“When people first come to Milan, they get out of the taxi and think, “this doesn’t feel very exciting”. It’s a city that teaches you about diving deeper to find out what is beneath the surface.” – J.J. Martin
Here in the capacity of “unofficial tour guide”, La DoubleJ’s founder J.J. Martin is showing us how to live like an Italian. Unearthing the best the city has to offer, Martin shares the primo aperitivo spots across the city, the restaurant to visit when someone else is paying, and explains why Marchesi is a mandatory morning pitstop – all while donning her spirited, eye-popping prints of course.
With this guide you’ll be calling Milan casa (home) in no time.
Essential items to pack?
Proper shoes. You don’t go around in your trainers or your sweatpants in Milan. This is not a casual city. Even the women on bicycles are wearing their Prada skirts and kitten heels. The Sciures in the city have amazing outerwear, so you’ll need to look foxy in La DoubleJ’s Boxy Coat in our new dove intarsia print. Plus a perfect dress to take you from breakfast to cocktails, like our Long Sleeve Swing Dress.
The best time to visit Milan is…
April for Salone del Mobile is without a doubt the most energy-pumping, skin-tingling moment to be in the city. You can literally feel the creativity wafting off the sidewalks. The trees and flowers have just opened, and the weather is the perfect temperature. It’s just wonderful.
Take a Leonardo Da Vinci deep dive and immerse yourself in the incredible L’Ultima Cena (The Last Supper). Once you are done, cross the street and visit Casa Degli Atellani, where Leonardo slept while he was painting. It is one of the most magnificent, quintessentially 15th century Milanese homes I have ever seen, and you get the feel for the magic that was happening there. When people first come to Milan, they get out of the taxi and think, “this doesn’t feel very exciting”. It’s a city that teaches you about diving deeper to find out what is beneath the surface. You get these incredible courtyards beyond forces of walls, fragrant gardens and magical courtyards behind closed doors. Casa Degli Atellani is a great example of this – at the back there is an incredible park and vineyard. During Salone it is filled with special events and cocktail parties and it comes to life.
Your favourite hotel to check-in at is…
The Four Seasons because it is in the very centre of the city and has been built on a 15th-century convent. During fashion week this is typically the go-to place where all the editors hang out as the Versace show is next door. Last September we hosted our press presentation there and did a takeover in the courtyard. It’s so proper. They do incredible fried sage leaves for aperitivo and you can get an amazing lunch in the garden.
It’s super expensive so if that budget is out of your realm, the Grand Hotel Milano has the same sense of old-school Milanese and is right in the city centre next to Armani – and, actually, the rooms are bigger. It’s the perfect place to take tea in the back room and is a classic hotel to stay in if you have never been to Milan before.
For an early morning workout head to…
Usually I take my dog for a walk in Giardini Pubblici, Pepper loves all the Roman ruins in the centre of the park, or I go to yoga. My favourite yoga teacher is Marco Migliavacca – he is the best teacher in Milan (he teaches at Hohm Street Yoga) and taught me yin yoga. If you can’t get a class with Marco book in with Giselle Bridger at Monda Yoga. She gives more esoteric classes on embodiment and the more spiritual aspects of the practise.
Where should we go for breakfast?
Go for the Marchesi experience. There are three different locations and each one gives you a different feel. The original one on Corsa Magenta is housed in an 18th Century edifice, where you basically only see Italian locals. There’s nowhere to sit, you have to stand at the bar and drink your cappuccino the way that Italians do. In Milanese cafe society you don’t sit down with your computer and stay there for three hours.
How about for a long, lazy lunch?
Giacomo Bristot is a great rainy-day winter lunch place to hunker down and get really cosy. I have been friends with the owners for a long time and for several years they cooked my Thanksgiving turkey in their ovens. They have a great bar for aperitivo too. Across the street they have a tabaccheria, which is also an adorable cafe and sells desserts.
And for dinner with friends?
Trattoria Torre di Pisa is a classic Tuscan restaurant with starched white tablecloths, napkins – everything is super perbene (respectable) and as it should be according to Milanese standards. There’s meat and fillets, but I am a vegetarian and I make do just fine. They have Puntarelle salads, plates of mozzarella, a big selection of roasted vegetables and they make wonderful pasta. This is the place I always go with my friends Wayne Maser and Sciascia Gambaccini – it is a fun fashion week hang out as well.
Your favourite restaurant in town?
My favourite little place is La Latteria. There’s only a few tables there and they don’t take reservations. It’s run by the grandmother in the front and the grandfather in the back – be warned she can be a little brusque if you can’t speak Italian! The food is simple, bare bones and nothing fancy. She does this incredible rice with vegetables that she grows in her vegetable garden, which is divine.
