TRAVEL

To Florence, With Love

Three reasons you’ll fall for Tuscany’s capital.

Photo: Erica Firpo

Colpo di fulmine, that’s what Italians call love at first sight—a ground-shaking thunderbolt that shocks you from the first look. It’s hard not to feel that bolt when you set foot in Florence, partly because of the sheer beauty of the city, with its tangle of parks and piazzas, and partly because it fuses the past with the present. Even as Florence embraces renewal, the metropolis holds steadfast to the ideals that helped lead Europe out of the Middle Ages during the Renaissance long ago, including a commitment to the arts. Is it any wonder that Tuscany’s capital fascinates travelers, who come for a glimpse only to find themselves falling hard? Read on to get the lay of the land and discover three sides of the storied city.

Lay of the Land

Long considered the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence believes itself to be the heart of Italy. Geographically, it lies about halfway between Venice and Rome, in the region of Tuscany. Reachable by North American air carriers via connections through Rome, Milan, and other European cities, Florence is also a major hub for railway transport. While exploring Tuscany requires a car, for Florence, one needs only a great pair of walking shoes, as the main attractions lie within about two square miles.

Building on the site of an Etruscan settlement turned Roman military colony, the Medicis (a political dynasty that once ruled Florence) created a graceful city of piazzas, palaces, and promenades. Today’s urban layout is almost identical to that of Florence’s 16th-century heyday. The Centro Storico, or historic center, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and straddles both sides of the Arno River in a gorgeous knot of medieval- and Renaissance-era streets that subdivide into niche neighborhoods. These tiny districts are often anchored by the piazzas they’re named after and are usually within a 5-to-10-minute walk of one another, so wandering around the city feels like a kind of historical-piazza hopscotch.

Most of the Centro Storico lies north of the Arno River. But if you cross the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge spanning the waterway, you’ll enter the residential neighborhood of Oltrarno, which has been home to Florence’s artisans since the early Renaissance. Explore Oltrarno’s Piazza di Santo Spirito or Via Maggio to view the newest generation of Florentine craftspeople, from traditional goldsmiths and jewelry makers to clothing designers and street artists.

The Culture

There are not enough days in the year to enjoy each of the cultural sites of Florence, which span all corners of the city and range from Renaissance masterpieces and Roman antiquities to contemporary art, fashion, and design. Begin north of the Arno and work your way south, starting on the narrow Via Ricasoli, where the Galleria dell’Accademia (58/60 Via Ricasoli; 011-39-055-098-7100; site in Italian; admission, $18*; reservations recommended) houses Michelangelo’s David along with a small collection of his unfinished sculptures, as well as works by other Renaissance artists.

About a five-minute walk away lies the emblem of Florence: the Piazza del Duomo. Its centerpiece is the encrusted marble Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo), also known as the Duomo because of its famous dome by master architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Once you’ve seen your fill, head to the Palazzo Strozzi (Piazza degli Strozzi; 011-39-055-264-5155; admission, $15), a few blocks southwest, for a different perspective on the city’s artistic legacy. The museum hosts blockbuster temporary exhibitions highlighting everything from the art of the ancient world to works by today’s superstar artists, such as Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović and Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.

Follow the sightseeing crowds to the L-shaped Piazza della Signoria, the political center of the city and an open-air museum. Here you’ll find an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Davidin front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-276-8325; admission, $11), a 700-year-old fortress that today serves as Florence’s city hall and mayor’s office in addition to being a museum open to visitors. The standout room of the Palazzo Vecchio is the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), a monumental meeting space with larger-than-life frescoes by Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari. Immediately adjacent to the building is the Loggia dei Lanzi (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-23885; admission, free), an arcaded open-air gallery showcasing Renaissance sculpture.

