I Vestiti dei Sogni: Italian Costume Designers and the Silver Screen


I am going to make this very brief. If you are in Rome, or planning to be here before March 22, go to Palazzo Braschi for I Vestiti dei Sogni RIGHT NOW .  If you like fashion, film and Audrey Hepburn, you need to see this exhibit celebrating Italian costume designers incuding Piero Tosi, Gabriella Pescucci, Milena Canonero (she just want another Academy Award!) and Danilo Donati.  From avant garde ancient Rome to Audrey Hepburn, the costumes are beautiful and showcase the very best of Italian design and creativity.  There are a few bonuses-- Elizabeth Taylor's gold shoes from Cleopatra and my personal favorite, the dresses from Age of Innocence.  I'm sharing my highlights, including a shot of my mom as an extra in the film Age of Innocence.  (My mom wore Gabriella Pescucci's hand made dresses that were originally intended for Winona Ryder. I guess Winona didn't like them?).

Bread, Love and Dreams
Bread, Love and Dreams
Age of Innocence
Age of Innocence

Sunday in Milan



*Giorgio strolling Via Monte Napoleone this morning.

Though I love Rome's fashionable and financially astute sister in the North, I visit Milan visit with the frequency of the fiscal calendar's quarterly reports.  About once a season, day-trip or a few night stay-over.  Most of the time, I am as focused as on-floor trader with the things I have to get done.  I run in and run out out of taxis, trains and appointments but recently I've decided I just need a few Sundays in Milan to [pretend that I] live here.

It's sunny, it's raining, it's cold, it's hot.  It doesn't matter. I have an unstoppable routine. Milan's vintage trams- I hop on a tram to Via Monte Napoleone, the fashion high street.  Thankfully it's early, the shops are closed and the neighborhood residents are fabulously dog-walking or strolling.  It feels like that scene from 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmations, or an en plein air/street style cat walk. I spy white-on-black-velvet and I'm pretty sure it is Giorgio Armani. Why not? His hotel is around the corner and he is Milan incarnate.

The Brera.


Thanks to the requisite Art History 101 class and a painting by Andrea Mantegna, the Brera gallery became a second home that I have to stop by every time I am in Milan or I feel guilty.  Sala VII: A gallery shuffling and renovation placed Mantegna's Il Cristo Morto ~ The Lamentation of Christ, (1480s) at the end of a hallway in Sala VII-- a room of its own, a dark cave--  hanging at knee level.  Eery and mesmerizing.

Sala VIII, or as I like to call it, The Room of Looking at Monumentally Big Paintings.  This room is my second favorite for watching people watching art and then also for me to take a long breath to enjoy painting.   Gentile e Giovanni Bellini's La predica di S. Marco ad Alessandria (Sermon of St. Mark of Alexandria) is the center piece- and I love entering from the main hall but since the new setting of the Mantegna, I suggest chronological order-  just for shock effect of dark and light/ tiny and huge.

Sala XVIII: The restoration lab. This is another reason why I love the Brera-- a glimpse into the technical, painstaking and painterly process of restoration.

~ Coreggio, Crivelli, Pisano, Zenale, oh my!  I make my way through the XXs to Sala XXIV, low lit and kind of sparse. I'm looking for Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, Rafael Sanzio and Donato Bramante. [No photo would do justice] ~

Sala XXIV: A Caravaggio party ~ Luca Giordano, Orazio Gentileschi, Carracciolo and of course, Michelangelo Merisi and Supper at Emmaus (1606).  There is no elbow room where there is a Caravaggio painting.

Sala XXXVII:  That seafoam blue, those white arches, those chairs!... and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo's Fiumana (1897), a pre-painting to his famous Il Quarto Stato, a painting that I have been obsessed with since 1992 which now hangs in the Museo del Novecento.

I'm done. I'm out. I need to think. So I sit myself down at the crossroads of art and fashion, the corner of Great Paintings and Gucci, aka Bar Brera and I pull out the FT's weekend insert. Really. And then I start people watching. I'm in Milan and it's Sunday.

Thank you, Principe di Savoia for giving me the opportunity to enjoy a care-free Sunday in Milan, before a few long days of work. The Ambassador Suite has been the perfect haven and hideaway to get back to.

Florence vs. Rome, Yahoo City Smackdown

This originally appeared in Yahoo Travel on Wednesday,  August 27, 2014.

