TRAVEL

Savor Milan's Coffee Culture Like a Local

Starbucks’ New Reserve Roastery In Milan. Credit: Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan

When Starbucks decided to open in Milan, I will admit, I was slightly heartbroken, but after having visited and given a behind-the-scenes peek at the Reserve Roastery, I understand that the Milan venture is very meta. Milanese love it because it reminds them of the US, and no, it's not going to replace the Italian coffee shop. This article first appeared in Forbes Travel in September 2018.

While Europe’s first Reserve Roastery from Starbucks adds a new corner to Milan’s coffee landscape, it’s best to remember that Italy’s fashion capital perfected the pastry scene, introduced espresso to the world and invented aperitivo hour long before the Seattle-based shop started whipping up frappuccinos.

Still, this September-opened artisan coffee shop is just the third in the world after Seattle and Shanghai. The 25,000-square-foot Reserve is a celebratory, steampunk nod to Seattle coffee-making. Venetian marble counters, glass light fixtures and Palladiana mosaic floors offer a locally inspired backdrop to a labyrinth of sorting tubes and a mega-roaster that is said to provide coffee for all of Europe. 

The Reserve Roastery’s menu is a deep dive into coffee culture, from bean selection and roasting to offering multiple brewing methods (Modbar pour-over, coffee press and the visually stunning siphon) and beverages (espresso, cold brew and the proprietary clover-brewed coffee).

During your next stroll around this cultural gem, visit the stylish new Starbucks or any of these five more inimitable bars for a taste of the city’s caffeinated history.

Caffè Parigi. Credit: Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano

Caffè Parigi
Hidden inside Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano, this cozy spot boasts a warm wood living room with a backlit, veined marble bar, art-nouveau-style decorations and giant windows leading to an outdoor garden — if the weather permits, try to snag an alfresco seat.  

The bistro lounge is ideal for a nightcap and its afternoon tea (served daily from 4 to 7 p.m.) is a chic, Parisian-style treat.

What to order: You can get your caffeine of choice during the day, but ask the bartender for a classic negroni to wind down your evening.

Pasticceria Marchesi
This nearly two-century-old, family-run gem is one of the crown jewels of Milanese pastry shops. Designed by architect Roberto Baciocchi, its three locations are beautiful with mint green marble walls, cherry wood counters and clear crystal shelves that show off cakes, croissants, chocolates, jams and delectable confections. 

Traditionally the spot for stylish edible gifts, Marchesi has a gorgeous lounge area peppered with Milan’s fashion fabulous who gather over coffee and afternoon aperitivi.

What to order:  During the holidays, you’ll want to queue for a panettone (Marchesi’s coveted Christmas treat) or the Easter colomba cake. Otherwise, peruse the counter for any of the pastries before heading to the lounge to nibble on your purchase.

Cova. Credit: Cova

Cova
This Via Montenapoleone stalwart has long been a favorite of the international fashion scene. Mosaic floors, gilded mirrors and a crystal chandelier drop not-so-subtle hints that Milan takes its coffee as seriously as its style. 

The 200-year-old coffee and pastry shop is worth a visit for the people-watching alone (the bar is a popular spot for the city’s fashion elite). To take it all in, you’ll need to nab a table where coffee drinks and aperitivo cost a little more, but you’ll also receive plush banquets and stellar service.

What to order: In the morning, stand up for the cappuccino and cornetto (cone-shaped pastry), and ask for a scorza d’arancia (chocolate-covered orange peel). In the afternoon, grab a table and a negroni sbagliato (the classic Italian tipple, but topped with prosecco rather than gin), the socialite signora’s favorite.

Bastianello
At first glance, this whimsical spot appears to be a glamorous candy shop with a beautiful carved wood countertop perfect for a morning cappuccino. But the true Milanese know that you come to Bastianello to linger. 

The elegant pastry and coffee shop is the apex of aperitivo hour — its dining room veranda is where the who’s who of the city’s haute bourgeois meet up for handcrafted cocktails and a smattering of snacks.

What to order: Keep it simple with an Americano and the delectable club sandwich.

Pasticceria Cucchi
This traditional pastry shop and bar may not be as fashionable as some other Milanese caffés, but it’s a local institution nonetheless. Its mid-century vibe (think 1950s-era décor and formally clad waiters) charms an eclectic range of customers, from elegant couples to school-aged kids, as does a menu of snacks that includes coffee, sweet pastries, savory finger sandwiches and cocktails.

What to order:  The morning espresso is a must. Or linger into the night with a bite of El Meneghin (cake made with candied fruits) and a glass of maraschino.

Up, up and AWAY: upgrading my carry on

Carried away in Ischia.

A few months ago, I realized that I didn’t have a carry-on. Well, I did. It just wasn’t mine, a fact pointed out to me by my husband when we were both packing for three-day trips in opposite directions. His faithful roller was like a best friend- kind of scruffy, always there, and able to keep lots of secrets. I had nada. So I shoved everything I needed into my polka dot shoulder bag, and what was left went into my daughter’s elementary school backpack. It was about time I invested in a proper carry-on of my own.

Luggage, in my opinion, should be functional, durable and hopefully economical. A great suitcase should take you from destination to destination with ease, organization and maybe even a little security. For most of my life of long trips, I’ve used a banal black suitcase personalized with colorful, handmade luggage tags (i.e left-over ribbons). Yes, my bag always gets confused for someone else’s, and no, I don’t care that the suitcase itself is unattractive. In fact, aesthetics are last on my mind for two specific reasons: suitcases are always knocked around and scuffed up, and Roma-FCO, aka my main hub, is a black hole for luggage. But a carry-on? That’s an opportunity to style at airport lounges, flirt at the Duty Free shops and rock the runway, while having one’s entire life (or weekend life) neatly packed in a properly dimensioned bag at your side.

