TRAVEL

A Design Guide to Milan, Italy

Design Snobs Will Love This Guide to Milan

Assago Milanofiori Nord metro station. Photo by Massimiliano Donghi/ Unsplash.

Milan — once overlooked as the middle child of Italy — is really enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There may be more to the city than fashion and design, but, wow, does it do those better than anyone.

MILAN, Italy — Milan is not like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples. It’s not an idyllic grand tour destination that hypnotizes visitors with listless, collective memories from centuries past. No, Milan is the kind of city that wakes you up and reminds you that time is moving forward. The wake-up call starts the moment you step off the train at Stazione Centrale and look up. The platforms are covered by spectacular, futuristic glass and steel spanning domes, while the early-20th-century station is a marble monument with sky-high, vaulted ceilings and intricate ornament details. Exalting architecture and dynamic movement are the gateway to Milan.

 Once a shy sister city, Milan has become center stage for design and fashion. In addition to the fall and spring fashion shows, for one week every March, the global spotlight is on Milanese design during Salone Milano design fair, but the truth is that Milan is a celebration of architecture and innovation, design, and art every day. Here’s a guide to the best and the most striking design spots around town.

Stazione Centrale

Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione

Walk the City

To understand Milan’s architecture, it’s important to start in the center and even more important to tag along with an expert like Riccardo Mazzoni of Context Travel. Riccardo is practicing architect and professor whose passion is the unfolding the layers of Milan’s architectural history. His tour starts at Piazza San Babila, home to a beautiful convergence of the city’s modern architecture and arguably the birthplace of modern Milan, then winds through Brera, an enclave of incredible boutiques and cafes also knows as the Fashion Quadrilaterial, and on to Castel Sforzesco, a medieval fortress complete with crenellations, bastions, and a retaining wall in the center of the city that's now a museum complex showcasing at least nine different genres and collections — Egyptian, musical instruments, furniture, manuscripts, and Renaissance art among them — and is gateway to Parco Sempione, a bucolic park in the city center.

Along the way, Riccardo picks out slick, futuristic buildings that epitomize the different movements of the 20th century — the unpredictable Novecentismo, the sharplined Rationalism, and the exaggerated Neoclassiscal — and introduces the names — Portaluppi, Gio Ponti, Piacentini, and BBPR — that brought Milan to the future.

Villa Necchi Campiglio Dining Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Breakfast Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Veranda

Full Design Immersion

If Milan’s design heritage can be condensed into one space, it would be La Triennale, the gallery on the edge of Parco Sempione that houses an incredible permanent collection of Italian design and hosts temporary exhibitions. Architecture fans must stop at Villa Necchi Campiglio, the 1930s home that’s a Milanese answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper-class living. Every element — from the building to the plates — was designed by Piero Portaluppi, the poster boy of Milan modernists. (Remember the amazing home in the Luca Guadagnino movie I Am Love? This is it, and you’ll recognize everything, including the pool.) The house tour takes about an hour, but you can linger on the property at the garden café. 

Portaluppi also designed Palazzo dell Arengario, a Fascist era complex comprised of two super-modern symmetrical and identical palaces just steps away from the Duomo. The left-side palace houses the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to art of the 20th century.

Fast-forward to the uber contemporary at Fondazione Prada, a sprawling contemporary art complex outside the city center designed by OMA, with a 197-foot tower by starchitect Rem Koolhaas. On the sixth floor of the main building is a restaurant with a panoramic terrace featuring original furniture designed by Philip Johnson for New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant in the 1950s. Near the entrance is the cinematic and very playful Bar Luce, a café designed by director Wes Anderson. 

Though not quite cutting-edge design, stop into Pinacoteca Brera, a historic art gallery with a collection of paintings from late medieval era through the late 19th century. The Brera has put considerable effort in creating a dynamic space with truly fabulous signage, an open restoration lab, and Caffe Fernanda, a newly opened jewel box of a bar.

nilufar-gallery-milan-outside.jpg.1200x800_q85.jpg

Photos courtesy of Nilufar Gallery.

