TRAVEL

{Podcast} Rome's King of Carbonara Luciano Monosilio

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

LOOK, MA, I’VE LAUNCHED A PODCAST!

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

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

EPISODE ONE: THE KING OF CARBONARA

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

Chef Luciano Monosilio. Photo: Erica Firpo

Carbonara’s key ingredients. Photo: Erica Firpo

TUNE IN

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

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

Tortellini. Credit: Retrobottega

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

Retrobottega

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

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

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

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

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

Luciano Cucina  

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

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

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

Marigold

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

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

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

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

Spazio  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncorked: Natural Wines and Where to Find Them in Rome

Drinking in Piazza Navona.

Lately everyone seems to be talking about natural wines, a term that has become more than common in wine parlance- natural wines have become a trend, a hashtag, a preference, a movement and more.  But a concrete definition?  The jury is still out.  The term natural wines confuses many,  enrages others, and inspires a continuously growing number of dedicated followers. 

Though there is no official definition,  there are a number of individuals and organizations who have forged forward with unofficial definitions that a majority of people - professionals, wine lovers, et all-  agree on. Natural wine is wine made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the cellar.   It's about healthy grapes grown with no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides using organic, biodynamic or permaculture methods. There is no use of additives, the spontaneous fermentation uses only ambient yeasts and no temperature manipulation, and minimal use of sulfur.

To me, natural wines are also a story, an experience and an expression of place, with the wine grower dedicated to stewardship of natural resources.  And every glass of natural wine speaks  speaks volumes about its producer and birthplace.  My natural wine journey began when I opened the pages Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization I had no idea what natural wine was, but I knew who Robert Parker was and I couldn’t understand why the wines he gave such high points to were never to my liking. Alice’s book read more like prose than the boring, over-analytical wine writing I was used to.  Wine writing can sometimes be quite tedious.more like a game of words and narcissism rather than stories about wine and people who make them. Alice instead wrote stories about vineyards and the culture of wine, opening up a new world to me and introducing me to a movement of people with shared values and dedication to the earth, people making authentic wines with a sense of place. . The book changed my life and how I eat and drink. 

So, what was I drinking before? Honestly, I don’tknow.  Conventional wines found in supermarkets -even those labeled organic- can contain dozens of preservatives, engineered yeast strains, concentrates, artificial color, acidifiers, de-acidifiers, and many more additives that are not on the label.  Even if a bottle of wine is labeled ‘organic,’ it simply means the grapes were grown organically but doesn’t tell the consumer anything about what is happening during the wine making process. 

What I am drinking now? I am drinking homegrown stories and natural wines. Living in Italy, I am lucky to have access to some of the country's most dedicated producers.   And over the past past decade, natural wine producers have flourished like the craft beer movement- natural wines have dedicated sections in wine lists and natural wine bars are popping up all over the world.  How can you get to know natural wines?  The best ways are talking about it: heading to natural wine fairs to meet producers, asking sommeliers, and joining tastings. If you are in Rome, I have a go-to list of five wine shops and enotecas with great wine sold by friendly people.

Les Vignerons in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.

Les Vignerons (Trastevere) the first enoteca in Rome completely dedicated to natural wine and craft beer.  Owners Antonio Marino and Marisa Glands are charming, friendly, and incredible listeners- one of the most important wine qualities, in my opinion. I’ve been their client for years and always walk out with new wines that are suited for my tastes. Keep in mind that Les Vignerons is not a wine bar, but a shop- one of the best - for both product range and prices - in Italy.

Enoteca L’Angolo Divino (Campo de’ Fiori): the corner wine bar. Owner Massimo Crippa has one of the most well curated wine lists in Rome and a bonus is that it is right in the heart of the historic city center. Not only are the wines fantastic, the ambience is perfectly charming and rustic, with low lights and lots of wood paneling. Massimo has always served wines from small, traditional producers, even before natural wines became trendy. Like me, he has a great passion for promoting Lazio producers. I also love the flow of local Romans who come in for a glass of wine or to buy a bottle- a great spot to brush up on Roman dialect and hear local gossip. 