Enter: AWAY Travel. Or better yet, enter my mom, an avid reader of tech and entrepreneur mags, who was fascinated with the direct-to-commerce start-up’s story, and insisted I needed to meet co-founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio. A meeting with them didn’t make it on the travel itinerary, but I did I visit AWAY’s Bond Street boutique in Manhattan - a tranquil showroom of light woods and whites which gets the point across: travel is meditation, and so should shopping. Only one wall is lined with the rainbow of polycarbonate suitcases in AWAY’s dark and pastel colors, while the floor features a bag or two to show off AWAY’s clever details like 360 wheels, compression pads, external pockets for laptops, ejectable battery chargers, and limited editions. Utilitarian with some perks like quarterly travel magazines, travel bags, packing cubes, tile luggage tags and personalization. I loved everything but it was the Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum Edition that came home with me.

 Ever Flying.

Ever Flying.

How’d it fare?

The Bigger Carry-On can hold quite a lot. It easily fit five days worth of clothing plus sneakers, sandals, summer homework books, computer, iPad, camera gear, make up bags and a few stuff animals for me and my 9-year-old on a mid-summer trip to Sicily. As an origami-style packing geek, I loved the compression pad, and was happy to shove shoes, toys, gear and the nylon laundry bag (stuffed with wet bikinis) on the zip half, aka b-side. The EF stickers, which I told my daughter were for Ever Flying, charmed everyone in the airport. We both loved the combination locks that give the carry-on a smart spy vibe. In the past two months, my carry-on has knocked around seven airports, several trunks and two train rides, so yep, it has some scratches and scuffs, but that adds personality. My only gripe is the weight (and I did choose to remove the charger) especially when packed for two. At 11.2 lbs, the Bigger Carry-On in unbreakable aluminum is heavier than its polycarbonate companion who weighs in at 7.8 lbs (or the smaller Carry-On 7.6 lbs). Maybe not the most logical choice for a peripatetic travel writer but the Aluminum edition is by far the prettiest. .

The Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum edition and me on the Cayucos pier.

AWAY The Bigger Carry-on, Aluminum Edition

Exterior measurements 22.7" x 14.5" x 9.6"
Interior measurements 20" x 13"
Weight 11.2 lbs
Capacity 40.9L

*At the time of writing this, the Carry-On dimensions were perfect (and still are) for Alitalia and Delta, my main carriers. It seems like every day, airlines surprise us with updated baggage policies. Check Luggagepro and SeatGuru, and then double check on your carrier’s site.

Window Seat: Quadri in Venice

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Venice in its inkiest hours is my favorite time to walk through La Serenissima, and perhaps the only time to peruse St. Mark’s Square. The arcades are lit with a warm glow, reflecting in the basalt pavement and setting the square on fire. Foot traffic is different. It’s not rushed, it’s not crowded. People quietly cross the piazzas to get from here to there. Stragglers are trying to snap a Basilica night shot, while others are hiding behind columns to catch some bars of Brahms or Mozart from the small ensemble orchestras at Quadri and Florians. A St. Mark’s evening is decadent, romantic and slightly heartbreaking, like a fading memory that won’t disappear.

Me? Time and time over, I chose to stay. St. Mark’s is an old friend, and so are its cafes. The square comes at a premium, even with knowing a few secrets on how to enjoy an aperitif at the most expensive bars in Italy. And I am willing to pay for the experience if it is unforgettable. Quadri is more than just one of the epic cafes in the square with a live orchestra and front row seats to Basilica San Marco. It is a gastro-cultural experience. In 2011, the Alajmo brothers took over the more than 200-year-old property, with the intent of creating the very best pastry and coffee bar, along with opening up the first floor to an experiment restaurant. If you know the Alajmo brothers you know that they are full immersion- they idealize, create and personally execute every detail from concept, mentality, and dishes to vibe and design down to the glasses in your hand. At the beginning of 2018, the Alajmos brought in expert conservation artists to restore the Grand Caffe Quadri, original hub to writers and artists of the Grand Tour, and asked their friend and constant collaborator Philippe Starck to come back to the Michelin-starred Ristorante Quadri for a design upgrade.

Flavour Hunter in Condè Traveller, September 2018

This grand cafè opened in 1775 on St. Mark’s Square and over the years gained a list of regulars than included Lord Byron, Alexandre Dumas and Marcel Proust. But the romantic veneer of the square diminished amid the relentless commercialism that swept over venice at the end of the 20th century (along with pigeon photographers and gondolier hats), and Quadri was no longer the place to be seen.  Then, in 2011, chef Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother Raffaele arrived, a duo with three Michelin starts at Le Calandre in Padua, and it wasn’t long before Quadri earnt one of its own.  The Max and Raf menus highlight each of the brothers’ personalties; Max is the innovative one, Raf the more traditional. But the tasting menu- 16 courses for two- is a combination of oth, with dishes such as cappuccino di laguna, a mix of lagoon seafood and moeche, a soft-shell crab only found in the Venetian islands served with green fronds of samphire-like agretti. 

