Posts Tagged ‘Lombardy’

Golden Day Seventy-Nine: Splendid Sirmione

Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is a gorgeous spot for relaxing and discovering charming towns.

The jewel of them all is Sirmione, on a peninsula at the lake’s southern edge, surrounded by water on 3 sides. If you dash in for the day, or on a weekend in the summer tourist season, you may get turned off by the throngs of travelers. But if you wander away from il centro, and spend the night after the tourists have gone, you’ll experience paradise.

The entrance to Sirmione is magical: you leave your car behind to enter this pedestrian-zoned town, and cross a moat that leads to the medieval Castello Scagliero. If you’re up for the climb up the towers, splendid views await.

The town center is packed with shops for souvenirs and fashions, places to grab a panini or pizza, and delicious gelaterie–Cremeria Bulian (Via Vittorio Emanuele 30) is a favorite.

Head to the lakeside Bar alla Torre (Via Mura Antiche 22) to dream away into the view.

The stellar attraction of Sirmione is the Grotte di Catullo, at the tip of the peninsula. You can get here by walking, or take an electric tram. Click here for opening hours–note that it’s closed on Mondays.

The villa was named after the famous Roman poet Catullus (84-54BC), who spent time in Sirmione and sang its praises. It was built in 150 AD, after his death, and now you can wander here, through the largest complex of Roman ruins in northern Italy, taking in the breathtaking panorama, imagining delightful times had by the wealthy ancients.

For lunch, have a picnic on the rocky public beach. You can while away an afternoon swimming and sunning here…







Or splurge and pamper yourself as the Romans did, at Sirmione’s Thermal Springs , where you can get a day pass to bliss out in the curative pools, and book massages or treatments.





Or, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to take a boat ride around the lake, call up Virgilio Bertoldi , who will tell you tales of days gone by–when his passengers were such notables as Churchill and Maria Callas.







Dinner at Osteria del Vecchio Fossato  is a chance to enjoy homestyle Lombardy specialties, such as risotto and osso bucco, in a cozy family run dining room. Be sure to try Lake Garda’s crisp, fruity Lugana white wine.

Enjoy the sunset…








Top places to stay are the luxurious Palace Hotel Villa Cortine , set amidst lovely gardens…





chic Hotel Eden,










and the charming, budget-friendly Hotel Grifone

Golden Day Seventy-Eight: Hike in Bergamo with Rowena Castelli

For a beautiful experience of country life, check out Rowena Castelli’s Rubber Slippers in Italy blog. Rowena is originally from Hawaii, now enjoying life in the Province of Lecco, north of Milan, on the southeastern side of Lake Como. Her byline is, “You can take the girl out of the island, but you can’t take the island out of the girl.”

Rowena’s posts lead us to discover off the beaten path spots around her home province and beyond, such as one of my recent favorites about a Sagra del Riso  in Valle Lomellina. She also gives great restaurant advice and her recipes are fab.

“Go take a hike!” is Rowena’s advice to visitors. The hiking directions on her blog are wonderful, and I’m so grateful to have found this one she’s written about a trail on the outskirts of the village of Parre in the Bergamo province.

Thanks Rowena, for letting me adapt your words for…

A Golden Day Hiking from the village of Parre:

In the province of Bergamo, specifically the mountains and valleys up north, cheese, pasta, polenta and even the language take on a flavor all its own. From what we’ve experienced, the vast Bergamo Alps is still largely untouched by foreign tourists, as most everyone heads directly to Lake Como from Milan.

Here’s advice for a hike starting from the village of Parre. It’s a 1627 foot climb to the rustic church of Sant’ Antonio:

From the church on via Monterosso at the upper part of Parre (there’s a small parking area behind the church), continue along to via Monterosso 6 until you see an arched passage with a large fresco painting above. Walk under the arch and veer left–almost immediately after that there will be a rock path on the right that leads through the woods. Follow this path and continue forward and upward until you reach a parking area and fountain. From here the trail is on paved cement that continues downward to a hairpin bend.

Continue on the pavement for a short distance until you see a trail on the left with indications to Rifugio Vaccaro. From here on the thigh–burning begins.

There will be 2 crossroads along the way, both with large stables to the right (beware the cow turds). Keep moving forward and upwards, where finally you’ll reach an asphalt road that leads to Sant’Antonio. It took us 90 minutes on the walk up, and 60 on the return. I suggest hiking poles for this because it’ll really be tough on the knees getting back.

