Get ready to embrace the captivating fusion of urban sophistication and natural grandeur, as you explore idyllic villages, resplendent gardens, and pristine waters that grace this breathtaking region!
Aside from enveloping yourself in the allure of Milan, where innovative architecture and timeless masterpieces harmoniously coexist, you can (and should) venture north and lose yourself in the enchanting trio of lakes - Lago D'Orta, Lago Maggiore, and Lago di Como, each a mesmerizing gem nestled among verdant hills and towering mountains.
From the awe-inspiring architecture of the Duomo di Milano and the world-famous fashion district, to the idyllic shores of these stunning lakes; from the fashion-forward streets of Milan to the postcard-perfect scenery, this region is an idyllic haven for anyone seeking a perfect holiday with all the right ingredients. After all, Milan's cosmopolitan atmosphere is a perfect complement to the serene beauty of the nearby lakes. And the best thing? The wondrous landscapes of these lakes are just a short drive away from Milan's bustling city center!
Take the unique opportunity to really experience the Milanese way of living, but also escape the urban hustle and immerse yourself in the tranquility of Italy's northern countryside. Here’s what the region has to offer you!
Milan: a vibrant metropolis steeped in art, fashion, and history
The bustling heart of Italy's Lombardy region and the hub of fashion and design, Milan, is a true urban gem that blends contemporary culture with centuries of rich history. As one of the world's leading fashion capitals, Milan offers you an unparalleled shopping experience and the chance to glimpse the latest trends on its chic, lively streets. But the city is much more than just a stylish destination; it's also an epicenter of art and architecture!
One of the main reasons you should visit Milan is its wealth of world-class attractions. You can marvel at the Leonardo da Vinci's world-famous “Last Supper”, housed within the walls of the charming Santa Maria delle Grazie, and marvel at the breathtaking Gothic architecture of the iconic Milan Cathedral - its soaring spires and intricate facade make it one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world.
If you are an art enthusiast, you will surely be captivated by the masterpieces you will find at the Pinacoteca di Brera gallery. However, if you are a history buff, you can delve into the city's past at the historic Sforzesco Castle, an imposing fortress that was built in the 15th century and now houses several interesting museums. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the elegant shopping arcade where you can browse high-end boutiques and watch people strut their stuff, is also a must-visit while in the city.
On the other hand, if you are more into the culture, you can immerse yourself in the city's rich cultural life by attending a performance at the renowned La Scala opera house, with a lavish interior that is the stage of world-class productions, or explore the bustling arts and design district of Brera. With its numerous galleries, studios, and artisan workshops, Brera perfectly captures the creative energy that permeates Milan.
To get a real sense of Milan’s vibe, there is always the possibility of wandering around the Navigli - Milan's canals are a reminder of the city's long history as a trading hub. The Navigli district is now a trendy area filled with bars, restaurants, and boutiques, where you can spend a lovely time discovering every nook and cranny.
The atmosphere of Milan is an intoxicating blend of sophistication and warmth, as locals take pride in their city's elegance while remaining welcoming to visitors. The Milanese are a proud and passionate people, and their love for life is contagious. You will hear them chatting animatedly in their melodic Italian, gesticulating with their hands as if they're conducting a symphony.
Milan is a cosmopolitan and vibrant hub of business and creativity, where the pace of life is lively and fast. It exudes a distinctly European flair and is easily accessible and well-connected. And as one of the earliest independent city-states of the Renaissance, Milan also holds an important place in Italian history.
Put on your most stylish outfit, grab an espresso, and join the party - after all, life is too short to miss out on the Milanese way of living!
Discovering the Italian Lakes – Lago D’Orta, Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como
The ravishing city of Milan is far from being the only highlight of this authentic region! Venture beyond its bustling streets to unearth the serene beauty of the Italian Lakes, a trio of awe-inspiring destinations, just a short drive away from Milan. Each of these idyllic retreats boasts its unique charm, with quaint villages, vibrant gardens, and mesmerizing vistas that have inspired poets, artists, and travelers for centuries.
Lago D'Orta, a lesser-known gem, offers an intimate and tranquil experience. You can stroll the cobbled streets of Orta San Giulio, a picturesque medieval village nestled along the lake's shoreline, before visiting the enchanting island of Isola San Giulio, home to a centuries-old basilica and a peaceful Benedictine monastery. The lake is surrounded by the foothills of the Alps, creating a scenery that is hard to forget! It is also a great place to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and boating. There are several trails that run around the lake, offering outstanding views of the pretty landscape. Boat trips are also quite popular, as it allows you to explore the lake and its islands from an all-new perspective.
Lago Maggiore, the second largest of the lakes, presents a blend of Italian and Swiss cultures amidst a backdrop of striking Alpine peaks. You can explore the elegant town of Stresa, located on the western shore of the lake and known for its elegant villas and gardens, and delight in the resplendent beauty of the Borromean Islands – Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola dei Pescatori -, a small archipelago of three islands that seem to have emerged from a dream, home to several historic buildings and lush vegetation. The Isola Bella, with its opulent Baroque palace and exquisitely manicured gardens, is a true work of art that has been lovingly tended for centuries. The Isola Madre, the largest of the islands, is a botanical paradise, where exotic plants and flowers thrive in a microclimate that has been carefully nurtured over time. And the Isola dei Pescatori, the smallest of the islands, is a rustic, fishing village that will offer you a glimpse into the authentic lifestyle of the local fishermen.
