Some people want to see famous sites when they travel, others want to immerse themselves in the people and culture of a new place. If you fall in the second category, visiting Italy doesn’t have to be a whirlwind of tourist stops, Americanized food and overpriced mementos. Step off the beaten path and forge your own trail in one of these lesser-known Italian cities. Visit for the culture; stay for the food.
Trieste is the capital and largest city in the northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Italian-American and Italian travel enthusiast Michael Canzian calls Friuli a “ravishing region” of natural beauty. Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was returned to Italian control in 1954. It reflects its multicultural heritage and key coastal access for Austria, Italy and Slovenia in its food and architecture.
You won’t find the red sauces of Southern Italy. Instead, Trieste and the surrounding region rely on fresh seafood combined with the fruit of the land. Try jota, sauerkraut and bean soup famous throughout the region. Strucolo de pomi is apple strudel with a twist. The Italians have added grape and pine nuts to make this pastry unlike any you’ll find further north. More Hungarian influence is found in Gulasch alla Triestina, goulash without potatoes but served over polenta. Michael Canzian recommends the Brovada e Muset, a meat and turnip boiled sausage.
With its extensive coastlines, you can be forgiven for overlooking this capital of the inland Umbria region. South of Tuscany and Florence and north of Rome, visit Perugia for its beautiful forested landscapes. Beyond the draw of the great outdoors, Perugia is a place you can see all of the historic sites of Italy without the same crowds: art museums, cathedrals, and a town center that celebrates its 400+ year history.
Besides the classic reasons to visit Italy, Perugia is known for two festivals: Umbria Jazz and Eurochocolate. Each 10-day festival draws people from across Europe to enjoy their favorite things with like-minded people. If you’re here for the food, you won’t be disappointed. The forests are filled with world-famous truffles. Combine the local Prosciutto di Norcia with pecorino. Try the Fagiolina del Trasimeno, a local cowpea that never took to industrial agriculture and must still be grown by hand.
Go beyond the Coliseum and pizza. These two Italian cities will show you that regional differences abound and every new place is a new adventure.