TRAVEL

A Local's Guide to Rome, Italy.... By The Way

My favorite question is being what I really do in Rome- where I really go and what I really love. And as a travel writer, I can tell you that there is no bigger compliment than being asked to write about her neighborhood. You can imagine how flattered I was when Washington Post as me to be a contributor to WaPo’s new travel platform By The Way. For my Rome guide (yep, it’s all mine and all about me) I share the places I hang out- where everyone body knows my name, my dog and even my kids. Next time you are in Rome, stop by anyone of these places and look around- you’ll probably catch me.

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

Rome is beautiful chaos and contradictions, and this should absolutely be expected from a city whose thousands of years of history and personalities have formed its pulsating present. You first get a hint of its noncommittal nature while driving into the city from the airport, passing fields with roaming sheep. The highway flows into an austere neighborhood designed in the 1930s, where every building was intended to be a monument. And then the chaos begins: Congested neighborhoods snake up the Tiber River leading to the centro storico (historic center), where Baroque palaces and churches fight with ancient monuments for a little elbow room. 

There is no patience, and there shouldn’t be. This is Rome, where anything goes. The energy can be overwhelming. Keep walking around; eventually, you’ll realize that Rome is not quite as big as you thought — geographically and socially. Everyone knows everyone. If you visit the same places and piazzas a few times, you’ll find that they know you, too.

Photo by Erica Firpo.

IN THE ACTION

Monti

Monti is the perfect mix of busy bars, great restaurants, trendy stores and some of the most recognizable historic sites. This is where you’ll find cool, chic and even quirky boutique hotels and some of Rome’s best Airbnbs. Don’t expect brand names, but don’t worry about it. Find this neighborhood.

LOW-KEY

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese, specifically, is the city’s prettiest park and sits quietly between the historic center and Parioli, a residential neighborhood. The few hotels lining its perimeter have panoramic views and hidden pools. It’s just close enough to the center to feel in the know and just far away enough to be a breath of fresh air. Find this neighborhood.

INSIGHTS

3 things locals think you should know

  1. Nobody nurses their morning caffe. Drink it fast, and then go.

  2. The word “piacere” (or “pleased” to meet you, pronounced pee-ah-CHAIR-ray) and a smile go a long way.

  3. Once you sit down at a restaurant (and unless told otherwise), the table is yours for the rest of the evening. Basta.

(Rome illustrators Blend Studio for The Washington Post)

BREAKFAST

Roscioli Caffe

After they cornered the market on pizza and bread at Antico Forno bakery for four generations, the Roscioli brothers opened a neighborhood coffee bar and pastry shop, which, despite little standing room, never fails to please locals. Along with spectacular coffee drinks (hot ones come in heated cups), the pastries are divine. Many are old-school, hard-to-find Roman dolci. If you don’t do sweet, the selection of salati (savory sandwiches) is big and creative. Go for the thinly sliced pastrami on homemade cornetto and the club sandwich with an over-easy egg.

BTW: Come before 9 a.m. to get a place at the counter. The back table is bookable, too.

BREAKFAST

Marigold

Rome finally has a little hygge, thanks to pastry chef Sofie Wochner and her partner, Domenico Cortese. The simple micro-bakery and restaurant may be one of the first sweet-and-savory brunch venues in the city. Guests come from around Rome for Wochner’s confections, including cinnamon twists, as well as homemade butter (made from kefir) and rye bread. Cortese, the mastermind behind dinner and lunch, makes daily sandwiches that are chef’s choice, with mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough.

BTW: Marigold doesn’t take reservations on the weekends.

LUNCH

Mercato Testaccio

This local market’s 100-plus vendors (produce, cheese, meat, fish, specialty foods, housewares) make it a great community hangout. Lunch standouts include fresh pasta of the day at Le Mani in Pasta (Box 58), vegan burgers and tacos at Sano (Box 3), mini pizzas at Da Artenio (Box 90) and fried delicacies at Mastro Papone (Box 96). In other words, every kind of eater can dine here all afternoon.

