BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Milan will never be a Florence or Rome but, as Dylan Jones reveals, it has hidden charm
IONCE called Milan the ugliest city in Italy, which in hindsight is unfair, if still not far from the truth. Here, in the country’s northern powerhouse, everything lies behind closed doors, and the beautiful medieval gardens and treelined courtyards can only be found if you sneak into the gothic and neoclassical palazzi that litter the city like grey, smog-covered birthday cakes.
Rather than displaying its finery for all to see, Milan is a place that offers its treats on a strictly needto-know basis. Unlike any other city in Italy, Milan’s modus operandi seems to be one of disguise. This is perhaps apt as it is also — obviously, empirically — the centre of the fashion world. You only have to spend five minutes walking through the Golden Triangle — the shopping area bordered by via Montenapoleone, via della Spiga and via Sant’Andrea — to realise that however fashion-conscious you think we have become, the Italians will always do it with more class.
I am never in the mood to buy anyway. I come for business twice a year, once in January, when it is so cold I wear every item of clothing I own, and once in June, when it is impossible to wear anything other than a T-shirt or a seersucker suit. In fact, my one piece of advice when visiting Milan for pleasure is to hire a luxury, air-conditioned chauffeured car. Forgo any thoughts of buying that socially ambitious suit you are hankering after and go for the S-Class instead.
But although I rarely buy clothes in Milan (when I do, I go to Aspesi on via Montenapoleone), I spend a small fortune on books, and the city has half a dozen places that sell English-language art, architecture, design and photography books, including 10 Corso Como (the second most fashionable shop in Europe) and the exciting new Mondadori Multicenter.
The city obviously has its fair share of grand, if slightly utilitarian, hotels such as the Principe, the Palace and the Hyatt, but it also has oddities including the Grand and luxury liners such as the Four Seasons and the Bulgari. The Four Seasons is where the scene likes to be seen, but the Principe has the best pool.
By turns ugly and imposing, the fashion capital of the world is anything but fashionable. But, although it will never be a tourist destination in the same way as Florence, Rome, Sorrento or Lucca, it certainly has some of the country’s best restaurants, most of which have had some sort of sartorial co-dependence in their time. There’s Le Langhe (Tom Ford’s favourite when he worked in town); Baguta (where it’s possible to see Valentino’s backstage army wolfing down the buffet); Bice (where Armani has been known to go, when he isn’t entertaining at Nobu in his retail monolith a few streets away) and my favourite, the Torre di Pisa.
Along with football and religion, eating (a lot) is still the Italian way of communicating with your maker and here you can do it with excessive ease. At the tiniest of trattorias, Miuccia Prada, Paul Smith and Christopher Bailey all break bread, as well as considering the baked cheeseballs, Tuscan rigatoni and barolo wine. Even though you are in the middle of the greatest concentration of designer shops in the world (apart, perhaps, from Moscow), once you are inside, the Torre di Pisa feels as though it could be anywhere: Siena, Turin, or indeed Puglia.
Sightseeing isn’t going to eat into your time much — but be sure to visit the recently cleaned Duomo, the Pinacoteca di Brera and the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie to see Leonardo’s Last Supper — so you may as well spend it reacquainting yourself with Italy’s ragione d’essere . Which means bresaola, rucola and parmigiano salad, prosciutto, speck, branzino and large bottles of rich (if overpriced) amarone.
And when you’ve had enough of the city, do what the residents do and escape to the lakes, up to Como or Varenna. Order a Campari and soda and drink a toast to the one Italian city that won’t hold it against you when you leave. The Spectator Dylan Jones is the editor ofGQ and author of MrJones’Rulesfor theModernMan (Hodder & Stoughton).
Cool customers: Feeding time at Piazza del Duoma, top; shots at a fashionable ice bar, above