TRAVEL

How to Spend A Weekend in Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

Monte Carlo.  Who would have thought a girl from Philadelphia would end up on a long weekend roaming it's winding, F1 roads?  My latest weekend getaway for Forbes Travel is the hairpin turns in art and culture in the tiny Principality of Monaco.

There’s something about Monte Carlo that calls for a long weekend at least once in your lifetime. The lure of high speed and high stakes as seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief and the James Bond film Goldeneyedraws visitors to its craggy coast for a glimpse at lifestyles of the rich and discreetly famous.

But as you’ll see, the tiny principality is the perfect setting for another kind of getaway: the weekend retreat.

Getting There
Traveling to Monte Carlo is as easy as it is beautiful. Driving along the coastline from Italy or France (or arriving by boat) makes for a scenic trip, but the most spectacular introduction to the city is by helicopter. 

Arrive like a VIP by booking a heli-flight from Nice with Monacair, a private transportation company founded by Stefano Casiraghi, the late husband of Monaco’s Princess Caroline. Enjoy the seven-minute ride along the sparkling coastline before arriving at this world-class destination in style. 

Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo. Credit: Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo

Rest and Relaxation
Monaco is home to some of the world’s finest hotels for a pampering, and there is perhaps no better address than Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo in the heart of the city. Surrounded by lush greenery, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star palace is elegant and subtle.

Entered from a long cobblestone driveway, the ground floor hints at the hotel’s 131-year history with period furniture and paintings of Grimaldi princes. Its 126 rooms reflect understated luxury, except for the Carré d’Or Suite, a lavish 1,600-square-foot penthouse with a panoramic terrace.

Odyssey, the Karl Lagerfeld-designed poolside restaurant, is a coveted spot for some sun time, while the true indulging takes place at Spa Metropole by Givenchy, a gorgeous contemporary retreat.

Palais Princier de Monaco. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

Catch up on Culture
Hotel Metropole is just steps away from the legendary Monte Carlo Casino, the 155-year-old bastion of gaming that transformed the tiny sovereign state into one of the richest countries in the world. If a night at the tables is not on your bucket list (if it is, go late), at least take an hour out in the morning for a walk through the historic building.

Monte Carlo is not all hairpin turns and croupiers — one of Monaco’s most popular structures is also an enclave of art. The Nouveau Musèe National Monaco is a bundle of two Belle-Époque buildings, Villa Sauber and Villa Paloma, that each feature semiannual exhibitions by contemporary artists, such as Tom Wesselmann, Oliver Laric and Latifa Echakhch.   

For a deeper dive into the work of one of Monaco’s most intriguing artistic residents, head to the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation. The site showcases more than 2,500 paintings, photographs and artifacts detailing the British painter’s life in Monte Carlo in the late 1940s and ’50s. Just keep in mind that the foundation offers tours by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.

History buffs will also want to visit Palais Princier de Monaco, the prince’s palace where the House of Grimaldi has lived and reigned for nearly eight centuries. While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to see Prince Rainier’s famous car collection, which includes vintage models and retired Formula 1 racers.

 Joël Robuchon. Credit: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo

Joël Robuchon. Credit: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo

Where to Wine and Dine
The nearly 500-acre country is a culinary melting pot. Start your journey at Joël Robuchon, the eponymous restaurant of the late, great masterchef. Housed within Hotel Metropole, the venue’s open kitchen brings the talented toque’s stellar cuisine to Earth’s stratosphere in a casual-chic environment.

Chef Christophe Cussac dreams up Mediterranean versions of Robuchon’s classic dishes, such as the inimitable cherry gazpacho and delicately simple sea bass in a red wine sauce with wasabi and spinach.

A few other items that cannot be missed: Robuchon’s bread presentation (a celebration of housemade baguettes, biscuits and buns); the decadent dessert cart; and the terrace, which juts out over a stretch of Monte Carlo’s famed Formula 1 course, redefining dine and dash. 

For something more down-to-earth, opt for a sampling of customary Monégasque cuisine — a uniquely local flavor that combines the creative spices of southern French fare and the ease of Italian recipes into dishes that are effortless and comforting.

Monte Carlo Casino. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

To get an authentic taste, book a table at Le Castelroc, a charming eatery in front of the prince’s palace run by the Bonafède family since 1953. Sample traditional treats like barbajuans (fried puff pastry stuffed with Swiss chard) and stockfish de rosette, the family’s four-generation-old secret take on the national dried cod stew dish.

