Forget badly behaving tourists in Rome, tourist taxes in Venice and and expensive hotel rooms in Florence (hospitality data analyst OTA Insight reports that September room rates are on average 42 per cent higher than the same period last year, a staggering $700/£575 per night). Italy is also not short of quieter spots where visitors are thin on the ground.
There are under-the-radar villages with few residents and authentic food, pristine landscapes, nature reserves and panoramic trekking routes. For example, rewilding projects mean that just an hour from Rome, you could be among bears and wolves in the ancient beech forests of the Apennines. These are seven places where you are unlikely to see many tourists, which are still easily accessed from some of Italy’s major cities and tourist hubs.
Within Gran Sasso and Mount Laga National Park – which is roamed by Marsican bears – the visual highlight of isolated Roccascalegna village is the overhanging fortress, dubbed the “Castle in the Sky.” Suspended over a chasm, it resembles a spacecraft ready to take off.
Prepare to flex muscles up the crooked trail to the upper turret, where there’s a stunning panorama of the snow-topped peaks. There are guided tours of the castle that reveal tales of ghosts and torture rooms. The village bakery is a must stop for giant biscuits and pane porchettato – sandwiches stuffed with roast pork.
B&B del Castello overlooking the fortress has double rooms with balcony at €70
The Path of the Gods, Amalfi Coast
According to myth this is where the gods rescued Odysseus after he’d fallen prey to the sirens. The three-hour hike unwinds from the tiny hilltop village of Agerola to Nocelle – a hamlet close to Positano on the slopes of Monte Peruso – all the way to Praiano.
Roughly 1,500 steps lead to Arienzo beach for a quick swim and great views of Sorrento Gulf, Capri, and the tiny Li Galli archipelago.
The trail is a former mule path dotted with chapels, lemon trees, roaming goats and sheep. In the past it was the only route connecting the coastal fishermen hamlets, but farmers still use it to carry their goods on donkeys’ backs.
B&B Casa Cuccaro has sea-view rooms from €80.
Sancto Lucio de Coumboscuro is a tiny Alpine village in Piedmont, not far from the French border, where the official language is a medieval dialect called Provençal, a mix of French and Italian.
Surrounded by forests of hazelnut and ash, the village is one of several hamlets scattered across the Grana valley (which produces the signature Castelmagno cheese – try it melted over gnocchi) that are linked by walking, pilgrimage and cycling trails in this part of the Cuneo Alps. Time stands still here and folklore rules.
At Meiro di Choco, an old farm which is the only B&B, guests sleep in wood cabins (€50 per person), and eat fresh produce from the zero-miles orchard.
Lake Turano, Lazio
Ninety minutes north-east of Rome, two picturesque clifftop medieval hamlets – Castel di Tora and Colle di Tora – of cropped stone dwellings with panoramic balconies overlook one another across this huge, sparkling-green artificial lake dug in the 1930s to supply energy to nearby power plants.
The views of the lush Apennine mountains are fabulous, and there are pebble stone beach facilities on the lake’s shore with dinghies and canoes to rent, guided fishing boat tours, giant carp fishing competitions, and bike tours along the shores.
Hotel Turano has lakefront rooms at €70 and a restaurant serving local specialties.
This tiny hamlet, less than an hour north of Rome is shaped like a giant mushroom growing out of a deep green chasm. It is perched on a reddish-brown hilltop overlooking the pristine river Treja where human sacrifices were once carried out by pagan tribes. It’s said that the holy foreskin, belonging to Jesus, was once found in a grotto in the village.
The houses have been cut from the tufa rock, making them seem like a natural extension of the land. It’s a labyrinth of moss-covered cobbled alleys where no cars are allowed, tunnels and wall openings overlooking the thick jungle-like canyon.
The village was abandoned for a new town up the road, but its crumbling buildings were reclaimed by artists and bohemians in the 60s and 70s and today, that free spirit lives on. Look out for murals, ad-hoc music sessions and a host of galleries. In the wooded Treja valley, Opera Bosco is an open-air gallery and museum laced with sculptures and artworks.
Sleep in a grotto home for €100 per night.
Circeo National Park, Lazio
Located on the coast between Rome and Naples (just 62 miles from the Italian capital), this park of forests, glittering lagoons and Mediterranean-lapped sand dunes is popular for trekking, surfing and kayaking. The views are unique: grazing buffalos, watermelon fields and kiwi plantations.
Once part of a wider marshland, the ancient Romans came here to detox in lavish villas and spas. The mesmerising Mount Circeo, where according to Homer sorceress Circe bewitched Odysseus, rises from a lake and has the profile of a sleeping witch.
Beach hotel Maga Circe has panoramic rooms from €72
Calabria, the toe of Italy, is also one of its least visited regions. Staiti is a village of just a couple of hundred residents, tucked on the southern edge of the rolling landscape of Aspromonte National Park, a part of the country once inhabited by outlaws.
Founded by ancient Greek-Byzantine sailors and monks, Staiti’s residents still speak Calabrian-Greek. The village is an open-air museum: there are ruins of a temple dedicated to the sea gods, Byzantine rock chapels and human-shaped stone bas-reliefs jutting out of buildings.
Trekking trails lead to ghost hamlets and abandoned fortresses with wolves, eagles and goshawks patrolling the peaks of Aspromonte National Park; the beaches of Rocca del Capo and Bova Marina are also nearby. Don’t forget to taste the delicious homemade maccheroni pasta with goat sauce ragout.
B&B Casa Cosmano has lush gardens and doubles from €60.