BTW: Bring cash, and if you are really hungry, head straight to sandwich shop Mordì e Vai (Box 15) before the nonni beat you there.

LUNCH

Supplizio

The kind of hole-in-the-wall you’d walk by without giving it a second look. But stop: The small Supplizio is chef Arcangelo Dandini’s full-service incarnation of Rome’s staple fried fast food, the suppli, (deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce and chicken giblets). Dandini’s are award-winning, and here he introduces different interpretations, from classico to carbonara, and cacio pepe (yes, your favorite Roman pasta, fried).

BTW: Beyond rice balls, Dandini’s lineup includes polpette al mio garum (fried anchovy balls) and the fave dessert, crema fritta (fried cream custard).

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DINNER

Luciano Cucina

Luciano Cucina is a next-generation trattoria, thanks to chef Luciano Monosilio. He’s known as the King of Carbonara, a title he rightfully deserves since elevating the typical Roman dish to Michelin-star status. The restaurant, with an absolutely-not-rustic, very contemporary design, features an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen and a menu with his award-winning (and must-try) carbonara and other traditional favorites. But the fun is in his creative Contemporanee (contemporary) and Ripiene (stuffed) pasta dishes: fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — his version of pasta sauteed with garlic, pepper and olive oil and topped with cured fish roe.

BTW: Contrary to what you’d think, reserve no earlier than 9 p.m. It’s when Luciano gets lively.

DINNER

Seu Pizza Illuminati

Seu Pizza is the precise opposite of a typical Roman pizzeria: stylish, with mod furniture and art pieces, and the feel of an art gallery. But you’re here for the pizza. Daniele Seu, the pizzaiolo (pizza-maker), is a dough magician whose thicker impasto and crusts will quickly obliterate any recollection of thin-crusted Roman-style pizza. (It is that good.) His menu is anchored with classics, but it’s Seu’s occasionally mind-bogglingly delicious creations — like the Gamberita, raw red shrimp atop buffalo mozzarella — that keep people coming back.

BTW: Choose a bunch of pizzas to share, and ask the waiter to serve them in the chef’s preferred order. 

Photo by The Jerry Thomas Project.

LATE-NIGHT

Jerry Thomas Speakeasy

Although Jerry Thomas may no longer be a secret, it is still the choice of the late-evening-cocktail crowd. The bar is immaculately styled in 1920s retro, tiny and limited to reservations. (Call in the late afternoons.) Created as a hangout for restaurant-industry professionals, Jerry’s bartenders are colleagues and friends who make expert cocktails and personal creations. Bonus points: The team rolls deep in female bartenders who are innovating the mixology arena.

BTW: An ideal spot if you don’t want to be seen.

LATE-NIGHT

L’Angolo Divino

L’Angolo Divino is the enoteca (wine bar) of your dreams: a rustic corner spot with low lighting, lots of great labels and an owner, Massimo, who has something to say about every single bottle. The wine list includes the usual suspects (yes, you can try a Super Tuscan, Amarone or Barolo), as well as unexpected bubbles, natural wines and hard-to-find producers. The list may be heavy on Italians, but international wines are represented.

BTW: Ask Massimo about his favorite Lazio wines. A world of conversation and tasting will start, and you may make a friend for life.

Bike the Appia Antica

Loving Rome means getting out of the city, so we’re lucky the Romans built amazing streets crossing the country. The oldest and longest is the Via Appia Antica, and you need to travel only a tiny stretch to feel like you’re in the country. From just before exiting the ancient walls to, heading southeast, the edge of the Parco Appia Antica, most of the road is still original basalt stone and is one of the prettiest bike rides the city has to offer. The ride is lined with ancient monuments, tombs and Roman pines along fields of green. Expect to pass flocks of meandering sheep.

BTW: You can rent bikes at Appia Antica Caffe, a fine starting point, and have a great home-cooked meal there.

