We are all tired of flat, mediocre tours and planned trips to major, tourist-y destinations. We want adventures, experiences, friends, and stories to share. We want to connect. And the only way to do that is opening up to people, sharing a coffee, letting your adventure unravel so naturally that suddenly you find yourself at a table at a local spot at 1 am debating why our parents had it better than our generation.
This is what we are all craving today. That kind of authenticity, genuine experiences in every new destination we visit.
What does this have to do with visiting small towns in Italy? They make it a whole lot easier. Leave luxurious hotels to Instagram and pick a small, cozy place in town. Forget crowded guided tours and leave your Airpods at home, you are in Italy now. Get lost around small streets and beautiful details, for the first time you will be glad to have lost your way home.
There are so many small cities all over Italy worth visiting
Sure Piazza San Marco in Venice is breath-taking and the Colosseum in Rome is huge, but be careful not to overestimate cliches. Contrary to what Lizzie McGuire made you think it's not for Rome nor for that dubious looking guy that she fell in love, it's the idea. She fell in love to the idea of meeting someone with a way of living and looking at things completely different form her own. And that is an adventure we all want to live! At least I do. Dubious looking guy aside, she surely left Italy with a story to share. In her case she had a story, an adventure and a great time in Rome. But that was also a movie.
Real adventures, real wow stories to share with family and friends don't take place in Rome, they do outside of it. Pick a city such as Bergamo, Mantova, Lucca, Bologna, Alberobello, Montepulciano and so many others. Authenticity rests there. These and many, many others are walkable, human-sized destinations with an incredible history, visible at every turn.
The beauty you will find in small cities
Cities like these, on top of offering history, culture and fun, have a major advantage against bigger ones: they are not built around tourists. People in places like Bergamo, where I live, offer authentic experiences and currently am writing from, do have tourists and the number is growing every year, however they do not have a history of living off of tourism and this is an important information to keep in mind. Because cities like mine can live on other industries, in spite of everything they have to offer to tourists they still hold a local feeling, and that is a great prerequisite to have for a destination that wants to stay authentic. Here is how this translates into real factors to consider for you trip:
1. Reasonable prices. Here restaurants, hotels, bars, parking and everything else is built and meant for locals, domestic tourism at best. This kept prices down or to a managable level anyway. Here prices are meant to be the proportionate compensation for a service and product they want to offer. Rome, Venice and all other cities are bound to unending, unmanageable hordes of tourists assulting a limited number hospotaility businesses. They are there to empty your pockets. That is what their prices are meant for.
2. Lack of English. They will struggle speaking with you in English, which believe me is the most wholesome thing you will experience. These people don’t practice English as those living off of tourism in cities like Florence and will find it difficult to use it with you. But you will notice they will take pleasure and will go the extra mile in trying to giving you directions, sharing stories and making your stay an even better one.
3. The unexpected. One thing is to see Florence’s Duomo, massive and beautiful, but seen a million times on the internet, and one is to lose yourself in a place where history transpires through every wall, palpable at every corner, giving you a state of constant awe and knowing as a fact that most people did not get to experience what you are experiencing in this moment.
4. Genuinity. It is in places like these that you will find yourself losing track of time and sharing a table with great people talking of everything and anything. I am not against big cities. Sometimes I go to venice, Milan or Naples myself. What I see that saddens me is numbers of tourists flying there from far away wanting to see, feel and experience what life is like there. They heard of this unique feeling you get when in Naples... They have high expectations. They aren't met. They probably think it's great and they are happy with it because don't know what Naples is like to the non-tourists. Now that, for me looking from distance, is an unforgivable missed opportunity for those traveling. Locals are putting up a show and charge for it. If you look for authenticity please look elsewhere.
Tourist traps now many correctly define them. Restaurants serving pizza that isn't napoli's pizza, pasta that I would never eat and exagerations of Naplesness. Sad but inevitable. When you realize hordes of tourists will walk in front of your business everyday you begin to think in terms of money and not quality or authenticity. This can't happen in smaller city because they live off of locals and can't afford to behave the same way. Visit small towns for genuinity.
5. peculiarity. No matter on what emisphere of the planet you are, if you live in a big city you will find pasta, coffee, sushi, spring rolls, kebab and falafel, pizza and a whole lot more. Welcome to the globalized world, a place of convenience. When you visit smaller cities, especially Italian smaller citites this hasn't become the rule yet. If you are in Bergamo you know you are in Bergamo. It's whole and untouched. Smaller towns hold their charm and uniqueness to these days.
Cities this size will offer dishes you won't find elsewhere, culinary experiences you won't be able to repeat or replicate. The stories you will live here will be stories you want to share. This is authenticity.