TRAVEL

5 Lisbon Hotels We Can’t Wait To Visit

This article original appeared in Forbes Travel, January 2018.

Pousada de Lisboa. Credit: Pestana Group

Mark your calendar for a European getaway this year because it’s all about Lisbon. Portugal’s capital city capitalizes on its coastal locale, a vibrant arts scene and a gorgeous culinary landscape. Here are five properties that will pique your curiosity and leave you with such a sense of saudade that you’ll be longing to come back to the City of the Light before you even leave.

Pousada de Lisboa
If you’re looking for luxury with a side of history, then this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended 18th-century address is for you.

Brazilian interior designer Jaime Morais upgraded the hotel’s 90 rooms to evoke a classic modern-chic style with artistic furniture, restored antique features like chandeliers and stained glass windows, and original works by Portuguese artists selected from local museums. 

The most enticing accommodation at this luxury Lisbon address is the Dom Pérignon Suite, which consists of 1,184 square feet of elegance in the form of a living room, two balconies with panoramic views of the Tagus River and an Irish green marble bathroom bathed in natural light.

Altis Avenida Hotel. Credit: Altis Hotel Group

Altis Avenida Hotel 
This retro-chic hotel is perfectly perched in the middle of everything you want to do in Lisbon. Located at the Praça dos Restauradores and opposite the Rossio train station, Altis Avenida has the city center at its doorsteps and all of the capital’s must-see sites within walking distance, as long as you don’t mind traversing a few hills. 

The throwback art deco décor plays to the hotel’s history as a 1940s office building with a palette of ebonies and ecrus, slick marble, Lucite and a modernist design.

2018 will bring big changes to the property (including 46 more guest rooms in an adjacent building), with all eyes on the soon-to-open rooftop bar and sun deck that surely will be Lisbon’s next hot spot.

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade’s Sky Bar. Credit: Tivoli Avenida Liberdade

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
Another art deco reboot with a bit more of a modern flair can be found in this newly renovated hotel on Avenida da Liberdade, just below Principe Real park. Its location along this glamorous boulevard offers a straight shot to both the historic center and to the trendy Bairro Alto neighborhood.

After exploring the city, you’ll return to a tranquil retreat. Each of the historic hotel’s 286 rooms is outfitted in a calming blanket of light, muted tones with large, all-white bathrooms.

Explore the property’s verdant gardens to find a hidden oasis, the Tivoli Spa, for elegant pampering and a circular swimming pool set below the shade of palm fronds.

The perfect spot for a sip can be found on the rooftop Sky Bar, offering some of Lisbon’s best sunset views.

Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites. Credit: Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites

Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites
If you’re traveling with tots in tow, you may want to try this residential-style Lisbon retreat. The surprisingly upscale property offers 37 chicly designed suites in a 19th-century palazzo.  Martinhal’s cheerful aesthetic is a celebration of bright colors, vintage cartoon posters and classic toys, with a sophisticated style that will please parents.

Location is key — these sumptuous suites are in the very family-friendly Chiado neighborhood lined with cafés, shops, boutiques and restaurants. Popular sites such as the National Azulejo Museum and the lively Mercado da Ribeira food hall are just a short walk away as well.

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon’s Central Lap Pool. Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon 
The luxury Four Seasons brand consistently follows through on its philosophy of white glove service, ever-present staff and immaculate facilities. Its Lisbon incarnation does not sway from this line of thinking. 

The 10-level, retro-modernist building is situated on the northern edge of Lisbon’s Marques de Pombal square — a nice walk to the historic center and art museums — overlooking the open greens of Eduardo VII Park. Its 282 rooms and four suites are done in opulent Louis XVI-style with 18th-century replica furniture, jewel-toned carpets and spacious marble bathrooms. 

Though noted for its spa and 59-foot wooden-decked central lap pool, the hotel also boasts a scenic rooftop running track that traces the perimeter of the building for a one-of-a-kind workout.

7 Rome Exhibitions You Don’t Want To Miss

This article was first published in Forbes Travel, December 2017.

he Canvas That Is Rome. Credit: patrizio1948

From monumental to peculiar, and ancient to contemporary, Rome has it all for art aficionados. And thankfully, there’s no better time than right now to traverse the Eternal City and catch up with these not-to-be-missed exhibitions.

History comes alive
If there is one thing ancient Rome was known for, it was making a colossal impression. And no emperor did it better than Trajan, whose two decades in the city expanded the empire beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Archaeological site Mercati di Traiano (Trajan’s markets) showcases the emperor’s imperial advances — from infrastructure and economic services to architectural and urban development — in “Trajan: Building the Empire, Creating Europe,” on display through September 9.

Peruse Picasso
Bring yourself back to the modern age by visiting “Picasso: Tra Cubismo e Classicismo 1915-1925” at the Scuderie del QuirinaleThe exhibit explores the fantastic mind of the artistic genius in a display of 100 works that visually catalog his 1917 Italian travels with playwright Jean Cocteau as they searched for inspiration by following Sergei Diaghilev’s touring ballet company throughout the country.

