Great hotels in Milan are hard to come by. There are the sleek, edgy places, such as the Armani or the Bulgari, on one end, and the slightly stuffy, traditional five-star institutions, like the Principe di Savoia and the Four Seasons, on the other. Finding something that’s both modern and sophisticated isn’t easy.

Enter Portrait, a new hotel by the Lungarno Collection, the Ferragamo family’s hospitality group. The building sits around a 30,000-square-foot 17th-century courtyard in the Quadrilatero neighborhood, where the city’s ladies flock to buy the latest in high fashion. Yet, despite its central location, the city’s residents have never paid it much attention. “Nobody from Milan knows about this building,” Leonardo Ferragamo has said.

Top, the hotel’s reception area; above, a bedroom detail.

As it turns out, the site was once home to the world’s second-oldest seminary. Archbishop of Milan Charles Borromeo constructed it in 1565. His successor, the cardinal Federico Borromeo, later renovated the space, enlisting the help of the then renowned architects Pellegrino Tibaldi, Aurelio Trezzi, and Fabio Mangone. It was passed from hand to hand over the following centuries, becoming a library, a prison, and a hospital under Napoleon.

In the 80s, it became the architect Mario Bellini’s atelier, which Steve Jobs famously visited in 1981. When Bellini closed up shop, in the early 1990s, the building was left under the Church’s ownership. It has sat abandoned, collecting dust, for two decades.

Leonardo Ferragamo first laid eyes on the space in 2013. As well as being the president of Ferragamo, he’d already been in the hospitality business for more than a decade, having opened four hotels in Florence and one in Rome. He fell in love with the building.

Michele Bönan, who handles the interiors of the Cipriani restaurants, designed all of the Portrait’s interiors.

Negotiations over its sale took more than four years, and renovations started quietly in 2018 under the tutelage of the Milanese architect Michele De Lucchi, who restored the Baroque porticos and colonnades to their original splendor. Earlier this year, the fashion set had a sneak peek at the space when Ferragamo hosted its spring 2023 fashion show there. Naomi Campbell and Edward Enninful were among the guests who mingled under the Doric columns.

Today, the property, now open to the public, encompasses three restaurants, a 73-room hotel, a pool, a spa, and 10,000 square feet of retail space. The once somber seminary rooms on the second and third floors have been converted into spacious bedrooms by the architect Michele Bönan, who did all of the building’s interiors.

Dinner at the Portrait.

Bathrooms are also generously sized, done in marble from Carrara. The oak wall paneling, brass door handles, and rattan furniture are reminiscent of Harry’s Bar, in Venice. (Bönan is responsible for designing the interiors for all of the Cipriani restaurants.)

Copies of works from Salvatore Ferragamo’s archives, such as his signature 1937 wedge heel, dot the walls. Windows face either the tranquil courtyard or the back garden. You are sheltered from the city’s busy streets here, so much so that silence is one of the dazzling property’s best attributes.

On the ground floor, an all-day casual restaurant looks out onto the garden, and a second hotel bar is tucked under the building overhang. The former chapel has been converted into an offshoot of the Monaco-based steak house Beefbar. One Italian newspaper called the hotel the “pole of luxury.”

Top, the swimming pool; above, aperitivo offerings.

As for the shops, So-Le Studio, an accessories store by Leonardo Ferragamo’s daughter, Maria Sole, opened this week on the ground level. Milan’s sciure, or well-to-do ladies, are also in a flurry over this week’s opening of their multi-brand boutique of choice, Antonia, under the ground-floor colonnade. (Antonia Giacinti, a co-owner, is rumored to be delighted to finally be near Via Montenapoleone, where all the big designers are; her current store is in the more boutique-y Brera neighborhood.)

The Longevity Suite, a luxury spa offering the latest in anti-aging cryotechnology, will be unveiled in the spring. In the meantime, you can sip your morning espresso on one of Portrait’s exquisite terraces and take in the scene.

Rooms at Milan’s Portrait hotel begin at $905 per night

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL