Northern Italy Hidden Gems

Northern Italy Hidden Gems

I recently chatted with Beth Rubin, President of Olive Tree Escapes and one of my preferred partners that specializes in custom Italy vacations. Beth had some great things to share about the off the beaten path experiences in Northern Italy. If you are looking for a return visit to this beautiful country, I invite you to check out the Friiuli Venezia region where you can experience Italy like a local!

Trieste – Coffee Capital

Trieste is the capital of Venezia. Located on the Adriatic, the town is sleepier than Venice and offers styles that remind you of Australian and Hungarian architecture. If you love coffee, you’ll find it here as it is home to Illy Coffee. On a more somber note, this region has the only WWII extermination camp in Italy.

Grado – Unexpected Beach Town

When you think of Northern Italy, you probably would not expect a great beach, but Grado is a seaside town with a downtown full of cute shops and restaurants. Grado has the nickname of L’Isola del Sole (“The Sunny Island”). It is also well-known as a spa town and is revered for its uncontaminated nature.

Spilimbergo – Home to the International School of Mosaics

This is where it all happens! A higher education program where students learn how to do all kinds of mosaics.

Cividale – Authentic Italy

When you truly want to visit like a local visit this riverside town. It’s worth a stop!

Aquileia – Rich in Roman History

This former great ancient city turned quaint town is famous for the Roman ruins and churches that showcase intricate mosaic floors. While you can’t walk on the floors anymore, you can view the artwork from the acrylic bridges above the floors. If you like history this is a must!

Where to Stay in Friiuli Venezia:

  • Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta – A historic hotel in the center of the piazza.
  • Savoia Excelsior Palace – A 5-star property that faces the port on one side and the piazza on the other side.
  • Orsone – A fantastic hotel rich American and Italian history with a great show kitchen and a lovely winery on the property


What to eat and drink in Friiuli Venezia:

  • Prosciutto San Daniele is traditional however a bit less salty in taste than Prosciutto de Parma.
  • Frico is a fried cheese with potatoes and depending upon where you are, other ingredients are added such as onions or beets.
  • There are sweeping vineyards filled with local wines that you’ve never heard of before!
  • Coffee is a big part of the culture and you’ll find each place adds their own little treat with the coffee — a dose of hot chocolate on the side is delectable!
  • There is a big craft beer movement going on with lots of tastings. Perfect for a relaxing afternoon surrounded by hops.



Another great region to visit in Northern Italy is Emilla Romagna! You might have heard of its capital, Bologna. Without a doubt, Emilla Romagna is the official seat for Italian cuisine.

Parma & Modena – Charming and Cheesy Small Towns

These charming and small towns are famous for their cheese and, of course, Balsamic vinegar. A great hotel in Parma is the Palazzo Dalla Rosa located next to the Baptistery in the historic center of Parma. This is a darling family run hotel!

Dozza – A Work of Art

Situated on a small hilltop, what makes Dozza so interesting is every other year the residents come together and literally paint the town. Artists come together to create murals on the buildings making this small town a work of art!

Faenza is known for their ceramics. Brisighella, for its olive oils and sweeping views. Rivalta Trebbia is a tiny town, home to a castle with a dungeon and haunted kitchen open for exploring. Torre di san Martino is a wonderful traditional hotel with 3 restaurants including one in a vaulted wine cave. The list can go on and on. Basically, even if you’ve done the traditional tour of Rome, Florence, and Venice, there are still so many other places too in Italy that will take your breath away!

While this is a quick summary of Beth’s visits, hopefully, you are inspired to explore the hidden gems in the laid-back areas of Northern Italy where you can wander off the beaten path with the locals.

Thank you to Olive Tree Escapes for providing all of these gorgeous pictures.

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