TRAVEL

Masquerades, a Flying Angel and (So Many) Parties: Carnevale in Venice Is a Must

Get the lowdown on Carnevale in Venice. (Photo: Getty Images)

Every year, the islands of Venice come together for Carnevale, the city’s biggest celebration and an epic 16-day costume party spilling into every calle and campo. Carnevale is a storied tradition in Venice, dating back nearly 1,000 years to 1064 as a simple festivity which eventually morphed into the city’s Lenten kickoff festival. By the late 18th century, Carnem Vale, Latin for “Goodbye, flesh,” evolved into a no-holds-barred bacchanalian binge that started the day after Christmas and ended in the wee hours of Ash Wednesday.

Today’s Carnevale is not quite the den of debauchery that caused Napoleon to shut down the celebrations during his occupation of La Serenissima — a ban that lasted nearly 200 years. But still, contemporary Carnevale is a huge celebration — two full weeks of playing dress-up with a naughty sense of humor, whooping it up at masquerade balls, and watching parades, acrobatic displays and other surprises. Here’s where to find the fun.

Watch as locals the open water in colorful costume. (Photo: Alamy)

Festa Veneziana Sull’Acqua

Like Rio’s Carnival and New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Carnevale is an event driven, carnival season celebration, but replacing beads and samba dancing with masks and balls. Instead of a parade of floats, Carnevale kicks off with a floating parade, Festa Veneziana Sull’Acqua, a colorful, daylong regatta that courses its way through the city’s lively Canareggio district. Plant yourself firmly in Canareggio and watch the show, trying to pick out your favorite masked reveler.

Masquerade Balls

It wouldn’t be Carnevale without masquerade balls, decadent evenings of lavish anonymity. The pay-for-play parties are once-in-a-lifetime experiences with dinner, performances and dancing at some of the city’s most beautiful palaces. The coveted Ballo del Doge is the hottest ticket in the city with a starting price of 800 euro, while tickets to balls like the Lunatic Dinner Ball, Gran Ballo Mascherada, Casanova Cocktail Party and Minuetto come at slightly lower price tags.

Meet the many “Maria’s.” (Photo: Alamy)

Corteo della Festa delle Marie

Part of Carnevale lore and tradition is the Festa delle Marie (Marias of the Festival), a reenactment of the 10th-century kidnapping and subsequent rescue of 12 brides from the church of San Pietro. Today, the event features 12 young women dressed in period garb parading down Via Garibaldi to Piazza San Marco. Here, one of them is ultimately named “Maria of the Festival,” a designation that comes with its own special bonus.

Watch the “angel” descend into the square. (Photo: Alamy)

Volo dell’Angelo

Crowds swarm into the Piazza San Marco at the start of Carnevale to attend the Volo dell’Angelo, (Flight of the Angel), which features the aforementioned Maria of the Festival. This 400-year tradition sees the “Maria” descend like an angel from St. Mark’s bell tower to the center of the piazza with the help of some sturdy wires. Arrive at the piazza before noon to claim your viewing spot, or grab a seat at iconic Caffè Florian and pay dearly for a coffee and glimpse of an angel.

Volo dell’Aquila

On the last Sunday of Carnevale, Piazza San Marco again fills with crowds for Volo dell’Aquila, a whimsical flight across St. Mark’s Square by an acrobat, followed by the ceremony awarding Maschera pìu bella, the prettiest mask of all of the Carnevale parades.

Martedi Grasso

This is it, what you’ve been waiting for: Martedi Grasso, also known as Fat Tuesday. Sixteen days of revelry culminate in Piazza San Marco with the Svolo del Leon, a ritual celebration honoring St. Mark’s lion, the emblem of the city.

The Essential Carnevale Tips

When is the Carnevale and When should I book?

Carnevale is the sixteen day period leading up to Ash Wednesday. The 2020 Carnevale kicks of Saturday, February 8th, and ends Tuesday (Martedi Grasso aka Fat Tuesday) February 25th. You’ll definitely want to book well in advance as this is Venice’s busiest period for hotels and everything else. As soon as you book your hotel, book a few key restaurants - you can find some of my favorites in my Biennale article.

Can I participate?

Of course! Carnevale is for everyone. There are free citywide events as well as pay-to-play parties, all you have to do is decide what you want to do. You can find the calendar of events at Carnevale di Venezia. As I wrote above, most balls are open to the public and only require advance ticket purchase, which I would suggest you do as soon as you know when you are going to Venice. They can be expensive and often include dinner, a show and music. If you feel like it’s too pricey, there open festival includes free events. Balls are listed on Carnevale di Venezia and Meeting Europe (with more to come)

Do I need to stay the entire 16 days? Do I really need to go to a ball?

16 days would be insane- both mentally and financially. I’d suggest taking a long weekend or book the last few days of Carnevale. If I had my way, I would book the last Saturday to Martedi Grasso, leaving on Ash Wednesday morning. That way I could max out on all the city events, and hit up the final crazy parties. And yes, I would include one ball because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What do I Wear?

Masks, masks and more masks. Hiding your identity is what Carnevale is all about. Masks come in all shapes and sizes and can be equally as elaborate as the luxurious costumes.The most popular and historic masks are the least decadent: the bauta (for men), a slightly intimidating all-white mask covering only the eyes and nose — easy for eating and drinking, and the moretta (for women), a rounded, all-black mask that creates an intoxicating anonymity. You’ll want to choose your costume before you come to Venice. You can go traditional or completely creative, over-the-top and risqué. At Carnevale, Anything goes.

Insider Tip: Order your costumes for pickup (and even hotel delivery) from Ca’ Macanà and Ca’ del Sol.

A version of this article first appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveller.

My Local Guide to Rome's Flaminio Neighborhood

Metropolita. All photos by Ginevra Sammartino.

When the Washington Post’s new platform By The Way asked me to share my favorite neighborhoods in the city, I immediately thought of Flaminio, a large bean-shaped area north of Piazza del Popolo and immediately south of the bend in the Tiber. (Fyi- the river is one of our main sources of direction, and where it bends is key.) For a few years now, there’s been buzz about Flaminio upseating and upsetting Monti and Pigneto as Rome’s It neighborhood, but for me, it’s been IT since 1938 when my Zia Cesarina e Zio Furio moved in the area. My zio Romano has lived there ever since, and at some point, Flaminio became my official address, too.

Why Flaminio: This corner of Rome was where my uncle took me for the daily pane e prosciutto, where I learned Italian by playing in the piazza and where I spied on Giancarlo Giannini at the local corner caffe. Darius and I taught our girls to ride bicycles and cheer for Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, and went mini-ziplining in the Olympic Village. It feels like a small town in the midst of the big city, and no matter the changes or the reputation as the new hips spot, Flaminio keeps its vibe local.

Flaminio is a slice of modern Rome, just a 10-minute tram ride from one of the city’s northern gates, Porta del Popolo. Architecture from almost every modern and contemporary era can be found here, from 1930s rationalist buildings to structures built for the 1960 Olympics that reflect that decade’s urban-planning philosophy to 21st-century award-winning sites. Get your camera ready. Flaminio is the Rome you aren’t used to, but the residents are. The area is family-oriented and art-focused. 

