If Florence is a wise teacher, Naples a glitzy showgirl and Rome a romantic lover, then Milan is a devoted mama. She offers everything high-fashion clothing, elegant northern Italian food and luxurious digs for shelter without asking for anything in return. Milan says, Im ready to give you whatever you need, discreetly, in a very soft way, without being too aggressive or imposing, explains Vincenzo Finizzola, general manager of the Four Seasons Milano since its opening in April 1993.
118 rooms, Rates: E610 to E9,460, ($910 to $14,190)
As unassuming and yet as grand as mama and Milan itself, the Four Seasons Milano, which was converted from a 15th-century convent to a hotel, stands as a crossroads linking the citys rich history with modern conveniences and style. Located on Via Gesù, the hotel is in the heart of Milans fashion district, within walking distance of many fabulous boutiques and restaurants as well as most of the citys banks, insurance companies and law firms.
At the hotel, guests are invited to wander around an authentic cloister garden replete with white arches, lush greenery and flowers and wooden benches that call people to meditation. The winding curves of the spiral staircase, a work of art that takes guests from the basement to the fourth floor, look like a rose when viewed from above. With the muted shades of original 15th-century frescoes dancing above their heads in select suites as they drift to sleep, guests might believe they are spending the night in heaven.
Although most of the hotel is understated and true to its origins as a convent, the all-marble bathrooms with deep tubs and heated floors are decadently luxurious. These marble masterpieces are to a Milanese hotel room what a classic accessory, such as a black leather belt, is to a Milanese couture outfit. They complete the look.
From the terra-cotta-colored walls in the deluxe rooms to the blue-, peach- and yellow-inlaid ceilings in the executive suites, color is fused to bring guests to life. Fortuny fabrics, Frette linens and pear and sycamore burl cabinetry remind visitors they are in Italys fashion capital, where style is as important as function.
Still, even in Milan, a hotel cant survive on looks alone. There must be something beyond the pretty face. What we like to say in our hotel is that the real luxury is service, says Finizzola. You can have a beautiful product, you can have a beautiful location, you can have everything but if you dont have the right service, all the rest is almost nothing.
Catering mainly to Americans, especially businesspeople, the hotel staff is trained to pay attention to detail. Milan may be in Italy, but its a bustling city that seeks discipline and order. If hotel guests order breakfast for 8:00 a.m., it will be served at one second to 8:00, says Finizzola.
Many hotels, including luxury resorts, have cut prices and services during the recession. The Four Seasons has avoided discounting, but it offers some packages that include an American breakfast or 150 food and beverage voucher in the room rate. And theres been no skimping on service. Guests who need their shirts to look crisp and fresh for a morning meeting can still take advantage of the hotels overnight laundry, and 24-hour room service remains a delight to travelers who arrive hungry in the wee hours.
Whether visitors want to check out Milans traditional attractions, such as Leonardo da Vincis Last Supper or the Duomo, or take a day trip to Lake Como or Bergamo, the concierge at the hotel will help make it happen, says Leonardo Bruscagin, the chief concierge, who has been with the hotel for 12 years. The concierge staff can also arrange coveted tickets to the opera at La Scala or to an A.C. Milan soccer game.
The dinner plate is another canvas for stylish Italians. One of two restaurants at the Four Seasons Milano, Il Teatro, with its sleek bar and cozy booths, offers simple dishes, such as chicken with rosemary and lemon, and more sophisticated treats, such as quail eggs. The Sunday brunch, with its Chocolate Jungle an entire room filled with chocolate elephants, monkeys and trees has had all of Milan talking since its debut in the hotels earliest days.
La Veranda, the hotels other restaurant, is open from morning until midnight and has more family-friendly options, including childrens and teen menus. The natives recommend typical Milanese dishes, including risotto giallo, which means yellow rice; osso bucco, or braised veal shanks; and veal cutlet Milanese. For guests who bring their children, the staff will even leave out milk and cookies for them, just like mama would.