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Discover Milan’s chic boutiques on a blissfully relaxed mother-daughter shopping break

“That color is the color of today,” my mother says, pointing to bright orange blossoms as she walks through the dazzling gardens. We have only been in Milan for a few hours but have completely immersed ourselves in the fashion world and immediately pick up on the shades that appear in shoes, bags, dresses and coats.

There’s something comforting and old-fashioned about a shopping weekend where the only goal is to fall in love with beautiful things and buy them – without a mouse click. Add in a flight to Milan plus precious time with your mom and it’s an instant more pampering experience.

Italy’s second city feels less epic than Paris; combine that with the innate sophistication and elegance of the Milanese of all ages to make it a softer place to explore, somehow more relaxing. After the pandemic, neither of us feel like crowding crowds or prowling shops next to tourists with sharp elbows.

Armed with a map of designer boutiques, the fashion district is easily covered in a day or two with stops for an aperitivo and lunch. We start at the iconic department store Rinascente for an amuse-bouche of exciting designers, laid out as casually as on a high street so you can freely hold up a Gucci dress for size or feel the weight of an Armani coat. Shoes of every shape and color, with roller, razor-sharp or kitten heels beckon around every corner.

We pause for a light lunch in the conservatory of the Lu bar next to the gallery of modern art and Giardino della Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte. Then we stroll arm in arm past the Versailles planters of pink camellia on Via Della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone, where the real surprise is how non-hostile designer boutiques are to browsers: Prada, Ferragamo, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace… Only one row spotted – for Loro Piana – where a silk navy blue and white jumper costs over a thousand pounds.

Sarah Hartley and her mother explore Milan’s fashion district. Pictured is Galleria Vittorio, the city’s famous shopping arcade

Sarah strolls along Via Montenapoleone (above), where she finds an array of designer shops

Sarah strolls along Via Montenapoleone (above), where she finds an array of designer shops

Sarah strolls along Via Montenapoleone (above), where she finds an array of designer shops

Aside from big names, luxury vintage can also be found at Madame Pauline Vintage and Cavalli e nastri, but of the small boutiques, La Double J was the hardest to resist with rails of geometric print silk dresses.

Milan is experiencing a hotel moment – ​​with Bulgari, Baglioni and Cipriani luxury hotels joining the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Armani. Portrait Milano, which opened at the end of 2022 to much Milanese fanfare, is an oasis of calm tucked away in the heart of the fashion district. The former 16th-century seminary with peaceful quadrangle had been closed for 30 years – still owned by the church and now leased to the Ferragamo family as the largest in their Lungarno hotel collection.

Church bells ring as we stroll past the jewelers and fashion shops in the colonnade on this balmy March afternoon. We sip tea on the terrace, served by top-notch staff (who even brought my mum some fresh ginger to munch on as she battled the cough) before indulging in sublime people-watching, prosecco to hand. Of course we expect Italian women to be beautiful, but it’s the men, as always, that amaze. Far into the territory of white hair, regardless of status, they brush, impeccably dressed in impeccable clothes, shoes highly polished. We sigh.

Inside Portrait Milano architect and designer Michele Bonnan has used three colours: the red of Milan and ecclesiastical vestments, cream and black. Dark wood, textured leather and modern upholstery hint at the hotel’s past life, while the original staircases have been preserved, as well as some sculptures in the walled garden that the restaurant overlooks. Breakfast is a buffet of fine patisserie and charcuterie with strong coffee and fruit juices. At night, the cool bar is a social magnet (but not loud!) and hosts the city’s elite – financially and physically.

Our beautifully designed suite offers living space, dressing room, bathroom and bedroom. A wooden deck, hidden from view, runs its length with white sun loungers, perfect for secluded sunbathing. A patent drawing of a shoe design by Salvatore Ferragamo is reflected in artwork – photos of innovative molded shoes designed in the 1940s look so modern.

More than a thousand beautiful books are artfully placed around the hotel in the reception, library bar and suites, all enticing. – I have already ordered some (The history of dogs in photography and the autobiography of Salvatore Ferragamo.

Yet it is the bathroom that encapsulates the typically sophisticated Milanese. Heated floors, wall to wall thick dove and white marble, with faucets, mirrored doors and walls, to sparkle and flatter. And there in the toilet are the ugliest necessities hidden in shiny cupboards in the wall – toilet roll and brush. Genius.

Detailed details include the twisted rope door handles which, while appearing to be carved from wood, are in fact leather, made by local artisans. Forget the usual shoeshine sponge – here a leather tubular case can be unbuttoned to reveal neat polish, brush and sponge.

Stylish oasis: Sarah stays in a 'beautifully designed' suite at Portrait Milano (pictured)

Stylish oasis: Sarah stays in a 'beautifully designed' suite at Portrait Milano (pictured)

Stylish oasis: Sarah stays in a ‘beautifully designed’ suite at Portrait Milano (pictured)

A colorful display of shoes in one of the city's shop windows

A colorful display of shoes in one of the city's shop windows

A colorful display of shoes in one of the city’s shop windows

An opulent spa and gourmet restaurant will open later this year. There are also plans for a rooftop lounge and after-dinner club. It’s still early to spot trends, but guests have so far come from the US, Asian, and Middle Eastern markets.

Dinner should be at Da Giacomo, a symbol of Milanese cuisine and hospitality a short taxi ride away. Expect heavy white tablecloths and cutlery, an excellent wine list and a traditional menu. Fresh anchovies with shallots, pine nuts and raisins, followed by seafood gnocchi and risotto with Amalfi lemon and saffron. We don’t manage to make pudding, although the night before at the hotel the Milanese tiramisu (without the sponge) was sensational. Go like a Milanese for Sunday lunch at Osteria del Binari, a traditional trattoria, or up the sophistication (and bill) at La Briciola, while fish lovers head to Langosteria, considered the best seafood restaurant in town.

Book online tickets for the Duomo, Italy’s largest church, with its spectacularly detailed windows. Take the elevator to the roof and on clear days you can see the Alps.

A final – and some might say essential – treat is the addition of a greeter at Gatwick. Kay Bradford cheerfully escorted us through security, to the lounge and then to the gate, weaving through the crowd on his way out and back. “Be more Milan,” my mother instructed me, floating around carelessly.


Two nights B&B in Portrait Milano on a two share basis, with return flights, private transfers, airport meet and greet and guided shopping tour, from £1,780pp (originaltravel.co.uk or 020 3582 4990).

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