The landscape of the Veneto and Lombardy varies from flat and unappealing to mountainous and breathtaking.
Located 37km outside of Venice, Padua is often overlooked by visitors to the area. This old university town (Galileo lectured here) has an illustrious academic history and is rich in architecture and art, most notably for the lyrical frescoes by Giotto which adorn the walls of the magnificent Capella degli Scrovegni. Renaissance squares, Roman ruins and medieval palaces all vie for attention here.
In the 16th century, the River Brenta was canalised between Padua and Fusina (just west of Venice) and stretches some 36km (22 miles). Its potential as a transport route was quickly realised and fine villas were built along its length. Today many of these elegant buildings can be visited including the Villa Nazionale at Strà (frescoes by Tiepolo), Villa Widmann at Mira (French Rococco style) and Villa Foscari at Mira – one of Palladio’s most impressive villas (frescoes by Zelotti). Two of these villas may also be visited in a day on a guided tour on board the Burchiello mini cruise boat.
The ‘Italian Lake District’, is located in the north of the country. The setting is pre-Alps with beautiful valleys, striking mountains that descend to meet the lakeshores, pretty lakeside towns and meandering narrow roads which provide breathtaking views at every turn.
Lake Garda, the largest of the north Italian lakes, is comparable to a small sea and is frequently used by sailing enthusiasts. The lakeside resort of Gardone is particularly noted for its profusion of exotically planted parks and gardens. It is here that the famous Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio lived. ‘Il Vittoriale’, his Art Deco home and curiously designed gardens including a full size ship and small amphitheatre, are well worth a visit. On the south side of the lake, with a stunning mountain backdrop stands the picturesque medieval fortress town of Sirmione. The Scaligeri Castle dominates the entrance to this historic town with its maze of narrow medieval streets, attractive cafés, shops and elegant villas.
The vegetation of Lake Como is Mediterranean, alpine and sub-alpine. On the banks are cypresses and pines, on the sunbathed slopes vines and olive trees and on the mountainside chestnut trees, beeches, walnut trees and conifers. The lake is notable for the profusion of flowers in March (narcissus and lily of the valley), in April and May (azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias) and from June to September (roses, oleanders and hydrangeas). Bellagio is one of the most beautiful resorts on Lake Como, admired for its’ blue waters, cleanliness and fresh air. The characteristic narrow streets house many shops and a stroll through the romantic gardens of Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni provide a welcome diversion.
Lake Maggiore, the second-largest lake in Italy, stretches between Lombardy and Piedmont and reaches into alpine Switzerland. The lake’s gentle sloping shores are dotted with attractive villas and decorative gardens blooming with azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. At the centre of the lake lie the three Borromean islands of Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori, which should not be missed. Cannero and Verbania are two of the more fashionable resorts on the western side of the lake, with beautifully kept public gardens and charming narrow streets, filled with smart boutiques, cafes, restaurants and hotels.