Milan: Travel with a purpose

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I put Milan on my Spring2Italy itinerary because I wanted to experience the Salone de Mobile, noted to be the largest furniture exhibition/event on the planet.

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I put Milan on my Spring2Italy itinerary because I wanted to experience the Salone de Mobile, noted to be the largest furniture exhibition/event on the planet. So – although the time period meant that hotel rooms were charging rates that resembled telephone numbers (even properties with no stars in inconvenient neighborhoods), I was determined to see this humongous furniture and fixtures collection (on my unique bucket list).

Milan Metro Makes Getting Out and About EASY

In order to make the experience affordable I defaulted to an Airbnb. Much to my delight and surprise the accommodations were fine (modern studio apartment in a residential/commercial neighborhood) and a 10-minute walk to the Metro.

Metro Works

In order to get from where I was to where I wanted to be I used the Metro. As a New Yorker who uses public transportation all the time, the Metro has a charm that may not encourage someone to visit a city, but a good transportation system certainly makes travels around the city easy and affordable.

So – I am offering testimony that transportation in Milan is inexpensive, efficient and effective. While the Metro apps may not work (due to limited Wi-Fi), the Metro employees (especially the station managers) and locals are incredibly helpful and patient in providing directions.

Good to Know

1. Milan, a city of only 1.3 million residents, is located in Lombardy (entire region consists of 12 Provinces and 1546 municipalities) and is considered the wealthiest region in Italy.

2. It is the second largest city in Italy.

3. Italy’s business/financial center; location of stock exchange; technology/scientific research hub.

4. One of Europe’s largest trade fair and congress venues.

5. Headquarters for fashion and design companies.

6. Strategically located close to lakes, mountains and the coast plus a gateway to Europe.

7. Italians account for 48 percent of the total overnights in the Milan Province; emerging source markets: Germany, UK, France, Russia, US and China.

8. Weakest travel months: August (most of Italy is on holiday), plus December and January.

9. Milan City Hotels: 446 (19 5 star; 129 4 star; 120 3 star).

10. Average stay in Milan: 2.03 days.

11. Highest potential for hotel development: low cost/budget/limited service with international standards.

For more information, click here.

Popular Destination

The Milan Chamber of Commerce determined that the hotel rooms in the city were running between 60-70 percent occupancy in the first three months of 2016…an occupancy rate higher than Rome, Florence, Paris, Moscow or Beijing. Over 1.5 million people overnighted in Milan during this period, breaking last year’s records. Both business and leisure sectors are holding strong with business travelers extending their visit to include weekend holidays in the city.

Luxury is Available

Alessandro Soldi, Director of Sales & Marketing. Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa

With 445 hotels available, plus scores of Airbnb selections, visitors could spend hours trying to book a reservation. My personal recommendation is the Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa with 65 rooms; 35 suites plus a spa and fitness center and marketed as a “resort in the city” (think Ciragan Palace/Kempinski, Istanbul).

The site was originally occupied by the Palazzo Cramer (1600), unfortunately it was destroyed in WWII. Today the Palazzo has been rebuilt as a hotel by visionary owner/architect Paolo Giambelli. Located in the Via Brera area (where you definitely want to be because it is chockful of galleries, boutiques and cafes) this is a destination hotel.

Alessandro Soldi, the Palazzo Director of Sales and Marketing, brings years of professional experience to the property. A large part of his life is spent on airlines and airports as he travels globally to bring the Palazzo/Milan message to international corporations and associations who are delighted with the accommodations.

Soldi knew he wanted to work in the hospitality industry since the age of 14. To get his career started he attended the Carlo Porta hotel management program in Milan. After graduation he moved to London, joining Capital Hotel, becoming their Guest Relations Manager. He returned to Italy and joined the Milan Marriott Hotel as a Sales Manager. He was promoted to the Congress Department, becoming Cluster Manager for Sales & Congress for all properties owned by Russottfinance (including the Milan Marriott, Rome Marriott and Hilton Giardini Naxos). Currently he is the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Palazzo Parigi. His efforts have brought international recognition to the property that is designed to meet global luxury guest demands.

The interiors of Palazzo Parigi were designed by Pierre Yves-Rochon in cooperation with the owner of the property, Paola Giambelli. The concept was derived from the 1930s when hand-crafted marbles and authentic wood floors combined with luxurious textiles were fashionable.


Guests at the spa experience an indoor pool, sauna and steam room as well as a fitness center that includes Technogym cardiovascular and strength-training equipment. If guests need a trainer (to stay motivated), arrangements can be facilitated through the Front Desk.

For corporations (or famous celebrities or others with megabucks) planning large events in Milan this property is perfect as it includes the largest ballroom in the city with floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto terraces and gardens. It will comfortably accommodate up to 350 people.

A Grand Entrance

Elegant Dining Space with views of Linden and Horse Chestnut trees and garden

Sweet/Suite Living

For additional information, click here.

A Major Reason to Visit Milan

Furniture Focus: Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano

I do love furniture and will travel to the ends of the world to see a unique sofa or over-the-top bathtub! The furniture shows in New York are quite splendid and professionally presented by Architectural Digest and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. I am among the first to parade up and down the aisles, taking pictures of what is new and wonderful, and recommending the OMGs to hotel interior designers – so that hotel suites will be less boring and more reflective of what is new and wonderful in the world of design.

Travel With a Purpose

I was really eager to see the Milan Show (located at Fiera di Rho) which started 55 years ago with an exclusively Italian furniture focus. The initial sponsors were manufacturers from the Federelegno-Arredo trade association; today, the show is global in scope.

