Milan | What to Do

BRERA ARTS DISTRICT + PINACOTECA DI BRERA
Via Brera 28
+39 2 72 26 32 64

The Brera Arts District is Milan's answer to Montmartre - a little seedy, a little Bohemian - with serpentine streets and enough grit to feel real. It's home to the Brera Academy of Fine Arts which lends to the artsy feel of the neighborhood, but the crown jewel here is the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the most glorious collections of Italian art you'll see anywhere. With everyone from Piero della Francesca to Caravaggio, Titian and Tintoretto, it's well worth the couple of hours it will take to wander the galleries of the palazzo, as well as the Orto Botanico behind the museum where you can find vegetable gardens and Europe's oldest ginkgo biloba trees. After your visit stop into any of the cafes for a cappuccino or glass of wine and soak in the creativity,

DUOMO DI MILANO
Via dell'Arcivescovado
It's really the center of Milan, and as such holds a super important spot in the city, as it should. The church was started in 1385 and the last gate was inaugurated in 1965 - that's a really freakin' long time. It's often said that The Duomo is more beautiful than the Cathedral of Seville in Spain and even St Peter's in Rome, and while I'm not sure I agree with that, it is a pretty spectacular building. The best view, of course, is from the roof and I promise you, the walk up is worth it and much easier than waiting for the elevator!

SFORZESCO CASTLE
It's a castle. In the middle of the city. How cool is that? Seriously - a 20 minute walk from the Duomo takes you back in time to the 12th century when castles just were. Today, the Sforza is home to quite a few museums and libraries, the most intriguing being the Trivulziana Library which holds Da Vinci's Codex Trivulzianus. Yep, it's the real life DaVinci Code.

TEATRO ALLA SCALLA
Via Filodrammatici 2
+39 2 88 791

Going to a cultural  event in another country - even when you're not so into it at home - feels incredibly indulgent. I am seriously not a fan of opera, but there's something so romantic about walking into an opera house that is as opulent as any castle, steeped in so much history. La Scala is just that, and has long been considered one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in the world. And even if you're not so into sitting down to a concert, take a tour ( I hear the Ansaldo Workshops are really amazing) or visit the museum.  


Because I was only in Milan for a few days, and because I can't possibly know everything, I often turn to the New York Times for advice on travel. I really love their 36 Hours In ... series, and unfortunately I didn't think of it before my trip, so missed some of their recommendations, but thought I'd share them with you here:
36 HOURS IN MILAN

 

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Milan | Where to Stay

ARMANI HOTEL MILANO
Via ManzonI 31
+39 2 88 83 88 88

It's Milan, so Armani is, of course, the natural choice. Seriously, though, it's super stylish, sleek and masculine, yet the rooms are oddly cozy. And everything is controlled by iPads, so that's really cool. 

BULGARI HOTEL
Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7/b
+ 39 2 805 8051

It's located in the heart of the city, but one step inside and you would never know. The 18th Century palazzo was renovated not too long ago, so the rooms are beautiful and serene, but the real wow here is the 4000 square meters of gardens that surround the property. Almost every room has an incredible view of greenery making it a true oasis. 

HOTEL THE GRAY
San Raffaele 6
+ 39 2 72 08 951

The Gray is just steps from the Duomo, so the location is great. And while the rooms are eclectic (some are reminiscent of being on a boat, some have beds suspended from the ceiling), they are all stylish and elegant. 

PALAZZO PARIGI
Corso di Porta Nuova 1
+39 2 62 56 25

Another well-located hotel in the heart of everything, but Palazzo Parigi is different in that the rooms are actually huge by European standards, and they are all super bright, clean and simple. The hotel is super luxe with the prices to prove it,  but if you really want to indulge there's no better place to rest your head after a long day of shopping and eating.

 

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Milan | Where to Eat

I have to be honest - Milan was not my favorite city food-wise in italy. The typical Milanese dishes — Risotto Milanese and Veal Milanese — are both heavier dishes than  I  would normally be drawn to, and to me, milan seems to lack an true identity. Maybe because fashion has made its home there, or maybe because at it's heart it's an industrial city, but whatever the case may be, for me what was missing was the passion for food that you find in so many places throughout that country. Our trip was short, and knowing a bit about what to expect,  I  tried hard to find some places that would be exceptions to the rule, that would be a bit out of the box and, hopefully, prove my theory wrong. I have to say we were pretty successful, and here are my top recs for Milan.

ALLA COLLINA PISTOIESE
Via Amadei, 1
+39 2 86 45 10 85

I feel weird saying this, but I actually think that Alla Collina Pistoiese might serve the best Spaghetti alla Vongole Veraci I have ever had. And that includes the Amalfi Coast. I know, not what you would expect in Milan, and that's just one of the reasons I loved this place. It's old school - has been off the Piazza Sant'Allesandro since 1938, and the waiters are as traditional as the decor. The cuisine is more Tuscan than Milanese, and the food is really, really solid - plus,  there wasn't another tourist in sight. We had a party of 13 for dinner here, so we were able to taste most of the menu but if you're dining with a smaller crowd, I would say don't miss the vongole, the grilled sole, the grilled veal chop and the fried mozzarella and zucchini. All winners. Oh! And dessert. Don't walk away without it.

