TRAVEL

Costa Smeralda for Every Type of Traveler

An aerial view of Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda. (Photo: Marriott International)

Long before Italy’s Costa Smeralda became an iconic retreat for the rich and famous, the 12-mile stretch on Sardinia’s northern coastline was just another — albeit spectacular — corner of the region’s wild terrain.

It didn’t gain notoriety until a late-1950s visit by a committee of investors and architects that fell hard for the Emerald Coast, named for its beautiful translucent, emerald-colored water, and transformed 5,000 acres of land into Porto Cervo, the most famous coastline resort in Sardinia, if not the world.

A collection of coves, towns and beaches, the Costa Smeralda is a destination for those looking for an honest and insightful experience, whether they prefer adventuring or recharging, eating or meeting local artisans, or just enjoying that ever-so-easy Sardinian lifestyle.

From the remote quietude of Hotel Romazzino and Piccolo Romazzino to fashionable Hotel Cala di Volpe and Porto Cervo, the coastal area becomes a dynamic and international crossroads whose boundaries extend to the water, as the port itself is a floating city of hundreds of the world’s most enviable boats, yachts and super yachts.

Regardless of your travel tastes, Costa Smeralda will exceed even your steepest expectations.

Soak in the sun and enjoy azure waters. (Photo: Marriott International)

For Adventure Travelers

The emerald waters and natural terrain of the Costa Smeralda are meant to be enjoyed, especially by those who love the outdoors. Its mesmerizing waters are always just warm enough for snorkeling, scuba and free-diving, a centuries-old island hobby.

The region’s life aquatic includes dolphins, sea turtles, tuna, swordfish and sunfish, rare mobulas (Mediterranean mantas) and schools of whales.

Start your exploration at a beach like the one found at Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, decidedly the most beautiful and exclusive location in Porto Cervo for its immaculate white beaches, incredible setting and lineup of activities from flora and fauna spotting to boat rides to Maddalena Island.

For land lovers, the countryside is lined with nature hikes, including the local favorite Pevero Health Trail. Starting from the grounds of Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, a series of pedicured trails circumnavigate Pevero Golf Course, with fitness stations, inclines and more.

Stroll along trails or play a round of golf. (Photo: Marriott International)

For Romance Seekers

By its nature, the Costa Smeralda is romantic. Any sunset will inspire a poem, or declaration of love at the very least. Though Porto Cervo is a hub of who’s who, it’s the quieter corners that are made for couples.

Spectacular landscapes of rolling hills and hidden coves are inspiration for stories, and as Italians will tell you, they are stories that you have to make.

Nestled in a grove of pine trees and cascading to the bay of Liscia di Vacca is the Emerald Coast’s best kept secret, Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, a sprawling complex of suites and rooms with its own private beach. You’ll find ample privacy for just the two of you.

Costa Smeralda heats up after dark. (Photo: Marriott International)

For the Fashionista

Expect to find luxury everywhere you look. Above all, stroll through La Piazzetta and La Passeggiata, the area’s most exclusive fashion hubs.

Boutiques here introduced the island to some of the world’s most innovative designers. You’ll also find a lineup here of the major fashion houses, while the Promenade du Port is a concept retail mecca with small boutiques and surprise pop-up shops.

Before the sun sets, the see-and-be-seen set will want to stake a claim at the Atrium Bar at Hotel Cala di Volpe for a cocktail, or head to Cala Beach Club and Nikki Beach for an afternoon of drinks, dining and dancing.

For Foodies

For decades, foodies have migrated to Porto Cervo to taste regional seafood dishes, which has inspired a dynamic food community in the small town.

Savor the many flavors of the region. (Photo: Marriott International)

Every year, Porto Cervo kicks off the summer season with its annual Wine & Food Festival, an exhibition of Italian food and wine products.

Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa launched a restaurant that has officially staked its claim at Hotel Cala di Volpe, overlooking an iconic pier and sparkling bay.

Meanwhile, the iconic Porto Cervo restaurant, Al Pescatore, has welcomed a partnership with the Nerano restaurant Quattro Passi, run by Michelin-starred Chef Tonino Mellino. A selection of Tonino’s signature dishes from Quattro Passi is now included on the Al Pescatore menu.

For Wellness Travelers

Wellness has always been integral to Sardinian lifestyle, and no more so than in the Costa Smeralda, which boasts some of Italy’s most beautiful coves and beaches and integrates holistic ingredients into a lifestyle that turns down the dial on vacation to a focus on relaxation and wellness.

