OPINION: If you want quality of life, choose Italy’s sunny south over the efficient north

Northern cities may consistently top the 'quality of life' rankings, but the true pleasures of life in Italy can’t always be measured, says reporter Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: If you want quality of life, choose Italy’s sunny south over the efficient north
People walk in Caltagirone, Sicily. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italy has a persistent dichotomy that strikes anyone who has travelled it extensively or lived here for a while.

There’s a huge gap between the quality of life as in efficient services, roads, good internet, and the ‘pleasures of life’, which come down to more immaterial and intangible aspects such as the hospitality and friendliness of locals, the beauty of surroundings, and overall cost of living.

READ ALSO: The Italian towns with the best (and worst) quality of life

All quality of life surveys usually rank more efficient, cleaner northern cities at the top, with sunny but less functional southern ones at the bottom – though on the other hand these have stunning beaches and cheaper services.

While it’s obviously not always so simple, there are differences which are clear to see.

To take two examples: in northern Bolzano you have punctuality, shiny roads, higher income levels, but also a bit of the stereotypical Teutonic cold, distant attitude. In Syracuse, Sicily, local food is more varied and most people are warm, open to strangers, but trains take ages to connect places, and the roads aren’t great either.

This makes it hard to say which towns are ‘best’ to live in because you just can’t have it all. It depends on what your expectations and lifestyle already are, or if you long for radical change.

READ ALSO: Why north-south stereotypes aren’t offensive to most Italians

I could never live in Turin, Milan or Venice – because of the weather, the crowds and the prices.

Were I to choose, I’ve always dreamt of relocating to a southern location to telework, either in Sicily (picturesque Palermo) or Puglia (gorgeous, Baroque Lecce). Even a tiny Sicilian island fascinates me, like Salina or Filicudi, but I might find too much isolation there as winters can get really solitary when the ferry boats don’t travel. 

I’ve always envied Sicilians who get to enjoy beach days and warm temperatures eight months a year, have a succulent cuisine and can eat the real ricotta-filled cannoli whenever they feel like it. 

Last time I visited Trapani and stayed there for a while the next door neighbor gave me a tray of pastries on the day of my departure. People welcome you in their homes and say ‘buongiorno’ when you meet them in the streets. 

Human warmth is almost tangible in the south whereas in the north, perhaps because there are bigger cities, you need to be in small towns or villages to find welcoming residents eager to help you or make you feel at home. 

READ ALSO: From coffee to haircuts: How the cost of living varies around Italy

The fact that the value of family is so important in the south, much more than in the north, explains why southerners are more open to outsiders and foreigners than in the north. 

Cities like Naples, Lecce and Palermo also have a more laid-back vibe, people are less frenetic than in Milan and seem to enjoy life more. This attitude affects the way visitors feel, too. 

People don’t just want clean roads, trains that run on time, efficient hospitals. A smile from a passer-by, a gift, or just a quick chat after a morning espresso can really make your day. Cities reflect the nature of their inhabitants. 


I remember once I was touring Sicily heading to Noto, we stopped for some water at a bar in the middle of the countryside and my friend tripped, falling down. In less than a second a bunch of elders who had seen the accident rushed to our side and helped my friend back on her feet, making sure I was okay too. 

Taxi rides can be quite enlightening. When you grab a taxi in Milan, Genoa or Trieste, don’t expect the driver to start talking to you unless it’s for specific information. But when I visited Naples and called a cabbie, he turned into my personal Virgil, sharing city secrets and taking me to see offbeat places along the coast. He sang and smiled, which he wasn’t required to do. It was a memorable ride. 

READ ALSO: Why are Italy’s disappearing dialects so important?

However, it’s hard to draw a line. I’m not saying that all northern cities have a poor ‘pleasure of life’ level and all southern ones rank low for life quality, but this is a general trend. 

And I believe Italy’s eternal north-south dilemma is here to stay. 

The European Union’s pandemic funds, partly aimed at reducing these regional gaps, might improve services in the south but they surely can’t turn a gloomy, stressed-out Milanese into a loud, cheerful Neapolitan.

The economic gap (which affects quality of life) between northern and southern cities will always persist. That’s what makes Italy such a rich, multifarious country.

Do you agree with the opinions expressed in this article? How did you choose between the north and south of Italy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Member comments

  1. People might be willing to help you if you’re in the south, but if do you go to a hospital, or an emergency room, you will most likely not get any help.

  2. “In Syracuse, Sicily, local food is more varied”.

    Is this actually true? I mean Sicilian food is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but there are plenty of excellent Sicilian restaurants in Milan. Plus Sardinian, Tuscan, Emilian, Pugliese, Veneto etc. etc. restaurants. How many Lombard restaurants are there in Syracuse?

    Or if you meant, Sicilian cuisine is more varied than Lombard/Piemontese/Veneto cuisine, is that true either?

    Not trying to start an argument for the sake of it, but trying to stay objective! 😉

  3. I agree 100%. My husband and I took a cab in Naples from our hotel to the main street. We told the driver that we are Italian American from the Bronx. He put a CD in the player and we sang Italian American songs and laughed all the way. We have made so many friends along the way. There is just a different feeling North to South.