Icons and Boutiques

There are so many iconic design shops in Milan, but the only way to start is at Spazio Rossanna Orlandi, the epic gallery by Rossanna Orlandi, Milan’s original influencer, talent guru, and trend spotter. Orlandi put Milan’s gallery scene on the map — and her gallery is a must-stop on the Milan design tour. So is Nilufar, the gallery owned by Nina Yashar, Italy’s top dealer of modern and contemporary furniture and design, where she showcases incredible emerging and blockbuster designers. Her Nilufar Depot, just north of the Isola neighborhood, is the enormous warehouse she uses to showcase the 3,000+ design pieces she has amassed over more than three decades. 

Milan is full of pocket neighborhoods dedicated to art, design, and fashion. One of the latest emerging areas is Maroncelli Design District, a collective of galleries and boutiques on via Pietro Maroncelli and neighboring streets. Look for Etel, the uncannily clever and eco-sustainable Brazilian furniture design house.

Last but definitely not least is lighting — not just how something is illuminated, but rather how a beautifully designed lamp and expert lighting can transform the entire personality of a space. Every Italian home has at least one lamp or light fixture whose design has a story. A one-way conduit to Piazza San Babila, Corso Monforte is home to the world’s most famous lighting showrooms, including FontanaArteArtemide, and Nemo.

Bulgari Bar

AMOR. Photo by Lido Vannucchi.

Stylish Refreshments

And once you've had your fill of Milan design, the only way to meditate is to enjoy the archetypical Milan aperitivo in the city's very best design bars, like Caffe TrussardiBvlgariLuBar, and The Botanical Club.

If you need to fill yourself up a little more creatively, grab a table at AMOR, the latest by dynamic and Michelin-starred culinary brothers Max and Raf Alajmo. Located at the coveted 10 Corso Como, the groundbreaking concept store created by fashion editor Carla Sozzani, AMOR is Alamo's street food venture — a clever spin on a pizzeria serving Max’s patented steamed pizza. And of course, the design plays a starring role, as the Alajmos worked with long-time collaborator and star architect Philippe Starck to set the playful and striking atmosphere.

This article was first published in Fathom, May 2019.

Savor Milan's Coffee Culture Like a Local

Starbucks’ New Reserve Roastery In Milan. Credit: Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan

When Starbucks decided to open in Milan, I will admit, I was slightly heartbroken, but after having visited and given a behind-the-scenes peek at the Reserve Roastery, I understand that the Milan venture is very meta. Milanese love it because it reminds them of the US, and no, it's not going to replace the Italian coffee shop. This article first appeared in Forbes Travel in September 2018.

While Europe’s first Reserve Roastery from Starbucks adds a new corner to Milan’s coffee landscape, it’s best to remember that Italy’s fashion capital perfected the pastry scene, introduced espresso to the world and invented aperitivo hour long before the Seattle-based shop started whipping up frappuccinos.

Still, this September-opened artisan coffee shop is just the third in the world after Seattle and Shanghai. The 25,000-square-foot Reserve is a celebratory, steampunk nod to Seattle coffee-making. Venetian marble counters, glass light fixtures and Palladiana mosaic floors offer a locally inspired backdrop to a labyrinth of sorting tubes and a mega-roaster that is said to provide coffee for all of Europe. 

The Reserve Roastery’s menu is a deep dive into coffee culture, from bean selection and roasting to offering multiple brewing methods (Modbar pour-over, coffee press and the visually stunning siphon) and beverages (espresso, cold brew and the proprietary clover-brewed coffee).

During your next stroll around this cultural gem, visit the stylish new Starbucks or any of these five more inimitable bars for a taste of the city’s caffeinated history.

