TRAVEL

Window Seat: Quadri in Venice

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Venice in its inkiest hours is my favorite time to walk through La Serenissima, and perhaps the only time to peruse St. Mark’s Square. The arcades are lit with a warm glow, reflecting in the basalt pavement and setting the square on fire. Foot traffic is different. It’s not rushed, it’s not crowded. People quietly cross the piazzas to get from here to there. Stragglers are trying to snap a Basilica night shot, while others are hiding behind columns to catch some bars of Brahms or Mozart from the small ensemble orchestras at Quadri and Florians. A St. Mark’s evening is decadent, romantic and slightly heartbreaking, like a fading memory that won’t disappear.

Me? Time and time over, I chose to stay. St. Mark’s is an old friend, and so are its cafes. The square comes at a premium, even with knowing a few secrets on how to enjoy an aperitif at the most expensive bars in Italy. And I am willing to pay for the experience if it is unforgettable. Quadri is more than just one of the epic cafes in the square with a live orchestra and front row seats to Basilica San Marco. It is a gastro-cultural experience. In 2011, the Alajmo brothers took over the more than 200-year-old property, with the intent of creating the very best pastry and coffee bar, along with opening up the first floor to an experiment restaurant. If you know the Alajmo brothers you know that they are full immersion- they idealize, create and personally execute every detail from concept, mentality, and dishes to vibe and design down to the glasses in your hand. At the beginning of 2018, the Alajmos brought in expert conservation artists to restore the Grand Caffe Quadri, original hub to writers and artists of the Grand Tour, and asked their friend and constant collaborator Philippe Starck to come back to the Michelin-starred Ristorante Quadri for a design upgrade.

Flavour Hunter in Condè Traveller, September 2018

This grand cafè opened in 1775 on St. Mark’s Square and over the years gained a list of regulars than included Lord Byron, Alexandre Dumas and Marcel Proust. But the romantic veneer of the square diminished amid the relentless commercialism that swept over venice at the end of the 20th century (along with pigeon photographers and gondolier hats), and Quadri was no longer the place to be seen.  Then, in 2011, chef Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother Raffaele arrived, a duo with three Michelin starts at Le Calandre in Padua, and it wasn’t long before Quadri earnt one of its own.  The Max and Raf menus highlight each of the brothers’ personalties; Max is the innovative one, Raf the more traditional. But the tasting menu- 16 courses for two- is a combination of oth, with dishes such as cappuccino di laguna, a mix of lagoon seafood and moeche, a soft-shell crab only found in the Venetian islands served with green fronds of samphire-like agretti. 

Yet it is only this year that the restaurant’s 250-year-old interior caught up with the kitchen’s contemporary attitude.  Philippe Starck, the man responsible for projects as diverse as the Mama Shelter hotels, Steve Job’s yacht and the interiors for a new space station, set to launch in 2020, has uncovered the palace’s original stuccowork from beneath layer upon layer of paint. Old-fashioned wall coverings have been replaces with earthy tones modelled on a 16th-century silk brocade - but look closely as there are rockets and satellites as well as portraits of Massimiliano and Raffaele within the fabric.  And on shelves above the doors, whimsical taxidermy rabbits and foxes are ready to take flight, a nod to the winged lion that guards the city.  Reserve a table by the window on the first floor for a front-row view over the square, high above the crowds - because this is once again the most-coveted spot in Venice.a

Peep the Alajmo brothers’ portraits in the brocade. Photo credit: Quadri.

Quattro Atti. Photo credit: Quadri.

Have I eaten at Quadri? Twice over the past two years at Ristorante Quadri and both times (a lunch and a dinner), I have not only relished the view, but loved the dishes. Massimiliano is a genius, fact. He is clever, he is instinctive, he is innovative. His dishes are heart-warming, reminiscent of past lives and history. And most of all they are unexpected. But let’s be serious- I love Quadri for its location, especially the window seat in the evening where I have the glowing piazza below me.

Mornings, I am at Grand Caffe Quadrino as much as I can. I frame myself below the beautifully restored walls and mirror next to the elderly German man who sits in the corner every morning. On a brisk and clear morning, I will sit outside, but usually before the orchestra starts so that I can read. Tip: For the experience with less of a price tag, you can also get stand up service at the bar.

Me enjoying Quadrino, the ground floor Grande Caffe Quadri.

How to Do the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018

Another Generosity at the Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Erica Firpo

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

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

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

The Basics

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

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

The Biennale Gardens. Photo by Erica Firpo.

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

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

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

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

More Must Sees

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

Where to Refuel

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

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

Navigating the show

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

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

Photo credit Erica Firpo.

