venice, the dolomites, and the italian lakes - detailed itinerary

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Day 1 -- Milan

Almost all your preconceptions about Italy aren't necessarily true for Milan. Unlike the rest of the country, Milan is decidedly businesslike. The pace is a little faster, the residents more stylish and affluent, and the food is less Mediterranean.

Though Milan is not as fully committed to the siesta as other cities in Italy, many museums and businesses close around noon and don't reopen again until around 3PM. So plan your sightseeing accordingly.

The country's fashion, finance, and commerce center, Milan is sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

There's plenty to see and do here, there's some wonderful art, and the shopping is the best in Italy, arguably the best in Europe. So be sure to allow plenty of time for strolling Via Montenapoleone.

Since reservations are required to see Milan's greatest attraction -- Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" -- schedule the rest of your sightseeing around your appointed time. If you can arrange to see it on the second morning of your visit, that would be perfect.

Once you're settled into your hotel, head for Piazza del Duomo, the heart of Milan. If you plan on sightseeing outside the city center -- or if you just want to save your feet -- stop by the Tourist Information Office at Via Marconi 1 and invest in a 2-day Travel Pass. You can also pick up a map.

Anchoring the pedestrianized piazza, the Duomo was begun in 1386 and took almost five centuries to finish. Italy's largest Gothic cathedral, the Duomo is dazzling from the outside. And huge. It can accommodate 12,000 worshippers.

Crowned with 135 spires and decorated with more than 2,000 statues, the cathedral combines Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and neo-Classical elements.

The huge bronze doors are covered with reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin. And the gilded statue of the Madonnina that watches over the church is a Milan landmark.

The inside is illuminated by brilliant stained-glass windows and you can visit the Crypt, where San Bartolomeo's statue guards his tomb. The Baptistry, reached by descending steps near the main entrance to the church, dates from the 4th century. In fact, St. Augustine was baptized here in 387.

To really appreciate the Duomo, you need to take the stairs or the elevator to the rooftop. You'll find them outside the north transept. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Alps. And walking through the spires and statues is an unforgettable experience.

Across the Piazza del Duomo, the Palazzo Reale was originally the Royal Palace of Milan's ruling families. Although the palace dates from the middle ages, it was remodeled near the end of the 18th century on orders from Empress Maria Theresa of Austria who was the mother of the Archduke Ferdinand. The subdued exterior does little to suggest the opulence within.

The Palace houses the Museo del Duomo which documents the construction of the Cathedral. There are casts for many of the cathedral's thousands of sculptures. It also displays six centuries worth of sculpture, stained glass windows, tapestries, and other priceless objects.

Also in the Palazzo Reale, the Civic Museum of Contemporary Art (CIMAC) has a permanent collection including works by Modigliani, De Chirico, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaughin, and Matisse. The museum also hosts important traveling exhibits.

When you're ready for a bite, there are a couple of great choices in the area. La Bruschetta on Piazza Beccaria serves killer pizza from a wood-burning oven.

Foodies should head straight for Via Spadari, where they'll find Peck, one of the most famous food shops in Italy. If you're not hungry, a brief stroll through the cheese, smoked meats, and other delicacies will likely give you an appetite that you can satisfy at the self-service restaurant or the rotisserie around the corner.

From the Piazza del Duomo, it's a short stroll to San Satiro on Via Torino. The lovely 15th-century church was designed by Bramante, Milan's leading architect during the Renaissance. He used tricks of the eye to disguise the tee-shaped plan. And the church is well worth a visit.

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is just off Via Torino, about five minutes walk from San Satiro. Originally built in the 17th century to house the 30,000-manuscript library of Cardinal Federico Borromeo. Today, it contains many monumental works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, and Brueghel.

After you've explored the gallery, head back toward the Duomo. Opposite from the Cathedral, you'll see the four-story Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, one of the most elegant shopping centers in the world. The glass-domed arcade was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1865 and it's absolutely stunning.

For good luck, find the mosaic of Taurus in the large zodiac under the dome and spin on his testicles. Don't ask us why. When in Milan... Order something to drink and enjoy the vaulted ceilings, the frescoes, and the ornamentation, then settle in for some terrific people watching.

If you still have some energy, you can visit the Museum at Teatrale La Scala, the world's most legendary Opera House. If you're a music lover, you should already have tickets to attend a performance here during your stay.

The Museum traces the history of La Scala, which opened in 1778 with an opera by Salieri. The opera house is linked to several musical giants including Maria Callas, Arturo Toscanini, and Giuseppe Verdi.

The museum contains interesting items like Toscanini's baton, Liszt's piano, portraits and busts of musicians and composers, and props and costumes from various productions. If you're not attending a performance, consider visiting the museum.

When you're beat, head back to your hotel for a little lie down, or find an appealing café on the piazza and watch the world go by.

Although Milan is not known as one of Italy's great food cities, there's no shortage of good restaurants here. For dinner, try Boeucc or Al Cantinone.

Turn in after dinner to help yourself get acclimated.

Day 2 -- Milan

Have breakfast at your hotel this morning. Leonardo's "Last Supper" is in the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. The masterpiece was unveiled in 1999 after two decades of restoration and it's wondrous. You need reservations to visit, which is actually a good thing. Because now, only 25 patrons are admitted at a time, for 15 minutes. Your chances of getting to really see it are better than ever.

There are several other attractions not far from Santa Maria delle Grazie. So see them before or after your visit to the "Last Supper."

If you're interested in ancient history, the Archaeological Museum is worth a visit. Highlights here include the Trivulsio Chalice, Roman sarcophagi, and jewelry and everyday objects from Greek, Gothic, and Etruscan times.

