Destination: Modena

Years ago, all it took was a simple a few tortellini in brodo to catapult me into the Cult of Culinaria that is Emilia Romagna, Italy's northeastern region and the country's bread basket.  After my first taste, I fell hard into fully warranted idolatry of Emilia Romagna and its regional dishes. I became more than convert, more than one of the fervent masses, I had a calling to which I became a self-proclaimed gastronomic preacher on mission to bring the masses to the Temple of Taste.  Conversion is simple enough when your pantheon of gods includes Parmigiano, Prosciutto and Balsamico, and continual repetition of the words tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne, cappelletti is your daily prayer.  But I quickly found out that for all those years I've been waxing poetic on Emilia Romagna,  Darius, partner in life and travel, has only been to the region for archaeological day trips to Ravenna and Bologna.  It was time for a drive.

Roma-Modena is an easy trip.  By rail, it's approximately three hours - two hours and change on a high speed train, switching to a 25-minute regional train at Bologna Centrale.  By car is a different journey, a somewhat scenic four hours and more sprawl up the A1 autostrada, and we choose a morning drive to avoid Modena's notorious nebbia, a thick fog that practically hides the city from view. 

There is nothing remarkable about Modena upon first arriving at the edge of town, after passing through flat plains of farms and factories.  Just another one of Italy's city-towns - modern streets feeding to medieval center,  a bit of old and and a bit of new.    A former Roman outpost, a fortified medieval town, a contemporary city,  Modena is the font of the world's best balsamic vinegar and the driving force behind Italy's luxury automotive industry- both of which require generational artistry. Like many Italian towns, there are mom-and-pop shops, large chains, art galleries, churches, cute scooters, hand-crafted bicycles and well-dressed residents but it the rhythm and pace that sets Modena apart from the rest -  an easy cadence where every thing, old and new, flows together harmoniously like an old Beatles song and fits together like a Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle. 

Where to go and What to do:  I started a list and I realized that aside from eating, my other suggestion is simply being.  Modena is a living, breathing city, far from the open-air museum of Rome and Florence.  It is meant to be lived, and by all means walked.  A pastiche of history from pre-antiquity to tomorrow is on every path.  Walk on the Via Aemilia, the ancient Roman road that runs from Rimini to Piacenza and bisects Modena at its very center-  the Modena Cathedral, and then really take a look at the bas relief on the church's structural walls- especially a gothic arch entrance near the bell tower where the months are medievally depicted as the wine making process.   Walk some more:  Modena is one of the nook-and-cranny cities with beautiful shops and hidden curiosities like the small lingerie/karoake bar.   Grab a map (physical or virtual) and make your own walking tour.   Bike: as just one city in the pianura padana (regional plains), Modena is flat, which means it is choc-a-bloc with cyclists and places to cycle to and from whether following those monumental walls, slowly pedaling around the historic center or circumnavigating the entire city as a whole.  Finally, drive - the charming team at I Love Maranello will bring a Ferrari to your front door for a test drive around the area, or else, stay in the passenger seat and enjoy a little Enzo double feature at Modena's Museo Ferrari, and Maranello's Ferrari Museum and FactoryFor those looking for the kind of culture you can bottle up, I suggest booking a tour of the acetaia, the family-run balsamic vinegar makers where you'll learn the decades long process and find out how balsamic vinegar can make or break family relationships.

Where We Ate:   Even though every where you eat in Modena is amazing, it pays to have friends that live there, and if I didn’t, I’d pay for a Modenese to be my friend just for the day because once you know one Modenese, you’re guaranteed the best tortellini in the city- and it will never be the same place.  NB:  we did not dine at Italy's Numero Uno Osteria Francescana (been there, loved it).  If you can get a reservation, go.

We found the t-spot (t for tortellini, I'm funny) at L'Incontro, a pizzeria in nearby Maranello recommend by our dear Silvana who insists that owner Erica makes the best tortellini in town.  I know what you are thinking- a pizzeria?  True tortellini lovers will know that it's not about where you eat the tortellini but the only the tortellini you eat and Erica did not disappoint: her tortellini in brodo was off the charts- soothing and delicious.  Bonus points for location- the non-description pizzeria is via Dino Ferrari, across the street from the Ferrari high school and down the street from the factory so when you’re sitting window at a L’Incontro table, expect to spot a Dino or California cruising by.

Silvana also made sure we vacuum-packed up a few kili of parmesan cheese from Belli Formaggi & Salumi, a family-owned delicatessen in Maranello.   One of my favorite kinds of investigative research into a new culture is via the local deli, and Belli did not disappoint.  Silvana and I chatted up signore, while discussing digesting techniques.  Signor Belli had me taste what I think were deep-fried porchetta rinds- my latest addiction, and I purchased two small bottles of his family's 35-year-old balsamic vinegar- asking price 55 euro.