Enoteca Vignaioli Naturali (Prati): bolt hole wine bar conveniently located around the corner from St. Peter’s Square. Owner Tiziana Gallo is not just one of the most important women in wine here in Rome, she also is the pioneer of the Eternal City’s natural wine movement, hosting annual wine fair Vignaioli Naturali a Roma. At least once a month, you can find me here for her wine tastings- thematic yet not guided, in other words a great place to catch up with friends and talk wine.

Da Cesare al Casaleto (Monteverde): a new style/old school trattoria in a residential neighborhood.. Owner Leonardo Vignoli took over ownership in 2009 and has done a fantastic job of maintaining a classic trattoria ambience with amazing food and a stellar wine list. There are fantastic naturals on their wine list, and if you don’t know how to order them, the waiters are happy to help you pick out the right wine at a great price point.

Barnaba Vino e Cecina (Testaccio) The first time I visited Barnaba, I immediately texted my wine bestie an urgent message that I found our new Rome hang-out. It’s exquisite. While snooty hipsters seem to have taken up a lot of space in the movement, there are still places out there that care about quality and service. The wine list is stellar and has a heavy emphasis on Champagne and French producers. So for a person like me who is steeped in Italian wine, having access to non-Italian wine is a fantastic change of pace. The Italians on the list are all well curated, clean, well made wines. The food is upscale wine bar fare that pairs perfectly with the wines. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. This is my place for celebrating with great wine. 

Wine talk at Angolo Divino.

Wine talk at Angolo Divino.

Want to know more about Uncorked and Sarah May? Listen to Travel: In Situ with Darius Arya. Episode 4 is all about Sarah and Lazio wines.

{ART}Sarah Sze recycles Time at Crypta Balbi

Split Stone (7:34), Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi. Photo by Erica Firpo.

There are so many ways to experience Rome but there is nothing I like best than the time-bending contradiction of ancient and contemporary in the exact same moment. Rome isn’t simply ancient, or Baroque, or modern. It’s all of that at once, which is what makes visiting and living in Rome so thrilling and stressful. It’s knee-jerk to say Rome is chaotic- because it truly is. Hit pause for a second, you’ll see that the chaos is just all of the layers of time fighting for space.

Timeless. Timely. Time waster. Sentimental. Rome practically begs you to take a bigger bite of its personality. And lately, museums, cultural sites, monuments and galleries are serving it up in on a time-bending platter. Latest is Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze, a Gagosian Gallery/Museo Nazionale Romano collaboration appearing this month and through January.

Looking close for the pixels. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Rock of Ages

Head down to the subterranean of Cripta Balbi and you come face to face with a split boulder. It’s Sarah Sze's latest installation and counter-part to her self-titled gallery exhibition at Gagosian. Two halves of a monumental granite rock that sneakily resemble a geode sit in the travertine-lined remains of the 1st century BC theatre of Balbus- just one incarnation of Cripta Balbi, an archaeo-museum that is all about recycled space. Walk around the site and you’re stepping through millennia-spanning detritus from its incarnations as ancient theatre, medieval house, Renaissance convent and 19th century orphanage. Walk back to Split Stone, take a closer look. Sze permanently drilled a slick and pixelated image of sunset (that she snapped on her smartphone!) on the face of each stone.

This is not the Crypta Balbi show that Darius would dream of, but it’s the kind of show I have been waiting to see- recycling Rome through an incredible (yet barely visited) archaeo-museum and inserting the very contemporary into its historic context. Because that is Rome every day life- imperial leftovers while we wait for the bus, Baroque backdrops while we visit the dentist, unification monuments while we shop at H&M.

“Rome is a constant intersection of ancient and contemporary, all the time mixing together”, says Sze. It’s a never-ending conversation of permanent and ephemeral, analogue and dialogue, and old and new, aka Rome every day.

I want to see this show- How do I do it?

