TRAVEL

Interview with Classical Archaeologist Darius Arya

Courtesy of Darius Arya

Courtesy of Darius Arya

This article first appeared in Traditional Building, March 2019.

There is nothing more new than looking at the past, or at least that’s how Rome-based archaeologist Darius Arya thinks. For Darius, Rome is more than ancient history, it’s living history and an ongoing story that Darius takes to the lecture halls, the field, and to the screens- big and small.

“Everyone dreamed of being Indiana Jones,” tells Darius, “I figured I’d just do it. I wanted to be knee-deep in ancient inscriptions and underground sites, so I started with Latin.” While studying Classical Studies at University of Pennsylvania, Darius was accepted to participate in a semester in Rome at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, fondly known to alums and students as the Centro. While his focus was Greek and Latin, Darius was captivated by the active history all around him and continued on to a Masters and Masters/PhD in Classical Archaeology, at University of Texas Austin, and was awarded a Fullbright scholarship and fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

What anchored and still anchors Darius to the Eternal City is the unique juxtaposition of past and present in its art, architecture, and culture. “I tend to look at Rome from the past, like 2,500 years ago, and constantly see these threads in contemporary life here as well as around the world.” His passion for Classical studies and architecture is unstoppable, and over the past two decades in Rome, he’s done everything to share it. As the director of American Institute for Roman Culture, a non-profit that fosters conversation on Rome’s extraordinary cultural legacy through education, outreach, and multi-platform storytelling, Darius created several education and new media initiatives, and as a documentary filmmaker, he hosts 2018’s Ancient Invisible Cities (PBS) and ongoing Italian television series “Under Italy” (RAI5).

Darius on location at the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul Turkey while shooting PBS’s Ancient Invisible Cities. Courtesy of Darius Arya

We sat down with Darius to find out what its like to live, work, and dig in Rome.

You’ve been coordinating excavations in Rome for 15 years. What are some of the surprises you’ve come across? What has been your most fulfilling project to date? No matter how much you plan and study, when you finally excavate you will inevitably find things you didn’t expect, never dreamed of. I’ve come across an undocumented imperial era cemetery, and uncovered an intact opus sectile floor. My personal favorite and probably most fulfilling came from our dig at the Park of the Aqueducts, a public park less than eight miles from the center of Rome. The park itself is amazing with its mile-long arcade of ancient Aqua Claudia aqueduct. We were in our third summer at excavations, already having uncovered a 50,000 square foot lavish bath complex—multiple stories and chambers and lots of in situ marble paneling. We were halfway through the day, already unearthing beautiful statue fragments (clear signs of late antique spoliation) when we uncovered a colored marble head. As we progressed, we realized we had an entire intact statue of the highest quality—a second century AD red marble statue depicting Marsyas tied to a tree, with beautiful detailed musculature and one remaining bronze inlaid eye. I was so paranoid when we found it, I decided to sleep in the trench with Marsyas that night for fear of looters (always a real threat for any excavation). We extracted the statue the next morning with a small crane and transported it to a superintendency warehouse for safekeeping. After a thorough restoration and cleaning, our Marsyas is on permanent public display at Capitoline Museums Montemartini gallery.

What are the biggest challenges? Archaeology is slow work. And the thrill of a season in the field is matched by a long study season in the warehouse and in the library, with a lot of specialists and technicians. Many years in the field are overshadowed by countless more hours of study, research, and documentation. It is tedious and methodical—all totally worth it, but also requires a lot of patience and funding. Maybe that’s why Indiana Jones kept sneaking out of the university during office hours?

Challenges can be bureaucratic and also topographical. Rome has some of the most complex stratigraphy in the world due to the fact that it’s been continuously occupied for over 3,000 years and thus so much was built and deposited on the same land by so many citizens, foreigners, pilgrims, governments, and empires.

Taking the larger view of the field of archaeology and heritage preservation as a whole, probably the biggest challenge today is not looting nor war, but accelerated urban development and growing need for arable land. Often archaeologists and heritage preservation experts are considered hindrances to progressive development, but they are essential stakeholders in preserving/documenting known and delineated sites as well as those yet to be uncovered, and viable sources in collaborative development.

