TRAVEL

Giants, Spirits and the Holy Grail? Unravel the Mysteries and Legends of Venice

Unlock some of Venice's most mysterious legends. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gondoliers who can walk on water. Monster masks that can ward off the devil. Haunted palaces, meandering ghosts and magic stones. Venice is a city built on legends, lore and mysteries.

Every calle leads to a new mystery, and through every sottoportego is a new legend to explore. Below are some of the most intriguing tales.

Witches Wake-Up Call

In the labyrinthine streets near the Accademia Gallery is the quiet Calle della Toletta, where a so-called “witch’s clock” keeps the neighborhood ticking. Hanging off exterior piping (look for a yellow house) is an old-school alarm clock.

Legend says that a witch once lived here and dabbled in the business of black magic. She used the alarm to remind her customers their payments were due. When she died, the local residents hung an alarm clock on the building in jest.

Years later, it was removed, and the neighbors began to talk of strange happenings, odd sounds and random accidents. The clock was returned to its position, and the events stopped. Years later the clock was removed, and the neighbors again claimed unexplained events, so the clock was placed back permanently.

Death in Venice

Walk by the columns of San Marco and San Todaro — but not between them. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Council of Ten — a feared governing body — ruled the city from 1310 to 1797 with eyes everywhere thanks to its hundreds of anonymous informants who shared residents’ secrets and lies, condemning many to prison and death.

According to gossip, the narrow Calle della Morte was the Council of Ten’s “death alley,” an advantageous location where condemned people would be tricked into visiting only to be killed on site. Most likely, the street is named after a dead body found in that location.

What is fact is that the secretive Council of Ten were very forthcoming with public executions and designated the small area between the columns of San Marco and San Todaro at Piazza San Marco as a site for city-sanctioned deaths, and to this day, Venetians do not walk between the columns. Take a stroll here from the nearby Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice.

The Giant of Corte Bressana

Listen for the bells. (Photo: Alamy)

Venice is a chameleon of a city, changing its personality drastically from daytime charm to nighttime fright. According to Castello neighbors, if you find yourself meandering the streets surrounding the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo after midnight, you may meet a giant looking to buy his bones back.

Who’s the giant? According to legend, he’s one of the last bell ringers of St. Mark’s Bell Tower, clocking in at nearly seven feet tall. The Bell Ringer’s height made him such a local celebrity that the director of a scientific institute offered him a small fee to leave his skeleton to science upon death. The giant bell ringer agreed to the offer, rationalizing that he would outlive the institute director and the deal would be forgotten.

To the contrary, the bell ringer died shortly thereafter, and his skeleton went on display at the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia. Castello residents say that every night, just before midnight, the skeleton walks out of the museum to Piazza San Marco, where he climbs to the top of the bell tower, rings the bells and then walks the streets toward his home on Corte Bressana (Castello) begging for money to buy back his skeleton.

The Holy Grail

Pretty much everyone agrees that the most coveted artifact for would-be Indiana Joneses is the Holy Grail, aka the chalice that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper.

According to legend, after Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’s blood in the cup, the Grail was removed from sight for centuries and eventually secreted away to Glastonbury by the Knights Templar.

Here’s where the Venetians have a bit of a deviation. At some point before the Grail’s journey to the British Isles, it was hidden in none other than the throne of the Apostle Peter (a marble seat), forcibly removed from Constantinople during the Crusades and brought to Venice with the rest of the plunder. Where’s the chair today? Inside the Basilica of San Pietro in Castello.

House of the Spirits

Are you a believer in dark magic? (Photo: Alamy)

A quick 6-minute vaporetto ride from The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, at the edge of the Fondamenta Nuova in Cannaregio sits a beautiful 16th-century palace overlooking the water. For centuries, the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, better known as the Casin degli Spiriti (house of the spirits), has been notoriously recognized as a hub of dark magic; a preferred location for cults, orgies, pirates and smugglers; and as a gathering place for the restless spirits of Venice.

One ghost in particular can’t seem to leave — that of Pietro Luzzo, a painter who shot himself in the palace grounds, despairing of unrequited love. The day after he died, his tormented ghost appeared at one of the palace’s windows, prompting the owner to cover it with bricks.

Luzzo appeared at another window and then another, until the owner walled in all of the palace’s windows. Supposedly, Luzzo continues to haunt the palace, returning on dark evenings, screaming throughout the palace.

This article first appeared in Marriott Traveler, April 2019.

{Podcast} Rome's King of Carbonara Luciano Monosilio

Catching up with the King of Carbonara, Luciano Monosilio at his restaurant Luciano Cucina. Photo: Darius Arya

LOOK, MA, I’VE LAUNCHED A PODCAST!

My mom has always told me I’m a fabulous talker, but really I am an incredibly curious listener who loves a good story. And I’m lucky- part of my job is meeting people and listening to what they have to say. Over the past 15 years, I’ve met incredible people doing incredible things that are changing Italy’s cultural landscape and updating the trite travel stereotypes of quaint trattorias and lots of mamma mias into something more realistic, cool and contemporary. Sometimes these conversations become great articles, other times they are edited to a sound bite and more often, they don’t make their way anywhere except to my dinner table. I’ve decided to remedy that by launching Ciao Bella, my intrepid travel and cultural podcast.

Me and Chef Luciano Monosilio, aka the only man who has ever made me cry…. for carbonara. Photo: Darius Arya

EPISODE ONE: THE KING OF CARBONARA

Luciano Monosilio is Italy’s reigning King of Carbonara and currently chef/owner of Luciano Cucina. From Albano Laziale to Michelin starred chef, in just a few years, Luciano put my favorite dish, carbonara, in the center of the table and in conversation all over Italy. And then he decided to step out of the box and literally turn the tables by going solo with his eponymous Luciano Cucina, a new gen trattoria subtly spreading the culinary renaissance all over Italy. I’m proud to have him as my first guest on Ciao Bella, and I’m even happier to know that his restaurant Luciano Cucina is just around the corner ffrom my home in Campo de’ Fiori. Join me as we talk carbonara, guanciale, Roma and Italy.

