What to see in Italy

Milan Duomo, Italy

Visiting Milan, Italy – Part I

Milan feels a world apart from the other areas of northern Italy I’ve described in my most recent posts. The mountains, lakes and small villages of northern Italy seem a far away place when one is in Milan. Milan is to Italy what New York is to the U.S. – a center of fashion, business and finance. For the tourist, there is a lot to see, and Milan is worth a day or two for the tourist, before or after visiting the surrounding lakes and mountains. Listed below are just a few sights, I will cover others including the renown Last Supper fresco in “Visiting Milan, Italy Part II”.

A good place to start your visit is in the heart of Milan, at the Piazza del Duomo, home of the huge Milan Duomo (Cathedral) and the predecessor of today’s shopping malls – the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Duomo (Cathedral)

This is the #1 tourist sight in Milan. The cathedral is huge – 514 feet long, 301 ft across. Highly recommended is a visit to the roof – you can walk on the roof among the forest of spires, statues, and gargoyle figures with great views of the surrounding Piazza and cityscape–almost like being the hunchback of Notre Dame! I can’t imagine how all the weight of the marble stone work (and people!) has been successfully supported for over 6 centuries! As shown in the images below, there’s lots to see above, below and in the main cathedral, so plan a couple hours for your visit to the Duomo.

Milan Duomo, Italy

One of the many interesting figures on the roof of the Duomo.

Milan Duomo roof

The massiveness of the Duomo is felt as you wander through the archways and flying buttresses on the roof.

Milan Duomo

Getting up close and personal with the beautiful stone work on the roof of the Milan Duomo.

Milan Duomo, Italy

A view of the Piazza del Duomo from the roof of the Duomo, looking west. The entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is to the right, under the short towers.

Milan Cathedral (Duomo)

Exterior view of the Milan Cathedral – it’s so large that it’s hard to get a good perspective on this marvel of engineering and art.

Milan Cathedral interior.

Interior of the Milan Cathedral – 52 pillars support the weight of the roof and expansive ceiling. The stained glass, statues, carvings and huge space all contribute to a feeling of awe.

Milan Catheral, Italy

Another interior view of the Milan Duomo. As can be seen, the restoration and upkeep work (with netting and scaffolding) on this size of building is never done.

San Bartolomeo, Milan Cathedral, Italy

A statue of San Bartolomeo (the apostle Bartholomew) with his own skin draped around him (legend says that his martyrdom was the result of his being skinned alive).

Milan Cathedral Museum, Italy

Your visit to the Duomo includes a visit to the interesting Duomo museum, well worth the time for a wander through. Some of the relics here are from ancient churches that existed on this spot prior to the present cathedral.

Milan Duomo Museum, Italy

Also in the Duomo Museum is a scale wooden model of the cathedral, used by the architects and engineers to build the actual cathedral. The model’s front facade is somewhat different from the final result.

Milan Cathedral Archeological museum, Italy

As is the case for many European cathedrals, the current Milan Duomo is built on top of earlier churches, and a visit below the current structure allows one to see excavations, such as this 4th century octagonal baptistry.

 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Located just a few steps from the Duomo, is perhaps the world’s first covered shopping mall – the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II, this symbol of Milan dates back to 1865 (completed in 1878). The Galleria is named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the united Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1878). It has an expansive glass ceiling, mosaic floors and expensive shops and restaurants (and of course a McDonalds!), and the occasional model posing, since this is the fashion capital of Italy (if not the world!).

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy.

View of the interior of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with its beautiful 19th century architecture and glass ceiling.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II, Milan, Italy

A photo shoot in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, showing the mosaic floors along with this redhead model!

 

Street Scenes of Milan

Northeast of the Duomo is the where the high end shopping action is, and with the ‘guards’ at the store entrances, I didn’t even feel comfortable walking into the shops, plus in our travel clothes we felt a bit underdressed! The main ritzy shopping streets are Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga. Bring your (fat) wallet and drive your McLaren up to the door and you’ll fit right in.

McLaren, Milan Italy.

Drive this little McLaren 720 S around Milan and you can park where you want while you do your shopping!

Milan, Italy Shopping

One of the window displays on Via Montenapoleone.

Milan Italy

Another window display along Via Montenapoleone.

Milan Italy

This chocolate display looks very tasty!

MIlan Italy

For those of us with dreams but few Euros, you can be entertained by the street performers in Milan.

In my next post we’ll cover some other interesting sights in Milan, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (Cenacolo).

Images of Lake Maggiore, Italy

Just west of Lake Como in northern Italy is another beautiful lake–Lake Maggiore, which is the 2nd largest body of fresh water in Italy. Perhaps less famous than Lake Como, Maggiore is still another gorgeous lake in this lovely region of Italy, which it shares with  Switzerland. We spent just one night here, but could have spent a lot longer. We visited two towns on the west coast of Maggiore, Baveno (where we stayed) and Stresa, just south of Baveno. Stresa is a bit bigger town with several very fancy (and historic) hotels. Here are a few images from our visit.

Baveno

We stayed one night in Baveno, before going on to Lake Como. We enjoyed a splendid afternoon strolling along the promenade and enjoying the serene setting.

