Rub shoulders with the fashion pack, pay homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and marvel at the 135 towering spires of the Duomo in Italy’s most stylish city, Milan
The Italian capital of cool: Milan is decadent and daring. The birthplace of Prada, Armani and Missoni, its streets were made for shopping, strutting and staring. And with its young and ambitious attitude, hip art scene, emerging designers and all-night parties, it feels wholly unlike any other Italian city. Look beneath the gloss, though, and you’ll find it possesses a rich history and strong intellectual heritage – think Leonardo da Vinci, St Ambrose and the early Church Fathers. The spectacular Duomo, legendary La Scala and scores of museums and galleries await, all just begging to be explored.
What to do
Start at the centre – it’s where the action is. Marvel at the Gothic pink-tinged marble splendour of the Duomo. The Gothic cathedral took six centuries to build and is the largest of its kind in the world; head to the roof for a dizzying view of the soaring spires. From here it is only a short walk to La Scala (00 39 02 88791; www.teatroallascala.org); sneak a look at the glorious central chandelier.
Peek inside the Renaissance show-stopper that is the Santa Maria Presso San Satiro church or visit the Pinacoteca di Brera (brera. beniculturali.it), arguably Milan’s best art collection with works by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio and Canaletto. Further art treasures can be found at Castello Sforzesco (www.milanocastello.it), an immense redbrick fortress.
Creative types can find their fix at the Triennale Design Museum (www.triennale.it), where even the chairs in the café are copies of famous designs. End your day at the Santa Maria delle Grazie (00 39 02 8942 1146; www.cenacolovinciano.it) to see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, 'The Last Supper' (booking essential).
Where to shop
Shopping in Milan is like opening a jewellery box, and it’s not just for the fashion-focused: the city has design shops, antiques and an array of gourmet stops. Fashionistas should head to Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Quad): it’s laden with outrageous window displays, glamorous people and gorgeous shops (think Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana and Cavalli). In the south, emerging designers and artists are taking over old warehouses clustered around Zona Tortona; the area plays host to art fairs and fashion shows. Antique hunters should visit on the last Sunday of the month and go to Mercatone dell’Antiquario – it attracts dealers from across northern Italy.
Where to stay
With the ambiance of a charming country inn, Antica Locanda dei Mercanti is in the heart of the city with chic yet homely rooms; some lead out onto a tranquil terrace. The Gray has just 21 rooms; it’s arty, cool and within strolling distance of the elegant glass-and-steel-roofed Galleria.
Where to eat and drink
Weary shoppers should stop for a sugar rush at Sant Ambroeus (00 39 02 7600 0540; www.santambroeus.org); order a plate of ambrogiotti (dark chocolates filled with zabaglione). For innovative cuisine try Cracco-Peck (00 39 02 8767 74; Via Victor Hugo 4). Ingredients are sourced from Peck, a vast food and wine emporium next door, and chef Carlo is a master of creativity. Expect anything from seafood pasta with espresso sauce to goats’ milk ravioli. If your tastes are more traditional, Alla Cucina delle Langhe (00 39 02 6554 279; Corso Como 6) serves Piedmont classics, like goats’ cheese flavoured with pepper and herbs, and Barolo wine risotto.
Of course, no trip to Milan would be complete without a visit to a gelateria. Go for a scoop at Gelateria Marghera (00 39 02 4686 41; Via Marghera 33), Milan’s most famous ice cream parlour. La Baita del Formaggio, a 50-year-old cubbyhole of a shop, sells 300 cheeses. Or satisfy your sweet tooth at Giovanni Galli (www.giovannigalli. com) on Via Victor Hugo and try the marrone (candied chestnuts).
Time running out?
Pick up chic, brightly coloured kitchenware at Alessi on Corso Matteotti before heading home.
No evening plans? Head to La Scala’s box office. Discounted tickets are often available during the hour preceding performances.
Currency is the euro. Milan is one hour ahead of GMT and a two-hour flight from London.
Alitalia (08714 241424; www.alitalia.com) flies from Heathrow to Milan Malpensa three times a day, and five times a day to Milan Linate. British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies direct four times a day from Heathrow to Milan Linate, and four times a day to Milan Malpensa.
Milan Travel and Tourist Information: Piazza Duomo 19 (00 39 02 7740 4343; www.ciaomilano.it). Open daily but closes for an hour at lunch between 1pm and 2pm.
Fashion, Italian Style by Valerie Steele (Yale University Press, £25). From Armani to Zegna, this book looks at the country’s unstoppable presence on the global fashion scene.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.