Planning a trip to Italy can be overwhelming at best; how can travelers possibly choose where to go in a country filled with stunning natural wonders, historic sites, museums teeming with famous art, and culture and food unique to each region? But popular destinations also come with crowds of people all lining up to see the same sights; overtourism is a real problem, sometimes even a destructive force.
But other quiet corners of Italy are dealing with the opposite problem. Brain drain—the flight of young people to big cities—is leaving rural areas looking for ways to avoid becoming ghost towns, whether through initiatives to repopulate villages or creative strategies to entice tourists. One possible solution: Travelers wanting to avoid the masses can head to under-appreciated areas, fighting overtourism while boosting a local economies.
Enter the Friuli Venezia Giulia area in northern Italy. The region is home to beaches, ski areas, roman ruins, art and stunning old city centers. It wants more visitors—and it’s willing to put its money where its mouth is. In certain cases, Friuli Venezia Giulia will reimburse travelers’ train tickets, according to the region’s tourism website.
Here’s how it works: Travelers book a package through a travel agency working with the local tourism board, including round-trip train fare and at least two nights in one of the participating hotels. The cost of the Trenitalia train ticket is deducted from the total cost of the trip. Participants will also receive a FVG card, a pass that grants free entry to museums, free public transport and other discounts. Trains must arrive in one of four cities: Trieste, Udine, Grado and Lignano Sabbiadoro. The deal is valid through the end of May 2023.
Tucked in next to Austria and Slovenia, Friuli Venezia Giulia is one of Italy’s autonomous regions, which are granted special privileges designed to protect the area’s culture. Many languages are spoken in the area: Italian, German, Slovenian, Friulian and even some Croatian. And the unique multicultural experiences aren’t limited to language.
“I thought I needed a PhD to order coffee when I first moved here!” Maria Kochetkova, editor of In Trieste, an English-language magazine for the city’s expats, jokes to BBC Travel’s Susan Van Allen. Trieste, the region’s capital, is sometimes called Italy’s “coffee capital,” and it is home to its own cafe culture that’s a unique blend of Viennese coffeehouses and classic Italian espresso bars. Also in Trieste, a Banksy exhibition at the Salone degli Incanti will run from November 2022 through April 2023.
In nearby Udine, with its perfectly restored old town center, travelers can view Roman relics, visit a cathedral dating back to the 13th century, or book a winery tour; the region is known for its white wines. Its castle-turned-museum houses works by Caravaggio and Tiepolo.
Lignano Sabbiadoro, which sits just east of Venice, is home to stunning Italian beaches along the Adriatic Sea. And in Grado, nicknamed L’Isola del Sole (“the sunny island”), canals run along the quaint seaside village and a large lagoon full of unspoiled nature. With far smaller crowds than in Venice, Grado is also a historic spa town known for its thermal bath treatments.