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Archive for the ‘Shopping in Italy’ Category

Bargello View from Uffizi Firenze

Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence – View from Uffizi Gallery

On an early spring day in 1475, a young girl sat on a stool in the workshop of the Italian master, Andrea del Verrocchio.  A fresh bouquet of wildflowers had been given to her just before she sat in the master’s studio.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni, Verrocchio was well known in the halls of Medici power in Florence during the early Renaissance. His study of this particular young girl rests on a stand in what is now called the Sale Verrocchio  – a small second floor gallery in the Bargello Museum in Florence.

The question that, even today, occupies the minds of many art critics and historians about Verrochio’s bust of that Tuscan girl is “Who created the bust of Dama col Mazzolino?”

Museo del Bargello, in the heart of Florence’s Medieval city center, seems an austere and perplexing location for yet another extraordinary collection of art. This was the seat of the Podesta, the Chief magistrate of the city for centuries and the place of execution for nearly an equal number of years.  Bargello’s imposing crenelated tower, which competes in scale with its nearby neighbor the Badia Fiorentina (Abbey of Florence),  pierces the skyline of the city.

To climb the long exterior staircase of the courtyard is to literally rise above Michelangelo (a collection of Buonarotti’s works occupies the ground floor gallery) and arrive in the the midst of invaluable art patronage: Donatello’s David, the gallery of the Della Robbia workshops, and much more.

DSC_4210

Main Stairway Bargello Florence

Many visitors to the Bargello are, by the time they arrive at the Sale Verrocchio (The Verrocchio Room), too tired to pay much attention to the beauty of the works contained therein. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the wave-aged windows as noise rises from the streets below and on top of fatigue, the heat often erodes interest. My advice? Take a break and study, in particular, this singular cinnamon-hued marble masterpiece.

Dama col Mazzolino

Dama col Mazzolino

Now, the mystery.

One of Verrocchio’s students was a young man from the village of Vinci, one Leonardo. Verrocchio also worked with Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio – an incredible collection of the best artists of the day.

As art historians have studied the young woman, a number of experts began to doubt that only Verrocchio, and perhaps not Verrocchio at all, carved the bust. On several of Leonardo’s works there is a nearly identical style to the hands he painted.

Here are some examples, next to the Damma Col Mazzolino.

Verrochio Hands

Damma Col Mazzolino
Hand Study
Verrocchio 1475

Lady With An Ermine Da Vincie 1489-1490

Hands-Lady with an Ermine-DaVinci 1490

Note the striking similarity in the position of the hands. The elongated stretch of the fingers are nearly identical. One additional remarkable note about the resemblance of Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s work are from Da Vinci’s most famous fresco, Il Cenacolo, the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie Convent in Milan.

During a recent visit to that Convent, I noticed the hands of St. Phillip, who stands three disciples to the left of Christ in Da Vinci’s fresco.

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

Hands of Phillipus
Il Cenocolo, Da Vinci

Note, again, the nearly identical position of the saint’s right hand in this fresco to the hands in the works detailed above. Was it simply coincidence that these similarities exist? Many art historians and critics believe that if Leonard did not actually carve the hands (at a minimum) on the young girl holding flowers, Verrocchio’s influence on Da Vinci’s style was both remarkable and deep.

Such, perhaps, is the ‘science’ of art. While technologically advanced equipment can assess the age and condition of works of men and women, the true gift of the artist is in the mystery of their vision. Whether you agree with the discourse on these works of art, I believe those who take the time to study them will come to more deeply understand the effect of the Florentine masters, and their studios, on their students.

My vision, when I study the young Tuscan girl in that small gallery in Florence, is of a young Leonardo, fired by talent and desire, absorbing and learning from every mark of his master’s chisel, every stroke of paint on canvas. Da Vinci’s contemporaries, like Perugino and Ghirlandaio, were at hand to watch, sketch and stare in wonder at the creative energy so perfectly expressed by their teacher. Each of Verrocchio’s pupils learned to create their own work, while paying homage to the genius of the man who taught them.

I will conclude this post with two images. One by Verrocchio, discussed in this blog, and the other by one of Verrocchio’s students.

Yet another opportunity to compare and consider the comparative work of masters: Verrocchio and . . ?

AII58286Girl - by Verrocchio Studen

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Fishing Boats – Manarola, Cinque Terre 

As I headed out that first morning, walking the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola, I remember being, simply, stunned at the beauty of the coastline. The path, in sections, is a bit of a challenge, but who cares when you have views like that!

The approach to Manarola from the south is not as spectacular as those who encounter views as they near the village from the north. Once inside the village however, I was again surprised and enchanted by the narrow lanes, the friendliness of the people and the sense that these places are straight from a 1950’s Cinecittà vision of bella Italia.

