Lombardy is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, which is already a country that abounds in astounding beauty. The fertile Po Valley and the natural beauty of the lakes, mountains and rolling hills are its main highlights. There are also many stunningly beautiful areas that are not on the itineraries of mainstream tours and are practially untouched by tourists. The Oltrepò Pavese is one such area, and as such it shouldn’t be missed by anyone who is interested in experiencing a real slice of Italian culture!
South of Pavia is a small and delightful corner of Lombardy that pushes further south into the foothills of the Apennine mountain range. This area is known as the Oltrepò Pavese. It is within this delightful and lush region that the main base for two of the Italian Delights’ tours is located.
About a third of the Oltrepò Pavese is made up of plains with cereal crops and another third is represented by hills with vineyards for the production of its prestigious DOC wines (DOC is a Government-regulated labeling system which guarantees the quality of various produce). The Oltrepò Pavese, is a very important wine-producing region. Grapes have been grown here for thousands of years and vinicultural practices have been favoured by both the nature of the chalky-clay soil (geologically defined as “chaotic”), and the zone’s micro-climate, which is similar to that of the Mediterranean. This area also sits on the 45th parallel, which corresponds to the latitudes of the wine growing areas of Central France such as the Bordeaux region. Small villages and farms are scattered above the numerous valleys and the hills are invariably capped by ancient towers and cantini (food and wine cellars) that advertise a variety of produce, including wines and different salame products.
The final third of the Oltrepò Pavese area is located within the Apennine mountain range. Its lush and largely untouched landscape is speckled with medieval hamlets, whilst the natural landscape includes an abundance of oaks, beeches, chestnut trees and extremely rich pastures. The villages are compact, with the narrow streets providing protection against both the sun and wind. Houses and farm buildings are mainly constructed of stone, with the rustic red and brown tones set against wooded hillsides and fields, suggesting something of the foothills of the Pyrenees in south-western France.
Amongst the villages in this area are Rivanazzano and Salice Terme, known for their thermal springs and health spas. The health spas are generally open from March to November, and people from all over the world visit these towns to be treated for a variety of respiratory, arthritic and gynaecological problems. Varzi, another charming medieval town located in this area, is famous for its “Salame di Varzi”, which is often given the plaudits of being the best salame in Italy.
At the southern most point of Lombardy the land rises in places to over 1500 metres above sea level where the peaks of the Apennines provide a magnificent backdrop to the coastal resorts in the bay around Genoa and the plush hills of the region of Emilia Romagna.