As the return to travel takes off, Italy is the number one destination for many Australians heading back to Europe – with 52% of those ready to travel planning a visit soon[i] – but there is a change in the air. Repeat visitors, and those who prefer the pioneering to the popular, are swapping established tourist hotspots for alternative and underrated gems full of charm, character and colour.
By embracing this ‘secondary travel destination’ trend, visitors can visit a much-loved destination and extend their stay for a more immersive Italian experience from the top of the boot to the tip. So go beyond Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, and the Amalfi Coast on your next Italian adventure with these destination swaps to get you started…
Loved Venice? Then visit Chioggia
Just a hop, skip and jump from the hustle and bustle of Venice, Chioggia is a quieter town with the same vibe you know and love. Situated on the southern side of the Venetian lagoon on the Adriatic Coast, Chioggia is home to charming canals, colourful historic buildings, and boats and bridges galore best explored on foot.
While you won’t find any serenading gondoliers or back-to-back souvenir shops in Chioggia, you will find plenty of authentic canal-side bars to enjoy a leisurely Aperol Spritz or chat with old-school fruit and veggie vendors along Canal Vena, Chioggia’s answer to Venice’s Grand Canal, which is just as captivating, but operates at a more laidback pace.
Get up early to hit up the local fish markets – the Mercato Ittico al Minuto for everyday shoppers, or the Mercato Ittico All’ingrosso to watch some lively wholesale haggling – which are among the largest in the region, then sample some of the town’s specialties such as anchovies, cuttlefish, and eel for a traditional local lunch or spend an afternoon strolling along Corso del Popolo and Corso Garibaldi, the streets at the heart of the town’s vibrant social life.
Loved Capri? Then visit Procida
If you’ve been captivated by the colour, cuisine and photogenic beauty of Capri, then you’re bound to fall in love with Procida, a tiny island nestled between Ischia and Naples which made an international name for itself as the filming location for The Talented Mr Ripley and is Italy’s reigning Capital of Culture.
Combining coastal walking trails, mouth-watering Napoli pizza, historic buildings such as the Abbazia San Michele Arcangelo, fishing villages, and more than its fair share of traditional bakeries, Procida is gorgeous rather than glamorous and much less chaotic than Capri in peak season – although it does get crowded with Italian holiday makers during August.
Don’t forget to snag a spot on one of the sunbeds at Spiaggia della Chiaiolella to enjoy a local aperitif and watch the sunset.
Loved Rome? Then visit Ostia Antica, Matera, Bologna, or Verona
If you’re enchanted by the rich history and ancient architecture of Rome, you’ll be fascinated by Ostia Antica, where the ancient ruins are said to be better preserved than Pompeii.
In southern Italy, Matera in Basilicata is utterly unique and a bucket-list destination for those fascinated by history. Home to the world-heritage-listed ‘Sassi di Matera’, a series of intriguing cave dwellings cut from rock dating back 30,000 years, the city’s narrow alleys are best explored on foot. Whilst in Basilicata, Castelmezzano is a beautiful medieval village perfect for a lazy local lunch.
Bologna in Emilia-Romagna is known as Italy’s food capital, with a café and restaurant scene rivalling Rome, as well as its fair share of historic icons, including Europe’s oldest university and countless buildings boasting porticos. This is the spot to taste handmade tortellini and tagliatelle al ragu, or to take a tasting tour of the Quadrilatero market district, collecting cheese and cured meats along the way.
For an amphitheatre to rival Rome’s Colosseum – and a romantic opera performance to elevate the experience – visit Verona in Veneto during the summer season.
Loved Lake Como? Then visit Lake Braies or Lake Orta
Ask anyone about Italy’s most famous lakes and they’re likely to mention the villa-lined playground of the rich and famous, Lake Como or Lake Garda, yet some of the country’s other lake and alpine districts are often overlooked…but shouldn’t be.
Lago di Braies, or Lake Braies, is a breathtaking lake with UNESCO World Heritage Site billing in the heart of the Dolomites in South Tyrol. Known for its crystal-clear water and dramatic mountain backdrop, it’s best explored by hiking the perimeter trail or renting a boat for a picturesque paddle with a picnic.