While I imagined that living along the coast, before it was ‘discovered’ was not just difficult, but downright tough, the positive impact on people’s lives from all we visitors is evident in shops, restaurants, hotels and B&B’s.

Poet and writer Eugenio Montale, who lived in Manarola for over thirty years,  wrote of senses heightened, of that compelling dichotomy between poetic beauty and darker truths.

Every moment brings new leaves to you,
amazement overwhelming every other
fleeting joy: life comes on headlong waves
to this far garden corner.
Now you stare down at the soil;
an undertow of memories
reaches your heart and almost overwhelms it.
A shout in the distance: see, time plummets,
disappears in hurried eddies
among the stones, all memory gone; and I
from my dark lookout reach
for this sunlit occurrence. 

As evening descended on this first full day on the coast, I took a seat in a small cafe and observed. Locals stopped to discuss the day’s developments, tourists peered at menus posted outside trattorias and cafes and a gentle breeze en wrapped the lanes as curtains billowed from windows high above. The lull of the ever present sea slowed us all to the pace of Italian life.

There is a question I ask myself all the time in Italy, and it has to do with love. There is not a region, hardly a place, in this incredible country that I don’t find myself asking “How can anyone not fall in love with the . . .?

Such a question is one asked as I sit on the rocks near the harbor and enjoy sunset by the sea.

Before I get to “If You Go” and the details of staying in, and enjoying meals in, Manarola, I leave you with a photograph from National Geographic.

In its capture of the restless sea and the fishermen’s boats and homes, I see an encapsulated summary of the Cinque Terre’s attractions: rocks, precipitous cliffs, quiet lanes and extraordinary beauty. Enjoy.

Manarola – Photo: National Geographic

IF YOU GO:

Hotels Manarola

As is true with all of the villages along the coast, you are strongly encouraged to book your hotel rooms(s) well in advance of your travel dates. If you visiting during late October – late March, then you will find accommodations available for ‘last minute’ arrivals. Regardless, reserve in advance and you will have one less worry for your trip.

These are all places I have stayed, over the years, in Manarola. You may well have a favorite, yet I can recommend these with confidence that you will enjoy a safe and fairly-priced stay.

La Torretta   

Vico Volto, 20 | Piazza della Chiesa, 19017 Manarola, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.920.327

Carugiu B&B  

Via Ettore Cozzani, 42  19017 Riomaggiore Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: (Italian Cell Number) +39.349.346.9208

Affittacamere San Giorgio  

Via Discovolo 280 – 19017 Manarola (SP)

Tel. +39.0187.760.542

Restaurants Manarola

During high season, you should reserve for dinner in most places in Manarola. The restaurants are, in general, very small and fill quickly for the evening meal. I recommend these places. I have eaten in them and have enjoyed wonderful meals and refreshments at a fair price.

Trattoria Locanda il Porticciolo 

Via Renato Birolli, 88  Riomaggiore, Province of La Spezia, Italy

0187 920083

Aristide (no web site)

Via Discovolo  19017 Manarola, Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.920.000

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Livorno Panorama, Piazza XX Settembre

Livorno. For most travelers, it is only the final destination for trains that connect Florence with Montecatini Terme, Lucca and Pisa. However, for those with a curiosity about renaissance history, those who wish to visit a less crowded city and those interested in seeing unique canals, add Livorno to your list of places you must visit while in Tuscany.

Bernardo Buontalenti, (Bernardo Delle Girandolea) a highly respected architect, military engineer and artist of the 16th Century, designed the fortifications that stand to this day at the port entrance. The port’s geographic proximity to Pisa and Florence (over land and by transport on the River Arno) created the need for the port’s protection.

Leggi Livornine 1587

It was the laws of trade, in the latter part of the 16th Century, that created Livorno’s nickname of “Venice of Tuscany”. Ferdinand I di Medici,

Grand Duke of Tuscany, created what was called the Leggi Livornine in 1587. The law created a ‘porto Franco’, or tax free port for goods that moved through the city. This law motivated merchants from across Europe, who sought the advantages of location and cost savings, to establish branches of their businesses in the city.

To help move goods to warehouses and to facilitate ease of transportation, these new companies supported the creation of canals which connected the places of business to the main port and sea. Thus was born “Veneiza Nuova” or “New Venice” as that area of the city came to be called.

The new trade  laws also created a city politic that became a welcome safe haven for those who sought refuge from both religious and political persecution. One of the little-known effects of the Thirty-Years War was that the economy of Livorno particularly, and Italy in General, experienced a serious and long-lasting downturn.

