From hill to hill, along the peaceful morainic roads, through the “stations” of religious piety and civil history we finally come to Castiglione delle Stiviere, the Basilica-Santuario di San Luigi Gonzaga, world patron saint of youth, to worship whom Pope John Paul II came here as an apostolic pilgrim on 22nd June 1991.
The rich religious itinerary of Castiglione moreover includes the Aloisiano historical museum at the Collegio Vergini di Gesù, founded by the Saint’s Venerable nephews, churches and convents bearing witness to a millenary history, and the Museum of the International Red Cross houses a valuable collection of relics of the Risorgimento and of civil piety. From the Santuario del Frassino you then pass straightaway to Ponti sul Mincio, an extreme strip of Mantuan territory in the Garda lowlands, separated by a handful of land from Lake Garda. The Tower of Ponti guides guests to this Scaligero hamlet, where the sixteenth-century Parish of Sant’Antonio Abate houses a “Madonna col Bambino” of the 1800s, as well as a pala of Meves brothers of 1609 depicting Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Saint Francis and Saint Sebastian and a fresco on the Crucifixion of the 1400s. Just outside the village, towards the river Mincio, the Oratory of Saint Nicholas, also of the sixteenth century. Outside the walls is the Winery that collects and makes into wine the renowned grapes of the Mantuan Uplands, to be visited together with the renowned vineyards scattered over the hills. Just a little further on and here we have the irregular outline of the Monzambano castle, overlooking one of the most romantic stretches of the Upper Mincio. Here there is the eighteenth-century Parish Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, rebuilt over an older structure, which houses the admirable tondi of the “Via Crucis” by Augusto Ugolini and a high altar embellished with marble inlays with arabesques and floral patterns. Nearby, at Pille and Olfino, renowned trattorie confirm the culinary traditions of these lands. New emotions are aroused by Castellaro Lagusello, a truly unique corner on the edge of a lake of morainic origins: as well as the thirteenth-century Castle, the Baroque Parish Church of Castellaro with its old hamlet.
In the heart of the hills there is Volta Mantovana, the village of the Blessed Paola Montaldi (Clarissa, 1442-1514). Worthy of note is the Castle: erected around the year one thousand and later transformed by the Gonzaga between the 14th and 15th century, it still maintains its original appearance. The second stage is the Church of Saint Mary Magdalen that holds an “Assunta” attributed to Guercino and a valuable eighteenth-century canvas by Pietro Rotari; there follows the worthy Gonzaga Palazzo Cavriani, with its admirable Italian gardens, now the Town Hall, and Villa Venier, formerly a Dominican convent.
You must stop off at the Village Church of Cavriana, a splendid example of Romanesque architecture with a beautiful medieval fresco: an enchanting site for its silence and light conducive to meditation and prayer. The parish church of Madonna Assunta should also be seen, rich in paintings including a sixteenth-century triptych. Villa Mirra, famous patrician dwelling of Gonzaga origins and privileged “stop-off” for great figures in history, situated in the heart of the old hill village, houses precious findings in some large rooms of the Archaeological Museum of the Mantuan uplands.
Pozzolengo, is the old and pretty commune of Brescia in the Association, for a long time territory of the Republic of Venice, lying on a gentle hill between the might of the old Scaligero castle and the beautiful parish church of Saint Mary, with a sixteenth-century plan. Many fine works inside, among which the beautiful Pala dei Celesti (1600s), “La Deposizione di Cristo” and Brusasorzi’s “Cristo attorniato da Santi” together with the tondo of the martyrs of San Lorenzo and Santa Caterina (this is what remains of a great pala of the Cignaroli). Together with the organ of Gaetano Zanfretta (1881) the precious wooden furnishings of the Sacristy are worthy of note. In the Chiesa della Contrada, at Ceresa, the painting of the Crossbow dedicated to Saint Joseph makes a fine show.
From far off, Solferino is announced by its old and famous Rocca or fortress, called the Spy of Italy. Nearby, the Historical Museum of the Risorgimento and the Ossuary in the Church of Saint Peter, places that tell one of the most agonizing pages of the Italian Risorgimento and which still bear the marks of the piety that gave life to the Red Cross. Solferino is more than just history: from the Rocca the landscape is enchanting, on the horizon you can make out the gentle slope dipping into the lowland or thinning out towards Lake Garda, as admired from the balcony of Piazza Castello, partially occupied by the parish church of Saint Nicholas which houses a precious icon (gift of Maria Callas) on the Pentecost and a “Vergine col Bambino” of the 1600s. There is a fine wooden statue of the 16th century depicting a “Madonna con Bambino” in the Church of San Carlo Borromeo.
Beyond Monte Medolano, morainic outpost guarding the plain, the old commune of Medole opens out for pilgrims, with its patrician dwellings and famous marble portals. Between the beautiful Romanesque Pieve di Santa Maria Genitrice and the Gonzaga Civic Tower there opens up the large square dominated by the Parish Church which is entered by climbing the impressive steps. Inside, Titian’s splendid Pala dominates above everything else, depicting “Christ arisen appearing to the Madonna”: the fine eight statues of the “mourning” in painted terracotta, attributed to Guido Mazzoni known as Modanino (2nd half of 15th century).
From Medole to Castiglione, along the short straight road dominated by the profile of the impressive building of the Cathedral and the remains of the old Castle: the Town of Saint Luigi Gonzaga and of the International Red Cross closes (or opens) this religious itinerary of the Mantuan uplands. Unmissable sights are also the Oratory of San Lorenzo of Guidizzolo, the parish church of Marmirolo dedicated to Saints Philip and James the Apostles and the Church of St. Peter Apostle of Goito, followed by many parishes that arise in the surroundings of the town