After dinner, skip the casino and grab a table at Four-Star Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo’s Crystal Bar. This is the go-to spot for the pre-nightclub crowd thanks its fabulous view and luxurious menu — choose from a selection of Premier Cru champagne to pair with oysters and caviar, or savor one of the venue’s distinguished craft cocktails. (In the summer, snag a table on the Crystal Terrasse and relish in the Mediterranean salt air with Incredible Mia, a beautiful, drinkable bouquet of pisco, lime juice and passion fruit purée.)

The city’s nightlife scene, where bumping into celebrities on the dance floor is practically passé, is a different animal. For four decades, Jimmy’z Monte Carlo — an enormous indoor/outdoor discotheque — has been the wildly popular center of the after-hours universe, but newcomer Twiga — this spot comes from Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore, who’s known for curating clubs to celebrities around the globe — is also making waves.

Weekender: Catania, Sicily and the Festa di Sant'Agata

The streets of Catania during the Festa di Sant'Agata

There are a million reasons why you should visit Sicily at least once in your life, and one of my favorite reason is Catania, a city that was built and rebuilt on the lava trails of a volcano.  It is chaotic and crazy, and at times, calm and contained, a city on the edge of the Ionian sea and more often than not, on the edge of reason.  Catania is as unpredictable and inspiring as Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano, which just happens to be Catania's ever-looming backdrop.  And Catanesi are vigilantly faithful to the city, in a vibe that found across oceans in New Yorkers and Philadelphians.

A weekend trip from Rome to Catania is easy- a 45-minute direct flight over coastlines, sea and volcano to Madreterra, where Catania overflows from its center all the way to the sea, in waves of history from Greek colony and Roman city to Islamic Emirate,  Spanish Empire to Garibaldi and the Italian Republic.  Once you arrive in the Centro Storico, Catania and its history are palpable.  Dark lava stone line the streets and panel beautiful Baroque buildings, modern apartment buildings weave around crumbling city walls, and just when you think you are walking in Baroque history, you stumble across ancient Roman- an arena, theatre and baths.  And if you talk to any Catanese, they will tell you the legends and lore of the area from the black magic of Eliodoro to Odysessus and the cyclops Polyphemus.

But we didn't weekend in Catania for a history lesson, we came for cult ritual.

Sant'Agata travels the entire city in a three-day procession.

Viva Sant'Agata

Every year for nearly five centuries, Catania celebrates its patron saint Agatha, or Sant'Agata, a Catania-born woman martyred in the 3rd century.   The celebration is a three-day festival of folklore and rituals, and family and friends.  If Catania is puslating organism,  the festival of Sant'Agata is heart, a three-day city-wide street party with masses, fireworks, processions from midday February 3 to the morning of February 6.  And we deliberately go ourselves caught up in it.

Who was Agata and why are we celebrating her?  According to legend, Agatha was a young noble woman who, at the age of 15, decided to dedicate her virginity to God and Christianity only to be brutally tortured and killed five years later on February 5, 251 AD.  Over the years, decades and centuries, people prayed to her, venerated her, built churches dedicated to her, until it all turned into a street celebration, a solemn festival and, if you ask Darius, a pagan-ish ritual.  Considered one of the oldest and biggest street festivals in the world (the other two are Holy Week in Seville, Spain, and the feast of Corpus Domini in Cuzco, Peru), Sant'Agata is one of those lifetime experiences, and if you are an Italian kid like me with a NYC-Nonno, you know it's fun and emotional.  San Gennaro times one million.

Church of Sant'Agata alla Fornace behind the Roman Amphitheatre

We arrived in Catania on February 2, and caught up with some cousins on the edge of Etna, before heading to Catania proper.  The festival hadn't even kicked off and the streets were colored with lights, candy vendors on every corner, and a circuit of churches kept their doors open until midnight. Catania is not bashful. We caught up on Agata's history with a visit to the Church of Santa'Agata alla Fornace, the supposed site where Agata was ask to roll over burning coals, and then walked to via dei Crociefieri, a beautiful road lined with Baroque churches and monasteries. 

