Music In Milan: A Night At The Opera

Milan prides itself on its diverse music scene, touching on old and modern genres alike. Whilst several Italian artists and popular songs are well-known abroad, it may seem that most international music is not quite as appreciated in the country. This is a misleading belief as Milan has seen a ‘cultural rebirth’ over the last few years, holding a leading position amongst European destinations. Milan is connected to the rest of the world and is constantly welcoming creative sparks. If you’re a live music fan planning to visit, Milan is the place to be.

And there is no better place to start than the opera. Translated as ‘product of work’, opera finds its home in Italy. I want to focus this Music March segment on this unique and complex musical and theatrical genre. Though I cannot provide an intensive course of lyrical Italian (which can be challenging even to native Italian opera fans), I do have some vital information to give you before you head to your night out!

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Grand interior (credit: architecturaldigest.com)

Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, Donizetti… the list of Italian opera composers is long. No wonder, when you consider that melodrama was born in this country even before the state of Italy itself. While opera rose to popularity in Rome and Venice, the Milanese Teatro alla Scala (founded in 1778) is often regarded as the most important opera theatre in Italy. The opening of the lyrical season, taking place on 7th December (the day dedicated to Saint Ambrose, the local patron saint) is one of the country’s most important and prestigious events and is regularly attended by many celebrities.

Traditionally, the theatre’s programme alternates between melodramas, ballets, and classical music concerts. This year’s lyrical season  – running from early March to late June – features Verdi’s La Traviata, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master-Singers of Nuremberg), Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Il Serraglio) and Puccini’s La Bohème.

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La Scala in the 19th century

While most of these operas were composed in Italian, Teatro alla Scala’s programme also features works in other languages, usually German or French. In operatic works, it was customary for the music and the lyrics to be written by different people, the composer often getting the most recognition. Each work’s language is typically related to the nationality of the ‘librettist’, the writer. This explains why several of the Austrian Mozart’s operas were written in Italian. In fact, Italy has given birth to many prominent libretto writers, such as Pietro Metastasio, Lorenzo Da Ponte and Arrigo Boito. The authors were often requested to work abroad, in places like Paris or Vienna, other major ‘opera capitals’. Sometimes, a libretto could be written prior to even being given the music!

Needless to say, opera has still got its own superstars, and the fact that most works are sung in Italian, German and French does not prevent international singers from becoming experts in their field. Since most opera works were written some centuries ago, even a fluent speaker may have a hard time understanding all of the lyrics, partly because the voices do not follow a natural intonation.

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A rare photo of Giuseppe Verdi in front of La Scala, Milan 1890.

Therefore, whether you know Italian well or not, every opera attendee is highly recommended to read a synopsis of the show beforehand. Unlike prose, it is best to have a good idea what the opera is about from the start, to avoid getting lost in the music, the arias, and the plot. There is no need to read the complete libretto beforehand as most opera theatres now provide LCD screens displaying the lyrics as they are sung onstage. Purists may frown upon this innovation but it has definitely made things simpler!

Language aside, opera is an intrinsically diverse genre, reflecting a range of traditions in both music and drama. Similarly to ballet, it tends to stick to tradition and strict formal rules with the director’s style often impacting the final performance. Furthermore, it is not unheard of for opera to be reinterpreted in more ‘experimental’ ways. After all, opera has recently lost part of its stereotypical aloofness, becoming more accessible and attracting a wider audience, even offering opera courses to amateurs. Nonetheless, we are still talking about the most elegant theatre in the capital of Italian fashion. As such, it is best to dress up for the occasion: few forms of art are as appearance-conscious as opera, and this is true both on-and off-stage.

One last thing – don’t forget to book your tickets! From locals to occasional visitors, every performance at Teatro alla Scala draws a wide audience, easily filling up all its 2030 seats. I recommend an advance booking at least one month prior to your arrival. You can make your reservation via the theatre’s official website, choosing the performance you want to attend and proceeding to the payment. Those who are planning a longer stay and/or are frequent attendees can opt for a season ticket, the price of which will vary according to the seat and the time of the year. Otherwise, you can buy your tickets in a selection of offices all across Italy. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to enjoy the Italian Opera!

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Inspired by the exterior of La Scala, my illustration of it

Iconic London Venues

London’s music scene is truly world class. With legendary venues and a host of musical giants lined up for the coming months, the city promises a spectacular show for every taste. Read on for the most noteworthy performances coming up in London this year, from Andre Rieu and Lang Lang to Celine Dion and Frankie Valli.

Royal Albert Hall

This historic, grade I listed South Kensington concert hall is one of London’s most treasured buildings. Its reputation for hosting the most illustrious concerts and events is preserved this year with a formidable array of orchestral and pop performances.

Though details and specific dates have not yet been released, it would be remiss to mention the Royal Albert Hall without also discussing the annual Proms concerts. While the Last Night of the Proms is the must see event at the Royal Albert Hall, the Proms in the Park is a fantastic open-air alternative held on the same day. Set in Hyde Park, it combines phenomenal performances with a beautiful outdoor setting. Make sure to check the programme when it’s announced on 20th April.

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Hub of illustrious concerts: the RAH

Barbican 

Just north of the City of London sits the Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts venue and home to both the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Expect superlative classical and contemporary shows (with crystal-clear acoustics) from local and visiting orchestras and performers alike.

