Updated 10.26.2018: Although Alan and I are happiest when we’re traveling slow, occasionally we find ourselves cramming as much as we can into a travel experience. That was the case when we stopped in Milan at the beginning of a Northern Italian road trip.
Arriving at Malpensa Airport in the late afternoon, we opted for a good night’s rest at the Holiday Inn Express Malpensa before starting out on an exploration of Milan with boomer travel companions, Jack and Sue, before heading to Lake Como and the start of the real adventure. Claudio Fontana, our guide from A La Carte Italy Tours, had convinced us that even though our focus was on off-the-beaten-path Italy, the city deserved at least a few hours of our attention.
After climbing into Claudio’s minivan, we began the process of “getting to know you” as Claudio maneuvered the roads into Milan on a rainy Sunday morning. He quickly located an underground parking garage and we were off to see Italy’s fashion city.
Exploring the Crypt at Milan Cathedral
Since this was a Sunday, worshipers crowded the interior of the Duomo, the fourth largest cathedral in the world. To escape the crowd, we paid the small fee for a self-guided tour of the crypt.
A mixture of organ music and priests chanting in Italian drifted from overhead as our small group descended narrow stone steps to walk among Milan’s earliest Christian history. Placards were placed around the area to explain the mosaics that decorated the floors and walls as well as other relics such as a basket of pottery shards. In the center stood the excavated foundation of a Paleochristian Baptistery dating from the 4th century.
Strolling Through the Vittorio Emanuele Gallery
Joining the well dressed citizens of Milan — Italians do know their fashion — we strolled under the glass-vaulted ceiling of the Vittorio Emanuele’s double arcade. The marble-floored covered passage connects Piazza della Scala, Piazza Duomo, Via Silvio Pellico and Via Ugo Foscolo. Although completed in 1877, the stylish walkway lined with upscale designer shops recalls a time of elegance that was still present on this Sunday morning.
By now, feeling very unfashionable but a little bit Italian, we agreed with Claudio that it was time for a refreshment break at La Rinascente, a department store with a glassed-in restaurant that overlooks Cathedral Square. Of course to really be Italian, we would have joined Claudio in a Prosseco aperitif in the mid-morning rather than ordering cappuccinos like American tourists. However, Alan saved us by correctly ordering hot chocolate, which is an acceptable choice according to Italian customs.
Glimpsing History at the Basilica of Saint Ambrose
Before driving to lunch at the charming La Riserva Bereguardo in nearby Bereguardo, Claudio made one more stop at Basilica of Saint Ambrose. Built by St. Ambrose in 379-386, the building and grounds are somber and understated compared to the grand facade of the Duomo. The current version of the church building dates from 1080. The site was heavily bombed by the Allies in 1943 during World War II.
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Of course three hours wasn’t enough time for exploring Milan. For a future visit, we’ll consider:
- Taking the rooftop tour of the Duomo for a birds-eye view of the city. Why Go Italy offers tips for visiting the Duomo roof.
- Spending time with Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. At Travel Wonders of the World, Mark offers several suggestions for following in Da Vinci’s Milan footsteps.
- And the New York Times shows you how to spend 36 hours in Milan.