The nectar of Bergamo – Lombardy cheese
- Flight from London: ≈ 3.5 Hours
- Average February temperature: 8 °c
Bergamo is home to Branzi, a soft cheese made from the raw milk of the local Bruna Alpina cows and made from one of the oldest recipes in Italy. This delicacy is simply heavenly. You can try it in one of the cozy local restaurants such as the Vineria Cozzi or Baretto di San Vigilio with their lovely views over the city. Start with a young, sweet-tasting Branzi and then move on to a more seasoned variety with a more powerful taste. As your main course, why not try polenta e osei – fried poultry served with delicately seasoned cornmeal, and then for dessert polenta dolce – twin brother of the main course but this time served with honey, chocolate hazelnut nut cream and rum. I can see you reaching for the suitcase already.
Bergamo is a city of two parts. In the Lower Town (Città Bassa) you can go ice skating and even if you’re a novice, it’s worth having a go – there aren’t so many people aroundso no-one will notice your “ceative” moves. The ice rink is on Piazza della Libertà, next to the Casa della Libertà, the monumental Freedom House.
It’s easy to get to the Upper Town (Città Alta) on the city’s funicular. Once you’re up there, sit down with a bottle of the local Valcalepio wine, a couple of glasses and make a wish as you watch the sun set.
Our recommendation: Guest house Botton D’Oro, about two kilometers from the upper town and only 700 meters from Bergamo railway station.
Botton d’Oro from $89 per night
Breathtaking views: Ravello, Salerno
- Flight from London: ≈ 2 hours to Naples plus another 2 hours by train
- Average temperature in February: 15 °C
The Amalfi Coast is rightly considered to be one of the most beautiful spots in Italy. Summer is hot, making walking uncomfortable, but in February the temperature is just right. Climb up to the Terrazzo dell’Infinito or Terrace of Infinity in the gardens of the Villa Cimbrone and take a stroll to the Villa Rufolo, where Wagner lived for a while and wrote the 2nd act of his opera Parsifal.
Lovers of modern architecture will really enjoy the Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium. If you are lucky enough to be there when there is a concert, be sure to try and get a ticket as the acoustics are amazing. And don’t miss the sculptures – this is Italy and the marble statues here are in a different class.
The RistoRante Garden restaurant soars above the city and is the ideal place for a romantic dinner. Choose a table on the balcony or close to the panoramic windows. It is very difficult to know where to look here – at the delicious freshly caught fish dish in front of you or over the stunning coastal landscape below.
Our recommendation: Stay close to the central Duomo, or Cathedral, for example, Il Ducato Di Ravello 3* is a cozy place to stay – six rooms with breakfast included and beautiful views over the coast.
Il Ducato di Ravello 3* from $184 per night
A warm swim up in the mountains: Susa Valley, Piedmont
- Flight from London: ≈ 2 hours (to Turin) then another hour by train
- Average temperature: 1°C
Piedmont is the birthplace of panna cotta, that simple but indecently tasty dessert made of cream, sugar and vanilla. Now at last, here’s your chance to try the real thing and taste the difference. Why not indulge at the Cantina Nicola restaurant, a tiny little place hidden away among the Asti hills? This is a wine-growing region and if you ask nicely the chances are you will be shown around one (or more) of the many wine cellars. It’s worth noting the popularity amongst visitors of the local risotto with a Barolo red wine sauce and the gnocchi with a Castelmagno cheese sauce.
The Susa Valley is just perfect for those who dream of mountains, solitude and fresh, clean air. It is located between Graian and Cottian alpine ranges, so if skiing or snowboarding is your thing, you should head to one of the nearby resorts, like Sestriere with some of the most picturesque views in the region.
Even if winter sports aren’t your cup of tea, this is a great area for walks and taking one of the many ski lifts up into the peaks. Top tip: this resort has a heated municipal outdoor pool where you can swim surrounded by the mountain scenery and take photos in the clouds of steam.
Our recommendation: one of the more reasonably priced and comfortable hotels in the valley is the three star Hotel Massi.
Massi Hotel 3* from $61 per night
Rivers of wine – Valeggio Sul Mincio, Veneto
- Flight from London: ≈ 2 hrs (to Milan) + 1.5 hrs by train
- Average temperature in February: 7 °C
The Veneto, along with Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Emilia-Romagna, is one of those Italian regions where wine is most enjoyed. So as not to peak too early, make sure you order some tortellini with your wine early on. This deliciously soft pasta is stuffed with different types of meat, spices and served in a Bardolino wine sauce.
Be sure to take a walk along the canals, stroll around Sigurta Park and up to the medieval Scaliger Castle surrounded by water, where swans and ducks add to the delightful sight in front of you. The castle has recently started to host wedding ceremonies. Once you have made it up to the top of the castle wall, you will understand why; the long expected “I do” is uttered in front of a breathtaking landscape.
Also, try to pop in to the nearby village of Borghetto Sul Mincio. Imagine picture postcard brick houses, fountains, a mill and the noise of a waterfall in the background-it’s as if Borghetto is the inspiration for them all. Time seems to have stood still, all around you are ancient bridges and water mills and delightful restaurants leaning out over the river.
Our recommendation: The hotel Eden is in the centre of Valeggio, not far from Sigurta Park. All rooms have balconies, so you are guaranteed the best views of the park during your morning armchair musings.
Eden from $87 per night
The only place to eat tagliolini – Gradara, The Marches
- Flight from London: appr 2 hrs (to Bologna) then 2.5 hrs more by train
- Average temperature in February: 10°C
Gradara is a city defined by tragic love and amazing pasta. First, the tragic love – not Romeo and Juliet, but Paolo and Francesca, forbidden lovers trapped in the netherworld of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Learn more about their story in the imposing halls of the mediaeval Gradara Castle, maybe shed a little tear, but then rejoice that the times of such forbidden love are no more, and then, thus inspired, take a walk along the “Lovers’ Path” which meanders around the castle and passes through a small wood.
And what about the food? Tagliolini are a delicious mixture of pasta and bacon in broth. Try it at the “Paolo and Francesca” restaurant, named after those hapless lovers trapped in the inferno – what did you really expect?
Our recommendation: The spa-hotel La Loggia Di Gradara Relais Guest House 3* is right next to the castle so as not to have to walk too far after dinner.
La Loggia di Gradara Relais Guest House 3* from $125 per night
It may be that you go home with a few more inches round the middle than you came with, but who cares when your loved one is at your side, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, drinking delicious wine, snapping affectionate photos in the pool and a sharing kiss as the sun sets in the background?