Secret guide to: Lombardy & the Italian Lakes

Medieval towns dot a landscape of vast, crystalline lakes. Lombardy and the surrounding lake region are framed by the dramatic fall of the Alps, creating stunning scenery that leaves any visitor breathless.

Whether it’s the draw of Lake Como, which has attracted its share of celebrities and jetsetters, or exploring the medieval citadels of Bergamo or Mantua beset with lavish Renaissance architecture, the region is a perfect concoction of sublime landscapes and fascinating culture. In true Italian fashion, regional delicacies and famed local dishes abound, offering unique flavours that compliment a charmed evening under the stars. Plan your trip here, with unmissable sights and a few hidden gems to ensure you get the best from the region.

Como

The city that sits at the eponymous lake is a huge draw for visitors, owing to a glorious historical centre embellished by gothic and renaissance influence. The vast Duomo and the mess of 400 year old buildings pack the city with charm, perfect for fine dining, pit-stops at espresso bars and purchasing some famous Como silks.

Bergamo

Bergamo is a truly beguiling hilltop city. One of the most stunning in northern Italy, you’ll find Renaissance and baroque architecture hosting delectable restaurants and artisan workshops ripe for exploring. Take the funicular from the old upper town to the lower town and immerse yourself in this startlingly beautiful city.

Palazzo Borromeo

Resplendently sat on the softly-lapping shore of Lago Maggiore, Palazzo Borromeo is a Baroque marvel with a peacock-roaming tiered garden that is sure to astound. Explore the luscious grounds before heading indoors, where you’ll be greeted by a luxury interior filled with incredible artworks. See where Napoleon stayed on a visit and indulge in a glimpse at the finest Baroque landscaping and design Italy has to offer.

Mantua

Italy’s Capital of Culture, Mantua is an overlooked, yet thoroughly magical destination. Sat on the water’s edge, towers and turrets rise out of the medieval city, casting an impressive scene after a drive through the countryside. Renaissance style is everywhere to be seen, nestled amongst literature festivals, operas and much more.

Crespi d’Adda

This company town offers a glimpse into the idealised vision of 19th century industrialists. A worker’s town now with UNESCO heritage status, Crespi d’Adda is the creation of the Crespi family, who built neat rows of worker’s houses, plenty of amenities and even a castle. The architecture describes the Crespi’s eccentricity and ambition, making this a fascinating place to explore.

Bellagio

Known as the pearl of Lake Como, Bellagio sits resplendently on the jutting spit of land that punctures the lake. Wander the cobbled streets discovering fine Italian wares, whilst restaurants treat you to delectable Lombardian cuisine.

Brescia

This charmingly historical city is a must-see for lovers of history and architecture. From the Roman ruins of the Capitolium (some of the oldest in northern Italy) to the breathtakingly beautiful murals inside the Santa Maria in Solario, Brescia collects UNESCO statuses like it’s going out of fashion. Kick-back in the gorgeous Piazza della Loggia and let this Lombardian jewel enchant you.

Il Vittoriale degli Italiani

The former home of Gabriele D’Annunzio, Italian proto-fascist writer and celebrity, is an eccentric homage to the despicable mind of its owner. A citadel complete with amphitheatre plus a half-ship and plane gifted by Mussolini, is a sight to behold. Tour the hyperbolic grounds, the lavish rooms, and the shameless decadence, as you learn more about this grossly-fascinating individual who inspired mid-century fascism.

Certosa di Pavia

This vast monastery is a magnificent Renaissance marvel, with intricate Gothic overtones. Isolated north of Pavia, it was initially conceived as a private chapel and mausoleum for the Visconti family, designed by the same architects as Milan’s Duomo. The frescoes are glorious, with the sacristy and its statues of particular note.

Monte Isola

If you want complete serenity, away from the usual tourist trappings that can be expected in the lakes, head to the largest of the inhabited lake islands. Here you’ll find a small community jettisoned from the mainland, with the stunning Alpine backdrop that the lakes afford. Serenity awaits…