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In this article, I share a list of the prettiest hidden gems to visit in Lombardy that travelers often miss.

A monastery carved into the rockFrom cultural attractions to quaint villages and rural idylls, there’s no shortage of charms in Lombardy. I recently wrote down all the places I want to explore or revisit in my region once we are allowed to travel again and came up with quite an extensive list. Here below you’ll find all those places that travelers often overlook but are well worth a visit. 

1. The vineyards of San Colombano al Lambro

Did you know that there’s a wine district right in the province of Milan? It’s called San Colombano al Lambro and is Milan’s only wine-producing region. The red and white wines bottled here are excellent and received the DOC mark in 1984. The village of San Colombano itself is charming and forms part of a special itinerary called “The Road of San Colombano Wine and the Food”. It connects Milan to Lodi, passing through beautiful hamlets brimming with history, art, and culinary delights. Check out this cool video on the wine of Milan.

Fun fact: the logo of the local Wine Consortium depicts a religious man holding a bunch of red grapes. Tradition has it that it an Irish missionary started to produce wine in San Colombano in the 6th century after converting the Barbarians to Christianity and the cultivation of vines!

2. Livigno,  Lombardy’s “Little Tibet”

Hidden away in the Italian Alps, at 1816 meters above sea level, Livigno is a beautiful town surrounded by pristine forests and spectacular snow-capped mountains. In other words, it’s the kind of place to go to when you need a breath of fresh air and a full immersion in nature. It’s often nicknamed the “Little Tibet of Lombardy” because of its remoteness and the benefits that a trip there can produce on one’s mind and spirit.

Despite being a popular ski resort, it offers lots of things to do for non-skiers like me, from trekking excursions and water sports to crazy tax-free shopping (Livigno enjoys the status of a free area and is therefore exempt from VAT tax!). There’s also a popular wellness center in town called Aquagrande, with a number of swimming pools and spa areas for a little pampering.

3. Nesso and its beautiful gorge

The hamlet of Nesso on Lake ComoLake Como is dotted with tens of beautiful villages, but Nesso is truly unique. This sleepy village about twenty minutes’ drive from glamorous Bellagio is home to a striking natural gorge called Orrido di Nesso. There, you’ll find the waterfall flowing into the lake that Leonardo Da Vinci mentioned in one of his diaries.

The best views are from Ponte della Civera, a cute stone bridge accessible via some 300 steps downhill. All around the village are picturesque alleys to explore, including sections of the Strada Regia, an ancient road built by the Romans that connects Como to Bellagio.

4. The Cistercian abbey of Morimondo

A group of Cistercian monks founded Morimondo back in the 12th century and built a splendid Gothic-style monastery that continues to be an attractive landmark in the province of Milan. The village is only a handful of kilometers from Lombardy’s capital and represents a popular destination for a weekend escape to the countryside.

Morimondo seems to be frozen in time, with picturesque alleys, lovely cottages, and green fields. All around are various walking and cycling paths leading to the fields and the farms that dot the area. One of the favorite pastimes in this idyllic corner of Lombardy is laying on the grass with a local artisanal beer in hand while soaking up the sun.

5. Soncino, the walled village

Soncino is a beautiful village with grandiose defensive walls, sitting at the center of the Lombard plain. The main attraction here is the magnificent fortress built by the Sforza family in the 15th century, which is considered one of the finest examples of military architecture in Lombardy. Other interesting things to see in Soncino include the frescoed interiors of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Azzanelli palace, and a museum dedicated to silk housed in a former spinning mill.

Soncino is also renowned for its past as a flourishing printing center thanks to a Jewish family who came from Germany in the 15th century. They printed the first Jewish Bible complete with accents and vowels, and traces of their precious contribution can still be seen at the local Printing Museum.

