Few things will be handed to you on a plate in Milan – except, perhaps, a generous portion of rich and creamy risotto con ossobuco. The Lombard capital has an enviable wealth of restaurants, shops and galleries but the best are often hard to find. This is a city that rewards those who take the time to tap on a closed door and look beyond an unassuming stone façade. But don’t take our word for it: don your snappiest gear and see for yourself.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Take your time: Italian waitstaff won’t hurry you from your table. Enjoy the last sips of your espresso and ask for il conto (the bill) at your leisure.
  2. Aperitivo: Even the most modest bar wouldn’t dream of serving a glass of bubbly without a few peanuts, crisps or olives. Leave room for dinner though: the idea of an aperitivo is to whet your appetite.
  3. Capricious climes: Visitors often assume that Milan is blessed with the same clement climate as Tuscany. Sadly not. The city’s northern position doesn’t preclude Mediterranean heat but it does come with its fair share of rain and icy blasts.
  4. Good crowd: April’s Salone del Mobile is a huge design destination. Thousands flock to the citywide events – and most of them end up at Bar Basso after 22.00.
  5. Inside knowledge: Approach the city with an insider attitude and you’ll find that many of its best shops, studios, galleries and gardens are hidden from the street, located in elegant courtyards or up a flight of stairs or two.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Maison Borella, Navigli

    The quiet life

    Unassuming and discreet, this hotel overlooking the canal is an intimate 30-room affair – and surprisingly quiet, considering its location in buzzy Navigli.

  2. Park Hyatt, Duomo

    Banking on it

    Inside this former bank headquarters, which was built in 1870, 106 rooms are decorated in a minimal, Asian-inspired style.

  3. CasaBase, Tortona

    All about that base

    CasaBase’s 10 rooms are midway between hotel and artists’ residence but its strongest suit is its communal space: think cosy modernist armchairs and an on-site restaurant.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Sciura: an old, fashionable Milanese lady
  2. Zio: mate or buddy (though it literally means “uncle”)
  3. Pirla: fool
  4. Figo: cool
  5. Baùscia: plucky entrepreneur

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Erba Brusca, Conca Fallata

    Grown in the garden

    A mainstay of the menu here is the pasta with clams, truffles and wild erba brusca (sorrel), which is plucked directly from the adjoining garden.

  2. Dry, Porta Garibaldi

    Upper crust

    This smart restaurant kick-started the city’s gourmet-pizza movement when it opened in 2013. You can’t go wrong with the pizze classiche but the bite-sized focaccia laced with vitello tonnato (a heady veal-and-tuna combo) is textbook too.

  3. Trattoria del Pescatore, Bocconi

    Fresh out of water

    The pasta here is handmade in the Sardinian hometown of owner Giuliano Ardu, whose wife Agnese helms the kitchen with their son. The latter interned at the three-Michelin-starred Arzak in San Sebastián and pushes the menu in a more contemporary direction.

  4. Pavè, Centrale

    Paving the way

    The on-site kitchen here sees a whirlwind of activity churning out a neverending supply of cakes, cookies, bread (they make their own, naturally leavened) and jam. They also serve some of the city’s most praised pastries.

  5. Frida, Isola

    Cool courtyard

    The spacious courtyard, dripping with vines, attracts a mixed crowd of artists, students and creatives. There are more than 80 cocktails on the menu and a strong selection of artisanal beers, alongside a list of absinthe-based options.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Eligo, Porta Garibaldi

    Revitalising tradition

    Eligo brings together distinctive objects and crafts from regions across the Italian peninsula – the pewter of Brescia, the green glass of Empoli and the baskets of Sardinia – alongside classic pieces reworked with an eye for contemporary aesthetics.

  2. Fratelli Bonvini, Ripamonti

    The write stuff

    The 117 green drawers behind the dark wooden counter at Fratelli Bonvini are home to all manner of stationery items from the past century. Be it brass pencil sharpeners or 1950s notepaper, all writers’ needs (fancy or mundane) are covered.

  3. Sciamat, Quadrilatero della Moda

    Shouldering responsibility

    This small but formidable tailor was established by Valentino and Nicola Ricci; frustrated with hackneyed tailors who refused to accommodate their requests, the brothers ditched their jobs in law and finance to do it themselves. Nicola mans the showroom while Valentino weaves away in their Puglia atelier.

  4. Velasca, Sempione

    Calfskin creations

    Each pair of Velasca shoes is made from French calfskin in the town of Montegranaro. Their preferred construction is the Blake-Rapid: a slimmer silhouette to the Goodyear Welt.

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