While the museums of Florence, the ancient ruins of Rome, the Ramblas in Barcelona and so many other top attractions in these countries are worth visiting multiple times, culture-rich Italy and Spain are both overflowing with plenty of other authentic must-visits for those who have traveled extensively. Here are several stunning off-the-beaten-path picks for those seasoned travelers looking for that exhilarating feeling of discovering a hidden gem for the very first time.
Orvieto, Italy: Medieval Gem
Available from Rome
Experience Italy as it’s rarely experienced with a trip to this fortified medieval town perched atop a hillside in Umbria with vineyards, olive groves and Cypress trees blanketing the valleys below. Once a citadel of the Etruscans, Orvieto remains a medieval treasure – there has barely been any new construction since the 14th century. The Duomo di Orvieto, adorned with a dazzling mosaic façade visible from miles all around, is arguably one of the most gorgeous in Italy. This mesmerizing Gothic cathedral dates to 1290, took 30 years to plan and three centuries to complete. A visit to Orvieto isn’t complete without sampling some traditional Umbrian fare such as umbrichelli pasta and perhaps a glass of chilled Orvieto Classico, a well-rounded straw-colored DOC white wine.
This is a town of artisans and long-held craft traditions, so you’ll have plenty of mementos to choose from amidst your sightseeing. Handmade ceramics and terracotta ware are two top picks and for the quintessential Orvietano souvenir, head to the woodworking shop of Bottega Michelangeli.
Urbino, Italy: Renaissance Riches
Available from Umbria (Ancona)
A surprisingly remote cultural epicenter set atop the rolling hills of Le Marche, Urbino is considered one of the most important towns of culture, art and historical legacy in Italy – in fact, the entire town was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. During the 15th century, Urbino attracted some of the most preeminent scholars and artists of the Renaissance, and was the hometown of artist Raphael and architect Donato Bramante. It now represents a peak of Renaissance splendor through its remarkably preserved art and architecture. Step back in time with a visit to the princely Palazzo Ducale, a sprawling palace that now houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in the world.
After touring Palazzo Ducale, head to Antica Osteria da la Stella, a family-run restaurant just steps away from the former home of Raphael that serves traditional cuisine inspired by the local culinary traditions of the Le Marche and Romagna regions.
Ronda, Spain: Whitewashed Wonder
Available from Málaga
Set above the deep Tajo Gorge carved out by Río Guadalevín, this mountaintop village couldn’t be located in a more dramatic location. The gorge divides the picturesque whitewashed town into La Ciudad, the old Moorish, aristocratic quarter with narrow lanes; and El Mercadillo, the “newer” park-filled area built after the 1485 Christian Reconquest. The three bridges connecting Ronda offer exhilarating vistas and the local history is just as thrilling – the town and surrounding mountains were once bandit hideouts, which you can learn about in the local Museo del Bandolero. More than 200 years old, Ronda’s Plaza de Toros is one of Spain’s oldest bullrings and a visit here is the perfect way to learn about this tradition.
Before heading back to Málaga, pop into Entre Vinos on Calle Pozo for tapas and a glass of Andalusian wine. This locals’ spot is known for its extensive local wine list and both traditional and inventive tapas.
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