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Fabulous food, amazing art, rich language, dramatic and gorgeous landscapes – we all know what makes Italy so special.
Perhaps best of all are the scenic small towns and villages, where it’s possible to enjoy all these while surrounded by picturesque coastline, mountains, valleys, rivers or volcanoes.
Here are some of the most idyllic villages where you can travel that perfectly sum up the beautiful country, or “Bel Paese.”
Located between the gigantic crags of the Basilicata region’s so-called “Southern Dolomites,” Pietrapertosa almost looks like it’s being swallowed by the mountains.
It takes its name from the ancient Petraperciata, which means “perforated stone,” a reference to the huge rock that in whose clefts this pretty village sits.
Shards of human-shaped rocks jut out everywhere in Pietrapertosa, which is shaped like an amphitheater.
Standing at an altitude of around 1,000 meters, its residents proudly say they live suspended mid-air between the sky and the earth.
This backdrop has allowed Pietrapertosa to become a hotspot for extreme sports lovers.
The most thrilling activity here is the Angel Flight, which sees visitors zip line from Pietrapertosa’s highest peak to that of the nearby village of Castelmezzano, offering an adrenaline-filled glide over sharp pinnacles and hairpin bends.
The village is also home to an ancient, crumbling Saracen castle that offers splendid views of the mountains.
Stand out local establishments include restaurant Le Rocce, located on top a hill, serves fantastic local dishes and cozy B&B Palazzo del Barone, with fabulous mountain views.
Le Rocce, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 109, 85010 Pietrapertosa; +39 0971 983260
Il Palazzo del Barone, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 8, 85010 Pietrapertosa; +39 339 586 9343
Procida’s oldest fishing village is easily one of Italy’s most beautiful thanks to its patchwork of purple, yellow, pink, blue and green houses.
Dating back to the 17th century, Marina Corricella has a simple, laid-back vibe that’s hard to replicate. Lined with wooden boats and fishing nets, the harbor here is usually buzzing with shouting fishermen and vendors.
Fortress Terra Murata, a former prison, serves as the highest point on the island, with views stretching across the Gulf of Naples.
As for accommodation, 18th century aristocratic palazzo Hotel la Casa sul Mare is a stand out, featuring just 10 designer rooms, while La Corricella restaurant serves signature fish dishes.
Hotel la Casa sul Mare, Salita Castello, 13, 80079 Procida; +39 081 896 8799
3. Ricetto di Candelo
Situated in Piedmont, the name of this fortified hamlet literally means “refuge.”
Locals hid in this medieval village in times of war and it was used to store grapes, wine and grain after peace was declared.
Dubbed the “Pompeii of the Middle Ages,” the original architecture of this pentagon-shaped village has been incredibly preserved.
Surrounded by tall walls, it’s made up of around 200 reddish-brown cube-like houses and five main roads, with cobblestone alleys so clean they shine at night.
Locanda La Greppia is one of the top restaurants here thanks to its delicious local cuisine, including various pork dishes.
And with only three rooms, local B&B Al Ricetto provides an intimate stay for travelers.
Locanda La Greppia, Prima rua, Ricetto, 13878 Candelo; +39 333 370 0425
B&B Al Ricetto, Via S. Sebastiano, 35, 13878 Candelo; +39 015 253 8838
The wildest and most pristine island of Sicily’s Egadi archipelago, Marettimo is a hideaway in every sense.
Electric carts and donkeys are the sole means of transportation in this peaceful fishing village overlooked by an abandoned clifftop Saracen fortress.
Consisting of a cluster of white-washed dwellings with blue trimmings that sparkle at sunset, its simplicity is hypnotizing.
Islanders have been instilled with a primitive fear of the sea gods, which is apparent from the prayers scribbled on walls and doors to keep storms at bay.
Made up of cozy studios, Marettimo Residence is the only hotel in town and blends with the natural surroundings perfectly.
Another local highlight is seafront restaurant Il Veliero, a hotspot for bleeding sunset dinners.
Il Veliero, Corso Umberto, 22, 92027 Licata AG, Italy; +39 0923 923274
Marettimo Residence, Via Telegrafo, 3, 91010 Isola di Marettimo; +39 0923 923202
Chianalea di Scilla
Located in Calabria, at the tip of Italy’s boot, this fishermen village is built on layers of rocks rising out of the emerald green water.
