Did you know you can travel to central Italy and still find some secret places to visit? Even close to the main cities, lesser-known, non-touristy villages and towns allow travellers to escape the hustle and bustle of places like Rome and Florence.
Uncover Montecatini Terme, the Unesco spa town, Pitigliano with its historic churches and Jewish quarter, or the Bagni San Filippo hot springs, surrounded by nature. Whatever their secret, you can be sure that visiting one of these hidden gems in central Italy will be worthwhile.
In this post, I highlight ten of central Italy’s hidden gems visited and recommended by fellow travel bloggers and Italy experts.
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Discover Secret Places in Central Italy off the Beaten Path
- Civita di Bagnoregio – visit a fairytale hillside village
- Pitigliano – discover a town built into the rocks
- Calcata Vecchia – the secret artist community frozen in time
- Pienza – the historic Renaissance town in Tuscany
- Farfa – explore the 9th-century Basilica
- Ovindoli – a multi-seasonal destination for skiing, hiking and cycling
- Ostia Antica – uncover Roman ruins
- Montecatini Terme – visit a Unesco spa town
- Saturnia Hot Springs – bathe in sulphur baths
- Bagni San Filippo Hot Springs – relax in nature
Map of Unique Hidden Gems in Central Italy
Civita di Bagnoregio – Viterbo’s hidden fairytale village
If there is one place in Italy that falls under the typical tourist’s radar, Civita di Bagnoregio comes to mind.
Located about two hours north of Rome and two hours south of Siena in the province of Viterbo, Civita sits atop an eroding hill overlooking the Italian countryside. The village’s origin traces back over 2500 years, but today only 16 people call it home, making it one of Italy’s hidden gems.
There are no roads to Civita – only a pedestrian bridge built in 1995 – meaning the village is entirely car-free. You can leave your vehicle in the parking area beneath the pedestrian bridge and walk into the village. If you are staying in Bagnoregio, the hotels have golf buggies to collect your luggage.
I spent two incredible nights in Civita for my first wedding anniversary. We were first drawn to the village after randomly stumbling upon photos of it while searching for castles in Italy.
While it’s certainly not a castle, it is a fortified village on a hill reminiscent of Eze in France. It was even more beautiful than we could have imagined upon seeing it in person. It’s hard to imagine a more romantic place.
The village is built of brown masonry, with ivy on some walls and friendly cats roaming the streets. Stunning plazas and cute cafes are everywhere you look.
The village is pretty popular among Italians, although it might fly under the radar of international visitors. Civita di Bagnoregio remains a secret place as most people only visit on a day trip.
The village is so small that it didn’t take long to wander the beautiful streets and alleyways. We took our time and enjoyed stops at wine bars for local wine and sweets shops for local desserts.
Visiting Civita di Bagnoregio is still one of our fondest memories and one of central Italy’s most delightful hidden gems.
Where to eat and stay in Civita
Accommodations and restaurants are limited, so we were excited to spend the weekend in the village.
We spent two nights at Corte della Maesta, a gorgeous boutique hotel in the city’s heart. The owner, Cristiana, is a superb host and organized a memorable wine-tasting experience at a nearby vineyard on our anniversary.
She also recommended we have dinner at Alma Civita, the best restaurant in the village. There are only a few restaurants in Civita, so we were happy to have visited this one.
Guided Tours of Civita di Bagnoregio
Pitigliano – a hidden treasure in Tuscany
Pitigliano is my insider tip among the most beautiful hidden gems in central Italy. It is nestled in southern Tuscany and is one of my travel highlights. What was impressive for me was the imposing location.
The small town is on a 300-meter-high craggy rock, surrounded by two deep gorges conjuring up an awe-inspiring panorama. The townhouses are built close to the rock walls, and I was amazed by this surreal scenery.
I also found the walk through the historic centre of Pitigliano beautiful and enjoyed numerous fantastic photo opportunities. Passing old tufa houses, I felt like I was travelling in time.
Best things to see and do in Pitigliano
There is something special to see at almost every corner and numerous historic churches to admire. I recommend visiting the city walls, the Medici aqueduct, the Fontana delle Sette Cannelle, the Palazzo Orsini and the Jewish quarter.
