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Taking Pleasure Seriously

Milan – A Short Winter Vacation in Northern Italy

We decided to spend this year’s winter vacation in Milan. It was my third time visiting the city, and I still was able to discover new, magical places that made my feelings for Milan grow even stronger!

At the end of the three days we spent in the city, I kept thinking about how Milan is not usually perceived as an attractive enough destination in itself, rather a place that’s nice to ‘check out’ while in Italy, but not a place worth specifically traveling to. I won’t lie to you, I also used to think that way… The three times I’ve visited the city, it was always during a longer trip to “The Boot”, during which I would leave just a few days for Milan. I guess, based on what I've read about Milan in the past,  at first I didn’t take Milan too seriously, and would always leave a minimal number or days to visit it. And still, after being here three times I discovered there is so much to see, do, and eat in Milan {after all, it’s the second largest city in Italy, after Rome!}, so there is no reason to keep from planning an entire trip around this very special city.

The city offers a stylish mix that combines Italian tradition with the modernization of the northern city, which creates a unique atmosphere that very few cities can take pride in. The art adorning every corner, the spectacular fashion, and the italian food… What more can you ask for on a perfect urban holiday?

During our three days in Milan, we walked over 60,000 steps {😱!}, and we still didn’t get to see everything we planned to on this short trip – so even though it was my third time in Milan, I left the city wanting more 😊

STAY

Since this time we arrived in Milan in the winter, a central location was the most important criterion when choosing where to stay. Another important aspect was the type of accommodation – hotel or rental apartment. On urban holidays we often stay at an Airbnb apartment, especially because we spend most of the day outside leaving us with less time to enjoy hotel facilities. But we booked this trip a couple of months in advance and had no idea what the weather in February would look like. So in the end we selected an especially charming hotel, Galleria Vik Milano, located in the most beautiful building in town, in my eyes 😍

Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!

The description I could think of for the hotel we stayed in, Galleria Vik Milano, is art within art within art. 

What do I mean exactly? Let me explain… 

I’ll start with the location. Galleria Vik Milano is located in one of the most famous and most beautiful historic buildings in MIlan, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The neorenessaince classical gallery is actually the oldest mall in Italy. Established in 1877 , it is built of various materials such as marble, iron, and glass. The impressive architecture, frescos, mosaic floors, and high glass ceiling, extraordinarily classic and hard to take your eyes off of. The hall’s beauty and luxurious atmosphere is joined by cafes and restaurants, and the amazing designer shop windows, jewelry shops, and art galleries.

It’s been a dream of mine to stay in this magnificent structure at least once in my lifetime, and I must say that in this case, reality absolutely surpassed my every expectation. Our hotel room had a terrace with a view to the gallery and we were lucky enough to watch the gallery at all hours of the day – under a soft, early morning light, when early risers are out buying a coffee and pastry on their way to work; late at night, when the store fronts and balconies that surround the gallery are lit up with warm lighting, and nothing but a wonderful silence is in the air; and in between, when the gallery is filled with tourists and locals, and the complex is bustling. The magic in the air is hard to explain in words, it’s one of those things you have to experience to really understand.

Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!

The hotel, which belongs to the South American resort and winery group, Vik Retreats, opened near the end of 2019, but its location in the gallery feels so natural. Just as the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery is a work of art, so is the new hotel housed in it. From the small stylish lobby, through the colorful hotel restaurant, to its 88 rooms, the hotel consists of a mixture of artworks. Different from the renaissance style which is characteristic of the complex, the hotel is decorated in a postmodern design and each one of the rooms was designed by a different artist – making each room a unique piece of art.

Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!

Aside from the hotel's dream location and visual beauty, this hotel has class and qualities that make it a perfect stay in every way.  The windows in the room are completely soundproof {very important as the hotel is located in the center of one of the city's busiest attractions}, the bed is amazing, the large marble shower and bath products are perfect, the mini-bar is replenished  with drinks and snacks on a daily basis {at no additional cost} and the breakfast is amazing in every way. The hotel restaurant, where breakfast is served, is decorated with large half-circle windows directly overlooking the gallery, so the view is really something. The meal itself is served from a buffet {where you can find the most fresh and delicious croissants!} as well as from a menu {offering eggs benedict, omelette, pancakes, etc.}.

We were lucky in the end to have sunny, perfect weather for the season, but even if I would have to spend all day long indoors in the hotel, I’d enjoy every minute.

