TRAVEL

How to Do the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018

Another Generosity at the Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Erica Firpo

My article on the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared in Condè Nast Traveler, May 2018.

Our guide to the very best of the seven-month architecture festival taking over Venice this year.

The Biennale Architettura 2018, or Venice Architecture Biennale, is an architect’s dream—but it’s also a design adventure for visitors, a temporary theme park for interactive and experimental works. Running through November 25, the event turns the entire Venetian archipelago into a playground of events, plus permanent and semi-permanent pavilions and projects that transform historic palazziand parks into design destinations. Here’s our guide to making sense of it all.

The Basics

The event centers around the Giardini, or the Biennale Gardens, a park where you’ll find the original national pavilions, a potluck of architecture from the early 1910s to today that includes projects from Australia, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The Central Pavilion, also at the Gardens, is the main stage for this edition of the Biennale, which is based around the theme of Free Space. Biennale curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin’s Grafton Architects chose the theme, but what exactly does it mean? “It’s the paradigm of architecture,” says McNamara of the concept. "It's a question about the absence and presence of architecture."

The Biennale Gardens. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In all, there are 63 national pavilions—and more than 70 architects—at the Biennale that explore the concept, but these six are among the most interesting:

  • Another Generosity, at the Nordic Pavilion (which reps Finland, Norway, and Sweden), you’ll find large membrane-like balloons, filled with water and air, that deflate and inflate as viewers walk through the space, a meditation on the relationship between nature and the built environment.
  • Dimension of Citizenship, at the U.S. Pavilion, consists of installations, films, and talks that explore "spatial understandings of citizenship," organizers say, at a time when "questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are posed with every athlete taking a knee, every #metoo, every presidential tweet, and every protest sign or fist raised."
  • Robabecciah: The Informal City, at the Egypt Pavilion, is a almost sculptural installation of “old junk,” or robabecciah, showcasing Egypt’s historic “spontaneous” markets.
  • UNES-CO, at the Czech/Slovak Pavilion, a futuristic welcome center where the backdrop is a screen showing a live feed of the Czech city of Český Krumlov, which has seen the population in its historic center drop dramatically in part because of an influx of tourists in recent years. The feed shows 15 couples and families who are being paid to live in the city full time.
  • Isola/Island, at the U.K. Pavilion, focuses on themes of isolation—both environmental and deliberately man-made—as well as questions of identity, both top of mind in post-Brexit Europe.
  • Svizzera240 House Tour, at the Swiss Pavilion, is a bit of a voyeuristic spin on architecture shows: As exhibitors put it: “What is built within the Swiss Pavilion is not a 'house' but a house tour: interior scenes are constructed at a range of different scales and spliced together, creating a labyrinthine sequence of interior perspectives.”

Meanwhile, the Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard, hosts the Corderie, a nearly 400-meter corridor that expands the Free Space exhibition; the neighboring warehouses host newer pavilions, including those of China, Italy, and Kosovo.

One of the 10 chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, part of the Vatican's entry for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018.Photo by Lena Klimkeit/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

More Must Sees

  • Woodland Chapels, the Vatican’s first ever entry in the Architecture Biennale, is both pilgrimage and installation. To visit, take a Line 2 vaporetto to the beautiful island of San Giorgio, where you’ll find 10 chapels designed by a dozen architects including Andrew Berman, Sir Norman Foster, Carla Juaçaba, and Eduardo Souto de Moura.
  • Environmental Justice as a Civil Right, at the Antigua & Barbuda Pavilion, the nation’s first entry to the Biennale, is set in the 15th-century Don Orione Artigianelli monastery on Dorsoduro. The pavilion explores sustainability, including the use of local materials and the importance of public parks—and the redevelopment of Barbuda, after the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
  • 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, recalls the the 1948 Biennale. Greece pulled out, and Peggy stepped in with a Carlo Scarpa–designed exhibit of 136 works; this year, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection celebrates its 70th anniversary by partially recreating the exhibition and bringing together works—from the likes of Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Jackson Pollock—which have not been seen in Venice in decades.
  • John Ruskin: The Stones of Venice, at the Doge’s Apartment in the Doge’s Palace, brings to life Ruskin’s three-volume tome on Venetian art and architecture through paintings, including Ruskin’s own watercolors.
  • Machines à Penser, at Fondazione Prada, in the ornate Ca’ Corner alla Regina, explores the ideas of exile and escape, with contemporary pieces inspired by (or reacting to) the work of the philosophers Adorno, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.

