Off the Beaten Path in Northern Italy's Most Popular Destinations
March 2, 2017
Italy is home to some of the world's most popular tourists destinations. With more than 20 million tourists visiting Venice every year, it's easy to be alarmed by the sheer numbers of people who have the same idea you do about where to visit in Italy and when. As seasoned travel consultants, we know the best trips are those that combine the allure of Italy's most popular destinations, with the exhilaration of the unknown. Itineraries that allow time in the heart of the most talked about destinations, like Rome, Venice, or Florence, are enhanced by time spent exploring less familiar sites and locations. Tours of the Vatican make exploring an unknown basilica in a tiny medieval Umbrian town that much more remarkable and meaningful, while a peaceful sojourn in rural Tuscany makes a day exploring Florence an urban delight. Of course, one does not have to be in the countryside to be experience travel off the beaten path in Italy; neighborhoods, districts and communities in the country’s most populated urban areas offer a chance for travelers to experience the authenticity of local culture that can feel vacant from popular tourist destinations.
Starting in Italy’s northern region, we’ve curated an assortment of locations in which one can experience both the most celebrated spots, and those roads less traveled.
From the poetry of Catallus to the tweets of George Clooney, celebrities both ancient and contemporary have proclaimed the enduring beauty of Lake Como. The lake itself is utterly spectacular; flanked by lofty snow-covered peaks and towering cypress trees, and is surrounded by upscale towns full of Renaissance architecture. Just to the west of Como, Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore straddle the Swiss-Italian border. Much of Lake Lugano is located in Tichino, an Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, home to the classically alpine feel of Switzerland, but with all the dolce vita of Italy. With its northern half in Switzerland, Maggiore is the Italy's largest lake and has a rich history as the vacation destination of the world’s elite, from Ernest Hemingway to Princess Margaret.
From the magnificent palazzos along the Grand Canal, to the tiny hidden streets and alleyways barely wider than an arm's length, the charm and magic of the Floating City is undeniable. From the bustling bridges of San Zaccharia and the Dorsoduro neighborhood, whose close proximity to major tourist attractions like Palazzo San Marco means these areas are often packed with crowds, to the quieter San Croce district, Venice offers stunningly gorgeous, incredibly luxurious accommodations for all types of travelers.
Milan is Northern Italy’s cosmopolitan heart, a modern, prosperous city that hosts the Italian headquarters of many banks and corporations. Internationally recognized as an epicenter of fashion and design, Milan blends the old and the new, from impressive cathedrals like the Duomo di Milano, to some of the world’s most important exhibitions of contemporary and innovative art. Just outside of Milan's urban center lies Cusago, a charming and tranquil place to escape the city's clamor, though still extremely convenient for accessing Milan's attractions.
This beautiful stretch of coastline begins with smooth, sandy beaches, climbs magnificently jagged cliffs, and rolls into the peaks of the Appenines. Just south of Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, Sanremo is the crown jewel of the Italian Riviera, one of the most esteemed spots in the region of Liguria, dotted with glamorous boutiques, famous casino and time-honored, exclusive places. The most well-known destinations in this area include the fishing village of Portofino, and of course the famous Cinque Terre. Better-kept local secrets include the towns of Camogli and Sestri Levante, picturesque towns offering all the romance, charm and antiquity of neighboring villages like the Cinque but unspoiled by touristy crowds.
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