TRAVEL

The Dreamy Islands Where Italians Go to Escape

Fortified castles atop craggy outcroppings? Check. Blue coves? Check. Colorful village? Check. Italian islands (like Ischia above) have charm on lockdown.

Photo by Jan Mach/Shutterstock

Some of Italy’s prettiest and most uncrowded beaches are on the islands in the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, and Adriatic seas.

When Italians want a quiet getaway, they know to get off the busy mainland and head to the country’s best islands. From pristine Mediterranean coves to fishing villages near active volcanoes, these idyllic escapes off the coast of Italy can fulfill your vacation dreams, whether you’re in the market for a jet-set fantasy, homey beach vacation, or an off-the-grid digital detox. 

Sicily and her satellites

With nearly 650 miles of coastline, Sicily is Italy’s biggest island, with some of the country’s most interesting and diverse culinary delights, exciting cities (like Palermo and Catania), and transporting hilltop hamlets and baroque towns. Sicily is also home to world-class archaeological sites, such as the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the Greek Theater in Taormina, and the temples of Selinunte and Segesta. But when you want to find a quiet sdraio (sun bed), look to the small islands off Sicily.

Popular with Phoenicians and fashionistas, Pantelleria is midway between Italy and Tunisia.

Photo by Erica Firpo

Pantelleria

Pantelleria, a tiny volcanic island 67 miles southwest of Sicily (and 37 miles east of Tunisia), has long been a favorite getaway for the reclusively chic, like Truman Capote, Giorgio Armani, and Sting. The glamorous allure of the turquoise water is offset by a rugged coastline of jagged lava-rock formations, steaming fumaroles, and mud baths. Reminders of the island’s millennia-long human history—from the Bronze Age, on through its Roman occupation, into its heyday as Arab outpost Bent el-Rhia, and to its inclusion in the Kingdom of Italy—are revealed in its ruins, historic architecture, and even its language. Some of Pantelleria’s dammusi (the island’s iconic white-washed lava-rock houses) have been transformed into luxury resorts like Sikelia, the most coveted. Italians love Pantelleria not only for its remoteness but also for its world-renowned capers and for Passito di Pantelleria, a sweet wine made from zibibbo grapes. This variety of muscat grapes was introduced by the Phoenicians, and its cultivation has been honored by UNESCO by inclusion on its list of instances of intangible cultural heritage.

The Aeolian Islands

Just off the northeastern coast of Sicily are the UNESCO-protected Aeolian Islands. The rich green landscapes of the seven-island archipelago—Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi, and Alicudi—are punctuated by smoking volcanic peaks, making them the perfect setting for lost-at-sea fantasies. Of the seven, Vulcano and Stromboli have active volcanoes, which can provide epic backdrops for nature lovers whether hiking, kayaking, or diving. Lipari is the liveliest and most easily accessible of the Aeolian Islands, while Panarea is the most exclusive: Limited to pedestrian traffic, it’s a perfect place to tune out and recharge. Can’t pick one? No problem: Island-hop via ferries that run between all seven islands. Insiders stay at Salina’s sea-facing Principe di Salina.

Sardinia (Sardegna)

Second in size to Sicily and in the middle of the Mediterranean, Sardinia is also Italy’s second best-known island. Its most popular destination, Costa Smeralda, the northeastern “emerald coast,” is an enclave for the rich and famous, but the island offers more than a berth for mega-yachts. Sardinia’s distinctive personality—insular and a bit secretive—makes the destination fun and filled with surprises to explore. In addition to white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, the landscape includes Gola di Gorropu, the largest canyon in Europe; UNESCO-protected Su Nuraxi di Barumini, a defensive structure from the second millennium B.C.E.; and the Dunes of Piscinas, sand dunes that reach 200 feet in height. Two diverse off-island adventures are also available: From the north coast, the seven-island Maddalena Archipelago offers beaches, lagoons, and uninhabited islets. And off Sardinia’s southwestern coast, tiny San Pietro is a throwback to 19th-century island living at the charming fishing town of Carloforte and the lighthouse at Capo Sandalo.

The Tuscan Archipelago

Yes, Tuscany has islands. Along with novel- and movie-inspiring villages, the province has its  own collection of gorgeous islands where smart Italians dock their boats during the summer holidays. 

Elba was famously home to Napoleon during his exile.
Photo by Stefano Valeri

Elba

Six miles off the Tuscan coast, Elba is the most recognized of the Tuscan islands thanks to Napoleon, who lived here in exile in 1814. Back then, Elba was a quiet place, but today its beaches are busy from June through September with vacationers. Away from the sand, Elba has a lot to discover, including the largest protected marine park in Europe, perfect for underwater exploration, plus mountain biking, trekking, and hiking. 

Giglio

With more than 90 percent of its landscape covered by lush wild vegetation, Giglio is the Tuscan island for nature exploration. The hilly island’s highest peak reaches nearly 1,600 feet, and the seaside cliffs present dramatic descents to Giglio’s beaches and caves. For those looking to simply relax, the Tyrrhenian Sea views from Giglio are ideal for contemplation of the blue waters (expect dolphins and even whales to make an appearance). You can also gaze upon nearby Montecristo, the island made famous by Alexandre Dumas, who set his fictional prison fortress there in The Count of Monte Cristo. (Montecristo, now a nature preserve, can only be visited twice a year, by permit.)

Giannutri

Nine miles south of Giglio, the crescent-shaped Giannutri, at one-square mile, is the least populated island in the Tuscan Archipelago. Though swimming is restricted to certain areas, Italians head to Giannutri for diving and snorkeling—the sea floor presents a landscape of corals, meadows of Posidonia seagrass, and Roman- and Etruscan-era shipwrecks at Punta Scaletta and the Bay of Spalmatoio.

Ponza maintains a low profile but is a quick day trip from Rome.

Photo by Claudio Zaccherini/Shutterstock

Ponza

One of the most charming and least-known Italian islands is only an hour’s drive, plus a ferry ride, from Rome. Blissfully off the popular Italian travel circuit, Ponza has tiny, appealing villages and a charming harbor. You don’t have to be a local to participate in the island’s boating life–here you’ll want to rent a gommone (dinghy) to explore Ponza’s beaches and coves. Ponza happily is not overly fancy, but from among the smattering of cute bed-and-breakfasts, smart Romans choose to stay at Villa Laetitia, a B&B owned (and curated) by Anna Fendi Venturini, of the Fendi couture family.

