Monday, 18 August 2014

Retail therapy and eating out in Milan

*The Excelsior
HQ's annual pilgrimage to the fashion capital of Italy, Milan has been another enjoyable and almost budget breaking experience! We always go in August as all the new collections are available and we add what we need (read 'want') to our existing winter wardrobe. When my friend and I first started going way back in 2000 we would come home with our suitcases stuffed to the brim with bargains galore and often another suitcase to carry on board with all the extras that wouldn't fit! 
As each year's visit came and went the purchases were less as our tastes became more discerning. Between then and now many of the brands we couldn't get in the UK are now available here and vice versa so the excitement of buying something no one else would be likely to have has been curtailed. 

Retail therapy
There are still a few boutique stores and labels which are either not available or in limited supply in the UK and we now tend to concentrate on those rather than traipse around the cobbled streets of Milan, our feet swollen from the heat and humidity of high summer.
Before we go we check out our favourite brands online and get an idea of the things we would like and the cost. Personally I give myself a budget and try to stick to it. I have to say I did quite well this year and only slipped over the edge a little!

The other thing we enjoy in Italy is the food! The downside of going in August is the closure of many establishments for the summer holidays so the choices are limited but we always manage to find something worthwhile that isn't in the crowded touristy centre. The area of Brera has a few good restaurants and our concierge recommended Osteria di Brera.  They bring a complementary glass of prosecco as an aperitif and we dined on a first course of lobster linguini with sea bass to follow. Absolutely delicious and only a ten to fifteen minute walk from the Duomo and the Hotel Straf where we stayed this time.

The hotel is less than 10 years old and right next door to the Rinascente department store. Even though it is on a busy street and practically on the Duomo piazza with all it's street performers and the din of the crowds you cannot hear any noise at all unless you open the windows. The drawback of this hotel is that the rooms are not particularly user friendly. It all looks very hip and cool and I quite liked the decor of dark slate and metal but that's about it. You have to crawl on the floor under the 'desk' to plug in any electrical devices and there are no drawers - only a wardrobe with 4 hangers. (You could ask for more hangers if need be.) Our bathroom was interesting .. very 'arty' and would probably not be suitable for anyone who is tall given that the surface for your toiletries is about 40cm above the floor! In contrast the ceiling is high along with the showerhead over the black bath. I'm not sure the designer had practicality in mind. There is no restaurant except for a small breakfast room (the breakfast was good and included) and there is a small bar that is accessed from the street. When it first opened back in 2005 it was the cool place to go but now it seems to be frequented by young locals sitting on the pavement with their beer and cigarettes .. vespas parked nearby. Other than that it was clean and comfortable, the staff were friendly and helpful and the location couldn't be better if you want to be in the midst of it all. 

Lunch on our final day was in the Maio Restaurant, situated on the 7th floor of the Rinascente. 
If you sit outside on the terrace you get a fabulous view of the Duomo. We kept it simple with a glass of prosecco (of course!) and ginger chicken stylishly (some would say pretentiously) presented on a slate slab. In Italy they often refer to chicken in the masculine or feminine .. distinguishing between the rooster and the hen! Here they did not and interestingly the menu is not only in Italian and English but also Chinese and Russian giving a clue to the changing face of tourism in Europe.

*Excelsior Milano - high end store featuring major brands including many International designers. I go there for the food department in the basement - it has wonderful Italian produce including my favourite Mamma Andrea marmalade.

HQ flew direct to Milano Linate from London City Airport with Alitalia - 1.5 hour flight with no delays and friendly service.

#covet #fashion #winter2015 #food #HotelStraf #Alitalia 

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