Eat, shop and sleep your way round a design capital of the world.
Style and serenity take on a whole new meaning when you wake in the middle of Milan’s fashion district, with traffic on one side and a vast, tree-lined courtyard on the other.
It’s so quiet at Milan’s Four Seasons Hotel that you can sleep with the windows open and wake to the sound of very little. It feels like you have been transported to the middle of the Tuscan countryside, except that the hotel offers the best of both worlds – Via Montenapoleone is within five minutes’ walk.
This street is a fashionista’s paradise, home to every big name designer imaginable. Be prepared for eye-watering prices and to be wooed by garments unseen in many other cities, from the top names in global design. It may pay to leave the credit card in your hotel safe on your first foray.
Like Italy itself, Milan is full of surprises and contrasts. The city’s famous modern, deconstructionist designs sit comfortably alongside historic architecture – a stunning contrast. The city’s Duomo cathedral is one of many such examples. It is said to be home to over 3,600 statues and 165 spires, all of which can be seen by climbing the steps into the dome – or taking the lift, if you’re suffering from shopper’s feet.
One of the key times to visit Milan is in April, during the city’s annual design event. The Salone Internazionale del Mobile (furniture fair) is the biggest event in the city, with over 1,270 exhibitors and open days to the public at weekends. If planning a visit around this time, it pays to book accommodation in advance.
And you can expect to see a bit of everything, from understated design to downright outlandish. It’s all part of the charm. As is the city’s old-world vibe, which can best be experienced while sipping a cocktail at the Hotel Principe Di Savoia on the Piazza della Repubblica.
Milan is viewed by many as a stop-off to make after visiting France, on the way to Eastern Europe or Rome. But it is a destination in its own right, thanks to its deserved reputation as a design capital of the world. Its well-preserved, impressively-proportioned historic architecture adds another string to its stylish bow.
Impressing visitors was no doubt the aim of those who converted the once-dilapidated convent into the Four Seasons Hotel. While it oozes authentic charm, with its over 500-year-old frescoes on the walls and ceilings, the hotel is specked with every mod con imaginable.
If you want to lay your head in contemporary surrounds, the Straf Hotel offers an industrial take on modern Milanese design. Fashion designer Vincenzo de Cotiis was responsible for the make-over, turning the 19th-century palazzo into a stylish hotel, its 64 rooms just a stone’s throw from the Duomo.
The Four Seasons Milan also has wow factor in spades, with vaulted ceilings and a newly-refurbished underground spa; not to mention its large luxurious rooms. The rush of traffic may be close by – just on the other side of the corridor in fact – but you wouldn’t know it while relaxing in your bedroom.
Milan is a city of contrasts, from its fascinating dark fascist architecture, like the daunting Nazi-esque Stazione di Milano Centrale – the central railway station built by Mussolini – to the dramatic Duomo.
Trams evoke a 20s feel and offer an enjoyable way to get around the city’s innumerable design stores, surrounded by quiet, hidden courtyard cafes. A visit to the glam and glitz of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a shopping must; it is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world, built in 1867. The seat of Prada, the Galleria also houses a number of cult Milanese restaurants and cafes.
The food in Milan over-delivers, from the humblest cafe to top restaurants, such as Il Teatro at the Four Seasons. Having dinner at Il Teatro is to enjoy Italian food at its absolute best – artichokes and prosciutto with outrageously good Prosecco are just the beginning; the mains are sensational.
Another delicious option is the Armani/Bamboo Bar at the top floor of the Armani Hotel, where the rooftop bartender makes a mean G&T. And in the morning, head to the courtyard sanctuary of Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone, where the food is wonderful, and the atmosphere even better.
What to pack:
Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers daily connections from Auckland to Rome and Milan. For schedules and fare information visit: cathaypacific.co.nz