Where to Refuel

In the morning, hit Gran Caffe Quadri, the centuries-old coffee shop in St. Mark’s Square, that’s a favorite of local resident (and architecture superstar) Philippe Starck: “It’s a powerful concentration of mystery, beauty, oddity, and poetry,” he says of the famed coffeehouse. (In the evening, you can do dinner upstairs at Ristorante Quadri, the lavish and whimsical Michelin-star restaurant that he designed.)

Book ahead for lunch, since the Biennale crowds often fill Corte Sconta, a tiny Venetian trattoria with private garden, and Local, a former electrical shop gutted and transformed into a minimalist locavore restaurant. AMO, the atrium restaurant at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, is another Starck-designed choice near the Rialto Bridge.

Navigating the show

The best plan is to split your visit over two days. Start at the Giardini, visiting the central pavilion before branching off to the other country-specific entries; focus your second day on the remaining pavilions and the Arsenale. If you’ve got more time, spend it on off-site pavilions like the Vatican’s or seeing the contemporaneous shows around town.

The Biennale runs through November 25, and locations are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are €25 ($29) and grant a single admission to each of exhibition venues. You can buy tickets ahead of time online.

Photo credit Erica Firpo.

Where to stay

The Aman Venice, set in two restored centuries-old palazzi, feels like its own architectural show. The Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel is a sleeper favorite of Condé Nast Traveler editors that was on the Hot List in 2017. On the island of Giudecca, and a short (free) ferry ride from St. Mark’s Square, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is perfect if you prefer quiet—and it has what’s got to be the biggest swimming pool in Venice.

For a virtual tour of the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture, please take a look at my Instagram story that follows my adventures at the Biennale.

Cloud 9: Fuksas' Nuvola

It's been ten years since I went to MAXXI to hear architecture Massimiliano Fuksas talk about his dreams of clouds, and just  four years since I wrote about the "coming soon" opening of La Nuvola, Fuksas's architectonical actualization.  I've  been that archi-stalker, visiting the construction in EUR as much as I can to get a glimpse inside the glass box.  For a long time, years, all I could see was what looked like a metal carcass.   And then one day this year, I read La Nuvola unveiled itself a Halloween inauguration.   The congress hall/conference center of a new Rome was [almost but not quite] open for business.

Ten years, I told myself.  What's a few more months?  And that's serendipity.  La Nuvola announced public visits, by reservation only,  for four days during the second week of December.  La Nuvola was ready for me.

We head first to an underground, a rectangle black hole, or Kubrick's 201o in horizontal format. This is a monster of a congress hall designed to fit 3000 people, or be divided into smaller components for groups. My inner Spike Jonez wants me to shoot a video here, preferably with Christopher Walken.

Up in the The Cloud, ground level.  It's a diaphanous, amorphic shape, anchored to the floor.  An Ikea paper lantern.  Or a paper-machè Pikachu, waiting for lift off.  It's gleeful.  I am worried about the sun and heat in the summer months.  How will it feel?  Trapped? Will it wilt like all pretty things on a hot  day?  Will it run away like a naughty Pokemon?

Inside the Cloud is a crazy, curvy metal skeleton that makes me think about Barbarella and ordering a black polyeurethane dress.  I wish La Nuvola was a performing arts center because I'd really enjoy a long intermezzo tiptapping around on stilettos and with a cocktail in hand.  And then I remember it's meant for large conferences and key note speakers. I make a mental note to sign up for a conference, any conference.

Pop of color.  The main conference room.  It's like being inside a heart. I love the contrast from white to blood red.

People in glass houses.... The Nuvola is contained in a glass box, that naggingly reminds me of Jennifer Lopez.  I am thinking about The Cell, which means I am really thinking about Damien Hirst.  No one else really like it as much as I did. I want to see people walking up and down the fire stairs.   I want to have someone take hyperlaspe videos of me in a fluoro blue dress running up and down.   I like transparency.

My take? It's about time this Nuvola opens, and if I were you, I'd take a double look at any late 2017 conferences happening in Rome.

