Up, up and AWAY: upgrading my carry on

Carried away in Ischia.

A few months ago, I realized that I didn’t have a carry-on. Well, I did. It just wasn’t mine, a fact pointed out to me by my husband when we were both packing for three-day trips in opposite directions. His faithful roller was like a best friend- kind of scruffy, always there, and able to keep lots of secrets. I had nada. So I shoved everything I needed into my polka dot shoulder bag, and what was left went into my daughter’s elementary school backpack. It was about time I invested in a proper carry-on of my own.

Luggage, in my opinion, should be functional, durable and hopefully economical. A great suitcase should take you from destination to destination with ease, organization and maybe even a little security. For most of my life of long trips, I’ve used a banal black suitcase personalized with colorful, handmade luggage tags (i.e left-over ribbons). Yes, my bag always gets confused for someone else’s, and no, I don’t care that the suitcase itself is unattractive. In fact, aesthetics are last on my mind for two specific reasons: suitcases are always knocked around and scuffed up, and Roma-FCO, aka my main hub, is a black hole for luggage. But a carry-on? That’s an opportunity to style at airport lounges, flirt at the Duty Free shops and rock the runway, while having one’s entire life (or weekend life) neatly packed in a properly dimensioned bag at your side.

Enter: AWAY Travel. Or better yet, enter my mom, an avid reader of tech and entrepreneur mags, who was fascinated with the direct-to-commerce start-up’s story, and insisted I needed to meet co-founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio. A meeting with them didn’t make it on the travel itinerary, but I did I visit AWAY’s Bond Street boutique in Manhattan - a tranquil showroom of light woods and whites which gets the point across: travel is meditation, and so should shopping. Only one wall is lined with the rainbow of polycarbonate suitcases in AWAY’s dark and pastel colors, while the floor features a bag or two to show off AWAY’s clever details like 360 wheels, compression pads, external pockets for laptops, ejectable battery chargers, and limited editions. Utilitarian with some perks like quarterly travel magazines, travel bags, packing cubes, tile luggage tags and personalization. I loved everything but it was the Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum Edition that came home with me.

Ever Flying.

Ever Flying.

How’d it fare?

The Bigger Carry-On can hold quite a lot. It easily fit five days worth of clothing plus sneakers, sandals, summer homework books, computer, iPad, camera gear, make up bags and a few stuff animals for me and my 9-year-old on a mid-summer trip to Sicily. As an origami-style packing geek, I loved the compression pad, and was happy to shove shoes, toys, gear and the nylon laundry bag (stuffed with wet bikinis) on the zip half, aka b-side. The EF stickers, which I told my daughter were for Ever Flying, charmed everyone in the airport. We both loved the combination locks that give the carry-on a smart spy vibe. In the past two months, my carry-on has knocked around seven airports, several trunks and two train rides, so yep, it has some scratches and scuffs, but that adds personality. My only gripe is the weight (and I did choose to remove the charger) especially when packed for two. At 11.2 lbs, the Bigger Carry-On in unbreakable aluminum is heavier than its polycarbonate companion who weighs in at 7.8 lbs (or the smaller Carry-On 7.6 lbs). Maybe not the most logical choice for a peripatetic travel writer but the Aluminum edition is by far the prettiest. .

The Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum edition and me on the Cayucos pier.

AWAY The Bigger Carry-on, Aluminum Edition

Exterior measurements 22.7" x 14.5" x 9.6"
Interior measurements 20" x 13"
Weight 11.2 lbs
Capacity 40.9L

*At the time of writing this, the Carry-On dimensions were perfect (and still are) for Alitalia and Delta, my main carriers. It seems like every day, airlines surprise us with updated baggage policies. Check Luggagepro and SeatGuru, and then double check on your carrier’s site.

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

Baglioni Hotel Carlton Milan Stands Out in the City That Never Stands Still

Montenapoleone Terrace Suite. All photos by Diego de Pol / Courtesy of Baglioni Hotel Carlton.