Galleria Nazionale

Where Italy’s national collection of modern and contemporary art is held. A walk through the neoclassical building is a visual lesson in Italian art as told via magnificent paintings, sculptures and videos by era-defining artists like Canova, Modigliani, Manzoni, Clemente and Penoni. The collection also includes non-Italians, such as Twombly and LeWitt. Their order is not chronological (either confusing — or fun).

BTW: The best location for art selfies, especially because La Galleria is the last place anyone ever visits. 

MURo and street art in Quadraro

For art history in the making, take a 25-minute drive southeast. Quadraro, a small enclave embedded between ancient history — aqueducts, Roman villas, case popolari (1930s low-income housing) — and Cinecittà is the city’s first outdoor museum dedicated to urban art (Museo Urbano di Roma, a.k.a. MURo). Walk around, and you’ll come face to face with murals by artists including Gary Baseman (his gray-toned piece is a nice starting point), Diavu, Alice Pasquini, Ron English and more.

BTW: MURo (founded by Diavu) offers artist-led tours of the neighborhood in Italian, English, Spanish and French. 

Artisanal Cornucopia

Artisanal Cornucopia is part salon, part gallery and part concept boutique — a cornucopia of fabulous clothing, shoes, accessories and art pieces. Owner Elif Sallorenzo’s collection covers the entire gamut of social opportunities, from cuddling in front of the TV and beach days to dinner parties and weddings. She loves craftsmanship and selects pieces from both emerging designers and coveted creators, including Aquazzura (Edgardo is a good friend), Giulia Barela, Misela and Segni di Gi. And she likes things that are 100 percent made in Italy, so expect to find one-of-a-kind handbags by Benedetta Bruzziches and more.

BTW: If Elif is in, talk to her. She knows everyone and every place. 

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Villa Doria Pamphilj

The largest landscaped park in Rome, Villa Pamphilj is a favorite afternoon hangout and workout area. If you want to run, bike, play volleyball, soccer or informally TRX out in the open, this is where you want to be. It’s open until 9 p.m. in the warmest months.

BTW: Back in the day, Moammar Gaddafi, the longtime ruler of Libya, loved its beautiful, bucolic vibe so much that he set up camp here with his entourage.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is probably the best-kept art secret in Rome. The two-level stand-alone villa was originally a vacation home for one of the pope’s financiers who had the foresight to invest in architect Baldassarre Peruzzi and his friend, the up-and-coming artist Raffaele Sanzio, a.k.a. Raphael. The entire ground-floor fresco cycles are painted by Raphael, while the first-level frescoes are by Renaissance greats Il Sodoma and Sebastiano del Piombo.

BTW: Most days, the museum is quiet, and you’ll have Raphael’s masterpiece Galatea fresco all to yourself. 

Eat Like a Chef: Pier Daniele Seu, Rome

Young-gun pizzaiolo Pier Daniele Seu bakes with an attitude as fresh as his divine, dough-licious pies. The current don of Rome’s pizza scene, Pier Daniele is renowned for his super-light dough and experimental toppings, underscored by a respect for tradition (he spent 3 years studying Neapolitan and Roman techniques at pizza institution Mastro Titta). 

After wowing the fooderati with his stall at Mercato Centrale, Pier Daniele opened his own restaurant Seu Pizza Illuminati in Trastevere last year. Away from the kitchen, you’ll catch him at one of these Rome restaurants.

Retrobottega

Creative duo Giuseppe Lo Ludice and Alessandro Miocchi’s retro bottega stays open from midday through to midnight and the beauty is precisely their non-stop service – though it’s first come, first served. Their focus is entirely on the food and it’s delicious. Try to aim for a seat at the double kitchen counter where you can admire their magic close up. 

Via della Stelletta, 4, retro-bottega.com

Pascucci

When you want to up the romance or have an occasion to celebrate, this is a wonderful spot. Gianfranco Pascucci’s artistic plates are created with incredible technique and precision, with an impressive selection of fish. This restaurant is very dear to me.