Where to stay

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

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

Did You See the Dramatic Hands Trying to Save Venice from Drowning?

This article first appeared in Fathom, February 2018.

The hands that shot out of the sea and were seen around the world. Photo courtesy of Halcyon Gallery.

Venice is a floating city of a million unforgettable moments. And in 2017, the most unforgettable was Support, a Venice Biennale sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn depicting a pair of colossal hands rising out of the Grand Canal, seeming to hold up the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. If you happened to be in Venice this year, you know what I’m talking about. (If you're desperate to see it before it goes, the show closes on February 28. Hop the 1 or 2 vaporetto water bus from Santa Lucia train station and get off at the Ca d’Oro stop.)

The stark white hands look like a submerged Atlas reaching out to support (or grasp) the closest palazzo. Quinn created Support as a site-specific piece that was both a figurative and a physical support to Venice. The idea was (and still is) to open the doors to a discussion on climate change, global warming, and cultural heritage. Did it work? Yes, and then some. Magical, absurd, funny, poignant: No matter what your mood, the hands drew you in and brought out emotion.

The first time I saw Support, I laughed. A good, happy, hearty laugh. It was a clear, sunny day, and Venice was giving me everything — and I felt like those hands were giving me the world. I came back in the late afternoon and watched the sun set on the canal in a rainbow fire while those white hands practically prayed in gratitude to the raw siena color of the palazzo. 

Another time, I saw the sculpture on a raining morning on the way to Piazza San Marco. I was elbowed into an uncomfortable corner of the vaporetto with what felt like every tourist Venice has ever seen. The hands seemed to desperately claw at Ca’ Sagredo’s walls. The last time I saw it was at twilight, when those fathomless colors of Venice were fading and the hands seemed to be gently cradling the side of the palazzo, protecting it, holding it, cherishing it. Magical. Powerful. Venice.

Find It

Support will be on display until February 28, 2018. It is best visible from the 1 or 2 line of the vaporetto water bus at the Ca d'Oro stop. 

Learn more: Lorenzo Quinn's website.

Unbelievable: Damien Hirst in Venice {Review}

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

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

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

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

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Day Trip: Venice

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

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

Door to door Roma Termini- Venezia San Lucia is a 3 hour 45 minute train on the Alta Velocità (high speed) trains.  Double down for the return and you're only 7.5 hours seated where you can contemplate time travel by catching up on most of the entire first season of Dark.  To make the most of a Venice day trip, you're going to have to get up early.  The best Rome departure is on the Italo 6.15am train*, arriving in Venice at 10am with a return train at 7:00pm- that gives you nine full hours to do whatever you want in La Serenissima.  And to make the day trip evening sweeter, Italo Treno offers day return fare at great prices, the kind of incentive if you are competitive and thrifty like me.  

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

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

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

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

*Daytripping from Florence is even easier: just 2.05 hours by train, and you don't have to get up in the dark. Departure: 7.54 am.

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

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

PHOTOS FROM THE 57th INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION

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A Fashionable Packing List for the Venice Biennale

This article originally appeared in Fathom on April 28, 2017.

Highlights from the most recent Biennale. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Every other spring, the contemporary art world flocks to Italy to celebrate art, dance, architecture, cinema, and theater at the Venice Biennale. Fathom contributing editor and Biennale regular Erica Firpo gives us a peek at what she's packing in her suitcase.

VENICE – Flashback to the 1999 Venice Biennale, a time where I spent many months covered in red powder. Anne Hamilton, an artist representing at the U.S. Pavilion, made a crimson snowfall cascade down the walls for her installation Myein, and it was my job, as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection assistant, to make sure the powder and everything else flowed smoothly. There was nothing glamorous about the long hours, often spent alone, in a bone-chillingly cold pavilion, occasionally greeting guests and explaining the installation — but the full immersion into contemporary art was unforgettable, and every 24 months, I return to the Biennale for that very same pleasure, though now as a journalist covering the art.

Over the decades, the press preview for the exhibition has evolved from a quiet industry event for artists, gallerists, and journalists to 72 solid hours of art and hobnobbing with the Pantheon of Glitterati — art, fashion, literature, and film folk from all over. As soon as I arrive in Venice, I have to be ready for nonstop exhibitions, openings, and cocktail parties. Style, efficiency, and fun are my goals — and the same can be said for anyone visiting the Biennale. My suitcase is a balanced mix of form and function, organized Matryoshka-style. Here's a peek inside.