The Campanian Archipelago

Most everybody knows Capri, the island beloved by the international jet set, but what if Capri were less, well, Capri? The Campanian Archipelago, dominated by the tourism powerhouse Capri, also includes Ischia and Procida, two delightful and much more laid-back islands.

Ischia 

Ischia, the largest of the archipelago, is by far the greenest of Italy’s volcanic islands. The by-products of this volcanic nature—lots of natural thermal springs along the coastline—have made Ischia a wellness-focused retreat; adventure-seekers, meanwhile, can find volcanic treks around the craters of Mount Epomeo. Ischia is also the name of the main city, notable for the Aragonese Castle and a modern port area with boutiques and restaurants. The island’s other outposts, like the picturesque town of Forio and the fishing village of Sant’Angelo, can be visited by water taxi or hired boat. Near Forio, the newly restored Mezzatorre is becoming the place to stay, while traditional favorite Regina Isabella retains its 1950s charm.

Procida 

At two square miles, Procida is the tiniest island in the Campanian Archipelago and possibly the most picturesque, with pastel-hued fishing villages and small ports like Marina di Chiaiolella and Marina di Corrice (locations for such films as Il Postino and The Talented Mr. Ripley). Overlooking the island and the Bay of Naples, Terra Murata is the fortified historic village at the center of Procida. Whereas Ischia has fewer beaches and more rock promontories, Procida offers scenic stretches of sand like Chiaia and Chiaiolella. A perfect day-trip destination from Naples, Procida is a 40-minute hydrofoil ferry from the port and entirely walkable. Most importantly, Procida is known for spaghetti ai ricci di mare (spaghetti with sea urchin)–it’s best enjoyed with a sunset view.

The five Tremiti Islands in the Adriatic are part of a protected national park.

Photo by Paolo Barelli/Shutterstock

The Tremiti Islands

Everyone forgets about the other coast of Italy. Over off Puglia’s gorgeous Adriatic coastline, right above the heel of Italy’s boot, is Italy’s most off-the-radar archipelago—the Tremiti Islands of San Domino, San Nicola, Capraia, Cretaccio, and Pianosa. The remote region long served as a penal colony: In 8 B.C.E., Emperor Augustus exiled his granddaughter Julia the Younger here for licentious behavior; in the 20th century, Mussolini interned homosexual men on San Domino. Today, even though there are a few hotels and restaurants, the Tremiti are a protected part of Gargano National Park. Visitors can expect rugged coasts, limestone cliffs, rocky beaches, caves, and small coves with clear water. The small islands are easy to explore by foot and best visited via boat—whether a personal rental, a water taxi, or a tour boat.

This article first appeared in AFAR, September 2019.

Buried by Vesuvius . . . and now in Malibu, California

Courtesy of Getty.

Looking for Italy but stuck in California? Check out Buried by Vesuvius at the Getty Villa through October 28, 2019.

In AD 79, a river of hot mud and volcanic debris, the fallout from the eruption of Vesuvius, flooded the seaside town of Herculaneum covering it up for nearly two millennia until its rediscovery in the mid-1700s. Those excavations unearthed long lost treasures, meanwhile Swiss architect and engineer Karl Jakob Weber documented the still-buried Villa dei Papiri, named for the carbonized papyrus scrolls discovered on site in 1752. Weber’s diagrams have been integral in the excavations that followed over the centuries, and they were the inspiration to J. Paul Getty who decided to replicate the villa in Malibu, creating one of Southern California’s most iconic buildings—the Getty Villa. 45 years later, the Getty Villa is bringing some of the most extraordinary pieces from the Villa dei Papiri to the Mailbu bluffs in the exhibition “Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri”.

Drunken Satyr (pre-conservation) Courtesy of Getty.

“Buried by Vesuvius doesn’t set out to tell the original story of the [Getty] Villa. The idea is obvious—bringing the Villa dei Papiri to the Getty Villa,” says curator Kenneth Lapatin. More than 70 artefacts and objects hand-selected by teams from Italy’s Museo Archaeologico di Napoli, the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, and Parco Archeologico di Ercolano were loaned to the Getty for an exhibition that was more than a dozen years in the making.

“We are bringing spectacular finds from Papiri to the Villa—statues, frescoes, ivories, papyrus scrolls, marbles—many of these finds have never traveled outside of Naples, nor have been shown before,” shares Lapatin. “Each object was selected with our Italian colleagues, so even for long-time visitors to the Getty this will be something new.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF GETTY.

While visitors might be familiar with the copy of the Drunken Satyr who lounges in the Getty garden, the original bronze Satyr statue, exhibition centerpiece, is entirely new...to the Getty Villa. The precious statue was all for lost until it was uncovered in the 1750s and in a dubious state. Distinctly damaged by the eruptions, the Satyr had to be pieced together, which included placement on a marble pedestal for its 1754 restoration. Fast forward to 2019, the Getty Villa shared a nail-biting fait accompli on its Instagram profile @GettyVilla, when it documented separating the marble base from the statue for the first time in 250 years.

Details of the Exhibition

The show is more than just the Satyr. The exhibition showcases spectacular, never-before-seen treasures including the bronze Runners and the marble Athen Promachos. A bronze portrait of Piso Pontifex, the supposed son of owner Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, who also just happened to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law is also on view. Along with statuary, frescoes, and mosaics, the show explores (and attempts to read) papyrus scrolls recovered from the Villa dei Papiri in the 1750s which discuss philosophical subjects of Epicurean inspiration, and are remnants of the only surviving library from the classical world. Back drop to the lineup of “new originals” is the the Villa’s antiquities collection itself, framing Buried by Vesuvius in a unique context—inspiration meets original.

“It’s quite extraordinary to witness this International collaboration, going way beyond institutional loans,” comments archaeologist Darius Arya. “The careful selection and painstaking conservation work underlines all of the institutions’ commitment to preserving the past and sharing that important work with video and virtual reconstructions, all within the grounds of a museum, fully decorated and landscaped, inspired by the original villa.”

