How can you best spend a rainy day in Milan? There are so many options!
One of my personal favorites is to visit Milan’s covered shopping center La Galleria, between the Duomo and Piazza Scala.
View from the Marchesi café over Milan’s Galleria
Here are the very ingredients for enjoying the city even when it’s pouring: fun people-watching, comfortable seating and a snack or aperitivo worthy of the name, at Pasticceria Marchesi above the Prada store.
Waiting for your order at Marchesi
The experience is not cheap, but the pleasure of an hour in a comfortable, unhurried and beautifully-appointed Italian cafè overlooking the shoppers below, is worth it! You’ll discover what the 19th century shopping experience must have been for the well-heeled Milanesi of that era.
Marchesi dessert display cabinet
The desserts on display at Marchesi are nothing short of perfection, and believe it or not… they taste as good as they look!
This outstanding pastry shop was opened in 1842 by the Marchesi family and has been a beacon of confectionery excellence in the city ever since.
Next time you are in Milan, don’t miss it! Let me know when you go, so I can meet you there.
We’ve been taking our Poggio Verde Country Villa groups to Bergamo, a beautiful (very) old hilltop city about an hour from the villa for several years. We have been hearing from our wonderful Bergamo guide, Elena Marchesi, and again recently from another friend, that we should visit Castello San Vigilio, which is a walk or funicular ride on up the hill from the Cittá Alta of Bergamo.
So the last couple times we’ve been there we’ve been trying to figure out a way to squeeze it in, with no luck. This time, though, we were quite determined to go so we adjusted a few things and found a new lunch spot in Bergamo, which turned out to be an outstanding restaurant right next to the funicular going up to San Vigilio. (More about that restaurant in another post…) Most of the group was up for an adventure after lunch so we hopped on the funicular and went up.
The funicular up to San Vigilio
The view from the top of the funicular
Funicular from the Bergamo Citta Alta to San Vigilio
Map of the Castello S Vigilio
Turn right for the castle
As we departed the funicular and headed toward the exit, we checked out the views to the left, which were wonderful, and then looked around for signs for the Castello, which we easily found. We turned right, following the sign, walked a few minutes up the cobblestone path and rounded the corner to see the walls of the medieval castle. (The first mention of the castle is actually in the 6th century but it’s undergone changes through the centuries, of course.) Our favorite memory of that trip up, though, was when Frank left the main path and disappeared into a doorway in the rock… and didn’t come out. We all followed, maybe to make sure he was okay, maybe not to miss what he was getting to see/do. We found ourselves in a narrow tower with winding stone steps and started up, hoping to find Frank and hoping there was an exit somewhere… and wondering how many more steps there were.
Arriving at the castle (see the door on the left?)
The door where Frank disappeared
Up we went…
The view part way up the winding stairs
Eventually we found ourselves on a gorgeous plateau with views ALL around the countryside (and we found Frank!). Stupendous!
We found Frank!
Exploring and discovering is just the best! We’ve added San Vigilio to our Bergamo itinerary going forward, that’s for sure. 🙂
Ristorante Joia is quite simply my favorite restaurant in Milan for many reasons: the delicious food of course, the calming, quiet atmosphere of the restaurant, the values that underpin the decisions made by Joia’s visionary chef/owner Pietro Leemann and the reasonable prices (especially for a Michelin-starred restaurant).
Joia’s lunch menu has many seasonal and beautiful options but I invariably choose the Piatto Quadro (“Square Meal”), an ingenious invention where lunch diners have the pleasure of trying five of the chef’s newest recipe creations presented on a single square plate. Since the price is so reasonable for such an exceptional place it’s easy to go back again (and again!).
Pietro Leemann‘s serious vision for eating well plays out in the use of super-fresh, flavourful ingredients and the satisfying texture and consistency found in each dish. Going to his restaurant means trying whatever is in season in that moment, presented in a creative, attractive yet simple manner. The flavour pairings are occasionally unexpected but always harmonious, and I have never tasted an unsuccessful combination. Pietro enjoys using Lombardy’s local cheeses as well as seeds and other pleasing ingredients that go crunch when you put them in your mouth. It will be an unprecedented flavor experience who will probably leave you satisfied.
