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21 Hidden Gems in Italy for an Unforgettable Alternative Itinerary

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We all know Italy has so much to offer. Maybe too much! As travelers, we want to see and experience it all, so when planning our dream Italy itineraries, it is hard to narrow down the stops when there are so many places to see. While its bucket-list cities and monuments feel like must-dos, some can feel overrated or not be a great experience for the sheer amount of people you are sharing it with. That’s why I encourage you to discover the many incredible sides to this country and add some of these amazing hidden gems in Italy to your travel plans.

As an expat in Italy, I have been lucky to discover many of these unique sides to Italy that unfortunately tourists with limited time don’t always get to see. While there are certainly Italy landmarks that you must visit once in your life, I would argue it is almost more exciting to stumble upon the lesser-known jewels that feel like a little secret between you and Italy.

I hope these Italy hidden gems inspire you to get off the beaten path!

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1. Valle d’Aosta

Woah, woah, woah – can a whole region of Italy be a hidden gem? I would argue yes!

I have never met a traveler going to Italy say “I can’t wait to get to Valle d’Aosta!”, which is why I know I must do it justice by sharing it as one of the top hidden gems.

Before I visited Valle d’Aosta, I figured it’s the smallest region in Italy, what could there possibly be to see? And I was so wrong.

I spent an incredible weekend traveling the western Italian Alps, from visiting Roman ruins in the capital Aosta to standing at the foot of the Alps’ highest peak Monte Bianco in the charming snowy village of Courmayeur.

Valle d’Aosta’s tumultuous history as the gateway to Italy from France led to many strongholds developing, from military fortress Fort Bard to more than 150 castles, many just casually visible from the main roads! Feel like royalty visiting the Sarre Castle, Aymesville Castle or the Castle of Introd.

And that is still not all! Explore deep in the Alps in the remote, quiet village of Cogne where you can get an epic look at the evergreen forests of Gran Paradiso National Park and the natural beauty of the Lillaz waterfalls. If you are truly a mountain lover, you can’t miss Breuil-Cervinia, where you will be up-close and personal with one of the most famous peaks in the world: the Matterhorn.

I think my prose has made it clear – I am a skeptic turned fanatic for Valle d’Aosta, and all the reasons above are what makes it an incredible Italy hidden gem.

2. Borghetto sul Mincio

When you think of Italy, does fairytale village come to mind first? Because the picture you have in your head is the exact landscape of Borghetto sul Mincio.

It may seem like an exaggeration, but between the wooden mills, the historic Visconti Bridge, the castle in the distance and the small cottage houses gathered over the river falls, you know that this fairytale is real life.

Spend less than half a day on your busy itinerary in the areas of Lake Garda and Verona walking through this medieval village.

3. Portovenere

Undoubtedly one of the most romantic places in Italy, Portovenere is a sparkling gem of the Ligurian coastline.

This colorful little haven is very much overshadowed by its famous neighbors, the Cinque Terre, so – for our luck – it is still very much underrated and undiscovered.

One reason why is likely because it is not the easiest place to reach. There is just one very windy road along a mountainside and above the Gulf of Poets (Golfo dei Poeti) that can take you there, either by private car or public bus.

But once you arrive you will see why it is worth the trek: a castle on a cliff, a church at the tip of a peninsula going out to see and a bay so picture-perfect it inspired the poetry of Lord Byron.

Discover all the beauty that awaits you in my guide to Portofino, Italy.

4. Lake Iseo

If you are trying to decide between visiting Lake Como or Lake Garda, let me propose you an under-the-radar alternative: Lake Iseo.

The lesser-known of the Italian lakes region, Lake Iseo is a local favorite virtually untrekked by tourists.

From housing Europe’s largest lake island Monte Isola to unique spots for lakeside aperitif like Darsena21, Lake Iseo is the less expensive, less crowded version of (in my opinion overrated) Lake Como. I am still a sucker for Lake Garda, but I truly believe both Iseo and Garda are more worth it than the famous Lake Como.

5. Monte Argentario

When you think of Tuscany, do turquoise beaches come to mind? It’s not the first thing people associate with Italy’s most famous region, so that’s why the Monte Argentario is an incredible hidden gem.

This strip of coastline on the Mediterranean is a quiet paradise of laidback towns like Porto Santo Stefano, long, sandy beaches like Feniglia Beach and secret rocky coves, like Cala del Gesso.

It just proves that even in the most famous areas of Italy, there is so much more to discover than the same places plastered all over Instagram and guide books.

6. Pitigliano

And even when you thought you knew Tuscany, you discover a town worthy of the same fame as medieval and Renaissance villages Pienza and Montepulciano.

Travel all the way to the very southern border of Tuscany for the Italy hidden gem of Pitigliano. A village that is literally carved out of the rock beneath it, Pitigliano is not only beautiful to look at, but has a completely unique history storied by its proximity to Rome and the development of a vibrant Jewish community.