Back in Modena, our daytime focus was Mercato Albinellilocated smack in the center of the city - in other words, the perfect snack point whilst checking out the town.  The ace up my sleeve is my friend Lara, author, art collector, and long time Modena resident whose husband just so happens to be Bottura.  Lara told us to get there early and beeline for frittelle di bacalà, Modena’s version of deep-fried codfish seasoned with oregano and garlic.  We ate that and more- the historic market has everything, including an incredible fried chicken. Tip:  go to the ATM in advance.

I was insistent on having dinner at Franceschetta 58, Osteria Francescana's little cousin and chef Massimo Bottura's pet project.  And I am glad we did.  Franceschetta 58 is the opposite of the Italian restaurant stereotype.  In a former mechanic shop, Franceschetta is a cool slip of a spot - a long room with black tables, putty colored walls, ceiling to floor windows, and a bit of mismatched dishes on the walls. Everyone in the room is either a Bottura friend or a fan, so the vibe was energetic and fun.  The kitchen ishelmed by Bernardo, a Roman-born, Francescana-trained chef, who cooks up monthly changes dishes with Bottura inspirations.  The best way I can describe the menu is experimental Italian tapas where tradition and taste duke it out in your mouth.  We went à la carte and tried everything on the menu including the creamed cod, the low-cooked egg with black truffle, anEmilia burger (Bottura's signature hamburger and song to his homeland), and those tradition-turning piadine with what may have been a bit of kimchi.

On our way out of Modena, as per Lara, we stopped at Generi Alimentari Da Panino, a small stand-up sandwich joint around the corner from Osteria Francescana.  Da Panino is the edible baby of Francescana’s sommelier Beppe Palmieri.  For seven euro you can anyone of seven hand-crafted sandwiches created by Palmieri and chef Cristian Lo Russo. We had the saltimbocca alla modenese with chicken, prosciutto cotto and a parmesan salsa, and a beef tartare, plus we took a bacala, boiled potato and herb sandwich for the road.   Bonus points for the cute paper placemats and the artisanal carbonated drinks from Galvani.

Franceschetta's low-cooked egg

Where We Slept: Stella21, an artists’ loft located within the medieval fortication walls of Modena, and conveniently located just two doors down and across the from Osteria Francescana, Italy’s restaurant Numero Uno. In fact, if you hang out on the street late nights, you may just catch a glimpse of Massimo & Co.  Why I loved the apartment? Aside from location, the attic apartment is a Fabergè egg for art and design lovers.  The apartment is lined with art books, and decorated with art piece furniture like my favorite Eames lounge and ottoman, as well as original paintings and prints, all carefully culled by owner Francesca, a restoration artist.  Her open-plan kitchen is mod Italian with a Nespresso and a mini-cabinet of curiosity stocked with artisanal balsamic vinegar.  The bedroom has an Italianized shikibuton, a comfortable futon/floating bed, and full bathroom. I could have stayed inside at Stella21 all day and night.  My favorite hideaway is the apartment’s tower annex (excellent spot to hide children or annoying friends) and its view of the rooftops… and fog … of Modena.


5 Things We Love about Hotel Eden

This article original appeared in FORBES TRAVEL on APRIL 7, 2017.

Get your scissors out, because we’re cutting the ribbon on Rome‘s Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Eden. The Eternal City trophy of the prestigious Dorchester Collection reopened on April 1 after a 17-month renovation that called for a complete floor-to-ceiling makeover easily rivaling that of St. Peter’s Basilica’s 17th-century revamp.

With 128 years of history behind it, the Eden has reigned as Rome’s harbinger of luxury, so it’s no surprise that the 2017 reboot simply reinforces the property as Empress of the Eternal City’s upscale hotel scene.

And it’s not just about a different look. Hotel Eden has opened the doors with a new mentality set to change the scope of Rome’s luxury hotels.

These are the five elements about the fresh hotel that stand out the most to us.

Space Hotel Eden raises the bar on opulence by deliberately downsizing room count by 20 percent, from 121 rooms to 98, and the overall effect is mesmerizing.

From the moment you enter the hotel’s marble-paneled lobby, the sense of space is more than gracious — it’s downright luxurious, livable and contemporary. In fact, the Eden’s objective was to create “living spaces,” and each of the 66 rooms and 32 suites are just that.

The artfully composed accommodations maximize space and highlight simplicity, featuring high ceilings and tall picture-frame windows.

5 Things We Love About Hotel Eden - Forbes Travel Guide

Design With space as the main design element, Bruno Moinard, of 4BI & Associés, chose a less-is-more interpretation of the Eden’s classic history. Moinard created a contemporary art deco atmosphere with a relaxing palette of ecrus and ochres, with superbly designed (yet sparingly placed) custom furniture and lamps.

The bathrooms have a lavish touch thanks to floor-to-ceiling white marble, walk-in rain showers and separate bath, and tasteful gilded fixtures.

It’s the little details throughout the room, though, that we love the most. The master-controlled lighting and climate control (which you can play around with via iPad from your bed), the Hotel Eden LP we found on our desk, the books, Bottega Veneta bath products, GHD hair dryers and charmingly customized bags for his-and-hers toiletries.

