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The very best Italian towns to move to – according to people who live in them

Where do you begin your search for the perfect Italian town to call home? By talking to those who've already made the move, of course.

The very best Italian towns to move to - according to people who live in them
Ascoli Piceno, Marche. Photo: DepositPhotos

Smaller cities and towns regularly top “quality of life” surveys in Italy, thanks to things like good public services and more affordable housing.

But these places are often overlooked. Many expats looking for work “tend to go where there are more opportunities, like Rome and Milan,” explains Italy relocation expert Damien O'Farrell.

“Those, however, that choose Verona, Piacenza, and so on, are very happy with their choice due to less traffic, lower rents in some cases, and a more human approach to life in most cases,” he adds.

But when pretty much every Italian town is ridiculously beautiful, and every region has something different to offer, how do you even begin to choose one?

It pays to get the advice of those who've made their own move to Italy, so here we've rounded up suggestions of the best places to live in Italy from readers and members of our Living in Italy Facebook group

Photo: Depositphotos

Living in or near provincial capitals, like Ascoli Piceno or Arezzo, is a good choice as they're lively without being chaotic, and tend to have good schools and public services.
 
But if you're looking for more peace and quiet, members also had plenty of suggestions for those looking for a smaller town or village, with mainly Italian inhabitants.
 
From north to south, here are ten great towns and small cities to live in Italy – as recommended by their international residents.
 
Cittadella, Veneto

Population: 20,000

While the small city of Padua is a good option, one member also recommended the small-but-lively nearby medieval walled town of Cittadella in the province of Padua as a great place to live.

Mantua, Lombardy

Population: 49,000

We think the small city of Mantua, or Mantova, is an incredibly atmospheric, overlooked gem. And members agree that it's a fantastic area to live in – if you don't mind a bit of foggy weather. It's surrounded by artificial lakes on three sides and full of Renaissance history, famous for the architectural legacy of the Gonzaga family. A short drive from Verona and Lake Garda, it's safe, lively and friendly – and there's a surprising lack of tourists.

READ ALSO: Mantova, the Renaissance city of the Gonzagas

Salò, Lombardy

Population: 10,000

If instead you're looking for a really small town to call home, right next to Lake Garda, there are quite a few to choose from. One group member suggests his adopted home town of Salò. The location is perfect for nature lovers, he explains, without leaving you isolated.

Ascoli Piceno, Marche

Population: 48,000

This regional capital set in a dramatic landscape is the perfect size, and many of the stunning homes for sale in the surrounding small villages and countryside are particularly good value for money. Long-time foreign residents tell us they love the scenery, the traditions, and the friendliness and patience of local people as well as the supportive expat community in the area.

Senigallia, Marche

Population: 44,000

If you fancy living by the sea but within easy reach of the mountains, the beautiful region of Marche is the place for you. There's a string of pretty small towns, filled with seafood restaurants and art nouveau architecture, running the length of the coast. Several members told us how they'd chosen to live in or near Senigallia, in the province of Ancona. “Good food, good wine, nice medieval hamlet, good hospital and services, and cost of living” were some of reasons members cited for moving to Senigallia.

Arezzo, Tuscany

Population: 99,000

If you love Florence and Siena, but don't love the sky-high property prices in those famous areas, try lesser-known eastern Tuscany. The medieval city of Arezzo is my own personal recommendation as I lived there for just over two years. It's small enough that the pace of life is slow and public services are good, but big enough to have no end of local festivals and events, as well as good shopping and restaurants (it's also quite a wealthy place.) It's surrounded by forested hills and breathtakingly beautiful countryside, just an hour's drive from Siena or Perugia. It's also a stop on the high-speed train line between Rome and Florence.

READ ALSO: 

Bagni Di Lucca, Tuscany

Population: 6,000

If you'd like to be more rural, but with an international community around you, another option is northern Tuscany.

“There are some beautiful places just half an hour north of the medieval city of Lucca,” writes Gill White. “We just bought a house in the mountain village of Granaiola, Bagni Di Lucca. There are both ex pats and locals here – about 40 residences.”

Photo: Depositphotos

Tricarico, Basilicata

Population: 5,000

In the province of Matera, pretty Tricarico is another less obvious choice. The wild southern region of Basilicata, between Calabria and Puglia, is full of picturesque small-to-medium-sized towns with a slower-paced, more traditional way of life. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture while taking your pick of affordable properties (extremely affordable, if you want to renovate), this is a great area to check out

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Population: 106,000

Set among hilly vineyards at the gaetway to the Dolomites, the picturesque, lively, small city of Bolzano is one to keep in mind if you'd like to relocate to the north. Bolzano keeps topping all the quality of life surveys, so it must be doing something right.

Can you recommend a great place to relocate to in Italy? Sign in to leave a comment below or join the conversation in The Local Italy's Facebook group.

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Member comments

  1. I recently received a parcel from Marks and Spencer delivered by Dhl , no problem, very efficient.
    Three weeks later I received another parcel from Marks, contents just over £100 as previous and was met with a demand for €58.20 import costs before I could have the parcel. I didn’t pay and Marks seem baffled by the charge.
    Has anyone had a similar experience recently? And is this reciprocated in the UK I wonder?