Not to miss: #FendiHQ and A New Rome

Head  & Shoulders was wrong, you do get a second chance to make a first impression.  EUR, Rome's "new" city is a  travertine- bedecked neighborhood of rationalist architecture and rectilinear streets designed by Fascist-era architects for the 1942 World Exposition.  The idea was E42, as it was to be called, would show off the best of the 20th century empire through beautifully designed buildings and other features for cultural and sporting activiteis.   EUR is now just another one of Rome' s satellite neighborhoods, with shops, offices, families, prostitutes and parking issues... and it is all home to the hear of Fendi.

Inaugurated this past October, the Fendi HQ takes residence in the EUR's most monumental building, the Colosseo Quadratic, a looming and modernist version of everyone's favorite arena- the central hub of admin and atelier.  And thanks to Fendi and Uncle Karl, EUR gets  a second chance for a first impression with  "Una Nuova Roma" (A New Rome), a beautifully curated temporary show all about EUR.

  For the first time in its 72-year-history, the Colosseo Quadrato opens its doors to the public with Fendi's full force exhibition that shows off EUR from its inception to its 21st century incarnation through photography, video, news real, paintings, sketches, film and interior design. Una Nuova Roma is free (I've seen it two times so far!) and is up through March 7 in Fendi HQ's ground floor gallery, a luminous, marble-coated space whose vibe is a bit meta-- imagine learning all about the evolution of EUR as you stand in the hallowed ground of its most epic building.  

My tip? Head to EUR first thing and walk the boulevard to Fendi. Enjoy the Palazzo and then grab a nibble at Palombini, one of those "broke the mold" bars-pasticcerie-tavola caldia serviced by white-jacket waiters and flavored with a little Fendi fab.

5 Hidden Streets to Walk in Rome

Five Hidden Streets to Walk in Rome originally appeared on October 14, 2015 in Travel + Leisure.

Out-of-the-way gems can still be found in the well-trod city.

For millennia, Rome's streets and piazzas have been walked and then some—the focal point of the ancient empire's transit network, there's a reason we have the saying, "all roads lead to Rome." As the third most visited city in the EU (after Paris and London), it can seem there are few areas left to be discovered, but if you're willing to look up from the map and stretch your comfort zone, a lesser-known, far more modern version of the city appears. From former Olympic athlete housing to a neighborhood devoted to street art, these are five blocks you won't want to miss.

Piccola Londra A few tram stops north of Piazza del Popolo, at the corner of Via del Vignola and Via Flaminia, is the street Via Celentano—though its neighbors never call it that. Instead, it's known as Piccola Londra (Little London), a turn-of-the-century, private road that gives off a Notting Hill-meets-Mary-Poppins vibe. Stop by this stretch to see the colorful, immaculate homes and to marvel at how this haven ever came about.

Quartiere Coppedè In the city's northeast Trieste neighborhood, there is an early-1900s enclave called the Quartiere Coppedè of whimsical architecture by Florentine architect Gino Coppedè. Marble and metal ornaments like spiders, sea horses, and lizards decorate rustic Craftsman-style houses and buildings, which are painted with modern frescoes and beautiful patterns. It looks like a page from a fairy tale.

EUR The EUR neighborhood, a fifteen-minute drive southwest of the city center, may be well-known but it hardly gets the foot and photo traffic it deserves. Originally designed for the 1942 World Exposition by architect Marcello Piacentini in the late 1930s and finished in the early 1950s, its is a snapshot of a would-have-been Rome, with monumental travertine buildings, palaces, and piazzas of Rationalist architecture. Be on the lookout for the Square Colosseum, a stark white minimalist nod to its 2,000-year-old counterpart.

Villaggio Olimpico Built as prototype athlete housing for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the Villaggio Olimpico (Olympic Village) is one of Rome's planned modern neighborhoods, with duplex stilt building, sweeping piazzas, cinemas, pharmacies, and shops—albeit for temporary use. Now fully residential and permanent, its bare modernist architecture fits right in with the surrounding area, a newly developing cultural and architectural mecca that includes PierLuigi Nervi's Pantheon-like Palazzo dello Sport, Renzo Piano's 21st century, futuristic Auditorium and Zaha Hadid's MAXXI museum. Quadraro Probably one of the best places to get lost, if you can find it. The outer limits Quadraro neighborhood (in Rome's southeast periphery), is a micro-state all about street art. Artists including Gary Baseman, Alice Pasquini, Jim Avignon and Diavu have covered its exterior walls to create an open-air museum, and more continue to add to it.

