The Certosa (famous ancient monument to prayer begun by Visconti), ancient castles, valleys, mountains, the plain bathed by the Po and Ticino Rivers are some of the most beautiful landscapes in Lombardy and are to be seen in the varied countryside of Pavia, Oltrepo and Lomellina.
The Province of Pavia is predominantly plains land, with Pavia at its center where the Po and Ticino Rivers meet. Actually, Pavia stands on a hill, thus protected from floods and, in ancient times, from its enemies' attacks.
Then, Lomellina is located on the Ticino's right bank, a spot boasting rice cultivation and abundant waters. Finally, the Oltrepò area lies beyond the right River Po's right bank; the River straddles valleys dotted with vineyards and castles, and incorporates the dense forests of the Pavese Apennines, on the border with Emilia Romagna.
The network of waterways criss-crossing the territory is augmented by its canals: the Naviglio Pavese begins in Milan's center, at the Naviglio Grande, and goes as far as Pavia.
Built by Gian Galeazzo Visconti beginning mid-14th century, it bypasses the Certosa, powering a number of ancient windmills still visible today.
Not to be forgotten is Naviglio di Bereguardo (preferred by canoeists), crossing the terrain to the north and leading to Milan.
Pavia has retained many monuments from its glorious Medieval past, when it was regarded as the most important town in northern Italy. Among its splendid churches, the leading architectonic exemplars are its Cathedral, boasting one of the largest domes in Italy; and the Basilica di San Michele, a masterpiece of the Romanesque.
The tour continues with Visconti Castle, a square-plan building with four towers surrounded by a large moat, now home to the Civic Museums that hold relics from the Roman period, as well as sculptures from the Lombard era, and an art gallery. Another famous attraction is the covered bridge, a reproduction of a 13th-Century bridge destroyed during the Second World War; it leads to the Borgo Ticino, location of the Church of Santa Maria in Bethlehem.
Lying between Pavia and Milan is the Convent of Certosini, a monumental marble complex built in the 14th Century by Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The Certosa of Pavia, along with the church, was completed about a century later, and, to this day, is an oasis of calm and harmony graced by precious artworks. Its carved marble entrance gives visitors their first hint of the grandeur that characterizes this place. Inside, in fact, is the Palazzo Ducale, where noble guests were accommodated. The church's façade, overlooking a spacious courtyard, is also in marble.
In the Oltrepò area south of Pavia, we find a varied countryside, and then Voghera, with its ancient town center circled by avenues that replaced the old city walls. Inside this perimeter is the Visconti Castle and the Collegiate Church of San Lorenzo, circumscribed by arcades. Varzi, on the other hand, still maintains its Medieval quarter, with Palazzo Malaspina, the quadrangular tower and the Gothic-Romanesque Capuchin Church constructed in limestone. This quarter is accessible via two ancient Mangini and Clock Towers, added in the 18th Century.
The most important town in the Lomellina zone is Vigevano, embellished by the Piazza Ducale, a fine example of Renaissance architecture; it is based on a three-sided design with arcades and elegantly-painted facades, closed on the fourth side by the Baroque façade of the Cathedral.
Part of the large Ticino River Park lies in the Province of Pavia, with its 25 ecological touristic routes. The valley, flowing with the Ticino and several canals, can be crossed on foot, for those who enjoy pleasant hikes. It can also be covered on horseback or by bicycle, all the better to discover the rich diversity in flora and bird species.
One route that is rich in historical, artistic and religious influences follows the Via Francigena, the ancient Roman road that once connected Rome with the rest of Europe and is now declared a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe. The discerning tourist will appreciate the bike and car itineraries put in place by the Province, as well as the walking tours that are linked to the Via Francigena route.
The Via del Sale ("salt road"), so-called because of the role it played in the transport of salt from the sea, leads from Varzi to Genoa. Along it are beautiful churches and castles, hamlets and landscapes, with wooded areas populated by deer and roebucks. The route can be traveled on foot, horseback, or by bicycle.
Historical events are held throughout Pavese Province. For instance, Varzi hosts an annual, historical re-enactment of a specific episode from its Medieval past.
The town of Vigevano boasts the Palio delle Contrade, a horse race dating from the Middle Ages. Elaborate costumes are faithfully reproduced from paintings and images of the period, and they are the pride and joy of the procession. Thus every year mid-spring, this distant historical epoch is brought to life, with its drums, dances, ancient arts and crafts, perfumes and flavors. Those seeking out absolute relaxation, rather, can visit the spas at Salice Terme, Rivanazzano and Mirandolo. These resorts treat body and mind with a variety of therapeutic waters and new techniques.
The influences of Liguria, Piemont and Lombardy are very much in evidence in the cuisine of Pavese Province, with rice, dairy and meat as the main ingredients. Sausage production is at its best with the P.D.O. Varzi salame, (dates from the 12th Century). Also prized are the coppa, pancetta, and cotechino pork products, along with small game.
Renowned not only for its Medieval towns, such as Santirana, Lomello and Scaldasole, the Lomellina area is also famous for the cultivation of rice. The rice fields that extend over the Ticino River Plain have played an important part in the Region's history. Rice is the king of Pavese gastronomy, and five varieties are cultivated here, varying in grain shape and size. Rice dishes of course are composed of risotto and timballi, as well as ordinary white rice to accompany fish fillets or frog recipes, or as an ingredient for cakes.
Pavese soup is also well-known and is made with broth, eggs and cheese, and served with bread and watercress.
Oltrepò is an area rich in mushrooms and, above all, truffles. White truffles are the most common, clustered along the banks of the River Po.
Another typical product is the tasty duck meat salame, recalling Medieval culinary traditions, and a dessert made using duck fat, bisson.
Finally, many a D.O.C. wine stands out enough to make Pavese proud, among them Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Malvasia and Moscato.