I am forever left awed by Italy. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that offers up history, art, culture, gastronomy and natural wonders in the same abundance. Couple that with beautiful weather and wonderful people, and you truly have the most dolce of vitas. I actually spent several of my teenage years based in Rome, but despite my geographical stationing, until last week I had never ventured further north than Florence – ridiculous I know. So when my boyfriend was called to Milan for a meeting, I suggested that we extend his trip for a long weekend and visit Verona and Venice too – after all on a map, they are only a few centimetres away.
In practice the cities aren’t exactly next door to one another, but in three days we managed to see some of the world’s most beautiful places and I managed to eat more pasta and ice cream, and drink more Aperol Spritz than I thought was humanly possible – yes I did actually put three kilos on (Madonna!). So here’s how I did it – I flew direct with SAS from Stockholm, rented a car with Hertz, and set off…
Slept: Celebrating its 150th anniversary, the Grand Hotel et de Milan has hosted the likes of Verdi and Maria Callas in its time, and its opulent decor and old world charm suggest nothing less. Whilst the hotel itself is grandiose, rooms are comparatively modern and well equipped with all your necessary mod-cons. We took breakfast (me fruit, fresh juice, “cornetti” and cappuccino – him ready to order omelette) in the conservatory, a prime position for people watching. The location is unrivalled, as its only five minutes from the Duomo on foot.
Culture: We only had a day in Milan so sadly I didn’t get to see all the sites, but The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie is an absolute must. Stroll through the glass-roofed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on your way to the Duomo and pop into the Castello Sforzesco – sadly popping was all we had time for as there are 12 small museums, which is a lot!
Ate & Drank: Wow. I might have put on my three kilos in Milan alone! Here’s why: We grabbed a panzerotti from Luini behind the Piazza del Duomo for lunch (not sure how I feel about these pizza come sandwiches if honest) and a juice on the sun terrace of the Rinascente department store which is located to the right of the Duomo. We then went on a bit of an aperitivo frenzy, drinking Aperol Spritz’s and enjoying the inclusive buffets at LA Hora Feliz (amazing), Marc Jacobs and then the Nobu bar (who can go wrong with inclusive sushi) – totally excessive I know. We met a friend for a delicious dinner at La Tradizionale Milano, which is off the beaten tourist track but worth the trek for the incredible food. We danced the night away at The Armani Club next door to Nobu. Yes. In a day I ate ALL that.
Shopped: The Rectangle of Gold are the luxurious shopping streets of via della Spiga, via Manzoni, via Sant’Andrea and via Montenapoleone. This quadrant host some of the most premium labels – whether or not you plan on spending your bucks, stroll the avenues and take in their well dressed clientele.
Slept: On a friend’s recommendation we stayed at Il Sogno di Giulietta and I cannot praise this quaint boutique hotel enough. Located overlooking the Juliet courtyard, guests have exclusive after-hours access to the fabled residence of the love-struck heroine. Breakfast is served in bed. Magical.
Culture: I was blown away by Verona – how can one small city house so many beautiful churches and buildings? With only a day to explore the town we were up early starting at the Arena, before purchasing a €6 ticket to gain entry to San Zeno, Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo (make sure you visit the lower church) and Duomo – some of the most breathtakingly beautiful churches I’ve seen. We grabbed a gelato and headed to the Castelvecchio bridge to wonder at the view of the city and explored the back alleys of Piazza delle Erbe.
Ate & Drank: I thought Piazza delle Erbe would only serve up touristy grub, but Mazzanti proved me wrong – try the fresh ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and sage. The adjacent bars also served up a great buzzy aperativo in the evening with a high local head count. We ate incredibly at the 12 Apostoli, and if you go make sure you ask to see the wine cellar downstairs – the building has a fascinating history. The surrounding streets are packed with bars that spill onto the streets – Verona is far cooler than originally meets the eye.
Shopped: There wasn’t much time for shopping but I popped into Folks briefly and the launch party of Veronese brand Lovers which delivered a fun MSGM vibe.
Slept: In Venice we stayed at the Hotel Boscolo Bellini, which is right next to the train station and a five minute walk from 24hr parking – handy in a city where water taxis rule the roost. With only a 20 minute walk to all the sightseeing hotspots, the hotel was the perfect base for our day-stay. Our room looked over the canal and had a beautiful glass chandelier over the bed.
Culture: Culture? Where do I even begin, hey!? Venice is a city to get lost in. Exploring the winding cobbled alleys and bridges when the tourist buses have departed for the night is an experience second to none. S. Maria dei Frari and Campo S. Rocco was where I kickstarted the day before heading over to the incredible curated Gallery de Academia. From here I walked over to S. Maria della Salute to admire the incredible view of St Mark’s Square, our next point of call. I have never seen an interior to a cathedral quite like St Mark’s – brave the queues and venture in no matter what. Ponte Rialto offers a lovely view over the canal.
Ate & Drank: Food in Venice is notoriously inferior to its neighbouring towns, on saying that I had a lovely pasta al pesto on Campo Santa Margherita and dinner at Albaco Felice, which is located in the more residential area of Venice. I of course did not miss the opportunity to have a delicious Spritz in the beverage’s birthplace, near the Rialto bridge.
For next time: On the way to Bergamo airport (Ryanair’s definition of Milan airport) we popped into Largo d’Iseo for a pre-plane bite (yes I know, more food) – I couldn’t believe how beautiful this little-known lake is. Next trip will have to be a lake-hopping one, from Como to Garda…I am mentally packing my suitcase already.
Any places in Northern Italy you could recommend? Send your tips my way!