Since this hike definitely inspires our appetites, Rowena’s perfect spot for lunch is Albergo Ristorante Belvedere, (Via Roma 35, Parre BG, 035 701107).

Here you can discover two specialties of the region. Scarpinocc, a filled pasta (grana, bread crumbs, cinnamon, nutmeg) that resemble those medieval, pointed shoes worn long before rubbah slippahs and sneakers were conceived–think elf footwear and you should have an idea. It is supposed to be the leaner version to Bergamo’s meat-filled casoncelli. Well, leaner in theory perhaps, but certainly not when it comes swimming in a pool of browned butter and doused with more grated grana cheese!

Another dish is capu, tiny cabbage rolls in tomato sauce on polenta (they don’t look like cabbage leaves, but that’s what the waitress said), filled with bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. Delicious.

As a starter, we both shared a plate of the house special–a smorgasbord of crunchy, creamy, salty and tangy tastes from land and sea.

Grazie Rowena—for another delicious Golden Day in Lombardy!


P.S.- 2013 UPDATE: Rowena is now blogging at L’Orto Orgoglioso…delicious!

Golden Day Seventy-Five: Cremona with Elizabeth Condelli

Elizabeth Condelli has a boundless passion for Italy, that has inspired her to create the wonderful website, Escape-Artists. Here she shares her knowledge of Italy’s cooking, culture, and traditions and offers travel consultations–whether you need assistance with luxury stays in the major cities or advice for off-the-beaten-track destinations. I love clicking through the dreamy videos of every region.

When I saw Elizabeth last fall, just after she returned from Cremona, she was bursting with enthusiasm about her time there. I’m so grateful she’s joined in to share her take about this treasure:

Five Reasons to Visit Cremona

One might overlook the charming medieval town of Cremona, located in Lombardy’s Cremona province, which lies on the left bank of the Po River. There are more than five reasons to visit Cremona, but let’s start with mine.

#1. Piazza del Comune is a typical medieval square with a view of the most important buildings of the city: the Duomo, Baptistery, famous Torrazzo (bell tower) and City Hall.

Just steps from the piazza is the Hotel Impero Cremona , an ideal place to stay for exploring the town.







#2. The Cathedral, called the “Sistine Chapel of the Po Valley” because of its beautiful sixteenth century Mannerist depictions of the life of Mary and Jesus. From the early Renaissance work of Boccaccino Boccaccio, Bembo, Melon, Romanino, and the overwhelming expressive power in Pordenone’s Crucifixion, the nave reveals some of the greatest masterpieces of the Lombard Renaissance.



#3. Cremona’s bell tower called ‘Torrazzo’ is Europe’s oldest surviving tower, standing over 344 feet tall, and it is also the tallest brick bell tower in Europe. The torrazzo is the emblem of the city. Enjoy one of my favorite pastimes, people watching in the piazza while having an aperitivo at Caffè Torrazzo.






#4 Home of Stradivari. Cremona also owes its fame to Antonio Stradivari, the most significant artisan in the field of string instruments. A visit to this city is a dream come true for lovers of the violin. There is music everywhere, people young and old alike, bustling with their instruments in hand, on their way to a class or performance. Plan a visit to Cremona for the opening of the New Violin Museum designed by architect Giorgio Palù, scheduled in September 2012.

#5 Nougat Candy. Cremona is the city where the Italian candy torrone originated. It was on October 25, 1441, at the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza that Bianca’s father had the court’s pastry chef create a new confection to commemorate this grand event. His chef mixed some almonds, honey and beaten egg whites, cooked the mixture for hours then wrapped it with the unconsecrated host and shaped it to look like the emblem of the city, the bell (Torrione). Today Torrone is available to everyone, and many new versions have been developed. One of my favorites is the torrone made with hazelnuts, pistachios and chocolate which, I must have every year at Christmas.

So Much More…

There is much more to do and see in Cremona. If you are lucky enough to be in the town on Sunday, you might want to spend some time browsing the antique market which takes up the entire Piazza del Comune.

There are festivals every month in Cremona, including the Bonfire of San Giuseppe in March, and in May the Fish Festival, and the Apparition Fair–Click here for a calendar. The one not to miss is the November 16-18 2012 Torrone Festival, complete with all the music you could ever dream of hearing.

