Among Italy’s premier cities, Milan stands on its own. Where Rome, Venice, and Florence are overwhelmingly associated with their storied histories, ancient architecture, and medieval masterpieces, Milan alone boasts a more modern sensibility. That’s not to say that the city lacks those cities’ historical pedigree, but simply that it seems to be firmly secondary to the area’s more modern output in fashion and design.
Nhow Milan seeks to reflect this Italy, blending slick design and furnishings with an abundance of modern art, nestled in the heart of the Milanese design district of Tortona. It’s worlds away from the winding, cobbled streets and towering stonework conjured by picturesque visions of Italian cities, but a welcome reminder that there’s more to Italy than leaning towers and crumbling churches.
Nhow Milan is one of three hotels by the brand (the others are in Berlin and Amsterdam), and the company’s aesthetic sensibility is clear before you even make it through the front doors: a series of automatic tinted glass contraptions that do as much to disguise the entrance as set the tone. Artworks adorn each of the hotel’s floors, and every time you exit a lift you’re confronted with a different installation, from simple paintings or sculptures through to a mammoth 12-foot crocodile glaring across the second-floor lobby. The effect is a hotel that feels lavish and luxurious, but never staid. It’s colourful and curious, and you feel like it might be full of surprises.
By contrast, the rooms themselves tend more towards the minimalistic, adopting the pale marble and white fittings almost universal to the modern luxury hotel. This is broken only by touches of detailing in the brand’s signature colour, a luminescent shade that lies uncomfortably close to easyJet orange, only slightly detracting from the mood. Oh, and because this is Italy it also comes with a pod espresso machine, though this proved either entirely broken or maddeningly impossible to use, mostly serving to layer injustices on an already violently hungover morning.
The Food & Drink
On which note, the hotel is situated just a short walk from Milan’s lively Navigli district, one of the city’s two best spots for wining and/or dining (the other being Brera, 15 minutes or so to the north on Milan’s efficient public transport). Dominated by a canal, Navigli boasts a string of bars, cafés, and restaurants spilling out on the streets. During the day, it’s the ideal spot for a relaxing lunch or a quick coffee (which is ubiquitous, and rarely more than €2), though it’s rather livelier on a weekend evening. Pro-tip: check that there aren’t any major English football games going on in the city before you plan your trip. You’ll thank me later.
If you don’t mind the crowds though, stop by for an evening aperitivo, which is the sort of nice thing we can’t have in London because we’d all utterly abuse it. Buy a drink or two and you get access to a buffet of pasta, risotto, and all sorts of other things the Italians do better than us. Intended as an appetiser, it’s also a handy dinner stand-in for the thrifty among us.
If you feel like venturing further afield from Nhow Milan, you’d do well to check out Pescetto in the Brera district. Serving almost exclusively seafood, you order directly from the fish counter, picking out exactly which of Nemo’s friends you’d like to eat, how much you’d like, and how you want it prepared. A heaving pile of calamari, prawns, sardines, mussels, and more came to €18 a head, including wine, and proved more than we could feasibly consume. Be warned though: it’s popular, and doesn’t take reservations, so expect to queue – something that shouldn’t be too alien for most of London’s restaurant-goers.
If you want to enjoy some Italian culture beyond the dining table, you have a few options. Nhow Milan finds its home in the city’s up-and-coming design district, and has attractions to match. Nestled among trendy cafés and brunch spots that would look at home in Stoke Newington you’ll find the likes of the Museum of Culture, the Design Museum, and the Armani Museum, all of which pay some sort of tribute to the city’s unique stature in the creative industries today. They also show off some of Milan’s finest modern architecture, while the Museum of Culture is one of the few to offer free access to its permanent collection (though not its temporary exhibitions), which highlights the ways Milan’s own design culture has been influenced by the rest of the globe.
The city’s two most popular tourist attractions are the Duomo Cathedral and the Castello Sforzesco, both more or less in the city centre. The former is an awe-inspiring gothic behemoth, bristling with enough spires, spikes, and gargoyles to populate a couple of hundred heavy metal album covers. You’ll probably also want to stop by Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, but that will require a bit more planning than this writer could muster: you have to buy tickets for specific timeslots, and they’re booked out months in advance. Fine if you’ve had a trip on the books for a while, but not so ideal for a last-minute Ryanair jaunt.
It also goes without saying that, Milan being Milan, the shopping is likely to be a highlight for some. Most of the designer fare can be found around Duomo and Brera, though there are also pockets of shops dotted around the city in Porta Venezia and Porta Garibaldi, both of which are worth a look in and of themselves for sake of the immense, historic city gates from which they take their names. Plus, y’know, some of the best shopping in Europe. Some people are into that.
Fashion and design have defined Milan for decades, and Nhow Milan seems to take that as both an inspiration and a challenge, an excuse to face the city’s future while acknowledging the influences that have shaped its recent past. It feels bright, exciting, and artistic, a space to create as much as one to simply stay in. Let’s put it this way: it’s the only hotel I’ve ever been to that made me want to explore its floors and corridors, to see it as a space beyond a room and a restaurant and a lift between the two, but as a vibrant part of the city itself.
Rooms at Nhow Milan cost from £75.
Words by Dominic Preston