Milano’s Renaissance

I have wanted to write about Milano for a long time.

I always had mixed feelings towards the city and, at first, these feelings were not exactly positive. When I moved here from London back in 2005 the “city” seemed to me like nothing but a small town, with a stagnant economy, closed-minded social circles, a fairly limited cultural scene and a narrowly focused regional cuisine.

Don’t get me wrong, from a quality of life perspective the move was a massive upgrade, as I enjoyed much cheaper cost of living, incredibly good weather, fine food, the possibility to travel to the Alps or Cinque Terre in a blink and, last but not least, being closer to my family.

However, I lacked choice and possibilities. In London I had access to everything I could possibly want: theaters, concerts, art galleries, museums, parks, restaurants, clubs, sports… you name it. Just a little planning and half an hour of hassle on the Tube to get there, but that was about it.

In Milan at the time there were zero theatres offering musicals.

Let me repeat this: zero.

Closed theatre

Then came “the couples”… a couple of venues with live music, a couple of museums, a couple of parks. It took you probably a couple of weekends to experience what the city had to offer, mostly high-end shopping and good restaurants.

The food was excellent, mind you, but still limited to a few staples of Milanese cuisine: cutlet, risotto, ravioli, polenta, stews, you know the drill… If you wanted to experience Indian, Thai or Japanese cuisine you had to go find it, like really looking for it. Forget about everything else.

It was mostly a place to work, a place to do business. No wonder everybody fled the city on weekends and in the summer to go somewhere else. August in Milan looked like someone just dropped an H-bomb in the middle of the town. Everything just shut down, no human beings in sight (or street dogs for that matter).

Waiting for the bus in August….

And then it started. No one really noticed it at first, as it was really really slow. But change started to happen, relentlessly. A few major events marked this change, the World Expo 2015 undoubtedly being the most important, bringing in over 20 million visitors as well as foreign investments in real estate: entire swathes of town underwent renovation or gentrification, like the brand new Porta Nuova and City Life districts, bringing their fair share of super modern skyscrapers, parks, shops, infrastructures.

Flight connections have exploded and with them tourist arrivals, with Middle and Far East leading the pack. Trade shows got bigger and bigger: the Milano design week today is huge and arguably the most important design fair in the world. Fashion week is also a staple, albeit for the elitarian few. But the city is no longer only for businessmen and women: it’s more and more a place for families looking to spend a few days and enjoy the many amenities the city and its surroundings can offer today.

Milan's Galleria
Milan’s Galleria

You will be surprised at the number of places that have opened up or have been repurposed in recent years. Way too many to cover here but the New York Times will give you a few ideas… Also worth mentioning the renovated Tortona and Navigli areas, with their many courtyards and art studios, the Fondazione Prada for exhibitions, the Museo del Novecento on top of the staples of course, starting from the Duomo and nearby Galleria, the Castello Sforzesco, Leonardo’s Last Supper, the Brera Pinacoteca… wow I can’t stop! That’s without even covering its beautiful surroundings or the lakes region (Como anyone?).

But there’s a field where arguably Milano has reached a whole new level of excellence and maturity.


Street food in Milan
Street food in Milan

That’s right. Boasting over 8,000 restaurants, the city is now offering a seemingly endless choice, starting from gourmet cuisine of decorated chefs like Cracco, Berton, Alice, Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, Seta, Trussardi and Tano passami l’olio just to name a few.

Or more affordable options like Al Fresco, God Save the Food, La Briciola, Liberty, Mimmo. Carnivores will love El Porteño or El Carnicero. Vegetarian? No problem! We got you covered with Joia and Soulgreen.

Eataly Milano Food Store
Eataly Milano, already a place to visit…

Ethnic food is just as varied, with some of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve ever experienced, like Iyo, Yoshi, Finger’s and Sushi B. Or how about the Chinese Ta Hua for excellent dim sum, Rangoli for some great tikka masala, the Thai Gallery, Vietnamese Hanoi for an authentic pho soup, laid back and trendy Temakinho, or the new I Love Poke… I could go on forever. Even global chains like Starbucks, KFC, Domino’s, Five Guys or Wagamama can now be found in town, if that’s your thing.

The flagship Starbucks store in Milan

The city today is undisputedly a global capital of food, design and fashion. There’s a new energy in town, some kind of renewed optimism, pride, passion. You can breathe it, you can live it and it’s amazing. And this is why I now love Milano so much: I feel I’m cosmopolitan again as I sit back, relax and sip on my smoked Negroni surrounded by nothing but beauty.