Home travel Travel Small Town Italy: Off The Beaten Path Like A Boss

Travel Small Town Italy: Off The Beaten Path Like A Boss

written by M.E. Evans April 14, 2015


The other day I was wrote an article on Choosing Where To Travel In Italy. I decided to elaborate on that post because I know a lot of you are really into a specific kind of tourism: The Off-The-Beaten-Path Kind (what did you think I was going to say? Pervs).

Italy has a lot to offer and choosing the right vacation for you can be the difference between a mind-blowing trip or one that is frustratingly so-so. My favorite parts of Italy are the places that nobody sees, the places that are as far removed from my own culture as possible. I mean, Florence is amazing and it’s my home-hub BUT the tiny villages are where I go on vacation because they offer a different flavor entirely. Small villages offer a more “authentic” cultural experience because larger cities cater to foreigners like ME and sometimes the Italian-ness gets “diluted,” (or enriched depending how you look at it) along the way. Really, it just gets less obvious for tourists and you can spend your entire trip looking for something authentic in a city like Florence. When I was in school we stalked people to find the real “locals” and studied them like demented anthropologists for a little taste of authenticity. Save yourself all of that weirdness, skip the big cities, go off-the-beaten-path.


The first thing I would recommend (and I honestly can’t recommend it enough) when visiting Italy is to rent a car. Italy is big in terms of what it has to offer, but tiny in terms of actual size, a car will allow you to do more stuff with less difficulty at your own leisure. It’s an absolute must if you want to stay in small cities and avoid the tourist traps but you also want to stop in larger cities to take in the historical sites and museums. You can find plenty of international companies that you’ll recognize but we usually go with Europcar or Sixt. Renting a car is affordable (especially if you consider train tickets, etc) plus it gives you a freedom that you can’t get with trains, especially if you consider all of the strikes are likely to happen at least once during your stay. Book in advance, get GPS, and try to get a car that can use Metanol (am I spelling that right? Anyway, corn fuel that is cheap in Italy) plan out your trip, and you’ll be fine. Trust me, it’s impossible to suck at driving worse than me (my sister will happily agree with this) and I managed to drive halfway across the country without dying.



Piedimonte: I haven’t actually been here  yet. Yeah, I know, so why is it here, right? Well, my friends keep recommending it and it’s on my list of places I’m going this year because it’s gorgeous, delicious, and supposedly free from waves of tourism. So, it counts as “one of my favorite non-touristy places that I wish I had gone to and will but haven’t yet.” Take that, logic!

Brescia: This place is diverse and more “german” than Italian but it’s near Milan and a fairly cool city in terms of culture. It’s not saturated by tourists, and you’ll find an interesting northern Italian culture here.

Bassano Del Grappa: A small city near Venice. This is a great place to stay and then you can pop over to Venice for a day or two. Venice is amazing but it’s so packed with tourists during high-season that sometimes you just want to pop in and get the hell out of there before a family from south Jersey mows you over.



Gaiole In Chianti: This is a teeny-tiny town is in the Province of Siena in Tuscany. It’s southeast of Florence. There is a castle nearby that is the single most romantic place I’ve ever stayed with my husband. We had a fireplace in our room. We spent a lot of time in that room. There may or may not have been rolling hills of Oliver groves that were also sort of sexy in a newlywed kind of way except that I was afraid of snakes so it was more like romantic with periodic OH MY GOD IS THAT A VIPER!? So, in the end, not that sexy.

Castiglione D’Orcia in Val D’Orcia: Francesco took me here for a romantic weekend. It was beautiful. But the host of the vacation rentals showed us his dead animal wall and I was convinced that I was in an Italian version of Texas Chainsaw Massecre. Notice how I am a terrible date? On the upside, gorgeous vineyards, and absolutely no tourists. Also, in D’Orcia, stop in Montalcino for some of the best wine in Italy. Tell them you were sent by ME, this wino you randomly found on the internet.

Panzano In Chianti: This little village isn’t touristy at all. It’s adorable. And, most importantly,  you can find Dario Cecchini there, a veterinarian student, turned butcher who recites the divine comedy while gutting animals (yeah, that’s him in the pic below). He’s an eighth generation butcher and is extremely famous in Italy. You can visit his gem of a butcher shop and restaurant Antica Macelleria Cecchini for a taste of the most authentic Bistecca Fiorentina in Tuscany.


Arezzo: Located in Southeast Tuscany. A one-hour train ride from Florence. It’s a very cute city with a huge market every week where you can buy everything from Italian lace to cookware. I’d highly recommend staying here for a few days at least, check out the locals, make friends, enjoy local cuisine, and watch grandmas take their grandkids for gelato.

