The first stop on our road trip in Italy was Brescia, a hidden gem that deserves much more attention. Look for this lovely city in northern Italy, about halfway between Milan and Venice. It was a logical first stop on our Road trip in Italy. It is not known as a popular vacation spot. Travelers to the region typically head north to the Lakes district. There, they can admire the beauty of Lakes Como, Garda, Idro, Maggiore and Iseo. Or continue east to Verona, the city of Romeo and Julietta fame.

Brescia is best known as a thriving industrial hub. It greets visitors with an austere series of run-down industrial buildings, grey residential structures, ruins and vacant overgrown lots. But first impressions can be deceiving.

Actually, Brescia has a lot to offer visitors, including a well-preserved historic center. Some excellent dining choices, luxurious shops and the best aperitivo we experienced while visiting Italy.

Brescia’s Impressive Historic Center

Located at the foot of the Alps, Brescia dates back to pre-Roman times. The city was founded 3,200 years ago when it was known as Brixia. The historic Centro was quite beautiful. Moreso than expected. Mind you, we were experiencing Italy for the very first time. So, everything in the city center seemed strikingly beautiful and a huge contrast with our first impressions of the city. 

Head to the town square – Piazza della Loggia — and look for the a beautiful 16th century Renaissance clock tower. The tower is known as the Torre dell’Orologio. The clock that stand atop is particularly sophisticated. It indicates not only the time but also the date, phase of the moon, and the sun’s position in the zodiac. It also features two mechanized figures who strike the clock bell. Tone and Batista , also known as Màcc de le ure or “madmen of the hours” ring the bell on the hour. 

Quaint and thriving bars, restaurants and cafés surround the Piazza, and line the surrounding streets. Each features local cuisine and aperitivo. aperitivo, the equivalent of “happy hour” presents tremendous value. In most cases, the price of a drink includes a tasty snack of appetizers called Stuzzichini.

Aperitivo at Bullaccia in Brescia was the best we found in all the cities we visited.

The best Aperitivo in Brescia, Maybe the World

We decided on Bellucia for our aperitivo in Brescia. It is located in Piazza Paolo VI in the historic center. Our selection of Stuzzichini, served on a wooden platter, included sandwiches, cold pizza, an assortment of local cheeses, slices of Mortadella and Salumi. We were also served a refreshing shrimp salad verrine with beans, corn, rice and tomato. In addition, there was a platter with breadsticks, chips, olives, etc.

The generous Aperol Spritz, pictured above, was served in a huge glass. It was the perfect balance of bitter from the Aperol and sweet from the Prosecco. The ideal refreshment on a hot autumn day!

Historic Monuments and Buildings

In addition to the piazza and clock tower, Brescia is home to two cathedrals, a 12th century town hall, and a Roman forum. There’s also a 17th century palace, a monastery, skads of churches, a slew of museums. Lastly there is an impressive monumental cemetery featuring a 60-meter tall “lighthouse” structure. It is also home to the largest Roman archaeological area in Northern Italy and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wine and Accommodations in Brescia

Brescia and its surrounding province, is located in close proximity to the wine producing region of Franciacorta. As a result, Brescia enjoys an abundance of wonderful sparkling wines. These high-quality wines that carry the DOCG designation, a mark of quality and excellence. When visiting, make sur to order a glass of the local bubbles. You won’t be disappointed.

We stayed on the outskirts of town at a Marriott affiliated AC Hotel. Clean, modern and welcoming. The rooms, like in most hotels in Italy are small but efficiently organized. The staff was very helpful and spoke fluent English, which was great.

So if you’re traveling from Milan to Venice or the Lakes district, Brescia is certainly worth a stop. It’s a welcome way-station on the road to Venice. It’s also a more authentic travel experience compared to other more trafficked and crowded destinations.