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 with this introductory list of some of the most stunning locations in the region.
Keen to visit Italy but not sure where to go? Take your pick from Culture Trip’s specially curated 10-day Northern Italy trip or our action-packed 10-day Sicily adventure.
Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Aosta Valley
With 724km (450mi) 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 cafes 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, set against the dramatic outline of the Alps, is often shrouded in mist.
In the wine-producing region of Langhe, rolling, vineyard-covered hills give way to views of the snow-covered Alps. Picturesque Piedmont villages form in clusters on small winding roads throughout the region, with striking contemporary architecture and sculptures found on many vineyard estates.
La Venaria Reale, Piedmont
This magnificent royal estate built in the 17th-century 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 – and you can enjoy an unforgettable guided hike as part of Culture Trip’s 10-day small-group Northern Italy trip.
Savour fresh seafood on the azure pebble beaches of this picturesque fishing village. The main beach is lined with 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) whilst in February, the town comes alive with a famous snow polo tournament.
Lake Orta, Piedmont
Lake Orta is smaller and less frequented than its more glamorous counterparts; Como, Maggiore and Garda, which creates a distinct 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. The area remains popular thanks to a location just an hour from Milan, yet Como is undeniably stunning. The ‘upside-down Y’ shaped lake is set against the foothills of the Alps and spectacular lakeside vistas surround you in every quaint village and town. Bike to a hillside summit and survey the area’s Mediterranean yet alpine majesty. With Culture Trip, you can enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Como as part of our specially curated 10-day Northern Italy tour, led by our local insider.
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 perimeter.
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. 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 boats the only mode of transport, it is easy to imagine the island in its 16th-century splendour – packed with 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 most quaint ski resorts in the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo has slopes for beginner and advanced skiers and breathtaking mountain views. In winter, chocolate box chalets sit covered in heavy snow whilst in summer they are 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, all of which make 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 views are truly stunning.
Monte Lussari, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
At the peak of Mount Lussari in the Julian Alps stands a shrine that has been a pilgrimage destination since the 16th-century. The story, which features in both Italian and Slavic folklore, states that in 1360 a shepherd lost his sheep before finding it in a bush of mugo pine alongside a statuette of the 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 rugged 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 of 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 platforms of 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.
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