Master Glass in Venice

 Master Glass originally appeared as the feature cover article for Discovery Magazine

Glassblowers wait for the moment when silica gets molten – that’s when the magic can happen

Glassblowers wait for the moment when silica gets molten – that’s when the magic can happen

On the Venetian island of Murano, glassmakers are quietly preserving techniques that have produced works of art for centuries

Murano is a mystery, a jewel in the archipelago of Venetian islands. For centuries, this tiny island has produced the world’s most beautiful glass pieces – goblets that grace the lips of popes and monarchs, chandeliers that light up palaces, and decorative objects that add a glimmer to the everyday. Through rigid regulations and even threats of death, Murano has guarded its glassmaking industry for centuries, surrounding the island in lore just as nebulous as the mists off the Venetian Lagoon.

The jewel tones of Murano glass (above right) are inspired by the island’s myriad colours

Only 15-minutes north of Venice, by water bus (vaporetto) and/or water taxi, Murano feels a world away from Venice’s crowds; a place of quiet empty streets and closed doors, privacy is Murano’s calling card.

Legend claims the islands’ glass history began in the fifth century when locals fled barbarians to the Venetian lagoon, bringing glassmaking techniques from imperial Rome. Venice officially dates its glassmaking legacy to 982AD when a certain Domenico signed witness to a deed, adding the term filario (bottlemaker) to his signature. With the cadence of ink, history was written. By the end of the 13th century, glassmakers became a powerful and exclusive guild of artisans known as arte vetraria. To protect its artisans, the Venetian government restricted all production of glass to Murano, with the guild declaring anyone caught practising glassmaking outside Murano be expelled or even killed.

In its heyday, the Venetian Republic fleet dominated the Mediterranean and the prestige of Murano glass was exhibited by its place on Europe’s finest tables. Painters such as Titian and Bellini celebrated its beauty with brush strokes. “To see an unmistakably Venetian piece of glass in an unmistakably Venetian painting is to experience the wonder of the city anew,” explains Dr Letha Chien, art historian at the University of California, Berkeley. “Not only could one possess the painting, but its representational contents as well.”

But almost in the blink of an eye, glass was gone, and just as quickly, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the Republic of Venice. It wasn’t until the late 1830s that glass production resumed and, by the beginning of the 20th century, glassmaking was once again an enterprise. Firms such as Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellini Venini – the predecessor to world-famous Venini & Co – and Barovier, were created by alliances between master glassmakers and Milanese businessmen. Renowned artists, designers and architects such as Carlo Scarpa and Napoleone Martinuzzi were recruited to helm creative direction, designing both original and modern reinterpretations of history’s greatest pieces, such as the wide-mouthed Libellula vase and Rezzonico chandeliers.

WHERE TO SEE AND BUY GLASS

SEGUSO VIRO

DOMUS VETRI D’ARTE FONDAMENTA Vetrai 82, Murano

PAULY & C.

GALLIANO FERRO

VENINI

GALLERIA MARINA BAROVIER

LU MURANO

SALVIATI

MUSEO DEL VETRO

LE STANZE DEL VETRO

Murano has always been a tiny and tight-lipped community, and the same applies now. Its 1,000 glassmakers represent centuries of glass dynasties such as Barovier, Salviati, Zecchin, Toso and Seguso, and some just a few decades old, such as Galliano Ferro. But they aren’t easily approachable, despite what some of the more garrulous shop owners would have you believe. “Immediately upon your arrival, multilingual show openers greet you, ready to take you to studios,” says Franco Regina, veteran gallery owner and manager to Fabio Fornasier, one of Murano’s most avant-garde master glassblowers. His advice is to keep walking as visits to the best foundries and showrooms are usually by appointment.

Murano glass takes on all shapes, colours and forms, and all exhibit the highest level of workmanship

Glassmaking begins early in the morning, in studios or factories where furnaces operate 24 hours a day, every day of the week. In a choreographed ballet of movements – heating, blowing, reheating, pulling, stretching, cutting and detailing – master glassblowers and assistants focus on the delicate moment when silica becomes molten and magic can happen.

The glass chandeliers hanging in Venice’s Ca’ Rezzonico, crafted by 18th-century Murano glassmakers, inspire many modern interpretations

Fornasier represents one of the smaller studios, LU Murano, where he is master glassblower. “To me, this is an artist’s atelier, where anything is possible. It is an area of mystery,” he says as he pulls on molten glass. After an hour spent talking with Fornasier and watching him make his gravity-defying chandeliers, you understand. This space is much more than a workman’s studio – it is ongoing, kinetic invention. The only sounds are the crisp cutting of hot glass that has been blown and stretched in impossible directions, but the air is filled with energy.

