1. There are no tourist crowds.
You won’t have to fight your way through clusters of loud groups consulting maps to see places like the elegantly built Chiesa di San Barnaba. In fact, you can just wander into most of Mantua’s sights (with the exception of Palazzo di Te and Palazzo Ducale) without even paying a fee. Plus there’s no tacky souvenir shops in sight and the only language you hear on the streets is Italian.
2. Mantua is a bike-friendly haven.
Mantua’s historic center is easily walkable, but getting around any part of the city is easy on bike. Many street corners have bike stands set up, and there are biking paths all throughout and around the city. One especially beautiful bike path takes you all the way up to Lago di Garda through 40 km of countryside and some truly beautiful villages like Borghetto and Peschiera del Garda. In Milan, choosing to bike around is an excellent test of your brakes and reflexes, rather than a leisurely activity.
Mantua has a bikesharing program you can use to get a bike, and many hotels such as Agriturismo Beatilla rent bikes.
3. It couldn’t get more laid back.
In the afternoon, the charming little squares of Mantua fill up with locals sitting down for an afternoon spritz, the preferred cocktail of Lombardy, or snacking and catching up with their friends. Families, couples and friends saunter through Piazza del Erbe, and enjoy local pasta dishes in the square’s many restaurants. There are no people trying their hardest to look important and rich while speed-walking through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, as is the case in Milan.
People in Mantua take their time with everything, from eating to drinking to chatting. This atmosphere of leisure and relaxation rubs off on visitors – and isn’t that what getaways should be all about?
4. The people of Mantua will make you feel like family.
If you stay in Mantua, chances are you will stay in one of the family-owned or agritourism hotels on the outskirts of the city. I recently spent 6 days at Agriturismo Beatilla Mantova, and by the time I left I felt like I was part of owner Luca’s family. Evenings were spent eating and talking with Luca, his sister, his lively, opinionated father, and a revolving door of friends who would come in and out of the farm.
Milan’s size and general attitude make it a much more impersonal city, and as an independent traveler it is much harder to meet people in a city like that. In Mantua, you will make friends right away.
5. You get the best of both city and country.
Mantua truly has beautiful countryside surrounding it, and the paths make it easy for travelers to explore nature at their own pace. Also, Mantua’s architecture and buildings blend beautifully into the surrounding farms, lakes and fields. In Milan, there is so much city that it may feel overwhelming for some, and any type of natural beauty is very far out from the city center.
Walk around the outskirts of Mantua to admire the surrounding lakes – Lago di Mezzo, Lago Superiore, Lago Inferiore – which give the city the appearance of an island from the right angle. Bike up to Lago di Garda and enjoy stunning views of the farms and Italian countryside along the way.
6. Safety’s definitely not an issue.
Milan may not be a very dangerous city, but because it is a large city with a large tourist influx, it’s not surprising that pickpockets and thieves have sprung up almost everywhere. Mantua’s smaller size and community feel, where everyone knows each other by sight or by name at least, means that the crime rate verges on non-existent.
7. Your stomach (and wallet) will thank you.
Obviously, Milan has some incredible food and several Michelin-star restaurants to its name, but Mantua has delicious regional dishes that won’t necessarily break the bank, and most are based on ultra-fresh, locally grown food.