My Travels in Italy

Lombardy

In the 3rd Century the Romans drove out the Gauls and the area became an important to the Roman Empire in terms of their conquest of Europe. When the Roman Empire fell, the area fell under the control of the Goths and the Langobards. In the 13th Century the powerful Visconti Family of Milan unified this area. Later the region came under German rule, coming back to Italy in 1859.

Today, farming and tourism, especially in the lakes district, is very important. Milan is an economic centre for the country. You will get the feel when you drive one of the autostradas across the flat land towards Milan. The traffic just keeps getting more and more intense.

See my travelling lens for more photos of Lombardy.

Bergamo

Bergamo is the second most visited city in Lombardy, following Milan is also known as La Città dei Mille (the City of the Thousand), Bergamo is located 40 km northeast of Milan. The Venetian walls of the Città Alta (Upper City) are noted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Città Bassa (Lower City) is more of a financial centre. Bergamo was one of the few Italian cities not suffer major destruction during World War II.

We have stayed in Bergamo twice. On our 2017 visit in the upper city is surrounded by 16h C Venetian walls. Building of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore commenced in 1135 and lasted into 15th C. The catheral site included the Battistero (Baptistry), a beautiful octagonal building dating to 1340. There is also the Basilica Cathedral built in the 17th century.

The upper city is accessible from the lower city by a funicular. If you book a hotel, ask about what parking arrangements are available. Once in the upper town, you will enjoy the streets which are lined with trendy stores and plenty of restaurants.

I wanted to re-visit the Piazza Vecchia. It is a stunning piazza lined with classic buildings.

Before going to our hotel in the upper city, at its check-in time, we spent time in the lower city. I wanted to visit a pen store which was located in the business district. The lower city that started to take place in the 19th century. There is plenty to see in the lower city, the architecture is impressive and this is where you will find the larger retail stores.

There are trendy restaurants, for the business clientele. We had a very good lunch.

photo: mytravellinglens.com - for more photos of Bergamo

Cremona

Cremona was one of those pleasant surprises that come along in your travels. In fact, we never even planned to stay here. It was just one of those days were we had driven too far and it was time to stop. We were very pleased we did as Cremona is a beautiful city.

The city is known for the cathedral, nougat and violins. Here Stradivarius and Guarneri made their best violins. It is an easy city to walk about. We were taken with the use of red brick which gave the city a very warm feeling. Although we arrived by car, there is frequent train service from Milan, about a two hours trip. The rail station is worth a visit and it is located north of the centre of the city at the end of Via Palestro.

The Piazza del Comune is the centre of the town. The architecture is stunning, especially in the early morning the morning light gives the city a very warm look and feel. There are great contrasts in colour and texture in the buildings with the use of red brick giving off comfortable tones, and white marble used on many of the larger buildings.

The Torrazzo is the tallest campanile in Italy with a height of around 364 feet. The duomo is not to be missed, the Battistero di San Giovanni (1167) and the Loggia dei Militi (1292) are both beautiful. The Palazzo del Commune is open during specific times and now the town hall for Cremona.

North of Cremona is the Rocca Sforzesca, the largest of the family's surviving castles. Nearby is Soncino, a walled town built in the 12th C.

Milan

Often when I talk with someone as to their plans to Italy, the locations include Venice, Florence, Rome with the comment "there is nothing much to see in Milan". How untrue. In fact. I owe my first trip to Italy to a large poster shot of the Galleria. Seeing the Galleria put in place my plan to go to Milan. I was sure that must be one great pen store inside! Well not in the Galleria, but there was a leading pen store not far from it. Plenty to see including Leonardo's famous "Last Supper" on the walls of the church, La Scala Opera House and the Duomo.

On my first visit I was luck to see da Vinci's Last Supper which is in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. Now, booking and ticket is a difficult process as the site suffers from the crushing weight of high tourist levels.

I remember I arrived on a Sunday and then was met with the Monday store closure so common in Italy.

On our most recent trip to Milan Karen found a beautiful apartment just blocks from the Duomo. We even had an outside patio. It is location, location and great to be so close to everything. We both enjoyed Milan much more on this trip.

When you see the Duomo, buy a ticket to take the stairs to the roof. You really get a birds-eye view of the architecture of this impressive church.

