Back from 10 days in Northern Italy

I found a reasonable round-trip flight from Detroit to Milan Malpensa ($900), so I invited my mother to join me for 10 days in Northern Italy. We had a good time, and I wanted to share some of the things we experienced.

We took the bus from Milan Malpensa to Lugano, Switzerland. (ATM at Malpensa was almost at the exit.) I had reserved the bus, but our bus was only about 1/4 full, and we bought the ticket at the bus ticket office near the exit (could have purchased from the driver). Lugano's charms are subtle; we walked around and up to the Parco Panoramico. (We enjoyed our stay at the recommended Albergo Stella.)

Taking the C12 bus from Lugano to Menaggio was easier than expected! It was difficult to nail down specifics online (the Lugano tourist office replied to my e-mail!). You must buy the ticket before you get on, and the tourist office told us to buy it at the "kiosk" near the Lido (which is what we would call a snack bar). The bus stop is behind the parking lot of Campo Marzio north of the Lido and east of the Flume. We took the 9:30 am bus, a scenic and fun local ride. Others were getting off in Menaggio--the bus keeps going downto near the waterfront. We then took the ferry over the Bellagio.

We really enjoyed Bellagio! (We enjoyed our two nights at the recommended Hotel Centrale in Bellagio.) It's a day-tripper town and nearly shuts down at night. (The "grocery stores" were also not what I expected, more a meat shop/deli and a produce shop.) I found the RS Italy 2014 guidebook's sections for Bellagio and Varenna did not ring as true as usual. I did not feel like a "tramp in a palace" in Bellagio as a backpack-wearing budget traveler--I guess it reminded me of a cross between Mackinac Island and Sarlat (France)--I felt welcome. (Maybe the town's vibe has changed in recent years?) "Punta Spartivento" is just a little city park (at the tip of Bellagio's peninsula) with great views--not a "dramatic natural park" as the book says. We enjoyed walking there during the day and at night. We also did the recommended kayaking with Bellagio Water Sports--2 hours of fun!

We tried to do the recommended walk from Varenna to the source of the Fiumelatte River. The directions in the book did not match the posted signs. We tried to follow the signs, but the path behind the cemetery was less-than-well-traveled, and you are out of view during that portion, so we walked below the cemetery, still on a fun walk, and made it eventually to the Fiumelatte River. This walk was my favorite experience on the whole trip, just the kind of nature + history walking we enjoy--reminded us of the walk from Schoellkopf to the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls, NY, along the old tram trail. We never did find the source (again, the trail seemed overgrown trying to trace it backwards), but it was fun. (The TI's pamphlet did not give many more details.) Nilus Bar in Varenna had great views and good pizza--glad it was recommended. The recommended Gelateria del Borgo in Bellagio was our favorite gelato of the trip!

From Bellagio, we took the train to Venice. 24 hours in Venice would have been enough, but we stayed two nights at Hotel Serenissima. We went on the roof of St. Mark's--very enjoyable--and went up in the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore for great views. We did a lot of back-streets walking, too. We got the 24-hour vaporetto pass. We went to Murano (bought picnic supplies at the supermarket near the Colonna stop--which has a free [but not so clean] WC across from its door--and ate them at the park up the street from the lighthouse. We also did the recommended traghetto ride instead of the gondola (a good choice for us) and the evening Grand Canal vaporetto trip (which we enjoyed very much). From Venice, we went to Ravenna. The Ravenna mosaic sites are amazing! So glad we went! We stayed at the recommended A Casa di Paola B&B and ate at the recommended Ristorante La Gardela--both excellent.

Posted by Kyla
Ypsilanti, MI, USA
195 posts

More on my trip to Northern Italy in June-July 2014: From Ravenna, we took the train to Padua to see the Scrovegni Chapel. I reserved the "Giotto Under the Stars" 7 pm time from the US because it was cheaper, and we enjoyed it (especially after having been to Ravenna). Other than that, Padua had limited appeal for us. (We stayed at the recommended Hotel Al Santo and ate at the recommended Zairo.) It was fun to see the crazy graduate stunts in Padua, and we had delicious gelato on Piazza dei Signori (I think it was at the gelateria next to Grom. Pear gelato--yum!) We took the train to Verona, stored our bags at the station (cash only, closes at 8 pm), and walked to the old town. To me, signage from the train station to Piazza Bra was very confusing, and we wasted 20 minutes trying to figure out which direction to go. (Wish at least one of the guidebook's Verona maps showed the train station or that how to get to Piazza Bra on foot were described rather than just giving bus directions.) We enjoyed touring the Verona arena (reminded me of the one in Nimes some) and following the self-guided walk of Verona. It was also in Verona we grew to love McDonald's 1 euro strawberry milkshakes :)

