Italy’s Hidden Gems

If you’ve visited the more popular cities in Italy, such as Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan, then you may be eager to discover the country’s lesser known hidden gems that ooze authentic Italian life. Many of these cities can be reached on a pre-arranged day trip, or, with a multi-centre holiday, you can even spend a few days in the city seeing the cultural attractions and tasting authentic and locally produced cuisine.

Here are some of our favourite hidden gems in Tuscany, North Italy and South Italy, including popular attractions and local travel tips.

 

North Italy

Vicenza

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In keeping with the atmosphere in North Italy, Vicenza is a chic and cosmopolitan city that seamlessly combines modern vibrancy with the charm of Italian history and culture. It is particularly well known for its diverse architecture and is even known locally as “Palladio’s City” due to the impressive work by famous Italian architect Andrea Palladio during the Renaissance era, who designed 23 buildings in the city, including Villa Almerico Capra, Basilica Palladiana, Teatro Olimpico and Palazzo Chiericati.

The city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and can either be incorporated into a multi-centre holiday in Veneto or visited from either Venice or Verona on a day trip as it has a train station with lines to both cities.

Travel tip: Restaurants in Vicenza tend to close during the day and are open for lunch between 12 and 2pm and then again from 7pm until late. The same is true of many of the shops in the city too, which also close for a long lunch until around 4pm.

 

Tuscany

Lucca

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The ancient city of Lucca is located not far from Pisa and can easily be reached on the train from other cities in Tuscany, including Pisa and Florence. It is most famous for its charming medieval city walls that surround the historic old town. The tops of the walls are wide and fully paved, making them the ideal place to take a relaxing walk around the old town while taking in impressive views of the city set against a hilly backdrop. We also highly recommend stopping in Piazza dell’Anfiteatro for a refreshing drink or something to eat – it is just off the city’s main shopping street (Via Fillungo) and is full of charm.

Lucca is also known for its charming city towers, and especially the Guinigi Tower with its tower-top garden featuring oak trees and plants. Legend has it that, in the 1300s, one of the ways that rich families expressed their importance in Lucca was by having the tallest tower in the city. As a consequence, wealthy families in Lucca built taller and taller towers, until the church intervened and said that no tower could be taller than the church’s bell tower. Not to be outdone, the Guinigi family built a tower within the church’s regulation but then planted oak trees in a tower-top garden so that they still could be the tallest monument in Lucca! However, the family insisted that the trees were planted as a symbol of renewal and rebirth.

Travel tip: If you arrive in Lucca by train, you can walk a particularly charming route into the old town that takes you beneath the city walls – simply turn right at Hotel Rex, cross the road at the zebra crossing and then follow the paved path under the city walls and into the city.

 

South Italy

Alberobello

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The whimsical charm of Alberobello is revered across Italy and its magical atmosphere is largely due to the trulli, which dominate the Alberobello cityscape. The trulli are small, fairytale-like 14th-century dwellings built from the local limestone, with dry-stone walls and characteristic conical roofs that make you feel like you have stepped into a story book. A region of the city, known as the Trulli District, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is brimming with over 1500 of these characteristic huts, and we highly recommend pre-arranging a tour so that you can make the most of your time and see the best trulli as it is quite easy to get lost!

As well as the Trulli District, we suggest also seeing a little more of the architecture in this quaint place, such as the Basilica and the Church of St Antony, and if you want to learn more about the trulli, there are several museums that we recommend: the Trullo Sovrano on Piazza Sacramento is a privately owned museum that gives you an insight into what it was like to live in a trullo through period furnishings, and Museo del Territorio (“Casa Pazzolla”) on Piazza XXVII Maggio, which is a combined structure of over 10 trulli with agricultural displays and decorated rooms to enjoy.

Travel tip: Although many trulli have been turned into quaint gift shops and restaurants, it is possible to rent your own trullo to stay in during your holiday in Alberobello, which we highly recommend for a magical and authentic experience.

 

If you’re thinking about a holiday to Italy, but would prefer to visit the lesser known cities that sit off the tourist trail, you may be interested in our Unique Italy tour. We can also custom-make any Italy holiday featuring just the resorts and cities that you want to enjoy so, for a personalised quote, please contact us.

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