The natural beauty and peaceful exclusivity make Hotel Romazzino, Piccolo Romazzino and Hotel Cala di Volpe the most coveted areas for total recharge, which can be as easy as taking a dip in their beaches’ emerald waters.

For a truly decadent way to unwind, make your way to Hotel Cala di Volpe’s SHISEIDO Spa and Hotel Romazzino’s Spa My Blend By Clarins, which each celebrate Sardinian wellness with beauty and fitness offerings. Both properties collaborate with nutritional expert Amanda Hamilton to curate bespoke wellness programs that include healthy menus, spa treatments and exercise regimes that include yoga, pilates and hiking.

This article originally appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveller, June 2019.

Eat Like a Chef: Pier Daniele Seu, Rome

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

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

Retrobottega

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

Via della Stelletta, 4, retro-bottega.com

Pascucci

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

Viale Traiano, 85, Fiumicino, pascuccialporticciolo.com

Osteria Dell'Orologio

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

Via della Torre Clementina, 114, osteriadellorologio.net

ZIA

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

Via Goffredo Mameli, 45, ziarestaurant.com

Pizzarium 

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

Via Trionfale, 30, bonci.it

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.

PIT STOP TORINO: Doubletree Lingotto and FIAT Factory

The FIAT rooftop racetrack. Photo credit: Gilbert Sopakuwa

Torino is not the Italy you expect. It’s a rectilinear lines make make it the kind of city always ready for a street race, thanks to industrialist Giovanni Agnelli. Local boy gone big, Agnelli transformed the small town into the headquarters of an incredible automobile empire. And then in 1923, Agnelli put Torino into 5th gear when he opened the game-changing FIAT factory, the biggest automobile manufacturing structure in the world at the time, and the most beautiful example of Rationalist architecture - streamlined, functional and futuristic. The FIAT factory and headquarters oversaw saw every aspect of car production - from the assemblage of components and construction on the lower levels to midlevels of administration to its rooftop track where the final product - from the very first FIAT 500 Toppling to the roadster Pininfarina- would rev its engine on a kilometer-long oval test track. Connecting every level was an internal ramp leading from the roof to ground level (and vice versa) so that once approved, the car could literally drive out onto the streets of Torino.

One of the most impressive sights in industry....
— Le Corbusier

Technology eventually overtook hand-production, and by 1982, the FIAT factory closed the factory doors for a bigger, better location. But after almost 60 years, the FIAT factory was more than just a city landmark, it was an international emblem for industrialization and Torino’s innate entrepreneurial attitude which is why architect Renzo Piano pitched a renovation plan that would not just update the historic structure but return its contemporary relevance. Piano transformed its halls into a centro commercial (a mall center) and then he did something more….

Renzo Piano recreates the lines of the former FIAT HQ in the Doubletree’s lounge. Photo: Erica Firpo

Welcome to the DoubleTree Lingotto, a beautiful glass rectangle of a hotel designed by Piano who’s main source of inspiration was the adjacent FIAT factory. Opened in 2018, the DoubleTree Lingotto may not be in the most gamine neighborhood of Torino- but then again, Lingotto is neighborhood true to Torino’s DNA. And thanks to Agnelli and Piano, Lingotto is a destination for architecture and automotive fans.

Piano seeming dropped a vertical rectangle of stacked glass right now to FIAT, and his glass box is simple, framed just like the FIAT building next door. 142 rooms surround a large glass atrium- which is best enjoyed standing in one of the three glass elevators that haul you up all three floors, reminiscent of factory lifts. The rooms are large and luminous with three-meeter-high ceiling to floor glass windows- designed with wood paneling and dark blue leather. Slick, futuristic and function- 21st century rationalism at its very best.

If you ask nicely. . .

. . . you’ll be handed a small red key which gives you personal access to elevator to the FIAT rooftop track. Since the doors to the mall open early and I wanted that sunrise shot, I entered a desolate and some post-apocalyptic looking mall at 6:30am eventually making my way to roof. It was more than I expected, even if Torino reminded me that sunrise can also mean a rainbow of greys.

Those curves, and just peeking over the crest is Pinacoteca Agnelli (Renzo Piano, 2002).. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The ramp leading up to the rooftop. Photo: Erica Firpo

The ramp leading up to the rooftop. Photo: Erica Firpo

Looking up. Photo: Erica Firpo

Race through the streets of 1960s Torino and around the FIAT track with Michael Caine and Mini Coopers (??!!) in The Italian Job, 1969.

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.

nilufar-gallery-milan-outside.jpg.1200x800_q85.jpg

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.

