I love northern Italy. I love the location: just two hours in any direction and you can move from plains to jagged Alps to warm sea. I love its mixed-breed history. I love the hardworking nature of the people, the efficiency, the food.
And while Milan and Venice are breathtaking, there are plenty of towns that don’t share the same fame but are just as enchanting. For me, these are Mantova (Mantua, in English), Verona and Padova (Padua).
The truth is, in a country with a history as rich as Italy’s, these secondary cities are packed with as much history and art as any of Italy’s bigger destinations – with half the crowds and at half the price!
Hear more about travel to northern Italy with my interview on the Amateur Traveler Podcast:
Started by Chris Christensen in 2005, The Amateur Traveler audio podcast interviews locals and travelers to highlight specific destinations in the world. It’s simple and soothing and fun, and thanks to Chris’ incredible editing I even managed to sound knowledgeable a time or two! You can listen weekly to whatever the destination is, fascinated by the new things you learn or the chance to dream of a new locale, or you can search for specific destinations in preparation of a new trip.
I pitched Chris the idea of these northern Italian gems because they are well worth the visit. Because they show the uniqueness of Italy. They highlight its culture, its artisans, its landscapes, its geography. The more I learned about the stories of each of these towns the more I realized how important each was in the history of northern Italy and the more I fell in love.
Though they tend to be overshadowed by the small towns in Tuscany or the famous coastlines, these northern Italian towns are just as beautiful, just as historic and have just as delicious food as any!
So if you have a week in Italy, ditch the high speed train from Milan to Venice and take it slow. Extend your time between three of my favorite northern Italy destinations: Mantova, Verona and Padova.
Mantova, Verona and Padova Resources:
Mantova is a gem that rises out of the waters right on the border between Lombardy and Veneto. Known as Mantua in English, it’s finally beginning to get some recognation: it was named the Italian Capital of Culture in 2016 and the European capital of gastronomy in 2017.
Of course Verona is famous for Romeo & Juliet, but, as I mention in the podcast, I most associate it with its magnificent Arena. The more I read about the first-century Arena the more fascinated I became with it, and the more I appreciated each of my summer operas there. For a truly unique cultural experience in Italy, get yourself a cheap ticket and enjoy an outdoor summer opera in one of Italy’s oldest working amphitheaters.
In Defense of the Weekend Trip (because Verona is a weekend trip for me…)
My time in Padova was brief, but it was enough to help me understand what a power player this town once was in then region. With a huge history and an even bigger piazza, it’s a unique town that’s easy to day-trip to from Venice, but well worth an overnight stay. Here get an expertly made spritz and soak in the atmosphere – it’s one of the best aspects of the town.