In November 2021, a forecast by HomeToGo revealed the top trending countries for 2022 travel. Among those places? Italy, which ranked 11th on its list. It’s a highly visited country that’s only becoming more in-demand for travelers — which means, if you’re thinking of going yourself, you may want to consider a more unique Italian city to visit to avoid the inevitable crowds.
If you’ve ever visited Venice or Rome in the high season, you know just how important that can be. Prices are high, lines are long, and people are aplenty in Italy’s most popular cities. However, while packed towns are something you probably want to avoid, fewer crowds aren’t the only benefits to venturing out of the way in this beautiful destination. “Coming to a city that is off the beaten path gives you a more authentic experience in the country.” Jash Cooper, a travel content creator, tells TZR. As she points out, it’s also a great way to see the world without breaking the bank.
It’s probably not hard to convince you that it’s worth exploring the less-visited parts of Italy. But deciding where to go when each town, village, and region is more beautiful than the next? If you’ve ever planned a trip there, you know just how impossible that can be. But there’s no reason to stress — instead, sit back and enjoy the journey with the under-the-radar recommendations from experts, ahead.
Why Visit: Julie Ann Hargett, CEO and Travel Designer at H Luxury Travel, says Taormina is one of her favorite under-the-radar cities in Sicily. According to her, it’s an up-and-coming area with both boutique and luxury properties to stay in, and is an easy day trip from the village of Castiglione di Sicilia, another one of her favorites.
What To Do: Hargett tells TZR she’s stayed at the newly opened San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons hotel in Taormina, which she describes as a beautiful property “rich with history and art.” Additionally, she says that there are many shops and restaurants in the village to visit, “as well as the Ancient Greek Theatre featuring concerts throughout the summer.” And if you do choose to take a trip to Castiglione di Sicilia while you’re there, she has a few suggestions as well. “A morning guided hike on Mt. Etna is a treat, followed by a winery tasting and lunch with your afternoon spent relaxing by an infinity pool overlooking a special part of the Mediterranean Sea,” says Hargett.
Why Visit: According to Clare Watkins, Europe Specialist at Red Savannah, a luxury travel company specializing in tailor-made trips around the world, the city of Lecce is often referred to as the Florence of the South. “Located in the far south, not far from the tip of Italy’s ‘heel’, the city is full of medieval architecture and flamboyant Baroque masterpieces,” she tells TZR. “Life moves at a slow pace.”
What To Do: Watkins suggests exploring the city on foot, “from the 15,000-seat Roman amphitheater to artistically rich cathedrals, towers, and churches, as well as the boutiques that only locals know about. Stroll cobbled lanes and try Pugliese coffee, dip into its artisan boutiques and sample the region’s famous pasticciotto,” she suggests. For accommodations, stay at the “delightfully characterful” La Fiermontina, where you can explore the artistic heritage of the family behind it at their M.A.M.A. Museum.
Why Visit: For those in the know, Brendan Drewniany, Director of Communications at luxury tour operator Black Tomato, says Cortina is the place to go. Perched up high the Dolomites, it’s “long been a haven for Europeans seeking discreet and elegant ski and aprés life.” And while Drewniany says you may not know about it “the same way you would with glitzy St. Moritz in neighboring Switzerland,” that’s all the more reason to go. “Cortina is known as the ‘Queen’ of the Dolomites and is actually going to play host to the 2026 Olympic Winter games, so go now before everyone else finds out!” he shares.
What To Do: It may be a ski town, but Drewniany says Cortina is beautiful year-round. If you go in the winter, the skiing is exceptional. However, he notes, the area has made a name for itself as an idyllic summer destination — “a respite high up in the Italian Alps with cool breezes and a lovely climate.” So, take the opportunity to explore on foot. Hike up the Giau Pass for wild vistas, and discover the stunning lakes in the area. And once you’ve worn yourself out, cozy up in HOTEL de LEN. “They are serious about sustainability and the views are unbelievable.”