7. Crespi d’Adda

One of the most peculiar UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Italy has nothing to do with the periods in which we most associate the country’s history: Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Risorgimento.

Instead, Crespi d’Adda is all about Italy’s industrial age.

This small hamlet in the region of Lombardy is one of the mot unique hidden gems in Italy because it looks almost nothing like the rest of it!

The town is the dream of a cotton manufacturer wanting to create a “model village”
in which his factory workers were provided with housing, basic necessities and community living spaces.

While you likely won’t have to spend more than a day exploring this small village, you can definitely appreciate its uniqueness.

8. Bagni San Filippo

You may have heard of Saturnia hot springs, as you pretty much can’t open Instagram without seeing a photo of it. These natural thermal pools were once a local’s secret, but they are not a hidden gem any longer. While they are still worth a visit because they just are that beautiful, there is another secret natural getaway in the heart of the Tuscany countryside.

Discover a literally hidden gem in Bagni San Filippo springs. A natural thermal spa waiting to do wonders for your skin with its nourishing minerals – and that’s not all.

As you make your way through the forest valley, you’ll come across the Fosso Bianco, an unreal wall of limestone and calcium caressed by waterfalls that just makes you think “how did I get here to see such a beautiful, completely natural wonder?!”

9. Lake Tovel

Speaking of natural wonders, the Trentino-Alto Adige region is no stranger to beautiful places. From the world famous Lake Braies to alpine villages like Bressanone, the area holds some of Italy’s most stunning natural monuments.

But when you have that many beautiful destinations one area, some sadly get often overlooked!

That could be the case for Lake Tovel, a gem of the Brenta Dolomites and Val di Non, famous for its apple orchards.

The lake is surrounded by dense forests and fairly flat shorelines for easy, family-friendly hiking. Its green-blue water was once home to a rare phenomenon, an algae that would come to the surface of the lake and turn the entire thing bright red.

Today, you will just get to enjoy untouched nature with an incredible backdrop of the Adamello Brenta peaks.

10. Civita di Bagnoregio

What could be more hidden gem than a “dying city”?

Out in the countryside of Lazio, about 2 hours from Rome, is Civita di Bagnoregio, a village that almost seems like a mirage, rising from and surrounded by the steep valley below.

Trek up the also steep walkway to the gates of this 7th century hamlet. It costs €5, but getting the unique experience of observing the remote and slow way of life, frozen in time, is well worth it.

11. Borromean Islands

One of my personal favorite hidden gems in Italy are the extravagant and mysterious Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore.

Three isles, all completely unique to one another. Isola Madre is the enchanting, natural garden, while Isola dei Pescatori is the humble fishing village, still inhabited today.

And the majestic Isola Bella combines a bit of both. A quaint, lakeside village at the foot of the royal residence of the Palazzo Borromeo and its whimsical gardens.

This short recap doesn’t do the destination justice, so read my full guide to the Borromean Islands.

12. Bergamo

Move over Milan, there’s a new northern Italian city in town.

Bergamo, just 40 minutes from Europe’s fashion capital, is the perfect-sized city for a day trip from Milan.

It has everything you love in a city break: centuries of history mirrored in its historic Upper Town overlooking the plains of Lombardy in one direction and at the foot of the Italian Alps in the other.

Discover the best things to do in Bergamo to get inspired for your visit.

13. Matera

It’s hard to tell if we can still consider it a “hidden” gem as it has risen in popularity from its feature in Hollywood blockbusters and travel influencer’s Instagram accounts, but Matera is undoubtedly a gem of Italy.

The oldest city in Europe and the third oldest in the world, Matera is a place that can’t be fully described with words, but rather an atmosphere frozen in time that you must experience with your own eyes.

Sassi di Matera, the famous cave dwellings that have made the village an UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a maze exciting to explore and leaving you with breathtaking views no matter what path you take.

Matera’s rupestri or rock churches also can’t be missed. Check out my Matera, Italy guide for a hidden gem place to get an incredible view of the Church of Saint Mary of Idris.

14. San Fruttuoso

Along the rocky coastline of Liguria lies a literal hidden gem. Completely surrounded by forest and only reachable by boat (or by a two hour walk from Portofino) is the Abbey of San Fruttuoso.

If you love hidden gems, you will love taking the ferry to San Fruttuoso. As you make your way along the mountainous coast, all of a sudden you will see the incredible cove reveal itself like a treasure, hidden away from the rest of the world.

Now, hidden may not be the best word to describe it anymore just because it is growing in popularity. But as long as you don’t travel in the peaks of August vacations, you should have more of the area to yourself.

Go for a secret swim in the crystalline waters or dare to swim out and discover the underwater statue Christ of the Abyss.