Viale Traiano, 85, Fiumicino, pascuccialporticciolo.com

Osteria Dell'Orologio

Perfect for Sunday lunch, especially on a sunny day. Chef Marco Claroni handpicks a rainbow of fish fresh from the boats in Fiumicino each morning and has an incredible ability to fuse tradition and innovation without losing authenticity.

Via della Torre Clementina, 114, osteriadellorologio.net

ZIA

A new opening in Trastevere that’s perfect for an intimate and elegant dinner. Chefs Antonia and Ida bring a magnetic energy to their kitchen using a wonderful blend of French technique, style and skill to rework flavours.

Via Goffredo Mameli, 45, ziarestaurant.com

Pizzarium 

It needs no introduction, this rave-busy counter is an institution for anyone who passes through Rome. Thankfully it’s open all day for whenever the desire for pizza overtakes us.

Via Trionfale, 30, bonci.it

{Podcast} Rome's King of Carbonara Luciano Monosilio

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

LOOK, MA, I’VE LAUNCHED A PODCAST!

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

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

EPISODE ONE: THE KING OF CARBONARA

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

Chef Luciano Monosilio. Photo: Erica Firpo

Carbonara’s key ingredients. Photo: Erica Firpo

TUNE IN

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

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
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Ciao Bella - Podcast Design Project - Main.jpg

LlSTEN UP

to catch the latest episode of

An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Fashion, food, finance and all-round fabulousness. Here’s how to spend an inspired 36 hours in Milan, Italy’s “It” city.

10am: Check in at Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and you’ll find yourself in the centre of an art-focused crossroads, from Milan’s illustrious Baroque to its contemporary cultural kingpin vibe. Step into modern Milan of the 1930s at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in park Villa Campiglio directly across the from the hotel.

Named for socialite sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio, the Villa Necchi Campiglio was the centre and centrepiece of Milan’s mid-twentieth century social scene. Architect Piero Portaluppi combined his unique rationalist flair of sleek lines and materials with Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional sensibilities (including custom pieces and built-ins). His 1930s design was innovative in details both inside and out. In 2000, Gigina bequeathed the property to FAI, Italy’s national trust, which opened the villa as a museum in 2008.

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

12pm: For lunch, the villa’s solarium doubles as a charming cafeteria and features favourite Milanese dishes including a green risotto and traditional veal cutlets. Wondering why the Villa Necchi Campiglio looks familiar? The iconic home was setting for the 2009 Italian movie I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.

3pm: Make your way to Fondazione Prada. This 205,000-square-foot complex is home to an intense collection of contemporary art works by 20th and 21st-century Italian and international artists—from Giacomo Balla to Francesco Vezzuoli and Damien Hirst. Its 2015 Rem Koolhaas/OMA design includes a cinema.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

6pm: Stop for aperitivi at Fondazione Prada’s cocktail hub Bar Luce, the Art Deco–inspired bar designed by director Wes Anderson. And then make your way up the newly opened Torre, a nine-story modernist tower, with art galleries that eventually lead to the rooftop terrace bar.

8:30pm: After drinks, stay for dinner at Ristorante Torre, the Fondazione’s tower restaurant. The illuminated cityscape of Milan sprawls away beyond its floor to ceiling windows, and the views inside are equally good with art work including custom wall-hung plates and midcentury design pieces like Tulip tables, and executive chairs by Eero Saarinen. The menu features regular new tasting dishes created by a rotation of Michelin rising star chefs from the CARE’s Chef Under 30 project.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

8.30 am: Build up an appetite with a stroll through the historic Giardini Pubblici, established 1784 and considered the oldest city park in Milan. Then find a counter spot at Pasticceria Marchesi, the posh cafe on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s Fashion Quadrilateral. A city landmark, Marchesi is the perfect scene for morning coffee, and has a mouthwatering line up of pastries, traditional pralines and savoury treats. Take a look around the Fashion Quadrilateral, an oasis of haute couture. Via Montenapoleone and its side streets are lined with beautiful boutiques representing some of the world’s most admired fashion houses.