Bistrot 64

When we lived in Flaminio, Via Calderini was the spot where we fixed our computers and that was it. It was desolate, whether it was an Absent August or a busy October. The food spots in the area were restricted to Roman and that’s it. Now, Via Calderini is on the books for Michelin star Bistrot 64. What I love about this spot is that it is cozy and fits the residential vibe of the neighborhood, and then puts a spin of what you are expecting. Chef Kotaro Noda infuses regional dishes with Japanese spices, aromas and sensibility. The trattoria-style restaurant is one of the country’s most affordable Michelin-star eateries.

Maxxi

I remember standing on Romano’s terrace in 1999 when he pointed at a crane and said , “Ecco il novo museo”. The Maxxi would be under construction for another 9 years, but when it opened, it was our backyard and today it’s the backyard for some many families. Step inside, and it’s an adventure in contemporary art. Architect Zaha Hadid’s award-winning Maxxi museum houses a collection of Italy’s art and architecture from the 21st century.

Ponte della Musica Location

Another architectural fete that I saw in progress. When we first moved into the neighborhood, there was no bridge here, and it was no big deal. When we moved it, the neighborhood inaugurated this incredible pedestrian bridge with a full marching band, and we were in front. I love catching sunsets here. One of the newest bridges in Rome, the “music bridge,” from 2011, is a beautiful double-arched footbridge perfect for a romantic walk or photo ops. Under the south side is an informal skate park.

45KPYPEG7II6THLT4K5GXPY3TM.jpg

Foro Italico/Stadio dei Marmi Location

I have loved Fascist-era architecture for as long as I can remember, and I love visiting the Foro Italico with Romano, who reminds how he and my mom watched a chariot race here in 1950. A leftover from the 1920s, the Stadio dei Marmi is one of the prettiest tracks ever built, with low, marble stadium seats lined with statues of athletes posed in classical attire, surrounding a grass field and turf track. The entire Foro Italico complex is one of the best examples of Fascist-era architecture. A huge part of this complex is the 1960s Stadio Olimpico, host of the 1960 Olympics and stadium for Rome football teams AS Roma and SS Lazio.

Metropolita

This corner lounge took over a decades-old persian carpet shop, which was our directional point of reference whenever any of our friends "made “the trek” out to visit us. The entire palazzo (which included our apartment) is one of the Lungotevere Flaminio’s more beautiful examples of 1920s architecture- aka go big or go home, with incredible marbles and curves. Taking up the ground floor of a 1920s palazzo, Metropolita is a chic salon and cocktail lounge whose interiors play on the building’s Art Deco heritage, with retro sci-fi cinema touches.

Spot Gallery

My designer friend Arlene brought me to Spot and I immediately had a flashback to the space. It used to be our local gelateria. Now a gallery boutique, Spot catches the design vibe of the neighborhood with its hand-selected and restored design pieces. A diligently sourced collection of 20th-century furniture and design from epic names, including Gio Ponti, Enzo Mari and Gaetano Sciolari.

Auditorium Parco della Musica

The Auditorium is the neighborhood landmark- an incredible monument in the center of the Village Olimpico, the former Olympic Village, now residence. There are indoor music halls and an outdoor theatre which hosts summer concerts as well as ice skating and other festivals. But in the neighborhood, we love it for its park, a green space with children’s jungle gym. Take me to your leader, or your conductor. Three monumental alien-pod-shaped domes, covered in zinc oxide — actually concert halls — hover over an outdoor theater at this Renzo Piano-designed auditorium complex. Aside from looking out of this world, the concert halls hold live music performances of all genres.

How to Get to Here

I feel like I’m an expert on arriving to Flaminio. All my life, I’ve come to the neighborhood for every kind of event and on every kind of transportation- car, scooter, bike, bus and tram. For commuters, it’s easy to reach the neighborhood, all you have is localize Piazza Mancini on your map. Piazza Mancini is a major bus depot and tram turnaround, and hub for the area. From Piazza del Popolo, take the Tram 2, from Trastevere, walk across the Tiber to the eastern side of the river and take the 280 bus. From Termini, just hop on the 910. Google Maps is pretty good for the bus times. In a rush? Download FreeNow or ItTaxi, taxi hailing apps. I’d ignore Uber, there never seems to be any drivers.

 

Italy. Venice, Italy. See La Serenissima Through the Eyes of James Bond

The city's iconic waterway played host to Bond. (Photo: Getty Images)

James Bond, Ian Fleming’s iconic spy and the world’s number one Casanova, has had a love affair with Venice ever since the final scenes of 1963’s “From Russia With Love,” when Sean Connery’s Bond snuck off on a gondola ride with Russian agent Tatiana Romanova.

There’s no doubt that Venice is an incredible backdrop for romance — a beautiful tangle of 16th-century campi makes it an incredible setting for films, but La Serenissima also sets the stage for dynamic action.

And nobody does it better than Bond, whose spy-jinx brought him back to the floating city in three different films: “From Russia With Love,” “Moonraker” (1979) with Roger Moore, and “Casino Royale” (2006) with Daniel Craig.

Here’s where and how to experience Venice like James Bond.

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal, the main waterway that courses through Venice, weaves its way through all three Bond films, but there was probably no more dramatic and glamorous movie moment than in “Casino Royal.”

In this flick, a newly retired Bond and Vesper sail through the city along the canal, passing all the requisite Venice landmarks, including Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, the Campanile of San Marco, Church of the Salute and the Accademia and Rialto bridges.

Bond’s Eye View: Buy a full-day vaporetto ticket and spend your afternoon coursing the Grand Canal on the local water bus (No. 1 or No. 2 will do). To admire the canal for a longer spell, book a stay at The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, or plan dinner at its restaurant, The Gritti Terrace, which overlooks the striking canal.

Piazza San Marco

Make like Bond and dash through the Piazza San Marco. (Photo: Getty Images)

Make like Bond and dash through the Piazza San Marco. (Photo: Getty Images)

Piazza San Marco, Venice’s largest square, named for the city’s patron saint, serves as backdrop to a desperate Daniel Craig as he runs through the square in search of his love, Vesper Lynd, in “Casino Royale,” after realizing she has betrayed him.

Bond’s Eye View: Though the Basel Bank featured in the film doesn’t exist, Piazza San Marco and its beautiful arcades still do and are open to the public.

Torre dell’Orologio

The Piazza San Marco also gets a second of screen time in “Moonraker,” but the true focus is on the Torre dell’Orologio, an early Renaissance clock tower nearing 300 feet in height.

After Roger Moore’s Bond faces an incredible kendo fight sequence in a glass shop — actually the historic Venini boutique in San Marco — he finds himself in a chase with Drax henchman Chang in the clock tower. Bond ultimately tosses Chang through the clock’s stained-glass face, though this face was a replica made for the movie.

Bond’s Eye View: The clock tower is visitable by reservation, Monday through Wednesday, at 11 a.m. and noon, and Thursday through Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Rialto Fish Market

On the sestiere San Polo side of the Rialto bridge is the city’s pescheria, a centuries-old fish market set in a neo-Gothic loggia. And it’s in the loggia shade that Quantum agent Adolf Gettler is lurking when Vesper and Bond sail down the Grand Canal in “Casino Royale.”

