Italy still holds a
magic for me. No matter where you go or in what season, something surprising
awaits you. Of course, fall and winter weather can be iffy and summer is hot
and crowded but the rewards are well worth the effort.
I recently took a
ten-day road trip from Milan to Venice and then another ten days north into
the Tyrol mountains near the Austrian border. It worked out well and I found
that you can really tailor a trip to fit your needs. On the other hand, we
sometimes find ourselves in an exciting setting and don’t want to leave.
That’s why I prefer private car travel to tours. That’s a strange thing for
someone who runs a tour company to say but tours are for the older,
uninitiated. Private travel is for the strong of heart. Here’s a journey and
stops worth taking.
I flew into Malpensa,
the main international airport of Milan. (There is a closer airport called
Linate. If you get a flight here, it’s easier to get into the city, and much
cheaper). A bus drive into the city brought me to an area of many hotels
near the main station. It wasn’t difficult to note that the station was
built during the time of Mussolini. His architectural style is peculiar to
his time. By the way, if you intend to rent a car, it can be done at the
main train Station. I usually use Europecar. They are very reliable.
I found the modern,
first-class, all-suite Hotel Una Century at 25/B Via Fabio Fitzi, which had
a young, warm welcoming, staff and first class services. Tel 02 675041
From here I could
walk to the broad Via Pisani leading from the main train station, where,
that first day, I discovered La Porta Rosa at # 2. Gnocchi and pastas,
sauces and local wines greeted me even before I tasted the Veal Milanese. I
would eat here again before I was due to leave. The restaurant is often
crowded but there’s a downstairs room and tables outside. No need to
I sat quietly and
read my guidebook.
Milan is a bustling
commercial center, not without a certain charm. A day in the city will be
enough to see the main sights, which are close together, unless, of course,
you are there to shop. Some of the best high- end boutiques are in Milan,
which is Italy’s fashion center along Corso Napoleone. Chic young sales
people or models, beautifully display everything. It’s difficult to turn
I head for the main
square, Pizza Duomo. The main cathedral is a must with its 135 Gothic spires
and 2, 245 exterior statues that took 500 years to build. The best view of
the square is from the roof via a modern elevator. Important too are the
Brera Galleries, famous for Tuscan masters. And don’t miss the world famous
covered shopping area named after Victor Emmanuel next to the square. Here
there are famous coffee houses .
In the tiled floor
there is a bull design. You’ll notice that the section where the bull’s
testicles would be is deeply indented and worn out. The word has it that if
you place your heel into the indentation and do a 360 degree circle, you
will come back to Milan. I tried it and it worked. I’ve been there many
At the opposite end
is the famous La Scala. If you can get ticket for that evening, you’re in
luck. If not, spend an hour in the theatre museum. It’s rewarding. Don’t be
disappointed if the man on the street doesn’t understand you. They speak a
true Milanese dialect here. I use hand gestures and point a lot.
After that, it’s a
short walk west to the gates of the Sforzesco Castle, once owned by the
ruling family of the area. It’s a nice park setting next to a huge (Sempione)
Nearby, you’ll find
Santa Maria della Grazie, on whose refectory wall Leonardo da Vinci painted
the world’s most famous picture, The Last supper. Try to get there early in
the day as it gets very crowded.
Milan can be a
pleasant interlude if you wander off the main streets.
But our destination
is Bergamo only 50 km to the east along the Autostrada. The city is
interesting as it is divided into an Upper and Lower Town. It’s a steep
climb but well worth it. Citta Alta contains ancient walls, narrow winding
lanes lined with palazzi and an old tower rising above blue domes. You’ll
find breezy piazzas and wonderful views of the distant mountains and the
‘waveless plain’. It is easy to see why Stendhal called this “The prettiest
place I have ever seen.”
From on top or from
the funicular to the fortified Bergamo Alto you look down on the city of a
thousand churches, most of them ordinary. But the Sentierone, The Big Path,
a chestnut lined avenue, is full of life and color.
There is probably no
more restful or picturesque town than Bergamo, too often bypassed by
tourists heading to Sirmione on Lago di Garda or Como, one of my favorites.
We come to Garda,
the greatest of Italy’s Northern lakes. It is one of the shortest to drive
around. Even the German poet Goethe, not normally given to exaggeration,
thought this was the nicest of the lakes and “a marvel of creation”.
Allow two days to
see the lake properly. You’ll have no trouble finding a pretty place to stop
and wonderful accommodations. In Bardolino or Sermione, you can inquire at
the tourist office. Sermione is my favorite even if it’s a bit crowded
seasonally. It’s the jewel in Garda’s crown with the citadel at the end of
the 3 mile sandy point at the southern end of the lake. With lush gardens
and fruit groves, a grotto, hit springs it drew such people as Toscanini and
Catullus, the Roman poet, as well as Ezra Pound the modern American poet who
wrote about him 2000 years later.
A drive along the
eastern shore will offer forts, villas and resorts. There is a cut-off at
Lazise to the Autotstrade leading to Verona. If you aren’t in a hurry you
can stay at Casa Mia 2 km south of Lazise. It is a modern oasis with pool,
golf course and sauna. Call ahead to: 045 647 0244
In Sermione you can
have traditional or local meals in a shaded terrace at Grifone da Luciano at
Via Della Bisse, 5. There’s a small hotel nearby. Telephone ahead to 030 916
As I enter Verona, I
always think of Shakespeare and his lovers, Romeo & Juliet. Juliet’s
balcony is the top tourist attraction, even if it’s not real, but I am drawn
by the great Roman amphitheatre with capacity for 22,000 people who can view
great opera or the great Shakespearean tragedies. Ancient Romans marked
their special stone seats, so don’t be surprised if yours reads, “Catullus
sits here” or “This is Milo’s chair”.
The city is
bustling, especially around Piazza della Erbe where people gather to buy
fruits and vegetables or sip coffee under striped awnings. On some of the
streets I saw fenced off areas where early city ruins were found and are on
I actually ate near
the arena in a Chinese restaurant, Hong Kong, that was simple and
inexpensive. It’s at 25 Via Cattaneo.
I didn’t stay in
Verona but there is a nice 4* Best Western Hotel Firenze at 88, Corso Porta
Nuova a few minutes from the city center.
Tel: 045 801 1510.
From here it’s only
a short 32 km hop to Padua a city where Gallileo once lectured. This statued
city is referred to as “The city of the Saint” as a dedication to Anthony,
patron of all Italy. The traffic moves around the Prato della Valle, a
series of white chalk statues, old bridges and underground canals, along
cobbled streets with smart shops. There are many good restaurants around the
St. Anthony’s Cathedral.
La Calandre is a
reasonable place to eat at a small hotel of the same name. Te: 049 635 200.
There are also restaurants on the westbound autostrade to Venice, which is
only a 20-minute ride away.
Venice is a
wonderful place to spend time and get lost in the warren of streets and
canals. There is really no other city like it in the world and I’ll describe
it in a future article.
To save money you
can stay just outside the city at Mestre, perhaps the Hotel Plaza, near the
Mestre train station. If you come in by train, there are many good hotels
within walking distance of the train station on Venice’s Grand Canal.
HOTEL PLAZA 36,
Viale Stazione Tel 041 929 388 There are 226 modern rooms in this First
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)