About 40 kilometers south of Lake Garda and Verona, nestled between Veneto and Emilia Romagna lies the too-often-forgotten majestic town of Mantova. Known as la bella addormentata (the sleeping beauty), the ancient city is an unexplored gastronomic gem spared of the clamor of tour buses.


Mantova has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. It’s existed as an Etruscan village, then a Roman government outpost; it is the birthplace of the poet Virgil; and it’s town where Romeo traveled to buy poison. But it’s the family Gonzaga that put Mantova on the map. 


In 1328, a family of landowners called Gonzaga conquered the city of Mantova. The Gonzagas’ royal residence, the Palazzo Ducale, is perhaps the greatest remnant of their rule. A behemoth of gardens and galleries, Palazzo Ducale is the largest residence in Italy after the Vatican over about 34,000 square meters.