The surroundings of Pitigliano surprised me a lot. It was remarkable to see the many Etruscan cave passages, called Vie Cave, carved into the stone by humans thousands of years ago. They are very close to the town, and we went on a great hike from there.
Where to eat and stay in Pitigliano
I also really loved the white wine of Pitigliano, the so-called “Bianco di Pitigliano”, which you can also get in the delicatessen stores. If you get the opportunity, taste Sfratto di Pitigliano, a delicious Christmas pastry, and discover the sad tale surrounding its creation.
For accommodation, as an insider tip, I recommend the Villa Vacasio Agriturismo Eco-Bio with a pool and delicious food.
Calcata Vecchia – the secret artist community frozen in time
Calcata Vecchia is a hidden gem in Tuscany, located about 50 km north of Rome, that Romans like myself visit to escape stressful city life.
I have visited Calcata many times on weekends or around Halloween, when the village is at its best, populated by characters quite out of the ordinary.
Calcata has managed to bewitch me to such an extent that I married a man who grew up here, meaning I am now eternally bound to this beautiful place.
This hamlet’s natural lush valley is awe-inspiring and covered with biodiversity-rich forests. At the bottom of the valley flows the Treja River.
Amid the unspoiled wilderness stands a large, flat cliff, which houses the historic centre with its medieval architecture.
Until the 1960s, there were no convenient roads to reach Calcata, where the lives of farmers and shepherds flowed slowly, far from the industrialisation sweeping Italy and the world.
It was precisely this feature that attracted artists and outsiders of all kinds here. Artists spotted Calcata as the perfect place to make art and create a community of people who helped each other and lived from their passions.
A haven for creative minds
And time has stood still in Calcata. The artists are still there, 60 years later, with their workshops, galleries, and families.
Visiting Calcata means getting in touch with this community as you explore the alleys and houses built in the local stone while enjoying breathtaking views of the surrounding forests. The main meeting point is the only piazza, in front of the small church of the S. Nome di Gesù.
I recommend spending at least one night in Calcata to enjoy its colours and alternative vibe as much as possible.
Where to eat and stay in Calcata Vecchio
The village has many romantic little restaurants where you can enjoy local dishes such as homemade pasta with porcini mushrooms, wild boar ragout, and broccolini.
The Casa sulla Rupe is a unique apartment in Calcata, carved into stone and featuring a balcony with a view of the valley.
Pienza – the historic Renaissance town in Tuscany
Pienza is one of the hidden gems in central Italy and is known as the ideal Renaissance town. It has remained unchanged since 1458; you’ll fall under its spell once you’ve visited.
A maze of delightfully narrow cobblestone streets with names of Via dell’Amore (Love Street) and Via del Bacio (Kiss Street) oozes charm and is meant for strolling. Each one leads you to an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
What to see and do in Pienza
Head to the piazza to start exploring the great things to do in Pienza. Here you’ll find the top landmarks of this UNESCO-status town, including a 15th-century cathedral, town hall and three palaces.
Pope Pius II wanted his hometown to be designed as the ideal Renaissance town. Visit his former summer home, Palazzo Piccolmini, to admire the Renaissance period furniture and furnishings.
Pienza is also known for its Pecorino cheese. Shops are filled with this hard sheep’s milk cheese. Make sure to pop in for a sample and chat with the local cheesemaker. He will proudly talk about how it’s made.
Where to eat and stay in Pienza
Cap off your visit to Pienza with a long lunch or dinner. I enjoyed a delicious plate of cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) at Il Rossellino while enjoying its pretty terrace and lovely views.
The wonderful hosts of Siena House, a boutique hotel I stayed at while in Tuscany, were kind enough to share this hidden gem in Northern Italy with me. And now I get to share it with you!
Farfa – the historic town in Lazio
Sometimes you can’t beat a bit of local knowledge for unearthing an Italian gem. Farfa in Lazio is one of its unsung treasures, and I have my Roman friends to thank for taking me there.