The second-generation glass-blower chose to veer from the norm – “In Murano, many do the same thing, the Rezzonico chandelier, etc.” – instead combining traditional techniques with whimsical, experimental designs. “I believe I am an artist and thus must follow my instincts,” he says. Fornasier’s luminaries are enlightened art objects, and he produces fewer than 100 pieces annually. His handcrafted chandeliers hang in contemporary art shows with the same ease as they do in private residences, hotels and casinos.

Workmanship is just one of the factors that makes Murano’s glass authentic. The fronds of a chandelier or a goblet are handmade by artisans. As Regina explains, this contributes to the high cost of the glass. “Cheap trinkets are ready-made and can be found anywhere and in multiples but true Murano glass means workmanship and uniqueness.”

The colour of Murano glass is also incomparable. “The particularity of [our] colours comes by virtue of the environment, extraordinary colours that exist in nature around us, like the sunset, sunrise and in the reflections of the lagoon,” says Giampaolo Seguso, head of Seguso Viro, who should be considered a colour expert – for 22 generations, secret colour formulas have been passed down from father to son. His family dominates Venetian history. Since 1397, there has been a Seguso in a workroom, factory, gallery or museum, as master glassmakers or innovators, such as Artemide Seguso, Giampaolo’s father and impresario of inimitable colour and filigree techniques.

Fabio Fornasier’s chandelier designs have established him as one of Murano’s most avant-garde master glassblowers

Much like Fornasier, Giampaolo is the new embodiment of glass artisan. He is an entrepreneur, dedicating the past 25 years to upgrading the company’s vision with contemporary designs and cutting-edge, international designers. He is a poet, working with master glassblowers on art pieces that he then inscribes with his poems. And he is a historian, researching and preserving the archived, early-20th-century Seguso designs for personal records and reinterpretation in his product line.

Authentic Murano glass is not hard to find on the island or in Venice’s many boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Pieces come in every technique and incarnation – vases, goblets, lamps, figurines, candelabras, dishes, paperweights, jewellery and more – pieces that bear the Veneto region’s official trademark “Vetro Artistico Murano”, a tamper-proof sticker that authenticates the product. But for Regina, that isn’t enough. “Before coming to Venice, you need to inform yourself in advance on artists, styles and galleries. And you need to ask questions when you are looking at glass.”

After just a single day of studying Murano’s glimmering legacy, it becomes clear that its colourful, inimitable glass is a reflection of Venice’s vibrancy.

Giampaolo Seguso’s family has passed its colour formulas down from father to son for 22 generations
Canal views come with the territory at the Bauer il Palazzo hotel

Palazzo Parigi: The Luxurious New Retreat in the Heart of Milan's Fashion District

This article first appeared in Fathom, March 2015.
Oh, hey, come on in. All photos courtesy of Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Gran Spa.

Oh, hey, come on in. All photos courtesy of Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Gran Spa.

All eyes are on Milan as it the city gears up for Milan Expo, which opens in May and runs through October 2015. Fathom contributing editor Erica Firpo checks out the excitement at the new Palazzo Parigi Hotel and Grand Spa.

CHECKING IN

From the outside, Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Gran Spa looks like any of Milan's modern office buildings — glassy windows, metal frame, business-y. Just take a deep breath and walk inside. If the magnificent Murano glass chandelier doesn't blow your mind, then the "I wanna wear a ballgown and traipse down this luscious marble staircase" will. Palazzo Parigi is neoclassical luxe with a French twist throughout its ten floors. Its vibe is cosmpolitan and stylish, shown off by its staff, a well-heeled team of polygots straight from the runway. Location is key: Turn the corner, and you're in the Fashion Quadrangle, the very epicenter of Milan's finest.

What's New

Palazzo Parigi is what's new. This is the very first of Milan's next generation hotels — a large-scale boutique hotel. It's in the thick of things, just around the corner from Via Solferino, my favorite street in the city, and an easy to walk to Piazza del Duomo.

Palazzo Parigi suite

A room with a view.

