An Insider's Guide to Northern Italy
Posted on July 10 2018
Northern Italy is famous for the sophistication of Milan, the ancient and unique beauty of Venice, and the romance of Verona. We’re not saying you shouldn’t go to those places. But this summer, consider following the locals and going for a slow tour of the countryside of Northern Italy, lounging on the beach, and trekking up into the Dolomites.
Slow-paced and romantic, Agriturismo hotels offer warm, charmingly authentic and affordable accommodation. Imagine staying at your grandmother’s house, if your grandmother was a prosperous Italian farmer. Agriturismo hotels and restaurants, legally defined and certified by the Italian government, serve locally grown and sourced, farm-based food. The Agriturismo classification has existed since 1985, 20 years before the term locavore was coined in the US.
Fly into either Venice Marco Polo Airport or Treviso airport (if you’re flying a budget airline like Ryan Air) and then recover for a couple nights at an Agriturismo near Treviso. Expect to spend 60 € for a restful night’s sleep in the countryside, and the privilege of stuffing yourself with fresh croissants, endless cappuccinos and the best yogurt you’ve ever tasted.
Pro-tip: the string hanging next to the toilet, often with a red plastic tab on the end, is not an old-fashioned flush chain. It’s an alarm, in case you become ill in the bathroom. How do I know this? Let’s not talk about that, but it’s safe to say that if you pull it, everyone will wake up and no one will know how to turn the alarm off.
It’s Prosecco Country
When you visit Treviso, you’ll notice that everyone is ordering carafes of prosecco at lunch. There is a reason for that: this area is home to Italy’s Prosecco vineyards, including three DOCG (the highest standard of classification) regions, Asolo, Conegliano and Valdobiaddene. Our favorite kind of Agriturismo is visiting prosecco vineyards for tasting and dinner. The Conegliano Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G. website has a great interactive vineyard finder where you can pick vineyards that also include restaurants (yes!) and rooms for rent (yes!! Don’t even try to drink and drive on Italy’s crazy roads) and check if the hosts speak English (usually yes).
Giro d’Italia and the Dolomites
The Treviso area is home not only to great food and wine, but also several stages of the Giro d’Italia. If you book now you can secure lodging near some of the best viewing spots for next May. Keep checking the Giro website to verify the course prior to reserving your room. Or bring your bike and ride the stages any time of the year. We recommend splurging on a couple nights in Asolo, a tiny and exquisite medieval town in the foothills of the Dolomites (like many places in Italy, Asolo is confusingly both a town and a region). After a big day of riding, cool off with homemade gelato at the large gelateria adjacent to the town’s central fountain and courtyard.
While the Dolomites are famous for skiing (and the Giro) in the summer enjoy them for trekking and mountain bike festivals. Plan now for next year’s Bike Festival Garda Trentino, beginning from spectacular Lago di Garda and then climbing into the Dolomites.
The Other Venice Beach
You can’t spend so much time in Treviso and not visit Venice at all. But may we suggest Lido? Conventional wisdom says to avoid Europe during August, when everyone shuts down and goes on holiday. The exception is a visit to local vacation towns like Lido di Venezia. Plan early and rent a vacation apartment, then stay and relax like a local. Make sure to reserve an umbrella at the beach, where you can order cocktails from sandy shacks along the shore. Don’t miss a mid-day meal of pesce crudo, fresh bread and carafes of local prosecco. If you haven’t had it, pesce crudo is sashimi-grade fish “cooked” with lemon and olive oil, similar to ceviche. If you order it in Lido it is freschissimo (the freshest) and absolutely delicious.
Northern Italy Packing List
If you avoid the big three cities and instead hit local vacation spots, the dress code in Northern Italy is surprisingly casual. Expect to see lots of running shoes, sandals, shorts and flip flops. Give your clothes an Italian flair and you should be fine (white shorts instead of khaki, pop the collar on your polo, buy your t-shirts a size smaller and don’t be afraid to accessorize with a scarf 12 months out of the year). Also useful:
- Matador Camera Base Layer because you will not be able to stop taking photos.
- Matador Transit Tote for beach days and shopping trips.
- Matador NanoDry Shower Towel because you always need your towel.
- Matador DL16 Backpack because trekking is hard, so you need a lightweight backpack.