September 2015: cheese in Slow Food country, a ‘sinful’ garden festival and a weekend in Mantova

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Hidden Italy September newsletter 2015

Welcome to the September issue of the Hidden Italy newsletter, this month includes a major exhibition in Milan, cheese in the heart of Slow Food country, a ‘sinful’ garden festival and a weekend in Mantova (aka Mantua in English):  a prosperous provincial capital, Mantova is one of the real hidden treasures of northern Italy.

Hidden Italy walking tours in September

Hidden Italy walking tours in September

The dates for the 2016 guided tours are now all up on the website.  I’m pleased to say number of tours are already fully booked (ie the Gardens of Tuscany and the first Sardinia tour in May, as well as the Trails to Freedom tour in August and the Verona and the Dolomites tour in September) there are, however, still places available on the Sicily in the Spring tour and the second Sardinia tour in early May, as well as the Venice and the Lakes tour and Trieste and Friuli tour in September.  For full details, please see the website:

Events in Italy in September:

Events in Italy in September:

Cheese, Bra (Cuneo, Piedmont), 18 - 21 Sept,  Bra is the home of the Slow Food movement, as well as the home of some of Italy’s finest cheese makers.  The focus of the annual cheese festival in 2015 are makers of mountain cheeses.  The special guests this year the young people who have rediscovered the art of artisan cheese production in the summer Alpine pastures, although the festival also includes hundreds of producers from all over the world, including from featured country Spain.

If you are still hungry, check out the Prosciutto Festival in Parma until 20 September ( and the Grappa festival, which takes place throughout Italy on 4 October, when distilleries all from Piedmont to Sicily will open their doors to the public (

Orticolario, Villa Erba, Como, 2 to 4 October,
The marvellous Villa Erba on Lake Como is hosting the 7th edition of Orticolario, inviting you to enjoy ‘the sinful indulgences of the garden’!  Far more than a simple flower show, Orticolario aims to arouse delight, enchantment and awe; to excite and educate visitors with the wonder of nature.  This year Orticolario is dedicated to ‘Touch’.  The gardens of the villa host installations by four artists, while five other installations are to be found in the neighbouring gardens of Villa Olmo, Villa del Grumello as well as Palazzo Cernezzi, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Verdi in Como itself.

Corri La Vita (Run for Life), Florence, 27 September,  If you have a pair of trainers in your bag, head for Florence for the annual fun run to raise funds for and awareness of breast cancer.  The run starts in Piazza Duomo and finishes in the Piazza della Signoria.  There are two circuits: 12.8 kms and 4.6 kms.  Entrance fee is 10 euro and includes a T-shirt designed by local hero Salvatore Ferragamo!

Exhibitions in Italy in September:

Exhibitions in Italy in September:

Giotto, L’Italia, Palazzo Reale, Milano, 10 January,  Giotto (1267 – 1337) transformed Western art.  Arranged chronologically, the 13 masterpieces presented in this extraordinary exhibition, never before seen together, trace the artistic evolution of this Tuscan genius over a period of 40 years.  The exhibition analyses the style, influences and historical context of perhaps the most influential artist in history.  Worth a trip on its own!

Divine Beauty, from Van Gogh to Chagall and Fontana.  Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, until 24 January,  With over a 100 exceptional works, this exhibition explores how some of the most important artists of the modern era confront the idea of the ‘sacred’.  It includes masterpieces by Van Gogh, Matisse, Munch, Millet, Picasso, Guttuso and Fontana – another good reason to head for the Tuscan capital.

Hidden Italy September Itinerary: A weekend in Mantova

Hidden Italy September Itinerary: A weekend in Mantova

Several years ago, the whole of the old city of Manova (Mantua in English) was declared part of the ‘Patrimony of Humanity’ by UNESCO, to be preserved for ever as ‘a major example of an Italian Renaissance urban centre’. It is without question one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.  Set on a peninsular surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Mincio River, the centre of the city sparkles with its Renaissance heritage when the Gonzaga Dukes made it one of the great centres of learning and art: opera was created here (a decision to combine the music of Florentine Monteverdi, with art and theatre); Leon Battista Alberti’s monumental church of Sant’Andrea was one of the most influential buildings of the early Renaissance and the Gonzaga palaces contain some of Italy’s finest fresco cycles (by Mantegna and Romano).  Little visited by foreign tourists, surrounded by cycle paths that take you out into the beautiful countryside; boat rides on the lake and river and with a celebrated cuisine, Mantova is the perfect place to spend a quiet and rewarding weekend (  Below are some suggestions for a weekend visit to the city:

How to get there:

Mantova lies between Milan and Venice. Driving you can take the A4 autostada Milan-Venice (taking the Desenzano exit) or the A1 Bologna-Milano (taking the Parma Est exit and heading for Sabbioneta). The nearest airport is at Verona (30 kilometres north). It is a 2 hour train ride from Milan.

