Last Updated on 15th November 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
If you’re looking for the best-kept secrets of Italy, then you’ve come to the right place! The charming and magical boot-shaped country is at the top of nearly every visitor to Europe’s bucket list… And with good reason! After all, between charming fishing communities, lush swathes of endless vineyards, and picture-perfect medieval cities, there’s a plethora of hidden gems and secret spots in Italy that are totally worth exploring.
Every year, millions of visitors head to the beautiful Southern European country of Italy to soak up the sun and enjoy the wonderful foodie scene that this destination has to offer. I’ve personally visited the country on more than a handful of occasions and once there, it’s easy to see why this destination appeals to those looking for countless different travel experiences…
As such, for this Italy article, I’ve teamed up with other travel writers from across the world to showcase Italy’s most beautiful destinations and the top treasures of Italy, as well as the very best places to visit!
#1 Discover the secret city of Bergamo
One of the biggest mistakes that first-time visitors to Northern Italy make is that they miss out on the stunning city of Bergamo. Situated just a half-hour train ride away from Milano and with its own international airport, this time-warp of a town is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life.
Visit now and you’ll soon discover that the town is split over two levels; the Citta Alta and the Citta Bassa. While the lower town was largely constructed during the 18th-century, that of the upper level is much older, dating all the way back to medieval times and beyond.
Top highlights of the city include wandering the historic cobbled lanes, dining in a former prison turned Italian restaurant (yes, really! and it’s called Il Circolino), experiencing the best of Renaissance architecture, and more secret spots than you could hope to discover in a weekend.
Discover my guide to the best things to do in Bergamo here.
#2 The unknown Italian Riviera town of Camogli
The town of Camogli might just be the best-kept secret on the Italian Riviera. It’s a quieter and unspoiled Italian coastal town, just a half-hour drive away from its glam neighbour, Portofino (or a short train ride from Genoa).
Thanks to its past as a fishing town, it has tall multi-coloured houses facing the sea which helped the fishermen find their way back home… Or so the story goes. Since the town is built into a steep hill, be prepared for stairs and uphill walking!
Although there is no shortage of things to do, Camogli is truly a place to relax and take life at a slower pace. It’s the perfect spot to practice your dolce far niente(the art of doing nothing). Wander the narrow alleys and spot the trompe l’oeil flourishes on the buildings.
Relax on the pebbled beach and watch the waves roll in. If you want to get active, there are boat tours and kayaks for rent along the waterfront. It’s also a popular spot for divers who can visit the Marine Reserve of Portofino.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, the speciality in Camogli is focaccia. Get the best local version at Revello. It has rich, gooey cheese in between thin sheets of bread. Other local delicacies include sweet pastries with cream and liqueur fillings, pesto and seafood. Plus, there is always plenty of Italian wine on hand. A visit to this colourful town is sure to leave you relaxed and happy.
This hidden gem of Italy was submitted by Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now. Check her blog to discover more about the best-kept secret on the Italian Riviera.
#3 Ravello, the best-kept secret of the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is far from a secret. And when you consider this region is a collection of colourful villages set on the Mediterranean Sea, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. But if you truly want to get away from the more crowded towns like Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi, consider heading inland just a bit to the cliffside town of Ravello.
With an ethereal medieval vibe, Ravello is undeniably charming. Olive trees hang heavy with fruit and cobblestone paths weave between centuries-old buildings. From Ravello, you’ll have sweeping views of the sea below. Be sure to check out the town’s iconic church that sits on the cliff’s edge.
Like many small towns in Italy, you’ll find an incredible food and wine scene here. Sample the local flavours and wander through small shops and wine tasting rooms. You’ll quickly notice that Ravello lacks the crowds of the more popular beach towns, making it a fun place and off the beaten tourist track destination to add to your Amalfi Coast trip.
Whether you visit as a day trip from one of the other coastal towns or you spend a couple of days at a B&B in this charming village, you’ll have a hard time saying goodbye to the quiet and captivating town of Ravello. Of all the most beautiful places to visit in Italy, this close to tops the list.
This treasure along the Amalfi Coastline was submitted by Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles.
#4 Modena, the foodie town of Emilia-Romagna
Situated between Bologna and Parma, Modena is a charming Italian town in the heart of Emilia Romagna. Despite its relatively small size, Modena certainly packs a lot in. It’s the city of Slow Food meets Fast Cars.
In terms of fast cars, Modena is home to auto giants Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. Modena is also home to Osteria Francescana, formerly the number one restaurant in the world. The Enzo Ferrari museum, which is only a few blocks from the train station, is a must-stop for any “gearhead.”
For the foodie travellers out there, there are so many good things to eat in Modena. From Prosciutto di Modena to Parmigiana Reggiano to traditional balsamic vinegar, which is all locally made in Modena. You can even taste some of the best balsamic vinegar for yourself in Modena in a little shop on Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini.
Otherwise, head to Mercato Albinelli, one of the most beautifully preserved markets in that part of Italy. In terms of dining, of the best places to eat in Modena is Hosteria Giusti, a small restaurant with only four tables, set in the back of a food shop. Eating here means you are in the know.
For culture lovers, marvel at the Modena Cathedral or climb the tower to get a birds-eye view of the city from above. Modena is easily reached by train, being under an hour from Florence. As such, Modena is a great hidden gem alternative to busy and over-touristed Florence.
This top foodie Italian place to visit was submitted by Amber from Food And Drink Destinations. Check out her blog for some of the best Modena food recommendations.
#5 The well-kept secret of the Stelvio Pass of Northern Italy
In Northern Italy, and more precisely in the South Tirol, you’ll soon find the Stelvio Pass, a stunning road that crosses the Alps and is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy. This engineering marvel is one of the highest paved roads in the Alps with an elevation of a staggering 2,757 mt.
The road has no fewer than 75 hairpin turns, making it one of the greatest roads in the world (actually, the very best, according to Top Gear). Its exhilarating serpentine sections are a daydream for anyone who loves to drive.
Besides being an enjoyable road to drive, the Pass provides breathtaking views of the mountains and the Stelvio National park. Truth be told, the best of all is the viewpoint from the top of the pass, where you can admire all the curves of the pass and take fantastic photos.
The road is also very coveted by the cyclist, there is even a Stelvio bike day every year, a competition when cyclists can climb the road. Stelvio is also a famous stage in the Giro of Italy – one of the biggest cycling competitions in the world.
All in all, the Stelvio Pass is one of Europe’s most scenic roads, and definitely a place to pass through while visiting Italy. The pass is relatively near to Milan at 221 km and is on the way to Merano a cute Alpine town in the south Tirol.
This secret spot of Italy is submitted by Jorge & Cláudia of the website Travel Drafts.
