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MILAN

OPINION: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome

Milan or Rome - which of Italy's two major cities would you move to? After living and working in both, Roman-born journalist Silvia Marchetti explains why she would choose Milan every time.

Milan: the Italian city that has it all? 
Milan: the Italian city that has it all? Photo: Siavash on Unsplash

Italians are usually very attached to their birthplace and often think it’s the best city to live in. I was conceived and christened in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, so I’m a full-breed Roman. But whenever someone asks me which is better – Rome or Milan – I say Milan, and I don’t feel one bit guilty.

There are many reasons why I’d choose Italy’s finance capital over the Eternal City. I’ve had the chance to live and work in both, so have had time to weigh the pros (and cons) of each. 

In my view Milan beats Rome because it perfectly blends pleasure with quality of life; two things which do not always go hand in hand.

Milan’s livability depends on the beauty of the city, what it has to offer in terms of activities and events, and the efficiency of its services.  

Milan has always struck me as having a global, cosmopolitan appeal, of being a city always undergoing transformation, that looks to the future, is connected to the outside world and isn’t scared of change – probably due to the fact that it’s the capital of the Lombardy region, the economic engine of the country.

Rome on the other hand, despite all the grandeur and prestige of being Italy’s political center, is still very provincial. Apart from the archaeological wonders of the past and the overall ancient, laid-back vibe, I think it’s frozen in time. 

There are not many art exhibitions, little social buzz when compared to Milan, fewer international summits, and it’s hard to meet ‘global’ people other than expats already living in Rome. 

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Milan has another rhythm. The Milanese are workaholics, always on the run, but in a neat way. 

They know they can bike to work along the many new cycle lanes, or that their morning train will likely be on time. What has always hit me in Milan is that there are more subway lines and stations (more than 100 in Milan vs 67 in Rome), and more train and plane connections to the rest of Italy and to the world. 

If you need to fly to Asia from Rome, you’ll find fewer long-haul flights and your plane will make a pit stop in Milan. Last time I wanted to go sunbathing in Pantelleria, Sicily, I had to fly from Rome Fiumicino to Milan Linate and take another flight. 

Milan’s skyline is amazing. In recent years it has undergone an urban metamorphosis unlike any other European city. Baroque palaces, designer boutiques and elegant boulevards are now juxtaposed with avant-garde buildings, vibrant neighborhoods that have been given a makeover, lush parks and futuristic skyscrapers designed by ‘starchitects’ that blend nature with architectural innovation and technology. 

A view from Milan’s “Library of Trees” botanical park in the Porta Nuova district shows the Unicredit tower (L) and the Bosco Verticale (R) high-rise complex. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

I see Milan as Italy’s ‘Little Manhattan’. The most mesmerizing ‘new’ buildings are the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, a set of two residential towers featuring trees jutting-out of glass balconies. The 202-meter tall Isozaki Tower, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for the new CityLife district, and the towers designed by Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid. 

The new neighborhoods have a bohemian vibe. The revamped, trendy Isola-Porta Nuova district was once isolated from the rest of the city as an island, cut away by the train station, a ghetto where only factory workers lived. The modernist boom has worked a miracle. From once being an outcast zone it’s been given a second lease of life. Milan’s gentry has chosen it as their home, while old factory stores have been turned into artisan shops. Art galleries mingle with street art, bistros, experimental restaurants, jazz clubs and bikers’ get togethers.

But the great thing about Milan is that no matter how great its transformation ,it retains its original spirit and has found a balance between tradition and innovation.

And then there’s fashion, but what I love is the fashion with a ‘little’ F. Not the big brands, the glossy designer boutiques that line Via Montenapoleone, but the small artisan-run ateliers where family members have been making tailored, bespoke garments of the highest quality – from shirts to hats and shoes – for generations.

READ ALSO: Seven insider tips for shopping in Milan

What I probably love most about Milan are the art shows and exhibitions. There’s always so much to see and discover, each day there are new events and during the weekend you just don’t have time to squash everything in.

My second most loved Milanese plus point is the aperitivo ritual. 

The Milanese may be always in a rush, but at happy hour their heartbeat slows down and they finally chill. Aperitivo hour is that special moment at the end of a hard day’s work when you get together with your friends, relax, dedicate time to yourself, break the routine by indulging in evening drinks with finger foods.

My favorite cool drinking spots are panoramic terraces, rooftop lounges with infinity pools to admire the sunset, and ancient thermal baths. Elegant gardens, Renaissance palazzos, aristocratic mansions, old factories and art galleries have been restyled into fashionable and vibrant cocktail bars.

A view from the roof of Milan’s Cathedral extends to the Italian Alps. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Whereas Rome’s Lungotevere banks come to life occasionally, the Navigli canals network is a buzzy, vibrant nightlife hotspot year-round. People get together on barges to enjoy apericena, another typical Milanese fad which blends aperitif time with dinner. My first one lasted 4 hours.

For those seeking to escape the social buzz, Milan also has a ‘quiet’ side which fascinates me. 

