lively small towns of Piedmont/Lombardy?
Replies: 16 - Last Post: May 6, 2012 8:18 AM Last Post By: neckervd
Apr 28, 2012 7:05 PM
lively small towns of Piedmont/Lombardy?I've just purchased a decent fare to Milan in three weeks (traveling with husband)--rather last minute for me. We'll be spending 4-5 of our 9 days on the coast (probably Camogli), and our last night in Milan, and I am seeking your help in finding somewhere in between Genoa, Milan, and Turin for the remaining 3-4 days. I haven't ruled out Turin yet, but we are not interested in a city trip, and I figure there is no way to do a large city justice in the time we have anyway, so that accounts for the one night in Milan. I've found many possibilities--Alba, Asti, Vercelli, Ovada. I'm looking for variety after the coast. Does anyone have any additional suggestions and opinions on these places? We're looking for somewhere scenic yet low-key, but not too quiet of a place that screams "off-season" in a bad way. Ideally, we'd like to be able to access nature via public transportation during the day and have plenty of options for cocktails/resturants in the evenings. Bonus points for places we can rent bikes, and ofr places that are not too time-intensive to get to via Milan/Genoa. Thanks for your insight!
Apr 29, 2012 1:39 AM
1What abaout the Lakes? Lago Maggiore and Lago d'Orta are very close to Malpensa airport, whereas Orio al Serio airport is somewhat between Lake Garda and Lake Como. Lugano and Locarno may cope too with your wishes.
close to Malpensa: Parco del Ticino, Parco Nazionale della Val Grande
close to Orio al Serio: prehistoric rock carvings in Val Camonica
Alessandria, Asti, Vercelli, Chivasso, Biella, Pavia, Cremona, etc.: these places are not really touristy, people lives there during the whole year. "Off season in a bad way" only in August, when most habitants leave the towns for some Mediterranean beaches or for the mountains.
Apr 29, 2012 9:09 AM
2Alba is a great place if you have a car, so that you can explore Langhe, but I wouldn't define it lively*, unless you happen to be there during a festival. Now, I'm not aware of any festivals taking place in Alba in the next few weeks, but for the next three weekends, Langhe will host like previous years the event 'Operation: Open towns', with Medieval celebrations, food stalls, guided tours and more: http://www.informaturismo.it/content/view/91/346 (only in Italian I'm afraid).
*But please note that, according to my standards, when I say 'not lively', I just mean 'quiet' and not 'dead'.
Asti is another great place if you're into Romanesque art, but again you would need a car to explore Monferrato, which is (along with Langhe) one of the most beautiful and untouristy areas in northern Italy. However, I wouldn't define it lively (unless - here again - you happen to be there during a festival). Here, too, I'm not aware of any festivals, but if you use for example Casale Monferrato as a base, you may take part in one of the events related to this year's edition of 'Rice and Roses in Monferrato' (taking place in the three weekends from 12 to 27 May). That will be a great time to be in this area. Here is the programme: http://www.monferrato.org/site/pdf/Calendario-Riso-e-Rose-2012.pdf. Let me stress again, though, that you'd need a car to be able to properly enjoy all the food-, art-, culture- and nature-related events. Like every year, they have also organised walks and bike rides.
Vercelli and Ovada - as much as I like them - are a no-no.
Neckervd mentions other places in Piedmont, which I quite know since I live just there, and the funny thing is that tourists are so few that these places scream "off-season" in a bad way even in high season, if you see what I mean :) That's the beauty of this area, in my opinion, but it's not what you're looking for. So I'd look elsewhere. However, if you are still interested in finding a small (but quiet rather than lively) place in Piedmont, feel free to drop me a line or send me a PM. The same applies if you need more info about 'Rice and Roses in Monferrato' or 'Operation: Open Towns', or if you need a help with the translation of the programmes.
PS: You're not asking this, but I can think of few ugly areas as Liguria's beaches in Italy. Further, their ugliness is just proportionate to their expensiveness.
Apr 30, 2012 7:37 AM
3Thanks to you both--your forum reputation precedes you. I am definitely at the stage where the more I know, the more confused I get. Unfortunately, I am a non-driver, and navigating for my mate does not a vacation make. I am fixiting on finding the perfect town, and that probably does not exist. Do you agree that it comes down to renting a car or moving around a bit more than we'd prefer?