On February 3, we skipped what our friend Salvo called the solemn part of the festival- a mass, offering and presentation of the cannalori- 12 large, gilded candelabra-light structures that represent the artisan guilds of the city.   It didn't matter, we'd seem them later as they wold parade through neighborhoods and around the city in what I eventually called Catania Critical Mass.  Salvo wanted us fed and rested up for the evening, when the city is afire in an extraordinary and extremely theatrical fireworks spectacle. By seven pm, we made our way to a corner of Piazza del Duomo where we waited with babies and nonni, students, parent and police, for a few hours until a battle broke out over our heads- a  30-minute long rainbow firefight, accompanied by incredible music arrangements.  The fireworks were loud, explosive and perfectly-time to the accompanying score that brought us from sadness to joy.  Salvo told me that yeah, it's a big deal and yeah, the fireworks were good, but Catania does this every year.  Once over, we jumped into the street party, walking around all corners of the city, bumping into cousins and friends, and eating cedro (citron) slices with salt.  Could we get a restaurant table? Not at all.

February 4 was game day.  We grabbed a coffee and cannolo, bumped into devoti, white cape-wearing St. Agatha devotees who help in the procession, and immediately jumped into the party . . . that would continue for another 36 hours.  Salvo made a few calls and next thing we know, we're on a second-floor balcony with our own Agata (Salvo's seatmate from high school), eating olivetti, drinking prosecco and watching the mass of devoti pull Sant'Agata, in her silver-cage float, down the street.  Salvo grabbed the kids (did I mention Sant'Agata is very kid friendly), and pushed through the crowds so they could give the priests the yellow candles they purchased as a Sant'Agata devotional.   An iPhone fell from the fourth floor, grazing the woman next me and crashing to the street. Everyone below shouted us and we shouted back. I felt at home.  And in honor of Sant'Agata, we headed to the beach with everyone else, and ate pranzo seaside. Perfect day in Catania.

We returned home while the festa continued through Monday February 5th (and the early hours of February 6), literally reaching the heights of worship as the cannalori (each group carrying an 8-ton sculpture) run up the Salita di San Giuliano,  racing to the church in the soft light of dawn. 

Like I said, we came for a ritual. Viva Sant'Agata.

I cannalori.... Candelori and Devoti mix with the crowds filling the streets of Catania waiting to see Sant'Agata

Devoti pulling the cords that pull the carriage of the saint (see above photos)

Vendors sell 2 euro candles to give to the saint

Tips and Tricks

Getting there:   Alitalia  (my preference) and RyanAir.  From Rome's FCO, it’s an easy and beautiful 45 minute flight to Catania Fontanrossa CTA.  Set your timer for 30 minutes into the flight and make sure to look out the windows for Mount Etna.   On the return,  my friend Salvo insists that the flights always leave late from Catania so be prepared to wait.  Getting from the airport to the city center require planning.  We've rented a car (Hertz, and WInRent are on site), hired a transport service, taken the bus and the train. It will depend on what your plans are. If you're not planning any day trips, take the train, otherwise, rent a car.

Sites:  If you're not here for the Festa, you're here for the culture, and Catania is so rich in culture that it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.  Its (first-timer) line up of sites is like the best of every era of old world architecture.  You like old? There's Ancient Catania, as in the many archaeological sites of the city including the Roman Amphitheatre, a mini-colosseum which could hold 15,000 spectators, the Odeon and the baths.  You like bling? Well, that means you will love Sicilian Baroque, lavishly detailed Baroque palaces, churches and monasteries all over the city-   Piazza del Duomo, Cattedrale and Palazzo Degli Elefanti,  Palazzo dell'Università, Via dei Crocifieri (this may be my favorite street in Catania) and Giardino Bellini.  You want to see something more floral? There are Liberty (similar to Art Nouveau) buildings hidden in plain sight.

Il Liotru in Piazza del Duomo.

View from Acitrezza, one the awesome beach towns

Day Trips: there is so much to see in Catania, and also much to see around Catania.  If you have the itch for a day trip,  here are some spots definitely worth more than 24 hours: charming cities that show off the best of Sicily's culture from ancient Greek history to Baroque and more like Ortigia/Siracusa, Taormina, and Noto, nature lovers should head to Le Gole di Alcantara (an incredible, natural gorge that was setting for Matteo Garrone's film Tale of Tales) and Mount Etna, yes, the volcano is active, so much so that on my last visit, we had to leave. And for beach lovers, just drive up the coast and pick a town like: Acireale, Acitrezza, (good enough for Odysseus!),  Giardini Naxos and Isola Bella.

