To appreciate the fashion city of Milan, you need to live like a local

It's impossible to miss fashion in Milan: it permeates all aspects of society. During Milan Fashion Week, the city is a United Nations of stylish citizens from all over the world, but the Milanese dominate, the men in navy and oatmeal cashmere teamed with designer stubble and trainers; the women impeccably groomed and bejewelled, in knee-high boots or heels, toting four-figure handbags.

But it's not enough to dress like a local. To truly embrace la dolce vita in Milan you need to live like a local, incorporating gastronomy, culture, luxury and art into every day. What a chore. So for the next time you are in Milan, we've made life easier for you.

Where to stay

If money is no object, the Bulgari Hotel is the benchmark for luxury. Just look for the Lamborghinis and Ferraris snaking down the drive like one of the Italian luxury brand's Serpenti necklaces, and prepare to surrender to paradise on earth. Set amid a lush acre of laurel, horse chestnut and wisteria trees, the hotel attracts an haut monde clientele, who flock to enjoy some of the best aperitivi and spaghetti pomodoro in the city. 

The Armani Hotel is also exceptional. It sits atop the Emporio Armani superstore which includes a cafe, bookshop and restaurant – even a nightclub. If your budget doesn't run to a night under Armani sheets, try Hotel Manzoni or Hotel Berna for a boutique experience. 

For something a little different try Hotel 3 Rooms, in the Garabaldi neighbourhood, which true to its name comprises just three suites. 

What to eat – and drink

Where to begin in the city that has elevated eating and imbibing to a nearreligious experience? Try Pasticceria Cova, one of the oldest and most charming patisseries in Milan, with an espresso and pastry and some of the best people-watching in the city.

For lunch, head to Giacomo Arengario, Milan's club house for fashion and finance professionals located in the Piazza del Duomo. Nab an outdoor table within the large loggia overlooking the cathedral, one of Italy's most beautiful architectural marvels, and order a plate of pasta with mussels and a vino rosso while you chat and build up your contacts.

Also founded by 90-something Tuscan country chef Giacomo Bulleri (he has a third operation, Giacomo Bistrot), Ristorante da Giacomo is one of the most exquisite restaurants in Italy, if not the world, evoking a grand 20th-century trattoria.

Bars such as Radetzky, Marchesi and Basso all offer excellent aperitivi. Then, for dinner, the traditional cuisine and cozy atmosphere at La Libera is hard to beat. Its signature dish, cotoletta alla Milanese (fried veal cutlet) is a must.

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Where to shop

For some of the best shopping in the world, you can't go past Milan's Quadrilatero d'oro (rectangle of gold), the compact area bounded by famous streets including Via Sant'Andrea and Via Montenapoleone. All the Italian sartorial heavyweights – Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Miu Miu – are there, along with top international brands such as Dior and Chanel.

Nip across town to visit 10 Corso Como, which is not just home to Hotel 3 Rooms but also to one of the best fashion concept stores in the world, comprising a boutique, art gallery, restaurant, outdoor cafe and bookshop as well as the hotel.

Owned by Carla Sozzani, the sister of the late Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani, the store espouses a "slow shopping" philosophy that combines commerce with culture and cuisine. Since its founding 30 years ago, the concept has proved so successful that it has expanded to Seoul, New York, Shanghai and Beijing.

Another must-visit is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the ornate shopping centre with a magnificent domed glass ceiling known as il salotto di Milano (Milan's drawing room), due to its use as a central meeting place for Milanese since its 1880s opening.

If Piazza Duomo is the historic heart of Milan, then Piazza Gae Aulenti – a slick new retail and cultural space at the heart of the Porta Nuova development by Milan's main railway station – represents the new face of the city. Described in Italian newspapers as "the square of the future", the spectacular piazza includes a 60-metre reflective pool.

What to see

You are spoiled for cultural choice in Milan, so why not start off with something a little different? Once the home of an Italian count, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, the Poldi Pezzoli museum now houses an exquisite art collection including art, furniture, jewellery and military paraphernalia. On show is Antonio Pollaiuolo's famed Portrait of a Lady.

Kauffmann Reppetto is one of the city's best contemporary galleries, with a focus on video art and installations, while Villa Necchi is an oasis in the heart of Milan. Surrounded by verdant gardens that include a swimming pool and tennis court, the historic house was the setting for the 2009 film I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. 

The fashion art museum Armani/ Silos hosts a vast exhibition of more than 600 garments by the Milanese designer spanning the past 40 years. And, last but by no means least, a visit to Milan is incomplete without braving the crowds at Santa Maria delle Grazie to view Leonardo da Vinci's awe-inspiring The Last Supper.

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