While Milan dazzles with sophistication, in its backyard, scenic lake-filled Lombardy offers a top class leisure holiday, writes Uday K Chakraborty
Recently people of prosperous Lombardy province voted for greater autonomy, as it wanted to reduce subsidising the rest of Italy. Milan, the capital of Lombardy, is prosperous and elegant; its people enjoy a high standard of living and a stimulating cultural and intellectual life.
The most magnificent white marble cathedral (Duomo) has 135 spires and more than 2,200 sculptures decorating its exterior. From the vantage point on its roof you can study the fine details of its pinnacles and flying buttress. The interior of the cathedral, divided into five main aisles by an imposing stand of 58 columns, contains another 2,000 sculptures. While its own architectural peculiarities prevent it from being pure Gothic, this masterpiece is one of the finest example of Italian creativity.
In Milan, no one should miss La Scala, the most famous opera house in the world. We also visited the Carthusian Monastery just 26 km away from Milan. Originally built as a mausoleum, with its façade of multi-coloured marble sculptures and its interior heavily decorated with frescoes, baroque grillwork and other ornamentation, the monastery is one of the most remarkable buildings in Italy.
For a grand view of Milan, the surrounding Lombard Plain, the Alps, and the Apennines, you can climb to the roof of the cathedral. The northwestern border of Italy and Switzerland – rent by the jagged peaks of the Alps and laced together again by a healing series of spectacular, deep lakes – has been play area for Roman kings. The area called Lombardy, from the foothills of the Alps down to Milan, has relatively warm climate that generates a wide variety of luxuriant Mediterranean flowers, cypress trees, and other flora.
Our first stop was Laveno, commanding an outstanding view of Lake Maggiore, the second largest and arguably most beautiful of the Italian lakes. From here we took a steamer over to the famous lakeside town and resort of Stressa on the Piedmontese side of the lake, about 35 km away. Stressa abounds in 18th century villas and gardens. Later, we took another steamer around Isole Borromeo, a group of islands in the Pallanza Bay, most famous of them being Isola Bella. It is a small village dominated by Palazzo Borromeo, with its exhibition of 17thcentury tapestries, furniture and Renaissance paintings and its terraced garden that reaches down to the lakeshore.
Back to Stressa, we travelled north to Ponte Stressa on the tip of Lake Lugano, half of which is in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. A 70-minute ferry ride brought us to Lugano town in Switzerland. Lugano seemed modern and cosmopolitan until we reached the heart of the old city, which is entirely Italian. The 16th century cathedral is an architectural gem and Villa Favorite houses one of the finest private art collections in the world. A 10-minute funicular ride from the Paradiso quarter up Mone San Salvatore provides a fabulous circular panorama of lakes and Alps. Boat trips on the lake are highly recommended.
From Lugano, we drive to Como, an ancient city on the southern tip of Lake Como. The city’s great wealth of architecture is clustered around the piazza del Duomo. Here the lovely Pretorian palace stands next to the Palazzo del Commune of the same period and the mixed Gothic and baroque Duomo. Known as luxury paradise set in scenic splendor, Lake Como area is traditionally a favourite among the rich and famous, and most recently as the venue for high profile weddings of Indian business barons and filmstars..
Our last stop was the two-tiered city of Bergamo, straddling a hill overlooking the Lombardy plain. The Lower City, Citta Bassa, was almost entirely built in 1924 by the main architect of the Fascist period, Piacentini and its only major attraction is palazzo del academia Carrara, with its fantastic Italian furniture collection of past eras as well as paintings of Rubens, Van Dyck and Cloct.
The Upper City, Citta Alta, is reached by a funicular that drops its passengers in piazza Mercato delle Scarpe, inside the medieval walls of the old city. From here climbs a breathtaking collection of medieval buildings. In the Piazza Vecchia stands the severe 12th century Palazzo della Regione and its massive tower, Opposite, built some 400 hundred years later, is the Palazzo Nuovo, built in the elegant style of Palladio. From various look out point at the top, we could get beautiful views of the old city as well as the surrounding Bergamasque valleys.
Lake Garda is the largest and most spectacular of the Italian lakes. Its northern shores are surrounded by wild mountain scenery while the broader southern part of the lake lies in lower, softer green countryside. Most famous of its lakeside resorts is Gordone Riviera, where the famous nationalistic poet Gabrielle D’Annunzio lived and died at the Vittoria degli Italiani, a complex of memorials, gardens and memorabilia.
In addition to natural beauty, Lombardy region still holds the endearing ambience of a different time.