TRAVEL

Styling up Rome's Sushi Scene with Bruno Barbieri {Review}

Chef Bruno Barbieri celebrates Daruma Seasons.

Bruno Barbieri.  If you live in Italy, you know Bruno.  He's been playing foil to chef Carlo Cracco since the very beginning of Masterchef Italia, and is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The seemingly harmless Emilia Romagna-born Barbieri is a culinary force, tallying up 40 years in the kitchen and 7 Michelin stars.  He's been all over the world, including a research sabbaticaI in Brazil.   Of all the places he appears, I never expected to see him at the neighborhood sushi joint in Rome.

Sushi in Rome has come a long way, baby. At the turn of the century, pre-made, tiny one room shops stocked with refrigerated California rolls populating the city as an economical answer to Hamasei, Rome's historic Japanese restaurant.  For a self-declared California girl like myself, these sushi nooks quenched some nostalgia cravings but not quite.  Even with the k-rab rolls, I still missed my cheap, strip mall sushi joints where fresh uni, red bean miso encrusted cod collar and cherry blossom moshi were mandatory on almost every white-board menu. 

Over the years, Rome grew into the sushi culture, and it evolved from novelty to locality.   Nippon-syled restaurants like Rokko opened in the center, while trendy mod boat sushi started appearing on the outer center neighborhoods like  Prati neighborhood, and a triangle of Ostiense (Via Ostiense -Via del Gazometro- Via del Porto Fluviale) became a neighborhood of Japanese restaurants.  Somewhere in this timeline was Daruma Sushi.

Daruma Parlamento. Photo credit: Daruma Sushi.

I like to consider myself Daruma's first client.  Alessio Tesciuba opened the original outpost (one of those tiny shops with  of rolls, Japanese soft drinks and bags of wasabe peas) somewhere around the time I moved into my Piazza Navona adjacent apartment in 2005.  From the moment I spied Daruma, I was front and center,  showing up once or twice a month for some rolls and a chitchat with Alessio. We talked about everything sushi, Japan and California.  Eventually, I moved out and Daruma moved on- opening new take out/delivery spots around the city and finally opening a sit-down restaurant (among others) in Rome's the historic center by Piazza del Parlamento.

Alessio and his brothers Daniele and and Dennis are overlords of an empire which includes delivery, take out and sit down restaurants, originally sushi and Japanese cuisine, and now Italian-Japanese fusion, thanks to a little help from Bruno, who coincidentally is a client like me- serendipitous finding the spot a few years back and befriending the owner.  Returning from a visit to Japan, Bruno and the Brothers Tesciuba brainstormed the idea Daruma Seasons,  the culinary mash up of Bruno's expertise with inspirations from Japanese cuisine.

The professional photo of Spaghetti alla chitarra (made with algae) con astice (lobster). Photo by Daruma.

"I like the philosophy behind [Japanese food], and the way they treat food with respect", says Barbieri.  "Food is a kind of deity and eating is a real ritual", with similarities to Italian cuisine in "its profound culture of food .... with deep, probing flavors".   Bruno's take is a seasonal experiment of flavors and techniques from both cultures, featuring two new dishes each season season.  My beloved spaghetti alla chitarra, is a crunchy, flavored spaghetti with dried seaweed powder, with lobster, fresh mixed algae and flavored with typically Mediterranean aromas like capers, bottarga and aromatic herbs, and winter's cartoccio di tonno is simply tuna cooked in paper bag and seasoned with peanuts, toasted sesame, vegetables and Teriyaki sauce.

Lately, I've noticed I am not always willing to suggest non-Roman, non-Italian restaurants, but it's time I've updated my mindset.  Barbieri's Daruma Seasons are well-crafted, delightfully tasty and easy pleasers.  Less Italianization (a style of watering down Asian cuisine to make it similarly "palatable" for an Italian audience) and more of a thoughtful plate evolution where Japanese flavors and techniques overlap with Italian counterparts.

Cartoccio tonno e verdure (tuna and vegetable). Photo by Daruma.

Cartoccio tonno e verdure (tuna and vegetable). Photo by Daruma.

LOCATION:  All over. Daruma has six sit-down restaurants across the city in areas including Daruma Parlamento in the historic center's Campo Marzio neighborhood and Daruma Sushi Kosher in the Ghetto. Other Japanese-inspired spots in my little black book: Sakana, a boat sushi spot suggested by my friend Sachiko as a kid-pleaser. Excellent soups.  Kiko for the cool factor. Doozo for its zen-garden inspired private terrace, and Zuma for the view and the cocktails.

 

Suite Life: Rome's Costaguti Experience

If Rome is living history, there is no better way to understand than to actually live in Rome, whether for a few days, years or lifetime. I've chosen the latter, and every day I still find surprisingly different ways of seeing the Eternal City, whether on the hunt for art- ancient or otherwise, or where I lay my head.  A few months back, I was invited to get out of my comfort zone and experience what it would be like to be a Roman nobile with a weekend stay at Costaguti Experience in the historic Palazzo Costaguti, what Renaissance artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari considered one of the best palaces in Rome.

