TRAVEL

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.

How to Do the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018

Another Generosity at the Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Erica Firpo

My article on the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared in Condè Nast Traveler, May 2018.

Our guide to the very best of the seven-month architecture festival taking over Venice this year.

The Biennale Architettura 2018, or Venice Architecture Biennale, is an architect’s dream—but it’s also a design adventure for visitors, a temporary theme park for interactive and experimental works. Running through November 25, the event turns the entire Venetian archipelago into a playground of events, plus permanent and semi-permanent pavilions and projects that transform historic palazziand parks into design destinations. Here’s our guide to making sense of it all.

The Basics

The event centers around the Giardini, or the Biennale Gardens, a park where you’ll find the original national pavilions, a potluck of architecture from the early 1910s to today that includes projects from Australia, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The Central Pavilion, also at the Gardens, is the main stage for this edition of the Biennale, which is based around the theme of Free Space. Biennale curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin’s Grafton Architects chose the theme, but what exactly does it mean? “It’s the paradigm of architecture,” says McNamara of the concept. "It's a question about the absence and presence of architecture."

The Biennale Gardens. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In all, there are 63 national pavilions—and more than 70 architects—at the Biennale that explore the concept, but these six are among the most interesting:

  • Another Generosity, at the Nordic Pavilion (which reps Finland, Norway, and Sweden), you’ll find large membrane-like balloons, filled with water and air, that deflate and inflate as viewers walk through the space, a meditation on the relationship between nature and the built environment.
  • Dimension of Citizenship, at the U.S. Pavilion, consists of installations, films, and talks that explore "spatial understandings of citizenship," organizers say, at a time when "questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are posed with every athlete taking a knee, every #metoo, every presidential tweet, and every protest sign or fist raised."
  • Robabecciah: The Informal City, at the Egypt Pavilion, is a almost sculptural installation of “old junk,” or robabecciah, showcasing Egypt’s historic “spontaneous” markets.
  • UNES-CO, at the Czech/Slovak Pavilion, a futuristic welcome center where the backdrop is a screen showing a live feed of the Czech city of Český Krumlov, which has seen the population in its historic center drop dramatically in part because of an influx of tourists in recent years. The feed shows 15 couples and families who are being paid to live in the city full time.
  • Isola/Island, at the U.K. Pavilion, focuses on themes of isolation—both environmental and deliberately man-made—as well as questions of identity, both top of mind in post-Brexit Europe.
  • Svizzera240 House Tour, at the Swiss Pavilion, is a bit of a voyeuristic spin on architecture shows: As exhibitors put it: “What is built within the Swiss Pavilion is not a 'house' but a house tour: interior scenes are constructed at a range of different scales and spliced together, creating a labyrinthine sequence of interior perspectives.”

Meanwhile, the Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard, hosts the Corderie, a nearly 400-meter corridor that expands the Free Space exhibition; the neighboring warehouses host newer pavilions, including those of China, Italy, and Kosovo.

One of the 10 chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, part of the Vatican's entry for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018.Photo by Lena Klimkeit/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

More Must Sees

  • Woodland Chapels, the Vatican’s first ever entry in the Architecture Biennale, is both pilgrimage and installation. To visit, take a Line 2 vaporetto to the beautiful island of San Giorgio, where you’ll find 10 chapels designed by a dozen architects including Andrew Berman, Sir Norman Foster, Carla Juaçaba, and Eduardo Souto de Moura.
  • Environmental Justice as a Civil Right, at the Antigua & Barbuda Pavilion, the nation’s first entry to the Biennale, is set in the 15th-century Don Orione Artigianelli monastery on Dorsoduro. The pavilion explores sustainability, including the use of local materials and the importance of public parks—and the redevelopment of Barbuda, after the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
  • 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, recalls the the 1948 Biennale. Greece pulled out, and Peggy stepped in with a Carlo Scarpa–designed exhibit of 136 works; this year, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection celebrates its 70th anniversary by partially recreating the exhibition and bringing together works—from the likes of Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Jackson Pollock—which have not been seen in Venice in decades.
  • John Ruskin: The Stones of Venice, at the Doge’s Apartment in the Doge’s Palace, brings to life Ruskin’s three-volume tome on Venetian art and architecture through paintings, including Ruskin’s own watercolors.
  • Machines à Penser, at Fondazione Prada, in the ornate Ca’ Corner alla Regina, explores the ideas of exile and escape, with contemporary pieces inspired by (or reacting to) the work of the philosophers Adorno, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.

Where to Refuel

In the morning, hit Gran Caffe Quadri, the centuries-old coffee shop in St. Mark’s Square, that’s a favorite of local resident (and architecture superstar) Philippe Starck: “It’s a powerful concentration of mystery, beauty, oddity, and poetry,” he says of the famed coffeehouse. (In the evening, you can do dinner upstairs at Ristorante Quadri, the lavish and whimsical Michelin-star restaurant that he designed.)

Book ahead for lunch, since the Biennale crowds often fill Corte Sconta, a tiny Venetian trattoria with private garden, and Local, a former electrical shop gutted and transformed into a minimalist locavore restaurant. AMO, the atrium restaurant at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, is another Starck-designed choice near the Rialto Bridge.

Navigating the show

The best plan is to split your visit over two days. Start at the Giardini, visiting the central pavilion before branching off to the other country-specific entries; focus your second day on the remaining pavilions and the Arsenale. If you’ve got more time, spend it on off-site pavilions like the Vatican’s or seeing the contemporaneous shows around town.