Bond’s Eye View: Doff your best fedora and head to the Rialto Bridge; from there you can’t miss the market.

Palazzo Pisani

Make your way to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

Make your way to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

In “Casino Royale,” the minutes leading up to the demise of Vesper Lynd occur in the courtyard of Palazzo Pisani. The Baroque-style Palazzo Pisani has an incredible courtyard, where Vesper has her fateful meeting with Gettler before Bond tries to save her.

Vesper ends up running through the abandoned palazzo and locking herself in an elevator as the palace’s flotation devices give way and sink into the Grand Canal in one of the most epic Bond scenes ever.

Bond’s Eye View: While there is no way to reenact the sinking palace, Palazzo Pisani is the home to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello, a second-century music conservatory that regularly holds concerts in its halls and famous courtyard.

You can also get eye to eye with the palazzo’s facade by taking Traghetto S. Angelo to San Toma for just two euro.

Ponte dei Sospiri

Make your way to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Bridge of Sighs is only appropriate. (Photo: Getty Images)

Venice’s most famous bridge has long been a photo op spot thanks to its picture-perfect setting. The enclosed limestone bridge was built in the mid-1600s to connect the Doge’s Palace to the nuove prigioni (new prisons).

More infamous than famous, the bridge is known as the “Bridge of Sighs” for the last breaths of freedom that convicted persons would have before heading to the cells. In the final scene of “From Russia with Love,” Sean Connery’s Bond cozies up with Russian agent Tatiana Romanova in a gondola as they pass under the Bridge of Sighs.

Bond’s Eye View: Hire a gondola from the Stazio Danieli and reenact the scene for yourself.

This article first appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, June 2019.

A Local's Guide to Rome, Italy.... By The Way

My favorite question is being what I really do in Rome- where I really go and what I really love. And as a travel writer, I can tell you that there is no bigger compliment than being asked to write about her neighborhood. You can imagine how flattered I was when Washington Post as me to be a contributor to WaPo’s new travel platform By The Way. For my Rome guide (yep, it’s all mine and all about me) I share the places I hang out- where everyone body knows my name, my dog and even my kids. Next time you are in Rome, stop by anyone of these places and look around- you’ll probably catch me.

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

Rome is beautiful chaos and contradictions, and this should absolutely be expected from a city whose thousands of years of history and personalities have formed its pulsating present. You first get a hint of its noncommittal nature while driving into the city from the airport, passing fields with roaming sheep. The highway flows into an austere neighborhood designed in the 1930s, where every building was intended to be a monument. And then the chaos begins: Congested neighborhoods snake up the Tiber River leading to the centro storico (historic center), where Baroque palaces and churches fight with ancient monuments for a little elbow room. 

There is no patience, and there shouldn’t be. This is Rome, where anything goes. The energy can be overwhelming. Keep walking around; eventually, you’ll realize that Rome is not quite as big as you thought — geographically and socially. Everyone knows everyone. If you visit the same places and piazzas a few times, you’ll find that they know you, too.

Photo by Erica Firpo.

IN THE ACTION

Monti

Monti is the perfect mix of busy bars, great restaurants, trendy stores and some of the most recognizable historic sites. This is where you’ll find cool, chic and even quirky boutique hotels and some of Rome’s best Airbnbs. Don’t expect brand names, but don’t worry about it. Find this neighborhood.

LOW-KEY

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese, specifically, is the city’s prettiest park and sits quietly between the historic center and Parioli, a residential neighborhood. The few hotels lining its perimeter have panoramic views and hidden pools. It’s just close enough to the center to feel in the know and just far away enough to be a breath of fresh air. Find this neighborhood.

INSIGHTS

3 things locals think you should know

  1. Nobody nurses their morning caffe. Drink it fast, and then go.

  2. The word “piacere” (or “pleased” to meet you, pronounced pee-ah-CHAIR-ray) and a smile go a long way.

  3. Once you sit down at a restaurant (and unless told otherwise), the table is yours for the rest of the evening. Basta.

(Rome illustrators Blend Studio for The Washington Post)

BREAKFAST

Roscioli Caffe

After they cornered the market on pizza and bread at Antico Forno bakery for four generations, the Roscioli brothers opened a neighborhood coffee bar and pastry shop, which, despite little standing room, never fails to please locals. Along with spectacular coffee drinks (hot ones come in heated cups), the pastries are divine. Many are old-school, hard-to-find Roman dolci. If you don’t do sweet, the selection of salati (savory sandwiches) is big and creative. Go for the thinly sliced pastrami on homemade cornetto and the club sandwich with an over-easy egg.

BTW: Come before 9 a.m. to get a place at the counter. The back table is bookable, too.

BREAKFAST

Marigold

Rome finally has a little hygge, thanks to pastry chef Sofie Wochner and her partner, Domenico Cortese. The simple micro-bakery and restaurant may be one of the first sweet-and-savory brunch venues in the city. Guests come from around Rome for Wochner’s confections, including cinnamon twists, as well as homemade butter (made from kefir) and rye bread. Cortese, the mastermind behind dinner and lunch, makes daily sandwiches that are chef’s choice, with mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough.

BTW: Marigold doesn’t take reservations on the weekends.

LUNCH

Mercato Testaccio

This local market’s 100-plus vendors (produce, cheese, meat, fish, specialty foods, housewares) make it a great community hangout. Lunch standouts include fresh pasta of the day at Le Mani in Pasta (Box 58), vegan burgers and tacos at Sano (Box 3), mini pizzas at Da Artenio (Box 90) and fried delicacies at Mastro Papone (Box 96). In other words, every kind of eater can dine here all afternoon.

BTW: Bring cash, and if you are really hungry, head straight to sandwich shop Mordì e Vai (Box 15) before the nonni beat you there.

LUNCH

Supplizio

The kind of hole-in-the-wall you’d walk by without giving it a second look. But stop: The small Supplizio is chef Arcangelo Dandini’s full-service incarnation of Rome’s staple fried fast food, the suppli, (deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce and chicken giblets). Dandini’s are award-winning, and here he introduces different interpretations, from classico to carbonara, and cacio pepe (yes, your favorite Roman pasta, fried).

BTW: Beyond rice balls, Dandini’s lineup includes polpette al mio garum (fried anchovy balls) and the fave dessert, crema fritta (fried cream custard).

Luciano.jpg

DINNER

Luciano Cucina

Luciano Cucina is a next-generation trattoria, thanks to chef Luciano Monosilio. He’s known as the King of Carbonara, a title he rightfully deserves since elevating the typical Roman dish to Michelin-star status. The restaurant, with an absolutely-not-rustic, very contemporary design, features an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen and a menu with his award-winning (and must-try) carbonara and other traditional favorites. But the fun is in his creative Contemporanee (contemporary) and Ripiene (stuffed) pasta dishes: fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — his version of pasta sauteed with garlic, pepper and olive oil and topped with cured fish roe.

BTW: Contrary to what you’d think, reserve no earlier than 9 p.m. It’s when Luciano gets lively.

