Italy is home to some of the most famous cities, art, wine and beaches in the world.
Think of Florence, Rome and Venice with their abundant Renaissance architecture and well-known galleries, Tuscany with its world-famous vineyards and the glamorous Amalfi Coast with its see-and-be-seen vibe.
Although these places are an obvious draw for travelers, Italians themselves prefer to go on vacation to lesser-known regions.
These are places where the menus are not translated into English, where foreigners are rare but the pleasures are no less plentiful.
Puglia, in the “heel” of Italy, is a favorite destination for travel writer Marina Cacciapuoti, who runs the Italy Segreta website and travel advice. She loves to visit in the spring, “when you can experience it with the locals,” she said.
“It’s a land of farmers, of traditions, of passion, of simplicity that needs to be enjoyed slowly,” she told CNBC via email.
A recent discovery is a private house Masseria Schiumaa farmhouse near the beach, restored by a Danish couple and available for rent only a few weeks a year.
The city of Lecce, in the Italian region of Puglia.
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The area is also popular with Roman real estate agent Diletta Giorgolo, who travels there for its “remarkable” beaches and small towns.
She recommends visiting Puglia in May, June, September and October, when “the weather is hot and the beaches are empty,” she told CNBC via email.
Giorgolo likes to stay in the 1860s Daniele Palacea former palace that she describes as “Mediterranean chic”, or Naturalis Bio Resort & Spaa collection of 18th century farm buildings restored by a husband and wife team.
To eat, she offers Alex Ristorante in Lecce, famous for its raw fish dishes by chef Alessandra Civilla.
For skiing and hiking, Giorgolo loves the Dolomites mountain range – and in particular the ski areas of Cortina d’Ampezzo and Corvara.
“I have skied in most countries around the Alps including Switzerland, France [and] Austria, but the Dolomites have a more spectacular natural landscape – and the food is definitely the best,” she said.
A chalet in the ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the Italian Dolomites mountain range.
Sotheby’s International Realty, Italy
“La Sellaronda is one of my favorite ski areas, and Cortina is definitely the best place to start the most beautiful summer hikes,” she added.
In Cortina, she recommends eating at the family restaurant Beppe Sellowhere the specialty is benfatti alla moda — a homemade ravioli with caciotta cheese.
Giorgolo, who works for Sotheby’s International Realty, is staying at Ambra Cortinewhich presents itself as a “fashion boutique” hotel, where the rooms are themed around cinema, theater and nature.
Even in busy Rome, it is possible to find hidden gems. But Cacciapuoti, who spent part of his childhood there, simply likes to wander the streets of the city.
“There’s really nothing like it – the sun shines differently there,” she said. “I always say there are beautiful cities and cities with a soul – Rome is the last.”
Pizza al taglio is cooked in large rectangular trays.
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Cacciapuoti likes to stop at Angelo Ferocia butcher’s shop in the Sant’Eustachio district that has been in the same place for about 100 years.
She recommended the Gian Fornaio café where pizza is sold “al taglio” — or “by the slice” — and cooked in large rectangular trays. For an aperitif, Cacciapuoti says she goes to the bar in the Hotel Locarnoa place that was popular with Italian movie stars during the country’s golden age of 1950s cinema.
The Tuscan city of Florence is known for its red-domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and its world-famous art collection at the Uffizi Gallery. But Tuscany also has many seaside resorts and an archipelago of seven islands.
Cacciapuoti recommended the under-radar island of Giglio, “ripe natural beauty with hand-grown wines, crystal-clear waters [and] scenic hikes”, as she explains in a publication on its website. There, she likes to jump between the beaches of L’Arenella, Le Cannelle and Le Caldane, and stay in port at The guarda hotel decorated with wood, stone and concrete.
The port of Giglio, Italy
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The peninsula of Monte Argentario, connected to mainland Tuscany by quiet roads, is home to The Pellicano, an old private house transformed into a chi-chi hotel. It was bought by Italian business tycoon Roberto Scio in 1979 and photographed in the decade that followed by Slim Aarons, famous for capturing the socialite and celebrity scene.
Known for its star appeal, it’s now run by his daughter, Marie Louise Scio, who grew up at the hotel and restored it in the mid-2000s.
A recent discovery for Marie Louise Scio is the northern Italian town of Vicenza, about an hour’s drive west of Venice.
“The city of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of Veneto are a World Heritage Site in Italy, which protects the buildings of architect Andrea Palladio,” she told CNBC via email.
Giorgolo has several recommendations for visitors looking to get away from the high season crowds.
“Visit Umbria with its wonderful hills and beautiful towns, go to Lucca in Tuscany, a lesser-known gem than Florence, and discover the city of Turin and the Langhe region,” she said.
Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, Italy.
Massimo Borchí | Atlantis Phototrip | Getty Images
August is when many travelers visit Italy. Cacciapuoti suggested that those going on holiday during high season think outside the box.
“Somewhere remote like Filicudi or Isole Tremiti; places without too many accommodations…or find a home away from home on mainland Umbria [a] calm, green and safe haven,” she told CNBC.
“What I would say to anyone visiting Italy is to take it easy, don’t follow a constant schedule, enjoy life around you – take a directionless walk or a long break -coffee, don’t always use Google Maps, try talking to a local to ask directions or don’t be afraid of getting lost.”