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Pipero and the art of Carbonara


If there is one plate that I would go to the ends of the earth for, it is carbonara- my kind of comfort food and Rome's emblematic dish of pasta, egg, grated pecorino (and/or parmesan) cheese, and guanciale.  I will go out of my way, leaps and bounds for just a plate so over the years, I've made it my business to eat carbonara in every Roman restaurant I step foot in,  an ongoing culinary quest for that very best until a fateful Saturday, September 21, 2013, when I sat down at Pipero and ate the last forkful of Luciano Monsilio's carbonara.   The only word to describe his carbonara is perfection - aesthetically beautiful- a sunflower-colored knot of pasta in a serving that was neither too much nor too little with the idealItalian umami thanks to Luciano's preternatural culinary skills for combining grated pecorino and parmesan cheese, pepper-spiced beaten egg yolk, and pan-cooked guanciale in just the perfect amounts, and Alessandro Pipero, owner of his epynymous restaurantknew it.   Heck, he even made a film about it.  

As I walked out of Pipero, I vowed I would never eat carbonara again, unless Luciano was putting a plate of it in front of me or, and there always is an "or", it was vetted as hands-down amazing by a series of carbonara sycophants including Luca Sessa, Katie Parla, my favorite taxi driver Emanuele and my aunt Graziella.   It was easy to hold back from my carbonara fix- Pipero was getting a lot of press after receiving a much-deserved Michelin star in November of 2012, which meant it was harder to just pop by, and personally I wasn't keen on its location at the Hotel Rex, andthough it is/was somewhat easy to find other great carbonara, my heart belonged to Pipero.   Fast forward to March 2017 when, while casually strolling down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the thoroughfare linking St. Peter's to Piazza Venezia, I noticed that the old and vacant bank across from Chiesa Nuova had curtains.  I took a closer look.  Pipero had moved in.

IMG_2963 (1).jpg

Real estate is tough negotiation for a Rome restaurant, and even tougher for a Michelin-starred joint.  Choices are either hotel spaces, which is usually a compromise of interior design and multipurpose like a breakfast buffet, or a private space, sacrificing light for independence.   The new Pipero is neither.  Taking over a former bank in the Piazza Navona/Campo de' Fiori neighborhood, Pipero has location.   And thanks to the architectural demands of said bank, Pipero has light- a luminous space of high ceilings, and full-length windows on two sides of the corner restaurant.  A chic interior, the lounge/restaurant is simply accented with Poltrona Frau chairs, Flos lamps, original parquet floors and absolutely no clocks on the table, a detail Alessandro loved in Pipero's original incarnation but thankfully shelved in 2017.  The ground level area has seven tables, with an open mezzanine hosting three tables, while the subterranean is hometo Pipero's wine cellar - a cozy, private dining cave lined with labels hand-picked by Alessandro, who also happens to be a sommelier. 

Let's get serious. Style was the first thing on my mind.  Before sitting down at Pipero's table, my most important concern was the food and whether or not Pipero would uphold or even surpass this crazy idolization I created over the years.  Was it still perfect? On a Tuesday afternoon, I found out by treating myself to a six-course tasting menu.  [Note: I asked to include the carbonara, as Alessandro and Luciano had removed it from the menu, making it available to guests by request.] The restaurant was quiet - just me, a couple, and Achille Sardiello, Alessandro's Numero Uno and maitre d', a man whose dedication to Pipero - owner, restaurant and dishes - is all about poise and professionalism.  Achille charmingly commands the floor.  The mythical carbonara appeared after an incredible duck tartar "panino" of crispy, slim bread with homemade mustard, and a rigatoni with broccoli, sausage and pecorino that playfully innovates tradition and changed my entire life view on broccoli.   It would be an understatement to say I was sated when the carbonara arrived, but I needed to make sure Pipero was still Pipero.  Every bite that afternoon was just as perfect as the first, second and third times I had eaten Luciano's magical carbonara.  Mission accomplished,but to follow was a lambcut which blew my mind with its delicious combination of cottura perfetta (perfectly cooked), anchovies and a raspberry cream.  I could've stopped there, gone home and written a love sonnet to Pipero, but why not make sure? One month later, I organized a private dinner for 30 for the very same six-course tasting menu.  Of course, Alessandro, Luciano and Achille did not disappoint- perfect service, perfect ambience, perfect dishes -- and yep, that carbonara was perfect.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 250

(+39) 06 68138022

Above:  Tuna tartar with green apple and mustard.  Here: Rigatoni with broccoli, pecorino and sausage

Spending Three Perfect Days in Bangkok

This article originally appeared on May 10, 2017 in Forbes Travel.

Bangkok often overwhelms travelers with its traffic, concrete and heat. Not to mention that Thailand’s capital city has 14 million people flocking to its urban center, nearly double the population of New York City.

The secret to navigating Bangkok is to do a little preparation. Follow our three-day itinerary to discover the city in a whole new and calming way.

Day One
After more than 20 straight hours of flying, there are three things you must do once you’ve checked into the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel: First, reserve a massage for that very afternoon in the hotel’s Four-Star spa. Our suggestion is the 90-minute Siam 2482, an indulgent muscle and circulation stimulation completely necessary before running around the city.

Second, be sure to book your space at Morning Wellness for Day 3 (more to come on that). Lastly, head to the pool, a palm-tree-lined sundeck with hints of Bangkok’s unforgettable skyline, where you’re going to soak in some relaxation before your full cultural immersion begins.

