TRAVEL

Piazza di Spagna + more: Rome shopping update

[April 28th Update]   Every time I walk through Piazza di Spagna, I smile. The area is finally getting back to its old school vibe as a fashion-lover's mecca. Many of the chintzy shops have disappeared (and no, I don't feel sorry because you can find most of them on Via del Corso and Via dei Giubbonari) and some of fashion's most fabulous are finally taking their rightful places on the square.

And it's about time.  Piazza di Spagna needs to be stylish, hell, Rome needs to be stylish, so yes, I'm all for newcomers Loewe, Acqua di Parma, Pucci, Longchamp, Versace and even Sephora and Nespresso, as well as the coming soon line up of Valentino and Chanel to take a spot in Piazza di Spagna. A new Diesel shop will have a corner, and though I am not 100% thrilled, maybe I can only hope it will have  Chanel and Valentino.

It is hard to believe there is so much turn over and new things happening in Rome's shopping sector. Last year, H&M took over Benetton's flagship on via del Corso, and  a new Armani and renovated Bulgari appeared on via dei Condotti.  Likewise, there is a new Miu Miu and and the "luxury cosmetics" shop Oro Gold. I haven't popped in yet, but I am a bit curious.

Via del Babuino, a street I have often equated to Madison Avenue, is a constant game monopoly-  it still has the staples like Chanel, Gente and Valentino but some of my favorites (like Eleonora have left), making room for Moschino (who windows are always amazing), Fabi (shoes), Boggi and Herve Leger, along with Roy Rogers (?). Around the corner, Via Margutta, Tunisian designer Alaia surprised us all by opening two level shop could just be the only stand-alone boutique in Italy.  Down the road is brand-spanking-new Dalidà, a kind of concept store with a high concentration of shoes from different designers.

Down the Street: Via Borgognona [UPDATED] When asked what my favorite shopping street is in Rome, Via Borgognona is usually the first name out of my mouth.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, the best and beloved shopping streets in Rome are: Via dei Condotti and Via del Babuino (wallet and crowd permitting), Via del Corso ( crowds and kitsch) and Via del Governo Vecchio (uniquey-boutiquey).  But for me, it's always been quiet Borgognona and rumor has it, Borgognona (pronouned Bor-goh-nyo-nah) is about to become the next shopping street in Rome.

Running between the very busy area of Piazza di Spagna/Via del Corso, and Via Frattina/Via dei Condotti, Borgognona is a haven of quiet and class, known for historic Nino (an excellent Tuscan steak house), Renè Caovilla (fairy-tale worthy shoes),old school Eddy Monetti and Brighenti, a personal favorite lingerie shop, and even its very own Gucci boutique, whose specialty is bags and discretion.  Over the past few years, more and more boutiques have snuck onto the street like Ermenegildo Zegna, Moschino and Emilio Pucci -- only to be recycled into blockbusters such as Stella McCartney, Blumarine, and Iro - fabulous French clothing duo.

Other new entires include  Il Bisonte- gorgeous leather bags, Les Copains (in the place of Moschino, which is now on Via del Babuino), Lanificio Colombo- cashmere sweatersFausto Puglisi, and food spots-- Tartufi and Friends  LaDuree and Ginger-- all which all to a great line up that includes Balenciaga, Malo- the delicious cashmere connection, Brunello Cuccinelli- Umbrian country luxury, Nika Nika a mini-concept store with very cute knicknacks and clothing, Sportmax , (MaxMara more "sporty" line if possible), and Marina Rainaldi (impressive because I have always felt that brand was a bit staid).

Renovations, Surprises, Rumors and Coming Soon [Updated] 

Christian Louboutin set up a shop in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, which will also soon [to me, it looks like a matter of days] Rome's first Saint Laurent boutique.  Other recent surprises and rumors include  Coin's amazing reincarnation on Via Cola di Rienzo, and a soon-to-be Rinascente on Via del Tritone, which could be in response to the rumors of a possible Excelsior somewhere in Rome. Supposedly, Fendi is switching things up by moving to EUR, yet retaining the Largo Goldoni location for its furrier.

*Yes, more to come regarding the other triangle Via dei Banchi Vecchi and Via del Governo Vecchio.

December at Piazza di Spagna.