11.30 am: Milan’s designers all know that contemporary style comes from centuries of culture. Catch up on Milan’s history at the Galleria Arte Moderna, a late 18th century villa whose Baroque trappings are the backdrop to an enviable collection of Italian and European artwork from the 18th to the 20th century. The rise of modern Milan is shown through key work by Balla, Boccioni, Canova and Segantini, which sit side by side with Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne and Gaugin.

1pm: For lunch, head to LuBar, the galleria’s on site cafe for creative Sicilian street food in a whimsical fin-de-siècle setting.

 

3pm It’s time to go back to the future by visiting the Pirelli Hangar Biccocaa free-entry contemporary complex on the grounds of a former Pirelli tire factory. This is now one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces, with three buildings covering 100,000 square feet. It’s dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions featuring works by Italian and international artists. Guides are on hand to help you navigate around the vast complex.

8pm By early evening, you’ll want to grab an outside table at Iuta BistrotHangar Bicohcca’s onsite gourmet restaurant where the city’s cognoscenti congregate for stylish conversation and aptly-mixed cocktail.

10pm Ready to head home to the hotel? Before you do, make a pit stop at Bar Basso, a cult classic popular with the fashion and design crowd, known for introducing the world to “aperitivi” hour and its own take on the negroni.

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

Fashion Find: Gucci Garden, Florence

This Store Rejects Labels

Gucci Garden by Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. Courtesy of Gucci.

This article originally appeared in American Way Magazine, April 2018.

Gucci transforms a palazzo into a multifaceted retail fantasy

Gucci has fun blurring the lines between fashion, food, history and art with its latest enterprise, Gucci Garden. The space, which recently opened in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, explores the Italian brand’s past and future, and rocks a trattoria with a menu by three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura (pictured right).

While an on-site boutique sells items only available at the Gucci Garden, creative director Alessandro Michele insists the project is less about creating a retail environment and more about dreaming up a fantasy world— with the Gucci brand at its center. “The Garden is real,” he says, “but it belongs above all to the mind.”


Read the April issue of American Way magazine here.

Boutique. Courtesy of Gucci.

Massimo Bottura's Gucci Osteria. Courtesy of Gucci.

Artist Jayde Fish's whimsical murals. Courtesy of Gucci.

Did I mention there is a cinema? Courtesy of Gucci.

4 Rome Restaurants With Remarkable Views

Hotel Hassler Roma. Credit: Hotel Hassler Roma

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

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

Imàgo
View: Domes of the historic city center

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

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

View from La Pergola. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Pergola
View: A sweeping city panorama

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

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

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

Aroma Restaurant
View:  A front row seat to the Colosseum

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

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

Hotel Eden's Vista. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Terrazza
View: Downtown Rome

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

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

The Factory: Milan's Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

Don't laugh, but Milan is my Breath of Fresh Air.  My Mind Clearer and my Get Back to Reality. As much as I love Rome and its ever-permeating chaos, every now and then,  I need to get of my head, literally and metaphysically, and I need Milan like some people need that morning meditation, coffee, workout, cigarette or shot.    Just 2 hours and 55 minutes on the FrecciaRossa and I've got my fix.

Grab your Milan map and head seven or so kilometers slight northeast of the Duomo.  Likely a lot of the city's outer-lying neighborhoods, Bicocca is a Vonnegut setting -  town build up up on the remains of Borgo Pirelli (Pirelli Town), Italy's early 20th century City of Industry. Back in the day, Bicocca was the headquarters and hub to some of Italy's top automotive and mass transit companies- tires, trains, engines, cars, war machines and more made the hamlet an industrial landscape of  factories, warehouses, and workers' housing.  80 years later, the landscape has evolved into Tetris of low, red brick building, midsize angular hangars to form a mini, gridform city of administrative and financial offices, factories, state university, shopping malls and Pirelli Hangar Bicocca.

