Italy's Most Charming Small Towns
Most tourists in Italy flock to the country's major attractions and cities, paying homage to the wonders of Rome, Florence and Venice. They are, of course, must-see destinations. But once the major cities have been explored, travelers should take the less traveled path to discover Italy's tiny towns, dotting mountainsides and valleys. Here, we've picked our 5 favorite charming small towns in Italy.
To experience some of the oldest and finest examples of Ravenna's mosaics, explore the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, admire the domes of Battistero degli Ortodossi and Battistero degli Ariani, and marvel at the Chapel of Sant'Andrea's mosaics depicting flowers, figures of Christ and at least 99 bird species. To experience as many of Ravenna's mosaics as possible, purchase a combined ticket to the town's sites, admission to 6 monuments. Be sure to pay a visit to Dante's tomb; the Italian literary giant called Ravenna home for 20 years, and wrote his epic, Divine Comedy while here.
Urbino's Ducal Palace houses one of the nation's most illustrious Renaissance art collections, and the entire town has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend time mingling with the students who relentlessly converge in the Urbino's Piazza della Repubblica and grab an espresso at Caffè Basili, before exploring the 17th-century Duomo and the Renaissance painter Raphael's house (now a museum). Next, trek to Albornoz Fortress at the top of Urbino to capture photos of the postcard-perfect town sprawling below.
Explore the ruins of the town's Roman Amphitheater; built in the 2nd century, it could once accommodate some 25,000 people. Then pop into the church of Santa Chiara to admire its ceiling's papier-mache decorations. You won't suffer a shortage of delicious restaurants in Lecce, but do stop by Casareccia. Located a bit beyond the center of town, the restaurant offers mind-bogglingly tasty, traditional, local cuisine including -- brace yourself -- horse.
Plan to tour the town's 2 major villas, Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, if for no other reason than to catch a glimpse at how the international jet set used to live while furiously snapping panoramic views from their many terraces and gardens. It's even possible -- if pricey -- to spend a night in Villa Cimbrone, and dine at its tiny restaurant. While the villas are undoubtedly the major attractions here, follow them with a visit to the Duomo; an 11th-century cathedral noted for its bronze door. Check out the relic here of St. Pantaleon; his blood sits in a vial, which, on the anniversary of his death (July 27), is said to mysteriously liquify.
Take the chairlift to the 16th-century Basilica of St. Ubaldo (named in honor of the town's patron saint), where you can actually see his desiccated body preserved above the altar in a glass casket. Visit the minimalist Piazza Grande, admiring the views of the valley beyond, then head into the Palazzo dei Consoli and museum on the piazza's edge, and take a peek at the 7 bronze Eugubine Tables, a set of tablets inscribed with the most complete version of the Umbrian language. Other notable sites include the Teatro Romano, the remains of a Roman amphitheater, and the 13th-century Sant'Agostino church, which contains the fresco "The Life of St. Augustine."