#6 Burano, a colourful Italian treasure close to Venice
Burano is a small island in the Venice Lagoon, and as yet is relatively unaffected by the hordes of tourists who descend on Venice on a daily basis. Although this secret destination is less than an hour away from Venice itself, not many visitors to Venice make the boat trip to the colourful island, which is definitely their loss!
Burano Island is one of the prettiest places you could ever visit. Every house on the island is painted in bright colours; pink, green, blue, yellow, red and even one house with geometric shapes. Traditionally a fishermen’s village, the houses were painted in different colours so the fishermen returning from a long voyage could see their homes as they sailed back to port, a welcome sight after days at sea!
Given its rich seafaring heritage, Burano has some delicious seafood restaurants, and it is the perfect place to try local specialities like risotto de gò, made with goby fish from the lagoon, or a rich seafood lasagne.
Burano is also renowned for its lace production, and you can visit the museum of lace in the old Town Hall building, and if you’re lucky you might catch a live demonstration from one of the local women who still make the delicate lace patterns by hand.
Visiting Burano is a perfect day trip from Venice, and you’ll have a completely different experience to being in Venice and a much quieter one! I’d recommend taking a vaporetto water bus to Burano so you have time to explore the island, or you could take an organised tour to Burano and include visits to other nearby islands Torcello and Murano.
This vibrant Italian destination was submitted by Claire Sturzaker from Tales of a Backpacker. Check out her website for more insight into Burano Island.
#7 The Emilia-Romagna city of Ravenna
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in Italy that will knock your socks off, head to the city of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region. Located in less travelled northeastern Italy, Ravenna is well worth the detour if you’re travelling between Venice and Florence.
Ravenna is home to the best mosaics west of Istanbul. From late Western Roman art to Byzantine gems, you’ll find superb displays to admire. And the town’s history is fascinating as well. With eight monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage site list, there’s a lot to cover in Ravenna.
But six of the eight monuments are located in the city centre, within easy walking distance of one another. So even if you have just one day in Ravenna, you can still see a lot. While every monument on the list is definitely worth visiting, the Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia should be at the top of your list.
Both monuments have austere brick exteriors, but once you enter, you will be stunned by the beauty of the interiors. At the Basilica di San Vitale, the entire apse is covered with mosaics. Here you’ll find Ravenna’s most famous mosaic scenes: the Emperor Justinian in his court, Empress Theodora with her ladies-in-waiting, and Christ sitting on blue earth.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is small but oh-so-beautiful. It holds the oldest mosaics in Ravenna, from the 5th century AD. The entire ceiling is covered with deep blue mosaics, punctuated by gold stars and a gold cross in the centre.
Simply breathtaking! While the mosaics are definitely the star attraction, Ravenna is a lovely city, with lots of churches and pretty streets. And the food is delicious too! Go visit Ravenna…you will not be disappointed!
This submission about the historical and foodie destination of Ravenna is from Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles. Check her blog here to discover why Ravenna is home to the best mosaics west of Istanbul.
#8 Palermo, the capital city of Sicily
Beautiful, slightly dishevelled, and endlessly interesting: there are plenty of ways to describe Sicily’s capital city, but one thing is for sure: there are enough of cool things to do in Palermo to captivate any visitor willing to step off Italy’s main tourist trails.
Palermo has played (unwilling) host to many an empire over the centuries, and everyone from the Byzantines to the Arabs to the Normans has left their mark on the city through food, tradition, and, of course, opulent churches.
While visiting Palermo, be sure to visit the gorgeous Palermo Cathedral, stop by the impressive Massimo Theatre, marvel at the lovely Quattro Canti and Pretoria Fountain, step underground into the disturbing-yet-fascinating Capuchin Crypt, and tour the Palazzo dei Normanni.
Plus, of course, no trip to Palermo could be considered complete without meandering through at least one of the city’s incredible markets (the Vucciria, Ballaro, and Capo markets all have their individual quirks, but are lovely), and, perhaps most importantly, devouring several Sicilian cannoli.
While Palermo itself may lack the sparkling beaches that Sicily is known for (though there are several within easy day-tripping distance; try Mondello or Cefalu), it’s absolutely worth adding a few days in Palermo onto any trip to Sicily. You just may end up falling in love with a new Italian city!
This stunning description of Palmero was submitted by Kate Storm of Our Escape Clause. You can learn even more about the Sicilian capital in her guide to the best things to do in Palmero.
#9 The Natural Wonder of Carrara in Tuscany
Tuscany is well known for many reasons: Florence, Pisa, architecture, food, wine… But did you know the region was hiding an amazing natural wonder? Indeed, very few people know about the huge marble mountains you can find in the city of Carrara, located in the North East of Tuscany.
Carrara is actually the world capital of marble, and for good reason. Carrara’s marble is locally called “white gold” and has been extracted since Roman times. Later, Michelangelo himself was using this marble to create his sculptures, particularly his David.
Nowadays, the marble is sent all over the world to decorate the best constructions. In 2008, the city got a bit famous thanks to a James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, of which some scenes were filmed there.
My visit to Carrara was not planned at all: I was on a trip between Pisa and Cinque Terre when some locals told me about the city, so I booked a tour (you can only visit with an agency). From Pisa, it took me only 40 minutes by train to reach Carrara. What was my surprise when I saw the massive white mountains overlooking the city!
The 2 hour-tour was awesome. We climbed the mountains on a 4WD, which was quite fun because of the bumps. While I usually hate guided tours, I actually loved this one! The guide was really interesting as she was explaining the history of the mountains and the economic and political challenges they are facing now.
We also had the chance to enter the inside of the quarry, which was an amazing experience. As such, if you are visiting Tuscany, if you are in need of adventure, and if you want to enjoy one of the best secret spots in Italy, I strongly recommend going to Carrara!
This little-known natural wonder of Italy was submitted by Nesrine of kevmrc.com. To discover more of the. best-kept secrets of the boot-shaped country, check out this guide to Cinque Terre.
#10 Discover the unique architecture of the Trulli houses of Alberobello
The Trulli houses of Alberobello, located in the southern region of Puglia (Apulia) are one of the most captivating things to see on a Southern Italy road trip. Whilst not quite one of Italy’s best kept-secrets, due to recent tourist popularity; there are plenty of secrets to be uncovered as to the history and meaning behind these houses with their unique conical roofs.
One theory is that the houses were originally built as a means to evade high property tax, as the dry stone wall construction could easily be dismantled should tax inspectors be in the area. One of the most intriguing aspects relating to the houses are the various symbols painted on the roofs and spires, both of which have personal family meaning and relate to three categories: Primitive, Christian and Zodiac.
Believed to ward off evil and bad luck, the symbols painted in white ash add to the mystery of the Trulli houses, which date back as early as the 14th Century. In modern times, many of the Trulli houses have been converted into souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants to appeal to the area as a tourist attraction.
