Milan is a strange city. I thought that a decade or so ago when I was last here, and I think it now. As you drive in from the airport (try and land at Linate, Malpensa is miles away), you’ll see an relatively unattractive, run down city and you’ll be surprised that this is the fashion capital and a financial centre. Then all of a sudden you’ll get to the city centre and you’ll see beautiful cobbled streets, some lush greenery, and some amazing old architecture. But let’s be honest here – I’m not here for any of that, I’m here to shop. And after eight days of kicking back in Greece on a small island, I was ready for it.
The key shopping district is known as the “fashion quadrangle” and is comprised of four key streets: Via Monta Napoleone (the most famous, it even has its own website), Via Manzoni, Via Venezia, and Via Senato. In this quadrangle and it’s off streets, you’ll find all the big names and correspondingly big price tags. The shopkeepers though, don’t seem to discriminate and are nice to everybody (unlike the waitstaff in restaurants who I found decidedly snooty). For instance one day we were in the Giorgio Armani store in Via Sant’Andrea and in the store there was a wrinkly cougar with massive diamonds buying an entire wardrobe for her cute 35 year old boyfriend; the most immaculately coiffed transvestite; some locally famous Italian who was being served food and drink on silver trays a la Pretty Woman; and us in our shorts and rubber slides. We were just as well looked after (other than the silver trays).
Other, perhaps more affordable, shopping streets include Corso Buones Aires, Via Torino, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, and Via Dante (which doesn’t have anything special in terms of shops but is a lovely strip to walk down). On the off chance you need to take a break and need some greenery, there are the lovely Giardini Indro Montanelli.
In terms of food, I was surprised at how much good, affordable food there was in a major city. There are of course several Michelin Starred restaurants in Milan which will set you back hundreds of Euros per person, but for the most part you can eat well without forking out too much. A few eat streets include Via Brera, with lots of outdoor dining, Corso Garibaldi, Via Fiori Chiari and Via Fiori Oscuri (Light and Dark Flower street, which strangely also had a lot of tarot card readers).
One very good meal we had in Milano was at Trattoria Nerino Dieci on Via Nerino, which is off Via Torino so you can drop in after the shops close at 7pm. The buffalo milk plate three ways – mozzarella, ricotta, and smoked, is something that I will remember for a long time. And the cotoletta Milanese was just delicious.
And for one of the world’s best snacks, head to Luini Panzerotti on Via Santa Radagonda just off the piazza where the Duomo is. A friend had told me there are always queues, but there was actually a guy on full time crowd control! The line does move very quickly though. The Panzerotti are either baked or deep fried, and we tried some of each. Go deep fried all the way baby. We had the spinach and ricotta, and a mixed vegetable, but the winner was the mozzarella and tomato, followed closely by the mozzarella and ham. At €2.70 a pop, this is one of the best snacks going.
After that cross the street and go into Cioccolati Italiani for a delicious scoop of gelato.
When it comes to breakfast in Italy, don’t go looking for bacon and eggs – it is just not the done thing. A typical Italian breakfast consists of a large milky cup of coffee (and note they don’t put chocolate on top of their cappuccinos) and a brioche/sweet pastry/croissant. One of the places we tried was Biancolatte (White Milk) on Via Filippo Turati. I’d seen website and I thought the place looked gorgeous – and it was. The Milanese workers were clustered at the bar for their morning coffee – and the coffee was very good – but the brioche and croissants were unfortunately a bit meh.
We all agreed that the brioche and croissant basket at Caffe Armani (Via Manzoni, next to the Armani Megastore) was far superior. Their crema croissant (croissant with custard) was devine! We had a couple of meals there and it was good food.
And of course there are plenty of pasticcerie around town. But remember, you’re in the north, so don’t go looking for cannoli and cassata, its not the done thing up here. I did see a lot of bigne (pronounced bin-yeh), that is little profiteroles, and sampled a good few.
Oh, and if you do actually want to sight see, then yes, there are quite a few interesting things to do. I definitely recommend climbing the Duomo – walking on the roof of an incredible cathedral is pretty cool – and do go see the Last Supper. Tickets for one of Da Vinci’s great works generally sell out weeks in advance and you can buy online. I suggest doing this with a guide because rocking up yourself for your allocated 15 minute timeslot really doesn’t put it all in context. There are only 3 or 4 official ticket sellers for the Last Supper; we bought ours through Tickitaly (www.tickitaly.com) and our guide was a Milan local who was great. There are also a few museums and the Castello Sforzesco.
Hotel – we stayed at the Hotel Armani on Via Manzoni. Uber cool, very sleek, I didn’t quite feel stylish enough to be there! But I loved it. Beautiful wardrobes (no surprise there) and huuuge bathrooms. The staff were awesome. Make sure you check on the jacuzzi and day spa on level 8 looking out over Milan rooftops.
And did I shop? In one of the world’s fashion capitals during sale season when everything is 40-50% off? Please.
Next stop – Florence!