“Hence from Verona art thou banished:
Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.” -Friar Laurence, Romeo and Juliet.
When one thinks of Shakespeare in Italy, they usually think of Verona, and rightfully so. But few know that just a half hour south of the city known for its great love tragedy lies Mantua, a small gem of a town where Romeo was banished to. For some great photography without walking miles, ask about a special photo tour.
At only 48,000 inhabitants, Mantua is physically small, but it is huge on many other levels. So much that it has earned the title of Italian Capital of Culture for 2016. This year there are myriad events to celebrate and promote this city, but what earned it the aforementioned title is its richness in art history, cultural events, beauty and activities.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008; Mantua boasts important artworks and architecture from the Renaissance period. The Basilica of Sant'Andrea is surprisingly stunning inside notwithstanding its humble facade. You're not allowed to set a tripod down inside, but the huge windowed cupola lets in a good amount of light. Take the small alley to the left of the front entrance and go into Piazza Leon Battista Alberti, one of the most unique plazas you will see.
Palazzo Ducale and San Giorgio Castle are well worth a visit. This is where you can find the famous Camera degli Sposi by Andrea Mantegna. Even if you don't visit it inside, there are some courtyards and back alleys you can roam around that offer great quiet moments for leisurely picture taking.
Geographically speaking, Mantua is a great place to be. It's situated on three lakes, so there's plenty of beautiful paths and picnic areas to enjoy. Being surrounded by lakes means Mantua has a great skyline. If you come in from the San Giorgio bridge, you're in for a picture perfect view. The best time to photograph that side of the city is in the early morning from Campo Canoe, on the other side of the lake but still walkable. On spring and summer sundays you can spot newlyweds having their photos taken on the pier with the lake and Sant'Andrea's cupola behind them.
There's a 30 km bike path that goes from the center all the way up to Peschiera on Lake Garda. Rent a bike, buy some good take-away food from Casa del Pane in Via Verdi and be on your way, then you can take the train or bus back. It's a great path that unwinds mostly in the protected Mincio river park area, so don't forget your camera and a telephoto lens for catching pics of the fauna you will find.
If you're traveling to Mantua during July or August, consider bringing a wide angle lens and some protective gear for your camera so that you can take a kayak from Le Grazie, a town outside Mantova. You can kayak into the waters of the Mincio river at sunset to catch some beautiful images of the enormous lotus flowers.
After some physical activity and sightseeing, in Italy it is always time for aperitivo in the evening. It's kind of like happy hour, but it's lived a much more relaxed way and there's food and specific drinks that many choose to have.
In Mantova there are three different bars that have secret recipe aperitivo drinks. One is Bar Lasagna, in piazza Broletto. Here you can sit in the plaza with a great view of Sant'Andrea's cupola. Order the Pugile (Italian for boxer, in honor of the owner's father who was a boxer). It seems to never be quite the same all the time. There's definitely Campari in it, maybe some gin, but if you ask the owner he will just walk away.
Just a minute walk from Bar Lasagna is Bar Caravatti where you can sit under the porticos on piazza Erbe and people watch. The secret drink here is the Caravatti Rosso. It's similar to a Spritz but sweeter. At the right sunset hour you can easily take a picture of the clock tower and Rotonda di San Lorenzo without even getting out of your seat (you're on vacation, right?).
To let the first two aperitivos settle a bit, take a walk through the center and don't forget to turn around as you get to piazza Marconi, behind you will be a good view of Sant'Andrea. Continue along via Cesare Battisti then Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Far down on the right you will find the tiny Baby Bar. The owner is Gino, an old man always dressed in a suit and usually sitting on a stool in a corner behind the bar. Who actually works is a nice woman who is the bartender but also the person who says “never mind him, it's nothing personal” to customers who get yelled at by Gino for taking a picture or some other thing (yes, I got yelled at for taking a picture, so it's a good thing the first one was good). Most people walk in and just say “Good evening, two please”, because there's no need to say two of what, the bartender knows it's a “rosso”. After the first round, you can just hold up some fingers to indicate how many you want, and after the third round you are suddenly very drunk. Some say there's Aurum in it, others say Triple Sec, and there's certainly prosecco, but whatever the mix is it's sure to delight.
If it's sunset time walk to the Lago Superiore (the one on the west side of Mantua), near the bar La Zanzara, where you can take in the sun dipping right into the lake.
So whether you like photographing architecture, nature or just enjoy strolling and taking shots of whatever catches your eye, Mantua is a great spot. You can visit it in a day or two, and if you visit it with me I'll let you know about all the great places to eat and make sure you get to all the little hidden spots. Before or after or during aperitivo.
Author : Anna Volpi
Anna is the photography expert that heads up the Aperture Tours in Venice and Verona. When she's not taking pictures she is usually enjoying dinners or having aperitivo with friends. Anna loves discovering new areas in Italy or going back to places with a crew of models and photographer friends to make magic happen.