I recently went to Milan to visit an Irish friend who has made this commercial yet vibrant city his home. It was a short 3 day trip. I had been to Milan before but once only in 1999 (I feel really old). To think that was nearly 15 years ago!
Milan is the 2nd most populated city in Italy after Rome, situated in the Lombardy region. It’s a sprawling metropolis interweaved with finance companies and most notably the mega Italian fashion houses that we’re all familiar with. I have to admit, Milan isn’t a particularly attractive city in Italian terms but it has some impressive landmarks and a great social scene. Piazza Del Duomo is the busiest tourist attraction in Milan. It marks the city centre and from this vantage point you have impressive views of the Duomo, Palace Royal and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Spinning on the bull’s balls, Vittorio Emanuele II – This is an unusual tradition in Milan. Vittorio Emanuelle II was built in 1877 by Italian architect, Giuseppe Mengoni who fell to his death from the roof a few days before the inaugural opening of the building. The location of the bull marks the spot where he died. Tourists and Milanese grind their heels on the bull’s balls to avoid bad luck. Place your heel firmly on the bull’s balls and spin backwards 3 times without getting dizzy. Don’t make the mistake of spinning forwards.
Parco Sempione – If you have had enough of walking and want to relax, this is the place to go to in Milan. It is lies adjacent to Sforza Castle and the Arch of Peace. There are outdoor bars and cafes, a basketball court, museums, galleries, and plenty of grassy lawn to laze on.
Tip – If you’re like me and get bitten easily by mozzies and midges, bring insect repellent. The canal area and the parks are swarming with insects in summer. I only wished I was warned prior to arriving!
EAT & DRINK
We spent our evenings hanging out along Alzaia Naviglio Grande (mature, young profressionals vibe) and Alzaia Naviglio Pavese (younger, student vibe). As the sun sets, the locals and tourists descend upon the bars and restaurants along the canal for “aperitivo” time a.k.a happy hour involving food to the rest of us folks. Lasting between 6pm – 9pm, it’s an Italian tradition that has evolved to a lavish spread of free finger food that comes with your drink, consisting of crostini, bruschetta, mini buns filled with cheese and prosciutto amongst other little goodies. The quality and selection of food will vary by bar. It’s a great concept and a very civilised way of drinking and socialising with your friends. It also means you line your stomach, preventing you from getting tipsy early on in the evening.
What I liked about this area was this it didn’t feel overly touristy and there were more locals than tourists hanging out in the bars and restaurants.
When in Rome as the saying goes, so when it Italy you drink like an Italian. Popular drinks amongst the Italians are Campari & Soda, Aperol Spritz, Negroni or my favourite is the Negroni Sbagliati, which translates to a “Wrong Negroni”. Unlike the classic Negroni which contains gin, the Negroni Sbagliati replaces the gin with a sparkling wine like prosecco, making it a lighter and less alcoholic drink.
Luca Andrea Bar – Located on the street adjacent to the canal with a front outdoor seating area, this bar provides good service and a delicious spread of food during aperitivo. If you visit on an extremely hot day like we did, the awning cover out the front sprays mist of water (away from you of course) to help cool the area.
Ginger Cocktail Lab – As the name suggests, this bar specialises in cocktails (very strong ones too!). It’s a great place to have a drink after dinner. The food isn’t worth mentioning but the cocktail list was extensive, impressive and it didn’t break the budget.
Cucina Fusetti – This small Italian eatery was tucked away off the main canal street, far from the touristy spots. It’s one of those restaurants only the locals would know about. This is one of the advantages of having a local friend. Food was tasty and set in a cosy, ambient environment. The Taglitelle al Ragu is highly recommended.
God Save The Food – If you tire of Italian style breakfasts which usually consists of a sweet pastry and coffee (it took me 2 days) and crave a more substantial breakfast or would like a lazy brunch, this modern eatery will satisfy your craving. The breakfasts were good and although slightly on the expensive side, the fresh juices are worth it for the vitamin fix.
SHOP & SPEND
Corso di PortaTicines – If high-end fashion isn’t your style (and your budget doesn’t allow it) or you just prefer something unique or alternative, this is the place to shop. A well-known shopping strip in Milan that houses vintage & boutique stores. You will find an array of street wear plus brands like Carharrt and Diesel.
Corso VittorioEmanuele II – Typical high street store with familiar brands such as Zara, H&M, Pull & Bear, Max Mara.
Excelsior – A high end luxury department store with a mouth watering food hall. It’s comparable to Selfridges in London.
Quadrilatero d'Oro – Also known as the Golden Square, refers to 4 adjoining streets - via Montenapoleone, via Borgospesso, via Della Spiga, and via Sant' Andrea. This up-market fashion district is home to luxury jewellers and fashion boutiques. It’s a fascinating to stroll through, window shop, and marvel at the extravagance of the window displays. You get a sneak peak into how the other half live. Take note of how many Dolce & Gabbana stores there are in this small area.
Vittorio Emanuele II – Is one of the world’s oldest shopping centres set amongst 4 stories housing restaurants, luxury retailers and hotels. The retailers located here are more up-market brands like Versace and Prada. Most tourists come to this shopping mall to admire the architecture and have a turn at spinning on the bull’s balls.
Lake Como - Easily reached from Milan on the train and will take approximately an hour from Milano Centrale. I had never been to Lake Como so we made a day trip of it, making the quaint town of Bellagio as our first pit stop. We leisurely strolled through the narrow alleyways, peered into shops, had a lazy long lunch, and boarded a ferry to the town of Como with a gelato in hand. Spectacular is one way to describe the lake, as we cruised along the water passing more quaint towns dotted on the shores of the lake. I can see why George Clooney purchased himself a piece of real estate heaven on the lake.