TRAVEL

5 Places To See Contemporary Art In Rome

Palazzo Merulana. Credit: Palazzo Merulana

Want to spend a weekend exploring Rome as a contemporary outpost? I’ve lined up where you need to go and stay in my latest update on contemporary art in Rome for Forbes Travel, December 2018.

Rome is where the art is, but these days it’s more than just colossal monuments, dusty archeological sites and beautifully decorated Baroque churches.

Contemporary art is finally making a significant mark on the Eternal City’s landscape. The destination is now replete with an itinerary of museums, galleries, concept spaces and creative hubs. We’ve plotted out five top places that bring this ancient city back to the future.

WHAT TO SEE

Palazzo Merulana
One of the newest galleries on the scene, this former municipal office building underwent a three-year renovation in preparation for the eclectic, 90-piece collection of Elena and Claudio Cerasi, prominent local patrons of the arts. Most of the museum’s works are Italian pieces created between World War I and II by artists such as Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico and Alighiero Boetti.   

Art aficionado or not, you’ll want to hang around at CafeCulture, the palazzo’s boutique and coffee shop. The menu features a variety of fare sourced from local purveyors, such as cheeses from ProLoco DOL, hamburgers from famed butcher Bottega Liberati and sweets from patisserie Cristalli di Zucchero.

Contemporary Cluster 
This avant-garde experience is the 21st-century manifestation of those iconic multidisciplinary performances of the 1960s and ’70s: a boutique/art gallery/event space housed in a decadent 17th-century palace on a side street off Campo de’ Fiori. 

The hybrid art and commercial venue hosts monthly exhibitions, weekly performances and DJ sets, while its grounds have permanent and pop-up shops and cafés.

In essence, Contemporary Cluster is a concept store with an artsy vibe that constantly draws an eclectic crowd with almost everything being for sale as a bonus.

Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi
It’s not every day that one of the world’s most famous contemporary art galleries joins forces with an ancient archaeological site. Gagosian, whose imprint in Rome has upgraded the art scene over the past 10 years, has turned to the past for a site-specific, National Roman Museum-partnered installation at the Crypta Balbi ruins.

Through January 27, the first-century theater provides a rustic backdrop for contemporary sculpture Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze. Using an ultra-modern process by which thousands of tiny cavities etched into the rock are filled with pigment, Sze has created a captivating crystalized sunset scene on the stone’s mirror-like surface.  

Sant’Andrea de Scaphi. Credit: Erica Firpo

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise: Sant’Andrea de Scaphis
To find the pulse of the international art scene, head for British art dealer Gavin Brown’s Rome outpost — it’s everything and nothing you’d expect. Located in a nondescript, deconsecrated church on a side street of Trastevere, Sant’Andrea de Scaphis is a single, rustic room of hauntingly charming medieval architecture that usually features a single artist installation.

Exhibits rotate every few months, so it’s unlikely you’ll run into the same works twice. The historic space is hosting a politically charged display by American graphic designer Sam Pulitzer, “May The Last Nationalist Be Strangled With The Guts Of The Last Technocrat,” through December 8.

Palazzo Rhinoceros. Credit: Pino LePera

Palazzo Rhinoceros
The name Fendi is synonymous with Rome’s fashion scene, but the designers’ youngest sister, Alda, opts for a more innovative interpretation with Fondazione Alda Fendi — Esperimenti, her nonprofit arts foundation.  

The group’s latest experiment is Palazzo Rhinoceros, a new creative hub in the Velabro neighborhood that opened in October. Architect Jean Nouvel rebooted a centuries-old palazzo into a multi-level gallery, 24 luxury apartments and a rooftop restaurant, without altering the building’s historic bones.   

While the interiors are stunning, some of the venue’s highlights are actually found outside, including a can’t-miss portrait projection of Alda by Pierre et Gilles on the façade and a life-sized resin rhino that lurks in the front yard.   

Hotel Eden’s La Terrazza. Credit: Hotel Eden

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Eden
Rome’s undeniable harbinger of style and hospitality, this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star stunner is dripping in fashionable touches — think art deco details, custom furniture and resplendent marble accents.

For a picture-perfect end to a day of gallery-hopping, dine at La Terrazza, the luxury hotel’s rooftop restaurant boasting some of the best views of the city.  

Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Melia Hotels & Resorts


Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
Located on the bluffs of the famed Janiculum hill (between Trastevere and Vatican’s Borgo neighborhood) on the site of an imperial villa, this Four-Star retreat is a city-center oasis that comes complete with a 1920s-era pool and lush greenery.

