Posts tagged “Italy

36 Hours in Verona – great place for a romantic weekend getaway, or foodie jaunt.

Not a lot of time to do stuff in 36 hours, but that’s long enough for two evening meals, and scoot around the city sites and shops.

verona_night_caustic_candy

We ended up in Verona by chance after discovering rather belatedly (we rarely plan our trips) that the Italian lakes were completely shut up  for the winter. I’m so pleased we were forced to make this switch – Verona was lovely, has great restaurants and is slap in the middle of wine country, (Valpollicella and Soave to be exact).

ampitheatre_verona_causticcandyVerona is a perfect place to wander around for a day (You could spend two with ease). It’s an ancient town, and of course has that world famous Roman ampitheatre where they hold the opera every summer. Couple that with the opportunities it presents for day/evening trips to the Italian Lakes and various wineries and it’s actually a pretty good base for a longer stay.

Outside the old town Verona is pretty grubby, as is most of Northern Italy in between their ancient cities. There seems to be absolutely no planning rules and it’s pretty damn ugly.

Places to stay: I really enjoyed staying at Villa Amista, 10km out of town – fascinating place with superb service.

The other hotel we were offered was Hotel Gabbia D’Oro, a pastiche of an old house. It’s stuffed with antiques, and seems to be medieval in structure, but apparently was put up from scratch in the 1980′s. It’s meant to be a good hotel, but we didn’t fancy trying to drive into the centre of old Verona, and were told that Amista was better.

If I went back to Verona outside winter, then I would probably be tempted to give Villa del Quar a go as this has a 2* Michelin restaurant, is in an ancient building, and is in the middle of a winery. Looks good.

Where to eat: There are a bunch of great restaurants in Verona. Obviously I wasn’t there very long, but I can wholeheartedly say don’t bother with Il Desco, even though it’s 2* Michelin. If you are not staying at Villa Amista, then it’s well worth going out to their restaurant Atelier for lunch or supper. The food is brilliant (without doubt better than Il Desco), the decor wholly unexpected, and the service and sommelier wonderful.

veronatower_causticcandyWe had to make a decision whether to go to Il Desco or Dal Pescatore. The latter is 3* Michelin and has an amazing reputation wherever you look, but it was nearly an hour away from the hotel, and obviously we both wanted to be able to drink. At the time we thought that going to Il Desco was a suitable alternative. How wrong we were. I wish we’d gone to Dal Pescatore. Opportunity missed there.

Pottering: The old town is pretty small and it’s a great pleasure to go pottering about, stopping off for coffee or drinks as often as possible. As well as all the churches, Roman architecture, palazzos, piazzas and museums all dripping in history and romance, there are some great furniture and homeware shops, as well as delis and wine shops.

In fact, if I was traveling around Veneto in summer, I’d definitely go to Verona over Venice, as Venice is ruined when it’s hot, and jammed with far more tourists. I’d also choose Verona as a great location for a long romantic or foodie weekend in Europe.

Il Desco, Verona – Michelin guide has this 2* venue all wrong

Review:

Il Desco is meant to be one of the best places to eat in the whole of Italy. I have to disagree 100% with that analysis. It has had 2 Michelin stars since 1997 and I just can’t see why.

Food:  Different menus of either traditional or creative Veronese, specialising in tripe.

Now, I’ve always been a bit wary of tripe – kidneys can so often taste of pee, and I used to hate finding tubes in liver as a child. Couple that with the bubbling cauldrons of the stuff that you see dotted around Asia in food markets, and you do have to be in a brave mood to try it.

I am aware though that many people think it is a great delicacy, so I thought the best place to give it a go would be a 2* Michelin restaurant in Verona.

And it was very tasty. I had sauteed calf’s brain, bull’s testicle soup, tripe sauces and goose liver on my 6 course Tradtional Veneto tasting menu.

