Travel feature: Milan, Italy
- Credit: Archant
»Rarely has a city been so firmly defined by one thing as Milan has by fashion.
Italy’s second city, birthplace of Prada, has influenced the world’s catwalks for nigh on 100 years.
So it was with a sense of trepidation and an eye on my credit card that I took my fashoinsta girlfriend for a weekend break.
But it turns out there’s a lot more to Milan than Gucci – it’s a charming, architecturally stunning city.
Prior to the trip I’d heard Milan’s beauty was overshadowed by Rome. This may be true, but never having been to the capital my first sight of the magnificent Duomo took my breath away.
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Milan’s beautiful cathedral is the epicentre of the city, a Gothic beast that took 600 years to build.
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Its medieval majesty was in stark contrast was our hotel – the Straf is an exercise in deconstructive modernity – all bare cement and stressed metal, which nevertheless managed to feel cosy.
And it couldn’t be better situated; a stone’s throw from the Duomo. We were up with the lark and after a delicious breakfast and lashings of fresh coffee at the hotel, we set off exploring.
One of the best things about Milan is the busking – string quartets pop up on every street corner providing an amazing soundtrack as you stroll around.
One of the worst is the hassle you get crossing the Piazza Duomo. Typical of any big city, people try to sell you anything and everything in a very forceful manner. It’s worth it, though, to see the amazing statues and breathtaking buildings, including the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, that surround the square.
The Duomo is nearly as impressive inside as out – incredible stained glass windows and imposing stonework combine with the hushed solemnity of a church.
Another great aspect is the view from the roof. For a few Euros you can climb the many stairs and wander up, taking in incredible vistas spanning the whole city.
I’ve never really been one for bus tours, but on a friend’s recommendation we took the plunge and I have to say I’m sold. It was just warm enough to make the open top a pleasure, and the journey gave a great impression of the geography of the city.
It is worth noting the standard of architecture drops off pretty sharply away from the main square – still attractive in parts, but without the grandeur of the centre.
Other things make amends though, Armani has a whole department store here and Via Monte Napoleone is a triumphant boulevard of exquisite and expensive designs. Smoke was coming from my wallet by the time we headed back to the hotel.
One of my favourite Milanese traditions is that of the aperitivo; pre-dinner drinks and nibbles which in practice means all the bars serve a fantastic free spread between 5pm and 10pm.
There’s literally no need to go for dinner and on this occasion we didn’t – starting in the achingly trendy Straf bar munching pasta while the DJ span classic 12’s.
We then strolled down cute cobbled lanes to Toscanas, now one of my favourite bars in the world.
As we entered I thought there must have been some terrible mistake – bare walls, a flickering strip light and a surly Italian behind a counter.
But to my surprise, and in the hidden bar style beloved of Londoners, we were led through the back, past the toilets, the kitchens, and finally into an amazing bar and restaurant area. It was half outside and half inside with heaters keeping out the chill – and of course the bar was packed with snacks.
The place was busy, bustling and full of happy smiling people – at least partly because the cocktails were free-poured and devilishly strong.
I woke up pretty bleary-eyed the next day, but luckily brunch was soon coming; in the more modern district of Garibaldi at the amazing Cozo Como 10. Part art gallery, part boutique shop, part restaurant – all icy cool – the tranquil, vine-covered courtyard was just the thing to soothe my hangover.
Then I went for a doze while my better half popped to get her make-up done at the impressive Rinacente department store (like a slicker Selfridges) before we went for a romantic dinner.
Although a lovely occasion, the food wasn’t awe-inspiring and in fact none of the food knocked my socks off in Milan.
But most of the places we ate were pot luck, rather than recommended, although the gelaterias are definitely worth a visit.
After all the high fashion, it was great to head down to the monthly vintage market near the canal on Sunday. Although, this being Milan, quite a lot of the stock was vintage Chanel bags and shoes for hundreds of Euros.
There were some bargains to be had though and it was lovely wandering along the dry waterways on a bright crisp day.
There was just time for a delicious fish lunch and a glass of zesty Italian white wine back at the Straf before we had to head home.
Milan is a great place for a weekend break – enough shopping for the ladies and enough culture and nightlife for the chaps.
It’s expensive but no more so than London. And with the San Siro, opera at La Scala and nearby Lake Como on the list of things we didn’t do, there’s plenty of reason to return.