Sleep: I am always up for suggestions on where to stay in Catania.  I've stayed at friends' and relatives homes, but only one hotel: Mercure Excelsior, a standard corporate hotel that service Alitalia crew.  Mercure is in a great location (and has an onsite parking lot)- with a great view of Etna and an easy, invigorating walk to Via Etnea, Villa Bellini and Piazza del Duomo.  However, it's not charming and in the charm/boutique category, I have only recently come across Asmudo di Gisira, but have yet to stay.

A light antipasto at La Stiva

Le Minne di Sant'Agata.

Eat

I am not even going to pretend to be an expert on eating in Catania- I'll leave that up to the Catanesi.   In fact, I just close my eyes and let my friends lead me around.  They are never ever wrong.  And that's because Catania has amazing food everywhere - on the street, in bars and caffes, and in restaurants all day and all night.   What if you don't have a friend ? Make a friend.  And no matter what come prepared with the basic ABC's:

A is for Arancini,  slight smaller than a softball, arancini are stuffed rice balls (ragù, mozzarela and peas) coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. In other words, they are the Sicilian powerball, a snack and a meal at the same time. In Catania, arancini have pointed ends which are meant to be at the base when you eat them.  

B is for Breasts.  Yes, breasts but not just anyone's,  but Sant'Agata's - le minne di Sant'Agata . Patron saint of the city, Saint Agata endured many tortures included having her breasts cut off.  In her honor, the Catanese created the pastry whose shape is reminiscent of the perfect boob- a small rounded pastry filled with ricotta cheese, coated in white icing and topped with a candied cherry.  If you've enjoyed a casatina, you will love minne.

C is for Caffes and Cipollina. Catania, like all Sicilian cities and towns, has great caffes, and in most you'll find a wide selection of sweet and savory snacks, including arancini and quite possibly minne. My favorite caffe in Catania is Savia, an elegant, old school caffe on the Via Etnea across from Villa Bellini where the waiters where coppolas.  My friends love the arancini, but I head there for the fassoletto, Catania's bad ass, sweet ricotta filled answer to the mille feuille. But when I am need of savory,  my one true love is a Cipollina, a light filo dough square filled with cooked onions, prosciutto and mozzarella.  It's a game changer.  

It's important to remember that Catania is hot- temperature and mentality, which means that everyone wants to cool down at all times. That's why there are charming chiosks all over the city, and what's I've discovered is late night in summer (or anytime), nothing quenches my thirst better than a limone selz- fresh limon juice, mandarin syrup and seltzer water.  Everybody agrees.

PS. C is also for seafood.  Catania is a port city, and up down the coastline are tiny beach towns with great seafood restaurants.  Take a 20 minute drive to Capomulini and listen to the waves hit the rocks at La Stiva.

The historic fish market by Piazza del Duomo.

Late night line up for the limone selz (lemon juice, mandarin syrup and seltzer) at the local chiosco.

Hello, Etna.

The Best Way To Spend Two Days In Naples, Florida

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kayaking in Naples. Credit: Erica Firpo

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

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

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

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

Why We Are Going to Amsterdam This Spring

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

Rijksmuseum. Credit: Koen Smilde Photography

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

A culture time warp

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

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

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

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

Shopping in Amsterdam. Credit: Merijn Roubroeks

Shop till you drop

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

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

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

Flower Power. Credit: Keukenh of Holland

Color Me Spring

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

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

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

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

Conservatorium. Credit: Conservatorium

Where to Stay

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

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

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

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

Weekender: The Best Way To See Sintra In Two Days

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, November 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Two

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

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

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

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

There's Something About Florence

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

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

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

Window Shopping

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

Earthly Delights

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

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

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

Just desserts at Trattoria Sabatino.

Eye Candy

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

Radical Utopias, courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

View from the Hotel Savoy.

Pillow Talk

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

Weekender: Lisbon

Requisite, shameless Lisbon self-portrait.

Lisbon, it’s about time.  Over the past few years, I’ve heard so much about Portugal’s capital - from its food scene and azulegos to its 2017 title as Ibero-American Capital of Culture, that I finally booked a flight for a long weekend.  I had a pretty good idea I would like the city, but I didn't expect I would fall head-over-heels in love.

