- Take a private boat between the seaside towns of Cinque Terre
- Go truffle-hunting in the Langhe UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Step behind the scenes of the Accademia Library in Turin
- Reach the top of Mount Blanc on a new rotating cableway
- Relax at Lake Maggiore and dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant
|Day 1||Arrive in Milan, Transfer to Portofino||Portofino|
|Day 2||Afternoon Boat Tour to San Fruttuoso Abbey||Portofino|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Cinque Terre from Portofino||Portofino|
|Day 4||Morning Trip to Genoa, Transfer to the Langhe Region||Santo Stefano Belbo|
|Day 5||The Langhe Region - Truffle Hunting & Wine Tasting||Santo Stefano Belbo|
|Day 6||Alba & Slow Food Tour||Santo Stefano Belbo|
|Day 7||Transfer to Turin, City Tour & Exclusive Library Visit||Turin|
|Day 8||Morning Tour of Sacra di San Michele, Home-Hosted Dinner||Turin|
|Day 9||Afternoon Tour of Aosta, Transfer to La Thuile||La Thuile|
|Day 10||Cableway to Mount Blanc, Alpine Life Tour||La Thuile|
|Day 11||Hot Springs, Hiking & Fontina Cheese||La Thuile|
|Day 12||Transfer to Lake Maggiore, Rocco di Angera||Stresa|
|Day 13||The Borromean Islands||Stresa|
|Day 14||Cable Car to Mount Mottarone, Santa Caterina del Sasso||Stresa|
|Day 15||Transfer from Stresa to Milan, Departure|
Day 1: Arrive in Milan, Transfer to Portofino
Welcome to Italy! Arrive at Milan Malpensa Airport, then transfer to the town of Portofino, in the heart of the Italian Riviera. Portofino, one of the many small fishing villages that lie along the Ligurian Sea, is a sight to behold, with colorfully painted houses tumbling down to a historic fishing port.
One of Portofino's main sights is the Statue of Christ of the Abyss, which lies 56 feet (17 m) below the waves on the seafloor in memory of Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use diving gear. Other notable sights include the 16th-century Castello Brown, the 12th-century Church of St. Martin, and the Gothic Oratory of Santa Maria Assunta.
But of course, the main attraction is the town itself. Narrow streets lined with shops, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants lead up from the water, and the beaches and tranquil town piazzas are full of families and couples enjoying the sunny weather.
Day 2: Afternoon Boat Tour to San Fruttuoso Abbey
You'll have a chance to sleep in this morning, waking up to the sounds of the sea outside your window. After a relaxed breakfast, enjoy a leisurely stroll through the old city center of Portofino. The town's seafront location and laid back Mediterranean vibe have long made it a beloved destination for artists, writers, and lovers of the arts. The centrally-located Piazzetta, a meeting point for locals and visitors in the heart of the historic city, is a great place to enjoy an espresso and people-watch.
Stroll down to the port, taking your time to enjoy the brightly colored houses and the refreshing sea breeze that passes through the town's shaded alleyways. Make sure to explore the streets of the Borgo, where artisan's workshops hum with the handiwork of artists creating elegant patterns of bobbin lace.
For lunch, enjoy a traditional Ligurian seafood meal at one of Portofino's popular restaurants. Then make your way to the harbor for an afternoon out on the water. Portofino is widely renowned as a jewel of the Italian Riviera coast, and the pretty harbor, clear waters, and spectacular scenery draw divers and beachgoers from around the world.
Explore all this and more on your private afternoon boat tour aboard your gozzo—a small wooden boat. The 30-minute ride along the coast brings you to the medieval Abbey of San Fruttuoso, a beautiful refuge tucked into a cove and surrounded by lush vegetation. The abbey is only reachable by boat, and its remote location made it a favorite hideout for pirate ships in past centuries.
Visit the abbey, then stop to enjoy the stunning San Fruttuoso Beach, which sits in the shadow of the medieval abbey. In the evening return to Portofino for a quiet evening along the waterfront.
