"Where locals go" is our new series featuring under-the-radar holiday destinations that are often overlooked by visitors but cherished by locals. In this edition, our Italy experts showcase their favorite holiday spots at home.
Italians are well aware of their country's charms and when in need of a holiday, they usually head to the mountains or sun-kissed coasts to cool down. Here, three Lonely Planet writers in Italy reveal the destinations they escape to in summer to enjoy simple pleasures like swimming, hiking, good food and cultural sites without the crowds.
Old-world charm in Piedmont
Benedetta Geddo is from Turin, Piedmont
One of my favorite spots for a mountain vacation in Italy is Valsesia, located in the northernmost part of the province of Vercelli in Piedmont. Whether you come for an outdoorsy summer holiday with hiking, biking and water sports, or a snow-filled winter getaway at one of the stations of the Monterosa ski area in winter, Valsesia offers a gentle, relaxing pace.
The destination follows the course of the Sesia River and is under the shadow of the Monte Rosa, the second-highest peak of the Alps, which means you’re surrounded by stunning views wherever you look. You can stay in the charming town of Varallo, maybe in the quiet Al Vicolo del Gallo hotel. Varallo offers many amenities including restaurants, bars, a riverside beach, an art gallery and Sacro Monte di Varallo, a medieval monastery complex and Unesco World Heritage Site.
You can go for something even more laid-back in the smaller village of Alagna Valsesia’s hamlet of Pedemonte, famous for its vineyards; consider a stay in a typical Valsesian building such as at Albergo Montagna di Luce. Enjoy local cuisine at restaurants like Piane Belle in Varallo and unwind with a drink and a view in Alagna Valsesia’s bars. Two of my favorites include Il Baretto and La Miacceria.
The other side of Tuscany
Angelo Zinna is from Florence, Tuscany
Known for its vineyard-covered rolling hills, Renaissance treasures and medieval hamlets, Tuscany attracts millions each year. Still, few visitors seem to be aware that besides art, wine and photogenic countryside vistas, the region features a chain of rugged peaks where great hiking opportunities await.
The area known as Garfagnana, in northern Tuscany, is home to the Parco Regionale delle Alpi Apuane, a marble-rich nature reserve crisscrossed by steep, remote trails that locals love to tackle on weekends. At the many farm stays (agriturismi) surrounding Castelnuovo di Garfaganana, you can taste chestnut- and mushroom-based local specialties. You can also stay in one of the mountain huts (rifugi) within the park’s borders for a full immersion in the wilderness.
Climbing up Monte Tambura (1891m / 6204ft) – along the historic Via Vandelli route that once connected the cities of Modena and Massa – requires some stamina, but at the summit you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views of both the Mediterranean coast and the Apennines, which divide Tuscany from Emilia-Romagna. If you do get up there, make sure to stop for lunch at the sun-kissed Rifugio Nello Conti (1442m / 4730ft), run by the outdoor aficionados of the Italian Alpine Club.
Hiking, history and sea in Sicily
Sara Mostaccio is from Riposto, Sicily
During the summer, I love hiking in Sicily’s Bosco di Malabotta, a beautiful natural area with a lot of charm. I usually base myself in Montalbano Elicona, a delightful medieval village that is overlooked by a Swabian-Aragonese castle. I love wandering the village’s narrow streets discovering little churches and baroque doorways along the way. One of my favorite places to eat in Montalbano Elicona is Il Ritrovo dei Re, a homely restaurant where I often indulge in baked pasta ’ncasciata.
In the forest, my favorite hiking trail is the Sentiero dei Patriarchi, a path lined with centuries-old oaks that feels extremely peaceful. Along the northern border of the forest, you can find the Rocche dell'Argimusco, imposing megaliths once used for sacred rites by pre-Hellenic peoples.
When I’m in need of a beach holiday, I head for the crystal-clear waters of Tindari, in the north of the island. From the Sanctuary of Madonna Nera, perched high on a rock, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Marinello lakes. Among the ruins of ancient Tindari, a Greek theater stands out as a reminder of the island’s rich history. At sunset, I like to relax and sip a drink at Lido Mykos on Tonnarella beach while the sun sets behind the picturesque town.