DINNER

Seu Pizza Illuminati

Seu Pizza is the precise opposite of a typical Roman pizzeria: stylish, with mod furniture and art pieces, and the feel of an art gallery. But you’re here for the pizza. Daniele Seu, the pizzaiolo (pizza-maker), is a dough magician whose thicker impasto and crusts will quickly obliterate any recollection of thin-crusted Roman-style pizza. (It is that good.) His menu is anchored with classics, but it’s Seu’s occasionally mind-bogglingly delicious creations — like the Gamberita, raw red shrimp atop buffalo mozzarella — that keep people coming back.

BTW: Choose a bunch of pizzas to share, and ask the waiter to serve them in the chef’s preferred order. 

Photo by The Jerry Thomas Project.

LATE-NIGHT

Jerry Thomas Speakeasy

Although Jerry Thomas may no longer be a secret, it is still the choice of the late-evening-cocktail crowd. The bar is immaculately styled in 1920s retro, tiny and limited to reservations. (Call in the late afternoons.) Created as a hangout for restaurant-industry professionals, Jerry’s bartenders are colleagues and friends who make expert cocktails and personal creations. Bonus points: The team rolls deep in female bartenders who are innovating the mixology arena.

BTW: An ideal spot if you don’t want to be seen.

LATE-NIGHT

L’Angolo Divino

L’Angolo Divino is the enoteca (wine bar) of your dreams: a rustic corner spot with low lighting, lots of great labels and an owner, Massimo, who has something to say about every single bottle. The wine list includes the usual suspects (yes, you can try a Super Tuscan, Amarone or Barolo), as well as unexpected bubbles, natural wines and hard-to-find producers. The list may be heavy on Italians, but international wines are represented.

BTW: Ask Massimo about his favorite Lazio wines. A world of conversation and tasting will start, and you may make a friend for life.

Bike the Appia Antica

Loving Rome means getting out of the city, so we’re lucky the Romans built amazing streets crossing the country. The oldest and longest is the Via Appia Antica, and you need to travel only a tiny stretch to feel like you’re in the country. From just before exiting the ancient walls to, heading southeast, the edge of the Parco Appia Antica, most of the road is still original basalt stone and is one of the prettiest bike rides the city has to offer. The ride is lined with ancient monuments, tombs and Roman pines along fields of green. Expect to pass flocks of meandering sheep.

BTW: You can rent bikes at Appia Antica Caffe, a fine starting point, and have a great home-cooked meal there.

Galleria Nazionale

Where Italy’s national collection of modern and contemporary art is held. A walk through the neoclassical building is a visual lesson in Italian art as told via magnificent paintings, sculptures and videos by era-defining artists like Canova, Modigliani, Manzoni, Clemente and Penoni. The collection also includes non-Italians, such as Twombly and LeWitt. Their order is not chronological (either confusing — or fun).

BTW: The best location for art selfies, especially because La Galleria is the last place anyone ever visits. 

MURo and street art in Quadraro

For art history in the making, take a 25-minute drive southeast. Quadraro, a small enclave embedded between ancient history — aqueducts, Roman villas, case popolari (1930s low-income housing) — and Cinecittà is the city’s first outdoor museum dedicated to urban art (Museo Urbano di Roma, a.k.a. MURo). Walk around, and you’ll come face to face with murals by artists including Gary Baseman (his gray-toned piece is a nice starting point), Diavu, Alice Pasquini, Ron English and more.

BTW: MURo (founded by Diavu) offers artist-led tours of the neighborhood in Italian, English, Spanish and French. 

Artisanal Cornucopia

Artisanal Cornucopia is part salon, part gallery and part concept boutique — a cornucopia of fabulous clothing, shoes, accessories and art pieces. Owner Elif Sallorenzo’s collection covers the entire gamut of social opportunities, from cuddling in front of the TV and beach days to dinner parties and weddings. She loves craftsmanship and selects pieces from both emerging designers and coveted creators, including Aquazzura (Edgardo is a good friend), Giulia Barela, Misela and Segni di Gi. And she likes things that are 100 percent made in Italy, so expect to find one-of-a-kind handbags by Benedetta Bruzziches and more.

BTW: If Elif is in, talk to her. She knows everyone and every place. 

Pamphili.jpg

Villa Doria Pamphilj

The largest landscaped park in Rome, Villa Pamphilj is a favorite afternoon hangout and workout area. If you want to run, bike, play volleyball, soccer or informally TRX out in the open, this is where you want to be. It’s open until 9 p.m. in the warmest months.

BTW: Back in the day, Moammar Gaddafi, the longtime ruler of Libya, loved its beautiful, bucolic vibe so much that he set up camp here with his entourage.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is probably the best-kept art secret in Rome. The two-level stand-alone villa was originally a vacation home for one of the pope’s financiers who had the foresight to invest in architect Baldassarre Peruzzi and his friend, the up-and-coming artist Raffaele Sanzio, a.k.a. Raphael. The entire ground-floor fresco cycles are painted by Raphael, while the first-level frescoes are by Renaissance greats Il Sodoma and Sebastiano del Piombo.

BTW: Most days, the museum is quiet, and you’ll have Raphael’s masterpiece Galatea fresco all to yourself. 

Your Guide to the Venice Biennale

Every two years I make the annual pilgrimage to the Venice for the Venice Biennale, a six-month city-wide contemporary art festival. As an art fan, I am in heaven in my 24/7 full immersion art experience and as a freelance journalist, I am unstoppable, taking advantage as many platforms as possible- Instagram, Twitter and now my podcast- to bring my excitement into your hands. Join me for Forbes Travel, June 2019 exploring every corner and calle of Venice for the maximum Biennale experience.

Venice. Credit: Joseph Costa

Venice may be a fantasy archipelago of beautiful islands caught in centuries past, but every two years, the floating city transforms into the ultimate interactive contemporary art experience. The 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is a six-month event bringing contemporary artists from around the world to create boundary-pushing pieces that inhabit sites all over the city.  

Themed “May You Live in Interesting Times,” the 2019 edition (running through November 24) is an invitation to open your eyes to new perspectives. With 79 artists, 90 national pavilions and more than 20 collateral and pop-up events, there’s a lot to see. 

Of course, with so many options, not to mention Venice’s constant flood of usual tourists, visiting the Biennale can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, with the guide we’ve drawn up, it won’t matter if you’re a first-time visitor or veteran art aficionado because you’ll know precisely what to see, where to stay and how to make the most of your experience.

Mastering the Basics

To make it easy, the first thing you need to do is head to the exhibition’s original 1895 venue: Giardini della Biennale, Venice’s verdant public gardens where 29 of the national pavilions reside. Boasting both historic architecture and new builds, the country-designated areas showcase handpicked artists interpreting the Biennale’s theme however they choose. 

Inside the Central Pavilion is a densely packed collective exhibition featuring pieces by artists invited by this year’s Biennale curator, London-based Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff.   

The Arsenale, Venice’s historic shipyard, is the other major Biennale venue. The building’s original corderie (a 1,000-foot-long hall used for rope making) houses some of the show’s more avant-garde pieces, including Michael Armitage’s beautiful paintings, large-format photographs by Martine Gutierrez and Alex da Corte’s interactive videos. 

