TRAVEL

PIT STOP TORINO: Doubletree Lingotto and FIAT Factory

The FIAT rooftop racetrack. Photo credit: Gilbert Sopakuwa

Torino is not the Italy you expect. It’s a rectilinear lines make make it the kind of city always ready for a street race, thanks to industrialist Giovanni Agnelli. Local boy gone big, Agnelli transformed the small town into the headquarters of an incredible automobile empire. And then in 1923, Agnelli put Torino into 5th gear when he opened the game-changing FIAT factory, the biggest automobile manufacturing structure in the world at the time, and the most beautiful example of Rationalist architecture - streamlined, functional and futuristic. The FIAT factory and headquarters oversaw saw every aspect of car production - from the assemblage of components and construction on the lower levels to midlevels of administration to its rooftop track where the final product - from the very first FIAT 500 Toppling to the roadster Pininfarina- would rev its engine on a kilometer-long oval test track. Connecting every level was an internal ramp leading from the roof to ground level (and vice versa) so that once approved, the car could literally drive out onto the streets of Torino.

One of the most impressive sights in industry....
— Le Corbusier

Technology eventually overtook hand-production, and by 1982, the FIAT factory closed the factory doors for a bigger, better location. But after almost 60 years, the FIAT factory was more than just a city landmark, it was an international emblem for industrialization and Torino’s innate entrepreneurial attitude which is why architect Renzo Piano pitched a renovation plan that would not just update the historic structure but return its contemporary relevance. Piano transformed its halls into a centro commercial (a mall center) and then he did something more….

Renzo Piano recreates the lines of the former FIAT HQ in the Doubletree’s lounge. Photo: Erica Firpo

Welcome to the DoubleTree Lingotto, a beautiful glass rectangle of a hotel designed by Piano who’s main source of inspiration was the adjacent FIAT factory. Opened in 2018, the DoubleTree Lingotto may not be in the most gamine neighborhood of Torino- but then again, Lingotto is neighborhood true to Torino’s DNA. And thanks to Agnelli and Piano, Lingotto is a destination for architecture and automotive fans.

Piano seeming dropped a vertical rectangle of stacked glass right now to FIAT, and his glass box is simple, framed just like the FIAT building next door. 142 rooms surround a large glass atrium- which is best enjoyed standing in one of the three glass elevators that haul you up all three floors, reminiscent of factory lifts. The rooms are large and luminous with three-meeter-high ceiling to floor glass windows- designed with wood paneling and dark blue leather. Slick, futuristic and function- 21st century rationalism at its very best.

If you ask nicely. . .

. . . you’ll be handed a small red key which gives you personal access to elevator to the FIAT rooftop track. Since the doors to the mall open early and I wanted that sunrise shot, I entered a desolate and some post-apocalyptic looking mall at 6:30am eventually making my way to roof. It was more than I expected, even if Torino reminded me that sunrise can also mean a rainbow of greys.

Those curves, and just peeking over the crest is Pinacoteca Agnelli (Renzo Piano, 2002).. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The ramp leading up to the rooftop. Photo: Erica Firpo

The ramp leading up to the rooftop. Photo: Erica Firpo

Looking up. Photo: Erica Firpo

Race through the streets of 1960s Torino and around the FIAT track with Michael Caine and Mini Coopers (??!!) in The Italian Job, 1969.

5 Boutique Rome Stays To Check Out This Summer

Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina

There isn’t a better time to visit Rome than in the summer, when the city illuminates with museum and site openings and incredible evening events. And the Italian capital is more than ready to accommodate with an incredible crop of small, but mighty high-end hotels that are helping to further evolve the city’s dynamic from eternal to iconic.

Here’s your room key to five of Rome’s most sumptuous stays.

Grand Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
History plays a major role in contemporary Roman life, so it’s no wonder that this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay masterfully combines both. A verdant enclave on the site of a first-century imperial villa, Grand Meliá provides an urban haven of relaxation with its sprawling greenery and state-of-the-art spa.

Beat the city heat by lounging around the picture-perfect 1920s-style swimming pool. Lined with cozy cabanas, plush loungers and secluded gardens, this elegant spot is an Instagrammer’s paradise.

When you need a bite (or a cocktail), simply stroll over to the buzzing poolside bar, Liquid Garden. Try a Spirtz & Fizz (gin, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, prosecco and smoked salt) and nibble on Italian bites.

You can also head to the terrace of Ossimoro to enjoy a flavorful Mediterranean meal from chef Carmine Buonanno — either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Portrait Roma’s Rooftop Terrace. Credit: Portrait Roma – Lungarno Collection

Portrait Roma — Lungarno Collection 
If you’re looking for a Five-Star pied-à-terre in the heart of town, you’ll find it here. The chic, 14-room property is a fashionista’s dream with Ferragamo-inspired interiors that look fresh off a magazine cover.