It’s pretty easy. Split Stone is in situ at Crypta Balbi, all you have to do enter the museum. Here’s a tip: Cripta Balbi is one of the four locations of the Museo Nazionale Romano- an incredible, four-venue ticket which at 15 euro for a 72-hour period is one of my favorite ways to explore the city- ancient and present day. Each of the four Museo Nazionale Romano venues focuses on Ancient Rome, with a large stress on sculpture, and each is a unique architectural experience- an ancient bath structure (Diocleziano), a Renaissance palace (Altemps), a late 19th century townhouse (Massimo) and an ancient Roman theatre/crypt/medieval residence/archaeological site (Balbi). All four museums hide in plain sight -Palazzo Massimo and Terme di Diocleziano by Termini Station, Palazzo Altemps by Piazza Navona and Crypta Balbi by Largo Argentina.

Tickets: 10 euro per site, or a 15 euro cumulative ticket which lasts 72 hours

Split Stone closes January 27, 2019.

A Secret New Hotel in the Center of Everything Great in Rome

The Adelaide Salotto at Hotel Vilòn. All photos courtesy of Hotel Vilòn.

A charming new hotel in the center of Rome embodies everything that contributing editor Erica Firpo loves about her home town — beauty, discretion, charm, and aesthetics. This article originally appeared in Fathom, October 2018.

ROME – One of my favorite things to do is muse about where I would have an affair in Rome. After a few years of testing out the possibilities — from an off-the-beaten-path bedroom nook to a corner suite in a posh hotel — I've realized I have some basic requirements. 

Whereas some people just need a room key, I need just a little bit more. First, location: The address must be in the absolute hub of the city center, but at the same time extremely unassuming, with no doorman, flags, or fanfare, so I can slip in and out of the crowd unnoticed. Second, luxurious: I need to feel the affair is worth it, not from its price tag but by its top quality, from sheets and showers to artwork and design. Third, view: I want a terrace where I can take in the city, but absolutely no way can it face anything public.

Easy, right?

Not at all, which is why I love Rome.

The Eternal City is the chaotic culmination of history, culture, and personalities that become an infernal nightmare when trying to hide an affair. True Romans have lived and breathed for at least sette generazioni(seven generations), so six degrees of separation takes on a logarithmic new dimension where everyone knows everyone else and nothing goes unnoticed.

Or so I thought until I stepped off via del Corso, aka the main thoroughfare for the all-ages scene, and onto via dell'Arancio, a nondescript side street with a row of doors. The doors were a side entrances to private apartments within Palazzo Borghese, a vast urban villa estate whose famous residents include papal families and Paulina Borghese, Napoleon Bonaparte's sister.

What makes the Borghese stand out among Rome's incredible palazzi are the gardens — an arcadia in the city with a courtyard with statues of ancient gods, 96 granite columns, a nympheum, and a beautiful garden with three allegorical fountains. Getting access to the gardens is all but impossible. You are lucky if you can take a peek during the few days the gardens are open to the public. 

Or you can book yourself into a garden-facing room at Hotel Vilòn, a rip-the-plastic-off new hotel in the very center of the Eternal City, part of the latest lineup of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. One of the discreet doors on via dell'Arancio, the former Borghese family property became a School for Maidens in 1841 and was until recently home to  Daughters of the Cross, an order of French nuns, who I presume weren't using the rooms for the affairs I was fantasizing about.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

Rates

Rates start from €462.

Checking In

Location
In the very center of Rome's historic center, just off of via del Corso, conveniently on a side street away from the crowds and the noise, but close enough to walk straight into the thick of it.

Hotel Style
Sultry, from the minute you walk across the harlequin-tiled marble entrance floor. Rich hues, lavish marbles and woods, and lots of well-chosen contemporary and photography. The rooms chill down with neutral hues, mahogany floorboards, and accents of dark blues and violets. The vibe is intimate and private, and overall style is that very chic Italian best friend you've always dreamed of.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

This Place Is Perfect For
Me. And anyone who likes a little sexy oasis in the city center.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone who is looking for a full-service hotel, as there is no spa or gym. But honestly, you're in Rome. Just walk out the front door.

