Northern Italy has some exceptionally beautiful towns and villages tucked away in secret spots off the beaten path. Away from the hustle and bustle of well-known destinations like Milan, Turin or Cinque Terre, hidden Italian gems are waiting to be discovered.
Be it Dozza, Bologna’s secret mural town, Comacchio, the unknown brother of mighty Venice or Chiavenna, the underrated location of the annual Bresaola Festival. Whatever their hidden secret, you can be sure that visiting one or more of these non-touristy destinations in Italy will leave you with incredible memories.
In this post, I highlight thirteen hidden places in northern Italy visited by fellow travel bloggers, which each hold a special secret.
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Discover Northern Italy’s Secret Destinations off the Beaten Track
- Domodossola – Italy’s lesser-know city of art and religion
- Trento – a medieval UNESCO world heritage site
- Sen Jan di Fassa – the best-kept secret in the Dolomites
- Comacchio – the underated little Venice in Emilia Romagna
- Chioggia – the untouristy beach town near Venice
- Dozza – Bologna’s hidden, painted town of murals
- Chiavenna – a food lovers’ hidden treasure in Lombardy
- Sesto Calende – charming lakeside views on Lake Maggiore
- Alba – Italy’s lesser-known truffle capital
- Avigliana – a hidden historic town close to Turin
- Bassano del Grappa – a food lovers secret destination
- Courmayeur – the secret alpine village in the Aosta Valley
- Val Venosta Valley – the natural wonder of South Tyrol
Map of secret places in northern Italy
Domodossola – Italy’s lesser-know city of art and religion
Domodossola in the Piedmont region is a great place to visit for a local Northern Italy hidden gem. We stayed for a few days while on our way to Zermatt from Locarno, Switzerland. We decided to travel via Domodossola as there is a scenic train directly to Domodossola from Locarno, where we lived at the time.
Best things to see and do in Domodossola
The city is great to visit on the weekend, as they have a local market on Saturdays to buy treats. This is based at the Piazza del Mercato, where there are also some lovely little cafes, restaurants and boutiques to rummage in. The city has some architectural highlights, such as the Palazzo San Francesco art museum.
Another highlight is climbing the steps to the Sacred Mount Calvary of Domodossola church. This is located an easy 20 minutes from the central train station. I work out often, so I found the steps easy to climb.
On clear days you will be in for a treat, as you can experience a fantastic view from here of the surrounding area and mountains. Many little chapels are on the way dating back to the 17th century.
Where to eat and stay in Domodossola
For a bite to eat, we recommend dining at Ristorante Vikingo. They have an excellent aperitif with drinks for less than 20 euros and freshly made pizzas if you are hungry.
For dessert, head to Gelateria Amarena for freshly made ice cream that will make your tastebuds happy. I had a strawberry and vanilla cup of ice cream, delizioso!
Our stay in Domodossola was at the La Palma hotel. This was perfect since we travelled by car and needed local on-site parking. From the hotel, we could walk into Domodossola to explore on foot. The overall experience was lovely, simple and spotless, with welcoming staff.
Trento – a medieval UNESCO world heritage site
South of the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy and a hop, skip and jump from Italy’s more well-known landmark – Lake Garda, you will find Trento, which is in the district of Trentino. Trento’s old-world charm makes this a must for an Italian hidden gem list.
Before Trento became part of Italy in 1918, it was part of Austria and Austria-Hungary (or the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Trento is famous for its beautiful landscape and delicious cuisine.
Heading to Trento to explore the region of Trentino brought me here; from the Dolomites to Lake Garda, this region of Italy has it all. It is a hidden gem to most tourists outside of Italy. It was listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 2009.
Best things to see and do in Trento
I would highly recommend visiting the Castello del Buonconsiglio.
This castle is one of the Trentino region’s most important castles. Why? Because although now in the present day, it hosts many exhibitions, it was once the residence of Princes, Bishops and Cardinals.
