Rome may be known as the “Eternal City,” but the entire country of Italy has an allure that is everlasting. No matter how many times you have visited, a plethora of new discoveries and enduring history await you. With the declining Euro, 2015 finds Italy more palatable on the pocketbook, affording you the opportunity to indulge more deeply in a personal amore experience.
Freshen Up, Lakeside
Start your journey in the north at Villa La Cassinella on Lake Como, which will offer rejuvenation after a long flight. When I first visited the lago with my fiancé in 2011, I knew this would not be my last visit. In summer 2013, we returned with my mother for what I would call a location scout—with eternal implications. Finally, in September 2014, I returned once again to Lake Como with my fiancé. This time, I left with a husband. The glamour of the lake proved the perfect setting to exchange our wedding vows.
Despite so many stunning settings on the lake, finding a venue was easier said than done. We had considered Villa D’Este until we learned that the reception could not be held outdoors. Villa Balbianello, while stunning, is a museum with stringent rules and regulations. The remarkable Villa La Cassinella, which we had discovered via Venetian water taxi on our previous trip, was our venue of choice.
Once you arrive at Villa La Cassinella by boat, you may never want to leave. A private jetty leads you to the front door, which houses a magnificently restored interior with old Sienna marble floors and a stunning staircase. The formal dining room is where you’ll enjoy breakfasts in cooler weather, while several outdoor dining patios showcase the beauty that surrounds the lake at lunch and dinner.
English designer Maggie Austin spent four years turning the property into the most luxurious on the lake. Every appointment and detail shines with authenticity, from Italian antique furniture to fine art, fine linens, and modern bathrooms. A state-of-the-art cinema room and Technogym are adjacent to the pool, which also offers sprawling lake views while providing guests with the utmost privacy. An Italian chef, a butler, and sommelier, along with other staff, are at the guests’ beck and call. Dinner will never be more memorable, as you admire the beauty of the sunset that melts down behind the mountains.
The villa’s personal wedding planner, Becky Matthews, made my dream wedding come to life, complete with silver and gold fireworks over the lake and a live symphony orchestra brought in from Milan. The garden is the most famous on the lake, known for its towering Cypress trees and dramatic waterfront. And just when you think your stay could not get any better, they roll out the pizza oven on the last day and make the most divine pizzas imaginable. The mere aroma has driven several guests to buy and import their very own pizza oven. villalacassinella.com
Villa la Cassinella is a short boat ride away from the location of the Concorso D’Eleganza at Villa D’Este, which runs from May 22–24, 2015. This internationally renowned event for serious automotive collectors and enthusiasts celebrates historic autos in their elegance and originality. While more than 50 vehicles built between 1920 and 1980 will be on display, only one will win a “Best of Show” prize.
Channels and Canals
A 3.5-hour train ride separates Como and Venice. Although many palatial properties edge the fabled canals, a prime destination is the newly restored Aman Grande Canal (amanresorts.com). The property, originally built in 1550, still bears some of the frescos, chandeliers, and sculptures enjoyed by its original occupants. Sweeping staircases lead to the 24 rooms that make guests feel quite at home during their stay in the Palazzo, most of which offer breathtaking views of the Grand Canal or the hotel’s private garden. Contemporary, simple furnishings allow the eye to focus on protected frescos that reflect a bygone era. Other features include a private garden for breakfast, ballroom drinks overlooking the grand canal, and a roof terrace framing the rest of the city.
Although leaving this historic setting will be a challenge, guests are steps away from the Grand Canal, near the Piazza San Marco and Saint Mark’s Basilica. A 20-minute walk from the Aman is Riviera, a beautiful canal-side restaurant showcasing a regional wine list and modern Venetian cuisine. Sit on the patio and admire all the Giudecca Canal has to offer, and don’t be surprised if the owner comes by to personally check on you. His passion is unmistakable and he writes, “Eating is an extreme act.” Sample pastas, seafood, and risotto offer the best outdoor dining in all of Venice.
A wonderful time to explore Venice is during The Verona Opera Season (veniceoperatickets.com), which runs from June to August. Enjoy classics such as Romeo and Juliet or Aida in centuries-old landmarks that make the operas come to life.
