Making the most of a rare opportunity to be bambino gratis (child free), I arranged a weekend break to the beautiful Italian city of Milan with my partner and another couple to indulge in sophisticated downtime.

Ellen and her partner outside Milan's Il Duomo, a jewel in the city's crown that greatly impressed Ellen.

Ellen and her partner outside Milan's Il Duomo, a jewel in the city's crown that greatly impressed Ellen.

Although we visited in October, we were surprised to find the temperature was still up in the mid-twenties. You can’t beat that feeling of stepping off a plane and feeling the welcome warmth from the sun, like a hug from an old friend.

As we walked through the airport, something that instantly struck me was how well dressed people were! Swarms of effortlessly elegant individuals, many with espresso cup in hand, coolly waiting to greet their acquaintances. We even joked between us, saying: “Are they hired for effect?”

Milano Centrale, or Milan central, was inaugurated in 1931, to take the place of the original railway station built in 1864. Today it is the largest station in Europe in terms of passenger volumes, connecting major Italian cities and beyond with high-speed train travel, making it a truly international travel hub.

Milano Centrale, or Milan Central Station, was inaugurated in 1931, taking the place of the original railway station built in 1864. Today it is the largest station in Europe in terms of passenger volumes, connecting major Italian cities and beyond with high-speed train travel, making it a truly international travel hub.

Politely declining a taxi quote of €70 to our hotel, we decided to take one of the many shuttle buses from Linate Airport to Milan Central Station. This cost only €5 each and took around 30 minutes. From here, we made the most of the free map handed to us on the bus, and navigated our way on foot to our hotel.

The bustle of traffic and people, as well as the imposing buildings, are all you would expect from a city, but in no way is Milan a concrete jungle. Rather like Dorothy arriving in Oz, it was impossible not to be awestruck by the surroundings, and I spent most of my time looking up at the unbelievably intricate architecture.

A mixture of architectural styles, the front façade of Milan Central is 660 foot wide and its vault stands 236 foot high, a record when it was built. It has 24 platforms. Each day an average of 330,000 passengers use the station, totalling about 120 million per year.

A mixture of architectural styles, the front façade of Milan Central is around 200 metres wide and its vault stands 71 metres high, a record when it was built. It has 24 platforms. Each day an average of 330,000 passengers use the station, totalling about 120 million per year.

After finding our hotel and dropping off our bags, we set off on an exploratory stroll towards the city centre and decided to stop for a drink before lunch. However, we were pleasantly surprised to be introduced to aperitivo - free nibbles given out when drinks are purchased in bars. So a nice glass of Chianti or a refreshing Aperol comes complete with a plate of olives, bread, courgettes and salami. Who needs lunch!

Hard to beleive that this delicious platter of nibbles - the aperitivo -  comes gratis with your Chianti in many of the bars in Milan.

It's hard to believe that this delicious platter of nibbles - the aperitivo - comes gratis with your Chianti in many of the bars in Milan.

Undoubtedly, the absolute icing on the cake of Milan is the cathedral, Il Duomo, located in Piazza del Duomo - Cathedral Square. Its construction taking well over 500 years, Italy’s largest church is adorned with statues, gargoyles and figures - 4,235 of them to be exact.

With an almost lace-like quality to some of the complex Gothic-style carvings, it is a truly stunning structure. There are various tours of Il Duomo you can take, including a rooftop tour which takes you right up to the amazing sculptures and spires.

The Piazza del Duomo sits at the heart of this splendid city. Home to Il Duomo - or Duomo di Milano - Italy's largest church, all of the streets of Milan radiate out in a giant architectural web from the Piazza.

The Piazza del Duomo sits at the heart of this splendid city. Home to Il Duomo - or Duomo di Milano - Italy's largest church, all of the streets of Milan radiate out in a giant architectural web from the Piazza.

Intrigued by the lace-like delicacy of Italy's largest church, Ellen took a rooftop tour of Il Duomo to get up close and personal with just one or two of its 4,235 statues. Statues apart, the view alone makes this excursion worthwhile.

Intrigued by the lace-like delicacy of the stone work of Italy's largest church, Ellen took a rooftop tour of Il Duomo to get up close to just one or two of its 4,235 statues. Statues apart, the view alone makes this excursion worthwhile.

Also located in Cathedral Square is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a fabulous four-storey shopping mall and home to an array of designer stores. Though unfortunately for me, I was only window shopping. Even so, the Galleria is definitely worth a visit as the building itself is more remarkable than anything on sale inside it. The structure is covered by a spectacular set of connecting glass roofs, with four barrelled roofs leading to a huge glass dome in the centre, paved with brightly coloured flooring.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an exquisite structure for a shopping arcade. However, a glance along its shop fronts tells you that this is no ordinary shopping arcade, but the perfect setting for some of the world's most extraordinary brands.

The glass roofs of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II come together at the base of its impressive glass dome, bathing the glittering shops below in light.

The glass roofs of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II come together at the base of its impressive glass dome, bathing the glittering shops below in light.

Just across from the Galleria is the Ferrari merchandise store. As a Red Bull fan I had no intention of parting with any of my money here. However, I have to admit it is worth a look around, if just for the very loud F1 sounding ‘Vrrrrooom’ when you open the door - amusing to us, but potentially a little annoying for the shop assistants! There is even an F1 car on display in the store, a must-see for any visiting fan.

