I totally get it. You’ve dreamt of going to Rome for years. You fantasize about standing in the Colosseum, tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and climbing to the top of St. Peter’s. Without a doubt, Rome is one of the most iconic cities in the world!
But what if I told you that down another road, lies a very different but even more meaningful and exciting opportunity..
A trip where you can meet the local baker by chance in a bar and be invited back the next morning to help him prepare the day’s pastries and pizza.
A trip where you can encounter the guy whose great grandfather built that beautiful church that made your jaw drop.
A trip where you just happen upon the most beautiful, real-life secret garden…and the owner catches you peeking and invites you inside to see her own personal museum of Etruscan artifacts before inviting you to stay for dinner.
These too-good-to-be-true movie moments I’m describing are things that have actually happened to me or someone I know, and if you’ll listen, I’ll tell you the secret!
…All you have to do is NOT go to Venice. Do NOT go to Florence. And by all means, do NOT go to Rome!
Are you baffled? Appalled? ..Flabbergasted?! I know, I know.. stay with me here.
While Rome and other tourist destinations are famous for good reason, they’ve also been developed FOR tourists. You can’t expect to find the Italian experience, you can expect the tourist experience.
Small towns off the beaten path in Italy retain their original, authentic character and hold hidden gems that you or your friends have never even heard of.
Sure, seeing the Colosseum is a special moment (shared with thousands of others). But imagine stumbling upon ruins of an abandoned abbey in the forest that you didn’t expect. No other tourists around, just you and the sacred energy of this majestic place as you wander the grounds discovering mysterious symbols, beautiful corners, and a stray cow or two taking a nap.
The challenge is that these hidden gems can be more complicated to get to. Trust me, sometimes it’s a plane + taxi + train + bus + shuttle to get there. But the way I look at it, the further I go off the beaten path in Italy, the more meaningful and memorable the experience is going to be!
If you’re still not convinced that you should ditch Rome and travel off the beaten path on your next trip to Italy, take a look at my top 6 favorite perks of choosing a lesser-known destination over the world-famous:
My Top 6 Reasons to Travel Off the Beaten Path in Italy
1. You’ll experience a deeper sense of adventure.
If you go to one of Italy’s famous cities, you already know the sights you’re going to see and the things you’ll do because anyone who’s ever been there has done the exact same thing.
On the other hand, if you travel Italy off the beaten path, the entire trip will be a beautiful process of discovery. You’ll stumble upon things you didn’t expect, taste things you’ve never heard of, and awake each morning with excitement for what new things the day has in store!
2. You’ll have more meaningful exchanges with locals.
Even if you’re just stopping by, you’re much more likely to make friends with locals in a quaint village than in a big city. Time moves more slowly, so people are accustomed to stopping for a chat. In my experience, a chat in a big city is just that and nothing more. But a chat in one of Italy’s off the beaten path villages can lead to insider tips on the wineries you can’t miss, introductions to the town’s most interesting folks, or invitations to a home cooked meal!
If you stay longer, you can get to know your vegetable man, you can become friends with the bartender, or (my favorite) you can buddy up with the local gelato maker! Aside from the obvious perks of being friends with the gelato guy (or gal), you can hang out with these people outside of work and see how they really live, where they really hang out and what they really cook. An inside scoop on the local culture is priceless!
3. You’ll connect with the landscape.
You can’t truly know a place until you’ve experienced the nature that it came from. The natural landscape was there even before the ancient ruins that you find so impressive. In fact, those ancient cultures and everything they built was informed by the nature they were surrounded by. It only makes sense that even today, the culture you experience is tied to the land.
Spending time in Italy’s countryside can lead you to more deeply understand and appreciate the ingredients you find in local dishes, the materials of the local architecture, the characteristics of the local people, and so much more!
4. The locals will be more curious and open to you.
In the big city, you’re just one of a billion tourists. But when you really get off the beaten path in Italy, your visit could be the talk of the town! Small towns are just friendlier, they’re excited to see a foreigner taking interest in their little town and proud to show you what makes it so special. If you’re lucky, a friendly local will take you under their wing and share his or her stories of growing up there!
*Note: In some regions, people in smaller towns can sometimes have a guard up at first and seem a bit suspicious of you. In my experience, once I’ve broken the ice by giving them a compliment, asking them a question, or sparking a conversation, they quickly warm up to me!
5. The food is always authentic.
Italy’s cities are infested with restaurants catering to tourists. If you’re traveling off the beaten path, you don’t have to wonder if you’re eating in a tourist trap or the real thing. In a smaller locale, you’re more likely to discover a local type of pasta you’ve never heard of or a certain culinary tradition you didn’t know about. The food is always an authentic experience when you get off the beaten path in Italy!
6. You’ll have more meaningful and longer-lasting memories.
When you choose a big city as your destination, you’ll likely have an endless list of things to see and do in a short amount of time. While each thing you do might be amazing, the “busy”ness of running around one or multiple cities is sure to wear you out. You’ll end your days exhausted and return from your trip with your brain still trying to catch up.
Traveling off the beaten path allows you to slow down, be more present, notice the details, and truly soak in the moment. As a result, travelers return home having had more meaningful experiences, made more meaningful connections, and are much more likely to actually remember the things they saw and did.
I could say more about the benefits of getting off the beaten path in beautiful Italy. To me, it’s an endless list—it just doesn’t compare to a whirlwind tour of 5 different major European cities where you’re so exhausted that you barely remember what you’ve seen or done. The difference is black and white.
And ok, ok..you SHOULD see Rome–go to the Pantheon, go to the Colosseum, go to all the museums. Rome and other famous places are wonderful in their own way, but be aware that they are highly affected by globalization, so you’re not getting the Italian experience. For that, you’ll have to look beyond what you’ve heard of or seen in guidebooks. (And I’m here to help!)
Never stop exploring past what you already know. Don’t limit yourself to a surface scratch of a culture—get off the beaten path in Italy and go beyond traditional stereotypes to keep searching for what the country is really about. Each region, each province, and each town will have a different answer.
Check out my other blog posts to discover some of my favorite hidden areas of Italy!
Not sure how to navigate a trip to Italy’s lesser-known areas? Click here to check out our upcoming small group trips!