Italy is full of grand, imposing cities. Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples… they all have their attractions, and they’re all worth a visit. But the beating heart of Italy isn’t the cities. It’s the villages. This is a country that treasures the rural just as much as the urban, with the result that its coastline and its interior are dotted with thousands of small, picture-perfect villages that cry out to be visited. Whether we’re taking colorful fishing villages on the Italian Rivieria or medieval communes tucked away in the hills, each of Italy’s many villages carry their own unique charm. But sometimes, too much choice can be a bad thing. If you’re struggling to decide which villages can be missed and which really can’t, here’s our guide to the 20 most beautiful villages in Italy.
Tuscany is home to some truly beautiful villages and towns, but even in a region so blessed in the beauty stakes, Pienza stands out. Set in a stunningly unspoiled corner of Val D’Orcia between the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino, the village is considered a “touchstone of Renaissance urbanism.” It’s not hard to see why. Neither is it hard to see why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1996. Stuffed with architectural gems like the Bernardo Rossellino designed Palazzo Piccolomini and set against a backdrop of rolling emerald hills, it’s breathtaking in its beauty. There’s no bad time to come, but if you like cheese, target your visit for the first Sunday in September, when the village celebrates its status as the ‘capital’ of pecorino at its annual cheese festival.
19. Chianalea di Scilla
Located at the very tip of Italy’s boot is Calabria, a quaint fisherman village that rises out of the emerald sea on a bank of dramatic rock. Known as the “little Venice of Calabria,” most people get around by boat and dinghy rather than by car – although they’d better beware of venturing too far into the Straight of Messina. According to legend, the area is home to Scylla, the mythical dog-headed sea monster who gave Ulysses a run for his money in “The Odyssey.” Each morning at dawn, local fisherman sell their catch at the pretty harbor – even if you’re not a fan of seafood, the colorful boats and vibrant atmosphere is a delight.
18. Porto Ercole
Named as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy by Time Out, the fishing village of Porto Ercole is a gorgeous little community located on the Argentario promontory on the Tuscan coast. Surrounded by rolling green hills, hidden coves, and natural inlets, it couldn’t have picked a more divine setting if it had tried. Its winding streets, castles, charming harbor, and bevy of artisanal shops, bakeries, and restaurants all demand to be explored. If you know a thing or two about art history, the name might seem familiar. It’s no coincidence if it does, as this was where Caravaggio died of malaria in 1610. Today, a commemorative marker on the town clock honors his memory.
Collodi is something of a legend in literature. Carlo Lorenzini spent so many summers here as a child, and had such fond memories of the place, he later adopted its moniker as his pen name. Parco di Pinocchio, a magical, fairytale park named after his most famous work, is dedicated to his memory. Flanked by a majestic castle at its top and a similarly impressive historic villa at its base, Collodi is one of the prettiest villages in the Tuscan hills.
16. Canale di Tenno
After the Second World War, the residents of Canale di Tenno left the village in their droves. Abandoned and unloved, it was on the verge of being consigned to the pages of history by the time a bunch of artists, poets, and other creative types decided it made a good setting for an artists commune. Since they moved in in the ’60s, the village has been bought back to life. Occupying a divine location near Lake Como, it’s a truly inspiring setting.
Portofino is possibly the most famous resort town on the Italian Rivieria and most certainly one of its most famous. Despite having just 500 permanent residents to its name, its population swells each summer as dozens of celebrities, artists, and film stars descend on its colorful streets. Peppered with art galleries, amazing restaurants, cute cafes, and upscale boutiques, it’s an enticing place to visit.
Manarola is one of the Five Hamlets of Cinque Terre, a collection of exquisite communities that cling to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera’s west coast. It’s tiny but sublime, with a romantic atmosphere that’s hard to resist. Its narrow, steep streets are lined with colorful houses and fragrant orchards. At the top is a pyramid of white brick that serves as a beacon to sailors. Surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, this historic village is unquestionably one of the most delightful in the country.
13. Arquà Petrarca
Named as one of the prettiest villages in Italy by The Local, the medieval village of Arquà Petrarca oozes charm. Established during Roman times, it rose to prominence when the famed Italian poet Francesco Petrarch decided to make it his home. Petrarch loved the village, and the village loved Petrarch – so much so, in fact, it added his name to its own to cement the bond. Literature lovers now have the chance to learn more about the poet by visiting his former residence.
As thepointsguy.com notes, the whitewashed, hilltop village of Ostuni wouldn’t look out of place in southern Spain or some Greek island. But this is a decidedly Italian village, with winding streets and pretty squares and more historical churches and convents than you can shake a stick at. The views over the Puglian coast and the hillside olive groves and vineyards are nothing short of sublime.
11. Marina Corricella
The oldest fishing village on the island of Procida also ranks as its most beautiful. At its bottom lies the harbor, a colorful, lively place packed with fisherman offloading their catch, bobbing boats, and friendly vendors. At its peak is the imposing Fortress Terra Murata, a former prison that’s lost its prisoners but kept its views. In between are rows and rows of rainbow-colored houses. Crammed with little bakeries, tempting seafood restaurants, and artisanal shops, it delivers an authentic slice of traditional Italian life that’s hard not to love.
