Today I would like to talk to you about Pavia, a perfect day trip from Milan. My memories of Pavia are mainly linked to the crazy university parties I used to go to a few years ago (well, maybe a little bit more than just a few..). Back then, I had no idea that this cute little town along the via Francigena was a key court in the Italian Renaissance and is a real treasure trove of historic sites.
Located in Lombardy, just a 20-minute train ride from Milan, Pavia is a charming university town rich in history and elegant buildings, on the banks of the river Ticino, surrounded by the rice fields of Lomellina.
I started my tour from the Church of S. Pietro in Ciel D’Oro (St. Peter in Golden Sky), an ancient basilica dating back to the XVIII century whose name refers to the gold leaf mosaics that formerly decorated parts of the ceiling. This church is the resting place of Saint Augustine, whose remains are kept in a beautifully decorated marble tomb, Longobard King Liutprand and the philosopher Boethius. Guys, this place was a real surprise… I didn’t even know it was featured in two literary masterpieces like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Boccaccio’s Decameron!
Close to this church there’s the Visconti Castle, which houses the Civic Museums. The castle was built by Galeazzo II Visconti in the XIV century and hosted some pretty illustrious guests like Leonardo Da Vinci and Petrarca. The Castle is also the site of artistic exhibitions and festivals, such as the Autunno Pavese, the most important food and wine exhibition in the area – don’t miss it if you are around in September!
From the Castle, I crossed the road and strolled along Strada Nuova, the ancient Roman cardo and today Pavia’s main street, which leads to the many other treasures of this city. At the beginning of Strada Nuova there’s the Fraschini Theater, built in the XVIII century and named after a famous tenor of Pavia, while a little further down is the University, one of the oldest in the world – apparently, an edict issued by King Lotarius established a prestigious imperial school of law in 825! Illustrious professors taught here, including Alessandro Volta and Camillo Golgi, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Just beside the pretty cloisters of the university, in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, rise three amazing Medieval Towers dating back to the XI century.
I spent some time exploring the side streets off Strada Nuova, with lots of pretty little shops and picturesque corners, before reaching Piazza del Duomo and its imposing Duomo, whose dome is the third-largest in Italy (after the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cathedral of Florence). Guess who contributed to its design? Leonardo da Vinci, of course!
Just around the corner from Piazza del Duomo is Piazza della Vittoria, the heart of Pavia and the hub of city’s social whirl, with lots of bars and restaurants – the perfect spot to enjoy an aperitivo after all the sightseeing. The southern side of the piazza is dominated by the elegant Broletto, Pavia’s old Town Hall, while on the opposite side there’s an underground market.
Back on Strada Nuova I had a quick look at the Arnaboldi Gallery, an elegant space covered by a glass dome which was the center of commercial trading at the end of the XIX century, and then I ventured through some side streets until I reached the Basilica of San Michele Maggiore. This church was built in the XII century and is considered to be a masterpiece of the Lombard Romanesque style. It played an important role in the history of our country since it was here that the coronation ceremonies of the kings of the Italic kingdom once took place.
From the Church of San Michele it’s a short walk to the Covered Bridge, the symbol of Pavia. This bridge is a reconstruction of the medieval bridge that was damaged by the bombs during the Second World War and connects the city center with Borgo Ticino, a picturesque district with colorful houses and typical trattorias.
If you still have time, don’t miss the Certosa di Pavia, a beautiful Carthusian monastery complex just outside Pavia city center. This masterpiece of the Lombard Renaissance was commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who wanted it to be a private chapel and a family mausoleum.
It took almost a century to finish it and I must admit that I’m not surprised at all – the marble facade is covered in a myriad of exceptionally detailed sculptures, while the inside is all about frescoes, with the ceilings painted in deep blue and golden stars. Here are the tombs of Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice D’Este, beautifully carved in marble. It is possible to visit the complex with a guided tour (in Italian only) led by one of the monks that still inhabit the place – it’s free but perhaps you can buy some delicacies from their little shop.
That’s the end of my day trip to Pavia, such a pretty little town with so much to offer to travelers… don’t miss the chance to visit it as a day trip from Milan or on your way to a wine tour in the Oltrepo’ region!
- Pavia makes for a perfect day trip from Milan and can be easily reached by train or bus.
- If you travel by car, you can park along Viale Matteotti and from there you can walk to all the places listed in this article
- To visit the Certosa, there are regular buses from Pavia (line 93, more info here) and from Viale Famagosta in Milan (line 175, more info here). Alternatively, you can catch a train on the Milano-Bovisa-Pavia line stopping at the little station of Certosa.
- Feeling hungry? Don’t worry, Pavia is packed with nice places to sample the local cuisine: the pizza of pizzeria Marechiaro, the excellent wines of Infernot , the creamy risotto of Osteria alle Carceri and the heavenly panini of Alvolo. For your sweet tooth, grab an ice cream from Gelateria Da Cesare, an institution in Pavia, or try the local delicacy torta paradiso (literally, paradise cake) from Pasticceria Vigoni.
Until next time,
A Wonderful historical town, very well described. Congratulations.