EXPLORE

Duomo di Milano

Milan’s Duomo is one of the most beautiful buildings on earth. It’s impressive dimension and details makes it feel as if it were a hologram in a fairytale. Since our hotel was set inside Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, right next to the Duomo, we passed by the regal gothic structure several times a day, and I was mesmerised every single time. We decided to skip a visit to the cathedral this time, but we couldn’t miss another visit to the breathtaking observation located on the rooftop terrace. We purchased skip the line tickets ahead of time, which include an elevator ride, and waited no longer than a few minutes before entering. Using the skip the line tickets is particularly easy, because immediately after booking you receive an email with a PDF file that can be viewed directly from your smartphone at the entrance to the attraction. If you prefer taking the risk and not buying a ticket, I recommend that you get there before 8AM to be first in line, because once the crowds begin to arrive the line moves extremely slowly. {Better yet, get the skip the line ticket for your own peace of mind}.

The Bull of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Although I plan and organize our trip down to the finest of details, I still often miss a super famous attraction and discover it only upon returning home, which is exactly what happened during our last visit with the famous bull mosaic in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Like I said, the spectacular galley is adorned with the most intricate mosaic floor. One of the designs on the floor is the bull which represents the city of Turin, and according to Italian tradition whoever places the heel of their foot in the hole that stands for the bull’s testes and turns around three times will have good luck! Whether or not this is true, it’s a funny custom to practice, and even more amusing to watch in the midst of the busy complex 😅 

Teatro Alla Scala

Just five minutes away from the galleria is one of Milan’s top attractions, most important and renowned, the La Scala theatre. The theatre was founded in 1778 and over the years has hosted the best composers, world famous opera singers, and top conductors.

What amazed me most was that despite the great importance of this opera house and theatre, it is hard to believe from the outside that this is the place. The theater's structure is very simple, especially in light of the impressive buildings that exist in the city, so {although we used Google Maps!} It took us a while to find the place since it’s not so noticeable.

Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!

We booked a one hour tour ahead of time, which in retrospect I would definitely not have done so. Sure, we’re talking about one of the most famous opera houses in the world, and I would truly love to see an opera or a ballet here one day, but the tour itself felt like nothing more than marking it off my list as another tourist attraction. As someone who doesn’t know much about opera and classical music {I basically just know the big names} the tour felt like one big yawn. Some very famous names were dropped and other information about relevant historic events, but in fact I felt as if I were in a history course, and we didn’t even get to see the famous hall – it was during a rehearsal so the hall was dark and blocked by plastic windows {meant to block any disruption during the rehearsal}. The tour also included a visit to the theatre’s little museum, which is very beautiful, but I personally would have preferred wandering through it at my own pace, and reading about the display, rather than having to listen to brief descriptions about certain items.

Bottom line is, it wasn’t for me, but I know this is totally individual and there are those who would definitely appreciate this type of tour {especially if it’s not held during rehearsal/sound check/maintenance or anything else that could hold them back form seeing the elegant hall}. If you think this tour is for you, click here to book your tickets.

The Last Supper

One of the most famous attractions in Milan, and rightfully so, is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. The mural, which took Da Vinci several years to complete, is in the Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It is one of the most celebrated works of art that depicts, according to the New Testament,  the scene of Jesus’ final passover meal.

Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!

You may not know this about me, but I was an art major in high school, and unlike most of my classmates, I chose the major because of the art history lessons, and not so much for the practical lessons {I have two left hands when it comes to painting and sculpture, so I wasn't really into that part to say the least 😅}. Anyway, I’ve always loved the Renaissance period over other art movements {which is why I must love Italy so much! 🥰} and The Last Supper is a work that directly entered my heart, not only for its beauty, but also the techniques used by Da Vinci to create such a realistic perspective, and the hinted elements. So I was extremely excited to finally get tickets for this tour, because tickets are usually limited due to high demand. 

Unlike the tour at La Scala, this was one of the most enjoyable and interesting tours ever! {Once again, it could be because I was highly interested in the specific artwork, whereas in the opera house I really had no clue who’s who…}.

The tour begins with a brief explanation about the {not very impressive, might I add} church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. We learned about the building’s architecture and fresco paintings, and the relation to Leonardo Da Vinci. After the church tour we entered the monastery, where we had exactly 15 minutes to witness this wonderful historical work of art, and listen to an explanation about the work. Seeing this piece of art by one of the most legendary artists of all times is an amazing experience, especially because of the work’s history, it’s pretty much a miracle that it still exists. The painting is decaying over the years, especially because of the new painting technique that Da Vinci tried to invent at the time which was not very successful, and also because of all the things that have happened to the work over the years {including the bombing at its location in WWII}.

