Little-known Lioness

Medieval sites, Alpine views and mouth-watering cuisine; Kate Rothwell tells you why to book a flight to Brescia.

Brescia is a city with a modest reputation, but an endearing appeal for those who discover it. Don’t be fooled by its industrial suburbs, the ‘Lioness of Italy’, so named after a nineteenth-century attempted uprising against Austria, has plenty of beauty to be admired. One top attraction is a sprawling and impressively well-preserved medieval castle, which boasts a panoramic view of the city from its hilltop positioning, as well as a selection of park-style spots and benches that are perfect locations for passing a few lazy hours.The city centre contains numerous historic sights, including the remains of a Roman forum, ‘Piazza del Foro’, and two spectacular cathedrals. The ‘Duomo Vecchio’ (Old Cathedral) is a Romanesque church, known for its unusual circular shape as ‘La Rotonda’. The ancient crypt pre-dates the present cathedral and its almost eerie underground structure is another example of superb preservation.Sightseers are well-catered for when it comes to sustenance. Grab a student-friendly lunch at Charlie One, a pizzeria that offers a combination of various pizza slices, before following this with a scoop of ice cream or three from Gelateria Bedussi for sure-fire food satisfaction.Home to both a university and an academy of fine arts, the city boasts a youthful spirit. When it comes to night-time entertainment, you won’t have to go far to find a cosy bar serving an evening ‘aperitivo’. Make sure to try fruity Brescian favourite ‘Pirlo’, a cocktail of white wine, Campari or Aperol and sparkling water. Quirky bar ‘La Fabbrica del Cacao’ (‘The Cocoa Factory’) is a good place for a relaxed beer, while more glamorous outdoor clubs open during the summer months. The nightlife can be pricey, so make sure to get some local advice before shelling out a twelve or even twenty euro entry fee.The city’s highlights are numerous, but there are many natural wonders to be found beyond its urban outskirts. Lake Garda lies just thirty-five kilometres from the city centre, and while it may be a favoured tourist destination there are plenty of quiet spots to be found on what is Italy’s largest lake. Don’t be put off by the seemingly endless hotels and restaurants in some areas; it’s worth travelling a little further to find a serene lakeside path and peace of mind.Even more stunning is the nearby Alpine mountain range and UNESCO site, the Dolomites, which are found in the neighbouring region of Trentino. Skiing enthusiasts will appreciate the vast slope on the Grostè mountain, while walkers can admire the waterfall ‘Cascate Nardis’ and countless other breathtaking views, as well as enjoy local cuisine in mountain-side restaurants. Instead of always opting for pizza or pasta, make sure to also try out tasty regional delicacies such as ‘polenta’.If you are curious to see what other places of interest Italy has to offer, then Brescia’s proximity to many of the country’s well-known metropoles will prove a distinct advantage. Spendthrifts will be delighted to discover that the glamorous shopping capital of Milan is just an hour and half’s drive away, while romantics can make their way to Verona, the spiritual home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in just an hour. Once you get past the tacky tourism surrounding the renowned balcony that the playwright allegedly never saw, the city makes for a charming destination. A similar attitude must be applied to the vast cultural hub that is Venice, but there all it takes to escape the crowds is an impromptu diversion down one of the countless winding streets and alleys, the exploration of which will lead you to happen upon some of the city’s most appealing and secluded sights. Just make sure you can find your way back to what may be an equally elusive hostel.Don’t let the tourist haunts take up all of your time however; the quaint nearby cities of Bergamo and Mantua are also more than worthy of a daytrip. Once you’ve based yourself in Brescia, prepare to be spoilt for choice.