Occasionally it’s nice to focus on itineraries less travelled by mass tourism, and even less known by Italians themselves – although no less beautiful or interesting.
On this occasion, we will guide you from the Anteselva Valley, in South Tyrol, through Veneto and Lombardy, until you reach Emilia – with numerous stops along the way. At a time when it is easier to either stay in Italy or within Europe itself, we are positive that our suggestions will be perfect for your next break – no matter what time of year you decide to holiday in.
From travellers who travel into the region, we would recommend arriving at Venice Airport, or arriving by train at Bolzano and then getting a car rental. On the Auto Europe website, a company with more than 60 years global car rental experience, you’ll find a wide array of vehicles – from cars, minivans, luxury cars and motorhomes – all at unbeatable prices.
With the flexibility of a vehicle hire, you’ll be able to plan your own itinerary and visit all the sites you wish to see, whilst uncovering some truly authentic places.
Start the tour
Our tour starts at the mountain village of Rasun-Anteselva, in the province of Bolzano, near the border with Veneto. Here the undisputed king of the landscape is the impressive Dolomites peaks, and the beautiful Lake Anteselva.
Within the Vedrette de Ries-Aurina Natural Park you’ll come across some great hiking paths, which are ideal for keeping you fit and at one with nature. If you have a keen interest in biathlon events, then consider visiting during the annual Biathlon World Cup and the IBU Biathlon World Championship.
Once you’re fully relaxed and have enjoyed the fresh mountain air, jump back into your car and head towards Bressanone. This city has many Baroque style buildings and is the third largest city in the province of Bolzano.
Following, you’ll come to the town of Ortisei – a picturesque place with characteristic houses and hotels, the town’s pedestrianised areas are ideal for walking and exploring the local area. Here you can also admire and even buy some of the wood carvings on sale. These carvings are iconic to Val Gardena and a tradition amongst the local carvers.
Once you have left the valley, follow the road signs to the provincial capital of Bolzano, which is located in the basin at the meeting point between the Isarco, Adige and Sarentina valleys.
In this bilingual Italian-Germany city, the best way to uncover the city is on foot, starting at the main square. The city’s cathedral is located here, with a polychrome roof – an effect made possible by the use of small glazed tiles – this is similar to many cathedrals throughout Central Europe.
If you arrive between late November and the Epiphany, you’ll be lucky enough to come across the largest Christmas markets in Italy.
Set out in a German-style, it is comprised of many wooden stalls, serving traditional Glühwein (mulled wine) and various ginger-based sweets. Another gem not to miss, is the chapel’s San Giovanni frescoes – inside the Dominican Church, which was designed in a Giotto Style.
Afterwards head towards the charming Piazza del Grano, seat of the ancient public weighbridge and then walk along the Via dei Portici – that is overlooked by numerous buildings with narrow facades and late Gothic style bay windows.
After South Tyrol, we head onto Trentino and the capital of Trento. A city protected by its imposing mountains, with a cathedral dominating its main square, making any onlooker feels small and insignificant.
It is here that the Council of Trent was established in 1545, with the aim of reaffirming the authority of the church after its fall from favour following the Reformation. We encourage you to enter the building and visit the adjoining Diocesan Museum, which is housed in the Palazzo Pretorio.
Another treasure awaits you in the Eagle Tower, located in Buonconsiglio Castle – the Cycle of the Months frescoes was created in an international Gothic style by Master Wenceslaus in the 11th Century.
After this visit of great historical importance, the compass will now inevitably guide you to the nearby Lake Garda. However, before arriving to check out its shoreline, take a break in Rovereto. This town is nestled between hills and beautiful vineyards.
One of the most sought after attractions in Revereto – which wants to establish itself as the “City of Peace” – is the fallen First World War bell. Despite the city being quite small, it nevertheless has many attractions, including the Italian War History Museum, the Depero Futurist Art House, and the Science and Archaeology Museum.
Before setting off, make sure you try some of the local wine in one of the many wine bars located in the city centre. Or if preferred, head straight towards the winery and vineyards to try and buy some of the regions wine directly from its producers.