The Basilica di San Ambrogio became the model for Romanesque churches throughout Lombardy. The beautiful church, which dates mostly from the 10th century, was begun by St. Ambrose in the 4th century. He is buried in the crypt. There are some lovely 12th-century mosaics in the apse and a museum containing precious objects including a rare altarpiece.

Fans of Leonardo da Vinci should not miss the National Museum of Science and Technology. In addition to everything from a trans-Atlantic ocean liner to a reconstructed train station, the museum contains working models of Leonardo's inventions.

When you leave the museum, you should be able to see the spire of Sforza Castle. The present Renaissance castle dates from the 15th century and the grounds are a pleasant place for a picnic.

Inside the castle, there are several worthwhile museums. The Museum of Ancient Art contains Michelangelo's "Rondanini Pieta" and a frescoed room attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. The Pinacoteca displays paintings by Veneziano, Mantegna, Lippi, Bellini, and others.

If you can handle another museum, head to Milan's arty Brera district and the Brera Gallery. With major works by Bellini, Mantegna, Carpaccio, Titian, Piero della Francesca, Caravaggio, and Raphael, it's one of the best galleries in Italy. If you're tired, put it off until tomorrow morning (it opens at 8:30AM), do a little shopping, or call it a day.

When you're ready for dinner, splurge at Peck's Restaurant, Savini, or Il Teatro in the Four Seasons Hotel.

Milan has more nightlife than many Italian cities, so if you're up for some after-dinner excitement, try Le Scimmie for jazz or Killer Plastic or Hollywood for dancing.

Day 3 -- Milan

Spend the day doing whatever you enjoy.

Art lovers still have a couple fantastic museums they won't want to miss. The Museo Poldi-Pezzoli has paintings by Bellini, Mantegna, Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, and Pollaiolo. And the Civic Gallery of Modern Art exhibits paintings by Matisse, Gaughin, Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Manet, and Corot.

Architecture and history buffs will enjoy the 4th-century San Lorenzo Maggiore, which contains Milan's best collection of Roman and early Christian remains.

Milan's cemetery, which is graced with beautiful statuary, temples, obelisks, and grave markers is also well worth a visit. Toscanini and other notables are buried here.

Most visitors to Milan want to shop, and you should too. Even if you're just window shopping, you'll understand why Milan sets the style tone for all of Europe. If money's not an object, take Via Manzoni from the north end of Piazza della Scala. This will take you to Milan's most fashionable streets -- Via Montenapoleone, Via Sant'Andrea, Via della Spiga -- where you'll find Giorgio Armani, Cerruti, Gucci, Versace, Ferragamo, Prada and other legendary designers.

If you don't want to break the bank, try the Brera neighborhood or Corso Buenos Aires. Both have lots of stylish shops with more reasonable prices.

There are two good Saturday markets: the Mercato Papiniano on Viale Papiniano and the Fiera di Senigallia on Via Calatafimi. If you're lucky enough to be in Milan on the third Saturday of the month, visit the Mercantone dell'Antiquariato antique and flea market on Via Brera.

The top department store in town is La Rinascente on Piazza del Duomo. It's great for fashion, housewares, and gifts. If you need nourishment to carry on, La Terrazza -- the restaurant on the 7th floor -- is great.

Coin on Piazza Cinque Giornate is another good department store.

For dinner this evening, try Antica Trattoria della Pesa, or Tratorria Bagutta.


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Day 4 -- Venice

Get up and out early this morning for your train ride to Venice. The trip takes about three hours, so you can be there in time for lunch. And since you'll be visiting some of Venice's beautiful churches, be sure to dress appropriately.

You'll need to take a boat from the rail station, which is pretty simple. Vaporetti are city buses that just happen to operate on water. They can be crowded, and they're not very fast, particularly the accelerato boats which stop at every stop. But they are the least expensive mode of transportation.

Since you'll have your luggage with you, a motoscafi or taxi acquei (private water taxi) is a better bet, particularly if your hotel has a motoscafi dock. But these are expensive.

Venice is dazzling, enchanting, and romantic. It can also be confusing, frustrating, and overwhelming, particularly in summer, when it's literally packed with tourists.

Take your time, and get off the beaten path. Sometimes a little breathing room is just a block away. And make up your mind that you're going to get lost. It's an island, after all, so you can't go too far in the wrong direction.

Just follow the yellow signs pointing to the main landmarks and you'll be fine. And make up your mind not to worry about money. Venice is expensive -- twice as much as other Italian cities. Budget for it, accept it, and tell yourself that your tourist dollars are the only thing that keep this gorgeous city afloat.

Venice is made up of six neighborhoods, called sestieri. Finding an address is nearly impossible, so don't even try it on your own. Have someone mark your destination on a map for you.

There are only three bridges across the Grand Canal, and they're quite a distance apart. But there are little ferries called traghetti that cross the Grand Canal at six places, very inexpensively. A good map will show where they cross.

Once you get settled into your hotel, head for Piazza San Marco, the heart of Venice. With the Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) and the Campanile creating the square's borders, you are surrounded by some of the most superb architecture in the world.

You'll find plenty of places near Piazza San Marco when it's time for lunch. If you'd like to be a part of history, and perhaps bump into a celebrity, try Harry's Bar.

For a breathtaking orientation, take the elevator up 300 feet to the top of the Campanile de San Marco. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Alps. It was from here that Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated his telescope for Doge Leonardo Dona.

The Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's) is dazzling. One of the most richly-ornamented structures in the world, it is decorated with more than 40,000 square feet of Byzantine mosaics. The remains of St. Mark were brought here from Alexandria and the church was consecrated in 1094, though work continued for another six centuries.

