Explore the streets of Milan, the shores of Lake Como, and more with our virtual travel guide to Italy’s Lombardy region. Below, find comfort food recipes to try; virtual experiences, books, movies, and shows to enjoy; fashion and art icons to know; and language and etiquette to study that will transport you to Italy in spirit.
Welcome to Lombardy: The Northwestern Italian region with more high-end fashion, cultural heritage, and mouth-watering meals than seems possible for a single corner of the world.
While Rome often takes center stage as Italy’s forerunner in art and history, Milan makes a fierce competitor, admired internationally as home to major fashion houses and citizens whose street style exudes unmatched power and bold individuality. In the summer, vacationers flock to Lake Como, sought after for its sparkling water and cliffside villas; in the winter, the beauty of the Alps draws travelers to mountain top ski resorts. Joined by towns like Bergamo, Mantova, and Cremona—all centers of art, music, and history in their own right—Lombardy offers such a wide array of cultural goods that any and all pre-trip enrichment will serve you well.
One of the areas most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Lombardy’s illustrious past and present calls for celebration as we look optimistically toward its future. Below, discover ways to embrace Lombardy’s best from home, with books, movies, shows, and online experiences that will place you lakeside at Como or in the streets of Milan; fashion, art, and cultural figures to know; phrases and etiquette to master; and Italian comfort dish recipes sure to nourish the mind, body, and spirit.
Lombardy’s cuisine stands out from that of the rest of Italy. Many bites, whether cheese or desserts, strike just the right note between sweet and savory and create a blend of flavors sure to delight newcomers. And whereas recipes from other parts of the country tend to be more Mediterranean, relying heavily on ingredients like olive oil and tomatoes, Lombard dishes often lean on rice, meat, and butter, making their meals quite a bit heartier.
Risotto alla Milanese
While the world primarily associates Itay with pasta, allow us a brief foray into the world of Italian rice dishes, especially popular in Lombardy. Perhaps most famous from the region is risotto alla Milanese, a creamy saffron risotto. While for many, risotto may seem like an intimidating recipe—the right consistency and texture can be difficult to nail—a good recipe will have you on your way to comfort food heaven in no time.
Polenta is a relatively straightforward dish of finely-ground cornmeal with consistency like that of a thick porridge that can either be eaten hot or left to cool into a loaf. As simple as it seems, it’s regarded as one of the most beloved dishes in the region and is used as a grain base for many dishes. Try this homemade recipe for a quick taste test.
Veal shanks broiled in broth with vegetables and white wine, many Osso Bucco recipes, though simple to make, take at least two hours to prepare—but this slow-cooked traditional dish is well worth the wait.
Tortelli di Zucca
Pumpkin ravioli: Please, sign us up. First recorded in the 14th century, the nobility and the peasantry both loved this nourishing stuffed pasta filled with pumpkin, parmesan, and amaretto—and it remains popular all these years later. One taste of this at-home recipe and you’ll understand why.
Forget what you’ve heard: panettone, a holiday treat originally from Milan, will change the way you see fruitcake forever once you give it a whirl. You know them; you love them; now make these sweet, crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside amaretti, Italian almond flour cookies, yourself. And even if your Italian skills are slim-to-none, it’s relatively easy to determine the two basic ingredients out of mostarda di frutta from the name. Candied fruits with a healthy dusting of mustard powder make for a delicious balance of sweet and savory unique to the Lombard palate.
A Quick Guide to Lombard Cheeses
If you’re interested in taking your cheese knowledge to the next level, you’ve come to the right place. With the products of Lombardy, cheese lovers can experiment with wheels lesser-known and more controversial than your basic mozzarella.
Gorgonzola: A king among kings in the realm of pungent cheeses, this blue cheese can come crumbly or soft, but always has a certain bite to it.
Mascarpone: This soft, creamy cheese is most commonly used to make tiramisu and cheesecake.
Taleggio: With a thin outer shell and a soft interior, this semi-soft cheese has an intense smell but a relatively mild, but almost sweet, flavor.