6. Vigevano and its Renaissance jewels

View of the splendid Piazza Ducale in Vigevano

View of the splendid Piazza Ducale in Vigevano

The elegant town of Vigevano is one of those hidden gems that should be on the list of any traveler exploring Lombardy. It’s only a thirty-minute train ride from Milan, yet it feels like stepping into a different world. The historic center develops around what’s considered one of Italy’s most stunning piazzas, a real jewel of the Italian Renaissance lined with charming porticoes and home to bubbling cafés and shops. A staircase leads to the magnificent Sforza Castle from the piazza, one of Europe’s largest fortified complexes. Just to give you an idea, it’s about twice the size of Buckingham Palace.

Interestingly, Vigevano played a significant role in developing the shoemaking industry, as seen at the International Shoe Museum that displays a vast collection of shoes of all shapes and models, including some unique pieces worn by popes and celebrities.

READ MORE: 5 reasons to visit Vigevano

7. The beautiful villas of Cassinetta di Lugagnano

About 25 km west of Milan, Cassinetta di Lugagnano is a lovely village on the banks of the Naviglio Grande, immersed in the Ticino Park. Such an idyllic location made it a popular destination for noble Milanese families, who used to escape here in the summer attracted by the peaceful, rustic atmosphere of the village.

Today the villas of these noble families represent the key heritage of Cassinetta di Lugagnano, with some of the most beautiful including Villa Negri (the mansion of Gaetano Negri, one of the first mayors of Milan), the neoclassical Villa Visconti Castiglione Maineri with splendid English and Italian gardens, and Villa Nai Bossi Poroli. Most of these mansions are private property but still, it’s nice to walk around and catch glimpses of them – even from the water, aboard one of the boats that take visitors along the Naviglio Grande.

8. Toscolano Maderno, the town of fishing and paper mills

Toscolano Maderno is a lovely town of ancient origins located on Lake Garda’s western shores, consisting of two distinct centers ideally divided by a river. Toscolano has been a major paper production center since the Middle Ages, while Maderno is more geared towards tourism, with a quaint little harbor and a particularly renowned lake cuisine.

One of the must-sees in Toscolano Maderno is the Paper Mill Valley (yep, just like the one in Amalfi), with a series of delightful walking paths and a museum located in an old paper production complex. There are also some pretty beaches in town, including one specially designed for dogs called Bau Beach.

9. Zavattarello and the Oltrepò Pavese vineyards

The vineyards of Oltrepò Pavese, the wine district just south of Milan

Zavattarello is an interesting historic hamlet immersed in Oltrepò Pavese, a beautiful corner of Lombardy that combines two major Italian attractions: excellent wines and beautiful sceneries. A grandiose castle towers majestically over the village, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside from its terraces. Also, a curious thing to see is the local cemetery with its unique octagonal shape.

A trip to Zavattarello can be easily combined with a visit to some local wineries and other pretty places like Fortunago, Varzi, and the mysterious – and quite isolated – Abbey of Sant’Alberto di Butrio to further explore this totally undiscovered side of the region.

READ MORE: A wine tasting tour of Oltrepò Pavese

10. Sabbioneta, the ideal city

Only half an hour’s drive from Mantova, in the valley of the Po River, Sabbioneta is a jewel of Renaissance architectural style and town planning. It was built in the 1550s when Vespasiano Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, decided to create an “ideal city” based on Rome’s aesthetic and architectural canons. Solid walls enclose the village, forming the shape of a six-pointed star.

The oldest building in Sabbioneta is Palazzo Ducale, the former residence of the duke. Other interesting sights include Teatro all’Antica, the first example of a civic theater in Europe, Palazzo Giardino, the mansion built for the duke’s ‘delights and entertainment’, and the Jewish Quarter with its splendid synagogue.

11. Monte Isola, the island on Lake Iseo

Monte Isola is the largest lake island in Europe, located at the south end of Lake Iseo. It’s home to 11 adorable hamlets frozen in time, where cars are banished, and locals still use naecc, the traditional tapered boats. Life is very much centered around fishing, focusing on the artisanal production of ships and fishing nets and a particular way of conserving the lake sardines that won the island the title of Slow Food Presidium.

