Our recent holiday in Milan and Rome was a feast of culture and creativity, and it has to be said, delicious gelato!
So much has been written about these citties and their iconic attractions that we are not going to cover the usual itineraries here.
Instead, we hope you enjoy exploring some more immersive, ‘live like a local’ experiences, from buying beautiful leather gloves, to fabric shopping, to hunting for local ingredients for your Risotto dinner tonight!
Our flight of fancy of course, but to live the life Italian – pure bellisimo! For more insider tips try… www.spottedbylocals.com/milan/
Location and Accommodation
First a word on accommodation because in order to get any sense of what it’s like to Live Like a Local, it’s important to leave the 5-star hotel behind and dig in at a small boutique hotel amid the hustle and bustle of the street. So we chose Maison Borella. (TripAdvisor Reviews here).
It’s in the picturesque and renown canal precinct of Naviglio Grande. The neighborhood dates all the way back to 1179, when the waterways were constructed to connect Milan to the nearby lakes.
Amidst all this fascinating history, Maison Borella is laid out like a giant letter U around a central garden courtyard and restaurant. Our room looked down into a leafy garden.
Not only is Maison Borella within walking distance of many attractions ( note- we walked for 40 minutes to find the Duomo which would be too far for many), but the location on the canal offered a glimpse back into early Milan history and commerce. The canals were crucial to transport goods to Milan from nearby towns and villages. One of the most important deliveries was marble from Candoglia, which was used to construct Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo.
The ambience and reflections on the water capture the mood of the city with its frequent thunder storms and clouds interspersed with brilliant sunshine. The canals epitomize the pulse of Milan life…. ever changing, full of surprises.
Naviglio Grande Antique Fair
The last Saturday of every month plays host to the Naviglio Grande antique fair which starts around 9 am.
We literally stepped outside Maison Borella and there it was… a few metres away. A perfect start to the day and a great way to kick off our Live Like A Local experience. We joined the charming Milanese under white canvas looking for bargains and object d’art.
There were all manner of stalls and I couldn’t wait to get started (I love markets with a passion!) and this one was extensive – lots of choice but not overwhelmingly so. It took a delicious two to three hours of meandering and browsing to cover both sides of the canal. Along the way we discovered that there were also a few market off-shoots diverting up nearby side streets.
For more markets try browsing the World’s Top 300 Markets.
Generally speaking the quality of goods was excellent. Highlights included: Antique glass lighting, art, vintage and art deco home wares.
There was plenty of jewelry but it was quite similar and was mostly gaudy gold-tone or baker-lite costume jewelry genre, not to my taste.
I was only disappointed by the scarcity of men’s vintage tailors, as I had my heart set on vintage cravats, cuff links and ties.
Stylish Milanese were everywhere, effortlessly dressed, simple and chic.
I love the look on this woman’s face; enthralled by her new book.
After browsing the antique fair we have worked up a good appetite! Breakfast is a little bit of a big deal in Milan, as it is very social. Here people breakfast out of the house, in a bar or cafe. That’s why there are so many bars around, because they play an essential part in Italian life.
Pavè Milano (Via Felice Casati, 27). This is a popular hangout for locals and hipsters, with great ambience, serious food and a good online shop so you can continue to enjoy their comestibles long after you get home.
TIP: Ask for the warm-out-of-the-oven plum cakes, or try the popular Cannoli. These tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, can be filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta and are traditional breakfast fare for Milanese.
There are no rules as far as your type of coffee is concerned. Anything goes in the morning. Italians choose Latte Macchiato, Cappucino, Cafè, Marocchino or their “Orzo” .
The Barmen, the famous “barrista”, usually “personalize” the coffees or cappuccinos so you should enjoy lots of variety in their artful offerings.
TIP: Latte Macchiato and Cappuccinos are only “admitted” until 11:00 o’clock in the morning because they are considered ‘breakfast’. Italians are convinced that milk can clog up their digestive system so no one local partakes in cappuccino after lunch or dinner.
