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North vs south: Where's the best place to live in Italy?

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
North vs south: Where's the best place to live in Italy?
A view over Turin, northern Italy. Photo by Marie Rouilly on Unsplash

You're probably familiar with some of Italy's regional stereotypes - but how true are they, and do they really affect quality of life? The Local asked Italy's foreign residents about their experiences.


When searching for the best part of Italy to move to, you might bring with you some preconceptions about the south as being sunny and chaotic versus the supposedly cold and polluted north.

And Italian popular culture is full of such references, with comedies like 2010's Benvenuti al Sud ('Welcome to the South') mining the humour in Italy's famous north-south divide.

But is it true that the north of Italy is grey but (relatively) efficient, while the south is sun-soaked yet disordered?

We asked readers across the length of the peninsula to tell us whether this rings true in their experience, as well as for their advice for those starting out on their search.

READ ALSO: The best (and worst) places to live in Italy in 2023

One common assumption is that things work better in the north; particularly when it comes to Italy's infamous red tape.

That's partly true, says 39-year-old Canadian-British citizen Marina - at least in Trieste in the northeast, just across the border from Slovenia.

"Although the bureaucracy is a nightmare generally in Italy, I feel it’s slightly softened here because of the Austro-Hungarian influence," she says.

"Unless you are really Italian, stay north of Rome," is the advice from David, a British citizen in his 60s, who lives in the fishing village of Camogli in northeast Liguria.

But US citizen Lisa Key, 60, who lives in a northern city near Lake Garda, says residents have to deal with "the usual bureaucracy and a questura [police headquarters, where residency permits are issued] that’s not friendly to immigrants."

When it comes to air pollution, there's no denying that residents of northern Italian cities suffer disproportionately, with recent studies finding that Milan, Turin and Cremona are among the most polluted cities in Europe.

Milan: cold and smoggy? Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

Lisa Key observes that the sky in her northern city is "often hazy because of air pollution".

"Avoid the north, it is polluted and the weather is bad," is the verdict from 54-year-old New Zealander Andrew Diprose, who lived for two years in a Sicilian village in the province of Catania.

READ ALSO: Why is air pollution in northern Italy so bad?

But on the weather front, at least some readers in northern Italy disagree.


Joseph, 54, relocated from the UK to Valtellina, a valley in Italy's Lombardy region across the border from Switzerland, which he descibes as "beautiful and sunny".

Tim Last, a 58-year-old UK citizen, says he appreciates the mild climate in Lerici on the Ligurian coastline.

"Relative to other parts of Italy, the weather is not overly cold in winter, nor overly warm in summer, primarily due to the maritime climate," he says.

Many northern Italy-based readers also say they appreciate the ease of access to other parts of Europe, as well as the range of activities within reach.

READ ALSO: Why are Trento and Bolzano rated the best places to live in Italy?

"In no more than an hour or two's drive, we can enjoy the contrasts in scenery and culture of Austria, Slovenia and Croatia," says Clarissa Killwick, a British citizen living in a small town in Italy's industrial northeast.

"Beyond the zone industriali we have the prosecco hills which are wonderful for walking and cycling in."


If you want guaranteed hot and sunny weather for much of the year, however, the south remains the undisputed champion.

The Sicilian capital of Palermo is "the best place for people who like sun, sea, nature, fresh produce," says 53-year-old resident Judy Tong, from China.

81-year-old British citizen Margaret, a 16-year resident of the countryside around Martina Franca in the southern region of Puglia, highlights the "good weather" as one of her favourite things about the area, along with the "huge weekly market in town, excellent restaurants and cafes, friendly people."

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

Palermo: for people who love sun, sea and nature.

Palermo: "for people who like sun, sea and nature". Photo by Michele Bitetto on Unsplash

One thing residents of the south agree on though is that newcomers will struggle to find work once they get there - though readers say that's also true for many parts of the north.

"If you're young and looking to work, go for one of the big northern cities," advises 88-year-old Valentine Hornsby, who lives in a fishing village in the southern region of Puglia.

"Have a job!" is the advice from 55-year-old American René Alexander, who lives in Maniago in the northern Friuli Venezia-Giulia region.


With the rise in remote working, however, more foreign residents of working age can choose where they want to live; readers based in both Italy's north and south told us they benefitted from the flexibility a remote job provided.

"I'm in Naples for a year and working remotely," says 50 year-old Stacey Mickelbart from the US.

"I love exploring the city for a year; I think Naples is a city that really unfolds itself to you and rewards you the more time and effort you put into it."

With the debate over the merits of northern versus southern Italy, it can be easy to forget the centre; especially lesser-known eastern regions such as Abruzzo and Le Marche. But residents here say they're some of the happiest of all.

"We spent a lot of time traveling all over Italy from north to south. We picked the central area because of its natural beauty," says 72-year-old US citizen William Purves, who lives with his wife in the town of Pacentro in the central-eastern region of Abruzzo.

"We love the mountains and the change in weather... When we can, we explore the area and meet so many friendly people."

British citizen Sioux Whenray-Hughes, 59, who also lives in a small town in Abruzzo, describes it as "a great place to live," noting that "it’s 30 mins to the coast and about an hour to mountains and skiing."

Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region is "small enough to integrate in the community, large enough to get everything you need," according to resident Laura Lee Ricci, 68, from the US.

And the town of Offida in Le Marche is "a great place to retire or raise a family," says 65-year-old Walter Pancewicz from the US: "Safe and inexpensive."

Thanks to everyone who took part in our survey.

Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Leave a comment below or get in touch at [email protected] to share your experience.


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