We’re obviously partial to summer in Italy, but the thick of winter – December, January, February – is also a great time to visit the boot-shaped country. From snow-capped mountain ranges that are perfect for skiing to quaint small towns devoid of tourists but packed with charm, the colder months offer plenty of opportunities to explore, discover, and embrace one’s wanderlust.
Ready to start making a list of all the Italian destinations to have on your radar this winter? Read on.
BEST FOR: Serious skiers
Picturesque mediaeval towns, the dramatic mountain peaks of the Dolomites – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – sugar-white slopes and hiking opportunities aplenty make Sud-Tyrol (also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige), the northernmost part of Italy, the ideal escape for winter sports lovers. We’ll visit to spend our days skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, ice climbing, snowshoeing and tobogganing – or at least attempt one of these activities – and marvel at the landscape of snow-laden forests and glittering frozen lakes. Bolzano, the region’s capital, is also worth exploring, thanks to a lovely city centre of lively streets and squares where Italian, German and Austrian influences collide.
BEST FOR: Winter sea views and excellent food
Located along the rugged Italian Riviera coastline, the string of centuries-old fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) are a major tourist attraction in Italy – rightly so, thanks to their idyllic atmosphere, cascade of colourful houses tumbling down towards the sea, lush vineyards and mouth-watering food.
Because of all that, though, they’re pretty much impossible to visit during the summer, when hordes of tourists flock to their tiny streets and even tinier piazzas, making it really hard to even move, let alone find a table for lunch or dinner.
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!).Enter winter, aka a much quieter time to visit. Sure, you won’t be able to swim in the sea, but you’ll have the towns almost all to yourself, and can always opt for trekking in the Cinque Terre National Park, exploring the five villages on foot.
BEST FOR: A history-rich city break
You don’t really need an excuse to visit Florence – the Tuscan capital is one of Italy’s most enchanting cities, so rich with artistic and architectural wonders to leave you mesmerised for days. But go in January, and you’ll be met with fewer crowds, a quieter and cleaner historic centre, and a dreamy atmosphere that further heightens its undeniable beauty.
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.As far as attractions go, there’s been a bit of a revival, too, which gives you all the more reasons to go:
UNESCO recently added the churches of San Miniato al Monte, San Salvatore al Monte, and Piazzale Michelangelo in the Florentine hills to its World Heritage Sites list, while the newly re-hauled Bargello Museum is set to expand the city’s art scene with striking exhibitions (it kicked off by a major Donatello exhibition in 2022). Top that with a blooming arts and crafts scene – hello TAF Ricamiand Loretta Caponi – and you’ll be in for a real winter treat.
BEST FOR: Slow travel between nature and art
Italy’s green heart, Umbria is best known for its rolling hills and gentle meadows, as well as its mediaeval hilltop towns, many of which are still beautifully preserved and dramatically set.
We’ll take some time to rediscover this region this month, exploring the Gothic cathedral of Orvieto and Assisi’s frescoed basilica, the Etruscan, mediaeval, Gothic and 18th-century treasures of Perugia and the spellbinding centro storico of Spello, with its cobbled lanes and honey-coloured houses.
Also, the food: Umbrians have a rich culinary tradition of homemade pastas (try the strangozzi) and delectable cold cuts – perfect hearty treats to enjoy during the colder months.
BEST FOR: White Lotus fans
If you’ve spent the last month of 2022 binging on the second season of White Lotus – hello, friend – chances are you’ve been dreaming of Sicily ever since. So why not go in January, when temperatures are nice and balmy and the many wonders that dot the sunny island can be enjoyed without rubbing shoulders with thousands of other visitors. Start in Catania – don’t miss the fish market! – and head to Taormina, on Sicily’s west coast, where the series was shot (on a good day, you can really see mighty Etna in the distance here). Visit its ancient Greek theatre, get lost in its maze-like streets, then continue your itinerary to the Baroque town of Noto, in south-eastern Sicily, or Palermo, on the north-eastern coast, where yet more charming architecture and fantastic food await.