For an impromptu romantic weekend away from home, we set our sights on Milan, the second-biggest city of the incredibly beautiful country that is Italy. Still, I will always remember the stunned reply of my Italian teacher when a student told him that she was dreaming of visiting Milan: “Milano è brutto (ugly)! It’s gray and polluted; why you wanna go there?” While I was planning my visit, the information I found on the internet was not reassuring: the city was often referred to as a gray, cold and expensive.
Nevertheless, I wanted to make up my own mind about the capital of Italian design. Every day, nearly thirty flights connect Paris to Milan, plane tickets for this journey are affordable. In January 2016, I bought round-trips with Easyjet for about €60 per person.
I was happy that Réjean decided to come with me for this weekend in Italy, because I often travel solo. My little 36-hour trip turned into a romantic city break in Milan. Unfortunately, my health problems did not go away for this trip, we are so went piano piano.
Our Romantic City Break in Milan
When traveling with Easyjet, the modus operendi is “do without checked luggage”. We both sparsely packed tiny bags (Arpenaz 10L) so that we could keep them on our back all-day long. We arrived to Milan around 11 AM and when we exited Cardona train station, we were wowed by the monumental Sforza castle. Inside this 14th-century fortress, you will find many museums including the Sforza Pinacoteca.
A leisurely walk in Parco Sempione
It was a mild sunny winter day, instead of spending time inside, we went for a stroll in Parco Sempione to admire the dolce Italian vita. Since I just cannot resist the appeal of strong espresso (and a slice apple pie), we sat down at caffè Living enjoying its panoramic windows overlooking the Arch of Peace. Across from our table sat an elderly couple. The husband, elegantly dressed, was reading La Repubblica while his wife with impeccable hair and a plunging neckline was trying to complete her crossword puzzle behind large dark sunglasses. Ah, Italy!
Refreshed, we headed towards the heart of the city. Réjean had visited Milan when he was a child and became my personal guide leading me to the major tourist attractions. When his memory failed, his smartphone came to the rescue as his phone carrier Sosh allows free data roaming in Europe.
The Touristic Heart of Milan
What a disappointment it was to discover the architecture of the Teatro Della Scala. This theater is considered the Mecca of opera, it is where Verdi and Puccini presented several of their new operas! The neoclassical building looks sad when compared to the grandeur of the Paris’s Opera Garnier. I tried to find tickets, but none matched the timetable and price I was looking for. Want to see this mythical place without splurging on seats to the opera? You can get in the concert room though the Scala Museum.
I quickly swallowed my disappointment when I discovered galleria Vittorio Emanuele II immense glass roof, what a classy shopping mall! Although this place is very touristy, the gallery is worth your time and even though you might not regularly shop at Prada or Versace, you will surely appreciate its monumental dimensions.
At the exit of the galleria, crescendo, we landed right in front of the magnificent Duomo cathedral, a gothic orgy of marble and statues. When the Irish writer Oscar Wilde visited the cathedral in 1875, he wrote to his mother:
The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.
My dear Oscar, it seldom happens but I just cannot agree with you! From the first glance, I was fascinated by this gothic revelry of marble. I really wanted to see this sight in depth, and we bought two admission tickets that included access to the roof. The interior of the church is nice to see, but I especially enjoyed the roof terraces, as they allow to see up close to the minute details of the sculpted marble. I took a lot of pleasure in discovering the Gothic structure of the building with its flying buttresses hidden behind a facade reminiscent of a barn with a pointed roof and rectangular shape.
Never losing sight of the Duomo
Innamorata with this building, I could not let it out of my sight even for the meal I was desperately craving. We simply crossed the street to enter the department store Rinascente Milano. On the top floor there are a few restaurants with a great view of the cathedral. At Il Bar, it was difficult to concentrate on one thing with the beautiful view that was offered to ourselves and the elegant Milanese with their luxury handbags and impeccably cut suits. It seems that there’s a lot of money flowing around this city: women are dressed in furs, the shops are quite luxurious, the city is clean (10x more than Paris!) and the streets seemed relatively secure (20x more!).
After waking up at dawn and exploring the city on foot for many hours, we were growing increasingly tired. When it was time for checking-in , we headed to our hotel Spadari Al Duomo located only a few steps away. We wanted to rest a little before going out for a romantic Italian dinner. While Réjean was taking a shower, I took a drink from the complimentary minibar and watched with relish the last rays of sunlight tickle the towers of Milan Cathedral.
Romantic Dinner … or Aperitivo Milanese
Tired from a long day of walking, we dragged ourselves outside of our room. Our steps naturally led us to Corso Como and Porta Garibaldi where several restaurants and bars are located. It was too early to eat, so we walked slowly while taking mental note of places that looked inviting.
It was a good excuse to drag Réjean to 10 Corso Como, the famous Milanese concept store that is similar to Colette in Paris. I contemplated for a few minutes the sublime Luggage bag from Céline, it looked so good that I was itching to buy it. Alas spending the equivalent of one month salary on an handbag is unthinkable for me, I’m not Carrie Bradshaw after-all! The boyfriend wanted to buy it for me, but it was out of the question… I prefer a romantic getaway to a fashion accessory! Like at Colette, my favorite department was the bookstore where one can find beautiful books on design, fashion and art. I wanted to indulge in book shopping, but the sheer weight of those coffee-table books held me back because I would have had to carry them in my backpack the next day.
Since it was still not yet time to eat, we stopped at a bar to get drinks. The crowd at Princi was younger and we felt more at ease than where we had lunch, no more luxury items, only joie de vivre. We ordered two Spritz Campari, and the waitress also brought two mouth-watering plates of aperitivo. I had read that it was the tradition in Milanese bar to serve small snacks to accompany drinks, but I did not expect such copious amount of food ! When it was finally time for dinner (8pm), we were not hungry anymore … and we were very tired! Fortunately, Réjean had not booked a table in one of the Michelin-starred restaurants as he had originally planned to, or else we would have been very disappointed.
Sated and determined to enjoy the Italian capital, we pushed our exploration to the Isola neighborhood where we discovered an area with resolutely modern buildings and some street art. Frankly, Milan is a beautiful city. True, it does not have the antique charm of Rome, but as a large contemporary metropolis, it seems to be a place where life is enjoyable with its charming monuments and splendid view of the Alps. I especially liked how the city harmoniously integrates modern buildings to the existing architectural heritage, a way of highlight its past while looking forward, something that, in my view, Paris has failed to achieve.
After being too early for a while, it was getting late. We made a last stop at a bakery to get some chiacchiere and we went to bed. I don’t know why, but Italian bakeries are often open until late—very nice to satisfy late-night cravings!
We crumbled on our soft bed with 28,795 steps (21 km walk) on the fitbit! Smorzando.
Addresses mentioned in a romantic city break in Milan
- [Living – café] 2 Piazza Sempione, 20154 Milano – http://www.livingmilano.com/
- [Il Duomo – cathedral] Piazza Duomo, 20121, Milano – http://www.duomomilano.it/en/
- [Rinascente Milano – department store] Piazza Duomo, 20121, Milano – https://www.rinascente.it/
- [Spadari al Duomo – Hotel ****] Via Spadari, 11, 20123 Milano – http://www.spadarihotel.com/
- [10 Corso Como – Concept store] Corso Como, 10, 20154, Milano – http://www.10corsocomo.com/
- [Princi – Bar/restaurant] Piazza XXV Aprile, 5, 20154 Milano – http://www.princi.com/
Pictures were taken using our hybrid Lumix GM-1