Brera was once the Bohemian art district of Milan, but it has rapidly developed to become a center for fashion, design and chic venues. The street outside the Academy has become a favorite for its outdoor café seating; Via Fiori Chiari is a cobbled pedestrian precinct with chic boutiques and bars that become 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 specialty shops.
The area is a reminder that Milan effortlessly combines a dynamic, business-like approach with a more relaxed approach to leisure time. Don’t expect good-value square-meal trattorias: restaurants here are generally in the mid-upper price range. But you’re getting one of Milan’s few truly attractive settings.
It is a little-known fact that Milan has it’s very own version of the Loch Ness monster. According to legend a dragon named Taràanto or Tarantasio lived in Lake Gerundo to the south of Milan and was the terror of the locals. Luckily for all involved, the dragon disappeared when the lake was drained. It is now celebrated in one of the Visconti symbols of Milan and can be seen in a 13th-century fresco in the cloisters of the Church of San Marco. Amazingly it looks very much like a dinosaur, animals that were totally unknown when it was painted.
WHAT TO SEE
The dour brick walls of the Brera Academy conceal untold riches, with the Pinacoteca di Brera, second largest art collection in Italy, the Observatory and museum of astronomical instruments, and, at the bottom of a narrow alley, a very small botanical garden slowly being restored to something decorous. The Biblioteca Braidense is a beautiful 18th-century timber-lined treasure-house. On the western side of the district, San Simpliciano is an evocative piece of Romanesque art, with some gigantic blocks in the wall dating back to the original 4th-century construction. Don’t miss its lovely cloisters.
BRERA ACADEMY © DAN MASA
Brera Art Gallery
Originally a Jesuit school, Brera Art Gallery is now home to some of the finest Neoclassical sculptures and paintings in Milan. When Napoleon made the Milan the capital of the Kingdom of Italy he collected works from all territories conquered by the French army and presented them here. Brera then, unlike other major Italian museums such as the Uffizi Gallery, does not house works from private collections or aristocracy but from the state and public.
Botanic garden (Orto Botanico)
Part of the Palace of Brera, the botanical gardens at Brera house the Astronomy Observatory, the ‘Braidense’ Library and the Academy of Fine Arts. A charming romantic garden for a few moments of peace in this busy neighborhood. Entrance in Via Fiori Scuri
This ancient church is one of the oldest buildings in Milan, built in the 3rd century as a place of worship by Saint Ambrose to accommodate travellers moving from the south and north. Now it’s surrounded by a secluded piazza and has long steps to sit on with a panino and a spritz and people watch.
WHERE TO SHOP
Foscarini 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.
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.
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.
Diptyque’s famous scented candles, with their distinctive glasses and the names of the fragrances written in a jumble on an unassuming white label, are the ultimate guilty pleasure when you realize that you are literally burning your money.
FOOD AND DRINK
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.
A bar that privileges quality rather than quantity, cocktails are expertly concocted. Try it on weekdays when you may find a place al fresco. Drinks include a superb range of G&T variants. Accompany your selection with a range of light dishes at lunch and dinner; the Cinc sandwich is excellent.
Fioraio Bianchi is a bistrô 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. Avenue worth a visit at any time of day, from morning coffee to aperitivo, lunch, and dinner.