Yet it is only this year that the restaurant’s 250-year-old interior caught up with the kitchen’s contemporary attitude.  Philippe Starck, the man responsible for projects as diverse as the Mama Shelter hotels, Steve Job’s yacht and the interiors for a new space station, set to launch in 2020, has uncovered the palace’s original stuccowork from beneath layer upon layer of paint. Old-fashioned wall coverings have been replaces with earthy tones modelled on a 16th-century silk brocade - but look closely as there are rockets and satellites as well as portraits of Massimiliano and Raffaele within the fabric.  And on shelves above the doors, whimsical taxidermy rabbits and foxes are ready to take flight, a nod to the winged lion that guards the city.  Reserve a table by the window on the first floor for a front-row view over the square, high above the crowds - because this is once again the most-coveted spot in Venice.a

Peep the Alajmo brothers’ portraits in the brocade. Photo credit: Quadri.

Quattro Atti. Photo credit: Quadri.

Have I eaten at Quadri? Twice over the past two years at Ristorante Quadri and both times (a lunch and a dinner), I have not only relished the view, but loved the dishes. Massimiliano is a genius, fact. He is clever, he is instinctive, he is innovative. His dishes are heart-warming, reminiscent of past lives and history. And most of all they are unexpected. But let’s be serious- I love Quadri for its location, especially the window seat in the evening where I have the glowing piazza below me.

Mornings, I am at Grand Caffe Quadrino as much as I can. I frame myself below the beautifully restored walls and mirror next to the elderly German man who sits in the corner every morning. On a brisk and clear morning, I will sit outside, but usually before the orchestra starts so that I can read. Tip: For the experience with less of a price tag, you can also get stand up service at the bar.

Me enjoying Quadrino, the ground floor Grande Caffe Quadri.

How to Spend A Weekend in Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

Monte Carlo.  Who would have thought a girl from Philadelphia would end up on a long weekend roaming it's winding, F1 roads?  My latest weekend getaway for Forbes Travel is the hairpin turns in art and culture in the tiny Principality of Monaco.

There’s something about Monte Carlo that calls for a long weekend at least once in your lifetime. The lure of high speed and high stakes as seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief and the James Bond film Goldeneyedraws visitors to its craggy coast for a glimpse at lifestyles of the rich and discreetly famous.

But as you’ll see, the tiny principality is the perfect setting for another kind of getaway: the weekend retreat.

Getting There
Traveling to Monte Carlo is as easy as it is beautiful. Driving along the coastline from Italy or France (or arriving by boat) makes for a scenic trip, but the most spectacular introduction to the city is by helicopter. 

Arrive like a VIP by booking a heli-flight from Nice with Monacair, a private transportation company founded by Stefano Casiraghi, the late husband of Monaco’s Princess Caroline. Enjoy the seven-minute ride along the sparkling coastline before arriving at this world-class destination in style. 

Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo. Credit: Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo

Rest and Relaxation
Monaco is home to some of the world’s finest hotels for a pampering, and there is perhaps no better address than Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo in the heart of the city. Surrounded by lush greenery, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star palace is elegant and subtle.

Entered from a long cobblestone driveway, the ground floor hints at the hotel’s 131-year history with period furniture and paintings of Grimaldi princes. Its 126 rooms reflect understated luxury, except for the Carré d’Or Suite, a lavish 1,600-square-foot penthouse with a panoramic terrace.

Odyssey, the Karl Lagerfeld-designed poolside restaurant, is a coveted spot for some sun time, while the true indulging takes place at Spa Metropole by Givenchy, a gorgeous contemporary retreat.

Palais Princier de Monaco. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

Catch up on Culture
Hotel Metropole is just steps away from the legendary Monte Carlo Casino, the 155-year-old bastion of gaming that transformed the tiny sovereign state into one of the richest countries in the world. If a night at the tables is not on your bucket list (if it is, go late), at least take an hour out in the morning for a walk through the historic building.

Monte Carlo is not all hairpin turns and croupiers — one of Monaco’s most popular structures is also an enclave of art. The Nouveau Musèe National Monaco is a bundle of two Belle-Époque buildings, Villa Sauber and Villa Paloma, that each feature semiannual exhibitions by contemporary artists, such as Tom Wesselmann, Oliver Laric and Latifa Echakhch.   

For a deeper dive into the work of one of Monaco’s most intriguing artistic residents, head to the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation. The site showcases more than 2,500 paintings, photographs and artifacts detailing the British painter’s life in Monte Carlo in the late 1940s and ’50s. Just keep in mind that the foundation offers tours by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.

History buffs will also want to visit Palais Princier de Monaco, the prince’s palace where the House of Grimaldi has lived and reigned for nearly eight centuries. While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to see Prince Rainier’s famous car collection, which includes vintage models and retired Formula 1 racers.

 Joël Robuchon. Credit: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo

Joël Robuchon. Credit: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo

Where to Wine and Dine
The nearly 500-acre country is a culinary melting pot. Start your journey at Joël Robuchon, the eponymous restaurant of the late, great masterchef. Housed within Hotel Metropole, the venue’s open kitchen brings the talented toque’s stellar cuisine to Earth’s stratosphere in a casual-chic environment.

Chef Christophe Cussac dreams up Mediterranean versions of Robuchon’s classic dishes, such as the inimitable cherry gazpacho and delicately simple sea bass in a red wine sauce with wasabi and spinach.

A few other items that cannot be missed: Robuchon’s bread presentation (a celebration of housemade baguettes, biscuits and buns); the decadent dessert cart; and the terrace, which juts out over a stretch of Monte Carlo’s famed Formula 1 course, redefining dine and dash. 

For something more down-to-earth, opt for a sampling of customary Monégasque cuisine — a uniquely local flavor that combines the creative spices of southern French fare and the ease of Italian recipes into dishes that are effortless and comforting.