The Biennale runs through November 25, and locations are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are €25 ($29) and grant a single admission to each of exhibition venues. You can buy tickets ahead of time online.

Photo credit Erica Firpo.

Where to stay

The Aman Venice, set in two restored centuries-old palazzi, feels like its own architectural show. The Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel is a sleeper favorite of Condé Nast Traveler editors that was on the Hot List in 2017. On the island of Giudecca, and a short (free) ferry ride from St. Mark’s Square, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is perfect if you prefer quiet—and it has what’s got to be the biggest swimming pool in Venice.

For a virtual tour of the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture, please take a look at my Instagram story that follows my adventures at the Biennale.

See Naples and Die: How To Have The Perfect Naples Day Trip

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.

Charming, beautiful, heartbreaking and gritty, Naples, Italy, is a torrid love affair you’re meant to explore for a day or a lifetime. For centuries, locals and visitors alike have constantly proved the proverb “See Naples and Die” true. It is a city that never leaves you and, for some, a destination that proves impossible to leave. But for those with less than 24 hours to see Napoli, here our tips for a day trip to this seaside siren.

HOW TO GET THERE
A day trip to Naples from Rome is as easy as a train ride, especially on Italy’s high-velocity rail service. Just 70 minutes from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale with departures every hour, Italo Treno’s round-trip option is your best bet. The unmistakable red needle-nose trains are stylish as well as comfortable and equipped with free Wi-Fi.

WHEN TO GO
Any time, any day and any month, Naples is amazing. From June through September, the temperatures are high and the sun is hot, so if you prefer milder climates, plan for the cooler months. Great times to visit include religious holidays, such as the September 19 Feast of San Gennaro (the patron saint of Naples), when the city crowds into the Naples Cathedral. From Advent (December 2) to Ash Wednesday (February 14), the city is a carnival of celebrations.

WHAT TO DO
Walk the City
There is so much to see in Napoli, and the best way to take it all in is by foot. A massive UNESCO World Heritage Site, Naples’ historic center has the unique characteristic of being split in half by a road. The Spaccanapoli (Via San Biagio dei Librai) is a long and narrow street lined with buildings representing all eras of Naples’ architecture, from its Greek foundations to 18th-century palaces.

Head to the historic center’s Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and spot the larger-than-life mural of San Gennaro by street artist Jorit Agoch, which appears as a backdrop in the Italian TV series Gomorrah.

Art lovers should check out the Madre, Naples’ contemporary museum. On display until September 24 is an exhibit titled “Pompei @ Madre,” a clever show mixing finds from the ill-fated ancient city with modern Pompeii-inspired art.

Part of the national Galleria d’Italia, the galleries of Palazzo Zevallos Stigliana are housed on the ground floor of a 19th-century bank, making for a cultured stop for both history buffs and art lovers.

Kids and romantics will want to visit one of the city’s numerous medieval castles, such as Castel Sant’Elmo and Castel dell’Ovo.

Plan Your Pizza
Probably the best reason for a day trip to Naples is pizza, in particular the freshly made local variety topped with marinara sauce and seasoned with oregano and garlic but no cheese at all.

For day-trippers, it’s important to plan your itinerary around where and when you will be eating your pie, allowing yourself at least 30 minutes of waiting in line — yes, you’re going to have to wait. Local favorites, such as Da MicheleGino SorbilloPizzeria La Notizia 94 and 50 Kalò, all have queues, especially around lunchtime. And just to be on the safe side, bring euros — not all pizza joints accept credit cards.  

For a truly Neapolitan way to finish off your meal, stop by the historic Gran Caffe Gambrinus for an espresso and a fresh pastry (like a fragrant rum babà — a rum-soaked cake — or flaky cannoli) and then enjoy the beautiful Piazza del Plebiscito.

Go Underground
Naples can be chaotic and, sometimes, the best solution is to head underground to explore the city’s ancient origins. Miles of subterranean tunnels, carved by early Greek settlers, lie beneath the city’s surface. Expanded by the Romans, the underground metropolis was used up until the 20th century, when it served as an air raid shelter during both World Wars. All of this history is hidden from the modern surface, but can be explored with Napoli Sotterranea.

For a deeper dive into the city’s past, plan a pit stop at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli to dig into its impressive collection of Greco-Roman art and artifacts. Among the exhibits, you’ll find pieces from Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the racy Gabinetto Segreto (secret cabinet).

Or, opt a different kind of underground with the Naples Metro, where the stations themselves are works of art.

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

Chef Bruno Barbieri celebrates Daruma Seasons.

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

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

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

Daruma Parlamento. Photo credit: Daruma Sushi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suite Life: Rome's Costaguti Experience

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

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

Billiard room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fontana delle Tartarughe with Palazzo Costaguti entrance in the background.

 

4 Things We Love About the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Credit: Mohamed Somji

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

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Erica Firpo

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

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

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

Whistler's Mother.  Photo credit: Erica Firpo

Giuseppe Penone's Tree. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

Ai Wei Wei. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrace Suite.

Junior Suite.

Checking In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dining room at Il Baretto al Baglioni

A Caffè Baglioni dining room overlooking the gardens.

Number of Rooms
87 rooms and suites.

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

Drawbacks
I can’t think of a single one.

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

Checking Out

Neighborhood
Centro Storico/Fashion Quadrangle

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

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

Plan Your Trip

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

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

Book It

Rates from $415. Click here for reservations.