Chef Luciano Monosilio. Photo: Erica Firpo

Carbonara’s key ingredients. Photo: Erica Firpo

TUNE IN

…and keep listening as I sit down at the table with innovators, creators, artists, and more who are revolutionizing travel and culture in Italy and around the Mediterranean. New episodes drop every Monday with a light blog post and link to my Patreon page. What’s that? Patreon is a way for you to be a part of Ciao Bella, support the podcast and be surprised with behind-the-scenes, for-your-eyes-only content. Like I said, I love listening so if there is someone you think I should interview, let me know. No matter what, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please rate, review and share Ciao Bella.

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Trattoria V.2: 4 New Rome Restaurants Turning the Tables

Tortellini. Credit: Retrobottega

While Rome will never relinquish the triple threat of carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe, it’s ready to cast off the stereotype that the classic trattoria has to be no frills, no elbow room and absolutely no service. These four new spots are turning the tables on the way you think about the Eternal City’s restaurant scene.

Retrobottega

This budding restaurant has actually been on the block for a few years, but in 2018, a refresh revealed a larger dining space and a moody, minimalist design with a trademark open kitchen and two communal tables.  

Chefs Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi can be found center stage assembling and plating their creations: evolved recipes featuring locally sourced and foraged produce. 

The dishes change so frequently, it’s best to check Retrobottega’s Instagram to see what’s on the menu — typically a five-course, prix fixe format with an à la carte option available, too. If it’s in season, be sure to order the tortelli pasta with Roman broccoli and anchovies, or the blueberry and veal shank risotto. 

Be on the lookout for Retrobottega’s newest addition: Retro Vino wine bar serving bottles as carefully curated as the dishes. 

If you don’t have time for a full meal, stop by Retropasta, the next-door boutique where you can pick up eight types of housemade pasta. Try the stuffed options with untraditional fillings.

Luciano Cucina  

If carbonara had a king, it would be Luciano Monosilio, the home-grown chef who exalted the beloved pasta dish from local recipe to coveted art form. After more than a decade commandeering the city’s fine-dining scene, Monosilio opened this Centro Storico spot to honor his roots in the local trattoria. 

His pioneering take evolves the casual concept from rustic bolthole to a modern, stylish dining room with an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen. Monosilio is emphatically Roman, and he shows it off throughout the entire menu. His antipasti include incredible fritti (fried dishes) like suppli al telefono(fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce and basil) and unexpected not-so-Roman dishes such as vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce and capers).   

But carbs are the highlight. The pasta offerings are divided into themes: Contemporanee (contemporary), Romane (traditional Roman favorites) and Ripiene (stuffed), so you’ll be able to cash in on Monosilio’s epic carbonara, while trying some of his more unusual dishes, like fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — a spin on the classic garlic, pepper and olive pasta topped with cured fish roe.  

Marigold

This trendy newcomer ups the ante on the typical trattoria, casting off yesteryear stereotypes in favor of clean lines and Scandinavian design — a little oasis of hygge (coziness) straight from the oven of pastry chef Sofie Wochner.  

Simplicity is the overall objective at this self-proclaimed “micro bakery.” Focusing on seasonal products and smaller, local producers, Wochner’s pastries and partner Domenico Calabrese’s plates are deliciously sustainable creations, with an ethos inspired by Calabrese’s time in the kitchen of the American Academy of Rome’s Sustainable Food Project. Here, leftovers become delectable, unique dishes.

Wochner’s cinnamon twists, housemade butter (from kefir) and rye bread alone are worth the trip, but you’ll want to stay for Calabrese’s savory lunches and dinners. Each day features a different sandwich dependent on his mood, with made-from-scratch mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough, while evening menus (only available on weekends) often feature dishes like stracciatella (a heavenly soft cheese) with grilled, marinated artichokes and marjoram, and slow-cooked Korean pork belly. 

After you dine, peruse the bakery and pick up at least one loaf of fresh-baked sourdough to bring home. 

Spazio  

This Rome eatery from acclaimed toque Niko Romito isn’t exactly your typical trattoria. Rather, the experimental space serves as a test kitchen where chefs from his renowned cooking school can experience the bustle of a real working restaurant.  

Bar, caffè, bistro and dining room, Spazio is many things, in a few different spaces that effortlessly flow into each other. The restaurant, with its contemporary industrial-meets-greenhouse feel, focuses on affordable gourmet with dishes like Rome-inspired cacio e pepe with mezze maniche pasta, and creamy pork belly with savoy cabbage and potatoes. 

Spazio Pane e Caffè is the casual café side, an open, all-day kitchen serving pastries, breads, sandwiches, soups, salads and pasta dishes.

The 6 Sestieri: An Insider’s Guide to Venice’s Distinct Neighborhoods

Explore Dorsoduro's church of Santa Maria Della Salute. (Photo: Getty Images)

Thanks to its labyrinthine streets and impossible canals, Venice is one of the world’s easiest cities in which to get lost. But with a bit of research, it is also the easiest town to understand. From a bird’s-eye view, Venice is made up of two central islands that look like intertwined hands.

Neighborhoods, called sestieri, subdivide the islands into six characteristic areas, which range from busy marketplaces to quiet communities. Here’s a look at each of these distinct sestieri.

