Northern Italy is as topographically diverse as it is beautiful: spectacular mountain vistas in the Dolomites and the Alps, vast crystalline lakes, undulating, vineyard covered hills, dramatic coastlines, enchanting historical cities and architecture. Get inspired by this introductory list to some of the most stunning locations in the region.
Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Aosta Valley
With 450 miles of marked trails and mule tracks, this national park in the Aosta Valley is a walker’s paradise in all seasons. During winter, hike the pristine snowy peaks and in the spring and summer months watch the biodiversity of the landscape blossom. You are also likely to see horned goats grazing peacefully on the alpine pastures, or spot rare birds overhead.
Baroque buildings and art nouveau cafés line the grand boulevards and squares of this refined and cosmopolitan city. Geometric stained glass windows, plasterwork with floral motifs and curvaceous ironwork decorate the elegant townhouses and dreamy villas on the Po River. The cityscape is set against the dramatic outline of the Alps shrouded in mist.
In the wine-producing region of Langhe, rolling, vineyard-covered hills give way to views of the snow-covered Alps: a more dramatic horizon than you will ever find in Tuscany! Picturesque Piedmont villages form in clusters on small winding roads and striking contemporary architecture and sculpture can be found on many vineyard estates.
La Venaria Reale, Piedmont
This magnificent royal estate built in the 1600s for Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy is considered ‘Turin’s Versaille’. The famous Hall of Diana designed by Amedeo di Castellamonte is a fairytale Baroque masterpiece.
The Cinque Terre, Liguria
This coastal region in Liguria comprises five fishing and wine producing villages – Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – perched dramatically on rocky cliff fronts. Steep terraces of brightly coloured houses teeter over inlets and lively harbours, while olive groves and vineyards traverse inland. Largely inaccessible by car, Cinque Terre is a walker’s haven.
Savour fresh seafood on the azure pebble beaches of this picturesque fishing village. The main beach is is lined with sweet buildings painted in sherbert hues, others are nestled in secluded coves surrounded by lush greenery. The ancient Abbazia San Fruttuoso creates a special backdrop for a small bay beneath a steep wooded hill; its cloisters lead directly onto the beach that is only accessible by foot.
Bagni di Bormio, Lombardy
Bormio is a small commune in the Valtellina area of the Alps close to Switzerland, which is built around ancient hot springs. For centuries people have travelled to Bormio in search of wellness from the thermal spa and fresh mountain air. Relax in the Bagni Vecchi, Roman baths located in the mouths of mountain caves, or take in the alpine scenery from a thermal pool or hot tub at the Bagni Nuova.
It may be renowned as a ski resort, but Livigno is also within the prized Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio. Stunning panoramas of the Alps are peppered with traditional baita (chalets). In February, the town comes alive with a famous snow polo tournament.
Lake Orta, Lombardy
Lake Orta is smaller and less frequented than its more glamorous counterparts, Como, Maggiore and Garda, which creates a distinct and special atmosphere. The single island at the centre of the lake is enchanting, as is its principal town Orta San Giulio. The calm and reclusive feeling that people find at Orta has been a pull for writers across the centuries – Friedrich Nietzsche, Samuel Butler, Lord Byron, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning all visited. From a hillside vantage point, take in the in its entirety and admire the seasonal changes in the surrounding topography.
Lake Como, Lombardy
Lake Como is celebrated for outstanding natural beauty, crystalline bays and Renaissance architecture (and very popular because it is just one hour from Milan). The ‘upside down Y’ shaped lake is set against the foothill of the Alps and spectacular lakeside vistas surround you in every quaint village and town. Bike to a hillside summit or take a boat trip to one of the central islands and survey the area’s mediterranean yet alpine majesty.
