Milan - Europe's Overlooked Gem
Milan is undoubtedly worthy of its sartorial designer cape and fashion capital crown. It’s home to the beautiful people, all of whom are impossibly polished, poised, and urbane. True, Milan is where you’ll find the Quadrilatero d’Oro (The golden Rectangle of Fashion), a cobbled cloister of so exclusive they’re almost exclusionary boutiques. Milan is where a meal at the Michelin starred Savini will set you back €180 per head. A steal when you consider a night lounging in the presidential Katara suit, at the Excelsior Hotel Gallia will leave your wallet €20.000 lighter. You’d be forgiven for thinking Milan is out of reach if you’re not willing to take out a second mortgage, but you’d be mistaken. Milan, despite first impressions is a dynamite little city, in which to have an affordable weekend away.
Leonardo Da Vinci's’ ‘Last Supper’ (1498). Canaletto’s ‘The Pier towards Riva degli Schiavoni with the Column of Saint Mark’ (before 1742). Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta Rondanini’, the very last piece an 88-year-old Michelangelo sculpted before his death, are all works that can only be seen and admired in Milan. Modern, Futurism, Gothic and Renaissance, Milan has all an art lovers’ bases covered, and an art crawl is a very rewarding yet cheap day out. Navigli boasts a series of 12th century canals and dainty bridges to rival those of Venice, and there’s a rumour Da Vinci himself may have had a hand in their early 15th century renovations. Snug cafes, eateries and bars are dotted all around, as are local artists, busy trying to capture the canals by sunset. As night falls in Navigli, the lights that zigzag across the canals flicker on. Navigli becomes ever more charming by fairy light, and the illuminations make for a great photo opportunity. Piazza dei Mercanti, this medieval beauty, right in the centre of Milan, isn’t just a great place to picnic and stroll; its where you’ll find the Loggia dei Mercanti. Known as the whispering gallery, there's a strange acoustic phenomenon at the Loggia dei Mercanti, one that only occurs in open air spaces under perfectly domed structures. Just whisper into one of the internal pillars and the acoustics will carry your words to whomever happens to be passing by the pillars opposite. Its rather odd, a lot of fun, even better its completely free.
If the idea of parting with almost €200 per person at dinner, makes you want to slowly back away from the risotto and put the panettone right down, there are many pocket friendly alternatives. Neapolitan cuisine has a stellar reputation, but traditional Milanese cuisine, though not as famous is just as enticing. Try the Ossobuco, or ‘bone with a hole’. A dish of slow cooked cross cut veal shanks, braised in white wine, Ossobuco is usually served with the buttery saffron infused Risotto alla Milanese, another traditional dish. For that authentic homecooked taste, check out the family run Bar Trattoria at 395, or the cosy Osteria Tajoli. Both offer traditional Milanese fare, huge portions, and value for money.
Hotels in Milan are notoriously expensive, but for those that are thrifty, a bargain can be found. Without a doubt, Citta' Studi is the best neighbourhood to stay in, if on a very tight budget. The 3 star Hotel Aspromonte, offers, to put it bluntly, utilitarian basics. Prices via booking.com start at €36 per night. Accommodation around Milan’s Central Station is also cheap, but again very basic. For those whose budget can be stretched further, try the 4 star Acca Palace, though the added luxury and comfort come at a cost. Prices via Booking.com start at €80 per night, but can reach up to €414 per night, so it’s best to book in advance.
Tip, avoid Milan during fashion week, as prices everywhere become extortionate.
Words by George Carter