These days, the best budget option is probably the Hotel Girasole (Via Doberdo 19, tel. 347/146- 9721, www.bbilgirasole.it, ‚105 145 d). Milan isn’t cheap. Don’t expect an elegant atmosphere for that price, but it’s clean, friendly, and very well-placed. Sure, for ‚500 and up you easily could live well at the Four Seasons or the Grand Hotel et De Milan, or rub elbows with famous supermodels in the Principe di Savoia’s elevator, but good, moderately priced hotels are hard to find, most of all during a trade show or fashion week. If you reserve in time, the most charm for your money in the city center is to be had at the Antica Locanda Solferino (Via Castelfidardo 2, tel. 02/657-0129, www.anticalocandasolferino.it, ‚130 200 d). It sits squarely in the middle of Milan’s trendy Brera neighborhood, and the rooms are furnished as if you were one of the area’s art-loving residents. If you’re planning to spend the night on the lakes, your best bet is called the Hotel Milano & Apartments (Via XX Settembre 29, tel. 0341/830-298, www.varenna.net, ‚125 200d) in Varenna. It is perched just above the lake in this cozy town with an eagle’s-eye view of Bellagio’s peninsula. Below the hotel is a little shoreline footbridge and walkway, called the Italian equivalent of Lover’s Lane.
Food The soberly named Trattoria Milanese (Via Santa Marta 11, tel. 02/8645-1991, 12:30 3 P.M. and 7 11:30 P.M. Wed. Mon., ‚9 24) has been a mainstay here for ages, hiding in a narrow lane just west of the Duomo. Nothing superbly inventive here, just a crash-course in Milanese cooking: The risotto alla Milanese, costolette alla Milanese, and the osso buco are as delicious and authentic as you can get. Slightly more creative fare is at Al Pont de Ferr (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 55, tel. 02/8940-6277, noon 3 P.M. and 7 11 P.M. daily, ‚16 28) which stands head and shoulders above the rest of the lineup of restaurants in the Navigli neighborhood in terms of quality. If the mosquitoes aren’t biting, sit outside and look over the canal while enjoying a plate of stewed rabbit or some Sicilian couscous. Have a good look at the quality wine list and extensive cheese selection.
Finally, there is a restaurant in Milan that I think is one-in-a-million, but you have to be somewhat selective, for political reasons, about whom you decide to invite, if you decide to go at all. Da Oscar (Via Palazzi 4, tel. 02/295-18806, 7 P.M. midnight Wed. Mon., ‚12 18) is run by a man named Oscar, a man nostalgic for the days of Mussolini. If the Duce memorabilia scattered around the joint doesn’t tip you off that something very unusual is going on here, Oscar himself certainly will, the moment he walks out of the kitchen wearing a soiled white undershirt and wielding a very large knife, calling someone’s wife a filthy slut. The crowd loves it. You may or may not get a kick out of it, but while you’re welcome to take your chances arguing with Oscar, there’s no argument with his arrabbiata all’Oscar sauce, a spicy tomato-cream sauce laced with vodka.
Lake Como is full of great fish restaurants, but my favorite is far and away the Vecchia Varenna (Contrada Scoscesa 10, tel. 0341/830-793, www.vecchiavarenna.it, 12:30 3 P.M. and 6:30 10 P.M. daily, ‚12 16). One of your most memorable experiences here on the lake could be a meal at this romantic restaurant, which combines refined local cuisine with the lakefront charm of Varenna’s oldest section, all at reasonable prices. The perfect dish for these parts in late summer is the risotto with wild mushrooms and lavarello (a white fish from the lake).