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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fashion Is Just One of Milan's Delights

Some Italian cities, like Naples or Palermo, have a hard time being sedate. Ask them to spin a pirouette or dance a tarantella, and they're in their element.

But Milan is not a tarantella - it's a slow tango, a cool, understated place with a measured step, where excitement can mean strolling to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the glassed-in Beaux-Arts shopping concourse adjacent to the Duomo, to down a cappuccino or just to see and be seen.

But Milan tangos a little faster in the fall, when the big trade fairs come to town, most notably the fall fashion showings.

The spring and fall fashion weeks are certainly the busiest time of the year in Milan, with tens of thousands of anxious designers, willowy models, buyers, photographers and just plain hangers-on descending on the city.

But there are plenty of other diversions besides fashion. Milan is a spread-out city, and the best way to get an overview is on one of the many bus tours or guided walks offered throughout the year.

Unlike Rome or Naples, where sunshine reigns much of the time, Milan can be damp and gray. So it is also an indoor city, whether that means lounging in one of the Galleria's cafes or visiting Leonardo's "Last Supper" in the former refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, or Michelangelo's tender "Rondanini Pieta" at the Museum of the Castello Sforzesco.

If the weather is nice, you might start by climbing to the roof of the vast Gothic Duomo, a sierra of finials and statues that you can hike across like an Alpine meadow, and which affords a close look at the Madonnina, the golden statue of the Virgin atop the central tower, and spectacular views of the city. On clear days the vistas stretch northward to the Alps.


These days, the place not to miss is the Ambrosiana Art Gallery and Library, 2 Piazza Pio XI, 39(02) 806921, which reopened last year after a seven-year restoration. The library, commissioned by Cardinal Federico Borromeo in 1607, contains 35,000 manuscripts and 700,000 printed books.

The Cardinal's personal art collection forms the core of the gallery, Milan's oldest museum. His good taste allows us to enjoy Raphael's cartoon for the School of Athens in the Vatican; Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit;" paintings by Leonardo, Botticelli and Titian; and one of the world's finest collections of Lombard art. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission 12,000 lire ($7).

To explore the heart of Milan, start at the Duomo and walk through the Galleria to La Scala, then up Via Dante to the Castello Sforzesco, and the spacious gardens behind. To visit the fashion district, start at the Piazza San Babila, then stroll narrow Via Monte Napoleone and nearby Via Spiga, lined with the flagship stores of many of Italy's leading designers.

A 1920s tourist tram leaves the Piazza Castello at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. From there, it passes the Duomo, goes out to the gradually gentrifying Navigli neighborhood of canals and narrow lanes - where some of Milan's liveliest night life can be found. It then goes on to Santa Maria delle Grazie, and back by the fashion district and La Scala.

The Navigli neighborhood borders two canals in the southwest corner of Milan. Once the port of Milan (the canals connected the city to the Po River) and a tough working-class district, it has become a trendy neighborhood, filled with antiques shops, bars and restaurants (some on barges). Tickets for the ride are for sale on the tram, are $17.50.

On Monday morning, the Milan Tourist Office, 1 Via Marconi, 39(02) 72524300, organizes two-hour walking tours of the Duomo, the Victor Emmanuel gallery, the Marino Palace courtyard (now city hall) and La Scala for $11.50. You can call ahead to reserve an English-speaking guide.

Milan's most important art collection, the Brera, 28 Via Brera, 39(02) 722-631, includes such masterpieces as Raphael's "Marriage of the Virgin," Piero della Francesca's "Sacra Conversazione" and Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus." Open Tuesday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; Sunday and holidays 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Tickets $4.65.

One of Milan's best-kept secrets is the 15th-century Church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro. The downtown church was built by Bramante next to a ninth-century basilica. Of particular note is the baptistry - marvelous in its Renaissance harmony - and the trompe l'oeil apse, designed that way by Bramante because he had no more room.


No musical event in Italy commands as much attention - and reverence - as the opening of the opera season at La Scala, which traditionally takes place Dec. 7, the feast of St. Ambrose, Milan's patron saint.

The La Scala museum, with historical costumes and other memorabilia, 39(02) 805-3418, is open 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Tickets $3.50.

