Frommer's Italy (2015)

Lake Como.

Lombardy and Piedmont are the powerhouses of northern Italy, thanks to the sprawling but charming cities of Milan and Turin, thriving on the industries that drive this region forward. Agriculture plays its part here also, from the rice fields of the fertile eastern Lombardy plains to the hilly vineyards and hazelnut groves of Piedmont.

MILAN (MILANO) Red-Star3_redstar3

552km (342 miles) NW of Rome, 288km (179 miles) NW of Florence, 257km (159 miles W of Venice) 140km (87 miles) NE of Turin, 142km (88 miles) N of Genoa

Milan is elegant, chaotic, and utterly beguiling in turn. Traffic chokes the streets, and it can be bitterly cold in winter and stiflingly hot in summer, yet its architecture is majestic and the robust Northern Italian cuisine warming. It’s a world-beater on the international fashion stage, the banking capital of Italy, a wealthy city of glamorous people and stylish shopping streets.

And Milan has history. As well as the Roman ruins, the soaring duomo and its majestic piazza, the galleries are stuffed with priceless artworks, and there are ancient churches, medieval castles, Renaissance palaces, and amazing contemporary architecture to admire.

In 2015 Milan welcomes 29 million visitors for the 6-month-long citywide extravaganza that is the World Expo. Running from May 1 through October 31, the theme of this exposition is feeding the planet. At press time, the construction of a new exhibition complex was well underway around Pero and Rho, just northwest of the centro storico. Here a new cluster of world-class architecture has grown up in the CityLife district, headed by the innovative towers built by archi-stars Arata Isozaki, Daniel Libeskind, and Zaha Hadid.

Naturally, Expo 2015 will have an effect on tourism in the city, opening up exciting exhibitions from across the world but possibly also crowding out public transport and causing a hike in accommodation prices. Go to http://en.expo2015.org/milan for up-to-date details.

Essentials

GETTING THERE

BY PLANE    Both of Milan’s major airports are operated by SEA (www.seamilano.eu; Black-Phone_bphone 02-232-323). Milan Malpensa, 45km (28 miles) northwest of the center, is Milan’s major international airport. The Malpensa Express train (www.malpensaexpress.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-7249-4494), costs 10€ and leaves from Terminal 1 with a 30-minute run half-hourly to Cadorna train station, or hourly to Stazione Centrale (45 min). Buses also run directly to Stazione Centrale in 50 minutes five times per hour— Malpensa Shuttle (www.malpensashuttle.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-5858-3185) or Autostradale (www.autostradale.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-5858-7304)—and both cost 10€ per single journey or 16€ roundtrip. By taxi, the trip into town costs a wallet-stripping 90€ and takes about 50 minutes. It’s the only option after midnight.

Milan Linate, 7km (4.5 miles) east of the center, handles European and domestic flights. Air Bus (www.atm-mi.it; Black-Phone_bphone 800-80-81-81) makes the 25-minute trip by bus every 30 minutes between 6am and midnight from Linate to Milan’s Stazione Centrale for 5€. City bus no. 73 leaves every 10 minutes for the San Babila Metro stop downtown (1.50€ for a ticket bought inside the airport, 2€ onboard, exact change required) and takes 25 minutes. The express no. 73X is faster and departs every 20 minutes between 7am and 8pm, with tickets costing 1.50€. The trip into town by taxi costs roughly 20€.

Malpensa Shuttle buses also connect Malpensa and Linate airports with five daily services between 9:30am and 6:20pm. The trip takes 90 minutes and costs 13€ (roundrip 26€).

BY TRAIN    Milan is one of Europe’s busiest rail hubs. Trains travel every half-hour to Bergamo (1 hr.), Mantua (2 hr.), and Turin (1 hr. by AV [high-speed train]). Stazione Centrale is a half-hour walk northeast of the center, with easy connections to Piazza del Duomo by Metro, tram, and bus. The station stop on the Metro is Centrale F.S. The multilingual automatic ticket machines (ATMs) take cash and credit cards but not debit cards. Always validate your ticket in the yellow machine in front of the train before travel.

Stazione Centrale is Milan’s major station, but trains also serve Cadorna (Como and Malpensa airport), and Porta Garibaldi (Lecco and the north). All these stations are on the green Metro Linea 2. The TGV service from Paris Gare de Lyons to Milan Porta Garibaldi runs five trains a day (7 hrs.; tickets start at 98€).

BY BUS    Long-distance buses are useful for reaching the ski resorts in Valle d’Aosta. Most bus services depart from Lampugnano bus terminal (Metro: Lampugnano) although some originate in Piazza Castello (Metro: Cairoli). Autostradale (www.autostradale.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-5858-7304) operates most of the bus lines and has ticket offices in front of Castello Sforzesco on Piazza Castello, open daily 8:30am to 6pm, and on Via Paleocapa 1, outside Cadorna train station, open daily 7am to 7pm. Savda (www.savda.it; 0165-367-011) runs five daily buses (more in the winter) between Milan Lampugnano, Aosta (21⁄2 hr.; 16.50€), and Courmayeur (31⁄2 hr.; 19€).

BY CAR    Milan is well served by Italy’s autostrada network. The A1 links Milan with Florence (3 hr.) and Rome (6 hr.), and the A4 connects Milan with Verona (2 hr.) and Venice (21⁄2 hr.) to the east and Turin (1 hr.) to the west.

GETTING AROUND

BY TRAIN    Milan’s most famous sights are within walking distance of each other, but the public transport system, an integrated sytem of Metro, trams, and buses, run by ATM, is a cheap and effective alternative to walking. The Metro closes at midnight (Sat at 1am), but buses and trams run all night. Metro stations are well signposted; trains are speedy, clean, safe, and frequent—they run every couple of minutes during the day and about every 5 minutes after 9pm. Tickets for 90 minutes of travel travel on Metro, trams, or buses cost 1.50€. A 24-hour unlimited travel ticket is a better value at 4.50€ and a 2-day ticket goes for 8.25€. Tickets are available at Metro stations (all machines have English-language options; the 24-hr. ticket option is listed under “Urban”) and newsstands. Stamp your ticket when you board a bus or tram—there is a 10€ fine if you don’t. For more information, visit the ATM information offices in the Duomo Metro, Stazione Centrale, and Cadorna, all open Monday to Saturday, 7:45am to 7:15pm (www.atm.it; Black-Phone_bphone 800-808-181).

Lines 1 (red, with stops at Cairoli for Castello Sforzesco and Duomo for Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Duomo) and 3 (yellow, with a stop at Via Montenapoleone) are the most useful for sightseeing.

BY CAR    Driving and parking in Milan are not experiences to be relished, and the Area C congestion charge of 5€ is payable to enter the centro storico Monday to Friday, 7:30am to 7:30pm. The one-way system is complicated; some streets are the sole preserve of public transport, and there are many pedestrianized areas. Hotels will make parking arrangements for guests.

BY TAXI    Taxis are located in major piazze and by major Metro stops. There is a taxi stand in Piazza del Duomo and outside Castello Sforzesco; a journey between the two will cost around 7€. Hotel reception staff can organize taxis or a reliable company is Taxiblu at Black-Phone_bphone 02-4040. Meters start at 4.70€ and prices increase by 1.03€ per kilometer. Expect surcharges for waiting time, luggage, late-night travel, and Sunday journeys.

BY BIKE    The streets of the centro storico are largely pedestrianized so are suitable for cycling. Milan’s bike-sharing program, BikeMi, is a great way to explore the city. The tariff for the pass is typically convoluted: For 2.50€ a day or 6€ a week, you can buy a pass that allows 30 minutes of free travel. The next 2 hours are charged at 0.50€ per 30 minutes (or fraction of it) up until 2 hours, and thereafter your time is charged at 2€ per hour or fraction of it. Pick up one of the distinctive custard-yellow bikes at racks from outside Castello Sfozesco and the Duomo as well as at tram, bus, and metro stops. Buy your pass online (www.bikemi.com); at the ATM Points at Centrale, Cadorna, Garibaldi, and Duomo stations from 7:45am to 7:15pm; or by calling toll-free Black-Phone_bphone 800-80-81-81.

ON FOOT    The attractions of the centro storico are all accessible on foot. From Piazza del Duomo, Via Montenapoleone is a 10-minute walk through Piazza della Scala and along Via Manzoni, and it is a 15-minute walk to Castello Sforzesco. Santa Maria delle Grazie and “The Last Supper” are a 30-minute stroll from Piazza del Duomo on Corso Magenta.

VISITOR INFORMATION

The main Azienda di Promozione Turistica (APT) tourist office is at Piazza Castello 1 (www.visitamilano.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-7740-4343). It’s open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 1:30pm and 2 to 6pm, and Sunday 9am to 1:30pm and 2 to 5pm. There is an office in Stazione Centrale (Black-Phone_bphone 02-7740-4318), in front of tracks 13 and 14, open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday and Sun from 9am to 12:30pm.

CITY LAYOUT

Milan developed as a series of circles radiating out from the central hub, Piazza del Duomo. Within the inner circle are most of the churches, museums, and shops of the centro storicoParco Sempione and Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” are in the well-heeled neighborhood of Magenta. The slightly grungy cafe-filled districts of Porta Ticinese and Navigli lie directly south, with genteel Brera and its classy stores and restaurants to the north. The Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Rectangle) is the mecca of Milanese fashion shoppers and is northeast of the Duomo, with Via Tortona near the Navigli fast catching up in terms of fashion cachet. The mini-Dubai of the burgeoning new financial district is growing up between Porta Garibaldi and Centrale stations, while the towers of CityLife mark the Expo 2015 Exposition Center in Rho.

Exploring Milan’s Piazza del Duomo.

facts_factfacts MILAN

ATMs/Banks    Banks with multilingual ATMs are all over the city center. Opening hours are roughly Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1:30pm and 3 to 4pm, with major branches opening Saturday morning for a couple of hours. Central branches may also stay open through lunch.

Business Opening Hours    Most stores in central Milan are open Tuesday to Saturday, 9:30am to 7.30pm, with a half-day Monday (3:30–7:30pm). Most shops close on Sundays and some still close for lunch between 12:30 and 3:30pm.

Consulates    U.S. Consulate is at Via PrincipAmedeo 2/10 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-2903-5333), is open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to noon for emergencies, otherwise by appointment (Metro: Turati). Canadian Consulate is at Via Vittor Pisani 19 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-67-581); it’s open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 4pm. The British Consulate is at Via San Paolo 7 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-723-001), open Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 4:30pm (Metro: Duomo). The Australian Consulate, at Via Borgogna 2 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-777-041), is open Monday to Thursday, 9am to noon and 2 to 4pm (Metro: San Babila). New Zealand Consulate is at Via Terraggio 17 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-7217-0001); it’s open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 12:30pm (Metro: Cadorna).

Crime    For police emergencies, dial Black-Phone_bphone 113 (a free call); English-speaking staff in the tourist police are at Black-Phone_bphone 02-863-701. There is a police station in Stazione Centrale but the Questura is the main stationjust west of the Giardini Pubblici at Via Fatebenefratelli 11 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-62-261; Metro: Turati).

Dentists    Excellence Dental Network has a practice at Corso Europa 10 (www.excellencedentalnetwork.com; Black-Phone_bphone 02-7628-0498) with English-speaking staff.

Doctors    Milan Medical Center at Via Angelo Mauri 3 is 5 minutes from Cadorna station. (www.milanmedicalcenter.it; Black-Phone_bphone 338-1651-324 for emergencies). The staff is multilingual.

Drugstores    Pharmacies rotate 24-hour shifts; dial Black-Phone_bphone 192 to reach the all-night pharmacy that’s open on a given day. Signs in most pharmacies post the schedule. The Farmacia Stazione Centrale (Black-Phone_bphone 02-669-0735) in Stazione Centrale is always open 24 hours daily and the staff speaks English.

Emergencies    All emergency numbers are free. Call Black-Phone_bphone 112 for a general emergency; this connects to the Carabinieri, who will transfer your call as needed; for the police, dial Black-Phone_bphone 113; for a medical emergency or an ambulance, call Black-Phone_bphone 118; for the fire department, call Black-Phone_bphone 115.

Hospitals and Doctors    The Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico (Black-Phone_bphone 02-55-031) is centrally located, a 5-minute walk southeast of the Duomo at Via Francesco Sforza 35 (Metro: Duomo or Missori). Most of the medical personnel speak English.

Internet    The free Open Wi-Fi Milano network is installed in 500 hotspots all over the city, with Internet access for phones, tablets, and laptops. In addition, most Milanese hotels, bars, and cafes offer free Wi-Fi. For an Internet cafe, try Hard Disk Café, Corso Sempione 44; it’s open daily from 7am to 2am.

Post Office    The main post office, Poste e Telecommunicazioni, is at Via Cordusio 4 (Black-Phone_bphone 02-7248-2126; Metro: Cordusio). It’s open Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm and Saturday 8:30am to 1:50pm. The post office in Stazione Centrale is open Monday to Friday 8am to 5:30pm and Saturday from 8:15am to 3:30pm. Most other branches are open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 1:30pm.

Safety    Milan is generally safe, although public parks and the area around Stazione Centrale are best avoided at night.

Where to Stay

Milan is northern Italy’s biggest commercial center, big on banking and industry. Until recently many of its hotels have chased expense-account customers to the detriment of tourists and families. The winds of change are blowing, however, and the city is seeing a flowering of cosy, independent locandas and albergos as well as design-conscious and mega-cool boutique hotels to complement the grand old institutions.

As Milan is a commercial center, prices are often higher during the week than on the weekend. Room rates soar when the high-fashion bandwagon is in town (late Feb and late Sept) and are also expected to rise during Expo 2015.

EXPENSIVE

Hotel Principe di Savoia Red-Star2_redstar2    This lovely, grand Beaux Arts institution is now part of the Dorchester Collection, which has busily been collecting famous hotels in Europe and on the west coast of the U.S. There’s still nowhere better for a truly luxurious stay in Milan, where every conceivable guest whim can be swiftly addressed. The hotel offers a five-star respite from the urban intensity of Milan in the shape of serene gardens, a soothing top-floor spa, a choice of restaurants serving up quality Italian food, and opulent, suitably swagged rooms and suites. Former guests include George Clooney, Madonna, and the boys of One Direction, among others. Not surprisingly this luxury comes at a price, but for a bit of old-fashioned glamour, there’s nowhere else like it.

Piazza Della Repubblica 17. www.dorchestercollection.com/en/milan/hotel-principe-di-savoia. Red-Phone_redphone 02-623-01. 301 units. 250€–510€ double; 310€–4,700€ suite. Free parking valet service extra. Metro: Repubblica. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; concierge; room service; babysitting; spa; gym; indoor pool; Wi-Fi (free/high-speed service 9€ per day).

Milanosuites Red-Star3_redstar3    Long-considered one of the best-kept secrets in Milan, the former Antica Locanda dei Mercanti had a thorough facelift and re-emerged as the elegant, light-filled Milanosuites in the charming 18th-century townhouse on the appealing rabble of streets between the Castello Sforzesco and Piazza del Duomo. The number of guest rooms was cut down to make way for glamorous suites that are graced with parquet floors and simple white furnishings; all have living rooms and some have kitchenettes. Families can book a suite with two bedrooms. Breakfast in served in a pretty room on the ground floor.

Via San Tomaso 8. www.milanosuites.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-8909-6849. 5 units. 280€–320€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Cordusio or Cairoli. Amenities: Concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

MODERATE

Antica Locanda Leonardo Red-Star3_redstar3    This lovely old-school albergo in snooty Corso Magenta looks inwards on a surprisingly tranquil courtyard garden. It’s like stepping into a family home; the rooms have been extensively revamped but still retain their wonderfully traditional feel, with heavy antique headboards and dressers, gilt mirrors, and elegant draperies. The bathrooms have also been dragged into the 21st century, but the cozy lounge and breakfast room remain delightfully of a former age. The pricier courtyard-facing rooms, most of which have tiny wrought-iron balconies, deflect the late-night noise on Corso Magenta.

Corso Magenta 78. www.anticalocandaleonardo.com. Red-Phone_redphone 02-4801-4197. 20 units. 125€–160€ double (courtyard side are more expensive). Rates include breakfast. Parking 26€ per day. Metro: Concilliazione. Amenities: Concierge; Wi-Fi (free).

nhow Milan Red-Star2_redstar2    A boutique hotel that is currently the darling of the fashion set, the nhow is part of a chain intent on providing stylish, well-priced accommodation, but somehow it feels a bit soulless. The sleek reception area sets the scene with an orange color scheme straight from the 1960s, only to be outdone by the lime-green furnishings in the minimalist bar, usually inhabited by gossiping elongated models. Glass elevators whiz up to rooms kitted out in white and slashes of bright color; the standard rooms are compact with walk-in showers. The fourth floor is the preserve of stylish, loft-style suites with views over Milan’s burgeoning Zona Tortona fashion district. Porta Genova Metro station is close by.

Via Tortona 35. www.nhow-milan.com. Red-Phone_redphone 02-489-8861. 246 units. 160€–245€ double; 370€–3,600€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Parking 25€ per day. Metro: Porto Genova. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; spa; gym; Wi-Fi (free).

INEXPENSIVE

BioCity Hotel Red-Star3_redstar3    This fab little albergo offers the best value for accommodation in Milan. It’s all a budget hotel should be: small and pristine, with a miniscule bar and breakfast room and a tiny terrace out back—and it’s eco-friendly. Guest rooms are stylish, with big bathrooms that would enhance a four-star hotel. The reception area manages to squeeze in a little lounge that’s furnished with edgy pieces. Plus there’s even a tiny shop selling organic goodies. Operated by genial, well-informed owners, the BioCity is a few minutes’ walk from Stazione Centrale in an area kindly referred to as “up and coming” but close to Metro Linea 3 straight into the centro storico.

   Milan’s Shut-Down Mondays

Don’t get caught out when planning your trip to Milan; bear in mind that almost the whole city closes down on Monday. Most popular attractions, churches, and state-owned museums, with the exception of the Duomo (see p. 373) and the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, which has Tuesday off instead, are closed all day. Around half the stores shut in the morning too, with most reopening around 3:30 to 7:30pm.

Via Edolo 18. www.biocityhotel.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-6670-3595. 17 units. 72€–90€ double. Rates include breakfast. Street parking free; covered parking 20€ per day. Metro: Sondrio. Amenities: Bar; Wi-Fi (free).

Where to Eat

There are thousands of eateries in Milan, from pizzerias to grand old cafes, gourmand Michelin-starred restaurants in highfalutin surroundings to corner bars with a great selection of aperitivo-time tapas, gelaterie to traditional osterie. Avoid the obvious tourist traps along Via Dante or indeed any place that has a menu showing photos of the dishes and you can’t go far wrong.

Cocktail hour starts at around 6:30pm. Around that time, a tapas-like spread of olives, crudités, cold pasta dishes, rice and green salads, salamis, and breads make its appearance in every city bar worth its salt. This is when the Milanese appear as if by magic, from shopping or work, to meet up for cocktails, a bitter Campari, or a glass of prosecco. By the time aperitivo hour is over, thoughts turn towards supper and the restaurants start to fill up. This phenomenon takes place all over Milan. Every night.

EXPENSIVE

Restaurant Giacomo Arengario Red-Star3_redstar3 NORTHERN ITALIAN    Deserving of three stars just for its views of the Duomo, this super-hot spot is currently the number-one choice for smartly attired Milanese business lunchers and it’s just as popular with tourists for the view. There’s a smart little bar reminiscent of a Marrakesh casbah on acid where aperitivi are served early in the evening, but the real point here is to get seated by those plate-glass windows and gawk at the Duomo. The menu is a gourmet take on Milanese specialties; fritto misto comes fried in a lighter-than-light batter and is simply delicious accompanied by a spicy rocket salad, while the risotto comes perfectly prepared and slips down a treat with a glass of prosecco. There’s a cover charge of 5€.

Via Guglielmo Marconi 1. www.giacomoarengario.com. Red-Phone_redphone 02-7602-3313. Main courses 18€–50€. Daily noon–midnight. Metro: Duomo.

Sadler Red-Star2_redstar2 MODERN ITALIAN    Fast catching up with Cracco (www.ristorantecracco.it) as the most feted Michelin-starred restaurant in Milan, Sadler is the brainchild of chef Claudio Sadler. There are five dining rooms designed in soothing tans and golds, with the occasional Baroque flourish of cherubs flashing across the walls. The delicately presented dishes include modern-day takes on risotto Milanese, lobster carpaccio, and tiny, tiny burgers made of snapper. Delicious desserts include rhubarb sorbet flavored with carrot and Campari or bitter chocolate pudding. Set menus vary in price from expensive to stratospheric but the ambience is pleasantly relaxed for such stellar cooking; Sadler himself is present for much of the time and enjoys discussing his menus with guests. Reservations are mandatory.

Via Ascanio Sforza 77. www.sadler.it. Red-Phone_redphone 025-810-4451. Set menus 70€–160€. Tues–Sat 7:30–11pm. Metro: Romolo.

MODERATE

Hostaria Borromei Red-Star2_redstar2 LOMBARDY    This stalwart Milanese favorite with a delicious down-home vibe and hearty Lombardian gastronomy needs booking in advance for weekend dining, especially on the vineyard terrace for summer dining. The menu features polenta, thick homemade noodle pastas, saffron-flavored risotto, the famed veal shank dish osso bucco, and plenty of seafood. Seasonal cheeses and traditional puddings such as tiramisu and panna cotta round off a warming dining experience in lively surroundings.

Via Borromei 4. www.hostariaborromei.com. Red-Phone_redphone 02-8645-3760. Main courses 18€–44€. Mon–Fri 12:30–2:45pm and 7:30–10:45pm; Sat–Sun 7:30–10:45pm. Metro: Cordusio or Duomo.