MILAN – Without a doubt, Milan is Italy’s It city, a fabulous melting pot of fashion, design, tech, finance, and art. The latest addition to its pantheon of awesomeness is the hotel scene. Whether beautiful boutiques or curated chains, Milan’s hotel vibe is evolving, much like the city itself.  

But the fact is Milan has always had amazing hotels. It is an old-school city with old-school institutions that have not only withstood the perils of time and trend, but also set the bar for all of the new entries.  
My monthly Milan visits from Rome are often a quick 24 hours of business and pleasure, which means my hotel has to be centrally located, preferably quiet, and near a park. My latest trip brought me to the Baglioni Hotel Carlton, which is the perfect address for a Gemini like me. It sits hidden in the busy historic center within walking or biking distance of everything from business to art and window shopping. The interiors are a celebration of its original 1960s rococo decor and its 21st-century incarnation as homage to the best of contemporary Italian design. The ultimate urban manse, Hotel Carlton is stylish and subtle, chic and private, the kind of place for a great weekend affair.

Terrace Suite.

Junior Suite.

Checking In

The hotel is in San Babilia, on the border of Centro Storico and Palestro. A ten-minute walk from Milan’s Duomo, the hotel is located in the fashion district of the historic center. Eye candy and haute couture await at every step.

Hotel Style
A quiet and elegant mansion styled exactly as you would expect from Milan: Art Deco lines with antique furniture, brocade silks, Venetian chandeliers, and bathrooms with resplendent marble.

This Place Is Perfect For
An entourage, couples, families, business travelers, and solo travelers looking for white-glove service, elegance, and a discreet position that is also centrally located.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone trying to get papped. The Carlton is discreet, not showy.

What’s on Site
Spiga 8 Spa, with an entrance on via Spiga for external guests. Gym. Three meeting rooms (one large, two small) for business guests. Private indoor garage.

Food + Drink
Milan institution Il Baretto al Baglioni is the historic on-site restaurant, an intimate anachronism to yesteryear Milan where the table you’re given is as important as the meal you’re eating. The menu is light Milanese and Mediterranean dishes including local favorites cotoletta alla Milanese (veal cutlet) and, of course, risotto.

The lounge are Caffè Baglioni hosts breakfast, a multi-cultural buffet that will appease anyone with intolerances and is included in the room price, and lunch, where menu items include special dietary options (must maintain the line for those Milan fashions…). The space doubles as afternoon/evening lounge for aperitif hour. In warm months, Baglioni’s garden is a great hang out.

The dining room at Il Baretto al Baglioni

A Caffè Baglioni dining room overlooking the gardens.

Number of Rooms
87 rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities
All the Ortigia products you could dream of, from hair and beauty care to wondrous bath salts and creams. Sumptuous bathrobes and the spongiest, most comfortable hotel slippers I have ever tried. Fresh fruit, a bottle of prosecco, Nespresso machine, and the standard set up of mini-bar snacks, including artisanal dried fruits and salted nuts. WiFi is free and fast.

I can’t think of a single one.

Standout Detail
Lino the concierge. His father was one of the first concierges on staff when the hotel opened in 1962. Lino grew up at the hotel. He knows everything.

Checking Out

Centro Storico/Fashion Quadrangle

What to Do Nearby
The hotel has a back door onto via Spiga, the pedestrian shopping road lined with luxury labels, part of the network of fabulous fashion streets in the Montenapoleone area. Across from the hotel is Fornasetti, the flagship store and multi-floor museum dedicated to avant-garde artist and design Piero Fornasetti. Farther along the road is Villa Necchi Campiglio, the home you may have seen in the Tilda Swinton movie I Am Love — it's Milan’s glorious answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper class living. For a breath of fresh air, Milan's Giardini Pubblici and GAM-Gallera Arte Moderna are a five-minute walk, while ten minutes in the opposite direction will take you directly to the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Good to Know
Guests have access to a side door leading on via Spiga, which is great for quiet entrances in the late evening.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
The hotel is a 10-minute cab ride from Milano Centrale train station or an hour from Milano-Malpensa (MXP) airport.