Drawings, watercolors, sketches and stage costumes on display through January 21 honor the centenary of their auspicious journey.

A post shared by MAXXI (@museomaxxi) on

Revel in the Renaissance
Through February 11, the beautiful and historic Palazzo Barberini plays host to “Arcimboldo,” an exhibition of 20 works by 16th-century Lombard painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi. His paintings are an exploration of creative portraiture using objects such as flowers, fruit and animals.  Accompanying Arcimboldi’s amazing efforts are 100 pieces by his contemporaries.

Meanwhile, across town, Galleria Borghese is celebrating its beloved Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini with 60 treasures that join the galleria’s already substantial collection of Bernini sculptures in a spectacular feature exhibition, on display through February 4. 

Check out contemporary culture
While Rome may be the world’s best open-air museum of ancient monuments and Baroque palaces, it is also a tiny hub of contemporary art. “Home Beirut. Sounding the Neighbors” is the third part of the internationally acclaimed Maxxi Museum’s series Interactions across the MediterraneanThe installment focuses on the contemporary art scene in Beirut, Lebanon, through four variants of the concept of “home” seen through the eyes of 36 artists, musicians, publishers, designers and filmmakers, on display through May 20. 

And for a different take on a museum experience, the tiny Chiostro del Bramante asks you to “Enjoy” art in an interactive exhibit of installations, optical illusions, paintings, sculptures and videos all meant to be played with. This amusing display is available through February 25.

Fornasetti At Palazzo Altemps. Credit: Palazzo Altemps

The best of both visual worlds
For a fun-and-fabulous mix of modern design, ancient art and Renaissance beauty, catch Fornasetti a Palazzo Altemps. Through May 6, be spellbound by art and design pieces from whimsical Italian artist/interior decorator Piero Fornasetti that intermingle with the Palazzo Altemps’ incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculpture displayed in the palace’s resplendently decorated Renaissance rooms.  

VINTAGE EDITIONS: Two Italian Boutiques Putting a Spin on Collectables

This article first appeared in Le Miami, December 2017.

PierLuigi – via Sperastudio

Beanie babies; Polly Pockets; Pokémon. Remember the satisfaction of drawers filled with all the right cards? Of shelves lined with all the right dolls? And of bragging rights to having the best collection on the block?  There’s something about a collection that makes you feel at home – probably because every single object was hand-picked and personally chosen. Now imagine that you’re making your collection into a home… Or better: a boutique hotel.

For restauranteur Lorenzo Lisi, his favourite collectable is wine – and with preferences to a 1970s Chateauneuf du Pape or a great Barolo, when he decided to renovate an early eighteenth century palazzo in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori neighbourhood into a hotel, he looked no further than the cantina at family restaurant, PierLuigi.

The 1,700-plus labels on the wine list are a composite of life moments as simple as a great dinner with friends, or a celebration for a new job or baby.  “Wine has always been tied to the story of man. If you think about it, wine is a constant in every phase of the celebration of life”, says Lisi, a sentiment that led him to establish the city’s (and Italy’s) first wine hotel.

Hotel de’ Ricci lobby sitting area – via Ebookers

Located on one of Rome’s historic Renaissance side streets, the eight-room Hotel de’ Ricci is a discreet hideaway in the city-centre.  And the wine celebration begins before stepping foot inside the brick townhouse.   Ricci’s 20-strong team of staff are expertly trained sommeliers who coordinate with guests to personalise wine experiences – from curated in-house wine bars (with Coravin devices to extract single glasses without uncorking) to vineyard visits with wine masters. And while you stay at the hotel, the sommeliers set up private tastings and evening apéritifs in the light-blue guests suites, where oversized vintage wine labels and original paintings by Andrea Ferolla intermingle with mid-century furniture.

Hotel de’ Ricci – via How To Spent It

As well as the on-site cantina lined abundantly with Italian and non-Italian labels, (looking for a Super Tuscan or the 1977 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Paulliac?), Lisi keeps the vibe local at the ground-level Charade bar, a Chez Dede-designed speakeasy that’s a favourite hangout for the guests – the kind of place where you’re likely to spot the neighbourhood archaeologist chatting away with the guys at Gucci.

Private charade bar at Hotel De’ Ricci – via TripAdvisor

Halfway to Florence on the A1 is countryside refuge Tenuta la Bandita, a refurbished farmhouse overlooking in the beautiful hills of Val d’Orcia and hinterlands of early Renaissance papal enclave, Pienza.  Like Lisi’s Hotel de’ Ricci, La Bandita has a subtle element of personality that sets it apart from the myriad of Tuscan villas and farmhouses that populate the countryside.  Music.  When owner John Voightman, a RCA/Sony Global Marketing veteran a made the move to Italy more than a decade ago, he brought 70 or so vinyls, culled from Voightman’s personal collection.

