5 must-visit Italian hilltop towns to appreciate a slower pace of life

Many of us live in large, bustling cities. We’re always on the move and try to make the most of every minute (especially when we travel!). Adjusting to a slower pace of life, as the Coronavirus has forced many of us to do, can be challenging. But a slower pace of life isn’t always a bad thing. 

There are still villages and towns that maintain their traditions and slower rhythms. Their inhabitants don’t live frenetic lifestyles: instead, they make their appreciation of life’s small pleasures an important part of the every day. Immersed in nature and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolises, here are some of Italy’s most beautiful borghi — or villages — and their millennial traditions. Learn from the best to embrace this slower place, and find out how their rhythm has made them unique worldwide.

This article was written for GetYourGuide by Romeing, the main English magazine of Rome (and one of our favorite travel blogs). Here, they take you on a journey around Italy to discover some of these ancient villages.

1. Civita di Bagnoregio

Just a few hours from Rome, you’ll stumble upon this medieval village in the Lazio region known as “they dying city”. Civita di Bagnoregio was inhabited by the Etruscans 2500 years ago and today it has less than 15 residents! As a hilltop town that stands on a rock rich in clay, it’s habitable area is constantly diminishing due to frequent landslides. But that doesn’t stop the inhabitants and day-trippers to live in and visit this lovely gem.

If you want to experience “il dolce far niente” (“the sweetness of doing nothing”), this is a place you should add to your bucket list. The town has maintained its picturesque alleyways, stone houses, and traditional cuisine featuring cured meats — from prosciutto to salsiccia and porchetta — deriving from ancient traditions. 

2. Assisi

Tucked away in Umbria, also known as “the Green Heart of Italy”, sits one of the most beautiful hilltop towns of Italy: Assisi. Known for being the town of St. Francis, Assisi boasts the stunning Basilica of St. Francis, the Basilica of St. Clare, and the Temple of Minerva, dating back to ancient Roman times. Almost every alleyway boasts breathtaking views of the Umbrian valley.

The vibe of the paese can truly be experienced in Assisi, where religious celebrations are deeply rooted in the village’s traditions. Over Christmas or Easter, religious processions and events are from another time. Stroll through the town, walk up the Monte Subasio, visit the Eremo delle Carceri and taste Umbrian specialties from salsicce to cured meats and all things truffles. 

3. Pienza

Halfway between Siena and Florence, Pienza is perched in the famous Val d’Orcia region. Away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, this Tuscan borgo dominates the valley thanks to its strategic position, offering stunning views of the rolling Tuscan hills. The panoramic view from this Renaissance town is enough of a reason to visit.

Aside from this, Pienza is famous for a millennial tradition in cheese making: The pecorino di Pienza is a sheep milk cheese renowned worldwide that embodies the millennial history of Val d’Orcia’s cheese production. The taste recalls the bold flavors of traditional Tuscan products, the perfect mix between the colors of the land. Stroll the town and stop in its numerous cheese shops to taste the various varieties at all stages of ripeness. Pair your cheese samples with the region’s wines, honey, spices, and pasta. Relax, sit back, and enjoy the view with a glass of wine and some pecorino di Pienza... the dolce far niente is a lifestyle we think you can easily get used to. 

4. Matera

It’s hard to believe that there was a point in time when Matera didn’t exist: it feels like it’s been there forever… and it almost has. In the Basilicata region of Italy, Matera is special for being the third most ancient city in the world! This stunning village was named the Culture Capital of Europe in 2019, and is famous worldwide for its “Sassi di Matera” — two districts (Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano) known for their ancient dwellings which have been inhabited for thousands of years (at first by cavemen).

Navigate the town’s stairways and alleys, visit its stone churches, and soak into the magical atmosphere only this historic settlement can provide… If time travel exists — surely this is it. Top off your visit by tasting Matera’s delicious traditional cucina povera, made with simple ingredients that create hearty flavors, and don’t leave without tasting their famous bread.

5. Sermoneta

We’ve gotten used to making time fit our lifestyles. Take tomatoes: Want one? Any local grocery store can provide, year-round. But 50 years ago this wasn’t the case. Instead, seasonality and Mother Nature’s cycles determined what went on the table. Right now, the Corona pandemic means we can’t often have what we want the moment we want it… so it’s the ideal time to look to nature for inspiration. Sermoneta, a quaint town in the Lazio region, is known worldwide for Ninfa — dubbed “most romantic garden in the world”.

The Ninfa garden is as enchanting as it gets: nature’s cadence creates the perfect harmony of plants and flowers of every shape, size, and color. In order to avoid any type of contamination to the ecosystem, the garden is only open a few weekends per year, so make sure to plan ahead. With its 1300 species of plants, it’s an absolute marvel.