The Drunken Satyr undergoes conservation work at the Getty Villa.

Buried By Vesuvius also celebrates Herculaneum’s incredible history of archaeological research. The two centuries following the rediscovery of Herculaneum were plagued by decades of abandonment and intermittent years of interest. In 1806, the French commanded excavations, leaving in 1815, followed by a brief 1823 excavation. Following the Italian unification, excavations resumed in 1869 until full stop in 1875. The early 20th century saw short excavations through the oughts, with long-term excavations from 1927 to 1958. New campaigns returned in 1960s, and would carry on to the turn of the 21st century with major excavations in the 1990s and 2000s. These excavations are showcased with original diagrams, plans and books. Rounding out the exhibition is a short film that renders the Villa dei Papiri in its pre-Vesuvius splendor, created specifically by MAV, Herculaneum’s Virtual Archaeology Museum.

“What we are trying to do is treat the site holistically and trying to bring artefacts, archaeology, rediscovery and architecture all together. We wanted to represent the earliest excavation to most recent finds from 2007,” underlines Lapatin. 

For more information on Villa dei Papiri and the Herculaneum site, you can go behind the scenes with Darius Arya as he visits both Herculaneum and the Getty Villa on Instagram @DariusAryaDigs and Facebook DariusAryaDigs.

Buried by Vesuvius runs through October 28, 2019.

This article first appeared in Traditional Building, July 2019.

Italy. Venice, Italy. See La Serenissima Through the Eyes of James Bond

The city's iconic waterway played host to Bond. (Photo: Getty Images)

James Bond, Ian Fleming’s iconic spy and the world’s number one Casanova, has had a love affair with Venice ever since the final scenes of 1963’s “From Russia With Love,” when Sean Connery’s Bond snuck off on a gondola ride with Russian agent Tatiana Romanova.

There’s no doubt that Venice is an incredible backdrop for romance — a beautiful tangle of 16th-century campi makes it an incredible setting for films, but La Serenissima also sets the stage for dynamic action.

And nobody does it better than Bond, whose spy-jinx brought him back to the floating city in three different films: “From Russia With Love,” “Moonraker” (1979) with Roger Moore, and “Casino Royale” (2006) with Daniel Craig.

Here’s where and how to experience Venice like James Bond.

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal, the main waterway that courses through Venice, weaves its way through all three Bond films, but there was probably no more dramatic and glamorous movie moment than in “Casino Royal.”

In this flick, a newly retired Bond and Vesper sail through the city along the canal, passing all the requisite Venice landmarks, including Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, the Campanile of San Marco, Church of the Salute and the Accademia and Rialto bridges.

Bond’s Eye View: Buy a full-day vaporetto ticket and spend your afternoon coursing the Grand Canal on the local water bus (No. 1 or No. 2 will do). To admire the canal for a longer spell, book a stay at The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, or plan dinner at its restaurant, The Gritti Terrace, which overlooks the striking canal.

Piazza San Marco

Make like Bond and dash through the Piazza San Marco. (Photo: Getty Images)

Make like Bond and dash through the Piazza San Marco. (Photo: Getty Images)

Piazza San Marco, Venice’s largest square, named for the city’s patron saint, serves as backdrop to a desperate Daniel Craig as he runs through the square in search of his love, Vesper Lynd, in “Casino Royale,” after realizing she has betrayed him.

Bond’s Eye View: Though the Basel Bank featured in the film doesn’t exist, Piazza San Marco and its beautiful arcades still do and are open to the public.

Torre dell’Orologio

The Piazza San Marco also gets a second of screen time in “Moonraker,” but the true focus is on the Torre dell’Orologio, an early Renaissance clock tower nearing 300 feet in height.

After Roger Moore’s Bond faces an incredible kendo fight sequence in a glass shop — actually the historic Venini boutique in San Marco — he finds himself in a chase with Drax henchman Chang in the clock tower. Bond ultimately tosses Chang through the clock’s stained-glass face, though this face was a replica made for the movie.

Bond’s Eye View: The clock tower is visitable by reservation, Monday through Wednesday, at 11 a.m. and noon, and Thursday through Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Rialto Fish Market

On the sestiere San Polo side of the Rialto bridge is the city’s pescheria, a centuries-old fish market set in a neo-Gothic loggia. And it’s in the loggia shade that Quantum agent Adolf Gettler is lurking when Vesper and Bond sail down the Grand Canal in “Casino Royale.”

Bond’s Eye View: Doff your best fedora and head to the Rialto Bridge; from there you can’t miss the market.

Palazzo Pisani

Make your way to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

Make your way to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

In “Casino Royale,” the minutes leading up to the demise of Vesper Lynd occur in the courtyard of Palazzo Pisani. The Baroque-style Palazzo Pisani has an incredible courtyard, where Vesper has her fateful meeting with Gettler before Bond tries to save her.

Vesper ends up running through the abandoned palazzo and locking herself in an elevator as the palace’s flotation devices give way and sink into the Grand Canal in one of the most epic Bond scenes ever.

Bond’s Eye View: While there is no way to reenact the sinking palace, Palazzo Pisani is the home to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello, a second-century music conservatory that regularly holds concerts in its halls and famous courtyard.

You can also get eye to eye with the palazzo’s facade by taking Traghetto S. Angelo to San Toma for just two euro.

Ponte dei Sospiri

Make your way to the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Bridge of Sighs is only appropriate. (Photo: Getty Images)

Venice’s most famous bridge has long been a photo op spot thanks to its picture-perfect setting. The enclosed limestone bridge was built in the mid-1600s to connect the Doge’s Palace to the nuove prigioni (new prisons).

More infamous than famous, the bridge is known as the “Bridge of Sighs” for the last breaths of freedom that convicted persons would have before heading to the cells. In the final scene of “From Russia with Love,” Sean Connery’s Bond cozies up with Russian agent Tatiana Romanova in a gondola as they pass under the Bridge of Sighs.

Bond’s Eye View: Hire a gondola from the Stazio Danieli and reenact the scene for yourself.

