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The parts of Italy where fewest tourists go

Wondering where in Italy you're least likely to run into other visitors this summer? Here's where the statistics tell us most tourists don't venture.

The parts of Italy where fewest tourists go
The cave city of Matera may be attracting more visitors, but the rest of the Basilicata region continues to be overlooked. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

We all know that Italy attracts millions of visitors a year – and even this summer, with the borders open to the rest of the European Union as well as a handful of other countries, millions are expected to take a holiday here, whether they're Italian residents staying local or people from neighbouring countries seeking some sun.

But while Italy isn't short of places to visit, travellers tend to flock to the same hotspots.

READ ALSO: Seven crowd-free alternatives to Italy's tourist hotspots

The cities of Rome, Venice and Milan alone hosted around 10 million overnight visitors last year each, according to Italy's national statistics office Istat, with 11.4 million check-ins in the capital, 9.9 million in Venice and 8 million in Milan. By region Veneto, Lombardy, Tuscany, Lazio and Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol) are the most popular destinations for an overnight stay.

So what's at the other end of the list? If you're determined to escape the crowds, we've found the parts of Italy where only a tiny minority of tourists usually venture. 

Here are the parts of Italy where fewest visitors go, as measured by the number of people who checked into tourist accommodation – including hotels, B&Bs, holiday rentals, camp sites and farm stays – in 2019. 

The least visited Italian regions

5. Calabria

Calabria isn't just overlooked but positively maligned, with even Easyjet advertising it as a region left deserted by mafia activity and earthquakes.

With 1,896,326 check-ins in 2019, the southern region certainly isn't one of Italy's most visited, but it's a lot nicer than its reputation makes it sound. In fact almost every part of its coastline consists of breathtaking rocky beaches, especially around the Capo Vaticano: just avoid the popular resort of Tropea if you want some sea to yourself.

READ ALSO: Scilla, the jewel of Calabria's Violet Coast

On Italy's 'toe', the elegant city of Reggio Calabria houses one of Italy's finest collections of Ancient Greek artefacts in its archaeological museum, including the unmissable Riace bronzes of two warriors discovered underwater by a local diver.


Praia I Focu beach near Capo Vaticano in Calabria. Photo: Alexander Van LoonCC BY-SA 2.0Flickr

4. Abruzzo

Rugged Abruzzo is popular with Italian tourists but hasn't made its way onto most international visitors' radar – yet. Just 1,643,166 overnight stays were recorded in 2019, three years after the earthquakes that devastated parts of central Italy in summer 2016 and from which many towns are still rebuilding.

READ ALSO: Pescocostanzo, Abruzzo's 'City of Art'

In winter its steep slopes are a far cheaper alternative to the Alps, while in summer there's scenic hiking through mountain meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Meanwhile its long, sandy beaches are a less crowded version of the more famous sections of the Adriatic Coast.

 


Gran Sasso in Abruzzo. Photo: Lorenzo Lamonica/Unsplash

3. Valle d'Aosta

Italy's smallest region, in the north-west Alps, gets its fair share of visitors in ski season but tourists drop off in the summer months: 1,270,306 people checked in last year. 

READ ALSO: Courmayeur, skiing and more in the shadow of Mont Blanc

Yet Aosta's steep valleys are worth a visit year round, with wildlife to see in the Gran Paradiso National Park and hiking, climbing and canoeing replacing winter sports. The combined French-Italian influence has also given the region a delectable wine trail.


Lago di Place Moulin, Valle d'Aosta. Photo: JoanCC BY-NC 2.0Flickr

2. Basilicata

The 'arch' of Italy's boot, Basilicata stretches from the Apennine mountains to the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. The region, one of Italy's poorest, has long been overlooked by tourists but is gradually coming to international attention thanks to its cave city of Matera, a Unesco World Heritage site and last year's European Capital of Culture.

READ ALSO: Matera, Italy's city of caves, contrasts, and culture

Even despite the accolade, only 944,108 people made an overnight stay in 2019 – and that's after tourist numbers more than doubled in the past decade.

If you go, remember to venture beyond Matera and check out its craggy mountain landscapes in the huge Pollino National Park, as well as the rocky Tyrrhenian coast and its gorgeous resort of Maratea, an emptier version of the Amalfi coast. 


Maratea in Basilicata. Photo: Silvio SicignanoCC BY-SA 2.0Flickr

1. Molise

At the bottom of the list, by quite a way, is the little central region of Molise. With just 136,757 check-ins last year, the entire region attracts fewer overnight visitors than most Italian towns. (In fact one village recently offered free accommodation in abandoned houses in a bid to get on the tourist map.)

