The Great Beauty 

The Great Beauty 

Discovering Italy's hidden gems in the small ancient villages that dot the country


hat's a borgo? The Italian word presumably comes from late Latin burgus, meaning a 'medium size village' with its own market and fortification, yet today it simply stands for 'ancient village' - and Italy has a whole wealth of them, some of which managed to preserve their original appearance and atmosphere, as well as an incredible heritage of art, crafts and food culture. We are not going to make a list of Italy's most beautiful villages - there's a  club for that - but since we believe that Italy's Great Beauty mostly lies in these tiny and often unknown corners of the country, here's a few of our favourite ones.

Monte Isola (Brescia, Lombardia)

Although less known than other villages on lakes Como and Garda, Montisola is a gorgeous collection of small towns sitting on an island in lake Iseo, where cars are banned and you can only use buses or bicycles. Among the most pictoresque borghi of Montisola is Peschiera Maraglio, a lakeside fishing village with a fortress and a nice harbor.   

monte isola brescia lombardia

Castell’Arquato (Piacenza, Emilia Romagna)

An enchanting medieval village clinging to the hills of Val D’Arda, close to Piacenza, Castell’Arquato stayed mostly unchanged through the centuries. Climb its narrow uphill streetss and reach the gorgeous Piazza Monumentale, which houses the 14th century Rocca Viscontea castle, the 7th century Collegiata church, and the ancient Palazzo del Podestà, beautifully towered and embattled.  

Castell’Arquato (Piacenza, Emilia Romagna)

Manarola (La Spezia, Liguria)

This lovely hamlet on the coast east of Genoa (Riviera di Levante) is one of the well-known Cinque Terre (five small towns), and it was luckily not affected by the floods and mudslides that devastated neighboring Vernazza and Monteroso in 2011.  A veritable architectural gem, it provides a breathtaking view with its colorful tower houses clinging to the steep coastline and overlooking the beautiful sea of Liguria.  

MANAROLA (Piacenza, Emilia Romagna)

Pitigliano (Grosseto, Toscana)

Known as “the small Jerusalem” of Tuscan Maremma, this small town perched on a tuffaceous cliff has once been inhabited by Roman and Etruscan populations, and yet it owes its nickname to he huge Jewish community which found shelter here in the 16th century, whose traces remain in the old 'ghetto', housing a synagogue, a bakery, a winery and a kosher butcher's all dating back to those times. The center is scattered with ancient churches and palazzi, and of course do not miss vie cave, narrow Etruscan pathways carved deep in the rock. 
PITIGLIANO (Grosseto, Toscana)

Civita di Bagnoregio (Viterbo, Lazio)

This tiny village sitting on a rocky spur surrounded by ravines and connected to the world only via a pedestrian bridge is a uniquely spectacular place where time has truly stopped, with only a few families still living here and no cars. Also known as 'the dying city' because it looks as if the ground all around it had sunken - and it is actually so, the hill under the village is literally crumbling year after year - Civita is a picture-perfect place and it defiitely deserves a visit before it disappears. 

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