View Everyone says that if you’re going to stay in Rome, you must have a view. And they’re right. There is nothing like seeing the city’s domes, and from Hotel Eden, you get a glimpse of them all.

Suites Aurora, Malta, Medici and the Bella Vista Penthouse have the cityscape as the rooms’ main feature. And though most of Eden’s other rooms face the historic center, you can ask for a unit with a view.

But for the best vistas in the house, head to the fifth-floor terrace, where designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku added a vertical garden of soft curves and open walls for Eden’s garden restaurant, Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar. The establishment’s cocktail bar is the perfect place to perch right before sunset with a Grande Bellezza, a vermouth creation by barman Gabriele Rizzi.

For a more formal dining experience, enjoy panoramas of the city atop Hotel Eden at the property’s signature gourmet restaurant, La Terrazza.

5 Things We Love About Hotel Eden - Forbes Travel Guide

Service Once the room number was reduced and space was expanded, general manager Luca Virgilio decided to increase the staff by 30 percent.

“Personal attention and intimate experience” is the Dorchester mission and, at the Eden, the mantra lives and breathes in the form of a community of professionals imbued with that well-loved Roman trait of amicizia (“friendship”). Virgilio also seized the opportunity to create a guest relations team that coordinates bespoke experiences and journeys that range from “bucket list” to “once in a lifetime.”

For more than five decades, Maurizio Pangrazio has served as Eden’s chief concierge. He’s such an impeccable and resourceful man that the city named him “best concierge in Rome.” We simply refer to him as the top point of reference for getting what we want around town.

Wellness Eden has always had a history with wellness, from the early days of La Terrazza, when executive chef Fabio Ciervo crafted one of the first macrobiotic menus in the city. During the 17-month pause, Ciervo not only studied new recipes, spent weeks researching new producers, and guest cheffing with Thomas Keller of Five-Star Per Se (New York) and Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck (Bray, U.K.), he also went back to school for a master’s in nutrition.

Suffice to say, Ciervo is back in his glorious, 2,152-square-foot, panoramic outpost with a brand-new plate that he aims to fill with unique and quality-of-life-focused dishes.

Eden’s makeover is tip to tails and, on the ground floor, is the hotel’s first spa. Hotel Eden Spa is a four-suite area of private rooms for couples and individuals.

You’ll also spot a nail spa and blowout bar, both designed for privacy and tranquility. And the best part: Hotel Eden Spa has brought in Los Angeles skin care guru Sonya Dakar (aka the pioneer of natural and vegan rejuvenation treatments) to her first European foray to create signature facials and other treatments.


Buongiorno, Principessa! Le Panier and breakfast in bed

Breakfast in bedAnd a kiss or threeYou don't have to say you love me- Dusty in Memphis, 1969

I love you, Breakfast.

Breakfast is my morning muse.   Depending on what (and sometimes how) I eat, my day will be completely inspired by what is on my plate and subsequently in my stomach.  Life after breakfast is beautiful, especially when that includes oatmeal, eggs and fresh fruit. If left to the dynamic duo of cappuccino and cornetto, I'm apt to plunge into a sugar low of nefarious depths and become meaner than mean, so mean I don’t even know my own name.  .  . or something like that I said to the super athletes in my functional  work out class.

We had just finished a reign of burpee terror.  I was sprawled out on the floor with that bad mix of exhaustion and hunger. On one side of me was Aldo, a lawyer slash boxer slash know-it-all who was listing everything he binge ate an hour earlier to keep the scale tipped to the heavy end of Lightweight.  “Due tramezzini, cicoria ripassata, un frullato, un protein bar, un cappuccino col latte intero .. .”

On the other side of me was the new girl.  "My boyfriend makes an incredible and healthy breakfast", she effortlessly said in between push ups.  I was not impressed and tried to focus on limb coordination.  Aldo continued his food roll-out with Romanesco charm. "Un cornetto semplice e una banana.  Tutto ciòe così. Ma vorr dirmi che non mangio healthy?!"

Everyone nodded yes.

"Pssst", she called between sit ups. "Sul serio, my boyfriend makes a great gourmet breakfast."  I tried to high five her but my arms wouldn't budge, so I just smiled and groaned, "Anche' io, me too."

She looked me in the eye and deadpanned, "He's a professional chef." And that is how I was met Giovanna de Giglio, Tommaso de Sanctis and their baby Le Panier,  Rome's very first gourmet breakfast delivery service.

My philosophy is that if breakfast in bed is just standard pampering , then gourmet breakfast delivery better be Kardashian-meets-Bottura.  In other words- indulgent, craft and quality.  I mean it's just breakfast, right?

