Five of the Best Small Towns in Italy

best small towns in italy

Matera. Image by Jessica Coup.

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.

Spello, Umbria

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.

Italy off the beaten path

Spello in Umbria. Image by Jessica Coup.

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”.

Bibione, Veneto

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.

Italy off the beaten track

Seagull in Bibione. Image by M. Raffin on Flickr.

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.

best small towns in Italy

Castiglion Fiorentino. Image by Timothy Brown.

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.

Lecce, Puglia

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.

best small towns in Italy

Lecce in Puglia. Image by Jessica Coup.

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.

Matera, Basilicata

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!

Italy off the beaten path

The Sassi di Matera. Image by Jessica Coup.

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:

best small towns in Italy

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

26 Comments

  1. What a beautiful post – I love Italy and it’s wonderful towns. The region of Puglia has some amazing gems, in particular Polignano a Mare which has a stunning restaurant in a cave on the sea and Alberobello and its marvellous Trulli buildings. So much to explore!

    • Thanks MaryLou! So glad you enjoyed the post. After gathering all these recommendations from fellow travellers I want to tour Italy more than ever – and seek out even more amazing small towns!

  2. We spent a week with a bunch of friends in a rented villa in Maratea on the Tyrrhenian coast. This medieval town is full of narrow cobbled streets and ancient churches and it winds down to a glittering marina. On the hill overlooking the town is a huge marble statue of Christ the Redeemer, we could see it from our pool!

  3. worldjourneysdiscover

    how idyllic! Wonderful places, all of them! Well, they look so!

  4. Great list! I’ll second Lecce – beautiful old town with hardly anyone around when we went in May.

  5. Lovely choice of villages in Italy. There are so many that the list could be endless. Your photos are enticing….and inspiring.

  6. I love your picks! Just got back from 2 weeks in Tuscany and my fave new small town discovery … Monticchiello. I’ll be writing a blog post about Tuscany soon and will be sure to tweet you about it!

  7. Great post! As tourist hordes increasingly make the big cities of Italy (and Europe) unpleasant to impossible especially at certain times of year, it’s great to have in your pocket a list of quieter places to escape to, to dream in…

    • So true! I love to get off the beaten track a little and just avoid big crowds of tourists when I can. Popular places are great to visit too (they’re popular for a reason after all) but it’s so nice to escape a bit and also have that sense of discovery by touring somewhere few other tourists are bothering with!

  8. Awesome pictures and great post. I have a strong desire to see Tuscany and hope to make it back to Italy someday. Thanks again.

  9. Beautiful article and images. I think Portofino on the Italian Rivera has to be favourite

  10. Nice selection, I would add one more – it’s Cefalu in Sicily! 🙂 Very nice, quiet and medieval town.

  11. ALL going straight on my list! 🙂

  12. Hi. I’ll appreciate any recommend about a nice day trip not far from Rome.. All the best.

    • Hi Sharon 🙂 I’ve not been to Rome myself, so I’m afraid I don’t really have any recommendations. There are a few posts in this “small towns in Italy” series though so maybe have a look through and see if any of the recommendations take your fancy 🙂

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