Where else but in the biggest city in northern Italy can you find everyone smelling good, looking sharp and carrying designer bags matching their outfits 24/7? As rightly said, Milan is the fashion capital of the world and people don't get tired of being fabulous, no matter what time of the day it is.

Celebrity encounters

With a population of only 1.3 million, it is quite normal to bump into a famous football player, a celebrity or a top model while out and about in Milan.

I stayed at the Westin Hotels & Resorts, a five-star hotel located at the Piazza Della Repubblica which is around 9.3 miles from Malpensa International Airport.

I was wowed by the hotel; I thought such luxury and fine finishing existed only in hotels such as the Emirates Palace.
The lobby has 19th-century furniture with golden-beige marble.

Crystal chandeliers dangle from each divided ceiling. Not too simple, not too rich — just perfect.

My room was comfortable and had everything I needed. A feather mattress and pillows in a queen-sized bed and other room amenities such as air-conditioning, central heating, TV, hairdryer, a safe, direct-dial telephone with voicemail and data port, private bath-shower, alarm clock and ironing board.

Although I hardly had time to look around Milan, the location of my hotel was perfect. Right behind my hotel was a street full of designer shops such as Guess, Prada, Promod and Chanel. And luckily, most of them had a 70 to 90 per cent discount.

A different streak

Shopping in Milan is different from shopping anywhere else.
The outlets may be the same as those in any other country but the products and tastes are different. There is more diversity in the range of products available.

There are hundreds of Italian clothing lines known only to the Milanese, the people of Milan. Caractere is one such name, known for leather bags and wallets.

The second thing I noticed about Milan was how old and crammed the buildings are; none of them seem to have been rebuilt or renovated since the 17th century.

Old is gold

I was lucky enough to meet a travel consultant, Eleonara Bertuzzi, who owns a tour company called Bertel.

When I asked her why the buildings are so old, she said: “All our buildings have a very important history, which ranges from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

There is no space for new buildings and we're very proud of the old ones; at the entrance of each house, you will find a painting that is more than 200 years old.''

Most of my time was spent at the Fiera Milano, one of the biggest exhibition centres in Milan.

Right outside the Fiera's doorstep was a booth managed by a non-government organisation (NGO) rehabilitation centre for drug addicts called Comunita Lautari.

Moving ahead

In the rehabilitation centre, former drug addicts were collecting charity donations of approximately 600 euros (Dh2,976) a day.

I learnt the centre was among hundreds of other NGO rehabilitation centres in Milan; drugs, specifically cocaine, seems to be an issue in Milan, especially among students as young as 12.

What impressed me about Comunita Lautari is that they teach former addicts to restore antiques, design and build furniture, construction work and repair cars so that once they are out of the rehabilitation centre, they can make use of what they have learnt.

The happiness tradition

The next day, I was invited to a typical Milanese night out.
Every day, the Milanese meet friends after work. They get together and talk over refreshments and food — a tradition they have been following for more than 20 years.

Most Italian cafés serve free food — all you can eat — between 7-9pm.

Bertuzzi took me to a huge café that was originally a courtyard; it wasn't too far from the centre of Milan. The people seemed joyful and loud, as they sipped away at their drinks, ate and socialised.

While I was sitting with Bertuzzi, she gave me a few interesting tips about Milan, which I quickly jotted down. She spoke about the elegantly dressed working mother who drops her children to school on a bicycle instead of a car — one child sits in front and the other at the back, as the mother rides her way to school — and that many Milanese spend their weekend by the seaside — an hour's drive from Milan.

Houses located in the suburbs are also old and crammed.
“Those who don't have windows in their houses paint them to show off how rich they are,'' she added.

The closest mountain is next to the Swiss or the French border, an hour's drive by car from Milan and two hours' ride by train to Verona, tradtional site of the Romeo and Juliet tragedy.

Keeping it secret

A tip she gave me about shopping is that the less expensive shops with just as many designer names are usually located in the backstreets of Milan.

“Only a Milanese can know how to access these shops. We must keep something to ourselves that tourists don't know about,'' she said.

That evening she took me to Ristorante La Briciola, a restaurant popular with football players, models and celebrities.

Cavalli and Armani have their own restaurants too. And if anyone would like to see them dining, they can visit their restaurants — at which they dine — almost every day.

Although my stay in Milan was short, I couldn't leave without having seen the famous cathedral, the Duomo.

It is located in the centre of Milan in Piazza del Duomo. I managed to visit the cathedral three hours before my flight.

Stunning beauty

The Duomo is one of the largest churches in the world and took just over 500 years to complete.

Inside, there are many huge stained-glass windows, four aisles and ranks of confessional boxes.

You can either climb 250 steps or take an elevator to the roof to enjoy the stunning view.

Take the stairs to get more of the experience; when you get to the roof, it will be worth the effort.

Getting to the Duomo is easy, as it is accessible by two metro lines — the lines M1 and M3 stop at Duomo. From there, it is just a short walk. Metro tickets cost 1 euro (Dh4).

The cathedral is open daily from 7am to 7pm and the terrace is open from 9am to 5.45pm. The stairs are cheaper at 4 euros (Dh19), whereas the elevator costs a bit more at 6 euros (Dh29).

I plan to visit Milan again, since I loved it and the people are friendly. But the next time I visit, it won't be for business purposes!

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Information courtesy: The Holiday Lounge by Dnata.
Ph: 04 4380454