After a morning by the pool in Lake Garda, we just managed to cram all our stuff into Mario (claire’s car) and all around us in the back. With the windows open wide, we headed down the autostrada for a slightly uncomfortable & windswept road trip to Milano.
Milan is home to some of the most glamorous shopping areas & swanky bars – undeniably the fashion capital of Italy. In a way, the city closely resembles parts of London, only much hotter, trendier and less densely populated. Milan is absolutely huge and we soon discovered that travelling by Metro is an affordable but essential way to get around. Each area of the city is also very distinct. The streets in one area will be lined with Chanel and Céline and just one stop further along the metro line will bring you to the magnificent Duomo at the heart of the centre. As with Rome, the trick with big touristy cities is to find out where the students and the locals are – the people who won’t pay over the odds when they don’t need to. Milan is a slight exception because everything is more expensive here and the people are generally quite wealthy, but once you venture outer the main centre, away from the duomo & the shopping districts, you can find some really great places to eat & drink.
The guesthouse ‘Le Chambre Milano’ that we stayed in was really stunning, cheap and ideally located just outside the centre in a more affordable area called Porta Monforte. We were really in the mood for steak and red wine so looked around until we found a steakhouse nearby in Porta Venezia. We stopped for an aperitif in a cool little bar next door to the restaurant. The drinks were pricey at around €8-€11, but the snacks and the setting made up for it. We were pleasantly surprised by how affordable the restaurant food was. We had a gorgeous platter of sliced medium-rare Bistecca alla Fiorentina and tenderloin served with potatoes sautéed in butter, sea salt and fresh rosemary as well as griddled seasonal vegetables. Not quite as good as the bistecca in Siena & Florence, but understandable as it was much cheaper and not a regional speciality in Lombardy. The wine on the other hand was a bit of a con. The menu priced ‘half a litre’ of Chianti Classico at €12, which was pricey but not too bad for two large glasses. However the bottle the waiter brought out was a 375ml (literally half a bottle) which I asked to taste, but by the time I noticed it was the poor 2014 vintage it was too late because he’d already conveniently poured me a full glass ‘to taste’. In the end it wasn’t too bad, but a bit disappointing having tasted some incredible and cheaper red wines in Tuscany. Once we got back we found ourselves desperate for a cup of tea to the point where we actually walked to a bar and paid €10 for two cups of tea and a croissant, which we ate surrounded by blaring music and people having cocktails before going out. The poor barman was very confused and clearly thought we having some sort of breakfast, but also found it equally hilarious.
The guesthouse itself was unable to provide breakfast on site, so instead we got vouchers for a free hot drink & croissant across the road in a cute café/bar (‘Pandenus’) with an outdoor terrace. The cappuccinos and croissants filled with chocolate ganache and studded with dark chocolate chips were delicious. We spent our day exploring the famous shopping areas in and around the Duomo. No surprise this is where we bumped into Claire & Adam, then all went for a lunchtime gelato in a nearby gelateria. Unusually you ordered through table service from an extensive menu. Even the small ice creams were huge and came in all sorts of flavours from vanilla custard to grape. The ginger in particular was really unique and tasty paired with dark chocolate. Still hungry, we went to a nearby little café/restaurant for a light lunch of chicken caesar salad and spaghetti all’amatriciana. The food and the service was lovely and it was extremely reasonably priced for central Milan.
In the evening we met up with Claire & Adam for a bar crawl through the ‘Navigli’ area, a lively student area with bars, restaurants and clubs lined along either side of a central canal. The area is said to be Milan’s equivalent of Trastevere in Rome. Having got a bit carried with our afternoon shopping we didn’t have time to eat so had to look in Navigli. We began with a cheeky Heineken while getting ready then had prosecco and mojitos at the top end of the canal. Along the way we found a traditional Greek kebab restaurant which was super cheap and just what we needed. The pork meat was piled into warm bread and topped with plenty of fresh salad, red onion, tatziki, fries and feta. As with all proper kebabs it was really flavoursome and not at all greasy. The Greek beer was good value too. We moved onto another cocktail bar for cosmopolitans and an aperol spritz. At the final bar we had beer, prosecco & some €1 limoncello shots, which were probably a mistake.
We couldn’t move until about 3pm the next day, by which point we’d missed out on our free breakfast. We decided to go to pandenus anyway and try something from their lunch menu. All the food looked incredible – we had the couscous with roasted vegetables and lightly spiced marinated chicken. The chicken was really tender and the roasted vegetables were delicious and well seasoned. This light lunch was perfect to recover from last nights and one of my favourite places for quality & atmosphere.
We had been looking forward to the more varied cuisine in Milan so took the opportunity to have some Asian food in the evening. We went to a modern Thai/Chinese restaurant called ‘su garden’ which I’d read about online. The food was really tasty, in particular bekki’s crispy sea bass was topped with a gorgeous sauce made from tomato, garlic, ginger, chilli & fresh coriander. It was great value too with two whole fillets for just €15. My kung pao chicken was fiery and flavoursome too. On the walk home we managed to find a topical themed roadside cocktail bar and had a couple of lovely fruity cocktails before heading back to the guesthouse.
We came across ‘The crazy cat café’ while looking for the Thai restaurant the previous night and knew we had the squeeze in a trip before getting the train to Sori. We left the guesthouse quite early and headed to the cat café for a cup of tea. It was actually the best cup of tea we found in the whole of Italy – proper loose leaf English breakfast served with cold milk and shortbread, rather than the usual selection of strange flavoured twinings and the major struggle to get some milk that hasn’t been steamed for a cappuccino. The service known as ‘cat therapy’ was only a €1 each too. It’s easy for places like this to make their money on the novelty of having the cats shut down soon after opening when people realised the actual café isn’t that great. However this place had a great, reasonably priced menu of cakes, main meals, hot drinks, soft drink, alcoholic drinks, smoothies and snacks. Well worth a stop especially for cat lovers like us! 🐱
Sad to be leaving our final major Italian city, but excited for some relaxation as we move along the Italian & French Rivieras!