Hello my friends and welcome back!
I am just back from an incredible trip to Italy and wanted to share with you while it’s all fresh in my mind . Italy has become an absolute favorite destination for me…the combination of ancient history, delicious food and wine, warm people and utter beauty everywhere is just incomparable. Where else can you find fountains created by masterpiece artists alongside laundry hanging from balconies?? It’s all just wondrous to me!
I do try to visit new to us destinations on each visit and plan our travels accordingly. For this trip we flew into Milan and began our adventure!
I definitely do not recommend renting a car for city transportation in Italy. The public transit system is much easier and safer! Malpensa Airport in Milan has the very efficient Malpensa Express to transport you to the city center for about 8 euro. The airport is well outside of the city center and taxi fare will run about 95 euro, and take close to an hour. By using the train you will save close to 30 minutes and lots of money! Just follow the train signs in the airport and purchase your tickets at the counter or kiosk.
A very important tip for Italy train travel is to VALIDATE your ticket at the little machines BEFORE boarding your train. This applies to tickets purchased in the kiosks and at ticket counters. If you’ve bought tickets ahead online and printed them, you can skip the validation. They do not always check tickets, but if yours is not validated and checked you will be fined 50 euro on the spot!
Where to stay
As I’ve mentioned previously, we look for areas within walking distance to major sites, restaurants and shops. In Milan, this meant staying in the area of the Duomo in the historic center. Unbeknownst to me, I had chosen dates that fell during Fashion Week. Hotels were hard to find and finding affordable ones even harder. Hello Airbnb! Airbnb is a great option, especially in an expensive city like Milan. I found a small yet stylish studio apartment in a very secure building that was about an 8 minute walk to the Duomo. With less than 2 days to explore we didn’t want to waste a lot of time figuring out public transit, or spend a lot on taxis. If you feel the same, then I highly recommend the area of the Duomo as a base.
The area surrounding the Duomo is home to scores of shops and restaurants. The famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, home to all the top designer stores, is practically adjacent to the cathedral.
My shopping bestie will be heartbroken to know that not only did I not purchase any designer splurges..I never even set foot in a shop here ! I love retail therapy probably more than most…but when I travel I’m more focused on experiences than purchases. I do try to find some small mementos, but I look for things that are handmade and representative of the area. On this trip, I picked up a lovely small watercolor from an artist’s studio and a hand painted ceramic ornament for our Christmas tree. Are you a vacation shopper? Do you splurge or keep it simple?
What to do
Speaking of keeping it simple…with less than 48 hours to see Milan, I looked for ways to maximize our time. My usual MO is to find small group tours that fit our interests. Food and drink is always interesting right?? So after checking into our Airbnb, we set out to meet up with our guide for a Navigli Canal evening tour. For any tours, I always use TripAdvisor.com to narrow my search, read reviews and get pertinent information. You can book tours directly through TripAdvisor or Viator.com.
Our first challenge was finding our way OUT of our apartment building. Yes, that’s right…neither of us was paying attention when we were led to the unit, and the building was a bit of a maze. Picture 2 overtired, middle aged tourists fresh off an overnight flight riding an elevator and running up and down stairs for 15 minutes trying to get out of a maze like apartment building with NO numbers on any doors🤣. I felt like we were in one of those Escape Room games! Comic relief at its finest🤣.
Once we made it to our meeting point, we were in for a real treat. Did you know that Milan had canals? At one time there were five navigable interconnected canals used for transport. Most of these were filled in during the 1930s to pave the way for more modern transportation. The Navigli Grand Canal remains and has become a vibrant area of shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife.
Apperitivo is Milan’s version of Happy Hour and it’s a custom I can totally get behind! Most bars and restaurants offer some version between the hours of 4-7pm. With apperitivo, you get some type of tapas like bites when you order a drink. This can range from a single piece of bruschetta to a full buffet of small plates! We pretty much made a meal out of our 3 stops along the tour. The small group of 14 felt like being out with friends and Vincent, our guide, was fun and engaging. The perfect introduction to Milan.
And again, if you can plan something for your first evening abroad it really helps with your internal body clock and adjusting to the time zone!
Since this would be our only full day in Milan, we packed in as much as we could. We began with another small group tour that included visiting the Duomo, Sforza Castle and seeing DaVinci’s The Last Supper. By using a guide you will also get skip the line access…this is a huge benefit in addition to the knowledge and expertise of a local guide.
Packing tip : if you’re visiting churches you will need your shoulders and typically knees covered. It’s not always enforced everywhere but best to be safe than to be turned away.
The highlight of this quick visit was definitely getting to view The Last Supper. If you are at all interested in art and history this is a must see! It is imperative to purchase tickets in advance, as they are sold on a timed entry and they do sell out even months in advance. This is another reason that we opted for a guided walking tour that included our tickets. If you choose to visit on your own, you can find tickets at http://www.cenacolovinciano.vivaticket.it
Having a guide to view this work of art truly enhanced our experience, especially relating to all the symbolism in the work. To stand in the room of the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church, where DaVinci spent over 3 years working was simply wondrous. Photos just don’t do it justice. When you’re standing there, you can fully appreciate the depth of the work. His perspective was so perfect that the painting feels like an extension of the room. Absolutely remarkable!
Food & Drink
As I mentioned we thoroughly enjoyed the apperitivo tradition in Milan..but one can not live on Happy Hour alone 😉. We had a different pizza experience at Spontini in the neighborhood of the Duomo. This pizza shop has been in business since 1953 and sells delicious huge slices of thick crust pizza, unlike your typical Napoli style thinner crust. No seating, you pick up your slice(s) and stand at communal counters to enjoy! Great spot for a quick, tasty and budget friendly meal.
I also made a point to visit the roof terrace at La Rinascente for a cocktail. La Rinascente is a huge department store located right by the Duomo. In addition to all the designer brands, there is also a food market and rooftop dining. We managed to grab 2 seats in the lounge area just before the crowds descended. Our most expensive drink of the trip, but the views and atmosphere were worth the splurge.
We spent our final evening strolling through the Brera District. The Brera is known as the artistic heart of Milan and its cobblestone streets are lined with fashionable shops and artisans. There are plenty of outdoor cafes, terraces for dining and of course Gelateria galore! It was the perfect end to our whirlwind visit!
Ciao for now !