Lombardy has a peculiar and perhaps slightly unfair reputation among international travelers. It is known to be a region where business gets done and its inhabitants are famed for their ruthless efficiency and practical, no-nonsense attitude. While it is certainly true that Lombardy ranks high among Italian regions for wealth-creating potential, such praise usually comes with a price tag in the form of a stereotype, whereby many see this beautiful region as a place of all work and no play. Describing Lombardy purely as a hub of industrial energy would be doing it a disservice: its natural and architectural beauty, its rich history and cultural relevance make it an ideal destination for a pleasurable incentive gift as much as a business meeting. In this short guide, we will offer you a few tips to discover corners of the region you might not have thought of visiting, which mean we will not be exploring Milan, but taking you on a virtual tour of unusual locations you might not have heard about.
1. Visit the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso
If you find yourself on Lake Maggiora, the sight of this hermitage, perched on an impervious rock over the lake itself, is likely to be among the most impressive you’ll come across. The complex includes two convents and a church. The Church is the result of several interventions, merging three chapels that stood close to one another, having been built at different times. The convents too date back to different centuries, spanning a period that goes from the XIII to the XVII Century and every building in the Hermitage is a treasure trove of spectacular sacred paintings and frescoes. Visiting this obscure architectural gem is a journey through time, from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance and the Baroque era. The mysticism of the Hermitage undoubtedly owes much to its enviable position: from here you can contemplate Nature in all of its might and majesty, with the lake stretching placidly on one side, caressed by the soft rolling hills, and the black mountain towering on the other.
2. Visit Zavattarello and explore the only haunted castle in Lombardy
Zavattarello, near Pavia, is one of those quaint Italian hamlets whose name sounds incredibly difficult to pronounce to most tourists: something to do with double consonants and harsh sounds, which we don’t usually perceive as such. However, don’t allow the difficulty in getting the name right to deter you from visiting what is considered one of the most beautiful towns in the region. The castle is probably its most impressive featureand you should definitely make time to visit it. This massive fortress, which dominates the surrounding valley, is also known as Castello dal Verme, after its former lord Pietro Dal Verme, whose ghost is said to haunts the grand halls and ramparts of the castle to this day. The whole town of Zavattarello is an intricate spider-web of little alleys jutting out from the winding main road and tracing hundreds of pathways to the castle.
3. Have a dip in the thermal baths in Bormio
If you thought soaking in a hot outdoors thermal bath surrounded by snowy mountains was an exclusively Scandinavian pastime, you are in for a pleasant surprise: you can do that in Lombardy too! The earliest existing records of the hot natural springs in this part of the region date back to a pre-roman colonization, thought to have prospered in Lombardy between the IV and I Century B.C. The local waters, which have been known to have health-restoring properties for nearly a millennium, are currently a favourite destination for local and international tourists. Several springs – usually the ones that happen to be located on sites with particularly beautiful panoramic views – are part of local luxury resorts, but there are a few that are freely accessible by the public. Funnily enough, the spring waters are slightly cooler in summer than in winter. During the hot season rainwater infiltrates the rocks that surround the springs, lowering the average temperature, whereas in winter the soil hardens up, due to its internal moisture freezing solid, thus acting as an effective insulation system and keeping the thermal baths at their original temperature.
4. Visit Villa Balbianello, a place so romantic you have seen it in the movies
Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini built this Villa in 1787, on what had been previously a Franciscan monastery, which is a somewhat original course of action for a cardinal to take. Little did he know that, after changing hands dozens of times, over two centuries of legacies, conflicts, grandeur and neglect, the Villa would know a new life as a much sought after movie location. Do you remember the intense scene of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala’s secret wedding in George Lucas’ Star Wars II – Attack of the Clones? It was shot here, on the very terrace of this Villa, with its breath-taking view of Lake Como. Reaching Villa Balbianello by boat is one of the most suggestive experiences Lombardy has to offer. This has something to do with the building being located on the very tip of the Lavedo Peninsula, thus presenting a naturally striking and dramatic view of the lake and the surrounding hills. Villa Balbianello is currently a listed Italian National Trust (FAI) site.
Doing business in Lombardy? Find the perfect location for your meetings and events!