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Classical concert heaven: the Barbican

O2 Arena

Everything about the O2 Arena is on an immense scale – it’s only natural that the world’s busiest music arena and the world’s largest building by floor space is also host to some of the biggest names in music. In 2017, expect knockout shows from the following:

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Big and bold: the O2 arena

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

The list of those who’ve graced the stage at Ronnie Scott’s since its 1959 opening reads like a who’s who of jazz: Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and Sarah Vaughan to name a few. London’s premier jazz venue, the Soho basement club continues to attract a steady stream of talent. Its main shows frequently sell out, so book early if you’re planning a trip.

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Well-established scene (credit: whatsoninlondon.co.uk)

The SSE Arena, Wembley

Not to be confused with Wembley Stadium, the SSE (formerly Wembley Arena) is an icon in its own right and a bastion of London’s live music scene. This year the north-west London venue boasts some highly-celebrated performers – between them, Hans Zimmer and Bob Dylan have 17 Grammy awards, two Academy Awards and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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The SSE Wembley Arena

Food February: A Vegetarian In Paris

Vegetarian? Planning on going to Paris soon ? Oh, là, là ! Be prepared, vegetarians are not that common in France. As a matter of fact, only about 3 percent of the population of France is vegetarian, and vegans are even rarer. This may sound barbaric to some but, in France, only a few restaurants announce that they offer a vegetarian menu. And beware, there are horror stories about vegetarian menus being a mix of vegetables fresh out of a tin with a few leaves of lettuce!

However, you don’t have to starve in Paris . You can still go to most restaurants. Here are a few suggestions:

If you are brave enough to try your French over the phone, why not call the restaurants you are interested in and ask what they suggest for vegetarians? For example, at the trendy trattoria ‘Daroco’ (6 Rue Vivienne), only a few minutes away from the Louvre museum, you could have fresh pasta with gorgonzola cheese or linguini with truffle.

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Daroco’s trendy interior (credit: Le Figaro)

For those who don’t dare try the phone-calling experience, be aware that many restaurants have a website, and you can often examine their menu before even stepping outside. Let’s try the very French ‘Bistrot des Vosges’ (31 Boulevard Beaumarchais), close to the beautiful Place des Vosges. One of the first items on their menu (‘la carte’) is a vegetarian or vegan salad. You could also try their Galette au Chèvre, a buckwheat pancake with goat cheese, or their Omelette des Burons, an omelette with Buron cheese and potatoes. But sorry, they do use beef broth to make their tempting Soupe à l’Oignon.

Speaking of buckwheat pancakes, galettes de sarrasin are the main courses of Crêperie restaurants, where you can also have all sort of crêpes for dessert. You must take a look at the amazing décor of ‘Crêperie Josselin‘ ( 67 Rue du Montparnasse), near the Gare Montparnasse. Some of their buckwheat pancakes are served with vegetables only. Should you want to try any other pancake on the menu, just ask the waiter to make a meatless version of it – that will not be a problem.

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Fancy a French crêpe?

But you may be craving a more wholesome vegetarian or vegan meal. In this case, here are some places you should try:

You might want to know what ‘shrimp kebab (soy protein) with pineapple & lemon grass’ or ‘mushroom loaf with a blackberry-ginger sauce’ tastes like. If so, try ‘VegetHalles‘ (41 Rue des Bourdonnais), a restaurant dedicated to vegetarians and vegans. You can start by exploring their surprising menu online. It is advised to make a reservation as the restaurant is quite popular as well as being situated in the busy area of Les Halles.

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Soya protein kebab (credit: VegetHalles)

Tien Hiang‘(14 Rue Bichat) is a fairly original restaurant close to Canal Saint Martin. It specialises in Asian food that is also vegetarian and vegan. Whenever a dish traditionally requires meat, the meat is replaced with soya protein. Look at the pictures on their online menu, the result is truly amazing. Vegans, the only dish that is not for you is Marmite Tien Hiang, which uses cheese.

Le Grenier de Notre Dame‘(18 Rue de la Bûcherie), as you may have guessed, is only a few minutes away from Notre Dame Cathedral. It was the first vegetarian restaurant to open in Paris, in 1978. For decades, it has successfully persuaded Parisians to try vegetarian food. Unfortunately, they are currently closed for renovation. Good news is they are expected to re-open anytime around mid-March.

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Fresh, local produce (credit: Le Grenier de Notre Dame)

Now, as the French would say, ‘Bon Appétit’!

Love At First Bite: A Food Trip Around Paris

Escargots, steak tartare, soupe à l’oignon, choucroute, coq au vin, pâté en croûte, cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon … Have I got your attention? These mouth-watering dishes are on the menus of many Parisian brasseries and bistrots and might be the reason why visitors fall in love with the French capital at first bite.

Most of our apartments are located in Paris’s most prestigious and beautiful areas: the Marais, the 2nd Arrondissement, and the Latin Quarter. Paris is not only a perfect destination to discover the most skilled fashion designers, is also one of the  culinary meccas in the world. Let me tell you a bit about the history of these neighborhoods and the types of food you can find there.

Close-up on: Le Marais

It is home to the oldest covered market in the city, the Marché des Enfants Rouges, where fresh produce and different national cuisines abound. Interestingly, the French word ‘marais’ means swamp, and this is exactly what the area was well before it became one of Paris’s most beautiful neighbourhoods.

