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What to do

Gardone
Take a ferry trip around the lake and stop off at Sirmione and Salò (see below). Visit the lovely Hruska Botanical Gardens and Vittoriale, the fascinating home of the famous poet and polititian Gabriel D'Annunzio. In summer Vittoriale hosts open air theatre and opera.


Sirmione
The peninsula that was home to the Roman poet Catullus.  Spectacular ruins of his villa. In the town itself there is a well preserved castle with impressive views of Sirmione from the top. Popular with tourists, but definitely worth braving the crowds.  1hr on the hydrofoil and 2hrs on the ferry.


Salo
A larger town than Gardone with a wide array of shops, including well-known Italian fashion brands. There is a great market held on Saturday mornings with stalls selling clothes, shoes, household accessories and food. Recommended if you enjoy browsing and shopping. It can get crowded so get there early.


Venice
Venice is arguably the most beautiful city in the world. The city is built on 118 islets connected by 400 bridges, with 150 canals winding their way through the maze.  There are no cars.  Venice is full of palaces and a multitudes of churches, reflecting a glorious past.  Highlights include Basilica San Marco, Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Grand Canal, Rialto Market.  150 kms from the lake.


Verona
The city itself is a work of art and is rich in art treasures, particularly Roman remains.  Beautiful buildings, quiet streets and a winding river. The setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and home to Juliet’s balcony. The whole place is romantic.  In the summer the city hosts the open-air opera season in the ruins of the ancient Roman Arena.  Before the overture the audience of 20,000 will lighted candles and the effect is magical. 65 kms from the lake.



Bergamo
The walled hilltop town of Bergamo is an enchanting place with a wealth of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Avoid the lower town (Bergamo Bassa) and instead head for the Piazza Vecchia in the heart of the upper town (Bergamo Alta), with the Palazzo della Ragione, restaurants, shops and the Torre della Civica (ascended by lift). In the nearby Piazetta del Duomo, the Cathedral is overshadowed by the Romanesque church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which includes a 19th-century memorial to the native composer, Gaetano Donizetti (whose museum is also worth a visit). The best views are from the Castello on the summit of San Vigilio. The Accademia Carrara, at the bottom of the plateau on the eastern side, is one of Italy’s finest art galleries, beautifully laid out and featuring important art from the middle ages to the 20th century.


Mantua
Mantua (Mantova) is the birthplace of a number of renowned Italians, ranging from Virgil (a statue of whom overlooks the square facing the Broletto, the Medieval town hall) to Tazio Nuvolari, one of Italy’s most famous racing drivers (a small museum pays tribute to his accomplishments).

Mantua's churches, Sant’Andrea (designed by Alberti and the burial place of Mantua’s famous court painter, Mantegna) and the Baroque Cathedral in the Piazza Sordello are both important works of architecture. However, the most famous sites of Mantua are its two palaces: the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo del Te. The Palazzo Ducale, once the largest in Europe, was the home of the Gonzaga family, and has a number of impressive paintings by artists such as Rubens and Mantegna. The Palazzo del Te was built as a Renaissance pleasure palace for Frederico Gonzaga and his mistress, Isabella. The decorations by Giulio Romano are outstanding and well worth viewing.


Milan
One of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world – the Duomo – dominates Milan’s central square, the Piazza del Duomo. More than 500 years in the making (work began in 1386), it is an intricate and awe-inspiring building and a tribute to the five centuries of artists, artisans, architects, builders and engineers who created it. Climb up to the roof for a stunning view over Milan.



Galleria Vitorrio Emanuele II, to the north of the lively Piazza del Duomo, is one of the world’s most elegant shopping malls. Designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1878, it is a vast, glass-roofed arcade and was one of the first buildings in Europe to use iron and glass as structural elements. It houses stylish cafés, restaurants and shops.

Walk through the Galleria to the Teatro alla Scala or the La Scala opera house as it is usually known. It first opened in 1778 and was the scene of many famous operatic first nights throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Badly damaged in World War II, it reopened in 1946 and you can enjoy opera, theatre, ballet and concerts here year-round, except for during the month of August. The Pinacoteca di Brera on Via Brera is well worth a visit. It houses Andrea Mantegna’s The Dead Christ as well as paintings by Raphael, Bellini, Rembrandt, Goya and Caravaggio. One of the most famous frescoes in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, is housed in the Vinciano Refectory beside the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. The work has recently been painstakingly restored.

Milan is all about fashion, however, so make sure to window shop at least if you cannot afford the clothes! Head for Versace at Via Alessandro Manzoni 38 or pop around to Via San Andrea where you’ll find Prada, Fendi and Kenzo. The Via Monte Napoleone is home to Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Ungaro. For less exclusive shops, head for the Via Torino or the Corso Buenos Aires. You can dine excellently and reasonably in Milan. Head for the many restaurants around the Navigli area or around the Stazione Centrale. Some of Italy’s best clubs are found in Milan. You’ll find them in the Brera, Navigli and Porta Ticinese areas. Milan is world famous for its football teams – AC Milan and Inter Milan. They play on alternate Sundays at the San Siro stadium and are well worth catching.