You’ll also find satellite rooms hosting newer national pavilions, including first-time participants representing Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Off-site Spectacles

No longer confined to just the Giardini and Arsenale, the Biennale extends across all six of Venice’s sestieri(neighborhoods), with national pavilions and pop-up exhibitions in private palazzi, museums and galleries.  

Start your off-site tour just outside Arsenale with Building Bridges, artist Lorenzo Quinn’s monumental sculpture made of six pairs of hands reaching together to the sky — it’s equally Instagrammable and thought-provoking. 

Next, head west to Canareggio to see “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails” by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith. The politically charged exhibit showcases nearly 60,000 documents neatly printed, stacked and shelved on a very presidential desk on the first floor of contemporary supermarket Despar Teatro Italia. 

Continue your sightseeing tour in the central San Polo district, where contemporary glass installation The Spirit of Murano resides. Created by the Seguso family (Murano glass artisans since 1397), the piece is made of hand-blown glass handkerchiefs, each engraved with a short story or poem about Venice. Before you leave, you’ll be invited to write your own musings on cloth — a memento that will be added to the sculpture.

Visit the renowned Fondazione Prada for a retrospective on late artist Jannis Kounellis before stopping by the southern Dorsoduro neighborhood to take in works from another late talent in “The Death Of James Byers.”  

Last, but not least, visit the Lithuania Pavilion in Castello to see an award-winning 13-person opera, Sun & Sea (Marina), performed while the singers suntan on a “beach” made from sand imported from the Baltic Sea.

Where to Eat

Take a caffeine break at Gran Caffè Quadri, the magnificently historic and impeccably restored café in Piazza San Marco. The pastries, coffees and setting are incredible and, if sweet isn’t your flavor, come back in the afternoon for an Italian tradition: aperitivi

For heartier fare, check out Osteria Bancogiro, a tiny, rustic bacarò (restaurant) next to the Rialto Bridge, where you’ll find Biennale glitterati catching sun while sipping spritzes. 

Other tasty spots in the heart of Venice include Osteria da Carla, a modernly styled bolthole, or the more traditional Trattoria da Fiore, both in San Marco. 

For an intimate seafood-focused dinner near Santa Lucia train station, snag a seat at the tiny Osteria Trefanti.

If exploring the Gardens and Arsenale has left you too tired to trek across town, book a table at Biennale favorite Corte Sconta in Castello, the sestiere adjacent to the event venues. This popular seafood restaurant has a cornucopia of fresh catches (including moecche, local soft-shell crab) among its traditional revival plates, not to mention a gorgeous garden courtyard. 

Nearby, canal-side Local offers a contemporary version of the classic Venetian trattoria.  But for food as unforgettable as the Biennale’s displays, take a water taxi around the lagoon to the island of Mazzorbo to dine at renowned Venissa. Modern, chic and quiet, this secluded establishment is immersed in vineyards of Dorona di Venezia, one of the world’s rarest grapes.  The cuisine is a modern take on Venetian dishes using only island-grown and -fished ingredients. The result is a one-of-a-kind wine-paired meal that reflects Mazzorbo’s unique terroir. 

The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Credit: The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel

Where to Sleep

If you want to hit as many Biennale venues as possible, your best bet is staying central. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel, on the edge of the Grand Canal, is an ideal address. Its San Marco-adjacent location makes for easy walks to the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale, and its proximity to the San Marco vaporetto (waterbus) stop means convenient public transport access. The hotel even has a historic yacht you can reserve for a private cruise.  

Should you prefer to explore on foot, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended stays Hotel Londra Palace and Hotel Metropole Venice both offer stylish options less than a mile from Giardini della Biennale. 

But if you insist on Five-Star accommodations for resting your head, Belmond Hotel Cipriani is an ultra-plush retreat perched on the tip of nearby Giudecca Island.

Ciao Bella small.jpeg

TUNE IN TO CIAO BELLA PODCAST

Ciao Bella is all about those creative minds who are revolutionizing culture and travel in Italy and around the Mediterranean.  New episodes every Monday. If you want to be part of Ciao Bella, support the podcast by visiting my Patreon page where you’ll find behind-the-scenes, for-your-eyes-only content. Give me your feedback and please rate, review  and share Ciao Bella on ITunes.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Stitcher

Costa Smeralda for Every Type of Traveler

An aerial view of Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda. (Photo: Marriott International)

Long before Italy’s Costa Smeralda became an iconic retreat for the rich and famous, the 12-mile stretch on Sardinia’s northern coastline was just another — albeit spectacular — corner of the region’s wild terrain.

It didn’t gain notoriety until a late-1950s visit by a committee of investors and architects that fell hard for the Emerald Coast, named for its beautiful translucent, emerald-colored water, and transformed 5,000 acres of land into Porto Cervo, the most famous coastline resort in Sardinia, if not the world.

A collection of coves, towns and beaches, the Costa Smeralda is a destination for those looking for an honest and insightful experience, whether they prefer adventuring or recharging, eating or meeting local artisans, or just enjoying that ever-so-easy Sardinian lifestyle.

From the remote quietude of Hotel Romazzino and Piccolo Romazzino to fashionable Hotel Cala di Volpe and Porto Cervo, the coastal area becomes a dynamic and international crossroads whose boundaries extend to the water, as the port itself is a floating city of hundreds of the world’s most enviable boats, yachts and super yachts.

Regardless of your travel tastes, Costa Smeralda will exceed even your steepest expectations.

Soak in the sun and enjoy azure waters. (Photo: Marriott International)

For Adventure Travelers

The emerald waters and natural terrain of the Costa Smeralda are meant to be enjoyed, especially by those who love the outdoors. Its mesmerizing waters are always just warm enough for snorkeling, scuba and free-diving, a centuries-old island hobby.

The region’s life aquatic includes dolphins, sea turtles, tuna, swordfish and sunfish, rare mobulas (Mediterranean mantas) and schools of whales.

Start your exploration at a beach like the one found at Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, decidedly the most beautiful and exclusive location in Porto Cervo for its immaculate white beaches, incredible setting and lineup of activities from flora and fauna spotting to boat rides to Maddalena Island.

For land lovers, the countryside is lined with nature hikes, including the local favorite Pevero Health Trail. Starting from the grounds of Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, a series of pedicured trails circumnavigate Pevero Golf Course, with fitness stations, inclines and more.

Stroll along trails or play a round of golf. (Photo: Marriott International)

For Romance Seekers

By its nature, the Costa Smeralda is romantic. Any sunset will inspire a poem, or declaration of love at the very least. Though Porto Cervo is a hub of who’s who, it’s the quieter corners that are made for couples.

Spectacular landscapes of rolling hills and hidden coves are inspiration for stories, and as Italians will tell you, they are stories that you have to make.

Nestled in a grove of pine trees and cascading to the bay of Liscia di Vacca is the Emerald Coast’s best kept secret, Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, a sprawling complex of suites and rooms with its own private beach. You’ll find ample privacy for just the two of you.

Costa Smeralda heats up after dark. (Photo: Marriott International)

For the Fashionista

Expect to find luxury everywhere you look. Above all, stroll through La Piazzetta and La Passeggiata, the area’s most exclusive fashion hubs.

Boutiques here introduced the island to some of the world’s most innovative designers. You’ll also find a lineup here of the major fashion houses, while the Promenade du Port is a concept retail mecca with small boutiques and surprise pop-up shops.

