Rome is the third-most-popular destination for European travel. Venice sees approximately 30 million tourists each year. Italy is known for its food, culture and heritage which draws visitors from around the world. If you’ve got your heart set on one of the larger, more visited tourist destinations, find a less crowded time to visit, like later in the fall. Alternately, try one of these hidden gems where you’ll experience Italy without the crowds.
Friuli Venezia Giulia
Proud Italian-American Michael Canzian sings the praises of the northeastern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, citing its natural beauty and unique cuisine. If you think of Italian food and think only of pizza or pasta with red sauce, you’re missing out on more northern dishes that are based on its rich agricultural heritage, featuring cream sauces and beef. This region is even more differentiated by its location. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now bordering Austria and Slovenia, Michael Canzian especially recommends the Brovada e Muset, a broiled sausage dish.
From the northeast, travel all the way to the southernmost toe of Italy’s boot and you’ll find yourself in the charming region of Calabria. Calabria is the least visited of Italy’s regions. If you’re looking for a beach holiday, Calabria should be your first choice. With hundreds of miles of beaches on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, you’ll be enchanted with the crystal aqua waters.
Like Friuli, Calabria was heavily influenced by outside forces. Once a colony of Greece, the region has also felt the influence of the Middle East and Spain. Look for Byzantine manuscripts or sunbath below an ancient Benedictine monastery. See a preserved Medieval village or try the local specialty, a spreadable sausage called ’nduja.
Next, if you want to see the lovely Tuscan region but want to avoid Florence and Pisa try the town of Lucca. A walled city, many of the traditional cobblestone streets are closed to motor vehicle traffic. The walls, designed by Da Vinci, are wide enough at the top for bikers and runners to take an elevated loop of the town. Visit Torre Guinigi, a medieval tower with a rooftop that garden with magnificent trees reaching the skyline. Best, if you have your heart set on its more famous neighbors it’s easy to catch a train for a day trip.
Remember that all of the Mediterranean is warm in midsummer and older buildings may not have air conditioning. With that caveat, any of these three destinations will create the perfect vacation, nearly any time you choose to visit.