The first inhabitants were Templars and they arrived at this former pasture land in the 9th century. A Templar’s tomb was even found during engineering works for the Parisian metro at the beginning of the 20th century! Fleeing high taxes, others came to join the Templars in the 14th century, giving the neighbourhood an economic boost. By 1605, the Marais became a Royal Quarter, when Henry IV constructed the Place des Vosges (formerly called the Royal Square). From then on, and until the end of the 17th century, rich families built ‘hôtels particuliers’, mansions, and even churches.

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Detail at Place des Vosges

The Jewish community appeared as soon as the 13th century. Today, many people come to the famous Rue des Rosiers, the emblematic street of the Jewish Quarter, to taste the best falafels in Paris.

Last time I was in the Marais, I fell upon a true gem called Miznon, in a street parallel to the Rue des Rosiers. Their traditional pita bread is imported from Jerusalem and re-heated on site. They also offer wonderfully steamed, then baked, vegetables that will make you reconsider your view on cauliflower. I ended up asking for the recipe! The Marais is one of the only neighbourhoods where the shops are open on Sundays (the French take this resting day very seriously), so it can get crowded on the weekends.

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Wholesome food (credit: EC/EH in Timeout)

Walking along the Rue des Rosiers, pay attention to the shop signs and names:  you will often see “Boulangerie” written on top of a clothes shop, in an effort to preserve the history of the place. Quite a surprising contrast!

Close-up on: The 2nd Arrondissement

The 2nd Arrondissement is organised around the old Parisian stock exchange (the Bourse) and is home to La Place des Victoires, one of the five royal squares of the city. It was once surrounded by three medieval walls. Due to the limited space available, there was no more room for new constructions by the end of the 18th century.  Since then, if you are looking to construct a new building, you need to knock one down first.

This arrondissement is also where you can find most of the Parisian “galleries marchandes”, the impressive 19th century commercial arcades. Back in the day, entrepreneurs built the first of these paved pedestrian passageways as Paris lacked decent streets and sidewalks, a hindrance for to their business.

The area is full of theatres and close to the Opera Garnier, which famously inspired Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. What’s more, you can find the shortest inhabited street of Paris in the 2nd arrondissement: it is only 5.75m long. Technically a couple of steps, the Rue des Degrés links the Rue de Cléry and the Rue Beauregard.

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I’ll meet you at the top: miniature street (soundlandscapes.wordpress)

The area also features 12 Rue Chabanais which, until 1946, stood as the most famous brothel of Paris. Many politicians and royals from all over Europe would often visit… The place was extremely luxurious and even had Toulouse-Lautrec paintings on its walls!

The Montorgueil Market, located at the centre of the quarter, is full of traditional products. Its village atmosphere makes you travel back in time and space. You can find local butchers, fishmongers, breadmakers, and all kinds of other foods here.

It is also the home of the ‘Baba au Rhum’, the rum baba, first sold in the oldest patisserie of Paris, founded in 1725. Go visit La Patisserie Stohrer in the Montorgueil Market to get a taste of this delicious cake. The shop is actually classified as a historical, grade I listed building.

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Famous delicacy ‘Baba au Rhum’ (credit: Patisserie Stohrer)

You can also book a table at Gérard Depardieu’s restaurant, La Fontaine Gaillon, one of many good eateries of the area. Why not taste his wine and tell us what you think?

Close-up on: The Latin Quarter

Until 1789, Latin was the language of teaching in this quarter, hence its name. The neighbourhood is still the home of many universities today, including France’s prestigious La Sorbonne (founded in 1253). The Sorbonne still has many beautiful, specialised libraries. Due to its high number of students, the quarter was also the hub of the events of May 1968.

In 52 BC, the Romans settled in the area, and certain vestiges of their time can be visited today, such as the roman baths. You can also see go visit the Pantheon, the Arabic World Museum and many more places of high culture.

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The Pantheon’s impressive ceiling

La Tour d’Argent, founded in 1582, is one of Paris’ historical restaurants. Head to this institution and taste their specialty: a pressed duck made from the same recipe the chefs used back in 1890. The restaurant raise the ducks on their own farm. Those who order the duck receive a postcard with the bird’s serial number. President Franklin D. Roosevelt received #112 and 151, and Charlie Chaplin #253 and 652! They have now served over a million.

The Tour d’Argent’s well-guarded wine cellar contains more than 450,000 bottles, evaluated at 25 million euros in 2009. The wine list contains 15,000 of them, and is 400 pages long.

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Difficult decisions: La Tour d’Argent’s wine list

The restaurant is also mentioned in many works of art. In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway explains that you could rent a room at La Tour d’Argent, and lodgers received a discount on the meals. Marcel Proust also mentions the restaurant in his famous work À la recherche du temps perdu. And, last but not least, La Tour d’Argent also inspired scenes in Ratatouille, the 2007 Pixar movie.

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World-famous duck (credit: themightyrib.com)

A Bar With A View: Wining And Dining In The Barcelona Sky

Barcelona is a varied city that you should experience on all levels; from the busy streets, to the markets and beaches, to right up in the air. Let me tell you about some high-flying places that allow you to enjoy a great meal or drinks with a view.

Bar/Restaurant El Corte Inglés 

Situated in the very core of the city, this bar/restaurant on the top of the shopping mall offers a spectacular view of the centre of Barcelona. Ideal for a break during a shopping trip, the place offers a variety of foods from around the world, as well as local pastry and coffee. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it is a worthy stop if you are around Plaça Catalunya.

