Best Cities: to Visit in Northern Italy
Northern Italy is an extremely diverse region offering mountainous geography in the Alps and two coastal regions east and west with that of the East Coast featuring flatland running into the Adriatic Sea. Northern Italy is teeming with cities of historical significance and beauty and therefore, a must-see for any visitor. Milan is one of Italy’s largest cities and well-known as a centre of fashion with its fashion week and high-end designer stores. More importantly perhaps it is a cultural and historical centre boasting some of Italy’s finest architecture particularly from the Gothic period as illustrated in the Duomo or Cathedral which took nearly 600 years to complete and boasts a beautiful façade and sumptuous Stain glass windows. In addition the da Vinci museum of science and technology or the Sforza castle, with its amazing gardens have much to please the tourist.
The iconic image of Venice has been romantically portrayed in film throughout the ages and it is understandably accepted as one of the most romantic cities on earth. It’s narrow streets and canals adorned with beautiful bridges and buildings combine to make this island city unforgettable. Once again stunning architecture is a feature of the city much of it connected to the religious buildings, such as the magnificent cathedral in St Mark’s Square. There is nothing quite like a relaxing ride in the water taxi or gondola to enjoy the beauty of Venice including the Venice Lido with its golden sand. Turin is a city of a different nature centring more on industrial endeavours. However, it still offers much in the way of historical interest with many wonderful attractions. Once the capital of the country Turin has always been a significant economic centre and important cultural base.
Again cathedrals are in the forefront of architectural wonders with the cathedral of San Giovanni Battista being no exception. Take a moment to view the Palazzo Reale in all its glory and Palazzo Madama and not least the Mole Antonelliana a vast building named for the architect. Bologna is also one of the largest cities in Italy and provides a major transport hub.
The city has a large number of historical high-rise buildings and is thus often referred to as the city of towers?
Again, piazzas and religious buildings grace the city and Bologna boasts a fine selection of museums and galleries to delight the visitor eager to learn more about archaeology and history as well as the arts. Beautifully situated on the Ligurian Sea, Genoa is the six largest city in the country and plays a huge part in the economy as a major port. Its location has also deemed it significant throughout history. The aquarium and Maritime Museum are good places to start if one wants to get acquainted with the marine life and the history of the port which is still a hive of furious commercial activity today. Palma best known for its ham and cheese is a bustling community of beautiful piazzas, museums the obligatory cathedral, considered one of the best Romanesque structures in the country, and wonderful theatres.
National Gallery also houses large collections of work from the likes of da Vinci and van Dyck. Verona famously mentioned by Shakespeare is often overlooked but has many wonderful historical sites. The Arena in Verona has to be the highlight rivalling the Colosseum in Rome in its size and magnificence. In addition to all the wonderful piazzas and religious buildings that one comes to expect of Italian architecture and culture, Verona lies close to Lake Garda which is a beautiful region to explore from here. These cities offer just a small sample of the truly overwhelming wealth of beauty and history to be found in northern Italy.
What to Eat: in Northern Italy
In Italy food is more than a question of quelling an appetite it is much more about a lifestyle and a reflection of the culture and artistic nature of its people. The love and appreciation for the quality of ingredients however basic means that somehow even the poorest among them know how to cook and eat well. This kind of knowledge and passion comes from a culinary heritage that produces some of the finest food around. Northern Italy is a diverse and fascinating region where the spirit of the people can be illustrated by their eating habits. Because they generally love to eat and cook flavourful food at home they would expect nothing less when eating out, regardless of whether the establishment was a fancy restaurant or a more humble establishment.
The Italian pride means that for the most part this is what they will get! Traditionally for Italians breakfast is a light affair with good coffee and perhaps a cornetto or croissant as we more commonly know it. However, come lunch or dinner time more serious fare is on offer and you can expect to be served four courses albeit smaller in size than some other cultures have the custom. First the anti-pesto or appetizer which may typically be a plate of cold cuts called Salumi served with perhaps a bruschetta bread topped with something delicious like tomato and garlic or a preparation of vegetables in oil. The first course or primo may consist of soup, pasta or risotto. The second course secondo is usually meat, fish, seafood or game and you might order a contorno or side dish of salad or vegetables which will complement the main.
