Milan Travel Guide

Milan Travel Guide

Jessica Benavides Canepa

Milan, Italy’s style-centric hub for fashion, art and finance doesn’t always paint the prettiest picture. Grey weather and at times gaudy architecture may not send your imagination racing, but a vibrant history, jaw-dropping landmarks (the 15th-century Duomo Cathedral comes to mind) and a passionate sense of place seduces the senses all the same.

The secret to this chic city’s on-going appeal lies in its versatility. Wondering what to do in Milan? Explore in and around the Cathedral for a glimpse of cultural marvels La Scala Opera House and Palazzo Reale. In the Brera district, scour the art galleries, the bohemian boutiques and stop for a tipple or two in the area’s voguish bar scene. Or for a dramatic change of scenery, tour the narrow lanes and hip eateries overlooking a canal in night-crawling Navigli.

Room Mate Giulia

Room Mate Giulia

The best hotels in Milan

What was that old saying about location? Featuring spectacular views over the Piazza del Duomo and cutting-edge, bespoke bedrooms created by a collective of leading local designers, it seems like the adage was invented especially for the 14-room Townhouse Duomo. With understated opulence at every turn, book a deluxe room or suite for a postcard perfect view to remember. Enjoy Michelin-star dining at en suite Felix Lo Basso Restaurant followed by a nightcap at the chic Terrazza Duomo 21. Or opt for a bird’s-eye view of a different feather at Highline Gallery, a rooftop path that crosses the famed Vittorio Emanuele Gallery.

Also in the historic heart, the retro-mod Roommate Giulia offers 85 meticulously conceived rooms for the design-conscious urban traveller. Cutting-edge yet surprisingly homey, this stylish stay spoils guests with extra-convenient amenities such as leisurely breakfast until noon and Wi-Fi coverage around the city. In the rooms, renowned architect Patricia Urquiola showcases made-to-measure furnishings enhanced by geometric-styling, contrasting fabrics and splashes of coordinating colour. It all comes together in the lobby lounge, where the vibe is relaxed in an eclectic space (check out the artwork) that looks more like a chill-friendly living room than a hotel.

 

TownHouse Duomo

TownHouse Duomo

Minutes from upmarket shopping along tony via della Spiga, the Senato Hotel Milano is an urban oasis of bespoke style and glitz. The entrance is at once grand and refined; a wall of hand-made lamps resembling leaves adorns the reception while striped marble flooring extends towards the tranquil inner courtyard, the book-lined hallways and a retro-chic café with leather banquettes and golden-era films (and beyond) projected onto a screen. The minimalist green rooftop lounge is ideal for sunny breaks, and the rooms are equally understated; white-hued with black furnishings, brass detailing and beds promoting optimal slumber.

Built atop a former perfume factory, the Magna Pars Suites Milano combines equal parts high-tech innovation and eco sensibilities in a sophisticated 39-suite space. The façade is a steel and glass multi-tiered loft-style wonderland with minimalist interiors enhanced by cutting-edge furnishings, snippets of colour and subtle olfactory triggers. As to be expected, each room features a signature scent ranging from romantic florals including jasmine and magnolia to woodsy patchouli to fruity fig or cherry. The Da Noi In restaurant, run by 2-star Michelin chef Fulvio Siccardi, entices with creative takes on regional ingredients in a relaxing space highlighted by a vivid lavender field mural and an interior garden landscaped with fragrant trees and flora.

Gogol & Company | Photo: Stefania Sabrina Micol Ciocca

Gogol & Company | Photo: Stefania Sabrina Micol Ciocca

Things to do in Milan

Don’t let the fashionable façade fool you, Milanese cuisine is all about decidedly unglamorous hearty staples that please the palette considerably more than the eye. Popular dishes include risottos, flavoured to perfection with the pricey spice saffron, earthy minestrone and the veal dish coteletta. Thankfully, Milan’s undeniable creative nature means traditional dishes are often re-invented and served in linger-inducing design-centric venues.

Conspire with nature at Un Posto a Milano; a late 17th-century farmhouse renovated to host meals, drinks and events inspired by the region’s freshest bounty. Erba Brusca, juxtaposed between city and country salutes natural materials from woods to hearth in a spirited venue featuring food crate wine shelves and vivid colours depicting vegetation. In the leading edge Navigli district, 28 Posti serves bistro bites in an inspired design venue featuring recycled furnishings made by Bollate Penitentiary inmates. For mod moments in Milan’s newly face-lifted financial district, rooftop Ceresio 7, offers contempo cuisine surrounded by dark deco interiors and a panoramic terrace with two glistening swimming pools and greenery.

