“Rome is like a prostitute; she will do whatever you want to do on the first night. Milan is the shy, intriguing girl who you discover and get to know in time and ultimately becomes the love of your life.”
MILAN doesn’t receive the acclaim heaped upon the Italian capital, and it is not a major tourist destination city like Venice or Florence, but it’s been one of my favourite cities for years.
My reasons are simple, and I’ve probably bored some friends to tears with this theory. Milan has the 3 Fs: Football, Fashion and Food. If you like any, or all of these, you will not get bored in Milan
The first time I visited the capital of Lombardy was the famous Milan Derby in the San Siro, or Derby del Madonnia, in 2009, when José Mourinho’s Inter beat their city rivals AC Milan 2-1.
Like the dramatic high-scoring 3-2 Serie A epic between the Milanese clubs last Sunday, it was a terrific match. Players on the pitch that night included David Beckham, Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paulo Maldini and Adriano, but what was even more impressive was the inimitable noise, passion and colour of one of the greatest derbies in world football.
Milan is a fantastic city to visit at any time, but if you’re a football fan you should try to catch Derby della Madonnina, named after the iconic golden statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of the Duomo (largest Gothic cathedral in the world) in Milan. The next showdown is on March 4th, 2018, when AC Milan will be the ‘home’ team.
Unless you’re a season ticket holder, getting into the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, also known as San Siro, on Derby night won’t be cheap or easy, especially as the dominance of Juventus over the last five years is finally being threatened by Napoli and Milan’s sleeping giants.
In 2009, I purchased a cost price ticket from the Internazionale ticket office on the night for a whopping €160. While this is a staggering amount of money, it was well worth it for a once in a lifetime experience. The only time I paid slightly more is for a Champion’s League Final ticket for the Bernabeau, Madrid in 2010, which also featured Mourinho’s Inter.
While these prices are extortionate, they’re a fraction of the eye-watering amounts that touts charge. To shop for a cheaper ticket, my advice would be to look on fan forums online if you’ve any command of Italian. The Fanladen at St. Pauli were able to source me tickets to their huge game against Dresden earlier this year, but I’ll discuss Hamburg further in a future post.
A fantastic alternative is to take a stadium tour, where you will learn about the history of the Milanese rivals and visit each teams dressing room, which offers a fascinating insight into the different ethos in each club. This Copa 90 mini-documentary nails the build up and atmosphere for one of the biggest games in football.
The other 2 Fs
So that’s the football covered, what about the fashion and the food? As you’d expect, Milan is a premier shopping destination with iconic fashion houses Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Versace, Gucci and many others headquartered in the city.
You don’t necessarily have to break the bank to acquire some nice pieces. I picked up a lovely green Armani Jeans jacket in their flagship store for only €100. Around the same time, Brown Thomas were flogging something similar in an inferior colour and style for €350.
The main department store is Rinascente Milano on Piazza Duomo. It is worth going to their rooftop cafe for stunning views of the city. You can even see the Alps in the distance.
On the other side of the square, the Palazzo Real (Royal Palace) is one of Milan’s best galleries. At the moment, there are Caravaggio and Toulouse-Lautrec exhibitions on view.
If you fancy a drink after all that, then head for apertivo in the shadow of Duomo at Bar Straf. They do fantastic spread of complimentary food from 5pm, and you can help yourself if you buy a drink, but bear in mind that the local etiquette is to sample a few small portions rather than pile mountains of food onto your plate!
Where to hang your designer hat
Milan caters for all budgets with a room in a two-star hotel starting from around €50 a night. Hotel 22 Marzo Milan just off Corso 22 Marzo is a very popular choice. It is already booked out for next the Derby weekend next year.
There are a lot of great luxury hotels, including properties designed and managed by Bulgari and Armani. You’re looking at a few hundred a night for these, but if you want some five-star Milanese luxury at a far keener price, Principe Di Savoia near central station is a spectacular fashionista haunt with rooms starting from €250. It also has one of the classiest apertivos in town, often featuring a tenor singing in the foyer.
Speaking of opera, La Scala is Milan’s other legendary attraction. I’ve only attended one opera in my life – a stunning production of Richard Wagner’s epic Tristan Und Isolde. Tickets for the gods in this spectacular theatre go for a song if you queue earlier in the day.
Food & Drink
Rome, Bologna, Sicily and Tuscany are much more established and popular gastronomic destinations, but Milan has plenty to offer – on the cheap, or on a blow out.
Peck Emporium is a deli, restaurant, bar and food hall that has been serving fine food since 1883. For starters, they stock over 3,200 variations of parmigiano reggiano, and also specialise in chocolate, pastries, gelato (ice cream), seafood, truffles, balsamic vinegar… just about everything!
Risotto is a Milanese speciality, and the best value in town can be found at Trattoria Abele la Temperanza, who serve over 100 types of risotto from €9 a plate.
Paper Moon on Via Bagetta is great for pizza, pasta and classic Italian cuisine. Ristorante Papà Francesco is a good choice before or after an opera at La Scala. Their sizzling steak with truffles is to die for.
The restaurant scene in Milan is very similar to the fashion merry-go-round; there are new openings all the time and a hotly contested selection of Michelin starred establishments. It’s actually hard to get a bad meal in Milan, so bon appetito!
Aer Lingus, British Airways and Ryanair all fly direct from Dublin to Milan from €40 return. Please note there are two airports – Linate and Malpensa. Milan is also easily accessible by train from Verona, Bologna and other major cities in northern Italy.