No trip to Italy is complete without Milan and Lake Como. In Milan we’ll take a peek at Italy’s highest fashion, fanciest delis, grandest cemetery, and greatest opera house…not to mention Leonardo’s Last Supper. Then we’ll cruise along Lake Como, settling down in the lakeside village of Varenna…classic honeymoon country, where Italy meets the Alps.
Milan’s Monumental Cemetery
Europe’s most artistic and dreamy cemetery experience, this grand place was built just after unification to provide a suitable final resting place for the city’s “famous and well-deserving men.” Any cemetery is evocative, but this one — with its super-emotional portrayals of the deceased and their heavenly escorts (in art styles c. 1870–1930) — is in a class by itself. It’s a vast garden art gallery of proud busts and grim reapers, heartbroken angels and weeping widows, too-young soldiers and countless old smiles, frozen on yellowed black-and-white photos (a long walk from Metro: Garibaldi FS, or tram #3, #4, #11, #12, or #14).
Peck is an aristocratic deli with a fancy coffee/pastry/gelato shop upstairs, a gourmet grocery and rosticcerìa on the main level, and anenoteca wine cellar in the basement. Even if all you can afford is the aroma, peek in (Via Spadari 9, tel. 02-802-3161). Try the risotto.
Reserve several months in advance to see this Renaissance masterpiece in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Because of Leonardo’s experimental fresco technique, deterioration began within six years of its completion. The church was bombed in World War II, but — miraculously, it seems — the wall holding The Last Supper remained standing. The 21-year restoration project (completed in 1999) peeled 500 years of touch-ups away, leaving a faint but vibrant masterpiece. In a big, vacant, whitewashed room, you’ll see faded pastels and not a crisp edge. The feet under the table look like negatives. But the composition is dreamy — Leonardo captures the psychological drama as the Lord says, “One of you will betray me,” and the apostles huddle in stressed-out groups of three, wondering, “Lord, is it I?” Some are scandalized. Others want more information. Simon (on the far right) gestures as if to ask a question that has no answer. In this agitated atmosphere, only Judas (fourth from left and the only one with his face in shadow) — clutching his 30 pieces of silver and looking pretty guilty — is not shocked.
Reservations:Reservations are mandatory. These days, because of the hype surrounding Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code, spots are booked several months in advance — so plan ahead. To minimize the humidity problem — even though the damage has already been done — only 25 tourists are allowed in every 15 minutes for exactly 15 minutes. Prior to your appointment time, you wait in several rooms, while doors close behind you and open up slowly in front of you. The information posted on Leonardo is mainly in Italian.
It’s better to book by phone. If you call, you’ll have a greater selection of days and time slots to choose from, since the website doesn’t reflect cancellations (tel. 02-8942-1146, or from the US dial 011-39-02-8942-1146; booking office open Mon–Fri 9:00–18:00,
Sat 9:00–14:00, closed Sun; the number is often busy—once you get through, dial 2 for an English-speaking operator; the process takes about two minutes and you’ll hang up with an appointed entry time and a number; pay with cash or credit card upon arrival).
If you book online using the official website, you’ll see a calendar that will—ideally—show available time slots. If the days are blank, it means that all the slots for those days have been filled— or it can mean that the website (which seems user-unfriendly) isn’t functioning well. If you can’t find a spot when you need it, try calling instead, because cancellations show up on the website as booked slots (www.cenacolovinciano.org).
Last-Minute Tickets: While “reservations are required,” if spots are available (more likely on weekdays and late) you can book one at the desk (even if Sold Out sign is posted). If fewer than 25 people show up for a particular time slot, you can get lucky. But those who show up without a reservation generally kill lots of time waiting around. Only un-prepaid spots are given away if the ticket holders don’t show up; prepaid no-shows are not resold.
Getting There: Take the Metro to Cadorna or Conciliazione (plus a 5-min walk), or hop on tram #16 (catch it just off Piazza Duomo on corner of Via Mazzini and Via Dogana), which drops you off in front of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
La Scala Opera House and Museum
The statue of Leonardo behind the Galleria is looking at a plain but famous Neoclassical building, arguably the world’s most prestigious opera house: Milan’s Teatrale alla Scala. La Scala opened in 1778 with an opera by Antonio Salieri (of Amadeus fame). At Milan’s famous opera house and its adjacent museum, which have recently both undergone a lengthy restoration, opera buffs can see the museum’s extensive collection and get a glimpse of the theater.
Museum: The collection — well-described in English — features things that mean absolutely nothing to the hip-hop crowd: Verdi’s top hat, Rossini’s eyeglasses, Toscanini’s baton, Fettuccini’s pesto, original scores, diorama stage sets, costumes, busts, portraits, and death masks of great composers and musicians. The museum allows you to peek into the actual theater. The stage is as big as the seating area on the ground floor. The royal box is just below your vantage point, in the center rear. Notice the massive chandelier made of Bohemian crystal (Piazza della Scala, tel. 02-887-974-730).
Opera: The show goes on at the world-famous La Scala Opera House. Schedules vary, but the opera season is nearly year-round (show time 20:00), and ballet and classical concerts are held from October through June (tel. 02-7200-3744; for automated booking, call 02-860-775 and press 2 for English. While tourists are usually keen on seeing an opera in La Scala, note that many of the performances are actually in a second hall, the Arcimboldi Theater. On the opening night of an opera, a dress code is enforced for men (suit and tie).
With a quick 30-minute swing through this quiet, one-floor museum thoughtfully described in English, you’ll learn the interesting story of Italy’s rocky road to unity: from Napoleon (1796) to the victory in Rome (1870). It’s just around the block from the Brera Art Gallery at Via Borgonuovo 23 (Metro: Montenapoleone, tel. 02-8846-4176).
Albergo Milano, located right in the old town, is graciously run by Egidio and his Swiss wife, Bettina. Fusing the best of Italy with the best of Switzerland, this well-run, romantic hotel has eight comfortable rooms that offer extravagant views, balconies, or big terraces (tel. 0341-830-298, fax 0341-830-061, firstname.lastname@example.org). This place whispers luna di miele — honeymoon .