Isabela at Hotel 1898

Located in Las Ramblas, the bar has a stunning 360-degree view of Barcelona. It is a perfect place to spend an evening and enjoy the beautiful skylines of the city. Isabela also offers a great variety of local tapas (the most popular are the crunchy prawns, stuffed mushrooms with lobster and stuffed potatoes) and cocktails. You don’t have to book in advance, but it is recommended due to its popularity amongst tourists and locals alike.

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A dip in the pool may be on the cards (credit: Hotel 1898)

Wet Bar at W Barcelona

The bar is located right on the beach, where the view of the Barcelona sea front is overwhelming. Although most of the tables are on the terrace, they are reserved for the hotel guests, so try to arrive early to get one that isn’t booked. Get there just before sunset.

The Pulitzer Terrace at Hotel Pulitzer

Also located in the ever-popular Plaça Catalunya, this bar is the go-to in the evening if you fancy vermouth, the new local trendy drink. It is even open before lunch! The terrace is decorated in a style reminiscent of a tropical paradise, enough to make you forget you are in a busy European city. Their menu offers a huge variety of Catalan and Spanish cuisine. Don’t leave without trying the kitchen’s crunchy chicken. The Pulitzer Terrace also stands out thanks to its carefully chosen selection of gins (like Williams Chase), as well as a wide choice of cocktails – from the classics to their own creations prepared by skilful bartenders (a must try).

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Tropical haven (credit: Hotel Pulitzer)

Blue view at Hotel Casa Fuster

Located in Passeig de Gràcia (the equivalent of New York’s 5th Avenue), it offers a great view of central Barcelona. From Thursday to Saturday, there is a DJ on hand to set the mood and accompany you whilst you sip one of the bar’s wide range of cocktails made with premium ingredients. If you want a different type of music scene, you can just head downstairs to the Jazz Lounge to see some great live music.

Restaurant Torre de Alta Mar

Situated not far from the beach, this famous Barcelona restaurant offers a 360-degree view of the city. You can find the restaurant at the top of a 75-metre high tower called the Torre Sant Sebastià. To get there, you can use an elevator or a cable car that goes from Mountjuïc Mountain to the beach. You can enjoy the view whilst eating some of the best dishes of local cuisine and the best seafood of the area. A must try is the daily menu (from Tuesday to Friday) with its lobster and red prawns, stuffed rigatoni seafood and cheese. A glass of wine is also included.

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Luxury dining (credit: Torre de Alta Mar)

‘Cappuccino And Brioche, Please’: How To Do Breakfast In Milan

In spite of the incredible variety of Italian cuisine, breakfast tends to be quite minimalist in most parts of the country. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hectic city of Milan.

A pastry delicacy combined with an energy-boosting hot drink, usually coffee or cappuccino, and that’s usually it. No feasts of sliced ham and cheese, no omelettes, meat, or smoked herring. Italians will keep it simple: first and foremost, they will have their breakfasts sweet. Though relatively easy to satisfy different tastes due to the cosmopolitan soul of the city, most locals regard savoury breakfasts as an odd, exotic habit.

Brioches or ‘cornetti’ – a local variation of French croissants –  are the preferred breakfast treat in Northern Italian bars. They can be plain or filled with ‘crema pasticcera’ (a dense custard), ‘marmellata’ (jam – usually apricot), or even chocolate. Sold at bars and bakeries, they are cheap, filling and easy to carry around when you’re in a rush (or busy taking in the sights!). You cannot really ask for better.

For a richer breakfast, you might opt for a Sicilian treat: the southernmost region of Italy is well-known for its opulent, visually stunning delicacies, such as ‘cannoli’, ‘cassata’ or fruit-shaped marzipan. If you are interested in the latter, the Delizia (via Solari 41, M2 Porta Genova) is currently the top-rated spot to enjoy Sicilian pastries in Milan.

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Traditional Cannoli Siciliana (credit: dissapore.com)

Along with brioche, Italians will most likely ask for coffee. In fact, coffee is taken quite seriously, and there is a whole system of rules surrounding it. Infringing on this will either amuse or irritate the locals; they will then make it their goal to enthusiastically teach foreign visitors everything they need to know about the country’s most beloved fuel.

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Dolce Milano

The somewhat haughty atmosphere of Milan is well reflected in its many long-standing cafés, hinting at the city’s historic French and Austrian heritage. Enter any of them in the city centre and you will feel like time stopped still a hundred years ago.

The settings include elegant furniture, mirrors, and shelves filled with old bottles, as well all sorts of sweets, pastries and cakes. Just before Christmas, I referred to ‘panettone’ as the most famous treat in Milan, as it does not have many other sweets to call its own (even though ‘colomba’, a typical Easter cake, has a very similar texture and taste). However, this is not entirely true. The geographical proximity to famous places of confectionery like the Piedmont region, Vienna and France, provides Milan with a wealth of tasty delicacies. A small selection of ‘pasticcini’ is always a wise choice, as you will be able to try out different tastes. To compliment your tea or coffee, there are ‘tartellette’ with fresh fruit, cream-filled ‘cannoncini’, chocolate beignets, rum-drenched ‘babà’ (a typical Neapolitan treat) and ‘baci di dama’ (doughy, thick biscuits with a hazelnut cream filling). ‘Marron glacés’, candied chestnuts, are another wonderful feature of Italian confectioneries.

