Shoehorned between a working men’s pizzeria and a cut-price supermarket on Milan’s north-eastern industrial strip, the Nu looks surprisingly relaxed. Even cheery. Its bright, raw concrete entrance juts out eccentrically at 45 degrees – Frank Gehry comes to mind – while its boxy wooden shutters and checkerboard of square windows have a soothingly Everyman, Fifties feel about them. If it didn’t have NU Hotel written on it, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived at the HQ of a start-up cool enough to make it on the wrong side of the tracks.
Then again, it did used to be factory – a fact that architects Nisi Magnoni and Sabrina Gallini were careful to work into their design. Open the door into the foyer – nearly twice the height of your average person, and ten times as wide – and you actually remove the wall. Above the sleek fender-like reception desk, naked bulbs cascade down a geometric light-well made up of giant cogs, like a huge Futurist sculpture. Behind burnt-wood doors, every room has a dimension-bending element – a vast, frosted workshop window, an oversized Sonora lamp by Vico Magistretti, or a brushed steel clothes rack framing the bedhead – that plugs directly into the neighbourhood’s manufacturing past. Our room had a balcony that twisted into a jagged Z shape, giving a dynamic perspective of the post-industrial landscape.
It’s probably a safe bet that Via Feltre never felt the soft slap of D&G mules before the NU arrived. Reviewers often refer to the district around Udine metro station as Lambrate, its slightly more gritty, bar-hopping southern sister. But there’s nothing particularly cool about this side of town. Still, if you like Milan – a city that feels like its channelling Rome, Paris, Shoreditch and Budapest all at the same time – the chances are you’ll like Udine. You can pay a fortune for an overheated box room with Soviet-style amenities in this city (if it was a country, Milan would have the world’s 28th largest economy, with the smallest surface area…), so you can’t beat the NU Hotel on price and quality, especially since it’s just three short metro stops from the central train station.
What We Love
The NU is the brainchild of Massimo Gao, founder of the city’s famous Japanese restaurant of the same name. Gao has opened a dining room on the hotel’s terrazzo enclosed by six five-metre high glass walls. It’s not a million miles from the modern tea houses you sometimes find in high-end districts of Tokyo. Here, guests can enjoy a breakfast buffet of fresh sushi (among more traditional fare) as they watch the sun rise over Milan.
Room to Improve
The staff can come across as a little lost and sullen, with a scared glint in their eyes, but it’s better than the look of loathing and distain some other hip hotels supply as part of the service.
If you are sensitive to noise, we suggest choosing a room on a higher up floor. Note, the Udine metro station is a scant 200m away from the hotel, the trip to the centre takes only 15 minutes.
Via Feltre, 19b, 20132
Tel: +39 02 971545.1
Prada’s soundtrack for its Autumn/Winter 2013-2014 show in Milan – Fade to Grey by Visage – gets the low-key neighbourhood off to a tee.
Reviewer • Steven Durose
Author of two travel guides to France, Steven Durose began his career as the keeper of the Queen’s books at Windsor Castle, jumped into journalism as a researcher on British breakfast TV (where he learnt a lot about which heels to wear with which pencil skirt), and side-stepped into translations via a book on cosmic cults in the South of France. His travel writing has given him a taste for the weird and wild – he’s been hijacked by a tuk-tuk mafia gang in Phnom Penh, eaten grasshoppers in the Vietnamese Alps, skinned rabbits in Touraine, slurped Arabica under armed guard on a coffee plantation in Colombia and sipped tea with Boy George in a greasy spoon in SE1 – but, convinced that there’s no one quite as strange as your neighbours, he now mostly resides in the food-obsessed, art-manic, protest-addicted capital of France. If you’d like to know more about him, visit his website.