You can also visit the abbey for a small fee.

Good to know: Luckily there are direct ferry routes to San Fruttuoso from Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino. However, plan your day carefully (or leave it completely open) because the ferries only come every hour to San Fruttuoso, limiting your flexibility.

15. Mantua

Mantua is easily overshadowed by some of its more famous neighbors and top tourist destinations like Lake Garda and Verona.

But if you are looking to get off the beaten path for half a day on your northern Italy itinerary, Mantua is the perfect addition.

The striking landscape of the skyline against the Mincio river makes for a grand entrance as you cross the bridge to the city center.

The one thing you can’t miss is visiting the Basilica di Sant’Andrea that has one of the most incredible interiors to a church I’ve seen in Italy.

Mantua is also appreciated by the locals for its culinary creations! Stop by Scaravelli to try the “Tortelli di Zucca“, a pumpkin-filled ravioli, the “Torta delle Rose” and the sbrisolona.

16. Scaliger Towns of Lake Garda

One thing’s for sure: you can’t go mention hidden gems in Italy and not cover some of the magnificent castles that make up its landscape.

Lake Garda just happens to have many of them!

While the town of Sirmione is already quite popular, especially with European tourists, there are other hidden gem towns on Lake Garda worth your attention. Those top two are Lazise and Malcesine.

In both, you have the opportunity to see the famous Scaliger castles, built by the once ruling family of the area.

I have a soft spot for Lazise, as it also is home to one of my favorite pizza places and best views on Lake Garda – Classique.

17. Grazzano Visconti

Hidden gems in Italy, but make it seasonal!

You’ve probably never heard of Grazzano Visconti – and the locals don’t want you to hear about it!

The town has a unique history. It’s the conception of Duke Grazzano Visconti (the Visconti were a powerful ruling family in the area for centuries) to create an “ideal town.” The villas and town buildings are exactly what come to mind when you picture an Italian hamlet.

But Grazzano Visconti is loved by the locals for one very special reason.

Every year during Christmas in Italy, this tiny village in the region of Emilia-Romagna throws a huge Christmas market with incredible food stands, roasting chestnuts and stirring up vin brulé, and handmade, local crafts.

18. Scala dei Turchi

Southern Italy is full of beautiful beaches. But at the edge of Sicily is arguably the most beautiful natural oasis of the peninsula.

Discover the Scala dei Turchi, an incredible rock formation of soft white cliffs along the sandy stretch of beach on the Mediterranean.

I’ve seen great rising interest in visiting Sicily, but this jaw-dropping beach often doesn’t make it onto the itineraries being shared – which is why I had to include it as a hidden gem.

19. Santa Caterina del Sasso

Lake Maggiore is, in general, more overlooked than the other northern Italian lakes. But it holds such special treasures like the Borromean Islands and Santa Caterina del Sasso.

It’s the kind of place that makes you gasp out loud at how something like it could exist.

Santa Caterina del Sasso is a hermitage built along the rocky cliffs above Lake Maggiore – like it literally looks like it is coming out of the mountain!

The best part about it is that, even though it is quite remote, there is public transportation by ferry to visit, as well as a path on foot if you arrive to the town on top of the cliff by car.

20. Treviso

You’ve heard of the canals of Venice, but have you heard of the canals of Treviso?

Treviso is a quiet city in Veneto, making for a perfect day trip from the tourist-packed Venice.

Walk along the Canale dei Buranelli and visit the famous Fontana delle Tette.

Treviso is known also for its Tiramisu recipe – stop by Camelia Bakery to get a taste!

21. Castellaro Lugasello

Last but not least of the best hidden gems in Italy is the loveliest village Castellaro Lugasello.

In the area of Lake Garda, this small, quiet hamlet is the essence of Italian romance. Why? Because the tiny town is perched on a literal heart-shaped lake!

This unique geographical feature has become the town’s motif, as you will find little wooden heart posts lining the streets of the old stone buildings. Not to mention there is a castle that runs through the town, with a magical gate entrance as you pass from one side of town to the other.

And I am not kidding when I say small and quiet. I visited on a beautiful summer Saturday and there were just a few locals walking around and cyclists coming through. If you seek off the beaten path, you’ve found it in Castellaro Lugasello.


The SGTD Take

These Italy hidden gems are perfect for first-time travelers who want to enrich their bucket list itinerary with some off the beaten path, local favorites or for those returning to Italy and wanting to get to know all the different sides to this country beyond the world-famous sites.

Most of these destinations are ideal half-day or day trips from the major cities, so you can easily integrate them into your travel plans.

If you have any questions about specific places, I would love to answer them in the comments!

Save this inspirational travel guide on Pinterest for later reference!

Do any of these hidden gems in Italy inspire you? Let me know in the comments!

Safe travels!

Michela

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