Milan is underrated – mostly people fall in love with the beauty of Rome and Florence, and totally disregard what is Italy’s business centre. Often described as grey and industrial (like nearby, Turin, which can be a lovely surprise), I personally think it can be the perfect European city break – the centre of town is actually quite pretty, the restaurants are amazing, the shopping is pretty much as good as it gets (and of course, everyone looks the part!).
What is not to like? I adore Milan, a city I have visited many times on business trips and was yearning to return, after spending a lazy sunday in town, on my way back from Genova.
This time around, I travelled to Milan as a guest of BIT Milano, which is a travel exhibition for both trade and the public, which takes place every February, and a smaller scale version of London’s World Travel Market or Berlin’s ITB. We spent a day at the Fira Milano, but really looked forward to a weekend in this incredible city.
Here’s my itinerary for a perfect weekend in Milan.
Love was all around us at Via Montenapoleone
It was Valentine’s weekend and love was definitely all around us. As we checked into our hotel for the night, the lovely Four Seasons Milan, we knew we couldn’t find a better location. Right there, by all the lovely and wonderful shops – needless to say, I was in retail heaven. Mr. O looked a bit worried, and I have no idea why.
A little Four Seasons love is always good for the soul. And the body.
A little bit tired from walking around the exhibition (even in flat shoes!), we knew everything was going to be fine, as we checked into our lovely Junior Suite. My first (and second and third) impressions from this hotel were great. Service was outstanding (the usual FS love, with a bit of Italian love) and our room was lovely – had everything we needed, plus lovely chocolates! (how did they know??)
After that, it was time for cocktails – which is, as you may know by know, one of my favourite parts of the day. The Four Seasons, through its Milan Twitter account, had been teasing me for weeks, sending me photos of mouth-watering delicacies. I was mostly impressed with the choices available. I ended up choosing the “No name” cocktail, which besides looking and tasting lovely, was to be renamed “Ana” for that night (apparently, the first person who orders it each day gets it named after him/her. Even if not strictly true, it was a nice touch).
The “Ana” and a bit of “Glamour”
Cocktails are priced at around €20, but it is worth mentioning that, as we are in Italy, these come with “aperitivo”, some delicious pre-dinner nibbles which are a staple in this part of the world. The Four Seasons’ selection was outstanding and if you are not staying here, it is worth visiting just for that.
At this stage, it was time for dinner – and time for us to meet my lovely (Milanese) friend Clara and her partner Fabio. Clara and I worked together for many years (in different countries) and at home, she is known as Santa Clara. If I need anything in Italy, she’s my walking Michelin guide – she’s sent me to eat at the most incredible (and weird, at times) places, and I never had a bad meal. Needless to say, she was in charge of my foodie needs throughout the weekend and everywhere we ate had her seal of approval.
Loved La Voliera (photo by restaurant)
The Osteria La Voliera was her choice for this evening, and needless to say, it was fabulous. It felt like we were in someone’s dining room and it felt so comfortable, we stayed there all night! Oh well!
No rest for the wicked, as they say – as we needed to make breakfast by 10.30 am – and we did.. just! As we were located on Via Gesu, in the heart of Milan, it seemed appropriate to just explore the retail (and architectural delights, of course) of the city.
With Via Montenapoleone, at our doorstep, we followed the Golden Shopping Trail, which also includes Via Spirito Santo, Via della Spiga and Via Sant’Andrea. I am not going to go into detail (obviously), but loved visiting the new Acqua di Parma boutique – it is such a classic brand, and I loved how it has been reinvented.
Swanky Acqua di Parma boutique at Via Gesu
Not quite sure where time went, but after walking for 3 hours or so, it was time for lunch. I had a little preview of The Excelsior Milano last time I was in Milan, and knew that this was the place to go to for lunch. Part department store, part delicatessen and seriously cool, The Excelsior is definitely worth a visit – even if just to see its design and how more traditional brands like Tiffany & Co. were willing to take risks and adapt its brand to a more modern clientele. Eats is the place.. well, to eat and having booked early, we managed to get a table. We couldn’t decide if we wanted the Japanese or the Italian menu, and we were kindly placed in an area where both waiters could serve us. It was fun indeed.
