Meandering Around Magnificent Milan.
For those bees travelling Europe in the next few months and find yourself in Italy, don’t miss Milan, the most charming of cities
Ah, Milan, one of my favourite cities in Europe!
This is a city that seemingly has everything a visitor could ever want from an urban environment. It's a metropolis that easily rivals other great cities around the world including Paris, London and New York yet it is often overshadowed by some of the other great cities in Italy.
Milan has a certain pulse about it that one can instantly feel on the busy cosmopolitan streets as it holds its head up high as the leading business centre in the country. The GDP of this city alone is the third largest in Europe and has earned the title of being one of the “Four Motors of Europe”
Apart from hosting Italy’s Stock Exchange most, if not all of the major banks are headquartered here along with some of the most recognized fashion brands anywhere including, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada to name a few. It is no wonder then that it is the host city for Europe’s Fashion Week as well as attracting thousands of eager buyers from around the globe who come for the hugely successful International Furniture Fair.
It’s a city that knows how to conduct business and does all it with an outrageous sense of style.
However, Milan is a lot more than simply a business city for, behind the imposing facades of the fashion outlets that line the Via Monte Napoleone or the Villa Della Spiga is a virtual treasure trove of architectural masterpieces that stretch back centuries. One doesn’t have to wander far off the main boulevards to be confronted by the jaw-droppingly beautiful Teatro Alla Scala opera house or the colossal Duomo Gothic Cathedral.
Construction on this massive structure commenced in 1386 where workmen toiled away on its ornate facades, arches and spires for the next 500 years! The structure houses over 3,000 statues and the world’s largest stained glass windows; it really should be recognized as one of the great wonders of the world.
Italy prides itself on being a culturally rich centre of the world; think Florence, Rome, and Venice and even though Milan is often overlooked as a cultural centre it has striven to keep pace with its famous cousins. A first time visitor will soon discover that the city is virtually bursting at the seams with museums, art galleries splendid churches complete with wonderful palazzos separating the old from the new.
Milan has always been a bit of an enigma as if trying to decide whether to be the country’s industrial heartland or to be recognized as a truly great cultural centre. In my humble opinion, I think the latter to be the case if only for some of its truly magnificent works of art scattered throughout the churches and museums that dot the cityscape.
In Milan, it’s a case of ‘seek and ye shall find’ and if you do wander into the Basilica di Santa Maria there you will discover perhaps one of the most recognizable works of art know to mankind, Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” tucked away and almost hidden on one of the Basilica’s walls.
Visiting some of the worlds best museums can often be a ‘cultural overload’ but be sure not to miss the Academia di Bella Arti which has a truly fabulous collection of Old Masters including works by Bellini. Titian, Rubens, and Goya to name just a few.
During the Renaissance, science was making giant strides led in part by da Vinci who was as famous for his art as he was for his futuristic inventions. Many of his drawings and manuscripts are housed in a 16th-century monastery which has been converted into The Science and Technology Museum which is well worth the price of admission.
Even though this city is known for its high culture and design it really does have a romantic heartbeat, signified by its people who have a love for life. In the summer months the Milanese love to ‘lounge’ about in the city’s spacious parks and plazas, two of which, the Piazza Sempione, framed by the iconic 19th-century Arch of Peace, a throwback to times when the city was under Napoleonic rule, leads visitor and locals alike to the rather splendid116-acre Sempione Park.
Italians and especially the Milanese are crazy about soccer and the city boasts two of the top teams in Europe, A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale. Tickets to games are often hard to come by but a few Euros slipped to the concierge at your hotel could find you in the stands, cheering on either one of these teams alongside 100,000 passionate supporters.
A great city they say has to have great food and Milan prides itself on catering to the most discerning of palettes with the second highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in Italy. However, one does not have to venture to those establishments to discover gastronomic delights as on virtually every street a vibrant sidewalk café scene thrives. At any one of these outlets, you are sure to be treated to some of the world’s best coffee accompanied by melt in the mouth pastries. Spending time at one of these pavement cafes also affords a wonderful opportunity to watch the Milanese at work or play.
A perfect way to end the day in Milan is to have an ‘aperitivo’ at the Cantine Isola where locals gather to toast each other with a glass of fine wine accompanied by small plates of antipasti. As a visitor, you will be warmly welcomed into this cosy establishment and treated like ‘one of the family’
Milan’s cosmopolitan makeup offers an incredibly diverse range of cuisine from American style steakhouses to Nepalese and Sri Lankan restaurants so in essence you will be spoiled for choice.
Milan is one of those cities where even if it wasn’t on your original itinerary once you have visited you are sure to want to return.
Where to eat.
As mentioned Milan offers thousands of eateries which all seem to offer wonderful cuisine. Here is a couple of favourite’s that will not disappoint.
Piazza della Scala 5 (+39 02 8068 8295; www.cafetrussardi.it)
Trussardi's alla Scala has recently undergone substantial renovations by adding a downstairs café. Most of the main dishes are changed daily and apart from the substantial meals also offer a delicious range of snacks. Upstairs the restaurant offers fine dining that is certain to lighten your wallet.
RISTORANTE NUOVO MERCATO DEL PESCE
Via Cesare Lombroso 54 (+39 02 5519 5540)
Situated in Milan's wholesale food markets the fish and seafood dishes are sublime as are their superb pasta dishes. They have emphasized fresh and their seafood dishes certainly are.
Where to Stay.
If money is no object, then of course head to the Bulgari or the Armani hotels which offer super luxurious accommodation that naturally comes at a price. However, Milan offers the visitor choices of where to stay to suit every budget. Here are two suggestions, however, check online for the best deals and suitability to your desired location.
Antica Locanda dei Mercanti, (Via San Tomaso 6(+39 02 805 4080)
Perfectly positioned off the via Dante, is more or less a budget Four Seasons. Small and homely it is a treat to stay here The four individually decorated rooms on the third floor have their own terrace Because of its size there is no dining room and so breakfast is served in your bedroom.
The Antica Locanda Leonardo
Corso Magenta 78(+39 02 4801 4197)
This small but charming hostelry is set back from the busy street and is a quiet haven for travellers. The bedrooms have cherry wood floors and each room features some stunning antiques. All rooms overlook a quiet communal courtyard or the leafy garden behind.
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of a number of novels. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he also scribbles for a number of international travel and vox pop journals.