Getting Around
Public transport options abound: bicycle, taxis, trams, bus, and metros. But (almost) everything you will want to do in Milan is just a walk from the hotel.

Book It

Rates from $415. Click here for reservations.

Shore Thing: Hamburg's latest luxury The Fontenany

The Fontenay, Hamburg, Germany

This article first appeared in Hemispheres Magazine, April 2018.

Hamburg’s first new luxury hotel in nearly two decades takes full advantage of its lakeside setting

The View: The Fontenay takes its name from 19th-century shipbroker John Fontenay, who once owned this plot of land on the shores of manmade Lake Alster. Depending on the season and the corresponding level of greenery on the surrounding trees, the lake can be seen from more than half of the 131 rooms and suites, which are done in aqua, beige, and cream and bathed in natural light.

The Building: Architect Jan Stormer’s undulating, white-tiled facade is made up of three intertwining circles, inspired by the curves of the lake. The building is set in a lush, pastoral stand of beech, oak, and sycamore trees. Inside the rooms and suites, parquet floors are made from oaks harvested, appropriately, in the forest of the Fontenay Abbey in Burgundy, France.

The Spa: Sitting pretty on the hotel’s roof terrace is the signature Fontenay spa, where many of the full-service treatments incorporate sea-inspired Creme de la Mer lotion made with nutrient-rich fermented sea kelp. The best seat in the house is on the edge of the 66-foot indoor-outdoor infinity pool, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline.

The Restaurants: Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Speinle—who has cooked at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and his own Dreizehn Sinne in Switzerland— helms the rooftop restaurant, Lakeside. On the ground floor, the casual eatery John’s edges right up on the lakefront.

The Surroundings: Originally a medieval reservoir, Lake Alster is now a picture- perfect picnic destination and Hamburg’s premier outdoor recreation spot. Keep it simple with a pick-up Frisbee game or break a sweat canoeing, kayaking, kiteboarding, or even ice-kiting on one of the rare occasions when the lake freezes over. In August, it’s all about Alstervergnügen, a four-day festival that floods the park with some 500 artists, acrobats, and athletes.

The Best Hostels in Rome

Generator Rome

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

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

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

Generator Rome.

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

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

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

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

Generator Rome.

Generator Rome

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

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

The Yellow

The Yellow

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

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

The Blue

The Blue Hostel

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

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



Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

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

The Bee Hive

The Beehive

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

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

Alessandro Palace

Alessandro Palace

Rome, Italy

8 Telegraph expert rating

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

Alessandro Downtown

Alessandro Downtown Hostel

Rome, Italy

7 Telegraph expert rating

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

4-Star Hotel Review: Hotel Celio, Rome

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

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

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

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

Hotel Celio

Rome, Italy

8 out of 10, Telegraph Expert Rating

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

Location: 9 / 10

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

Style & character:  8 / 10

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

Service & facilities: 8 / 10

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

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

Rooms:  8 / 10

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

Food & drink: 7 / 10

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

Value for money: 9 / 10

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

Access for guests with disabilities?



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

Hotel Celio

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

00 39 06 7049 5333


5 Places For An Unforgettable Aperitivo

When Forbes Travel (October 2017) asked me to find great Italian aperitivi around the world, here's where I found myself barside. . .

The St. Regis Bangkok’ s Jojo, Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bangkok

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but no one does it quite like the Italians. Meant to cleanse the palate before dinner, drinks like a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) or an Aperol Spritz are light, refreshing and popular worldwide for their simple, classic flavors. Here are five stops to make for your own global apertivo adventure.

The Mediterranean comes to Thailand with Aperol evenings at Jojo, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Bangkok’s elegant Italian restaurant. The eatery’s terrace location is the spot to enjoy the futuristic and ever-changing Bangkok cityscape while imbibing Italy’s best cocktail-hour export, the Aperol Spritz — prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

To accompany your signature sip, chef Stefano Merlo has created perfectly paired cicchetti (traditional Venetian aperitif snacks).

