- Beyond the financial metropolis of Milan, the region is peppered
with affluent towns that preserve pretty old centres and a distinct
character: Mantua, Cremona, Bergamo, Brescia and Pavia are wealthy.
Lombardy is Italy’s richest, most industrial and developed region
including enchanting lakes from Lago d’Orta to Lago di Garda.
Milan is an international fashion city and most of the country’s
major corporations and the nations’s largest concentration of
industry are likewise here. The world’s most-famous designers
have their flagship stores here and Milan’s clubbing scene is
hip and theatre and cinema flourish. Milan’s cathedral is the
world’s fourth largest. Most of Milan’s attractions are
concentrated between the cathedral and Castello Sforzesco. Other parts
of the town likely to be frequented are Brera, Navigli to the south
and the Porta Garibaldi area north of town. Piazza del Duomo is home
to Milan’s most visible monument, the cathedral. The central
spire, 108m tall, is capped by a gilded copper statue of the Madonnina,
the city’s traditional protector. The soutern side of Piazza
del Duomo is dominated by the Palazzo Arcivescovile and Palazzo Reale.
The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is one of the city’s finest galleries.
Piazza della Scala is dominated by Milan’s legendary opera house,
La Scala. Castello Sforzesco is home to some excellent museums. The
Museo Teatrale alla Scala is an enchanting museum inside Palazzo Busca.
The Festa di Sant’Ambrogio on 7 Dicember is Milan’s biggest
feast day. The Italian Grand Prix tears around the Autodromo Nazionale
Monza in September. Milan’s two football clubs, AC Milan and
FC Internazionale Milano (Inter) play at the San Siro Stadium. Streets
for affordable fashion lie behind the cathedral around Corso Vittorio
Emanuele II, and between Piazza della Scala and Piazza San Babila.
Pavia is an industrial and agricultural centre on the banks of the
River Ticino, known for its university. The province produces about
one-third of Italy’s rice. Pavia once boasted some 100 medieval
watchtowers. The Castello Visconteo watches over the northern end
of medieval Pavia. The medieval centre is dominated by the University
of Pavia. The other old-town landmark is the cathedral. Certosa is
a Carthusian monastery 10km north of Pavia. Behind the 122 arches
of the larger cloisters are 24 cells, each a self-contained living
area for one monk.
Bergamo’s walled hilltop città alta is surrounded by
the città bassa, a sprawling modern addition to this magnificent
former outpost of the Venetian empire. Although Milan’s skyscrapers
to the southwest are visible on a clear day. Several small ski resorts
speckle the Bergamo Alps around the town. The Piazza Vecchia is the
heart of medieval Bergamo. The upper city’s western tip is filled
by the defensive hulk of Bergamo’s citadel, occupied today by
two small museums, the Museo di Scienze Naturali Enrico Caffi and
the Civico Museo Archeologico.
Covering the band of Alps across Lombardy’s north, the Valtellina
has some acceptable skiing and is well set up for walking. Alpine
ski resorts are Bormio and Livigno.
Brescia is a provincial capital, an industrial centre and a transport
hub. The region offers many good wines. Brescia’s historic centre
is dominated by a hill, Colle Cidneo, topped by a rambling castle
which has been the core of the city defences for centuries. The most
compelling of Brescia’s religious monuments is the Duomo Vecchio.
The International Piano Festival, held from early April until June,
is staged in conjunction with nearby Bergamo, while the Estate Aperta
festival of music occupies the summer months.
Cremona, the home of the Stradivari violin, maintains its centuries-old
status as premier exponent of the delicate art of making the perfect
string instrument. The Triennale Internazionale degli Strumenti ad
Arco (International String Instrument Expo) is held every third October;
the next will be in 2006.
On the shores of Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo and Lago Inferiore
is Mantua, a serene and beautiful city. The Ducal Palace occupies
a great chunk of the city’s northeastern corner.The centrepiece
is Castello di San Giorgio. The cathedral pales before the magnificence
of the Basilica di Sant´ Andrea.
Some 30km southwest of Mantua, the surreal town of Sabbioneta was
created in the 16th century in a failed attempt to build Utopia. Como
Lake: Como, 50 km north of
Milan, is the main access town to the lake and sits at the foot of
the 146 sq km body of water. The town is a good base for exploring
the fairytale lakeside villages.
Lago di Como’s western shore stretches a handsome 80 km from
Como (south) to Sorico (north). In Cernobbio art exhibitions can be
viewed in the Villa Bernasconi. In Tremezzo pergolas knitted from
orange trees and some of Europe’s finest rhododendrons, azaleas
and camellias bloom in the botanical gardens of 17th century Villa
Como’s eastern shore is the least scenic. The southern shore
embraces the pearl of the lake, Bellagio – a pretty little town
indeed, sitting square on the point where the lake’s western
and eastern arms split and head south. Lake
Maggiore: Stresa is the main lakeside town of the Lake
Maggiore. Stresa is 80 km northwest of Milan on the lake’s western
shore. It’s commonly touted as a base for visiting the Borromean
Islands. You can also ride the Funivia Stresa-Mottarone to the top
of Monte Mottarone. The mountain offers good biking trails and walking
opportunities. Most winters, skiers and boarders can cruise down the
gentle slopes of Mottarone.
The Borromean Islands can be reached from various points around the
lake but Stresa and Baveno are the best departure points. The four
islands – Bella, Madre, Pescatori (or Superiore) and San Giovanni
– form the lake’s most beautiful corner. Palazzo Borromeo
is the main draw card of Bella. Madre provides fertile ground for
Italy’s tallest palm trees.
Verbania is the biggest town on the lake; split into three districts,
it is Verbania Intra – the Swiss end with an attractive old
town and car ferry port to cross the lake – and Verbania Pallanza
– that are the most interest.
Cannobio is a tiny town with spotless cobblestone streets.
Lago d’Orta is actually in the Piedmont region and is separated
from its more celebrated eastern neighbour, Lago Maggiore, by Monte
Mottarone. The main town on the lake is Orta San Giulio an idyllic
spot. From the main waterfront square, regular launches make the short
trip to the Isola San Giulio. Lake
Iseo: The Lago d’Iseo
is shut in by mountains and it is scarred by industry and a string
of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere. Heading
south, the Franciacorta – a patch of rolling countryside that
produces good wine – spills around the lake shore, while the
mountainous hinterland offers interesting walking possibilities. The
River Oglio winds to the lake through the Valle Camonica between two
national parks. Iseo is a pleasant spot fronting the southern end
of the lake. From Iseo you can catch a boat to Monte Isola, Europe’s
largest lake island at 5 sq km.
The Valle Camonica weaves its way from the north of Lago d’Iseo
to the vast Parco dell’Adamello and further north, to the Parco
Nazionale dello Stelvio.