To paraphrase an old friend, you can't fake skills.  And Tommaso doesn't.  His background is Michelin, training in the kitchens of great chefs including Gianfranco Vissani and HeinzBeck.    He knows cooking timing, and makes that top priority in a business where delivery must be precise - both for delivery and temperature.   Our orders were delivered within five minutes of chosen time - the order itself was planned a day prior, though according to the website I could have ordered up until 4am of delivery date.  Both Tommaso and Giovanna grew up in Rome so their outlook is entirely, well, Roman, and so are their choices.   Bread is Roscioli, croissants are Cristalli di Zucchero, jams and yogurts are made by a local artisan, and shakes are homemade with fruit and veggies lovingly handpicked by Claudio at the Campo de' Fiori market.  I loved the Made-in-Rome vibe, as well as their choice to use primarily paper products

What did we eat?The Hangover with Pancos- savory tacos/pancakes hybrid with scrambled egg and smoked speck,  Dosha - avocado toast with pink pepper and lime, and American Style, thin Millefoglia pancakes with egg.  Each menu had fresh fruit, fresh shake and tea.

What did we think?  We loved it-  and in fact, we are still talking about those incredible pancos with that subtle touch of smoked speck.  Le Panier were prompt (Tommaso delivered himself, running up all four levels of our staircase), our menus arrived properly heated, and every dish was delicious.   The website is easy to navigate and order, and prices fit perfectly with the top quality product, service and delivery.  It won't be a choice for every weekend, but I think it is a great option if you are renting an apartment in Rome for a spell and need an incredible, local breakfast.

Would we do it again? We already have- but this last time, we went healthy and had a small repast of Quinoa salad with chick peas, avocado,lime and cherry tomatoes, porridge with banana ,berries and cinnamon, papaya, blackberries and pistacchios yogurt, a few juices and of course, Tommaso's incredible avocado toast.

Yep, I've headed back to the gym. Gotta keep up that appetite, as Aldo says.

Who You Calling Champagne? Tasting Notes on Italy’s Best Bubbly

This article originally appeared in Fathom on March 30, 2017 .

Ca' del Bosco. Photos by Erica Firpo.

The next time wine is on your vacation agenda, consider Franciacorta, the Italian bubbly you should already be drinking. If a visit to premier winery Ca' del Bosco isn't an option today, ordering a few bottles to see what the fuss is about certainly is. Fathom's Erica Firpo gets the scoop from the globetrotting vintner in charge.

FRANCIACORTA, Italy – For years, I've been swigging, I mean, singing the praises of Franciacorta, the best of Italy's bubbly lineup, which includes Prosecco, Lambrusco, metodo classico, and Asti spumante. I like them all, but not all the time. Prosecco is fine for an office party, but just thinking about it gives me a weird hangover. Lambrusco is quirky, a red sparkling wine that should be the ideal hipster drink. As for spumante, it reminds me of Cheryl Tiegs and 1970s. Franciacorta, which falls into the metodo classico category, is, quite simply, divine.

Let's pause for a quick wine lesson: Metodo classico is a fermentation tradition that closely adheres to the traditions and technique of mèthode champagneoise, the champagne method of in bottle-aging and second fermentation. Great Franciacorta wines have tight and subtle bubbles, with an aromatic, feathery taste on par with top champagnes, leading some to call it Italian champagne. But by law, nationality, and taste, it is absolutely not champagne. Franciacorta is made under the Lombardy sun, a tiny, 7000-acre territory in the Brescia province, where horseback riding rivals grape growing for things to do. And if champagne is considered imperial nectar, I'd say Franciacorta is Dionysis' very own laughter, corked up in a bottom-heavy bottle. And here's the key: You can drink it with anything.

A region of wine and horses. Photos by Erica Firpo.

A while back, I headed to Erbusco, the epicenter of Franciacorta, for a long weekend of full sparkling wine immersion and horseback riding. Somewhere along the trail, I met Maurizio Zanella, president of Franciacorta Consortium and founder of Ca' del Bosco. Zanella is what Italians would call a personaggio, a personality so distinct that all you have to do is say his last name to make your point.

For the past 46 years, Zanella has been quietly pushing Franciacorta and its region into DOCG greatness, building up his labels and at the same, transforming his winery into an open-air art gallery and a 21st-century gastro-roundtable. His 400-acre organic fiefdom is undeniably beautiful: vineyards, state-of-the-art winery, and atmospheric cellar set into the rolling, green hills of the Brescia region. Amid the green landscape are site-specific art installations: monumental sculptures in bronze, marble and recyclable plastic by such international artists as Arnaldo Pomodoro, Zheng Lu, and Cracking Art Group. In the past few years, Zanella commissioned eleven photographers and artists, like Helmut Newton, Mimmo Jodice, and William Klein, to capture the vineyard in film. These life-sized black and whites are showcased throughout the winery.

But food — and by proxy, restaurants — are Zanella's passion, just after his children and maybe right before his winery. When he is not onsite at Ca' del Bosco, he's out and about, exploring Bergamo, Milano, Ibiza, Miami, and more. Zanella's life is an overbooked agenda of world travel, combining business meetings and tasting with restaurant openings and food-cations.

