In all my conversations about my upcoming trip to Italy, Milan was never raved about as much as our other destinations of Florence and the Tuscany countryside. In fact, a friend who had studied abroad in Italy shared that we should “skip it.” Another friend, however, had a different sentiment – it’s a working and living Italian city. And she was right, instead of walking through crowds monument to monument, we walked past residents and office buildings. This being Europe, the facades were not glass and steel and boxy like American cities, but were grey stone with wrought-iron balconies and decorative overhangs.
Milan is an excellent walking city with interesting sights and neighborhoods, and an Italian tradition that we got to know very well – the aperitivo.
Start with the big sights, or as my friend A commented, the ‘reverant’ sites before hitting the irreverant ones, which for us were mostly centered around eating and drinking.
Milan Catherdral (Duomo)
The large Piazza del Duomo is aflutter with pigeons and tons of touts, who rushed us soon as we turned the corner. Birds and men are hard to ignore and working together. (Note: the birdfeed and picture are not free). Make your way to the center of the square for “the picture.” Started in the late 14th century in the Gothic style, the cathedral looks confectionary with its marble spires peaking towards the sky.
There is no entry fee, but one can pay 2 Euros for “valuable” photo access. It was worth it to wander and capture photos of this grand buildling’s inside. There is the ability to climb to the roof of Duomo. The stair access is on the left side of the building about 1/3 block past the main entrance.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Immediately next to the Doumo is the Galleria Vittorio Emmaunale II. This “mall” is grand in scenery, but did not feel overrun with commerce. The walkways were wide enough that it felt like a promenade to stroll versus a runway to purchase. This massive arcade was completed in the year 1877, making it the world’s oldest mall. The stores are high-end – Prada and Louis Vuitton anchor the center, but it is worth a stroll through to look up at the wrough-iron ceiling and down at the in-laid marble floor. After a visit to the Duomo, the Galleria still felt austere and reverent because of its grandeur and beauty. We found ourselves walking through in hushed towns, just like at the cathedral.
The irreverant part of the day begins here with a visit to the department store la Rinascente. It’s also right next to the Duomo. The inside has typical high-end department store wares found around the world – the Lancome beauty counter and Michael Kors fashion shoes. Take the escalator to the top to the gourmet market place. Here there are three restaurants – have a seat at il Bar to enjoy a prosecco eye level with the roof of the Doumo. Don’t feel the need to order any food, unless all the stained-glass and Bible scene viewing made you extra hungry. The drinks come apertivo style – with small sandwiches, olives, and potato chips.
Mercanti and Via Dante to Sforza Castle
It’s a short, but pleasant walk down the pedestrian street via Dante to end up at Sforza Castle.The rennaissance citadel and grounds are large and house several art and archealogical museums, including the Museum of Ancient Art, which includes one of Michaelangelo’s last sculptures. (The name makes me pause as I never really consider Michaelangelo “ancient.”) We wandered around the grounds, saving our museum visits for our next stop in Florence.
Our friend’s family owns the Paticceria Clivati,so we hopped on the metro train and got off to indulge in an afternoon cafe and sweet. This bakery is near the canals and if we had been there later for an apertivo, we would have walked and found a hoping nightlife at the Naviglio Grande.
Italians take their afternoon cocktails seriously – it’s not just a happy hour with a discounted drink, it’s about staying a while, having some food, and enjoying that cocktail. At around 7, head out for a pre-dinner drink and snacks. Our favorite bar was the Bar Basso, home of the Negroni Sbagliato, a huge drink with prosecco added to the typical negroni mix. The service is friendly and there are plent of locals enjoying the same drink in a glass chalice. For the price of the drink (10 Euros), we also were served potato chips and olives, typical of this pre-dinner ritual. I found out about Bar Basso from this La Cucina Itailian magazine article– it includes an entire list of worthy apertivo stops throughout Milan.
Hotel: We stayed at the Hotel Monople just near the train station. The rooms were basic, but the location was very idea as we were only staying in Milan for two nights after arriving from the U.S. It was 70 Euros a night for a double with breakfast included.
Restaurant of note: We went to Trattoria de Giannino for dinner. It’s a splurge, but worth it. The food is seasonal and local – my charcuterie included meat from a small town in Tuscany. However, the food was a little secondary to the people watching. In the back of the restaurant was a member of the A.C. Milan football team getting an award.