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Milan is cleaning up its act.

When we think of Italy, we tend to think of eye-popping Florence, Venice and Rome. Milan doesn’t feature, although we vaguely know that it’s big on design and has a famous opera house called La Scala, not to mention a world class football team. But Milan, it seems is coming into its own. On the New York Times’ list of ‘where to go in 2011’, Milan is smartening up.

Most of the scaffolding is now gone from the newly scrubbed towering Gothic masterpiece, the Duomo, Milan’s impressive Cathedral. The Museo del Novecento opened across the piazza in the lovingly restored Palazzo dell’Argentario in December, housing the city’s collection of 20th-century art.

And exciting things are happening outside the old centre too. Disused factories have been transformed into design studios, old warehouses revamped as unconventional art venues, and art galleries are brimming with avant-garde works. Visit two of the best: the Spazio Rossana Orlandi gallery, which displays the latest creations from emerging designers, and the recently opened Hangar Bicocca, a cavernous art venue which can house large-scale art installations.

Perhaps one of the most fashionable additions on the design front is the ‘green’ Hotel Milano Scala, which opened last year in a renovated 19th-century mansion promising ‘zero-emissions’. Italy is hardly famous for being environmentally pro-active so this proves that Milan is once again on the cutting edge.

Easy Jet flies to both Milan’s Linate and Malpensa airports and Ryanair flies to Bergamo for Milan.

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