You’ve heard of Americans in Paris, but what about Canadians in Milan? On a recent visit, I deferred to two Montreal expats who have gone gaga for the fashion capital. Nathalie Jean, an architect who also designs jewellery, introduced me to some of the city’s sleekest spots, while Carmen Condeescu, a contributor to Spotted by Locals—Milan, gave me the goods on the best hipster hangouts. Together, they helped me gain a more diverse sense of this highly elegant and completely endearing city, with its grand boulevards, abundant parkettes, ubiquitous street cafes and network of picturesque canals. So whether you’re looking for a little break during Milan Fashion Week (running September 21 to 27) or planning an ultra-chic escape for later this year, here’s your ultimate local city guide.
My temporary home was the LaGare Hotel Milano Centrale, a stylish new hotel close to Jean’s eponymous shop on Via Solferino. Located just down the street from Milan’s grand central train station, LaGare has a slick rooftop bar and junior suites equipped with private Turkish baths for pre- and post-shopping rejuvenation.
After 30 years in Milan, Jean appreciates its rich cultural inheritance, and she refers to the city as “the best open air museum of Modern Architecture on earth.” She draws inspiration for her jewellery designs from her travels, nature, biology and, particularly, local style. “Nowhere on earth can you find men as well groomed as in the centre of Milan,” she says. (Think middle-aged men with impeccably groomed beards, the perfect shades and colourful suede loafers sans socks.) “The women though are usually quite conservative fashion-wise,” she adds. Her current favourites for a shopping splurge? Gianvito Rossi for “super feminine shoes” and Antonia, a luxe concept shop, for clothes and bags. The 10 Corso Como outlet on Via Enrico Tazzoli is a good bet for discount designer too.
Old-guard designers like Missoni and Valentino line the elegant shopping street Via Monte Napoleone, while emerging brands like Vivetta and MSGM add an element of playfulness. Condeescu recommends the city’s many vintage shops—particularly in the Navigli and Isola neighbourhoods. “I got a long vintage camel coat with a masculine flair and my precious bamboo Gucci bag for a great price at Live in Vintage,” she says. She suggests treasure hunting at Cavalli e Nastri, Lipstick and Madame Pauline.
When it comes to the other kind of consumption, Jean recommends cocktail bar Dry, where she insists I try the GinGin Mule; and Rigolo for classic risotto alla Milanese (heavy on the saffron). There’s also an Eataly nearby, where you can embrace your inner tourist by sucking down an Aperol Spritz, then stocking up on carry-on size jars of pesto. For dessert, I almost swooned over a perfectly tart scoop of citron at Gelato Giusto on Via San Gregorio.
Later, I met Condeescu over drinks (okay, a bottle of Spumante from Puglia) at Bicerin, where the owner gave us a little lecture on secondary fermentation while I admired the gorgeous upholstery on the charmingly mismatched chairs. On another night, she also sent me to Frida–one of her favourite spots–where I found a secret garden-like paradise. After six years in Milan, Condeescu has developed a keen eye for Milanese style, which she describes as “elegant with a nod of spunk” and “sharp tailoring combined with daring statement accessories.”
Condeescu sees Milan’s food scene as a culinary fusion indicative of the city’s open-mindedness and internationalism. “There are Asian, Israeli and Arab foods here you won’t find in the rest of Italy,” she says. Poporoya is her pick for freshly prepared sushi. For more playful fare, she recommends Sushi Yokohama for Italian-Japanese–think seared tuna with olive oil and tomato puree–by Rosy Chin (who wears Bart Simpson t-shirts and displays energy levels that seem to portend high kicks). And then there’s Risoelatte, which replicates the experience of eating in a 1960s-era Italian home, right down to the personal affects in the bathroom.
After several days of checking off Jean and Condeescu’s picks, I also found my own gems. Visit Duomo (the city’s iconic cathedral), and then hit Pizzeria Spontini for a super-gooey slice. Pescetto is a fabulous fish-market-meets-cafeteria, where you pick out your own scampi and octopus to be grilled and fried—and ideally paired with a crisp white wine. And Radetzky on the bustling Corso Garibaldi is a good bet for an early evening aperativo. After all, there are few things in life more satisfying than a spritz, potato chips and fashionista-watching at sunset.