From Yucatan to Milan
The Ian Drury song ‘Hit me with your Rhythm Stick’ and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico have precious little to do with my post today. However, if you go south east from the Yucatan, just a little way across the Caribbean Sea, you hit Venezuela, that insanely beautiful South American country, so blessed with natural resources and once so affluent, which is now a troubled civil war striven area of complete chaos and misery. This is where my oldest friend is from, the girl I have known since I was four years old, the person I have shared so many important watershed moments with, in fact, one could say, my spiritual twin. With more than four and a half thousand miles separating us, we do not see each other often but whenever we can, we grab every opportunity to nurture our friendship and enjoy each other’s company. ‘Je t’adore, ich liebe dich’ as the song goes. Luckily for me, one of my friend’s lovely daughters lives in Milan with her young family, so her trips to Italy help our efforts to meet. By plane, it is just a hop and a skip from London. Well known as the European capital of fashion and design, it is certainly no hardship to visit this city in the foothills of the Alps! ‘Das ist gut! C’est fantastique!’
My first challenge was a girly problem, how do you pack hand luggage for two and a half days in Milan with April temperatures fluctuating by twenty degrees, from 4 at night to 24 during the day? Coat and boots, T shirts and ballerinas all had to be squeezed in to cover every eventuality. I’d winkled out the ideal AirBnB accommodation, a room just three doors away from my friends’ home in a pretty residential area called Tricolore, barely two blocks from the centre, www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/16904375. In a secure modern building with an efficient lift, Francesco and Paola run a small commercial B&B operation in an attractive, airy apartment furnished in a traditional antiquey style. My room was spacious with a huge dressing room, a retro-smart, all pink bathroom and a small balcony overlooking the inner courtyard. What more could you ask for at £66 a night plus £16 service charge? Perfect!
Ah, and then the most wonderful and warmhearted reunion! And so we began our chattathon which lasted for the duration of my entire visit. There was so much to catch up on, important things and trivial things, all had to be chewed over, shared and discussed. I’ve never been a woman’s woman, I loathe large female only gatherings, hen nights, girly lunches or shopping sprees, all that sort of thing, but a really good girlfriend is a treasure. You simply can’t beat the understanding, the unconditional appreciation, engagement and respect that comes with years of knowing each other well, where the need to impress or compete simply does not exist.
The centre of Milan is compact and, not surprisingly, superbly well designed. While it may lack quite the historical importance and the ahs and oohs of Rome, Venice or Florence, it has its very own merits, combining the traditional with the super modern and boasting outstanding townscaping with innumerable independent boutiques, restaurants and cafes, most of which are not just well presented to the customer but carefully curated for the ultimate viewing pleasure. There are, of course, all the HQs of the famous Italian fashion designers: Pucci, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Miu Miu, you name it, all display their latest season’s clothes in veritable palaces, but it is really the smaller outfits that leave you marvelling at the thought and detail that have gone into them. You pass the shops and you want everything on offer! My limited hand luggage allowance saved me from bending the credit card double!
Four and a half hours of casual meandering in the sunshine took us from the historical Duomo, the Gothic Cathedral, the largest church in Italy, beating even St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City for size, and which took six centuries to complete, to the hip Puorta Nuova, the business district of Milan with its architecturally awesome ultra modern skyscrapers, with plenty of stops inbetween.
A salad lunch at a sunny pavement table at Ristorante New Art on the very happening Via Brera, in the Design District of Brera, an espresso and a fruit tartlet at Contro Buffet on the Via Solferino, more coffee and plenty of people watching at the trendy Café Princi, a Milanese institution and favourite haunt of Italian stars and footballers, which, incidentally, also has an outlet in Soho, London, all provided not only sustenance but bucket loads of prime Milanese atmosphere.
Arguably, one of the most outstanding must sees in Milan is 10 Corso Como. Hidden away in a small passage is this small dining, fashion and gallery complex, an ode to creativity with major Wow effect. To quote its website:
‘Former fashion editor and publisher, Carla Sozzani, conceived 10 Corso Como as a virtual narrative using the gallery and bookshop as its core. Sozzani has structured a living magazine where editorial choices in food and fashion, music and art and lifestyle and design are constantly made by the visitor and customer as they engage across so many arenas of interest.’
This concept shop adds a whole new dimension to viewing, shopping and buying. No matter where your eye comes to rest, there is always something fabulous or fascinating to behold, and it sheer blows your breath away.
Italian American food complex Eataly on Piazza XXV Aprile, housed in the former Teatro Smeralda, is a cult destinations for foodies. Over four floors the very best of Italian produce is showcased, along with 19 restaurants, some of which are Michelin starred. Once again, presentation and content are quite mind blowing.
Milan just has a very particular vibe, it’s cool, it’s highly sophisticated, chic and sleek and yet, at the same time, also cosy and small and, somehow, perfectly normal, in the sense that there is nothing remotely intimidating about all its impressive credentials. The artistry and edgy concepts are just seamlessly webbed into the everyday life of the city, without being achingly apparent or clamouring for praise.
