A recent conversation about travel with friends culminated in us all agreeing that the best places to visit are usually the ones that are harder to get to. Italy has so many places that are tucked away and hard to get to, and while they’re not always on the ‘top 10 trendiest places to visit’ list, they do provide authentic, down to earth experiences that help you feel you really are at the heart of Italy’s culture and local lifestyle. Here we share our top 8 secret post-tour Italian travel picks for 2020, whether it be for a day trip, an overnight stay or a few days.
Tucked away on the Mediterranean in southern Liguria’s Golf of Poets, almost on the border of Tuscany, is this tiny little fishing village. Think undiscovered Cinque Terre. While Tellaro is on the doorstep of the Cinque Terre, it couldn’t be any more different from the perspective of daily life and tourism. It is the perfect sleepy beach town hideaway if you want to live a quaint Italian life for a few days; swim in the crystal clear blue sea, enjoy some stunning hikes, prepare and eat meals with beautiful fresh produce (one of our fondest memories here was the sensational pesto made daily at the local deli), take an afternoon sleep and enjoy aperitivo as you watch local life unfold by the sea each evening.
Ever heard of Sassicaia? This most prestigious, and certainly most expensive, wine in Italy is from the Bolgheri area, 10km inland from the Etruscan coast in Tuscany. Well known in the world of wine and amongst Italians, yet still little known to international tourists, Bolgheri is a small hamlet that sits at the end of the famous Viale dei Cipressi, a 5km avenue lined with ancient and majestic cypresses. This typical Tuscan village is small in size but large in stature, and is definitely worth spending a day or night in; with its charming bars, restaurants and shops, it oozes style and atmosphere, particularly on a warm night at dusk, when the warm sun sets behind its spectacular 8th century castle, lighting it up as you sit back and sip your Super Tuscan.
Il Borgo del Balsamico, Emilia Romagna
A behind the scenes tour of the antica acetaia at Il Borgo del Balsamico, or balsamic vinegar ageing room, is definitely worth a visit as you’ll enjoy learning about, and of course tasting, the extensive range of balsamic vinegars produced by this long standing family producer. If you are planning a visit, make sure you stay the night as this family property, set in a beautiful 18th century villa located between Modena and Reggio Emilia, is a quiet, restful haven with beautiful rooms and breakfast served in a very unique setting, surrounded by rose gardens. Offering a range of traditional and modern balsamic vinegars, you won’t leave empty handed as sisters, Cristina and Silvia, make your tasting and buying experience a very personal one. We came away with every colour bottle on offer (colour = time of ageing) and it’s great having different balsamic vinegars available to use with different dishes.
Atrani is only a short 15 minute walk away from Amalfi, but a world away in terms of Amalfi Coast tourism and the locals’ way of life. A small fishing village, it is the idyllic spot for a day or a few days, if your idea of a short break is to swim in the crystal clear Tyrrhenian sea, laze on the beach that is sheltered by the cliffs behind it, hang out in Piazza Umberto with the locals, walk the 3km inland (and uphill!) trail through terraced vineyards and lemon tree groves to the magnificent town of Ravello, and enjoy all that the Amalfi Coast offers, without the hustle and bustle. A very memorable dinner for us was on the terrace at Eolo restaurant at sunset, taking in the magnificent views of the coastline, while enjoying the most amazing linguine. Atrani is simply beautiful.
Situated just south of Genoa and north of Portofino, this former fishing village is a great little spot for a couple of days and nights. Bustling with the energy of locals going about their daily life, the port boasts some great little bars and osterias, and marks the start of the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi, a 2km promenade that hugs the cliff with stunning views along the rocky and jagged coastline. You’ll notice magnificent old Genovese noble villas along the path and certainly feel the grandeur of times past. One of our favourite beach clubs is here, Bagni Medusa. We just love a good Italian beach club; hire a sun lounge, laze under an umbrella, dip in the magnificent blue Mediterranean sea and enjoy an exquisite lunch and/or aperitivo at the club’s restaurant, all with amazing views. What’s not to love?!
Varenna on Lake Como is possibly no secret, however in our view it is certainly one of the prettiest places to stay on the lake. A colourful harbour town, we found Varenna to be blissfully quiet, despite its location and proximity to the bustling Bellagio. We spent part of our honeymoon here some years ago and it was idyllic. With a beautiful waterfront promenade, stunning villas and gardens, and boutique hotels with incredible views over the lake and across to the mountains, this is quintessential Lake Como and the perfect base from which to visit the area for a few days. It’s also the place where Damian enjoyed his first Caffe Corretto after a long lunch by the lake, on a very cool Spring afternoon. Happy memories.
Des Martin, Piemonte
Totally away from it all in the Alps of Piemonte is Des Martin, an agriturismo and very boutique Castlemagno cheese producer. This is a fascinating story of a group of friends giving life back to an isolated village of abandoned homes in one of the most difficult places to reach in the Alps. After 10 years and an incredible amount of work, hats off to the team at Des Martin who have created an idyllic place to get away from it all in this mountain range bordering France. Incredible scenery, divine artisan cheeses, the passion of Elisa and her team, beautiful B&B rooms, and a terrace to enjoy lunch or time out with your book, post ride or hike, this is one special place. However, to get there is not for the feint hearted as you need to either drive up a tiny, cliff hanging road or walk 45mins uphill…the latter was certainly Nancy’s preferred choice.
Asolo is a walled medieval hilltop town outside of Venice that has attracted artists, poets and writers for centuries and to this day remains a creative, quiet haven. It can easily be just a day trip, however having stayed there a couple of times for a couple of nights each time, we love its slow, easy pace and soaking in its quiet streets and piazza’s, lined with stone houses and medieval architecture. It has some great restaurants with sensational Venetian cuisine and beautiful views, and its surrounding natural beauty makes for a great base from which to enjoy rides and walks.
While these are just a handful of our secret getaway picks for our guests post tour, there are many more places we can recommend. If you are joining us on one of our Italian cycling tours in 2020 and would like some further Italy travel tips, please reach out to us anytime.