Looking for Small Italian City
June 15, 2008 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know a smaller Italian city to visit in July that is not Florence, Venice, Pisa, Sienna or Rome?

I'm visiting Italy in July with a friend. Think two single guys in their late 20s looking to relax for a week and go to some cool bars and chat with the locals. We'll be renting an apartment if possible.

I could be convinced to visit Rome again but would like to try something different. Pluses would be: a beach, great food, lots of locals, relatively close to some other smaller cities to visit for the day. My best time in Italy in the past was Florence.

Other option would be to stay in a bigger city like Milan or Naples if there were good reasons for it.
posted by fantasticninety to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sorrento might work well for you. Boat to Capri goes from there too.
posted by meerkatty at 7:35 PM on June 15, 2008

No beaches, but the towns of the Marches are gorgeous. Gubbio, or Perugia. Or the hilltop ducal palace town of Urbino, if you're into some architecture that's amazing even for Italy.
posted by nicwolff at 7:38 PM on June 15, 2008

For food you can't beat Bologna; and in Italy, that's saying something.
posted by TedW at 7:39 PM on June 15, 2008

Sorrento might work well for you. Boat to Capri goes from there too.

I strongly second Sorrento and Capri. All are accessible from Naples.

Visit other locales on the Amalfi Coast. Such is "heaven on earth" to me. Breath taking beauty! Gorgeous scenery, gorgeous people, fine food and wine, sun, sea and happiness!

Visit Capri's sister islands: Ischia and Procida also in the Gulf of Naples (where much of the film The Talented Mr. Ripley was filmed).
posted by ericb at 7:51 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who moved to Bologna and loved it.

I lived in Milan for about a year. Reasons to stay there: there's more art than you might think, including Da Vinci's last supper and of course, La Scala. You could go to the San Siro, although soccer season's not on right now :-(

Loved my visit to Verona. Parma was nice.
posted by idb at 7:53 PM on June 15, 2008

Proper link for the The Talented Mr. Ripley film.
posted by ericb at 7:58 PM on June 15, 2008

There was a show on PBS on Friday night that made a very good case for Milan.
posted by intermod at 8:15 PM on June 15, 2008

Lucca is a really lovely, upscale (= kinda pricey) walled town in NE Tuscany. There was an interesting mix of young and old locals kicking around, and not a ton of tourists when we were there. Lots of shops and delicious things to eat.
It might be sleepier than what you're looking for, but my favorite place in Italy is Cinqueterre, a string of five fishing villages on the Mediterranean. We stayed in the smallest of the five towns, Riogmaggiore, rented a pretty cheap apartment, bought fresh ricotta and fruit for breakfast at a little shop across the street, and walked the lush, terraced trails all day, taking lots of wine-and-focaccia breaks. You might find the bars you're looking for in Monterosso, the biggest city of the Cinque.
posted by pieliza at 8:33 PM on June 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by The World Famous at 9:26 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second Cinque Terre. I found the locals incredibly friendly and the seafood was the best.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 9:32 PM on June 15, 2008

I'll third Sorrento, with some time on Capri
posted by mbatch at 9:40 PM on June 15, 2008

Orveito, little pizza place by the old town lift there. Sweet little town.
posted by Freedomboy at 9:47 PM on June 15, 2008

Vicenza, or smaller still Zané if you want to stay in the Veneto/by the Dolomites.
posted by mnology at 10:57 PM on June 15, 2008

3rding Cinque Terre. Beautiful, beautiful scenery. Lovely people, nice food. Vineyards everywhere.
posted by twirlypen at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2008

Orvieto is a lovely hill town and is easy to get to. You can take side trips to Rome, Florence, Pisa, etc. fairly easily, if you want to. There's a great restaurant there called Maurizio, right near the Duomo, and a cool little shop called Il Mago di Oz (the Wizard of Oz) a few blocks away from there. If you don't stay in Orvieto, consider it for a side trip. It's worth it.