In the Room

All 98 rooms and suites are styled to be mod Milanese or chic Parisian, which means either Italian design touches (dark wood and metal) or French ornamental details accenting the overall neutral tones by architect and owner Paola Giambelli. Somehow, Giambelli is able to fight the Milan greys to make the rooms bright, airy, and luminous. If you think the minibar is well stocked, the Clarins lineup in the bathroom will make you never want to leave.

Room with a View

I stayed on the fourth floor with a view downtown and a balcony facing the garden. This was perfect. I'm not a fan of the inner courtyard views, though anything above floor six is great.

What's on Site

The third floor spa is poised to wow. Ground level lounge bar Caffé Parigi feels like Daddy Warbucks' study, while the restaurant is a neoclassical homage to a catwalk. The garden is where you want to head to for afternoon/evening cocktails in warmer months. WiFi connection is a bit tricky but easy to get after a few tries.

Palazzo Parigi restaurant

Palazzo Parigi Hotel's Milanese-inspired restaurant.

The Food

Old-school cocktail bar with excellent vintage drinks. Palazzo Parigi's restauranti is all about traditional Milanese dishes.

This Place is Perfect For

A weekend of fabulousness. Palazzo Parigi is like lathering up in luxe.

But Not So Perfect For

Anyone looking for a cheap escape.

Palazzo Parigi garden dinner
Palazzo Parigi entrance

CHECKING OUT

Neighborhood Vibe

Very Milanese. In other words, quiet and stylish. The hotel is just around the corner from Giardini Pubblici, one of Milan's large public parks where you can hang out, picnic, work out.

WHAT TO DO NEARBY

Eat

Fishbar de Milan Via Montebello, 7; +39-02-6208-7748Clever little fish joint whose sister restaurant MeatBar is right around the corner.

Open Baladin Via Solferino, 56; +39-02-659-7758 Artisanal beer and burgers, the sister to the Roman eatery of the same name.

La Briciola Via Solferino, 25; +39-02-655-1012 Old-school Milanese.

Pisacco Via Solferino, 48; +39-02-9176-5472 Fancy pants bistro.

Bar Brera Via Brera, 23; +39-02-877091 Historic bar, best for people watching.

Art

Galleria Arte Moderna Via Palestro, 16; +39-02-8844-5947

Villa Necchi Campiglio Via Mozart, 14; +39-02-7634-0121

Antonio Colombo Galleria Pinacoteca Brera Via Solferino, 44; +39-02-2906-0171

Shop

You are walking distance to the best shopping and window shopping streets — Via Montenapoleone, Via Pontaccio, Corso Como, Via Manzoni — and just around the corner from Matia's (piazza Carlo Mirabello, 4; +39-02-6269-4535), an excellent multi-brand designer outlet.

FIND IT

Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Gran Spa 1 Corso di Porta Nuova, Milano, Italy 20121 +39-02-625-625

Hot Pockets: Matthias Schmidberger, The Chef Who Warms the Alpine Chills

Hot Pocketsis my series of chef interviews for this blog and other publications.  My interview with Matthias Schmidberger of Ca' D'Oro originally appeared in Fathom in March 2015.

What drives a fair-weather-loving foodie to the snowy peaks of St. Moritz? A Michelin-star meal and a hunky, clever chef. Our Rome-based contributing editor Erica Firpo reports from the Swiss Alps.

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – Schokoladenpretzel and vermicelles. Fladen and mailänderli and nusstorte. These are a few of my favorite things. Swiss pastries alone are the key to enduring our yearly settimana bianca, a ritual "white week" of early mornings, layered clothing, and snow.

I have to be honest: I don't believe in cold weather. I am not genetically nor environmentally inclined to head to a mountain at any time of the year. But I do so for love. Not because my husband Darius is an avid off-piste skier and we live in Rome, Italy (aka a train ride to anywhere!), but for love of a fork and knife.

Food, you say? Yes, I am an excellent eater, what Italians call the proverbial buona forchetta — a good fork. And I have come to the conclusion that I have no problem wearing extra layers if the gastronomical returns are, well, astronomical. For the past two years, I have been spending ski week in Switzerland — for pastry shops and Michelin stars.

Dining Room

The dining room at Cà d'Oro. Photo courtesy of Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains.

We head to St. Moritz, a bizarre gastro-Blade Runner with everything from fondue to fine dining (and apparently — or so they tell me — skiing). While Darius skis with his merry band of off-duty instructors, I eat. My favorite place is Cà d'Oro, the one-Michelin-star restaurant at Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains.

