Kathy Whitehead recommends Milan, Italy
City centres around the world can often be drab and dreary, but not so with Milan. Here, the city’s buzz is as fashionable and as stylish as its name implies. Steeped in history and towered over by the great Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), this city is truly a melting pot of history, culture, art and style. It sure doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why it’s known as one of the world’s Fashion Capitals.
In saying this, quality, style and design is not restricted to the luxury retail stores or to the houses of haute couture that abound, instead it’s visible in every Milanese that roams this glorious city.
The Milanese stand head and shoulders above the crowd when it comes to dress quality, cut and style and in my opinion, there is no city or group of people that are collectively as well dressed.
The twice-yearly Milan Fashion Week is an event that draws thousands of visitors in both summer and winter.
My favourite place
Adjacent to the Duomo is another unique masterpiece – the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s a shopping mall that houses luxury retail stores including haute couture, jewellery, paintings and an assortment of restaurants, cafés and bars.
Also known as the Galleria, the building itself is made up of two glass-vaulted arcades that intersect in an octagon. The arching glass and cast iron roofs of the arcades are then finished off at the octagon with a central glass dome connecting the two.
The four-storey, double arcade Galleria is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, having been designed in 1861 and built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877. It connects two of Milan’s most famous landmarks – the Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala, the world famous opera house.
This popular shopping haven is constantly crowded with locals and tourists, many of whom mill around for hours, gazing upwards at the spectacular architecture, while others simply window shop. Those with deep pockets will have a field day in all of its luxury stores.
Meanwhile, outside the Galleria lies the imposing Duomo di Milano. Construction began in 1386 and spanned centuries, with the last gate inaugurated as recently as 1965. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture is not only the fifth largest church in the world, but it’s also home to numerous monuments and artworks.
A short taxi ride from the Galleria is another must see – the great Sforza Castle. Built in the 15th century, it is one of the largest citadels in Europe and today houses several museums and art collections. Possibly one of its most famous pieces is the Rondanini Pietà – a marble sculpture by Michelangelo. This was his last sculpture and depicts the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of Christ.
Sitting on the steps of the imposing Duomo, I felt like the proverbial country bumpkin next to the immaculately dressed Milanese. So a word of advice when packing for Milan – leave the tourist garb behind and take only your Sunday best – that is, if you don’t want to be left feeling like orphan Annie.
Believe it or not, people do actually wear the garments featured at the city’s fashion weeks and Milan’s streets can often resemble a Vogue photo shoot. But with such commitment to fashion, what’s hot this month is so last season next month and as such, plenty of cast-offs from high-end stores are sold at factory outlets for drastically reduced prices. So if you want a bargain, be sure to track down one of the many factory shops dotted around the city. But for the more affluent shoppers, many hours can be spent wandering the high-end boutiques that are found in the Galleria, or along Via della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone or Via Sant’Andrea.
Where to stay
Hotel Brunelleschi is a good choice of hotel in the city, especially as it is a short walk from the Duomo, the Galleria and the Teatro alla Scala. Staff are friendly and helpful and the restaurant serves a good meal.
Five things to do:
1. Treat yourself to something stylish
2. Visit the Duomo di Milano
3. Visit the Sforza Castle and make sure you see the Rondanini Pietà
4. Enjoy a bag of roasted chestnuts sold outside the castle
5. Grab a great coffee at one of the coffee bars around the Duomo