Italy is the most visited country in the world. While most tourists and travellers flock to Rome, Milan, Venice or Florence, Italy has many secret gems, tucked in each corner of the country. This Summer, do something different and far from the overwhelming crowds. Meet locals as you explore the small towns and enjoy the authenticity of Italian culture and life at its best.
Only 130 kilometres away from Rome, located in the province of Perugia, in the region of Umbria, Assisi is the birthplace of Saint Francis. Back in the year 2000, all Franciscan structures were collectively designated as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO. Take a historical stroll thru the quaint town of Assisi and head to the Basilicas of Santa Chiara and San Francesco d´Assisi. The church of Santo Stefano is the oldest church still standing. Other sites in Assisi include the Roman amphitheatre and the Temple of Minerva. While you´re here, make sure you visit the small embroidery shops, famous for their form of counted thread.
Just getting to Urbino makes for a rewarding adventure. You must take a flight to Milan, a train to Pesaro and a bus to reach the birthplace of famous Italian painter Raphael. Located on a sloping hillside, Urbino is a small walled city in the country´s southwest corner and another World Heritage Site known for its independent Renaissance culture.
Urbino´s legendary site is the Palazzo Ducale, its best-known architectural piece. Inside, make sure you spend some time visiting the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, where you´ll discover the world´s largest Renaissance painting collections.
The cathedral Duomo di Urbino is another must on your list. After that, why not grab a bite to eat or have a picnic basket ready before you head to the Pierina Scaramella botanical gardens.
Located in Tuscany, Siena is a short yet breathtaking road trip from Firenze, full of rolling hills and private-owned estates, villas and olive groves. Its city centre has been declared as a World Heritage Site and although it´s frequently visited by tourists, it doesn´t compare to Italy´s larger, more important cities. Here, you´ll still get a chance to feel off-the-beaten-path while you enjoy its cuisine, art and the Palio, where medieval horse races are held twice a year during the Summer.
One of the greatest examples of Italian Romasque Gothic architecture is the Sienna Cathedral. But the heart of the city lies in its old town square. Synagogues, castles, basilicas and the Medicean Fortress, where you can enjoy concerts all year long on behalf of the Sienna Jazz School.
If you really want to indulge in the “dolce far niente”, this is the place to go. Off the coast of Sicily, there is a paradise island with no cars called Marettimo, the second largest of the Aegadian Islands.
Just an hour away from the Trapani port in Sicily, you´ll reach a destination made for those who thrive on laid back attitudes and discovering local food, small fishing villages, tucked away beaches and coves.
Capital of Puglia, Bari is located on the Adriatic Sea. Large and urban, but still a laid back seaside city with a wonderfully restored old historic centre (Bari Vecchia) that has a cathedral, a castle and the San Nicola Basilica.
Very close to Bari, you´ll discover plenty of picturesque beaches. Cycle, walk or drive around the lesser known villages of Puglia while taking in the vineyards and olive groves. There are plenty of walking and local gastronomic tours so make sure you stop at the information desk as soon as you arrive.
Tips to remember for an off-the-beaten-path holiday in Italy:
When outside of the tourist destinations, be aware that it might be helpful to speak some Italian or have a phrase book ready as not all Italians speak English.
Remember to request permission before taking photographs and ask for advice on directions.
Keep an open mind and be flexible on your schedule as opening hours may be limited and seasonal. Remember that most shops and tourist attractions close for a few hours in the middle of the day.