Whilst these changes may detract in some respects from the authenticity of the original Trulli houses, the area has become a UNESCO World Heritage site to protect and preserve the Trulli houses of Alberobello. These pretty Trulli houses are often compared to hobbit-houses and are best observed later in the day as the sunsets to really capture a magical photo for your Italy trip.
This unique Italian architecture submission was submitted by Jasmine of The Life of a Social Butterfly. For a better insight into the Trulli Houses, check out her Puglia guide.
#11 Salina, the Secret Sicilian Island
One of the seven islands that make up the Aeolian archipelago, Salina is located off the western coast of northern Sicily. Like its sisters, Salina was formed by millennia of volcanic activity. In contrast to other islands in the arc, including popular Lipari, Stromboli and Panarea, Salina is relatively lesser-known among tourists.
The local feel and unmatchable food scenes make it a great place to base your stay in the Aeolian Islands. The twin peaks of two massive volcanic cones define Salina’s landscape and have endowed the island with mineral-rich soil. Wild fennel, fig trees and caper bushes grow in abundance.
Santa Marina, the main port where the hydrofoils dock, has all the hallmarks of a classic Sicilian town. Charming streets are lined with apartments, seafood trattorias, aperitif bars and gift boutiques selling ceramics, linen clothing and artisanal food products.
Further afield, the quaint villages of Malfa and Leni feel sheltered from tourism. Here, you can scout out hidden black sand beaches, cool off inside gorgeous churches with hand-pressed floor tiles, and walk on trails cut through olive groves to reach lookout points. My favourite spot on the island is Pollara – a tiny white village seated at the bottom of an extinct volcano.
This post was submitted by Emily from Wander-Lush. Check her blog post about the Aeolian Archipelago for more of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
#12 The wine towns of Montalcino & Montepulciano
If you’re a wine lover for sure you’ve heard these names: Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano are among Italy’s best. But what you may well not know is that they’re actually named after the little towns in where they are produced.
In the southeastern part of Tuscany, in the Val d’Orcia, between rolling hills dotted by cypresses and full of vines, in the top of a hill dominating the area you’ll see these hidden treasures from the distance: two gorgeous medieval towns, both worth visiting.
They are only 37 km from each other, so you can base yourself in one and explore the other as a day trip. In Montalcino, you’ll find an enoteca –a wine bar/shop– in an old fortress. Stroll around it before you go in. They have an extensive selection of wine and they offer tastings of the best of the region, so it’s better to pose for photos before venturing in.
As for the rest of the town, just get lost in the little narrow cobblestone streets. Even though the name is popular, the town is not. Here you’ll hear little English and you’ll be treated with the best of Italian hospitality.
In Montepulciano, you’ll get plenty of bars and restaurants offering pairings of wine and food. This town is even less known than Montalcino, so prices are cheaper. If you feel like splurging on an Italian feast, this is the perfect place. As in most towns in the country, make sure you don’t skip the main piazza and the Duomo, and finish the trip in a viewpoint that will let you see far into the stunning Orcia valley.
This off the beaten path location in Italy was submitted by Coni from Experiencing the Globe.
#13 The historic village of Canale di Tenno
If you’re taking a road trip through northern Italy, then you cannot miss a little hidden gem called Canale di Tenno. Located only 12 km (about 7.5 miles) from the northern coast of Lake Garda, this tiny medieval village that dates back to the 13th century is undeniably charming.
From stone houses to flower-adorned old windows to narrow cobbled alleys, strolling around this village feels like stepping back in time and absorbing the true essence of history. The village was partially abandoned after World War I but was rediscovered following World War II.
The Italian painter Giacomo Vittone fell in love with Canale di Tenno and was inspired to include the quaint Italian settlement in some of his works. Visit today and you can explore a museum and art centre dedicated to Vittone. Canale di Tenno also still maintains its original structure and today it is home to about 50 inhabitants.
If you’re visiting in summer, you might be able to attend the local festival “Rustico Medioevo”. This event is dedicated to the medieval ages and includes performances, concerts, traditional food, and a lot more. Not too far from Canale di Tenno, you’ll also find the small yet stunning Lake Tenno. If you love serene natural landscapes, this turquoise lake is the perfect spot to start you’re morning…
This Italian secret spot was submitted by Or Amir from My Path in the World. For more Italian insights, check out her guide to taking a road trip through Northern Italy.
#14 Sant’Erasmo, the secret island next to Venice!
The ferry from Venice takes just 40 minutes, but visiting Sant’Erasmo — the tiny island next to Venice — transports you to another place and time, when it was the agricultural supplier to the ruling Doge of Venice. Also known as the Garden of the Doge, the term refers to the abundance of produce, wine, prosecco, honey, and other foods produced on Santerasmo for centuries.
Today, a visit to this relatively unknown island is a slow travel experience where travellers can taste wine and prosecco at Venice’s only winery, and visit local producers of honey and violet artichokes. Renting a bike is a great way to see the island on your own, or you can hire a local guide to take you around.
At the end of the day, stop in local hotel Il Lato Azzurro for a taste of local foods and a glass of prosecco before catching the next ferry back to the city. If you’re looking for a completely unique side to Venice or to take a slow travel Venice food tour tasting local specialities, the island of Sant’Erasmo is one of our favourite hidden gems in Italy!
This little-known Italian destination was submitted by Lori of Travlinmad. Learn more about this secret spot in her Venice food tour guide.
#15 Grotta della Poesia in Roca, Puglia
Grotta della Poesia is a natural swimming hole in the Puglia region of Italy. Located near the little coastal town of Roca, it’s a popular spot with the locals who flock here in the evenings with their family and friends. But it’s still somewhat undiscovered by visitors to the region, who tend to congregate further north on the Adriatic coast.
Separated from the sea by a rocky divide, it’s an ideal spot to swim when the sea is not as agreeable. But, if you’re daring, you can also swim out to the coast via an underground sea cave. The cave earned its memorable name, which translates to the Cave of Poetry in English, through a rather lovely tale.
Rumour has it that this was a princess’s favoured swimming spot, and poets came here to try and woo her with their talents. Nowadays, you’ll find people from all walks of life enjoying the scenery, sunbathing on the unforgiving rocks, diving into the cave, and exploring the nearby ruins of Roca Vecchia.
Arrive early to enjoy the dramatic setting before the crowds arrive, but be prepared to stay all day! Named one of the ten most beautiful natural swimming pools in the world, it certainly lives up to its reputation, and you’ll have a hard time pulling yourself away…
This secret gem of Puglia was submitted by Nadine Maffre of Le Long Weekend. Check here to read her guide to this magical swimming hotel in the Puglia region of Italy.
