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Skip The Lines For Cinque Terre And Visit These Rustic Italian Villages Instead


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We’re officially in the age of “overtourism.” A perfect storm of decades of open borders, social media influence, the middle-class explosion in Asia and the former Soviet reaches of Europe, budget travel, and a culture firmly planted in #FOMO have opened the world to everyone. There are plenty of positives here — strife-ridden communities are gaining access to cash thanks to those tourist dollars or rubles or yuan. There are negatives too — islands, iconic beaches, deserts, and mountains have been overwhelmed by the Instagram-crowd and some cities are nearing their breaking point.

Italy is a prime example of how overtourism can overwhelm a local population and kill the magic of a place. The country’s famed Cinque Terre — a stretch of cliffs with motley villas clinging to the rocks over azure seas — has been so overwhelmed by tourists that they’ve implemented a ticketing system complete with turnstiles to slow down the deluge of people.

Yet, the numbers are still climbing. The allure of Italy is just too powerful to deny. In fact, over 50 million people will flood into the country this year, basically doubling the local population. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to go to the spot that everyone else is going to when you travel. Really. You don’t. The best part of travel is discovery, not repetition, and Italy is a diverse place.

With all of that in mind, we thought we’d offer you a list of great Italian villages that aren’t protected by turnstiles due to overtourism. These are the places that are just as strikingly beautiful as Cinque Terre, just as accessible, and far less trodden. Granted, some of these places will have abundant amounts of tourists (this is Italy after all), but the numbers will be far lower and the crowds less stifling.

SERCHIO VALLEY, TUSCANY

The Serchio Valley is one of the sleepiest corners of Italy. This is where dense forests meet ancient Roman villages — covered in equally ancient ivy with plenty of wine around every corner.

To really take in the area, it’s best to post up at a place like Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa which is perched right in the middle of it all. From there, you can hike through the woods to all five villages that make up the “Cinque Borghi” or “five villages.” Each one is a sleepy mountain Tuscan town that’ll feel more like home than a tourist destination. Plus, you can easily walk to all five villages in one day on a loop and end up back at the resort for a restorative massage.

POSITANO, CAMPANIA

Just south of Naples and Pompeii, you’ll find the sleepy seaside village of Positano. The tiny town is actually in the Riserva Statale Valle delle Ferriere park and is a great spot for either hitting the beaches or walking up a mountain to an ancient castle in the hills. It’s kind of the best of both worlds when it comes to Italy.

Add to that that Positano is the beginning of the picturesque Amalfi Coast (more on that later) and you’ve got the perfect spot to cast a spell over you this summer.

CASTELMEZZANO, POTENZA

In the mountains of the southern reaches of Italy, you’ll find the idyllic village of Castelmezzano not far from the city of Potenza. The village is authentically rustic. This is one of those Italian towns where you really feel like you’ve traveled back in time. The streets are narrow and cobbled. Cats sit lazily on stoops. Old nonnas kneed pasta in windows. And, then, there are the rocky mountains and outcrops all around the village.

This is a great place to unplug and get in some rock climbing. Classic Italian home cooking and outdoor adventure? That’s a win, win in our book.

PANTELLERIA, SICILY

We have a soft spot for Pantelleria. The volcanic island off the coast of Sicily is a collection of tiny villages, dark and sandy beaches, and caper fields. This place is escapism at its best. It’s also a very unique corner of Italy, foodwise. You get a brighter, lighter culinary culture that’s informed by North Africa just as much as mainland Italy.

Hit the beach, hit a cafe, and then find a nice spot near the sea for a long dinner of fresh seafood, African spices, and plenty of Italian wine. The experience will stick with you for life and you may find yourself dreaming of coming back before you even leave.

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MATERA, BASILICATA

Matera sits among the mountains of Southern Italy right next to Parco della Murgia Materana national park. It’s a strikingly mountainous region — not far from Castelmezzano mentioned above.

Matera or Sassi di Matera is famed for its cave dwellings that give way to the mountainous park next door. There’s something decidedly ancient about this town that imbues a unique energy when you stroll the rocky streets. Every cafe, every bar, every home feels like you’re in a different era. This place is wholly unique and worth the extra effort to visit.

BADIA, SOUTH TYROL

At the opposite end of the country in the Alps, you’ll find the postcard-perfect village of Badia. While a lot of us automatically think Austria, Germany, or Switzerland when we think the Alps, the Italian leg of the chain is 100 percent worth exploring.

During the summer, the area around Badia is a sports-lovers paradise with hiking, trekking, mountaineering, mountain biking, and more literally at your doorstep. The area is just visually stunning in the summer with fields of flowers in bloom and stunning blue skies overhead. Plus, it’s still Italy, so the food is awesome.

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CEFALÙ, SICILY

Sicily is a huge island with a lot to offer. The big cities around the coast are full of beauty, culture, and good times. But the real fun of Sicily is exploring the mountain villages that inspired The Godfather and the seaside villages that ring the island.

Cefalù is a great seaside Sicilian village that’s worth your travel time and dollars. Between the crystal clear waters and beaches, the ancient cobbled streets, and the freshest seafood you can image, this corner of Sicily is exactly the wondrous place you always dreamt Italy was and is.

SANTO STEFANO DI SESSANIO, ABRUZZO

Santo Stefano is in a beautiful corner of Italy. It’s basically due east of Rome in the mountains of a national park — so it’s very accessible from the Eternal City. And it’s 100 percent worth the ride.

The vineyard-covered mountains of Abruzzo are the perfect place to get lost while traveling through Italy. The tiny village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio is one of those places that feels almost too good to be true. The food really is that amazing. The wine really is that cheap and delicious. And, yes, the tiny village really does feel like you’re walking through a living postcard. Anywhere that you can eat a plate of fresh noodles and wash it down with the best wine is worth getting lost in.

CETARA, CAMPANIA

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The Amalfi Coast does get a fair amount of tourism. People tend to hit Naples for a day so they can see Pompeii and then head south to the coast because it’s remote and strikingly gorgeous.

While there are tourists here year-round, it’s still nowhere near as crowded as Cinque Terre and seaside villages like Cetara are the perfect spots to escape to. Cetara is just too small to get really overcrowded even though the beaches do get packed on sunny summer days. Fear not. It’s nothing an Aperol Spritz or Negroni can’t fix.

GREVE, CHIANTI

The Chianti region of Tuscany is a well-worn oenophile trail. The whole area is peppered with castles and vineyards with tiny villages inbetween where you’ll want to eat, drink, and live for the rest of your life.

Greve is one of those villages that most people just stop in for the day on a tour around the vineyards. And, that’s fair enough. Our recommendation is to make the townyour home base for exploring the amazing wine region. The tiny hamlet is centered around a long town square with one of the best and oldest butchers, Antica Macelleria Falorni, right at heart of it all. Wine, ham, and Tuscan sun await!

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