Day 3: Day Trip to Cinque Terre from Portofino
In the morning meet your local guide, then take a short train trip for a full day on the Cinque Terre, a section of the Italian coast famous for its medieval villages, dramatic cliffs, and hiking trails.
Your first stop is the town of Monterosso al Mare. The city's medieval center remains nearly perfectly preserved, with its ancient tower-houses and network of carrugi (narrow alleyways that lead from the sea to the cliffs above the town). Monterosso is also renowned for having the best granita—a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water, and local lemons—on the Cinque Terre (make sure to try some!) as well as breathtaking views of the sea.
From here, board a private boat for a beautiful 30-minute trip to the next village. Along the way, enjoy the views of the protected Cinque Terre reserve from the water.
Arrive in Manarola, a tight-knit village that's famous for its plentiful grapevines and sweet Sciacchetrà wine. Meet with a local sommelier and visit a traditional winery to learn about the original tools of the trade and hear about the region's history of wine production. After the lesson, enjoy a unique tasting of local wines—in the dark, to focus your attention and sense of smell.
Afterward, enjoy a private cooking lesson and learn the secrets behind the legendary hand-made pasta and regional pesto.
Take the local train to Corniglia, the Cinque Terre's most intimate village. The cluster of homes perches atop a high, rocky promontory surrounded on one side by the sea and on the other by terraced vineyards. The town is also known for its narrow alleyways, colorful buildings, and its farinata, a thin, unleavened crêpe of chickpea flour—the perfect afternoon snack.
From Corniglia, you may choose to hike along the coast to Vernazza on a trail that climbs up to the highest point on the Cinque Terre (and back down). Check ahead before departing, as landslides in the area occasionally result in trail closures. The fair amount of elevation change makes the hike a bit challenging, but the views are worth it.
In the evening, return to Portofino and make your way to the Piazzetta for a local-style dinner: Enjoy an aperitivo, some warm Genoese focaccia and a glass of local Giancu de Purtufin, followed by Lasagna di Portofino with pesto for dinner.
Day 4: Morning Trip to Genoa, Transfer to the Langhe Region
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading to the port city of Genoa for a self-guided half-day visit. The city is home to Italy's largest seaport and is the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
Genoa has a rich history of seafaring, global trade, and wealth. Its old town is nicknamed "La Superba" (the superb one) in memory of its glorious shipping history, and in 2006 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2004, it was also named the EU Capital of Culture, paying homage to the city's renowned art and architecture.
The city is also known for its music, food, and medieval city center. The town's narrow labyrinthine streets and alleys, known as caruggi, are the perfect place to wander around. Explore Le Strade Nuove, a series of streets built by the Genoese aristocracy during the height of the city's financial and seafaring power.
Nearby stand the Palazzi dei Rolli, a group of elegant Renaissance and Baroque palaces from the 16th and 18th centuries. The palaces were built in collaboration with Genoa's rich and famous in a cohesive style. From these rolli, certain residences were designated as lodging for illustrious guests on governmental visits.
One of Genoa's other must-sees is the Old Harbor, the city's center of wealth and international fame over the centuries. It has been redeveloped in recent years and is now one of Genoa's most modern areas. The enormous Genoa Aquarium and nearby Museum of the Sea are worth a visit if you have the time (kids will love the aquarium's massive tank exhibits!)
Grab lunch at one of the many international restaurants in the alleys near the harbor, then hit the road for your transfer to the Langhe Wine Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This part of Piedmont is characterized by rolling hills, endless vineyards, medieval hill towns, and ancient castles.
Day 5: The Langhe Region - Truffle Hunting & Wine Tasting
Start your morning with a drive to Benevello to spend the day exploring the region's farming heritage. Head into the woods for a private hunt for one of Piedmont's most famous natural resources—truffles. You'll be guided by your expert truffle hunter (known as Trifulau in the local dialect) and his trusty four-legged companion, the Tabui truffle dog.