Nearby is the Gallerie degli Uffizi (6 Piazzale degli Uffizi; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $25 in high season, $15 in low season), a lavishly decorated multilevel building designed by Giorgio Vasari as the offices of the Medici family. Known fondly as the Uffizi, it holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Italian Renaissance art yet still manages to constantly upgrade its offerings by establishing new rooms to appreciate the greats, such as Raphael, or by hosting epic exhibitions, such as the one last year commemorating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.

Yet despite the many wonders these museums hold, Florence’s greatest work of art might be its landscape, and to fully appreciate it, you have only to cross the Arno. South of the river lies the Giardino di Boboli (1 Palazzo Pitti; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino Bardini), a park that was once the Medicis’ playground, and the Giardino Bardini (1r Via dei Bardi; 011-39-055-2006-6233; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino di Boboli), a tiered garden in the Oltrarno. In the latter, Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati (6/a Costa S. Giorgio; 011-39-055-068-0545; site in Italian; classic tasting menu for two, $240) looks out on the lush grounds.


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The Food

In Florence, the cuisine is subtle and elegant, and simple dishes are proudly made with mostly local ingredients. Restaurants such as Trattoria Sabatino (2r Via Pisana; 011-39-055-225-955; site in Italian; dinner for two, $23), which lies south of the Arno, cheerfully dole out heirloom Florentine recipes such as minestrone di fagioli e riso (rice and bean soup) or trippa alla fiorentina (tripe, a dish made with cow stomach, is an Italian specialty) at affordable prices.

North of the river, Florentine elegance is epitomized at the Piazza della Repubblica, the city’s center in the time of ancient Rome. On its northeast corner is Caffè Gilli (1r Via Roma; 011-39-055-213-896; cocktails for two, $18), the oldest café in the city. Two other piazzas—Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio—are foodie musts. Both are residential areas with squares flanked by a parish church and streets lined with butcher shops, bakeries, electricians, hair salons, and the like. Here you can expect quiet mornings, post-school chaos, and early evenings filled with dog walkers—as well as some of the best food in town.

In the Santa Croce neighborhood, Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo (3r Piazza dei Peruzzi; 011-39-055-217-919; dinner for two, $100) prepares heritage dishes that are made from hard-to-find and often foraged regional ingredients and are therefore on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, chef Fabio Picchi, the city’s culinary emperor, demonstrates Florence’s spirit of innovation with his suite of restaurants in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. Cibrèo Ristorante (8r Via Andrea del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $140)Cibrèo Trattoria (122r Via de’ Macci; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $52), and Cibrèo Caffè (5r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-5853; dinner for two, $90) all focus on Picchi’s signature dishes, while Ciblèo (2r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-247-7881; dinner for two, $90) adopts a Tuscan-Asian fusion approach, mixing Italian ingredients and recipes with Korean, Chinese, and Japanese traditions.

The Shops

Florence is as much about shopping and people-watching as it is about sightseeing. On the northern end of Centro Storico, the small square of Piazza San Lorenzo has a vibrant market, Mercato di San Lorenzo, that’s best known for its leather goods. The piazza gets its name from the Basilica di San Lorenzo church, which used to be a parish church of the Medici family.

Since the 14th century, the Via de’ Tornabuoni has been a runway for beautiful palaces and people. International brands keep a foothold here, from the Piazza degli Antinori to the Ponte Santa Trinità. The city’s side streets also hide treasures. Along them sit two time capsules: the flagship store of the nearly 300-year-old porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori (17r Via dei Rondinelli; 011-39-055-210-041)—an exquisite showroom with vaulted frescoed ceilings—and Aquaflor (6 Borgo Santa Croce; 011-39-055-234-3471; site in Italian), an intriguing custom perfumery that feels like vintage Florence.

For a more contemporary spin on the city’s crafts scene, visit Florence Factory (6/8 Via dei Neri; 011-39-055-205-2952; site in Italian), which showcases goods made by artisans from the Oltrarno neighborhood. Or check out Cuoiofficine (116r Via de’ Guicciardini; 011-39-055-286-652), whose leather purses and wallets combine 17th-century marbling patterns and contemporary leather-tattooing techniques to create designs that are reminiscent of centuries past. (All leather goods can be customized.) Take the time you need to find a memento that’s just right—after all, it would be a shame to leave Florence without your own piece of la dolce vita.