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

A Local's Guide to Rome, Italy.... By The Way

My favorite question is being what I really do in Rome- where I really go and what I really love. And as a travel writer, I can tell you that there is no bigger compliment than being asked to write about her neighborhood. You can imagine how flattered I was when Washington Post as me to be a contributor to WaPo’s new travel platform By The Way. For my Rome guide (yep, it’s all mine and all about me) I share the places I hang out- where everyone body knows my name, my dog and even my kids. Next time you are in Rome, stop by anyone of these places and look around- you’ll probably catch me.

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

Rome is beautiful chaos and contradictions, and this should absolutely be expected from a city whose thousands of years of history and personalities have formed its pulsating present. You first get a hint of its noncommittal nature while driving into the city from the airport, passing fields with roaming sheep. The highway flows into an austere neighborhood designed in the 1930s, where every building was intended to be a monument. And then the chaos begins: Congested neighborhoods snake up the Tiber River leading to the centro storico (historic center), where Baroque palaces and churches fight with ancient monuments for a little elbow room. 

There is no patience, and there shouldn’t be. This is Rome, where anything goes. The energy can be overwhelming. Keep walking around; eventually, you’ll realize that Rome is not quite as big as you thought — geographically and socially. Everyone knows everyone. If you visit the same places and piazzas a few times, you’ll find that they know you, too.

Photo by Erica Firpo.

IN THE ACTION

Monti

Monti is the perfect mix of busy bars, great restaurants, trendy stores and some of the most recognizable historic sites. This is where you’ll find cool, chic and even quirky boutique hotels and some of Rome’s best Airbnbs. Don’t expect brand names, but don’t worry about it. Find this neighborhood.

LOW-KEY

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese, specifically, is the city’s prettiest park and sits quietly between the historic center and Parioli, a residential neighborhood. The few hotels lining its perimeter have panoramic views and hidden pools. It’s just close enough to the center to feel in the know and just far away enough to be a breath of fresh air. Find this neighborhood.

INSIGHTS

3 things locals think you should know

  1. Nobody nurses their morning caffe. Drink it fast, and then go.

  2. The word “piacere” (or “pleased” to meet you, pronounced pee-ah-CHAIR-ray) and a smile go a long way.

  3. Once you sit down at a restaurant (and unless told otherwise), the table is yours for the rest of the evening. Basta.

(Rome illustrators Blend Studio for The Washington Post)

BREAKFAST

Roscioli Caffe

After they cornered the market on pizza and bread at Antico Forno bakery for four generations, the Roscioli brothers opened a neighborhood coffee bar and pastry shop, which, despite little standing room, never fails to please locals. Along with spectacular coffee drinks (hot ones come in heated cups), the pastries are divine. Many are old-school, hard-to-find Roman dolci. If you don’t do sweet, the selection of salati (savory sandwiches) is big and creative. Go for the thinly sliced pastrami on homemade cornetto and the club sandwich with an over-easy egg.

BTW: Come before 9 a.m. to get a place at the counter. The back table is bookable, too.

BREAKFAST

Marigold

Rome finally has a little hygge, thanks to pastry chef Sofie Wochner and her partner, Domenico Cortese. The simple micro-bakery and restaurant may be one of the first sweet-and-savory brunch venues in the city. Guests come from around Rome for Wochner’s confections, including cinnamon twists, as well as homemade butter (made from kefir) and rye bread. Cortese, the mastermind behind dinner and lunch, makes daily sandwiches that are chef’s choice, with mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough.

BTW: Marigold doesn’t take reservations on the weekends.

LUNCH

Mercato Testaccio

This local market’s 100-plus vendors (produce, cheese, meat, fish, specialty foods, housewares) make it a great community hangout. Lunch standouts include fresh pasta of the day at Le Mani in Pasta (Box 58), vegan burgers and tacos at Sano (Box 3), mini pizzas at Da Artenio (Box 90) and fried delicacies at Mastro Papone (Box 96). In other words, every kind of eater can dine here all afternoon.

BTW: Bring cash, and if you are really hungry, head straight to sandwich shop Mordì e Vai (Box 15) before the nonni beat you there.

LUNCH

Supplizio

The kind of hole-in-the-wall you’d walk by without giving it a second look. But stop: The small Supplizio is chef Arcangelo Dandini’s full-service incarnation of Rome’s staple fried fast food, the suppli, (deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce and chicken giblets). Dandini’s are award-winning, and here he introduces different interpretations, from classico to carbonara, and cacio pepe (yes, your favorite Roman pasta, fried).

BTW: Beyond rice balls, Dandini’s lineup includes polpette al mio garum (fried anchovy balls) and the fave dessert, crema fritta (fried cream custard).

Luciano.jpg

DINNER

Luciano Cucina

Luciano Cucina is a next-generation trattoria, thanks to chef Luciano Monosilio. He’s known as the King of Carbonara, a title he rightfully deserves since elevating the typical Roman dish to Michelin-star status. The restaurant, with an absolutely-not-rustic, very contemporary design, features an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen and a menu with his award-winning (and must-try) carbonara and other traditional favorites. But the fun is in his creative Contemporanee (contemporary) and Ripiene (stuffed) pasta dishes: fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — his version of pasta sauteed with garlic, pepper and olive oil and topped with cured fish roe.

BTW: Contrary to what you’d think, reserve no earlier than 9 p.m. It’s when Luciano gets lively.

DINNER

Seu Pizza Illuminati

Seu Pizza is the precise opposite of a typical Roman pizzeria: stylish, with mod furniture and art pieces, and the feel of an art gallery. But you’re here for the pizza. Daniele Seu, the pizzaiolo (pizza-maker), is a dough magician whose thicker impasto and crusts will quickly obliterate any recollection of thin-crusted Roman-style pizza. (It is that good.) His menu is anchored with classics, but it’s Seu’s occasionally mind-bogglingly delicious creations — like the Gamberita, raw red shrimp atop buffalo mozzarella — that keep people coming back.

BTW: Choose a bunch of pizzas to share, and ask the waiter to serve them in the chef’s preferred order. 

