Florence, Rome, Venice, and Milan are cities in Italy that all have three things in common: they’re beautiful, they’re steeped in history, and they’re absolutely overrun with tourists!
If you’re anything like Jimmy and me, you tend to appreciate the sights you see in your travels much more when there aren’t hordes of other travelers blocking the view with their selfie-sticks. Because of this we often end up in places off the beaten path - or the Upbeat Path, if you will (was that corny?). So when wandering through Italy, instead of simply visiting all the Italy cliches, we decided to head to some places in Italy you probably haven't heard of.
It helped that we explored Italy by car. We’re big fans of road trips, although driving through Italy is no easy feat!
Next time you are wandering through Italy, here are some places that will allow you to escape the hordes of tourists and to see more than just the cliche sights. Most of these places are accessible by train and relatively close to major cities, so you can undoubtedly squeeze them in between the major attractions during a relatively short trip if you please.
Chiavari: Experience the Northern Italian Coast
Chiavari is a small coastal town on the Ligurian Sea, approximately 30 minutes from Genoa by train. We did not discover Chiavari by accident: some distant cousins of mine who live in this lovely Northern Italian town kindly hosted Jimmy and me. That being said, Chiavari is a little gem with picturesque beaches, a lively Italian square with bright Renaissance architecture and many groves of olive trees bearing the ever-so-prized Italian fruit.
While Chiavari does get its fair share of summer tourism to its beach resorts, its liveliness does not disturb its authenticity.
Chiavari attractions include the Piazza Delle Carrozze, its lively square surrounded by plenty of shopping, cafes and of course, many locals. Nearby is the Church of La Nostra Signora dell’Orto. I recommend walking up the steps towards Rocca Botanical Park, Chiavari’s beautiful town garden where we saw an incredible view of the town and the sea.
Another site worth mentioning is Baia De Silenzio. While not actually in Chiavari but nearby Sestri Levante, the “Bay of Silence” is a beautiful beach entirely worth going to and catching the sunset.
Montespertoli: Chianti Wine Country Without the Crowds
If you’re looking for some Tuscan countryside, Montespertoli may be where you find your little piece of wine heaven! Montespertoli is a small town in Chianti, about 20km outside of Florence. Jimmy and I booked an Airbnb stay in a charming villa in Montespertoli, primarily as a launching pad for exploring Florence while avoiding the stresses of city living; however, we could have easily spent most of our time in the little Tuscan town instead!
While much of the town is not easy to get to without a car, if you do have a car you will be rewarded with the sight of endless rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive tree groves and the scent of grapes filling the air. I honestly felt as if I had entered a painting as we drove through the town, and I felt so at peace there.
We arrived in Montespertoli on a Monday when most restaurants are closed, however, our Airbnb host recommended Perbacco to us, a little local eatery that somehow maintains both a hip yet traditional flair. It was surprisingly affordable and delicious.
If you'd like to see a more in-depth tour of the region, check out what our friends over at DestinationDorworth had to say about their travels in wine country.
Civita Di Bagnoregio: Get To The Dying Town Before It's Gone!
Have you ever been to a town that is on the verge of extinction? Civita Di Bagnoregio, also called La città che muore ("The Dying Town") is arguably the most fascinating city I’ve seen in Italy, but part of the reason is that it is quite literally hanging on by a thread - the mountain it sits atop is eroding.
Over 2,500 years old, Civita Di Bagnoregio is accessible only by footbridge, which one must pay a small fee to walk across. It’s quite a hike, but once over the bridge, there are a surprising number of restaurants, cafes, and general city life that exists in this “dying town,” much of which is thanks to a recent tourism revival. Civita is one of the more touristic places on our list, but I’m still willing to bet most of you haven’t heard of it. Hurry up and get there before this town is gone!
Tips: We recommend trying to see Civita Di Bagnoregio just before sunrise to see the stunning fog surrounding the city. Wear your best walking shoes, and unless you’re willing to splurge, you may want to eat in one of the surrounding towns such as Bagnoregio or Lubriano.
Castellammare di Stabia: Excavated Ancient Villas Near Amalfi
If you’re hoping to see the breathtaking cliffs, colorful architecture and magnificently blue ocean that is the Amalfi Coast, you could stay in the tourist haven of Sorrento or dish out the dinero in Positano. OR, you could do what Jimmy and I did and book a stay in nearby Castellammare di Stabia, a seaside town that does not currently see much tourism despite being within sight of Mt. Vesuvius and only 15 minutes to Sorrento by way of the Circumvesuviana train line.
We had booked our Airbnb stay in Castellammare because of its proximity to the Amalfi Coast and the excavated ruins of Pompeii, but little did we know, Castellammare has some ruins of its own from Vesuvius’ eruption in A.D. 79!
The ruins are the ancient Roman town of Stabiae, where two large, magnificent villas, Villa Arianna and Villa San Marco, have been discovered. The excavated ruins are free of charge to enter if you can manage to find them. Directions to the ruins are poorly marked with very few signs, but those who do make it there will be rewarded with awe-inspiring, deeply historical ruins without having to push and shove through swarms of tourists to see them.
Tips: Don’t be afraid to ask locals along the road for directions to the Villas, as the area marked on Google Maps is not entirely accurate. The Villas both close at sunset. Our Airbnb host told us that the archeologists there are often willing to give tours free of charge due to how few tourists typically end up there. Unfortunately, by the time we found Villa San Marco, it was almost closing time so we didn’t have that opportunity. Hopefully, you will!
Chiavari, Montespertoli, Castellammare di Stabia and Civita di Bagnoregio are only a few towns off the beaten tourist track to visit in Italy. If you're looking for even more places to see in Italy, check out Arrivals Hall's post on the Tremiti Islands. Maybe you're not feeling too confident in your Italian; you can brush up with some of these basic Italian phrases and words. If you'd like to learn about seeing more popular destinations in Italy without the crowds, check out this post from Strangers in the Living Room. If you're looking to learn more about traveling around Europe or some other destinations, see more posts on The Upbeat Path!