TRAVEL

My Local Guide to Rome's Flaminio Neighborhood

Metropolita. All photos by Ginevra Sammartino.

When the Washington Post’s new platform By The Way asked me to share my favorite neighborhoods in the city, I immediately thought of Flaminio, a large bean-shaped area north of Piazza del Popolo and immediately south of the bend in the Tiber. (Fyi- the river is one of our main sources of direction, and where it bends is key.) For a few years now, there’s been buzz about Flaminio upseating and upsetting Monti and Pigneto as Rome’s It neighborhood, but for me, it’s been IT since 1938 when my Zia Cesarina e Zio Furio moved in the area. My zio Romano has lived there ever since, and at some point, Flaminio became my official address, too.

Why Flaminio: This corner of Rome was where my uncle took me for the daily pane e prosciutto, where I learned Italian by playing in the piazza and where I spied on Giancarlo Giannini at the local corner caffe. Darius and I taught our girls to ride bicycles and cheer for Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, and went mini-ziplining in the Olympic Village. It feels like a small town in the midst of the big city, and no matter the changes or the reputation as the new hips spot, Flaminio keeps its vibe local.

Flaminio is a slice of modern Rome, just a 10-minute tram ride from one of the city’s northern gates, Porta del Popolo. Architecture from almost every modern and contemporary era can be found here, from 1930s rationalist buildings to structures built for the 1960 Olympics that reflect that decade’s urban-planning philosophy to 21st-century award-winning sites. Get your camera ready. Flaminio is the Rome you aren’t used to, but the residents are. The area is family-oriented and art-focused. 

Bistrot 64

When we lived in Flaminio, Via Calderini was the spot where we fixed our computers and that was it. It was desolate, whether it was an Absent August or a busy October. The food spots in the area were restricted to Roman and that’s it. Now, Via Calderini is on the books for Michelin star Bistrot 64. What I love about this spot is that it is cozy and fits the residential vibe of the neighborhood, and then puts a spin of what you are expecting. Chef Kotaro Noda infuses regional dishes with Japanese spices, aromas and sensibility. The trattoria-style restaurant is one of the country’s most affordable Michelin-star eateries.

Maxxi

I remember standing on Romano’s terrace in 1999 when he pointed at a crane and said , “Ecco il novo museo”. The Maxxi would be under construction for another 9 years, but when it opened, it was our backyard and today it’s the backyard for some many families. Step inside, and it’s an adventure in contemporary art. Architect Zaha Hadid’s award-winning Maxxi museum houses a collection of Italy’s art and architecture from the 21st century.

Ponte della Musica Location

Another architectural fete that I saw in progress. When we first moved into the neighborhood, there was no bridge here, and it was no big deal. When we moved it, the neighborhood inaugurated this incredible pedestrian bridge with a full marching band, and we were in front. I love catching sunsets here. One of the newest bridges in Rome, the “music bridge,” from 2011, is a beautiful double-arched footbridge perfect for a romantic walk or photo ops. Under the south side is an informal skate park.

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Foro Italico/Stadio dei Marmi Location

I have loved Fascist-era architecture for as long as I can remember, and I love visiting the Foro Italico with Romano, who reminds how he and my mom watched a chariot race here in 1950. A leftover from the 1920s, the Stadio dei Marmi is one of the prettiest tracks ever built, with low, marble stadium seats lined with statues of athletes posed in classical attire, surrounding a grass field and turf track. The entire Foro Italico complex is one of the best examples of Fascist-era architecture. A huge part of this complex is the 1960s Stadio Olimpico, host of the 1960 Olympics and stadium for Rome football teams AS Roma and SS Lazio.

Metropolita

This corner lounge took over a decades-old persian carpet shop, which was our directional point of reference whenever any of our friends "made “the trek” out to visit us. The entire palazzo (which included our apartment) is one of the Lungotevere Flaminio’s more beautiful examples of 1920s architecture- aka go big or go home, with incredible marbles and curves. Taking up the ground floor of a 1920s palazzo, Metropolita is a chic salon and cocktail lounge whose interiors play on the building’s Art Deco heritage, with retro sci-fi cinema touches.

