TRAVEL

13 Best Things to Do in Florence

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There's never a question of what to do in Florence; rather, it's a question of how much and when. With its varied selection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and storied sites, the Tuscan town has something for everyone, from contemporary art buffs and super foodies to sports fans and serious shoppers. To experience the city to its fullest, you only need to step out into the street. Here, a list of our must-sees to narrow down your itinerary.

- This article originally appeared in CN Traveler, January 2019.

Ilaria Costanzo/Courtesy Explore Florence — The Oltrarno: History + Artisans

Explore Florence: The Oltrarno, History + Artisans

This ultra-professional walking tour kicks off in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It's best for those wanting to learn more about Florence's artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that's in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it's a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance. The guide, Alexandra, is knowledgeable and passionate.

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Bargello Museum

Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures is housed in the Bargello, a former prison and an austere medieval fortress. The museum’s architecture alone is worth the visit—beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and a dramatic courtyard—but the big draw is its blockbuster names. Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.


Stadio Artemio Franchi

The hub for soccer in the city, Stadio Artemio Franchi is the stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence's Serie A soccer team. Serie A is Italy's top soccer league, so you're guaranteed to see the country's best teams compete here. It's also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams' more rabid fans.

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Giardino Bardini

Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini has a pergola-covered stairwell leading up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It's the perfect pit-stop if you're sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn't present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi, an illustrious collection of who's who in priceless Renaissance art, is a Florence must-see. Plus, thanks to a curatorial investment by director Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi is slowly modernizing its approach. The newly arranged Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room, now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters; the re-opened Room 35, meanwhile, is dedicated to Leonardo and displays three paintings originally created for churches. Upgrading the experience further is a new reservation system, where visitors take a timed ticket from one of seven machines outside the museum and come back later to explore, without ever having to wait in line.

Aquaflor Firenze.

AquaFlor Firenze

The yesteryear atelier is one of those beautiful finds that make you feel like you're actively involved in creating not just a scent, but Florentine history, as you sniff through the unparalleled collection of raw materials, essential oils, and scents. With the help of Sileno Cheloni, the nose of Aquaflor, you're led through olfactory discovery to create a perfume that's personalized just for you.

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Palazzo Strozzi

One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its Carsten Holler’s latest experimental piece or an Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.

Francesca Pagliai/Courtesy Tuscany Again

Tuscany Again: Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art Tour

Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art is a personal tour designed specifically for those interested in modern art in and around Florence. Expert guides plan bespoke itineraries based on travelers' preferences, leading intimate groups to futuristic buildings and offering their take on the collections within. Most notable: the architecture itself as well as the survey of Arte Povera, Italy's art movement of the 1960s. Transport is included and reservations are required.

Gucci Garden

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is always pushing the limits, and this time he blurs the lines between monument and merchant at Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is Michele’s colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.

Collezione Roberto Casamonti

Open to the public, the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcases about 250 works of modern and contemporary art from his personal collection of more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It's a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn't draw a ton of visitors, so it's easy to walk around. In fact, you'll likely have a room entirely to yourself.

Antonio Quattrone/Courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous and large new museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti's doors, Michelangelo's The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.

Silvio Palladino/Courtesy Curious Appetite

Curious Appetite: Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour

Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour of Florence kicks off at a given meeting point in Piazza della Repubblica or via dei Tornabuoni. The custom tours are private or small group and are tailored to your preferences—say, a particular liquor or cocktail. You'll visit multiple cafés and bars on foot. Reservations are required, but you can book as late as 24 hours in advance.

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Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They're a great stop if you're short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They'll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person, are required.

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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Shore Thing: Hamburg's latest luxury The Fontenany

The Fontenay, Hamburg, Germany

This article first appeared in Hemispheres Magazine, April 2018.

Hamburg’s first new luxury hotel in nearly two decades takes full advantage of its lakeside setting

The View: The Fontenay takes its name from 19th-century shipbroker John Fontenay, who once owned this plot of land on the shores of manmade Lake Alster. Depending on the season and the corresponding level of greenery on the surrounding trees, the lake can be seen from more than half of the 131 rooms and suites, which are done in aqua, beige, and cream and bathed in natural light.

The Building: Architect Jan Stormer’s undulating, white-tiled facade is made up of three intertwining circles, inspired by the curves of the lake. The building is set in a lush, pastoral stand of beech, oak, and sycamore trees. Inside the rooms and suites, parquet floors are made from oaks harvested, appropriately, in the forest of the Fontenay Abbey in Burgundy, France.

The Spa: Sitting pretty on the hotel’s roof terrace is the signature Fontenay spa, where many of the full-service treatments incorporate sea-inspired Creme de la Mer lotion made with nutrient-rich fermented sea kelp. The best seat in the house is on the edge of the 66-foot indoor-outdoor infinity pool, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline.