  4. I am an ex born and bread londoner , I have lived in the south , capaccio for 19 years and love every minute of it , yes the buraucracy drives me mad but that is really the only problem , the local people are lovely warm people who take you to their hearts , i have a beautiful view of the bay of salerno looking out to capri and the amalfi every day , the food is delicious it actually has a taste ! which was very rare in london , the temperature is warm , only january and february are chillyl I never wear a coat , when my husband died 5 years ago everybody expected me to return to london but it didnt reallly occur to me , I have some lovely friends also my dog who was an abbandonata and my 3 chickens who give me beautiful fresh eggs every day , I wont be returning to the uk .

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RANKED: The best (and worst) places to live in Italy in 2022

A new quality of life study has ranked Italian cities from best to worst, with the gap between north and south widening again this year. Here's how every part of the country scored.

Parma has come top of the poll for a 2021 quality of life in Italy survey.
Parma was ranked the city in Italy with the best quality of life this year. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

This year, the inhabitants of the northern Italian city of Trento can say they live in the best province in Italy for quality of life – at least according to the latest survey compiled by ItaliaOggi and Rome’s La Sapienza University.

Now in its 24th year, this is among the most respected of several annual quality of life surveys conducted in Italy. 

Trento took the top spot from last year’s winner Parma, which now ranks seventh.

Trento’s neighbour Bolzano was in second place, and the top five was completed by the cities of Bologna, Florence and Milan.

Rome was in 53rd place, followed by Turin in 54th. 

The northern Italian city of Parma topped the ItaliaOggi quality of life survey in 2021 but dropped to seventh place this year. Photo: AFP

Venice ranked 22nd, while southern capital Naples was fourth from bottom in 104th place.

The rankings are based on factors including employment opportunities, standards in health and education, crime levels, leisure facilities, social security and environment.

READ ALSO: ‘If you want quality of life, choose Italy’s sunny south over the efficient north’

This year, as well as last, the study also took into account how different areas handled the Covid-19 health emergency.

While such studies consistently show a clear north-south divide, ItaliaOggi notes that this year the gap has widened overall between the wealthier northern cities and provincial capitals and those in the south, which were generally worse off to begin with and had fewer resources available to help offset the impact of the pandemic and financial crisis.

The “growing distance between the two parts of the country” is also demonstrated by the fact that “among the cities that have made leaps forward in the classification (those which have moved up more than ten places), the most southern province is Pesaro and Urbino in the central Marche region, up from 56th to 30th place; all the others are further north,” notes ItaliaOggi.

Examples include Como, which went from 62nd to 32nd place, or Rimini which rose from 61st to 37th.

READ ALSO: Twelve statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy’s quality of life

While the study does not rank smaller towns and rural areas, it is seen as representative partly as most public services, including local government offices and larger hospitals and healthcare facilities, are generally located in the provincial capital.

Here’s the survey’s complete ranking of all 107 provincial capitals in Italy, from best to worst according to its criteria:

1 Trento

2 Bolzano

3 Bologna

4 Florence

5 Milan

6 Siena

7 Parma

8 Pordenone

9 Trieste

10 Modena

11 Reggio Emilia

12 Cuneo

13 Verona

14 Sondrio

15 Verbano-Cusio-Ossola

16 Treviso

17 Aosta

18 Ancona

19 Pisa

20 Monza and Brianza

21 Bergamo

22 Venice

23 Brescia

24 Belluno

25 Forlì-Cesena

26 Udine

27 Vicenza

28 Ravenna

29 Padova

30 Pesaro and Urbino

31 Mantova

32 Como

33 Varese

34 Cremona

35 Lecco

36 Piacenza

37 Rimini

38 Arezzo

39 Gorizia

40 Biella

41 Lucca

42 Macerata

43 Lodi

44 Fermo

45 Livorno

46 Perugia

47 Ferrara

48 Massa-Carrara

49 Genova

50 Novara

51 Savona

52 Ascoli Piceno

53 Rome

54 Turin

55 Grosseto

56 Terni

57 Pistoia

58 Asti

59 Pavia

60 Prato

61 Rieti

62 Vercelli

63 La Spezia

64 Teramo

65 Pescara

66 L’Aquila

67 Alessandria

68 Chieti

69 Viterbo

70 Rovigo

71 Matera

72 Cagliari

73 Imperia

74 Potenza

75 Isernia

76 Latina

77 Nuoro

78 Frosinone

79 Sassari

80 Bari

81 Campobasso

82 Benevento

83 Avellino

84 Ragusa

85 Brindisi

86 Salerno

87 Catanzaro

88 Lecce

89 Sardinia

90 Barletta-Andria-Trani

91 Oristano

92 Caserta

93 Trapani

94 Cosenza

95 Reggio Calabria

96 Messina

97 Enna

98 Palermo

99 Taranto

100 Vibo Valentia

101 Foggia

102 Catania

103 Agrigento

104 Naples

105 Caltanissetta

106 Siracusa

107 Crotone