An emblem of discreet, unostentatious elegance, almost a metaphor of that ‘Milanese attitude’ whereby beauty is earmarked for those able to appreciate it. The courtyards of Milan are not only architectural jewels but also a means of discovering the coolest addresses: artisans’ workshops, ateliers, concept stores, small atmospheric restaurants and the places where real artists live and work. Here is our pick of the best undiscovered courtyards in the Italian capital of fashion. Have fun and keep looking!
They are hidden behind large, inconspicuous doors. They open suddenly, like spaces of unexpected beauty. They are silent places that bid you welcome. They entice you at first glance and then surprise you with their details. ‘Courtyards’ are a typical feature of Milanese architecture. Amidst Renaissance flooring and rare marble colonnades, these fragments of history and beauty are such a common feature on the urban landscape that the Milanese often end up by taking them for granted. However, should you decide to stroll through downtown Milan, you will be astonished by how many hidden pearls this city conceals. Fortunately, the historic palaces blessed with the most beautiful courtyards now house institutions and museums, meaning that they are open to public viewing. Here are a few of our picks. Particularly noteworthy are the courtyard of Palazzo Marino, currently the seat of the Town Hall and that of Palazzo Isimbardi, home to the Provincia, which can be reached from Corso Monforte but only accessed from via Vivaio. Palazzo Moriggia’s courtyard of honour, designed in 1775 by Giuseppe Piermarini, now houses the Museo del Risorgimento and can thus be accessed by the public. The same applies to the courtyard of the Pinacoteca di Brera, surrounded by a magnificent double loggia, and that of Villa Reale, situated in the Porta Venezia district and now home to PAC. Always in Brera, a spectacular complex is the Chiostro Maggiore next to the Basilica di San Simpliciano, seat of the Faculty of Theology. Additionally, there are also a number of other courtyards that have become backdrops for businesses, shops or restaurants. We have listed a few, but not all of them. If you’re a courtyard aficionado, we suggest that you ask your concierge to help you discover any that we might not have mentioned.
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10 Corso Como

10 Corso ComoA world in a courtyard: this aptly describes the one hidden in Corso Como 10, a street number that has become a brand, an oasis of high style, combining a restaurant, a bar, an art and design gallery, a bookshop carrying rare tomes (where passers-by are welcome), a terrace transformed into a highly sought-after location for events and a shop which, following its opening in 1991 in a reconverted garage, marked the advent of ‘total shopping’ in Milan. Cultural or typically commercial objects, sophisticated, quirky or unique, to furnish your homes, wear or simply admire. At number 10 Corso Como you can purchase just about anything for a glam, highly tempting shopping experience. One of the most cosmopolitan addresses in Milan, set within a context that could not be more Milanese: an ancient courtyard, that still retains all of its old-world charm intact featuring stunning architectural details and lush plants, in one of the city’s most vibrant streets. Oh, by the way, it also boasts a tiny, exclusive hotel with just three suites. A real design gem!

Hi Tech

This large emporium first opened its doors to the public in 1982, in the delightfully bohemian district of Porta Ticinese. It is now located just a stone’s throw from the more trendy Corso Como, in a highly suggestive setting: in fact, the courtyard of the 18th century building in which it is housed was originally home to the ink warehouse of the “Corriere della Sera”, Milan’s historic daily newspaper. Extending over a surface area of two thousand square metres, in an exquisitely refurbished setting, Hi Tech carries scented objects and stationery, fashion accessories, ethnic furniture, kitchen utensils and bathroom furnishings. It also offers ideas to organize your home and office. The brainchild of three siblings, with an innate love of beauty, travel and technology, it continues to be a great place from which to draw inspiration.

Hi Tech milano

Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone

For starters, the ‘courtyard’ in question, is that of a real house-museum: set against the stunning backdrop of Milan’s Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi, now open to the public, you can admire its architecture and original furnishings, together with numerous works of art collected by its owners. Unfortunately, when the two brothers responsible for its collection of artworks inhabited the building, the Salumaio did not yet exist. It’s a pity, because the barons, known to have been bon vivants, would most definitely have patronized the venue. Opened in 1957, Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone is, first and foremost, a delicatessen where you can find meticulously selected fresh pasta, charcuterie and cheeses. For some years now, it has also served as a restaurant and bistrot where gourmands can sample delicacies, at all times of the day, set against a backdrop of incomparable beauty.

Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone-milano

Conti Restaurant

Nestling in the small inner square of an old, grandiose 18th century palazzo in via Montenapoleone 19, despite being located in the bustling heart of the fashion hub, its surroundings exude an air of peace and serenity. For years, the ‘Conti’, restaurant and lounge bar, open 7 days a week, has been a cult address for business meetings, romantic dinners or classy aperitifs. On 15 September, it was refurbished to include a select private area. The launch was celebrated with an event attended by a slew of the city’s crème de la crème. Specializing in raw fish dishes, ‘Conti’ offers a complete menu at all times of the day. A small item of interest: in Milan, it is a cult destination for weddings, also thanks to its ‘same-name’ confectionery shop which, for years, has added a touch of sweetness to the most classy, elegant weddings.

Conti Restaurant Milano

W Milano

A concept store in the true meaning of the word! Milanese by adoption, its owner, Sasha Stefanovic, defines her W Milano as “a space devoted to the home, to individuals and the planet”. Spread out over an area of some 200 square metres, the store boasts a regularly updated range of lifestyle goods: flatware and glasses, clothes and shoes, bags and vintage objects but also lamps, sofas, armchairs, hand-crafted items and objet d’art originating from places both near and far. Additionally, it also has an outdoor space: a traditional courtyard, enriched by flowering jasmine and loquat trees, furnished with small tables, chairs and sofas. The venue also offers free Wi-Fi access.

The cloisters of San Barnaba

Were it not for its stunning location, namely the Cloisters of San Barnaba, it could probably pass for one of the many places in Milan devoted to the city’s ritualistic happy hour. Located near to the Giardini della Guastalla and the eponymous synagogue, this one-of-a-kind venue, surrounded by a set of stunning 18th century cloisters, is the place to indulge your gourmand whims (either when aperitivo hour rolls around, but also for lunch and dinner). Its portico acts as the perfect backdrop to the tables set out in the courtyard, giving the entire space a poetic and relatively peaceful atmosphere, in spite of the fact that it is often crowded with eager patrons. It organizes themed dinners and is available as a location for special events. One of the best, most fun options is to hire out the entire space, kitchen included, and to surprise your dining companions by transforming yourself into a ‘chef for the day’.
Cloisters of San Barnaba

Ginevra’s choice: tattoo-jewels

This courtyard, i.e. the one found in via Ausonio 6, is also the setting chosen for the first ‘physical’ workshop of Ginevra Dondina, a 27-year designer of Milanese jewellery and the brainchild behind the “Segni di Gi” collection, an online success story. Ginevra trained in Milan, her hometown, and subsequently in Venice and London, where she interned at the jewellery department of Sotheby’s, later being recognized as an emerging talent by Vogue. The reason for her appeal is that her jewellery is seen as having a well-defined, poetic personality. As far as the designer is concerned, “it must be part of the skin, like a tattoo. Not simply an accessory to complete one’s look”. Ultra-light and extremely ‘graphic’, her rings, pendants and earrings make an impact on account of their innate discretion, reflected in her decision to build a workshop without a display window, in an inner courtyard that simply exudes a sense of poetry.

[alert_box style=”white” title=”Where beauty is sacred”]‘Cloisters’ are a particular type of courtyard, typical places whose gardens and arcades often adorned monasteries and religious sites. No matter where you are, there’s almost always a place you can go to calm your frazzled nerves and Milan boasts a fair share of these hidden gems. Milan’s two downtown universities, the ‘Statale’ and the ‘Cattolica’ both feature a set of superb cloisters which, among other things, often house installations and events. The Università degli Studi is situated in a building dating back to the 5th century and can be accessed from via Festa del Perdono, just behind the basilica of San Nazaro in Brolo. Established as a religious hospital at the behest of Duke Francesco Sforza, it houses the breathtaking Chiostro dei Bagni. Conversely, the central seat of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, is hosted in the old Cistercian monastery of the Abbey of Sant’Ambrogio (situated at number 1, Largo Gemelli). In addition to two stunning cloisters, designed by Bramante, the building has an additional surprise feature: the so-called ‘Giardino delle Vergini’, traditionally reserved for female students. Though not really definable as a cloister, the nearby Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio also boasts a porticoed courtyard of rare beauty. And, while you’re about it, it’s well worth having a look at the entire spectacular complex, a truly ‘must- visit’ destination!
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