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?

Four Seasons Milano

The Four Seasons hotel group is unlike any other, with each property drawing upon the history of the building and the city, creating truly inimitable hotels. The Four Seasons Milano is the perfect example of this, housed in a 15th century former convent, the hotel’s immaculate restoration incorporates all the historical detailing into its chic Italian design.

Located in the “rectangle of gold”, it counts Chanel, Prada and Armani as its fashionable neighbours and this hotel emulates the haute couture style with ease and charm. Positioned on the quiet Via Gesu, the entrance is more understated than that of its foreign counterparts. Discreet and delectable, it is the perfect hotel for those wishing to shop till they drop, or for tourists keen to see the main sights.

The open-plan main lobby encourages guests and visitors to stay, sit, chat and enjoy a drink. We sipped coffee whilst admiring the restored granite pillars and the aged fragments of frescoes, beautifully reminiscent of this building’s precious past.

There are 118 guest rooms and suites arranged through three interconnecting buildings. The design is very much dependent on the original features, consequently every room is individual. Our room was refined with classic characteristics and imaginative touches displayed in the thoughtful artwork and furniture choices. It was decorated in shades of green and pale ochre, with Fortuny fabrics, Frette linen and custom-designed sycamore burl and pearwood cabinetry. We enjoyed reading in our cosy sofa seating area which is found in all rooms. From our bed, we had great views of the luscious courtyard.

Our bathroom was rather more dark and moody, Carrera marble clad with heated floors and steam resistant mirrors. I enjoyed the big bath and shower facilities, and especially noticed the quirky lighting that lined the main mirror. Toiletries were disappointingly average, however I did find out that the upper-end rooms have designer products.

All rooms have expansive walk-in wardrobes, which is particularly necessary considering most guests are here to take advantage of this shoppers’ paradise.

With the latest renovation underway, breakfast and other meals were served in the downstairs dining room, while Le Veranda is closed. Despite the big buffet on display, the chef was happy to be completely at our disposal each morning, kindly whipping up our favourite French toast recipe. It was absolutely delicious. On our second day the staff fulfilled our slightly out of the ordinary requirements, providing and setting up an impressive feast very early in the morning.

Our evening meal was a hearty Italian experience, Sergio Mei excelling in the kitchen; the menu was so tempting we couldn’t resist trying the traditional four courses. Highlights included seasonal courgette flowers with soft cheese and fresh tomato sauce, it was subtly seasoned, wonderfully fresh and light. We still fondly remember the indulgent pasta dishes – ravioli with smoked scamorza cheese, and conchiglie pasta with beef ragu and chanterelle mushrooms. It is not often I eat pasta without the need for a large helping of parmesan, however these two recipes were perfectly executed and needed no additional flavouring. The meat dishes were intensely aromatic, the thyme-roasted loin of lamb was a favourite of ours.

Desserts were served from a trolley, not dissimilar to the dim sum restaurants you find in Chinatown! We tried two of the more decorative options, they were rich and very sweet, but nothing special.

In a city where fashion, luxury and style thrive, Four Seasons Milano encapsulates the glamorous culture and lifestyle perfectly. If you manage to book a room (they are very popular), I’m sure you and your shopping bags will feel very much at home here!

More information and book here:

Armani Spa, Milan

Everything about the Armani Hotel Milan feels exclusive especially the super slick and stylish spa. Located high up on the seventh floor is a place of ultimate tranquility that reflects the Armani lifestyle and design philosophy. It is a minimalist space with personal fitness area and gym, sauna and steam rooms, private rooms for individual treatments and, the piece-de-resistance, a stunning relaxation pool overlooking the city.

After a day of exhausting sightseeing, we could not wait for the Armani experts to work their magic. Walking into the contemporary spa reception we were both amazed by the modern appeal of the place. With the atmospheric music and subtle lighting I felt I’d entered another world – it is easy to relax in surroundings like these.

We were treated like royalty, taken through to the VIP treatment suite and given thick towelling robes. Our massage room had great views of Milan, and at this time of day the Italian city glowed with a hazy charm. Our therapists were incredibly thorough noting down all our preferences before the treatment began.

The hour-long massage was blissful. Using Armani own brand jasmin and jade oil, the therapists used their hands to systematically release all signs of physical tension, allowing much more freedom in our muscles. I gradually felt the stress seep away.

After the treatment we wandered to the main spa area to try out the other facilities, grabbing a bottle of water from the help-yourself snack bar. The mini saunas are high-tech and luxurious with one-way glass that allows the occupier to see out without intruders spying in. The pool is the main attraction, a truly beautiful feature, that looks magazine perfect, it’s just a shame the views are somewhat shielded by blinds.

This extraordinary spa is just one part of the Milanese wonder emporium offering visitors a taste of all things Armani.

More information and book here.