Monte Isola can be explored by foot or bike using a 15km trail around the island. The main village is Siviano, the departing point of ferries that connect the island to the mainland. At the top of the island (about 600 mt / 1,968 feet above sea level), there’s a sanctuary that offers stunning 360° views over the lake.

12. Cornello dei Tasso, the birthplace of the postal system

The hamlet of Cornello dei Tasso, the birthplace of the modern postal system

Cornello dei Tasso is a tiny medieval hamlet nestled on a rocky spur amidst Val Brembana, in the province of Bergamo. It can be accessed only by foot and is exceptionally well preserved, with charming cobbled streets and porticoed alleys. It’s here that the current postal service was born back in the 14th century, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the local Tasso family. Their story is well retraced at the local museum, where a letter sent in 1840 using the first stamp ever issued in the world is displayed

In the village, there’s a popular trattoria that attracts locals and visitors during the weekend and a little church with frescoed interiors worth visiting. 

READ MORE: The medieval hamlet of Cornello dei Tasso  

13. The blacksmiths of Bienno

Another beautiful hamlet to visit in Val Camonica is Bienno, which stands high on a hill surrounded by lush mountains and beautiful hiking trails. Bienno is the village of blacksmiths, as it used to be a thriving center for the production of iron tools. The local Ethnographic Museum of Iron, Arts, and Popular Traditions represents a precious testimony of the ancient iron forging tradition of Bienno, with an interesting collection of tools and finds related to the mining activity in the region, as well as examples of iron products.

The village looks really pretty, with a maze of alleys opening onto picturesque courtyards with flowery balconies, panoramic corners, and fascinating historic buildings. There is also an ancient mill and an interesting church with precious works of art.

14. Sirmione, the pearl of Lake Garda

The beautiful spa town of Sirmione on Lake Garda

Sirmione is an attractive spa town with a scenic location on a small peninsula that juts onto Lake Garda. An impressive fortress that seems to be floating on the water welcomes visitors, who come here for the beautiful – and completely pedestrian – center, the excellent thermal baths, and the lovely beaches.

Not to miss are the remains of the ancient mansion of Catullus, one of the largest Roman villas in northern Italy, while in summer Jamaica Beach, right on the tip of the peninsula, is a famous stretch of coast with large slabs of rock lapped by crystal-clear waters.

15. Bagolino and its unique traditions

Bagolino is a picturesque stone hamlet in the province of Brescia, particularly renowned for a type of local cheese called Bagoss that is produced only there. Its narrow streets and cobbled alleyways lead to little corners of authentic beauty. These include the parish Church of San Giorgio (often nicknamed the mountain cathedral), preserving precious artworks by Tintoretto and Titian.

Bagolino is home to exceptional Carnival celebrations that scientists have classified as one of Italy’s most important ethnological discoveries over the last 200 years! The museum ‘Habitar in sta terra’ is where to learn more about this and other local traditions and customs.

READ MORE: A day trip to Brescia

16. The monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso

Santa Caterina del Sasso is undoubtedly one of the top sights on Lake Maggiore: a charming monastery perched on a rocky spur that overlooks the lake’s azure waters. After surviving a shipwreck, a merchant looking to spend the rest of his life in prayer and solitude founded it in the 12th century. His mummified body is still preserved inside the church.

The monastery features three different chapels, each beautifully decorated with splendid frescoes. Externally there are some charming porticoes where visitors can admire stunning lake views.

17. A road trip to Lomellina

The medieval castle of Valeggio as seen from an ancient, red-bricked window

Lomellina is a magical stretch of countryside, located in southwestern Lombardy, just about one hour’s drive from Milan. Here, rice paddies and old farmhouses share space with fascinating historical and artistic attractions; the abundance of castles earned it the nickname of “Lombardy’s Little Loire”.

