How to Train Your Wine Palate

Training your wine palate isn't difficult. Earlier this year, I ventured to Florence to meet with expert Filippo Bartolotta to discuss simple ways to gain a better understanding of what's in your glass. This article fist appeared in Wine Enthusiast, August 2018.

Filippo Bartolotta has walked miles of countryside in the pursuit of understanding terroir, and he’s spent years tasting flavors to find the building blocks of vintages. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET)-certified sommelier is based in Florence, Italy, where he curates wine experiences around the world, as co-founder of the luxury wine tour group, Le Baccanti, and in collaboration with chefs like Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura.

In his latest venture, he tackles the topic of how to train your palate in a newly published book, Di Che Vino Sei (What Kind of Wine Are You). By breaking down eight personality archetypes, Bartolotta believes wine lovers of all levels of expertise can get in groove with their palates. This practice of “wine training” has worked for the likes of actor Dustin Hoffman and former President Barack Obama.

Wine training is exactly what you’re likely thinking: Hours and lots of bottles dedicated to tasting wines. Part emotional and part physical, wine training is about pace, consistency, dedication and exposure. And it’s not just for the academics, collectors or would-be sommeliers, it’s for anyone who enjoys a great pour.

“The truth of a bottle of wine is when you are sitting down and sipping glass after glass, just seeing what happens,” says Bartolotta. Instead of having an experience bound by rigid rules, the only requirement he has for participants is a healthy desire to drink wine. Here are three of his surefire tips.

Don’t worry about memorization

The palate is a complex experiential combination of the four of the five senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. To those, Bartolotta adds another a fifth dimension, experience. It starts out simply, as participants open a bottle of wine to see how and why they like it.

Memorization is the least important aspect. More important is tasting and more tasting to train the palate to recognize flavors, which breeds confidence and natural instincts.

“I don’t like [to guess wines], you miss the whole the concept,” he says. “Instead, it’s all about developing the gut feeling, because your first impression is the most accurate one.”

Establish a daily practice

To understand and identify the nuances of wines, vintages and producers requires daily dedication. Bartolotta has spent thousands of hours in morning-long tasting sessions to solidify his gut feelings. But anyone can train these skills, whether with sommeliers or on their own.

Not many people have the time to taste every single day, of course. Bartolotta suggests that wine lovers dedicate a few hours weekly or monthly to hang out with good friends and great bottles.

Pick a few bottles from the same region, producer or grape variety, sample them and talk about it. Bartolotta suggests doing it again and again until it becomes part of your life. He says that after consistent wine enjoyment with no pressure, the palate becomes more sophisticated. Flavors become familiar, and instinct develops into intuition.

Eventually, tasting becomes a mindfulness practice, says Bartolotta. By the third or fourth glass, it becomes, as Bartolotta says, “a Matrix moment and you’re Neo, synergistically knowing what you are tasting.” The key is to continue to taste and drink, and to hang out with friends is a great reason to expand the selection of wines and experiences.

Compare and contrast

Pop open two semi-related bottles at the same time, say a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. Compare and contrast simultaneously to help you discover subtleties to what you like and don’t like. Otherwise, if you have a good bottle tonight and another next week, it’s difficult it to say which style you really prefer.

Also, get vertical. Much like tasting different styles from the same producer, vertical tastings are when you taste the same style from different years. Tasting the same label, but from three or more different vintages can help understand how the weather and other variables can affect the wine. And given the region, you can also ascertain whether you like hotter vintages versus cooler ones.

Experienced or entry-level, wine training is less about becoming an expert at blindly identifying wines, and more about self-understanding and preferences. As Bartolotta believes, wine was not invented simply to be tasted, it was meant to be enjoyed.

in Florence and want to taste wine with Filippo? Easy.  His company Le Baccanti organizes customized luxury cultural food & wine vacations and day tours in Tuscany and Italy- so yes, you can sit down at a table with him for a few hours eating, drinking and talking wine.  I did and totally developed a wine crush.

J.K. Place Hotel Will Make Everyone Fall More in Love with Florence

Florence is a dream destination for so many, but the question is where to rest your head. Here is my latest hotel review for Fathom: JK Place Florence.