Granone Lodigiano: Considered the “father of all grana cheese”—hard cheeses with grainy textures like Parmigiano-Reggiano—foodies seek out this savory cheese for its melt-in-your-mouth quality.
See Prehistoric Sites
The Lombardy region is home to the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in all of Italy, including three sites that date back to a land before time: the fossils of Monte San Giorgio, the pile dwellings near the Alps, and the rock engravings of Valle Camonica. You can learn more about all of these online via the Siti Archeologici d’Italia and UNESCO’s website.
Journey through the Fashion Archives
If you’re interested in visiting Lombardy—and particularly, the region’s capital in Milan—it’s essential to understand that fashion is everything. Brush up on your knowledge of the Italian industry with us below, and then head to the archives of places like Vogue Runway or even Youtube. Enjoy early and influential shows from the likes of Prada and Versace, and then shed any inhibitions about trying new, elegant, and daring looks in your everyday life.
Brush Up on Your Italiano
Why not take a little time to work on your Italian? With its lilting syllables and vowels often mispronounced, native speakers will commend your efforts if you can nail your pronunciation of even the simplest words. Youtube is, as is the case with most languages, a great place to start: try Italian 101 Pod for the basics and enhance your skills with conversational exercises with Italy Made Easy.
Take Virtual Cooking Classes with an Italian Nonna
Even if you can’t go to Italy, you can bring Italy to you! At Nonna Live, 84-year-old Italian grandmother Nonna Nerina and her granddaughter Chiara teach viewers around the globe how to make homemade pasta from the comfort of their homes. Simply log on, register for a date and time of your choosing, and wait for the confirmation email with an attached list of ingredients. Before you know it, you’ll be cooking up a storm and tasting one of the delicious recipes passed down through Nonna’s family for over a century.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Based on a book of the same name by André Aciman, this Academy Award-winning drama became a near-instant cultural phenomenon upon its 2017 premiere. It stars Timothée Chalamet as 17-year-old Elio Perlman, who meets doctoral student Oliver (portrayed by Armie Hammer) during a family holiday in Lombardy in 1983. Over the course of a summer, the two develop a powerful romance, painting a monumental portrait of first love and the trials of the heart. Rent it on Prime or Youtube for a good, mushy cry.
I Am Love (2009)
Set in Milan, I Am Love comes from Luca Guadagnino, the same director behind Call Me By Your Name. The story follows Emma (portrayed by Tilda Swinton), a Russian woman recently married to Tancredi, a man who discovers that he and his son are set to take over the family business. The impending inheritance threatens to fracture the family’s bonds—but after Emma sleeps with the chef at a party, the very foundation of the Recchi clan threatens to break. Rent it on Youtube or Prime.
A Month By the Lake (1995)
A classic rom-com, A Month By the Lake centers around the love triangle between a British woman, the bachelor she lusts after, and a gorgeous American nanny (played by Uma Thurman!) at a lakeside resort during the summer of 1937. Think the antics of Bridget Jones, but on the sun-drenched shores of Lake Como rather than the cloudy streets of London (and certainly a bit more elegant). Check it out on Youtube or Prime.
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)
After their patriarch passes away, the remaining members of a poor family from Southern Italy decide to travel north to Milan, where the family’s eldest sibling already lives. This black-and-white classic follows each of the siblings as they attempt to adapt to urban life, as well as the trials and tribulations in love, wealth, and war they face along the way. Join them on their journey via Youtube or Prime.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (2018)
Although this Emmy Award-winning limited series from FX hops around the globe—beginning with Gianni Versace’s death at the hands of Andrew Cunanan outside his Miami Beach home in July 1997—it ends with the late designer’s burial near his family’s vault near Lake Como. In the moments between, it details the story of the Versace empire: their rise to fame, their infamous family drama, and the spree killer responsible for Gianni’s untimely end. Watch on Netflix, Prime, or FX.