You have a date with Smiling Albino. Founded by Canadian-born Thai television celebrity Daniel Fraser in 1999 to showcase and share Thai cultural heritage, Smiling Albino is one of Southeast Asia’s leading luxury and adventure tour companies.

According to Fraser, the best way to understand Bangkok is through its street food scene, and Smiling Albino has planned a six-hour walking tour from Soi Pipat, a road lined with vendors, to Yaowarat, the city’s Chinatown. (Take advantage of this now, as the government announced it will wipe out all street food vendors by the end of 2017.)

You’ll sample yam (a bag filled with spicy Thai salad that’s charmingly nicknamed Plastic Wife), knomjeen (a rice noodle dish with brown curry), the trendy rot-duan (your choice of dried bamboo worms, crickets or grasshoppers), Thai iced tea and more.

The tasting tour will have you scurrying around on foot and by tuk tuk (those Instagram-worthy three-wheel taxi carts) before your journey ends for the evening on a city rooftop watching the glow of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.

Day Two
You’ve seen the city by night, so now it’s time for Bangkok in Technicolor with a full day of back-to-back excursions. Walk around Ko Rattanakosin, the historic Phra Nakhon district and Bangkok’s ancient city where cylindrical temple stupas dot the landscape. Both Anantara and Smiling Albino can organize dynamic day tours.

Ko Rattanakosin is the city’s culture center of Thai Buddhism, an area concentrated with historic wats (“temples”). Wear lightweight long pants and sandals for visiting sacred sites such as Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and home to the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha; Wat Phra Kaew, the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand and site of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; and Wat Mahatat, headquarters of Thailand’s largest monastic order, university and meditation center.

In the afternoon, you’ll be floating down the River of Kings with the Klong Guru to explore the western neighborhoods via a network of klongs (“canals”). Traveling by long-tail boat (a long and multicolored canopied canoe-like hull), you’ll peek into life in “Venice of the East,” with floating markets, houses, temples, restaurants and even a traditional puppet show.

Make your way back to the Pathum Wan district for a unique take on traditional Thai cuisine. Take a tip from Fraser and try Issaya Siamese Club, a century-old Thai villa; Namsaah Bottling Trust, a former soda-bottling factory and bank; or Nahm, the poolside restaurant of COMO Metropolitan Bangkok. These three restaurants are pushing the boundaries of local dining with a progressive take on traditional and village recipes.

Enjoy a nightcap 83 stories above the city on the rooftop observation deck of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Thailand’s tallest building.

Day Three
Rise and shine for a 6 a.m. sunrise wellness session starting with a Buddhist blessing. The Tak Bart Buddhist ritual takes place in Anantara Siam Bangkok’s lobby, a gorgeous gilded space. Every day, at 6:20 a.m., hotel staff and guests present Buddhist monks alms, returned with the monk’s blessing, completing a traditional and peaceful way to start the day.

From the hotel, it’s a short walk to Lumphini Park for a 45-minute Light Energy Session combining yoga and meditation, followed by a picnic brunch — a smorgasbord of quinoa and mixed fruit salad, poached salmon, sandwiches and juices.

Head back to the Bangkok hotel for a 60-minute Chakra Crystal Balancing Therapy to wrap up the wellness session.

After you’ve found your center, you’re ready to explore the city’s industrial history with a visit to the Jim Thompson House. Thompson, a retired army officer and alleged CIA operative, settled in Bangkok in the late 1940s and built up a silk empire, until his mysterious 1967 disappearance.

His home, a beautiful assemblage of sections from century-old Thai villas, is now a museum showcasing Thompson’s art collection of historical Buddhist statues and traditional Thai paintings.

Onsite is a Jim Thompson store selling beautiful silk clothing, accessories and housewares. The surrounding neighborhood is also home to local Bangkok silk weavers and dyers, whose studios and laboratories can be visited.

Chakras balanced and perfectly coordinated with a Jim Thompson silk scarf, head back to the Anantara Siam Bangkok for your last pad Thai at Spice Market, the hotel’s signature restaurant.

Destination: Modena

Years ago, all it took was a simple a few tortellini in brodo to catapult me into the Cult of Culinaria that is Emilia Romagna, Italy's northeastern region and the country's bread basket.  After my first taste, I fell hard into fully warranted idolatry of Emilia Romagna and its regional dishes. I became more than convert, more than one of the fervent masses, I had a calling to which I became a self-proclaimed gastronomic preacher on mission to bring the masses to the Temple of Taste.  Conversion is simple enough when your pantheon of gods includes Parmigiano, Prosciutto and Balsamico, and continual repetition of the words tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne, cappelletti is your daily prayer.  But I quickly found out that for all those years I've been waxing poetic on Emilia Romagna,  Darius, partner in life and travel, has only been to the region for archaeological day trips to Ravenna and Bologna.  It was time for a drive.

Roma-Modena is an easy trip.  By rail, it's approximately three hours - two hours and change on a high speed train, switching to a 25-minute regional train at Bologna Centrale.  By car is a different journey, a somewhat scenic four hours and more sprawl up the A1 autostrada, and we choose a morning drive to avoid Modena's notorious nebbia, a thick fog that practically hides the city from view. 