Mophie Juice Pack Air

The Biennale is more than an all-day affair — I'm out the door by 8 a.m., photographing Venice street scenes, perusing every pavilion in the Venetian Arsenal and gardens, visiting collateral events, and partying late into the evening. The Biennale doesn't just kill my feet, it quickly and painfully kills my phone, a.k.a. my life source. Because there is nothing worse than trying to find a free outlet in Venice, I always bring an extra battery pack, and lately it's been a pretty rose gold case that snaps right onto my phone. If I'm feeling extra gamey, I bring two. ($100)

Insta360 Nano Video Camera

The Biennale is not just freeze frame art, it's panoramic performance. For the rare times I broadcast on Facebook Live, I love giving the full 360-degree experience so viewers can choose what they want to see. ($199)

Kasia Dietz Nice Clutch

My handbag has to be stylish and easy to carry. I love Kasia Dietz totes for her choice of vintage fabrics, which are perfect for the exhibition's artsy vibe. I also make sure to have one of her clutches, for a quick switch to evening glam. (€70)

 

Opening Ceremony Silk-Satin Bomber Jacket

Venice is tricky. Misty mornings burn into hot days, while evenings are chilly and humid. The only solution is a satin bomber jacket and the reversible nature of this one makes it easy to do a quick outfit change. ($525)

 

Moleskin Ruled Reporter Notebook

The first time I ever purchased this notebook was in Venice, and I have carried one in my handbag ever since. The hard cover makes me feel like Lois Lane scooping the art world. ($13)

 

Hydaway Water Bottle

I don't like feeling the weight of a water bottle in my purse, but I don't want to be dehydrated either. My solution: a lightweight, collapsible water bottle introduced to me by my friend Livia's 90-year-old nonna. ($20)

 

Tom Smarte Panama Fedora

Most of my time is spent outdoors, walking from one exhibition to the next. I love a good hat with a little charm to protect my face and lift up my outfit. ($449)

 

La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Sunscreen

My London BFF introduced me to the French sunscreen. It's light, non-greasy, and the best way to protect my skin from the Venetian sun, which never seems as potent as it really is. ($34)

 

MSGM Jumpsuit

I love Italian brand MSGM and would wear anything they put in front of me. The fun, striped number would work well for artsy selfies at cocktail parties. ($700)

 

Tod's Tattoo-Inspired Sneakers

If there is one lesson it has taken me a while to learn, it's that style should take second place when it comes to shoes for an event like the Biennale. Comfort is everything when you're standing on your feet all day. Thank god these sneakers are chic. ($845)

 

Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes

You definitely need antibacterial hand wipes. Added plus: These smell amazing. ($7)

Olloclip Core Lens Set

I use this set of lenses to up my Instagram story game and love playing around with the fisheye and wide angles. ($100)

Two Days in Venice with San Clemente Palace

There is another like an island getaway, and some say there is nothing like a Venice escape.   But the beautiful Serenissima is not quite a respite, especially once the weather warms up.  But what if it was? A few weeks ago, I was invited by Kempinski hotels to come to visit the newly opened and renovated San Clemente Palace, a luxury hotel in a small island across from San Marco and the Giudecca that entices you to best of both worlds-  the meandering charm of Venice and the quietude of an island .  (You may remember that I wrote about the San Clemente Palace last year in Forbes Travel round-up of the new/updated St. Regis-Starwood line up-   Yes, same space, same place but new owner with some great surprises).

My weekend was perfect. The sky was constantly painted by Titian, the water never made up its jewel-toned mind, and the temperature was warm to a balmy chill at night.  And the hotel.... it was fabulous. Or maybe I just like history with a luxe decor?   San Clemente was a crusader stop over, a monastery, a hospital and sanitarium (famously, Mussolini's first wife had a Zelda Fitzgerald finish here), and now  190 room hotel, most of which opt for that Baroque-inspired finery we've come to expect of Venice- Venetian plaster, carved wooden headboards, velvet covered furniture, gilded mirrors and opulent drapery with incredibly large tassels.  My Junior Suite was just that, with the most comfortable bed in the world, a beautiful view of the lagoon and San Marco, and a large marble bathroom stocked with Acqua di Parma products and a very, very good hair dryer.  Yep, I was in heaven until I walked through the San Clemente Suite, a stand-alone top floor apartment which is probably the love child of Poltrona Frau and SanLorenzo Super Yachts dancing in my seaside fantasies: exposed wood beam ceilings, gorgeous contemporary Italian furniture in leathers and velvets, floor to ceiling windows with a front row view of the Venetian Lagoon, and did I mention private dock?  Consider it a 10, 000 euro sunrise... San Clemente Suite.

