Italian Regions: A Tour of a Different Italy

Explore the Diversity of Italian Regions with our small-group tours

Are you looking to explore the hidden gems of Italian regions in a tour of a different Italy, beyond the typical tourist hotspots? Did you start realizing that Rome, Florence, and Venice do not fully picture how and where most Italians live?

Look no further! Italy is a country of diversity, with each of the twenty regions boasting its unique culture, cuisine, and stunning landscapes. From the rolling hills of Tuscany to the rugged coastline of the Amalfi Coast, from the vineyard-clad slopes of Piedmont to the salt pans of Western Sicily, there is always something new to discover. 

A Different Italy: Regions and Provinces

While the big cities mentioned above are definitely a must-see, especially for first-time visitors to Italy, the Country goes way beyond that.

Most Italians don’t live in big cities, they are not used to the hustle and bustle of urban sprawls but, on the contrary, live in the countryside and they are much more familiar with the slow-paced life of the province.

Italy it’s all about local identities and it is very hard to find a food, a tradition, or any other aspect of life that doesn’t reflect the regional root. Before considering themselves Italian, locals pride themselves on belonging to their own region, typically the one where they were born or where they have lived the longest.

Greve in Chianti
Greve in Chianti

Why is Italy divided in regions?

Italy is divided into regions for administrative and political purposes. The regional division of Italy has historical roots and was influenced by various factors, including geography, culture, and governance. 

Italy opted for a decentralized administrative system, giving considerable power and autonomy to regional governments. 

This decentralization aimed to accommodate the cultural and historical differences between regions and to foster local development. It allows for better governance, and for the implementation of policies tailored to the specific needs and characteristics of each area.

Historical facts behind Italian regions

Italy was not a unified country between the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century AD, and the 19th century. That alone can explain the lack of a strong national identity, especially when we compare Italy to other Countries around the world.

Before the unification in 1861, the Italian Peninsula was a collection of independent city-states, which eventually occupied larger territories, each with its own ruling entity, currency, language, and culture.

For example, the Papal Kingdom took over most of central Italy, the Dukedom of the Medici family controlled Tuscany, and the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily was ruled by the Spanish Crown and then by the Borboni dynasty. The Republic of Venice was later occupied by Austria. 

In Piedmont, the Count of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto, took Turin in the mid-1500s and soon after expanded to the entire region. In 1713, the young Duke Vittorio Amedeo II was awarded the title of king after defeating the French. 

The House of Savoy unified Italy which was consequently a monarchy until the events of World War II. Today’s Democratic Republic was established on June 2nd, 1946.

Geography and Cultural Differences shape Italian Regions

Italy’s geography is diverse, ranging from the Alps in the north to the Mediterranean coastline in the south, along with several islands. Different regions have distinct climates, landscapes, and cultural identities, which influenced the development of regional identities.

The fertile plains and valleys of Northern Italy support a thriving agricultural sector. Regions like Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and Veneto, crossed by the Po Valley, are known for their rich farmland, which allows for the cultivation of crops like wheat, rice, and vegetables. 

The Mediterranean climate along the coasts is suitable for growing olives, grapes, and citrus fruits. As a result, Italian cuisine is heavily influenced by the availability of these local ingredients, leading to regional variations in dishes and cooking styles.

How the weather shapes Italians and their lifestyle

Italy experiences a range of climates, from the continental and alpine climate in the north to the Mediterranean climate in the south. These differences impact daily lifestyles, such as clothing choices, outdoor activities, seasonal celebrations, and the overall attitude and mental approach to life.

Notoriously, life in the north tended to be more hectic and focused on work and a very active daily routine, while in the South a more laid-back and slower pace has always been more typical.

If these older stereotypes of Italy belong mostly to the past, in modern days it is possible to find some of these differences among the older generations.

A longer afternoon lunch break tends to be still a real thing in those areas of Southern Italy where the heat is an obstacle to everyday life. On the contrary, the fast rhythm of life in larger cities, especially in the north, is much more similar to international metropolitan areas.

Lake Como Tour in Italy
Lake Como

The Best Kept Secrets of Northern Italy

Northern Italy is a treasure trove of unique flavors as nowhere else in the country.

From the stunning lakeside towns of Lombardy to the charming vine-growing region of Piedmont, from the fisherman town of Camogli to the majestic Alps, Northern Italy has something for everyone.

One of the most picturesque places to visit in Northern Italy is the town of Bellagio on Lake Como. With its stunning waterfront views, lush gardens, and charming cobblestone streets, Bellagio is the perfect place to unwind and soak up the beauty of the Italian lakes. 