Social media, especially live streaming, takes an active role in education storytelling and promoting cultural heritage, according to Arya, who recently won a Shorty Award for his live streaming reportage. His goal is bring his audience live to cultural heritage sites around the world. Courtesy of Darius Arya

I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic—from social media like YouTube and Instagram Stories, to better, interactive tech. — DARIUS ARYA

How do you navigate living in Rome, a contemporary city with nearly three thousand years of visible history and lot of baggage? Can one appreciate the history of the Eternal City and still enjoy its 21st century attributes and vice versa? With hundreds and hundreds of churches, monuments, and archaeological sites and museums, I’m never bored. Even after two decades of living in Rome every single day is a delight for me. There is always something to discover, explore, and rediscover, and my Rome experience flows into the palimpsest of the city. For example, my bus stop is at Largo Argentina, known for its cat sanctuary as well as the area sacra, an incredible open-air site with Republican temple abutted by the late Republican Senate hall where Julius Caesar was assassinated. My local gelateria is down the street and our children get their school supplies at the cartoleria next door. It’s a contemporary marketplace and probably the most historic bus stop in the world! My kids and I bike to school passing the best preserved temple in antiquity, the Pantheon, and then peddle past one of Rome’s most modern museums, Richard Meier’s Are Pacis Museum next to the 2000 year old Mausoleum of Augustus (currently under restoration, slated for a 2019 opening).

Are the upcoming generations interested in classical studies? How do you drive that interest? I’d say that the next gens are definitely interested in the classics but perhaps less conventionally. While less and less are majoring in Latin and Greek, they are absorbing classical studies directly and indirectly through film and television series like Gladiator, Game of Thrones, The Young Pope, as well as fashion, gaming and especially travel. All of this confirms to me that the classics, that history, the art and architecture, those characters and stories, are ever inspiring. Taking that into consideration, the field as a whole (from languages to art and archaeology) is definitely shrinking needs to reboot- reinvent itself, for wider appeal, at the same time staying true to its core objectives and values. I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic—from social media like YouTube and Instagram Stories, to better, interactive tech.

An excavation is a collaborative team effort as history. Arya works side by side with trained specialists and experts in their field such as forsensicsanthropologist Pier Paolo Petroni (shown) who helps put the pieces of history together. Courtesy of Darius Arya.

You were one of the first archaeologists to have an active voice on social media, and you won an award for it (2017 Periscoper of the Year). Will you share with us why social media is so important to archaeology, classical studies and architecture? Visual storytelling, an essential component of social media, is integral to archaeologist and historians. It brings the audience directly to the material culture. I’m lucky to be in Rome, hands down one of the most photogenic cities in the world. From the first time I signed up, it made sense and was easy to share images and live streams from the ancient world via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s more than just a good photo—it’s an opportunity to expand and share knowledge and insights, and interact directly with a global audience that has questions and wants to learn. My hashtags #recycledhistory (a focus on the continual evolution and reuse of ancient materials) and #romeawayfromrome (modern and contemporary architecture with classical architectonic elements from a Palladian home to 1920s theatre or Wall Street architecture) may not trend but they create new discussions and connections of the various facets of classical studies. The results of my efforts on social media really show that the classics, in all its rich, interdisciplinary fields, is alive and well in a contemporary setting. History, art, architecture, and the people of the past that created it all, are engaging protagonists on a variety of platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Facebook). As those sites evolved and change, I’ve adapted as well, having just now launched a new podcast Travel: In Situ. Delivery and engagement is bound to continue to change and evolve, and I intend to stay with or ahead of the curve in the discussion. 

5 Places To See Contemporary Art In Rome

Palazzo Merulana. Credit: Palazzo Merulana

Want to spend a weekend exploring Rome as a contemporary outpost? I’ve lined up where you need to go and stay in my latest update on contemporary art in Rome for Forbes Travel, December 2018.

Rome is where the art is, but these days it’s more than just colossal monuments, dusty archeological sites and beautifully decorated Baroque churches.

Contemporary art is finally making a significant mark on the Eternal City’s landscape. The destination is now replete with an itinerary of museums, galleries, concept spaces and creative hubs. We’ve plotted out five top places that bring this ancient city back to the future.

