Milan is always a good idea. At once historic yet thoroughly modern, Italy’s commercial capital is also known for its cosmopolitan culture, as well as its creative soul.
A must-visit for design aficionados and fashionistas alike, the city embraces a more animated tone during Milan Design Week in April—as the entire design world comes together for Salone del Mobile and the myriad exhibitions that fill its streets. Even outside the flurry of Design Week, however, a growing collection of stylish hotspots has been adding to the city’s already vivacious appeal, making it a rewarding destination to visit all year round.
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From Brera to Tortona, expect to be surprised by the distinct characters of each design district, made colourful by the establishment of new boutique hotels and charming restaurants. There has also been an influx of art and design initiatives—Fondazione Prada is a great example—that have injected dynamic energy into the city. On your next holiday in Milan, enjoy it just as a design-savvy resident would, with these recommendations in tow.
Room Mate Giulia
Situated just behind the Duomo square, this new hotel’s strategic location is suitable for both new and frequent travellers to Milan. Designed by Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola for the Room Mate hotel chain, the hotel boasts an eclectically colourful array of mid-century furnishings, paired with ribbed glass windows and brass-effect details. Throughout the hotel, you’ll find furniture pieces by maestros of Italian design, mixed with a series of artworks and kitschy objects, including souvenirs of the Duomo and postcards. All the rooms are big and comfy, and furnished with custom-made, vintage-style furniture by Cassina.
Locanda Pandenus is a design-centric bed-and-breakfast that overlooks a small square of Brera, a historic area in Milan. It is the first hospitality project by entrepreneurs Filippo Lecardane, Giuseppe Galliano and Gianluca Moroni. The Pandenus brand (which means “walnut bread” in the Lombard dialect) was founded in 2007 as a bakery, cafe and bistro. After opening three bakeries in town, the co-owners decided to open their first B&B in 2015. With just two rooms here, the furniture is all made by craftsmen, combined with Italian-designed accessories and lamps that lend the whole project the atmosphere of old Milan. Another perk: each morning, guests will receive a basket of warm bread that’s been freshly baked in the Pandenus bakery, housed within the same building.
Set within an early-20th-century building, this bed and breakfast is a passion project of owner Franz Iacono. It has just four bedrooms, each with its own particular interior decor. The rooms are tastefully furnished with iconic furniture and vintage pieces that help to create a cosy, refined ambience. The B&B is located in Lombardy, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the city—a multicultural and creative hotpot with an authentic Milanese soul. Other elements that make this B&B unique are its historic decor details, which have been carefully restored, such as the typical floors from the 1930s, as well as its original radiators and doors. These features give the impression of being hosted in the home of a friend.
After opening nine restaurants around the world (in cities including Hong Kong, New York, Miami and Oslo), famed Peruvian chef Jaime Pesaque has launched his first restaurant in Milan. His menu is an amazing blend of Italian and Peruvian cuisines, highlighting fresh fish. The restaurant interiors feature deep-blue walls, interspersed with wallpaper from Hermès and Fornasetti, velvet armchairs, and light leather seats and sofas. With the exception of some vintage chairs, all the furnishings—including the large marble sink—have been custom-made. All lamps are made by Servomuto, and create a soft lighting effect that plays with the infinite shades of ocean blue throughout the restaurant.
Authentic Italian meals, aperitifs and stylish furniture in a gallery-like setting—that’s what you’ll find at The Small, another address to remember in Milan. Located close to Corso Buenos Aires (one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares), this restaurant offers delectable meals all day. Sample something new with each visit, as the menu changes throughout the day and is refreshed weekly according to the seasonal availability of ingredients. All the furniture and artworks on display are also on sale—and this encompasses everything, including the 1970s mirrors, French porcelain, crystal bottles, Limoges cutlery and modern art.
Lentini’s Pizza & Restaurant
This restaurant in downtown Milan has the perfect mix of good food and chic interiors. Spread across three levels, Lentini’s is the ideal place for a quick, informal drink (the classic aperitivo), as well as dinner with all the Italian specialities, Neapolitan pizza included. Although the restaurant is styled to look like a New York bistro—decor details include gleaming white wall tiles, neon signs and cosy padded sofas—the restaurant serves only Italian food. Informal and elegant at the same time, Lentini’s is such a large restaurant that you don’t need to book a table in advance.
The former Ansaldo Factory in Zona Tortona is now MUDEC (Museo delle Culture), an art museum with many intriguing exhibitions. Designed by British architect David Chipperfield, the 183,000-sqft space offers a variety of cultural activities and services. The first-floor exhibition area of the museum is built around a large covered square with works from the permanent collection, and other rooms dedicated to large-scale temporary exhibitions. Completing the space is a 300-seat theatre for performances and visual arts. Also on the ground floor, visitors will find a bistro, a design store and a multimedia workshop section for children. mudec.it
Right above the famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Fondazione Prada (a cultural institution opened by luxury fashion house Prada) now has a new section dedicated to photography on the fifth and sixth floors of the gallery’s main building, near the Prada menswear store. Don’t miss the inspiring photography exhibitions and the spectacular views from the public observatory; buying a ticket allows you to visit other sections of the Fondazione Prada within seven days.
The photography space holds three exhibitions annually, in spring, autumn and winter. After visiting the gallery, stop by Pasticceria Marchesi on the mezzanine for Italian coffee with the best views of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.