Osteria il Kaimano Red-Star2_redstar2 NORTHERN ITALIAN    A good pick among the buzzing restaurants and bars of Brera, this casual, gently chaotic osteria is just the job for people-watching, Saturday lunchtime, or a late-night dinner. The menu of pasta and pizza staples may not be vastly different from the other Brera dining options—Sans Egal (Vicolo Fiori 2; www.sansegal.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-869-3096) and Nabucco (Via Fiori Chiari 10; www.nabucco.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-860-663) are also good choices—but here the atmosphere and service shine. Strong choices include the zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta for starters (12€) and vast pizzas that continually pile out of the wood-burning oven. There’s a little terrace on the street for summer eating, but in winter the smokers are all relocated here.

Via Fiori Chiari 20. Red-Phone_redphone 02-8050-2733. Main courses 15€–40€. Daily noon–2:30pm, 6–11:30pm. Metro: Lanza Brera.

Pizzeria La Tradizionale Red-Star2_redstar2 PIZZERIA    One of the busiest pizzerias in Milan is found down at the Navigli; it’s a simple affair, with checked tablecloths and wildly frescoed walls. La Tradizionale is always crammed with happy families devouring enormous crispy pizzas piled high with local salamis and mozzarella as well as vast bowls of garlic-infused spaghetti vongole (clams). The house wines can be a bit rough but there are decent Chiantis and Soaves on the wine list. There’s always plenty of backchat between waiting staff and guests and the noise really ratchets up as the night goes on. Altogether a fun night out.

Ripa di Porta Ticinese 7. Red-Phone_redphone 02-839-5133. Main courses 12€–30€. Thurs–Tues noon–2:30pm and 6–11:30pm. Metro: Porta Genova.

Zucca in Galleria Red-Star2_redstar2 CAFE    The coffee chain Zucca is a venerable Milan institution, and this branch on the corner of Piazza del Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II first opened its doors in 1867. It has to be the city’s number one hotspot for people-watching. Position yourself at a little table on a Saturday morning, order an inky-black espresso, and settle back to admire dagger-heeled fashionistas stalking the designer shops in the Galleria. Alternatively, prop up the bar in the gorgeous Belle Epoque interior to admire all the bird mosaics.

An aerial view of Milan.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. www.caffemiani.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-8646-4435. Main courses 12€–45€. Tues–Sun 7:30am–8:30pm. Closed Aug. Metro: Duomo.

Exploring Milan

Remember to dress modestly when visiting Milan’s churches; no short shorts for either sex, women must have their shoulders covered, and skirts must be below the knee. The dress code at the Duomo is particularly strict.

Castello Sforzesco Red-Star1_redstar1 MUSEUM    Although it has lived many lives under several different occupiers and been restored many times, this fortified castle is the masterpiece of Milan’s two most powerful medieval and Renaissance dynasties, the Visconti and the Sforza. The Visconti built the castle (and the Duomo) in the 14th century before the Sforzas married into their clan, eclipsed their power, and took their castle in the 1450s, turning it into one of the most gracious palaces of the Renaissance. Sforza capo Ludovico il Moro and his wife Beatrice d’Este also helped transform Milan into one of Italy’s great centers of the Renaissance by commissioning works by Bramante, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. Its most recent restoration was at the hands of architect Luca Beltrami at the end of the 19th century, and it opened as a museum in 1905.

Today the castle houses a dozen museums and archives, known as the Musei del Castello Sforzesco. Many of the Sforza treasures are on view in the miles of rooms that surround the castle’s labyrinthine courtyards, stairways, and corridors. They include a pinacoteca with works by Bellini and Correggio plus Spanish Mannerists Ribera and Ricci. The extensive holdings of the Museo d’Arte Antica include the final work of 89-year-old Michelangelo; his evocative, unfinished “Pietà Rondanini” is found in the Sala degli Scarlioni.

On the second floor, the highlight of the decorative arts collection is the “Cassone del Tre Duchi,” a chest commissioned by the Sforzas in 1494 and decorated with images of the dukes in full military regalia. The main attractions of the applied art galleries are the exquisite Trivulzio Tapestries by Bramantino in the Sala della Balla.

Piazza Castello. www.milanocastello.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-8846-3700. Castle courtyards: Free admission. Daily 7am–6pm (summer until 7pm). Musei del Castello Sforzesco: Admission 3€ (free Tues–Thurs and Sat–Sun 4:30–5:30pm; Fri 2–5:30pm). Tues–Sun 9am–5:30pm (last admission 30 min. before closing). Metro: Cairoli.

Duomo di Milano Red-Star3_redstar3 CHURCH    Although there has been a church here since at least A.D. 355, building started on the present exterior of Milan’s magnificent Gothic Duomo in the late 14th century to a design by Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351–1402); the marble slabs for the Neo-Gothic facade were transported from quarries bordering Lake Maggiore into the city along the Navigli canals. It was consecrated in 1418, but the enormous dome wasn’t added until the 16th century and the Duomo was not deemed complete until 1965, when the mammoth cast-bronze doors were finally finished.

Today the cathedral’s facade has emerged sparkling from the scaffolding that has engulfed it since 2009—although restoration work continues down its southern flank—and it once again dominates the vast, traffic-free Piazza del Duomo (see p. 377). Able to accommodate 40,000 people, it is one of the world’s largest churches (St. Peter’s in Rome takes the record) and the embellished triangular facade is encrusted with flying buttresses plus around 2,300 statues and gargoyles. Pinnacles bristle on the domed roof, topped by a 5m (16-ft.) gilded figure of the Virgin Mary, known as La Madonnina and regarded as Milan’s lucky mascot.

SPYING ON MILAN

Take the trip up to the Duomo roof for spine-tingling views across the rooftops of Milan and, on a clear day, to the Alps beyond. The elevators (10€) are found on the church’s northeast corner and stairs (6€) on the north flank. As well as the panorama, you can get up close with the Gothic pinnacles, saintly statues, and flying buttresses as well as the spire-top gold statue of “La Madonnina” (the little Madonna, the city’s beloved good-luck charm). The elevator is open daily (summer 9am–5:45pm; winter until 4:45pm).

 Other sneaky viewpoints over the Duomo include the food market on the top floor of classy department store La Rinascente (see p. 382) and the posh Restaurant Giacomo Arengario (see p. 370) at the Museo del Novecento (see p. 376). To look down on Parco Sempione and the crowds in the Triennale Design Museum, take the elevator up Torre Branca near the north end of the park (Viale Alemagna, open mid-May–mid Sept, hours vary).

The interior of the Duomo is surprisingly subdued and serene, despite the hordes of tourists who pour in daily. The floors are of complex patterned marble reflecting patterns of sunlight as it streams through jewel-like stained-glass windows. Rows of 52 marble columns divide the space into five cavernous aisles, and the side chapels are dotted with Renaissance and Mannerist tombs.

In the crypt, the Baptistero di San Giovanni alle Fonti reveals the remains of the octagonal 4th-century foundations of the original church (ticket included in admission to the Museo del Duomo), which is almost certainly where Sant’Ambrogio, patron saint and Bishop of Milan in A.D. 374, christened the great missionary St. Augustine. Pride of place in the Treasury goes to the ornate gilded tomb of Carlo Borromeo (see p. 400), Archbishop of Milan and leader of the Counter-Reformation, who died in 1584.

Piazza del Duomo. www.duomomilano.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-7202-2656. Free admission. Daily 7am–7pm. Metro: Duomo.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Red-Star2_redstar2 SHOPPING MALL    Milan’s most elegant shopping arcade links the Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Scala, site of the famous opera house. The gallery is entered through an enormous Neo-Classical triumphal archway leading to a shopping mall blessed with ornate marble flooring and a massive octagonal glass dome. Inside, the arcade is lined with genteel grand cafes such as Zucca, Biffi, and Il Savini, where the local elite gather to dine after a night at the opera. The designer stores currently include Gucci, Swarovski, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Tod’s.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was the masterpiece of Bolognese architect Giuseppe Mengoni, designed in the 1870s to mark the unification of Italy under King Vittorio Emanuele II; the mosaic and fresco decorations incorporate patriotic symbols and coats of arms of various Italian cities. Unfortunately Mengoni never saw his magnus opus flourishing as he died in a fall from scaffolding the day before it opened in 1878. Today giggling crowds gather under the soaring central dome to dance on the private parts of the little mosaic bull in the floor; legend dictates it’s a short cut to a lifetime of happiness.

Piazza del Duomo. Open 24 hours. Metro: Duomo.

Museo Archeologico Red-Star2_redstar2 MUSEUM    Milan’s beautifully curated archaeology museum is no dusty old relic but a vibrant, fascinating exhibition housed among the cloisters, towers, and courtyards of the 8th-century convent of Monastero Maggiore of San Maurizio in a series of airy galleries. The museum is subdivided into eight themed exhibitions, including Ancient Milanese, Greek, and Etruscan displays and built around remains of a villa and a section of the 4th-century Roman walls that once fortified Milan. Roman Milan was known as Mediolanum; this area of the city is particularly rich in ruins dating back to the time when it was capital of the Western Roman Empire. Most of the treasures exhibited were excavated locally.

   Milano Discount Card

The MilanoCard (www.milanocard.it) offers a great deal on Milan sightseeing at just 6.50€ for 24 hours or 13€ for 3 days. You get a lot for your buck, including free travel on all public transport, discounts in some stores and restaurants, and discounted entry to more than 20 museums and galleries. Each card is valid for one adult and a child under 12. Brilliant value for the money.

MILAN’S TIME-TRAVEL CHURCHES

Milan has been an important center of Christianity since Emperor Constantine sanctioned the faith in A.D. 313. There are more than 100 churches in Milan and, like the Duomo, many Milanese churches lie on pagan origins and in these, layer upon layer of history can be stripped back to their early remains.

 Two such churches are on Corso di Porta Ticinese. The Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore was built in the 4th century—from rubble removed from the amphitheater nearby—at the same time as the 16 Corinthian columns standing outside. The church now has a 16th-century facade, but inside fragments of the original building survive: The octagonal, white-washed Cappella di Sant’Aquilino retains pieces of the 4th-century gold mosaic that once covered all the walls, and to the right of this are stairs leading down to the foundations of the first basilica.

 A step further along Corso di Porta Ticinese leads to the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio, which has undergone many facelifts. The foundations of the original 4th-century church are behind the altar in the basilica, but the present Neo-Romanesque facade dates from 1865. The ornate Cappella Portinari dates from the 15th century and was built as a memorial to St. Peter.

 In Piazza Sant’Ambrogio you’ll find the sublime Lombard Romanesque Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. Built over a Roman cemetery, the church was extensively remodeled from the 8th to 11th centuries, and it is here that the remains of Milan’s patron saint, Ambrogio, are housed. The glittering mosaics in the apse and wall frescoes in the side chapels show scenes from the life of the saint, and a great gold altar constructed in the 9th century holds his remains.

 The Baroque church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Brera was built over the remains of a Romanesque basilica and partly remodeled in 1400, but most of its present incarnation dates from 1447. The Gothic-Lombard facade was added in 1880, making the church a true mish-mash of styles.

The museum now incorporates a glimpse inside a third-century defense tower, which has traces of medieval frescoes on its rounded walls; these portray Jesus showing his stigmata to St. Francis. Highlights of the collections include the 1st-century B.C. mosaic pavement unearthed nearby in 1913; the stunning, gleaming 4th-century Trivulzio Diattreta Cup, made of the finest hand-blown glass; and the busts of various emperors from Caesar onwards.

Corso Magenta 15. www.comune.milano.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-8844-5208. Admission 2€ adults, 1€ seniors, students and under 14. Free Fri after 2pm. Tues–Sun 9am–5:30pm. Metro: Cadorna.

Museo del Duomo Red-Star3_redstar3 MUSEUM    The new jewel in the crown of Milan’s museums opened in November 2013 on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale. Enter on the left of the courtyard, to the right of the Duomo as you look at the facade. Unimaginable treasures from the Duomo are displayed here in an imaginatively curated exhibition, leading visitors on a chronological journey through the life of both Milan and its cathedral. Highlights among the carved cherubs, angels, and Renaissance Madonnas include a room full of startling gargoyles, ethereal 15th-century stained-glass works, scale wooden models of the cathedral, and the original supporting structure of “La Madonnina” (see p. 373), who has adorned the Duomo rooftop since 1774. Perhaps the standout piece is “Jesus and the Moneylenders” by Tintoretto, rediscovered by happy accident in the Duomo sacristy after World War II.

Piazza Duomo 12. http://museo.duomomilano.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-7202-2656. Admission 6€, 4€ under 26 and seniors. Tues–Sun 10am–6pm. Metro: Duomo.

Museo del Novecento Red-Star1_redstar1 MUSEUM    The futuristic building of the city’s museum of 20th-century art forms a modernistic wing of the Palazzo Reale in Piazza del Duomo and opened in 2010. It is accessed by a circular concrete passageway, which wends its way up to the museum entrance on the third floor. The undisputed star of the collection is Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s “The Fourth Estate” (1901), which is free for all to admire in the circular passageway outside the museum. Otherwise the collection showcases Italian modern art from Futurist to Arte Povera and is intended to prove that Italy’s contribution to the world of art did not halt with the Renaissance. It starts off strongly with Modiglianis and works by esteemed Futurist Boccioni in a splendid series of light, marble galleries but quickly looses its way among some fairly mundane landscapes and abstract work. There are some brilliant bursts of genius in the exhibition, such as the magnificent “Philosopher’s Troubles” (1926) by Giorgio de Chirico and the moving “Thirst” (1934) by sculptor Arturo Martini, so stick with it. The temporary exhibitions of the Palazzo Reale are accessible by the exit from the museum but be warned, the signage is confusing.

Palazzo dell’Argenario, Piazza Duomo 12. www.museodelnovecento.org. Red-Phone_redphone 02-7634-0809. Admission 5€ adults, 3€ students and seniors, free for all Fri after 3:30pm. Audioguide 5€. Mon 2:30–7:30pm, Tues–Sun 9:30am–7:30pm (Thurs, Sat until 10:30pm). Metro: Duomo.

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Technologica Leornardo da Vinci Red-Star2_redstar2 MUSEUM    This cavernous monolith’s main building is constructed around the twin courtyards and three floors of the former monastery of San Vittore Olivetan plus three modern additions and outdoor spaces. It was closed for several years while the collections were reworked to be more contemporary, interactive, and family friendly. Despite concerted attempts to make the floor plan comprehensible, the layout is still immensely confusing and as the place is so big; pick up a museum brochure so you don’t miss the highlights. These include a clutch of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings and not-so-batty designs for flying machines on the top floor, a display of 20th-century technology that will shock teenagers to the core for its crudeness, and a mini-submarine ride (book in advance: Black-Phone_bphone 02-4855-5330; 10€). The Air and Water Building has lots of full-size airplanes and boats to explore; there’s railway track full of locomotives, and interactive labs for kids to play around with basic experiments.

Via San Vittore 21. www.museoscienza.org. Red-Phone_redphone 02-485-551. Admission 10€ adults, 7€ under 25, 4.50€ seniors. Guided tours of submarine 10€; guided tour of activities 50€ for 1 hour. Tues–Sun 9:30am–5pm. Metro: Sant’Ambrogio

Museo Poldi Pezzoli Red-Star2_redstar2 ART GALLERY    This wonderfully eclectic art collection is the lovechild of aristocrat Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, who donated his lifetime’s investment in artwork and decorative arts to the city of Milan in 1879; it is now elegantly displayed in his luxurious former palazzo. The ornate rooms of the ground floor feature Oriental rugs, weapons, ancient armor, and rare books. Up the carved marble stairs the riches continue through extravagant rooms hung with family portraits displayed alongside hand-blown Murano glass and dainty Limoges china. Scenes from “The Divine Comedy” are featured in stained glass, and fine gilded pistols sit side by side with precious jewelry.

CRUISING THE CANALS

Take Metro Line 2 to Porta Genova to explore Milan’s Navigli area (navigli means canals), the perfect spot for a relaxed drink, people-watching, and a late-night supper. Crowded and full of life, these few streets are refreshingly casual in ambience after the dressy obsession of the city center—it’s one of the few places in Milan where you will see punks, hippies, and Goths or find vintage stores.

 Building started on the Navigli canals in the late 13th century, designed initially to transport marble slabs from quarries along Lake Maggiore (see p. 396) into the city to build the Duomo. The Naviglio Grande was Europe’s first major canal and is one of the great engineering marvels of the medieval era. Used to import food, commodities, and trade goods, the canals were crucial to Milan’s infrastructure until the 1970s, when road transport won out and several waterways were filled in. Take a boat tour of the canals to peek into Milan’s industrial heritage; Navigli Lombardi (www.naviglilombardi.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-6679131) runs daily tours.

However, the stars of this wonderful show are the intricate Armillary Sphere, crafted by Flemish clockmaker Gualterus Arsenius in 1568 to illustrate contemporary theories of planetary movement, and the Renaissance paintings by Botticelli and Piero della Francesca in the Golden Room. And still the collection grows: Recent acquisitions include a set of gold-and-ivory netsuke and a curiously intimate set of lacy bonnets for babies dating from the 18th century.

Via Manzoni 12. www.museopoldipezzoli.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-794-889. Admission 9€ adults; 6€ seniors and students 11–18; free under 10. Audioguides 5€. Wed–Mon 10am–6pm. Metro: Montenapoleone.

Piazza del Duomo Red-Star2_redstar2 PIAZZA    The Piazza del Duomo has been the beating heart of Milan since the city was settled by the Romans in 220 B.C. and known as Mediolanum. This vast traffic-free piazza sees local life passing to and fro daily, added to by the bustle of tourists peering up at the majestic Duomo while dodging pigeons and street sellers pushing tat. From here a tangle of narrow streets branch off in all directions through the city’s centro storico (historic center). The square took on its present form following the Unification of Italy in 1861, when the medieval buildings were replaced by splendid Neo-Classical buildings designed by Giuseppe Mengoni (1829–1877), also architect of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (see p. 374) and the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in the middle of the square.

The piazza is home to the superb Museo del Duomo (see p. 375), new in 2013, the temporary art exhibitions of the Palazzo Reale (www.comune.milano.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-875-672), and the 20th-century Italian art in the Museo del Novecento (see p. 376).

Metro: Duomo.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana Red-Star2_redstar2 ART GALLERY    Founded in 1609 to display the private collections of the pious Cardinal of Milan Federico Borromeo, this gallery is housed in the world’s second-oldest public library (after the Bodleian in Oxford, U.K.). While the emphasis is on Italian art from the 15th to early 20th centuries, some Dutch work is also exhibited.

Despite the confusing layout encompassing courtyards, passageways, stairwells, and any number of tiny exhibition rooms, the gallery is well worth visiting for four outstanding works of art: the fine portrait of “The Musician” by Leonardo da Vinci (1490); the cartoon for “The School of Athens” by Raphael (1510); Caravaggio’s cute “Basket with Fruit,” painted around 1599; and Titian’s “Adoration of the Magi” (ca. 1550).

Leonardo’s original Codex Atlanticus” is in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana next door along with other rare manuscripts; drawings from the “Codex” can be seen in the Sacristy of Bramante in Santa Maria della Grazie.

Piazza Pio XI. www.ambrosiana.eu. Red-Phone_redphone 02-806-921. Admission to pinacoteca and sacristy 20€ adults, 15€ children 13 and under. Pinacoteca only 10€. Tues–Sun 10am–6pm. Metro: Cordusio.

Pinacoteca di Brera Red-Star3_redstar3 ART GALLERY    Milan’s, and indeed Lombardy’s, premier art collection resides over an art school in a 17th-century Jesuit college wrapped around a two-story arcaded courtyard. This peerless collection romps in a circular tour through Italian art from medieval to Surrealism in 38 roughly chronological rooms. Along the way there are splendid Renaissance altarpieces, Venetian School and Baroque paintings, gloomy Mannerist works, and, thanks to recent donations, the odd piece by Picasso and Umberto Boccioni to enjoy.

Although the collection is not immense, it is of exquisite quality; just some of the breathtaking highlights include Piero della Francesca’s sublime Montefeltro Altarpiece (1474); the ethereal “Cristo Morto” by Andrea Mantegna (1480); Caravaggio’s superb, if mournful, 17th-century “Supper at Emmaus” (1601); and Raphael’s “Marriage of the Virgin” (1504), which was beautifully restored in the glass-walled, temperature-controlled restoration rooms that are open to the public.

Of the secular work in the gallery, standout pieces include Francesco Hayez’s “The Kiss” (1859) and artist Giovanni Fattori’s pastoral scenes, which lead the way for the Macchiaioli School of Italian Impressionists from the late 19th century. Bringing the collection evermore up to date are donations including a clutch of works by Italian playboy artist Amedeo Modigliani and the sculptor Marino Marini, whose retrospective museum is in Florence (see p. 185).

Via Brera 28. www.brera.beniculturali.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-722-631. Admission 6€ adults, 3€ seniors and students under 18. Audioguide 5€. Tues–Sun 8:30am–7:15pm. Metro: Lanzo Brera.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Red-Star2_redstar2 CHURCH    The delightful Lombard Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is often ignored in the mad scramble to see Leonardo da Vinci’s world-renowned “Last Supper” in the cenacolo (refectory) of the Dominican convent attached to the church. Started in 1465–1482 by Gothic architect Guiniforte Solari (ca. 1429–1481), the church was subsequently enlarged when the Sforza duke Ludovico il Moro (see p. 372) decided to make it his family mausoleum. He commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint the “Last Supper,” and asked Donato Bramante, the leading light of the Lombard Renaissance who also had a hand in the design of St Peter’s in Rome, to add the terracotta-and-cream arcaded apse in 1492. Inside the church itself, a clash of styles is evident between Solari’s heavily frescoed Gothic nave and Bramante’s airy, somber apse.