In early 1921, Livorno was the birthplace of the Italian Communist Party and to this day is known as a very left-leaning city. Politics and intrigue aside, this is a lovely city and absolutely worth your time to visit while in Tuscany.

Livorno “Venezia Nuova”

The city today is a major departure point for ferry services that connect Livorno to Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and other Med ports. If you have the time, taking the ferry between locations during your trip can be both helpful and enjoyable.

Livorno is famous, as well, for its being home to the Italian Naval Academy.

Ferry Services from Livorno:

IF YOU GO:

Trains to Livorno run nearly every hour to Florence. You can also head north toward Genoa and the “Cinque Terre”, or direct to Rome. For schedules and costs, go to  http://www.trenitalia.it. If you are driving into the city, my recommendation is to park close to the port at the Parcheggio Custodito al Porto (the secure parking area near the port). If you have a choice of taking the train or driving, take the train!

Driving in Livorno is complicated by security systems which limit the access of cars to the city center – much like most cities in Tuscany.

If your schedule allows, you can take a ferry from Livorno to some major locations in the Mediterranean, including Sicily, from the port. For further information, here are some links to review:

Direct Ferries Schedules and Information

Moby Lines Ferry Service Information

Private Guides for city tours – Livorno

Private Guides, Livorno

Tourist Information, Livorno

Restaurants in Livorno

This list is focused on restaurants in the Venetian quarter of the city. There are certainly others. However this the neighborhood with the most picturesque places to enjoy a meal. There are many excellent restaurants in the city. The short list, below, are places I have enjoyed dinners and/or lunches over the years.

Al Fosso Reale

Rated very highly on several web sites, this lovely small restaurant is located near the Fortezza Nuova in the city center. Well worth going-I’ve only eaten here once for dinner, and highly recommend this place to all. Order the “Zuppa di Pesce di Livorno” – Local seafood soup. Outstanding!

Al Fosso Reale

Scali delle Cantine 52/54, Livorno

Tel: +39.0586.888.474

Trattoria L’Antica Venezia

I’ve had the privilege of eating in this small delightful place several times. The food is outstanding, fairly priced and the service reliable and friendly. GO!

Trattoria L’Antica Venezia

Piazza dei Domenicani,  15 Livorno

Tel: +39.0586.887.353

ttp://www.livornonow.com/lantica_venezia_trattoria_in_livorno_tuscany_italy

Chez Ugo Pizzeria

Don’t expect fancy in any way, yet this place serves exceptional pizza – of more kinds that you can count – in a clean and busy atmosphere. For lunch its great, for a light dinner even better.

Scali Monte Pio, 35, 57123 Livorno

Tel: +39.0586.219.230

Hotels in Livorno

Hotel Gennarino

This lovely hotel is located directly across the Via Italia, along the waterfront across from the Naval Academy. The rooms are clean and the rates are very good-between

Hotel Gennarino

Viale Italia, 301 – 57127 livorno (LI)

Hotel Teatro

Located in the heart of the city, this hotel was recently fully updated and modernized. Excellent location, great rooms and fair prices. A wonderful hotel base while in Livorno.

Hotel Teatro

Via Mayer, 42/57

Tel: +39.0586.89.8705

Hotel Stazione

Located an easy walk from the train station, this is a very nice property in the city center. If you are planning on an overnight for an early train or ferry, this would be a great place for an inexpensive evening. Lots of cafes and trattorias in the neighborhood. I do not recommend this hotel if you are hoping to be close to the canal neighborhood of the city, though.

Hotel Stazione

Viale Carducci, 301 – Livorno (LI)

Tel: +39.0586.429.504

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Rooftops of Lucca

Let’s see . . . it was in 2004 that I was walking in front of Sant’Alessandro Maggiore in central Lucca with Alessandro Tombelli, a friend from Florence. He saw one of his acquaintances, Wanda Martinelli, standing with a group of tourists. She was able to wave and speak briefly before moving on with her group.

For the past eight years, our small group tours with Private Italy Tours have visited Lucca and Wanda has always been our constant companion during those visits. A Lucchese by birth, she is passionate about her city and shares an incredible level of knowledge during the day that we spend with her. She has become a dear friend.

It has been in the course of those years, visiting Lucca with and without clients, that I have come to deeply love and respect the history of this incredible walled city. There are so many places to visit and sights to see. This post shares some history as well as impressions of my favorite places within a beautiful, and rightly famous, Tuscan city.

From Roman occupation to Silk-A Brief Overview

It is relatively easy to imagine the most important moments in Lucca’s long history by walking inside the city walls. In 177 B.C. a Roman colony was established along the banks of the Auserculus (Orzieri) river. As with all Roman colonies, there were four gates that permitted access to the city along the two main roads.