Bartender, make me a drink

The first drink I ever ordered for myself was a glass of vermouth at the age of fifteen, a scene completely robbed from Madeleine L'Engle's book Camilla, where the 15-year-old protagonist Camilla Dickinson daintily drinks the clear liquor  in an attempt to be adult. I downed it like a glass of water (mistake) and thought I was dying. But from that moment on, I liked the idea of  leaning forward on the bar, talking to the bartender and holding a pretty glass in my hand for an hour.  And I liked drinks with names.

After years of standing at the bar,  I realise that I can geo-tag the most significant eras of my life to any drink menu-- Long Island Iced Tea means college in Philadelphia, a Mojito is Miami, the Cosmopolitan, Rob Roy and Gimlet are Los Angeles, the Spritz will always be Venice and last week's Manhattan is Rome.  As in most cases, wine, prosecco and franciacorta were my Italy-- it has not been until recently that cocktails have appeared on my mental mixology chronology in Rome.  It's not that Italy was late to the game, it's just that I was too preoccupied with grapes and the like to step up to the bar.

Italy makes cocktails, and I am particularly fond of discovering where they make them well.  Like most of you, I have my list of go-to places where I am assured that the Manhattan, Negroni and Martinez I will be drinking will be perfect, and the bartenders even more so. But I am always looking for more.  Last month, Rome's Micca Club hosted Diageo Reserve World Class 2013  semi-finals for mixology and I spent an afternoon watching 12 men and women compete to be called the best bartender.

Competitors from Italy's southern regions-- Tuscany to Sicily-   presented cocktails and atmosphere inspired by Hollywood's golden age with a side of the Rat Pack.  From nervous and serious to joking and flirty, the bartenders brought it full force.  Drinks were well researched and artistically prepared.  Presentation included a bit of story-telling and Hollywood/Italy history.  Although I was rooting for neighbourhood favorite Antonio Parlapiano from Jerry Thomas Project, I was happy to see Micca Club's Daniele Gentili win-- he mixed charm, humor and gin to create "Frankie Loves Rome", a delicious, cappuccino-styled cocktail of Tanqueray No. 10, meringue, lime and Frangelico.  Semi-finals continue in Milan at the end of April, and then Gentile and the other semi-finalist will throw down cocktails in Madrid for title of Italy's best bartender.  That finalist will then compete with 31 bartenders from around the world in July's World Class Bartending Final in Barcelona.

It's beginning to look like bartenders may be this year's celebrity chefs-- a kind of Cocktail (yep, I'm thinking Tom Cruise) reboot where bartenders are artists, bars are beautiful and the stemware is divine. I say Cin Cin! Here are my suggestions for best cocktails in Rome (for Forbes' Startle.com).

Notes:

Here are my favorite bars in Rome for Forbes.

Parlafood and Dissapore (Italian) share their best for spots for cocktails.

 

 

Writing Rome

Sometimes I feel I am constantly rubbing my eyes to remove yesteryear's grimy patina from a Rome that I know exists in the 21st century.  Rome will always be, at least for now, the Rome of contradictions, attitude and inane traditions, but sometimes I think she wants more.  The landscape is changing, both physically and emotionally, which means everyone is going to have a complaint and everyone will have something to celebrate. I take the latter, and that's what I like to write about. Here are my latest pieces: BBC Travel "Rome's new architectural renaissance" and Huffington Post's Friday Night Lights: Eataly Rome.

My Idea of Fun: Made to Measure

Shoes, glorious shoes! Let's come clean, I am infatuated with sandals--strappy, thongs, wedges, flat, glittery, plain, cork, rubber, leather, cloth, it doesn't matter as long as my feet feel naked and I am in the sun. The singular requirement? A bright colored pedicure.

Living in Italy means I probably have a better chance than most to add to my on-going collection, and being in Rome means I can customize my sandals as if I were in Capri. For more than a year, I've being haunting di San Giacomo sandals , a shop just around the corner from Piazza Navona. And I finally had time to sit down with Veronica and Stefano to pick out my perfect pair.

di San Giacomo sandals are a work of art- a mix of hand-made and made-to-measure. Veronica's husband Claudia designs and makes all jewelry pieces, while Veronica customizes colors and styles, and, along witth calzolaio Stefano, she makes the sandals while you debate whether or not your should buy another pair. The entire process takes about 20 minutes, minus the conversational chatter.

Step 1: I Got Sole: Veronica makes sure my feet fit perfectly in the sole of choice. At present, she has 4 choices: flat, slight heel, wedge and kitten. I choose traditional.