The Restaurants: Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Speinle—who has cooked at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and his own Dreizehn Sinne in Switzerland— helms the rooftop restaurant, Lakeside. On the ground floor, the casual eatery John’s edges right up on the lakefront.

The Surroundings: Originally a medieval reservoir, Lake Alster is now a picture- perfect picnic destination and Hamburg’s premier outdoor recreation spot. Keep it simple with a pick-up Frisbee game or break a sweat canoeing, kayaking, kiteboarding, or even ice-kiting on one of the rare occasions when the lake freezes over. In August, it’s all about Alstervergnügen, a four-day festival that floods the park with some 500 artists, acrobats, and athletes.

6 Stylish Milan Hotels To Check Out Now

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, January 2018.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton. Credit: Baglioni Hotel Carlton

If Milan is not on your travel bucket list in 2018, it should be. Italy’s fashion capital is the mecca of fabulous. From its historic caffes and haute couture hangouts to the celebrated boutiques and international museums, Milan is the cultural destination of your dreams.

So, if you’re looking into a Milan stopover or the best address for a stay during Fashion Week (February 21 to 27) and Salone (the annual international design fair, April 17 to 22), be sure to check out these six hotels for an elegant escape.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton  
This family-owned Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is like a home in the center of Milan. From its inception in the mid-1960s, the private palazzo has always been a luxurious respite. 

Its 89 rooms (70 of which are suites) are predominantly styled in a modern rococo aesthetic, with rich fabrics and marbles, though the ultimate indulgence can be found in the 1,938-square-foot Montenapoleone Terrace Suite with its large flower-filled patio that comes complete with lounge furniture.

The ground-floor garden bar and restaurant, Il Baretto al Baglioni, is the perfect meeting spot — a charmingly dolce-vita-kitsch hangout that is nothing short of a local watering hole institution. 

As well as being pet-friendly (a must during Fashion Week), Baglioni Hotel Carlton offers an extra exclusive guest perk — you’ll receive the key to a private door leading out onto Via della Spiga, the popular pedestrian shopping street in the heart of the fashion quadrilateral. 

Four Seasons Hotel Milano. Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Milano

Four Seasons Hotel Milano  
There is no address that can quite compare with this head-turner, situated front and center on the historic Via Gesù. In keeping with the international brand, the Four-Star Milan outpost is a celebration of white-glove service and quality, with the bonus of history.  

The 118-room luxury hotel took over a 15th-century convent, where frescoes, columns and vaulted ceilings mix with Fortune fabrics and Frette linens. Most come for the property’s round-the-corner proximity to boutiques like Gucci and Prada, but its epicenter location just off the Via Monte Napoleone puts it within a few minutes’ walking distance to Milan’s most important cultural sites, such as the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Palazzo Reale and La Scala opera house.

Bulgari Hotel Milan. Credit: Bulgari Hotel Milan

Bulgari Hotel Milan
When Italy’s most famous jeweler decided to make the leap into hospitality, Bulgari, of course, chose Milan as its home base. This Four-Star jewel of a hotel is naturally situated in the Brera district, a historic neighborhood known for its artistic flair.

A hub for the who’s who of fashion and design, the 58-room flagship beauty is beloved for its sleek, contemporary interiors; premium suites (especially the penthouse Bulgari Suite with wrap-around terrace); and people-watching from the 43,000-square-foot rooftop garden cocktail lounge.

And when you find yourself in need of downtime, the hotel’s subterranean spa (with an indoor pool and hammam) provides a welcoming relaxation zone.

Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano
Milan’s Quadrilatero della Moda (the fashion district), sits around the corner from this boutique hotel and obviously influences its décor.

Sophisticated, stylish accommodations have a chestnut, beige, ivory and black palette; balconies; antique furniture; and striking artwork handpicked by architect and hotel owner Paola Giambelli. Choose between a more modernist Milan look or romantic French flourishes.  

The design touches go more opulent in the public spaces — you’ll encounter lots of marble, sweeping staircases, mosaic floors, gold accents, chandeliers and decorative coffered ceilings. Don’t miss the picturesque century-old garden or the Bedouin-palace-like spa.

Chateau Monfort
A retro-chic urban chateau just steps from Milan’s historic center, the art deco Chateau Monfort is ideal for those who want the full city experience without being in the eye of the tourist storm.

The neoclassical palace is a period piece — belle époque architecture, original details and 77 jewel-toned rooms outfitted with whimsical elements. In fact, several suites are inspired by classic operas, like La Traviata and La Bohème, so expect some theatrics in the décor. 

Suffice to say, the overnight experience feels like living in a dream, especially when you indulge in some pampering at the hotel’s Amore e Psiche spa, a Greco-Roman-inspired bath house featuring a salt water pool, a Turkish bath and an ice fountain.

