TRAVEL

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.

4 Rome Restaurants With Remarkable Views

Hotel Hassler Roma. Credit: Hotel Hassler Roma

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, March 2018, and is a favorite of mine since there is nothing better than a view of Rome.

Rome is a city whose personality shines through its visible history — an incredible cityscape of monuments, palaces and piazzas, which are all usually experienced at ground level. But to truly know the Italian capital, you have to head to new heights. Here are some of the top terrace restaurants guaranteed to make you fall in love over and over again with the Eternal City.

Imàgo
View: Domes of the historic city center

Situated on the sixth floor of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Hassler Roma, this excellent restaurant is a favorite spot for locals and visitors thanks to its walls of windows overlooking the historic city center. From your perch at this stylish spot, you’ll be able to see at least a dozen notable palaces and monuments, among them the ornate Altare della Patria (Victor Emmanuel II monument) and the majestic church of Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona.

The acclaimed restaurant is directed by chef Francesco Apreda, whose tradewind travels led to a playful seasonal menu that combines traditional Italian recipes with subtle Asian influences. Dine on dishes like veal carpaccio with persimmon, nori seaweed and escarole ravioli and sake-glazed black cod as you watch the sun set over the Eternal City skyline.

View from La Pergola. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Pergola
View: A sweeping city panorama

Perched on the ninth floor of Four-Star Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in the Monte Mario neighborhood, this stunning establishment occupies a verdant hill about 15 minutes from the city center. In other words, La Pergola offers a sweeping perspective of the entire Eternal City.

Chef Heinz Beck has perfected the art of interpretation in Italian cuisine — he delivers a 10-course menu that left Michelle Obama asking for more. The former first lady was so enamored with Beck’s fagottelli (tiny cheese-filled pasta parcels) carbonara that she asked for the recipe.

Getting a reservation at this scenic spot is about as difficult as getting a private audience with the pope — give yourself at least two and half months in advance and be sure to ask for a terrace table. If privacy is paramount, then be sure to book the private dining room — a gorgeous gilded, glass-enclosed terrace that Gianni Versace would have loved.

Aroma Restaurant
View:  A front row seat to the Colosseum

There is nothing like the Colosseum, the world’s largest amphitheater famously known for its days of bloody sport. Ever wonder what it would have been like to have a ticket — even if it’s for one of the cheap seats? When you book a table at Aroma, the rooftop restaurant of Palazzo Manfredi, it’s almost possible.

The elegant eatery features a full-frontal vista of Rome’s most iconic monument — an unforgettable and unobstructed view that is a scene for proposals. Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio complements the backdrop with his top-notch cuisine. Expect plenty of creative, seafood-centric Mediterranean plates, such as red-cabbage-marinated octopus, roasted scallops with sweet pepper and lime cream and sea bass stewed in tomatoes, garlic and parsley.

Hotel Eden's Vista. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Terrazza
View: Downtown Rome

Rome’s panorama is a cascade of domes and bell towers, and there is no better place to take in the sweeping vistas than from this heralded restaurant on the terrace of the Five-Star Hotel Eden. You’ll want to book a front row table at La Terrazza just in time to watch the sun set across the city and St. Peter’s dome illuminate in the night sky. 

Chef Fabio Ciervo considers the terrace his masterpiece and focuses on quality-of-life dishes that have put him at the forefront of the evolution of Italian cuisine. His spin on the traditional cacio e pepe pasta includes Madagascar pepper and rose perfume, and his stracotto di manzo (slow-cooked pot roast) is a delicious bite of beef that will leave you speechless.

The Best Way To Spend Two Days In Naples, Florida

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

There’s no better place for a weekend recharge than the shores of Southwest Florida, an everglade oasis where traffic is defined as three golf carts waiting to tee off. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that one of the best addresses for a weekender in this corner of the Sunshine State is The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay-and-play stunner. Once you check into your Club Level room, you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Day One
Start your adventure by heading down to Third Street South in historic Old Naples, the original enclave of the 1930s town. The palm-tree-lined road is an elegant shopping area with great boutiques, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and art galleries.