I realize worrying about being too quiet does not necessarily apply in these larger towns. I have just had a habit of going too small, and once placed us as the only guests in a hotel, hence my caution. sushi, for Vercelli and Ovada, when you say "no-no" do you mean lacking interest for a tourist, or just not applying when my wish is for outdoor activities as well?
neckervd, for nonspecific reasons, the lakes had not appealed to me, but I'll do some more reading. I know some nice walks would be accessible.
sushi, I'd love to hear more about Rico e Rose, if you could just give me a brief rundown of what it is about, I would appreciate it. It coincides with our trip if I act quickly.
I see why you'd have that opinion of LIguria, but we are such sea lovers (not necessarily beach) and had a great trip to Lerici and Montemarcello a couple years ago.
Apr 30, 2012 8:03 AM
Do you agree that it comes down to renting a car or moving around a bit more than we'd prefer?
Yes, but - upon reflection - although a car is a plus, I think that - among all places I mentioned and coming to my mind - Alba area is likely to be the most enjoyable one without a car.
Alba can be accessed by public transportation and from there you can have a numer of nice walks in an area which I find as simply stunning. There might be some (limited) buses to nearby villages and castles. Further, all these places seem to rent bikes: http://alba.paginegialle.it/piemonte/alba/noleggio_biciclette.html.
Alba and Langhe are very popular with British, German and Swiss tourists. I don't think May is a season when you risk being the only tourist in your hotel. But nothing is guaranteed of course. The weather in April had been awful and has badly affected tourism. We are hopeful that May will be sunnier and warmer, but who can say? We had -20°C in February, +20°C in March and then +4°C in April... Really crazy weather...
The following websites have English pages:
for Vercelli and Ovada, when you say "no-no" do you mean lacking interest for a tourist, or just not applying when my wish is for outdoor activities as well?
In Vercelli there are some interesting sights, but even the slowest traveller can cover those in one day. And yes, here, I fear you might be the only guests in the hotel and the impression I've always had (even considering I'm not a party/night animal) is that the town is dead. Outdoor activities in the surroundigs... Maybe you can rent a bike, but the landscape is not properly the best of the region... very flat, full of rice paddles...
Ovada lacks proper tourist sights but, by contrast, is set in a beautiful natural landscape. Other than that, I'm afraid you may find the town dead. As to outdoor activities, I suppose you may have some walks, but - in my opinion - less nice than for example around Alba and in Langhe.
I see why you'd have that opinion of LIguria
Good to read you are not after a nice beach. Liguria is full of quaint villages and offers good possibilities for hiking. Its food tradition is also worth mentioning... But its beaches and high prices are two important downsides.
About hiking, I know of a hiking group organising free English-language hikes in Liguria most Saturdays or Sundays. If interested I can PM you their contact details. Please note it is not a travel agency.
I have to go now. I'll reply to your other question on 'Rice and Roses in Monferrato' later today or tomorrow.
Apr 30, 2012 6:45 PM
May 1, 2012 12:03 PM
6SUMMARY OF THE PROGRAMME 'RICE AND ROSES IN MONFERRATO'
Casale Monferrato - guided tours, typical products, roses and antique markets, wine tasting, art exhibition
Vignale Monferrato - theatre show, photo exhibition, flowers and local artcraft markets
Po and Orba Rivers Natural Park - guided tours
Fontanetto Po - Mangialonga (food event very typical of Monferrato. This is like a food-related procession. There is a walk with fixed stops and at each stops there is a typical product or wine to sample), bike guided tour
Gabiano Castle - food and wine stalls, horse riding
Cave di Moleto - guided tours
Ponzano Monferrato - rose-related art exhibition, garden-related events, food stalls
Alfiano Natta - typical products, rice and flowers markets, cakes stall, music and dances
Moncalvo - Medieval festival
Grana - markets as above, theatre, merenda sinoira (a mid-afternoon meal very typical of Monferrato, with local products), food stalls, guided tours, concert
Coniolo - the most important flowers and roses market
Camino - food stalls (offering panissa, a typical product), visit of the castle (very nice!), fireworks
Pontestura - Medieval festival, food stalls (also offering panissa)
Giarole - Medieval festival, visit of the castle (not so nice as Camino's, but still nice)
