Look, we would never complain about a trip to Roma or Firenze. But when there’s nary a single nook or cranny of the entire country that’s not absolutely stunning, we figured it would be worth it to venture beyond our familiar Italian horizons (yep, even beyond Cinque Terre and Positano). So here are some of Italy’s lesser known towns and tiny hamlets that you probably haven’t heard of before but are so worth the trip.
That beach vacation you’ve been dreaming of? Plan it in this picturesque Sicilian port town. The city abounds with culture and history and is also home to some of the island’s most serene beaches. The Duomo di Cefalù, for one, is an Arab-Norman masterpiece with one of Sicily’s oldest mosaics. But if it’s proximity to the water you’re after, nothing beats a leisurely stroll down the lungomare, the seafront promenade, followed by a dip in the warm waters.
Where to Stay: The Ai Mulini Resort’s peaceful and lush surroundings, on-site Sicilian restaurant and pool are a must for some serious R&R.
2. ISOLA SAN GIULIO AND ORTA SAN GIULIO
The tiny, magical island on Lago d’Orta is about a quarter mile (or a 20-minute ferry) from the lake town of Orta San Giulio. Both are so small, they’re mostly pedestrian only, which has its way of turning a visit here into a romantic throwback the likes of which Friedrich Nietzsche, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning all enjoyed. Unlike Lake Como, the international tourists haven’t really been tipped off to this sparkling body of water yet, making it a particularly tranquil getaway.
Where to Stay: Built where a monastery once stood, Hotel San Rocco maintains those baroque-yet-updated vibes all while overlooking the shores of the Lake Orta (from the pool if you choose, to boot).
No, that’s not Disney World; it’s the rainbow-colored island town about 40 minutes from Venice on the same lagoon. It’s world-renowned for its lace-making—there’s even a lace museum — and glassblowing (the island of Murano, aka Murano glass, is nearby), which means finding all those little gifts you need to bring home can probably be done here in one fell swoop. Beyond being a DIY-er’s dream vacay, Burano is also a seafood haven, so bring an appetite. (The local risotto de gò is a must.)
Where to Stay: Since the island is so small, you’re better off staying somewhere like the Liassidi Palace Hotel in Venice, about an hour ferry ride from Burano.
This may look like one small, adorable corner of a Hobbit town, but Alberobello is actually composed of 1,500 of these traditional trulli, aka white cone-shaped houses made of limestone. So yeah, no surprise here that Alberobello is deemed a Unesco World Heritage Site. While the town can dip into tourist trap territory, perusing the one-of-kind locale for a day or so is truly a unique, memorable experience.
Where to stay: Trulli Holiday Resort (because, duh, you have to stay in a trullo, of course).
5. CASTELMEZZANO AND PIETRAPERTOSA
The best way to get from one of these mountaintop towns to the other? By zip line, of course. The Volo dell’Angelo is one of the longest and highest zip lines in the world. While thrill seekers, mountain climbers and hikers are certainly drawn to these Dolomite-cradled villages, a stopover at these twin towns is so worth the elevation — if not for the scenic selfie alone.
Where to Stay: The best option is to stay right outside town, like at the family-owned Grotta dell’Eremita, just a couple miles from Castelmezzano.
The northern city sits right between the sublime Alps and the Po River Valley, making for a distinctly gorgeous 360-degree backdrop. But the dual-nature of Bergamo doesn’t end there. The city is essentially made of two parts: Città Alta (Upper City), which is built into cliffs and surrounded by its 16th-century Venetian walls, and Città Bassa (Lower City), the modern center. While you should take your time exploring both areas (get between the two via cable car), an excursion to Serio Falls, Italy’s highest waterfalls, is definitely worth the day trip (and you might recognize them from Call Me By Your Name).
Where to stay: After hopping between two cities, you’ll want to indulge in the luxe accommodations of the five-star The Relais San Lorenzo. Trust us.
The Renaissance-era walled city is just about an hour away from Florence by train, making it perfect for a day trip. But with its rich history (um, remember learning about the First Triumvirate with Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus? It formed in Lucca), scenic setting and delicious Tuscan food, Lucca is well worth a longer stay. We also have to recommend renting bicycles to spend an afternoon riding along the wall.