Some 40 km far from Milan stands the town of Pavia, renown for its University. 8 km north from Pavia stands an impressive Charterhouse built in 1396–1495 as home to the cloistered monastic order of Carthusian monks. Chartreuse, in Italian Certosa, is the name of the order of Carthusians, Certosini in Italian, founded by St. Bruno in 1044. If you are in Milan, or visiting Lombardia, you might think of including a day here to admire the architecture, the landscape as well as the work that the monks still carry on here.
How to reach it
In the past, Pavia was connected with Milan with an artificial canal called Naviglio Pavese. Navigli is also a trendy area in Milan full of bars, art galleries and shops that at night host the Movida. So, one of the easiest way is to reach Pavia on foot or bicycle, along the canal. As you cross through the fields, the view will be fantastic. But organizing the trip in a sunny day is mandatory, as rain will definively ruin the view.
If you are coming here by car, you can take the A7 Highway Milano-Genova and exit in Binasco. Or the A21 Highway Torino-Piacenza and exit in Broni-Stradella or Casteggio. You can reach the Certosa also driving towards Pavia, via the state road Strada Provinciale 35 dei Giovi. Then follow the direction for Certosa di Pavia.
If you want take a coach, and you are in Pavia, go to Via Trieste, in front of the train station. If you are in Milan, you will find a bus in Viale Famagosta. The bus stop is near the Church San Michele, then you need to walk for 15 minutes along Viale Certosa to reach the complex.
Once you arrive, you will find a bar in case you need something to drink or eat.
With the train you can jump off at the Certosa di Pavia station.
A bit of history
Here the Late Gothic Style and Renaissance meet to shape a breathtaking monument built by the will of the first Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The works started on 13 August 1396 and lasted 50 years, in order to respect the vow of Caterina, wife of the Duke, who asked God help for her second pregnancy. Caterina, in fact, had a first pregnancy, but the baby girl had died. So, she made the vow to build a Certosa near Pavia if she had had protection with her second baby. The baby boy died as well but Caterina survived and kept her promise.
The purpose was also that of showing, to the other Italian courts, the power and prestige of the Visconti family, as well as becoming the tomb of the Duke himself.
What can you find
The complex boasts a Church, Chapels, presbitery, refectory, a small and a grand cloister, and cells to host the monks.
The complex also included park and fields where the monks could work, grow medical herb and produce liquor and herbal tea, as well as a fishery to host the fish kept in the nearby river.
Everything is still there but the fishery. And it is still possible to buy the monks products in the shop near the entrance. But today, the Carthusians have left for a quieter place.
In fact, since they observe the total reclusion, when the complex was open to the public, they decided to move to Tuscany, Liguria and Calabria. And the Certosa became of the Cistercian monks.
The art collections
The Charterhouse is home to a fresco and paintings by Bergognone, Zenale and Perugino. Many statues adorne the tombs of members of the Sforza family (the one that gives the name to Castello Sforzesco in Milan) and are considered a masterwork of Solari.
Another important collection is that of stained glass windows, real masterpieces of artists such as Bugatto, Foppa, Bergognone and Witz.
The visit is free, and is guided by one of the Cistercian monks once they gather 15 people. At the end you can leave an offer, according to your possibilities. And you can buy chocolate, candies or liquor in the shop.
Outside the Charterhouse
You can also find a camping area here. Be aware that it can be expensive. It’s 3 euros per hour and you need a good two hours to visit the complex without hurrying.
Where and what to eat
Near the Certosa there are several trattorias and bars where you can eat, many of them with tourist special proposals. But if you want a tip, and can drive for five minutes, jump here.
In Pavia you should try cold cuts such as the salami made with duck, the Salami of the Varzi municipality or the salamy covered with fat called Salam ad Lula. You can’t come to Italy and not eat Pasta. And this area is second to noone when it comes to first dishes. So, why not trying Bata Lavar, a huge agnolotto, a pasta envelope with a filling of meat, pasta and beans or the renowned zuppa, soup.
Many are the dishes prepared with meat and vegetables, as well as cod. And when it comes to sweets, one cannot forget totry the Torta Paradiso, Paradise Cake or the Nusat, an ancient cake prepared with the pumpkin.
And the wines
The wines of the area called Oltrepo Pavese, which means area beyond the Po river in the Pavia region, are extremely renowned. Here you can find incredible Chardonnays, Cabernets, Pinots. My favourite? Bonarda: a red wine, with an idea of bubbles that is considered a wine that can be matched with any preparations. In Italian we say: a tutto pasto, an all-meal wine.