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Milan is often overlooked in favor of flashier Italian hubs like Florence, Venice and Rome, but it shouldn’t be. Thanks to the nifty combination of a strong US dollar and a weaker-than-usual euro, now is a great time to visit Italy, especially Milan, a gorgeous city with many hidden secrets. TPG Contributor Lori Zaino explores what’s new and up-and-coming in Milan and offers her best hotel and travel suggestions. (All photos by the author except where specified.)
Thanks to its trendy neighborhoods, kitschy vintage shops, creative street art and delicious cuisine, Milan is a truly charismatic city that deserves to be on your travel radar. Here’s why everyone’s buzzing about this gorgeous Italian city and why you should plan a visit this year.
1. The Trendy Navigli District
Milan is a city with canals just like Venice or Amsterdam, however, many travelers visit and never even set foot in the Navigli (or Canal) district, which is becoming more and more hip each day. This area of town is easily accessible from the city center by tram, metro (Milano Porto Genova on the green line is the closest stop), bike or on foot. There are often markets set up along the canals and you can wander in and out of the many vintage and artisan shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques, coffee joints, gelato spots and restaurants.
The Navigli neighborhood is quirky and original, so make sure to check out the local street art and hidden courtyards inside the canal-lined buildings. Must-dos in the Navigli area include eating innovative Italian cuisine at 28 Posti, wining it up at Enoteca Don Pietro and grabbing a cappuccino to recover the next morning at Mag Café.
Shopping addicts shouldn’t bother with the crowded chain designer shops on Via Montenapoleone (really, there’s a Gucci in every city). Instead, wander over the railway bridge down Via Tortona for an excess of boutiques and shops featuring unique, authentic items like Italian leather wallets and handcrafted jewelry. If vintage shops or shoe stores are your thing, start with a stroll up Corso di Porta Ticinese and shop your way back up to the city center.
If it’s nightlife you’re after, the Navigli neighborhood won’t disappoint. The bars come alive as the sun sets, especially along the smaller canal, Naviglio Pavese.
2. The Food
While all of Italy offers incredible culinary delights, Milan has a beautiful selection of traditional and modern cuisine that will satisfy any palate. Start by sampling hearty meats and flavorful cheeses at Eataly Milano Smeraldo, a modern gourmet market located in the popular Corso Como district. The soft burrata cheese and the cured speck are specialties, while the market’s bustling, vibrant atmosphere is molto Italiano. The best part: You can even pick up some gourmet items to take home with you.
If it’s pizza you crave, Da Rita e Antonio offers a more traditional Italian dining experience with home-cooked flavors, whereas DRY has more creative options like its pizza margarita topped with juicy Sicilian pulled pork. Da Giacomo will blow you away with pricey but delicious seafood offerings (try the mussels), while Segheria offers a stylish ambiance and seasonal tasting menus.
When in doubt, kick back at almost any bar or restaurant with a cappuccino or an Aperol Spritz, a deliciously bitter aperitif cocktail. If you happen to be watching your weight, try a somewhat healthier arugula salad with Parmesan cheese, found at just about any restaurant in the city.
3. The Bike Culture
More and more people are using bicycles as a mode of transportation in Milan, and not just any old bikes — vintage aluminum roadies. Thanks to a mild climate and relatively flat terrain, both locals and tourists can enjoy biking year-round.
The popularity of Milan’s BikeMi bike-sharing system is growing quickly. In fact, in 2012, bikes actually outsold cars in Italy for the first time since WWII and have been growing in popularity ever since, especially in larger cities like Milan. What does this mean for visitors? Increased options for renting and touring the city by bike and cleaner air thanks to less car traffic. Plus, the vintage road bikes add to Milan’s already ultra-cool vibe.
Many rental spots like Milano Bike Renting offer classic Italian Cinelli road bikes and guided tours. You can also opt for a half-day guided tour of the city with Bike My Milan. Whichever you choose, enjoying Italy’s fashion capital by bike is loads of fun, and you’ll fit right in. Just remember that the locals always look stylish on their bikes, so don’t hesitate to pedal in a designer suit or sport a trendy accessory like a wide-brimmed hat, leather backpack or even a Yorkshire Terrier in your bike’s basket.
4. The Sexy Hotels
Points: Milan has some seriously stunning hotels — some of which you can book using rewards points and airline miles. The Park Hyatt Milan is within a five-minute walk from both the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Room rates start at about 468 euros (~$505) in January or 30,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night. The Starwood Category 5 Westin Palace Milan is located midway between the Milano Centrale train station and the Duomo. Room rates start at about 240 euros (~$267) in February or 12,000 Starpoints per night.
Fashion: If you’re looking to go the boutique route, the Armani Hotel Milano is a sophisticated and luxurious option. Room rates start at about 400 euros (~$437) per night in January and February. The Bulgari Hotel Milan, another lavish spot, is housed in an 18th-century Milanese palazzo and filled with green courtyards. Room rates start at about 580 euros (~$634) per night in February.
Most Buzzed-About: Everyone seems to be talking about the Palazzo Parigi Hotel. Outfitted by French interior designer Pierre Yves Rochon, this Milan-meets-Paris style hotel is dripping in luxury — think Murano chandeliers, marble staircases and an abundance of antique art. Room rates start at about 400 euros (~$437) per night.
5. It’s Easily Accessible From The US
2016 is a great time to visit Milan as hotel prices are down and availability is back on track now that Expo Milano is over. Plus, the euro is still pretty weak and your money (USD) will stretch just a bit further in Europe at the moment. Start planning your trip soon and head over during the springtime for the best weather, especially for biking.
Flying to Milan has never been easier. In fact, there seem to be airfare deals almost monthly with amazingly cheap offers to fly from the US. If you want to use airline miles and rewards points, you can do what TPG did this past summer and use Alaska Mileage Plan miles to fly first class on Emirates. A one-way first-class award ticket between the US and Europe on Emirates costs 100,000 miles, and TPG only ended up paying $48.50 out of pocket in taxes and fees.
If your JAL Mileage Bank account is bursting at the seams, you can also redeem 100,000 miles for a round-trip first-class ticket to Europe on a Oneworld airline. JAL is also a 1:1 transfer partner with Starwood, so if you apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express and spend $5,000 in the first three months, you’ll receive 25,000 Starpoints —that’s about a quarter of the way toward a round-trip first-class ticket.
United Airlines flies to Milan’s Malpensa International Airport (MXP) from Newark (EWR), and one-way awards at the saver level start at 30,000 in economy class, 57,500 in business class and 80,000 in first class. Arrive in Milan on American Airlines (via MXP) from Miami (MIA) using Net SAAver or off-peak awards for just 20,000-30,000 AAdvantage miles in economy class, 50,000 in business class or 62,000 in first class each way. (Please note that some of these rates may vary starting March 22, 2016, when the AAdvantage program’s latest changes go into effect.) Alitalia is a SkyTeam Alliance member and flies to Milan (via MXP) from JFK, and you may be able to find some one-way business class fares on Delta.com to fly Alitalia for 100,000 each way like TPG did a few years back.
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