It was during the 2nd Century A.D. that a large amphitheater was built just outside the northeast gate of the city. By the end of the 2nd Century, there were over 10,000 inhabitants in the area. The main commerce routes of the city were connected to the Via Cassia (linking Rome and Florence) as well as other roads that lead to the sea (west) or to Bologna (north).

Lucca Street View

It was when the silk trade was established with the Far East that Lucca became enormously wealthy. Numerous families used their fortunes to create incredible country estates in the hills outside the city. (see A Day Near Lucca for further details and information about the villas and gardens.)

From the time of the Romans, through the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, Lucca has retained the words that represent the spirit of the city: Libertas (Liberty).  The city has never been militarily nor politically subdued until the unification of Italy in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Inside the walls – The Conservative Lucchesi

Ostentatious displays of wealth, with the exception of Lucca’s churches, were forbidden at the time that the growth of the silk trade made the city extremely wealthy.  When you visit the city you will notice that the exterior of the largest family palaces is, architecturally, conservative while still showing, by size alone, the importance of the owners.

The list of these incredible city villas reflects the names of the wealthiest families: Mansi, Pfanner, Micheletti, Bernardini, Diodati-Orsetti to name but a few. The Palazzo Ducale, now the seat of the Lucca Provincial government, was once the private home of Elisa Baiocchi. Who was Elisa? She was Napoleon’s younger sister. In 1805, and already titled the Princess of Piombino, she was given the Republic of Lucca to govern.

Enormously unpopular among the residents of the city, she tore down blocks of buildings in what is now the Piazza Napoleone so that she could enjoy ‘views’ from her palace.

As you stroll the streets of the city, the sheer number of these huge villas cannot fail to impress upon you the incredible power, and financial resources, of Lucca.

Churches, Churches, Churches

Lucca was once referred to as the “City of One Hundred Churches”. Today, the number has dwindled, yet the style, grace and beauty still impress.

Sunset, San Michele in Foro, Lucca

San Michele in Foro

One of the most beautiful churches in the city is San Michele in Foro, built on the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum that once stood at the intersection of the two main streets of the colony. A façade of four levels, with forty-eight individually designed and carved columns surmount the main entrance of the church. High atop the façade, two angles flank a nearly fourteen foot high statue of Saint Michael.

San Frediano

Opening to a relatively large piazza, the façade of San Frediano never fails to impress visitors with its glass, gold and precious stone inlaid mosaic.  The Basilica was built during the 6thCentury and the current appearance of the

Facade Mosaic
Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca

church, very Romanesque in style, was completed in the 12th Century.  Named  for an Irish Bishop of Lucca (Fridianus), the interior of the church is striking in its austere simplicity.

Duomo (Cathedral) of San Martino

This is one of the most visually stunning churches in all of Italy. When the Bishop of Lucca, Anselm, began construction of the building in 1063, little could he have known (even after becoming Pope Alexander II) that the church would appear as it does today.

There are, much like San Michele in Foro, three levels of colonnaded façade. Thrity-seven individually unique columns support the levels above the portico entrance of the cathedral. A copy of San Martino, Saint Martin, adorns the façade. The original sculpture was moved inside the cathedral several years ago.

Volto Santo di Lucca. Within the vast interior of the cathedral is a gold clad “temple”. The contents of this temple were what brought thousands of religious pilgrims as they made their way along the Via Francigena, the main pilgrim route between Canterbury and Rome.

Duomo of San Martino, Lucca

Nicodemus, who helped bring Christ’s body from the cross and tomb, wanted to carve a likeness of Christ while it was still fresh in his mind. He began working on a large piece of Lebanon Cedar, but fell asleep when he prepared to carve the face. As he slept, an angel came and completed the carving for him.  The wooden carving made its way by boat from the Middle East, eventually arriving on the shore of the Mediterranean near Pisa. From thence, it was brought initially to the Church of San Frediano, and then to its current location in the Duomo.

In the 15th Century, Matteo Civitali designed and had built the chapel in which the Volto Santo today rests. Civitali, a well-known Renaissance architect built the structure from Carrara marble and specially forged, gold covered, iron.

On September 13th each year, the entire walled city is lit only by candles as a procession honors the Volto Santo. The sculpture, heavily adorned with priceless jewels, was carried through the city. To protect the aging wood, the sculpture now remains in the chapel. The jeweled decoration remains throughout the period of the festival.

This is truly an astounding piece of art and further underscores the religious importance of Lucca.