After the hunt for truffles, visit a local cheesemaking farm. This farm is one of the four remaining who still make tuma—a DOP Piedmontese aged cheese—using only raw milk from Langhe sheep. Tuma is one of Piedmont's best-known cheeses, and likely one of the oldest. Enjoy a warm welcome from the cheesemaker and his wife for a light lunch, complete with sheep cheese and a good bottle of local red wine.
Spend the afternoon exploring the area, enjoying the idyllic scenery and relaxing views of the rolling hills. Visit a historic wine cellar in the center of Barolo to learn about its namesake red wine, the famous Barolo Grand Italian Wine. Although the wine originates in Barolo, it is now made in eleven villages, all situated on the scenic Langhe hills in centuries-old vineyards. The wine is full and intense, with both fruity and spicy notes from cherries to licorice. Barolo wine must be aged for at least three years, with one and a half years of that time in oak barrels. If the aging is prolonged to five years, the wine becomes a Reserve.
After the tour, enjoy a vertical tasting of the winery's best product, tasting the same variety of wine from different years to compare the nuances of the different vintages.
In the evening, return to your accommodation and enjoy a leisurely evening. For an unforgettable culinary experience, sit down to dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant to sample traditional Piedmontese fare. With a stellar selection of artisan Italian cheeses and salamis and one of Italy's most complete wine lists, this dinner is a trip highlight.
Day 6: Alba & Slow Food Tour
Enjoy a leisurely morning, relaxing at the pool or at the hotel spa. If you're feeling adventurous, opt for a private hot air balloon flight over the Langhe countryside to experience a magical journey at 2,000 feet as you drift over valleys, castles, small hilltop villages, and endless vineyards.
If you're in the mood to move your body, join a morning yoga session or go for a guided bike ride through the countryside. The bike trail begins and ends in Cortemilia, a town that's considered the hometown of the Tonda Gentile (Italian for round and sweet), a hazelnut that grows in these hills. Cycle through small villages made with Langhe stone, visit medieval castles, and pass through shaded hazelnut groves.
In the afternoon head to Alba, a once-powerful city-state that's considered the capital of Langhe. Alba is famous for several gastronomic highlights: white truffles, wine, and the world-famous Nutella. The city loves truffles so much that every fall they host the International White Truffle Fair to celebrate the prized delicacy.
Explore the city center with a local guide to see how Alba's buildings—from Roman origins to modern construction—have been built on top of each other. During Roman times, the powerful city was known Alba Pompeia; after the fall of the empire, citizens continued to build atop the former city. Head underground to see Alba's many architectural formations.
From here continue to the city of Bra, then make a lunch stop at the restaurant where the Slow Food Movement was born. The movement was started by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the 1980s with the aim of defending local culinary traditions, access to clean food, and a slower pace of life. Feast on local specialties, from bagna cauda (Piedmontese for 'warm sauce', prepared with olive oil, garlic, and anchovy paste) to agnolotti (egg pasta stuffed with roast meat) and tajarin (the local word for thin egg noodles). Round out your meal with a hearty risotto and brasato al Barolo (stewed for hours in the famous wine), then finish with a sweet treat: gianduiotto, a combination of sugar, cocoa, cocoa butter, and the Tonda Gentile hazelnut.
Day 7: Transfer to Turin, City Tour & Exclusive Library Visit
In the morning, drive to nearby Turin, a city famous for its sophisticated and historic architecture, shaded gardens, libraries, museums, and theaters. It's one of Italy's most fascinating cities, named in the New York Times "52 Places to Visit" in 2016.
Spend the day exploring the city on a walking tour. Start in the heart of the city at the iconic Piazza Castello to visit the Royal Palace, one of the square's most distinctive buildings. The Palace was the main symbol of the Savoy house when the capital moved from Chambery to Turin, and the greatest artists of the time were commissioned to create the Baroque masterpiece. Visit the ornate galleries and library, stroll through the gardens and Royal Armory, and see the adjacent Cathedral that houses the Holy Shroud.
