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For today’s Destination of the Week, we are going to a northern Italian city that often gets criticized for being too industrial, but is one of the most fashionable destinations in the world. It is a beautiful city with a rich cultural heritage and so much to do and see. It boasts one of the most breathtaking cathedrals in the world, not to mention people watching that is so intriguing you can’t help but sit on a bench and watch the world go by. We’re heading to Milan, Italy!
WHAT TO DO
A visit to Milan would not be complete without seeing the beautiful Duomo di Milano, or Milan’s cathedral. Located right in the city center, you can’t miss this Gothic masterpiece that seems as if candle wax is dripping down it from all sides. Whether or not it’s your favorite Italian church, it is the country’s largest. The construction actually took five centuries to complete – ground was broken in 1386 and the cathedral was finally completed in 1965. The highlight of the cathedral visit is the rooftop, where you can see incredible panoramic views of Milan. Tickets to enter are 2 EUR (about $3), and going to the roof will cost 7 EUR (about $10) if you take the stairs, or 12 EUR (about $16) if you prefer cruising up in the elevator.
La Scala is Milan’s opera house, orchestra and ballet company, and it’s also a museum. The neoclassical theater opened in 1778 and has since become one of the world’s most famous opera houses. During the month of November, you can see the opera Aida, by Verdi, the ballet, L’histoire de Manon, or any of several different concerts, depending on the date of your visit. Tickets can be purchased online. The museum costs 6 EUR ($8) to enter and features musical instruments, art, set designs and more.
The Last Supper is one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous paintings and is located on the back wall of the dining hall in the Santa Maria della Grazie Church in Milan. The painting is actually a mural and not a fresco, as it was painted on dry wall and not on wet plaster. The masterpiece survived WWII bombings but sadly, it is slowly deteriorating, despite restoration attempts, so viewings are very controlled. Only 20-25 people are allowed in at one time, for a maximum of 15 minutes. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time. You can book tickets up to two months in advance, but beware they do sell out quickly. You will only be allowed to buy tickets in person if people don’t show up and spots open up. Prices vary but usually you can view the painting for about $10.
Castello Sforzesco, or Sforza Castle, is a 15th-century fortress that has several museums on its grounds, such as the Egyptian Arts Museum, the Applied Arts Museum, the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Antique Furniture Museum, the Archaeological Museum of Milan, and more. The actual castle itself features frescoes by Da Vinci and sculptures by Michelangelo, among others. The castle library has several antique manuscripts, some by DaVinci. Visits to the castle are free, and for about $10, you can enter almost all the museums as well. Getting through all these could take awhile, and monthly passes are also offered for purchase, if you are lucky enough to spend that much time in Milan.
The Parco Sempione, or Simplon Park, is at the end of the Sforza Castle Grounds. Located within the park is the Arena Civica, a stadium, the public aquarium, and the Torre Branca, an iconic tower of Milan. This park is a great spot to relax in after a hectic day and the entire park offers complimentary WiFi, in case you’d like to catch up on work or texting as you soak in the the green atmosphere.
Venice isn’t the only city in Italy with canals. Milan also has a canal system, known as the Navigli. Originally these were created to source clean water as well as to ship things like coal and other products in, as Milan doesn’t have a direct river connection. Now, this romantic and trendy area offers waterfront dining, boutiques, galleries and of course canal cruises.
Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and you will notice it right away. The locals are sophisticated and well off, and if you have some extra money to throw down shopping, this is the city to do so.
Even if you don’t have the cash to spend, it’s fun to wander around the big shopping streets, people watch and window shop. The best are to visit is the Quadrilatero d’Oro which is an area with the following famous streets: Via Montenapolene (Louis Vuitton, Valentino, La Perla, Ralph Lauren, Bottega Venetta and more), Via della Spiga (Fendi, Dolce & Gabana, Marni, and more), Via Manzoni (Armani 5 floor superstore) and Via Sant’Andrea (Missioni, Kenzo, Miu Miu, Hermes, Prada Sport, and more). The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II has the flagship Prada Store, and is a beautiful semi outdoor shopping center with a glass roof.