Caffè Parigi. Credit: Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano

Caffè Parigi
Hidden inside Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano, this cozy spot boasts a warm wood living room with a backlit, veined marble bar, art-nouveau-style decorations and giant windows leading to an outdoor garden — if the weather permits, try to snag an alfresco seat.  

The bistro lounge is ideal for a nightcap and its afternoon tea (served daily from 4 to 7 p.m.) is a chic, Parisian-style treat.

What to order: You can get your caffeine of choice during the day, but ask the bartender for a classic negroni to wind down your evening.

Pasticceria Marchesi
This nearly two-century-old, family-run gem is one of the crown jewels of Milanese pastry shops. Designed by architect Roberto Baciocchi, its three locations are beautiful with mint green marble walls, cherry wood counters and clear crystal shelves that show off cakes, croissants, chocolates, jams and delectable confections. 

Traditionally the spot for stylish edible gifts, Marchesi has a gorgeous lounge area peppered with Milan’s fashion fabulous who gather over coffee and afternoon aperitivi.

What to order:  During the holidays, you’ll want to queue for a panettone (Marchesi’s coveted Christmas treat) or the Easter colomba cake. Otherwise, peruse the counter for any of the pastries before heading to the lounge to nibble on your purchase.

Cova. Credit: Cova

Cova
This Via Montenapoleone stalwart has long been a favorite of the international fashion scene. Mosaic floors, gilded mirrors and a crystal chandelier drop not-so-subtle hints that Milan takes its coffee as seriously as its style. 

The 200-year-old coffee and pastry shop is worth a visit for the people-watching alone (the bar is a popular spot for the city’s fashion elite). To take it all in, you’ll need to nab a table where coffee drinks and aperitivo cost a little more, but you’ll also receive plush banquets and stellar service.

What to order: In the morning, stand up for the cappuccino and cornetto (cone-shaped pastry), and ask for a scorza d’arancia (chocolate-covered orange peel). In the afternoon, grab a table and a negroni sbagliato (the classic Italian tipple, but topped with prosecco rather than gin), the socialite signora’s favorite.

Bastianello
At first glance, this whimsical spot appears to be a glamorous candy shop with a beautiful carved wood countertop perfect for a morning cappuccino. But the true Milanese know that you come to Bastianello to linger. 

The elegant pastry and coffee shop is the apex of aperitivo hour — its dining room veranda is where the who’s who of the city’s haute bourgeois meet up for handcrafted cocktails and a smattering of snacks.

What to order: Keep it simple with an Americano and the delectable club sandwich.

Pasticceria Cucchi
This traditional pastry shop and bar may not be as fashionable as some other Milanese caffés, but it’s a local institution nonetheless. Its mid-century vibe (think 1950s-era décor and formally clad waiters) charms an eclectic range of customers, from elegant couples to school-aged kids, as does a menu of snacks that includes coffee, sweet pastries, savory finger sandwiches and cocktails.

What to order:  The morning espresso is a must. Or linger into the night with a bite of El Meneghin (cake made with candied fruits) and a glass of maraschino.

An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Fashion, food, finance and all-round fabulousness. Here’s how to spend an inspired 36 hours in Milan, Italy’s “It” city.

10am: Check in at Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and you’ll find yourself in the centre of an art-focused crossroads, from Milan’s illustrious Baroque to its contemporary cultural kingpin vibe. Step into modern Milan of the 1930s at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in park Villa Campiglio directly across the from the hotel.

Named for socialite sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio, the Villa Necchi Campiglio was the centre and centrepiece of Milan’s mid-twentieth century social scene. Architect Piero Portaluppi combined his unique rationalist flair of sleek lines and materials with Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional sensibilities (including custom pieces and built-ins). His 1930s design was innovative in details both inside and out. In 2000, Gigina bequeathed the property to FAI, Italy’s national trust, which opened the villa as a museum in 2008.

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

12pm: For lunch, the villa’s solarium doubles as a charming cafeteria and features favourite Milanese dishes including a green risotto and traditional veal cutlets. Wondering why the Villa Necchi Campiglio looks familiar? The iconic home was setting for the 2009 Italian movie I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.