Certosa di Pavia

Of course when in the area make sure you make time to visit the Certosa di Pavia.We remember our drive down the long straight road that is lined with poplars. At the end there is the main gate. It was locked when we arrived, but we waited for the opening time and then proceeded through the gate into the vestibule with its frescoes and once on the courtyard the front is right there. The front of this monastery/church is stunning. It is covered with Candoglia and Carrara marble. All carved with enough detail to keep your eyes busy for hours! Some travel books note the Certosa as the greatest decorative masterpiece in all of Italy. We've seen a lot, and this is right up there at the top.

The main cloister has long arcades and around that are a number of house-like cells for the monks. Each cell/house contains its own chapel, a study/dining room a bedroom and a private garden.

The monastery dates back to 1390s and it took over two hundred years to complete. At one point in his history, Napoleon disbanded the monastery, but then in 1968 a group of Cistercians again occupied the Certosa. Plan your time accordingly as the Certosa closes from 11:30 to 2:30 pm. You could travel from Milan but it is a 1 1/2 km from the nearest bus stop.

Mantua (Monova)

Another great surprise. Researching the area we knew we wanted to see Montova and it turned out to be better than thought. Mantua is located about 25 km from Verona and has frequent train service from Verona, Milan, Modena and Cremona.

We found a great place to stay Villa Schiarino Lena. The city is surrounded on three sides by the Minicio River. That helped to establish its safety for centuries.

Frederico II hired an assistant of Raphael (Giulio Romano) to decorate his palace, the Palazzo Tè. The name, has no connection to tea, rather it is named for tejeto - the local name for a drainage canal and that is because it was built on a swamp that was drained.

Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, was built in 1132 on the site of the previous church which was destroyed in a fire. The church was later rebuilt in 1395 adding on the side chapels and a Gothic western front. There was yet another fire and this time the interior was revamped to be along the style of St. Peter's in Rome. During the French occupation art was remobved - some now in the Museum of Caen in Normandy.

Lake Como

Lake Como has always been a popular with the rich. From Roman times up to today, this is a place of villas that run along the lake, a limited number of roads that also provide privacy. Villa Olmo, Villa Serbelloni and Villa Carlotta are some some of the noied villas along Lake Como. Yes of course, villas owned by Madonna and George Clooney. Okay, I am no better than everyone else. As our boat took us down the lake towards the town of Como at one point I did ask one of the crew "...dove è la villa di Geoerge Clunny?" Good thing I did as we were just passing in front of it. It was not that impressive from the water, but who knows what it looks like on the inside.

The towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna are located on the shores of the lake. There is very good boat service that connects the towns and enable you to travel and visit the various villas of note.

Villa Carlotta built in 1690, located in the town of Tremezzo, includes an Italian garden, fountains and sculpturea. In 1834 Princess Marianne of Nassau bought the villa as a wedding gift for her daughter Carlotta and therefore its name.

Villa del Balbianello, we found to be one of the more interesting villas to visit, was used as a set for one of the Star Wars movies and is famous for its terraced gardens. Sitting on a private promontory you arrive by boat. Takea ferry to the town of Lenno, walk a short distance along the lake to rent a private boats to take you around the promontory to the main dock. The villa was built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery. The last owner was retailer and explorer Guido Monzino.

 

Como

The town of city was very interesting. We took one of the regular boats down the lake and spent an afternoon walking through the old section of the city. It was at Como that Benito Mussolini while on his way to escape to Switzerland, was taken prisoner.

Como is only 50 km north of Milan and can also be visited as a day trip from Milan. We probably could have arrived in Como soon if we took a train from Milan than the slow, but scenic, boat trip down the lake.

The cathedrale built during the 14th to 18th C, is very impressive. There are plenty places to eat and shopping if top notch.

If you have the time, take the tram to the top of the hill for splendid views of the lake and down on the town of Como.

Bellagio

Bellagio is at the end of the peninsula that separates the two southern arms of the lake. We hear so much about the Bellagio in Las Vegas we wanted to make sure we had visited the real thing. It is a very pleasant town with some sights but you mainly go here to relax and use it as a base for touring the lake. We actually stayed in a small town just 5 km from here.