Monte Carlo Casino. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

To get an authentic taste, book a table at Le Castelroc, a charming eatery in front of the prince’s palace run by the Bonafède family since 1953. Sample traditional treats like barbajuans (fried puff pastry stuffed with Swiss chard) and stockfish de rosette, the family’s four-generation-old secret take on the national dried cod stew dish.

After dinner, skip the casino and grab a table at Four-Star Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo’s Crystal Bar. This is the go-to spot for the pre-nightclub crowd thanks its fabulous view and luxurious menu — choose from a selection of Premier Cru champagne to pair with oysters and caviar, or savor one of the venue’s distinguished craft cocktails. (In the summer, snag a table on the Crystal Terrasse and relish in the Mediterranean salt air with Incredible Mia, a beautiful, drinkable bouquet of pisco, lime juice and passion fruit purée.)

The city’s nightlife scene, where bumping into celebrities on the dance floor is practically passé, is a different animal. For four decades, Jimmy’z Monte Carlo — an enormous indoor/outdoor discotheque — has been the wildly popular center of the after-hours universe, but newcomer Twiga — this spot comes from Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore, who’s known for curating clubs to celebrities around the globe — is also making waves.

How to Train Your Wine Palate

Training your wine palate isn't difficult. Earlier this year, I ventured to Florence to meet with expert Filippo Bartolotta to discuss simple ways to gain a better understanding of what's in your glass. This article fist appeared in Wine Enthusiast, August 2018.

Filippo Bartolotta has walked miles of countryside in the pursuit of understanding terroir, and he’s spent years tasting flavors to find the building blocks of vintages. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET)-certified sommelier is based in Florence, Italy, where he curates wine experiences around the world, as co-founder of the luxury wine tour group, Le Baccanti, and in collaboration with chefs like Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura.

In his latest venture, he tackles the topic of how to train your palate in a newly published book, Di Che Vino Sei (What Kind of Wine Are You). By breaking down eight personality archetypes, Bartolotta believes wine lovers of all levels of expertise can get in groove with their palates. This practice of “wine training” has worked for the likes of actor Dustin Hoffman and former President Barack Obama.

Wine training is exactly what you’re likely thinking: Hours and lots of bottles dedicated to tasting wines. Part emotional and part physical, wine training is about pace, consistency, dedication and exposure. And it’s not just for the academics, collectors or would-be sommeliers, it’s for anyone who enjoys a great pour.

“The truth of a bottle of wine is when you are sitting down and sipping glass after glass, just seeing what happens,” says Bartolotta. Instead of having an experience bound by rigid rules, the only requirement he has for participants is a healthy desire to drink wine. Here are three of his surefire tips.

Don’t worry about memorization

The palate is a complex experiential combination of the four of the five senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. To those, Bartolotta adds another a fifth dimension, experience. It starts out simply, as participants open a bottle of wine to see how and why they like it.

Memorization is the least important aspect. More important is tasting and more tasting to train the palate to recognize flavors, which breeds confidence and natural instincts.

“I don’t like [to guess wines], you miss the whole the concept,” he says. “Instead, it’s all about developing the gut feeling, because your first impression is the most accurate one.”

Establish a daily practice

To understand and identify the nuances of wines, vintages and producers requires daily dedication. Bartolotta has spent thousands of hours in morning-long tasting sessions to solidify his gut feelings. But anyone can train these skills, whether with sommeliers or on their own.

Not many people have the time to taste every single day, of course. Bartolotta suggests that wine lovers dedicate a few hours weekly or monthly to hang out with good friends and great bottles.

Pick a few bottles from the same region, producer or grape variety, sample them and talk about it. Bartolotta suggests doing it again and again until it becomes part of your life. He says that after consistent wine enjoyment with no pressure, the palate becomes more sophisticated. Flavors become familiar, and instinct develops into intuition.

Eventually, tasting becomes a mindfulness practice, says Bartolotta. By the third or fourth glass, it becomes, as Bartolotta says, “a Matrix moment and you’re Neo, synergistically knowing what you are tasting.” The key is to continue to taste and drink, and to hang out with friends is a great reason to expand the selection of wines and experiences.

Compare and contrast

Pop open two semi-related bottles at the same time, say a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. Compare and contrast simultaneously to help you discover subtleties to what you like and don’t like. Otherwise, if you have a good bottle tonight and another next week, it’s difficult it to say which style you really prefer.

Also, get vertical. Much like tasting different styles from the same producer, vertical tastings are when you taste the same style from different years. Tasting the same label, but from three or more different vintages can help understand how the weather and other variables can affect the wine. And given the region, you can also ascertain whether you like hotter vintages versus cooler ones.

Experienced or entry-level, wine training is less about becoming an expert at blindly identifying wines, and more about self-understanding and preferences. As Bartolotta believes, wine was not invented simply to be tasted, it was meant to be enjoyed.

in Florence and want to taste wine with Filippo? Easy.  His company Le Baccanti organizes customized luxury cultural food & wine vacations and day tours in Tuscany and Italy- so yes, you can sit down at a table with him for a few hours eating, drinking and talking wine.  I did and totally developed a wine crush.

J.K. Place Hotel Will Make Everyone Fall More in Love with Florence

Florence is a dream destination for so many, but the question is where to rest your head. Here is my latest hotel review for Fathom: JK Place Florence.

Warm up by the fireplace. All photos courtesy of J.K. Place.