3pm: Make your way to Fondazione Prada. This 205,000-square-foot complex is home to an intense collection of contemporary art works by 20th and 21st-century Italian and international artists—from Giacomo Balla to Francesco Vezzuoli and Damien Hirst. Its 2015 Rem Koolhaas/OMA design includes a cinema.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

6pm: Stop for aperitivi at Fondazione Prada’s cocktail hub Bar Luce, the Art Deco–inspired bar designed by director Wes Anderson. And then make your way up the newly opened Torre, a nine-story modernist tower, with art galleries that eventually lead to the rooftop terrace bar.

8:30pm: After drinks, stay for dinner at Ristorante Torre, the Fondazione’s tower restaurant. The illuminated cityscape of Milan sprawls away beyond its floor to ceiling windows, and the views inside are equally good with art work including custom wall-hung plates and midcentury design pieces like Tulip tables, and executive chairs by Eero Saarinen. The menu features regular new tasting dishes created by a rotation of Michelin rising star chefs from the CARE’s Chef Under 30 project.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

8.30 am: Build up an appetite with a stroll through the historic Giardini Pubblici, established 1784 and considered the oldest city park in Milan. Then find a counter spot at Pasticceria Marchesi, the posh cafe on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s Fashion Quadrilateral. A city landmark, Marchesi is the perfect scene for morning coffee, and has a mouthwatering line up of pastries, traditional pralines and savoury treats. Take a look around the Fashion Quadrilateral, an oasis of haute couture. Via Montenapoleone and its side streets are lined with beautiful boutiques representing some of the world’s most admired fashion houses.

11.30 am: Milan’s designers all know that contemporary style comes from centuries of culture. Catch up on Milan’s history at the Galleria Arte Moderna, a late 18th century villa whose Baroque trappings are the backdrop to an enviable collection of Italian and European artwork from the 18th to the 20th century. The rise of modern Milan is shown through key work by Balla, Boccioni, Canova and Segantini, which sit side by side with Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne and Gaugin.

1pm: For lunch, head to LuBar, the galleria’s on site cafe for creative Sicilian street food in a whimsical fin-de-siècle setting.

 

3pm It’s time to go back to the future by visiting the Pirelli Hangar Biccocaa free-entry contemporary complex on the grounds of a former Pirelli tire factory. This is now one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces, with three buildings covering 100,000 square feet. It’s dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions featuring works by Italian and international artists. Guides are on hand to help you navigate around the vast complex.

8pm By early evening, you’ll want to grab an outside table at Iuta BistrotHangar Bicohcca’s onsite gourmet restaurant where the city’s cognoscenti congregate for stylish conversation and aptly-mixed cocktail.

10pm Ready to head home to the hotel? Before you do, make a pit stop at Bar Basso, a cult classic popular with the fashion and design crowd, known for introducing the world to “aperitivi” hour and its own take on the negroni.

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

6 Stylish Milan Hotels To Check Out Now

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, January 2018.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton. Credit: Baglioni Hotel Carlton

If Milan is not on your travel bucket list in 2018, it should be. Italy’s fashion capital is the mecca of fabulous. From its historic caffes and haute couture hangouts to the celebrated boutiques and international museums, Milan is the cultural destination of your dreams.

So, if you’re looking into a Milan stopover or the best address for a stay during Fashion Week (February 21 to 27) and Salone (the annual international design fair, April 17 to 22), be sure to check out these six hotels for an elegant escape.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton  
This family-owned Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is like a home in the center of Milan. From its inception in the mid-1960s, the private palazzo has always been a luxurious respite. 

Its 89 rooms (70 of which are suites) are predominantly styled in a modern rococo aesthetic, with rich fabrics and marbles, though the ultimate indulgence can be found in the 1,938-square-foot Montenapoleone Terrace Suite with its large flower-filled patio that comes complete with lounge furniture.