#16 Courmayeur, an offbeat destination in the Aosta Valley
Courmayeur is nestled in the Alps, in Italy’s smallest region, the Aosta Valley, right on the border with France. It’s often overlooked for the hotter and more glamorous parts of the country further south, but, for me, it’s truly an underrated area.
For starters, you are surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery everywhere you turn. Courmayeur is right at the foot of the Mont Blanc Massif range. If you love hiking, you are spoilt for choice with all the wonderful trails leading directly from the town.
It is right on the Tour Du Mont Blanc route, a 170km long famous trekking route that spans Italy, France and Switzerland. My favourite hike is into Val Veny (as pictured), where the views will take your breath away and you can hike up to a glacial lake.
If you’re not a big hiking fan, you could always take a trip up the rotating Skyway Monte Bianco Cable Car, to appreciate the elevated views without the exertion. The region is famous for its winter skiing and the town also has a great selection of restaurants, on and off the slopes.
For a spot of relaxing after a long day skiing or hiking, you could visit the thermal spa in the nearby village of Pre Saint Didier. Soaking your muscles in their giant outdoor Jacuzzi while taking in the surrounding mountainous views is a real treat.
There are lots of great day trips from the town too. If you hire a car you are within driving distance of the wonderful towns of Chamonix and Annecy in France, Geneva in Switzerland, and it is only two and a half hours drive to beautiful Lake Como and Milan.
This gem of the Aosta Valley was submitted by Gemma of A Girl And Her Dog on the Road. For those wishing to learn more about this beautiful region of Italy, be sure to check out her post on the best Courmayeur Day Hikes.
#17 Marvel at the ancient site of Ostia Antica
If you’re headed to Rome, make sure to give yourself a day to visit Ostia Antica. You can easily visit the port city of ancient Rome as a day trip from Rome, or you can opt to spend a day out in the area and hit up the local beach as well.
Ostia Antica, like Pompeii, is an ancient city that has been found by archaeologists and excavated. You can wander through the site, seeing what life was like in Ancient Rome. Here you’ll find shops, roads, and even public toilets. If you’ve ever wanted to walk through a Roman city but you don’t have time to make it south to Pompeii, then make sure not to skip Ostia!
Important events in Roman history have unfolded here. Many of the Roman emperors were involved in the port’s construction over the years, and the city was even attacked by Marius during the civil war between Marius and Sulla.
While here, you can also learn about the Cult of Mithras. You’ll find statues onsite and related artefacts in the museum. If you do come out, make sure to bring sunscreen, as there isn’t much shade! You’ll also want to have some water handy to stay hydrated as you explore the city.
This historic site was submitted by Stephanie Craig of History Fangirl. Check out a full guide here on how to visit Ostia Antica.
#18 The island of Asinara
Asinara is one of the most incredible places to visit in Sardinia. This island located off the north coast of Sardinia was declared a National Park in 2002, after having been a prison colony for over 120 years.
As nobody lived on the island other than prisoners and prison guards, wildlife on the island thrived and nature was somehow protected – the island is pristine. Nobody lives there, other than the rangers and the personnel working on the only hostel and on the two restaurants.
Asinara is the perfect place for nature lovers, who will find a great range of hiking trails offering breathtaking views – the best one is that to the lighthouse; beaches with the most pristine waters; and who can enjoy spotting the white donkeys and other animals that populate the island.
Other places to visit in Asinara include the prisons – there are 10 scattered around. The one in Fornelli was a maximum-security prison; whereas in Cala d’Oliva, where the only village used to be located, you will find the Diramazione Centrale (the prison headquarters) and the bunker prison where mafia bosses such as Toto Riina were kept.
Asinara can be reached from Stintino or Porto Torres on a short ferry ride. Once there, you can explore it on a guided tour on either jeep or train on wheels; you can bike around (though keep in mind the island is very hilly so biking is not the easiest thing to do); or even rent an electric car. Most people visit on a day trip, but Asinara deserves at least 3 days to be fully enjoyed.
This hidden gem was submitted by Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across the World. You can discover more about Sardinia in her guide to the island of Asinara.
#19 Le Case Romane del Celio, the best-kept secret of Rome
Beneath the Basilica of Saints John and Paul on the Celio hill in Rome lies one of the city’s most amazing hidden gems, Le Case Romane del Celio. Twenty underground rooms with decorations spanning from the second to the fourth centuries unfold in a labyrinth of history.
Initially a residence for wealthy Romans, the structure was transformed into a shopping complex and then into a luxury home for an upper-class Roman family. Late in the fourth century, the future Saints John and Paul were martyred on the site. Thanks to the many historical layers, the decorated walls depict both Roman and Christian images.
The structure was discovered in 1887 by an adventurous brother who was searching for the tombs of Saints John and Paul. The area underwent excavations soon after his discovery. After exploring the rooms, you can visit the small museum containing artifacts collected during the excavations.
Despite the fact that it’s a short walk from the Colosseum, you’ll feel as if you’re the only person visiting Le Case Romane del Celio, and you very well might be alone during your visit! If you love Roman history, this is a must-see on your tour of Rome. You can visit this historical treasure Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 10 am and 6pm, and on Tuesday and Wednesday between 10 am and 2pm.
This treasure of Rome was submitted by Molly of Luggage and Life. Discover more of her secret Rome suggestions here.
#20 The secret island of Ortigia, Siracusa, Sicily
Ortigia is a tiny island, barely 1 km long and 500 metres wide. It’s the ancient core of Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), a small city on the south-east coast of Sicily. Its history goes back over 2,500 years, when it was the most powerful city in the ancient world.
Ortigia is one of the most magical cityscapes in Italy, and its island setting is partly what makes it unique. You can walk all around the lungomare, or coast road, or get completely lost in the labyrinth of alleyways and side streets of the ‘interior’ of Ortigia.
Much of what you now see dates from the early 18th century, when much of the city was rebuilt in Baroque style after the devastating 1693 earthquake. Many of the townhouses are slowly decaying, yet still retain that air of Italian grace and elegance.
The best thing to do in Ortigia is to spend an evening on the gorgeous Piazza del Duomo. It’s one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, with the Baroque cathedral front on one side and grand palazzi along the other. We spent most of our evenings here, sitting at an outdoor café opposite the Duomo, gorging on gelato for a quarter of what it would cost on Piazza San Marco or Piazza Navona. Whisper it, but the climate’s warmer in Ortigia too.
This secret island was submitted by David Angel of Delve into Europe.
#21 Ventotene, a little-known island in the Tyrrhenian Sea
Ventotene is the smallest inhabited island of the Pontine Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea and not much known by foreign tourists. The island is frequented by Italians, especially locals from Rome tend to spend their summer holiday on Ventotene.
For this reason, you will get a true feel of Italian island life when you visit this small charming place with pastel-coloured houses. There is one beach worth visiting where they rent out sunbeds and parasols. Otherwise, you can chill on the cliffs overlooking Santo Stefano island, which used to be a famous prison island.
