On Site: Rail Europe Trip— Day One in Milan

Italy’s Armani Hotel Milano is one of 40 properties in the RockStar Hotels collection.

I can’t believe it’s been less than a day since we arrived in Milan. It feels like three, at least.

We landed about an hour behind schedule at 9 a.m. local time (thanks, Delta!) and headed into heart of the city, to the Hilton Milan, a perfectly nice hotel that’s walking distance to the train station—and since trains are at the heart of this trip, it’s quite apropos that we’re so nearby. For our first day, we got around the city via bus and on foot—more of the latter than the former—and explored as many highlights as could be crammed into 10 hours.


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Of course, this is Italy, so we had to start off with some food. The concierge at the hotel recommended the Bar New York for lunch, and we all raised our eyebrows with concern. Fearing a deli or some kitschy pseudo-New-Yorker kind of place, we went around the corner and were delighted to find a genuine Italian luncheonette with some very tasty salads and pastas. The buffalo mozzarella was tangy and warm and very fresh, and my gnocchi Bolognese was delicious.

After lunch, we used our passes for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour of the city, heading down the Corso Venezia—this fashion-forward city’s most famous shopping street—and passing such iconic stores as Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Vivienne Westwood and plenty more.


Exterior shot of the Duomo


We hopped off (as one does on these bus tours) in front of the Duomo, reportedly the fourth-largest church in the world. The piazza in front of the massive building is a hub of activity, and is great for people-watching. Warn your clients to be careful of the panhandlers and any possible pickpockets. (People were selling handfuls of corn for the pigeons, and literally put their hands less than an inch in front of my nose. Not the most effective of all marketing methods, I must say…)

Another thing to bear in mind: The cathedral does not allow bare shoulders or backs (at least for women—I didn’t notice if they let men wearing tank-tops in). If your clients plan to go inside in summer, remind them to bring a jacket or shawl.


Interior shot of the Duomo


Inside, the cathedral is simply awe-inspiring in its size, beauty and design. Dark and solemn, it still radiates an opulence of a bygone era, and the attention to detail is breathtaking. It was surprisingly crowded for the middle of a Monday afternoon, but all the visitors were quiet and respectful, and the experience was lovely, if far too short. Suggest your clients spend at least an hour—preferably more—exploring the cathedral.

See more of what you can tour in Italy in the video below.

Rather than return to the bus, we opted to wander around the narrow streets by the Duomo and find the Teatro alla Scala—more popularly known as La Scala. On the way, we ducked into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, looking to find something cold to drink. At the four corners where the two parts of the arcade meet, there is a silver shop, a Prada, a Louis Vuitton…and a McDonalds. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. (We avoided Mickey D’s and went to Savini for some gelato—the perfect thing for a hot day.)

Outside the Galleria, the Corso Vittorio Emanuele has lots of great shopping for the junior set. (Nothing as fancy as Prada or Louis Vuitton, but we found some great deals in a Zara.)

Oh, yes, and after wandering for quite a while, we did find La Scala. And yes, it’s beautiful.

For dinner, our concierge (whose word we will never doubt again) sent us to Ristorante da Berti, which has a gorgeous outdoor garden for alfresco dining. The patio is completely enclosed by topiary (well, almost completely—we could see the lawn where the outdoor grill was cooking the restaurant’s meats), making it hard to remember that one is dining in the middle of a bustling city. The food was magnificent—all of the pasta is made in-house, and everything was rich and delicious, from the prosciutto and melon to the risotto alla Milanese to the Ossobuco…The menus are not available in English, but the very friendly staff can communicate perfectly well with non-Italian speakers (the patio was a modern-day Babel), and can help diners choose the perfect meal.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to fall into a deep food coma.