The city of Mantua born as a 10th century Etruscan settlement, started to blossom only after 1328 under the Gonzaga dynasty’s influence.
Located in the main city square Piazza Sordello, Palazzo ducale (Reggia dei Gonzaga) is one of the most important building of the city: the early building dates back to the 13th century, it was the former residence of the Gonzaga family with more than 500 rooms. During the 14th and 15th century has been added the Castello di san Giorgio (Castle of St. George) with a collection of artworks belonged to the Gonzaga’s dynasty. Even if a lot of this artworks have been lost, stolen or sold it still remains an amazing collection. Some highlights are Sala dello Zodiaco, Salone degli Specchi, Sala del Fiume and Camera degli Sposi.
The gorgeous Renaissance Palace Palazzo Te is the most famous building designed by Giulio Romano. It has been built in a former swampland and it mixes together architectural and naturalistic elements. The palace is finely decorated with frescos of a whole range of subjects such as horses, zodiac, mythology and so on. Among the most famous rooms are Sala dei giganti and Sala di Amore e Psiche.
The Basilica di sant’Andrea has been designed by Leon Battista Alberti in 1472 but has been carried out several centuries later by Luca Fancelli in 1782. Inside the church is also laid to rest the famous painter Andrea Mantegna.
Three lakes flows through the city (Lago superiore, Lago di mezzo, Lago inferiore) which used to be an island, the huge park Parco del Mincio is a nice place to stroll around and moreover cyclists will take advantage of the cycling lane leading to the Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie.
An interesting museum is the Museo Tazio Nuvolari e Learco Guerra dedicated to two local cycling and motorcycling stars of the beginning of the 20th century.
What/where to eat
A day in Mantua is an excellent opportunity to taste the specialties of traditional cuisine: after all, like going away from Mantua without having tried a tortelli con zucca filled with pumpkin or risotto alla pilotta, then moving on to the excellent cured meats including the Coppa Dop and a succulent stew, to then end with the inevitable slice of sbrisolona cake. Traditional taverns and contemporary restaurants dot the city offering interesting proposals both for those who want to taste the recipes of the past and for those who want to venture with new flavors. Among these I recommend:
Osteria dell’Oca, in via Trieste, famous for its genuine and faithful to tradition dishes, with starters of salami, stew, polenta and of course sbrisolona;
Antica Osteria Ai Ranari, also on via Trieste, is one of the traditional restaurants where you can taste delicious pumpkin tortelli, macaroni with stew and fried frogs.
Bottega di Paolo. For a quick lunch break, a modern restaurant a stone’s throw from Piazza Sordello, offers a varied buffet service with hot and cold dishes, many delicacies inspired by tradition and desserts.
Da Bice Gallina Felice. A traditional trattoria in the center where you can taste pilot’s risotto, cold cuts, polenta and many other local delights. For an aperitif, here are some proposals:
Che c’è c’è. It quickly became the favorite of young people from Mantua for an aperitif, it is a small and welcoming place. Informal atmosphere but a refined menu to accompany excellent wines.
Baby Bar. For the people of Mantua it is simply “Da Gino”, as it is best known for the “Rosso del Gino” cocktail, invented by the manager many years ago.
For a good coffee, instead, along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, stop at the Panificio Freddi, an institution in the city for its cream croissants and pizzas that alongside the counter offer a large variety of Mantuan sweets. Also nearby is the renowned Caffè Borsa, excellent for breakfast and aperitifs and with a delicious pastry.
What/where to buy
Mantua is famous above all for its gastronomic delicacies, which range from sweets to cold cuts, passing through Mantuan mustard, a sauce that since the time of the Gonzagas was used in the kitchens of aristocratic lords and today is an essential ingredient for pumpkin tortelli.
One of the most popular products to take home or to give away is the sbrisolona cake, the most traditional confectionery specialty, but also fresh pumpkin-filled pasta to buy in one of the many bakeries in the area and then prepare it at home.Beyond gastronomy, Mantua has maintained its love over the years for all that is artisanal, creative and refined, and this emerges in the shops of home articles and decorations of excellent workmanship and in the numerous outlets and high fashion boutiques . The main shopping streets are Corso Umberto I, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Marconi and Via Verdi. There is no shortage of historic shops and brands that in Mantua owe their success, but for fans of big brands at discounted prices, we recommend stopping in the outlets of the city. Here are some tips:
Gelsomini. In a historic building in the heart of Mantua, a shop specialized since 1938 in the sale of household items and decorations produced with natural materials. You will find baskets, wooden objects, wicker, vintage furnishings and gift ideas.
Casa del Bianco. Housed in a 14th century building, it is among the ten oldest shops in Lombardy, inaugurated in 1828. Here we sell quality household linens, made with fine fabrics.
Folli follie. A small accessory shop born in Mantua in the 70s and which has now become a popular high fashion chain.
Mantova Outlet Fashion Village. Located outside the city, near the highway exit, it is the most famous outlet in northern Italy. It is a shopping citadel that is inspired by a typical village in the area and has numerous stores flanked by restaurants and bars.