With something almost Northern European in the air, yet exuding Italian style, Milan is Italy's most cosmopolitan city. Situated on the flat plains of the Po Valley, the capital of Lombardy is both hardworking and glamorous - powerful in businesses from finance to fashion and, of course, football.
But what gives Milan its certain something is its status as the epicentre of Italian fashion and interior design. International fashionistas, designers, supermodels and paparazzi descend upon the city twice a year for its spring and autumn fairs. Valentino, Versace and Armani may design and manufacture their clothes elsewhere, but Milan, which has carefully guarded its reputation for flair, drama and creativity, is Italy's natural stage. This is certainly one of the best places in Italy to shop, or windowshop.
Apart from fashion, many large national banks and companies are headquartered here whilst the automobile, media,
telecommunications and internet sectors have a significant presence too. Milan is the main industrial, commercial and financial centre of Italy and as such, is unsurprisingly business-like in appearance.
In fact, despite its fashion credentials, the city is not as visually pleasing as Rome, Venice or Florence. At first glance, it lacks the wow factor; many buildings are grey, some are quite stark and there appears to be very little green space despite the fact there are many parks in the city. Visitors have to take time and be determined to explore Milan’s streets in order to access its aesthetically appealing gems – and they do exist. Cut through the modern metropolitan bustle, and you will stumble across impressive churches and palaces, the pretty Navigli area, the chic Brera district and lively university quarter.
Among the most notable landmarks are the Duomo, a Gothic masterpiece (one of the biggest of its kind in the world) that looks vaguely threatening when illuminated at night; La Scala, the opera house with an illustrious history and reputation; Castello Sforzesco, a grand medieval castle; Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, an ancient and glamorous arcaded shopping gallery and in a nod to art, the city is impressively home to Leonardo da Vinci's 15th century masterpiece The Last Supper.
However, things are about to change – and quite drastically. In a bid to beautify the city, former industrial areas have been ear marked for major urban renewal schemes. The Citylife project in the old Fiera area will create a new neighbourhood of homes, a park, a contemporary art museum and a trio of futuristic skyscrapers (one of them will boast an ambitious twisting design) that are set to be finished in 2015, the year Milan hosts the Expo.
Apart from these new attributes, Milan cannot be faulted when it comes to having a good time. The Milanese know how to party – and they don’t waste time getting started. Nightlife tends to kick off at 6pm; enjoying an aperitivo in which locals unwind with post-work drinks and nibbles before heading home is the rule rather than exception.
So whether you’re looking for cut-price fashion, an alternative city break or a chance to paint the town red, Milan has undoubtedly got it covered.