Countries Italy Mantua Cultural Tours

The Splendours of Mantua and the Mantovano

The most romantic city in the world; pregnant with the memory of splendour

Aldous Huxley in 1929
Clare Ford-Wille
Clare is an independent art historian. She has led study tours to Europe and lectured on European art, architecture and sculpture for more than thirty years, primarily for the University of London, the National Gallery, the V&A and NADFAS. She has also contributed to several academic guides.
What's included...
  • Return flights on British Airways (economy) to Bologna
  • Wine tasting at Ca dei Frati vineyard
  • All visits and excursions as per the itinerary
  • Transport by luxury coach, as the itinerary requires
  • All entrance fees, gratuities and porterage
  • The services of your expert lecturer, Clare Ford-Wille and your tour manager, throughout
  • A tour-guide headset system to make hearing the lecturer easier
  • All tips and taxes
Casa Poli Hotel
Getting about
Participants should be reasonably fit. There is a significant amount of walking, standing and use of stairs.
Inspirational tours frequently booked together
We have negotiated access to areas of the ducal palace complex that are closed to the public. This includes the private studies, secret garden and apartments of one of the Renaissance's most famous, and formidable, individuals; Isabella d'Este Gonzaga, Marchioness of Mantua (1474-1539).

Isabella commissioned paintings from Andrea Mantegna, Perugino, Lorenzo Costa and Correggio for the walls of her private study. These paintings are now in the Louvre in Paris. However, entering these spaces give us an idea of 
The Dal Cero family has transformed their Ca' dei Frati property, situated on the southern shores of Lake Garda, into a model Italian estate over the past two decades. Back in 1987, they had 12 hectares of vineyard but now, following the purchase of a large chunk of prime vineyard in 2008, they have over 140 hectares.This increase in quantity has been matched by an increase in quality, and today they remain the best producer in Lugana. Wine-tasting at Ca dei Frati
We have negotiated an extended period for you to spend in the Camera Picta, sometimes known as the Camera degli Sposi.

Andrea Mantegna, the court painter to the Gonzaga, frescoed the Camera Picta between 1465 and 1474 at the request of Ludovico III Gonzaga and is notable for the use of trompe l'oeil details and its di sotto in sù ceiling, one of the earliest in Italy. The "Court Scene" on the north wall shows Ludovico Gonzaga with his wife Barbara of Brandenburg. They are seated with their relatives, while a group of courtiers fills the rest of the wall. This family portrait was to represent family unity and power. On the west wall is the "Meeting scene." This fresco shows Ludovico in official robes in an ideal meeting with his son, Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and Christian I of Denmark. Again, this is a powerplay by Ludovico to demonstrate to visitors to the room the power and prestige of the Gonzaga family in Italy and beyond.
There is a large monastery complex in the town of San Benedtto Po, to the south of Mantua. The abbey was founded in 1007 by Tedald, count of Canossa, the paternal grandfather of Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany. 

From 1115 until 1632, the abbey church housed the arca containing the remains of Matilda of Canossa, who had selected Polirone as her burial place, rather than the ancestral mortuary church of Canossa.Her body was transferred to the Basilica of St. Peter, Rome, in 1632.

Polirone was one of the richest abbeys of northern Italy. In the 15th-century, Guido Gonzaga rebuilt the church in late Gothic style. The abbey church was rebuilt again to the Renaissance style designs of Giulio Romano, who was the architect of the Palazzo Te in Mantua, providing an excellent contrast of the sacred and profane in art. The walls and vaults of the church are extensively frescoed by Romano, Correggio (who painted two paintings for Isabella d'Este's studiolo in Mantua) and Antonio Begarelli, among others.  Paolo Veronese painted three altarpieces in 1562. 
The Gonzaga were prolific letter writers, particularly Isabella d'Este, who had a very well organised chancery department which meticulously copied and catalogued the Gonzaga correspondence. Today, just over 15,000 of Isabella's letters are held in the State Archives. The Director of the Archives will present us with a selection of Isabella's letters for us to view. 
We visit the town of Carpi where Emilia Pia di Carpi was born. Emilia became sister-in-law to Elisabetta Gonzaga on her marriage to Antonia da Montefeltro. Emilia moved to Urbino where she became a close friend of Elisabetta's and also to Isabella d'Este, Elisabetta's sister-in-law, who was the Marchioness of Mantua. All three ladies are immortalised in Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier.
The building is a hunting lodge surrounded by a moat, and has four corner towers, resembling castle turrets in the forest of Bosca di Fontana, approximately 30-minutes drive north of Mantua. Palazzina Gonzagesche was built at the end of the 16th-century by Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga, using the architects Giuseppe Dattari and Antonio Maria Viani. The surrounding forest was once full of exotic animals, but not today!
The Italian town of Mantua is the perfect destination for a small group escorted tour. There is so much history to be seen and to discover, both in the town, and in the surrounding countryside. This tour makes a remarkable cultural holiday to Italy. 

Mantua lies on the Lombard plain surrounded by lakes formed as the River Mincio flows on to join the Po. An Englishman, Aldous Huxley, described Mantua as “the most romantic city in the world; pregnant with the memory of splendour”.