The problem was that the portion sizes were enormous. I was presented with about 1/2 pound of brain, and over 1/2 pint of soup and I can tell you that whilst tripe is tasty, it is sooo rich that by the time I was half way through those two dishes I was feeling pretty nauseous. The testicle soup especially was a struggle because it had the texture of rhubarb compote – slightly glutenous and fibrous, and facing a huge bowlful of it was tough.

I think this is where I found Il Desco disappointing. Certain elements of the dishes were very tasty and beautifully cooked, but to me it was unbalanced and inconsistent. There wasn’t enough palette cleansing, balancing elements to all this super rich tripe, and the portions were just overwhelming. By the time I got to the meat course I was stuffed.

Wine list: Good, but very expensive wine list.

Ambience:  It’s an odd place.

You walk in the front door into a large ante-room which seems just to be a storeroom, and is dominated by a staircase going down to the cellar which is just a gaping black void.

You are ushered off to a room on the left which is the dining room, and it’s almost smaller than the lobby/storeroom you have just been in.

The dining room is sweet enough, lovely old oak ceiling and yellow ochre coloured walls, but then the rest of fixtures and fittings give the whole place a bit of a harlequin feel – too many patterns and too many colours.

Service: We had a bit of funny service experience. The waiters were fair enough, but the sommelier was a bit pushy.

Price:  The tasting menu I had was €95 and the tasting menu my other half had was €130, so couple that with wine, water, service and tip, and it was a pretty punchy bill at the end of the evening.

Location: Via Dietro San Sebastiano 7, Verona, Italy. Tel: +39 045 595 358.

All in all, I was pleased that I’d had the opportunity to try some really good tripe but didn’t think it was worth the price. I was left feeling a bit perturbed and completely bloated by the experience and wouldn’t go back.

The other night that we spent around Verona we ate at our hotel  - Villa Amista – and had the most exquisite meal. Left Il Desco in the dust on all fronts, and inexplicably doesn’t have even one Michelin star.

Villa Amistà, Verona – Byblos owner has created a ludicrously good hotel.

Review:
I’m going to resist the temptation to post lots of photos of this hotel, and would recommend that you don’t look at the website too deeply (or at all) before you book, leave it as a surprise…
To have somewhere like the Villa Amistà sprung on you after a particularly long and harrowing journey, is disconcerting to say the least. Our concierge service had booked us in earlier that same day after we could only find one rather depressing hotel on Lake Garda that was open in February, and had suggested that Verona was our best bet.
We were told the hotel was in a refurbed villa, and housed a large collection of modern art. What she should have said was, “I’m booking you into this hotel – it’s completely bonkers, but trust me, you’ll love it.”
It’s as if a madman had got control of the Hadron Collider and decided to see what happens when he placed a 15th century Italian villa complete with contents, a bunch of paints and a hiccuping Murano glass blower inside and thrown the switch. The result is startling.
I must admit that when I first walked in, drained and jaded from the schlep from Milan via Garda (many times via Garda in fact, but let us not revisit dark times), I did think “Holy Crap, what the f**k has our lifestyle manager done to us? This place is preposterous.”
To say that it houses a collection of art is an understatement, it is in it’s entirety one carefully constructed installation piece. It’s vibrant, irreverent and whimsical, but there is also a strong vein of elegance running throughout. Dino Facchini owner of Byblos houses a big chunk of his personal art collection here, and he uses the villa to showcase all the pieces of his Byblos Casa operation, so you can walk out with an armchair if it takes your fancy.
Rooms: We stayed on the lobby level of the villa which is the only level that has balconies. These are the best rooms, and they were bloody gigantic. I understand that the standard rooms are rather snug, so would suggest spending the money to bypass these. The bathrooms are some of the best I’ve experienced. All white, with proper lighting so that girls can actually apply their makeup properly (wish other hotels would cotton on to this).
Public areas: The public areas of the hotel are fascinating, every nook and cranny has some weird or wonderful piece of furniture or art. Most of the 15th century style ceilings are intricately painted, there are gorgeous salons to lounge about in, beautiful gardens, a lovely pool and a spa.
Restaurant/Bar: There is a great bar and a wonderful restaurant.  I have no idea why the Restaurant Atelier doesn’t have even one Michelin star. It was miles better than the 2* Il Desco we went to in Verona one night, and the sommelier was fantastic. He introduced us to Ripasso which sees the unpressed grape skins that go into making the wonderful Amarones, added to the already blended and fermented Valpollicella wine to finish it off. This process adds body and character to the simple Valpollicella – and the results are hugely successful. I always buy them now as it’s cheaper and lighter than Amarone.
Service: Really wonderful. During the black hours of being lost in the northern Italian industrial hinterland, they actually sent a car to look for us (how Italian is that? Incredibly chivalrous, but completely illogical). They have shuttle-buses to take you in and out of Verona whenever you need, and they provide faultless hospitality.
Price: I remember we paid around €300 for one of the best rooms in the house in February, and they seem to do lots of specials and promotions at different times of year, including around opera season. Fantastic that it is open year-round.
Location: via Cedrare, 78, 37020 Corrubbio di Negarine (Verona) – Italy. Tel +39 045 6855555, reservation@byblosarthotel.com. Corrubbio is just under 10km from the centre of old Verona.
We loved the hotel. It was completely bonkers, and service and food were truly excellent. Just make sure that you have a map and good directions as it’s a bitch to find. Fortunately there were lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of Verona who we could ask for directions !@?$*
Before we ended up in Verona we had decided that we wanted to stop off at the lakes on our way to Venice, but nothing was open at this time of year. I’m so pleased we went there, as the old town is beautiful, the restaurants are world-class and it’s slap bang in the middle of a wine producing region. I’d definitely go back.