You could also try going to San Marino, which is a landlocked country inside of Italy, near Rimini. I have no idea if it has the type of nightlife you're looking for, though. Rimini is a seaside resort/vacation town nearby, but from what I gathered from my time there, it's quite crowded during the summer.

We also enjoyed Asolo, a hill town in Veneto. It's a great little town and they had some pretty lively bars. We were there in the off-season, so during the summer I'm sure they have an even better bar scene.
posted by bedhead at 11:07 PM on June 15, 2008

I loved Levanto, the town north of the Cinque Terra. Easy train ride to the other villages. I think that there are two camp-ground in town. I stayed at the one closest to the beach, it was great.

I also loved Lucca.

July is a awesome time to visit Italy as they had heaps of summer festivals happening when I was there. The Levanto Patron Saints Feast Day, is in August, I think, but we stumbled upon it and was one of the best experiences of out trip.

posted by dantodd at 11:41 PM on June 15, 2008

I gotta say: RAVENNA!
We went over Christmas. The Byzantine mosaics, the food, friendly people on bikes- it's the one place I'm sure we're going back to. I would.ve skipped our week in Venice for more time there. I'm sending my GF to one of the mosaic schools whenever I can swing it.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 12:40 AM on June 16, 2008

Not exactly the best period for visiting Naples.
I wish I could hate Capri to death, Procida is way better.
From Naples you also can pick a boat and go to the Cilentan Coast.
posted by darkripper at 1:40 AM on June 16, 2008

Since you specified 'cool bars', I'm gonna guess you mean pubs/discoteques. ('Bar' here usually means a cafè/coffee bar; 'pub', 'locale', 'discoteques' are used for the nightlife type places) I haven't been myself, but Rimini is renowned for its club scene.

I'd also like to add that with the words 'beach' & 'July' as requirements, you will want to decide & book your accommodation as soon as possible, since that's smack dab in the middle of high season & we're already at mid-June.

Wherever you go, scout out the local sagre - they're yearly events in the little villages celebrating various foodstuffs, anything from wine to bread to pasta to steaks or lamb.

For example, at Amatrice last year we paid 5 euros for a heaping plate of buccatini all'amatricana, for (IIRC) 8 euros, you got a grilled sausage on a ciabatta as well. There usually a few stands set up selling local foodstuffs as well, and a band in the central piazza playing ballroom classics & tarantellas & Italian golden oldies. (site linked is in Italian)
posted by romakimmy at 1:54 AM on June 16, 2008

Gah. buccatini all'amatricana bucatini all'amatriciana
posted by romakimmy at 2:03 AM on June 16, 2008

You might like Cefalu in Sicily - it has a wonderful beach, great food and a position on a train line that can take you into Palermo on an easy day trip. Alternatively you can take a day trip to the Aeolian islands. It gets tourists from all over - but many locals.

As romakimmy points out many Italian spots that match your description get very crowded in July. Some places get crowded with Itialians from the big cities, some are mainly locals and some are the haunts of international tourists. Personally I found the Cinque Terra was starting to get uncomfortably crowded with fellow tourists in April: American's who had read Rick Steve's books and German hikers with walking polls predominantly.
posted by rongorongo at 3:09 AM on June 16, 2008

Viareggio is by the sea, and Lucca is lovely.
posted by MrMustard at 5:07 AM on June 16, 2008

We adored Cinque Terre. We also loved Florence, but Cinque Terre was by far the most satisfying. It's just such a delightful place. Each of the 5 towns has a different character. We took the train there from Genoa. Lots of things to do, but we mainly enjoyed walking the trails and taking in the coastal views from the cafes.
posted by wowbobwow at 6:27 AM on June 16, 2008

You'll need a car (but local trains are an underestimated and efficient resource), but I'd say a tour of central Italy might do - say roughly anywhere south of Siena, north of Rome and west of the Apennines - in July pretty much everywhere is still operating (while in August most of Italian cities shut down, albeit much less than a few years ago) but tourist facilities are open an working at full pace, and beaches are not yet full of people.

