Milan is not my favourite place in Italy and although I love Italy in general, Milan is too dull for my tastes. I don’t like the grey buildings, the fast paced life and the fact that everyone seems to be in a rush (like most of the metropolitan cities). Obviously I still enjoy a stroll to Piazza Duomo, but that’s it. I have visited the city three times and here I made my first trip with a plane back in 2008. Although now I can say that I don’t actually like Milan, back in 2008 I went blind and fell in love, not with Milan but with travel in general.
However the Lombardia capital can still be your base if you want to take beautiful day trips. Mainly to the nearby splendours that the Alpine landscapes have to offer. It is well connected and you don’t need to have a car to visit beautiful nearby places, especially the lakes – Lago di Lugano, Lago di Como, Lago Maggiore and also Lago di Garda (which is a little far away but still reachable). Here are some options you can look into.
Lago di Como
You can visit this lake either by taking the train to Como or Lecco, 30 minutes and 1 hour away respectively. The scenery here is wonderful especially in Spring with the snow capped mountains and the trees in bloom. If you are driving a car you have two options, you can either drive all around the lake or else continue further north towards Valchiavenna.
Further north of Lake Como is one of the most beautiful valleys in the Alps that is Valchiavenna. However getting here by public transport is quite difficult. Just outside Chiavenna you can admire the waterfalls of Acquafraggia. Then further north is a lovely alpine village and ski resort named Madesimo. Both these places are not very touristic and make the perfect full (long) day trip away from the smog of Milan.
Lugano is also an easy trip from Milan. It is just 1 hour away from the centre and can be reached both by car and by train. I have tried both options and must say that the train is the best option. Parking in Lugano is quite can be quite a task. Swiss police are quite strict and rates are … well Swiss prices. Yes because although Lugano sounds Italian it is in Switzerland. It is located in the Canton Ticino, which is the ‘Italian’ part of Switzerland and everyone speaks Italian. However bear in mind that here you are exiting the Euro zone and although they accept Euros, if you pay in cash the rest will be in Swiss Francs.
The walk along the lake is amazing here as well as walking from the city centre (you can walk one way on the lakeside and return back from the centre as they are both worth doing). However the highlight here is the funicular up to Monte San Salvatore which is located at the south end of Lugano. Going up this mountain guarantees 360⁰ views over the nearby peaks and also villages. You will also be able to see the E35 road that crosses over the lake. Make sure to go on the roof of the small chapel for the best view. You will feel on top of the world here!
Yes another lake. Each of these lakes is beautiful in its own way. I haven’t visited all these lakes in one trip but it depends on your tastes, if you like nature you can visit them all. If you get bored you can choose some lakes and alternate some city visits as you might risk of getting fed up of seeing lakes. I would rather visit 10 lakes than stay in cities, but that’s me! Anyway Lago Maggiore is another huge lake to the west of Milan.
A good base for your day trip is Stresa which easily reachable both by car and by train (1 hour away). The uniqueness of this lake are the islands in front of Stresa – Le isole Borromee. These tiny islands are owned by the Borromeo family and hence the name. There are ferries which can take you around and on the islands with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains to accompany you along your trip. I visited Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Bella. The latter has a large privately owned palace which covers most part of the island, however you can go inside as well (however I did not go inside). The gardens seem beautiful. On Isola dei Pescatori you can roam around along the numerous souvenir shops and restaurants. There is also a small beach on the western most part of the island.
For some nice images of Lago Maggiore and other northern Italy lakes you can check out Kerry Murray blog.