With waterfront homes so close to the sea that waves that wash into courtyards, it’s known as the “little Venice of Calabria.”
Most of the homes here have boats and dinghies parked outside instead of cars, with locals proclaiming their “houses are boats and boats are houses.”
The tiny village lies on the Strait of Messina, believed to be the mythical location where dog-headed sea monster Scylla attacked the ship of Ulysses in “The Odyssey.”
At dawn, fishermen sell their catch down at the harbor, alongside Zibibbo wine and premium lemons.
B&B Chianalea 54, a restyled fishermen dwelling and restaurant Glauco’s, with specialties including sword fish rolls are both local stand outs.
B&B Chianalea 54, Via Prof.Giuseppe Zagari, 54, 89058 Scilla; +39 346 359 6711
Located in the wild Abruzzo region of central Italy, Scanno is a rural heaven.
Once a lair for bandits and outlaws, this pretty village nestled in the Apennine Mountains features a wonderful mix of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
Decorated with portals, masks and angels, its impressive facades, mansions, churches and fountains were originally commissioned by rich shepherd families, who competed against each other to ensure their properties were the most beautiful.
The village also boast various humbler stone and wooden dwellings that resemble something from a nativity scene.
Scanno overlooks a heart-shaped lake named after it, which some claim possesses magical powers.
Set in a 1930s Liberty-style mansion, hotel restaurant Roma serves regional cuisine using local products.
Hotel Roma, Viale della Pineta 6, 67038 Scanno; +39 0864 74313
Set in Val D’Orcia, Tuscany’s most pristine corner, Pienza has been dubbed the “ideal city of the Renaissance.”
Renamed and redesigned by Pope Pius II in the late 15th century, its packed with architecture masterpieces like Palazzo Piccolomini, designed by Florentine sculptor and architect Bernardo Rossellino, located in the stunning Piazza Pio II.
Positioned on a landscape of green rolling hills, the UNESCO World Heritage site, famously features a series of streets with romantic names like Love Street and Kiss Street.
Local restaurant La Buca delle Fate offers typical Tuscan menu items including picci pasta.
La Buca delle Fate, Corso il Rossellino, 38, A, 53026 Pienza; +39 0578 748448
This medieval village, also known as Sa Costa, is divided into two parts by the river Temo.
The region’s only navigable river lures in kayak lovers, its waters reflecting the multicolored buildings of the ancient district set in the western part of Sardinia.
Here simple artisan dwellings are juxtaposed with lavish palazzos of shiny pink magmatic rock.
Bosa was once renowned for its leather-making industry and is still filled with historical boutiques, where the art of tannery has been passed down across generations, as well as stores selling coral jewelry and asphodel baskets.
Built by the Tuscan Malaspina family in the 12th century, the Castle of Serravalle overlooks the town.
The impressive fortress can be fully admired from hotel-restaurant I Giardini Malaspina, which boasts a terrace and bar.
Giardini Malaspina, Loc.s’abbadolzeddu, 08013 Bosa; +39 320 031 5896
Located close to Rome, Calcata is perched on a reddish hilltop rising out of a green canyon.
Shaped like a huge mushroom, the hamlet dates back to ancient Italian tribe the “Falisci.”
A labyrinth of moss-covered cobbled alleys that lead to openings overlooking the precipice, it’s been chosen as a lair by various modern artists and hippies.
With grotto dwellings adorned with scary masks and statues and alleys featuring squeaky wooden benches and rock altars, Calcata has something of a spooky vibe and is popular with day trippers.
Calcata Diffusa offers accommodation in grottoes scattered across the village, while restaurant Il Graal has outdoor dining on the piazza.
Il Graal, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi 9, 01030 Calcata; +39 360 788 110
Not only is Manarola the second smallest hamlet of Liguria’s Cinque Terre, it’s also the oldest and most romantic.
Enclosed by cliffs, the best way to get here is by train or by foot via the panoramic Lovers’ Lane connecting to Riomaggiore village.
Steep uphill stone paths connect the village’s colorful houses and orchards all the way up to a strange pyramid made of white cement that guides sailors at sea.
One of Manarola’s main streets, Via Belvedere leads to a natural panoramic balcony overlooking the Ligurian Riviera, dotted with olive groves and vineyards.
