The Gallic or Celtic tribes of the Po Valley were the first inhabitants of today's Lombardia to have left a long lasting mark in such places as Bergamo, Como and Milan or Mediolanum.
The 'St. Augustine Route ' is a pilgrim route in Northern Italy which takes in the area of Brianza and Monza near Milan,which connects 25 Marian sanctuaries and locations dedciated to St. Augustine. The faith route in fact highlights sites such as his home in Cassago together with a great number of icons and shrines and sanctuaries.
The beauty of the route however is also that the only way to can do it is by foot or bike and passes along some beautiful relaxing and peaceful places you wouldn't guess to find only a few miles distant from big towns. The route is divided into three itineraries: from Brianza to Milan, from Milan to Pavia and then towards Genoa.
Notwithstanding the glam and colour of Europe's finest 'ready-to-wear' fashion scene, Milan may seem pretty grey at times. But if you know where to go there are oases of incredible art and imagination from museums, galleries and permanent exhibitions.
First and above all, the 'The Last Supper' at the Cenacolo Vinciano, Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, 2. The masterpiece by Leonardo in the small convent dates from 1497 is compulsory viewing and compulsory booking as we discovered to our cost.
You can't just turn up and wait in the queue, you have to book in advance. Make sure you do it at least a month before online or telephone +39 02 89421146. Frustrating? You bet.
Mantova is a fabulous place to visit and we go along with Torquato Tasso writing in 1586 following his visit to Lombardia: "This is a most beautiful town worthy of travelling a thousand miles to see it'". So what are you waiting for!
1. The Dukes Palace
Palazzo Ducale is really a town in the shape of a palace and was built to compete with the major European courts of the 13th to 14th centuries. It is 34,000 square meters of lanes, squares, courtyards, gardens and well preserved rooms housing priceless masterpieces. Not least the 'Camera dei Sposi' sumptuously frescoed by Andrea Mantegna with Emperors, Kings and crowds of people. horses and dogs. In fact, the ruling Gonzagas were great animal lovers and even built a dog's courtyard by a lakeside wing of the complex. You can still see a gravestone to their beloved 'Oriana'.
'Bitto' is a wonderful Alpine cheese used in a lot of the cooking in the high Valtellina mountains. There are dedicated cheese festivals and fairs every October in Morbegno or Sondrio, officially titled 'Mostra del Formaggio Bitto e Fiera Regionale dei Prodotti della Montagna Lombarda' or 'Formaggi in Piazza'. They are showcases for the many small producers of bitto and other traditional cheese in Lombardia.
The River Po is at its widest near the town of Cremona in Lombardia, roughly the middle of a navigable stretch in the region running from Pavia to Mantova. Look to hop on and off visiting little known places with perhaps a guided bike excursion thrown in. First stop on a boat trip from Cremona will usually be the mooring at Motta Baluffi.
Is is possible to travel the length of the River Po? Apparently yes. The Venetians at the height of the Republic of Venice would take their boats up stream towards Lake Maggiore and the river was an important waterway for ferrying crops and other materials to the larger cities along the way.
Written in English 'Shoe Museum' does not convey the style and elegance of the hundreds of hand made shoes housed in the 'Il Museo della Calzatura e della Tecnica Calzaturiera' in Vigevano. It is a place entirely dedicated to the history of shoe making, techniques and models through the centuries. Visitors can appreciate the evolution of footwear from simple functional objects to design and fashion icons.
A good wine should be tasted with a good cheese and Grana Padano is perfect with either white or red. With this in mind, the Consorzio has been promoting the wine with one of the best adverts on Italian television. It features a taste tester's knife flying through grapes, honey and wine glasses before sticking in a huge round grana padano cheese with a firm thud.
There are two main wine growing zones in the province of Brescia. The first occupies the slopes towards Lake Garda while the second is the the famous Franciacorta to the west of the provincial capital on the sweet slopes of the 'colline moreniche' facing Brescia and Lago d’Iseo.