And you can’t visit Trento without visiting its most recognised cathedral, the stunning Cattedrale di San Vigilio. The unique Tridentine Diocesan Museum is attached to the cathedral and houses fantastic artwork, tapestry, and wooden sculptures. Moreover, it explains the rich history and culture of this beautiful town.
Visit Distilleria Francesco in Santa Massenza. Going out of your way to visit (and taste) this grappa distillery in the Trentino region by the beautiful lake Santa Massenza is worth it.
Where to eat and stay in Trento
For something a little different, eat at Birreria Pedavena. There is a wide variety and a vast range of delicious pizzas. Here you can pivot from your usual choice of wines and aperitifs to a nice cold beer and some great authentic food.
For a lovely stay in the centre of Trento, book Hotel America.
Sen Jan di Fassa – the best-kept secret in the Dolomites
Being a small town in a valley in the Dolomites, Sen Jan di Fassa is a hidden gem often overlooked by travellers to Northern Italy. As it’s not a well-known destination, most people are only aware of it if they are a camping or RV family like us.
Travelling through the Dolomite’s windy roads, the journey to Sen Jan di Fassa is well worth the drive from the main highway. It’s certainly only a road to drive on at night if you are familiar with mountain driving, but the beautiful scenery draws you in during the day. When you finally get to the town, it’s incredible to see the jagged peaks of the Dolomites.
Best things to do and see in Sen Jan di Fassa
Sen Jan di Fassa is quite charming. The locals are very welcoming and provide an atmosphere that speaks of their peaceful way of life.
We walked through the town and stopped at a beautiful old cemetery and a small church worth visiting. There are tall stone walls surrounding the cemetery, and the gravestones and plaques on the walls are fascinating to read. It’s a very peaceful place and representative of this lesser-known Italian town.
Sen Jan di Fassa is a good starting point for taking the gondola up the mountain in summer or winter. The mountain journey rewarded us with a great vantage point from the top, which was quite breathtaking.
Not too far away, about 10 minutes by car, there are also great hiking opportunities, including a waterfall. We did a relatively straightforward hike that almost anyone can do.
Where to eat and stay in Sen Jen di Fassa
In town, we stopped at Pizzeria Le Giare, which hits just the right spot for pizza when you’re hungry.
As campers, we always seek to find beautiful places to camp during the summer, and Camping Vidor Family and Wellness Centre was one of the best sites we have visited. It is what initially put this remote spot on the map for us.
The campsite is a great place to stay, made for tent campers and RVs. They have hotel rooms for anyone who wants to avoid roughing it during the night. The centre has excellent amenities, from a two-storey double slide waterpark and kid pools to saunas, an indoor kids club, a games room and much more.
We camped for a week, which was one of our best Italian experiences. I highly recommend staying here as it’s a hidden gem in northern Italy.
Comacchio – the underated little Venice in Emilia Romagna
Are you looking for an off-the-tourist trail location in Italy? If you are, I can recommend you Comacchio!
It’s easy to understand why they call it Little Venice; water channels spread over a large part of the city, and colourful houses are reminiscent of those on the island of Burano. There are very few people around, and the vibe is surreal.
I visited Comacchio during the early spring on one of those dreary days for which the area of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy is known. It was foggy, with a mist and soft rain that wrapped everything in a mystical cloak. Although cold and grey, this scene is part of Comacchio’s charm.
Due to these meteorological conditions, it may not sound wise that I chose to go for a river cruise, yet I decided to experience this activity despite the weather.
The cruise was idyllic, and although the shapes were less visible, I could still see many birds fishing on the riverside. And they were not the only ones fishing; I saw many local fishermen with large nets.
After two hours, the cruise ended, and I headed back to the city centre to explore more of Comacchio.
Where to eat and stay in Comacchio
I decided to eat at Antica Trattoria la Barcaccia for lunch. I love to taste local food when travelling, so I decided to go with eel; the taste was strong but good!
With lunch over, I continued to explore Comacchio. I lost myself in the empty alleys until I ended at Ponte Pallotta, where three bridges converge.
My time in this hidden gem in Northern Italy had ended. As I left to continue my journey to another one of the incredible villages in Emilia Romagna, I was pleased to have stumbled upon this beautiful place off the tourist trail.
Villa Cavour is reasonably priced if you want to stay overnight in Comacchio.
Chioggia – the untouristy beach town near Venice
Chioggia, Italy, is a stunning hidden gem outside Venice, Italy.
Since it’s part of the city of Venice’s public water transportation network, the Vaporetto, it’s been on my list of Italian cities to visit since I moved to the Veneto region.
Once part of the Republic of Venice and the site of the Battle of Chioggia in 1380, the small city is now known for its beautiful canals, quaint streets, and delicious seafood.
On a random Saturday in June, I decided today was the day to visit this lovely little city near Venice; and I couldn’t believe it when I arrived–by chance, we visited at the start of its annual Palio della Marciliana!
Best things to do and see in Chioggia
Every year, the city harks back to its Medieval roots during the festival with a crossbow competition, and locals showcase ancient trades, like net making, coin casting, and weaving.
I wandered the stalls and watched as these modern-day residents performed age-old arts with the finesse of their ancestors.
After exploring Chioggia’s historic centre, we decided to head to the city’s coastline and one of the best beaches around Venice.
The beaches are clean and well-maintained, so you can relax and enjoy the sun without worrying about overcrowding or pollution.
It’s an easy walk from the city centre to the city’s coastline; it took about 20 minutes to cross the bridge from Chioggia over the Isola dell’Unione to the Sottomarina.
My favourite beach in Sottomarina is Astoria Beach, which is free to enter. After spending a few hours soaking up the sun on the Adriatic Sea, we walked back across the bridge to take the bus from Chioggia’s train station back home.
Of course, with gelato from L’Oasi del Gelato! No beach day in Italy is complete without it, especially with a 20-minute walk ahead.
Where to stay in Chioggia
Since the town is relatively small, you won’t find any large hotel chains or resorts in the historic centre, so booking a room in one of the smaller guesthouses or bed and breakfasts is best.
Otherwise, you can stay at one of the hotels along the beach or take the Vaporetto back to stay in Venice.
Dozza – Bologna’s hidden, painted town of murals
Dozza is a charming village near Bologna, off the usual tourist trail in northern Italy, where colourful murals are on every street, turning Dozza into an open-air art museum. It is very reminiscent of Sheffield, the mural town in Tasmania.
Since 1960 Dozza has hosted a bi-annual Festival of Painted Walls; however, its medieval streets shine throughout the year with beautiful images. More than one hundred paintings decorate almost every wall in the village.
Dozza is pretty secluded, a 40-minute drive from Bologna. Hiding among the picturesque hills close to Imola, Dozza is simply enchanting, with spring flowers like wisteria adding to its beauty.
After discovering it on social media, I was happy to visit Dozza with my Couchsurfing host.
Circular in shape and very small, Dozza didn’t require much time to get around. Even so, it was a lovely place that filled me with joy. We had fun exploring and admiring the wall art at a slow and relaxed pace.
Best things to see and do in Dozza
A lovely castle welcomed us at the entrance of Dozza. 13th-century Rocca Sforzesca dominates the charming town, and in its basement, you’ll have a chance to discover a wine cellar. A rich collection of wines from the Emilia Romagna region.
The small church of Santa Maria Assunta was the highlight of our visit. Its tower and painted wall are so alluring, even from a distance.
Where to eat and stay in Dozza
There are only a few restaurants in Dozza, among which La Scuderia is just next to the castle. We enjoyed morning coffee there and later had focaccia in La Bottega. It was even more impressive to have our meal outside on our own, with the excellent views of Dozza.
Not only did Dozza make our trip so alluring, but we also visited the nearby town of Castle San Pietro Terme. Don’t miss Giardini degli Angeli, another hidden gem in northern Italy, especially lovely during spring.
Suppose one day in Dozza isn’t enough for you. In that case, Locanda Dolcevita is a lovely small hotel in the centre of town and perfect for starting your road trip around the beautiful countryside of Emilia Romagna.
Chiavenna – a food lovers’ hidden treasure in Lombardy
Chiavenna is a small medieval commune located in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, close to the Swiss-Italian border. It is part of Italy’s cittaslow movement, which is all about conserving the uniqueness of a place, protecting cultural heritage, and improving the quality of life.
Our reason for visiting Chiavenna was the Bresaola Festival. It’s a fun annual event in autumn, offering an opportunity to eat the famous air-dried meat for which this region is known.
Best things to see and do in Chiavenna
But aside from bresaola, there are plenty of attractions to enjoy around town!
We toured numerous crotti, natural caves fed by subterranean air currents at a constant temperature, making them ideal places to store cheese, meat and wine! These unique mountain cellars can be found in local restaurants and guesthouses. The best way to see one is to choose a restaurant with ‘crotto’ in its name.
Another activity we enjoyed in Chiavenna was exploring on foot and soaking in the views from the bridges that cross the Mera River. This is where you can best admire the pastel-coloured buildings that hang over the river with the mountains rising in the background.
We also visited the Parco Archeologico Botanico del Paradiso, a garden on two hills offering views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Chiavenna is one of the hidden gems in northern Italy, and truly worth the effort to get there.
Where to eat and stay in Chiavenna
If you want to try typical Chiavennasca cuisine, Ristorante Crotto Ombra is a great spot. I suggest going hungry and going all out with antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci! And yes, treat yourself to a bottle of wine while you’re there.
If one day in Chiavenna isn’t enough for you, book a night in an apartment at Piazza Giani, a historical building in the centre of town.
Sesto Calende – charming lakeside views on Lake Maggiore
I chose to visit Sesto Calende while on a trip through Italy because I was visiting a friend who lived nearby with his family.
He suggested that we stay in Sesto Calende instead of the smaller village where he’s from because it’s a bit more bustling and there is more to see.
This charming town is on the side of Lake Maggiore, a beautiful lake with walking trails, boating, and even a plane that takes off and lands on the water. Even so, Sesto Calende remains off the tourist radar and is one of northern Italy’s hidden gems.
My friend informed me that the area is known for manufacturing helicopter parts, which explains why there were so many posters and billboards related to helicopters.
The town is small but charming, with a few restaurants and bars to visit. Very few people speak English, so we got by on Google Translate and our meagre attempts at speaking Italian.
Without a doubt, the highlight of my visit was walking along Lake Maggiore. A path between the houses facing the lake and the water offers breathtaking views in all directions.
Where to eat and stay in Sesto Calende
For lunch, we tried Piazza Abba La Reclame Srl, a local pizza restaurant that also served pasta and other traditional dishes.
The best thing I tried was the bread and cheese served alongside culatello, a type of sliced meat, although all the dishes were impressive. The restaurant has indoor seating, but I’d strongly recommend grabbing a table outside and enjoying the fresh air.
Looking for a place to stay in Sesto Calende? Appartamenti Ticino is reasonably priced, has excellent reviews and is close to the train station. Not forgetting mountain views!
Alba – Italy’s lesser-known truffle capital
In the Piedmont region, just 70 miles from the French border, Alba is surrounded by wine country in the northwest of Italy.
This charming lesser-known gem sits along the Tanaro River, and its old town, with its small piazzas and stone-lined streets, is at the city’s core. Many structures, including the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, date back to the 12th century.
We were first drawn to Alba, hoping to be lucky enough to experience the region’s pride and joy.
While most people dream of their perfect summer vacation to Italy, we specifically planned our trip so that we would arrive in Alba during the truffle season.
These aromatic tubers hit the market for around three months each year (October to December), and the Alba Truffle Fair opens its doors.