WHAT TO SEE

Palazzo Merulana
One of the newest galleries on the scene, this former municipal office building underwent a three-year renovation in preparation for the eclectic, 90-piece collection of Elena and Claudio Cerasi, prominent local patrons of the arts. Most of the museum’s works are Italian pieces created between World War I and II by artists such as Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico and Alighiero Boetti.   

Art aficionado or not, you’ll want to hang around at CafeCulture, the palazzo’s boutique and coffee shop. The menu features a variety of fare sourced from local purveyors, such as cheeses from ProLoco DOL, hamburgers from famed butcher Bottega Liberati and sweets from patisserie Cristalli di Zucchero.

Contemporary Cluster 
This avant-garde experience is the 21st-century manifestation of those iconic multidisciplinary performances of the 1960s and ’70s: a boutique/art gallery/event space housed in a decadent 17th-century palace on a side street off Campo de’ Fiori. 

The hybrid art and commercial venue hosts monthly exhibitions, weekly performances and DJ sets, while its grounds have permanent and pop-up shops and cafés.

In essence, Contemporary Cluster is a concept store with an artsy vibe that constantly draws an eclectic crowd with almost everything being for sale as a bonus.

Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi
It’s not every day that one of the world’s most famous contemporary art galleries joins forces with an ancient archaeological site. Gagosian, whose imprint in Rome has upgraded the art scene over the past 10 years, has turned to the past for a site-specific, National Roman Museum-partnered installation at the Crypta Balbi ruins.

Through January 27, the first-century theater provides a rustic backdrop for contemporary sculpture Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze. Using an ultra-modern process by which thousands of tiny cavities etched into the rock are filled with pigment, Sze has created a captivating crystalized sunset scene on the stone’s mirror-like surface.  

Sant’Andrea de Scaphi. Credit: Erica Firpo

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise: Sant’Andrea de Scaphis
To find the pulse of the international art scene, head for British art dealer Gavin Brown’s Rome outpost — it’s everything and nothing you’d expect. Located in a nondescript, deconsecrated church on a side street of Trastevere, Sant’Andrea de Scaphis is a single, rustic room of hauntingly charming medieval architecture that usually features a single artist installation.

Exhibits rotate every few months, so it’s unlikely you’ll run into the same works twice. The historic space is hosting a politically charged display by American graphic designer Sam Pulitzer, “May The Last Nationalist Be Strangled With The Guts Of The Last Technocrat,” through December 8.

Palazzo Rhinoceros. Credit: Pino LePera

Palazzo Rhinoceros
The name Fendi is synonymous with Rome’s fashion scene, but the designers’ youngest sister, Alda, opts for a more innovative interpretation with Fondazione Alda Fendi — Esperimenti, her nonprofit arts foundation.  

The group’s latest experiment is Palazzo Rhinoceros, a new creative hub in the Velabro neighborhood that opened in October. Architect Jean Nouvel rebooted a centuries-old palazzo into a multi-level gallery, 24 luxury apartments and a rooftop restaurant, without altering the building’s historic bones.   

While the interiors are stunning, some of the venue’s highlights are actually found outside, including a can’t-miss portrait projection of Alda by Pierre et Gilles on the façade and a life-sized resin rhino that lurks in the front yard.   

Hotel Eden’s La Terrazza. Credit: Hotel Eden

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Eden
Rome’s undeniable harbinger of style and hospitality, this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star stunner is dripping in fashionable touches — think art deco details, custom furniture and resplendent marble accents.

For a picture-perfect end to a day of gallery-hopping, dine at La Terrazza, the luxury hotel’s rooftop restaurant boasting some of the best views of the city.  

Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Melia Hotels & Resorts


Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
Located on the bluffs of the famed Janiculum hill (between Trastevere and Vatican’s Borgo neighborhood) on the site of an imperial villa, this Four-Star retreat is a city-center oasis that comes complete with a 1920s-era pool and lush greenery.

Though its origins are ancient, Gran Meliá’s style is contemporary: sleek modern furnishings, wide-open spaces and the sophisticated My Blend by Clarins spa.

The Rooms of Rome
Stay in the heart of the action when you book into Palazzo Rhinoceros’s fully immersive-art experience on the edge of the Roman Forum. Each of its 24 rooms is minimalist chic, meticulously designed and curated by the aforementioned Jean Nouvel, the superstar architect behind the cutting-edge Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The stylish rooms are outfitted with luxe touches, too, like Bang & Olufsen TVs, fully equipped kitchens and L’Occitane amenities.