If you are the mood to dig through outlets to get some great deals, try the Il Salvagente, which has three floors of discounted designer fashions for men, women and children. Dmagazine outlet is also a good spot, however, you may have to really dig here, this place has a reputation for being hot, crowded and hectic (here you can find items slashed down to just 20% of their original price… but you have to work for it!).
For furniture and concept stores, try the Cosmo Corso, and Via Brera for galleries, art shops and quirky boutiques. If it’s low-cost chain stores you are looking for like H&M and Zara, you can find those starting at the Piazza San Babila, as well as Milanese department store Rinascente (the top of floor of Rinascente also offers delicious gourmet Italian products like pasta, spices, oils, and wines).
Milan is in the perfect location to do several day trips or short overnight trips. Bergamo, just an hour train ride, is a beautiful old city located on top of a mountain. Verona is about an hour and 20 minutes away by train, where you can visit Juliet’s house as the setting for Romeo and Juliet, or the perfectly preserved “Arena,” which is smaller but better preserved than the Colosseum. Day trips or weekend trips to Lake Como or Lake Garda are great ways to get out of the city for a bit.
WHERE TO EAT
If you want amazing seafood with an Italian touch, try Da Giacomo. This traditional restaurant prepares every type of seafood imaginable with the freshest ingredients. It’s a nice way to try Italian fare that’s not quite as heavy as the traditional pasta or pizza. Make sure to try the mussels or clams, and for a main dish, the red snapper is fresh and delicious. If have room for dessert, order the traditional Italian pastries.
ATMosfera is actually a tram that is a restaurant. Similar to many European cities such as Zurich and Lisbon, Milan also offers trams as a way of transport throughout the city. However this tram is a special one where you can reserve lunch or dinner while seeing the sights. The price for the 2-hour lunch or dinner is 65 EUR ($88), regardless of chosen menu, and you must pay ahead of time. You can reserve a meat, fish, or vegetarian menu, which all change seasonally and are available to view online. The price includes the four course menu, one bottle of wine for every two people (ah, Italy!), water, and coffee.
When in Italy, you obviously have to have pizza. A great local spot is Pizzeria Spontini, which has a variety of locations throughout Milan. Keep in mind that their website is not in English, so you may have to bust out some language skills, but it will be worth it. You don’t have a lot of choice at this no-frills pizza joint, basically you can get a “trancio normal,” or a normal slice, an extra big slice, or lasagna (only available at lunch). It makes it pretty easy to decide what you’d like to order with so few options! This place is famous because they slather on the mozzarella and it’s overwhelmingly good.
The Milano Malpensa Airport, (MXP) is the main entry-point for visitors to Milan, and it is located about 25 miles northwest of the city. The top airport in Italy in terms of international travel, Malpensa has two terminals – Terminal 1 handles domestic and intercontinental flights, while Terminal 2 deals with low-cost carriers and is currently dominated by easyJet, making it the company’s biggest base outside of the UK.
Alitalia flies to Malpensa from New York JFK. United flies there from Newark, Delta from JFK, and American from JFK and Miami. Meanwhile Airberlin, Lufthansa, Swiss and Iberia all service a number of European destinations, and Flybe, easyJet and British Airways fly to the UK.
Emirates now has a new route from New York to Malpensa, nonstop on their Boeing 777-300ER, and Air Canada will fly there nonstop from Toronto as of June 2014.
Once at Malpensa, you can take a train to Milan’s Cadorna Station – with service every 30 minutes and taking 29-36 minutes at a cost of 11 EUR ($15) one way or 15 EUR ($20) same day return. For ticket information, click here. The Malpensa Express also has a service to Milan’s Garibaldi Central station for 10 EUR ($13.50) one way. There is also a shuttle service from both T1 and T2 to the city center costing 10 EUR ($13.50), with complimentary WiFi on the buses. If public transport is not your thing, then taxis cost around 90 EUR ($121).