Umbria: This region is still relatively unspoiled by tourists. It’s green and beautiful and you can breathe without busloads of people stepping on top of you. In Umbria you’ll also find the province of Perugia which is amazing, and boasts some of the best small cities like Assisi. All mentioned places are relatively free from tourists and about as authentic as you can get.


Sicily: I love Sicily. Despite it’s gorgeous landscape, nearly unmatched cuisine, and clean beaches, Sicily is often overlooked by tourists. I have no idea why (maybe they’re afraid of the Godfather?). Francesco proposed to me for the first time in Scopello in the Trapani province.

Sardegna: Holy crap is this place gorgeous. Seriously, like pristine waters, warm, friendly culture, and food that could win over even the pickiest of eaters.

Palestrina: Is located near Rome and is a gorgeous mountain area. The air is clear, tourists hardly ever frequent the place, and the locals are kind and interesting. Plus, it’s close enough to Rome for a day visit (or two).

Cellole: This is the least touristy place I’ve ever been in Italy. It’s green, old-school, and totally closed-off from the rest of the world for the most part and when I’m there I feel like I’ve time-travelled back to the 1950’s. It’s the south of Italy at it’s finest, simple living, amazing food, and it’s incredibly cheap. It’s near Naples and Rome for fun day trips.

Cassino: The wonderful Cassino, home to…things? This is another example of small-town living that is totally unspoiled by tourists. A great place for younger people to go who also want to see Rome and Naples. The squares are packed with young people drinking and talking, restaurants like Bianco Noir are amazing and addictive (one of my favorite restaurants in Italy), and you can check out some historical WWII sites (the battle of Montecassino is quite famous). Also, I have a friend who just started a supper club here. Message me for details. 😉

Sperlonga: This little city is located in Lazio and there were zero tourists the last time I was there with my husband. It’s on the sea and it was a really beautiful place that was super relaxing. Absolutely no crowded streets, no hustle and bustle, and every old man in the entire city gathered in the square at lunch tim to smoke cigarettes and gossip.

Sperlonga, Italy

Highly Recommended Non-Touristy Places By My Badass Readers

I haven’t been to all of these places but on my last post a bunch of you badass readers offered up your favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations in Italy because you’re amazing and always have great advice. So, check out these places also while planning your trip! Bagni di Lucca, La Marche, Perugia, Costacciaro,Turin, Puglia, and Basilicata.

What did I forget about? Any other amazing destinations I accidentally left out? Tell me in the comments below!

Remember, be safe, and have a blast. YOLO and all that.

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Linda girardin April 14, 2015 at 1:26 am

I just spent a week in Udine in the Friuli region, northeast Italy. Fantastic town with lots of bars and just an hour to Trieste again full of bars and cafes (there’s a theme going on here). Also increrdibly beautiful countryside surrounded by mountains.

roamingpursuits April 14, 2015 at 1:43 am

Interesting article.

Ilona April 14, 2015 at 2:54 am

Hi, thanks for the fantastic collection of travel tipps.
I am living in Terni/Umbria for a bit more than a year now – struggle with more or less the identical things here to adjust to Italian life – and can recommend some more places in the unspoiled green heart of Italy, Umbria. Towns of great historic heritage are for sure Orvieto with it´s fantastic dome, Spoleto with it´s medieval “Festival dei due Mondi” in summer, Foligno, Bevagna and Montefalco renowned for great red wines. Please click for Steve MCCurry´s foto artwork http://www.sensationalumbria.eu/. And last but not least there are the world famous truffles, you can find fine hearty dishes in almost every restaurant, my favorite lies in the scenic hills of Acquasparta, in Castello di Casigliano, called “il Re beve” ( the King drinks)… enjoy.

tstaffaroni April 14, 2015 at 5:51 am

I completely agree on renting a car and on your description of Umbria. On my trip last year I picked up the car on my last day in Rome and spent the next three days exploring my roots in Umbria while staying at an Agriturismo on the Tuscan/Umbrian border. It was a highlight of the trip for sure, and Assisi was amazing. I would say visit Costacciaro in Umbria if you can, a quaint commune (I am a bit biased, it’s the home of the Staffaroni) but a great way to experience the real Italy. My one piece of advice is learn the traffic signs before your trip…I am still receiving tickets in the mail from Florence, Perugia, etc. from apparently driving in pedestrian only areas…

Domenica April 14, 2015 at 7:28 am

Have you ever been to Corciano in Umbria? I am excited to be spending the summer there starting in May and I am excited to hear that Umbria is relatively untouched by tourists! I wonder if that means I will have to speak Italian more than I would if I was staying elsewhere? If you don’t mind me asking, what is your experience of English speaking in Umbria?