By the way, this is also the reason why the tour is only 15 minute long and why it’s so difficult to get tickets – after the last and successful restoration, they decided to limit the amount of visitors at the same time, to control the temperature in the room. In short, it is highly recommended to book your ticket in advance – this is definitely something you want to see at least once in your life.

Brera District

The Bohemian Brera District is without a doubt what comes to mind when you think of Italy – colorful buildings, quaint boutiques, vintage shops, art galleries, design shops, cafes and restaurants. The streets and alleyways in this district are absolutely charming and full of character. We were lucky to have great weather and enjoyed walking around the area and entering the special shops. We stopped at Palazzo Brera, which is in fact a restored 14th century monastery, located between the charming streets and alleys. In its center is a beautiful sculpture garden and the famous Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery. Although we didn’t enter the gallery, the building is so magnificent that we decided to take a pit stop at the museum cafe on the second floor.

Castello Sforzesco

Not far from Brera district is the ancient Castello Sforzesco, which dates back to the renaissance. Sforzesco is one of the largest castles in the world, and is considered as one of Milan’s most significant symbols. The castle is surrounded by magnificent gardens and was built and destroyed many times over the years, while some say that its current version was partly built by Michelangelo or Da Vinci. In the past, the castle housed numerous leaders, dukes, and tyrants, but after World War II, it became a cultural center and home to 38 museums and galleries, which include a large collection of art from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. We had planned to enter some of the museums on site, but since the weather was so beautiful we wanted to spend as much time as we could outdoors, and decided instead to hang around the private gardens.

Parco Sempione

From Castello Sforzesco we went on to the adjacent Sempione park. The largest park in Milan, with lakes {and ducks! 😍}, sweet little bridges, fountains and walking and biking trails… Since we arrived on a sunny winter day, there was a small fair with rides and food stands, lots of people were out in the park, resting on benches or even having picnics. I can imagine that in the summertime, when the park is in bloom, it must be even more impressive.

Arco della Pace

The Arch of Peace {also known as Porta Sempione} is found at the far end of the park {when coming from Castello Sforzesco}. If this arch reminds you of another famous victory arch it ain’t by chance 😊 A reflection of the French ‘Arc de Triomphe’, this arch was built in honor of Napoleon’s invasion of Milan and his victory over the Italian army. Arco della Pace is located at the top of Corso Sempione, which is the route that links Milan to Paris.

You’re more than welcome to read about more attractions Milan has to offer in this guide to Milan and also on this website, where you can order tickets online and enjoy the best the city has to offer without having to wait in line.

EAT

Well you can’t publish a guide to Italy without mentioning the food, although I must admit that this time around I don’t have a lot of new info, and for good reason.

First of all, we had an over the top breakfast at the hotel each morning {not the kind of meal you hold yourself back in, if you know what I mean 😅} so the truth is we were  pretty full for the rest of the day and sort of snacked our way throughout the day. {and didn’t really feel like going to any restaurants}.

Second of all, we enjoyed the places we visited last time so much that we had to go back – the chubby Spontini pizza, Luini’s panzerotti, and the most amazing ice gelato by Cioccolati Italiani and Venchi… The only new snack we got to eat was Zia Esterina Sorbillo‘s Old Neapolitan Fried Pizza (apparently they have 3 branches in Naples and only one branch in Milan!}.

Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!
Winter citytrip in Milan | Things to do in the Italian fashion capital - Where to stay, restaurants & food spots, fun places and much more! |טיול חורף בעיר מילאנו | דברים לעשות בבירת האופנה האיטלקית - איפה כדי לישון, מקומות אוכל שווים, מקומות מהנים ועוד!

Third of all, we arrived in the city for three nights only, one of them being Valentine’s day, and the other two nights were over the weekend so anywhere we checked was already fully booked {and the rest seemed tourist and uninviting}, so note for next time – email the hotel a week before you arrive so they can reserve your table at any restaurant of your choice  🙃

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2 Responses

  1. WOW Post!!
    As a professional photographer, I loved the way you posted the pictures. It’s just admiring me to get into that place once in a while.
    Keep inspiring… Thanks!!

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