“Music is an experience”, muses Voightman, “it’s an expression of beauty, fun and joy”. Voightman’s LPs have become the literal and figurative centrepiece to the farmhouse, taking residence in its communal living area, an open-plan lounge perfect for a party. Displayed on custom-built shelves, the vinyls are meant to be looked over, played, and talked about it.  There’s switched out on occasion, and over the years, the collection has evolved from LPs Voightman’s personal collection to a mix of records accumulated from his guests’s contributions.

For the guests and Voightman, music is the nucleus of La Bandita country house and the townhouse, Bandita’s city counterpart. On any given evening, each property’s lounge is the scene where guests drop the needle on albums like 1970s Jose Feliciano jazz covers, John Lee Hooker, Meatloaf and Led Zeppelin, and spin conversation.

It’s all about vibe, and La Bandita has a great one.  The country house is an upgraded Under the Tuscan – where farmhouse walls are coated in a soft palettes of eggshell and ecrus and with natural stone floors. Meanwhile, following the same style as the town house, the interior décor is an effortless fusion of cool minimalism and rustic charm – and following in the same style is the Townhouse, a restored former convent in Pienza proper.  The hangout spaces are key – from its communal lounges and farm-to-table breakfasts, to Voightman’s wine cellar and vinyls.  It’s like that Italian rec room you never had with great tunes and wine, where your 10 besties meet up for a weekend of absolutely nothing.

Etel sets its Brazilian roots down in a new organic Milan Flagship

This article first appeared in WallPaper, December 2017.

Brazilian furniture company Etel has opened a new European flagship store in Milan
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/etel-milan-flagship#DU1ZtFA7xzIJRQej.99

When Etel decided to open its European flagship in Milan, they wanted to reflect the palimpsest of the city today – a place enriched with tradition, innovation and style. Collaborating with Como-based architecture firm Superluna, a triad of Italian architects whose cumulative work traverse four continents, Etel chose a former gallery in the Maroncelli district, a neighbourhood where classic boutiques and independent shops rub shoulders with Italy’s most innovative architectural endeavours, like the Bosco Verticale and the Unicredit Tower.

With a goal of creating a conceptual meeting point between Brazilian and Italian culture and design, Superluna stripped the detritus decor of the two-level gallery space and removed extraneous walls, transforming the space into a white-washed surface, with original symmetry and ornaments beccoming a canvas. And from there, Etel would grow. Literally.

Etel Carmona and the Superluna team at the new Etel Milan flagship

Centrepiece at the two-level gallery is an undulating wooden screen, hand-made and designed by Etel founder Etel Carmona, that is deliberately reminiscent of a tree trunk. The trunk cuts the centre of the showroom physically and figuratively, from its visual impact as the most organic element in the space to its functional aspect as a hidden staircase, bringing you into the space and inside the world of Etel. ‘Since the tree is the heart of Etel Design, we wanted to give the feeling that we planted one right here,’ says Superluna’s Luca Sartori.

Divided into two almost equal sections, Etel’s ground floor is an exhibition area – a modern salon where curated pieces by historic modernist designers like Oscar Niemeyer and Isay Weinfeld, as well as Etel’s own creations are in constant dialogue with contemporary art exhibitions. Case in point: the current photo show by Ruy Teixeira and upcoming Véio exhibition, both highlight a harmony with the different pieces and history between them. Upstairs, the mezzanine level is a more cinematic experience, in fact, it’s more than a showroom, it’s a living space, work area and library.

Etel is all about organic growth. What you see today will transform into another ‘situation,’ Sartori explains of the coming months. ‘It’s all about the celebration of the human level of design and its relationship with organic materials, a continuous evolution.’

Split over two floors, the ground floor acts as an exhibition space of its collections
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/etel-milan-flagship#DU1ZtFA7xzIJRQej.99

The space features an undulating wooden screen that acts as a hidden staircase that cuts through the building's two floors

Etel’s own creations are in constant dialogue with contemporary art exhibitions in the space

Whilst a showroom in its function, the second floor also feels like a living space, work area and library

Superluna's overarching goal was to create the conceptual meeting point of Brazilian and Italian culture and design

Weekender: The Best Way To See Sintra In Two Days

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, November 2017.

Sintra’s Palace Of Pena, Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

It’s time to say olá, Portugal — and with good reason. Portugal may have been on the map since 1138 (it even rewrote the map during the Age of Discovery 500 years ago), but its heyday is now thanks to a phalanx of non-stop flights to Lisbon, its wallet-friendly affordability and limitless adventures.

If you’re planning to get to know Lisbon, you’ll want to work your trip around a weekend in Sintra. For centuries, the hillside town has been a revered outdoor retreat. Long before Portuguese nobility set up summer homes here for the fresh air and spectacular views, the Celts and Romans celebrated Sintra’s verdant vegetation and worshipped the moon gods. Moorish princes also would set up impassible outposts in its hills.

Just a 30-minute drive from the Portuguese capital, the fairytale town where castles bloom on the hillside is listed as a UNESCO cultural landscape.  