Kempinski is a super-modern renovation of a historic St. Moritz hotel. (Imagine the huge entrance hall. That's what it's like.) The design is simple, modern, muted, and high-quality, but not opulent or boutique-y. Everyone knows who you are, and they're all very friendly. I loved our room, which had a kitchen and a balcony. You can ski in and out and recover in the enormous spa. The pool has a two-story ceiling and the services are incredible. But let's get back to the food: I have never had a better hotel breakfast than the one I did here. It was the cornucopia of mornings.

I don't know if my real St. Moritz gastro-epiphany happened when I met 32-year-old Matthias Schmidberger, the Macklemore-loving Cà d'Oro kitchen rock star who (besides being typically chef-cute) has an incredible instinct for food pairing and creativity. Or if I saw the light while playing flatware chess with Matthias' waitstaff whose utensil and beverage knowledge was complete grandmaster level. It was probably both. I have never been so happily surprised as when I meditated on my fork and placed that first bite of astice marino in my mouth. And the rest is history.

Cà d'Oro is a seasonal restaurant, open for the winter season, usually from the end of November until March. Matthias is in St. Moritz from September to April. He spends the off-season sourcing products and fine-tuning his menu; I spend it trying to figure out when I can get back to St. Moritz. When the heat turns on and Matthias is back in the kitchen, he has a work hard/play hard mentality. I asked him to tell me more about it.

Creativity at Ca d'Oro

We have to be ready the moment the hotel opens. My experiences are extremely valuable to guarantee a great quality from the beginning until the closing period. I take the summer to come up with new inspirations, but they have to fit into our concept, which means there will only be small changes to our menu. I love to play with amouse bouches, with the small pre-dessert, and with sweet delicacies.

Mountain

Muottas Muragl. Photo courtesy of Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl.

Best Way to Start My Day

I love Muottas Muragl, a gorgeous mountain with an astonishing view. I start with a good, strong black coffee and end with a fast sledge down.

Favorite Late-Night Bar

As a chef, it is a good idea to love the evening. My favorite spots are the Cà d'Oro kitchen (insert smile) and the usual places in St. Moritz: La Barraca, Stübli, Vivai, and, for special occasions, the King's Club.

Where to Ski

My favorite slope is Piz Nair, Corviglia.

Where to Go to Escape St. Moritz

There is a German saying: "the carrot which is hanging in front of you will be in your hands after every season." During the season, there is no need to escape. It is a wonderful place with a lot of opportunities for me to relax: biking, swimming, sitting in a piazza with ice cream, skiing in winter, hiking, and celebrating with my team.

FIND IT

Cà D'Oro Via Mezdi 27 St. Moritz, Switzerland 7500 +41-81-838-30-81 info.stmoritz@kempinski.com

I Vestiti dei Sogni: Italian Costume Designers and the Silver Screen

MA1
MA1

I am going to make this very brief. If you are in Rome, or planning to be here before March 22, go to Palazzo Braschi for I Vestiti dei Sogni RIGHT NOW .  If you like fashion, film and Audrey Hepburn, you need to see this exhibit celebrating Italian costume designers incuding Piero Tosi, Gabriella Pescucci, Milena Canonero (she just want another Academy Award!) and Danilo Donati.  From avant garde ancient Rome to Audrey Hepburn, the costumes are beautiful and showcase the very best of Italian design and creativity.  There are a few bonuses-- Elizabeth Taylor's gold shoes from Cleopatra and my personal favorite, the dresses from Age of Innocence.  I'm sharing my highlights, including a shot of my mom as an extra in the film Age of Innocence.  (My mom wore Gabriella Pescucci's hand made dresses that were originally intended for Winona Ryder. I guess Winona didn't like them?).

MA2
MA2
WP
WP
Roma
Roma
OR
OR
Cleopatra
Cleopatra
Bread, Love and Dreams
Bread, Love and Dreams
Age of Innocence
Age of Innocence
AgeofInnocence2
AgeofInnocence2

Excelsior Hotel Gallia, Milan's Great Gatsby

IMG_7121
IMG_7121

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

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)

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

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

IMG_7119
IMG_7119

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

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

Daisy, you're home.

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

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

This is clearly Piva's West Egg.

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

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

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

Hotel Gallia is a  lost weekend waiting to happen.

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

IMG_7120
IMG_7120
IMG_7118
IMG_7118
IMG_7117
IMG_7117