Make your way to the captivating Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens to admire nature in its purest form or to the mountaintop sanctuary of Santa Caterina del Sasso for a truly unforgettable experience! The truth is: this serene oasis is nothing short of enchanting, with its crystal-clear waters that shimmer under the golden light of the Italian sun, and snow-capped mountains serving as the backdrop.
Finally, Lago di Como, a haven for the rich and famous, exudes glamour and sophistication. You can sail the glistening waters to uncover the opulent villas and lush gardens that adorn the shoreline, such as Villa Carlotta and Villa del Balbianello. Once the homes of Italian nobility, they stand proudly amidst verdant hillsides. Meander the narrow streets of Bellagio, known as the "pearl of Lake Como”, Menaggio, and Varenna, each offering a blend of timeless elegance and modern luxury, and conclude your adventure with a scenic hike through the verdant hills or a leisurely ride on the iconic funicular to the charming village of Brunate. At Lago di Como, the air is redolent with the scent of jasmine and wisteria, and the sounds of birdsong and gentle waves lapping the shore create an atmosphere of serenity. Just like in the other lakes, boating excursions provide a unique perspective on the lake's enchanting beauty. It is a place where you can slow down and savor the simple pleasures of life, where time seems to stand still and the beauty of nature takes center stage.
Local cuisine: food and wine experiences in Milan and the Lakes
In Northern Italy, where fairy-tale landscapes of lakes and mountains converge with vibrant city life, the culinary arts also flourish with an elegance that reflects the region's rich legacy. Milan and its neighboring lakes are home to a diverse and delightful gastronomic scene that offers a delectable marriage of rustic tradition and cosmopolitan sophistication. Milan's thriving culinary scene, for example, will give you a taste of authentic Italian cuisine, from traditional trattorias to cutting-edge Michelin-starred restaurants. You will be able to sample local specialties like Risotto alla Milanese - the aromatic infusion of saffron and white wine transforming creamy Arborio rice into a symphony of flavors - and Panettone, or enjoy an evening aperitivo at a trendy rooftop bar with panoramic views of the city skyline. In Milan, the culinary landscape is as eclectic and refined as its cultural milieu. Pair your meals with an elegant Franciacorta, the region's answer to Champagne, and you have a match made in gastronomic heaven!
As you venture north towards the lovely Lago d'Orta, you find yourself amidst a tapestry of verdant hills and crystal-clear waters. The culinary offerings here are characterized by an earthy charm, with mouthwatering dishes such as Tapulon, a slow-cooked beef dish infused with red wine and spices, and Paniscia, a robust risotto-like concoction brimming with beans, sausage, and vegetables. Relish these hearty meals with a glass of Nebbiolo or Barbera, the region's robust reds.
Your odyssey continues to Lago Maggiore, a stunning expanse of sapphire waters fringed by lush, terraced gardens. Here, the local cuisine reflects the lake's bountiful resources, with freshwater fish such as lavarello taking center stage, grilled to perfection and drizzled with a zesty lemon and herb dressing. Complement this piscatorial delight with a bottle of delicate, floral Erbaluce, a white wine that echoes the lake's ethereal beauty.
Finally, we reach the storied shores of Lago di Como, where the surrounding Alpine peaks and luxurious villas provide a breathtaking backdrop for a culinary experience that is nothing short of extraordinary. Como's signature dish, Pizzoccheri, is a delightful tangle of buckwheat pasta, melted cheese, and crisp, sautéed greens. To elevate this rustic delight, indulge in a glass of velvety Valtellina Superiore, a red wine that gracefully pirouettes on the palate.
Bergamo ou Brescia: the best towns to visit nearby
Bergamo and Brescia, two resplendent jewels nestled in the Lombardy region, are also worth the detour once visiting Northern Italy. Bergamo is located just about 52 kilometers away from Milan, while Brescia is just 91 kilometers East of Milan. These two cities beckon with their beguiling charm, fabulous landscapes, and a wealth of history that weaves a tapestry of stories through the centuries.
Bergamo is perched on the foothills of the Italian Alps, where the Po Valley meets the soaring mountains. Its distinctive feature is the division into two distinct parts: Città Alta, the historic Upper Town, and Città Bassa, the bustling modern Lower Town. The medieval walls encircling the Città Alta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stand as silent witnesses to the passage of time. Piazza Vecchia, the heart of Città Alta, is a harmonious ensemble of medieval and Renaissance architecture, where the Palazzo della Ragione and the magnificent Campanone tower dominate the scene. Nearby, the ornate Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the exquisite Cappella Colleoni, with its polychrome marble façade, will amaze you. As the sun sets, you can take a leisurely stroll along the ancient Venetian walls, where the golden hues of the fading light cast a warm glow upon the cityscape below.
Brescia, on the other hand, is a city that embraces its rich past while looking towards the future. The harmonious blend of Roman, medieval, and Renaissance architecture speaks to the city's storied history, from the ancient Brixia to the bustling modern metropolis it is today. A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Brescia's Roman Forum is a must, where you can explore the ruins of a Roman theater, basilica, and the Tempio Capitolino. If you are an art and history enthusiast, you will be enthralled by the Santa Giulia Museum, housed within a former monastery. This extraordinary institution unveils a journey through time, from prehistoric artifacts to contemporary art. You can also ascend to the imposing Brescia Castle, a bastion of stone that has guarded the city since the 13th century. From its lofty perch, you can gaze upon a panorama of red-tiled roofs, verdant parks, and the distant, majestic Alps.