Last week I spent several days exploring the Lombardy region of Italy. Located in the northern part of the country, Milan is the city most known from this region, but it’s certainly not the start and end of all that there is to do in this large and diverse part of Italy. In fact, upon closer inspection, there are quite a few familiar cities and places to visit that may not immediately spring to mind, but all of which are certainly worth a trip. I learned a lot last week but aside from the Renaissance history and beautiful castles, I also thought a lot about travel and why it’s almost always a good idea to break away from the pack and explore on your own.
Big Cities are Great But…
I’m a city kind of guy. I love them in almost any size and shape. Many of us are like that actually when we travel, we head to the big cities and usually stay there. Paris, London, New York, Bangkok – all very large cities and all a lot of fun to visit, but most visitors to these metropolises will never venture out beyond their borders. At first it may seem like a silly idea to even contemplate. Large cities have more than enough to see and do to fill several vacations, so filling a few days is an easy matter. To add in smaller towns, no matter their value may not seem like the smart thing to do. Except that it is.
The entirety of human history and all that there is to see and do which is interesting isn’t just found in a big city. I knew that, but I think I forgot it for a long time. I forgot it until I spent the week in Milan, a large city, but it was the day trips I took from Milan that made the difference. These easy train journeys to nearby cities so different and so interesting in their own right once again reminded me of the value of getting out, of exploring and seeing the unexpected.
Service and Access – Great Things in Smaller Towns
Paris will never want for tourists. It’s true, the service in all of the hotels and restaurants could be the very worst in the world and yet still millions of people would visit every year for their photo in front of the Eiffel Tower and their Nutella crepe to eat on the way home. Parisians don’t need to continue to impress, their worth as a city has been proven time and time again. Smaller or lesser known cities and towns don’t have that same luxury though. They can’t count on a base of 25 million tourists a year and instead must continually engage in a process not only of education, but of maintaining a very high quality of service and overall experience.
Most people form opinions on where to travel based on advice from friends and family (and blogs). So if a family member had a bad experience in a medium sized town, they probably wouldn’t recommend it and may even actively discourage friends from visiting. On the contrary though, if an unexpectedly good experience occurred, then suddenly this small town would see a small but determined influx of related visitors. Service is important and smaller tourist destinations know that and so, at least in my opinion, they many times work harder to provide an amazing tourist experience than do larger cities.
As a result, access to tourist sites, from famous buildings, museums and even restaurants is a lot easier. You may wait hours in line to see the Mona Lisa, but in Mantua you can walk right in to see the Ducal Palace. There’s a lot to be said for not having to battle thousands of tourists just to sightsee. Following the smaller numbers of people usually are more reasonable prices for things, especially meals. A meal in Mantua is typically half price of the same meal in larger cities. Over the course of several days, that makes a big difference in terms of budget.
It’s a Big World – Impressed By Lombardy
I’m continuously amazed at just how very big the world is. I’ve seen a lot of it but even that is just a tiny percentage of all there is to experience around the planet. Heck, a single lifetime could be spent exploring just Italy or France and even that wouldn’t be enough. This point was driven home to me yet again as I explored cities like Bergamo, Capo di Ponte, Breno and Mantua. They may not be household names in the U.S., and I hadn’t heard of most of them before my trip, but each offers experiences totally unique for visitors to enjoy.
Overall, I was deeply impressed by the width and breadth of day trips available from Milan and around the massive Lombardy region. It sounds hackneyed, but there honestly is a little something for everyone. For history buffs like myself there are centuries worth of experiences to learn about and for the foodies, some of the most famous foods in the world come from Lombardy and neighboring region Emilia-Romagna.
Over the next few weeks and months I will share many of these experiences, but first I wanted to share these initial thoughts to show I’m not pandering to these cities, they really did make an impression upon me. They all surprised me and what I take away from them is much more than I will ever be able to return in kind.
What smaller towns have impressed you around the world?
This post was brought to you as a result of the #Blogville campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with Lombardy Tourism and Emilia Romagna Tourism. LandLopers retains all editorial control of what is published and as you know, I never shy away from honest commentary.