If you start to get hungry during your perusing, you’re in luck. For at least three blocks, this quaint avenue has a lineup of street-side restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating. We highly recommend stopping by Sea Salt, a seafood-centric trattoria from chef Fabrizio Aielli. The Italian toque stocks his restaurant with more than 100 different types of salt and offers a fusion menu (with a bent toward his native Venice) featuring innovative delicacies such as crispy octopus in a black bean pear sauce, ravioli stuffed with braised veal and salt-encrusted branzino.

The Greens From Your Gorgeous Room. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

After lunch, stroll this historic street to find a few souvenirs. Fashionistas know that Marissa is always the first stop. The gorgeous corner boutique is Southwest Florida’s hub for designer favorites as well as edgier labels, including MSGM, Derek Lam and jewelry designer BiBi van der Velden. For the home, browse Gattle’s, a 110-year-old emporium of luxury linens, fabulous flatware and lavish lingerie. 

Beachcombers will love Old Naples Surf Shop, where boards are king and all things beach can be found. On Saturday mornings, the back parking lot turns into the Third Street South Farmer’s Market, an open-air forum of vendors selling tropical fruit and citrus, freshly caught seafood, coffee, dog treats and more.

When you’re ready for your first Southwest Florida sunset, head back to the Golf Resort and hop on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle for a 10-minutes-in-traffic drive to . The Five-Star seaside sister hotel sits on 20 beachfront acres and is surrounded by palm trees. 

Take a walk through the garden to the beach for the sunset and then grab a table at Dusk, the luxury property’s chic sushi restaurant, where craft cocktails are served with creative hand rolls. Shuttle back in time for a nightcap on the 18th hole at the Golf Resort’s Bella Vista Lounge.

High Tee. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

Day Two
After a great night’s sleep in your Club Level room overlooking the links, swing by the exclusive Club Lounge for complimentary coffee and a quick bite before making your way down to the greens — it’s finally tee time at the resort’s acclaimed Tiburón Golf Club.

Play 18 in a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Yes, the two tropical courses here are also a nature reserve, so expect to find protected flora and fauna along the holes.

If you’re not up for a full round, simply spend the morning polishing your swing at Tiburon’s Impact Zone Golf Academy.

And If the fairway isn’t your idea of fun, opt to rally with a USPTA-certified tennis instructor on the property’s four Har-Tru courts.

The beauty of Naples is that you are so close to mangroves, lakes and a slew of natural parks. Spend your afternoon with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and sign up for a free nature walk to find turtles, snakes and manatees or take an eco-cruise down the Gordon River.

Kayaking in Naples. Credit: Erica Firpo

Get a closer look at the region’s abundant wildlife with a guided tour by water through Wiggin’s Pass with Naples Kayak Company.

Following your afternoon of activity, indulge in some serious seafood. Snag a river-facing table at The Bay House, a gorgeous veranda restaurant on the nearby Cocohatchee River at Walkerbilt Road. The nautically themed eatery offers true hometown hospitality — a wooden rowboat hangs over the Claw Bar, where local bands play live sets Wednesday through Saturday and walls of windows give you a glimpse of neighborhood trawlers floating by.

Chef Jamie Knapp celebrates Southern cuisine and seafood with his seasonally curated menu of favorites like Charleston carpet bagger steak with bayou remoulade and St. Augustine stew practically overflowing with the day’s fresh catch. The Claw Bar features some of the best crustaceans Southern Florida has to offer.

If you have any energy for a nightcap, make the breezy 20-minute drive from The Bay House down to Truluck’s at Four-Star Inn on Fifth and Club Level Suites. The stylishly casual eatery has an intimate piano bar that’s just the place for an evening toast and a reflective chat on all that you’ve discovered over your Naples weekend.

Why We Are Going to Amsterdam This Spring

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

Rijksmuseum. Credit: Koen Smilde Photography

Amsterdam has always been pretty high on the travel bucket list for backpackers and studying-abroad weekenders, thanks to an epic party scene just as colorful as its tulip varietals. But it’s time to forget that old reputation. The capital city of the Netherlands is in the midst of 21st-century Golden Age, which is why we’re headed there this spring.

A culture time warp

Though often eclipsed by its other European counterparts, Amsterdam is a must-visit destination for art aficionados. The Netherlands was the center of the 17th-century art scene, immortalizing painters like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, and laying down the foundation for modern masters like Van Gogh and Mondrian.