   Seeing “The Last Supper”

Unsurprisingly, Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” is on almost every tourist’s itinerary of Milan. And with only 30 people allowed in to the Cenacolo Vinciano at a time, it is a challenge to get a ticket if you don’t book well in advance. Try the official website first, www.vivaticket.it, or call Black-Phone_bphone 02-9280-0360 (tickets are 6.50€ from the website, plus a 1.50€ booking fee) at least three months before you are due to visit. Tickets are sold online for visits 3 months ahead. Present your e-tickets at the booking office outside the Cenacolo in Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie at least 20 minutes before your allotted time slot. And remember that the Cenacolo is not in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie itself, but in the refectory behind it, with a separate entrance of its own.

 If you’ve miss the opportunity to snag a ticket in advance, many tour companies guarantee admission to “The Last Supper” as part of their guided tours of the city, which range from 40€ to 70€ (see “Organized Tours,” below).

Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie. www.grazieop.it. No phone. Free admission. Daily 7am–noon, 3–7:15pm. Metro: Cadorna or Conciliazione.

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Il Cenacolo Vinciano Red-Star3_redstar3 CHURCH Milan’s greatest art treasure is also one of the most famous and notorious on earth, largely thanks to the astounding success of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Painted for Milanese ruler Ludovico il Moro by Leonardo da Vinci between 1495 and 1497, “The Last Supper” adorns the back wall of the refectory in the Dominican convent attached to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (see above). Leonardo’s masterpiece depicts Christ revealing that one of his disciples will soon betray him; horror and disbelief are etched on every face but Jesus remains resigned. As we look at the fresco, Judas sits to the left of Jesus, leaning away from him with the bag of silver clearly visible in his right hand. Is it Mary Magdalene sitting between him and Jesus? Wherever you stand on the controversy, there is no doubt that “The Last Supper” is one of the world’s most poignant and beautiful works of art.

Due to da Vinci experimenting with his painting technique and applying tempera straight on to the walls of the refectory, his sublime fresco began to deteriorate virtually on completion. It suffered several ham-fisted restoration attempts in the 18th and 19th centuries and survived target practice by Napoleon’s troops plus a period exposed to the open air after Allied bombing in WWII. The latest clean up of the fresco was completed in 1999, and while the colors are muted, they are thought to resemble Leonardo’s original fresco.

The famous fresco is now climate-controlled for preservation, and groups of 30 are allowed in to view it in pre-allocated periods of 15 minutes.

Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2. www.vivaticket.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-9280-0360. Admission 6.50€ adults, 3.25€ ages 4–17 and seniors. 1.50€ booking fee applies to all tickets. Tues–Sun 8:15am–7pm. Metro: Cadorna or Conciliazione.

Triennale di Milano Red-Star3_redstar3 MUSEUM    Opened in 2007, this sleek, white temple of cool is dedicated to contemporary design and is heaving day and night, as is fitting for this city of stylistas. Located at the north end of Parco Sempione just by the Torre Branca (see box, p. 373) there are always on-trend temporary exhibits on, which are normally free to enter, often of edgy black-and-white photography or retrospectives on Italian design icons. On the second floor an internal bridge, designed by Michele de Lucchi from sheets of bamboo, leads from the exhibitions spaces into the Triennale Design Museum, which has an entry fee and features oft-changed displays of modern Italian design classics and is well signposted in English. The Agora Theater puts on innovative shows and the bookstore is the place to pick up beautifully produced full-color coffee-table tomes. A lovely spot with views over Parco Sempione, the DesignCafé and Restaurant is the venue of choice on Sundays for smart Milanese and their immaculately turned-out offspring.

Viale Alemagna 6. www.triennale.it. Red-Phone_redphone 02-724-341. Admission to Design Museum 8€ adults, 6€ students 25 and under, seniors 65 and over. Temporary exhibits range from free to 8€. Tues–Wed and Fri–Sun 10:30am–8:30pm; Thurs 10:30am–11pm). Metro: Cadorna or Cairoli.

Outlying Attractions

Autodromo Nazionale Monza Red-Star2_redstar2 RACING CIRCUIT    Sprawled along the River Po in Lombardy, and 15km (101⁄4 miles) northeast of Milan, Monza is an appealing city with a heart reminiscent of a mini-Milan; it has a majestic early-Gothic Duomo and photogenic piazzas backed by lots of greenery. Sadly, the centro storico is usually bypassed in favor of the 10km (6.2-mile) Formula One racetrack that is the epicenter of car-mad Italy’s hopes and dreams. The home of the Italian Grand Prix since 1922, Monza track is now open to all aspiring Alonsos and Buttons who fancy being a racing driver for the day. Race training sessions are held daily, with half-hour slots available for would-be champions to try out their skills on the track. Rallies, endurance races, and special events take place all year around while the Italian Formula One Grand Prix is held in September in front of hundreds of thousands of fans. Check the website for tickets and event details.

Via Vedano 5, Monza. www.monzanet.it. Red-Phone_redphone 039-2482-239. Accessible by train (15 min.) from Centrale and Garibaldi stations.

Certosa di Pavia Red-Star3_redstar3 CHURCH    The highly intricate Renaissance facade of the Certosa di Pavia alone makes the awkward trip out from Milan worth the effort. This awesome Carthusian monastery was commissioned in 1396 as a mausoleum for Milan’s ruling family the Viscontis (see p. 372) and construction took over a century. With their dynastic downfall, the Certosa fell into the hands of the Sforza family and the monastery was refurbished according to their tastes. It was the swansong of master 15th-century architect Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, who also worked on the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo (see p. 386). The monastery contains the ornate tomb (but not the bodies) of Ludovico del Moro and his wife Beatrice, who together shaped the Milanese Renaissance (see p. 372). A tour takes in the peaceful cloisters, monks’ cells, and refectory, but the highlight of this lovely place is the decorative church, its swaths of frescoes, the pietra dura altar, and the massive mausoleum of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.

Via Del Monumento 4, Certosa di Pavia. www.comune.pv.it/certosadipavia. Red-Phone_redphone 0382-925-613. Admission and guided tours by donation. Tues–Sun May–Aug 9–11:30am, 2:30–6pm; Mar–Apr, Sept 9–11:30am, 2:30–5:30pm; Oct 9–11:30am, 2:30–5pm, Nov–Feb 9–11:30am, 2:30–4pm. Accessible by train from Milan Stazione Rogoredo (Metro Line 3) to Certosa (3.45€), then a 15-minute walk.

Organized Tours

There are scores of companies offering guided tours of Milan and Lombardy. Here are three of the best. Viator (www.viator.com; Black-Phone_bphone 702-648-5873) offers private guided tours of Milan with hotel pick ups as well as sightseeing tours by Segway, plus jaunts out to the lakes Como and Maggiore. Zani Viaggi (www.zaniviaggi.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-867-131) leads specialist tours to the revered turf of San Siro Stadium (see below) and the shopping outlets of northern Lombardy, while Local Milan Tours (www.localmilantours.com; Black-Phone_bphone 866-663-7017) can organize trips around La Scala (see p. 384) and day trips as far afield as Venice.

Outdoor Activities

Milan is a densely populated urban sprawl, and its green space is rare and precious. The largest park is the 47-hectare (116-acre) expanse of Parco Sempione behind Castello Sforzesco. It is the lungs of the city, the favorite place of well-heeled Milanese to walk their dogs along shady pathways sheltered by giant chestnuts; it is here that lovers come to moon around the ornamental lakes designed in English Romantic fashion by Emilio Alemagna in the early 1800s. The Giardini Pubblici on Bastioni di Porta Venezia is another antidote to Milan’s urban chaos, a firm favorite with families at the weekend for its little fair. Joggers circuit the park, and in winter there’s ice skating on the ornamental ponds. Parco Solari and Gardaland Waterpark (see p. 382) have swimming pools, and Idroscala (see p. 382) at Linate offers every outdoor activity from sailing and swimming to climbing or tennis. The Lombardy lakes all offer the chance for watersports, cycling, and hiking. For sports fanatics, San Siro Stadium (www.sansiro.net; Black-Phone_bphone 02-4879-8201) and Monza F1 racetrack (see above) are open for tours.

Especially for Kids

Despite being world-renowned as a hub of high finance, fashion, and design, Milan is after all an Italian city and all Italians dote on children. The city’s rather formal facade belies its many family-friendly attractions, museums, gelaterie, and play parks, and everywhere you go, your bambini will be worshipped, hugged, and multilaterally adored.

Where to start? Chief among attractions that all kids will love is the ride up to the Duomo rooftop (see p. 373) for views across the red rooftops of the city to the Alps. The basement level of the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Technologica Leornardo da Vinci (see p. 376) is stuffed full of fun, interactive activities for kids. Children aged between 4 and 11 can be hived off to the play area Sforzinda in the Castello Sforzesco’s (see p. 372) 14th-century dungeons while parents explore the decorative arts. A picnic lunch and a run around in the adjoining Parco Sempione is a welcome respite from cultural overload.

Milan’s other great green public space is the Giardini Pubblici (see p. 381) Here there are playgrounds, roundabouts, and a little electric train that chugs around the park. The Corso Venezia side of the park is home to the Museo di Storia Naturale (www.comune.milano.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-8846-3337; Tues–Sun 9am–5:30pm; admission 3€), where you can take the kids to see the dinosaur skeletons and the carcasses of massive bugs.

There’s a municipal swimming pool in Parco Solari (Via Montevideo 20) and the Milan offshoot of Gardaland Waterpark (Via Gaetano Airaghi 61; www.gardalandwaterpark.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-4820-0134) has splashy water slides, fun rides, and picnic areas. The Idroscala water park in Linate (Via Circonvallazione Idroscalo 29, Segrate; www.idroscalo.info; no phone) is open daily (summer 7am–9pm; winter 7am–5pm) and offers loads of sporting activities from sailing and swimming to climbing and Ping Pong. Admission is free but you pay by activity; the swimming pools are 7€ on the weekend. Parking is 2€. The ATM Line 73 bus runs regularly to Linate airport from Milan’s Corso Europa. From there take ATM Line 183 to Idroscalo.

Most restaurants will happily rustle up a child’s portion of pasta and tomato sauce, and if all else fails, it’s usually easy to bribe any child with a visit to one of Milan’s delicious ice cream shops; try Biancolatte (Via Turati 30; Black-Phone_bphone 02-7602-0595) for dark-chocolate ice-cream cakes and Rinomata Gelateria (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 1; Black-Phone_bphone 02-5811-3877) in Navigli for the most traditional ice-cream cones in town.

Shopping

Milan is shopping. Milan is expensive. Milan is known the world over as one of the temples of high fashion, with the hallowed streets Montenap and Spiga in the Quadrilatero d’Oro the most popular place of worship. Here D&G, Prada, Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Cavalli all jostle for customers among Milan’s minted fashionistas. More reasonable shopping areas include Via Torino and Corso Buenos Aires, where mid-range international brands proliferate; if you’re clever you can also pick up a designer bargain at outlet store Il Salvagente (Via Fratelli Bronzetti 16; Black-Phone_bphone 02-7611-0328).

Fashion is one Milanese obsession, food is another, and the centro storico has many superb delis from which to purchase the purest of olive oils and fine cheeses: Peck (Via Spadari 9; Black-Phone_bphone 02-802-3161) is still the number-one gourmet spot, although competition is keen from Buongusto (Via Caminadella 2; Black-Phone_bphone 02-8645-2479) for the freshest of pasta in many guises, and Eataly in the basement of Coin’s department store (Piazza V Giornate) for all comestibles Italian. The top floor of La Rinascente department store in Piazza del Duomo, with its Obika mozzarella bar and fine selection of packaged Italian goods, is another haven for foodies (as an added bonus, you get a close-up view of the Duomo).

Milan is a shopper’s paradise.

The Prada store in Milan.

English-language books are sold at Feltrinelli Librerie and Manadori Multicenter (both on Piazza del Duomo) along with mobile and camera accessories. English-language newspapers can be found on most major newsstands around the centro storico.

MILANO MARKETS

Everybody loves a bargain, and there’s no better place to find one than at the colorful, chaotic Viale Papiniano market (Metro: Sant’Agostino). Its sprawl of stalls are open Tuesday and Saturday; some flog designer seconds, others leather basics. Saturdays herald flea markets along Alzaia Naviglio Grande (Metro: Porta Genova) at Fiera di Sinigaglia (Metro: Porta Genova), Sundays at San Donato Metro stop. The biggest of them all is the multi-ethnic Christmas extravaganza Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (roughly, Oh so nice! Oh so nice!), whose stalls subsume the centro storico around Sant’Ambrogio and Parco Sempione and sell everything from leather bags to handcrafted jewelry. Milan’s main food market is undercover at Piazza Wagner at the metro stop of the same name, open every morning except Sunday.

Nightlife & Entertainment

Unless you’re heading for the Ticinese and Navigli, Milan is a dressy city and generally looks askance at scruffy jeans and sneakers after dark. When most people don’t dine until well after 10pm, it’s not surprising that clubs and bars stay open until the very wee hours.

   What’s on When in Milan

To keep up with Milan’s ever-changing nightlife, check out Milan Explorer (www.milanexplorer.it; online only) and “Hello Milano” (www.hellomilano.it/hm), which is published monthly and available in most hotels.

Milan has its share of flash clubs and cocktail bars, but most explode on the scene and disappear just as quickly; a few spots appear to be in for the long haul, like the vine-covered cocktail terrace at 10 Corso Como (www.10corsocomo.com; Black-Phone_bphone 02-2901-3581), the sybaritic D&G–branded Gold (www.dolcegabbana.it/gold; Black-Phone_bphone 02-7577-771), the evergreen dance club Hollywood (www.discotecahollywood.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-6555-318) and mega-club Plastic at Via Gargano 15 (no phone). A new kid on the block currently refreshing the nighttime scene is the Milan outpost of St-Tropez’s Byblos (www.byblosmilano.com; Black-Phone_bphone mobile +39-338-809-8326), a chic one-stop venue with dance floors, chic bars, and restaurants.

Chinatown is a great area to explore for the dim sum restaurants concentrated around Via Paolo Sarpi. Just north of there is the Fabbrica del Vapore (Steam Factory; www.fabbricadelvapore.org; no phone), an exciting arts venue featuring major shows such as the visually stunning 2014 show “Van Gogh Live.”

A venerable Milan institution is the Conservatorio di Musica Giuseppe Verdi, which has two stages for classical concerts, at Via Conservatorio 12 (www.consmilano.it; Black-Phone_bphone 02-762-110; box office open Mon–Fri 8am–8pm). Yet Milan is forever associated with the grand old dame of opera, Teatro La Scala, perhaps the world’s favorite opera house. La Scala is all kitted out with sumptuous red seats and boxes adorned with gilt; the chandeliers drip crystal in the way that the Milanese audiences drip diamonds. Tickets for one of its performances are as rare as hens’ teeth, so book well in advance of the opera season kicking off on December 7 each year. Book online at www.teatroallascala.org, pay by phone with a credit card (Black-Phone_bphone 02-861-778), or go to La Scala’s booking office in the Galleria del Sagrato, Piazza del Duomo, which is open from noon to 6pm daily (closed Aug). The ticket office at the opera house (Via Filodrammatici 2) releases 140 last-minute tickets for that evening’s performance 21⁄2 hours before the curtain goes up; get there promptly to be assured of a ticket.

BERGAMO Red-Star2_redstar2

47km (29 miles) northeast of Milan.

Bergamo is a city of two distinct characters. Città Bassa, mostly built in the 19th- and 20th-century city, sits at the feet of the upper town and concerns itself with getting on with 21st-century life.

The ancient Città Alta is a beautiful medieval and Renaissance town perched on a green hill, largely a place for wandering, soaking in its rarified atmosphere, and enjoying the lovely vistas from its belvederes. It’s crammed with palazzi, monuments, churches, and two hauntingly beautiful adjoining squares, the piazzas Vecchia and del Duomo. Bergamasco strongman Bartolomeo Colleoni (see p. 386) gave his name to the Città Alta’s delightful main street, cobblestoned and so narrow you can almost touch the buildings on either side in places. It’s lined with gorgeous shoe shops, posh delis, and classy confectioners.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    Trains arrive from and depart for Milan Stazione Centrale hourly (50 min.; 5.30€).

Bus services to and from Milan are run by Nord Est Trasporti (www.nordesttrasporti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 800-905-150) and run at least hourly, with more services at commuter times; journey time is an hour and fares are 5.75€. The bus station is opposite the train station on Piazza Marconi.

If you are driving, Bergamo is linked to Milan via the A4. The trip takes under an hour if traffic is good. Parking in the largely pedestrianized Città Alta is difficult.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The Città Bassa tourist office is close to the train and bus stations at Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII 57 (Black-Phone_bphone 035-210-204); it’s open daily 9am to 12:30pm and 2 to 5:30pm. The Città Alta office is at Via Gombito, 13 (Black-Phone_bphone 035-242-226), right off Via Colleoni, and is open daily 9am–5:30pm. The Bergamo Card costs 10€ for 24 hours or 15€ for 2 days, but only makes sense if you plan to visit all the museums, as the churches are all free to enter. Check the website www.comune.bergamo.it for more information.

CITY LAYOUT    Piazza Vecchia, the Colleoni Chapel, and most major sights are in the Città Alta, which is dissected by Via Colleoni. To reach Piazza Vecchia from the funicular station at Piazza Mercato delle Scarpi, it’s a 5-minute stroll along Via Gombito. The Accademia Carrara is in the Città Bassa.

GETTING AROUND    Bergamo has an efficient bus system that runs throughout the Città Bassa and to points around the Città Alta; tickets are 1.25€ for 90 minutes of travel and are available from the machines at the bus stops outside the train station or at the bus station opposite.

To reach the Città Alta from the train station, take bus no. 1 or 1A (clearly marked Città Alta on the front) and make the free transfer to the Funicolare Bergamo Alta, run by ATB Bergamo (Largo Porta Nuova; www.atb.bergamo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 035-236-026), connecting the upper and lower cities and running every 7 minutes from 7am to 1:20am.

Exploring the Città Bassa

Most visitors scurry through Bergamo’s lower, newer town on their way to the Città Alta, but you may want to pause long enough to explore its main thoroughfare, Corso Sentierone, with its mishmash of architectural styles (16th-century porticos, the Mussolini-era Palazzo di Giustizia, and two mock Doric temples); it’s a pleasant place to linger over espresso in a pavement cafe. The Accademia Carrara is worth a peek for its fine collection of Raphaels, Bellinis, Botticellis, and Canolettos. Città Bassa’s 19th-century Teatro Gaetano Donizetti is the hub of Bergamo’s lively cultural scene, with a fall opera season and a winter-to-spring season of dramatic performances; for details, call the theater at Black-Phone_bphone 035-416-0611 (www.teatrodonizetti.it).

Exploring the Città Alta

The Piazza Vecchia looks like something out of one of local hero Gaetano Donizetti’s opera sets; this hauntingly beautiful square was the hub of Bergamo’s political and civic life from medieval times. The 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione (Court of Justice) was built by the Venetians, and its three graceful ground-floor arcades are embellished with the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic, visible above the tiny 16th-century balcony and reached by a covered staircase to the right of the palace. Across the piazza, the Biblioteca Civica (Public Library) is, at the time of writing, under wraps for renovation. Piazza del Duomo is reached through the archways of the Palazzo della Ragione and is home to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore Black-Star2_bstar2, (Piazza Vecchio 6; www.fondazionemia.it/basilica_s_maria_maggiore_bergamo/index.asp; Black-Phone_bphone 035-223-327), which comprises four elements. The basilica itself is entered through an ornate portico supported by Venetian lions; the interior is a masterpiece of ornately Baroque giltwork hung with Renaissance tapestries. Gaetano Donizetti, the wildly popular composer of frothy operas, was born in Bergamo in 1797 and is entombed here in a marble sarcophagus that’s as excessive as the rest of the church’s decor. The octagonal Baptistery in the piazza outside was originally inside the church but was removed and reconstructed in the 19th century. The oft-forgotten Tempietto of Santa Croce is tucked to the left of the basilica entrance, with its endearing fragments of fresco of “The Last Supper.” From April through October the basilica is open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 6pm, and Sunday 9am to 1pm and 3 to 6pm; November through March it’s open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 5pm; admission is free.

Most impressive, however, is the Cappella Colleoni Black-Star3_bstar3 (Piazza del Duomo; Black-Phone_bphone 035-210-061; free admission), found to the right of the basilica doors and entered through a highly elaborate pink-and-white marble facade. Bartolomeo Colleoni was a Bergamasco condottiero (mercenary) who fought for the Venetians; as a reward for his loyalty he was given Bergamo as his own private fiefdom in 1455. His elaborate funerary chapel was designed by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, who created the Certosa di Pavia (see p. 380). Colleoni lies beneath a ceiling frescoed by Tiepolo and surrounded by statuary. Cappella Colleoni is open April to October daily from 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm; and November through March Tuesday through Sunday 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 4:30pm.

Where to Stay & Eat

The charms of Bergamo’s Città Alta are no secret and hotel rooms are in great demand over the summer, so make reservations well in advance. If you’re staying in Milan, the city is an easy hour’s journey from Stazione Centrale, making a perfect day trip. If you want to spend the night, Hotel Piazza Vecchio Black-Star2_bstar2 is just steps from the Piazza Vecchio (keep a look out for the miniscule signage at Via Colleoni 3 (www.hotelpiazzavecchia.it; Black-Phone_bphone 035-253-179; 133€ double, 179€ family room). It’s housed in an ancient townhouse with stone walls and beamed ceilings. The rooms are all simply furnished, but each has a sleek new bathroom. The quieter rooms are at the back of the hotel looking over a labyrinth of alleyways and rooftops.

Occupying pole position on the Città Alta’s atmospheric main piazza, Caffè del Tasso Black-Star1_bstar1 (Piazza Vecchia 3; Black-Phone_bphone 035-237-966; main courses 8€–18€) began life as a tailor’s shop, but it’s been a cafe since 1581. Today the cafe has the gently jaded, rather cozy air of a 1950s teashop, but service is smart and they’re generous with their aperitivo snacks. Next door the gelateria does brisk trade in summer, while an early evening drink on the terrace in summer is just a step away from heaven.

