Strung across the broad plain of the River Po in southern Lombardy, a belt of well-preserved ancient towns offers a handful of spectacular masterpieces of art and architecture against the backdrop of comfortable provincial life.

Just outside the ancient town of Pavia, the fabulous Certosa monastery complex makes an attractive introduction to this part of Lombardy. To the east, Cremona, birthplace of the violin, has a neat, well-preserved centre that’s worth popping in to visit. Mantua, on the eastern edge of the region, is Lombardy’s most visually appealing city: the powerful Gonzaga family ruled for three hundred years from an extravagant ducal palace and later the Palazzo Te, on the outskirts of the city, which contains some of the finest (and most steamily erotic) fresco-painting of the entire Renaissance.

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