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The beautiful town of Menaggio on Lake Como is often overlooked by tourists who instead flock to Bellagio, just across the lake.

Italy &…Hidden Gems

Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta and Lombardy

Piedmont is perhaps Italy’s most varied region and it is certainly one of the most beautiful. The diversity of landscape is incredible, ranging from the snowcapped Alps to the fertile wine region.

The Province of Cuneo is famous for the wine regions of Langhe and Barolo and while millions visit the province for the wine and food, almost no one visits the town of Cuneo itself! It is located near the Alps, an hour west of Barolo and exudes both charm and history. Built in 12th century for strategic defense, it was considered to be invincible, but after it fell to Napoleon in 1796, he changed the city from a military stronghold to a cultural center. Piazza Galimberti, one of the largest and most impressive squares in the Piedmont was constructed and arcades covering eight miles of space were built, extending throughout much of the small city. The oldest part of town along Via Roma is now a pedestrian zone, restored with unique and authentic shops from the 19th century.

The Fenestrelle Fortress is a colossal work created on a mountain ridge spanning over two miles, consisting of an uninterrupted series of fortifications joined together. It is located in the area of Val Chisone, about 20 miles west of Turin. Not only is it the most impressive alpine fortification in Europe, it is the second largest in the world after the Great Wall of China. The series of ten fortresses date back to 1727 and took more than a century to complete. All of the structures are linked together by thousands of stairs that rise over 2,000 feet from bottom to top.

The small town of Gavi near the border of Liguria is a jewel. It boasts old palaces dating to the Middle Ages and one of Italy´s most original roman churches, San Giacomo. A stroll in Gavi´s old center will reveal small streets with houses so close you can almost reach across and touch the other side. And don’t forget their wine and gastronomy. Although numerous places claim the title, there is strong evidence that ravioli was created by the Raviolo family of Gavi in the early 14th century. Its popularity swiftly spread. Gavi DOCG wine is today one of Italy´s finest white wines with viticulture in the area dating back more than 1,000 years. The area surrounding Gavi has fantastic resorts throughout its hills and allows visitors to pair golf, wine tasting and excellent cuisine with beautiful natural scenery.

Scenic Valle d’Aosta is dotted with more than 100 castles and fortresses, such as the massive Forte di Bard pictured here.
The expansive Piazza Galimberti in Cuneo, like many parts of the city, is surrounded by arcades. The statue in the square is of 19th century Piedmont statesman Giuseppe Barbaroux.

In the far northwest of Italy is Valle d’Aosta. It is an enormous glacial valley with numerous smaller valleys surrounded by some of Europe’s highest peaks. Monte Bianco, Monte Cervino, also known as the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso are just a few.

The city of Aosta has been called the “Rome of the Alps.” Visitors should not miss some of the monuments and ancient ruins that remain, including the Arch of Augustus, Porta Praetoria, the Roman Theatre and ancient city walls. Because the Aosta Valley was historically a strategic passageway for travelers crossing through the Alps, numerous towers and fortified castles emerge along the routes. Two churches in Aosta are masterpieces of art and architecture – the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which dates to the 11th century and the Church and Cloister of Sant’Orso Collegiate. The latter includes archaeological excavations that trace the building’s construction and important Romanesque sculptures in the cloister.

Courmayeur makes for a wonderful day trip any time of the year with great skiing, hiking, shopping and eating! At an elevation of 4,000 feet above sea level, it is located at the foot of the southern side of the Alp’s highest peak, Monte Bianco. It became a popular tourist destination with the emergence of alpine sports and has been voted “Italy’s best all-round ski resort.” One does not need to ski to enjoy its beauty. Courmayeur contains the Alpine Botanical Garden Saussurea, Europe’s highest botanical garden. In the summer months, Courmayeur is a popular destination for hikers. You can take thrilling cable car rides through the mountains, with aerial tramways that go all the way over the Alps and into France.

The town of Gavi is known for its wine and food, as well as its quaint alleys, lanes and streets. In the background can be seen the campanile of the medieval San Giacomo Church.
The Fenestrelle Fortress is an amazing structure in the Piedmont that rises along a ridge on the western edge of Italy.

In more ways than one, Lombardy is the richest Italian region. Situated in the north of the country, it is dotted with extraordinary landmarks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, crystalline lakes and places of natural beauty. From cultural attractions to quaint villages, there is no shortage of charm in Lombardy.

Bergamo is a gem of a city with a beautiful hilltop location, a wonderful collection of must-see sights and a relaxed atmosphere. During its long history it was first a Lombard Duchy, but in 1428 it was ceded to the Republic of Venice, which built a ring of massive defensive walls around the city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bergamo’s oldest section, Citta’ Alta, has buildings from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and the Baroque periods and its Piazza Vecchia is surrounded by some of the city’s most important historic buildings. There is also an abundance of sights to see. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is richly decorated with amazing frescoes, stuccoes and tapestries. Capella Colleoni has one of the most stunning marble exteriors you will see in northern Italy and the beautiful Palazzo del Podesta houses the Museum of 16th century Bergamo, showing Roman ruins on the ground floor.

Brescia is off the beaten track for visitors to Lombardy and few realize that it is the region’s second-largest city. It has much to offer any traveler eager to discover unique and breathtaking sights, with a history that spans over 3,200 years. Its monumental Roman ruins are the best-preserved in northern Italy and the city’s piazzas are surrounded by imposing historic buildings and churches. A massive medieval castle crowns the hill above the city and among all of this history stands some of Italy’s most avant-garde buildings, with the country’s first-ever skyscraper called Torrione, the Big Tower, built 90 years ago. The monumental complex of San Salvatore-Santa Giulia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a museum with over 11,000 works of art and archaeological finds housed in a former monastery. Brescia’s castle houses several museums and exhibits and its position on Cidneo Hill offers unparalleled views of the city.

The Monte Bianco Skyway from Courmayeur is a thrilling ride and lets visitors see Italy quite literally at its peak!
One of the rooms of the enormous complex of San Salvatore-Santa Giulia in Brescia. The former monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses a museum of extraordinary artifacts, paintings and frescoes.

Finally, Menaggio is a tiny town on the shores of Lake Como, directly across the water from the popular town of Bellagio. A short ferry ride connects the two towns, so if in the area, by all means take the opportunity to visit. Small and easy to navigate on foot, Menaggio has a lovely historic center with many pretty streets that follow routes laid out in the Middle Ages. Take in the beauty of the local pastel-colored churches and houses and enjoy the view from Piazza Garibaldi over Lake Como. Via Calvi is a fun place to shop with its local boutiques and small shops. For those who love beautiful gardens, make sure to visit Villa Vigoni and just down the road in Tremezzina is the 17th century Villa Carlotta. Last but not least is the 18th century Villa Balbianello located nearby, which has been featured in numerous films, including Casino Royale.

Beautiful and historic Bergamo is often missed by visitors who instead head to Milan.