Travellers rhapsodize over Italy – the sparkling Northern Lakes, history-soaked Rome, the winding flamboyance of the Amalfi Coast – but few mention Milan. Dismissed as a boring working city, Milan is a pit-stop for industry, but the design fairs for both furniture and fashion have revitalized the neglected city. During my recent visit for the Spring 2016 Fashion Week, I noticed that Milan looked more polished, sexier and sophisticated than previous visits. I’ve always had a soft spot for this Italian city and this time, I watched it blossom.
Admire The warehouse district is getting a facelift due to new housing projects and design centres like the new Fondazione Prada. Bankrolled by Miuccia Prada, this complex of old warehouses and new buildings spotlights art, performances and installations. One highlight is a four storey building embellished by Rem Koolhaus in gold leaf.
Filmmaker Wes Anderson designed the quirky Bar Luce cafe at the Fondazione Prada.
Shop My first stop in Milan is always the original Prada store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. It’s a tourist area beside the Duomo but home to some great shops including Prada and Excelsior. A short walk away is the Golden Quadrangle marked by Via Montenapoleone and Corso Venezia. Here you’ll find the city’s ultra-luxe shopping area (no Gap or Zara thankfully) but the city’s best boutiques including the brand new Gucci flagship plus Dolce and Gabbana, Miu Miu, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Roberto Cavalli, and more.
Head down the tiny circular staircase inside to see the best of Prada’s offerings for the season. I’ve always had a weakness for Miuccia’s shoes … and bags … and coats. You’ll see every top editor in the store during Fashion Week.
Milan has some excellent boutiques that offer smartly curated high fashion collections. The best is 10 Corso Como with its eclectic mix of high fashion, accessories, gifts and a cafe. The surrounding area is being built up as a high fashion boutique neighbourhood with shops including Moschino and Maison Margiela. Another favourite designer boutique is Antonia where I found the perfect mix of the season’s most coveted fashion and accessories. You’ll also find Antonia’s curation at Excelsior Milano close to the Duomo.
Eataly is in the same district as Corso Como. Here you’ll find amazing Italian delicacies plus a slice of pizza if you’re in a hurry. I also love picking up cheese, bread and meats for a hotel room feast – also check out Peck and the top floor of department store La Rinascente.
Restaurants fill up fast at 1pm for lunch and then again at 9pm for dinner. Favourites of the fashion crowd include Paper Moon, Bagutta (shown here), Da Claudio and Da Giacomo. I never miss a chance for a plate of pasta with chunks of Parmesan.
All of that shopping in the Quadrilatero d’Orno (Golden District of Via Montenapoleone) will make you tired. Stop by the Prada-influenced Marchesi for espresso and sweets.
You’ll find the best shopping in Italy in the surrounding streets. My favourite boutiques? The new Gucci and Prada flagships.
Sleep Hotel de la Ville – This bland big hotel in the shadow of the Duomo is where I stayed for Flare during Fashion Week. It’s nothing special but it does offer an excellent location within walking distance of the city’s best shopping. The Principe de Savoia, Hotel Gallia, and the Westin Palace – Retailers and VIP clients stay at these two large hotels close to Republicca and a short walk from Corso Como.
Travel tip If you’re flying to other European cities, book your flight through Linate Airport which is very close to central Milan. The international hub Malpensa is an hour away and a long terrifying cab ride. Italians are speed demons so I prefer to take the express train into the city. And don’t spend all of your time around the Duomo area. Tourists are a target for petty theft and crowds of tourists and football hooligans spoil the atmosphere.