There are many more churches to visit in Lucca. For a complete list, see

Churches of Lucca

The Walls of Lucca

Walls of Lucca

There have been three main walls constructed to protect the city of Lucca. The first, during the Roman era, the second in the early Middle Ages and the final – the ones we see today – were completed in 1644. Though designed to protect the city from armies, the structures were never bombarded or scaled.

Today, the wide promenade atop the walls affords visitors and locals alike to stroll in the shade of countless Chestnut trees while taking in views of both the private gardens of villas and palazzi inside the walls as well as the city and hills outside the fortifications.

There are seven gates into the city: Porta dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio, Porta dei Borghi, Porta San Pietro, Porta Santa Maria, and Porta San Donato, Porta Vittorio Emanuele and Porta San Jacopo. If you arrive in Lucca by train, the Porta Santa Maria will be the gate you most likely will use to enter the city.

Piazza Amfiteatro

In the course of Rome’s demise, the amphitheater that once accommodated 10,000 spectators fell into disrepair. The marble façade was taken

Piazza Amfiteatro, Lucca

down, its slabs of marble used for the construction of churches and other buildings in the city. Homes were built around the now empty oval space. What remains today is truly the most unique ‘square’ (piazza) in Italy, the Piazza Amfiteatro.

The area, once notorious for prostitutes and crime, was cleaned up and became the location of the Lucca farmer’s markets. That activity was moved out the city after World War II and the piazza now offers lovely cafes and shops.  It is a wonderful place to just sit, enjoy a pizza and glass of wine for lunch and people watch.

Torre Guinigi View, Lucca

Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)

As the wealth and prestige of the Guinigi family grew, they built a number of city villas along the Via Sant’Andrea and the Via Guinigi. During the latter part of the 13th Century, they built a high tower to represent their status in the town. Typical to that era in Italy, towers were being built for churches and by private families as symbols of economic and political power.

Holm Oaks, symbols of rebirth, were planted at the very top of the tower and remain to this day. The climb is well worth the effort and the view is unforgettable.

The town of Lucca now owns the tower and you can visit. See “If You Go” for details about open times and entrance fees.

At Long Last, Puccini!

Puccini, Statue with Family Home
(Left Background)

A visit to Lucca would be incomplete without paying homage to the city’s most famous ‘son’, Giacomo Puccini. He was born in 1858 into a famous musical family. His famly home, in the center of Lucca, has  recently reopened after a lengthy and complicated restoration.While Domenico Puccini, his grandfather, was the most famous of the family’s musicians, it was Giacomo enormous talent (and ego!) that Italian’s love.

Creator of such favoirte operas as La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot, Puccini’s fame brought him great wealth during his lifetime. In 1891, to find some quiet away from the city and his demanding schedule, he built a lovely home at Torre del Lago, about fifteen miles from Lucca and closer to the sea. From 1900 – 1921 he lived there with his family. He died in 1924 and is buried in a chapel at Torre del Lago.

Even if you are not interested in Opera, a visit to Pucini’s home – and the bronze statue of him that sits in front of his home – is a rewarding and informative experience.  See “If You Go” below for further details about the Puccini home in Lucca and visits to Torre del Lago.

A Stroll Through Lucca

There are many afternoons when, while the shops of the city center are closed for a long lunch, I have walked the shadowed lanes of the city. While church facades and famous family towers loom overhead, the ancient cobbled streets harken to a peaceful past, of successful merchants and of political stability.

Whether in the spring of each year, when Camellia blossoms burst from gardens in the area or in the fall when a golden shower of leaves accompany an evening stroll around the top of the tree-lined city walls, the ‘feel’ of Lucca is one of ease. Unlike Florence, Rome and the numerous other large cities of Italy, Lucca affords visitors both peace and time; gifts indeed from a city built on the premise of liberty and wealth.

IF YOU GO:

Lucca is easily reached directly off of the A12 Autostrada between Florence and Pisa. If you are visiting Florence, and do not have use of a car, trains run nearly every hour from both Pisa’s and Florence’s train stations. Round trip fare in second class averages Euro 10.40 per person.

Information and schedules can be found at: www.trenitalia.it

From the train station, exit the main doors, and turn LEFT when you arrive at the main circuit road that surrounds the city walls. You can cross the street at a traffic light at the Porta San Pietro (Gate of Saint Peter), the first large city gate you will see within the city wall.

Once inside the city gate, veer to your left along the street and turn right at the second street – the Via Vittorio Veneto.  This street will bring you into the Piazza Napoleone and the Palazzo Ducale. From there, you can easily navigate the city.

