THE FINEST HOTEL IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[SAN CASSIANO IN ALTA BADIA, ITALY] — When I checked into the luxury boutique hotel Rosa Alpina,  a man was standing there off to the side, bouncing a baby in his right arm, baby projecting out like a cat. “Oh Hi, we’ve been waiting for you. I’d shake your hand… but the baby…” and reached out his left hand. And so it started like that. ________________________________________ It had been almost two years to the week since I was last in San Cassiano in Val Badia, the Ladin-speaking lush valleys that make up the heart of the Süd Tirol area of the Italian Dolomites. An area where everything is listed in three languages. Ladin — an ancient language that goes back to Roman times, spoken only in

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THE PERFECT HOTEL TO EXPLORE THE BRENTA DOLOMITES

[BRENTA DOLOMITES, ITALY] — During the ski season, Madonna di Campiglio attracts people from all over the world. During the “off season” — which I can’t relieve believe they call it that, it is such a gorgeous time of year — it is uncrowded and the scenery is just jaw-dropping. And the view from the boutique luxury BioHotel Hermitage in the Dolomites of Italy is about as great as any I’ve seen. Stunning. _________________________________________________ We were sad to leave Milano, but we were jonesing for the next stop. After a quick lunch in quaint medieval Bergamo, finally we went, up into the Dolomites. Spindly little roads needling through small mountain towns, we threaded our way up the spine, chuffed by a long rough patch, waiting

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THREE GREAT HIKES IN ALTA BADIA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[ALTA BADIA, TRENTINO] — After a four hour hike down the mountain, it was finally time for a late lunch. Stanky and sweaty, I rolled into this cute little rifugio out in the woods, accessible only by foot or the brave souls driving up the narrow less-than-one-lane path — so tight the cars forced the hikers to lean their butts and packs over the wood rail fence lining the lane as they passed. I was hangry by then 👹 so hearty venison medallions in a juniper sauce, grilled mushrooms and rustic polenta seemed just perfect. And a couple of glasses of Lagrein to wash it all down.  About as good of a meal as it gets, especially in a place so inaccessible. The sun casting

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TWO GREAT HIKES IN VAL GARDENA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[VAL GARDENA, BOLZANO] — We were on a long gondola ride heading up a long valley of undulating hills outside of the beautiful town of Ortisei, no doubt perfect ski runs in the winter. But it was summer, off season, so everything was super lush and green, hardly anybody around. The lift pauses at one skier drop-off then continues on, up up up and over a steep massive wall of granite, still shaded by the stark morning sun, darkening the interior of the gondola so much that you had to take off your sunglasses.  Suddenly, you pop over the ridge and you’re thrust into the bright summer sun. Stammering to get your bearings again. We scrambled off, the hustling gondola nipping at our heels like a

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A city of reds, ochres, porticos and pork.

[BOLOGNA, ITALY]  — Bologna was about 237th on my list of places I wanted to visit, but when a Rome school buddy of mine suggested we meet there to eat, I jumped at the chance. Man oh man what a gorgeous city. Almost every block is covered with some sort of portico, centuries old. I was there in October, so the warm autumn sunlight weighed heavy on all the nooks and crannies of the city. Each corner revealing some beautiful hue of red, with the perfect patina. You walk around the corner and BOOM, another amazing palette of colors.  And the reflected light gave off a glow that washed the whole city in red. There’s reason why Italians have always called Bologna “La Rossa” (The Red

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DISCOVER THE HIDDEN WEST COAST OF TUSCANY

[MONTE ARGENTARIO | MAREMMA, TUSCANY] — Maremma is the southern edge of Tuscany and goes from the hilly and ferrous inland to the varyingly wild-horse-roaming, swampy and rocky coast. A lot of people just hang out in eastern Tuscany — what Conde Nast Traveller funnily dubbed Chiantishire — and don’t know much about “Hidden Tuscany”, the underdeveloped and handsomely rugged western side. Where we’re going now is Monte Argentario, once an island, but like my stomach, grew beyond its britches, loosened the top button and is now double-belted to the shore. Go check it out on google maps. Some call Monte Argentario the Capri of Tuscany, but I think it is more of its own special thing, much much mellower, less crowded and more treed. Long