This hamlet is home to around 50 souls and is located 28 miles northeast of Rome by road. It took us 30 minutes to drive there from the capital.
If you don’t have a car, the nearest railway station is Fara Sabina-Montelibretti, six miles from the village, followed by a bus journey to continue to Farfa.
Best things to see and do in Farfa
Farfa’s calling card is the historic Abbazia di Farfa (Farfa Abbey). The abbey was one of the most important churches of the Carolingian era (750 – 887 AD), and the current 9th Century basilica replaces an earlier 6th Century building.
Although you can visit the basilica alone, I recommend joining one of the guided tours.
This will provide valuable information about the church and the only way to visit the adjoining abbey with its lovely Renaissance cloister and State Library. Tours are conducted in Italian, but other languages are available on request (Ricardo, our guide, added a smattering of English to accommodate my poor Italian).
Farfa also has half a dozen shops selling textiles, ceramics, and local food and hosts an antique market on the first Sunday of each month from March to December.
Where to eat and stay in Farfa
We stopped for lunch at La Pasta del Priore di Farfa, a simple restaurant which is a two-minute walk from the abbey (their homemade pasta is terrific!).
For an overnight stay near Farfa, try Villa Panoramica in Castelnuovo di Farfa.
Ovindoli – a secret spot for outdoor adventure
Ovindoli, in the Apennines mountains in Abruzzo, is one of the true hidden gems in central Italy. Nestled between tall mountains on all sides, this has been a town where my family has had a house since I was 14, and the more I go there, the more it startles me that not more tourists find their way there.
Best things to see and do in Ovindoli
There are many great things to do in Ovindoli during summer and winter.
Ovindoli is a lively European ski resort super popular with Italian tourists in winter. The ski slopes go down Monte Magnola from over 2000 meters of altitude, and there are around 30 kilometres with slopes for all levels.
I prefer Ovindoli in the summer when you can go hiking and cycling. The most popular hike is Gole di Celano, a stunning gorge walk taking you 5 kilometres through lush nature and below the 100 meters tall gorge walls. Absolutely a fantastic experience.
Walking around the narrow streets in the village still reminds me of the central Italy earthquake in 2016 that shook Ovindoli too. But most of the houses are now thankfully restored.
On top of the village is the most prominent landmark, the Monumento dell’ Alpino, which is set on the hill overlooking Ovindoli and the surrounding mountains. For even better views, I love making my way up to Pizzo di Ovindoli, an enjoyable but steep ascent with sweeping views of the little village surrounded by nature.
If you are a nature lover, I highly recommend visiting Ovindoli as it is one of the most underrated destinations in Italy, in my opinion.
Ostia Antica – Hidden Roman ruins close to Pompeii
A highlight of visiting Rome is a day trip to Ostia Antica, one of the hidden gems in central Italy and the port city of the ancient republic and empire. For those who don’t have time to visit Pompeii, a stop in Ostia Antica is a must, as you will experience an ancient Roman city in a similar state of preservation.
While I liked Pompeii, Ostia Antica was a more pleasant experience since the city is smaller and there weren’t any crowds.
Since my first trip to Italy was a tour of the historical sites of ancient Rome, this was one of the first places that went on our itinerary. However, for tourists visiting Rome without such a specific agenda, this is a great way to get outside the city while still indulging in an important historical site.
Best things to see and do in Ostia Antica
You’ll see important sites like the House of Diana, the Baths of Porta Marina, the Thermopolim, and, my personal favourite, the theatre.
If you like Roman mosaics as much as I do, you should also make sure to stop by the Piazza of the Corporations, a shopping gallery featuring mosaics showing the wares of the businesses that were here during the city’s heyday.
I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the city, which was a much more relaxed experience than my visits to Pompeii or the Roman Forum.
Where to stay in Ostia and Rome
If you return to Rome, you can stay in the Best Western Plus Hotel Universo. We appreciated its proximity to the train station, which made it easy to get to and from Ostia Antica.
Guided Tours of Ostia Antica
Montecatini Terme – Tuscany’s Unesco spa town
For me, one of the best-hidden gems in central Italy is the town of Montecatini Terme. This small town in Tuscany has a population of about 20,000.
Montecatini Terme is a spa town that is part of the Great Spa Towns of Europe World Heritage Site, which consists of 11 spa towns all over Europe.
When I visited Montecatini Terme, I travelled by train from Pisa with a transfer in the city of Lucca. Because Montecatini Terme has a train station, it is easy to reach it from many other places in Italy.
The town’s architecture is one reason I wanted to visit Montecatini Terme. The city has a lot of buildings with an Art Nouveau architectural style.
Best things to see and do in Montecatini Terme
The other reason I decided to go to Montecatini Terme is the beautiful thermal baths in the town. For example, Terme Tettuccio was a beautiful one to visit. Also, the pretty fountains in the town were interesting to see, and you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montecatini Terme while in town.
Another great activity to do in Montecatini that I did was riding the funicular railway of the town. This funicular railway can take you to Montecatini Alta, a small medieval village from where you can get a panoramic view of Montecatini Terme.
Where to eat and stay in Montecatini Terme
A great restaurant in the city I visited is Ristorante Il Pellegrino, which serves tasty Tuscan food. If you want to spend longer in the town, book a night at Hotel Columbia Wellness and Spa for a spot or relaxation.
Saturnia Hot Springs – natural bathing in sulphur springs
The first time I saw a photo of the Saturnia hot springs, also known as Cascate del Mulino, I was mesmerized by its natural beauty. The picturesque waterfalls cascade down to the little powder-blue pools. I immediately knew this was a destination I had to see and experience in person.
Hidden away in the countryside of southern Tuscany, the Saturnia hot springs are an off-the-beaten-path location. The springs sit hillside outside of the small town of Saturnia. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Rome.
The thermal pools are heated naturally by a nearby volcano that keeps them at a comfortable temperature of 37.5° C all year round. And the best part about the scenic hot springs is that they are free to visit and open 24/7. A wonderful time to go is at sunrise when there are fewer people, and you can enjoy an early morning soak.
Many believe sulfur-rich thermal baths offer healing and therapeutic benefits, to many skin conditions.
The Saturnia hot springs are unlike any place I have ever been before. They are a natural gem and a must-see in Tuscany, Italy.
Where to stay in Saturnia
If you want to continue to get some R&R in Saturnia, an incredible and unique resort to stay at is Terme di Saturnia Natural Spa & Golf Resort.
The resort has outdoor natural thermal pools and whirlpools to relax and float in. They also offer many other luxury amenities, including their spa and wellness centre. This is where I stayed during our visit.
Bagni San Filippo Hot Springs – a Tuscan natural gem
I am a massive fan of hot springs, and I recently visited one of the hidden gems in central Italy, Bagni San Filippo in Tuscany.
After hours of digging around the internet, I found out about it and asked some of my local Italian friends about it. Unlike the slightly busier Saturnia hot springs, Bagni San Filippo offers a peaceful spa day amidst nature.
Woods surround the hot spring, and the water is rich in calcium carbonate, creating magnificent white structures, tiny waterfalls, and warm pools along the stream’s flow.
The most significant selling point for me was that I could reach Bagni San Filippo by public transportation. You can get a direct bus from Florence or the train from Rome to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme. Then hop in a taxi or rent a car for the last part of the journey.
Where to stay near Bagni San Filippo
I decided to stay in Montepulciano, another beautiful Tuscan town known for its wine. I took the bus from there the following day to Bagni San Filippo.
The little town by the same name has a bar, restaurants, and a hotel with a thermal pool that you can access by buying a day pass if you’d prefer a bit more privacy and convenience.
I opted to go to the natural pools and be amidst nature. So, when I arrived, I found a path leading directly to the Fosso Bianco, a white calcium formation that releases warm water into the natural pools around it. Don’t forget that the calcium also makes for a great mud mask for your skin.
I honestly loved my spa day amidst nature at Bagni San Filippo and have been back a few times. I highly recommend visiting this hidden hot spring for a relaxing and rejuvenating spa day in Tuscany.
Please Pin for Future Travel to Central Italy
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