Warm up by the fireplace. All photos courtesy of J.K. Place.

FLORENCE — Florence enchants, mesmerizes, and beguiles. It is a city for those who love the fairytale Italian dream of warm sunsets, flowing hair, and great dinners. For centuries, it has been the requisite Grand Tour stop for literature lovers, art travelers, and cruisers. For me, Florence was always an easy day trip from my home in Rome when I needed a quick culture hit in the form of a Renaissance painting or an occasional contemporary show at Palazzo Strozzi. I staunchly refused to allow myself to fall in like with the city. And then a recent overnight stay lured me into loving Florence.

Florentine pillow talk takes all kinds of shapes, and one of the most charming is boutique hotel J.K. Place. In 2003, hotelier Ori Kafir opened the doors of what would become the first in a mini empire (other the JKs are in Rome and Capri) with the idea of giving guests a pied-a-terre in the middle of one of Italy's most visited cities. He wanted something different from the grand dame styles of European hotels — something cozier and chicer, though just as elegant and impeccable. He wanted a home that was quintessentially Florentine in both style and hospitality.

J.K. Place still holds up to its original tenets. The townhouse is an easy respite, perfectly located for both historic city center strolls and out-of-town trips, while its beautiful design by internationally acclaimed local designer Michele Conan upholds its contemporary vibe. More importantly, it is so Florentine, down to every detail — from the bottled water they serve to the thousands of books about art, culture, and style scattered around, many focused on the city and its artisans.

A Florentine-worthy entrance.

Bathe with a view in the Penthouse bathroom. 

Book It

Rates start from €440. Click here to book.

Checking In

A five-minute walk from Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Florence's main train station, J.K. Place has a front row view of Piazza Santa Maria Novella, an open square with the beautiful Santa Maria Novella church and its very cool Renaissance facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the 1470s. The piazza is a busy hub for foot traffic and buskers.

Hotel Style
Florentine elegance, which translates to effortless style in all things aesthetic. J.K. mixes contemporary with classic — anachronistic yet very 21st century — to make you feel like you are in the home of Florence's most peripatetic art collector and fanciful flaneur.

This Place Is Perfect For
Everyone. No, really, everyone will find themselves at home here, especially those with refined sensibilities.

But Not So Perfect For
Those who insist on having a room with a view of the Arno.

Enjoy a private fireplace in master room 12.

Live your Florentine dreams in room 12.

What's on Site
J.K. Place is a home, an impeccably stylish one, that invites you to hang out. Just before the entrance is the outdoor J.K. Lounge, a teak terrace facing the piazza, a great people-watching lunch spot or cocktail-hour hangout. The ground level is a labyrinth of gorgeously styled lounges, salons, and libraries, with beautiful artwork and to-die-for art books and magazines, comfortable sofas, and cashmere throws. Late night, I discovered the terrace lounge, J.K.'s sexy rooftop bar that puts you eye-to-eye with Santa Maria Novella's flourishes.

Food + Drink
The J.K. Lounge hosts an enviable buffet breakfast, an overflowing cornucopia of healthy fruit and home-baked treats, as well a la carte selections. From lunchtime through evening, the lounge becomes J.K. Cafe, a tasteful, health-focused eatery that wows you with traditional Tuscan dishes like pasta al sugo finto and contemporary favorites, including an excellent club sandwich. Cocktails, you ask? J.K. seems like it was designed specifically for enjoying a well-crafted martini, a vintage wine, or a Negroni sbagliato, whether in the Lounge, the Champagne Bar (the cozy living room adjacent to the lounge), or the rooftop terrace. Food and beverage director Andrea Pieri is a walking gastronomic and enological archive. Ask him about the food, the wines, the water, the cocktails, and chances are he'll have a good story to tell.

Number of Rooms: 20 guest rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities: Sublime linens, towels, and robes. Excellent and fast WiFi and LED televisions. A mini bar abundantly stocked with free snacks and drinks. Cashmere blankets from a local merchant. Rooms scented by local perfumer Dr. Vranjes.

