Little Black Book

Cold and Snobby Milan Is Italy's Warmest Surprise

by Alessia Algani
Hanging with old friends. Photo Courtesy of Balera dell'Ortica.

Don't overlook Milan. You might just find hidden secrets in a mosaic of old and new. Alessia Algani — the editor and writer behind the all-things-Milan app Milanochemipiace, which launches its new edition on September 22, 2014 — shows us around her home city.

MILAN – Milan is a strange place. Considered the ugly duckling among the more famous Italian art cities, it is usually considered no more than a starting point for the Grand Tour to Venice, Florence, Rome, and Lake Como, or as a pit stop for luxury shopping. But that's not fair. Milan — the Italian capital of fashion, design, music, and publishing — is actually full of surprises and well kept secrets.

While I have lived here for more than twenty years, I was not born in Milan, which may be why I am still amazed by it. I am curious by nature, and the city app I created, Milanochemipiace ("The Milan that I like"), allows me to do what I love the most: walk, look, listen, and share. (The newest version comes out September 22, 2014.) I fall in love with my city a hundred times over every week. These places, restaurants, and sites are just a few of the reasons why.


Factory-turned-modern art museum HangarBicocca. Photo courtesy of HangarBicocca.

La Triennale

Sunny courtyard of the Triennale Design Museum. Photo courtesy of La Triennale.


Villa Necchi Campiglio
Via Mozart, 14, Porta Venezia; +39-02-7634-0121
Time stands still in the former home of the Necchi Campiglio family, leading members of Lombardy's upper middle class, which was designed by architect Piero Portaluppi in the 1930s. The garden, tennis court, swimming pool, bedrooms, kitchens, wardrobes, and domestic quarters preserve the mark of the people who lived here. The family recently donated the villa to FAI, the Italian Fund for the Environment, and is part of the circuit of Historic House Museums of Milan.

Via Chiese, 2, Bicocca; +39-02-6611-1573
The old steel manufacturing factory is now a contemporary art museum managed by the former Tate Modern director Vicente Todolì. Exhibitions and installations by international stars round out the permanent collection, which includes Anselm Kiefer's yearningly beautiful Seven Heavenly Palaces, produced for the 2004 opening.

Viale Emilio Alemagna, 6, Cadorna-Castello; +39-02-724-341
An amazing 1930s building that hosts dozens of exhibitions and projects annually in the field of architecture, fashion, and the audio-visual arts. Also here are Triennale Design Museum, a dynamic institution that explores the history of Italian design through ever-evolving displays, a wonderful bookstore, a cafè facing the park, and a garden for dreaming in the sunshine.

Studio Museo Achile Castiglioni

Inside the mind of an Italian design genius. Photo courtesy of Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni.

Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni
Piazza Castello, 27, Cadorna-Castello; +39-02-805-3606
The former studio where influential industrial designer Achille Castiglioni worked for decades on pieces that made their mark on the history of Italian creativity. This is a special place, the rooms packed with drawings, photographs, models, prototypes, books, instruments, and objects he collected in his lifetime. The visit takes an hour and is limited to no more than 20 at a time. Tours are led by his wife Irma and daughter Giovanna, who regale visitors with terrific and inspiring stories about the man, his life, and his work.

The Architectural Marvels of Milan

Milan was the most damaged Italian city during the World War II bombings. Entire areas were destroyed, a tragic loss that had a silver lining: Milan became the perfect training arena for the brilliant architects of the era. Vico Magistretti, Gio Ponti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Asnago & Venders, BBPR Studio, and Franco Albini all did some of their best and most innovative work here. For architecture lovers, discovering the jewels they scattered everywhere is pure pleasure, an outstanding way to see the city. A tour of local 20th-century architectural icons would include these stops:

Acquario Civico
Viale Gadio, 2; +39-028-846-5750

Stazione Centrale
Piazza Duca D'Aosta, 1; +39-02-667-351

Grattacielo Pirelli
Piazza Città di Lombardia 1; +39-02-67651

Torre Velasca
Piazza Velasca, 5; +39-02-7740-4343

Torre al Parco on Via Revere Giuseppe
Via Revere Giuseppe, 2

Torre Branca
Via Milton; +39-02-7740-4343

Torre Rasini
Bastioni di Porta Venezia, 1

Among the more recent beauties, don't miss the L.O.V.E. sculpture by artist Maurizio Cattelan in front of the Palazzo della Borsa and Università Bocconi (Via Roberto Sarfatti, 25; +39-02-5836-3434) by Grafton Architects.

Palazzo Segreti

Sleek and modern rooms at Palazzo Segreti. Photo courtesy of Palazzo Segreti.


Palazzo Segreti
Via San Tomaso, 8; Duomo; +39-02-4952-9250
Halfway between La Scala and the Castello Sforzesco, the atmosphere at this hotel is both cozy and exclusive. The historic building has been restored by Studio Brizzi+Riefenstahl, transformed into a charming residence of great aesthetic impact. Contemporary art works from Galleria Lia Rumma are showcased in the common areas on the ground floor.

Arjumand's Home
Villa Santa Marta, 11; Duomo; +39-02-869-2077
An amazing apartment inside an ancient building in Milan's most beautiful and hidden area. The furnishings are a perfect mix of family heirloom, textiles from Arjumand s collections, and carpets from Alberto Levi Gallery. Among the services for guests are fresh bread and newspapers in the breakfast basket. Adorable.

Ostello Bello
Villa Medici, 4, Porta Ticinese; +39-02-3658-2720
A hostel managed with a homely atmosphere between the Duomo and Navigli, where hostel guests and local Milanese with an international flare converge in the ground floor hall to have breakfast, lunch, drinks, read a book, and work on their laptops. This is a great place to meet new people.