There is nothing remarkable about Modena upon first arriving at the edge of town, after passing through flat plains of farms and factories.  Just another one of Italy's city-towns - modern streets feeding to medieval center,  a bit of old and and a bit of new.    A former Roman outpost, a fortified medieval town, a contemporary city,  Modena is the font of the world's best balsamic vinegar and the driving force behind Italy's luxury automotive industry- both of which require generational artistry. Like many Italian towns, there are mom-and-pop shops, large chains, art galleries, churches, cute scooters, hand-crafted bicycles and well-dressed residents but it the rhythm and pace that sets Modena apart from the rest -  an easy cadence where every thing, old and new, flows together harmoniously like an old Beatles song and fits together like a Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle. 

Where to go and What to do:  I started a list and I realized that aside from eating, my other suggestion is simply being.  Modena is a living, breathing city, far from the open-air museum of Rome and Florence.  It is meant to be lived, and by all means walked.  A pastiche of history from pre-antiquity to tomorrow is on every path.  Walk on the Via Aemilia, the ancient Roman road that runs from Rimini to Piacenza and bisects Modena at its very center-  the Modena Cathedral, and then really take a look at the bas relief on the church's structural walls- especially a gothic arch entrance near the bell tower where the months are medievally depicted as the wine making process.   Walk some more:  Modena is one of the nook-and-cranny cities with beautiful shops and hidden curiosities like the small lingerie/karoake bar.   Grab a map (physical or virtual) and make your own walking tour.   Bike: as just one city in the pianura padana (regional plains), Modena is flat, which means it is choc-a-bloc with cyclists and places to cycle to and from whether following those monumental walls, slowly pedaling around the historic center or circumnavigating the entire city as a whole.  Finally, drive - the charming team at I Love Maranello will bring a Ferrari to your front door for a test drive around the area, or else, stay in the passenger seat and enjoy a little Enzo double feature at Modena's Museo Ferrari, and Maranello's Ferrari Museum and FactoryFor those looking for the kind of culture you can bottle up, I suggest booking a tour of the acetaia, the family-run balsamic vinegar makers where you'll learn the decades long process and find out how balsamic vinegar can make or break family relationships.

Where We Ate:   Even though every where you eat in Modena is amazing, it pays to have friends that live there, and if I didn’t, I’d pay for a Modenese to be my friend just for the day because once you know one Modenese, you’re guaranteed the best tortellini in the city- and it will never be the same place.  NB:  we did not dine at Italy's Numero Uno Osteria Francescana (been there, loved it).  If you can get a reservation, go.

We found the t-spot (t for tortellini, I'm funny) at L'Incontro, a pizzeria in nearby Maranello recommend by our dear Silvana who insists that owner Erica makes the best tortellini in town.  I know what you are thinking- a pizzeria?  True tortellini lovers will know that it's not about where you eat the tortellini but the only the tortellini you eat and Erica did not disappoint: her tortellini in brodo was off the charts- soothing and delicious.  Bonus points for location- the non-description pizzeria is via Dino Ferrari, across the street from the Ferrari high school and down the street from the factory so when you’re sitting window at a L’Incontro table, expect to spot a Dino or California cruising by.

Silvana also made sure we vacuum-packed up a few kili of parmesan cheese from Belli Formaggi & Salumi, a family-owned delicatessen in Maranello.   One of my favorite kinds of investigative research into a new culture is via the local deli, and Belli did not disappoint.  Silvana and I chatted up signore, while discussing digesting techniques.  Signor Belli had me taste what I think were deep-fried porchetta rinds- my latest addiction, and I purchased two small bottles of his family's 35-year-old balsamic vinegar- asking price 55 euro.

Back in Modena, our daytime focus was Mercato Albinellilocated smack in the center of the city - in other words, the perfect snack point whilst checking out the town.  The ace up my sleeve is my friend Lara, author, art collector, and long time Modena resident whose husband just so happens to be Bottura.  Lara told us to get there early and beeline for frittelle di bacalà, Modena’s version of deep-fried codfish seasoned with oregano and garlic.  We ate that and more- the historic market has everything, including an incredible fried chicken. Tip:  go to the ATM in advance.

I was insistent on having dinner at Franceschetta 58, Osteria Francescana's little cousin and chef Massimo Bottura's pet project.  And I am glad we did.  Franceschetta 58 is the opposite of the Italian restaurant stereotype.  In a former mechanic shop, Franceschetta is a cool slip of a spot - a long room with black tables, putty colored walls, ceiling to floor windows, and a bit of mismatched dishes on the walls. Everyone in the room is either a Bottura friend or a fan, so the vibe was energetic and fun.  The kitchen ishelmed by Bernardo, a Roman-born, Francescana-trained chef, who cooks up monthly changes dishes with Bottura inspirations.  The best way I can describe the menu is experimental Italian tapas where tradition and taste duke it out in your mouth.  We went à la carte and tried everything on the menu including the creamed cod, the low-cooked egg with black truffle, anEmilia burger (Bottura's signature hamburger and song to his homeland), and those tradition-turning piadine with what may have been a bit of kimchi.

On our way out of Modena, as per Lara, we stopped at Generi Alimentari Da Panino, a small stand-up sandwich joint around the corner from Osteria Francescana.  Da Panino is the edible baby of Francescana’s sommelier Beppe Palmieri.  For seven euro you can anyone of seven hand-crafted sandwiches created by Palmieri and chef Cristian Lo Russo. We had the saltimbocca alla modenese with chicken, prosciutto cotto and a parmesan salsa, and a beef tartare, plus we took a bacala, boiled potato and herb sandwich for the road.   Bonus points for the cute paper placemats and the artisanal carbonated drinks from Galvani.

