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An Insiders Cheat Sheet to Milan Design Week

While it may not have the same picture-perfect scenery as other Italian destinations, Milan shines with its own unique charm. It’s most evident during one week every April when half a million creatives descend for Design Week, which includes the much lauded fair, Salone Internazionale del Mobile. “It's like Carnival for Milan,” says local Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, architect and gallerist owner of a design studio in Milan and Carwan Gallery in Beirut. “The city is completely packed. The most unexpected places are rented out for events—even empty stores or private houses.” From expositions in hidden courtyards to parties in the elite’s most luxurious domains, it’s the perfect time to discover the real Milan.
Start your day as the Milanese do: with an espresso or cappuccino at a local bar, ideally in traditional spots like Peck Bar on via Cesare Cantù. “People hardly ever sit down for breakfast,” explains Bellavance-Lecompte. “Coffee is never served hot, but lukewarm, because you should be able to drink it immediately and leave within five minutes.” Alongside it, Italians eat sweet, buttery brioche. The most famous pasticceria in town is Marchesi, on Corso Magenta, which still uses its original recipes.

It’s almost impossible to go wrong when dining in Milan, but some places are exceptional. Bellavance-Lecompte recommends brunch at Erba Brusca, just outside the Navigli (canal) district. “The chef Alice is an Italian-French girl who grew up in America and is now combining Italian and American cuisine. They have their own little herb garden.” He also recommends Pastamadre on Via Corio. “They make their own pasta, even using their own yeast. They cook according to the seasons and change their menu every week, so everything is super fresh and chef Francesco is very creative.”

While strolling the narrow streets of the exclusive shopping district Brera (stop by Rosanna Orlandi, an impressive interior design shop), visit the recently opened Fondazione Prada, designed by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Says Bellavance-Lecompte, “The Prada family showcases part of their huge collection of contemporary art here, combined with constantly changing exhibitions from different curators.” Take a break at the museum's transporting Bar Luce—complete with pinball machines and Formica furniture—designed by film director Wes Anderson. He also suggests visiting PAC, with its permanent exhibition of contemporary art located on the border of the beautiful garden of Villa Reale, and Peep-Hole, a centrally-located gallery directed by Vincenzo de Bellis, ex-director of Milan's art fair Mi-Art.
Bar Basso is a can’t-miss—it's one of the oldest bars in town, and the birthplace of a famous Italian cocktail called Negroni Sbagliato, a variation in which the gin is replaced with sparkling wine. According to Bellavance-Lecompte, “This is where all the designer intelligence meet—there can be about 800 to 1,000 people around during the design week.” His personal favorite is the bar Dry. “It's nearly impossible to find a seat here, but its atmosphere is unbeatable.” The last stop of the night should be should be a Buka Club party or a Rollover party. The organization's shindigs constantly change locations and are particularly popular with the hip crowd working in fashion and design.