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In a city that tucks away some of its best secrets, you won’t be excluded if you simply know which doors to open. From private villas with flamingos and swimming pools, universities with private gardens to Old Milan courtyards with trendy bars, we know where to go.
A pefect definition of the city could be that of 20th-century writer Alberto Savinio, describing the city as all made of stone and seeming hard, yet actually soft with its indoor gardens. Milan is a city with little greenery, but only because it’s secretly concealed. Some gardens are hidden behind the gates of the mansions, accessible only to residents and to those who, on precise days each year, queue up to visit them. Others are unknown even to locals, but only because they lack the curiosity to go peeping around. Just open the right door, and the garden is there waiting for you.
THE 1930s VILLAS
An urban legend about pink flamingos and peacocks roaming in the city centre is in fact true – just walk up to via Cappuccini 7 and look beyond the gate. Villa Invernizzi is closed to the public, unfortunately, but right next to it is Villa Necchi Campiglio – a house/ museum in an art deco style, designed in the 1930s by architect Piero Portaluppi. Go and see its perfectly furnished and well-maintained rooms, take a stroll in the garden and then relax in the greenhouse for a coffee.
THE COURTYARDS OF THE UNIVERSITIES
The University of Milan is housed in the Renaissance building of the CA’ Granda, commissioned by the Duke of Milan Francesco Sforza and designed by Filarete. Admire the 17th-century façade, the baroque portal and then enter the Cloister (but also try to visit its other three courtyards).
The Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in largo Gemelli is also worth a look. It is housed in the ancient Cistercian Monastery within the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica grounds and has two beautiful cloisters. If you manage to evade security, and you are girls, you will manage to get to the garden of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, whose access is only allowed to female students and is thus nicknamed “the Garden of the Virgins”.
THE OLD MILAN COURTYARD
Although it’s not a garden, it’s a way to enjoy a corner of old Milan with its tenements – typical public housing with the main doors along the ground floors and the long walkway where the courtyard once was. Enter inside this old centre of social life from via Giovenale 7, where you’ll first encounter the Officina Cocktail Bar (a motorcycle workshop with a bar), then Al Cortile restaurant (a bar and cooking school) and finally le Fonderie Milanesi (a busy happy hour spot). Walking through the courtyard feels like a cross between a treasure hunt and a maze. You’re in a sort of a parallel reality; it’s a step back in time that encompasses some of the trendiest nightlife Milan has to offer today.