5 Boutique Rome Stays To Check Out This Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Villa Spalletti Trivelli. Credit: Villa Spalletti Trivelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel Vilón’s Adelaide. Credit: Stefano Scatà

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

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

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

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel July 2018.

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The Best Hostels in Rome

Generator Rome

The Best Hostels in Rome first appeared in The Telegraph, February 2018. I've updated my article with a little background.

I know what you are thinking.  Or better yet, I know what you are feeling. The mere mention of the word hostel sends shivers down my spine, too.  I get full sensory nostalgia, I think of that creepy-crawly feeling when some one rustled through my backpack in the middle of the night in a 12-person dorm in Berlin, then my ears fill will grating waling (not mine) while I was locked in a small room in a women’s sanatorium in Genova, and finally, I get heat flashes remembering from languid evenings in Siem Reap with politics, playing cards and pot.

Yep, I am from The Beach generation of backpackers, when hostels were cheap and cheerful.  Design and amenities weren’t even part of the dialogue because back then.  It was a cash-only culture of affordability (about $8/night) where the return was only convenience, conversation and a blind step to the next adventure.  Hosteling in 2018 is nothing like the 1990s, and we have social media to thank for that.  Hostels are curated with gorgeous community spaces meant for hang out instead of get out.  No longer lounges of left-over books, architecture and cheap service, hostels are destinations and experiences worth sharing, and better yet, worth posting.  Savvy owners/managers are well-informed of that insta-promotion clicks bring in more, and they are more and more unified in their goal for full (and at times personal) service and great, okay, decent design.   For the Telegraph, I had fun writing about the best hostels* in Rome and are the answers two questions my friends always asked while researching:

Generator Rome.

Why a hostel and not a hotel, bed and breakfast or AirBnB?   Hosteling is all about personal choice.  You want to maximize your euro, dollars and dirham, by saving on services. And for the low price, there is a built-in social scene, which is what the 21st century hostel owners/management are counting on.  Community Experience -  from lounges to bars, hairdresssers, cooking classes, climbing walls and more, hostels are creating environments, and places like The Yellow  are creating worlds. 

Isn’t a hostel only for 20-somethings?  Not at all.  Because of the global market, i.e. everyone wants to and can travel (somewhat) affordably, smart hostels are savvy to all generations with services and boarding choices - private rooms, all female dormitories, family suites with bathrooms and kitchens.

Some hostels like Next Generation declined to participate in this review. I do think it’s worth a look.

From The Telegraph. . . .An insider's guide to the top hostels in Rome, including the best for affordable prices, private rooms, shared dormitories, boutique style and sociable atmospheres in locations such as the Monti neighbourhood and near to the Termini station.  

Generator Rome.

Generator Rome

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Rome’s first 'poshtel' is a chic, boutique accommodation with a youthful vibe and a contemporary-meets-retro décor. It is on par with a decent design hotel. The location is slightly out of the way, but nevertheless close to the city's lively Monti neighbourhood and with excellent transport links at nearby Termini Station. A tranquil palette of forest greens, violets and light grey colour all rooms, whose only furniture include cosy white linen beds, vintage-style desks, lamps and armoires. The 12 dormitories have a maximum of four beds each, while the remaining 53 are private rooms with double beds.Read expert review

The Yellow

The Yellow

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Rome’s premier party hostel is ideal for travellers in their 20s looking for a comfortable bed and an interactive social scene. It has a creative and artsy vibe, and a rooftop terrace and small garden hang-out for film screenings during the summer months. The 95 rooms are divided into dormitories and private rooms (doubles, triples and quads) with a total of around 320 beds. Dorm options include mixed or female-only, with en suite or shared bathrooms. Overall décor is a chic minimalist. It's just a 10-minute walk to Termini train station.Read expert review

The Blue

The Blue Hostel

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

Seven heavenly-styled guest suites in a former convent, housed in a 17th-century palazzo around the corner from the Monti neighborhood. Rome's main railway station, Termini, is just round the corner, providing excellent transport links to the rest of the city. Each of the rooms are tastefully decorated with handmade, upholstered headboards, framed black and white photos, original artwork and vintage desks and chairs. En-suite bathrooms are stocked with HG Bigelow hair and body care products. All rooms have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, heating, mini fridges, coffee makers and televisions.Read expert review