The entirety of the Piazza Castello was designed to give the buildings a cohesive style. One of the buildings hides an architectural treasure: the San Lorenzo Church, a baroque octagonal building with beautiful inner chapels and a soaring cupola with eight windows that allow sunlight to pour in.
Enjoy lunch at a historic cafe nearby and rub shoulders with the locals. Turin's cafes are legendary, with a long history of serving as the meeting place for artists, writers, and political refugees. When Turin found itself in the center of the struggle against Austria, several of the cafes became the headquarters of Risorgimento Italy where political theory and strategy were discussed over coffee. Aristocracy, poets, Bella Gente, opera composers, and other lovers of the arts also sought out the cafes for their cozy atmosphere.
Try the famous local Bicerin—a mix of chocolate, coffee, and cream—then head to the Library of the Academy of Sciences for a private afternoon tour. The library is typically closed to the public, but you'll get to visit the massive collection in the company of its curator. Founded in the 1700s, the library houses a vast array of literature: more than 250,000 books, 70,000 letters, 5,000 periodicals, 2,000 manuscript documents on the history of science, and a hundred drawings of industrial patents and maps.
To experience a meal with a regional flair, head to the riverside area near the Piazza Vittoria Veneto or the bustling Quadrilatero Romano district for aperitivo followed by dinner at an upscale restaurant.
Day 8: Morning Tour of Sacra di San Michele, Home-Hosted Dinner
In the morning, transfer to Sacra di San Michele, an ancient Romanesque monastery surrounded by snowcapped peaks. Sacra di San Michele is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Piedmont region and is considered one of Europe's leading examples of Romanesque architecture.
The monastery dates back to the late 10th century when it was built in dedication to the cult of Archangel Michele, the defender of the Christian people. The monastery is strategically located on a pilgrimage route that runs from Saint-Michel in France to Monte Sant'Angelo in Puglia.
Your introduction to the monastery is via the 243 steps that lead to the Doorway of the Zodiac and the entrance to the building. From here, the surrounding panorama of the snowy Alps is well worth the climb. From the entrance, continue up the wide 12th-century stone staircase to the church, passing by an 18 meter (59 feet) tall pillar that supports the church above it. One of the niches on the staircase used to display skeletons of several of the monastery's monks, lending the staircase its name: Great Staircase of the Dead.
The perimeter wall of these ruins ends in a tower which overhangs the precipice of the mountain: the Tower of the Beautiful Alda, which gets its name from the tragic legend of Alda, a local peasant girl. After coming to the monastery to pray, she was corned by enemy soldiers and trapped atop the tower. To escape certain death she threw herself into the ravine while invoking the help of St. Michael and the Virgin, and miraculously survived the fall. Thrilled by her survival and with a hunger for financial gain, she imagined herself able to make a second jump and offered to repeat her flight for unbelieving villagers, thereby leaping to her death at the scene of her former miracle.
Return to Turin and spend the afternoon exploring on your own. One of the city's main museum attractions is the Egyptian Museum, the second-largest in the world after Cairo's. Journey through more than 3,000 years of history of Egyptian civilization in the company of an expert Egyptologist to see a vast collection of sculptures, mummies, grave artifacts, and more.
Alternately, visit the National Museum of Cinema, one of Turin's architectural landmarks. The building was designed as a synagogue, before being purchased by the Municipality of Turin and turned into a monument of national unity. Explore the unique exhibits and creative educational activities, then head to the rooftop terrace for panoramic views of the city and surrounding Alps.
Dinner tonight is a special treat: dinner with a local family, hosted in their private home. You'll get the opportunity to share a delicious traditional meal and exchange insight into each other's cultures and lives.
Day 9: Afternoon Tour of Aosta, Transfer to La Thuile
Late this morning, drive to the Aosta Valley in the heart of the Alps. Spend the day exploring the ancient Roman city of Aosta, then enjoy lunch at a cozy trattoria and feast on regional specialties like puff pastry filled with Valdostan fondue, cured ham and salami, roe venison with polenta, and beef braised in Morgex et de La Salle white wine.
