underrated italy varenna

Somehow, over the years, we’ve spent nearly two months in Italy.

We’re similar to many people in that the siren song of Italy draws us back again and again. Italy has a unique mix of consistently fabulous food, good weather and so many cities on the *must see* list that it’s no wonder that we’re always on the prowl for a good flight deal.

In addition to the classic Italian destinations – Rome, Venice, Tuscany – we’ve also quite literally stumbled upon other gems around the country that we’ve found don’t get nearly the amount of attention they deserve. These underrated Italian destinations, overlooked by most tourists, are worth a detour. We hope you take the time to discover some of these places for yourself and that they are as magical to you as they were to us.

Modena

For car buffs and Michelin-star restaurant fans, Modena is well-known. Ferrari and Lamborghini have museums here, just twenty minutes from each other. The current top rated restaurant in the world is here. For others, Modena might ring a bell from the label of the dusty bottle of balsamic vinegar you have in your pantry.

Despite its obvious pedigree, we’re surprised that more people don’t find their way to Modena on holiday. We loved being immersed in this food and car-centric city, smack dab in the center of the country. The town is livable and walkable, and we loved strolling around on a weekend. Several flea markets and food markets kept us busy, and the many playgrounds were jammed with families enjoying the late autumn sun.

underrated italian destinations lamborhini

underrated italian destinations tortellini

underrated italian destinations modena church

Varenna

Around Lake Como, Bellagio gets most of the hype. I get it – for Americans, we recognize Bellagio from Las Vegas fame. It’s ritzy and uniquely positioned on a peninsula in the center of the lake. But nearby, within view in fact, lies Varenna. It looks like Bellagio, with similar colors and a single bell tower dominating the landscape. But Varenna has a tiny fraction of the visitors.

On the day when we visited both Varenna and Bellagio, we got lost in the labyrinth of twisty Varenna streets, while in Bellagio, we were nearly suffocated by the throngs of tourists. The charm of Bellagio was really lost on us, as we struggled to find an open bench or a bit of shade in the sweltering heat. Conversely, in Varenna, the lakeside cafes are pleasantly busy, with the leisurely service and spectacular views that are synonymous with Lake Como.

The next time you find yourself on Lake Como, go ahead and visit Bellagio, but don’t forget to also visit its next door neighbor, the charming Varenna.

underrated italian destinations varenna

underrated italian destinations bell tower

Assisi

We recently wrote at length about how charmed we were during our recent visit to Assisi. Located equidistant from Rome and Florence, Assisi is just far enough from major cities to be inconvenient for a day trip, and it isn’t big enough to warrant an entire vacation. So this gorgeous Puglian city, high on a hill, is left to those interested in seeing St. Francis’ hometown, and people like us, who stop by on our way to somewhere else.

Assisi is the Italy of your imagination, cobblestone streets, and town squares lined with cafes and chapels. We particularly appreciate that all of the many churches and cathedrals in Assisi are free, given that touring churches is really THE thing to do in town. This is a great small city to visit when the hustle and bustle of one of the larger capital cities gets overwhelming, and you are in desperate need of a cappuccino in peace and quiet thankyouverymuch.

underrated italian destinations assisi

underrated italian destinations assisi landscape

underrated italian destinations gift shop

Trento

When crossing northern Italy, you may hear a little about the wine region of Piedmont, and you certainly have heard of Venice. But to the west of Venice, snuggled into the mountains, is Trento. At one point in its history, Trentino (the region of which Trento is the capital) was part of Austria, and the jagged peaks, and lake-filled valleys are certainly reminiscent of The Sound of Music.

These days, Trento is well known as the city in Italy with the highest quality of life. I think that the mix of high quality jobs, and plenty of fresh air probably has something to do with it. While we were in town, we got to sample deep fried olives at an outdoor food festival, and we went on a mad hunt for Lagrein, the slightly bubbly and delicious red wine of the region. We also hiked every day. Now if that isn’t a high quality of life, I don’t know what is!

underrated italian destinations trentino

underrated italian destinations trento festival

Ascoli Piceno

This summer and autumn, central Italy was rocked by a series of earthquakes, one of which made international headlines. Ascoli is the nearby town from which news reports were filed and in which emergency workers were based during the clean up. Now, being in the center of devastation isn’t exactly a rave review for a place, but Italy isn’t anything if resilient and towns like Ascoli embody the Italian spirit perfectly.

