I took my first trip to Europe a little over 12 years ago, where I traveled all over Italy (Rome, San Gimignano, Sienna, Florence, Pisa, Como, Verona, Venice, Urbino, Assisi, Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri). It was the most wonderful trip and marked the beginning of my love of European culture and travel. So, when Jim said he really wanted to go to Milan, I jumped at the opportunity to explore a new Italian city. And thus marks the beginning of our summer vacation.
I’d always thought of Milan as being an industrial city. I knew it was the home of Italian fashion, a Gothic Cathedral, as well as a famous opera house. But what I didn’t realize was it how charming and walkable the city was AND that it housed the The Last Supper in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a huge castle, and a gorgeous public park (I was also excited to see SO many statues dedicated to musicians).
If you’re interested in visiting Milan, I cannot recommend these spots enough. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see The Last Supper (you need to book your tickets at least a couple of months in advance) and the Opera House was on hiatus, but we still had a great time exploring the gorgeous parts of the city.
We started our trip with a quick flight from Toulouse, followed by a train ride from Malpensa (about an hour outside of Milan), arriving inside Milan close to lunchtime. Jim quickly found us a local lunch spot called Slow Sud. The vibe inside the restaurant is quirky and while casual, we were surrounded by men in full suits and women in dresses with 4″ heels. We were easily the most underdressed patrons in the joint, which made us start to wonder if this was the Italian fashion we’d always heard about, or if we stumbled into a banker/lawyer lunch spot. Maybe a little of both. Regardless, we ended up sitting in swings (Jim’s pick), which was a little weird at first (the guy next to us fell out of his swing in the middle of his meal), but felt a-ok after a beer. Jim ordered a sandwich, while I ordered what I thought was a salad with some cheese, smoked meat, and asparagus. Imagine my surprise when my dish came out and it was the world’s largest plate of cheese with shaved asparagus and a few tortilla chips. In hindsight, I guess I should have translated those words I didn’t know. As Jim at his sandwich, and I ate my cheese, I saw plate after plate of the pastas come out to the tables next to us, and Jim suggested we order a plate of pasta for me (he knows how to turn hangry Victoria’s frown upside down), and once my pasta came out, it was AMAZING. The perfect amount of everything. We could see why it was so popular. Later that evening we were walking home and came across a second location, which was even more hoppin’ at dinnertime (and also boasted quite the cocktail list).
With full bellies, we made our way toward the Milan Cathedral or Duomo. It really is a gorgeous Gothic wonder. The walk up to it is pretty phenomenal, but what I found even more fascinating/interesting what how much of the stained glass windows you could see at night (see below). WE bought tickets to tour the inside, but I foolishly didn’t bring appropriate attire to enter the church (my knees had to be covered), so we made our way over to the Opera House, instead.
We walked through the archway of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (above) and continued through the shopping center (above) on our way to La Scala Opera House. This felt like the most touristy spot in Milan (rightfully so), and also a huge/expensive shopping district (similar to the Spanish Steps in Rome) with every high end brand you could imagine.
Once out, we quickly saw the opera house – Teatro alla Scala. There are self guided tours all day long of the theatre, which is quite lovely allowing you to tour the boxes, see the stage, etc.
Probably one of my favorite parts was seeing all of the framed posters of some of my favorite operas (hello, Puccini), many of which made their debut there.
The museum also had a special section devoted to legendary conductor – Arturo Toscanini. I will admit I wasn’t familiar with him before, but now I’m pretty fascinated. He brought Opera to NYC, came up with the idea of having the orchestra in a pit, etc. If there’s a biography or autobiography on this guy, I’d definitely be interested in reading it, as he seems like quite the character. One of Jim’s highlights (I think) was pretending to conduct while listening to some of Toscanini’s actual concerts. You can’t see the smile on Jim’s face, but believe me when I say it was genuine and huge!
After our trip to La Scala, the heat started to take its toll on us, and we decided it was necessary to take a little nap before heading out to our dinner at Berbere. Now, I don’t know if this place has the best pizza in Milan, but it’s definitely the best pizza I’ve had in Europe. We ordered some local-ish beers (they had DeMolen for Jim!, and I got a tasty, Italian beer) and three pizzas (2 1/2 would’ve been the ideal amount), each with one of their special crusts (whole wheat, thin, thick). The Italian Sausage (with the thinnest layer of ricotta) pizza was probably my favorite while I think Jim’s might’ve been the special with the pears and gorgonzola). We cannot recommend this spot enough. It was absolutely delicious. If we lived in Milan, this would (easily) be a favorite spot.
The next day we had a day trip planned to Como/Lake Como, but had some time in the evening to explore a little more of the city. As our tour bus to Como took off, our guide highlighted the Sforza Castle as well as the Park Sempione. Let me just say, these are impressive (even if I was devoured by mosquitos while we were touring around). As we approached, almost ever single person was cooling off with their feet in the below fountain (it did look pretty inviting).
If you pass through the castle, it’ll take you to the Park Sempione. While we were there it looked like they were setting up for a big concert, as there were a lot of mic checks and portions of songs being played. I spotted a statue that looked like the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, so (of course) we had to walk toward it – it’s known as the Arch of Peace, which is oriented so that Napoleon could pass it, when he came from Paris to Milan over the Simplon Pass. I love architecture.
After a long day and a big lunch, we opted for a small dinner, perhaps a trip to a wine bar with tapas. We decided we’d check out the rooftop bar at our hotel (La Terrazza dei Cavalieri). Should you find yourself in this neck of the woods, we’d recommend stopping here. We ordered a bottle of prosecco and were met with tasty (free) sandwiches and one incredible view with an even lovelier sunset before the storm came in.
I can’t think of a better city to add to my Italy list, a better way to start our summer vacation, or a better (first) city to see in Italy with Jim.