Looking for a slice of la dolce vita without hearing hordes of English-speaking tourists? Why not do as the locals do and take a trip to one of these lesser-known gems? While international tourism accounts for a significant percentage of the country’s GDP, domestic tourism is a big deal too. In fact, last year 33% of Italians claimed that they would travel to destinations just over 90 minutes from home for a holiday. See, Italians really do like to holiday at home. But when and where do Italians go on holiday in Italy?
Generally speaking, most Italians take their holidays in August during Ferragosto. Part holy-day, part full-blown fiesta, Ferragosto is a one-day national bank holiday but it trickles into the weeks preceding it. It derives from the Latin Feriae Augusti but Mussolini made it a national holiday in the 1920s. Entire cities empty and most people flock to the mountains or the beach. We’ve rounded up seven of the most popular holiday destinations in the country. And yes, most of these are near the mountains or next to the sea.
Where do Italians go on holiday in Italy?
International crowds have just caught onto Puglia, but Italians have been flocking here for decades. Salento stretches from around halfway down the region, the area located right in the heel of Italy’s boot. Far from over popular hobbit-like Trulli houses of Alberobello and bustling Bari, Salento offers Puglia at its most laid-back. Its blockbuster capital city, Lecce, is known as the ‘Florence of the South’ for its baroque architecture, but other popular towns include Nardò, Scorrano and Morciano. Billed as the ‘Maldives of Salento’, Pescoluse offers up two miles of powder white sand and crystal clear waters for beach buffs too.
Situated north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Aeolian archipelago comprises seven idyllic islands. Named after Aeolus, god of winds, by Greek settlers, the landscapes here are dramatic, characterised by volcanic activity. The dinkiest of the Aeolian Islands, Panarea is also the most exclusive and expensive. It’s where the wealthiest Italians head in the summer; yachts line the glittering harbour and the music is cranked up, stylishly of course. Cala Junco, with its rusty red sand, is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Divers can also explore the wreck of an old English merchant ship that sunk in the early 1900s and now sits 40 meters below the water. Beyond the island, there are even smaller islands to explore: Basiluzzo, Bottaro, Lisca Bianca and Dattilo.
Liguria has long attracted tourists from across the world, not least the romantic poets like Byron and Shelley. But for well-heeled Milanese, few places compare to the Italian Riviera. The region stretches out in both directions from its ancient capital Genoa to France in the north and Tuscany in the South. The coast is dotted with charming fishing villages such as Camogli and Rapallo, swanky ports like Portofino and traditional seaside destinations like Alassio. Further inland, the mountains, terraced vineyards and olive groves appeal to those looking to beat the heat in the summer.
4. Lake Como, Lombardy
The perennially popular Lake Como is a holiday hotspot for Italians too. Home to stately mansions, Michelin-starred restaurants and luxurious hotels and villas, it’s a popular honeymooning destination. The towns of Bellagio and Tremezzo are popular with tourists from across the globe, but more off-beat destinations like Lecco and Varenna are more popular with Italians. It’s a popular weekend getaway for Milanese (it’s less than two-hours by train from the city) and most Italians hotfoot here in July and August.
5. Maremma, Tuscany
Tuscany is one of Italy’s most popular regions but you won’t find Italians hopping off to showstopping cities like Florence, Sienna and Pisa. Instead, locals (particularly Romans) head to Maremma, a secluded spot in the south of Tuscany. As well as quaint and charming towns like Montemerano and Pitigliano, the area boasts a sparkling coastline with blockbuster beaches like Monte Argentario. It also offers up a diverse range of natural and historical wonders, from snow-capped slopes to Roman ruins to bubbling hot springs.
6. Macerata, Le Marche
For endless undulating green hills, locals don’t flock to Tuscany, they hop over to Le Marche. This central region on the Adriatic coasts boasts dozens of hilltop towns without international tourists. Squeezed between the sea and mountains, Macerata is one of the regions cultural capitals. Every July it hosts the annual Opera Festival in its 7,000-seat amphitheatre. The city is also home to a university and arts academy.
The surrounding area is renowned for its produce too, from truffles to exquisite wines to premium olive oil.
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. The island is best known for its beaches – which it does incredibly well – but it also offers ancient history, eccentric festivals, incredible hikes and ritzy seaside resorts. While parts of the island are well developed, there are quieter, wilder patches to explore too.
Unlike mainland Italy, hotels and bars often own the beaches, Sardinia is brimming with beautiful (and free) beaches. There’s over 1,000-km (621-miles) of coastline, boasting snow-white sand and turquoise waters. Costa Smeralda’s scalloped bays are popular among celebs and supermodels, but there are plenty of secluded beaches surrounding the private lidos too. The Costa Verde and Costa del Sud are two of the island’s most popular beaches. For a real castaway experience, Italians sail off to La Maddalena’s granite islands.