Sporting the bright red livery of the brand, the Ferrari merchandise store is a treat for the petrol heads in the holiday party, who get the chance to see one of the F1 cars on display here.

Sporting the bright red livery of the brand, the Ferrari merchandise store is a treat for any petrol heads in your holiday party, who get the chance to see one of the F1 cars on display here.

The restaurants and bars located on Cathedral Square are considerably more expensive than those just a short walk away, so it is definitely worth exploring the surrounding streets. Most restaurants display their menu and prices outside, so you can peruse the area and plan where to eat. Of course, we could not have a trip to Italy without indulging in the local pizza, and it did not disappoint.

The 4-star Hotel Sanpi Milano is close to Milan Central Station and demonstrates the elegance and ambience that surrounds you as you meander through the Milanese streets looking for a likely place to lunch.

The 4-star Hotel Sanpi Milano is close to Milan Central Station and demonstrates the elegance and ambience that surrounds you as you meander through the Milanese streets looking for a likely place to lunch.

Milan is extremely well serviced by its Metro and suburban underground lines. Indeed, Italy as a whole, particularly the north, has a very well connected rail network, with ticket prices generally being less expensive than in other European countries. The underground is easy to navigate and is a cheap way to get around the city. Having walked all day, this was a welcome alternative way of getting about the city.

Ellen and her fellow travellers found it very easy to get about on Milan's Metro - and they saved a lot of money by using this way to see the sights.

Ellen and her fellow travellers found it very easy to get about on Milan's Metro - and they saved a lot of money by using this way to see the sights.

On our second day we headed back to Cathedral Square to purchase the obligatory Milan shaped keyrings, an AC Milan hat for our son and boxes of amaretti biscuits for our parents (a thank you for weekend-long babysitting). We continued walking around the city and found ourselves in Chinatown. Does every city in the world have a Chinatown? It really is like stepping out of Italy and into China. Wonderful smelling street food stalls, shops selling silks and traditional Chinese dresses line the predominantly pedestrian streets.

Surprisingly, among all that elegant historic architecture, Milan has a Chinatown! It offered quite a different experience and was enjoyed by Ellen and her party.

Surprisingly, among all that elegant historic architecture, Milan has a Chinatown! It offered quite a different experience and was enjoyed by Ellen and her party.

A little further on from Chinatown we found a football bar. Football scarves from every team and country you could think of are plastered all over the walls and ceilings. Where better to watch the AC Milan v Inter Milan match, as it didn’t particularly matter to us who won, we were just soaking up the atmosphere in this energetic city.

For our last meal in Milan, we found a lovely little restaurant, tucked away in a street about a 20 minute-walk from Il Duomo. We all enjoyed our meals of various pasta dishes, ossobuco (Italian braised veal shanks) and steak, washed down with a lovely Nero d’Avola.

After our meal, walking back through Cathedral Square to the Metro, Il Duomo looked even more mesmerising by night, lit at every angle against the darkness of the surrounding square.

Il Duomo looked even more imposing by night, illuminated against the darkness in its stately square.

Il Duomo looked even more imposing by night, illuminated against the darkness in its stately square.

​A hopeful flower seller ambled towards us, thinking it likely he'd make a sale seeing we were slightly merry, and obviously tourists, staring at Il Duomo. I could have told him he was wasting his time, but both he and I remained hopeful until both men in our party gave a firm 'no thank you' and carried on walking at speed. Oh well!

Milan encapsulates everything your imagination conjures up; wonderful food and wine, passionate football fans, fascinating architecture, and designer shops frequented by the chic locals. The phrase ‘there’s something for everyone’ is possibly overused but I really found that to be the case in Milan and I would not hesitate to go back.

There were so many standouts for Ellen and her party but perhaps the best one for her was Il Duomo, with its surprisingly delicate stone work and gentle grandeur.

The RCI resorts listed below are within a two-hour drive from Milan:
D691 Sunstar Hotel Piemont. Nearest train station: Mongardino. Travel time from station: just over two and a half hours.
2964 Residence La Splaza. Nearest train station: Piancamuno-gratacasolo. Travel time from station: just over two and a half hours.
RB24 Camping Piantelle. Nearest train station: Desenzano del Garda-Sirmione. Travel time from station: just under an hour.
R141 Camping Eden. Nearest train station: Desenzano del Garda-Sirmione or Mompiano. Travel time from station: just under an hour.
RD17 Camping Bella Italia. Nearest train station: Peschiera Del Garda. Travel time from station: one and a half hours.
RB13 Camping Belvedere Village. Nearest train station: Peschiera Del Garda. Travel time from station: one and a half hours.
R142 Camping Butterfly. Nearest train station: Peschiera Del Garda. Travel time from station: one and a half hours.
RB19 Camping Cisano San Vita. Nearest train station: Domegliara - S.Ambrogio. Travel time from station: Just over one and a half hours.

For timeshare owners who want to get more out of their ownership by seeing more of the world, you should become an RCI member and use the RCI Exchange Holiday system to your benefit by swapping your home week for other great holiday adventure. To join RCI, simply click on the button below and in a few easy steps you will become a member and can start planning your world travels.

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Once you become an RCI member, get to know how to get the best from exchange by depositing early and planning well ahead, to get the holidays you want across the world. Click on the link below to visit the online RCI Directory of Resorts to give you some fabulous travel inspiration.

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