Italy is rightly proud of its villages and determined to protect their natural appeal while encouraging more people to visit and live there. There’s a warm welcome for home buyers, including the famous one-euro homes in Italy deals. Here is our pick of the three most beautiful villages in Italy for homebuyers in 2023.
To find Italy’s “Village of Villages” (il Borgo dei Borghi) 2023, 20 Italian regions nominated one village each. Videos of these villages were broadcast on an Italian TV programme called Kilimanjaro, and the viewers and a jury voted for their favourite.
It was a great opportunity for lesser-known villages to get some publicity. Wherever they come in the rankings, they all hope that being shown on TV will attract a few more visitors this summer. Ultimately, more visitors mean more job opportunities and prevent depopulation.
Most Beautiful Villages of Italy
This is also the aim of the organisation “Most Beautiful Villages of Italy” (L Borghi piu belli d’Italia) which lists many beautiful Italian villages on their website, grouped by region. A select few are added each year and representatives meet up annually, to share ideas to promote their villages. These villages often offer a wealth of architectural and natural heritage, breathtaking panoramas, fascinating traditions, local food products, unspoiled natural environments, and a calm rhythm of life.
The Winning Villages
The prestigious first place recognition of “Il Borgo dei Borghi” was awarded this year to Ronciglione, a charming village located in Lazio. Second place went to the village of Sant’Antioco in Sardinia, while the third step of the podium was given to Salemi, in the heart of Sicily. All three are in regions with stunning scenery, and have many other beautiful villages to discover. Lazio, Sardinia and Sicily are all rich in history and tradition.
1st Place: Ronciglione, Lazio, Italy
Ronciglione is located in the province of Viterbo, in the Italian region of Lazio. It’s an hour’s drive, if you head north west out of Rome, passing the Regional Nature Park of Bracciano Martignano. It’s also about the same drive time to the airport and the sea.
Or you could walk there from Canterbury, England, as Ronciglione is on a stage of the Via Francigena del Nord. This was the main road from Canterbury to Rome which was travelled by thousands of pilgrims. Nowadays, even covering the 2000 kilometres by bike would take about a month and a half so most people walk or cycle just sections of it.
Ronciglione isn’t a tiny village (indeed it’s been officially a city since the 1700s) and it has over 8,000 inhabitants. Around 200 people live in its historic centre. Ronciglione is about 400 metres above sea level on tufa rock of volcanic origin, offering breath-taking views. It is surrounded by the Cimini mountains and forests of beech, chestnut and oak, and has beautiful Lake Vico nearby.
Village of two faces
The village of Ronciglione has two faces: the medieval one and the Renaissance-Baroque one. The oldest part has the characteristic cobblestone alleys, stone houses and piazzas. The stone buildings appear to naturally grow out of the rock. The heart of the medieval village is the Chiesa della Provvidenza, which rises from a spur in the rock and has a pretty bell tower. In the Renaissance part, the noble palaces of the 1500s are outstanding with an impressive Cathedral at its heart.
Events in Ronciglione
In Ronciglione, the big summer event is the Palio di San Bartolomeo, which sees riderless horses racing through the streets. Ronciglione also holds one of the ten most beautiful carnivals in Italy. In February the quiet streets come alive with costumes, floats, and music, demonstrating that even in midwinter the local people know how to enjoy themselves.
The Lazio Region
Lazio as a region is often overlooked, as it lies in the shadow of the Capital city of Rome. Yet, it is well worth considering when searching for property. Outside of Rome, property prices are cheaper than you might expect. In Rome average prices per metre square are €2,400, yet in the countryside villages they can be less than half that.
Getting to Lazio
Importantly, Lazio is easy to get to. There are two superb airports on the outskirts of Rome, with many flights from the UK, US and every other world capital. London flights arrive daily at Ciampino International and Fiumicino, Leonardo da Vinci airports. There are over 300 London flights per week into Fiumicino alone.
Places to see in Lazio
In the Lazio countryside you can see volcanic lakes, mountains, vineyards, olive groves and medieval towns built right on the rock. As well as the outstanding cultural gems, such as well-preserved archaeological sites, cathedrals and monasteries, Lazio offers skiing, lake water sports and a spectacular coastline.
Top places to visit include the Monastery of San Benedetto, which is built against a cliff face, and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, in Viterbo. Another must see is Hadrian’s Villa, which is a magnificent imperial residence built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian Publius Aelia in the years 117-133 AD.
Gardens and castles
If you love visiting gardens, then Villa d’Este in Tivoli is a wonderful example of Renaissance Garden design and architecture of the 16th century. Or, for something very different there is the Garden of Bomarzo, otherwise known as the “Monster Park”, due to the strange sculptures of animals, monsters and figures.
There are many castles in Italy, but one of the largest and best maintained is Castello Orsini- Odescalchi. It is on the shores of Lake Bracciano and is open to the public and used for functions. Even if buying a castle may be out of your budget, Lazio has many towns and villages with castles and forts you can look at, without having to do all that dusting.
2nd Place: Sant’Antioco, Sardinia
The ‘Borgo dei Borghi’ competition isn’t just about pretty villages mobbed by tourists taking photos. It recognises places with vibrant and very Italian communities.
Sant’Antioco (all one word) is an island in the Sulcis archipelago, off the southwest coast of Sardinia, connected to Sardinia by an artificial narrow strip of land. The drive from Sant’Antioco to the nearest town on Sardinia, takes only 11 minutes. Cagliari airport is a little over an hour away.