Before the sun sets, the see-and-be-seen set will want to stake a claim at the Atrium Bar at Hotel Cala di Volpe for a cocktail, or head to Cala Beach Club and Nikki Beach for an afternoon of drinks, dining and dancing.

For Foodies

For decades, foodies have migrated to Porto Cervo to taste regional seafood dishes, which has inspired a dynamic food community in the small town.

Savor the many flavors of the region. (Photo: Marriott International)

Every year, Porto Cervo kicks off the summer season with its annual Wine & Food Festival, an exhibition of Italian food and wine products.

Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa launched a restaurant that has officially staked its claim at Hotel Cala di Volpe, overlooking an iconic pier and sparkling bay.

Meanwhile, the iconic Porto Cervo restaurant, Al Pescatore, has welcomed a partnership with the Nerano restaurant Quattro Passi, run by Michelin-starred Chef Tonino Mellino. A selection of Tonino’s signature dishes from Quattro Passi is now included on the Al Pescatore menu.

For Wellness Travelers

Wellness has always been integral to Sardinian lifestyle, and no more so than in the Costa Smeralda, which boasts some of Italy’s most beautiful coves and beaches and integrates holistic ingredients into a lifestyle that turns down the dial on vacation to a focus on relaxation and wellness.

The natural beauty and peaceful exclusivity make Hotel Romazzino, Piccolo Romazzino and Hotel Cala di Volpe the most coveted areas for total recharge, which can be as easy as taking a dip in their beaches’ emerald waters.

For a truly decadent way to unwind, make your way to Hotel Cala di Volpe’s SHISEIDO Spa and Hotel Romazzino’s Spa My Blend By Clarins, which each celebrate Sardinian wellness with beauty and fitness offerings. Both properties collaborate with nutritional expert Amanda Hamilton to curate bespoke wellness programs that include healthy menus, spa treatments and exercise regimes that include yoga, pilates and hiking.

This article originally appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveller, June 2019.

Eat Like a Chef: Pier Daniele Seu, Rome

Young-gun pizzaiolo Pier Daniele Seu bakes with an attitude as fresh as his divine, dough-licious pies. The current don of Rome’s pizza scene, Pier Daniele is renowned for his super-light dough and experimental toppings, underscored by a respect for tradition (he spent 3 years studying Neapolitan and Roman techniques at pizza institution Mastro Titta). 

After wowing the fooderati with his stall at Mercato Centrale, Pier Daniele opened his own restaurant Seu Pizza Illuminati in Trastevere last year. Away from the kitchen, you’ll catch him at one of these Rome restaurants.

Retrobottega

Creative duo Giuseppe Lo Ludice and Alessandro Miocchi’s retro bottega stays open from midday through to midnight and the beauty is precisely their non-stop service – though it’s first come, first served. Their focus is entirely on the food and it’s delicious. Try to aim for a seat at the double kitchen counter where you can admire their magic close up. 

Via della Stelletta, 4, retro-bottega.com

Pascucci

When you want to up the romance or have an occasion to celebrate, this is a wonderful spot. Gianfranco Pascucci’s artistic plates are created with incredible technique and precision, with an impressive selection of fish. This restaurant is very dear to me.

Viale Traiano, 85, Fiumicino, pascuccialporticciolo.com

Osteria Dell'Orologio

Perfect for Sunday lunch, especially on a sunny day. Chef Marco Claroni handpicks a rainbow of fish fresh from the boats in Fiumicino each morning and has an incredible ability to fuse tradition and innovation without losing authenticity.

Via della Torre Clementina, 114, osteriadellorologio.net

ZIA

A new opening in Trastevere that’s perfect for an intimate and elegant dinner. Chefs Antonia and Ida bring a magnetic energy to their kitchen using a wonderful blend of French technique, style and skill to rework flavours.

Via Goffredo Mameli, 45, ziarestaurant.com

Pizzarium 

It needs no introduction, this rave-busy counter is an institution for anyone who passes through Rome. Thankfully it’s open all day for whenever the desire for pizza overtakes us.

Via Trionfale, 30, bonci.it

To Florence, With Love

Three reasons you’ll fall for Tuscany’s capital.

Photo: Erica Firpo

Colpo di fulmine, that’s what Italians call love at first sight—a ground-shaking thunderbolt that shocks you from the first look. It’s hard not to feel that bolt when you set foot in Florence, partly because of the sheer beauty of the city, with its tangle of parks and piazzas, and partly because it fuses the past with the present. Even as Florence embraces renewal, the metropolis holds steadfast to the ideals that helped lead Europe out of the Middle Ages during the Renaissance long ago, including a commitment to the arts. Is it any wonder that Tuscany’s capital fascinates travelers, who come for a glimpse only to find themselves falling hard? Read on to get the lay of the land and discover three sides of the storied city.

Lay of the Land

Long considered the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence believes itself to be the heart of Italy. Geographically, it lies about halfway between Venice and Rome, in the region of Tuscany. Reachable by North American air carriers via connections through Rome, Milan, and other European cities, Florence is also a major hub for railway transport. While exploring Tuscany requires a car, for Florence, one needs only a great pair of walking shoes, as the main attractions lie within about two square miles.

Building on the site of an Etruscan settlement turned Roman military colony, the Medicis (a political dynasty that once ruled Florence) created a graceful city of piazzas, palaces, and promenades. Today’s urban layout is almost identical to that of Florence’s 16th-century heyday. The Centro Storico, or historic center, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and straddles both sides of the Arno River in a gorgeous knot of medieval- and Renaissance-era streets that subdivide into niche neighborhoods. These tiny districts are often anchored by the piazzas they’re named after and are usually within a 5-to-10-minute walk of one another, so wandering around the city feels like a kind of historical-piazza hopscotch.

Most of the Centro Storico lies north of the Arno River. But if you cross the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge spanning the waterway, you’ll enter the residential neighborhood of Oltrarno, which has been home to Florence’s artisans since the early Renaissance. Explore Oltrarno’s Piazza di Santo Spirito or Via Maggio to view the newest generation of Florentine craftspeople, from traditional goldsmiths and jewelry makers to clothing designers and street artists.

The Culture

There are not enough days in the year to enjoy each of the cultural sites of Florence, which span all corners of the city and range from Renaissance masterpieces and Roman antiquities to contemporary art, fashion, and design. Begin north of the Arno and work your way south, starting on the narrow Via Ricasoli, where the Galleria dell’Accademia (58/60 Via Ricasoli; 011-39-055-098-7100; site in Italian; admission, $18*; reservations recommended) houses Michelangelo’s David along with a small collection of his unfinished sculptures, as well as works by other Renaissance artists.

About a five-minute walk away lies the emblem of Florence: the Piazza del Duomo. Its centerpiece is the encrusted marble Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo), also known as the Duomo because of its famous dome by master architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Once you’ve seen your fill, head to the Palazzo Strozzi (Piazza degli Strozzi; 011-39-055-264-5155; admission, $15), a few blocks southwest, for a different perspective on the city’s artistic legacy. The museum hosts blockbuster temporary exhibitions highlighting everything from the art of the ancient world to works by today’s superstar artists, such as Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović and Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.