Though its origins are ancient, Gran Meliá’s style is contemporary: sleek modern furnishings, wide-open spaces and the sophisticated My Blend by Clarins spa.

The Rooms of Rome
Stay in the heart of the action when you book into Palazzo Rhinoceros’s fully immersive-art experience on the edge of the Roman Forum. Each of its 24 rooms is minimalist chic, meticulously designed and curated by the aforementioned Jean Nouvel, the superstar architect behind the cutting-edge Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The stylish rooms are outfitted with luxe touches, too, like Bang & Olufsen TVs, fully equipped kitchens and L’Occitane amenities.

{ART}Sarah Sze recycles Time at Crypta Balbi

Split Stone (7:34), Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi. Photo by Erica Firpo.

There are so many ways to experience Rome but there is nothing I like best than the time-bending contradiction of ancient and contemporary in the exact same moment. Rome isn’t simply ancient, or Baroque, or modern. It’s all of that at once, which is what makes visiting and living in Rome so thrilling and stressful. It’s knee-jerk to say Rome is chaotic- because it truly is. Hit pause for a second, you’ll see that the chaos is just all of the layers of time fighting for space.

Timeless. Timely. Time waster. Sentimental. Rome practically begs you to take a bigger bite of its personality. And lately, museums, cultural sites, monuments and galleries are serving it up in on a time-bending platter. Latest is Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze, a Gagosian Gallery/Museo Nazionale Romano collaboration appearing this month and through January.

Looking close for the pixels. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Rock of Ages

Head down to the subterranean of Cripta Balbi and you come face to face with a split boulder. It’s Sarah Sze's latest installation and counter-part to her self-titled gallery exhibition at Gagosian. Two halves of a monumental granite rock that sneakily resemble a geode sit in the travertine-lined remains of the 1st century BC theatre of Balbus- just one incarnation of Cripta Balbi, an archaeo-museum that is all about recycled space. Walk around the site and you’re stepping through millennia-spanning detritus from its incarnations as ancient theatre, medieval house, Renaissance convent and 19th century orphanage. Walk back to Split Stone, take a closer look. Sze permanently drilled a slick and pixelated image of sunset (that she snapped on her smartphone!) on the face of each stone.

This is not the Crypta Balbi show that Darius would dream of, but it’s the kind of show I have been waiting to see- recycling Rome through an incredible (yet barely visited) archaeo-museum and inserting the very contemporary into its historic context. Because that is Rome every day life- imperial leftovers while we wait for the bus, Baroque backdrops while we visit the dentist, unification monuments while we shop at H&M.

“Rome is a constant intersection of ancient and contemporary, all the time mixing together”, says Sze. It’s a never-ending conversation of permanent and ephemeral, analogue and dialogue, and old and new, aka Rome every day.

I want to see this show- How do I do it?

It’s pretty easy. Split Stone is in situ at Crypta Balbi, all you have to do enter the museum. Here’s a tip: Cripta Balbi is one of the four locations of the Museo Nazionale Romano- an incredible, four-venue ticket which at 15 euro for a 72-hour period is one of my favorite ways to explore the city- ancient and present day. Each of the four Museo Nazionale Romano venues focuses on Ancient Rome, with a large stress on sculpture, and each is a unique architectural experience- an ancient bath structure (Diocleziano), a Renaissance palace (Altemps), a late 19th century townhouse (Massimo) and an ancient Roman theatre/crypt/medieval residence/archaeological site (Balbi). All four museums hide in plain sight -Palazzo Massimo and Terme di Diocleziano by Termini Station, Palazzo Altemps by Piazza Navona and Crypta Balbi by Largo Argentina.

Tickets: 10 euro per site, or a 15 euro cumulative ticket which lasts 72 hours

Split Stone closes January 27, 2019.

A Secret New Hotel in the Center of Everything Great in Rome

The Adelaide Salotto at Hotel Vilòn. All photos courtesy of Hotel Vilòn.

A charming new hotel in the center of Rome embodies everything that contributing editor Erica Firpo loves about her home town — beauty, discretion, charm, and aesthetics. This article originally appeared in Fathom, October 2018.

ROME – One of my favorite things to do is muse about where I would have an affair in Rome. After a few years of testing out the possibilities — from an off-the-beaten-path bedroom nook to a corner suite in a posh hotel — I've realized I have some basic requirements. 

