Planning A Well Travelled Path in Italy
Anyone who plans to travel to Italy has a long list of the popular spots that are on the “must see” list. Perhaps Rome, Venice, Florence, Amalfi Coast and Milan. But if you travel off the beaten path in Italy, you will discover a whole new set of favourites. You could find Ravenna the town of mosaics, Pescara for exploring the Abruzzo region, Ostuni the white town, Alberobello and the Trulli houses or Lecce the Baroque town. Travelling off the beaten path in Italy adds a totally different flavour than visiting just the major tourist meccas.
Don’t Miss the Big Tourist Spots
We have a few of the big tourist spots that we have really enjoyed. Don’t miss them even if you plan to travel off the beaten path in Italy.
1) Rome As A Gateway
We have travelled to Italy 4 times and have spent over 14 weeks there. We have had the opportunity to see a lot both on and off the beaten path. Rome is often our gateway in and out of Italy. This gives us the chance to taste test a few different things on each visit. There are so many sites to visit whether it is the Colosseum and Forum, the many different water fountain statues, St Peters and the Vatican, the great museums and parks or just wander the streets. You will need more than one visit to see all of Rome.
2) The Colourful Coastal Towns of Cinque Terre
A visit to Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast is on most Italy itineraries. The five coastal towns rise up the cliffs in brightly coloured hues. You can take the train between the towns or you can hike the sea path. But beware that there are plans being put in place to limit the number of tourists. Make sure you check on how to get a ticket before making your plans to visit.
3) The Beauty in the Tuscany Region
If you visit the Tuscany region, Florence is the main attraction. You can visit the great museums and churches. There are great works of art such as the Statue of David (or one of the 2 duplicates kept outside of the museum).
But while in Tuscany don’t miss the great city of Siena. Maybe plan to be there for the famous horse race through the city streets. A great day trip from there is the hill town of San Gimignano. You can wander around Tuscany for day trips and find other spots off the beaten path in Italy.
4) The Water City Venice
Venice is a must-do stop for most people who visit Italy. It is very crowded with tourists especially cruise boat day traffic. But if you stay in Venice, you can see a very different town at the end of the day when it quiets down. Walk around the small streets, take a vaporetto ride (like a water bus) or maybe consider a gondola ride. But be prepared for crazy water traffic that may spoil any visions of romantic water rides.
If you visit Italy in the fall, consider visiting Venice in September during the Regatta. You will get a regal display of new and old gondolas. The races are done in costume, offering a colourful display.
A short train trip from Venice you will take you to Verona, the setting for Romeo and Juliet. We love Verona and have used it as a base to travel from. Book an opera in the ancient Arena, stand on Juliet’s balcony, visit the Castelvecchio fortress or just sit by the river and watch the sun go down.
5) Food Treats in Bologna
While you are on the north west coast, you can take a train and get to Bologna. In the old town you will find the most interesting variety of porticos on every street including the mother of all porticos (666 arches) up to San Luca. But if you are in Bologna, don’t miss the chance to do a food tour . See how authentic balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and prosciutto are made. It will spoil you for sure.
6) Naples and the Amalfi Coast
If you travel south from Rome, you will find Naples – certainly not off the beaten path in Italy. We were not a great fan of Naples, finding it too noisy, crowded and dirty but you will get the most amazing original Napoli style pizza.
A short train trip from Naples will put you on the Amalfi Coast. This is our favourite spot to spend weeks in September and October. You can stay in Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello or the island of Capri. All will provide awesome scenery, great seafood, lots of day trips and a relaxed way of life. There are lots of local towns that will get you off the beaten path in Italy if you want to escape the other tourists.
There is a lot of do on the “must see” list of cities. You will likely not be able to see it all in one trip unless you stay for a long visit. But before you consider just this popular list, consider some of the things that are on our list of things not to miss off the beaten path in Italy.
Off The Beaten Path In Italy
We spent 10 weeks travelling in Italy, most of it wandering down the Adriatic side. Much of it was off the beaten path. We started in Verona, took a few days in Bologna and then made our way down to Matera. Then we finished our trip on the Amalfi Coast and flew home out of Rome.
If you travel off the beaten path in Italy, you will find spots with much fewer tourists and see more true local flavour. While the buildings may be less cleaned up and signed for tourist viewing, you can visit spots that are in daily use. There will likely be much less English spoken off the beaten path. But we never had trouble with hand signs, a few words and a patient attitude to be able to make ourselves understood.
