Enter the charming neighborhood of Brera and you’ll soon forget all thoughts of the drab, industrialist Milan. Bohemian grit began to fill the cracks between the uneven cobblestone streets here after WWII, and by the 1960s, the local cafes and galleries brimmed with neorealist filmmakers and designers vying for the Compasso d’Oro award. Due north from Milan’s tourist-filled Duomo and past the storied La Scala, austere, modern palazzos make way for colorful residential buildings, their balconies overflowing with succulents, wisteria and honeysuckle. The name Brera comes from the Lombard word ‘Braida’ which means ‘green space.’ Once a fishing village where boats arrived on canals into Milan from the Northern lakes, today it is considered the most bourgeois neighborhood in Milan.
To experience a hint of old-world Brera is to shop at the weekly outdoor mercato on Via San Marco, notable for its colorful, overflowing bouquets, ample fresh fish selection, multiple produce stands and Italian fashion staples such as leather gloves and cashmere sweaters. On the winding pedestrian streets, worthwhile boutiques and vintage shops are mixed with tourist-hungry restaurants (to be avoided – I recommend the old-school trattoria tucked away nearby). Brera freshly exhibits a new generation of designers and concept boutiques, and admiration of the supermodel-esque locals.
Although more recently famous as a creative’s haven in the 1960s, Brera has for centuries attracted artists and designers who came to study at the art academy within the internationally celebrated museum Pinacoteca di Brera. Soon after it opened, Napoleon, the newly crowned King of Italy, is said to have intended the Pinacoteca to become the Louvre of Italy (Antonio Canova’s colossal marble statue of the monarch sits at the center of the palazzo courtyard today). To follow in the brushstrokes of the prestigious academy’s centuries of attendees is to shop at the historic art supply and print shop Ditta Crespi or flip through the engraved leather journal selection at Pettinaroli.
Milanese in their rural tweeds and riding their vintage Rossignoli (or Brera-branded bikes) still proudly bask in the neighborhood’s charming churches and hidden gardens all while remembering its nonconformist roots. They will steer you towards cafes frequented by the literary and artistic greats that came up in the quartiere as well as where they bought their pens and paints, wrote their poems and partied into the night. While mass brands like Supreme, Starbucks and Nike are nose to nose with subtle (and not so subtle) Italian elegance, Brera continues to grow as a landmark destination for visitors and locals alike.
GUIDE TO BRERA
Trattoria Torre di Pisa
Ristorante La Libera
N’Ombra de Vin
Associazione Salumi e Vini Naturali
Massimo De Carlo
Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea
Moscova District Market