The city is lined with museums and galleries that are filled with beautiful Baroque still lifes and landscapes, but the best place to start is the Rijksmuseum, the queen mother of Amsterdam’s museums for its impressive collection of works by the Dutch Masters.

Once you’ve completed your introduction to the capital’s cultural past, simply walk out the front door to explore the famed Museum Quarter, a microcosm of art with a choose-your-own-genre vibe. On either side of the boulevard, you can step back in time.

The futuristic Van Gogh Museum brings you into the world of The Starry Night painter and his contemporaries, while Moco keeps you firmly in this century with its rotating collection of Banksy works and complimentary exhibitions. For more modern pieces, stop by the Stedelijk Museum, which focuses on contemporary art and design.

Shopping in Amsterdam. Credit: Merijn Roubroeks

Shop till you drop

You know that perfect pair of seamless leisure trousers or the timeless end table you’ve been looking for? They are both in Amsterdam, a city of industrial and inventive creatives who are helping to transform it into the next global shopping destination.

If you only have a weekend, start out in the De Negen Straatjes (the Nine Streets), a hamlet in the historical center lined with beautifully curated boutiques and galleries filled with vintage to cutting-edge items. Must-visits for fashionistas include the sustainable denim shop DenhamRain Couture for fabulous wet-weather gear and the nearby Museum of Bags and Purses.

Other stylish shops along this popular retail avenue include Mendo, a bookstore for all your coveted artsy editions; The Frozen Fountain for one-of-a-kind Dutch design; Lekker for luxury retro bicycles; and the self-explanatory Likestationery.

Flower Power. Credit: Keukenh of Holland

Color Me Spring

Amsterdam in the spring is all about color. From March 22 to May 13, nearby Keukenhof is a flower frenzy with more than 800 varieties of tulips — totaling more than 7 million bulbs — exploding in full bloom across one of the largest gardens in the world.

On April 21, the flower parade of Bollenstreek heads out for a 25-mile road trip from Noordwijk to Haarlem, stopping in Keukenhof. Think of it as the floral answer to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, where colorful floats decorated with hyacinths, daffodils and tulips (of course) promenade through the gardens. Go Dutch and take the train — Keukenhof is an easy 50-minute ride from Amsterdam’s central train station.

Spring progresses from a technicolor explosion to a single-hued celebration with oranjegekte (orange madness) on April 27 for Koningsdag, the city-wide party also known as Kings Day. Europe’s largest open-air festival, King’s Day celebrates the birthday of Dutch King Willem-Alexander with concerts, parties, events and street markets, all day and night.

The 24-hour extravaganza keeps the city at a standstill, both on land and in the canals, so the best way to avoid the pedestrian crunch is to hop on a party boat. If you’re staying at the nearby Pulitzer hotel, take advantage of the revelry by reserving a few hours on the property’s wood-paneled vintage saloon vessel.

Conservatorium. Credit: Conservatorium

Where to Stay

There are so many incredible hotels in Amsterdam that it’s hard to choose. But if the focus is a weekend of full art immersion, book a room at the Conservatorium, a neo-Gothic red brick monument and former music conservatory. Along with the ideal address near the Museum Quarter, this luxe lodging is an Instagram-perfect mash-up of Italian design and Dutch minimalism.

After a day of exploring the city’s cultural highlights, be sure to treat yourself to some time in the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, the hotel’s subterranean spa.

Culture may be king, but if your ideal weekend is all about Amsterdam, drop your bags at Pulitzer, a canal-side hotel in the Nine Streets neighborhood. Made up of 25 restored townhouses from the 17th and 18th centuries, the property is the most stylish labyrinth you’ll set foot in. Escher-like staircases transport you through the hotel to jewel-toned rooms of indigos, emeralds, garnets and amethysts.

When you’re ready to explore beyond your personal space, check out the see-and-be-seen scene at the gorgeous, street-side Pulitzer’s Bar, a sultry art-deco-inspired speakeasy. 

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.  

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.

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.

A post shared by @eurochocolate on

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.

There's Something About Florence

IMG_3804.JPG
A version of the article appeared in Forbes Travel, October 2017.