When in Milan, the fashion forward flock to Four-Star Hotel Principe di Savoia and its iconic Principe Bar. Come aperitif time, this sultry hangout comes alive with signature martini cocktails (try the Raspberry Filtering, a sweet sip made with raspberry-infused vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a splash of champagne), a DJ spinning Italian tunes and canapés, in case you start to feel peckish.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Photo Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Take the fast train to Florence and the Atrium Bar at Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, one of the prettiest places for an aperitivo. This elegant bar is old school — a Renaissance-era court with an enclosed skylight ceiling, whose design recalls vintage libraries and lounges of a bygone era.

Mixologist Edoardo Sandri expertly curates a cocktail menu that goes far beyond a quality aperitivo. Though you can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni Sbagliato (which swaps in sparkling wine for gin), a favorite sip here is the light and fresh cucumber martini.

New York City
Head to Four-Star Langham Place’s iconic Fifth Avenue address and walk up the grand marble staircase to Four-Star Ai Fiori’s bar for a little taste of Italy in Midtown Manhattan. Bar Fiori specializes in seasonal aperitivi, including a spicy twist on the Aperol Spritz — the Autumn Thistle features cardamom-infused Cynar (a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur) and Cider du Vulcain Premiers Emois hard cider.

Chinotto Cobbler, Mattiussi Fizz and Americano in Paris all offer herbal and floral variations of their classic namesake sips, and each comes with a skillet of housemade popcorn.

Hotel Eden’s La Libreria, Photo Credit: Hotel Eden

When in Rome, it’s all about the view, and there is no other perch quite like the open-air terrace at Il Giardino atop Five-Star Hotel Eden. Take in a sweeping view of the Eternal City from the historic center toward Michelangelo’s Dome as barman Gabriele Rizzi creates signature, seasonal cocktails like his Grande Bellezza — a pink vermouth martini — accompanied by chef Fabio Ciervo’s artful hors d’oeuvres and cicchetti.

Here’s a secret: the ground-level gilded lobby lounge, La Libreria, has a hidden bar with a private barman. So, if you find yourself in need of an afternoon aperitivo, grab a spot on one of the velvet divans and wait to be served.

Escape Lisbon at Sintra's Fairy-Tale Palace Hotel

When Lisbon starts to feel too much like a city, head to Sintra along the coast for palaces, parks, and a little R&R.   This article first appeared in Fathom, September 2017.

Your palace awaits.  Photo by Erica Firpo.

SINTRA, Portugal – We asked for a fairy tale, and we definitely got one. For a long weekend away from busy Lisbon, we went to the wooded mountainside of Sintra because it is home to a bounty of castles and palaces representing architecture and history spanning millennia. Perfect for hiding out. From medieval to Art Deco, our goal was full fairy-tale immersion in the UNESCO cultural landscape that is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s famous castle. Our hotel, the romantic era Tivoli Palácio de Seteais fell right in line with the fantasy.


Rates start from $490.

Salao Nobre at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais.

Salao Nobre at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais.

A room at the hotel.

You will feel like royalty.


A standalone palace set in the higher foothills of the Sintra Mountains, where the entire expanse of the Sintra-Cascais National Park is at your feet and the romantic Palácio Nacional da Pena and the medieval Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) sit high on the rocky peaks above. The hotel is walking distance to the town of Sintra, and taxis are on call.

Hotel Style
The late 18th-century neoclassical palace is a period piece, a Portuguese Downton Abbey with elegant period furniture and decor that immediately transported me out of the 21st century. Though it is a palace with regal sprawl, the experience is incredibly personal and intimate. In spite of crashing a christening party, we felt the manor was ours and ours alone.

This Place Is Perfect For
Couples seeking a discreet and gorgeous weekend getaway. Groups (weddings!) wanting a full-service sojourn with lounging, spa, photo ops, and Michelin-worthy meals. And flawless families clad in luxurious linen who need a few days off.

But Not So Perfect For
Families with small, active children who may not appreciate antiques.