Osteria della Birra Black-Star2_bstar2, at Piazza Masheroni 1/c (www.elavbrewery.com/pubs/osteria-della-birra; Black-Phone_bphone 035-242-440; main courses 8€–15€), is great find in the Città Alta with a simple menu of piadine (flatbread) and panini stuffed full of local cured hams and artisanal cheeses. The raison d’etre is the beer (no wine here); the bar is run as part of the Elav microbrewery brought to life by a bunch of enthusiastic youngsters keen to promote their organic brew along with their largely organic produce.

If the weather is with you, stop off at Caffè della Funicolare in the upper terminal of the funicular and bag a table on the terrace looking straight down over Bergamo Bassa, providing some of the best views (plus a reduced funicular fare) in the upper town. It’s open Wednesday to Monday 8am to 2am for coffee or more than 50 beers, and basic snacks.

MANTUA (MANTOVA) Red-Star3_redstar3

158km (98 miles) E of Milan, 62km (38 miles) N of Parma, 150km (93 miles) SW of Venice

One of Lombardy’s best-kept secrets is in the eastern reaches of the region, making it an easy side trip from Milan. Like its neighboring cities in Emilia-Romagna, Mantua owes its beautiful Renaissance monuments to one family, in this case the Gonzagas, who conquered the city in 1328 and ruled benevolently until 1707. They were avid collectors of art and ruled through the greatest centuries of Italian art; encounter the treasures they collected in the massive Palazzo Ducale; in their summer retreat, the Palazzo Te; and in the churches and piazzas that grew up around their court.

At the time of writing, the Palazzo Ducale, the Galleria Museo Palazzo Valenti Gonzaga, and other monuments are undergoing restoration, while Mantegna’s famous Camera degli Sposi is perhaps permanently closed following earthquake damage in 2012 (see p. 389).

Essentials

GETTING THERE    Six direct trains depart daily from Milan Stazione Centrale (1 hr. 50 min.; 11.05€). There are nine daily trains from Verona (30–40 min.; 3.30€).

The speediest connections from Milan are via the A4 autostrade to Verona, then the A22 from Verona to Mantua (about 2 hrs.).

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office is at Piazza Mantegna 6 (www.turismo.mantova.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0376-432-432), and is open daily from 9am–5pm (Apr–Sept 9am–6pm). It’s just to the right of the entrance to the basilica of Sant’Andrea.

CITY LAYOUT    Mantua is tucked onto a fat finger of land surrounded on three sides by the Mincio River, which widens into a series of lakes, named prosaically Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore. Most of the sights are within an easy walk of one another within the compact center, which is a 15-minute walk northwards from the lakeside train station.

Exploring Mantua

Mantua is a place for wandering along arcaded streets and through cobbled squares with handsomely proportioned churches and palazzi.

The southernmost of these squares is Piazza delle Erbe (Square of the Herbs) Black-Star1_bstar1, so named for its produce-and-food market. Mantua’s civic might is clustered here in a series of late-medieval and early Renaissance structures that include the Palazzo della Ragione (Courts of Justice) and Palazzo del Podestà (Mayor’s Palace) from the 12th and 13th centuries, and the Torre dell’Orologio, topped with a 14th-century astrological clock. Also on this square is Mantua’s earliest religious structure, the Rotunda di San Lorenzo, a miniature round church from the 11th century (all of its building were closed for restoration and covered with scaffolding at the time of writing). The city’s Renaissance masterpiece, Basilica di Sant’Andrea (see below), is off to one side on Piazza Mantegna.

To the north, Piazza delle Erbe transforms into Piazza Broletto through a series of arcades; here a statue commemorates the poet Virgil, who was born in Mantova in 70 B.C. The next square, Piazza Sordello, is vast, cobbled, rectangular, and lined with well-restored medieval palazzi and the 13th-century Duomo. Most notable is the massive hulk of the Palazzo Ducale (see below) which forms the right-hand, eastern, wall of the piazza. To enjoy Mantua’s lakeside views and walks, follow Via San Giorgio from the Piazza Sordello and turn right on to Lungolago dei Gonzaga, which leads back into the town center.

Tip: The Mantua Card costs 15€ and allows access to five city museums for 15€, allowing a saving of several euros on normal admission charges. Visit www.mantovaducale.beniculturali.it for more details.

Basilica di Sant’Andrea Red-Star2_redstar2 CHURCH    A graceful Renaissance facade fronts this 15th-century church by star architect Leon Battista Alberti; it’s the grandest in Mantua and is topped by a dome added by Filippo Juvarra in the 18th century. Inside, the classically proportioned, vast space is centered on the church’s single aisle. The Gonzaga court painter Mantegna—creator of the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale—is buried in the first chapel on the left. Light pours in through the dome, highlighting the carefully crafted trompe l’oeil painting of the coffered, barrel-vaulted ceiling. The crypt houses a reliquary containing the blood of Christ, which was allegedly brought here by Longinus, the Roman soldier who thrust his spear into Jesus’s side; this is processed through town on March 18, the feast of Mantua’s patron, Sant’Anselmo.

Piazza Mantegna. www.santandreainmantova.it. Free admission. Daily 8am–noon, 3–7pm.

Museo di Palazzo Ducale Red-Star2_redstar2 PALACE    The massive power base of the Gonzaga dynasty spreads over the northeast corner of Mantua, incorporating Piazza Sordello, the Romanesque-Gothic Duomo, the Castello San Giorgio, and a palace to form a private city connected by a labyrinth of corridors, ramps, courtyards, and staircases filled with Renaissance frescoes and ancient Roman sculptures. Behind the walls of this massive fortress-cum-family palace lies the history of Mantua’s most powerful family and what remains of the treasure trove they amassed over the centuries. Between their skills as warriors and their penchant for marrying into wealthier houses, the Gonzagas acquired power, money, and the services of some of the top artists of the time including Pisanello, Titian, and Andrea Mantegna.

The most fortunate of many opportunistic unions was between Francesco II Gonzaga and aristocratic Isabella d’Este from Ferrara in 1490. It was she who commissioned many of the complex’s art-filled apartments, including the incomparable Camera degli Sposi in the north tower of the Castello San Giorgio. This is the undoubted masterpiece of Andrea Mantegna, taking nine years for completion and providing a fascinating glimpse into late-15th-century courtly life. Sadly, the frescoes are no longer available for public view, as the Castello San Giorgio and the adjacent Corte Nuova are closed semi-permanently following the earthquake of 2012.

However, the Palazzo Ducale itself is still very much open for business, a glorious maze of gilded, frescoed, marble-floored rooms, passageways, corridors, secret gardens, follies, and scattered pieces of elaborate intaglio furniture. Standouts among all the excess include the Arturian legends ornamenting walls of the Sala del Pisanello, painted by Pisanello between 1436 and 1444; the Sale degli Arazzi (Tapestry Rooms) hung with copies of Raphael’s tapestries in the Vatican; the Galleria degli Specchi (Hall of Mirrors); the low-ceilinged Appartamento dei Nani (Apartments of the Dwarfs), where a replica of the Holy Staircase in the Vatican is built to miniature scale; and the Galleria dei Mesi (Hall of the Months).

Piazza Sordello, 40. www.mantovaducale.beniculturali.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-224-832 for ticket info or 041-241-1897 for closures. Admission 6.50€ adults, 3.25€ ages 18–25, free for ages 17 and under. Tues–Sun 8:15am–7:15pm. Last entrance at 6:20pm.

Palazzo Te Red-Star2_redstar2 PALACE    This glorious summer palace took a decade to complete for Federico II Gonzaga, the sybaritic son of Isabella d’Este (see above), designed by Giulio Romano between 1525 and 1535. His splendid Renaissance palace was his retreat from court life and was designed to indulge his obsessions. A tour leads through a series of ever-more lavishly adorned apartments decorated by the best artists of the day. Gonzaga’s joint enthusiasms for love and sex, astrology, and horses are evident throughout, from the almost 3-D effect in the Hall of the Horses to the sexually overt frescoes by Romano in the elaborate Chamber of Amor and Psyche. The greatest room in the palace, however, is a metaphor for Gonzaga power: In the Sala dei Giganti (Room of the Giants), Titan is overthrown by the gods in a dizzying display of architectural trompe l’oeil that gives the illusion that the ceiling is falling inwards. The Palazzo Te is also home of the Museo Civico, whose permanent collections on the upper floors include the Gonzaga family’s coins, medallions, 20th-century family portraits by Armando Spadini, and a few Egyptian artifacts.

Palazzo Te is a 20-minute walk from the center of Mantua along Via Principe Amedeo. En route, at Via Acerbi 47, sits Casa di Mantegna Black-Star1_bstar1, the house and studio of Andrea Mantegna, which is now an art gallery (Black-Phone_bphone 0376-360-506; Tues–Sun 10am–12:30pm and 3–6pm; admission free). Close by at Largo XXIV Maggio 12 is the Museo della Città Black-Star1_bstar1 (www.museodellacitta.mn.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0376-367-087) housed in the stark white Palazzo Sebastiano. The museum gallops through the history of Mantua and among its many architectural fragments and columns is an impressive bust of Francesco Gonzaga, who commissioned the palace in 1507. The museum is open daily (Mon 1–6pm, Tues–Sun 9am–6pm).

Viale Te 13. www.palazzote.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-323-266. Admission 10€ adults, 7€ seniors, 3.50€ ages 12–18 and students, free for under 12. Mon 1–6pm; Tues–Sun 9am–6pm. Audioguide 5€.

MORE MANTUA MUSEUMS

The Museo Nazionale Archeologica is in the old markethall at the corner of Piazza Sordello, just to the left of the main entrance to the Palazzo Ducale. Housed in one giant space, the displays romp through local discoveries of Bronze Age, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman pottery, glassware, and utensils (www.museoarcheologicomantova.beniculturali.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0376-320-003; Tues–Sun 8:30am–6:30pm; admission free). The lovely Baroque interior of the Teatro Bibiena Black-Star2_bstar2 is also worth a peek for its rows of luxurious boxes. Find it at Via Accademia 47 (Black-Phone_bphone 0376-327-653; Mar 15–Nov 15 Tues–Fri 10am–1pm and 3–6pm, Sat–Sun 10am–6pm; Nov 16–Mar 14 Tues–Sun 10am–1pm and 3pm–6pm.) For a change of pace—if you can catch it open—the Galleria Storica dei Vigili del Fuoco (Fire Engine Museum) Black-Star1_bstar1 at Largo Vigili del Fuoco 1 (www.vigilfuoco.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0376-227-71) has plenty of historic engines to distract from ancient art. Call beforehand to check opening times.

Where to Eat & Stay

Like Milan, Mantua sees many expense-account business travelers during the week, with families and tourists flocking in for the weekends and over summer, so book rooms in the town center well ahead of time. Restaurants are of a consistently high quality, offering traditional staples in comfy osterie or sharp-end, innovative new cooking.

Caffè Caravatti Red-Star1_redstar1 CAFE    Join the Mantovese for a lunchtime pick-me-up with their friends after a morning of shopping in the gorgeous arcaded streets of the old city. The old-fashioned brass and wood bar is lined with mysterious local liqueurs while glasses of prosecco and Campari cocktails are dispensed at the speed of light.

Via Broletto 16. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-327-826. Daily 7am–8:30pm.

Caffè Modi Red-Star1_redstar1 ITALIAN    Named for louche artist Amedeo Modigliani, whose moody portrait dominates the restaurant, Modi is a casual and friendly stop on the tourist circuit around Piazza Sordello. Chill music plays and threadbare armchairs lend a bohemian charm to the place. The menu is predictable in its selection of local pasta dishes and vast mountains of salad, but they are all well presented and tasty. If the place is quiet, the lovely, laidback owner will come and chat—mostly about her enthusiasm for the works of Modigliani. Concerts and recitals are held here from time to time.

Via San Giorgio 4. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-181-0111. Main courses 8€–15€. Wed–Mon noon–3pm, 7:15pm–midnight.

Il Scalco Grasso Red-Star2_redstar2 MODERN ITALIAN    This contemporary bistro with a minimalist black and red decor is owned by a young chef keen to push boundaries. Alongside beautifully created vegetarian dishes of local pasta stuffed with marrow squash, delicate risotto, and a superb chickpea soup flavored with squid, the menu also offers tartare of veal, pike, beef cheek, and local delicacy stracotto d’asino (donkey stew)Some lovely Lugano wines are available by the glass or bottle, and little bites of delicacies are happily produced for guests to sample before ordering. A sophisticated choice, with reservations recommended for weekends.

Via Trieste 55. www.scalcograssomantova.it. Red-Phone_redphone 349-374-7958. Main courses 15€–25€. Mon 7:30–10pm, Tues–Thurs noon–2:30pm, 7:30–10:30pm; Fri–Sat noon–2:30pm, 7:30–11:30pm; Sun noon–2:30pm.

Osteria dell’Oca Red-Star3_redstar3 LOMBARDY    The restaurant ‘of the duck’ is crammed nightly with locals enjoying the vibrant local cooking at truly amazing prices. This is an Italian family-run restaurant at its very best: noisy, happy, and joyous. The best primi are the sharing plates of peccati di gola, local salamis and pancetta accompanied by a thick wedge of creamy polenta, lard, and beetroot salsa. Other specialties are ravioli stuffed with marrow and pike pulled fresh from the lakes surrounding the city. Only three wines are served, in chunky carafes. Opt for the white from local vineyards rather than the lambrusco, which is overly sweet. This generous outpouring of food is rounded off with complimentary coffees and the thick, treacle-like hazelnut digestivo nella casa. Book ahead for a weekend table.

Via Trieste 10. www.osteriadellocamantova.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-327-171. Main courses 12€–17€. Tues–Sun noon–3pm and 7:15–11:30pm.

Casa Poli Red-Star3_redstar3    This bijou boutique hotel is hidden behind the facade of a 19th-century mansion and is packed out night after night with both business travelers and holidaymakers. It’s easy to see why. Guest rooms are spotless and stylishly pared down in contemporary style, with funky lights, bright splashes of color, and equally cool bathrooms. The lounge is full of arty books, and the pretty summer courtyard is a great spot to while away an hour over an evening aperitivo. But it’s the staff that really makes this place shine; they’re chatty and informal, and all willing to go that extra mile to accommodate guest requests.

Corso Garibaldi 32. www.hotelcasapoli.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-288-170. 27 units. 107€–135€ double. Rates include continental breakfast. Free street parking. Amenities: Bar; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).

Residenza Bibiena Red-Star2_redstar2    Tucked away in a pretty corner of Mantua’s centro storico 5 minutes from the Palazzo Ducale, this cozy B&B, located in a traditional terracotta townhouse, has a pleasing air of old-school charm to it. The rooms are very simply furnished with wooden furniture and tiled floors enlivened by warm color schemes and pretty bed linens. Vast family rooms are available, the en suites are all huge by Italian standards, and a couple of rooms have terraces. Breakfast is served in the bar across the road.

Piazza Arche, 5. www.residenzabibiena.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0376-355-699. 5 units. 70€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 15€. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).

Shopping & Entertainment

The favored shopping streets in Mantua radiate off Piazza delle Erbe in a delightful cluster of cobbled and arcaded streets sheltering delis stuffed with local cheeses, hams, fresh pasta, and olive oils. Corso Umberto, Via Verdi, and Via Oberdan are lined with classy boutiques, smart shoe shops, and bookstores. There’s a farmers’ market on Lungorio IV di Novembre on Saturday, and come lunchtime the lines outside the delicatessens form as happy patrons leave with beautifully packaged goodies. It’s perfect fodder for a picnic in the lakeside gardens along Lungolago dei Gonzaga.

Mantua is a cultured city that enjoys theater and classical concerts; there are regular recitals at cute little Teatro Bibiena (see p. 390) and a full program of films and concerts at Mantova Teatro (www.teatrosocialemantova.it)A chamber-music festival is held every May and the Festivaletteratura literature festival each September.

LAKE COMO Red-Star3_redstar3

Como (town): 65km (40 miles) NE of Milan; Menaggio: 35km (22 miles) NE of Como and 85km (53 miles) N of Milan; Varenna: 50km (31 miles) NE of Como and 80km (50 miles) NE of Milan

Life is slower around the northern Italian lakes than in mega-paced Milan; Como is an ideal base for drawing breath and kicking back. Sitting on the southwestern tip of Lake Como, the city is essentially a center of commerce with a miniscule medieval quarter and a pretty waterfront. Tourists flock here for its ancient heritage, fine churches, and lake views. Como is the jumping of point for most adventures on the lake, and the 10-minute funicular ride up to hilltop Brunate leads on to stretches of hiking along wooded trails up to Bellagio.

Lake Como is criss-crossed by regular ferry routes: It takes 4 hours to travel from one end to the other and there are many stops along the way. The most popular are Tremezzo, Menaggio, Bellagio, and timeless Varenna (see p. 394). Single fares from Como are 10.40€ to Bellagio; a day pass costs 28€. Tickets cannot be purchased online. The ferry terminal is run by Navigazione Lago di Como and is on the lake esplanade at Via per Cernobbio 18 (www.navigazionelaghi.it; Black-Phone_bphone 031-579-211).

One of the many villas along Lake Como.

Como Red-Star2_redstar2

Como’s tiny centro storico is dominated by the flamboyant Duomo Black-Star2_bstar2 (Piazza Duomo; www.cattedraledicomo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 031-265-264), which combines Gothic and Renaissance architecture for two very different facades; long, narrow windows and a Gothic stained-glass rose window mark the western end, with a seamless apse and Baroque dome added in 1744 by architect Filippo Juvarra (see p. 415) at the eastern end. The Duomo is open daily 10:30am to 5pm and admission is free.

Two blocks south of the Duomo the five-sided, 12th-century San Fedele Black-Star1_bstar1 (free admission; daily 8am–noon, 3:30–7pm), stands above a charming square of the same name; parts of the church, including the altar, date from the 6th century and there are a few frescoes dotted in the right-hand side aisle. Como’s main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, cuts through the medieval quarter and has plenty of upmarket boutiques and classy delis.

The funicular from Como up to hilltop Brunate Black-Star2_bstar2 and its cluster of excellent restaurants and bars leaves from Lungo Lario Trieste. It runs up a steep cliff-side, with glorious views of Lake Como glinting below. The funicular ticket office (www.funicolarecomo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 031-303-608; daily 8am–midnight) is at Piazza de Gasperi 4. Tickets are 3€ adults, 1.90€ for kids under 12. Trains depart both ends of line every 30 minutes.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    Trains run from Milan’s Stazione Central and Porta Garibaldi half-hourly to Como San Giovanni; the trip takes 1 hour and costs 4.55€. One-hour services from Milan Cadorna head to Como Nord Lago just off the lakefront promenade and near the ferry point and cost 4€ to 9€.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The regional tourist office at Piazza Cavour 17 (www.lakecomo.com; Black-Phone_bphone 031-269-712) dispenses a wealth of information on hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds around the lake. The office is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm.

Lake Como’s Waterfront Villages

The romantic waterfront villages of Lake Como, with their cute clusters of yellow and pink houses, majestic palazzos, and lush lakeside gardens, are easily explored by ferry (see above) or by car. Here are a few of the highlights, going clockwise round the lake.

LENNO Black-Star3_bstar3    For centuries Lake Como was the playground of privileged Lombardian aristocrats (and quite honestly not much has changed); Villa del Balbianello at Lenno (Via Comoedia 5; http://eng.fondoambiente.it/beni/villa-del-balbianello-fai-properties.asp; Black-Phone_bphone 044-56-110), is one of the best known of their fabulous villas, with ornate landscaped gardens and a 16th-century palace sitting high on its peninsula over the lake; the place is reveling in its recent brush with fame as star in the Bond movie “Casino Royale.” It is stuffed with priceless French furniture complemented by eclectic artwork from the travels of former owner, explorer Guido Monzino, who died in 1988 and left the villa to the Italian National Trust. Admission varies: Garden entrance only is 7€ adults, 3€ kids 4 to 12; garden and villa (with compulsory tour) is 13€ adults, 7€ children aged 4–12 without reservations; 10€ adults, 5€ children aged 4–12 with reservations. Open mid-March to mid-November on Tuesday, and Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm.

The gardens of Villa Carlotta.

TREMEZZO Black-Star2_bstar2    On the western side of Lake Como, Tremezzo was the prestigious 19th-century retreat of the Italian aristocracy; today it is lorded over by the exceptionally expensive Grand Hotel Tremezzo (www.grandhoteltremezzo.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0344-42-491) and its wonderfully stylish lido on the lake. The luxuriant gardens, museum, and rich art collections of the ornate 17th-century Villa Carlotta are open to the public (Via Regina 2; www.villacarlotta.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0344-404-05). Admission is 9€ adults, 7€ seniors, 5€ students. Open March 29 to October 19 from 9am to 7:30pm (last entry 6pm); March 14 to 28 and October 20 to November 9 from 10am to 6pm (last entry 5pm). Tourist office: Via Regina 3; www.tremezzo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0344-40-493. Open Monday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 6pm.

BELLANO Black-Star1_bstar1    Most people stop in Bellano on the eastern shores of Lake Como to visit the Orrido (Black-Phone_bphone 0338-5246-716; admission 3€ adults, 2.50€ seniors and under 14), a deep gorge cut out of the cliffs by the River Pioverna as it tears down the hillside. A nighttime trip down the floodlit gorge is a rare and eerie treat, and one that appears to be under threat from recent hydroelectric plans that will reduce the flow of the torrent. Opening times vary seasonally but are roughly: April to June and September 10am to 1pm and 2:30 to 7pm; July to August 10am to 7pm and 8:45 to 10pm. Tourist office: Via Stoppani (Black-Phone_bphone 0341-820-044).

