Travel

Where to Go, Eat, and Stay during Milan Design Week

Created with TUMI

Written by: Noora Raj Brown

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Published on: March 29, 2024

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Noora Raj Brown is goop’s brand EVP and an interior design lover with a keen eye. Which is what drew her to one of the world’s most important design fairs last year. Here’s her retrospective on Salone del Mobile and a few notes on what to pack, and how: Noora is pictured above with two of TUMI’s best pieces for international travel—a fan-favorite hard-shell suitcase from the 19 Degree collection, and a handbag designed for busy trips from the Asra collection.

Italy has two kinds of cities. The ones with winding streets, cypress trees swaying slightly, and nonnas stirring oversize pots of tomato sauce in their front gardens. And then there’s Milan.

Once a year, in April, the city transforms into a whirlwind of color and wild inspiration for Salone del Mobile. Unlike fashion week, the shows are open to the public.

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How to Spend Design Week

Go to Salone on Wednesday and Thursday. If you try to see the shows on Friday or Saturday, be prepared for long lines, which are often looped around and trailing down the street. Instead, I ducked out to Passalacqua in Lake Como for the weekend. It’s one of the most gorgeous hotels I’ve ever encountered, and it’s only an hour or so from the city.

You will need at least two days to soak in Salone, because Milan is rather spread out and taxis or Ubers are hard to come by during design week. For hotels, I suggest staying in Brera, the walkable epicenter of shows and dining (try the Bulgari Hotel or Portrait Milano).

The official Salone del Mobile, which is the trade show slightly outside the city, is not the main attraction. Fuorisalone, which literally means “outside Salone,” is the collection of shows and events sprinkled all around the city that attracts most visitors—this year it runs from April 15 to 21.

The shows range in scale and intention, from the quirky and irreverent to the grandiose. Some highlights from last year: To launch its new wallpaper, La DoubleJ, the joyous fashion and homewares line started by the imitable J.J. Martin, outfitted 12 bathrooms all over Milan in the new wallcoverings, daring print enthusiasts to snap photos in all of them. Loewe debuted a stunning installation of handcrafted chairs in a spectacular old palazzo, punctuated by playful mushroom sculptures, creating perhaps the buzziest show of the season. Artemest debuted L’Appartamento, a 1930s apartment decked out in high-contrast Italian design, while Louis Vuitton presented its new collection of Objets Nomades in the historic Palazzo Serbelloni and Tod’s commissioned the surrealist photographer Tim Walker for an exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology.

There are hundreds of shows to see, many of which are yet to be announced. One of my favorite galleries, Nilufar, has two locations, both excellent and wildly different; they just announced the exhibition Time Traveler, curated by founder Nina Yashar, whom I’m obsessed with. Vincenzo De Cotiis is putting on Archaeology of Consciousness. Dimore is Milan’s preeminent design firm; last year they showed two exhibitions at their gallery and studio, one of which hit all five senses and provided cocktail party fodder for the whole week. (They haven’t announced this year’s show yet, but whatever they do is sure to be good.) Loewe returns to Salone with an exhibition of 24 artist-made lamps. And the big story this year is legendary director David Lynch, who’s installing Thinking Rooms across this year’s fair.

In addition to the individual exhibitions, make a stop at Alcova, which houses numerous artists across sprawling Milanese estates. (Lindsey Adelman’s drool-worthy lighting was one of last year’s standouts.)

Editor’s Picks: What to Pack

Preparing for a trip like this one is a matter of simple strategy: Milan in April is mostly pleasant and mild, so a formula of wardrobe workhorses, midweight layers, and flat shoes will serve anyone well. For jewelry, one special piece—like a charm pendant from Foundrae—might be all you need. And a handbag that takes you seamlessly from airport security to gallery (to gallery, to gallery) is ideal: Consider something with a slim profile and a critical mass of pockets, like the new Asra from TUMI.

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Which Permanent Design Destinations to See

Because it’s Milan, there is plenty of magnificent design unconnected with Salone worth a visit.

The Laboratorio Paravicini atelier on Via Nerino is tucked away down an alley and opens into a storybook of exquisite, almost-too-gorgeous-to-eat-off tableware and ceramics. In a twist of taste that proves their parents did something right, the sister of Laboratorio Paravicini’s founders, Carla Sersale, is another beacon of effortless Italian style; she owns Le Sirenuse in Positano and the Emporio Sirenuse line of fashion and homewares.

Villa Necchi Campiglio is a striking modern estate nestled in the middle of the city, with a tennis court and swimming pool, built in the 1930s and eventually left to the Italian National Trust. Every detail of the house is stunning, from the sunroom windows constructed of glass planters so the family would have greenery even in the depths of winter to the repeating motifs and strategic use of light and shadow. There is also an excellent restaurant on-site. The kitchen closes around 3, so book tickets in the late morning and spend the afternoon drinking Aperol spritzes and eating veal Milanese.

Your other compulsory stop: Fondazione Prada, the Rem Koolhaas modern art mecca with its own Wes Anderson–designed café.

Where to Eat in Milan

All that walking during design week (pack flat shoes: The uneven cobblestone streets are a lesson in sprezzatura) will undoubtedly lead you to pasta.

Inevitably, someone will tell you to go to Da Giacomo. They’re right. There are four locations, each with its own mood and menu (an elegant ristorante, a charming garden rosticceria, and a pasticceria), but I prefer the dark, bustling Giacomo bistro. The food is simple and excellent, the cocktails are nuanced and garnished to perfection, and the room has the same low energetic buzz you can feel when someone is having the most memorable night of their life. Someone at Giacomo is always having that kind of night.

Other classics are Langosteria Bistrot, a seafood restaurant, and La Latteria, a quirky, no-reservations boîte with the best pasta al limone I’ve ever had (though I’d suggest skipping the wine). It’s the kind of place where you’ll be sat at a tiny four-top with other patrons. And there’s really no point in ordering anything but pasta (the endive salad was literally a plate of chopped endive with no dressing), but…the pasta!

After dinner, everyone ends up at Bar Basso, but don’t expect crystal glassware and curated shelves. Bar Basso is a dive. Plastic cups of wine. Crowds that spill onto the streets in a whirl of cigarette smoke. If you’re in the right mood, it can be the most fun you’ll have in Milan.

Weekend Plans: Lake Como

After you’ve eaten and awed your way through Milan, it’s time for Lake Como—get there via taxi, Uber, or train. While there are a number of excellent hotels in Lake Como, head to Passalacqua, an old Italian mansion on the lakeside built in 1787. Though the hotel has only 24 rooms, each uniquely designed, the property spans acres of land, now transformed into dreamy gardens, with a glassed-in poolside bar clad in La DoubleJ prints. The common spaces are intimate, some slightly tucked away; stepping into them feels like visiting a mysterious benefactor’s lavish personal abode. Wandering the property gives you that same feeling you have when you experience inexplicable luck. In the mornings, a local nonna comes to do the hotel’s floral arrangements. Even the antique cabinet that holds the room keys is impossibly chic.

The only thing that might remind you that you’re in the present day, and not some ephemeral Bellini fantasy, is the spa. It’s newly renovated and includes a sauna, steam room, cold plunge, ice bath, and lounging room. I emerged glowy and rejuvenated, fueled by a week of ingenuity, inspiration, and, of course, pasta.