Dorsoduro

Traverse the wooden Accademia Bridge to arrive in Dorsoduro, known for its charming artsy vibe thanks to a mix of families and university students. Its beautiful palazzi and campi (squares) are picture-perfect, and the area is peppered with bars, galleries and restaurants.

The southern neighborhood spans from Punta della Dogana, the old customs building at the very eastern tip of the island, to the Port Authority in the most southwestern edge and includes Giudecca, the long residential island immediately to its south.

Sites not to miss: Gallerie dell’AccademiaPeggy Guggenheim CollectionIl Redentore, Campo Santa Margherita, Chiesa Le ZitellePunta della DoganaSanta Maria della Salute.

Castello

Campo Santa Maria Formosa. (Photo: Getty Images)


Named for a former fortified palazzo, Castello is the largest of the six sestieri and the greenest. Its western border lines up with the edges of San Marco and Cannaregio, so expect a bustle of tourists and souvenir shops.

Head east down the calle and along canals; the farther afield you go, you’ll find Castello becomes a charming microcosm where the tourist flow trickles down to a near standstill.

Eventually, the eastern half of Castello becomes a large public garden and shipyard — the Biennale Giardini and Arsenale — home of the annual La Biennale festival. The cemetery island San Michele is also part of Castello.

Sites not to miss: Basilica of Santi Giovanni e PaoloChurch of San Zaccaria, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Complesso dell’Ospedaletto

San Marco

St. Mark’s Square. (Photo: Getty Images)

Named for the city’s patron saint, San Marco is the most visited of all Venetian sestieri. The sestiere’s heart is Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the number-one destination for all visitors to Venice. Here you’ll find tourists taking photos of the inimitable Basilica San Marco or enjoying a spritz at the square’s historic cafés.

The San Marco neighborhood spans from the Rialto Bridge to St. Mark’s Square, so once you’ve visited the piazza, head deeper into the neighborhood. Wander past small-scale piazzas and peek into lavish museums, and keep an eye out for waterfront photo ops across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore island, also part of sestiere San Marco.

Sites not to miss: Basilica di San MarcoDoge’s PalaceTeatro La Fenice, Campo Santo Stefano, Palazzo GrassiScala Contarini del BovoloMuseo CorrerCaffe Florian

San Polo

To many, this tiny sestiere is the heart of Venetian life. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Venice, San Polo is a dynamic neighborhood filled with families, shops and students who all seem to converge on Campo San Polo, the second-largest square in Venice.

San Polo is also a thoroughfare for tourists walking toward San Marco after visiting the Rialto market, the historic and picturesque fish market.

Sites not to miss: San Giacomo di RialtoSanta Maria Gloriosa dei FrariGrande Scuola San Rocco, Campo San Polo.

Cannaregio

The Rialto Bridge. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cannaregio is the gateway to Venetian life. Starting from the steps of the Venezia Santa Lucia train station and extending eastward on the famed Strada Nuova to the Rialto Bridge, Cannaregio is a vivacious sestiere of boutiques, restaurants, squares and palaces.

The wide Strada Nuova is a busy shopping promenade, while its side alleys lead to niche communities like the Jewish Ghetto, which dates back to the city’s original 4th-century Jewish settlements. Fondamenta Nuova, the northern edge of Cannaregio, connects to the island of Burano via vaporetto (boat).

Sites not to miss: Ca’ d’OroMuseo EbraicoChurch of Santa Maria dei MiracoliChurch of Madonna dell’Orto and the Oratorio dei Crociferi

Santa Croce

This sestiere is said to have a dual personality. The southwestern area of Santa Croce is a transport center, with Piazzale Roma as a hub for buses and taxis. Its northeastern area is more typical of Venice, filled with canals and alleys lined with historic palaces. Though tiny, Santa Croce packs a cultural punch with lavish architecture ranging from Byzantine to contemporary.

Sites not to miss: Fontego dei TurchiSan Giacomo dall’OrioSan Zan DegolaPonte della Costituzione (Constitution bridge) and Palazzo Mocenigo


This article is part of a series which appears
Venice travel for Marriott Bonvoy Traveler.

Andiamo! A Local’s Guide to Island Hopping in Venice

This article first appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, March 2019.

The Island of San Giorgio. Photo: Getty Images

With 118 islands making up the Venetian archipelago, there is far more to see in Venice than St. Mark’s Square. Whether an afternoon or a weekend affair, island hopping is the best way to get to know Venice and its 1,500-year-old culture. Here’s a guide to some of Venice’s most must-see islands.

San Giorgio Maggiore

The emblematic San Giorgio Maggiore is one of those islands that is always photographed but rarely visited. Dominated by the San Giorgio Maggiore church, a multilevel marble landmark designed by Renaissance phenom Andrea Palladio, San Giorgio Maggiore seems to float impossibly in the middle of the Venetian lagoon.

Today, exhibition spaces Le Stanze del Vetro, a former boarding school, and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini showcase contemporary arts projects, while the rest of the island remains green — impeccably pedicured gardens hiding mazes and more.

Discover the art of glass blowing. (Photo: Getty Images)

Murano

For centuries the tiny island of Murano produced the world’s most beautiful glass pieces behind closed doors. Its reputation seeped out of the lagoon, and now Murano is the most popular of the Venetian islands.

Master glass artisans open studio doors to give tourists a select glimpse into their secretive workshops with organized, behind-the-scenes experiences at historic fornace (furnaces) like Seguso. The key to best experiencing Murano is to get past the souvenir shops and explore deeper into the island. Visit the Museo del Vetro to learn Murano’s glassmaking history.

Catch the colors of Burano. (Photo: Getty Images)

Burano

Of all the Venetian islands, Burano is the one most remembered. Here visitors find a mini version of Venice, with a rainbow of brightly colored houses lining picture-perfect canals.