Only in Milan would you find an incredible art foundation on the grounds of a tire factory, especially when it is one of the world's largest.   10,900 square metres of exhibition galleries with a  California campus vibe mixed with brick warehouses and concrete gardens, Hangar Bicocca is the Pirelli's love letter to site specific art installations.   Comprised of three buildings - the Shed (a series of connected, low brick buildings), the Navata (an amazing and huge hangar), and the Cubo, Hangar Bicocca is free-entry, interactive art space for permanent and temporary exhibitions.  All projects are large scale, and meant to be experienced not just looked at, aside from Efemero, a mural project by Brazilian artist Osgemeous on the external facade of the Cubo.  And Hangar Bicocca is a combination of interior and exterior spaces, whose enclosed garden is playground (on any day there are school visits),  social scene (the caffe has an outdoor seating area) and post-apocalyptic Instagram background - Fausto Melotti's enormous La Sequenza (1981) - a sequence of oxidized iron sheets 22 metres long, 7 metres high and 10 metres wide surrounded by tumbleweeds - is a permanent resident.  The other permanent resident is    Anselm Kiefer's The Seven Heavenly Palaces, an interior landscape within the Hangar landscape and a walk around Kiefer's pysche through seven fragile cement towers and five, large scale mixed-media paintings.

#ARTTOTHEPEOPLE

Appearing every now and then in the dark hued palette of greys, whites and black, are uniformed members of Hangar Bicocca's pit crew, young art monitors wearing Pirelli red jackets with the clever hashtag #arttothepeople, treading on trend as much on Borgo Pirelli's famous 1943 workers' strike.   Off to the side of the shed is Dopolavoro, a beautiful caffe restaurant with chalkboard walls and open seating that seemed as much the hip meet up as the perfect business lunch spot.  It is-- the menu is seasonal,  Italian regional and organically curated by chef Lorenzo Piccinelli.  So yeah, this is how I get my contemporary fix... Milan + art, with a glass of Arneis and tartar.

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Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

Via Chiesa 2 (+39) 02 66 11 15 73

Thursday through Sundays, 10 am to 10pm

Free entrance

Thank you, Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada, thank you.  I have been waiting for an arts complex like this to come to Italy for ten years.  An incredible fashion-based arts foundation with not just the big bucks but bigger balls to show off what seems like an entire contemporary art collection [nope, there's more in storage],  a temporary show bringing priceless antiquities from collections including the Vatican, debut its onsite cinema with a retrospective film on Roman Polanski, and hire aesthete auteur Wes Anderson to design its bar, all the meanwhile sitting pretty in a 19,000 sq m complex from mastermind starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

Koolhaas, an architect who is known for ability to transcend space with a good dose of ego,  transformed a former distillery in Milan's southwest into a 21st century artsy mall.  And of course, it balances the quintessential Prada vibe- sleek and cool-toned, with a slight hand at playful.  Gorgeous,  24 karat gold leafed covers the "Haunted House", a four+ level temporary exhibition area, the cinema is horizontal mirrored reflection of the "podium", Koolhaas' glass box where Prada's debut exhibition Serial Classic resides, a concrete cistern houses lets us get up front and above a Damien Hirst piece, and all is enclosed by perimeter walls housing more of Prada's never-ending collection.

More than anything, Fondazione Prada isn't just about the exhibition [though Serial Classic ranks as 'blockbuster', tens of sculptures exploring the multiples in antiquity, curated by archeologist Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola]- it's about the experience.  Like any museum or gallery space, you are meant to walk through halls of installations, sculpture and painting and more than anything you are meant to enjoy yourself in every single space- whether it be art car collection, the Robert Gober installations in the haunted, or an evening at the on site cinema.

Everyone seems to be talking about Bar Luce, the deliciously decor'd, ersatz vintage bar by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson is a long time Prada collaborator who created and filmed the 2013 Prada short film Castello Calvacanti (starring my friend Giorgio along with Jason Schwartzman) which makes an appearance in one of the fully functioning pin ball machines in the bar's hall [the other is themed The Life Aquatic].  And I agree, it is charming- Anderson designed the wall paper, curated jukebox, and hand picked the food and beverages, as well as everything else. I just hope that aperitivi hour at Bar Luce doesn't overshadow the point of Fondazione Prada- art.

