A tastemaker’s guide to Milan

Milan’s magnificent Duomo

As Milan Fashion Week kicks off, SCARLETT CONLON reveals where to stay, shop, eat, drink, take in some culture and rub shoulders with the city’s stylish cognoscenti


If there’s one thing to know about Milan, it’s not to underestimate the city. While Venice, Florence and Rome may have dominated in the Italian weekend-break stakes, the Lombardy capital has been quietly in the throes of a renaissance in recent years. From Da Vinci’s Last Supper to the spearheading Prada Foundation; the splendor of the Duomo to the street markets in Isola; the luxury of Via Montenapoleone to the newer delights of Navigli, in the past decade Milan has blossomed into an uber-cool melting pot of the classic and the cutting edge. Home to two women’s fashion weeks a year and the world-renowned Salone del Mobile furniture fair, it’s attracting a culture-hungry crowd, so there really is something for everyone in Italy’s most fashionable city…

Palazzo Segreti brings together the elegance of a historic building with old-world charm in the heart of Milan

Where to stay…

When it comes to choosing your accommodation, the Palazzo Parigi is to the hotel scene what risotto alla Milanese is to local cuisine – a classic you won’t regret. Formerly the home of one of Milan’s most prestigious banks, the building has been restored to evoke full-on Italian glamour, with sweeping marble staircases and huge crystal chandeliers. For more contemporary charm, Hotel Senato is a calm oasis of modern design with a laid-back atmosphere, while Palazzo Segreti fuses historic architecture with arty detailing. All three are a stone’s throw from the must-see sights and attractions, so they make for excellent bases.

Where to shop…

As the fashion capital of Italy, there’s no shortage of places to pick up the best of the runway on its home turf. Via Montenapoleone is a one-stop strip for high-fashion fare – Prada, Marni, Gucci, Bottega Veneta et al – and well worth a visit for the people-watching alone. 10 Corso Como is the number-one alternative for fashion, but arguably the jewel in its crown is the bookshop on the upper level, where you will always discover something you can’t find anywhere else. If it’s vintage you’re looking for, two of the best are Vintage Delirium (a Tardis of 19th- and 20th-century treasures) and Loredana Mapelli Vintage, an unmarked shop at 47 Ripa di Porta Ticinese on the Navigli canal (a purveyor of immaculately kept Chanel, Alaïa and vintage Max Mara).

Un Posto a Milano combines a convivial Milanese atmosphere with mouth-watering Italian cuisine

Where to eat…

There are a few places that insiders swear by. First up is Latteria San Marco. Not only does the food taste like you’ve been given a big cuddle by an Italian nonna, but the décor makes you feel like you’ve been invited into her living room, too. Warm and homely, it’s a favorite during Fashion Week, so get your spot early, as it’s not possible to make reservations here. For a long – or a late – lunch, Un Posto a Milano (which is housed in what feels like a historic hamlet and grows some of its own ingredients in its garden) is a must-try, while Paper Moon, on Via Bagutta, serves up soul-satisfying pasta and pizza in chic mid-century surroundings. If you’re after a cleansing plant-based meal, Soul Green offers hearty bowls of goodness and eclectic juices all day long.

Where to indulge in Milanese culture…

The Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Teatro alla Scala and the Fondazione Prada are Milano essentials, but there are other cultural contenders to take note of at the moment. The Palazzo Reale has partnered with the Guggenheim to bring the Thannhauser Collection – including pieces by Van Gogh and Picasso – to Italy for the first time, while the Museo Diocesano Carlo Maria Martini is exhibiting works from the Contemporary Art Collection of the Vatican Museums (featuring Matisse and Chagall) until mid-May. Alternatively, La Vigna di Leonardo is very special. It was nearby that Da Vinci painted The Last Supper, and the house and grounds that he frequented have recently been opened to the public. One word: sublime.

Where to spend an afternoon…

Try something new next time you’re in Milan and while away an afternoon in one of its coolest new neighborhoods. Isola, in the north, has become a creative hotspot of independent bars, bookshops and street markets where you can find vintage linens and deli treats. Frida, Sarpi Otto and Il Santa all characterize the area’s avant-garde regeneration. On the other side of the city, Navigli (the area surrounding the oldest canal in the city) is a failsafe place to find a little bar, concept store, record emporium or a beautiful plant (wander between I Fiori nella Rete Milano, Tenoha, Libreria Librachia and Mag Cafè to get a feel for the area). It’s also famous for the sprawling monthly flea market that stretches over a mile along the water, which conveniently takes place during Milan Fashion Week this February.

Where to switch off or stretch it out…

A break from the busy is always a good idea, and Milan has numerous hotspots frequented by the city’s coolest customers when they want to press pause. For relaxation and regeneration, a day pass at wellness center QC Terme comes recommended; for a spot of mindfulness, CityZen offers yoga, meditation and healing arts; and MÖT Studios has brilliant barre classes in groups never bigger than eight. For an indulgent moment of zen, the Armani/SPA, the Spa at Mandarin Oriental and the Shiseido Spa all have massage menus to rival each other on the luxury five-star level. If you’d rather stay in the great outdoors, Parco Sempione has beautiful architecture that’s hard to beat on a bright, blue-sky day.

Tenoha is an emporium of style, design and Japanese cuisine in Milan’s Navigli area
Designed by the American film director Wes Anderson in 2015, Bar Luce recreates the atmosphere of a typical Milanese cafè

Where to have an aperitivo

A northern Italian tradition designed to whet your appetite pre-dinner, aperitivo is treated almost like a religion in Milan. Bar Basso is said to be the birthplace of the negroni sbagliato (where the usual gin is replaced with prosecco) and offers a lively and authentic experience; the Fioraio Bianchi Caffè – a 40-year-old flower shop – is a Parisian-themed spot that is always popular with the cool crowd; Bar Luce in the Fondazione Prada is a must-visit for its Wes Anderson vibes if you’re in the south of the city; and LùBar (situated in the grounds of the Galleria d'Arte Moderna) makes for a nice pit-stop after taking in an exhibition. Pasticceria Cucchi and Marchesi 1824 are the unofficial stalwarts of a chic aperitivo in the city. Both are brilliant spots for admiring the old guard in their early-evening attire.