When it comes to visiting Italy, picking just one place is a tough decision. Florence, the craddle of the Renaissance, is great if you`re looking for a culture shot and a romantic walk, Puglia abounds in savage beaches, the Amalfi Coast is the perfect place if you`re in search of the southern charm seen in Under the Tuscan Sun. Compared to all these Italian gems, Milan might seem devoid of personality. But I`d dare to disagree. And this post is proof that I have my reasons. So here are a few suggestions that might make you change your mind.
GET IN THE MOOD
Making it to the top favourites movies of Stanley Kubrick and Don Draper, Michelangelo Antonioni`s drama is set in a 60s Milano, which will render for you a poetic image of the town`s past, without the tedious, fact-based endeavor a history lesson might involve. Bonus: Jeanne Moreau starring as troubled, sensual Lydia.
Toilet Paper Magazine
Created and manufactured by art pranksters Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, this quirky magazine positions itself between unorthodox surrealism and plain bad taste, bringing a much needed humorous approach which successfully breaks the sophisticated Milanese good taste standards. The magazine is therefore proof that, besides its reputation of a bourgeois town defined by opulent entryways and residents who have a certain addiction to personal tailors, Milan also has an edgy side.
I am Love
Starring wonderful Tilda Swinton, this 2009 haute bourgeois family drama is set in the 1930s modernist masterpiece of architect Piero Portaluppi, Villa Necchi Campiglio. Extra eye-candy is delivered by the actors` wardrobe, created by Raf Simons and Jil Sander.
Museo Studio Achille Castiglioni
Design lovers will definitely enjoy an insider tour of one of Milan`s most cherished furniture designers of the 20th century. You`ll be able to get a glimpse of this genius creative process and have a look at sketches and prototypes, while also hearing some charming anecdotes from Castiglioni`s daughter, herself an architect, in charge with guiding the visitors during the private tours. Frozen since the architect`s death in 2002, the museum feels wonderfully cluttered and personal, as if you have arrived during Mr. Castiglioni`s lunch break. Speaking of which, the little red plastic spoon Castiglioni designed especially for eating Nutella easier out of the jar`s walls is the perfect present to take home. Note that if you are visiting during Design Week, a reservation is more than necessary, since you cannot visit the museum on your own.
Piaza Castello, 27
Villa Necchi Campiglio
Architect Piero Portaluppi designed this 30s modernist masterpiece for the wealthy Necchi sisters and made them the happy owners of one of the first private pools at the time. The guided tour offers a valuable design history lesson, with lots of details about the modern technical solutions used throughout the house, as much as a voyeuristic glimpse into the life of one of the wealthiest family of Milan and their quintessential haute bourgeois lifestyle. Think monogrammed brushes and linens and a whole top class wardrobe hinting at the zeitgeist of the 30s . The glass walled veranda with its steel sliding doors and built in planters is alone worth the trip. Not to mention the juicy gossip offered during the tour- spoiler alert- Mr. Armani is said to have wanted to buy the villa and transform it in his personal residence.
Via Mozart, 14
Church of San Francesco d`Assisi al Fopponino
A bit out of the beaten path, design god Gio Ponti`s modernist church is mostly a destination architecture buffs would not miss. Built in the 60s, with its sleek lines and its diamond shaped windows (a recurrent element in the architect`s work) through which you can peek at a cloudy sky, this unusual church makes a worthy treasure for Instagram hunters as well.
Via Giovio, 41
Museo del Novecento
Compared to the intricate details of the astonishing Dumo next to it, Museo del Novecento isn`t an attention grabber. But don`t be fooled by the neoclassical façade – inside you`ll find a true gem: avant-garde architecture and a vast collection of 20th century art ranging from Futurism to Arte Povera and New Media, passing through Surrealism (with a monographic room dedicated to DeChirico) and Spatialism. Moreover, this is the perfect place to take a snap of the Vittorio Emanuele Galleries and the Duomo from a different perspective, without the flock of tourists around you.
Via Marconi, 1
The long lasting collaboration between starchitect Rem Koolhaas and Mrs. Prada has culminated with this new venue imagined by OMA, destined to permanently host the vast art collection of the foundation. The enormous complex, partially transformed from a hundred years old distillery, encompasses a space for temporary exhibitions, a mirror-walled cinema, a “haunted house” whose exterior is dressed in 24 karat gold leaf and a café designed by Wes Anderson. But don`t go there expecting the classic museum experience. Be prepared for a somewhat chaotic and definitely overwhelming art cornucopia, since the display is rather typical to an old school salon, with works covering the walls from floor to ceiling. But the good news is that you can bring yourself together afterwards in the soft pastel coloured interior of Bar Luce, geared with a Steve Zissou pinball machine and a bathroom in which Margot Tennenbaum would surely enjoy hiding and a lovely jukebox.
