Since Leonardo da Vinci broke all the rules in his stunning Last Supper, that can be admired in the center of Milan, the indefatigably inventive Lombards seem to have skipped straight from the Renaissance to the 22nd century. Not only is Milan a treasure trove of 20th-century art, but art deco and rationalist architecture abound, together with incredible venues and trattorias. Around the lakes, Michelin-starred restaurants push the boundaries of traditionalism, and vintners and oil producers experiment with the latest technologies and techniques. Even now, jackhammers are hard at work on the 420-acre Expo 2015 site, producing new Milanese neighbourhoods and a futuristic skyline modelled by star architects.
Though Italian design is distributed globally, seeing it in its home context offers fresh appreciation. From Como’s silk weavers to the wool merchants of Maggiore and the violin artisans of Cremona, this region has an outstanding craft heritage. Today Milan is home to all the major design showrooms from Armani to Prada and most Milanese fashion houses have branched out into spas, bars, hotels, galleries and restaurants, all great spots to be used for a program in this area of Italy.
Travel just 1 hour from Milan to be greeted by a Mediterranean burst of colour: gardens filled with rose-red camellias, hot-pink oleanders and luxurious palms surrounding cerulean blue lakes. It’s impossible not to be seduced. Fishing boats bob in tiny harbours, palaces float in the blue waters, rustic churches cling to cliff faces and grand belle époque spas and hotels line the waterfronts of Lake Como. No wonder George Clooney is smitten. Formed at the end of the last ice age, and a popular leisure spot since Roman times, the italian lakes have an enduring, beguiling beauty, with Lake Como being the most suitable for an incentive trip.