Going to Joia for lunch is one of the pleasures of living in Milan. The recommendation of a vegetarian restaurant in Milan may be surprising, coming from a carnivore born in Kansas. Pay Joia a visit, and you will see why. The restaurant is right in the beating heart of Milan’s eclectic district of Porta Nuova, near the Giardini Pubblici, and can be easily reached with the underground.
The online travel blog Milanostyle.com, has featured an interview with some of our recent guests who came for a one week golf vacation. They stayed with us for 7 days and played 5 of the best golf courses in Milan and at Lake Como while still having time to enjoy gourmet lunches and relaxing by the pool.
The article talks not only about how the guests enjoyed the villa, but also touches on the history of golf in Italy and describes the different golf courses they played and the challenges they faced on the greens.
Willem shared his experience saying, “The Villa Poggio Verde was fantastic! It was close to all the courses, apart from Garda which was a longer drive. There was no need to take highways, we took small scenic roads, there’s beautiful scenery there. The atmosphere at the villa was comfortable and of course the surroundings at the villa, the pool and the gardens – it was absolutely spectacular. When we show pictures to friends, they really want to go and see it. It was really authentic and we could feel the history. I would recommend it for couples or group of friends.”
At Poggio Verde, we look forward to Thursdays, the Barzanò market day. In Piazza Mercato In the center of town, visitors can enjoy exploring more than 30 stalls of various local products, as well as Italian brands from across the country.
The fresh vegetable stalls are fantastic and inspire us with ideas for what to make for dinner – not an easy choice with all that is on offer this time of year!
Fantastic local salami and goat and cow cheeses, both fresh and seasoned, are offered here by one of the top local producers, Fattoria Selva of nearby Bosisio Parini. Their products are delicious – and the Valsecchi family are wonderful people.
At the La Molinata stall we always pick up the exquisite local honey made in the nearby village of Missaglia: our personal favorite is the lemony “Girasole” – but they are all worth tasting!
All of our guests LOVE to visit Lake Como, even on a rainy day. We typically take our trusty Cazzaniga bus to Bellagio (about 45 minutes) and toodle around there a bit, checking out the shops along the little main piazza or up and down the steps, then head to the magnificent Villa Balbianello across the lake to the west, either on a ferry to Lenno or a private taxi boat.
Arriving at Villa Balbianello:
We typically walk the grounds of Villa Balbianello then head back to Bellagio but on this trip we also took the tour inside the villa, which afforded some nice views.
The grounds of Villa Balbianello are so beautiful, and the colors are only intensified in the rain!
Arriving or leaving Villa Balbianello is beautiful!
If there is time and inclination, we definitely encourage guests to wander in the Giardini Melzi along the lake, just to the south of Bellagio. It’s about a ten- to fifteen-minute walk through the gardens and provides a really pleasant stroll, even in the rain.
The day was nice and sunny as we drove the hour or so from Poggio Verde Country Villa to Bergamo, a beautiful hilltop town east of Poggio Verde. We crossed the Adda River, along which one of the group had cycled the previous day (and reported there was a nice path that could be good for a group cycle at some point). We parked in the Piazza Liberta parking area in Bergamo (taking care to avoid driving in the “Zone C” area, which can result in hefty fines) and walked the seven blocks or so to the funicular station, bought our tickets and hopped on for the five-minute ride to the Bergamo Alta Citta (high city).
The drive to Bergamo
Turning hilly toward Bergamo
Walking to the funicular for Bergamo’s Alta Citta
Inside the short funicular ride to Bergamo Alta
View from the funicular to the Alta Citta
As we left the funicular and walked up the Via Gombito about 2-3 blocks toward the main piazza, we passed a former marketplace, currently a restaurant, with beautiful vaulted arches. We arrived into the main piazza and were met with an architectural feast for the eyes. We walked up the staircase next to the Palazzo della Ragione and had a look at the view down into the piazza on one side and at the churches and chapels on the other and at the beautiful hills off in the distance.