Follow the sightseeing crowds to the L-shaped Piazza della Signoria, the political center of the city and an open-air museum. Here you’ll find an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Davidin front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-276-8325; admission, $11), a 700-year-old fortress that today serves as Florence’s city hall and mayor’s office in addition to being a museum open to visitors. The standout room of the Palazzo Vecchio is the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), a monumental meeting space with larger-than-life frescoes by Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari. Immediately adjacent to the building is the Loggia dei Lanzi (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-23885; admission, free), an arcaded open-air gallery showcasing Renaissance sculpture.

Nearby is the Gallerie degli Uffizi (6 Piazzale degli Uffizi; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $25 in high season, $15 in low season), a lavishly decorated multilevel building designed by Giorgio Vasari as the offices of the Medici family. Known fondly as the Uffizi, it holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Italian Renaissance art yet still manages to constantly upgrade its offerings by establishing new rooms to appreciate the greats, such as Raphael, or by hosting epic exhibitions, such as the one last year commemorating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.

Yet despite the many wonders these museums hold, Florence’s greatest work of art might be its landscape, and to fully appreciate it, you have only to cross the Arno. South of the river lies the Giardino di Boboli (1 Palazzo Pitti; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino Bardini), a park that was once the Medicis’ playground, and the Giardino Bardini (1r Via dei Bardi; 011-39-055-2006-6233; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino di Boboli), a tiered garden in the Oltrarno. In the latter, Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati (6/a Costa S. Giorgio; 011-39-055-068-0545; site in Italian; classic tasting menu for two, $240) looks out on the lush grounds.


Video Player00:0001:37

The Food

In Florence, the cuisine is subtle and elegant, and simple dishes are proudly made with mostly local ingredients. Restaurants such as Trattoria Sabatino (2r Via Pisana; 011-39-055-225-955; site in Italian; dinner for two, $23), which lies south of the Arno, cheerfully dole out heirloom Florentine recipes such as minestrone di fagioli e riso (rice and bean soup) or trippa alla fiorentina (tripe, a dish made with cow stomach, is an Italian specialty) at affordable prices.

North of the river, Florentine elegance is epitomized at the Piazza della Repubblica, the city’s center in the time of ancient Rome. On its northeast corner is Caffè Gilli (1r Via Roma; 011-39-055-213-896; cocktails for two, $18), the oldest café in the city. Two other piazzas—Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio—are foodie musts. Both are residential areas with squares flanked by a parish church and streets lined with butcher shops, bakeries, electricians, hair salons, and the like. Here you can expect quiet mornings, post-school chaos, and early evenings filled with dog walkers—as well as some of the best food in town.

In the Santa Croce neighborhood, Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo (3r Piazza dei Peruzzi; 011-39-055-217-919; dinner for two, $100) prepares heritage dishes that are made from hard-to-find and often foraged regional ingredients and are therefore on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, chef Fabio Picchi, the city’s culinary emperor, demonstrates Florence’s spirit of innovation with his suite of restaurants in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. Cibrèo Ristorante (8r Via Andrea del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $140)Cibrèo Trattoria (122r Via de’ Macci; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $52), and Cibrèo Caffè (5r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-5853; dinner for two, $90) all focus on Picchi’s signature dishes, while Ciblèo (2r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-247-7881; dinner for two, $90) adopts a Tuscan-Asian fusion approach, mixing Italian ingredients and recipes with Korean, Chinese, and Japanese traditions.

The Shops

Florence is as much about shopping and people-watching as it is about sightseeing. On the northern end of Centro Storico, the small square of Piazza San Lorenzo has a vibrant market, Mercato di San Lorenzo, that’s best known for its leather goods. The piazza gets its name from the Basilica di San Lorenzo church, which used to be a parish church of the Medici family.

Since the 14th century, the Via de’ Tornabuoni has been a runway for beautiful palaces and people. International brands keep a foothold here, from the Piazza degli Antinori to the Ponte Santa Trinità. The city’s side streets also hide treasures. Along them sit two time capsules: the flagship store of the nearly 300-year-old porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori (17r Via dei Rondinelli; 011-39-055-210-041)—an exquisite showroom with vaulted frescoed ceilings—and Aquaflor (6 Borgo Santa Croce; 011-39-055-234-3471; site in Italian), an intriguing custom perfumery that feels like vintage Florence.

For a more contemporary spin on the city’s crafts scene, visit Florence Factory (6/8 Via dei Neri; 011-39-055-205-2952; site in Italian), which showcases goods made by artisans from the Oltrarno neighborhood. Or check out Cuoiofficine (116r Via de’ Guicciardini; 011-39-055-286-652), whose leather purses and wallets combine 17th-century marbling patterns and contemporary leather-tattooing techniques to create designs that are reminiscent of centuries past. (All leather goods can be customized.) Take the time you need to find a memento that’s just right—after all, it would be a shame to leave Florence without your own piece of la dolce vita.

This article first appeared as a feature in Endless Vacation, Summer 2019.

PIT STOP TORINO: Doubletree Lingotto and FIAT Factory

The FIAT rooftop racetrack. Photo credit: Gilbert Sopakuwa

Torino is not the Italy you expect. It’s a rectilinear lines make make it the kind of city always ready for a street race, thanks to industrialist Giovanni Agnelli. Local boy gone big, Agnelli transformed the small town into the headquarters of an incredible automobile empire. And then in 1923, Agnelli put Torino into 5th gear when he opened the game-changing FIAT factory, the biggest automobile manufacturing structure in the world at the time, and the most beautiful example of Rationalist architecture - streamlined, functional and futuristic. The FIAT factory and headquarters oversaw saw every aspect of car production - from the assemblage of components and construction on the lower levels to midlevels of administration to its rooftop track where the final product - from the very first FIAT 500 Toppling to the roadster Pininfarina- would rev its engine on a kilometer-long oval test track. Connecting every level was an internal ramp leading from the roof to ground level (and vice versa) so that once approved, the car could literally drive out onto the streets of Torino.

One of the most impressive sights in industry....
— Le Corbusier

Technology eventually overtook hand-production, and by 1982, the FIAT factory closed the factory doors for a bigger, better location. But after almost 60 years, the FIAT factory was more than just a city landmark, it was an international emblem for industrialization and Torino’s innate entrepreneurial attitude which is why architect Renzo Piano pitched a renovation plan that would not just update the historic structure but return its contemporary relevance. Piano transformed its halls into a centro commercial (a mall center) and then he did something more….

Renzo Piano recreates the lines of the former FIAT HQ in the Doubletree’s lounge. Photo: Erica Firpo

Welcome to the DoubleTree Lingotto, a beautiful glass rectangle of a hotel designed by Piano who’s main source of inspiration was the adjacent FIAT factory. Opened in 2018, the DoubleTree Lingotto may not be in the most gamine neighborhood of Torino- but then again, Lingotto is neighborhood true to Torino’s DNA. And thanks to Agnelli and Piano, Lingotto is a destination for architecture and automotive fans.