The ground-floor garden bar and restaurant, Il Baretto al Baglioni, is the perfect meeting spot — a charmingly dolce-vita-kitsch hangout that is nothing short of a local watering hole institution. 

As well as being pet-friendly (a must during Fashion Week), Baglioni Hotel Carlton offers an extra exclusive guest perk — you’ll receive the key to a private door leading out onto Via della Spiga, the popular pedestrian shopping street in the heart of the fashion quadrilateral. 

Four Seasons Hotel Milano. Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Milano

Four Seasons Hotel Milano  
There is no address that can quite compare with this head-turner, situated front and center on the historic Via Gesù. In keeping with the international brand, the Four-Star Milan outpost is a celebration of white-glove service and quality, with the bonus of history.  

The 118-room luxury hotel took over a 15th-century convent, where frescoes, columns and vaulted ceilings mix with Fortune fabrics and Frette linens. Most come for the property’s round-the-corner proximity to boutiques like Gucci and Prada, but its epicenter location just off the Via Monte Napoleone puts it within a few minutes’ walking distance to Milan’s most important cultural sites, such as the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Palazzo Reale and La Scala opera house.

Bulgari Hotel Milan. Credit: Bulgari Hotel Milan

Bulgari Hotel Milan
When Italy’s most famous jeweler decided to make the leap into hospitality, Bulgari, of course, chose Milan as its home base. This Four-Star jewel of a hotel is naturally situated in the Brera district, a historic neighborhood known for its artistic flair.

A hub for the who’s who of fashion and design, the 58-room flagship beauty is beloved for its sleek, contemporary interiors; premium suites (especially the penthouse Bulgari Suite with wrap-around terrace); and people-watching from the 43,000-square-foot rooftop garden cocktail lounge.

And when you find yourself in need of downtime, the hotel’s subterranean spa (with an indoor pool and hammam) provides a welcoming relaxation zone.

Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano
Milan’s Quadrilatero della Moda (the fashion district), sits around the corner from this boutique hotel and obviously influences its décor.

Sophisticated, stylish accommodations have a chestnut, beige, ivory and black palette; balconies; antique furniture; and striking artwork handpicked by architect and hotel owner Paola Giambelli. Choose between a more modernist Milan look or romantic French flourishes.  

The design touches go more opulent in the public spaces — you’ll encounter lots of marble, sweeping staircases, mosaic floors, gold accents, chandeliers and decorative coffered ceilings. Don’t miss the picturesque century-old garden or the Bedouin-palace-like spa.

Chateau Monfort
A retro-chic urban chateau just steps from Milan’s historic center, the art deco Chateau Monfort is ideal for those who want the full city experience without being in the eye of the tourist storm.

The neoclassical palace is a period piece — belle époque architecture, original details and 77 jewel-toned rooms outfitted with whimsical elements. In fact, several suites are inspired by classic operas, like La Traviata and La Bohème, so expect some theatrics in the décor. 

Suffice to say, the overnight experience feels like living in a dream, especially when you indulge in some pampering at the hotel’s Amore e Psiche spa, a Greco-Roman-inspired bath house featuring a salt water pool, a Turkish bath and an ice fountain.

Hotel Viu Milan. Credit: Hotel Viu Milan

Hotel Viu Milan
Hotel Viu is the latest addition to the city’s 21st-century hospitality renaissance. Cutting edge and eco-chic, the modern property is in Milan’s up-and-coming Porta Volta/Garibaldi area, making it just far enough away from the historic center to be off-the-beaten path, but within walking distance to the city’s best fashion boutiques and restaurants.

You’ll notice a sleek and stylish air immediately upon entering the 124-room hotel, whose glass façade hides enviable indoor greenery. But most importantly, Hotel Viu has bragging rights to Milan’s first rooftop terrace swimming pool, a picture-perfect panoramic experience.