What's on Site
The gorgeous lounge bar and restaurant Adelaide, and the hidden open-air atrium lounge.

Food + Drink
If I could, I would park myself in Vilòn's Adelaide salotto every single afternoon. The lounge feels like a fabulous film still, and no wonder: Set designer Paolo Bonfini created the ambience with rich colors, patterns, and prints, playing off that gorgeous octane blue. Photographer Massimo Listri hand-selected all the artwork and included his monumental photos from the Uffizi museum, and architect Giampiero Panepinto added the whimsical design pieces. Oh, wait, did I mention the cocktails are incredible? Vilòn's barman/mixologist curates the menu with classics, forgotten classics, and Adelaide's own drinks. The Adelaide salotto flows into the Adelaide restaurant, a stately salon that serves a tasty buffet of treats all day long, as well as lunch and dinner with Roman cuisine inspired dishes. Everything is served on beautifully mismatched Richard Ginori porcelain.

Number of Rooms
18 guest rooms and suites. Room categories range, from smallest to largest, are: Double, Charming, Charming with Terrace, and Charming Deluxe. The three suites are Vilòn, Melangolo (named for via dell' Arancio's medieval nickname), and Borghese.

In-Room Amenities
My favorite amenity by far are the plush bath robes — by far, the most comfortable of any Rome hotel — and the octane blue slippers which general manager Giorgia Tozzi spent months sourcing. And I should mention that the all-white marble bathrooms are divine. Ladies, keep an eye out for the Saugella Detergente Intima next to the bidet, it is preferred intimate cleanser of signore italiane. Keeping up with 21st-century tech, rooms have large Sony televisions teched-out with Apple TV, WiFi with great connectivity, and the lighting system is the ultra-innovative Domot by MicroDevice. My pet peeve in any hotel is the outlet situation, and at Vilòn, they were on point, no need to move any furniture. The mini bar stocked with free drinks like Italian specialties Gazosa, Chinotto, and Aranciata, as well as international favorites and snacks, including my very favorite dark-chocolate covered toasted hazelnuts.

Drawbacks
Parking. Then again, if you're in Rome, you don't need a car.

Standout Detail
The garden-facing terraces. Yes, the signature suites are fabulous, but book me a Vilòn Charming room looking onto the Borghese Palace's private garden, and I'm happy.

Checking Out

What to Do Nearby
This neighborhood, Campo Marzio, is by far my favorite in Rome. Absolutely everything that encapsulates the Eternal City is here. Ancient monuments like Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis, a 1st-century temple in an ultra-mod Richard Meier-designed glass box. Also: fabulous piazzas for great coffee, ice cream, and people-watching at Caffe CiampiniLa Matricianella is my pick for a picture-perfect lunch. As for shopping, via del Corso is the teen beat gauntlet, and nearby Piazza di Spagna and Via del Babuino are for big spenders, but I prefer the side streets around Largo Goldoni including via della Frezza and via del Fontanella Borghese.

Or Go Explore the Rest of the Country
Rome is the perfect city to kick off or end any Italian vacation. She's got personality for days, so if you're in need of a respite, consider Rome the pre-party, and hop the train to any coastal town for a bit of R&R or to Milan for a fashion binge. For day trips and overnighters, Italy is at your disposal from Rome’s Termini train station. Naples for a pizza? Why not? Florence for a quick stop at Palazzo Strozzi? Sure! Add to the list a myriad small towns, and Italy is yours. If you are more interested in off-the-beaten paths like Sperlonga, Bomarzo and Cività di Bagnoregio and train connections are tight, your best bet is hiring a car. Or if you've spent all of your time traveling the peninsula, afterparty in the Eternal City. Nothing like a plate of carbonara to calm you down.