And he's not alone. Most of the time, he travels with a culinary gang — chefs, restaurant owners, foodies, gallerists, and even soccer players — hitting the best restaurants and local joints everywhere they go. Eventually, they all end up back at Ca' del Bosco and Zanella's inner sanctum, a cozy, dark lounge filled with bottles, lots of bottles, and more art.

Which is where I find myself, staring at chef's aprons signed by his friends — Italian superstars Massimo Bottura, Enrico Cerea, and Carlo Cracco, among them — asking Zanella about favorite meals. He's coy, but he does give me a meal-of-a-lifetime tasting menu, table-hopping among Italy's Michelin star chefs, whose dishes he would — of course — serve with his wines.

"Eroi di Luce" by Igor Mitoraj.

Owner Maurizio Zanella.


Tortelli Che Cammino Sul Brodo, served with Cuvée Annamaria Clementi Osteria Francesca, Modena Massimo Bottura's autobiographical and (by now) notorious take on the pasta pride of the Emilia Romagna region: six seemingly simple and traditional tortellini in broth, which Zanella pairs with Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, a Franciacorta dedicated to Tanella' mother.

Tortelli di zucca, served with PinèroDal Pescatore, Mantova The nearly century-old restaurant makes the best pumpkin tortellini in Italy. Full stop.

Fagotelli alla carbonara, served with Vintage Collection Dosage ZeroLa Pergola, Rome Heinz Beck's innovation — his carbonara is off the hook! — lures Zanella up to Beck' hilltop restaurant time and time again.

Spaghetti alla chitarra ai frutti di mare, served with Cuvée PrestigeEnoteca Pinchiorri, Florence It just doesn't get better chef Annie Fèolde's guitar-string spaghetti. To say nothing for Pinchiorri's legendary wine cantina.

Cotoletta alla Milanese, served with Maurizio ZanellaDa Vittorio, Bergamo A proper Italian secondo: an exquisite veal cutlet.

As for my favorite dish to eat with that golden nectar, it's oysters. And then pizza. And Zanella agrees. Franciacorta goes with everything.

The view onto Lago Iseo from Rivalago Hotel.

Lago Iseo.


Visit the Vineyard Ca' del Bosco opens their doors to everyone, including dogs. The vibe is very laid-back and extraordinarily friendly, but I'd make the most of it by perusing the wine tours on Visit the Cellar and reserving. I'm partial to the Pieces of Art tour.

How to Get There Yes, you can take a train, but you're going to want to have your own method of transportation to get around the area. The best strategy is to rent a car and drive practically due east from Milan to Brescia and then Erbusco. You'll pass gorgeous Lombard greenery for the hour-long drive. Just try to stop yourself from pulling over for a selfie at each kilometer along the Strada del Franciacorta.

Where to Stay For absolute pampering, L'Albereta, spa resort owned by the Moretti family, producers of another top-notch Franciacorta Bellavista, and very much in the center of their vineyards. Slightly further done the road along the late is Rivalago Hotel. The view of Lago Iseo is entirely meditative. Palazzo Torri is the choice for history. For a low-profile-stay deep in the terroir, I'd book a stay in any of the Franciacorta consortium's suggested agroturismi, which range from rustic to stylized.

The Best Hotel in Rome: The Four Star

It's all thanks to my mom that I am into the whole Four Star vibe.  First of all, she's a Svengali of discounts, and in the hospitality and lodging world that means she is hotel whisperer to many a customer service representative to whom she firmly (and rightly) believes that all she has to do is ask and the prices will fall.  Who needs Lastminute and Latenight when we have her on call?! Secondly, she has an eye for great four star hotels.

Four Star hotels are unsung heroes - fabulous yet overlooked finds,  but in Rome, the Four Star is the hydra of hotelerie, a spectrum so vast and numbers so large, it's impossible to define them, even harder to rank them and chaotic to navigate through them - or, as my mom would say, hit or miss.   If you are tenacious, you'll discover four stars that are just a hair short of being five star-  beautiful design and service, lacking only a few amenities like (spas and fitness centers), or else you'll find you have inadvertently booked yourself into a four star room that not even Mother Bates could love.   To paraphrase a friend within the Federalberghi structure, hotels can be whatever they want these days and four stars are absolutely anything and everything.

The Four Star

Style. Location. Price.  The standard requirements for choosing any hotel anywhere, but what does this mean for Rome? It means being picky.  For me, the big "No"s are outdated style -  like burnt umber colored bed coverletss with what look likes itty-bitty pompoms all over- and cumbersome space, i.e.  too much design effort and furniture to look cool.  It's all about location, andin my opinion, if you are planning to stay in Rome, you must be in the thick of it, in other words, neighborhoods in the centro storico.  So my main question is are the windows at least double-paned?   Finally, I focus on my baseline budget.  According to Expedia, the four star price range in Rome is anything from 42 euro to 700 euro nightly, and knowing well what kind of bang you get, I set my (somewhat flexible) baseline at 175 euro, ruling out (unless told otherwise) everything below 125 euro and above 250 euro, which narrows the listings and eliminates several of the mutton dressed as lamb.

