Discover what to do in Lomellina, an enchanting land of castles, rice fields, and quaint villages just an hour’s drive south of Milan.
As you may have seen on my Instagram account, I was recently invited to explore Lomellina with Galrisorselomellina, an organization that promotes territorial development projects. I was particularly happy to take part in this initiative because Lomellina is the place where I was born and currently live, but I never really gave the area the attention it deserves. Very big mistake. During this trip, I discovered a magical rural world largely off the tourist radar, yet far from lacking in fascinating natural, historical, and artistic attractions. And I realized that all this time I’ve been seriously missing out a lot.
Don’t expect anything flashy, though. The allure of this part of Lombardy lies in the beauty and sounds of the countryside, where historic farmhouses and quaint villages reveal centuries of history and unique products deeply rooted in tradition.
So, here’s a summary of my two days in Lomellina, including places I saw, local specialties I ate, where I stayed, and some practical tips to fully enjoy your time there. But before delving into the details of what to do in Lomellina, let me clarify which geographical area I’m talking about because I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before.
Where is Lomellina?
Lomellina is located in southwestern Lombardy, just about one hour’s drive from Milan. It’s a stretch of scenic flatland surrounded by the Po, Sesia, and Ticino rivers, where castles and rice fields abound creating a truly unique landscape (speaking of castles, there are so many that Lomellina has been nicknamed “Lombardy’s Little Loire”!).
There are over fifty small towns and villages scattered throughout Lomellina, covering an area of some 1300 km2. Pretty impressive for being one of Italy’s hidden corners, right? For ease, here’s a map where I’ve highlighted all the places mentioned in this article:
Day one in Lomellina – morning
These two days in Lomellina started in Valeggio, a tranquil country village with a glorious medieval castle that played host to illustrious guests throughout the centuries, including the Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola. Its architecture stands out among all other strongholds in the area because of an unusual trapezoidal layout lined with seven towers of different shapes and sizes. The village itself has ancient origins, as suggested by the Roman necropolis and archeological relics found in the area some years ago (by the way, if you are into ancient history, don’t miss the local Archeological Museum in Gambolò).
A pleasant drive away, Breme is the town of the sweet, red-skinned onion, a local delicacy listed as a slow food presidium. It’s cultivated exclusively here and locals celebrate it with a popular sagra in June. But the attractions of this little medieval village are not limited to food. In fact, Breme was home to one of the most important religious centers in Europe back in the 10th-13th centuries, the Abbey of San Pietro, founded by the Benedectine monks of Novalesa while seeking refuge from the Saracen attacks back in the 10th century.
The crypt is what remains of the original building, together with the old kitchen of the Olivetan friars, who renovated the structure in the mid ‘500; the rest of the building is now the seat of the local municipality. Not to miss in Breme is also the Baptistry, which is considered a jewel of early Christian Romanesque architecture. And for nature lovers, the municipality came up with a great bicycle rental scheme allowing visitors to easily explore the beautiful trails surrounding the village.
When the clock stroke lunchtime, we headed to Agriturismo Il Cinema in Valle Lomellina, a one-of-a-kind restaurant housed in a former cinema from the 1950s, with lots of memorabilia and a delightful garden for al-fresco dining. The menu is based on tradition, with excellent goose-based products and classic risotto dishes. Don’t forget that Lomellina is the land of rice and cooks here are masters in the art of risotto!
Day one in Lomellina – afternoon
After lunch, we headed to Sartirana Lomellina, home to the largest castle in the area. Gian Galeazzo Visconti commissioned it in the 14th century to strengthen the boundaries of his state and today it’s privately owned. Here’s an interesting fact I learned: its massive round tower was realized by architect Fioravanti da Bologna, who was later summoned to the court of Russian Tsar Ivan II to take part in the construction works of the Kremlin!
Next to the castle, there’s the pila, an old warehouse that was once used for rice storage and processing and today houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to the designer Ken Scott. The interiors of this place are absolutely stunning and preserve some of the original pieces of machinery and tools utilized for rice production. It’s really no surprise that this place has also become a popular wedding location in Italy.
More treasures awaited us in Lomello, the village that gives Lomellina its name. Back in Roman times, Lomello was a strategic station on the road connecting Pavia to Turin and its importance further grew under the Lombards. Have you ever heard about the legendary Queen Theodolinda who converted much of northern Italy to the Catholic faith? Well, she married her second husband Agilulf right here in Lomello in 590 (to know more about this queen, plan a visit to the Theodolinda Chapel in Monza, it’s beautiful).