Open during the summer months, a rooftop terrace — serving light fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner — is equally as stunning, with cushy loungers, candles and a modern glass fireplace, perfect for cuddling or celebrating.

But some of the best features aren’t found inside — Portrait Roma boasts a prime locale on Via dei Condotti, Rome’s historic and exclusive fashion boulevard. The avenue is an excellent place to shop for haute couture during seasonal sales, which run through August.

And just in case you can’t decide what you want to do next, the hotel also has a team of six knowledgeable lifestyle assistants, ready to send you in the direction of the city’s hottest concert, exhibit or restaurant.

Villa Spalletti Trivelli. Credit: Villa Spalletti Trivelli

Villa Spalletti Trivelli
History buffs and luxury lovers alike will want to book into this Four-Star stay when heading to Rome. A historic home-turned-hotel, this refined retreat is decked out in period furniture and art, including tapestries, sculptures, paintings and an exquisite antique library recognized by Italy’s Ministry of National Heritage and Culture. Even the gardens are manicured to evoke an early 19th-century feel.

Hospitality goes above and beyond here. Expect to be greeted at the entrance and served breakfast and afternoon tea in lavish salons. Twelve bedrooms reside in the three-story home, while across the lawn are a large apartment and two spacious Garden Suites, which are highly recommended for a summer stay.  

But the real highlight is the remodeled rooftop terrace. Debuted this summer, the alfresco space has multiple whirlpools, a complimentary bar and a plush lounge. The hotel’s enviable position on Quirinale Hill — one of the seven hills of Rome — makes its rooftop a wonderful sunset spot.

The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel’s Divinity Rooftop Terrace. Credit: The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel

The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel
Debuted in April, this 79-room stunner occupies a prime perch in the magical and very central Pantheon neighborhood. The historic façade hides a complete interior rebuild by Milanese architect Marco Piva, who transformed the building into a veritable temple of design with glossy marbles, resplendent golds, warm woods and contemporary sculptures all inspired by the Pantheon itself. 

But the cherry on top of this sublime stay is the rooftop. Offering dome-level views of the iconic monument and Rome’s terracotta-dotted skyline, the Divinity Rooftop Terrace features a glass-enclosed wine cellar and a historically inspired cocktail menu, providing a scenic perch for summertime sundowners.

When the ground-floor restaurant Dionysus opens this fall, you can expect to enjoy Roman and regionally inspired flavors there along with a wine list of more than 400 labels.  

Hotel Vilón’s Adelaide. Credit: Stefano Scatà

Hotel Vilòn
Located in a 16th-century mansion that once belonged to one of Rome’s most formidable families, this brand-new boutique stay (it just opened in March) is this season’s best-kept secret.

Situated on a quiet side street just off the bustling historic city center, this 18-room darling was designed from floor to ceiling as a luxurious home. Rich colors, lavish marbles and woods, contemporary art and photography, and custom furniture create an ambiance that is both stylish and sultry. 

On the ground level is where you’ll find Adelaide, a gorgeous restaurant and bar that feels like you’ve just walked onto a film set, thanks to styling by production designer Paolo Bonfini. With its contemporary vibe and exclusive locale, this posh lounge is one of the hottest places in the city to sip — snag a stool during apertivo hour and order up a Principessa, a fragrant blend of citrusy Galliano L’Aperitivo, pomegranate juice, and thyme- and pink-pepper-infused soda.

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel July 2018.

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The Florence Experiment: Contemporary Art Slides Through The Renaissance Town

Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn! - Better Off Dead, 1985

Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide.  Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code.   We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way.    Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique.   In the summer,  the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity.  Scary?  Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.

Playgrounds don't have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more.  Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm.  Maybe that's a good thing, but when I stand atop today's slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn't, happen.  And I think Carsten Höller does too. 

Höller makes thrills.   His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past.  And this time he's experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he's playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence.   The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology.   Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling.  A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.  

Here's where it gets brainy. Once you've finished, you're invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi's underground laboratory where Mancuso's team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant.  And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot)  - in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi's external facade.  Sounds hokey? It could be, but it's fun and if you take a step back, it's pretty damn clever.  Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.

And guess what?  It's about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream.  For Höller,  "the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be." I agree. Let's do it.

Photo credit: Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florence Experiment

Palazzo Strozzi, through August 26

For those looking to discover more of Tuscany, Palazzo Strozzi is more than just a museum.  It is keystone to Associazione Partners Palazzo Strozzi APPS a coalition of personalities, institutions and firms that  support the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi , Florence and its "made-in-Florence" treasures through multi-cultural projects.