Drawbacks: The branded power strip outlet is a bit outdated and wouldn't send any power to my iPad and iPhone. I'd love to see a tech update.

Standout Detail: It would be easy to say the Terrace, but the standout for me is J.K.'s Library, which has every Taschen, Phaidon, and art book I covet. Even more standout was the staff's knowledge of their books and their willingness to provide more.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Even Florentine stairs are aesthetic.

Checking Out

Florence has been Tuscany's self-proclaimed It town since it birthed the Renaissance. Italy's top artists and architects of the 15th and 16th centuries remain well represented in its architecture, museums, churches, and palazzi, thanks to the shrewd support of the city's favorite families, starting with the Medici. And Florence keeps up that vibe today, nourishing 21st century artisans — fabulous leather workers, printmakers, jewelers, bookmakers, and more.

What to Do Nearby
Honestly, what's not to do? J.K. Place is within easy walking distance to just about everything you want to see in Florence, a very walkable city. Across Piazza Santa Maria Novella is the underrated Museo Novecento, a museum focusing 20th-century art, while around the corner is Palazzo Strozzi, an arts space that is lately lining up blockbuster shows. Of course, you're going to want to walk around Piazza del Duomo, where you cannot miss the green, pink, and white marble panels of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the gorgeous Brunelleschi dome, and the museum. Definitely make time for Opera Dumo, the Duomo's amazing museum with reconstructions of how Brunelleschi made the dome, as well as Michelangelo's penultimate pietà and incredible restored artwork. Have a Hannibal moment in Piazza della Signoria, then drop by Gucci Garden for a peek into the Guccci mind. Window shop on Via Tornabuoni, or cross the river to Oltrarno, Florence's hippest neighborhood.

Good to Know
General manager Claudio Meli knows everyone and everything there is to know in Florence. Just ask him. In fact, Meli is the author of J.K. Essential Guide to Florence, his love letter to the city in the form of an intrepid, pocket guide book that he's produced for guests. Keep in mind that Florence feels busy with tourists throughout the year, at its most congested at Easter and spring break through June. Although there's more room to breathe in July and August when Florentines flee the city for coastal breezes, the infernally hot temperatures make a visit not fun at all.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Either take a train into Firenze-Santa Maria Novella train station or fly into Florences’s international airport, four kilometers from the city center.

Getting Around
Walk. Yes, Florence has buses and taxis, but if you are really here to enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of Florence, all you need are your feet. For day trips around Tuscany, you can reach cities like Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and Arezzo via regional trains. If you're interested in exploring the great hilltops, beach communities, strade del vino (wine routes), and picturesque towns like Orbetello, Volterra, and Montepulciano under the Tuscan sun, your best bet is hiring a car.

Make the most of the lounge and Italian baked-goods.

Dine in true Florentine style in the breakfast room.

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.

5 Lisbon Hotels We Can’t Wait To Visit

This article original appeared in Forbes Travel, January 2018.

Pousada de Lisboa. Credit: Pestana Group

Mark your calendar for a European getaway this year because it’s all about Lisbon. Portugal’s capital city capitalizes on its coastal locale, a vibrant arts scene and a gorgeous culinary landscape. Here are five properties that will pique your curiosity and leave you with such a sense of saudade that you’ll be longing to come back to the City of the Light before you even leave.

Pousada de Lisboa
If you’re looking for luxury with a side of history, then this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended 18th-century address is for you.

Brazilian interior designer Jaime Morais upgraded the hotel’s 90 rooms to evoke a classic modern-chic style with artistic furniture, restored antique features like chandeliers and stained glass windows, and original works by Portuguese artists selected from local museums. 

The most enticing accommodation at this luxury Lisbon address is the Dom Pérignon Suite, which consists of 1,184 square feet of elegance in the form of a living room, two balconies with panoramic views of the Tagus River and an Irish green marble bathroom bathed in natural light.

Altis Avenida Hotel. Credit: Altis Hotel Group

Altis Avenida Hotel 
This retro-chic hotel is perfectly perched in the middle of everything you want to do in Lisbon. Located at the Praça dos Restauradores and opposite the Rossio train station, Altis Avenida has the city center at its doorsteps and all of the capital’s must-see sites within walking distance, as long as you don’t mind traversing a few hills. 