10. Petralia Soprana
Petralia Soprana is one of Sicily’s smallest but prettiest villages. Set at the highest point of the picturesque southern slope of the Madonie, the village is famous for its Norman architecture, with gems like the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto drawing thousands of admiring tourists each year. The food scene is immense – if you visit, be sure to try the local delicacies of sfoglio (a type of cheesecake made with chocolate and cinnamon), and virdura maritata, a vibrant soup made with locally foraged vegetables like chicory and borage.
As CNN Travel comments, Pietrapertosa’s setting in between the gigantic crags of the Basilicata region’s “Southern Dolomites” give the impression that the tiny village is being swallowed by the mountains. It’s a breathtaking backdrop, and one the village takes full advantage of. A must-visit destination for extreme sports enthusiasts, it offers a plethora of opportunities for adrenaline junkies to get their fix. The most popular activity is the Angel Flight, a zipline that passes from Pietrapertosa’s highest peak over hairpin bends and jutting pinnacles to reach the nearby village of Castelmezzano. If you’re looking for a tamer experience, visit the crumbling remains of Saracen castle for some astonishing views over the mountains.
Set in the stunning southern region of Puglia, Alberobello is surrounded by sublime sea views, rolling olive groves, and picture-perfect villages. Just as dreamy as the surrounding landscape is the village itself, which Aussie Flashpacker has named as one of the most beautiful coastal villages in Italy. UNESCO clearly agrees, and has even gone so far as to name it a designated World Heritage site. One look at its winding cobblestone streets and conical-roofed limestone dwellings and you’ll be nodding your head in agreement too.
Castelmezzano is proof that the best things really do come in small packages. With a population of just 815, it’s absolutely tiny. Thanks to its awe-inspiring cliffs, dramatic mountainside location, and medieval buildings, it’s also absolutely stunning. As an added advantage, it’s far enough away from tourist hotspots to be gorgeously sleepy from one end of the year to the next.
Set in the picturesque region of Piedmont, Candelo is a medieval village that used to serve as a refuge for locals during conflicts. Today, it’s home to some of the most beautifully preserved architecture from the middle ages. Fortified by imposing walls, the village consists of 200 cube-like houses and a labyrinth of winding, cobblestone streets. It’s too far from the region’s main tourist hotspots to attract many visitors, but anyone brave enough to venture off the beaten path will be rewarded by a gloriously mellow village with a unique beauty all of its own.
If you’re a fan of Dante, you might already be familiar with the name of Gradara, as it was at the Castle of Gradara that Paolo and Francesca met their death in the Divine Comedy. Located in the Marche Region in the Pesaro-Urbino Province, the village is famous for its double line of medieval walls and its imposing (and beautifully preserved) castle. Surrounded by forest and boasting sublime views over the surrounding landscape, it’s well-deserving of a place on our list of Italy’s most beautiful villages.
Travel just a short hop, skip, and a jump from Rome and you’ll find the mushroom-shaped hamlet of Calcata. This breathtaking village was founded by the Falisci, an ancient tribe that farmed the region in the 2nd century BC. Today, the Falisci have been replaced by artists and other creative types, who draw inspiration from the village’s grotto-like dwellings and moss-covered cobbled alleys. One part medieval ghost town and one part bohemian commune, it’s a unique, utterly captivating place that deserves a visit.
Named as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy by The Bite Tour, Bobbio might only have 3500 inhabitants to its name, but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in style. Peppered with medieval architecture, its most notable attraction is the “Ponte del Diavolo” (Bridge of the Devil). According to ancient folklore, the bridge was designed by the Devil himself, who believed its twists and bends would discourage monks from crossing the Trebbia river.
Described as one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Southern Italy by yourtraveltoitaly.com, the small, coastal fishing village of Atrani is a magical place, with mirror-like cobblestone streets, stunning sea views, and the smell of fresh lemons from the surrounding groves wafting through the air. Its location in the divide of two craggy cliffs is breathtaking, as are the tiers of multicolored houses that rise up from its idyllic stretch of golden beach.
Even in a country as steeped in legend and myth as Italy, Sperlonga stands out… although in this case, the legend is as much Greek in origin as Roman. According to folklore, the village once helped guide Odysseus on his seafaring adventures, serving as a kind of makeshift lighthouse as he navigated the shoreline. In celebration of its role, the village now houses a museum on the grounds of the former Villa of Tiberius that’s dedicated to Odysseus’ deeds. Other attractions include the ancient, 12th-century church of Santa Maria which houses an incredible array of medieval mosaics; the series of pristine beaches that cluster at the village’s base; the dramatic rocky cliffs that plunge into the ocean from its east side; and the ruins of the Emperor Tiberius’ opulent grotto villa. Despite being a major tourist destination sort of like cities like Rome, the village never feels overwhelmed with visitors, retaining its laid-back vibes and very relaxed, very Italian atmosphere.