There’s something about Florence.  Birthplace of the Renaissance, Dante’s hometown, font of the Italian language, and constant ranking in the top three places to visit on the Grand Tour, or better yet, the Bucket List.  Florence has had it going on for centuries, and it relishes in its rep as the Cradle of Modern Culture for nurturing homegrown artists like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as earning the title as the fifth fashion capitol thanks to bi-annual Pitti Uomo and several pioneering tech meets fashion/luxury summits. Maybe it's the proud Roman in me, but for years, I've written off Florence as a "mausoleum" or "cute tourist town", a necessary stop on your whirlwind Italy tour and a great place for a photo op, giving it only a bit of cred for its awesome art collection. Lately, however, I''m thinking otherwise-  Florence is fabulous. 

What changed my mind? Well, a little bit of handholding by local champions Georgette Jupe-Pradier, GirlInFlorence and Coral Sisk, CuriousAppetite, and here I am,  celebrating the town the Medicis built because of its, here we go, 21st century incarnation.  To the visible eye, nothing has changed in Florence but what is makes the city so invigorating is its community of artists, makers, creators and entrepreneurs who are putting a new perspective on a charming town.  According to Jupe-Pradier, who dedicates her blog GirlInFlorence  to the city’s contemporary stories and makers, there is a palpable city revival the “celebrates the past with a willingness to evolve and inspire especially in new contemporary spaces and artisans”.  Is it a 21st century Renaissance? I don't know but I'm liking the vibe.

Window Shopping

It took me a while to learn that Florence is far more than Via Tornabuoni and the Ponte Vecchio.  Jupe-Pradier's favorite area of the city is her backyard-  the Oltrarno, the river Arno’s left bank.  Ever since she started her blog, she encouraged exploration of the literal “other side” and her Oltrarno love concentrates around San Frediano which she brought to the pages of Lonely Planet as one of the world's coolest neighborhoods. I tagged along as she made afternoon rounds, stopping in to personally talk with every shop owner and artisan in the area.  Favorites include & Company a beautifully curated boutique for design lovers where you can find vintage furniture, hand-crafted stationery, Blackwing pencils and original creations by calligrapher and co-owner Betty Soldi.  Officine Nora, a working studio for a collective of jewelry makers where I picked up a handmade silver necklace by Valentina Carpini whose filigree work is divine,  Il Torchio- bookbinder studio and shop filled with luscious handcrafted books, restorer Jane Harman's  eponymous boutique Jane H where she features her original wood designs , and Albrici, a decades-old antiques shop with wing devoted to vintage clothing and accessories.

Earthly Delights

Catherine de' Medici, the woman who upgraded French cuisine by introducing Italian, in particular Florentine,  recipes and the fork to France, would be proud of her native city.   A collection of sturdy stalwarts, including  Cibreo and the century-old Trattorio Sergio Gozzi, are stewed in Florentine tradition, as long as you can get a table.  Perennially positive Jupe-Pradier loves the family Trattoria Sabatino in San Frediano, Oltrarno for its sixty-year-long dedication to serving seasonal, local dishes. .

Tradition aside,  intrepid food writer and culinary guide Sisk says “the city is responding to a demand for a more dynamic food scene”.  Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo ranks high on her list of Florentine eateries for its strong ethos on ingredient sourcing and traditions. And she loves modern bistrot-bar Zeb Gastronomia for its daily home made pastas and cool modern design, while her contemporary/creative dining picks are Michelin starred Ora d'Aria and Cibleo, Cibreo's Asian-Tuscan fusion.

For a taste of Florentine luxury, Il Locale is the spot- a restaurant and bar in a Renaissance palazzo designed as a modern Medici court with decoupage walls and velvet damask, sandstone columns in sandstone, vintage design pieces and contemporary sculptures. (Note:  I had great drinks but service was delayed, so I opted out of dining.) Charming Bar e Cucina is modern retro.  Designed by Paolo Capezzuoli, (aka Zero T, who collaborated the  Rock Steady Crew!), the vibe is a Golden age diner meets Florentine caffè, the perfect pit stop during those days at Pitti Uomo.

Just desserts at Trattoria Sabatino.