Franceschetta's low-cooked egg

Where We Slept: Stella21, an artists’ loft located within the medieval fortication walls of Modena, and conveniently located just two doors down and across the from Osteria Francescana, Italy’s restaurant Numero Uno. In fact, if you hang out on the street late nights, you may just catch a glimpse of Massimo & Co.  Why I loved the apartment? Aside from location, the attic apartment is a Fabergè egg for art and design lovers.  The apartment is lined with art books, and decorated with art piece furniture like my favorite Eames lounge and ottoman, as well as original paintings and prints, all carefully culled by owner Francesca, a restoration artist.  Her open-plan kitchen is mod Italian with a Nespresso and a mini-cabinet of curiosity stocked with artisanal balsamic vinegar.  The bedroom has an Italianized shikibuton, a comfortable futon/floating bed, and full bathroom. I could have stayed inside at Stella21 all day and night.  My favorite hideaway is the apartment’s tower annex (excellent spot to hide children or annoying friends) and its view of the rooftops… and fog … of Modena.


A Fashionable Packing List for the Venice Biennale

This article originally appeared in Fathom on April 28, 2017.

Highlights from the most recent Biennale. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Every other spring, the contemporary art world flocks to Italy to celebrate art, dance, architecture, cinema, and theater at the Venice Biennale. Fathom contributing editor and Biennale regular Erica Firpo gives us a peek at what she's packing in her suitcase.

VENICE – Flashback to the 1999 Venice Biennale, a time where I spent many months covered in red powder. Anne Hamilton, an artist representing at the U.S. Pavilion, made a crimson snowfall cascade down the walls for her installation Myein, and it was my job, as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection assistant, to make sure the powder and everything else flowed smoothly. There was nothing glamorous about the long hours, often spent alone, in a bone-chillingly cold pavilion, occasionally greeting guests and explaining the installation — but the full immersion into contemporary art was unforgettable, and every 24 months, I return to the Biennale for that very same pleasure, though now as a journalist covering the art.

Over the decades, the press preview for the exhibition has evolved from a quiet industry event for artists, gallerists, and journalists to 72 solid hours of art and hobnobbing with the Pantheon of Glitterati — art, fashion, literature, and film folk from all over. As soon as I arrive in Venice, I have to be ready for nonstop exhibitions, openings, and cocktail parties. Style, efficiency, and fun are my goals — and the same can be said for anyone visiting the Biennale. My suitcase is a balanced mix of form and function, organized Matryoshka-style. Here's a peek inside.

Mophie Juice Pack Air

The Biennale is more than an all-day affair — I'm out the door by 8 a.m., photographing Venice street scenes, perusing every pavilion in the Venetian Arsenal and gardens, visiting collateral events, and partying late into the evening. The Biennale doesn't just kill my feet, it quickly and painfully kills my phone, a.k.a. my life source. Because there is nothing worse than trying to find a free outlet in Venice, I always bring an extra battery pack, and lately it's been a pretty rose gold case that snaps right onto my phone. If I'm feeling extra gamey, I bring two. ($100)

Insta360 Nano Video Camera

The Biennale is not just freeze frame art, it's panoramic performance. For the rare times I broadcast on Facebook Live, I love giving the full 360-degree experience so viewers can choose what they want to see. ($199)

Kasia Dietz Nice Clutch

My handbag has to be stylish and easy to carry. I love Kasia Dietz totes for her choice of vintage fabrics, which are perfect for the exhibition's artsy vibe. I also make sure to have one of her clutches, for a quick switch to evening glam. (€70)


Opening Ceremony Silk-Satin Bomber Jacket

Venice is tricky. Misty mornings burn into hot days, while evenings are chilly and humid. The only solution is a satin bomber jacket and the reversible nature of this one makes it easy to do a quick outfit change. ($525)


Moleskin Ruled Reporter Notebook

The first time I ever purchased this notebook was in Venice, and I have carried one in my handbag ever since. The hard cover makes me feel like Lois Lane scooping the art world. ($13)


Hydaway Water Bottle

I don't like feeling the weight of a water bottle in my purse, but I don't want to be dehydrated either. My solution: a lightweight, collapsible water bottle introduced to me by my friend Livia's 90-year-old nonna. ($20)


Tom Smarte Panama Fedora

Most of my time is spent outdoors, walking from one exhibition to the next. I love a good hat with a little charm to protect my face and lift up my outfit. ($449)


La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Sunscreen

My London BFF introduced me to the French sunscreen. It's light, non-greasy, and the best way to protect my skin from the Venetian sun, which never seems as potent as it really is. ($34)


MSGM Jumpsuit

I love Italian brand MSGM and would wear anything they put in front of me. The fun, striped number would work well for artsy selfies at cocktail parties. ($700)


Tod's Tattoo-Inspired Sneakers

If there is one lesson it has taken me a while to learn, it's that style should take second place when it comes to shoes for an event like the Biennale. Comfort is everything when you're standing on your feet all day. Thank god these sneakers are chic. ($845)


Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes

You definitely need antibacterial hand wipes. Added plus: These smell amazing. ($7)

Olloclip Core Lens Set

I use this set of lenses to up my Instagram story game and love playing around with the fisheye and wide angles. ($100)

Celebrate Spring In Rome Like A Local

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel on April 21, 2017.

