Posted by Jo Blair on 16th Sept 2019 -- Read Time: 4 minutes
Milan – an art lover’s dream
As Italy’s second city, Milan’s reputation as an economic powerhouse and a hub for fashion and design is inescapable. Heavily developed during the post-war period, the city is associated with modernity and rationalist architecture. Its status as a centre for business and finance is reiterated by the fast pace of life; and its dynamic, sophisticated citizens enjoy the high-end restaurants and the vibrant music scene on offer in the city.
A city of galleries
However, there is another side to this reputation: Milan is also a true heavyweight in the art stakes. With an artistic heritage stretching back to the Renaissance period, the city offers an impossibly vast array of collections, rich with fine art as well as more contemporary works. Milan’s most famous gallery is the prestigious Pinacoteca di Brera, located in an elegant palazzo in the characterful Brera district. Situated next to the Academy of Fine Arts, the collection spans from the 14th to the 20th centuries, but is particularly known for its representation of the Italian Renaissance period. Included amongst its celebrated masterpieces are works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Tintoretto and Mantegna. Another key museum in Milan is the Museo del Novecento, an exceptional exhibit of 20th century works. As I was only in the city for 24 hours, I didn’t have time on this occasion to explore these wonderful collections – but I must go back for another visit in order to do them justice!
Wearing its art on its sleeve
I explored Milan on a guided walking tour, and was amazed by the sheer amount of art and architecture within the relatively small city centre. It was really easy to get around to see it all, and the streets were not too noisy or busy. We stopped at the imposing Sforza Castle, a surprising fortress which shelters several galleries and museums. Within the complex there are decorations by da Vinci, Michaelangelo’s last sculpture, and paintings by Canaletto and Titian.
In addition to the incredible selection of galleries on offer however, Milan’s streets are also woven with all forms of art – a reflection of the city’s sense of creativity. The Duomo di Milan was just a short walk away from Sforza Castle. This impressive cathedral spikes into the skyline in a striking vision of Gothic turrets; with a filigree frontage, it took an astounding 600 years to complete. Again within walking distance, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is yet another icon of the city. The oldest shopping arcade in Italy, it was built in the 19th century and has an elegant glass roof above the designer shops and lavish restaurants inside.
La Scala is the destination for an art form all of its own: classical opera. As part of our tour we explored the inside of this historic opera house, and it was amazing to walk the halls where the compositions of Verdi and Puccini were first performed.
As in the whole of Italy, art is not limited to galleries: its churches are often treasure troves, too. My personal highlight was seeing da Vinci’s Last Supper, which adjoined to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. I’d always wanted to see this incredible mural, and the fact that it’s still in its original position made it really quite special. Hearing about the history of one the most famous pieces of art in the world whilst seeing it in the flesh was a truly memorable experience.
The art of good food
Another form of art in Italy? Well, that has to be its food! One of the great pleasures of visiting this country is the Italian ‘art’ of enjoying food and drink, and even workaholic Milan is no different. My visit was during the very hot month of July (we recommend April or October for our groups, for more temperate weather!) so it was a pleasure to do as the Milanese do and stop for an icy granita, a sparkling Franciacorta wine, or a cooling Aperol spritz…
I was keen to try the dishes typical of the region, and I wasn’t disappointed. I particularly enjoyed the delicious, meaty mondeghili (known as polpette or meatballs outside of Milan) and the creamy, golden saffron risotto, but my favourite was a dish from the neighbouring region of Piedmont – vitello tonnato. This opulent dish of cooled, sliced veal dressed with a rich, creamy sauce of capers and tuna was amazing, and a delight in hot weather.
My first visit to Milan really changed my perspective on the city. It was not as busy, hectic or industrial as I’d expected at all, and is in fact a perfect cultural destination with a wealth of art, history and architecture. I thought it would have fewer historical areas and look much more modern, but it was actually a fabulous mix of both and I liked it much more than I’d anticipated.