The Province of Mantua lies in the southeastern part of the Region of Lombardy, wedged in between Veneto and Emilia Romagna.
It is dotted with small towns from the Renaissance period, jewels set within the landscape of the Po Valley; a visit here treats both eyes and palate to its best.
Here, the natural environments are varied, from the Morainic Hills in the north to the vast flatlands in the south, where rivers including the Mincio (that traverses Mantua), the Oglio and the Po run. The Mincio provides Mantua the with its unmistakable layout, as do the three lakes that surround the city and leave it resembling a small, inland Venice.
The Province is traditionally subdivided into three different zones, characterized by a few cultural and linguistic differences: the Alto Mantovano, in the north, with Asola and Goito to the south; the Basso Mantovano, corresponding to the area south of the Po River; and the Medio Mantovano, in the Province's center.
In Mantua Province, palaces, stately villas, parks and towns are built in accordance with the architectural ideals of the Renaissance. A number of interesting tours of the provincial capital guide visitors through this treasure trove that lies at the center of a plain surrounded by lakes.
Mantua and Sabbioneta compose an UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2008); it is one of the most fascinating cities in northern Italy for its artistic and historical heritage.
The city was long dominated by the Gonzaga dynasty, that eventually transformed it into a court of great splendor, still reflected today in its historic center.
The Ducal Palace is palace so grand and complete that it could be a city - with over 500 rooms, courtyards and gardens. Then, Palazzo del Capitano stands on Piazza Sordello, forming the center of the city with nearby Piazza delle Erbe, accessible via a series of arcades.
Further along is the Palazzo della Ragione and the adjacent Palazzo del Podestà, the oldest public Medieval building, standing alongside the Clock Tower. The renowned Cathedral embodies various architectural styles with its Romanesque bell tower and neoclassical facade, while the Basilica of Sant'Andrea, designed by Leon Battista Alberti, hosts the tomb of Andrea Mantenga. In the eastern part of the city, the Palazzo Te makes for a worthy visit: a sprawling, and luxurious villa boasting monumental art and interiors, it is considered the most celebrated work of architect Giulio Romano.
No visit to Mantua would be complete without a tour of the town of Sabbioneta, a testament to the ideals of Vespasiano Gonzaga, who wished to define his cultural legacy by leaving behind the “perfect” city. Surrounded by Medieval walls, Sabbioneta’s points of greatest interest include the city’s great gates, the Imperiale and della Vittoria; the Antiques Gallery in Piazza Armi; the Teatro Olimpico, designed by Vincezzo Scamozzi and decorated with frescoes by Paolo Veronese; the Church of Santa Maria Assunta; the Ducal Palace and the Palace Gardens.
A tour of the most beautiful churches in the Province should include the Gothic Cathedral of Asola, as well as those in Castiglione delle Stiviere, Ostiglia (the Roman town where the historian, Vittorio Nepote, was born), Cavriana, Pieve di Coriano, Medole (where lies the tomb of Titian), and San Benedetto del Po, with its Abbey, rebuilt by Giulio Romano. Revere and Castel Goffedo preserve the ruins of the Gonzaga residence, while Marmirolo is famous for its Bosco della Fortuna hunting lodge.
Finally, the toy museum in Canneto sull’Oglio is regarded as a veritable Toyland. The museum, located in a 19th-Century Palazzo, has more than a thousand items on display - including dolls and games - collected from the beginning of the 19th Century to the present.
The Province of Mantua is a succession of characteristic, peaceful valley landscapes between the Mincio and Po Rivers.
The most important of the Province's natural parks is the Mincio, that encompasses the nature reserves of Valli del Mincio, Castellaro Lagusello, Bosco Fontana and Bertone Park, where a cycling exursion to enjoy nature's charm is a choice option that is far from the daily routine.
Greenline Park is situated on the right bank of Mantua's largest lake, while the nature park of Oglio Sud encompasses several nature reserves that include Le Bine, Torbiere di Marcaria and the oxbow Lakes of Runate.
While the plain allows for pleasant bicycle rides, the glacial hills are a bit more difficult; they are accessible via a bike path that also runs through Peschiera. The bike path that extends between Mantua and Garda is extremely beautiful, and quite intriguing from a historical and cultural point of view.
If the culture, fine dining and quaint communities invite visitors to relax and enjoy what is epicurious, the verdant nature, and abundance of lakes and other water bodies invigorate activity and exploration of the rest of Mantua Province. The network of cycle and motocross trails is widespread, as are spots for practicing canoing and kayaking.
The local produce and gastronomy are paramount to the Mantuan Province, and are famous particularly for the fish and agricultural produce, e.g. rice and pumpkin.
The culinary tradition dates back to the time of the House of Este.
Polenta, though not quite as common as in surrounding areas, is still often served as a starter, along with gras pistà, a scented lard. The most common fish are catfish, trout and pike.
The most common meat recipes are stews, boiled meats, roast beef, chicken and game. Omelettes are often made with fried fish or small, freshwater shrimps.
The Mantuan salame is typical, made with pork fat, Cotechino (fresh sausage), vanilla, salame with tongue, and belly ham.
Typical cheeses certified as P.D.O. include Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano and Provolone Valpadana, as well as Ricotta and Stracchino. Sbrisolona is the typical Mantuan dessert famous all over Italy, made from sugar and almonds.
And finally, Mostarda or pickled fruit is also important in this area, and is served with main courses, especially meat.