[Regions of Italy]
Hill Towns in Lombardy
Castro is in the high lake district near the Val Camonica. Its steep narrow streets lead straight up to a ruined castle, whence you'll delight to a magnificent view of Lake Endine, flanked by two dramatic limestone cliffs.
Bovegno is a picturesque little Tyrolean village surrounded by a pine wood. Visit the church of San Giorgio to see its characteristic wood carvings.
Hill Towns in Trentino
Cembra is especially picturesque in winter, when snow settles onto the plowed terraces that ring the hill below the town. Grapes grow on those terraces, making this one of Trentino's best wine-producing villages. Long before you enter, you'll see the graceful belltower of St. Peter's church. Also worth a visit is the church of Maria Assunta, with frescoes ranging from Gothic to Baroque. The most affluent houses are in the lower part of town; from there the streets slant straight upward toward the wooded slopes.
Castello Tesino has an interesting church in its main square. San Giorgio was built as early as the 11th century, but it had fallen largely into ruin and was almost entirely rebuilt as faithfully as possible in the 1920s, under the direction of the esteemed modern architect Ettore Sottsass, who gained notoriety when he founded the Memphis movement of industrial and domestic design. Walk through the pretty streets up to the sanctuary of San Polo.
Vigo di Ton is tiny and pretty, and dramatically topped by an old castle.
Hill Towns in Alto Adige
Bressanone is one of our favorite Italian towns. If you travel by train from Innsbruck, after you cross the Brenner Pass you begin to see a string of jewel-like towns off to one side, and though you are still high up in the Alps, somehow the warmth of the Mediterranean begins to seep into your soul. It is an enchanting experience. Bressanone (more often called by its German name Brixen) is an artistic treasure trove built on a rise between three spectacular gorges. In town, we recommend you visit the cathedral (entering at the rear through the Gothic cloisters), and then stroll happily along the many arcaded streets, over tiny hump-backed bridges and through sunny pastel-painted squares.
San Genesio (Jenesien) is a typical mountain town with a pretty little church and many alpine homes. It is ideally situated on the European Hiking Trail No. 5, in a remote and therefore uncrowded corner of this very popular region.
Hill Towns in Piedmont
Montiglio is tiny and free of crowds, yet it has a fabulous 15th-century castle. Inside is the chapel of Sant'Andrea, where you'll see the largest cycle of 14th-century frescoes in Piedmont.
Susa is guarded by the picturesque Marchese Adelaide castle, former home of the Savoy kings and now a museum. Beyond the massive cylindrical stone gate, built in the 2nd century, the town is a tranquil blend of cobblestone streets and charming medieval porticos, always backed by the Alps towering overhead.
La Morra is indeed picturesque, and it has breathtaking views as far as the Alps (on a clear day), but the main attraction are the many wineries you can visit. After you've purchased wine and luncheon foods in town, head for the surrounding woods and have a picnic.
Hill Towns in Veneto
Montagnana is entirely surrounded by one of the finest old walls in Europe. Dating as far back as 1200, they are over a mile long and feature seven well-preserved towers.
Soave, famous for its wine, is another fairy-tale castle town, with 14th-century fortifications and 24 towers. Click here for a virtual tour of Soave.
Monselice could be called the gateway to the Colli Euganei. It was once a fortified town, but its location actually makes it a natural fortress. If you're feeling like taking an interesting walk, climb the hill above town to the seven rural chapels that were designed as an offshoot of the Romanesque cathedral.
Hill Towns in Liguria
Taggia is surrounded by olive groves and flower fields. It boasts a beautiful arched medieval bridge, a porticoed main street, an important Dominican monastery and two fine churches.
Dolceacqua is in a beautiful mountain setting overlooking the Nervia River. The streets are steep and narrow, free of cars and noise. If you stay for lunch, be sure to try the local Rossese wine.
Pigna's name supposedly derives from its appearance, which resembles a pine cone. There are many lovely buildings here, including the Romanesque church of San Tommaso and the 15th-century church of San Michele. At the top of the hill is a covered square, the former marketplace.
Hill Towns in Emilia-Romagna
Bertinoro boasts walls which were restored by Alessandro Borgia. From its steep streets you can see the Adriatic Sea and the Republic of San Marino, the only hill town we know that is also a sovereign state.
Montecuccolo (whose very name means "remote peak") is extremely picturesque, even though it is little more than a few medieval houses clustered around a castle 3000 feet above sea level.
Castell'Arquato, whose main square is dramatically embellished by an austere Romanesque basilica, has retained most of its original fortifications. Its hilltop location is so remote that it was a favorite headquarters for the hired military commanders who defended the minuscule empires of the Middle Ages.
Hill Towns in The Marches
San Leo is such an utterly perfect medieval village that it is considered by many to be Italy's most exemplary hill town. Do visit the impressive castle, but stroll through the pristine streets as well.
Fermo's streets and buildings are all of terra cotta, and there are Roman remains as well as medieval churches. One of the latter, the 13th-century cathedral, contains a silk chasuble that once belonged to St. Thomas á Becket.
Hill Towns in Umbria
Gubbio is one of the most spectacular hill towns in Italy, because its layout affords so many breathtaking views straight out across the valley, and also because it numbers so many imposing buildings. Most of the town was rebuilt in the 11th century, and it retains the feel of a prosperous medieval "metropolis." There's also one of the largest Roman theatres still in existence.
