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gets a bad rap. Despite being the wealthiest, most industrious and fashionable city in Italy, it is often considered a port of entry to a region studded with spectacular landscapes. Two hours after touchdown at Malpensa International Airport, you can be boating on Lake Como, skiing in the Dolomites, or sunbathing on the Italian Riviera. Lacking the glorified characteristics of other Italian staples—the romance of Venice, art of Florence and history of Rome—Milan is often overlooked by well-heeled travelers. Part of this is due to the fact that the city caters more to the perfectly-coiffed and -clad Milanese than it does to tourists. While seeming somewhat inaccessible to outsiders, Milan entices with discretion and sophistication. During a recent trip, I was able to appreciate the less obvious attributes that the city possesses, thanks to the help of locals and insiders.
Here’s what travelers need to know:
The handful of veritable five stars in Milan conveniently offers something for every type of high-end traveler.
The saying that you “can’t have a bad meal in Italy” could not ring truer than in the Lombardy culinary Mecca. For a big night out in a sleek setting, reserve a table at Trussardi Alla Scala, where Chef Andrea Berton puts a modern twist on traditional Italian fare. Ristorante Solferino is an ideal neighborhood spot for a casual dinner amongst locals. Duck into Il Salumaio, off via Montenapoleone, for a quick lunch and people watching at its best. Dine al fresco or in its wood-paneled dining room, and be sure to stop by the adjacent shop to take away artisanal charcuterie and homemade pasta. For a break from Italian fare, Finger’s offers Japanese and fusion food, plus a great atmosphere.
While mega-fashion brands like Prada and Versace are synonymous with Milan, the city is full of unique concept boutiques and exclusive showrooms unknown to even the savviest of shoppers. Some of my favorite finds included 10 Corso Como, the legendary concept store in a charming courtyard selling everything from clothing and accessories to design objects. A quiet alley off the Via Montenapoleone houses Jacente (Via Montenapoleone, 23, 39 02 76281641), another concept store with stylish leather goods, cashmere and jewelry. In-the-know shoppers will find the showrooms of Thetwos, Michela Bruni Reichlin and Anna Sammarone just upstairs (Via Montenapoleone, 23, Courtyard 2nd Floor, 39 02 87075880). The trifecta offers chic handbags, exquisite fine jewelry and custom couture respectively. Finally, for superbly crafted leather goods, head to the Giosa workshop (Via Ciovasso 6, 39 02 86997441) and choose from purses, belts and watches in an array of skins.
Most of Milan’s major attractions—the Castello Sforzesco, Pinacoteca di Brera Museum, Teatro Alla Scala and Santa Maria della Grazie (Last Supper)—can be seen in a couple of days, but make sure not to miss out on the lesser known gems the city has to offer. Often overlooked are the churches of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore and Santa Maria presso San Satiro, both walking distance from the Piazza del Duomo. Full of striking 16th century frescoes by Bernardino Luini and Antonio Campi, San Marurizio is attached to what was the most important Benedictine convent in the city. San Satiro’s interior displays a painted perspective by Bramante, one of art history’s first ever examples of the trompe l’oiel. Get your design fix at La Triennale di Milano, a museum and events venue that highlights contemporary Italian design, architecture and media arts. Or, spend a day wandering around the canals of the Navigli, an idyllic neighborhood home to many quaint shops, restaurants and markets.
Though primarily recognized as a center of commerce and fashion, Milan has a softer side. Sophisticated travelers willing to dig in will be surprised to find layers of allures and enchantments in this real Italian city.
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