First time visitors to Italy will naturally gravitate to the big cities and who can blame them? Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and Naples are oozing with history, culture and amazing food and nightlife. Activities abound at all of those fabulous destinations, and rare indeed is the traveler who can claim to be bored in any of Italy’s major cities. However, while boredom might not be an issue, not everyone craves the sensory overload that a visit to Rome brings. Some travelers, particularly those who have “been there, done that” appreciate the slower pace and rural charm that Italy’s smaller towns offer. A visit to the Italian countryside is world’s different than fighting crowds of tourists in the major metropolises. Blissfully quiet, with clean air and enchanting views Italy’s villages offer peace and relaxation. With literally hundreds of small towns dotting the Italian countryside, choosing a destination can be a challenge. Here are some good picks if you’d like to experience small town Italy:
With records dating back to 1080, Vernazza boasts a population of roughly 1,000 people. It is one of the five towns that comprise the Cinque Terre region, and it is well known for being an authentic fishing village. Main sights include Doria Castle, built in the 15th century as a pirate lookout, and the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, a nearly 700 year old structure located in Piazza Marconi, the village’s main square.
In the Emilia-Romanga region of Bologna province, this town of fewer than 6,000 people is home to a unique art festival every two years. The festival attracts artists from all over the world, who use the outer walls of the town’s houses as their canvas.
A marvelous town in the south of Tuscany, Montepulciano is a wonderful stop for lovers of good food and wine. Of course, most of Italy falls under that category, but even among Italian fare, Montepulciano sets itself apart. Renowned for its pork, cheese, honey and pici pasta Montepulciano is even more famous for its wine. Its Vino Nobile wine is widely heralded as one of Italy’s best. For those with a love of history and architecture Montepulciano offers plenty including the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Biagio, the Communal Palace, and Palazzo Tarugi.
Yet another member of the Cinque Terre, Manarola is built right on a seaside cliff. Despite their precarious perch the buildings of Manarola have withstood the test of time. It is believed that Manarola is likely the oldest of the Cinque Terre towns. Though their local wine is not as renowned as what you’ll find in Montepulciano, Sciacchetra, as it is called, certainly won’t having wine lovers turning up their noses. For those who love exercise opportunities for hiking abound, including the famous trail Via Dell’Amore or Lover’s Trail that wends it way between Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Home to just over 5,000 people, Corinaldo really comes alive for their Halloween festival. Located in the province of Ancoma, Corinaldo lies just 80 kilometers north of the town of Assisi. The walls of the city are in amazing shape, particularly considering they date all the way back to the 14th century. Historians will note that Corinaldo is the birthplace of Saint Maria Goretti, one of the youngest canonized saints who died at the age of 11 back in 1902.
Sicily gets a little love on this list of the best small towns and villages in Italy. Sperlinga is the Greek word for cave and the area is riddled with them. The highlight of the region is the Castle of Sperlinga, and imposing fortress and tower partially carved into the stone of the earth itself.
Colletta di Castelbianco
Located in the Maritime Alps near the Italian Riviera, this ancient village is built entirely out of stone, probably as a defensive measure against the Saracens in the 13th century. The town was actually abandoned in the 1950s, but rose from the ashes as a restoration project in the 1990s. The restoration has melded ancient building practices with modern day technology, resulting in the opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy the tranquility of the ancient world without falling out of touch with the modern world. In 2005 Colletta di Castelbianco produced its first harvest in three decades and continues to produce – in small quantities – high-grade olive oil.
A small village outlying the major metropolitan city of Bari, Alberobello’s claim to fame is its unique prehistoric trulli buildings. In 1996 the stone huts were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, and are a must-see for anyone with an appreciation of unusual architecture.
Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is renowned for its impressive medieval architecture. A walled town in the province of Siena, Tuscany, San Gimignano’s most obvious feature are its ancient towers that dominate the skyline. At one point far in the annals of history the town boasted more than 70 towers. Today, perhaps a dozen remain, though they are in remarkable shape considering their vast age. Surrounded by the lush green hills synonymous with the Tuscany region, San Gimignano is one of Italy’s true small town jewels.