Hostella

Hostella

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

A cheap and cheerful women-only hostel with a casual and homely vibe, offering simple dormitory accommodation. It's located close to Rome’s Termini Station, so well placed for exploring the city or striking out to see the surrounding countryside. There are six shared dorm-style rooms (in two apartments) accommodating three to four beds each. Décor is simple, with Ikea beds, desks and cabinets with locks, and all have air-conditioning and heating. There are four shared bathrooms (three with showers); Room Six, a spacious loft conversion, has an en suite.Read expert review

The Bee Hive

The Beehive

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

A boutique hostel with a whimsical style and an eco-conscious vibe. The Beehive's many personal touches give it the feel of a home away from home. Close to the Termini Station, the hostel is excellently situated for transport links in and out of the city. Of the Beehive’s 12 rooms, 10 are private and two are shared dormitories sleeping four. They are quiet, airy and spacious, exhibiting a simple design, with one or two pieces scattered about, like intricate ceramics by a local Italian artists and small furniture pieces from the owners' travels to Bali. All rooms have Wi-Fi, fans and heating.Read expert review

Alessandro Palace

Alessandro Palace

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

This is one of Rome’s original hostels; a no-frills dormitory with an active social scene that draws in a young crowd. It's within walking distance of Termini Station and enjoys excellent transport links to the rest of the city. Friendly staff members organise on-site events that keep the sociable atmosphere bubbling. Communal areas have kitschy charm with their Ancient Rome-inspired murals. The 120 beds are spread across dorms sleeping two, four, six and eight (mixed and women-only, spartanly decorated, with en suite and shared bathrooms), and private rooms in the Annex, a separate apartment building.

Alessandro Downtown

Alessandro Downtown Hostel

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

A nuts and bolts hostel, centrally located in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood and in close proximity to the vibrant Monti neighbourhood, as well as the transport hub of Termini Station. Like its counterpart Alessandro Palace, the Downtown has the same cheap and cheerful hostel dormitory vibe. The 20 rooms are vaguely reminiscent of university dorms – no design style, just bunk beds (four, six or eight), simple table and chairs, and storage lockers. Several rooms have en-suite bathrooms, and if not there are communal bathrooms – both mixed and female-only – just like the dorm options.Read expert review

4-Star Hotel Review: Hotel Celio, Rome

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

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

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

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

Hotel Celio

Rome, Italy

8 out of 10, Telegraph Expert Rating

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

Location: 9 / 10

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

Style & character:  8 / 10

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

Service & facilities: 8 / 10

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

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

Rooms:  8 / 10

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

Food & drink: 7 / 10

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

Value for money: 9 / 10

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

Access for guests with disabilities?

No.

Family-friendly?

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

Hotel Celio

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

00 39 06 7049 5333

 

hotelcelio.com

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VINTAGE EDITIONS: Two Italian Boutiques Putting a Spin on Collectables

This article first appeared in Le Miami, December 2017.

PierLuigi – via Sperastudio

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

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

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

Hotel de’ Ricci lobby sitting area – via Ebookers

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

Hotel de’ Ricci – via How To Spent It

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

Private charade bar at Hotel De’ Ricci – via TripAdvisor

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

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

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

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

#Girlisthenewtime, a women-only Empty event at La Galleria Nazionale for Museum Week

Girls, girls, girls....  What happens when a gang of girls hang out at in an empty art gallery?  That's the question we threw out for Museum Week 2017 at La Galleria Nazionale, in a collaboration instameet #GirlisTheNewTime with myself and GirlsInMuseums.  We brought together approximately 16 women whose single prerequisite was passion for the arts and giving them full reign of the museum including Conversation Piece (the latest exhibition) and behind-the-scenes of Body to Body, a capsule show focusing on 15 female artists' perspective on feminism.  

What is the purpose of the Empty, you may ask? For me, any opportunity to bring people inside an Italian museum, gallery or cultural site is an opportunity to inspire dialog that spreads outside of the museum and inspires visitors to come back inside.  Italy has an incredible wealth of cultural sites, but many get an unwarranted wallflower as more popular museums (hey, Uffizi and Musei Vaticani) are bucket list must sees.  I am to change that, or at least make a little dent by bringing Italy's museums to your small screens.