FLORENCE — Florence enchants, mesmerizes, and beguiles. It is a city for those who love the fairytale Italian dream of warm sunsets, flowing hair, and great dinners. For centuries, it has been the requisite Grand Tour stop for literature lovers, art travelers, and cruisers. For me, Florence was always an easy day trip from my home in Rome when I needed a quick culture hit in the form of a Renaissance painting or an occasional contemporary show at Palazzo Strozzi. I staunchly refused to allow myself to fall in like with the city. And then a recent overnight stay lured me into loving Florence.

Florentine pillow talk takes all kinds of shapes, and one of the most charming is boutique hotel J.K. Place. In 2003, hotelier Ori Kafir opened the doors of what would become the first in a mini empire (other the JKs are in Rome and Capri) with the idea of giving guests a pied-a-terre in the middle of one of Italy's most visited cities. He wanted something different from the grand dame styles of European hotels — something cozier and chicer, though just as elegant and impeccable. He wanted a home that was quintessentially Florentine in both style and hospitality.

J.K. Place still holds up to its original tenets. The townhouse is an easy respite, perfectly located for both historic city center strolls and out-of-town trips, while its beautiful design by internationally acclaimed local designer Michele Conan upholds its contemporary vibe. More importantly, it is so Florentine, down to every detail — from the bottled water they serve to the thousands of books about art, culture, and style scattered around, many focused on the city and its artisans.

A Florentine-worthy entrance.

Bathe with a view in the Penthouse bathroom. 

Book It

Rates start from €440. Click here to book.

Checking In

Location
A five-minute walk from Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Florence's main train station, J.K. Place has a front row view of Piazza Santa Maria Novella, an open square with the beautiful Santa Maria Novella church and its very cool Renaissance facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the 1470s. The piazza is a busy hub for foot traffic and buskers.

Hotel Style
Florentine elegance, which translates to effortless style in all things aesthetic. J.K. mixes contemporary with classic — anachronistic yet very 21st century — to make you feel like you are in the home of Florence's most peripatetic art collector and fanciful flaneur.

This Place Is Perfect For
Everyone. No, really, everyone will find themselves at home here, especially those with refined sensibilities.

But Not So Perfect For
Those who insist on having a room with a view of the Arno.

Enjoy a private fireplace in master room 12.

Live your Florentine dreams in room 12.

What's on Site
J.K. Place is a home, an impeccably stylish one, that invites you to hang out. Just before the entrance is the outdoor J.K. Lounge, a teak terrace facing the piazza, a great people-watching lunch spot or cocktail-hour hangout. The ground level is a labyrinth of gorgeously styled lounges, salons, and libraries, with beautiful artwork and to-die-for art books and magazines, comfortable sofas, and cashmere throws. Late night, I discovered the terrace lounge, J.K.'s sexy rooftop bar that puts you eye-to-eye with Santa Maria Novella's flourishes.

Food + Drink
The J.K. Lounge hosts an enviable buffet breakfast, an overflowing cornucopia of healthy fruit and home-baked treats, as well a la carte selections. From lunchtime through evening, the lounge becomes J.K. Cafe, a tasteful, health-focused eatery that wows you with traditional Tuscan dishes like pasta al sugo finto and contemporary favorites, including an excellent club sandwich. Cocktails, you ask? J.K. seems like it was designed specifically for enjoying a well-crafted martini, a vintage wine, or a Negroni sbagliato, whether in the Lounge, the Champagne Bar (the cozy living room adjacent to the lounge), or the rooftop terrace. Food and beverage director Andrea Pieri is a walking gastronomic and enological archive. Ask him about the food, the wines, the water, the cocktails, and chances are he'll have a good story to tell.

Number of Rooms: 20 guest rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities: Sublime linens, towels, and robes. Excellent and fast WiFi and LED televisions. A mini bar abundantly stocked with free snacks and drinks. Cashmere blankets from a local merchant. Rooms scented by local perfumer Dr. Vranjes.

Drawbacks: The branded power strip outlet is a bit outdated and wouldn't send any power to my iPad and iPhone. I'd love to see a tech update.

Standout Detail: It would be easy to say the Terrace, but the standout for me is J.K.'s Library, which has every Taschen, Phaidon, and art book I covet. Even more standout was the staff's knowledge of their books and their willingness to provide more.

 Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Even Florentine stairs are aesthetic.

Checking Out

Florence has been Tuscany's self-proclaimed It town since it birthed the Renaissance. Italy's top artists and architects of the 15th and 16th centuries remain well represented in its architecture, museums, churches, and palazzi, thanks to the shrewd support of the city's favorite families, starting with the Medici. And Florence keeps up that vibe today, nourishing 21st century artisans — fabulous leather workers, printmakers, jewelers, bookmakers, and more.

What to Do Nearby
Honestly, what's not to do? J.K. Place is within easy walking distance to just about everything you want to see in Florence, a very walkable city. Across Piazza Santa Maria Novella is the underrated Museo Novecento, a museum focusing 20th-century art, while around the corner is Palazzo Strozzi, an arts space that is lately lining up blockbuster shows. Of course, you're going to want to walk around Piazza del Duomo, where you cannot miss the green, pink, and white marble panels of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the gorgeous Brunelleschi dome, and the museum. Definitely make time for Opera Dumo, the Duomo's amazing museum with reconstructions of how Brunelleschi made the dome, as well as Michelangelo's penultimate pietà and incredible restored artwork. Have a Hannibal moment in Piazza della Signoria, then drop by Gucci Garden for a peek into the Guccci mind. Window shop on Via Tornabuoni, or cross the river to Oltrarno, Florence's hippest neighborhood.