There are boat trips around Ventotene that include guided tours on Santo Stefano prison and snorkelling in the crystal-clear water. There are also a couple of dive centres on the island for certified divers.
The surrounding waters hide an interesting underwater scene with caves, volcanic rocks and a sunken ship with Roman amphorae scattered around in the perfect state. In September every year, the Santa Candida hot air balloon festival takes place in Ventotene.
For this reason, you will see a lot of the souvenirs sold on the island have hot air balloon prints, paintings, and shapes. The easiest way to get to Ventotene is to get a ferry from Formia. The slow ferry takes two hours, while the speed boat only takes an hour.
This less-frequented Italian destination was submitted by Linn of Brainy Backpackers. Learn more about Ventotene on her blog.
#22 Lago di Carezza, the jaw-dropping lake of the Dolomites
Lago di Carezza, also known as Karersee in German is one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy and the Dolomites region. What makes this lake so special in addition to its emerald green color of the water, is that it’s easy to access by car but it remains a hidden gem.
Most tourists will visit the more famous Lago di Braies which is another stunning lake in the Dolomites. Lago di Carezza is located about 35 minutes by car from Bolzano, which makes it a great stop along the way. No matter if you just come here to enjoy the views, or go for the circle loop around the lake, you won’t be disappointed.
While Italy is full of beautiful places, few hidden gems can compare to the natural beauty of Lago di Carezza. Since there aren’t as many visitors here, the atmosphere will also be calmer and quieter.
Most of the visitors here are either hiking enthusiasts or people who just love to spend time outdoors. The best way to get here is by car, but you could also take a bus which stops nearby the lake.
If you come by car, there is paid parking space available on the opposite side of the lake. There is also a restaurant next to the parking where you can buy some food and drinks, as well as using the public restroom.
This secret lake in the Dolomites was submitted by Alex from The Swedish Nomad. Check his guide to the Lago di Carezza for more information about this stunning spot!
#23 The breathtaking city of Siena
Sienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the Tuscan countryside. Definitely, one of Italy’s hidden gems. The historic center of Siena is overwhelmingly Medieval and surprisingly well preserved. You’ll notice the striking Gothic architecture, tiny cobblestone streets & traditional terracotta roofs.
Compared to busier more touristy Italian cities, Sienna is remarkably clean. The tiny intersecting alleyways are lined with luxury shops & restaurants where you will most certainly need a reservation.
Piazza del Campo is the heart of Sienna. You can climb the Tower of Mangia for incredible panoramic views of the city. Other important attractions include the Siena Duomo and the Sienna Cathedral –which is known for having one of the most impressive facades in Italy.
There are also great museums in Sienna with a wealth of important art. Check out the Civic Museum of Sienna to see one of the world’s most famous allegories.
Sienna is the type of place where you can tour vineyards and visit castles. The countryside surrounding Sienna is noteworthy for producing Chianti and Brunello wines. Tuscan cooking also sets itself apart by focusing on fresh ingredients combined in simple ways. Take a cooking class in Sienna if you have time! It’s an unforgettable experience.
This secret city was submitted by Valentina Djordjevic from Valentina’s Destinations.
#24 The Roman ruins of Herculaneum, close to Pompeii
Pompeii, the ancient Roman city destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, is a popular day trip for visitors to Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. It’s a fascinating site, but its fame means you’ll be sharing your visit with thousands of other sightseers.
But what if I was to tell you that’s another town that was destroyed in the same eruption, that it’s even better preserved than Pompeii, and that it gets only a tenth of the visits that Pompeii does? Herculaneum is only a few miles from Pompeii, and like Pompeii, it was destroyed when Vesuvius exploded.
Herculaneum’s position on the opposite side of the volcano to Pompeii meant that instead of being buried under tonnes of rocks and other volcanic debris as Pompeii was, Herculaneum was hit by a 100mph, 250°C pyroclastic surge of hot gas and ash.
The gas and ash was just as lethal as the rocks, but considerably gentler to the buildings. While houses, temples and other buildings in Pompeii were almost entirely destroyed above their ground floors, many buildings in Herculaneum have their upper floors and even the odd roof intact.
Interior decoration is much better preserved in Herculaneum as well, and you can stroll through the site scarcely believing that it was last inhabited 2000 years ago. The best part of visiting Herculaneum is how quiet it is compared to Pompeii.
When I visited there were fewer than 20 other people at the ruins. A fascinating place, full of atmosphere, and being able to have it almost to yourself? Definitely a hidden gem in Italy.
This less-visited Roman ruin was submitted by Helen of Helen on her holidays. Check out her website to learn more about visiting Herculaneum.
#25 The picturesque town of Desenzano del Garda
We picked Desenzano del Garda as our base when we visited Lake Garda. Lake Garda compared to its neighbour, Lake Como, is not a popular Italian destination, and as such is one of the best-kept secrets and hidden gems in Italy. The town is to be found in Northern Italy, somewhere between Venice and Milan.
Desenzano is very picturesque and is the perfect stop for a few days if you are visiting Northern Italy. There are many campsites around the shores of the lake and many theme parks for families to enjoy. Plan for at least 3 to 4 days (if not more) to discover all the nice towns around the lake and perhaps even plan a trip to the Dolomites!
When visiting Lake Garda, you can visit the many wineries in the area, learn about olive oil production and even look for some truffles. If you’re visiting during November or December, you might even be treated to some of the best Christmas markets that the region has to offer.
Though there are many small towns you can visit around the lake, among the best of them is the town of Saló. It has one of the longest promenades on Lake Garda, and perhaps even the longest in Italy. Lined with many restaurants and cafes, Salo also holds a market that is held on Saturday mornings that is popular among locals and visitors alike.
This Italian suggestion for where to stay in Lake Garda was submitted by Priya Vin of Outside Suburbia. Check out her website to discover some of the best things to do in Lake Garda.
#26 Salerno, an underrated Italian city on the Amalfi Coast
Located in the middle of the Amalfi coast, Salerno is often disregarded for its more famous neighbouring cities. However, the city is a refreshing contrast to these tourist destinations and it is worth stopping by. With a huge waterfront, open-air cafes, landmarks, good food and some of the best gelato, there is plenty to keep you busy or to simply slow down and enjoy the local life.
Worth a visit is the Old Town full of alleys and passageways to explore. The 11th-century giant cathedral of Salerno housing art treasures, a unique bell tower, and a ceiling covered in frescos is the main church of the town and should be on your list too.
The Villa Communale is a green space at the centre of the city with huge plants, fountains, and statues scattered throughout. Wandering around this park after lunch is a must. At night, a walk along the Lungomare, a boulevard with palm trees and awesome views of the ocean and surrounding mountains is a good idea.
