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5 Italian Towns for Charm without Crowds

by Barbara Rogers

Mar 30, 2023

© Elena Korsukova | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / Europe

Italy is so full of iconic sights — the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Uffizi, St Mark’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica — that it’s easy to focus on trying to see them all. But it would be a shame for your family to travel through Italy without taking time off from the must-see attractions to enjoy the pleasures of the country’s charming small cities.


Between Florence and Pisa, Medieval Lucca is enclosed by walls so thick the top is lined by trees and a place to stroll or ride a bicycle. Trees also grow on top of the tall Guinigi Tower, from which you can look down onto an oval piazza formed inside a ring of houses built into the walls of a Roman arena. Choose a café in the piazza and enjoy the dolce far niente (sweetness of doing nothing) of an Italian evening.


Between Milan and Verona, Bergamo has two centers: the medieval hilltop Citta Alta and the newer town below. Choose the upper, riding the funicular to the top and exploring the narrow, stone-paved lanes. Without the people in 21st-century dress, the scene could be from the Middle Ages. Claim a shaded table in Piazza Vecchia and admire the 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione’s stone staircase and lion fountain.


If Bergamo speaks of the Middle Ages, Conegliano is pure Renaissance, with its arcaded streets lined by 15th-century palaces and churches. Follow the cobblestone path to the castle crowning the hilltop and stay to watch the sunset from its restaurant.


A short train ride from Conegliano and equally close to Venice, Treviso has no grand sights you must see. Unless, of course, you’d like to see some outstanding 14th-century frescoes. Stroll along the picturesque canal, join locals browsing through the market and follow the Venetian walls encircling the town. Be sure to sample some tiramisu, thought to have been invented here.


At the heel of Italy’s boot, Lecce is a Baroque masterpiece too far off the main tourist routes to be noticed. The churches and palaces are pure eye-candy, covered in a froth of intricate carvings in honey-colored limestone. Stop at a street stand for a panzerotto, similar to a mini fried calzone, to munch on as you admire the architecture.


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