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Things to Do in Lombardy

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Milan Gallery of Modern Art (Galleria d'Arte Moderna Milano)

Taking up the second floor of the 18th century Villa Reale is GAM - Milan’s impressive Gallery of Modern Art.

Napoleon once used this lovely villa as his summer home, and it now hosts several cultural institutions. After you’ve strolled through the grounds and admired the architecture, update your impression with art from the 19th century onwards.

Neoclassical artworks rub shoulders with Surrealist installations and works by Picasso, Modigliani, Kandinsky and varied Impressionists, Futurists and Vorticists. The most contemporary works are displayed next door at PAC.

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Bramante Sacristy (Sacrestia del Bramante)
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One of the most famous attractions in Milan, the thing that nearly everyone wants to see even on a short visit, is Leonardo da Vinci's “The Last Supper” fresco in the Santa Maria della Grazie church. That's not the only thing to see in that church, however. You can also visit the beautiful Bramante sacristy, designed by the Italian architect Donato Bramante in the late 15th century.

The Duke of Milan hired two of the best artists of the time to work on expanding and beautifying the existing Santa Maria della Grazie convent. Leonardo da Vinci was asked to paint a fresco on the wall of the refectory, while Donato Bramante was asked to build a new sacristy. Bramante's sacristy was built a short distance from the church, and the architect connected the two with a pretty cloister.

The Bramante sacristy is a long, rectangular room with a small chapel-like space at one end.

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Sirmione
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The town of Sirmione occupies the tip of a tiny peninsular that protrudes into the southern edge of Lake Garda in northern Italy. Its unique position makes it a popular tourist destination.

Sirmione is known to have been a popular resort town since the 1st century B.C.E., largely because of its thermal hot springs. Much of what you see in Sirmione today is newer, but there are Roman ruins in the historic center, too. The remains of a Roman villa are at the end of the peninsula, and are called the Grottoes of Catullus - the name of a Roman poet whose family lived in Sirmione in the 1st century B.C.E. Another attraction is the Rocca Scaligera, a 13th-century castle. The picturesque and small historic center gets very crowded during the summer months, so if you can spend the night you may enjoy some peace and quiet.

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Stresa
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Lying on the western flank of thin, wispy Lake Maggiore, Stresa is an elegant resort backed by the Alpine foothills of Monte Mottarone and beloved of travellers for the grandiose hotels spread along its tree-lined promenade. Summer sees lidos bordering the lake and visitor-thronged craft markets on Thursday afternoons; come the balmy evenings the cobbled streets of the town are equally packed with locals and tourists alike enjoying a passeggiata (nightly stroll) before they settle down to dine al fresco in leafy Piazza Cadorna.

Once the hang out of literary stars Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway, the jewels in Stresa’s crown are undoubtedly the three miniature Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands) just minutes away across Lake Maggiore by ferry. Owned by the all-powerful Borromeo clan since the 12th century, today they exist in a Baroque time warp; while Isola Bella and Isola Madre both boast extraordinary 17th-century palazzi.

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Serravalle Designer Outlet
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Shopping in Milan isn't limited to the boutiques in the city center; there are outlet malls near Milan, too, including the Serravalle Designer Outlet. The town of Serravalle Scrivia is southwest of Milan, en route to Genoa, and the outlet center there has nearly 200 shops. You'll find designer brands like Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Prada, and more, all at discounted outlet prices of 30 to 70 percent off retail.

The outdoor shopping center at Serravalle is Italy's first and largest shopping mall, and the architecture is designed to reflect Italian style.

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Lake Orta (Lago di Orta)
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The lakes of northern Italy are popular tourist destinations, but some are more well-known than others. Lake Orta, for instance, is much less visited than its famous neighbor, Lake Maggiore. Orta is significantly smaller than Lake Maggiore and slightly further from Milan, so it's not surprising that most tourists head for others in the area. Many Milanese, however, spend their lakeside vacations at Lake Orta specifically because it's less crowded.

