a bicycle parked in a courtyard of a building

When it comes to summer travel, Italy is firmly circled on every map. Thanks, White Lotus for making that a thing for the next, well, forever time.

TV or not, Rome typically becomes a sea of tourists, Milanese locals flee the city in droves to make room for all the visitors and the water levels in Venice rise with all the extra weight. Over tourism is a thing, and Italy is trying to figure out how to deal with it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, or that it won’t be fun. It will be.

If you can’t travel during shoulder season and want to avoid the gouge this summer, escaping to smaller towns, or countryside villas can be just the way to experience this incredible country right now.

Getting out of major cities and into seriously beautiful secondary cities, or picturesque towns not only helps to avoid what crowds do exist, but to gain greater appreciation for true Italian lifestyle and rustic beauty — and (shhh) prices.

Here are a few small towns and cities, near big bustling cities, which may just blow your mind, and stretch your travel buck too…

a river with a road and mountainsMilan To Lugano

Grab your passport, because although this isn’t a super long trip, it’s one across a border. Lugano is an Italian speaking Swiss town, just across the border, and you’ll be so glad you added an extra stamp on this trip.

Most foreign tourists visit Milan and either stay in the city or head directly for Lake Como, but Lugano is the gift that keeps on giving. Not sold yet somehow? Think crystal lakes, charming cliffside bistros and some of the best boutique shopping anywhere on earth.

Lugano is the place that fascinates even the most frequent travelers, giving you the look of Norwegian fjords, Tuscan hills and Swiss alps all in one. Because most western tourists have flocked to Lake Como, there’s still great deals to be had here, especially if you look into renting a house.

As to the journey, it really couldn’t be easier.

The train is a mere hour and 20 minutes from Milan Central Station, with just four stops before entering idyllic Lugano. After you’ve seen the highlights of Milan, get the heck out of there and cool off lakeside in this other worldly vacation heaven.

a stone stairs leading to a city

Rome To Assisi And Perugia

Umbria is an often overlooked crown jewel of Italy.

People fly into Rome, snap pictures in the city and then perhaps head to one of the oceanfront towns like Sabaudia or Terracina, or somewhere mega touristy like Amalfi. Once you’ve done those things, or even if you haven’t, a visit to Assisi offers a largely unspoilt look into enviable Italian life. Just an hour and 45 mins from Rome’s central station, it’s a worthwhile side trip, as is Perugia.

Assisi is a hill town set amidst the Umbrian hills, with more locally own shops, cafes and trattorias per capita than you could even know what to do with. It’s got a famous Basilica, it’s got stunning hikes and as a place known for truffles, you can expect plenty of those too! While this is a must visit, a day or two is plenty, but the good news is that you’re nearby to Perugia, the capitol city of Umbria.

Perugia is a lovely continuation of all the things you’ll adore about Assisi, but with more to do and see.

The city benefits from having a buzzy town feel, thanks to the University of Perugia which constantly breathes new life and most notably: new cafes and eateries. Head to the Mercato Vianova for a drink and then relax at Via della Prome for the best views.

a group of people sitting at tables outside a buildingFlorence Or Pisa To Lucca

Florence and Pisa are too beautiful to miss and you should absolutely spend time in either or both. In fact, you’ve already skipped out on some of the tourist crowds by heading to these more regional cities than those with greater long haul connectivity. But with that said, Lucca is the place to go.

Lucca the city, rather than the province, is 1.5 hours by train, or even less by car from Florence. From Pisa, it’s even better, at under 40 minutes on the train or 20 mins by car. This medieval, walled in city from Roman times is home to some of the best pasta, most delicious local wine and friendliest people you’ll find anywhere thanks to its important historical position on a major trading route.

After escaping a major city, it’s the perfect place to dive into more traditional dishes while getting a feel for the true Tuscan countryside and laidback lifestyle.

Within the province of Lucca, as opposed to the city, you’ll find Versilia offering nearby beaches, and if you want to take things further, Parco delle Alpi Apuane is another 1.5 hours into the hills, but offers staggering mountain views.

a green hills with rows of vines and housesVenice To Prosecco

Prosecco is far more than the name of your more economical sparkling wine solution. Just an hour drive out of Venice, you can enjoy stunning hills and refreshing drops at every turn in the Prosecco region of Italy which is made up of Conegliano, Valdobiaddene, Asolo and other small villages. You can even take a direct train to Conegliano.

Now, no one is saying that Venice isn’t worth the trip. Millions upon millions come each year just to see the one of a kind city, but once you’ve done it, it can be nice to escape the massive crowds which are affecting the sustainability of tourism in the city. A few days tasting wine and eating food perfectly paired to match is just a really fun way to do that.

When it comes to planning, that part is pretty easy. Prosecco Road has been coined as the premier attraction in the region, offering access to top wineries from Valdobiaddene to Conegliano or vice versa.

Technically, it’s called Strada del Vino di Prosecco, but you get the gist. This is such a great side trip, you’ll never regret it.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Thanks for the suggestions, especially Lugano, which was new thinking for me. I don’t regret for a moment “one night stands” in a couple Italian cities that were followed by days of immersion in one of the small, nearby towns.

  2. Any corner of Italy is worth visiting (although I’m no too fond of the north). Sorrento is a well known name but it is still affordable plus it’s just a few train stations from Pompeii and a ferry ride from Capri. Assisi is a great choice at any season since it has lost many religious tourists plus not having a train station deters visitors. Florence…well, that’s the city of my heart and it pains me to see it so crowded at any season since the Chinese tourism comes in the traditionally considered low season…my Fiorentine friends despair.
    In any case in my opinion the way to visit Italy is by train: frequent, unexpensive and the stations usually are smack in the center of town and, in any event, getting lost in Italy is a safe experience…Ask me how I know!

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