Built in the early 16th century and acquired by the aristocratic Costaguti family in 1578, Palazzo Costaguti was a hub for the Baroque era’s most famous artists who were tasked with creating frescoes through the residence.   Nicolas Poussin, Cavalier d'Arpino and the Zuccari Brothers all spent time lavishing decorating the ceilings with scenes of putti, Aneid and the months of the year.  Today, the Marchese occupies the buildings private apartments, but the  piano nobile (main floor) is open to guests as the ultra-luxe Costaguti experience- a five-bedroom apartment with full-time concierge service.

Billiard room.

Cavalier d'Arpino was here - ceiling fresco in the Billiard room.

Let's be clear:  the apartment is  beautiful and tastefully styled to celebrate both its Baroque history and its contemporary incarnation.  The 50-square-meter salon is the jewel of the Costaguti family for its a richly detailed original wood ceiling and design border a fresco panel series of the Allegory of the Months and the Virtues painted by the Zuccari brothers, and it was our main hangout where we hosted two dinner parties, a lovely wine and cheese tasting organized by Costaguti and Beppe e Suoi Formaggi, one of the city's preeminent cheese makers, and just hung out watching Netflix.  When we needed to walk around, we played pool under my favorite painting, Cavalier d'Arpino's Aneid.

Deciding where to sleep would have been a challenge if we weren't the bosses.  On the first level, there are three rooms, two with wooden ceilings (at 30ft, matching the salon), and we chose the main bedroom with personal hammam. Room 2 was its next door with super king bed and smaller day bay.  Room 3 was charming (read: intimately tiny) with its Poussin putti fresco ceiling, and en suite bathroom, perfect for a godmother or best friend.  Bedrooms 4 and 5 were a short staircase to a mezzanine level where were eye-to-eye with gilded arch molding, an experience that prior to this weekend I have only had from far below.  Bedroom 4 was sultry, nestled in those gorgeous golden arches with a open marble bath area and hidden waterfall shower.  Bedroom 5 is the least interesting, a tastefully simple niche with two twin beds and view of inner courtyard.

Cleaning staff arrived promptly to our designated time each morning, and our kitchen was stocked daily with neighborhood and Roman favorites including Sant'Eustachio coffee and freshly made pastries from Caffe Roscioli.  There were so many more goodies that I don't remember, but I do fondly recall Grazia, our concierge, who was available at all times for all of our questions and incredibly polite when we accidentally shorted the electricity. Note: when staying in a Roman apartment, always discuss the limits of electrical usage and fuse box location.

Read my design review of Costaguti Experience on Pages 24-25 of Rhapsody, United's first class inflight magazine.

The golden arches.... original, gilded molding in the upstairs bathroom.

Zuccari fresco detail in the main salon (ceilings are 30 ft)

Location:  Historic Center, well positioned to public transportation and taxis, as well as easy to walk to all major monuments.  Palazzo Costaguti is my "almost home" landmark,  a great shortcut through Piazza Mattei, the borderline between the Campitelli neighborhood and Rome's Ghetto.  While most are taking photos of the Fontana delle Tartarughe, Giacomo della Porta's and Taddeo Landini's unmissable turtle fountain,  I always stop to look at the monument front entrance with Costaguti written on the lintel, and I think of Tom Ripley, envious friend from Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley, who lived Palazzo Costaguti when he took on Dickie Greenleaf's identity in Rome.

Fontana delle Tartarughe with Palazzo Costaguti entrance in the background.

 

4 Things We Love About the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Credit: Mohamed Somji

"Get thee to a gallery"- my number one travel rule which I generously interpret to mean that when ever I head out of the house, I must put myself in front of art, whether museum, gallery space, public art project, or graffiti.  For me, looking at art is how I get out of my head and is always a close friend I can rely on whenever I am traveling solo.  Seeking out tried-and-tested museums or new street art serendipities, I love any art encounter possible. And yes, I will travel for art.  Over the years, I have eagerly watched the development of Saadiyat Island, a man-made museum island that would bring together blockbuster museums with star architects in United Arab Emirates' Abu Dhabi, but never dreamed I'd have the chance to visit.  In March, I walked through what I consider the Museum of the 21st century, and  I'm about to share four good reasons why you should visit too.

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.

Making a Splash in UAE’s Art World. Credit: Mohamed Somji

After opening in November 2017 to much fanfare, Louvre Abu Dhabi is making its mark on the UAE’s cultural scene in a big way. With chef-driven cuisine, modern design and an international collection spanning the centuries, this awe-inspiring spot is a must-stop for anyone traveling to the city.

These are just four of the things we love about this trend-setting museum.

The Architecture
A work of art in itself, Louvre Abu Dhabi is worth a visit if only to marvel at its otherworldly visage. To house the international museum, Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel created a monumental masterpiece designed to look as if the future has landed.

Sitting atop a series of low rectangular buildings, a gorgeous dome of latticed metal composed of 7,850 geometric stars of various sizes allows sunlight to cascade through onto the whitewashed galleries and courtyards below, resulting in a visually stunning “rain of light.”

With a design reminiscent of an Arabian medina, the Abu Dhabi museum is made up of 55 detached buildings, 23 of which are dedicated galleries. The entire structure features a white-on-white palette with a blend of standard materials such as marble, concrete and metal that allows the artwork, the building’s phenomenal lines and spectacular gulf backdrop to take center stage.

Or, head to the Art Lounge, the open-air café atop the restaurant whose plush relaxation area rubs shoulders with the brim of Nouvel’s show-stopping dome.

