Continuing with my winter theme ″Why I keep coming back to Italy″ …
Part of the magic of visiting Italy is discovering a small hill town that takes you back in time to another world. You can visit any region in Italy and find an historic walled hill town overlooking a wide variety of idyllic pastoral scenes. In most regions you’ll find lush vineyards intertwined with orchards of ancient olive trees and winding rustic lanes lined with tall cypress trees. In other areas the hill towns look down onto colorful patchworks of farms, pastures dotted with happy cows or terraced lemon orchards that stretch to the sea.
To reach these scenic towns, it’s often best to rent a car. However, on the Amalfi Coast it’s easier (and safer) to use the public bus system. If you do decide to drive, you must park your car before you pass through the old city gates. Almost every town in Italy has a Centro Storico—Historic Center—limited to pedestrians and cyclists.
Look for the large blue P or the blue arrow sign for parking areas which often require a fee. If the curb and lines are blue, there is definitely a fee. Find the small machine where you can make your payments with cash or a credit card. If you are in a particularly small town, you might have to seek out the closest Tabacheria store where they sell parking passes. If you find an area where the lines are white, you get to park for free.
If you’re using public transportation, consider taking the bus rather than a train. Often, these hill towns are not so close to the train station. For instance, Assisi, Siena and Perugia are quite a distance from the main train stations and a bus takes you closer to the town center.
There are plenty of great hill towns to visit throughout Italy. For a more authentic adventure, I suggest that you find at least one that isn’t in the guide books—and venture beyond Tuscany. When you arrive in a town, stop by the local TI (Tourist Information Office) and see if anyone offers a guided walk. There’s a lot of interesting local history to discover. Many of these small towns have at least one castle or Monastery to visit. Often, these venues serve as a small museum or gallery with wonderful art or fun events.
Avoid the more popular hill towns on the weekends—this is when the Italians take a break and spend time in the countryside. Places like Perugia and Assisi can get quite crowded. Check the city’s website to find out what’s going on during the time you plan to visit. You may even stumble upon a special holiday or a Sagra, which is an amazing celebration of food and music.
Here are a few of my favorite hill towns in Italy-
Mango in Piemonte
This region is full of fun hill towns that are not crowded at all. The fall is a great time to visit this area that is lush with colorful vineyards and beautiful scenery.
Santa Cristina & Castelrotto in the Tyrol Region north of Bolzano
These towns were once part of Austria and have a definite character of their own. They are popular ski resorts in the winter and great hiking towns in the summer.
Corniglia, Cinque Terre
A bit more of a hike uphill, but worth it.
Explore the hills above the coast (behind Amalfi) to find some lovely towns. Ravello has several gardens, a nice town center and great views of the coast below.
Colle Val d’Elsa & Volterra are lesser known hill towns in western Tuscany.
No crowds on a typical weekday.
Spello, Spoleto, and Montefalco are my favorite hill towns of Umbria. However, Assisi and Perugia should not be missed. If you go on a week day, you can avoid some of the tourists who flock to these towns.
Sicily is full of wonderful hill towns. Some of my favorites are Polina, Modica, Ragusa, Noto, Erice and Caltagirone, but there are many, many more to discover.
When traveling south, don’t miss the interesting town of Matera with its ancient sassi dwellings below the city.
Every region of Italy has something to offer in the way of a picturesque hill town. Give yourself the time to wander around a bit and be sure to find a fun piazza where you can hang out and relax a bit. Since these are hill towns, wear comfortable shoes for the stairs and cobblestone streets. Save your stilettos for the city.
Don’t ignore the small museums or castles with a temporary exhibit. Often, this is where you find some amazing art or wonderful local crafts. You might even stumble upon some amazing local cuisine or an unexpected concert. For sure you’ll find something interesting to discover in the hill town you choose to explore.
There are so many great hill towns in Italy, and I know I’ve left out some good ones. Feel free to add your favorites in the comment section below.