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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.