From outside, the basilica is a fantastic blend of east and west, Romanesque, and Byzantine. Crowned with an onion-topped dome surrounded by four smaller domes, the church features a second-story loggia guarded by replicas of the Four Horses of St. Mark -- the originals are in the museum inside.

Be sure to note the 17th-century mosaic and Romanesque carvings on the façade and the gilded St. Mark and the Angels atop the central arch.

When you enter the church, turn right and head for the Atrium where six small domes are decorated with mosaics illustrating scenes from the Old Testament. And don't miss the beautiful rolling mosaic floors.

Highlights inside the sanctuary include the Madonna di Nicopeia, brought back from Constantinople in 1204, and the Porta dei Fiori or Gate of Flowers.

The main dome features a 13th-century mosaic of Christ's ascension. Upstairs is the Marciano Museum, where you can see the recently restored horses stolen from Constantinople in 1204. The museum also contains some fine mosaics and tapestries and you can walk out onto the loggia for great views of the Basilica.

Also in the Basilica is the tesoro or treasury with many precious objects dating as far back as the 5th century. The Prebytery contains the remains of St. Mark and the Pala d'Oro or golden altar. It's decorated with more than 2,000 jewels, pearls, and enamel work.

When you're through at the Basilica, walk toward the water and you'll enter the piazetta. The 15th-century Gothic Porta della Carta serves as the main entrance to the Doge's Palace.

In addition to being one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Palace is also an engineering marvel. The home of the Venetian dukes, as well as the administrative center of the republic since 1309, the palace is built on pilings which have disappeared into the mud.

If you're an avid history buff, there's a "Secret Trails" tour of the Doge's Palace daily at 10:30AM. But you'll need to make reservations in advance. If you're visiting on your own, pick up an "Audioguide" near the entrance. It will greatly enhance your visit.

There's a lot to see here, including the Sala del Maggior Consiglio decorated by Tintoretto, the Sala di Anti-Collegio which contains Veronese's "Rape of Europa," and the 15th-century Giants' Staircase. You'll also see the Bridge of Sighs which prisoners crossed on their way to the torture chamber.

When you leave the palace, walk to the water and the Ponte della Paglia. From here, you can take great photos of the Bridge of Sighs.

You can visit the Museo Correr, also on Piazza San Marco. It has a nice collection of objects related to the Doges, and Venetian paintings from the 14th to the 16th centuries, including works by Carpaccio and the Bellinis. Or if you're up for one more church, San Zaccaria is behind St. Marks in the Castello district. It contains paintings by Tintoretto, Titian, Van Dyck, and one of Bellinis's finest Madonnas.

If you're pooped, find a sidewalk café on Piazza San Marco, order a glass of wine, and savor the moment. After the sun sets, you'll even be serenaded by an orchestra. If you're feeling flush, try Caffe Florian, a Venice institution since 1720. Or Gran Caffe Quadri, where Standal, Proust, and Balzac used to idle away the hours.

Those who still have some energy can leave Piazza San Marco via the Mercerie, one of Venice's most exclusive shopping streets. Keep following the Merceries -- there are several -- and you'll end up at the Rialto Bridge.

When you're beat, head back to your hotel to relax and freshen up. For dinner this evening, try Al Covo in Castello, Fiaschetteria Toscana in Cannaregio, or do Forni in San Marco.

Venice nightlife is something of an oxymoron. But your hotel concierge or the monthly "Venezia News" can point you in the right direction. If you're a Vivaldi fan, you'll likely have several concerts to choose from, in venues ranging from the Accademia to the Bridge of Sighs.

Serious music lovers can see a performance at the Teatro La Fenice, completely rebuilt after the 1996 fire.

Day 5 -- Venice

Hit it early this morning -- the earlier you get started, the smaller the crowds.

Spend the day exploring the Dorsoduro district. You can visit the morning market at Campo Santa Margherita, the heart of Dorsoduro and then take the vaporetti to Ca' Rezzonico or walk across the Ponte dell'Accademia.

If you don't want to assemble your breakfast at the market, there are lots of cafes on Campo Santa Margherita. After breakfast, if you're a fan of Tiepolo, walk down to the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, where you can see nine of his ceiling panels painted for the Carmelite confraternity. They were painted between 1739 and 1744.

From the Scuola, it's a brief walk to San Sebastiano, which is covered with glorious fresces painted by Veronese when he was still in his twenties. The "Coronation of the Virgin" and the "Four Evangelists" are highlights. The artist is buried in the church.

Walk back toward the Grand Canal and make your way to Rio San Barnaba, where barges filled with fruits and vegetables float on the canal.

Ca' Rezzonico sits at the corner of Rio San Barnaba and the Grand Canal. It opened in June 2001 following an extensive restoration. The palace, which now houses a museum of 18th-century Venetian life, was once owned by Robert Browning. The opulent ballroom is gorgeous and the rooms throughout the palace are exquisitely furnished, covered with frescoes, and adorned with paintings by Guardi, Canaletto, and Tiepolo.

Make your way to the Gallerie dell'Accademia at the base of the Ponte dell'Accademia. Here, you'll find the finest collection of Venetian art in the world. With paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries, the collection -- which contains major works by Giorgione, Bellini, Titian, Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Canaletto, and Veronese -- is superb. If you see only one museum in Venice, make it this one. But be prepared to wait. The Accademia does not take reservations.

You'll marvel at how little some of the cityscapes have changed over the centuries. And at how Venice's painters managed to capture the city's remarkable light.

When you're ready for a bite Locanda Montin has a wonderful arbor courtyard. Peggy Guggenheim took artists such as Jackson Pollock there in the 1950s and '60s. The food's hit or miss, but you'll do fine with simple grilled fish.