What's on Site
Seteais is a micro kingdom, a stately palace with gardens, tennis courts, a 19th-century topiary maze, a beautiful pool, and a wood-slat terrace. The two-wing palace is divided by a neoclassical arch, a historic monument immortalizing Prince Regent John VI and Princess Carlota Joaquin. Sitting rooms, dining rooms, and salons network the ground and bottom levels; guest rooms fill the ground and first levels through both wings. The bar extends to an open-air terrace decorated with fruit trees. The former dovecote is now a tiny and delightfully tranquil spa.

View of the Garden Maze. Photo by Erica Firpo.

View of the Garden Maze. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Swim or rest by the pool. Photo by Erica Firpo.

A Romantic Meal for Two.

Food + Drink
We had brunch and dinner at the Palace restaurant, and both were rich in taste and design. But our favorite meal was lunch from the bar on the terrace overlooking the pool and valley — an amazing and light sopa de peixe (fish soup) and a tiger prawn risotto. The setting was magical. (I can only imagine what it must be like caught in a rain storm during tea time). In the late afternoons, we enjoyed lemonade and ices freshly made from Seteais’ own fruit trees poolside.

Number of Rooms
Thirty period piece rooms and suites. Our ground-level room faced the entrance courtyard, which gave us a front-row view to the mist over Palácio Nacional da Pena. The garden and valley views are even more spectacular.

In-Room Amenities
You had me at queijadas, those tiny egg pastries made with fresh cheese that appeared every afternoon alongside a bottle of port. We only glanced at the mini bar filled with local snacks, water, and beverages, and the de rigeur Nespresso machine. My daughter entertained herself with domino and Spillikin sets from the Tivoli Kids welcome bag, and we caught up Disney’s Soy Luna in Portuguese on the flat-screen TV. My favorite Elemis products were in the bathrooms.

After enjoying a cornucopia of a Sunday brunch, the weekday breakfast was a bit weak.

Standout Detail
Palácio de Seteais has decidedly maintained its late 18th- and early 19th-century architectural history, from the original royal arch to the garden maze. Thanks to the unique microclimate of Sintra, Palácio de Seteais is incredibly atmospheric — foggy in the mornings, sunny midday, chilly by late afternoon, and cozy cold in the evenings.

Palazzo Pena, the castle that inspired Walt Disney. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The stunning views from the Sintra mountains. Photo by Erica Firpo.


Sinatra is a beautiful, walkable town with lots of boutiques and restaurants, set in the green hills of the Sintra mountains. The area is great for laid-back walks or more strenuous hikes through the Parque de Sintra and visits to the numerous historic castles (from early medieval to romantic to 20th century) that hide in the hills. In 1992, the entire area became the first UNESCO cultural landscape. In other words, you can get your nature and culture on at the same time.

What to Do Nearby
The historic center of Sintra is a labyrinth of boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants. Souvenir shops abound, but the Sintra Bazar is a hub of traditional crafts. For culture vultures, plan to spend the entire day in the Parques de Sintra exploring fantasy Palacio de Pena, the medieval Moorish castle, a quirky chalet, a convent, and more. Then visit the eclectic Quinta de Regalieria, a turn-of-the-century architectural folly. My restaurant favorites are both set into the hills of historic Sintra: Tascantiga, a small tapas spot with a 21st-century vibe that definitely requires a reservation in the summer, and Tacho Real, an historic home with outdoor street seating, live Fado music, and traditional Portugese dishes.

Good to Know
Bring great walking shoes and a scarf. Plan to arrive early at Palacio de Pena (no later than 9.30 a.m.) for the ticket queue. You’ll want to buy the combined Pena/Moorish Castle ticket or, for the more ambitious, the five-park ticket. 

What I Didn’t Do But Wish I Had
A horseback riding trail tour through the park.


How to Get There
Lisbon International Airport (LIS) is 20 miles (a 35-minute drive) from Sintra. The airport is served by flag carrier TAP Portugal, along with US airlines American, Delta, and United, as well as most major European carriers like Alitalia, British Airways, Turkish Airways, and Air France.

Getting Around
You will need a car to get there, but not once you are there. There are buses, taxis, and tuk-tuks, but the entire area is walkable.

