A Thousand Splendid Towns

Italia. . . is a maze. It’s alluring, but complicated. It’s the kind of place that can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters, or in the course of ten minutes. Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Botticellis and Berlusconis.
Beppe Severgnini

I have been in a bit of a quandary.

Determined to take care of myself this year and concentrate on my own writing, I decided to spend a few weeks in Italy this spring to do just that. The problem I faced was that I just was not sure where to go to do that. Every place I considered had positives and negatives. Because good apartments book up quickly, I spent hours in late December and early January researching where to go.

One of the problems that I face/faced is that I want to stay everywhere. That, of course, was not going to work, so I had to find towns that had my top four requirements: easy train/transportation access; wi-fi (Believe it or not, finding apartments that offer wi-fi is not all that easy in some places); affordable housing; conveniences (market, bar, etc). I narrowed it down to a few places.


Located about 25 miles from Milano and 20 miles from Switzerland, Bergamo has a lower town (città bassa) and the upper town (città alta). Connected to città alta by roads, trails, and a funicular rail, città bassa is the more modern (19th century) center. Surrounded by walls, the città alta is home to the historic area that dates to the 16th century.

Pros: Bergano is two places in one. The historic città alta is quaint and has the atmosphere that I want. The città bassa is modern and has the conveniences that I need. There is a train station, so I can easily do day trips. Most available rentals have WI-FI. Having been there twice, I am relatively familiar with città alta.

Cons: Homes in the città alta tend to be very expensive. While there is a well-connected train station, it is a bus ride or funicular ride and long walk from città alta. Of course, it’s not my grandmother’s birthplace.


If you know me, you know how much I love Bologna. I had avoided going there for years because I thought it was just another big, industrial city. While it is a larger city, the historic center reminds me of a smaller town. I can’t quite explain it, but il centro is almost a town unto itself.

Pros: Bologna has everything I need: great train connections, conveniences, culture. Every rental has WI-FI. I have a lot of friends who look out for me when I’m there. I feel safe. I am at home in Bologna….know much about it and would not be completely lost if I were there.

Cons: Bologna has gotten to be quite expensive, so I really had to take that into consideration. Believe it or not, though, the biggest negative to Bologna is having friends there because I would be too tempted to spend time with them and not on the book. Like Bergamo, it’s not my grandmother’s birthplace.


If you read Under the Tuscan Sun, then you’re familiar with Cortona. Enclosed by stone walls, Cortona sits about 2000 feet above sea level and offers fantastic views of the valleys and fields below. Cortona is quaint, has a number of small shops in the historic center, and is a quintessential hill town.

Pros: The town’s position makes it a good base for traveling to other places in Tuscany and Umbria. There are a number of good rentals available, and many have views.

Cons: Like many hill towns, Cortona does not have a train station. There is one down the hill in Camucia, but I’m not wild about hiking the hills when I want to go somewhere. Probably one of the biggest negatives is that I have never been there, so acclimating will take time. And, again, it’s not my grandmother’s birthplace.


Frascati is in the hills about 12 miles from Rome. The Roman aristocracy built villas in the area in medieval times to get away from the heat of the city. Known for its wine of the same name, Frascati also houses a number of Italian and international scientific agencies.

Pros: Frascati has all of the conveniences. It’s a short train ride from Rome, and rentals do have WI-FI. I have been to Frascati twice, so I would not be completely lost there.

Cons: Rentals in Frascati can be expensive. Because a lot of Frascati was destroyed in WWII, it is not quite as quaint as other hill towns. Of course, it’s not my grandmother’s birthplace.


Located on top of a tufa hill in Umbria, Orvieto overlooks fields and plains full of olive trees, vineyards, and cypress trees. There is an elaborate tunnel and cave system beneath the city. A short train ride from Rome, Orvieto offers everything in a mostly traffic-free historic center.

Pros: Orvieto’s location is great for visiting other towns in Umbria, Lazio, and Tuscany. There are many rentals, and some even have great views of the area. There is a train station at the bottom of the hill, and the town itself has many piazzas and places to sit and enjoy the area. I’m familiar with the town, so I won’t be completely lost.

Cons: The train station is at the bottom of the hill from this historic center (although there is a funicular that takes one almost directly there).

Pettorano sul Gizio

The land of my blood. If everything were perfect, this would be the place I would spend my time. I am, after all, writing about my grandmother, and spending time in the town of her birth would be ideal.

Situated on a small hill, the town sits between the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo and Parco Nazionale della Majella, a major wildlife corridor. The name means Pettorano by the Gizio; the Gizio is a river that flows at the town’s base on the other side of the hill.

Pros: The biggest advantage is that it is the birthplace of my grandparents. In addition, it has the atmosphere I love, and I have a number of friends there. The apartments for rent are very reasonable, and they get great reviews.

Cons: Unfortunately, there is no train station in the town. I could live with the fact that there is one about 11 miles away in Sulmona (the largest city in the area), but there is also a lack of good public transportation. From what I can glean from the website for the area’s bus system, there is only one bus each day to and from Sulmona. Almost as bad is the fact that very few of the rentals offer wi-fi.


Located about 10 kilotown in the area.meters from Pettorano, Sulmona is the “large” city in the area. With a population of around 25,000, Sulmona was the birthplace of the Roman poet, Ovid. It is also the birthplace of sugar-coated almonds, aka confetti. I remember my grandmother’s references to “Sulmone,” and I can imagine she traveled (most likely on foot) from Pettorano to Sulmona for the twice-weekly market.

Pros: Because if is a larger town, Sulmona has all the conveniences one needs. In addition, there is a train station a little outside of the historic center.

Cons: While there are a number of apartments in the center, they are a bit of a walk to the train station. It is the same with conveniences, to be honest. Finally, while it is the closest town to Gram’s, it is not Pettorano, and it is not easy to travel from one place to the other.

The Rest

To be honest, I considered more towns than the ones I noted above. I looked at Rome, Florence, and Venice very briefly. Viterbo, Dozza, Terni, Assisi, Pesacara, Stresa, and Perugia were on the first list. As exciting as seaside towns—Tropea, Vernazza, Vietri sul Mare—are, they didn’t make the grade, either.

What do you think? Where would you consider staying? I’ll let you know my choice next time…

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