Good to Know
General manager Claudio Meli knows everyone and everything there is to know in Florence. Just ask him. In fact, Meli is the author of J.K. Essential Guide to Florence, his love letter to the city in the form of an intrepid, pocket guide book that he's produced for guests. Keep in mind that Florence feels busy with tourists throughout the year, at its most congested at Easter and spring break through June. Although there's more room to breathe in July and August when Florentines flee the city for coastal breezes, the infernally hot temperatures make a visit not fun at all.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Either take a train into Firenze-Santa Maria Novella train station or fly into Florences’s international airport, four kilometers from the city center.

Getting Around
Walk. Yes, Florence has buses and taxis, but if you are really here to enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of Florence, all you need are your feet. For day trips around Tuscany, you can reach cities like Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and Arezzo via regional trains. If you're interested in exploring the great hilltops, beach communities, strade del vino (wine routes), and picturesque towns like Orbetello, Volterra, and Montepulciano under the Tuscan sun, your best bet is hiring a car.

Make the most of the lounge and Italian baked-goods.

Dine in true Florentine style in the breakfast room.

5 Boutique Rome Stays To Check Out This Summer

Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina

There isn’t a better time to visit Rome than in the summer, when the city illuminates with museum and site openings and incredible evening events. And the Italian capital is more than ready to accommodate with an incredible crop of small, but mighty high-end hotels that are helping to further evolve the city’s dynamic from eternal to iconic.

Here’s your room key to five of Rome’s most sumptuous stays.

Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
History plays a major role in contemporary Roman life, so it’s no wonder that this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay masterfully combines both. A verdant enclave on the site of a first-century imperial villa, Grand Meliá provides an urban haven of relaxation with its sprawling greenery and state-of-the-art spa.

Beat the city heat by lounging around the picture-perfect 1920s-style swimming pool. Lined with cozy cabanas, plush loungers and secluded gardens, this elegant spot is an Instagrammer’s paradise.

When you need a bite (or a cocktail), simply stroll over to the buzzing poolside bar, Liquid Garden. Try a Spirtz & Fizz (gin, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, prosecco and smoked salt) and nibble on Italian bites.

You can also head to the terrace of Ossimoro to enjoy a flavorful Mediterranean meal from chef Carmine Buonanno — either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Portrait Roma’s Rooftop Terrace. Credit: Portrait Roma – Lungarno Collection

Portrait Roma — Lungarno Collection 
If you’re looking for a Five-Star pied-à-terre in the heart of town, you’ll find it here. The chic, 14-room property is a fashionista’s dream with Ferragamo-inspired interiors that look fresh off a magazine cover.

Open during the summer months, a rooftop terrace — serving light fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner — is equally as stunning, with cushy loungers, candles and a modern glass fireplace, perfect for cuddling or celebrating.

But some of the best features aren’t found inside — Portrait Roma boasts a prime locale on Via dei Condotti, Rome’s historic and exclusive fashion boulevard. The avenue is an excellent place to shop for haute couture during seasonal sales, which run through August.

And just in case you can’t decide what you want to do next, the hotel also has a team of six knowledgeable lifestyle assistants, ready to send you in the direction of the city’s hottest concert, exhibit or restaurant.

Villa Spalletti Trivelli. Credit: Villa Spalletti Trivelli

Villa Spalletti Trivelli
History buffs and luxury lovers alike will want to book into this Four-Star stay when heading to Rome. A historic home-turned-hotel, this refined retreat is decked out in period furniture and art, including tapestries, sculptures, paintings and an exquisite antique library recognized by Italy’s Ministry of National Heritage and Culture. Even the gardens are manicured to evoke an early 19th-century feel.

Hospitality goes above and beyond here. Expect to be greeted at the entrance and served breakfast and afternoon tea in lavish salons. Twelve bedrooms reside in the three-story home, while across the lawn are a large apartment and two spacious Garden Suites, which are highly recommended for a summer stay.  

But the real highlight is the remodeled rooftop terrace. Debuted this summer, the alfresco space has multiple whirlpools, a complimentary bar and a plush lounge. The hotel’s enviable position on Quirinale Hill — one of the seven hills of Rome — makes its rooftop a wonderful sunset spot.

The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel’s Divinity Rooftop Terrace. Credit: The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel

The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel
Debuted in April, this 79-room stunner occupies a prime perch in the magical and very central Pantheon neighborhood. The historic façade hides a complete interior rebuild by Milanese architect Marco Piva, who transformed the building into a veritable temple of design with glossy marbles, resplendent golds, warm woods and contemporary sculptures all inspired by the Pantheon itself. 

But the cherry on top of this sublime stay is the rooftop. Offering dome-level views of the iconic monument and Rome’s terracotta-dotted skyline, the Divinity Rooftop Terrace features a glass-enclosed wine cellar and a historically inspired cocktail menu, providing a scenic perch for summertime sundowners.

When the ground-floor restaurant Dionysus opens this fall, you can expect to enjoy Roman and regionally inspired flavors there along with a wine list of more than 400 labels.  

Hotel Vilón’s Adelaide. Credit: Stefano Scatà

Hotel Vilòn
Located in a 16th-century mansion that once belonged to one of Rome’s most formidable families, this brand-new boutique stay (it just opened in March) is this season’s best-kept secret.

Situated on a quiet side street just off the bustling historic city center, this 18-room darling was designed from floor to ceiling as a luxurious home. Rich colors, lavish marbles and woods, contemporary art and photography, and custom furniture create an ambiance that is both stylish and sultry. 

