Italy

A Small Guide to Brera, Milan

by Tracy Kaler  |  Published April 19, 2017

To describe Brera, one might use the words enchanting, romantic, and alluring. Only by roaming the streets of this pedestrian-friendly district in the historical core of Milan, though, can anyone understand its undeniable appeal.

A typical street scene in Brera, Milan, photo by Tracy Kaler

A typical street scene in Brera, Milan (Photo: Tracy Kaler)

Often compared to the Montmartre section of Paris, Brera is north of the Duomo, and has long been recognized as the artistic center of the city. A mother lode of boutiques, galleries, and museums, the neighborhood has assumed a more urbane quality in recent years, transitioning to a chic hub for design, style, food, and nightlife.

Wander the area’s cobblestone streets and you’ll notice Milanese and visitors browsing au courant shops and dining al fresco. Brera’s sophistication is apparent in its stores and high-end delis, but, despite its upwardly mobile trajectory and soaring rents, its artistic roots continue to shine through, making it an ideal place for artists and art aficionados to meet, work, and share ideas.

Take, for instance, the Pinacoteca in Palazzo Brera (Brera Art Gallery). A destination unto itself, the gallery continues to inspire the district’s Bohemian flavor. Arguably the best museum in Milan, the palace is characterized by its porticos and corridors, and a courtyard in which a bronze version of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker has stood since 1859. The second floor exhibits one of the most significant collections of Italian masterpieces in the world, with works by renowned painters such as Raphael and Caravaggio.

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The courtyard at Palazzo Brera (Photo: Tracy Kaler)

Pinacoteca is only one aspect of Palazzo Brera. Beyond the museum, the complex houses the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, the Astronomical Observatory, the Braidense National Library, and the Orto Botanica de Brera (Brera Botanical Garden). To access the garden, walk to the rear of Palazzo di Brera and turn right. This hidden gem boasts medicinal herbs, flowers, vegetables, and other botanicals. Admission is free.

Modern art lovers won’t want to miss Galleria D’Arte Moderna Il Castello (Il Castello Modern and Contemporary Art). In Brera since 1968, the gallery features modern works from some of the most celebrated Italian and International artists of the 20th century. Il Castello has exhibited Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Gianni Dova’s art in the past.

For history buffs, the small albeit intriguing Museo del Risorgimento is nearby. Inside the 18th-century Moriggia Palace, the museum showcases an archive of Italian paintings, relics, and other collectibles dating from 1796 through 1870, highlighting Italian culture and the unification of the country (referred to as the ‘Risorgimento’).

Just along Brera’s western edge lies the regal Castello Sforzesco, located in the expansive Parco Sempione. The castle is the home of a host of museums including the acclaimed Museo d’Arte Antica (Museum of Ancient Art). Also inside the former medieval fortress you’ll discover Pietà Rondanini, a museum housed within an old Spanish hospital that features Michelangelo’s final sculpture, also by the same name.

After walking out of Castello Sforzesco’s extraordinarily thick walls, one can’t resist a wander in the lush parkland beyond.  Parco Sempione and its 95 acres are an ideal spot for jogging, biking, rollerblading, relaxing, or working if you must – luckily, the park offers free Wi-Fi up to three hours at a time. To access, pick up a registration card at one of the distribution points in the park.

Castello Sforesco in Parco Sempione, photo by Tracy Kaler

Castello Sforzesco in Parco Sempione (Photo: Tracy Kaler)

Hotels

The heart of Brera provides only a handful of hotels, many of which are luxurious in offerings and price. The Style Hotel, however, remains one of the area’s more affordable options, and as the name suggests, the boutique property doesn’t compromise on looks. Choose from deluxe or superior rooms as well as more lavish suites, all of which provide comfort, attractive furnishings and marble baths. Enjoy cocktails in the lounge bar, and if you’re in the mood to be pampered, schedule a massage in the wellness spa. The Style Restaurant is on hand for your scrambled eggs and breakfast espresso, and also serves lunch and dinner daily.

Also in the neighborhood, but on the district’s southern edge near the famous opera house Teatro a la Scala, Hotel Milano Scala prides itself on uniquely decorated rooms, each of which pays tribute to a famous opera. Daily breakfast, an airport shuttle, and a fitness center make for a pleasant stay.

For a splurge and visit that you won’t soon forget, Bulgari Hotel Milano transcends the upscale hotel experience. Expect top-notch service and accommodations in this stunning 18th century Milanese palazzo turned five-star hotel. Relax in the private 4,000 square foot garden, an annex of the botanical garden and a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city.

