Milan is, metaphorically speaking, the knee high glossy leather boot that Italy is shaped as. It is the heel tip of Italy, in elegance, style and panache. Known as the city of design and fashion, and home to the ever growing Italian economy, Milan is a dynamic and cosmopolitan city, where even if you don’t like fashion, you will still feel the energy of this area that excites every local and visitor. There are three essential cogs to the turning wheel of Milan: fashion, art, and drink (I mean both espressos and drinks in happy hour).
Although the city revolves around sleek fashion, stylish looks and witty charm, there is much more history to Milan than expected, in fact even more than Rome has. Milan is famous for its extraordinary blend of modern ad historical sights; of the Duomo, the grand Gothic cathedral that lies at the heart of the city, the opulent and charming La Scala, one of the most established opera houses in the world, art collections from various time periods and regarded as the finest works in Europe, and the UNESCO world heritage site of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Finding the historical beauty of Milan is a surprise, it is hidden in plazas, in opulent shopping malls and rushed past in a hurry on the way to the office in the early morning. Milan is often pictured as the working city of Italy, working more than the whole of Italy put together (which I am sure is only partly true). However, I see parallels to London in Milan: the work ethic, the genuine addiction to football, and the glamorous nightlife (well parts of London anyway). It is no wonder that international fasionsistas, muses and models gather here twice a year as the city is worth the attention it receives. Its beautiful, not in the fabulous showy way of Rome, but in a rustic double take way, where the city deserves more attention and the gorgeous glamorous people, have everyone’s attention.
Of course whilst you are here, you must visit the Duomo in Duomo Square, it would be like visiting Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower. A real shame. It is hard not to miss this Gothic vision in marble which stands proudly in the cultural and social heart of Milan, surrounding a number of Milan’s famous sights. 600 years of creation, 135 spires and 3400 statues later, the Duomo stands as one of the largest Gothic churches in Italy and no doubt, one of the most stunning. It is a fairy tale castle, (an incredibly pointy one at that, which if you were a giant you really would avoid), and the highest spire is adorned with the golden statue of the Virgin Mary, known as the “Madonnia” by the locals, the guardian protector of the busy yet beautiful city of Milan. Head to the rooftop where you can catch a glimpse the amazing view of Milan at your feet, and if your lucky, the Alps in the distance.
Another breathtaking sight is the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Celso. The first, is a UNESCO world heritage sight where the masterpiece created by Leonardo da Vinci, “The Last Supper”, is nestled comfortably within stunning renaissance architecture, lit by natural light that floods through the many windowpanes that create an airy feel to the place. The latter is another church famous for another painting, which instead of highlighting the divine powers, has miraculous powers, according to Italian legend. Apparently it is Italian custom, for newly wedded brides to stop off here and leave their bouquet for the Virgin Mary, so they can gain a happy and healthy marriage.
If wanting to explore more of the art scene that Milan has to offer head to Pinacoteca di Brera, a world class museum that calls itself, “the centre of culture”. It is filled with famous paintings that will make you marvel at history. After, head to Pinacoteca Ambrosiana for more classical Italian artwork, finally ending at Cimitero Monumentale, an unconventional setting and different platform, but still pays homage to the Art Nouveau style with its incredible sculptures and impressive monuments. For those who love ballet or opera, head to La Scala theatre, one of the most renowned opera houses in the world, I would advise booking in advance.
Once soaked in as much history and culture as you possibly can, (there are so many more museums, monuments and galleries to explore rather than just the ones I have mentioned), do take the time to explore the city by foot. Wander through the area, “Naviglio”, where the canals run through Milan. Although only two canals remain, the area is still rich with vitality and it is a romantic spot to sip a coffee and watch the world wander by. If gasping for a green patch to wipe your eyes of some of the grey and dreary buildings, head to Sempione Park, right behind Sforzesco Castle. The gardens are designed in a neo classical landscape and are filled with interesting features that many artists sit and sketch on small pieces of paper or take photos of its intricate detail.
I came to Milan for a city “escape”, (I am never really sure why I use the word escape when in fact I am not escaping anywhere, but just popping away for an exploration) with my mum. This meant we spent a large proportion of our trip at another famous sight, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a shopaholics paradise, a haven for spendthrifts and inspiration for fashion icons. The building gives an air of opulence and luxury, it transcends beauty and wealth to all that wander through. It exhibits easily the chic and fabulous lifestyle of stylish locals that wear the trendiest clothes, have glossy apartments with glitzy furnishings and glamorous wardrobes. It contains boutiques such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, which of course, was well out of our price range- although was fun to rummage through. As well as this, there are book stores, restaurants and even art galleries in this palace of a shopping mall detailed with authentic renaissance architecture, which seems to encapsulate Milan in a microcosm. Perfect.
The only restaurant that stands out to me to return to was: Latteria San Marco, because of its authentic Italian ambience and menu, which we were recommended to go to by our hotel. The food was deliciously tasty and warming to your body once swallowed, as if someone’s grandmother cooked it with all her passion, heart and soul. However, there are numerous restaurants to dine in Milan, a world of authentic Milanese food, as well as an up and coming market of international cuisine that can be sampled here. Bars are found in popular districts underneath arches and off cobbled streets, filled to the brim come 7pm for discounted drinks and nibbles, so make sure you go to a bar for Milan’s famous happy hour.
We stayed at the opulent and glamorous “Hotel De La Ville Milan”, which we did because of its close proximity to the sights, looking back it was incredibly expensive but if you want an easy access, chic hotel, this is a good one to pick. (I guess not for the backpackers reading this!) As you might have guessed, this trip is not a cheap backpacking trip of mine, but a lavish girly holiday with my mum (I wouldn’t have afforded it!)