Photo by The Jerry Thomas Project.

LATE-NIGHT

Jerry Thomas Speakeasy

Although Jerry Thomas may no longer be a secret, it is still the choice of the late-evening-cocktail crowd. The bar is immaculately styled in 1920s retro, tiny and limited to reservations. (Call in the late afternoons.) Created as a hangout for restaurant-industry professionals, Jerry’s bartenders are colleagues and friends who make expert cocktails and personal creations. Bonus points: The team rolls deep in female bartenders who are innovating the mixology arena.

BTW: An ideal spot if you don’t want to be seen.

LATE-NIGHT

L’Angolo Divino

L’Angolo Divino is the enoteca (wine bar) of your dreams: a rustic corner spot with low lighting, lots of great labels and an owner, Massimo, who has something to say about every single bottle. The wine list includes the usual suspects (yes, you can try a Super Tuscan, Amarone or Barolo), as well as unexpected bubbles, natural wines and hard-to-find producers. The list may be heavy on Italians, but international wines are represented.

BTW: Ask Massimo about his favorite Lazio wines. A world of conversation and tasting will start, and you may make a friend for life.

Bike the Appia Antica

Loving Rome means getting out of the city, so we’re lucky the Romans built amazing streets crossing the country. The oldest and longest is the Via Appia Antica, and you need to travel only a tiny stretch to feel like you’re in the country. From just before exiting the ancient walls to, heading southeast, the edge of the Parco Appia Antica, most of the road is still original basalt stone and is one of the prettiest bike rides the city has to offer. The ride is lined with ancient monuments, tombs and Roman pines along fields of green. Expect to pass flocks of meandering sheep.

BTW: You can rent bikes at Appia Antica Caffe, a fine starting point, and have a great home-cooked meal there.

Galleria Nazionale

Where Italy’s national collection of modern and contemporary art is held. A walk through the neoclassical building is a visual lesson in Italian art as told via magnificent paintings, sculptures and videos by era-defining artists like Canova, Modigliani, Manzoni, Clemente and Penoni. The collection also includes non-Italians, such as Twombly and LeWitt. Their order is not chronological (either confusing — or fun).

BTW: The best location for art selfies, especially because La Galleria is the last place anyone ever visits. 

MURo and street art in Quadraro

For art history in the making, take a 25-minute drive southeast. Quadraro, a small enclave embedded between ancient history — aqueducts, Roman villas, case popolari (1930s low-income housing) — and Cinecittà is the city’s first outdoor museum dedicated to urban art (Museo Urbano di Roma, a.k.a. MURo). Walk around, and you’ll come face to face with murals by artists including Gary Baseman (his gray-toned piece is a nice starting point), Diavu, Alice Pasquini, Ron English and more.

BTW: MURo (founded by Diavu) offers artist-led tours of the neighborhood in Italian, English, Spanish and French. 

Artisanal Cornucopia

Artisanal Cornucopia is part salon, part gallery and part concept boutique — a cornucopia of fabulous clothing, shoes, accessories and art pieces. Owner Elif Sallorenzo’s collection covers the entire gamut of social opportunities, from cuddling in front of the TV and beach days to dinner parties and weddings. She loves craftsmanship and selects pieces from both emerging designers and coveted creators, including Aquazzura (Edgardo is a good friend), Giulia Barela, Misela and Segni di Gi. And she likes things that are 100 percent made in Italy, so expect to find one-of-a-kind handbags by Benedetta Bruzziches and more.

BTW: If Elif is in, talk to her. She knows everyone and every place. 

Pamphili.jpg

Villa Doria Pamphilj

The largest landscaped park in Rome, Villa Pamphilj is a favorite afternoon hangout and workout area. If you want to run, bike, play volleyball, soccer or informally TRX out in the open, this is where you want to be. It’s open until 9 p.m. in the warmest months.

BTW: Back in the day, Moammar Gaddafi, the longtime ruler of Libya, loved its beautiful, bucolic vibe so much that he set up camp here with his entourage.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is probably the best-kept art secret in Rome. The two-level stand-alone villa was originally a vacation home for one of the pope’s financiers who had the foresight to invest in architect Baldassarre Peruzzi and his friend, the up-and-coming artist Raffaele Sanzio, a.k.a. Raphael. The entire ground-floor fresco cycles are painted by Raphael, while the first-level frescoes are by Renaissance greats Il Sodoma and Sebastiano del Piombo.

BTW: Most days, the museum is quiet, and you’ll have Raphael’s masterpiece Galatea fresco all to yourself. 

Your Guide to the Venice Biennale

Every two years I make the annual pilgrimage to the Venice for the Venice Biennale, a six-month city-wide contemporary art festival. As an art fan, I am in heaven in my 24/7 full immersion art experience and as a freelance journalist, I am unstoppable, taking advantage as many platforms as possible- Instagram, Twitter and now my podcast- to bring my excitement into your hands. Join me for Forbes Travel, June 2019 exploring every corner and calle of Venice for the maximum Biennale experience.

Venice. Credit: Joseph Costa

Venice may be a fantasy archipelago of beautiful islands caught in centuries past, but every two years, the floating city transforms into the ultimate interactive contemporary art experience. The 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is a six-month event bringing contemporary artists from around the world to create boundary-pushing pieces that inhabit sites all over the city.  

Themed “May You Live in Interesting Times,” the 2019 edition (running through November 24) is an invitation to open your eyes to new perspectives. With 79 artists, 90 national pavilions and more than 20 collateral and pop-up events, there’s a lot to see. 

Of course, with so many options, not to mention Venice’s constant flood of usual tourists, visiting the Biennale can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, with the guide we’ve drawn up, it won’t matter if you’re a first-time visitor or veteran art aficionado because you’ll know precisely what to see, where to stay and how to make the most of your experience.

Mastering the Basics

To make it easy, the first thing you need to do is head to the exhibition’s original 1895 venue: Giardini della Biennale, Venice’s verdant public gardens where 29 of the national pavilions reside. Boasting both historic architecture and new builds, the country-designated areas showcase handpicked artists interpreting the Biennale’s theme however they choose. 

