Lombardy is a great expanse of flat land, sliced in two by the Po River, pushed up into high valleys in the north and rumpled into gentle hills in the south. In its very middle sits Milan, living true to the origins of its name, which is said to mean "(in the) middle (of the) plain".
Around old, castellated Milan with its fairy tower cathedral, crouch a ring of equally old but more picturesque towns like Como, Lecco, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona and Pavia. All of these were Celtic then Roman towns, abandoned and then rebuilt by invading Lombards, who then gave their name to the whole region.
Sitting off in a ragged corner is Mantova, with its famous palaces and which really isn't very Lombard at all; it just fell into the modern regions that were redrawn after Italy's unification some 130 years ago.
While Milan was the great medieval trade fair, held twice a year that brought merchants from all over Europe to trade their wares, the other towns both provided special products and thrived from their proximity to this great emporium.
A tradition that continues to this very day too: Armani comes from Piacenza; Trussardi comes from Bergamo; Zegna comes from Novara, just over the border in Piemonte; Missori and Prada are pure Milan. And the list goes on, through many industries, not just fashion.
The wealth these families and companies earn may now come from outside Italy, and nowadays often be kept outside Italy too, but their rich footprint is everywhere. The result can be seen in the neatly kept towns and villages that dot the whole region, each set in characteristic Lombard countryside.
In fact, Lombardy in part and in whole is infinitely more pleasurable to stay in than time pressed and stressed Milan. So, when you travel to and through Milan, don't forget to look around some more. Some truly lovely places await you.
Article and Photographs | Copyright © Carl Ottersen