Milan is not just a city to enjoy within the center, but also a strategic starting point to organize outdoor tours and excursions in search of Italian history and uncontaminated nature. In addition to the most well-known Lombard cities – Monza, Pavia, Mantua, Bergamo, Brescia, ideal destinations for a weekend of art and good food – the region is a treasure chest of rare pearls, but not far apart, easily reach by car and accessible on foot or by bicycle.
Morimondo (province of Milan)
Halfway between Milan and Novara, dominated by an abbey that takes its name from the French monastery of Morimond (with which it is associated), rises the hamlet of Morimondo, founded in medieval times by Cistercian monks from Burgundy and considered to be one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. The main point of interest of the village, which has a population of just over one thousand residents, is truly the Abbey of Santa Maria di Morimondo, restored in 2008 and “narrated” in the next-door museum. There is also Cascina Fiorentina, a teaching farm, located in the ancient monastic grange, dating back to the 1400s. It offers different interactive itineraries, from a visit to the Parco del Ticino to bread making with a wood-burning oven The typical dish? It’s “pan mejin”, a dessert made with corn flour.
Cassinetta di Lugagnano (province of Milan)
Historically divided into two urban centers – Cassinetta and Lugagnano, located on opposite sides of Naviglio Grande and connected by seventeenth century humpback bridge – this Roman era village, that was an important medieval fiefdom, is now the location of patrician villas belonging to noble Milanese families (who spent their summers there). There are numerous bike paths, and visitors can also enjoy a boat trip on the Naviglio Grande. Not to be missed is the Mill of Pazza Biraga that, with its millstone, is the oldest of the functioning mills along the Navigli. Finally, it is essential to taste a traditional dish: risotto with gorgonzola.
Angera (province of Varese)
Overlooking the banks of Lago Maggiore, surrounded by woods and gentle hills, lies an medieval hamlet that is like an open-air museum: with more than 40 points of touristic interest among monuments and beautiful landscapes, Angera is dominated by a fortress dating to the Roman period, built on a spur of rock and enhanced by frescoes and majolica pottery. Inside the fort there is an interesting museum dedicated to Dolls and Toys, with the collection of children’s toys belonging to the Princess Bona Borromeo Arese – and a medieval garden of rare beauty, featuring evergreens and medicinal herbs symbolic of the ancient “hortus conclusus”. And the nearby Hill of San Quirico is the perfect destination for trekking and nature lovers.
Grosio (province of Sondrio)
Among the most charming villages of Lombardy, honorable mention goes to Grosio, in the heart of Valtellina, whose center features traces of Prehistoric artifacts with rock engravings from the Iron and Bronze Ages. Fiefdom of the Venosta since 1355, this agricultural town, made up of narrow streets and stone buildings, was the birthplace of Cipriano Valorsa, the “Devoted Painter”, also known as the Raphael of Valtellina, and of Giovanni Visconti-Venosta, author of the satirical poem “Il prode Anselmo” (The gallant Anselmo). In addition to the two fortresses that overlook the dwellings – the Castello di San Faustino and the Castello Nuovo – Villa Visconti Venosta, summer residence of the namesake family (visitors can tour its museum and library) and the Parish church of San Giuseppe, with its nearby bell tower containing eight bells dating from the early 1900s, are very interesting.
Fortunago (province of Pavia)
The remains of the castle and town walls of this small village of the Oltrepo Pavese attest to its ancient origins, whose name refers to the Celtic domination, and means “house by the water” (a wink to the spring of pure water present in the area). The charming stone houses, adorned with on the balconies and separated by narrow, porphyry-paved lanes, are perched on a hill topped by the Church of St George, built in 1609. All around, fields of grain and forests of primrose and narcissus frame nature paths and well-equipped trails. And even the food – from “schita”, a pasta of fried bread, the “malfatti”, a pasta dish with chard and ricotta – invites visitors to at least make a day trip to enjoy the picture-postcard beauty.
Photo credits: Zhang Yuan, Villa – Cassinetta di Lugagnano (immagine non modificata)
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