But which ones are my favorite tried and true four stars in Rome, you ask? I have three reliable hotels that never fall short on design, quality and service, not mention locations I love, distinguished from five stars simply for lack of a spa and/or gym.  Since they meet my benchmarks, I'm willing to update my end range to 350 euro per night because these hotel's have higher price points, so I'm willing to be a little bit more flexible.  But no matter what, I am going to listen to my mamma and pick up the phone to negotiate because it can't hurt to ask. . .

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal I stumbled into the Stendhal one day after being caught with a famished and very impatient 5 year old as we waited for an incredibly overdue bus on Via del Tritone. She needed a snack and I needed a break, behind us was the window into what looked like peace to me, thanks to tranquil, seafoam colored walls.  I was right, I was able to relax so much so that  later I booked a stay at the The Annex.

The Annex is the Hotel Stendhal's  is around-the-corner apartment, whose rooms favor a more contemporary style to the main hotel's traditional and tasteful 30 rooms.   The 10 Annex rooms are a combination of rich colors and fabrics, and great light.  I'd call the decor modern Italian- bespoke upholstering, art piece lamps, fabulous prints,  modern bed frames, shapeful divans and dark parquet floors. Nothing is cumbersome and there is an overall sense of open space, in fact the floor area alone would be ideal for personal yoga routines and core workouts.   Sexy, contemporary and spacious, the Annex vibe is urban escape and giving you a chance to "live" an Italian life.   Though I am not 100% thrilled about its location on the corner of Piazza Barberini and busy via del Tritone, there is no noise (triple-pane glass!) and it is a perfect for walking to all sites in the city, or hopping on public transport.   Finally, service is top quality.  Stendhal staff are courteous and very helpful.


Palazzo Navona

Palazzo Navona

Palazzo Navona

Palazzo Navona


My number two is a surprise to me and a new entry: Palazzo Navona.  It's been a while since I have found a hotel in the Navona/Campo/Pantheon neighborhood that comes close to great hospitality, much less eye-pleasing design. Unfortunately, the hotels in this area are tired and/or too tourist "in and out" focused to concentrate on quality, so you can understand why I was more than happily surprised with Palazzo Navona and its roundhouse punch of style, service and space.  Navona raises the bar.  Or maybe I just loved the ground level bar and incredible library of art books. . . In fact, the entire ground level is delightful,  a kind of "JK inspired" style of rich colors, artsy furniture (but not overwhelming), art piece lamps and paintings, and of course art books.

Its 43 rooms and suites are exemplify what I believe makes a hotel stand out-  tasteful deficient and efficient use of space, a hot commodity in Rome and a very relative concept.  Palazzo Navona employs a low key design style of white-on-grey-on-black tones, with the occasional bright colored divan, the vibe is tranquil.  In each room, there is an effortless sense of space- which may in fact be an optical illusion, as a friend points out that the rooms are not really that big, however, my room - a corner suite (a larger open plan room) had black parquet floors so vast I could probably teach a yoga class here, and definitely play a rough game of Twister.   From the front desk to in room, service is top notch, pleasant and efficient.  Within 12 hours, I was on a first name basis with everyone from the front desk to room service.   My favorite part of the hotel was not inside, but its rooftop with 360 view of the neighborhood's domes and some great lounge chairs.  The ringer for Palazzo Navona is location, a side street wedged between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Doesn't get any better than that.

Neighborhood:  NAVONA/PANTHEON

Donna Camilla Savelli

Donna Camilla Savelli

Donna Camilla Savelli

Donna Camilla Savelli


Last but decidedly not least is Donna Camilla Savelli, an old favorite as well as an old monastery.  First and foremost, Donna Camilla is the diametric opposite of Palazzo Navona and Hotel Stendhal - it is far larger (78 rooms and suites), traditional (design style is a luxurious play on it Baroque history), and across town (on a hill in Trastevere, which is close enough).   Donna Camilla Savelli has the historical privilege of meditation,  the compound (because it truly is) lets you forget about a long day in Rome.

The restored sixteenth-century monastery claims Francesco Borromini as architect, so you can imagine that Baroque runs rampant-  tall archways, harlequin floors, bas-relief, coffered ceilings and beautiful dark wood furniture.   Original antiques and ornament accent each room, while velvet headboards and satin tapestries space up Donna Camilla's pious origins.In other words, this is the kind of place to stay if you want a bit of yesteryear Roman refinery.   Being a former monastery, it's a city oasis with terraces and cloister gardens, including my favorite -a scented garden with jasmine, camellias and magnolias.


7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel on March 9, 2017.

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling - Forbes Travel Guide

One thing is clear: You will never be hungry long in Rome. Almost every street has that typically charming spot with a pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) rotation. Around each corner you’re likely to find pizzerie and trattorie. And eventually you’ll stumble across a produce market. You barely have to lift a finger or move your feet — it is really that easy to eat in the city.

