Milan: capital of fashion and the aperitivo originale

by Madra Rua

Dress to impress, dine with finesse, relax in top hotels and indulge in some high end retail therapy. Your bank manager won't like it but you will love it - and everything else that Milan has to offer

Looking as impressive as the architecture

I would confess to being a bit of a fashion junky, without going overboard. I like to dress in nice, sharp suits, crisp, white shirts and pristine leather shoes and, when the mood dictates, scruffy jeans, t-shirts and trainers. In fact, I thought that I was just as well groomed as most; be it in Rome, Paris or London. That all suddenly evaporated when I paid my first visit to Milan, where my assumptions on looking good were to be brought back down to earth, albeit with a trendy bang. I was now in the city of il bel mondo - the beautiful people.

Milan is home to the crème de la crème of Italian design, a powerhouse of the world’s clothing industry, with its couture houses, fairs and studios. It also happens to be the sanctified ground to two of Italy’s greatest football teams - AC Milan and Internazionale. Mega soccer celebrities such as David Beckham and Jose Mourinho are no strangers to its bars and boutiques. The combination of these two vainglorious art forms is surely a potent mix; icons from both worlds imploding on the streets and in the restaurants and trendy clubs of the city parading and flaunting the trends that would be the envy of any advertising executive.

Walking the streets of this delightful city and frequenting its piazzas can be as daunting for the average visiting male as it can be for a woman. One can feel somewhat inferior in an environment of sophistication. Perfumes and scents waft in the still air as the locals go about their everyday business. Young and old, like strutting peacocks, stride out confidently, their attire fitted and of superb design, quality, colour and cut. Hair immaculately styled and accessories that complement their gait and demeanour. Sitting at cafés and astride their scooters in the Piazza Duomo, these hot-blooded mannequins of fashion provide a head-turning extravaganza.

The backdrop showcases 14th-century buildings, as beautiful and captivating as the people they tower above, yet these symbols of style and design complement each other, wonderfully. A woman going to work in a 1000-euro outfit and accessories is not out of place for the humble office clerk - for it is not who you are, but what you are; a very stylish and modern Milanese.

The fashion district

The Quadrilatero d'Oro, consists of a number of streets and is home to most, if not all, en vogue fashion designers. Their designs a tempting treat or the next ‘must have’. The luxurious, high-end creations are displayed, not only in the upmarket establishments of their masters, but also by the very ‘street chic’ pedestrians that frequent this district; using its avant-garde credentials to full effect, as do the motorists, alighting their half million euro petrol guzzling machines. This is where people like to observed, buying and wearing the very best that Milan and the world of fashion has to offer.

The list of labels and studios is as impressive as their creations:
On Via Montenapoleone you will find: Gucci, Prada, Ungaro and top Milano shoes from Alviero Martini, Hogan, Fratelli Rossetti and Silvano Lattanti.

Walk Via della Spiga and the temptation continues with the delights of Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Cerruti 1881, Krizia and fine Italian footwear from Della Valle, Tod's and Sergio Rossi.

Via Monte Napoleone adds to the district with designs from Valentino, Versace and La Perla.

The delights of Kenzo, Gianfranco Ferrè, Missoni and Chanel are located on nearby Via Sant'Andrea.

Creations by Yves Saint Laurent, Ermenegildo Zegna and Pierre Cardin can be enjoyed while strolling Via Verri.

Shopping heaven

The bond between the Milanese football and fashion industries is wonderfully illustrated at German-born designer Dirk Bikkemberg's boutique (47 Via Manzoni). Here Andrea Vasa, a 31-year-old defender with local soccer team Brera, resides. As you browse around the trendy store you are within the footballer's bedroom, bathroom and wardrobes - quite surreal. Andrea can also boost one of the best parking spaces in Milan as it is actually on the shop floor. His sports car is proudly situated among the changing rooms and displays and the large shop front window, his garage door.

The impressive 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, located between the Duomo and the world renowned opera house Teatro alla Scala (, is one of the city's most elegant malls and welcoming landmarks. Moreover, if the top end designer labels are slightly beyond your budget then stroll along the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, it offers most of the mainstream international boutiques with their more affordable price tags. Without their status designer labels, interpretations here can be just as good. Just remember to accessorise, don sunglasses and walk the walk.