Milan has the most Michelin starred restaurants in Italy, sixteen to be precise, but in this magical land of sunripened fruit and vegetables, of best quality olive oil, of indigenous pizza and pasta, Osso Bucco and minestrone, who would need to eat at a fancy restaurant? All this deliciousness is prepared just as well by Mama, Nonna or in your local corner enoteca, so why on earth bother? Che sciocchezza!
La Cantina di Manuela on the Via Carlo Poerio, a short saunter from our respective abodes, is a welcoming neighbourhood enoteca restaurant with a warm ambience, a tempting menu and a great wine list. For me, predictably, it was always going to be pasta. Nothing beats home made Italian pasta cooked exactly right. It’s just a whole different eating experience to even the best pasta elsewhere. This time, I chose a simple but completely divine Spinach Spaghetti with small chopped pieces of herby cod and fresh juicy tomatoes on top. My companions ordered Tagliata with Roast Vegetables and Lamb with Baked Potato and Spinach, respectively. Without exception, it was all fresh, tasty and quite, quite wonderful! Afterwards, we shared two desserts, a delicate Millefeuille with a light, vanillary Crème Anglaise sandwiched between the flakiest flakey pastry with fresh Strawberries and a traditional Tiramisu, creamy and coffee infused. I must confess that we gobbled them up so enthusiastically that my photos can only show the very last remaining bites. The bill for four people including water, wine and coffees came to a very reasonable €127 or €31.75 per head.
The Milan adventure wasn’t quite over yet, thankfully. Day Two of my visit took me to the area of Navigli, where five interconnecting canals were once much like those of Venice. Back in the 12th century, they were constructed to transport precious building materials for the Duomo from the lakes such as Garda and Como, nearby. Legend has it that Leonardo da Vinci helped to improve the renovation of the canals in the late 15th century when he was here to paint his famous ‘Last Supper’ for the Duke of Milan. These days, the focus is all around the two remaining canals, the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, which run through what is not only one of the most historic areas of Milan, but also a popular destination for galleries, restaurants and nightlife. I should, of course, have had much more of a mooch about than I did, and perhaps a little boat ride along the canal, but the brevity of our time together, the exertions of the previous day and our need to put the world to rights over copious amounts of coffee got the better of me. Instead, we hunkered down most comfortably at The Yard.
Now The Yard, here’s another super funky place with tons of unusual visual impact. It’s actually a boutique suite hotel overlooking the Naviglio Grande, and definitely earmarked by me for staying here next time I come to Milan with the Lovely Husband. You enter it via a vast conservatory type lounge and dining room which continues on to be a bar and the fact that it is a hotel might easily escape you. The whole sprawling space is chock-a-block full of eccentric English antiques and vintage paraphernalia but, and once again I must use the word, curated to look completely fascinating. It seems to tell a story wherever you look. The silver gleams, the huge velvet sofas and arm chairs invite you to lounge about and, interspersed here and there are highly polished long mahogany dining tables, laid as they could be in a stately home, in case you fancy a bite. There are old fashioned hat mannequins, old globes, golf clubs and cricket bats, vintage barber’s chairs, old style trunks and suitcases, knick knacks, crystal, lace collars, bowler hats, a multitude of crazy items all put together to create an enchanting ambience.
The daytime menu is short and features a few salads, sandwiches, cake, ice cream, fresh juices, hot drinks, soft drinks, alcohol and an ‘Afternoon Tea’ which is absolutely nothing like a classic afternoon tea but jolly nice all the same. Portions and fillings are extremely generous and we had to take a doggy bag home with us.
Another evening, another feast. This time at home ‘in famiglia’. I will not divulge where you might find this private residence that serves the most exquisite food, let’s just say that Juanco’s yummy aperitivo, Carolina’s perfectly cooked, newly harvested, flavoursome white asparagus with a honey and olive oil dressing and Fabiana’s freshly handmade, palm sized ravioli stuffed with ricotta, herbs and lemon made my tastebuds sing with joy. All of this was crowned by a spicy chilli chocolate ice cream beside a creamy pistachio one from Milan’s best artisan gelateria. This meal alone, surrounded by people I value and adore, the conversation stimulating, the candle light mellow, was reason enough for me to have made the trip to Milan.
My flying visit had come to an end and the time for a farewell had come. A final cup of tea and biscuit at the delightful conservatory café of the Villa Necchi Campiglio, an architectural masterpiece of the 1930s, complete with tennis court and swimming pool, once a private residence and now a small museum of decorative arts, and then my taxi sped me away to Linate airport.
First and foremost, it was the company I kept but also the food, the beauty, the vibe, the sheer fabulousness of this amazingly alive city that enthralled me from start to finish. There’s no doubt that I will return. Milan you’ve hit me with your rhythm stick and rocked my socks off!
Dear Readers, I’d be delighted to find out more about you, so please feel invited to leave a comment below or just say ‘hello’. If you enjoy reading my blog, please like, share and follow it. Thank you!