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Venice & the Veneto

The Po River created the vast flood plain of the Veneto under the brow of pre-Venetian Alps to the north and the Dolomites in the west. What draws visitors to these agricultural flatlands are the art treasures of Padua (Padova), the Renaissance villas of Palladio in Vicenza, the ancient Roman and pseudo-Shakespearean sights of Verona, and -- rising on pilings from a lagoon on the Adriatic coast -- that most serene city of canals and year-round carnival, Venice (Venezia).

The Friuli-Venezia Giulia

This forgotten northeast corner of Italy marks the border with Slovenia, a region of tame Alps, rolling hills, and Adriatic beaches. Its culture lies at the crossroads of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Austria -- the Adriatic city of Trieste was once the main port for Vienna and the Habsburgs, and has the coffeehouses to prove it. The influence of the old, neighboring sea power Venice is still strong in its staunch ally of Udine, while nearby Cividale dei Friuli preserves remnants of cultures from the Celts through the Lombards, with coastal Aquilea weighing in with Roman ruins and mosaics.

The Dolomites & South Tirol

The Dolomites, bordering Austria, cap the eastern stretches of the South Tirol region with sharp pinnacles straight out of a fairy tale, while the peaks of the Alps crown the west. This region comprises legendary resorts such as Cortina d'Ampezzo and Merano, as well as cities such as Trent (Trento) and Bolzano -- home to a fascinating international scientific treasure, the prehistoric Ice Man -- that lie at the crossroads of the German and Italian worlds.

Milan & Lombardy

Lombardy (Lombardia) is Italy's wealthiest province, an industrial, financial, and agricultural powerhouse named for the Lombards, a Germanic people who migrated south over the Alps in the early Dark Ages (they were part of the barbarian hordes that overran the Roman Empire). Beyond its Po Valley factories and cities, the scenic diversity of this prosperous region ranges from legendary lakes like Como, Garda, and Maggiore backed by Alpine peaks to the fertile plains of the Po River. The region's capital, Milan (Milano) -- hotbed of high fashion, high finance, and avant-garde design -- is a city of great art and architecture (Leonardo's The Last Supper is but the beginning), and the region's Renaissance past is still much in evidence in mountain town Bergamo, merchant city Mantua (Mantova), musical Cremona (where Stradivarius once crafted his violins), and the other cities of the Lombard plains.

Piedmont & the Valle d'Aosta

Piedmont (Piemonte) means "foot of the mountains," and the Alps are in sight from almost every parcel of Italy's northernmost province, which borders Switzerland and France. The flat plains of the Po River rise into rolling hills clad with orchards and vineyards. North of Turin -- the historic baroque capital of the region and, with its wealth of auto factories, a cornerstone of Italy's "economic miracle" -- the plains meet the Alps head-on in the Valle d'Aosta, with its craggy mountains, rugged mountain folk, and year-round skiing at resorts such as Courmayeur and Entrèves in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

Liguria: the Italian Riviera

The Italian Riviera follows the Ligurian Sea along a narrow coastal band backed by mountains. At the center of the rocky coast of Liguria is Genoa (Genova), the country's first port and still its most important -- a fascinating city that greets visitors with a remarkable assemblage of Renaissance art and architecture. Some of Italy's most famous seaside retreats flank Genoa on either side, from the tony resort of San Remo on France's doorstep all the way down to the picturesque string of fishing villages known as the Cinque Terre that line the coast just above Tuscany.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.