Italy’s most beautiful and famous cities tend to break the modern mould. Rome, Florence, Venice – they might be chaotic but they are also relaxed. They might have all the modern amenities, but they are not modernisers. In short, they are not the high-powered, constantly modernising metropolises that are speckled across Europe. But every country has one. Milan was the first Italian city I visited to follow this pattern. It is every bit the cosmopolitan, forward-thinking, ambitious city you would expect from Italy’s financial hub and one of the world’s fashion capitals. Think skyscrapers and stilettos.
I had been curious about Milan ever since I visited Italy for the first time over eight years ago. If I had to choose one word to describe the Italian lifestyle it would be effortless. Everything Italians do from fashion to food seems … well, effortless. Milan is unsurprisingly effortlessly glamorous but it is also full of energy and drive and from what I could tell, not exactly a relaxed city. It is bustling and faster paced than any other Italian city, including Rome, which I have visited. Coming from London which is one of the most intense, quick-paced and high-strung cities in the world, I felt right at home. In all honesty I did not spend very long in Milan, but neither did I need to.
Like any big city, there is plenty to see and do. But, if you only see one part of the city, it has to be the Piazza del Duomo. 350 feet of marble with 135 spires, Milan’s Duomo towers over the piazza. It is graceful and impressive if a little overdone. Stepping inside I was a bit overwhelmed by its size. The third largest cathedral in the world, it is cavernous inside. It certainly succeeds in making a person feel incredibly small. With its imposing gothic interior, the Duomo feels darker than most of the other Italian churches and cathedrals I have visited. Note to tourists: be careful how you dress – like many of Italy’s largest churches, shoulders and knees must be covered.
Facing the Duomo, on the left side of the piazza is the spectacular Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. One of the eighteenth century’s most beautiful arcades, it is enclosed in a high glass ceiling with some of the world’s most prestigious designers and high-end restaurants lining the ground floor – a source of temptation or torture depending on the size of your wallet. Essentially a large cross made up of two arcades, it is four stories and even houses a luxury hotel. A popular Instagram location, it is certainly recognisable. It is also full of tourists (myself included) craning their necks and raising their phones to try to get a decent photo. It was not an easy task. Unsurprisingly, the expensive shops were somewhat empty in comparison.
If I had to describe Milan in a word, it would be unsurprising. It is completely different to its sister cites, but also exactly what I expected. Stylish, artistic, modern, ambitious – it is easy to see why Milan is one of Italy’s most prestigious cities.
Top: Milan Duomo
Photography by Savannah and Deanna Hayes