Hotel Viu Milan. Credit: Hotel Viu Milan

Hotel Viu Milan
Hotel Viu is the latest addition to the city’s 21st-century hospitality renaissance. Cutting edge and eco-chic, the modern property is in Milan’s up-and-coming Porta Volta/Garibaldi area, making it just far enough away from the historic center to be off-the-beaten path, but within walking distance to the city’s best fashion boutiques and restaurants.

You’ll notice a sleek and stylish air immediately upon entering the 124-room hotel, whose glass façade hides enviable indoor greenery. But most importantly, Hotel Viu has bragging rights to Milan’s first rooftop terrace swimming pool, a picture-perfect panoramic experience.

Weekender: Lisbon

Requisite, shameless Lisbon self-portrait.

Lisbon, it’s about time.  Over the past few years, I’ve heard so much about Portugal’s capital - from its food scene and azulegos to its 2017 title as Ibero-American Capital of Culture, that I finally booked a flight for a long weekend.  I had a pretty good idea I would like the city, but I didn't expect I would fall head-over-heels in love.

The City of the Seven Hills, Lisbon is an easy like.  Cascading hills with beautiful architecture, an incredible history thanks to the Age of Discovery history, and its sunshine- Portugal’s capital has the most optimal number of daylight hours in Europe.  Lisbon is so easy to like.   And then add its uncanny similarities with twin city, San Francisco- west coast, hills, waterfront, suspension bridge, cable cars and an epic earthquake that transformed the city.  But to love Lisbon?  For me, it was all down to the small details - the expected like the azulejos (color, patterned ceramics) decorating buildings in every neighborhood, the obvious like the vintage trams, and the subtle like the art nouveau leftovers, forgotten 1960s and 70s neon signs and the sweet yellow mustard on the bifana sandwich. 

With only 72 hours to get to know Lisbon, we had to have a plan, and over the years, we perfected our version of a great weekender: Choose Your Own Adventure, i.e. pick a monument, neighborhood, food, and see what happens.  Lisbon is perfect for that mentality.  It's a puzzle of neighborhoods built into the hills- filled with colors, history and great smells.   For the map-curious: we chose the historic Avenida da Liberdade, a long and luscious boulevard spanning 1100 meters across the old city to water, as home base and reference since the Avenida is visible from any high point.

Roterdao  (Cais do Sodré)


Roterdao (Cais do Sodré)

Monument

Castelo de São Jorge, an 11th century castle and fort in Alfama, one of the oldest areas of the city.  The Castelo is prime lookout over the entire city-  the entire city is laid out at Alfama's feet the east, a cascade of red terracotta roofs leading down to the glassy Tager river.  From here, you can snake your way down through Alfama - camera ready, of course, for its gorgeous Gothic churches, azulejo-tiled buildings and vintage trams (yes, they are part of public transportation) - to Baixa. Redesigned after the 1755 earthquake, Baixa is an easy grid, a tic-tac-toe of long boulevards leading to Praca de Comercio, the enormous waterfront plaza with even more monumental arc.   Pay attention as you may your way to the Praca and you'll find art deco and art nouveau signage and storefronts decorating new shops as well as some vintage finds.  There are sardine shops designed as 1920s boutiques and yesteryear caffes selling pastel de nata,a yes-you-must-eat pastry, as well the gambit of shopping- contemporary stores with early 1920s die cute lettering from boutiques past.  In Baixa center is a 45-meter-high and very elaborate wrought iron elevator, Elevador de Santa Justa, a panoramic from the 19th century.  Perfect for people with patience and looking for a Pay-Per-View.  If not, skip past and walk up Rua do Carmo, a shopping street, to the Bellalisa elevator for a great short cut to Carmo Convent, the ghostly remains of a 14th century gothic church destroyed in the earthquake. 

Monuments come in so many forms. Be on the look out for the Ponte de 25 Abril, a Golden Gate lookalike (and ironically built by the same team behind the Bay Bridge), and Ponte Vasco de Gama, a futuristic cable-stay bridge that sneaks up on you.

Ascensor da Glòria (Baixa/Bairro Alto)

