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Northern Italy for Nature Lovers/Crowd Haters

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Is it possible? Family of 4 (mom, dad, & 16 yr old twin boys) want to venture to Europe. Have been all over US, CA, Carribean but have avoided Europe previously. We enjoy outdoor activities (hiking, kayaking) and nature primarily but are also interested in seeing historic old Italy, but not the really popular parts, i.e. Rome, Florence, Cinque Terra, Tuscany so decided on Northern Italy as most likely to work for us.

Since we are stuck with summer vacation, thinking of going as soon as school lets out in June and spending about 17 days altogether. Idea is to fly into Milan, rent car and primarily divide time between one of the lakes, Maggiore, Lugano or a less busy place on Como like Menaggio and then go to the Dolomites. I'd also like to spend 2-3 days in a smaller city with interesting history. Was thinking of Verona, Brescia, Vincenza, Padua but know little about them.

Questions/feedback wanted:

Should we do a city first using the train and then rent a car for the lakes/Dolomites or vice versa?

(Example: 6/21 fly overnight to Milan; 6/22 train to city; 6/25-leave city-drive to Dolomites; 6/30 leave Dolomites-drive to lake; 7/6 drive back to Milan airport hotel; 7/7 leave from Milan)


Thoughts about my city idea-Verona, Brescia, Vincenzo, Padua?

I'd love to see Venice but have not considered it because I assume it will be overrun with tourists-am I avoiding it unecessarily? Or should I save it for an off season trip once the boys are off to college?

Which of the lakes is the least developed and visited with less touristy towns and good access to nearby natural areas for hiking. Do people kayak on these lakes?

For the Dolomites was thinking of Alta Badia or Val Gardena as a base-good idea? How many days to explore the area? I was thinking of 5-6.

So, any help you can offer to someone with no practical experience in Italian travel would be appreciated!

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