Lovers of modern art will want to visit Collezione Peggy Guggenheim. The niece of Solomon Guggenheim and the wife of artist Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim assembled a world-class collection of modern art with paintings by Dali, Picasso, Pollock, Duchamp, Chagall, and others. The museum is in her former home.

The church with the large dome towering over the point is Santa Maria della Salute. This Venice landmark presides over the entrance to the Grand Canal with great dignity. Begun in 1630 as thanks for being delivered from the plague, the Baroque basilica features an octagonal sanctuary crowned with a huge cupola. The museum in the sacristy contains paintings by Titian and Tintoretto.

If you still have any energy, you can walk out to the old customs house (Dogana de mare) which is topped with a 17th-century weathervane of Fortune balanced atop a golden ball. You can get great photos of St. Mark's across the lagoon from here.

Otherwise, you can take the vaporetto from Salute wherever you want to go.

For dinner tonight, you can really drink in the character of the city if you make a meal of cicheti -- the Venetian version of tapas -- at the local wine bars, or bacari. The best of these are hidden down little alleyways far from the throngs of tourists. Be prepared to stand at the bar and point to what you want. Some serve cicheti only, others have second courses consisting of pasta or risotto. Credit cards aren't always accepted, so take cash and an open mind.

Good places to start include Osteria alla Botte on lively Campo San Bartolomeo or Hosteria ai do Ladroni on Ramo del Fontegi dei Tedeschi.

Day 6 - Venice

There's still lots to see and do in Venice, so you'll need to pick and choose based on your interests.

A great way to start the day is to take the vaporetto to Rialto and visit the fruit, vegetable, and fish markets.

When you're through, you can walk or take the vaporetto to Ca d'Oro, the "House of Gold." The magnificent 15th-century palace has been meticulously restored and today it contains superb furnishings and works of art, including paintings by Mantegna, Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian, and Van Dyck.

Also in the Cannaregio district is Europe's first ghetto, so named because "geto" is the Venetian word for foundry, and there were two in the area. There are five 16th-centuries synagogues here and guided walking tours of the ghetto are available through the Museo Comunita Ebraica.

In the San Polo district, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari -- known in Venice as the "Frari" -- is one of the most beautiful churches in Venice and it contains some spectacular art work. The highlight is Titian's "Assumption" behind the main altar. It's absolutely dazzling.

Bellini's "Madonna and Child" is the altarpiece for the Sacristy and Donatello's "St. John the Baptist" are also breathtaking.

Not far from Santa Maria, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco contains more than 50 paintings by Tintoretto, including his masterpiece, "The Crucifixion."

There are several interesting attractions in Castello, Venice's largest sestiere. Santa Maria dei Miracoli, named for the miracle-performing attributes of the painting of the Virgin there, is one of the loveliest churches in Venice. The Renaissance sanctuary is decorated with marble reliefs in several colors. It's a popular wedding spot for Venetians.

The magnificent Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo divides the district roughly in half. On one side is the beautiful equestrian monument by Andrea del Verrocchio. On the other is the Gothic Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Poalo. Known throughout Venice as "San Zanipolo," it was built during the 13th and 14th centuries and is the final resting place of many of the Doges. Their tombs are magnificent.

Inside the church, there's a ceiling painted by Veronese and an altarpiece by Bellini.

Also in Castello, the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schivoni contains several wonderful cycles of painting by Carpaccio. Scenes from the lives of St. Augustine and St. Jerome are depicted, but the indisputable highlight are the paintings of St. George and the dragon.

The Naval History Museum next to the Arsenale or 12th century shipyards is a good stop for those interested in matters maritime. The highlight is a recreation of the Doge's gilded ship.

No visit to Venice is complete without a trip across the Lagoon. If you want a beach or shopping experience, the Lido is your best bet. Vaporetti leave from near the Doge's Palace frequently and the trip takes about 15 minutes. You'll get fabulous photographs on the way over and back.

Bikes are a great way to explore the Lido and there are a couple rental places near the vaporetti dock.

The public beach is at the end of Gran Viale, the Lido's shop-lined main drag. And Art Nouveau lovers will find several "Liberty" style buildings on the street, include the Hungaria at number 28 and the Villa Monplaisir at number 14.

Those interested in glass should take the vaporetto from Riva degli Schiavoni to Murano, the home of Venetian glass making since the 13th century. There are dozens of shops and showrooms at which to shop or see glass-blowing demonstrations. And the Museo Vetrario or glass museum has a nice collection of rare and antique examples.

Burano is a more attractive island than Murano. Best known for its exquisite lace, it's a little harder to get to. You'll need to take the vaporetto from Riva degli Schiavoni to Fondamente Nuovo and catch a second boat from there. The trip takes about half an hour.

Basically a fishing village with colorfully painted houses, Burano is pleasant and low-key. Piazza Galuppi is the main square and you can visit the Museo del Merletto or Lace Museum to learn more about the art. If you're interested in buying some lace, be prepared to spend some real money.

The sleepiest of the lagoon islands, Torcello is also the most charming. There's not much to see. In fact, there's only one thing to see. But those who love mosaics will find it worth the trip.

Santa Maria Assunta Isola di Torcello (the Cathedral of Torcello) is about a 15-minute walk from the vaporetto dock. Begun in the 6th century, the church was redone in the 12th century in the Byzantine style. Its superb mosaics are rivaled only by those at Ravenna. The Virgin with Child in the apse and the depiction of the Last Judgement are highlights as are the marble panels of the rood screen.