Apertivo and the Milanese

Shopped out, credit card maxed and your feet hoisting the white flag are usually indications that one must pause for thought and much needed sustenance. If this is indeed the case, then it is, stuzzichini time! This is the Milanese tradition of having a quiet martini, cocktail, or prosecco, enlightening conversation and some good food to tease the taste buds in preparation for dinner. Appetizers of the highest quality and quantity are on offer at most cafés and bars, usually between the hours of 6-9 o’clock. The food varies from nibbles to full-blown dishes of, pastas, pizzas, fish and meats.

Moreover, when you buy a drink it is all absolutely free. Try small amounts at intervals with an air of nonchalance. The locals see this as an appreciation and respect for their splendid fare and their sophistication.

Trattoria Toscana (Corso di Porta Ticinese, 58; Tel: 02 89406292) is a great place to be seen and to observe. This very trendy restaurant/bar, with its very chic clientele, offers great food at very reasonable prices - considering the big name models and celebrities that frequent the establishment. Do not be influenced by the not so salubrious entrance; soon you will be seated in the open courtyard with its central fountain, apple trees and fantastic Milanese warmth.

Starters, mains, dessert and bottle of wine will cost between 25/30 euros pp. Apertivo is between 6.00/8.00pm.

Hora Feliz, (Via San Vito, 5: Tel: 02 8376587) is a Latin/Americano bar that is very popular as an after work/early evening meeting venue for apertivo. Once again, a fine and sumptuous array of buffet food is awaiting your indulgence; when you buy your first drink of course. The crowd is always large, happy and animated and makes for a great start to the evening.

Ristorante Rigolo (Via Solferino, 11; 02 8646 3220; Be sure to book this divine establishment to avoid disappointment. This classic Italian restaurant with its sublime Italian cuisine is heaven on earth, with an ambience so endearing and welcoming that you will be booking again before finishing your espresso. Its sharp white starched tablecloths and antique décor complement the beautiful fare and equally beautiful and elegant patrons. The service is first class and very friendly. Linguine with lobsters for two, red mullet Livornese style and fresh pineapple with maraschino washed down with a very nice Pinot would cost around 35 euros pp.

Luxury hotels

Hotels in Milan can be as exquisite as the people they accommodate and if you are travelling on a unrestricted budget the following may just whet your appetite:

Hotel Manzoni is located in the heart of Milan on Via Santo Spirito. This gorgeous four-star hotel provides you with every service and amenity that you will require, all with an outstanding efficiency and courtesy. You are only a few steps away from all Milan’s attractions, restaurants and trendy nightspots. One night's stay in a double room will cost from 250/400 euros.

The Four Seasons Milan is a beautifully converted 15th-century convent in the heart of Milan’s fashion district. Today the praying nuns are replaced by paying super models who find the ambience, comfort, location and service of the five-star residence second to none. From reception to room service, this hotel not only turns down your bed, but turns off your stress. The world of Milan nightlife is your oyster when you book into this fashionable residence. One night's stay in a double room will cost from 700/800 euros.

The five-star Hotel Principe di Savoia radiates all that is elegant and opulent about Milan. Located in Piazza della Repubblica, its sophistication and dedication not only shows in its clientele and level of customer service, but also in the grandeur of its architecture and of the palatial furnishings and décor. The rooms are superb; five-star luxury and relaxation in very spacious suites. One night's stay in a double room can be as little as 199 euros and as much as 7,000 euros in the more salubrious suites.

Fashion weeks

Milan's fashion weeks usually showcase on the last week of February and September, but it is important to book accommodation well in advance as the city is invaded by the world of couture and their admirers. Watch the video below to savour just some of Versace's creations at Milan Fashion Week February, 2010. 

Madra Rua

Liam spends his days transforming people’s bathrooms and kitchens into an oasis of beauty. Utilising his skills as a tiler, he believes that he gives his clients the dream and sanctuary they wish for. As for his travel dreams, well they began at the tender but adventurous age of fourteen. His friend Dessy and Liam both set out on a life changing youth hostelling holiday, from the counties of Donegal to Kerry and Mayo to Wexford. Since then he has zig-zagged his way across America on a greyhound bus; hitch-hiked from Belfast to southern Spain and back; visited most major European cities and a few American; staying in the very best and the very worst of hotels. He has skied in some of the Alps most heavenly resorts; enjoyed the hectic, chaotic, but brilliant holidays that are camping and scorched his fair Irish skin on the beaches of Spain, Greece, Italy and Los Angeles. But he shall always have a very, very, soft spot for Italy and all this wonderfully; delicious and exciting country has to offer.