Burano, like most of the outlying islands, is a microcosm of locals who have grown up with one another for generations and for generations have been making its famous lace products by hand. The Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) chronicles Burano’s more than eight centuries honing lace craftsmanship.

Mazzorbo

Linked to Burano by the Ponte Longo, a wooden bridge, Mazzorbo is a quiet island of less than 400 inhabitants and was once an important political and commercial scene in medieval Venice.

Mazzorbo’s draw today is that in the midst of Venice’s tourist-laden streets, it remains untouched and out of the way of clutter and kitsch. Charming residential areas line up with stretches of cultivated land, including vineyards such as Venissa, a walled-in vineyard reviving heritage dorona di Venezia grapes. The 13th-century Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the island’s last remaining church, has a bell tower with one of Europe’s oldest bells and is also worth a visit.

San Michele

Within a gondola ride from the fondamenta nuova, Venice’s northern waterfront, you’ll find the mysterious San Michele. Beautifully landscaped with tall cypress trees and surrounded by a pedicured redbrick wall, San Michele has served as the city’s official cemetery ever since a Napoleonic decree banished burials from Venice churchyards.

Serene and tranquil, San Michele is the final resting place for Venetians and famed outsiders, including American poet Ezra Pound, Italian painter Emilio Vedova and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Lido di Venezia

Everybody loves Lido, the large Venetian island best known as the home of the Venice Film Festival, the august cinema fest where the world’s best directors and actors celebrate their films.

What most people don’t know is that all year round, Lido remains a charming community of families. The seven-mile-long Lido is also a jewel box of art nouveau and art deco architecture — including villas, hotels and ornamental gardens.

In the warm months, Venetians from all over the islands head to Lido’s stabilimenti balneari, beautifully coiffed and colorful waterside establishments on the island’s six miles of uninterrupted beach.

Torcello

Located on the northern edge of the lagoon, Torcello is one of the most remote islands in the Venetian archipelago and the oldest that has been continually populated — in fact, its origin story predates Venice.

Once a busy settlement, today Torcello is sparsely populated. What remains from its resplendent past are a few structures, including the seventh-century Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta with its beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics and a head-spinning bell tower that overlooks Burano. It’s definitely the place to clear one’s head.

Find your way to remote Torcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

How to visit the islands

The only way to travel the islands is by water. A network of vaporetti (waterbuses) zigzag the Venetian Lagoon, connecting the islandsThe best option is the ACTV tickets offering unlimited travel within a 24-hour period at 20 euro. Less economical and far more efficient is a motoscafo, a sleek, wood-paneled water taxi, which can privately arranged through Consorzio Motoscafi.

Interview with Classical Archaeologist Darius Arya

Courtesy of Darius Arya

Courtesy of Darius Arya

This article first appeared in Traditional Building, March 2019.

There is nothing more new than looking at the past, or at least that’s how Rome-based archaeologist Darius Arya thinks. For Darius, Rome is more than ancient history, it’s living history and an ongoing story that Darius takes to the lecture halls, the field, and to the screens- big and small.

“Everyone dreamed of being Indiana Jones,” tells Darius, “I figured I’d just do it. I wanted to be knee-deep in ancient inscriptions and underground sites, so I started with Latin.” While studying Classical Studies at University of Pennsylvania, Darius was accepted to participate in a semester in Rome at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, fondly known to alums and students as the Centro. While his focus was Greek and Latin, Darius was captivated by the active history all around him and continued on to a Masters and Masters/PhD in Classical Archaeology, at University of Texas Austin, and was awarded a Fullbright scholarship and fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

What anchored and still anchors Darius to the Eternal City is the unique juxtaposition of past and present in its art, architecture, and culture. “I tend to look at Rome from the past, like 2,500 years ago, and constantly see these threads in contemporary life here as well as around the world.” His passion for Classical studies and architecture is unstoppable, and over the past two decades in Rome, he’s done everything to share it. As the director of American Institute for Roman Culture, a non-profit that fosters conversation on Rome’s extraordinary cultural legacy through education, outreach, and multi-platform storytelling, Darius created several education and new media initiatives, and as a documentary filmmaker, he hosts 2018’s Ancient Invisible Cities (PBS) and ongoing Italian television series “Under Italy” (RAI5).

Darius on location at the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul Turkey while shooting PBS’s Ancient Invisible Cities. Courtesy of Darius Arya

We sat down with Darius to find out what its like to live, work, and dig in Rome.

You’ve been coordinating excavations in Rome for 15 years. What are some of the surprises you’ve come across? What has been your most fulfilling project to date? No matter how much you plan and study, when you finally excavate you will inevitably find things you didn’t expect, never dreamed of. I’ve come across an undocumented imperial era cemetery, and uncovered an intact opus sectile floor. My personal favorite and probably most fulfilling came from our dig at the Park of the Aqueducts, a public park less than eight miles from the center of Rome. The park itself is amazing with its mile-long arcade of ancient Aqua Claudia aqueduct. We were in our third summer at excavations, already having uncovered a 50,000 square foot lavish bath complex—multiple stories and chambers and lots of in situ marble paneling. We were halfway through the day, already unearthing beautiful statue fragments (clear signs of late antique spoliation) when we uncovered a colored marble head. As we progressed, we realized we had an entire intact statue of the highest quality—a second century AD red marble statue depicting Marsyas tied to a tree, with beautiful detailed musculature and one remaining bronze inlaid eye. I was so paranoid when we found it, I decided to sleep in the trench with Marsyas that night for fear of looters (always a real threat for any excavation). We extracted the statue the next morning with a small crane and transported it to a superintendency warehouse for safekeeping. After a thorough restoration and cleaning, our Marsyas is on permanent public display at Capitoline Museums Montemartini gallery.