Inside the Central Pavilion is a densely packed collective exhibition featuring pieces by artists invited by this year’s Biennale curator, London-based Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff.   

The Arsenale, Venice’s historic shipyard, is the other major Biennale venue. The building’s original corderie (a 1,000-foot-long hall used for rope making) houses some of the show’s more avant-garde pieces, including Michael Armitage’s beautiful paintings, large-format photographs by Martine Gutierrez and Alex da Corte’s interactive videos. 

You’ll also find satellite rooms hosting newer national pavilions, including first-time participants representing Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Off-site Spectacles

No longer confined to just the Giardini and Arsenale, the Biennale extends across all six of Venice’s sestieri(neighborhoods), with national pavilions and pop-up exhibitions in private palazzi, museums and galleries.  

Start your off-site tour just outside Arsenale with Building Bridges, artist Lorenzo Quinn’s monumental sculpture made of six pairs of hands reaching together to the sky — it’s equally Instagrammable and thought-provoking. 

Next, head west to Canareggio to see “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails” by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith. The politically charged exhibit showcases nearly 60,000 documents neatly printed, stacked and shelved on a very presidential desk on the first floor of contemporary supermarket Despar Teatro Italia. 

Continue your sightseeing tour in the central San Polo district, where contemporary glass installation The Spirit of Murano resides. Created by the Seguso family (Murano glass artisans since 1397), the piece is made of hand-blown glass handkerchiefs, each engraved with a short story or poem about Venice. Before you leave, you’ll be invited to write your own musings on cloth — a memento that will be added to the sculpture.

Visit the renowned Fondazione Prada for a retrospective on late artist Jannis Kounellis before stopping by the southern Dorsoduro neighborhood to take in works from another late talent in “The Death Of James Byers.”  

Last, but not least, visit the Lithuania Pavilion in Castello to see an award-winning 13-person opera, Sun & Sea (Marina), performed while the singers suntan on a “beach” made from sand imported from the Baltic Sea.

Where to Eat

Take a caffeine break at Gran Caffè Quadri, the magnificently historic and impeccably restored café in Piazza San Marco. The pastries, coffees and setting are incredible and, if sweet isn’t your flavor, come back in the afternoon for an Italian tradition: aperitivi

For heartier fare, check out Osteria Bancogiro, a tiny, rustic bacarò (restaurant) next to the Rialto Bridge, where you’ll find Biennale glitterati catching sun while sipping spritzes. 

Other tasty spots in the heart of Venice include Osteria da Carla, a modernly styled bolthole, or the more traditional Trattoria da Fiore, both in San Marco. 

For an intimate seafood-focused dinner near Santa Lucia train station, snag a seat at the tiny Osteria Trefanti.

If exploring the Gardens and Arsenale has left you too tired to trek across town, book a table at Biennale favorite Corte Sconta in Castello, the sestiere adjacent to the event venues. This popular seafood restaurant has a cornucopia of fresh catches (including moecche, local soft-shell crab) among its traditional revival plates, not to mention a gorgeous garden courtyard. 

Nearby, canal-side Local offers a contemporary version of the classic Venetian trattoria.  But for food as unforgettable as the Biennale’s displays, take a water taxi around the lagoon to the island of Mazzorbo to dine at renowned Venissa. Modern, chic and quiet, this secluded establishment is immersed in vineyards of Dorona di Venezia, one of the world’s rarest grapes.  The cuisine is a modern take on Venetian dishes using only island-grown and -fished ingredients. The result is a one-of-a-kind wine-paired meal that reflects Mazzorbo’s unique terroir. 

The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Credit: The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel

Where to Sleep

If you want to hit as many Biennale venues as possible, your best bet is staying central. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel, on the edge of the Grand Canal, is an ideal address. Its San Marco-adjacent location makes for easy walks to the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale, and its proximity to the San Marco vaporetto (waterbus) stop means convenient public transport access. The hotel even has a historic yacht you can reserve for a private cruise.  

Should you prefer to explore on foot, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended stays Hotel Londra Palace and Hotel Metropole Venice both offer stylish options less than a mile from Giardini della Biennale. 

But if you insist on Five-Star accommodations for resting your head, Belmond Hotel Cipriani is an ultra-plush retreat perched on the tip of nearby Giudecca Island.

To Florence, With Love

Three reasons you’ll fall for Tuscany’s capital.

Photo: Erica Firpo

Colpo di fulmine, that’s what Italians call love at first sight—a ground-shaking thunderbolt that shocks you from the first look. It’s hard not to feel that bolt when you set foot in Florence, partly because of the sheer beauty of the city, with its tangle of parks and piazzas, and partly because it fuses the past with the present. Even as Florence embraces renewal, the metropolis holds steadfast to the ideals that helped lead Europe out of the Middle Ages during the Renaissance long ago, including a commitment to the arts. Is it any wonder that Tuscany’s capital fascinates travelers, who come for a glimpse only to find themselves falling hard? Read on to get the lay of the land and discover three sides of the storied city.

Lay of the Land

Long considered the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence believes itself to be the heart of Italy. Geographically, it lies about halfway between Venice and Rome, in the region of Tuscany. Reachable by North American air carriers via connections through Rome, Milan, and other European cities, Florence is also a major hub for railway transport. While exploring Tuscany requires a car, for Florence, one needs only a great pair of walking shoes, as the main attractions lie within about two square miles.

Building on the site of an Etruscan settlement turned Roman military colony, the Medicis (a political dynasty that once ruled Florence) created a graceful city of piazzas, palaces, and promenades. Today’s urban layout is almost identical to that of Florence’s 16th-century heyday. The Centro Storico, or historic center, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and straddles both sides of the Arno River in a gorgeous knot of medieval- and Renaissance-era streets that subdivide into niche neighborhoods. These tiny districts are often anchored by the piazzas they’re named after and are usually within a 5-to-10-minute walk of one another, so wandering around the city feels like a kind of historical-piazza hopscotch.

Most of the Centro Storico lies north of the Arno River. But if you cross the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge spanning the waterway, you’ll enter the residential neighborhood of Oltrarno, which has been home to Florence’s artisans since the early Renaissance. Explore Oltrarno’s Piazza di Santo Spirito or Via Maggio to view the newest generation of Florentine craftspeople, from traditional goldsmiths and jewelry makers to clothing designers and street artists.