The City of the Seven Hills, Lisbon is an easy like.  Cascading hills with beautiful architecture, an incredible history thanks to the Age of Discovery history, and its sunshine- Portugal’s capital has the most optimal number of daylight hours in Europe.  Lisbon is so easy to like.   And then add its uncanny similarities with twin city, San Francisco- west coast, hills, waterfront, suspension bridge, cable cars and an epic earthquake that transformed the city.  But to love Lisbon?  For me, it was all down to the small details - the expected like the azulejos (color, patterned ceramics) decorating buildings in every neighborhood, the obvious like the vintage trams, and the subtle like the art nouveau leftovers, forgotten 1960s and 70s neon signs and the sweet yellow mustard on the bifana sandwich. 

With only 72 hours to get to know Lisbon, we had to have a plan, and over the years, we perfected our version of a great weekender: Choose Your Own Adventure, i.e. pick a monument, neighborhood, food, and see what happens.  Lisbon is perfect for that mentality.  It's a puzzle of neighborhoods built into the hills- filled with colors, history and great smells.   For the map-curious: we chose the historic Avenida da Liberdade, a long and luscious boulevard spanning 1100 meters across the old city to water, as home base and reference since the Avenida is visible from any high point.

   Roterdao  (Cais do Sodré)


Roterdao (Cais do Sodré)

Monument

Castelo de São Jorge, an 11th century castle and fort in Alfama, one of the oldest areas of the city.  The Castelo is prime lookout over the entire city-  the entire city is laid out at Alfama's feet the east, a cascade of red terracotta roofs leading down to the glassy Tager river.  From here, you can snake your way down through Alfama - camera ready, of course, for its gorgeous Gothic churches, azulejo-tiled buildings and vintage trams (yes, they are part of public transportation) - to Baixa. Redesigned after the 1755 earthquake, Baixa is an easy grid, a tic-tac-toe of long boulevards leading to Praca de Comercio, the enormous waterfront plaza with even more monumental arc.   Pay attention as you may your way to the Praca and you'll find art deco and art nouveau signage and storefronts decorating new shops as well as some vintage finds.  There are sardine shops designed as 1920s boutiques and yesteryear caffes selling pastel de nata,a yes-you-must-eat pastry, as well the gambit of shopping- contemporary stores with early 1920s die cute lettering from boutiques past.  In Baixa center is a 45-meter-high and very elaborate wrought iron elevator, Elevador de Santa Justa, a panoramic from the 19th century.  Perfect for people with patience and looking for a Pay-Per-View.  If not, skip past and walk up Rua do Carmo, a shopping street, to the Bellalisa elevator for a great short cut to Carmo Convent, the ghostly remains of a 14th century gothic church destroyed in the earthquake. 

Monuments come in so many forms. Be on the look out for the Ponte de 25 Abril, a Golden Gate lookalike (and ironically built by the same team behind the Bay Bridge), and Ponte Vasco de Gama, a futuristic cable-stay bridge that sneaks up on you.

Ascensor da Glòria (Baixa/Bairro Alto)

Neighborhood

So many neighborhood to explore, so once you've walked Alfama, your next stop should be Bairro Alto and Principe Reale, two pocket neighborhoods on the western overlooking hills that will eventually lead you down to Chaido, Baixa and the rest of Lisbon.   Calm and collected, Principe Real is an easy hike from Avenida, serpentining past small parks and crumbling azulejos-decorated buildings to the park itself, a green square with playground, caffes and weekend street market.  The area is a Pandora's box of local flavor.  Hidden in the park is an underground museum-  Museo del Agua- an octagonal reservoir that was the city’s water source, while facing it is Embaixada, a concept store featuring local designers in a neo-classical Arabian palace.  The Rua Dom Pedro V is lined with boutiques, eateries and bars.  You'll have your choice for whatever your flavor but be on the look out for Solar, a family-run antiques store with catacombs of authentic azulejos, and Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque, an art nouveau coffee shop.  Bairro Alto is where you'll want to make sure you have your back up battery- this is where you'll find in situ azulejos on decadent, abandoned and recycled buildings and inside churches.  Make three wishes when you stop in Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Sao Roque and Santa Catarina- beautifully decorated churches worth stepping into.   Short cut to Baixa with Ascensor da Gloria, a vintage tram whose single route it's a straight shot up and down a steep incline.  Or keep walking, you'll find yourself in Chaido, where the relaxed pace of Bairro Alto moves into more frenetic rhythm with its shops, cafes and businesses.  Meander and you'll find MAAT, the contemporary art museum and eventually Cais do Sodré, the former red light district close to the water. In the daytime, it's simply another charming distressed neighborhood with street art, great late 60s/70s signage, and everyone's favorite canned fish and aperitivo at Sol e Pesca, and at night, it's a scene- more hot pink, than red light.

