Northern Italy: Milan, Lake Como, Genoa and Pisa

Although I’ve been to quite a few major cities in Italy, I still feel like my bucket list for this country is overwhelming. After seeing Milan with my friends, I decided to go back with my mom for a quick weekend, basically 48 hours to see Lake Como and The Last Supper. Somehow those two days turned into four with the added stops of Genoa and Pisa.

We arrived in Milan late on a Friday night, and by Saturday morning, we were off on a tour to Lake Como, which is situated in the mountains just about an hour north of the city. We spent the day in the town of Como, which had the typical ornate cathedral and old Italian streets with the added bonus of being right on the water. Our tour included a cable car ride up to the village of Brunate, and after about a 20-minute walk, we made it to the most stunning overlook of the lake and surrounding mountains. The sky was relatively clear so we could even see snowy peaks as far as Switzerland. Then, we took a boat ride on the lake where our guide pointed out different villas, such as the Versace mansion and the spot where John Legend and Chrissy Teigen got married.

Out of all of that, though, the highlight of the day for me was just sitting outside at lunch, enjoying a glass of wine and quattro formaggi pizza. The temperature was in the high 50s with the sun beaming down on us so it was definitely warm enough to eat outside, something we’re certainly not used to in Germany. It was just so relaxing!

The weather took a turn the next day when we were back in Milan and it was cold and rainy all day. The Duomo is my favorite church I’ve ever seen architecturally, and we had to take the opportunity to climb to its rooftops and see the intricate stonework up close. It really is mind-blowing how much detail was carved into each beam, wall, and decorative piece. This is a can’t-miss experience in Milan. I also enjoyed walking around Italy’s first and only Starbucks, which I had seen all over social media. It was like a Disney World for coffee lovers!

By lunchtime, we were sick of the rain and were disappointed that we would have to leave that evening for Germany. We had a tour booked to see The Last Supper, but the only spot we could get was fairly late and we feared missing our flight, so we made the spontaneous decision to stay longer and instead hop a train to Genoa that night, another city I had been dying to check out.

We experienced The Last Supper on a guided tour, and I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity because tickets sell out way in advance. I’m not a huge art person, but seeing such a famous painting that is unfortunately deteriorating and may not exist much longer was quite a treat. By standing there and seeing it in person, the viewer can understand Leonardo Da Vinci’s goal of making it appear that the room continues and the viewer is right there at the table.

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After all the rain, we were happy to wake up in Genoa to a sunny day. We went there simply to enjoy the weather, so we started the day at the Passegiata Anita Garibaldi, which is a beautiful two-kilometer promenade along the Mediterranean Sea. It ended at the town of Nervi which was picturesque, but rather dead, probably because it was winter.

We spent the rest of the day back in Genoa. We walked along the harbor—it was a nice walk because it was sunny but there were several structures that were total eyesores so we felt like it could have been prettier without them ruining the view of the stacked houses on the hills. I’m glad we went to Genoa, but there is just no comparison between it and the nearby Nice on the French Riviera. It just had some junkier and sketchy areas and you could tell that you were in Italy and not France just by how poorly things were kept up. 

In the afternoon, we took a bus to the Boccadasse neighborhood, which reminded me a lot of Cinque Terre but was not overrated (I have very strong opinions about how much I disliked Cinque Terre). It was calm and we sat by a small beach absorbing every bit of sunlight while drinking tea and eating gelato.

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Our last thing to check off the Italy bucket list for this trip was Pisa, which was a two-hour train ride from Genoa. We were able to get a cheap flight from there back to Frankfurt, and we figured it was the perfect opportunity to see the Leaning Tower. Well, there’s nothing else worth seeing in Pisa, so this was a nice one-hour stop before the airport. Even at 9:30 a.m. it was overrun with tourists so I’d hate to see it later in the day. We took our stereotypical leaning on the tower pictures and I climbed to the top, which was unbelievably expensive (would not recommend simply based on price) but a neat experience because I could feel how it was leaning as I climbed the crooked stairs. I’m glad I can say I’ve seen the tower, but I wouldn’t tell anyone to go out of their way for it.

This trip was definitely an amazing experience for me to both learn more about Italy and also learn to be more spontaneous. I am such a planner so randomly having to book train tickets to Genoa, new flights, and a hotel for the same day definitely put me out of my comfort zone, but in a good way—though I’m not sure if I would choose that travel style all the time!

Food recommendations

Just a heads up that I’m adding this new subsection with the names of restaurants/food spots so that people can give them a try. My favorite was my four-course meal of foie gras, truffle ravioli, duck, and creme brulee from I Cuochi!

Platina – amazing homemade pasta (bucatini with ricotta pictured above) – Milan

La Cantina del Giannone – Northern Italian specialties – Milan

Le Mani in Pasta – pasta and seafood (trofie pasta with octopus sauce pictured above) – Genoa

I Cuochi – overall delicious Italian food and prix-fixe menus (truffle ravioli pictured above) – Genoa

Trattoria dell’Acciughetta – seafood (ricotta with pistachio sauce pictured above) – Genoa

 

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