Here are a few of our favourite spots off the beaten path …
1) Ravenna The Mosaic Town
We stayed in the beach town of Igea Marina (just north of Rimini) on the Adriatic coast for a week. We did day trips from there. Be careful when booking on what is known as the Italian Riviera. It is a very popular vacation spot for Italians. But when it is off-season, you may find the sidewalks rolled up and much of the towns closed.
Ravenna is easily visited by train. There are a number of major sites to visit to admire the ancient Byzantine mosaics still well preserved. We didn’t find the town to be over-run by tourists. But being as close as it is to Venice, it is not too far off the beaten path in Italy.
2) Leave Italy For the Day and Visit San Marino
From Rimini you can catch a bus to San Marino and leave Italy for the day. San Marino is an independent republic and one of the smallest countries in the world. It is known for its medieval walled old town, narrow cobblestone streets and duty free shopping. You will find the Three Towers, castle-like fortresses on the peaks of San Marino dating to the 11th century. The first of the towers is in the main town but you can hike to the other peaks.
3) Pescara the Sea Town
As we travelled down the Adriatic coast, we tried to pick spots as our home base for a week so that we could day trip from there. We chose the sea town of Pescara as our anchor town to explore off the beaten path in Italy. It proved to be a great spot for exploring the Abruzzo region. Pescara is not a big tourist town. Most tourists seem to end up there if they have relatives from the area or if they are visiting the large number of military sites and graveyards in the region (including major Canadian sites).
From Pescara we visited several port towns and a large number of forts that once guarded the Adriatic. We headed high into the Apennine mountains to see towns and citadels far up in the clouds (Civitella del Tronto and Rocca Calascio). We were often the only tourists we found in some spots. It was certainly clear that we were off the beaten path in Italy!
4) Sulmona the Home of Confetti Candy
One of our favourite day trips when we were in Pescara was to visit the little town of Sulmona. As you walk about the town you will find beautiful coloured displays of “art”. On close examination you will find that the displays are actually made from confetti candy – candy covered almonds in bright colours. You can purchase the “art” but you probably won’t want to destroy the displays to eat the candy. Or you can buy the confetti candy by the bag. This was the sweetest way to enjoy being off the beaten path in Italy!
5) Lecce The Baroque Town
We spent a week in the city of Lecce in the heart of the Puglia region of Italy (down around the heel of the boot). The city itself is a great treat to explore with its vast collection of Baroque architecture and churches.
It was a special treat in Lecce to take a full day cooking course. We learned how to make pasta from scratch. Our host provided us with lots of information on the food and wines of southern Italy. And we ate well!
While Lecce may not be on the major tourist site list for Italy, it is a large and popular city. Our day trips from Lecce took us off the beaten path in Italy. In Otranto we saw the infamous Cattedrale E Cripta with the skulls of 813 martyrs. Travelling down to the point where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea showed us the great surfing beaches. We found various great swimming holes along the Adriatic coast.
6) Ostuni the White Town
One of the day trips from Lecce took us in search of this bright white town sitting high on the hill. There are a lot of white hill towns well off the beaten path in the Italy. Ostuni in the Puglia region is worth a visit to walk around and enjoy the churches as you walk higher and higher up the town.
7) Trulli Houses
Another great day trip when in the Puglia region is to see the Trulli houses. Trulli houses are mortarless stone houses with a characteristic domed roof. Most people head to Alberobello, a town full of Trulli houses. You can explore for the day or even find accommodation inside a Trulli house.
If you are driving off the beaten path in Italy, don’t miss the opportunity to take the small country roads and find Trulli houses in the wild.
8) Matera and the Sassi
Matera is in the Basilicata region of Italy, between Puglia and the Amalfi Coast. Matera is probably best known for its Sassi or cave houses. The old town still has a large number of Sassi cave properties that can be viewed as you wander around. You can even book to stay in a cave for your accommodations.
In addition to the Sassi, Matera has a number of beautiful churches and other spots of cultural interest. Matera is generally thought to be off the beaten path in Italy, but it did win the title of European Capital of Culture for 2019 and is bracing for the influx of new tourists that will bring. You may want to visit before then!
Italy Needs More Than One Visit
There are so many things to see if you visit Italy. One trip is only going to scratch the surface. You will fall in love with the food, the architecture, the natural beauty and the pace of life – and you will want to keep going back. Certainly plan to visit the big “must-do” sites. But consider some of the really great authentic spots off the beaten path in Italy!
Where is your favourite spot off the beaten path in Italy? What big tourist spot would you suggest passing on?