 

View from room 516, Hotel Savoy.

R & R:   Rooms and Restaurants

Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy.  516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi's dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells.  We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else - Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.  Earlier in 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space.  Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles.  I am hoping that the next I stay,  Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.

Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence's San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno.  Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter,  every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I've walked into someone's home.  For my group, the  focus is always singular:  a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt.  Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto.  Personally, I don't go there.

The laboratory.

4-Star Hotel Review: Hotel Celio, Rome

My review of the family-owned Hotel Celio first appeared in the Telegraph.

It is not every day that you find a three-star hotel in Rome that goes far beyond expectations.   Honestly, I've found that it's predictably the opposite which can be a bummer when looking for affordable and reliable hotels in Rome.

The Nitty Gritty:  Roberto Quattrini's 20-room boutique hotel is a fabulous find-  for three-star prices, you get a five-star location, quality design and personal service.  With decades in hospitality,  Robert anticipates and understands his guests and their needs, he understands hospitality and he has homegrown insight onto the city of Rome.  What does that mean?  He lives and loves the city, and is happy to share the how-tos. 

And Roberto has patience. The room experience is charming, if you know what you have booked.  Rooms are small in size, and meticulously curated to a classic style- mosaic floors, hand-painted frescoes, vintage prints and paintings, and heirloom furniture.  The bathrooms are tiny jewels decorated with lovely marbles.   This is the kind of hotel for those who enjoy classic style, not for those looking for minimalist chic or an Instagram shot.  My favorite details outside of the rooms?  The subterranean level with winter with gold-leafed breakfast room, and the mosaic-tiled (à la ancient Rome) hammam for personal use.  Oh yeah, I love the private screening room.

Hotel Celio

Rome, Italy

8 out of 10, Telegraph Expert Rating

"Named after one of Rome’s famed seven hills, the Hotel Celio is a charming and great value three-star hotel with an obvious love for the history of its Celio neighborhood."

Location: 9 / 10

Hotel Celio has great real estate just behind the Colosseum and within walking distant to all of Rome’s major sites, including the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. The immediate area is primarily residentially and pleasantly quiet, considering its proximity to Italy’s most visited monument. For a bit more buzz, hipster hub Monti (a neighborhood known for its restaurants, bars and shops) is a short 10 minute walk away. For more extensive travel, there is a near by Metro stop, tram stop and bus stops for getting to all corners of the city. Nature lovers and children of all ages will enjoy Villa Celimontana, a tranquil and very green park about five minutes walk from the hotel.

Style & character:  8 / 10

Playful, vintage Rome is the underlying theme at Hotel Celio. The décor harkens Rome of yesteryear with wood paneling, Venetian glass, period wallpaper and marble. Additionally, the hotel pays homage to the Eternal City's history with ceiling frescoes reminiscent of the lavish rooms of Ancient Rome’s elite. But don’t think this hotel is a dusty museum piece, instead owner Roberto Quattrini creates a warm and friendly refuge from a long day in Rome.

Service & facilities: 8 / 10

Very enthusiastic and efficient service, far more friendly and informed than the average Rome three-star. The hotel staff provides replete material on neighborhood restaurants, tour offerings, and events. There is a small workout room on the hotel’s rooftop with Technogym equipment (elliptical and running machines) as well as free weights, and in its basement is a private hammam, with gorgeous antiquity-inspired floor and wall mosaics. For a quick beauty fix, immediately across the street is e-Wellness, the Hotel Celio’s beauty center with a menu of beauty treatments including facials, massages, pedicures and manicures.

  • Bar
  • Fitness centre
  • Laundry
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi

Rooms:  8 / 10

Each of the Hotel Celio’s 20 rooms is charming, with a prevalence for Renaissance revival in its décor. All rooms are decorated in period style with detailed wallpaper, vintage furniture, patterned floor tiles and, in some cases, lavish mosaic floors and in situ frescoes. The standard doubles are small to average in space, so if size does matter, the first level, Ambassador Suite with its king-size bed, personal library of first edition books, and gorgeous brocade is an excellent choice, though I much prefer to go to the top for the Pompeian Suite, a rooftop terrace apartment with living room (that doubles as a guest room), two bathrooms, and three private terraces—with a prime view of the Colosseum. This is where you will want to sit at sunset.

Food & drink: 7 / 10

Hidden in the Hotel Celio’s ground level is a gorgeous, gold-leafed breakfast area, where guests are entertained for winter weather. In the summer months, Hotel Celio opens its garden courtyard for tented, al fresco breakfast, which is standard continental fare.

