Leaving the Italian Alps
Mark and I left the Italian Alps with anticipation to get away from the altitude and switch back roads. The altitude was not kind to my stomach (I experienced major bloating). The switch back roads were fun at first, but they soon lost their appeal with the constant slowing and speeding up. There was also the added stress and noise of hundreds of motorcyclists cruising up and down the mountains. Sadly, Bormio was not my much anticipated mountain retreat.
Despite wanting to leave the mountains, we were unsure if we were going to like Mantua. We left the mountains behind and the terrain became flatter with the mountains as dark shadows far in the distance. Fields and orchards passed us on both sides of the road proving to be unimpressive compared to the mountains. We decided to remain optimistic.
We noticed quickly that the roads were relatively free of traffic. No speeding motorcyclists or sports cars. Perfect! Our approached our agrotourismo driving down a narrow road along a lazy stream. The driveway to our agrotourismo was lined with flowers and lavender leading to a barn on the left and a large orchard on the right. Mark right away pointed out a small white cat and I was immediately sold!
After settling into our room we borrowed a pair of bicycles and we were off to the city. Mantua, a moderately well sized city west of Verona and Venice, was exactly what we needed. The city was quiet, easily accessible and walk-able, friendly, provided green space, and offered delicious food!
Mantua is very bike friendly and we did not have any problems cycling in the city. There is a beautiful pathway that skirts Laggo di Mezzo. We took a break in the Giardini di Piazza Virgiliana, a large park with fountains and a statue commemorating the Roman poet Virgil, author of The Aeneid.
Old Mantua is easily identifiable by the cobblestone roads and the magnificient Palazzo Ducale. A large square of Piazza Sordello is lined with Italian Renaissance palaces, cafés, and the Duomo di San Pietro di Mantova. The Piazza Sordello is a great place to eat gelato and people watch.
Mantua is an old city that was dominated with appreciative patrons of art. Palaces and cathedrals open to the public display opulence, wealth, and beautiful art. The Palazzo Ducale, the residence of the Gonzaga family is made up of a number of buildings and courtyards; the Basilica of Sant’Andrea was built over a period of over 300 years; and the Palazzo Te located south of the old city.
No trip to a new city wouldn’t be complete with trying a local dish! Mantua is famous for Tortelli di Zucca – pumpkin tortelli: a pasta filled with puréed pumpkin, nutmeg and amaretti in a butter-based sauce. Most restaurants offer this dish and prices will vary depending on the restaurant.
Agrotourismo Corte San Girolamo
The rest of our time in the Mantua region was spent at our agrotourismo Corte San Girolamo. A humble property located in the nature reserve east of the city. The property has a long history dating back to the 1300’s with evidence of it everywhere you look. From broken slabs of marble and concrete columns re-purposed as benches to the various small buildings occupying the grounds.
The grounds of the agrotourismo were originally a monastary from the 1400’s to the late 1700’s. Following the abolition of church property, the land was owned by a few noble families. In 1970, the land was purchased by the current owners. On the 55 hectares of land, they have an orchard, wheat and soy crops, and over two dozen beehives.
We wanted for nothing during our stay at San Girolamo. Our hosts answered all our questions, lent us bicycles, and even let us use their bottle opener.
Here, we fully embraced the Italian lifestyle. Our mornings were productive: seeing sites and buying our food for the day. In the afternoons, Mark and I strolled through the orchard, played cards in the shade, cuddled with the cats, and napped. In the evening we had late diners in open piazzas by candle light.
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