Major crisis. I’m travelling to Milan and I only have a pair of Muji trainers to my name. If it’s anywhere I don’t want to be caught dead in with a wardrobe malfunction, it’s Milan. Yes, the world’s capital of shopping is everything I am not - fashionable, fresh, relevant – the list goes on. But do I want to be crucified by the Italian fashion disciples whose faith changes along with the season? Truth be told, no.
So, shoes. There’s nothing more important to the Milanese than a good pair of shoes and a handbag to complete the “tutti vestiti” or “all dressed up” look. But since a visit to Montenapoleone – one of the world’s most famous shopping streets – is already on the itinerary, I wallow in the thought of only having to rock my Muji trainers on the first day - and after that it’s straight to the shops. But first things first.
Since my Thai Airways flight from Bangkok landed in Milan at 7am, there was plenty of time to spare before the hotel would allow us to check-in. Lake Como was the obvious choice for our half day excursion as it’s a mere one- hour’s drive away. So off we went, me in my Muji trainers silently praying that I don’t bump into Amal Clooney (I don’t care about you, George) - Goddess of all things fashionable and womankind’s hopeful leader to female domination. Like many Roman lovers of yore, the Clooney’s would come here to escape life’s daily grind, perhaps reinvigorate themselves in the cool mountain air, sip on an aperitivo or two and simply forget about what had exasperated them in the first place.
The most popular of the five Italian lakes, Lake Como, shaped like an inverted Y on the map, screams of Italian old money gentility and dreamy views that promise endless moments of gasping pleasure. Here, boats leave the main port of Como Lago going all the way up to Domaso frequently, making stops for towns dotted along the lake which visitors can get on and off as they please. Jet-lagged but reluctant to bypass this chance to explore, I muster just enough energy from my morning cappuccino to wander around the cobblestone streets of Torno in a dreamy but delighted daze.
LEGEND OF LEONARDO
Visiting Milan without acknowledging the impact Leonardo da Vinci had had on the city would be like going to Stratford-upon-Avon and not knowing Shakespeare. Arriving here in 1482 from Florence at the service of Duke Ludovico Sforza, da Vinci spent 18 years of his life here, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s history and artistic heritage. Since this year marks the 500th anniversary of his death, institutions, public and private agencies, associations and societies throughout Lombardy are joining hands to pay tribute to the great artist and thinker. For die-hard da Vinci fans, it’s advisable to book tickets way in advance to see one of the world’s most iconic paintings, “The Last Supper”, at the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. This universal masterpiece survived Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops when they camped in the refectory, and also emerged unscathed during the WWII bombings. But like all good things, everyone wants a piece of it, so be warned that ticketholders will be accompanied into the refectory in groups and each is allowed 15 minutes per session inside the room.
Just a few steps from the Duomo, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana offers one of Milan’s most exclusive artistic and historical experiences. It’s the first public library in Italy, the library is home to a stunning collection of art bequeathed to the city by Cardinal Federico Borromeo including Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atranticus, and works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian and Botticelli.
Art lovers will also be thrilled to learn that from May until January 2020, the Sale delle Asse at the Castello Sforzesco, inaccessible since 2011, will reopen to visitors after a long period of restoration, revealing some original preparatory sketches and drawings by da Vinci. To ensure every aspect about the artist’s life and passion is celebrated, The National Museum of Science and Technology also has a project dedicated to da Vinci’s inventions. “Leonardo da Vinci Parade” brings together an unprecedented overview of models and frescoes exhibited on stage in an uncommon combination of art and science that will inspire mature and young minds.
If you’re a shopping scrooge like me and the word Prada has zero impact on you, the Fondazione Prada, which is an institution dedicated to contemporary art and culture might just appeal. Co-founded by Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, it’s a great place to get lost in all things quirky and cultural, so spend a couple of hours here if you have time to spare.
REGENERATION AND REINVENTION
Having fully immersed myself in the arts, the Isola quarter (literally “island”) in the Porta Nuova District was next on my bucket list. Originally separated from the rest of Milan by decades-old railway tracks, this working-class area has quickly morphed into a cool urban hangout for Milanese youngsters drawn to its burgeoning creativity, street art, bustling bars and nightlife. Come here to soak in the sunshine, people-spot, eat, drink or just to stroll down the streets and admire the futuristic landscape which also includes the Bosco Verticale, a pair of residential towers that contain more than 900 trees. It even has its own climate!
The quarter offers quite a break from the luxury shopping districts and glitzy hotels of the city centre, but still quintessentially Milanese.
After days of procrastination, I realise the time has come for me to attend to what every Milanese would scoff at – my shoes. Finally caving in to the “tutti vestiti” concept, I rely on the help of the people at Montenapoleone VIP Lounge and personal tax refund service (montenapoleonelounge.it) who helped to make my shopping experience that much more pleasurable one. In less than an hour, I find a pair of leather shoes by Bottega Veneta, one of Italy’s most iconic brands with my name on it. Simple but smart, in line with Leonardo da Vinci words of wisdom: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
General Manager of Thai Airways, Milan
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, Corso Magenta 15
This old monastery is a hidden gem and is home to some magnificent fresco paintings Entry is free.
- Gallerie d’ Italia – Piazza della Scala 6
The historic buildings that form this group of museums contain a vast collection of works by Italian artists with from the 19th – 20th century.
- Marchesi 1824 via Monte Napoleone 9,
Enjoy a cup of coffee at the counter with freshly-baked pastries in an original early 19th century ambiance.
- Ratanà Best place for creative Milanese dishes in the Isola district.
Via G.de Castillia 28
- Ceresio 7
Glamorous aperitivo on the rooftop of an old industrial building. Happy hour is from 6-9 pm. Get here before 7pm for the best seats.
via Ceresio 7
- Rossana Orlandi
Find inspiration by visiting a private gallery that displays lifestyle art pieces by avant-garde designers. There’s also a lovely bistro worth popping into next to the entrance.
Via Matteo Bandello 14/16
This high-end delicatessen offering high quality of raw materials including cheese, premium meats, cold cuts, fresh pasta and wines.
Via spadari 9