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Top 10: most picturesque villages in Italy

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (September 29, 2014): Top 10 most beautiful villages in Italy.

Italy ranks among the top summer destinations for travelers, an unsurprising feat given the country’s historical legacy, renowned cuisine, cultural highlights, breathtaking heartland, and award-winning wines. To get a true taste of the essence of Italy, many travelers take to the countryside to explore the rustic villages which have made Italy synonymous with old-world charm. In the face of so many stunning towns to choose from, many travelers find themselves overwhelmed when planning their Italian escape. To help you, I pulled together a list of the prettiest Italian villages.

There is more info below the slide show (including my selection of luxury hotels). Think I missed one? Share your favorite Italian village in the comments section, or take my poll below!

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10. SAN GIMIGNANO

Tuscany is one of Italy’s most iconic regions, and the jewel of Tuscany is definitely San Gimignano. The small village, in the heart of Italy’s wine country, is marked by narrow streets, quaint squares, and 13 centuries-old towers (there used to be about 70 such towers). And although the towers are great for photographs, they were built for defense and aggression against noble families within the same neighborhood. It’s a perfect place to escape for a few days and enjoy some homemade pasta, a glass of Tuscan red, and the unbeatable sunsets over the farmland (but beware of tourist crowds in the summer).

SAN GIMIGNANO

SAN GIMIGNANO


9. POSITANO

An hour drive from Naples, the cascading village of Positano is located along one of the world’s most scenic roads on the spectacular Amalfi Coast. Of course, the village has a pleasant beach and cozy restaurants, but Positano can only be really appreciated when you look at it from a distance: only then one realizes how the village clings precariously to the mountains and how there are just layers and layers of Moorish-style houses in an upwards sprawl.

POSITANO

POSITANO


8. ALBEROBELLO

Alberobello can be found in the Puglia region not far from the coastal town of Bari. Alberobello is a beautiful village famous for its many trulli, 1,500 to be specific, and it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trullo is the name given to the conical roof structures that are made without mortar. All trullos are painted glaring white that almost blinds you when you visit during the southern Mediterranean summer heat, and many of them are available for rent for short stays, making Alberobello a perfect place for a few days of rest, food, and history.

ALBEROBELLO

ALBEROBELLO


7. BELLAGIO

Few places are as romantic as Lake Como, and even fewer villages as beautiful as Bellagio (and we are not talking here about the more famous Las Vegas hotel). Called the “Pearl of the Lake”, Bellagio has several world-class hotels and restaurants that provide the perfect place to soak up the best panorama of the scenic lake and the towering Alps in the background. The village is characterised by century-old buildings, stone lanes and picturesque cobbled stairways filled with shops showcasing the finest Italian wares.

BELLAGIO

BELLAGIO


6. MANAROLA

Widely regarded as the most beautiful of the five villages which make up Italy’s Cinque Terre region, Manarola is a stunning community of brightly-colored homes cascading down the rocky slopes between the hills and the Mediterranean. Like most coastal towns in Italy, Manarola boasts delectable regional cuisine and a small beach, and since access is limited to only one small regional road, your Italian getaway is sure to be a peaceful one.

MANAROLA

MANAROLA


5. CASTELMEZZANO

Perched high amid the Lucanian Dolomites, the cliffside villa of Castelmezzano has everything for an authentic Italian experience: amazing regional wines served in quaint village taverns, fresh food from the surrounding farms, and quiet, narrow streets full of history and tradition. Castelmezzano is also home to the Volo dell’Angelo (“Flight of the Angel”), a spectacular walking path which runs along the top of the bluffs and is considered to be one of the best in Italy.

CASTELMEZZANO

CASTELMEZZANO


4. CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO

Civita di Bagnoregio is a rare gem located in Lazio, and one of the most striking and impressive of all Italian villages. Particularly spectacular for its fabulous location perched on top of an isolated cliff, that unfortunately is slowly eroding. Because of this, Civita di Bagnoregio is also called the dying city, la “città che muore”: It can be reached via a long dramatic bridge only on foot or on scooters. You see it and you’re soon captured; this is, in some ways, a magical and surreal place.

CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO

CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO


3. CEFALU

Wedged between mountains and coastline, just an hour’s drive east of Palermo, lies the idyllic town of Cefalu in one of the world’s most scenic islands, Sicily. Cefalu is tiny but popular, especially among sun-seekers from other parts of Italy. Besides gorgeous beaches and narrow medieval streets, Cefalu also offers great Sicilian restaurants and a hip nightlife scene, particularly in the summer months when its population triples. The sight from the beach towards the village and mountainous background is one you will not easily forget.

CEFALU

CEFALU


2. RAVELLO

A tiny, utterly charming village 350 meters above the sea, Ravello represents nature’s music. The charm of its landscapes, the quality of its monuments and its spectacular vistas ravished a lot of European artists who came here to find inspiration. Nowadays, Ravello is most famous for hosting summer classical concerts alfresco in its beautiful patrician villas with spectacular gardens, the Rufulo and Cimbrone, one stepping closer to the sky than the last. Linger near the cathedral of San Pantaleone or shop for colorful ceramic dishes.

RAVELLO

RAVELLO


1. MATERA

Known as the “Città dei Sassi”, the city of stones, Matera is located in southern Italy, in Basilicata. It is a UNESCO world heritage site for its beauty and uniqueness. Matera is actually one of the most ancient and most beautiful towns not just of Italy but the world, and served as a backdrop for several Hollywood movies. The village derives much of its fame from the sassi, ancient cave-homes carved directly into the rock of the surrounding hills. The sight is extraordinary!

MATERA

MATERA


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