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48 hours in modish Milan

The impressive  roof covering the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
The impressive roof covering the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. / SUR
  • Make sure this northern Italian city is part of your autumn/winter travel collection

Milan may not be chockful of Renaissance architecture that one so often associates with Italy; yet what this industrial, commercial city lacks in old-world charm it more than makes up with thanks to urban style.

At this time of year, the suffocating city heat has long gone; cooler air from the mountains refreshes Milan, providing the perfect excuse for residents to sport their new season wardrobes; elegant capes, tailored coats and luxurious layers which they seem to effortlessly combine.

Italy's capital of design and fashion has been on the low-cost airline routes for many years but has thankfully escaped the stag and hen night tours that have spoiled the atmosphere of so many other European city-break destinations. In fact, over recent years the classic fashion districts are more elegant them ever; the 'Centro Storico' has been restored and cleaned; and once industrial neighbourhoods like Porta Nuova are now home to on-trend new businesses, design studios, as well as bars and restaurants lining revitalised, pedestrianised streets.

Friday

2pm Check-in

Milan is home to a wealth of chic hotels. As a commercial and fashion hub, business travel and wealthy visitors support an infrastructure of grand hotels. All the big names are here, including Park Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, and the Four Seasons. For something more intimate, much like a stylish private home-from-home, consider Sina The Gray, just off the main cathedral square, down a stone-cobbled street with views into the 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, said to be the oldest shopping centre in the world.

2.30pm Tastes of Milan

From Central Station, the metro will take you to the Piazza del Duomo, the km 0 of the city from which all the streets and neighbourhoods radiate out. You'll probably arrive just in time for lunch, so leave your cases at the hotel and head out for a taste of Milan.

For a contemporary flavour of the city, discover the new temples of food - the gastronomic food courts that are across the city. Close to the Piazza del Duomo is the La Rinascente department store, with a seventh-floor food market with choice of eateries offering splendid views.

For street food, try Luini Milano (near the cathedral, in via Santa Radegonda 16) where you can take away their classic panzerotti - tasty, fried pastries, filled with tomato and mozzarella.

4pm Window shopping

The Quadrilatero della Moda fashion district is within walking distance from the centre, and is the destination to indulge your appetite for fashion voyeurism. Fashion Week may have passed, yet the glamour and magic is still very much here; a place where window-dressing is an artform. Each boutique offers a captivating, and often decadent glimpse into the world of Italian high fashion.

6.30pm Apericena

Don't take too long getting ready to enjoy the evening, or you could miss aperitivo time. A little like happy hour, this early evening ritual is when you can enjoy a few complimentary snacks with your drinks. In my experience, it's best to avoid the popular terrace bars over-looking the Piazza del Duomo. Typically, these are over-priced, very touristy, and the quality of the snacks are not good. Better to walk to more established bars, such as Bar Magenta.

9pm Supper with the locals

The temptation may be to try the lounge bars and clubs of this fashion capital (if you have the budget and the style, try Armani Privé); but alternatively, you can start the weekend off with a more mellow Milanese experience and dine with the locals at contemporary, informal restaurants like Dry Milano, in Viale Vittorio Veneto 28. Here you can eat homemade pizzas until midnight and sip cocktails until 2am.

Like many industrial cities in the north of Italy, the cuisine here typically celebrates other regions, such as Naples, Tuscany, Puglia and Sicily.

However, first-time visitors may want to try something classic and traditional. Here that means breaded veal cutlets or saffron risotto - both available at the Noir restaurant at The Gray Hotel. Other hearty autumnal dishes include meatballs,casseroles, and, of course, ossobuco.

Saturday

10am Coffee morning

Hotel breakfasts are one of the pleasures of weekends away, but when in Italy, it's a requisite to head out for a coffee. Piccolo Peck is a fancy gourmet café within the historic 19th-century Peck delicatessen. It's the place to savour a classic Italian espresso or an indulgent cappuccino.

11.30am Culture calls

This is Italy after all, so you're never far from a cultural sight, a gallery or museum. The Gallerie d'Italia (Piazza della Scala, 6) is not to be missed; and of course, Da Vinci's masterpiece, 'Il Cenacola' (The Last Supper), is probably the city's most famous cultural attraction.

The wealthy Brera district of Milan has long been the artistic heart of the city, and here one finds the Pinacoteca di Brera museum (via Brera, 28). It's a cultural arts centre that is being given a new lease of life, with re-designed gallery spaces for the masterpieces.

1pm Food glorious food

Milan may be full of designer stores and fashion boutiques, but it also has some spectacular food courts where you can browse the best of Italian produce, stop for a light lunch or snack, as well as enjoy live entertainment. For example, pay homage to Italian gastronomy and produce at Eataly, a striking new centre in a former theatre space.

3.30pm Highline

Before retiring to your hotel to sleep off lunchtime indulgences, take a stroll along the city's most striking walkway, the Highline panoramic, on the roof terraces of the iconic glass-domed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade. Here, exhibitions and views await.

6pm Aperitivos

It's that time again when you can enjoy a spritzer or cocktail. Camparino has its fully-restored venue back in the aforementioned 19th-century arcade, facing the square. Probably the best place to celebrate the ritual of the Italian apertivo - with a Campari cocktail of course. Touristy, undeniably; yet so enjoyable.

If you have time, walk a little further to the Dolce Gabbana Man Boutique. Here within this glorious historic Milan property (now a D&G flagship store) one finds this super-stylish bar and bistro. There is the classic courtyard patio, a garden room, as well as the glossy black dragon room. Chances are you'll make an evening of it and stay for a bite to eat too.

8pm Teatro alla Scala

La Scala is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It also hosts ballet and concerts. If you can plan ahead a little it's possible to secure a ticket to one of this autumn's symphony concerts - before the opera season begins on 7 December.

Sunday

11am Late start

Brunch is becoming a Milan tradition and can be a good excuse to visit the swish international hotels that specialise in Sunday feasts. For something less grand and better value, choose one of the many café bars like So'Riso and Pulia.

3pm Walk in the Park

The city's green spaces are a pleasure to explore in autumn. Sempione park is by the city's Castello Sforzesco and is easily accessible. If you're happy to take the metro or a bus, then Milan's largest green space, Lambro park is a riverside park perfect for losing yourself in the mellow colours of autumn.

For further information, addresses and more inspiration, take a look at the Milan Insider Guide on page 36.