This July I bought my husband a surprise holiday, not only did he not know where we were going but neither did I! We used the prior Expedia service ‘Surprise Trips’ where one of the grand wizards at Expedia found me a holiday based on my budget, airport and number of nights and people. We were told to get to Gatwick for 7 am on the day we flew out, only finding out on the way to the airport our destination.
All I knew about Milan was it was famous for fashion, Ferrari’s and football!
I would never have thought about Milan as a destination for a city break, would be more inclined to pick Rome, Venice or Florence in Italy, and I had thought we were going to Seville (surprise trips is only to one of over 40 cities in Europe).
We quickly bought a guidebook at the airport so we would be able to get our bearings upon arrival and googled how to get from the airport to our hotel. Yay, another European train journey. We arrived at Milan Central Train Station, the equivalent of New York’s grand central station! The high vaulted arches and the almost Art Deco marble feel to the building was pretty impressive, and I was excited to explore.
After a 20 minute walk, we were at our hotel, a comfortable, cosy little place about 5 minutes from the Duomo. Now, this I couldn’t wait to see. After reading that the Duomo is the third largest church in the world and having been to St Paul’s in Rome and being amazed more at the square rather than the church, I was hoping that this would be spectacular. I was blown away. No wonder it took six centuries to finish! The sheer size and detail of this historic church are unlike anything I have seen, with the fantastic Madonna looking over the beautiful city.
It’s free to enter and was exploring the crypt and saw the detailed sculpture of St Bartholomew. We then went up to the roof (we took the lift, not the stairs, we learnt from Bruges!). Being up on the roof, walking around the pinnacles and looking down on the square. Again we went earlier, so it wasn’t too busy, but some areas were closed due to the time of the morning.
We also visited Castello Sforzesco, which was the residence to Duke of Milan both the Visconti and the Sforza noble houses. The Biscione emblem is depicted all over the castle, vipers or snakes.
The Castello opens up into one of the leading parks of Milan. Considering there are no rivers or lakes in Milan (one of the few major cities I have been to without a body of water), the parks are very lush, and there is a small pond in the park that backs onto the Castello. We visited the former hospital that is now part of the University. It’s a beautiful campus with a vast green courtyard in the middle, offsetting the red brick facade.
The Last Supper
The last thing we did in Milan before heading to the airport was to visit the Last Supper. I am not overly religious or much of an art buff, however, it was a must-see. You have to book in advance; sadly you cannot just turn up, luckily (as we weren’t able to plan) we managed to get tickets (although at a much higher price than if we had booked them online in advance). The mural is on a wall in the Santa Maria Delle Grazie, which is a beautiful little church. The fresco painting is probably one of the most recognisable pieces of art in the world, and like Da Vinci’s other identifiable work I couldn’t believe the size of it. While the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris is tiny, The Last Supper takes up the whole wall of the refectory.
I can’t say how much pizza, pasta and gelato I ate in three days! Milan is a wonderful city with lots of history, character and charm.
Top tip: when visiting the churches, knee and shoulders should be covered, so take a shawl, scarf or wrap with you if you are travelling in the summer months. You can purchase a ‘coverall’ type thing, but come prepared.
Top tip: there are a number of public water fountains around the city to use free of charge, take a flask or keep an empty bottle to stay hydrated.