Milan is like the Jozi of Italy. You ve heard it before but it s true, and being an inveterate fan of Johannesburg it naturally follows that I absolutely adore Milan. Throw in a factory tour and I am yours forever. I know, hard to believe, but I am a fan of applied industry. I delight in the sight of technological prowess expressed in fields of machines creating new things that reflect sheer human inventiveness and determination.
So when Pirelli suggested a spot site visit to their headguarters in Milan, I said, Yes. Absolutely. Not only do they produce that genius stroke of marketing —the world s most covetable naked calendar —every year, but they have a gigantic pneumatic plant of note in the heart of Milan for that other business interest of theirs: making tyres. Designer tyres, mind you, along with a handy sideline in fantastically stylish clothes, boots and shoes. John Malkovich (that one) has just collaborated with them in this regard. Apparently he also likes a factory and has one in Italy manufacturing fabric —hot fabric, I might add. Malkovich s factory is definitely on my factory-tour bucket list. It goes without saying that its rubber boots and raincoats are out of this world. I m still lusting after a wicked little capelet I thoroughly regret not buying in the Pirelli concept store.
This being Italy, the factory complex is architecturally sublime, with the old industrial elements integrated into beautiful minimalist interpretations of the manufacturing space. And slap-bang in the middle is the original antique 16th-century hunting lodge complete with royal crests, exquisite murals and a five-star kitchen which supplies Milanese risotto to magazine dilettantes like myself in the private dining room. Naturally Pirelli has an art foundation packed with serious contemporary works, some of which dot the woodland terrain and gardens in which the factory complex resides.
It was a very satisfying tour. I could do it again, particularly the section where four or five artists hand-carve original treads into tyres, and the part where a charming chemist demonstrated the measurement of rubber samples from tyres in space-age radiography devices. I was so inspired by the clever Italian approach to manufacturing that I feel like opening my own factory.
My tour guide in Milan is my perennial Italian travel companion (we have been to Rome together, too) —Daniele Carta —Pirelli man and repository of a great deal of local knowledge, most crucially where to get the best Spritz (the local Milanese cocktail). If you are not fortunate enough to get your own Pirelli factory tour, here are Daniele s other hot spots for a brilliant 48 hours in Milan.
Obviously Milan is a shopping mecca. It is the heart and home of Italian fashion, so it s hard not to get seduced by the retail charms of the city.
GALLERIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II Possibly the world s most beautiful shopping mall, housed in a series of stained-glass archways. Make like the Milanese: stomp your heel and turn once on the mosaic bull s crown jewels for luck and fortune; you will need it to negotiate all the flagship stores (Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton), along with all the high-street shopping your heart could desire.
PIAZZA DEL DUOMO While wandering the arcades, pop into the majestic Duomo —the third-largest cathedral in Christendom located near the main shopping strip in the Piazza del Duomo. A small dose of spirituality will help counteract the commercial forces coursing through your veins with abandon, especially if you make the effort and climb up to the roof for a spectacular view of the city from a Gothic vantage point.
10 CORSO COMO Vogue Italia editrix Franca Sozzani s sister Carla s original concept store. I could just take up residence here in the courtyard being fed delights from the restaurant whilst browsing the ever-changing array of marvellously curated fashion, books and art. Really, you can pick me up in a few years time. WCorsocomo.com
EXCELSIOR On the Galleria del Corso, the new concept store designed by Jean Nouvel, in an old cinema in the centre of town. Several floors of luxury and superlative design are easy to navigate due to the witty conveyor belts that transport you past clever fashion and art installations to yet another floor of delight. Take a coffee break in the diner-style canteen. Excelsiormilano.com
PIRELLI CONCEPT STORE ON CORSO VENEZIA This place is beautifully designed and chock-a-block with marvellous collaborations on everything from bicycles to shoes, Italian artistry and design technology at its stylish best. The piece de resistance is a granite floor on which rain drops are projected so realistically that I wanted to splash in the puddles. Pirellipzero.com
BRERA Wander the streets of this most charming neighbourhood and your heart will sing with delight. Each small speciality store is a visual feast and the place is overflowing with Milancreative juices both in the form of the singularly cool denizens and their work.
ROVELLO 18 ON VIA ROVELLO My first lunch in Milan kind of spoilt me for everything else. Northern Italian food at its subtle best —the carciofi (artichokes) have yet to be rivalled in my culinary experience. Hotel-rovello.it LUNCH AT 10 CORSO COMO A perfect place to press the pause button. Great food and wonderful people-watching. What more could a girl ask for?
OBIKA MOZZARELLA BAR There is one in the Rinascente department store (which is the Harrods of Milano) and the other in Brera. I say the more mozzarella the better, and here this food of the gods is stored in sguare glass jars to tempt innocent cheese eaters with its delight. Obika.it
Sundowners are an institution in Milan —people work hard then congregate in front of the charming little bars that dot the streets in Brera and Corso Como. There is only one drink to be had —the Spritz, a refreshing aperitivo made with Prosecco and Aperol, which gives the Spritz its distinctive orange colour and contains about 30 aromatic herbs and spices. Complimentary snacks could easily form the basis of a fine dinner.
Book yourself in to see Da Vinci s Last Supper —people are allowed in for 15-minute slots only, and you have to book ahead. Grazieop.it
Relax in the most Milanese of ways at the ESPA inside the Gianfranco Ferre store and get pampered in the midst of designer luxury. The black-and-gold pool overlooking a garden is not bad either.
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