Milan for Tourists: Fashion, Food, Art and Music

Italy’s second city, is a complex paradox, the capital of both Italian commerce, industry

and finance and Fashion (its design and fashion shows are actually big business trade fairs)

yet for the cognoscenti it offers easily discovered cultural and epicurean treasures. This article

focuses on the Milan for tourists: a sophisticated and surprising melange of fashion, food, art and

music, and that’s just for starters.

 

Perhaps this constant eye to commerce is what makes the city, as a tourist destination, a little

understated, a little too northern European with high-rise towers and banks that outnumber

the churches, but it’s when you walk the city’s streets – immersing yourself into a culture that

is firmly routed in fashion, art, opera and delicate aperitivos eaten al fresco atop cobbled streets,

that you come to realise that Milan is much more than the sum of its sometimes shallow parts.

 

The city hosts a little bit of something for every visitor – not just world-class

shopping but a well-wired and vibrant cultural scene too. Its’ undeniably creative

atmosphere is a pleasure to explore and when you do, you’ll note that Milan has more

history than the shiny skyscrapers, grimy backstreets and freshly manicured nails of its

denizens tend to remember. This Milan for tourists has much to offer.

 

The Rectangle of Gold

If it’s fashion that you want then point your Louboutin’s towards the Quadrilatero d’Oro –

otherwise known as the Rectangle of Gold, and explore everything from Dior to Versace

and all the usual suspects all within easy walking distance of each other. Be sure to take a

well-heeled walk around the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II, which amongst other things is

one of the oldest shopping malls in the world – with Prada’s flagship store now celebrating

its 101st year there. Bargain hunters should take a look around the area for the outlets that

stock floors of past seasons bargains. However if your tastes are slightly more avant garde

then take a walk to Via P. Paoli 1, where you’ll find the Antonioli concept store – a unique

space where you can shop contemporary designers such as Ann Demeulemeester, Rick

Owens and Yohji Yamamoto in a beautifully designed store.

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The shows in spring and summer are, to many, the highlight of the fashion calendar, with

starlets from all corners of the world, heading to the Palazzo Reale or the Palazzo

Serbelloni, to get a first look at the designs of the elites of Italian fashion such as Dolce &

Gabbana, Marni and Moschino. If you don’t have an invite to a show then there are still

plenty of opportunities to strut your stuff – whether outside the venues (prepare for the

street-style paparazzi) or in one of the city’s trendy bars.

 

Culture

To some it’s perhaps surprising that this sometimes-grey city is where Leonardo da Vinci

found the perfect setting to exercise his brilliance. You could spend days here retracing his

footsteps – from the Sforza Castle with his painted Mulberry tree frescoes, and the various

exhibits of both his work in art and science in the city’s museums to the breathtaking Last

Supper fresco, which hides on a refectory wall behind the antique façade of the UNESCO

listed Santa Maria delle Grazie church.

 

Aesthetes should dedicate time to the astounding gothic beauty of the Duomo. Its size is

staggering, a construct which took 5 years to complete – it is the largest cathedral  in Italy.

Inside the looming façade, the numerous works of art and icons on offer create a brooding

atmosphere – the most striking of which is the statue of Saint Bartholomew Flayed, by

Marco d’Agrate. The saint stands, muscle and tissue exposed, holding a book, his flayed

skin thrown over his shoulder like a robe. Those with a love of opera should make reservations

to the Teatro Alla Scala, though any one with even a passing interest in the arts and architecture

should make an effort to see the impressive stage, which first raised its curtains in 1778. Art lovers

shouldn’t miss Tiepolo’s frescoes at the Palazzo Clerici or the works of art concealed within the

Pinacoteca di Brera.

 

Milanese Cuisine

It goes without saying that Italy is well known for its food – but Milan often, rather unfairly,

slips under the radar. Let’s make it simple. When in Milan – sate your hunger with local

cheeses, butters and milks – note that rice is more popular than pasta in many circles – it

does absorb the creams and cheeses that bit better – and try local greats like gorgonzola,

polenta topped with mushrooms and of course the famous Panettone cake – originally from

Milan and generally reserved for Christmas in these parts.

 

Now let’s set the scene. Milan, 6PM, the bars and restaurants of the city are filled with

locals and tourists alike for Aperitivo hour. Where do you go? For the classic experience

we suggest the haute bars around the Piazzo Duomo, especially Zucca in the Galleria,

which is where the likes of Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini would dine after

performances at La Scala next door – the historical ambience, and the view of the Duomo

completes the authenticity. For those in need of a slightly more stylish setting then try

Brera district, or, for something a little more elaborate, try the Navigli district, where the da

Vinci designed canals wind along the narrow streets. Try one of the houseboats docked in

the canals, where Aperitivo is often accompanied by live music.

 

But what is it you ask? Aperitivo is a well-established northern Italian culinary tradition, and

Milan (from the 1920’s anyway) is the capital of it. It’s about drinks and food. A harmony of

flavours propelled to sainthood, through offers of afterwork relaxation and the pleasure of

conversation paired with great, though simple food. Try a spritz or a Negroni sbagliato (a

delicious mix of prosecco, red vermouth and Aperol instead of gin) paired with a

smorgasbord of olives, nuts, bruschetta, cheeses and other stuzzichini (finger food).

Drinks cost anywhere from 7 to 15 euros and come with either a table mix of the above or,

in some cases, all you can eat buffets – perhaps the last thing you would expect, when all

around you, the Milanese strut in precision heels, pristinely turned out with perfectly

pinched waistlines.

 

Take a few days to experience what the city has to offer – stay away, if you can, from the

bustling Milano Centrale Station area, and instead stick to the Piazzas where you can sit in the

company of history and simply watch the (Milanese) world go by, sipping your espresso, nibbling

on a biscotti and absorbing the very special  magic of  Fashion, Food and Travel in Milan

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