City Smackdown: Florence vs. Rome

Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival destinations against each other to determine once and for all which one is the best. Today, an Italian-flavored Smackdown: Florence vs. Rome. 


By Nicky Swallow 


In this corner: Florence (Photo: Andrea Zanchi/E+/Getty Images)

One of the world’s great art repositories, Florence proudly holds its own against Rome in spite of its diminutive size. Florence is so much more than just museums and monuments, and foodies, fashionistas, and fans of the good life will all be blown away by this compact gem of a city. You can walk almost everywhere that’s worth going, and thanks to our ex-mayor (now prime minister) Matteo Renzi, central Florence boasts one of the largest traffic-free urban areas in Europe, so you don’t have to contend with the fume-belching buses and bumper-to-bumper jams that are a constant in Rome. And if you want to combine your city break with a day in the country, a 10-minute drive will have you surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. It can take hours to escape from Rome…

Population: 377,000.

Famous Faces: The Gucci family. The Ferragamo family. Roberto Cavalli. Matteo Renzi (Italian PM).

Related: 67 & Dumped: Photo Bombing in Florence, Italy


Piazza della Repubblica, one of the architectural marvels you’ll see in Florence (Photo: Glowimages/Getty Images)

World-Class Art: Often dubbed “The Cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence has a concentration of fabulous art packed into a small space that is second to none. The Uffizi Gallery houses one of the world’s greatest collections of paintings (think iconic images such as Botticelli’s “Primavera” and Rosso Fiorentino’s lute-playing putto);the Galleria dell’Accademia is home to “David,” the most famous nude statue on the planet; and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo lists Ghiberti’s great bronze “Doors of Paradise” among its treasures. The churches are stuffed full of fabulous frescoes, and the streets and piazzas are lined with elegant palaces and architectural masterpieces such as Il Duomo, the Ospedale degli Innocenti and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. You could stay in Florence a month and still not see it all.


Looking at art on a scooter: there’s nothing more Florence than that (Photo: Sofie Delauw/Cultura/Getty Images)

Popular Way to Get Around Town: On foot. Florence is a small city, and you will find that nearly everywhere you want to go is contained within the compact Centro Storico. Bicycles are another good option (pick one up at Santa Maria Novella train station). But if you want to do it the Florentine way, rent a scooter from Alinari. Tired feet? Hop on one of the Lilliputian, eco-friendly bussini specially designed to negotiate the narrow streets in the center of town. Tickets cost €1,20 and are available from newsstands, bars, and tobacconists’ shops.


Go ahead and call the Four Seasons “palatial.” It’s in a palace (Photo: Firenze CB/Flickr)

Sleep Tight: It may be small, but the Renaissance City has a wide variety of accommodation options that range from five-star hotels offering in-your-face luxury to B&B gems in family-owned palazzi. Top-of-the-pile options include the Four Seasons, housed in a Renaissance palace and set in the largest private garden in the city, and the St. Regis, which boasts rooms overlooking the Arno. Then there is the new, immaculately stylish riverside Ferragamo Portrait Suites, which is set to give the other top boutique contender, J.K. Place, a run for its money. The Rocco Forte-owned Hotel Savoy is a good choice if you want a supercentral location, and the Helvetia & Bristol offers old-school service and a retro atmosphere. For something a little more intimate, try Palazzo Galletti or the Loggiato dei Serviti, which occupy old palazzi. Or to get away from it all, book into the funky, minimalist Riva Lofts, a complex of converted artisan workshops on the south bank of the Arno, a 20-minute walk from town.


Sorry, Milan. Florence takes a backseat to no Italian city when it comes to style (Photo: Thinkstock)

Fashion Pulse: Milan may grab the headlines when it comes to the catwalk, but Florence is traditionally the home of moda Italiana. Italy’s first fashion show was held in Florence in 1951. The Florentines are proud of their long artisan heritage, and their fashion sense is based firmly on quality and craftsmanship. During your time in the Renaissance City, you will be surrounded by beautifully dressed men and women oozing an innate sense of style and elegance, even when they are dressed in their sweats. It’s no coincidence that some of Italy’s top labels are Florentine: Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Pucci, and, of course (by adoption), Ferragamo.