Guided Tours of Lucca and surrounding country villas and estates

Wanda Martinelli is the best guide in the region. She can be reached directly through her web site,

Lucca Tours

Whether you seek an escorted walking tour of Lucca, or a full day or more exploring the city and countryside, Wanda and her team offer the finest services available. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

Church Entry times:

San Michele in Foro

Summer (May – end of October):  9:00-12:00/15:00-18:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00

Tel: +39 0583 419689

Basilica of San Frediano

Summer (May – end of October):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12.00/15:00:18:00

Tel: +39 0583493627

Duomo of San Martino

Summer (May – end of October):  8:30-18:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00

Tel: +39.0583.494.726

Torre Guinigi

Web Site: Torre Guinigi

Entrance tickets: Euro 3.50 per person

Opening hours:
March: 9:00-19:00
April-May: 9:00-21:00
June-September: 9:00-24:00
16 September-31 October: 9:00-21:00
November-February: 9:30-18:00

Tel: +39.0583.316.846

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MILAN – DO I GO?

I’ve mixed feeling about visiting Milan. After ten visits to Da Vinci’s Last Supper at Santa Maria della Grazie I’m not enthusiastic about all the insanity you have to go through to see, next to Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the most visited work of Renaissance art in the world. Truth is, its frustrating. Large tour companies book entire months as much as a year in advance. They do, essentially, control any/all ticket sales. Any individual tickets that become available are almost entirely based on cancellations made by the tour companies.

Recently, tickets were not available ten (yes, ten) months in advance of one of my small group tours. If you wish to make reservations with Viator, or other large tour companies in Milan, to see the city by bus – and they do offer very good tours that way – then that’s the way to go.

If you wish to give it a try, link here to see if tickets for your desired date are available.

Despite the challenges presented by a visit to the Da Vinci, this very modern Italian city offers many other delights. Read on.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan

The Duomo: What a confection of white marble! Spectacular. The Piazza that fronts the cathedral of Milan is one of the largest in Italy. The scale of the structure dwarfs even that huge space.

Inside the cathedral are stained glass windows, behind the main altar, designed by Marc Chagall. These windows were installed after the bombings of WWII.

Marco d’ Agrate’s
Saint Bartholomew
1562

Marco d’ Agrate’s 1562 sculpture of Saint Bartholomew is one of the most unusual in Europe. The saint was flayed alive (that is, skinned alive) so the sculptor chose to depict Bartholomew’s musculature exposed, his skin wrapped around his body. Fascinating and disturbing, at best.

If you wish to visit the roof of the duomo – and I highly recommend you do – go to the southeast corner of the church where you will find the elevator to the roof. The number and beauty of the statues and gargoyles is mind-boggling.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and loggia walkways around the Piazza Duomo.

Next to the Cathedral of Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Completed in 1877 it is the first covered ‘mall’ in Europe.

Today, fashionistas rub elbows with tourists in the many cafes within. Impeccably dressed Milanese move effortlessly in and out of gorgeous, expensive clothing and jewelry shops. The mosaic and inlaid floors are, in and of themselves, a wonder to behold.

At the center crossing of the galleria floor are mosaic coats of arms of the four major cities of Italy. Turin, west and south of Milan, uses a bull as its symbol. Tradition has it that, if you place your foot on the bulls, ahem, private parts and spin 360 degrees without your other foot touching the floor, you will have good luck. It is really fun to watch people try this from an unobtrusive corner. And yes I’ve tried several times, all to no avail!

If the deep depression in the floor above the unfortunate animal’s lover-section is any indication, a great many tourists and locals believe in the tradition!

La Scala and the Piazza della Scala

At the north entrance to the Galleria is the Piazza della Scala which fronts the world famous Opera House of the same name. This is a lovely park area in the center of Milan. There are benches for a much needed break and people watching, a national sport in Italy, is always fascinating.

For those obsessed with, or just interested in, opera, a visit to La Scala offers interesting glimpses in to the world of music. There is a small museum inside the building and visitors are also afforded the opportunity to view the interior of the theater from one of the third level private boxes. This is certainly not any waste of time; if anything, the visit underscores Italian’s love of music and their dedication to the opera composer’s art.

Via Montenapoleone:

If your interests tend to the current trends in clothing design, then this is your street. Known as the headquarters of  Italian fashion, the boutiques for shopping, and the people watching, offer fascinating glimpses into the world of “La Moda.” This wide, truly monumental, boulevard shares its justifiable reputation with the Fifth Avenue in New York and the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.

This is one of the most expensive commercial / residential areas of Milan. Be aware that costs for meals and beverages are at least one and a half times the average cost for such things in other areas of the city.

Fortezza Sforzesco

In the heart of Milan stands one of the most historically intriguing and architecturally powerful buildings in the world. From 1392, when the Visconti family began improving and strengthening the fortifications, to the time of Francesco Sforza who transformed the buildings into his private ducal residence, this is a building whose construction reflects the political history of Italy.