VARENNA Black-Star3_bstar3    Adorable Varenna gives Bellagio a run for its money as the prettiest village on Lake Como, with a tumble of pink and terracotta houses in a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets, and smart villas clustered around the shoreline. Its winding lakeside path hangs over the water, with bars, shops, and art galleries looking over the lake. Linger a while over a glass of prosecco and watch the sun go down over the glittering water. Tourist office: Via IV Novembre 7; www.varennaitaly.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0341-830-367. Open May to October Wednesday to Monday 10:30am to 4pm.

The narrow streets of Bellagio.

BELLAGIO Black-Star3_bstar3    Photogenic Bellagio is the most popular destination around Lake Como and has just about remained on the right side of overtly touristic. The shady lakefront promenade is lined with chic hotels, bars, and cafes. Pretty medieval alleyways ascend from the lake in steep steps and are lined with souvenir stores selling expensive hand-tooled leather accessories. Just don’t expect too many bargains. Regardless of the multitude of tourists, this is still a lovely place to linger for lunch overlooking the lake (see below). Tourist office: Piazza Mazzini; www.bellagiolakecomo.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0341-950-204. Open April to November Monday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 1 to 6pm; Sunday 10am to 2pm.

Where to Eat & Stay

With Como’s fame has come a paucity of decent moderately priced hotels, but there are still plenty of options around the lake. But if you’re looking for a splurge, Cernobbio is home to one of the most exclusive and expensive hotels in Italy: the Villa d’Este (see below). The local cuisine draws heavily on the lake and polenta is as popular as pasta.

Da Pietro Red-Star2_redstar2 PASTA AND PIZZA    There are several touristy restaurants on Como’s gorgeous Piazza del Duomo, all in a row and fairly interchangeable, but Da Pietro has long had the edge for friendliness and smooth service. It’s a perfect family pitstop for a lunch of decently cooked pasta or vast, crisp pizzas. You pay for the peerless view of the Duomo, but the atmosphere is buzzing night and day.

Piazza Duomo 16, Bellagio. Red-Phone_redphone 031-264-005. Main courses around 12€. Daily 10am–midnight.

Lake Terrace Red-Star3_redstar3 REGIONAL ITALIAN    There’s not a prettier spot on the whole of Lake Como than this geranium-filled terrace belonging to the Hotel Excelsior Splendide. Hanging out over the shimmering waters of the lake, the restaurant concentrates on good local dishes, from polentas and pasta to giant prawns sizzled in garlic and fresh trout from the lake. There’s also a delicious ice cream bar under the arcade across the street.

Via Lungo Lario Manzoni 28, Bellagio. www.hsplendide.com. Red-Phone_redphone 031-950-225. Main courses 10€–40€. Mar–Nov noon–2:30pm.

La Polenteria Red-Star3_redstar3 REGIONAL ITALIAN    Vegetarians, be prepared to take pot luck as the ethos behind La Polenteria is to utilize and cook whatever is in season; this could be anything from snails, venison, wild boar, and fish fresh from the lake to porcini mushrooms, or in fall pasta flavored with chestnuts. As the name suggests, the regional specialty polenta (cornmeal) accompanies many of the dishes. The rustic dining room has had a facelift; gone are the shelves of dusty bottles and farming implements hanging on the walls. Now they are a cheery, warming yellow. Booking is advisable and proceedings can get riotous in the evening.

Via Scalini, 66, Brunate. www.lapolenteria.it. Red-Phone_redphone 031-336-5105. Main courses 8€–30€. Fri 7:30–9:30pm, Sat–Sun 11am–2pm, 7:30–9:30pm.

Hotel du Lac Red-Star2_redstar2    With one entrance slap-bang on Varenna’s charming waterfront and the other hidden away in its equally photogenic tangle of alleyways, the Hotel du Lac is housed in an elegant 19th-century villa offering prized views across Lake Como. It’s now open for lunch, and the flower-filled terrace is the perfect spot for cocktails à deux as the sun sinks over the lake. The romantic theme continues inside with marble pillars and wrought-iron staircases, roomy (for Europe) bedrooms decked out in subtle shades of green, gold, and red, plus revamped bathrooms.

Via del Prestino 11, Varenna. www.albergodulac.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0341-830-238. 16 units. Doubles 150€–230€. Rates include breakfast. Closed mid-Nov–Feb. Free parking. Amenities: Restaurant (lunch only); bar; Wi-Fi (free).

Hotel Paradiso sul Largo Red-Star3_redstar3    This great albergo has had a total overhaul since it reopened in 2008 and is now powered by voltaic panels, making it the first eco-hotel around Lake Como. Right at the top of the village of Brunate above Como town, it’s in a little piazza surrounded by restaurants and is on the edge of pleasingly untamed forested countryside. The rooms are simple, spotlessly clean, and functional, but the main selling points are the amazing views stretching over Lake Como 900m (2,950 ft.) below from the breakfast room and the panoramic terrace with swimming pool and Jacuzzi. Be sure to book a room with lake views.

Via Scalini 74, Brunate San Maurizio. www.hotelparadisosullago.com. Red-Phone_redphone 031-364-099. 12 units. 137€ double. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Amenities: Pizza restaurant; bar; outdoor pool; shuttle service; Wi-Fi (free).

Nest on the Lake Red-Star2_redstar2    In pole position on the lakeside, this cute little B&B is in a tranquil spot in Lezzeno, minutes from Bellagio (see p. 394). Bedrooms are all decked out in white, some with four-poster beds, and all have wrought-iron balconies on to Como. A decent self-service breakfast is offered, and the more-than-helpful Raffa and Tino are building quite a reputation for their hospitality; they are happy to recommend restaurants and organize tours. The minimum stay is 3 nights in summer.

Frazione Sostra 17/19, Lezzeno. www.nestonthelake.com. Red-Phone_redphone 031-914-372. 5 units. 100€ double; 120€ apt. Parking 5€ per day. Closed mid-Nov to mid-Feb. Amenities: Solarium; Wi-Fi (free).

Villa d’Este Red-Star2_redstar2    Set in an ornate Renaissance palazzo dating from 1568 and overlooking Lake Como amid verdant parklands, the Villa d’Este certainly adds to the lake’s reputation as playboy central. It sees a constant procession of celebs and minor royalty arriving by speedboat or helicopter to luxuriate in the raft of sporting facilities, the array of fine dining options, and the refined rooms furnished with priceless antiques. As befits one of the most exclusive hotels in the world, two revamped private villas guarantee complete seclusion from the hoi polloi.

Via Regina 40, Cernobbio. www.villadeste.com. Red-Phone_redphone 031-3481. 152 units. 440€–760€ double; 880€–970€ junior suite. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Closed mid-Nov to mid-Mar. Amenities: 3 restaurants; 3 bars; nightclub; indoor and outdoor pools; spa; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).

LAKE MAGGIORE Red-Star2_redstar2

Stresa: 90km (56 miles) NW of Milan

Maggiore lies west of Como, a long, thin wisp of a lake protected by mountains and fed by the River Ticino, which flows on to Milan. Roughly a quarter of the northern section of the lake stands in Switzerland, including the city of Locarno and its delightful satellite resort of Ascona. Stresa is the largest town on the Italian lake, a timeless resort on the western shoreline, famed for its pole position opposite the Isole Borromee. Regular ferries span Maggiore and there are frequent stops on the way from Arona, south of Stresa; the most popular include Luino for its massive market, and Laveno for cable-car rides up to mountain panoramas (see p. 399).

The Alps rise above Lake Maggiore.

GETTING THERE    Stresa is linked with Milan Stazione Centrale and Porta Garibaldi by 20 trains a day. Journeys take around an hour and cost between 8.30€ and 9€.

Boats arrive at and depart from Piazza Marconi, Stresa. Many lakeside spots can be reached from Stresa, with most boats on the lake operated by Navigazione Laghi (www.navlaghi.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0322-233-200). The ferry from Arona (the ferry office is at Viale Baracca 1) at the southern tip of Maggiore takes 40 minutes and costs 6.20€.

The A8 runs west from Milan to Sesto Calende, near the southern end of the lake; from there, Route SS33 follows the western shore to Stresa. The trip takes just over an hour, but much longer on a summer weekend.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office is at the ferry dock on Piazza Marconi (www.stresaturismo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0323-30-150) and is open daily 10am to 12:30pm and 3 to 6:30pm (Nov–Feb closed Sun). For hiking information, ask for the booklet “Percorsi Verdi.”

Exploring Stresa & the Islands

The biggest town on the Italian side of Maggiore, elegant Stresa is the springboard to the Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands), the tiny Baroque jewels of the lake. Now a genteel tourist town, it captured the hearts of 19th-century aristocracy, who settled in droves in grandiose villas strung along the promenade. Just back into the tangle of medieval streets, Piazza Cadorna is a mass of restaurants that spill out into the center of the square in summer. There’s a food and craft market on summer Thursday afternoons along the prom and a lido and beach club on the lakefront.

The three Isole Borromee are named for the aristocratic Borromeo family who has owned them since the 12th century. Public ferries leave for the islands every half-hour from Stresa’s Piazza Marconi outside the tourist office; a 12.50€ three-island pass is the most economical way to visit them, single tickets are 3.50€ to Bella, 3.90€ to Pescatori, and 5€ to Madre. For more information on Borroman Islands, check out www.isoleborromee.it.

ISOLA DEI PESCATORI Black-Star2_bstar2    Pescatori is stuck in a medieval time warp, with ancient fishermens’ houses clustered together on every inch of the tiny island. Wander the meandering cobbled streets as they reveal tiny churches, art galleries, souvenir shops, pizza and pasta restaurants, and, at every turn, a glimpse of the lake beyond. It’s an entrancing place to explore, but be warned: the prices are extortionate and the crowds frustrating.

ISOLA BELLA Black-Star3_bstar3    The minute islet of Bella is dominated by the massive Baroque palazzo and formal Italianate gardens designed by Carlo Borromeo (see p. 400) in 1630. It makes for an absorbing tour with conspicuous displays of wealth evident in the richness of decor and exquisite furnishings. The terraced gardens are dotted with follies and have spectacular views across Maggiore. Restoration work in the palace gardens finished in March 2014. Palazzo Borromeo: www.isoleborromee.it. Admission 13€ adults, 6.50€ under 18. Open mid-Mar to mid-Oct 9am–5:30pm. Audioguide 2.50€.

At home on Isola Bella.

ISOLA MADRE Black-Star2_bstar2    The largest and most peaceful of the islands is Isola Madre (30 min. from Stresa), where almost every inch is covered with exquisite flora in the 3.2-hectare (8-acre) Orto Botanico. Pick up a map at the ticket office to identify all the rhododendrons, camellias, and ancient wisteria. Many a peacock and fancy pheasant stalk across the lawns of another 16th-century Borromeo palazzo, which is filled with family memorabilia and some interesting old puppet-show stages. Palazzo Borromeo: www.isoleborromee.it. Admission 11€ adults, 8.50€ under 18. Mar–Oct 9am–5:30pm. Audioguide 2.50€.

The Borromeo palazzo.

More to Explore Around the Lake

Alongside Stresa, Maggiore offers natural beauty and architectural wonders as well as lively towns, markets, and cable-car rides up into the mountains.

Arona Red-Star2_redstar2    As well as having the lake’s main ferry office (see p. 397) this sophisticated town at the southern end of Lake Maggiore is a shopping center of some distinction. The charming Via Cavour runs parallel to the lake and is lined with elegant boutiques and expensive delicatessens. The tourist office is on Piazzale San Carlo, just outside town and next to a giant bronze statue of Carlo Borromeo (see p. 400), who was born in Arona in 1538, which can be explored by climbing inside (Black-Phone_bphone 0322-249-669; admission 5€; mid-Mar to Oct daily 9am–noon and 2–6pm).

Luino Red-Star2_redstar2    On the western shore of Lake Maggiore just a few miles from the Swiss border, Luino is home of one of northern Italy’s most popular tourist markets, with more than 350 stalls taking over the town every Wednesday. Here you’ll find cheery sarongs, spices, piles of salami, grappas, olive oils, and hand-tooled leather belts and bags for which the region is famous. Day visitors from Milan can catch the train directly to Luino from Milan’s Stazione Porta Garibaldi in under 2 hours (18€), while extra ferries serve the town every Wednesday. Check ferry timetables with www.navlaghi.it.

Sasso del Fero Red-Star3_redstar3    East of Laveno, make for Laveno Mombello (www.funiviedellagomaggiore.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0332-66-012; 10€ roundtrip) and take the 16-minute cable-car trip 1,062m (3,484 ft.) up the lush Val Cuvia to the Poggia Sant’Elsa viewpoint at Sasso del Ferro. Here you’ll find truly breathtaking panoramas across Lake Maggiore to the Alps looking west and mini-lakes Varese, Monate, and Comabbio looking south. Nothing can beat relaxing over a prosecco in the Ristorante Albergo Funivia (see p. 401), enjoying a bright blue sky, and spotting snowy peaks on the horizon. If the conditions are right, there’ll be plenty of paragliders to watch, and the hills are crisscrossed with scenic hiking trails. Weather conditions make opening times vary, but the cable car generally runs April to October (Mon–Fri 11am–6:30pm; Sat–Sun 11am–10:30pm).

   Italy’s Medieval Oligarchs

The all-powerful Borromeo family were Lombardian aristocrats who played a major part in Milanese politics and religion for 200 years. They regarded the vast tracts of land around the southern end of Lake Maggiore as their own personal fiefdom and built castles, monuments, and palaces. The family spawned several archbishops of Milan, including Federico (1564–1631) and Carlo (1538–1584), a singularly wily and wealthy individual who was canonized in 1610 for his support of the Counter-Reformation against papal infallibility. A great bronze statue stands in celebration of his life on a hillock looking out across the lake to his former family home of Rocca Borromeo at Angera.

Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro Red-Star3_redstar3    Just south of Reno on the southeastern leg of Maggiore, there’s an inconspicuous car park in Piazza Cascine del Quiquio; park up and take the elevator down to the magical hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro (Via Santa Caterina 13, Leggiuno; www.santacaterinadelsasso.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0332-647-172), clinging to an escarpment 15m (49 ft.) above the lake. The Dominican monastery was founded in the 13th century and sits photogenically against a sheer rock face. The serene complex is of soft pink stone and embellished with Renaissance arches, a square bell tower, pretty cobbled courtyards, and 14th-century frescoes of biblical scenes in the chapel, which were hidden under lime during the Italian suppression of the monasteries in the 1770s and only re-discovered in 2003. The little gift shop sells honey, candles, and soaps made by the monks. Admission is free, but donations are accepted; open April to October 8:30am to noon and 2:30 to 6pm and November to March Saturday and Sunday 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm. Mass is held every Sunday at 4:30pm.

Where to Eat & Stay

There are many hotels scattered around Maggiore eager to grab the tourist dollar: some good, some bad, many indifferent. Here are two that are exceptional, at opposite ends of the price spectrum. Just like the hotels in the area, the standard of food can varies wildly; pick your restaurants in touristy Stresa with care.

Ristorante Piemontese Red-Star2_redstar2 NORTHERN ITALIAN    A cut above the myriad pasta/pizza places that haunt the town center, this is where all the Italian locals go to dine in Stresa. Here, the Bellossi family concentrates on producing serious cooking, offering excellent Barbera di Alba wines to round out your meal. Dishes such as porcini risotto and duck confit are proudly presented in elegant and romantic surroundings, with fish and game options changing according to season. Finish off with a cheeseboard of pungent local cheeses.

Via Mazzini 25, Stresa. www.ristorantepiemontese.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0323-302-35. Main courses 18€–34€. Tues–Sun 7:30–10:30pm. Closed Dec–Jan.

Ristorante Verbano Red-Star2_redstar2 SEAFOOD    Although many of the restaurants on the Isole Borromee are overpriced and underwhelming, Verbana is the exception (so you should probably book ahead on the weekends). For once on this touristy little island, the service is exemplary; you won’t feel rushed and the waiting staff is courteous and informed. Not only is its position sublime, overlooking the Palazzo Borromeo (see p. 398) on Isola Bella and with lake waters lapping around the terrace—this would make a romantic proposal spot—but the food is pretty good, too. Chef Diego Pioletti specializes in cooking fish fresh from the lake as well as creating hearty homemade pasta dishes and traditional risottos; there’s also a five-course gourmet menu option priced at 50€.

Via Ugo Ara 2, Isola Pescatori. www.hotelverbano.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0323-304-08. Main courses 15€–30€. Daily noon–2:30pm and 7–10pm (winter closed Wed). Closed Jan.

Albergo Funivia Red-Star2_redstar2    This basic hotel up at the Poggia Sant’Elsa belvedere is only accessible by the Sasso del Ferro cable car (see p. 399). There are beautiful views over Lake Maggiore towards the Alps from the balconies in all the rooms. It’s best for summer visits when the weather can be almost guaranteed. The restaurant serves a simple local menu and the sun terrace is always crammed on sunny days. Little can beat sitting out there after dark and watching the lights around the lake glittering in the distance.

Via Tinelli, 15, Località Poggio Sant Elsa, Laveno Mombello. www.funiviedellagomaggiore.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0332-610-303. 12 units. Doubles 40€. Unguarded parking at foot of funicular. Amenities: Bar; restaurant; Wi-Fi (free).

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromee Red-Star3_redstar3    The vast, over-the-top Belle Epoque exterior of this majestic old hotel faces Lake Maggiore with its manicured and landscaped gardens. The interior lives up to the exterior flourishes with panache; all is hushed, ornate, marble, and gilded, resembling a mini-Versailles in its opulence. Room standards vary from doubles with garden views, which are (relatively) staidly decorated with plush marble bathrooms featuring his-and-hers basins, to the ghetto-fabulous Hemingway Suite, which consists of three bedrooms, a living room, four bathrooms, plus a terrace overlooking the lake, and is almost blinding in its marble, silk, stucco, and gilt design. There’s a blissful spa to chill out in and a gourmet restaurant with a lakeview terrace.

Corso Umberto I 67, Stresa. www.borromees.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0323-938-938. 172 units. 203€–450€ double; 572€–3,630€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Valet parking. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; spa; sauna; indoor pool; 2 outdoor pools; personal trainer; gym; helicopter pad; Wi-Fi (free).

LAKE GARDA (LAGO DI GARDA) Red-Star2_redstar2

Sirmione: 130km (81 miles) E of Milan, 150km (93 miles) W of Venice; Riva del Garda: 170km (105 miles) NE of Milan, 199km (123 miles) NW of Venice, 43km (27 miles) S of Trent

Lake Garda is the largest and easternmost of the Northern Italian lakes, with its western flanks lapping against the flat plains of Lombardy and its southern extremes in the Veneto. In the north, its deep waters are backed by Alpine peaks. Garda’s shores are green and fragrant with flowery gardens, groves of olives and lemons, and forests of pines and cypress.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    Regular trains run from Milan Stazione Centrale and stop at Desenzano del Garda (fares start at 8.75€). From here it’s a 20-minute bus ride to Sirmione; buses make the short hop every half hour for 2.50€).

Hydrofoils and ferries operated by Navigazione Laghi (www.navlaghi.it; Black-Phone_bphone 030-914-9511) ply the waters of the lake. One to two hourly ferries connect Sirmione with Desenzano del Garda in season (20 min. by ferry, 3€); less frequently October to April.

Sirmione is just off the A4 between Milan and Venice. From Venice the trip takes about 11⁄2 hours, and from Milan a little over an hour. There’s ample parking in Piazzale Monte Baldo.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office is at Viale Marconi 2 (www.comune.sirmione.bs.it; Black-Phone_bphone 030-916-114). It’s open April to October Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 12:30pm, and November to March on Saturday 9am to 12:30pm.

Lemon groves are abundant around Lake Garda.

Exploring Sirmione

Perched on a promontory swathed in cypress and olive groves on the southernmost edge of Lake Garda, photogenic Sirmione has been a popular spot since the Romans first discovered hot springs there. Despite the onslaught of summer visitors, this historic little town manages to retain its charm. Sirmione has lakeside promenades and pleasant beaches and is small enough for everywhere to be accessible on foot. It is chiefly famous for its thermal springs, castle, and northern Italy’s largest Roman ruins.

The moated, fortified Rocca Scaligero Black-Star3_bstar3 (Black-Phone_bphone 030-916-468) was built on the peninsula’s narrowest point and today dominates the centro storico. Built in the late 13th century by the Della Scala family, who ruled Verona and many of the lands surrounding the lake, the castle begs a visit for its sweeping courtyards, turreted defence towers, dungeons, and views across Lake Garda from the battlements. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 8:30am to 7:30pm; admission is 4€, ages 18 to 25 2€.

From the castle, it’s a 15-minute walk (or take the open-air tram from Piazza Piatti) along Via Vittorio Emanuele from the town center to the tip of Sirmione’s peninsula and the Grotte di Catullo Black-Star2_bstar2 (Black-Phone_bphone 030-916-157), romantically placed ruins with views across the lake among the cypress and olive trees. Built around A.D. 150, the remains are thought to represent two sizeable villas owned by aristocratic Roman families. A small museum of Roman artifacts found at the site includes jewelry and mosaic fragments (Piazzale Orti Manara 4; admission 4€ adults, 2€ 18–25; open Apr–Sept Tues–Sun 9am–6pm; Mar–Oct 9am–4pm).

GETAWAY TO GARDONE RIVIERA

This little resort halfway up the western shore of Lake Garda is easily accessible by ferry or bus from Desenzano del Garda, and it offers visitors a gorgeous backdrop for a little relaxation along the cute paved promenade dotted with oleanders and in the charming centro storico of Gardone Sopra, both filled with enticing bars and restaurants. Gardone Riviera’s tourist office is at Corso Repubblica 8 (Black-Phone_bphone 0365-20-347) and the town is famous for two primary attractions: Uphill from Gardone Sopra, the Heller Garden (Via Roma 2; www.hellergarden.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0336-410-877) is a tropical paradise founded by Arthur Hruska, botanist and dentist to the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas II. His botanical haven was planted in the 1900s, where 8,000 rare palms, orchids, and tree ferns now thrive thanks to the town’s mild, sheltered climate. Today the gardens are curated by Austrian artist André Heller, whose sculptures can be found scattered among the water features, cacti, and bamboo copses. The garden is open March to October daily from 9am to 7pm; admission is 10€, 5€ for ages 5 to 11.