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TAKE A DIP IN HOT SPRINGS IN WILD WESTERN TUSCANY

  [SATURNIA, TUSCANY] — Just a few miles from Pitigliano is a cool sulfur hot springs called Saturnia.  Just a nice little natural stop to have lunch among all the undiscovered hill towns of Maremma.  It’s not much more than a slit in the earth on the side of the road, but it is still cool. If you want a fancier spa-like experience, check out the Terme di Saturnia resort a few blocks up the road. The springs date back to the Pelasgi, who were before the Greeks, before the Etruscans and waaay before the Romans finally hung out here in 200BC or so. So like me, the springs are very old but dependable, bubbly and naturally effervescent. 😜   Last visited October 2012      

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THE PERFECT TUSCAN HILL TOWN, CARVED OUT OF TUFA

[PITIGLIANO, MAREMMA TUSCANY] — One of the great medieval hill towns of Maremma in western Tuscany is the quiet little town of Pitigliano.  Not overly crowded, no cars in the city center, it’s a great town to stop in for a walk ’round and have a nice long lunch. Here’s a great guide that says it better than I could. View Larger Map

FORGET SKIING, SUMMER IS THE BEST TIME TO EXPLORE THE SUD TYROL

[VAL BADIA, ITALY] — You read a lot of about skiing in the Dolomites of Italy, but I can’t believe how little is written about how amazing the Dolomiti are in summer. In the winter, rates are high, availability is low and restaurants are hard to get into. But in the summer, what they call the “off season”, the rates are a fraction of winter, the crowds are small and you almost have the hiking trails to yourself. The Dolomites are aren’t just one range, but dozens. Kinda confusing, especially for me, to piece it all together. It’s all called “Dolomites” or “Alto Adige” and “Süd Tyrol” … and in a part of Italy that was once part of Austria. So the names are always in

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TAKE A LONG HIKE THROUGH ALTA BADIA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[VAL BADIA, ITALY] — The Dolomites are aren’t just one range, but dozens. Kinda confusing, especially for me, to piece it all together. It’s all called “Dolomites” or “Alto Adige” and “Süd Tyrol” … and in a part of Italy that was once part of Austria. So the names are always in three languages. But no matter what you call it, go there. I’ve previously posted pics from the Brenta range. These are just from Val Badia (or also called Alta Badia!), a spectacular valley that is just a fraction of the Dolomites greatness. I can’t wait to go back and figure out the rest. I recommend basing out of the cute as a button San Cassiano village, a glamorous little ski village, but in the summer

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GO FOR A HIKE IN THE BRENTA DOLOMITES.

[TRENTINO–ITALY] — “Theeesa ees the one.” she said, in that lovely Italan way of needing to add a vowel onto every word. “Theesa one is da best hika in the valley. And ifa you go heer, ita isa the besta viewa inaalla da Dolomites.” That’s Barbara, the owner of my splendid hotel in the Brenta region of the Italian Dolomites. There isn’t just one Dolomite, but many different ranges. But many say this is one of the best sections, centered around the Madonna di Compiglio ski resort, tucked into a valley with over sixty lifts going in all directions. Those looking for some Vail symmetry and organization, this is done the Italian way. Organically, over the time, with lifts taking off in different directions, lobbing people

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A LITTLE BIT OF BROOKLYN IN A MILANO HOTEL

[MILANO, ITALY] — There are so many great hotels I wanted to try in Milano. Scouring through Tablet Hotels, I found this totally groovy little boutique hotel called The Yard in the totally happening, canal-laden Navigli neighborhood — a once derelict area of shipping canals that were constructed as way back as the 1100s that has been recently been gentrified and updated to be a lively night time and retail area. (also have seen is spelled Naviglio) The area feels like Östermalm in Stockholm or Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, with a bunch of intersecting canals, lined with restaurants and bars and thousands of roving people. I had no idea this even existed in Milano. They Yard is a collector’s paradise, with an insane collection of

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A 17th CENTURY FARM IN THE HEART OF MILANO, NOW A HIP RESTAURANT

[MILANO, ITALY] — You’d never think there’d still be an old farmstead smack in the middle of Milano, but there is. Cascina Cuccagna is an old forgotten complex that a group of food lovers got together, hauled away the junk and turned the place into a cool food-centric hangout. After reading about it in Maisons Côté Sud, I made a special side trip just to check it out. It’s a restaurant, an event center, an educational urban garden, meeting place and even a 16 bed hip hostel, all in the delightfully crumbling ochre walls just down the street from Porto Romana. Un Posto a Milano — “A Place in Milan”– is the groovily elegant restaurant and cafe part of the complex and what I specifically came