When you get there, drop your bags at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Sintra Hotel, an 18th-century neoclassical palace that captures the region’s romantic vibe. The 30-room property is both a period piece and hilltop kingdom — rooms follow the building’s original décor while the sprawling grounds consist of gardens with fruit trees, herbs and a topiary maze, tennis courts and a panoramic pool area overlooking the countryside.

From the Palácio, it’s a relaxing 10-minute walk to Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra’s most eclectic estate. The Regaleira palace is an architectural mélange of Gothic, Roman, Moorish and Renaissance features and its four-hectare grounds are ripe for exploration — discover the decorative gazebos, waterfalls, tunnels and even the Initiation Wells, a pair of subterranean spiral towers.

Head back to your hotel for a sunset view just behind Palácio de Seteais’ own historic landmark — a neoclassical arch built in 1802 in honor of Portugal’s Prince regent John VI and Princess Carlota Joaquina.

As dusk descends, make your way to dinner in the palace’s grand salon, an elegant restaurant led by chef Miguel Silva, whose concept of revisited Portuguese cuisine is a celebration of the country’s best fish dishes as well as farm-to-table recipes

Day One

Wake up early and put on comfortable shoes. The hilltops of Sintra are known for beautiful trekking, but if you need the extra minutes of beauty sleep, you can also take a taxi to the day’s destination.

By 9 a.m., you’ll want be at the Parque de Sintra’s Palacio de Pena entrance to queue for tickets. The Parcque de Sintra is a wooded labyrinth on the town’s Monte da Lua, where cultural sites flourish, including the colorful Palace of Pena, the beautiful Palace of Monserrate, the medieval Moorish Castle and the wild Convent of the Capuchos.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the castles, and even more so in the surrounding forest grounds where you’ll find monuments, gardens, lakes and other royal amusements.

Make sure to plan the day in advance; think about whether you’d rather economize your time with a combination Pena/Moorish Castle ticket with bus service or, for the more ambitious, the all-in-one five-park pass.

For equestrians, the most beautiful way to see the sights is on horseback.

Make the windy two-mile trek back to Sintra’s city center, or hop in a tuk-tuk for a bumpy ride down the one-lane road. The tiny town is an intriguing maze of historic buildings, shops and eateries and, lately, it’s become a popular destination, so make sure to book dinner reservations in advance. Some of our favorite spots are Tascantiga, a contemporary tapas restaurant, and Tacho Real for traditional Portuguese dishes.

Day Two

After storming all the castles of Sintra, you deserve to center your second day on some R&R. If you’re visiting on a weekend, start things off with Sunday brunch in the hotel’s frescoed dining room. From local favorites like queijadas (tiny egg pastries made with local cheese) to salads featuring fresh herbs and vegetables and tasty omelets, the spread is a cornucopia of not-to-be-missed delights. 

Take your day of indulgence to the next level with a decadent massage. The palace’s dovecote has been converted into Anantara Seteais Spa, a sanctuary combining world-renowned Thai techniques with local ingredients (lavender, rosemary, regional Colares wine) to create treatments that reflect both a sense of history and place. 

Once you’ve been pampered, stake your claim at one of the poolside cabanas at the Seteais’ glamorous swimming hole, a wood-paneled pool overlooking the countryside.

Enjoy a traditional Portuguese cataplana (seafood stew) at the outdoor restaurant before heading back to Lisbon.

Finding Kitsch: The Perfect Souvenir for Your Study Abroad

What do you do when you're traveling with your #girlsquad across three countries within ten days?  CiaoBella guest contributor and my intern Molly Dooling explores the United Kingdom and Ireland in search of the perfect souvenir.

kitsch [kɪt]ʃ noun :art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

adjective: considered to be in poor taste but appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

Traveling for eleven days can be amazing, stressful, inspiring and exhausting all at the same time.....now imagine that with eight girls adventuring through London, Edinburgh and Dublin, visiting museums, castles, and neighborhood bars. Before setting out on our Grand Tour, I was asked by my boss Erica to keep an eye out for souvenirs. But not just any old key chain or figurine; specifically kitsch souvenirs. Why? Erica has an odd obsession with funky souvenirs and was interested to see what I could find.  From #londoner pajamas to “paddidas” t-shirts, I saw it all while traveling throughout the UK.

London

Sunset in London

We planned our first four days to be in London.  And for Day One, my friends and I went on a Fat Tire Bike Tour throughout Royal London. Starting at Kensington Palace, we looped through the Royal Parks, rode past Westminster Abbey, and finished at Big Ben, all within the span of four hours. It was one of my favorite parts of the entire vacation because we got to see so much of a city (in this case, London) within one afternoon.

After riding on those tiny seats for about two hours, we stopped near Trafalgar Square in the center of Westminster for a quick bite to eat. In the center of the square is Nelson’s Column, a monument made to commemorate Admiral Nelson who perished in the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s guarded by four life size lion statues...rwar! I grabbed a trail mix at Pret Amanger, then my friends and I decided to check out the area. My eye was immediately drawn to a store that had random pajamas hanging outside up on a grate. It looked like a vertical version of my closet floor. The oddest for me were the nighties and footie pjs with the phrase, #londoner, printed across the chest. Even Paddington Bear was on the pjs, an old storybook character from English literature. I stopped in for a minute or two, and then I was back on my fabulous bike tour.

