By some counts, Italy has more than 5,000 villages scattered from the snow capped mountains in the north to the sun drenched islands in the south. Dozens are running programs of various forms to incentivize people to visit, open businesses, start families or buy houses – anything to stave off population decline and preserve their unique heritage.
Where to start?
Try to visit several towns, and if possible, stay overnight in several towns.
Every town has a different vibe – some bustle during the day and some come alive in the evenings. It’s impossible to tell from photos so the best way to find the one that feels like ‘home’ is to spend some time there.
If you want to get a full sense of Sicily, I recommend flying into one airport and out of another (so you don’t have to double-back on driving). It is a HUGE island, with so much to see and this will help you maximize your time to see new places.
Public transportation to the small villages exists, but it is not very frequent and can be tricky to navigate if it is your first visit. If you plan to take the bus/train, be sure to ask someone local for tips on tickets and timings.
If you are not super confident driving on the narrow roads, set your map directions to a ‘parcheggio’ = parking, preferably ‘gratuito’ = free, on the edge of the historic part of town and then walk in so you avoid possibly getting stuck. Then once you’re there you can ask about the best route to park closer to your place. Or get very explicit driving instructions from your host. (I even had 1 host offer to meet me on the edge of town and then he drove my car and helped me find parking as there was an event happening the day I arrived).
If you are not an EU citizen, be sure you have an International Driver’s Permit if you plan to rent a car. I got a 3-year one online through this site: https://internationaldriversassociation.com/
If your mobile phone provider doesn’t have an international roaming plan you can rent a wifi device either through your car rental company or at the airport. These typically allow up to 4 devices to be connected (great for families as they are better than a single, temporary SIM card). Super helpful for maps/WhatsApp while driving and more useful than a GPS device.
If you are visiting lots of houses, by the time you get home you may forget which is which. I recommend taking a photo of the address, and as many photos/videos as you have time to take. And this goes, not just for the houses but for the towns as well.
Then when you are home, away from all the excitement of the trip, go back through the images with your friends and family, describing what you saw and what you thought. You will hear, and your friends will too, the ones you are excited about and that ones you aren’t.
Plan Ahead for Shopping and Dining
Plan ahead for shopping/dining as hours posted on Google are not always correct and lots of places are closed in the middle of the day and/or on Sundays. Best to check with your host or someone else local to make sure you have the most accurate info.
Find out when the local markets happen in the towns you are visiting to see if you can catch them. Nearly every town has one day a week for an outdoor market, selling everything from produce, to cheese, to socks. They usually aren’t posted online but your host can tell you when/where they happen.
Do Your Part
PLEASE Help raise the visibility of these towns and local businesses by leaving reviews, posting photos, adding places and hours to Google maps. Super easy to do and it is a big help to the residents and future visitors.
Here are the instructions on how to add a place to maps, it literally takes 1 minute.
Spread the love (and money)! Eat at different places, visit the local museums, get souvenirs from different shops. I know it’s tempting to find the one place you like and keep going back, or to get all your gifts in one place, but many of these smaller towns have fewer tourists, and they are coming off of 2 years of Covid, so please shop around.
(Everyone probably knows this already but just in case) Get the Google Translate (or similar) app. It will let you speak into it, take a photo of a sign/menu… for instant translations.
If you plan to do some touristy things in the summer (Valley of Temples for example) be sure to book tickets online in advance as the lines can be long at peak season. https://www.parcovalledeitempli.it/en
Get Some Experts
If possible, through the agent or the comune or someone in our group, see if you can get an expert to join you for the tours. An architect, contractor, or just someone familiar with these houses who can offer you some objective information on which may require more work, and which might be more feasible.