Italy’s allure goes beyond the famous postcard-like scenes from the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre that you see on Instagram, or the lively urban hubs of places like Rome and Florence, that often steal the spotlight from Italy’s hidden gems. Filled with the most UNESCO heritage sites in the entire world, many travelers, like yourself, are stuck playing a guessing game of where to go to escape the crowds, leading you to Italy to stick with what the standard Travel agent suggests. Knowing which lesser-known destinations are worth your time is a daunting task, which is why we’ve put together this list, perfect for your next trip to Italy! Visiting these hidden gems will offer you a chance to connect with the genuine soul of Italy without sacrificing the charm that has attracted travelers from around the world for generations.
Discover Cittadella: Europe’s Last Remaining Citadel
Whether you’re a history buff or casual adventurer, no visit to Northern Italy is complete without a stop in Cittadella – a beautifully preserved walled town that served as a military outpost of Padua during the 13th century. A one-of-a-kind hidden gem, it’s the last remaining citadel in the entire continent of Europe!
A must-see historic site that you’ll get to see when you join us on the Heart of Veneto tour for a private sunset stroll through the parapet walls of Cittadella! A visit that will transport you back in time with a birdseye view of the historic town center that houses a regional cheese fair every spring. This yearly fair is a haven for foodies and cheese enthusiasts alike, attracting artisan cheese producers from all over the Veneto region, including one that you’ll enjoy a private wine and organic cheese pairing at when you grab your seat on the Heart of Veneto tour.
Coast of Conero: Le Marche’s Answer to Cinque Terre
Picture this: turquoise waters, white-jagged cliffs, and quaint beaches that belong on a postcard. That’s what you’ll find on the Conero Coast – an off-the-beaten path gem that shares the ruggedness of Cinque Terre and has secluded beaches reachable by boat like the Amalfi Coast. But the best part is that the Coast of Conero lacks the hordes of tourists, line-ups and overcrowded umbrella lined beaches that have become all too common in Italy’s more popular summer destinations. Home to numerous blue flag beaches, similar to UNESCO but for beaches, the Conero is a protected national park which lends to a more natural landscape that isn’t built up with hotels and residential structures, allowing you to enjoy the Adriatic Coast’s beauty as nature intended.
This one-of-a-kind natural site is a hidden-gem that can’t be missed and it’s why it’s included on select tours that take you to the Le Marche region. Offering more than just sandy beaches and gorgeous sunsets, it’s also a seaside hikers paradise. Whether you want to hike the entire width of the Conero Coast or head up to Monte Conero, a 572 meter high promontory that is the only coastal high point along the Adriatic Sea between Trieste to the far north and the Gargano to the south, you’ll have many walks to choose from. After a day of swimming, hiking or simply sunning yourself seaside, you’ll need to recharge your batteries with some local specialities.
One of those specialities is the local moscioli, a type of wild mussel native to the Conero Riviera that is often paired with Verdicchio di Matelica. This is a wine white that goes down well with the catch-of-the-day and is the DOC region that you’ll call home for your entire trip when you grab your seat on Italy Uncorked. In addition to white wine, you’ll also find Rosso Conero produced in the hills surrounding the Conero, making it the perfect hidden gem in Italy for both red and white wine lovers alike.
Santa Casa: A Spiritual Haven Tucked Away in Italy
Santa Casa is a symbolic place of worship, attracting over one million catholic pilgrims a year. Nestled in the charming town of Loreto, located in the Le Marche region of Central Italy, it’s known as the “Holy House” and holds a significant place for Catholics, having been visited by Saint Francis of Assisi, in addition to numerous popes of the past. The home, carbon-dated back to the time of Jesus, was found on the hills in Le Marche where Loreto stands today. Legend says that Santa Casa was the house where Virgin Mary lived in Nazareth, and it was believed to be carried by angels to Loreto to protect it from destruction. The house, a small but intricately detailed stone structure, is now encased in marble and gold and is contained within the magnificent Basilica della Santa Casa.
When you join us on select tours, you’ll get to visit this stunning basilica and experience for yourself the impressive collection of detailed marble structures, mosaic paintings and woodwork held inside, that the craftsmen and artists of today no longer have the know-how to replicate.
Grotte Frasassi: Europe’s Largest Underground Karst Cave System
Beneath the surface of the Regional Park of the Golla della Rossa in the Ancona Province of Le Marche lies one of nature’s unique wonders – the Grotte Frasassi, Italy’s largest underground karst cave system.
Formed over millions of years, and all too often skipped over by travelers to Italy, the Grotte Frasassi features a maze of towering formations of stalactites and stalagmites that are nothing short of breathtaking. One of the caves of Frasassi is so big that the entire Duomo of Milan could be contained within it! When you grab your seat on the Italy Uncorked tour, you’ll have the opportunity to explore Grotte Frasassi with a private guide and gain a greater understanding of the cultural significance of these caves, along with a visit to the nearby Temple of Valdier.
