Late October is a perfect time to visit northern Italy — the weather is beautiful, sunny and cool, and most of the tourists have departed. For a ten to twelve day trip, the following itinerary works well: Venice, Lake Como, Milan and Florence.
Venice is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. During a three or four day visit, see the following: (1) Saint Mark’s Square and the magnificent Saint Mark’s Basilica, most famous for its stunning medieval mosaics; (2) the Church of Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari, completed in 1442, renowned for its spectacular collection of Venetian art, including one of the world’s most beautiful altarpieces, Titian’s “Assumption”; (3) the Galerie dell’Accademia, founded by Napoleon in 1807, it contains a magnificent collection of Venetian art — Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto; (4) the island of Murano, to see a fascinating glass-blowing demonstration and a dazzling array of the glass works. Your hotel can arrange for a “free” water taxi to visit Murano, and although the visit comes with some sales pressure it is worth it for the experience; (5) Travel the canals of Venice by boat — either the more expensive gondolas or the much cheaper, and more crowded Vaporetto (water bus) which is Venice’s primary public transportation.
Three additional tips: (1) Venice is best seen on foot, and getting lost can be a pleasure; (2) music abounds, Vivaldi who was Venetian, is particularly popular; and Venice has a world-class opera house, La Fenice. Opera tickets should be purchased as early as possible; other concerts tickets can be bought upon arrival; (3) John Berendt’s book, “The City of Falling Angels” on Venice is excellent.
About a three-hour drive from Venice is Lake Como, another one of Italy’s really spectacular destinations. This area’s most celebrated hotel is the Villa d’Este. Originally built in 16th century as a princely estate, it sits on twenty-five acres of wonderful gardens and woods. With a beautiful interior, delicious cuisine, great service and beautiful view of Lake Como, it is worth the splurge. A trip by car around Lake Como should include a visit to Villa Carlotta with its beautiful Italianate garden and the picturesque towns of Lecco and Bellagio. Another option is a day-cruise on Lake Como.
Milan, Italy’s second largest city and its financial and fashion center, is one hour south of Lake Como by car. The highlights of Milan include: (1) the Duomo, an enormous Gothic cathedral: construction began in 1351 and was finally completed in 1809 just before the coronation of Napoleon as King of Italy; (2) the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a late 19th century Belle Epoque shopping center located in the heart of Milan; (3) La Scala, one of the world’s most famous opera houses and where Verdi established his reputation. A tour of the building includes a visit to the La Scala Museum with its large collection of opera memorabilia; and (4) the church of Santa Maria della Grazie, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural of the “Last Supper”. After many years of restoration, this amazing painting (which was nearly destroyed in an American bombing raid in 1943) has regained its clarity and luminosity. Reservations are required. Viewings are in 15 minute time-slots with no more than 25 visitors at a time.
Four hours south of Milan by car is, Florence, a city of great artistic wealth and the birthplace of the Renaissance. Highlights include: (1) the Duomo, the cathedral of Florence with its amazing dome by Brunelleschi; and don’t miss the Baptistry with its bronze doors by Ghiberti; (2) the Uffizi Gallery, Italian Renaissance art doesn’t get any better than this — you may want to visit this museum twice, it is that special; (3) Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s statue of David; (4) Ponte Vecchio, built in 1345, Florence’s oldest bridge across the Arno River; and (5) Santa Croce, a beautiful Gothic church with a green and white marble façade dating from the 19th century containing the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini. Also of note are a series of frescoes by Giotto.
For a change of pace, take a drive south of Florence into the Tuscan countryside with its vineyards, olive groves and beautiful hill towns.Visit Montalcino — the home of Brunello, one of Italy’s best red wines. A couple of bottles of this delicious wine is the perfect souvenir of your Italian trip.
Coming next: The Road Lawyer Visits Argentina and Chile.