In the afternoon meet with your archaeologist guide and tour the ruins of the former Roman settlement:
- Porta Praetoria, one of the few perfectly intact examples of Roman architecture. It was built in 25 BCE and had three main openings: the central one for carriages, and two side openings for pedestrians
- Roman Theater with its impressive southern facade and overlapping arches
- Forensic cryptoporticus, which dates back to the Augustan era. It's unclear if it was built as a warehouse, military storage area (horreum), or wintertime market. Regardless of its use, the impressive structure was designed to allow for air flow and a near-constant internal temperature—a feat of ancient engineering
Aosta is also home to two masterpieces of medieval art, the Cathedral and the Collegiate Church of Saint Orso. See the Ottonian frescoes, beautiful floor mosaics, the wooden choir, and the medieval cloisters of the Church of Saint Orso.
Continue to the ski town of La Thuile and check into your luxury mountain resort. In the evening, go for a leisurely walk in the charming town and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains. La Thuile sits below the Little Saint Bernard Pass at an elevation of 4728 ft (1441 m) in a protected area dominated by dense forests and the imposing presence of snow-capped mountains and vast glaciers.
Day 10: Cableway to Mount Blanc, Alpine Life Tour
In the morning, meet up with a tour guide and head to see Mont Blanc on the spectacular Skyway Monte Bianco cableway. The vision behind the incredible feat of engineering was to create a comprehensive experience of vertical ascent as you rise into the mountains. The project launched in 2015 and includes three stations: Courmayeur/The Valley (4,265 ft), Pavillon/The Mountain (7,130 ft), and Punta Helbronner/The Sky (11,370 ft).
As you arrive at the third station, it's almost as though you can touch the snow-capped mountains around you. Stand on the circular terrace to enjoy unparalleled 360-degree views, then head inside the Crystal Hall to see the jewels and gems of the Aosta Valley mountains. The station even offers viewing platforms if the weather isn't ideal: an indoor Mont Blanc Hall affords views of the mountain from inside the comfort of a heated building. For lunch, sit down to a phenomenal alpine meal at the Bistrot Panoramic, a high-altitude cafe with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Return to Courmayeur and drive to the mountain village of Introd. The town owes its name to “Interaquas,” Entre Eaux in French, thanks to its location between the Savara and Dora di Rhêmes Rivers. Introd sits at the entrance to the Valle di Rhêmes and della Valsavarenche, two of the three Valdostane valleys that form part of the Gran Paradiso National Park. The farming town was once a fief of the Barons of Sarriod, whose polygonal 13th-century castle and lookout towers still stand.
Meet some of the local community members for a traditional lunch and hear their stories of Alpine life.
In the afternoon continue to the local History Museum Maison Bruil, one of the best examples of rural Gran Paradiso architecture. The building is an old home, used by the family for a variety of purposes: living space for the people and the animals, all grouped under a single roof. The building's current shape is the result of an elaborate architectural evolution that dates to between 1680 and 1856 when various wings of the building were joined to form a single home.
Tour the restored building through each of its three floors to see each room's original state. Check out the building's traditional architecture, including the crotta (an underground cellar) and the peillo, a kitchen area where rural families gather to eat and spend time together.
Return to La Thuile and enjoy the rest of the day on your own time.
Day 11: Hot Springs, Hiking & Fontina Cheese
Today, you can choose between two classic Alpine activities: a hot springs soak or hiking in the Alps.
Spend a half-day in Pré-Saint-Didier, a natural spring that's been an international destination since Roman times. In fact, the first tourism in the Aosta Valley was as a result of the therapeutic properties of the thermal spas. The spa has three open-air thermal pools, creating a haven of peace where you can recharge in a mountain setting surrounded by views of the Alps. Choose a gentle hydro-massage and let yourself be lulled by the healing waters.