Radisson Blu Hotel Milan: All 250 rooms and suites in this hotel offer complimentary WiFi – a Radisson Blu standard amenity. The hotel is located in the business district of Milan but has easy access to the city center. It features a health club, indoor pool, and 10 meeting rooms. Rooms have a flatscreen TV with satellite channels and the business class rooms and suites come with a Nespresso coffee machine and upgraded bath products. Enjoy Italian food at the Filini Restaurant (dine alfresco in the summer), followed by a cocktail at the Lounge Bar. Room rates start at 100 EUR ($135) per night in November. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 44,000 Club Carlson points for an award night.
Hilton Milan Hotel: Location is key at this hotel as it’s walking distance from the fashion district and the La Scala Opera House and Sforza Castle. WiFi is available for free in the reception areas, parking is 20 EUR ($27) per day and pets are allowed for a fee. All guest rooms feature marble bathrooms, work desks and flatscreen TVs. There are large meeting facilities available and a 24-hour fitness center. Dine at the Pacific Milano Restaurant, or for a lighter bite try the Cosmopolitan Lobby Bar Lounge. Room rates start at 135 EUR ($182) per night in Novvember. This is a Category 8 hotel requiring 50,000 HHonors points for an award night.
Park Hyatt Milan: This five-star hotel, one of the nicest in the city, is just down the block from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Shopping Center and the Duomo. All 118 guest rooms and suites feature complimentary WiFi, soak tubs, oversize rain showers and Laura Tonatto amenities in the bathrooms. They also come with dimmer lights and an iPod docking station. Relax in the Park Hyatt Spa or enjoy dinner at the Michelin star restaurant VUN, followed by after-dinner drinks in the Lobby Lounge or Park Bar. You can also dine outside, weather permitting, at Dehors Bar. Room rates start at 460 EUR ($621) per night in November. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 22,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for an award night. The Points Guy stayed in a junior suite at the Park Hyatt Milan last May, and you can read his review here.
IHG Rewards Club
Holiday Inn Milan Garibaldi Station: Located a 10-minute bus ride from the historic city center and Duomo, rooms feature WiFi, coffee and tea maker, stereo, flatscreen TV and 200 satellite channels. Note that the WiFi is only complimentary for IHG reward members, and for everyone else there is a fee of 9 EUR ($12) per day. The hotel also features a fitness center and business center. It has one restaurant, the Butterfly restaurant. Room rates start at 91 EUR ($123) per night in November. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 25,000 IHG Reward Club points for an award night.
Crowne Plaza Milan City: This hotel is located in the business district of the city. Again, WiFi is only free for IHG reward members, and if you are not a member it is 12 EUR ($16). Rooms feature rainfall showers, desks with lamps, bathrobes, coffee makers and safes. There is a business center, meeting rooms, a fitness center, and a wellness area with sauna and steam bath. You can eat at the Metropolitan Restaurant and drink at the Metropolitan Lounge. Room rates start at 121 EUR ($163) per night in November. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 30,000 IHG Reward Club points for an award night.
Other hotel options within the IHG chain located in and around the city are the Crowne Plaza Milan Linate, the Holiday Inn Milan Nord – Zara, the Holiday Inn Milan Assago, the Holiday Inn Milan Linate Airport, the Crowne Plaza Milan Malpensa Airport, and the Holiday Inn Express Malpensa Airport.
AC Hotel Milano: This modern hotel has 156 rooms and two suites over 17 floors, with WiFi available throughout. Guestrooms feature a flatscreen TV, modern bathrooms with a separate tub, and sleek art deco decor. There is a fitness center with weights and cardio machines, 5 meeting rooms and exhibition space on-site. Dining options include Italian cuisine at the AC Hotel Milano restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Bar AC for casual food like burgers and sandwiches. Room rates start at 120 EUR ($162) per night in November. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 25,000 points for an award night.