Etel sets its Brazilian roots down in a new organic Milan Flagship

This article first appeared in WallPaper, December 2017.

Brazilian furniture company Etel has opened a new European flagship store in Milan
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/etel-milan-flagship#DU1ZtFA7xzIJRQej.99

When Etel decided to open its European flagship in Milan, they wanted to reflect the palimpsest of the city today – a place enriched with tradition, innovation and style. Collaborating with Como-based architecture firm Superluna, a triad of Italian architects whose cumulative work traverse four continents, Etel chose a former gallery in the Maroncelli district, a neighbourhood where classic boutiques and independent shops rub shoulders with Italy’s most innovative architectural endeavours, like the Bosco Verticale and the Unicredit Tower.

With a goal of creating a conceptual meeting point between Brazilian and Italian culture and design, Superluna stripped the detritus decor of the two-level gallery space and removed extraneous walls, transforming the space into a white-washed surface, with original symmetry and ornaments beccoming a canvas. And from there, Etel would grow. Literally.

Etel Carmona and the Superluna team at the new Etel Milan flagship

Centrepiece at the two-level gallery is an undulating wooden screen, hand-made and designed by Etel founder Etel Carmona, that is deliberately reminiscent of a tree trunk. The trunk cuts the centre of the showroom physically and figuratively, from its visual impact as the most organic element in the space to its functional aspect as a hidden staircase, bringing you into the space and inside the world of Etel. ‘Since the tree is the heart of Etel Design, we wanted to give the feeling that we planted one right here,’ says Superluna’s Luca Sartori.

Divided into two almost equal sections, Etel’s ground floor is an exhibition area – a modern salon where curated pieces by historic modernist designers like Oscar Niemeyer and Isay Weinfeld, as well as Etel’s own creations are in constant dialogue with contemporary art exhibitions. Case in point: the current photo show by Ruy Teixeira and upcoming Véio exhibition, both highlight a harmony with the different pieces and history between them. Upstairs, the mezzanine level is a more cinematic experience, in fact, it’s more than a showroom, it’s a living space, work area and library.

Etel is all about organic growth. What you see today will transform into another ‘situation,’ Sartori explains of the coming months. ‘It’s all about the celebration of the human level of design and its relationship with organic materials, a continuous evolution.’

Split over two floors, the ground floor acts as an exhibition space of its collections
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/etel-milan-flagship#DU1ZtFA7xzIJRQej.99

The space features an undulating wooden screen that acts as a hidden staircase that cuts through the building's two floors

Etel’s own creations are in constant dialogue with contemporary art exhibitions in the space

Whilst a showroom in its function, the second floor also feels like a living space, work area and library

Superluna's overarching goal was to create the conceptual meeting point of Brazilian and Italian culture and design

#EmptyGAMilano and UBS's Don't Shoot the Painter

There is nothing quite like GAM, Milan's Gallery of Modern Art.  The neoclassical Villa Reale is an incredible backdrop for art from any era, and even better when contrasting the very modern with Milan days of yore.  On September 28, 2015, I hosted #EmptyGAMilano to coincide with the closing of the UBS exhibitionDon't Shoot the Painter - 110 paintings shown together from the bank's vast corporate collections.  Joining me were Instagram's Kristin Watts, Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds, Collater.al, AndyKate and many more.

For more information on organizing or participating in an #EmptyMuseo, read here and please email me erica@ericafirpo.com

#EmptyMuseo in Milan at La Triennale

Hello, Milan!

Darius and I hosted our very first #EmptyMuseo at Milan's La Triennale to coincide with the Milan Expo 2015 and the Triennale's exhibit Art and Food.  Joining us were Collater.al, PestoVerde, ElisaPella, DailyBreakfast, Milano Secrets, GnamBox and more.

A warm Thank You to La Triennale's incredible hospitality and Italy's Ministry of Culture who support us in our events. For more information on our Empties, please write me at erica@ericafirpo.com and join up!