When you're through, if it's before 3PM head for Locanda Cipriani. Part of the Cipriani family dynasty, this rustic inn has hosted Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and dozens of other luminaries. Few pleasures in life can top a Bellini on their terrace.

Catch the vaporetti back to Venice and head to your hotel for a little siesta.

For dinner tonight, splurge at Osteria da Fiore, arguably the best restaurant in Venice, or Quadri, the only restaurant overlooking Piazza San Marco.

After dinner, indulge yourself with an outrageously overpriced gondola ride. Just make sure you agree on the price and the length of time before hand. Then forget all about money and drift through the mist in the most romantic place in the world.

We get goose bumps just thinking about it.


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Day 7 -- Dolomites

Have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel this morning and then pick up your rental car.

The province of Veneto produces several well-regarded wines, including Bardolino, Soave, and Vapolicella. And you can explore the wineries and vineyards of the "Strade dei Vini del Piave" on your way to the Dolomites.

The town of Conegliano is the jumping off point. From here, you can take the Strada del Vino Rosso or Red Wine Route, but we recommend the Strada del Prosecco which leads to Valdobbiadene. Both routes are clearly marked. And the tourist information office on Via Columbo has details about touring and tasting at the local wineries.

Prosecco is the sparkling white wine mixed with white peach puree to create a "Bellini." Prosecco grapes have been grown in this region since around 1800. And today, Prosecco wine from this region is also know by the name "Spumante." The still wine made from Prosecco grapes is called "Tranquillo."

Charming little villages dot the steep, tightly packed foothills of the Dolomites and the rows are punctuated with diagonal trellises to reduce the wind.

One of the top producers is Bisol in Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene. Other wineries in the area worth visiting include Nino Franco and Canevel Spumanti in Valdobbiadene, Casa Vinicola Merotto in Col San Martino, and Carpene Malvolti in Conegliano. Just be careful about drinking and driving.

If you'd like to leave the driving to someone else, Altamarca in Valdobbiadene offers tours of the wineries in the region. But you'll need to make reservations in advance.

When you're ready for lunch, Tre Panoce in Conegliano and Al Pesce in Valdobbiadene are both good choices.

If you're staying in Cortina d'Ampezzo, you can take your time -- it's only about a 90-minute drive from Conegliano. But if you're staying in Castelrotto, Bressanone, or Merano, it's closer to three hours, so leave yourself plenty of time. The winding roads can be challenging.

Among the most spectacular mountains in Europe, the craggy, towering limestone cliffs of the Dolomites are breathtaking, particularly at dawn and dusk when they turn brilliant shades of rose.

The area is bicultural. It was under Austrian rule until 1919 and most of the town and peak names are in both German and Italian. This can make getting around confusing, so pick up a detailed map at the first Tourist Information Office you come to.

There are several towns you can use as a base for exploring the Dolomites. Cortina is the most exclusive of the area's resorts having burst on the scene in 1956 as the site of the Winter Olympics. The many ski lifts here make the area great for those who want to hike in the high country. And shopping and nightlife here are tops too.

Bolzano (Bozen) has a decidely Tyrolian feel and is more low key than Cortina. The medieval heart of the town is just off the 19th-century Piazza Walther. It's a pretty place, divided by one of the two rivers that flow through town, and it has an interesting Gothic cathedral and a lively market.

Three cable cars from Bolzano take you to over 3,200 feet where there are dozens of hiking and mountain biking trails.

With its Duomo, Prince/Bishop's Palace, and 13th-century castle, Bressanone (Brixen) is one of the most interesting towns in Alto Adige -- and the oldest. Castelrotto (Kastelruth) is the gateway to the Alpe di Suisi, the largest high Alpine meadow in Europe. And Merano (Meran), a spa town with several attractive turn-of-the-century cafes, is one of the most charming medieval villages in the region.

Wherever you choose to base yourself, you'll have countless opportunities to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the mountains.

Once you get settled into your hotel, take a stroll through the town, visit the Tourist Office for detailed information about activities that appeal to you, and then find a terrace with a view and enjoy something cool to drink.

For dinner, try Ristorante Tivoli in Cortina, Abramo in Bolzano, Fink in Bressanone, or Flora in Merano. If you're interested in nightlife, Cortina or Bolzano are your best bets.

Days 8/9 -- Dolomites

Spend the next two days doing whatever you enjoy in this natural paradise.

Walkers will find wonderful, well-marked trails for all skill levels throughout the region. And the chair lifts operate through September, making it quick and easy to reach the upper elevations.

For the most spectacular views, do the Great Dolomite Road from Cortina, across the Pordoi and Sella Passes to Bolzano. You'll pass the Alpe di Suisi en route. You can take the Funicular Porta Vescovo from Pordoi Pass for breathtaking views.

If you stop to hike or explore the towns along the way, it will take all day.

Those who are staying near Bolzano, can drive to the Sella Pass via Castelrotto and Val Gardena and return to Bolzano via Val di Fassa. The scenery is absolutely amazing.

On clear days, you can see all the way to Venice from Tofana di Mezzo, reached by three cable cars from Cortina. The base is behind the Olympic Stadium. The cable car from Bolzano up Monte Renon to the village of Soprabolzano provides wonderful panoramas.

There are four golf courses in the area and you can fish in the pristine mountain lakes or the River Boite, for which you'll need a permit obtained at the Cortina Tourist Information Office.

Few regions have more castles than the Alto Adige, and there are several worth exploring. Castel Tirolo, for which the region is named, dates from the 12th century and has been completely restored. The residence of the Counts of Tyrol until 1363, the castle is just outside Merano. Today, it contains an interesting museum of Tyrolean history.