The Culture

There are not enough days in the year to enjoy each of the cultural sites of Florence, which span all corners of the city and range from Renaissance masterpieces and Roman antiquities to contemporary art, fashion, and design. Begin north of the Arno and work your way south, starting on the narrow Via Ricasoli, where the Galleria dell’Accademia (58/60 Via Ricasoli; 011-39-055-098-7100; site in Italian; admission, $18*; reservations recommended) houses Michelangelo’s David along with a small collection of his unfinished sculptures, as well as works by other Renaissance artists.

About a five-minute walk away lies the emblem of Florence: the Piazza del Duomo. Its centerpiece is the encrusted marble Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo), also known as the Duomo because of its famous dome by master architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Once you’ve seen your fill, head to the Palazzo Strozzi (Piazza degli Strozzi; 011-39-055-264-5155; admission, $15), a few blocks southwest, for a different perspective on the city’s artistic legacy. The museum hosts blockbuster temporary exhibitions highlighting everything from the art of the ancient world to works by today’s superstar artists, such as Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović and Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.

Follow the sightseeing crowds to the L-shaped Piazza della Signoria, the political center of the city and an open-air museum. Here you’ll find an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Davidin front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-276-8325; admission, $11), a 700-year-old fortress that today serves as Florence’s city hall and mayor’s office in addition to being a museum open to visitors. The standout room of the Palazzo Vecchio is the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), a monumental meeting space with larger-than-life frescoes by Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari. Immediately adjacent to the building is the Loggia dei Lanzi (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-23885; admission, free), an arcaded open-air gallery showcasing Renaissance sculpture.

Nearby is the Gallerie degli Uffizi (6 Piazzale degli Uffizi; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $25 in high season, $15 in low season), a lavishly decorated multilevel building designed by Giorgio Vasari as the offices of the Medici family. Known fondly as the Uffizi, it holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Italian Renaissance art yet still manages to constantly upgrade its offerings by establishing new rooms to appreciate the greats, such as Raphael, or by hosting epic exhibitions, such as the one last year commemorating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.

Yet despite the many wonders these museums hold, Florence’s greatest work of art might be its landscape, and to fully appreciate it, you have only to cross the Arno. South of the river lies the Giardino di Boboli (1 Palazzo Pitti; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino Bardini), a park that was once the Medicis’ playground, and the Giardino Bardini (1r Via dei Bardi; 011-39-055-2006-6233; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino di Boboli), a tiered garden in the Oltrarno. In the latter, Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati (6/a Costa S. Giorgio; 011-39-055-068-0545; site in Italian; classic tasting menu for two, $240) looks out on the lush grounds.


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The Food

In Florence, the cuisine is subtle and elegant, and simple dishes are proudly made with mostly local ingredients. Restaurants such as Trattoria Sabatino (2r Via Pisana; 011-39-055-225-955; site in Italian; dinner for two, $23), which lies south of the Arno, cheerfully dole out heirloom Florentine recipes such as minestrone di fagioli e riso (rice and bean soup) or trippa alla fiorentina (tripe, a dish made with cow stomach, is an Italian specialty) at affordable prices.

North of the river, Florentine elegance is epitomized at the Piazza della Repubblica, the city’s center in the time of ancient Rome. On its northeast corner is Caffè Gilli (1r Via Roma; 011-39-055-213-896; cocktails for two, $18), the oldest café in the city. Two other piazzas—Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio—are foodie musts. Both are residential areas with squares flanked by a parish church and streets lined with butcher shops, bakeries, electricians, hair salons, and the like. Here you can expect quiet mornings, post-school chaos, and early evenings filled with dog walkers—as well as some of the best food in town.

In the Santa Croce neighborhood, Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo (3r Piazza dei Peruzzi; 011-39-055-217-919; dinner for two, $100) prepares heritage dishes that are made from hard-to-find and often foraged regional ingredients and are therefore on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, chef Fabio Picchi, the city’s culinary emperor, demonstrates Florence’s spirit of innovation with his suite of restaurants in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. Cibrèo Ristorante (8r Via Andrea del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $140)Cibrèo Trattoria (122r Via de’ Macci; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $52), and Cibrèo Caffè (5r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-5853; dinner for two, $90) all focus on Picchi’s signature dishes, while Ciblèo (2r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-247-7881; dinner for two, $90) adopts a Tuscan-Asian fusion approach, mixing Italian ingredients and recipes with Korean, Chinese, and Japanese traditions.

The Shops

Florence is as much about shopping and people-watching as it is about sightseeing. On the northern end of Centro Storico, the small square of Piazza San Lorenzo has a vibrant market, Mercato di San Lorenzo, that’s best known for its leather goods. The piazza gets its name from the Basilica di San Lorenzo church, which used to be a parish church of the Medici family.

Since the 14th century, the Via de’ Tornabuoni has been a runway for beautiful palaces and people. International brands keep a foothold here, from the Piazza degli Antinori to the Ponte Santa Trinità. The city’s side streets also hide treasures. Along them sit two time capsules: the flagship store of the nearly 300-year-old porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori (17r Via dei Rondinelli; 011-39-055-210-041)—an exquisite showroom with vaulted frescoed ceilings—and Aquaflor (6 Borgo Santa Croce; 011-39-055-234-3471; site in Italian), an intriguing custom perfumery that feels like vintage Florence.

For a more contemporary spin on the city’s crafts scene, visit Florence Factory (6/8 Via dei Neri; 011-39-055-205-2952; site in Italian), which showcases goods made by artisans from the Oltrarno neighborhood. Or check out Cuoiofficine (116r Via de’ Guicciardini; 011-39-055-286-652), whose leather purses and wallets combine 17th-century marbling patterns and contemporary leather-tattooing techniques to create designs that are reminiscent of centuries past. (All leather goods can be customized.) Take the time you need to find a memento that’s just right—after all, it would be a shame to leave Florence without your own piece of la dolce vita.

This article first appeared as a feature in Endless Vacation, Summer 2019.

