Southern Italy just happens to be one of the most popular coastal vacation destinations in the world. However, due north the country is filled with whitecapped mountains, serene lakes and breathtaking terrain covered in apple orchards and wine vineyards. It’s worth ditching that limoncello in Positano for an adventure into Italy’s northern side.
Resting on the rugged Mediterranean coastline between Genoa and Pisa, the Cinque Terre is the most dream-worthy stretch of Italy’s Riviera. European travel authority Rick Steves says, “These five traffic-free villages, all within easy walking distance of each other, each have something to offer but Vernazza, with its ruined castle, strollable breakwater and watercolor huddle of houses, is my favorite.”
Steves always eats well here. “The pesto is made from local basil that thrives in the temperate climate, the seafood is beautiful, and the vino delle Cinque Terre flows cheap and easy,” he explains. “In the evenings, most of the crowds disappear, and the charm comes out. Enjoying a sunset from Ristorante Belforte, with tables embedded in four levels of Vernazza’s old castle, is one of the most romantic experiences you may ever enjoy.”
Steves, host of the popular PBS travel show Rick Steves’ Europe, is the author of several bestselling European guidebooks, the classic travel skills handbook Europe Through the Back Door, and Italy for Food Lovers, a new guide to eating well in Italy.
While overshadowed by Venice, Florence and Rome in the minds of travelers, Milan has plenty to offer anyone who visits. Milan is a city of refined tastes, with an elegant iron-and-glass shopping arcade and one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses: La Scala. Yet, Milan is no more expensive for tourists than any other Italian city.
The centerpiece of Milan is its massive cathedral, the third-largest church in Europe. The fanciful rooftop offers great views of the city, the square, and on clear days, the Italian Alps. “But it’s the architectural details that always grab my attention,” Steves says. “There are countless ornaments here, carved more than five centuries ago in marble, that were never intended to be seen by the public. Each flower, gargoyle and saint’s face is different, an expensive labor of love meant for God’s eyes only.”
After the intensity of Milan, Lake Como (just an hour’s train ride away) provides a great place to simply relax. Lined with palm trees and elegant pastel-colored villas, crowned by snowcapped mountains and a Renoir atmosphere perfect for a picnic. “It seems half the travelers I meet here have tossed their itineraries into the lake,” he notes.
In the village of Varenna you’ll really feel the romance of Europe. Strolling the waterfront promenade, passing by wisteria-drenched villas where caryatid lovers are pressed silently against each other, you’ll understand the importance of choosing the right travel partner, according to Steves.
For an extremely northern slice of Italy, try hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, a loop around Europe’s tallest mountain, taking you through France, Switzerland and Italy. Descend into an Italian valley and spend the night in Courmayeur, a delightful and stony place to enjoy a bit of Italian cuisine.
In Italy’s northernmost region, travelers will find the town of Naturno in the South Tyrol region, nestled between Austria and Switzerland. Known for its Alpine peaks and lake-filled valleys, South Tyrol provides a portal into the tranquility of the undisturbed Mediterranean mountainside. One of the region’s most charming villages is Naturno, with premier access to hiking, local produce and wines, and historic art exhibitions. It’s a few hours from Verona, one of Italy’s most iconic and romantic destinations.
A five-star luxury wellness resort, Preidlhof offers the most rejuvenating stay in Naturno. With views of the nearby Dolomites and proximity to the vineyard-surrounded Lake Kaltern and the spectacular Stilfser Joch National Park, Preidlhof gives guests a gateway to relaxing exploration. Inside the resort, Preidlhof focuses on holistic wellness, offering nine distinct wellness retreats, consultations with wellness experts and physicians, and access to ten pools, a six-floor sauna tower, premier spa, gourmet restaurant and more.
The resort has 71 rooms and five penthouse suites, including a sleep suite. Each room also has the opportunity for sleeping on the balcony. The bed is smaller than the room’s standard king, but still very comfortable. There is nightly turndown service where someone will make the outdoor bed and turn on the heater, if needed. Popular spa treatments include the Transformational Wellness, Glowing Flow and Women’s Health wellness retreats, as well as olive oil massages, orange oil massages, sleep massage, thermal water massages in an infinity pool, color therapy, sound and quartz massage, cloud massage and Yaku Shiatsu.
Menu items from the onsite restaurant include traditional German, Italian and Mediterranean dishes, including lasagna, truffle risotto, wiener schnitzel, fresh fish and a wellness menu for those visiting the resort for health goals. The wellness menu has been carefully devised by expert chefs to include all the flavors and health benefits of the Mediterranean diet while remaining free of gluten, lactose, soy and sugar. Many of the ingredients are sourced from the resort’s garden and stock, including herbs, jams, honey, speck and even wine.
The scenery is the pride of the region. Travelers can experience the beauty of northern Italy by biking or hiking the terrain, or swimming in the area’s many lakes. Preidlhof offers guided e-bike tours, group sunrise hikes, forest bathing excursions, as well as award-winning cuisine that is sourced from the region and wine tasting at local vineyards. The area also boasts several historical venues, including the Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, the seventh-century St. Proculus Church and the Hochnaturns Castle.
South Tyrol, with its rich vineyards, is a wine lover’s paradise. Stroll through majestic landscapes and unspoiled nature while savoring the true essence of this product. Soak in the open air while admiring the beauty of the terraces, at the table being treated to its full flavor and in the thermal spas enjoying its therapeutic properties. Scattered throughout this enchanting region are exclusive facilities where you can indulge in the excellence of the area and experience the benefits of wine therapy.
Scrubs, massages and various types of treatments are carried out with grape seeds, the waste products of wine production, or actual wine to restore psycho-physical well-being.
No matter where you choose to travel in Italy, be it north, south east or west you’re sure to discover a vast array of wonderful experiences. However, Northern Italy has a charm all its own that must be experienced in order to be appreciated.
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