Finding Smart Luxury in Milan, Italy's Shopping Mecca

by  Jim Sherman | Jul 14, 2009
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy / scaliger/iStock

Join Jim Sherman, founder and president of ShermansTravel Media, as he travels through Italy this summer in search of the best smart luxury values. This is the first of several dispatches.

I am leaving Milan today, on my way to Olbia, Sardinia, where a group of us will embark on a tour of that famous island. Milan is a perfect two-day stop off. Most tourists are on their way transiting to someplace else. Lake Como is nearby, and of course one could combine Milan with Venice, Rome, or Florence.

People here in Milan are proud of their city's status as Italy's shopping and fashion capital. And I must say the shopping is amazing. Style is in the air as all Italians keep up with the latest smart fashion (observe their sunglasses and shoes). A walk around Via Spiga is like a stroll down Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive combined, but there are no cars, more alleys, and smaller stores. Here one sees haute couture, brand after brand – Prada, Dolce and Gabana, Valentino, Armani, Louis Vuitton . . . you get the picture.

I think Milan is one of those rare places one just might want to visit solely to shop. Come late in the season and you'll find sales (soldi) all over, though it seems the more expensive the store, the smaller the soldi sign is in the window – so look carefully.

The cultural sight to see in town is The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. It's at the Santa Maria delle Grazie. You must reserve a ticket in advance! I also recommend taking the audio tour. What's fascinating is how other artists painted right over Leonardo's masterpiece centuries ago. I guess he was not so famous in his own time.

Other sights include the stunning Duomo (Gothic cathedral in the center of town), the Castle, and La Scala, the famous opera house.

I stayed at what, I am told, is the fashion set's preferred digs, the Hotel Principe di Savoia. It's a classic luxury hotel (and thankfully not stuffy) – a smart splurge with a stunning restaurant (with pretty terrace). While room rates are actually reasonable given the luxury (with fashion weeks as exceptions), I couldn't understand why a cappuccino was 8 euros and a prosciutto/melon light bite was 24 euros.

One should also consider the Park Hyatt, The Gray, and The Milan. One of the most lavish is the Bulgari, which is ideally located, though very pricey. One should at least stop by for a drink (19-euro cocktails; well it is Bulgari) and, if the weather's nice, sit outside and watch the Ferraris and Porsches line up.

To eat, you can hardly go wrong in Italy. This is a land of amazing food and wine. My top pick in Milan is Ristorante da Giacomo, a lovely, down-to-earth, modest-sized spot. Prices are high but worth it. I had the pasta with lobster marinaro. Super. People say it's Valentino's favorite restaurant in town. I can see why. Leave room for dessert.

A less expensive option with an arguably trendier crowd is the Bistro Giacomo, just next door.

Milan, admittedly, is not at the top of most people's places to see in Italy. Afterall, there's Positano, Capri, Tuscany, Sardinia, Cinque Terre, and more. But it's a great starting or ending point for any vacation. Just leave luggage space for new clothes and accesssories.

Tip: Avoid the steep airport/city taxi ride (90 euros) by taking the train. Very convenient.

Next stop: Sardinia


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