The ultimate travel guide to Milan, the city of the moment
Solid historical and artistic heritage, top-class fashion stylists, renowned architects, leading designers and Michelin-starred chefs all play a part in making Milan the business and financial capital of Italy. Much has changed in the city since Expo Milano 2015, from the spiky skyline to cultural offerings, and after the grand openings of museums Fondazione Prada, Museum of Cultures and Armani/Silos, Milan is having another happening moment.
One such institution making its mark on the city is Milan Osservatorio, a hotspot for contemporary photography located on the sixth floor of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping malls that’s just a few steps away from Duomo di Milano cathedral. Dedicated to the art of digital and analogue images, Osservatorio’s most recent exhibition, Give Me Yesterday, was curated by Francesco Zanot and highlighted the works of 14 Italian and international artists.
A new structural gem in the heart of the Porta Volta district is Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a geometric glass-and-cement build designed by architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron. The complex was opened to the public in December 2016 and houses a library, a reading room, a multifunctional space that’s available for public use, a research foundation and offices, with a cafeteria and bookshop on the ground floor.
For the latest in fashion and design, there’s So-Milano in Piazza Risorgimento, founded by Aldo Carpinteri and Giordano Ollari and designed by Baciocchi Associati architects. Here, the store’s display space – which features a series of iridescent ‘eggs’ in which clothing and accessory lines are presented, as well as custom bronze sculptures and hangers made in collaboration with the foundry Fonderia Artistica Battaglia – is afforded as much attention as the fashion. So-Milano showcases only one contemporary fashion brand at a time, with Victoria Beckham, JW Anderson and Jeremy Scott having been presented thus far.
Walking around Milan always works up an appetite and fortunately, just 200m from So-Milano, the recently opened ’ino bar inside Filippo La Mantia restaurant in Piazza Risorgimento serves some of the city’s finest sandwiches. Prepared by Tuscan chef Alessandro Frassica, 11 different panini tell the gastronomic story of an ideal trip from Palermo to Milan via Florence. Our top picks: the Gioia Mia (ratatouille, basil and salted ricotta), Panelle a Modo Mio (Italian fritters, grilled veggies and lemon pesto) and Lungomare (grilled octopus with wild fennel and a lime-and-ginger emulsion).
If you’re after mind-blowing fine dining rather than a panino, head to Ristorante Berton, Michelin-starred chef Andrea Berton’s restaurant in the heart of the Porta Nuova district. The dishes are plated like paintings and you shouldn’t miss the delicious starter of belly tuna with almonds, caper dust and green olives. For mains, try the scallops with liquorice.
In the San Babila district – a central destination during Salone del Mobile, Milan’s international furniture fair – you’ll find exquisite pieces at Boffi De Padova’s new flagship store on Via Solferino. And if you want to dig deep into iconic Italian product design, visit the Fornasetti emporium, located in a building on Corso Venezia and Via Senato that was once the residence of Futurism founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. It can be explored room by room and is packed with Rococo furniture, limited-edition plates and classic Piero Fornasetti illustrations that have been turned into wallpaper.
In celebration of Italian design master Pierluigi Ghianda, Bottega Ghianda – a tiny jewel of a store in Via Marco Formentini, Brera – is now open to the public. Look out for precious artefacts like miniature hand-carved pillboxes, Amore-designed desk sculptures by artist Pino Tovaglia from the early 1970s, wooden trays by Gae Aulenti, and Gianfranco Frattini’s Kyoto coffee table. Dimore Gallery is in the same neighbourhood, and exhibits 20th-century masterpieces selected by its founders Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran. And for completely independent, present-day design, visit Subalterno1 art gallery on Via Conte Rosso (by appointment only).
There are two new hotels at which to stay in the city centre. Senato is a 4-star boutique hotel renovated by architect Alessandro Bianchi. The five-storey neoclassical building in which Senato is situated was once a private residence. Now, metal furnishings, marble accents, brass tables, golden ginkgo biloba-leaf wall lamps, velvet furnishings and the hotel’s bespoke scents and lotions make for a memorable experience. If you’d rather spend the night close to Piazza del Duomo, go to the design hotel Room Mate Giulia. Devised by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola, 85 rooms are spread over six floors and decorated with modern furniture, art and books to create a homely yet elegant atmosphere.
In Zona Tortona, Milan’s fashion district, NonostanteMarras is a must. As headquarters of fashion designer Antonio Marras, it has a boutique, a bookshop, art and Sardinian sweet pastries on offer. Close by, the cultural hub Base Milano is a mixed-use building that hosts events, exhibitions and workshops, with a huge ground-floor lounge area, bar, co-working space and hostel, Casa Base, which has shared rooms and a living room designed by Mezzo Atelier, Leftover and Base Milano co-founder Stella Orsini of (h)films.
Before calling it a day, pop over to Ripa di Porta Ticinese and visit BackDoor43, quite possibly the smallest bar in the world. Its 4m2 are filled with hundreds of liquor bottles and the bar serves cocktails through a hatch until late. The speakeasy-type space can be booked by up to four people for two hours at a time, and guests can select their own music and lighting.
With all that this great city has to offer, it’s immediately apparent why Milan has been considered the design capital of Italy since the start of the 20th century – and is a sought-after destination for those with a taste for the beautiful things in life.
Find our top picks from Salone del Mobile Milano here.