You can find confectioneries scattered around Milan. Some of them pride themselves on very long traditions, like Marchesi, established in 1824 and soon opening its third shop in the galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Another famous ‘pasticceria’ right in the centre of Milan is Cova which, due to renovation, will be re-opened in April 2017. Cova excels in fine chocolates and nougat. A bit further out, but just as well-rated, are Castelnuovo, offering an incredible range of delicious cakes, and Martesana, whose namesake cake ‘Torta Martesana’ has been defined as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ treat. A further address to take note of is Pavè. Compared to other offerings, this confectionery has a more modern, hip look and offers specific menus at breakfast, lunch, dinner and aperitivo. It is even possible to buy a variety of products and merchandise there. However, its main feature is its exposed laboratory, allowing customers to look in on the preparation of all of Pavè’s products.

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The Marchesi pasticceria (credit: vivitravels.com)

Carnival delicacies

On the subject of historical local traditions, the Carnival will soon take place in Milan. This year, Saturday 4th March will be the peak day for Carnival in Milan.

Compared to the Roman-Catholic ritual, the Ambrosian Carnival (specifically related to Milan and a few surrounding cities) is strangely celebrated after Lent has begun. As a result, ‘Fat Saturday’ replaces the traditional ‘Mardi Gras’. This is due to the bishop Ambrosius, now Milan’s patron saint, demanding that the celebration of Carnival be postponed to his return from a pilgrimage.

For the Carnival celebrations, a parade worms its way through the streets of Milan. Each year, it follows a specific theme recalling the heritage of the city. You can often spot the character of Meneghino, a servant originally from the Commedia Dell Arte. ‘Meneghino’ is also a loose term to describe a Milanese person.

Just like in the rest of Italy, it is customary in Milan to eat fried sweets for Carnival. The most famous are undoubtedly ‘tortelli’ (fried bits of soft sweet dough) and ‘chiacchiere’, crunchy strips covered in sugar, which are named in no less than thirty different ways all across Italy.

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The crunchy Chiacchiere

10 Local Tips To Make The Most Of London

London: Tips by a local

1. Download apps ahead of time

London is a big place, making navigation intimidating for visitors. If you have a smart phone, download a few simple but worthwhile apps to help you out. Try Tube Map for the underground or Citymapper for planning the best route across a variety of transport methods.

Bonus tip: Citymapper features Europea Residences’ other destinations – Paris, Brussels, Barcelona and Milan – too!

2. Save with an Oyster Card

An Oyster Card is a travel smartcard that allows you to top up credit in advance. You then simply tap in and tap out on London’s underground and tap in (no need to tap out) on buses. It offers considerable discounts compared to paper tickets, both for single journeys and daily travel (Oysters have a daily cap that is significantly cheaper than a 1 day travelcard). Under 11s travel free, but everyone else will need their own Oyster.

You can choose from:

  • Visitor Oyster Card 
    • Same fares/caps as a regular Oyster card
    • Bought in advance of your trip
    • £3 non-refundable charge + postage + chosen top up amount
    • Convenient for short stays, enjoy access to special offers and discounts
  • Regular Oyster Card 
    • Bought in London
    • £5 refundable charge + chosen top up amount
    • Can be registered online to allow online top ups and ability to stop its use/transfer credit if the card is lost or stolen
    • Arguably better for longer stays (5 days or more) as you can apply a 7-day travelcard to cap your weekly spending while still retaining the security of Oyster (in case of loss or theft) and the flexibility of pay as you go (to travel beyond the zone boundaries of your travelcard without buying an extra ticket).

3. 2 for 1 tickets with National Rail’s Days Out

However, paper travelcards do have one huge advantage over Oysters if bought from a National Rail station rather than an Underground station (the latter are identical in function but look different and do not qualify for the promotion). A paper travelcard grants access to some fantastic 2 for 1 attraction offers from National Rail Days Out (available any day the travelcard is valid).

With a bit of forward planning and printing, this can save big money at top attractions like the London Eye, London Zoo, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds (all between £25-35 each per adult) as well as exhibitions, theatre, tours and more. For more information on the types of tickets valid for use, see the Days Out website here.

What to see in London
Go up on the London Eye on a sunny day

4. Take in the view

In a city as frenetic at London, it’s rewarding to stand and take it all in from a distance every now and again. Some classic viewpoints to check out include Primrose Hill, the Shard, the London Eye, or the top of Tower Bridge.

5. Embrace free activities

London has a dazzling range of free activities, from world-class galleries and museums (Tate Britain, Natural History Museum, National Gallery) to tranquil parks and green spaces (Richmond Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens) to iconic sights (Abbey Road’s crossing, Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square).

6. Walk or bike

If you’re not keen on the hustle and bustle of public transport, the good news is that London can be eminently walkable if you plan your activities to focus on smaller areas each day (e.g. Covent Garden – Trafalgar Square – Buckingham Palace). Alternatively, hire a bike from London’s bike-sharing scheme and explore parks or travel shorter distances on wheels.

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Go green and bike around the city

7. Join a tour

Tours, whether by bus, boat, bike or on foot, can be a great way to take in parts of the city in one fell swoop, or to orientate yourself before exploring more fully on your own. If a hop on, hop off bus is your style, check out the options from companies like Original London or Golden Tours. For other tour types, you can’t go wrong with highly regarded operators like New Europe Tours, Alternative London and Strawberry Tours (free).

