Milan isn't like Rome, Venice or Florence. In most of the great Italian cities you have a sense of century upon century of history, art, culture and architecture. The past is celebrated above all. But Milan, far north and often derisively referred to by other Italians for its proximity to Germany (in its work ethic as much as its latitude) is resolutely industrious, forward-looking and businesslike.
This was the town that fired Italy's 'economic miracle' back in the fifties, and if the miracle seems to have run out of steam in much of the country, you can be sure that the pistons are still pounding in Milan. The richest city of Italy's richest region (Lombardy) is one of the world's biggest financial and commercial centres, and is one of the world fashion capitals. Milan firms include Alfa Romeo, Prada, Pirelli, Dolce e Gabbana, Mediaset, Telecom Italia and Versace. And the city has two of the finest football teams in soccer-obsessed Italy, with Internazionale and AC Milan.
Needless to say, Milano is a mecca for fashion shoppers, drawn by the superb designer stores of the chic Via Montenapoleone and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Milan is rich and well dressed then but lest we forget that this is an ancient city of art and culture a roll call of some of the major sites will remind us. The Duomo is the world's second largest cathedral (only bested by St Peter's in Rome) and is the world's largest Gothic church - magnificent. There is the Castello Sforzesco, built by the family which once ruled the city, the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, the Basilica of San Lorenzo and a host of other fine churches. There is the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, with notebooks and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. And there are superb museums and galleries including the Pinacoteca di Brera, the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum and the Musei del Castello, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Poldi Pezzoli.
And most famously of all (in recent years at least) there is the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie - a magnet for thousands of visitors a year who come to see an oil painting unwisely daubed on its wall by Leonardo da Vinci. Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' achieved the seemingly impossible by relegating 'The Mona Lisa' to only second-most-famous Leonardo painting. 'The Last Supper' is now the one, as visitors stand, marvel and try to work out if that really is Mary Magdalene. Leonardo was unwise of course because, eschewing genuine fresco, he painted in unstable oil paint directly onto a dry wall.
Within years the work was peeling and only concerted and continual restorations (some less brutal than others) have allowed his work to reach the 21st century intact. And it is a remarkable work, dramatically occupying a whole wall of the church, almost overpowering you with its lifesize figures. Eyes are irresistibly drawn to Christ at the centre. Being a wall painting, 'The Last Supper' will never move of course, and that seriously limits numbers (until they dismantle the church and build a larger one around the wall). Booking then is essential for you to grab your few minutes with genius.