Fabulous Food: Simple, earthy, and satisfying, traditional Florentine cuisine is based on seasonal local ingredients prepared with lashings of peppery Tuscan olive oil. Meals start with hearty bread, bean, and veg combos such as ribollita and pappa al pomodoro or pasta sauced with hare or wild boar. Next up is the city’s famous signature dish, bistecca alla Fiorentina, a vast T-bone eaten almost raw. Family-run Il Latini and subterranean Buca Lapi are good places to sample traditional dishes. In a hurry? Street food Florentine style means tripe and lampredotto (cow intestines), so man up and join the locals at one of the mobile trippaio stalls in the city center.


Lampredotto is not vegan (yzhelen/Flickr)

Great Escapes: The classic day trip from Florence takes you south into the famous wine-growing region of Chianti. Need more art? Siena, Arezzo, Lucca, and Pisa all have magnificent churches and museums and are within easy reach of Florence. Beach bums should head west to the strip of coast known as the Versilia, where neat rows of deck chairs, sun beds, and parasols occupy the wide swaths of sand.


The vineyards in Tuscany are a great detour from Florence (Photo: peter zelei/E+/Getty Images)

The Aperitivo Trail: The pre-dinner aperitivo craze hit Italy (and Florence) some years ago. The coolest way to start an evening out here is to head for one of the city’s buzzy bars, order an Aperol spritz (a Venetian cocktail of Aperol and prosecco), and dig into the buffet spread. In some places this just means a variety of nuts, chips, and olives, but others lay on a feast of hot and cold dishes. Up-market bars such as the East-West Fusion at the Gallery Hotel and the superelegant Atrium Bar at the Four Seasons bring an elegant selection of nibbles to your table; at rooftop bars SE.STO at the Westin Excelsior and La Terrazza at the Hotel Continentale, you get 360-degree views of the city with your drinks; Oltrarno shabby-chic stalwart Cabiria serves up a particularly generous buffet, while at Negroni, you get art and photography exhibits with your lethal Negroni cocktail. Favorite hang-out in laid-back Piazza Santo Spirito is Volume, an ex-woodcarver’s workshop, where the food offerings include delicious buckwheat crepes.


Start your evening off right with a Aperol spritz (Darren Milligan & Brad Ireland/Flickr)

City on Celluloid: “I Vitelloni” (Federico Fellini, 1953), “Obsession” (Brian de Palma, 1976), “A Room With a View” (James Ivory, 1986), “Tea With Mussolini” (Franco Zeffirelli, 1999), “Hannibal” (Ridley Scott, 2001).

Born in London, Nicky Swallow moved to Florence for three months in 1981 to play the viola in the opera orchestra and never left. She has been writing about travel, food, wine, and life in Florence and the rest of Italy for 15 years, contributing to guidebooks for Frommer's, Time Out, Dorling Kindersley, and Insideout. She is the Florence expert for and and a regular contributor to Condé Nast Traveller (UK) and The Guardian.


A Room With a View (Photo: Mary Evans/Merchant Ivory/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)


By Erica Firpo


And in this corner: Rome (Photo: John Harper/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Everyone loves a weekend visit to Florence, but what everyone really wants is to live in Rome. Rome is a chaotic convergence of beauty, history, culture, and conflict. For nearly 3,000 years, the city has fostered an amazing roll of artists and architects, actors and scientists, poets and politicians, with just the necessary amount of humor to make the good, bad, and ugly practically perfect. And within the last decade, Rome has worked to reinvent itself into a mecca for 21st-century culture and culinary delights, unveiling new contemporary museums, opening new restaurants, and renovating historic spaces. Its undeniable and best personality trait is independence, reflected in all its niche neighborhoods, like Testaccio, Monti, Trastevere, and even the historic center and Borgo.  And for that, Rome embraces you like a small town. In other words, it’s a 21st-century capital city with a hometown vibe.

Population:  2.8 million.

Famous Faces: What more could you want than the pope and Francesco Totti? After that, everyone else is just an extra. Other fabulous Rome residents include fashion’s Fendi sisters, Gucci’s Frida Giannini, and Valentino. The silver screen’s Willem Dafoe, Ralph Fiennes, Raoul Bova, Gabriele Muccino, Sophia Loren, and Paolo Sorrentino also live here.


Rome has Sophia Loren. Game over (Photo: isifa/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

World-Class Art: While masterpieces and monuments may be on almost every corner, church, and piazza, Rome is definitely not stuck in the past.  The city has an endless amount of museums, collections, and cultural sites covering a range of eras and genres from ancient to avant-garde.  Off the bat, Rome has bragging rights to underground first-century houses, a chapel decorated by Michelangelo, a tiny villa by Raphael, a collection of Caravaggio paintings, and a 21st-century climbable monument by the Starn Brothers. Must-sees include the Vatican Museums,Capitoline Museums, and Palazzo Massimo. Contemporary art and architecture aficionados will want to walk through Richard Meier’s Museum of the Ara Pacis, Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI (21st-century art), and the neoclassical National Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery.  And that’s just the beginning.

