Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

How to See Italy Without the Crowds

by Sara Tucker | May 11, 2018

Italy’s top tourist sites are famously overcrowded, so much so that they’ve sparked a national debate. One result: a five-year strategic plan by the Ministry of Culture to reduce the crush by promoting less-visited parts of the country. We asked Andrea Grisdale, who lives on Lake Como and is one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Italy, to name some of her favorite alternatives to jam-packed places like the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, and Tuscany.  Here are a few ideas for you.

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Assisi

Assisi, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

This peaceful Umbrian hilltop town, the birthplace of Saint Francis, is a great place to experience local life. The biggest event in Assisi is the Festa di Calendedimaggio, in early May, but the three-day festival is not well known even in Italy, and it attracts mostly locals and few tourists. It starts on the first Wednesday after May 1, but there are a lot of events in the week leading up to it as well. Assisi is especially beautiful in April and May, when the hills are bright with new leaves and spring blossoms.

What to see and do:

•Visit the Basilica of Saint Francis, its first stone laid by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, and marvel at the frescoes and sculptures by such luminaries as Cimabue and Giotto.

•Stroll the labyrinth of narrow streets and stonewalls, which were painstakingly restored after a 1997 earthquake.

•Sample delicious Umbrian cheeses and cold cuts, difficult to find elsewhere in Italy.

When to go:

In spring or fall the weather is beautiful, with blue skies and sunshine, and the views are superb without the summer fog.

Where to stay:

The Nun Relais & Spa Museum is a 13th-century convent transformed into an 18-room hotel with panoramic views. Room 18 is a two-floor apartment with a spacious living room, private access, and original frescoes; rooms 5 and 17 have views overlooking the city of Assisi and the Umbrian hills. The rooms are decorated in contemporary style with touches of stone, old brick, and wood.

Perugia

Perugia is Umbria’s regional capital and was once one of the twelve capitals of the Etruscans’ Dodecopolis League. Its ancient artifacts include fourth-century B.C. fortifications and well-preserved arches. The city is also awash in medieval and Renaissance treasures. Perugia is an excellent base for visits to Assisi, Bevagna, Montefalco, Spoleto, and other Umbrian towns.

What to see and do:

•Visit the 16th-century Rocca Paolina fortress, the 13th-century Palazzo dei Priori and the majestic Fontana Maggiore, built by father-and-son master sculptors Nicole and Giovanni Pisano.

•Hunt for truffles—great fun for families—or take a private chocolate-making lesson in the Perugina factory.

•Tour the factory of fashion designer Brunello Cuccinelli with a private guide.

When to go:

Spring or fall, but avoid the Eurochocolate festival, which takes place this year from October 19 to October 28. Another big event is the Umbria Jazz Festival (July 13–22).

Where to stay:

The elegant 19th-century Brufani Palace has a great location in the heart of Perugia. Rooms with beautiful views of the valley include 330, a third-floor Royal Suite with a spacious terrace and sun loungers, and 331, a Deluxe room (not all the Deluxe rooms have such a view).

Maratea

Maratea coastline village italy

Maratea, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/valtercirillo

The small town of Maratea in the Basilicata region has a beautiful coastline, great food, and lovely people. Less expensive and more authentic than the Amalfi Coast—and much less crowded even in summer—it appeals to sports lovers (hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing, diving), beachgoers, and families.

What to see and do:

•Wander around town on foot, exploring the little lanes and stairways that run up and down the hill and enjoying the slow pace of village life. (Beware: The town is built on a steep incline, and thus not a good destination for people with mobility issues.)

•Hire a boat and go on a sailing, diving, or fishing excursion. Take a picnic and snorkeling gear. Explore the area’s many coves and caves.

•Hike in the hills around Maratea.

•Rent a car and explore the settlements along the coast.

When to go:

The water is warm enough for swimming from May through October, but avoid August, when Italian families go on holiday. You might want to skip the last week in July, as well, when the Maratea International Film Festival takes place. Most hotels, restaurants, and shops are closed between November and May.

Where to stay:

Il Santavenere has 34 rooms split between two buildings, a private beach, and a beautiful spa. In the main building, room 25 is a wonderful suite with a private garden where you can also find an umbrella and two sunbeds, and room 123 has the best view of all the property. In the annex, room 200 is a Junior suite with a spacious terrace and a beautiful sea view.

Gargano

Vieste village of white buildings on a spit reaching into the ocean, Gargano National Park italy

Vieste, Gargano National Park, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/Jack78

Italians love Puglia as a vacation destination, and the rest of the world is following their lead, drawn by the region’s history, food, wine, beaches, natural attractions, and lively towns. In Gargano, a promontory surrounded on three sides by the Adriatic Sea and backed by the Tavoliere delle Puglie, you find inexpensive osterias and trattorias that offer great food, and the sea is amazing, with hundreds of sandy beaches. Italians call the Gargano Peninsula the “island of nature.”

What to see and do:

•Hike or bicycle through Gargano National Park, a natural paradise of forests, lagoons, a ragged coastline, sandy beaches, vast stretches of Mediterranean vegetation, and very pleasant mountain-bike paths.

•Rent a car and explore the coastal towns of Mattinata, Manfredonia, Vieste, Peschici, and Rodi Garganico, each with its own special appeal. Or drive inland to the towns of Carpino, Ischitella, Cagnano, Varano, San Marco in Lamis, Rignano, Garganico, and Sannicandro.

•Visit the Tremiti Islands, a marine reserve with crystal clear waters, great for diving.

When to go:

May, June, July, and September (avoid August, the busiest month of the year).

Where to stay:

Chiusa delle More is a fabulous 16th-century farmhouse surrounded by century-old olive groves in the heart of Gargano National Park, between the Umbra Forest and the sea. The 10-room hotel, excellently managed by owners Antonella and Francesco Martucci, has breath-taking views of the countryside and a great location just minutes from the town of Peschici and 500 meters from the sea and beaches. Rooms 5 and 6 are spacious, and each has a beautiful balcony overlooking the olive groves. Room 8 has a private Jacuzzi just outside the room.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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1 Comment

  1. Elma Malan

    We were 2 friends viviting Italy in May-June 2016. Stayed outside Maratea for a week. It was one of the best towns and beaches to visit.

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