TRAVEL

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
BM3A6818.jpg

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

4-Star Hotel Review: Hotel Celio, Rome

My review of the family-owned Hotel Celio first appeared in the Telegraph.

It is not every day that you find a three-star hotel in Rome that goes far beyond expectations.   Honestly, I've found that it's predictably the opposite which can be a bummer when looking for affordable and reliable hotels in Rome.

The Nitty Gritty:  Roberto Quattrini's 20-room boutique hotel is a fabulous find-  for three-star prices, you get a five-star location, quality design and personal service.  With decades in hospitality,  Robert anticipates and understands his guests and their needs, he understands hospitality and he has homegrown insight onto the city of Rome.  What does that mean?  He lives and loves the city, and is happy to share the how-tos. 

And Roberto has patience. The room experience is charming, if you know what you have booked.  Rooms are small in size, and meticulously curated to a classic style- mosaic floors, hand-painted frescoes, vintage prints and paintings, and heirloom furniture.  The bathrooms are tiny jewels decorated with lovely marbles.   This is the kind of hotel for those who enjoy classic style, not for those looking for minimalist chic or an Instagram shot.  My favorite details outside of the rooms?  The subterranean level with winter with gold-leafed breakfast room, and the mosaic-tiled (à la ancient Rome) hammam for personal use.  Oh yeah, I love the private screening room.

Hotel Celio

Rome, Italy

8 out of 10, Telegraph Expert Rating

"Named after one of Rome’s famed seven hills, the Hotel Celio is a charming and great value three-star hotel with an obvious love for the history of its Celio neighborhood."

Location: 9 / 10

Hotel Celio has great real estate just behind the Colosseum and within walking distant to all of Rome’s major sites, including the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. The immediate area is primarily residentially and pleasantly quiet, considering its proximity to Italy’s most visited monument. For a bit more buzz, hipster hub Monti (a neighborhood known for its restaurants, bars and shops) is a short 10 minute walk away. For more extensive travel, there is a near by Metro stop, tram stop and bus stops for getting to all corners of the city. Nature lovers and children of all ages will enjoy Villa Celimontana, a tranquil and very green park about five minutes walk from the hotel.

Style & character:  8 / 10

Playful, vintage Rome is the underlying theme at Hotel Celio. The décor harkens Rome of yesteryear with wood paneling, Venetian glass, period wallpaper and marble. Additionally, the hotel pays homage to the Eternal City's history with ceiling frescoes reminiscent of the lavish rooms of Ancient Rome’s elite. But don’t think this hotel is a dusty museum piece, instead owner Roberto Quattrini creates a warm and friendly refuge from a long day in Rome.

Service & facilities: 8 / 10

Very enthusiastic and efficient service, far more friendly and informed than the average Rome three-star. The hotel staff provides replete material on neighborhood restaurants, tour offerings, and events. There is a small workout room on the hotel’s rooftop with Technogym equipment (elliptical and running machines) as well as free weights, and in its basement is a private hammam, with gorgeous antiquity-inspired floor and wall mosaics. For a quick beauty fix, immediately across the street is e-Wellness, the Hotel Celio’s beauty center with a menu of beauty treatments including facials, massages, pedicures and manicures.

  • Bar
  • Fitness centre
  • Laundry
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi

Rooms:  8 / 10

Each of the Hotel Celio’s 20 rooms is charming, with a prevalence for Renaissance revival in its décor. All rooms are decorated in period style with detailed wallpaper, vintage furniture, patterned floor tiles and, in some cases, lavish mosaic floors and in situ frescoes. The standard doubles are small to average in space, so if size does matter, the first level, Ambassador Suite with its king-size bed, personal library of first edition books, and gorgeous brocade is an excellent choice, though I much prefer to go to the top for the Pompeian Suite, a rooftop terrace apartment with living room (that doubles as a guest room), two bathrooms, and three private terraces—with a prime view of the Colosseum. This is where you will want to sit at sunset.

Food & drink: 7 / 10

Hidden in the Hotel Celio’s ground level is a gorgeous, gold-leafed breakfast area, where guests are entertained for winter weather. In the summer months, Hotel Celio opens its garden courtyard for tented, al fresco breakfast, which is standard continental fare.

Value for money: 9 / 10

Double rooms from £90 in low season; rising to £120 in high. Breakfast and Wi-Fi included.

