What a magical birthday; a whirlwind getaway to my home away from home - Milano! This glorious 6-night escape to the sweltering Mediterranean summer (a Leo lady's dream!) clocked up my 25th trip, so it's safe to say that I'm somewhat of an expert when it comes to getting around the fashion capital.
Being a journalist and blogger in a foreign city between 2011 and 2015 forced me to explore every road, and when I look back now, I find it fascinating to think I was so brave and spontaneous. I did it all in every season; whole apartment rentals, cheap hotel and premium hotel stays, single room rentals in apartments, out-of-city rentals, and I've even explored all the little towns around including Novate, Segrate, Pavia, Saronno and Bergamo. A lot has changed since those carefree days but Milan is - and always will be - home to my soul because its highly creative energy resonates with my own, and will forever magnetise my return again and again.
Many who know me would agree that I've become "synonymous" with Milan and Italy in general, and therefore, I constantly get requests from friends visiting the city for the first time, asking me for travel advice and suggestions on where to stay, which sites to visit, what to do, and where to eat and shop, and so here's a concise guide based on my personal experiences and preferences in a city where anything goes (even metallic leather and crystals in broad daylight)...
The Mayyarani's Guide to the Fashion Capital, Milan.
- Hotel Manzone - Situated at the heart of the shopping district, this 4-star hotel is not cheap, but it's more affordable for South Africans than the high-end Mandarin Oriental Hotel or even The Four Seasons.
- Boscolo Hotel - Located on the edge of the upmarket fashion square closer to the Duomo, this hotel is pretty awesome with its rooftop restaurant, underground cave-like swimming pool and spa.
- Hotel Magna Pars - Just off Via Tortona, a distance from the city centre, is this ultra-modern hotel with electric window shutters, controlled lighting, and an all-glass facade.
- From Malpensa Airport, hail an Uber or get chauffeur driven using a service available at the arrivals terminal, OR use the railway.
- To use the railway from the airport, follow the signs to the ticket office. Know if your hotel is near Cadorna Stazione or Centrale Stazione, so that when you buy the ticket, you know what to say/ask. When your train arrives in the city centre, you can call an Uber or join the taxi queue to reach your hotel.
- Move around easily on foot because Milan city centre is small, but wear comfy shoes! Keep a plaster in your purse just in case your footwear aggravates your skin.
- Ride the metro. Buy a ticket for a single trip, 48 hours, or multiple trips. Retain your ticket for exiting the metro station. Duomo, Centrale and Cadorna are the busiest stations, so keep that in mind and avoid the after-work crowds.
- Hop onto a vintage tram for the coolest way to cruise around town. You must use your metro card for this to avoid being fined. Tram 1 will transport you all the way between Cadorna, Duomo, Montenapoleone and Centrale stations.
- For the best pastries and celeb-spotting, go to Pasticceria Cova on the corner of Via Montenapoleone and Via Sant Andrea.
- For Indian food, go to Kashmiri Ristorante on Via Domenico Scarlatti where the food is 100% halaal or look up Dawat on Corso Sempione. Both are far from fancy but the food is good.
- For authentic Napolitana pizza, go to il Kaimano on Via Fiori Chiari in the quaint Brera design district.
- For fine dining, go to il Salumaio di Montenapoleone on Via Santo Spirito.
- For the yummiest gelato, go to Amorino in the stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele right at the Duomo and also on Via Fiori Chiari in Brera. Other alternatives include Cioccolat-Italiani and Grom (Google these locations).
- "Aperitivo" - this is a uniquely Milanese practice; Most bars and cafes around the city offer an array of light snacks for patrons to enjoy after a long day's work - free of charge - as accompaniments to their drinks, so whether you're enjoying a latte macchiato (milk with drops of coffee) or a spremuta d'arancia (freshly-squeezed orange juice), you get to refuel on aperitivi; potato chips, mini pizzas, bruschetta and more.
- The Quadrilatero della Moda (fashion square) which includes Via Montenapoleone - the most expensive street - as well as Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia.
- Check out Corso Vittorio Emanuele which stretches from Duomo to San Babila metro stop.
- Visit La Rinascente department store on the right side of the Duomo cathedral. Go to the rooftop where there's a great view and more eateries.
- Other shopping streets/areas; Via Torino, Via Dante, Corso Venezia and the Porta Garibaldi area on the green metro line.
- Must-see boutiques include Etro, Moschino, Rolex (Pisa), Larusmiani, Rene Caovilla, Philipp Plein and Gucci.
- For slightly more affordable shopping, head into Silvian Heach, Sisley, Twinset, Flavio Castellani, Michael Kors and Patrizia Pepe.
- The Duomo (gothic cathedral). Take the elevator up to the rooftop - spectacular!! Go inside to admire the architecture and light a candle.
- There's the MOST AMAZING Starbucks Roastery Reserve which is honestly a must-see! It's located on Via Dante at the Cordusio metro stop on the red line, walking distance from Duomo.
- The Navigli - shop-lined water canals designed by Leonardo Da Vinci (Ask your hotel to guide you). If you have the time, take a boat cruise on the Grand Canal.
- Le Colonne di San Lorenzo (the ancient Roman columns) located in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The area is a popular nightspot bustling with youngsters just hanging out.
- Sforzesco Castle and Sempione Park. There's an incredible renaissance museum inside showcasing antiques, armour, paintings and other art.
- Lago di Como (Lake Como). Take a train from Cadorna Station. The trip is about an hour long... then once you're in Como, catch a ferry and circumnavigate the lake, and hop on/off at the different towns. Also hop onto the 'funicolare' and enjoy the cable ride to the top of the mountain for a breathtaking bird's eye view.
- If you want to party, go to the open-air Cavalli Club in Sempione Park. The park is a vast green belt that stretches between the castle and the impressive Arco della Pace built in 1807 to commemorate Napoleon's victories. In the vicinity, you'll also find the Civic Aquarium of Milan and La Triennale which promotes fine art and avant-garde architecture.
My guide is a nice-to-have and is handy if you need tried and trusted advice, but don't let this stop you from simply going with the flow. Leisurely walk the streets flat and enjoy every minute of window shopping. Stop to people watch, converse with waiters and sales assistants in broken English, and appreciate the culture and way of life in Italy's economic engine. The Milanese may not be as laid back as the Romans and Sicilians further south, but if there's one nation on earth that collectively knows how to enjoy la Dolce Vita, it's definitely the Italians so when in Milan, do as the Milanese do!
For more information and travel tips, please get in touch!
Umayya Theba, 'The Mayyarani'