Where to stay:

Mantova has many festivals and exhibitions during the year (most famous the Literature Festival at the beginning of September) so it is best to book ahead. The finest hotel in town is the Hotel Rechigi, a 4-star hotel in the centre of town (Via Calvi 30, 0376 320781 - 210 euro per night double. Hotel Casa Poli (Corso Garibaldi 32, 0376 288170 -, another 4-star hotel has a garden and a health centre,2000 euro per night. The Residence Ca delle Erbe (piazza della Erbe, 0376 225880 - is a more intimate option, with serviced apartments in the heart of the old town, at 90 per night.  The B & B Armellino (Via Cavour 67, 364 3148 060 – ) is also in the centre with frescoed ceilings and an internal garden, at 80 euros for a double room.

What to do:

Friday afternoon:
A 20 to 30 minute walk from the centre of the city (or a short bus ride on the 1 bus) is one of the great highlights of a visit to Mantova: the extraordinary complex of Palazzo del Te, a Gonzaga summer villa built on the edge of town in the mid-16th century, which is considered ‘one of the most important secular buildings in Italy’, with beautiful gardens, ponds and decorated with an incredible ‘gigantic’ fresco cycle by Giulio Romano. There is a charming coffee shop in the complex.

Friday evening:
Mantova has many excellent restaurants in the centre of the city specialising in its celebrated cuisine: Hosteria dei Canosa (Vicolo Albergo 3, 0376 221750) set in a 16th century building with wooden ceilings: eg duck ravioli with mushroom sauce, venison cooked in Amarone wine and honey, cheese selection with ‘mostarde’, 40-45 euro a head; Giallozucca (Corte dei Sogliari 4, 0376 222817 - eg tortelli with pumpkin (the classic dish), orecchiette with baby squid and sage, penne with bottarga (dried tuna roe), 25-35 euro per head; Masseria (piazza Broletto 7, 0376 365303) in a 15th century palace, with the oldest fresco in the city: eg risotto, lake fish in sauce and homemade sweets, 30-35 euro a head.

Saturday morning:
A day to explore the city centre’s rich heritage, starting at the marvellous Ducal Palace (open from 8.45 to 19.15, every day except for Monday – An enormous palace in the centre, spread over 3 hectares and with more than 500 rooms, courtyards, hanging gardens with the star turn being the wonderful Camera degli Sposi (the Marriage Chambers) completely decorated by Mantegna (from 1465 to 1474) and immediately recognised as one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance (please note it is necessary to book to visit the recently restored frescoes – tel: 041 2411897). A visit to the palace takes 1.5 to 2 hours.  After the art, it’s time for a taste of the local produce. Every Saturday morning at the Pescheria (on the parks that line the small river that flows through the centre of town) a produce market is held (finishing at 1.00pm) where you can try the local specialities, picnicking beside the river.

Saturday afternoon:
After lunch, you can continue your visit to the city centre, visiting Piazza della Erbe, with its clock tower and places; the nearby church of Sant’Andrea, the masterpiece by Leon Battista Alberti; as well as the spectacular Baroque theatre of the Teatro Scientifico.  Finally, some shopping. Mantova is a very prosperous city and some excellent shopping: Eduardo Gallico (Piazza Concordia 2) has antiques and rare objects; Di Pelligrini (Via Umberto 1) for rare books and maps; La Stilografica (Via Verdi 1) for pens and paper; Zanini (via Verdi 9) a historical chocolate shop; Spaccio La Rotonda (Piazza Concordia 16) is the most famous deli in town.  To catch your breath and have a rest, Mantova has some lovely coffee shops and tea houses: Pasticceria Caravatti (Portici Broletto) and Pasticceria La Ducale (Via Calvi) are both celebrated for their excellent pastries.

Saturday evening:
For a special evening, Mantova has two restaurants with Michelin stars: Aquila Nera (Vicolo Bonascoli 4, 0376 327180) is situated in a historic palace and has 1 Michelin star, 60-70 euro per head. For a real treat, you’ll have to drive 38 kilometres out of town to Canneto sull’Oglio for dinner at Dal Pescatore (0376 723001 - one of the most celebrated restaurants in Italy, which has 3 Michelin stars, 100-140 euro per head.

A day outdoors, exploring the beautiful countryside that surrounds Mantova. There are two options, the first by bike. Mantova and the river and lake have over 10 kilometres of cycle paths (and its all flat!). Starting outside the walls at Porto Catena, you can cycle past the San Giorgio castle, around the shores of the three lakes that surround the old town, through the Belfiore Park returning past the 15th century convent of Le Grazie. Bikes can be hired at La Rigola (Via Trieste 5) for 10 euros for the day.

For the energetic, Sabbionetta ( is a very unusual small town, planned in 1556 by an excentric member of the Gonzaga household and built as a Renaissance ideal city in the next half of the century. It was quickly abandoned and its magnificent but empty piazzas and palaces have the air of an empty movie set.

For a more leisurely day, you can take a number of boat cruises ( around the lakes and along the river the enclose Mantova. A simple 1.5 hour trip around the lakes costs 9 euro per person, while a longer trip of 2.5 hours will take you up the river via the villages of Governolo, Saccheta and San Benedetto Po, and will cost 15 euro.

Local boatmen also operate small craft upstream from Mantova to Grazie and Rivalta ( Many boats accept bikes, so you can make a great boat trip, eg a morning on the boat, a picnic lunch at Rivalta, and then a bike ride back to Mantova in the afternoon.

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