Restaurant (former marketplace)
Walking under the Palazzo della Ragione to the churches
The main piazza, looking toward the covered stairs
Covered stairway of the Palazzo Ragione, Italy’s oldest communal palace. (originally built 1199, current building from 16th century)
On the side of the covered stairway
Entrance to the 12th c belfry
View of the piazza from the top of the stairs
We had a look (and tried to figure out) the fascinating sundial under the Palazzo della Ragione then walked on to the incredibly beautiful Cappella Colleoni and the Santa Maria Maggiore. We poked our heads into the church, deciding to come back after we found our friends, who were joining us shortly, but we should’ve read the sign… it closes from 12:30-2:30, which is not atypical of monuments in Italy. Something to come back for! We continued to the right, passing the south entrance to the church, and around the corner toward the Tempietto di Santa Croce and the sublime Curia della Auria.
Elaborate and fascinating sundial
Corner of the Palazzo della Ragione
Palazzo Ragione on the left, Cappella Colleoni on the right
View of the baptistry from under the Palazzo della Ragione
North portal of the Santa Maria Maggiore church
The south portal of Santa Maria Maggiore
Door detail on the south portal of Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore
Bergamo Cathedral, between Santa Maria Maggiore and the Palazzo del Ragione
A door around the corner to the righ
West side of Santa Maria Maggiore
Tempietto di Santa Croce
The walkway along the tempietto to the Aula della Curia
Looking back fro the Tempietto
We had not researched Bergamo much, knowing we would be there such a short time, essentially to meet friends coming into Orio al Serio airport (a few minutes from Bergamo), take a quick peek at the piazza and head to lunch in nearby Alme (as “research” for the Food/Wine trips coming in the fall of 2016). So all we knew was to park at Piazza Liberta, follow the signs to the funicular up to the Alta Citta (high city) and get to the main piazza. We certainly didn’t know about going around to the back and enjoying and appreciating the little tempietto – one of our party happened to see a sign and investigate. And we were quite taken aback when we passed through a little door that said “Aula della Curia…”
Inside the Colleone
Leaving the Aula di Curia by a different door we made sure to document how to return next time, also from the main piazza (to the right of the Cappella Colleoni). It was such an unforgettable experience we probably didn’t need the documentation, though… We walked back through the Piazza Vecchia, back down the funicular and to the parking garage, passing some beautiful villas on the way.
The exit from the Aura della Curia
Quick pic at the fountain in the piazza
A drawing posted on the wall of the funicular station
The view across Bergamo from the funicular
Nice villa on the way back to the parking lot
The villa again
A rose at the villa we passed
From there we drove to nearby Almé where there had been a choice of two Michelin-starred restaurants. Our first choice for price and sense (Frosio) was closed that day so we found the elegant Osteria della Brughiera. We were quite late by that time but the staff were remarkably kind and helpful. There was a 40-euro menu which we all took advantage of and we were served some very, very flavorful food in innovative presentations by excellent staff.
Outdoor patio at Osteria della Brughiera
Interesting presentation for pasta… dip with chopsticks!
Beautiful and very, very good.
The maitre d’ at Osteria della Brughiera
The cellar (shop)
Parlor of Osteria della Brughiera
Leaving Osteria della Brughiera
Ristorante Frosio, also in Alme, for future reference
After lunch we drove in the direction of the villa and stopped at the lovely little hilltop village of Montevecchia with the magnificent views and excellent artisanal ice cream shop. It’s about a 12-minute drive from the villa so we enjoy going here more than once on a trip if the opportunity presents itself.
View from the top of the stairs in Montevecchia
Another view from the stairs over the Val Curone
On the road home – Montevecchia church in the distance
Another view from the road back to Poggio Verde from Montevecchia
Back at the villa we had another lovely dinner and conversation with the new guests who had arrived that day with many stories of their travels and of living a fascinating life in Bucharest, Romania. Then it was time for a stroll on the grounds at sunset, always an irresistible activity with great rewards!
Sunset at Poggio Verde in May
Looking east from the Perimeter Walk at Poggio Verde Country Villa
View of the courtyard and entrance of Poggio Verde Country Villa
It was with a decided mixture of sadness and delight that the group greeted the last day of Be Charmed, 2015. After another nice Italian continental breakfast around that lovely table, it was time to board the bus for Milan.
We love our breakfast table!