Art in incredible concentrations, great food, locals everywhere (heh), great beaches and coastline - say from Piombino to Tarquinia, very diverse landscapes. Should you miss larger cities, Rome is not too far away. Feel free to ask for details.
posted by _dario at 8:04 AM on June 16, 2008

If you go to Capri, head to the other side of Monte Solaro and stay in Anacapri. It's a smaller community and has much cheaper lodging. You can still hit all the great spots in Capri proper without paying big resort prices to actually stay there. I spent a week or so just hanging out on the entire island, and loved it.
posted by Dean King at 9:14 AM on June 16, 2008

Bologna! Second best food in Italy. (Best is you're mother's cooking, of course)
posted by Wet Spot at 10:01 AM on June 16, 2008

I'd recommend staying in Genoa. It's not the most obvious Italian city for a tourist, but in my experience everyone who visits adores it. You've got the Mediterranean in front of you, proper mountains behind you and all of Liguria to explore. East there are fishing towns, great walking and the aforementioned Cinque Terre. West there are nice beaches and Nice, France if you fancy it. I'm trying to remember if Turin is reachable for a day trip, but it'd be worth investigating if you wanted a change of scene. There's good nightlife, and it just feels like a more "real" experience than a tourist one. Plus, as everyone knows, the best food in Italy is in Liguria, and the best wine is from neighbouring Piemont.
posted by brighton at 10:43 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

A sincere thank you to everyone's input here. There are some great suggestions here!

Also, I have been to Orvieto before and it was incredible!
posted by fantasticninety at 2:58 PM on June 16, 2008

I have several recommendations...

Urbino - a lovely medieval hill town in the Marche - there is a university there, so lots of cultural goings-on, great shopping, beautiful streets. The ducal palace has a very important collection of renaissance painting. The surrounding countryside is hilly, much like Tuscany but not so overrun with tourists.

Genoa, mentioned above, has a lot going for it, but it can also be a bit "rough" - watch for pickpockets and make sure your luggage is in your possession at all times while you're transferring from train to hotel or whatever. I didn't have a problem, though. The cemetery there is not to be missed, and you can find some of the tastiest, cheapest food anywhere in Italy.

Turin is a delightful town - like Milan, it is more French in its architecture and city plan. There is a wonderful contemporary art museum up on a hill outside of town at Rivoli castle, which is a really striking medieval building that was incorporated into a grand palazzo in the 18th century, but never finished. Beautiful views of the city and the alps from here.

Mantua, Padua, Verona - so many art treasures that you will just die. Padua has the Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel with frescoes by Giotto, the basilica of Saint Anthony. Mantua has very famous frescoes by Mantegna in the Palazzo Ducale, and some lively frescoes by Giulio Romano at the Palazzo Te. Mantua is surrounded by lakes and has some neighborhoods with canals. Verona has similar architecture to Siena but is more lively, with designer shopping areas, and a very well-preserved (and large) roman amphitheatre where they hold operas and concerts in the summer. I love the basilica of S. Zeno, which is a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture - the 11th-century bronze doors are amazing. Verona is a really nice town to wander around and get lost in.

One more... Arezzo is another gorgeous town, not too far from Urbino, with a mix of ancient and medieval architecture. The cathedral of S. Francesco has a fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca of the legend of the true cross, and there are numerous other churches and palazzi with works by Vasari, Cimabue, Lorenzetti, and other notables.

If you couldn't tell by now, I'm kind of into the art... but even if you're not a fresco freak, these are all great places to roam and relax.
posted by jenbeee at 12:41 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just read your question again and realized I somehow glossed over the "beach" part. Most of the places I mentioned are inland hill towns, though Mantua has the lakes. Rimini is fun and has a beach, and Ravenna is nearby, another favorite of mine for art.

All of the places I mentioned are pretty laid-back and have friendly locals. Urbino and Padua have universities so you will meet lots of friendly young people.
posted by jenbeee at 12:55 PM on June 17, 2008

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