What are the biggest challenges? Archaeology is slow work. And the thrill of a season in the field is matched by a long study season in the warehouse and in the library, with a lot of specialists and technicians. Many years in the field are overshadowed by countless more hours of study, research, and documentation. It is tedious and methodical—all totally worth it, but also requires a lot of patience and funding. Maybe that’s why Indiana Jones kept sneaking out of the university during office hours?

Challenges can be bureaucratic and also topographical. Rome has some of the most complex stratigraphy in the world due to the fact that it’s been continuously occupied for over 3,000 years and thus so much was built and deposited on the same land by so many citizens, foreigners, pilgrims, governments, and empires.

Taking the larger view of the field of archaeology and heritage preservation as a whole, probably the biggest challenge today is not looting nor war, but accelerated urban development and growing need for arable land. Often archaeologists and heritage preservation experts are considered hindrances to progressive development, but they are essential stakeholders in preserving/documenting known and delineated sites as well as those yet to be uncovered, and viable sources in collaborative development.

Social media, especially live streaming, takes an active role in education storytelling and promoting cultural heritage, according to Arya, who recently won a Shorty Award for his live streaming reportage. His goal is bring his audience live to cultural heritage sites around the world. Courtesy of Darius Arya

I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic—from social media like YouTube and Instagram Stories, to better, interactive tech. — DARIUS ARYA

How do you navigate living in Rome, a contemporary city with nearly three thousand years of visible history and lot of baggage? Can one appreciate the history of the Eternal City and still enjoy its 21st century attributes and vice versa? With hundreds and hundreds of churches, monuments, and archaeological sites and museums, I’m never bored. Even after two decades of living in Rome every single day is a delight for me. There is always something to discover, explore, and rediscover, and my Rome experience flows into the palimpsest of the city. For example, my bus stop is at Largo Argentina, known for its cat sanctuary as well as the area sacra, an incredible open-air site with Republican temple abutted by the late Republican Senate hall where Julius Caesar was assassinated. My local gelateria is down the street and our children get their school supplies at the cartoleria next door. It’s a contemporary marketplace and probably the most historic bus stop in the world! My kids and I bike to school passing the best preserved temple in antiquity, the Pantheon, and then peddle past one of Rome’s most modern museums, Richard Meier’s Are Pacis Museum next to the 2000 year old Mausoleum of Augustus (currently under restoration, slated for a 2019 opening).

Are the upcoming generations interested in classical studies? How do you drive that interest? I’d say that the next gens are definitely interested in the classics but perhaps less conventionally. While less and less are majoring in Latin and Greek, they are absorbing classical studies directly and indirectly through film and television series like Gladiator, Game of Thrones, The Young Pope, as well as fashion, gaming and especially travel. All of this confirms to me that the classics, that history, the art and architecture, those characters and stories, are ever inspiring. Taking that into consideration, the field as a whole (from languages to art and archaeology) is definitely shrinking needs to reboot- reinvent itself, for wider appeal, at the same time staying true to its core objectives and values. I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic—from social media like YouTube and Instagram Stories, to better, interactive tech.

An excavation is a collaborative team effort as history. Arya works side by side with trained specialists and experts in their field such as forsensicsanthropologist Pier Paolo Petroni (shown) who helps put the pieces of history together. Courtesy of Darius Arya.

You were one of the first archaeologists to have an active voice on social media, and you won an award for it (2017 Periscoper of the Year). Will you share with us why social media is so important to archaeology, classical studies and architecture? Visual storytelling, an essential component of social media, is integral to archaeologist and historians. It brings the audience directly to the material culture. I’m lucky to be in Rome, hands down one of the most photogenic cities in the world. From the first time I signed up, it made sense and was easy to share images and live streams from the ancient world via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s more than just a good photo—it’s an opportunity to expand and share knowledge and insights, and interact directly with a global audience that has questions and wants to learn. My hashtags #recycledhistory (a focus on the continual evolution and reuse of ancient materials) and #romeawayfromrome (modern and contemporary architecture with classical architectonic elements from a Palladian home to 1920s theatre or Wall Street architecture) may not trend but they create new discussions and connections of the various facets of classical studies. The results of my efforts on social media really show that the classics, in all its rich, interdisciplinary fields, is alive and well in a contemporary setting. History, art, architecture, and the people of the past that created it all, are engaging protagonists on a variety of platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Facebook). As those sites evolved and change, I’ve adapted as well, having just now launched a new podcast Travel: In Situ. Delivery and engagement is bound to continue to change and evolve, and I intend to stay with or ahead of the curve in the discussion. 

Gondolas, Markets, Campi and More: Don’t Miss the Top 10 Things to Do in Venice

Visiting Piazza San Marco is a must. (Photo: Getty Images)

Visiting Piazza San Marco is a must. (Photo: Getty Images)

This article first appeared in Bonvoy, March 2019.

Venice is magic: a floating city caught up in the waves of modernity yet resisting the undertow of about-face change; a mind-bending, misleading labyrinth that always brings you to exactly where you didn’t know you wanted to be; and an interactive time capsule that manages to place you in 21st-century Italy and the 15th-century Venetian Republic at the exact same time.

It is a beautiful contradiction and a rebellious landscape of countless canals, narrow calle (streets), romantic palaces and wide-open campi (squares) where nothing is ever what it first appears. Since it’s just as easy to fall in love with “La Serenissima” as it is to get lost, here are our top 10 things to do and see in Venice.