Not far from Bolzano, Castel Roncolo was once owned by Emperor Franz Joseph. It contains medieval frescoes depicting scenes of chivalry. Castel d'Appiano is reached by a short walk from Appiano or Missiano. It offers wonderful views of the vineyards surrounding Bolzano and its chapel has some lovely frescoes.

Just outside Appiano, Castle Moos-Schulthaus is a former hunting lodge built in 1356. Castel Coira, which has belonged to the Trapp family since the 16th century, contains an excellent museum of arms and armor. It's about an hour from Merano. On the way, you can visit Glorenza, the smallest walled city in Europe.

Wine lovers can visit Alois Lageder outside Bolzano, best know for their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. At their Schloss Turmhof winery, Tiefenbrunner produces Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Muller Thurgau.

For a lovely trip through the vineyards, drive from Bolzano to Cornaiano, San Michele Appiano, and Caldaro, where you can take the tram to the top of the Mendola Pass for fabulous views.

Those who are interested in anthropology will want to visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology where the mummy of the 5,000-year-old "Iceman" is displayed. And stargazers should check with the Astronomical Observatory in Cortina to see if there are any night shows during your visit.


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Day 10 -- Verona

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel this morning. Then take the E45/A22 south to Trento, the capital of the Trentino region. It's about 45 minutes from Bolzano.

Famous for the Council of Trent, the town has quite a bit to offer. Start at the town's main square, Piazza del Duomo. The Cattedrale di San Vergilio here hosted Council meetings and was begun in the 12th century. It wasn't completed until 1515, and given that, it's a pretty harmonious blend of Gothic and Renaissance style.

On the eastern side of the Piazza, the Museo Diocesano Tridentino in the Palazzo Pretorio contains Flemish tapestries, ivory reliquaries, and items related to the Council.

Trento's Castle, the Castello del Buonconsiglio, was built in the 13th century. Once the residence of the ruling Prince/Bishops, today it houses two museums -- the Museo Provincale d'Arte and the Museo del Risorgimeno. The former displays paintings, ceramics, and woodcarvings. The highlight of this museum is the frescoes in the Torre dell'Aquila (Eagle's Tower) illustrating the months of the year.

The other museum is dedicated to the Italian nationality movement.

When you're ready for lunch, Alla Cantinota is walking distance from the Castle.

After you're explored Trento, continue on to Verona. If you're not in any particular hurry, you can take the scenic route from Riva del Garda, down the eastern edge of Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian Lakes. Be careful driving as the road is narrow and winding.

Once you arrive in Verona, get settled into your hotel.

Best known as the setting for Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Romeo and Juliet," Verona has the best-preserved Roman architecture north of Rome. Add to that a core of fine medieval palaces built of the local pink limestone, and you have a delightful city, rich in history and tradition.

Start your sightseeing at Piazza Bra, which is dominated by the spectacular Roman Arena. Completed in 30 AD, the Arena sat more than 25,000 enthusiastic spectators and was the third largest in the Roman Empire. Opera is performed here in July and August and tickets and hotel rooms are often booked a year in advance.

For wonderful views and photographs, climb the 44 tiers to the top of the Arena.

Considering that Romeo and Juliet are fictitious, they certainly have more than their share of attractions in Verona. "Juliet's Tomb" (Tomba di Giulietta) is in a Franciscan monastery not far from Piazza Bra. Check it out if you're interested, but don't expect much.

From Piazza Bra, walk along the pedestrian-only Via Mazzini, Verona's most stylish shopping street, to Piazza delle Erbe. The Piazza is lined with beautiful palaces and civic buildings and it is where Verona's colorful market takes place Monday through Saturday. Piazza delle Erbe was built on the site of the original Roman forum. And the Roman statue in the Piazza's fountain has watched over the market for more than 2,000 years.

Pass through the Arco della Costa and you'll enter the Piazza dei Signori, Verona's most attractive square. In the center, there's a statue of Dante -- the Scaligeri family who ruled Verona during the 13th century, particularly Cangrande I, were patrons of the poet.

There are many impressive buildings on the Piazza including the Palazzo del Capitano, which served as the residence of Verona's military leaders. The 14th-century Palazzo della Ragione next door served as the city's Law Court.

Those who climb the 275-ft. 12th-century Torre di Lamberti will be rewarded with wonderful views of the Alps and Lake Garda. There's an elevator for the less energetic.

The splendid early Renaissance Loggia del Consiglio was the city council assembly hall. And the Palazzo degli Scaligeri was the residence of the ruling family. Their ornate Gothic tombs (the Arche Scaligere) are beside the entrance to Santa Maria Antica, the family's parish church.

When you're tired, find a café that strikes your fancy on Piazza dei Signori and enjoy watching the world go by.

For dinner tonight, try Arche or Ristorante il Desco if you're in the mood for something nice. For a good but inexpensive meal, try VeronAntica.

During the summer there are a variety of performances in the Roman Theater (Teatro Romano) on the other side of the Adige River. A Jazz Festival kicks off the season in June and Shakespeare's plays and dance companies alternate through September.

Day 11 -- Verona

Start your day at the market on Piazza della Erbe. You'll have no trouble finding a scrumptious breakfast here. And perhaps a picnic lunch.

Spend the morning seeing the rest of Verona's attractions. Start at San Zeno Maggiore on Piazza San Zeno. Built in the early 1100s as a shrine to the city's patron saint, San Zeno is one of the most impressive Romanesque churches in northern Italy.

The west face of the church has a rose window dating from the 12th century and marble panels depicting scenes from the life of Chirst. But the highlight here is the pair of wooden doors, each of which is decorated with 24 bronze reliefs. The doors are crowned by a colored bas relief showing San Zeno and protected by a Romanesque porch.