Trevi is a lovely town with many fine chapels and churches. Paramount among them is Sant'Emiliano, where Rocco di Tommaso designed the spectacular main altar in 1522. Even the cobblestoned streets are works of art here, and the curved façades of the buildings provide one surprise panorama after another.
Spello is off limits to all cars, which makes strolling through its hopelessly charming streets even more enjoyable. This town has it all: fairy-tale ramparts, pristine belltowers, and lovely churches with masterpieces by the likes of Pinturicchio and Perugino.
Porano is like a miniature Orvieto, except that it is not nearly as famous. This means it has been spared the crowds. Yet it too dates almost entirely from the Middle Ages.
Hill Towns in Latium
Sermoneta was recently featured in the delightful film
For Roseanne. We wager most people who saw the movie will plan to take a side trip to this picturesque hill town, which still has part of its original wall, and a 13th-century Romanesque cathedral with a moving Madonna of the Angels.
Anticoli Corrado is a landscape painter's dream come true. Every home seems to be perfect, from its freshly painted door to the austere stone walls, unspoiled flower boxes and tiled roofs.
Ceri is the perfect spot to go if you are in Rome, you have a car and you want to enjoy the "fortified hill town" experience in only a few hours. Leaving behind the umbrella pines of the Aurelia, one of the ancient Roman consular roads, you climb straight upwards for a few minutes, then through the medieval gate and into the impossibly steep alleys that lead up to the main square. From almost anywhere, the views are breathtaking.
Hill Towns in Abruzzo and Molise
Penne is a pleasant mixture of medieval and Baroque buildings, almost all built using the same reddish bricks. Noteworthy are the Palazzo Castiglione, with its two tiers of wrought-iron balconies; and the columned façade of the church of the Annunziata.
Pacentro is a sandstone-colored town whose houses are linked by tiny passageways, alleys and covered arches.
Montefalcone nel Sannio has a 2000-year-old history, which left behind such remains as a Sannite defense wall, a medieval castle and a 15th-century parish church.
Hill Towns in Basilicata
Melfi's imposing Norman castle's eight towers can be seen for miles around, standing on the hilltop surrounded by a host of pre-Roman graves. The town gate dates back to Norman days.
Acerenza's rooftops seem to have been neatly shaven to form a perfect round profile. Its 11th-century cathedral is one of the finest in the region, and its crypt is particularly worth a visit.
Rivello looks almost alpine, sprawled along the side of a densely wooded hill caught between Mounts Coccovello and Sirino. There are loads of ornate balconies, two nice churches and a beautifully frescoed convent, but the town's most charming feature is its authenticity and simplicity.
Montescaglioso's location is similar to Orvieto's: it occupies the entire top of a broad flat plateau. The graceful cloisters of the Sant'Angelo Abbey are especially worth a visit.
Hill Towns in Campania
Gesualdo sits on a hilltop dominated by a picturesque castle. Miraculously, its many medieval buildings escaped destruction in the 1980 earthquake that devastated much of this area.
Teggiano boasts Roman remains, several well-preserved medieval buildings, a 12th-century cathedral and of course, a 14th-century castle.
Benevento is a great hill town for lovers of Roman antiquities. It has a 2nd-century BC theatre, a towering triumphant arch, and a well-preserved gate, and almost every house in town has bits and pieces of the ancient monuments plastered into its façade.
Hill Towns in Calabria
Morano beckons you from the nearby autostrada. When you get there you realize it is an elegant town with steep narrow streets that lead to the remains of a Norman castle. There are several very interesting churches worth visiting, especially Sts. Peter and Paul, which contains statues by Bernini's father Pietro.
Pentedattilo is far off the beaten track. Its name comes from its location on five finger-shaped cliffs, which lend a dramatic air to the village. Many of the most beautiful buildings are semi-derelict, but this only adds to the ghostly sense of bygone glory that is so prevalent here.
Hill Towns in Apulia
Minervino Murge has been nicknamed the balcony of Apulia, because it makes a perfect lookout across the Murge Valley below. It has a Norman cathedral, a 12th-century castle, and many pretty sandstone façades.
Ostuni is perhaps the most famous hill town in Apulia, but since this entire region is woefully overlooked, we consider this town off the beaten track. Its pure white homes and stepping stone streets cannot fail to remind you of the Aegean Islands, while its cathedral has a powerfully Spanish feel to it. The majolica dome of the Baroque church of Santa Maria Maddalena will make you think of Amalfi. The truth is that nothing is quite like Ostuni, strung out across three hills overlooking the coast a few miles away.
Hill Towns in Sicily
Ibla is the oldest part of Ragusa. The best way to reach it is by foot. Once there, you'll thrill to the charming streets, which open onto cozy squares dominated by sometimes overpowering buildings.
Modica is an elegant town visited by very few tourists. As you climb up the side of the hill (for many of the streets are actually stairways), you'll have ample opportunity to look out over the rooftops at the valley below. The pretty white-and-blue church of San Giorgio, at the top, is your reward.
Enna is really too big to be called a town, but due to its location almost exactly in the center of the island, it is often unjustly overlooked by travelers. That is a shame. At 3100 feet above sea level, it offers spectacular views, especially from the tower of the castle, one of the most impressive in all Sicily. There's also a particularly rich cathedral.
[Regions of Italy]