4 places to immerse yourself in Italy’s countryside

Rolling hillsides, rural towns and delicious food. Few places are as enchanting and as relaxing as Italy’s pockets of countryside. Here are four to explore…

4 mins

From Tuscany’s vineyard-clad landscapes and charming hilltop towns to Basilicata’s lunar terrain and troglodyte dwellings, Italy’s countryside is exceptionally diverse. Customs, culture and culinary traditions differ greatly from region to region, offering an authentic taste of local life. Here are four places to soak it all up…

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1. Tuscany

With its stunning landscapes of rolling vineyards, olive groves and hilltop towns, Tuscany is a pastoral dream, and what travellers to the country mostly imagine Italy to be. Tuscany was the birthplace of the Renaissance, its picturesque landscapes harmoniously embodying Renaissance ideals. It is one of the country’s richest agricultural regions, most notable for its award-winning wines and olive oils. This is a region that merits slow exploration, taking in bucolic panoramas and stopping off to refuel with hearty local fare washed down with a glass or two of Chianti. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is the region’s most famous dish, a succulent, rare, juicy steak made from prized Chianina beef.

Visit Tuscany’s hilltop towns

Tuscany’s rolling hills are punctuated with some of Italy’s most charming hilltop towns. The most popular is San Gimignano, with its striking skyline of medieval towers, while Radda in the heart of Chianti has a pretty medieval core with cobblestone alleys enclosed by defensive walls.

Where to stay

Immersed in an 18th century park with rose gardens, Siena’s Hotel Garden has a fabulous location just outside Siena’s city walls and pedestrianised ancient core. As well as two outdoor swimming pools, you’ll find a tennis court and restaurant serving Tuscan specialities on a panoramic terrace with city views.

2. Umbria

Less visited than its Tuscan neighbour, the landlocked region of Umbria is often dubbed ‘the green heart of Italy’ for its unspoiled landscapes of rolling hills, dense woods, verdant plains, mountains and valleys. Its hilltop towns are home to a wealth of artistic riches, including spectacular frescoes at Assisi and one of Italy’s best collections of medieval and Renaissance paintings in Perugia, although it’s the landscapes that really steal the heart. The region’s Lake Trasimeno, where Hannibal ambushed a Roman army during the Second Punic War, offers plenty of swimming and water sports activities, while the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, which pours into neighbouring Marche, promises superb hiking and mountain biking opportunities with magnificent panoramas that are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

Step back in time at Orvieto Underground

Delve into the ancient world at Orvieto Underground as you meander through a labyrinth of underground tunnels, caves, cisterns and wells that lie beneath the historical core. You’ll see traces of Etruscan and medieval structures, including dovecotes and an olive oil mill, that shed light on what life was once like in this Umbrian town.

Where to stay

Perugia’s grandest hotel, the Sina Brufani offers classic elegance and a warm welcome right in the heart of town, just steps away from the main sights. Interiors ooze history, with stone fireplaces and visible remains of Etruscan walls. There’s also a spa area with swimming pool, sauna and steam room set beneath stone vaults, perfect to unwind after a day’s sightseeing.

3. Basilicata

Still largely off the tourist trail, the southern Italian region of Basilicata offers unspoilt landscapes of rugged terrain, sweeping national parks and extensive plateaus along with some of the country’s most ancient towns. This is southern Italy’s most mountainous region, with little explored beaches lapped by the waters of both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. It was historically one of Italy’s poorest areas, its cuisine based on simple peasant ingredients including legumes, vegetables, and pork and sheep meat – make sure you try salsiccia lucana, a succulent pork sausage served in several ways, including with beans and tomato sauce. With its lunar landscapes and striking troglodyte settlements, Basilicata is indisputably one of Italy’s most unique regions.

Visit Matera

The historical settlement of Matera is a striking sight with its cave dwellings – known as Sassi ­– dotted around the hillside. Inhabited until the second half of the 20th century, the city’s extraordinary collection of cave houses served as the setting for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Where to stay

The gorgeous Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita offers tasteful, minimalist accommodation in converted cave dwellings in the heart of Matera. Rooms are simply furnished yet welcoming and cosy, with ambient lighting (some have fireplaces too), beautifully restored golden tufa walls and floors, and bathrooms hidden away in little alcoves.

4. Piedmont

One of Italy’s gastronomic hearts, Piedmont is real foodie territory attracting devout gourmets who come to explore the stunning rolling vineyards of the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato regions and indulge in local specialities. You won’t find anywhere near as many tourists as Tuscany here, although the scenery is equally stunning, with pretty hilltop towns and rolling vineyards producing some of the world’s finest wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco. Come autumn, gastronomes flock to Alba for the White Truffle Fair to admire and savour the world’s most prized fungus. The regional capital, Turin, has an exquisite Baroque core lined with elegant palazzi and former royal residences, while age-old traditions remain very much alive and kicking in the region – Asti’s famous medieval palio (horse race) dates back to 1275 and predates its more famous counterpart in Siena.

Try truffles from Alba

The small town of Alba is famous for its white truffle, traditionally enjoyed grated over freshly made tajarin, a type of ribbon pasta similar to tagliatelle. You can admire specimens of white truffles in all shapes and sizes at Alba’s famous White Truffle Fair in autumn, a two-month-long event that sees scores of food and wine events take place throughout town.

Where to stay

In the heart of the wine-producing Langhe region is Relais Villa D’Amelia, a converted 19th century farmhouse with an outdoor swimming pool overlooking rolling vineyards and hazelnut groves. At the restaurant, you can tuck into gourmet specialities accompanied by fine Barolos and Barbarescos carefully selected from local producers.

Explore with the experts

Are you ready to head off the beaten track and explore Italy’s natural beauty? Citalia is the go-to specialist for discovering Italy’s lesser-known regions and countryside landscapes, helping you discover stunning scenery, little-known sights and fabulous culinary delights along the way. Citalia has been crafting Italian holidays for the last 95 years and offers several exciting countryside itineraries in Tuscany, Umbria, Basilicata and Piedmont.

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