48 hours in Milan

After a period of regeneration, Italy's most stylish city is living up to its reputation, offering weekend breaks for the chic
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The Independent Travel



Because the city is looking sharper than it has done in years, with a host of new hotels, bars and spas, not to mention two excellent museums - the Museum of Milan and La Scala Museum - that reopened recently to widespread applause. Milan, it seems, is finally catching up with its own image as one of Europe's coolest conurbations - and there's more excitement to come: La Scala opera house reopens this December; work has started on the city's first full-size museum of modern art in piazza del Duomo; and what's more, the sales start in the first week of July with designer prices slashed by up to 50 per cent.


Milan has two airports, Malpensa and Linate, the latter located 6km from the city. Of the low-cost airlines, easyJet (0871 7500100, www.easyjet.com) and BMI (0870 6070555, www.flybmi.com) fly to Linate from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and various city airports for as little as £60 return. National airlines such as Alitalia (08705 448259, www.alitalia.co.uk) and British Airways (0870 8509850, www.ba.com) fly to both airports. Ryanair, (0871 2460000, www.ryanair.com) flies from Stansted, Glasgow and Luton to Bergamo's Orio al Serio airport. From Linate, a taxi to the centre costs about €15 (£10). There's also a bus service (number 73) every 10 minutes that terminates in corso Europa near piazza San Babila. From Malpensa, 40km north of the city, take the Malpensa Express train (www.ferrovienord.it) to and from Cadorna station (one-way tickets €9/£6.40; journey time is 45 minutes).


The historic centre is a small, circular zone contained within a ring-road that connects the city's ancient defensive "doors". Four wide thoroughfares divide the area and meet in the middle at piazza del Duomo, home to Milan's magnificent cathedral. From here, all the main sights are within walking distance: the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and La Scala to the north; Castello Sforzesco just north-west; the ineffably stylish designer district half a mile north-east; and the awesome basilica of Sant'Ambrogio directly west. Two metro lines (1 and 3) stop at piazza del Duomo and tickets, which cost €1 (70p) for all destinations, can be bought at any newspaper kiosk. For a map of the city and information about other interesting areas, visit the Tourist Office on the corner of piazza del Duomo and via Marconi (00 39 02 7252 4301; www.milanoinfotourist.com). The office is open Monday to Saturday, from 8.45am to 6pm and on Sunday, from 9am to 5pm, with an hour's closure 1pm-2pm every day.


The battlements of the Castello Sforzesco, Pirelli tower and Torre Branca in Parco Sempione all offer staggering views but none beats the vista from the roof of the Duomo. To the south, notice Torre Velasca, BBPR's weirdly handsome 1950s office block; to the north, San Siro football stadium and, on a clear day, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc. Entrance is via a lift on the north side of the cathedral, and is open 9.30am-5.30pm every day, with tickets costing €5 (£3.60).


From piazza del Duomo, head north-west along via Mercanti, pausing to acknowledge Palazzo della Ragione, an eye-popping medieval governmental building, on the way. Cross piazza Cordusio and turn left when you get to via Meravigli which becomes corso Magenta, one of Milan's smartest and most interesting streets. Continue past Palazzo Litta at number 24, a marvellous example of rococo exuberance, and a series of stylish fashion boutiques, to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, just after via Caradosso, where Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper adorns the refectory wall (00 39 02 8942 1146, open Tuesday to Sunday 8.15am-6.45pm). The entrance fee is €6.50 (£4.60) although booking is essential, adding an extra €1.50 (£1) to the cost of a ticket. From there, walk south down via Zenale to via San Vittore and the Museum of Science and Technology at via San Vittore 21 (00 39 02 485 551, www.museoscienza.org). Open Tuesday to Sunday 9.30am-5pm, entrance is €7 (£5). Stop here to admire two glorious cloisters by Bramante. Then stroll south-east down via San Vittore, grab a slice of pizza at the excellent panetteria Sant'Ambrogio, followed by a tour of the astounding 4th-century Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio.


For the best spaghetti al pomodoro in town, reserve a table at the Armani Cafe (00 39 02 7231 8680) at via Croce Rossa 2, on the ground floor of Giorgio's vast superstore. Lunch is served from 12pm to 3pm and, should you have to wait for a place, pass the time perusing the bookshop on the first floor.


The recently reopened Museum of Milan (00 39 02 7600 6245, www.museidelcentro.mi.it), at via Sant'Andrea 6, is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5.30pm and entrance is free. It occupies a lovely 17th-century palazzo and has a fascinating collection of pictures charting the development of the city. Alternatively, spend an hour admiring extravagant costumes and portraits of Maria Callas at the relocated La Scala Museum (00 39 02 469 1249, www.lascala.milano.it), at corso Magenta 71. It is open every day, 9am to 6pm with an entrance fee of €5 (£3.60).


(Re)discover your inner wild child at Just Cavalli (00 39 02 311 817) at viale Camoens. Roberto Cavalli's fabulously vulgar bar-restaurant under Torre Branca, where the vibe is springbok-skin chairs, crazy floral prints and industrial quantities of silicon.


