Italy off the beaten track: 11 incredible unknown places you have to see
By Siel Garrone
Italy is a country well-known for its natural wonders, history, art and, of course, incredible cuisine; but this can be a problem when the classic attractions are so popular that the most famous places are often overrun with other tourists a photo opportunity might actually involve waiting in line for a very long time
Of course, there’s very good reason these tourist hotspots are so popular and they should all be visited at once in a lifetime, but there are literally hundreds of lesser-known sights scattered across Italy that are as beautiful, mysterious and steeped in history; besides, who doesn’t love the feeling discovering something new that you know most of the population have never seen before. To help your adventures into lesser-known Italy we decided to put together a list of places guaranteed to take your breath away while making you feel like an adventurer; perfect if you’re looking for new ideas for a trip to Italy with your friends, family, partner or even as a solo explorer.
We’ve included lakes, villages, private villas, secret gardens, fortresses, fabulous beaches and vistas, and in many cases even a nearby alternative: are you ready to stop following the masses and set out to new frontiers? Let’s leave the beaten path and go to unknown Italy.
Lake Resia: where time stands still
Given the abundance of bodies of water found across Italy, we would have been remiss in not including at least one lake on our list of recommended destinations. The beautiful Lake of Resia is located in one of the most beautiful and peaceful areas of Trentino-Alto Adige, an area situated in very Northern Italy bordering Switzerland and Austria famous for the incredible mountain peaks that rise above it. Lake Resia is an artificial mountain lake is characterised by the 16th-century, Romanesque belltower that emerges from the depths of the lake, the only visible reminder of the now submerged original village of Graun, relocated when the reservoir was built.
Here, especially in winter when the lake freezes over, and you can walk out to the bell tower, it feels like time is standing still, to have to be there to believe it.
Kayak Insider Tip: Take advantage of the refreshing yet boisterous breeze for some summer kitesurfing or winter snowkiting in this unique setting.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: stay at the Parkhotel Laurin from £84 per night. A top luxury hotel with an ‘excellent rating’ it’s within driving distance of Lake Resia while being located in beautiful Bolzano; truly the best of both worlds.
San Fruttuoso and the Christ of the Abyss
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Portofino before, the fishing village cum celebrity endorsed resort. But most visitors here, famous or not, don’t know that by hiking certain paths through the Monte di Portofino Regional Park (the Sentiero delle Batterie walkway is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the region of Liguria) you can reach an inmate and beautiful bay surrounded by lush Mediterranean vegetation, which is home to the Abbey of San Fruttuoso. Under the waters of this mystical place stands the Christ of the Abyss, an impressive statue erected underwater in memory of those who have dedicated their lives to the sea. Get ready to get wet as this icon can only be admired from beneath the water.
You can expect to the walk to take about 90 minutes over mountainous terrain, so if hiking these trails doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy you can also reach is San Fruttuoso by boat from several places along the coast. One such place is the town of Camogli and is worth the visit in its own right. This former fishing village has a magical atmosphere, and the food is exquisite. Depending on when (or if) you choose to make the trip out to San Fruttuoso, you can relax on the beach and then enjoy a lunch of local specialities along the promenade, or sip a cocktail by the sea in the evening.
KAYAK Insider Tip: Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the picturesque inn Il Pirata. Half museum, due to its past as a hideout for pirates, and half bar with barrels instead of tables and a selection of rums that rivals the smugglers of days past.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: stay at the’HotelLaCamogliesehas great reviews, is centrally located and offers great views.
Cingoli: the balcony of Marche
If it’s an incredible landscape and dramatic horizon that gets your heart racing, then Cingoli is the place for you. This beautiful village perched atop a hill in the province of Macerata is also known as the “Balcony of the Marche Region” and offers a superb panoramic view. Stroll through the old town towards the terrace situated on the ancient walls from which you can best enjoy the view landscape below, the Adriatic and Cornero mountain. The view is extra special at sunset when all the other towns are already in shadow, but Cingoli is still illuminated by the sun.
