I’ve just had one of the best weekends of my life. Outside the air is chilly. I’m sitting here on a Monday morning in a black dress and stilettos feasting on the most decadent breakfast you can imagine in the sensual low light of the Bulgari Hotel in Milan. Through two storeys of glass I can see outside to the lush garden of giant fairytale trees, their autumnal leaves a vivid yellow.
This city and this hotel both encapsulate that potent blend of warmth and minimalism. It’s such an art. The decor here – in its dark tones,illuminated by the carefully crafted light of log fires, tea candles and ultra modern lamplight – is all fiercely masculine, but in a gentleman-in-a-tailored-suit kind of way that leaves you aching to partake in some sophisticated love affair. Such an affair would unfold between the dolce vita cigar room, lined with black and white photographs of film scenes, the opulent spa and one of the suites, which feel like heavenly Mad Men-style hideaways, complete with oversized bath, chocolate leather sofa, a mountain of fruit and gourmet chocolate placed on the dining table each evening and a bed that takes pillow-excess and sheet threadcount to a stratospheric level (I actually gasped when I made skin-to-sheet contact for the first time).
I’m here shooting the final episode of my travel/cooking/adventure TV program. My impression of Milan had always been one of business, order, cement, right angles and phlegmatic people who insist on being punctual (everything which had led me to abandon my ineffably modern hometown), however, I decided to give it another chance and shoot the city of ‘la moda‘. I’d heard that Milan is not a city that stands there, hands on her hips, like Rome or Florence, daring you NOT to devour her with your eyes. You have to know where to look in Milan, you have to know which little buzzer to ring, which door opens up into an ancient courtyard, where there’s a hidden patisserie and a refined Milanese woman baking chestnut chocolate tarts and quince crumble. You must have a friend who is DJ-ing at Armani Prive’ who will have you skip the line and throw down cocktails beside models, film directors and some precocious hipster with a blog and slender sock-less ankles.
With my co-host and partner in crime, Patrick, we ran all over the city like giddy self-absorbed teenagers in our own private video clip. Coffee with the eccentric and utterly inspiring Gianluca Cantaro, editor of men’s Vogue magazine, L’Uomo. (Um… yeah, we’re completely best friends now even though I still can’t understand why he said yes to meeting me.) A four-course gourmet lunch prepared exclusively for us by the Bulgari chef Andrea Ferrero. A Pretty Woman designer shopping experience Milanese style in the world’s first and coziest concept store: 10CorsoComo – a gallery, bookshop, café, designer fashion boutique and three-room B&B created by Carla Sozzani, the sister of the editor of Vogue Italia. Patrick was swathed in a coat that made him appear part Bond part Batman, while staff threw Alaia, Prada, Chloe and Versace gowns at me in quick succession. A stop at Peck, the culinary equivalent of designer shopping, for a cheese tasting and to pick up white truffle oil and saffron for our cooking scenes. Then later that evening we mount the sexiest Italian motorbike we’ve ever laid eyes on and in nothing but a lace beaded cocktail dress I cling onto Patrick’s Bat-cloak and we go gliding through the streets of Milan by moonlight at a speed far beyond the 30-second ‘moto‘ lesson Patrick was given outside the hotel. Aperitivo, cocktails and fashionable flirting at Just Cavalli’s club. Then we get back to our suite to find a note wedged between chocolate truffles:
“Please enjoy a complimentary treatment in our Spa when you finish filming today. Buon Relax!” Patrick jokes with the staff that all that’s missing now is rose petals. I come back from my full body massage and find a steaming bubble bath, a bathroom full of candles and petals everywhere.
Sure, this whole weekend is a series of scenes for the show. The Milanesi don’t really live like this themselves… or do they? Everyone we’ve spoken to here seems to spend their weekends shopping, eating, visiting galleries, socializing in terribly cool cafes and bars, then working on some fabulously creative international project throughout the week. I’ve always mocked them with their cold climate and corporate dependency compared to Romans’ languid lifestyle, which is far less career-oriented, yet after being spoilt rotten and witness to such elegance in the people, the storefronts, the food… I get it now. They work hard, they play hard.
Both Rome and Milan offer a version of my idea of a dolce vita… and connected by just a three-hour train trip through Tuscany, perhaps I can have my siesta and my stilettos too.