Boarding the bus for our last day of Be Charmed 2015
The driver dropped the group off near the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, where they met their guide for the day, Francesca. She told us about the masterpiece we were about to see, the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. It is a remarkable work of art and it is a miracle that is has survived (roughly since the time Columbus sailed to America!). Photos are not allowed to be taken inside, so see the link for some photos and fascinating history, including of the original technique used to paint the fresco, the many restorations attempted over the centuries and the astonishing survival of the fresco after the bombing of the church and convent during World War II.
A beautiful alleyway near the Santa Maria delle Grazie church
Francesca explaining a bit about the Last Supper
Who’s who in the Last Supper
Santa Maria delle Grazie church
In to see the Last Supper
The Last Supper, exposed to the elements after World War II
After the allotted 15 minutes visiting the sublime fresco (be sure to walk to the back of the room for the best perspective!), the group walked around to see the inside of the church and then the beautiful cloister.
Outside the exit from the Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie
Inside of Santa Maria della Grazie
Cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie
From the church they walked along a street toward the Piazza Duomo that has some of the oldest archaeological sites in Milan.
The side of Santa Maria delle Grazie church
A detail on the side of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church
Francesca telling us about the Roman walls
One of many beautiful doorways and entrances along the streets in Milan
The Archaeological Museum
A map of some of the archaeological sites
There was a stop at the surprising little San Satiro church with the marvelous trompe l’oeil choir by Brunelleschi (he only had a depth of 3 feet to work with)…
Inside San Satiro church
The marvellous trompe l’oeil choir of San Satiro by Brunelleschi
… and then the group continued on to the Ristorante Arengario at the top of the Novecento Museum (museum of 20th century art) on the Piazza Duomo, where some typical Italian dishes were thoroughly enjoyed in a dining room with an extraordinary view, including of the truffle being shaved at the next table!
Pasta, tomatoes and basil. Italian through and through.
A semifreddo dessert
Enjoying one of many amusing moments on the Be Charmed trip
The view of the Piazza del Duomo to the Galleria from the restaurant
In the Museo Novecento (900)
In the Museo Novecento
The ladies left the Museo Novecento and crossed the Piazza Duomo in front of the magnificent Duomo (cathedral) of Milan, walked through the Galleria (one of the world’s first and most beautiful covered shopping centers). They continued to the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a former palazzo that houses a private collection of art, and then on to the famous Montenapoleone shopping street for some window-shopping.
The bus picked up the ladies near the Piazza della Scala and took them to the brand new Piazza Gae Aulenti near the Porto Garibaldi train station to see the once-in-a-lifetime 360-degree, 16-screen video of the extraordinary beauty of Italy from its geography to the arts and design, and even its cuisine, over the millennia. The video link we’ve provided is not official but it’s the best example we found of what it was like to stand in the room and watch and listen to the 15-minute presentation. It was a profoundly beautiful and moving experience. The group then walked up the block or two to the pedestrian walking street, Corso di Como, and popped into Number 10, an eclectic small mix of shops and restaurant. Just before boarding the bus back to the villa, the group got to observe a photoshoot in process!
The Piazza della Scala
These gentlemen keep watch around the corner from the Piazza la Scala
The entrance to the Panorama 360 in Piazza Gae Aulenti
The entrance to 10 Corso Como
This way to 10 Corso di Como
The courtyard in Corso di Como
A photoshoot in process
The stairs up to the Piazza Gae Aulenti (there are elevators!)
On arrival at the villa, the ladies went up to pack and take a pause before celebrating a wonderful last evening. They began with a celebratory bubbly (Franciacorta, of course!) and hors d’oeuvres, and a toast to the wonderful Riza whose cooking and general assistance and very sweet spirit they had enjoyed all week. Gretchen and Luigi, the villa hosts and owners were also toasted, then the group adjourned to the dining room for their final dinner together. Favorite moments from the week were shared, questions about the villa and its history were asked and answered, and general merriment ensued, extending the evening as long as possible.
A final toast to Gretchen and Luigi, and to Riza!