After four hours, the bike tour ended at the Fat Tire Shop and inside I found Queen’s Guards magnets at the choice price of £2. These same guards I had passed on the tour are practically synonymous with London. They stand in front of the palace wearing the classic red uniforms, never cracking a smile or speaking a peep. About three times a week, always at 11am sharp, is the Changing of the Guards spectacle. Tourists crowd around the palace gates as the trained soldiers march to a drum corps.  The magnets, although small, speak volumes to London’s history.

For the second day in London, we were all about the Tower of London and London Bridge. Both were incredible! After singing Fergie's “London Bridge” on repeat the entire day before, it felt like I owned the bridge as I strut across it. Afterwards we admired the gorgeous crowns and gowns from centuries past of royal rulers, tucked safely inside the The Tower of London. Outside the tower and down the street, I spied a shop with an unfortunate name; SAAD Souvenirs. I knew I had to get a closer look at what they were selling. The name was perfect. The size of a closet, the store only sold random baseball hats and t-shirts. Not quite what I was looking for.

 

Edinburgh

Victoria Street, Edinburgh; Photo: Raphael Chekroun

When I told friends and family from my small hometown about our plans to visit Edinburgh, they were not quite sure why my friends and I wanted to travel there. What's there to see? What's there to do, I was asked?  To be honest, visiting Edinburgh just fit into our itinerary. But when I began to research Scotland, I knew I had to see Edinburgh's amazing castles.  And guess what? I was right. The small town charm made me fall in love with this ancient city. The boy’s accents weren’t terrible either.  Even though we only had two days in Edinburgh, it is one of my favorite places in the world I have ever seen...as of yet.

First stop was Edinburgh Castle. Mary Queen of Scots and King James IV were just some of the big names who lived inside the castle walls. Thanks to the free guided tour that comes with the ticket, we walked through the royal living quarters, the dungeon cells and cozy wooden beds, and even the cannons used to ward off enemies. St. Margaret’s Chapel, located on top of the castle hill, is the oldest standing building in Edinburgh. Afterwards we stopped by the castle’s on-site gift shop where I found an adorable onesie for a little prince. Hopefully some little man out there will find his princess wearing this getup!

Walking down Edinburgh’s High Street, we came across House of Edinburgh, the place for an authentic Scottish scarf. Prices ranged from £15 for a basic blend to £100 for a soft, cashmere scarf. In the back of the store they had an eclectic assortment of objects and knick knacks; from magnets and keychains to plaid flasks and bold hats. My friends and I had been challenged multiple times to “keep up” with the locals in the pubs, so I knew that Scots loved to drink! The plaid flasks were a fun spin on what it really means to be a Scot, and a perfect souvenir.

At the end of our last day, we were exhausted after trekking 250ft. up to King Arthur’s Seat. The seat got it’s royal name from Camelot, the legendary castle of British warrior King Arthur.  An incredible panoramic view of Edinburgh is found at the top, just wear comfy sneaks! We decided to celebrate our last night by grabbing a drink at a cozy pub near our hostel.

Hey, Harry Potter geeks out there, like me, Edinburgh is home to the Elephant Cafe. This local tea and coffee shop is where J.K. Rowling wrote many books in her acclaimed series, and Victoria Street is the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

 

Dublin

Cliffs of Moher, Photo: Giuseppe Milo

Last stop: Dublin, where we dedicated four entire days to sightseeing. It was intense. We toured the Guinness and Jameson factories, meandered through the Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Temple Bar area, and even squeezed in a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway. In the rainy fishing town of Galway, tourist shops lined the streets, and I waded through all of them until I found this awesome paddidas shirt, perhaps the perfect gift from the entire trip. By the end of our time in Dublin, I came to the conclusion that the beer and cider in the UK tastes so much better than anywhere else in the world! But I was ready to get home.

Eleven days, eight girls, three countries; you do the math. It’s hard to travel like this, but so worth it. Expect that everyday there will be some type of drama, whether it’s splitting checks (and getting paid back), managing friendships and moods, or missing the bus. Kitsch doesn't always have to be an object, it can be a state of mind-a little humor in the cliche of travel.

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Get a Break on a Budget?

Molly was all about minimizing spending while maxxing out on fun.  She booked stays at Generator Hostel in Kings Cross, London ($40 per night), Kick Ass Hostel, Edinburgh ($15 per night) and  Generator Hostel, Dublin ($45 per night).  From Rome to London to Edinburgh to Dublin, she opted to fly RyanAir (which I would never do because something always happens to me), spending only $35 for one ways to Edinburgh and Dublin, and $100 to London from Rome-FCO.  She flew back to Rome from Dublin on AerLingus ($120).  Getting around each city was easy.  In London, she saw the most of the must see sites on a group bike tour with Fat Tire (starting at $22/person), and purchased a refillable Tube pass- Oystercard- for everything else. In Edinburgh and for most of their trip in Dublin, Molly and friends put there best feet forward and walked everywhere.   Wild Rover Tours took them via coach bush on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway ($54/person). 