Cheat Sheet: Day Trip from Lisbon
I stayed overnight, but Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon, accessible by local trains, Uber, and taxis. (The locals prefer Uber to taxis.) For a perfect day, wake up early and catch an Uber to Sintra. Start with a visit to Palácio Nacional da Pena, where the exterior is more interesting than the interior, and doesn’t require waiting on an insane line. Next stop, the less crowded Castelo dos Mouros, where the interiors and exteriors are both outstanding. Then go to Tivoli Palácio de Seteais for a long, leisurely lunch on the outdoor patio, followed by a stroll around the hotel where you should totally pretend it’s all yours. From there, walk to Quinta de Regalieria and wander for hours around the Game of Thrones castle through the grounds and turrets, pausing for pictures at the subterranean tower. The only reason to leave Quinta is because you're tired of walking. From here, it’s a 20-minute walk back to the shops and cafes in town for souvenirs and refreshments and to catch the train back to Lisbon.

Top 10: The Best Hotels Near The Trevi Fountain


By Lee Marshall, destination expert  and Erica Firpo, travel writer. 

An expert guide to the best Rome hotels near the Trevi Fountain, including the best places to stay for comfy rooms, intimate restaurants, rooftop terraces and relaxing spas, in locations that are ideal for seeing Rome's many sights, such as the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and the Colosseum. 

Crossing Condotti

Crossing Condotti,  Telegraph expert rating: 8/10

Crossing Condotti,  Telegraph expert rating: 8/10

A quiet haven located in Rome's bustling but still villagey fashion-shopping district, eight-room Crossing Condotti has the simplicity of a B&B but the panache of a luxury hotel. The décor is a beguiling, tasteful mix of antique and contemporary, with fine bed linens and textiles creating an aura of discreet opulence. All rooms feature warm parquet floors, a sprinkle of antique furniture, paintings and prints, crisp white cotton sheets and duvets, and bold-striped fabrics. Read expert review 

Hotel d'Inghilterra, Telegraph Expert Rating  8/10

Hotel d'Inghilterra, Telegraph Expert Rating  8/10

Hotel d’Inghilterra

Historic credentials, a location right in the heart of the boutique-lined former artists’ quarter at the foot of the Spanish Steps, and an intimate, clubby atmosphere make this Roman luxe townhouse hotel a bit of an insider option that inspires fierce loyalty among its many aficionados. There are 88 rooms, and none of them feel like a carbon copy of any of the others – after all, this is a hotel that has been undergoing constant nips and tucks since opening in 1845. Upholstered bedheads, silk curtains and lots of antique polished wood set the tone; the more recently renovated rooms on the fourth floor espouse a lighter, more classic-contemporary look.Read expert review

Hotel dei Borgognoni

Hotel dei Borgognoni, Telegraph Expert Rating 7/10

Hotel dei Borgognoni, Telegraph Expert Rating 7/10

It really doesn’t get better than via del Bufalo, a calm pedestrian street at the heart of the city's historic centre. The famed shopping area Piazza di Spagna, with streets via dei Condotti and Via del Corso, is within a five-minute walk, and likewise monuments, piazzas and famous art collections like the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Galleria Colonna are a quick few steps down the road. Each of the hotel’s 51 rooms and suites are different variations of the same classic contemporary style - neutral printed wallpaper, queen-sized beds with upholstered headboards, rich blue or red colour accents, and early- to mid-century vintage desks. 

Residenza Napoleone III

Residenza Napoleone III, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Residenza Napoleone III, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Some hotels model themselves on stately homes or aristocratic townhouses; Residenza Napoleone III is one. The owner, Principessa Letizia Ruspoli, has created a single guest apartment out of a whole suite of rooms, where the Emperor Napoleon III once stayed, on the piano nobile of her opulent family abode. The Old Master paintings you see on the walls, the busts of Roman emperors that line the grand entrance staircase, the heirloom antiques that decorate the place – all these things have been in the Ruspoli family for generations. But this is no draughty castle – it feels warm despite the grand setting. The Roof Garden Suite is an intimate, cultured refuge surrounded by greenery with 360-degree views over the domes and rooftops of central Rome.Read expert review