Favoured by a young, upper-crust Milanese crowd, Il Verdi (00 39 02 659 0797), at piazza Mirabello 5, succeeds in being both elegant and laid-back. Menu winners include a sublime risotto with pears marinated in balsamic vinegar costing about €14 (£10). The restaurant is closed on Sundays.


With its powerful Romanesque interior and red-brick walls that seem to glow when the sun shines, San Simpliciano at piazza San Simpliciano is one of Milan's most beautiful churches and a moving place to hear Mass. Mass is at 8am, 10am and 11.30am.


Located on the Naviglio Grande (the main canal), Il Brellin at vicolo dei Lavandai (00 39 02 5810 1351) functioned for centuries as a laundry house and you can still see the stone basins where women scrubbed clothes clean outside the door. These days, it's a popular brunch spot with a generous self-service buffet. Brunch is served from 12.30pm to 3pm but you may have to queue since no bookings are taken. Expect to pay around €19.20 (£13.70).


Milan has just two parks - the Giardini Pubblici at the top of via Manzoni and Parco Sempione behind the castle. The latter is less charming but worth visiting to see Giorgio De Chirico's recently-restored Metaphysical Baths installation directly behind the Triennale design museum.


One of Milan's most endearing features is the continued use of old-fashioned trams. Hop on a number 1 which cuts through the centro storico along via Manzoni and across to the castle. Tickets cost €1 (70p) at any news kiosk.


Buy a postcard of San Siro football station at any of the edicole in piazza del Duomo and write it in the tranquil confines of the State University at the end of via Pantano, five minutes' walk south of the Duomo, where you can find a peaceful retreat.


Forget the designer boutiques lining via Monte Napoleone - the real place to shop in Milan is at the markets. On the last Sunday of every month, for example, the Naviglio Grande turns into a vast antiques market. For food, browse the stalls on via Crema every Friday morning.


The city's most expensive hotel is newcomer Park Hyatt Milan at via Tommaso Grossi 1 (00 39 02 8821 1234; www.milan.park.hyatt.com) where doubles cost from €530 (£380) a room only. Located just off the Galleria Vittorio Emaneule, its style is contemporary luxury crossed with imperial grandeur. The main lounge, for example, features snazzy aubergine-and-yellow silk loungers and a series of Roman-style columns supporting a vast glass cupola.

Just as well located, but much cheaper, Hotel Straf at via San Raffaele 3 (00 39 02 805 081; www.straf.it) offers doubles from €130 (£93) including breakfast. It is another new arrival making a big noise. The approach here is total minimalism which translates into 64 rooms with bare concrete floors and walls, untreated iron desks and bright white beds. Fortunately, the bathrooms are more forgiving with sexy black stone baths and copper panelling.

For something small, sweet and ego-free, you couldn't do much better than the Antica Locanda dei Mercanti B&B (00 39 02 805 4080; www.locanda.it), at via San Tomaso 6, with doubles from €130 (£93). Situated just off via Dante, the property has 14 individually decorated rooms featuring light, summery decor and the occasional terrace.


Shopping in Milan is great fun if you have masses of cash to spend in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the designer shops of via Monte Napoleone - but can feel rather torturous if £300 for a pair of shoes is out of range. So, do your window shopping in the so-called quadrialtero d'oro, but make your purchases at one of the many outlets just outside the city. Fans of Dolce & Gabbana, for example, will love the outlet at via Rossini 72, Legnano (00 39 03 3154 5888, open daily 10am to 7.30pm but closed at lunchtime) which sells last year's collections for men and women at 50 per cent of the original price. At the Etro space (00 39 02 5502 0218, open daily 10am-7pm, but closed between 2 and 3pm) at via Spartaco 3, prices go even lower, especially during the sales when you'll get as much as 70 per cent off. Expect shirts for €65 (£46), and accessories galore. That old Italian favourite Loro Piano, on the other hand, sells surplus products (of the highest quality) at via Novara 484, Romagnano Sesia (00 39 01 6382 6875, open daily 10am-7pm) while the Trussardi family sheds its left-overs at via Milano 40, Almè (00 39 03 563 4146, open Monday to Saturday 10am-7pm) including leather goods, perfumes at 40 per cent of their original price, and classic Trussardi bags for as little as €90 (£64).


Situated just behind the Colonne di San Lorenzo, the Cantina della Vetra (00 39 02 8940 3843), at via Pio IV 3, attracts a professional set looking to kick back after a hard week in the office. Prices are on the high side (main courses are around €20, or about £14), but the food is consistently pleasing with options for both adventurous and conservative palates.

For superior Tuscan cuisine in a traditional setting, there is usually space at L'Assassino (00 39 02 805 6144), at via Amedei 8, where house specialities include a selection of boiled meats served with spicy mustard fruits. Finish the meal with a little something from the irresistible pudding trolley.

For those in Milan midweek, a treat is in store. La Latteria (00 39 02 659 7653), at via San Marco 24, is a much-loved Milanese institution, although closed on Saturdays and Sundays. It has just eight tables and a permanent queue outside the door (no bookings are taken). Why is it so popular? Because owners Arturo and Maria Maggi have managed to create a place that feels more like your best friend's living room than a restaurant in the middle of a frenetic city. Like the decor, the food is simple but pleasing: duck salami; butter-baked eggs; tender calves' liver. Expect to pay around €30 (£21) for three courses.