The Principe is a bastion of old-guard glamour among the minimalist hotels that are cropping up across Milan. There's marble everywhere, Murano glass fittings and wood-panelled walls. All in all the hotel's decadent interiors stand out against the Armani-grey furnishings and raw cement surfaces that prevail elsewhere.
During Milan Fashion Week, which starts today, the hotel is the bolthole of choice for the couture industry. Usually the clientele is a mix of business travellers, celebrities and even royalty (Her Majesty the Queen has stayed – and if she'd brought the corgis, she'd have discovered that there's a dinner option on the room service menu for guests' dogs).
Founded in 1927, the hotel was taken over in 2003 by the Dorchester Collection, and the group spent €14m (£10.7m) to ensure that the Principe was restored to its former glory. The main restaurant, Acanto, reopened in May 2006, with a new chef, Fabrizio Cadei, who focuses on traditional Italian food by using regional seasonal produce. In addition, 48 "Deluxe Mosaic" rooms have been refurbished, with particular attention being paid to the bathrooms. The rooms are Neo-Classical, Venetian or Florentine in style– with heavy velvet furnishings and damask walls.
But the overall style of the hotel is perhaps best appreciated in the "winter garden" bar, where panels of marble adorn the walls, Art Nouveau-style carpets cover the floor and white marble statues frame a tinkling fountain. This eclectic mix may feel over-the-top, but it all begins to make sense if you have a chance to check out the three-roomed Presidential suite. One of Europe's largest suites, it is modelled on a Roman bath house.
The service, too, is imbued with a belle époque air. When I asked to book what turned out to be an overpriced and overrated restaurant, the concierge carefully steered me towards a simple but fantastic alternative in the Brera district called Bebel's.
Hotel Principe di Savoia, Piazza della Repubblica 17, Milan, Italy (00 39 02 6230 5555; www.hotelprincipedisavoia.com). Location is the Principe's main weakness – the Piazza della Repubblica, a large square of office blocks and advertising hoardings which it overlooks, has certainly seen better days. Having said that, Il Duomo and the centre of town are only a 20-minute walk away and a complimentary limousine service runs from the hotel to the Piazza della Scala every 15 minutes (depending on the time of day), so you can arrive at the Armani store on Via Manzoni in some style.
Time from international airport: the most convenient gateway, Linate (served by BA and Alitalia) is a 20-minute drive. Orio al Serio, the low-cost hub, is a 45-minute drive; Malpensa is the same distance.
The guest rooms are lavishly decorated, with the decor firmly moored in turn-of-the-century traditional Italian. Our room, one of the refurbished Mosaic Rooms, was in the Florentine style, with soft grey and blue furnishings, a vast bed towering with pillows and cushions, embossed leather covering the wardrobe doors, and traditional rosewood furniture. The highlight was definitely the bathroom, almost as big as the bedroom, with a huge bath and state-of-the art power shower, all in white marble except for the beautiful blue mosaic which mirrored the colours of the bedroom. If pampering yourself in this kind of bathroom isn't enough, the hotel has a health and beauty centre on the top floor, with a gym and a pool as well as a spa offering every type of treatment from shiatsu to lymphatic massages.
Freebies: soft drinks in the mini-bar, plus regular treats delivered each afternoon before dinner – chocolates, small cakes or glacé fruits; in the bathroom, Aqua di Parma products quietly breed.
Keeping in touch: LCD high-definition flat-screen TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi in all the rooms and direct-dial telephones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Classic double rooms start at €345 (£265), room only.
I'm not paying that: The Hotel Cavour (Via Fatebenefratelli 21; 00 39 02 620 001; www.hotelcavour.it) is a traditional hotel with a good central location, just off the Piazza Cavour and near the central shopping district. Doubles start at €219 (£168), room only.