Neighborhood

So many neighborhood to explore, so once you've walked Alfama, your next stop should be Bairro Alto and Principe Reale, two pocket neighborhoods on the western overlooking hills that will eventually lead you down to Chaido, Baixa and the rest of Lisbon.   Calm and collected, Principe Real is an easy hike from Avenida, serpentining past small parks and crumbling azulejos-decorated buildings to the park itself, a green square with playground, caffes and weekend street market.  The area is a Pandora's box of local flavor.  Hidden in the park is an underground museum-  Museo del Agua- an octagonal reservoir that was the city’s water source, while facing it is Embaixada, a concept store featuring local designers in a neo-classical Arabian palace.  The Rua Dom Pedro V is lined with boutiques, eateries and bars.  You'll have your choice for whatever your flavor but be on the look out for Solar, a family-run antiques store with catacombs of authentic azulejos, and Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque, an art nouveau coffee shop.  Bairro Alto is where you'll want to make sure you have your back up battery- this is where you'll find in situ azulejos on decadent, abandoned and recycled buildings and inside churches.  Make three wishes when you stop in Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Sao Roque and Santa Catarina- beautifully decorated churches worth stepping into.   Short cut to Baixa with Ascensor da Gloria, a vintage tram whose single route it's a straight shot up and down a steep incline.  Or keep walking, you'll find yourself in Chaido, where the relaxed pace of Bairro Alto moves into more frenetic rhythm with its shops, cafes and businesses.  Meander and you'll find MAAT, the contemporary art museum and eventually Cais do Sodré, the former red light district close to the water. In the daytime, it's simply another charming distressed neighborhood with street art, great late 60s/70s signage, and everyone's favorite canned fish and aperitivo at Sol e Pesca, and at night, it's a scene- more hot pink, than red light.

If you want to flip the script on traditional, take the metro to Parque das Naçoes, a modern microcosm that requires only a 30 minute metro ride to Lisbon's northeast.   Designed and constructed for 1998 World Fair, Parque das Nacoes is a Portuguese Gattaca of wide streets, slick architecture and rectilinear design. From the moment you step out of Oriente Station, you get the vibe. An eco-concerned (and friendly) Lisbon Future where organization, intellectual stimulation and perhaps even art are paramount.  Large maps line the boulevards detailing public art and architecture. And accenting the grid of museums (science, Oceanarium, et cetera), parks and playgrounds, are environmentally-forward projects including public bike stands and recycled waterfalls. This is where you bring kids like me.

Oceanario (Parque de Naçoes

Food

It's always good to have goals and mine are double the fun- pastel de natas, that delicious egg tart, that if slightly singed makes my heart sing, and bifana, a braised pork sandwich garnished with a sweet mustard.  Make it easy by starting in Baixa and follow your nose around Praca Rossio, a large square in Baixa where there are several pastry shops and caffes.  Chances are you'll find pastel de natas and more, and it can't hurt to try them all. In fact, my rule of thumb is no matter where you are in Lisbon, if there is a pastel de nata, eat it.  (For the serious foodie, you can take a 3O metro ride from Rossio to Pasteis de Belem, considered the very best pastry in Lisbon and located near national monument Belem tower).  Bifanas require more foot work and on hand cash.  Baixa is also ideal for bifanas since it always has the most concentration of people and these no frills sandwiches are best enjoyed at no frills caffes, aka cheap.  East of Pracas Rossio is Casas das Bifanas, aka the home of the pork sandwich, and around the NW corner of Pracas Rossio is Cafe Beira Gare, a stand up bar with table service and barely any elbow room.  Though I enjoyed several a bifana, I was completely captivated by its beef counterpart-  the prego, marinated beef strips on bread bun.  Bar tab: 4 euro, sandwich and beer.   No, we did not just snack. Cataplana, a traditional seafood dish from the Algarve region, should be Unesco recognized.  If it's not, we recognized it, as with the rest of Lisbon's seafood.

Prego at Cafe Beira Gare (Baixa)

Tips and Tricks

GUIDE: Lisboa Autentica is a grassroots organization of Lisbon academics who organize tours- walking, biking, around the city- themed and bespoke.  They love Lisbon and it shows. We spent a few hours walking from Principe Real to Chaido with Davide.  Tell him we said hello.

GETTING THERE: Easy.  National carrier TAP Air Portugal dominates the skies.  From Rome FCO, it’s an easy 3-hour direct flight. The planes were modern, the staff young and very friendly. TAP flies non-stop from New York JFK ,and London (along with British Airways.  We hired a car but getting from the airport to the city center is as simple as a metro ride, taxi or bus.

SLEEP: We rested our heads at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade- a reboot of what may be an Art Deco palace on the very posh Avenida da Liberdade, a long, tree-lined boulevard with public squares decorated with monuments and caffe chiosks, while shops with the occasional art deco facade flank.  Avenida's lobby set the stage for what we considered the best weekend ever: luminous, lush couches, vintage decor, contemporary art and an incredible floral arrangement.  Our rooms were modern minimalist, in other words, sleek and spacious, perfect meditation after a long day walking around. Avenida's best kept secret is not only the rooftop Skybar and Terrace restaurant (which is pretty amazing with that all encompassing view) but the backyard pool and spa, a seemingly private piscine (totally round!) surrounded by monumental magnolia trees and azulejos tiles.

EAT: You eat well in Lisbon and quality is priced well.  Along with Tivoli's terrace, think about 100 maneiras, Peixaria da Esquina, Tasca da Esquina  .  And peruse Nelson Carvalheiro's Lisbon-centric website.