Whereas some people just need a room key, I need just a little bit more. First, location: The address must be in the absolute hub of the city center, but at the same time extremely unassuming, with no doorman, flags, or fanfare, so I can slip in and out of the crowd unnoticed. Second, luxurious: I need to feel the affair is worth it, not from its price tag but by its top quality, from sheets and showers to artwork and design. Third, view: I want a terrace where I can take in the city, but absolutely no way can it face anything public.

Easy, right?

Not at all, which is why I love Rome.

The Eternal City is the chaotic culmination of history, culture, and personalities that become an infernal nightmare when trying to hide an affair. True Romans have lived and breathed for at least sette generazioni(seven generations), so six degrees of separation takes on a logarithmic new dimension where everyone knows everyone else and nothing goes unnoticed.

Or so I thought until I stepped off via del Corso, aka the main thoroughfare for the all-ages scene, and onto via dell'Arancio, a nondescript side street with a row of doors. The doors were a side entrances to private apartments within Palazzo Borghese, a vast urban villa estate whose famous residents include papal families and Paulina Borghese, Napoleon Bonaparte's sister.

What makes the Borghese stand out among Rome's incredible palazzi are the gardens — an arcadia in the city with a courtyard with statues of ancient gods, 96 granite columns, a nympheum, and a beautiful garden with three allegorical fountains. Getting access to the gardens is all but impossible. You are lucky if you can take a peek during the few days the gardens are open to the public. 

Or you can book yourself into a garden-facing room at Hotel Vilòn, a rip-the-plastic-off new hotel in the very center of the Eternal City, part of the latest lineup of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. One of the discreet doors on via dell'Arancio, the former Borghese family property became a School for Maidens in 1841 and was until recently home to  Daughters of the Cross, an order of French nuns, who I presume weren't using the rooms for the affairs I was fantasizing about.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

Rates

Rates start from €462.

Checking In

Location
In the very center of Rome's historic center, just off of via del Corso, conveniently on a side street away from the crowds and the noise, but close enough to walk straight into the thick of it.

Hotel Style
Sultry, from the minute you walk across the harlequin-tiled marble entrance floor. Rich hues, lavish marbles and woods, and lots of well-chosen contemporary and photography. The rooms chill down with neutral hues, mahogany floorboards, and accents of dark blues and violets. The vibe is intimate and private, and overall style is that very chic Italian best friend you've always dreamed of.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

This Place Is Perfect For
Me. And anyone who likes a little sexy oasis in the city center.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone who is looking for a full-service hotel, as there is no spa or gym. But honestly, you're in Rome. Just walk out the front door.

What's on Site
The gorgeous lounge bar and restaurant Adelaide, and the hidden open-air atrium lounge.

Food + Drink
If I could, I would park myself in Vilòn's Adelaide salotto every single afternoon. The lounge feels like a fabulous film still, and no wonder: Set designer Paolo Bonfini created the ambience with rich colors, patterns, and prints, playing off that gorgeous octane blue. Photographer Massimo Listri hand-selected all the artwork and included his monumental photos from the Uffizi museum, and architect Giampiero Panepinto added the whimsical design pieces. Oh, wait, did I mention the cocktails are incredible? Vilòn's barman/mixologist curates the menu with classics, forgotten classics, and Adelaide's own drinks. The Adelaide salotto flows into the Adelaide restaurant, a stately salon that serves a tasty buffet of treats all day long, as well as lunch and dinner with Roman cuisine inspired dishes. Everything is served on beautifully mismatched Richard Ginori porcelain.

Number of Rooms
18 guest rooms and suites. Room categories range, from smallest to largest, are: Double, Charming, Charming with Terrace, and Charming Deluxe. The three suites are Vilòn, Melangolo (named for via dell' Arancio's medieval nickname), and Borghese.

In-Room Amenities
My favorite amenity by far are the plush bath robes — by far, the most comfortable of any Rome hotel — and the octane blue slippers which general manager Giorgia Tozzi spent months sourcing. And I should mention that the all-white marble bathrooms are divine. Ladies, keep an eye out for the Saugella Detergente Intima next to the bidet, it is preferred intimate cleanser of signore italiane. Keeping up with 21st-century tech, rooms have large Sony televisions teched-out with Apple TV, WiFi with great connectivity, and the lighting system is the ultra-innovative Domot by MicroDevice. My pet peeve in any hotel is the outlet situation, and at Vilòn, they were on point, no need to move any furniture. The mini bar stocked with free drinks like Italian specialties Gazosa, Chinotto, and Aranciata, as well as international favorites and snacks, including my very favorite dark-chocolate covered toasted hazelnuts.

