Best City in Italy 2019 – Putting Milan on the Map
It’s official! Milan is breaking records at every turn, and has once again been named the Top Place to live in Italy, ranking it higher than any other city in the country in terms of quality of life. On the architectural front, the Fondazione Prada and Hangar Bicocca have just been named prize-winners of the prestigious Global Fine Art Awards. Culturally, neighbouring Bergamo is also enjoying unprecedented recognition, for example, with artworks from the Accademia Carrara and Palazzo Moroni being winged across on loan for temporary exhibitions to museums such as New York’s Frick Collection. Meanwhile, Milan was even ranked the most-visited destination in Europe by Mastercard last year, overtaking the usual suspects on the popularity stakes.
Once known more as the country’s business hub and playing ‘second fiddle’ to Rome, Florence and Venice, there are now more reasons than ever to experience first-hand what is putting such a broad smile on so many Milanese faces all year round. Hold onto your hats for 10 great reasons why Milano should be at the top of everyone’s Bucket List.
1 – IT’S GOT EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER WISH FOR
Whether your tastes run to the latest fashion boutiques or Sistine-Chapel-like frescoed churches, from pastries to die for in century-old cake shops or melt-in-the-mouth fresh pasta dishes in traditional trattorias and restaurants, there is quite literally everything you could possibly hope to find in this vibrant city. It’s possible to walk on foot from one side of Milan to the other in just over an hour, albeit at a brisk pace, with excellent public transport whisking you from A to B on tap otherwise, and plenty to witness first-hand displaying the all the fabulous contrasts between old and new.
The timeline of this historic city stretches right back to antiquity and 400 BC, with basilicas like Sant’Ambrogio from 380 AD standing the test of time quite beautifully, and in stark but stunning contrast are all the latest architectural developments in the Porta Nuova district with stylish new skyscrapers appearing on the horizon every year. Meanwhile, you’re certain to be blown away by the general hospitality of the Milanesi throughout your stay : whether you want to be up at the crack of dawn and experiencing a real Italian espresso coffee in the local caffè, or quaffing the most deftly mixed cocktail at the water’s edge in the Navigli district during the wee small hours, there’s something for everyone all year round at any time of day and night.
2 – IT’S THE BEST PLACE TO BE IN ITALY
Every year, the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 releases a ranking of 110 Italian cities, classifying them according to a large number of factors, ranging from artistic patrimony, public transportation, the availability and affordability of fresh food, crime rates, housing prices, youth unemployment, etc. Once again Milan is in pole position as the best place to live in the country, and if you ask a local, he or she is pretty likely to confirm this. Even better, the International Expo hosted in 2015 for 184 days attracted over 21,000,000 visitors and is attributed for putting the icing on the cake in cementing the dynamism that has been gradually taking place over the past 10 years.
Private homes like the glorious Casa degli Atellani located opposite the world-famous Last Supper opened their doors for the first time four years ago to invite people to visit Leonardo’s vineyards, and while the queues that snaked down Corso Magenta for that first year are now finished, a steady stream of guests can still discover this hidden gem all year round. As someone who has returned to live in the city after a 15-year absence, I can vouch that the difference is palpable, and everyone to a (wo)man is enthused by what’s been happening.
3 – THERE’S SOMETHING NEW GOING ON ALL THE TIME
Of course the major attractions are still the same as they have always been – every first-time visitor is duty bound to want to stroll around the parapets of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, and just like the Mona Lisa, most people want to be able to ‘tick that box’ and say they’ve stood in awe before Leonardo’s miraculous Last Supper (if they’ve managed to reserve those gold-dust entrance tickets). Rightfully so! But there are also more and more innovative exhibitions to see at the perhaps less-well established museums like the wondrous MUDEC in the up-and-coming fashion district of Tortona, not to mention the Armani Silos museum and the design Mecca of the Triennale, or the award-winning Fondazione Prada.
Temporary shows on contrasting artists like Banksy, Ingres and Di Chirico are intermingled with classical annual events like Milan’s Fashion Weeks, the popular International Design Fair and the absolutely brilliant Artisans’ Crafts Fair over a 10-day period in December. Check out our ‘Dates For the Diary’ section for more details of some of the up and coming events.
4 – THE SHOPS ARE TO DIE FOR
The words ‘Milan’ and ‘fashion’ roll off the tongue together and go quite naturally hand in hand, and while the jury’s out as to whether France or Italy is the true home of fashion, the shopping here is indisputably second to none. For top end flagship designer stores, you need go no further than the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II right next to the Duomo Cathedral, with Brera just a short walk away along the Via Manzoni for addresses like Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga, interspersed with all the bespoke streets criss-crossing round this whole area.
Vintage boutiques are also popping up all over the city: next to the historic Colonne di San Lorenzo are not-to-be-missed shops like Nastro & Cavalli and Bivio on Via Gian Giacomo Mora, while an almost unbearably wonderful luxury vintage sunglasses shop has recently opened on the neighbouring Via Urbano III at number 3. The fashion is only part of it – there’s also everything from Venetian glassware to contemporary design and everything in between on offer – whatever type of shopping is on your Wish List, Here To Stay can offer a bespoke personalised itinerary recommending just where and when to go to shop until you drop.