 The second of Gardone Riviera’s highlights is the Vittoriale degli Italiani (Via Vittoriale 12; www.vittoriale.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0365-296-511), the wildly ostentatious and bizarrely decorated villa home to Gabriele d’Annunzio, Italy’s most notorious poet and sometime war hero. He bought this hillside estate in 1921 and died here in 1936; a visit pays tribute to d’Annunzio’s hedonistic lifestyle rather than his fairly awful poetry. The claustrophobic rooms of this madcap mansion are stuffed with bric-a-brac and artifacts from his colorful life, including mementos of his long affair with actress Eleonora Duse. The patrol boat D’Annunzio commanded in World War I, a museum containing his biplane and photos, and the poet’s pompous hilltop mausoleum are all found in the formal gardens that cascade down the hillside in luxuriant terraces and gardens. Summer concerts and plays are held at the amphitheater (www.anfiteatrodelvittoriale.it). The villa is open daily; in summer from 8:30am to 7pm and winter from 9am to 4pm. Admission ranges from 8€ to 16€, depending on which parts of the estate you choose to visit. Note that villa tours are available in Italian only.

Exploring Riva del Garda

The northernmost settlement on Lake Garda is a thriving Italian town, with medieval towers, a smattering of Renaissance churches and palazzi, and narrow cobblestone streets where everyday business proceeds in its alluring way. Riva del Garda’s Old Town is pleasant enough, although the only historic attractions of note are the 13th-century Torre d’Apponale in Piazza III Novembre, which is open in summer for visitors to climb its 165 steps for views across the lake, and the moated lakeside castle, La Rocca. Part of the castle now houses an unassuming civic museum with changing exhibitions (Black-Phone_bphone 0464-573-869). It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 6pm, daily July to September. Admission is 2€ adults, free for children and seniors. The tourist office on the lakefront at Largo Medaglie d’Oro al Valor Militare 5 (www.gardatrentino.it/en; Black-Phone_bphone 0464-554-444) supplies information on hotels, restaurants, and local activities. It’s open daily May to September from 9am to 7pm; October to April Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm.

Where to Eat & Stay

Sirmione and Riva del Garda have a choice of pleasant, moderately priced hotels, all of which book up quickly in July and August, when the rates increase. The local cuisine features fish from the lake and plenty of pasta.

Osteria Al Torcol Red-Star2_redstar2 ITALIAN    Consistently regarded as the stand-out restaurant in Sirmione, Torcol serves up good strong Italian cooking bursting with flavor, while managing to keep things moderately priced. This atmospheric place has an old-world wooden interior packed with bottles of local wines (many available by the glass) and a serving staff that really know what they are talking about. Signature dishes include fresh tagliolini (noodles) with pistachio and shrimp as well as a choice of fish of the day straight from the lake; it might be trout or pike. Book in advance if you want to eat outside on the rustic patio under the trees or at one of lovely tables out front.

Via San Salvatore 30, Sirmione. Red-Phone_redphone 030-990-4605. Main courses 18€–30€. Open May–Sept daily 12:30–3pm, 7:30–10:30pm; Oct–Jan open Sat–Sun 12:30–3pm, 7:30–10:30pm; Feb–Apr Sat–Sun 7:30–10:30pm.

Trattoria Riolet Red-Star1_redstar1 ITALIAN    As popular with Gardone locals as with summer visitors, the Riolet has unsurpassed views over Lake Garda from its hilltop aerie. Although the cuisine might be rustic—think pasta pesto, chicken kebabs cooked over the open fire and served with polenta, and lots of grilled fish—everything is freshly cooked and as fresh and tasty as could be. There’s no menu, so take a leap of faith and follow your waiter’s advice when ordering—and be sure to enjoy a carafe or two of the local wines.

Thermal baths in Sirmione.

Via Fasano Sopra 47, Gardone Riviera. Red-Phone_redphone 0365-205-45. Thurs–Tues 7–10:30pm. Main courses 8€–25€.

Hotel du Lac et du Parc Red-Star3_redstar3    A massive, family-friendly resort set in lush gardens, with swimming pools, spa, and every conceivable luxury, leading down to a little beach at the lake. The grounds are copious enough to swallow up 33 bungalows and two luxurious blocks of apartments, still leaving ample space for the hotel; somehow despite the size of the operation the service still feels personal and attention to detail is manifest everywhere. The gym, spas, and pools are spotless, the rooms are cheery and tasteful—ask for one overlooking the palm trees and rare plants of the park—and the breakfast buffet is five star. A little niggle is the over-fussy cuisine in the La Capannina restaurant, but there are plenty of dining options in Riva del Garda itself, a 15-minute walk away.

Via Rovereto 44, Riva del Garda. www.dulacetduparc.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0464-566-600. 159 units in main hotel. 169€–229€ double; 389€–639€ suites. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Closed Jan to mid-Apr. Amenities: 2 restaurants; 3 bars; 2 outdoor pools; indoor pool; gym; spa; sauna; gardens; babysitting; kids’ club; water sports; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

OUT AND ABOUT ON LAKE GARDA

Riva del Garda becomes a cultural oasis in July, when the town hosts an international festival of classical music (www.mrf-musicfestivals.com) but the town’s main attraction is the lake, lined with plush hotels and a waterside promenade that stretches for several miles past parks and pebbly beaches. The water is warm enough for swimming May to October, and air currents fanned by the mountains make Riva and neighboring Torbole the windsurfing capitals of Europe. Kitesurfing, kayaking, and sailing are all popular pastimes.

 A convenient point of embarkation for a lake outing is the beach next to La Rocca castle, where you can rent rowboats or pedal boats for about 8.50€ per hour; from March through October, the concession is open daily 8am to 8pm.

 Check out the sailing and windsurfing at Sailing du Lac at the luxurious Hotel du Lac et du Parc (see above) where windsurf equipment can be rented for 47€ per day or 20€ for an hour. Lessons start at 49€ for 2 hours. Dinghy lessons are available from 75€ for 2 hours, rental from 25€ per hour. The school is open April 19 to October 12 8:30am to 6:30pm.

 Lake Garda is also renowned for mountain biking; there are more than 80 routes around the waterside and up into the Alpine foothills. Rent bikes from Happy Bike, Viale Rovereto 72 (www.happy-bike.it; Black-Phone_bphone 34-7943-1208), open daily 9am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm; rent a mountain bike for 14€ per day, or grab an eco-friendly electric bike for 49€ per day.

Hotel Eden Red-Star1_redstar1    Once home of American poet Ezra Pound, this pink-stucco lakeside hotel is in the heart of the action in Sirmione, a stone’s throw from the magical centro storico. Inside, the hotel is decked out in 1970s style, with jazzy public spaces and wacky bar with mad wallpaper designs; the breakfast room leads out to the shady terrace overlooking the lake and a swimming pier juts out over the water. The ’70s theme is continued in the bedrooms, which have walls of splashy, vivid wallpaper enlivening the simple furnishings. Ask for a lakeview room as it can get a little noisy at night at the back of the hotel.

Piazza Carducci 19, Sirmione. www.hoteledensirmione.it. Red-Phone_redphone 030-916-481. 30 units. 139€–169€ double. Rates include breakfast. Free parking nearby; 10€ in garage. Closed Nov–Easter. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

TURIN & PIEDMONT

Turin (Torino) Red-Star3_redstar3

669km (415 miles) NW of Rome, 140km (87 miles) E of Milan

It’s often said that Turin is the most French city in Italy. The reason is partly historical and partly architectural. From the late 13th century until Italy’s unification in 1861, Turin was the capital of the House of Savoy. These aristocrats of extraordinary wealth were as French as they were Italian, and their estates extended well into the present-day French regions of Savoy, the Côte d’Azur, and Sardinia. The city’s Francophile 17th- and 18th-century architects razed much of the original city and its Roman foundations, replacing them with broad avenues, airy piazzas, and grandiose buildings to make Turin one of Europe’s great baroque cities, as befitting the capital (albeit briefly) of a nation.

Thanks in part to the 2006 Winter Olympics, and another makeover for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification in 2011, Turin has today transformed itself from a former industrial power into a vibrant city full of museums, enticing cafes, beautiful squares, and designer stores. This elegant and sophisticated city is deservedly gaining a reputation as the go-to destination in northeast Italy.

ESSENTIALS

ARRIVING     Domestic and international flights land at Turin Airport (www.aeroportoditorino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-567-6378), about 13km (8 miles) northwest of Turin. Direct trains (www.gtt.to.it) run to GTT Dora Railway Station every 30 minutes between 5am and 11pm, costing 3€; the trip takes 19 minutes. SADEM (www.sadem.it) buses run between the airport and the city’s main train stations, Porta Nuova and Porta Susa (40 min.; 6.50€). Taxis into town take about 30 minutes and cost 30€ to 50€, depending on the time of day.

Turin’s main train station is Stazione di Porta Nuova on Piazza Carlo Felice. There is a regular daily Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com; Black-Phone_bphone 199-892-021) services from Milan; the fastest trains take 1 hour and fares are 29€ for a single journey. Slower trains take up to 2 hours, and tickets cost 12.20€ to 17€. Stazione di Porta Susa connects Turin with local Piedmont towns and is the terminus for the TGV service to Paris; four trains a day make the trip in under 6 hours for 98€.

Turin’s main bus terminal is Autostazione Bus, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 131 (www.autostazionetorino.it). The ticket office is open daily 9am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm. Buses connect Turin to Courmayeur, Aosta, Milan, and many small towns in Piedmont. There is a 2-hour SADEM (www.sadem.it) bus service to Milan Malpensa Airport costing 22€.

Turin is at the hub of the autostrade network. The A4 connects Turin with Milan in 90 minutes. Journey time via the A5 to Aosta is also around 90 minutes.

GETTING AROUND    All the main sights of Turin are well within walking distance of each other. There’s also a vast network of GTT trams and buses as well as one metro line (www.gtt.to.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-57-641). The Linea 7 tourist tram trundles around a circular route from Piazza Castello. Tickets on public transportation are available at newsstands for 1.50€ and are valid for 90 minutes. Daily tickets are 5€. There is no need to drive in the city center.

You can find taxis at stands in front of the train stations and around Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Castello. To call a taxi, dial Pronto at Black-Phone_bphone 011-5737, but all hotel reception desks will order a taxi for you. Meters start at 3.50€ and prices increase by 1.25€ per kilometer; there are surcharges for waiting time, luggage, late-night travel, and Sunday journeys.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office on the corner of Via Garibaldia and Piazza Castello (www.turismotorino.org; Black-Phone_bphone 011-535-181), is open daily 9am to 6pm. There are also branches in Stazione Porta Nuova and at the airport (same phone; same hours).

The tourist offices on Piazza Castello and at Stazione Porta Nuova sell the bargain Torino+Piemonte Card for 26€. This is valid for one adult and one child up to age 12 for 48 hours and grants free public transport within Turin; access to over 180 museums, monuments, castles, and royal palazzos, as well as discounts on car rentals, ski lifts, theme parks, concerts, and sporting events (3- and 5-day versions are also available). Check www.turismotorino.org/card for details.

CITY LAYOUT    With the Alps as a backdrop to the north and the River Po threading through the city center, Turin has as its glamorous backbone the elegant arcaded Via Roma, lined with designer shops and grand cafes, which marches northwards through a series of ever-lovelier Baroque squares until it reaches Piazza Castello and the heart of the city around the palaces of the Savoy nobility.

From here, a walk west leads to the Area Romano, Turin’s mellow jumble of narrow streets and the oldest part of the city whose edge ia marked by Via Garibaldi. Turn east from Piazza Castello along Via Po to one of Italy’s largest squares, the Piazza Vittorio Veneto and, at the end of this elegant expanse, the River Po and Parco del Valentino.

facts_factfacts TURIN

ATMs/Banks    There are banks with multilingual ATMs all over the city center. Opening hours are roughly Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1:30pm and 2:30 to 4:30pm.

Business hours    Turin works a 40-hour business week, usually 9am to 4:30pm. Stores are open Monday to Saturday from 9am–1pm and 4 to 7:30pm.

Consulates    The consulates of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand are in Milan (see p. 365).

Dentists    Dr. Marco Capitanio at Via Treviso 24/G, (www.marcocapitanio.com; Black-Phone_bphone 34-7157-8802), speaks fluent English.

Doctors    The Medical Center at Corso Einaudi, 18/A (www.medical-center.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-591-388) has some English-speaking staff.

Drugstores    A convenient late-night pharmacy is Farmacia Boniscontro, Corso Vittorio Emanuele 66 (Black-Phone_bphone 011-538-271); it is open all night but closes 12:30 to 3pm as well as on Saturday and Sunday. The website www.orari-di-apertura.it/farmacie-torino.htm gives the opening hours of most of Turin’s central pharmacies.

Emergencies    All emergency numbers are free. Call Black-Phone_bphone 112 for a general emergency; this connects to the Carabinieri, who will transfer your call as needed; for the police, dial Black-Phone_bphone 113; for a medical emergency or an ambulance, call Black-Phone_bphone 118; for the fire department, call Black-Phone_bphone 115.

Hospitals    The Ospedale Mauriziano Umberto I, Largo Filippo Turati 62 (www.mauriziano.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-508-1111), offers a variety of medical services.

Internet    Most Turin cafes, bars, restaurants, and hotels now offer Wi-Fi. Otherwise try Bunet Internet Wine Café at Via San Quintino, 13/f (www.bunet.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-440-7517); it’s open daily 9am to 1am. Or try FNAC on Via Roma 56 (Black-Phone_bphone 011-551-6711), open Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 8pm, Sunday 10am to 8pm.

Police    In an emergency, call Black-Phone_bphone 113; this is a free call. The central police station (Questura Torino) is near Stazione di Porta Susa at Corso Vinzaglio 10 (Black-Phone_bphone 011-558-81).

Post Office    Turin’s main post office, just west of Piazza San Carlo at Via Alfieri 10 (Black-Phone_bphone 011-506-0265), is open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 6:30pm and Saturday from 8:30am to noon. A list of central post offices and opening times can be found at www.quartieri.torino.it/ElencoPoste.asp.

Safety    Turin is a relatively safe city, but use the same precautions you would exercise in any large city. Specifically, avoid the riverside streets along the Po when the late-night crowds have gone home.

WHERE TO STAY

As in Milan, Turin has seen a recent injection of private capital into the hotel scene, and as a result, many boutique hotels have opened, leading away from the faceless frumpery of many of the city’s older hotels.

Le Petit Hotel Red-Star2_redstar2    Unassuming from the front, the Petit Hotel has had a brush-up inside and offers very simple bedrooms with spotless, functional bathrooms. There’s not much luxury but prices are very reasonable and the address is central. A casual restaurant offers pizza and pasta staples, but there are better places to eat within minutes. In summer the Marechiaro restaurant moves outdoors and it’s a great spot for enjoying an early evening drink. The breakfast room has been upgraded and now offers a buffet of breads, cheeses, fruit, and pastries. The hotel also offers some smartly kitted out two-level self-catering apartments.

Via San Francesco d’Assisi 21. www.lepetithotel.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-561-2626. 79 units. Doubles 69€–120€; apartments 120€–200€. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Amenities: Restaurant; WiFi 5€ for 3 hours.

Townhouse 70 Red-Star3_redstar3    Part of a luxury chain that also has hotels in Milan, the Townhouse could not be better placed for sightseers, just steps away from Piazza Castello and the Palazzo Reale (see below). It is a smooth, urbane hotel, with a tiny aperitivo bar tucked in one corner of reception and a breakfast room sporting one massive table, where smart businessmen and families all sit down together. Rooms are spacious for a city-center hotel, and decorated in soothing dark colors. The comfy beds have statement headboards; bathrooms have massive showers. The quieter bedrooms look over an internal courtyard (some rooms can be overlooked).

Via XX Settembre 70. www.townhouse.it/th70. Red-Phone_redphone 011-1970-0003. 48 units. Doubles 109€–140€. Rates include breakfast. Parking in ZTL traffic-limited zone (fee). Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service (7–10am); Wi-Fi (free).

VitaminaM Red-Star3_redstar3    A tiny B&B with just two rooms and a funky interior design stuffed full of arty offerings from up-and-coming Torino designers. The rooms are flooded with light, with silver and red color schemes, and the bathrooms are surprisingly luxurious, with full-length baths. Book well ahead as this is one of the hottest tickets in town; the only drawback is the B&B’s position at four floors up with no elevator.

Via Belfiore 18. www.vitaminam.com. Red-Phone_redphone 347-1526-130. 2 units. 100€–120€ double. Rates include breakfast. Underground parking nearby 15€ per day. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).

WHERE TO EAT

Turin has a gourmet reputation that stands out from other Italian cities renowned for their gastronomy. Many restaurants are strong advocates of the Slow Food movement, and even a cursory glance at a menu will tell you whether ingredients are local; look for porcini mushrooms and truffles in season. Wine lists should feature Barolo, Barbera, and Barbaresco reds and sparkling Asti whites. And Turin is home to the world’s largest food and wine fair, the Salone del Gusto (www.salonedelgusto.it), which runs every October.

Officine Bohemien Red-Star2_redstar2 PIEDMONT    An offbeat, low-key restaurant down a side street that’s reminiscent of a St-Tropez cafe circa 1950s with walls covered with black-and-white posters. It’s casual and slightly edgy, run by a young, delightful staff. There’s a laidback bar selling Piedmont wines and fancy cocktails while jazz plays in the background; frequent live-music events are held here. Lunch sees offerings of Torino staple pasta dishes such as spaghetti pomodoro e basilica or farinata (chickpea pancakes) at really good prices; dinner is a little more sophisticated, with menus changing daily according to what’s available. Great platters of grilled and smoked meats, regional cheeses, chutneys, the fruits and vegetables are all sourced locally; bread is made daily in the kitchens.

   Shaken, not Stirred

Turin gave the world the aperitif vermouth, which was invented in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano; the brands Martini and Cinzano are still made in the Piedmont region. Order a glass at the gorgeous Art Nouveau Caffè Mulassano at Piazza Castello 15 (www.caffemulassano.com; Black-Phone_bphone 011-547-990), or come early to enjoy coffee and tempting cannoli or dainty fruit tarts at the ornate marble counter.

Via San Camillo de Lellis (was Via Mercanti) 19. www.officinebohemien.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-764-0368. Main courses 8€–12€. Tues–Fri noon–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm; Sat 5:30–10:30pm.

Ruràl Red-Star3_redstar3 MODERN PIEDMONT    One to watch, Ruràl is an award-winning fan of the Slow Food ethos born in nearby Bra that is currently taking Turin to the top of the gastronomic charts. Its deceptively simple white and blonde wood interior shouts classy, the clientele is smart, and the service friendly and informed. The chefs, under the auspices of Piero Bergese, emerge from the open-plan kitchen to discuss the dishes. A great sharing plate of rabbit, tonnato (a creamy sauce flavored with tuna), veal sausage, carpaccio, and tatare showcases typical Piedmont specialties, and the wine list offers plenty of decent regional reds and whites. It’s obvious that everybody involved in this project is obsessive about food and proud to present the best of Piedmontese rural gastronomy.

Via San Dalmazzo 16. www.ristoranterural.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-2478-470. Main courses 15€–30€. Mon–Sat 7:30–11pm.

Trattoria Santo Spirito Red-Star2_redstar2 SEAFOOD    In a bustling piazza a few minutes’ walk from Palazzo Reale in the heart of the Area Romana, Santo Spirito is well loved for its vast platters of mussels, tuna carpaccio, simply grilled fish, and delicious fettucine served with lobster. Portions are huge so don’t be tempted to over-order, especially at lunchtime. It is testament to the standard of cooking here that this trat has thrived since 1975 in a city where restaurants open and close every day; it’s not haute cuisine but great rustic cooking with fresh ingredients and plenty of strong flavors. In summer, tables spread out onto the piazza, in winter there’s a cozy fire inside and heaters warm the loggia.

Largo IV Marzo 11. www.trattoriaspiritosanto.com. Red-Phone_redphone 011-4360-877. Daily 12:30–3:30pm, 7:30pm–midnight. Main courses 9€–25€.

EXPLORING TURIN

Via Roma is Turin’s premier shopping street; it was designed by Filippo Juvarra (see p. 415) in 1714 and leads in stately, arcaded progression from the circular Piazza Carlo Felice, ringed with outdoor cafes and constructed around formal gardens, into Italy’s most beautiful square. Piazza San Carlo acts as the city’s harmonious outdoor salone in summer, surrounded by arcaded sidewalks lined with big-name fashion stores and elegant cafes, including the genteel Caffé Ristorante Torino (Black-Phone_bphone 011-545-118). In the center of the piazza is a 19th-century equestrian statue of Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy. Facing each other at the southern entrance to the square is a pair of 17th-century churches, San Carlo and Santa Cristina. At the north end of Via Roma, the Piazza Castello is dominated by Palazzo Madama, named for its 17th-century inhabitant, Christine Marie of France, who married into the Savoy dynasty in 1619. Further north still stands the massive complex of the Palazzo Reale, residence of the Savoy dukes from 1646 to 1865.

Duomo di San Giovanni Battista Red-Star1_redstar1 CHURCH    This otherwise uninspiring 15th-century cathedral tucked round the west flank of the Palazzo Reale is one of the few pieces of serene Renaissance architecture in Baroque-dominated Turin, but it is exceptional only as the resting place of the Turin Shroud when the shroud is not on display. The linen cloth is preserved in an aluminium casket specially manufactured by an Italian aerospace company in the temperature-controlled, air-conditioned Cappella della Sacra Sindone and closed off from human contamination with bulletproof glass. The shroud’s casket is adorned with a crown of thorns; the faithful come in droves to worship at the chapel, which is the last one in the left-hand aisle. To learn all about the history of the shroud, head for the Museo della Sidone (see p. 414) and see the box below.

