At first glance, Milan (Milano) can appear like one of the models gracing its catwalks: great bone structure (in the shape of historic and striking new architecture), extravagant taste and no obvious soul. But Milan’s style and, yes, substance, are more than skin deep.
Bergamo, Brescia & Cremona
Lake Como & Around
In the shadow of the snow-covered Rhaetian Alps, Lago di Como (also known as Lago Lario) is the most spectacular of the lakes. Shaped like an upside-down letter Y, measuring 120km all up, its squiggly shoreline is scattered with villages, including exquisite Bellagio, in the centre of the inverted V on the lake’s southern shore.
This eastern Lombard city offers a wealth of art and medieval Renaissance and baroque architecture, a privileged position overlooking the southern plains, breathtaking views and some fine dining. Bergamo is one of northern Italy's most beguiling cities. The city's defining feature is a double identity.
The western Lombard shore of Lake Garda is the most beautiful, lined with historic towns, stately villas, mountain-backed roads and frothing flower-filled gardens. North of Gardone, much of the shore is encompassed within the Parco Alto Garda Bresciano (www.parcoaltogarda.net), where it's easy to escape the summer crowds and find yourself amid some truly stunning scenery.
As serene as the three lakes it sits beside, Mantua (Mantova) is home to sumptuous ducal palaces and a string of atmospheric, cobbled squares.
With its charming historic centre, Como sparkles year-round. Within its remaining 12th-century city walls, the beautiful people of this prosperous city whisk about from shop to cafe, sweeping by the grandeur of the city's cathedral, villas and the loveliness of its lakeshore with admirable insouciance.
Brescia's core takes the form of a fascinating old town, which more than compensates for the city's rather ugly urban sprawl. The old town's narrow streets are home to some of the most important Roman ruins in Lombardy, and an extraordinary circular Romanesque church.
Lake Iseo & Around
Less than 100km from both Bergamo and Brescia, Lake Iseo (aka Sebino) is one of the least known Lombard lakes. Shut in by soaring mountains, it's a magnificent sight. About halfway along the lake, a mountain soars right out of the water.
A wealthy, independent city-state for centuries, Cremona boasts some fine medieval architecture. The Piazza del Comune, the heart of the city, is where Cremona's historic beauty is concentrated. It's a wonderful example of how the religious and secular affairs of cities were divided neatly in two.
Lake Como West Bank
By not having the mountains block the light, the western shore gets the most sunshine on the lake. For this reason, it's lined with the most lavish villas, where high-fliers from football players to film stars reside.
They call the stretch of territory between Como and Lecco in the south and Bellagio in the north the Triangolo Lariano (Lake Lario Triangle), a mountainous and crumpled territory jammed with a surprising variety of landscapes. From the high and exhilarating 32km coast road between Como and Bellagio to quiet inland villages, there's plenty to discover.
Varese & Around
Spread out to the south of the Campo dei Fiori hills, between Lakes Maggiore and Como province, Varese is a prosperous provincial capital with a pretty old town and some grand villas worth exploring.
Lake Como East Bank
Lake Como's eastern shore has a wilder feel to it than the more illustrious west. Less touristed, it hides numerous gems that alone justify the effort. Back-country drives take you still further off the beaten track. Our coverage of the East Bank below runs from north to south.
Founded by the Romans as a military garrison, Pavia has long been a strategic city both geographically and politically.