Earth : Europe : Italy : Northwest Italy : Lombardy : Brescia
Brescia is a rich industrial city between Lake Garda and the Valtrompia in the foothills of the alps, about 100 km east of Milan. It is less famous for its history and art than for its role as a primary manufacturing center. The large factories produce weapons (including the famous Beretta pistols) and cutlery/kitchen accessories. This industry has brought the city tremendous wealth and prestige in the past 50 years, to the point that an entire second city--the imaginatively named Brescia 2--has sprung up on the south side of the city's original boundaries.
Brescia is also the capital of the Lombardian province of the same name, which incorporates numerous beautiful and historic towns, the Valtrompia, and parts of the lakes.
Brescia has a very small airport 20km from the city centre in Montichiari. It serves only few destinations: Girona/Barcelona, London Stansted (both Ryanair flights), Olbia (Sardinia), Rome, Naples, Crotone (all air-bee flights). However you can reach Brescia from Orio al Serio Airport which is in province of Bergamo (50km away) which hosts several low cost airlines such as Ryanair, AirItaly, Transavia, and MyAir. Brescia is also reachable from Verona VillaFranca Airport (50km away), Milan Linate (100km away) and Milan Malpensa airports (150km away).
You can reach Brescia by any train from the expensive Eurostars to the cheap and slow Regionale commuter trains. It is about an hour from Milan (costing €6 on the Regionale), and other cities including Bergamo, Verona and Venice are within an hour or two.
The smallish historical center of the city has an autobus system that works well for inhabitants and other commuters. Much of the rest of the area, including the Franciacorta wine district and nearby museums such as that of the Mille Miglia automobile race, is more easily accessible by car. Brescia has a subway under construction that will make it the smallest city in the world with an underground train system. It is due for completion in 2013, although such schedules are dubious, and in the meantime tremendous traffic congestion is caused at station construction points.
Brescia is home to several great museums. However, since it is not a primary tourist city, very few English translations are provided, and even if they are, translations are often so poor that you may prefer to try the Italian explanations.
Brescia is close to Lakes Iseo and Garda. Travelers in possession of a car will find scenic drives there and elsewhere around the city. The Franciacorta region south of Lake Iseo boasts opportunities to taste some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in Italy, as well as tour vineyards and cantinas. Hiking and biking in the alpine foothills around the city are open to more physically fit and adventurous travellers. The city's medieval historical center, with shopping districts, open markets (try Via San Faustino and Piazza della Loggia on Saturdays), gelaterias, etc., is a good example of city life untrampled by tourism. Travelers might find interesting that, due to the city's industry, Brescia is however a major immigrant center. The Via San Faustino neighborhood, with its cheap housing for both immigrants and university students, is an example of cultural integration that you won't find anywhere else in Italy.
If you are truly fascinated by the nearly endless parade of invaders that oppressed the city for the past 2000 years--the Romans, the Lombards, the Venetians, and the French, to name the longer-lasting ones--you'll find many historical sites and museums. The city's collection of religious art is housed by several museums. You can buy a yearlong, unlimited pass to the museums for 20 Euro, 15 for students. Brescia has a very old and well regarded university. The medical school, due to its proximity to the large regional hospital, is particularly well regarded. Brescia is not a common or canny destination for study abroad students.
The historic center of the city has an active shopping district, with numerous clothing and jewelry stores. City residents enjoy strolling through the stretches from the Portici (shopping porticos built literally on top of their similarly styled and utilized Roman antecedents in the heart of the downtown) to Piazza della Loggia.
Try the true "bresciano" food, including casoncelli (called in Brescian dialect "casonsei"), homemade tortellini with beef, served with "Burro versato" (spilled Butter) and sage with sprinkling of Parmigiano. Try the polenta (in winter only) a mush made with durum wheat, Polenta taragna is mixed with homemade cheeses and butter. Try the amazing spiedo (in winter only) roasted larks and pork meat cooked for 6-7 hours in oven with butter and flavours or on grill. It's very typically Bresciano!!!
As with most of Lombard cuisine, Brescian cooking features more beef and butter and more hearty, German-style dishes than the rest of Italy. Excellent pizzerias abound, including Al Teatro (by the theater and portici on the corner of Via Giuseppe Mazzini and Via Giuseppe Zanardelli) and the South-American styled Tempio Inca Pizzeria (Piazzale Arnaldo). Authentic Brescian osterias and trattorias are common on the north side of the city center, but you will find that the best are out of the way and, purposefully, rather hard to find. Try to find the Contrada Santa Chiara, a dark side street parallel to Via San Faustino, where just off Via Dei Musei (close to the Roman Ruins and Santa Giulia), you'll find several highly authentic and inexpensive osterias including Osteria al Bianchi. Cafe culture is just as prominent here as elsewhere, and there are several great coffee and aperitivo spots. Try the Due Stelle on Via San Faustino (also a great restaurant), or any of several cafe/restaurants just north of the Duomos between the Piazza Paulo VI and Via Dei Musei, which feature drinks and unlimited gourmet aperitivo buffets for under 6 Euro.
Franciacorta wines are easily found. They're excellent, world famous, and very expensive. Try some of the non-DOC labels, which avoid EU regulations in order to preserve centuries-old vineyard traditions. Brescia is also one of the most night-active city in the whole Italy, because of the industrial wealth. Brescian youths (and Lombardians in general) are famous for partying the night way--every single night. Many hotspots for locals can be found outside the city; in the center try Piazzale Arnaldo on the eastern edge and Borgo Pietro Wuhrer about 5 km east of the center on Via Venezia.
Because it's not a primary tourist destination, Brescia is a bit short on hospitality, especially in the budget range. You'll find a few budget hotels in shadier parts of the city, and some nicer ones close to the train station. For hostels, you're out of luck, and bed and breakfasts are recommended but only if you have a car, as they're usually found in the surrounding towns.
on the main road that leads to beautiful Garda Sea. Friendly english speaking staff.
You can take trains and buses to the lakes, but Brescia is so close to other cities more proximate to natural beauty (e.g. Iseo, Milan, Como, Verona, Mantua, and many more), that you may want to just use one of them as a base.