Whether you’re visiting Frasassi or trodding the cobblestone streets of the charming nearby villages, bringing comfortable walking shoes is a must on your trip to Italy. To get the lowdown on what to pack for your trip to Italy, click here.
Mazzorbo: Vineyards Around the Corner From Venice
Everyone wants to visit Venice, but dealing with the crowds can be exhausting, especially in the heat of the Italian sun. But where can you go to get all the charms of Venetian culture and cuisine without feeling like a bunch of sardines packed into a can? Say hello to Mazzorbo – the island known for its quaint colorful homes, unique vineyards, and slow-paced local life.
There is plenty to see and do during your visit to Mazzorbo, aside from wandering its vibrant streets. One of the island’s key attractions is its vineyards, which are home to the only hectare of the Dorona grape in the entire world. These extremely rare grapes are used to produce Dorona wine, which you’ll enjoy paired with a specially curated tasting menu when you join the Heart of Veneto tour.
For history and art buffs, Mazzorbo houses the Church of Santa Caterina – a 14th-century church featuring beautiful fresco paintings by Venetian artist Battista Franco. You may also take a walk across the picturesque wooden footbridge connecting Mazzorbo to the bustling island of Burano, famous for its vividly painted homes and exquisite lacework. Better yet, guests who join us on our Heart of Veneto tour get to skip the crowded vaporetti water-buses (which can take up to 4 hours each way on busy days!) and instead experience both Mazzorbo and Burano, along with the island of Murano, on a leisurely private boat excursion.
Civitella del Tronto: Italy’s Largest Medieval Fortress
Perched atop a hill in Abruzzo, the town of Civitella del Tronto is home to Fortezza di Civitella, Italy’s largest medieval fortress and the second largest in all of Europe. The commanding views from its ramparts offer a full 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape and speaks to the town’s historical military significance, with its origins dating back to the middle ages.
The fortress of Civitella del Tronto, which you’ll visit when you join us on select tours, was constructed in the 13th century when Italy was a hotbed of political and military turmoil. Positioned on high ground, its location was about more than just the view; it was a strategic stronghold guarded with stone walls and laced with hidden tunnels where rulers could keep a close eye on their surroundings and defend their turf. Over time, the town became a key player in various conflicts, etching its place in Italy’s history books. Today, the fortress of Civitella del Tronto still stands tall, along with churches and other remaining architecture whose construction spans the 13th to 18th centuries, making it a must-see stop for history buffs and casual tourists alike.
Roman Cisterns of Fermo: Italy’s Largest Roman Cisterns
Tucked away beneath the vibrant streets of Fermo lies an incredible maze of Roman cisterns, dating all the way back to the 1st century. Long before the invention of contemporary plumbing systems, these large underground chambers designed to collect and store rainwater were a means of providing a reliable water supply to the communities of Italy’s past. The cisterns of Fermo cover an impressive 21,000 square feet and are built from a mixture of broken up terracotta and mortar, which was combined to properly waterproof the chambers.
Guests who join us on select tours will get the opportunity to explore the cisterns, along with some of Fermo’s other historic gems, such as the Sala Mappamondo, which was named one of the world’s most beautiful libraries by National Geographic.
Offida: Home to the Famous Lace Dress Worn by Naomi Campbell
Offida, a small village in the Le Marche region, is known for its Tombolo lace craftsmanship and rich cultural heritage. A visit to Offida as a guest of our Italy’s Epicurean Journey tour gives you a chance to walk the charming cobblestone streets, admire unique medieval architecture, and get a firsthand look at the artistry that has been highly influential in the world of fashion and a major contributor to the local economy.
Dating back to the 16th century, the craft of Tombolo lace-making in Offida has seen its share of changes over time. While it was initially created as part of dowries for weddings, Offida lacemakers of the 20th century made an effort to preserve the local craft by making fashion items and jewelry. One of the most notable pieces to come from Offida is the dress worn by Naomi Campbell on the runway in London in 1997, which can be seen in the Museo del Merletto.
Plan Your Bucket-List Journey Through Italy with The Italian On Tour®
From the medieval walls of Cittadella to the breathtaking views along the Coast of Conero, exploring these lesser-known destinations in Italy is a starting point for experiencing the country’s rich history, local culture, and natural beauty in a more intimate and authentic way. Traveling to and navigating these destinations can be daunting, but when you book a tour with us, we’ll take care of the logistics and ensure you spend just the right amount of time in each destination so that you can get the most out of your Italian vacation!
Plus when you book an exclusive multi-day tour with The Italian On Tour®, you can feel good knowing that you’ll help ease the strain of over-tourism on Italy’s highly-traveled destinations. By traveling with The Italian On Tour® you’ll contribute directly to the local economy as you participate in curated experiences like visiting family-owned vineyards, partake in a farm-to-table cooking experiences in the homes of a local chefs, or stroll through an Italian city that predates Rome on a private guided walking tour.
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