If you want to flip the script on traditional, take the metro to Parque das Naçoes, a modern microcosm that requires only a 30 minute metro ride to Lisbon's northeast.   Designed and constructed for 1998 World Fair, Parque das Nacoes is a Portuguese Gattaca of wide streets, slick architecture and rectilinear design. From the moment you step out of Oriente Station, you get the vibe. An eco-concerned (and friendly) Lisbon Future where organization, intellectual stimulation and perhaps even art are paramount.  Large maps line the boulevards detailing public art and architecture. And accenting the grid of museums (science, Oceanarium, et cetera), parks and playgrounds, are environmentally-forward projects including public bike stands and recycled waterfalls. This is where you bring kids like me.

Oceanario (Parque de Naçoes

Food

It's always good to have goals and mine are double the fun- pastel de natas, that delicious egg tart, that if slightly singed makes my heart sing, and bifana, a braised pork sandwich garnished with a sweet mustard.  Make it easy by starting in Baixa and follow your nose around Praca Rossio, a large square in Baixa where there are several pastry shops and caffes.  Chances are you'll find pastel de natas and more, and it can't hurt to try them all. In fact, my rule of thumb is no matter where you are in Lisbon, if there is a pastel de nata, eat it.  (For the serious foodie, you can take a 3O metro ride from Rossio to Pasteis de Belem, considered the very best pastry in Lisbon and located near national monument Belem tower).  Bifanas require more foot work and on hand cash.  Baixa is also ideal for bifanas since it always has the most concentration of people and these no frills sandwiches are best enjoyed at no frills caffes, aka cheap.  East of Pracas Rossio is Casas das Bifanas, aka the home of the pork sandwich, and around the NW corner of Pracas Rossio is Cafe Beira Gare, a stand up bar with table service and barely any elbow room.  Though I enjoyed several a bifana, I was completely captivated by its beef counterpart-  the prego, marinated beef strips on bread bun.  Bar tab: 4 euro, sandwich and beer.   No, we did not just snack. Cataplana, a traditional seafood dish from the Algarve region, should be Unesco recognized.  If it's not, we recognized it, as with the rest of Lisbon's seafood.

Prego at Cafe Beira Gare (Baixa)

Tips and Tricks

GUIDE: Lisboa Autentica is a grassroots organization of Lisbon academics who organize tours- walking, biking, around the city- themed and bespoke.  They love Lisbon and it shows. We spent a few hours walking from Principe Real to Chaido with Davide.  Tell him we said hello.

GETTING THERE: Easy.  National carrier TAP Air Portugal dominates the skies.  From Rome FCO, it’s an easy 3-hour direct flight. The planes were modern, the staff young and very friendly. TAP flies non-stop from New York JFK ,and London (along with British Airways.  We hired a car but getting from the airport to the city center is as simple as a metro ride, taxi or bus.

SLEEP: We rested our heads at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade- a reboot of what may be an Art Deco palace on the very posh Avenida da Liberdade, a long, tree-lined boulevard with public squares decorated with monuments and caffe chiosks, while shops with the occasional art deco facade flank.  Avenida's lobby set the stage for what we considered the best weekend ever: luminous, lush couches, vintage decor, contemporary art and an incredible floral arrangement.  Our rooms were modern minimalist, in other words, sleek and spacious, perfect meditation after a long day walking around. Avenida's best kept secret is not only the rooftop Skybar and Terrace restaurant (which is pretty amazing with that all encompassing view) but the backyard pool and spa, a seemingly private piscine (totally round!) surrounded by monumental magnolia trees and azulejos tiles.

EAT: You eat well in Lisbon and quality is priced well.  Along with Tivoli's terrace, think about 100 maneiras, Peixaria da Esquina, Tasca da Esquina  .  And peruse Nelson Carvalheiro's Lisbon-centric website.

Spending Three Perfect Days in Bangkok

This article originally appeared on May 10, 2017 in Forbes Travel.

Bangkok often overwhelms travelers with its traffic, concrete and heat. Not to mention that Thailand’s capital city has 14 million people flocking to its urban center, nearly double the population of New York City.

The secret to navigating Bangkok is to do a little preparation. Follow our three-day itinerary to discover the city in a whole new and calming way.

