Northern Italy: 10 must-see places to discover

Italy attracts us perpetually. When we think of this country, we imagine the CinqueTerre with its houses perched above the water, Rome and its Roman remains , Venice and its romanticism. Great places but very crowded in the summer! So to escape mass tourism, we invite you to discover northern Italy, less known and just as full of splendor.

Summary

  • 1) Lake Maggiore: islands and palaces in the middle of the mountains
  • 2) The city center of Genoa, listed as a UNESCO heritage site
  • 3) Lake Como and Padmé’s Palace in Star Wars
  • 4) The Gran Paradisio National Park, the first Italian natural park 
  • 5) The Sacri Monti or Sacred Mountains of Piedmont and Lombardy
  • 6) The Albula and Bernina Rhaetian Railway
  • 7) The rock art of Valcamonica, in Lombardy
  • 8) The city of Verona
  • 9) The Botanical Garden of Padua
  • 10) Sirmione and the Scaligero Castle, in Lombardy

1) Lake Maggiore: islands and palaces in the middle of the mountains

Located 1h30 by car from Milan, Lake Maggiore extends over 66 km in length and 5 km in width. It forms a natural border between Switzerland and Italy and borders the Val Grande National Park. 

On Lake Maggiore, you can admire two sets of islands :

  • The two islands of Brissago (Swiss side): Saint-Pancrace, which hosts an exotic botanical garden, and Saint-Apollinaire.
  • The five Borromean Islands (Italian), three of which can be visited: Isola Bella , Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori. On Isola Bella, you can visit the Borromeo Palace (17th century) and its museum.
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Good to know ! 

Boats ensure the daily connection between all the coastal cities and the islands. As a bonus, many water activities are offered on the lake in summer. 

2) The city center of Genoa, listed as a UNESCO heritage site

The center of Genoa has 42 palaces to visit ! It is one of the Italian cities with the richest architectural heritage. The emblematic sites are the Palais des Rolli and the Strade Nuove or “Rues Neuves” both classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. Dating from the end of the 16th century, the Strade Nuove include a set of Renaissance and Baroque style palaces bordering the “new streets”. They are also the first example in Europe of a public system of private residences for members of the state.

3) Lake Como and Padmé’s Palace in Star Wars

Villa Balbianello-Pxhere – Credits: Pxhere

Less than an hour from Milan, Lake Como is a favorite destination for Star Wars fans. In fact, you can admire Villa Balbianello in the town of Lenno, the magical place where Padmé and Anakin got married. Visits are organized by reservation.

4) The Gran Paradisio National Park, the first Italian natural park 

The Gran Paradiso National Park is the first of its kind to have been created, in 1929. It is located between Piedmont and the Aosta Valley and serves as a natural border between France and Italy. 

Covering an area of ​​700 km2, it includes 59 glaciers as well as a diversified fauna and flora. There is the largest population of ibexes in Europe with nearly 3,000 specimens . You can also admire chamois , marmots, foxes, a few lynxes, wolves, golden eagles (27 pairs), eagle owls and bearded vultures. 

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If you love hiking and the outdoors, we recommend camping or a mobile home rather than a hotel or renting a furnished apartment. It is ideal especially with children because they can play outside and enjoy the activities of the campsite (swimming pool, ping pong, badminton, evenings…) To see availability in Italy, you can consult the Homair site which can compare all the offers in Piedmont or the Aosta Valley.

5) The Sacri Monti or Sacred Mountains of Piedmont and Lombardy

The Sacri Monti are a series of nine distinct sites located in the mountains of northern Italy: Varallo, Crea, Orta, Varese, Oropa, Ossuccio, Ghiffa, Domodossola and Valperga. They are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Each site includes a number of chapels and architectural elements built between the end of the 16th and 17th centuries. 

The phenomenon of the Sacri Monti appeared at this time with the aim of dedicating places to prayer and to the Christian faith in Europe. Indeed, the holy places of Jerusalem and Palestine were far away and not everyone could get there.

6) The Albula and Bernina Rhaetian Railway

Albula Line – Credits : Champer – wikimedia

Also listed as a UNESCO heritage site, the Rhaetian Albula and Bernina Railway brings together two historic train lines that cross the Swiss Alps via two passes. The Albula line is 67 km long, it was opened in 1904. It includes an impressive set of works with 42 tunnels and 144 viaducts and bridges . Less impressive, the Bernina line stretches for 61 km and has 13 tunnels as well as 52 viaducts and bridges. 

These railway lines represent for UNESCO an exemplary use of the railway to open up the central Alps at the beginning of the 20th century, they had a lasting socio-economic impact on life in the mountains.

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Bernina express_ Credits : Hairdresser – David Gubler – wikimedia

7) The rock art of Valcamonica, in Lombardy

In the mountains of Lombardy, Val Camonica is home to rock art sites with the presence of prehistoric petroglyphs . More than 140,000 signs and figures have been engraved in the rock over eight millennia, they evoke field work, navigation, war or magic.

These sites have been on the UNESCO heritage list since 1979.

8) The city of Verona

Northern Italy: 10 must-see places to discover
Credits: pxfuel.com

The historic center of Verona was founded in the 1st century BC. This city is an exceptional example of a stronghold because Verona has managed to preserve a remarkable number of monuments from Antiquity, the medieval period and the Renaissance. For example, one of the city gates, the Roman theater and its arenas are still well preserved. The city center also has many decorated facades and you can also find the house of Romeo and Juliet, which would have inspired Shakespear.

9) The Botanical Garden of Padua

Created in 1545, the Botanical Garden of Padua is the oldest botanical garden in the world , which is why it is included in the UNESCO heritage list. Although it has kept its original plan: a circular walled garden surrounded by a ribbon of water, new elements have been added, both architectural and practical (pumping and greenhouses). It continues today to inspire scientific research with more than 6000 plants including many medicinal plants.

10) Sirmione and the Scaligero Castle, in Lombardy

Scagliero castle
Scaligero castle – Credits: kordula vahle – Pixabay

Dating back to the 13th century, the Scaligero Castle is located in the spa town of Sirmione, in Lombardy. It represents a very well preserved example of a fortified medieval building. Built in three stages between 1277 and 1405 , its spectacular view of the city and the lake have made it a popular place for tourism since the Middle Ages. You might think it inspired or served as the setting for the Game of Thrones series !

This region on the shores of Lake Garda has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Fishing families lived in houses on stilts on the banks of the lake.

Not far from Sirmione, traces of it have been found in the town of Lugana Vecchia.

Source : UNESCO 

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Mohamed SAKHRI

I am Mohamed SAKHRI, the creator and editor-in-chief of this blog, 'Discover the World – The Blog for Curious Travelers.' Join me as we embark on a journey around the world, uncovering beautiful places, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. Additionally, we will delve into mysterious and, at times, even bizarre destinations.

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