Hotel Modigliani

Hotel Modigliani, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

Hotel Modigliani, Telegraph Expert Rating 8/10

As comfortable as any in the city, this hotel mixes artsy bohemianism — distilled in the ubiquitous reproductions of paintings by the artist it’s named after — with traditional mid-range hotel décor. The whole place is decorated with reproductions of Modigliani paintings and prints, plus creative contibutions by guests themselves. The 23 rooms are clean and functional, old-fashioned without being démodé. There are also two small apartments – the garden one is perfect for families. Rome 602, the Honeymoon double, has marvellous views. It's just down the road from the busy transport hub of Piazza Barberini, and Via Veneto, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the fashion shopping district are just a short walk away. Read expert review

Hotel Parlamento

Hotel Parlamento, Telegraph expert rating 7/10

Hotel Parlamento, Telegraph expert rating 7/10

You could hardly get more central than the Parlamento, just along from Montecitorio, home to the lower house of the Italian parliament, and within five minutes’ walk of the Spanish Steps, the fashion shopping district, and the Trevi Fountain. Not everyone will get this two-star’s shabby-chic charm – it’s basically a neat, clean and friendly fourth-floor boarding house, accessed via a cramped antique lift – but those that do will love it. The cute roof terrace is the icing on the cake – lined with plants, with views across rooftops and churchtowers, this is a charming refuge from the street-level bustle.Read expert review


Casa Cau, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Casa Cau, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Contemporary cool and well-placed by Trevi Fountain, living a 21st-century dolce vita is the modus operandi of CasaCau. Restaurants, shops, cultural sites, markets, schools and homes surround the six-apartment boutique hotel so the three-day minimum stay required here is a full-immersion experience. CasaCau’s apartments are known as Interiors, six unique and individual living-spaces designed and curated by Roman architect Nora P. Contemporary art hangs on the walls, while lacquered tables and stools made of recycled materials by artist Alfred van Escher pepper the living spaces.Read expert review

Portrait Roma

Portrait Roma, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Portrait Roma, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

This 14-suite bolthole, a short sashay from the Spanish Steps, is one of the city’s most stylish luxe options, lent panache by Michele Bonan’s tasteful contemporary-retro design scheme. The discreet service, courtesy of a dedicated ‘lifestyle team’, is unparalleled. The spacious, well-appointed suites feature rich fabrics that play off against austere earth tones in walls and carpets, and there are fun little touches like video fireplaces. There’s no restaurant, but they do have one of Rome’s most panoramic roof-terraces, where aperitivos can be enjoyed of an evening, and where you can choose to have breakfast served if you don’t want it in your room.Read expert review

Hotel Stendhal

Hotel Stendhal, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

Hotel Stendhal, Telegraph expert rating 8/10

One of those quiet, off-the-radar hotels – Hotel Stendhal is a one-two punch of effortless style and ease of location, perfectly situated for a walk to any historic centre monument. Radiating a turn-of-the-century elegance, the hotel’s seafoam-blue wall colour complements its antiquarian furniture, original wainscoting, vintage prints and paintings, neoclassical sculpture casts and amazing Art Deco bar, while the Annexe cools it down with a more minimalist modern atmosphere. The best of the rooms is the Royal Suite, a corner apartment in black and white that feels like an art gallery and has a view of Piazza Barberini.Read expert review

Villa Spalletti Trivelli

Villa Spalletti, Telegraph expert rating 9/10

Villa Spalletti, Telegraph expert rating 9/10

An antique- and art-stuffed palazzo, complete with elegant formal garden, that has been in the same family for over a century . The hotel's opulent interiors are of such historic significance that they are listed by the Italian heritage ministry. The twelve first-floor bedrooms are warm and welcoming with their rich fabrics, pastel hued walls and bedcovers, Fiandra linen sheets and alpaca or cashmere throws. The Villa’s huge spa includes a wonderful Turkish bath, along with a gym and a range of enticing treatments. Between the bus-plied shopping street of Via Nazionale and the presidential palace (Il Quirinale), the Villa is well-placed for pretty much everything.Read expert review

Buongiorno, Principessa! Le Panier and breakfast in bed

Breakfast in bedAnd a kiss or threeYou don't have to say you love me- Dusty in Memphis, 1969

I love you, Breakfast.