There is nothing quite like springtime in Rome. Once the days begin to warm up, all life moves outdoors. By mid-April, the Eternal City shines with festivals and events honoring Rome’s traditions, both old and new.

From the historic center to the Olympic Stadium, piazzas, cultural centers and more host interactive exhibitions and performances that represent multifaceted Roman culture. With so much culinary and cultural merriment, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.

Late April
Warm-weather festivities kick off with Natale di Roma, the three-day celebration of the city’s 2,770th birthday from April 21 to 23. Experience Rome like never before as the Circus Maximum becomes a playground once again for emperors and legionnaires in a series of re-enactments, including epic battles, gladiator fights and lessons in Roman culture through cuisine and craft.

On April 23, the historic center steps back in time as Piazza Venezia becomes center stage for Gruppo Storico Romanos triumphant march down Via dei Fori Imperiali, where more than 2,000 re-enactors from the Roman Empire will meet for a grand display of regal pageantry.

Take a break from that action with a journey to the secluded Roseto Comunale, the city’s rose garden, which opens its doors for its annual rose show on April 21. The free garden party, which stays in bloom until June 18, brings together more than 1,000 variations of roses from around the world.

For something a little more modern, head to Testaccio’s Città dell’Altra Economia on April 22 and 23 for ReVision’s World Wide Wall, a combination free exhibition, marketplace and hangout where more than 100 street artists will showcase their finest pieces.

Still, the most delicious way to welcome warm weather may be with a spoon in your hand. The Festival del Gelato, a three-day tasting celebration bringing together Italy’s best gelato makers, takes over the Pincian Hill from April 29 through May 1.

The month starts off electric as Villa Medici presents the Yoko Ono and Claire Tabouret show “One Day I Broke the Mirror,” a multi-sensorial contemporary art exhibition that invades the palaces and gardens of the historic Renaissance villa from May 5 to July 2.

From May 10 through 21, Rome serves up the Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis tournament. The Italian Open (as it’s more commonly referred) is where you’ll find Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Venus Williams battling it out inside the Olympic Stadium courts while the surrounding grounds come alive with pop-up restaurants, tennis clinics and exhibition games.

Tickets can be purchased at entry, but because the venues are relatively small, it’s best to score good seats in advance.

Looking for a great brew to go with those backhands? Head to Testaccio. From May 18 to 21, Città dell’Altra Economica will host craft pours and street food at the Spring Beer Festival. Expect more than 40 Italian and international breweries to be represented.

Get back in the saddle from May 25 to 28 at Piazza di Siena, Rome’s annual equestrian exhibition in Villa Borghese. The four-day event is highlighted by an international show-jumping competition and ends with the mounted Carabinieri display, a regal parade of Italy’s mounted military police.

End the month on a high note at Rome’s three-day electronic music festival, Spring Attitude. The undulating MAXXI Museum will host the annual avant-garde experience, where acts like Nathan Fake and Princess Nokia will perform, from May 27 to 29.

Roma Triumphant! Happy Birthday to the Eternal City

Happy birthday, Rome! 2770 years old and you’re looking great. . .

April 21, that glorious day of the year in Rome (well, they all are wonderful, aren’t they?) when Rome celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Eternal City, aka Natale di Roma.  It’s pretty amazing to think that just 2770 years ago, a brotherly spat founded an empire.  And even more amazing to see and live that history on a daily basis which is why I go nuts every time April 21st rolls around.  And I’m not kidding.

Every year, I make sure to head straight to Circus Maximus for the 21st century incarnation of Rome’s birthday – a three day period piece/street party organized by the volunteer group Gruppo Storico Romano. Legions, and yes, I really mean legions-  co-ed phalanxes dressed in authentic antiquity representing troops from across the Empire-  as close as Rome and as far away as Spain and Romania- crowd the Circus Maximus.  Starting Friday, which this year coincides with the April 21 founding date, the ancient race track becomes theatre to traditional birthday ceremonies and market place to stands showing off Ancient Roman life from beauty culture andstylus writing to basic gladiator techniques and legion formation training.

By Sunday morning, I’m in Piazza Venezia, with the imperial family as part of the triumphan t march on Rome.   Legions get in formation from the Circus through Piazza Venezia and down the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum just like they did back in the day.   Think of it as Downtown Abbey goes Ancient, where the snobby imperial family leads an incredible procession of senators, magistrates, lictors, vestal virgins, troops, barbarians, and, wait for it… gladiators.  Pumped up real life gladiators, including an old friend of mine, show off weapons, muscles and fabulous gladiator outfits.  Once the march ends, we’re heading back to the Circus Maximus to get some action- the entire field becomes stage to gorgeously choreographed fights.  And the best part?  It’s all of this is free… expect for the arrosticini . . .

Here’s how to join the party  

And enjoy more photos from my article celebrating the Eternal City for Huffington Post


Top 10: The Best Hotels Near The Trevi Fountain


By Lee Marshall, destination expert  and Erica Firpo, travel writer. 

An expert guide to the best Rome hotels near the Trevi Fountain, including the best places to stay for comfy rooms, intimate restaurants, rooftop terraces and relaxing spas, in locations that are ideal for seeing Rome's many sights, such as the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and the Colosseum. 

