In his groundbreaking and best-selling book, The Italians (published in 1964), Luigi Barzini wrote about the ever-growing flocks of travelers turning up in his homeland after World War II, even imagining a time when the number of tourists might equal or exceed the country’s population. That moment seems to have arrived, with more than 62 million visitors streaming into Italy in 2018, according to the UNWTO. (The population that year was about 60,360,000 according to Istat.) With no signs of the influx abating any time soon—if ever—here’s how to help the country, parts of which are suffering from the effects of overtourism, as you make plans for visiting in 2020.
1.If you can’t avoid heading to overtouristed spots in peak season, counter it with stops at lesser-known destinations. Italy’s most famous sites are crowded for good reason, offering spectaular natural beauty or art and architectural works representing the pinnacle of human achievement, but in recent years places like the Amalfi Coast and Venice have suffered greatly for their uniqueness, with record crowds and resulting environmental woes. Here are some suggestions for nearby alternatives to Italy’s tourist magnets:
After going to the Cinque Terre, travel to the Lerici Coast, located on the eastern shoreline of the Gulf of La Spezia (about a 40-minute drive from Riomaggiore). Here you’ll find a cluster of lovely towns and villages, including Lerici, San Terenzo and Tellaro, offering unvarnished charm, far fewer crowds, a good selection of beaches and well-priced restaurants serving rustic Ligurian cuisine.
If you’re vacationing on the Amalfi Coast, also spend time on the Cilento Coast. While Italians vacation in this area, reaching from Salerno to Sapri, in August, it’s not (yet) a big stop on the international travel circuit. Here you’ll find many uncrowded beaches with pristine waters, evocative towns, like Castellabate and Palinuro, and a healthy cooking style that helped define the Mediterranean diet and spawn a bounty of centenarians in the region.
After stopping in Venice, see some of the historic towns of the Veneto. Venice is a one-of-a-kind experience, and if you’re interested in other canal-threaded cities, you can opt for St. Petersburg and Amsterdam (with their own tourism challenges), or smaller destinations with waterways like France’s Annecy and Holland’s Delft. But consider traveling through Venice’s surrounding countryside to visit historic cities and towns that were once part of the Venetian Republic to get a fuller understanding of its bygone might. Among them are gracious Treviso; Padua, which like Treviso has canals, and is home to Giotto’s masterwork in the Scrovegni Chapel (in season you can reach the city by sailing along the Brenta Riviera from Venice or vice-versa); and the hilltown of Asolo, designated one of Italy’s most beautiful villages.
2. Travelers will always want to go to Rome, Venice and Florence, but Italy has many other fascinating cities. Make it a point to visit them. Explore Genoa, well positioned between Liguria’s two Rivieras, and a city with great museums, palazzi and one of the largest centri storiche (historic centers) in Europe. Among the events to check out next year is the Michelangelo exhibit, starting March 26. Parma is known for its great food and fine products, like Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto di Parma, but there are other reasons to stop by. Designated Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2020, the city will host a range of art and music happenings throughout the year. Urbino is a beautiful Renaissance city in Le Marche, and birthplace of Raphael, an artist who is the focus of a number of exhibitions in 2020, five hundred years after his death. You can visit his home, Casa Raffaelo, and see some of his works in the Palazzo Ducale, along with pieces by Titian and Piero della Francesca. (The largest Raphael exhibit will be in Rome, opening on March 5, 2020.) Trieste holds the Barcolana regatta, one of the world’s largest sailing competitions, each October, but this city, with its medley of cultural influences (it was long part of the Hapsburg empire and lies close to the Slovenian border), is worth stopping by any time of the year.
3.If you are in an overtouristed city, seek out its less-crowded sites. In Rome that could be the Palazzo Farnese, a magnificent Renaissance structure with lavish frescoes, now home to the French embassy (you have to book a tour); the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij with its important art collection (Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio); and the Palazzo Barberini and the Galleria Corsini, homes to the National Gallery of Ancient Art. In Venice, stop by the elegant Palazzo Querini Stampalia, a house museum depicting 18th-century aristocratic life with a wonderful library; and the Palazzo Cini with pieces by Botticelli, Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico. In Florence there’s the Museo degli Innocenti with works by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio; the San Marco Museum with Fra Angelico frescoes; and the 19th-century house museum of Stefano Bardini, a noted art collelctor, showcasing pieces from Roman times and art by Donatello and Andrea Della Robbia.
4, Book that train. Do your bit for the environment, and you can indulge in some tågskryt (“train-bragging”) too. No surprise, Italy’s trains get crowded in summer and the regional routes can make many stops along the way, but book one of the country’s high-speed (alta velocità) services like Frecciarossa, operated by Trenitalia, for a speedy, smooth trip. Trains can reach speeds of up to 400 kilometers per hour, meaning you’ll be whisked from Milan to Rome on the non-stops in under three hours, or all the way to Naples in a little more than 4 hours. Italo, a privately-run train company, is another fast-tracks option, getting you from Venice to Rome in a little more than three-and-a-half hours.
5. Support Venice. After last month’s floods, Venice was left with an estimated $1 billion in damages. You can help the city through the “Venice in the Heart” campaign, where a special fund has been set up for donations; and through Save Venice, the nonprofit dedicated to preserving Venice’s cultural heritage, that established an Immediate Response Fund with the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Visit Venice, too—while the city is inundanted in summer, hoteliers reported a drop in bookings after the floods, hurting local businesses on top of the damages wreaked by the acqua alte.