Grazie for the inspiration, Elizabeth!

Golden Day Seventy-Four: Lago Iseo with Denise Soto Ferreira

I was drawn like a magnet to the Patience blog (who doesn’t need Patience!) and am grateful to have virtually met its charming creator, Denise Soto Ferreira. Denise is a native of Portugal, who married an Italian and now lives in Milan. Her blog beautifully reflects her passion for life in Italy–with gorgeous photos, enticing recipes, musings and helpful info.

When I asked Denise to choose one of her favorite spots for a Golden Day, Iseo Lake was her answer. Most travelers head to Lake Como when they’re in Lombardy, so I’m grateful for Denise’s excellent insider’s advice on this under-the-tourist-radar paradise:

Located in the Franciacorta territory, Iseo is a picturesque lakeside town that goes back to medieval times.

There is almost a seaside feel to this place with pine trees welcoming you to the lake.

From May to September this relaxing atmosphere springs to life with regattas, concerts and dances while several sports like swimming, windsurfing, fishing, diving and sailing can be practiced.

Visit the Parish Church of St. Andrew which was founded during the 5th century. Apart from its beautiful frescoed ceiling and altar, it is also home to important paintings by Giuseppe Diotti and Francesco Hayez.

Then making your way through the small streets of this quaint town you’ll pass by the Oldolfredi Castle (which is now home of the public library and used for expos and conferences) and through Piazza Garibaldi taking you to the lakeside promenade. The promenade is filled with Cafés and Gelateria’s for your pleasure.

For lunch I recommend eating at the Risotteria Opera Iseo (Via Campo, 32, 030 981507, open daily).The staff is accommodating and friendly and I recommend tasting their delicious“Risotto al Brut Franciacorta”, but if you fancy something lighter they also serve a good piadine (flat bread).  During the week days they serve a great special of Risotto, water and a coffee for €8.

For something more elaborate you can try Osteria La Cantina (Viale Repubblica, 6/a Tel: 030 9822041, Closed all day Thurs and Fri lunch).

After lunch, I suggest going to Monte Isola, this is an inhabited island in the middle of the lake. You can reach the ferry to the island with a 10 minute drive or train ride to Sulzano and from there take the ferry across, as the town of Iseo doesn’t have this frequent service. The ferry is available every 15-20 minutes and a return ticket only costs €3,50.

Monte Isola was known for the traditional manufacturing of fishing nets until the industrial manufactures took over.  At Peschiera Maraglio you can see what remains of that traditional craftsmanship.

The island has an amazing view of the main land and it is scattered with cypress and olive trees. Clean, fresh air and panoramic views with the subtle sounds of water brushing along its coast, you can’t get more relaxing than that. If you look around you might notice a local characteristic of pieces of fish hanging on balconies, the fresh water fish “Cavedano” is caught in the lake then cleaned, cut and placed in salt for 24 hours. From there it’s hung up in the sun for 2 days and then bottled in local olive oil.

On this island you can visit the Madonna della Ceriola sanctuary, which is at the top of the island and the crisply frescoed church of Saint Michael ”S.Michele” dating back to XVI – XVII century.

And why not end your day out in these alluring parts by staying in modern and divine lake side Hotel Rivalago, at Sulazano, not too far from the ferry stop.

So take a mesmeric day out unwinding in this charming part of the Lombardy region.

Grazie mille Denise!

*Photos courtesy of Denise and

Golden Day Seventy-Three: Marvelous Mantua, aka Mantova

The small town of Mantua is a gem of the Lombardy region–surrounded by lakes, with stunning Renaissance architecture from the days when the great Gonzaga family reigned here. Of its many palaces, most spectacular is Palazzo Ducale–a sprawling complex of courtyards and about 500 magnificent rooms.

Have a Golden Day wandering around…
The Hall of Tapestries

Zodiac Room

Camera degli Sposi (Bride’s Room) with beautiful Andrea Mantegna frescoes…

It’s completely overwhelming.

Which may be why what I find most enchanting in the Palazzo is tucked away on the ground floor: the tiny grotta and studiolo of Isabella d’Este==First Lady of the Renaissance. Isabella moved into the Palazzo in 1490, when she was 16, a Gonzaga bride. While her husband was away at war, she expertly took over ruling Mantua, and made the palazzo into a cultural center–a gathering place for artists, poets, and musicians.