Let's round it up:  San Clemente Palace is a time piece.  Its long hallways and a vintage bar are reminiscent of a favorite Kubrick film.  San Clemente is a compound.  You could quite possibly stay here without visiting Venice because it has *almost* everything- three restaurants, under chef Vincenzo di Tuoro,  three bars under superbarman  Alessio Venturini, (note: try his White Lady, my new cocktail), pool, putting holes, tennis courts, park benches and enough grounds that I lapped the site 3 times for my morning run - admittedly, I stopped a few times just to take in fresh air. But even Kempinski knows you need to get lost, so if offers guests complimentary water taxi service to and from San Marco each half hour.  [For a walk around San Clemente Palace, please flip around my Steller Story].

What didn't I like? More like, what would I like to see next? I'd love to see the herb garden they are talking about cultivating, with chef's tabl dining. In fact, I'd like to see how Chef di Tuoro evolves the restaurants.  The pool is beautiful- but will Kempinski expand to more spa services and perhaps enhance the on site gym?  And that's it.

My two days in Venice were just what I needed to clear my head from Rome.  I made sure to cross over to Venice for some cicchetti and art. I stumbled across the Joseph Klibansky Beautiful Tomorrow exhibition at Palazzo Franchetti- humorous and beautiful, best combination-- and then went to the Pinnault Foundation double header opening of Sigmar Polke (Palazzo Grassi) and Acchrochage (Punta della Dogana). By the time you read, Klibansky will have ended but you should plan to catch Polke, an excellent retrospective of the German artist who had far more fun than Andy Warhol.  But yes, I was lazy and stayed on the island- participating in a master cooking class with di Tuoro, where we talked gnocchi, and then met up with  Alessio at the Clemente Bar for another White Lady. My kind of weekend in Venice.

48 hours in Venice for #myhiltonstory

Ain't nothing like a rooftop, and better yet if it comes with a beautiful pool, a clever cocktail and a full frontal panorama of Venice.  This is just one of the things I do when given 48 hours of free reign on La Serenissima.  From art openings and the Accademia to a glass of Vermentino and the Venice Film Festival, I lived it up so that I could share with you my two days as a HHonors guest at the Molino Stucky Hilton, Venice's historic mill and pasta factory on the Giudecca.

For the curious, #myhiltonstory is a dynamic social media project where I get to tell my tale of two days in Venice using my favorite platforms ~ Instagram,Steller, and Twitter. I like to think of it as free-form Faulknerian storytelling for the digital age- a little bit of wit, well-thought photos and those 24/7 apps, and that was all I needed to say yes to this project. Nope, not a hotel review, simply a story...

For the curiouser, the rumor mill says that the Molino Stucky (stoo-kee), has the very best pool in Venice.  They are right.  It is.

    *Postscript: I am writing this post on my iPad whilst on the train (and lucky me, Trenitalia switched up trains, so my secong class seat was moved tiny Carozza 3 First Class, Frecciargento). There is something about technology and railway transport that turns me on.  And yes, my Moleskin and pencil are right next to me and in good use.

Venice Biennale: The Season of La Serenissima and Luxe City Guides

If you know me, then you know I love luxe-- not just a fabulous shopping spree but Luxe City Guides, a company I have known, loved and worked with ever since I stumbled into founder Grant Thatcher in Hong Kong.  From 2007 forward, I've worked with Luxe to conceive, edit and curate its Rome City Guide, first in print, then digital and now mobile.  And I've it- from the very picky selection of all entries to emulating Thatcher's sass, style and eye.  And if it weren't for Luxe, I wouldn't have met my friends Phoebe and Magnus. With my hands in the Rome pot, I constantly am on the look out for Luxe Rome and on occasion, I turn off the Rome volume and write about amazing places and experiences outside of the Eternal City for the website.  This time, I've walked my heels off in Venice... enjoying every bit of the Biennale and La Serenissima.

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What comes once every two years, widens your eyes with absolute wonder, runs you ragged for a few months and then, with the same blaze of glory that it entered your life, departs again?

Why, La Biennale di Venezia, of course! Venice may be known as La Serenissima – the most serene one – but during the months of La Biennale di Venezia, the floating city is anything but calm. This year’s fair brings together 136 creative talents from 53 countries under the theme of All the World’s Futures, curated by the Nigerian-born critic and art-ficionado, Okuwi Enwezor.