As a participant, I tend to take a roll of art voyeur and I've noticed in my photos that art work takes center stage and the viewer is simply a supporting role.  It makes sense, I love art. (And, Yes, I will lurk for what seems like hours by a favorite painting or sculpture, waiting to catch the right moment).  For #GirlIsTheNewTime, I set out to be, well, decisive and take individual (or small group portraits) of each participant where I would capture the vibe of each woman, and let art work - whether partially in frame or out - be a cultural background.  I wanted to force dialog between myself and each participant, a technique I've honed over the years of being extremely shy.

A week dedicated to women and museums is not enough.  Nor are Emptys, but I do think continuing the dialog on the importance of women in the arts is fundamental, and even more so, the dialog about the female communication.  Do I think that the dialog that women have with art is any different from that of a man? I couldn't tell you, I am so XX, but I do think the dialog among women is complicated.

Scroll down, catch up on all the scenes from #GirlIsTheNewTime in Instagram and in my VSCO journal.  Thank you to all the participants who patiently allowed me to push them around the galleries in search of a great vibe.

Wanna join us? For more info, here's where and how I started in 2014 and how it has spread from La Galleria Nazionale to Milan's La Triennale and GAM, back to Rome and the Vatican. Email me at erica@ericafirpo.com

4 Places for an Unforgettable Breakfast in Rome

We all know Italians love to do everything to the fullest, especially when it comes to food. Around Rome especially, lunches and dinners are fanciful feasts of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci, tragically leaving la colazione (breakfast) as gastronomically penurious in comparison.

Caffe e cornetto — espresso coffee and a small Italian croissant — quickly ingested at the local bar is the typical morning routine, but lately languorous sit-downs with sweet and savory menus have been slowly making their way into the Roman colazione scene — almost rivaling the Full English.

Here are our favorite spots for breakfast in Rome.

All’Oro
When chef Riccardo di Giacinto decided to open his own boutique hotel The H’All Tailor Suite earlier this year, one of the first things on his mind was creating a space for his restaurant, All’Oro. And the second? Creating a world-class breakfast menu curated for international travelers and Rome residents, of course.

All’Oro’s à la carte menu celebrates the best of Italy alongside dishes from the U.S. and U.K. The abundant offerings include housemade jams and pastries such as croissants, maritozzi (a Roman bread bun filled with light cream), bombe (deep-fried dough with cream), Italian cheese, sliced-on-the-spot prosciutto and a customizable listing of dishes such as scrambled or poached eggs alongside bacon, toasts, pancakes, French toast and a selection of di Giacinto’s favorite champagnes.

Served in the downstairs dining room or outdoor garden, The H’All’s breakfast is luxurious and relaxed, ideal for a leisurely morning.

Le Panier
For those looking to stay in, you’ll want to click around the website for Le Panier, a gourmet breakfast delivery service that knocks on your front door exactly when you want with your well-curated morning meal.

In the kitchen is Tommaso De Sanctis, a classically trained chef who creates clever (and mouthwatering) dishes like pancos (a savory pancake soft taco) and wellness-focused menus like the Hangover.

De Sanctis and partner Giovanna de Giglio source organic produce, eggs and dairy for all dishes; make juices in house; and work with local artisanal producers for their jams, yogurts, porridge, granola, breads and pastries.

Il Giardino Ristorante
If you want breakfast with a view in Rome, there’s but one proper address for doing so: Il Giardino Ristorante at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Eden.

Following a nearly two-year renovation of the property, the open-air establishment rebooted its look and gave adored chef Fabio Ciervo full reign to make over every single menu, from the breakfast sides to dinner entrées.

Ciervo chose to focus his new concept on wellness, and you can thank a master’s degree in nutrition and a love for organic, Italian produce for the delectable detour. The breakfast buffet, for example, is a cornucopia of treats, from housemade breads and pastries to eggs, yogurts, jams and a bevy of vegan options.

Those looking to juice need to look no further than chef Ciervo, who continues to squeeze as much deliciousness as possible into his liquid treats.