After a lazy lunch, it was time to see some proper sights – we were so close to the Duomo, that it would be rude not to say hello. I seriously like this square and it is worth a visit (I went on a Walks of Italy guided tour of theMilan sights in October and loved it).
But as it was soooooooo busy, I decided to take a little shortcut – and enjoy the view from a different location. Not bad, is it?
The same view, and definitely no hoardes of tourists
So where is this place? No, it is not the top floor of the La Rinascente department store (also great and worth a visit). It is located at the top of the Autogrill building a block before the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle. Just locate the building (I think it has signs to Burger King or something as exotic), ignore everything and take the lift to the top floor.
In case you are intrigued by the Aperol Spritz, here is how to make it:
3 parts prosecco D.O.C.
2 parts Aperol
Top up with Soda Water (or sparkling water)
lots of ice and half a slice of orange
I first discovered the Spritz when I went to Venice, and it is part of our lives. Of course it tasted better right there, at the source. And at €8, it is incredible value for money – especially for the view!
After a relaxing afternoon, it was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the aperitivo. You know, cocktails and a nibble. Or many. And the place to go? Obviously the Armani Hotel, located in the “Armani powerhouse and flagship” in Via Manzoni.
The Armani Bamboo Bar – an oasis of calm and exceptional design
After we were wowed by the modern look and feel of the place, it was time to try the aperitivo. And for 2 hours (no joking!), we were taken on a culinary and cocktail journey around the world. I loved how Mattia, the coolest bar manager in town reinterpreted great classics (such as the Mint Julep, here called the Oriental Julep) and having heard for my love of Gin & Tonics, prepared me the most special one I have ever had.
Aperitivo at the Armani Hotel
Dinner took place at Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, a place where we had an incredible dinner last time we were in town. Santa Clara approved of the choice and I don’t know how, but we managed to get the last table (having booked with only 1 week’s notice).
First time we went, we were slightly worried as this place is quite far away from the city centre – we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Where we getting kidnapped? We were slightly nervous.. This time around, we knew (kind of) where we were going (add a €25 one-way taxi fare).
Some of the best cuisine I have ever had in Italy
One thing I loved (and remember from this place) is the fact that ladies’ menus do not have prices on – always a good sign. I am obviously joking, but I remember the days when this was the norm. I also remember choosing something and being told by Mr. O “no”, you may want to try the 3rd one on page 3. We laugh about that to this day.
Sadly, we couldn’t justify one of the tasting menus, due to our aperitivo at Armani. So we went with some great a-la carte choices, which we obviously didn’t regret. Dinner here costs around €250 for two including wine, and it is incredible.
Not an early riser myself (which you may know by now!), I was delighted when the Westin Palace, where we stayed on the second night, announced that breakfast was served until 12 noon at weekends. This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this – I really hate having to wake up at 9am on a Sunday to make it to breakfast just before 10.30pm and was indeed in heaven.
Or was I? I loved our suite, which included a turkish bath, with incredible views of Milan. As I said, I slept like a princess and loved it – every now an then I love a more old-fashioned hotel.
The Westin Palace in Milan
Following a recommendation from another Milanese expert, we walked to 10 Corso Como, which is a seriously cool shop. Located at.. number 10 in Corso Como, it is absolutely worth a visit.
Very impressed by 10 Corso Como
From here, we made our way back to the city centre, taking advantage of the fact that some of Milan’s shops are now open on Sundays (they never were and it was always a pain!). We inspected every single square metre of La Rinascente (which was much better than I remembered) , with just enough time to spare before we met another of our friend’s for brunch at the Armani Cafe.