Somewhat like a garment you buy that needs no shortening or taking in, Pavia ‘fits well’. A university partner in over 300 international exchange programmes makes it a young and dynamic place, while artistic and architectural gems attest to its antiquity. A glorious past, a troubled history and a bond with traditions and rituals that has survived down the ages. Despite its openness to the outside world, despite the fact that most of the faces are wrinkle-free and there is a packed line-up of events, Pavia is still true to itself and retains a fair amount of country spirit that is reflected in the good quality of life and the culture of good living. A perfect mix of atmospheres.
There are plenty of things to do. Stroll along the glittering Corso Cavour and Strada Nuova, go to Piazza della Vittoria and sit at a table in one of the many bars that enliven it. Wander along the cobbled streets that lead from the Duomo towards the Ticino. It is here that you can see the small twelfth-century basilica of San Teodoro with its red-brick façade. Visit the Musei Civici in the Castello Visconteo and the Basilica di San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro. Still bearing witness to the remote past of this town are the towers built by noble families who erected them to show off their prestige rather than for defensive purposes. There used to be more or less a hundred of them; thirty-two remain. They are difficult to find, because many are incorporated into the buildings next to which they were built, while others reduced to ruins. Five of them still stand out. In Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, behind the University headquarters, there is the Maino one, while near the Town Hall there is the Belcreda and the San Dalmazio.
A panoramic photo and a stroll beneath the iconic Ponte Coperto shall not be missed: built in 1351 over a pre-existing Romanesque bridge, remodelled, bombed in 1944 and rebuilt in 1951, in spring or summer, the covered bridge allows for a walk along the Ticino river and a refreshing stop on its left bank. Finally, in the dark, there is the spectacle offered by the Ponte della Libertà: artist Marco Lodola has installed blue, yellow and fuchsia neon lights on it.
But there is more, because 10 km out of town there is one of the most important buildings of the Renaissance: the Certosa.
Suddenly, in the flat and featureless Pavia countryside, the white mass of the Certosa di Pavia stands out. A splendid ‘factory’ of Lombard art, an extraordinary hybrid of late-Gothic and Renaissance styles blending in perfect harmony. Giangaleazzo Visconti of Milan laid the foundation stone of the monastery in 1396. It was to become his family's private chapel and mausoleum. The impetus to erect this architectural majesty came from his second wife, his cousin Caterina Visconti. Caterina had previously suffered from a pregnancy that had not arrived at term and, therefore, in 1390, while again expecting, she vowed to build a Carthusian Monastery in case she were to survive the second birth. The baby was stillborn, but Catherine kept her vow.
The exterior is dazzling with marble and filled with sculptural decorations, while the interior is richly decorated with frescoes and monumental tombs. Here, one can still perceive the silence of the withdrawn life that the monks spent in the cloisters, the refectory, the individual cells where they prayed and studied, or working in the small vegetable garden behind.
Those wishing to indulge in the luxury of slowness and thus extend their trip have the Lomellina at their disposal. Before the plains of Lombardy give way to those of Piedmont, this landscape of land and water, rice paddies and sky opens up. Here, where rice cultivation is a must, there are many treasures to discover, including the ducal salon that is Vigevano, the colours of the art village of Gravellona Lomellina, farmsteads that look like manors and real castles, Mortara and its salami.
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Distance from Serravalle Designer Outlet to Pavia: about 80 km, travel time about 55 min
Distance from Pavia to Certosa: approx. 10 km, travel time approx. 15 min
Musei Civici del Castello Visconteo. Viale XI Febbraio 35, tel. 0382399770, www.museicivici.pavia.it
Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. Piazza San Pietro in Ciel D’Oro, tel. 0382303036, www.agostiniani.it
Basilica of San Teodoro. Piazza S. Teodoro 3, tel. 0382538110
Certosa di Pavia. Località Certosa di Pavia, via del Monumento 4, www.certosadipavia.it - The Certosa’s visiting hours vary greatly according to the demands of monastic life, so it is advisable to check opening times in advance