Access for guests with disabilities?

No.

Family-friendly?

Yes. In summer months, the rooftop terrace has a small wading pool and play area for children.

Hotel Celio

Via Dei Santi Quattro 35/C, 00184 Rome, Italy.

00 39 06 7049 5333

 

hotelcelio.com

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Weekender: Catania, Sicily and the Festa di Sant'Agata

The streets of Catania during the Festa di Sant'Agata

There are a million reasons why you should visit Sicily at least once in your life, and one of my favorite reason is Catania, a city that was built and rebuilt on the lava trails of a volcano.  It is chaotic and crazy, and at times, calm and contained, a city on the edge of the Ionian sea and more often than not, on the edge of reason.  Catania is as unpredictable and inspiring as Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano, which just happens to be Catania's ever-looming backdrop.  And Catanesi are vigilantly faithful to the city, in a vibe that found across oceans in New Yorkers and Philadelphians.

A weekend trip from Rome to Catania is easy- a 45-minute direct flight over coastlines, sea and volcano to Madreterra, where Catania overflows from its center all the way to the sea, in waves of history from Greek colony and Roman city to Islamic Emirate,  Spanish Empire to Garibaldi and the Italian Republic.  Once you arrive in the Centro Storico, Catania and its history are palpable.  Dark lava stone line the streets and panel beautiful Baroque buildings, modern apartment buildings weave around crumbling city walls, and just when you think you are walking in Baroque history, you stumble across ancient Roman- an arena, theatre and baths.  And if you talk to any Catanese, they will tell you the legends and lore of the area from the black magic of Eliodoro to Odysessus and the cyclops Polyphemus.

But we didn't weekend in Catania for a history lesson, we came for cult ritual.

Sant'Agata travels the entire city in a three-day procession.

Viva Sant'Agata

Every year for nearly five centuries, Catania celebrates its patron saint Agatha, or Sant'Agata, a Catania-born woman martyred in the 3rd century.   The celebration is a three-day festival of folklore and rituals, and family and friends.  If Catania is puslating organism,  the festival of Sant'Agata is heart, a three-day city-wide street party with masses, fireworks, processions from midday February 3 to the morning of February 6.  And we deliberately go ourselves caught up in it.

Who was Agata and why are we celebrating her?  According to legend, Agatha was a young noble woman who, at the age of 15, decided to dedicate her virginity to God and Christianity only to be brutally tortured and killed five years later on February 5, 251 AD.  Over the years, decades and centuries, people prayed to her, venerated her, built churches dedicated to her, until it all turned into a street celebration, a solemn festival and, if you ask Darius, a pagan-ish ritual.  Considered one of the oldest and biggest street festivals in the world (the other two are Holy Week in Seville, Spain, and the feast of Corpus Domini in Cuzco, Peru), Sant'Agata is one of those lifetime experiences, and if you are an Italian kid like me with a NYC-Nonno, you know it's fun and emotional.  San Gennaro times one million.

Church of Sant'Agata alla Fornace behind the Roman Amphitheatre

We arrived in Catania on February 2, and caught up with some cousins on the edge of Etna, before heading to Catania proper.  The festival hadn't even kicked off and the streets were colored with lights, candy vendors on every corner, and a circuit of churches kept their doors open until midnight. Catania is not bashful. We caught up on Agata's history with a visit to the Church of Santa'Agata alla Fornace, the supposed site where Agata was ask to roll over burning coals, and then walked to via dei Crociefieri, a beautiful road lined with Baroque churches and monasteries. 

On February 3, we skipped what our friend Salvo called the solemn part of the festival- a mass, offering and presentation of the cannalori- 12 large, gilded candelabra-light structures that represent the artisan guilds of the city.   It didn't matter, we'd seem them later as they wold parade through neighborhoods and around the city in what I eventually called Catania Critical Mass.  Salvo wanted us fed and rested up for the evening, when the city is afire in an extraordinary and extremely theatrical fireworks spectacle. By seven pm, we made our way to a corner of Piazza del Duomo where we waited with babies and nonni, students, parent and police, for a few hours until a battle broke out over our heads- a  30-minute long rainbow firefight, accompanied by incredible music arrangements.  The fireworks were loud, explosive and perfectly-time to the accompanying score that brought us from sadness to joy.  Salvo told me that yeah, it's a big deal and yeah, the fireworks were good, but Catania does this every year.  Once over, we jumped into the street party, walking around all corners of the city, bumping into cousins and friends, and eating cedro (citron) slices with salt.  Could we get a restaurant table? Not at all.

