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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Da Straatjes shopfronts. Photo by Erica Firpo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Do the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018

Another Generosity at the Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Erica Firpo

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

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

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

The Basics

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

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

The Biennale Gardens. Photo by Erica Firpo.

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

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

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

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

More Must Sees

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

Where to Refuel

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

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

Navigating the show

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

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

Photo credit Erica Firpo.

Where to stay

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

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

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

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chef Bruno Barbieri celebrates Daruma Seasons.

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

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

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

Daruma Parlamento. Photo credit: Daruma Sushi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suite Life: Rome's Costaguti Experience

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

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

Billiard room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fontana delle Tartarughe with Palazzo Costaguti entrance in the background.

 

4 Things We Love About the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Credit: Mohamed Somji

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

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Erica Firpo

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

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

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

Whistler's Mother.  Photo credit: Erica Firpo

Giuseppe Penone's Tree. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

Ai Wei Wei. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrace Suite.

Junior Suite.

Checking In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dining room at Il Baretto al Baglioni

A Caffè Baglioni dining room overlooking the gardens.

Number of Rooms
87 rooms and suites.

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

Drawbacks
I can’t think of a single one.

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

Checking Out

Neighborhood
Centro Storico/Fashion Quadrangle

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

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

Plan Your Trip

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

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

Book It

Rates from $415. Click here for reservations.

Florence's Hotel Savoy Reopens with an Gorgeous New Pucci-Designed Lobby

View from the Grand View suite.

Firenze, I write with a sigh.  Florence has been on my mind again and again this year.  And initially, I attributed my knee-jerk sigh (which first started as a groan) to shrewd marketing resulting magazine editorials and "top ten in the world" lists.  As I started visiting the city over the past six month, a day trip here, and over night trip there, what I realize is that I am definitely sighing in happiness.  I walk around the City of Lilies, and I see a steadfastly resolution to maintaining its identity borne from the tenements of its Medici heyday while incorporating the 21st century in its way of life.  I easily sense a palpable pride its 500-year-history of artisans, shown through active investment in its modern artists and artisans, something that needs to be replicated in other Italian cities. 

For Condè Nast Traveler (April 2018),  I met up with Laudomia Pucci, daughter of famed designer Emilio Pucci, and Olga Polizzi, Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, about their collaboration on the new look to the historic Hotel Savoy, an investment of creative and Florentine artisans. Enjoy the story and scroll through for my brief review on Hotel Savoy.

The storied hotel in the heart of Florence is looking fresher than ever.

Florence’s Hotel Savoy is back—and you can’t miss it. Following a six-month closure, the famed hotel has reopened its doors today, with a rebooted look that plays on its century-long history as the Grand Dame of Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica. Even better: They teamed up with Emilio Pucci Design for the newly over-the-top main entrance, a first for the storied fashion house.

“It always starts with a scarf,” says Laudomia Pucci, Emilio Pucci’s daughter and image director of the Florentine fashion house known for brilliantly patterned and colorful designs.

Here’s how the story begins. Pucci imagined a new scarf, with the images of both the Hotel Savoy and Piazza Della Repubblica while The Savoy’s Director of Design, Olga Polizzi, handled the architectural aspects of restoring the grand lobby to bring back the original grandeur of the entrance with raised ceilings and exposed columns. Then Polizzi washed it in an entirely white palette, giving Pucci the freedom to accent the space with vivid Mediterranean colors—a medley of blues, blacks, and even a dash of pink woven through custom furniture pieces, pillows, and a handmade statement carpet. “The colors always tell a story with a narrative of design,” Pucci says.

The Laudomia Pucci scarf that started it all. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

While the lobby is more grand than ever before, the reboot is also a tale of a dramatic downsizing. The hotel’s room count was reduced from 102 to 80, giving Polizzi the freedom to reconfigure four Grand View suites, each of which is a stunner of a #RoomWithAView.

The new Presidential Suite, a palatial top-floor ensemble of light colors and marbles, hand-painted dendritic wallpaper, handcrafted furnishings from Italian brands (including Chelini Firenze and C&C Milano), and curious vintage knick knacks that Polizzi handpicked at Florence’s Mercato dei Pulci. And then there’s the Panoramic suite, a duplex pied-à-terre, that sits eye-level to Brunelleschi’s dome.

“The Savoy is reflection of the personality of the city,” says Polizzi. “Florence is fun—she’s the whimsical, naughty, younger sister of Rome.”

As for that Pucci scarf that started the story, its image is now printed—in blue and fuchsia—on the tabletops of Irene, the Savoy’s terrace cafe on Piazza della Repubblica, which is the place for people watching in the city. So while the new lobby and new suites are grand, that’s where we’ll be enjoying the view this spring.

