Visit Italy and see the places that everyone else sees … or visit places off the beaten strada? That is the question. At least it is for many of the thousands of visitors who travel to Italy each year. We usually suggest both. After all, the obvious, must-see places – Rome, Cinque Terre, Pisa, San Gimignano and many, many more – hold spectacular architecture, incredible works of art and amazing sights.
But those off the beaten strada places … now that’s where you’ll find the unforgettable (often hidden) treasures. And you’ll also stumble upon places where there are few – if any – other tourists in sight. That’s where things get personal, private and oh-so-special.
So here are 3 things to keep in mind – 3 ways, really, to ensure that your next visit to Italy includes more of those kind of experiences. (The kind that make you pinch yourself to be sure that you’re not dreaming.)
- Schedule time in your itinerary for … well … nothing. I frequently meet visitors in Italy who wish they would have planned to spend more time for simply kicking back. It’s easy to over-pack your itinerary, just as it’s easy to over-pack your bag! It’s when you’re lingering, meandering and wandering that you’ll happen upon amazing sights and meet interesting people, some whom might say, “Would you like to visit our little, private cantina?”. That’s the kind of thing that happens all the time in Italy off the beaten strada, so be sure to schedule time for it – time for nothing, that is.
- Learn a few phrases in Italian. I’m so surprised by the number of visitors who don’t. In fact, when I hear tourists complain about Italians who don’t speak English, I’m continually stunned. And it happens all the time! Just a few words, such as, buongiorno, bella, buono, delizioso, grazie can open the door – both figuratively and literally. Add a sincere smile and spirit of gratitude to the mix and you’ll be amazed at number of Italian friends you’ll make. Be prepared, though. You just might be taking an unplanned tour of a village (with an impromptu guide) or even dining with a local family.
- Choose a small area to explore in depth. One of the things we love when we work with visitors at Off the Beaten Strada, is that we concentrate their experiences – and their focus – on a smaller geographical area in central Italy. That means that they don’t have to travel far to experience the unforgettable, see the incredible and taste the delectable. The area we love best includes southern Tuscany, western Umbria and nothern Lazio. (Basically, where these 3 regions meet.) It’s an area filled with endless treasures that most tourists miss completely. (We’ve lived there almost 9 years and sometimes I feel as if we’ve barely scratched the surface!) Small areas keep your driving time to a minimum and your up close and personal time to a maximum.
So there you have it! 3 of my favorite ways to get up close and personal when you travel to Italy. After all, it’s one thing to have an ordinary vacation, it’s quite another thing to craft a travel experience that will change your life. And that’s what we’re after. I mean, who needs ordinary when you have have extraordinary by simply traveling off the beaten strada?
Pamela Haack is an author, specialized travel consultant and founder of Off the Beaten Strada where she creates and hosts custom retreats in central Italy for travelers who wish to be immersed in the history, culture and traditions of the region.
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