Humbler than its larger lake counterparts and popular with writers from Lord Byron to Robert Browning, Piedmont’s Lake Orta lies in the foothills near the Swiss border and is a charming choice for those looking to experience the lakes like a local.
The main town of Orta San Giulio offers churches, markets and even a Michelin-starred restaurant, while those willing to visit in requisite silence can take a ferry to the island in the lake, where the resident nuns of the abbey enjoy unrivalled views.
Loved Tuscany? Then visit The Collio, Orvieto, Le Marche or Langhe
If rolling hills, pretty hilltop villages, fields of flowers, gourmet adventures or zipping between wineries on a vespa are still high on your holiday wish list, there are several Italian regions which give Tuscany a run for its money.
Choose The Collio wine region in Friuili-Venezia Giulia for blooming sunflowers, family-run vineyards and spectacular valleys along the Slovenian border. Over in Umbria, atmospheric Orvieto is home to a magnificent gothic Duomo, artisan boutiques peddling hand-painted ceramics and an incredible underground city, while Castelluccio boasts glorious views over the Apennine Mountains and fields of violets and poppies during spring.
Sitting pretty alongside Umbria is Le Marche, a lesser-known region which deserves to be discovered. Combining turquoise waters along the Adriatic Coast, rural landscapes waiting to be painted, scenic Monti Sibillini National Park which is beloved by hikers, and historic walled villages where visitors can take a step back in time to experience authentic local Italian life.
In Piedmont, Langhe boasts Tuscan-style rolling landscapes covered in vineyards with petite villages clustered on hilltops – with the added bonus of views across to the snow-topped Alps. Piedmont’s gourmet capital Alba is a must for any foodie’s itinerary, thanks to its elegant pasticcerie and providores specialising in white truffles and local wine.
Loved the Amalfi Coast & Italian Riviera? Then visit Tropea, Ostuni, Sestri Levante or San Fruttuoso
If clifftop buildings, sandy beaches and clear blue waters normally lure you to the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre, try the impossibly beautiful Tropea at the tip of Italy’s toe in Calabria instead. Known as the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Tropea was lauded as Italy’s Most Beautiful Village in 2021.
Visit to stroll its pedestrian-only cobblestone streets adorned with hanging bunches of red onions. Climb the 300 steps for panoramic views from the top of the 6th century monastery, Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola, or seek out Cannone beach to enjoy a bigger patch of sand all to yourself.
For a completely different ambience, Instagram favourite Ostuni in Puglia exudes Greek vibes with its whitewashed architecture, hilltop location, winding streets, and Adriatic Sea views.
Sestri Levante in Liguria is a dreamy alternative to popular Positano with its colourful houses, delightful boats, beaches, and lively evening street life, while the quirky hilltop village of Seborga above Rada di Poggio – which is seeking sovereignty to become its own micronation like Monaco (only a much more down-to-earth version) – is a heavenly hamlet known for its olive farming, elected ‘royalty’ and views.
Hidden between Portofino and Camogli, San Fruttuoso can only be reached via a panoramic hiking trail, or by sea, but this tiny piece of paradise is reward in itself for making the effort to get there. With its pebbled beach directly in front of an ancient monastery, it’s an escapist’s delight inviting visitors to slow down, savour fresh local seafood and revel in the gorgeous Golfo Paradiso views.
Loved Florence? Then visit Lecce, Pienza, Urbino
The unofficial ‘Florence of the South’, Lecce in Apulia is the obvious choice for those looking for cities renowned for Renaissance arts and architecture. With its central Duomo, Sant’Oronzo square, Baroque buildings, historic amphitheatre and churches with golden facades, Lecce is vibrant university town worthy of inclusion on any Puglian itinerary.
For a compact city with a Renaissance flavour, Pienza in Tuscany is a charmed choice. Enjoying a classic hilltop location, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city enjoys 360-degree valley views and remarkable Renaissance masterpieces in its papal Palace Piccolomini and Diocesan museum. Visitors keen to work off the local olive oil and pecorino cheese will be spoilt for choice with cycling routes around the region’s olive tree groves and vineyards.
Back in the 15th century, Urbino in Le Marche was a Renaissance power player, and the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche inside its historic Palazzo Ducale is full of Renaissance treasures. The town itself remains relatively untouched with its steep streets, cosy standing-room-only bars and perfectly preserved historic centre, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.