Sartirana Lomellina - art exhibition, merenda sinoira, gathering of vespas and similar motorbikes, free shuttle to Giarole castle
Mede - gathering of motorbikes, concert, rose-themed guided walk
Breme - 20-km guided bike ride, Romanesque architecture-tour in the area (must be booked in advance)
Alessandria - celebration for Borgo Rovereto, the oldest neighbourhood of the town, with food stalls, same markets as above, music and dances in the streets and squares in the day and in the night, story telling in the courtyards in the nights
Sala Monferrato - merenda sinoira, concert
Rosignano Monferrato - food stalls, all the usual markets, plus a special one devoted to artcraft
Cella Monte - concert
Ozzano Monferrato - all the usual food stalls and markets, garden-related exhibition, typical local cookie/biscuit (+biciolan+) sampling, music, story telling
Castagnone and San Giorgio Monferrato - garden-related event (in San Giorgio there's another of the many castles of Monferrato. It may be open for visits, too)
Murisengo - song festival, music, all the usual food stalls and markets, guided tours
Villamiroglio - palio (typical celebration usually involving Medieval games), guided tours, food stalls, markets, music and dances
Mombello Monferrato - guided tours, horseriding, food stalls, markets, risotto sampling
Pecetto di Valenza - mountain bike guided tours, garden-related guided tours (on foot), merenda sinoira, astronomy-related events, photo exhibition
San Salvatore Monferrato - all the usual food stalls and markets, music, dances, folk events, photo exhibition
Mirabello Monferrato - all the usual food stalls and markets, nordic walking (not very typical of Monferrato though!), music
Quargento - goose palio (probably the most popular Medieval celebration held during this festival), night procession in Medieval dresses with horses etc, painting exhibition, 'snakes and ladders' (in Italian 'gioco dell'oca', something like 'goose game') played live in the main square, crossbow contest
Bike guided tour from Cascina Convento in Mirabello, stopping at Villa Genova in San Salvatore Monferrrato for a 'rose' breakfast
As tempting as it may sound, this short translated summary is just a small part of what is organised...
May 1, 2012 1:14 PM
May 1, 2012 1:20 PM
8You're welcome. If you happen to be there in that weekend, Coniolo market is usually highly praised by gardeners. The garden - or better, the park - arond Camino castle is also very nice. When I attended years ago, I was given a very interesting botanical tour. I'm afraid that would be only in Italian, too. Otherwise, the guided bike rides in parks and natural areas should also be interesting.
If/once you have decided which events to attend where, feel free to ask me for a more precise translation of that/those event(s) and/or indications on how to get there. I won't be online again till next weekend, but then I'll be able to reply.
May 4, 2012 8:53 AM
9Thanks so much to the three of you for help on this subject. My husband and I want to go first to Lago di Maggiore as we like water and liked Bellagio, where we stayed on a few trips in the past, although at times the lake is very mucky and you cannot see anything and the air feels stagnant. I wonder how often this occurs. . In any case we want to go first to Maggiore and then to the Piedmont area.
We plan to arrive in Milan via Frankfurt at 13:30 on September 26.
It is a big problem getting information about public transportation to Cannobio . We arrive in Malpensa and I did find Alibus transfers to Stresa and to Verbania (goes every two hours though). But then once we take that bus to Verbania, we have to transfer from Verbania to Cannobia, and all I hear is that there are buses. I can't find a schedule, and of course I'd love to know if it is every two hours. We'd thought of taking a boat from Stresa, and I found a schedule you need an electron microscope for. Someone told me that the boats go only on Wed and Sun. The 26th is indeed a Wednesday, so I guess we could go by boat to Cannobia from Stresa or maybe from Verbania, but at the same time I don't want to be completely reliant on the boat. Also, though we are pretty strong, we are in our 60's and do only carry-on bags when we travel on our three-week trips, so we can't walk forever with them.
I plan to take all the info you wrote about on Asti, etc. and plan. Our tastes seem very similar - love the water yet will probably find Maggiore too touristy, like to hike a bit, see beautiful countryside, art, explore new places. Hope for sun. (We just got back a few weeks ago from Lecce, Puglia, Matera, Potenza area. It poured.)
If you can be of any help with the schedules especially, we would really appreciate that.
May 4, 2012 10:34 AM
10There are frequent boats from Stresa to Intra, where you can take a bus to Cannobio.