Before the opera, enjoy a dinner at Do Forni. Considered the most famous restaurant in the city, the eatery’s old-fashioned Venetian cuisine embodies tradition and old-school hospitality. Expect certain dishes to be flambéed tableside, the staff in black tie, and a jolly atmosphere. You will notice everyone around you is clearly enjoying the dolce vita, even if it does come with a price tag. Another excellent bet is Da Franz near St. Marks Square. In contrast to the buzzing tourist restaurants, guests will enjoy tranquility, warmth, and genuine hospitality along with the catches of the day. The absence of a printed menu leaves you in the hands of owner Maurizio Gaspirini, who knows the local fish market inside-out, having visited every day for more than 30 years.
Capitalizing on Fashion
After a few nights in Venice, you’ll be ready for the hustle and bustle of Italy’s business and fashion capital, Milan. Giorgio Armani’s designs come to life at the Armani Hotel in Milano (armanihotels.com). Like his couture and furniture, the hotel’s public areas and 95 guest rooms and suites embody Armani’s signature approach to elegance and sophistication. Luxurious Armani bath products accessorize each room, and the guest who likes to shop will enjoy the massive Armani store with technology, chocolate, and fashion departments housed in the bottom of the hotel. Just steps outside the hotel are the best shopping streets in the city, and a short walk will lead you to Milano’s elaborate landmark Duomo Cathedral.
From May through the end of October, Milano hosts a Universal Exhibition (expo2015.org) inviting 140 countries to showcase their technology for creating food for all while respecting the planet. Solutions and ideas around food and a sustainable future will invite attendees to share and taste traditions of the exhibitor countries.
After a day at the show, dinner at Da Giacomo will delight the most capricious traveler, though reservations are a must. The restaurant of choice for A-listers, it is known for the fantastically fresh fish and homemade pastas. The energy is bustling, loud, and unassuming. Heads of fashion houses are often spotted here after the shows and for one reason; the food is incredible. Uni pasta or shrimp and zucchini flower spaghetti will put a stamp on your memory and so will the la bomba dessert.
In Florence, Meditate Like a Medici
Though a trip to Italy is not complete without visiting Rome, Florence – Tuscany’s capital – is a must. Camerata (quintess.com/florence.camerata) is a choice tourbase to experience this fabled city, with exquisite architecture encompassing original plaster and 18th-century frescos. While private rooms include a modern kitchen, entertainment system, and designer furniture, the main floor dining mezzanine is a haven spacious enough for eight guests—though you may want to savor it by yourself. The location is also exquisite: a five-minute walk from the famous Piazza della Signoira. You’ll love coming home to the beautiful Camerata after a day of viewing the works of Michelangelo. If you’re in Florence at the end of April, you’ll be able to celebrate Notte Bianca, or ‘White Night” (nottebiancafirenze.it). Shops and museums stay open all night long, while the piazzas and streets are filled with performances, music, food, cultural talks, and films. The party goes until dawn the next day.
Investing in Italy
A short drive from Florence, an 800-year-old village has come back to life, thanks to the Toscana Resort Castelfalfi (castelfalfi.co.uk). Castelfalfi allows you to invest in real estate, a villa or apartment, or stay in the hotel La Tabaccaia. There are two restaurants on the estate, Il Rosmarino and La Rocca di Castelfalfi, led by Michele Rinaldi, who received a Michelin star at the tender age of 27. There is also a cooking school, the Rosso Toscano Cooking School, which teaches the classics of Tuscan cuisine so that guests can recreate the dishes they love in Tuscany at home.
Hope Springs Eternal
When in Rome, do as some stylish travelers-in-the-know do, and head to the Hotel De Russie (roccofortehotels.com). Tucked between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo, this hotel renowned for its magical garden terrace offers up prime people watching and is perfectly suited for the aperitivo (afternoon cocktail) hour in Rome. The history in and around the hotel is spectacular, as it counts Pablo Picasso and poet Jean Cocteau as past guests, and more recently housed the cast of Ocean’s Twelve during three months of filming.
La Pergola restaurant in Rome is a fitting spot to conclude one’s real-life “Roman Holiday.” The only three Michelin star restaurant in the city is steered by Chef Heinz Beck, regarded by many as one of the best chefs in the world, who has restaurants in Tokyo, Dubai, and London. Amid elegant surroundings, you will be awe-struck with the 60,000-bottle wine collection, incredible service, and Beck’s indulgent nine-course tasting menu stacked with Beck’s signature dishes, including fagotelli carbonara and updates on classics like osso bucco.
Whether you visit one of the above properties or all of them, prepare to be consumed with Italian history, culture, and hospitality. You may even find it worthy of exchanging a few special vows of your own.