Caffe Canova Tadolini
Here’s a tip for those whose only breakfast needs are a super-sized caffeine fix: though the true Italian cappuccino comes in only one size (the standard coffee cup), Caffe Canova Tadolini, a posh café in the Piazza di Spagna neighborhood, serves its pours in oversized cups — perfect for those needing an extra boost before heading out in the morning to explore the city.

In between sips, you’ll notice a dash of culture found in the building housing the eatery, which was once the home and atelier to artists Antonio Canova and the Tadolini brothers. Their work can be admired in the café’s museum.

- This article was originally published in Forbes Travel on May 31, 2017.

Starring roll: high art paninis in a Roman cafe

This article originally appeared in The Guardian, February 2016.

Fill me in … Roscioli’s panino menu has set the Roman cafe apart from the crowd

Fill me in … Roscioli’s panino menu has set the Roman cafe apart from the crowd

Brothers Pierluigi and Alessandro have sliced their way to glory with their sandwiches at their latest eatery, the Roscioli cafe

 

Just a short walk from Campo de’ Fiori in central Rome, the Roscioli cafe, the latest in the Roscioli empire, ups the ante with a new take on the traditional Roman cafe, and its reinvention of the panino – the humble sandwich.

Down the street from its sister shops – Roscioli Salumeria, a delicatessen/restaurant, and the Antico Forno bakery – the cafe has high ceilings and is decorated in muted colours, more art gallery than old-school cafe. The counter is laid with Roman pastries and sandwiches – maritozzi (cream-filled sweet buns), Mont Blanc meringues, traditional triangular tramezzini and ovalini, small oval sandwiches filled with rocket and tuna, or artichokes and salmon.

 

 

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The Roscioli cafe is the latest addition to a mini chain

Roscioli serves cappuccino, caffè corretto and all other coffee incarnations. Though pricier than in the average Roman bar – espresso €1.50, cappuccino €2.25 – the coffee is expertly made by Roscioli’s veteran team. There’s a small, cave-like back room with tables, where the owners host V60 coffee tastings (a manual coffee-making method using a cone-shaped glass filter and 100% arabica grinds), wine tastings and aperitivi.

But it’s the sandwich menu that sets Roscioli apart. Brothers Pierluigi and Alessandro say they set out to create the very best. The Club is a triple-layer monument of Roscioli’s wholewheat bread, grilled guanciale (cured pork cheek, a bit like fat bacon), Sicilian tomato and a free-range fried egg. The Francesina is filled with succulent slow-roasted breast of veal and mustard mayonnaise, and the Fritcassè is a playful homage to Rome’s fried cod. It’s art, stuffed into a bread roll.

Piazza Cairoli 16, facebook.com/Rosciolicaffe

CNN Instagram Challenge #CNNMURALSTORIES

This article appeared in CNN in December 2013.

 

Photographers shared their favorite murals and the stories behind them in CNN's first Instagram challenge.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Photographers share stories of their favorite murals for CNN's first Instagram challenge
  • Murals pay tribute to political leaders, social justice movements, coffee shops
  • Mural in Toledo, Ohio, of boy laughing "stands for hope and change," Instagrammer says

This is the first in a series of community assignments for CNN and CNN iReport through the Instagram platform. For each challenge, we'll ask our Instagram followers to take a picture and and tell a story about it. Follow CNN and CNN iReport on Instagram for the next challenge, and your image might be included in our next feature.

(CNN) -- We often walk past them without a second thought, but most murals tell a story about the communities in which they live. And yet, as features of our public spaces, they mean something different to each of us when we view them through our own individual filters.

For our first CNN Instagram community assignment we invited followers to photograph murals or street art in their communities and tell us about them. We were thrilled to see more than 300 submissions from all over the world and hear the many stories behind them.

Below are just a few highlights. Check out all of the submissions by searching the #CNNMuralStories tag in Instagram.

 

Erica Firpo: Rome, Italy

Erica Firpo captured the latest mural by renowned Italian street artists Sten and Lex, whose stencil art has appeared in cities worldwide. This mural on the side of a building in Rome's Garbatella neighborhood was completed in December. "This abstract landscape (a deviation from their usual pointillist portrait) was entirely locally crowd-funded and chosen by the neighborhood to be a permanent public work, blurring the lines between street and fine art," Firpo noted.

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