Photo credit: Erica Firpo

The Collection
Since 2009, Louvre Abu Dhabi has steadfastly been building an impressive collection that counts more than 600 pieces, from ancient to contemporary art, in its permanent reserve.

In honor of its partnership with Paris, the museum pairs 300 of its pieces side-by-side with 300 important works from 13 prominent French museums, including a Pollock from the Pompidou, a Monet from the d’Orsay and a statue of Ramses II from the Louvre. Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière and Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of Lightare two other stare-worthy pieces. The chronologically arranged collection is both a walk through art history as well as a narrative on the historical overlaps of art. 

The permanent collection is a fascinating array. Paintings, sculptures and artifacts from different civilizations are displayed through the galleries in 12 distinct chapters to help foster a dynamic understanding of the interconnectivity of the world across time.

Whistler's Mother.  Photo credit: Erica Firpo

Giuseppe Penone's Tree. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

Ai Wei Wei. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

The Restaurants (well, really the view)
With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Arabian Gulf, chef-driven cuisine and plates as pretty as the art on the walls, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s bistro-style restaurant and café are a surprising standout. Overseen by chef Roudy Petersen (of the popular Abu Dhabi seafood spot Catch), the museum’s eatery is a tasty detour after a morning of exploring the galleries.

Small but flavorful (and Instagrammable) bites are the name of the game here — try the camel mini burger dressed with harissa sauce and za’atar or the cool and crisp watermelon salad with coriander cress.

Or, head to the Art Lounge, the open-air café atop the restaurant whose plush relaxation area rubs shoulders with the brim of Nouvel’s show-stopping dome.

The Rotating Exhibitions
Louvre Abu Dhabi also aims to invigorate the Emirati art scene with four exhibitions that change every few months. The inaugural lineup includes “Co-Lab: Contemporary Art and Savoir Faire” (ending May 6), a collaboration between four UAE artists and four French manufacturers, and “Globes: Visions of the World,” an exhibition exploring humanity’s quest for knowledge and adventure through astronomy in the ancient Arabic and Islamic world.

Taking it outdoors, Louvre Abu Dhabi organized an interactive Highway Gallery on the Sheikh Zayed Road to Dubai where 10 30-by-19-foot billboards featuring the museum’s masterpieces were curated with accompanying 30-second radio broadcasts to make even your drive into the city a bit cultured.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton Milan Stands Out in the City That Never Stands Still

Montenapoleone Terrace Suite. All photos by Diego de Pol / Courtesy of Baglioni Hotel Carlton.

MILAN – Without a doubt, Milan is Italy’s It city, a fabulous melting pot of fashion, design, tech, finance, and art. The latest addition to its pantheon of awesomeness is the hotel scene. Whether beautiful boutiques or curated chains, Milan’s hotel vibe is evolving, much like the city itself.  

But the fact is Milan has always had amazing hotels. It is an old-school city with old-school institutions that have not only withstood the perils of time and trend, but also set the bar for all of the new entries.  
 
My monthly Milan visits from Rome are often a quick 24 hours of business and pleasure, which means my hotel has to be centrally located, preferably quiet, and near a park. My latest trip brought me to the Baglioni Hotel Carlton, which is the perfect address for a Gemini like me. It sits hidden in the busy historic center within walking or biking distance of everything from business to art and window shopping. The interiors are a celebration of its original 1960s rococo decor and its 21st-century incarnation as homage to the best of contemporary Italian design. The ultimate urban manse, Hotel Carlton is stylish and subtle, chic and private, the kind of place for a great weekend affair.

Terrace Suite.

Junior Suite.

Checking In

Location
The hotel is in San Babilia, on the border of Centro Storico and Palestro. A ten-minute walk from Milan’s Duomo, the hotel is located in the fashion district of the historic center. Eye candy and haute couture await at every step.

Hotel Style
A quiet and elegant mansion styled exactly as you would expect from Milan: Art Deco lines with antique furniture, brocade silks, Venetian chandeliers, and bathrooms with resplendent marble.

This Place Is Perfect For
An entourage, couples, families, business travelers, and solo travelers looking for white-glove service, elegance, and a discreet position that is also centrally located.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone trying to get papped. The Carlton is discreet, not showy.

What’s on Site
Spiga 8 Spa, with an entrance on via Spiga for external guests. Gym. Three meeting rooms (one large, two small) for business guests. Private indoor garage.

Food + Drink
Milan institution Il Baretto al Baglioni is the historic on-site restaurant, an intimate anachronism to yesteryear Milan where the table you’re given is as important as the meal you’re eating. The menu is light Milanese and Mediterranean dishes including local favorites cotoletta alla Milanese (veal cutlet) and, of course, risotto.

The lounge are Caffè Baglioni hosts breakfast, a multi-cultural buffet that will appease anyone with intolerances and is included in the room price, and lunch, where menu items include special dietary options (must maintain the line for those Milan fashions…). The space doubles as afternoon/evening lounge for aperitif hour. In warm months, Baglioni’s garden is a great hang out.

The dining room at Il Baretto al Baglioni

A Caffè Baglioni dining room overlooking the gardens.

Number of Rooms
87 rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities
All the Ortigia products you could dream of, from hair and beauty care to wondrous bath salts and creams. Sumptuous bathrobes and the spongiest, most comfortable hotel slippers I have ever tried. Fresh fruit, a bottle of prosecco, Nespresso machine, and the standard set up of mini-bar snacks, including artisanal dried fruits and salted nuts. WiFi is free and fast.