Stand in Piazza San Marco and Climb the Campanile

St. Mark’s Square is Venice’s iconic landmark. It’s a vast piazza lined on three sides with 15th-century palaces and the beautiful Italo-Byzantine St. Mark’s Basilica on the fourth, and just standing in the middle of the square will give you an idea of the incredible riches and power of the former Venetian Republic’s heyday.

But as any Venetian knows, viewing the city is really all about perspective. It’s not about how you stand, but where you stand.

Climb the Campanile, the 320-foot free-standing bell tower in the Piazza’s southeastern corner, possibly the city’s best perch for a bird’s-eye view of the square and surrounding islands. For a little less effort, head to the Basilica’s balcony for a center stage view into the piazza.

Pro tip: Avoid on-the-hour visits or those bell tolls will drive you out of your mind.

Behind the Scene and Screams of the Doge’s Palace

Just behind the Campania, and facing the open waters of the Venetian Lagoon, is the Palazzo Ducale, the residence of the Doge, the chief magistrate and leader of the Republic of Venice.

For 400 years, the Doge’s Palace was the seat of Venetian government, as well as command center for all trade and commerce across the Mediterranean waters.

The palace’s Gothic exterior hides a labyrinth of rooms, from residence halls and courts to prisons and torture chambers. And this is where Casanova allegedly was held until his victorious escape.

Pro tip: Skip the queue and sign up for a private tour of the Secrets of the Doge’s Palace.

Get Lost at Libreria Acqua Alta

Photo: Getty Images

Considered one of, if not the, prettiest bookstores in the world, the Libreria Acqua Alta (Bookstore of High Water) is a whimsical secondhand bookshop tucked away in a back alley of Castello sestiere(district), which you can enter on foot or, more interestingly, by boat.

Its number of overstuffed rooms are stacked wall to wall with books, magazines, maps and other ephemera placed in shelves, bathtubs, bins and even a gondola.

Pro tip: You can wind your way through the Castello sestiere to get there or sneak in the back entrance — reachable by gondola — only if you take a water taxi.

Break Away to Burano

Photo: Getty Images

Venice is an archipelago of 118 small islands, each with its own distinct personality. If you want to avoid the throngs of tourists visiting Murano (known for its glass blowing), you’ll find that just a 40-minute water bus ride from San Marco is the city’s most colorful isle, Burano, which is known for its vibrantly hued houses — a patchwork of colors that brightens up any day and Instagram feed — as well its centuries-old traditional lace work.

Pro tip: Make like a local and head to a Burano bakery and ask for a bussolà, a donut-shaped cookie typically flavored with vanilla, rum or lemon.

Scale the Spiral Scala Contarini del Bovolo

Venice’s secrets are usually hidden in plain sight; you just have to know how to find them. Head to Palazzo Contarini, and along the way meander the side streets of Rialto, near Campo Manin. You’ll eventually arrive at an ornate palace showcasing Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine styles, with an external tower attached to the facade, vaguely reminiscent of Pisa’s famous tower.

The elaborate arcaded tower is actually an open-air spiral staircase, or bovolo (Venetian dialect for “snail”), and after walking up the 80 steps to a domed lookout, you’ll have a private view of the rooftops of Venice.

Pro tip: Bring a camera; the bovolo is decidedly Insta-worthy.

Binge at a Bacaro

Venetians have fine-tuned snacking to an art form. Across the city are tiny bacari, typically rustic wine bars where, for a few euros, you can enjoy a glass of local wine with a taste of the owner’s cicchetti(delectable, homemade snacks) while standing at the bar.

Essentially, it’s Venice’s clever and very delicious version of wine tasting on the go. The idea is to enjoy a few glasses and taste a few snacks while catching up with friends and then move on to the next.

Pro tip: Save your appetite for Cantinone Gìa Schiavi, an 80-year-old outpost in the university-area Dorsoduro noted for incredibly creative crostini and cicchetti.

Catch up with Contemporary Art

Every two years, Venice becomes the global center of contemporary art with La Biennale di Venezia, a six-month-long art fair that takes over the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale shipyard and spills across the island with arty events.

Pro tip: Bring a great pair of shoes and plan to dedicate at least two days to art hopping.

Gondola Ride at Night

Photo: Getty Images

There is nothing quite like exploring Venice by water, but with daytime traffic from tourists and local deliveries, the very best time to catch a true sense of the floating city is in the evening.

Venice’s gondoliers are ubiquitous, standing at the sides of canals in their striped blue (or red) shirts, black pants and white sneakers. It’s easy to catch off-duty gondoliers looking for their next ride. Before you go, check out Gondola Venezia, which details prix fixe daytime and evening rates; gondolas can accommodate up to six people.

Pro tip: Avoid the San Marco area and look for your gondolier at Ca’Sagredo (sestiere: Cannareggio) or Campo Dei Frari (sestiere: San Polo).

Make It a Market Morning at Rialto

The Rialto market in San Polo sestiere is one of Italy’s most historic and unforgettable fish markets. Built in 1907, the neo-Gothic loggia has been shacked up with vendors selling their wares for more than a century.

Of course, time doesn’t stand still, and though Rialto remains a vibrant fish market scene, bars, restaurants and boutiques have taken residence.

Pro tip: Take a seat at the market’s canal-facing bars and enjoy an afternoon spritz.

School Yourself on Tintoretto

You can thank a 15th-century confraternity — a group of religious laymen — for funding the creation of a literal wealth of Venetian art. Scuola Grande di San Rocco, as this well-funded brotherhood is still known, commissioned La Serenissima’s favorite painter, Tintoretto, to create a masterpiece of Old Testament and New Testament scenes within their headquarters. And he did.

