There's a lot more to Italy's most prosperous region than the factories that fuel its economy. Many of the attractions here are urban -- in addition to Milan, a string of Renaissance cities dots the Lombardian plains, from Pavia to Mantua. To the north the region bumps up against craggy mountains and romantic lakes, and to the south Lombardy spreads out in fertile farmlands fed by the Po and other rivers. The Lombardians, originally one of the Germanic barbarian hordes who crossed the Alps during Rome's decline and ended up staying to settle down, have been ruled over the centuries by feudal dynasties, the Spanish, the Austrians, and the French. They tend to be a little more Continental than their neighbors to the south, faster talking, and more fast-paced as well. They even dine a little differently, eschewing olive oil for butter and often forgoing pasta for polenta and risotto.
Regional Cuisine -- A meal in Lombardy will probably include polenta or risotto, and both are served in variations that can sometimes stand in for an entire meal. Polenta alla Bergamasca, for one, is cooked with tomatoes, sausage, and cheese. Creamy risottos are often embellished with fish (in Mantua, perhaps with pikelike luccio) or any other ingredients an innovative chef might find at hand; one of the simplest and ever-so-common preparations here is risotto alla Milanese, infused with saffron. In Mantua you have a third choice of pasta -- tortelli, little envelopes that are folded over and stuffed most commonly with zucca (pumpkin). Meat dishes tend to be plain and hearty. Best known and most typical of the region are osso buco, slowly braised veal shank served with gremolada, a sauce of lemon and parsley, and cotoletta alla milanese, a veal cutlet that is breaded, dipped in egg, and sautéed in butter -- not what would be considered a healthy dish, but so delicious it warrants a departure from a diet at least once during a stay in the region.