8. Classic English food and drink

Immerse yourself in British life by sampling some iconic English food and drink. Start your days off right with a Full English breakfast (The Breakfast Club serve their version – ‘The Full Monty” – all day long) or go high class with a delectable cream tea (try Claridge’s for a touch of luxury). Other English standards to look out for include fish and chips, roast dinner, bangers and mash, toad in the hole, spotted dick and Eton mess. Try The Golden Chippy for fish and chips or The Andover Arms for a superb traditional pub.

9. Cheap theatre tickets 

If you’re flexible about what show you see, it’s well worth checking out the TKTs Booth in Leicester Square for some on-the-day bargains. They sell off last minute tickets and often offer discounts as large as 40 to 50% compared with theatre prices.

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London’s West End is famed for its excellent productions

10. Save with the London Pass

The London Pass can be a valuable asset if you plan to visit lots of paid attractions each day or want to streamline your tourist experience by only buying one ticket. It comes in 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 day passes and includes entry to over 60 top spots (including places like Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Kew Gardens). Often this includes fast track entry, too, to help avoid the queues.

Bonus tip: There are often discount codes available for the London Pass. Google before buying for even more savings!

Food February: Elegant Afternoon Tea In London

While the English have been enjoying the luxury of tea drinking for over 350 years, it was only 170 years ago that the ritual of afternoon tea (a light meal of dainty sandwiches, cakes and pastries alongside the tea) developed alongside it. Originally the invention of Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, the habit was soon taken up by fashionable ladies across the country and is now a mainstay on menus in London’s most elegant hotels and tearooms.

For a classic approach and superb attention to detail, book well in advance for a table at one of Claridge’s afternoon tea sittings. Served in the hotel’s elegant Art Deco foyer, their version will delight tea connoisseurs and anyone with impeccable taste (they took home the ‘Best Traditional Afternoon Tea’ award at the Afternoon Tea Awards last year).

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Award-winning service (credit: Claridges)

Claridge’s have close competition from other iconic hotels, of course. The Ritz sets an equally sky-high standard with its focus on immaculate traditional fare (with an opulent setting at the hotel’s Palm Court salon to boot), while the Dorchester delivers their finest Dalreoch teas and exquisite treats in the beautifully plush surroundings of the Promenade lobby. Perhaps a lesser-known name but a royal favourite nonetheless, the Goring near Buckingham Palace has been perfecting its afternoon tea since it opened in 1910, and the string of awards from the British Tea Council attest that the proof is indeed in the pudding (or, at least, in the pastry!).

Outside of the famed London hotels there are still plenty of decadent and traditional servings. Fortnum & Mason’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon offers an eminently stylish option that exudes old world glamour and provides a huge variety of tea accompaniments. The sketch Gallery in Mayfair brings a similar dose of luxury to its tea, but this time the fluffy scones  are served up against the unusual yet delightful backdrop of retro powder pink velvet upholstery and framed cartoons.

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Retro edge (credit: sketch.london)

If you’re less of a traditionalist, never fear. There are a whole host of more innovative varieties to choose from in the capital. Elevate the afternoon tea experience to new heights (quite literally) by dining at Ting at the Shangri-La Hotel, located at the 35th floor of the Shard. Usually split between traditional and Asian versions of afternoon tea, it’s not just the view that’s top notch.

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High tea (credit: Ting, Shangri-La Hotel)

For a meal with a dash of whimsy and magic, the Sanderson’s Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea might be just the ticket. This rendering puts colourful twists on afternoon tea staples and adds delightfully themed accessories into the mix (think ‘drink me’ labels, pocket-watch macaroons, and playful crockery) to transform a classic experience to something truly extraordinary.

P.S. Don’t forget to check dress codes! Most establishments simply ask for smart casual attire, but some do prohibit specific types of clothing as well – ripped jeans, flip-flops and the like are usually a no-no.

Barcelona’s Best Eats

As the home of some of the best chefs in the world, Barcelona offers a great variety of places to eat. You can enjoy typical Catalan and Spanish food or try a new creative fusion cuisine. After reading our list of the best eats in Barcelona,  you will never go hungry.

Morrysom

If you want to try something typical and not too expensive, go to Morrysom, in the Eixample district (Calle Girona, 162). This place still preserves the essence of old Spanish bars, with food options on display at the bar, making it easy for you to choose what you would like to try. This bar-restaurant offers a great variety of tapas. Gazpacho (cold tomato soup), ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad) and ajo arriero (traditionally prepared garlic dish) are their top choices.

La Esquinica

For tapas lovers, there are several options in districts of Barcelona that are less central. La Esquinica, located in the Horta quarter (Passeig de Fabra i Puig, 296), has a genuine local atmosphere combined with friendly service and excellent food. Don’t leave without trying their patatas bravicas (potato dish) or morcillica (black pudding with rice), best combined with the typical Spanish caña (draft beer in a glass).

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Local charm (credit: laesquinaca.com)

Bar Tomás

Another option is Bar Tomás, located in Sarrià (Carrer Major de Sarrià, 49). This place also offers a great variety of tapas, of which their famed chipirones (small calamari). A piece of advice here – go early, before lunch or dinner, as it is small and popular. If you want to be seated right away, avoid the peak times.