Crossing Condotti

Crossing Condotti,  Telegraph expert rating: 8/10

Crossing Condotti,  Telegraph expert rating: 8/10

A quiet haven located in Rome's bustling but still villagey fashion-shopping district, eight-room Crossing Condotti has the simplicity of a B&B but the panache of a luxury hotel. The décor is a beguiling, tasteful mix of antique and contemporary, with fine bed linens and textiles creating an aura of discreet opulence. All rooms feature warm parquet floors, a sprinkle of antique furniture, paintings and prints, crisp white cotton sheets and duvets, and bold-striped fabrics. Read expert review 

Hotel d'Inghilterra, Telegraph Expert Rating  8/10

Hotel d'Inghilterra, Telegraph Expert Rating  8/10

Hotel d’Inghilterra

Historic credentials, a location right in the heart of the boutique-lined former artists’ quarter at the foot of the Spanish Steps, and an intimate, clubby atmosphere make this Roman luxe townhouse hotel a bit of an insider option that inspires fierce loyalty among its many aficionados. There are 88 rooms, and none of them feel like a carbon copy of any of the others – after all, this is a hotel that has been undergoing constant nips and tucks since opening in 1845. Upholstered bedheads, silk curtains and lots of antique polished wood set the tone; the more recently renovated rooms on the fourth floor espouse a lighter, more classic-contemporary look.Read expert review

Hotel dei Borgognoni

Hotel dei Borgognoni, Telegraph Expert Rating 7/10

Hotel dei Borgognoni, Telegraph Expert Rating 7/10

It really doesn’t get better than via del Bufalo, a calm pedestrian street at the heart of the city's historic centre. The famed shopping area Piazza di Spagna, with streets via dei Condotti and Via del Corso, is within a five-minute walk, and likewise monuments, piazzas and famous art collections like the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Galleria Colonna are a quick few steps down the road. Each of the hotel’s 51 rooms and suites are different variations of the same classic contemporary style - neutral printed wallpaper, queen-sized beds with upholstered headboards, rich blue or red colour accents, and early- to mid-century vintage desks. 

Residenza Napoleone III

Residenza Napoleone III, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Residenza Napoleone III, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Some hotels model themselves on stately homes or aristocratic townhouses; Residenza Napoleone III is one. The owner, Principessa Letizia Ruspoli, has created a single guest apartment out of a whole suite of rooms, where the Emperor Napoleon III once stayed, on the piano nobile of her opulent family abode. The Old Master paintings you see on the walls, the busts of Roman emperors that line the grand entrance staircase, the heirloom antiques that decorate the place – all these things have been in the Ruspoli family for generations. But this is no draughty castle – it feels warm despite the grand setting. The Roof Garden Suite is an intimate, cultured refuge surrounded by greenery with 360-degree views over the domes and rooftops of central Rome.Read expert review

Hotel Modigliani

Hotel Modigliani, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Hotel Modigliani, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

As comfortable as any in the city, this hotel mixes artsy bohemianism — distilled in the ubiquitous reproductions of paintings by the artist it’s named after — with traditional mid-range hotel décor. The whole place is decorated with reproductions of Modigliani paintings and prints, plus creative contibutions by guests themselves. The 23 rooms are clean and functional, old-fashioned without being démodé. There are also two small apartments – the garden one is perfect for families. Rome 602, the Honeymoon double, has marvellous views. It's just down the road from the busy transport hub of Piazza Barberini, and Via Veneto, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the fashion shopping district are just a short walk away. Read expert review

Hotel Parlamento

Hotel Parlamento, Telegraph expert rating 7/10

Hotel Parlamento, Telegraph expert rating 7/10

You could hardly get more central than the Parlamento, just along from Montecitorio, home to the lower house of the Italian parliament, and within five minutes’ walk of the Spanish Steps, the fashion shopping district, and the Trevi Fountain. Not everyone will get this two-star’s shabby-chic charm – it’s basically a neat, clean and friendly fourth-floor boarding house, accessed via a cramped antique lift – but those that do will love it. The cute roof terrace is the icing on the cake – lined with plants, with views across rooftops and churchtowers, this is a charming refuge from the street-level bustle.Read expert review


Casa Cau, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Casa Cau, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Contemporary cool and well-placed by Trevi Fountain, living a 21st-century dolce vita is the modus operandi of CasaCau. Restaurants, shops, cultural sites, markets, schools and homes surround the six-apartment boutique hotel so the three-day minimum stay required here is a full-immersion experience. CasaCau’s apartments are known as Interiors, six unique and individual living-spaces designed and curated by Roman architect Nora P. Contemporary art hangs on the walls, while lacquered tables and stools made of recycled materials by artist Alfred van Escher pepper the living spaces.Read expert review

Portrait Roma

Portrait Roma, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Portrait Roma, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

This 14-suite bolthole, a short sashay from the Spanish Steps, is one of the city’s most stylish luxe options, lent panache by Michele Bonan’s tasteful contemporary-retro design scheme. The discreet service, courtesy of a dedicated ‘lifestyle team’, is unparalleled. The spacious, well-appointed suites feature rich fabrics that play off against austere earth tones in walls and carpets, and there are fun little touches like video fireplaces. There’s no restaurant, but they do have one of Rome’s most panoramic roof-terraces, where aperitivos can be enjoyed of an evening, and where you can choose to have breakfast served if you don’t want it in your room.Read expert review

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Hotel Stendhal, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

