Italy’s Style Capital, Milan Fashion Culture and Shopping Tour

Now that the fashionistas have left town, there’s space to explore the other attractions in Italy’s style capital. In Milan, April is the coolest month. The fashion shows are over, leaving hotels and restaurants with time and space to spare for travellers who are more interested in culture than couture.

The city’s world-famous Furniture Fair (cosmit.it), 22-27 April, has been matched by smaller but equally compelling happening. These include Miraggi , an open-air exhibition of contemporary sculpture in the city’s historic streets and squares, until 30 April, and the Danae contemporary theatre and dance arts festival until 20 April.

A temporary exhibition of video installations by the contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft will be showcased at PAC, the Pavilion of Contemporary Art (comune.milano.it/pac) until 5 April. Beecroft’s obsession with eating and the body is counterpointed in the Extreme Beauty exhibition of fashion photographs on view at the Palazzo della Ragione until 10 May.

In spring, Milan’s streets, with their graceful Liberty palaces and trees in blossom, are made for walking. Signore who shop hit the Quadrilatero quarter where the designer doyens Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and others have added spas and bars to their bazaars.

If you’re feeling bruised by sterling’s nosedive, remember that what you spend on style you can save on supper. Come cocktail hour, a martini and a mountain of nibbles are yours for about €6 as bartenders lay out sumptuous buffets to accompany their aperitivi. A weekend break here is not so extravagant after all.

Don’t miss…

… Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. The human emotion and sacred feeling played out in this fresco make it worth every minute of the advance-booking process – a system which ensures you will see the masterpiece in the company of just 24 other awed souls.

… a stroll through Navigli. Threaded by two canals and criss-crossed by bridges, the fairest quarter of them all is alive with bars, restaurants and hipster fashion shops – both vintage and contemporary – with honey-coloured tenements and ivy-trailing courtyards adding a sense of tranquillity.

… visiting the crypt of the Duomo to see the video of Christ’s last hours by Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger. Go to the top of the building for the best panoramic view of the city.

… a night at the opera at Teatro alla Scala.

… the world-beating collection of Italy’s greatest painters at Pinacoteca di Brera . Raphael, Tintoretto and Caravaggio are among the highlights.

shopping in the glass-vaulted arcades of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Spin around on your heel three times on the “delicate part” of the bull in the mosaic on the floor of the central atrium – they say it brings good luck.

What’s new

Garibaldi

The area around Garibaldi railway station is shedding its wrong-side-of-the-tracks image. On Via Maroncelli, kooky but quality emporiums are tempting fashion and design stylists away from Corso Como. Young artists and designers showcase their wares in the former steam factory known as the Fabbrica del Vapore. On the far side of the railway flyover, the Isola quarter was once home to both artisans and drug dealers. Nourished by the twice-weekly fruit and veg market, the area’s community spirit remains but the arrival of the Blue Note jazz club and several excellent trattorie has transformed it into a night-time haunt. When the Città della Moda (City of Fashion) emerges out of the building site on Isola’s borders, the sun will set on this precinct’s low profile for ever.

Townhouse

Slated to open in April, Townhouse 33 is the latest venture from the eponymous Milan-based, boutique-hotel chain. Next door to the original Townhouse 31 and with access to its popular al fresco bar, the new sleepover promises 16 rooms overlooking a French restaurant, palm-studded courtyard and hanging roof garden. Cosy but chic interiors feature satin-striped linens and dark-wood furnishings, while the grained-wood floors extend into bathrooms with tilted mirrors. Thoughtful extras include coffee makers and free Wi-Fi in every room. B&B in a double costs from €180.

Cioccolati Italiani

Unlike the blends served up by most chocolate-makers, this new choco-gelateria-caffè specialises in single-origin chocolate. While ice-cream and pastry chefs strut their stuff behind glass screens, waiters dole out flavoured chocolate gelato from old-fashioned stainless-steel tubs because that’s the best way to keep it fresh. Silky smooth liquid chocolate is served in tiny glasses alongside freshly baked brioches. Chocolate tagliatelle tops the snack menu. No wonder the cube stools (chocolate-hued, natch) on the terrace are so coveted.

Terme Milano

This splendid new day spa roosts among the high-ceilinged, black-and-white-tiled halls of a magnificent Liberty palace hemmed by dilapidated medieval walls. Start with a massage, then sink into a hot tub in the garden, before a snack from the all-day fruit and cheese buffet. Finish with a chill-out in one of the Relax Salons themed around earth, fire, water and air.

Il Marchesino

The new culinary home of the celebrated Milanese chef Gualtiero Marchesi, this is the theatre restaurant par excellence. Next to La Scala opera house, the compact space is enlivened with red-velvet chairs and neo-classical columns. Drop in for a cup of Earl Grey at teatime, oysters and champagne after the opera, or linger over Marchesi’s ossobuco with risotto. Every dish is a showstopper.

Dirk Bikkembergs

Probably the world’s first Reality Shop, the new flagship store of Belgian designer Dirk Bikkembergs is also the apartment of Italian footballer Andrea Vasa. Surrounded by Bikkembergs’ ultra-hip clothing line, the Brera defender sleeps, eats, showers and challenges his PlayStation in this glass-walled space in full view of customers and passers-by. Apparently designed for a man in the “vanguard of masculinity”, the football boots, tracksuits and eveningwear, much of it in funky graphic prints, are overshadowed by the decor, which teams Baroque-style furniture with furry bedspreads, sports-page wallpaper, footballs and silver trophies. Seventh heaven for fans of the beautiful game; the ninth circle of hell for anyone else.

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