When it comes to Italy words fail me...

In the first of a two-part fea­ture Max Hall trav­elled be­tween the Ital­ian cities of Mi­lan, Venice, Florence and Rome us­ing an In­ter­rail Italy pass and airbnb ac­com­mo­da­tion. First stops Mi­lan and Venice...

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GLOBE TROTTING -

THE trou­ble with writ­ing about Italy’s most beau­ti­ful cities is the lack of su­perla­tives avail­able. Dante him­self would be reach­ing for the th­e­saurus if faced with the – lit­er­ally – mon­u­men­tal task of de­scrib­ing the first feel­ings ex­pe­ri­enced by trav­ellers catch­ing sight of Mi­lan’s mag­is­te­rial duomo or the first rush of eu­pho­ria when travel-weary tourists cross their first bridge into the crum­bling grandeur of Venice’s labyrinthine al­ley­ways.

Of­fered the op­por­tu­nity of spend­ing two weeks tour­ing the breath­tak­ing sights of Mi­lan, Venice, Florence and Rome, I jumped at the chance and an In­ter­rail Italy ticket seemed the per­fect choice for our retro-ob­sessed age.

The ro­mance of fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Vic­to­rian gen­tle­men on the Grand Tour has en­dured for sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions thanks to the In­ter­rail­ing op­tion and re­mains a popular choice for tourists de­spite the wide­spread avail­abil­ity of cheap flights. For the eco-con­scious trav­eller it is a no-brainer, although users of In­ter­rail’s Italy pass should note there is ef­fec­tively a €10 sur­charge on ev­ery in­ter-city jour­ney booked.

Placed along­side Venice, Florence and The Eter­nal City, Mi­lan of­ten suf­fers by com­par­i­son as Laura, my guide on the Walks of Italy, Best of Mi­lan walk­ing tour ex­plained: “Peo­ple think of Mi­lan as industrial and not as beau­ti­ful as cities like Venice but the beauty is there, you just have to dig a lit­tle deeper to find it.”

Laura’s walk did just that, tak­ing in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper – painted on a wall in the for­mer re­fec­tory of a monastery next to the Church of Santa Maria delle Gra­zie and not on a can­vas, as I sup­posed; the stunning in­te­rior of the church of San Mau­r­izio, with its walls fes­tooned with awe-inspiring art­work hid­den be­hind an ut­terly in­con­spic­u­ous ex­te­rior; the im­pres­sive Castello di Sforzesco and grounds; the fash­ion­able Br­era dis­trict; the strik­ingly-vaulted Gal­lerie di Vit­to­rio Manuele; and cul­mi­nat­ing in a rooftop tour of Il Duomo. Dur­ing the tour, vis­i­tors are treated to nuggets such as see­ing the tiny self-por­trait Mus­solini added on the rooftop of the cathe­dral – although the par­ti­sans who strung him and his wife up from a lamp­post in the city had the last laugh on that one – the per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of the four known con­ti­nents high in the roof of the gal­lerie and the rea­sons why the dis­tinc­tive Alfa Romeo badge takes the form it does.

With the chance to sam­ple lo­cal tip­ple of choice spritze as part of the Mi­lanese tra­di­tion of aperitivo – where pun­ters pay around €8 per drink but can gorge them­selves on an in­de­scrib­ably tasty feast the word buf­fet fails to do jus­tice to – in the scenic canal­side dis­trict of nav­iglio, it is hard to see why Mi­lan would suf­fer in com­par­i­son with any­where on earth.

Step­ping off the train at Venice, how­ever, and cross­ing into the Byzan­tine maze of tiny streets criss-crossed with wa­ter­ways is a feel­ing im­pos­si­ble to con­vey. The city sim­ply takes the breath away with its de­cay­ing gothic splen­dour, de­scrib­ing it as York on wa­ter barely cov­ers the aged majesty of the me­dieval trad­ing en­tre­pot.

A map is in­valu­able and, for­tu­nately, my airbnb host Nina met me at the sta­tion to pro­vide one. In the dig­i­tal age, airbnb of­fers an­other ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tion and, hav­ing been given my own apart­ment with a rooftop ter­race in Mi­lan I now found my­self shar­ing a beau­ti­ful house with Nina and Ricky near one of the stops used by the va­poretti, or wa­ter taxis. Buy­ing a three-day va­poretto pass for €40 proved a wise choice and opened up not only the city’s six dis­tricts but also fur­ther-flung is­lands such as Mu­rano, renowned world­wide for its glass­ware, and the for­mer plague is­land of San Lazaretto Nuovo.

The Best of Venice walk­ing tour and gon­dola ride, led by Francesca, of­fers the chance for vis­i­tors to ori­en­tate them­selves and in­cludes a trip to the Ger­man Ware­house, once dec­o­rated by res­i­dent Ti­tian, the court­yard where Marco Polo grew up and the ol­fac­tory heaven that is the fish mar­ket, where Hem­ing­way used to pick up his del­i­ca­cies and take them into restau­rants to be pre­pared for him. Walks of Italy also of­fers the Ex­clu­sive Alone in St Mark’s Basil­ica Af­ter Hours trip, which of­fers ac­cess to ar­eas of the stunning land­mark usu­ally closed to the public.

See­ing the rays of a wes­ter­ing sun en­ter the cathe­dral and il­lu­mi­nate the gilt-cov­ered ceil­ing, set­ting it afire in a blaze of gold, is worth the fee alone. And that’s it – I’m all out of su­perla­tives... for now!

Next week Max trav­els to Florence and Rome

Me­dieval dec­o­ra­tion in the strik­ing in­te­rior of the church of San Mau­r­izio in Mi­lan, hid­den be­hind an anony­mous ex­te­rior

Above, a gon­do­lier is a familiar sight on the canals of Venice Right, Max’s airbnb ac­com­mo­da­tion in Mi­lan, a centrally-lo­cated loft con­ver­sion with a rooftop ter­race

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.