The throwback art deco décor plays to the hotel’s history as a 1940s office building with a palette of ebonies and ecrus, slick marble, Lucite and a modernist design.

2018 will bring big changes to the property (including 46 more guest rooms in an adjacent building), with all eyes on the soon-to-open rooftop bar and sun deck that surely will be Lisbon’s next hot spot.

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade’s Sky Bar. Credit: Tivoli Avenida Liberdade

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
Another art deco reboot with a bit more of a modern flair can be found in this newly renovated hotel on Avenida da Liberdade, just below Principe Real park. Its location along this glamorous boulevard offers a straight shot to both the historic center and to the trendy Bairro Alto neighborhood.

After exploring the city, you’ll return to a tranquil retreat. Each of the historic hotel’s 286 rooms is outfitted in a calming blanket of light, muted tones with large, all-white bathrooms.

Explore the property’s verdant gardens to find a hidden oasis, the Tivoli Spa, for elegant pampering and a circular swimming pool set below the shade of palm fronds.

The perfect spot for a sip can be found on the rooftop Sky Bar, offering some of Lisbon’s best sunset views.

Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites. Credit: Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites

Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites
If you’re traveling with tots in tow, you may want to try this residential-style Lisbon retreat. The surprisingly upscale property offers 37 chicly designed suites in a 19th-century palazzo.  Martinhal’s cheerful aesthetic is a celebration of bright colors, vintage cartoon posters and classic toys, with a sophisticated style that will please parents.

Location is key — these sumptuous suites are in the very family-friendly Chiado neighborhood lined with cafés, shops, boutiques and restaurants. Popular sites such as the National Azulejo Museum and the lively Mercado da Ribeira food hall are just a short walk away as well.

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon’s Central Lap Pool. Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon 
The luxury Four Seasons brand consistently follows through on its philosophy of white glove service, ever-present staff and immaculate facilities. Its Lisbon incarnation does not sway from this line of thinking. 

The 10-level, retro-modernist building is situated on the northern edge of Lisbon’s Marques de Pombal square — a nice walk to the historic center and art museums — overlooking the open greens of Eduardo VII Park. Its 282 rooms and four suites are done in opulent Louis XVI-style with 18th-century replica furniture, jewel-toned carpets and spacious marble bathrooms. 

Though noted for its spa and 59-foot wooden-decked central lap pool, the hotel also boasts a scenic rooftop running track that traces the perimeter of the building for a one-of-a-kind workout.

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


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 Spa Experience at Roma Cavalieri

There's nothing like being a guest at a spa, but it gets even better when the spa is the Cavalieri Grand Spa, Rome's fabulous hotel on the hill.  If anything, the Grand Spa is old news.  For the last decade, its more than 20,000 square meters of pools, work out rooms, tennis courts, treatment rooms and green space have been a luxury retreat for local and international Veeps, (VIPs but with the proper Italian phonetic pronunciation).  Case in point: my cousin - a former Serie A footballer and all-around It guy- had a membership just so he could work out on the occasion he was back in Rome, so of course I used to meet him and some of his friends [read: fit football colleagues] poolside for the pool bar hamburger.

About five or six years ago, the Grand Spa underwent an upgrade, holding on to its much-deserved No. 1 spot on the Roman spa scene, so why news now?

Two words: Gabriel Halmagyi.

Following a fourteen-year/ six-country career in spa management and physical therapy, Bucharest-born Gabriel has settled in Rome as the Grand Spa Manager, and all he wants to do is make the spa a community experience-  for guests as well as locals.  His first initiative included a full overhaul of the Grand Spa Cafe, with a focus on incredible flavorful, creative and healthy dishes that Grand Slammer Novak Djokovic couldn't get enough of.  And I'll admit, even though my eye was on the pool bar burger, I loved my Vietnamese spring rolls, and calamari and courgettes with a Zen pesto.

