La Bella Italia may be best known for it’s beautiful cities like Rome and Florence, but with these becoming increasingly overrun by tourists, now’s the time to get off the beaten track in Italy and head to some of it’s gorgeous small cities and towns. I chatted to a few fellow travel bloggers and Italian locals to get the low-down on the best small towns in Italy, from busy beach towns harbouring secret natural hotspots to medieval walled cities so far overlooked by tourists.
Incredible photographer and expat in Puglia, Jessica Coup (www.JessicaCoup.com), recommends the town of Spello in Umbria. A beautiful medieval town where the picturesque narrow streets are lined with artist’s studios, small shops and restaurants, Spello was the highlight of Jessica’s recent Tuscan road-trip, which you can read about in her Postcard From Tuscany.
Insider Tip: Jessica highly recommends having a lunch or dinner at Enoteca Properzio, a wine shop and restaurant serving “amazing simple food that will have you returning to Spello just to eat their fantastic food again and again”.
Not far from Venice, the stylish beach town of Bibione comes highly recommended by locals. The stunning beach – Italy’s second most popular – draws in floods of tourists, but head out into the surrounding area to get off the beaten track amidst nature. The flat terrain around the nearby rice fields and farmlands is ideal for bike excursions, while you can spot orchids in the pine forests near the lighthouse or kayak in the peaceful lagoon.
Insider Tip: Head to the nearby fishing valley of Valgrande in the Tagliamento River delta for exceptional natural beauty, plus the chance to spot deer, wild horses and hundred year old Hermann’s tortoises.
Castiglion Fiorentino, Tuscany
“Perched on the hill overlooking the Tuscan country side,” says Hanif Chatur (@hchatur on Twitter), Castiglion Fiorentino boasts “Etruscan ruins, a square by Vassari, and minimal tourists”. A gorgeous walled city in Eastern Tuscany, Hanif describes his favourite Italian small town as frozen in time, and it certainly looks that way.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Il Palio dei Rioni festival, a Roman-style horse race held annually on the third Sunday of June. The opening event, an impressive historic-folklore procession, fills the old town centre with flashbacks to mediaeval Italian life.
Another recommendation from Jessica Coup was Lecce, in the region of Puglia where she’s currently living. Called the Florence of the South, Lecce is known for it’s amazing Baroque architecture. “Magnificent churches and luxury shops fill this beautiful old town”, says Jessica, who considers Lecce one of the best undiscovered spots in Puglia.
Insider Tip: Not far from Lecce, you’ll also find the beautiful city of Otranto, a historic town surrounded by water which is well worth a visit.
This recommendation came in from Italian local Francesca Calca on Twitter (@FrancescaCalca4), and was seconded by Jessica who says that this interesting town is starting to get a lot of buzz lately – so go now before it gets overrun with tourists!
Insider Tip: Matera is famous for it’s Sassi; stone houses carved out of natural caves and into the limestone cliffs. Don’t miss the fascinating Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (off Via Bruno Buozzi) for a glimpse of how the caves would have looked when they were inhabited.
What’s your favourite small town in Italy? Share your best suggestions in the comments!
Ps – Huge thanks to Jessica for providing most of the images in this post. Click the image below to check out more amazing photos of Italy on her site: