TRAVEL

Spending Two Perfect Days in Athens

The article originally appeared in Forbes Travel.

Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels Worldwide.

Athens is called the “Cradle of Western Civilization” for good reason. This city has more than 2,500 years of history under its belt. In its heyday, the Greek metropolis spawned cities, democracies, philosophies, art movements and much more.

Today, Athens is the kind of place where you could spend days soaking in its antiquity or enjoy an afternoon getting lost in its contemporary culture. Whichever direction you’re pulled in, we have the itinerary to ensure a 48-hour experience worthy of the history books.

Day One
Drop your bags at Hotel Grande Bretagne, an elegant 142-year-old property in the heart of the city. Once you’ve changed into comfortable walking shoes, make the 15-minute journey past Syntagma Square until you’ve reached the archaeological area. You’ll be at the base of the Acropolis, history’s most epic mount.

You’re going to want to do it all during your stay, of course, so purchase the multi-attraction pass ticket, which gives access to the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and all of Athens’ archaeological sites for five consecutive days

After all of the walking, you’ll have worked up an appetite worthy of the gods. Head down the Acropolis and back toward Syntagma for an outside table at Tzitzikas & Mermigas. This laid-back modern taverna has an outstanding appetizer lineup of tzatziki, soutzoukakia (meatballs in tomato sauce) and more, so fill up.

When you put down the saganaki (fried cheese), it’s back to Hotel Grand Bretagne for a timeout at the GB Spa, a spot offering a classic delight of saunas, Turkish baths, a pool and treatment rooms.

Hotel Grand Bretagne courtsey of Starwood.

Once you’ve rested up, put on the finest resort-chic outfit you’ve packed and grab a cab to the Acropolis Museum for a night visit. The gorgeous, all-glass building sits face-to-face with the Acropolis, reflecting the glowing Parthenon in its glass panels.

But beyond its physical majesty, the landmark also holds a substantial Greek art and sculpture collection. Not to be missed are level one’s Caryatids, six female figures that held up the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, and level three’s Parthenon Gallery, a beautiful display of the frieze marbles and casts. The entire floor is built to the exact dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon’s cella.

Before leaving, make sure to get a drink on level two’s terrace, which has a front-row vista of the Acropolis.

For dinner, take a cab to Piraeus, Athens’ port city for fish. Like many major ports, Piraeus is a charming chaos of restaurants, nightclubs and fast-food shops. Have the hotel concierge book you a table at Varoulko, a chic dockside restaurant in the Mikrolimano marina, the smaller and slightly less chaotic port in Piraeus.

The maître d’ at Varoulko will call you a taxi. Try to get back to Syntagma Square just a few minutes before the hour to watch the Evzones, the changing of the Presidential Guard, a five-minute display of pageantry. (Tip: Though this changing happens every hour daily, a special ceremony, with official uniforms, occurs on Sundays at 11 a.m.)

Day Two
Say good morning to Greece from Hotel Grande Bretagne’s rooftop. There, you’ll find the most beautiful Acropolis morning view as well as a delectable breakfast buffet. Feast up, as you’re in for another walk through history.

This time, you’ll start out at the National Archaeological Museum, which sits just two metro stops from Syntagma Square. This attraction features the country’s finest collection of antiquities — most notably, a larger-than-life bronze Zeus.

From the museum, head to Ancient Agora, a sprawling site that was the city’s original meeting square. You can walk around temples and trek in the Stoa of Attalos, a monumental, two-level building that stretches roughly 380 feet.

For lunch, enjoy a bite at Quick Pitta, a relaxed gyro spot, just outside of the archaeological site in the Monastiraki neighborhood.

After lunch, be sure to stop by EMST, Athens’ new national museum of contemporary art. To be frank, the space can be walked through relatively quickly, but a visit gives you an idea of what is going on in creative Greek and international circles.

Stroll back in the hotel’s general direction to the nearby Kolonaki neighborhood, a vibrant area filled with boutiques and cafés. Our favorite right now is i-D, a store that curates a dynamic collection of clothing and accessories by Greek designers.

Stick around after you’ve finished shopping. By 9 p.m., Kolonaki square transforms to a bustling center of cocktail bars, shops and eateries. Pedestrian street Tsakalof is a standing-room-only thoroughfare that has everyone vying for an outdoor table or stool. But, at some point, even those eating wind up at Minnie the Moocher for a cocktail closer to the evening.