Good to Know
Rome is a contradiction. It's a crazy and chaotic city that needs at least a few hours of relax — like a long lunch in a pretty piazza — every day. High tourist season kicks off a few weeks before Easter and lasts through July. Romans vacate the city once the heats sets in (and after the July sales kick off around July 5), but the city is stifling hot. By August, the temperatures cool down and the city is empty of all residents. My favorite time for a visit is late October-November and early February.

Getting Around
Rome is a city for walking, but, for the more intrepid urban explorer, the ATAC public transport system of buses, trams, and metro is well connected. Rule of thumb: Buy your tickets in advance at the tabacchaio (small tobacco item stores) and date-stamp them as soon as you enter the metro or board the bus.

Suite Life: Rome's Costaguti Experience

If Rome is living history, there is no better way to understand than to actually live in Rome, whether for a few days, years or lifetime. I've chosen the latter, and every day I still find surprisingly different ways of seeing the Eternal City, whether on the hunt for art- ancient or otherwise, or where I lay my head.  A few months back, I was invited to get out of my comfort zone and experience what it would be like to be a Roman nobile with a weekend stay at Costaguti Experience in the historic Palazzo Costaguti, what Renaissance artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari considered one of the best palaces in Rome.

Built in the early 16th century and acquired by the aristocratic Costaguti family in 1578, Palazzo Costaguti was a hub for the Baroque era’s most famous artists who were tasked with creating frescoes through the residence.   Nicolas Poussin, Cavalier d'Arpino and the Zuccari Brothers all spent time lavishing decorating the ceilings with scenes of putti, Aneid and the months of the year.  Today, the Marchese occupies the buildings private apartments, but the  piano nobile (main floor) is open to guests as the ultra-luxe Costaguti experience- a five-bedroom apartment with full-time concierge service.

Billiard room.

Cavalier d'Arpino was here - ceiling fresco in the Billiard room.

Let's be clear:  the apartment is  beautiful and tastefully styled to celebrate both its Baroque history and its contemporary incarnation.  The 50-square-meter salon is the jewel of the Costaguti family for its a richly detailed original wood ceiling and design border a fresco panel series of the Allegory of the Months and the Virtues painted by the Zuccari brothers, and it was our main hangout where we hosted two dinner parties, a lovely wine and cheese tasting organized by Costaguti and Beppe e Suoi Formaggi, one of the city's preeminent cheese makers, and just hung out watching Netflix.  When we needed to walk around, we played pool under my favorite painting, Cavalier d'Arpino's Aneid.

Deciding where to sleep would have been a challenge if we weren't the bosses.  On the first level, there are three rooms, two with wooden ceilings (at 30ft, matching the salon), and we chose the main bedroom with personal hammam. Room 2 was its next door with super king bed and smaller day bay.  Room 3 was charming (read: intimately tiny) with its Poussin putti fresco ceiling, and en suite bathroom, perfect for a godmother or best friend.  Bedrooms 4 and 5 were a short staircase to a mezzanine level where were eye-to-eye with gilded arch molding, an experience that prior to this weekend I have only had from far below.  Bedroom 4 was sultry, nestled in those gorgeous golden arches with a open marble bath area and hidden waterfall shower.  Bedroom 5 is the least interesting, a tastefully simple niche with two twin beds and view of inner courtyard.

Cleaning staff arrived promptly to our designated time each morning, and our kitchen was stocked daily with neighborhood and Roman favorites including Sant'Eustachio coffee and freshly made pastries from Caffe Roscioli.  There were so many more goodies that I don't remember, but I do fondly recall Grazia, our concierge, who was available at all times for all of our questions and incredibly polite when we accidentally shorted the electricity. Note: when staying in a Roman apartment, always discuss the limits of electrical usage and fuse box location.

Read my design review of Costaguti Experience on Pages 24-25 of Rhapsody, United's first class inflight magazine.

The golden arches.... original, gilded molding in the upstairs bathroom.

