Milan Guide: Highlights for the Hungry Business Traveler
From the June 2015 edition of Reserve, a Bloomberg Brief publication.
Milan is often accused of being the second city of Italy—a by-product of its role as the industrial, financial and fashion capital. As it hosts the largest international event of the year—Expo 2015, or World's Fair to Americans—Milan has worked hard to convince the world it's a beautiful, functional gem.
The Expo, which runs until October 31, consists of 140 nations displaying their intellectual might around the subject of how the planet can feed itself, now and in the future. It's like the Olympics for food. The place is crawling with chefs. Locals like Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana showed how they can cook with food the rest of us throw out, while Mark Ladner of Del Posto in NYC cooked an Italian feast at the American Restaurant in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
This only reawakened my affection for a city that hides itself behind courtyards that don’t take much prodding to open. It's easy to get around (by tram, bike or subway) and when you do, finding the area around Leonardo da Vinci-designed canals or hidden restaurants in the Brera district is a manageable adventure.
The chic fashion district of Monte Napoleone has spread west to Corso Como and the futuristic Piazza Gae Aulenti. Search for the small trattorias, salumerias,and espresso bars where baristas wearing hip glasses know all the secrets, and Milan may become your favorite European city.
Bice: Yes, it's got branches around the world. So what? This Tuscan traditional luxe bistro is where anyone who is anyone eats every day. For a reason. Like Le Cirque in NYC circa 1983.
Al Pont De Ferr: In the Navigli, where tourist-traps abound, this is a rare stand out for regional fare like rabbit and fondue.
Carlo e Camilla: Latest in Carlo Cracco's Peck empire, this is the current darling for its communal table set at a 90-degree angle, dramatic saw-mill setting and food experimentation.
Da Giacomo: Fashion, film, families and (mostly) fish. The belle epoque interior is dated but the food is classic. One of the few open on Sunday. Avoid twins Giacomo Bistrot and Arengario.
Top Aperitivo Spots
Bulgari Hotel: Ground Zero for international chic, long since surpassing Nobu and Armani. A secret courtyard, never ending savory bites, and great people watching. Have the Aperol spritz.
H Club Diana: Tourists may balk that this seems to be a rather dated hotel, but out back lies the chicest spot for Milanese to have drinks around the pool of the Diana Majestic.
La Terrazza di Via Palestro: Views of the Duomo abound, but this is my favorite, overlooking the gardens of Porta Venezia.
Bar Martini: A match-up of Dolce & Gabbana (note the dragon floors) and Martini. A unique suite of interconnected courtyards and lounges, all designed to get you to shop, smoke or drink.
The Expo: Don't even bother trying to get a taxi or driving. The whole fair has been arranged so you can get there via train. The underground Metro has more stops; the suburban rail line gets you to Rho Fiera station (and back to central Milan) in 15 minutes. The core of the Expo is a 1.8 kilometer covered walkway, called the Decumano. Explore that, then check out some of my favorite pavilions: Austria, Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, and the U.S. The Italians, naturally, steal the show.
Travel: Get your airports right. Malpensa has more direct flights from foreign countries but is far from the city. Linate is the inner city airport. Taxis in Milan can be flagged down and prefer cash. Locals know to have a restaurant/hotel concierge call first.
Take Your Tax Break: Fancy a new suit? A pair of sunglasses? Even I succumbed. Keep your passport (or just the number) with you to claim up to 22 percent tax back via a program called Global Blue. It's a large enough incentive to keep you shopping.
The Bottom Line on Restaurants: Italians eat late, so you're likely to get your picks if you aim early. If the 9:30 p.m. table eludes you, ask a concierge to help and tell them exactly what you like. Tip only if they come through. The Milanese dress up. Look sharp.
Peter Elliot is editor of Reserve and manages the lifestyle functions on the Bloomberg Professional service. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @mrpeterelliot.