Piazza San Giovanni. www.visitatorino.com/duomo_torino.htm. Red-Phone_redphone 011-436-1540. Free admission. Daily 7am–12:30pm, 3–7pm. Bus: 11, 12, 51, 55, 56, 61, 68. Trams: 4, 13, 15, 18.

Piazza San Carlo, Turin.

Mole Antonelliana & Museo Nazionale del Cinema Red-Star3_redstar3 MUSEUM    Turin’s most peculiar building was once the tallest in Europe, begun in 1863 as a synagogue but then hijacked by the city fathers and turned into a monument to Italian unification; at the time Italy was ruled by the House of Savoy from their powerbase in Turin. The Mole has a squat brick base supporting several layers of pseudo-Greek columns and is topped by a steep cone-like roof and a skinny spire, all of it rising 167m (548 ft.) above the streets. It is now home to Italy’s National Film Museum.

At press time, the museum was about to undergo a facelift to haul it into the digital age, but for now the first exhibits track the intriguing development of moving pictures, from shadow puppets to risqué peep shows and flickering images of horses galloping filmed by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. The rest of the display uses clips, stills, posters, and props to illustrate the major aspects of movie production, from “The Empire Strikes Back” storyboards to the creepy steady-cam work in “The Shining.” There are plenty of buttons to push and lots of interactive action to keep kids happy.

The highlight of a visit is the ascent through the roof of the museum’s vast atrium and up 85 m (279 ft.) inside the tower to the 360-degree observation platform at the top, an experience that affords a stunning view of the grid-like streets of Turin and its backdrop of snowy Alpine peaks. At the end of a tour, a giant movie screen plays films on loop outside the stylish Cabiria Café.

Via Montebello 20. www.museocinema.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-8138-511. Museum and panoramic lift: admission 12€, seniors 9€, 5€ children under 18 and students, free under 5. Museum only: admission 9€, seniors 7€, 2.50€ children under 18 and students; free under 5. Panoramic lift only: 7€; 5€ children 6–18 and students and seniors. Open Tues–Fri & Sun 9am–8pm, Sat 9am–11pm. Multi-lingual guided tours by prior booking. Bus: 18, 55, 56, 61, 68. Tram: 13, 15, 16.

Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) Red-Star2_redstar2 MUSEUM    Turin’s magnificent Egyptian collection is one of the world’s largest and, at the point of writing, was a lavori in corso (work in progress), as a flashy new museum is due to open in 2015. This was acutally the world’s first Egyptian museum as well, largely thanks to the Savoy kings and explorers Bernardino Drovetti and Ernesto Schiaparelli, who voraciously amassed Egyptian ephemera until the early 20th century, when attitudes to such cultural plundering changed. Currently the museum consists of several large underground display halls (post-2014, these will become the ticket office and museum shop). The first of these contains artifacts squirreled together from all eras of ancient Egypt, including a papyrus “Book of the Dead” and funerary objects, but the most captivating exhibits are the exquisitely painted wooden sarcophagi and mummies of Kha and Merit, an aristocratic couple whose tomb was discovered in 1906, along with more than 500 funerary items.

Via Accademia delle Scienze 6. www.museoegizio.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-561-7776. Admission 7.50€ adults, 3.50€ ages 18–25 and seniors, free under 18. Tues–Sun 8:30am–7:30pm. Audioguide 4€. Bus: 55, 56. Tram: 13.

   History of the Turin Shroud

The Turin Shroud is allegedly the linen cloth in which Christ was wrapped when taken from the cross—and to which his image was miraculously affixed. The image is of a bearded face—remarkably similar to the depiction of Christ in Byzantine icons—and a body marked with bloodstains consistent with a crown of thorns, a slash in the rib cage (made by the Roman centurion Longinus, see p. 388), holes in the wrists and ankles consistent with nails, and scourge marks on the back from flagellation. Carbon dating results are confusing; some have suggested that the shroud was manufactured around the 13th or 14th centuries, while other tests imply that those results were affected by the fire that all but destroyed it in December 1532. Regardless of scientific skepticism, the shroud continues to entice hordes of the faithful to worship at its chapel in the Duomo di San Giovanni Battista and the mystery remains unsolved—just how was the haunting image impregnated onto the cloth?

Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile Red-Star3_redstar3 MUSEUM    Not surprisingly in a city that spawned Fiat, the car is king at this whizzy, innovative museum that has been completely overhauled. Alfa Romeos and lots of bright-red Ferraris feature heavily among the displays, which start with vintage cars from the days when road travel was only for the very wealthy and progress through to factory-line car production for the masses; a responsible element in the museum attempts to highlight the social, financial, and environmental effects that combustion engines have had on the planet. More than anything, you get to gaze at gorgeous cars. As you don’t need to be a car buff to appreciate the lovely lines of a Maserati, this is the perfect place for families to bring kids who have traipsed around one too many Baroque palazzo.

Corso Unità d’Italia 40. www.museoauto.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-677-666. Admission 8€ adults, 6€ children under 15 and seniors. Open Mon 10am–2pm; Tues 2–7pm; Wed–Thur, Sun 10am–7pm, Fri–Sat 10am–9pm. Metro: Lingotto.

Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano (National Museum of the Risorgimento) Red-Star3_redstar3 MUSEUM    The Piazza Carignano is one of the most majestic in a city full of splendid corners. It is overlooked by the equally handsome, redbrick palazzo of the same name, and of huge national importance as the sometime home of Italy’s first king following Unification. Built between 1679 and 1685 by Baroque maestro Guarino Guarini, the palace now houses the Museo del Risorgimento and the elaborate, circular headquarters of Italy’s first parliament, which was formed in 1861. For an Italian museum, this is incredibly well organized, with clear, timed itineraries suggested in literature at the door as well as online. There are 30 artfully decorated rooms detailing the military campaigns that led to Unification, both from an Italian and a European perspective, which provides a strong historical context. Displays of uniforms, dramatic warlike paintings, weapons, maps, and correspondence reveal feats of great derring do as we are led through Italy of the 19th century from Napoleon to Garibaldi. There’s also plenty of multilingual signage and labelling; this fascinating exhibition should be used as an example to some other Italian museums.

Via Accademia delle Scienze 5. www.museorisorgimentotorino.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-562-1147. Admission 10€ adults, 8€ seniors, 5€ students; 4€ high-school students, 2.50€ primary school, free 6 and under. Tues–Sun 10am–6pm. Bus: 11, 12, 27, 51, 51/, 55, 56, 57. Tram: 13, 15.

Museo della Sindone (Holy Shroud Museum) Red-Star2_redstar2 MUSEUM    There are no Disneyesque special effects in this curiously endearing little museum, which is refreshing considering the Turin Shroud’s hefty status as one of the world’s most notorious religious relics. A visit kicks off with a 15-minute film about the shroud, its provenance, and the various theories and mysteries surrounding it; then it’s down to a series of rooms chronicling its history from the first firm mention in 1204, to the fire that nearly destroyed in Chambéry in 1532, to its arrival in Turin with the House of Savoy in 1578, and the modern-day carbon-testing sagas. The tour finishes in the richly ornamented chapel of Santo Sudario, private place of worship for the Savoy dukes, where a copy of the shroud is displayed over the gleaming, gilded altar.

Via San Domenico 28. www.sindone.org. Red-Phone_redphone 011-436-5832. Admission 6€ adults, 5€ students, aged 12 and under, and seniors. Daily 9am–noon and 3–7pm.

Palazzo Madama—Museo Civico di Arte Antica (Civic Museum of Ancient Art) Red-Star1_redstar1 MUSEUM    Looking like two buildings sandwiched together, Palazzo Madama dominates Piazza Castello; its medieval facade looking eastward, and westward, its Baroque addition, created by the architect Filippo Juvarra in the 18th century, when he was giving Turin its elegant arcaded facelift. Once inside this massive structure, you’ll discover it incorporates a Roman gate and tower; courtyards, apartments, and towers from the medieval castle; and several Renaissance additions. Juvarra also added a monumental marble staircase to the interior, most of which is given over to the all-encommpassing collections of the Museo Civico di Arte Antica. The holdings cover four mammoth floors and focus on the medieval and Renaissance periods, which are shown off well against the castle’s austere, stony medieval interior. On the top floor you’ll find one of Italy’s largest collections of ceramics, but it’s all rather disorganized in layout. The star of the show here is Antonello da Messina’s sublime Portrait of a Man,” hidden away in the Treasure Tower at the back of the building.

Piazza Castello. www.palazzomadamatorino.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-443-3501. Admission 10€ adults, 8€ student and seniors, under 18 free. Tues–Sat 10am–6pm; Sun 10am–7pm. Bus: 11, 12, 51, 55, 56, 61, 68; Trams: 4, 13, 15, 18.

Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) & Armeria Reale (Royal Armory) Red-Star1_redstar1 PALACE    Overshadowing the north side of the Piazza Castello, the residence of the House of Savoy was begun in 1646 and the family lived there until 1865. Designed by the architect Amedeo di Castellamonte, the palace reflects the ornately Baroque tastes of European ruling families of the time while its sheer size gives some indication of the wealth of these medieval oligarchs. In fact, the palace gives the ostentatious frippery of Versailles a run for its money; there are throne rooms, dining rooms, ballrooms, bedrooms, Chinese rooms, and apartments hung with priceless Gobelins tapestries, all lavishly adorned with silk walls, sparkling chandeliers, ornate wooden floors, and delicate gilded furniture.

The east wing of the palazzo houses the Armeria Reale, one of the most important arms and armor collections in Europe, especially of weapons from the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s also unusual for its collection of stuffed horses, which look likely to leap into battle at any moment.

Behind the palace are the formal Giardini Reali (Royal Gardens), laid out by André Le Nôtre, who designed the Tuileries in Paris and the gardens at Versailles.

The Savoy royal family had an even keener eye for paintings than for Baroque decor, and currently their impressive collection of 8,000 works of art is awaiting its new home, but highlights are on show in temporary accommodation in the Galleria Sabauda on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale’s New Wing. This is a few minutes’ walk from the main palazzo, past the Duomo (see p. 411) and kicks off with early Piedmont and Dutch religious works works, plus a moody Rembrandt self-portrait and two massive paintings by van Dyck: “The Children of Charles I” (1637) plus the magnificent equestrian portrait of Prince Thomas of Savoy (ca. 1634).

Now in its permanent home in the basement beneath the Galleria Sabauda, the Museo Archeologico provides a thoughtfully designed exhibition, which tells the story of Turin’s development from Roman through medieval times. Incorporated into the museum is a section of Roman wall, remnants from the theater nearby, and a mosaic only discovered in 1993.

   A Glimpse into Roman Turin

Close to Turin’s Duomo (see p. 411) and partly incorporated into the Museo Archeologico (see above) stand two landmarks of Roman Turin—the remains of a theater and fragments of wall as well as the Porta Palatina, a Roman-era city gate, flanked by twin 16-sided towers on Piazza San Giovanni Battista. The Area Romana west of the Piazza Castello is the oldest part of the city, a charming web of streets occupied since ancient times.

The Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) is also part of the Palazzo Reale complex; it’s free to enter and you’ll find it (eventually) on the right of the main entrance. Founded in 1831, its scholarly wooden interior houses 200,000 rare volumes as well as ancient maps and prints. On the opposite side of the gates is the fine church of San Lorenzo, designed by Baroque master-architect Guarino Guarini in 1666. Its plain facade belies the lacy dome and frothy interior.

Piazzetta Reale 1. www.ilpalazzorealeditorino.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-436-1455. Palazzo and all exhibitions: admission 12€ adults, 6€ ages 18–25, free for children 17 and seniors. Tues–Sun 8:30am–7:30pm; last admission 6pm. Museo Archeologico closed Sun morning. Bus: 11, 12, 51, 55, 56, 61, 68; Trams: 4, 13, 15, 18.

OUTLYING ATTRACTIONS

Basilica di Superga Red-Star2_redstar2 CHURCH    Half the fun of a visit to this lovely basilica is the 6.5km (4-mile) journey northeast of the city center from Sassi on a narrow-gauge railway through the lush countryside of the Parco Naturale della Collina di Superga. The church was built as thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary for Turin’s deliverance from the French siege of 1706. Prince Vittorio Amedeo II commissioned Filippo Juvarra, the Sicilian architect who designed much of Turin’s elegant center, to build the magical Baroque confection on a hill high above the city. The eye-catching exterior has a beautiful colonnaded portico, an elaborate dome, and twin bell towers, and is actually more visually appealing than the ornate but gloomy interior, a circular chamber beneath the dome with six chapels protruding off. Many scions of the House of Savoy are buried here in the Crypt of Kings beneath the main chapel. Tours of the royal apartments are available in slots of 45 minutes, with a maximum of 15 people.

Basilica: Strada della Basilica di Superga 75, www.basilicadisuperga.com. Red-Phone_redphone 011-899-7456. Free admission. Appartamento Reale: admission 5€, open summer Tues–Sun 9:30am–7pm, winter Sat–Sun 10am–6pm. Railway: Stazione Sassi (4€ roundtrip) with a terminus on Piazza Gustavo Modena (follow Corso Casale on east side of the River Po). Bus: 61 from side of Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I opposite Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi Red-Star1_redstar1 PALACE    Yet another Savoy family home is found at Stupinigi, just a few miles southwest from Turin. More great work commissioned in 1729 from the architect Filippo Juvarra resulted in a sumptuous, frothily decorated hunting lodge surrounded by royal forests still in existence today. Built on a humungous scale, the palace’s wings fan out from the main house, topped by a domed pavilion on which a large bronze stag is featured. Every bit as lavish as the apartments in the Savoys’ city residence, Palazzo Reale (see above), the ornate interior is stuffed with furniture, paintings, and bric-à-brac assembled from their myriad residences, forming the Museo d’Arte e Ammobiliamento (Museum of Art and Furniture). Wander through the acres of excessively ornate apartments to understand why Napoleon chose this for his brief sojourn in Piedmont in 1805 while on his way to Milan to be crowned emperor. Outstanding among the many, many frescoes are the scenes of a deer hunt in the King’s Apartment and the triumph of Diana in the grand salon. The elegant gardens and surrounding forests provide lovely terrain for a jaunt. At the time of writing, the palace is under extensive restoration, although still open to the public.

Piazza Principe Amedeo, 7, Stupingi, Nichelino. 8.5km (51⁄4 miles) southwest of the city center. http://www.ordinemauriziano.it/tesori.html. Red-Phone_redphone 011-358-1220. Admission 12€, seniors 8€, children 6–14 5€. Open Tues–Fri 10am–5:30pm, Sat 10am–6:30pm.

Reggia di Venaria Reale Red-Star3_redstar3 PALACE    Completing the triumvirate of glitzy Savoy households around Turin, the Venaria was constructed in the mid–17th century to a design by Amedeo di Castellamonte, but sure enough Filippo Juvarra also had a hand in the design. This massive complex, its stables, and its awesome formal gardens are now UNESCO World Heritage listed. Brought back to life and reopened in 2011 after decades of work, Venaria now offers a great, family-oriented day out with loads of outdoor summer activities as well as the chance to glimpse the extraordinarily privileged lives of the Savoy family. The Fountain of the Stag dances to music in the lake outside the palazzo. There are follies aplenty, and the mock-Roman Fountain of Hercules to discover in the grounds and permanent exhibitions in the house, including the Peopling the Palaces lightshow conceived by Peter Greenaway, who also had a hand in the exhibitions at the Museum of Cinema (see p. 412) in Turin.

Piazza della Repubblica, 4, Venaria Reale, 10km (61⁄4 miles) northwest of the city center. www.lavenaria.it. Red-Phone_redphone 011-499-2333. Admission varies from 25€ for entrance into the palace, gardens, and activities or 5€ for entrance into the gardens, with many price options in between. Open Tues–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat–Sun 9:30am–5.30pm (last admission 1 hour before closing). Bus: 11 from Piazza Repubblica. The Venaria Express bus runs Tues–Sun (40 min.), with stops at Stazione Porta Nuova, on Via XX Settembre, and at Stazione Porta Susa.

ORGANIZED TOURS

Several tour companies run trips around Turin and Piedmont. Viator (www.viator.com; Black-Phone_bphone 702-648-5873) offers an intriguing underground tour of the city’s catacombs and hosts guided tours of the Barolo region (see p. 422). A hop-on, hop-off bus service circles the major attractions and is run by Torino City Sightseeing (www.torino.city-sightseeing.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-535-181), while Delicious Italy (www.deliciousitaly.com; Black-Phone_bphone 06-8411-222) showcases the food stores and restaurants that have given Turin its gourmet reputation.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Turin’s beautiful playground is Parco del Valentino, which cradles the left banks of the River Po between the Ponte Umberto I and the Ponte Isabella. Its first incarnation was in 1630, when it was the private garden of the Savoy dukes, but the park was much extended in romantic English-landscape style in the 1860s and opened to the hoi polloi. It’s now a romantic place to stroll among the botanical gardens, flowerbeds, and manicured lawns. The Castello del Valentino was built in 1660, and was the pleasure palace of Christine Marie of France (see p. 411) but is closed to the public. The castle forms an incongruous backdrop to the Borgo Medievale (see below), a riverside replica of a 15th-century Piedmontese village. It’s a pleasant walk back into the city center along Corso Emanuele Vittorio II, or Tram 9 takes you back to Porta Nuova.

There are half a dozen rowing clubs on the Po; Reale Societa Canottieri Cerea (www.canottiericerea.it) is the oldest. Jogging and cycling routes encompass the riverside pathways, and the hiking center of the Gran Paradiso (see p. 425) is around an hour away. Of course Turin is ideally situated an hour away from the ski resorts of Valle d’Aosta (see p. 425) in the Alps, and it’s just a little further to the sandy beaches of the Riviera delle Palme to the south.

ESPECIALLY FOR KIDS

There’s plenty for kids to do in Turin. There are the open spaces of Parco del Valentino to run around in, plus free admission to the open-air Borgo Medievale, a mock-Piedmontese village built for the Italian General Exposition in 1884 (Viale Virgilio 107; www.borgomedioevaletorino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-4431-701; open 9am–7pm [8pm in summer]). Most youngsters will be intrigued by the Museum of Cinema at the Mole Antonelliana (see p. 412) and if that doesn’t suit, the trip up the Mole’s tower to see the city lying far below certainly will (see p. 412).

The Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile provides the perfect junior antidote to Turin’s baroque attractions, as does a trip to the Olympic stadium, built for the 2006 winter games and now home to rival Serie A Italian football stars Torino and Juventus. Both the stadium and its sports museum are open for guided tours (www.olympicstadiumturin.com; Tues–Fri 2–6pm; Sat–Sun 10am–6pm; tours 14€ adults, 10€ under 16, seniors, students).

If your kids would rather participate in sport than just dream of it, the winter’s siren call to the ski slopes of Valle d’Aosta can be answered in about an hour.

And if all else fails, pop into Caffè Fiorio (Via Po 8; Black-Phone_bphone 011-8173-225) for some delicious ice cream.

SHOPPING & NIGHTLIFE

Turin’s high-end shopping area is quite simply one of the most beautiful in the world. The arcaded Via Roman Fashion does full justice to the exquisite fashions on sale in Gucci, Armani, Ferragamo, Max Mara, and so on. At the end of Via Roma, the glass-roofed Galleria Subalpina links Piazza Castello with Piazza Carlo and competes with Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II for sheer opulence in its three levels of art galleries, antiquarian bookstores, and cafes. For those whose pockets may not be quite so deep, Via Garibaldi, Corso XX Settembre, and the surrounding streets together offer mid-range international brands at reasonable prices.

The windows of Italian food shops are always a thing of joy, and the specialist delis and confectioners of Turin are no exceptions. Confetteria Stratta (Piazza San Carlo 191; Black-Phone_bphone 011-547-920) and Pasticceria Gerla (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 11) are thronged daily for their extravagant pastries, cakes, and gianduiotti (chocolate with hazelnuts)The Turin branch of Eataly (see p. 382), the current top tip for gourmet Italian produce, is at Via Nizza 230, a little out of the center in Lingotto.

Turin is so famous for the quality of its specialist confectionary that the city produces 40 percent of Italy’s chocolate and celebrates it with its own festival, CioccolaTO (www.cioccola-to.it; dates change annually). The delicious gianduiotti is best purchased in beautiful packages at Confetteria Stratta (see above).

Most newsagents in Turin have English-language newspapers, and the two branches of Feltrinelli (Piazza Castello 19, Black-Phone_bphone 011-541-627 or Stazione Porta Nuova, Black-Phone_bphone 011-563-981) sell multilingual books.

Nightlife in the city that invented the vermouth aperitivo is sophisticated and, like Milan, starts in the cafes and bars and finishes very, very late. Squeeze in with the Torinese at the bar of Caffè Platti (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 72; Black-Phone_bphone 011-506-9056) for a vermouth, and pick from the plates of enticing little pizzas made on the premises. Choose a Slow Food (see p. 410) restaurant for dinner, and then join models and footballers to dance at Kogin’s (Corso Sicilia 6; Black-Phone_bphone 011-661-0546). In summer, head for the Murazzi embankment along the River Po for live bands and DJs in late-night dance clubs.

Dance, opera, theater, and musical performances (mostly classical) are on the agenda all year around—check the website www.visitatorino.com—but September is the month to really enjoy classical music in Turin, when more than 60 classical concerts are staged around the city during the month-long Settembre Musica festival (www.mitosettembremusica.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-442-4787), which is hosted together with the city of Milan. Beyond the festivals you’ll find classical concerts at Auditorium della RAI, Via Rossini 15 (www.orchestrasinfonica.rai.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-810-4653) and dance performances, and operas staged at the city’s venerable Teatro Regio (www.teatroregio.torino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-8815-557; tickets at Piazza Castello 215).