Attired for Milan – Bespoke Blazer Fitting
One of the reasons for visiting Milan (apart from immersing in the design capital of Italy), was to take a fitting at the legendary Blazer Atelier of Blazé-Milano.
To live like a local one has to look like a local (of course I say this tongue in check), so on Monday we set off and found their atelier tucked away discretely in a large citadel of a building.
We were greeted warmly by our hostess Ottavia. She expertly stepped us through the fitting and you can ready about the experience in more detail in a recent post dedicated to this marvelous experience. It was most enjoyable and at the time of writing we are awaiting the arrival of the new bespoke Blazé Blazer.
Eataly – Eating Italy
After so many decisions at the fitting we needed some fresh air and went in search of a to-do list highlight, the stunning concept store Eataly.
This incredible foodie emporium comprises 3 floors (a whole department store), dedicated to gourmet fare of every description, cheeses, pasta for miles, olive oils, fish, sweet treats… it went on and on and on…bellisimo!
Not only can you enjoy the bustle, smells and samples on offer, but you can stock up for your Milanese dinner – Risotto of course.
Tip: They produce a range of fresh cheeses daily – you must try them!
The Fabric of Local Living
There are several fabric shops worth visiting in Milan but my favourite is Il Vecchio Drappiere.
VIA MERAVIGLI, 16 – 20123 MILANO.
Not the usual tourist destination granted, but fabric stores are a great place to rub shoulders with locals who share a passion for fabrics and fibers. There is an excellent selection of wools, cotton shirting, suiting fabrics and cashmere, ….plenty to fire up one’s passion for having beautiful bespoke trousers, tops, jackets and so on made ….what we call sprezzatura for the gals. In Milan you are spoiled for choice.
The website was and is hopelessly inadequate for ordering fabrics online. This seems to be a common theme with many Italian businesses not being at all e-savvy.
But that made the visit more important and although only one junior assistant spoke English, he helped us find and purchase a lovely wool-blend window pane check. (Some were as pricey as 200 euros a metre).
And delightfully, they wrap your purchase in brown paper. How beautifully old school!
Highlights – Gloves ~ Sacchi Guanti
Living like a local requires both a stylish wardrobe, and paying attention to practicals consideration as well, winter being one of them. One of the best ways to ward off winter chills (it can go as low as 3 degrees in January in Milan) is by donning a cosy pair of leather gloves.
There are several excellent options for locally manufactured gloves. We soon located a local gauntier and set out. The shop was small and filled with wooden drawers to house not just the glove collection but a burgeoning sock range as well. The goal was to find a colourful pair of leather gloves in plain leather, and a pair of driving gloves.
Design – 10 Corso Como
Still hungry for design and art? Well you are in Milan…. so take a leisurely stop at 10 Corso Como, a Milan design legend.
In 1990, the founder the world renown concept store Carla Sozzani, a former fashion editor and publisher, opened Galleria Carla Sozzani, as a place to showcase photography, art and design. It began at number 10 Corso Como, Milan, from humble origins in a converted garage and has been added to significantly over the years.
Today this design emporium boasts 3 floors stunning sculpture and design:
Ground: Cafe and Retail
First Floor: Object ‘d’Art and Books
Second Floor: Gallery Space
Tip: After an hour of browsing and shopping, the stylish Corso Como bar was the perfect location for coffee a macchiato and respite from the heat.
The macchiato (mah-key-AH-toe) is a cornerstone of Italian coffee culture, along with the espresso and cappuccino, among other coffee drinks. It’s basically an espresso (served in a demitasse cup) with a small amount of foamed milk on top — the name macchiato means “marked.” So really, you could look at it as a cross between an espresso and a cappuccino.
Risotto – The Remains of the Day
What better way to finish a day living like a local, than by tucking into the traditional signature dish of Milan, rissotto and a glass of white wine. To savour the meal and reflect back on the day….Bellisimo, pure bliss.