Like all good Italians, I adore discovering new chicche wherever I go. Chicche — hidden gems, goodies, little treats — are our favorite places to restore our eyes and soak in inspiration. When a cappuccino or a glass of wine won’t do, we flock to cultural attractions for our feel-good fix. In a city like Milan, there are many hidden gems to explore. Here are my favorite off-the-beaten-path spots where you can enjoy art and culture, away from the crowds.
Villa Necchi Campiglio
Tucked away from the big city bustle, Villa Necchi Campiglio is a countryside mansion in the center of Milan. Created by Piero Portaluppi between 1932 and 1935, Villa Necchi Campiglio was once the home of Milan’s bourgeois families. Today it is a museum with an outstanding art collection and is managed by Italy’s FAI, the National Trust of Italy.
Memoirs left by friends of the previous owners tell tales of a long lost time when the villa played host to many parties and cultural circles. Italian film director Luca Guadagnino filmed his movie I Am Love (“Io sono l’amore”) starring Tilda Swinton in this lavish setting. In addition to its sumptuous rooms, the villa has a beautiful veranda that blurs the line between indoor and outdoor, creating an outstanding space. In the garden, architect and visionary Tommaso Buzzi projected a heated pool that lined with flowerbeds with dazzling blossoms.
Villa Necchi Campiglio is located a short walk from Via Montenapoleone, Milan’s upscale shopping district.
Arte in Salotto
An unusual art gallery space, Arte in Salotto welcomes you into an intimate setting where you can lounge and discover the best artworks in town. After working in the art sector across Europe, Camilla Prini decided to open her own gallery with an intriguing aesthetic. “Arte in Salotto” means “Art in a Living Room” and it features contemporary works in a stylish but homey atmosphere. Three main rooms showcase works by figurative artists and photographers — both Italian and international. Besides having a permanent space, Arte in Salotto hosts one-off exhibitions in private abodes so make sure to keep an eye on their Instagram account.
Although it may sound unlikely, pink flamingos have inhabited the ponds of Villa Invernizzi since the 1970s. They are the keepers of a secret harmony, a tale whispered among the surrounding liberty buildings and water mirrors. Are you curious about how they made their way to Milan? Cavalier Invernizzi, an entrepreneur and nature lover who preferred the calm of the countryside, moved to the city at the insistence of his wife. Feeling trapped in the city, surrounded by Milan’s many shades of grey, he decided to bring one of nature’s most elegant birds into his garden to enjoy a dash of pink from his windows. So today, if you feel the urge for an exotic escape, head to Via Cappuccini number 9 and meditate as you watch these lovely creatures live untouched under our inattentive eyes.
Ca’ de l’oreggia may be the smallest “hidden gem” in Milan. This is the first intercom in the city and one of the first in the world. A residential building located at Via Gabrio Serbelloni 10, it is nicknamed “The Ear House” due to the beautiful bronze bell crafted in the shape of a human ear. It is no longer in use but visitors still come by to see this intriguing sculptural miniature. According to legend, if whisper your deepest desires to the bronze ear, they will come true. This ear was designed by Adolfo Wildt (1868-1931), an Italian modernist artist who leaves behind a long legacy in the city. A day spent searching for his statues is the perfect cultural scavenger hunt.
You can find statues of La Vittoria Alata (“Winged Victory”) within Palazzo Berri-Meregalli and the Madre Adottiva (“Stepmother”) in a private courtyard via Bianca Maria. Inside the Galleria Arte Moderna, Milan’s National Art Gallery, you can spot Adolfo Wildt’s beautiful Fontana della Vita (“Fountain of Life”) in the garden — he also has a work inside Villa Necchi Campiglio.
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is home to one of Milan’s top attractions: Leonardo’s Last Supper. But if you take a short 10-minute walk from the church, you will leave the crowds behind and come across Casa Rossi on Corso Magenta. Casa Rossi is a Neo-Renaissance building that pays homage to Venetian architecture. It was designed by Giuseppe Pestagalli in 1860 and is known for its a unique feature.
If you look up in the courtyard, you will see a magnificent five-story architecture with pillars, capitals, and windows that form a perfect octagon shape. This architecture is a prelude to James Turrell’s famous “Skyspace 1“, an overhead portal that looks out onto the sky, which was produced almost a century later. The courtyard of Casa Rossi as it is not always open to the public, but I promise it’s worth taking your chances to see this unique viewpoint.
Welcome to Ornella Casanomade, a project close to the heart of interior designer Maria Vittoria Paggini. More than just her private residence, this revamped Milanese abode doubles as an eclectic design studio where designers, artists, and creative minds come together to shape extraordinary projects. This “nomad gallery” is a burst of vibrant colors, and the alluring scent of incense, complemented by the soothing tones of music playing in the background, creates an alluring atmosphere to enjoy art.
Maria Vittoria Paggini has a penchant for collecting unique pieces from promising emerging artists, with many pieces reflecting contemporary themes. Take, for example, Nicolas Denino, whose works grace the living room and the designer’s bedroom. Denino draws inspiration from Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of Liquid Society, exploring the relentless fluctuations in our society’s behaviors and attitudes.
Ornella Casanomade is usually only open during Milano Design Week each year, so be sure to check the Instagram page for upcoming events.