This underrated Italian city was submitted by Rai from Rai of Light. For more Italy inspiration, check out his blog to discovering the best gelato in Rome.
#27 Pienza, a historic Tuscan town worth visiting!
Pienza is a medieval town in Tuscany which is somewhat of a hidden gem, although it still has its fair share of tourism during the summer months. Pienza is located about 1 hour by car from Siena, and it’s well known for its charming alleys with restaurants and artisan shops.
From Pienza, you will also get striking views over the Tuscan landscape and it’s true bliss to stroll around this little town and breathe in the medieval atmosphere. The Cathedral and the Piccolomini Palace are some of the most famous buildings in Pienza, dating back to the 15th century.
This is a great alternative if you want to visit some lesser-known towns in Tuscany that are still easy to get to. From here, it’s also easy to explore Val d’Orcia, which are famous for its rolling hills and beautiful scenery.
The easiest way to get to Pienza is by renting a car, but if you’re based in Siena, you could also go by local bus although it would include a change and take about 1 hour and 40 minutes. The road to Pienza is good and traffic is generally light. Parking is available but not in the main centre since it’s a protected area due to its historic nature.
This Tuscan town contribution was submitted by Christine from Christine Abroad.
#28 San Gimignano, a walled city in Tuscany
Our family loved our afternoon visit to San Gimignano. This beautiful walled city is located in Tuscany. Towers are still a prominent part of the skyline of San Gimignano, and the city once had 72. The towers were used either as fortifications or empty shells constructed to boost the egos of their owners who either could not afford a protective tower or did not feel one was necessary.
We arrived by car and parked outside the city walls. The city centre is a limited traffic zone and very pedestrian-friendly. There are many things to do in San Gimignano with kids. We visited Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Della Cisterna and thoroughly enjoyed a break for gelato and wine. But, the highlight of our visit was definitely the 260-degree view from the Rocca.
Because there is not a central train station in San Gimignano, it is a bit of a hidden gem in Italy. It is such a well-preserved Medieval city that we really felt as if we were stepping back in time. We are so glad we stopped between Pisa and Florence. Although we had only a few hours, San Gimignano would be a lovely place to spend a night and soak up Tuscan life.
This stunning and secret well-preserved walled town was recommended by Catherine D’Cruz from We Go With Kids. For more Italian inspiration, check out her guide to things to do in San Gimignano with kids.
#29 The beautiful village of Greve in the wine region of Chianti
Greve in Chianti is known for stunning vistas, excellent wine, fresh local food, and peace and quiet. This small town is very accessible from Florence, making it perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway. Being just a half-hour from Florence, Greve in Chianti is the perfect hidden gem to escape to from this busier tourist town.
If spending a whole weekend, unwind by staying in an agriturismo, such as Castello Vicchiomaggio. Perched up on a hill, the property has incredible views over the rolling green terrain dotted with little houses. A lovely afternoon could be spent admiring the scenery from the property’s infinity pool with a bottle of rosé.
Greve is located in the Chianti Classico wine region, which produces its namesake red wine. You can easily identify the bottles, as the labels are proudly marked with a black rooster. In Greve, the two major wineries to visit are competing Castello Vicchiomaggio and Castello di Verrazzano. Both have a rich history dating back centuries and offer tastings and tours on their gorgeous properties.
It would be remiss not to visit Greve’s cute little downtown for a variety of shops and restaurants to check out. Make dinner reservations to La Cantina for delicious pizzas or Enoteca Fuori Piazza for a classy and atmospheric meal on their terrace.
This Italian treasure was submitted by Theresa of Fueled by Wanderlust. Check her blog to learn more about Greve.
#30 The walled city of Cittadella between Vicenza and Venice
Cittadella is a small medieval walled town located between Vicenza and Venice. The main attraction is the 14-meter high wall that surrounds the entire town along with a small museum documenting the history and restoration.
It is a unique place to visit since most towns surrounded by walls were square/rectangular and Cittadella is surrounded by an almost circular wall with multiple gates and drawbridges. Purchase your ticket at the North tower and slowly make your way around the walls admiring the views of the surrounding countryside as well as the 12th-century town that resides within.
If you happen to visit at the end of September, you can pair your visit with the town medieval reenactment with displays of archery, musicians, a market, falcon shows and a torchlight procession at sunset.
Other notable sights include the Cittadella’s 16th-century cathedral, Italian shoe shops, ice cream shops, and Italian eateries. If you are travelling with children, be sure to visit the playground and park at the southern edge of town, just outside the walls. You won’t be able to see the park until you exit outside the walls, but it is a must for kids.
This pretty location was submitted by Chelsea from Pack More Into Life.
#31 The breathtaking area surrounding Lake Bracciano
No matter how well the natural and historical treasures of the Lake Bracciano region hide from the travellers’ radar, they still manage to reach the wealthy ears of other categories of enthusiastic visitors.
This is the area dominated by the romantic outline of the Bracciano Castle, where popular couples like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes celebrated their wedding ceremony. I’ve heard that this is also a favourite retirement destination for North Europeans and North Americans.
The three main towns facing the Lake Bracciano, namely Anguillara Sabazia, Trevignano Romano and Bracciano, still preserve the tiny, Medieval historical centres with cobbled alleys that hide intimate taverns and sentimental glimpses of the lake.
The whole area is part of a natural reserve and brings back a smile on the faces of the distressed Roman citizens on the weekends when they come here for a swim, a hike, or a dinner under the late summer sunsets.
Speaking of the lake’s water, only a few Italians remember that this crystal-clear basin feeds drinkable tap water to the houses of half of the families in Rome and to 40 nearby towns. In ancient times, the lake was part of a volcanic area going from Latium to Tuscany. Nowadays, it’s a perfect place for swimming, kayaking, wind-surfing, fishing, relaxing, and getting away from the city.
If you’re planning a visit here, put aside a couple of hours for exploring the amazing Bracciano Castle, try the local speciality “homemade pasta with the lake’s fish”, and don’t forget to bring your swimsuit. For further guidance on the attractions of the area, read about Lake Bracciano.
This Italian travel destination was submitted by Annalisa from Travel Connect Experience. For further guidance on the attractions of the area, read more about Lake Bracciano here.
#32 Valle dei Laghi, a natural gem of Northern Italy
Valle dei Laghi is a beautiful area in the North of Italy, in Trentino, stretching between the North of Lake Garda to Mount Bondone. The name of the valley comes from the numerous lakes that you can find in the area. Valle dei Laghi is the perfect place to go if you are looking for an off the beaten path relaxing holiday in Italy.
There are plenty of things to do in Valle dei Laghi, from trekking along vineyards to drinking the local wines. Valle dei Laghi is the only place where Nosiola grapes grow, a variety used to make DOC wines such as Muller-Thurgau or Pinot Grigio.