Rosso Segnale
Via Antonio Sacchini, 18, Centrale-Loreto; +39-02-2952-7453
Near the Stazione Centrale on a quiet lane of early 20th-century buildings stands a lovely B&B whose name, "Road Sign Red," refers to the color of the lift connecting the floors. The three rooms are decorated with secondhand pieces. Among the common areas are a breathtaking terrace and a charming garden, where the landlords Raoul and Alberto have placed two lovely cabanas — a reading room and a micro gym.

Erba Brusca window

Peeking into Erba Brusca. Photo courtesy of Erba Brusca.


Ratanà restaurant is located in a 19th-century train station. Photo courtesy of Ratanà.


Antica Trattoria della Pesa
Viale Pasubio, 10, Garibaldi-Isola; +39-02-655-5741
The ideal place for artfully crafted classic Milanese cuisine: risotto with saffron, riso al salto, cabbage rolls, cutlet, and the hot zabaglione served in cups as it used to be. The power move is to come for Saturday lunch, when the friendly atmosphere and daylight add to the beauty. Very Milan.

Erba Brusca
Alzaia Naviglio Pavese, 286, Navigli; +39-02-8738-0711
To get here, you have to leave the city center and head south along the Naviglio Pavese canal. But what a splendid and adorable place it is: huge windows with views of the Naviglio, a clear freshwater brook around the veranda and garden, an herb garden, good music. They serve delicious, simple, and original dishes using local, seasonal produce, organic meats and sustainable fish, and natural wines.

Via Gaetano de Castillia, 28, Garibaldi-Isola; +39-02-8712-8855
The setting is suggestive, a faded white Art Nouveau building that used to be a train depot on the background of Porta Nuova's futuristic skyscraper jungle. Ratanà is one of the city's most beautiful restaurants, with high ceilings, industrial furniture, and a retro bar. Chef Cesare Battisti's locally-driven menu is inspired by traditional Milan and Lombardy cuisine and includes a menu of rubitt, the Milanese term for tapas.

Corso Genova, 1, Porta Ticinese; +39-02-8940-9793
Charmingly dilapidated, with wonderful sweets and a mixed crowd: journalists at their laptops early in the morning, grannies and grandkids in for an afternoon snack, ladies in cashmere and pearls at teatime, happy hour regulars sipping "the usual." Don't miss the croissants, the jam doughnuts, the tiny sandwiches, and the raspberry tart. Perfect at any time of the day.

La Balera dell'Ortica

Dance the night away. Photo courtesy of Balera dell'Ortica.


Bar Basso
Via Plinio, 39, Città Studi; +39-02-2940-0580
If Milan were a bar, it would be Bar Basso. Frequented by a diverse crowd of old-style Milanese, architects, designers, and ordinary folks, its vintage atmosphere is priceless. The house cocktails are legendary. The Negroni Sbagliato was invented here, made with spumante instead of gin and served in an huge, custom-designed glass with a block of ice.

Balera dell'Ortica
Via Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, 78, Lambrate; +39-02-7012-8680
The old Dopolavoro Ferroviario (railway workers' recreational club) managed by the Di Furia family stands in Ortica, an outlying neighborhood with a village feel. The bar, bocce field, and mamma Rita's home cooking trattoria are open year-round, but summer brings out the best in this place, as it turns into an open-air dance hall with live music for ballroom dancing, boogie woogie, and lindy hop. Here time flows sweetly between a game of bocce, a fizzy glass of wine and gazzosa, and an Elvis Presley song.

Porselli Flats

Perfectly pretty and pink. Photo courtesy of Milanochemipiace.


Wait and See
Via Santa Marta, 14, Duomo; +39-02-7208-0195
A love-at-first-sight place, where the clothes, accessories, and objects are the product of endless research trips all over the world and including vintage pieces and Wait and See's exclusive collections. The soul of the warm, cheerful shop is Uberta Zambeletti, a fashion and interior designer, stylist, and consultant for important fashion houses. A mixture of color, taste, and jest, the boutique is an absolute must.

Piazza Paolo Ferrari, 6, Duomo; +39-02-805-3759
The best ballet shoes ever, as evidenced by the fact that they're worn by La Scala dancers. In addition to professional models for ballet and pointe, the collection includes ballet shoe variations of boots, flats with interchageable right and left shoes, and T-strap heels. Styles can be ordered in satin, leather, canvas, and suede; with a higher- and lower-cut vamp; in a wide range of colors and finishes like grosgrain ribbons, bows, and toe caps.

Danese Milano
Via Antonio Canova, 34, Duomo; +39-02-349-611
A legendary and influential company that has produced many icons of Italian design like the Citera pencil holder and the Formosa perpetual calendar, designed by Enzo Mari in 1960 and 1963, and the Cubo ashtray, designed by Bruno Munari in 1957. Timeless beauties.


How to Get Around
BY BIKE: Milanese love their bicycles, so the best way to get around is on two wheels. It helps that the city is quite small and completely flat. Crossing town on a white and yellow BikeMi shared bicycle will make you feel a local, and bike depots are everywhere. For a more sophisticated option, go to Rossignoli (Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, 71; +39-02-804-960), a cycling institution. In addition to selling beautiful handmade and customized bikes, they also have a rental service.

BY TRAM: Trams, a Milanese classic, will bring you everywhere and are a perfect and more comfortable way to explore the city. My favorite lines are 1, 19, 23, and 33 because they still use the old 1920s cars.


See all the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)


How to Charm Your Way into Milan's Coolest Speakeasy
Instatrip: Milan Fashion Week
Little Black Book: A Roman's Guide to Loving Milan

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.