K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Italy is famous for cities like Rome, Florence and Venice, but to really experience it you need to get out and explore the small towns. It’s here you’ll find some of the best, authentic cuisine, while avoiding the big tourist crowds too. From hilltop towns to towns built into the cliffs, there’s a ton to discover.
Ostuni is a hilltop town that’s just minutes from the Adriatic Sea. Often referred to as the “White City,” it’s fun to just wander, getting lost within its web of streets and maze of alleyways, staircases and arches. The buildings were constructed right atop one another, while archways support the houses they connect to make up for a lack of strong foundations. They glisten in the ever-present sunshine, brightened further by the vibrant blue and green wooden doors. Turn one corner, and you may hit a dead end, but turn another, and discover a glimpse of the sapphire-hued sea.
One of the Cinque Terre towns, Manarola is famous for its bright and colorful homes that are carved right into an impenetrable wall of stone along the Mediterranean coast. Its also renowned for its excellent wine, especially Sciacchetra, and the paintings of Antonio Discovolors, an artist who fell in love with the town and devoted much of his later works to the region. There are no traffic lights, blasting horns or cars to interrupt the tranquility here, requiring visitors to park just outside town and walk or ride a shuttle bus.
Menaggio is a popular Lake Como destination, set along the shores of the lake in northern Italy. It’s an ideal destination for active explorers who want to enjoy the country’s natural beauty and the opportunity for all sorts of outdoor recreation from mountain biking, hiking and gentle strolls to swimming and boating. In fact, one of the best ways to experience it is to rent a boat and get out onto the water, where you’ll enjoy a fabulous view of the town and its magnificent villas.
This small town sits perched high above the Piave River on a narrow spit of land as the southern gateway to the stunning Dolomite Mountain Range. It offers breathtaking views and the charming atmosphere of an Alps mountain town, with buildings from the Renaissance and Gothic periods. Wander through the squares, along walkways and past historic buildings to the Piazza Duomo, its crown jewel as well as the home of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Palazzo dei Rettori. Just outside of town, outdoor adventures abound, including sailing, windsurfing, hiking, mountain biking and climbing. Winter brings the opportunity for skiing, boarding, and even dog sledding.
Alberobello, with its unique trulli structures, feels more like a town from a Disney film than modern day Italy. The conical, white limestone cottages are spread throughout the village and became popular in the 15th-century for residents who hoped to avoid taxes. They can only be found in the Puglia region and many are available for short stays. While you’re here you can explore museums and shops that sell local olive oils and almond treats, along with lively tavernas that serve some of the best antipasti you’ll probably ever have. Be sure to make time for a meal at one of family-owned eateries that serve up traditional Southern Italy fare as well.
Pietrapertosa is one of Italy’s most dramatic towns, carved into the mountainside at 3,500 feet above sea level. The town itself is especially picturesque with its many ancient ruins and 9th-century Saracen castle. The one must-do here, is what’s reported to be the highest zip-line in the world: Il Volo dell’Angelo. It gets to top speeds of 70 mph while providing an extraordinary bird’s-eye view of the town and the surrounding landscape.
The medieval town of Cefalu sits on a rocky headland about an hour from Palermo in Sicily. So picture-perfect, its been the setting for many movies, boasting everything from gorgeous sunsets and sandy beaches to a fine Norman cathedral and lots of sunshine. Throw in mouth-watering Sicilian food and unpretentious charm, and it makes for a place that’s truly not to be missed. Check out the mosaic-adorned cathedrals, stroll along the seafront promenade, and be sure to catch at least one sunset from the soaring La Rocca.
While there are few places along the Amalfi Coast that couldn’t be considered romantic, Positano, framed by brilliant blue waters and cliffs that plunge into the sea, is hard to beat when it comes to beauty and romance. In fact, it was featured in films like “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The glamorous seaside town perfectly blends pastel colored buildings that spill down the mountain, winding streets and postcard-perfect beaches, not to mention the jaw-dropping sunsets. It seems to have been made to order for a romantic escape with a skyline that still looks like it did a century ago as the strict building codes have kept out modern construction.
La Maddalena has had a rather violent history, fighting to defend itself in 1793 against the French army and its commander, Napoleon, and during World War II, dictator Benito Mussolini was held prisoner here. It’s a different story today, as a relaxing vacation destination popular for its beautiful beaches and ancient fortresses. From here, you can also visit the island of Caprera, which is home to the last residence of Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian patriot and military leader who helped free the Italians from foreign rule and unify the country. His house has been converted into a museum, offering the chance to see how he lived, including his furniture, works of art and other objects, including a vintage watch hanging on the wall, marking the time of his death.