If you’re looking for a side trip from Milan, Cremona offers so many interesting things to see and do for a lovely day trip away from big tourist crowds. It’s a delightful town renowned for its violin-making tradition and delicious torrone – as well as for being the birthplace of fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni!
Cremona is only a one-hour train ride from Milan, at the borders with the Emilia Romagna region. It is one of those places that don’t receive a lot of attention, but once you discover it, it makes you stand in awe. Let me show you why…
1. An extraordinary violin-making tradition
Cremona boasts an ancient violin-making tradition that was included in the Unesco Heritage list in 2012. World-renowned violin maker Antonio Stradivari was born here and some of his masterpieces can be found at the Violin Museum, one of Cremona’s key attractions. The streets are dotted with workshops where local luthiers still realize violins completely by hand. Watching them at work with such skill and passion is truly fascinating.
2. The “Sistine Chapel of the north”
Cremona’s monumental Cathedral can easily be considered one of the most stunning religious buildings in northern Italy. Its stunning facade with rows of arcades and sculptures reminded me that of the Certosa di Pavia.
It has earned the nickname of “Sistine Chapel of the north” because of the incredible series of frescoes and paintings that decorate the interiors with stories of the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
The Cathedral shares the square with the local Town Hall, an impressive Baptistery featuring Roman and Gothic architectural elements, and the Torrazzo, which is one of the tallest brickwork bell towers in the world. Reaching the top is quite a climb (502 steps) but then the views from atop are really beautiful!
3. Elegant palaces and ancient churches
Take the time to stroll around the quiet streets of Cremona and browse the elegant palaces that punctuate the town centre, like Palazzo Cittanova and Palazzo Trecchi. These used to be the home of local noble families and the seat of the local council. You will also find some interesting churches, like the Church of Saint Augustine, housing a splendid painting by Perugino, and the tiny Church of S. Omobono, named after the local patron saint, featuring a simple facade that hides some spectacular frescoes.
4. A fantastic culinary experience
Foodies will be spoilt for choice in Cremona, with some pretty unique dishes. The king of local tables is the gran bollito, a dish made with different types of boiled meats and served with mostarda cremonese, a special spicy-sweet condiment that contains a mix of large chunks of fruits preserved in a mustard syrup. Other traditional products include Salame Cremona IGP (a particular type of salami seasoned with crushed garlic and spices) and tasty cheeses such as Provolone Valpadana and Salva Cremasco.
Torrone, a nougat made of toasted almonds and honey, is the most popular sweet in town (and a traditional Christmas treat in Italy), but if you love chocolate, then you should really try pan cremona, a spongy cake with a sweet almond flavour covered with dark chocolate.
I managed to see all the key sites of Cremona in one day. However, staying overnight would be better, if time allows. This way, you could visit other interesting attractions that are slightly outside the city centre, such as the Monastery of San Giuseppe in San Sigismondo, which was built on the grounds of the church where Francesco Sforza married Bianca Maria Visconti in the XV century.
- Cremona can be easily reached either by train and car. There is plenty of parking, but I found the free parking space at the train station (“Parking Ex Tranvie”) particularly handy; it’s only 10-minute walk to the town center
- Your first stop should be the tourist office located under the porticoes of Piazza del Comune, where you can grab a map and get information about guided tours and combined entrance tickets for discounted admissions
- The Violin Museum often organizes concerts and special event, check out its website before your visit
- Join one of the tours organized by the Consortium of Violinmakers “Antonio Stradivari” to visit a selection of artisan workshops
- One of the top months in the local calendar is November, when Cremona celebrates the Torrone Festival
Until next time,