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Why Go Now: Milan

That Milan has long been treated as the unfortunate stepchild to Italy’s star trinity (Venice, Rome and Florence) is not news. Especially Italians have often spoken disparagingly about the capital of the Lombardy region, finding it too ugly, too hard-working, too cold—devoid of la dolce vita celebrated further south.

But recently the tone has been shifting. Last year’s Expo, which was proceeded by a flurry of renovation and new openings, has seriously reshaped public opinion of the city. Now travelers coming to Milan for the famous fashion and design shows or those en route to the Italian Lakes District, should consider adding some days to discover a buzzing metropolis in midst of a new prime.

There are whole areas that have been given new life – like the burgeoning Navigli, running alongside one of Milan’s last-surviving canals, where cozy cocktail bars and cool restaurants draw a young crowd at night (think Brooklyn hipster). Navigli and nearby Tortona (home of the Furniture / Design Fair) have also seen the opening of such new boutique hotels as Nhow and Magna Pars, but the biggest hotel news in 2015 was the opening of the Mandarin Oriental and the long-anticipated re-opening of the Excelsior Gallia. The former has a prime spot in the Quadrilatero d’Oro, down the street from the Armani, Bulgari and Four Seasons, while the historic Gallia, in an Art Nouveau palace, boasts some of the city’s largest rooms, a Shiseido Spa and beautiful views from its popular Terazza Gallia bar.

The exquisite Prada Foundation—a must-visit for lovers of Miuccia’s philosophy, style and art collection—has been joined by two other remarkable museums: the Armani Silos, a deeply personal collection of Giorgio Armani's fashion throughout the decades, and MUDEC, a massive cultural complex that hosts traveling exhibitions and has one of Milan’s best-stocked art bookstores. Even classics, like the Duomo and Santa Maria delle Grazie, home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, demand a revisit, having been meticulously restored. The Duomo, with its gleaming white façade remains a breathtaking folly of human engineering, especially if you climb to the rooftop to walk amongst the flying buttresses, pinnacles, spires and statues.

Back on the ground, the Milanese food scene has seen a veritable explosion of openings and innovation; these days, the city can truly hold its own among the world’s culinary capitals. Refined restaurants like Spazio, Langosteria 10 and Erba Brusca offer exquisite interpretations of Italian cuisine served in modern but congenial settings. Hot spot restaurant-bars like Ceresio 7, Dry and Bar Luce are packed every evening with a fun mix of locals and visitors. Even venerable pastry shops, like Cova and Marchesi, boast new owners (LVMH and Miuccia Prada, respectively), but they have been left largely untouched, and visiting their historic interiors feels like going through a time warp.

And thankfully so—because we visit Milan for its pioneering fashion and design, of course, but we also come for its unapologetically old-fashioned flair. What a pleasure to revisit the serene medieval faces on display at the glorious Pinacoteca di Brera. What a delight to break for a macchiato at one of the many standing espresso bars, watching as the baristas (always men) fan out cups and saucers on the counters as if they were dealing cards in a casino. How lovely to return to the velvet-draped bar at the Principe di Savoia for a Negroni. And of course, always to return to such ground-breaking shops as 10 Corso Como and Rossana Orlandi to see their latest, while also making time for perusing smaller but utterly Milanese boutiques as Wait and See, Carla Saibene, Osanna Visconti and My Room.

The Milan of the past — stylish, proud and more than a little aloof — has not disappeared, but with its new openings and international Expo crowds, the city seems to have discovered a more relaxed and optimistic self. Visitors traveling there now can take advantage of the best of both worlds.

First Time Musts in Milan

Read Indagare’s complete Milan report.

Published onJanuary 12, 2016

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