Drawbacks
Parking. Then again, if you're in Rome, you don't need a car.

Standout Detail
The garden-facing terraces. Yes, the signature suites are fabulous, but book me a Vilòn Charming room looking onto the Borghese Palace's private garden, and I'm happy.

Checking Out

What to Do Nearby
This neighborhood, Campo Marzio, is by far my favorite in Rome. Absolutely everything that encapsulates the Eternal City is here. Ancient monuments like Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis, a 1st-century temple in an ultra-mod Richard Meier-designed glass box. Also: fabulous piazzas for great coffee, ice cream, and people-watching at Caffe CiampiniLa Matricianella is my pick for a picture-perfect lunch. As for shopping, via del Corso is the teen beat gauntlet, and nearby Piazza di Spagna and Via del Babuino are for big spenders, but I prefer the side streets around Largo Goldoni including via della Frezza and via del Fontanella Borghese.

Or Go Explore the Rest of the Country
Rome is the perfect city to kick off or end any Italian vacation. She's got personality for days, so if you're in need of a respite, consider Rome the pre-party, and hop the train to any coastal town for a bit of R&R or to Milan for a fashion binge. For day trips and overnighters, Italy is at your disposal from Rome’s Termini train station. Naples for a pizza? Why not? Florence for a quick stop at Palazzo Strozzi? Sure! Add to the list a myriad small towns, and Italy is yours. If you are more interested in off-the-beaten paths like Sperlonga, Bomarzo and Cività di Bagnoregio and train connections are tight, your best bet is hiring a car. Or if you've spent all of your time traveling the peninsula, afterparty in the Eternal City. Nothing like a plate of carbonara to calm you down.

Good to Know
Rome is a contradiction. It's a crazy and chaotic city that needs at least a few hours of relax — like a long lunch in a pretty piazza — every day. High tourist season kicks off a few weeks before Easter and lasts through July. Romans vacate the city once the heats sets in (and after the July sales kick off around July 5), but the city is stifling hot. By August, the temperatures cool down and the city is empty of all residents. My favorite time for a visit is late October-November and early February.

Getting Around
Rome is a city for walking, but, for the more intrepid urban explorer, the ATAC public transport system of buses, trams, and metro is well connected. Rule of thumb: Buy your tickets in advance at the tabacchaio (small tobacco item stores) and date-stamp them as soon as you enter the metro or board the bus.

5 Boutique Rome Stays To Check Out This Summer

Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina

There isn’t a better time to visit Rome than in the summer, when the city illuminates with museum and site openings and incredible evening events. And the Italian capital is more than ready to accommodate with an incredible crop of small, but mighty high-end hotels that are helping to further evolve the city’s dynamic from eternal to iconic.

Here’s your room key to five of Rome’s most sumptuous stays.

Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
History plays a major role in contemporary Roman life, so it’s no wonder that this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay masterfully combines both. A verdant enclave on the site of a first-century imperial villa, Grand Meliá provides an urban haven of relaxation with its sprawling greenery and state-of-the-art spa.

Beat the city heat by lounging around the picture-perfect 1920s-style swimming pool. Lined with cozy cabanas, plush loungers and secluded gardens, this elegant spot is an Instagrammer’s paradise.

When you need a bite (or a cocktail), simply stroll over to the buzzing poolside bar, Liquid Garden. Try a Spirtz & Fizz (gin, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, prosecco and smoked salt) and nibble on Italian bites.

You can also head to the terrace of Ossimoro to enjoy a flavorful Mediterranean meal from chef Carmine Buonanno — either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Portrait Roma’s Rooftop Terrace. Credit: Portrait Roma – Lungarno Collection

Portrait Roma — Lungarno Collection 
If you’re looking for a Five-Star pied-à-terre in the heart of town, you’ll find it here. The chic, 14-room property is a fashionista’s dream with Ferragamo-inspired interiors that look fresh off a magazine cover.

Open during the summer months, a rooftop terrace — serving light fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner — is equally as stunning, with cushy loungers, candles and a modern glass fireplace, perfect for cuddling or celebrating.

But some of the best features aren’t found inside — Portrait Roma boasts a prime locale on Via dei Condotti, Rome’s historic and exclusive fashion boulevard. The avenue is an excellent place to shop for haute couture during seasonal sales, which run through August.

And just in case you can’t decide what you want to do next, the hotel also has a team of six knowledgeable lifestyle assistants, ready to send you in the direction of the city’s hottest concert, exhibit or restaurant.