Ascoli is also gorgeous, an ancient city clinging to both sides of a deep running river. While quiet during the day, the streets come alive after dark, as the entire town seems to be out socializing in the large town squares. We also appreciated finding a sushi restaurant, which is as rare as a unicorn in most of Italy.

underrated italian destinations ascoli

underrated italian destinations drew ascoli

underrated italian destinations ascoli view from hotel

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  • December 24, 2016

    Julie, your photos, as always, have captured my longing to visit these off-the-beaten-path Italian towns. I have explored Pisa, and Florence, and Rome, but my time in Italy was all too short. I think of all the underrated towns you listed, Assisi is the one I most need to visit as an escape. I could not resist taking a peek at your longer article, and of course it confirmed my suspicion . . . .
    Howard | Backroad Planet recently posted…Adrian Marziliano’s Transcontinental Bike Ride for HopeMy Profile

    • December 26, 2016

      Assisi was a last minute addition to our Italy road trip, and boy, are we glad we added it in. A quintessential Italian village!

  • December 24, 2016

    Wow. I’m sold on both Modena and Varenna, and I agree that Assisi is a real find. And now I want to go to the top rated restaurant in the world …
    Carol Perehudoff recently posted…Romantic Paris at Christmas … without the romanceMy Profile

    • December 26, 2016

      We wanted to go too, but the €200+ price per person was a little above our restaurant budget during our most recent road trip!

  • December 25, 2016

    Of these I have done Modena, indeed a beautiful place and so unfortunately underrated. If I get another opportunity to be in Italy I will try and get to the other places mentioned.
    Indrani recently posted…Merry Christmas 2016My Profile

    • December 26, 2016

      we were surprised by Modena. We hadn’t heard much about it, but glad we paid a visit. Really beautiful city center and some amazing restaurants!

  • December 25, 2016

    All are so gorgeous. Would love to visit Modena someday. Love to know such beautiful underrated places in Italy.

  • December 25, 2016

    When I saw the first photo above, I knew it’s going to be somewhere near Lake Como, because it looks so familiar from my last trip! Italy is a country I wouldn’t mind going back to again and again (3 times so far, all the way from Asia!) because there are just so many beautiful and historic places to explore. And now, you’ve just added 5 more places to the list! If I could, I would move to Italy in a heart beat!
    RaW | Ramble and Wander recently posted…Malaysia: 10 Things Every Singaporean Should Experience in Kuala LumpurMy Profile

    • December 26, 2016

      Italy is hard to visit, because there are just so many incredible places to explore, yet so little time!

  • December 26, 2016

    I´ve been in Italy sometimes but of this 5 i only know Assisi. And i loved it. The other 4 places seems like a beautiful places to go!

    • December 26, 2016

      Modena would be a great city to be based in. Emilia Romagna is the foodie capital of Italy, with parmesan, prosciutto, and balsamic production, and famous dishes like Bolognese and Tortellini en Brodo. You’ll never go hungry!

  • December 26, 2016

    These are great, thankyou! Italy is one of my favorite destinations, though I’ve only really done the tourist trail so far – Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice etc. Now that we’ve crossed these big ticket items off our list we would love to start experiencing real authentic parts of the country which aren’t as touristy or crowded 🙂 Thanks for the ideas!

    • December 26, 2016

      You’re welcome! So many great, small villages and larger towns that get overlooked.

  • December 28, 2016

    We’ve only been to Italy once, but I can definitely see how it is a place you’d want to visit over and over again. There are so many beautiful areas to check out, and so many things throughout the country that I want to see someday. We spent a day in the Modena area when we were in Italy, and it we really loved it–happy to see you enjoyed it as well! All of these spots look fantastic–I’d especially love to check out Assisi!
    Jenna recently posted…European Christmas Markets through Four CountriesMy Profile

    • January 1, 2017

      That’s the hardest part about traveling to Italy…narrowing down the list of places to visit!

  • December 28, 2016

    I would like to visit Trento in summer to enjoy the views and not to be frozen: I think this city must have lots of snow in winter time! Actually, I had to idea that there is the best living standart in Italy there. Interesting!

    • January 1, 2017

      neat town and great access to outdoor activities. Great hiking, climbing, swimming, rafting, etc. It’s on the edge of the Alps, so there is definitely snow in the area, so skiing is possible in the wintertime.

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