BE­HIND CLOSED DOORS

Mi­lan will never be a Florence or Rome but, as Dylan Jones re­veals, it has hid­den charm

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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

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