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Travel Tips: Choosing Where To Travel In Italy

written by M.E. Evans April 3, 2015

It’s summer and the emails are starting to come in asking for my recommendations for travel. Since I’m working on a series of guides and some super in-depth posts about travel that I’ll have up soon, I’m just going to keep this short and sweet with the highlights of my favorite places to go. I hope this helps at least some of you plan your Italy trip this year.

Choosing a destination depends on what kind of traveler you are and what you’re seeking. Are you a history buff? A food lover? Wino? Artist? Do you love culture and people-watching (legal stalking)?

I’m personally really into culture. I love watching people. If you see me in Florence I’m probably sitting on a bench taking photos of perfect strangers while they smoke cigarettes or talk about their partner or cake recipes. If this sounds like you then you might want to do an off-the-beaten-path trip. Honestly, one of the best ways to travel Italy in my opinion is to pick somewhere less touristy and spend a good amount of time there. There are tiny towns and villages throughout Italy that don’t get a lot of attention in tourism magazines but are well worth visiting if you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience.

Florence, Rome, and all of those places are beautiful, historical, and amazing but they’re swamped with visitors and because of that a lot of the charm is lost as restaurants, stores, try to accomodate visitors. I’m not entirely complaining about that because it did bring large coffee cups to Florence, God bless ya’ll, but it also removes the “authenticity,” and love that normally goes into Italian products, and food, from certain areas. Sometimes in larger cities if you want to really experience them the best way to do it is with a local, or a ton of research to avoid tourist traps which can certainly be exhausting. However, if art, history, and architecture are important to you then working larger cities into your trip is probably a good idea. I vote for going off of the beaten path and spending most of your vacation there but maybe taking short weekend trips to larger cities. For example, I love Gaiole in Chianti. Obviously, it depends on how long you have off.

Gaiole In Chianti

Gaiole In Chianti

Something that I can’t emphasize enough is renting a car if you have ten days or a couple weeks. I’m the world’s worst driver yet I managed to drive from Florence all the way to Sorrento with my friend, Jason. I didn’t kill anyone (or at least not that I know of). It was very affordable (seriously, I was a college student at the time, it was cheap), and it was such an amazing experience. It was one of the funnest things I did in school.

If you’ve got a few weeks I’d recommend starting in Milan and driving all the way to Puglia, stopping in small villages and big cities along the way. Keep in mind that Italy is smaller than a lot of states in the United States so it’s not a long drive at all to go from one end to the other. I can’t think of a better way to see the entire country, meet people, and experience Italy in all it’s glory. Just imagine all of the majestic chest hair that one could see while exploring the entirety of “The Boot.”

If you don’t have much time and just need to pick one place or another, if you want something that isn’t touristy at all, try one of my favorites.

Sicily

Sicily. This is nearby where we were the first time Francesco proposed. The first of 2,000 times. 

 

I love this list of cities in this Huffington Post article by Sucheta Rawal: Off The Beaten Path In Italy’s Small Town. She covers small villages that are not typical tourist destinations. I could add a lot to this list so I think I will in another post this week. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy in tiny villages visiting the hometowns of friends or places that Francesco’s family lives or grew up.

 

If you want a destination that isn’t as touristy as cities like Venice but isn’t completely off of the map you can try some places on this list of Favorite Italy Destinations: Italian travel from Saga Navigator. They also do tours which is an added bonus if you’re looking for that type of thing (I haven’t taken one of their tours but they’re rated well). I’ve been all over Sicily with my husband and it was awesome. It’s one of my favorite travel destinations because it’s so different from the rest of Italy, plus the food is amazing, and it’s just badass. I’ve been to Sardinia for a weekend and I loved it. Probably some of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen are in Sardinia. I haven’t personally been to the places on the list but the Adriatic Riviera is absolutely on my list of places to go. One of my old roommates went and she loved it. It’s expensive but with AirBNB, and good tour guides, it’s totally doable. I’ve heard it’s an especially romantic place for couples or a great place for groups of friends to unwind.

Where would you recommend that isn’t a typical destination?

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23 comments

Lyn April 3, 2015 at 3:18 pm

I totally agree. I prefer to stay in the regional areas and I really enjoy driving in these areas discovering little villages as I drive around. I have stayed 3 times in LA Marche for extended periods but last year I rented an apartment in Bagni di Lucca and that was the best. Mind you anyone visiting Italy must see some of the major cities especially the Eternal City Lyn

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M.E. Evans April 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Absolutely. The larger cities are also important to see. I love La Marche! I’ll have to rent an apartment in Bagni Di Lucca as well. That sounds really fun. Did you do an airbnb?

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Lyn April 3, 2015 at 3:26 pm

I have done airbnb in Rome and Porto Venere but the apartment in Bagni di Lucca was through home away. The house in pievebovigliano was through friends. I can so recommend Bagni di Lucca

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Jane Johnson April 3, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Another wonderful post. My son and I will spend 6 weeks in northern Sardegna in the summer. About time I show him the island I fell in love with. But I was also researching another place in Italy I can travel on my own in late August for two weeks. And I will most certainly look into the suggestions you mentioned in this blog. Thank you for another informative and helpful post.

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Kay Mcgivney-knaul April 3, 2015 at 4:27 pm

What do you think of Perugia?