Best things to see and do in Alba
We went all out and went on a truffle hunt with a local forager and his highly trained dogs, and we even scored a few white truffles that can sell for thousands of dollars per pound.
The Piedmont region is also famous for its wines, including Barolo, which is referred to as the king of all wines. We visited a few wineries and were treated to an intimate tasting with views of the entire valley.
Where to eat and stay in Alba
Luckily we planned iahead and scored a reservation at the highly acclaimed Piazza Duomo – Michelin three-star restaurant. The restaurant put on a show with an opulent tasting menu featuring white truffles alongside Nebbiolo wine pairings.
Our visit to this culinary region of Italy was a potent reminder that there is so much more to see and taste in Italy when you explore a little deeper and get away from the tourist hotspots.
Alba was a fantastic surprise that was more delicious and engaging than we could have imagined. There are plenty of delightful accommodations in Alba for a longer stay.
Avigliana – a hidden historic town close to Turin
After exploring Turin, our family decided to spend the rest of our Italian trip in a small town. We were travelling by train so we were limited to where we could go.
A quick look at the local trains revealed Avigliana, a hidden gem in Northern Italy and a quick 30 minutes from Turin. Once we discovered that Avigliana had a mediaeval hilltop town, we decided that this was the location for us, and it didn’t disappoint.
Avigliana old town is a 20-minute uphill walk from the rail station. On arriving in the old town, we were rewarded with a fantastic view over the Susa Valley towards Turin.
The old town centres around a 12th-century cobblestone square, and we spent several hours wandering Avigliana’s car-free narrow lanes.
Best things to see and do in Avigliana
We saw the 11th-century town walls, visited the 14th-century Church of St. John (one of many churches in Avigliana) and explored the 14th-century ruins of the Castello di Avigliana on top of Mount Pezzulano.
We loved Avigliana’s architecture, the highlights included the House of Porta Ferrata, the octagonal Torre dell’Orologio and several centuries-old wells. It was quiet and devoid of tourists, even in August.
It is a 30-minute walk to Avigliana Lakes. Lago Grande is the best lake for swimming; head to the public park on the right side of the lake for a free entry spot. We found the water unbelievably warm.
Where to eat and stay in Avigliana
We stayed in a brand new hostel, Casa Conte Rosso, in an old building on the central square. It was impeccably clean with many original features and offered small ensuite dorms and private rooms.
We popped to Caffetteria Del Vecchio Borgo each day for coffee (and for a late-night beer!), but the best restaurant we found was Ristorante San Michele.
The helpful owner recommended local specialities; their Agnolotti del Pin was outstanding. He also introduced our children to Chinotto, a drink made from the juice of the fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange tree. For the adults, he recommended Genepy liqueur infused with botanicals. It was the best meal we had during our entire trip to Italy.
Bassano del Grappa – a food lovers secret destination
Bassano del Grappa is a medieval town located in the Veneto region in the Vicenza province. It’s a place where I love going when I’m back in Italy since my hometown Castelfranco Veneto is close by; a 25 minutes drive or just 20 minutes by train.
The incredible views over the Alps from Ponte Vecchio make Bassano del Grappa one of the best-hidden gems in Italy.
Ponte Vecchio is a bridge designed by Antonio Canova that overlooks the picturesque town centre, known for its narrow cobblestoned streets and relaxed atmosphere.
Best things to see and do in Bassano del Grappa
While here, it’s important to explore both piazzas: Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza Libertà. It is here my favourite drink to try is the signature cocktail at the Leone bar.
Also, visiting the civic tower and the nearby Museo Civico di Bassano to learn more about the town’s archaeological past and admire Canova’s works is a must.
The popular grappa distillate comes from here too, so it is worth visiting the Poli Grappa Museum, which offers free admission to learn how grappa is produced. Then at the end, join a grappa-tasting experience.