Drawbacks
I can’t think of a single one.

Standout Detail
Lino the concierge. His father was one of the first concierges on staff when the hotel opened in 1962. Lino grew up at the hotel. He knows everything.

Checking Out

Neighborhood
Centro Storico/Fashion Quadrangle

What to Do Nearby
The hotel has a back door onto via Spiga, the pedestrian shopping road lined with luxury labels, part of the network of fabulous fashion streets in the Montenapoleone area. Across from the hotel is Fornasetti, the flagship store and multi-floor museum dedicated to avant-garde artist and design Piero Fornasetti. Farther along the road is Villa Necchi Campiglio, the home you may have seen in the Tilda Swinton movie I Am Love — it's Milan’s glorious answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper class living. For a breath of fresh air, Milan's Giardini Pubblici and GAM-Gallera Arte Moderna are a five-minute walk, while ten minutes in the opposite direction will take you directly to the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Good to Know
Guests have access to a side door leading on via Spiga, which is great for quiet entrances in the late evening.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
The hotel is a 10-minute cab ride from Milano Centrale train station or an hour from Milano-Malpensa (MXP) airport.

Getting Around
Public transport options abound: bicycle, taxis, trams, bus, and metros. But (almost) everything you will want to do in Milan is just a walk from the hotel.

Book It

Rates from $415. Click here for reservations.

Florence's Hotel Savoy Reopens with an Gorgeous New Pucci-Designed Lobby

View from the Grand View suite.

Firenze, I write with a sigh.  Florence has been on my mind again and again this year.  And initially, I attributed my knee-jerk sigh (which first started as a groan) to shrewd marketing resulting magazine editorials and "top ten in the world" lists.  As I started visiting the city over the past six month, a day trip here, and over night trip there, what I realize is that I am definitely sighing in happiness.  I walk around the City of Lilies, and I see a steadfastly resolution to maintaining its identity borne from the tenements of its Medici heyday while incorporating the 21st century in its way of life.  I easily sense a palpable pride its 500-year-history of artisans, shown through active investment in its modern artists and artisans, something that needs to be replicated in other Italian cities. 

For Condè Nast Traveler (April 2018),  I met up with Laudomia Pucci, daughter of famed designer Emilio Pucci, and Olga Polizzi, Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, about their collaboration on the new look to the historic Hotel Savoy, an investment of creative and Florentine artisans. Enjoy the story and scroll through for my brief review on Hotel Savoy.

The storied hotel in the heart of Florence is looking fresher than ever.

Florence’s Hotel Savoy is back—and you can’t miss it. Following a six-month closure, the famed hotel has reopened its doors today, with a rebooted look that plays on its century-long history as the Grand Dame of Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica. Even better: They teamed up with Emilio Pucci Design for the newly over-the-top main entrance, a first for the storied fashion house.

“It always starts with a scarf,” says Laudomia Pucci, Emilio Pucci’s daughter and image director of the Florentine fashion house known for brilliantly patterned and colorful designs.

Here’s how the story begins. Pucci imagined a new scarf, with the images of both the Hotel Savoy and Piazza Della Repubblica while The Savoy’s Director of Design, Olga Polizzi, handled the architectural aspects of restoring the grand lobby to bring back the original grandeur of the entrance with raised ceilings and exposed columns. Then Polizzi washed it in an entirely white palette, giving Pucci the freedom to accent the space with vivid Mediterranean colors—a medley of blues, blacks, and even a dash of pink woven through custom furniture pieces, pillows, and a handmade statement carpet. “The colors always tell a story with a narrative of design,” Pucci says.

The Laudomia Pucci scarf that started it all. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

While the lobby is more grand than ever before, the reboot is also a tale of a dramatic downsizing. The hotel’s room count was reduced from 102 to 80, giving Polizzi the freedom to reconfigure four Grand View suites, each of which is a stunner of a #RoomWithAView.

The new Presidential Suite, a palatial top-floor ensemble of light colors and marbles, hand-painted dendritic wallpaper, handcrafted furnishings from Italian brands (including Chelini Firenze and C&C Milano), and curious vintage knick knacks that Polizzi handpicked at Florence’s Mercato dei Pulci. And then there’s the Panoramic suite, a duplex pied-à-terre, that sits eye-level to Brunelleschi’s dome.

“The Savoy is reflection of the personality of the city,” says Polizzi. “Florence is fun—she’s the whimsical, naughty, younger sister of Rome.”

As for that Pucci scarf that started the story, its image is now printed—in blue and fuchsia—on the tabletops of Irene, the Savoy’s terrace cafe on Piazza della Repubblica, which is the place for people watching in the city. So while the new lobby and new suites are grand, that’s where we’ll be enjoying the view this spring.

 View Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Grand View Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Junior Deluxe Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Junior Deluxe Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Why Reserve?

Hotel Savoy is a great luxury hotel for those who want to be in the very center of everything, desire white glove pampering and love old school grandeur.  The price tag is high but it is worth it for its location, and only if your wallet can handle it.  On the corner of Piazza della Repubblica, across from my favorite Caffe Gilli, and a two-minute walk to the Duomo and the Grand Museo del Duomo, Hotel Savoy has got an enviable geo-tag.   In five minutes, you can walk to Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Signoria, and Baslica of San Lorenzo whereas in 15 minutes (depending on the direction) you'll see David at the Accademia and Fra Angelico at San Marco museum, enjoy the Santa Croce neighborhood and the Sant'Ambrogio market,  and peruse the artisan boutiques the Oltrarno neighborhood.  You'll have to add more minutes walking for Piazzale Michelangelo and Boboli Gardens. 