Review:

I’m going to resist the temptation to post lots of photos of this hotel, and would recommend that you don’t look at the website too deeply (or at all) before you book, leave it as a surprise…

villa_amista_caustic_candyTo have somewhere like the Villa Amistà sprung on you after a particularly long and harrowing journey, is disconcerting to say the least. Our concierge service had booked us in earlier that same day after we could only find one rather depressing hotel on Lake Garda that was open in February, and had suggested that Verona was our best bet.

We were told the hotel was in a refurbed villa, and housed a large collection of modern art. What she should have said was, “I’m booking you into this hotel – it’s completely bonkers, but trust me, you’ll love it.”

It’s as if a madman had got control of the Hadron Collider and decided to see what happens when he placed a 15th century Italian villa complete with contents, a bunch of paints and a hiccuping Murano glass blower inside and thrown the switch. The result is startling.

I must admit that when I first walked in, drained and jaded from the schlep from Milan via Garda (many times via Garda in fact, but let us not dwell on the dark moments of our lives), I did think “Holy Crap, what the f**k has our lifestyle manager done to us? This place is preposterous.”

To say that it houses a collection of art is an understatement, it is in it’s entirety, one carefully constructed installation piece. It’s vibrant, irreverent and whimsical, but there is also a strong vein of elegance running throughout. Dino Facchini, the owner of Byblos, houses a big chunk of his personal art collection here, and he uses the villa to showcase all the pieces of his Byblos Casa operation, so you can walk out with an armchair if it takes your fancy.

villa_amista_caustic—candy1Rooms: We stayed on the lobby level of the villa which is the only floor that has balconies. These are the best rooms, and they were bloody gigantic. I understand that the standard rooms are rather snug, so would suggest spending the money to bypass these. The bathrooms are some of the best I’ve experienced. All white, with proper lighting so that girls can actually apply their makeup easily, (wish other hotels would cotton on to this).

Public areas: The public areas of the hotel are fascinating, every nook and cranny has some weird or wonderful piece of furniture or art. Most of the 15th century style ceilings are intricately painted, there are gorgeous salons to lounge about in, beautiful gardens, a lovely pool and a spa.

Restaurant/Bar: There is a great bar and a wonderful restaurant.  I have no idea why the Restaurant Atelier doesn’t have even one Michelin star. It was obviously better than the 2* Il Desco we went to in Verona one night, and the sommelier was fantastic. He introduced us to Ripasso which sees the unpressed grape skins that go into making the wonderful Amarones, added to the already blended and fermented Valpollicella wine to finish it off. This process adds body and character to the simple Valpollicella – and the results are hugely successful. I regularly buy Ripasso now as it’s cheaper and lighter than Amarone.

