9 small charming towns - Taormina with Etna in the background Image by John Menard via Flickr.com under creative commons license

Nine charming small towns to visit in Italy

Travel in Italy

With so much to see and do in the Italian cities, the smaller towns and villages often get overlooked. But with fewer visitors, they offer Italian charm on a smaller, and quieter, scale. From Sicily to Piedmont, we’ve shortlisted nine charming small towns in Italy you should try and visit.

The bonus with our selection is they are all a day-trip away from major cities, so you can still get your fill of city-life. But, if you’re a fan of Slow Travel, then these will fit the bill perfectly.

Orta San Giulio, Piedmont

Jutting into Lake Orta, close to Isola San Giulio, Orta San Giulio is a pretty town around 100km northeast of Turin. It is well-known for nearby Sacro Monte, a site of pilgrimage and worship dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. In 2003, the Sacro Monte of Orta became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Brisighella, Ravenna

Located between Ravenna and Florence, Brisighella is a stop on the Dante train. Known as the village on three hills, each boasts a site of interest: a 14th century castle, an 18th century church sanctuary, and a 19th century clock tower. Local specialties include Sangiovese wines and Conciato cheese.

Cefalú, Sicily

Cefalú has movie star looks, which is why it’s been the set for many films including Cinema Paradiso. An hour’s drive from Palermo, it has churches and cathedrals adorned with mosaics. An evening stroll along the promenade (lungomare) is a perfect way to end idyllic days here.

Portovenere, Liguria

The picturesque village gives you everything a Cinque Terre village does, but without the tourist fuss. It escaped that burden due to the lack of a railway station. Access to the village is by boat or drive from La Spezia. It has history without being suffocated by it, and come evening a tranquil veil settles on it.

Sperlonga, Lazio

Sperlonga was popular many Roman emperors, and the ancient ruins of Emperor Tiberius’s villa are home to the excellent Museo Archeologico di Sperlonga. The town’s beautiful beaches are an hour by train from Rome. The Torre Truglia has the best views in town.

Alberobello, Puglia

You may have seen the characteristic cone-shaped houses that made this town a UNESCO World Heritage Site in magazines. Called trulli, they are very distinctive and the result of a 15th century edict that said residents could only build houses without mortar. Having only stones, the peasants found in the round form with self-supporting domed roof the simplest configuration. The roofs have decorative pinnacles representing the signature of the architect.

Portofino, Liguria

A fishing village known for its picturesque harbour and historical association with celebrity and artistic visitors, this village is just an hour from the city of Genoa. Sailing into this harbour is breathtaking as the colourfully painted buildings line the shore.

Taormina, Sicily

Bella, bella is how we describe this wonderful town on Sicily. The backdrop of Mount Etna, Ionian Sea, ancient ruins and café-lined streets make it picture-perfect. There are sandy coves and a narrow stretch of sand connects to Isola Bella, a tiny nature reserve. Everything about Taormina says visit here.

San Gimignano, Siena

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to the historic centre with wonderful examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The Duomo di San Gimignano is a 12th-century church with frescoes by Ghirlandaio in its Santa Fina Chapel. Thirteen medieval tower houses rise into the sky, while the surrounding countryside is gentle hillsides covered in groves of olive trees. It’s only an hour to Florence and the city’s treasures.

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