Related: 67 & Dumped: on Her Own in Rome


One of the countless lovely sights you’ll see in Rome: the staircase in the Vatican Museums (Photo: Boccalupo Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images)

Popular Way to Get Around Town: Foot, taxi, and even public transportation are the most efficient, while the brave will opt for bikes and scooters.

Sleep Tight: With last year’s opening of the J.K. Place and Gran Meliá,  Rome’s hotels have upped their game. The Hassler unleashed an amazing penthouse suite that rightfully boasts the best view of the city, while the always-desirable Hotel de Russie remains tops for its bonus concierge services and flawless style. I love the more intimate luxe of the Art Deco Palazzo Manfredi, plus its rooftop view of the Colosseum can’t be beat. My wallet adores the charming Locanda San Pancrazio.


The Palazzo Manfredi isn’t bad to look at, but you can see an even more famous site from its roof ( Photo: Dan Shaw/Flickr)

Fashion Statement: Roman style is all about the three S’s — sunglasses, sparkles, and shoes, for men and women alike. Whatever the walk of life, Romans never leave home without good hair, pressed clothing, bright colors, and an outgoing personality.


(Photo: 4FR/Vetta/Getty Images)

Fabulous Food: Roman food is best known as cucina povera, a basic “poor” cuisine made from cooking staples and leftovers, giving us unforgettable caciopepeamatriciana, and carbonara pastas that can be found in every trattoria and osteria. Over the years, the city has undergone a food revolution — slow food and street food make table appearances, while the city makes room for a galaxy of Michelin stars, including the three-star La Pergola, two two-stars, and 12 one-stars. My favorites are street-food pick-me-up Trapizzino, fritti from Cesare al Casaletto, and Pipero al Rex for a fabulous carbonara with a Michelin star.


A street food pick-me-up from Trapizzino (Coso/Flickr)

Related: Avoid the Tourist Traps and Dine at These Mouth-Watering Destinations in Rome

Great Escapes: If you really think you need to leave Rome, hill towns like Tivoli and Frascati; lakes like Martignano and Bracciano; and beaches like Fregene, Maccarese, and Ostia are just a 30-to-45-minute escape.  Most are reachable by local train or bus, but some require a car.


The hill town of Tivoli, about 20 miles from Rome (Thinkstock)

The Aperitivo Trail:  Florence doesn’t have a monopoly on the aperitivo scene. In Rome, it’s an integral part of Roman daily life. Hotel de Russie’s garden bar is the prettiest location for afternoon aperitivi. If the weather is warm, you’ll want to head to a rooftop, and the best views and great drinks are from the hotel terraces of Dom and the American Bar at the Hotel Forum. For serious drinks, step into the tiny speakeasy Jerry Thomas Project, dressed-up dive bar Barnum (with Rome’s best bartender), and D.O.M.’s ground-floor bar, a sexy and intimate backdrop with amazing and expensive cocktails.


Enjoy the view at Hotel Forum (Photo: Space Hotels/Flickr)

The Celluloid City: Florence has done okay but it does not match Rome’s status as one of the great film settings. Fellini showed off its never-a-dull moment nature in “La Dolce Vita” (1960), and Audrey Hepburn embodied its beauty in “Roman Holiday” (William Wyler, 1953). From comedic slice of life to picturesque period pieces, and ancient history to sci-fi and mystery, every generation and genre has filmed in the city: “Ben-Hur” (William Wyler, 1959), “Spartacus” (Stanley Kubrick, 1960), “The Conformist” (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970), “Mahogany” (Berry Gordy, 1975), “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (Anthony Minghella, 1999), “Gladiator” (Ridley Scott, 2000), “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” (Walt Disney Pictures, 2003), “Ocean’s Twelve” (Steven Soderbergh, 2004), “Romanzo Criminale” (Michele Placido, 2005), “Mission: Impossible III” (J.J. Abrams, 2006), “Angels & Demons” (Ron Howard, 2009), “Eat Pray Love” (Ryan Murphy, 2010), “To Rome With Love” (Woody Allen, 2012).

