Despite being the center of the country's fashion business, Milan has otherwise earned a reputation as Italy's drab industrial and commercial hub. But beyond the city's concrete office blocks and austere neoclassical façades, traditional Italian elegance meets a radical subculture and a mix-'n'-match approach is the only way to sample the best of both.
For Old World class shot through with glamour, the Principe Di Savoia (www.hotelprincipedisavoia.com) is Milan's undisputed grand hotel. George Clooney once played bowls in the corridors of its vast Presidential Suite, while Madonna prefers the light Deluxe Suites for yoga practice. The spectacular bar with its original Tiffany ceiling is an A-list social hub during the fashion shows, and the new Acanto Restaurant has an exceptional seasonal menu and possibly the best sommelier in the country.
Taking to the streets, a visit to the cavernous Gothic cathedral (now partly under wraps due to restoration) is one of the city's cultural highlights, and should be followed by a cappuccino at the Art Nouveau mosaic-decorated Zucca Café (www.caffemiani.it). The eclectic collection of treasures at Museo Poldi Pezzoli (www.museopoldipezzoli.it) is the perfect way to while away an afternoon. Of course the ultimate old-school Milan experience is watching the opera at La Scala. Tickets are like gold dust, but guide and superfixer Mariateresa Cairo (tel: (39-02) 669 5498) can often procure a pair.
Milan also has plenty to offer those who like a little couture with their culture. When Giorgio Armani opened his eponymous emporium on Via Manzoni (www.armani.com) in 2000 with clothing and homeware outlets, a florist, café, bar, club and a Nobu restaurant, Milan's fashion crowd woke up to the power of lifestyle brand building. You can now enjoy a cocktail or cappuccino at the Trussardi Café next to La Scala (www.trussardiallascala.com) or the Gucci Café in the grand vaulted shopping arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (tel: (39-02) 859 7991). Dolce & Gabbana's dazzling new Gold restaurant and bar is a mecca for die-hard fashionistas (www.dolcegabbanagold.it), and the deeply chic Bulgari Hotel (www.bulgarihotels.com) is where they stay. If all the brands and boutiques are too bewildering, just stick to one-stop fashion and lifestyle shop 10 Corso Como (www.10corsocomo.com), or give personal shopper Annamaria Usai a call (tel: (39-33) 543 1915).
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