February 4 was game day.  We grabbed a coffee and cannolo, bumped into devoti, white cape-wearing St. Agatha devotees who help in the procession, and immediately jumped into the party . . . that would continue for another 36 hours.  Salvo made a few calls and next thing we know, we're on a second-floor balcony with our own Agata (Salvo's seatmate from high school), eating olivetti, drinking prosecco and watching the mass of devoti pull Sant'Agata, in her silver-cage float, down the street.  Salvo grabbed the kids (did I mention Sant'Agata is very kid friendly), and pushed through the crowds so they could give the priests the yellow candles they purchased as a Sant'Agata devotional.   An iPhone fell from the fourth floor, grazing the woman next me and crashing to the street. Everyone below shouted us and we shouted back. I felt at home.  And in honor of Sant'Agata, we headed to the beach with everyone else, and ate pranzo seaside. Perfect day in Catania.

We returned home while the festa continued through Monday February 5th (and the early hours of February 6), literally reaching the heights of worship as the cannalori (each group carrying an 8-ton sculpture) run up the Salita di San Giuliano,  racing to the church in the soft light of dawn. 

Like I said, we came for a ritual. Viva Sant'Agata.

I cannalori.... Candelori and Devoti mix with the crowds filling the streets of Catania waiting to see Sant'Agata

Devoti pulling the cords that pull the carriage of the saint (see above photos)

Vendors sell 2 euro candles to give to the saint

Tips and Tricks

Getting there:   Alitalia  (my preference) and RyanAir.  From Rome's FCO, it’s an easy and beautiful 45 minute flight to Catania Fontanrossa CTA.  Set your timer for 30 minutes into the flight and make sure to look out the windows for Mount Etna.   On the return,  my friend Salvo insists that the flights always leave late from Catania so be prepared to wait.  Getting from the airport to the city center require planning.  We've rented a car (Hertz, and WInRent are on site), hired a transport service, taken the bus and the train. It will depend on what your plans are. If you're not planning any day trips, take the train, otherwise, rent a car.

Sites:  If you're not here for the Festa, you're here for the culture, and Catania is so rich in culture that it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.  Its (first-timer) line up of sites is like the best of every era of old world architecture.  You like old? There's Ancient Catania, as in the many archaeological sites of the city including the Roman Amphitheatre, a mini-colosseum which could hold 15,000 spectators, the Odeon and the baths.  You like bling? Well, that means you will love Sicilian Baroque, lavishly detailed Baroque palaces, churches and monasteries all over the city-   Piazza del Duomo, Cattedrale and Palazzo Degli Elefanti,  Palazzo dell'Università, Via dei Crocifieri (this may be my favorite street in Catania) and Giardino Bellini.  You want to see something more floral? There are Liberty (similar to Art Nouveau) buildings hidden in plain sight.

Il Liotru in Piazza del Duomo.

View from Acitrezza, one the awesome beach towns

Day Trips: there is so much to see in Catania, and also much to see around Catania.  If you have the itch for a day trip,  here are some spots definitely worth more than 24 hours: charming cities that show off the best of Sicily's culture from ancient Greek history to Baroque and more like Ortigia/Siracusa, Taormina, and Noto, nature lovers should head to Le Gole di Alcantara (an incredible, natural gorge that was setting for Matteo Garrone's film Tale of Tales) and Mount Etna, yes, the volcano is active, so much so that on my last visit, we had to leave. And for beach lovers, just drive up the coast and pick a town like: Acireale, Acitrezza, (good enough for Odysseus!),  Giardini Naxos and Isola Bella.

Sleep: I am always up for suggestions on where to stay in Catania.  I've stayed at friends' and relatives homes, but only one hotel: Mercure Excelsior, a standard corporate hotel that service Alitalia crew.  Mercure is in a great location (and has an onsite parking lot)- with a great view of Etna and an easy, invigorating walk to Via Etnea, Villa Bellini and Piazza del Duomo.  However, it's not charming and in the charm/boutique category, I have only recently come across Asmudo di Gisira, but have yet to stay.

A light antipasto at La Stiva

Le Minne di Sant'Agata.