Alternately, explore the trails of Grand Paradiso National Park in the company of a hiking guide. The park is Italy's oldest national park, created in 1922 when King Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy donated his legendary game reserve to the nation. It's home to hundreds of protected species of animals, rare plants, and flowers. Enjoy a variety of walks, from gentle strolls for children and beginners, to several-hour long excursions through mountain pastures, ancient hunting paths, and trails on the Alta Via.
In the afternoon discover the area's fontina cheese production on a private visit to an alpine cheese farm, followed by a tasting of the delicious cheese. Fontina has a thin, brown crust and is semi-cooked, with an elastic and soft paste with a few small holes. The cheese is pale yellow if produced in the winter when the cows are fed hay, and becomes a deeper yellow if produced during the summer. It has a sweet taste and an aroma that intensifies as it matures.
In 1997, fontina was granted a DOP stamp from the European Union, which decrees that it must be produced exclusively in the Valle d'Aosta region. The specific geographic, climatic, agronomic, and cultural conditions are unique to this valley and protect the cheese from attempts at imitation.
Learn about the technique of cheesemaking and tour the processing facility. Fontina is made from raw milk that is neither refrigerated nor heated, and its fat content and other qualities are highly regulated. From the collection of milk to the shaping and curing process, every step of the cheese-making process must be followed exactly. The cheese is ripened on spruce platforms in caves dug out from the mountainside, where the average humidity and yearly temperature of 10°C allow for optimal flavor creation.
Day 12: Transfer to Lake Maggiore, Rocco di Angera
After one last leisurely breakfast, transfer to your luxury relais on Lake Maggiore. The nearby mountains shelter Lake Maggiore from cold northern winds making the lake and its 11 islands a popular year-round destination. It's one of Italy's most beautiful lakes and has long enchanted Italian and foreign artists who favor the mild climate. It's the largest of the pre-Alpine lakes, hence the name "Maggiore."
Arrive in the lakeshore village of Stresa, internationally recognized as the jewel of Lake Maggiore. The area, once a peasant settlement, has been transformed over the centuries into an exclusive holiday resort for the aristocracy, and later for wealthy bourgeois entrepreneurs from Lombardy. In 1748, Stresa and the western shore of Lake Maggiore came under Savoy rule, launching the region into a long period of prosperity and construction, including a new road across the pass and a railway tunnel.
Spend a relaxing afternoon exploring the streets of Stresa. Hike up to Angera and visit the imposing medieval Rocca di Angera fortress that perches on a limestone outcrop high above the lake. The castle was an important strategic point for both military and trade and the castle's five main buildings were built in stages between the 12th and 14th centuries.
The Main Tower or Castellana was built on a square plan and offers a sweeping view of the mountains and the shores of the lake. Adjacent to the main tower is the Ala Viscontea (Wing of Viscontis), and on the opposite side sits Ala die Borromei, named after the Borromeo family who were responsible for most of the alterations after the 15th century. The small 13th-century palazzo, Alla Scaligera, sits between the outer walls and the remains of an older tower. The fifth part of the castle is the 14th century Tower of Giovanni Visconti, near the southern end of the Ala Viscontea.
One of the Rocca's treasures is the Hall of Justice, decorated with a cycle of 12th-century frescoes painted by the anonymous "Master of Angera" that depict events from the life of Archbishop Ottone Visconti. The Rocca di Angera also houses a spectacular museum collection, called the Museo della Bambola, which displays the Borromeo family's priceless collection of dolls, toys, books, doll's house furniture, and board games from the 18th century.
Pick from one of the lake's many fine-dining establishments for a meal on the water.
Day 13: The Borromean Islands
Spend the day exploring Lake Maggiore's prettiest corner: the Borromean Islands. A favorite with diplomats, intellectuals, and royalty, the archipelago is renowned for its landscaped gardens and magnificent palaces. Beautiful Isola Bella with its 17th-century Palazzo Borromeo, picturesque Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen's Island), and Isola Madre—famous for its botanical garden, filled with exotic plants.