 

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Molly Dooling

... is from a small town in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and is a Communications Studies major [concentration in Contemporary Media] at Temple University.  Studying in Rome this semester, she has traveled through Italy, Germany, Scotland, England and Ireland. Follow her adventures on Instagram.  And yes, even in extreme situations, she really has awesome hair.

Why Alba Truffles Are the Culinary Diamonds of Italy

This article originally appeared in Wine Enthusiast Magazine, November 2017.

Underground rare treasures, Alba truffles are harvested with luck, persistence and the aid of well-trained dogs. Find out how they transform Italian cuisine.

In layman’s terms, the truffle is a tuber, a smallish, spongy subterranean lobe attached to tree roots. It’s technically a mushroom, but truffles are fungi grown symbiotically with rootlets of shrubs and trees like oak and hazelnut. A truffle spends its entire life underground until some lucky dog sniffs it out. Literally.

Italy is a playground for truffle hunters. There are 25 species found there, nine of them edible. None is more delicious, important and sought after than the tuber magnatum pico, the white truffle, known as the “Diamond of Alba.”

White truffles are found almost exclusively in the Langhe, Roero and Montferrato areas of Italy’s northern Piedmont region, and only from October to early December. They enjoy cult status among chefs and gourmands, as a few of their flakes can elevate any dish.

Since truffles are rare treasures, their market price is driven by very heavy demand. What happens when Italy has a dry summer? The average price, set daily at Alba Truffle Market, can skyrocket to more than $3,000 per pound.

If anything, to find truffles requires luck and persistence. In Italy, the pursuit is left to the trifolau, truffle hunters whose techniques are passed down through generations. A truffle hunt is not a social event. It’s a solitary endeavor that require long hours in the cold night guided by moonlight and the nose of a faithful dog.

Once the pup pinpoints the truffle’s location, the trifolau digs carefully around the area with a zappino (a delicate spade). They unearth the truffle, but leave a small portion in the earth to repopulate.

To the untrained eye, the white truffle is nothing special. It looks an unwashed potato, light-colored, lumpy and dirty with a slightly elastic feel. It’s only when you catch a whiff of its intoxicating, transcendent scent that you understand that it’s special.

There’s just one way to experience the sensorial pleasure of the white truffle: raw. Unlike the black truffle, whose flavor is unleashed when heated or cooked with other ingredients, the white truffle is best enjoyed shaved onto dishes like fried egg, tajarin pasta or beef tartare.

“You have to taste the white truffle raw and natural,” says Ezio Costa, a truffle hunter and owner of Tra Arte e Querce, his family restaurant 30 minutes southwest of Alba in Monchiero. “We shave it on hot and cold dishes to enhance them.”

Pairing Alba Truffles with Wine from Piedmont

For five generations, the Costa family has hunted truffles and shared them in simple, traditional recipes. Costa’s favorite is to add truffle shavings to a poached egg with melted fontina cheese. To accompany a truffle dish, he’s faithful to Piedmont’s red wines, particularly Barbera d’Alba, Barbaresco and Barolo.

Sandro Minella, a sommelier, takes a different approach. A member of Ordine dei Cavalieri del Tartufo, or “knights of the truffle,” a prestigious order in Alba with 300 members worldwide, Minella doesn’t hesitate to suggest a Piedmont white.

“The pairing is not with the truffle, but with the whole dish: sweet, savory, hot or cold,” he says.

With fresh, fried or poached eggs, Minella prefers a white and advises against “anything acidic.” His top choices are Malvirà 2012 Trinità Riserva Roero, Gaja 2007 Gaia e Rey Chardonnay Langhe and Poderi Aldo Conterno 2010 Bussiador Chardonnay Langhe.

To accompany risotto al tartufo or tajarin al tartufo, Minella chooses “something more structured, not too aged” like Scarpa La Bogliona Barbera d’Asti from 2010 or 2012.

Minella says that meat dishes like tartar require something “richer, with some aging.” He pairs Barolo and Barbaresco wines because “their tertiary aromas are reminiscent of truffle, and go so well with them.” Wines that work include Paolo Scavino 2011 Rocche dell’Annunziata Riserva Barolo , Elio Altare 2004 Arborina Barolo or 2008, 2004 or 1999 Bruno Rocca Rabajà Barbaresco.

Adding truffles to a dessert is not a traditional part of Piemontese cuisine, but chefs have been known to add shavings to handmade vanilla ice cream or a thinly gelatine persimmon purée.

When adding truffle, you want something harmonious, not too sweet or acidic, nothing extreme, something delicate and assertive,” says Minella, who suggests Paolo Saracco Moscato d’Autunno.

