We are all familiar with the popular cities in Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan. These are the places that everyone thinks about when they think of Italy. They are full of history, museums, restaurants and landmarks we had previously only read about in textbooks and dreamed about after we saw them in movies. Now, don’t get me wrong, these places are incredible. And when a friend asks for a recommendation of where they should visit when traveling to Italy, I do always suggest that if you haven’t been – they are a must see! Definitely a big check off the bucket list. But I also am a huge advocate of taking the time to explore a lesser known city that you probably have never heard of. A place that you might not know how to pronounce, and that is a little bit off the beaten path. To fully experience a country through the eyes or an actual Italian (or whomever’s country you are visiting), exploring a lesser known city will leave you with a full appreciation of the culture and memories you will never forget. Take Asolo, for example.
Now… A little bit of backstory on how I came to appreciate the little communities in foreign countries… I met my husband studying abroad for a summer in a little city named Asolo, north of Venice in the Veneto region. When I had signed up for the chance to study abroad, I just knew I wanted to go to Italy….anywhere in Italy! I had no idea that the school would be in such a small, remote community OR that I would fall in love with everything about this quaint little town.
After we got married, we knew we had to go back. We ended up making a stop back in Asolo on our honeymoon (several years after we initially met that one summer) and it ended up being my favorite couple days of the entire trip. It also made me realize how life-changing it is to fully immerse yourself into the local culture, and you that you just can’t get the same experience in the crowded streets of the big cities!
Not convinced by my little love story that took place in tiny little Asolo?… Here are a few reasons why you should make time for the lesser-known cities:
It’s Not Crowded!
Navigating your way through the thousands of tourists at major landmarks is unavoidable. Most of the time, it’s totally worth the chaos, but it can get exhausting if your fighting the crowd through the entirety of your trip! Little cities are significantly less crowded. You can take your time exploring without having to elbow your way around strollers and tour groups.
One of my favorite things about Asolo was interacting with the locals. Families had lived in this little community for generations and generations. There is a sense of familiarity and pride that I never experienced in Rome, Florence, Venice, etc. Some of the best memories I have are from sitting down to enjoy a cappuccino at Cafe Centrale while watching the locals chat for hours as they sip on espresso and laugh together, catching up with family and friends.
The best pizza I have ever had in my entire life was at Pizzeria Cornaro. The summer I spent in Asolo, we frequented this pizzeria – at least once a week. The restaurant has been run by one family for years and they have mastered the art of the pizza. Restaurants in touristy places can be hit or miss. You never know how authentic the food is, if the restaurant is say- across the street from the Colosseum and sees such a high turnover of guests day to day! The entire dining experience is different when you know the food is local, authentic, and probably made with a little love too. Another bonus is that I have found it to be much less expensive at restaurants that AREN’T in touristy areas. (Especially the wine! – cha-ching!)
The Hidden Treasures
As photographers, finding our way through side streets and looking for special details to capture is such a treat. You never know what is around the next corner: a beautiful building covered in ivy, a lookout over the valley, a castle turned into a modern bar. Bring your camera and take your time exploring, you never know what is around the next corner! This is to me what is so wonderful about Italy. Everywhere I look you can find me busy snapping away on my camera.
A Chance To Practice Your Italian!
You can get away speaking English in the big cities. Most of the time I never had to speak Italian at all in Italy because English is heard and understood everywhere. Yes this does make things easier when ordering off a menu or asking directions, but are you truly experiencing Italy if you don’t get a chance to try speaking just a little bit of Italian? Interacting with locals in Asolo was at times a bit of a struggle, when the language barrier was there, but I also found it more of a fun challenge as I got a chance to really flex my Italian language muscles. Most of the time people are very open and forgiving if you mispronounce a word …or sentence or two. The struggle of communication can be fun, and just adds to the experience and perhaps leads to a funny story or two about how you tried to ask where the closest bathroom is and got a very confused look until you were able to successfully put together the phrase you had been butchering several times in a row!
Try looking for the treasures in a small town next time you are traveling, the little communities need love too!
Have you ever traveled to a town off-the-beaten-path?