A haven of art and culture
Italy is without question one of my favourite places in the world to visit. It’s not just because it has exquisite food and wine, beautiful art galleries and enthusiastic, passionate locals. It is also because the country is so diverse and every region has its own unique qualities. While the north of the country may get less coverage than destinations such as Rome and Sicily, Northern Italy will uncover a whole host of treasures with world-class food, art and culture, as well as some truly exceptional hotels. Check out this Nothern Italy Guide!
Urban masterpieces in Milan
Photo credit: Dimitry B.
The first stop in this Northern Italy Guide is the fashion hub that is Milan. The city has spawned an impressive list of exclusive designers. Miuccia Prada was born and raised here, Giorgio Armani grew up in the city’s outskirts and Gianni Versace moved to Milan as a young designer to hone his craft. Fashion houses such as Valentino, Gucci, Versace, Prada, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are all headquartered in the city, too, and the city’s residents are always exquisitely turned out. For some world-class shopping, head to the Quadrilatero della Moda (Rectangle of Gold) where you will find every A-list designer shop you could wish for with all the latest collections hot off the catwalk.
It’s not just the fashion scene that attracts the crowds to Milan’s urban chic. If you fancy a whole different type of entertainment, check out a football match at the city’s San Siro Stadium for the chance to see Inter Milan — one of the greatest teams in the world — in action. Back along creative lines and the city boasts some of the finest art galleries in the world with original pieces from global icons. This is the city where you can view Leonardo Da Vinci’s original fresco depicting The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, an artwork that will captivate even the least religious or art-focused among us. Then there’s the 15th century Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco), a site that is also home to a number of museums and art galleries. It is here that you can see Rondanini Pietà — the final, unfinished masterpiece from Michelangelo.
Then we have the Duomo, the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was built over six centuries and is considered by many to be the centrepiece of the city. Its interior and exterior architecture, art and detail are breathtaking, with spires carved from pink marble, thousands of statues and sculptures and beautiful views from the rooftop. Try to visit when the chamber music concerts are taking place — a great way to experience the magic of this attraction. Another beautiful entertainment destination is the Teatro alla Scala — the world-famous, neo-classical style building where there are regular of opera and ballet performances.
If you need a place to stay on your Nothern Italy tour, the Armani Hotel Milano blends naturally into the creative landscape of the city. It’s the second hotel from Giorgio Armani but it has an extra special feel thanks to its location in his home city, just moments away from where the designer was born and, of course, the shops of the Gold Rectangle. The design concept at the Armani Milano is impeccably stylish within a space that offers classic luxury and comfort. Striking details come with the movie-style staircases that lead to the elegant guest rooms, while the higher floors offer a high-class restaurant, lounge and bar with views of the city skyline. There’s also a sprawling 24-hour gym and fitness centre, as well as a decadent spa, where you can relax in the steam bath.
Photo credit: Perle Artistiche
Just three hours’ drive from Milan on Italy’s northeast coast, you will come across the beautiful city of Venice, the second stop on this Northern Italy tour. This is the place where canals traverse the city, helped along by friendly gondoliers and a laidback ambience. While you might be initially put off by the very touristy reputation of the city, there is a very good reason that Venice is so popular; the city is absolutely gorgeous. No amount of people can ruin its natural effervescence and a journey to a destination with absolutely no vehicles — just canal boats — will prove truly memorable.
This is a destination embedded in romance, perfect for all those starry-eyed dreamers who wish to float along the waterways of the Grand Canal with their loved one. There’s no better place to both escape the crowds and fulfil your romantic fantasies than the Ca’ Maria Adele in the elite Dorsoduro neighbourhood. Built within a historic 16th-century luxury palace and featuring a unique design that fuses Arab, African and local influences, this is the perfect place to recharge your batteries during a Northern Italy tour.
When you choose to venture out into the wider city, the city has a whole lot to explore beyond the canals. The Piazza San Marco and its eponymous basilica should be on every tourist’s itinerary, while art lovers can enjoy works from more great Italian masters, such as Tintoretto, at art galleries across the city. While there is a collection of larger and small, independent art galleries, if you only have time to make one cultural stop on your Northern Italy tour then make it the I Frari. This ancient Gothic church features Titian’s most famous artwork and the world-renowned masterpiece — The Assumption — on its high altar.
Another of Northern Italy’s most wonderful cities is Florence — a historic metropolis, capital of the Tuscany region and UNESCO World Heritage Site that sits south of Milan and Venice. Florence is another example of why Italy is such a revered art, culture and fashion destination; the city is among the fashion capitals in the world and the Tuscan region is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance. Original 14th century walls surround the centre of the city and there is a definite mediaeval ambience, making it a wonderful place to wander around and take in the atmosphere, whilst stopping to sample some delicious local cuisine at one of the many local trattorias. Florence is also must-see on any ony Northern Italy tour when it comes to the cultural side as you’ll be spoilt for choice. The domed cathedral, El Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio are must-see sights while the Uffizi — home to original works from Botticelli, Rembrandt and Caravaggio — is one of the best art galleries in the world. The city’s Accademia Gallery features Michaelangelo’s David, the Renaissance sculpture and a great symbol for the civil freedom of the Italian people.
When on a Northern Italy tour, art appreciation doesn’t stop at the museums, as the Gallery Hotel Art is situated in the Old City and just around the corner from these world-famous attractions. The hotel was designed by celebrated local architect Michele Bönan and offers a refined ambience with a modern aesthetic that beautifully contrasts with the ancient city outside its doors. An art exhibition showcasing contemporary works decorates the minimalist spaces, while there is warmth, intimacy and luxury abound in the elegant guest rooms and suites.
Away from it all in Tuscany
After all that city hopping, there’s no way place to end this Northern Italy guide than by enjoying the great outdoors in the wider Tuscany region and its famous wine and cuisine. The Tuscan landscapes are truly outstanding, with vineyards that stretch for miles, olive groves harvesting fresh crops and stunning coastal strip with white sands and clear waters reminiscent of the Caribbean. Among these picturesque vistas, the Castello Banfi stands proud. A vineyard, winery and hotel in one, this 14-room hotel is built within a medieval fortress in the deepest countryside. It’s beautiful surrounds are not just a great place to relax and let loose but also to indulge in the heritage of the Tuscan land with fine quality local wines and activities such as cycling tours and walking trails.