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Visiting Northern Italy

Visiting Northern Italy

When the would be traveler envisions a trip to Italy, most often his mind would offer up pictures of magnificent Roman ruins, or perhaps sun-drenched villas sitting above dazzling blue seas, but there is another side to Italy. The Northern part of the country nestles up against the Alps, and is also a modern and highly industrialized region. Milan is the center and point of entry for this region.

Although not as well known as Rome or Venice, Milan is the largest city by population in Italy. Its inhabitants number almost seven million, and its land area is equal to that of Paris. It is a financial and industrial center, and is considered to be one of the richest cities in the European Union. Milan is also an important fashion center. Shopping is a major pastime here, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is considered to be the world’s oldest shopping Mall. This aggressive modern city was included on a list of the “10 Alpha World Cities” in a recent report by the Brookings Institute.

Milan is only the gateway to Northern Italy, however, and the area includes other urban places of interest such as the water bound city of Venice. It is the nearby mountains that give this area its special flavor, and the area north of Milan not only abounds in spectacular scenery, but also provides opportunities for a wide variety of winter sports. This area is often called the Dolomites region, but is actually a part of the Alps, including the regions of South Tyrol, Trentino, and Belluno. The highest point in Italy is Mont Blanc which is 15,770 feet above sea level.

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The Dolomite region abounds with ski areas and winter resorts. Skiing and snowboarding are popular pastimes here and downhill skiing and cross country skiing areas are both available. The winter sport season ranges from December to April, but the scenic beauty of the region makes any time a good time for a visit.
One characteristic of Northern Italy that makes it differ from the Southern part of the country is the blending of several European Cultures into the area’s cultural blend. Northern Italians descend from different racial stock than their cousins in the South, and the influence of German and French Culture on the area has produced a unique mix that is reflected in the wide diversity of the area’s cuisine and wine production. It is not even unusual to find German or French speaking Italians in the region, and this mixture of cultures certainly adds to the regions allure. The land is rich and productive, and this has led to food, and its preparation becoming an art form in itself.
Although it is not quite the common impression of Italy that most travelers have come to expect, and lacks the slow and easy pace of the South, and the sense of history that one gets in Rome, the North of Italy has its own treasures to offer the visitor. One who excludes it from their travel plans will miss one of the world’s most scenic and activity filled regions, one that is not only rich in the past, but on the very cutting edge of the future.

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