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A spacious, quiet hotel in the heart of Bologna

[BOLOGNA, ITALY]  — There are some awesome hotels in cool Bologna, but as you’ll read elsewhere, tons of people have great things to say about all the hotels in the Art Hotels group.  My sister Janet recommended the Hotel Novecento and I always listen to my sister. I wasn’t disappointed. I got a huge room on the top floor (coincidentally, the same one she stayed in) and it was perfect. Tons of room and about Italy’s largest bathroom, tucked under the eaves of the building. Located on a quiet, if humble, square just blocks from the Piazza Maggiore, the location can’t be beat. The staff was the only let down, some of the most disconnected, uninterested service I’ve ever experienced in Italy, (not rude, but just

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STAY IN YOUR OWN PRIVATE GARDENS IN THE HEART OF ROME

[ROME] — Rome is known for having small, cramped hotel rooms, but the Hotel de Russie doesn’t suffer from that. The gardens alone are worth the expense, although the elegant rooms and excellent spa round it off. It’s a Rocco Forte hotel, so the service is something you can depend on. The rooms are modern, elegant, with awesome bathrooms. Ask to have one facing the courtyard, otherwise you’re missing out. The service in the garden cafe is top notch, and the people watching worth every penny. The location is right off the Piazza del Popolo and just up the street from the Spanish Steps, along Rome’s most expensive shopping streets. Splurge on yourself, you’ll want to come back from your explorations and have a cocktail and say

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A ROMANTIC HIDEAWAY ON THE WEST COAST OF TUSCANY

[PORTO ERCOLE, TUSCANY] — Il Pellicano is a world famous destination resort on the western Tuscan coast of Maremma. Just celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary, Il Pellicano is on the top of nearly every Gold List. It’s a Leading Hotels of the World hotel and is built around the Michelin two-star restaurant, which is indeed worth the trip. The views are stunning, overlooking the Argentario peninsula, not far from where the Costa Concordia tipped over. Really amazing service, where each and every person, from the waiter to the bartender, remembers what you ordered the last time. It’s expensive, but the room I got was one of the most spacious and perfectly appointed I’ve ever had, perfectly laid out, with an enormous bathroom and opened onto a terrace overlooking

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GET AWAY FROM THE CROWDS IN ROME, TAKE A WALK IN THE PARK

  [ROME, ITALY] — When you get sick of all the tour buses and streets clogged with tourist groups, head up to the top of the Via Venato to the Villa Borghese Gardens, one of the most tranquil parts of Rome.  Vast, sprawling acres of grass, trees and cool little features, like a picture perfect rowing lake….with its own temple of course.  And because it’s high up, great views of the city and Piazza del Popolo. Here’s a great little secret way to get there:  save walking a thousand steps as you climb the hill by taking a series of free escalators from the Piazza de Spagna Metro stop.  Go into the entrance, but instead of buying a ticket, look for the escalators opposite the entrance

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A HOTEL WITH THE BEST VIEWS OVER THE ENTIRE AMALFI COAST

[RAVELLO, ITALY] ––  Years ago I finally realized what I really like: cliffs, overlooking a distant ocean, preferably with a pool clinging to a steep hillside. From then on, it’s been my focus on choosing where I go on vacation. (You’ll see this as a common theme throughout this site!)  Palazzo Avino fits all of those criteria. Plus, small, quiet and really expensive. After a recent remodel, it is on almost every Top Ten list of all hotels in the world. They have some rock star-great rooms and terraces, with prices to match. Sitting high on a hilltop in Ravello, dubbed one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, sits Palazzo Avino.  When I was there in ’04 it was called Palazzo Sasso, also famous in its own right.

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A POSTCARD PERFECT TOWN HIGH OVER THE AMALFI COAST

[RAVELLO, ITALY] — A few thousand feet up the mountains over Positano and the sea is the town of Ravello. Often voted one of the prettiest villages in Italy, it shows it. They’ve done a great job at preserving this little mountaintop town. No modern stores or chains. Just a quant little piazza, with hotels and restaurants spanning out to the edges of the cliffs. The views are stunning of the distant water, the shimmer of the sun. Extremely relaxing place with just a few hotels and restaurants. A couple days is all you need unless you just want to unwind with a book by the pool and feel the breeze.  Here is a great website about Ravello, including resources on hotels, cafes, etc. An

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