This article first appeared as a feature in Endless Vacation, Summer 2019.

A Design Guide to Milan, Italy

Design Snobs Will Love This Guide to Milan

Assago Milanofiori Nord metro station. Photo by Massimiliano Donghi/ Unsplash.

Milan — once overlooked as the middle child of Italy — is really enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There may be more to the city than fashion and design, but, wow, does it do those better than anyone.

MILAN, Italy — Milan is not like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples. It’s not an idyllic grand tour destination that hypnotizes visitors with listless, collective memories from centuries past. No, Milan is the kind of city that wakes you up and reminds you that time is moving forward. The wake-up call starts the moment you step off the train at Stazione Centrale and look up. The platforms are covered by spectacular, futuristic glass and steel spanning domes, while the early-20th-century station is a marble monument with sky-high, vaulted ceilings and intricate ornament details. Exalting architecture and dynamic movement are the gateway to Milan.

 Once a shy sister city, Milan has become center stage for design and fashion. In addition to the fall and spring fashion shows, for one week every March, the global spotlight is on Milanese design during Salone Milano design fair, but the truth is that Milan is a celebration of architecture and innovation, design, and art every day. Here’s a guide to the best and the most striking design spots around town.

Stazione Centrale

Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione

Walk the City

To understand Milan’s architecture, it’s important to start in the center and even more important to tag along with an expert like Riccardo Mazzoni of Context Travel. Riccardo is practicing architect and professor whose passion is the unfolding the layers of Milan’s architectural history. His tour starts at Piazza San Babila, home to a beautiful convergence of the city’s modern architecture and arguably the birthplace of modern Milan, then winds through Brera, an enclave of incredible boutiques and cafes also knows as the Fashion Quadrilaterial, and on to Castel Sforzesco, a medieval fortress complete with crenellations, bastions, and a retaining wall in the center of the city that's now a museum complex showcasing at least nine different genres and collections — Egyptian, musical instruments, furniture, manuscripts, and Renaissance art among them — and is gateway to Parco Sempione, a bucolic park in the city center.

Along the way, Riccardo picks out slick, futuristic buildings that epitomize the different movements of the 20th century — the unpredictable Novecentismo, the sharplined Rationalism, and the exaggerated Neoclassiscal — and introduces the names — Portaluppi, Gio Ponti, Piacentini, and BBPR — that brought Milan to the future.

Villa Necchi Campiglio Dining Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Breakfast Room

Villa Necchi Campiglio Veranda

Full Design Immersion

If Milan’s design heritage can be condensed into one space, it would be La Triennale, the gallery on the edge of Parco Sempione that houses an incredible permanent collection of Italian design and hosts temporary exhibitions. Architecture fans must stop at Villa Necchi Campiglio, the 1930s home that’s a Milanese answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper-class living. Every element — from the building to the plates — was designed by Piero Portaluppi, the poster boy of Milan modernists. (Remember the amazing home in the Luca Guadagnino movie I Am Love? This is it, and you’ll recognize everything, including the pool.) The house tour takes about an hour, but you can linger on the property at the garden café. 

Portaluppi also designed Palazzo dell Arengario, a Fascist era complex comprised of two super-modern symmetrical and identical palaces just steps away from the Duomo. The left-side palace houses the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to art of the 20th century.

Fast-forward to the uber contemporary at Fondazione Prada, a sprawling contemporary art complex outside the city center designed by OMA, with a 197-foot tower by starchitect Rem Koolhaas. On the sixth floor of the main building is a restaurant with a panoramic terrace featuring original furniture designed by Philip Johnson for New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant in the 1950s. Near the entrance is the cinematic and very playful Bar Luce, a café designed by director Wes Anderson. 

