Insider Italy: 5 Places Only the Locals Know

Feb 5, 2020

Rome’s Coliseum, Venice’s gondolas and Pisa’s leaning tower — all sights to behold, and if you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ve probably already seen them. Every year, millions of tourists flock to these national treasures, crowding the streets and driving up prices for everything from hotel rooms to glasses of Chianti. Whether it is your first trip or your 10th, we want you to challenge tradition and see a side of Italy you’ve likely never seen before (or even heard of). You may even save a little money in the process.

The Bay of Naples’ smallest and most colourful island

About a 40-minute hydrofoil ride from Naples sits the island of Procida, the smallest in the bay and kid sister to Capri and Ischia, which attract far more foreign visitors. At only 4 square kilometres, you can easily walk the entire island — and we suggest doing so. The narrow streets are lined with rainbow-hued homes, lush gardens, eateries and coffee shops, so there is plenty to catch your eye. Beaches and harbours dotted with fishing boats are always just a short stroll away. The pace here is much slower, with locals going about their daily business unconcerned with your presence far from the bustle of the big city.

Travelzoo Tip: We suggest a visit to the walled city of Terra Murata. It sits perched at the highest point on the island where you can snap swoon-worthy photos of the sea. From there, take in a seafood lunch along Corricalla Bay, where the phrase “catch of the day” is literal. If relaxing in the sun is more your speed, make your way to Postino Beach. This secluded spot boasts a white sand beach and translucent waters ideal for swimming and snorkelling.

Must-try local food: Paccheri, a penne-like pasta that's larger and smoother than its more famous variant. In Procida, it's served with locally grown artichokes sauteed in garlic, chili and olive oil.

Venice-like canals without the crowds

Drive 40 minutes north of Venice and you’ll find Treviso, which maintains similar charms and none of the crowds of its famous neighbour. This historic town is rich with Renaissance squares, churches and ancient waterways that resemble the romantic canals you may still be yearning for. At the centre is a walled city with medieval gates and cobbled streets dating back to the 15th century. This area is home to the Treviso Cathedral with its five green domes, possibly the most impressive structure in the city.

Travelzoo Tip: Treviso is a cycling city, so we recommend renting from a local shop. This will be especially useful for biking enthusiasts interested in making the trek north to Valdobbiadene, the official capital of prosecco. Let the sampling and tours begin. Once you’ve gotten your fill of sightseeing, grab an inexpensive glass of wine at a local watering hole. We think you’ll find there is no shortage at the Piazza dei Signori, one of the main squares in the old town. Quaint shops and high-end eateries are located nearby.

Must-try local food: Peverada sauce. Rarely found in Canada, its pate-like texture and rustic taste adds richness to poultry or game dishes. It can also be served over polenta, pasta or a crusty slice of fresh-baked bread.

The laid-back cousin of glitzy Lake Como

It’s some sort of wanderlust miracle that Northern Italy’s Lake Iseo has stayed under the world’s tourism radar. It offers the same stunning scenery as Lake Como — which has been subjected to a wave of celeb-chasing tourists since George Clooney bought a villa there in 2001 — without the 5-star prices. Crowned by a ring of forest-green peaks, this lake gifts visitors with mountain views no matter where you are — one crest even rises out of the middle of the water. Rent bikes and cycle around the lake’s 16 villages, take a freshwater dip or pop into one of the restaurants that sit along the shoreline. You can swirl a chilled glass of white as you gaze out at the lake’s blues and greens.

Travelzoo Tip: Populated only by the ruins of a Franciscan monastery overgrown with lush greenery, Lake Iseo’s tiny isle of Loreto looks like a child’s daydream come to life. While you can’t tour this privately owned islet, you can get up close to it on a sailing tour or even via private plane.

Must-try local food: Roasted or baked tench. Every July the lakefront town of Clusane holds a weeklong festival dedicated to this underrated fish; expect themed menus, live music and a colourful fireworks display.

A charming base for watching Sicilian sunsets

About 90 minutes from Palermo on Sicily’s northwestern coast sits Trapani. The city’s location between the Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean seas overlooking the Egadi Islands makes for amazing views and plenty to see and do. Trapani’s old town is easily walkable, its narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. The region is known for its luxury salt, and the sunsets overlooking its salt pans and old windmills are particularly breathtaking, as are the vistas from the cable cars that take visitors up to the must-see medieval village of Erice.

Travelzoo Tip: Trapani is a particularly convenient home base for discovering this region. We suggest taking the ferry to Levanzo, the smallest Aegadian island. The Genovese prehistoric cave is one of the top attractions, along with swimming and sunbathing. There is no road in Levanzo so it is the perfect place to relax away from honking horns and traffic. The via del sale, or salt road, runs between Trapani and Marsala, home to the famous wine of the same name. The Temple of Segesta, possibly one of the area’s most important archaeological sites, is also easily accessible from Trapani.

Must-try local food: Cassatelle, a half-moon pastry that's filled with sheep's-milk ricotta and chocolate and dusted with icing sugar. The dessert is easiest to find in winter and spring, as it's traditionally eaten during carnival time or at Easter.

Less than three hours’ drive south of busy Amalfi

Amalfi draws the tourists, Cilento hosts the locals. (Well, mostly locals — Ernest Hemingway reportedly dwelled in its seaside town of Acciaroli in 1952 after finishing “The Old Man and the Sea.”) It’s packed with iconic and largely crowd-free experiences: 2,500-year-old preserved temples, the largest Carthusian monastery in the country and a lovely marina — let’s just say UNESCO designated the entire area as a World Heritage Site for a reason. 

Travelzoo Tip: While Cilento brims with cultural sights, it’s also ideal for nature lovers and houses Italy’s second largest national park. Golden eagles and peregrine falcons soar over dramatic mountain ridges that abut the Tyrhennian coast. We recommend booking a boat tour to see the Blue Grotto, a sea cave that glows azure in bright sunlight, or renting a kayak and exploring the coast on your own.

Must-try local food: White figs, which are grown in the nearby hills, then dried and stuffed with nuts and citrus. Or anchovies, which are caught at night by menaica fishers who return to port with their fresh catch at dawn.

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