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Top Places to Avoid in Italy in 2021–and Where to Go Instead

Why 2021 is the year for off the beaten path travel in Italy and how sustainable travel will rise to the surface. If where to go in Italy in 2021 is your question, keep reading.

panoramic view of an Italian village at sunset with mountains in the distance
Barga, in Tuscany, is a great little hidden gem to visit in Italy with very few tourists.

It’s not news that 2020 was a train wreck for travel. As the founder of Creative Edge Travel, offering small group and custom tours in Italy, I’m as eager as anyone to get back to international adventures. I clearly hear hazelnut gelato calling my name, maybe even doused in rich espresso for a steamy affogato. *Yum!*

But even after the masks come off and people once again get jetset, there’s another problem standing in the way of those who will be heading to Italy.

Do you remember what it felt like the last time you were surrounded by tourists, impatiently standing in line, following umbrellas, and fighting for a glance of your favorite painting through a sea of selfie sticks? Well, when you picture your long-awaited visit to Italy’s iconic sights in 2021 or even 2022, imagine that experience–but twice as bad, or worse.

Italian flag hanging from an Italian window during the COVID-19 lockdown

During the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Italy was the first European country to go into lockdown and give us a preview of what would be coming in our own countries. The world watched as they inspired us with their songs and applause from their windows. Suddenly everyone who had ever dreamt of traveling to Italy resolved to finally make that trip happen as soon as it’s safe to do so. No more waiting until the time is right.

Then something else happened. In November, Travel + Leisure announced their 2021 Destination of the Year: Italy.

“When we can travel again, Italy will need us,” writes Maria Shollenbarger in Travel + Leisure. “...The artisanal businesses that form the backbone of thoughtful travel experiences — boutique winemakers, olive farmers, innkeepers, craftspeople, boat captains, drivers, and, of course, guides — suffered profoundly this year. [...] The next year may well see them all flourish again,” Shollenbarger continues, “We can ensure this by being part of that renaissance.”

There are no complaints from my end about this effort to pick Italy back up and put its wonderful people back on their feet.

What a relief that Italy can [almost*] count on that double influx of tourism next year (*post-Corona we all carry a fresh understanding that nothing is quite guaranteed). But this enormous billboard for Italy does have specific repercussions for visitors.

young man looking at Italian buildings

With a wave of people newly dedicated to living out their Italian dreams, and with one of the most prominent travel magazines calling for travelers to make a pilgrimage to Italy to be part of its new renaissance, there’s one thing you can absolutely count on.

2021 will be the most crowded year Italy has ever seen.

Destinations that are already annually clobbered by tourists will be entirely overrun. I’m not saying cancel your trip, I’m saying you need to carefully choose where to go in Italy next year–or you’ll be sorry.

Italian street in Florence crowded with tourists

When choosing where to go in Italy in the past, maybe you’ve been too enticed by your bucket list destinations to take the plunge into sustainable, off the beaten path travel. Maybe it “sounds nice” but you’re clueless as to what “sustainable travel” actually means. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by how to plan a trip off the beaten path in Italy when you don’t speak Italian.

But in 2021, if you want to visit Italy and be part of its recovery, sustainable and off the beaten path travel are going to be your safest bet for a positive experience. It’s time to take the plunge, my friend! And I can help you navigate the unknowns.

So, what are the top places to avoid in Italy in 2021? Rome, Venice, Naples, Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Lake Como, Milan, Cinque Terre, and any place you’ve actually heard of before. (Trust me!)

Where to go in Italy instead? With more people than EVER wanting to travel to Italy at the same time, 2021 is the year to try slow, off the beaten path travel in an amazing hidden area–and there are many!

Italian village surrounded by green mountains

5 Off the Beaten Path Places to Go in Italy to Engage in Sustainable Travel

An ancient clocktower in an Italian village

1. Mugello in the northern part of Tuscany, far from the Chianti wine fanatics but close to artisan knife-makers, quaint villages, and yes, its own undiscovered winemakers who still find Roman coins when planting new vines.

2. Campania or Calabria, away from the Instagram-inspired Amalfi Coasters but towards an unspoilt coastline, towns topped by castles, the spice of n’duja sausage, and olive oil that made it to the 2020 list of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

3. The Aeolian Islands (Sicily), where life slows down enough to fully taste its sweetness, contrasted by savory local capers.

4. Gargano (Puglia), where you can hike to an abandoned abbey in the morning and have a picnic in a cave looking out onto the beach and clear waters in the afternoon.

5. The Aosta Valley in the very northwest corner of Italy where scenic villages are surrounded by the towering Alps and the culture blends with France and Switzerland across the border to create something entirely unique. Don’t miss the coffee culture here either–the local specialty is espresso, sugar, grappa, juniper liqueur, cognac, orange peel, cinnamon, and cloves blended together then flambeed and served in a “friendship cup”, a wooden vessel with a lid and different spouts to drink from. Tradition says that it has to be passed directly from hand to hand without ever being set down on the table. (Although Covid may halt this tradition for the time being…)

woman smiling while hiking a steep rocky path in the Dolomite Mountains in italy

I could go on, should I? Subscribe and stay tuned for more posts on Italy’s far-flung destinations, but today, I want to drive home the point that you should be planning slow, sustainable, off the beaten path adventures in Italy for 2021, and I want to help you do that.

Off the beaten path travel looks like some of the options above, and they are endless. Reaching these hidden destinations means renting a car or carefully choosing a location reachable by train where you’ll be staying at a family-run B&B in a small village or at an agriturismo (farm-stay) in the countryside. But where does one start with sustainable travel?

My article on 10 Tips to Make Sustainable Travel Easier Than You Thought lays out the easiest ways to make your travels more sustainable. Don't forget to check out these 8 benefits to sustainable and off the beaten path travel that both you, the locals, and the environment will experience as a result.

If you need help planning your off the beaten path trip to Italy, book a free 30-minute Exploration Call with me here. I can help you choose a destination, get your itinerary laid out, and answer your questions!


the ultimate guide for the solo woman in Italy e-book mockup

Get The ULTIMATE Guide for the Solo Woman in Italy here!


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