You can visit the fortress in about two hours. There are several spaces within the structure now used for art and fashion shows, so it is very helpful to check the site’s web resources before you visit. See information below under “If You Go.” A MUST even if you find history boring. This is one place  guaranteed to fascinate.

 . . . and finally, the Navigli Neighborhood

Surprisingly enough, there is an area of Milan that is crisscrossed by navigable canals. Southeast of city center, and easily reached by using the Green Line of the Milan subway system (watch your personal belongings!), you will exit at the Porta Genova train station. As you exit the station you are in the heart of Milan’s answer to Venice. If you go in the winter months, don’t be surprised by maintenance work and dry canals.

This is one of the liveliest arts districts of Milan. Evenings are always crowded with all ages, some heading to clubs, others to galleries that tend to the newest Italian talents. Enjoyable, fun and truly memorable.

IF YOU GO:

Milan’s Stazione Centrale is one of the largest train stations in Europe. Connections to all cities across Italy are available, from regional trains to the fast Eurostar Italia. There is a huge subway station under the station and access to all areas of the city are easy. There are kiosks throughout the station that facilitate the purchase of tickets. The kiosks have touch-screens and offer numerous language options for the simple step-by-step purchase process.

NOTE: Be very careful with your personal belongings while in the Metro stations and trains in Milan. Pickpockets are plentiful and determined.

The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci

Santa Maria della Grazie

Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, 2

20123 Milan, Italy

Tel: +39.02.467.6111

Remember that you cannot just show up at the entrance for the Last Supper and expect to enter. Pre reserved reservations are mandatory.

Tickets? Try Last Supper Tickets

Duomo:

Hours: Every day: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Last admission at 6:45 p.m. Free admission.

For detailed history and information about the cathedral:

Duomo Milan

La Scala Opera House:

Tickets: Euro 6.00 per person, From 9 am to 12.30 pm (last entrance at 12 noon) and from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm (last entrance at 5 pm)

(NOTE: Visits are closed from 12:30PM to 1:30PM)
The museum is open everyday except: 7 December, afternoon of 24 December, 25 and 26 December, 31 December afternoon, 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 15 August.

La Scala Information

Fortezza Sforseco

Hours: Open daily
7.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. (in winter) | 7.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. (in summer)
Free admission (except for castle museums)
Public transport:
Underground: MM1 Cadorna, Cairoli – MM2 Cadorna, Lanza
Buses: 18,50,37,58,61,94

Castle Museums: Entrance ticket Euro 3.00

For more information and to check event schedules at the fortress:

Fortessa Sforzesco

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When I travel in the Lake Region, my preferred ‘base’ is the small Lago Maggiore village of Stresa. Strung along the western shore of the lake, it offers gorgeous views, reasonable prices and  easy access to the entire lake region of  Italy.

For accommodation (and I have stayed at all of these hotels over the course of years traveling in Italy), I recommend the following short list:

PLACES TO STAY: STRESA/BORROMOEAN ISLANDS

Hotel Regina Palace: Luxury along the lake. Lovely hotel, completed modernized and renovated with easy access to the lake and ferry building. Not as pricey as the Grand Hotel des Isles Borromees down the street and rooms and service are nearly equal. The Charleston Restaurant, located on property serves good food, though I recommend eating in one of the places listed below!

Hotel Italie et Suisse: This is a very clean and comfortable hotel directly on the lake side Piazza Marconi in central Stresa. The three star service is exceptional, the rooms simple and very clean. The views from the lake side rooms, with small balcony, are breathtaking. The breakfast buffet is excellent and the price for the lake region can hardly be beat. This place is a winner.

Hotel Verbano, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: If your preference is to enjoy the quiet on one of the Borromeo islands, this is one of two choices I recommend. Located at the southern end of the island, some of the rooms have views of the villa on Isola Bella, others offer views over the lake toward Switzerland or the western shore of the lake. This is a hotel with atmosphere; don’t read that as old and musty. It has a feeling of comfort that is reinforced by the service of the owners and staff. There is also a restaurant on property, with a terrace on the lake. Lovely in the evening. Remember that the only way to get to the mainland after the regular ferry schedule is by private launch.

Hotel Belvedere and Restaurant, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: This is my other favorite option on the island. Located on the north end, this property, which includes a marvelous restaurant, has views north toward Switzerland and the lakeside city of Intra. Rooms are very clean and comfortable. Don’t expect a lot of frills, but the experience of a peaceful island evening makes this is another great choice.