{Podcast} Rome's King of Carbonara Luciano Monosilio

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

LOOK, MA, I’VE LAUNCHED A PODCAST!

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

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

EPISODE ONE: THE KING OF CARBONARA

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

Chef Luciano Monosilio. Photo: Erica Firpo

Carbonara’s key ingredients. Photo: Erica Firpo

TUNE IN

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

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Trattoria V.2: 4 New Rome Restaurants Turning the Tables

Tortellini. Credit: Retrobottega

While Rome will never relinquish the triple threat of carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe, it’s ready to cast off the stereotype that the classic trattoria has to be no frills, no elbow room and absolutely no service. These four new spots are turning the tables on the way you think about the Eternal City’s restaurant scene.

Retrobottega

This budding restaurant has actually been on the block for a few years, but in 2018, a refresh revealed a larger dining space and a moody, minimalist design with a trademark open kitchen and two communal tables.  

Chefs Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi can be found center stage assembling and plating their creations: evolved recipes featuring locally sourced and foraged produce. 

The dishes change so frequently, it’s best to check Retrobottega’s Instagram to see what’s on the menu — typically a five-course, prix fixe format with an à la carte option available, too. If it’s in season, be sure to order the tortelli pasta with Roman broccoli and anchovies, or the blueberry and veal shank risotto. 

Be on the lookout for Retrobottega’s newest addition: Retro Vino wine bar serving bottles as carefully curated as the dishes. 

If you don’t have time for a full meal, stop by Retropasta, the next-door boutique where you can pick up eight types of housemade pasta. Try the stuffed options with untraditional fillings.

Luciano Cucina  

If carbonara had a king, it would be Luciano Monosilio, the home-grown chef who exalted the beloved pasta dish from local recipe to coveted art form. After more than a decade commandeering the city’s fine-dining scene, Monosilio opened this Centro Storico spot to honor his roots in the local trattoria. 

His pioneering take evolves the casual concept from rustic bolthole to a modern, stylish dining room with an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen. Monosilio is emphatically Roman, and he shows it off throughout the entire menu. His antipasti include incredible fritti (fried dishes) like suppli al telefono(fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce and basil) and unexpected not-so-Roman dishes such as vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce and capers).   

But carbs are the highlight. The pasta offerings are divided into themes: Contemporanee (contemporary), Romane (traditional Roman favorites) and Ripiene (stuffed), so you’ll be able to cash in on Monosilio’s epic carbonara, while trying some of his more unusual dishes, like fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — a spin on the classic garlic, pepper and olive pasta topped with cured fish roe.  

Marigold

This trendy newcomer ups the ante on the typical trattoria, casting off yesteryear stereotypes in favor of clean lines and Scandinavian design — a little oasis of hygge (coziness) straight from the oven of pastry chef Sofie Wochner.  

Simplicity is the overall objective at this self-proclaimed “micro bakery.” Focusing on seasonal products and smaller, local producers, Wochner’s pastries and partner Domenico Calabrese’s plates are deliciously sustainable creations, with an ethos inspired by Calabrese’s time in the kitchen of the American Academy of Rome’s Sustainable Food Project. Here, leftovers become delectable, unique dishes.

Wochner’s cinnamon twists, housemade butter (from kefir) and rye bread alone are worth the trip, but you’ll want to stay for Calabrese’s savory lunches and dinners. Each day features a different sandwich dependent on his mood, with made-from-scratch mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough, while evening menus (only available on weekends) often feature dishes like stracciatella (a heavenly soft cheese) with grilled, marinated artichokes and marjoram, and slow-cooked Korean pork belly. 

After you dine, peruse the bakery and pick up at least one loaf of fresh-baked sourdough to bring home. 

Spazio  

This Rome eatery from acclaimed toque Niko Romito isn’t exactly your typical trattoria. Rather, the experimental space serves as a test kitchen where chefs from his renowned cooking school can experience the bustle of a real working restaurant.  

Bar, caffè, bistro and dining room, Spazio is many things, in a few different spaces that effortlessly flow into each other. The restaurant, with its contemporary industrial-meets-greenhouse feel, focuses on affordable gourmet with dishes like Rome-inspired cacio e pepe with mezze maniche pasta, and creamy pork belly with savoy cabbage and potatoes. 

Spazio Pane e Caffè is the casual café side, an open, all-day kitchen serving pastries, breads, sandwiches, soups, salads and pasta dishes.

