Many people come to Italy to explore the tropical south of the country without ever realizing how many gems that northern Italy has to offer. No trip to Italy is complete without venturing north as it arguably has it all. It has beautiful mountain ranges, world class wineries, magnificent large cities, sleepy smaller cities, Italy’s largest fresh water lakes, and has coastline on the Ligurian Sea in the west and the Mediterranean in the east. Here are some ‘must see’ destinations when venturing to the north of Italy.
The Big Cities:
The bigger cities of the north are chalk full of history, great shopping, and influence from bordering countries (such as Austria, France and Switzerland). Here are some great big cities to visit while in northern Italy.
- Known as the business and cultural center in northern Italy, Torino is the capital of the Piedmont region (northwest). The city is famous for the Shroud of Turin and Fiat auto plants, but has much more to offer. It’s charming cafes, Baroque architecture, countless shopping promenades, museums, and ‘the Mole’ (Torino’s 121 meter-high landmark which offers great views of this city and surrounding mountains) make Torino a great city for wandering and exploring.
- Located in the center of the north of Italy, Milan offers an intoxicating mix of fashion trends and world-class art and culture. Walk around town and enter into fashion designer heaven, or walk the 919 steps of the Duomo di Milano for a magnificent view of the city.
- Moving east, in the province of Veneto, you will find the city of Verona. Founded by the Romans in the 1st century A.D, you will find architectural ruminants of the Romans (such as the famous ‘Teatro Romano’ coliseum which sits in the center of the city). Verona is called the ‘city of love’ and is known to be the home of Romeo and Juliet. One of the more famous tourist sites is Juliet’s balcony where you can view the romantic setting and rub the breast of Juliet’s statue for good luck.
- Even further east is Venice, the city that seems to float on water. Colorful pastel buildings line narrow mazes of streets that weave throughout the city. Canals also run throughout the city which provides a romantic way to see Venice. Cars are banned from Venice, so when you enter (via boat), your only option to see the town is by foot or via gondola. The city provides a romantic setting for a relaxed day getting lost in the small streets and piazzas of Venice.
A visit to Italy is not complete without sampling wine from some of the world’s oldest and most famous wine regions. Here are 2 of the more famous wine regions in the north of Italy:
- Located in the northwest of Italy, this region is home to world class red grapes such as Barbaresco, Barbera, Barolo, Docetto, and Nebbiolo.
- Veneto Region – This region in the northeast is home to famous grapes such as Merlot, Valpolicella, Cabernet, Bardolino, and white grapes such as Pinot and Euganei Tocai.
The north central area of Italy opens up to the majestic Alps that separate Italy from Switzerland, France and Austria. This is where Italy’s picturesque lakes lie. Two of the larger and most famous lakes in that area are described below.
- Lake Como is the most well-known of the Italian Lakes. It is in the shape of an inverted ‘Y’ which was caused by glaciers moving through the valley. The lake sits within the mountains and has many villas and small towns sitting on the lake’s banks. This lake was made famous by countless movies and as George Clooney’s summer residence.
- Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. It is located half way between Venice and Milan and offers fine accommodation and dining, clubs, theme parks, mountain biking, and many water sports. Essentially, there is something for everyone here at this very popular northern destination.
- The lake is the longest of the Italian lakes and its northern part even stretches into Switzerland. Three islands, known as the Borromean islands, are not to be missed on a visit to Lake Maggiore.
- Located in the northeast, this mountain town is very close to Italy’s neighbor to the north, Austria. There is, therefore, a large German influence on the town. Many people in Balzano speak Italian, German, and a combination of the two languages. The same goes for the ski town of Brunico, Italy. Both of these towns are nestled in the mountains and are close to dozens of ski resorts within the Alps.
- Quiet until ski season begins, Cortina is a ski destination for the rich and famous. Also located in the northeast of Italy, this town is located at the bast of Cortina d’Ampezzo (the most fashionable ski resort in Italy).
- Located in northwestern Italy, Sestriere is an alpine village that was host to the downhill skiing competitions of the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino. Together with 6 other villages, it makes up the Via Lattea (Milky Way) skiing area. The mountains in this part of Italy boarder France, so a skier might often start their day on the slopes of Italy and find themselves in the French Alps later in the day.