Breakfast is my morning muse.   Depending on what (and sometimes how) I eat, my day will be completely inspired by what is on my plate and subsequently in my stomach.  Life after breakfast is beautiful, especially when that includes oatmeal, eggs and fresh fruit. If left to the dynamic duo of cappuccino and cornetto, I'm apt to plunge into a sugar low of nefarious depths and become meaner than mean, so mean I don’t even know my own name.  .  . or something like that I said to the super athletes in my functional  work out class.

We had just finished a reign of burpee terror.  I was sprawled out on the floor with that bad mix of exhaustion and hunger. On one side of me was Aldo, a lawyer slash boxer slash know-it-all who was listing everything he binge ate an hour earlier to keep the scale tipped to the heavy end of Lightweight.  “Due tramezzini, cicoria ripassata, un frullato, un protein bar, un cappuccino col latte intero .. .”

On the other side of me was the new girl.  "My boyfriend makes an incredible and healthy breakfast", she effortlessly said in between push ups.  I was not impressed and tried to focus on limb coordination.  Aldo continued his food roll-out with Romanesco charm. "Un cornetto semplice e una banana.  Tutto ciòe così. Ma vorr dirmi che non mangio healthy?!"

Everyone nodded yes.

"Pssst", she called between sit ups. "Sul serio, my boyfriend makes a great gourmet breakfast."  I tried to high five her but my arms wouldn't budge, so I just smiled and groaned, "Anche' io, me too."

She looked me in the eye and deadpanned, "He's a professional chef." And that is how I was met Giovanna de Giglio, Tommaso de Sanctis and their baby Le Panier,  Rome's very first gourmet breakfast delivery service.

My philosophy is that if breakfast in bed is just standard pampering , then gourmet breakfast delivery better be Kardashian-meets-Bottura.  In other words- indulgent, craft and quality.  I mean it's just breakfast, right?

To paraphrase an old friend, you can't fake skills.  And Tommaso doesn't.  His background is Michelin, training in the kitchens of great chefs including Gianfranco Vissani and HeinzBeck.    He knows cooking timing, and makes that top priority in a business where delivery must be precise - both for delivery and temperature.   Our orders were delivered within five minutes of chosen time - the order itself was planned a day prior, though according to the website I could have ordered up until 4am of delivery date.  Both Tommaso and Giovanna grew up in Rome so their outlook is entirely, well, Roman, and so are their choices.   Bread is Roscioli, croissants are Cristalli di Zucchero, jams and yogurts are made by a local artisan, and shakes are homemade with fruit and veggies lovingly handpicked by Claudio at the Campo de' Fiori market.  I loved the Made-in-Rome vibe, as well as their choice to use primarily paper products

What did we eat?The Hangover with Pancos- savory tacos/pancakes hybrid with scrambled egg and smoked speck,  Dosha - avocado toast with pink pepper and lime, and American Style, thin Millefoglia pancakes with egg.  Each menu had fresh fruit, fresh shake and tea.

What did we think?  We loved it-  and in fact, we are still talking about those incredible pancos with that subtle touch of smoked speck.  Le Panier were prompt (Tommaso delivered himself, running up all four levels of our staircase), our menus arrived properly heated, and every dish was delicious.   The website is easy to navigate and order, and prices fit perfectly with the top quality product, service and delivery.  It won't be a choice for every weekend, but I think it is a great option if you are renting an apartment in Rome for a spell and need an incredible, local breakfast.

Would we do it again? We already have- but this last time, we went healthy and had a small repast of Quinoa salad with chick peas, avocado,lime and cherry tomatoes, porridge with banana ,berries and cinnamon, papaya, blackberries and pistacchios yogurt, a few juices and of course, Tommaso's incredible avocado toast.

Yep, I've headed back to the gym. Gotta keep up that appetite, as Aldo says.