Zuccari fresco detail in the main salon (ceilings are 30 ft)

Location:  Historic Center, well positioned to public transportation and taxis, as well as easy to walk to all major monuments.  Palazzo Costaguti is my "almost home" landmark,  a great shortcut through Piazza Mattei, the borderline between the Campitelli neighborhood and Rome's Ghetto.  While most are taking photos of the Fontana delle Tartarughe, Giacomo della Porta's and Taddeo Landini's unmissable turtle fountain,  I always stop to look at the monument front entrance with Costaguti written on the lintel, and I think of Tom Ripley, envious friend from Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley, who lived Palazzo Costaguti when he took on Dickie Greenleaf's identity in Rome.

Fontana delle Tartarughe with Palazzo Costaguti entrance in the background.

 

4 Rome Restaurants With Remarkable Views

Hotel Hassler Roma. Credit: Hotel Hassler Roma

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, March 2018, and is a favorite of mine since there is nothing better than a view of Rome.

Rome is a city whose personality shines through its visible history — an incredible cityscape of monuments, palaces and piazzas, which are all usually experienced at ground level. But to truly know the Italian capital, you have to head to new heights. Here are some of the top terrace restaurants guaranteed to make you fall in love over and over again with the Eternal City.

Imàgo
View: Domes of the historic city center

Situated on the sixth floor of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Hassler Roma, this excellent restaurant is a favorite spot for locals and visitors thanks to its walls of windows overlooking the historic city center. From your perch at this stylish spot, you’ll be able to see at least a dozen notable palaces and monuments, among them the ornate Altare della Patria (Victor Emmanuel II monument) and the majestic church of Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona.

The acclaimed restaurant is directed by chef Francesco Apreda, whose tradewind travels led to a playful seasonal menu that combines traditional Italian recipes with subtle Asian influences. Dine on dishes like veal carpaccio with persimmon, nori seaweed and escarole ravioli and sake-glazed black cod as you watch the sun set over the Eternal City skyline.

View from La Pergola. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Pergola
View: A sweeping city panorama

Perched on the ninth floor of Four-Star Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in the Monte Mario neighborhood, this stunning establishment occupies a verdant hill about 15 minutes from the city center. In other words, La Pergola offers a sweeping perspective of the entire Eternal City.

Chef Heinz Beck has perfected the art of interpretation in Italian cuisine — he delivers a 10-course menu that left Michelle Obama asking for more. The former first lady was so enamored with Beck’s fagottelli (tiny cheese-filled pasta parcels) carbonara that she asked for the recipe.

Getting a reservation at this scenic spot is about as difficult as getting a private audience with the pope — give yourself at least two and half months in advance and be sure to ask for a terrace table. If privacy is paramount, then be sure to book the private dining room — a gorgeous gilded, glass-enclosed terrace that Gianni Versace would have loved.

Aroma Restaurant
View:  A front row seat to the Colosseum

There is nothing like the Colosseum, the world’s largest amphitheater famously known for its days of bloody sport. Ever wonder what it would have been like to have a ticket — even if it’s for one of the cheap seats? When you book a table at Aroma, the rooftop restaurant of Palazzo Manfredi, it’s almost possible.

The elegant eatery features a full-frontal vista of Rome’s most iconic monument — an unforgettable and unobstructed view that is a scene for proposals. Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio complements the backdrop with his top-notch cuisine. Expect plenty of creative, seafood-centric Mediterranean plates, such as red-cabbage-marinated octopus, roasted scallops with sweet pepper and lime cream and sea bass stewed in tomatoes, garlic and parsley.

Hotel Eden's Vista. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Terrazza
View: Downtown Rome

Rome’s panorama is a cascade of domes and bell towers, and there is no better place to take in the sweeping vistas than from this heralded restaurant on the terrace of the Five-Star Hotel Eden. You’ll want to book a front row table at La Terrazza just in time to watch the sun set across the city and St. Peter’s dome illuminate in the night sky. 

Chef Fabio Ciervo considers the terrace his masterpiece and focuses on quality-of-life dishes that have put him at the forefront of the evolution of Italian cuisine. His spin on the traditional cacio e pepe pasta includes Madagascar pepper and rose perfume, and his stracotto di manzo (slow-cooked pot roast) is a delicious bite of beef that will leave you speechless.