One of those quiet, off-the-radar hotels – Hotel Stendhal is a one-two punch of effortless style and ease of location, perfectly situated for a walk to any historic centre monument. Radiating a turn-of-the-century elegance, the hotel’s seafoam-blue wall colour complements its antiquarian furniture, original wainscoting, vintage prints and paintings, neoclassical sculpture casts and amazing Art Deco bar, while the Annexe cools it down with a more minimalist modern atmosphere. The best of the rooms is the Royal Suite, a corner apartment in black and white that feels like an art gallery and has a view of Piazza Barberini.Read expert review

Villa Spalletti Trivelli

Villa Spalletti, Telegraph expert rating 9/10

Villa Spalletti, Telegraph expert rating 9/10

An antique- and art-stuffed palazzo, complete with elegant formal garden, that has been in the same family for over a century . The hotel's opulent interiors are of such historic significance that they are listed by the Italian heritage ministry. The twelve first-floor bedrooms are warm and welcoming with their rich fabrics, pastel hued walls and bedcovers, Fiandra linen sheets and alpaca or cashmere throws. The Villa’s huge spa includes a wonderful Turkish bath, along with a gym and a range of enticing treatments. Between the bus-plied shopping street of Via Nazionale and the presidential palace (Il Quirinale), the Villa is well-placed for pretty much everything.Read expert review

5 Things We Love about Hotel Eden

This article original appeared in FORBES TRAVEL on APRIL 7, 2017.

Get your scissors out, because we’re cutting the ribbon on Rome‘s Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Eden. The Eternal City trophy of the prestigious Dorchester Collection reopened on April 1 after a 17-month renovation that called for a complete floor-to-ceiling makeover easily rivaling that of St. Peter’s Basilica’s 17th-century revamp.

With 128 years of history behind it, the Eden has reigned as Rome’s harbinger of luxury, so it’s no surprise that the 2017 reboot simply reinforces the property as Empress of the Eternal City’s upscale hotel scene.

And it’s not just about a different look. Hotel Eden has opened the doors with a new mentality set to change the scope of Rome’s luxury hotels.

These are the five elements about the fresh hotel that stand out the most to us.

Space Hotel Eden raises the bar on opulence by deliberately downsizing room count by 20 percent, from 121 rooms to 98, and the overall effect is mesmerizing.

From the moment you enter the hotel’s marble-paneled lobby, the sense of space is more than gracious — it’s downright luxurious, livable and contemporary. In fact, the Eden’s objective was to create “living spaces,” and each of the 66 rooms and 32 suites are just that.

The artfully composed accommodations maximize space and highlight simplicity, featuring high ceilings and tall picture-frame windows.

5 Things We Love About Hotel Eden - Forbes Travel Guide

Design With space as the main design element, Bruno Moinard, of 4BI & Associés, chose a less-is-more interpretation of the Eden’s classic history. Moinard created a contemporary art deco atmosphere with a relaxing palette of ecrus and ochres, with superbly designed (yet sparingly placed) custom furniture and lamps.

The bathrooms have a lavish touch thanks to floor-to-ceiling white marble, walk-in rain showers and separate bath, and tasteful gilded fixtures.

It’s the little details throughout the room, though, that we love the most. The master-controlled lighting and climate control (which you can play around with via iPad from your bed), the Hotel Eden LP we found on our desk, the books, Bottega Veneta bath products, GHD hair dryers and charmingly customized bags for his-and-hers toiletries.

View Everyone says that if you’re going to stay in Rome, you must have a view. And they’re right. There is nothing like seeing the city’s domes, and from Hotel Eden, you get a glimpse of them all.

Suites Aurora, Malta, Medici and the Bella Vista Penthouse have the cityscape as the rooms’ main feature. And though most of Eden’s other rooms face the historic center, you can ask for a unit with a view.

But for the best vistas in the house, head to the fifth-floor terrace, where designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku added a vertical garden of soft curves and open walls for Eden’s garden restaurant, Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar. The establishment’s cocktail bar is the perfect place to perch right before sunset with a Grande Bellezza, a vermouth creation by barman Gabriele Rizzi.

For a more formal dining experience, enjoy panoramas of the city atop Hotel Eden at the property’s signature gourmet restaurant, La Terrazza.

5 Things We Love About Hotel Eden - Forbes Travel Guide

Service Once the room number was reduced and space was expanded, general manager Luca Virgilio decided to increase the staff by 30 percent.

“Personal attention and intimate experience” is the Dorchester mission and, at the Eden, the mantra lives and breathes in the form of a community of professionals imbued with that well-loved Roman trait of amicizia (“friendship”). Virgilio also seized the opportunity to create a guest relations team that coordinates bespoke experiences and journeys that range from “bucket list” to “once in a lifetime.”

For more than five decades, Maurizio Pangrazio has served as Eden’s chief concierge. He’s such an impeccable and resourceful man that the city named him “best concierge in Rome.” We simply refer to him as the top point of reference for getting what we want around town.

Wellness Eden has always had a history with wellness, from the early days of La Terrazza, when executive chef Fabio Ciervo crafted one of the first macrobiotic menus in the city. During the 17-month pause, Ciervo not only studied new recipes, spent weeks researching new producers, and guest cheffing with Thomas Keller of Five-Star Per Se (New York) and Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck (Bray, U.K.), he also went back to school for a master’s in nutrition.

Suffice to say, Ciervo is back in his glorious, 2,152-square-foot, panoramic outpost with a brand-new plate that he aims to fill with unique and quality-of-life-focused dishes.