Baveno, Lake Maggiore, Italy

The town of Baveno, on the western coast of Lake Maggiore, at the widest point in the Lake. The ferry shown here takes you to nearby islands (discussed below) and the other side of the lake.

Baveno, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Another view of Baveno on Lake Maggiore. Does it get any prettier than this?

Baveno, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Locals enjoying the afternoon in Baveno.

Stresa

Stresa is a short drive south of Baveno, and has a bigger city feel than Baveno, even though it’s still a small town. More traffic, more shopping, more holiday villas and interesting history.

Borremeo Palace, Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Isola Bella, home of the Borromeo family palace and gardens, dates back to 1630. One of three nearby islands (the others being Isola Pescatori and Isola Madre), Isola Bella sits a short distance off the shore from Stresa in Lake Maggiore. Passenger boats connect the islands with Stresa and Baveno.

Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Stresa is a bigger town than Baveno, with many streets and shops to explore.

Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy

The Grand Hotel des Lles Borromees, one of the elegant hotels lining Lake Maggiore in Stresa, dates from the 19th century when Stresa was on the “grand tour” circuit of Europe. This hotel, built in 1862, was the first hotel on the shore of Lake Maggiore and has had some famous guests. Ernest Hemingway stayed here, as did Winston Churchill on his honeymoon. This hotel (as did others in the area), served as an infirmary in World War I.

Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy

This old little church in Stresa was interesting to explore, with a baptistry right next door.

Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Inside the baptistry church at Stresa, with a gruesome painting of the beheading of John the Baptist.

Stresa Church, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Inside the Stresa Church.

If you find yourself in Milan and want to explore a little bit more of this stunning region of Italy, consider the beauty of Lake Maggiore, less than 60 miles away.

 

Portovenere – An Unexpected Bonus near the Cinque Terre

After a sunny picture-perfect first day, the weather turned a bit stormy during our 2nd day in the Cinque Terre. Since it wasn’t a good beach day, we decided we would visit the other Cinque Terre towns. Luckily, the weather was not so bad that the boat couldn’t run its route. As I mentioned in my previous post on the Cinque Terre, the small ferry boat is a great way to see four of the five Cinque Terre towns, and it includes a wonderful ‘bonus’ stop at the southern end of the route.

We purchased our tickets, got a copy of the schedule for timing our stops and hopped on the boat in Monterosso. We decided to go all the way to the end of the route first and work our way back, stopping in the towns we hadn’t visited yet on the return trip. The woman who sold us the tickets explained the ferry’s route and told us that Portovenere (the last stop) was quite a beautiful town, even though it’s not officially part of the Cinque Terre. She wasn’t joking. Portovenere (also spelled Porto Venere) became one of my favorite spots in this part of Italy. (You can also hike to Portovenere from Riomaggiore, the nearest Cinque Terre town, in about 2 hours).

The travel writer Rick Steves calls Portovenere “enchanting” and I would say that’s an accurate description. I was stunned with our first view of Porto Venere, an old medieval church perched on a rocky outcropping guarding the harbor entrance.

Church of Saint Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

Arriving by sea from the Cinque Terre, the 13th century Church of Saint Peter (La Chiesa di San Pietro) is your first sight.

As we cruised further into the harbor, I could also see remnants of a castle fortress on the hill behind the town and an old wall with towers extending down the hill to the harbor. We hopped off the boat and wandered the town for a couple hours, which gave us time to visit the Church of Saint Peter, Castle Doria and explore a few of the old town streets.

Porto Venere, Italy

A view of Portovenere from the inner harbor.

Portovenere was purchased by the city-state of Genoa in 1116, which ruled this part of the Italian peninsula and was a rival of Pisa [which is about 92 km (57 miles) further south with its famous Leaning Tower], and other Italian states at the time.

Church of Saint Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

Walking up the rocking outcropping to the Church of Saint Peter.

Cinque Terre Porto Venere18

Interior of the Church of Saint Peter, which is actually two churches – the older part dates from the 9th century and the “newer” church (above) is 13th century, from the Genoese era.

Castle Doria, Porto Venere, Italy

A view of the rugged coastline, cliffs and Castle Doria, taken near the Church of Saint Peter.

Castle Doria, Porto Venere, Italy

Taking the stairs up into Castle Doria. There is not too much of the castle itself remaining, but the views of the surrounding area from the grounds are remarkable.

Castle Doria, Porto Venere, Italy

A view of the castle grounds with the Church of Saint Peter in the distance. The castle was rebuilt in the 16th century as a coastal fortress.

Church of Saint Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

I love this view of the Church of Saint Peter with an old castle window in the foreground.

Porto Venere, Italy

Looking down on Portovenere’s harbor and the walls extending from the Castle, with the old town directly below.

After enjoying the great views from the castle grounds, we meandered through the old town on our way back down to the harbor. The Genoese left their mark on the town, including two churches from the 13th and 12th centuries, San Pietro (Saint Peter) and San Lorenzo.