The international furniture industry currently includes 13,000 companies and many take the Milan show as an opportunity to exhibit. The displays occupy almost 2,500,000 sq. ft. and includes 2,500 companies plus 700 young designers at the Salone Satellite, a secondary exhibit. Seventy percent of the Italian companies that exhibit at the Fair have revenues below 5 million Euros so orders secured during the show are of critical importance. Because many exhibitors have limited marketing dollars, designers and buyers looking for what is unique and unusual or trending visit the show for ideas and inspiration.

The New York Times (April 8, 2016) called the event a “carnival” that attracted 372,151 attendees from over 150 countries. The event is organized and operated by Cosmit SPA, a trade show corporation and a member of the ICSID, (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) and ADI (Association for Industrial Design). Just about everyone in the multiple facets of the industry, from furniture manufactures to interior designers, from wholesalers and retailers to customers, flock to the Milan Design Week (Salone Internazionale del Mobile).

Planning Process?

The exhibit is interesting but less than perfect and during my walk-about I could not understand the decision – making process that created some of the clearly visible complications of getting the best from the show.

Strengths/Weaknesses of the Event

I. Strengths

From furniture to lighting to carpets – just about everything you may want to see for interior design is part of the Salone experience. So – the problem is not the event (although it could be curated more systematically or thematically), it is the infrastructure that needs a process and project manager’s expertise.

1. Absolutely beautiful furniture and fixtures, carpets and lighting are on display. Traditional/classic modern dominates the exhibits and cutting-edge, over-the-top unique designs a limited. However, high-end products that may be impossible to find in local retail stores or design centers can be noted.

2. Networking with manufacturers, distributors, architects and designers.

II. Weaknesses

1. Infrastructure

a. Takes forever to register (plan on up to 5 months for getting approval to attend the show).

b. Pre-show information primarily in Italian. As an event directed to the world, English information appears online – weeks (not months) before the event – making it difficult to plan activities, things to see-do.

c. Itinerary. Information on who/what is scheduled and where it is located in each of the myriad of buildings is impossible to determine. If there were “informed” onsite people/guides with this information – I never was able to locate a valid information source.

d. No signage listing manufactures or directions to their exhibits.

e. Some exhibits were “restricted” (i.e., designers only, retailers/wholesalers only).

f. No Wi-Fi on exhibit floors made it impossible to post to Facebook, Instagram, whatever.

g. Media Center is in a separate building that is far away from the exhibits. Strangely enough there is free Wi-Fi and complimentary coffee and cookies here; however, there is limited access to electrical sockets for powering equipment. Guess where media spends lots of time?

h. Ground transportation to/at the Rho. While the Metro is available for reaching the Fiera location (at an additional fee that is kept as a mystery until the information in requested), the mega-ground traffic jams created by busses, private limos, cars and delivery trucks at the Fiera makes it almost impossible to get anywhere – without spending hours sitting in traffic.

i. Huge distances from one exhibit to another and one building to another. No signage on the buildings describes content. There is also an absence of location maps on exhibit floors detailing location of manufacturers.

j. Segmented dining options. Some restaurants are so private – there is no signage to divulge that it is a restaurant and private security prevents even the most curious from investigating the interiors or even scanning the menu.

k. Special events are not posted online.

l. Some local events at the Brera (late night openings/exhibits/parties at retail shops/restaurants) are by invitation only and the shops/restaurants are difficult to locate…even GoogleMaps do not work because of limited Wi-Fi and bandwidth.

m. Over-priced hotel rooms (double/triple ADR) can be expected.

n. Absence of Salone “Tzar” to link all activities together (at the Rho and throughout Milan) under one umbrella and sourced on one website.

o. No free printed guidebook (or app that does not require Wi-Fi)

p. Consistent brand name (i.e., Milan Design Week, Milan Furniture Fair, I Saloni, The Fiera).

Lots of time wasted waiting for buses to move from Metro station to exhibits

Waiting on the bus – forever – due to traffic congestion

Miles to walk from the Metro and to the Exhibition Zone

Rushing to get to exhibits. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and layers. Walking in the heat to air conditioned buildings can be chilling – it is certainly exhausting and stressful.

Looking for the Media? They are at the Press Center a 10-minute walk from the exhibits

Not everyone comes for the furniture, some come for the sun, green grass, gelato and dining

Be prepared for lots of cigarette smoke – this activity continues to be popular


Although the Salone is an incredibly popular event, it could be even better if:

1. Exhibit spaces were clearly mapped (free app available) that clearly locates and identifies (think GoogleMaps) the vendors, a brief description of the product line and clearly provides locations (building, floor and booth specific).

2. Wi-Fi on exhibition floors/buildings.

3. Food/beverage service in the buildings with the exhibitions.

4. Opportunities for viewing furniture without having to produce “credentials.” It is really annoying to have to produce a business card while moving from one display to the next.

5. Machine – readable ID badges to eliminate the business card routine as registration badges could be electronically read.

6. Online lists of public relations firms representing the exhibitors so that interviews with manufacturers, designers can be arranged prior to the opening of the exhibits.

7. Electric charging stations available on every exhibit floor and along the outdoor paths from building to building and at restaurants.

Focused Travel. Next

It is not unusual for people to travel for sports and they follow their favorite soccer team around the world. Others will travel to support their beloved musicians while others will get on a plane or train to view their favorite artist.

For people interested in furniture, fixtures, carpets and rugs, lighting and design, the global exhibits present the perfect reason to grab the passport and experience a new destination. A website that lists international furniture exhibits is a good place to start.

If I were running the Salone del Mobile I would be watching the growing number of destinations producing furniture-focused exhibitions and the increasingly large number of people attending these events in Germany, France, the UK, Turkey and Austria, Canada and the USA.

Milan is a fabulous city to visit and the Salone del Mobile definitely has exhibits that are exciting to see; however, major contenders are quickly usurping the marketplace. For additional information on Milan, click here.

This copyright article may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.