Eden’s makeover is tip to tails and, on the ground floor, is the hotel’s first spa. Hotel Eden Spa is a four-suite area of private rooms for couples and individuals.

You’ll also spot a nail spa and blowout bar, both designed for privacy and tranquility. And the best part: Hotel Eden Spa has brought in Los Angeles skin care guru Sonya Dakar (aka the pioneer of natural and vegan rejuvenation treatments) to her first European foray to create signature facials and other treatments.


When in Rome, Don't Cheer at the Wrong Soccer Game

This article original appeared in FATHOM on March 30, 2017. The First Soccer Game is a rite of passage for every Italian parent and child. Erica Firpo schools her daughter in the sacred sport.

ROME – There comes a time in every (Roman) child's life when a parent must have The Talk. A long and meaningful conversation about one's place in the world, and how that world's epicenter is the Stadio Olimpico, Rome's field of dreams.

In a soft voice, the conversation begins with color, a poignant preamble about the beauty of orange and red, with a casual mention of a slight disdain for boring baby blue. Heads nod in agreement as The Talk turns into A Dramatic Narrative — the rags-to-riches story of a young boy with a golden foot, and how that foot has traversed field after field and adversary after adversary to win the scudetti badges bestowed to series victors as well as hearts across the world. There is a reverent pause in homage to that young boy, who is now the captain of his hometown team, that incredible team known simply as AS Roma — city champions, underdogs, fighters.

Promises are made to always believe — through rain and shine, good and bad — that Roma is the best team in the world, a team that will always love you and never leave you. And to never, ever, ever root for their blue cross-town rivals, Lazio*. When the Roma scarf is gently wrapped around the child's neck, the rite of passage has been completed.

"Mamma, quando andiamo allo stadio?"

Shit. My seven-year-old has asked me the one question I had hoped and prayed never to hear. Mommy, when are we going to the stadium?

To be clear, I love calcio, the sport Americas call soccer. I love watching the World Cup and always get a front row seat in Campo de' Fiori during the Euros. I marched through the streets of Rome to celebrate the 2006 World Cup win. My beloved and worn-out Italia jersey is 15 years old, and I still wear it for every game the Italian national team — the Azurri — plays. And I have no stadium fears. In fact, I put in a lot of quality time in the tribuna (the best seats in the house at any stadium) during the 2005-2006 season, albeit begrudgingly, because my then-boyfriend was a historic (and histrionic) Laziale (Lazio fan).

These grandmas know the score.

I have pretty good idea of how (and when) to take a child to a game. I didn't want to hear that question because I love Juventus, the Turin team from the north.


  1. Romanist (student of ancient Rome)
  2. Member of the Roma football club

I blame school and her older sister for creating this die-hard Romanista. In first grade, she started collecting figurini, the Panini Serie A album with adhesive players card stickers. By second grade when she only wanted Roma players, the collectibles weren't enough. She wanted to see a real game.

As any good mother would do, I sucked it up and got tickets to the Stadio for a Mother's Day game — the ultimate symbol of maternal sacrifice. With deliberate reason: In my opinion, every true fan should have at least one chance to see their favorite player on the home pitch. In her case, it was Mr. Golden Foot himself, Francesco Totti, who, at almost 40 years old, was not guaranteed to return for the 2016-2017 season**.

Yes, I had been warned about taking a seven-year-old to the stadium. It's dangerous! The fans are crazy! Yes, I was aware that we were two females alone, and only one of us old enough to legally drive a car. It's a den of testosterone! The fans are crazy!

A superfan in the making.

So I made sure we did it right. A few days before the game, we headed to the official AS Roma store in our neighborhood to pick out a tuta (an official team outfit of shirt and pants), in spite of having been told there was nothing for women. We also bought a sciarpa, a silky, long neck scarf emblazoned with SPQR and AS ROMA in big letters, to accent my conveniently Roma red blouse. We looked the part and easily blended in with the seas of orange and red as we walked around the stadium grounds.

Once in the stadium, all we had to do was find our seats — a breeze, as ticket holders are only allowed access to their assigned seating section. I made sure to purchase seats in the mid-field Tribuna Monte Mario section, the one for dedicated Roma fans, and not the crazy Romanisti seats. The vibe in the tribuna is considered calm (okay, it is for a football match), making it the best place to sit with children. On our left was a father-and-son combo (one of the many; there were not so many daughters), also on a first-time-at-the-stadium, rite-of-passage game. On our right were a pair of nonne, experienced Romanista grandmothers who led all the cheers in our section. Knowing that the snack bar lines would be crazy long (and who wants to wait for bad snacks when the ball is in play?), we brought our own panini and purchased a cold drink of the stadium vendors. Effortless.

The experience was amazing. Roma dominated the game. Totti waved to us. De Rossi was as fine as he always is (the players are the best part of the game). My seven-year-old told me I was the best mamma in the history of all mothers. And I actually teared up while singing hard to Venditti's Roma Roma Roma.

When we returned home, I promised her more games for 2016-2017, and she told me it was okay if we went to the next Roma-Juve game. Together we set up a small altar to AS Roma, Totti, and his wife Ilary in a corner of her bedroom. That night, she made a wish that Er Bambino, the Golden Foot, would last just one more season so that we could have another Best Day Ever.

*That other team in Rome.

**If there is any reason to go to a Roma game, it is Francesco Totti. The Roma captain is still playing his heart out. If you're in Rome this season, make time to catch him in a game, because while it's unclear when he will retire, it's expected to be May.