Kayak Insider Tip: As beautiful as the scenery is, what can one do to get the adrenaline flowing? Test your mettle by visiting the role climbing, tightrope walking, flying foxing adventure park of Cingoliavventura, just 15 minutes drive from the village.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: Spoil yourself at the La Quercia Country House B&B, this property features a spa and buffet breakfast plus amazing customer reviews. With prices starting from £36 a night it’s a steal.
Are you looking for the perfect hotel in the shopping, sightseeing or party district?Use KAYAK Heat Maps to search for what you want, and we’ll display all the hotels close by on a city map. Simply click on ‘Map View’ in the upper left corner on the hotel search page. Now just click which filter you are most interested in, like ‘Nightlife’, and the party zones and corresponding hotels are highlighted.
Il Giardino dei tarocchi: The major arcana
Everyone has heard of, if not visited Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona, but we guess that very few of you have heard of Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (The Tarot Garden), a sculpture garden near the small town of Capalbio in Tuscany that draws inspiration from the works of Gaudi. Adorned with beautiful carvings depicting the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot, the garden was born from the imagination of the artist Niki de Saint Phalle and was developed in collaboration with several major contemporary artists.
Explore the surreal setting of the garden where the works of humankind and nature meet, admire the great statues adorned with mirrors and ceramics and lose yourself in this kaleidoscope of colours that fill even the most cynical of hearts with childlike wonder.
Kayak Insider Tip: Before or after the visit to the garden, take the opportunity to relax on the magnificent coastline. It’s over 12 km long so finding a quiet spot won’t be hard.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: Stay at the Farmhouse Agriturismo Portico, this property has great reviews and prices starting from £82 per night. Facilities include a restaurant, parking and Wi-fi.
Civita di Bagnoregio: the dying city
Known as “The Dying City” because of the erosion that threatens its existence, this medieval village, only reachable by foot as it sits on top of a cliff in the province of Viterbo, is considered among the most beautiful in Italy. Once you reach the village, you can admire the picturesque architecture, walk the winding lanes, eat some incredible food in the local restaurants and then gasp audibly at the view out over the surrounding valleys.
If you are a fantasy fan, our advice is to visit during winter, the views of the village emerging from the low hanging cloud cover will definitely make your earth feel middle.
KAYAK Insider Tip: Only 30 minutes drive from Civita di Bagnoregio also cars, you’ll find the magnificent Lake Bolsena, the lake’s largest volcanic origin in Europe. Do not miss the opportunity to visit both places.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: With starting prices of £52, the Hotel Columbus is a 4-star hotel in the town of Bolsena, itself named after the incredible lake upon the shores of which the town is located. Just a short drive away from Bagnoregio, Bolsena’s medieval streets, castle and lakeshore settings are worth it alone.
Bomarzo: the Park of Monsters
Bomarzo Park is also known as the Sacred Wood due to the abundance of basalt carvings and statues of mythical beasts and monsters that adorn it. With works dating back to the sixteenth century, it lies within a 3-hectare forest and hosts building inspired by classical architecture but with a twist, such as the Leaning House, which distorts the rules of perspective and disorients visitors. If you want to spend a day in contact with nature while losing yourself in a fascinating maze of symbols ancient surprises, Bomarzo is a place pervaded by a fantastical atmosphere not to be missed.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: Treat yourself at the Starhotel Michelangelo, a 4-star hotel two blocks from Vatican City it offers location and luxury that’ll contrast nicely with your day in the park.
Italy is full of amazing, undiscovered spots but many of the most beautiful lesser-known places in the world are found right on our doorstep. Read our guide to the Unknown UK and plan your next trip at home
The garden of Ninfa: find the inspiration for your book
The Ninfa Garden is one of the finest private parks in Itay yet is unknown to even most Italians. Those who have visited here are quick to describe the gardens as a paradise on earth, especially during the spring bloom. It may come as no surprise that one group that has found inspiration for their works this natural oasis in the province of Latina are members of the literary world, such as Virginia Woolf and Truman Capote. This beautiful park is adorned with lush vegetation and includes the picturesque ruins of the now defunct medieval town of Ninfa.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your own novel or you just want to enjoy the stunning nature, thGardena garden is for you.
