A guide to some of Italy's beautiful hidden gems
By Nina Truong, Emory University.
When someone says "Italy", you immediately think of major cities like, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. However, Italy has a lot more than these four major cities. Each city in Italy has very distinct architecture and culture based on its location. Throughout history, Italy has had a socio-economic gap between the country's northern region and southern region. For this reason, it's difficult to say you have really seen Italy if you haven't explored both regions of the country and sometimes what you see in bigger cities might differ from smaller cities. For your next trip to Italy, consider visiting the following underrated cities to get a better feel of Italy!
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a small medieval city built in the hilly region of Umbria. Assisi is known as the birthplace of Italy's patron saint, St. Francis and for centuries, people have visited the city to see the Basilica of San Francesco, which is the burial site of St. Francis. Assisi is known for its medieval architecture, cobblestone streets and alleys, and piazzas with amazing views of the valleys and hills that surround the town. It's incredibly charming and quaint and makes a perfect Sunday trip from Rome when most stores are closed.
Lucca is another charming town, but unlike Assisi, it is known for its Renaissance-style architecture. Located in the Tuscan region of Italy, Lucca is easy to reach from Pisa and Florence. Lucca is particularly well known for its defensive city walls, which were designed by Leonardo da Vinci and remain standing today. These walls are fairly significant because they were never breached unlike most cities in Tuscany, including Florence. Today, you can walk or even ride a bicycle on top of the ancient city walls, which would give you a good idea of the layout of the city.
Located in northern Italy, this medieval city is home to Italy's second oldest university and can almost be compared to Oxford, England because it feels like a college town. Nevertheless, the city's medieval center, marketplaces, historical streets, and bridges make it very picturesque. Padua's famous attraction is the Scrovegni Chapel, which is home to the frescoes of Giotto. For art history buffs, this is the home of Giotto's legendary Last Judgment fresco.
If you decide to visit Venice, chances are you will have time to check out Burano, which is only a 40-45 minute ferry ride away. This picturesque island is known for its colorful houses and handmade lace products. Even though Burano is a very small island, it is a nice peaceful escape from the busier island of Venice.
Sunrise hike on one of Vulcano's volcanoes
This small volcanic island is located just north of Sicily. Most people don't think of visiting Vulcano, but it is known for its mud baths, dark volcanic beaches, and killer sunrises and sunsets. There is no sightseeing on this island, but if you enjoy hiking, Vulcano is a fantastic place to spend a day or two.
This amazingly haunting yet beautiful city has become a hidden gem for tourists. Located in southern Italy, Matera is famous for its historical center called the "Sassi" (Italian for stones), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's called Sassi because the homes and buildings in the canyon were dug into the limestone rocks and have been well preserved. The city looks like a nativity scene, which makes sense because several biblical period movies were filmed in Matera, such as The Passion of the Christ and The Nativity Story. If you decide to stay in Matera for a night, there are some hotels that have been dug into the rocks so you get to sleep in a fully furnished and air-conditioned room that is actually a cave dwelling!
If you're interested in visiting the Amalfi Coast, but haven't thought of staying in Sorrento, think again. The Amalfi Coast is absolutely amazing, but the towns are touristy, packed, and incredibly overpriced. Consider staying in Sorrento while you explore the coast. Sorrento is relatively popular among tourists, but it isn't as overpriced as some of the other towns on the coast. This is mainly due to its location because it is wedged between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, but you do get a Cliffside view of the sea. It really is a pleasant town and buying souvenirs here is also cheaper. Sorrento is famous for limoncello, which is a lemon liquor so expect to find a lot of lemon scented and flavored items.
For your next trip to Italy, consider visiting these underrated cities and maybe you will find a new favorite city!