48 HOURS IN...

Milan, Italy

Do your Christmas shopping in Italy's most stylish city, and then reward yourself with its fine food and rich culture

Click here for 48 Hours In... Milan map


The dynamic and beautiful capital of northern Italy – and national cool – is at its atmospheric best on misty November and December days. Few cities are as geared up for festive shopping as Milan. Whether your loved ones want fashion, furnishings or food, it's all here within easy walking distance, and you can treat yourself to some fine food and culture between shops.


Try to fly to Linate rather than Malpensa or Bergamo airport, as Linate is well within the city limits, just six miles east of the centre; the other two are 30 miles north-west and north-east respectively. Alitalia (08714 24 14 24; www.alitalia.com) and British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com) both fly from Heathrow to Linate, and easyJet (0871 244 2366; www.easyJet.com) flies there from Gatwick. A taxi from Linate to the centre costs around €20 (£14) and takes 15-25 minutes depending on traffic. Bus 73 takes you to the metro at San Babila for the flat fare of €1 (70p), though you must buy the ticket in advance from the airport tobacconist and get it validated on the bus. Once you've had it stamped, you can use the same ticket on any public transport for the next 75 minutes.

From Malpensa, you can take the Malpensa Shuttle, which leaves for Centrale station (1) every 20 minutes from 6.20am to 12.15am, and takes 50 minutes outside the rush hour. The fare is €6 (£4.30) single or €10 (£7) return. From Bergamo airport, a bus runs approximately hourly (though with some long gaps) for a fare of €6 (£4.30) single, €11 (£8) return. It drops you at Lambrate, inconveniently suburban but on metro line 2.


The focal point of Milan is the Duomo (2), one of the largest cathedrals in the world (yet only managing second place in Italy, after St Peter's in Rome). From this point, the trendy bar-laden districts of Ticinese and Navigli are to the south, and the more genteel Brera to the north. The centre of Milan's fashion universe, otherwise known as the Quadrilatero d'Oro (Golden Rectangle), is north of the Duomo. The tourist office (3) is just off the Piazza del Duomo, opposite the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, at Via Marconi 1 (00 39 02 72524301; www.milanoinfotourist.com).


Milan has more than its fair share of boutique hotels. The most fashionable at the moment is the Bulgari Hotel Milan (4), at Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7b (00 39 02 805 8051; www.bulgarihotels.com), tucked away in a private garden in the quiet streets of Brera. The decor is minimalist Milan – all soothing browns, beige and black. If you can't afford to stay here, make sure you visit the oval-shaped bar overlooking the garden and have a chocolate martini that is worth the €18 (£13) it costs. Rates for rooms start at a reassuringly high €682 (£487), not including breakfast.

If you're looking for something a bit edgier (and cheaper), the Nhow Hotel (5) in the trendy Zona Tortona in the south at Via Tortona 35 (00 39 02 489 8861; www.nhow-hotels.com) is a good option. Formerly a General Electric factory, it has now been converted into the first design hotel in the Spanish-owned NH chain. Black corridors feature graffiti-covered guest-room doors. A standard double room starts at €147 (£105), excluding breakfast. The Hotel Cavour (6) at Via Fatebenefratelli 21 (00 39 02 620001; www.hotelcavour.it) has a good location at the top of Via Manzoni. Standard double rooms start at €219 (£157), excluding breakfast.


There is no better view than from the roof terraces of the Duomo (2), which you can get to either by climbing just over 250 steps, or by taking the lift. To the south, the view is dominated by the strange-looking top-heavy Torre Velasca, a symbol of modern Milan built in 1956. To the north, on a clear day, you can just see the snow-capped Alps in the distance.


Start in the Piazza Scala, with the world-famous opera house, the Teatro alla Scala (7), to your right. From here, walk through one of the most elegant shopping precincts in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (8). Go straight through into the Piazza Duomo, with the huge cathedral (2) on your left. From here, make your way down the equivalent of London's Oxford Street, the Via Torino, where you'll see familiar outlets such as Zara and Benetton. At the Largo Carrobbio (9), peel off to the left down the Corso di Porta Ticinese, where you will see a younger, funkier crowd nipping into more individual shops and brands such as Diesel and Gas. On your left you will pass 16 Corinthian columns that are believed to be from a pagan temple of the 2nd to 3rd century AD – and, behind them, the San Lorenzo alle Colonne, a superb 4th-century basilica (10) at Corso di Porta Ticinese 39. Carry on down the same street under the Medieval Porta Ticinese as far as the Piazza XXIV Maggio.


...in the restaurant after which the most important Italian literary award, the Bagutta Prize, is named because it originated there. The founders of Fiera Litteraria (the Literary Review), who dined regularly at the restaurant, founded the equivalent to our Booker Prize in 1925. Today, Bagutta (11) is a delightful trattoria hidden away in the heart of the Golden Rectangle at Via Bagutta 14 (00 39 02 7600 0902; www.bagutta.it). Murals depicting scenes of Venice and paintings that look more like the work of the French Impressionists cover the walls. It's open for lunch 12.30-2.30pm, and for dinner 7.30-10.30pm, but is closed on Sundays.