Rome-based Erica Firpo likes to cross lines between art and culture, writing about art, lifestyle, fashion, and food for a variety of magazines, books, and online publications. She is a contributing editor to Fathom and is a regular contributor to Forbes Travel, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel, Discovery Magazine, and ANSA.

The AFAR Guide to Milan


Everyone knows that I love Milan, even if sometimes I keep it on the down low. Well, I've teamed up with AFAR for a guide to the city that sometimes never sleeps but not on weekends.... Take a peek to my guide to Milan for AFAR.....!

Milan is Italy’s quiet triple threat—capital of fashion, finance, and design. Begin at the heart of the city in the Piazza del Duomo; the rest radiates outward in a mosaic of neighborhoods where history, art, and fashion overlap. Walk around the tony Brera neighborhood and peruse the shops of the Fashion Quadrilateral, literally a rhomboid dedicated to the world’s best designers. Head to Navigli for a cocktail when the sun is about to set. Wander the Isola neighborhood for homegrown designers and unique boutiques. By night, Milan’s marble and modern architecture is incandescent, so between aperitivi, make sure to stop and take it all in.

Spending Two Perfect Days in Milan


Spending Two Perfect Days In Milan


This article first appeared in Forbes Travel in April 2014

By Correspondent Erica FirpoSpending Two Perfect Days In Milan - Forbes Travel GuideMilan

Milan may be Italy’s fashion capital, but don’t let its reputation for style distract you — the northern city is home to some of the country’s best art galleries and museums for modern and contemporary art. On top of that, it’s quietly hosting a burgeoning restaurant renaissance as well. With only 48 hours to explore it all, here’s the best way to sample a bit of everything.

Spending Two Perfect Days In Milan - Forbes Travel Guide


Day One

The first thing you’ll want to do upon arrival is park your bags at the fabulous Hotel Principe di Savoia — don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the luxurious property a bit later — and grab a set of wheels from BikeMi, Milan’s citywide bike-sharing program (sign up in advance), to go over to the Piazza del Duomo. The Museo del Novecento there has an incredible collection of Italian art from the late 1880s to the end of the 20th century. Keep your eyes out for The Quarto Stato, the epic Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo painting that sets the stage for Italy’s turn-of-the-century social revolution. After admiring the pieces, make your way to the Duomo, Milan’s gothic cathedral, before 6 p.m., for a walk (or elevator ride) up to the rooftop to view the city and take in a sunset through the 18th-century spires.

Once you freshen up back at your room, head out for an evening in Navigli, Milan’s nightlife neighborhood of quaint canals, great cocktail bars and amazing restaurants. Carlo e Camilla in Segheria is the area’s latest dish. The shabby-chic spot — with long family-style tables illuminated by Venetian chandeliers — is in a former woodworking factory. Acclaimed chef Carlo Cracco created an enviable menu of contemporary Italian cuisine that includes dishes such as spaghetti alici, lime e caffè (spaghetti with anchovies, green onions, lime and coffee), and riso al salto, acqua di pomodoro, stracciatella e basilico (a kind of flipped risotto with tomato, stracciatella cheese and basil). Navigli is charming, so walk around the area for more neighborhood flavor before finally making your way to Mag Cafè, a place known for top-notch cocktails from bartenders Flavio and Matteo.

Spending Two Perfect Days In Milan - Forbes Travel Guide

Hotel Principe di Savoia

Day Two

If you’re an early riser, head to Principe di Savoia’s rooftop fitness area, Club 10, for a morning run, swim or sauna. Keep in mind, Club 10 has a spa that offers face and body treatments — the reflex zone massage sounds especially appealing after so much walking the day before — that will be great for an afternoon relaxation session. If you are ready for breakfast, the hotel’s ground-floor restaurant, Acanto, overflows with delicious foods, including local jams and honey, breads and salmon. Acanto’s chefs are also in tune with guests who have dietary concerns.

For a glimpse at 1930s Milan, trek over to Villa Necchi, a beautiful private-home-turned-museum designed by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi, and used as a backdrop in Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love. After taking in the sights, head over to your noon appointment at Santa Maria della Grazie to see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece Il Cenacolo (The Last Supper). You must make a reservation to see the mural. Visits last only 15 minutes so, if you are a serious art aficionado, book two back-to-back sessions. If it’s a sunny day, plan to picnic in Parco Sempione. Otherwise, have pranzo (lunch) at LadyBù, a great bistro with a focus on mozzarella along with traditional risotto and pasta.