One of the picturesque charms of Lake Orta is the sweet little island at its center. Isola San Giulio is home to a basilica, a monastery, and not much else. Around Lake Orta there are towns with smaller hotels, but this isn't the tourist-centered experience of Lake Maggiore or Lake Como. Come to Lake Orta to really get away.

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More Things to Do in Lombardy

Franciacorta Outlet Village

Franciacorta Outlet Village

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Located in the Lombardy region of Italy, Franciacorta Outlet Village is one of the largest and most important retail outlets outside of Milan. Travelers on the lookout for international brand name fashions will find a selection of more than 70 retailers offering discounts of up to 70 percent off normal retail prices. Popular brands include Calvin Klein, Guess, Pinko, Hilfiger Denim, Nike and The North Face. Besides shops, the outlet complex also houses several restaurants and cafes, including a Lindt Chocolatier shop. There’s a playground for the kids, as well as a beauty salon and spa.

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Fidenza Village

Fidenza Village

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Italians love to shop and they love high fashion, but that doesn't mean they always love paying top prices. Shop like they do at the Fidenza Village outlet shopping center near Parma.

Fidenza Village opened in 2003 and has more than 100 boutique shops. You'll be able to browse the selections for brands such as Versace, Missoni, Armani, Diesel, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, and Furla. It's located in the Emilia-Romagna region not far from the city of Parma, and the design of the outdoor shopping center is reportedly meant to evoke some of Giuseppe Verdi's opera sets.

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Vicolungo The Style Outlets

Vicolungo The Style Outlets

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The town of Vicolungo is in the Piedmont region near Novara, not far from the border with Lombardy. It's home to one of the many outlet shopping centers near Milan – Vicolungo The Style Outlets.

The Style Outlets is a chain of outlet shopping centers in Europe (there are two in Italy). The Vicolungo location has 150 boutique stores, each offering discounts of 30-70% off regular retail prices. Some of the brands represented in the shopping center are Armani, Missoni, Trussardi, Swarovski, Sisley, and Kappa.

In addition to the shopping, The Style Outlets at Vicolungo also have an exhibition space that regularly features art shows and events.
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Brunate

Brunate

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Not all visits to Lake Como are about waterfront towns – a trip up into the hills over the lake to Brunate offers spectacular views. The small hilltop town overlooks not just Lake Como, but the town of Como itself. The two are roughly 1,600 feet apart, so while you won't be dipping your toes in the lake from Brunate, you'll be enjoying views that the people in Como can't see.

The Como-Brunate Funicular linking the towns was built in 1894, but you can keep going up even after you reach Brunate – climb the steps to the 1920s lighthouse for an even better view.

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Autodromo Nazionale Monza

Autodromo Nazionale Monza

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Monza is a wealthy suburb of Milan, principally known as the location of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, a world-famous car racing track. The Autodromo Nazionale Monza was built in 1922 and actually has three tracks on the grounds. The main one is the Grand Prix track, a 3.6-mile track that has hosted every Formula One Italian Grand Prix since the series began in 1922, except for the 1980 race. The Italian Motorcycle Grand Prix is also held at Monza.

The race tracks are contained within a park that once surrounded a royal palace (the palace still exists). You can attend races at Monza, held regularly, and even sign up for driving courses.

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Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

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Leonardo da Vinci was famous for keeping extensive notes, sketching designs for things that were way beyond his time and writing in code so his discoveries wouldn't be stolen. Some of those writings are cataloged in what's known as the “Codex Atlanticus,” a 12-volume set spanning more than 40 years, and part of this astounding collection is housed in Milan's Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Da Vinci spent much of his lifetime simply jotting down notes. In the 16th century, those notes were collected by a sculptor into what we now call the Codex Atlanticus. It was acquired by the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in the 1630s, then stolen by Napoleon's army in the early 1800s. After the Napoleonic occupation, the Codex was returned to Milan, and restoration work has been done on the volumes throughout different points in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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