7 Rome Exhibitions You Don’t Want To Miss

This article was first published in Forbes Travel, December 2017.

he Canvas That Is Rome. Credit: patrizio1948

From monumental to peculiar, and ancient to contemporary, Rome has it all for art aficionados. And thankfully, there’s no better time than right now to traverse the Eternal City and catch up with these not-to-be-missed exhibitions.

History comes alive
If there is one thing ancient Rome was known for, it was making a colossal impression. And no emperor did it better than Trajan, whose two decades in the city expanded the empire beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Archaeological site Mercati di Traiano (Trajan’s markets) showcases the emperor’s imperial advances — from infrastructure and economic services to architectural and urban development — in “Trajan: Building the Empire, Creating Europe,” on display through September 9.

Peruse Picasso
Bring yourself back to the modern age by visiting “Picasso: Tra Cubismo e Classicismo 1915-1925” at the Scuderie del QuirinaleThe exhibit explores the fantastic mind of the artistic genius in a display of 100 works that visually catalog his 1917 Italian travels with playwright Jean Cocteau as they searched for inspiration by following Sergei Diaghilev’s touring ballet company throughout the country.

Drawings, watercolors, sketches and stage costumes on display through January 21 honor the centenary of their auspicious journey.

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Revel in the Renaissance
Through February 11, the beautiful and historic Palazzo Barberini plays host to “Arcimboldo,” an exhibition of 20 works by 16th-century Lombard painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi. His paintings are an exploration of creative portraiture using objects such as flowers, fruit and animals.  Accompanying Arcimboldi’s amazing efforts are 100 pieces by his contemporaries.

Meanwhile, across town, Galleria Borghese is celebrating its beloved Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini with 60 treasures that join the galleria’s already substantial collection of Bernini sculptures in a spectacular feature exhibition, on display through February 4. 

Check out contemporary culture
While Rome may be the world’s best open-air museum of ancient monuments and Baroque palaces, it is also a tiny hub of contemporary art. “Home Beirut. Sounding the Neighbors” is the third part of the internationally acclaimed Maxxi Museum’s series Interactions across the MediterraneanThe installment focuses on the contemporary art scene in Beirut, Lebanon, through four variants of the concept of “home” seen through the eyes of 36 artists, musicians, publishers, designers and filmmakers, on display through May 20. 

And for a different take on a museum experience, the tiny Chiostro del Bramante asks you to “Enjoy” art in an interactive exhibit of installations, optical illusions, paintings, sculptures and videos all meant to be played with. This amusing display is available through February 25.

Fornasetti At Palazzo Altemps. Credit: Palazzo Altemps

The best of both visual worlds
For a fun-and-fabulous mix of modern design, ancient art and Renaissance beauty, catch Fornasetti a Palazzo Altemps. Through May 6, be spellbound by art and design pieces from whimsical Italian artist/interior decorator Piero Fornasetti that intermingle with the Palazzo Altemps’ incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculpture displayed in the palace’s resplendently decorated Renaissance rooms.  

Umbria: 3 Picture-Perfect Day Trips From Rome

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, November 2017.

Perugia, Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Rome may be the center of everything, but sometimes even the Eternal City needs a day off. When the air cools down and the colors ripen with autumn, the evergreen region of Umbria beckons with its beautiful countryside, art and cuisine. Take a step off the beaten Italian path and plan a day trip to one of these three picturesque cities.

PERUGIA
Hop on the train for a scenic two-and-a-half hour trip to the center of the country. Not only is the historic city of Perugia the capital of the Umbria region, it’s also so verdant that the area is known as the “Green Heart” of Italy.

A former Etruscan settlement, medieval stronghold and Renaissance city, Perugia is one of those examples of architectural and cultural palimpsest — a site literally built upon layers of history. Imposing fortress walls surround a historic center, which in itself is a magnificent maze of medieval streets and beautiful palazzos. Buried below its charming surface is an incredible subterranean time capsule of Roman and Etruscan structures.

