Situated 190 kilometres east from Milan, a traveler will find the city of Mantova on a cross road between the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna.
The encompassing waters of Mincio River, Lake Garda and the joining river of Po, make the city look like a peninsula when seen from above.
But what is sure, one should have a vivid mind to imagine the artistic heritage, linguistic influences and rich cuisine which have been marking the scenery mantovana for centuries.
Mantua appeared on my wish list several months ago when I encountered for the first time photographs taken in the historical centre. Being one of the few places which did not suffer the disaster of the World War II in Italy, the city offers an aesthetic journey back in time between buildings and monuments from the medieval and Renaissance times, from the glory days of the Gonzaga dynasty.
Family Corradi, later renamed after the location of origin, Gonzaga, moved in Mantua in 12th century and with an ingenious spirit and an astute merchant skills managed to turn the municipality in a wealthy and independent commune. Gonzaga dynasty reigned over Mantua for more than five centuries, until the city got under the power of the Austrian Habsburgs in the beginning of the 18th century.
Having all these historical and art notes in mind, we arrived in Mantua on this Saturday of December, greeted by cold but clear sunny day.
After a walk around Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo del Te and the main pedestrian street we went to warm up our frozen finger tips in Osteria dell Erbe, in Piazza delle Erbe. Besides the great pizza I also got the opportunity to sweeten up my day with some typical torta Sbrisolona.
To blend our historical visit with some warm family experience we found a shelter behind the generously decorated walls of Casa Museo Palazzo Valenti Gonzaga in via Pietro Frattini 7.
Voluptios Baroque atmosphere, endless ceilings covered with frescoes by Frans Geffels and decorations by Giovanni Battista Barberini, are among the hallmarks of the building where Marquise Valenti Gonzaga was born.
The gallery museum is situated on two levels: first floor hosting the noble part of the galleria, the camera del Figliuol Prodigo and two impressive suites, in one of which we enjoyed our weekend and an underground floor, la ghiacciaia. Our hosts kindly explained us that this underground space appears to be one of the first examples of a freezer. The room with a fully round shape, which today is also turned into a luxury bedroom used to be filled with snow and served as one of a kind fish storage.
Our romantic weekend in Palazzo Valenti Gonzaga was crowned by a tour lead by Prof. Dr. Alfonso Rocco Linardi guiding us and the rest of the hotel guests trough art works in the museum.
The weekend alla Mantovana got the delicious touch also thanks to the visit of the contemporary Osteria Lo Scalco Grasso, where I could finally enjoy an elegant dish of gnocchi with the typical for the region pumpkin and chestnut.
We enjoyed our Mantua trip very much and hopefully we would be able to visit again for the International Festival of the Literature next September.