If you’re looking for a different side of Italy, away from the touristy Rome or Florence, and looking for a more picturesque and often less crowded view, Northern Italy might be perfect for your next destination.
Don’t get me wrong, the destinations I chose were not exactly “off the beaten path” but the number of tourists was far less here than in Italy’s bigger cities. First, I headed to Cinque Terre National Park, a destination for any nature, hike, or quaint villages lover.
Cinque Terre is home to five fishing villages along the Northern Italian coast. The homes are painted beautiful pastel colors and are built into the cliffs along the Tyrrhenian Sea. Between each city, there is a hiking trail either into the mountains (a longer hike) or along the coast (a shorter hike).
I opted for the mountain hikes. The hikes do not require a high degree of technicality, however there are many stairs, so be prepared to sweat in the hot Italian sun. My favorite of the inter-city hikes was the one between Corniglia and Manarola. Above, photo 1: Vernazza, photo 2: Manarola, photo 3: Vernazza, photo 4: Manarola.
One of the best parts of the hike is the reward after: taking a dip in the Tyrrhenian to cool off! Bring shorts you can swim in. The entire hike is a reward though, with beautiful views around every corner.
If you’re budgeting, make sure to only buy the one day hiking pass! I bought the two day hiking pass, assuming that you had to pay for all the hikes, but the only hike I had to pay for was between Monterosso del Mare and Vernazza.
The rest of Cinque Terre can be affordable if you’re careful. A glass of wine is about 5 euro (expensive for Europe) and dinners can be 8-9 euro (average for Europe). However, the food and wine are incredible, you’re in Italy after all! Make sure to try the seafood, as they’re fishing villages and everything is fresh!
After departing Italy, I took the train to Milan. My first day in Milan I spent by leaving the city and heading further north to Lake Como, famed Italian resort destination where George Clooney has chosen for a home. Even if you’re like me and have one and a half days in Milan, I highly recommend spending the one day in Lake Como.
In Lake Como, there are some beautiful hiking destinations, boating excursions, and lovely Italian villages along the water. While I was there, I opted for the hikes that both Bellagio and Varenna. Bellagio had a wonderful botanical garden along the water (under 10 euros!) and Varenna had the Greenway walking path and a hike to a castle in the mountains. If you choose the castle, be careful as I got lost twice, but I could have been paying more attention to the trail markings as well.
The hike in Varenna has some spectacular views! It takes about 2 hours each way and is totally free!
For my half day in Milan, if I’m being honest, I was not a fan. I am typically not a fan of huge tourist crowds with selfie sticks and long lines. This is how Milan felt (at least for a short amount of time). It was cool seeing the Duomo and the food was tasty, but even though I was there for a short time, I don’t feel the need to go back. The Duomo piazza was absolutely swarmed with people and there were lines to buy a ticket to get into another line to get in. Simply put, not the type of city I prefer, but if you like big attractions and don’t mind crowds – Milan might be a great destination for you!
If you’re looking for a European destination, Italy is hard to disappoint. The food is delicious, there’s plenty to do and see, and there’s something for everyone. Hiking destinations, big cities, and delicious food, Italy would be a safe (and amazing) trip for any visitor, no matter how experienced of a traveler. Cinque Terre and Lake Como are certainly amongst my favorite destinations thus far, Milan not so much.
And as always, if you have any questions or would like recommendations, always feel free to contact me! Until next time — Leather Backpacker