The Island of Ortigia
Why Visit: A small island in the Ionian Sea, “Ortigia is the magical old town of Siracusa in Sicily,” says Katy Clarke, founder and editor of Untold Italy. The place, she continues, is perfect for discovering Sicily’s rich, layered history and culture while wandering down “narrow streets draped with laundry” and taking in “Ancient Greek and Roman ruins alongside Baroque fountains.”
What To Do: Clarke’s recommended itinerary for Ortigia sounds like something out of a dream. After a stop at the “colorful daily market,” she says, “eventually the laneways lead you to one of Italy’s most beautiful squares, the magnificent Piazza Duomo. Take a break here at Bar Condorelli for granita (Sicilian gelato) or a refreshing spritz to admire the Baroque cathedral and local street scene.” Make a stop at Teatro dei Pupi to watch a puppet performance or even try making your own. “And when it’s time to relax, sun beds await at one of the many lidos or you can take a boat cruise around the peninsula to find the perfect swimming spot.” Then, check into Hotel Gutkowski, “a charming boutique-style hotel that captures the essence of Ortigia.” You can eat there, or reserve a table at La Foglia — “a quirky restaurant crammed with antiques.”
Why Visit: “Siena may be the most famous Tuscany city, but I strongly lean towards Pienza, a picturesque hilltop village in the Val d'Orcia,” says Henley Vazquez, co-founder of new tech-forward travel agency Fora. According to her, it does have the daytrippers you’ll see in Siena — however, she thinks it’s easier to access, full of personality, and has some of her other favorite spots to visit within a 10-minute drive.
What To Do: Vazquez says the best place to stay is La Bandita Townhouse, “a chic and well-priced boutique hotel in the center of town.” According to the co-founder, it also has an “excellent restaurant popular with locals.” And if you’re interested in discovering some of the best local artisans? “Follow the American owners' tips,” she says. “They won't steer you wrong.”
The Tuscia Region
Why Visit: Tuscia, Italy is a beautiful rural region north of Rome. As Mirko Cattini, Italian native and General Manager of Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Eden, says, it’s full of enchanting medieval villages such as Caprarola and Civita di Bagnoregio, making Tuscia a true gem and under-the-radar destination.
What To Do: Cattini actually describes Tuscia as the perfect day trip from Rome, being less than two hours away. So if you’re staying in the Eternal City and want an escape, hop in the car for the day and explore the scenic region. (Hotel Eden makes this easy with its road trip experience.) Cattini also says not to miss out on Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, an “impressive and imposing place belonging to the Farnese noble family” and one of the most significant examples of late Renaissance architecture. If you are staying the night, he says that Tenuta Bertarello is “a lovely country estate built from an 18th-century watchtower, immersed in nature.”
Why Visit: Cooper actually once lived in Turin as a volunteer English teacher, and it’s still her top recommendation for an “authentic” Italian experience. She explains that it’s off the beaten path, meaning there are fewer tourists. It was also once the capital of Italy, so it’s full of history and things to do and see.
What To Do: Cooper recommends taking in views of the city, which you can do in several ways, including taking an elevator to the top of the city’s tallest building, Mole Antonelliana, and journeying up to the Basilica di Superga, which rests on a hill above the city. Given Turin’s proximity to the Alps, she also recommends participating in various outdoor activities. And, of course, take some time to simply explore. “Turin is full of local restaurants, plazas, and people that can give you an inside look at life in Italy,” she says.
Why Visit: Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato, calls Matera a “brilliant” city. It’s located in the region of Basilicata, “the land of steep hills and forests, a hidden territory that borders Calabria and Puglia, steeped in secrets (think ancient cave dwellings) and history.” Here, you’ll find a place with an otherworldly feel, he continues, thanks to limestone cliffs pockmarked like a lunar landscape.
What To Do: According to the co-founder, Matera is a very walkable city, “so wander aimlessly and explore its myriad shops, restaurants, tavernas.” It also boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites and “amazing museums,” he says, giving you plenty to explore. For accommodations, Marchant says you should stay at Palazzo Margherita, “Francis Ford Coppola’s spectacular, and discreet, hotel.”