Milan is known as Italy’s fashion, shopping and finance capital. It’s so much more than that, but over a weekend it can be hard to scratch beneath its glittering surface and experience more than the unmissable stuff – Leonardo’s Last Supper, the Galleria shopping mall, Duomo and La Scala. And that gelato for that Instagram post.
Having ticked off all but La Scala on my first visit, I was keen this year to explore what else Milan has to offer, letting friends who live there show me its more authentic side, and surrounds.
First thing to know is that the Milanese love Monza, 15km outside of Milan. Famous for its Grand Prix, it’s also a gem of wonderful eateries and bars, with a picturesque duomo of its own, a modern-meets-medieval vibe and the lovely Seveso river winding through it.
After wandering its beautiful streets, take the ceremony of aperitivo seriously and head to Turnè for as much pasta, antipasti and chichetti (small plates) as you can manage, all free when you buy drinks.
Hosteria L’angolo del Beato, a Sardinian family restaurant in Monza, served up one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy – speared meat cooked on an open grill and glistening antipasti that bowled over even our native Milanese friend. Pastas in gorgeous sauces of wild boar and fragrant fennel sausage, all paired with an expertly chosen Sardinian red wine. It was hands down phenomenal.
The neighbourhood of Lissone may not make Milan’s front row any time soon but it’s got some of the best brioche and cappucino breakfast joints in town. Falconieri offers theirs for a steal at €1.50, while at My Cake Café try a huge pistachio brioche. Don’t let the name confuse you, they are more like croissants, but with added sugar and mess.
It’s pretty hard to avoid the tourist crowds at lunchtime in the centre of Milan but Hosteria Della Musica is peaceful, with a mix of locals and good service. I had the perfect Risotto Milanese, oozing with saffron, cream and cheese. Or at lunch you can sneak in to Napoli pizzerias like Maruzzella, normally crowded at dinner.
April might seem too late for a spot of skiing but at Piani di Bobbio, with discounts on lift passes and ski rental, you can still have an enjoyable afternoon in the sunshine (skiing past cowpats), costing only €32.50.
Good clubs, if you don’t pay to get in, can seem hard to find. Atomic is everyone’s go-to, but it’s currently closed at the time of writing. If you have the willpower to wait for late-running Milanese clubbers to crowd in for better atmosphere, Q21 is fun, or if you prefer to headbang to your music, try Rock’n’Roll.
Venues like Bar Frida could be straight out of east London, except they’re cooler, more laidback. Bar Frida has a sort of jungle-warehouse look about it, and as you get in many Italian bars, you pay for what you want with a cashier, then bartenders make your drinks, which I guess works. Get a Campari spritz with Prosecco for €5.
Before you leave Milan, don’t forget to stock up on some Lombardy produce from popular supermarket Esselunga. Make a beeline for air-dried Brasaola beef, the genuine article is only made nearby in the mountains.