of glorious beaches strewn along its 800 km coastline, with the town of Tropea high up on the list of domestic holiday makers. Many people refer to Calabria as the toe of the boot that is Italy, but Italians often call this region ‘the wild Italy’. Visit, and you’ll see why.
Calabria is visited as part on Intrepid’s Highlights of Calabria & Sicily trip.
Ready to get off the beaten path and into Italy’s heart and soul? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures.