Italy

Highlights

Duomo

You’ll find yourself circling this colossal cathedral time and again to gawk at its 3,400 intricately carved statues, but nowhere is Milan’s Duomo more magnificent than from its lofty rooftop. There you can get close to the 135 towering spires and gaze up at the gold Madonnina statue – although the views of Milan will also compete for your attention!  

Teatro alla Scala

Milan’s sumptuous opera theatre, with its gilded balconies and plush private boxes, is one of the world’s most magnificent. While La Scala’s engaging museum and tour of the theatre is fascinating, there’s nothing like dressing up for a night at the opera and sipping champagne in between acts.



Castello Sforzesco

Allocate a day to explore this enormous red-brick 15th-century fortress and its many compelling museums, from the Pinacoteca, with its impressive exhibition of art from medieval times through to the 18th century, to the Museo d’Arte Antica, with da Vinci frescoes and Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà. Then there’s the Museo Egizio with a fascinating display of Egyptian mummies and the Museo degli Strumenti Musicali, with a mind- boggling collection of musical instruments, one of Europe’s largest.

Il Cenacolo (The Last Supper)

Dominating a wall of the refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie, Il Cenacolo (The Last Supper) is Milan’s most popular sight for a reason. Painted between 1495 and 1498, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural is simply mesmerizing. Once in there, it’s hard to tear yourself away from it. It demands that you look at it.
 
Aperitivi on the Navigli

Joining the Milanese for their evening aperitivo ritual is one of the region’s essential experiences, and there’s no better place to try the local aperitifs and terrific complimentary snacks than at one of the many casual bars that line the canals in the city’s most authentic neighbourhood.



Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Milan’s most extravagant work of architecture after the Duomo, the sumptuous galleria, one of Europe’s first iron and glass buildings, is a must-visit for architecture buffs. Shopping enthusiasts will be in heaven, as the arcade houses some of the city’s most elegant stores, from Prada to world-famous hat-maker Borsalino.

Quadrilatero d’Oro

Fashionistas and shopaholics understandably make a beeline for Milan’s famous fashion quarter, but the stylish neighbourhood is vital even for those uninterested in shopping. The cobblestone streets are charming to explore and the window displays are jaw-dropping, especially at night, when they are stunningly illuminated.
 


Certosa di Pavia


The exuberant Certosa di Pavia, an extravagant Renaissance Carthusian monastery dating to 1396, houses enough riches to keep you awestruck for a couple of hours while the serene cloisters and exquisite gardens allow you to ponder the extraordinary wealth in peace.

Lombardy’s gastronomic restaurants

Dining is one of the real delights of the area, whether it’s tucking into a hearty pasta at a rustic trattoria like Bagutta in Milan, enjoying fresh regional flavours at Agli Angeli at Gardone Riviera, or savouring a cavalcade of divine dishes on a degustation menu at one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants; highlights of these are chef Pietro Leemann’s vegetarian Joia and Carlo Cracco’s creative Ristorante Cracco in Milan, Ettore Bocchia’s magnificent Mistral at Bellagio and Antonino Cannavacciuolo’s exotic Villa Crespi on Lake Orta.
 
The lakes’ grand hotels

An essential part of the regions experience is a stay (or two or three) at one of the many enormous, elegant old hotels that preside over Italy’s northern lakes. From Bellagio’s Villa Serbelloni, with its gilded interiors and stunning lakeside pool, to the fairytale-like Moorish fantasy that is Villa Crespi at Lake Orta, the options are endless.



The lakes’ gardens

Dramatic staircases leading to ornate fountains, tranquil ponds hidden within wild vegetation, and pretty terraces of rose gardens – one of the delights of visiting the lakes is strolling the luxuriant gardens of the many sumptuous lakeside villas open to the public, such as Villa del Balbianello (Lenno, Lake Como), Villa Carlotta (Bellagio, Lake Como), Villa d’Este (Cernobbio, Lake Como) and Villa Pallavicino (Stresa, Lake Maggiore). 



Lake Orta

Surrounded by softly undulating hills covered in thick forest, its shores lined with graceful villas and verdant gardens, this tiny cobalt blue lake must be Italy’s most alluring. If that wasn’t enough, it’s blessed with one of the region’s most characterful villages, Orta San Giulio, with charming little Isola di San Giulio a short boat ride away.



Lake Como

Cruising on or around romantic Lake Como, by boat, bike or car, is addictive. While kicking back with a good book on a bougainvillea-framed café terrace or by your hotel’s splendid lakeside pool is enticing, Lake Como, with its bewitching villages, demands to be explored – any which way you can.
 
Como

One of northern Italy’s most sophisticated towns, Como makes an excellent base for exploring its eponymous lake. With elegant old hotels, imposing marble Duomo, labyrinthine centro storico, chic shopping and lively restaurant scene there are plenty of reasons for staying a while. Then there are the leafy parks, the waterfront promenade, wonderful gelaterias, and everywhere you look, lovely views of the lake.  

Bellagio

A visit to this breathtakingly beautiful village located at the end of a wooded peninsula is a must for the quintessential Lake Como experience – check into a grand lakeside hotel, stroll through lush parks and elegant gardens, shop in charming stores on skinny lanes, and dine at romantic waterfront restaurants.
 


Bergamo

Sited in the foothills of the Alps, Bergamo’s medieval walled upper city, or città alta, is simply beguiling. While the tangle of cobblestone streets of the centro storico are a delight to explore, and its charming shops are worth a browse, the greatest pleasure is to be gained by enjoying the local gastronomic specialities in the town’s great restaurants.

Cremona

Celebrated as the birthplace of serious violin making and home to the famous Stradivari, the atmospheric city of Cremona with its impressive Museo Stradivariano and Collezione Gli Archi, its hundreds of violin-makers’ workshops, and the sound of music in the streets, is equally as rewarding for ordinary travellers as it is for music aficionados.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta

The colossal 12th-century cathedral that dominates the main square of the illustrious violin-making city of Cremona is simply astonishing. A stroll or two around its base is a must to take in its monumental size, followed by a visit inside to absorb its splendour. It’s especially stunning at night when it is splendidly lit, providing an atmospheric backdrop for the music students socializing on the square.

Mantua

Stunningly set on a peninsula surrounded by small man-made lakes, the compact city of Mantua – Mantova to the locals – may boast some of northern Italy’s most impressive 12th-century fortresses, but this splendid little city remains one of the region’s hidden gems, receiving few visitors when the rest of the region’s cities are overrun with tourists.  



Verona

The Romeo and Juliet myth aside, Verona is one of the region’s most romantic cities, with elegant squares boasting vibrantly frescoed buildings, a perfectly preserved Roman arena, and a splendid crenellated castle. If that wasn’t reason enough to visit, it makes an excellent base from which to explore Lake Garda.

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