The hotel vibe is chic as soon as you walk in the door, and more so with Polizzi/Pucci reboot.  Though this is an old school grand hotel, the vibe is intimate and rooms feel homey, as in the stylish home you would love to own. The upgrade means more spacious rooms and lighter colors.  And though there is no spa,  the basement is home to a lounge/sitting room and a brand new multi-space gym- four room enfilade with hardwood floors, light colors and great Techno gym workout machines. One of the rooms is a designated open space for personal training and yoga sessions.

Bottom line:  Old school grandeur just got a contemporary reboot while maintaining true to its impeccable, century-long hospitality.

Designers Olga Polizzi and Laudomia Pucci.

Shore Thing: Hamburg's latest luxury The Fontenany

The Fontenay, Hamburg, Germany

This article first appeared in Hemispheres Magazine, April 2018.

Hamburg’s first new luxury hotel in nearly two decades takes full advantage of its lakeside setting

The View: The Fontenay takes its name from 19th-century shipbroker John Fontenay, who once owned this plot of land on the shores of manmade Lake Alster. Depending on the season and the corresponding level of greenery on the surrounding trees, the lake can be seen from more than half of the 131 rooms and suites, which are done in aqua, beige, and cream and bathed in natural light.

The Building: Architect Jan Stormer’s undulating, white-tiled facade is made up of three intertwining circles, inspired by the curves of the lake. The building is set in a lush, pastoral stand of beech, oak, and sycamore trees. Inside the rooms and suites, parquet floors are made from oaks harvested, appropriately, in the forest of the Fontenay Abbey in Burgundy, France.

The Spa: Sitting pretty on the hotel’s roof terrace is the signature Fontenay spa, where many of the full-service treatments incorporate sea-inspired Creme de la Mer lotion made with nutrient-rich fermented sea kelp. The best seat in the house is on the edge of the 66-foot indoor-outdoor infinity pool, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline.

The Restaurants: Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Speinle—who has cooked at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and his own Dreizehn Sinne in Switzerland— helms the rooftop restaurant, Lakeside. On the ground floor, the casual eatery John’s edges right up on the lakefront.

The Surroundings: Originally a medieval reservoir, Lake Alster is now a picture- perfect picnic destination and Hamburg’s premier outdoor recreation spot. Keep it simple with a pick-up Frisbee game or break a sweat canoeing, kayaking, kiteboarding, or even ice-kiting on one of the rare occasions when the lake freezes over. In August, it’s all about Alstervergnügen, a four-day festival that floods the park with some 500 artists, acrobats, and athletes.

Fashion Find: Gucci Garden, Florence

This Store Rejects Labels

Gucci Garden by Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. Courtesy of Gucci.

This article originally appeared in American Way Magazine, April 2018.

Gucci transforms a palazzo into a multifaceted retail fantasy

Gucci has fun blurring the lines between fashion, food, history and art with its latest enterprise, Gucci Garden. The space, which recently opened in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, explores the Italian brand’s past and future, and rocks a trattoria with a menu by three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura (pictured right).

While an on-site boutique sells items only available at the Gucci Garden, creative director Alessandro Michele insists the project is less about creating a retail environment and more about dreaming up a fantasy world— with the Gucci brand at its center. “The Garden is real,” he says, “but it belongs above all to the mind.”


Read the April issue of American Way magazine here.

Boutique. Courtesy of Gucci.

Massimo Bottura's Gucci Osteria. Courtesy of Gucci.

Artist Jayde Fish's whimsical murals. Courtesy of Gucci.

Did I mention there is a cinema? Courtesy of Gucci.

4 Rome Restaurants With Remarkable Views

Hotel Hassler Roma. Credit: Hotel Hassler Roma

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, March 2018, and is a favorite of mine since there is nothing better than a view of Rome.

Rome is a city whose personality shines through its visible history — an incredible cityscape of monuments, palaces and piazzas, which are all usually experienced at ground level. But to truly know the Italian capital, you have to head to new heights. Here are some of the top terrace restaurants guaranteed to make you fall in love over and over again with the Eternal City.

Imàgo
View: Domes of the historic city center

Situated on the sixth floor of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Hassler Roma, this excellent restaurant is a favorite spot for locals and visitors thanks to its walls of windows overlooking the historic city center. From your perch at this stylish spot, you’ll be able to see at least a dozen notable palaces and monuments, among them the ornate Altare della Patria (Victor Emmanuel II monument) and the majestic church of Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona.

The acclaimed restaurant is directed by chef Francesco Apreda, whose tradewind travels led to a playful seasonal menu that combines traditional Italian recipes with subtle Asian influences. Dine on dishes like veal carpaccio with persimmon, nori seaweed and escarole ravioli and sake-glazed black cod as you watch the sun set over the Eternal City skyline.

View from La Pergola. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Pergola
View: A sweeping city panorama

Perched on the ninth floor of Four-Star Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in the Monte Mario neighborhood, this stunning establishment occupies a verdant hill about 15 minutes from the city center. In other words, La Pergola offers a sweeping perspective of the entire Eternal City.