READ ALSO: Seven reasons Molise (yes, Molise) is Italy's best kept secret

It may be a running joke in Italy that Molise doesn't exist, but venture to this patch between Abruzzo and Puglia and you'll be rewarded with rugged mountains, sandy beaches and hearty country fare.

Look out for the tratturi, ancient shepherds' paths that now make great hiking trails, as well as the crab-like trabucchi fishing huts that line this part of the Adriatic Coast. 


Fishing huts by Termoli in Molise. Photo: Matteo Grimaldi/Unsplash

The least visited Italian provinces

If you want to narrow it down further, here are the only ten provinces in Italy that got fewer than 150,000 visitors last year: you might be surprised to see that some of them are hidden within Italy's most popular tourist regions.   

10. Lodi, Lombardy

This quiet town near Milan boasts one of Italy's most beautiful squares, the porticoed Piazza della Vittoria, yet the province had just 142,064 people checking in last year.

READ ALSO: Six delightful day trips within easy reach of Milan


Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi. Photo: Gabriele ZuffettiCC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

9. Avellino, Campania

Inland from Naples and ringed by mountains, Avellino is a great destination for outdoors types with trekking through waterfalls to Lake Laceno and even skiing in winter. It had just 126,522 overnight visitors last year.


Sunset over Avellino. Photo: CostangelopacilioCC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

8. Campobasso, Molise

Running from mountains to coast, this province (104,126 check-ins last year) has castles, archaeological sites, nature reserves, lakes and forests. 


The Guardiaregia-Campochiaro nature reserve in Campobasso. Photo: Nico72CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

7. Vercelli, Piedmont

At the foot of the Italian Alps and their famous ski resorts, the Po Valley plains of Vercelli are a green blanket of rice paddies. Just 102,134 people stayed there in 2019.

READ ALSO: Lonely Planet picks Piedmont as the world's top region to visit


The rice paddies of Vercelli. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP

6. Biella, Piedmont

Despite boasting medieval villages, dramatic castles, picturesque mountains and even a Unesco World Heritage Site in the Sacro Monte di Oropa sanctuary, this province near Turin attracted fewer than 100,000 overnight visitors last year (90,964).


Oropa sanctuary in Biella. Photo: Ferruccio ZanoneCC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr

5. Benevento, Campania

North-east of Naples, Benevento's history goes all the way back to the Romans, and then even further. But it's largely overlooked by visitors: just 79,322 stayed overnight there last year.


Benevento's Roman amphitheatre. Photo: IlsorridenteOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

4. Enna, Sicily

Overlooking the valleys of central Sicily, the hilltop town of Enna may not have the sea but it does have dramatic panoramas and cooler air – as well as a nearby saltwater lake. Only 71,468 visitors made it to the province last year.


A dramatic view over Enna. Photo: Pierre MetivierCC BY NC 2.0Flickr

3. Caltanissetta, Sicily

Another province in the Sicilian hinterland, Caltanissetta reaches from the centre of the island to the southern coast. Despite ancient ruins, mountain fortresses, Baroque architecture and picture-perfect beaches, just 61,437 people stayed overnight there last year, which we can only explain by the fact that visitors to Sicily are spoiled for choice.


The beach at Butera in Caltanissetta. Photo: Federica FCC BY SA 2.0Flickr

2. Rieti, Lazio

Less than two hours' drive from Rome lies Rieti (check-ins: 53,686), a province strung across mountains, dotted with lakes and nature reserves, and a world away from the capital. The province, which includes the devastated town of Amatrice, is slowly rebuilding after the 2016 earthquakes.

READ ALSO: Ten must-see places within reach of Rome


Castel di Tora in Rieti. Photo: PatafisikCC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

1. Isernia, Molise

Where else could the least visited province in Italy be but in its least visited region? A mere 32,631 visitors stayed overnight in Isernia last year, most of them Italian. Even more overlooked than Molise's other province – the region only has two – Isernia and its mountains, tratturi trails and nature reserves offer plenty of outdoor space for the few visitors who venture there.


An empty street in Isernia town. Photo: gkarelitskyCC BY-NC-ND 2.0Flickr

MORE TRAVEL: 

All data from 2019, provided by national statistics institute Istat.

Member comments

  1. Benevento is definitely worth an overnight stop.it has a lot of history and good restaurants. The highway that runs by is a good bypass between autostrada from Roma A1 to A14 to Bari.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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