Milan Day Trips

While there’s much to do in Milan, there’s also a lot to do outside the city. Hop on a train and enjoy lunch by a lake, see a contemporary art collection in an 18th-century villa, and dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Then take a stroll in a walled city, go winetasting, or climb a tower. All you need is an adventurous spirit.

Viale Te, 13, 46100 Mantova MN, Italy
Mantova may sound familiar. It’s where Romeo was exiled from fair Verona in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It may not sound like an obvious choice as an artistic hidden gem, but when Shakespeare wrote his play Mantua was a swamp land. The Palazzo del Te was built in 1526, commissioned by Duke Frederigo II Gonzaga and designed by Giulio Romano. The Palazzo itself is an embodiment of Gonzaga’s desire for love and struggle for power. It was built in two phases: The first phase of the Palazzo is rife with frescos of passion, love, and a whole lot of naked gods and goddesses. It was in these rooms where he would probably make believe he was as well endowed as Zeus and play out the sexual scenes with mistresses, of which he had many. The second phase was built in 1530 and in those 4 years Duke Gonzaga got his priorities in order. This time he meant business and aligned himself politically with Charles V—Holy Roman Emperor, aka Charles I King of Spain. Aside from its history, what makes the Palazzo del Te “quality travel” is its location off the beaten track, away from the crowds of tourists blocking your view of the Sistine Chapel or the colosseum. You get an intimate experience with a work of art, or in this case an entire building without being shoveled out (which was my experience at the Sistine Chapel). Give the small towns of Italy a chance, and help preserve lesser-known works of art that deserve it as much as the famous sights in Rome, Florence, and Venice.
Southern Europe
A day trip to Lake Como from Milan is easy and worthwhile. Although we did not find George Clooney’s villa, we did find the lake-side towns of Menaggio and Verenna to be charming. With no prior planning we took a thirty minute train ride from Milano Centrale to Como San Giovanni and then boarded the public ferry a short walk away from the station. The ferry, preferably sitting on the open deck in the sun, is the best way to see the pretty little towns along the lake. Later we enjoyed a stroll and some lunch in Menaggio and then took another ferry across the lake to Verenna where we caught the train back to Milan.
Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, 3, 40132 Bologna BO, Italy
When my husband and I visited Italy last year, we each chose one place we wanted to visit. I chose Venice: I wanted to see the famous canals and gondolas first-hand. My husband, a long-time lover of Ducati motorcycles, chose a tour of the Ducati Factory and Museum ( We arrived on a Saturday and, unfortunately, the factory tour doesn’t run on the weekends, but luckily the museum was open for tours and had a lot to offer fans of vintage Ducatis. The museum focuses on Ducati’s racing history, with examples of every major Ducati race bike to have won World Championships, the Paris Dakar Rally, and other famous races. My husband was in heaven, able to see up close the motorcycles he’d read about and seen in magazines. The museum tours last about a half hour and provides a lot of interesting information about this classic Italian brand. Tours run at three times on Saturdays: 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 12:00 noon, and while you potentially can get on the tour as a last-minute walk-up as we did, reservations are highly recommended (you can reserve a place on a tour online). If you find yourself in Bologna and are a motorcycle enthusiast, spend an hour at the fascinating Ducati Factory and Museum - I think you’ll enjoy it.
Piazza Galvani, 5, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy
The main church of Bologna, San Petronio Basilica dominates the main plaza. Construction on the church began in the 14th century and was dedicated to a 5th century Bolognese saint. One of the most fascinating parts of the church is the elaborate sundial found inside. The sundial is in the form of a meridian line and was added in the 17th century. The famous astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini designed the sundial and its measurements are amazingly precise.
Piazza Litta, 1, 21100 Varese VA, Italy
Don’t let your eyes fool you. Villa Panza is a not just a gorgeous 18th-century estate. The villa and grounds host the spectacular Panza Collection, an amazing grouping of art from the 1960s through 1980s, with particular attention to American artists. The individual pieces (paintings, sculptures, drawings) are incredible but what makes the collection are the site-specific installations from artists such as Dan Flavin.
Bergamo, Province of Bergamo, Italy
Everybody loves the highs and lows of Bergamo. The charming city is actually two towns--Bergamo Alta (high) and Bergamo Bassa (low). Bergamo Alta is a beautiful walled city whose architecture dates back to medieval times. Its Piazza Vecchia, slightly overhauled in the Renaissance, is considered the most beautiful square in Italy. Bergamo Bassa is the more modern city, with architecture from the 19th and 20th century, though it still has some signs of early Renaissance. Bergamo is the gateway to the Swiss Alps.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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