Chef Heinz Beck has perfected the art of interpretation in Italian cuisine — he delivers a 10-course menu that left Michelle Obama asking for more. The former first lady was so enamored with Beck’s fagottelli (tiny cheese-filled pasta parcels) carbonara that she asked for the recipe.

Getting a reservation at this scenic spot is about as difficult as getting a private audience with the pope — give yourself at least two and half months in advance and be sure to ask for a terrace table. If privacy is paramount, then be sure to book the private dining room — a gorgeous gilded, glass-enclosed terrace that Gianni Versace would have loved.

Aroma Restaurant
View:  A front row seat to the Colosseum

There is nothing like the Colosseum, the world’s largest amphitheater famously known for its days of bloody sport. Ever wonder what it would have been like to have a ticket — even if it’s for one of the cheap seats? When you book a table at Aroma, the rooftop restaurant of Palazzo Manfredi, it’s almost possible.

The elegant eatery features a full-frontal vista of Rome’s most iconic monument — an unforgettable and unobstructed view that is a scene for proposals. Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio complements the backdrop with his top-notch cuisine. Expect plenty of creative, seafood-centric Mediterranean plates, such as red-cabbage-marinated octopus, roasted scallops with sweet pepper and lime cream and sea bass stewed in tomatoes, garlic and parsley.

Hotel Eden's Vista. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Terrazza
View: Downtown Rome

Rome’s panorama is a cascade of domes and bell towers, and there is no better place to take in the sweeping vistas than from this heralded restaurant on the terrace of the Five-Star Hotel Eden. You’ll want to book a front row table at La Terrazza just in time to watch the sun set across the city and St. Peter’s dome illuminate in the night sky. 

Chef Fabio Ciervo considers the terrace his masterpiece and focuses on quality-of-life dishes that have put him at the forefront of the evolution of Italian cuisine. His spin on the traditional cacio e pepe pasta includes Madagascar pepper and rose perfume, and his stracotto di manzo (slow-cooked pot roast) is a delicious bite of beef that will leave you speechless.

50 Shades of Blue and 15 Shades of White at Casa Angelina on the Amalfi Coast

This article first appeared in Fathom, March 2018

The all-white Casa Angelina nestled into the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. All photos courtesy of Casa Angelina

PRAIANO, Italy — The Amalfi Coast. When I imagine it, I think in blues, an infinite palette from lights to dark, just as moody as the Mediterranean, turning from a dramatic phthalo of a morning temporale (rain storm) into a vibrant indigo in the afternoon sun. When I was a kid, my family used to visit La Costiera for a few days here and there, and my sister and I spent all our time jumping into the sea from makeshift “beaches” made from leftover rocks. The water was chilly and dark, but every now and then a light patch would shine through, and we’d pretend it was a mermaid holding a lantern. The seaside was our liquid blue playground with salt water and sunburns.

My mental color palette changed drastically after a four-day meditation weekend at Casa Angelina. The cascading, white-washed palace inspired me to give up the blues for a clean slate or 15 or more shades of white that Casa Angelina constantly curates to create a harmonious — and dare I say Zen — counterbalance to the hotel’s precarious position on the cliffs of Praiano.

I chose a late October weekend as my Me Time escape from Rome. By the end of October, the Amalfi Coast is pretty much all locals (and the visitors who can just about pass). Although there was absolutely no promise of good weather, I rolled the dice and enjoyed the incredible warmth of October sun, which shines soft and strong, like the end of the last day of summer.

Casa Angelina, however, glows year-round, and its location — isolated but in the middle of it all — makes it a quiet retreat for those seeking calm as well as a central hub for those seeking Amalfitana action.

Checking In

Location
Praiano. Say it a few times in a row and you’ll be mesmerized. Even more so once you see the Amalfi Coast’s sapphire blue waters. A 15-minute drive south from Positano, Casa Angelina greets you just before you enter the tiny town of Praiano. An auspicious position in the cliffs gives guests an unobstructed view from the cove to the Mediterranean panorama. If you take a second, you can even spot the Fariglioni of Capri in the distance.

Hotel Style
A palette of whites, the cascading hotel is painted with more than 15 shades of the hue, creating a feeling of all-embracing peacefulness and tranquility. An open-plan layout, ; tasteful, minimal décor accented with vibrant contemporary paintings and sculptures; and floor-to-ceiling windows with a never-ending views of the sea all contribute to the modern vibe, making Casa Angelina unabashedly contemporary and constantly in the now.

This Place Is Perfect For
Couples who want a sexy getaway or are looking for a meditative and outdoorsy vibe with the perfect mix of relaxation and no-stress retreat. Casa Angelina is also the place for a fabulous destination party — a wedding, birthday, my tenth anniversary, a secret affair.

But Not So Perfect For
Families. Casa Angelina’s golden rule is no guests under 12 years of age, and, frankly, it’s a great idea. The gorgeous hotel, with its meters of white on whites and hundreds of steps, is an accident waiting to happen for anyone in the primary school crew.

Wait, this isn't white?!? I know, it's the gorgeous Cigar Room.