Value for money: 9 / 10

Double rooms from £90 in low season; rising to £120 in high. Breakfast and Wi-Fi included.

Access for guests with disabilities?

No.

Family-friendly?

Yes. In summer months, the rooftop terrace has a small wading pool and play area for children.

Hotel Celio

Via Dei Santi Quattro 35/C, 00184 Rome, Italy.

00 39 06 7049 5333

 

hotelcelio.com

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VINTAGE EDITIONS: Two Italian Boutiques Putting a Spin on Collectables

This article first appeared in Le Miami, December 2017.

PierLuigi – via Sperastudio

Beanie babies; Polly Pockets; Pokémon. Remember the satisfaction of drawers filled with all the right cards? Of shelves lined with all the right dolls? And of bragging rights to having the best collection on the block?  There’s something about a collection that makes you feel at home – probably because every single object was hand-picked and personally chosen. Now imagine that you’re making your collection into a home… Or better: a boutique hotel.

For restauranteur Lorenzo Lisi, his favourite collectable is wine – and with preferences to a 1970s Chateauneuf du Pape or a great Barolo, when he decided to renovate an early eighteenth century palazzo in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori neighbourhood into a hotel, he looked no further than the cantina at family restaurant, PierLuigi.

The 1,700-plus labels on the wine list are a composite of life moments as simple as a great dinner with friends, or a celebration for a new job or baby.  “Wine has always been tied to the story of man. If you think about it, wine is a constant in every phase of the celebration of life”, says Lisi, a sentiment that led him to establish the city’s (and Italy’s) first wine hotel.

Hotel de’ Ricci lobby sitting area – via Ebookers

Located on one of Rome’s historic Renaissance side streets, the eight-room Hotel de’ Ricci is a discreet hideaway in the city-centre.  And the wine celebration begins before stepping foot inside the brick townhouse.   Ricci’s 20-strong team of staff are expertly trained sommeliers who coordinate with guests to personalise wine experiences – from curated in-house wine bars (with Coravin devices to extract single glasses without uncorking) to vineyard visits with wine masters. And while you stay at the hotel, the sommeliers set up private tastings and evening apéritifs in the light-blue guests suites, where oversized vintage wine labels and original paintings by Andrea Ferolla intermingle with mid-century furniture.

Hotel de’ Ricci – via How To Spent It

As well as the on-site cantina lined abundantly with Italian and non-Italian labels, (looking for a Super Tuscan or the 1977 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Paulliac?), Lisi keeps the vibe local at the ground-level Charade bar, a Chez Dede-designed speakeasy that’s a favourite hangout for the guests – the kind of place where you’re likely to spot the neighbourhood archaeologist chatting away with the guys at Gucci.

Private charade bar at Hotel De’ Ricci – via TripAdvisor

Halfway to Florence on the A1 is countryside refuge Tenuta la Bandita, a refurbished farmhouse overlooking in the beautiful hills of Val d’Orcia and hinterlands of early Renaissance papal enclave, Pienza.  Like Lisi’s Hotel de’ Ricci, La Bandita has a subtle element of personality that sets it apart from the myriad of Tuscan villas and farmhouses that populate the countryside.  Music.  When owner John Voightman, a RCA/Sony Global Marketing veteran a made the move to Italy more than a decade ago, he brought 70 or so vinyls, culled from Voightman’s personal collection.

“Music is an experience”, muses Voightman, “it’s an expression of beauty, fun and joy”. Voightman’s LPs have become the literal and figurative centrepiece to the farmhouse, taking residence in its communal living area, an open-plan lounge perfect for a party. Displayed on custom-built shelves, the vinyls are meant to be looked over, played, and talked about it.  There’s switched out on occasion, and over the years, the collection has evolved from LPs Voightman’s personal collection to a mix of records accumulated from his guests’s contributions.

For the guests and Voightman, music is the nucleus of La Bandita country house and the townhouse, Bandita’s city counterpart. On any given evening, each property’s lounge is the scene where guests drop the needle on albums like 1970s Jose Feliciano jazz covers, John Lee Hooker, Meatloaf and Led Zeppelin, and spin conversation.

It’s all about vibe, and La Bandita has a great one.  The country house is an upgraded Under the Tuscan – where farmhouse walls are coated in a soft palettes of eggshell and ecrus and with natural stone floors. Meanwhile, following the same style as the town house, the interior décor is an effortless fusion of cool minimalism and rustic charm – and following in the same style is the Townhouse, a restored former convent in Pienza proper.  The hangout spaces are key – from its communal lounges and farm-to-table breakfasts, to Voightman’s wine cellar and vinyls.  It’s like that Italian rec room you never had with great tunes and wine, where your 10 besties meet up for a weekend of absolutely nothing.