Sant’Antioco, with its colourful houses on the seafront, has a population of around 11,000. It gets busier in summer, when its beautiful sandy beaches and the great restaurants attract thousamds more visitors. It’s also full of history, including the Basilica dating back to 5th century and the nearby Fort of Savoy, built between 1813 and 1815. There is also a wealth of archaeological sites close by, including a roman aqueduct, and an excellent archaeological museum.
The area’s main industries are fishing, salt and agriculture. The local ethnographic museum provides a lovely insight into the daily lives of Sardinians, with items donated by local people. The art of manufacturing is expressed by weaving and byssus processing. Byssus is a fabric woven from the fibres of the Pinna Nobilis mollusk. Bysuss weaving is almost non-existent nowadays, yet it is still practiced in Sant’Antioco. In addition, the Muma museum illustrates its connection with the sea and shipwrights.
The Island of Sardinia
The capital city of Sardinia, Cagliari, is in the south of the island, along with a good airport. Cagliari has all the shops necessary to serve the 150,000 residents, and the 419,000 who live in the outlying areas. As well as everything you’d need for year-round living the city has several tourist attractions, such as a seven-kilometre-long sandy beach, a tower, a fortified bastion with panoramic views, a complex of museums, a Roman arena, a Byzantine castle and the remains of a Roman villa.
Sardinia is a popular holiday destination, especially for the wealthy who have villas and yachts in Costa Smerelda. Located on the northeast coast this prestigious location is where you will spot pop stars and celebrities, and find designer boutiques. It also very convenient to fly in to the nearby Olbia airport.
Towns and Villages in Sardinia
Another Sardinian jewel is the tourist town of Alghero, with its bell tower and Neptune’s caves. Plus, Alghero has an airport and is well connected to the rest of the island. For a less touristy town Bosa is set amongst lovely scenery on the north west coast. It has a maze of medieval streets, cobbled alley ways and houses painted in pastel shades.
For adventurers check out Supramonte, and if you like castles there is Castel Sardo. There are many charming villages to explore, such as San Pantaleo, Atzara, Carloforte and Posada.
Property in Sardinia
While house prices in Sassari are high, the same size house in the Oristano province can be half the price. Between February 2021 and February 2022 house prices rose by 3.25%. In general, you can find the best prices inland and in coastal areas mid-way down the west and east coast.
3rd Place: Salemi, Sicily
Salemi is located in the centre of the province of Trapani, on the western side of the Island of Sicily. The village is perched on a hill in the Belice Valley amidst the green of vineyards and olive groves. The name of the village may ring a bell, as Salemi is where TV personalities Amanda Holden and Alan Carr chose to buy a one-euro house to renovate. Their exploits were televised on the BBC, in a programme called The Italian Job.
Following an earthquake in 1968, a part of Salemi’s historic centre was destroyed causing a decentralization of the city down the hill. With younger Italians preferring to live in the newer part, some properties in the historic centre were left vacant. This is why the Mayor is keen to repopulate these old properties.
Old town with ancient traditions
The old town is a maze of narrow cobblestone alleyways, that lead to dead ends and courtyards, or down steep steps. Near the castle you can see the remains of the apse of the Cathedral, which looks like a theatrical backdrop with arches and columns.
Salemi still preserves the ancient tradition of devotional bread. During the religious festivals of Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony the Abbot and Saint Blaise, very decorative loaves of bread are baked. Among other typical traditions, are the weaving of rugs and stone carving.
The Island of Sicily
Sicily is the largest of the Italian and Mediterranean islands. It’s also the largest region in Italy, and the fifth largest by population. Located off the toe of Calabria it is divided from the mainland by the Strait of Messina.
The Capital city of Sicily is Palermo, which has the fifth most populated metropolitan area in Italy, with around 1.2 million residents. Highlights include the cathedral, and many majestic buildings such as Palazzo dei Normanni and Palazzo Abatellis. You will also find amazing openair-markets, where you can try local delicacies such as, granita (shaved ice sweetened with fruit syrup), arancini (rice balls), panelle (fried chickpea fritters), and thick-crust Sicilian pizza.
Towns and Villages in Sicily
Other interesting towns on Sicily are Catania for it’s closeness to Mount Etna, Syracuse for it’s ancient Greek history, Messina for it’s ferry port and Botanical gardens, and Cefalù for family friendly holidays.
The island is mostly mountainous, and boasts the tallest active volcano in Europe. Mount Etna, attracts visitors all year round. Offering walking in summer and skiing in the winter. It’s lower slopes are also perfect for vineyards, due to the volcanic soil and Mediterranean climate.
The natural beauty, sparking blue sea and cultural heritage enchant visitors to Sicily. History is all around. Highlights include the roman amphitheatre at Taormina, the medieval walled city of Erice, and the enthralling Valley of the Temples near Agrigento.
Being such a big island, and a popular tourist destination Sicily is easy to reach by plane. There are four airports. The main airport is Catania Fontanarossa International, serving the eastern part of the island. If visiting the northwestern side then you can fly into Palermo airport. The airports of Trapani and Comiso are smaller and mainly served by low cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.
Property for sale in Sicily
Sicily has property for sale to suit every budget, from a euro up to the millions. There are still cheap properties to be found needing renovation, particularly inland. However, you should have the paperwork thoroughly checked and calculate the costs of renovation before putting in an offer. Also, be sure that the location is right for your needs. Wherever you find a cheap property, quite often the reason for the low price is due to its poor condition or less popular location.
However, if you find a town you like, but the property prices are too high for your budget, I always recommend looking at other lesser-known towns and villages within a 30-minute drive. You just might find a real gem, that is authentically Italian, and unspoilt by high tourist numbers. Property prices are generally cheaper and even the cost of eating out and shopping can be lower.