Day One
After more than 20 straight hours of flying, there are three things you must do once you’ve checked into the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel: First, reserve a massage for that very afternoon in the hotel’s Four-Star spa. Our suggestion is the 90-minute Siam 2482, an indulgent muscle and circulation stimulation completely necessary before running around the city.

Second, be sure to book your space at Morning Wellness for Day 3 (more to come on that). Lastly, head to the pool, a palm-tree-lined sundeck with hints of Bangkok’s unforgettable skyline, where you’re going to soak in some relaxation before your full cultural immersion begins.

You have a date with Smiling Albino. Founded by Canadian-born Thai television celebrity Daniel Fraser in 1999 to showcase and share Thai cultural heritage, Smiling Albino is one of Southeast Asia’s leading luxury and adventure tour companies.

According to Fraser, the best way to understand Bangkok is through its street food scene, and Smiling Albino has planned a six-hour walking tour from Soi Pipat, a road lined with vendors, to Yaowarat, the city’s Chinatown. (Take advantage of this now, as the government announced it will wipe out all street food vendors by the end of 2017.)

You’ll sample yam (a bag filled with spicy Thai salad that’s charmingly nicknamed Plastic Wife), knomjeen (a rice noodle dish with brown curry), the trendy rot-duan (your choice of dried bamboo worms, crickets or grasshoppers), Thai iced tea and more.

The tasting tour will have you scurrying around on foot and by tuk tuk (those Instagram-worthy three-wheel taxi carts) before your journey ends for the evening on a city rooftop watching the glow of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.

Day Two
You’ve seen the city by night, so now it’s time for Bangkok in Technicolor with a full day of back-to-back excursions. Walk around Ko Rattanakosin, the historic Phra Nakhon district and Bangkok’s ancient city where cylindrical temple stupas dot the landscape. Both Anantara and Smiling Albino can organize dynamic day tours.

Ko Rattanakosin is the city’s culture center of Thai Buddhism, an area concentrated with historic wats (“temples”). Wear lightweight long pants and sandals for visiting sacred sites such as Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and home to the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha; Wat Phra Kaew, the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand and site of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; and Wat Mahatat, headquarters of Thailand’s largest monastic order, university and meditation center.

In the afternoon, you’ll be floating down the River of Kings with the Klong Guru to explore the western neighborhoods via a network of klongs (“canals”). Traveling by long-tail boat (a long and multicolored canopied canoe-like hull), you’ll peek into life in “Venice of the East,” with floating markets, houses, temples, restaurants and even a traditional puppet show.

Make your way back to the Pathum Wan district for a unique take on traditional Thai cuisine. Take a tip from Fraser and try Issaya Siamese Club, a century-old Thai villa; Namsaah Bottling Trust, a former soda-bottling factory and bank; or Nahm, the poolside restaurant of COMO Metropolitan Bangkok. These three restaurants are pushing the boundaries of local dining with a progressive take on traditional and village recipes.

Enjoy a nightcap 83 stories above the city on the rooftop observation deck of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Thailand’s tallest building.

Day Three
Rise and shine for a 6 a.m. sunrise wellness session starting with a Buddhist blessing. The Tak Bart Buddhist ritual takes place in Anantara Siam Bangkok’s lobby, a gorgeous gilded space. Every day, at 6:20 a.m., hotel staff and guests present Buddhist monks alms, returned with the monk’s blessing, completing a traditional and peaceful way to start the day.

From the hotel, it’s a short walk to Lumphini Park for a 45-minute Light Energy Session combining yoga and meditation, followed by a picnic brunch — a smorgasbord of quinoa and mixed fruit salad, poached salmon, sandwiches and juices.

Head back to the Bangkok hotel for a 60-minute Chakra Crystal Balancing Therapy to wrap up the wellness session.

After you’ve found your center, you’re ready to explore the city’s industrial history with a visit to the Jim Thompson House. Thompson, a retired army officer and alleged CIA operative, settled in Bangkok in the late 1940s and built up a silk empire, until his mysterious 1967 disappearance.

His home, a beautiful assemblage of sections from century-old Thai villas, is now a museum showcasing Thompson’s art collection of historical Buddhist statues and traditional Thai paintings.

Onsite is a Jim Thompson store selling beautiful silk clothing, accessories and housewares. The surrounding neighborhood is also home to local Bangkok silk weavers and dyers, whose studios and laboratories can be visited.

Chakras balanced and perfectly coordinated with a Jim Thompson silk scarf, head back to the Anantara Siam Bangkok for your last pad Thai at Spice Market, the hotel’s signature restaurant.