Bacoa

For hamburger lovers, Bacoa, founded by an Australian chef, is a great place. What’s more, there are a couple to be found around the city. It is worth checking out the branch in Barcelonata, Carrer del Judici, 15. The 250 gram high quality beef burgers make it one of the best hamburger bars of the city. Don’t forget to try their roasted potato fries.

Cat Bar

Barcelona is a modern city. Vegans are not forgotten and can also enjoy great food. Cat Bar, next to the centrally-located Via Laietana (Carrer de la Bòria, 17), offers a variety of vegan dishes for a good price. The veggie burger is especially good. This is also a hotspot for trying Catalan craft beers. If you are looking for more vegan restaurants at Barcelona check our article: Vegan Vegetarian and Gluten Free Barcelona

La Mar Salada

If you are looking for some good seafood within walking distance of the beach, go to La Mar Salada, in Passeig Joan de Borbó, right next to the harbour. Typical dishes here are paella, arròs negre (black rice with seafood) and fideuà (short noodle paella). Desserts are also worth ordering. This restaurant is good value for money considering it is in the popular seaside Barceloneta neighbourhood.

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Seafood excellence (credit: knowingbarcelona.com)

Can Cullerets

If you want to try the best Catalan cuisine, Can Culleretes is your place (Carrer d’en Quintana, 5). The oldest restaurant of Barcelona offers an extended list of the most exquisite Catalan dishes. Among the most popular are canelons de brandada de bacallà (cannelloni pasta with fish), l’orada al forn (oven-roasted fish) and l’escudella (meat soup). This restaurant is located in Barri Gòtic, the gothic quarter.

Alkimia

For those who seek more fancy establishments, Alkimia is up there with the best (Ronda Sant Antoni, 41). Located in Eixample, in the factory of Moritz beer, it is considered one of the most modern restaurants in Barcelona. The menu selection is superb, creative and follows the latest cuisine techniques. Their arròs d’escamarlans i nyores (rice with fish) is considered one of the best in the city. If you are looking for a pleasant and chic evening, this is your place.

alkimia restaurant one of the best eats in Barcelona
The Alkimia team (credit: www.alkimia.cat)

El Bitxarracu

El Bitxarracu is a restaurant owned by Víctor Quintillà and Mar Gómez. Here you can find a modern Catalan cuisine for a good price right in the centre of the city, in the district of Eixample (Calle Valencia 212). The main specialties are Curry Thai de pollo de corral con arroz basmati (Thai curry chicken with basmati rice) and Schiaffoni Garofalo gratinados y rellenos de boloñesa eco (macaroni filled with bolognese sauce). They also have a superb wine list of a Catalan and Spanish variety.

 

Top Restaurants in Milan Italy

The best restaurants of Milan

It’s simply not worth considering being on a diet whilst in Italy. After all, il Bel Paese, the beautiful Italian country, is world-renowned for its countless delicacies. Milan makes no exception: the city’s culinary tradition somehow “summarises” many different influences. Let me provide you with a selection of 10 of the best Milanese restaurants, from the most traditional eateries to Michelin-starred gourmet, not to forget vegetarian cuisine, exotic suggestions, and daring-yet-interesting experimental offerings. Whatever your taste, or your budget, you will find what you are looking for here!

The classics

Best Milanese trattoria – Trattoria del nuovo macello (via Cesare Lombroso, 20, bus no. 91 or 93 via Molise)

No stay in Italy can be considered complete until you get the chance to experience the local food. In spite of its cosmopolitan allure, the city is well-aware and proud of its historical heritage, and many ‘trattoria’ and ‘osteria’ are still alive and well. Since 1928, Trattoria del nuovo macello offers the most typical dishes of the Milan cuisine – risotto with or without ossobuco, cotoletta (breaded veal), mondeghili (local-style meatballs), amongst others – at medium-range prices. You can get a four-course taster menu for € 33.
To get an idea of what an authentic ‘trattoria’ feels like, imagine a cosy, rather informal atmosphere, embellished with traditional furniture and serving hearty regional food and tasty wines. If there’s one golden rule about eating out in Italy, it’s following the locals’ example. Do this and you won’t be disappointed, ever!

Classical trattoria italiana
Traditional cuisine (credit: trattoriadelnuovomacello.it)

Best pizzeria – Marghe (via Plinio 6, M1 Lima or via Cadore 26, tram 62 or 84 via Cadore/via Spartaco)

Naples is a long drive away, but even in northern Italy’s main city you can get the chance to try the original version of the most famous national dish. While Neapolitan’s historical brand Sorbillo has recently opened a pizzeria by the Duomo, Lievito Madre, we suggest the just-as-delicious Marghe, offering the true, thick-crusted pizza margherita – tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves – as well as some other interesting variations.
Friendly reminder: we know how tempting it is to try out all sorts of creative toppings, but if you want to try the most authentic Italian pizza, just keep it simple, as Neapolitan purists would. If you want to feel like a true Milanese, you can head to one of the Spontini restaurants and get a thick, soft, and incredibly cheesy pizza slice!