Often compared to hits like House of Cards and The Sopranos, this political drama follows six strangers as their lives are suddenly altered by the mani pulite, an investigation of nationwide political corruption in Italy that resulted in the transformation of the country over the course of just a few years. Catch it on Prime.
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni (1827)
Penned by one of the most celebrated authors from the region, The Betrothed is considered the most famous novel of all time written in the Italian language. Taking place in 1628 during the Spanish rule, the story opens with Renzo and Lucia, an Italian couple living near Lake Como. As it traces their struggle to be wed, the book grapples with themes of politics, love, religion, tragedy, and the human condition. You read it online for free via Project Gutenberg.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929)
One of the most acclaimed tales of the 20th century, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms tells the story of American lieutenant Frederic Henry as he navigates a newfound romance with English nurse Catherine Barkley during World War I. Much of the novel takes place in Milan, where the two lovebirds initially meet and forge the romance that spans the length of the tragic tale.
The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov (1930)
This romantic drama follows the blossoming romance between troubled chess player Aleksandr Ivanovich ‘Sascha’ Luzhin, who visits Lombardy to compete in an international tournament, and his newfound love, Natalia. As his mental state slowly deteriorates as a result of the game and he begins losing his grip on reality, the lives of both the prodigy and those who care for him take a turn for the worse.
Gardens of Delight by Erica James (2006)
A more relaxed read than others on this list, this charming novel takes place on Lake Como, where a band of characters—Lucy and her estranged father; Helen and her wealthy husband; and widower Conrad and his grumpy uncle, Mac—meet as members of a Garden Club. Here, they pass their days tending to Italian flora—as well as to matters of the heart.
Leonardo da Vinci
One of the most famous artists from the region—and arguably one of the most famous figures of all time—Leonardo da Vinci was born in Anchiano in 1452 but spent his formative years training in Milan. Over the course of his lifetime, he produced several works of art that rendered his name eternal, including The Vitruvian Man, an anatomical sketch charting the proportions of the human body; The Last Supper, currently located at the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan; and the world’s most recognizable face, the Mona Lisa. Immerse yourself in the world of history’s most prominent polymath in The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci, a limited series available for free on Prime.
Although much of his career was spent in Rome, Michelangelo Merisi—commonly known as Caravaggio—was born and apprenticed in Lombardy. Acclaimed for his tenebrism, a style of painting that relies heavily on intense shadow for dramatic effect, as well as for his controversial depictions of death and violence, his darkly ironic end reminds us how often life imitates art: In Caravaggio’s final years, he killed a man and fled Rome, passing away not long after the incident. You can learn the full story of his life’s work and his tormented nature through the documentary Caravaggio: The Soul and the Blood, available on Youtube.
The Art of Milan Online
Milan’s streets are lined with creative hotspots; even the architecturally-stunning Duomo di Milano, standing at 215 feet tall, acts as a beacon of artistic inspiration that watches over the city. You can get a good glimpse into the world of Milanese art from home, too: Explore 15th century-era Sforzesco Castle via a Google Arts and Culture virtual reality tour; get up close and personal with over 650 works of Italian art on the Pinacoteca di Brera museum’s website; and bring the duomo to you by taking a tour of the Gothic cathedral online.
Although Italy’s most famous fashion figures come from all across the country, all roads eventually lead to Milan, where the industry elite congregate to share ideas, turn dreams into reality, and set the standard for the rest of the world. Check out our slideshow below to learn more about some of Lombardy’s most important fashion icons.
Born in a small town of Voghera in Lombardy, Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani founded his eponymous fashion house in 1960. Known for its haute couture, bright red dresses, and penchant for luxury and romance, Valentino has since been helmed by acclaimed designers Maria Grazia Chiuri (who went on to become Dior’s creative director) and current creative director Pier Paolo Piccioli. Photo by Regan Vercruysse.