Villa Spalletti Trivelli. Credit: Villa Spalletti Trivelli

Villa Spalletti Trivelli
History buffs and luxury lovers alike will want to book into this Four-Star stay when heading to Rome. A historic home-turned-hotel, this refined retreat is decked out in period furniture and art, including tapestries, sculptures, paintings and an exquisite antique library recognized by Italy’s Ministry of National Heritage and Culture. Even the gardens are manicured to evoke an early 19th-century feel.

Hospitality goes above and beyond here. Expect to be greeted at the entrance and served breakfast and afternoon tea in lavish salons. Twelve bedrooms reside in the three-story home, while across the lawn are a large apartment and two spacious Garden Suites, which are highly recommended for a summer stay.  

But the real highlight is the remodeled rooftop terrace. Debuted this summer, the alfresco space has multiple whirlpools, a complimentary bar and a plush lounge. The hotel’s enviable position on Quirinale Hill — one of the seven hills of Rome — makes its rooftop a wonderful sunset spot.

The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel’s Divinity Rooftop Terrace. Credit: The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel

The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel
Debuted in April, this 79-room stunner occupies a prime perch in the magical and very central Pantheon neighborhood. The historic façade hides a complete interior rebuild by Milanese architect Marco Piva, who transformed the building into a veritable temple of design with glossy marbles, resplendent golds, warm woods and contemporary sculptures all inspired by the Pantheon itself. 

But the cherry on top of this sublime stay is the rooftop. Offering dome-level views of the iconic monument and Rome’s terracotta-dotted skyline, the Divinity Rooftop Terrace features a glass-enclosed wine cellar and a historically inspired cocktail menu, providing a scenic perch for summertime sundowners.

When the ground-floor restaurant Dionysus opens this fall, you can expect to enjoy Roman and regionally inspired flavors there along with a wine list of more than 400 labels.  

Hotel Vilón’s Adelaide. Credit: Stefano Scatà

Hotel Vilòn
Located in a 16th-century mansion that once belonged to one of Rome’s most formidable families, this brand-new boutique stay (it just opened in March) is this season’s best-kept secret.

Situated on a quiet side street just off the bustling historic city center, this 18-room darling was designed from floor to ceiling as a luxurious home. Rich colors, lavish marbles and woods, contemporary art and photography, and custom furniture create an ambiance that is both stylish and sultry. 

On the ground level is where you’ll find Adelaide, a gorgeous restaurant and bar that feels like you’ve just walked onto a film set, thanks to styling by production designer Paolo Bonfini. With its contemporary vibe and exclusive locale, this posh lounge is one of the hottest places in the city to sip — snag a stool during apertivo hour and order up a Principessa, a fragrant blend of citrusy Galliano L’Aperitivo, pomegranate juice, and thyme- and pink-pepper-infused soda.

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel July 2018.

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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 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 Hostels in Rome

Generator Rome

The Best Hostels in Rome first appeared in The Telegraph, February 2018. I've updated my article with a little background.

I know what you are thinking.  Or better yet, I know what you are feeling. The mere mention of the word hostel sends shivers down my spine, too.  I get full sensory nostalgia, I think of that creepy-crawly feeling when some one rustled through my backpack in the middle of the night in a 12-person dorm in Berlin, then my ears fill will grating waling (not mine) while I was locked in a small room in a women’s sanatorium in Genova, and finally, I get heat flashes remembering from languid evenings in Siem Reap with politics, playing cards and pot.

Yep, I am from The Beach generation of backpackers, when hostels were cheap and cheerful.  Design and amenities weren’t even part of the dialogue because back then.  It was a cash-only culture of affordability (about $8/night) where the return was only convenience, conversation and a blind step to the next adventure.  Hosteling in 2018 is nothing like the 1990s, and we have social media to thank for that.  Hostels are curated with gorgeous community spaces meant for hang out instead of get out.  No longer lounges of left-over books, architecture and cheap service, hostels are destinations and experiences worth sharing, and better yet, worth posting.  Savvy owners/managers are well-informed of that insta-promotion clicks bring in more, and they are more and more unified in their goal for full (and at times personal) service and great, okay, decent design.   For the Telegraph, I had fun writing about the best hostels* in Rome and are the answers two questions my friends always asked while researching:

Generator Rome.

Why a hostel and not a hotel, bed and breakfast or AirBnB?   Hosteling is all about personal choice.  You want to maximize your euro, dollars and dirham, by saving on services. And for the low price, there is a built-in social scene, which is what the 21st century hostel owners/management are counting on.  Community Experience -  from lounges to bars, hairdresssers, cooking classes, climbing walls and more, hostels are creating environments, and places like The Yellow  are creating worlds. 

