‘That color is the color of now,’ says my mother, pointing out a brilliant orange blossom on a walk through the dazzling gardens. We’ve only been in Milan for a few hours, but we’ve fully immersed ourselves in the fashion scene and immediately spot the hue appearing on shoes, bags, dresses and jackets.
There’s something comforting and old-fashioned about a shopping weekend where the sole purpose is to fall in love with beautiful things and buy them, without clicking your mouse. Throw in a flight to Milan plus some precious time with your mom and it’s instantly a more pampered experience.
Italy’s second city feels less epic than Paris; combine that with the innate refinement and elegance of Milanese of all ages to make it a quieter place to explore, more relaxing in some ways. Post-pandemic, none of us like pushing through crowds or browsing shops alongside sharp-elbowed tourists.
Armed with a map of designer boutiques, the fashion district is easily covered in a day or two with stops for snacks and lunch. We start at the iconic Rinascente department store for an amuse bouche of intriguing designers, displayed as casually as on a high street so you can freely hold a Gucci dress to your size or feel the weight of an Armani jacket. Shoes of all shapes and colors, with rolled, razor-sharp or kitten heels, beckon at every corner.
We stopped for a light lunch at Bar Lu’s conservatory next to the modern art gallery and Giardino della Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte. After that, we stroll arm in arm past the pink camellia planters of Versailles on Via Della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone, where the real surprise is how the designer boutiques aren’t hostile to seekers: Prada, Ferragamo, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace… Only one queue was seen, for Loro Piana, where a navy blue and white silk sweater costs more than a thousand pounds.
Sarah Hartley and her mother explore the Milan fashion district. In the photo, Galleria Vittorio, the famous shopping gallery of the city.
Sarah strolls along Via Montenapoleone (above) where she finds plenty of designer shops
Big names aside, vintage luxury can also be found at Madame Pauline Vintage and Cavalli e nastri, but of the small boutiques, the hardest to resist was La Double J with rails of geometric-print silk dresses.
Milan is having a hotel moment: luxury hotels Baglioni and Cipriani join the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Armani. Opening in late 2022 to much Milanese fanfare, Portrait Milano is an oasis of calm tucked away in the heart of the fashion district. The old seminary of the 16th century with a peaceful quadrangle was closed for 30 years; it is still owned by the church and is now leased to the Ferragamo family as the largest of their collection of Lungarno hotels.
Church bells chime as we wander through the jewelry and fashion boutiques in the colonnade on this warm March afternoon. We had high tea on the terrace, served by top-notch staff (who even brought my mum some fresh ginger to chew on as she fought back a cough) before being allowed to sublimely people watch, with prosecco on hand. Of course, we expect Italian women to be beautiful, but it is the men, as always, who wow. Well into white hair territory, no matter their status, they bristle, immaculately dressed in pristine clothing, highly polished shoes. we sigh.
The architect and designer Inside Portrait Milano, Michele Bonnan, has worked three colors: the red of Milan and the ecclesiastical robes, cream and black. Dark wood, textured leather, and modern upholstery nod to the hotel’s earlier life, while the original staircases remain, as do a few statues in the walled garden visible from the restaurant. Breakfast is a buffet of fine pastries and cold meats with strong coffee and juices. At night, the trendy bar is a social magnet (but not rowdy!) and is home to the city’s financial and physical elite.
Our beautifully designed suite offers a living room, dressing room, bathroom and bedroom. A wooden deck, hidden from view, runs the length with white loungers perfect for secluded sunbathing. A patent drawing of a Salvatore Ferragamo shoe design is reflected in the artwork: photos of innovatively designed shoes in the 1940s look so modern.
Over a thousand beautiful books are artfully placed around the hotel in the lobby, library bar and suites, each inviting. – I have already ordered a couple (The story of dogs in photography and the autobiography of Salvatore Ferragamo.
However, it is the bathroom that epitomizes quintessential Milanese elegance. Heated floors, thick wall-to-wall dove and white marble, with mirrored faucets, doors and walls, to shine and flatter. And there, in the toilet, the ugliest necessities are hidden in shiny little cabinets on the wall: toilet roll and brush. Genius.
Detailed touches include the twisted rope door handles that, while appearing to be carved from wood, are actually leather, made by local artisans. Forget the usual shoe shine sponge – here a tubular leather case can be unzipped to reveal a clean polish, brush and sponge.
Oasis in style: Sarah stays in ‘beautifully designed’ suite at Portrait Milano (pictured)
A colorful display of shoes in one of the city’s shop windows.
A luxurious spa will open later this year, along with a gourmet restaurant. There are also plans for a rooftop lounge and after-dinner club. It’s early to spot trends, but so far customers have come from the US, Asian, and Middle Eastern markets.
Dinner has to be at Da Giacomo, a landmark of Milanese food and hospitality just a short taxi ride away. Expect heavy white tablecloths and cutlery, an excellent wine list, and a traditional menu. Fresh anchovies with shallots, pine nuts and raisins, followed by seafood gnocchi and Amalfi saffron lemon risotto. We didn’t use pudding, although the night before at the hotel, the Milanese tiramisu (without the cake) was sensational. Make like a Milanese for Sunday lunch at Osteria del Binari, a traditional trattoria or turn up the sophistication (and the bill) at La Briciola, while fish lovers head to Langosteria, considered the best fish restaurant in town .
Book tickets online for the Duomo, the largest church in Italy, with its spectacularly detailed windows. Take the elevator to the roof and on clear days you can see the Alps.
A final, and some would say essential, gift is a Gatwick foyer complement. Kay Bradford happily ushered us through security, into the lounge, and then out the door, weaving through the crowds on our way there and back. “Be more Milan,” my mother instructed me, floating without concern.
Two nights bed and breakfast at Portrait Milano for two people shared, with round trip flights, private transfers, airport meet and greet and guided shopping tour, from £1780 per person (viajesoriginales.es or 020 3582 4990).