They are also used in making Vino Santo, a variety of sweet wine for which the grapes are picked in late October and pressed only in the week before Easter. There are many small vineyards in Valle dei Laghi where you can go and enjoy a glass of refreshing Nosiola wine or delight yourself with Vino Santo, whilst enjoying the beautiful views.
Valle dei Laghi is perfect to be explored by foot, through easy hikes from one village to another. The paths usually go through vineyards and offer spectacular views over the valley, its lakes and castles.
One thing that you can do in Valle dei Laghi which is probably quite unique is visiting an active hydroelectric power plant, located deep inside a mountain. It’s fascinating to watch the turbines work and see how the water comes from the mountain into them and then is transformed into electricity.
This hidden Italian gem was submitted by Joanna from The World in My Pocket. Check out her guide to visiting Valle dei Laghi for more insider travel tips!
#33 Palau, Sardinia
Palau, on the island of Sardinia, is one of the best-kept secrets in Italy. The north of Sardinia is famous for the VIP hotspot of Porto Cervo, the crystal clear water of the Archipelago of Maddalena, or the windy beaches of Porto Pollo if you’re a water sports lover.
However, the small town of Palau, closely located to all these famous attractions, is often overlooked. Palau only has about 4,000 inhabitants and only one main street where all the shops, bars and restaurants are located.
From the town centre, you can easily walk to four different beaches and countless small bays, where you can swim in the sea, tan on the beach, and at some of them even go windsurfing, sailing or stand up paddling.
Palau is also the easiest harbour from which to visit the Archipelago of Maddalena and the pristine beaches of the islands. However, a lot of people visit on day trips from Porto Cervo, Olbia or even Corsica! While the ultimate destination is the same, if you set off from Palau you will have a much shorter cruising time, meaning more time at the beaches!
Palau is also slightly cheaper than a lot of the surrounding towns, so if you’re looking to save a bit of money on your trip, it’s a good idea to find accommodation in Palau and use it as a base to explore the north of Sardinia. If you’re looking for hidden gems in Italy, Palau has to feature on your list!
This Italian stunning offbeat destination was submitted by Greta of Gretas Travels. Discover more Italian destinations on her blog, such as the Archipelago of Maddalena.
#34 Cala Coticcio, a hidden treasure in Sardinia
Cala Coticcio in Sardinia is still one of my favourite beaches in the world. What makes it unique is the hike to get to it, and that it is located on a small island near Sardinia. Also the colour of the water is unbelievable, I had really never seen water so blue and clear before.
To get to this beach, firstly you need to take a ferry from Palau in mainland Sardinia to Maddalena Island. Already, you will see just how incredible the water is here. From Maddalena Island port, you drive over a small bridge to Caprera Island and after 5 minutes you park up by a small forest.
There didn’t seem to be any official parking here. It also said that you were not allowed to walk here without a guide, but there was no one around anyway! Be careful as you are driving though, as there are a lot of wild goats jumping out into the road.
It really is a very off the beaten track place, and in March we had it all to ourselves. After a 30-minute walk through rocks, goats and also down some steps, you arrive at the beach. There are small coloured sticks to guide the way to the beach, so watch out for these, but the path is quite clear anyway. Once you arrive, the clear blue sea is just perfection.
The sand is clean and almost white. It is also a beach that is shaded from the wind so even in March we were able to sit and sunbathe. Although I wouldn’t recommend going for a swim in March! There are actually two small beach areas here, and to get to the next beach you have to climb over the rocks that separate the two sandy beaches.
This beautiful place to visit in Italy was submitted by Hanna Thomas from Solar Powered Blonde. You can discover more wonderful European content in this guide to the best of Roussillon, Provence.
#35 The hidden cove of San Fruttuoso along the Italian Riviera
San Fruttuoso is a cove hidden in the hills of the Italian Riviera. There are only two ways to get there – by boat or on foot. The tiny bay is filled with a beach backed by a tenth-century Benedictine Abbey, complete with tower and arches, and even a few restaurants.
Behind the abbey is a steep cliff, creating a forested wall. The setting is nothing short of stunning. A fun day trip starts with taking a boat from Rapallo or Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino and getting off the boat there.
Spend some time exploring the tiny town of Portofino, playground of the rich and famous, then head up a staircase near the boat dock past farms, olive orchards and wildflowers and along a path that follows the coastline far below to a series of switchbacks down to San Fruttuoso Bay.
There are several seafood restaurants and a pebbly beach lined with deck chairs and umbrellas you can rent. The water is emerald green, and the perfect way to cool off after the hike. To avoid having to hike back to Portofino, you can easily take a boat back to your starting point later in the afternoon. Read all about the Portofino to San Fruttuoso hike here.
If you’re a diver, there is also a sunken 2.5-meter-high statue of Jesus (Christ of the Abyss) at about 15 meters below the surface of the water, not far off from the beach. Dive boats operate from nearby Santa Margherita de Ligure.
This unusual cove of the Italian Riviera was submitted by James Ian from Travel Collecting. Check here to learn more about how to hike from Portofino to San Fruttuoso.
#36 The underrated city of Trento, Northern Italy
When people think of must-see Italian cities, it’s always the big-hitters: Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan. But no one ever talks about Trento. In fact, I’d never even heard of the place before I went there, and only went because the event I was going to happened to be held there. But when I got there I couldn’t believe more people don’t talk about it!
Trento is the capital of Trentino region, in the north of Italy. Nestled right up against the Austrian border, on the edge of the Italian Alps, Trentino is a fabulous mix of Italian and Alpine scenery and culture, and the city of Trento is its beating heart.
An astonishingly pretty city, it straddles the river Adige, and is jam-packed with quirky colourful streets, cute houses painted with frescoes and adorned with wooden shutters and balconies, and sunlit squares offering cute cafes and gelateria.
It might not have the big-hitting attractions like Rome or Venice, but there’s still lots to do for a couple of days, with the picturesque medieval city centre, the impressive Cathedral, the Castello del Buonconsiglio, a wonderful 13th century castle featuring a huge art collection and fragrant gardens full of lavender and roses, and the new MART Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in nearby Rovereto.
One of Italy’s most prosperous cities, Trento ranks highly for standard of living, and you can really sense that as you walk around: it’s clean and well-maintained and the people are friendly. And best of all, since hardly anyone goes there, it’s not mentally crammed with tourists like other Italian cities!
This Italian secret was submitted byBella from Passport & Pixels
#37 The hilltop town of Taormina in Sicily
Taormina is the idyllic Sicilian location. Sitting on the side of Mount Tauro, the picturesque town has expansive views of the ocean below and epic panoramic scenes of green hills above and Mount Etna in the distance. The quaint pedestrian streets coupled with the adorable cafes give it a romantic vibe.
