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A view of the Italian town Siena, a less crowded alternative to Florence.     Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Q:

Where Should I Travel Off the Beaten Path in Italy?

A:When you visit Italy, you want to see Italy—not other tourists. But the country is a pretty popular destination for pizza-loving jet-setters. In fact, tens of millions of visitors descend on the boot-shaped Mediterranean country every year. Here are a few places you should go to avoid most of them.

Instead of Cinque Terre, try Camogli

Cinque Terre used to be the Italian Rivera’s best-kept secret, but now this 15-mile strand of Ligurian shoreline teems with tourists. Another reason to steer clear is that one of its most popular attractions, the Blue Trail—a footpath that links the region’s five picturesque villages—is closed until 2015.

Luckily, just about 70 miles up the coast, Camogli, a fishing-village-turned-resort-town, offers a similar experience, minus the throng. Just as in Cinque Terre, touring in Camogli means hiking between lush vineyards and the Ligurian Sea to nearby villages (in this case, San Rocco and San Fruttuoso), sampling different varieties of focaccia, sipping local wines, lying on the sun-drenched beaches, and swimming in the sea—all without fighting for space the way you’d have to in Cinque Terre. 

Instead of Florence, try Siena 

Millions of visitors flock to Florence each year to check out Michelangelo’s David, Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus, the panorama of red rooftops from atop Giotto’s Bell Tower—and to simply roam its cobbled streets. There’s no doubting Firenze’s charms, so this Renaissance city gets crowded quickly.

Siena, located about 45 miles south of Florence, has loads of personality as well—but, for now, at least, has fewer crowds. However, a proposal to expand its small airport is currently under consideration. For the moment, though, sunny Siena remains Firenze’s laid-back sister that serves up equally appealing attractions. Its Mangia Tower, for instance, gives tourists a bird’s-eye view of the city, while the walls of its Biblioteca Piccolomini showcase awe-inspiring art. Like Florence, Siena is in the Chianti wine region, so you can drink your fill of local vintages. In addition, check out the gardens, cooking classes, operas, and piazzas.

Instead of Rome, try Turin 

Rome is enormous, and it's filled with epic attractions like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican (which is actually in Vatican City, not Rome), the Spanish Steps, and much, much more. The problem is that many people—somewhere in the realm of 30 million of them—come to see these legendary attractions annually: you may have to conjure your inner gladiator just to get through the crowds.

The home of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, Turin is also Italy’s fourth-largest city, though it feels almost quaint in comparison with bustling Roma. Located in northern Italy, some 435 miles from Rome, Turin is tucked into the foothills of the Alps. In the winter, its nearby ski slopes draw visitors. But there are advantages to going in other seasons as well: like the Eternal City, its elegant streets are filled with interesting museums (the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, for instance), gorgeous churches (be sure to see the Santuario Basilica la Consolata), and pristine piazzas. And Turin, located in Italy’s Piedmont region, offers a host of delicious local wines (try Barolo) and cheeses (try Castelmagno).

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