Hotel La Torretta, a 17th century tower, offers amazing sea view, while Trattoria La Scogliera serves delicious traditional pesto dishes.
La Torretta, Vico Volto, 20, 19010 Manarola, Riomaggiore; +39 0187 920327
Situated near Noto in southeastern Sicily, Marzamemi is a tiny village of Arab origin.
Once a vibrant fish industry hub, its yellowish-grey Arab-style stone buildings are one of many nods to its history.
The village famously boasts an ancient “tonnara” or tuna plant as well as a wide piazza that’s been restyled into ceramic boutiques, bars and cozy apartments.
Tainted with black spots, the facades of the buildings make for an interesting sight.
The town, which served as the filming location for Gabriele Salvatores’ 1993 movie “South,” hosts the Blue Fish Festival each June.
Visitors B&B MaNanna, an old family dwelling run by the daughter of the last head tuna fishermen, is one of its top rated accommodation options and restaurant picks include Taverna La Cialoma.
B&B MaNanna, Via Salvatore Giardina, 12, 96018 Marzamemi; +39 349 733 6855
Built atop a cliff about halfway between Rome and Naples, Sperlonga’s history is steeped in Greek legend.
The shiny white limestone of this village is said to have once guided Odysseus’s ship like a lighthouse.
Sperlonga also sits atop an underground maze of sea grottoes, where a beautiful “nymph” of the same name apparently lived.
Legend has it that god Jupiter, who had fallen madly in love with Sperlonga, turned himself into a meteorite in order to be with her, landing between her legs on the beach.
Their night of passion is said to brought about the high crags the village was later built on to escape Saracen incursions.
Today Sperlonga largely consists of terraced layers of houses and winding staircases that descend to the beach, where locals sunbathe close to ancient Roman pillars and and the ruins of Emperor Tiberius’ lavish grotto villa, a must see site.
Located close to the village’s Blue Flag beaches is the splendid Virgilio Grand Hotel, which is also a chic seafood restaurant.
Virgilio Grand Hotel, Via Giuseppe Romita, 262, 04029 Sperlonga; +39 0771 557600
Situated in northern Italy’s South Tyrol, Castelrotto sits in a lush valley surrounded by Alpine peaks and premium vineyards, near the Austrian border.
Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the village is a blend of northern and Mediterranean cultures.
The locals speak in a weird German-sounding dialect and eat apple Strüdel and Canederli (knödel) dumplings.
Strolling through the town feels like walking through an open-air art exhibition thanks to the works of art on display. The mountain dwellings, a mix of Baroque and Liberty-style, are covered in colorful wall paintings by renowned 19th century artists.
Meanwhile bucolic scenes adorn bakeries, stables, barns and hotels, including the historic Hotel Wolf and tavern Zum Turm.
Hotel zum Wolf, Via Oswald Von Wolkenstein, 5, 39040 Castelrotto; +39 0471 706332
Hotel Zum Turm, Viale Kofel, 8, 39040 Castelrotto; +39 0471 706349
Cornello dei Tasso
Time stands still in this fairytale medieval hamlet near Bergamo, Lombardy. The only way to reach Cornello dei Tasso is via a 30-minute walk along a crooked path.
There are no roads here, only cobbled alleys and narrow arches, and the houses have thatched roofs.
Despite its remoteness, Cornello dei Tasso was actually the birth place of the founders of the first European postal service back in the 13th century.
The village also boasts a museum dedicated to the postal pioneers, Bernardo Tasso and his son Torquato Tasso, author of the Renaissance epic poem “Jerusalem Delivered.”
The local museum also organizes guided tours around the hamlet.
Trattoria Camozzi is the only tavern around, serving game, hare and venison and La Tana del Tasso is a no-frills B&B.
Trattoria Camozzi, Via G. Camozzi, 73, 24121 Bergamo BG, Italy; +39 035 248808
Positioned on the isle of San Pietro in Sardinia, Carloforte was founded by the families of coral fishers from a Ligurian town of Genoa in the 18th century.
As a result, the picturesque village features the type of bright, Genoese-style architecture and “carruggi” alleys (wide enough for small carts) one would expect to find in Liguria.
Carloforte is the only place in the entire Mediterranean where the “mattanza,” a hunt in which hundreds of rare bluefin tuna are trapped in nets and massacred, is still practiced.
