BEST TIME TO VISIT ITALY: FEBRUARY

Time your fact-finding trip to Lombardy and the Veneto to coincide with winter fun in the Dolomites and Carnival in Venice. The university life in Padua will be in full swing, everyone will be open for business, and, most importantly, the hotels will offer rock-bottom rates. With a week’s time, plan to spend: three nights in Milan, with a full day in the city and a day trip to Lake Como, a night in Verona, and two nights in Venice before making your way back. Fly into Milan’s Malpensa airport and spend a day in the nation’s fashion and finance capital, where you might decide to go window-shopping for contemporary furniture for your new home. Delve into Milan’s aperitif culture in the Brera district just after you’ve taken a look at the paintings inside the Pinacoteca di Brera and the galleries along that neighborhood’s cobblestone streets. Several trains per day leave both the Stazione Centrale and Cadorna station bound for Como, and you can take a boat to villages on the lakeshore from there. Of course, the best way to see everything is with a rental car, especially if you’d like to explore the hills above the lake and the suburban triangle between Como, Lecco, and Monza, the area known as Brianza. Those who plan to work in the big city but prefer more rural rhythms (and prices) will find Brianza a practical compromise, very close to both the urban center and the lakes’ natural beauty. This suburban area is not the best place to spend the night. Rather, stay in Milan or in the Como area, both of which are just a 30- to 40-minute drive away.

Lake Como The ideal time to visit the lakes region is really in March or early April when the wisteria start to bud. Still, Lake Como is no less beautiful in the winter, with its palm trees framed by snowcapped peaks and spectacular vistas. My favorite wintertime activity in the area is finding a plate of pizzoccheri, Lombardy’s buckwheat pasta served with garlic, Savoy cabbage, and melted Bitto cheese. Make your way east toward Verona. The opera season held at the Arena runs through July, but the splendidly preserved Roman amphitheater and the cozy downtown are enough to hold your attention in the off-season. Be sure to stop in the Bottega del Vino for an eye-opening enological experience. This area, too, has great urban and rural options. Nearby Lake Garda, a favorite retreat for Austrian and German tourists especially, is home to magnificent villas as well as more affordable housing. (As an added bonus, the adjacent Dolomites are a playground for snowboarders, skiers, or simply those who want to take a snowmobile ride up to a cozy lodge in the mountains for a fireside dinner.) Padua makes for a great home base for exploring both Venice and Verona, as Map there are cheaper and more readily available in the high season. It is only about 30 minutes from the lagoon by train, and less than an hour from Verona. On the other hand, you might have your heart set on living in Venice itself, in which case you should spend a few days on the lagoon to make sure that a car-less existence is right for you. Winter is truly the best time of year, maybe the only time of year, to tour Venice properly. The crowds are minimal and every rio and calle can be seen as they were meant to be seen. The revelry of Carnival, meanwhile, is legendary.

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