5 – THERE’S MORE CULTURE THAN YOU CAN SEE IN ONE (OR SEVERAL) VISITS
In goes without saying that the best of the culture has been on site for centuries, with churches, basilicas and castles at every corner and excellent private guided tours to match. In addition to all the permanent and temporary exhibitions in the 60+ museums in the city, Milan also offers a whole calendar of musical concerts, theatres and artistic initiatives throughout the year. 2019 is of course the year celebrating 500 years since Leonardo’s death, so there are a host of additional themed shows and exhibits being thrown into the mix. Certain rooms such as the Salle delle Asse at the Castello will be reopened for the occasion and for a limited time only, while the Crypt of San Sepulchro is not looking any gift horses in the mouth and has invented a fully immersive show astutely linking both Leonardo and Andy Warhol: ‘Made in Italy’ creativity at its very best…
6 – IT’S A PIECE OF CAKE TO GET FROM A-B
Driving a car in Milan is becoming a thing of the past, partly due to the anti-pollution traffic restrictions in the historic centre, but also because it’s so easy to get around on foot or using the excellent and efficient underground system and over-ground trams and buses; using the metro is very straightforward once you’ve got the hang of how the lines run. As well as the modern, streamlined trams, many of the old trains are still in operation and add to the atmosphere of a city that blends old and new so well. If you do see heavy roadworks in certain parts of town, that’s because a new underground line 4 is being installed which will whiz everyone directly to and from Linate airport – so it’s worth being patient and putting up with the odd eyesore. There are also excellent train connections with the 50-minute Malpensa Express leaving for the airport every half an hour throughout the day.
Once you are here, we will be happy to indicate the A-Z of getting from A-B for all the sights you want to see as part of Here To Stay’s personalised itinerary service, see here for more details.
7 – THE FOOD IS MAGNIFICENT
It’s not impossible, but it’s pretty hard to eat badly in Italy. On the top end scale, there are a still considerably impressive 367 places that have been given a 1*, 2** or 3 *** rating over here, a smaller number compared with neighbouring France’s 624 Michelin-starred establishments, but almost a fifth of Italian addresses are all located in the Lombardy region with central Milan boasting the cream of the pickings. From the well-known institution of Cracco in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to new rising star Chef Enrico Bartolini at the trendy MUDEC museum, fine dining is easily accessible, while there is an embarrassment of choice at every corner if you’re looking to eat more traditional trattoria-type fare. Email us at [email protected] for suggestions of great places to eat, personalised every time to suit the type of restaurant, location and budget you prefer.
8 – AND THE DRINK IS EQUALLY OFF THE SCALE
Looking to experience wine-tasting par excellence, or just keen to relax into a late-night speakeasy and soak up the atmosphere with a cocktail or a glass of Prosecco? Yet again, Milan and its surroundings is the place to be, with trend-setting mixologists covering every area of the city. Friendly, enticing bars give their individual twist on every kind of liqueur blend imaginable – up to you to decide if you prefer to indulge in the generous and usually very copious happy hour, with the price of your drink including more than you can eat as part of the “apéro-cena”, or want to check out the smallest bar in the world at Backdoor43, which stays open upon appointment until three o’ clock in the morning.
Discerning palates can also choose to go off the beaten track and perhaps combine a stay with a visit to the Tenuta Castello di Grumello, where you can not only immerse yourselves in the atmosphere of this medieval home, but enjoy a relaxing VIP gourmet wine-tasting in one of the reception rooms of the castle itself after being guided round the historic cellars. Contact us for for more details.
9 – THERE ARE SO MANY GREAT PLACES TO SEE WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE
Historically, anyone born and bred in Milan would often tell me when I first arrived almost 25 years ago that the city’s location was part of its big attraction for businesses: being two hours from the sea and even less to the nearest mountain range, everyone in a position to anchor their yachts and retreat to their ski-ing cabins at the weekend couldn’t pick a better place to live and work from Monday to Friday. Even better for visitors to Northern Italy, travelling to cities like Bologna, Florence and Venice takes less than 2 hours, thanks to the efficient motorways and train services set up decades ago, and nowadays the high speed trains will even get you to Rome in just three hours. The Lakes are on the doorstep, and there are countless hidden treasures that are slightly off the beaten track and just waiting to be explored, that are absolutely breath-taking.
Here To Stay aims to take you Behind Closed Doors not only in Milan, but also in nearby towns such as Bergamo, for day trips that introduce you to secret places you might not come across otherwise, unlocking the key of historical homes, exquisite eateries and experiences, meeting wonderful hosts who are only too happy to share their homes and stories with you. It’s all on the doorstep, just waiting to be discovered.
10 – LAST BUT NOT LEAST : “I MILANESI”
Milan just wouldn’t be the same without I Milanesi. There may still be sweeping statements about the differences between the compatriots of North and the South in a country that has only been unified since 1871, and you may just happen to fall upon that one person who does not have the sunny temperament traditionally associated with the entire Italian nation, but that would be unlucky and fairly unlikely. For the grand majority, the Milanese are to a man and to a woman quite simply warm, welcoming, communicative, full of character and above all genuinely kind people who are for the large majority thrilled to see the growth of their city and share it with those who are only passing through.
Come and find out more for yourself – we are sure you will be as exhilarated by what you encounter as we are.
Oh, and did we mention the weather… ?
All photos by Nicola Collarile unless otherwise otherwise indicated. Featured photo of Corso Como 10 with thanks to Caroline B., skyline photo with thanks to Sally B. and Fondazione Prada photo by Emma K.