24 Hours in ... Milan

There's a lot more to this city than its reputation as the world's fashion capital.

Elka Whalan (nee Graham) spent the best part of a decade at the top of the swimming game, as a dual Olympian at Sydney 2000 and the Athens 2004 Games. Now she's based in Italy with her water polo playing husband, Thomas Whalan.


Whalan likes an "Italian sleep-in". She gets out of bed at 8am to assess the day's weather and clothing options. "Milan offers extreme weather conditions, which always leaves it fun to work out and then determine whether the sun will shine or fog and mist will set in," she says.


Head to the famous Corso Como, a trendy area close to the city that is always bustling with people. The area is home to fashion and design stores, restaurants, bars and cafes. Unmissable is 10 Corso Como, a shop/bar/restaurant/gallery created by the former editor of Italian Vogue, Carla Sozzani.

"It's close to the Garibaldi Station, so you could catch the metro if your hotel isn't within walking distance," Whalan says. "Order a coffee or fresh juice and a pastry, then discover the mayhem of this busy area as Italians head to work - always beautifully dressed."


Along Corso Como you'll find boutiques including Prada and Gucci, as well as music stores and art galleries. "If you want to start early on blowing the budget, now is the time," Whalan says.

"Be sure to pick up a CD to remind you of your travels and enjoy the art Milan is so proud of. Walk 200 metres down the road and you'll discover High-Tech Milan, a groovy store that is well known for its amazing furniture, bathrooms and home decor."


If you've taken Whalan's advice, you'll have now entered the historic Brera district. "It's the oldest district in Milan, so snap away at the brilliant buildings and architecture," she suggests. "This place is full of history and the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery features some of the most famous art through the centuries."


When in Milan, tuck into the pizza loved by locals. In the Brera area you'll find small pizzerias where you're just as likely to sit next to a wealthy businessman as an art student. "Double up on macchiato, as there is still a lot of shopping to be done," Whalan says.


The so-called Golden Quadrangle in Milan offers high-end retail therapy.

Made up of four famous shopping streets, Whalan says this is the place where her wallet always feels lighter. Start on Via Montenapoleon.

"Window shop if the price isn't right but be sure to see it in all its glory," she says.

Turn into Via Della Spiga, a shopping street just for pedestrians.

"Walk down the middle of the street and your jaw will drop at the shopfronts of Trussardi, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Bvlgari.

"There is so much character and charisma in these streets; you can see why Milan is known as the fashion capital of the world."


If you're willing to put up with the crowds, Whalan recommends the climb to the top of the the Duomo Cathedral for the spectacular views.

If crowds aren't your style, she suggests a peek inside the church, a stroll to nearby Duomo Galleria and into La Rinascente emporium.

"Head up to the sixth floor and out onto the beautiful terrace where you can order a drink and enjoy an uninterrupted view over the top of the Duomo and Milan - with calmness and privacy," she says.


Turn right as you leave La Rinascente and you'll stumble across La Scala Theatre, the main venue for concerts, operas and ballet performances. "If you're willing to pay a bit and have a spare three hours up your sleeve, be sure to see the famous Roberto Bolle, a classical ballet dancer like none before and adored by so many," Whalan says.


A stay at the Sheraton Diana Majestic Hotel is worth every euro. "It is typically Milanese and boasts a five-star taste," Whalan says. "It's superb in summer when you can enjoy a pre-dinner drink in the hotel's beautiful garden and watch the sunset."


The Colonne di San Lorenzo is the best-known Roman ruin in Milan and Whalan recommends a walk around this part of town before dinner. "The area is known as Porta Ticinese and it's the perfect neighbourhood to soak up the history Milan offers," she says. "You'll end up at La Trattoria; with its typical Tuscan menu it specialises in meat dishes. If you're really hungry, go for a Florentine steak - delicious."


Navigli was once a network of canals with a route to the coast for transporting cargo. Several canals remain in the Porta Ticinese district, now home to lively nightclubs and bars. "Wander in and out of the bars to choose the style and mood you prefer," Whalan says. "I like Le Scimmie (Monkey Bar) which is brilliant for live jazz."


End up back where you started - Corso Como. At Hollywood bar, entry is steep (25-30 euros) but Whalan says it's worth it. "Don't be surprised to brush up against famous football players, models and the beautiful people," she says.


"By 5.30am your feet may be hurting. Hop in a taxi and hightail it back to your comfy bed at the Sheraton."