In the summer months, Taormina is bustling with tourists and the beaches are pristine. The climate is also wonderful all year round due to the protection of the slopes, making a visit in winter quite pleasant.
Due to its beauty, Taormina has been inspiring artists ever since Goethe arrived in 1787, followed by Otto Gelena’s watercolours, DH Lawrence, Truman Capote and Film Festival royalty like Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. The Godfather famous towns of Savoca and Forza d’Agro are also very close by.
There are spectacular historical places like the Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina or the Roman Odeon. There are also gorgeous churches like St. Pancras Church, the Duomo (Cathedral of San Niccolo), the Church of San Giuseppe, the Church of San’Agostino and of course the hilltop Chiesa Madonna della Roca.
And then, as everyone should do in Sicily, you can eat to your heart’s content. From marzipan at Pasticceria Minotauro to Michelin star restaurant the Ashbee Hotel, from intimate dining at the spectacular Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo to all kinds of granita made fresh at Bam Bar. All in all, Taormina has something for everyone and is a true Italian gem to explore.
This beautiful Italian destination is submitted by Mar Pages from Once in a Lifetime Journey. Check here for a guide to the best of Taormina.
#38 The secret side of Lake Como
If you’re looking for hidden gems in Italy, you probably wouldn’t think to consider Lake Como. Celebrity mansions, colourful lakeside villas and amazing water views would usually spring to mind for this destination. You’d probably also think of crowds during the summer months. So where can you go to see the best Lake Como has to offer?
If you’re after an alternative to Bellagio that has more of a laid back atmosphere, stunning Varenna could be for you! Often overlooked in favour of its more popular sibling, Varenna has much to offer and is a perfect day trip from Milan or destination to stay the night.
Located on the eastern shores of Lake Como, Varenna is a somewhat hidden gem where you can enjoy strolling around the medieval town centre against a backdrop of vibrant red and yellow buildings. While mostly concentrated in the old town centre, these colourful buildings are also dotted up the hillsides, making for amazing photos. I felt as though I was living in some kind of Italian dream!
Despite the dreary weather during my winter visit, the town still managed to allow its rich heritage to shine through in its landmarks, cobbled staircases and beautiful natural scenery. The relaxing lakeside walk around La Passeggiata degli Innamorati was a lovely way to savour almost having the entire town to myself!
My favourite things to do in Varenna were visiting Villa Montesiro and the boutique art galleries. I was able to pick up a few locally made prints to take home as souvenirs to remind me of the carefree lakeside feeling I experienced during my visit. If you have a sweet tooth, make sure you pay a visit to Café Varenna Bistrot for their delicious hot chocolate. It literally IS hot melted chocolate in a cup, served with whipped cream!
This hidden gem of Lake Como was submitted by Alyse of The Invisible Tourist.
#39 The Sardinia town of Mamoiada
A hidden gem in Sardinia’s Barbagia region, Nuoro province, the small town of Mamoiada welcomes its visitors with great food, age-long traditions and important archaeological sites. In February, in Carnival time, they hold a 2000-year-old festival that will make the town a truly a fascinating stop in your Sardinia holiday.
Not far from the town of Orgosolo, known for its history of outlaws and the colourful street art that fills the walls of the whole city centre, Mamoiada is one of the top places to visit in Sardinia if you want to explore and delve deep into local traditions.
All around the town is the countryside dotted with ancient stone sites such as the ancient funerary monuments known as giants’ tombs (tombe dei giganti) and fairies’ houses (domus de janas) dating back some 4/5000 years BC. In the same countryside are also some menhirs, tall phallic-shaped stones that very likely marked a sacred area.
If you happen in Sardinia either on January 17th in the occasion of Saint Anthony festival or for the Carnival in February, you can witness the propitiatory ritual they have been doing for some 2000 years to welcome the harvest season. While in January the masks perform the ritual by dancing around bonfires scattered around the town, during Carnival they parade in the main streets all afternoon.
This hidden gem of Sardinia was submitted by Angela from Chasing the Unexpected. For more Italy wanderlust inspiration, check out this guide to the most beautiful places to visit in Sardinia.
#40 The stunning Malatestiana Library of Cesena
It is here in the bustling town of Malatestiana in Northern Italy where the Malatestiana Library is located. It is recognized throughout the world as the only conventional humanist library that has been perfectly preserved in a building.
The Malatestiana Library buildings, furnishings, and book collections are fully and perfectly preserved since its inception! What does “conventional humanist library” mean? Basically, it is the only library in the world that blends humanistic principles with architecture as an independent or public library (as opposed to a religious library).
This library has preserved the building as it was with 58 rows of reading desks and ‘coat of arm’ chairs with 348 centuries-old books chained to the desks for more than 550 years! Remember manuscript-styled books were quite expensive back then!
This library has been preserved in humidity levels that have been consistent the entire time. It even takes two keys to open the door to this library/study room built with plenty of rays of light through its windows! A rose window lights the corridor down the middle of the room. The Malatestiana Library has been recognized by UNESCO for this huge accomplishment.
This Italian secret was submitted by Dr Cacinda Maloney from Points and Travel. You can discover more Italy-focused content in her guide to the secrets of Rome.
#41 The secret city of Viterbo
Not many people outside of Italy know of the existence of Viterbo and have no idea where it even is! This lovely medium-size city is about 100 km far from Rome, yet as you visit you may as well think you are on a different planet, as it is incredibly different both in terms of sights and atmosphere.
Close enough to the Italian capital to be visited on a day trip, in fact, Viterbo and its surroundings deserve at least 3 or 4 days to be fully appreciated. The main tourist attraction in Viterbo is the gorgeously kept medieval city centre, which is almost entirely surrounded by protective city walls.
One of the most interesting places to visit is the Papal Palace: for about 24 years in the 13th century, Viterbo was the seat of the Pope. Other places to include in your itinerary should be the Duomo of San Lorenzo and the Church of Santa Maria Nuova.
If you have a thing for cobbled alleys and tiny squares make sure to explore San Pellegrino, the oldest quarter in the city. Make sure to stop at Terme dei Papi, beautiful historic thermal baths, and to explore the city surroundings such as Villa Lante in Bagnaia, and the villages of Tuscia.
If you happen to be travelling to Lazio at the beginning of September, don’t miss Viterbo’s Santa Rosa celebrations on the night of 3 September. It’s so unique that in 2013 it was inscribed among UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
The celebration consists in carrying a massive papier-mache statue of Santa Rosa, protector of the city, across the narrow alleys of the centre. The statue is beautifully illuminated and as the public lightening is turned off it is quite a show. Viterbo can be reached from Rome by train from Roma Aurelia station. It takes less around two hours to get there. If you plan to explore the surroundings, it’s probably best that you rent a car.
This hidden gem was submitted by Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across the World. You can discover more wonderful Italy content in her post about the best day trips from Rome.
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