See Milan Through the Eyes of an Architect

Rocco Forte Hotels

In anticipation of the opening of our new hotel, The Carlton Milan, we spoke to Javier Hortal, the architect restoring the famous building to become one the best hotels in Milan. Join him as he casts his artistic eye on the Italian fashion capital to give us his own personal appraisal of the city.

Name the top five places you love most in Milan.

  1. Milan is a highly dynamic city with a rich architectural history arising from its sophisticated appreciation for style, design and beauty. If arriving by train, the exuberance and grandeur of Central Station is breathtaking, cathedral-like in its massive proportions, showcasing the power and might of Italy at the time of its construction during the 1920’s and 30’s. 
  1. The spectacular Duomo Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece with its majestic highly ornamental façade topped by innumerable spires, pinnacles and towers, must feature in any itinerary of Milan. Climbing to the rooftop of the building, you can admire the beautiful details on the building’s white stone buttresses and gaze across the city’s rooftops.
  1. Weather permitting, lunch would be Milanese-style alfresco in one of the many charming small courtyards that you discover as you walk around the city. Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone is one of the finest dining spots in the city, a tranquil urban garden set in a beautiful grand, palatial Renaissance house. 
  1. Coffee is almost a religion in Milan and although I recommend visiting the spectacular Milano Roastery for its striking interior décor, the coffee itself should be taken at one of the many authentic small espresso bars, ideally accompanied by a sweet treat of delicious pasticcini or a homemade tiramisu such as the one at Mascherpa.
  1. For lovers of modern art and architecture, Fondazione Prada is well worth a visit. Located to the south of the city, this large complex of old industrial buildings was repurposed by Dutch architects OMA into a series of flexible exhibition and performance spaces, juxtaposing new structures including a building clad in gold leaf amongst the old warehouses resulting in an eclectic, ever-changing architectural interplay.

Q: Which buildings in the city particularly appeal to you?

The architecture and interiors of Villa Necchi Campiglio perfectly encapsulate the character and sophistication of modern Milanese style. This beautiful jewel of a villa and garden, created by the architect Piero Portaluppi in 1935, brings together an exacting minimalist approach with a restrained edge of art deco to create a unique contemporary design masterpiece. The fact that even to this day it continues to inspire artists, designers and even film-makers is testament to its unique appeal and timeless elegance.      

Q: Where is your favourite location in Milan for artistic inspiration? 

The Castello Sforzesco is an impressive medieval fortress located in central Milan. Destroyed and reborn several times throughout the years, this immense structure in red brick, its turrets, courtyards and gardens read like the history of the city itself. 

Having transformed from castle to palace to residence, today it houses several of Milan’s best museums featuring many works by the Italian grand masters such as Leonardo da Vinci. However, Michelangelo’s Pieta Rondanini is the main highlight for me; this unfinished sculpture standing serenely alone in a large frescoed vaulted room creates a sense of wonderment and awe that is immensely powerful.

Q: How do you see Milan's architectural future evolving?

Milan is home to many of Italy’s most forward-thinking architects and designers, and as such, it has been leading the deployment of green building principles within an urban environment for some time. 

The Milano 2 district, created in the 1970’s as a new model of high-density residential living for families, remains successful to this day.  More recently, the construction of twin skyscrapers called Bosco Verticale – featuring facades almost entirely covered by lush plants and trees – is a great example of how to create a natural microclimate to enhance the living environment, even in a high-rise context.


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Explore Milan, with Javier Hortal as your guide, when you stay at The Carlton Milan, due to open in 2024. Before our new hotel opens, stay at an existing Rocco Forte hotel – in Italy, Brussels, Berlin and beyond – all perfectly positioned to discover the great cities of Europe.

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