PLACES TO EAT, LAGO MAGGIORE/STRESA

The restaurants and osterias listed here are those I have eaten in many times. I recommend these based on personal experience. They all offer a balance of fair prices, great food, excellent service and memorable meals.

Stresa:

Osteria degli Amici: Located above the main square in the village of Stresa, the menu offers a wide variety of meat and seafood dishes. This is not a fancy place in any way, yet the atmosphere, the energy of the staff and the wonderful food make you forget all about the small ‘stuff’. I’ve had many different meals here over the years – all excellent.

Via Bolongaro Anna Maria 31  28838 Stresa Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 30453 (Reservations recommended but not required)

Carmela, Owner
Pizzeria Mama Mia

Pizzeria Mama Mia: Who can pass up a pizzeria named “Mama Mia”. The family brought their creative cooking skills from Sicily and the Naples area, birthplaces of great seafood and pizza in that order! Carmela, the owner, is a joy to meet and the attentive and well timed service is always exceptional. Can’t tell you have many wonderful meals I have enjoyed on the terrace in the warm weather, and in the welcoming warmth of their lovely dining room in the winter. Go!

Via Principe Tomaso 11, 28838 Stresa, Italy

Tel: 0323 30124 (Reservations strongly advised!)

Verbania:

Osteria Castello, Verbania

Osteria del Castello, Verbania: This one is a ways from Stresa. You can reach the town of Vebania on many of the ferries that run to the Borromeo Islands and continue north along the lake. The ferry trip from Stresa to Verbania takes about an hour. This small, lovely, romantic Osteria offers an exceptional wine list. Located in a very small piazza, but not far at all from the boat landing/ferry building, the staff always provide very good service and excellent light fare. Best at lunch or, if you are staying near Verbania this is a wonderful place for a drink before or after any meal.

(To reach this Osteria: After you exit the ferry, turn RIGHT and walk along the tree lined lake side walkway. At the FIRST crosswalk on your LEFT, carefully cross the road. Turn LEFT and you will very quickly see a bookstore ahead of you. To the LEFT of this very good bookstore is a small covered alleyway. Walk through that alleyway and you will see the Osteria del Castello directly ahead. Enjoy!)

Piazza Castello, 9  Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 516579

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Isola Superiore dei Pescatori
Lago Maggiore

In my previous post, I discussed the most famous of the Borromean Islands, Isola Bella.

Now to the other two islands, one of the fishermen (Pescatori) and one of the earth (Madre).

Isola Pescatori

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori, called ‘superiore’ due to its position as the northern most of the three islands, is no longer owned by the Borromeo family. (For purposes of this post, I will refer to this island as Isola Pescatori). Only Isola Bella and Isola Madre remain in the hands of that family.

A little over 1200 feet in length and 335 feet wide, the small island offers narrow lanes, geranium laced balconies, and plenty of places to enjoy a lunch or dinner. The Church of San Vittore was probably built on the foundations of a 9th Century church. Evidence of island occupation to that century exist on both this island and Isola Madre.

Vendors in stalls and small shops cover this island, as do many restaurants and small hotels. If you visit Isola Bella in the morning, Isola Pescatori is the perfect place for lunch and a break during your day visit to this area of Italy.

Isola Madre:

Isola Madre – Villa
Lago Maggiore

The island of Madre is located about ten minutes, by ferry, from Isola Pescatori. There is, as on Pescatori, evidence of a 9th Century church and cemetery. During the 16th Century, two important activities started on the island; the first was the start of construction on the family villa and the second was the introduction of citrus trees brought from the province of Liguria along the Mediterranean coast.

In the latter part of that century, the family completed the villa in Renaissance style. The garden, which now covers over ninety percent of the island, was substantially diversified. It now includes a wide variety of botanical specimens from around the globe. The scala dei morti (stairs of the dead), dedicated to the memory of the 9th Century cemetery, are now covered in different varieties of Wisteria.

This is the least developed of the Borromean Islands, so do not expect vendors and lots of commercial activity. Today, visitors find peaceful and beautifully maintained gardens and villa. Of all the Borromean Islands, this is the most tranquil.

IF YOU GO:

Both Isole Pescatori and Madre are reached by ferry from many of the lakeside towns around the lake. Tickets are  available at all ticket offices. Double check last trip departures from these islands to ensure that you are not left behind. If you do, indeed, miss the last ferry from either of these islands, you will have to pay for a private launch to return you to your home base.

For ferry system information and schedules:

Lake Region Water Transportation

For further information about the specifics-opening times/closing times by season , entrance ticket costs and further history:

Borromeo Island Visitor Information

Where to eat and stay?

See my next post “Lago Maggiore-Where to Stay and Where to Eat”.

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