Things to do in Milan

There are pros and cons to visiting Italy in August… the temperature is high and the shops are shut… the city empties as residents migrate to shadier, calmer areas of the country. I was disappointed to discover shuttered store fronts, the exciting Italian merchandise staring up at me from behind the bars, and yet the city still possessed an alluring Milanese charm… stylish and seductive, urban and unique.

We spent three days in Lombardy’s capital, cycling round the city taking in the sites, tasting the ice-cream and admiring the designer fashion.

Getting there

Milan Linate airport is closest to the main city centre, though Malpensa is not far away either. If you don’t want to waste money on the overpriced cab ride into town opt for the speedy bus X73 or the more regular 73, both go to San Babila Square, ideal for reaching central hotels and Milan’s main sites.

To eat

Vun, Park Hyatt – Located in the swish Park Hyatt Hotel in the centre of Milan, this Michelin starred eatery offers magnificent food and faultless service. Using local recipes and ingredients, chef Andrea Aprea says his contemporary cuisine “looks to the future, but never forgets its origins!” My recommendation? Try the sculpturally exquisite Caprese salad.

Joia – This restaurant is both Michelin star awarded and vegetarian, a rare combination. Local and visiting carnivores in Milan have embraced Jean Michel Colin’s creative and healthy cooking and it is the ideal meal for those suffering after too many heavy Italian meals… fine dining with a twist.

Ham Holyburger – I was surprised to hear that the Milan crowd are keen on burgers and the trend is growing at speed here. Ham Holyburger is known to be the best offering deliciously juicy burgers with a variety of toppings and crave-worthy super crisp chips. Orders are chosen on ipads.

Pave for coffee – This cool, trendy hangout is the place to be, whether at lunchtime midweek, or for a late coffee or cocktail on a Saturday night. With a baskery onsite and meeting room space there is lots on offer. Wacky décor and characterful design – I felt I’d stumbled upon a real Milanese gem.

Shockolat for ice-cream – We discovered this gelato haven on the way back from the Last Supper viewing, as it is just round the corner from Leonardo’s masterpiece. I tried strawberry sorbet and coconut ice-cream and was amazed by the vibrancy and freshness of the flavours, needless to say I gobbled it up much too easily.

To drink

Nottingham Forest – some of the most imaginative cocktails I have ever seen. This tiny bar is at the forefront of Milan’s mixology movement. Bartender Dario Comino creates curious and cutting edge concoctions – some taste nice, others don’t but they all have a wildly innovative story to tell.

Armani Hotel Bamboo Bar – after a spa session on the floor above, pop down to the Bamboo Bar for a delicious cocktail. The fine complimentary snacks which accompany your drink help make the £20 cocktails slightly more reasonable. I loved the marmalade inspired cocktail with crumbled cocoa on top.

To shop

Wait and See – this cute concept shop is hidden down a secret, characterful side street; it offers original and trendy items. Opened just last year by designer Uberta Zambeletti.

Gay Odin – I was devastated to find this tiny shop shut. A special little Neapolitan chocolate shop, sells the loveliest and prettiest boxes of scrumptious goodies and serves the thickest drinking chocolate at the bar.

Papier – this adorable shop will satisfy all your stationery needs, a stylish little outlet offering unusual items, special gifts and wonderful paper. Customers can also have invitations, business cards and stationery printed in-house.

Prada at Galleria Emmanuelle II – this is a must-see, as is this glorious branch of Prada. The famous Italian designer brand has pride of place in the World’s oldest shopping mall. Wander in and salivate over the beautiful bags, purses and accessories.

Je-m’en-fous – the shop title translates to ‘I don’t give a damn’, but I certainly did give a damn about the luminous fluorescent bikinis in store. A bright and cheerful shop selling brilliantly branded merchandise, with the promise of a free matching Essie nail varnish with each purchase.

