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Cantine Isola, Milan Cantine Isola, Milan

The ultimate Milan bar crawl

From sipping ice-cold spritz's along the navigli to late night biking around Milan's Castello Sforza, there are many ways to see the city with a drink in your hand

First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women. Like Tony Montana, Milan is small, psychotic, and has embraced this philosophy like no other. Not only is the beauty of the female form appreciated here, but Italy's financial capital has attracted the best food and wine of every region to make it a veritable force in gastronomy and a fantastic wine-bar destination.

Yet not many people know - and even less realise - that you could string these regional wonders together to make one of Italy's most thrilling bar crawls. Indeed it took me four misspent years of scratching my head at the wine counter to have the light bulb moment, but after much deliberation, I figured out Milan's perfect route. I took 10 friends on it, and it were such a resounding success that I declared it worth sharing with the world. So here I am sharing it with you... the world.


However, before you begin the extravaganza of spending an evening exploring these delights, some bicycles are in order. This will minimise transport time, and maximise tasting time, while also permitting great Milanese pleasures such as flying through the castle grounds under the sparkling midnight lanterns. So, to begin, head to Rosignetti on Corso Garibaldi, where bikes cost €10 euros for a day, and €18 for a weekend, get on your saddle and peddle yourself down to the Navigli.

Taccas on the Naviglio Pavese is our first stop, a Sardinian wine bar that has borrowed a little from that traditional bacari of Venice. This is not simply for having positioned itself on a canal, but for the small glass of wine known as an ombra which goes for a reasonable two euros a pop. It makes for a particularly relaxed atmosphere as you can refill your glass yourself from a flask, and mark your tally on a notepad (of course I am always honest, though perhaps not all glasses are quite as filled to the brim as mine...). Sardinia is famous among holiday makers for its white sandy beaches and transparent sea, yet equally famous in the realm of cheese and cured meats are their pecorino and salami. A chopping board covered with these treats, known as a tagliere, can be ordered and propped with your wine upon the canal's bannister for your own little slice of la serenissima.

Following the canal upwards you then come up to what used to be a derelict hole of unkempt grass before the Expo came and rejuvenated Milan. The Expo left in its wake the newly constructed Darsena and our own little lake of tranquillity to huddle around. Of course, to satisfy these parched and hungry arrivals a snazzy new market was in order, and in it you will find the next stop: La Macelleria Popolare: Milan's free-range butcher turned street food extraordinaire. Everything is organic here, from the thick red wine, to the thick red meats of the Piemonte beef, where you can see all customers staring deeply into the display, hypnotised by the richness of the textures and colours. Not to be missed here are the meatballs and sheep liver that they will grill up for you at the moment and you can take over to sit with under the sun, above the shimmering water.

camparino-barCamparino Bar

From this point the options split. Heading up Porta Ticinese you could stop at Bodega del Tasca for a quick taste of Spain with their simple but excellently paired ingredients on crusty bread. On the other hand, parallel is Corso Genova and La Colonne for the old and authentic Italian wine bar experience, where you can take yourself a bottle of prosecco, pop it on the barrels outside and help yourself to the buffet of complimentary snacks. Though either path you take, its onwards up to the Duomo where if the wine has had some effect, you may want to stop and marvel a while. You can do so from the comfort of Bar Campari, a place that drips in a long-lost glamour and where the bright red spritzes shout out against the white tuxedos of the waiters serving them.

And now up the scenic Via Mercato and past the bike shop lies our next stop; La Prosciutteria. Literally 'the hammery', this is a Florentine wine and ham bar stocked to the brim with cheap and full bodied chianti, with all the charm of a Tuscan cavern inside, and benches outside for warmer evenings where you may plonk your taglieri and wine bottles and dance in enjoyment of the hot air and loud flavours.

la-prosciutteriaLa Prosciutteria

A quick left turn and it’s into Parco Sempione, the old grounds of Milan's spectacular Castello Sforzesco. It is open until midnight and an evening cycle through it is well in order by this point. You go north until you reach Arco della Pace and contemplate finishing your night with a Margherita from Pizza OK. But not yet! The final stop (and no doubt the best saved for last) is Cantine Isola around the corner Milan's Chinatown. This is an unparalleled sensory paradise, from the wooden dècor and poetry smattered over its endless array of wine bottles, to its offerings of fragrant Barolo and quintessential Italian bruschette that line the counter to be grabbed at will. It has existed for 100 years, a true Milanese institution and you can trust it to be filled with lively atmosphere and clinking glasses on any day of the week. However it closes at 10, so make sure to plan accordingly to fit it in.

If at this time you're still in need of further refreshment, finish the evening at Panika on Via Castelfidardo. This is a relaxed but always buzzing little place on one of Milan's most scenic streets, where you leave your prosecco bottle on the car of whoever was foolish enough to park it outside, and natter away under the gorgeous blue shutters of the windows above.

And if somehow you're still hungry, why not finish off with a zaza ramen from around the corner? For this is Milan, perhaps Italy's only truly cosmopolitan city, and so arguably the only place in the world that can offer such a rich and reasonably priced variety of wine and cheese, and all with the possibility to be merrily washed down with a bowl of midnight noodles.