Inside, the nave is topped with a marvelous example of a ship's keel ceiling, the Crypt contains the tomb of San Zeno, and the superb altarpiece was painted by Mantegna.

Not far from San Zeno Maggiore on the river, Castelvecchio was built in the 14th century for Cangrande II. Today, it contains a fine art museum with Roman artifacts, medieval and Renaissance paintings, 15th-century sculpture, and arms and armor. Highlights include paintings by Bellini, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo.

Continue along the river to the Duomo, which was begun in the 12th century but not finished until the 17th. It's not as impressive as San Zeno, but it's worth a visit if only to see Titian's "Assumption" in the first chapel.

Once you've seen the Cathedral, you can take the Ponte Pietra across the river to the Roman Theater. Built in the first century, the theater is in ruins. Above it, the 10th-century church of Santi Siro e Libera contains the Archeological Museum which has some ancient mosaics and Etruscan bronzes.

Gardens lovers should visit the beautiful Giardino Giusti, a brief stroll from the Theater. One of the finest Renaissance gardens in Italy, it contains the fountains, grottoes, topiary, maze, and statuary typical of 16th-century gardens. It's a very pleasant place for a stroll and the views from the belvedere are beautiful.

Back across the river, the Basilica di Sant' Anastasia is the city's largest church and the best example of the Gothic style. Highlights here include the Pellegrini Chapel with some terra cotta reliefs by Michele, and the Giusti Chapel which has a fresco by Pisanello.

The other notable church in town is San Fermo Maggiore. It's actually a 14th-century Gothic church built atop an 11th-century Romanesque church. The ship's keel ceiling is beautiful and there are several interesting medieval frescoes.

Read more about Verona here.

There are several ways to spend the afternoon, depending on your interests.

If the weather's fine and you'd like to enjoy the outdoors, head for Lake Garda. Sirmione is at the tip of a narrow peninsula jutting two and a half miles into Lake Garda. The water here is a beautiful shimmering turquoise and it's one of the most attractive resorts on the lake.

There are a couple of attractions worth visiting. But Sirmione is also a great place to rent a bike, a kayak, or a windsurfer, or to just unwind and enjoy life.

The Grotte di Catullo -- named for the Roman poet Cattulus -- is actually the ruins of an ellaborate Roman complex that included a shopping street, a bath, a swimming pool, and a reservoir. Today, the ruins are fun to explore and the views of the water are great.

Built in the 13th-century, the Rocca Scaligeri is surrounded by water. You can't miss it -- the crenelated tower dominates the peninsula. The castle is reached by a drawbridge and it provides access to the medieval core of Sirmione, where there are lots of shops and cafes.

There's ferry and hydrofoil service from Sirmione or you can take a motorboat tour of the south end of the lake. And the beach here is a nice one. If you just want to bake, you can rent a chaise and an umbrella at Lido dell Bionde.

The other good side trip from Verona is Vicenza, which is about 45 minutes away. A place of pilgrimage for architecture buffs, Vicenza was the home of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and the city is a showcase of his work.

A brief stroll through town is the equivalent of taking a survey course in the Palladian style, which was widely imitated throughout Britain and the United States. There's hardly an English country house or a U.S. capitol that doesn't owe the master a debt.

Palladio's last work -- and arguably his greatest -- is the Olympic Theater, the oldest indoor European theater still in use. Begun by Palladio in 1579, it was actually completed by his pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi. It opened in 1585.

Contra Porti has several Palladian palazzi, and the Piazza dei Signori is bordered by his "basilica" and the Loggie del Capitanianto. The Museo Civico on Piazza Matteotti is another excellent example of Palladio's work.

Villa Capra, better known as Villa Rotunda, is on a hill just outside Vicenza. The most influential of Palladio's villas, it features a central circular hall with four symmetrical loggias surrounding it. Each of the loggias was designed to relate to its natural surroundings a little differently, and the juxtaposition of the landscape is one of the villa's most intriguing aspects.

Don't be surprised if the villa inspires a sense of déjà vu. The rotunda style inspired everything from St. Paul's to Monticello. The villa is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

When you return to Verona, if you're a wine lover, have dinner at Bottega del Vino. If you can't decide from among the 80,000 bottles in their cellar, there are about 60 available by the glass. The risotto is good too.

Another nice choice is Antico Caffee Dante right on Verona's Piazza dei Signori.

Read more about Lake Garda here.


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Days 12/13 -- Lake Como

You can take the Autostrada (A4/E64) this morning from Verona to Bergamo and then take the SS342 to Lecco at the southern end of Lake Como.

Favored by many Italians and well-traveled Europeans, Lake Como offers smashing scenery, stately villas and gardens, and sparkling blue waters backed by the Alps. What's not to like?

This is a fabulous place to unwind after weeks of sightseeing. Remind yourself that you're on vacation and kick back.

You can do as much or as little as you like. So spend the next two days enjoying Lake Como's beauty and charm -- even if that means doing nothing at all.

Ferries, steamers, and hydrofoils connect the towns on the lake, so you can see everything, no matter where you base yourself. And the area is best enjoyed by boat, so park your car and put away the keys.

At the southern tip of Lake Como's left leg, Como is the largest town and the transportation hub of the lake. The broad promenade and lakeside Piazza Cavour are filled with shops and cafes. And the Tourist Information Office and ferry office are here, so you can pick up a good map and a ferry/hydrofoil schedule.

The Cattedrale di Como is a good example of architectural transition. It was constructed between the 14th and 18th centuries. The 12th-century five-sided church of San Fidele is interesting and the Piazza on which it stands contains several 400-year-old buildings. And the Pinacoteca Palazzo Volpi has several fine medieval paintings.

