Cremona is a classical-music lover's dream. With violin shops on every block along its crooked old streets, it is where the world's best violins are crafted. Andrea Amati (1510–80) invented the modern instrument here in the 16th century. Though cognoscenti continue to revere the Amati name, it was an apprentice of Amati's nephew for whom the fates had reserved wide and lasting fame. In a career that spanned an incredible 68 years, Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) made more than 1,200 instruments—including violas, cellos, harps, guitars, and mandolins, in addition to his fabled violins. They remain the most coveted, most expensive stringed instruments in the world.
Strolling about this quiet, medium-size city, you can’t help noting that violin making continues to flourish. There are, in fact, more than 140 liutai (violin makers), many of them graduates of the Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria (International School of Violin Making). You’re usually welcome in these ateliers, where traditional craftsmanship reigns supreme, especially if you’re contemplating the acquisition of your own instrument; the tourist office can provide addresses.
Cremona's other claim to fame is torrone (nougat), which is said to have been created here in honor of the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza, which took place in October 1441. The new confection, originally prepared by heating almonds, egg whites, and honey over low heat, and shaped and named after the city's tower, was created in symbolic celebration. The annual Festa del Torrone is held in the main piazza over the third or fourth week of November.