The 6 Sestieri: An Insider’s Guide to Venice’s Distinct Neighborhoods

Explore Dorsoduro's church of Santa Maria Della Salute. (Photo: Getty Images)

Thanks to its labyrinthine streets and impossible canals, Venice is one of the world’s easiest cities in which to get lost. But with a bit of research, it is also the easiest town to understand. From a bird’s-eye view, Venice is made up of two central islands that look like intertwined hands.

Neighborhoods, called sestieri, subdivide the islands into six characteristic areas, which range from busy marketplaces to quiet communities. Here’s a look at each of these distinct sestieri.

Dorsoduro

Traverse the wooden Accademia Bridge to arrive in Dorsoduro, known for its charming artsy vibe thanks to a mix of families and university students. Its beautiful palazzi and campi (squares) are picture-perfect, and the area is peppered with bars, galleries and restaurants.

The southern neighborhood spans from Punta della Dogana, the old customs building at the very eastern tip of the island, to the Port Authority in the most southwestern edge and includes Giudecca, the long residential island immediately to its south.

Sites not to miss: Gallerie dell’AccademiaPeggy Guggenheim CollectionIl Redentore, Campo Santa Margherita, Chiesa Le ZitellePunta della DoganaSanta Maria della Salute.

Castello

Campo Santa Maria Formosa. (Photo: Getty Images)


Named for a former fortified palazzo, Castello is the largest of the six sestieri and the greenest. Its western border lines up with the edges of San Marco and Cannaregio, so expect a bustle of tourists and souvenir shops.

Head east down the calle and along canals; the farther afield you go, you’ll find Castello becomes a charming microcosm where the tourist flow trickles down to a near standstill.

Eventually, the eastern half of Castello becomes a large public garden and shipyard — the Biennale Giardini and Arsenale — home of the annual La Biennale festival. The cemetery island San Michele is also part of Castello.

Sites not to miss: Basilica of Santi Giovanni e PaoloChurch of San Zaccaria, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Complesso dell’Ospedaletto

San Marco

St. Mark’s Square. (Photo: Getty Images)

Named for the city’s patron saint, San Marco is the most visited of all Venetian sestieri. The sestiere’s heart is Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the number-one destination for all visitors to Venice. Here you’ll find tourists taking photos of the inimitable Basilica San Marco or enjoying a spritz at the square’s historic cafés.

The San Marco neighborhood spans from the Rialto Bridge to St. Mark’s Square, so once you’ve visited the piazza, head deeper into the neighborhood. Wander past small-scale piazzas and peek into lavish museums, and keep an eye out for waterfront photo ops across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore island, also part of sestiere San Marco.

Sites not to miss: Basilica di San MarcoDoge’s PalaceTeatro La Fenice, Campo Santo Stefano, Palazzo GrassiScala Contarini del BovoloMuseo CorrerCaffe Florian

San Polo

To many, this tiny sestiere is the heart of Venetian life. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Venice, San Polo is a dynamic neighborhood filled with families, shops and students who all seem to converge on Campo San Polo, the second-largest square in Venice.

San Polo is also a thoroughfare for tourists walking toward San Marco after visiting the Rialto market, the historic and picturesque fish market.

Sites not to miss: San Giacomo di RialtoSanta Maria Gloriosa dei FrariGrande Scuola San Rocco, Campo San Polo.

Cannaregio

The Rialto Bridge. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cannaregio is the gateway to Venetian life. Starting from the steps of the Venezia Santa Lucia train station and extending eastward on the famed Strada Nuova to the Rialto Bridge, Cannaregio is a vivacious sestiere of boutiques, restaurants, squares and palaces.

The wide Strada Nuova is a busy shopping promenade, while its side alleys lead to niche communities like the Jewish Ghetto, which dates back to the city’s original 4th-century Jewish settlements. Fondamenta Nuova, the northern edge of Cannaregio, connects to the island of Burano via vaporetto (boat).

Sites not to miss: Ca’ d’OroMuseo EbraicoChurch of Santa Maria dei MiracoliChurch of Madonna dell’Orto and the Oratorio dei Crociferi

Santa Croce

This sestiere is said to have a dual personality. The southwestern area of Santa Croce is a transport center, with Piazzale Roma as a hub for buses and taxis. Its northeastern area is more typical of Venice, filled with canals and alleys lined with historic palaces. Though tiny, Santa Croce packs a cultural punch with lavish architecture ranging from Byzantine to contemporary.