5 Places For An Unforgettable Aperitivo

When Forbes Travel (October 2017) asked me to find great Italian aperitivi around the world, here's where I found myself barside. . .

The St. Regis Bangkok’ s Jojo, Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bangkok

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but no one does it quite like the Italians. Meant to cleanse the palate before dinner, drinks like a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) or an Aperol Spritz are light, refreshing and popular worldwide for their simple, classic flavors. Here are five stops to make for your own global apertivo adventure.

Bangkok
The Mediterranean comes to Thailand with Aperol evenings at Jojo, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Bangkok’s elegant Italian restaurant. The eatery’s terrace location is the spot to enjoy the futuristic and ever-changing Bangkok cityscape while imbibing Italy’s best cocktail-hour export, the Aperol Spritz — prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

To accompany your signature sip, chef Stefano Merlo has created perfectly paired cicchetti (traditional Venetian aperitif snacks).

Milan
When in Milan, the fashion forward flock to Four-Star Hotel Principe di Savoia and its iconic Principe Bar. Come aperitif time, this sultry hangout comes alive with signature martini cocktails (try the Raspberry Filtering, a sweet sip made with raspberry-infused vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a splash of champagne), a DJ spinning Italian tunes and canapés, in case you start to feel peckish.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Photo Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Florence
Take the fast train to Florence and the Atrium Bar at Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, one of the prettiest places for an aperitivo. This elegant bar is old school — a Renaissance-era court with an enclosed skylight ceiling, whose design recalls vintage libraries and lounges of a bygone era.

Mixologist Edoardo Sandri expertly curates a cocktail menu that goes far beyond a quality aperitivo. Though you can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni Sbagliato (which swaps in sparkling wine for gin), a favorite sip here is the light and fresh cucumber martini.

New York City
Head to Four-Star Langham Place’s iconic Fifth Avenue address and walk up the grand marble staircase to Four-Star Ai Fiori’s bar for a little taste of Italy in Midtown Manhattan. Bar Fiori specializes in seasonal aperitivi, including a spicy twist on the Aperol Spritz — the Autumn Thistle features cardamom-infused Cynar (a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur) and Cider du Vulcain Premiers Emois hard cider.

Chinotto Cobbler, Mattiussi Fizz and Americano in Paris all offer herbal and floral variations of their classic namesake sips, and each comes with a skillet of housemade popcorn.

Hotel Eden’s La Libreria, Photo Credit: Hotel Eden

Rome
When in Rome, it’s all about the view, and there is no other perch quite like the open-air terrace at Il Giardino atop Five-Star Hotel Eden. Take in a sweeping view of the Eternal City from the historic center toward Michelangelo’s Dome as barman Gabriele Rizzi creates signature, seasonal cocktails like his Grande Bellezza — a pink vermouth martini — accompanied by chef Fabio Ciervo’s artful hors d’oeuvres and cicchetti.

Here’s a secret: the ground-level gilded lobby lounge, La Libreria, has a hidden bar with a private barman. So, if you find yourself in need of an afternoon aperitivo, grab a spot on one of the velvet divans and wait to be served.

5 Things We Love about Hotel Eden

This article original appeared in FORBES TRAVEL on APRIL 7, 2017.

Get your scissors out, because we’re cutting the ribbon on Rome‘s Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Eden. The Eternal City trophy of the prestigious Dorchester Collection reopened on April 1 after a 17-month renovation that called for a complete floor-to-ceiling makeover easily rivaling that of St. Peter’s Basilica’s 17th-century revamp.

With 128 years of history behind it, the Eden has reigned as Rome’s harbinger of luxury, so it’s no surprise that the 2017 reboot simply reinforces the property as Empress of the Eternal City’s upscale hotel scene.

And it’s not just about a different look. Hotel Eden has opened the doors with a new mentality set to change the scope of Rome’s luxury hotels.

These are the five elements about the fresh hotel that stand out the most to us.

Space Hotel Eden raises the bar on opulence by deliberately downsizing room count by 20 percent, from 121 rooms to 98, and the overall effect is mesmerizing.

From the moment you enter the hotel’s marble-paneled lobby, the sense of space is more than gracious — it’s downright luxurious, livable and contemporary. In fact, the Eden’s objective was to create “living spaces,” and each of the 66 rooms and 32 suites are just that.

The artfully composed accommodations maximize space and highlight simplicity, featuring high ceilings and tall picture-frame windows.

5 Things We Love About Hotel Eden - Forbes Travel Guide

Design With space as the main design element, Bruno Moinard, of 4BI & Associés, chose a less-is-more interpretation of the Eden’s classic history. Moinard created a contemporary art deco atmosphere with a relaxing palette of ecrus and ochres, with superbly designed (yet sparingly placed) custom furniture and lamps.