For locals, this brutal and highly controversial custom is a sacred ritual. It takes place each year during the Girotonno, which also showcases tuna gourmet delicacies and offers guided tours inside the tuna factory.
Restaurant picks in the area include low key seafood dining spot Luigi Pomata and hotel Nichotel, which boasts cozy suites overlooking the harbor.
Nichotel, Via Garibaldi, 7, 09014 Carloforte; +39 0781 855674
Civita di Bagnoregio
Founded by the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago, Civita di Bagnoregio sits precariously atop a plateau overlooking the Tiber river valley in Lazio.
Dubbed the “Dying City” due to constant soil erosion and a dwindling population, the remote village looks like it could crumble into the deep chasm at any minute.
Abandoned by most of its inhabitants years ago, only a dozen residents live here now, as well as many cats.
The footbridge was bombed during World War II; a newly built one connects the village to the neighboring town today.
Visitors can check in to Corte della Maestà, a chic boutique hotel, while restaurant Alma Civita serves upscale food inside a grotto.
Corte della Maestà,Vicolo Della Maestà, 01022 Civita; +39 335 879 3077
Alma Civita, Via della Provvidenza, 01022 Civita; +39 0761 792415
Only accessible by foot, or boat, the isolated hamlet of Ginostra lies on a secluded flank of the volcanic isle of Stromboli, part of Sicily’s Aeolian archipelago.
The tiny village is made up of a handful of white and pastel-colored huts covered in prickly pears and bright red bougainvilleas that clash with its jet black rocks.
According to legend, the village was built by a group of stranded sailors who took refuge here during a storm and were so struck by the beauty of the place that they never left.
Today the population here is estimated at around 40. Visitors enter through a steep path of stone steps winding up from a tiny docking bay, wide enough for just two boats.
Serving “volcanic dishes,” restaurant L’Incontro is a village along with charming B&B Luna Rossa.
L’Incontro, Via Sopra Pertuso, 98050 Ginostra; +39 090 981 2305
Luna Rossa, Via Piano, 3, 98050 Ginostra; +39 338 141 4620
Enticed by the slower pace of life and fresh air, Cetona is where the royals and fashion designers come to relax.
Set in southern Tuscany and shaped like a snail, the ancient hilltop town is incredibly well kept.
Starting at the magnificent Piazza Garibaldi, visitors can head up a narrow, paved road that circles round the tile roof houses and pretty churches, all the way to a panoramic castle tower complete with secret, exotic gardens.
The village’s surrounding countryside is known for its high-quality extra virgin olive oil.
Historic family-run hotel restaurant Il Tiglio di Piazza is a great accommodation option.
Il Tiglio di Piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, Cetona; +39 0578 23707
Forget the holiday crowds. This corner of Veneto is one of Lake Garda’s best kept secrets.
Surrounded by olive groves and the gigantic Mount Baldo, Malcesine sits at the feet of a historic castle, Castello Scaligero.
Nestled between the lake and the mountains, silence rules in this charming village, with its steep cobbled streets lined with artisan shops. Sunbathers relax on its pebble beaches, whiling away the hours as fishermen sell their catch nearby.
Local restaurant La Vecchia Malcesine offers innovative twists on traditional recipes and B&B Casa Mosole is based in an interesting building that was once a cured meats shop.
Vecchia Malcesine, Via Pisort, 6, 37018 Malcesine; +39 045 740 0469
Casa Mosole, Via Bottura, 3, 37018 Malcesine; +39 348 531 0790
This two-kilometer-long island close to Rome was once a prison, with lustful Roman women and anti-fascists among its detainees over the years.
Bright orange and pink dwellings, former prisoner cells, mingle with ancient cisterns and fisheries in its small village.
The little harbor is lined with fishermen grottoes that have been turned into lounge bars, while the main Piazza Castello features an old Bourbon fortress tower.
The ruins of Julia’s Villa, named after the daughter of Emperor Augustus, exiled here by her father on charges of adultery, are still visible.
Italian politician Altiero Spinelli, who became one of the European Union’s founding fathers co-wrote the “Ventotene Manifesto” here in the village.
Positioned within Piazza Castello, hotel restaurant Mezzatorre has a dining terrace overlooking the main Cala Nave beach.
Hotel Mezzatorre, Piazza Castello, 5/6, 04020 Ventotene; +39 0771 85294