Want a cold cure? Head for Milan before it gets busy: there's room to shop, the art is stunning, and the area's detours are something else. By Oliver Bennett
February is not a great travelling month. Indeed, it’s traditionally the one when you wistfully plan the summer escape as you eke out the declining days of the British winter. But February’s destinations are often cheap, bright and delightful.
Take Europe’s great cities, which at this time you’ll find quiet and atmospheric rather than frenetic and stratospheric: Milan, for example, Italy’s bustling fashion powerhouse. It’s not a tourist town as such, but it has masses of fabulous sights and – prior to the incessant, sunglass-clad stream of visitors to the fashion and design shows in March, April and May – you’ll be in with a chance of actually enjoying them.
There’s the soaring Duomo, which turns stone into gravity-defying Gothic fantasy; the Pinacoteca di Brera, chock-full of Raphael, Bellini, Piero della Francesca and Caravaggio; and the see-it-and-die big-hitter in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Leonardo’s Last Supper.
Of course, you’ll want to shop, and Milan delivers diabolically seductive retail. Most visitors will at least browse in Milan’s Quadrilatero d’Oro, one of the richest concentrates of couture in the world.
But take advice, and you’ll find a great seam of cheaper outlet shops too, where you can find all the Missoni and Miu Miu you desire (see factory shop book Scoprioccasioni for recommendations).
Milan is a good choice for side trips, too. A little over an hour away is Turin, the home of Fiat and a surprisingly alluring city: it’s cultured (it was recently designated World Book Capital), and is in a terrific location surrounded by hills and a surfeit of Baroque buildings.
And under an hour away from Milan, you’ll find the northern Italian Lakes, the glamorous playground of the city’s brass – and a place to find the first glimmers of spring.
Yes, they have one over there…