The Duomo di Milano: huge yet lacy

Mark Twain sure knew what he was talking about when he described Milan’s Duomo as “grand and vast –  yet delicate”.

The American author went on to add: “What a wonder it is”


Courtesy Paul Bica, Toronto, Canada, Flickr and Wikimedia

There’s no doubt the Duomo di Milano is a substantial building. Able to hold 40,000 people and standing 108 metres high, it is the biggest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the world. (St Peter’s Basilica is bigger, but is in the State of Vatican City)


The Gothic Duomo took almost six centuries to build in a number of contrasting styles. Because of this, the building is regarded as a testament to many changing styles of art and culture.

Check this stunning 360 degree panoramic view provided by the Duomo di Milano website.

Centre of the city

The Duomo sits squarely in the centre of Milan, with city streets either radiating from it, or circling it.

Our guide told us that the site of the Duomo was the most central location in Mediolanum, the ancient settlement established about 600BC that later became the capital of the Western Roman Empire.

It was originally the location of a church and later a cathedral that was ravaged by fire.

The brick and marble Duomo has 3,400 statues, 55 stained glass windows, beautiful altars and paintings.

There is also an early Christian baptistery, dating back to Roman times.


We took the elevator to the roof, where we were able to see the many spires and sculptures – and we climbed the 50 steps to the highest terraces.

There, amid the marble and lacy ironwork,we were amazed by an unexpected feature of the Duomo’s roof – 135 gargoyles that serve both as decorations of sort and very effective drainpipes.


The view across Milan was also stunning, including a wonderful look over the busy forecourt at the city’s grand shopping area, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The Duomo di Milano is a wonderful attraction and we thoroughly recommend a visit.

Milan is located in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, about 572 miles or five-and-a-half-hours from Rome.


It is regarded as a global capital of fashion and design and is also a financial hub known for high-end dining and shopping.



Italy Milan travel

Favourite operas hit a high note

Whether they’ve ever been to the opera or not, most people have marvelled at an opera house or two.

Throughout the world, opera houses are among the most gorgeous and significant buildings imaginable.

These are eight European masterpieces we’ve had the fortune to visit – and recommend:

Teatro Alla Scala (Milan, Italy)


Photo: courtesy: Flickr O2ma

Empress Maria Theresa of Austria founded Milan’s legendary opera house in 1778.

It is an awesome building, perfectly in keeping with Milan’s reputation for class, quality and refinement.

Palais Garnier (Paris, France)

Paris Opera House

Probably the most famous opera house in the world, in no small part because of its setting for the novel and musical, Phantom of the Opera, this opulent building was a key part of the Paris of the Grand Boulevards, designed under Emperor Napoleon III.

It is now used mainly for ballet. We have been fortunate to visit several times. Don’t miss this one if you are visiting beautiful Paris.

Royal Opera House (London, England)


Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Silktalk

An opera house has stood on the present location at Covent Garden since the early 18th century.

Designed in the English Baroque architectural style, the building’s façade, foyer, and auditorium date from 1858.

Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna, Austria)


Copyright: Memorable Destination

Located in the centre of Vienna, this stately building was originally called the Court Opera.

In 1920, with the replacement of the Habsburg Monarchy by the First Republic of Austria, it was renamed the Vienna State Opera.

Members of the world famous Vienna Philharmonic are recruited from its orchestra. A tour of Wiener Staatsoper is a traditional highlight of a visit to Vienna.

Operaen (Copenhagen, Denmark)


Copyright: Memorable Destination

Copenhagen Opera House is the national opera house of Denmark and among the most modern in the world.

It is said to have cost more than US$500 million and sits on the island of Holmen in central Copenhagen.

Staatsoper Unter den Linden (Berlin, Germany)


Copyright: Memorable Destination

Located on the Unter den Linden boulevard in the Mitte district of Berlin, this opera house originally dates to 1741.

Destroyed by bombing in World War II, it reopened in baroque style in 1955.

Teatro La Fenice (Venice, Italy)


Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Remi Mathis

One of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of opera, this striking building marks the site of Venetian theatres that date back to the 1730’s.

In the 19th century especially, La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres. It is one of the best known buildings in the beautiful city of Venice.

Státní opera (Prague, Czech Republic)


Photo: courtesy Wikimedia AndreasPraefcke

Opened in 1888 as the New German Theatre, this building is now officially known as   the Prague State Opera.

