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Mamma Mia!

Piero Fornasetti's 'Tema e Variazioni' at the Fornasetti store ,
08 Min Read

A low-down on the best spots in the fashion capital of the world

FORNASETTI STORE

The Fornasetti store, which was inaugurated in 2016, is located in what was once the home of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of Futurism. The store features the production of Piero Fornasetti, a Milanese designer and decorator, and a one-of-a-kind visionary who created more than 10,000 pieces in his lifetime. His legacy of unmistakably original, whimsical and imaginative style has been carried forward by his son Barnaba. In the store, you can find things like cabinets decorated with malachite motifs, trays covered in butterflies and the famous series of black-and-white plates known as ‘Tema e Variazioni’ dedicated to the endless faces of the designer’s muse, which have become collector’s items. (Corso Venezia, 21/A)

BAR BASSO

Over the years, this historical bar founded in 1947 has become a sort of Milanese institution. It is especially famous for its signature cocktail, the Negroni Sbagliato (‘sbagliato’ means ‘wrong’), which is served in a peculiar large glass, one of the bar’s trademarks. This is a cult spot for true cocktail connoisseurs. It has an extensive list of quality drinks and also happens to be the place where apertifs became popular with the hoi polloi at a time when they were exclusive to expensive hotels. It is also a charming bar where you can spend time talking to the owner Maurizio Stocchetto. Today, the best way to describe it would be ‘radical chic meets working class’, and it is packed to the gills during Milan Design Week, when designers come here late at night and don’t leave until early morning. (Via Plinio, 39)

A citrusy cocktail at Bar Basso

FONDAZIONE PRADA

This multidisciplinary arts space created by the fashion designer Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli stands on the outskirts of Milan with its towering ‘haunted house’ clad in gold leaf. A former distillery dating back to the 1910s, the complex was beautifully updated by the architect Rem Koolhaas in 2015. It was completed last April with the opening to the public of a 60m-high tower in exposed white concrete featuring works from the Prada Collection. The dramatic display includes art by Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Michael Heizer and Carsten Höller, paused at the sixth floor by a restaurant with a view that is a homage to Philip Johnson’s iconic Four Seasons restaurant dismantled two years ago in New York. Fondazione Prada’s Milan venue is also currently hosting the ‘Post Zang Tumb Tuuum’ exhibition till June 28, a must-see show focussing on Italian art and culture between 1918 and 1943. I never miss a chance to take a break at the Bar Luce café created by the movie director Wes Anderson, offering a postmodernist take on the traditional Milanese pasticceria. (Largo Isarco, 2)

The surrealistic Project Atlas exhibition at Fondazione Prada

PINACOTECA DI BRERA

Housed in the same building as the Accademia de Brera, the school of arts in the bohemian district of Brera, the Pinacoteca is the place to go in Milan for an immersion in classic Italian art. Its permanent collection covers the 14th to 19th century, and features many works by Andrea Mantegna, including The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Piero della Francesca’s Pala Montefeltro (both dating to the 1470s), Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child, and other masterpieces by Raffaello, Bramante and Caravaggio. Also on display are more modern works, but it is safe to say that the old masters steal the scene. (Via Brera, 28)

Francesco Hayez's masterpiece, 'The Kiss', at Pinacoteca di Brera inspires many intimate moments

WAIT AND SEE

Milan is the city of fashion, of course, and the obvious area for high-end brands is the elegant clutch of streets north of the Duomo known as the ‘quadrilatero’–Via Montenapoleone, Via Borgospesso, Via Della Spiga and Via Sant’Andrea. But I actually prefer the more eccentric selection at Wait and See (Via Santa Marta, 14), which the designer and fashion consultant Uberta Zambeletti curates from her travels around the world. The little boutique is hidden in what is the most ancient and maze-like area of the city, a district called ‘5 vie’ (5 streets), which is the also the perfect place for a retail-focussed stroll with interesting shops, workshops and traditional trattorias where one can take a break for a cosy lunch.

