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Milan: Exploring Italy’s gay capital 

We discover the history, fashion and food of Italy’s gay hub

By Markus Bidaux

It is late October and the streets along Via Lecco, Milan’s main LGBTQ+ area, are packed with people. Most of the bars along this road are tiny forcing the patrons to spill out and fill the road, which creates a buzzing atmosphere. The gay bars are not limited to the one street, just a couple of streets over we find Bar Lola and Pop Milano are doing a roaring trade too. Having travelled from the top of Italy down to its well-heeled stiletto over the years, it is easy to see why Milan is Italy’s gay hub.

LGBTQ bars in Milan | top left: Pop Milano, top right: Via Lecco, bottom two: Dehor on Via Lecco (Images: Markus Bidaux)

In fact, I’m here to attend the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s Global Conference, which demonstrates how passionately the city must have campaigned to host the event and their commitment to support its LGBTQ+ community. After the three-day conference, I have time to explore the city with help from Italy’s LGBTQ+ travel company Quiiky, who offers walking tours as well as tailor-made itinerates.

Corrado, my Quiiky tour guide (Image: Markus Bidaux)

Over several days, Corrado, one of Quiiky’s tour guides, gives me a sampling of several of their tours. We start with a tour of the gothic Duomo, the largest cathedral in Italy – The Vatican in Rome is bigger, but technically it is its own country. What makes this cathedral unique is that you can take a lift to the roof and walk on top of the building. It is quite a surreal experience walking under the white marble flying buttresses and amongst its 3,400 statues, which include 135 gargoyles. Six centuries of craftmanship went into its construction it really shows from the outside to the inside with its incredible stained-glass windows.

Milan Cathedral (Images: Markus Bidaux)

Another relic of Milan’s past is La Scala Theatre built in 1778. While the exterior is not as grand as other legendary opera houses in Europe, the interior more than makes up for it. When we arrive, they are rehearsing The Tempest and we were sneak into the royal box with the perfect view in the horseshoe-shaped theatre to watch the actors and orchestra shake up Shakespeare.

La Scala (Image: Markus Bidaux)

Another artful tour follows, I would have thought most Leonardo Da Vinci history would be in Florence, but in fact, the Florentine Master spent two periods of his life in Milan amounting to about 20 years. In that time, he made many great works including The Last Supper, a fresco in the Covent of Sana Maria Dele Grazie. We visit the Ambrosiana Gallery where his Portrait of a Musician and his collection of drawings ‘Codex Atlanticus’ is displayed. Leonardo’s sexuality has been the subject of much debate for centuries and my guide Corrado tells me that he likely had a romantic relationship with some of his pupils.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician at the Ambrosiana Gallery (Image: Markus Bidaux)

Another tour includes the magnificent Villa Necchi Campiglio in an affluent area of the city. It is famous for being the location of many scenes in House of Gucci, the real house where Gucci lived is actually a couple of blocks away, and I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton. The house dates back to 1930 and gives a glimpse of Milanese sophisticates’ lives with its Art Deco architecture and marvellous art collection – surprisingly, the maid’s black-tiled bathroom is a highlight for me. And one room is temperature controlled to preserve the collection of over a dozen Picasso paintings hanging on the walls in it.  

Villa Necchi Campiglio (Images: Markus Bidaux)

I had two culinary highlights in Milan, one was lunch at Boeucc, a restaurant that has been serving guests for over 325 years. It is a formal affair – white linen table clothes, silver cutlery, and impeccable service. This is the spot to go for classic Milanese cuisine, for something more modern, I had the pleasure of joining a group and having the head chef of Rataná cook a five-course menu for us. I’ve been to Italy nearly a dozen times and it is no word of a lie when I say his tortellini with herbs, cooked butter and amaretto is the best pasta dish I have ever had – I would happily make the journey back to Milan just for that one dish.

Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II (Image: Markus Bidaux)

Of course, Milan is famous for fashion and the Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II, is Italy’s oldest active shopping gallery. Its four-storey double arcade is covered by stunning iron and glasswork and below my feet are intricate mosaic floors. The shops here are out of my price range, so I venture out of the city to Piedmont region where one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations resides, the Serravalle McArthurGlen Outlet. Visiting most of the 230 outlet shops, which include everything from high-end Italian luxury brands to global high-street fashion, is quite a task, but someone must do it.

Serravalle McArthurGlen Outlet (Image: supplied)

The region is also a respected area of gastronomy with truffle hunting being a popular hobby and its hazelnuts are known the world over in the form of Nutella. In the heart of the Gavi District, Gavi being a popular white wine unique to the area, we visit Villa Sparina Resort. The 18th-century farmhouse complex includes the 4-star Ostelliere hotel, the La Gullina restaurant, and the Villa Sparina winery.

Villa Sparina Resort (Images: Markus Bidaux)

We enjoy a tour of the rustic hotel rooms and the huge 250-year-old cellar before joining one of the property’s chefs for a cooking class. We make gnocchi, prepare a streak dish, and fashion together a few tiramisus before sitting down to enjoy our hard work.

Our handmade gnocchi at Villa Sparina (Images: Markus Bidaux)

With a full stomach and bags of shopping in tow, we head back to Milan to enjoy one last night of dancing in the streets in Italy’s gay mecca.

Attitude was hosted in Milan by