Star Meyer’s My Milan (Italy) blog is the perfect place to discover unique historic details of the city, find practical links, and get info on up to the minute happenings–such as her recent post about events to support the much needed restoration of Milan’s Duomo. Her passion for art shines through in her Milan posts–(she has a Ph.D. in art history)–and you may also enjoy her needlepoint blog, where she incorporates Italian art and architecture into her designs. She’s been living in Milan since 1996, works at the city’s Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, and teaches English at the John Peter Sloan School.
I’m so grateful she’s joined in to give us advice about a Golden Day in her adopted city:
Let’s start with the Sforza Castle. Walk through the grounds, read the English translations of the info on the stands-(Can I brag? I translated those!)–enjoy. And go through the “Arte antica” museum, which is really a sculpture museum, displaying fragments of the city’s ancient Roman past, up to the 16th century. It is housed in the rooms of the castle, first a fortress, then transformed into a princely residence in the 15th century. When in the room with the gigantic banner hanging in its center, head to the windows to view the adjoining portico over the moat. This was perhaps designed by Bramante. Imagine yourself walking with Leonardo da Vinci under his fictive bowers in the “Asse” room.
Now walk down Via Dante toward the Duomo, and take a break at Caffe Letteraio (Via Rovello 2, 02 723 3505). This was a Renaissance structure confiscated by the powerful Milanese Sforza family from rivals, and Ludovico il Moro gave it to his lover, Cecilia Gallarani. She is thought to be the woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Woman with Ermine” painting. In the courtyard, you can sit down and have a drink–though remember that sitting in Italian cafés generally means that you’ll pay extra for the privilege.
Next, visit the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, founded by Cardinal Federico Borromeo in the 17th century, as a place for religious and artistic contemplation and formation. Most of the artworks are interesting, if not breathtaking (the collection was intended for devotion and study, not artistic appreciation). A few that are certainly impressive are: Leonardo’s Musician, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit and Raphael’s life-sized cartoon (drawing) for his School of Athens fresco in the pope’s Vatican palace in Rome. Top it all off with a wink at a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair (no, really!, I’m not kidding).
Treat yourself to lunch on via Manzoni at Don Lisander. It’s expensive, but lovely.
Close by, on via Gesù, is one of Europe’s most important and best-preserved historic house museums, the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum. It’s a perfectly preserved mansion, decorated with Renaissance art (pièce de resistance: a painting by Giovanni Bellini) and decorative arts collected in the 19th century. Guided tours may be booked. (P.S., I work there, it really is something extra special!)
To top off your day, go to the Villa Necchi Campiglio. Together with the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum and two others, it is part of the Circuit of Historic House Museums in Milan. You can buy the circuit card, and save on the entrance fees to the participating museums. The villa and furnishings were designed by Portaluppi, one of Italy’s most important architects in the 1930s and 1940s, for the Necchi (yes, the sewing machine) family. You can visit the museum only as part of their regularly scheduled tours, no wandering around at will. Rest up in the little cafè on the museum grounds, sip and sigh remembering what a wonderful day you’ve had in Milan!
As far as a place to stay, if you’re on a budget but still want a central location, check out the Hotel Nuovo, just a skip away from the Duomo.
For a reasonably priced dinner (at least for Milan), try the Victoria restaurant (not to be confused with the Victoria Cafè on the nearby corner, the restaurant is at via Clerici 1, 02 869 0792). It’s a very sweet little place with pretty good food.
If you want to splurge and go somewhere romantic, try Boeucc in the centrally located Piazza Belgioioso. Order Risotto giallo con ossobuco Milanese: risotto with saffron and a braised veal shank—a typical dish of the city.
For night life and music, click on the “Hello Milano” free online publication in English.
Grazie mille Star, for a beautiful and delicious Golden Day!