Rome’s culinary scene is in the midst of a food adolescence, a gastronomic transition of limitless expression that sometimes plays around with tradition — or at least it tries to. And though the scene may still have some growing up to do, here are some not-to-miss newcomers for your little black book.

Secondo Tradizione Banco & CucinaThis tiny gastro-bistro in Rome’s Trionfale neighborhood, an out-of-the-way area that is worth the trip, has the feel of a Roman osteria from yesteryear. Chalkboard menus hang on the walls listing Secondo Tradizione’s fare. The I Classici list reveals the classics — the dishes that no honest Roman trattoria would be without, like carbonara and saltimbocca.

The Dal Banco (“from the counter”) board highlights the specialty cured meats and cheeses, while Dalla Cucina are the daily and seasonal creations from the kitchen and pans of chef Piero Drago. Drago came on board earlier this year, training under the wing of award-winning chef Anthony Genovese, who joined up with Secondo Tradizione to celebrate and innovate traditional cuisine, while keeping it simple.

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling - Forbes Travel Guide

Ercoli 1928Growing up means experimenting while looking back at tradition, so it’s no surprise that a contemporary crop of alimentari (“gourmet deli”) restaurants are open. Dual delicatessen/dining spot Ercoli 1928 in Parioli is both an over-the-counter food boutique showcasing a cornucopia of Roman and Italian delights — prosciutto, cheese, bread, caviar, wine and more — and a chic trattoria where chef Andrea di Raimo literally has the home-team advantage by masterfully using local and seasonal products in his recipes. Expect variations of Roman favorites, including a carbonara with fried artichokes.

La Tavola, Il Vino e La DispensaLa Tavola, Il Vino e La Dispensa is the new baby of chefs Oliver Glowig and Salvatore de Gennaro. Located in the newly opened Mercato Centrale, a food stall opus in the 164-foot arched corridor of Rome’s Termini Station, La Dispensa turns the mezzanine terrace into a chic food bottega with counter and table service.

Like Secondo Tradizione, La Dispensa focuses on the gems of Italian regional cuisine and artisanal producers. Here you’ll find incredible cheese, delicious rosticini (tiny lamb skewers) or a rigatoni al bacalà (cod). Daytrippers should look out for the lunch menu for lighter fare, while the dinner menu is a little richer.

MadreDown the road in the Monti neighoborhood, chef Riccardo di Giacinto gives you a little bit of motherly love with Madre, his version of fusion cuisine. Madre’s menu is a crazy and tasty mix of Roman fritti (fried foods) and ceviche. It’s hard to spot the traditional Roman influences until you taste the savory maritozzi, fried sweet buns filled with bollito e salsa verde (boiled beef in a parsley-based sauce). The garden restaurant is also a popular hangout for its cocktail scene.

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling - Forbes Travel Guide

PiperoPipero is the newest contribution from the fabulous carbonara master Luciano Monosilio and sommelier/restaurateur Alessandro Pipero. The duo first worked its magic at Pipero al Rex inside of Rome’s storied Hotel Rex. The newest spot, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, offers such varied courses as red shrimp risotto, T-bone steaks and a chocolate soufflé.

RetrobottegaExperimental kitchens are trending in Rome, and one of the best is Retrobottega, a closet-sized restaurant and self-proclaimed “gastronomic lab.” The overall style is rustic simplicity — in other words, a perfectly curated menu in a no-frills, counter-service setting.

A team of chefs creates daily specials in an open kitchen. The menu changes more than seasonally, so pop in for a quick read of its chalkboard list — you’ll find enticing spice combinations and savory game dishes.

Taverna VolpettiKeep your eyes on Taverna Volpetti in Testaccio, a specialty food shop, wine bar and restaurant in the re-opened space. The menu offers charcuterie and cheese selections and delightful dishes like truffle tonnarelli. Round out your meal with a tipple from the impressive by-the-glass wine list.

Emilia Romagna, a revelation

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Not long ago, I find myself on a journey in search of art in towns with charming names like Ferrara, Parma, Forlì and Ravenna but as soon as I arrive in Bologna’s Stazione Centrale, the train station that is to become my primary radial point, I know that my adventures will be of another kind.

I am in Emilia-Romagna, terra del gusto, the land of taste. A northern region privileged with a broad range of weather conditions thanks to its nearly coast-to-coast span from the Adriatic to the Apennines. The kaleidoscopic location allows the region to produce a veritable cornucopia of PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) recognized products- a divine 33, the highest count for any Italian region. By those statistics alone, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s gastronomical holy land.

Emilia-Romagna’s cult of culinaria is led by the incomparable triumvirate of prosciutto, balsamico (balsamic vinegar) and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Individually, its cured meats, cheeses, wines, vegetables and fruits are more than just table talk. In fact, a plate of salumi (cured meats) or a large chunk of parmigiano is the antipasto introduction to any dinner and the coup de grace to the entire meal. It is not a surprise that eating in Emilia-Romagna is gastro-enlightening, a spiritual awakening of mind and belly.

