Italy has thousands of hidden gems worth exploring and entire volumes could be dedicated to each of them. Here is our selection to tickle your curiosity and, perhaps, your appetite.

Stresa rises on hills and mountains, stretching down to the shores of Lake Maggiore and to three of its little islands. Its peculiar topography makes it the perfect place to visit all year round. In spring you can visit the Alpine Botanical Garden, discover historic villas or simply enjoy the lakefront. Summer might get crowded, but if you visit in June, late August or September you will definitely experience Stresa at its best: a swim in the crystalline waters of the lake, hikes in the mountainous surroundings or day-trips to the Borromean Islands, for example. During colder months, you can ski on Mount Mottarone at almost 1500 metres above sea level. It’s not all about nature, though. In September the town vibrates to the sounds of the Stresa Festival, a fusion of dance performances, classical and jazz music events. Currently under Gianandrea Noseda’s artistic direction, orchestras of as high a calibre as the LSO and Wiener Symphoniker and artists like Jordi Savall and Nikolaj Znaider have performed at the festival since its inauguration in 1961.

View of Stresa and its Islands © Luca Gemelli | Ufficio Turistico Città di Stresa
View of Stresa and its Islands
© Luca Gemelli | Ufficio Turistico Città di Stresa

You might have heard of Cremona because of its world-famous luthiers. This is the city that inspired Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri and Andrea Amati to assemble magnificent instruments. Nowadays, you can still enjoy part of their works of art at the Violin Museum, where you can explore over five centuries of lutherie and admire the most influential string instruments that music has ever seen. Cremona was also once home to opera pioneer Claudio Monteverdi and composer Amilcare Ponchielli. If you happen to be around in May or June, don’t miss the Monteverdi Festival, one of the most important early music festivals in Italy. Cremona also has a well-established food tradition (not surprisingly, for an Italian city!) and is mostly famous for its torrone, an almond and egg white-based pastry that has conquered most of the peninsula and is typically consumed during endless Italian Christmas lunches. You don’t have to wait until Christmas though, and I highly recommend to give it a go, together with a creamy cappuccio (the word we use when ordering a cappuccino in Italy).

Piazza Duomo, Cremona © Archivio fotografico Comune di Cremona - Infopoint
Piazza Duomo, Cremona
© Archivio fotografico Comune di Cremona - Infopoint

Probably the most famous event associated with Siena is the Palio, a horse race held in the heart of the city, Piazza del Campo, since the 17th century. When there are no horses running around, the main square is a beautiful place in which to sit and enjoy the view of the stunning buildings. In particular, you can try the Palazzo Pubblico, the current town hall which is a pearl of Gothic architecture. A wing of the palace hosts a museum, where you can admire works by local artists from the 16th to the 21st century. Less than five minutes walk from there is the cathedral, where you can enjoy some Donatello and Michelangelo. If you feel adventurous you can book a guided tour, walk on the cathedral's rooftops and enjoy stunning views of Siena and its surroundings. For a complete Tuscan experience, a tour to its gorgeous countryside is a must, where velvety hills extend all the way to the horizon, and vineyards and cypress trees undulate elegantly in the light breeze. Some 60 kilometres south of Siena is where the Festival Incontri in Terra di Siena has been taking place for the past 30 years. Incontri is a chamber music festival set in the heart of Tuscany and its philosophy is to promote cultural events in harmony with the surrounding landscape. In addition to music performances, events include talks about visual arts, history, literature, food and wine. And speaking of: you are in Tuscany, so don’t forget to taste a glass of Chianti or Sangiovese! 

Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral

Pearl of the Italian Renaissance, Urbino is a historic town arising on a deep-green hill. Its architecture is perfectly preserved and the Ducal Palace is one of the most interesting examples of Italian Renaissance architecture. Home to the National Gallery of Le Marche Region, this building is worth visiting just for its stunning courtyard and colonnades. These walls have witnessed centuries of history and influences: from Goths to Langobards, France and the Papal States. Urbino is located in Le Marche inland, but in less than one hour you can reach the Adriatic coast via winding roads while enjoying breathtaking views. In this region you can taste exquisite Italian cuisine and Urbino is no exception. You might just have a bit of a hard time if you are vegan or vegetarian: meat-based dishes here are heavenly and very tempting. A personal tip for the ultimate gastronomic experience in Urbino: crescia sfogliata. And if you like aged cheese, don’t forget to try casciotta, apparently Michelangelo’s favourite. Sumptuous buildings and a mystique-laden atmosphere make Urbino the perfect place to enjoy ancient sounds. Each year here, in the second half of July, the Italian Foundation for Early Music organises an international course on early music, the Urbino Early Music Festival and an exhibition for instrument-makers.

View of Urbino © Paolo Mini - Comune di Urbino
View of Urbino
© Paolo Mini - Comune di Urbino

Sat between the heel and tip of Italy’s boot, Matera is where clocks stop ticking and its visitors feel thrown back in time. It is in fact one of the most ancient settlements still inhabited in the world, with its first dwellings dating back to the Paleolithic age. Matera is mostly known for its Sassi, neighbourhoods forming the ancient part of the town. But this is not the usual style of old town: here, man-made settlements merge with the natural landscape, including proper cave houses, which is actually a good place to go given Matera’s scorching summers! If you want to experience how it was like to live in the Sassi, I recommend visiting Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, where you can wander around a fully-furnished cave house. If you happen to be around Matera at the beginning of July, do not miss the Festa della Bruna, a festival dedicated to Madonna della Bruna, the town’s patroness. On this occasion squares are filled with colourful market stalls, streets swarm with local bands’ concerts and historical buildings are decorated with colourful lights.

View of Matera
View of Matera