About 300 performances are staged here each year.


Other notable European opera houses that we haven’t visited include the Bolshoi in Moscow, Russia (shown below this paragraph); the Teatro Di San Carlo in Naples, Italy; the Opera Royal de Versailles in France; and the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest.


Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Dmitry Guryanov

Austria 1 Milan Vienna Opera House

A wonderland in the Italian Alps

Lake Maggiore, northern ItelyOh how I would love to return to Lake Maggiore – surely one of the most beautiful and beguiling of destinations.

Deep in Northern Italy, where the Alps rise snow-capped and shrouded in mist to Switzerland, the lake and its communities are breath-taking.

Put simply, this place should be on every bucket list.

Alpine magic

Beyond the fertile plains of Lombardy and the wine country of Piedmont, the Italian Alps dominate the landscape.IMG_0349

Thickly wooded areas hug impossibly steep slopes above alpine lakeland of unbelievable beauty.

For centuries, much has been said and written about this wonderland, but it’s still hard to be prepared for the majesty that awaits.

As we journeyed to our hotel near the town of Stresa, we quickly realised that the whole area is a traveller’s dream – a feast of sightseeing where traditional Italian lifestyles have long existed alongside villas of the rich and famous.

Isola Bella

IMG_0320Unfortunately, on this occasion, we had come in search of one particular attraction: the remarkable Isola Bella, or “beautiful island”.

One of Italy’s leading attractions, Isola Bella is one of three Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore, which is Italy’s second biggest lake at 66 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide.

The striking, somewhat flamboyant and unreal appearance of its red-roofed palazzo, or palace and tiered gardens, is known world-wide.IMG_0321

Less well known is Isola Bella’s  role in a futile attempt to prevent World War II.

But, all of this combined draws huge numbers of visitors  and was the main reason we found our way to this charming area.

It didn’t take long, however, to realise that Stresa and Lake Maggiore is one of the most memorable of destinations  – regardless of Isola Bella.

However, the island visit is still something I recommend.IMG_0324

Floating wedding cake

Approaching Isola Bella by ferry, the overwhelming impression is layers of gardens piled on top of one another, like a huge wedding cake, topped by a red-roofed palazzo.

Local Governor, Carlo Borromeo the Third apparently obtained land on what was then known as the island of Isola Inferiore in 1630.  He soon began planning a residence there – and renamed  the island after his wife Isabella.IMG_0322

Carlo’s sons later created not just a simple villa, but a palace worthy of entertaining the greatest nobility of Europe. Soil was brought in from the mainland and the gardens were not completed until 1671.

Today, the palazzo  rises above the small medieval fishing village on one end of Isola Bella.

The sumptuous rooms are filled with family heirlooms and treasures, including historical tapestries that date to about 1565.

Secret war talks

IMG_0326The Sala di Musica is the most famous room, where in April of 1935,  Italian dictator Mussolini, met  representatives of the French and English governments in a last-ditch and unsuccessful attempt to stave off the Second World War by forming an alliance against Nazi Germany.

But it is outside where visitors can be seen shaking their heads in amazement.

Formal gardens are large and grand, but an abundance of massive statues, obelisks, spheres, tropical plants, coral grottos and wandering white peacocks give an impressive of unreality.

IMG_0336The gardens seem almost deliberately ‘over the top’ and overwhelming, yet the whole package is distinctly unique.

Quite simply, it would be hard to find another Isola Bella.  It’s undeniably unforgettable – especially in its stunning setting.

How to get there

About 20 trains a day run to Stresa  from the main railway stations at Milan.  The journey will take about one-and-a-half hours.IMG_0319

From the city’s Porta Garibaldi station, take one of the 10 regional trains heading for Domodossola.

Alternatively, from Milan’s Centrale station, take one of the six regional trains heading for Domodossola or one of the five international trains heading for Geneva.

You can also make the journey from Milan by bus. From the Lampugnano underground station, 2 buses a day go to Stresa.

There are shuttles to the trains and buses from Milan’s main airports – and it’s relatively easy to reach Stresa  from Switzerland.

Once there, you don’t necessarily need a car in the Lake Maggiore area, as it is easy to  see most of the natural beauty and attractions on foot or by ferry.

Where to stay at Stresa

See this list of hotels


Italian Lakes