The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has added three places in Italy to the 2023 list of Best Tourism Villages.
The Best Tourism Villages Program (part of the UNWTO Tourism for Rural Development Program) aims to promote the growth of villages in rural areas, combat their depopulation and encourage sustainable practices through tourism.
The three Italian villages added to the list—Lerici, Civita di Bagnoregio and Sabbioneta—are among 74 new villages chosen among 260 applications from around the world.
Depopulation Of Small Towns And Villages In Italy
“Tourism can be a powerful force for inclusivity, empowering local communities and distributing benefits across regions,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, announcing this year’s selections at the group’s meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
A report by the Pulitzer Center noted that in 2020, the population in Italy dropped by 384,000 residents—more than it had dropped in over 100 years.
According to the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, many remote Italian villages are facing alarming depopulation rates as young people move away to seek work and educational opportunities elsewhere, leaving mostly elderly residents in these towns.
As a result, a number of municipalities and the European Union are creating innovative incentive programs to draw young people (both Italians and foreigners) back to these towns and villages, including the One Euro House program.
Overtourism And Undertourism
Travelers can also play a vital role in helping save and preserve these ancient villages.
On the other hand, one of the obvious solutions to the social and environmental threats of overtourism is for travelers to visit these less-sought-out destinations.
Visitors to Italy feel as if they’ve found a hidden treasure when they “discover” a small town or hamlet away from the bustling tourist spots. Not only are there fewer crowds, but their visits can help support the local economy. Moreover, they’ll be likely to find an authentic experience steeped in tradition and culture.
To whet your appetite for going a bit off the beaten path, here is a brief introduction to the three charming villages in Italy that were most recently named Best Tourism Villages.
Lerici is a relatively small town (population about 10,000) in Liguria in the province of La Spezia (on the Italian Riviera). It is probably best known as the place where the British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned when his boat overturned in a squall.
Only 19 minutes from the port city of La Spezia, here visitors can enjoy exploring the narrow alleyways (caruggi) in the historic center, relax on the beaches or visit castles and monuments that offer spectacular views overlooking the water.
Civita Di Bagnoregio
This medieval Italian village is located on a hilltop in the province of Viterbo in the Lazio region. It is about a half-hour ride by car from Orvieto or 1.5 hours by train from Rome.
Called “The Dying City,” Civita di Bagnoregio has just over a dozen full-time residents. Visitors to this eerily deserted hamlet have to cross a pedestrian toll bridge from the adjacent town, Bagnoregio.
Winding alleyways lead to a few trattorias, noble palaces, the Cathedral of San Donato and a museum that explains the perilous landslides that have occurred there over the years. The views of the Valle dei Calanchi below are expansive.
Sabbioneta is a walled city in the province of Mantua in Lombardy. This Renaissance city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Although the town has a population of only about 4000 people, it boasts an impressive collection of art.
Designed by architect Vespasiano Gonzaga in the 16th century, it is known for its ideal layout, one of the oldest theaters in the world and a well-planned central square with many buildings of architectural interest. The drive from the larger city of Mantua to Sabbioneta is about 40 minutes.
See the complete list of Best Tourism Villages 2023.