Venice Biennale: The Season of La Serenissima and Luxe City Guides

If you know me, then you know I love luxe-- not just a fabulous shopping spree but Luxe City Guides, a company I have known, loved and worked with ever since I stumbled into founder Grant Thatcher in Hong Kong.  From 2007 forward, I've worked with Luxe to conceive, edit and curate its Rome City Guide, first in print, then digital and now mobile.  And I've it- from the very picky selection of all entries to emulating Thatcher's sass, style and eye.  And if it weren't for Luxe, I wouldn't have met my friends Phoebe and Magnus. With my hands in the Rome pot, I constantly am on the look out for Luxe Rome and on occasion, I turn off the Rome volume and write about amazing places and experiences outside of the Eternal City for the website.  This time, I've walked my heels off in Venice... enjoying every bit of the Biennale and La Serenissima.

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What comes once every two years, widens your eyes with absolute wonder, runs you ragged for a few months and then, with the same blaze of glory that it entered your life, departs again?

Why, La Biennale di Venezia, of course! Venice may be known as La Serenissima – the most serene one – but during the months of La Biennale di Venezia, the floating city is anything but calm. This year’s fair brings together 136 creative talents from 53 countries under the theme of All the World’s Futures, curated by the Nigerian-born critic and art-ficionado, Okuwi Enwezor.

For almost seven months, the lovely lagoon is awash with artistic expression, international hi-so, unmissable exhibs and Champers-drenched events. While we encourage putting the map away and getting lost in the city itself, there’s nothing worse than a blundering biennaler. Here’s our guide to making the most of your art agenda – bring on the glamour, the food, and of course, the art…

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Put The Gritti Palace on speed dial, as this ritzy flopspot hits the art target with suites honoring and inspired by aesthetic icons including patron Peggy Guggenheim, art historian John Ruskin and interior designer Angelo Donghi. Occupying a perf Grand Canal posi, the Gritti offers direct agacqua access with its tricked-out Riva Yacht, ideal for a spot of creative exploration. Zip over to the Arsenale or cruise the canals to see Venice’s gorgeous churches.

When it’s time to refuel, Jules, Venezia’s answer to finger-licking canapés, chicheti, is calling. Nip down a narrow alley behind San Marco in search of Osteria da Carla for fabby bar-side bites like bacalà mantecato, creamed cod on a bed of polenta – yumsome.

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Appetite and whistle whetted, make tracks for Corta Sconta, where you’ve had the good sense to reserve a table in the vibey, vine-covered courtyard. The seafood antipasti go-to for those in the know, this tiny Castello trat also serves up a mean vongole allo zenzero (clams with ginger).

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more glam, strap on those Rene Caovillas and stiletto-step over to the city’s prima piazza. Nope, no orchestra dining for you; head inside Caffe Quadri to the Mich-spangled FROW resto-with-a-view. Helmed by the Alajmo brothers of Padova’s tri-star Le Calandre, Quadri offers four spectac tasting menus executed by cucina capo Silvio Giavedoni, but keep your eyes on the Laguna menu that features flip-fresh fish sourced straight from the sea.

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Finally, reward yourself with a post-prandi at Starck’s sultry PalazzinaG – park your Prada, and order a Martinez. Didn’t you do well, darling?

For more hotspots in Venice, check out the LUXE Venice guide or download our fabulous new app with maps!

Details

Address

La Biennale di Venezia 9 May-22 November, 2015

Various locations throughout the city labiennale.org

The Gritti Palace Campo Santa Maria del Giglio San Marco, Venice +39 041 794 611 thegrittipalace.com

Osteria da Carla Calle Corte Contarina 1535 San Marco, Venice +39 041 523 7855 osteriadacarla.it

Corta Sconta Calle del Pestrin 3886 Castello, Venice +39 041 522 7024 cortescontavenezia.it

Quadri Piazza San Marco 120 San Marco, Venice +39 041 0522 2105 alajmo.it

PalazzinaG Ramo Grassi 3247 San Marco, Venice +39 041 528 4644 palazzinag.com

On Deck: Riva Lounge at Venice's Gritti Palace

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Before I headed to Venice for the Venice Biennale,  I heard the news that the Gritti Palace was opening a new canal side lounge bar designed by Riva Yacht.  Yep, that Riva, the gorgeous and century-old boat-making company of luxury flotilla (runabouts, row boats, yachts, motoscafi and all) that has the remarkable ability to make my heart beat just a little faster  and my mind conjure up overly styled images of me arriving in my best cruise wear just upon hearing the those beautiful syllables: riva.   Did I mention it is canal-side? Ahem, Grand Canal side? And thus Riva Lounge was shortlisted for cocktails in my Biennale beat, in other words, 24/7 pastries, art, cocktails, repeat.