Isn’t a hostel only for 20-somethings?  Not at all.  Because of the global market, i.e. everyone wants to and can travel (somewhat) affordably, smart hostels are savvy to all generations with services and boarding choices - private rooms, all female dormitories, family suites with bathrooms and kitchens.

Some hostels like Next Generation declined to participate in this review. I do think it’s worth a look.

From The Telegraph. . . .An insider's guide to the top hostels in Rome, including the best for affordable prices, private rooms, shared dormitories, boutique style and sociable atmospheres in locations such as the Monti neighbourhood and near to the Termini station.  

Generator Rome.

Generator Rome

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Rome’s first 'poshtel' is a chic, boutique accommodation with a youthful vibe and a contemporary-meets-retro décor. It is on par with a decent design hotel. The location is slightly out of the way, but nevertheless close to the city's lively Monti neighbourhood and with excellent transport links at nearby Termini Station. A tranquil palette of forest greens, violets and light grey colour all rooms, whose only furniture include cosy white linen beds, vintage-style desks, lamps and armoires. The 12 dormitories have a maximum of four beds each, while the remaining 53 are private rooms with double beds.Read expert review

The Yellow

The Yellow

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Rome’s premier party hostel is ideal for travellers in their 20s looking for a comfortable bed and an interactive social scene. It has a creative and artsy vibe, and a rooftop terrace and small garden hang-out for film screenings during the summer months. The 95 rooms are divided into dormitories and private rooms (doubles, triples and quads) with a total of around 320 beds. Dorm options include mixed or female-only, with en suite or shared bathrooms. Overall décor is a chic minimalist. It's just a 10-minute walk to Termini train station.Read expert review

The Blue

The Blue Hostel

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Seven heavenly-styled guest suites in a former convent, housed in a 17th-century palazzo around the corner from the Monti neighborhood. Rome's main railway station, Termini, is just round the corner, providing excellent transport links to the rest of the city. Each of the rooms are tastefully decorated with handmade, upholstered headboards, framed black and white photos, original artwork and vintage desks and chairs. En-suite bathrooms are stocked with HG Bigelow hair and body care products. All rooms have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, heating, mini fridges, coffee makers and televisions.Read expert review

Hostella

Hostella

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

A cheap and cheerful women-only hostel with a casual and homely vibe, offering simple dormitory accommodation. It's located close to Rome’s Termini Station, so well placed for exploring the city or striking out to see the surrounding countryside. There are six shared dorm-style rooms (in two apartments) accommodating three to four beds each. Décor is simple, with Ikea beds, desks and cabinets with locks, and all have air-conditioning and heating. There are four shared bathrooms (three with showers); Room Six, a spacious loft conversion, has an en suite.Read expert review

The Bee Hive

The Beehive

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

A boutique hostel with a whimsical style and an eco-conscious vibe. The Beehive's many personal touches give it the feel of a home away from home. Close to the Termini Station, the hostel is excellently situated for transport links in and out of the city. Of the Beehive’s 12 rooms, 10 are private and two are shared dormitories sleeping four. They are quiet, airy and spacious, exhibiting a simple design, with one or two pieces scattered about, like intricate ceramics by a local Italian artists and small furniture pieces from the owners' travels to Bali. All rooms have Wi-Fi, fans and heating.Read expert review

Alessandro Palace

Alessandro Palace

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

This is one of Rome’s original hostels; a no-frills dormitory with an active social scene that draws in a young crowd. It's within walking distance of Termini Station and enjoys excellent transport links to the rest of the city. Friendly staff members organise on-site events that keep the sociable atmosphere bubbling. Communal areas have kitschy charm with their Ancient Rome-inspired murals. The 120 beds are spread across dorms sleeping two, four, six and eight (mixed and women-only, spartanly decorated, with en suite and shared bathrooms), and private rooms in the Annex, a separate apartment building.

Alessandro Downtown

Alessandro Downtown Hostel

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

A nuts and bolts hostel, centrally located in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood and in close proximity to the vibrant Monti neighbourhood, as well as the transport hub of Termini Station. Like its counterpart Alessandro Palace, the Downtown has the same cheap and cheerful hostel dormitory vibe. The 20 rooms are vaguely reminiscent of university dorms – no design style, just bunk beds (four, six or eight), simple table and chairs, and storage lockers. Several rooms have en-suite bathrooms, and if not there are communal bathrooms – both mixed and female-only – just like the dorm options.Read expert review

4-Star Hotel Review: Hotel Celio, Rome

My review of the family-owned Hotel Celio first appeared in the Telegraph.