Top 10: The Best Hotels Near The Trevi Fountain

  

By Lee Marshall, destination expert  and Erica Firpo, travel writer. 

An expert guide to the best Rome hotels near the Trevi Fountain, including the best places to stay for comfy rooms, intimate restaurants, rooftop terraces and relaxing spas, in locations that are ideal for seeing Rome's many sights, such as the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and the Colosseum. 

Crossing Condotti

Crossing Condotti,  Telegraph expert rating: 8/10

Crossing Condotti,  Telegraph expert rating: 8/10

A quiet haven located in Rome's bustling but still villagey fashion-shopping district, eight-room Crossing Condotti has the simplicity of a B&B but the panache of a luxury hotel. The décor is a beguiling, tasteful mix of antique and contemporary, with fine bed linens and textiles creating an aura of discreet opulence. All rooms feature warm parquet floors, a sprinkle of antique furniture, paintings and prints, crisp white cotton sheets and duvets, and bold-striped fabrics. Read expert review 

Hotel d'Inghilterra, Telegraph Expert Rating  8/10

Hotel d'Inghilterra, Telegraph Expert Rating  8/10

Hotel d’Inghilterra

Historic credentials, a location right in the heart of the boutique-lined former artists’ quarter at the foot of the Spanish Steps, and an intimate, clubby atmosphere make this Roman luxe townhouse hotel a bit of an insider option that inspires fierce loyalty among its many aficionados. There are 88 rooms, and none of them feel like a carbon copy of any of the others – after all, this is a hotel that has been undergoing constant nips and tucks since opening in 1845. Upholstered bedheads, silk curtains and lots of antique polished wood set the tone; the more recently renovated rooms on the fourth floor espouse a lighter, more classic-contemporary look.Read expert review

Hotel dei Borgognoni

Hotel dei Borgognoni, Telegraph Expert Rating 7/10

Hotel dei Borgognoni, Telegraph Expert Rating 7/10

It really doesn’t get better than via del Bufalo, a calm pedestrian street at the heart of the city's historic centre. The famed shopping area Piazza di Spagna, with streets via dei Condotti and Via del Corso, is within a five-minute walk, and likewise monuments, piazzas and famous art collections like the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Galleria Colonna are a quick few steps down the road. Each of the hotel’s 51 rooms and suites are different variations of the same classic contemporary style - neutral printed wallpaper, queen-sized beds with upholstered headboards, rich blue or red colour accents, and early- to mid-century vintage desks. 

Residenza Napoleone III

Residenza Napoleone III, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Residenza Napoleone III, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Some hotels model themselves on stately homes or aristocratic townhouses; Residenza Napoleone III is one. The owner, Principessa Letizia Ruspoli, has created a single guest apartment out of a whole suite of rooms, where the Emperor Napoleon III once stayed, on the piano nobile of her opulent family abode. The Old Master paintings you see on the walls, the busts of Roman emperors that line the grand entrance staircase, the heirloom antiques that decorate the place – all these things have been in the Ruspoli family for generations. But this is no draughty castle – it feels warm despite the grand setting. The Roof Garden Suite is an intimate, cultured refuge surrounded by greenery with 360-degree views over the domes and rooftops of central Rome.Read expert review

Hotel Modigliani

Hotel Modigliani, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Hotel Modigliani, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

As comfortable as any in the city, this hotel mixes artsy bohemianism — distilled in the ubiquitous reproductions of paintings by the artist it’s named after — with traditional mid-range hotel décor. The whole place is decorated with reproductions of Modigliani paintings and prints, plus creative contibutions by guests themselves. The 23 rooms are clean and functional, old-fashioned without being démodé. There are also two small apartments – the garden one is perfect for families. Rome 602, the Honeymoon double, has marvellous views. It's just down the road from the busy transport hub of Piazza Barberini, and Via Veneto, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the fashion shopping district are just a short walk away. Read expert review

Hotel Parlamento

Hotel Parlamento, Telegraph expert rating 7/10

Hotel Parlamento, Telegraph expert rating 7/10

You could hardly get more central than the Parlamento, just along from Montecitorio, home to the lower house of the Italian parliament, and within five minutes’ walk of the Spanish Steps, the fashion shopping district, and the Trevi Fountain. Not everyone will get this two-star’s shabby-chic charm – it’s basically a neat, clean and friendly fourth-floor boarding house, accessed via a cramped antique lift – but those that do will love it. The cute roof terrace is the icing on the cake – lined with plants, with views across rooftops and churchtowers, this is a charming refuge from the street-level bustle.Read expert review

