LOMBARDIA/ITALIAN LAKES
Regional Image of Lake LuganoLake Lugano

Milan is the capital of Lombardy, as well as being Italy’s second largest city after Rome and its financial powerhouse. Occupied by successive powers, like most important cities it has been rebuilt many times. Consequently it lacks the medieval charm of other Italian towns but nevertheless has a lot to offer the visitor and is also a good base for other North Italy destinations, such as Lake Como and the Alps. Milan's designer clothes and stylish interior design and furniture shops are a big attraction for style-conscious tourists, as are Milan's museums and galleries which contain some importants works of art. The Brera and the Navigli (canal) districts are both appealing for evening strolls, and are filled with bars, caf?s, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and nightlife venues. The former is trendy and alternative, while the second has a quainter more bohemian feel.

Just thirty minutes south of Milan by train and located on the banks of the Ticino River lies Pavia, a lively university town (founded in 1361) with many Romanesque and Gothic churches and a web of narrow streets to wander about. The town was once protected by watchmen on 100 medieval towers. Sadly, three towers on Piazza da Vinci are all that is left of what must have been an amazing sight. Only 10km away is one of the most outstanding pieces of monastic architecture in all of Italy, the 14th Century Certosa di Pavia. Covered in marble it is carved with enough detail to keep your eyes busy for hours. The monastery's interior is Gothic, with Italian Renaissance features. Bang in the middle of the Po plain, about 90 km east of Pavia, is the small and pretty provincial town of Cremona, known for its violins and a famous violin-making school. Further east and far more evocative is the city of Mantova, also the scene of Verdi’s Rigoletto opera. This ancient walled city is full of grand monuments and works of art which date to the glory years of the Gonzaga dynasty: The family that reigned there from there 1328 until 1708.

Northern Lombardy holds the biggest treats for visitors, with its mountains and many lakes and quintessential lake resorts. Lago di Garda, Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore are the largest and most renowned. Garda (whose eastern and northern shores are actually outside of the Lombardy region) is the largest and cleanest; Como the most aristocratic, surrounded as it is by palatial villas, lush greenery, alpine vistas and rose-laden belvederes; Maggiore the most scenic, though its better-known resorts (such as Stresa which hosts a prestigious international music festival in late August) are located on its western shore in the Piedmont region.

Only 50km northeast of Milan, with a very mountainous feel, Bergamo is actually made up of two parts: Bergamo alta and Bergamo bassa (the upper and lower towns respectively). Bergamo alta hangs high and proud above the Lombardian plain and has a lovely city centre and fresh mountain air; Bergamo bassa is full of long streets and ornate piazzas and is rather overshadowed by the magnificence of the upper town. Brescia, on the other hand, despite being Lombardy’s second-largest city, is a rather less attractive industrial town which has little to entice the visitor.

Regional Image of Lake LuganoLake Lugano

Contrary to popular belief and visitor expectations, Lombardy has in past years been hotter than some of Italy’s southern regions during the summer. In Milan this strange turn-around in climatic affairs is not aided by the fact that the city is located in a mountain-locked plain and is often humid, heavy and airless anyway in summer. The entire region is cold and foggy in winter. The best times to visit are in spring and autumn.

Regional Image of Lake LuganoLake Lugano

Milan and the region are served by two main airports, Malpensa airport, 50 km north-east of Milan, is the principal one, while Linate airport, just 7 km from the city centre of Milan, is smaller. Both are used by domestic and international flights; Easyjet flies to Linate. Ryanair flies to Orio del Serio just outside Bergamo (there are buses and trains to Milan), and to Brescia (there are buses and trains to Verona and Milan). Milan’s main train station is Milano Centrale and the city is servied by an efficient four-line metro system and connecting bus and tram network. There are frequent hydrofoil and ferry services between the towns on the lakes.

Regional Image of Lake LuganoLake Lugano

With all the lakes in this region, water activities and sports are an obvious pastime. Lake Garda is by all accounts the cleanest and offers excellent windsurfing, waterskiing and sailing facilities, as does Lake Como. Torbole, on Lake Garda, is a particularly prime spot for windsurfing. Italy’s most popular amusement park, Gardaland, is located not far from the eastern shores of Lake Garda at Castelnuovo del Garda. The Italian Grand Prix is held on the second Sunday in September at the Monza track, 15km northeast of Milan.

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