On the ground level is where you’ll find Adelaide, a gorgeous restaurant and bar that feels like you’ve just walked onto a film set, thanks to styling by production designer Paolo Bonfini. With its contemporary vibe and exclusive locale, this posh lounge is one of the hottest places in the city to sip — snag a stool during apertivo hour and order up a Principessa, a fragrant blend of citrusy Galliano L’Aperitivo, pomegranate juice, and thyme- and pink-pepper-infused soda.

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel July 2018.

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An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Fashion, food, finance and all-round fabulousness. Here’s how to spend an inspired 36 hours in Milan, Italy’s “It” city.

10am: Check in at Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and you’ll find yourself in the centre of an art-focused crossroads, from Milan’s illustrious Baroque to its contemporary cultural kingpin vibe. Step into modern Milan of the 1930s at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in park Villa Campiglio directly across the from the hotel.

Named for socialite sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio, the Villa Necchi Campiglio was the centre and centrepiece of Milan’s mid-twentieth century social scene. Architect Piero Portaluppi combined his unique rationalist flair of sleek lines and materials with Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional sensibilities (including custom pieces and built-ins). His 1930s design was innovative in details both inside and out. In 2000, Gigina bequeathed the property to FAI, Italy’s national trust, which opened the villa as a museum in 2008.

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

12pm: For lunch, the villa’s solarium doubles as a charming cafeteria and features favourite Milanese dishes including a green risotto and traditional veal cutlets. Wondering why the Villa Necchi Campiglio looks familiar? The iconic home was setting for the 2009 Italian movie I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.

3pm: Make your way to Fondazione Prada. This 205,000-square-foot complex is home to an intense collection of contemporary art works by 20th and 21st-century Italian and international artists—from Giacomo Balla to Francesco Vezzuoli and Damien Hirst. Its 2015 Rem Koolhaas/OMA design includes a cinema.

 Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

6pm: Stop for aperitivi at Fondazione Prada’s cocktail hub Bar Luce, the Art Deco–inspired bar designed by director Wes Anderson. And then make your way up the newly opened Torre, a nine-story modernist tower, with art galleries that eventually lead to the rooftop terrace bar.

8:30pm: After drinks, stay for dinner at Ristorante Torre, the Fondazione’s tower restaurant. The illuminated cityscape of Milan sprawls away beyond its floor to ceiling windows, and the views inside are equally good with art work including custom wall-hung plates and midcentury design pieces like Tulip tables, and executive chairs by Eero Saarinen. The menu features regular new tasting dishes created by a rotation of Michelin rising star chefs from the CARE’s Chef Under 30 project.

 Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

8.30 am: Build up an appetite with a stroll through the historic Giardini Pubblici, established 1784 and considered the oldest city park in Milan. Then find a counter spot at Pasticceria Marchesi, the posh cafe on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s Fashion Quadrilateral. A city landmark, Marchesi is the perfect scene for morning coffee, and has a mouthwatering line up of pastries, traditional pralines and savoury treats. Take a look around the Fashion Quadrilateral, an oasis of haute couture. Via Montenapoleone and its side streets are lined with beautiful boutiques representing some of the world’s most admired fashion houses.

11.30 am: Milan’s designers all know that contemporary style comes from centuries of culture. Catch up on Milan’s history at the Galleria Arte Moderna, a late 18th century villa whose Baroque trappings are the backdrop to an enviable collection of Italian and European artwork from the 18th to the 20th century. The rise of modern Milan is shown through key work by Balla, Boccioni, Canova and Segantini, which sit side by side with Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne and Gaugin.

1pm: For lunch, head to LuBar, the galleria’s on site cafe for creative Sicilian street food in a whimsical fin-de-siècle setting.

 

3pm It’s time to go back to the future by visiting the Pirelli Hangar Biccocaa free-entry contemporary complex on the grounds of a former Pirelli tire factory. This is now one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces, with three buildings covering 100,000 square feet. It’s dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions featuring works by Italian and international artists. Guides are on hand to help you navigate around the vast complex.

8pm By early evening, you’ll want to grab an outside table at Iuta BistrotHangar Bicohcca’s onsite gourmet restaurant where the city’s cognoscenti congregate for stylish conversation and aptly-mixed cocktail.

10pm Ready to head home to the hotel? Before you do, make a pit stop at Bar Basso, a cult classic popular with the fashion and design crowd, known for introducing the world to “aperitivi” hour and its own take on the negroni.

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

The Florence Experiment: Contemporary Art Slides Through The Renaissance Town

Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn! - Better Off Dead, 1985

Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide.  Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code.   We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way.    Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique.   In the summer,  the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity.  Scary?  Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.

Playgrounds don't have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more.  Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm.  Maybe that's a good thing, but when I stand atop today's slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn't, happen.  And I think Carsten Höller does too. 

Höller makes thrills.   His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past.  And this time he's experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he's playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence.   The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology.   Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling.  A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.  

Here's where it gets brainy. Once you've finished, you're invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi's underground laboratory where Mancuso's team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant.  And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot)  - in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi's external facade.  Sounds hokey? It could be, but it's fun and if you take a step back, it's pretty damn clever.  Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.

And guess what?  It's about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream.  For Höller,  "the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be." I agree. Let's do it.

Photo credit: Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florence Experiment

Palazzo Strozzi, through August 26

For those looking to discover more of Tuscany, Palazzo Strozzi is more than just a museum.  It is keystone to Associazione Partners Palazzo Strozzi APPS a coalition of personalities, institutions and firms that  support the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi , Florence and its "made-in-Florence" treasures through multi-cultural projects.