Largo Isarco, 2
I am aware this is actually a design gallery and therefore you might think its place would be in the shopping category, but believe me, I have serious reasons to include it here. Just wait and see. Nina Yashar, the founder and owner of Nilufar, also known as the prima donna of Italian design scene, has a reputation for championing mid-century modern design and boldly mixing antique pieces with contemporary ones from up and coming designers. Think rich antique oriental carpets, Gio Ponti and Pierro Fornasetti pieces and Laura Bethan Wood or Lindsey Adelman chandeliers. The three-story space on prestigious Via della Spiga is dotted with perfectly composed design vignettes, which make Nilufar a pilgrimage place for every design lover, be it a deep pocketed one who can afford the skyrocketing prices or a young student eager for a history lesson.
Via della Spiga, 32
WINING AND DINING
Riad Food Garden
Before visiting the above mentioned Villa Necchi, you might consider a fuel stop at this Moroccan inspired café in the neighbourhood, which serves delish pastries, specialty coffee and, from what I heard, is also a show stopper for brunch. The beautiful ceramic, lavishly adorned baskets and other middle eastern style trinkets on display are also for sale, which makes this little oasis the happy winner of 100 more points on a design lover`s agenda.
Viale Piave 17
Fioraio Bianchi Caffé
This restaurant/ flowershop/ café in the heart of design district Brera is all about the perfect mix. Think the perfect amount of understated refinement of a French bistro nonchalantly thrown together with the austere elegance of the bouquets dotting the little place, up and coming designers rubbing shoulders with octogenarian gallerists (and I know this because, I admit, sometimes, especially when travelling on my own, I accidentally- to be read on purpose- overhear my table neighbors` conversation; well, a little voyeurism never hurt anyone), and gastronomical flavours fusing with delicate flowery scents. The menu is season based and consequently changes monthly, but do try the pot roasted duck supreme with red currant salsa and Brussel sprouts if you have the chance.
Via Montebello 7
If you want to get a taste of a classic Milanese aperitivo experience, this bar turned institution and its milkshake-sized Negroni Sbagliato is the go-to place. This cult cocktail bar with traditional décor got its mixed cohort of fans thanks to the legend of having introduced the most loved habit of all to the masses: the aperitivo. It is a bit out of the beaten path, but it`s worth the trip.
Via Plinio, 39
A self-proclaimed temple of gastronomical delights, this mammoth deli lives up to its reputation. Catering to the gourmet society, it offers a great selection of cheeses and olives, custom gelato and other Italian specialties, making the perfect stop to make provisions for a picnic in the park. Now, I hope you noticed the G word in the above phrase and understood that also involves gourmet pockets.
Via Spadari, 9
The newly built market in the Navigli area comes in handy as an unpretentious lunch spot after wandering (ok…and shopping) the little streets packed with hidden gems along the canal. Don`t fool yourself and think it`s a great-for-a-snack place. It`s exactly the possibility of eating small portions that will make you end up stuffing your face with a variety of simple but never-thought-of-this-combo-before dishes.
Via Valenza 2
Cavalli e Nastri
This vintage shop, set in the heart of Brera, just across the street from a wonderful carpet gallery (which, by the way, I totally recommend) is the go-to place if you want to score a true can`t-find-anything-like-this-anywhere-else vintage find without diving into dusty bins. The selection is exquisite and the pricing accordingly.
Via Brera, 2
Pourquoi Moi Vintage
Another gem of a shop, this time with a less extravagant selection, this cheerful vintage clothing shop offers affordable pieces, catering both for Lolita types and for geometrical psychedelia lovers. Bonus: the owner is the warmest and friendliest Londoner I ever met.
Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 27
“They don`t make things like they used to do” is not just something your granny would say. Finding mid-century Italian design items isn`t exactly handy in a country like Romania- that`s why you shouldn`t miss this dusty wunderkamer with a huge variety of pieces, ranging from brightly patterned 70s espresso sets to Stilnovo chandeliers. It`s not what one would call curated, but the hunting is part of the charm.
Via Macedonio Melloni, 6