Studiolos like Isabella’s were all the rage in Renaissance days. The idea was to move beyond the sterile, monastic retreats of the Dark Ages and into a space inspired by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, where the appreciation of beauty was the path to transcendence.

This was where she’d come to leave the world behind–play her lute, read poetry, and invite friends over to admire her beautiful collection af art, gems, and ancient artifacts.

After her husband died, she moved out of the grand upstairs palace rooms, and lived out her days in this charming spot.







A fantastic place for dinner nearby is the Ristorante Aquila Nigra, (Vicolo Bonacolsi 4, 037 632 7180)–a converted palazzo, which serves up elegant renditions of Mantova classics, including tortelli di zucca (pasta stuffed with pumpkin.

Or if you’d like something less expensive, cozy, and delicious, go to Osteria da Bice la Gallina Felice (Via Carbonati 4/6, 0376 288368).







Spend a night or two at Casa Poli, a sleek boutique hotel, about a ten minute walk from the Palazzo.







And don’t leave town without tasting Mantova’s signature sweet–Sbrisolona–a giant cookie/cake, flavored with almonds. You’ll find these in bakeries all over town, including the wonderful Panificio Pasticceria Pavesi (Via Broletto 9–Mon 7-1:30, Tues-Sat 7-7:30), that’s steps away from Palazzo Ducale. They stay fresh for a while, so make great souvenirs–if you can resist gobbling them up right away, that is.

Note that the Palazzo Ducale is closed on Monday–for more info, click Here

Golden Day Seventy-Two: Milan’s Golden Quadrangle with Barbara Conelli

It has been great fun to connect with Barbara Conelli, a writer who divides her time between New York and Milan. As she puts it, her mission is to “bring Fantastic Fearless Feminine Fun into women’s lives.” Barbara shares her passion for Milan in her book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita and is following that up with Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore. You can also listen to her delightful Radio Show AND Barbara’s Blog is a must click if you’re planning a visit to Milan–full of insider’s advice about everything from trattorias, to spas, gardens, and bookstores.

I’m so grateful to have this expert join in to give advice for A Golden Day…

All around the world, Milan is seen as the metropolis of haute-couture and the venue of one of the most popular Fashion Weeks. Therefore, the visit of Quadrilatero della Moda, or Quadrilatero d’Oro – Fashion or Golden Quadrangle – is a Milanese must. Maybe just for the luxurious and truly golden atmosphere strangely divorced from the everyday reality.






Quadrilatero d’Oro includes four streets: Montenapoleone, Spiga, Sant’Andrea and Manzoni: Wide boulevards lined with neoclassical palaces. During the day, the streets are full of famous and not-so-famous models, their rich lovers and foreigners from far away.

The best thing you can do is visit the Golden Quadrangle during Milanese spring or fall sales. International fashion brands sell their creations with a huge discount and it’s the best time to acquire something juicy for your wardrobe and feel like a famous star for one day. I’m sure you will treat yourself to the visit of French fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès or Louis Vuitton, but don’t forget the Italian ones – after all, you’re in Milan.

Apart from notorious brands – Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Moschino, Missoni or Trussardi – there are also brands a little less known abroad but very popular in Italy. Your shopping day in the Golden Quadrangle is a great opportunity to discover, explore and admire them.

One of such stores is Roccobarocco in Via della Spiga. Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with Baroque, although the name implies it. The founder of this brand is Rocco Barocco, a very successful and popular Italian fashion designer and creator of both haute-couture and prêt-à-porter. You will fall in love with Rocco’s clothes and handbags if you’re not afraid of bright colors and extravagant cuts. Rocco revels in striking colors of Italy and in silhouettes that accentuate long legs, wide shoulders and slim arms. Roccobarocco celebrates Italian femininity in all its glory and highlights everything that’s typical for Italian women: Charm, elegance, sense of humor, lightness and self-confidence.

Of course, the uncrowned king of the Golden Quadrangle is the house of Armani that today offers not only clothes but also cosmetics and make-up, watches, jewelry and even luxurious hotels. Megastore Armani in Via Manzoni 31 is a three-floor giant and paradise for Armani lovers from all around the world. You can try on whatever you like and chat with obliging stylists who are ready to create a unique Armani style just for you. And if you haven’t had enough of Armani yet, have lunch in the nearby Emporio Armani Caffé in Via Crocerossa 2. It’s distinguished not only by the Armani design, but also by delicious meals prepared only from organic fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood and high-quality meat.