The Westin Palace Milan: Located downtown close to both shopping and historical monuments such as the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, the 227 rooms feature WiFi for a fee of 15 EUR ($20), the Westin Heavenly Bed, a flatscreen TV and a shower with multiple massaging water jets. There are also 13 suites that boast a Turkish bath where you can soak while taking in the views of Milan and the Duomo Cathedral. There is a fully equipped business center, a fitness center with Technogym equipment and two personal trainers, along with detoxifying Turkish baths and treatment rooms, or you can opt for an in-room massage. There are three restaurants on the property, Casanova for Mediterranean, Ivory Restaurant on the Terrace with outdoor seating, and the Lounge Bar. Room rates start at 151 EUR ($204) per night in November. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for an award night.
Other Starwood locations nearby are the Sheraton Diana Majestic, Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel & Conference Centre and the Four Points By Sheraton Milan Center. The W Milan will also be opening in April 2016.
Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Four Seasons Hotel Milano: This luxury property was once a 15th-century convent, but is now home to 118 guest rooms and suites that feature a flatscreen TV, WiFi, down pillows, terry bathrobes in the marble bathroom, an iPod docking station and DVD/CD player. There is a 1,722-square-foot fitness area with Technogym equipment, and personal training or private yoga sessions for an extra fee, a 24-hour business center and the Rossano Ferretti hair salon. Designed by architect Patricia Urquiola, the Spa at Four Seasons Milano has an ornate indoor pool, and offers massages, facials, nail and body treatments. The elegant dining options range from dinner at La Veranda, afternoon tea at the Il Foyer Lounge, or sweet treats in the chocolate room. Room rates start at 570 EUR ($770) per night in November.
Hotel Principe di Savoia: Located in the Piazza della Repubblica, this 5-star property dates back to the 1920s and now has 130 rooms and suites inspired by 19th-century Lombard interior designs that feature plush furnishings, large fully opening windows, WiFi, and Italian marble bathrooms. There is a high-tech gym, indoor pool, hydro-massage tub, sauna and Turkish bath, along with a luxury spa offering a wide range of face and body treatments. Executive Chef Fabrizio Cadei runs the Acanto Restaurant, while guests can also dine at Il Salotto or have a drink at the Principe Bar. Room rates start at 230 EUR ($311) per night in November.
Bulgari Hotel: Situated in a quiet street in an 18th-century Milanese palazzo, this intimate hotel has 58 rooms including 11 suites that look out onto the courtyard or garden and are decorated with warm furnishings such as with teak or oak. They each have a flatscreen TV, complimentary WiFi, a granite bathtub and separate shower. Guests can take advantage of deluxe services such as private visits to villas and museums, hydroplane trips around Lake Como, or a personal shopper, personal trainer and luxury car rental. Escape to the spa for a Bulgari signature facial and swim in the gold-lined pool, or work up a sweat in the fitness center. The hotel’s garden, Il Giardino, is a peaceful retreat for meetings or private events in the open-air rooms that are surrounded by trees or hedges. There is also an on-site restaurant under Chef Andrea Ferrero, a bar and lounge area. Room rates start at 550 EUR ($743) per night in November.
The following properties are also part of the Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts collection: the Westin Palace Milan, the Park Hyatt Milan, the Grand Hotel et de Milan, and the Carlton Hotel Baglioni Milan.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, Ink Bold, Ink Plus, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Armani Hotel Milano: Famous for its urbane sophistication, the Armani hotel looks like a designer boutique with 95 guest rooms and suites all personally designed by Giorgio Armani. The rooms feature complimentary WiFi, a flatscreen TV, espresso maker, a vestibule entrance, writing desk and stone bathroom. There is an indoor pool, full-service spa, fitness center, sauna, steam room and 3 meeting rooms. The Armani/Ristorante and Amarni/Lounge are both elegant dining options with stunning views. For details on TPG’s visit to the Armani Hotel, click here. Room rates start at $450 EUR ($608) per night in November.