Actual timetables, may slightly change until September:
You may also check the following itineraries:
Malpensa Terminal 1 dp by train 14.43 - Saronno ar 15.04, change train, dp 15.12 - Laveno Nord ar 16.22, dp by ferry 16.30 - Intra ar 16.50, dp by bus 16.55 - Cannobio ar 17.25. The connection at Intra is not guaranteed, however. Next bus: 18.28
Malpensa Terminal 1 dp by bus 14.46 - Busto Arsizio FS ar, 15.24, dp by train 15.54 - Verbania-Pallanza ar 16.41, dp by bus 17.00 - Intra ar 17.23, change bus, Intra dp 18.28 - Cannobio ar 18.58
Malpensa Terminal 1 dp by train 15.50 - Luino ar 17.08, dp by boat 18.35 - Cannobio ar 18.59
The Stresa dp 15.30 boat doesn't run on Wednesdays
May 4, 2012 2:47 PM
11It's actually hard. For us it will be an extremely long day after a transatlantic flight and an 8-hour time change. We arrive in Malpensa at 1:30 in the afternoon, and as far as I can tell, we'll be lucky to get to Cannobio by 5:30 or 6. Seems amazing, given the short distance.
I thought there would be a bus or two that circles the island with connections. It seems to me that there is/was for Lake Como.
I even tried getting to Luino, spending the night there, but unless we are very lucky and get line 222 (Swiss run, I think) we have to wait for the 5:50 bus.
Thanks for the vcoinbus schedule, but even in 2011 (high season, too) that bus went every 60-90 min. We're trying to go late September. Two hours here, two hours there starts to add up.
It's funny. Everywhere you turn, everyone is under the impression that there are frequent buses and boats, but it's not really so. The boat doesn't run Wednesdays (our day)..
If we waited two hours and took the Alibus at 15:30, we would get into Intra at 5. Then we could just find out once we were there how bad the wait was for the Cannobio bus. Sounds bad to us. Or we could take the Alibus to Stresa (or possibly a train to Stresa) , get off, spend the night there and then go on to Cannobio the next day. I'd need to see what that would look like though. The only through boat is Wednesday, so we could only get to Intra. The crucial thing is finding a Sept 2012 schedule for the Intra-Cannobio bus. If I could find a non-800 phone number with a human being and not too many buttons to press as my Italian with the phone system falls apart, I could Skype or email that bus company and see. Still, it sounds like a half-day experience.
Sorry about all this. I don't give up easily, I guess. Is everyone asleep?
May 4, 2012 2:55 PM
12I should have said that we could go from Stresa the following day (Thursday) if we waited until 3:30 in the afternoon, getting int o Cannobio at 6. But this is the only possible boat, and this schedule is really a Jan-May schedule. Who knows what the end of Sept will bring with all the cuts. Still, it is a possibility.
May 5, 2012 3:02 AM
13Cannobio is a nice, but rather small place at the border between Italy and Switzerland. It's not a transport hub. Transport around the lake isn't really bad, but the connections between Malpensa and the upper Western End of the Lake are rather complicated. Therefore you need 3 hrs for these 105 km.
Or in other words: Frankfurt - Cannobio by train and bus wouldn't be much longer (Frankfurt airport train station dp 11.59 - Cannobio ar 19.45, via Basel and Bellinzona)
One must find the optimal combintation of the following lines:
bus Malpensa - Stresa - Intra (reservation compulsory): 6 times daily
bus Malpensa - Gallarate: 19 times daily
train Malpensa - Gallarate - Laveno - Luino - San Nazzaro - Cadenazzo - Locarno: 7 times daily
train Malpensa - Saronno - ferry - Intra: 26 times daily
train Gallarate - Verbania Pallanza: 16 times daily
bus Verbania Pallanza - Intra: 26 times daily
bus Intra - Cannobio: 17 times daily
http://www.vcoinbus.it/cagnoli/vco_trasporti/i_verbania_brissago.pdf (actual timetable)
boat Stresa - Intra: 18 times daily (actual timetable)
The Intra - Cannobio - Brissago timetable doesn't change much from year to year. I gave you the actual timetable above and you will see that it's quite the same as in summer.
The government owned Lake Maggiore shipping company is in financial difficulties. As the administrations in Rome and Arona cost a lot of money, they try to reduce the number of boat trips on the Lake in the next months, that means during the high season (typically Italian solution). Therefore, there are no timetables available for the period after May 31st until now.
If you arrive with Lufthansa at 13.50, the 15.30 bus to Intra and then a taxi for the lasst 20 km will probably be the easiest solution.
May 5, 2012 3:35 AM
14Stresa is a nice place and certainly worth to stay 1 day or 2.From there, it would be easy to reach Cannobio by boat and bus (change at Intra):
Stresa...... dp 9.30 11.00 11.30 12.15 13.00 14.00
Cannobio ar 11.25 12.35 13.25 13.55 14.35 16.22
or by direct boat or aliscafo. Stresa dp 10.00, 12.00, 15.30
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