It’s the land of la dolce vita – and Italy sure is bella. It’s a country of contrasts: you can swim in the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, sip on world-class wines, feast in farmhouses and lounge by lush pools. You can stroll down memory lane and admire art and architecture. The only thing is, everyone else is thinking the same thing. On your next trip, swap the big cities for these underrated spots… before they’re overrun with tourists!
ROME → SIENA
People don’t go to Rome because it’s pretty; they go because there’s history and culture around every bend. Get your nerd on by heading to Siena in Tuscany. The town is like a time warp of the Middle Ages – so much so that the not-easily-impressed peeps at UNESCO called it the ‘embodiment of a medieval city.’ The grand cathedral, built in the 13th century, is still standing, and the marble floors and artworks adorning the walls are amazing. Outside, the Piazza del Campo hosts the annual Palio di Siena – one of the world’s most dangerous horse races.
Want to take more trips back in time? Add Lucca, Tuscany and Lecce, Apulia to your Italian travel itinerary. And if you love cooking, take a class in one of Lecce’s masseries (farmhouses), which produce cheese, olives and wine – aka the major food groups.
BARI → ALBEROBELLO
If you’ve been on the gram this Euro summer, you would have seen everyone and their bestie/bf living it up in Puglia. With its charming cobblestoned streets and teeny-tiny houses, it’s having a major moment. To get ahead of the jet set, skip Bari and go to Alberobello, instead. The narrow streets and picture-perfect piazzas are lined with trulli, whitewashed stone huts with cone-shaped roofs that are straight out of a fairytale. Dating back to the 16th century, the houses were built to be easily taken apart if the taxman came knocking. Alberobello has the biggest concentration of trulli in Italy, and the village is so pretty, it’s been declared a World Heritage site.
FLORENCE → PARMA
For foodies – and particularly those with carnivorous cravings (the city really loves its meat) – Florence is fabulous. It’s also wildly touristy, so for the same vibe, catch the train to nearby Parma, a college town that’s the birthplace of parmesan cheese and prosciutto di parma. As you can imagine, its cheese and charcuterie boards are next-level. While you’re there, hop on a bike (the city is all but devoid of cars) and work your way through the best restaurants and wine bars, starting with La Greppia and Enoteca Fontana. And if you were planning to go to Florence for the Renaissance architecture, a quick bus from Parma will take you to the countryside, which is stacked with castles and fortresses.
Foodies, keep the theme going by visiting Bologna, Emilia-Romagna. It invented bolognaise, and this rich, earthy sauce is a world away from your standard spag bol. PS. The peachy buildings are an Insta dream.
MILAN → BERGAMO
A magnet for the style set, Milan is the capital city of Lombardy. But if you ask us, Bergamo is the real star of the region, and it’s largely ignored by travellers so you’ll be able to soak up the scene in peace. Take your amante (loverrr), because this walled city screams romance. It’s basically two cities in one. The Città Alta (Upper Town) is filled with winding, cobblestoned streets, cathedrals and palaces from the Renaissance and medieval times, while the Città Bassa (Lower Town) is more modern, though the architecture/food/gelato are just as good. Bergamo sits on a hill, and has stunning views over the Lombardy countryside and lakes.
VENICE → TREVISO
Venice is as pretty as a picture, but to be honest, the crowds are exhausting. Plus, the creeping water line is a tad worrying. Picture Treviso as a smaller version of Venice – except it has fewer tourists. The Renaissance city is rich in history, and its streets twist and turn through medieval gates, churches, piazzas and red-brick palaces like the Palazzo dei Trecento. Tiny canals glide between buildings and lush gardens, and old-school water wheels hint at a bygone era. Oh, and the rolling green hills around Treviso produce – drum roll please – prosecco! The Fontana delle Tette in the middle of the town square used to dispense wine back in the day. Meet you there?
Already booked Venice? Hop on a short boat ride to Burano Island, which is stunning thanks to its bright, candy-coloured buildings. It’s also famous for making lace.
LAKE COMO → LAKE ISEO
Let’s start with a disclaimer: if you can afford to splash out on a trip to Lake Como, go crazy – then report back if you spot George and Amal Clooney frolicking on the famous Italian lake. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, escape to Lake Iseo. Smaller, quieter and just as beautiful as its sister, Lake Iseo is idyllic. Surrounded by soaring mountains, it’s the kind of place that makes your jaw drop, and the water, along with the many walking trails, make it the perfect trip for outdoorsy types. Do as the locals do and sup on franciacorta, a sparkling wine that’s produced in the hills around Lake Iseo. If you have time, catch the ferry to nearby Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island that’s home to castles and fishing villages.
POSITANO → RAVELLO
We’re not gonna lie. We have a love affair with the Amalfi Coast. From Capri to Positano, every spot is as gorgeous IRL as it is in photos. Over the past few years, Positano has become overrun with tourists – partly due to bloggers staying at Le Sirenuse hotel, and partly because of its prime position on the Amalfi. But if you climb a little higher up the coast, you’ll reach Ravello. Perched on a cliff, the town has crazy-beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Rainbow homes and quaint cafes sit next to shops, cooking schools, gardens and the famous Villa Rufolo, which dates back to the 13th century and hosts an outdoor concert series every summer. Ravello has been a bohemian getaway and celeb hideaway for years. If you don’t know, now you know…
SAN GIMIGNANO → CASTELLUCCIO
Tuscan wine country is flush with vineyards, winding roads, and fields dotted with sunflowers. San Gimignano is a bucket list item, and once you’ve ticked it off, turn your attention to Umbria. You can do the same thing – aka rent a villa with a pool, and spend your time sipping wine and eating – for a lot less $$$. Nestled in the Apennine Mountains, Castelluccio is one of Umbria’s picture-perfect villages. Built in the 13th century, it has just 150 residents who wake up to the most striking sunrise over the mountains (don’t worry, the sunset is phenom too!). The best time to go is in spring, when the hills blossom with violets and red poppies. Imagine the lavender fields in Tassie, but all different colours.
Wanderlust brought to you by Katia Iervasi.