Italy may be one of the best-known and most visited countries in Europe. Even if people have never been they tend to know a lot of its clichés; they’ve seen photographs of the Colosseum in Rome, they know about Venice and its sinking buildings and how there’s this thing called Lake Como which George Clooney almost singlehandedly made famous. However, in my travels through Italy I’ve discovered a few regions and towns that I think are still flying under the proverbial radar of travel tips.
1) Umbria: So many tourists visiting Italy, head straight to Tuscany. Its neighboring region, Umbria, can be enjoyed devoid of the crowds one finds elsewhere without sacrificing any of the things that make the country so wonderful. The warmth of the people, their stories, the incredible hill towns and wineries; as well as the pasta combined with fresh ingredients just out of the garden and a rolling landscape that definitely rivals the more well known neighbors, all of these things combine to make Umbria well deserving of its nickname as, “The Green Heart of Italy.” Don’t skip the towns of Assisi, Narni and Montefalco. Also seek out a meal and wine tasting at Terre Margaritelli, where the husband and wife team have a sweet love story you’ll enjoy hearing about over your bowl of nettle pesto.
2) Emilia Romagna: 2012 was the year that the Blogville campaign put Emilia Romagna on the map. It was also the year I first heard of Rimini and Bologna, and I wasn’t the only one. Yet this is the region of Italy that is home to something most people DO know about: Lamborghini, and fans of the color pink will love that Rimini has a Pink Night every summer, while those who adore Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano will probably want to go worship at their altars in the town of Parma…pronto!
3) Fiumicino: It’s not just the name of an airport, it’s also a small town on the coast of Italy directly west and slightly south of Rome. Because it’s a fishing port and resort town that’s mostly frequented by Italians only, it’s a great place to go for two things. The first is the ability to practice your Italian with people who truly speak little to no English and the second is warm ocean breezes without the crowds that are so annoying in other beach towns. Grab a cannoli, they do them well here, and walk along the water on the concrete promenade while the sun is setting. Bonus points for capturing a plane during takeoff in your photograph of the sunset!
4) Liguria: From the Italian Riviera towns on the Mediterranean like Sanremo to UNESCO-protected forests high up in the mountains, Liguria is a portion of Northwest Italy that offers a range of activities for all kinds of visitors. You can hunt for truffles, photograph small stone towns that pre-date the Romans and soak in thermal pools. There are castles and valleys, places to camp and even 5-star resorts. Make sure to eat a meal in the Ristorante Oliocolto Taggia [L'Olio Colto] in the village of Taggia.
5) Genoa: Can it still be said to fly under the radar if the New York Times did their “36 Hours In…” Genoa back in 2010? Possibly. On first sighting, the air is that of a modern, industrial hub with little that impresses in the way of beauty. Yet it is a city that has to be unwrapped, given time to seduce. Along its narrower alleys and in the most historic part of town you can find ornate villas that drip with pure gold details, the [supposed] oldest bank in the world and even design shops with merchandise that rival the best finds in Milan. Give it more than a few days and Genoa just might find a spot in your heart amongst the best cities in Italy. Consider staying close to the train station at the Grand Hotel Savoia and don’t miss shopping at Via Garibaldi 12.