Italy’s Five Most Picturesque Towns

The whitewashed old town of Ostuni

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ostuni-italy

The whitewashed old town of Ostuni

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When it comes to Italy’s reputation as a major holiday destination, cities – think Venice, Florence and Rome – still often hog the headlines. But the country is home to a great number of small villages and towns whose heritage dates back to the Middle Ages that are definitely worth a visit. Let’s discover some of them together!

Civita di Bagnoregio

Located on the top of a tuff hill, this medieval town is nicknamed “the city who dies” because of the progressive erosion of the hill, which at some point might totally disappear. The town is only accessible via a pedestrian bridge which leads to the sole remaining gate – the other four, along with towers and palaces, collapsed over centuries due to earthquakes and landslides. Founded by the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago, the town acquired its actual shape during the Middle Ages and later, the Renaissance. Today, San Donato square, with its Romanesque  church and ancient town hall, is probably its main attraction, together with Santa Maria gate (the only remaining entrance to the town) and the house of leading mediaeval theologian San Bonaventura.

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Civita di Bagnoregio at sunset

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Ostuni

With its lime-painted walls reminiscent of a village of a Greek island, Ostuni is known as “the white city”. Located on the coast of Puglia, Ostuni houses some important religious buildings, as well as luxurious palaces. Its cathedral is famous for its gothic façade, while the Carmelite monastery is a perfect example of baroque architecture. Olive oil, meats and cheeses are also an important part of the city’s culture and the seaside is among Italy’s best. What else could you wish for?

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Ostuni could be mistaken for a town in Greece.

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Arquà Petrarca

Located in the middle of Colli Euganei, close to Padova and Venice, the mediaeval town of Arquà Petrarca with its stone buildings has managed to keep its ancient heritage intact over the centuries. On the top of its mediaeval charm, it is also famous for the production of wine using Bordeaux varieties and for having the last residence of one of the fathers of Italian literature, Francesco Petrarca, who died there in 1374. His house is one of the town’s attractions, alongside the 12th century Oratory of the Holy Trinity and the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.     

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The old church in Arquà Petrarca

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Gressoney-Saint-Jean

Positioned in the foothills of Monte Rosa, Europe’s second highest mountain, this small town is famous among climbers and skiers, but also because of its unique traditions, linked to the Walser German population. The Walser arrived in the valley between the 12th and 13th centuries from Switzerland, and left their influence on the local “titsch” language and the architecture, with houses built from stone and wood. Besides the spectacular views, check out the town's charming historic centre, with houses that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and Castel Savoia, the fairytale summer residence of the Queen Margherita of Italy.

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A wooden bridge at Gressoney-Saint-Jean

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Erice

Located on the top of a hill with a spectacular view on the Gulf of Trapani, Erice is a medieval town whose origins go back to ancient times – according to legend, it was founded by Trojan exiles (the Latin poet Virgilio mentions it in the Aeneid). Over the centuries, the town was home to the Phoenicians, Normans, Arabs, Romans and Spanish, among others. Its ancient centre is a maze of small streets with stone pavements, and all the town’s buildings, including its walls, were built with the same material. The impressive gothic cathedral and its high bell tower is a must-see but the jewel in its crown is Venus Castle, a defensive fortress built under the Normans between the 12th and 13th centuries.

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Erice has a spectacular view

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