Bassano del Grappa is also famous for its ceramic production, which is well-renowned all over Italy and beyond, so make sure you stop by the small boutique stores or artisanal laboratories in the city centre to admire the creations.
Where to eat and stay in Bassano del Grappa
My favourite time to visit is around springtime when eating the local white asparagus is common. It’s a versatile ingredient used to prepare pasta and risotto dishes or as a side dish to accompany various main courses. The best place to taste the local cuisine is the Trattoria Bigoleria da Alice, just next to the railway station.
To stay in Bassano del Grappa, try booking Hotel Victoria, a modern hotel 5 minutes from the historic centre.
Courmayeur – the secret alpine village in the Aosta Valley
The Italian alpine village of Courmayeur is nestled in the Aosta Valley, the smallest region in Northern Italy, on the border with France. The two countries are only accessible through the Mont Blanc tunnel or the rotating Skyway Monte Bianco cable car.
I stumbled upon the lesser-known Courmayeur by chance during a drive to the famous French resort of Chamonix. Before arriving at this underrated destination, I hadn’t even known its existence; it just happened to be the last village in Italy to stop at before entering the Mont Blanc tunnel into France.
Courmayeur is a beautiful hidden gem surrounded by the Mont Blanc Massif range, which towers over the town. Wooden chalets decorated with colourful flowers line the streets, and activity and adventure hubs remind you that Courmayeur becomes a ski resort in winter. The sun shone on our visit, and the town of Courmayeur in summer looked beautiful.
Courmayeur is on the 170km long Tour Du Mont Blanc hiking route, which spans Italy, France and Switzerland, and we spotted many hikers kitted out and heading for the mountains. We discovered there were many shorter hikes, including a stunning glacial lake hike, which we would have loved to do had we had the time.
Courmayeur has a good range of restaurants, but we opted for a cold beer and an ice cream while wandering around town.
Where to stay in Courmayeur
If you have booked to stay in Courmayeur, there are many great day trips from the town too. And, if, like us, you are on a European road trip, you are within driving distance of the beautiful towns of Annecy in France and Geneva in Switzerland.
Val Venosta Valley – the natural wonder of South Tyrol
I accidentally discovered the Val Venosta valley with my wife on a trip to a more well-known sight in the region, the bell tower in Lake Resia. We were driving through to Müstair, a neighbouring town in Switzerland.
Val Venosta, known as Vinschgau in German, is one of Northern Italy’s hidden gems in South Tyrol. Italy annexed the former Austrian region after WW1, so locals still speak a German dialect as well as Italian.
The road at the Resia pass at the northern end is at a higher altitude. Our drive went downwards across the valley of lakes, passing small villages that seemed frozen in time. The views are stunning in spring, with snow-capped mountains and green fields filled with colourful spring flowers.
Best things to do in Val Venosta Valley
There are plenty of things to do in Val Venosta, and a history spanning two thousand years can be unearthed in places such as the town of Glurns and the village of Burgusio. Roman outposts along the via Claudia Augusta were a vital trading route leading up to the North across what we now know as Austria and Germany.
The abbey of Monte Maria, a benedictine monastery, has been around since Medieval times, and the Romanesque art of the crypt and church is known to be unique in the alps.
The drive further up into the mountains takes you to a little travel gem, an unknown waterfall. A two-hour-long hike up the mountain trail will reward you with the scenic Schlinig waterfall.
Our favourite hangout was the ruins of the Castello di Montichiari. The ruins are straight out of a fairy tale located at the top of a tiny village, from where you can overlook the valley.
Val Venosta is also known for growing some of the best apples in Europe. The Romans started the apple tradition, and the area is now known internationally for its Delicious, Kanzi, Golden, and Gala varieties.
Where to Eat and Stay in Val Venosta Valley
Book a dinner at the Tschenglsburg, a former castle now a restaurant, to try every tasty bite Vinschgau offers.
Stay at the Hotel Garberhof for a rustic-chic Val Venosta valley experience.
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