Though not quite cutting-edge design, stop into Pinacoteca Brera, a historic art gallery with a collection of paintings from late medieval era through the late 19th century. The Brera has put considerable effort in creating a dynamic space with truly fabulous signage, an open restoration lab, and Caffe Fernanda, a newly opened jewel box of a bar.

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Photos courtesy of Nilufar Gallery.

Icons and Boutiques

There are so many iconic design shops in Milan, but the only way to start is at Spazio Rossanna Orlandi, the epic gallery by Rossanna Orlandi, Milan’s original influencer, talent guru, and trend spotter. Orlandi put Milan’s gallery scene on the map — and her gallery is a must-stop on the Milan design tour. So is Nilufar, the gallery owned by Nina Yashar, Italy’s top dealer of modern and contemporary furniture and design, where she showcases incredible emerging and blockbuster designers. Her Nilufar Depot, just north of the Isola neighborhood, is the enormous warehouse she uses to showcase the 3,000+ design pieces she has amassed over more than three decades. 

Milan is full of pocket neighborhoods dedicated to art, design, and fashion. One of the latest emerging areas is Maroncelli Design District, a collective of galleries and boutiques on via Pietro Maroncelli and neighboring streets. Look for Etel, the uncannily clever and eco-sustainable Brazilian furniture design house.

Last but definitely not least is lighting — not just how something is illuminated, but rather how a beautifully designed lamp and expert lighting can transform the entire personality of a space. Every Italian home has at least one lamp or light fixture whose design has a story. A one-way conduit to Piazza San Babila, Corso Monforte is home to the world’s most famous lighting showrooms, including FontanaArteArtemide, and Nemo.

Bulgari Bar

AMOR. Photo by Lido Vannucchi.

Stylish Refreshments

And once you've had your fill of Milan design, the only way to meditate is to enjoy the archetypical Milan aperitivo in the city's very best design bars, like Caffe TrussardiBvlgariLuBar, and The Botanical Club.

If you need to fill yourself up a little more creatively, grab a table at AMOR, the latest by dynamic and Michelin-starred culinary brothers Max and Raf Alajmo. Located at the coveted 10 Corso Como, the groundbreaking concept store created by fashion editor Carla Sozzani, AMOR is Alamo's street food venture — a clever spin on a pizzeria serving Max’s patented steamed pizza. And of course, the design plays a starring role, as the Alajmos worked with long-time collaborator and star architect Philippe Starck to set the playful and striking atmosphere.

This article was first published in Fathom, May 2019.

Giants, Spirits and the Holy Grail? Unravel the Mysteries and Legends of Venice

Unlock some of Venice's most mysterious legends. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gondoliers who can walk on water. Monster masks that can ward off the devil. Haunted palaces, meandering ghosts and magic stones. Venice is a city built on legends, lore and mysteries.

Every calle leads to a new mystery, and through every sottoportego is a new legend to explore. Below are some of the most intriguing tales.

Witches Wake-Up Call

In the labyrinthine streets near the Accademia Gallery is the quiet Calle della Toletta, where a so-called “witch’s clock” keeps the neighborhood ticking. Hanging off exterior piping (look for a yellow house) is an old-school alarm clock.

Legend says that a witch once lived here and dabbled in the business of black magic. She used the alarm to remind her customers their payments were due. When she died, the local residents hung an alarm clock on the building in jest.

Years later, it was removed, and the neighbors began to talk of strange happenings, odd sounds and random accidents. The clock was returned to its position, and the events stopped. Years later the clock was removed, and the neighbors again claimed unexplained events, so the clock was placed back permanently.

Death in Venice

Walk by the columns of San Marco and San Todaro — but not between them. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Council of Ten — a feared governing body — ruled the city from 1310 to 1797 with eyes everywhere thanks to its hundreds of anonymous informants who shared residents’ secrets and lies, condemning many to prison and death.