KAYAK Insider Tip: The park is only open to the public during certain times of the year, so be sure to check the dates in advance.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: stay at Serpa Hotel Anzio and take the chance of a morning dip in the sea before visiting the garden of Ninfa. The hotel has great reviews and prices start from £55 per night.
Rocca Calascio: a stunning medieval landscape
Within the Gran Sasso National Park, at an altitude of 1,460 meters, is Rocca Calascio, one of the highest Fortresses in the whole of Italy. The castle, perched on a mountain ridge, gives a 360° view over the valley of Tirino and the Navelli Uplands below. The view is simply breathtaking, and it’s no coincidence that parts of some fantastic films such as ‘Lady Hawke’ and ‘The Name Of The Rose’ choose to shoot here. The fortress, after being abandoned in the mid-twentieth century along with the ancient medieval village of Calascio below, was renovated in the 80s and can today be visited for free (plus they serve great ice cream and coffee in the village).
KAYAK Insider Tip: If you’re in the Abruzzo territory make sure to take an excursion to the alpine meadow of Campo Imperatore, also known as “Little Tibet”. It is an incredible sight any day of the year and located less than an hour’s drive from Rocca Calascio.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: The Maison Fleurie is born from a passion for architecture and design. This stylish hotel in Pescara is close to the sea, close to great food ad shopping and feels like a luxury but with prices starting from £36 it’s a steal.
Sant’Agata de ‘Goti: between history and mystery
In the commune of Benevento, there is a beautiful village that bears the nickname ‘The Pearl of Sannio’, which, thanks to its peculiar beauty, is often used as a movie set for Italian films. Take a dip into the past by visiting the perfectly preserved town and, after tasting the excellent wines of these areas such as Aglianico and Falanghina, take a walk over the Martorano Bridge. The amazing sunsets that enhance the colours of the overhanging houses built on the rocky ridge above are sure to clear your head.
KAYAK Insider Tip: If you are visiting the area and have an interest in history you’re going to be proper happy. Visit the Arch of Trajan and the 2nd century Roman Theatre for just a taste of what the region has to offer.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: Stay at the 4-star, stylish Attico Partenopeo B&B from £68 per night and be in the middle of the Napalese action
Sardinia is a destination that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Give yourself enough time to explore the length and breadth of the island as it offers incredible beaches; wide, clear waters and unforgettable views, as well as delicious gastronomic dishes. While the classic beach resorts are popular for a reason, step off the beaten track, visit Ogliastra and admire the view of the red porphyry rocks silhouetted against the blue sky and reflecting in the emerald sea. Located a short distance from the port of Arbatax, look out for them if you arrive by ferry. Guaranteed to make you fall for Sardinia instantly.
KAYAK Insider Tip: If you fancy a contrast to the red to Ogliastra for the annual Rocce Rosse Blues Festival that in its 25 years has featured artists like Bowie, Lou Reed and B.B. King.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: Stay at the Hotel Arabastar which has great reviews, a swimming pool, restaurant and poolside bar and prices starting from £44 per night.
La Scala dei Turchi: The pirate’s ladder
This place owes its name to having once been the landing place used by Turkish pirates, where they found shelter after their raids. The panorama that presents itself to those who visit is one of raw beauty. A wall of jagged limestone rock overlooks the sea, standing proudly behind two sandy beaches, sloping gently into the blue of the Mediterranean, creating incredible contrasts. Remember that the sun of Sicily is a strong one, avoid visiting in the middle of the day to enjoy a spectacular sunset over La Scala dei Turchi.
KAYAK Insider Tip: Less than 20 minutes drive from the ladder, you’ll find the incredible UNESCO World Heritage of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. An archaeological site showcasing one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture.
KAYAK Accommodation Tip: Stay at the upscale Hotel Kore, a 4-star hotel has great reviews and prices starting from £44 per night.
Note: These rates are based on search queries made on KAYAK.co.uk on July 1st, 2017. The prices are quoted in GBP. Flight prices are based on results for a return economy flight search. Hotel prices are for double occupancy and include taxes and fees. Prices are subject to change, may vary, or no longer be available.