A Design Guide to Milan, Italy

Design Snobs Will Love This Guide to Milan

Assago Milanofiori Nord metro station. Photo by Massimiliano Donghi/ Unsplash.

Milan — once overlooked as the middle child of Italy — is really enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There may be more to the city than fashion and design, but, wow, does it do those better than anyone.

MILAN, Italy — Milan is not like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples. It’s not an idyllic grand tour destination that hypnotizes visitors with listless, collective memories from centuries past. No, Milan is the kind of city that wakes you up and reminds you that time is moving forward. The wake-up call starts the moment you step off the train at Stazione Centrale and look up. The platforms are covered by spectacular, futuristic glass and steel spanning domes, while the early-20th-century station is a marble monument with sky-high, vaulted ceilings and intricate ornament details. Exalting architecture and dynamic movement are the gateway to Milan.

 Once a shy sister city, Milan has become center stage for design and fashion. In addition to the fall and spring fashion shows, for one week every March, the global spotlight is on Milanese design during Salone Milano design fair, but the truth is that Milan is a celebration of architecture and innovation, design, and art every day. Here’s a guide to the best and the most striking design spots around town.

Stazione Centrale

Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione

Walk the City

To understand Milan’s architecture, it’s important to start in the center and even more important to tag along with an expert like Riccardo Mazzoni of Context Travel. Riccardo is practicing architect and professor whose passion is the unfolding the layers of Milan’s architectural history. His tour starts at Piazza San Babila, home to a beautiful convergence of the city’s modern architecture and arguably the birthplace of modern Milan, then winds through Brera, an enclave of incredible boutiques and cafes also knows as the Fashion Quadrilaterial, and on to Castel Sforzesco, a medieval fortress complete with crenellations, bastions, and a retaining wall in the center of the city that's now a museum complex showcasing at least nine different genres and collections — Egyptian, musical instruments, furniture, manuscripts, and Renaissance art among them — and is gateway to Parco Sempione, a bucolic park in the city center.

Along the way, Riccardo picks out slick, futuristic buildings that epitomize the different movements of the 20th century — the unpredictable Novecentismo, the sharplined Rationalism, and the exaggerated Neoclassiscal — and introduces the names — Portaluppi, Gio Ponti, Piacentini, and BBPR — that brought Milan to the future.

Villa Necchi Campiglio Dining Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Breakfast Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Veranda

Full Design Immersion

If Milan’s design heritage can be condensed into one space, it would be La Triennale, the gallery on the edge of Parco Sempione that houses an incredible permanent collection of Italian design and hosts temporary exhibitions. Architecture fans must stop at Villa Necchi Campiglio, the 1930s home that’s a Milanese answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper-class living. Every element — from the building to the plates — was designed by Piero Portaluppi, the poster boy of Milan modernists. (Remember the amazing home in the Luca Guadagnino movie I Am Love? This is it, and you’ll recognize everything, including the pool.) The house tour takes about an hour, but you can linger on the property at the garden café. 

Portaluppi also designed Palazzo dell Arengario, a Fascist era complex comprised of two super-modern symmetrical and identical palaces just steps away from the Duomo. The left-side palace houses the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to art of the 20th century.

Fast-forward to the uber contemporary at Fondazione Prada, a sprawling contemporary art complex outside the city center designed by OMA, with a 197-foot tower by starchitect Rem Koolhaas. On the sixth floor of the main building is a restaurant with a panoramic terrace featuring original furniture designed by Philip Johnson for New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant in the 1950s. Near the entrance is the cinematic and very playful Bar Luce, a café designed by director Wes Anderson. 

Though not quite cutting-edge design, stop into Pinacoteca Brera, a historic art gallery with a collection of paintings from late medieval era through the late 19th century. The Brera has put considerable effort in creating a dynamic space with truly fabulous signage, an open restoration lab, and Caffe Fernanda, a newly opened jewel box of a bar.

nilufar-gallery-milan-outside.jpg.1200x800_q85.jpg

Photos courtesy of Nilufar Gallery.

Icons and Boutiques

There are so many iconic design shops in Milan, but the only way to start is at Spazio Rossanna Orlandi, the epic gallery by Rossanna Orlandi, Milan’s original influencer, talent guru, and trend spotter. Orlandi put Milan’s gallery scene on the map — and her gallery is a must-stop on the Milan design tour. So is Nilufar, the gallery owned by Nina Yashar, Italy’s top dealer of modern and contemporary furniture and design, where she showcases incredible emerging and blockbuster designers. Her Nilufar Depot, just north of the Isola neighborhood, is the enormous warehouse she uses to showcase the 3,000+ design pieces she has amassed over more than three decades. 

Milan is full of pocket neighborhoods dedicated to art, design, and fashion. One of the latest emerging areas is Maroncelli Design District, a collective of galleries and boutiques on via Pietro Maroncelli and neighboring streets. Look for Etel, the uncannily clever and eco-sustainable Brazilian furniture design house.

Last but definitely not least is lighting — not just how something is illuminated, but rather how a beautifully designed lamp and expert lighting can transform the entire personality of a space. Every Italian home has at least one lamp or light fixture whose design has a story. A one-way conduit to Piazza San Babila, Corso Monforte is home to the world’s most famous lighting showrooms, including FontanaArteArtemide, and Nemo.

Bulgari Bar

AMOR. Photo by Lido Vannucchi.

Stylish Refreshments

And once you've had your fill of Milan design, the only way to meditate is to enjoy the archetypical Milan aperitivo in the city's very best design bars, like Caffe TrussardiBvlgariLuBar, and The Botanical Club.

If you need to fill yourself up a little more creatively, grab a table at AMOR, the latest by dynamic and Michelin-starred culinary brothers Max and Raf Alajmo. Located at the coveted 10 Corso Como, the groundbreaking concept store created by fashion editor Carla Sozzani, AMOR is Alamo's street food venture — a clever spin on a pizzeria serving Max’s patented steamed pizza. And of course, the design plays a starring role, as the Alajmos worked with long-time collaborator and star architect Philippe Starck to set the playful and striking atmosphere.

This article was first published in Fathom, May 2019.

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.

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.