Finally, the dessert or dolce rounds off the meal and such sumptuous treats us Tiramisu, fruit or gelato or perhaps good cheese are typically served. Each region of Italy boasts its own cuisine developed over considerable time.
What many people regard as typically, Italian fare comes primarily from southern Italy, such as pasta with tomato sauce, garlic or pizza.
However, in the north they use more butter and cream in the sauces as well as tomatoes and pasta may be left aside in favour of polenta or risotto. A trip around some of the regions of northern Italy will reveal the varied and delicious ingredients and dishes to be found. In Venice a history connected to the spice trade leaves a legacy of amazing flavour attached to some of the humblest of foods. Be sure to try the scampi, crab or squid from the Adriatic or the oft derided liver and onions. Lombardy as a region favours butter over olive oil using it to good effect in dishes, such as Osso Buco a dish of sliced veal sauteed with the bone marrow. Also featuring veal is a version of the schnitzel called cotoletta alla milanese. The abundance of lakes here too, means trout and perch are used in the pasta dishes.
Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta is famous for its white truffles with the city of Alba serving as Italy’s truffle centre. Roast meats and hearty soups are also favourites often served with slices of polenta. Gorgonzola cheese also comes from Piedmont. The area of Liguria includes Genoa where many ancient Seafarers returned from the New World years ago carrying tomatoes, potatoes and peppers all staples of Italian cuisine. On the coast this region is also famous for its seafood as well as pesto made from pine nuts, basil and olive oil. Liguria is also home of the focaccia a flat and tasty bread topped with herbs. All these regions help to make Northern Italy one of the most diverse and delicious places to eat!
Best Small Towns: to Visit in Northern Italy
When one Imagines traveling to Italy, particularly the north, images of romantic Venice and it’s beautiful canals or imposing Milan with its upscale stores may come to mind. However often it is the places off the beaten track that most reflect the personality of a region and especially of its people and culture. Northern Italy is an area extremely rich in history, architecture and a culture that celebrates everything from food to fashion. Head away from the larger well-known cities and the traveller can take delight in the quieter yet still magnificent towns that punctuate a wonderful diversity of landscape. Modena with its iconic meandering streets seems a typical Italian town.
However, foodies and Ferrari lovers can comfortably rub shoulders as the town is the home of balsamic vinegar, tortellini pasta and houses the manufacturing plant of both Ferrari and Maserati. Ferrara, home to yet another amazing Gothic cathedral is located in the same region as Modena. In its day this city was well ahead of its time boasting cinema, fine art and literature projects as early as the 14th century. The city is still home to castles and it’s majestic city walls. Another beautiful Gothic cathedral can be found in Aquileia a small town of only a few thousand people.
The importance of its Roman history has deemed it a UNESCO world heritage site and the archaeological areas make fascinating viewing in this delightful town near the Slovenian border.
If all that history and architecture gets a little exhausting, you can always head out to Camogli situated about 30 minutes from Genoa. This destination is popular with northern Italians for good reason. The beaches are beautiful and the town itself a delight with many homes decorated with tromp l’oeil that give the centre a unique artistic look. Fresh seafood is naturally abundant and the local festivals celebrating that are a must. Don’t like the beach or the sun? How about escaping to the snowy paradise in the little mountain town of Livigno in the Lombardy region. The scenery is exceptional with wonderful vistas of the Alps but the shopping is also a treat if you enjoy designer stores and duty-free shops all with a view! Also in Lombardy is the town of Mantua that might be more recognizable to some as Mantua a town referenced in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
As expected it is filled with art and history and once was home to the poet Virgil. Again, a stunning location, this time on the lake, makes this lesser known town a must-see. Most people who visit any part of Italy are in expectation of some good food. Much of the more sumptuous delicacies come from the northern regions and none more so then the white truffles found in Alba. In addition to that the decadence continues with the use of the local hazelnuts. Alba is the home to Ferrero famous for the chocolates and of course Nutella!
To Compliment this there are also beautiful vine yards in the nearby countryside. Finally, the town of Courmayeur offers another wonderful mountain haven, nestled behind Mount Blanc Europe’s tallest mountain. The skiing and hiking are exceptional and the rigors of such activities can be soothed away by visiting the spa, eating the local fondue or spending money at the luxury shops. If you have the time Northern Italy can certainly, fill it with amazing small and less well-known destinations that will delight the traveller and offer a more personal window into the amazingly diverse nature of the region.