The bathrooms have a lavish touch thanks to floor-to-ceiling white marble, walk-in rain showers and separate bath, and tasteful gilded fixtures.

It’s the little details throughout the room, though, that we love the most. The master-controlled lighting and climate control (which you can play around with via iPad from your bed), the Hotel Eden LP we found on our desk, the books, Bottega Veneta bath products, GHD hair dryers and charmingly customized bags for his-and-hers toiletries.

View Everyone says that if you’re going to stay in Rome, you must have a view. And they’re right. There is nothing like seeing the city’s domes, and from Hotel Eden, you get a glimpse of them all.

Suites Aurora, Malta, Medici and the Bella Vista Penthouse have the cityscape as the rooms’ main feature. And though most of Eden’s other rooms face the historic center, you can ask for a unit with a view.

But for the best vistas in the house, head to the fifth-floor terrace, where designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku added a vertical garden of soft curves and open walls for Eden’s garden restaurant, Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar. The establishment’s cocktail bar is the perfect place to perch right before sunset with a Grande Bellezza, a vermouth creation by barman Gabriele Rizzi.

For a more formal dining experience, enjoy panoramas of the city atop Hotel Eden at the property’s signature gourmet restaurant, La Terrazza.

5 Things We Love About Hotel Eden - Forbes Travel Guide

Service Once the room number was reduced and space was expanded, general manager Luca Virgilio decided to increase the staff by 30 percent.

“Personal attention and intimate experience” is the Dorchester mission and, at the Eden, the mantra lives and breathes in the form of a community of professionals imbued with that well-loved Roman trait of amicizia (“friendship”). Virgilio also seized the opportunity to create a guest relations team that coordinates bespoke experiences and journeys that range from “bucket list” to “once in a lifetime.”

For more than five decades, Maurizio Pangrazio has served as Eden’s chief concierge. He’s such an impeccable and resourceful man that the city named him “best concierge in Rome.” We simply refer to him as the top point of reference for getting what we want around town.

Wellness Eden has always had a history with wellness, from the early days of La Terrazza, when executive chef Fabio Ciervo crafted one of the first macrobiotic menus in the city. During the 17-month pause, Ciervo not only studied new recipes, spent weeks researching new producers, and guest cheffing with Thomas Keller of Five-Star Per Se (New York) and Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck (Bray, U.K.), he also went back to school for a master’s in nutrition.

Suffice to say, Ciervo is back in his glorious, 2,152-square-foot, panoramic outpost with a brand-new plate that he aims to fill with unique and quality-of-life-focused dishes.

Eden’s makeover is tip to tails and, on the ground floor, is the hotel’s first spa. Hotel Eden Spa is a four-suite area of private rooms for couples and individuals.

You’ll also spot a nail spa and blowout bar, both designed for privacy and tranquility. And the best part: Hotel Eden Spa has brought in Los Angeles skin care guru Sonya Dakar (aka the pioneer of natural and vegan rejuvenation treatments) to her first European foray to create signature facials and other treatments.

 

The Best Hotel in Rome: The Four Star

It's all thanks to my mom that I am into the whole Four Star vibe.  First of all, she's a Svengali of discounts, and in the hospitality and lodging world that means she is hotel whisperer to many a customer service representative to whom she firmly (and rightly) believes that all she has to do is ask and the prices will fall.  Who needs Lastminute and Latenight when we have her on call?! Secondly, she has an eye for great four star hotels.

Four Star hotels are unsung heroes - fabulous yet overlooked finds,  but in Rome, the Four Star is the hydra of hotelerie, a spectrum so vast and numbers so large, it's impossible to define them, even harder to rank them and chaotic to navigate through them - or, as my mom would say, hit or miss.   If you are tenacious, you'll discover four stars that are just a hair short of being five star-  beautiful design and service, lacking only a few amenities like (spas and fitness centers), or else you'll find you have inadvertently booked yourself into a four star room that not even Mother Bates could love.   To paraphrase a friend within the Federalberghi structure, hotels can be whatever they want these days and four stars are absolutely anything and everything.

The Four Star

Style. Location. Price.  The standard requirements for choosing any hotel anywhere, but what does this mean for Rome? It means being picky.  For me, the big "No"s are outdated style -  like burnt umber colored bed coverletss with what look likes itty-bitty pompoms all over- and cumbersome space, i.e.  too much design effort and furniture to look cool.  It's all about location, andin my opinion, if you are planning to stay in Rome, you must be in the thick of it, in other words, neighborhoods in the centro storico.  So my main question is are the windows at least double-paned?   Finally, I focus on my baseline budget.  According to Expedia, the four star price range in Rome is anything from 42 euro to 700 euro nightly, and knowing well what kind of bang you get, I set my (somewhat flexible) baseline at 175 euro, ruling out (unless told otherwise) everything below 125 euro and above 250 euro, which narrows the listings and eliminates several of the mutton dressed as lamb.