VIA SOTTOCORNO

This street is my so-called ‘gourmet destination’, in other words, where I find my favourite restaurants in town, boasting a mix of good food and splendid décor. Ristorante Da Giacomo, Giacomo Bistrot, Pasticceria Giacomo, Rosticceria and Tabaccheria are all from the stable of Giacomo Bulleri, a chef who came to Milan from Tuscany about 50 years ago. I often choose the most basic foods: the simple spaghetti al pomodoro at the Bistrot is fabulous, and what I like the most at the Ristorante is that you always get a slice of delicious pizza as a starter. When it comes to dessert, I go for double chocolate although the most famous cake here is called Bomba di Giacomo (Giacomo’s Bomb), a decadent delight with Chantilly cream and strawberries. And if I want to take home some of the ingredients the chef has scoured Italy for, I stop in at Tabaccheria, or head to Pasticceria for the sweets. The interiors are by the famed architect and scenographer Renzo Mongiardino and his pupils Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori Rimini. (Via Sottocorno, 5—6, 36)

Gicomo Bistrot has a homely interior

VILLA NECCHI CAMPIGLIO

One thing I love about Milan is its selection of grand private homes that have been turned into museums. There are a few, including Poldi Pezzoli, Bagatti Valsecchi and Casa Boschi di Stefano, but the one I like the most is probably the Villa Necchi Campiglio. The Italian film director Luca Guadagnino chose this as the setting for his 2010 movie I Am Love featuring Tilda Swinton. The home was originally built for an upper-class family (in the business of manufacturing sewing machines) by the rationalist architect Piero Portaluppi in the 1930s with lavish materials combined in a minimalistic aesthetic. It stands in its garden with a swimming pool like a modernist fortress surrounded by opulent palazzos. (Via Mozart, 14).

BASTIANELLO

Go to Bastianello (Via Borgogna, 5) for possibly the best cappuccino in town (if you like super-creamy foam, this is the place for you). With an ornate aesthetic that extends throughout the place, even down to the tableware, this kitschy pasticceria might be a bit overdressed, but it can’t help put you in a festive mood from morning to aperitif, which is also a popular time of day here thanks to the outdoor patio. On the weekends, I sometimes hop from café to café–and the city centre is filled with historic ones with that grandmotherly allure that makes them so precious–because having a quick coffee at the counter is a quintessential Milanese experience.

Bastianello serves the best cappuccino in town

SAN MAURIZO AL MONASTERO MAGGIORE

From the outside, this 16th-century church is not particularly interesting, but inside, it is truly spectacular. The building is next to the archaeological museum, which, in the past, was a Benedictine convent, while the Cenacolo Vinciano, the famous Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci at Santa Maria Delle Grazie church, is just 10 minutes away. What makes this church a hidden gem is its abundance of Renaissance frescoes exploding in a triumph of colours and a marvellous decorated vault that has earned it the title of ‘Milan’s Sistine Chapel’. These frescoes were done by Leonardesque painters, including an extensive collection by Bernardino Luini. The overall scenic setting is quite remarkable. (Corso Magenta, 15)

A fresco at the San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore

SIX

Opened last year, this is still a kind of secret downtown address where the cool crowd heads for shopping and dining. Behind a large doorway on a side street, one finds a design gallery, a bistro and a poetic flower shop housed in what was a former monastery. The space has been renovated to offer an underground vibe with a sophisticated touch. The Six Gallery is the brainchild of husband-and-wife architects David Lopez Quincoces and Fanny Bauer Grung. It features an inspiring mix that ranges from affordable pieces to iconic ones, bringing together Venetian glass by Yali, chairs by Gio Ponti, and the architect’s brand new furniture collection, which just launched in April. It’s the perfect destination after 5pm. End the day with one of the seasonal dishes at Sixième bistro and a cocktail before or after dinner. (Via Scaldasole, 7)

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