Lombardy, with its capital Milan, is one of the richest regions in Europe. Rome is the political capital but Milan is the financial centre of Italy, and is also one of the fashion centres of Europe. The wonderful Gothic cathedral is the largest in Italy (remember St Peter’s is in the Vatican, a separate country!) and here also is Leonardo’s Last Supper. All this bears testament to the historical importance of the city, once the power base of the Sforza family who held the title of Duke of Milan for nearly 100 years.
Away from the city, the Palazzo del Te in Mantua, designed and frescoed by Giulio Romano in the first half of the 16th century, is an artistic delight. Built as a pleasure palace for the ruling Gonzaga family, the Room of the Giants is a visual masterpiece. Nearby Cremona is the home of the violin and is forever linked with the world-famous name of Stradivarius. To the north, lies Lake Como and the city of Como
Certainly this is not the most famous wine-producing area in the country but that does not mean that there is nothing here for the true aficionado. North east of Brescia is the important wine-producing area, Franciacorta. Less well known than the famous Prosecco, here you can find a sparkling white produced in the metodo classico. This involves a secondary fermentation in the bottle, in contrast with the Charmat or tank method. It is principally a blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay grapes (or Pinot Nero for the rosé version).
South of Milan lies Pavia with the fabulous Certosa or Carthusian monastery. This provides a good base for exploring the area known as Oltrepò Pavese, which translates literally as beyond the river Po. Sometimes known as the Tuscany of the North, this area is still relatively undiscovered by tourists yet offers a great range of interesting wines. There are several DOC wines produced here but the standout one for me has to be Buttafuoco. The name roughly translates as ‘spitfire’. From this very limited production, the best is the so-called Buttafuoco Storico which comes from a specific area called lo Sperone di Stradella, or the spur of Stradella, a small town south of Pavia, in an area between two small rivers. The wine is placed into bottles with a unique stamp moulded into the glass featuring a sailing ship. While you are in the area, be sure to taste another wine, also with a fascinating name, the Sangue di Giuda or the Blood of Judas. This is a very different style, a light, sweet and slightly sparkling red.