I’m always boasting about Italy being my favourite country to visit, so I often get asked where I would recommend visiting the most. The major cities of Italy – Venice, Florence, Milan, Rome etc. – can all speak for themselves so I wanted to focus this blog on the slightly less recognised places, that you may miss on a quick-stop city visit to Italy.
5. Tuscan spa towns
The Italian word for “spa” is “terme”, and therefore spa towns can easily be identified by the “Terme” at the end of their name. These spa towns are always slightly off the beaten track, so they are much less touristy than traditional holiday spots.
As you may have guessed, the spa towns all house grand historic spas, but they often come coupled with fantastic views of the countryside and offer a bit more of an authentic peep into Tuscan life. If you’re looking for somewhere to unwind from the busy cities, one of these are worth a visit!
I visited Chianciano Terme in September 2015 and Montecatini Terme in September 2017, both of which were easily accessible by public transport.
4. Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast
The only reason these appear in 4th place and not higher, is because Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast are already a huge tourist destination and receive the recognition that they deserve. There’s something dreamy about wondering through the narrow hillside streets of Amalfi & Positano – though if you’re scared of heights, be wary of the bus journeys you’ll have to take to get there! There is always the option of viewing the Amalfi coastline by boat.
If you get the opportunity, I would recommend a visit to the Villa Cimbrone Gardens in Ravello. Entry costs approximately 7 Euros and is a great break if you’re overwhelmed from the somewhat overcrowded cobbled streets. If I’m honest (unpopular opinion alert), the visit to these Gardens was my favourite part the Amalfi Coast!
Whilst in Sorrento we took a day trip to Capri – and whilst we weren’t fans of Capri itself (too fashionable for me!) – the higher part of the island is a must-see! I say higher part, because the area in question is referred to as “Anacapri”, deriving from the Ancient Greek “ana” for “up”. There is a breath-taking viewpoint which can be accessed via the Monte Solaro chair lift. This is great fun, and you can enjoy a drink & snack at the bar at the top.
3. Lake Como
We visited Lake Como last summer (2019) with our first puppy, who was 4.5 months old at the time! We stayed in the tiny lakeside village of Onno, which was situated in the middle of Bellagio and Lecco, the two main towns on the right leg of Lake Como. The scenery at the Lake is unbelievable – my English isn’t good enough to do it any justice in words. But let me put it this way: if I went to heaven, I think it would look like Bellagio.
When Googling “dog-friendly” spots around Lake Como, there’s not a lot offered. However, our experience was more than pleasant. Restaurants were always accommodating by providing water for the dog – and we were even welcomed into an art exhibition with the dog in Bellagio! When it came to swimming spots, we just used “common sense” and allowed the dog to paddle in quiet areas only.
Mount Etna is Europe’s largest active volcano… I didn’t Google that; I was just a huge Geography nerd in school! Just past the south of Italy’s coast runs the tectonic plate boundary between the Eurasian and African plates. This is a “convergent” boundary, which means that as the plates move towards one another, the African plate is being forced beneath the Eurasian plate. Sometimes the plates can get stuck, forcing pressure to build up and lead to aggressive earthquakes. But also, these types of plate boundaries are breeding grounds for volcanoes.
You can visit the top of Mount Etna by cable car & truck for approximately 70 Euros per person – but don’t forget your jacket, because it gets pretty cold at the 3,350m summit!
At almost a third of the height of Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius is yet another very famous active volcano in Italy. This volcano is of course most famous for the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD, and you can visit the remarkably preserved city of Pompeii for approximately 5 Euros (2 Euros if you’re an EU student aged 18-25).
There are other volcanic marvels to be found in Italy, such as the naturally heated thermal baths – which can be found in the spa towns mentioned in number 5!
Writers edit: Volcanoes were originally third in this post, but writing this paragraph made me remember my love for tectonics – so it had to move up!
1. San Gimignano
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Gimignano currently holds 1st place in my heart, and our search for a wedding venue centred from this point. San Gimignano is a romantic medieval town that is encompassed by its historic walls, characterised by a skyline of 14 prominent towers – there were originally 72! San Gimignano is also famous for producing its own Vernaccia white wine, of which you can buy in the town for as little as 4 Euros a bottle.
You can enter all of the civic museums of San Gimignano and climb the Torre Grossa for the sum of 9 Euros. There’s not loads to do here, but it’s a fantastic location to just enjoy the simplicity of some of Italy’s culture – good weather, wine, views and food! I would personally recommend booking a table at Enoristoro, at the entrance of the town walls.
San Gimignano has the beauty of being a very rural location, so to get there you’ll have to take the train from Florence to Poggibonsi and catch a bus from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano. This trip as a return to Florence should cost no more than 12 Euros, but several tour companies will also offer excursions from both Florence and Pisa. Taxis in the Tuscan countryside are available by booking only, and from memory we paid over 25 Euros for the 15-minute drive from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano… Oops!
Whilst a lot of my travels have focused on central Italy, I’m yet to explore the North West, East Coast & South-East of the country. The other out-of-city sights that narrowly missed this list were the Cinque Terre, Taormina & Orvieto (which is a city – but a small one that you may miss on mainstream travels!).
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you may wish to check out my other posts about my Italian travels:
- 7-day French & Italian road-trip – with a dog!
- How we saw (almost) everything there is to see in Italy in 13 days: Days 1-6 (Veneto, Tuscany & Umbria).
- How we saw (almost) everything there is to see in Italy in 13 days: Days 7-13 (Rome, Campania & Sicily).
Also – to see more photos please check out my Instagram @estimateexplore