Italy: Po River Valley

It’s hard to believe that this romantic corner of northern Italy – embraced by the Italian Alps to the north and the Appennines to the south – was born of outsiders. First it was alpine glaciers from the north that carved the landscape. Upon their retreat, they left behind pristine lakes and filaments of streams, brooks and rivers that still draw lovers of jaw-dropping scenery. Then it was the Germanic Lombards, the French, and the Spanish, eager to expand their empires. But they would all be averted by a growing local nationalism and the rise of the Venetian Republic.

Since then, countless outsiders have succumbed to the allure of Lombardy province, named for its early German invaders. Emerald pastures host working farms that put visitors in touch with their rustic ways. At lakeside resorts, pastel villas admire their pretty reflections in shimmering waters. Tiny villages seem to have stepped out of the past. And everywhere you look, a distinct charm infuses it all – from Po Valley’s country roads to the cosmopolitan flair of the village of Borghetto on Lake Garda, Italy largest lake. It’s easy to see what inspired Lombardian Giuseppe Verdi to create symphonies here, and William Shakespeare to make Verona home to Romeo and Juliet.

If you’re tempted to capture all of the region’s delights in one pleasurable mix, you’re not alone; Lombardy’s cuisine is heavily influenced by multi-faceted one-pot dishes. And there are plenty of earthy ingredients to enrich buttery risottos, stewy cassoeula, and pasta-based pizzoccheri. Add a sprinkle of locally made Parmesan, gorgonzola, or bitto cheese for a dish as hearty as the abbondanza spirit that permeates this wondrous place.

Catch this spirit firsthand when you join VBT’s Italy: Po River Valley and Lake Garda Bicycling Vacation.