Spot Gallery

My designer friend Arlene brought me to Spot and I immediately had a flashback to the space. It used to be our local gelateria. Now a gallery boutique, Spot catches the design vibe of the neighborhood with its hand-selected and restored design pieces. A diligently sourced collection of 20th-century furniture and design from epic names, including Gio Ponti, Enzo Mari and Gaetano Sciolari.

Auditorium Parco della Musica

The Auditorium is the neighborhood landmark- an incredible monument in the center of the Village Olimpico, the former Olympic Village, now residence. There are indoor music halls and an outdoor theatre which hosts summer concerts as well as ice skating and other festivals. But in the neighborhood, we love it for its park, a green space with children’s jungle gym. Take me to your leader, or your conductor. Three monumental alien-pod-shaped domes, covered in zinc oxide — actually concert halls — hover over an outdoor theater at this Renzo Piano-designed auditorium complex. Aside from looking out of this world, the concert halls hold live music performances of all genres.

How to Get to Here

I feel like I’m an expert on arriving to Flaminio. All my life, I’ve come to the neighborhood for every kind of event and on every kind of transportation- car, scooter, bike, bus and tram. For commuters, it’s easy to reach the neighborhood, all you have is localize Piazza Mancini on your map. Piazza Mancini is a major bus depot and tram turnaround, and hub for the area. From Piazza del Popolo, take the Tram 2, from Trastevere, walk across the Tiber to the eastern side of the river and take the 280 bus. From Termini, just hop on the 910. Google Maps is pretty good for the bus times. In a rush? Download FreeNow or ItTaxi, taxi hailing apps. I’d ignore Uber, there never seems to be any drivers.

 

How to Do the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018

Another Generosity at the Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Erica Firpo

My article on the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared in Condè Nast Traveler, May 2018.

Our guide to the very best of the seven-month architecture festival taking over Venice this year.

The Biennale Architettura 2018, or Venice Architecture Biennale, is an architect’s dream—but it’s also a design adventure for visitors, a temporary theme park for interactive and experimental works. Running through November 25, the event turns the entire Venetian archipelago into a playground of events, plus permanent and semi-permanent pavilions and projects that transform historic palazziand parks into design destinations. Here’s our guide to making sense of it all.

The Basics

The event centers around the Giardini, or the Biennale Gardens, a park where you’ll find the original national pavilions, a potluck of architecture from the early 1910s to today that includes projects from Australia, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The Central Pavilion, also at the Gardens, is the main stage for this edition of the Biennale, which is based around the theme of Free Space. Biennale curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin’s Grafton Architects chose the theme, but what exactly does it mean? “It’s the paradigm of architecture,” says McNamara of the concept. "It's a question about the absence and presence of architecture."

The Biennale Gardens. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In all, there are 63 national pavilions—and more than 70 architects—at the Biennale that explore the concept, but these six are among the most interesting:

  • Another Generosity, at the Nordic Pavilion (which reps Finland, Norway, and Sweden), you’ll find large membrane-like balloons, filled with water and air, that deflate and inflate as viewers walk through the space, a meditation on the relationship between nature and the built environment.
  • Dimension of Citizenship, at the U.S. Pavilion, consists of installations, films, and talks that explore "spatial understandings of citizenship," organizers say, at a time when "questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are posed with every athlete taking a knee, every #metoo, every presidential tweet, and every protest sign or fist raised."
  • Robabecciah: The Informal City, at the Egypt Pavilion, is a almost sculptural installation of “old junk,” or robabecciah, showcasing Egypt’s historic “spontaneous” markets.
  • UNES-CO, at the Czech/Slovak Pavilion, a futuristic welcome center where the backdrop is a screen showing a live feed of the Czech city of Český Krumlov, which has seen the population in its historic center drop dramatically in part because of an influx of tourists in recent years. The feed shows 15 couples and families who are being paid to live in the city full time.
  • Isola/Island, at the U.K. Pavilion, focuses on themes of isolation—both environmental and deliberately man-made—as well as questions of identity, both top of mind in post-Brexit Europe.
  • Svizzera240 House Tour, at the Swiss Pavilion, is a bit of a voyeuristic spin on architecture shows: As exhibitors put it: “What is built within the Swiss Pavilion is not a 'house' but a house tour: interior scenes are constructed at a range of different scales and spliced together, creating a labyrinthine sequence of interior perspectives.”