Another twenty minutes by car and you’ll reach Torbole. Here, in front of your very eyes, you’ll be presented with Lake Garda, a magical place appreciated by many tourists, especially Northern Europeans. This is the largest Italian lake, with several small towns scattered along its banks. The lake offers up plenty of charm and magnificent views.
As you drive along this scenic view, try to take care and not get too carried away with its beauty. It may sound a little exaggerated, but once you’re there, you’ll understand why it’s so simple to lose oneself here.
Malcesine, Bardolino, Lazise and Verona
On the eastern side of the lake, you’ll come across three distinctively beautiful towns – Malcesine, Bardolino and Lazise. Consider taking a walk in all three towns, if time permits.
Malcesine is immediately recognisable due to its prominent located at the foot of Monte Baldo – in which its castle stands. The main features of Bardolino are its lake shoreline and historical centre, in which you’ll find narrow streets, reminiscent of Venetian style.
The town of Lazise is characterised by its mighty walls, and Scaligero Castle. For those who wish to enjoy the lakes views a little longer before heading to Verona, we recommend taking a small detour to Sirmione. This extraordinary location is right on the tip of a peninsula that reaches out into the lake.
As if this peninsula wasn’t fairy-tale enough, at the tip you’ll also find Scaliger Castle and a Roman domus that dates back to the 1st Century – misleadingly named “Grotte di Catullo”.
This location is also the perfect spot to take a boat trip to Isola dei Garda. For those staying longer on the mainland, during bathing season there is a beach affectionately called “Jamaica Beach”, and throughout the year there is a beautiful Spa called the “Terme di Sirmione” to enjoy.
Verona is one of the largest and best known Venetian cities. Its iconic Roman Arena, where opera performances, concerts and large-scale events are held, is also internationally famous for where Shakespearean drama “Romeo and Juliet” is played out.
The second most popular attraction to see once you have seen the Roman Arena is the courtyard where the famous balcony in which Juliet was serenaded. Here you’ll find a wall, where people either stick chewing gum and engrave their and their loved ones initials, or insert a love note.
In this whirlwind Italian region, the next phase leads you to Lombardy and the city of Mantua. This was granted a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 in part due to its Renaissance architecture. All credit for this achievement must go to the Gonzaga family who embellished the city and made it a lively cultural centre – which was recognised in 2016 as the “Italian Capital of Culture”.
Mantua is a city with an abundance of water, with Mincio River embraces it on three sides, forming three lakes which are ideal for a boat trips.
As you continue on your journey, you’ll arrive in the Italian region of Emilia, famous for its typical delicious dishes. From Mantua you can head straight down towards Modena, or you can take a few detours to Reggio Emilia or Parma.
The province of Parma in particular is home to Prosciutto Crudo DOP and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. Of interest to many tourists, is also the local food museums, which have not only been dedicated to these two previously mentioned products, but also to pasta, tomato, Salami, wine, culatello di Zibello and porcini mushrooms from Borgotaro.
Both Parma and Reggio Emilia have a historic centre full of elegant buildings, including wine bars, traditional bars and quaint restaurants. It’s not by chance that we have chosen Modena as the last port of call on your Italian road trip adventure. Here you can visit the Enzo Ferrari Museum, although the automotive industry isn’t just limited to this iconic brand.
Other well-known brands are represented here, such as Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati. This is a true paradise for any car and motorbike enthusiast. As expected there is a historical centre – Piazza Grande – which was granted an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Not forgetting the Estensi Galleries, which are a feast onto themselves drawing in numerous art lovers annually. Stocking up on some traditional Balsamic vinegar of Modena PDO is a must, as is enjoying zampone and cotechino, accompanied by a nice glass of Lambrusco wine.
And with these tantalising flavours, our journey comes to an end. We are confident that once you commence this road trip, you’ll add even more stops to your journey and enjoy a region that is calling out to be explored and uncovered.
For other travel tips in Italy check our blog.