One hour from: Milan

Monks, music and shoes to die for
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The Independent Travel

Flee the fashion capital of Europe and stock up on some shoes and Chartreuse.

Flee the fashion capital of Europe and stock up on some shoes and Chartreuse.

Bergamo Alta

Bergamo is divided into two cities, one above the other and the historic walled high town is definitely where it's at. Wander up the steep Viale delle Mura to reach the magnificent Piazza Vecchia, the medieval heart. Or if you are feeling footsore, hop on the funicular. There are plenty of fine buildings to see including the Palazzo della Ragione, Santa Maria Maggiore and the Cappella Colleoni.

By car: take the A4 east and follow signs; journey time approx 45 mins. By train: frequent service from Milano Centrale; journey time approx 50 mins.

Lake Como

For romance and Belle Epoque dreams, you cannot beat lovely Lake Como, which Wordsworth once described as "a treasure which the earth keeps to itself". These days it can get fairly overrun, especially in summer. But you cannot beat time spent on a steamer, criss-crossing the lake and stopping off at the top three lakeside towns of Managgio, Bellagio and Varenna.

By car: take the A8, followed by the A9 north; journey time approx 50 mins. By train: frequent service from Milano Cardona to Como Nord Lago; journey time approx 1 hour.

Vigevano

Shoe shops abound in this smart little town, which for centuries has been central to the shoe industry. The Shoe Museum, Italy's only one, on Corso Cavour, has some outrageous designs. There is also one of the finest examples of Renaissance planning, the Piazza Ducale, with fabulous frescoed arcades, designed by Bramante, but supposedly influenced by da Vinci.

By car: take the A7 south and follow signs; journey time approx 30 mins. By train: frequent service from Milano Cristoforo; journey time approx 35 mins.

Certosa di Pavia

The most beautiful example of Lombard architecture. This vastly over-the-top monastery, one of the largest in Europe, would not look out of place at the Hearst mansion in California. Take a guided tour led by a monk on release from his vow of silence and then stock up on goodies such as Chartreuse liqueur at the shop.

By car: take the A7 south and follow signs; journey time approx 30 mins. By train: frequent service from Milano Porta Garibaldi; journey time approx 35 mins.

Cremona

Musicians from all over the world come to pay homage to Andrea Amati, founder of the first violin workshop here in 1566 and mentor of Guarneri and the Stradivari. Don't miss the Palazzo del Comune with its exhibition of historic instruments and the Museo Stradivariano.

By car: take the A1 south and follow signs; journey time approx 50 mins. By train: frequent service from Milano Centrale; journey time approx 1 hour.

Lambro Valley Park

Founded in 1983, and centred around river Lambro, the park is packed with 18th-century villas with fabulous gardens, notably those of the Villa Reale of Monza.

By car: take the A4 east and follow signs; journey time approx 15 mins. By train: frequent service from Milano Porta Garibaldi to Monza; journey time approx 20 mins.

Magic of Italy (020-8241 5135; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) offers a two-night b&b break at the 3-star Hotel San Carlo from £305, including return flights from Heathrow. Europcar (0870 607 5000; www.europcar.co.uk) offers weekend car hire in Milan from €152 (£100).

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