White truffles are difficult to grow outside of Piedmont’s soil. Their bounty completely depends on Mother Nature, whose recent whims include a summer drought, leaving dogs with less to find and higher prices. Though truffles from Alba remain the most coveted at all, not just for their flavor but also their elusiveness, the best way to honor them is the simplest: shaved over a modest plate of pasta, risotto, or eggs.

Umbria: 3 Picture-Perfect Day Trips From Rome

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, November 2017.

Perugia, Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Rome may be the center of everything, but sometimes even the Eternal City needs a day off. When the air cools down and the colors ripen with autumn, the evergreen region of Umbria beckons with its beautiful countryside, art and cuisine. Take a step off the beaten Italian path and plan a day trip to one of these three picturesque cities.

PERUGIA
Hop on the train for a scenic two-and-a-half hour trip to the center of the country. Not only is the historic city of Perugia the capital of the Umbria region, it’s also so verdant that the area is known as the “Green Heart” of Italy.

A former Etruscan settlement, medieval stronghold and Renaissance city, Perugia is one of those examples of architectural and cultural palimpsest — a site literally built upon layers of history. Imposing fortress walls surround a historic center, which in itself is a magnificent maze of medieval streets and beautiful palazzos. Buried below its charming surface is an incredible subterranean time capsule of Roman and Etruscan structures.

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What to do there
Explore underground Perugia, starting with a guided tour of the excavated portion of the city’s San Lorenzo Cathedral in the Museo di San Lorenzo. Follow the trail of Pietro Vannucci (aka Perugino), Perugia’s most famous artist and former mentor to Raphael.

The San Severo Chapel, in the Church of San Severo, features a fresco painted by both master and pupil while the city’s National Gallery of Umbria has several paintings by the duo.

Perugia is also known as Chocolate City, home to Italy’s largest sweets manufacturer, Perugina. Plan to visit the Casa del Chocolate, a small museum dedicated to Perugina’s confectionary history and then live out an I Love Lucy fantasy with a chocolate-making class at the Baci Perugina School of Chocolate.

If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, check out Eurochocolate, Europe’s largest festival dedicated to all things cocoa hosted in Perugia each fall.

Visit again just after the holiday season for the winter edition of Umbria Jazz, a world-renowned music fest (December 28 to January 1).

Between excursions, be sure to stop for a bite at Trattoria del Borgo, a farm-to-table restaurant that celebrates the best of the region’s local ingredients. Don’t miss the handmade strangozzi with pesto made with Umbrian wild herbs. Try to snag a table in the backyard — you won’t be sorry.

SPOLETO
Situated just one-and-a-half hours outside of Rome (by train), Spoleto is quite possibly the most picture-perfect of all Umbrian hill towns. With the snowy peaks of the Apennine Mountains as a backdrop, the magnificent medieval fortress town cuts an imposing figure in the lush green hills. The beautiful city is an architectural composite of its millennia-spanning history of Roman ruins, medieval walls, romanesque churches and more.

What to do there
Bring your walking shoes — this is one town you’ll want to explore from top to bottom. Spoletium was a Roman colony as early as 241 B.C., and the town still has traces of its ancient history.

Magnificent stone structures dating from the 1st century B.C. stand miraculously intact, including an amphitheater and arches — in particular the formidable Arch of Drusus and Germanicus, anachronistically spanning a narrow medieval street.

You can examine more delicate pieces of the city’s Roman history at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Spoleto

Strolling around the walled town inevitably leads to the Piazza Del Duomo, a magnificent open space anchored by a beautiful, light pink stone cathedral. During the summer months, the piazza becomes the scene for Festival di Spoleto, a popular outdoor celebration of Italian music, dance and opera. (Now you see where organizers of the famed Charleston arts festival of the same name get their inspiration.)

Nature lovers will want to traverse the Bridge of Towers, a 775-foot-long and nearly 300-foot-high stone structure on the outskirts of the city connecting to Monteluco. Then follow the Giro dei Condotti on a short panoramic walk around the hill.

TODI
Often described as Umbria’s most beautiful city, Todi is spectacular from the moment you see it on the road during the under-two-hour drive in through the Tiber valley. Like other hill towns, Todi sits on a peak overlooking the countryside, but for some reason the light seems to cast a more heavenly glow on the mountainside here. Perhaps that’s why the Romans took over this Etruscan stronghold.

The town itself is a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets leading to the Piazza del Popolo, a caffe-lined square whose main building, Palazzo del Popolo, is one of Italy’s oldest public structures.

What to do there
For most, just walking around Todi and eating delicious Umbrian delicacies is enough, but if you crave a taste of history and culture, plan a visit to the Museo Civico di Todi. This local museum bursts with paintings and antiquities that trace the town’s story from its Etruscan origins through the Renaissance.

More active types will want to delve into the city’s history with Underground Todi, a fascinating subterranean tour of tunnels and wells from the Etruscan, Roman and Medieval eras.

But no matter your interests, you won’t want to miss the Tempio di Santa Maria Consolazione (the Consolation Temple), designed in 1508 by superstar architect Donato Bramante. His church is built in a symmetric cross, surmounted by a dome and unique to the era.