Eye Candy

Along with the usual suspects (we’re looking at you, David), Florence likes to keep you entertained with exhbitions and museums that traipse between traditional and unexpected.  Opened in 2005, Palazzo Strozzi, a fabulous example of 15th century palazzo architecture is a dynamic cultural foundation whose exhibition line up includes the ongoing Radical Utopias (design and architecture movement from the late 1960s), as well as previous blockbuster ringers like Bill Viola, Ai Wei Wei.  A blast from the past and my personal meditation is Museo di San Marco, a former Dominican convent now museum with the most extensive collection of in situ Fra Angelico frescos, and Jupe-Pradier loves the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to 20th century Italian art.

Radical Utopias, courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

View from the Hotel Savoy.

Pillow Talk

Where you rest your head in Florence is just as important as what you do. For a stunning Renaissance-meets-modern stay, head to Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. This gorgeous urban resort complex features two refurbished buildings in which you can drift off to sleep — the 15th-century Palazzo Della Gherardesca or the former 16th-century convent, the Conventino.  For center stage its Hotel Savoy is Florence’s grande dame, whose timeless elegance yet au courant chicness redefines the meaning of “historic.” Savoy’s enviable Piazza della Repubblica location puts in the very center of everything.  Hotel Brunelleschi captures the best of Florentine architecture in a labyrinth of Renaissance-era palaces and medieval towers. And if it’s good enough for an overnight stay for Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s prolific The Da Vinci Code protagonist, it should be an adventure.

5 Places For An Unforgettable Aperitivo

When Forbes Travel (October 2017) asked me to find great Italian aperitivi around the world, here's where I found myself barside. . .

The St. Regis Bangkok’ s Jojo, Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bangkok

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but no one does it quite like the Italians. Meant to cleanse the palate before dinner, drinks like a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) or an Aperol Spritz are light, refreshing and popular worldwide for their simple, classic flavors. Here are five stops to make for your own global apertivo adventure.

Bangkok
The Mediterranean comes to Thailand with Aperol evenings at Jojo, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Bangkok’s elegant Italian restaurant. The eatery’s terrace location is the spot to enjoy the futuristic and ever-changing Bangkok cityscape while imbibing Italy’s best cocktail-hour export, the Aperol Spritz — prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

To accompany your signature sip, chef Stefano Merlo has created perfectly paired cicchetti (traditional Venetian aperitif snacks).

Milan
When in Milan, the fashion forward flock to Four-Star Hotel Principe di Savoia and its iconic Principe Bar. Come aperitif time, this sultry hangout comes alive with signature martini cocktails (try the Raspberry Filtering, a sweet sip made with raspberry-infused vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a splash of champagne), a DJ spinning Italian tunes and canapés, in case you start to feel peckish.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Photo Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Florence
Take the fast train to Florence and the Atrium Bar at Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, one of the prettiest places for an aperitivo. This elegant bar is old school — a Renaissance-era court with an enclosed skylight ceiling, whose design recalls vintage libraries and lounges of a bygone era.

Mixologist Edoardo Sandri expertly curates a cocktail menu that goes far beyond a quality aperitivo. Though you can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni Sbagliato (which swaps in sparkling wine for gin), a favorite sip here is the light and fresh cucumber martini.

New York City
Head to Four-Star Langham Place’s iconic Fifth Avenue address and walk up the grand marble staircase to Four-Star Ai Fiori’s bar for a little taste of Italy in Midtown Manhattan. Bar Fiori specializes in seasonal aperitivi, including a spicy twist on the Aperol Spritz — the Autumn Thistle features cardamom-infused Cynar (a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur) and Cider du Vulcain Premiers Emois hard cider.

Chinotto Cobbler, Mattiussi Fizz and Americano in Paris all offer herbal and floral variations of their classic namesake sips, and each comes with a skillet of housemade popcorn.

Hotel Eden’s La Libreria, Photo Credit: Hotel Eden

Rome
When in Rome, it’s all about the view, and there is no other perch quite like the open-air terrace at Il Giardino atop Five-Star Hotel Eden. Take in a sweeping view of the Eternal City from the historic center toward Michelangelo’s Dome as barman Gabriele Rizzi creates signature, seasonal cocktails like his Grande Bellezza — a pink vermouth martini — accompanied by chef Fabio Ciervo’s artful hors d’oeuvres and cicchetti.

Here’s a secret: the ground-level gilded lobby lounge, La Libreria, has a hidden bar with a private barman. So, if you find yourself in need of an afternoon aperitivo, grab a spot on one of the velvet divans and wait to be served.