Sites not to miss: Fontego dei TurchiSan Giacomo dall’OrioSan Zan DegolaPonte della Costituzione (Constitution bridge) and Palazzo Mocenigo


This article is part of a series which appears
Venice travel for Marriott Bonvoy Traveler.

Andiamo! A Local’s Guide to Island Hopping in Venice

This article first appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, March 2019.

The Island of San Giorgio. Photo: Getty Images

With 118 islands making up the Venetian archipelago, there is far more to see in Venice than St. Mark’s Square. Whether an afternoon or a weekend affair, island hopping is the best way to get to know Venice and its 1,500-year-old culture. Here’s a guide to some of Venice’s most must-see islands.

San Giorgio Maggiore

The emblematic San Giorgio Maggiore is one of those islands that is always photographed but rarely visited. Dominated by the San Giorgio Maggiore church, a multilevel marble landmark designed by Renaissance phenom Andrea Palladio, San Giorgio Maggiore seems to float impossibly in the middle of the Venetian lagoon.

Today, exhibition spaces Le Stanze del Vetro, a former boarding school, and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini showcase contemporary arts projects, while the rest of the island remains green — impeccably pedicured gardens hiding mazes and more.

Discover the art of glass blowing. (Photo: Getty Images)

Murano

For centuries the tiny island of Murano produced the world’s most beautiful glass pieces behind closed doors. Its reputation seeped out of the lagoon, and now Murano is the most popular of the Venetian islands.

Master glass artisans open studio doors to give tourists a select glimpse into their secretive workshops with organized, behind-the-scenes experiences at historic fornace (furnaces) like Seguso. The key to best experiencing Murano is to get past the souvenir shops and explore deeper into the island. Visit the Museo del Vetro to learn Murano’s glassmaking history.

Catch the colors of Burano. (Photo: Getty Images)

Burano

Of all the Venetian islands, Burano is the one most remembered. Here visitors find a mini version of Venice, with a rainbow of brightly colored houses lining picture-perfect canals.

Burano, like most of the outlying islands, is a microcosm of locals who have grown up with one another for generations and for generations have been making its famous lace products by hand. The Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) chronicles Burano’s more than eight centuries honing lace craftsmanship.

Mazzorbo

Linked to Burano by the Ponte Longo, a wooden bridge, Mazzorbo is a quiet island of less than 400 inhabitants and was once an important political and commercial scene in medieval Venice.

Mazzorbo’s draw today is that in the midst of Venice’s tourist-laden streets, it remains untouched and out of the way of clutter and kitsch. Charming residential areas line up with stretches of cultivated land, including vineyards such as Venissa, a walled-in vineyard reviving heritage dorona di Venezia grapes. The 13th-century Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the island’s last remaining church, has a bell tower with one of Europe’s oldest bells and is also worth a visit.

San Michele

Within a gondola ride from the fondamenta nuova, Venice’s northern waterfront, you’ll find the mysterious San Michele. Beautifully landscaped with tall cypress trees and surrounded by a pedicured redbrick wall, San Michele has served as the city’s official cemetery ever since a Napoleonic decree banished burials from Venice churchyards.

Serene and tranquil, San Michele is the final resting place for Venetians and famed outsiders, including American poet Ezra Pound, Italian painter Emilio Vedova and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Lido di Venezia

Everybody loves Lido, the large Venetian island best known as the home of the Venice Film Festival, the august cinema fest where the world’s best directors and actors celebrate their films.

What most people don’t know is that all year round, Lido remains a charming community of families. The seven-mile-long Lido is also a jewel box of art nouveau and art deco architecture — including villas, hotels and ornamental gardens.

In the warm months, Venetians from all over the islands head to Lido’s stabilimenti balneari, beautifully coiffed and colorful waterside establishments on the island’s six miles of uninterrupted beach.

Torcello

Located on the northern edge of the lagoon, Torcello is one of the most remote islands in the Venetian archipelago and the oldest that has been continually populated — in fact, its origin story predates Venice.

Once a busy settlement, today Torcello is sparsely populated. What remains from its resplendent past are a few structures, including the seventh-century Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta with its beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics and a head-spinning bell tower that overlooks Burano. It’s definitely the place to clear one’s head.

Find your way to remote Torcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

How to visit the islands

The only way to travel the islands is by water. A network of vaporetti (waterbuses) zigzag the Venetian Lagoon, connecting the islandsThe best option is the ACTV tickets offering unlimited travel within a 24-hour period at 20 euro. Less economical and far more efficient is a motoscafo, a sleek, wood-paneled water taxi, which can privately arranged through Consorzio Motoscafi.