On the cusp between retro and high end, Pisacco serves creative classics housed in a sea of street art and daring design. In a warehouse space adorned with a contrast of distressed walls, crystal chandeliers and tables draped with crisp linens and fine china, Carlo e Camilla host kitchen soirees and cocktails based on raw, seasonal ingredients. White-on-white and chic beyond measure, Lume is the spot to be when nothing but Michelin star excellence will do.

Café culture is alive and well in Milan as evidenced by the quaffed, well-heeled folks spotted sipping fine roasts all about the city. One popular trend is the influx of lifestyle venues offering more than just java and respite. Australian brand Deux ex Machina offers arguably the best example of the one-stop phenomenon; vintage motorbikes (a la Steve Mc Queen), surf boards, accessories, barber shop and café mesh perfectly in a woods on leather, industrial haven of cool. Gogol & Company is the retro-fab indie bookshop, art gallery and coffee bar everyone wishes was on their corner street, while cosy and quaint Pause doubles as a vintage clothing store. But if coffee and conversation are all things needed to suit your humble goals, then take a break at the Prada Foundation’s Bar Luce, a 50’s-inspired designer dazzler of wood-panelling and formica. Or why not have your (homemade!) cake and coffee too at the industrial-design darling, Pave-Break café.

Ceresio 7

Ceresio 7

Shopping in Milan

Milan’s pioneering concept shop 10 Corso Como is still the epitome of must-have avant-garde styling, more than 25 years after its inception.  It is here that savvy shoppers find fashions, books, artwork and 3-room hotel in a gallery-esque space and hip garden café ideal for carousing your wares. Other concept notables include the multi-floored Excelsior Milano featuring of-the-moment brands like Dries Van Noten and Balmain in a slick, ultra-mod space more akin to a museum than a store, and the whimsical gallery/furnishings store (don’t miss the Alice meets Wonderland event space) Rossana Orlandi selling outlandish house-ware designs from international talents such as Nacho Carbonell and Dechem Studio. But if your décor tastes tilts towards streamlined minimalism with a dab of Italian ingenuity, De Padova has just the ticket.

Round off your shopping experience with accessories or threads from a select collection of head-to-toe boutiques for gents. Make a stop at the urban-casual Dictionary for street-wear with personality from the likes of Brosbi, Yohji Yamamoto and Void watches. For urban clothing, footwear and statement bowties Full has a fine selection, or if brands are your signature style, Biffi offers the latest ready to wear garbs from Alexander Wang, Paul Smith and Fendi.

Inspired by the bustling second-hand marketplaces of East London, East Market is a mecca for vintage clothing, antiques and odd knicker-knacks you can’t live without. Visitors can buy, barter or bargain any item or spend a lazy afternoon wandering the former WWII factory’s international food stalls. For serious antique shoppers, the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande boasts over 400 stalls of furniture, books, toys and assorted collectables along the canals of the Navigli district, the last Sunday of every month. This event really draws in the crowds; neighbouring galleries and eateries open late to the delight of visitors. Two other vintage markets worth the trouble are the open air Fiera di Sinigaglia and Porta Genova’s hit or miss Viale Papiniano flea market.

De Padova

De Padova

Milan nightlife

Milan is the quintessential playground for night owls with a penchant for mayhem. And for hungry (literally that is) souls, a pleasant surprise for first timers is that cocktails joints are routinely equipped with buffet-style (aperitivo) options generous enough to substitute a meal. A hot spot supporting this particularity is the art deco beauty H Club Diana, an oasis of sophistication featuring signature cocktails, an opulent private garden (of Eden?) and resident DJ beats. A wackier combo that actually works is the culinary marriage of craft cocktails and pizza (when in Rome) at hipster hangout Dry. Meanwhile, food plays second fiddle to the artsy design and sounds at Le Biciclette a popular venue offering a platform for on the rise artists and Dj’s ready to make their mark.

Mono Bar is a queer-friendly spot for boys, girls and all stripes to enjoy a rotating line-up of themed event nights. Sonic Wood is a weekly crowd pleaser spotlighting DJ sets playing disco, camp, R + B and everything in between. Atmospheric and divine, boy bar Blanco is like a blank canvas come alive with a changing kaleidoscope of lights. Popular among the fashion set, it’s the place to peacock while sporting designer duds.

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