Unbelievable: Damien Hirst in Venice {Review}

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A shipwreck.  A disaster.  A failure - that’s what the art world said about Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable , his mega-exhibition at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi/Punta della Dogana double header.    Lighten up, this is Damien Hirst, YBA poster boy and mug shot.  And the Wreck is the kind of show where that only asks for a bit of humor as you enjoy the lavish fantasy and Palazzo Grassi’s gorgeous exhibition spaces.

A legendary exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of The Unbelievable is a visual story about the discovery of an ancient shipwreck and its unfathomable cargo, a collection of monumental bronze and marble statues and gold coins and ingot, from Cif Amotan II, slave-turned-freedman.  It’s big, it’s extravagant, it’s over the top.  And it’s fun.  Best of all, it’s all Hirst, who bankrolled the research, discovery and subacquatic archaeological excavation of the 100 works of art which, um, he created. Yeah, you read correctly.  Hirst is behind all of it: from the production of incredible bronzes (seemingly distressed from centuries underwater) and the “contemporary reproductions” to the discovery backstory, images/videos and research collaboration with University of Southampton’s Center for Maritime Studies.  Kind of like having a dinner party with Steve Zissou, Jacques Cousteau, Indiana Jones and Marcel Duchamp, and Baron Munchaussen’s cooking.  In other words, eckless abandon.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable at Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana through Sunday, December 3.  Coming soon-  Darius Arya’s 360 video, Archaeologist Examines the Unbelievable.

And even more unbelievable: Venice is just a day trip from Rome.  For real.

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Day Trip: Venice

"Where should I go for a day trip out of Rome?" That's probably the most popular question question people ask me when planning a trip to Italy.  Tivoli, Napoli, Cività di Bagnoreggio, Bomarzo, Caserta, Spoleto, Siena... so many sites, towns and cities up my sleeve and all within reasonable distance.  But here's one I never, until now, bothered to suggest:  Venice.

Venice? Impossible, you say.   Not at all. . .

Door to door Roma Termini- Venezia San Lucia is a 3 hour 45 minute train on the Alta Velocità (high speed) train times two which means 7.5 hours seated.  The best departure is 6.50am, with return departure from Venice at 7:25pm- which gives you eight hours on the ground to do whatever you want.  To sweeten the deal, Treni Italia offers a reduced fare Same Day Return A/R, a great incentive if you are competitive as well as thrifty, like me.  

Whether meandering or must-see, if you're really going to day trip to Venice, have a plan.  Or better yet, download a Google map for an idea of where you want to go and how you will need to get there- your choices are walking, water bus (see below) and water taxi.  If you want to be clever, customize a My Maps by dropping pins on cultural and food sites and download it onto your phone.  It's going to be a long day, so I suggest powering up on protein and excitement or coffee, and wear your most comfortable (and waterproof) walking shoes.    

Most importantly, know where you're going to eat.  For the daytripper, my only suggestion (and latest mantra) is get thee to a few baccari..  Baccari are those  no-frills bars overflowing with people queued up for cicchetti, whimsical appetizers like creamed cod, pickled onions or braised artichokes on a bread, usually accompanied by a glass of wine. Service is quick, once you are front and center at the counter, and the cod (bacalà mantecato) is an excellent protein solution to fuel you through Venice.  My go-tos are Da Fiore (San Marco/San Stefano), Cantine del Vino già Schiavi (Dorsoduro) and Osteria da Carla (San Marco).

And the best tip? Keep spare euro in your pocket for cicchetti and also the vaporetto, Venice's water bus public transport system.  The 1-Day fare costs 20 euro, while a single 75-minute fare is 7.50 euro (and can be bought on board). Again, cash is king and makes everything go faster.

Is a day trip to ambitious and frivolous? Yes, just like Venice and at times, just like me.

La Biennale is the perfect excuse to visit Venice for the day. A heptathlon of cultural events, the Biennale's big draws are art, architecture and cinema. Every odd numbered year, the islands are inundated with contemporary art  for the international art festival, a six-month art fest from  May through November.  Architecture and design lovers head to Venice in even number years as the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale transform into the very cutting edge for the Architecture Biennale May through November.  At the end of every August, Venice's Lido island illuminates with a galaxy of silver screen stars at the annual Film Festival, an eleven-day affair which is both the both the worst and best time to book a reservation at a five star hotel.

My latest day trip to Venice was an intense attempt to visit all 120 artists and 86 country participants in the *57th International Art Exhibition - Viva Arte Viva in less than 8 hours. My take? Christine Macel's curation for Viva Arte Viva was more introspective, and had more humor and human interaction than biennales past.  The Italia Pavilion was finally something to talk about and at times, amazing like a Neil Gaiman story, whereas Russia was a disappointment. The USA Pavilion was somewhere in between, but that was artist Mark Bradford's point.  The Biennale's roster of artists was solid-  enough new entries to make you feel like the art world's wheels are moving more aggressively.

PHOTOS FROM THE 57th INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION

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