suzanne April 14, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Le Marche for sure. Ascoli Piceno in particular. Beautiful town, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy, not far from the mountains or seaside. In July and August, they host La Quintana, a mideaveal pagent way better than Siena’s Palsio IMO, If you want a really nice patch of sea, head to the northern end to the area of Conero, not far from Ancona.

bonniegm April 14, 2015 at 3:55 pm

We stay in a tiny town south of Montalcino, Sant ‘Angelo Scalo, in an absolutely charming B&B. Spend our days driving around Tuscany, exploring on dirt/gravel roads, visiting lesser-known wineries. Definitely the way to experience the quieter corners of Italy. We can drive to the coast for a day trip, up to Chianti and even some parts of Umbria are within that scope. I would comment on Montalcino though. Over the past 14 yrs. we have watched it evolve from a lovely, hilltop town to a huge tourist destination. Masses of people and most signs in English. You would be better off buying a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino to accompany your meal in a restaurant or at least visiting in the off season. Similar situation in Panzano. Dario has made quite a name for himself in the past 10 years and many tour groups book visits there. Again, off season may be the better choice. As for driving – if you use a GPS please use a map also (Italian Touring Club puts out fantastic ones) and familiarize yourself with where you are going. A GPS may not be up to date with Traffic Limited Zones or road construction detours. Love Rome, Venice and Firenze but adore the quiet, countryside just as much.

benvenutocellini May 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Montalcino: even if described as “a huge tourist destination” is an absolutely unique place – it means home for me since nearly 20 years.

Teresa April 14, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Im planing my first trip to Italy with my 17 year old daughter and I don’t k ow from where start. All the places you describe here seem so beautiful and that’s what I want my daughter to see .
I need lots of tips

M.E. Evans April 14, 2015 at 8:45 pm

What can I help you with Teresa? 🙂

Diana April 16, 2015 at 1:07 am

Renting a car is great except when you get into the whole “Resident” thing and your international driver’s license loses validity after a year…and the US driver’s license is not transferable so you have to take the whole damn driver’s exam as though you never drove in your life. Yeah, still haven’t gotten to that yet….

sassiitalytours April 23, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Glad to see Brescia get a mention! Close to Garda and the great wine regions and towns nearby (Lugana, Soave, Bardolino, etc) and where all my early in life Italy experiences with Dad were. Cool town with cool people.

Rita January 16, 2017 at 10:23 am

3 times visited, loved !!! Can go next time again !!!!!!!!!!

Luca da Brescia April 26, 2015 at 7:14 am

Thanks for the mention, but… German? Please don’t say so!

Sergio L. May 28, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Still no understand Yankees geografical mind…
An entire country cannot be described only by Touristical/Glamour/Shopping cities, the history places could drive You toward better experiences than “Cosmopolitan’s mind” travel suggestions.
Try to consider before the regional main cities & after move to other near towns, for example in ur tour u’ve compeletely missed a lot of regions: Emilia Romagna (Fellini’s & Tonino Guerra’s country, Trentino Alto Adige (that’s not properly German but Austrian like as u think [WRONG!!!] about Brescia ), Valle D’Aosta (a bit of french folklore) Friuli Venezia Giulia, straightly to great south
I’m From Turin (one of the worst italian city from poor minded people…but try to come here & U’ll be surely agreeably disappointed) & I’m really demoralized to establish that mainly British & USA people think the same stuff about visiting Italy: Florence-Milan-Venice-Rome, That’s all folks!!! Other places: total vacuum!!!
Try to travel in NO-USUAL mode and You could be really surprised from places and people difference (as told from Beppe Severgnini: “There aren’t ugly places in the world, but only unprepared people” ) above all about the more genuine and less venal than the most well known Italians “Tourists traps”.

M.E. Evans May 29, 2015 at 1:53 am

Sergio, I think the most comical part of your rant is that many of these cities were suggested by Italians. So, according to you, your own people don’t know shit about the good cities in their own country. Maybe you can educate them.

bonniegm November 30, 2015 at 3:38 pm

We visited Turino in June, specifically because the Holy Shroud was on exposition. What a fabulous city!! We will definitely return. As to the “Big Three” (Rome/Firenze/Venezia), fast becoming the “Big Four” with the addition of Cinque Terre, I will say that many Americans have one shot at seeing Italy. It is, for many, their dream trip, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So you can see why the rest of Italy gets the short end of the stick. 😉 Those people fortunate enough to be able to make a return trip, who have experienced the hordes of people in popular destination, quite understandably would like to get “off the beaten track”.

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Ed Husak November 29, 2015 at 12:53 pm

I’ve always been fascinated with the Cinque Terre, particularly Vernazza. Have you ever been there?


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