At first glance, Milan (Milano) can appear like one of the models gracing its catwalks: great bone structure (in the shape of historic and striking new architecture), extravagant taste and no obvious soul. But Milan’s style and, yes, substance, are more than skin deep.
Milan is the engine room of the country’s economy and home of its stock exchange, yet it isn’t driven by tourism. Treasures that survived WWII’s extensive damage include its elaborate cathedral, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, La Scala opera house and Castello Sforzesco. What really sets Milan apart, though, is its creative streak.
Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Pucci, Gucci and many more took off on Milan’s runways. Fashionistas make a pilgrimage here to shop at the designers’ flagship stores in the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Quad). Boutiques stocking emerging labels, and chic concept shops also line the city’s streets, while discount outlets selling samples, seconds and last season’s cast-offs are a bargain-hunter’s Holy Grail. Milan is also the world capital of furniture and homewares (the beanbag is a Milanese brainchild), and a hub for risk-taking contemporary art. By night there’s an avant-garde theatre scene, a fabulous aperitivi scene (extended ‘happy hour’ with platters of bar food laid on) and hip, hot clubs.
The city is at its hottest – weather-wise – in August, when locals take holidays, and many places close; though it can provide a tranquil alternative to the crowded coast.
Fashion and finance aside, Milan’s other religion is, of course, calcio (football). The city is home to both AC Milan and Inter, two of Italy’s top teams, and passionate crowds pack San Siro stadium on Sunday in season.
The city also harbours some lesser-known attractions such as the Navigli’s canal-side cafés and old-fashioned gelaterie (ice-cream shops) and the funky design district of Isola.
If you take the time to get under Milan’s skin, chances are you’ll find it will get under yours too.
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