If you fancy a spot of Architecture Appreciation of an early Milan morning, might I suggest you head straight to Centrale Station where you should grab a punchy espresso to kick start your day (we loved the traditional cafe with its long bar and chandelier! Pay for your coffee at the till, give the barista your receipt, and wait for your coffee!) before being completely wowed by the rest of a building that could honestly rival the majesty of New York’s Central Station. It really is that stunning. Be prepared with your “scusas” as you walk in to countless people just taking it all in!
Whilst you are there you might as well get on a train don’t you think? If you are using Milan as a base for a few days you have plenty of locations to choose from including Verona, Venice, Padua, Mantova, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Pavia or Rome or Florence if you fancy a slightly further destination!
We decided on Pavia, as it was easy to get to at just over 30 minutes from Milan, and cost the princely sum of €10 return first class. Are you listening English Train companies??
The journey there took us past countless rice fields with drainage ditches carving up the pancake flat agricultural landscape. It wasn’t long until we passed the breathtaking beauty of the Certosa di Pavia, probably Italy’s most noteworthy Renaissance monastery – some 7km North of the City. Mention Pavia, and this is probably what most people go and see, but the city itself is well worth a day’s exploration, and is stuffed full of history.
Pavia was known as the city of 100 towers once upon a time, not because they really needed that many towers, but because they were the status symbol between powerful Pavian families back in medieval times (apparently they loved to topple a rivals tower should they be ousted at any point!). Nowadays there are probably only 60 left, with many having been incorporated into other buildings. There are actually just 6 left intact.
To me, the medieval part of Pavia was the jewel of the crown, which, having initially taken the wrong turn out of the station and wondered briefly how on earth we were going to spend a day amongst the garages and white good shops, I was mightily relieved about. Once we were back on the right track, Pavia was a joy to explore.
Our wanderings took us through various cobbled squares and narrow alleys, down towards the covered bridge that Pavia is also famous for. Built in the 14th century, it was destroyed during the war and painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950’s. It’s famous for both that and the University of Pavia, the largest in Italy with its many colleges (a little like somewhere else I know), and also thought to be one of the oldest in Europe. There’s a University History Museum too if you want to find out more.
We happened to stumble across Piazza Della Vittoria behind the Duomo just as the sun was beginning to creep from behind the clouds, so what better excuse to sit and study the views of the third largest dome in Italy over a Spritz in the sunshine? Having hoovered up most of the accompanying aperitivi dishes, the Small People were more than happy to investigate the entire contents of Tiger (a favourite Danish shop of theirs) a few steps away, and we were able to appreciate the scenery for half an hour with the toddler happily pigeon following.
Then on to Castello Visconti. Built in 1360 as a private residence rather than a fortress, like Milan’s citadel, today it’s also home to the city’s art museums, but the grounds are worth exploring alone if you don’t fancy going in. Our brood were more than happy parrot and lizard spotting, and the tiniest of our group was completely enraptured by the tiny traditional amusement park full of local families enjoying the weather near the Castle’s entrance.
I had planned on visiting the Pasticceria Vigoni (open since 1878 and quite the building) to try one of its famous Easter Lamb cakes, but sadly we were a day or two after Easter too late. Instead we joined the throng outside the Gelateria Romano – a crowd outside an ice cream parlour is usually a good sign, and that reckoning didn’t let us down this time either. It is definitely worth a detour on the way back to the station to catch your train back to Milan… Given 100% approval by the Toddler and demolished in minutes…
Pavia was a wonderful excursion from Milan. These cities are the reason that we will never get bored of Italy…