Meanwhile, the Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard, hosts the Corderie, a nearly 400-meter corridor that expands the Free Space exhibition; the neighboring warehouses host newer pavilions, including those of China, Italy, and Kosovo.

One of the 10 chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, part of the Vatican's entry for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018.Photo by Lena Klimkeit/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

More Must Sees

  • Woodland Chapels, the Vatican’s first ever entry in the Architecture Biennale, is both pilgrimage and installation. To visit, take a Line 2 vaporetto to the beautiful island of San Giorgio, where you’ll find 10 chapels designed by a dozen architects including Andrew Berman, Sir Norman Foster, Carla Juaçaba, and Eduardo Souto de Moura.
  • Environmental Justice as a Civil Right, at the Antigua & Barbuda Pavilion, the nation’s first entry to the Biennale, is set in the 15th-century Don Orione Artigianelli monastery on Dorsoduro. The pavilion explores sustainability, including the use of local materials and the importance of public parks—and the redevelopment of Barbuda, after the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
  • 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, recalls the the 1948 Biennale. Greece pulled out, and Peggy stepped in with a Carlo Scarpa–designed exhibit of 136 works; this year, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection celebrates its 70th anniversary by partially recreating the exhibition and bringing together works—from the likes of Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Jackson Pollock—which have not been seen in Venice in decades.
  • John Ruskin: The Stones of Venice, at the Doge’s Apartment in the Doge’s Palace, brings to life Ruskin’s three-volume tome on Venetian art and architecture through paintings, including Ruskin’s own watercolors.
  • Machines à Penser, at Fondazione Prada, in the ornate Ca’ Corner alla Regina, explores the ideas of exile and escape, with contemporary pieces inspired by (or reacting to) the work of the philosophers Adorno, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.

Where to Refuel

In the morning, hit Gran Caffe Quadri, the centuries-old coffee shop in St. Mark’s Square, that’s a favorite of local resident (and architecture superstar) Philippe Starck: “It’s a powerful concentration of mystery, beauty, oddity, and poetry,” he says of the famed coffeehouse. (In the evening, you can do dinner upstairs at Ristorante Quadri, the lavish and whimsical Michelin-star restaurant that he designed.)

Book ahead for lunch, since the Biennale crowds often fill Corte Sconta, a tiny Venetian trattoria with private garden, and Local, a former electrical shop gutted and transformed into a minimalist locavore restaurant. AMO, the atrium restaurant at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, is another Starck-designed choice near the Rialto Bridge.

Navigating the show

The best plan is to split your visit over two days. Start at the Giardini, visiting the central pavilion before branching off to the other country-specific entries; focus your second day on the remaining pavilions and the Arsenale. If you’ve got more time, spend it on off-site pavilions like the Vatican’s or seeing the contemporaneous shows around town.

The Biennale runs through November 25, and locations are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are €25 ($29) and grant a single admission to each of exhibition venues. You can buy tickets ahead of time online.

Photo credit Erica Firpo.

Where to stay

The Aman Venice, set in two restored centuries-old palazzi, feels like its own architectural show. The Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel is a sleeper favorite of Condé Nast Traveler editors that was on the Hot List in 2017. On the island of Giudecca, and a short (free) ferry ride from St. Mark’s Square, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is perfect if you prefer quiet—and it has what’s got to be the biggest swimming pool in Venice.

For a virtual tour of the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture, please take a look at my Instagram story that follows my adventures at the Biennale.