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Italy's Best Under-the-Radar Travel Destinations

When out of Rome, vacation like the Romans do
Italy's Best Hidden Travel Destinations
Photo: Gina Pricope/Getty Images

When I think back on the two years I lived in Rome, I remember fondly the last-minute jaunts my friends and I would take to escape on weekends. And with some of the most beautiful coastlines in Europe and an abundance of great food, those trips never got old. Here are some of the best secret travel destinations that promise to augment any visit to the Eternal City.

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Ponza

The first time I visited Ponza, I was sure I was dreaming. This small rocky island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, located just two hours from Rome, is full of hidden beaches, grottoes and cliffs. For a room with a view, stay at Hotel Chiaia di Luna, overlooking the Chiaia di Luna bay. Rent a boat and hop from small sandy beaches like Spiaggia di Cala Feola to the larger rocky shorelines like Frontone. Have a leisurely lunch of eggplant Parm and fried zucchini flowers at Associazione Culturale Cala Frontone. Visit the piscine naturali, two naturally formed pools—one hidden by rock, the other overlooking the sea. Time dinner to the sunset; sit on the terrace at Il Tramonto and dig into fresh pastas, seafood and lots of wine.

 

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Monte Argentario

Monte Argentario, a promontory on the southern Tuscan coast in Maremma, makes for an easy weekend getaway. Do as the Romans do and rent a house on the water. Drive the strada panoramica, a winding panoramic road that wraps around the promontory. Enjoy a casual lunch alfresco and sample regional delicacies—like boccone rubato, pork tenderloin cooked in an eight-hour milk marinade and wrapped in crispy bacon—at Ristoro La Sorgente. Check out Antica Fattoria La Parrina, an agriturismo and wine estate selling produce, fresh cheeses and local wine. Stop in Orbetello; the long, narrow town, which sits on a lagoon, connects the island to the mainland and is known for its fresh fish. I Pescatori di Orbetello, run by a local fish cooperative, is the place to sample the goods, with dishes like spaghetti alla bottarga, grilled eel and whole sea bass.

 

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Lake Garda

Often overlooked for the more popular Lake Como, Lake Garda is a northern Italy jewel. It’s the largest lake in the country, and it’s surrounded by mountains and small resort towns, making it a real stunner. For true luxury, stay at Villa Feltrinelli, a sprawling estate built in 1892 and run as a hotel since 2001. Take advantage of one of the clearest lakes in the country with scuba diving and water sports, and ride the Malcesine cable car to Monte Baldo for a bird’s-eye view. Don’t sleep on Garda’s Michelin-starred restaurants; La RucolaVecchia Malcesine and La Tortuga are all standouts. Lakeside options include Ristorante alla Fassa and Trattoria San Martino.

 

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Castellammare del Golfo/Scopello

For a true escape, nothing beats Sicily, and this little stretch of seaside between Palermo and Trapani does the trick. Renting a house is the way to go; we stayed in Scopello, a beach town that starred in scenes from Ocean’s Twelve. Have a café and cornetto with the locals at Bar Millennium; hang on the beach and swim in the pure waters; and hike the trails of the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro, four miles of pristine coastline with mountains, beaches and picnic areas. Cool down at La Sirenetta with a caldo freddo, a Sicilian ice cream sundae consisting of rum-soaked sponge cake, gelato and whipped cream, all topped with hot chocolate sauce. Head out on the water to some of the bay’s beaches and coves, which are accessible only by boat. Cap off your day with a stunning seafood dinner at Il Patio Ristorante, housed in a former fishing boat factory. Sit outside and order the pistachio-crusted tuna, which tastes so fresh you’ll swear it swam up to your table.

Elissa Goldman is the founder of NinthFlr, a communications consultancy. Tag along with her food and travel adventures on Instagram at @ninthflr.

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