Though the Spa does come with a pretty price tag, Gabriel has his finger on the pulse of quality and consistency-- state of the art (don't you love that word?) Technogym equipment, on-the-ball and very friendly personal trainers, innovative treatment rooms (he has some tranquility surprises coming soon that will literally change the spa's landscape) and fidelity to top-shelf treatments and products such as La Prairie and St. Barth's.

At the end of the day, there is a great equalizer among all luxury spas as they all strive forward with top gear, service and staff. What I am hoping will set the Grand Spa apart from the rest of Rome is Gabriel and his desire to create a community in the spa and out -right now, he's starting with al aperto yoga sessions under beautiful Roman pines (yours truly totally adored it even in the throws of allergy season), and early Wednesday morning urban running sessions that skims a pleasurable 5k around the centro storico.  Let's see what happens . . .

And yeah, that's me, my mantra and my Olloclip fish eye.Cavalieri Grand Spa Club

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...

Why You Should Visit Milan This Summer

This article appeared in Forbes Travel in June 2015.
Why You Should Visit Milan This Summer - Forbes Travel Guide

I've always championed a visit to Milan, and now more than ever.  Over the past few years, the city has made a concerted effort to evolve-- from fashion and finance to all that plus food, tech and of course art.  If Milan has been in the back of your head, put it to the forefront and consider taking a few days off to run around its incredible art collections and gorgeous shopping streets, meanwhile planning your next fabulous meal.  And yeah, I picked up some great places to stay as well.  Let's just say, I love getting to know Milan. An while you're at it, please take a look at my picks from this article which originally appeared in Forbes Travel, June 10, 2015.

Palazzo Parigi Hotel Photo Courtesy of The Leading Hotels of the World Ltd

With everyone’s attention on the Milan Expo 2015, the city itself has been gearing up its museums, exhibition spaces, restaurants and hotels for the rush of visitors about to give Milan the attention it well deserves. If Milan is in your summer plans, the Expo is undoubtedly a big part of the itinerary. That said, here is a list of places to go, things to eat and ways to relax when you do take that eventual break from all the Expo excitement.

Why You Should Visit Milan This Summer - Forbes Travel Guide

Bar Luce, Photo Courtesy of Attilio Maranzano

What to do Fondazione Prada opened its Rem Koolhaas-designed doors in an overhauled distillery on May 9. The cutting-edge art space (the “Serial Classic” bronze and marble sculpture collection runs through August 24) includes a kid’s area and Bar Luce, which was designed by Academy Award-nominated director Wes Anderson.

For a fashion break, pop over to the Armani Silos, the new fashion museum designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in a former Nestlé factory. The Silos’ debut, which coincided with the May 1 opening of the Expo, centers around Milan-born fashion icon Giorgio Armani.

Reliable attractions include Museo del Novecento and its incredible collection of Italian art from the late 1880s to the end of the 20th century (this includes The Fourth Estate, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s epic turn-of-the-century painting) and Villa Necchi Campiglio, the beautiful, 1930s home-turned-museum that was the stage for Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 Tilda Swinton-starred film I Am Love. For more Milan exhibitions and events, visit city-sponsored site ExpoInCittà.

Why You Should Visit Milan This Summer - Forbes Travel Guide

Rebelot, Photo Courtesy of Bruno Pulici

Where to eat and drink The Navigli neighborhood’s vintage Milanese osteria Al Pont de Ferr adds a 21st-century flair to traditional dishes. Rebelot, Al Pont de Ferr’s little sister, is a tapas bistro helmed by Brazilian chef Mauricio Zillo with an excellent cocktail bar. The fashionable set loves contemporary bistro Pisacco. Associate cocktail bar Dry has some of the best drinks (like the Superstition with Fernet-Branca, Mount Gay Eclipse Silver, Velvet Falernum, lemon juice and rhubarb and licorice bitters) in the city and, unbeknownst to many, quite the tasty pizza. For a more low-key dining scene, Lievito Madre al Duomo is a quaint Napoli import at the very center of Milan where pizzamaker Gino Sorbillo serves only seven kinds of pies. If you’ve had your fill of pepperoni, try Tokuyoshi, the February-opened, Italian-Japanese restaurant from Yoji Tokuyoshi, Massimo Bottura’s former sous chef at Modena’s beloved Francescana.

