Part Italian and part cosmopolitan, Milan feels like a cross between Florence and Berlin. It's also a city that requires some work to find it's underlying beauty, but it's there in spades as you venture out into the neighborhoods. Milan is old meets new ...
We stayed at the Palazzo Segreti, an 18 room boutique hotel in the historic center near the Duomo and the trendy Brera district and within easy walking distance from the train station. A little pricey and best suited for couples, the prime location (though a bit noisy) and nice rooms made it worth the splurge.
(NOTE: If you like boutique hotels, I highly recommend finding them on this website. Palazzo Segreti was the fourth hotel I've stayed in on a recommendation from i-escape - the others in Berlin and Croatia - and all of them have been fantastic. They also offer a range of prices and have very useful reviews.)
The Duomo is the third largest church in the world after St Peter's and Seville Cathedral. It's spectacular from the square, on the inside, but perhaps most especially from the rooftop. It's well worth the 7 euros and 250 steps to climb to the top.
There's also shopping of course, much of it way too hip for us. Bring your cutest clothes as you'll want to fit in. You'll likely start your shopping at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a beautiful iron and glass shopping arcade near the Duomo and lined with expensive shops but we found shopping everywhere we went.
There is a well-worn mosaic art of a bull in the center of the shopping center where people take turns spin their heels in three times for good luck. There is also excellent people watching (and photographing.)
One of our favorite places was 10 Corso Como - a store, bookstore, cafe/restaurant, photography gallery tucked away in a courtyard. The merchandise is high end but it's worth a stroll through and there's a wonderful rooftop deck to sit and relax. Apparently they have an outlet too which we missed. We did hit the DMagazine outlets which if you are a savvy high fashion shopper would be worth the hunt.
One of the highlights of the visit was being in Milan over Palm Sunday. We happened on two churches just as services were ending which was a real treat.
First at the Basilica of Sant' Ambrogio ...
Then at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, a late 4th century church in the round. I have a thing for churches in the round.
Milan is gearing up to host the World Expo 2015, a world's fair with a food theme. An event expected to bring around 20 million visitors between May 1 and Oct 31, we were happy to be in the city before the rush. Evidence of the coming global trade fair was most obvious in the Porta Nuova business district.
Sometimes you just hit it right. We scored by being in Milan on the last Sunday of April which meant we got to enjoy strolling through the Naviglio Grande Antique Market. A very cool part of town with bars and restaurants spilling onto a not so pretty canal on a day when you wish you had a truck.
Of course, we love eating. If you like risotto, you'll really like eating in Milan. We had some of the best risotto we've ever eaten including one with nettles. We got some good recommendations before going. Here's some places to share:
Pisacco: lunch or dinner. Former chef of 2 Michelin Star restaurant (but not expensive.) North Brera neighborhood. Recommended by a friend of a friend from Milan. The roasted vegetable starter with pickled rhubarb, romanesco broccoli and a smattering of other perfectly roasted vegetables was an inspiration. Don't miss.
Taglio: lunch or dinner. Modern, casual Italian with floor to ceiling open shelves. Recommended in NY Times. Great service, fun vibe, excellent food.
Obica: lunch. Mozzarella Bar. It's a chain restaurant but still above average for a tasty lunch and a must do if you crave the real mozzarella and didn't realize they were even mozzarella choices. Recommended by a friend.
N'Ombra de Vin: an informal, destination wine bar in the Brera neighorhood. Worth a stop before dinner. Was packed before we left.
El Brellin: dinner. Popular in guide books. In Naviglio. Very good but you'll be in tourist company.
Carlo e Camillian: dinner. We couldn't get reservation so book ahead. Second restaurant of a chef who owns 2 Michelin Star restaurant Cracco. Recommended by a friend of a friend from Milan.
More of pretty Milan on this Good Friday.