Lake Garda, Lombardy
Situated at the edge of the Dolomites, this is Italy’s largest lake and its beauty has been eulogised by many writers, including Catullus, Tennyson, DH Lawrence and Ezra Pound. At the northern part of the lake, the Gruppo del Baldos mountains create a dramatic backdrop and at the centre you will find small islands home to grand villas. Garda’s many charming lakeside villages and towns drip with lush and fragrant mediterranean plant life and fishing boats rest in their harbours. Fresh mountain water gently laps at the sand and pebble beaches that dot the lake’s parameter.
Bergamo is also known as La Città dei Mille (The City of the Thousand), and has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The ancient hilltop Città Alta (Upper Town) is a maze of narrow medieval streets enclosed within a Venetian wall. Majestic Baroque and medieval buildings look out onto the endless southern plains.
Bologna is the historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region known for beautiful medieval architecture and serious culinary prowess. Hike to the monastery of San Luca at sunset for the most beautiful view of the city – its red brick architecture glows in the warm light and the undulating Bolognesi hills lie in the distance. From this height the city appears as in all of its 15th-century glory.
Basilica di San Vitale, Emilia-Romagna
The plain facade of this byzantine inspired church belies the splendour within – one of the most sublime examples of early-Christian mosaic art in Europe. The Basilica di San Vitale was built in Ravenna in the sixth century and across every surface, tales and allegories expressing the ideology and religious beliefs of Christianity in the Justinian period are relayed in exquisite coloured and gilded tiles. The conflation of eastern and western aesthetics is also distinct in the church’s unique architecture.
Venice exceeds expectations of magnificence and magic. The Venetian Gothic architecture (heavily influenced by Byzantine and Moorish styles) is almost untouched and the beauty of the majestic palazzos and narrow callettes is mirrored in the turquoise canals. With boat as the only mode of transport, it is easy to imagine the island in its 16th-century splendour – exotic trade, artistic brilliance and lustful indulgence. There really is nowhere else in Italy (perhaps the world) like this floating city.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto
One of the quaintest ski resorts in the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo has slopes for beginner and advanced skiers, and breath-taking spiky mountain views. In winter the chocolate box chalets are covered in heavy snow, and in summer dressed with bright red geraniums.
Wine country, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a unique geographical position, bordering Slovenia, Germany and the Adriatic Sea, which makes it a much celebrated wine region. The Collio is a series of picturesque hills nestled between two rivers and the Slovenian border. Mostly small-scale family run vineyards sprawl across the valley in every direction, so when the seasons change the entire landscape changes colour too – from intense and vivid green to burnt amber, the all encompassing vineyard prospects are stunning.
Monte Lussari, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
At the peak of Mount Lussari in the Julian Alps stands a shrine that has been pilgrimage destination since the 16th century. The story, that features in both Italian and Slavic folkore, says that in 1360 a shepherd lost his sheep on the Lussari. He found it shortly after in a bush of mugo pine, and then, with great wonder noticed that in the middle of the bush was the statuette of a Madonna with Child. Climb up through the old world village and admire panoramic views of the Tarvisian basin.
Isarco Valley, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
Italian and Germanic culture conflate is the fairytale landscape of the Isarco Valley. Steepled churches and traditional wood chalets are surrounded by apple orchards and pine forests which lead to stunning vistas of the cragged, grey and white Dolomites. The valley’s rich cuisine reflects the culinary heritage of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Veneto region.
Pragser Wildsee, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
Be enchanted by one the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites. Located in the Pragser valley between Felsberg and Niederdorf branching off from the Puster Valley, the Pragser Wildsee is surrounded by dense pine forest and its perfectly calm water is an almost unreal turquoise.
Messner Mountain, Südtirol
The summit of the plateau of Kronplatz is one of the most magnificent viewing platform of the Südtirol. The breathtaking panorama moves from the Lienz Dolomites in the east to the Ortler in the west, from the Marmolada in the south to the Zillertal Alps in the north. The Messner Mountain Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects is located here and the grey, modernist design built into the landscape is equally inspiring.