This is not your father’s Italy. Well, not at first sight anyway. Looking at the gigantic, ultra-modern Allianz skyscraper as it towers above Coloris, Pascale Marthine Tayou’s sleek contemporary art installation, you might feel like you’ve arrived in the future rather than the millennia-old Lombard capital. Always on and always in, Italy’s commercial and bona fide fashion capital couldn’t embrace the digital age fast enough but proudly showcases its rich history, too, from Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper to its striking Gothic Duomo. Not to mention its impeccable taste, in the alta moda sanctuaries of the Golden Rectangle or in Triennale di Milano, where thousands of objects celebrate a thousand years of Italian design.
Milan is the nation’s second-largest metropolis after Rome and that's about where its shortcomings end. It’s a major European economic powerhouse that generates a whopping 21% of Italy’s GDP. In fact, by the time the Romans took over Milan, or Mediolanum, as they called it, in 222 BC, it had already cemented its position as one of the most influential cities of the Cisalpine Gaul region. What came after wasn’t exactly downhill, either. In his modestly titled book, De magnalibus urbis Mediolani (On the Marvels of Milan), 13th-century Milanese bard Bonvesin de la Riva gushed about the city’s many virtues, great wealth, honest citizens and 12,500 portoni (front doors). Yes, he counted them. In the following centuries, the Viscontis and the Sforzas did nothing but upped the ante, leaving behind some true gems of Gothic and Renaissance art and architecture.
Lombard dishes have little in common with their tomato sauce- and olive oil-drenched southern counterparts but they’re just as delish. Local recipes are centred around generous servings of rice, beef, pork and butter and give away a strong Central European influence. Fun fact: Italy, Milan-adjacent Po Valley in particular, is the largest producer of rice in Europe. And Milan is probably the largest consumer of risotto, which is made in all imaginable forms all over town. Other local favourites are cotoletta (veal breaded cutlet), cassoeula (pork and cabbage stew) and ossobuco (braised veal).
The original risotto alla milanese is an absolute staple in most Milan eateries. Try it at Ratanà in Porta Nuova, where chef Cesare Battisti serves up his much-praised take on the Lombard classic. Trattoria del Nuovo Macello has been dishing out some of the finest cassoeulas in town since 1959. More recently, in the contemporary interpretation of chef Giovanni Traversone – don’t miss it. San Rocco’s Osteria dell’Acquabella in Porta Romana cooks up a mean ossobuco and so does Risoelatte, az understated, cafeteria-style gem where tasty and hearty is the name of the game.
Just like its cuisine, Milan’s climate is closer to that of Italy’s northern neighbours than its southern half. Hot, humid summers turn into pleasant September and October days, which make for prime city break weather. Winters are rather cold and grey, followed by mild and sunny spring months. Early autumn and late spring are probably the best time for a trip to Milan but pack your umbrella and a light jacket for good measure.
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