10 Corso Como – this famous concept store was created by gallerist and publisher Carla Sozzani, and has a dangerously wonderful selection of exclusive and attractive items on display. There is also a small hotel, roof garden, bookshop and café all as part of the 10 Corso Como complex. If you can’t afford a Valentino jacket or Gucci shoes, indulge in a little reminder of your visit with an item from the store’s own branded collection.

To pamper

Armani Spa – Coming in from the dusty, sweltering streets of Milan we could not have felt more relieved and relaxed in this wonderfully slick and sophisticated spa. High tech, supremely designed and full of gorgeous features, I would be happy to enjoy these facilities all day.

Violette – this trendy little nail bar was completely booked up when I visited, even begging for an appointment didn’t work as their waiting list is painfully long. The adorable and hip little beauty bar is known to be the best place for an immaculate mani or pedi. It is first on my list for next time.

To see

Teatro la Scala – the world renowned opera house has forever been on my wish list. Sadly the theatre is closed during August, though music loving tourists can pay for a tour or visit the shop during summer closure. I hope to see a Puccini opera here one day.

Museo del Novecento – with interesting exhibitions from international artists, this centrally located museum is a must. Great art shop and free entry on occasional Friday afternoons, we thoroughly enjoyed the quirky collection here.

The Last Supper – book months in advance and savour your 15 minutes staring up at the Last Supper. This iconic painting is gradually disappearing but its importance in renaissance art is unrivalled.

To do

Collect bikes from Rossignoli in the Brera district – spend a romantic afternoon exploring the narrow windy streets of Milan. Make sure you keep a map to hand because it is easy to get lost.

Duomo roof – one of the great architectural marvels of Milan can be enjoyed from its own rooftop. On a hot day I’d recommend paying extra for the lift, but if you want to burn off some calories after a big lunch you can give the 250 steps a try. Admire the great views of the city and soak up the sun.

To go

Lake Como – if you need a break from busy Milan the surrounding lakes provide the perfect getaway. Lago di Como is of course the most renowned, an hour’s train journey from the city. I highly recommend a day at Grand Hotel Tremezzo: enjoy pizza by the pool, a swim in the floating lake and a private boat trip, Prosecco in hand… what could be more perfect?

Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como

Locals flee Milan in August, desperate to avoid the stifling heat. Many head to the idyllic Lake Como, where the gentle breeze and beautiful views provide the perfect summer retreat. If you do find yourself in the vicinity of the azure waters of Lake Como I can recommend one very special property…

Grand Hotel Tremezzo is family owned and family run. Dating back to 1910, it combines five-star luxury with welcoming and homely service, and is truly one of a kind. Ideally located beside the lake, Grand Hotel Tremezzo has spectacular views of the town of Bellagio, Riviera delle Azalee and the epic Grigne Mountains. The design is elegant and traditionally Italian with gorgeous Art Nouveau features.

There are 80 rooms (some of them overlooking the lake, others offer views of the secular park) plus 4 historical suites and 8 rooftop suites. The new luxurious suites are cleverly hidden on the top floor, ideal for special occasions, private meals and stargazing. Guests are spoilt for choice with dining options: chef Gualtiero Marchesi’s fine cuisine at La Terrazza or the more casual T Pizza and L’Escale Fondue and Wine Bar. We tried the simple but delicious pizza in the hotel gardens, soaking up the sunshine whilst gorging on crispy thin pizza, flavoursome salad and fresh pineapple juice.

The main attraction for me is the unbelievable floating pool. Having admired this unique feature in photos, I was beyond excited to see it for myself, it took my breath away. Arriving by boat, I could see this sky blue pool glistening in the distance. Stepping onto the floating platform is a strange sensation, you remain steady as the structure bobs gently on the lake. Then for an extra treat we were taken out on the lake in the hotel’s water limo, a Venetian motor launch dating back to 1961. With a glass of Prosecco in hand, this was a moment I knew I would cherish long after leaving the lake.

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