Villa D’Este’s grounds are like stepping into artwork. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

The XXV Winter Olympic Games will return to Italy for the third time in history as Northern Italy was announced as the selectee for the 2026 frigid festival. The ski resort area of Cortina d’Ampezzo previously hosted the Winter Games in 1956 – and while the 1956 Games were the first to be shown on international television, most of the competitions were within walking distance of each other.

XXV Winter Olympic Games

This time Cortina will share the hosting with Milan, which is 250 miles away, and more locations. The addition of Italy’s fashion and business capital – plus the charms of nearby Lake Como, give the Olympics a stylish, varied venue.

Where are the games being staged?

Events, which historically, and according to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, have provided the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” will be spread among several cities. The Opening Ceremony will be staged in the San Siro soccer stadium in Milan while the Games will close in an amphitheater in Verona. Turin, Italy, hosted the Games in 2006, which were remembered for Bode Miller’s behavior and American television tape delaying its broadcasts. The 1960 Summer Games were in Rome.

Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, tweeted: “Italy has won. An entire country worked united and compact with the ambition to realize and offer the world a memorable sports event.”

Fittingly, therefore, the motto for the 2026 Games is “Sognando Insieme” (“Dreaming Together”).

Italy outlasted bidding interest from Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Japan and Turkey. Recent Winter Games, staged every four years, have been held in Russia, Japan, America, Norway, France, Yugoslavia, and Canada. The 2022 Winter Games will be in China.

Varied venues will give athletes and spectators a sense of Northern Italy

Andrea Grisdale is founder of IC Bellagio, an Italian tour company headquartered in Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como.

“The main destinations will be Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, but they will also be held in Valtellina, which is north of Lake Como and Val di Fiemme, which is another area of the Dolomite Alps,” said Grisdale, an Englishwoman who moved to Italy in 1991. “I spent my first winter in Val di Fiemme. It’s an absolutely stunning, beautiful region.”

Milan is included in Italy’s winning Winter Games win. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

Milan, in addition to the torch-lighting Opening Ceremonies, will serve as venue for the figure skating competition and ice hockey games. Valtellina gets the alpine skiing and snowboarding; Val di Fiemme will present ski jumping, cross country skiing and speed skating. Bobsled, luge, skeleton, curling, biathlon, and alpine skiing will be contested at Cortina.

National pride and the impact on Italian tourism

Grisdale believes the awarding of the games will greatly benefit Italy’s tourism industry.

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“I think it’s hugely important. The Olympics will be held during the month of February. That is a month where we don’t usually have that many people traveling, especially from the U.S.,” she explained. “The majority of travelers from the U.S. will be with us between the months of April and October, but one of the biggest trends we have seen recently (and all the statistics are telling us that it will be continually growing) is people traveling outside those main summer months and choosing to go during the winter months. So, I think this will be one extra incentive for why they would want to do that.”

Olympic joy by Lake Como locals at restaurant on island. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

Fewer crowds and better value pricing, are two of the other reasons vacationers are traveling to Italy in the “off seasons,” but IC Bellagio specializes in guiding tourists to another: custom, genuine, opportunities to experience Venice, Rome, Florence, Catania, Lezzeno, and other destinations as a local would.

The company arranges authentic access to culture and cuisine via cucina cooking lessons, after-hours museum strolls with docents, Vespa tours, fashion factory experiences, winery tastings; and more.

Italy’s place on the world tourism stage in terms of culture and fun

The Obamas viewed Villa D’Este. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

IC Bellagio is a member of the Virtuoso Travel Advisor network – a worldwide collective of high-end travel experts. Virtuoso’s research, over the past few years, has consistently revealed that Italy, in post-trip surveys of vacationers, ranks highest in satisfaction. So much so that former U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, along with their daughters Sasha and Malia, visited George and Amal Clooney at the actor’s villa in Laglio on Lake Como.

Photos were taken of the fashionable families arriving by oat to the five-star Hotel Villa D’Este, a top-class, historic palace of a property in Cernobbio frequented by celebrities and world leaders. It was the summer residence of a wealthy Cardinal in 1568 until the Princess of Wales purchased it in 1815.

Villa D’Este

For the past 140 years, Villa D’Este has been a hotel frequented by Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Robert De Niro, Woody Allen and many other stars.

But politically speaking, Obama would have been interested to know the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s romance began there, and the monarchs of Norway, Belgium, and Holland are among those who have stepped into a setting which is more like a painting than reality.

Obama and the Olympics

Obama was very involved in Chicago’s bid to win the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and traveled at the time to Denmark to pitch the Windy City’s wares. The Games were ultimately awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

Obama’s trip to Lake Como was likely more satisfying.

Guest room view from Palazzo Del Vice Re. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

“President Obama came during the festival of San Giovanni where they have the most amazing fireworks display from the Isola Comacinawhich is the only island that we have on Lake Como. It is right in the central lake area,” said Grisdale, who, in addition to running IC Bellagio, operates a six-bedroom boutique hotel named Palazzo Del Vice – a historic, restored palace in Lezzeno on Lake Como’s shore.

“We enjoyed the fireworks as well during a fabulous barbeque with our guests from the palazzo and some friends on the front, lakeside terrace. Palazzo Del Vice Re is directly in front of the island. And we also managed to have a synced link to the audio so we could listen to the music and the speeches. It really was a very special evening.”

Open air courtyard at Palazzo del Vice Re. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

Guests at Palazzo Del Vice Re can visit Isola Comacina via boat and dine at the tiny island’s only restaurant – the traditional Locanda dell’Isola, which has been serving the same family-style menu for 40 years. The traditional finale to the meal is a surprise, spooky presentation in the dark.

The lakeside village of Bellagio. (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

The colorful village of Bellagio is also moments away from Palazzo Del Vice Re by car or boat, and one can hear the lake lapping the shore from the windows of the guest rooms or a terrace table. The Clooneys? They live just across the narrow lake and a bit to the left.

IC Bellagio will develop custom Italian Olympic Games tours, and the next few winters might be a great time to contact IC Bellagio to see and experience the venues before the Olympians take over.

Michael Patrick Shiels is a radio host and travel blogger. Follow his adventures at Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected] 


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