Milan in winter – fashion capital or icy industrial poor relationship of Florence and Rome? Within a minute of arriving in the city and ogling the beautiful windows of Prada, Armani, Fendi (take your pick), you know the answer. You don’t even have to care about fashion (I can’t say I really do) to fall in love with the city.
Then there are the Italian classics: strong coffee, good food, better wine, beautiful architecture. Milan adds something special to that. Sometimes a stroll through the city center (it’s pleasantly walkable) is like being on a city safari – just the well-dressed and well-to-do people you admire.
It was fitting then that there was nowhere better place to do this than Hotel Portrait Milano.
Where is it?
The Portrait Milano is housed in an artfully decorated 16e century seminary in the fashion district – between Coroso Venezia and via Sant’Andrea. It is about 90 seconds to the nearest metro (a smart and punctual service) in San Babila. The grand and fabulous Duomo with its large array of statue-topped spires is a few minutes’ walk away. What of Milan you can’t get to on foot is just a short, easy metro journey away (or the tram, if you’re so inclined).
Where to start? The Portrait Milano is practically all in style, but as much as any other place is what you see when you walk in (though it’s a baroque gateway, no less): a peaceful public square of stone, set with two floors of paired columns, topped with an immaculate tiled roof. Inside, the reception is just as calm. Hand-picked art books are set on low tables, framed against angular art on the walls and geometric patterns on the thick carpet.
The hotel has its own artistic team – and it shows. Perhaps the highlight – though really one of many – is the library, full of nicer, image-heavy books (on Vivienne Westwood, Horror cinema, catwalks through the years, and so on) that adorn the shelves and dot the tables. It’s a great place to not only be engrossed in on-page beauty, but to people-watch as impeccably-dressed Milanos glide by on their way to the elegant dining room.
Upstairs, on the first and second floor, are the bedrooms. The colors are rich and deep: gold, maroon and cream dominate. Other rooms trade the red for green. The guiding principle is the desire to recreate the high-end, restful Milanese homes of the 1950s. Elegant wardrobes in wood and rattan are fitted with long leather handles (a nod to the handicrafts of northern Italian cities). Each room contains a pink drawing of a Ferragamo shoe, matching another piece of art elsewhere in the room. The spacious bathrooms are all marble and heavily mirrored (an effect that could be unsettling were it not for the handy dimmer switch).
Beyond the rooms, the stylish staff are charming, helpful and as present as you could want them to be. The hotel is beautiful but it’s the staff that bring it to life.
Food and drink
Meals are served (unless you opt for room service) in the restaurant, 10_11. Breakfast was a highlight. The buffet had everything a glutton could dream of: pastries (including custard-filled puffs, cornetti, and other Milanese specialties), yogurt, fruit, an entire honeycomb of honey, cold cuts, tasty bread, juice – and even bottles of fizz on ice. The highlight, however, were the breakfast biscuits (yes, you read that right) which were somehow even tastier than they looked: the pistachio and date number were a highlight.
10_11 Portrait Milan
Dinner was understandably a more formal affair. The wine list was long and impressive, with local offerings and much from further afield too. For starters we had tripe, which was much better than it sounds: delicious, spongy and juicy. However, it was on the mains that the portrait struck its only duff note. A cheesy sweet potato mash type dish with cashews felt somewhat uninspired. The ‘fried cod with crispy potatoes’ really didn’t work either. “Fish and Chips!” declared the cheerful waitress, lifting the lid off the dish. Unfortunately, due to a mistranslation from American English, we had been served a plate of fried cod and chips. Oh dear. Desert came to the rescue with a gluttonous chocolate cake so glossy on top I could almost see my own reflection as I eagerly loomed over it.
A gigantic 30-foot horseshoe-shaped bar spans the two rooms that make up the 10_11 restaurant. In one half are low tables and chairs, while in the other, a more formal dining room set-up overlooks the garden – a charming space (enhanced by an original 16e particularly blissful century statue by Chris) in the middle of the hectic heart of the center of Milan.
The aforementioned library is the perfect place to exult in the world of fashion, art and architecture in charming pictorial form. This summer there will be an entire wellness suite underground. It promises an expansive gym, a pool in a vaulted room dotted with columns, and a host of “biohacking” treatments that counter, if not stop, the aging process.
It is not just a hotel located in the renovated seminary. In fact, it’s a public square – but watch the guard as you enter. Along the colonnades of the public square, this is Milan, and a Ferragamo project, there are a number of high-end fashion stores. One, So-Le Studio, features the eco-conscious jewelry of Maria Sole Ferragamo, the granddaughter of Salvatore Ferragamo, whose family owns the hotel. It’s a playful space with some nice designs – and prices that aren’t exorbitant by Milan standards. Other highlights include Antonia, a clothing store, and another more commercial offering that sells streetwear (but oh, what beautiful streetwear). Later this year, a Monte Carlo restaurant BeefBar – the name needs no explanation, although they will apparently have vegan dishes – will open in another corner of the courtyard.
We stayed in a studio deluxe garden, but there is not much variation between the different options (perhaps the biggest difference is the dominant color: green or red). They are all luxurious – as you would hope for at these prices – and finished to an impeccable standard. The rooms are spacious, but not cavernous. They are divided into neat sections – yes, it does feel a bit like home, but how many of us can say we have a bed big enough to sleep in without knowing someone else is in it? (This other person, I hasten to add, was my girlfriend – not a stranger who had sneaked in on the surreptitious).
If you want to earn extra money as part of the fashion elite, look no further. An intoxicating blend of Italian elegance, style and charm, you’ll feel – and be treated – like a star. The Portrait Milano is the perfect base for exploring Milan’s fashion district (it’s literally on the doorstep on the west side of the hotel), or further afield in the city, should you choose.
Rooms start from €935 per night. Portrait Milano is part of the Lungarno collection. It can be found at Via Sant’Andrea, 10, 20121, and Corso Venezia, 11, 20121. For more information or to make a reservation, visit lungarnocollection.com