Another hidden gem in Northern Italy is the town of Alba, located in the Piedmont region. Alba is known for its world-renowned truffles, and the Alba Truffle Fair held each autumn is a must-visit event for foodies.

If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience, you’ll be pleased to spend three nights in the province of Asti in one of the luxury boutique hotels included in our Lake Como, Piedmont & Portofino Tour. Less touristy than the Langhe hills, Asti’s wine region is the perfect place to appreciate the slower pace of life.  

Take the opportunity of entering the home of local hosts who share their passion for cooking or wine-making and explore the Unesco World Heritage site of Langhe and Monferrato, where vineyard-clad hills are the perfect backdrop for hiking, biking, or simply relaxing in a pool.

Travel ideas in Central Italy

Central Italy is home to some of Italy’s most iconic cities, including Florence, Rome, and Siena. But beyond these popular destinations, there are plenty of hidden gems to discover. 

One of the most charming towns in Central Italy is Pienza, renowned for its exquisite Renaissance architecture. The town was redesigned and rebuilt in the 15th century by Pope Pius II, who wanted to create an ideal Renaissance town. The architecture of Pienza reflects this vision, with harmonious buildings, beautiful palaces, and well-designed piazzas.

Located in southern part of Tuscany, not far from the border with the Umbria region, Pienza is a gem of Central Italy, in the picturesque Val d’Orcia. There, the beautiful countryside is known for cypress-lined roads, vineyards producing Brunello di Montalcino and medieval castles.

On our Grand Tour of Tuscany, guests splurge on a 4-night stay in a luxury villa surrounded by olive grove where the quintessential Tuscan atmosphere comes alive.

A Different Italy: The Hidden Gems of Southern Italy

Southern Italy is a feast for the senses, with its vibrant colors, rich flavors, and breathtaking coastline. One of the most charming towns in Southern Italy is Positano, located in the middle of the Amalfi Coast. 

As the evening sets in, the fading sunlight casts a golden glow over the colorful cliffside houses and the sparkling waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The beauty of Positano is truly enchanting, and staying overnight allows you to fully immerse yourself in its charm.

That’s why we spend five nights there, on our Naples, Positano & The Amalfi Coast Tour. The sea-view rooms of our charming, family-owned boutique hotel are perfect to experience Positano’s romantic allure. With its narrow alleys, quaint cafes, and candlelit restaurants, the town exudes an intimate atmosphere.

Spending the night allows you to enjoy a romantic dinner with your loved one, perhaps overlooking the stunning coastline, and take in the romantic ambiance under the starry skies.

Sicily Italy Tour
Marzamemi in Sicily

The Must-Try Italian Dishes in Each Region

One of the best things about traveling in Italy is the chance to sample the country’s delicious regional cuisine. Each region has its specialties, and trying these dishes is an essential part of the Italian experience. 

While tomato sauce, spaghetti, and pizza are iconic Italian food, the real Italian cuisine goes ways beyond those stereotypes. Read our post about Italian pasta and discover how many shapes, textures, and ingredients can be used to prepare regional pasta dishes.

In Northern Italy, be sure to try the Milanese risotto, which is flavored with saffron and often served with ossobuco (braised veal shanks). And in Piedmont, don’t miss the chance to try the region’s famous tajarin pasta, which is made with egg yolks and served with a rich meat sauce.

In Central Italy, the famous Florentine steak, grilled over an open flame and served rare is a must for meat lovers. And in Umbria, don’t miss the chance to try the region’s famous lentil soup, which is hearty and flavorful. 

From the famous spaghetti carbonara of Rome, made with eggs, pancetta, and pecorino cheese, to the Neapolitan pizza, made with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, to the Sicilian arancini, which are fried rice balls stuffed with meat, cheese, and tomato sauce, these popular dishes won’t disappoint.

Join a Tour of a Different Italy and Explore the Italian Regions

In our small-group tours of Italian regions, we’ll take you on a journey of a different Italy. We’ll share insider stories on the most charming towns, and the most mouthwatering local dishes, and we’ll combine the most breathtaking natural wonders with off-the-beaten-track encounters where large groups and independent travelers don’t go. 

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, our tours are designed to enjoy a hassle-free travel experience. 

Getting to the most remote provinces of Italy, digging one Italian region at a time takes a deep knowledge of secondary roads where driving can be challenging.

Without having to worry about the logistics, you’ll enjoy the ultimate Italian adventure with a maximum of only 12 travelers who will be friends by the end of the tour. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to fall in love with the authentic Italian experience. Let’s start exploring the hidden treasures of Italy together!