According to gossip, the narrow Calle della Morte was the Council of Ten’s “death alley,” an advantageous location where condemned people would be tricked into visiting only to be killed on site. Most likely, the street is named after a dead body found in that location.

What is fact is that the secretive Council of Ten were very forthcoming with public executions and designated the small area between the columns of San Marco and San Todaro at Piazza San Marco as a site for city-sanctioned deaths, and to this day, Venetians do not walk between the columns. Take a stroll here from the nearby Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice.

The Giant of Corte Bressana

Listen for the bells. (Photo: Alamy)

Venice is a chameleon of a city, changing its personality drastically from daytime charm to nighttime fright. According to Castello neighbors, if you find yourself meandering the streets surrounding the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo after midnight, you may meet a giant looking to buy his bones back.

Who’s the giant? According to legend, he’s one of the last bell ringers of St. Mark’s Bell Tower, clocking in at nearly seven feet tall. The Bell Ringer’s height made him such a local celebrity that the director of a scientific institute offered him a small fee to leave his skeleton to science upon death. The giant bell ringer agreed to the offer, rationalizing that he would outlive the institute director and the deal would be forgotten.

To the contrary, the bell ringer died shortly thereafter, and his skeleton went on display at the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia. Castello residents say that every night, just before midnight, the skeleton walks out of the museum to Piazza San Marco, where he climbs to the top of the bell tower, rings the bells and then walks the streets toward his home on Corte Bressana (Castello) begging for money to buy back his skeleton.

The Holy Grail

Pretty much everyone agrees that the most coveted artifact for would-be Indiana Joneses is the Holy Grail, aka the chalice that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper.

According to legend, after Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’s blood in the cup, the Grail was removed from sight for centuries and eventually secreted away to Glastonbury by the Knights Templar.

Here’s where the Venetians have a bit of a deviation. At some point before the Grail’s journey to the British Isles, it was hidden in none other than the throne of the Apostle Peter (a marble seat), forcibly removed from Constantinople during the Crusades and brought to Venice with the rest of the plunder. Where’s the chair today? Inside the Basilica of San Pietro in Castello.

House of the Spirits

Are you a believer in dark magic? (Photo: Alamy)

A quick 6-minute vaporetto ride from The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, at the edge of the Fondamenta Nuova in Cannaregio sits a beautiful 16th-century palace overlooking the water. For centuries, the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, better known as the Casin degli Spiriti (house of the spirits), has been notoriously recognized as a hub of dark magic; a preferred location for cults, orgies, pirates and smugglers; and as a gathering place for the restless spirits of Venice.

One ghost in particular can’t seem to leave — that of Pietro Luzzo, a painter who shot himself in the palace grounds, despairing of unrequited love. The day after he died, his tormented ghost appeared at one of the palace’s windows, prompting the owner to cover it with bricks.

Luzzo appeared at another window and then another, until the owner walled in all of the palace’s windows. Supposedly, Luzzo continues to haunt the palace, returning on dark evenings, screaming throughout the palace.

This article first appeared in Marriott Traveler, April 2019.

13 Best Things to Do in Florence

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There's never a question of what to do in Florence; rather, it's a question of how much and when. With its varied selection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and storied sites, the Tuscan town has something for everyone, from contemporary art buffs and super foodies to sports fans and serious shoppers. To experience the city to its fullest, you only need to step out into the street. Here, a list of our must-sees to narrow down your itinerary.

- This article originally appeared in CN Traveler, January 2019.

Ilaria Costanzo/Courtesy Explore Florence — The Oltrarno: History + Artisans

Explore Florence: The Oltrarno, History + Artisans

This ultra-professional walking tour kicks off in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It's best for those wanting to learn more about Florence's artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that's in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it's a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance. The guide, Alexandra, is knowledgeable and passionate.

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Bargello Museum

Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures is housed in the Bargello, a former prison and an austere medieval fortress. The museum’s architecture alone is worth the visit—beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and a dramatic courtyard—but the big draw is its blockbuster names. Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.