La Scala overshadows other musical pleasures in Milan - a shame, for there are gems to be found. The Orchestra Verdi dazzles with a varied repertory at the Lirico Theater, 14 Via Larga, 39(02) 809-665. Concerts are on Thursday and Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. An extensive Man Ray retrospective at the Fondazione Mazzotta runs through Jan. 24, at 50 Foro Bonaparte, 39(02) 878-197. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday). $7.

Where to Stay

The Pierre Milano, 32 Via E. De Amicis, 39(02) 7200-0581, fax 39(02) 8052157, is an upscale 49-room hotel just behind the lovely medieval Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. Rooms have modern furnishings, usually with an antique or two. Doubles with breakfast start at $225.

For the business traveler, the 128-room Brunelleschi, 12 Via Baracchini, 39(02) 8843, fax 39(02) 804-924, is centrally situated and comfortable, with simple, contemporary furnishings. Doubles with breakfast are $260.

The Hotel Liberty, 56 Viale Bligny, 39(02) 5831-8562, fax 39(02) 5831-9061, blends comfort and charm with reasonable prices. All 58 rooms are done up in art deco style. Doubles with breakfast are $136, $157 and $203, depending on the season, excluding breakfast.

Budget: The no-frill Hotel Sempione, 11 Via Finocchiaro Aprile, 39(02) 657-0323, fax 39(02) 657-5379, is near the Piazza della Repubblica. Double rates in the 43 rooms range from $81 in low season to a maximum of $156.50 in high season (generally through October).

Behind La Scala, the Hotel Star, 5 Via dei Bossi, 39(02) 801-501, fax 39(02) 861-787, has 30 simple rooms with modern amenities. Doubles with breakfast, $150.75. Closed for December holidays.

Luxury: The fashion crowd fills the elegant Four Seasons on the Via del Gesy at this time of year. But there are other options.

Since it opened in 1863, the Grand Hotel, 29 Via Manzoni, 39(02) 723141, fax 39(02) 8646-0861, has been a favorite with celebrities. Giuseppe Verdi chose it as his residence in Milan. The Grand Hotel retains its plush 19th-century elegance and charm, along with all modern amenities; stepping through its doors is to step back in history. Doubles are $377 and $447, without breakfast.

Where to Eat

Turn-of-the-century decor and exceptional wines are two reasons to eat at the Caffe della Pusterla, 24 Via De Amicis, near the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. The food is simple - salads, sandwiches, light entrees. The wines tend to be Tuscan, since the owners have a farm near Montalcino. Meal for two with wine: $46.50. 39(02) 8940-2146. Closed Sunday.

Next door is the Premiata Pizzeria, with garden, serving a vast selection of excellent pizzas and full meals. Pizzas range from $5.25 to $9.25. A simple dinner for two can stay under $23 with the house wine. 39(02) 8940-6075. Closed Monday.

Some of Milan's freshest fish is found at the Ristorante Mercato del Pesce, 54 Via Cesare Lombroso, near the wholesale fish market. Despite a kitschy faux-Tahiti decor, it is worth the cab ride to the edge of town.

The fixed menu offers substantial appetizers, spaghetti alla pescatora or risotto alla marinara, and a grilled fish platter for $32 a person, without drinks. A la carte meals will bring the bill to about $100 for two. Reservations are preferred. 39(02) 5519-5540. Closed Monday.

The Osteria dei Binari, 1 Via Tortona, is in the Navigli district, the hub of Milanese night life. The Osteria, in the style of an old Milanese inn, with heavy wooden chairs and tables and iron lamps, and a large garden, exudes atmosphere and offers traditional fare of Lombardy, Milan's region. The fixed price menu is $34.75, without drinks. Reservations suggested. 39(02) 8940-9428. Closed Sunday.

Ristorante Peck, across from the specialty foods shop of the same name, is modern, stylish and intimate. A wide-ranging menu includes all the Milanese classics, from risotto alla Milanese, with saffron, to osso buco and cottoletta alla Milanese. Dinner for two from $135 with a nice bottle of wine. 4 Via Victor Hugo, 39(02) 876-774. Closed Sunday.

How to Get There

Aeroflot has a morning flight from Moscow to Milan every day except Wednesday, with a round-trip ticket starting at $491.

Alitalia has a daily evening flight, costing $550-$600 and up for a round-trip ticket.