Pin these destinations down for your next Italian holiday
Summer holidays might be over, but our wanderlust isn’t – which is why we’re already planning our next trip. And so should you.
The beginning of autumn is the perfect time for an Italian adventure: the weather is cooler, the beaches calmer, the sights less crowded. Not sure where to go? Then keep reading – we’ve picked three places from our bucket list that make perfect autumnal getaways, and are pretty easy to get to from the big cities.
Reachable from Rome, Tuscia, in northern Lazio, is a history-rich ‘region’ that comprises a few towns and territories once under Etruscan influence. Its landscape is as picturesque as it gets – think lakes, rolling hills and lush greenery everywhere you look – and is matched by fairytale-like Mediaeval villages and grand Renaissance palaces, since many of Lazio’s aristocratic families used to have their country residences here. It’s “big outdoors-meet-history” in one beautiful destination, and the ideal respite from the hustle and bustle of the Eternal City.
WHERE TO GO
Built out largely out of grey volcanic stone, Tuscia’s capital, Viterbo is a good starting point for exploring the rest of the region. With its well-preserved centro storico and a laidback vibe, this much-overlooked gem is home to notable sites like the handsome Palazzo dei Papi, built for the popes who lived in Viterbo from 1257 to 1281, when the town served as papal seat; and Palazzo dei Priori, a 15th century city hall overlooking the Renaissance-style Piazza del Plebiscito – the city’s political and social hub.
Twenty kilometres southeast from it, don’t miss Caprarola, a small town nestled on the volcanic hills known as Monti Cimini. The main point of interest here is the magnificent Palazzo Farnese, a Renaissance villa built for the same noble family that owned Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The stately palace is a sight to behold, and a true architectural masterpiece. Wander its rooms, marvel at the richly decorated paintings on the walls, and pretend you’re back in 16th century Italy.
Keen to enjoy some nature after all the sightseeing? Then Lago di Bolsena should be next on your itinerary. A lake of tectonic origin and the largest volcanic lake in Europe, this mirror of water has a bewitching charm, and its shores offer plenty of opportunities for walks in almost mystical solitude. Its namesake town, a steeply stacked village with a charming historic centre, doesn’t skimp on culture either: its 13th-century Rocca Monaldeschi, a former fortress, is a must visit.
Don’t Miss: Bomarzo, a Mannerist park built by Prince Vicino Orsini in 1547, which features giant, surreal statues of magical creatures and exotic animals.
Lago di Como
Lake Como is spectacular in September. Its autumnal colours make everything crisper, and the atmosphere almost dreamy. Hopping on a ferry to visit the many villages that dot its shores, it’s impossible not to fall for the combination of sunny dwellings, lush gardens and bucolic landscapes that appear all around. As it’s a quick jaunt from Milan, it’s the perfect spot for a weekend away, or a longer stay if you’re after some respite from city life.
WHERE TO GO
Any of the towns around the lake are absolute delights, so you can’t really go wrong whatever you choose to visit first. Our personal recommendation? Start with pretty Bellagio, a village on a promontory jutting out into the lake. A tumble of cobbled lanes, elegant buildings and beautiful villas overlooking the water, this lovely spot offers a perfect glimpse of small-town Italian living, and it’s Lake Como at its very best.
Spend a day strolling its alleyways, pop by Villa Serbelloni Park, an 18th-century terraced garden with stunning lake views, and meander through its quaint city centre with a gelato in hand.
Next up: Varenna. Sitting on the opposite side of Como lake from Bellagio, this borgo of some 700 people is another gem, with beautiful churches – the 13th century Chiesa di San Giorgio and the 11th century Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista are our favourites – and a promenade so romantic is actually called Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lovers’ Walk).
Snap some pictures, soak in the old-charm vibes, and set out to discover Lake Como’s other treasures besides its villages: its grandiose villas (yes, you can visit some of them!).
We recommend the neoclassical Villa Melzi d’Eril, built in 1808 for one of Napoleon’s associates; Villa Carlotta, a 17th century mansion whose botanic gardens are flush with orange trees, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias; and the 18th century Villa Balbaniello, which features sculpted gardens and artworks-filled rooms.
Don’t miss: Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only island, just offshore from the town of Osuccio. Formerly home to a Roman fort and, later, a mediaeval settlement, legend has it it once held the Holy Grail.
Val D’Orcia is magical. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, this land of gentle rolling hills, ochre fields and picturesque towns and villages flaunts colours and landscapes you won’t find anywhere else, not to mention fantastic food and wine (you’re in Tuscany, after all).
Visiting in September means witnessing the arrival of autumn in all its glory, and seeing the scenery turn into a beautifully rich golden hue. So, pack your bags, rent a car from Florence, and head over: driving through the valley’s cypress-lined winding roads is an experience everyone should have at least once.
WHERE TO GO
Bordered by the hills of Siena to the north and Monte Amiata to the south, Val D’Orcia has something for everyone. There are walks to be taken along the Via Francigena, wildlife to be observed, and culture-rich sights aplenty. Pay a visit to San Quirico d’Orcia, a fortified town from the 11th century that’s straight out of a movie set, or take a dip into the restorative hot springs of Bagno Vignoni, a hamlet whose main central square features a pool filled with piping, soothing waters.
Whatever the plan, make sure not to skip Pienza, the “ideal Renaissance city,” built on the wishes of Pope Pius II in 1459. Recognised as a UNESCO Site in 1996, the elegant town is a perfect example of the superior architectural and planning standards of the Renaissance, with a symmetric urban tissue that extends around a central square, and a structure aimed at making life easy and harmonious, so as to maximise the interactions and the happiness of its inhabitants.
Visit the Cattedrale and Palazzo Piccolomini, Pope Pius II’s summer residence (its roof garden boasts spectacular valley views) grab a slice of the famed pecorino di Pienza, then drive to La Foce, a 15th-century villa that sits on 2,000 acres of rolling fields overlooking the storied Montepulciano vineyards.
Time to try some wine? Head to Montepulciano itself. Perched on a reclaimed narrow ridge of volcanic rock, the mediaeval town is home to the highly reputed Vino Nobile – a red wine that’s perfect for fall. Have a glass, then another, and soak in the striking panorama around you.
Don’t Miss: Cappella della Madonna di Vitaleta, a tiny chapel flanked by cypress trees and surrounded by Val D’Orcia gentle hills. This lonely spot is a real charmer, and one of Tuscany’s most photographed churches. According to local legends, it was built in the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherdess.