Full disclosure: Compiling this list was one of the more difficult things we’ve ever done. But after much spirited (OK fine, borderline aggro) debate amongst our editors, we’re thrilled to present the nine most gobsmackingly gorgeous spots in Italia. Read ’em and weep with wanderlust, friends.
If you ask us, the largest of Cinque Terre’s five swoon-worthy fishing villages is also its most visually arresting. Those gumball-colored buildings built mesmerizingly into the cliffside? That teeny-tiny harbor? We mean, come on. For a full day of breathtaking views, buck up and take the epic hike between all five of the towns. But come dinner time, make your way back to Riomaggiore, grab a bottle of vino and pasta to go (from one of the delicious takeout spots), and trade the company of tourists to that of the town’s fishermen with a picnic on the rocks. Oh right. And snap a zillion photos.
A quick detour from the glitz of nearby Ischia and Capri, the quiet little island of Procida is perhaps the prettiest in the Bay of Naples. Corricella, its main town, features the dreamiest little marina we ever did see. Boats bob peacefully, huge fishing nets lie in sculptural piles, jasmine vines cover alleyways, cats nap on the rocks and, most notably, sun-bleached, rainbow homes tumble down to the water line. Post up at one of the unpretentious seaside ristorantes for an Aperol, and watch the colors change over the water as the sun sinks. Bellisima? For sure.
POLIGNANO A MARE
This tiny village (in the Puglia “boot” region) is tucked dramatically into limestone cliffs that hover above the Adriatic. (Can you even with these incredible sea caves?!) Stroll through the old center’s charming whitewashed streets, pop into the beautiful churches for shade (Chiesa Matrice is especially lovely) and pause at all three of the public sea-facing terraces to take in the trip-of-a-lifetime views. As a cherry on top, trek down the cliff to Blue Flag beach for a refreshing swim in that sparkling, electric green water.
In Tuscany’s expanse of dreamy hilltop towns, San Gimignano is, in our HO, the crown jewel. Known as “the Town of Fine Towers,” its most notable feature is just that: an imposing “skyline” of 14 tall medieval towers punctuating the landscape. Between its frescoed churches, gothic architecture and pristine piazzi, San Gimignano’s historic center is so immaculately preserved, it’s like a time warp to a 15th-century fairy-tale. Splurge the five euro to climb the famed Torre Grossa (the tallest of the all the towers), and take in the rolling hills and olive groves beyond the city walls.
There’s a reason Lake Como has stood the test of time as a hideaway for the über, über rich: It’s impossibly idyllic. And facing east toward the snow-capped Swiss Alps, the main town of Varenna is as postcard perfect as it gets. Stroll the delightful town passarella (boardwalk), and enjoy the views of gliding sailboats and beyond, the stunning 19th-century villas dripping in wisteria that line the shore. Definitely don’t leave without visiting the town’s main attraction, Villa Monastero, with its stately lakeshore gardens, and pretend, if only for an afternoon, to be European aristocracy on holiday.
Home to just 150 year-round residents, this hilltop town (known for harvesting lentils) is one of the highest villages in the glorious Apennine Mountains… as well as one of the tiniest. The town center, with its pedestrian-only stairs and alleyways, is textbook charming, sure — but the real draw is the view come the summertime months. Castelluccio abuts Monti Sibillini National Park, and from May through August, the town rises like a phoenix from a dreamy sea of poppies, daffodils, violets, wildflowers and grazing sheep and cows.
The magical city of Venice, set “afloat” on teal lagoon waters, is simply a place unlike any other. Get lost (like really lost) in the “alley maze” of the historic central sestiere. This network of tiny footpaths built around the city’s canal offers endless enchanting vistas. For the lazier (and/or more lavish) among us, spring for a gondolier and tour the canals by water. Don’t forget to kiss your sweetheart when you pass underneath the ornately carved Bridge of Sighs Sighs. (Legend has it, you’ll be granted eternal love if you do.)
Just across the river from Rome’s historic center, you’ll find this cozy, cobbled neighborhood filled with amber-hued buildings, tangles of vines, and looking like the Rome of centuries ago (save for the tourists and junk shops). Not to be missed are the Basilica di Santa Maria in the main piazza, with its awe-inducing, gold 13th-century mosaics, and come sundown, a cup of nocciola (hazelnut) gelato on the steps of the Fontana di Trilussa while watching the sun set over the Tiber.
We don’t throw around the word “resplendent” casually, but the views from this altitudinous (we don’t throw that word around a lot either) Amalfi Coast enclave are just that. The winding, cobbled streets of town are worth a trip alone, but you simply can’t beat the scene at Villa Rufolo, Ravello’s pièce de résistance. This lovingly tended 13th-century villa boasts a gorgeous chapel, unique Arabic-influenced architecture and, best of all, a lush, colorful garden jutting out over the Mediterranean. Between the fragrant blooms and 360-degree views of the sea, it’s sensory overload in the best possible way. (Take as many selfies as you need. No judgement.)