For almost seven months, the lovely lagoon is awash with artistic expression, international hi-so, unmissable exhibs and Champers-drenched events. While we encourage putting the map away and getting lost in the city itself, there’s nothing worse than a blundering biennaler. Here’s our guide to making the most of your art agenda – bring on the glamour, the food, and of course, the art…

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Put The Gritti Palace on speed dial, as this ritzy flopspot hits the art target with suites honoring and inspired by aesthetic icons including patron Peggy Guggenheim, art historian John Ruskin and interior designer Angelo Donghi. Occupying a perf Grand Canal posi, the Gritti offers direct agacqua access with its tricked-out Riva Yacht, ideal for a spot of creative exploration. Zip over to the Arsenale or cruise the canals to see Venice’s gorgeous churches.

When it’s time to refuel, Jules, Venezia’s answer to finger-licking canapés, chicheti, is calling. Nip down a narrow alley behind San Marco in search of Osteria da Carla for fabby bar-side bites like bacalà mantecato, creamed cod on a bed of polenta – yumsome.

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Appetite and whistle whetted, make tracks for Corta Sconta, where you’ve had the good sense to reserve a table in the vibey, vine-covered courtyard. The seafood antipasti go-to for those in the know, this tiny Castello trat also serves up a mean vongole allo zenzero (clams with ginger).

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more glam, strap on those Rene Caovillas and stiletto-step over to the city’s prima piazza. Nope, no orchestra dining for you; head inside Caffe Quadri to the Mich-spangled FROW resto-with-a-view. Helmed by the Alajmo brothers of Padova’s tri-star Le Calandre, Quadri offers four spectac tasting menus executed by cucina capo Silvio Giavedoni, but keep your eyes on the Laguna menu that features flip-fresh fish sourced straight from the sea.

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Finally, reward yourself with a post-prandi at Starck’s sultry PalazzinaG – park your Prada, and order a Martinez. Didn’t you do well, darling?

For more hotspots in Venice, check out the LUXE Venice guide or download our fabulous new app with maps!

Details

Address

La Biennale di Venezia 9 May-22 November, 2015

Various locations throughout the city labiennale.org

The Gritti Palace Campo Santa Maria del Giglio San Marco, Venice +39 041 794 611 thegrittipalace.com

Osteria da Carla Calle Corte Contarina 1535 San Marco, Venice +39 041 523 7855 osteriadacarla.it

Corta Sconta Calle del Pestrin 3886 Castello, Venice +39 041 522 7024 cortescontavenezia.it

Quadri Piazza San Marco 120 San Marco, Venice +39 041 0522 2105 alajmo.it

PalazzinaG Ramo Grassi 3247 San Marco, Venice +39 041 528 4644 palazzinag.com

On Deck: Riva Lounge at Venice's Gritti Palace

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Before I headed to Venice for the Venice Biennale,  I heard the news that the Gritti Palace was opening a new canal side lounge bar designed by Riva Yacht.  Yep, that Riva, the gorgeous and century-old boat-making company of luxury flotilla (runabouts, row boats, yachts, motoscafi and all) that has the remarkable ability to make my heart beat just a little faster  and my mind conjure up overly styled images of me arriving in my best cruise wear just upon hearing the those beautiful syllables: riva.   Did I mention it is canal-side? Ahem, Grand Canal side? And thus Riva Lounge was shortlisted for cocktails in my Biennale beat, in other words, 24/7 pastries, art, cocktails, repeat.

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Here's my take: the Riva Lounge location (front row view of Venice's Salute and Punta della Dogana and a 4 minute walk to Piazza San Marco) is worth the Bellini alone. What solidifies it as a place where I will be having repeat cocktails are the details. Long known for its unforgettable style both large and small- wooden hulls through the 1960s and sublime sexy fiberglass from the 1970s forward, hand-stitched upholstery, gorgeous chrome ornaments, and color, precisely picked color, Riva Yacht has given the exact same attention to its land-locked vessel, aka The Riva Lounge.

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And it is on fleek.  The classic design is subtle at times, and best shown off in its aerodynamic, Acquarama-inspired chairs of nautical Navy blue back casing, white upholstering, and chrome.  But I had my eye on a table- the gorgeous round  tops made of inlaid wood and chrome.  My only suggestion to Gritti is to not cover them with linen cloths during table service so that people, like myself, can obsess over the chrome while enjoying the bacalà tris and a Riva cockail.  I've never been shy to share how much I love the classic and unforgettable Riva lettering.

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If design and material is so very Riva, so is color.  Riva's Robin's egg blue is just the menu,  but also the signature Riva Cocktail (orgeat syrup, white rum, orange bitters, grapefruit juice). The menu itself is a very lovely selection of light Venetian dishes, including the Bacalà tris.  But next time you find me there, I'll be the woman testing out the cocktails and cicchetti.

Riva Lounge at The Gritti Palace