Home to luxury labels such as Prada, Versace and Armani, Milan regards itself as not only the fashion and design capital of Italy, but also the world.
This city of 1.3 million in Lombardy fizzes with energy. Rome may be revered and Florence feted, but it’s this spirited northern powerhouse that dominates Italy’s commercial and cultural life.
It’s perfect for a city break.
Call of the cathedral: Milan is dominated by the epic space of the Piazza del Duomo
WHEN TO GO: All year round. But it’s lovely in spring. Both British Airways and Flybe launch extra flights this season: BA will fly from London City (from April 24) and Stansted (April 29) to Linate, Milan’s most convenient airport, from £45 each way (ba.com). Flybe will fly from Southend to Malpensa from May from £39.99, (flybe.com).
FASHION FLAIR: Designer Giorgio Armani, once a medical student in Milan, is lauded as the unofficial patron saint of shopping. As well as the boutiques of Quadrilatero d’Oro, find time for 10 Corso Como, in the Brera district. The store celebrates fashion, art, and great espresso (10corsocomo.com).
WHERE TO STAY: On the luxury side, the Mandarin Oriental is well placed for sightseeing and shopping.
From its location on Via Andegari, it’s no more than five minutes’ walk to the historic centre. Rooms from £463 a night (mandarinoriental.com).
The most stylish suite is the Milano, at £5,562 (€6,500) a night, with original furniture by 20th century artist Piero Fornasetti.
For the rest of us, the Montenapoleone Suites hotel offers a central location and excellent value. Recently refurbished, rooms start from £150 a night (montenapoleonesuites.com).
OUT AND ABOUT: The city is compact enough to explore on foot: starting from Piazza del Duomo, marvel at the white marble facade of the landmark cathedral, which has more than 2,000 marble saints, 135 spires and 95 gargoyles.
Take the lift that whizzes you up 354ft to the roof terraces where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Matterhorn. You’ll also be close to the golden Madonnina, the statue of the Virgin Mary that sits atop the main cathedral spire.
After the Duomo, cut through the elegant glass-roofed shopping arcade, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and find yourself outside La Scala, Italy’s greatest opera house. Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena are in repertory this season (teatroallascala.org).
Lock up your credit cards: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of Europe’s greatest malls
SUPPER TIME: Leonardo Da Vinci painted The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo) on the refectory wall of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, between 1495 and 1497.
Like the city itself, conquered by successive French, Spanish and Austrian armies, it has suffered assaults on its dignity. In the 17th century, a rectangle was cut in the bottom of the painting to make a door to the kitchen; later Napoleon’s cavalry used the room as a stable.
None of these insults, however, diminish its power to move. Tickets from £10 (vivaticket.it).
ART ON TAP: The next stop for art pilgrims is the splendid Pinacoteca di Brera, home to Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio and Bellini.
That the gallery boasts so many masterpieces is thanks to Napoleon, who created his own mini-Louvre by plundering art from all over northern Italy.
It’s possible to take in its highlights in an hour, but do linger in front of Mantegna’s Dead Christ, one of Italy’s most famous paintings (pinacotecabrera.org).
Beauty on tap: The Milan skyline is made all the more dramatic by its Alpine backdrop
WHERE TO EAT: Milan is the spiritual home of ladies who lunch. Unlike their New York counterparts, these women love to eat and haunt the Mandarin Bar and Bistrot.
The historic Peck in Via Spadari, near the Duomo, is a delicatessen-cum-restaurant serving creamy saffron risotto for £15 (peck.it). For delicious home cooking, the Ristorante San Tomaso, near Piazza Carmine, has main courses from £8, (ristorantesantomaso.it).
DRINK UP: The Milanese excel at pre-dinner drinks — aperitivo with stuzzichini (nibbles). For pure glamour, head south of the city to The Prada Foundation.
The fashion house converted a former distillery into the swankiest of museums. You can tour the galleries before hitting Bar Luce, designed in retro style by film director Wes Anderson.
For a great view of the city, visit Il Bar atop La Rinascente department store. Arrive before sunset and watch the Duomo’s Gothic facade turn from white to pink then orange.