Board a private Venetian-style motorboat to reach your first stop of the day, the beautiful Isola Bella. Originally a barren rock, the island is now a floating paradise of architectural and botanical treasures. It took four hundred years and the work of hundreds of people to transform Isola Bella from a small fishing community into its current state. In possession of the Borromeo family since 1501, the island and its baroque palazzo feature hundreds of years of sustained landscaping effort.
You'll be joined by a local guide to tour the beautifully furnished halls and see the palace's paintings, precious furniture, marble decorations, neo-classical stuccos, shining armor, and Flemish tapestries made of silk and gold. Outside, the garden is a bright paradise of flowers and exotic plants that flourish thanks to the lake's mild climate. At one edge of the garden, a series of sculpted terraces tower over the lawn, culminating with a statue of a unicorn—the symbol of the Borromean family. White peacocks wander through the gardens, little ponds dot the landscape, and 17th-century statues stand guard over the shaded walkways.
From here continue to the Isola dei Pescatori (Fisherman's Island), the only permanently inhabited Borromean island. Wooden two-story houses cluster together on narrow lanes, long balconies used for drying fish are a feature on every home, and the town's only church serves the island's 50 residents. Stop here to shop at the little boutiques and grab a bite to eat at one of the renowned restaurants, where locals and visitors feast on fresh-caught fish.
In the afternoon head to Isola Madre, the biggest of the Verbano islands. Unlike Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori, it looks secluded from the water. The island's first resident was Earl Lancillotto Borromeo, who chose to settle there for the mild weather. Today the island is a green Eden, renowned throughout the world for its elaborate botanical gardens.
Tour the palace to see liveries, family portraits, tapestries, furniture, and rich brocades that decorate the walls. Stop in the marionette theater, then head back outside to the English-style garden to marvel at the azaleas, flowering camellias, and ancient wisteria. The largest Kashmir Cypress in Europe, an incredible display of hibiscus, and a Gingko Biloba also grow here.
Return to Stresa for the evening to enjoy a dinner of Mediterranean seafood and pizza, accompanied as always by a glass of local wine. Afterward, grab a cocktail at a downtown bar.
Day 14: Cable Car to Mount Mottarone, Santa Caterina del Sasso
Set at the edge of the Alps, the Lakes Region offers a wealth of historic and natural treasures to explore. Spend your morning riding the scenic cable car to the summit of Mount Mottarone, and the afternoon touring the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso.
Return to Stresa and spend the afternoon exploring the area. One of northern Italy's most spectacular monasteries, the Santa Caterina del Sasso, clings to the high rocky face of Lago Maggiore's southeast shore. The monastery is reachable by ascending 80 stairs up to the rocky face along the water. It's worth a visit if only to see the impressive construction from the water.
The monastery was founded at the end of the 12th century by Alberto Besozzi, a merchant who was swept ashore during a violent storm on the lake. He dedicated it to St. Catherine—whom he had prayed to during the storm—as thanks for his safe delivery. The small church dates back to the 12th century, and the remainder of the monastery was constructed during the 13th and 14th centuries. During the following centuries, several monastic orders have succeeded each other: the Augustinians, the Ambrosian Hermits, and the Carmelites. Today, the monastery is governed by the Benedictine Oblates.
Of particular interest are the friar's cells on the first floor, the beautiful frescoes inside the church, and the incredible views of the lake. On your way out, make sure to leave a donation in the unique donation receptacle: the glass coffin that displays the 800-year-old preserved body of the hermit Alberto Besozzi.
Alternately, you can explore the lakeshore on a leisurely bike ride.
Dinner tonight is a gourmet affair at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. Enjoy a culinary journey along with views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Day 15: Transfer from Stresa to Milan, Departure
It's time to say goodbye to Italy. After one last cappuccino over breakfast, transfer to Milan from Stresa for your connecting flight home.