The Best Places in Italy to Visit Outside the Summer Months

Say “adieu” to crowded beaches and “buongiorno” to a spectrum of slower, more rewarding experiences during Italy’s off season. As tourist numbers dwindle, we’re thinking undisturbed morning coffees in Venice, picturesque mountain villages, Carnevale treats and a world-class chocolate festival.

Sure, it's Europe, and Italy's climate can be a little hit and miss outside of the sweltering summer months. In fact, the weather gets pretty chilly across the whole country from December to March, with bitter winds and occasional snowfall even in southern regions such as Campania and Puglia. What you lose in guaranteed sunshine, however, you'll more than make up for in other ways. Hotel prices plummet, locals venture back into cities like Florence and Rome and seasonal goodies including truffles, chestnuts and freshly pressed olive oil grace menus again.

Out of season: our favourite destinations in Italy to visit all year round

Venice, Veneto

Outside of summer, February is an obvious time to go to Venice, with Carnevale in full swing, parades lining the canals and bridges. It's also rammed with tourists, though. To see La Serenissima living up to her serene moniker, January is worth a try. There's also the city's inaugural Cocktail Week, 13-19 December, when top bars and mixologists will open their doors for masterclasses and special events. If you're lucky, you'll get impossibly beautiful misty mornings over the Grand Canal, followed by crisp afternoons with blue skies.

Stay: Splendid Venice

Padua, Veneto

The region of Veneto is most famously known as being home to Venice and Verona, but venture further out and you'll discover an incredible nature oasis with beautiful lakes and mountains. The surrounding region of Padua is home to popular termes (thermal spas) such as Abano and Montegrotto, where pampering dips have been a much-loved winter tradition for Italians since pre-Roman times. The natural thermal waters at Montegrotto reach up to 37 degrees Celsius, and are said to have a multitude of healing powers.

Stay: Ariston Molino Buja

Rome, Lazio

The Eternal City also happens to be evergreen in its appeal. In fact, as anyone who's spent a sweaty August afternoon queuing for the Colosseum can attest, occasional rain and snow is far preferable. On 6 January, festive celebrations start all over again for Epiphany, when La Befana brings gifts to children and bakeries such as Roscioli are filled with seasonal treats. Sightseeing is far quicker without the crowds, leaving more time to stroll around local neighbourhoods such as the Jewish Ghetto (where Beppe e i suoi Formaggi makes a great lunch spot) or the colourful markets of Trastevere.

Stay: Mama Shelter, Rome

Perugia, Umbria

This Umbrian city is known for its annual chocolate festival, usually held in October, which draws in around a million visitors each year. Enjoy experimental chocolate tastings, workshops, and artisan markets within the cobbled city centre. There are even chocolate-themed spa days and climbing walls, run by Italy's best-known chocolate brand, Perugina. Sound too sickly? The ancient city is also steeped in Etruscan, Roman and medieval history, being home to one of Europe's oldest universities, a jazz festival and engaging theatre season throughout the winter months.

Stay: Borgo Bastia Creti

Florence, Tuscany

The Renaissance city finally comes up for air from endless tour groups once summer is over, with roasted chestnuts sold by vendors around Piazza della Repubblica, vin brulé (mulled wine) and other seasonal treats such as castagnaccio (chestnut, pine and rosemary cake) filling bakery windows and tempting Florentines into the city centre. It also happens to be truffle season. Stock up on the good stuff at Truffle Italia or head out into the hills to try foraging for your own. In March, La Festa delle Donne is celebrated on International Women's Day, which sees the city filled with fragrant yellow mimosa flowers.

Stay: Bernini Palace Hotel

Vallelunga Pratameno, Sicily

While coastal hotspots such as Taormina and Siracusa largely shut up shop outside of peak season, the wild interiors of Sicily are a fascinating place to visit in the winter months. This being citrus season, piles of blood oranges and fragrant lemons fill market stalls across the island. One worthwhile destination deep in the countryside is Anna Tasca Lanza - a hub for Italy's Slow Food movement, where visitors can take part in an immersive two-month Cook the Farm course from January to March each year. The 19th-century farmhouse in which it's held is a wildly uncommercial homage to Sicilian ingredients and cooking: expect freshly churned ricotta for breakfast, ripe, sun-dried tomatoes, handmade Sicilian cannoli and blood-red mulberries from the garden. Accommodation is available at Case Vecchie, the collection of crumbling farm cottages. Shorter courses are also available, teaching you how to cook and eat your way through the island's food heritage.

Stay: Anna Tasca Lanza

Verona, Veneto

Home to more than just Romeo and Juliet, the most romantic of Italian cities is a prime spot for off-season long weekenders. The historic centre is pretty and compact. Steeped in culture, it offers a rich winter season of opera and theatre. The seven bridges across the Adige make for enchanting winter strolls, punctuated by hot chocolates and sugary fritole - traditional deep-fried fritters. If you're there for longer, volunteer with The Juliet Club, a quaint institution that sees an army of letter-writers sending love advice to heartbroken correspondents from across the globe.

Stay: Cinque

Trento, Trentino

A somewhat forgotten region near Lake Garda in the north of Italy, Trentino has it all: award-winning locally produced wines, active adventure, wellness, peace and spellbinding scenery. The city of Trento is magical around Christmas, fusing German and Italian traditions in the charming festive market against the backdrop of the Piazza Duomo. On rainy days, peruse the medieval frescoes of Buonconsiglio Castle or explore the many gastronomic delights the city has to offer.

Stay: Locanda in Borgo

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