The sightseeing list in Lomello features a castle with precious frescoes and a beautiful architectural complex in Romanesque Lombard style. This comprises the Baptistery of San Giovanni ad Fontes, one of the oldest baptisteries in Lombardy, and the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, whose visible asymmetry is said to mirror the body of Christ on the cross with his head reclined… truly fascinating!
Before dinner, there was still time for another visit in Mortara, the place where we spent the night. Mortara is one of the major towns in Lomellina and is particularly renowned for the production of goose salami (delicious!) and goose-based products more in general. It’s also an important stop on the Via Francigena. I went to high school here and this was the first time that I set foot in its marvelous Basilica of San Lorenzo. I know, I felt pretty ashamed, especially after learning about the valuable works of Italian art that decorate its interiors. One, in particular, caught my attention: a precious wooden nativity scene realized by Lorenzo da Mortara in the 15th century and considered a prominent example of Lombard wooden sculpture in the Renaissance.
Time to reach the hotel and get ready for another culinary feast. We stayed at Casa Angela, a brand new bed & breakfast in the town center which occupies a historic building dating from the 15th century. The owners Pino and Paola are the most delightful hosts. They also have a delicatessen opened by Pino’s mother in 1959 where they produce and sell excellent goose-based products. You know what that means, right? Genuinely authentic food!
After a sweet, lazy breakfast, we hit the road again in search of more treasures to explore and country sceneries to admire. The first stop was Castel d’Agogna and its medieval complex dating from the 12th century. The castle passed through the hands of numerous owners, including a number of rich local families who gave it the current appearance of a stately mansion. The castle and its park are often used for events, but there’s also a great exhibition not to miss inside, showcasing ancient maps and documents from the Isimbardi archive, one of its last owners. Some maps are as old as the 17th century and extremely well detailed, beautifully narrating the transformation of the Lomellina countryside and the development of its fascinating hydraulic system.
A short drive towards the border with Piedmont, Rosasco is a picturesque hamlet with a splendid medieval heart. Its castle is one of the oldest in Lomellina and although only two towers remain visible, it’s pretty clear that in its heyday this was a significantly large fortified complex. Strolling around the cobblestone alleys inside the ancient perimeter of the castle was like stepping back in time. And the views from the Ghibelline tower were absolutely amazing.
We then spent the rest of the morning in Robbio, a lovely historic village along the Via Francigena. There are a number of Romanesque jewels to explore here, including the Church of San Valeriano, with a beautiful wooden sculpture of Christ on the cross, and the tiny Church of San Pietro, with frescoes that include sacred scenes once used as a simplified version of the Bible to educate the illiterate population. Oh, and we also saw a permanent exhibition of sewing machines that a local put together throughout the years. I’m not a big fan of sewing, but there are some really cool vintage pieces on display.
For lunch we went to Circolo da Piperno, a fabulous trattoria in Sant’Angelo Lomellina. The local mayor created it inside the old village school and I must say that the result is absolutely brilliant. This place truly has it all – delicious, old-school dishes (the panissa is to die for), great décor, and the most welcoming staff.
Day two in Lomellina – afternoon
The landscape of Lomellina is punctuated by garzaie, which are special areas where one or more species of herons build their nests and reproduce. These protected areas are classified as “natural monuments” and boast one of the greatest concentrations of these graceful birds in Europe. Just remember that in order to preserve the precious natural value of these sites and guarantee the necessary tranquility to the herons, the garzaie can only be visited with a licensed guide and you’ll need to make prior arrangements.
If you want to take note for a future trip, the most important garzaie in Lomellina include the garzaia of Acqualunga (where there is also an ancient abbey to visit), the garzaia of Celpenchio in the village of Cozzo, and one in the natural reserve of Lake Sartirana.
Some practical tips for visiting Lomellina
- Spring is the best time to visit Lomellina, particularly between April and May when rice fields are flooded and create a truly enchanting landscape.
- Driving around Lomellina is easy, roads are flat and tranquil. You could even bring your bicycles and explore some of the trails immersed in the countryside
- Visiting Lomellina on your own can be quite difficult simply because life in small villages has different rhythms, especially when it comes to the timetables of museums and tourist sights. That’s why I suggest contacting a local guide who can help you make the most of your time there; for example, the guys from Oltre Confine (personally tried and tested).
As you can see, there are quite a few interesting things to see and do in Lomellina that make it one of the best-kept secrets in Lombardy. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more about this hidden corner of Lombardy or need help to organize your visit there!
Ciao for now,