20 Off The Beaten Path Destinations In Italy
20 Off The Beaten Path Destinations In Italy was originally published in April 2020
I first came to Italy in 2010 on a trip that took me through several European countries that summer. I’ve since learned to travel a whole helluva lot slower these days since then, but the one destination in Europe I’ve actually spent the most time in is Italy. I first came to explore the south of Italy (mostly), out of these sheer curiosity of where some of my family had emigrated from (Calabria and Sicily), and would later spend a good chunk of the time there later, based in a small town named Terracina, filing all the paperwork to gain citizenship in the country (fun fact: I was born an Italian citizen!).
In this off the beaten path Italy guide, you’ll find some of the best hidden gems in Italy based off my own travels in the country- though you will notice a heavy influence on Italy’s south because of this.
20 Off The Beaten Path Destinations In Italy
Lampedusa, Pelagie Islands
One of the three Pelagie Islands and Italy’s southernmost point. This tiny island is so far south that it technically sits in Africa as far as tectonic plates are concerned.
The best way to experience Lampedusa is by renting a motor scooter and exploring the beaches and rugged coastline. I spent my 32nd birthday on Lampedusa and I cannot think of a better way to have rung it in in Italy- exploring Lampedusa’s well-trodden and idyllic beaches in the fall with hardly a person in sight and cruising the island on scooters with the salty sea air whipping through my hair.
Where To Stay In Lampedusa
Learn more about this hidden gem of an island in my Lampedusa Travel Guide
Palmarola & Ponza, Pontine Islands
Part of the Pontine archipelago, lesser-known Ponza & Palmarola make a great alternative to crowded and expensive Capri. Reachable by ferry from Formia (about an hour up the coast from Naples by train), base yourself from Ponza to explore the archipelago. Palmarola is nearly uninhabited, but you can easily make a day trip over from its busier neighbor.
Where To Stay In Ponza
I recommend getting a room over at Casa Acqua Marina for your stay in the Pontine Islands.
Little whitewashed Sperlonga sits on a small knoll jutting out into the sea about halfway between Rome and Naples. Medieval Sperlonga is reminiscent of Santorini with its white walls, blue trimmings, and gave me little flashbacks to Portugal with spatterings of colorful tiles. Hands down, Sperlonga was my favorite place to spend my afternoons lazing on the beach and wandering the maze within its old city when I was staying over in Terracina.
Sperlonga is quite popular with Italian tourists in the summertime, but foreigners, especially non-Europeans have rarely heard of the place. In the spring and fall is Sperlonga is delightful, feeling like you nearly have the place to yourself.
Where To Stay In Sperlonga
Check out my guide to visiting Sperlonga
If you’re looking to stay somewhere near to Matera that’s off the beaten path and extremely budget-friendly, head to nearby Massafra. We scored an unbelievable deal on a guesthouse here in Massafra and as Dan and I sat down for dinner were in complete shock when we glanced at the menu- the prices were a tiny fraction of what you’d pay for similar dishes in northern Italy.
Make sure and stop in to the Massafra Castle, the 16th century Mother Church, and the Monte Sant’Elia and Stornara Reserves before continuing on your southern Italy adventure.
Where To Stay In Massafra
Taking on Italy’s south? Check out my Southern Italy Road Trip Itinerary for ideas
Castelmezzano & Pietrapatosa, Basilicata
Hands down, in my opinion, this is the most beautiful place I’ve visited in Italy. Nestled deep in the Lucian Dolomites in Italy’s little-visited region of Basilicata. The two side-by-side villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapatosa are the perfect spot to get a taste of slow-paced southern Italy. Mutter the name Castelmezzano, and most people will have never heard of it.
Where To Stay In Castelmezzano & Pietrapatosa
Everything you need to know to visit in the Castelmezzano & Pietrapertosa Guide
In 1693 Ragusa came rattling to the ground. The town was razed by 7.4 earthquake that destroyed 45 towns, cities and villages in Sicily, Malta, and Calabria. After the earthquake, it was decided that Ragusa would be rebuilt but the location was up to debate. Two Ragusas were built- Superiore (the new site) and Ibla (the original site). Of course, as both expanded and grew over the centuries the two Ragusas connected. In the end, Ragusa became a beautiful jumble of houses and churches that sweep down from the moutnainside into the valley where the original city stood.
