North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

Written by on December 27, 2020 in North West, Regions

top of the mountain is il dente del giganate - the giant's tooth near Courmayer

North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

Now that we have produced a few articles and got the Good Life Italy site up and running I thought I would do a little summary of what we have discovered so far about the four regions that make up our region of North West Italy. Namely La Valle d’Aosta, Piemonte, Liguria and Lombardia. We have only scratched the surface and there is so much more to uncover. But I think we already have a taste of what is in store for us.

La Valle d’Aosta

the view over the Aosta town - North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

Snow-sports

Fabulous family friendly ski resorts catering for all levels of ability, excellent snow record, lots of sunshine and superbly prepared pistes. Courmayeur, La Thuile, Pila, Cervinia, Champoluc & Gressoney are brilliant for a week-long ski holiday. Charming and quiet little resorts like Crevacol, Chamois and Champorcher are great for a day trip. And all the resorts in the Aosta Valley are GREAT VALUE FOR MONEY when it comes to eating and drinking!

Monte Bianco and the Alps

Stunning mountains, including Monte Bianco, Europe’s highest. The spectacular valleys of Veny, Feret, Valgrisenche, Rhemes, Valsavarenche, Cogne, Valpelline, Valtournenche and Val d’Ayas to name just the main ones. Incredible wild and un-spoilt scenery. The Gran Paradiso National Park. High altitude lakes and mountain refuges, forests of larch and pine, pristine rivers, tumbling waterfalls. Wildlife everywhere – stambecco, marmote, chamois, chingiale and lupo. All in all, the Aosta Vallery is a wonderful environment for hiking and biking and generally for being awe inspired by the majesty of the natural world.

little mountain goat in the snow

Ancient castles, fortresses and Roman ruins

The Aosta Valley throughout history has been a crucial transportation route, hence the proliferation of magnificent castles and fortresses, many of which still stand today. Bard, Verres, Fenis, Sarre, Introd and Savoy are some of the best-preserved castles open to the public, but there 150 in total. The Romans too left their mark and the Town of Aosta is a treasure-trove of Roman ruins, with its Theatre and imposing Porte – city gates, being the most famous sites.

Savoy Castle in Gressoney

Unique culture, wine and food

The Aosta Valley is such a unique place, where French, Swiss and Italian cultures have all blended together and then mixed in with the traditional Alpine way of life. Local food, wine and traditional pastimes all reflect this combination of influences. As does the confusing sounding Italian/French dialect still widely spoken amongst Valdostane families, and not just by the grandparents. Cow fighting (yes cows!), fontina cheese, wood carving, polenta concia, Petit Rouge and Prie Blanc (grapes), weird summer sports in fields – palet, tsan, fiolet and rebatta, signs everywhere written in Italian and French, the decrepit but romantic Cogne steelworks (makes me think of Robert De Niro and The Deer Hunter).

Roberto de Nero from the movie The Deer Hunter

Climate and environment

The Aosta Valley’s climate is amazing. You would think it might be grey, cold, damp and dull in the winter but it certainly is not. Day after day of clear blue sky and bright sunshine is actually how it is most of the time. Cold yes and snowy up above 1000m, but winters here are invigorating. Spring and Autumn are perfect, warm but not too hot, clear and sunny mostly. Ideal for energetic outdoor activities. High summer is hot for sure, but importantly it is not generally humid. Hundreds of thousands of Italians come here in July and August for their summer holidays, partly in order to enjoy the relative relief from the oppressive heat of the Po Valley and other parts of Italy further south.

The population of this region is the least dense of any region in Italy and the natural environment is as close to pristine as life in 21st century Europe will allow. On the other-hand the social, sporting and administrative facilities in the Aosta Valley are amazing. It is true that being a semi-autonomous Region does seem to have had its benefits in terms of infrastructure investment over the years. Public services are brilliant.

Piemonte

Torino view in the evening

Torino

Home of Fiat cars, vermouth and the aperitivo, Juventus Football Club and the Turin Shroud. Majestic piazzas everywhere, linked together by cozy porticos. The mighty Po river flowing through. Torino is an unpretentious but very important City, Italy’s 4th largest after Rome, Milan and Naples. Museums, theatres, monuments, parks, summer concerts. Fabulous bars and restaurants.

Le Langhe

Wonderful countryside in the provinces of Cuneo and Asti, very similar to Chianti in Tuscany. Rolling hills covered in vines, charming old villages, narrow winding roads, snow-capped Alps in the background. Footpaths through the vines perfect for mountain biking – this area is just made for e-biking! Home to the famous wines of Barolo, Barbera and Barbaresco, to name but a few. The pretty towns of Alba, host to the world-famous truffle festival and Bra, home base of the International Slow Food Movement. And Asti, a gastronomic and cultural heaven in its own right. Enchanting wine villages all over the place, like Barolo, La Morra, Nieve, Monforte, Serralunga and Verduno, all full of delightful wine bars, cantinas and restaurants.

Govone with the church in the front and snow mountains in the background - North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

The mountains of Piemonte

The Western Alps near Torino and the world famous Vialattea ski region, containing international resorts of Sestriere, Sauze d’Ouix and Claviere. Further south in the Maritime Alps, near Cuneo, the delightful and sunny ski areas of Mondole Ski and Riserva Bianca. Great skiing and snowboarding, a friendly, family atmosphere and spectacular scenery guaranteed. Like in the Aosta Valley, brilliant value for money when eating and drinking on the mountain. Then there is Alagna, right up at the top of Piemonte close to the Swiss border and near the border with the Aosta Valley. If you are a good skier you will want to come here at least once in your career, to test yourself on the amazing off-piste runs that it offers.