CasaCau

Casa Cau, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Casa Cau, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Contemporary cool and well-placed by Trevi Fountain, living a 21st-century dolce vita is the modus operandi of CasaCau. Restaurants, shops, cultural sites, markets, schools and homes surround the six-apartment boutique hotel so the three-day minimum stay required here is a full-immersion experience. CasaCau’s apartments are known as Interiors, six unique and individual living-spaces designed and curated by Roman architect Nora P. Contemporary art hangs on the walls, while lacquered tables and stools made of recycled materials by artist Alfred van Escher pepper the living spaces.Read expert review

Portrait Roma

Portrait Roma, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Portrait Roma, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

This 14-suite bolthole, a short sashay from the Spanish Steps, is one of the city’s most stylish luxe options, lent panache by Michele Bonan’s tasteful contemporary-retro design scheme. The discreet service, courtesy of a dedicated ‘lifestyle team’, is unparalleled. The spacious, well-appointed suites feature rich fabrics that play off against austere earth tones in walls and carpets, and there are fun little touches like video fireplaces. There’s no restaurant, but they do have one of Rome’s most panoramic roof-terraces, where aperitivos can be enjoyed of an evening, and where you can choose to have breakfast served if you don’t want it in your room.Read expert review

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Hotel Stendhal, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

One of those quiet, off-the-radar hotels – Hotel Stendhal is a one-two punch of effortless style and ease of location, perfectly situated for a walk to any historic centre monument. Radiating a turn-of-the-century elegance, the hotel’s seafoam-blue wall colour complements its antiquarian furniture, original wainscoting, vintage prints and paintings, neoclassical sculpture casts and amazing Art Deco bar, while the Annexe cools it down with a more minimalist modern atmosphere. The best of the rooms is the Royal Suite, a corner apartment in black and white that feels like an art gallery and has a view of Piazza Barberini.Read expert review

Villa Spalletti Trivelli

Villa Spalletti, Telegraph expert rating 9/10

Villa Spalletti, Telegraph expert rating 9/10

An antique- and art-stuffed palazzo, complete with elegant formal garden, that has been in the same family for over a century . The hotel's opulent interiors are of such historic significance that they are listed by the Italian heritage ministry. The twelve first-floor bedrooms are warm and welcoming with their rich fabrics, pastel hued walls and bedcovers, Fiandra linen sheets and alpaca or cashmere throws. The Villa’s huge spa includes a wonderful Turkish bath, along with a gym and a range of enticing treatments. Between the bus-plied shopping street of Via Nazionale and the presidential palace (Il Quirinale), the Villa is well-placed for pretty much everything.Read expert review

The Italian Destination Where You Should Be Skiing

This article appeared in Forbes Travel.

The settimana bianca (ski week) is perhaps Italy’s most cherished unofficial holiday. For a full week, friends, families and couples put everything on hold to head to the mountains for a bit of snow, snacks and shopping, without ever having to take out their passports. Italians know that their side of the Alps is the ideal location for a white week, thanks to optimal conditions, good food and unmatched ambience.

Though the Dolomites mountain range has long been on the map for Italy destination skiers thanks to the 1956 Winter Olympics and an incredible stunt sequence in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, the shy and sumptuous Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region, is where you want to put down your bags and get your ski pass.

These are the four cities to really focus your vacation:

Courmayeur Mont Blanc
Bordering France and Switzerland, the Valle d’Aosta has a series of charming villages with extensive and varied range of pistes, easily reachable via train stations and airports in Turin and Milan. Valle d’Aosta’s best-known area is Courmayeur Mont Blanc, the picture-perfect traditional Alpine village at the base of Mont Blanc (Italy’s highest mountain). Courmayeur boasts Italy’s oldest ski school and is host to the World Cup Downhill and the International, a four-mile run that drops 3,300 feet on descent.

Where to stay: Hotel Villa Novecento. This 26-room chalet exudes yesteryear charm with 21st-century luxury. Expect a traditional mountain style, onsite spa and restaurant.

Inside Nira Montana, Photo Courtesy of Nira Montana

La Thuile
Italians love La Thuile for its family friendly vibe and it is easy access to France. It’s one of the few towns where you can actually ski into another country for the afternoon. Charming La Thuile is perfect for a quiet getaway, and it’s ideal for beginning skiers and experienced, off-piste daredevils. 

Where to stay: Nira Montana. This hotel is the area’s newest high-end property. With 55 rooms, an on-site spa, sweeping mountain views and a pet-friendly nature, Nira Montana is the peak of rustic chic.

Monterosa
The Monterosa area is one of the world’s largest ski regions (the tri-valley of Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna) and is coveted for its 10-plus miles in lifts and wide pistes, which translates to ski tourism at its best. Expect all levels of skiers and lots of socializing.