Over the four hundred years they ruled Mantua, the Gonzaga turned this small town from a sleeping backwater into a powerhouse of the Renaissance. The Gonzaga became fine patrons of art, architecture, music and literature of the Renaissance. Mantua was home to the school of Vittorino da Feltre, a leading humanist educator of the mid-15thC, with pupils not only from the leading families of Mantua, but from across Italy. Other notable humanists formed part of the Gonzaga court including Mario Equicola, Niccolo da Corregio and Baldassare Castiglione. Painters, including Mantegna, Perugino, Bellini, Leonardo, Titian, Correggio and Giulio Romano all worked for the Gonzaga. The architect, Leon Battista Alberti, designed the Basilica of Sant ’Andrea in the city centre and the Church of San Sebastiano. Claudio Monteverdi served in the court of Vicenzo Gonzaga, not long before the Gonzaga went into a steep decline and died out with Vicenzo II Gonzaga in 1627, when the city was sacked and its treasures dispersed across Europe.

Clare Ford-Wille will lead us on a tour that follows in the footsteps of the Gonzaga, visiting all corners of their city-state, so we too can experience the splendour of this powerhouse of the Renaissance.
After arriving in Bologna, we drive to Carpi for lunch as a group. Carpi, birthplace of Emilia Pia, lady-in-waiting to Elisabetta Gonzaga and dear friend of Isabella, Marchesa of Mantua. We explore the rugged castello complex in Carpi. Later, we dine together, after checking-into our hotel in Mantua. 
In the morning, we explore the cathedral of Mantua. We then visit the Teatro Scientifico del Bibiena, where the first ever opera was performed; Monteverdi’s ‘The History of Orpheus’ in 1607. We walk through the town to see the Piazza del Erbe, the Palazzo Bonacolsi and the church of San Barnaba. We have time in the State Archives looking at some of Isabella d’Este’s letters. The rest of the day is spent inside the Ducal complex, home to Mantegna’s exquisitely frescoed, Camera degli Sposi, Pisanello’s unfinished fresco-cycle of the Expulsion of the Bonacolsi and the apartments and secret garden of Isabella d’Este which are being opened exclusively for us. We dine together at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we drive to the San Benedetto Po monastery complex, which spans six centuries of devotion, including architecture and incredible frescoes by Giulio Romano, the sacred contrasting with the profane of Palazzo Te. After lunch together, we explore Sabbioneta, the small town to the southwest of Mantua that Duke Vespasiano I Gonzaga built in the late 16th century as his perfect Renaissance town. The evening is at leisure
We drive into the northern Mantovano to visit a Gonzaga country palazzina near Marmirolo. Continuing north to Volta Mantovano, we visit a summer palace built for Barbara of Brandenburg as an escape from the humidity of Mantuan summers. After lunching together the famous Ca dei Frati winery beckons for an afternoon of wine tasting before an evening at leisure in Mantua. 
In the morning, we stop briefly at Andrea Mantega’s house, on our way to Giulio Romano’s Palazzo Te, a pleasure palace commissioned by Duke Federico I Gonzaga. After lunch (not included), we visit the Church of San Sebastiano and the Museo San Sebastiano to view works associated with the Gonzaga family.  Our final evening together is spent at a local restaurant. 
After breakfast, we visit the Basilica of Sant’ Andrea commissioned by Ludovico II Gonzaga and designed by Leon Battista Alberti. The church contains the tomb of Andrea Mantegna. The rest of the morning is free before leaving the hotel for Bologna airport and our evening arrival at Heathrow.
Sapienza Travel has reserved rooms in the 4-star Hotel Casa Poli for guests on this tour. We have booked rooms in the same category for all guests. If you would like a quote for a room upgrade, please contact us

Flights - If you would like to fly BA Club class, please contact us and we will provide a price for the upgrade.

Travel advice - Please refer the Foreign Office's website to make sure you are comfortable with the travel advice they provide for the destination(s) you are visiting. 

Activity level - Our tours involve a lot of walking, climbing stairs and standing still for periods of time. The historic centres of cities are often uneven and cobbled requiring everyone to be confident walking across them.

Clare Ford-Wille
Clare is an independent art historian. She has led study tours to Europe and lectured on European art, architecture and sculpture for more than thirty years, primarily for the University of London, the National Gallery, the V&A and NADFAS. She has also contributed to several academic guides.
Charles Barber
Having graduated with a Bachelors of Law from the University of Edinburgh, Charles Barber embarked on what became a twenty-year career in business at the Reed Travel Group, LexisNexis and The Economist. Charles received his MA in Renaissance Studies from the University of London. He is currently studying a Masters' in early Netherlandish art and its impact on the art of Renaissance Italy at the Courtauld Institute of Art. His areas of interest include the visual, material and social culture of Northern Italian courts, 15th-century Florence and the art and architecture of Rome from 1500-1700.
Casa Poli Hotel
Hotel Casa Poli Mantua provides its guests with a unique, exclusive 4-star environment where the precious furnishings are perfectly in harmony with the high tech comforts. An elegant atmosphere, minimalist design with luxury finishes in the heart of Mantua. The hotel is perfectly situated between the Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te. 
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