  2. Considering relocating for extended stay, from Sun Valley, Idaho. Looking for small mountain town with reliable snow. Prefer alps. My, what a challenge!! Will go check out Cortina. Aosta is central, but low altitude and rain. Mostly nordic skiers. Any great recommendations out there? Thanks. Jamie

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PROPERTY

PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy’s conservation rules

Old Italian homes featuring frescoes, loggias or ancient cellars are appealing, but such buildings are often protected by Italy’s cultural heritage authority - meaning lots of red tape for owners, as Silvia Marchetti explains.

PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy's conservation rules

Italy is dotted with gorgeous hilltop villages full of centuries-old homes for sale complete with characteristic features. But many people don’t realise that these buildings, even if they’re abandoned or decaying, often fall under restrictions (vincoli) enforced by Italy’s ‘art authorities’, known as the sovraintendenza belle arti.

Due to the artistic and historic value of these buildings, they’re considered a part of the national heritage. This is usually because they date back to medieval and Renaissance times, or because they feature frescoed walls, emblazoned vaults or entrance portals with coats of arms. 

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying an old property in Italy

Italy has the most UNESCO-listed cities in the world, and here these vincoli are even more binding. Many buildings in Rome have entrance portals sculpted by Renaissance masters which are ‘off-limits’ even if they’re in need of repair. 

It is a widespread way of protecting Italy’s heritage, and yet awareness of the risks buyers face if their property happens to be ‘supervised’ are often hidden, and are especially unknown to foreigners.

In almost every old rural village there are private houses and palazzos with ancient loggias, decorated ceilings and lavish stone columns, and even simple former farmers’ dwellings with ancient cellars, over which the art authorities have the final say on renovation work, even small upgrades like adding an extra room or pulling down a wall.

READ ALSO: Charming or boring – What do Italians think of life in the old town?

Giovanna Rosetta Fraire was forced to give up her dream of buying a portion of a two-floor 1700s building in the village of Civita Castellana, in Lazio, because it needed upgrades but the frescoed walls, ceilings, decorated fireplaces and elegant entrance were ‘vincolati’ (under restrictions).

“It was a historic building with an artistic value. The peeling façade needed a makeover but it was still the original color dating back centuries so we couldn’t paint over it,” she explains.

“The rusty wrought-iron balconies were made in the 18th century while the location was in the heart of the historical center, right in front of the Gothic cathedral, so any change to the building would have affected the scenery, too.”

Fraire only found out about these rules by chance, just before signing the purchase deed, thanks to a tip from a local resident.

According to Italian law, fixes to similar buildings of value need to be coordinated and approved by the sovrintendenza, which seldom allows any changes to the exterior and only minimal ones inside crumbled rooms, for instance those struck by an earthquake.

Usually the structure of a ‘vincolata’ building cannot be modified at all: walls cannot be pulled down, nor a room expanded or divided in two.

And when old homes are embedded within the fortified medieval walls or share a wall with a castle or fortress it is even more complicated. 

Civita Castellana. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Cesidio Diciacca bought a former abbot’s lodgings dating from the 1700s, embedded within the rampart in the village of Picinisco, north of Naples, 

He contacted the local belle arti before restyling it to find out whether there were any restrictions, which is always the best thing to do. Unearthing an updated map of your property from the catasto (land registry) is also useful. 

“The belle arti stopped all external changes as we are in the centro storico,” he says. “The only external fix allowed was to remove the top level of the guard tower which was ugly and out of place, and we had issues also placing solar panels. 

“The whole of the centro storico of Picinisco and neighboring hill towns are protected in some way which is both good and bad as it prevents necessary work of modernisation.”

It should be a matter of striking the right balance between preservation and valorization of old properties, but this is rarely the case in Italy when art authorities are involved. 

Cesidio Diciacca’s house in Picinisco. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Giovanna Rossi owns a tiny dwelling in the picturesque Tuscan village of Pitigliano, where old homes are cropped on a high plateau and carved from the tuff rock. 

Like most other villages in the area, Pitigliano has Etruscan roots and many dwellings come with pagan caves considered by authorities to be monuments of anthropological interest, a bit like Matera’s.

“I have this stunning underground canteen accessible from my kitchen but cannot change it in any way to make it habitable, it’s a pity. I just show it to friends and keep wine bottles in it,” she says. 

Even private gardens and patches of land, set within or close to ’archaic’ protected parks where Etruscan or Ancient Roman tombs and ruins have been unearthed, have archaeological vincoli and cannot be modified without the necessary green lights.

These are ‘vincolati’ by authorities unless there are specific geological permits which allow the construction of a swimming pool, a gazebo or tiny cottage, following land surveys proving the spot is clear of historic finds. 

That’s without mentioning that when a Roman sarcophagus or column pops out buried in your backyard, you must tell the belle arti at once or face fines, and potential seizure. 

Other European countries have similar rules, like Historic England’s listed buildings, but these seem to create restrictions to a lesser degree compared to Italy’s huge and sometimes cumbersome heritage.

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