Where To Stay in Ragusa
In the Puglia region, towards the top of Italy’s heel sits the unusual city of Alberobello. Of course, a modern city has built up around it, but a large cluster of traditional Trulli, the strange conical-roofed homes that originally dotted the landscape in the region still stand.
The Trulli of Alberobello and the Itria valley have an odd (theoretical) history. Some believe that the Trulli were constructed of dry stone in a conical fashion so that the families who were brought in to work the crops in the Itria Valley could quickly dismantle their very own Trullo when they got word the tax inspectors were coming to pay a visit. At that point in time, the area was known for its high taxation and this way the families living here could avoid it, and as soon as the inspectors left, they could quickly and easily rebuild.
Alberobello is a fairly popular destination for local Italian tourists, but foreigners are few and far between. I visited just after Halloween in 2018 and thought the old town was beautiful, decorated with pumpkins and gourds.
Where To Stay In Alberobello
If you want to stay in a Trullo without breaking your budget I’d recommend the Tipico Resort (Booking.com| Hotels.com), located right in the heart of Alberobello. If you’re looking to score big savings on accommodations, you may want to check out nearby Castellaneta, Martina Franca, or Massafra.
Visit the bizarre trulli of Alberobello
Civita di Bagnoreggio, Lazio
Looking for off the beaten path Italy near Rome? Located a short 120 kilometer jaunt from Rome, Bagnoreggio is worth a day trip over to explore the beautiful raised village. Civita di Bagnoreggio is only accessible by a narrow foot bridge from the nearby town. A few years back a toll fee for tourists who want to cross the foot bridge was installed, bringing the medieval town from near-death to 0 unemployment and no communal taxes.
Where To Stay In Bagnoreggio
If you opt to stay in Bagnoreggio and not just visit as a day trip from Rome, the Civita B&B comes highly recommended.
Short on time and headed to Rome? Check out my One Day In Rome Itinerary on the fly
About halfway between Rome and Naples sits Terracina, a little beach town and a place I’ve spent quite a bit of time. You can easily see what Terracina has to offer in a day or two, but it’s a perfect place to relax and get a feel for slow-paced Italian beach life. The Via Appia passed through Terracina, and a cliff was cut and altered to allow it to continue its way along the sea rather than cutting inland, putting Terracina on the map in ancient times. Don’t miss out on strolling through the old town, wandering past the canals, taking a swim in the ocean, or visiting the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. (Bonus: make sure you don’t leave without eating some locally made mozzarella di bufala.
Where To Stay In Terracina
I actually rented a long-term unit at Affittacamere Piazza Mazzini when I was based in Terracina. Owner Carmello is beyond helpful, and the building is located right on Via Della Vitoria and is only a 400 meter walk from the beach. You can also shop for other accommodations on Booking.com and Hotels.com.
Check out my insider’s guide to visiting Terracina
You’ve probably never heard of Caulonia, a small village that sits about 10 kilometers inland, looming over the Ionian Sea. The area was originally settled by Achaean Greeks in the 7th century BC, and since then has been razed several times during the Peloponnesian, Pyrrhic, and Punic wars. What initially spiked my interest in Caulonia you wonder? This is where part of my family originates from, my great-great-grandparents were born in Caulonia, but would later move to Naples as adults, but their parents were born, lived and died in Caulonia. Caulonia truly is Italy off the beaten path.
Where To Stay In Caulonia
Mount Circeo, Lazio
I was based out of Terracina mentioned earlier for about three months in 2018. Sitting on the beach, a glance to the west would have you thinking that a mountain was rising straight from the sea.
Mount Circeo curves out into the ocean on Cape Circeo, between San Felice Circeo and the sand dune beaches of Sabaudia. A hike up and over the mountain starting in San Felice Circeo and ending in Sabaudia (or vice-versa) makes for a nice trip on a sunny, clear day.
Where To Stay In San Felice Circeo
The Hotel Punta Rossa has a gorgeous property on the rugged coast of Mount Circeo (Booking.com | Hotels.com). You can also opt to stay in Sabaudia on the opposite side of Mount Circeo that has a golden beach stretching on and on backed by sand dunes.
