I had a very short introduction to Milan two years ago when I was there just for a weekend. I knew i had to go back to look a little deeper, the city had more than the Duomo and it’s surrounding area and fabulous fashion and style that the Milanese are known for. The city reveals itself to you slowly, a little like the restrained elegance and sensibility of a Milanese bourgeoisie.
This time I was well prepared, with a dear Milanese friend Valentina and notes from wonderful Manu of Milano Secrets I arrived with a long list of what I wanted to do. Good lunches and dinners were not to be compromised, and although I had seen and done so much, there are still things on my list that I did not manage to do. So I guess, I will have to go back soon!
I stayed at the hotel that was once a 16th century monastery, Palazzo delle Stelline on Corso Magenta. We had a little balcony overlooking the courtyard, The area is a very quiet one, but within walking distance to Santa Maria delle Grazie, the 15th Century Church and Dominican Convent that is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s mural “The Last Supper”. Best to book your tickets in advance so as not to be disappointed. It was a surreal experience to actually be standing there looking at that large, beautiful, historical mural.
Also nearby is Leonardo’s Vineyard, inside the walled garden of a palazzo, the Casa degli Atellani. The original vineyard was a gift to da Vinci as payment for The Last Supper by the Duke of Milan. Having been destroyed, the roots have gone through an elaborate process of genetic testing, and it has now been recreated just as it was 500 years ago.
One of my favourite discoveries on this trip was the San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, the 16th century church and Benedictine convent. I came across it while taking a stroll the first evening after i arrived, the doors were opened, and walking in with the sounds of a concert filling the entire church was just pure magic. The church is divided into two sections and the concert being in the Hall of Nuns which was separated by a wall, I could not see the choir, but could hear them. The entire church is covered with frescoes from wall to wall mostly by Bernardino Luini and his sons. I went back to San Maurizio three more times after that evening.
Also within walking distance, three great bars to have breakfast or coffee and pastries, or an aperitif, Pasticceria Leonardo on via Aurelio Saffi and Pasticceria San Carlo on via Matteo Bandello. A must visit for coffee and pastry in the Magenta neighbourhood is the iconic Pasticceria Marchesi, having been there for 200 years.
In the same Magenta neighbourhood, tucked away on a quiet residential street, is the stunning design shop of Rosanna Orlandi. Spazio Rossana Orlandi is just spectacular, from the moment you walk in to the very green courtyard, with the vine covered roof hanging heavy with grapes, and through all the various rooms filled with treasures. It is a gallery and shop, bringing together Art and Design in a unique way showcasing both well known and up and coming designers. A must see for those who love design.
10 Corso Como’s courtyard is just magical, all those balconies overflowing with plants and flowers, you are transported into a world far away from a big city. This Milanese icon has a courtyard cafe, a restaurant, 2 floors of fashion, design and books an exhibition space, where at this time there was a photography exhibition and a large rooftop terrace. Everything is just so beautifully displayed, it is expensive to shop here, so most people visit just to enjoy the store. In the same district is the new food emporium Eataly, an old theatre converted into a foodie haven. A little further on and you come to High Tech, a labyrinth of a store, where you can find just about everything under one roof. Super cool.
The Brera District is a great place to wander around, very trendy and lively, lots of cafes, restaurants, boutiques and galleries. You will also find the Pinacoteca di Brera here, The Academy of Art, with an important collection of Italian paintings housed in the 16th century building. Hidden around the back alleys is the Orto Botanico di Brera, the green lungs in the area. The Jesuit garden was transformed in the 18th century into a botanic garden for students of medicine and pharmacology. Fioraio Bianchi is a beautiful little restaurant that is also known for their original flower arrangements, a unique space combining a florist and a restaurant. Very cosy, a modern take on Italian cuisine and a beautiful window filled with flowers. Another restaurant in Brera that I will highly recommend is La Libera, lively atmosphere, great service, delicious food without being pretentious, a very enjoyable dining experience. A place where the fashionable and chic come for an aperitivo in Brera is Radetzky. Great place for people watching. Via Solferino is filled with restaurants, one of them is Pisacco, which has a very light and airy basement. The place was buzzing with a Saturday lunch time crowd. I would advice anyone wanting to eat at a good restaurant in Milan on a Friday or Saturday night to book early. We learnt the hard way on Saturday when the restaurant we had planned to go to was not available, we took our chances in Brera but had to go through 6 different restaurants before we finally found a table. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of that place now but it had a good Osso Bucco with a saffron risotto!
An old distillery dating back to the early 20th century has been transformed into an exciting Art Space, The Fondazione Prada. To quote Rem Koolhaas “The Fondazione is not a preservation project and not a new architecture. Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction–offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others.
New, old, horizontal, vertical, wide, narrow, white, black, open, enclosed–all these contrasts establish the range of oppositions that define the new Fondazione. By introducing so many spatial variables, the complexity of the architecture will promote an unstable, open programming, where art and architecture will benefit from each other’s challenges”. And of course, I had coffee and cake at the Wes Anderson designed Bar Luce.
One of my favourite movies of all time is “I am Love”, and I fell madly in love with the VIlla Necchi Campiglio the first time I watched this movie, and have seen it time and time again. So when finally faced with the opportunity to visit the Villa, you can imagine I was thrilled beyond words! It certainly did not disappoint, The house is an Art Deco beauty, and having missed the English tour and not able to wait for another three hours, we joined the Italian one. I don’t speak or understand Italian ( apart from restaurant menus), but it was enough for me to just be in the house and walk through all the rooms. It was just magnificent, and this is what I love about Milan, there are always surprises.
Milan is hosting the World Expo this year and unfortunately I did not have enough time to visit the site. I did however go to the Triennale di Milano, a design museum that is holding an extensive exhibition in conjunction with the Expo called Arts & Foods, Rituals since 1851 (the first Expo in London). Covering all aspects of food, in culture, daily life, design, art and innovation and development. We had lunch on the roof terrace at the Terrazza Triennale with great views. My last stop was at Peck, tucked away in a street not far from the Duomo, a food paradise where I stock up on Italian biscuits, buffalo mozarella, salami and everything that I can carry in my suitcase for a taste of Italy at home.
So many impressions of this city, I have shared some of them with you, unfortunately it was mostly grey and rainy when I was there, as you will see from the photos, with the sun coming out occasionally, but even in the rain, the city does not disappoint, there is a magic in Milan that will bring me back to its streets.