Where to stay: Hotellerie De Mascognaz. Eight luxurious, multi-room chalets hidden in the mountains (and accessible by snowmobile) are what you’ll find at this Champoluc stunner. Beyond the private, convenience-filled units, you can also expect a spa and wellness center, gourmet restaurant and a virtual golf station in a restored farmhouse.

Cervinia
This section is exceptionally well known as a great destination for all levels of skiing and heli-skiing. Additionally, the village is linked to the renowned Zermatt resort across the Swiss border. Ski schools and instructors are available throughout the entire region, with a ski pass offering access to all slopes.

Where to stay: Principe delle Nevi. The super-chic ski-in/ski-out mountain lodge and hotel consists of six chalet suites (ask for a slope view). Aside from stunning vistas, you’ll also discover an on-site Balinese-themed spa, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, an apres-ski bar with a barbecue terrace and a restaurant.

Snowy Mountain Fun, Photo Courtesy of Nira Montana

Beyond the skis
When not on the slopes, Valle d’Aosta visitors head to the thermal springs of Prè Saint Didier and Saint Vincent, historic wellness spas founded in the early 19th century as healing destinations. The newly inaugurated Skyway is literally breath-taking — a panoramic and rotating cable car connecting Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner that reaches an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet and supplies spectacular looks onto Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.

For alpine history and culture, visit The Duke of Abruzzi Alpine Museum in Courmayeur or Jovecan’s Center for Ancient Remedies. Generally speaking, enthusiasts of the past will love all of the ancient Roman ruins — arches, theater, towers and roads — radiating from Aosta.

And when it comes to dining, the Aosta Valley is a bread basket of incredible dishes, from fresh pasta and meats to world-renowned cheese and cured meats. The region also has some shining-star restaurants, including Morgex’s Café Quinson, Courmayeur’s Petit Royal and Aosta’s Osteria da Nando, all rustic and incredible eating experiences. If you can’t get to those eateries, never fear — after all, this is Italy. Most any mountain rifugio (like Frantze Le Rascard in Champoluc) or village trattorie will do you well when it’s time for a good meal.

The Best Hotel in Rome, Round 1: The Five Star

parco-dei-principi

One of the worst and nails-dragging-on-a-blackboard question I can think of is "What's the best hotel in Rome?"  First of all, Rome hotels - and I mean the gamut from random apartment lets to five-star luxury - cannot be compared to anything you've ever experienced outside of  Rome.  Space means far more here because there is far less, tradition has been known to outweigh innovation, and, thanks to the Eternal City's historic pole position on the Grand Tour, hotel competition has always been more of a numbers game - all about getting you in the door, but not necessarily keeping you in and coming back.  Secondly, recommending hotels is like stepping in dog crap right after you cleaned your shoe from the last time you stepped in it.  It's a lose-lose game that comes a close second to offering constructive criticism to parents who pointedly asked for it to begin with.

For me, the best hotel in Rome is one that makes me feel good because of a crazy discount, an incredible location, an amazing rooftop, or even a great affair- essentially, qualifying a hotel as Best has far more to do with mood of the moment, personal fantasies, and unspoken expectations and less to do with size, interior design or location.  There is no rhyme or reason... but just three must-haves: proper hair dryers, quality bedding (no twin mattresses masquerading as a king and no bouncy pillows) and a bowl of fresh fruit. . .  every day.   You get it.

Round 1:  The Five Star

Parco dei Principi:   I love this hotel when I love the city so much I want to get out of it.  Its Villa Borghese location (the sprawling park above Via Veneto) brings a little Great Escape to the Great Beauty.  Though the hotels' design is a little  heavy on Baroque (in public areas) for my sanity- the lobby and bar are perfect for a afternoon cocktail.  And happily, the rooms are toned down to a more simple, refined design and dare I say modernized Baroque vibe.  I'm sold on the  view - yep, park facing rooms from the fourth floor and up have an incredible front row view through the greens of Villa Borghese to St. Peter's dome. If you know me, then you know it's the pool that keeps me obsessed with Parco dei Principi.  From May through September, this is my go-to spot because it has my favorite pool in the city- a large Art Deco piscine complex with beds and cabanas, and drinks.

