Earlier this year I toured Italy with my family. We took major stops in Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome, with other minor stops along the way. The trip was incredible, and each of the four cities definitely deserve its own write-up. So we will start here with Milan.
Simply put, Milan is a fun city. It has that old feel that many European cities do: a feel you can’t quite get in American major cities. Milan is even more interesting in that it has a solid mix of different types of architecture. According to our guide, Francis, Milan has been destroyed and rebuilt various times. Due to this, you can find Roman, Gothic and other beautiful architecture throughout different areas of the city.
One of my first recommendations if you find yourself in Milan is to simply walk around and enjoy your surroundings. There are plazas with historic statues of individuals famous to the city, narrow, winding alleys with stone pathways, and seemingly infinite cafes and restaurants where you can grab some pizza, pasta, ice cream, or a quick coffee.
Another positive contributor for the beauty and draw of this city is its surroundings. The Alps dominate your view from the city to the North. I always enjoy cities that have nature so closely nearby, and seeing the snow-peaked Alps as you leave or enter Milan really is breathtaking.
I’ll give you a fun fact of the Alps (initially written down as our tour guide was stating it on our bus). The Alps were initially underwater and formed by the collision of tectonic plates. Apparently if you remove the ice off of the peaks in a certain section you would find coral. Kinda cool.
OK so back into the city. The most famous tourist destination within the city is the Santa Maria di Naciente Cathedral, located next to the Piazza (plaza) d’il Duomo. (which is a perfect place to hang out in itself). The cathedral is Italian Gothic and has incredible detail from the huge, ornate main door to the stone carvings of the walls. Honestly, you can spend a ton of time admiring the art of this cathedral without even going in. Even though essentially all of the information I learned in my architecture and art classes while studying abroad in Europe alluded me, I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of this cathedral.
Inside you will find a fairly typical interior of a Gothic cathedral, but the main area really is spectacular. Here you will find a giant stain glass window behind the pulpit, each pane on the lower section depicting a story from the Bible. Huge painted tapestries line the upper sections of the chamber, with beautiful and precise archways rounding out the top of the cathedral. Colossal marble pillars stand on each side of the rows of pews. It really is quite breathtaking.
If you pay for an interior tour that leads you to the top of the cathedral, you will find the highest tower has an amazing view of the city of Milan. I always enjoy these types of views of the city, especially when I’ve already done a fair amount of exploration throughout the city. Being able to see the city from the ground and from an overlooking view helps you really understand where you are and enjoy the aesthetic of the city as a whole.
Food and Wine
If i’m being honest, the food is why I’m here (well, my sister graduating medical school is why I’m here but the food is what I’m most excited about). I love Italian food, and going right to the source of one of your favorite types of foods is always exciting.
Milan did not disappoint. We made a reservation at a place called Platina. We happened to do some research and make a reservation before we even flew out to Italy, which turned out to be a great decision. The restaurant opened at 12 15 pm. We got in right as it opened for our reservation, and by 12:45 pm there was an hour wait.
One thing I noticed, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say this will be of interest to 98% of people that read this, is that wine is fairly inexpensive. At Platina, a glass of white was 4.50 euros and a glass of red was 5. However, you could get a bottle of wine for as cheap as 16 euros. I don’t usually get bottles from restaurants, but I believe these types of prices for good Italian wine is a pretty solid deal.
Now, I have a semi-decent wine knowledge (as all gentleman should). I’m no sommelier, but I at least can appreciate notes, aromas, etc. of different wines, and understand enough to compare different wines of the same family. At Platina, I tried both a Riesling and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The first thing I immediately noticed was how smooth both were. To be fair, I’m probably used to drinking wine more on the cheap side, so having authentic wine in Italy, and from Italy, is probably higher quality than I’m used to. Regardless, the wine was excellent, and helped set the tone for what would be an incredible first meal in this fantastic city.
I ordered a very simple ravioli meal but they were easily the best ravioli I’ve ever had. I’m sure placebo effect of being in Italy plays a huge role, but they really did taste fresh. One of the obvious reasons for that was because the pasta was homemade right then and there. I’m telling you, I could’ve had 50 of them easily.
For dinner we went to a restaurant with the entire tour group called il Kaimano. They served us course after course of fresh, delicious, authentic food. Caprice, ricotta-stuffed zucchini, prosciutto, risotto, thinly-sliced beef, and fried calamari, shrimp and vegetables. Our food was accompanied by a local Chianti, which of course was delicious as well.
Breakfast was at the hotel, and honestly it may have been my favorite meal. If you are looking for a hotel to stay at while in Milan I would recommend the Crowne Plaza solely off how good breakfast was. I’m talking pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, prosciutto, cheeses, breads, salami, you name it. They also had a juice area with maybe 8 different kinds of juices, from your typical apple and orange to pineapple, apricot, and pear juices. I essentially ate until I was comfortable, then ate some more. I don’t usually eat breakfast, and when I do it’s usually fairly small, but I could not stop here and can’t recommend it enough.
As you may or may not know, Milan is one of the biggest fashion cities of the world, and did not disappoint. If you’re into shopping, you will appreciate the shopping districts in Milan, as they have every retailer you can think of, from high fashion to athletic wear.
What I appreciated was the local shops. Any city you go to is going to have fashion outlets like Zara, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, etc. However, walking into a local Milan store that I can’t find back home in the United States is definitely more gratifying to me. Some were high end, but others were perfect options for those on a budget. There are definitely shops for everyone in this city.
Adjacent to the Piazza d’il Duomo is a cool outdoor mall, complete with elaborate lighting, high end shops, restaurants, and cafes. I’d imagine that if I was living in the city near-bye, I would absolutely take advantage of this place, as it seemed a perfect spot to meet up and spend time with friends, or hang out with your family.
Overall, I enjoyed Milan, and wish we had been able to spend some more time there. It had a familiar city feel while still being noticeably unique to an Italian city. The architecture was interesting, and displayed the long and powerful history of Milan. The food was excellent, the wine was superb, and the atmosphere everywhere we went seemed relaxed and enjoyable. I would definitely recommend stopping by Milan if you plan on touring Italy.