Click here to watch the Emporio Armani Caffé Opening Night Video!

After lunch you will probably realize that your feet are starting to hurt and the shopping bags in your hands are too heavy. Relax and have a cup of excellent coffee and a fluffy dessert in Via Montenapoleone 8, in Cova, the oldest Milanese café and patisserie.

When you swallow the last piece of the cake and the last sip of your cappuccino, let your exhausted body enjoy a few hours of pampering and intoxicating pleasure at a local spa. They will spoil you rotten so much you will not want to go back to the real world.

L’Espa Gianfranco Ferré in Via Sant’Andrea with black and gold mosaics and a gorgeous private garden is scented with aromatic oils and as soon as you enter, its chromotherapeutic lights soothe you and pleasantly slow you down. The space of L’Espa Gianfranco Ferré is inspired by ancient baths and returns to the age-long Italian tradition of caring for both your body and spirit.

Bulgari Spa is located in the private alley of Via Fratelli Gabba. Its oriental emerald-green hammam lit by candles and the pool made of golden mosaic will carry you to the world of A Thousand and One Nights. You can turn into a harem sweetheart and indulge in extraordinary pampering, a dream come true for every woman.

The Milanese Golden Quadrangle is a magically beautiful quarter worth visiting and admiring. It’s a perfect opportunity to have a day just for yourself and feel like a chique Italian princess for as long as you wish. La dolce vita at its best.

Grazie Barbara, for showing us The Way!

Golden Day Seventy: Arrive in Milan

Landing in the Fashion Capital of the World is a luxurious rush. If you’re like most travelers, (including me), a first visit starts at Milan’s gasp-inspiring   Duomo–a white marble Gothic wonder–the second largest church in the world. It’s worth it to take the elevator or steps to the rooftop where you’re surrounded by spires and statues.

Down below in the magnificent Piazza Duomo, you’ll easily distinguish the tourists from the stylish Milanese–signoras gliding by you in furs, signors in impeccably tailored suits.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (the world’s oldest mall) will inevitably draw you in, and you can have a peek inside the first Prada store (founded in 1913).

For a caffe, head to nearby Cafe Trussardi (Piazza della Scala 5), which will take you past yet another world reknowned spot: Teatro alla Scala. If you have your heart set on seeing an opera, concert or ballet there, reserve well in advance, or you can try your luck getting Gallery Tickets–140 are available on the days of performances.

Another favorite place nearby for a snack is Luini (Via Santa Radegonda 16–steps away from the Galleria), where the counter is always crowded with locals getting their panzerotti–a delicious Pugliese fried turnover, stuffed with your choice of scrumptious fillings.

Just a few blocks away is the Quadrilatero della Moda (aka Golden Quadrangle)–the high fashion heart of Milan. Window shopping here–along the cobblestoned streets, centering around Via Montenapoleone, is divine–surrounded by such designer shops as Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino. If you’re up for a fancy lunch, go for sushi at the Armani’s Nobu (Via Pisoni 1, 02 6231 2645). Or if you’re looking for something more casual, head to Latteria di San Marco (Via San Marco 24, Brera) for Milanese classics (such as risotto)–get there early, as there are only 8 tables and it fills up!

There are loads of great places for sunset apertivo. A fave of mine is the Obika mozzarella bar, on the top floor or Rinascente department store (Via S Radegonda 1, Piazza Duomo), where you can sit on the terrace sipping prosecco and be eye to eye with the roof of the Duomo…

For a sensational dinner, make reservations at the Michelin-starred Ristorante Cracco (Via Victor Hugo 4, 02 876 714, closed Sunday)–Chef Cracco (in the photo) is a superstar of culinary invention and the restaurant is part of Milan’s marvelous Peck Food emporium. Alternatively, you may want to stock up on goodies at Peck and have a delicious picnic back in your hotel room.

I’ve loved staying at Antica Locanda dei Mercanti, a gorgeously designed cozy hotel (rooms with terraces), located a 5 minute walk away from the Duomo, in the Brera district.

AND check out the Malpensa Express, for a convenient, low cost (7 to 11 euros) ride to and from the airport…

For more Golden Days in Lombardy visit Golden Day Seventy One through Golden Day Seventy Nine