Eat

I am not even going to pretend to be an expert on eating in Catania- I'll leave that up to the Catanesi.   In fact, I just close my eyes and let my friends lead me around.  They are never ever wrong.  And that's because Catania has amazing food everywhere - on the street, in bars and caffes, and in restaurants all day and all night.   What if you don't have a friend ? Make a friend.  And no matter what come prepared with the basic ABC's:

A is for Arancini,  slight smaller than a softball, arancini are stuffed rice balls (ragù, mozzarela and peas) coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. In other words, they are the Sicilian powerball, a snack and a meal at the same time. In Catania, arancini have pointed ends which are meant to be at the base when you eat them.  

B is for Breasts.  Yes, breasts but not just anyone's,  but Sant'Agata's - le minne di Sant'Agata . Patron saint of the city, Saint Agata endured many tortures included having her breasts cut off.  In her honor, the Catanese created the pastry whose shape is reminiscent of the perfect boob- a small rounded pastry filled with ricotta cheese, coated in white icing and topped with a candied cherry.  If you've enjoyed a casatina, you will love minne.

C is for Caffes and Cipollina. Catania, like all Sicilian cities and towns, has great caffes, and in most you'll find a wide selection of sweet and savory snacks, including arancini and quite possibly minne. My favorite caffe in Catania is Savia, an elegant, old school caffe on the Via Etnea across from Villa Bellini where the waiters where coppolas.  My friends love the arancini, but I head there for the fassoletto, Catania's bad ass, sweet ricotta filled answer to the mille feuille. But when I am need of savory,  my one true love is a Cipollina, a light filo dough square filled with cooked onions, prosciutto and mozzarella.  It's a game changer.  

It's important to remember that Catania is hot- temperature and mentality, which means that everyone wants to cool down at all times. That's why there are charming chiosks all over the city, and what's I've discovered is late night in summer (or anytime), nothing quenches my thirst better than a limone selz- fresh limon juice, mandarin syrup and seltzer water.  Everybody agrees.

PS. C is also for seafood.  Catania is a port city, and up down the coastline are tiny beach towns with great seafood restaurants.  Take a 20 minute drive to Capomulini and listen to the waves hit the rocks at La Stiva.

The historic fish market by Piazza del Duomo.

Late night line up for the limone selz (lemon juice, mandarin syrup and seltzer) at the local chiosco.

Hello, Etna.

Did You See the Dramatic Hands Trying to Save Venice from Drowning?

This article first appeared in Fathom, February 2018.

The hands that shot out of the sea and were seen around the world. Photo courtesy of Halcyon Gallery.

Venice is a floating city of a million unforgettable moments. And in 2017, the most unforgettable was Support, a Venice Biennale sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn depicting a pair of colossal hands rising out of the Grand Canal, seeming to hold up the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. If you happened to be in Venice this year, you know what I’m talking about. (If you're desperate to see it before it goes, the show closes on February 28. Hop the 1 or 2 vaporetto water bus from Santa Lucia train station and get off at the Ca d’Oro stop.)

The stark white hands look like a submerged Atlas reaching out to support (or grasp) the closest palazzo. Quinn created Support as a site-specific piece that was both a figurative and a physical support to Venice. The idea was (and still is) to open the doors to a discussion on climate change, global warming, and cultural heritage. Did it work? Yes, and then some. Magical, absurd, funny, poignant: No matter what your mood, the hands drew you in and brought out emotion.

The first time I saw Support, I laughed. A good, happy, hearty laugh. It was a clear, sunny day, and Venice was giving me everything — and I felt like those hands were giving me the world. I came back in the late afternoon and watched the sun set on the canal in a rainbow fire while those white hands practically prayed in gratitude to the raw siena color of the palazzo. 

Another time, I saw the sculpture on a raining morning on the way to Piazza San Marco. I was elbowed into an uncomfortable corner of the vaporetto with what felt like every tourist Venice has ever seen. The hands seemed to desperately claw at Ca’ Sagredo’s walls. The last time I saw it was at twilight, when those fathomless colors of Venice were fading and the hands seemed to be gently cradling the side of the palazzo, protecting it, holding it, cherishing it. Magical. Powerful. Venice.

Find It

Support will be on display until February 28, 2018. It is best visible from the 1 or 2 line of the vaporetto water bus at the Ca d'Oro stop. 