Where to stay Following a four-year restoration, the winter 2015-opened Excelsior Hotel Gallia is an incredible example of Art Deco enchantment in the 21st century, and perhaps the smartest place to stay in Milan. Studio Marco Piva brings light into the 1930s hotel through color (browns and other earth tones), wellness (Milan’s largest hotel spa) and technology (the gym has a virtual golf simulator). The rooftop restaurant and bar have a futuristic vibe, too, thanks to gorgeous glass chandeliers and curvaceous furniture. The ground-level library is perfect for an in-transit meeting or a smoke in the Poltrona Frau-orchestrated cigar bar. The location is perfect for Expo visitors as it is immediately adjacent to the city’s Central Station. The Milan hotel also gives you access to a courtesy car for transport to the historic center.

The 10-level boutique property Palazzo Parigi Hotel is Neoclassical luxe with a French twist. Cosmopolitan and stylish, the Palazzo Parigi screams “catwalk,” which makes sense seeing as how the address is just around the corner from Milan’s trendy quadrilatero della moda section. Designed by architect and owner Paola Giambelli, the rooms toe between modernist Milano and fanciful French. The ground-level lounge bar Caffé Parigi seems inspired by a Rothschild library. Gastronomic Restaurant feels like a runway of sorts, too, with its dramatic glass “tunnel” for waiters. In the warmer months, head to the century-old garden for evening cocktails.

An Inside Look at St. Regis Grand European Expansion

Being based out of Rome and travel writing means I have the pleasure and privilege of really getting to know Italy.  And sometimes that means its very best hotels- whether as a guest, reporter or just for cocktails. As I continue to focus my writing on the very best of Italy-- from luxury to local--  I'll be reviewing hotels for Forbes Travel, as well other publications.  And hopefully I have more opportunities to travel the Mediterranean in search of that perfect place to stay. Earlier this month, Forbes asked me to take a look at Starwood's St. Regis Grand hotels to see what changes have come and are ready for us: this article originally appeared in Forbes Travel on June 2 2015.

An Inside Look At St. Regis’ Grand European Expansion - Forbes Travel Guide

The St. Regis Istanbul Photo Courtesy of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc

There’s one thing for certain about The St. Regis: It’s insistent on providing luxury hotel experiences to as many corners of the planet as possible. In April, the brand welcomed The St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya to the family. And that’s on top of already announcing 15 more new or newly renovated properties across the globe. To help you keep up with the surplus of sophistication, Forbes Travel Guide provides a closer look at the two new openings around the Mediterranean.

An Inside Look At St. Regis’ Grand European Expansion - Forbes Travel Guide

The St. Regis Venice San Clemente Palace, Photo Courtesy of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc

The St. Regis Venice San Clemente Palace The Venice hotel takes its place in the Italian triumvirate with the Rome and Florence properties. Following an extensive restoration, the San Clemente Palace re-opened in April 2015 as an incredible oasis just a 10-minute boat ride from St. Mark’s Square. The secluded island of San Clemente has always been a private retreat; its nearly 1,000-year history includes a monastery, military outpost, sanitarium and patrician guest house. And it is that rich millennium of exclusivity that San Clemente aims to repeat. The 189 guest rooms and suites showcase a beautiful combination of traditional Venetian refinement (terrazzo floors and brocades) with contemporary design. Particular attention was made to the island’s grounds. A swimming pool that’s surrounded by a lush garden and lounge area heightens the oasis vibe. Additionally, the San Clemente offers a grand terrace, tennis court, spa, children’s club and three restaurants.  CHANGED TO KEMPINSKI

The St. Regis Istanbul Meanwhile, crossing the seas that Casanova swam, Istanbul’s of-the-moment Nisantasi neighborhood welcomed this Art Deco-inspired gem in March 2015. The 118-room hotel is an homage to the grand hotels of a bygone age. With an exterior envisioned by Emre Arolat Architects and an interior highlighted by an incredible collection of art from the turn of the 20th century, the property proves nothing short of captivating. All rooms feature unique art pieces, while hanging like a cloud in the lobby is Supernova, a Lasvit-designed chandelier with 343 glass panels. Once all of the works in the public spaces and rooms are tallied, the new hotel easily makes for one of Turkey’s finest art collections. Of course, this Istanbul outpost has the same unparalleled personal butler service you’d find at other St. Regis addresses. The new property has Iridium, too, a spa with seven treatment rooms, indoor pools and a hammam. When you’re done with your massage, head over to one of The St. Regis Istanbul’s two marquee restaurants, St. Regis Brasserie and Spago by Wolfgang Puck, to complete the bespoke experience.