 View Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Grand View Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Junior Deluxe Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Junior Deluxe Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Why Reserve?

Hotel Savoy is a great luxury hotel for those who want to be in the very center of everything, desire white glove pampering and love old school grandeur.  The price tag is high but it is worth it for its location, and only if your wallet can handle it.  On the corner of Piazza della Repubblica, across from my favorite Caffe Gilli, and a two-minute walk to the Duomo and the Grand Museo del Duomo, Hotel Savoy has got an enviable geo-tag.   In five minutes, you can walk to Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Signoria, and Baslica of San Lorenzo whereas in 15 minutes (depending on the direction) you'll see David at the Accademia and Fra Angelico at San Marco museum, enjoy the Santa Croce neighborhood and the Sant'Ambrogio market,  and peruse the artisan boutiques the Oltrarno neighborhood.  You'll have to add more minutes walking for Piazzale Michelangelo and Boboli Gardens. 

The hotel vibe is chic as soon as you walk in the door, and more so with Polizzi/Pucci reboot.  Though this is an old school grand hotel, the vibe is intimate and rooms feel homey, as in the stylish home you would love to own. The upgrade means more spacious rooms and lighter colors.  And though there is no spa,  the basement is home to a lounge/sitting room and a brand new multi-space gym- four room enfilade with hardwood floors, light colors and great Techno gym workout machines. One of the rooms is a designated open space for personal training and yoga sessions.

Bottom line:  Old school grandeur just got a contemporary reboot while maintaining true to its impeccable, century-long hospitality.

Designers Olga Polizzi and Laudomia Pucci.

Shore Thing: Hamburg's latest luxury The Fontenany

The Fontenay, Hamburg, Germany

This article first appeared in Hemispheres Magazine, April 2018.

Hamburg’s first new luxury hotel in nearly two decades takes full advantage of its lakeside setting

The View: The Fontenay takes its name from 19th-century shipbroker John Fontenay, who once owned this plot of land on the shores of manmade Lake Alster. Depending on the season and the corresponding level of greenery on the surrounding trees, the lake can be seen from more than half of the 131 rooms and suites, which are done in aqua, beige, and cream and bathed in natural light.

The Building: Architect Jan Stormer’s undulating, white-tiled facade is made up of three intertwining circles, inspired by the curves of the lake. The building is set in a lush, pastoral stand of beech, oak, and sycamore trees. Inside the rooms and suites, parquet floors are made from oaks harvested, appropriately, in the forest of the Fontenay Abbey in Burgundy, France.

The Spa: Sitting pretty on the hotel’s roof terrace is the signature Fontenay spa, where many of the full-service treatments incorporate sea-inspired Creme de la Mer lotion made with nutrient-rich fermented sea kelp. The best seat in the house is on the edge of the 66-foot indoor-outdoor infinity pool, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline.

The Restaurants: Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Speinle—who has cooked at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and his own Dreizehn Sinne in Switzerland— helms the rooftop restaurant, Lakeside. On the ground floor, the casual eatery John’s edges right up on the lakefront.

The Surroundings: Originally a medieval reservoir, Lake Alster is now a picture- perfect picnic destination and Hamburg’s premier outdoor recreation spot. Keep it simple with a pick-up Frisbee game or break a sweat canoeing, kayaking, kiteboarding, or even ice-kiting on one of the rare occasions when the lake freezes over. In August, it’s all about Alstervergnügen, a four-day festival that floods the park with some 500 artists, acrobats, and athletes.

Fashion Find: Gucci Garden, Florence

This Store Rejects Labels

Gucci Garden by Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. Courtesy of Gucci.

This article originally appeared in American Way Magazine, April 2018.

Gucci transforms a palazzo into a multifaceted retail fantasy

Gucci has fun blurring the lines between fashion, food, history and art with its latest enterprise, Gucci Garden. The space, which recently opened in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, explores the Italian brand’s past and future, and rocks a trattoria with a menu by three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura (pictured right).

While an on-site boutique sells items only available at the Gucci Garden, creative director Alessandro Michele insists the project is less about creating a retail environment and more about dreaming up a fantasy world— with the Gucci brand at its center. “The Garden is real,” he says, “but it belongs above all to the mind.”


Read the April issue of American Way magazine here.

Boutique. Courtesy of Gucci.

Massimo Bottura's Gucci Osteria. Courtesy of Gucci.

Artist Jayde Fish's whimsical murals. Courtesy of Gucci.

Did I mention there is a cinema? Courtesy of Gucci.