But which ones are my favorite tried and true four stars in Rome, you ask? I have three reliable hotels that never fall short on design, quality and service, not mention locations I love, distinguished from five stars simply for lack of a spa and/or gym.  Since they meet my benchmarks, I'm willing to update my end range to 350 euro per night because these hotel's have higher price points, so I'm willing to be a little bit more flexible.  But no matter what, I am going to listen to my mamma and pick up the phone to negotiate because it can't hurt to ask. . .

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal I stumbled into the Stendhal one day after being caught with a famished and very impatient 5 year old as we waited for an incredibly overdue bus on Via del Tritone. She needed a snack and I needed a break, behind us was the window into what looked like peace to me, thanks to tranquil, seafoam colored walls.  I was right, I was able to relax so much so that  later I booked a stay at the The Annex.

The Annex is the Hotel Stendhal's  is around-the-corner apartment, whose rooms favor a more contemporary style to the main hotel's traditional and tasteful 30 rooms.   The 10 Annex rooms are a combination of rich colors and fabrics, and great light.  I'd call the decor modern Italian- bespoke upholstering, art piece lamps, fabulous prints,  modern bed frames, shapeful divans and dark parquet floors. Nothing is cumbersome and there is an overall sense of open space, in fact the floor area alone would be ideal for personal yoga routines and core workouts.   Sexy, contemporary and spacious, the Annex vibe is urban escape and giving you a chance to "live" an Italian life.   Though I am not 100% thrilled about its location on the corner of Piazza Barberini and busy via del Tritone, there is no noise (triple-pane glass!) and it is a perfect for walking to all sites in the city, or hopping on public transport.   Finally, service is top quality.  Stendhal staff are courteous and very helpful.

NEIGHBORHOOD:  BARBERINI/VENETO

Palazzo Navona

Palazzo Navona

Palazzo Navona

Palazzo Navona

*

My number two is a surprise to me and a new entry: Palazzo Navona.  It's been a while since I have found a hotel in the Navona/Campo/Pantheon neighborhood that comes close to great hospitality, much less eye-pleasing design. Unfortunately, the hotels in this area are tired and/or too tourist "in and out" focused to concentrate on quality, so you can understand why I was more than happily surprised with Palazzo Navona and its roundhouse punch of style, service and space.  Navona raises the bar.  Or maybe I just loved the ground level bar and incredible library of art books. . . In fact, the entire ground level is delightful,  a kind of "JK inspired" style of rich colors, artsy furniture (but not overwhelming), art piece lamps and paintings, and of course art books.

Its 43 rooms and suites are exemplify what I believe makes a hotel stand out-  tasteful deficient and efficient use of space, a hot commodity in Rome and a very relative concept.  Palazzo Navona employs a low key design style of white-on-grey-on-black tones, with the occasional bright colored divan, the vibe is tranquil.  In each room, there is an effortless sense of space- which may in fact be an optical illusion, as a friend points out that the rooms are not really that big, however, my room - a corner suite (a larger open plan room) had black parquet floors so vast I could probably teach a yoga class here, and definitely play a rough game of Twister.   From the front desk to in room, service is top notch, pleasant and efficient.  Within 12 hours, I was on a first name basis with everyone from the front desk to room service.   My favorite part of the hotel was not inside, but its rooftop with 360 view of the neighborhood's domes and some great lounge chairs.  The ringer for Palazzo Navona is location, a side street wedged between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Doesn't get any better than that.

Neighborhood:  NAVONA/PANTHEON

Donna Camilla Savelli

Donna Camilla Savelli

Donna Camilla Savelli

Donna Camilla Savelli

 *

Last but decidedly not least is Donna Camilla Savelli, an old favorite as well as an old monastery.  First and foremost, Donna Camilla is the diametric opposite of Palazzo Navona and Hotel Stendhal - it is far larger (78 rooms and suites), traditional (design style is a luxurious play on it Baroque history), and across town (on a hill in Trastevere, which is close enough).   Donna Camilla Savelli has the historical privilege of meditation,  the compound (because it truly is) lets you forget about a long day in Rome.

The restored sixteenth-century monastery claims Francesco Borromini as architect, so you can imagine that Baroque runs rampant-  tall archways, harlequin floors, bas-relief, coffered ceilings and beautiful dark wood furniture.   Original antiques and ornament accent each room, while velvet headboards and satin tapestries space up Donna Camilla's pious origins.In other words, this is the kind of place to stay if you want a bit of yesteryear Roman refinery.   Being a former monastery, it's a city oasis with terraces and cloister gardens, including my favorite -a scented garden with jasmine, camellias and magnolias.

