Italy | Milan – a city full of surprises
Twist on bull’s testicles, walk amongst angels and gargoyles, take in the last supper with the most famous man of all time, hide away in an art deco bar for a thirst-quenching respite, and jump on a tram restaurant while circumnavigating the heart of Milan.
If you’re finding it difficult to crunch down your long list of things to see and do, try this one on for size.
First head to the Milan Duomo in Piazza del Duomo. Take the lift or the stairs to the cathedral’s rooftop and walk amongst saints, gargoyles, angels, martyrs and patriarchs. At the very top of the tallest spire is the Madonnina (Little Madonna) in all its golden glory. Once you have soaked up the spectacular views the giddy heights of the Duomo, descend to ground level and explore the cathedral itself. The cathedral was nearly 600 years in the making. Adorned with 135 spires and 3400 statues, this pearly-white Gothic cathedral deserves your attention and appreciation. Don’t rush it! You’ll need a couple of hours and it’s worth the effort. Purchase the audio guide when booking your tickets online. The guide is comprehensive giving you the luxury of viewing at your own pace. Recommended: book your tickets to both the Duomo and Duomo rooftop on line well in advance.
Next stop, time for serious retail therapy and some fun. Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II (literally next door to the Duomo) is a luxe, late 19th century version of a covered bazaar. It was originally the street between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala (the dome and the opera respectively). In a bold move, the street was covered as a market and has become the key meeting point for the Milanese and tourists alike. While you’re there, you will undoubtedly feast your eyes on handsome carabinieri wearing splendid navy-blue capes and silver-gilt swords patrolling the Galleria. It’s a sight to behold.
This shopping precinct boasts high-end boutiques including the usual suspects Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Versace, alongside standout tie specialist Cade’s, and leather fashion accessories stores Piumelli and Mejana. You’ll also find sumptuous restaurants including standout Marchesi 1824. Do make time to pop into the irresistible book specialist Libreria Bocca which cleverly combines collectible literature and art in one sublime space.
If you’re not flush with euros don’t despair. Window shopping is equally satisfying. For a fun experience that costs nothing: look for four different mosaics on the Galleria’s floor. Each mosaic represents a city in Italy. The red cross is for Milan; the bull is the symbol for Torino; the she-wolf and Romulus and Remus mosaic represents Rome; the lily is for Florence. Look for the seal of Turin mosaic on the galleria’s floor. Join the crowd and try your luck twisting around atop the bull’s testicles for good luck. You won’t actually find the testicles but a hole where the testicles should be! On one foot, twist around quickly on your heel. You must turn making three consecutive circles. Although some say only one 360-degree turn is necessary, two additional turns will surely augur well? Myth has it that the popularity of this pastime is why there is a hole (or indentation) where the testicles are supposed to be. You may feel a little silly at first, but you won’t be alone – there’s always a small crowd of people awaiting their turn.
And talking crowds, The Last Supper mural by Leonardo da Vinci continues to draw masses of tourists daily. A brief walk from the Galleria, the mural is located on the wall of the refectory adjoining the Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie convent on Corso Magenta. Covering an entire refectory wall, Da Vinci’s 15th century masterpiece depicts the few seconds after Jesus Christ reveals to his 12 disciples that one will betray him.
The mural has seen its fair share of painstaking restoration and preservation which has left many to argue whether there may be serious misrepresentation of Da Vinci’s final design. In truth, the world is lucky The Last Supper is still standing considering Santa Maria delle Grazie convent came under attack from Napoleon’s forces, and later Allied forces bombed the refectory during World War II.
A pre-booked guided tour is recommended as there’s much to learn about this world-famous work. The tour is around 45 minutes including a maximum 15 minutes to enter, view and exit the hermetically sealed refectory dining room where The Last Supper is located. Once you have completed your tour, the next step is to find a place to enjoy a glass of vino, relax and absorb what you’ve just seen. Best tip: Bar Magenta
Only five minutes on foot from the convent, at the intersection of Corso Magenta and Via Carducci, is Milan’s oldest bar. Bar Magenta with its old wood-panelled walls, original cash desk, sideboards, and panini counter, vintage art deco lamps, and big golden clock hanging from the ceiling. If you’re thirsting for a beer, you’ll find plenty of good brews on offer, popular with the Milanese business crowd and students who have made this their ‘local’.
To complete your day in Milan, cap it off with a dinner on the restaurant tram through ATMosfera. Booking is required months in advance but its worth the effort. As you dine of fine fare, your tram travels past some of the city’s finest sites including the Duomo and the centre of Milan, Teatro alla Scala, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Available all year round, there are two trams giving you dining options. The 70 euro per head price tag includes a four-course dinner, welcome drink and a bottle of wine per couple. The tram restaurant experience lasts about 2.5hours.
Where is Milan: Located in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, Milan is considered one of the world’s fashion and design capitals.
Good to know: you can access the Duomo rooftop via a lift or stairs. Do not attempt climbing the stairs with a full belly of pasta or a hangover from too many Aperol Spritz. There’s no stopping points for you to catch your breath.