The Piedmont Wine Country Red-Star2_redstar2

South of Turin, the Po valley rises into the rolling hills of Langhe and Roero, flanked by orchards and vineyards. You’ll recognize the region’s place names from the labels of its first-rate wines, among them Asti Spumanti, Barbaresco, and Barolo. And vines are not all that flourish in this fertile soil—truffles top the list of the region’s gastronomic delights, along with rabbit and game plus excellent cheeses.

   The Markets of Turin

The produce market in and around Porta Palazzo takes over the gigantic Piazza della Republica Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1:30pm and Saturday until 6:30pm. The mother of all flea markets takes place in the warren of streets behind the Porta Palazzo every Saturday among the antique shops on Via Borgo Dora. The second Sunday morning of every month is scene of an antiques market on the same spot. More than 200 dealers from across northern Italy turn up to Gran Balôn (www.balon.it) with their wares. Come December, a Christmas market sets out its stalls in Via Borgo Dora. Turin has many stores specializing in rare books and old prints, and these also sell their wares from stalls along the Via Po.

ASTI Black-Star3_bstar3

Asti: 60km (37 miles) SE of Turin, 127km (79 miles) SW of Milan

The Asti of sparkling-wine fame is a bustling working city, but it has many treasures to uncover in its history-drenched centro storico—medieval towers (120 are still standing), Renaissance palaces, and piazzas provide the perfect setting in which to sample the town’s most famous product, which flows readily in the local enoteche and cantinas.

The Palio (www.palio.asti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0141-399-482), Asti’s annual horse race, runs the third Sunday of September. Like the similar race in the Tuscan city of Siena (see p. 217), Asti’s Palio begins with a colorful medieval pageant through the town and ends with a wild bareback ride around the triangular Piazza Alfieri. First staged in 1273, the race coincides with Asti’s other great festival, the Douja d’Or (www.doujador.it), a weeklong bacchanal celebrating the successful grape harvest.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    Up to four trains an hour link Asti with Turin Porta Nuova (30–60 min; 5.25€) via Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com; Black-Phone_bphone 89-20-21).

Arfea (www.arfea.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0144-322-023) runs two buses per day (1 morning, 1 mid-afternoon) from Turin Autostazione to Asti; the trip takes 1 hour.

Asti is 57km (35.5 miles) east of Turin and can be reached in less than an hour via Autostrada 21.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The APT tourist office is near the train station at Corso Vittorio Alfieri 34 (Black-Phone_bphone 0141-530-357). It’s open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 2:30 to 6:30pm; and Sun 9am to 1pm.

Exploring Asti

The grand, arcaded Piazza Alfieri is site of September’s Palio (see above) and along with the Piazza Libertá and Campo del Palio (former home of the race) forms the social heart of Asti. Behind Piazza Alfieri stands the Romanesque-Gothic redbrick Collegiata di San Secondo (www.comune.asti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0141-530-066; daily 10:45am–noon, 3:30–5:30pm, Sun morning for Mass only), which has dual importance to the burghers of this town. Firstly, it houses the Palio Astigiano, the prestigious banner awarded to the winning jockey at the Palio, and secondly the church contains the tomb of St. Secondo, patron saint of both the horse race and the town. He was a Roman officer who ill advisedly converted to Christianity in A.D. 119 and was beheaded in roughly the spot that his tomb now stands.

From Piazza Alfieri, the charming and largely pedestrianized Corso Alfieri dissects the old town and is lined with Renaissance palazzi. At the eastern end is the church of San Pietro in Consavia (Black-Phone_bphone 0141-399-489; daily 10am–1pm, 3–6pm) and a 10th-century Romanesque baptistery, once place of worship for the Knights of the Order of St. John. At the opposite, western extreme of Corso Alfieri you’ll find the rotund church of Santa Caterina, abutting the medieval, red-and-white brick-topped Torre Rossa.

Asti’s 15th-century Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Black-Phone_bphone 0141-592-924; daily 9am–noon, 3–6pm) is also at the western end of town in Piazza Cattedrale. The austere exterior hides the gaudy excesses of the interior; every inch of the church is festooned with frescoes by late-15th-century artists, including Gandolfino d’Asti.

Being the agricultural and gourmet hotspot that it is, Asti is blessed with two food markets. The larger is held Wednesdays and Saturdays (7:30am–1pm) in the Campo del Palio and spills over into piazzas Della Libertà and Alfieri, with stalls selling cheeses, herbs, flowers, oils, and wines. The undercover Mercato Coperto is on Piazza della Libertà and is open daily except Sunday (Mon–Wed and Fri 8am–1pm, 3:30–7:30pm; Thur 8:30am–1pm; Sat 8am–7:30pm). Look for white truffles, bagna cauda (a delicious anchovy fondue), robiola cheeses, almond-flavored amaretti biscuits, and nocciolata (hazelnut and chocolate spread). The region’s famous Asti Spumante DOCG sparkling wines can be bought from cantinas and enoteche in the town center and direct from some vineyards—a list is available from the tourist office at Corso Vittorio Alfieri 34 (see above).

PIEDMONT’S REGIONAL WINES

The wines of Piedmont are of exceptional quality and usually made with grapes unique to the region on tiny family plots, making the countryside a lovely patchwork of vineyards and small farms.

Barolo is called the king of reds (and is considered one of Italy’s top three wines, the others being Tuscany’s Brunello and Sassicaia), the richest and heartiest of the Piedmont wines, and the one most likely to accompany game or meat. Barbaresco, like Barolo, is made exclusively from the Nebbiolo grape though it is less tannic. Barbera d’Alba is smooth and rich, the product of the delightful villages south of Alba (see below). Dolcetto is dry, fruity, mellow, and dry, not sweet, as its name leads many to assume. Nebbiolo d’Alba is rich, full, and dry.

The white Spumanti DOCGs are the sparkling wines that put Asti on the map, and Moscato d’Asti is a floral dessert wine, while the fiery local Piedmmont grappas are none too shabby either.

VISITING THE WINE VILLAGES

Gastro-destination Alba Black-Star2_bstar2 (60km/37 miles south of Turin; 155km/96 miles southwest of Milan) is the jumping off point for visiting the 27 vineyards of the Barolo wine-producing region in the Lange hills. While it’s a pleasure to walk along the Via Vittorio Emanuele and the narrow streets of the Old Town, wine and food is what Alba’s all about. Wherever you go, you’ll end up peering into store windows to admire displays of wines, truffles, and the calorific but enticing nocciolata cake made of hazelnuts and chocolate. The streets are crammed with enough equally enticing restaurants to make most gourmands very happy indeed (see p. 422).

Just to the south of Alba lie some of the Piedmont’s most enchanting wine villages, sitting on hilltops among orderly rows of vines. The best way to see these villages is to drive; hire cars in Turin from Avis, Via Lessona Michele 30 (www.avis.com; Black-Phone_bphone 011-774-1962), Hertz, at Corso Turati 37 (www.hertz.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-502-080), or Sixt, at Via Mongrando, 48 (www.sixt.it; Black-Phone_bphone 011-888-768). Before you head out on the small country roads, kit yourself out with a good map and a list of vineyards from the tourist office in Asti (see above).

The main road through the wine region is the S231, which runs between Alba and Asti; it is a fast, busy, and unattractive highway so turn off it to explore Piedmont’s rustic backwaters among hazelnut groves and vineyards.

One such enchanting drive heads south from Alba to a string of wine villages in the Langhe hills (follow signs out of town for Barolo on the SP3). After 8km (5 miles), take the right turn for Grinzane Cavour, a hilltop village built around a castle harboring the Enoteca Regionale Piemontese Cavour (www.castellogrinzane.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0173-262-159), which is open daily from 9am to 7pm (until 6pm Nov–Mar). Here you can enjoy a fine sampling of local wines from over 300 labels; the fine restaurant is perfect for lunch.

Retrace your steps to the main road, turn left, and after another 4km (21⁄2 miles) south, take the right fork to La Morra, another settlement perched among vineyards with panoramic views over the rolling, vineyard-clad countryside. There are several cafes and restaurants here in which to taste the local vintages. The Cantina Comunale di La Morra at Via Alberto 2 (www.cantinalamorra.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0173-509-204) doubles as the tourist office and as a representative for local growers, selling Barolo, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. It’s open Wednesday to Monday 10am to 12:30pm and 2:30–6:30pm.

Barolo is a handsome little village dominated by two ancient castles; it’s 5km (3 miles) along the SP58 from La Morra. Here, too, you’ll find a choice of restaurants and shops selling the world-renowned red wines from its 27 vineyards. Among these outlets is the Castello Falletti (www.enotecadelbarolo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0173-56-277), revamped and reopened in May 2014 with a wine bar and an enoteca offering tastings in its cavernous cellars. A tasting includes three Barolo wines from different vineyards; costs are 5€ for three wines, 3€ for one. It’s open Thursday to Tuesday 10am to 6pm.

WHERE TO EAT & STAY

As well as a smattering of decent urban hotels, the Barolo region is the land of the agriturismo, with options to stay on wine estates in the hills of Langhe. Restaurants don’t come much classier than the best found in Piedmont.

Ristorante al Castello di Alessandro Boglione Red-Star3_redstar3 GOURMET    Housed in the fairytale castle at Grinzane Cavour along with an enoteca selling the best of the region’s wines and a museum of viniculture, Chef Boglione has cooked up a Michelin star for his exceptional new Italian style; signature dishes include veal agnolotti with savoy cabbage, suckling pig, or salt cod. Boglione hails from nearby Bra, home of the Slow Food movement, and he keeps as many of his ingredients as possible local and organic. He has also stuck by his word not to push restaurant prices into the Michelin category, so here is a rare treat; excellent cuisine at a (fairly) reasonable price. The eating experience is enlivened by temporary art exhibitions hanging in the cavernous, brick-walled, beamed ceiling dining room. Reservations are essential.

Via Castello 5, Grinzane Cavour. www.castellogrinzane.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0173-262-172. Set menus vary from 38€–45€. Mon noon–2pm, Wed–Sun noon–2pm, 7:30–10pm. Closed Jan.

Hotel Castello d’Asti Red-Star2_redstar2    Don’t be put off by the slightly workaday street; this hotel is a find. Tucked into a lush courtyard garden near the centro storico, the Castello is in an historic townhouse with an elegantly updated interior and beautifully appointed rooms in soft shades of black and cream with luscious marble bathrooms. The suites are more than spacious and all have their own balconies overlooking the gardens; there are also two luxurious self-catering apartments. Downstairs there’s a lively bar and a sleek restaurant serving reliably good Piedmontese cuisine and offering more than 300 local wines.

Via G Testa 47, Asti. www.hotelcastelloasti.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0141-51-094. 11 units. 125€–155€ double; 175€–235€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Closed Jan. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

La Cascina del Monastero Red-Star3_redstar3    Perfectly situated for exploring the Barolo wine region, this beautiful 16th-century family-run estate is part laid-back B&B and part winery, all just minutes away from La Morra (see above). Converted from an outbuilding of soft stone and arcading, the suites and apartments are all beautifully furnished with exposed timbers, heavy Italian antiques, and brass bedframes. Exposed walls, beams, and wooden floors add to the traditional ambience of the place, while the bathrooms have every modern convenience. Guest facilities include an unusual spa, which includes a sauna in what appears to be a massive wine barrel; a sun terrace; and, best of all, the chance to taste the wines produced on the estate. There’s no restaurant (there are plenty of choices nearby), but the breakfast buffet kicks off the day in fine style. A camping area is available amid lovely scenery near the main house.

UP AND OVER MONT BLANC

Riding high over Mont Blanc—Europe’s highest mountain at 4,811m (15,784 ft.)—has to be one of the most awe-inspiring experiences in the Italian Alps; an enchanted journey passing over glaciers and steep ravines, mountain lakes, and snowy peaks on the Italian side of the Vallée Blanche.

 For years, this epic trek has involved three changes of cable car, starting from the little ski village of La Palud (3km/1.75 miles above Courmayeur), and ascending through Le Pavillon and Rifugio Torino to the viewing terrace at Punta Helbronner (3,462 m/11,358 ft.), in the heart of the Mont Blanc Massif. From here it was possible to take the cable car down to Aiguille de Midi on the French side of Mont Blanc, and then the Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola on into the party-loving resort of Chamonix. At the time of writing, the Punta Helbronner leg is closed and the cable car stops at Rifugio Torino.

 A new and vastly improved cable-car service run by Funivie del Monte Biano will launch in early 2015. The system will see sleek rotating gondolas departing from a swish new station at Pontal d’Entrèves (near the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel) on a high-speed connection up to Punta Helbronner, still stopping off at Le Pavillon, for a bird’s-eye view of Monte Biano and surrounding peaks of Gran Paradiso and Monte Cervinia (Matterhorn). Costs and opening hours not established at time of writing but visit www.montebianco.com for an up-to-date report.

 Rifugio Torino will continue as a mountain refuge and will connect to Point Helbronner by a 154m (505-ft.) horizontal tunnel and a vertical lift of 70m (230 ft.) blasted out of the mountain. If you venture all the way to Chamonix, the best way back to Courmayeur is to take the SAVDA/SAT bus service through Mont Blanc tunnel. Six buses run each way and the journey takes 45 minutes (www.sat-montblanc.com or www.savda.it; tickets 14€, 7€ under 7).

Cascina Luciani 112A, Frazione Annunziata, La Morra. www.cascinadelmonastero.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0173-509-245. 10 units. 115€–125€ double; 125€–135€ apt. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Closed Jan and sometimes Feb. Amenities: Children’s playground; spa; outdoor pool; room service; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).

Palazzo Finati Red-Star2_redstar2    Hidden away behind a fine palazzo facade within easy reach of Alba’s fine gourmet restaurants, the Finati offers a choice of individually designed rooms, some with frescoed ceilings and terraces overlooking the inner courtyard, and all offering a taste of old-fashioned luxury. Rooms can be connected for family stays. The breakfast buffet includes fresh pastries, fruit, local cheeses, and cured hams, all served in a brick-ceiling, barrel-vaulted dining room.

Via Vernazza 8, Alba. www.palazzofinati.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0173-366-324. 9 units. 150€–180€ double, 179€–240€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Parking 10€ per day (request in advance). Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).

AOSTA Red-Star2_redstar2 & VALLE D’AOSTA Red-Star3_redstar3

Aosta: 113km (70 miles) N of Turin, 184km (114 miles) NW of Milan; Courmayeur-Entrèves: 35km (22 miles) W of Aosta, 148km (92 miles) NW of Turin

Tucked up against the French and Swiss borders in northwest Italy, the Aosta Valley is a land of harsh, snow-capped peaks, lush pastures, thick forests, waterfalls cascading into mountain streams, and romantic castles (see box, below) clinging to wooded hillsides. A year-round stream of skiers, hikers, cyclists, nature lovers, and outdoor adventurers flock to this tiny Alpine region just 1 hour north of Turin by car for the scenery, outdoor adventure, and the rustic gastronomy.

Aosta

GETTING THERE    Aosta is served by 20 trains a day to and from Turin (2 hr., change in Ivrea or occasionally Chivasso; tickets 9.45€) aboard Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com; Black-Phone_bphone 8920-21), and is a much easier option than the bus.

Aosta’s bus station handles a couple of direct buses to Turin Porta Nuova per day (most change in Ivrea); the direct trip takes 2 hours, the indirect route more than 3. However, a SAVDA bus service connects Aosta hourly to Courmayeur (1 hr., 3.40€) and other popular spots in the valley.

Autostrada A5 from Turin shoots up the length of Valle d’Aosta en route to France and Switzerland via the Mont Blanc tunnel; there are numerous exits in the valley. The trip from Turin to Aosta normally takes about 90 minutes, but traffic can be heavy on weekends in the ski season.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office in Aosta is at Piazza Porta Praetoria 3 (www.lovevda.it/turismo; Black-Phone_bphone 0165-236-627) and dispenses a wealth of information on hiking trails, information about ski lifts and passes, bike rentals, and rafting trips; open daily 9am to 7pm.

EXPLORING AOSTA

An appealing mountain town with an ancient heart, Aosta is surrounded by snowcapped peaks and steeped in a history that goes back to Roman times. Although you’re not going to find much pristine Alpine quaintness here in the Valle d’Aosta’s busy tourist center, you will find Roman ruins and medieval bell towers while checking out the chic shops. Aosta’s weekly market day is Tuesday, when stalls selling food, clothes, and crafts fill the Piazza Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto.

The “Rome of the Alps” sits majestically within preserved walls dating from the days when Aosta was one of Rome’s most important trading and military outposts. A Roman bridge spans the River Buthier and two Roman gates arch gracefully across the Via San Anselmo. The Porta Pretoria forms the western entrance to the Roman town and the Arco di Augusto the eastern entrance. The Teatro Romano and the ruins of the amphitheater are north of the Porta Pretoria; the ruins of the forum are in an adjacent park (theater and forum: open daily: summer 9:30am–noon, 2:30–6:30pm; winter 9:30am–noon, 2–4:30pm. Admission is free). Architectural fragments from these monuments found during excavations are displayed in Aosta’s Archaeological Museum at Piazza Roncas 12 (Black-Phone_bphone 0165-275-902; free admission; daily 10am–6pm).

   Italian Wilderness

The little town of Cogne is the gateway to one of Europe’s finest parcels of unspoiled wilderness, Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso. Once the hunting grounds of King Vittorio Emanuele II, this vast and lovely national park—Italy’s oldest—encompasses the jagged peaks of Gran Paradiso (4,061 m/13,323-ft. high), five valleys, and a total of 3,626 sq. km (1,414 sq. miles) of forests and pastureland where many Alpine beasts roam wild, including the ibex (curly-horned goat) and the elusive chamois (small antelope), both of which have hovered near extinction in Europe in recent years. Humans can roam these wilds via a vast network of well-marked trails. As well as being a hikers’ paradise, Cogne is also well respected for its 80km (50 miles) of challenging cross-country (Nordic) skiing trails; check www.funiviegranparadiso.it for more. The park’s main visitor center is at Via Alpetta, Ronco Canavese (www.pngp.it/en; Black-Phone_bphone 0124-953-166; admission is free).

INTO THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Most visitors to the Valle d’Aosta come here for the outdoor activities rather than to sightsee; the region has some of Italy’s best hiking trails. In summer climbers, cyclists, and ramblers head for the untamed Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, while the meadows and alpine forests around Cogne boast some of the region’s best cross-country skiing. There’s an ice rink in Aosta at Corso Lancieri di Aosta 47 (Black-Phone_bphone 0165-185-7281), and if you’re after something a bit different, consider dog sledding (www.dogsledman.com/index.php) at Pila, Breuil-Cervinia, and La Thuile.

However, it is the downhill skiing and boarding destinations of Courmayeur, Breuil-Cervinia, and the Monte Rose ski area around the resort towns of Champoluc and Gressoney that draw in most visitors. There are trails for all levels, from gentle nursery slopes to black runs and mogul fields. Expert skiers are best off at high-altitude La Thuile for excellent off-trail powder and heli-skiing. The ski season kicks off in early December and, weather permitting, runs through until April; altogether there are 800km (500 miles) of ski runs available under the Valle d’Aosta ski pass; multi-day passes in chunks of time cost from 130€ for 3 days up to 472€ for 2 weeks. More details are available at www.skivallee.it.

WHERE TO EAT & STAY

In the ski season, many hotels in Valle d’Aosta expect guests to eat on the premises and stay 3 nights or more, but outside busy tourist times, they are more flexible.

The Valle d’Aosta is the land of mountain food—hams and salamis, creamy polenta—and buttery Fontina is the cheese of choice.

Osteria da Nando Red-Star2_redstar2 FONDUE    This cheery terracotta-colored osteria is a true family affair, run under the beady eye of Germana Scarpa, who has been the boss here since 1957. Since then it has become one of Aosta’s most popular restaurants for its fondues in many guises, from bourguignonne served with tender beef fillet to raclette served with creamy Fontina cheese and chunks of chewy bread, alongside the archetypal Piedmontese dish of bagna cauda (anchovy fondue). Desserts are a little basic, French-style crèpes and gateaux, but the wine selection is impressively local.

Via Sant’Anselmo 99. www.osterianando.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0165-44-455. Main courses 12€–25€. Wed–Mon noon–2pm, 7:30–10pm. Closed 2 weeks late June to early July.

Ristorante La Palud Red-Star2_redstar2 PIZZA/SEAFOOD    There are Monte Bianco and glacier views from this buzzing pizzeria, and due to its position near the tunnel into France, it is nearly always packed. Reservations will be essential when the new cable-car service (see p. 423) opens in early 2015. It’s popular for its deliciously crispy pizzas, creamy polenta dishes, and fresh fish brought up from the Ligurian coast. In summer sit outside on the flower-filled suntrap terrace; in winter huddle around the open fire and admire the drifts of snow piled up outside.

Strada la Palud 17, Courmayeur. www.lapalud.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0165-89-169. Main courses 10€–25€. Thurs–Tues noon–3:30pm, 7:30–10:30pm.

Hostellerie du Cheval Blanc Red-Star2_redstar2    Traditional wooden chalet this is not, but if you’re after family comforts and town-center convenience plus Alpine views and a garden, the modern design of the Cheval Blanc (white cow) fits the bill. The hotel is designed around a massive atrium with stylish leather sofas and has two restaurants; Le Petit is fairly expensive, but the Brasserie lends itself to early suppers with kids. The rooms are conventionally kitted out in muted shades and the bathrooms come in highly ornate marble, most with baths as well as showers. For skiers, a winter shuttle runs to the cable car up to Pila, while the pool and sauna provide perfect après-ski relaxation before a night of R&R in the bars of Aosta.

Rue Clavalité 20, Aosta. www.chevalblanc.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0165-239-140. 55 units. 110€ double with balcony; 150€–220€ double, 240€–280€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; children’s playroom; indoor pool; gym; sauna; spa; room service; Wi-Fi (free).