Surrounded by the rising foothills of the Alps, Lombardy is a region rich in culture, cuisine and castles. Famed for the Duomo of Milan, Lake Como and the Livigno ski resort, this enclave of northern Italy rarely fails to impress – whatever the season.
Once you’ve gotten over the jaw-dropping views of the Alps, you’ll realise that the Lombardy region has much more than just spectacular scenery to offer. The region stretches from the industrial wealth in Milan (home to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper) and northern glassy blue lakes to the historical town of Mantua. Here’s our pick of the best things to do when you’re there.
Since it was built in the 14th century, Scaligero Castle has been used as an armoury, military barracks, a police station and even a jail. It’s now a museum but remains one of Italy’s most well preserved castles. Walk around the moat, stroll over the drawbridge and explore its impressive towers. From the ground, the castle looks as though it’s floating on Lake Garda, but if you climb the 146 steps to the ramparts, the harbour view is equally divine.
Northern Italy was the birthplace of the violin in the early 16th century, and Cremona boasts many of its finest makers. Trace the history of the instrument at the Museo del Violino, where you can see violins crafted by Stradivari. Breathe in the scent of the resin and wood as you learn how they are made. Then, if you’re brave enough, try playing one. You can also experience how it feels to be part of the orchestra in the immersive audio room.
Take in the beauty of the valley as you whizz down the mountains in Livigno. The resort is a winter paradise and caters to skiers of all abilities. Try your hand at skiing and snowboarding or try something different – like Nordic skiing and tobogganing. Experienced skiers can climb aboard a helicopter to try heli skiing from one of the nearby mountaintops, before schussing down to the lively après-ski bars in town.
With the likes of George Clooney extolling its virtues, expectations of Lake Como are high. Set in the foothills of the Alps, the inverted Y-shaped lake does not disappoint. It’s the third largest of the Italian lakes, with its crystal-clear waters shimmering against the backdrop of mountains and charming villages that make it a firm favourite for travellers. For a different view of the area, jump aboard one of the many boat trips on offer.
Once a small house in the forest, where a vineyard was planted in the 1960s, Ca’ Del Bosco is now one of the leading producers of Italian wine. Take a cellar tour where you can wander around the lush vineyards and see how the wine is produced before sampling some for yourself. The Annamaria Clementi sparkling wine, named after the founder’s mother, is definitely the pick of the bunch.
Experience the authentic taste of the city of Mantua when you dive into traditional dishes from the region at Osteria dell’Oca. The recipes have been handed down through the generations, and the tortelli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli) is sublime. Expect some more unusual dishes, such as stewed donkey or boiled pike in a caper, anchovy and pepper sauce, but there are some veggie dishes, too. Save some room for the chocolate mousse, which is flavoured with Sambuca.
Step back in time when you visit the Neolithic carvings in Val Camonica. The valley is home to around 300,000 carvings (or petroglyphs) that were carved in the rocks over several thousand years. These range from prehistoric carvings of geometric patterns and weapons right through to elaborate carvings of people or animals, such as deer, elks and dogs, dating back to the early Roman age. The alpine views from the valley are breathtaking, too.
Monte Isola, as the name would suggest to speakers of the Italian tongue, is a mountainous island located on Lake Iseo. It’s the largest of its kind in Europe. Regular ferries are at hand to transport travellers from shoreside towns (like Iseo and Lovere) to the docks of the beautiful island. There are several paths leading up to the top of the peak that forms the island itself, where old monasteries and pine forests coalesce.
Luca Pinelli contributed additional reporting to this article.
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