What’s on Site
All you really need to do is relax on a chaise on your terrace and watch the sea. But when you get up, there’s a beautiful, sea-facing spa with the latest Techno gym gear. Go on: Treadmill into the sunset. The small gym also has light weights and machines, a lap pool, and a sauna, as well as yoga and personal training sessions. The hotel has a small spa with skin and body care treatments, but I think the best wellness thing around here is a dip in the sea. Off the Marrakech lounge is a tranquil outdoor pool and deck with a Japanese garden vibe.

Food + Drink
Un Piano nel Cielo (which translates as “a floor in the sky”), the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, is aiming higher than the sky (#michelingoalz), serving fine dining with an Amalfi vibe — relaxed, comfortable, and stylish, with a seasonal and local menu. Desserts are fabulous. Marrakech Bar, inspired by the owner’s love of Morocco, is an open-space lounge with a front row to the Med and great cocktails like limoncello mojito. Cigar aficionados will appreciate the Cigar Room just off the Marrakech Bar, where a tobacco-colored humidor is stocked with lots of Cubans (Cohiba, Romeo Y Julieta, and Partagas), and vintage grappas.

Number of Rooms
39 rooms and suites, all with seaside views. Each room is a ceiling-to-floor celebration of white and contemporary design with Philippe Starck lighting, Flos bed, and Driade chairs — all white, light chrome, and clear polycarbonate.

In-Room Amenities
You had me at Etro. The chic Italian fashion house gets you between the sheets with pristine cotton linens and cuddles up with you with its plush robes. The bathroom is stocked with Jo Malone products, while the room itself is straight out of Architectural Digest: premium Apple, Bang & Olufsen, and Nespresso tech; Philippe Starck lighting; Flos bed; Driade chairs. 

Dining Outside – Casa Angelina .jpg
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Drawbacks
I can’t really think of any. Maybe the traffic in the summer months is a pain, but, hey, you’re not here to leave the property, unless you’re going by boat.

Standout Detail
Everything is standout — from the white on white and the gorgeous design elements to the ever-present, impeccably dressed staff in their cashmere sweaters, loose-fitted linen pants, and Positano slides who deliver everything from a warm welcome and local intel to fresh almond milk. 

But what truly blew my mind were the Eaudesea rooms: four beautifully designed rooms built into fishermen’s caves. Pure rustic, nautical chic. The Eaudesea are completely separate from the rest of Casa Angelina and come with two full-time butlers on site for all needs. The butlers set up a fabulous, open-air breakfast on the private terrace area each morning. Eaudisea guests have access to Casa Angelina’s private boat for taxi trips to where ever they want to go.

Checking Out

No matter how busy the Amalfi Coast can get in the summer months, it is one of Italy’s most spectacular landscapes, dramatically set into the cliffs of the Campania countryside. So gorgeous and historic, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Check the Fathom Amalfi Coast Guide for the complete to-do.

Beach
Yes, you are in the cliffs, but just 200 steps down from Casa Angelina is La Gavitella, a private beach club carved into the rock, facing west to Positano, which means optimum sunlight through the day and into the evening. La Gavitella has an area dedicated exclusively to Casa Angelina guests.

Walk
Praiano is a walking city, and it’s an easy, uphill climb from Casa Angelina. The charming town is one of the starting points for Il Sentiero degli Dei, The Path of the Gods, a five-mile nature trek along stunning gorges, cliffs and precipices of the Amalfi Coast.

Village Hop
Yes, you should take a trip to top hits Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello. But remember too that the coast is teeming with tiny fishing towns like Maiori, Minori, Cetara, and Furore — and the best way to discover them is by boat. For the more ambitious, take a day trip to islands Capri and Procida or go inland to archaeological sites PompeiErcolano, and Paestum.

Photo by Erica Firpo

Photo by Erica Firpo

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Either take the train to Naples Central station or fly into Naples Airport (NAP). From there, it’s a windy, 90-minute drive (depending on traffic, and your timing will vary) to Praiano. Twenty airlines fly in Naples, including major European carriers like Alitalia, British Airways, Turkish Airways, Lufthansa, and Air France. 

Getting Around
You will need transport to get around Praiano. There are buses and taxis, and Praiano itself is a quaint walk. Scooters are a great solution for local travel and are rentable in town. Casa Angelina provides hourly shuttle service to Positano. If you just want to visit other coastal towns like Amalfi, Casa Angelina can organize shuttle service, but you’ll have more fun coast-hopping with the hotel’s private boat. If you plan on day-tripping in land, hire a car.

The Best Hostels in Rome

Generator Rome

The Best Hostels in Rome first appeared in The Telegraph, February 2018. I've updated my article with a little background.

I know what you are thinking.  Or better yet, I know what you are feeling. The mere mention of the word hostel sends shivers down my spine, too.  I get full sensory nostalgia, I think of that creepy-crawly feeling when some one rustled through my backpack in the middle of the night in a 12-person dorm in Berlin, then my ears fill will grating waling (not mine) while I was locked in a small room in a women’s sanatorium in Genova, and finally, I get heat flashes remembering from languid evenings in Siem Reap with politics, playing cards and pot.

