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Foscarini Spazio Brera - Foscarini Collection display Foscarini Spazio Brera - Foscarini Collection display

Brera, Milan: an artistic guide

Once Milan’s bohemian district, now a focus for design, fashion and nightlife as well as art

Brera is a reminder that Milan effortlessly combines a dynamic, business-like approach with a more relaxed attitude to leisure time. It was once the Bohemian art district, where artists such as Piero Manzoni spent most of their time in the bars, but it has rapidly developed to become a centre for fashion, design and chic venues for aperitivo and dinner. The connection to art is preserved by many private galleries, as well as the Pinacoteca di Brera, and a couple of classic art materials shops. The street outside the Academy has become a favourite for its outdoor café seating; Via Fiori Chiari is a pedestrian precinct that becomes populated by incense-burning fortune-tellers during the evening. Piazza del Carmine has some pleasant restaurants with al fresco tables, and Via Madonnina is rife with speciality shops. During Design Week, there are dozens of venues staging events.

Pinacoteca di Brera

Il-bacio-diHayez Comune MilanoIl Bacio di Hayez at Pinacoteca di Brera

The Brera Gallery is the second largest art collection in Italy, ranging from gold-ground Medieval works through to Renaissance masterpieces and beyond. It’s one of those gigantic galleries where it’s best to select just a few rooms or works and spend more time on these. Highlights include Mantegna’s Dead Christ in dramatic foreshortening, the Pala Montefeltro by Piero della Francesca, the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, the Kiss by Francesco Hayez, and many more. Open every day except Monday, 8.30am-7.15pm.

There are other treasures in the same building. The Museum of Astronomical Instruments is a small collection in what used to be an observatory. At the bottom of a narrow alley at the back of the building, there is a very small botanical garden slowly being restored to something decorous. The Biblioteca Braidense is a beautiful 18th-century timber-lined treasurehouse. www.pinacotecabrera.org

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Basilica di San Simpliciano

sansimp1Coronation of the Virgin by Ambrogio da Fossano (il Bergognone) at San Simpliciano

San Simpliciano is one of the four churches built in the 4th century by St. Ambrose, Milan’s patron saint, and the gigantic blocks of stone at the base of the walls date back to the earliest construction. It acquired its Romanesque appearance in the 1200s, and over the following centuries it was modified according to changing tastes in art and architecture. The painting in the apse is the Coronation of the Virgin by Ambrogio da Fossano (il Bergognone), 1520 circa, unfortunately partly obscured from view by the vast, ugly ornate marble altar installed in the 19th century. It’s worth trying to visit the two lovely cloisters. www.sansimpliciano.it

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Dimore Gallery

DIMORE-GALLERY Photo-by-Simone-FioriniDimore Gallery © Simone Fiorini

This interior design studio founded by Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran in 2003 often runs shows and special exhibitions, and it will certainly be worth visiting during the Furniture Show week. It is on the second floor of a 19th-century building. Each room has its own distinctive emotional theme expressed in elusive colours, valuable materials and sophisticated forms, including objects from far and wide alongside sculptural furniture by Emiliano and Britt. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-7pm, Monday by appointment. dimoregallery.com

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This multi-brand fashion boutique on the corner of Via Pontaccio 15, just opposite Etro Home, offers an eclectic mix of menswear and womenswear, and its quiet courtyard offers respite from the traffic. Clan is a breath of fresh air where you can have a little fun with fashion. clanpontaccio.it

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Foscarini Spazio Brera

IMG 9758Foscarini Spazio Brera

Opened in 2012, Foscarini Spazio Brera showcases the latest in lighting design as the Italians like it: unique, functional and definitely very cool. During the Furniture Show, there will be site-specific installations and the brand’s latest products. foscarini.com

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With four locations alone in the Brera area, it’s hard to miss Roberta Tagliavini’s antique stores. The huge display windows feature pieces from the Italian and French Art Deco period, Modernism and other treasures from the 20th century. The store provides documentation for all the objects it stocks and provides a lifetime guarantee on each piece. Ancillary services include transport, assembly, restoration and interior design consulting. www.robertaebasta.com

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DRY-Cocktails-Pizza-Milano-164653Dry © woont.com

Great cocktails, unusual and very well-made, in a pleasant atmosphere with mellow lighting and bare tables that attracts a young and well-heeled clientele. The pizza is superb, Neapolitan style, made from finest ingredients that give it a light and tasty texture. Other highlights on the menu include creative salads and desserts. It’s worth getting there early – say 7pm – to avoid the crush. www.drymilano.it

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Fioraio Bianchi

fioraio-bianchiFioraio Bianchi

Fioraio Bianchi is a bistro with a very special atmosphere, a small flower-shop and restaurant where the perfume of flowers blends with the fragrance of the Italian-French cuisine. A venue worth a visit at any time of day, from morning coffee to aperitivo, lunch and dinner. The wine list is good, and the buffet eats during aperitivo are tasty and generous, making it a refreshing venue for drinks to start the evening. www.fioraiobianchicaffe.it

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Osteria di Brera

Osteria 1069Osteria di Brera

This restaurant has a menu based principally on fish and seafood, with specialities including oysters, raw fish carpaccio, fish tartare, and a whole range of crayfish, langoustine and lobster. There are also meat dishes and a range of sides, and superb home-made desserts that include a great tiramisu and 80% dark chocolate mousse. There are some tables outside, on Via Fiori Chiari, one of Milan’s most attractive traditional streets. www.osteriadibrera.it

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N’Ombra de Vin

N-OMBRA 021N'Ombra de Vin

This wine bar and restaurant is a very Milanese venue in a very Milanese district, Brera. With the feel of a wine cellar and the indulgence of an underground club, N’Ombra de Vin has been around for over 40 years. You can’t go wrong with Sommelier Murru’s top 10 wine picks, and delicious gourmet bites on the menu. The music and beautiful people here create a great vibe and get the evening started. www.nombradevin.it

1 Robertaebasta
2 Dry
3 Fioraio Bianchi
4 Osteria di Brera
5 N’Ombra de Vin
6 Brera Art Gallery
7 Basilica di San Simpliciano
8 Dimore Gallery
9 Clan
10 Foscarini Spazio Brera