Traveling to Italy is often synonymous of visiting the Big 3 (Rome, Florence and Venice) and all the other legitimately popular destinations such as Tuscany and Amalfi Coast. But what else is there to see in Italy? There is an entire country just waiting to be explored! If you’ve been to Italy before, maybe it’s time to get off the beaten tourist path.
Here are 5 suggestions, great alternatives to the well-known tourist centers.
Off the Beaten Path in Italy: Top 5 Destinations
1) Turin: the Capital of the Italian Kings
The charming city of Turin, located near the foothills of the Alps is Italy’s fourth-largest city. Turin is rather inexpensive, easy to get around and with a recently renews green-soul, thanks to pedestrian-only areas. Being the most important city of Piedmont, the region home of the Italian Kings, Turin has been Italy’s first capital city. Its region is also home (among other) of amazing wineries, gourmet chocolates, gorgeous countryside, fantastic ski slopes (remember the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics…) and spectacular monuments. Not to be missed are Turin and La Venaria Reale (summer residence of the Kings of Italy) or a dive into the region’s food culture. The city center has plenty of elegant squares, important museums and historic cafés.
2) Trieste: the Italian Balcony over Central Europe and the Balkans
With so many Italian cities to choose from, don’t overlook this marvelous destination. Held on a spit of Italian territory that lunges along the sea into the Slav world (of Slovenia), Trieste oozes the atmosphere of Mittel-europa (Central Europe), of an empire (the Austro-Hungarian) long gone, for which it was the only port. Rarely will you sense the cross-cultural edge present in the air in this sometimes melancholy but immediately engaging Adriatic city. Less than 2 1/2 hours from Venice by train, Trieste is one of Italy’s hidden gems, where Austrian architecture meets the Adriatic Sea. The city is home to one of the oldest operating opera houses in Italy, the Teatro Verdi. Trieste’s imposing Piazza Unità d’Italia is the only public square in Europe directly overlooking the sea and, in fact, water is the hallmark of this wonderful city that was turned into a free port in 1719, and subsequently became a major trade center where sacks of bananas and coffee beans from South America were unloaded on the busy docks. In your free time, explore the city’s Byzantine roots, walk the harbor or enjoy some of Trieste’s famed Viennese-style coffeehouses. Truly, Trieste is not to be missed.
3) Catania, Mount Etna…a real “hot spot”
The real “hot spot” of the Mediterranean. Catania is Sicily’s second largest city, a bustling metropolis of Baroque splendor and vibrant outdoor markets, all under the shadow of Europe’s largest active volcano. Mount Etna’s fiery temperament has done much to shape and reshape this city over the centuries – many of its Baroque palaces and churches are made from black lava stone, which makes Catania unique among European cities. History lives and breathes in Catania, first settled by Greek colonists in 729 BC, it became so influential to have their local laws adopted by the Ionian colonies of Magna Graecia. This thriving metropolis was stunted due to a series of natural disasters: Mount Etna erupting and filling the harbor with lava in 1669, as well as a crippling earthquake in 1693. Start your exploration in the Piazza del Duomo, which is a great jumping off point to visit the city. Be sure to venture inside the Duomo to see the relics of Sant’Agata, which are paraded through the city each year. Catania is a city both fascinating and full of surprises for visitors who rarely forget their time there.
4. Bologna…foodie bliss and under-explored pretty town
The enchanting town of Bologna, capital city of Emilia-Romagna and home to the oldest university of the Western world, Bologna often ranks as one of the top cities in terms of quality of life in Italy. Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university, founded in 1088, where students still gather around the school’s ancient towers. Noteworthy past students include Dante, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, Pope Nicholas V, Erasmus of Rotterdam and Copernicus. Bologna’s town center is one of the best-preserved in Europe, and the buildings have a rich palette of warm reds, yellows, and oranges. Start your visit admiring the most important buildings in Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city. After a visit in Piazza Maggiore, move towards Piazza di Porta Ravegnana where you may visit the Asinelli Tower. With its 97 meters, it represents with the Garisenda Tower the symbol of the city: these two towers are constantly under observation to measure and contain their angle of inclination. When you are done exploring it’s time for a taste of the local cuisine. For a lover of Italian food, it doesn’t get much better. Tortellini, tortelloni, mortadella, lasagne, the mouthwatering list of local specialties goes on and on…. Recipes from Bologna are some of the most famous to come out of Italy.
5) Ascoli Piceno with windows on grace.
Discover how Ascoli and Le Marche take you back to a slow-paced, unhurried way of life. Ascoli Piceno is a charming mid-size town, easily walkable. Situated in Le Marche region, an undiscovered pearl in the Italian landscape, a captivating beauty that harbors Renaissance history, art and serenity, and a place that the New York Times considers “the next Tuscany.” This unspoiled region is the perfect blend of natural beauty and Italian history and Ascoli is one of the most preeminent examples. The town is not heavily touristy and those willing to explore this little gem in the center of Italy will enjoy its stunning palaces and churches in pale travertine stone, the harmonious Piazza del Popolo, considered by many to be Italy’s most beautiful town square, and the specialty olive all’ascolana, a veal-stuffed fried olive treat. Buone!
And you? What is your favorite off the beaten path destination in Italy?
Guest post by Patricia Vance from Got Saga