NEIGHBORHOOD: TRASTEVERE

The Best Hotel in Rome: The Luxury Suite

Luxury Suite [lʌkʃəri/swiːt]:  elegant rooms, exclusive experiences, expensive

A while back, I noticed luxury was all up in my face.  Literally on every corner and in every part of the city, I kept finding tiny, shiny plaques stuck to the side of palazzi lintels with the words "luxury suites" engraved in sweeping script across polished bronze or steel. In all of my experience sleeping around Rome, I've definitely rumpled the sheets in a luxury suite or two, but were there really this many?  Either the gods were telling me something or Rome, a city beleaguered with economic issues, was just overflowing luxury.

It's not.

The rise of self-deigned luxury suites in Rome is just the latest in an ersatz authenticity trend that includes artisanal gelaterie, rustic paninoteche, haute design restaurants and vintage bars with master mixologists.  And I'm tired of it.   I'd like prefer the less is more theory to quality.  But if luxury suite is the new accomodation genre, I'm happy to review and always ask my favorite question: "What makes this luxury?"  

The answer has to be all or nothing.  If I can't see it, feel it and most of all experience it, it probably isn't luxury. The Luxury Suite better be more than great decor- whether classic or contemporary, gorgeous coffee table books, an eat-in, Instagrammable kitchen with the latest Nepresso and a fabulous terrace in the best location in all of Rome.  It has to feel like a home, but not jut any home and -  here's the reach - it is a lifestyle . . . with a price tag.  If you are truly looking for a luxury stay in Rome that feels like the home of your has-no-limits wealthy aunt, there are only a few places that make it into my little black book . . .

Round 2: Luxury Suites

It should come as no surprise that two of Rome's best luxury suites are owned by fashion houses, with decades of handcrafted quality and culture.   The Lungarno Collection, owned by Ferragamo, has only one outpost in Rome -  Portrait Roma - which  also happens to be my Numero Uno.  Aside from the center-of-it-all location on via dei Condotti,  incredible hand-tailored design [contemporary design, muted tones, hand-made pieces] in each of its 14 rooms , and a gorgeous rooftop, Portrait Roma packs a double punch for hospitality.  Two 24/7 teams, Lifestyle and Guest Assistance, research and review you and your every need with the same thoroughness as the Stanford Binet test, and preparedness as a PhD candidate.  In a nutshell, they do their work making sure you have the absolute experience you want for Rome culture - whether art historical, fashion or pop, like that damn cool Pokemon tour they invented.  I keep trying to baffle them with something out of reach, so far, no dice primarily because the Lifestyle team is constantly out and about in Rome, finding the New, the Now and the Next and keeping up with the Constant, while updating Portrait listino of possibilities.  The vibe is that they are your uber-stylish, uber-in the-know and uber-helpful Italian cousins, and I like them.

~

63401312
63401312

Number Two is Fendi Private Suites, seven apartments on the third floor of Palazzo Fendi, you know, the newly renovated Fendi mecca on the corner of Via del Corso and Via dei Condotti.  Like Portrait Roma, location is tops, you can get anywhere in the city by putting one foot in front of the other.  Fendi's interiors are gorgeous, flirty and modern-with unique, museum piece lamps and furniture, hip colors and textures- the sum of all Fendi in a pied-a-terre.  The concierge team hangs out behind a monolitich sculpture in the salotto area, which is a warm hang out of fabulous furniture, art and books.  The team is on hand until mid evening.  Like Portrait, Fendi gives guests a personalized menu of digital format experiences [read: ipad] which are made to taken outside of the hotel, and guests have access to the whimsically designed Palazzo Privè, the palace’s 2nd floor apartment, also known as the Roman Lounge.  This is where I would have a private dinner if I were you.  I found the rooms slightly smaller than Portrait and keep in mind there are only seven, in other words, they are already booked.

~

Rounding up my list is Residenza Napoleone III, whose similarities with Fendi and Portrait include neighborhood (it is located in Palazzo Ruspoli, across from Fendi and down the street from Portrait) and private concierge (24/7 majordomo).  It's only differences are history and style.  Residenza Napoleone III come with more than three centuries of grandeur beautifully  - master paintings, antiquities, frescoes, tapestries, hidden doors and a princess, plus 21st century conveniences in two lavish suites -   Napoleone III (two sitting rooms and a huge bedroom) and Roof Garden (bedroom, sitting room and terrace across two levels).   Personally, I feel you have to have a very specific mindset/aesthetic to appreciate all of it.  For exclusivity, a chat with La Principessa and you'll see that Residenza Napoleone III comes with pedigreed noblesse and an access to Roman history and society that the others just can't have.

Eyes on . . .  Babuino 181 and Manfredi Apartments.

Prossimamente . . . Round 3:  The Four Star

For more hotels in Rome, please check out my reviews in the Telegraph and my thoughts on the Five Star.

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