My girlfriends from fashion and I always have our reunion dinner at Bice. When I was working at Wallpaper* I was always interviewing the most important institutional people in Milan and this included Roberta, who is the amazing maître d’ at Bice – it’s her family’s establishment. We order insalata tropicale, pasta pappardelle, pasta teléfono, which comes in a tomato sauce with mozzarella that is so juicy it stretches like a telephone cord.
A must-try spot for date night?
Ooh, I’m excited to have a date night. Il Baretto al Baglioni is so romantic, when you walk in you feel like you are in a mahogany jewelry box. It’s really elegant and where a lot of Milanese people go. It’s a restaurant to visit when someone else is paying.
Where should we head post-dinner?
Bar Basso is one of the most classic bars in all of Italy – they are known for inventing the negroni. What’s amazing about this bar is that they have huge glasses and ice cubes that look like torpedoes. Maurizio the owner is a typical Italian and has befriended so many furniture designers over the years, which makes this the place to go during Salone.
The drink to order at the bar…
Negroni! But if you don’t like negroni like me, then try Aperol spritz – they do an incredible one.
The best place for people watching…
Bastianello Pasticceria has horrific design so don’t look at the chairs, but they make the best, most creamiest cappuccino in all of Milan. It attracts the most Milanese Sciure that you have ever seen in your life, with the women all in their mink coats during the winter season. They do a good aperitivo too and bring you an incredible platter of food.
The culture spot to rave about…
The Prada Fondazione, though you have to be a bit of a modern art buff. Every time they have a new exhibit they always throw an incredible inauguration event and invite all the creative people in Milan. It’s fun to get a coffee in the Wes Anderson design café and I’ve had some good dinners in the restaurant tower. Milan is one of the world’s foremost capitals of contemporary industrial design – so many heavyweights were born and raised in Milan – so get immersed at the Triennial Museum. It has great permanent collections but also amazing exhibits.
The best place to treat yourself is…
If you want to see what a real Milanese upscale apartment looks like, book an appointment at the DD by Davide Diodovich hair salon. His atelier is on one of the most beautiful streets in Milan. It’s like a five-bedroom apartment with high ceilings and all the cornices, mixed with super modern lighting and midcentury design refurbished by the hot new architecture studio Storage Associati. Davide is hilarious and adorable, and not only do they do the best haircuts, more importantly, they are the only place in town that does correct colour. While there, get a facial and skin rejuvenation with Andre, an old school French guy. He is one of my dear friends – it’s such a pleasure to go there and get pampered.
For great shopping head to…
Six Gallery is the most charming furniture gallery run by friends of mine and the chicest couple in Milan, Fanny and David. There’s also a truly excellent bistro right next door great for lunch. It does not get better! Rosy Biffi, of Biffi Boutiques, is the historic retailer in Milan; she is formidable and was one of the first retailers to pick up La DoubleJ. Her boutiques stock the international collections for the classic Milanese ladies and that’s what I love about her stores. The Farmacia Legnani stocks incredible herbal remedies and does their own line of beauty products, and for special Murano glass ornaments or goblets to take home visit the old fashioned Vetrerie di Empoli glassmaker on Via Monte Napoleone.
Your favourite neighbourhood(s)…
I love wandering around the streets of the Cinque Vie – Via Santa Marta has lots of cute shops and galleries to explore. You’ll want to take a walk around Via Brera and Via Solferino and I also love Corsa Magenta and that whole area where you can go on your Leonardo Da Vinci deep dive.
For the best views head to…
The Duomo the day after it has rained. Take the stairs, get onto the roof and find views not only of the statues and gargoyles up there, but the whole of the Milan basin all the way to the Italian Alps. Afterwards pop into Bar Zucca just on the corner. Don’t sit down at the tables filled with tourists – order at the bar and gaze at the mosaics on the wall. You feel like you are in a Klimt painting.
For a change of pace try…
I love to church hop when there is no religious ceremony going on – I really find creative energy when I am in Italian churches among so much art and so much history – they don’t feel cold or overwhelming, you can sense the joy and creativity. My favourites are the ones with ornate painted ceilings. The other thing I adore in Italian churches are the floors – you can find incredible prints and patterns in the marble.
Great day trips include…
Lake Como is 45 minutes from Milan door-to-door and last time I went I stayed in Menaggio. Two hours from my doorstep is the Lefay Resort & SPA – the Chinese medicine specialised resort tucked up into the hills of Lake Garda. It’s simply magic.
A book to read before we go (or while we’re there)?
Italy’s Witches and Medicine Women by Karyn Crisis.
What’s your Milan secret?
Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Passione – I love a church with a frescoed ceiling and this is among my Milan favourites.
In a word, Milan is…
“Surprising”. Or, “home”.