Service: Really wonderful. During the black hours of being lost in the northern Italian industrial hinterland, they actually sent a car to look for us (how Italian is that? Incredibly chivalrous, but completely illogical). They have shuttle-buses to take you in and out of Verona whenever you need, and they provide faultless hospitality.

Price: I remember we paid around €300 for one of the best rooms in the house in February, and they seem to do lots of specials and promotions at different times of year, including around opera season. Fantastic that it is open year-round.

Location: Via Cedrare, 78, 37020 Corrubbio di Negarine (Verona) – Italy. Tel +39 045 6855555, reservation@byblosarthotel.com. Corrubbio is just under 10km from the centre of old Verona.

We loved the hotel. It was completely bonkers, and the service and food were truly excellent. Just make sure that you have a map and good directions as it’s a bitch to find. Fortunately there were lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of Verona who we could ask for directions !@?$*

Before we ended up in Verona we had decided that we wanted to stop off at the lakes on our way to Venice, but nothing was open at this time of year. I’m so pleased we went to Verona instead, as the old town is beautiful, the restaurants are world-class and it’s slap bang in the middle of a wine producing region – i.e. ticks all my holiday boxes really!

Venice in winter – the only time to go.

And so to Venice. There are only two things you need to heed if you are planning on visiting Venice:
Go in winter
Stay in Venice. Do not go as a day-tripper.
Why number 1? Venice is a stinking, teaming horror-pit in the summer.
By contrast, in winter the day trippers are still numerous but manageable, the light is fantastic for photos, the few hotels that are open will give you really good deals, and the restaurants that are open must be the ones able to survive on locals’ patronage, so must be amongst the best.
Why number 2? Avoid the crush of day-trippers and potter around the empty city at night.  Magic.
Part of the experience of Venice is about feeling smug lounging around in your palazzo whilst the hoards canter around the alleyways trying to see everything before their buses whisk them away.
Because the trippers have to see everything in a rush, they congregate around the big highlights, whereas you can stroll leisurely around the likes of Dorsoduro unmolested during the earlier parts of the day and then head across to the more touristy attractions later in the afternoon when the majority of visitors are dragging themselves away.
Places to stay: I stay in the Ca Maria Adele in Dorsoduro, as it’s stunning, tiny and the area is convenient to the all the places I want to go and is one of the quietest and most residential districts in Venice. I’ve had friends who have stayed at the Cipriani, and loved it, but the only reason to stay there really is that it’s got an outdoor pool, and if you are going in winter, you aren’t going to be taking advantage of that!
A short list of my favourite things:
Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, an utter gem, in my top 3 romantic hotels of all time, a tiny palazzo in a quiet, beautiful part of town.
Culcha: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (about 10mins walk from Ca Maria Adele).  Small, but perfectly formed collection of important modern art – Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract. Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Magritte – fantastic intro to modern art if it’s previously not been your thing.  Fascinating lady, fascinating little palazzo on the Grand Canal, lovely little garden and a tea room.
Coffee: Hotel Londra, sitting outside by the Piazza San Marco watching the world go by, overlooking the lagoon.
Restaurant: Antica Carbonara, super old-school restaurant serving Venetian cuisine.  The booths are made from the timbers of an old Hapsburg yacht and the supporting pillars are from the masts. We stumbled on this place at 10pm one cold February evening, and it was jammed with locals.  Down a tiny alley, tucked away. Great find.
Transport: forget the gondolas. The real treat in Venice is flashing around in the Rivas.  They are one of my all time favourite makers of small boats, and it was brilliant zooming around town in them.
Walking: You will most likely spend a lot of time pounding the streets, it’s difficult to stop exploring the tiny alleys and canals. Dorsoduro is a lovely part of town to do this whilst you wait for the hoards to disperse.
In winter, the fact that many hotels and restaurants are closed can constrain where you stay and eat (for example the Cirpriani and Palazzo Barbarigo are both shut), but it means that there are so few tourists staying in the city that you really do have the place to yourself, and that is a fantastic opportunity that you should never pass by.