Stadio Artemio Franchi

The hub for soccer in the city, Stadio Artemio Franchi is the stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence's Serie A soccer team. Serie A is Italy's top soccer league, so you're guaranteed to see the country's best teams compete here. It's also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams' more rabid fans.

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Giardino Bardini

Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini has a pergola-covered stairwell leading up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It's the perfect pit-stop if you're sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn't present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi, an illustrious collection of who's who in priceless Renaissance art, is a Florence must-see. Plus, thanks to a curatorial investment by director Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi is slowly modernizing its approach. The newly arranged Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room, now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters; the re-opened Room 35, meanwhile, is dedicated to Leonardo and displays three paintings originally created for churches. Upgrading the experience further is a new reservation system, where visitors take a timed ticket from one of seven machines outside the museum and come back later to explore, without ever having to wait in line.

Aquaflor Firenze.

AquaFlor Firenze

The yesteryear atelier is one of those beautiful finds that make you feel like you're actively involved in creating not just a scent, but Florentine history, as you sniff through the unparalleled collection of raw materials, essential oils, and scents. With the help of Sileno Cheloni, the nose of Aquaflor, you're led through olfactory discovery to create a perfume that's personalized just for you.

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Palazzo Strozzi

One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its Carsten Holler’s latest experimental piece or an Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.

Francesca Pagliai/Courtesy Tuscany Again

Tuscany Again: Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art Tour

Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art is a personal tour designed specifically for those interested in modern art in and around Florence. Expert guides plan bespoke itineraries based on travelers' preferences, leading intimate groups to futuristic buildings and offering their take on the collections within. Most notable: the architecture itself as well as the survey of Arte Povera, Italy's art movement of the 1960s. Transport is included and reservations are required.

Gucci Garden

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is always pushing the limits, and this time he blurs the lines between monument and merchant at Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is Michele’s colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.

Collezione Roberto Casamonti

Open to the public, the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcases about 250 works of modern and contemporary art from his personal collection of more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It's a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn't draw a ton of visitors, so it's easy to walk around. In fact, you'll likely have a room entirely to yourself.

Antonio Quattrone/Courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous and large new museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti's doors, Michelangelo's The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.

Silvio Palladino/Courtesy Curious Appetite

Curious Appetite: Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour

Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour of Florence kicks off at a given meeting point in Piazza della Repubblica or via dei Tornabuoni. The custom tours are private or small group and are tailored to your preferences—say, a particular liquor or cocktail. You'll visit multiple cafés and bars on foot. Reservations are required, but you can book as late as 24 hours in advance.

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Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They're a great stop if you're short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They'll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person, are required.

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.

{ART}Sarah Sze recycles Time at Crypta Balbi

Split Stone (7:34), Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi. Photo by Erica Firpo.

There are so many ways to experience Rome but there is nothing I like best than the time-bending contradiction of ancient and contemporary in the exact same moment. Rome isn’t simply ancient, or Baroque, or modern. It’s all of that at once, which is what makes visiting and living in Rome so thrilling and stressful. It’s knee-jerk to say Rome is chaotic- because it truly is. Hit pause for a second, you’ll see that the chaos is just all of the layers of time fighting for space.

Timeless. Timely. Time waster. Sentimental. Rome practically begs you to take a bigger bite of its personality. And lately, museums, cultural sites, monuments and galleries are serving it up in on a time-bending platter. Latest is Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze, a Gagosian Gallery/Museo Nazionale Romano collaboration appearing this month and through January.

