Italy on the road

Monza: a circuit of interesting sights and sounds

Discovering the city famous for the Grand Prix that has so much more to offer

Be it for a day trip from Milan or be it that Monza is your first destination because you are heading to the famous Formula 1 Grand Prix, the city is definitely worth a visit for a multitude of reasons: art, history, sport, nature, food. A little gem to discover and enjoy.

Amid history and legend

The history of Monza is inextricably linked to Theodolinda, Queen of the Lombards, who went down in history mainly for the importance of her Iron Crown, allegedly forged by including one of the nails used to crucify Jesus.

The city was founded and named after Theodolinda. Legend has it that God appeared to her in a dream asking her to build a church on the site where a white dove would alight. From the exchange between her and the dove – the question “modo?” (here?) was followed by the answer “etiam” (yes, of course) – the city would take its original name of Modoetia, from which Monza was later derived. Right there, where the foundation stone of the church was laid, today stands the Duomo di Monza, its correct name is Basilica Minore di San Giovanni Battista and the construction of which took about a century. 

A stop here really is a must, not only to see the interior of the Duomo and the Iron Crown, but also for the spectacular two-tone façade that alternates (in full Gothic style) white and black marble, as well as the gigantic rose window. A short walk from the Duomo, the Palazzo dell’Arengario and the Musei Civici are also worth a visit.

The splendid Villa Reale

Out of the centre – but only a quarter of an hour’s walk from the Duomo – is one of the most fascinating Lombardy royal palaces in Europe. This gigantic building, with 740 rooms, was built in just three years, between 1777 and 1780. Commissioned by Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg and the brainchild of the imperial architect Giuseppe Piermarini, its content and architecture are outstanding.

Today, we know it as just Villa Reale, but it was not just a villa: it was an extensive land redevelopment project with a system of parks and royal palaces, with this one as the spearhead and summer residence to escape the heat of Milan. Partially open to visitors, it often hosts temporary exhibitions. 

One of the interesting things to discover? Villa Reale in Monza was one of the first buildings in the world where it was possible to turn on a light through an electric switch!

The Park, stately and cool

Are you more of an outdoor traveller? The gardens of Villa Reale, which cover the area of as many as 56 football pitches, are a gem of inestimable architectural, scenic, and historical value.

The unbelievable thing is that these gardens are located within the Parco di Monza complex, one of the largest walled parks in Europe (about three times the size of the Versailles palace complex), so large that it also contains the famous Autodromo di Monza, one of the most fascinating Formula 1 Grand Prix motor racing circuits in the world.

The Autodromo di Monza and its interesting facts

The history of the Monza Autodrome began in 1922, when the Automobile Club Milano decided to celebrate its 25th anniversary and had this great racing circuit built in just 110 days: A ten-kilometre track that was also emblematic of Futurism, an Italian art movement of the early 20th century celebrating engines, progress, and speed.

The racetrack has experienced many vicissitudes (the exotic animals from the Milan Zoological Garden were evacuated here during World War II, for example) but, despite the numerous track modifications, it remains the fastest circuit in Formula 1, with an average lap speed of 257 km/h.

The Italian car manufacturer par excellence, Ferrari based in Maranello, debuted at the Autodromo Nazionale, with a win of course, in 1949. The first Formula 1 World Championship race was held in Monza in 1950, and since then Ferrari has been the leader in terms of victories at the Monza circuit.

Monza, a table for everyone’s taste

One can choose to go to Monza on a day trip, however, it is best to enjoy the city over at least two days, to dedicate oneself to the sport as well as the cultural and historical part.

At this stage, there is only one knot to untie: what (and above all where) to eat in and around Monza?

Of course, visitors should not leave Monza without having tasted risotto alla Monzese (Monza-style risotto with saffron and luganega sausage), or buröla (a salami paste typical of Brianza) with which our chef Maurizio Bosotti has created a delicious risotto to try at home. Traditional Monza cuisine, however, is definitely rich, with cassoeula (stewed pork and cabbage parts, served with polenta), ossobuco, tripe and the classic rusticiada (a pork stew flavoured with lard and onions).

And so here are five addresses to hit up to immerse into local cuisine and much more.

Civico 24 in Albiate
Tradition, passion, and innovation. Here, 10 minutes from the Monza circuit, diners can try unusual dishes made from interesting ingredients mixed with great meats and homemade pasta dishes featuring flavours from the past.

Osteria 1927 in Biassono
And if you like to browse in a place devoted to engines while you wait for a risotto or schnitzel to arrive, this is the right place. Memorabilia and posters of the Millemiglia will be the perfect accompaniment to risotto alla monzese and cotoletta. Comfort food.

OssBüs in Meda
The name (‘ossobuco’ in local dialect) already says it all: dishes with ossobuco, risottos, polenta and generous first courses of both meat and fish, in a basic (but well-kept) old tavern ambience.

Il Circolino in Monza
Those who are tired of traditional cuisine, and are fond of fine dining, should stop here. In a setting inspired by the historical Italian clubs of the 1920s and 1930s, a restaurant, bistro, and cocktail bar merge together: creative dishes, reinterpretations of traditional recipes in a tapas version, with the touch of a master like Michelin-starred chef Claudio Sadler, a partner in the project.

La Filanda in Macherio
Are you in the area for several days and want to change the menu? La Filanda offers Sicilian haute cuisine with a modern twist at the highest level. The menu includes all the great classics of the island, but in a totally innovative version, from starters (try Cannolo di gamberi Rossi di Mazara del Vallo, red shrimp cannolo on a cream of fresh peas and lemon-flavoured sheep milk ricotta) to fish and meat second courses.

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