Yep, I am from The Beach generation of backpackers, when hostels were cheap and cheerful.  Design and amenities weren’t even part of the dialogue because back then.  It was a cash-only culture of affordability (about $8/night) where the return was only convenience, conversation and a blind step to the next adventure.  Hosteling in 2018 is nothing like the 1990s, and we have social media to thank for that.  Hostels are curated with gorgeous community spaces meant for hang out instead of get out.  No longer lounges of left-over books, architecture and cheap service, hostels are destinations and experiences worth sharing, and better yet, worth posting.  Savvy owners/managers are well-informed of that insta-promotion clicks bring in more, and they are more and more unified in their goal for full (and at times personal) service and great, okay, decent design.   For the Telegraph, I had fun writing about the best hostels* in Rome and are the answers two questions my friends always asked while researching:

Generator Rome.

Why a hostel and not a hotel, bed and breakfast or AirBnB?   Hosteling is all about personal choice.  You want to maximize your euro, dollars and dirham, by saving on services. And for the low price, there is a built-in social scene, which is what the 21st century hostel owners/management are counting on.  Community Experience -  from lounges to bars, hairdresssers, cooking classes, climbing walls and more, hostels are creating environments, and places like The Yellow  are creating worlds. 

Isn’t a hostel only for 20-somethings?  Not at all.  Because of the global market, i.e. everyone wants to and can travel (somewhat) affordably, smart hostels are savvy to all generations with services and boarding choices - private rooms, all female dormitories, family suites with bathrooms and kitchens.

Some hostels like Next Generation declined to participate in this review. I do think it’s worth a look.

From The Telegraph. . . .An insider's guide to the top hostels in Rome, including the best for affordable prices, private rooms, shared dormitories, boutique style and sociable atmospheres in locations such as the Monti neighbourhood and near to the Termini station.  

Generator Rome.

Generator Rome

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Rome’s first 'poshtel' is a chic, boutique accommodation with a youthful vibe and a contemporary-meets-retro décor. It is on par with a decent design hotel. The location is slightly out of the way, but nevertheless close to the city's lively Monti neighbourhood and with excellent transport links at nearby Termini Station. A tranquil palette of forest greens, violets and light grey colour all rooms, whose only furniture include cosy white linen beds, vintage-style desks, lamps and armoires. The 12 dormitories have a maximum of four beds each, while the remaining 53 are private rooms with double beds.Read expert review

The Yellow

The Yellow

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Rome’s premier party hostel is ideal for travellers in their 20s looking for a comfortable bed and an interactive social scene. It has a creative and artsy vibe, and a rooftop terrace and small garden hang-out for film screenings during the summer months. The 95 rooms are divided into dormitories and private rooms (doubles, triples and quads) with a total of around 320 beds. Dorm options include mixed or female-only, with en suite or shared bathrooms. Overall décor is a chic minimalist. It's just a 10-minute walk to Termini train station.Read expert review

The Blue

The Blue Hostel

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Seven heavenly-styled guest suites in a former convent, housed in a 17th-century palazzo around the corner from the Monti neighborhood. Rome's main railway station, Termini, is just round the corner, providing excellent transport links to the rest of the city. Each of the rooms are tastefully decorated with handmade, upholstered headboards, framed black and white photos, original artwork and vintage desks and chairs. En-suite bathrooms are stocked with HG Bigelow hair and body care products. All rooms have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, heating, mini fridges, coffee makers and televisions.Read expert review

Hostella

Hostella

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

A cheap and cheerful women-only hostel with a casual and homely vibe, offering simple dormitory accommodation. It's located close to Rome’s Termini Station, so well placed for exploring the city or striking out to see the surrounding countryside. There are six shared dorm-style rooms (in two apartments) accommodating three to four beds each. Décor is simple, with Ikea beds, desks and cabinets with locks, and all have air-conditioning and heating. There are four shared bathrooms (three with showers); Room Six, a spacious loft conversion, has an en suite.Read expert review

The Bee Hive

The Beehive

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

A boutique hostel with a whimsical style and an eco-conscious vibe. The Beehive's many personal touches give it the feel of a home away from home. Close to the Termini Station, the hostel is excellently situated for transport links in and out of the city. Of the Beehive’s 12 rooms, 10 are private and two are shared dormitories sleeping four. They are quiet, airy and spacious, exhibiting a simple design, with one or two pieces scattered about, like intricate ceramics by a local Italian artists and small furniture pieces from the owners' travels to Bali. All rooms have Wi-Fi, fans and heating.Read expert review

Alessandro Palace

Alessandro Palace

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

This is one of Rome’s original hostels; a no-frills dormitory with an active social scene that draws in a young crowd. It's within walking distance of Termini Station and enjoys excellent transport links to the rest of the city. Friendly staff members organise on-site events that keep the sociable atmosphere bubbling. Communal areas have kitschy charm with their Ancient Rome-inspired murals. The 120 beds are spread across dorms sleeping two, four, six and eight (mixed and women-only, spartanly decorated, with en suite and shared bathrooms), and private rooms in the Annex, a separate apartment building.

Alessandro Downtown

Alessandro Downtown Hostel

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

A nuts and bolts hostel, centrally located in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood and in close proximity to the vibrant Monti neighbourhood, as well as the transport hub of Termini Station. Like its counterpart Alessandro Palace, the Downtown has the same cheap and cheerful hostel dormitory vibe. The 20 rooms are vaguely reminiscent of university dorms – no design style, just bunk beds (four, six or eight), simple table and chairs, and storage lockers. Several rooms have en-suite bathrooms, and if not there are communal bathrooms – both mixed and female-only – just like the dorm options.Read expert review