Venice

And so to Venice.

It really is mind boggling to think about how bonkers the merchant princes were to build Venice where they did and how they did. I’m fascinated by trading ports (must come from living in HK), and to me Venice is the ultimate collaboration of trade, engineering, art and architecture.

There is no denying that the city is now only a hollow carapace – what I’m trying to work out though is what that symbolises. A stark reminder of the vagaries of trade routes? Or the importance of diversifying your economy?  If the North East Passage becomes fully navigable in the next 15yrs will Hong Kong’s port be suddenly redundant? Anyway, I digress…

There are only two things you need to heed if you are planning on visiting Venice:

  1. Go in winter
  2. Stay in Venice. Do not go as a day-tripper.

Why number 1? Venice is a stinking, teaming horror-pit in the summer.

By contrast, in winter the day trippers are still numerous but manageable, the light is fantastic for photos, the few hotels that are open will give you really good deals, and the restaurants that are open must be the ones able to survive on locals’ patronage, so must be amongst the best.

Why number 2? Avoid the crush of day-trippers and potter around the empty city at night.  Magic.

Venice Canal Caustic Candy

Part of the experience of Venice is about feeling smug lounging around in your palazzo whilst the hoards canter around the alleyways trying to see everything before their buses whisk them away.

Because the trippers have to see everything in a rush, they congregate around the big highlights, whereas you can stroll leisurely around the likes of Dorsoduro unmolested during the earlier parts of the day and then head across to the more touristy attractions later in the afternoon when the majority of visitors are dragging themselves away.

A short list of my favourite things:

Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, an utter gem, in my top 3 romantic hotels of all time, a tiny palazzo in a quiet, beautiful part of town.

Culcha: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (about 10mins walk from Ca Maria Adele). Small, but perfectly formed collection of important modern art – Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract, Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Magritte – fantastic intro to modern art if it’s previously not been your thing. Fascinating lady, fascinating little palazzo on the Grand Canal, lovely little garden and a tea room.

Coffee: Hotel Londra, sitting outside on the terrace of their Do Leoni restaurant, by the Piazza San Marco watching the world go by, overlooking the lagoon.

Restaurant: Antica Carbonera, super old-school, centuries old restaurant serving Venetian cuisine close to the Rialto bridge. The booths are made from the timbers of an old Hapsburg yacht and the supporting pillars are from the masts. We stumbled on this place at 10pm one cold February evening, and it was jammed with locals. Down a tiny alley, tucked away. Great find.

Transport: forget the gondolas. The real treat in Venice is flashing around in the Rivas. They are one of my all time favourite makers of small boats, and it was brilliant zooming around town in them.

Walking: You will most likely spend a lot of time pounding the streets, it’s difficult to stop exploring the tiny alleys and canals. Dorsoduro is a lovely part of town to do this whilst you wait for the hoards to disperse.

In winter, the fact that many hotels and restaurants are closed can constrain where you stay and eat (for example the Cirpriani and Palazzo Barbarigoare both shut), but it means that there are so few tourists staying in the city that you really do have the place to yourself, can eat where the Venetians themselves do, cutting out a lot of tourist clutter and the light is so very pretty for photos.

Venice in the winter light

Ca Maria Adele – perfect, bijou hotel in Venice.

Review:

With all this recent brouhaha from debating the banning of day-trippers from Venice, I thought it time to put together some posts on that rather wonderful city.

ca_maria-adele_caustic_candy

I have to admit that I am a lucky so-and-so to have stayed in such amazing places over the years, and for me, one of the most memorable was Ca Maria Adele in Venezia. There is nothing like staying in the city, roaming the streets at night when all the day-trippers have left. Magic.

