Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's known as the
fashion capital, but Milan has more going on than the Armani museum and Wes
Anderson-designed cocktail bars.
"Milan is full of secrets," Riccardo
Bortolotti, GM of the new ME Milan - Il Duca hotel, cryptically told
me.
"You have to go behind the walls and discover it." But how exactly
does a visitor do that?
Hans Mitterer I found the answer during a chance meet-up
with an old friend.
Rocky Fairchild, a British expat who once worked under the
designer Vivienne Westwood, has lived in Milan for the last twelve years, and
knows the city like the back of his hand.
Like many Milanese, he explores the
city on two wheels (something tourists can do too, now, thanks to the wildly
successful BikeMi program).
An English teacher by profession, his schedule
allows him to spend off-hours cycling through parks and exploring new
neighborhoods on a whim.
Which is what led him to propose a midnight bike tour of the city.
Allan Baxter
Always up for an adventure, I'd instinctively said yes.
But it
wasn't until we began that I realized just how special this adventure was
going to be.
Cruising down the rain-slicked streets made the whole city come
to life.
Parts of Milan normally obscured by throngs of tourists were suddenly
within reach—the historic avenues and monuments all laid out like cookies on
a tray.
This hadn't been Rocky's motive for the tour.
He'd just wanted
to come up with a fun evening activity, but in doing so, showed me how to
decode this riddle of a city.
We began near Rocky's apartment, in Piazzale Loreto, where metro lines 1
and 2 intersect.
It's unremarkable—a few McDonalds and some clothing chain
stores—save for one event that took place in 1945: the public displaying of
Mussolini's corpse (hung upside down) after his capture and execution at the
Swiss border.
Allan Baxter
From there, it was over to the Stazione Centrale.
Usually the main
entryway into the city (it connects to Malpensa Airport via the Malpensa
Express train service), the building is as impressive at night as it is useful
for travelers during the day.
Fortress-like, built of concrete and travertine,
the immense facade soars 236 feet into the air, buffered by a 650-foot-wide
colonnade.
Then, a quick ride down the famous shopping street Via della
Spiga—Tiffany, Dolce & Gabbana, Chopard—which was like floating
through a genie's cave, its gleaming treasures concealed inside
beautifully-arranged window displays.
Getty Images
We came out by Piazza della Repubblica, which once held the city's
largest train station.
In May, the new ME Milan - Il Duca opened inside a 1920
building whose facade was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning late
architect Aldo Rossi's studio.
Rooms are affordable, and appropriately
stylish, with sleek neutral upholstery and espresso machines.
But the big draw
is upstairs, where, at night, the hotel's rooftop bar, Radio, bursts to
life.
Nearby, we whizzed through Porta Nuova, home to the "new" Milan, with
Stefano Boeri's eccentric vertical forest as well as Italy's tallest
skyscraper, the 755-foot tall Unicredit Tower (part of which is modeled after
Dubai's Burj Khalifa).
Next door, Unicredit commissioned Michele De Lucchi
to design a striking new wood-cased concert hall in the shape of a bean, the
Unicredit Pavilion, which officially opened this summer.
Getty Images
Skirting around the center, we passed the solemn entrance to the
15th-century Castello Sforzesco, which contains several distinct museum
collections.
At 1 a.m., a dog played fetch with its owners, darting up and
down the castle's deep grass trenches to retrieve a neon light-up toy.
And
at the Universittà Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Europe's largest private
university, the empty cobblestone lanes and brick arches made me feel like I
was on the set of a Harry Potter movie.
Of course, the downside of biking after-hours is that almost every place you
pass is closed.
But not all: in La Darsena—recently redeveloped as a hip
waterfront promenade with floating light installations and bike paths along
the docks—we stopped off at Bar Tabacchi La Darsena.
The classic,
no-pretense bar had jazz blasting from the speakers and locals sipping beers
outside, the perfect stop-off on our zigzagging tour (and a great way to
witness locals enjoying the city after-hours).
Getty Images
My favorite part of the whole tour was Via Mozart, an upscale
residential stretch tucked away off Corso Venezia.
Each mansion was more
interesting (and gorgeous) than the next—there was Palazzo Invernizzi, where
a family of pink flamingos lives behind the tall iron gates.
Then there's
the Istituto dei Ciechi, a house for the blind that hosts occasional dinner
parties in the dark.
And at the far end of the street, Villa Necchi Campiglio
contains the most impressive collection of 20th century decorative art in the
whole city (16 guided tours are offered each day).
Fittingly, it was the famous Piazza del Duomo where we ended up, an
unavoidable (and tourist-clogged) stop on any Milan itinerary.
But at 2 a.m.,
there was a different vibe in the piazza, which regularly draws 80,000
visitors per day.
The giant, ghostlike cathedral glowed eerily white against
the cloudy night sky.
It was otherworldly, it was a masterpiece of history,
and it was all ours.
A cycling tour of Milan after hours casts this northern
Italian city in a whole new light.
Here's how to plot a course and do it
yourself.

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