Experts’ Tips for Conscious Travel and Seeing Italy Beyond the Crowds

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| Tue, 06/18/2024 - 06:00
Setting off for conscious travel in Italy with Italy With Bella
Italy With Bella aims to show travelers a side of Italy that has fewer crowds, as part of a conscious travel experience, like those that can be found outside Cortona / Photo: Harrison Maxwell for Italy With Bella

Back in April, Venice became the first city in the world to charge an entrance fee on holidays, weekends and other high-season dates. But it’s unlikely to be the last; post-pandemic Florence and Rome are also bursting at the seams. According to Italy’s National Tourism Agency (ENIT), there were 15 million international travelers in Italy in 2023: that’s 42% more than in 2022 and 87.7% more than in 2019. Yet despite the influx of crowds, particularly in the major cities, some travel experts remain committed to creating itineraries that lead visitors away from the masses to experience authentic Italy through conscious travel.

Anthony and Denise Campopiano have been bringing people to Italy for more than 20 years. They now share their love and passion for Italy with travelers through Italy With Bella, offering tailored itineraries and “off-the-beaten-path experiences” led by local experts and guides. As tourism in Italy is increasing, Italy With Bella is sticking to their ethos: setting their clients up for unforgettable journeys. 

We asked Italy With Bella for tips about conscious travel, and they gave sage advice for anyone planning a trip to Italy.

Book with independent Italy-only operators

Italy With Bella supports conscious tourism in Matera, Basilicata
Italy With Bella supports conscious travel in Matera, Basilicata / Photo courtesy of Italy With Bella 

A Google search for “Italy tours” yields “about 2,550,000,000 results in 0.39 seconds.”  There are operators that will take you anywhere in the world, including Italy. Then there are Italy-only experts like Italy With Bella. While larger companies will have on-the-ground guides, they're more likely to herd you in larger groups. They're also more likely to seek profit over experiences when planning your activities and itineraries. 

As Denise explains: “One of our guides in Venice only does small group tours or private tours. While she could feel the pressure to increase her group numbers, she’s choosing to stay very small.” 

Another of Italy With Bella’s partners on the ground, a retired university professor based in Basilicata, in Matera, leads travelers through olive groves and talks about food origins in the area. He says: “In the olive groves, the sassi (ancient cave dwellings) outside of Matera, or the fields of wheat where our bread comes from, there are archaeological and gastronomical treasures, and it takes time and effort and the right guide to help you find them.”

Selecting local guides is a way to ensure you’re supporting the community you’re visiting while learning about it.

See Cinque Terre, sleep in Santa Margherita

You may have your heart set on visiting a “bucket list” place such as Cinque Terre, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there, says Denise. 

“On our first calls with clients, we’re saying, okay, you want to go to Cinque Terre? Great, but you’re not going to sleep there,” Denise says of Italy With Bella’s approach to conscious travel. “You’re going to sleep here in this quieter place and you’re going to do a day trip to get to Cinque Terre because your experience is going to be richer."

Picking a hotel or guest house away from the tourist trail can make it easier to find restaurants that focus on local dishes and streets where you’ll hear more Italian spoken than English. 

Plan conscious travel through experiences, not places

Italy With Bella organizes trips to Lago di Braies in the Dolomites for conscious travelers
Italy With Bella sees the quiet appeal of Lago di Braies in the Dolomites for conscious travelers / Photo: 
Marissa Campopiano for Italy With Bella 

Lake Como is known for its lakes, hiking, gardens and villas, but it’s not the only area in northern Italy with those star qualities. Anthony recommends that when planning a trip, make a list of the experiences you want to have in Italy and then seek out locations that can offer those activities, looking beyond the guidebooks and the most well-known areas. 

Lake Garda can be a Lake Como alternative, and the Sorrento Coast has the beauty of the Amalfi Coast but with more breathing room. When trip planning is based more on what people want to do and less on specific places, Anthony has found that travelers come back happier and more fulfilled. 

“We're always looking for the real experience that people dream about going back to, [and] that makes Italy more than a bucket list trip,” he says. 

Rather than Pompeii, head for Herculaneum, where, as Anthony says, there’s “a little more shade, less marketing, and fewer crowds,” but you can still see an ancient preserved city in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. 

Follow your roots

Travelers with Italian heritage can have rich journeys by following in the footsteps of their ancestors. In 2024, Denise and Anthony are receiving more requests from travelers who want to plan multi-generational trips or an itinerary around a specific town or village. Some conscious travelers are even planning trips to research their ancestry and get documents for Italian citizenship. 

Anthony shares a story of a traveler who asked to plan a side trip from a larger Italy itinerary to a hilltop Sicilian village with one restaurant and one hotel. That man intended to research public records. When he walked into the village’s pizzeria, he met people who shared his last name, Amico, and invited their relatives to come and meet the man from Nashville. While that traveler also visited Rome during his trip, Anthony says it was the experience in the pizzeria that brought him to tears. 

Get lost

The moments that stay with you when you’re back home drinking your morning coffee may not be the ones that were on your carefully researched itinerary. “People will go to Venice, Rome, and Florence,” Anthony says, “but their most memorable experience will be when they got on the wrong train or got off at the wrong stop and had a conversation with a stranger.”

And that’s more likely to happen while navigating Venice’s circuitous alleys without a map, not while standing amid throngs of day-trippers gazing up at St. Mark’s.

If you’re thinking about a trip to Italy this year or next, but don’t have the time or know-how to pull together the finer details, Italy With Bella can help you create the memories of a lifetime while avoiding the tourist traps.

Visit the website or contact to find out more about planning your next trip to Italy.