It is not every day that you find a three-star hotel in Rome that goes far beyond expectations.   Honestly, I've found that it's predictably the opposite which can be a bummer when looking for affordable and reliable hotels in Rome.

The Nitty Gritty:  Roberto Quattrini's 20-room boutique hotel is a fabulous find-  for three-star prices, you get a five-star location, quality design and personal service.  With decades in hospitality,  Robert anticipates and understands his guests and their needs, he understands hospitality and he has homegrown insight onto the city of Rome.  What does that mean?  He lives and loves the city, and is happy to share the how-tos. 

And Roberto has patience. The room experience is charming, if you know what you have booked.  Rooms are small in size, and meticulously curated to a classic style- mosaic floors, hand-painted frescoes, vintage prints and paintings, and heirloom furniture.  The bathrooms are tiny jewels decorated with lovely marbles.   This is the kind of hotel for those who enjoy classic style, not for those looking for minimalist chic or an Instagram shot.  My favorite details outside of the rooms?  The subterranean level with winter with gold-leafed breakfast room, and the mosaic-tiled (à la ancient Rome) hammam for personal use.  Oh yeah, I love the private screening room.

Hotel Celio

Rome, Italy

8 out of 10, Telegraph Expert Rating

"Named after one of Rome’s famed seven hills, the Hotel Celio is a charming and great value three-star hotel with an obvious love for the history of its Celio neighborhood."

Location: 9 / 10

Hotel Celio has great real estate just behind the Colosseum and within walking distant to all of Rome’s major sites, including the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. The immediate area is primarily residentially and pleasantly quiet, considering its proximity to Italy’s most visited monument. For a bit more buzz, hipster hub Monti (a neighborhood known for its restaurants, bars and shops) is a short 10 minute walk away. For more extensive travel, there is a near by Metro stop, tram stop and bus stops for getting to all corners of the city. Nature lovers and children of all ages will enjoy Villa Celimontana, a tranquil and very green park about five minutes walk from the hotel.

Style & character:  8 / 10

Playful, vintage Rome is the underlying theme at Hotel Celio. The décor harkens Rome of yesteryear with wood paneling, Venetian glass, period wallpaper and marble. Additionally, the hotel pays homage to the Eternal City's history with ceiling frescoes reminiscent of the lavish rooms of Ancient Rome’s elite. But don’t think this hotel is a dusty museum piece, instead owner Roberto Quattrini creates a warm and friendly refuge from a long day in Rome.

Service & facilities: 8 / 10

Very enthusiastic and efficient service, far more friendly and informed than the average Rome three-star. The hotel staff provides replete material on neighborhood restaurants, tour offerings, and events. There is a small workout room on the hotel’s rooftop with Technogym equipment (elliptical and running machines) as well as free weights, and in its basement is a private hammam, with gorgeous antiquity-inspired floor and wall mosaics. For a quick beauty fix, immediately across the street is e-Wellness, the Hotel Celio’s beauty center with a menu of beauty treatments including facials, massages, pedicures and manicures.

  • Bar
  • Fitness centre
  • Laundry
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi

Rooms:  8 / 10

Each of the Hotel Celio’s 20 rooms is charming, with a prevalence for Renaissance revival in its décor. All rooms are decorated in period style with detailed wallpaper, vintage furniture, patterned floor tiles and, in some cases, lavish mosaic floors and in situ frescoes. The standard doubles are small to average in space, so if size does matter, the first level, Ambassador Suite with its king-size bed, personal library of first edition books, and gorgeous brocade is an excellent choice, though I much prefer to go to the top for the Pompeian Suite, a rooftop terrace apartment with living room (that doubles as a guest room), two bathrooms, and three private terraces—with a prime view of the Colosseum. This is where you will want to sit at sunset.

Food & drink: 7 / 10

Hidden in the Hotel Celio’s ground level is a gorgeous, gold-leafed breakfast area, where guests are entertained for winter weather. In the summer months, Hotel Celio opens its garden courtyard for tented, al fresco breakfast, which is standard continental fare.

Value for money: 9 / 10

Double rooms from £90 in low season; rising to £120 in high. Breakfast and Wi-Fi included.

Access for guests with disabilities?

No.

Family-friendly?

Yes. In summer months, the rooftop terrace has a small wading pool and play area for children.

Hotel Celio

Via Dei Santi Quattro 35/C, 00184 Rome, Italy.