Everything you need to know before hiking Mount Circeo
Procida, Flegrian Islands
Procida is getting more well known, but it still remains a quieter, less crowded alternative to Capri. Main attractions include ruggedly beautiful coastline, wandering narrow streets between rows of pastel-painted houses, and lovely beaches. Procida can get a bit crowded around August with Italian tourists, but otherwise is usually pretty off the radar.
Where To Stay In Procida
Matera was named a Capital of Culture in 2019 and became a bit more well known among travelers but still remains largely off most visitor’s itineraries. For many years it’s was only really known as the capital of Italy’s poorest region of Basilicata and was rarely visited by foreigners. After taking a road trip through Basilicata I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite regions in the entire country. Matera is truly unique, being on the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the Sassi, Matera’s old city being comprised of an elaborate cave system.
Where To Stay In Matera
Plan your visit with my quick guide to Matera, Basilicata
Cefalu is a gorgeous seaside town not too far from Palermo. Make sure and admire Cefalu from the seawall near the historic center (that’s where the iconic photo of Cefalu is taken from after all), walk the promenade, and hike up to Temple di Diana and La Rocca.
Where To Stay in Cefalu
Martina Franca, Puglia
Martina Franca was an impromptu stop for lunch on our South Italy road trip in 2018 and we ended up blowing most the day there getting lost in a maze of beautiful whitewashed alleys and colorful doors. Not to mention one of the best lunches we had on our road trip through Italy’s dirty south. The locals were pretty warm and welcoming too, with people chatting us up and even showing us around town. Martina Franca is a great off the beaten path Italy stop to add to your itinerary.
Where To Stay In Martina Franca
Looking for off the beaten path Italy road trip ideas? Check out my Southern Italian Road Trip post
Cilento Coast, Campania
Move over Amalfi, the Cilento Coast is where it’s at for those of us that want the looks but not the dress-twirling-influencers. Not quite as dramatic as the neighboring Amalfi Coast, the Cilento Coast towns are a perfect beach and mountain escape without the crowds. Hikes, cave explorations, beaches, and amazing food are enough to lure just about anyone in.
Where To Stay Along The Cilento Coast
Don’t want to veer too far off the beaten path? Check out my Amalfi Coast Guide to plan your trip
Arcomagno is located at the northern end of Calabria and looks more or less like a sleepy seaside village, but there are so many natural features to check out beyond the sandy beaches. This rugged and wild coastline boasts several caves between golden sand beaches.
Where To Stay In San Nicola Arcella
When most people think of Sicily they think of coastal towns adorned by Baroque style, but Sicily is a large island. Enna sits smack in the middle of Sicily on top of a mountain, overlooking the dramatic valleys and peaks that make up Central Sicily.
Where To Stay in Enna
Siracusa & Ortygia, Sicily
Sicily is probably what made me the flexible traveler I am today. Did you know my very first overseas trip included Sicily? The draw? I have family that came from Sicily. We worked our way down the east coast of Sicily and eventually ended up in Siracusa & Ortygia and ended up spending the remainder of our time on the island there.
Where To Stay in Siracusa & Ortygia
Check out my Quick Travel Guide To Siracusa & Ortygia
Itri is a small historic town in the southern Lazio province just inland from Sperlonga, Formia, and Gaeta, that sits along the ancient Via Appia. The city is largely built around a castle in the mountains, which was badly damaged during WWII when Itri was raided and its inhabitants tortured by the Germans. If you get the chance to sit down and talk with an elder Itrian who survived WWII (the couple people I met who had, were children during the raid) take up the opportunity to hear their stories. They have fascinating and heartbreaking tales of what they and their families endured under the occupation.
Scenes of the famed film La Ciociara, starring Sophia Loren when filmed here in Itri, so don’t be surprised if proud locals pull up a clip of the film on their phone and point out the locations in the city to you.
Last but not least, Itri is famed for its Itrana olives- some would argue the best olive in Italy. Itrana olive trees are a unique variety that only grow in the immediate area, owing to a mild micro-climate that surrounds the valley in which Itri is built around. I made the hour journey from Terracina on a regular basis to pick up olives and olive oil from Itri.
Where To Stay In Itri
As I always made day trips to Itri, I never spent the night, but the Il Fiore in una Stanza comes highly recommended.
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