Italy is famous for its big three—Rome, Florence, and Venice—and while you should definitely visit them, there’s so much more to this amazing country. If this is your second visit, or you want to get to know another side of Italy, why not consider one of these hidden gems?
1. The Palio in Siena is a once-in-a-lifetime medieval spectacle you don’t want to miss
Twice a year in the Tuscan hills each summer, an ancient tradition plays out in honor of the Virgin Mary. Roughly 60,000 spectators (two-thirds of Siena’s population) flood the Campo for this amazing horse race and days’ long festival.
Come a few days early to see the selection of the horses and to sample Tuscan cuisine at the open-air dinners in each Contrada, or neighborhood. Colorful costumes, energized fans, excellent food, and beautiful horses—what’s not to love about the Palio?
2. Taste Sciacchetra, Cinque Terre’s nectar of the gods, in Manarola
The gorgeous hillside villages of the Cinque Terre are the jewels of the Italian Riviera—it’s worth a trip just to wander the narrow streets and breathe in the salty air. But if you’re a wine lover, the Ligurian coast has plenty of delights for you.
Vermentino is behind Cinque Terre’s namesake wine, but it’s the lovely dessert wine Sciacchetra that draws rave reviews. Made in tiny amounts each year, this highly prized wine is rich with notes of honey, pastry cream, apricots, and dried sage.
3. Forget Rome! See the dazzling 4th-century mosaics in Ravenna
Ravenna is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, but none is more dazzling than the Basilica de San Vitale, a Byzantine masterpiece housing some of the finest mosaics in the world.
Between the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Orthodox Baptistry, you’ll see an amazing display of paleochristian artistry unlike any other. Ravenna is actually known as the City of Mosaics—and it’s Dante Alighieri’s final resting place. It’s definitely worth a visit if you love art and architecture.
4. Renaissance art and craft chocolate—what’s not to love about Perugia?
Umbria, in central Italy, has much of the same charms as Tuscany but is much less visited. Perugia, the largest city, is a culinary delight, famous for truffles, prosciutto, pasta, olive oil, sheep milk cheeses—and of course the Perugina chocolate factory.
In fact, the world-famous Perugina chocolate inspired the annual Eurochocolate Festival, a must-do for chocoholics. That the National Gallery of Umbria is located here, filled with incredible Renaissance paintings, is just icing on the chocolate cake.
5. Snow Disneyland is a thing in Cortina
Sure, the Dolomites are a skier’s paradise—and Cortina more than holds its own as a ski resort town. But there’s so much more to this gorgeous alpine town. The town is absolutely gorgeous and filled with interesting restaurants and shops to while away an afternoon.
Despite being a jet-setter destination (you may well see a few celebs during the season), the nightlife is pleasant—think pubs and beer halls that reflect Cortina’s Austrian heritage.
6. Foodies rejoice: Bologna is the place for the best Italian cuisine
Emilia Romagna is Italy’s breadbasket—and Bologna is at the heart of its incredible food culture.
Food snobs reluctantly admit that the cured meats, exquisite cheeses, tender pastas, and divine pastries are the best in Italy. And then there’s Modena balsamic vinegar and sparkling Lambrusco; so many wonderful things to sample! The medieval architecture and iconic porticoes, the majestic Piazza Maggiore, and the Basilica of San Petronio make a fabulous backdrop for Bologna’s culinary delights.
7. Visit Como and Bellagio, Italy’s spectacular alpine resort towns
Lake Como has been a retreat for the rich and famous dating back to Roman times, and it’s still a top destination for those in the know. Historic gardens, charming villas, Belle Epoch resorts, and jaw-dropping views of the Alps are just a few of its delights.
Bellagio, the largest and most famous of the villages surrounding Lake Como, is the place to see and be seen. If you’re looking for a less-touristy destination, try Como. The lakeside promenade is lovely and there’s a funicular to Brunate for impressive views of the lake and villages below.
8. Don’t miss Trieste, the hauntingly beautiful home of authors and poets
Trieste, a port city on the Slovene border, is a literary city. James Joyce wrote Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man here; there’s a statue of Joyce on a narrow bridge over the Grand Canal. Italo Svevo, Trieste’s native son, wrote Zeno’s Conscience here—his likeness stands in the medieval Old Town. And while he isn’t honored by a statue, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his famous Duino Elegies in Trieste.
The city was part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian empire until 1954, when it was annexed by Italy; it has a uniquely romantic Viennese vibe.
9. Wander the Barolo wine trail in Le Langhe
Chiantis, Brunellos, and other Tuscan wines get the lion’s share of attention, but there are magnificent wine regions throughout the entire country. Le Langhe in the Piedmont countryside is the place for Italy’s signature sultry red Barolos and Barbera d’Albas.
Choose from a number of walking or driving itineraries on the Barolo wine trail and sample to your heart’s content. Enjoy a tasting at a 14th-century castle followed by a lunch of pasta with salsa di nocciole, made from hazelnuts the region is famous for.
10. Limoncello tasting in Sorrento is simply sublime
There are hundreds of excellent reasons to visit the Amalfi Coast, but the amazing limoncello must be near the top.
Everything is better with a sip of the lovely yellow liquour—the views from Villa Rufolo in Ravello, the chic beaches of Positano, and of course the fragrant lemon groves in Sorrento.
Ready to find your hidden gems?
We’d love to help you discover the secret side of Italy. Let us help you plan your custom itinerary so you can see and do all the things that speak to your soul in this magnificent country. Get in touch today and see how easy it is to bring your Italian holiday dreams to life.