Church of San Lorenzo, Porto Venere, Italy

The 12th century Church of San Lorenzo, another Genoese contribution to Portovenere. Over the main doorway (a little hard to see) is a sculpture of the martyrdom of San Lorenzo who was roasted alive on a grill. Yikes.

Porto Venere, Italy

A view of a residential area near the Church of San Lorenzo.

Porto Venere, Italy

A focacceria with some yummy pastries and pizza and a window covering made out pasta! I wonder how the pasta holds up in a heavy rain?

Porto Venere, Italy

A light rain doesn’t deter tourists and shoppers in the old streets of Portovenere.

Porto Venere, Italy

A typical street scene in old town Portovenere, looking toward the medieval gate.

Porto Venere, Italy

Just outside the walled portion of Portovenere.

Porto Venere, Italy

I always love exploring new places and Portovenere didn’t disappoint. If you get to Cinque Terre, be sure to visit this great town too!

 

Visiting “The Most Serene Republic of San Marino” – Europe’s 3rd Smallest Country

As a day trip from Ravenna, we drove south about 78 km (48 miles) to the hilltop Republic of San Marino. As we sped down the motorway, we could see the striking Monte  Titano in the distance and wondered if it was the little country of San Marino. Sure enough, it was, and what a sight. San Marino’s location is one of the most scenic spots in the Italian peninsula, and the country lives up to its formal name.

Mt. Titano, San Marino, Italy

A view of the Monte Titano and the fortifications of Guaita Castle as you approach from Borgomaggiore, the largest town in San Marino.

San Marino is the oldest Republic in Europe. It is only 7 miles (12 km) across at its widest spot (about 23 sq. miles overall), and the 3rd smallest country in Europe (after the Vatican and Monaco) and the 5th smallest country in the world. You can learn more about this little country here. Other than a bridge noting the border you would have no idea you’ve entered a different country.

San Marino0

The road border crossing. San Marino on the left, Italy on the right.

From the border on the eastern side, we drove up (and up) the mount until we reached a parking area right below the town of San Marino.

San Marino3

One of the car parks below the town of San Marino. We had no trouble finding a parking spot in May. You can also take a cable car to the top of Monte Titano.

From the car park we walked up into the town of San Marino, which like so many old walled European towns is very enchanting.

City Gate, San Marino, Italy

One of the old gates into the hilltop town of San Marino.

San Marino, Italy

Nearly every street in San Marino provides a postcard view.

San Marino, Italy

Another street scene in San Marino.

As you climb the narrow streets, you will come to Liberty Square, the main plaza in San Marino and the seat of the national government.

Public Palace, San Marino, Italy

A view of the Public Palace, home of San Marino’s General Council or Parliament, and other government officials. Under this square are ancient water cisterns, extremely important for a fortified hilltop medieval citadel.

One of the most striking features of San Marino is its amazing fortress, Guaita, that sits at the top of the town, on the eastern cliff edge of Monte Titano. The fortress consists of three towers, you can buy a ticket that allows you access to all three.

Guaita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

This view is from the 2nd tower of Guaita Fortress, looking north to the main or 1st tower, also called Rocca Tower.

Guaita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

This view is also from the 2nd tower, looking south to the 3rd tower on the next hilltop ridge. The surrounding countryside is beautiful in May.

Guaita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

This is a close up view of the 2nd tower of Guaita Fortress.

I have to say the view from the fortress of the surrounding countryside is one of the most beautiful views in Italy.

Guaita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

Climbing up to the Rocca tower from the 2nd tower.

Guita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

The main tower (known as Rocca Tower) of Guaita Fortress, is built on top of a narrow rock outcropping on Mt. Titano. You climb up a narrow steep stairway to get to the top.

Guaita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

The fortress grounds are well manicured.

San Marino, Italy

View of San Marino and the surrounding countryside from the top of the Rocca tower.

Guaita Fortress museum, San Marino, Italy

Inside Guaita Fortress is a small museum and a prison.

Guaita Fortress, San Marino, Italy

One of the prison cells in Guaita Fortress. The paintings were done by 19th century prisoners. Prisoners had to pay for their keep here, and punishments were harsh. The “rack” and lashings were commonly used. In 1821, San Marino abolished these forms of punishment. The death penalty was outlawed by San Marino’s Parliament in 1848.

San Marino takes its name from a monk, Saint Marinus, who fled persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century CE and came to this (at the time) remote spot. The mountain (Monte Titano) was given to him in appreciation for his acts of healing. Saint Marinus died in 301 CE.

Mt. Titano, San Marino

This wooden stairway leads up to the little cave-like area where Saint Marinus lived. It is on the north side of Monte Titano.

Saint Marinus Cave, San Marino, Italy

The lovely view from Saint Marinus’ cave, looking northeast to the Adriatic Sea in the distance.

Basilica of Saint Marinus, San Marino, Italy

The 19th century Basilica of Saint Marinus, in the town of San Marino is built on the remains of a medieval church and contains an urn with the bones of Saint Marinus, which were found in the 1500’s.

If your travels take you down the east coast of Italy, be sure to visit San Marino. You can see a new country, take in incredible views, visit a great medieval fortress and town, all in one place!