On previous trips to Italy we have always managed to avoid Milan – yes, on purpose but for no specific reason. To be honest I’ve never really bothered to find out what other gems – other than Da Vinci’s Last Supper – Italy’s fashion capital might be home to. So on this trip where Milan was squarely in our path between the Cinque Terre and Lake Como we decided to take a day and half and explore a bit of this underestimated city.
The central historic district is comprised of stately old buildings, some adorned with heavy cherub laden balconies, that grace wide avenues where traffic is restricted to trolley cars and white taxis. In this city known for fashion, style is not limited to clothing. Sweets and other delectables are artfully arranged in window fronts as if they were the latest trend. Even the gelato shops, of which there are many, have a certain upscale style.
Our first afternoon we took it easy and visited the Duomo, Milan’s impressive cathedral – an over the top neo-gothic structure in crisp white marble that took six centuries to complete (1386 – 1965). It is best visited in the afternoon in order to view the front façade fully lit.
The immense size of the interior is as impressive as the exterior, but by far my favorite part of the visit was the rooftop terrace – an eye level view of the cathedral’s myriad spires. The walk up is about 160 steps.
Just across from the Duomo and included in the ticket price is the Duomo Museum. Interesting if you are into cathedral artifacts but skippable if you are short on time or just dying for a gelato instead.
We did not make it to Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the Last Supper. When I checked at the end of June tickets were sold out until August.
Chapel Worth Exploring
The Chiesa di San Maurizio, recommended in Lonely Planet, is an easy walk from the Duomo. The rather plain front is easy to miss and doesn’t hint at the jewel box interior where every surface is covered in magnificent frescos.
While I preferred the scale of the main chapel as you enter the building, the back room or hall of Nuns is equally impressive. Entry is free and there were relatively few visitors on a Wednesday morning.
The 20th century collection at the Museo del Novecento features mostly Italian artists. There were very few visitors on the day we visited and while we enjoyed the museums extensive collection of early 20th century works and more contemporary innovative think pieces, there was nothing that really stood out as a must see.
Milan’s Fashion District
Walking the cobbled, pretty yet understated streets of the Quadrilatero d’Oro you would hardly know you were at the heart of one of the world’s most fashion forward neighborhoods.
Designer shops are discreetly tucked into old European buildings. Only the flashy window displays give away what hides behind the façade. That and the smartly dressed patrons you pass along the street.
The Old Masters
Our last stop for the day was the Pinocoteca di Brera. Again tucked away along a wide quiet street, you know you are getting close by the increase in the number of galleries you pass.
While the museum houses an extensive collection of large-scale old Italian masters, the works seem to be the lesser known cousins of famous works found in other Italian museums, such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Worth a spin through for those with a particular interest in art, but skippable otherwise.
June 30-July 1, 2015
For links to all the posts in this series see the Northern Italy page.