For those who dare – TrattoNero (Istituto dei ciechi di Milano, Milan Institute of the Blind, via Vivaio 7, M1 – Palestro)

So varied are the unusual restaurants in Milan that it was hard to pick just one. With this in mind, TrattoNero seemed quite a symbolic and meaningful choice. Like other restaurants elsewhere in Italy, it is related to the Italian Union of Blind and Partially Sighted People (ONLUS) : the location is permanently coated in absolute darkness, and customers are guided to their tables by blind waiters. Dialogo nel Buio (‘Dialogue in the Darkness’) is a project meant to establish a sympathetic connection between those who can see and those who can’t. A little planning is necessary here, as booking is compulsory and the payment (€ 50/person) is made in advance via bank transfer. You will also need to get to the restaurant half an hour before your meal starts and, as the menu is never revealed to the guests, you will need to warn the staff about your allergies and food intolerances. As such, you can try an enriching experience that could add something to your life as well as your perception of reality. This experience will not leave you indifferent.

Special requirements

Best sushi & Japanese restaurant – Sumire (via Varese 1, M2 Moscova)

Compared to other Italian cities, Milan seems more keen on accepting foreign influences. In particular, sushi is taken quite seriously by Japanese food connoisseurs.
Whenever you feel like stepping away from Italian dishes and trying some ‘local non-local’ delicacies, you can head to Sumire, a small restaurant that has managed to create the perfect atmosphere to taste sashimi, sushi and many other traditional dishes that even Japanese customers genuinely appreciate. Due to the restaurant’s small size, you are advised to book a table in advance.

Best kosher and best halal restaurants – Carmel (viale San Gimignano 10, M1 Bande Nere, dairy) / Re Salomone (via Sardegna 45, M1 Wagner or M1 De Angeli, meat) and Mido (via Pietro Custodi 4 – tram no. 3 or bus no. N15 piazza XXIV Maggio)

For those of you who wish to respect the kasherut eating code or just want to try Jewish cuisine (which is not that widespread in Italy), the best place in Milan is Carmel. It hosts a Middle Eastern menu, featuring falafel, hummus and many other delicacies as well as a fair supply of pizzas and Italian recipes. Due to the kosher rule of not mixing milk with meat, you won’t find the latter ingredient anywhere. In turn, Re Salomone is the best Milanese restaurant offering meat-based kosher dishes, though it is also possible to find meat-free recipes.
If you wish to abide to the halal tradition, we suggest Mido, an Arabic restaurant where all ingredients are home-made and where you can get several tasters at once by ordering a complete menu.
Both kosher and halal rules are tightly connected to the Jewish and Muslim culture and religion: to avoid disappointing surprises, make sure these restaurants aren’t closed for religious holidays (in general, Jewish restaurants respect the Shabbat between Friday night and Saturday night, Muslim restaurants will likely be closed on Fridays). Remember that most devout Muslims do not drink alcohol, and that pork is an absolute taboo for both religions!

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Colourful dishes (credit: joia.it)

Best vegetarian / vegan restaurant: Joia * (via Panfilo Castaldi, 18 – M1 Porta Venezia)

Dear vegetarian and vegan friends, we have good and bad news for you. The bad news is, it’s more difficult to find meat-, dairy-, and eggs-free restaurants in Milan than it could be elsewhere in Italy, due to the central role of these ingredients in the Lombard cuisine.
Now the good news: there are several organic food shops and vegetarian-friendly eateries all over the city, and Joia is probably the best-ranked of them all! Chef Pietro Leemann’s holistic perspective on nutrition is transformed into surrealistic, colourful dishes. Vegan and gluten-free options are specifically marked on the menu. This airy, minimalistic restaurant is quite expensive, but it shines thanks to its visual, as well as culinary, creativity.

Top-ranked gourmet restaurants

Cracco** (via Victor Hugo 4, M1 Cordusio or M1/M3 Duomo)

Carlo Cracco is more than a chef in Italy – he’s a star. When he’s not working on the latest of his creations, you’ll likely see him onscreen, as a judge of culinary competitions or as a recurrent ad testimonial. Cracco’s recipes bravely mix ingredients from different sources, be it Italian or more exotic combinations. Egg-based dishes and risotto seem to prevail in the menu, and it could certainly be an interesting experience to try out the Milanese first course par excellence, in its original shape or in a unique variation.

Famous Italian chefs named Carlo Cracco
Carlo Cracco (credit: Ristorante Cracco)

Sadler** (via Ascanio Sforza 27, M2 Romolo)

Fish and seafood certainly play a central role in Chef Claudio Sadler’s restaurant, located on the quay of Naviglio Pavese. Sadler’s culinary research is influenced by the Japanese tradition, which he fearlessly combines with local and non-marine ingredients. All in all, freshwater salmon, sturgeon, and caviar are central features to this restaurant’s offering. On top of this, you can also find interesting meat-based or vegetarian creations. To get the chance to enjoy several samples of Sadler’s creations, you can opt for a menu, ranging from € 80 for the ‘Young’ menu to the € 180-worth ‘Creativo’ menu, mainly intended for group meals.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia (via privata Raimondo Montecuccoli 6, M1 Primaticcio)

Aimo and Nadia are no less than an institution. The Tuscan couple and their staff, now led by their daughter Stefania, have always taken the conception of food as an art very seriously. This has resulted in original interpretations of Italian cuisine, created from certified Italian products. Inspiration comes from all across the peninsula, especially from the centre and the North. Prices are, alas, quite high: on the other hand, this will likely be the ultimate Italian food experience, and it may be worth it to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

 

If you liked our top 10 restaurants in Milan try to check our selected Milan homes for your vacation!