Madrid’s ghost subway and Milan’s canal-side bars
If you fancy a city break, to explore art and architecture or culinary delights, Madrid and Milan offer plenty of these, but also some hidden gems, including a ghost train station (and a tropical garden one) in Madrid. In da Vinci’s town, you can follow up The Last Supper with a drink in the world’s smallest bar, alongside a canal designed with help from the great man himself.
Art and architecture buffs will be in heaven wandering the tree-lined boulevards of Madrid, whilst food lovers can sample a mouth-watering array of tapas.
Flights from Luxembourg with Luxair leave five to six times a week and the journey time is just under two and a half hours. Ryanair also flies direct from Luxembourg to Madrid three to four times a week.
Things to see and do
No visit to Madrid is complete without a trip to the Prado Museum, home to Velàzquez’ "Las Meninas" and Goya’s "Third of May", plus works from Titian, Bosch and several Flemish and Italian masterpieces.
You’ll need at least half a day to explore it, and another for Thyssen-Bornemisza, which exhibits works by Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Dali and Georgia O’Keefe. If contemporary art is more to your taste, then the Reina Sofia has more than 22,000 works including ones by Miró, and Picasso’s famous Guernica.
Parks and quarters
If you want to relax between art critiquing, you can do so at Retiro Park or the Botanical gardens, or stop for a coffee and tapas in the Barrio de las Letras or Plaza Mayor.
Plaza de Oriente is home to Madrid’s iconic Royal palace and Teatro Real, plus the nearby Temple of Debod, reconstructed after being donated to Spain during the construction of Egypt's Aswan Dam. All across the city you’ll come across astounding architecture tucked into squares, as at the Plaza de Toros or on resplendent view such as the Cibeles Palace.
Near the Latina district you’ll find the San Miguel Market which is lined with stalls and old taverns offering sharing tapas (raciones). You can try tapas from across Spain, including the Basque region and Galicia, but also local ones such as a chickpea stew called cocido, or if you’re feeling brave, tripe stewed in tomato with paprika and chorizo, in a dish called callos.
If you’re travelling with younger children, Madrid still has plenty for a mini-break. The Zoo, at Caso del Campo (on the metro) has animals from five continents, whilst Faunia has some 4,000 animals in four dedicated eco-zones. For a bit of stargazing, the Planetarium has daily shows and workshops, whilst Aquopolis water park has 12 water attractions.
For something a bit more off the beaten track, then two of Madrid’s train stations have been transformed.
The Atocha covered train station seems more like a tropical garden than a commuter zone, where a section no longer in use now contains a garden of 7,000 plants.
The capital’s first metro station Chamberi (between the Bilbao and Iglesia stops) was abandoned. Now a museum dedicated to the history of Madrid Metro, its platform zero has old ticket offices, turnstiles and maps, and all the original advertising of 1919.
A bronze statue of a bear on its hind legs snuffling at a tree can be found at Puerta del Sol. The bear has been a symbol of Madrid since the 13th century, although these days the real-life ones can only be found in northern Spain. Head to the Casino Gran Madrid to find a giant frog sculpture on the pavement outside. Under Franco’s regime, gambling was forbidden, so to mark a return to the tables, the casino gifted the city this lucky frog.
Perhaps best-known as the city where da Vinci painted the Last Supper, as much as an international fashion capital, Milan has a lot more to offer including grand architecture, canal-side cycle routes and, of course, the famous Milanese veal cutlet.
Flights from Luxembourg, run daily with Luxair and ITA Airways to Malpensa Airport and take about an hour and a quarter. Easyjet fly to the same airport 5-6 times a week. Ryanair fly 5 times a week to Bergamo.
Things to do and see
Art & Architecture
The city’s Duomo stands in the heart of Milan, a Gothic, 14th century cathedral, with a rooftop giving magnificient views of the city’s skyline with the Alps in the background (thought to have inspired the Paramount Pictures logo). The exterior is heavily decorated and features many statues including two boxers wrestling.
For da Vinci fans the Santa Maria delle Grazie is a must, to see The Last Supper mural, which unlike a fresco, was painted in the 16th century on a dry wall giving it greater luminosity. Unfortunately this method means it’s now peeling away, and may not be here for future generations.
Flanked by a spectacular fountain, Sforzesco Castle, also in town, was built in the 15th century and houses a number of museums and artworks. The nearby Sempione Park is a good place for a stroll or break from sightseeing.
Canal life and street art
Venice is not the only city of water in Italy, as Milan had a system of navigable canals designed with input from da Vinci. Today the Naviglio Grande and Pavese are the most visited, mostly because they are filled with canal-side bars, restaurants and cafés (including the allegedly smallest bar in the world, Backdoor 43). You can also take boat tours. For some street art painted onto the facades of buildings, Port Nuova is the place to head.
Local delicacies include polenta and risotto with braised veal shank and Milanese-style veal cutlets. Milan also has a thriving Chinatown serving up oriental delicacies. If you fancy a bit of exercise before you eat, you can cycle the scenic route along the canal Naviglio della Martesana, north-east of the city, past farms until you reach Gorgonzola, famed for that pungent blue cheese. There are numerous bike hire/ bike share places in town.
Nearby lakes and beaches
Lake Garda is a one-hour train journey from Milan. Italy’s largest lake, fed by glaciers, you can visit the monastery founded by St Francis of Assisi on one of its islands. It’s also a great place for hiking, climbing, and even windsurfing, or just relaxing in a sulphur spring.
You can drive to Bergeggi beach (a free-entry beach), known for its clear, blue water in just over two hours. If you prefer to take a train, the fishing village of Boccadasse is two hours away.
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