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Here's my take: the Riva Lounge location (front row view of Venice's Salute and Punta della Dogana and a 4 minute walk to Piazza San Marco) is worth the Bellini alone. What solidifies it as a place where I will be having repeat cocktails are the details. Long known for its unforgettable style both large and small- wooden hulls through the 1960s and sublime sexy fiberglass from the 1970s forward, hand-stitched upholstery, gorgeous chrome ornaments, and color, precisely picked color, Riva Yacht has given the exact same attention to its land-locked vessel, aka The Riva Lounge.

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And it is on fleek.  The classic design is subtle at times, and best shown off in its aerodynamic, Acquarama-inspired chairs of nautical Navy blue back casing, white upholstering, and chrome.  But I had my eye on a table- the gorgeous round  tops made of inlaid wood and chrome.  My only suggestion to Gritti is to not cover them with linen cloths during table service so that people, like myself, can obsess over the chrome while enjoying the bacalà tris and a Riva cockail.  I've never been shy to share how much I love the classic and unforgettable Riva lettering.

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If design and material is so very Riva, so is color.  Riva's Robin's egg blue is just the menu,  but also the signature Riva Cocktail (orgeat syrup, white rum, orange bitters, grapefruit juice). The menu itself is a very lovely selection of light Venetian dishes, including the Bacalà tris.  But next time you find me there, I'll be the woman testing out the cocktails and cicchetti.

Riva Lounge at The Gritti Palace

Excelsior Hotel Gallia, Milan's Great Gatsby

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

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)

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

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

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

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

Daisy, you're home.

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

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

This is clearly Piva's West Egg.

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

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

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

Hotel Gallia is a  lost weekend waiting to happen.

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

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What does the Fox say? Cala di Volpe

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Foxy.

That is exactly the vibe I get when walk into the lair of Cala di Volpe, Prince Aga Khan's playground for the rich and famous.  The entrance alone sets the stage for my three days- sexy,  cozy and casual.  For Forbes, I called it a terracotta sandcastle with curves, and I meant it.  There is something dreamlike and nostalgic about Cala.  Maybe because it reminds me of St. Peter's weekend sunbathing with my ex-boyfriend Andrea and I while chatting up Nesta and Inzaghi the Younger.   Or maybe because its warm tones and beautiful lounges remind me of those 1980s Bain de Soleil commercials.  Or maybe because it is just that - dreamy.

My thoughts?

I love its style, color and its vibe.  The Cala is rustic yet sophisticated.  It reminds me of my imaginary home,  you know the one that is effortless chic, seemingly casual and meditatively colorful.  In brief,  the rooms are comfort caves with a view.  The rooms are decorated with Sardinian imagery, vibrant colors dominated by emerald green.  And almost every room has a terrace.  I could've spent most of my days on my terrace , or  in that cozy bed, if that gorgeous green water wasn't so deliciously inviting.

The Cala's location is fantastic-- it's an easy get-away and get-to.   Just 30 minutes by car from Olbia's airport to the hotel and just far away enough from Port Cervo that you can pretend you are on your own island.   And the little is oasis is set up for food and fun so you really don't ever have to leave.  The Professor's friend Christian runs all the water sports, and he's cute.  The hotel restaurants (the grill!) are obviously amazing but more importantly, throughout the summer they bring in Michelin-starred chefs for Eating under the Stars, and the hotel sponsors both Porto Cervo Wine Festival (May) and Food Festival (September).   If I had to be picky, I would say that only the  bathrooms need a pick-me-up but it did have a five-star hair dryer.  Here's my idea of a weekend in Porto Cervo.

JULY and AUGUST 2015:  Natalie ImbrugliaEarth, Wind & Fire Juy  26 luglio.  Robbie Williams August 13.

Cala di Volpe. Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda.

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