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Places to Visit in Italy : The Christmas Markets in Milan.
Places to Visit in Italy : The Christmas Markets in Milan.
If you are thinking about taking a short trip to a Christmas market then you know you have lots of choice.
Of course when you think of a Christmas market then normally Germany immediately springs to mind.
Or perhaps even further north into Scandinavia where the winter scenery provides the perfect backdrop for the feast of St Nicholas.
But looking further south you may be pleasantly surprised with Milan in Northern Italy.
There are at least three popular markets that take place in the month of December every year in the streets of Milan.
In addition, as the city is a fashion capital, you can enjoy an extra shopping experience in the classy boutiques, salons and outlets of the city.
THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS OF MILAN
1. The massive L'Artigiano at Rho Fiera in the west of the city
2. The 'Oh Bei Oh Bei! festival at Castello Sforzesco in the city centre.
3. The food market in Piazza Duomo at the gothic cathedral in the centre.
4. The 'Equosolidali' ecology Market in Wagner in the south west.
Come all Ye Faithful Shoppers to L'Artigiano in Fiera
L'Artigiano in Fiera is in early December and normally runs for 10 days. It's by far the biggest, most popular and is open till late in the evening.
The market is easy to reach as the Metro is very convenient. You can take the M1 red line from the city centre. But be careful as there are two trains which use the line in the centre of Milan before forking after the stop at Pagano.
If you absent-mindedly get on the wrong train you'll end up miles away heading for Bisceglie. But if you realise your mistake then you have a few minutes grace as you can get off at Pagano station and wait for the Rho train.
If you don't then maybe you could try the consolation of checking out the eco-friendly Christmas market above the metro station. It's called 'Equosolidali' and there they sell sustainable good cheer and recycled greetings for the environmentally aware customer.
It's a small indoor market at Pagano under a big marquee with international goods and is resident for most of the month of December. It specialises in products like ethnic goods and vegan food but also Christmas cards, decorations and gifts.
Some of the proceeds are given to charity so it's a worthwhile cause particularly at the time of goodwill to all.
But otherwise avoid the Bisceglie train and make sure you are on the Rho Fieramilano train. Also remember to buy the correct ticket as the trip to the market is more expensive than the normal city ticket.
If you're travelling by other means then don't get confused with Fieramilanocity as that is nowhere near the location. The word 'Fiera' is simply a generic word used for any place that holds festivals, fairs etc.
If you want to spend in cash then make sure you have it before you go as there may be long queues at the auto-teller machines in the market.
You find plenty in the city centre but remember that ATM in Milan is actually the acronym for the transport system not the machines which the Italians call 'Bancomat'. So don't follow any misleading signs.
Acres and acres of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers
L'Artigiano in Fiera at Rho is absolutely huge as it usually comprises 3 large pavilions under its roofs. There is a pavilion for Italy, one for Europe and another for the Rest of the World.
There are around 3,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries. Normally you can guarantee about 3 million people visiting the market each year and at busy periods it is absolutely thronged with customers. Therefore it's best to avoid weekends.
The prices are usually very good too and you can find lots of bargains to make your Christmas budget stretch a little further. Admission is free too.
Inside the building you will find an international cornucopia of food, drink, goods and products. It's an Aladdin's cave for the credit-card wielding hunters and plunderers seeking the treasures of the world.
You can literally spend hours wandering around this commercial maze of colour and spectacle. It's the ultimate one-stop shopping centre to get that Christmas stocking overflowing and bursting at the hem.
You can get too much of a good thing and far too much of any old thing
However, for me, after a couple of hours I was suffering from a massive textile overdose.
There were enough rugs and mats to carpet the entire Indian sub-continent. They seemed to be everywhere in the eastern sections with weavers demonstrating the creative process.
Also too many scarves, tie-dyed shirts, skirts and hats plus wooden ornaments, beads and brooches carved from the outposts of the Orient and other places.
The already cluttered mantlepieces of the world awaited a seasonal addition of dust-gathering fragments of long dead tree trunks. With the forests falling and the ice caps melting what chances of a White Christmas in a future of global warming and disintegrating ozone?
I'm a minimalist at heart I suppose so my eyes quickly glaze over at all these seemingly pointless acquisitions.
But the less grump and humbug you have the better.
It is certainly the season to be merry and why not enjoy the exotic novelties on display.
Even if only to over burden the sideboard of someone else on the 25th December.
You'll find the market bewildering or boring depending on your outlook.
But certainly a special highlight for me was the sight of Buddhist monks painting Mandalas.
Beautifully intricate and heavily detailed it was fascinating to watch them as they delicately applied the many colours to their work.
Convenience food at inconvenient prices in every language
There is plenty of food on offer from all over the world with various styles and flavours. You can try some Argentinian meat, Chinese curry or Japanese sushi.
These are situated in the Food Corners therefore, as you can guess, the description tells you exactly where they are in the pavilion.
But most of the catering consists of overdressed fast food outlets. The McDonalds culture especially customised and adapted for regional tastes.
The clack of plastic on plastic is heard instead of the clink of silver on porcelain. But if you want the latter than try the quaint English stall selling typical tea-sets evocative of summer lawns beside the cricket pitch or Victorian drawing rooms furnished with comfortable armchairs.
We tried some Cuban fare with decent food but ironically lots of imperial Coca-cola available which might have made Castro choke on his cigar.
The staff were helpful and friendly but seemed in more of a rush for business than to offer that extra personal service. Keep the seats filled and the cash register ringing rather than a warm greeting followed by traditional hospitality. More Miami than Havana perhaps.
Of course you can buy food to take home too and the market has all flavours and tastes. Seafood including oysters, meat, bread, French truffles and Moroccan spices and tea are just some of the examples.