Lomellina is also a great destination for foodies, offering a variety of dishes that make extensive use of locally grown ingredients, from Borlotti beans and white asparagus to rice, saffron, and Breme’s sweet red-skinned onion. This type of onion is so special that its seeds are conserved in the Global Seed Vault on the Svalbard islands.

READ MORE: What to do in Lomellina

 


Pssst… Pin this article for future reference and get in touch if you have any questions about the hidden gems of Lombardy!


Ciao for now,

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13 Comments

madhu sharma 2 May 2020 at 10:44

Wow these places are truely spectacular.i would love to visit sometime surely

Deborah Patterson 2 May 2020 at 11:02

Oh I could just stare at these pictures all day! I can’t wait until we can travel to Italy again…and especially to Lombardy.

Rosh Patel 2 May 2020 at 13:46

I love all the old world charm, it looks stunning

Paula Martinelli 2 May 2020 at 15:01

Valentina, I absolutely love your list – I am always in search for authentic places to visit and I saved your post for my next trip to Italy. I have been a couple of times, and I LOVE Italy and your guide looks like a perfect itinerary for when I come back. Thank you!

Ophelie 2 May 2020 at 16:10

I am glad to know more about this part of Italy thanks to you! So many beautiful places here!

Jay Artale 6 May 2020 at 10:30

As a bit of a cheese lover I’m interested in trying Bagoss. I’ve heard of it before through an Italian friend of mine, she said that during the curing process they add Saffron so that the cheese has a slight yellow tinge like straw. I don’t know if it affects the taste, but definitely the look. It’s an aged cheese that I think can be used like parmesan. Didn’t know it was only made in one place. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos of Lombardy. 🙂

sumit walia 6 May 2020 at 10:40

hi
I am overwhelmed by the sneak preview of these wonderful paces that you described. I have never even heard of these gems and I feel that they are a world themselves. Places that can be sited on foot, places tucked high up in the hills, wow these are the place that a traveller always yearns to visit. Kudos to you for such great post, definitely worth bookmarking

Subhashish Roy 6 May 2020 at 12:41

Lombardy was in our plan for this summer as we had missed visiting the place and also Florence the last time we were in Italy. But before we could get down to planning the minute details we had to call off the trip. In hindsight this post of yours would be a great help for me to plan for next year. I had heard Lombardy is beautiful and I can see why it is so. Must confess I have fallen in love. The view of Bagolino is amazing and once there would love to taste the local cheese Bagoss too.

Alice Mola 6 May 2020 at 15:04

The Ponte della Civera looks so quaint and beautiful. My boyfriend lives in the south of France so visiting Italy is so tempting since it’s a stones throw away. Lombardy looks so magical, especially the countryside look of Sabbioneta. For a nature nut like me, it’s the perfect retreat.

Iemexploring 6 May 2020 at 15:46

Wow I have never heard of Lombardy before but wow. All these hidden gems look like something out of a fury tale! The gorge at lake como is utterly beautiful. I definitely want to visit here! Wow

Mayuri Patel 6 May 2020 at 18:19

Lombardy is such beautiful Place of Italy. I haven’t been to Italy but the history of Italy is interesting. The towns of Sirmione looks beautiful. Bagolino and its local cheese Bagoss looks interesting, and Monte Isola lake looks beautiful. The trekking excursions in Livigno sounds quite adventurous. Itally has such amazing mix of places that one can easily fell in love.

Lauren Pears 6 May 2020 at 19:40

Whenever I think Italy surely can’t get any better, it does. It’s such a beautiful country with so much to explore! Sirmione looks like such a sweet town – can just imagine sitting at a cafe there to drink some delicious coffee.

Clarice 8 May 2020 at 20:26

Wow! These are indeed hidden gems. Sirmione is charming and it looks straight a place straight from a romance novel. Hope I get the chance to visit someday. Thank you for sharing.

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Ciao! I'm Val, an Italian blogger with a huge passion for my country, its culture and traditions. My Italian Diaries is the online space where I share itineraries, activities and off-the-beaten path places to help you experience the best of Italy like a local!

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