5 picturesque villages and hamlets to visit in Italy
Italy isn’t defined by its cities alone; its impossibly picturesque villages and hamlets are big on beauty, drama and history.
For centuries travellers have flocked to Italy to experience its headlining cities and be mesmerised by their seemingly endless beauty and rich history.
But the true soul of the country can perhaps better be found away from the hustle and bustle, in the exquisitely picturesque small villages and tiny hamlets that are dotted across the country.
Here a more relaxed, traditional pace of life pervades, as time is metred out in lazy hours spent wandering cobbled streets or lingering over a meal of time-honoured local dishes.
But there is also no shortage of sights to take in, nature to experience at first hand, and history and drama to trace in their small but evocative surrounds.
1. Castellaro Lagusello
Sitting between Verona and Mantua in the dramatic Lombardy region, Castellaro Lagusello is perched on the edge of a small heart-shaped lake and has an exquisite sun-bleached beauty to its proud stone buildings.
Time here can be spent getting lost in the maze of narrow streets, witnessing the charm of local life, or exploring the countryside of hills and lakes by bike.
The local cuisine honours its ancient farming traditions: try capunsei, bread dumplings, the recipes for which dates back centuries.
Located 80 kilometres south-west of Palermo on the island of Sicily, Gangi was voted the most beautiful village in Italy just a few years ago.
Visitors here will be lavished with palaces, castles and the kind of atmospheric cobbled streets that would constitute most people’s fantasy of what Italy should be.
Plan your visit for summer and take in the annual Memories and Traditions event, when scenes from ancient life play out on the streets.
Just a few kilometres from the Riviera dei Fiori (Coast of Flowers) in the Liguria region, the colourful houses of Apricale, many of them festooned with murals, crowd around a lovely piazza, the focal point for the many festivals celebrated here every year.
After visiting the Castle of the Lizard, with its compelling museum, indulge in the other local attraction: food.
Specialities include sardenaira, a sort of oven-cooked pizza with tomato and sardines, and pansarole, a sweet pancake smothered in warm sabayon.
Filled with medieval charm, the Sardinian hamlet of Castelsardo offers up sea views, pristine nature and a rich history that can be traced through its buildings, from the Gothic cathedral to the imposing castle perched high above the quiet bay below.
Walk to the castle tower before sitting down for lunch of spaghetti with lobster at a family-run restaurant filled with locals.
5. Monte Isola
With the waters of Lake Iseo gently lapping at its edge, the tight little clusters of terracotta-roofed houses that make up the 11 hamlets and villages of Monte Isola in the province of Brescia are home to just 1800 people.
Get off the ferry at Porto (the island is blissfully car free) and head to the medieval castle in Siviano, before strolling the alleys of Masse or Novale.
There are more castles and fortresses at Peschiera and Sensole, while Cure has views out to the lake..
More information: Head to Italian State Tourism Board.
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City guide to Padua, Italy
This vibrant northern Italian city has a venerable history that has seen Trojans, Romans and some headlining astronomers walk its ancient cobbled streets over the millennia.
Padua is known for
The university, Giotto’s frescoes, galileo galilei
Padua's Eat streets
Pizzeria Al Duomo’s pizza is considered the best in the city, while Gelateria Artigianale da Bruno has award-winning gelato for afters (Via Montà, 83).
For something a little more upmarket, Antica Trattoria Zaramella, is a local institution that has two Michelin stars for its traditional dishes.
Gran Caffè Diemme is another firm favourite for its food and welcoming staff, on the lovely Piazza dei Signori.
Out and about in Padua
Supposedly founded in 1183BC by the Trojan prince Antenor, Padua owes much of its reputation to the frescoes of Giotto, the glory days of the Renaissance, residents of the likes of Galileo and Copernicus, and William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which was largely set here.
When exploring the city, start at Scrovegni Chapel, with Giotto’s masterpiece fresco cycle telling the story of Jesus and the Virgin Mary; there are more works by Giotto, as well as Donatello, in the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua.
The Palazzo della Ragione is a vast medieval hall, built in 1218 with a beautiful painted wooden ceiling.
And the Museum of Jewish Padova in the restored ‘German’ synogogue tells the Jewish story in Padua.
On the weekend Paduans escape to the Euganean Hills just south of the city to bask in the bucolic surrounds, scattered with castles, farms and wineries open for tastings.
There have been markets at Prato della Valle since 1775; each Saturday stalls selling everything from fashion to flowers pop up, with an antique market held on the third Sunday of the month (turismopadova.it).
The ultimate experience
The University of Padua, the second oldest in Italy, is steeped in history: take a guided tour of the Palazzo Bo at its heart and see the spectacular wooden anatomical theatre inaugurated in 1595, and the Aula Magna, the great hall where Galileo taught.
Caffé Pedrocchi (Via VIII Febbraio, 15, 35122) is an attraction in itself, with a 200-year history of serving up coffee to the great and good of Padua. The pastries are to die for too!
Caffeine (Via Rome, 94/96, 35122) is a luxe cafe-cum-bar with a big menu and a funky vibe.
Where to Stay & play in Pauda, Italy
A quirky family-run hotel with colour-themed rooms (Red Passion, Orange Life, Blue Dream, White Truth), Hotel al Fagiano is close to the city’s historic heart.
Hotel al Prato is a light, bright boutique hotel of 16 rooms, housed in a restored 16th century building on the Prato della Valle, the largest piazza in Italy.
Beyond its gloriously restored exterior, Methis Hotel & Spa is a haven of muted tones and modern chic.
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