Spending Two Perfect Days in Athens

The article originally appeared in Forbes Travel.

Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels Worldwide.

Athens is called the “Cradle of Western Civilization” for good reason. This city has more than 2,500 years of history under its belt. In its heyday, the Greek metropolis spawned cities, democracies, philosophies, art movements and much more.

Today, Athens is the kind of place where you could spend days soaking in its antiquity or enjoy an afternoon getting lost in its contemporary culture. Whichever direction you’re pulled in, we have the itinerary to ensure a 48-hour experience worthy of the history books.

Day One
Drop your bags at Hotel Grande Bretagne, an elegant 142-year-old property in the heart of the city. Once you’ve changed into comfortable walking shoes, make the 15-minute journey past Syntagma Square until you’ve reached the archaeological area. You’ll be at the base of the Acropolis, history’s most epic mount.

You’re going to want to do it all during your stay, of course, so purchase the multi-attraction pass ticket, which gives access to the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and all of Athens’ archaeological sites for five consecutive days

After all of the walking, you’ll have worked up an appetite worthy of the gods. Head down the Acropolis and back toward Syntagma for an outside table at Tzitzikas & Mermigas. This laid-back modern taverna has an outstanding appetizer lineup of tzatziki, soutzoukakia (meatballs in tomato sauce) and more, so fill up.

When you put down the saganaki (fried cheese), it’s back to Hotel Grand Bretagne for a timeout at the GB Spa, a spot offering a classic delight of saunas, Turkish baths, a pool and treatment rooms.

Hotel Grand Bretagne courtsey of Starwood.

Once you’ve rested up, put on the finest resort-chic outfit you’ve packed and grab a cab to the Acropolis Museum for a night visit. The gorgeous, all-glass building sits face-to-face with the Acropolis, reflecting the glowing Parthenon in its glass panels.

But beyond its physical majesty, the landmark also holds a substantial Greek art and sculpture collection. Not to be missed are level one’s Caryatids, six female figures that held up the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, and level three’s Parthenon Gallery, a beautiful display of the frieze marbles and casts. The entire floor is built to the exact dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon’s cella.

Before leaving, make sure to get a drink on level two’s terrace, which has a front-row vista of the Acropolis.

For dinner, take a cab to Piraeus, Athens’ port city for fish. Like many major ports, Piraeus is a charming chaos of restaurants, nightclubs and fast-food shops. Have the hotel concierge book you a table at Varoulko, a chic dockside restaurant in the Mikrolimano marina, the smaller and slightly less chaotic port in Piraeus.

The maître d’ at Varoulko will call you a taxi. Try to get back to Syntagma Square just a few minutes before the hour to watch the Evzones, the changing of the Presidential Guard, a five-minute display of pageantry. (Tip: Though this changing happens every hour daily, a special ceremony, with official uniforms, occurs on Sundays at 11 a.m.)

Day Two
Say good morning to Greece from Hotel Grande Bretagne’s rooftop. There, you’ll find the most beautiful Acropolis morning view as well as a delectable breakfast buffet. Feast up, as you’re in for another walk through history.

This time, you’ll start out at the National Archaeological Museum, which sits just two metro stops from Syntagma Square. This attraction features the country’s finest collection of antiquities — most notably, a larger-than-life bronze Zeus.

From the museum, head to Ancient Agora, a sprawling site that was the city’s original meeting square. You can walk around temples and trek in the Stoa of Attalos, a monumental, two-level building that stretches roughly 380 feet.

For lunch, enjoy a bite at Quick Pitta, a relaxed gyro spot, just outside of the archaeological site in the Monastiraki neighborhood.

After lunch, be sure to stop by EMST, Athens’ new national museum of contemporary art. To be frank, the space can be walked through relatively quickly, but a visit gives you an idea of what is going on in creative Greek and international circles.

Stroll back in the hotel’s general direction to the nearby Kolonaki neighborhood, a vibrant area filled with boutiques and cafés. Our favorite right now is i-D, a store that curates a dynamic collection of clothing and accessories by Greek designers.

Stick around after you’ve finished shopping. By 9 p.m., Kolonaki square transforms to a bustling center of cocktail bars, shops and eateries. Pedestrian street Tsakalof is a standing-room-only thoroughfare that has everyone vying for an outdoor table or stool. But, at some point, even those eating wind up at Minnie the Moocher for a cocktail closer to the evening.