  • Plus:  The pool, hell yeah.  And underneath is the best equipped and most stylish spa in the city.  Quite possibly the best five star prices.
  • Minus:  The design can be a little busy on the eyes.  And if you aren't used to walking around Rome, you might find it a bit out of the way.
Parco dei Princip
Parco dei Princip

Grand Melia Villa Agrippina:  Sprawling estate, gorgeous greenery and pool, and a little bit of antiquity. Villa Agrippina is what I like to call Miami-meets- Mannerism, thanks to the mix of vintage Italian design and contemporary flair throughout the entire hotel-  which, back in the day, was Emperor Nero's mom's villa.  The rooms are large and luminous, and with just enough design (contemporary luxe- soft lines, neutral colors, quality pieces) that I automatically am relaxed.  On a personal note, I love the hard wood floors and any room with a Vatican-facing balcony.  The Danish design pieces make me smile while the oversized Caravaggio prints make me chuckle.  But its the lush pool garden and its views of the Vatican that keep me coming back.... and the bar-side Bloody Marys.

  • Plus:  Trastevere-adjacent location makes it walkable to the Vatican and historic center. The Spa is great for an afternoon free.
  • Minus: I really can't think of any at the moment.  Maybe the oversized Caravaggio prints?
Gran Melia Villa Agrippina
Gran Melia Villa Agrippina

Grand Palace Hotel:I recently discovered the Grand Palace in review I was writing up for The Telegraph, and I have to admit I was really happy.  Grand Palace gets thumbs up for being a modern monument- it was designed by Marcello Piacentini, the very same architect who gave us Via della Conciliazione, the facade of the Teatro dell'Opera and was head of the EUR project, all circa 1930s. Piacentini's gorgeous Art Deco meets Rationalist exterior facade has modern references to ancient Rome,  and the hotel's curvy interior still has some of its original ornament like the ball room decorated in frescoes by Venetian artist Guido Cadorin, showing 1920s high society.  The 2012 reboot brought in loots of pinks and greens, lacquer and velour.

  • Plus:CO Bigelow beauty and body care products, a small groundfloor spa with salt water pool, and lots of elbow room.  So far, this hotel has the biggest standard and deluxe rooms I've seen for a five star.  Views from Fifth floor and up are total Great Beauty.  Walking distance to Villa Borghese and my dentist.
  • Minus:  The rooms have a lot of design, but definitely palatable.  The views may be Great Beauty, but keep in mind, it's  modern Rome you're looking at, not its undulating history of domes, mega-monuments and tiled rooftops.  The Via Veneto address is posh, but it is all business so you are going to have to walk if you want a bit of Rome joie de vivre.
Grand Hotel Palace
Grand Hotel Palace

J.K. Roma:  If it's raining, and it's winter, and I want to have an affair (which at this point either means Me time or a child-free get away), I'd book a room at the JK. And to be honest, it doesn't matter what size the room-  there is a luxurious coziness that designer Michel Bonan-inspired in each room- rich jewel colors mixed with white accents, incredible bedding and gorgeously spacious white-on-white  bathrooms.  Even in the small classic, you'll just want to lie around for hours, like I did.  But since the hotel is literally a step out in the charm and chaos of Rome's historic center, it's [almost] hard to stay since you have the heart of the Eternal City at your door step.

  • Plus:  You automatically are stylish just by staying here, or just getting a drink. The ground floor lounge is the haute couture living room and library you've always wanted- atrium high ceilings, museum-piece furniture and every single Taschen and Assouline art books you could ever covet.
  • Minus:  In the evenings, the neighborhood is quiet- great for those who need a rest, but not so great for the restaurant scene, or lack there of.  Summer months find me feeling slightly congested here.
J.K. Roma
J.K. Roma

Bonus points go to the following:

  • The Instagrammable: Though I need to get back for a full review, the Boscolo Exedra is a gorgeous spot for Instagram- artsy and selfies. Neo-classical, white on white, big rooms with glittery things.
  • The Holy Triumverate:the Hassler, a traditional beauty with a secret contemporary Art Deco flair; de Russie, the Grand Dame of Rome's 21st century hotel reboot; and the Eden, once the renovations are completed.

Coming soon .  . .  Round 2: The Luxury Suite

Tokyo Palace Hotel

One of my favorite things to do is review hotels.  I know that sounds odd- who really wants to pack up for a day or two, obsess over every detail from proper pillows to mini-bar ?  Me.   I love the idea of a temporary getaway-  a moment to get out of my own hair and get into another personality via a brand new room.  I'd like to say this hotel obsession of comes from a [necessary] self-imposed housing stability and my star sign Gemini.  But no, tediously raking over every square inch of a hotel room has been a fun game of mine since I was a kid.  It's like running my own kingdom . . . and I think I'm kind of good at it, how about you?

My latest review is the Tokyo Palace Hotel for Fathom-- or what I like to consider my next home in Tokyo...

A glittery corner tower that seamlessly fits with the tranquil harmony of Marunouchi, Tokyo's quiet downtown neighborhood near the Imperial Palace. Though high-rise often screams business, the Palace Hotel Tokyo is a vertical culture trip...