Lombardy – Lombardia – is the region of Italian excellence, the place that sets modern standards for much of what Italy is admired for around the world. It is one of Italy’s most geographically diverse areas and with that comes a remarkable variety of food and wines that make its cucina among the most sophisticated in all of Italy.
The region contains the famous Lake District, including Lake Como, the deep blue jewel that is the most beautiful of them all, as well as the nearby Valtellina, a glorious and undiscovered swath of the Italian Alps that produces the region’s best wines and rustic mountain food. Noble cities such as Milan, Cremona and Bergamo each have their own rich traditions, and in Lombardy one also finds hill towns and broad fertile plains. Its southern border is the Po, the largest river in Italy.
Such geographic diversity provides a feast of ingredients to cook with, including wild mushrooms; berries; rice; corn for polenta; wheat for pasta and baking; fish from lakes and rivers; prized cattle; and more cow’s milk cheeses than any other region of Italy, including Parmesan, Stracchino, Taleggio, Bitto and Gorgonzola.
Lombardy has known its share of geniuses. Leonardo da Vinci lived in Milan, the region’s capital, for 25 years and introduced engineering, design, canals and modern irrigation for agriculture. He also wrote his codexes, those precious volumes that reflect his restless imagination and contain his innovative inventions. And he painted, including the world-famous Last Supper in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Claudio Monteverdi, the first great opera composer, was born in Cremona, and Giuseppe Verdi, Italy’s titan of opera and the man who led the battle for national unification with his opera Nabucco, lived much of his life in Milan and made the Teatro alla Scala a temple of opera. Gaetano Donizetti, whose operas often depicted royals and nobles from the United Kingdom, was from Bergamo.
This tour is a unique combination of the very best elements the region has to offer, whether musical, gastronomic or artistic. To savour Lombardy is to experience all the pleasures of life, gratifying the eye, ear, nose, palate and soul. It is the region of cultivated sensuality.
Fly at c. 12.00 noon (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Milan Linate. Drive to Bellagio, among the loveliest and most romantic spots on earth. First of three nights in Bellagio.
Lake Como. Spend the day on land and water, travelling exclusively by boat. Visit Como and the city’s grand cathedral, and see two glorious lakeside villas. The Villa Balbianello occupies its own headland projecting into the middle of Lake Como. This glorious site is terraced to provide sites for lawns, trees, shrubs and a chorus of statuary.
The Valtellina. Just north of the lake is a the Valtellina, a valley that opens to Lombardy’s alps. Some of Italy’s top red wines come from here, and there is a tasting with delicious local cheeses at one of the region’s best producers. This zone is famous for numerous local foods, among them pizzoccheri, a buckwheat pasta served with cheese, greens, potatoes and garlic – ideal paired with local red wine. Visit the Castello Grumello, situated overlooking the valley, with a wonderful view of the mountains.
Bergamo. Leave Bellagio to travel to an exceptional family-run trattoria near Bergamo. With its own herb garden, vegetables and fruit, this restaurant is beloved for the freshness of its flavours and fidelity to local food traditions. Continue to Bergamo, birthplace of Gaetano Donizetti, and visit the Donizetti Museum, before some time to explore the ancient hill town that is the city’s heart. Travel on to Milan for the first of three nights.
Certosa di Pavia, Cremona. In the morning visit the Certosa di Pavia, perhaps the most richly endowed monastic foundation in Italy, before travelling on to Cremona. This glorious town in the Po Valley gave the world Claudio Monteverdi, the first great opera composer, as well as the Stradivari, Amati and other families of luthiers whose stringed instruments have been the world’s best for more than 300 years. Learn about the violin and Monteverdi in situ and then discover another Cremona speciality, torrone, the city’s famous nougat.
Milan. Morning lecture by Fred Plotkin on Verdi’s immensely popular Aida and why this opera is more rich and subtle than it is usually credited for, followed by backstage visit to La Scala, the theatre where Aida had its Italian premiere (subject to change depending on rehearsal schedules) and to its remarkable museum. Some free time in Milan. Dinner at one of Milan’s temples of gastronomy, situated inside the opera house. Evening opera at the Teatro alla Scala: Aida.
Milan. Visit Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, one of the greatest achievements in the history of art. Fly from Milan Linate, arriving London Heathrow at c. 5.00pm.
Writer specialising in Italian food, wine, culture and opera. Author of six books including Italy for the Gourmet Traveller. He has worked at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, and he has written programme notes for the Glyndebourne Festival among others. Fred appears regularly on the BBC, and is a popular speaker at the Oxford Literary Festival. In 2015, he was awarded the Cavaliere della Stella d’Italia.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £3,770 or £3,580 without flights. Single occupancy: £4,310 or £4,120 without flights.
Included: flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 4 lunches and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Opera ticket (top category) for one performance is included, costing c. £360.
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio: excellently situated on the edge of the lake, a historic 5-star hotel with lavishly decorated public rooms and well-appointed bedrooms (they vary in size). Rooms with a lake view are available on request and for a supplement. Rosa Grand Hotel, Milan: a smart 4-star hotel excellently located directly behind the Duomo. Rooms are well appointed in a clean, modern style.
Visits require a fair amount of walking and standing around. There is one late night after the opera but the start is leisurely the following day. Some days involve a lot of coach travel. Average distance by coach per day: 58 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.