 

View from room 516, Hotel Savoy.

R & R:   Rooms and Restaurants

Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy.  516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi's dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells.  We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else - Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.  Earlier in 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space.  Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles.  I am hoping that the next I stay,  Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.

Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence's San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno.  Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter,  every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I've walked into someone's home.  For my group, the  focus is always singular:  a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt.  Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto.  Personally, I don't go there.

The laboratory.

Perfect Fit: Cool Blue Jeans Found in Amsterdam {Shopping}

Amsterdam's denim appreciation fair, Denim Days. Photo courtesy of Denim Days.

Who knew that Amsterdam was a hub for denim aficionados? Erica Firpo, Fathom's Rome-based contributing editor, shopped hard (and happily) for the blues.  Fathom May 2018.

AMSTERDAM — I am going to be honest. In all these years in Europe, including the requisite study abroad months of debauchery, I never experienced Amsterdam. Nope, I never met up with all my college friends for a long and deliberately forgotten weekend, and sorry, Professor Minott, I never bought a ticket just to see my coveted Dutch Masters. For some reason, I am missing the genes that drive one to The Netherland’s naughtiest city which almost everyone whose adolescence pre-dates Weeds and legal dispensaries has.

Maybe I don’t have the genes. But I did get the jeans.

Design vibes at Hotel Pulitzer. Photo courtesy of Pulitzer Hotel.

Backstory: It’s late November and my friend Sarah decides it’s about time I see the Night’s Watch in person. She also needs to top up her CBD oil supply. We decide to go Dutch, splitting the trip down the middle, including our king-sized bed at Hotel Pulitzer, the most stylish labyrinth I’ve ever seen.

The canal-side Pulitzer is like a very cool Escher painting, a composite of 25 townhouses restored to show off their glorious 17th and 18th century architecture. (And yes, the original family was related to the prize-giving family). You get the vibe as soon as you walk in: the Pulitzer is saucy. Dark indigos and an open lobby area stretch to a garden and more canal houses, with gorgeous design furniture and clever contemporary art inspired by Dutch masterpieces. Ground level, there’s the gorgeous, Scandi-chic restaurant Janz and very sexy Pulitzer bar. The Extraordinary suites are hot, in particular, the music collector’s suite which has a wall of wacky 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s record covers, but we climb our way through a wooden stairwell to a canal-facing suite on the top level of one of the original townhouses. Cyclists pass below, it’s raining, and I could leave it at that — but we have plans.

Da Straatjes shopfronts. Photo by Erica Firpo

It’s good to have plans in Amsterdam, and even better to forget about them, which we learn as soon as we start walking around the city. Amsterdam is like an organized Venice, neighborhoods around canals and canals around neighborhoods. The Da Straatjes (the 9 streets) easily becomes our neighborhood, and we only leave it for the Rijksmuseum and Boerejongens. The 9s is a busy area, packed with strident bicyclists, unaware tourists, school children, and residents. Design shops, vintage shops, and food shops are tucked away on cobblestoned streets. Sarah and I decide we’re coming back to upgrade our lives (and I do just a month later). We want cool, Dutch designs in our homes from the amazing furniture to the Cool Club playing cards. We want to be styled by any of Amsterdam’s designers, from Dutch streetwear to Netherlands minimalism. We want cat socks and personalized perfume. But more than anything, I want to be decked out in denim.

Amsterdam is one-third of the denim city triumvirate, along with Tokyo and Los Angeles. Beautifully curated denim boutiques are everywhere. So many labels are born and headquartered here; the city hosts Amsterdam Denim Days, a jeans-centric fair, and Amsterdam is home to the world’s first Jean School. Jean-lovers, bookmark this Denim map by Amsterdam Denim for where to find the best of the best in Amsterdam.

Scandi-style means denim-on-denim. Photo courtesy of Denim Days.

Aside from the jeans, my other favorite finds in Amsterdam:

Athenaeum Boekhanel, not in the 9s, but that doesn’t matter. This is could be the best magazine shop in Europe. Hundreds of publications from standard newsstand fare to those gorgeously-produced and hard-to-find ‘zines.

Mendo, the ultimate art/coffee table book shop with every single beautiful art book you have ever coveted: Taschen SUMOs, Phaidon food books, limited editions, everything. Apparently, you can order the entire library of books in one click on their website, no questions asked. I can’t even fathom that possibility.

Coffee-table books to bring Amsterdam vibes home. Photo courtesy of Mendo.

Cowboys2catwalk for Acne Studios, Comme des Garçons, Lemaire. Yes, it’s high-end fashion but it’s all about the selection.

Frozen Fountain, an Amsterdam-townhouse stripped down and filled with design furniture, knickknacks, games. All are incredibly stylish.

Lekker, eye candy for cyclists. Retro-inspired luxury two wheelers and plenty of accessories.

Rain Couture, because it rains a lot in Amsterdam. No surprise that the inventive Dutch have made good-looking, well-priced rain coats for all seasons, of course.

Bar Centraal (not even remotely near the 9s). My friend Sarah is a natural wine fanatic, and she should be because she’s a sommelier who organizes wine adventures (among other things) in Georgia and Rome. Bar Centraal was the only place we could not miss — a tiny local bistro bar, the menu is modern Dutch tapas with lots of great natural wines.

For a better versed Amsterdam, the peripatetic Frankie Thompson narrows down her home base in a series of city-centric articles on her site As the Bird Flies.