Secret spots – Under-the-radar places to visit in northern Italy
With its sparkling lakes and waterside towns, it’s not surprising northern Italy keeps people coming back year after year. But when you’ve ticked off all the must-see sights, what’s next? Here’s our round-up of the lesser-known spots to add to your list.
Museo Della Carta paper museum – from Garda town, Lake Garda
Flowing into Lake Garda, the swift water of the Toscolano river helped power the production of paper in the middle ages. Take the ferry from Garda to Maderno, then hop on the tourist shuttle to explore the old paper mills in the wooded valley above the town. The biggest building is home to the Museo Della Carta, a museum dedicated to all things paper, where you can learn more about the history of this local industry and the techniques used in modern papermaking. Afterwards, take a leisurely stroll along the shaded riverside trail and pop into the café for an ice cream.
Rocca di Angera (Borromeo Castle) – from Stresa or Baveno, Lake Maggiore
Hop on a bus from Stresa or Baveno to visit the 12th-century castle that watches over the waterfront town of Angera. Set atop a limestone cliff, it’s one of the best places to enjoy panoramic views of Lake Maggiore and its islands. You can also wander around the gardens, where there are paths lined with fragrant herbs, cypress trees and colourful blooms. Inside the castle, gaze up at the vaulted ceilings to see the colourful medieval frescoes, before visiting the toy museum – an impressive collection of over a thousand historical toys and dolls, including some unique mechanical figurines.
Lake Ledro – from Riva, Lake Garda
Head up into the hills behind Riva to discover one of the region’s lesser-known lakes. The clear waters of Lake Ledro are known for being the cleanest in the area, so it’s the ideal spot for a swim. There are four different bathing beaches to choose from and the gentle 10km shoreside trail is just right for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. Also nearby are the remains of a Neolithic settlement – it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can get a glimpse into the past by visiting one of the reconstructed dwellings.
Cannero Riveria – from Stresa, Lake Maggiore
Take a boat trip to this little village for a day of walking and soaking up the scenery. It sits in a sunny spot on the shore of the lake and is famous for lush citrus groves and gardens full of camellia and rhododendron flowers. Start your visit by pottering down to the lakefront promenade – from here, you can see the ruins of the two Castles of Cannero, which stand guard on twin islets. On the hillside above the village, you can follow a network of walking trails between vineyards and through chestnut woods. As you walk, look out for the many wayside shrines that line the path. Then round off your visit by wandering back through the cobbled streets of the village and stopping for a drink in a local bar.
Lake Tenno and Canale di Tenno – from Riva, Lake Garda
Just a 30-minute bus ride from Riva, Lake Tenno gets its distinctive turquoise colour from the white stones on the bottom and the light reflected off the lush green trees that line the shore. Take a picnic and spend the day admiring the scenery from the shingle beach and swimming in the cool water. Away from the shoreline, a short path leads to the Cascata del Varone waterfall, where you can watch the water from the lake cascade into a narrow gorge.
Also from this little lake, you can visit the nearby medieval hamlet of Canale di Tenno. Abandoned after World War II, it’s now home to a thriving community of artists – and with its cobbled alleyways, courtyards and rustic stone buildings, it’s regularly counted as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages.
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