Learn more: Lorenzo Quinn's website.

The Best Way To Spend Two Days In Naples, Florida

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

There’s no better place for a weekend recharge than the shores of Southwest Florida, an everglade oasis where traffic is defined as three golf carts waiting to tee off. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that one of the best addresses for a weekender in this corner of the Sunshine State is The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay-and-play stunner. Once you check into your Club Level room, you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Day One
Start your adventure by heading down to Third Street South in historic Old Naples, the original enclave of the 1930s town. The palm-tree-lined road is an elegant shopping area with great boutiques, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and art galleries.

If you start to get hungry during your perusing, you’re in luck. For at least three blocks, this quaint avenue has a lineup of street-side restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating. We highly recommend stopping by Sea Salt, a seafood-centric trattoria from chef Fabrizio Aielli. The Italian toque stocks his restaurant with more than 100 different types of salt and offers a fusion menu (with a bent toward his native Venice) featuring innovative delicacies such as crispy octopus in a black bean pear sauce, ravioli stuffed with braised veal and salt-encrusted branzino.

The Greens From Your Gorgeous Room. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

After lunch, stroll this historic street to find a few souvenirs. Fashionistas know that Marissa is always the first stop. The gorgeous corner boutique is Southwest Florida’s hub for designer favorites as well as edgier labels, including MSGM, Derek Lam and jewelry designer BiBi van der Velden. For the home, browse Gattle’s, a 110-year-old emporium of luxury linens, fabulous flatware and lavish lingerie. 

Beachcombers will love Old Naples Surf Shop, where boards are king and all things beach can be found. On Saturday mornings, the back parking lot turns into the Third Street South Farmer’s Market, an open-air forum of vendors selling tropical fruit and citrus, freshly caught seafood, coffee, dog treats and more.

When you’re ready for your first Southwest Florida sunset, head back to the Golf Resort and hop on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle for a 10-minutes-in-traffic drive to . The Five-Star seaside sister hotel sits on 20 beachfront acres and is surrounded by palm trees. 

Take a walk through the garden to the beach for the sunset and then grab a table at Dusk, the luxury property’s chic sushi restaurant, where craft cocktails are served with creative hand rolls. Shuttle back in time for a nightcap on the 18th hole at the Golf Resort’s Bella Vista Lounge.

High Tee. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

Day Two
After a great night’s sleep in your Club Level room overlooking the links, swing by the exclusive Club Lounge for complimentary coffee and a quick bite before making your way down to the greens — it’s finally tee time at the resort’s acclaimed Tiburón Golf Club.

Play 18 in a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Yes, the two tropical courses here are also a nature reserve, so expect to find protected flora and fauna along the holes.

If you’re not up for a full round, simply spend the morning polishing your swing at Tiburon’s Impact Zone Golf Academy.

And If the fairway isn’t your idea of fun, opt to rally with a USPTA-certified tennis instructor on the property’s four Har-Tru courts.

The beauty of Naples is that you are so close to mangroves, lakes and a slew of natural parks. Spend your afternoon with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and sign up for a free nature walk to find turtles, snakes and manatees or take an eco-cruise down the Gordon River.

Kayaking in Naples. Credit: Erica Firpo

Get a closer look at the region’s abundant wildlife with a guided tour by water through Wiggin’s Pass with Naples Kayak Company.

Following your afternoon of activity, indulge in some serious seafood. Snag a river-facing table at The Bay House, a gorgeous veranda restaurant on the nearby Cocohatchee River at Walkerbilt Road. The nautically themed eatery offers true hometown hospitality — a wooden rowboat hangs over the Claw Bar, where local bands play live sets Wednesday through Saturday and walls of windows give you a glimpse of neighborhood trawlers floating by.

Chef Jamie Knapp celebrates Southern cuisine and seafood with his seasonally curated menu of favorites like Charleston carpet bagger steak with bayou remoulade and St. Augustine stew practically overflowing with the day’s fresh catch. The Claw Bar features some of the best crustaceans Southern Florida has to offer.

If you have any energy for a nightcap, make the breezy 20-minute drive from The Bay House down to Truluck’s at Four-Star Inn on Fifth and Club Level Suites. The stylishly casual eatery has an intimate piano bar that’s just the place for an evening toast and a reflective chat on all that you’ve discovered over your Naples weekend.