Its terracotta rooftops and rolling vine-covered hills, colourful cliff-side villages and fresh, flavourful, food and rich culture have captured the imagination of the world for decades. Little wonder it’s one of the top 10 most visited countries on the planet.
In case you, like so many of us, daydream about ancient monuments and sweet gelatos, hilltop towns and handmade pasta, here are three beautiful Italian towns that also happen to be extremely friendly on your pocket…
1. Taormina, Sicily
Known as the “pearl of Sicily” because of its stunning natural and architectural beauty, this small Sicilian town is perched on a cliff with vast blue ocean views stretching out on one side, the steep slope of the hill culminating in an abandoned castle on the other side and the beautiful mini eruptions of Mount Etna in the distance.
The town itself is glamorous, with a clean, pretty promenade lined with restaurants, shops and viewpoints and strolled by beautiful people wearing the latest fashions.
With all that glitz, glamour and sparkling reputation, you’d think Taormina would be a pricey spot to vacation. But with Airbnb rentals starting at less than $1,000 per month, it’s a lot more affordable than most people think.
During my own month in Taormina, I spent about $375 on groceries—including many splurges on flavoured olive oils and local liquors—and just over $100 on eating out, which I did a couple times each week. And train tickets to nearby destinations are cheap; round-trip tickets to the port city of Catania were less than $15.
2. Assisi, Umbria
Famous as the home of St. Francis of Assisi, this striking white-and-pink-stone hilltown is a beauty at every turn. For nature-lovers, well-kept hiking trails lead down the hill through olive groves and woodlands to a nunnery that has been repurposed into a welcome centre. Meanwhile, up in the town itself you’ll find sweeping views of surrounding countryside, delicious and artistic restaurants tucked away in stone buildings and an ancient fortress overseeing it all.
In the very heart of the town, monthly rooms list at about $1,000, but head down the hill to the neighbourhood behind the train station and you’ll find rental listings starting as low as $600 a month—buses run several times an hour and cost just a dollar or two each way.
As is the case with most of Italy, produce prices run low here, with a bag full of vegies costing just $2. Restaurant prices vary, but you’ll find plenty of affordable options here and, of course, if you rent a space with a kitchen, your budget will be in even better shape.
3. Modena, Emilia Romagna
Known as the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, Modena is a colourful, charming northern Italian city full of balsamic producers (who will often let you tour their facilities free or at a cut-price in the hopes that you’ll buy a bottle at tour’s end) and other foodie delights. Don’t miss the large, indoor fresh market where you can practice your Italian while ordering dark, sweet cherries from nearby famous Vignola or bags of clams brought in from the seaside.
While there are plenty of ways to spend a lot of money in Modena (home to the multi-Michelin starred restaurant—Osteria Francescana), there are also plenty of ways to keep your budget reasonable. Two nights in a spacious Airbnb apartment in the centre of town ran me about $130—and that wasn’t the cheapest option. Airbnb listings start as low as $650 per month for longer stays.
Meals and living expenses are also on the affordable side, with a meal at a mid-range restaurant costing about $40 per couple and a cappuccino in a cosy cafe running about $2.
Main Image: © iStock.com/alexsalcedo
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