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Wynne April 3, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Thanks for this! I wasn’t sure whether you had received my e-mail, but it’s likely you were simply inundated w/ requests. Agreed re: smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns. Since this is my fifth visit to Italy, I don’t feel the need for the larger, tourist-laden cities. Though Florence thus far is still my favorite! So after Milan and a visit to Lisa in the Alps, I’ll find somewhere yummy, I’m sure.

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M.E. Evans April 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Hello Love! Yes! I got your email. I started compiling an in-depth response to you and then realized that it would be a good blog post because I’ve been getting lots of the same questions. But then I wanted to at least give people something. So I hope this helps until I can get the longer post up. I’ll send it to you via email soon as it’s done! Sorry it’s taking so long. SO SOON!

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Wynne April 4, 2015 at 8:06 am

No rush and certainly no obligation – I know you’ve got a lot on your plate. This is a great start, as are others’ input here. Thanks again for the post!

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tstaffaroni April 3, 2015 at 8:20 pm

The big cities are a must for a first trip, but I also included a 3 night stay in Umbria to explore my roots on my father’s side, met some family and was able to explore the region in a way where I could experience the “real” Italy from Assisi to the small town my family is from, Costacciaro (wow, that’s one hell of a run-on sentence). It was the highlight of my trip and the agriturismo was awesome!

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Kristie Prada April 3, 2015 at 11:57 pm

Another really useful post and links have suggested more places I’m dying to see.
I agree the most economical and best way to see Italy (if you can cope with your Italian Husband’s driving) is by car. We’ve done a couple of big trips pre – children the best was starting in Bormio in the north a little mountain ski resort but also great in summer and drove down through lake Garda, on to Mantova (definitely worth a stop over) and on to Perugia which is such a vibrant city. We stayed just outside in an agriturismo which accommodation wise is another very cheap way to see Italy. Poggio deli olivi was the name and it was gorgeous. All the food in their restaurant is from their own land and livestock. The restaurant has a terrace where you sit and look out at the tuscan/umbrian landscape, it was just stunning. As you say the best way to see an area is to just drive around we stopped in so many little villages and towns, joined festivals we didn’t know we’re happening, found villages specialising in beautiful ceramics, saw the gorgeous village of Assisi (my fav) and drank too much wine in Montepulciano. In fact Umbria was actually much more lovely and unspoilt than Tuscany has become. Only issue was we were there in a heatwave and it was 42 degrees of humidity which was insane.

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Marina April 4, 2015 at 12:21 am

Hi Misty – Le Marche is a wonderful area to visit – very economical compared to Tuscany and just as gorgeous. There’s a group of us here with holiday places who formed a co operative to try to promote our area and we promise to provide our guests with top tips about the places we have discovered here – our website is marcheownersdirect.com email info@marcheownersdirect.com We’d love to help your readers explore our part of Italy – for anyone that’s never heard of marche – we’re halfway down the boot on the right hand side. All best, great article, Marina

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Wynne April 4, 2015 at 8:04 am

Hello Marina – The Marche region is most definitely in the running, as it’s been on my list for a while now. Thank you for the link – I will check it out!

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Katie April 4, 2015 at 6:21 am

My husband wants me to thank you for inspiring me for our next vacation ;). I’m in love with Lake Trasimeno. It doesn’t have that breathtaking scenery that some of the other lakes offer, but it’s still beautiful and peaceful with great food (wine, oil, and beans) which is typical to just that area. Como was beautiful and I recommend going but, in my opinion, the food wasn’t great and because there’s a ton of (sometimes wealthy – yuck) tourists, it lacks a genuine, local feeling. Buoni viaggi!

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Wynne April 4, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Good to know re: the lakes. I’ve been considering a lakeside locale and wondering about Como. Thanks for the input!

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Pat Hames April 4, 2015 at 2:37 pm

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mfryan April 4, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Good advice. I would suggest similar adventures too!

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Un po' di pepe April 5, 2015 at 7:53 am

Definitely Puglia and Bssilicata!

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shampoothedog April 5, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I almost always stay off the beaten path when in Italy. Chiavari and Zoagli are small, charming, and beautiful little towns in Liguria. (I’m biased, my father and the rest of my family lives there.) There are very few tourists… it’s mostly people passing through on their way to Portofino (overrated) or Cinque Terre (NOT overrated and totally worth the hike.) If one is looking for city life, Turin is an often over-looked city. Again, there are very few tourists, amazing architecture, and lots of history. One caveat, it is muggy in the summer.

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Diana April 7, 2015 at 6:47 am

I love discovering little, unexplored towns in Italy! I agree with Un po’ di Pepe, Puglia is definitely a place to go. And I have to suggest Turin, which is a city and not totally unknown, but you’ll be surprised at how many Italians say they’ve never been. It’s a city with the benefits of some tourism, but it is not crowded and still retains its undiscovered atmosphere. And then…I am totally biased because I live up here but all of Piedmont is so untouristy! There are tons of places you can’t get to without a car, from vineyard to Alpine towns.

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An Englishwoman in Italy June 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Yes, Le Marche is surprisingly unspoilt considering its stunning sea and mountain scenery, good food and wine and above all charming hill towns. Corinaldo is my favourite with its amazingly well-preserved walls and picturesque historic centre. Lovely friendly people too, of course. Try Scuretto’s Bar at the top of the steps.

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