TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year

Italy is opening up for tourism, but travellers and residents alike may be cautious about crowds. Here are some stunning spots in Italy to visit this year, where fewer people usually go and where the health data is looking promising for safe tourism.

TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year
Fancy somewhere safe and quiet? Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

Just a handful of cities and destinations in Italy hog the limelight for international travel, including Rome, Venice, and the Cinque Terre – and while they’re all worthy of their reputations, many visitors might decide this is the year to discover a lesser-known part of the country.

That’s not just because avoiding overcrowding is better both for tourists and for monuments, but this summer for the second year in a row there’s the added concern about public health.

While Italy’s coronavirus situation continues to improve and most restrictions have now been eased, the risk has not disappeared completely, and Italy currently only has around 20 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

READ ALSO: What will Italy’s coronavirus rules be for summer 2021?

Italy plans to welcome back more international visitors this year than last, including those from certain non-EU countries with high vaccination rates, including the US and Canada.

Italy’s biggest tourist hotspots are gearing up for the summer season, with cities scheduling events and seaside towns checking that their beaches are in top shape.

With travel still complex, the majority of Italian residents also plan to spend the country’s long summer holidays enjoying sights closer to home, with only 20 percent planning to go abroad this year – most of them to summer hotspots in Sicily or Puglia.

MAP: Which parts of Italy will be Covid-19 ‘white zones’ in June?

To give you some inspiration, here’s our pick of alternatives to the most famous destinations. Though these feature less in the guidebooks, they are no less worthy of a visit and could also be a quieter, safer bet, based on their population and health data.

Oristano, Sardinia

This coastal town in tourist favourite Sardinia is a secret wonder. It currently has some of the country’s most favourable health data, according to the latest data analysis from Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore‘s monitoring site Lab 24.

The weekly new cases per inhabitants stands at just 10 per 100,000. That’s a considerable drop on the national figure of 47, according to the latest national health data.

Just 3.3 percent of the local population is infected compared to the national figure of 6.9 percent, making this a sensible choice to avoid the hordes of tourists.

In fact, things are looking up in Sardinia as a whole with an average Rt number of 0.61 – that’s the reproduction rate used to calculate how fast the virus is spreading. It’s 0.72 nationally.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s ‘green pass’ for travel and how do you get it?

Located in the central-western part of the island, Oristano is the “gateway to an infinite number of natural beauties”, according to Sardinia’s tourism board. It is also the “noble soul of the island”, where nature meets historical monuments.

It’s also got a modest population of just over 31,600 according to statistics body Istat, meaning it could make a great getaway place to unwind and relax after months of lockdown-induced stress.

Sardinia’s beaches and sea are jaw-dropping. Photo: Massimo Virgilio on Unsplash

Sondrio, Lombardy

You might think that the Lombardy region wouldn’t feature on this list, as the region has been the worst hit in Italy throughout the pandemic and, while improving, its health data isn’t the most encouraging. Compared to the rest of the country, this region has a higher Rt, currently at 0.78.

However, just as with rules and restrictions, the situation differs from town to town and by province too.

Sondrio is showing optimistic figures, with an incident rate of 47 per 100,000 inhabitants. Although there are neighbouring areas also with promising numbers, such as the charming Lecco on Lake Como, Sondrio has less than half its population, at just over 21,600.

READ ALSO: Indoor dining and later curfew: Italy’s new timetable for easing Covid-19 restrictions

Even though it may be lesser known, Sondrio won Alpine Town of the Year award in 2007.

It boasts mountains, lakes and is a perfect holiday for those who want to get active through hiking, climbing and canoeing for example.

There are also events on throughout the year, such as a Dante exhibition and live shows.

Ferrara, Emilia Romagna

If you’re looking for a city break off the tourist track, Ferrara is beautiful, historic city in Emilia Romagna – and again, it’s got some good-looking health figures to back it up.

With a low incidence of 11, it’s a destination faring well compared to the national statistic. On a regional level it’s performing too, with the infection rate standing at 6.6 percent compared to Emilia Romagna’s 8.6 percent overall.

It’s got a comparatively huge population to our hidden hotspots so far, at just over 132,000 inhabitants.

But compare that to the likes of Florence (around 382,200) or Rome (2,873,000), and it becomes clear this is a small city with far less chance of getting squished during your sightseeing in times of Covid.

The bicycle city of Ferrara makes for an alternative city break. Photo: Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

Ferrara is known for its Renaissance buildings, its beautiful moated castle and the famous city walls, where city meets countryside. There’s also an impressive diamond-bricked building called the Diamanti Palace, home to the National Picture Gallery.

It’s a bicycle-friendly city too and is easily enjoyed on two wheels through its pedestrianised centre.


Gorizia, Friuli-Venezia-Giuli

Another alternative to the beach holiday is Gorizia in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, one of the three regions to have been downgraded to the lowest-risk ‘white zone’ classification this week.

It has an incidence rate of 33 and a population of almost 34,500 making it a good spot for safe tourism.

It’s located at the foot of the Julian Alps, bordering Slovenia, and is known for its tourism and industry. This border town is packed full of history and nature, described as the “most beautiful open door to Italy”, according to the painter Max Klinger.

Gorizia’s Latin, Slavic and Germanic influences can be seen in its streets and squares, stretching out along the Isonzo river and is flanked by glorious vineyards.

Italy’s small islands

If being active isn’t what you’re after and you’re longing to just lie on a beach and dip your toes into rejuvenating waters, then some of Italy’s ‘Covid-free’ islands might be just the ticket.

Procida, an island in the Bay of Naples, became the first island to fully vaccinate its residents in May.

It has just under 10,500 inhabitants and after its successful vaccination rollout, is an alluring holiday destination for those hoping to escape and avoid concentrations of tourism.

Sardinia’s Maddalena archipelago. Photo: Leon Rohrwild on Unsplash

Mayors of Italy’s dozens of small islands, which altogether have a permanent population of a few hundred thousand but can host several times that in summer, pushed for blanket vaccination before Italy invited tourists back.

Their often remote location can make it difficult for residents to access the healthcare they need, so it was a move for those permanently living there, especially for their more fragile citizens.

Mass vaccinations are also underway on Procida’s neighbouring islands of Capri and Ischia, while Sicily’s vaccination rollout is also speeding up.

The Pontine islands off the coast of Lazio, the Tremiti in Puglia, Capraia and Giglio in Tuscany, and the Maddalena archipelago off Sardinia are also currently working on vaccinating all their residents in time for summer.

Find all our latest news updates on travel to, from and within Italy here.

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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, 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 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 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 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.


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.