The Italian Grand Prix - Discovering the Brianza area

The Italian Grand Prix - Discovering the Brianza area 01

Wide plains and hills, green countryside and industry, deep knowledge of the land and innovative genius: when you arrive in Monza you enter this dimension of apparent duality where, in reality, tradition and progress go hand in hand. It’s no accident that the racetrack where Formula 1 cars will flash past this weekend is set in one of Italy’s most beautiful parks, in another testimony to the full reconciliation of this dual spirit. 

The traditional Italian Grand Prix at the beginning of September is therefore a perfect time to explore the artistic and natural treasures scattered around Monza and the Brianza. History has left an indelible mark over many centuries - from the Romans to the Longobards, from the French to the Habsburgs - creating a unique cultural mosaic. To witness this all you have to do is walk through the intimate, pedestrianised historic centre of Monza to reach the fourteenth-century cathedral that houses the Treasure and Iron Crown of Lombardy, used to crown the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the kings of Italy until the nineteenth century. Inside the crown, according to the legend, is one of the nails used in the crucifixion of Christ. You can then leave the historic centre by a short walk to the neoclassical Villa Reale, originally a residence of the Habsburgs and built between 1777 and 1780 upon the command of the Empress of Austria for her son Ferdinando. Be sure not to miss the royal apartments and chapel, or the court theatre. And even the briefest tour cannot fail to include a visit to the Rose Garden and the other gardens that together form the enormous Park of Monza, which can also be explored by bicycle to contemplate Villa Mirabello and Villa Mirabellino. Mills, woods, meadows, the river Lambro and, finally, the Autodromo Nazionale - the “Temple of Speed” - and the reason why fans of motor sport gather here. In addition to the practice sessions and the race itself a visit is highly recommended to the little-known Museo della Velocità (Museum of Speed), a multimedia exhibition hall where you can become engrossed in the world of motor sport, with fourteen different theme areas and specific exhibitions. 

But it would also be a great shame to not drive out of Monza for a while to explore the Brianza, particularly enchanting in early September: a land of hills and woods, ancient villages and rivers. Driving along the gently winding roads near Monza an unimaginable landscape opens up before you, the horizon filled with a succession of farmhouses, corn fields and paths. This is the traditional rural Brianza, the other face of this area that, although now more hidden, has long provided a distinctive backdrop at the gates of Milan. «That branch of the Lake of Como, which turns toward the south between two unbroken chains of mountains…»: this much misused quote from Manzoni perfectly conveys the idea of the blue sky caressing the arable fields and the rooftops of the nineteenth or early twentieth-century farmhouses, with the Lario and the green mountains in the background. Carate Brianza lies within easy reach, with the Basilica of Agliate - dating from the eleventh century - or the tiny village of Oreno with its cloister and small friary church waiting to be explored.

The Italian Grand Prix - Discovering the Brianza area 02

But the Brianza is also a land of lakes. The area between Monza, Lecco, Como and the north of Milan contains a remarkable concentration of stretches of water. To the north of Monza, just a couple of hours’ drive away, is  Lake Como, perhaps the lake that has exercised the greatest charm over time. For those seeking peace and beauty, this is the ideal place to go. From being the favourite haunt of the Milanese for a day trip or weekend it has now become an international tourist destination.   It’s very easy to be spellbound by its architectural beauties, landscapes and the melancholic appeal of the area. A visit to the city of Como can begin in the beautiful, wall-enclosed old town followed by a climb to Villa Olmo, a magnificent eighteenth-century building with an Italian garden and a wonderful view. The ideal way to explore the lake is to take one of the boats for Bellagio, Menaggio, Varenna and a number of other destinations. Or if you’re looking for excitement, you can take a seaplane. Because even in all this tranquillity, between water and green countryside, at this time of year you can also hear the echo of racing cars hurtling between the Parabolica and Lesmo bends, reminding you that the calm is often only apparent. 

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