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What to do there
Explore underground Perugia, starting with a guided tour of the excavated portion of the city’s San Lorenzo Cathedral in the Museo di San Lorenzo. Follow the trail of Pietro Vannucci (aka Perugino), Perugia’s most famous artist and former mentor to Raphael.

The San Severo Chapel, in the Church of San Severo, features a fresco painted by both master and pupil while the city’s National Gallery of Umbria has several paintings by the duo.

Perugia is also known as Chocolate City, home to Italy’s largest sweets manufacturer, Perugina. Plan to visit the Casa del Chocolate, a small museum dedicated to Perugina’s confectionary history and then live out an I Love Lucy fantasy with a chocolate-making class at the Baci Perugina School of Chocolate.

If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, check out Eurochocolate, Europe’s largest festival dedicated to all things cocoa hosted in Perugia each fall.

Visit again just after the holiday season for the winter edition of Umbria Jazz, a world-renowned music fest (December 28 to January 1).

Between excursions, be sure to stop for a bite at Trattoria del Borgo, a farm-to-table restaurant that celebrates the best of the region’s local ingredients. Don’t miss the handmade strangozzi with pesto made with Umbrian wild herbs. Try to snag a table in the backyard — you won’t be sorry.

SPOLETO
Situated just one-and-a-half hours outside of Rome (by train), Spoleto is quite possibly the most picture-perfect of all Umbrian hill towns. With the snowy peaks of the Apennine Mountains as a backdrop, the magnificent medieval fortress town cuts an imposing figure in the lush green hills. The beautiful city is an architectural composite of its millennia-spanning history of Roman ruins, medieval walls, romanesque churches and more.

What to do there
Bring your walking shoes — this is one town you’ll want to explore from top to bottom. Spoletium was a Roman colony as early as 241 B.C., and the town still has traces of its ancient history.

Magnificent stone structures dating from the 1st century B.C. stand miraculously intact, including an amphitheater and arches — in particular the formidable Arch of Drusus and Germanicus, anachronistically spanning a narrow medieval street.

You can examine more delicate pieces of the city’s Roman history at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Spoleto

Strolling around the walled town inevitably leads to the Piazza Del Duomo, a magnificent open space anchored by a beautiful, light pink stone cathedral. During the summer months, the piazza becomes the scene for Festival di Spoleto, a popular outdoor celebration of Italian music, dance and opera. (Now you see where organizers of the famed Charleston arts festival of the same name get their inspiration.)

Nature lovers will want to traverse the Bridge of Towers, a 775-foot-long and nearly 300-foot-high stone structure on the outskirts of the city connecting to Monteluco. Then follow the Giro dei Condotti on a short panoramic walk around the hill.

TODI
Often described as Umbria’s most beautiful city, Todi is spectacular from the moment you see it on the road during the under-two-hour drive in through the Tiber valley. Like other hill towns, Todi sits on a peak overlooking the countryside, but for some reason the light seems to cast a more heavenly glow on the mountainside here. Perhaps that’s why the Romans took over this Etruscan stronghold.

The town itself is a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets leading to the Piazza del Popolo, a caffe-lined square whose main building, Palazzo del Popolo, is one of Italy’s oldest public structures.

What to do there
For most, just walking around Todi and eating delicious Umbrian delicacies is enough, but if you crave a taste of history and culture, plan a visit to the Museo Civico di Todi. This local museum bursts with paintings and antiquities that trace the town’s story from its Etruscan origins through the Renaissance.

More active types will want to delve into the city’s history with Underground Todi, a fascinating subterranean tour of tunnels and wells from the Etruscan, Roman and Medieval eras.

But no matter your interests, you won’t want to miss the Tempio di Santa Maria Consolazione (the Consolation Temple), designed in 1508 by superstar architect Donato Bramante. His church is built in a symmetric cross, surmounted by a dome and unique to the era.