One of Italy’s grandest cities, and a cultural and commercial hub for centuries, Milan is full of history and secrets. In the streets and courtyards just around the corner from your Milan centre hotel, the city’s hidden treasures are waiting to be discovered. From tucked-away boutiques to remnants of the old canal network, adventure is just a short stroll away.
Let’s get lost
For couture, there’s Quadrilatero d’Oro, the Golden Rectangle; for opera, La Scala; and for effortless cosmopolitan chic the business district is hard to beat. But straying from the well-worn streets around the city’s most famous attractions is just as worthwhile. Leave the luxury of your Milan centre hotel and spend a day getting pleasantly lost among the city’s lanes. A lot of Milan’s best-kept secrets are to be found in little corners, through courtyards and unexpected doorways. Closing the guidebook and turning the corner on a whim could lead to your best holiday story, or to a gem of a shop that you would never have found otherwise. Wondering where to start? Try the streets around the Duomo. For a walk with more historical focus, the Castello Sforzesco, a collection of museums linked by courtyards and passages, is a perfect place to wander. Or head north to Groane Park where you can walk or cycle through acres of uplifting natural beauty, surrounded by the splendour of 17th century villas.
Fashion off the beaten track
Canals once carried trade from all over Italy to Milan, and although most of them have now been replaced by roads there are still some picturesque canals to be explored in the city. A little further afield than the high-end stores near your Milan centre hotel, the Navigli district with its quaint canals is worth the journey. The boutique fashion outlets here are a delight waiting to be discovered, and the district also boasts an antiques market, where the intrepid shopper is sure to find some one-of-a-kind vintage treasures. Round off your adventure with an evening on the canal banks – their live music and bohemian cafés provide a perfect change of pace from the busy city centre.
Every building tells a story, but some are buried deeper than others. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a true historic shopping mall, built in 1867. Like the oldest Milan centre hotels and opera houses, the dedication to style and splendour here is evident. Nestled beneath the iconic Duomo, the mall boasts lavish mosaics and a glass vaulted ceiling. These days it houses luxury outlets such as Prada and Louis Vuitton, and is a great spot for people-watching, but it also played an important part in the evolution of Europe’s modern architecture – the covered space inspired the modern indoor mall, and the ironwork in the dome itself is said to have influenced the design of the Eiffel Tower. For a more sobering piece of history, if travelling through the Stazione Centrale, look out for the plaque on the main concourse inscribed with a line from Primo Levi: Bearing witness matters, since everyone’s anguish is our own. Little evidence remains of the hidden platform beneath the Stazione Centrale, from where Italian Jews were deported during the Second World War – a campaign to turn the underground space into a memorial centre is underway, but for now the plaque is their only monument.