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Sabbioneta for day trip? ...or Verona?

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Hello all,

We are preparing for a trip to Mantova and several places in Emilia Romagna (Ravenna, Brisighella, and Bologna) in October. We will stay in Mantova three nights. If we feel that we have seen most of the good things in that city by the second night, we may do a day trip. Sabbioneta has been suggested and its history is intriguing. But there's very little on Fodor's or elsewhere about what the place feels like.

Doing some virtual walking through the village using Google street view, I can't find any signs of life, just a single person every now and then walking down an empty street, like a Fellini movie set. I don't see clusters of cafes, restaurants, tabacchi, etc. I know that it's a planned Renaissance town, but it looks quite dead. Another thing: it appears that you must take a guided tour through the best historic buildings. Ugh. Hate tours unless necessary. We would take a bus from Mantova (we won't have a car) but that's okay.

An alternative would be a day trip to Verona, about 40 minutes by train. Obviously a very different day trip. I think I've already talked myself into Verona....but just in case I am missing something about Sabbioneta, here's my question post.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

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