One of the greatest gifts I received as a young traveler to Italy was the opportunity to learn about Brescia. Brescia is about an hour and a half from Milan, in the region of Lombardy. Not many people I have spoken to about my time there as a young adult know where Brescia is, much less even heard of it. It has always been for me, especially as my intro to Italy, a secret paradise, my own little haven. Though the distance from Milan is short, it feels like it is worlds away. Brescia, considered one of the most ancient cities in Italy, is a favorite just as Northern Italy remains my favorite area of the entire country to visit.
I also have family there, which might influence it all a bit too, and it was a wonderful experience for me to return to such a special place in my heart with a husband and kids in tow. I spent the first few hours in complete awe of the fact that this was a moment when my past and present were coming together in the most beautiful way possible.
Where we stayed
We landed in Milan’s Malpensa airport. We picked up our rental directly from here and made our way North. We thought we had rented a large enough vehicle, but because of the amount and size of our luggage we had upgraded to a larger car. This would serve to compliment the adventure when driving to the smaller towns outside of Brescia, such as Caino, to visit family members.
We arrived to Hotel Vittoria, Brescia’s only 5 star hotel. I really enjoyed the hotel. Parking isn’t too difficult. There is a public parking garage right around the corner from the hotel, but the hotel has valet parking too which is worth every single penny, especially when you have a ton of bags with you.
We booked two connecting rooms with massive windows overlooking Il Duomo Vecchio. The sounds of the church bells in the morning stirred my heart until it felt it would burst from overwhelming happiness. The sounds of the streets coming alive in the morning or the evening, as well as the cool breeze of spring made it all too perfect.
The hotel room cost included a generous complimentary breakfast each morning, which was such a treat for us and made it easier to get going. The hotel overall needs a little work, but the service, the staff, and rooms were all to our liking, and its proximity to the highlights of the city made it easy for us to walk around to sight-see, eat, and shop.
What I also loved about Brescia is that I never felt like I was in a massive tourist zone. We were constantly surrounded by locals and my kids were exposed to the culture in an authentic way on a regular basis.
We ate at one of the cafes on the piazza where the Duomo is located, all of which are lovely.
Walking the city
We spent a great part of our days just walking around the streets of Brescia. We shopped a bit more than we expected because of the many small businesses in the area.
On weekends the street markets set up shop and you can find everything from food, to linens, to flowers.
Of course, there is always a plaza, or piazza, nearby to rest your feet, to grab a cafe or drink, and to people watch. In smaller towns there might just be one main plaza, with a church in the center and this point of reference would serve us well during our hiking excursions in this trip.
In April, when we visited, the temperature changes quickly, so always carry layers (a jacket, a sweater) and definitely wear comfortable walking shoes. Those beautiful cobblestones that I love so much and make the streets look so historic and quaint are brutal on your feet! If you must know, I am a Skechers girl all the way – and no, they did not pay me to say that! If you are looking for comfy shoes that are versatile too, that’s my tip for you.
Taking on the streets of Brescia with my Skechers, like a boss.
We ate very well in Brescia, but by far our favorite meal was at La Grotta Osteria. This is Northern Italy at its best. Have all the courses, drink all the wine, take it slow as is expected in Italy and enjoy the moment. It was a culinary highlight in town for us.
Northern Italy is all about the mountains and the lakes. It is what I fell in love with when I first visited, it is what I looked forward to the most when I returned. There are 3 near Brescia: Lake Garda, Lake Iseo, and Lake Como.
We took one day to visit Sirmione, a lake resort destination off the coast of Lake Garda. On a sunny, warm Saturday it was crowded, though in general it’s a pretty touristy site, visited heavily both by locals and foreigners, which is understandable as there’s so much to love. It has a castle, it has Roman ruins, it’s got thermal baths (so yes, come with a bathing suit if you want to experience them). You can go on boat tours of the lake. You can tour the castle inside, or you can just hike along the lake as we did and enjoy the views.
On another day, we decided to go hiking. We had been eating so much already (did I mention my sister’s big Italian wedding took place the weekend right after we arrived? Talk about lots of eating!) and needed to work it off beyond just walking around villages and towns.
We decided to go on a hike along Lake Iseo through the Antica Strada Valeriana, an ancient Roman roadway that is now a path that winds its way through the mountains and towns of Lago d’Iseo. The trail runs for 24 km (almost 15 miles) and my family and I did half of it. The trail starts in Pilzone and goes all the way to Pisogne. I am sharing images below to identify signs for starting points, as it is difficult to find someone to guide you who speaks English (I spoke Italian almost the entire time we traveled through Northern Italy) and not a lot of guide books tell you what to look out for.
We parked our car in a public lot that was between a bank and the Pilzone train station. We walked past the train station to a sign that indicated the start of the trail. The trail itself is marked with a V.
Sometimes the trail would veer off into what felt like the start of a major thruway, but then it quickly led us back into medieval villages, farm land, mountain sides, and small creeks. Words can’t describe how gorgeous it all was. I am eager to go back and do the entire trail.
Our last night in Brescia felt bittersweet. It’s always had a special place in my heart, but now that I got to bring my family with me it feels even more so. Leaving loved ones behind was also difficult.
We were excited to move on to our next destinations but didn’t want to say goodbye to our family and friends. Lucky for us, those goodbyes are only temporary, with new encounters not too far behind.
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