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Italian treasures; Fine art, fascinating history and a balsamic vinegar served at Kate and William's wedding - LEANNE RINNE visits the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy.

I'M looking up at the formidable Castello Sforzesco, once home to the Visconti family in the 15th century, and now one of the most famous monuments in Milan.

e city's cobbled streets bustle with life in the shadow of tall terracotta-coloured buildings decorated with pastel shutters, and narrow lanes burst into piazzas full of fashionably-clothed people and the smell of fresh coee.

Here, I realise, it's very easy to switch between living in the moment and delving into the past.

Along with Mantua, Modena and Parma, Milan features on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List, and these four major cities in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna make an ideal multi-centre break for anyone wanting to unearth the riches of Italy's Renaissance past.

Tickets for sites such as Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Leonardo da Vinci's e Last Supper is on display, need to be booked weeks in advance, but there are still plenty of treasures for those who haven't planned ahead.

e Castello Sforzesco, for instance, is full of tapestries, tombs and stunning stained glass windows. It's also home to Michelangelo's last sculpture, e Rondanini Pieta.

e Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), meanwhile, is the best place to learn about the city's religious past.

It is the 'fth largest cathedral in the world and took nearly six centuries to complete. e spiky gothic pinnacles form a 'erce exterior, but inside the Duomo, little candles light up the aisles and make everything look soft and peaceful.

Milan is as fascinating by day as it is by night, with a number of great restaurants to sample. e local speciality is ravioli stued with veal and porcini mushrooms, but if you prefer a veggie option, head to the Osteria di Porta Cicca restaurant for mouth-watering basil dumplings with caponata sauce.

A two-hour drive from Milan, on the southern tip of Lombardy, is Mantua, nicknamed 'sleeping beauty' because the city hasn't changed much since the Middle Ages. It's also where Romeo lives in exile in Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet.

If you're looking for tales of love and tragedy then Palazzo Te in the heart of the city should be your 'rst stop. e palace was built by Frederick II Gonzaga, for his lifelong mistress Isabella Boschetti, and rooms are full of architectural embellishments and 'ne paintings depicting Greek mythology.

Other sights worth seeing include the exceptionally small bed in the 14th century Palazzo Ducale, supposedly used by Napoleon when he stayed here, and the Basilica di Sant'Andrea, believed to house sacred vessels containing the blood of Christ.

Tired of exploring by foot, I take a boat trip on the family-run Barcaioli del Mincio along the river Mincio (an outlet of Lake Garda).

As we glide past bright pink lotus owers, waiters serve a selection of homemade tapas-style dishes such as local hams, cheeses and grape jelly.

But there are more culinary delights in store when I venture into the region of Emilia-Romagna, known as the 'food valley'.

Modena is famous for its traditional balsamic vinegar, which Simone Caselli and his family have been making in San Vito di Spilamberto for hundreds of years. Simone leads me up to an old attic where the 'maturing' and 'bottling' takes place.

e vinegar is left to mature in wooden barrels for up to 25 years to produce the perfect taste and texture.

e line of barrels was once part of a dowry and today, they are still passed on from generation to generation. e product is so rare and exquisite (only 2,000 bottles are made each year) that it featured at Kate and William's wedding reception. One bottle can cost up to PS400 in Harrods, but, for just 20 euros, you can 'nish o Simone's tour with a home-made lunch and taste the vinegar for yourself.

After lunch, I stroll into the centre of Modena where there are three UNESCO sites: the Piazza Grande, the Cathedral and the Ghirlandina Tower.

Wandering from site to site, I notice shallow circles carved into stone walls, once used to measure the size of cheese at market.

Today, Modena holds markets from Monday to Saturday, but if you want to buy traditional Italian cheese and other edible items to take home, save some spending money for Parma.

e city is known for its gastronomy, and its famous dry-cured, uncooked ham is well worth sampling.

e architecture here is equally impressive, most notably the Teatro Farnese. e magni'cent wooden theatre was built in 1618, but has only been used eight times in its history.

Considering the wooden building was once lit only by candles, it's a miracle it's still standing. But like NEED TO KNOW | Leanne Rinne was a guest of |the Emilia-Romanga (emiliaromagnaturismo.it/en) and Lombardy (turismo.regione. lombardia.it/en/) tourist boards.

British Airways flies from |Heathrow direct to Milan Linate from PS65 one-way. BA also flies PSdirect to Bologna airport from PS72 one-way.

| A double room at Hotel Milano |Navigli (hotelmilanonavigli.it) starts from 140 euros, B&| A double room at Hotel Rechigi (rechigi.com) in Mantua starts from 120 euros, B&B. A double room at Starhotel Du Parc Parma (starhotels.com) starts from 140 euros, B&B. For further information on |Italy's UNESCO world heritage sites, visit quadrilaterounesco. it/en so many of the great treasures in northern Italy, it has survived the test of time.

From architecture, to vinegar and even great cheese, things in this part of the world age remarkably well.

|Palazzo Ducale

Milan, the capital of Lombardy, has a population of 1.3 million people. It is the biggest industrial city of Italy and its origins date back to 400BC

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The stunning |city of Mantua

The beautiful buildings at Grazzano Visconti in Emilia-Romagna |
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 6, 2015
Words:954
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