The grand omission in the typical Italian Grand Tour
is Milan, the so-called "Moral Capital" of Italy. Whether or not its virtue is in question, Milan never seems to make it as a Must-See for vacationers in Italy. Is it because the city sits landlocked in Italy's northern Lombary region where no cruise ships can disembark or is it being overshadowed by the Tuscan sun, the Venetian canals and crazy Roman holidays?
Why Milan is off the radar would be better answered by focusing on why it should be on the radar. Last month, I abandoned Rome for Italy's fashion capital and, in less than forty eight hours, I was ready to move in. Milan is self-induldgent much like Rome, but unlike the Ancient City and its never-ending history lessons, Milan is focused on the 21st century via haute couture and hedge funds. Its bombastic 20th century architectural scenography (imagine Howard Roarke's projects realized), newly reinvented cityscape with emerging, innovative skyscrapers and beautiful fashion and industrial design are subtle reminders that Milan is not your nonna's Italy.
Yes, it is true: Milan is more Bright Lights, Big City and less Dolce Vita. And it is that vitality that puts it on the radar. My three reasons to visit Milan:
Any jaunt to Milan is about having my pick of modern and contemporary art - whether blue chip galleries, fashion house foundations or public art installations, Milan quenches my thirst. During one of my very first trips, I was blown away the Panza Collection (in Varese), it was only a few years later that the Prada and Nicola Trussardi Foundations arrived on the scene, and contemporary galleries flourished. In addition, Milan has a rich artistic history, and my visits often include a hello to a favorite Mantegna at the Brera, or step inside Castel Sforzesco. And though I'm a little behind in my visit to Leonardo's Last Supper, this past trip was about visual enlightenment by way of Chiesa Rossa, the last installation by artist Dan Flavin.
I caught Milan at its best- Fashion Week -- perhaps my 2nd favorite reason for coming to Milan. Twice a year, Milan is crowned fashion capital of the world for at least until the Paris shows-- the city is crowded with fashionistas in every language, and seems to be dressed to its best, though I am pretty sure that Milan's well-heeled make fashion a daily event. As expected, I found myself cozying up at Caffe Cova on via Montenapoleone for my favorite buddino, and people-watching. No, this doesn't mean forget dawdling down Corso Como or walking through the Excelsior, Milan's newest megaconcept store, but with only two days in Milan, there are certain things to be done.
*I tend to be fashion-focused, so it must be noted that Milan is also a mecca of amazing furniture and other industrial designers.
Prosecco and chips? Campari and olives? Forget about it. Milan perfected the art of the aperitivo long before its neighbors. Bars and caffes serve personalized platters of tiny sandwiches, savory puff pastries, cheese, meats and olives for late afternoon cocktail hour. Negroni Sbagliato, the wrong negroni, made with prosecco instead of gin- was the right choice we made at 6 p.m., again at Caffe Cova and also in Isola , where we stayed, a neighborhood of local artists, homegrown boutiques, families and couples, great restaurants (not just Milanese) and many caffes with clever aperitivi.