A shopper’s guide to Milan
This is my first visit to Milan but it only takes me one day to realise that in this city, shopping could qualify as an Olympic sport.
It’s not just the endless variety of boutiques. Or the fact that you can shop your little heart out tax-free (did someone say cash back …? Yes please!). Here, in one of the fashion capitals of the world, it’s more about an attitude. They treat shopping with respect. It’s almost as if shopping is considered an “art form”.
The pretty cobblestone streets of Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone are fashionista shopping heaven – home to all the famous Italian brands (Fendi, Prada, Versace, Armani, Cavalli) with incredibly glamorous multi-level stores.
I have my first “moment” on Via Spiga. I’m drawn to the Dolce & Gabbana store by the completely O.T.T. window display – a Christmas feast verging on almost obscenely opulent proportions. This store is the heart, soul and home of the famous brand – with every square metre caressing racks of exquisite clothing and any object you could possibly purchase with a D and a G on the label.
The store even has its own maid, dressed in the traditional black and white, dusting shelves and serving coffee. I’m so in awe, I’m compelled to buy something … anything. And even though I end up buying the cheapest thing I can find – a bottle of 23 Euro nail polish – it’s taken away, gift wrapped and presented to me as if I’d spent thousands. The Milanese love to celebrate the “art” of the “shop”.
I had heard that Milanese shopping assistants are selective about who they consider worth serving, fawning over wealthy Russian and Chinese women accompanied by assistants carrying their bags, and ignoring everyone else. However, I stumble into D&G during my morning stroll wearing my walking clothes, ugg boots and no makeup (and certainly no assistant carrying my water bottle) and I’m treated like a valued customer.
From the splendiferous to the ridiculous, check out Milliner Alan Journo on Via Spiga. Sure, the word Milliner has it’s origin in the city’s name but I’m not sure that justifies the 3000 Euro price tags for the hats and fascinators on display! I’m sure Journo considers it the height of head couture, but why any woman would want to wear a beanie with a veil to the races is beyond me?
If you like designer labels without the pricey tag, you’ll love the DMagazine Outlet on Manzoni in central Milan. If you’re prepared to elbow your way through the racks, you’ll find a fabulous selection of designers at seriously reduced prices … Herve Leger, Givenchy, Roland Mouret, Chloe, Gucci, Dior.
If you love a bargain, you should visit one of the nearby Outlet Malls. I chose Europe’s biggest outlet centre, Serraville – about an hour’s drive from Milan. There aren’t as many brands as I find at the American Designer Outlet Malls but on the plus side, there is extra stock at the famous European labels like Prada, Armani, Gucci and Burberry.
You can pay homage to the art of shopping at one of world’s oldest shopping malls. With its enormous glass dome, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in central Milan is worth seeing by day and night for both the shops AND the photos ops. Prada’s flagship store is here and there’s a really great affordable Italian brand called Stefanel where they give you sparkling wine as you browse in the store after 6pm.
You’ll find Italy’s most elegant department store, La Rinascente in central Milan – with ten levels of fashion and heaps of great brands you won’t find at Myer or DJ’s. There’s a wonderful food court on the top floor with ah-may-zing coffee and speccy views overlooking Milan’s most famous landmark – The Duomo (grab a table on the terrace if you can).
If you’re after a little culture to break up the shopping, Milan has a couple of absolute stunners!
The “Duomo di Milano” is a 14th century gothic cathedral with strikingly beautiful spires and apparently more statues than any other building in the world. It’s free to look inside but you can pay a few euros and walk on the rooftop. You can catch a lift or burn off that pasta you had the night before and walk the 250 stairs to the top. The views are bellisimo!
The other Milan must-see is “The Last Supper”, which you can view at the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Whilst a viewing of the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre in Paris is often considered a little underwhelming, the beauty of “The Last Supper” in all its glory is completely overwhelming. The moment I lay eyes upon Da Vinci’s finest fresco literally brings me to tears. In an effort to minimise exposure to dust and pollution, only 30 people are allowed to view it every 15 minutes. Some websites warn you to book tickets months in advance but I manage to call and score tickets the day before.
Where to stay
If you want to save your pennies for shopping, stay at the Hotel Mercure Milano at Piazza Oberdan. Recently renovated and really reasonably priced, the rooms are clean and stylish (and there’s enough room for that extra suitcase you’ll no doubt have to buy to fit in all your shopping). It’s in a fantastic location – within easy walking distance to all the great shopping and The Duomo. And there’s a subway station right at the front door to take you anywhere you want to go!
This was my first visit to Milan and it certainly won’t be my last. If you’re a shopaholic and you’re serious about your craft, Milan will not disappoint!
Where to eat
The other thing that will rock your world in Milan is the food.
For something traditional, try the cozy family run Antica Trattoria Della Pesa – famous for their Osso Bucco and their Milanese Risotto (which I discovered is risotto with saffron, onion and LOTS of butter.) If you’re super hungry, order the schnitzel. I saw four grown men dividing up one schnitzel to share. It’s THAT big.
For a local feel, try Nobu in the super posh Armani Hotel. You’ll get plenty of attitude from the staff and you’ll leave smelling like an ashtray but the food is fun and the people-watching is fabulous. It’s not pleasant to have people puffing away at the next table while you’re trying to enjoy your “Selezione di Sashimi”, but that’s the norm here.
Acanto Restaurant in the 5 star Hotel Principe di Savoia is a little pricey but the classic Italian cuisine is guaranteed to give you multiple food orgasms. There’s an exquisite wine list to match and this is the only restaurant in the world where my handbag was given its own “seat” at the table. Respect.
If you’ve spent too much in the shops you could always just fill up during “Aperitivo”. Milan is the capital of Happy Hour snacking. Plenty of bars offer free food between 6-8pm – everything from bruschetta and pizza to olives and octopus – just sitting there in platters on the bar … FREE! Competition between bars is fierce, so they all try and out-do one another on the food front in an effort to lure you in.