For good reason, cities such as Florence, Milan, and Rome always make the headlines in Italy for their superb art, architecture, museums, and shopping. But you’ll often find an even more authentic Italy hidden away in its small countryside and coastal towns. So if you are longing for a vacation filled with old-world romance, where medieval houses frame cobblestone lanes and locals sip coffee at cafes overlooking the piazza, then give these stunning Italian towns a try.
Castelluccio di Norcia, Umbria
From afar, Castelluccio di Norcia resembles an ancient fairytale-like citadel set atop a plateau in the Apennine Mountains. Castelluccio lies within the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and is famed for the spectacular natural beauty of undulating hills and the flora of its encompassing meadows. Once a Roman settlement, the present hamlet dates back to around the 13th century. Today, you can stroll along winding streets that lead to pretty squares and afford uninterrupted views.
Come between May and July for the Florita of Castelluccio di Norica, which sees the plateau burst into a thousand colors. Clovers, poppies, violets, and more wildflower flourish and create a mosaic of vivid red, violet, white, and yellow hues. Drink in the scenery while relaxing at the squares or get active on hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking excursions.
You may not have heard of the Neapolitan island of Procida, let alone it’s pièce de résistance Corricella. At this romantic port town, an ensemble of pastel-colored cubic buildings form an amphitheater of mismatched towers that tumble down towards the glistening Gulf of Naples. With washing hung out to dry from shutter windows, cafes lined up along a promenade, and colorful fishing boats moored at the water’s edge, the town paints a quintessential Italian seaside image.
Walk up to the Santa Margherita Nuova monastery to capture the beauty of the town and island from above and then visit the Benedictine Abbey of San Michele. At the end of the day, order pizza and pasta at Bar Graziella and appreciate why movie directors chose Corricella for classics such as Il Postino and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Looking for a coastal escape from Rome or Naples? Then look no further than Sperlonga, a resort on the Tyrrhenian Sea that lured Roman emperor Tiberius in the 1st century, and later the Hollywood elite of the 1950s and 1960s. Here, elegant white buildings perch on a headland that spills down to soft golden sands and perfect-blue waters. Time stands still in the Centro Storico (Old Town) and there’s great pleasure to be taken from stumbling upon hidden squares after taking a wrong turn along an alleyway or stone staircase. Soak up the nonchalant seaside vibe at the resort’s two beaches, Rivièra di Levante and Rivièra di Ponènte. Before taking your seat to watch the sunset, get a cultural fix at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which protects the ruins of the villa and grotto of Emperor Tiberius.
Wouldn’t it be great to experience Venice without the throngs of tourists? Well, just 25 miles north of the world-famous canal city is the delightful city of Treviso. A canal and defensive wall surround the Centro Storico, which shelters a dazzling collection of Venetian-style palaces, gracious colonnades, and medieval churches. Cobblestone streets and canals weave their way between the sights, passing beneath archways and tiny gardens along the way.
Art is rife, and not just timeworn frescoes that decorate the facades of private homes. Admire work by Titan at Treviso Cathedral, close to the cafe-lined Piazza dei Signori. Witness the action of the Pescheria Buranelli floating fish market and browse the chic boutiques on Via Calmaggiore. For wine lovers, a glass of Treviso Prosecco is the perfect cap to a day of sightseeing.