48 hours Man­tua We travel to Lom­bardy for a fiercely lo­cal feast

A big player dur­ing the Re­nais­sance, Man­tua in Lom­bardy re­mains one of Italy’s prom­i­nent artis­tic and in­tel­lec­tual hubs, while also nur­tur­ing a fiercely lo­cal food scene

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Why go? Built on three is­lands on the Min­cio River, a short train ride from Verona, serene Man­tua is a trove of cob­bled streets, im­pos­ing palaces and homely trat­to­rias. Its ar­chi­tec­tural al­lure can be largely at­trib­uted to the Gon­zaga fam­ily, who trans­formed the city from a lowly swamp to a bur­geon­ing cul­tural cen­tre over their 300-year rule. As tes­ti­mony to Man­tua’s tran­quil­lity, lo­cals favour cy­cling over driv­ing, while chefs here com­ple­ment the pace with their em­pha­sis on home cooking. Don’t be fooled by its tra­di­tional her­itage; Man­tua con­tin­ues to pioneer with its arts pro­grammes, in­clud­ing the Man­tova Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val man­to­vacham­ber.com which trans­forms land­marks into con­cert spa­ces ev­ery spring. What to do The Gon­zaga’s op­u­lent taste un­der­pins Man­tua, but is dis­played at its best in the 500-room Palazzo Du­cale man­to­va­d­u­cale.beni­cul­tur­ali.it a build­ing which dom­i­nates the city’s main square, Pi­azza Sordello. Vis­i­tors have ac­cess to 40 rooms, but head straight to Cam­era degli Sposi. The in­ti­mate bridal cham­ber, painted by 15th-cen­tury court artist An­drea Man­tegna be­tween 1465 and 1474, is cov­ered in il­lu­sion­is­tic fres­coes de­pict­ing the fam­ily’s ex­trav­a­gant life. Con­tinue with a visit to the Palazzo Te palaz­zote.it com­mis­sioned by Fed­erico II Gon­zaga as a he­do­nis­tic hide­away for his mis­tress. Ex­pect a more dar­ing ap­proach to art, as the vividly painted fres­coes take on a play­ful essence re-en­act­ing the for­bid­den love of Cupid and Psy­che in the Cham­ber of Gi­ants. Be sure to visit Fed­erico’s bold­est dec­la­ra­tion, squir­relled away at the back of the palace – a grand apart­ment over­look­ing a se­cret gar­den. Ar­guably the best-value at­trac­tion in town (£1.75pp), the baroque Teatro Sci­en­tifico co­mune.man­tova.gov.it is where Mozart per­formed at the age of 14. Where to stay Spend a night at the stun­ning and his­tor­i­cal 17th-cen­tury Casa Museo Palazzo Valenti Gon­zaga valentigon­zaga.com which has con­verted some of its first-floor gallery cham­bers into sump­tu­ous suites. With views across Pi­azza Sordello and the Ducal Palace, Palazzo Castiglioni palaz­zo­cas­tiglion­i­man­tova.com mir­rors its ex­trav­a­gant neigh­bours’ in­te­ri­ors. Pre­side from the comfort of the Tower Suite that oc­cu­pies the en­tire top floor. As­cend the spi­ral stair­case to be met with an 8m-high 13th-cen­tury fresco, which is one of the old­est non-re­li­gious ex­am­ples of its kind in Europe. In con­trast to the palaz­zos, but in no way scrimp­ing on lux­u­ries, Casa Poli hotel­cas­apoli.it is a sleek al­ter­na­tive that serves a dev­il­ishly sweet break­fast. Grab an ex­tra slice of the torta elvezia, a lay­ered al­mond but­ter cream and zabaglione cake. Where to eat and drink Hav­ing started as a hum­ble trat­to­ria, La Lo­canda delle Gra­zie 00 39 0376 348 038 has blos­somed into a six-room emporium. Or­der the hearty stra­cotto d’asino (don­key stew) and wash it down with a lo­cal Lam­br­usco Man­to­vano, an ef­fer­ves­cent red. Many of Man­tua’s best restau­rants have fe­male chefs at the helm, but none un­der­stand the true art of tra­di­tional re­gional cui­sine quite like Alessan­dra Mar­tini at the at­mo­spheric Il Cigno Trat­to­ria dei Mar­tini ris­toran­teil­cig­no­man­tova.it – an up­mar­ket trat­to­ria. Or­der the sig­na­ture tortelli di zucca, a bold, yel­low pump­kin ravi­oli topped with Amaretti bis­cuits, fol­lowed by the pesche al forno – baked ripe peaches plucked straight from the gar­den. In the old town, stop by Bar Car­a­vatti bar­car­a­vatti.it for a one of their sig­na­ture cock­tails, which are in­fused with their own brand of ver­mouth, cre­ated us­ing a recipe that dates back as far as 1865. Salume­ria Gio­vanni Bac­chi salume­ri­abac­chi.it is the place to go for ed­i­ble sou­venirs. Ar­rive hun­gry as Gio­vanni is generous with his sam­ples. Then stroll to Pan­i­fi­cio Freddi pan­i­fi­ciofreddi.it whose breads, pas­tries and cakes are among the best in Man­tua. Pick up a por­tion of la torta di tagli­at­tele – soaked in rum and topped with crunchy, sweet pasta and al­monds. Time run­ning out? Take a boat trip around beau­ti­ful Lago Su­pe­ri­ore and into Lago di Mezzo to see the city from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. From £8pp. mo­ton­a­vian­des.it Trip tip The Man­tova Sab­bioneta Card (£17.75pp) grants en­try to the ma­jor­ity of Man­tua’s churches and mon­u­ments. It also in­cludes bus trans­port and bike share and is valid for 72 hours. home.man­to­vac­ard.it

Clock­wise from top left: ag­noli in broth; two of the team at Il Cigno Trat­to­ria dei Mar­tini;the Unesco-listed town; gath­er­ing the in­gre­di­ents for ravi­oli; Man­tua’s 16th-cen­turyar­chi­tec­ture; shop for char­cu­terie at a salume­ria;pep­pers piled high; chefs Na­dia San­tini and son Gio­vanni of the well-re­garded restau­rant Dal Pesca­tore; spe­cial­i­ties forsale; fres­coes at Palazzo Te

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