Of course, there is no Milan without fashion, so plan on spending the entire afternoon walking around Via Montenapoleone and the surrounding streets. This is the city’s fashion epicenter with haute couture’s favorite names (Gucci, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo) running up and down the manicured roads.

You’re going to need a break from the shopping eventually. When that happens, step into Cova, one of the city’s oldest cafés and a constant social scene. The desserts are divine (try the budino di riso, or rice pudding) and cocktails are stylish (like the Negroni sbagliato, which swaps prosecco for gin in the classic Italian drink), but you’re there for the people-watching. Note: Cova is cash only so make sure to hit the ATM before arriving.

Swing back to the hotel and make sure to rest up. Dinner will be across town at Wicky’s, a modern Japanese restaurant led by chef Wicky Priyan who, interestingly enough, holds a criminology degree from his home country of Sri Lanka. We know what you are thinking — “A Japanese restaurant from a Sri Lankan chef in Italy?” The fact is that Milan is undergoing a food revolution with a slew of amazing, international restaurants, led by creative chefs, popping up all over. Spend the evening admiring the culinary grace, unless, of course, you have hard-to-score tickets for a production at La Scala.

Photos Courtesy of iStock, Markus Mark and Principe di Savoia

Piazza di Spagna + more: Rome shopping update

[April 28th Update]   Every time I walk through Piazza di Spagna, I smile. The area is finally getting back to its old school vibe as a fashion-lover's mecca. Many of the chintzy shops have disappeared (and no, I don't feel sorry because you can find most of them on Via del Corso and Via dei Giubbonari) and some of fashion's most fabulous are finally taking their rightful places on the square.

And it's about time.  Piazza di Spagna needs to be stylish, hell, Rome needs to be stylish, so yes, I'm all for newcomers Loewe, Acqua di Parma, Pucci, Longchamp, Versace and even Sephora and Nespresso, as well as the coming soon line up of Valentino and Chanel to take a spot in Piazza di Spagna. A new Diesel shop will have a corner, and though I am not 100% thrilled, maybe I can only hope it will have  Chanel and Valentino.

It is hard to believe there is so much turn over and new things happening in Rome's shopping sector. Last year, H&M took over Benetton's flagship on via del Corso, and  a new Armani and renovated Bulgari appeared on via dei Condotti.  Likewise, there is a new Miu Miu and and the "luxury cosmetics" shop Oro Gold. I haven't popped in yet, but I am a bit curious.

Via del Babuino, a street I have often equated to Madison Avenue, is a constant game monopoly-  it still has the staples like Chanel, Gente and Valentino but some of my favorites (like Eleonora have left), making room for Moschino (who windows are always amazing), Fabi (shoes), Boggi and Herve Leger, along with Roy Rogers (?). Around the corner, Via Margutta, Tunisian designer Alaia surprised us all by opening two level shop could just be the only stand-alone boutique in Italy.  Down the road is brand-spanking-new Dalidà, a kind of concept store with a high concentration of shoes from different designers.

Down the Street: Via Borgognona [UPDATED] When asked what my favorite shopping street is in Rome, Via Borgognona is usually the first name out of my mouth.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, the best and beloved shopping streets in Rome are: Via dei Condotti and Via del Babuino (wallet and crowd permitting), Via del Corso ( crowds and kitsch) and Via del Governo Vecchio (uniquey-boutiquey).  But for me, it's always been quiet Borgognona and rumor has it, Borgognona (pronouned Bor-goh-nyo-nah) is about to become the next shopping street in Rome.

Running between the very busy area of Piazza di Spagna/Via del Corso, and Via Frattina/Via dei Condotti, Borgognona is a haven of quiet and class, known for historic Nino (an excellent Tuscan steak house), Renè Caovilla (fairy-tale worthy shoes),old school Eddy Monetti and Brighenti, a personal favorite lingerie shop, and even its very own Gucci boutique, whose specialty is bags and discretion.  Over the past few years, more and more boutiques have snuck onto the street like Ermenegildo Zegna, Moschino and Emilio Pucci -- only to be recycled into blockbusters such as Stella McCartney, Blumarine, and Iro - fabulous French clothing duo.