After 27 years in residence, Tintoretto left the buildings of the Grande Scuola in San Polo almost entirely adorned in his inimitable, monumental paintings.

Pro tip: Tintoretto also decorated the adjacent church, San Rocco.

Rome's Regola: The Foodie Neighborhood You Need to Visit

This Under-the-Radar Neighborhood in Rome Is the Foodie Destination You Need to Visit

Home to not one, but three Michelin-starred restaurants. 

This article was first published in Travel + Leisure, February 2019.

Rome’s centro storico is the city’s beating heart, home to historic monuments, trendy boutiques, and stately palaces. But the bustling neighborhood is more than just a tourist hotspot — it’s where Romans live, work, and most importantly, eat.

In the very center of the dynamic district is Regola, a micro-neighborhood whose culinary delights have managed to stay miraculously under-the-radar — until now. Here, gourmet restaurants take up residence inside grand townhouses, centuries-old churches, and Renaissance palaces. Stand at the crossroads of Vicolo della Moretta, Via dei Banchi Vecchi, and Via del Pellegrino, and you are walking distance from not one, but three Michelin-starred restaurants.

Regola has always been a go-to neighborhood for Roman cuisine, but its emergence as a gourmet epicenter is somewhat of a recent phenomenon. Il Pagliaccio, Antony Genovese’s two-Michelin-star restaurant, arguably started it all. In 2003, the French-born Italian chef was walking along one of Regola's most scenic streets and fell in love with the area’s tucked-away appeal.

“The neighborhood chose me,” says Genovese. “It's in the very center of the city, but removed from the chaos.”

Once Il Pagliaccio opened its doors, Regola saw a deluge of other hot ticket tables, starting with Supplizio, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specializes in elevated Roman street food. Sink into one of the deep leather armchairs and order a few of the restaurant’s best-known bites: supplì (fried rice balls filled with mozzarella and chicken giblets), crema fritta (fried cream custard) and crocchette di patate (potato croquettes).

In 2015, chef Giulio Terrinoni debuted Per Me Giulio Terrinoni on Regola’s ivy-covered Vicolo della Moretta. The Michelin-starred restaurant’s innovative “tappi” (tapas-style snacks) quickly won over the hearts (and stomachs) of epicureans around the city. The seasonal menu changes daily, but sample dishes include cappellacci pasta stuffed with guinea fowl and smoked pecorino and prawn carpaccio with foie gras and red onion jelly.

Pipero Roma has been one of the city’s top fine dining addresses for nearly a decade. In 2017, the restaurant's acclaimed chef, Alessandro Pipero, found another home for the Michelin-star restaurant, on the northeastern edge of Regola.

His main reason: “Gluttony — Regola is the most calorific neighborhood in all of Rome and Lazio.”

The restaurant’s new incarnation occupies a sleek open space, with high ceilings, contemporary art, and elegant arched doorways. The food is as tempting as ever: tamarind-glazed cod with white chocolate and artichokes, oyster linguini dusted with paprika, and passion fruit-topped ricotta risolatte.

Wine lovers will want to make a stop at Enoteca Il Goccetto, a rustic wine bar with over 850 different labels on its wooden shelves, while cocktail enthusiasts should grab a tipple at The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, a retro-styled bar that serves a mean Blue Blazer (essentially a Hot Toddy made with high-proof scotch).

If your visit falls on the last Sunday of the month, you won't want to missBiomercato, an outdoor market that sells fresh fruit, local produce, and cured meats. Take home a souvenir from your foodie detour by stocking up on organic honey and olive oil from Lazio producers. 

Uncorked: Sarah May Grunwald talks Lazio wines

Wine.  I drink it, I love it, and I don’t really know much about it.  Enter Sarah May Grunwald, my friend and personal wine mentor who is always there when I need a great bottle, on site and in-the-cantina research and yes, especially when I need make sure that I know what I am drinking, and talking/writing about. Sarah is a walking encyclopedia of vineyards and vintners, a DOCG demi-goddess,  and most importantly a hands-on gardener who gets into the dirt for wine, spirits and food.  Sarah and I have talked wine for years, and now Sarah will share her wine brain and take us into the vineyards on CiaoBella.

Hey, who are you? I’m a new world girl, a native Californian born to Australian parents. I’ve lived in Italy for 15 years, but I started becoming a wine lover long before that when I lived in south Australia for university.  South Australia is one of the main wine regions in the country and my roommates were studying enology, wine culture and viticulture in general. That was my first introduction to wine that went beyond picking up wine out of a fridge out of a 7/11.

Don’t you have a lot of wine education? I have a certification as a sommelier through Associazione Italiana Sommelier.  I study wine with Sandro SanGiorgi at Porthos Racconta and I’m currently a diploma* student at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust WSET. It is difficult and I have to study a lot as it encompasses the entire world of wine whereas sommelier certificate was mostly Italian wines which helped me for what I want to do because I find that outside of Italy wine education Is does very poorly with Italian wine- they don’t give you enough education about the diversity in Italian wines so have both international education and Italian wine education. *The diploma is one of the highest levels of wine expertise, follwing the Masters of Wine, aka the most prestigious wine qualification.

So if you were to continue with a Masters of Wine, would I call you Madame or Mistress of Wine?  You can call me Mistress of Wine now.

Darius Arya leans into Sarah May for TRAVEL: In Situ

Let’s talk about wine, more specifically what is so important to you about Lazio wines? Well, I live here. I live in Castelli Romani and I am surrounded by vines. When I first moved here, I started really appreciating the work that goes into the finished products that’s in the glass. It’s really poetic- its work that people do to convey a natural setting- very hard work, little reward except the alcohol and yet every glass is different.  My passion is simply because I am local. It goes along with my life philosophy- how I eat, how I shop, what I do, everything comes from within 20 miles from where I live.  I do drink wines outside of Lazio but on a day to day basis I drink Lazio wines.

