1. Feast your eyes on the Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie is arguably the greatest painting of the Renaissance, capturing the dramatic moment at which Jesus reveals one of his disciples will betray him. It’s so realistic that you can imagine the shock, amazement and hostility of the religious followers. The work is testament to a troubled history. Paint started peeling away in Renaissance times, when the wall was used for target practice. In the 19th century it was a backdrop to the French invasion and nearly got destroyed in the Second World War. It’s a miracle that it has survived. But thanks to a restoration the fresco can now be seen in full colour. Make sure that you reserve a timed, 15-minute slot in which to visit the masterpiece.
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2. Scale the Duomo
The Duomo of Milan is an amazing sight. Stretching up high above the piazza del Duomo, it’s the third largest church in Christendom. A staggering 3,500 statues and 135 spires adorn the marble structure, which has a Baroque and neo-Gothic façade, as well as five bronze doors carved by different artists. It’s no wonder that it took 500 years to complete and building work continues today. To appreciate this beautiful cathedral in all its glory, take the lift to the roof, from where you to get a breathtaking view of the Alps on a clear day.
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3. Bag the latest styles at the Rectangle of Gold
Milan is a haute couture powerhouse, where fashions jump from catwalk to clothes rail in weeks. But unlike the sprawling district in Paris, Milan’s boutiques fit into one square, bordered by via della Spiga, via Manzoni, via Sant’Andrea and via Montenapoleone: the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Rectangle of Gold). Designer named stores include Armani, Chanel, Missoni, Prada and Versace. Even if the price tags are out of your budget, you can spend many a happy hour admiring the window displays. And if you can only just afford €500 on a pair of Miu Miu boots, rest assured: the shopkeepers will gladly accept plastic.
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4. Explore the labyrinthine Castello Sforzesco
With 12 mini-museums and vast archives running all the way from Palaeolithic history through to 1950s furniture, Castello Sforzesco really needs an entire day. During the 15th century, it was home to the aristocratic court of Ludovico ‘il Moro’ Sforza, patron of Leonardo da Vinci, but fell into decline under French rule until it was restored with the help of architect Luca Beltrami. You can see the results in the 20th century recreation of the Renaissance tower above the façade. Museum highlights include the Museo d’Arte e Scienza, with displays on Da Vinci’s life; the Palazzo d’Arte, a fantastic showcase for design that was once home to the Triennale; the Pinacoteca di Castello, a gallery of luminous early Renaissance works by Bellini and Mantegna; and Civiche Raccolte d’Arte Antica, a sculpture gallery.
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5. Have a Venice experience in Milan
It may not be Venice, but Milan is still a city of canals and a quiet cruise on its still waters throws light on historic gems. Navigli Lombardi (www.naviglilombardi.it) organises a tour that takes in the ancient washhouses of vicolo dei Lavandai and San Cristoforo, the Scodellino bridge and the old Darsena port. Built in 1603, this port sits at the confluence of two canals linking Milan with the Ticino and Po rivers, and now hosts a sedate trade of riverside shopping, dining and drinking. As the canal stretches across the city, you’ll find boutiques, antiques restorers, bookstores and nightspots lining the banks and side streets. Navigli Lombardi runs full days out in June and July, with return transport to Gaggiano, lunch and afternoon bike hire (€45). Tickets can be bought at Studio Mitti, an artist’s shop opposite the boat’s dock, by telephone or on board.
6. Savour the flavours of Milanese cuisine
Milanese restaurants serve the most varied of all Italy’s regional cuisines. Here you’ll find creamy pasta, dairy and meat products, alongside international foods such as maki and curry. Our top pick for sampling Milanese food is Antica Trattoria della Pesa. Located in a 19th-century weigh station, it has a cosy ambience and some of the finest funghi porcini pasta in the city; the generous Costoletta alla Milanese (breaded veal) barely fits onto its serving plate. Any deviations from tradition will be strongly discouraged, including the sacrilegious squeezing of lemon juice on to your cutlet.
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7. Relax to the max at Milan’s spas
Pulled a muscle in your shopping marathon? No sweat: one of Milan’s spas will have a special treatment for you. Fashionistas should head for the Aveda-based Lepri, a salon and spa owned by the gregarious Fabrizio Lepri, a sought-after hairstylist. Another option is the Bulgari Hotel, which offers a serene sanctuary with a stone and gold-mosaic swimming pool and ESPA at Gianfranco Ferré, a small but perfectly formed spa inside a designer boutique. For something hot and steamy, try Hammam della Rosa, where you can follow a circuit of varying temperatures, rooms and plunge pools. And if you fancy going back in time, visit the Terme Milano, situated in a restored art deco palazzo. A day pass gives you access to steambaths, saunas and open-air pools. Slip on a swimsuit and dive in.