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A guide to the Italian region of Lombardy through the eyes of its locals

From the architectural marvels of Milan to the lush Valle Camonica valley, three Lombards rhapsodise about their region.

By Julia Buckley
Published 13 Dec 2020, 08:04 GMT
The northern Italian region of Lombardy is known for its fashion-centric capital, Milan.

The northern Italian region of Lombardy is known for its fashion-centric capital, Milan.

Photograph by Getty Images

Emilia Antonia De Vivo

Urban architect and architecture trip leader, Milan

I moved to Milan five years ago after eight years in London. It’s the only place in Italy where you can live to an international rhythm, with instant access to all the great things Italy has to offer.

Emilia moved to Milan five years ago.

Photograph by Emilia Antonia De Vivo

A revolution started here in 2015 with the Expo and IT hasn’t stopped since. Every sector of public life has been improved, from the transport system to the redesign of whole new districts like Porta Garibaldi and Tortona. So many world-class architects have worked here, from Zaha Hadid to Mario Cucinella. Today, Milan is Italy’s architectural laboratory.

I love walking around, taking in places known for their style and design, as well as modern architecture. On a perfect day, I’ll go to the new university campus designed by Sanaa and have lunch at Potafiori, a florist and restaurant, or I’ll visit Villa Necchi Campiglio (a 1930s villa) or the GAM modern art gallery, and walk through the Indro Montanelli gardens to Wonton, which does Europe’s best peking duck. Then there’s the Casa degli Artisti — a historic place for the city’s art scene.

Elio Uberti

Artist and member of the Associazione Artisti Bresciani, Brescia

I’ve spent my whole life in the province of Brescia. It’s huge — very narrow but long, stretching from the plains of the Po Valley to the mountains. It borders the spectacular, extremely clean-watered Lake Garda, and Lake Iseo, which is more alpine. It also includes the area of Franciacorta, where 140 vineyards make sparkling Italian wine — in my opinion, they’re up there with the world-famous French vineyards.

Elio loves the sparklingly clean waters of Lake Garda.

Photograph by Elio Uberti

I love Garda. There are stunning places on the lake like Sirmione, where you’ll find Grotte di Catullo — a Roman villa with fabulous thermal baths (you can still have thermal treatments there). Sirmione’s spur jutting out into the lake is one of my favourite photo spots, especially at dawn or sunset. 

The mountains are beautiful, too. Valle Camonica is one of the longest alpine valleys in Europe. I bought a little cottage in the woods near Vestone, in the hills north of the city of Brescia — it’s always been my dream to have a property there. I’m in a valley near Lake Idro, another alpine lake surrounded by incredible uplands. I’m  inspired by nature, so up here in the woods, everything is a trigger.

Alessandro Zanoni

Graphic designer and award-winning photographer, Piadena

I’ve lived in Lombardy all my life: Mantua, Milan, Cremona and smaller towns around the Po Valley. I love the landscape — flat, with trees along the riverbank, hot in summer, humid and foggy in winter. It’s melancholic, which is probably why film directors like Bertolucci and Antonioni were drawn here. 

Alessandro has lived in Lombardy his whole life.

Photograph by Alessandro Zanoni

I love it for the art, too. Mantua’s ruling Gonzaga family got the greatest talents of the Renaissance working here. Even today, there’s a focus on art and food; some of the tiniest villages are home to extraordinary restaurants like Trattoria dell’Alba in Piadena, my hometown. If you can afford it, Dal Pescatore at Canneto sull’Oglio is one of 11 three-Michelin-star restaurants in Italy. 

Cremona has one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy, with an incredible Duomo, the third-highest bell tower in the world and an extraordinary baptistery. It’s famous for its violin makers too, and the Museo del Violino is absolutely spectacular. 

Near Mantua is a very small town called Sabbioneta — it’s an incredible example of the Renaissance ‘ideal city’, and has the second-oldest indoor theatre in the world.

Published in the Lombardy 2020 guide, distributed with the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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