Golden Day Seventy-Three: Marvelous Mantua, aka Mantova
The small town of Mantua is a gem of the Lombardy region–surrounded by lakes, with stunning Renaissance architecture from the days when the great Gonzaga family reigned here. Of its many palaces, most spectacular is Palazzo Ducale–a sprawling complex of courtyards and about 500 magnificent rooms.
Camera degli Sposi (Bride’s Room) with beautiful Andrea Mantegna frescoes…
It’s completely overwhelming.
Which may be why what I find most enchanting in the Palazzo is tucked away on the ground floor: the tiny grotta and studiolo of Isabella d’Este==First Lady of the Renaissance. Isabella moved into the Palazzo in 1490, when she was 16, a Gonzaga bride. While her husband was away at war, she expertly took over ruling Mantua, and made the palazzo into a cultural center–a gathering place for artists, poets, and musicians.
Studiolos like Isabella’s were all the rage in Renaissance days. The idea was to move beyond the sterile, monastic retreats of the Dark Ages and into a space inspired by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, where the appreciation of beauty was the path to transcendence.
This was where she’d come to leave the world behind–play her lute, read poetry, and invite friends over to admire her beautiful collection af art, gems, and ancient artifacts.
A fantastic place for dinner nearby is the Ristorante Aquila Nigra, (Vicolo Bonacolsi 4, 037 632 7180)–a converted palazzo, which serves up elegant renditions of Mantova classics, including tortelli di zucca (pasta stuffed with pumpkin.
Spend a night or two at Casa Poli, a sleek boutique hotel, about a ten minute walk from the Palazzo.
And don’t leave town without tasting Mantova’s signature sweet–Sbrisolona–a giant cookie/cake, flavored with almonds. You’ll find these in bakeries all over town, including the wonderful Panificio Pasticceria Pavesi (Via Broletto 9–Mon 7-1:30, Tues-Sat 7-7:30), that’s steps away from Palazzo Ducale. They stay fresh for a while, so make great souvenirs–if you can resist gobbling them up right away, that is.
Note that the Palazzo Ducale is closed on Monday–for more info, click Here