Northern Gems…Overlooked But Worth A Look

These four “gem” towns all have vaguely familiar sounding names but would be difficult for all but the most seasoned Italy travelers to find on a map.  Not often frequented by tourists, they are classic towns found in the less traveled regions of north central Italy but they are indeed worth a visit on one’s next sojourn.

> Ravenna (Emilia-Romagna)

Once the western capital of the Byzantine Empire, Ravenna is home to the most celebrated mosaics in western art. Located in Emilia-Romagna, the food production centre of Italy, this town is near Bologna.  The place where many of the great mosaics can be found is the Basilica di San Vitale, (the tomb of Gallia Placidia.)  More on: Emilia-Romagna.

> Mantua (Lombardia)

Located in Italy’s Lombardy region, Mantua (aka Mantovano) has a rich art past.  Endowed with art from the ruling Florentines, Mantua hosts the 500 room, 15 courtyard Palazzo Ducale; the center of this art treasure-trove.  A great restaurant in this overlooked Renaissance Mecca is Trattoria il Cigno (Piazza d’Arco Carlo, 1; Tel #:  0376 327101.)

> Urbino (Le Marche)

To quote one reference book, “If Urbino’s national gallery of art was located in a city like Florence, the lines of people waiting to get in would stretch across the piazza.”  This small town is an underrated tourist destination with a prodigious art collection that includes works Raphael, Mucello, and Signorelli.  Sitting atop a steep hill, Urbino is one of the gems of the Le Marche region and home to one of Europe’s oldest universities.  It is 190 kilometers east of Florence and near Pesaro. More on: Le Marche.

> Gubbio (Umbria)

Called the “green heart of Italy”, Umbria is the only land locked province on the Italian peninsula. Gubbio is one of Umbria’s best…a tiny no nonsense ancient, well-preserved stone city.  Growing in popularity with those seeking the off the beaten track, Gubbio remains a picturesque hill town minus the tour buses.  Gubbio is 45 kilometers northeast of Perugia (for those who are chocolate lovers) and 170 kilometers southeast of Florence. More on: Umbria.