Other new entires include  Il Bisonte- gorgeous leather bags, Les Copains (in the place of Moschino, which is now on Via del Babuino), Lanificio Colombo- cashmere sweatersFausto Puglisi, and food spots-- Tartufi and Friends  LaDuree and Ginger-- all which all to a great line up that includes Balenciaga, Malo- the delicious cashmere connection, Brunello Cuccinelli- Umbrian country luxury, Nika Nika a mini-concept store with very cute knicknacks and clothing, Sportmax , (MaxMara more "sporty" line if possible), and Marina Rainaldi (impressive because I have always felt that brand was a bit staid).

Renovations, Surprises, Rumors and Coming Soon [Updated] 

Christian Louboutin set up a shop in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, which will also soon [to me, it looks like a matter of days] Rome's first Saint Laurent boutique.  Other recent surprises and rumors include  Coin's amazing reincarnation on Via Cola di Rienzo, and a soon-to-be Rinascente on Via del Tritone, which could be in response to the rumors of a possible Excelsior somewhere in Rome. Supposedly, Fendi is switching things up by moving to EUR, yet retaining the Largo Goldoni location for its furrier.

*Yes, more to come regarding the other triangle Via dei Banchi Vecchi and Via del Governo Vecchio.

December at Piazza di Spagna.

Discover Venice style

This article orginally appeared in the April edition of Discovery Magazine, the award-winning inflight magazine for Cathay Pacific.  

Eat Antiche Carampane

One of Venice’s most popular trattorias, Antiche Carampane is renowned for its delicious fish dishes. Possibly due to its small size, it has what can only be described as an intimate atmosphere. A kind of pied-a-terre for the gastronomically inclined, Carampane immediately feels like you are at home, or in someone else’s, with its exposed kitchen and owner Signora Librai at the service counter. Its menu is exemplary Venetian cuisine, which is why you aren’t hearing English.

LocationSestiere San Polo, 1911, 30125

Phone+39 041 5240165

Photo: Alamy/Argusphoto

Eat Busa alla Torre da Lele

This Murano restaurant is perfect for an afternoon bite after spending all morning at the area’s glass studios. Serving simple fish-based dishes made from seasonal products from the Venetian lagoon, make sure to taste the fritte — fried delicacies such as moeche (lagoon crabs) and calamari e scampi (squid and shrimp).

LocationCampo Santo Stefano 3

Phone+39 041 739662

Eat Osteria del Cason

The owners of Al Cason, a renowned fish restaurant on the nearby mainland, have opened its wine bar/osteria counterpart in the San Toma neighbourhood. Quite possibly the hipster of Venice’s wine bars with its cool design and intimate setting, Del Cason is the perfect spot for a casually romantic night. Keep your eyes on its ciccheti, especially the tris di bacalà — three different versions of the Venetian delicacy.

LocationFondamenta del Forner

Phone+39 041 244 0060

Eat Il Ridotto

Close to Piazza San Marco, the charming Il Ridotto is named in part for its tiny size (ridotto means reduced in Italian), and its ultra-modern vibe. Exposed brick walls and modish Danish furniture provide a beautiful background for its innovative menu, which focuses on seafood along with game such as “lagoon hunting duck”.

LocationCampo SS Filippo e Giacomo, Castello 4509

Phone+39 041 5208280

Photo: Riccardo De Luca

Shop Legatoria Piazzesi

Considered Venice’s oldest paper shop, Piazzesi has been making beautiful, handcrafted marble paper and leather books since 1851. Inside the shop, you can return in time to the turn-of-the-century workroom — choc-a-bloc with paper, accessories and beautiful books, wood blocks, silkscreens and colours.

LocationCampo Santa Maria del Giglio 2511c

Phone+39 041 520 1978

Palazzo Grassi

Photo: Matteo De Fina

Do Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Palazzo Grassi became home to French entrepreneur François Pinault’s personal collection that has progressive contemporary art programming. Across the Grand Canal is Punta della Dogana, the old customs building, renovated by architect Tadao Ando, which showcases more works from Pinault’s collection.

LocationPalazzo Grassi Campo San Samuele, 3231 Punta della Dogana, Dorsoduro, 2
Phone+39 041 523 1680 (Palazzo Grassi) +39 041 271 9031 (Punta della Dogana)

Do Ca’ Rezzonico

Once the private home of the Rezzonico family, the palazzo is now a museum dedicated to 18th-century Venice, with impressive Tiepolo frescoes, particularly in the charming Pulcinella room. The Rezzonico chandelier was created specifically for the piano nobile and several are hanging throughout the palazzo.