If you don't want a leisurely lunch at Bagutta, there are more than enough bars and cafés to stop at for a quick panino. To fill up, try the deliciously unhealthy panzerotti from Luini's (12) around the back of the Duomo at Via S Radegonda 16 (00 39 02 8646 1917; closed Sundays). It is basically dough stuffed with mozzarella, tomatoes and any number of other fillings, which is then deep-fried.


The trams in Milan take you back to a different era. Buy your ticket from a tobacconist or metro station for €1 (70p), then hop on, making sure you stamp the ticket at the machine at the front. The number 1 route is as good as any, going from the Central Stazione (1) down through Piazza Cavour and Via Manzoni, past the Armani store and round towards the Castello Sforzesco (13). Marvel at the tram's wooden seats and fittings and, most of all, at the survival of those beautiful glass lampshades.


Coming from the Duomo (2) along Via Manzoni, turn right down the street that is considered to be the key shopping street: Via Montenapoleone (" Montenapo" for those in the know). Here you'll find Alberta Ferretti, the flagship Gucci store (14), Versace, and several Prada stores. Stop halfway down at the café Cova (15), at Via Montenapoleone 8 (00 39 02 7600 0578; www.pasticceriacova.com), and watch the ladies swathed in fur enjoying their cakes.

Turn left just before you hit the end of Montenapo, down Via Sant'Andrea, home to Armani, Fendi, Costume Nationale, Missoni and Moschino. With Hermès on your left, turn down the most charming of all the streets in this area, the pedestrianised Via della Spiga, with Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu, Sportmax, Tod's, Roberto Cavalli and, of course, more Prada.

At the end of Via Spiga you will come out at Via Manzoni again, ready to complete the rectangle by finishing off at the Spazio Armani all-in-one megastore (16), which even has its own branch of Nobu.

To Italians – and a few others beside – Peck (17) is, simply, the best food store in the world; Via Spadari 9 (00 39 028 023 161; www.peck.it – closed Sundays). Any gaps in your present buying will be filled here: the ground floor is stacked high with blocks of Parmesan, cured meats and, of course, festive panettone. On the first floor is the patisserie, a chocolatier, and probably every type of espresso coffee bean you could ever wish for. The pace may be frenetic, but you can always reward yourself with a prosecco on the first floor when you've finished.


The cult of aperitivi is one of the highlights of life in Milan. Go into any decent bar in the early evening, and you will be faced with an array of free canapés, meats and cheeses. One of the most generous providers is the Yguana Café (18) at Via Papa Gregorio XIV (00 39 02 806 88295), where you could, effectively, have a drink and dine for free from a selection of aperitivi including quiche, rice salad and chunks of Parmesan.


There are plenty of trendy places to dine in Milan, but for somewhere more traditional, frequented by the Milanese, try Bebel's (19) at Via San Marco 38 (00 39 02 657 1658) in the Brera district. Popular among the journalists from the nearby offices of Corriere della Sera, it offers straightforward Italian food. Bebel's is the type of place that will choose your starters for you – for instance, we sat down to buffalo mozzarella and a salad of puntarelle (chicory) and anchovies. The speciality is simple fish and meat: the tagliata (seared beef) cooked in rosemary with fried potatoes was excellent. For pizza, head to the pizzerias that line the Navigli district, either Pizzeria Tradizionale (20) at Ripa di Porta Ticinese 7 (00 39 02 839 5133), or on the other side of the canal, Officina 12 at Alzaia Naviglio Grande 12 (00 39 02 89 42 22 61; www.officina12.it).


It would be irreverent not to visit Milan without seeing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, painted on the wall of the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (21), on the Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the west of the city near the Cadorna metro station (22). Make sure that you book well in advance, weeks in advance in the case of weekend viewings. To book, call 00 39 02 8942 1146; www.cenacolovinciano.org. Tickets cost €6.50 (£4.70) with a €1.50 (£1) reservation fee. Open 8am to 7.30pm daily, except Mondays.


One of the few exceptions to Sunday closing is Carla Sozzani's "concept" store, 10 Corso Como (23) on, yes, Corso Como (00 39 02 653 531), in what was formerly a Fiat garage. Painfully hip art, home furnishings, books, records and clothes are all sold under one roof, alongside a lovely restaurant, half of which spills out into the courtyard, which serves modern Italian fusion food.


Walk down the Via Dante towards the Castello Sforzesco (00 39 02 8846 3700; www.milanocastello. it) at Piazz0a Castello (13) , which opens 7am-6pm daily. The castle is now a museum (open 9am-5.30pm daily except Monday, ¿3/£2), in which you can see the unfinished Rondanini Pieta by Michelangelo, and more works by Mantegna, Bellotto and Canaletto. Behind the Castello is the Parco Sempione, one of the few green areas in central Milan.


The marvellous Pinacoteca di Brera (24), at Via Brera 28 (00 39 02 722631; www.brera.beniculturali.it), is a showcase for masterpieces by some of the great artists of the 13th to the 20th centuries, including Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Rembrandt and Goya. Highlights are Mantegna's The Lamentation over the Dead Christ and Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin altarpiece. The gallery is open from 8.30am-7.15pm daily except Monday, admission €5 (£3.50).

ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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