Looking close for the pixels. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Rock of Ages

Head down to the subterranean of Cripta Balbi and you come face to face with a split boulder. It’s Sarah Sze's latest installation and counter-part to her self-titled gallery exhibition at Gagosian. Two halves of a monumental granite rock that sneakily resemble a geode sit in the travertine-lined remains of the 1st century BC theatre of Balbus- just one incarnation of Cripta Balbi, an archaeo-museum that is all about recycled space. Walk around the site and you’re stepping through millennia-spanning detritus from its incarnations as ancient theatre, medieval house, Renaissance convent and 19th century orphanage. Walk back to Split Stone, take a closer look. Sze permanently drilled a slick and pixelated image of sunset (that she snapped on her smartphone!) on the face of each stone.

This is not the Crypta Balbi show that Darius would dream of, but it’s the kind of show I have been waiting to see- recycling Rome through an incredible (yet barely visited) archaeo-museum and inserting the very contemporary into its historic context. Because that is Rome every day life- imperial leftovers while we wait for the bus, Baroque backdrops while we visit the dentist, unification monuments while we shop at H&M.

“Rome is a constant intersection of ancient and contemporary, all the time mixing together”, says Sze. It’s a never-ending conversation of permanent and ephemeral, analogue and dialogue, and old and new, aka Rome every day.

I want to see this show- How do I do it?

It’s pretty easy. Split Stone is in situ at Crypta Balbi, all you have to do enter the museum. Here’s a tip: Cripta Balbi is one of the four locations of the Museo Nazionale Romano- an incredible, four-venue ticket which at 15 euro for a 72-hour period is one of my favorite ways to explore the city- ancient and present day. Each of the four Museo Nazionale Romano venues focuses on Ancient Rome, with a large stress on sculpture, and each is a unique architectural experience- an ancient bath structure (Diocleziano), a Renaissance palace (Altemps), a late 19th century townhouse (Massimo) and an ancient Roman theatre/crypt/medieval residence/archaeological site (Balbi). All four museums hide in plain sight -Palazzo Massimo and Terme di Diocleziano by Termini Station, Palazzo Altemps by Piazza Navona and Crypta Balbi by Largo Argentina.

Tickets: 10 euro per site, or a 15 euro cumulative ticket which lasts 72 hours

Split Stone closes January 27, 2019.

Back to Los Angeles {Photos}

I used to live in Los Angeles, and when anyone asks me what I liked about the City of Angeles, it is easy: I love the architecture that sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking. I thought I’d share a few scenes from 24 hours in Los Angeles.

Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood Boulevard

Poolside at The Ace Hotel

Poolside at The Ace Hotel

Inside the restored UA Theatre

Inside the restored UA Theatre

An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

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

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

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

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

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

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

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

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

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

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

The Florence Experiment: Contemporary Art Slides Through The Renaissance Town

Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn! - Better Off Dead, 1985

Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide.  Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code.   We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way.    Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique.   In the summer,  the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity.  Scary?  Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.

Playgrounds don't have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more.  Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm.  Maybe that's a good thing, but when I stand atop today's slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn't, happen.  And I think Carsten Höller does too. 

Höller makes thrills.   His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past.  And this time he's experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he's playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence.   The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology.   Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling.  A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.  

Here's where it gets brainy. Once you've finished, you're invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi's underground laboratory where Mancuso's team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant.  And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot)  - in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi's external facade.  Sounds hokey? It could be, but it's fun and if you take a step back, it's pretty damn clever.  Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.

And guess what?  It's about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream.  For Höller,  "the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be." I agree. Let's do it.

Photo credit: Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florence Experiment

Palazzo Strozzi, through August 26

For those looking to discover more of Tuscany, Palazzo Strozzi is more than just a museum.  It is keystone to Associazione Partners Palazzo Strozzi APPS a coalition of personalities, institutions and firms that  support the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi , Florence and its "made-in-Florence" treasures through multi-cultural projects.

 

View from room 516, Hotel Savoy.

R & R:   Rooms and Restaurants

Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy.  516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi's dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells.  We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else - Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.  Earlier in 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space.  Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles.  I am hoping that the next I stay,  Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.

Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence's San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno.  Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter,  every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I've walked into someone's home.  For my group, the  focus is always singular:  a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt.  Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto.  Personally, I don't go there.

