It’s not surprising. With some of the world’s most remarkable architecture, art, food, history, coastline and mountains squeezed into that skinny boot, Italy’s charms are irresistible.
The only thing not to love at times are…the crowds. Should you be traveling to Italy during high season (May – July, September), we’ve got a few alternatives to the most popular Italian highlights. Nothing can replace Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, or the Vatican in Rome, so we’re not suggesting you skip those places. But when you need some breathing room, consider weaving in these little gems along the way.
If you love Roman ruins, Shakespeare and Renaissance art and culture, try Verona:
Verona claims to have more Roman ruins than any other Italian city outside of Rome. While its well-preserved Roman Arena isn’t as iconic as the Coliseum, if you time it right, you can do something entirely unique here: sit under the stars and be dazzled by a world-class opera performance. The city, cosying up to the banks of the Adige River, has a charmingly walkable medieval centre – and reportedly some of the best ice cream in Italy. Eat it while gazing up at Juliet's balcony (we'll let you decide whether a real Juliet ever stood there!)
If you seek a quieter version of the Cinque Terre, check out Portovenerre:
Much has been published about the beauty of the Cinque Terre villages in Liguria. Unfortunately, a quick google search will also tell you that while the colourful houses continue to tumble evocatively down the hillsides to the sea, so do thousands of visitors. And soon you may have to seek alternatives. In early 2016, the president of Cinque Terre National Park announced the towns would be placing a cap on the number of visitors to the region. This announcement has yet to lead to any actual restrictions, but it is likely coming.
So where to go? We suggest asking your guide to take you to the nearby town of Portovenere, then for a hike in the regional park on Palmaria Island. Once a favourite haunt of the poet Byron, Portovenere looks, for all intents and purposes, like a sixth Cinque Terre village. The crucial distinction? No railway access, making it far quieter than its neighbours just to the north.
Too many bus tours visiting the Tuscan villages? Try Umbria:
…and while you’re there, think about going truffle hunting! Umbria is one of Italy’s most important truffle producers, and you can get in on the action by hunting for truffles (and later, preparing and eating them!) with a local farmer. From Assisi to Orvieto, Montefalco to Gubbio and Spoleto, Umbria will deliver the rolling hills and vineyards, medieval hill-towns and fantastic food that you’re looking for in your Italian vacation, with fewer crowds.
By making your trip a mix of Italy’s most beloved cities, and quieter, but no less special places, you’ll create an Italian adventure for the ages. Saluti!