The latter had a recreation of a Casbah style hangout to allow you to partake of some authentic beverage of the mysterious north of Africa. Haggling is encouraged too such are the ancient ways of the street bazaar.
You'll also also find plenty of sweets, treats and other goodies for the kids at Rho. Plus it goes without saying that many stalls sell Christmas goods too. But there, I've said it.
We bought some pungent Swiss cheese but back home we realised, after a short while, that it had colonised the fridge with its over-conquering smell. So it was exiled to the balcony from where I'm sure the aroma would someday eventually reach the unsuspecting nostrils of the gnomes of Zurich.
If you get bored with the commercial fever or are satiated by the cuisine then there is also entertainment available.
One of the most popular was the German section with a fun Oompah band and organist playing catchy Teutonic melodies.
A touch of old Bavaria in lederhosen and feather hats struck the right atmosphere.
There was a Scottish show too and to complement the Celtic flavour it sat next to an Irish bar. The English store was nearby also keeping in with the regional organisation.
But the former was a bar in name only as it was an ad-hoc simile of the pejoratively titled 'Plastic Paddy' corporate monstrosity to satisfy another old stereotype.
But while you sit with a badly poured Guinness and some steak and potatoes you can watch the kilted warriors across the way. The beating of drums and the skirl of the bagpipes drew the Italians in their droves.
It was 'Saor Patrol' who were playing and they are there every year. Plus if you want a souvenir there are usually t-shirts available.
The musical entertainment can vary from year to year. So you may find a Spanish Flamenco dance, the tribal drums of Africa or the Latin rhythms of the Copacabana to add a musical accompaniment to your visit.
On the flagstones and under the spires at Piazza Duomo
If you don't want to travel all the way to the west of the city or you simply don't have time then you can find markets in the city centre.
You also have the special pleasure of immersing yourself in more interesting architectural surroundings with the added bonus of the festive sparkle and glitter. The sights, the sounds and the smells of Christmas are all around.
In Piazza Duomo under the towering Gothic spires of the famous cathedral you can take a walk around the lively and attractive scene. The aromas of baked food and mulled wine add to the normal smell of roasted chestnuts that is present all winter.
An old tradition is to hang chestnuts from the stalls. They are wound together in a spiral that resembles the plaid of a women's hair. You can also eat 'castagnaccio' which is a special cake made of chestnuts.
It's the most charming and romantic of the Christmas markets as it sits in such an historic and classically inspired location. All around are interesting buildings exquisitely structured and designed.
The magnificent 19th century Galleria of Vittorio Emmanulle II sits next to the Duomo. But there are also several pleasant facades of Romanesque style buildings plus the stylish pastiche of the Museo del Novecento.
A large Christmas tree with the moon high above in the dark sky added to the seasonal flavour. Although the huge yellow box in which it sat gave a visual blast of the sponsors logo.
The ancient, the traditional and the gaudily commercial still sit uneasily together in the festive season.
Oh Bei Oh Bei at via Dante and Castello Sforzesco
There is a bigger market in the centre and it's only 5 minutes walk from Piazza Duomo on the way to the Castello Sforzesco. It takes place around the 7th December which is the feast of Sant'Ambrogio.
This is the 'Oh Bei, Oh Bei' market which specialises in antiques, paintings and many other potential Yuletide gifts.
It was originally just an antique market particularly known for fine copper goods. The name 'Oh Bei, Oh Bei' derives from the cries of young children who couldn't pronounce 'Belli, Belli" correctly when they exclaimed in wonder at the 'Beautiful, Beautiful' treasures on display.
You can try the spicy 'porchetta' sandwiches or the 'frittelle' which are round, flat pieces of dough, deep fried in olive oil and then smothered in sugar. If that's not enough an assault on your arteries or waistline then have a hot chocolate with cream too.
The street used to be smothered with people too as via Dante is relatively narrow for such a popular event. It suffered from too much popularity and outgrew its location.
What was usually a perfectly negotiable pedestrian precinct became a packed mass of winter coats, shopping bags and sharp elbows. The Milanese have never been renowned for their patience or manners in the public clamour.
Thankfully the market was extended
It now circles around the walls of the famous castle.
But the market actually used to take place at the Sant'Ambrogio church near Cadorna.
However it also became too popular and in even narrower streets and lanes the area became crammed with people.
So for safety reasons it was relocated to the centre of town.
It had also become a haven for bootleg traders and shady dealers.
They could conceal themselves more easily in the shadows among the throng.
But now the market is now more organised and regulated in the area surrounding the castle.
This allows more space to shop in comfort and joy. Remember though that winters in Northern Italy can be as cold as Northern Europe so take warm clothes and footwear.
The markets are very popular with local shoppers and visitors but they are also just as popular with local pickpockets, beggars and the usual hawkers of ephemeral tat.
I don't want to overstate the risk as Milan is no worse than any other large international city such as London, Barcelona or New York. But it's always advisable to stay alert and secure your valuables.
But then again being ripped-off at Christmas is always a customary pastime whether it's by legal means or otherwise. Merry Christmas!
Read more about Milan at these links.
- A Rough Guide to Italy : Things to do in Milan
A comprehensive account of the attractions of the Italian metropolis of Milan. With pictures, links and recommendations. There are many things to do in Milan and many things worth seeing in an exciting, energetic and busy city.
- Places to Visit in Milan in Italy : See the Buildings of Piazza Duomo
Piazza Duomo in Milan is known best for its Cathedral. The other buildings are a varied mixture. Nevertheless on this virtual tour, no matter how ancient, antique or modern, they are worth exploring.
- A Rough Guide to Milan : Things to do and see in Brera.
The Bohemian sector of the bustling city of Milan in Italy. Amongst the financial whirl of wheeling and dealing in the urban jungle discover an oasis of leisure and pleasure in the streets of Brera.