What’s the most expensive wine you’ve ever purchased? I don’t want Ettore [her husband] to hear  this. . .  You know, Italy has something that a lot of other countries don’t - you can drink really well and not spend a lot.  I don’t remember how much it cost but the most expensive wine I bought was a bottle of Fiorano from the 1970s, which is a Lazio wine made near Ciampino.

It seems like everyone is talking about Lazio wines.  I just had dinner in Milan who surprised us by picking Silene, a Cesanese - not just because we live in Lazio.  The wine industry is very prone to trends, just like any other industry.  Right now, everyone is drinking Cesanese, comes from southeast of Rome.  It’s like with the Georgia wines, why are we are seeing them?  They [Tourism boards] are bringing sommeliers to taste the wines and they like them.  You aren’t just going to find them.

For people like me who really enjoy wine but have no wine memory, how should we drink?  Find wines that you like and keep drinking them... and also leave room for experimentation! 

It’s no fun if you’re not sharing a bottle with Sarah, so lift your glasses with my favorite encyclopedia and Darius Arya on  Travel: In Situ, Darius’ peripatetic podcast going on site for history, culture and travel (iTunes, SoundCloud and everywhere else you download your podcasts).  Join Episode 6 “I’ll Drink to That” where Dariusand Sarah drink up history and Lazio.  Line up these Lazio reds to taste along:

Casale dela Ioria

Sete Freaky

Ortaccio Rosso

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Sarah May Grunwald is a certified Sommelier, former professor of wine and current WSET Diploma candidate.  She goes knee-deep into Lazio wines on Guild Somm, and contributes wine, food, culture and travel articles  to Wine Chronicles, Eat Sip Trip, Veg News, Curiosity Magazine, Wine Sofa, Culture Trip, World Footprints and more.  Sarah curates and leads wine-centric excursions and experiences in Italy, and is founder of Taste Georgia, cultural consulting and itineraries in everyone’s favorite former Eastern bloc country Georgia.  Follow her on Instagram @Sarah_May G.

13 Best Things to Do in Florence

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There's never a question of what to do in Florence; rather, it's a question of how much and when. With its varied selection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and storied sites, the Tuscan town has something for everyone, from contemporary art buffs and super foodies to sports fans and serious shoppers. To experience the city to its fullest, you only need to step out into the street. Here, a list of our must-sees to narrow down your itinerary.

- This article originally appeared in CN Traveler, January 2019.

Ilaria Costanzo/Courtesy Explore Florence — The Oltrarno: History + Artisans

Explore Florence: The Oltrarno, History + Artisans

This ultra-professional walking tour kicks off in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It's best for those wanting to learn more about Florence's artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that's in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it's a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance. The guide, Alexandra, is knowledgeable and passionate.

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Bargello Museum

Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures is housed in the Bargello, a former prison and an austere medieval fortress. The museum’s architecture alone is worth the visit—beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and a dramatic courtyard—but the big draw is its blockbuster names. Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.


Stadio Artemio Franchi

The hub for soccer in the city, Stadio Artemio Franchi is the stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence's Serie A soccer team. Serie A is Italy's top soccer league, so you're guaranteed to see the country's best teams compete here. It's also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams' more rabid fans.

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Giardino Bardini

Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini has a pergola-covered stairwell leading up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It's the perfect pit-stop if you're sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn't present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi, an illustrious collection of who's who in priceless Renaissance art, is a Florence must-see. Plus, thanks to a curatorial investment by director Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi is slowly modernizing its approach. The newly arranged Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room, now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters; the re-opened Room 35, meanwhile, is dedicated to Leonardo and displays three paintings originally created for churches. Upgrading the experience further is a new reservation system, where visitors take a timed ticket from one of seven machines outside the museum and come back later to explore, without ever having to wait in line.

Aquaflor Firenze.

AquaFlor Firenze

The yesteryear atelier is one of those beautiful finds that make you feel like you're actively involved in creating not just a scent, but Florentine history, as you sniff through the unparalleled collection of raw materials, essential oils, and scents. With the help of Sileno Cheloni, the nose of Aquaflor, you're led through olfactory discovery to create a perfume that's personalized just for you.

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Palazzo Strozzi

One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its Carsten Holler’s latest experimental piece or an Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.

Francesca Pagliai/Courtesy Tuscany Again

Tuscany Again: Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art Tour

Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art is a personal tour designed specifically for those interested in modern art in and around Florence. Expert guides plan bespoke itineraries based on travelers' preferences, leading intimate groups to futuristic buildings and offering their take on the collections within. Most notable: the architecture itself as well as the survey of Arte Povera, Italy's art movement of the 1960s. Transport is included and reservations are required.

Gucci Garden

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is always pushing the limits, and this time he blurs the lines between monument and merchant at Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is Michele’s colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.

Collezione Roberto Casamonti

Open to the public, the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcases about 250 works of modern and contemporary art from his personal collection of more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It's a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn't draw a ton of visitors, so it's easy to walk around. In fact, you'll likely have a room entirely to yourself.

Antonio Quattrone/Courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous and large new museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti's doors, Michelangelo's The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.

Silvio Palladino/Courtesy Curious Appetite

Curious Appetite: Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour

Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour of Florence kicks off at a given meeting point in Piazza della Repubblica or via dei Tornabuoni. The custom tours are private or small group and are tailored to your preferences—say, a particular liquor or cocktail. You'll visit multiple cafés and bars on foot. Reservations are required, but you can book as late as 24 hours in advance.

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Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They're a great stop if you're short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They'll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person, are required.