My days become revelations as I theorize a beatific “circle of life” between the prosciutto and parmigiano as the pigs are raised on the cheese’s whey, without one there could not be the other. In Modena, I am intoxicated by aged balsamic vinegar, a luscious nectar home-grown just a few kilometres down the street from the futuristic Enzo Ferrari museum and the Lamborghini factory. I conclude that Ferrari and Lamborghini’s meticulous handcrafted details are logically birthed from a town of patience since the very best balsamic vinegar is aged over years and decades. And my postulations, theories and declarations course as much ground as the regional trains: prosciutto, mortadella, felino, piadine, tigelle, lambrusco, pasta...

Everything good comes from Emilia-Romagna. This is my mantra. If pasta is considered the iconic comfort food, then it is Emilia-Romagna we must thank for placating our palates with tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne and cappelletti. (And I personally thank Parma for adding just a bit of butter.) It is not surprising that the region, whose total population is less than that of city of Rome, has twenty-six Michelin starred restaurants (and 25 bib gourmands), including the world’s fifth best restaurant in the world in Modena, Osteria Francescana.

At Osteria Francescana, I come full circle. Art is what motivates Chef Massimo Bottura’s avant-garde creations such as bollito misto, non misto (a clockwork of varying cooked meats) and Cinque età del Parmigiano Reggiano in diverse consistenze e temperature (the ever clever five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese). His heart belongs to Emilia-Romagna ~his dishes tell tales of the region’s (and Italy’s) history and relationship to its food specialties ~ and Bottura is also constantly inspired by contemporary art. A quick look around the restaurant and I spy pieces by Francesco Vezzoli, Maurizio Cattelan, Jonathan Borowksy and Gain Turk. I am having a mini-Venice Biennale moment when my final revelation hits me: art and food, of any genre, are gemelle cosmiche, soul filling cosmic twins whose only requirement is thoughtful digestion.

Emilia-Romagna, I can’t quit you.

How to get there: Getting to Emilia-Romagna is quite easy. Region capital Bologna has its own airport that accommodates national and international flights. Bologna also has direct connectivity via rail to and from Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice. With train station Bologna Centrale as home base, most of Emilia Romagna’s towns are reachable by inexpensive regional trains via Ferrovie Emilia Romagna and Treni Italia.

Trippa, Milan's Other Last Supper

Photo: Paolo Zuf

There are restaurants and then there are Restaurants, a food sanctuary that says Home, and from that very first bite convinces you to drop everything in your life just for an opportunity to bus tables so that you can hang out in the kitchen.  This is the kind of place that you keep secret for as long possible, making friends vow to never reveal any details and praying to yourself that you never mention the name in your sleep.  But I think it's time I let you in on my little secret since Italian food writers have been scribbling up a storm about it - -  Trippa, Milan's other Last Supper

Photo: Paolo Zuf

Familiar, nostalgic and beckoning, Trippa is designed like an old school trattoria, a single and clamorous room of vintage-inspired wooden tables and chairs, with authentic vintage lamps, fans, and posters.  The room is enveloped in a gorgeous mustard color that I later find out is "Milan tram yellow", as in the city's beautiful (and refurbished )1930s trams.  The vibe is chatterbox hang out.  Everyone knows everyone else, and are constantly playing table hopscotch, while owner and chef Diego Rossi holds the floor both conceptually and gastronomically.

Photo: Paolo Zuff

I stumbled across Trippa thanks to my friend Sara*, an intrepid food and travel writer.  Sara knows where to eat, so the table's always up to her which is probably why she is co-founder and bosslady ofSauce Milan, the site for Milan's food and restaurant scene.  Of course, Sara was spot on.  Trippa was perfect - for me and for the evening, which initially began with a viewing of the Last Supper.   Next thing I know, a kerchiefed Diego is bombarding me, Sara, Laura and Darius with vegetables-  crunchy white turnips (were they slightly breaded?), grilled raddichio with roe, a leek panella, fried artichoke and a trio platter where all I remember is the broccolo. And that was just the beginning.  We had a fabulous fassona tartar, a valorous vitello tonnato (perhaps the very best I have ever had), and a perfect grilled polpo.  It was almost as if I needed nothing more until the bone was brought out.

Marrow on the half bone.  I could write sonnets to this salty masterpiece that we spread over warm bread.

Beatific. Gastro-terrific.  Mind-blowing, belly showing.  A half-bone beat with a salty treat. Bone marrow, I'm yours.

Life Imitates Art.  That's the only thing I was thinking about it as I looked across the table at Sara (left), Diego and Laura, my culinary trinity, who brought me and Darius from enamoured to enlightened.  Trippa was a masterpiece, and then I noticed that they were too.  Just like Da Vinci's fresco.  Nothing is a coincidence.


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