The well-curated interior of Bulgari Hotel Milano, photo courtesy of the hotel

The well-curated interior of Bulgari Hotel Milano (Photo: Bulgari Hotel Milano)

Shops

Eyeing trends before they become trendy, Clan Upstairs curates clothing, accessories, jewelry, eyewear, and more for both sexes. Whether you prefer a casual outfit for everyday wear or a unique piece for special occasions, Clan has you covered. Home to collections from established and emerging brands, Clan Upstairs sells items from Citizens of Humanity, Philosophy, Boutique Moschino, Roundel London, Malloni, and plenty of other brands, many of which are Italian.

Allow time to browse Galleria Robertaebasta, a treasure trove of antiques and home furnishings in the heart of Brera. The shop specializes in 20th century modern, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, and collects pieces from design greats like Lalique, Ruhlmann, and Leleu. You’ll undoubtedly find a wealth of furniture, lighting, and objets d’art that hail from the 1950s through the 1990s, so bring your credit card.

At Controbuffet, shop tabletop – think bowls, trays, vases, and flatware – as well as lamps, photo frames, glassware, pens, clocks, and an array of unusual finds as well as some whimsical tchotchkes. This boutique is the perfect spot to do gift shopping for the friend or loved one who has everything.

Peek into the creatively displayed windows of Cavelli e Nastri, and you can’t help but step inside. This boutique is the place in Milan for vintage women’s clothing. The shop purveys a selection of 1950s flared skirts and disco-era dresses, not to mention coveted designer pieces such as an authentic Pucci shirt, a Chanel suit, and Missoni jacket. But don’t take the fashion in this shop too seriously. Items like a 1980s asymmetrical pop-art print blouse keep the mood light. Cavelli also stocks hats, Hermes scarves, baubles, bangles and other fun accouterments.

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Shop vintage at Cavelli e Nastri (Photo: Cavelli e Nastri)

Food & Drink

At Osteria de Brera, owner and restaurateur Enrico Forti elected to stray from typical Milanese cuisine and introduce a seafood restaurant in the heart of the district. While tartare, carpaccio, shrimp and lobster dishes dominate the menu, orata, branzino, turbot, as well as a selection of seafood pastas and soup round out the choices. For non-fish eaters, pasta Bolognese, carbonara, and Pomodoro will suffice (and meat-eaters shouldn’t worry as grilled filet of beef available).

The Mozzarella di Buffala Campana DOP takes center stage at Obicà, a stylish mozzarella bar that’s become a hot concept in Italy and beyond since the Rome debut in 2004. Besides the fresh mozzarella, Obicà puts out a mouthwatering lineup of other Italian delicacies. Cured meats like mortadella, capocollo, and prosciutto di Parma pair well with the cheese, followed by a healthy serving of grilled vegetables and a plate of pappardelle al ragu. With more than enough choices by the glass, Obica’s wine menu doesn’t disappoint either. Opt for a crisp Lamelle Toscana IGT II Boro Chardonnay or a glass of full-bodied Bronzone Morellino Scansano DOCG – both of which will set you back only seven euros per glass.

Chef Daniel Canzian opts for a fresh approach to classic dishes in his eponymous eatery, Daniel Ristorante. Menu highlights include Roman artichokes with pecorino cheese, spinach, and mint; risotto with lemon, gravy, and licorice; and suckling pig, caramelized milk with shichimi, and sour cabbage take Italian cuisine to a whole other level. If your heart is set on a more traditional meal, go with the veal Osso Bucco in gremolata paired with risotto Milanese. No matter your pick, consult the restaurant’s sommelier for a glass or bottle to accompany your dinner. The wines pay tribute to the region, as the extensive list is almost exclusively Italian.

If you’re hankering for a tasty libation but like a local scene, Cinc is the place. Mixologists sling top-notch, expertly-crafted cocktails – aperitivos, martinis, and champagne cocktails are menu favorites – but you’ll find other classics here such as the Mint Julep, Moscow Mule, and Old Fashioned. It’s no secret that drinking stimulates the appetite, so no worries there. Cinc’s food menu provides a selection of salads, sandwiches, pastas, and other enticing edibles, ideal for grazing while you imbibe. Don’t get so caught up in eating and drinking that you miss out on the interior design. Carefully curated wall niches and beautifully upholstered banquettes lend the smart space a fashion-forward feel. In temperate weather, sit outside and allow yourself to embrace the romance of Brera.

At Cinc, sit outside on a warm day, photo by Tracy Kaler

When the weather cooperates, sit outside at Cinc (Photo: Tracy Kaler)

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