Perfect accompaniments to the Franciacorta bubbly
Riza, the wonderful Riza
The next morning, the early risers came down for their final cup of Italian coffee and Fumagalli pastries and everyone boarded the bus for Malpensa Airport. As of this writing, two of the ladies are returning for a Be Charmed trip in October of 2016 and other groups are in the planning stages. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly during this week and look forward to hosting guests for Be Charmed,Painters Retreat, Golf/Gourmet,Food/Wine,Italian Gourmet Cookingor other custom-designed trips.
The group boarded the Cazzaniga bus for the 30-minute ride to Monza on a beautiful October day. The group walked through the town square to the cathedral, which houses the iron crown of Lombardy, made in the early middle ages and said to include a nail from the cross of Jesus. Among the many emperors crowned with it over the years was Napoleon, in 1805.
Boarding the bus at Poggio Verde Country Villa
The main piazza at Monza
Beautiful buildings in Monza
Inside the Monza Cathedral
Iron Crown of Lombardy
Corner of the Monza Cathedral
The tour guide
The visit continued at the 18th century Royal Villa of Monza (the Palazzo Reale), originally built for King Ferdinand of Austria when that part of Italy, Lombardy, was part of the Austrian Empire.
The group then visited some other parts of the villa, including an exhibition of Italian design in the “attic.” The workmanship through is quite magnificent.
A door on the 2nd floor
Stairway down from 3rd floor to 2nd floor
Stairway from 2nd to 1st floor
Villa Reale in Monza
Upon return to the villa, various members of the group walked around in the beautiful late afternoon sun and captured a few lovely photos on the grounds.
Cocktails (usually the classic Italian Negroni) go very nicely with a game of bocce and it has become a bit of a tradition for visitors to enjoy bocce and a Negroni at some point during the week.
Great spot for yoga
The south terrace outside the kitchen is an ideal spot for gathering and for group photos.
Most dinners during the week are in the beautiful dining room of the villa but the group did venture out to the nearby Giovanna Passeri to enjoy local food prepared beautifully with ingredients from her own garden.
What a glorious day!! The beautiful blue sky and balmy October weather couldn’t have been better for the day trip to Lago Maggiore and two of its beautiful little islands, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori.
First glimpse of Lago Maggiore
On the road to Stresa
Upon arrival in Stresa, a private boat was engaged for the day, beginning with the 5-10 minute ride to Isola Bella (aptly named: “beautiful island”), home of the magnificent Palazzo Borromeo.
Arranging the schedule
Sailboats on Lago Maggiore
View from near Stresa
Approaching Isola Bella and the Palazzo Borromeo
The tour through the palace was very interesting…
Ready for our tour
Armor in the entrance of the palazzo
Borromeo Coats of Arms
…and afforded stunning views of Lago Maggiore and/or the park and gardens around the palazzo.
Gardens of the Borromeo Palace
Upper and lower terraces
View from the palazzo
View of the upper terrace
View from a palace window
The lower level of the palazzo (the grotto) was fascinating and beautiful. Cobblestone and shells made for a cool place for the family to retreat to in hot weather.
The grounds on the east side of the palazzo were very… interesting. Quite decorative. Edith Wharton devoted an entire chapter in her 1904 book on Italian villas to the palace and its unique gardens.
Photogenic garden resident
Walkway in the gardens
Enjoying the gardens
East end of the gardens
From there the group walked back to the waiting boat for the five-minute ride to little Isola Pescatori (fisherman’s island).
Back onto the boat
Looking from Isola Bella to Isola Pescatori
Heading toward Isola Pescatori
Approaching Isola Pescatori
A lovely lunch was enjoyed on the terrace of the Ristorante Unione Superiore.
Serving the table’s appetizer
Waiting patiently for the food to arrive
Lunch at Isola Bella (Lake Maggiore)
Grilled veggie plate
Beautiful lunch spot
From there the boatman made a circle the long way around Isola Bella for a good look at the island and the Palazzo, then it was back to Stresa, where the coach was waiting for the drive back to the villa.
West side of Isola Bella and the palazzo
The northwest corner of the Palazzo
Chatting with the captain
View of the palazzo
Gardens of the Palazzo Borromeo
Taking the boat back to Stresa (Lake Maggiore)
The group arrived home in time to enjoy some lovely late afternoon sun before another wonderful dinner at the villa.