Piano seeming dropped a vertical rectangle of stacked glass right now to FIAT, and his glass box is simple, framed just like the FIAT building next door. 142 rooms surround a large glass atrium- which is best enjoyed standing in one of the three glass elevators that haul you up all three floors, reminiscent of factory lifts. The rooms are large and luminous with three-meeter-high ceiling to floor glass windows- designed with wood paneling and dark blue leather. Slick, futuristic and function- 21st century rationalism at its very best.

If you ask nicely. . .

. . . you’ll be handed a small red key which gives you personal access to elevator to the FIAT rooftop track. Since the doors to the mall open early and I wanted that sunrise shot, I entered a desolate and some post-apocalyptic looking mall at 6:30am eventually making my way to roof. It was more than I expected, even if Torino reminded me that sunrise can also mean a rainbow of greys.

Those curves, and just peeking over the crest is Pinacoteca Agnelli (Renzo Piano, 2002).. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The ramp leading up to the rooftop. Photo: Erica Firpo

The ramp leading up to the rooftop. Photo: Erica Firpo

Looking up. Photo: Erica Firpo

Race through the streets of 1960s Torino and around the FIAT track with Michael Caine and Mini Coopers (??!!) in The Italian Job, 1969.

A Design Guide to Milan, Italy

Design Snobs Will Love This Guide to Milan

Assago Milanofiori Nord metro station. Photo by Massimiliano Donghi/ Unsplash.

Milan — once overlooked as the middle child of Italy — is really enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There may be more to the city than fashion and design, but, wow, does it do those better than anyone.

MILAN, Italy — Milan is not like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples. It’s not an idyllic grand tour destination that hypnotizes visitors with listless, collective memories from centuries past. No, Milan is the kind of city that wakes you up and reminds you that time is moving forward. The wake-up call starts the moment you step off the train at Stazione Centrale and look up. The platforms are covered by spectacular, futuristic glass and steel spanning domes, while the early-20th-century station is a marble monument with sky-high, vaulted ceilings and intricate ornament details. Exalting architecture and dynamic movement are the gateway to Milan.

 Once a shy sister city, Milan has become center stage for design and fashion. In addition to the fall and spring fashion shows, for one week every March, the global spotlight is on Milanese design during Salone Milano design fair, but the truth is that Milan is a celebration of architecture and innovation, design, and art every day. Here’s a guide to the best and the most striking design spots around town.

Stazione Centrale

Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione

Walk the City

To understand Milan’s architecture, it’s important to start in the center and even more important to tag along with an expert like Riccardo Mazzoni of Context Travel. Riccardo is practicing architect and professor whose passion is the unfolding the layers of Milan’s architectural history. His tour starts at Piazza San Babila, home to a beautiful convergence of the city’s modern architecture and arguably the birthplace of modern Milan, then winds through Brera, an enclave of incredible boutiques and cafes also knows as the Fashion Quadrilaterial, and on to Castel Sforzesco, a medieval fortress complete with crenellations, bastions, and a retaining wall in the center of the city that's now a museum complex showcasing at least nine different genres and collections — Egyptian, musical instruments, furniture, manuscripts, and Renaissance art among them — and is gateway to Parco Sempione, a bucolic park in the city center.

Along the way, Riccardo picks out slick, futuristic buildings that epitomize the different movements of the 20th century — the unpredictable Novecentismo, the sharplined Rationalism, and the exaggerated Neoclassiscal — and introduces the names — Portaluppi, Gio Ponti, Piacentini, and BBPR — that brought Milan to the future.

Villa Necchi Campiglio Dining Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Breakfast Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Veranda

Full Design Immersion

If Milan’s design heritage can be condensed into one space, it would be La Triennale, the gallery on the edge of Parco Sempione that houses an incredible permanent collection of Italian design and hosts temporary exhibitions. Architecture fans must stop at Villa Necchi Campiglio, the 1930s home that’s a Milanese answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper-class living. Every element — from the building to the plates — was designed by Piero Portaluppi, the poster boy of Milan modernists. (Remember the amazing home in the Luca Guadagnino movie I Am Love? This is it, and you’ll recognize everything, including the pool.) The house tour takes about an hour, but you can linger on the property at the garden café. 

Portaluppi also designed Palazzo dell Arengario, a Fascist era complex comprised of two super-modern symmetrical and identical palaces just steps away from the Duomo. The left-side palace houses the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to art of the 20th century.

Fast-forward to the uber contemporary at Fondazione Prada, a sprawling contemporary art complex outside the city center designed by OMA, with a 197-foot tower by starchitect Rem Koolhaas. On the sixth floor of the main building is a restaurant with a panoramic terrace featuring original furniture designed by Philip Johnson for New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant in the 1950s. Near the entrance is the cinematic and very playful Bar Luce, a café designed by director Wes Anderson. 

Though not quite cutting-edge design, stop into Pinacoteca Brera, a historic art gallery with a collection of paintings from late medieval era through the late 19th century. The Brera has put considerable effort in creating a dynamic space with truly fabulous signage, an open restoration lab, and Caffe Fernanda, a newly opened jewel box of a bar.

nilufar-gallery-milan-outside.jpg.1200x800_q85.jpg

Photos courtesy of Nilufar Gallery.

Icons and Boutiques

There are so many iconic design shops in Milan, but the only way to start is at Spazio Rossanna Orlandi, the epic gallery by Rossanna Orlandi, Milan’s original influencer, talent guru, and trend spotter. Orlandi put Milan’s gallery scene on the map — and her gallery is a must-stop on the Milan design tour. So is Nilufar, the gallery owned by Nina Yashar, Italy’s top dealer of modern and contemporary furniture and design, where she showcases incredible emerging and blockbuster designers. Her Nilufar Depot, just north of the Isola neighborhood, is the enormous warehouse she uses to showcase the 3,000+ design pieces she has amassed over more than three decades. 

Milan is full of pocket neighborhoods dedicated to art, design, and fashion. One of the latest emerging areas is Maroncelli Design District, a collective of galleries and boutiques on via Pietro Maroncelli and neighboring streets. Look for Etel, the uncannily clever and eco-sustainable Brazilian furniture design house.

Last but definitely not least is lighting — not just how something is illuminated, but rather how a beautifully designed lamp and expert lighting can transform the entire personality of a space. Every Italian home has at least one lamp or light fixture whose design has a story. A one-way conduit to Piazza San Babila, Corso Monforte is home to the world’s most famous lighting showrooms, including FontanaArteArtemide, and Nemo.

Bulgari Bar

AMOR. Photo by Lido Vannucchi.

Stylish Refreshments

And once you've had your fill of Milan design, the only way to meditate is to enjoy the archetypical Milan aperitivo in the city's very best design bars, like Caffe TrussardiBvlgariLuBar, and The Botanical Club.

If you need to fill yourself up a little more creatively, grab a table at AMOR, the latest by dynamic and Michelin-starred culinary brothers Max and Raf Alajmo. Located at the coveted 10 Corso Como, the groundbreaking concept store created by fashion editor Carla Sozzani, AMOR is Alamo's street food venture — a clever spin on a pizzeria serving Max’s patented steamed pizza. And of course, the design plays a starring role, as the Alajmos worked with long-time collaborator and star architect Philippe Starck to set the playful and striking atmosphere.

This article was first published in Fathom, May 2019.