Any aspiring traveler making their way to Italy knows that the hot spots to visit include the amazing sites of Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, and maybe even Naples. Don’t get us wrong, the Colosseum and the Vatican City are a must-see for anyone’s bucket list, but these aren’t the only places that will leave you breathless. Italy is so geographically diverse that there is no traveling to a different city and feeling like you won’t see or learn anything new. The ‘bel paese’ is full of small nooks and cities that will blow you away, you just have to know where to find these hidden gems!
1. San Fruttuoso
Next time you plan a trip to the Italian Riviera, don’t miss the crystal clear waters of the tiniest beach town you’ll probably ever see. Don’t expect to drive there though, the secrecy of this beach is upheld thanks to the fact that it’s only accessible via ferry ride from Portofino. Take a stroll along on the pebbled sand, which will be a whole two minutes from one end to another. That’s how small this beach is! Walk through a small tunnel-of-a-walkway and up some narrow stairs to get to the few main streets in the town- you’ll think that you’re walking into the mountain on your way in. Start up a conversation with some of the employees at one of the three beach cafes- you’ll be in awe when you hear that they were born and raised here in San Fruttuoso!
Getting There: Take a ferry from either Rapallo, Portofino, or Santa Margherita. It won’t take longer than 30 minutes each way.
2. Civita di Bagnoregio
Some may think it’s a bit of a hassle to get to if you don’t have a car, but a visit to this medieval hilltop town will be well worth the effort. Civita di Bagnoregio is a tiny town that you can only get to via a long enchanting walkway from the town below, Bagnoregio (hence the name Civita di Bagnoregio). The walk up this floating pathway takes just 15 minutes and once you enter the town, the silence and beauty will leave you breathless. With only 14 year-round residents, you’ll feel like you just ascended into the most magical of Italian villages! Wander around and venture down all the town’s alleys and arteries to find a different breathtaking view down each path. Although you could probably walk every street of the town in about 20-30 minutes, the pure beauty and photo opportunities around every turn will keep you entertained for a good few hours. There are some delicious local restaurants to stop for lunch in as well.
Tip: You can even spend some time exploring the charming town of Orvieto in the same day by taking the funicular up from right outside the train station. Be sure to climb up to the top of the bell tower for stunning views of the town and the surrounding rolling hills.
Getting There: From Rome, take the 1-hour and 15 minute train ride to Orvieto. To get to Civita from Orvieto, take the bus departing from outside the train station to the town of Bagnoregio, which is at the town directly below Civita. Make sure to check the Bus Timetable before you go, as there are limited buses that run, especially on certain days. From Florence, take the train to Orvieto, just being an additional hour.
Often overlooked because of it’s neighbor Capri, you won’t be able to keep your jaw from dropping in disbelief when you see this tiny fisherman village. Passersby greet you with a smile and a genuine “buongiorno” as you zigzag through the colorful narrow streets. Be sure to look up at the locals smiling atop their balconies. If you’re lucky, you may even get invited in for a cup of coffee.
Getting There: An easy 30-minute ferry ride from Naples. Check out the schedules for “Snav Naples” by searching for it on Google.
There’s no shortage of amazing views from anywhere in this quiet village in Emilia-Romagna. walking around the town, which spans a whole 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) in length, you look up and see a castle perched on one hilltop, a beautiful church on another, and the iconic clocktower on yet another. But the views don’t stop from down in the town. An easy 20-30 minute walk up the hills will take you to each site, offering even better views of the them and the town below.
Tip: Don’t expect much English to be spoken here, it’s a true Italian village. But don’t be discouraged, each and every resident will welcome you with open arms, ecstatic that visitors are enjoying the beauty of their home.
Getting There: A quick hour-and-a-half train ride from Florence! The station is right in the center of town, so jump hop off and start exploring.
This small southern town, situated on Italy’s heel, has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to it’s unique and beautiful Trulli architecture. Walking through these conical-shaped constructions will make you feel like you just stepped into a real-life fairytale book. Stop in for a local lunch at one of the family-owned restaurants, serving up traditional Southern Italy fare specific to the Puglia region.
Getting There: Just an hour and a half train ride from Bari Centrale, a round-trip ticket will cost you a mere €9, The center of town is a pretty 15 minute walk from the station.
Situated around the corner from Portofino, Rapallo offers a more budget-friendly, but equally as beautiful visit to the Ligurian coast. The facades of the buildings create such a vibrant, colorful atmosphere that you won’t be able to stop wandering the streets of this town. The residents of this seaside town Let’s not forget to mention their fresh, amazing seafood. With Rapallo as your base, you can take an easy ferry ride to San Fruttuoso, Portofino, and Santa Margherita!
Getting There: Take the train to the Rapallo Station, situated near the center of town, and just a few minutes walk to the bay.
Tucked away along the cliffs of the Basilicata region is the village of Matera, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The unique cave-like homes and structures here are carved out of the limestone rocks, which makes for a stunning landscape. There are two neighborhoods, referred to as “Sassi” that are made up of these stone dwellings. Dating back over 30,000 years (15,000 BC) during the Palaeolithic Period, Matera is the runner-up for being the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in history, behind Petra, Jordan.
You may recognize this beautiful town, as it was where “The Passion of the Christ” was filmed back in 2004.
Getting There: The easiest way to reach Matera, which, low and behold, does have a train station, is through Bari. Take the train from Bari (not the main station, but the one across the piazza from Bari Centrale, labeled “Ferrovie Appulo Lucane”) to Matera Centrale, which is a little under an hour and a half of a ride. From the station, it’s 15 minutes by foot to the Sassi di Matera.
8. Cinque Terre
Okay, maybe not so hidden anymore. But five years ago it would have been considered as such. The largest town in Le Cinque Terre, Monterosso is the perfect starting point for a breathtaking (literally) hike through these five colorful towns. It may take you about 5-7 hours, depending on how long you take to stop and take photos, but it is well worth dedicating most of your day to this unforgettable hike.
Make sure you check for closures prior to your trip, as certain routes may be closed due to inclement weather. Don’t fret though, you can always take the minute-long train ride through each town, or even a nice ferry ride between each one for a more unique vantage point.
Tip: After your long day’s hike, be sure to have dinner at Ciak for some incredible seafood. If you walk by the restaurant, you’ll likely see Ciak himself hard at work through a window peering into the kitchen, preparing the day’s catch.
Getting There: Take the train to La Spezia. Once there, trains run through the cliffs to each of the five towns.