I'm just going to take a moment to add one more element to Fondazione Prada- it all about  repeat performance and the 5th wall.  In two months, I've visted Fondazione Prada in three different incarnations-- as intrepid art reporter- taking in the entire complex in a sugar-fueled afternoon,  as aperitivo aficionado sitting pretty at Bar Luce and as best daytime date ever when I took my husband Darius for a walk through Serial Classic so that he could see his favorite antiquities on, well,  repeat (mind you, I snuck in the Haunted House as well).  And I've already lined up a Friday night cinema date with my friend Laura.

Perhaps this is the new form of mall entertainment?

Bar Luce

Sunday in Milan

 

 

*Giorgio strolling Via Monte Napoleone this morning.

Though I love Rome's fashionable and financially astute sister in the North, I visit Milan visit with the frequency of the fiscal calendar's quarterly reports.  About once a season, day-trip or a few night stay-over.  Most of the time, I am as focused as on-floor trader with the things I have to get done.  I run in and run out out of taxis, trains and appointments but recently I've decided I just need a few Sundays in Milan to [pretend that I] live here.

It's sunny, it's raining, it's cold, it's hot.  It doesn't matter. I have an unstoppable routine. Milan's vintage trams- I hop on a tram to Via Monte Napoleone, the fashion high street.  Thankfully it's early, the shops are closed and the neighborhood residents are fabulously dog-walking or strolling.  It feels like that scene from 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmations, or an en plein air/street style cat walk. I spy white-on-black-velvet and I'm pretty sure it is Giorgio Armani. Why not? His hotel is around the corner and he is Milan incarnate.

The Brera.

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Thanks to the requisite Art History 101 class and a painting by Andrea Mantegna, the Brera gallery became a second home that I have to stop by every time I am in Milan or I feel guilty.  Sala VII: A gallery shuffling and renovation placed Mantegna's Il Cristo Morto ~ The Lamentation of Christ, (1480s) at the end of a hallway in Sala VII-- a room of its own, a dark cave--  hanging at knee level.  Eery and mesmerizing.

Sala VIII, or as I like to call it, The Room of Looking at Monumentally Big Paintings.  This room is my second favorite for watching people watching art and then also for me to take a long breath to enjoy painting.   Gentile e Giovanni Bellini's La predica di S. Marco ad Alessandria (Sermon of St. Mark of Alexandria) is the center piece- and I love entering from the main hall but since the new setting of the Mantegna, I suggest chronological order-  just for shock effect of dark and light/ tiny and huge.

Sala XVIII: The restoration lab. This is another reason why I love the Brera-- a glimpse into the technical, painstaking and painterly process of restoration.

~ Coreggio, Crivelli, Pisano, Zenale, oh my!  I make my way through the XXs to Sala XXIV, low lit and kind of sparse. I'm looking for Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, Rafael Sanzio and Donato Bramante. [No photo would do justice] ~

Sala XXIV: A Caravaggio party ~ Luca Giordano, Orazio Gentileschi, Carracciolo and of course, Michelangelo Merisi and Supper at Emmaus (1606).  There is no elbow room where there is a Caravaggio painting.

Sala XXXVII:  That seafoam blue, those white arches, those chairs!... and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo's Fiumana (1897), a pre-painting to his famous Il Quarto Stato, a painting that I have been obsessed with since 1992 which now hangs in the Museo del Novecento.

I'm done. I'm out. I need to think. So I sit myself down at the crossroads of art and fashion, the corner of Great Paintings and Gucci, aka Bar Brera and I pull out the FT's weekend insert. Really. And then I start people watching. I'm in Milan and it's Sunday.

Thank you, Principe di Savoia for giving me the opportunity to enjoy a care-free Sunday in Milan, before a few long days of work. The Ambassador Suite has been the perfect haven and hideaway to get back to.