By Rachael Funk
Italy is an undeniably special destination. The air is thick with possibility, every sunset bursts with color, and the rolling vineyards are like cupid’s arrows, guiding you toward amore. For a romantic Italian sojourn you’ll never forget, leave the major cities behind and let these lesser-known towns charm their way into your heart.
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The region of Umbria is regarded as Tuscany without the tourists. Though the area is studded with plenty of quaint towns, Gubbio is ideal for an authentic Italian experience. Explore the cobblestone streets on foot as you wander from medieval building to medieval building, stopping to sample truffles, shop for ceramics, or dig into divine pastas as you please. Be sure to brush up on your Italian before your visit – you’re not likely to find menus in English here!
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A daydream for lovers of the fine arts, the town of Dozza is like an open-air art museum. Colorful murals are splashed across walls, streets, houses, and squares all across the town. Visit in the summer to catch the wine festival or in the third week of September to witness the spectacular Biennial Exhibition of the Painted Wall. One of the city’s most famous landmarks is the Rocca di Dozza, or the Dozza Fortress. Dating back to the 14th century, the fortress was a private property until 1960, when it was opened to the public and has served as a museum since then.
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Sicily’s eastern shore is steeped in legends of the tragic romance of the shepherd Acis and the beautiful nymph Galatea. According to one version of the story, the Cyclops Polyphemus saw the love Galatea felt for Acis and struck the shepherd down in jealousy. When the gods heard the heartbroken wails of Galatea for her lost love, they transformed the remains of Acis into a river which flowed from the foothills to the sea so the lovers could be reunited. Now, the city is filled with art and architecture and is ideal for boutique shopping and gelato sampling. The town also holds claim to one of the best Carnivale celebrations in Sicily.
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Colletta di Castelbianco, Liguria
Built entirely of stone, Colletta di Castelbianco was once an abandoned hamlet in the Maritime Alps. Dating back to the 13th century, the village was carefully restored and upgraded with modern conveniences like broadband Internet and satellite TV. The cobbled streets lead up a steep hillside to reveal picturesque views of the stone buildings and brightly painted fixtures. The secluded village is ideal for a private getaway with a loved one who loves cycling, postcard-perfect strolls through the hills, and rock climbing in the pristine air.
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Vogogna is located in the center of the Val d'Ossola and remains undiscovered by tourists as of yet. The peaceful main street is lined with colorful buildings and punctuated with the sounds of daily life as the small town’s residents go about their business. The main attraction of the town is Visconti Castle, which juts boldly above the village and dates back to the 1300s. Just beyond the castle, you can find the ruins of an ancient fortress from the 9th or 10th century.
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Cortina d'Ampezzo, Veneto
Boasting a thousand-year-old history, Cortina d'Ampezzo is a small but popular town for winter sports. The alpine destination has been attracting winter sports fanatics since the late 19th century and is known for excellent skiing. Located at the foot of the Dolomite Mountains, the town is gorgeous year-round and offers a variety of pleasant excursions whenever you visit thanks to its use of buses and cable cars which will usher you to spectacular viewpoints and mountain restaurants.
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Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Abruzzo
Santo Stefano di Sessanio is surrounded by the majestic scenery of Gran Sasso National Park. With a miniscule population of about 100, the sleepy town is a fortified medieval village. Thanks to its low population, the architectural heritage of this location has been preserved through the last century of modernization and is an excellent example of a historic Italian hill town. Walk the stepped stone streets to explore the classic houses, small galleries, and intimate cafes.
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The highest village in the Apennines of Umbria, Castelluccio is known for growing lentils in the surrounding fields. Each year, between the months of May and July, an incredible mosaic of color bursts across the monochromatic plains in a phenomenon the locals call Fiorita or Fioritura, meaning “the flowering.” As the name would suggest, this is when thousands of flowers bloom across the plateau, painting the landscape vibrant colors. On the third and last Sunday in June each year, the Feast of the Fiorita is held to celebrate the flowering.
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Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio
If you want to visit Civita di Bagnoregio, you should do it sooner rather than later. The city sits high atop a volcanic plateau, which is slowly crumbling away. Eventually, both the town and the hill it sits on will be lost. Currently, however, it is stable and safe to visit. The tiny town is about 2,500 years old and has only one central entrance through a stone arch. Plan a day trip to soak up breathtaking views, cobblestone streets, and centuries-old ivy-covered arches.