LocationDorsoduro, 3136, 30123

Phone+39 041 241 0100

Stay Bauers Hotels

A family-run group with four fabulous hotels in Venice: il Palazzo, a 18th-century palace and its adjacent l’Hotel; Villa F on Giudecca island, a lavish 10-residence palazzo; and the Palladio Hotel & Spa in a Palladio-designed palace. Situated on the Grand Canal and around the corner from St. Mark’s Square, il Palazzo and L’Hotel have a prime location for exploring Venice and its surrounding islands. The hotels are decorated with vintage Seguso glasswork, including a magnificent ceiling creation at l’Hotel’s entrance, and Rezzonico chandeliers on every floor.

Il Peggio o Il Meglio

It seems that each time that I walk through Piazza di Spagna, which is almost every week day morning, and I count the boarded-up shop fronts with signs that read "chiusi" "vendita totale" and "prossimamente" (closed, total sale, coming soon).  I've been watching the piazza developments probably more  anxiously and eager than a helicopter mom watches her brood in Park Slope.  The upcoming line up reads like the front end ads in Vogue:  Sephora, Nespresso, IWC Schaffausen watches, Versace and potentially another Louis Vuitton in place of Barcaccia.

Before we call foul and cry wolf about Piazza di Spagna impersonating Times Square, let's take a look around the square:

Piazza di Spagna is not and never has been cento per cento Romana (100% Roman). The name alone should give a clue.  From the mid Renaissance forward, the French and Spanish bickered, with the French eventually taking reign atop the hill at Villa Medici and Trinita di Monti and the Spanish holding steady with their prime piazza presence.  The piazza itself, and surrounding streets have almost always catered to the international community in Rome.  In fact, the British Tea house Babington's has been on the square since 1893.

It may be all about economics.  Survival of the financial fit.  However, Times Square it is not. Piazza di Spagna is luxury shopping with a broad representation of small and large Italian brands - Missoni, Frette, Sergio Rossi, Moncler, Furla Sermoneta, Alexandra- and non-Italian such as Dior, IWC, Sephora, Camper and Woolrich.   If we must persist in fitting Rome in to the square box of New York terminology, Piazza di Spagna is more like Madison Avenue, with a mix of 5th. (I have to admit I am tired of the comparisons and likewise the never-ending chatter about real Rome- the area has five schools alone and hundreds of families, for realz). What's happening is a growing up where little Bermuda triangles like Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Augusto Imperatore are cohesively and dare I say fashionably coming together as the connecting streets are also upgrading shops and quality.  Yes, there is an influx of non-Italian shopping immigration but  is this really bad?  Isn't part of the appeal and a requirement of a capital city?

The question I was asked by the construction team at the soon-to-be new Barcaccia (yes, it will still be in Piazza di Spagna, just a few doors down), "La piazza sta cambiando per il peggio o il meglio"? (Is the square changing for the better or worse) seems metaphysical. With the elections about to burst and the Pope resigning, Piazza di Spagna may appear to be an insignificant blip on the radar of Italia in crisi.  But it is definitely a reflection of the times.  Piazza di Spagna is changing for the better, which I think is the fading hope for the upcoming elections.  Kind of hope for the best, expect the worse-- an expression that seems to overstay its welcome here.  I've stuck on my new voting sticker and I'm ready for changes.

Writing Rome

Sometimes I feel I am constantly rubbing my eyes to remove yesteryear's grimy patina from a Rome that I know exists in the 21st century.  Rome will always be, at least for now, the Rome of contradictions, attitude and inane traditions, but sometimes I think she wants more.  The landscape is changing, both physically and emotionally, which means everyone is going to have a complaint and everyone will have something to celebrate. I take the latter, and that's what I like to write about. Here are my latest pieces: BBC Travel "Rome's new architectural renaissance" and Huffington Post's Friday Night Lights: Eataly Rome.

Martin Margiela for H&M

I snuck into the H&M Maison Martin Margiela, H&MMMM, opening this morning and had a wonderful time in whirlwind frenzy where I chatted with Alda Fendi, bumped into two moms from my daughter's school, gave a pair of shoes to a German journalist, discussed Rome economics with a local psychologist and met Marta Antonelli, a burgeoning handbag designer. Her label Lignin promotes eco-sustainability and luxury by creating design made of  wood and cotton.

Did I buy anything at H&MMMM? Hmmm, though the collection was fun, by the time of my 10:05 am entry, everything had been picked over.  In any case, I have my eye on Antonelli's Atlantea tote.