Munching through Como, Milan and Genoa

Posted by Kirsten Smart on 23 September 2011


And then suddenly we were in Italy, winding along the longest, narrowest, curviest road to a village outside Como. Dodging kids on bikes, doddering old ladies and mothers with prams around every corner whilst being harassed from behind by passive aggressive locals who drive dexterously, but far too fast, I think we grew our first grey hairs. But eventually, car sick and stressed out, we arrived at our hotel. It quickly became clear to us that this was a place to which we would most definitely return; set right on the lake, the hotel is almost like a mini resort with canoes, water activities, a giant floating trampoline as well as a spectacular restaurant which is frequented by locals and foreigners alike. We spent an entire day just sunning and splashing; a great rest for our weary feet and when it came time for us to move on to Milan, we did so reluctantly.

Our spirits were cheered up soon, however, because not far from Como (on the Swiss border) is shopping heaven- and I’m not talking about Milan (in fact the Milanese go to this place for bargains). It’s called Fox Town and it’s a shopping mall filled with designer outlet stores like Dolce and Gabbana, Burberry, Prada, Missoni and Gucci. The prices are drastically reduced and what’s more is we were there for their summer sales. The sheer number of shops was quite overwhelming, though, and it was pretty crowded (it was a weekend) so we bought a few bargains and hit the road again.


After seeing the kinds of mark-downs you could get at Fox Town, we wondered at those who bought designer goods for dizzying prices in the shops in Milan. But not for long, because we had plenty we wanted to see and do in this city.

Milan is an interesting city stuffed full of contrasts. Most people come here to shop (all of the tourist maps in our hotel featured shopping streets and malls and not very much else) which is a pity because the city has so much more to offer. Our highlight had to be the (almost empty) Ambrosiana Museum which, while we were there, housed a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. We spent hours pouring over old papers where he jotted down his brilliant ideas (often multiple theories on one page) in his odd, backwards handwriting, detailed doodles scrawled often randomly in the margins.

One thing I do regret not seeing is the original Last Supper. It was only after we arrived at the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie that we discovered only a certain number of people are allowed in per day and we actually needed to have booked days in advance to get a chance to see the famous mural.

We consoled ourselves with the most heavenly gelato at Cioccolat Italiani, where there was molten chocolate literally on tap (milk, white and dark) with which they fill up your cone before scooping your gelato on top. I would go back to Milan just for that gelato. Heck, I’d go to Timbuktu in a donkey cart for that gelato.


Completely unrelated to the excessive amount of gelato I consumed, I was as sick as a dog when we arrived in Genoa late in the evening. We were shocked at the state of urban decay in the centre of the city and didn’t hang around for long before taking refuge in our hotel room. The next day I was feeling a bit better so we decided to give the city, which renowned for its richness of culture, another chance.

And I’m so glad we did. Genoa, although a little on the grimy side, is packed full of gorgeous old buildings and churches. We visited the cramped little house that was once the home of Christopher Columbus (he clearly didn’t have a problem with cabin fever) and climbed to the top of one of Genoa’s old towers, from which there is a spectacular view of the city below. All in all it was a beautiful city, though I did feel the need to hide my camera and my wallet.

So on it was to lovely little Lucca, but before we reached it we decided to have lunch in Portofino and find out what all the fuss was about. As we approached the infamous fishing village, we saw super-duper-mega yachts bobbing about in the bay, crowds of tanned, scantily clad beauties swanning along the narrow roads and blue and white umbrellas covering every inch of the tiny beaches. Luxury cars, bumper to shiny bumper, lined the pavements- in fact there were so many cars parked there that we saw people on Vespas struggling to find a spot to slot in their minuscule machines. This should have been our first clue as just as we were about to enter Portofino a glamorous-looking female traffic officer stopped us and instructed us to turn around and leave as Portofino was full. The entire village was full.

Meanwhile our stomachs were empty, so we headed on to Lucca, but stopped on the way at the most fantastic restaurant on top of a hill overlooking the sea. Here we ordered some homemade white wine and a massive pot of freshly made pasta with swordfish- which was honestly the best meal I’ve ever eaten (sorry mom). Life lesson learned: From unexpected experiences spring the sweetest memories.


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