Villa dell'Olmo is walking distance from the Piazza Cavour. It was built in 1782 and you can stroll the formal gardens and wild park. The best swimming beach, Lido Villa Olmo, is nearby.

Como has been the center of Italy's silk trade for centuries and there are several factories -- and better yet, factory outlets -- in Como. Italian silk neckties and scarves cost significantly less here than they do in the States. If you're interested, there's even a silk museum.

For the best views around, take the funicular from Piazza de Gasperi to the top of the Brunate Hill. If you're feeling energetic, you can take the path and hike up Monte Boletto.

Cernobbio, just up the western shore from Como, is best known for the Villa d'Este, one of the most luxurious hotels in Italy.

Also on the western side of the lake, Tremezzo is a charming town just north of Cadenabbia, where Villa Carlotta is located. With more than 500 species of plants and flowers, the villa has some of the prettiest gardens on Lake Como. It was completed in 1690 and belonged to Princess Carlotta of Prussia, who laid out the gardens around 1850. They are adorned with fountains and statuary.

Inside, the opulent interior features beautiful frescoes, fine art, and sculpture by Canova. Villa Carlotta is the most-visited villa on Lake Como, and if you only visit one, make it this one. It's reached by ferry from Como.

Villa Balbianella, outside Lenno, is one of Lake Como's most romantic. The movie "A Month by the Lake," starring Vanessa Redgrave was filmed here and you can wander the gorgeous gardens.

Bellagio is at the fork in the lake and it has been called the most beautiful town in Europe. It's hard to imagine a more spectacular setting and the surrounding villas and gardens make Bellagio dreamlike and ethereal.

In Bellagio, gardens lovers should visit Villa Serbelloni, which once belonged to Pliny the Younger, and Villa Melzi, one of the finest examples of neo-classicism in Lombardy. The preferred destination of many, Bellagio has an old-money civility and wonderful shopping.

Just across the right leg of the lake from Bellagio, Varenna is Bellagio's opposite in more ways than one. A sleepy, picturesque town with winding alleys, and a seaside promenade, Varenna has two villas worth visiting: Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero. You can also hike up to a ruined castle for great views.

Golfers can choose from several courses in the area. And those who are interested in water sports can get out on the lake on skis, wake boards, canoes, or just about any other maritime conveyance.

When it's time to dine, chances are you'll be as drawn by the terrace and its views as by the cuisine. Standards are high, so lousy restaurants don't last long. Good bets include Silvio and -- if you want to splurge -- the dining room at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio. In Como, try Imbarcadero or Sant'Anna 1907.

Lake Como isn't exactly known for it's nightlife, so your best bet is the terrace bar at your hotel, if you're lucky enough to have one.

Read more about Lake Bellagio here.


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Days 14/15 -- Lake Maggiore

If anything can take the sting out of leaving Lake Como, it's knowing that you're headed for Lake Maggiore. In many ways, Maggiore, which stretches 30 miles to the Swiss Alps and separates Lombardy from Piedmont, is the most romantic of the lakes.

Take SS342 from Como to Varese, then head for Sesto at the southern tip of Maggiore. From there, you'll skirt the western shore of the lake as you drive toward Stresa.

Your first stop should be Arona, the birthplace of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, for whom the islands in Lake Maggiore are named.

Arona's main attraction is the colossal statue of Cardinal Borromeo overlooking the town and lake. Erected in 1697, the statue is made of copper and stands 108-ft. tall. You can climb the statue and look out the eye holes for views of the lake.

The Chapel of Santa Maria in Arona is dedicated to the Borromeo family and contains a 16th-century altarpiece by Ferrari.

After you've explored Arona, continue along the western shore to Stresa, Lake Maggiore's main town. You can base yourself here or -- if you really want to get away from it all -- on Isola dei Pescatori, one of the Borromean islands in the middle of Maggiore.

The Borromean Islands are the highlight of any visit here. The most attractive, Isola Bella, is where you'll find Palazzo Borromeo, the most splendid of Maggiore's many villas. The 17th-century Baroque palace and formal Italian gardens here are the area's only must-see. Don't miss the artificial grotto rooms or the Giardino d'Amore, where Napoleon and Josephine enjoyed the moonlight in 1797.

There are ferries and hydrofoils to Isola Bella from Stresa.

Isola Madre, also reached by boat, is dominated by the Orto Botanico or botanical gardens, where hundreds of species are planted on the formal terraces. Exotic birds wander and fly freely on the island and there's also a 17th-century palace you can visit.

The other must for garden lovers is the Giardini Botanici at Villa Taranto north of Stresa. Covering fifty acres that stretch from the lake to the mountains, the gardens are beautiful year round, particularly during the spring when more than 80,000 tulips bloom. With more than 20,000 species, waterfalls, fountains, and reflecting pools, the gardens are a joy to stroll. You can take a boat from Stresa to the villa's dock.

On the eastern side of the lake, Angera has a well-preserved castle that was once the home of the Borromeo family.

Golfers can play the fabulously scenic Golf Club des Iles Borromees or the nine-hole Golf Club Alpino di Stresa. Water sports enthusiasts can find whatever they're looking for. And sun worshippers can hit the sand on several beaches outside Baveno.

Good restaurants in Stresa include La Piemontese, Ristorante Pescatore, and Taverna del Pappagallo.

On your last evening, be sure to take a stroll along the waterfront in the moonlight. Savor the scent of the blossoms on the night air, and capture the moment so you'll always be able to remember this little slice of heaven.

Day 16 -- Milan

This morning, drive to Milan for your flight home.