I made the mistake of reserving two night at a hotel in Milan (Hotel Michelangelo, which I really enjoyed, for 150 euros per night + tourist tax, right next to the train station and a modern business-class hotel). Milan had only 3-5 hours of sight-seeing for us (metro to Duomo, climbed the stairs to the Duomo roof, toured the Duomo, walked through the Galleria, walked around the Quadrilateral, tram to Navigli), and then we were stuck. It was the last day of our trip, so we napped, but it was a wasted 1/2 day. (I tried too late to get tickets to The Last Supper.)

We then took the bus in the morning from Milano Centrale to Malpensa airport (10 euros, took about an hour, was very easy) and flew home.

I traveled with two debit cards, one from my credit union and one from my bank, and two credit cards. Only one card worked in the Italian train station ticket machines (the bank debit card). We were next to a group of Japanese women who also were struggling to get the train ticket machine in Venezia Santa Lucia station to take a card. (Third card was the charm for me--I don't think they were as lucky.) Had the most dynamic currency conversion experiences of all my previous trips--I was happily able to refuse them all.

If I did the trip again, I would probably skip Lugano and the first night in Milan. Not sure what I would have added. A day in Florence, maybe?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12428 posts

Nice report. Make good notes for your next trip.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4364 posts

Thanks for taking the time to post this. Just one nit-picking request: could you edit your first post to have paragraph breaks, as you second one does? It makes it MUCH easier to read.

Posted by Kyla
Ypsilanti, MI, USA
195 posts

Edited with breaks now. Thanks for the feedback! :)

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4364 posts

And thanks for putting in those paragraph breaks - you see what a difference it makes!

Posted by Priscilla
California
783 posts

Thanks for this post!
My mom & I will be traveling to northern Italy in a few weeks & I am still trying to figure out our itinerary.
We will be flying into the same airport as you did. We will have 12 nights in the area & would like to visit some of the
cities by the lakes. How much did it cost to stay at the Hotel Centrale in Bellagio? Now that you've been there, would you have
stayed in Varenna instead of Bellagio? Did you need reservations for dinner while in Bellagio/ Varenna?
So I gather that visiting Padua was not your favorite. Perhaps it was not as impressive as beautiful Bellagio?!
What was your favorite place? Thanks for letting me know about not wasting 2 days in Milan. The last time we visited Italy, we flew into Milan & hopped on a train to the coast & visited Cinque Terre, so this time we only need to stay in Milan the day before flying home so we can be close to train/bus station. What's better to take bus or train back to Malpensa Airport?
Thanks again for recounting your trip!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
5175 posts

Nice report. As for Milano, too bad you didn't get to Castello Sforzesco or the Brera Gallery, or the church of San Ambrogio. I usually budget two or three nights for Milano. Not a tourist-oriented city, so I understand why it didn't hold much appeal for sightseeing, places are scattered.

I guess people associate Italy with sentiment or romance, and Milano has little of either. But I love it anyway.

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
188 posts

I agree, Zoe. We spent a few days in Milano and really enjoyed the city. The Castello was an unexpected pleasure for us. We spent quite a bit of time there and even picnicked on the grounds, along with the resident cats. There are several small museums within the walls; the Rondanini Pieta, Michelangelo's last sculpture is in in one of them.

Thank you for posting this trip report. It sounds as if you and your Mom had a wonderful time!

Posted by Jan
Cleveland, Oh
21 posts

Just got back last week from Milan - my last stop after 2 days in Como and out on the lake - a very relaxing way to end a one month trip. I only allowed about 6 hours in Milan - the Duomo and roof are fabulous, and loved the Galleria, and then went to the Monumental Cemetary, which blew me away - I could have spent hours there with all those sculptures on the graves. I highly recommend this to anyone else going to Milan - it's like a free art museum and hardly any tourists there. I wanted to see other sights, too, but didn't have time.
Janice

Posted by Kyla
Ypsilanti, MI, USA
195 posts

Janice, I'm glad you had a better time in Milan than I did :) If I'm ever back, I'll have to check out that cemetery.