(CNN) — Cabbies, concierges, local websites. Traditional sources all, commonly used by travelers seeking local information in Milan. But the fashion capital of Italy is no common city.
In a place that feels more like one big catwalk, swarming with models, the best guides to the city are those closest to the fabulous action. That's why we asked a panel of local glamor gurus to fashion a tour of the best places in Milan to get close to the beauty.
Fashion model Roberta Defez has done photo shoots for Italian designer labels such as I Ragazzi del Rosso and Gianmarco Rii and luxury hotel brand Belmond Hotels. The Naples native works for the ICE Models Milan agency and has a degree in marketing and communications.
Model Roberta Defez is ready to show you the town.
Courtesy Ice Models Mila
Also from ICE Models Milan, Olga Lopatina, born in Yekaterinburg, Russia, is a showroom model whose clients include Ermanno Scervino, Pinko, Diesel, Jil Sander and Marlboro Classics. She speaks four languages and has degrees in foreign languages and marketing.
Enrico Labriola is a well-known Italian fashion photographer who has shot for Grazia, Vogue Italy, Max France and Paris Match. Clients include Pitti Immagine, Dupont and Pomellato, and his work is regularly exhibited at the Cannes' Fashion Photography Festival.
Below are the pros' picks for places models and fashionistas drink, eat, dance, shop and generally look hot. Be prepared to bump into more than one:
Enrico Labriola does what models like -- makes everything look good.
Courtesy Giustiniano Modarelli
Before or after a runway walk, there's really no wrong time to hit one of Milan's luxury spas, salons and beauty parlors.
Vigal & Jus (Piazza della Repubblica 12; +39 02 3966 9451) is a "beauty hotel" with the expected hair and beauty services, as well as spa suites where models go to get the pretty on before a photo session. Services suggested by our panel include baby-blonde highlights and hot stone massages that come with aperitif and finger foods.
The latest models' treat is Baby Relax, a hair color revival and mud bath followed by a soothing face mask massage. Once the head's done, the lounge chairs turn into sofa beds and you lie down for body pampering.
Enclosed within Renaissance stone walls, Milan's thermal bath at QC Termemilano (Piazzale Medaglie d'Oro 2; +39 02 551 9936) is a favorite hangout of model Roberta Defez.
"At night, the blue LED lights have a soothing effect and you can sip a cocktail while nibbling on some fruit," she says. Most Milan beauty parlors and spas also cater to men.
Arriving in style is key in Milan, as this Enico Labriola shot shows.
Courtesy Enrico Labriola
Milan has four main shopping districts. Which one you visit depends on how much money you're ready to blow.
Model Olga Lopatina's favorite is the famed Fashion Quadrangle, even though she says can't always afford it: "Prices are sky-high here." One of the world's most fashionable shopping hubs, the Fashion Quadrangle is enclosed by four intersecting streets -- Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni and Corso Venezia.
Here you'll find shops from luxe labels such as Gucci, Armani, Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana. Roberta prefers three more affordable areas: San Babila, Corso Buenos Aires and the Duomo neighborhood.
"You can find everything at these places, not just luxury items," she says. "I drain my credit card at American Apparel."
Models -- they're just like us!
Model Olga Lopatino is a fan of Just Cavalli Restaurant & Club: "You can have cocktails, dine and even party."
Courtesy ice models milan
Freshly scrubbed and empowered by new clothes, the Milan model is ready to start the day. Or, rather, night, which is really the model's day.
First thing to know -- evening drinks rule in Milan, a city where aperitivos often serve as an acceptable substitute for dinner.
"The fashion industry's coolest get-together spot these days is Armani Bamboo Bar (Via Manzoni 31; +39 02 8883 8703)," says photographer Enrico Labriola. "This is where you want to be and be seen by others."
Enclosed in a metal and glass cage-like structure, it's a classy-chic rooftop lounge with illuminated floors and a 360-degree view overlooking the Duomo cathedral. Signature cocktails include the Tokyo Spritz with Aperol, wasabi and fresh ginger -- it's served with mozzarella braids and swordfish sandwiches.
Then there's the Balsamic Martini, made with Gin Mare and white balsamic vinegar. You might expect to find vinegar on your salad rather than in your martini, but the gin counteracts the acidity, giving the martini a dry, pleasant taste. There no dress code at Armani Bamboo Bar -- a pair of blue jeans and a white tee will do.
Defez also likes to hit Fashion Cafe (Via San Marco 1; +39 02 657 202) and Radetzky (Corso Garibaldi 105; +39 02 657 2645).
"Radetzky buzzes with people and it's at the heart of Brera and Moscova, the most trendy districts," she says. "A great place for showing off."
Around midnight, the restaurant at Just Cavalli Club gives way to a thunderous disco. Models abound.
Just Cavalli Club
Models don't do huge meals. So forget massive platters of spaghetti and pizza.
Lopatina and her pals often hang out at Just Cavalli Restaurant & Club (Via Luigi Camoens; +39 02 311 817), which serves snack plates of traditional Italian at a Michelin-star level.
Specialties include raw Sicilian tuna tartare with buffalo cream; linguine pasta with blue lobster; tagliatelle spaghetti with sweet gorgonzola cheese and chestnuts; and Mediterranean octopus with oranges and dried tomatoes.
"It's a nice place to hang out with bella gente, nice-looking and elegant people," says Lopatina. "You can have cocktails, dine and even party. Stay the whole night."
Defez calls the atmosphere at Serendepico (Piazza Castello; +39 02 7209 3846) "fascinating," partly for its location across from an historic site.
"I love sipping my glass of white wine and tasting risotto in front of the Sforza Castle." she says. "It's spellbinding."
Armani Prive is chic and shiny. Just the way Milan's fashion elite like it.
Courtesy Gionata Xerra
The fashion industry works mostly at night, so clubs are natural magnets for models to showcase their hotness and unwind after work. As a result, Milan's discos are among Italy's best.
Defez calls Armani Prive (Via Pisoni 1; +39 02 6231 2655) the most elite club in town.
Located in the Fashion Quadrangle, where houses for all the top brands are located, the club is lit in soft, reddish tones and features a minimalistic Japanese design motif.
"If you want to be noticed you need to wear tight pants and 12-inch high heels, but the dress code doesn't stop you from feeling at ease and having fun," says Defez. It's "different from other clubs, it's not cramped inside. It's spacious."
Defez and Lopatina also suggest The Club (Corso Garibaldi 97; +39 33 8951 5667) and Old Fashion Club (Viale Emilio Alemagna 6; +39 02 805 6231) -- the latter rises from inside Parco Sempione and has a large tree jutting out of its ceiling.
Cover charge at most discos and clubs is around €20. The scenery is worth it.