There are hidden, secret neighborhoods where time stands still, featuring weird buildings and ear-shaped statues such as those found in the Silence Quadrilateral where you can even spot real flamingos in gardens. Old historical mansions with lavish inner courtyards are worth visiting, too, they’re open to the public only on certain occasions known as ‘Cortili Aperti’ (Open Courtyards) and I recommend booking ahead. 

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The cool thing about Milan is it perfectly blends the modern with the old. There are mysterious spots I adore visiting each time: spooky crypts, ancient Roman underground ruins and damp chambers stacked with thousands of skeletons that were once used as hospital graveyards.

However, even the posh fashion district allows for a quick escape. Last time I was there I found refuge by losing myself in the maze of neat alleys behind the chic Via della Spiga.

I think Milan will always be Italy’s trend-setter, a city with an ‘international breath’, as Italians would say. You really feel that you’re in one of the world’s centers, and not just because there’s the stock exchange.

Sure, Milan is much more expensive than Rome. And that’s because the Milanese have higher salaries, thus a higher GDP per capita, which means the cost of living is higher compared to Rome (from food to property). The Milan-Rome comparison is the emblem of the south-north dichotomy.

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HEALTH

How bad is Italy’s north-south ‘healthcare gap’ really?

Despite recent improvements, stark regional differences in healthcare provision persist in Italy and the problem seems to be here to stay, writes Silvia Marchetti.

How bad is Italy’s north-south ‘healthcare gap’ really?

Italians have a sad saying: ‘health is a right in the north, and a hope in the south’. 

Despite recent improvements, regional differences in healthcare standards continue to plague the country, telling a ‘tale of two Italies’ with the country divided in half, and featuring a trend of southerners travelling north for treatment.

The south-north healthcare gap of the past has of course significantly shortened. Things are very different now from the days when Turin doctor Carlo Levi wrote ‘Cristo si è fermato ad Eboli’ (Christ stopped at Eboli) in 1945, when he talked about the shock of seeing poor children in Matera, the capital of Basilicata, with flies in their eyes and infections. 

Today, Basilicata leads southern regions on healthcare performance. And there are significant differences in standards between southern regions, with Calabria and Molise lagging behind Sicily, Puglia and Campania for treatment and services.

READ ALSO: Five essential facts about Italy’s public healthcare system  

But differences remain, and the pandemic has worsened the outlook according to a recent report by the government’s CNEL agency.

Public healthcare expenditure is at a national average of 1,838 euros per person per year. But the figure is much higher in northern regions than in the south: for example, it’s 2,255 euros in Bolzano versus 1,725 euros in Calabria. 

This translates into lower investments in healthcare in the south, ranging from research in medicines and therapies to top doctors and avant-garde treatments. 

The Policlinico A. Gemelli Hospital in Rome. Italy’s capital is home to several highly-rated hospitals and clinics, but some residents still travel north in search of better or faster treatment. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Waiting lists in the public healthcare system for checks and surgeries are longer in the south than in the north, where all the best doctors tend to be. I’ve met many southern doctors who, after studying abroad, ditched their native regions for Rome or Milan where most of the top-rated clinics and hospitals are located.

Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna have always shone when compared to Sicily and Calabria. And even Rome, despite being the capital, lags behind Milan.

However there have been a few improvements in southern standards lately, and the situation varies depending on the type of treatment.

According to the 2021 public hospitals performance report (PNE), even though the north is showing better results in terms of treatments for cancer and orthopaedics, the poorer southern regions are raising standards in some areas.

For instance, among the top 10 facilities with higher proportions of primary angioplasty guaranteed within 90 minutes, a good index of appropriateness and timeliness, seven are based in the south.

READ ALSO: Who can register for national healthcare in Italy?

Still, the gap has led to a type of ‘health tourism’ within Italy. There are no statistics, but I’ve met many southern people who have had to fly to the north for particular treatments, access to top doctors and cutting-edge surgeries, for example for knee and hip replacements. 

They rented apartments or stayed at hotels for weeks after their surgery to undergo rehab and physiotherapy, at considerable extra expense. 

I’ve met others who had to fly from Salerno and Puglia to Millan and Bologna for hip, shoulder and knee joint reconstruction or replacement, with all the hassle of the journey in poor health and the extra transport and accommodation costs it entails. 

It was striking to find that many Romans are among those who regularly travel to Milan for heart and orthopaedic checks and surgeries. Rome does have a few top-rated clinics, but apparently not as many as Milan.

Meanwhile many doctors from Milan, Padua and Bologna come ‘fishing’ for desperate patients in Rome and Naples who have failed to find a surgeon willing to operate on them due to their complex conditions. 

READ ALSO: The parts of Italy with the best (and worst) quality of life in 2022

This healthcare gap in my view will never completely disappear, despite the incoming European funds through the pandemic recovery plan aimed at shortening it.

It will be further reduced in time, but not in the near future, particularly if all the good doctors continue to flee north for higher salaries, prestige and a more promising career.

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