Written by Julia Silk,
Last Modified: 27th January 2023

Two Italian villages have been named among the ‘Best Tourism Villages 2022’ by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

For the second year running, UNWTO are awarding villages across the world that demonstrate innovative approaches to tourism. The entrants all aim to protect their small communities by creating jobs, while at the same time respecting cultural diversity, traditional activities and their natural surroundings.

The award recognizes rural destinations that are embracing tourism while preserving and promoting community-based values and products. It acknowledges villages for their commitment to economic, environmental and social sustainability. The development of Infrastructure and connectivity are also taken into consideration.

Which villages in Italy made the cut?

Giglio Porto on Giglio Island, Tuscany

1. Isola del Giglio, Italy

he Isola del Giglio ( Lilly Island in English) is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the coast of Tuscany. Giglio Island is one of seven islands that form the Tuscan Archipelago, and is only 50km south of the well-known island of Elba. It is a place of unspoiled nature surrounded by emerald coloured waters.

Giglio’s three villages

There are three inhabited villages on the island: Porto, Castello and Campese. The 1,436 permanent residents on Giglio are committed to maintaining its identity and avoiding depopulation. It’s the usual problem, they need tourism to create the jobs to keep the residents on the island. While at the same time it’s important to protect the culture and natural surroundings. The very things the tourists like to see.

Ferries dock at the “Porto” with its pastel painted buildings, and this is where you will find shops, cafes and restaurants. Then high up in the centre of the island is Castello. This medieval village is listed as one the most beautiful villages in Italy. Today it is used for conferences, exhibitions, concerts, theatrical performances and weddings.

Finally, the Vaccarecce lighthouse and the Campese tower watch over the Campese bay as they have done for centuries. Today the main attraction of Campese is the expanse of sand and the crystalline blue sea.

Tiny seaside village of “Giglio Porto”, with multi colored houses

Giglio sea and nature

This mountainous island is known for its natural beauty. 90% of the island is covered in Mediterranean vegetation and vineyards. There are about 60 km of paths for trekking and bird watching. From its highest point (496 metres) you can enjoy a spectacular panorama of the coast. The beautiful sandy beaches and isolated coves have breath-taking views of the crystal-clear sea. Being rich in sea life, Giglio Island offers diving enthusiasts an impressive selection of diving spots.

Protecting nature

Giglio Island is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and Pelagos, the “Marine Mammal Sanctuary”. At the “Park House” In Giglio Port, it is possible to see various pictures of the natural and archaeological beauties that characterize the island.

The island is also part of the UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserve. At the Park House, you can watch several videos dedicated to the network of trails and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary. You can even experience virtual reality to explore topics such as Giglio Island’s natural environment and its cultural values.

Pine forest road in Isola del Giglio

Giglio History and Culture

Events on the island include festivals for the Patron Saints of the villages and the grape festival at the end of September. There are also tours, plays and concerts held over the summer.

Those interested in history can visit the remains of a Roman villa (1st-2nd century AD), near Giglio Port. In addition, the Medici built a network of fortifications to protect the island. The tower, which recalls the Saracen raids over the centuries, is now an exhibition space.

Getting to the island of Giglio

Isola del Giglio is connected to Tuscany by ferries run by the shipping companies Toremar and Maregiglio, departing daily from Porto Santo Stefano. The nearest airport to Porto Santa Stefano is a 1hr 45 minutes drive down the coast, at Rome’s Fiumicino. Alternatively, Pisa airport is two and a quarter hours up the Tuscan coast.

Property on Giglio Island

Property doesn’t come up for sale that often on the island, so when it does, asking prices are high. A villa with sea views can cost well over a million. However, if you hunt out a local estate agent, you can sometimes find small apartments at the Port from €120,000. A three-bedroom apartment with sea views can cost from €300,000. Browse homes in Tuscany.

The small mountain village of Sauris. Italy.

2. Sauris, Carnic Alps

The Italian village of Sauris, also known in the old dialect as Zahre, is located in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the Carnic Alps. Following a winding road up the valley from Lake Sauris, you will discover this charming village immersed in nature, with houses in the traditional chalet style. At a height ranging between 1,000 and 1,400 metres above sea level, Sauris comprises of scattered hamlets with less than 400 inhabitants in total.

Village culture and traditions

Due to its semi-isolated location Sauris has preserved its culture, which has influences from religion, plus German and Carnivian cultures. The most unique thing about this village is that the ancient language spoken in the Friuli area is still spoken in Sauris. The history and culture of the village is demonstrated in the village’s two museums and through tours and workshops.

Traditions still observed in the village include the ”Giro della Stella”, where people travel through the various villages, with a coloured and illuminated star, performing ancient Christmas carols in old German, Italian and Latin.

In February, Sauris is host to one of the oldest carnivals in the alps. People wearing wooden masks and carrying lanterns walk through the woods from Sauris di Sopra to Sauris di Sotto, with the essential stop for mulled wine. Upon arrival in Sauris di Sotto everyone takes part in the tasting of traditional dishes.

The Alpine village of Sauris di Sotto, Udine Province

Village Crafts

With the abundance of woods in the Sauris basin, many traditional activities are linked to woodworking. Historically, when men weren’t farming or hauling timber, they were teaching their sons how to make and repair tools and wooden objects. Carpenters specialised in making wooden clogs, carnival masks, sledges and carts. Today you can try your hand at carving a wooden mask at one of the carving courses.

In a traditional Sauran house, the art of working a hand loom can still be witnessed today. Textile products for home furnishings and clothing are worked with natural fibers, wool, linen, hemp and cotton, creating unique and original items.

Architecture of Sauris

The older houses have been built using local resources available in the area at the time. Therefore, the ground floors were built with stone and the upper floors with wood. The ancient BLOCKBAU technique was used, whereby whole tree trunks create a solid structure thanks to a joint at the corner of the buildings. However, some of the later houses were built with only stone.

Getting to Sauris

The village is a 2 hour 23 minute drive from Treviso airport. The route passes by some amazing scenery including Lake Santa Croce and The Dolomites.

Mountain landscape near Sauris, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy,

Where to find your own alpine chalet

Property for sale online tends to be in towns most popular with tourists. However, once you visit the area and venture a little further, you will discover the real authentic villages. It is possible to find chalet houses in the Sauris area for €280,000. There are even properties under €90,000 that need some restoration.

On Your Overseas Home there are some lovely examples of properties in the mountains. The Alps stretch across the top of many northern Italian regions. Therefore, it’s worth looking at each region in turn to see what each has to offer. These regions include: Valle d’Aosta,  Piedmont, Lombardy, Bolzano, and Trento.

This is just a selection of what’s on offer. If you don’t see what you are looking for, contact an Italy Property Guides consultant, who can introduce you to an Estate Agent covering that area. Our property consultants can be contacted on 0044 207 898 0549, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger or [email protected].

Or, find out where to enjoy Italy’s best quality of life? The results are in… – Italy Property Guides

Elba Island, Italy

Pros and cons of island life

When considering buying a home on any of the islands, it’s important to consider transport links during the winter. Particularly, when needing to move furniture and building materials, or if you need to visit a hospital. While the natural surroundings may be very beautiful, also investigate whether the island has a history of forest fires, flooding, landslides, or volcanic activity.

You can find some lovely communities on the islands and the views can be spectacular. There is usually good potential to earn money from visiting tourists, but also have quiet periods, where the islanders can enjoy the beauty and tranquility to themselves. Many properties will enjoy sea views.

Two Italian villages features in the world’s best tourism villages

What makes a good village for tourism?

Tourists love to see villages that preserve the traditional buildings, crafts and cultural events. It can feel like stepping back in time, in a living museum. Not every village recognises the tourist potential on their doorstep or has the skills to promote it.

Frequently I have heard young people say, ‘Why would anyone want to come on holiday here, it’s boring’. But once they spend a few years in the city, they long to come back to their beautiful village surrounded by stunning scenery.

Best tourism villages around the world

Of the 136 villages put forward from 22 countries around the world, the top 32 villages were chosen.  The winning 32 villages are in far-flung places such as Ecuador, Morocco, Vietnam, Columbia and Peru.

A further 20 villages were selected to enter the Upgrade Programme to receive extra help to meet all the criteria. The award ceremony for all the 2022 winners will take place at the end of February 2023. At which point they will also begin assessing the next year’s contenders.

Find homes in Italy via our property portal.

What are the benefits to the award?

All winning villages will become part of the UNWTO Best Tourism Villages Global Network, created in 2021. They will receive training from experts engaged in the promotion of tourism for rural development. In addition, they will be included in The Network, which offers international brand recognition and awareness. Another important benefit is being part of the group of like-minded villages that share their experiences and advice on good practices.

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