Outside of the winter season all of these mountains are a paradise for hill walkers, mountain bikers and climbers. And speaking of paradise in the mountains, at the north of Piemonte, above Torino, is the other half of the Gran Paradiso National Park, the half that is not in the Aosta Valley.

Col del Novolet in Grand Paradiso National Park -

The Italian Lakes – Lago Maggiore & Lago d’Orta

Up in the north of the region sits the massive and lovely Lago Maggiore. Nearby is the much smaller but perfectly formed Lago d’Orta. Boat trips to the islands, sailing and kayaking, promenades along the shore, dinner on a deck by the water. Hiking up in the hills overlooking the lakes and mountains, road cycling tours, mountain bike trails and e-bike excursions. The whole area is alive with happy and energetic visitors from May to October and is set up with a great choice of hotels, comfortable camp sites. Numerous attractions for all the family.

the little island of Lago d'Orta

Golf

Together with next door Lombardia, Piemonte is what could be considered the heartland of Italian golf. Home of the Molinari brothers and host to some high quality courses. We think combining golf with sightseeing and gastronomy here in Italy sounds like a great formula.

Liguria

Ligurian coast at night

The Cinque Terre

Down at the bottom end of Liguria near the border with neighbouring Tuscany, a collection of 5 little fishing villages, now an iconic tourist destination. Walk the spectacular coastal path and tour the villages by boat, enjoy the lovely beaches and watch the sun setting over the Ligurian sea from the terrace of a traditional trattoria.

The Riviera Levante

In parts, just as glamorous as the fanciest parts of the Cote d’Azur, in other parts more down to earth and relaxed. A total of 30 Blue Flag beaches attached to authentic and charming towns and villages full of quality restaurants, hotels and bars.

With a stunning hinterland provided by the foothills of the Ligurian Alps, much of it covered in olive groves, citrus groves and vineyards.

As well as the Cinque Terre, the Riviera Levante to the east of Genova contains the film star hangouts of Rapallo, Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. As well as other slightly less ritzy but nevertheless enchanting seaside resorts of Camogli, Lavagna, Moneglia and Levanto.

camogli at sunset

And the Riviera Ponente

The Rivieria Ponente which runs west from Genova to the border with France is also delightful, especially the Riviera dei Fiori which runs from Alassio to Ventimiglia.

Palm trees, gentle sea breezes and the warm Mediterranean sea. The buzz of mopeds and the happy hum of beach goers and people in restaurants relaxing and having fun. Aperitivo in a beach bar, strolls along the promenade and wanders around narrow streets of charming old towns before supper. And partying! That’s what the Italian Riviera is all about.

Inland Liguria

Pretty little hill villages surrounded by forests. Impressive river valleys, high mountain peaks and endless wilderness trails to be explored on foot, bike or on horseback.

Genova port at night with the streetlight on - North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

Genova

A beautiful, lively and culturally heavy, port City, capital of the Liguria region, full of Renaissance palaces and impressive Piazzas. Lots of tourist attractions, including the old harbour district, which is the gateway to the Cinque Terre by boat. Rich gastronomic traditions and famous dishes such as focaccia, farinata and pesto.

Lombardia

Milano by night with the tram and the river at Naviglio area - North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

Milano

Italy’s leading business centre and its richest city. Northern Italy’s main International flight hub and a stop on the Freccia Rossa high speed train linking Rome to Torino. Vibrant and sophisticated, a hard working place, lots to see and do, a great place for a long weekend. Fabulous restaurants and bars, buzzing night life. The dream destination for high end designer fashion shopping.

Other towns in Lombardia

Bergamo is another great long weekend destination, atmospheric and refined. Visiting Citta Alta is a must, its unique flavour will stay with you for a long time. Oria al Serio airport is on the doorstep so it’s a doddle to get to. Mantova is a fascinating Renaissance town on the shores of an ancient artificial lake. The historic centres of the ancient university town of Pavia and of earthy and dynamic Brescia are both worth visiting.

The beautiful castle of Mantova

The Italian Lakes – Como, Garda and Iseo

Incredible views everywhere you look, a huge array of activities to get involved in, both on the water and up in the beautiful hills around the lakes. Wonderful hotels and restaurants, pretty villages dotting the shoreline. Whether for a day trip, a week’s holiday or a place to live the Italian Lakes is one of the world’s most gifted places, blessed with a lovely sweet climate and a natural environment so beautiful as to be almost painful. Lake side towns Como, Lecco, Sirmione, Varenna, Bellagio and Bardolino, amongst lots of others, are real gems.

La Franciacorta wine area

Easily reachable from Milano and Bergamo, Lombardy’s version of the Chianti and Le Langhe wine regions. Soft, neat and charming. Just under Lago d’Isoe. A lovely, relaxing place for a wine tour.

Ski resort Livigno in Lombardy - North West Italy: reasons to visit this region

The Alps

Top class international ski resorts of Bormio, Livigno and Ponte di Legno – Tonale, plus many smaller local resorts, especially in the area above Bergamo to the east of Lake Como. In the spring, summer and autumn the Alps become an immense natural playground for lovers of hiking, cycling, adventure sports such as rafting, parasailing and climbing, as well as motorbike and car touring. Many people from the nearby cities have a house up here, for weekends and the long summer holidays. The number of international visitors drawn to the Italian Alps for their holidays outside of the ski season is growing every year. Great air, pleasant temperatures, abundant outdoor activities, lots of space, stunning landscape. You can see why.

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