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Excelsior Hotel Gallia, Milan's Great Gatsby


...and to this conception, he was faithful to the end

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)

I will admit it. I am a Gatsby, a wide-eyed dreamer with ideas of sky scrapers and all-night parties, luscious marble, loose morals, endless cocktails, and theatrical architecture. Milan is  the perfect setting for a Fitzgerald rhapsody, from its art nouveau buildings with gorgeous moldings and sharp art deco palazzi to the shiny new towers.   The city has the uncanny ability to transform itself from quiet and reserved to decadent,  bombastic and monumental.  And lately, I've noticed that Milan architecture is living up to the most fundamental of Gatsby creed - if you want to woo a Daisy Buchanan, you have to bring the best to West Egg.

Case in point: Excelsior Hotel Gallia, the latest hotel opening* in Milan.


For years, I've had my eye on the Hotel Gallia.  Each time I walked around Stazione Central (Milan's central train station that is immediately in front of the hotel), I studied the Gallia's art nouveau/art deco facade wondering what was going on inside.  Would it be left to the vultures of railway hotels? Would it subdivided into offices? Would it become an H&M?

While I thought the Gallia was hibernating, architect Marco Piva was renovating, gutting the 1932 historic hotel to its marble lobby and  columns, and then rebuilding it into a modern Art Nouveau/Art Deco luxury using only the very best materials.

Daisy, you're home.

Gallia is all marble, light and lines.  When I visited last week, I bumped into Piva in the orange-blossom scented lobby and had the pleasure of talking with him about flow, furniture and font.

Piva was inspired by Art Deco and incorporates its elements throughout the entire hotel, while avoiding creating a period piece by decorating with 21st century design and furniture.  He worked with Poltrona Frau, Flos, Fendi Casa and Cassina to create Gallia unique pieces that show off the very best of Italian design, meanwhile he had his eye and finger on every color and  material (marbles, metal, leather and woods) used throughout the hotel.

This is clearly Piva's West Egg.

The seven-floor hotel is ....  lush and luminous.   The sprawling ground floor area is  a 21st century  Gatsby hang out area of high ceilings and marble, with a lounge, well-stocked library, cigar bar,  restaurant and cocktail bar accented by light hues, warm fabrics and Poltrona Frau furniture.

From floors two to seven, its 235  rooms are beautiful and smart -  with technology and style. I loved the outlets,  nightlights, Trussardi amenities, Marvis mouthwash, Domori chocolate bars, the marble and glass bathroom, and of course the view of  Stazione Centrale, my favorite train station in the world.  I even loved the "lobbies" on every floor with their fluorescent yellow accents and Barbarella-reminicent sofas.  The suites were delicious.  My favorite is in the Art Suite which swims in light and has butter-colored leather quilted accents.  Piva's love for architecture and design is most obvious in the five suites he dedicated to Itlaian architects Gio Ponti, Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Franco Albini.  Yes,  he brings in elements from each architect in to each suite, with Piva style.

At the time I visited*, the spa and palestra were completed but not yet open. On floor six, the Gallia will have Shiseido spa, a state-of-the art gym, a virtual golf course, while its 7th floor will have a rooftop restaurant and bar aiming to stake its claim in the city's no bar and restaurant scene in a futurist art deco homage.  I walked through the penthouse Katari suite, though yet to be decorated, it looks like it will be amazing.  The restaurant was almost complete-- though chef has yet to be announced.

Hotel Gallia is a  lost weekend waiting to happen.

*The Excelsior Hotel Gallia is still in its soft opening phase.