00 39 06 7049 5333

 

hotelcelio.com

_MG_5278__Copia_-7-600-450-80.jpg

#ExperienceRome, Let's Get Digital

Piazza di Spagna in the rain.

Rome.

The Eternal City as been one of my favorite topics since I was little. As kids, our parents would shuffle us to Rome to visit family, and we'd return back to the US telling stories of fabulous pyramids, playgrounds in fortresses, ice cream vendors on top of churches, forgotten cities, cities within cities, cities under cities and futuristic cities.  No one believed us.  So we told them how we had pizza for breakfast, how our favorite playground was so old that steps sprung out of the earth and turned into columns, and how everyday there was a guaranteed explosion to mark the beginning of lunch*.  They still didn't believe us. 

Rome wasn't a fantasy world and it wasn't always fun, I was told in few words, emphasized by a punch. No, it was a chaotic city with long lines (to the Vatican Museums and Colosseum) and great pasta.  It was a requisite three-day stop on a week-long Italy vacation where everyone spoke with their hands.  I couldn't convince my elementary school classmates otherwise but I didn't care.  I knew I was right so I took the punches and kept talking.

Fast forward to the 21st century and my gift for gab is now an interactive career writing and photographing Rome, Italy and travel through a Pandora's box of tech, i.e. the internet, my laptop and iPhone, a bunch of apps, and now a hashtag. 

#ExperienceRome

 #ExperienceRome is not quite as simple as a lone hashtag.   It's a collaborative and interactive project with TurismoRoma where I create and share in depth, Rome-centric content on my social media platforms in the hopes of engaging and enticing you to talk and visit Rome.  Not too difficult, right? Just point and click.   Exactly plus a little bit more. My goal is to bring you into an interactive story more delicious than a plate of  Luciano Monosilio's carbonara and more invigorating than a run around the Circus Maximus. 

With social media as my palette and Rome as my subject,  I am digitally painting pictures on how to enjoy Rome to the max, whether a day, a weekend or a lifetime.  We'll peruse art exhibitions and artisan workshops, visit markets and monuments, walk around neighborhoods and wait for public transportation, and contemplate the contemporary city.  The  objective is full immersion Rome.

Sergio Esposito (r) and team making Roman recipe sandwiches at Mordi e Vai, Testaccio Market.  Quartiere: Testaccio.

How?

#ExperienceRome is centered around the dynamic multi-verse of immersive social media.  Huh?  Open up Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Periscope and it's right in front of you.  You join in without having to hop on a plane just by following me @EricaFirpo on Instagram, Erica Firpo on Facebook and @moscerina on Twitter.   You click and follow hashtag #ExperienceRome on all platforms where you'll have the chance to see Rome through my lens,  as well as the eyes of @DariusAryaDigsRome Insider (Russian/English) and Viagem na Italia (Portuguese).  If a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm making it logarithmic more with video and live streams, and Instagram Stories.  (Yes, it's not too late, you can catch up by checking out my Instagram Highlights, saved stories that appear below my IG bio).

We want #ExperienceRome to be on your mind and in your feeds as much as possible so help out by commenting and sharing your favorite tweets. Please give us feedback:  tell us what you like, what you want to see and what you want to see more of.  Take a second to visit and follow Turismo Roma, the City of Rome tourism office.  And once you're in Rome, tag your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts with #ExperienceRome -and make sure to tag me as well so I can say hello!  It's that simple.

Ice skating at the Parco della Musica/Auditorium in Quartiere Flaminio

Postscript

*Curious as to what was the Rome of my childhood?  It was my kind of Wild West, where we  We walked like Egyptians around the Pyramid of Cestius, burnt off some energy by running around  the moat of Castel Sant'Angelo and even the moat-thing around the Mausoleum of Augustus, we climbed to the top of St. Peter's dome just for an ice cream at St. Peter's Basilica's terrace caffè, we went back to the past at archaeological site Ostia Antica, and then took it further by going underground at the Domus Aurea (and later my cousin Giampiero would take me for a night walk around the tunnels of the Roman Forum) and finally we wondered why everyone said Rome was so old if there was EUR, a microtown of Luna Parks, caffes, boatrides and a lot of white, minimalist buildings.  We started our mornings picking up fresh and hot pizza bianca from Antico Forno Roscioli, and reminded ourselves it was time for lunch with my zie Cesarina, Peppina and Doria when we heard the noontime cannon ball shot from a canon from the Janiculum hill.   Nothing changes.

The average 5pm in Campo de' Fiori, historic center.