The Versace family comes from humble beginnings. Originally from Italy’s rural south, Gianni Versace’s talent for design (combined with Santo’s talent for business and Donatella’s dramatic style). The siblings eventually relocated to Milan, where the brand would open its boutique in 1978. The family’s constant drama (including Gianni’s rivalry with Giorgio Armani) has made them just as controversial as their early lines: Versace shocked the world with daring and provocative fashions. Versace also purportedly launched the supermodel craze of the 90s, with Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista appearing constantly by his side. Photo by Carlo Raso.
Giorgio Armani, too, did not originally pursue fashion. He attended school for medicine in Milan, serving in the armed forces for a time before returning to the city in 1957. There, he found a job in a department store and worked his way up in the industry, eventually working as a designer under Nino Cerutti and freelancing until at last establishing his own label in 1975. Armani is well known not only for his haute couture but also as an industry innovator. Many credit him with pioneering red carpet fashion; he was the first to implement BMI guidelines to promote the health and safety of models; and he became the first designer to stream a runway online in 2007. Photo by Alexis.
One of the most important names in fashion, Miuccia Prada is the current lead designer at the eponymous house. Born, raised, and educated in Milan, Prada did not start in fashion: She originally attended college for political science, performed as a mime for five years, and before joining the business that her grandfather established in 1913. In 1978, she inherited the lead role from her mother and has been running the show alongside her husband ever since. In 1992, she used her nickname to launch a separate line, Miu Miu, which has seen similar success in the global luxury market. Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg.
Unlike many luxury retailers, Missoni’s headquarters are in Varese rather in Milan. The brand was founded in Gallarate, Lombardy in 1953 by husband and wife team Ottavio and Rosita Missoni, and was originally known for its knitwear. After moving the brand to Milan in 1958, the two became pioneers of the ready-to-wear movement in Italy, which launched the country to international acclaim in the industry. Since, their granddaughter Margherita Maccapani Missoni has followed in her grandparents’ footsteps as heir to the house (and agrees that Milan is the place to be). Photo by Giuseppe Pino, courtesy of MissoniS.p.A..
Ah, yes: the hero of both the romance novella and hair care communities. Fabio Lanzoni, known by the mononym Fabio, was born in Milan in 1959. Although he first garnered attention as a model, he became a well-known (and well-liked) face during the 80s and 90s when he appeared on the covers of dozens of paperback romance novels. (Furthermore: Remember when a goose flew into his face on a rollercoaster? We still think about that sometimes.) Photo by Toglenn.
What To Know Before You Go to Lombardy
An informal way to say both hello and goodbye. For a more formal goodbye, use arrivederci (aree-ved-erchee).
Buongiorno and buonasera
Use buongiorno (bwon jaw-no) to politely say “good morning/good afternoon.” Use buonasera (bwone-a say-ra) for “good evening.”
Per favore vs. prego
Use per favore (per fa-vo-ray) to politely request something. Use prego (pray-go) to offer something to somebody or allow someone to do something (for example, “Prego, si accomodi” for “Please, have a seat.”) Prego is also used to say “you’re welcome.”
Used to say thanks. Use grazie mille (pronounced graz-eemee-lay) to say “thank you very much,” instead.
Scusa vs. scusi vs. mi dispiace
There are a lot of ways to apologize in Italian! Scusa (scoo-sa) is a quick informal way to say “pardon me” or “sorry,” as in when you accidentally bump into someone. Scusi (scoo-see) is slightly more formal, used when requesting help in a nice restaurant, for example. Use mi dispiace (mee dee-spee-a-chay) when making an apology for something.
No matter where you are in Lombardy, you’ll find that the view is “molto bello”—very beautiful.
If you haven’t caught on yet, looks do matter in this region! Whether you’re taking a stroll through Milan or visiting one of the region’s historic churches, be sure to dress appropriately.
Take your time
In Italy, a meal is savored, never rushed through. You’ll notice that guests will lounge at length in restaurants and that waiters won’t hover by your table waiting for you to go. When you’re ready for the check, Il conto, per favore? will get you on your way.
While strangers keep it casual with handshakes and hellos, good friends in Italy greet and say goodbye to one another with a kiss next to each cheek. In Lombardy, kiss the right cheek first, and then the left.