The laboratory.

See Naples and Die: How To Have The Perfect Naples Day Trip

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.

Charming, beautiful, heartbreaking and gritty, Naples, Italy, is a torrid love affair you’re meant to explore for a day or a lifetime. For centuries, locals and visitors alike have constantly proved the proverb “See Naples and Die” true. It is a city that never leaves you and, for some, a destination that proves impossible to leave. But for those with less than 24 hours to see Napoli, here our tips for a day trip to this seaside siren.

HOW TO GET THERE
A day trip to Naples from Rome is as easy as a train ride, especially on Italy’s high-velocity rail service. Just 70 minutes from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale with departures every hour, Italo Treno’s round-trip option is your best bet. The unmistakable red needle-nose trains are stylish as well as comfortable and equipped with free Wi-Fi.

WHEN TO GO
Any time, any day and any month, Naples is amazing. From June through September, the temperatures are high and the sun is hot, so if you prefer milder climates, plan for the cooler months. Great times to visit include religious holidays, such as the September 19 Feast of San Gennaro (the patron saint of Naples), when the city crowds into the Naples Cathedral. From Advent (December 2) to Ash Wednesday (February 14), the city is a carnival of celebrations.

WHAT TO DO
Walk the City
There is so much to see in Napoli, and the best way to take it all in is by foot. A massive UNESCO World Heritage Site, Naples’ historic center has the unique characteristic of being split in half by a road. The Spaccanapoli (Via San Biagio dei Librai) is a long and narrow street lined with buildings representing all eras of Naples’ architecture, from its Greek foundations to 18th-century palaces.

Head to the historic center’s Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and spot the larger-than-life mural of San Gennaro by street artist Jorit Agoch, which appears as a backdrop in the Italian TV series Gomorrah.

Art lovers should check out the Madre, Naples’ contemporary museum. On display until September 24 is an exhibit titled “Pompei @ Madre,” a clever show mixing finds from the ill-fated ancient city with modern Pompeii-inspired art.

Part of the national Galleria d’Italia, the galleries of Palazzo Zevallos Stigliana are housed on the ground floor of a 19th-century bank, making for a cultured stop for both history buffs and art lovers.

Kids and romantics will want to visit one of the city’s numerous medieval castles, such as Castel Sant’Elmo and Castel dell’Ovo.

Plan Your Pizza
Probably the best reason for a day trip to Naples is pizza, in particular the freshly made local variety topped with marinara sauce and seasoned with oregano and garlic but no cheese at all.

For day-trippers, it’s important to plan your itinerary around where and when you will be eating your pie, allowing yourself at least 30 minutes of waiting in line — yes, you’re going to have to wait. Local favorites, such as Da MicheleGino SorbilloPizzeria La Notizia 94 and 50 Kalò, all have queues, especially around lunchtime. And just to be on the safe side, bring euros — not all pizza joints accept credit cards.  

For a truly Neapolitan way to finish off your meal, stop by the historic Gran Caffe Gambrinus for an espresso and a fresh pastry (like a fragrant rum babà — a rum-soaked cake — or flaky cannoli) and then enjoy the beautiful Piazza del Plebiscito.

Go Underground
Naples can be chaotic and, sometimes, the best solution is to head underground to explore the city’s ancient origins. Miles of subterranean tunnels, carved by early Greek settlers, lie beneath the city’s surface. Expanded by the Romans, the underground metropolis was used up until the 20th century, when it served as an air raid shelter during both World Wars. All of this history is hidden from the modern surface, but can be explored with Napoli Sotterranea.

For a deeper dive into the city’s past, plan a pit stop at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli to dig into its impressive collection of Greco-Roman art and artifacts. Among the exhibits, you’ll find pieces from Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the racy Gabinetto Segreto (secret cabinet).

Or, opt a different kind of underground with the Naples Metro, where the stations themselves are works of art.