Step 2: Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend- I run rampant through the hand-made jewelry, colorful leathers and chains. Note: style of sole dictates design.

Step 3: Measure Up. Stefano and Veronica measure and fit the thongs to the sole and foot.

Step 4: Hammer Time. The leathers are hammered into the soles and reinforced.

Step 5: Fit me baby one more time. Veronica and Stefano make sure everything is in place and comfortable.

*You know this goes hand in hand with Bikini Etiquette

To customize your own di San Giacomo sandals, skip over to

Via di Tor Millina, 10/11 (Piazza Navona) or Via di Santa Dorotea, 17 (Trastevere), 06-96847938

Bikini Etiquette

It's been a while since I've offered my sage advice on the art of Italian beaches and my personal philosophy I call Bikini Bitch. A few weeks ago  my friend A announced that she bought a bikini (make that two!) for the very first time in her life.  I was impressed, and equally more so that she had the foresight to pick up two gorgeous Eres swimsuits, luxury swimmer essential to an Italian or Caribbean summer, during Rome's sales.  That simple gesture alone solidified that she was definitely living in Italy, where a day at the beach means at least one change in costume. Bikini Bitchin'

Beaches and bikinis are like peanut butter and jelly, or burro e alici. They just go together.   Side boob, pot bellies, more cushion for the pushing', whether or not you've done the Master Cleanse for an entire Spring season- it doesn't matter as long there a bikini, tankini, monikini strutting its lovely stuff.  Because in Italy, all stuff is lovely. Italian beaches are inadvertently the great equalizer where fitness is far less important than attitude and confidence (though it is greatly appreciated from my eye). And thus is born the Bikini Bitch, just proud to be you and on the beach.

Bikini Etiquette doesn't just mean attitude.  It also means accessorize-   bags, hats, scarves, pareo, sandals.  Think of yourself as the perfectly-wrapped gift that is so lovingly given at birthdays and holidays, just slightly less covered up .  The fact is that a bikini is an outfit unto itself,  so you should have the gear to go with it.   [Photo: I know you don't want to hear it, but Kim Kardashian has a PhD in bikini etiquette]. The question is how many bikinis do you really need?

Whether a sojourn to Sperlonga or a week at Porto Ercole (or any beach in the world), every day  requires a pre-lunch costume change, as a girl in Florence with the gorgeous name of Georgette aptly observed.  And I love it.  Morning bikinis disappear at l'ora di pranzowhen the afternoon swimsuit debuts in sporty, stylish, or slinky personalities, depending on the upcoming activities.  The true experts in bikini bitchin' will unleash sparkly evening bikinis which double as disco-inferno attire for late night dancing.  Bikini bitches come prepared.  *Each bikini is individually accessorized.

MORNING: Delfina Swimwear, via dei Banchi Nuovi 40 (Navona)

AFTERNOON:  Laura Urbinati via dei Banchi Vecchi 50 (Campo)

EVENING:  Miss Bikini Luxe at Osklen, via del Babuino 52 (Spagna)

24 Hours in Milan for Oryx Magazine

If you happen to find yourself on Qatar Airways this month, please pick up Oryx Inflight magazine and put it in your carry-on for me.  Well, really it's for my mom. She's loves seeing my name in print and the web is just not good enough.

24 Hours in Milan

or download here

ps I am serious. If you have the magazine, email me so we can organize.

Emilia Romagna

  • Rome- Bologna  2 hours 17 minutes
  • Milan-Bologna  1 hour 5 minutes
  • Florence-Bologna 37 minutes
  • Naples-Bologna 3 hours 42 minutes
  • Venice- Bologna 1 hour 27 minutes

The above is a listing of how long it takes to get to Bologna, capital city of Emilia Romagna region, via Trenitalia and the FrecciaRossa (fast train).  Earlier this month, I spent five days in Emilia Romagna thanks to  Blogville, an initiative created by the region of Emilia Romagna. A bit of Real World meets Travel Blogging, and an excellent way of introducing the region to the world.  With everything organized by Nicholas Montemaggi , all I had to do was hop on a few trains and was everywhere I needed to be in about 40 minutes.  It is that easy to get around.

The above is the abbreviated list of the devastation from the earthquake and aftershocks that have hurt the region from May 20th until today.  I am hoping they will stop.  If you are visiting Italy (or live here), take another look at those train times and buy a ticket to Bologna.

[slideshow]

*a few things that I love about the region