ANTICA TRATTORIA DELLA PESA 
Viale Pasubio, 10
+39 2 65 55 74 1

This one came recommended to me from four different sources, so I made a lunch reservation with some pretty high expectations. The location is great, near the Corso Como, and the restaurant is really charming. It's another oldie (this one dates back to 1880) and the feel of it is sort of refined Italian Grandmother's house meets Milan style - think white tablecloths with beautiful flower arrangements, dark wood and lots of windows covered with sheer white shades that filter the light perfectly. The food is also refined Italian Grandmother meets Milan chic: traditional enough to take you back in time, but refined enough to be interesting. The dish to have here is the Risotto al Salto, a crispy, buttery pancake made from yesterday's Risotto Milanese (the equally buttery, saffron risotto that is famous in this region) that will literally lose all of your arteries but you will die happier than you have ever been. If death by butter isn't your thing (I feel sad for you), then go for the perfectly simple rigatoni pomodoro e basilico or the fusilli alle erbe for pastas, and the veal milanese or grilled veal chop for your secondi. Lunch is the best bet here - the light in the room is spectacular and if you need to stretch your legs, you can shop around the area afterwards.

DA CECCO
Via Solferino, 34
+39 2 65 52 141

After a morning spent at the Expo Milano 2015, we were ready to eat. Although the theme of this years world's fair was Feeding the World, we found that it was simply too crowded to actually feed ourselves. Luckily the Metro has phone service and the group was unanimous in their desire for pizza, so I quickly searched and found Da Cecco. We had no clue what to expect, but we were tired and hungry and at that point all we really wanted was to sit down and have a glass of wine. What we found, though, was so much more. Turns out Da Cecco has been making wood fired pizzas forever and the restaurant was packed when we arrived. It was a gorgeous day so we sat on the tiny back patio and proceeded to have one of the best meals ever. The pizzas were spectacular with literally dozens of combinations to choose from, and because it happened to be porcini season, we also had those simply grilled. But the kicker? They had PUNTARELLE! If you don't know what puntarelle is, or haven't read my entry on Palatium in Rome,  now is the time for you to discover this incredible green. Sometimes called Chicoria di Catalogna, puntarelle is picked when young and tender and is usually served in a salad with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. It's ridiculously good and isn't so easy to find, especially outside of Rome. Needless to say, I was in heaven. And the bonus here is that the jugs of house red and white were also perfect!  

DA GIACOMO
Via Pasquale Sottocorno, 6
+39 2 76 02 33 13

So we didn't eat here. BUT, my eye doctor (Peter Odell - if you're looking for the best in NYC, he's your guy, btw), who might be a bigger foodie than anyone i know, told me about Da Giacomo the week AFTER we got back from Milan. As far he's concerned, this is the best meal he's had in Milan. Again, it's old school, and Giacomo has been cooking his refined Tuscan food in Milan since 1958, so I would guess Dr Odell's recommendation is spot on. We will definitely try it the next time we're in the area.

ERBA BRUSCA
Alzaia Naviglio Pavese, 286
+39 2 87 38 07 11

I am not sure how I heard about this place, and my family was terrified when we took the Metro all the way to the end and the walked for 25 minutes to what I can only describe as the Milanese hood, but I promise you, the trek is worth it. Erba Brusca is all about being different. - but in a very good way. From the location to the vegetable garden that surrounds the property and provides all of the herbs and greens for the kitchen, to the soft lighting, outdoor terrace seating and super-inventive menu, it is a true breath of fresh air. The menu is small - 4 antipasti, 4 pastas and 4 entrees, and some of the combinations sound somewhat insane, but I promise you, this was the best meal we had in Milan.

TRATTORIA MILANESE
Via Santa Maria, 11
+39 28 66 45 19 91

‪We landed in Milan and pretty much headed straight to lunch. I chose Trattoria Milanese for the somewhat obvious choice of the name, and the fact that it has been open since 1933, and I have to say we were not disappointed. The dining room was bustling and I didn't hear a single word of English, which is always a good thing. We sat down, ordered the house white, which was perfect and had a look at the giant menu. Here's what we ate (please don't judge - there were 8 of us): prosciutto and salami, troife al pesto, risotto milanese o al salto (their specialty), tortellini with pumpkin and sage, troife with porcini, meatballs in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes, veal meatballs, veal milanese, grilled steak and eggs, veal scallopine with porcini, roasted artichokes with potato and roasted radicchio. Sounds like a lot but honestly, I could do the whole thing all over again right this second.

UN POSTO A MILANO
Via Privata Cuccagna, 2
+39 25 45 77 85

Another spot off the beaten path, on the other side of town from Erba Brusca, Un Posto a Milano is something of a commune meets hostel with a fantastic Chef at the helm. Sound confusing? It is. An interior dining room, a few hotel rooms, a somewhat dilapidated-looking garden and a take out bakery and coffee counter (I think that's what it was) and a cute outdoor seating area, all make for a restaurant that feels as if you've just stepped onto a  movie set. It's all about the pizzas and foccaccias here, which they make with Polish leavening (manitoba flour, honey, orange or apple juice), potatoes (for the focaccia), brewer’s yeast and extra virgin olive oil, and they are all gluten and lactose free.

 

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