Three days of expensive, high-end shopping in Italy’s industrial capital isn’t the only way to spend those hard earned days off. If you happen to find yourself in this financial centre with a few days to spare, jump in a car and explore everything Lombardy has to offer.
Think Monza; think checkered flags and podium finishes, right? Wrong. The small commune on the River Lambro is a starry-eyed historian’s dream stop-off, with the striking Museo e Tesoro del Duomo housing one of Europe’s greatest collections of religious art. In fairness, it’s worth it just for its beautiful green and white striped exterior.
However, if you’re travelling with a petrol head who’s determined to see the racetrack, do not fear. The track is enclosed in a 295 hectare park fittingly titled Bello Bosco (‘charming woodland’) which includes tennis courts, a 50m Olympic swimming pool, a golf course and rent-able bicycles. Motorsport? What motorsport?
If you’re a big fan of high calorie, meat based, buttery dishes – and let’s face it, who isn’t – then Bergamo is your homing beacon. We’re talking fresh and beefy pasta parcels, serious salami, amaretto biscuits, pears drenched in sage butter sauce and Polenta Taragna – a rich, cheesy and totally dreamy cake. This is definitely a place to quit calorie counting for good.
After all that lot you’ll want to stretch those legs on a walk around 16th century Italy – and this is the nearest you’ll ever get to it. This truly undervalued city is split by into two parts; the Città bassa (lower city) is the modern hub and boasts all the fancy contemporary hotels and the Città alta (upper city) is an elegant area of expensive taste surrounded by original 16th century walls. This latter section is accessible through various means, but you’ll want to ride on the funicular for a really memorable treat.
Situated at the foot of the Alps, the city of Brescia is one of Italy’s oldest. With a history tracing back 3200 years it is no wonder the past practically comes to life in the Old Town, which contains some of the best kept Roman public buildings in the country. Head to Santa Giulia Fondazione, an expansive museum documenting Italian history to see intricate mosaics and religious artefacts, as well as access to the Roman temple and amphitheatre.
If you prefer things a little more ‘underground’ then head through a manhole (yes, really) to explore the city’s hidden depths. Brescia Underground offers tours of the secret tunnels and rivers that exist beneath the streets and use their profits to help fund further research and exploration of the city, as well as preserving their work for future generations.
1 hour 20 minutes
If you love food, you’ll love Genoa. As one of Italy’s most underrated foodie destinations, the capital of Liguria is best known for its unfathomably good pesto but, being a major Italian port, it also offers some of the very best seafood in the biz. Whether it’s tossed in pasta, steeped in soup or simply placed on a piping hot grill, it’s always fresh, always different and always lip-smackingly delicious.
If you’re after the ultimate in authentic Genoese dining experiences head to the upmarket Zeffirino, famed by the likes of Frank Sinatra who even had a dish named after him (ask for the ‘paffutelle’). For something a little more casual (and easier on the wallet) head to Trattoria da Maria, a tiny spot in a shady looking alley, complete with sharing tables for simple, homemade fare.
1 hour 50 minutes
Driving 116 miles out of Milan to a city you’ve probably never heard of may seem drastic, but rest assured that Mantua truly delivers. It isn’t on many travel sites ‘must-see’ lists mainly because of its natural fortifications in the form of surrounding lakes, but these have protected it from major tourism and thus, major change.This is the so called La Bella Addormentata or ‘Sleeping Beauty City’ where time has stood still. It’s a cobbled labyrinth scattered with tiny bars, perfect for an early evening Aperol Spritz complete with jazz softly playing in the background, or hole-in-the-wall trattorias where you can share a meal while rubbing shoulders with the locals.
This isn’t a city to walk around aimlessly shooting a camera or checking in on Facebook, it’s a city to truly stop what you’re doing and soak it all in slowly. It’s untouched Italy at its finest, and a perfect stop off for the authentic traveller.
2 hours 10 minutes