My first time in Venice, we took a Riva directly to the hotel. We’d stashed the car at the railway station after an horrendous drive through the industrial wasteland between Verona and Venice, and I was seriously doubting whether Venice was going to live up to it’s promise. But when we got in that taxi and made our way through the foggy, almost deserted canals I was utterly blown away. Venice, in winter, in the fog is an astonishing place, and to pull up outside this little palazzo with it’s front door flanked by huge hurricane lamps, with no other life around and just the hulking presence of the basilica – thrills me just thinking about it again.

Ca Maria Adele is perfectly positioned (opposite the basillica of Santa Maria della Salute), right at the far tip of Dorsoduro, which is arguably the prettiest and most non-touristy part of the city.

It is perfectly proportioned, having only 12 rooms.

It is perfectly sumptious – 5* luxury, with an incredible mix of materials, fixtures and fittings, from original 16th century oak beams, to Murano chandeliers, to african wood nicknacks and even furry walls…

And your hosts are perfectly delightful too. Very helpful, very accommodating.

I challenge anyone to try and find a more romantic bolt-hole in Venice.

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Rooms: 12. 2 suites. We stayed in suite 339 which has a little roof terrace, and is all gold brocade and exposed oak beams. If you don’t need the outdoor space then there are some gorgeous themed rooms with huge Murano chandeliers, red velvet walls etc definitely worth a look on the website.

Dining: There is a beautiful breakfast room on the 1st floor with windows that open out onto the church and canal, as well as a Moroccan inspired terrace round the back, where you can sit and sup. There is no lunch or dinner served at the hotel. The breakfast room, terrace and lounge are for tea and cocktails (and breakfast…).

Service: Impeccable service. It can take them a little while to get to you as there are lots of twisty-twiny stairs to climb to get to certain rooms. The concierge was very good and the GM Nicola Campa is often at reception and he is just the bees knees when it comes to hospitality.

Facilities: This isn’t a place crammed with facilities, it’s a tiny palazzo.  It’s more like going to stay in someone’s incredibly beautiful home. No swimming pools, no gyms etc.  It’s just utterly private and gorgeous.

Access: If you have mobility problems then this hotel isn’t for you as there are no lifts, and you can only get there by boat.

Price: Now, I have only ever been to Venice in winter, and frankly would never go at any other time. We stayed in a suite for about €400 per night  in Feb over Carnival. This was a lot cheaper than high season, and an utter bargain as far as we were concerned.  Our concierge service at Coutts World found this hotel and sorted the price, and is probably still one of their most impressive finds/deals for us.

Location: Dorsoduro 111, 30123 Venice, Italy. Tel: +39 041 520 3078. email: info@camariaadele.it

If you are looking for somewhere awesome to stay and love small, high-end hotels, then this is an absolute must. It’s tucked away in a lovely, quiet part of Venice but within spitting distance of many of the major attractions.

Also if like us, you have to have outside space wherever you stay, then room 339 is one of the most romantic you will find with the little roof terrace tucked amongst the eaves (you don’t get a big view, but it’s just secret and hidden). My other personal favourite roof terraces at the moment are Hotel Gallery Arts in Florence, and the Lancaster in Paris but that’s for later…

Oo, more lovely hats

My search for hats has thrown up another great option – Borsalino of Italy.  Found them flagged in Monocle this month along with a photo spread that included a Lock & Co hat too.  Just going to show that I really do have excellent taste (fnah).

borsalino

Closest places to purchase are either Shanghai or Tokyo if you aren’t passing through Milan any time soon.  They also have stunningly beautiful moped/riding helmets (no chin guards, so more form over function unfortunately).

borsalino helmet

Update: Passed through Harvey Nics yesterday and spied a Borsalino hat – unfortunately they only had one style and this was it:

ibis Borsalino

Now, I’m no genius, but it does strike me that ladies in HK are fairly obsessive about keeping the sun off their faces, and therefore there is probably a good market for Borsalino’s hats here.  Why then is the only one HN have this feathered creation? I know it’s arresting, but it’s almost completely impractical.  Why not grab attention with this, and use it to intro other less immediately eye-catching hats which are much more styling and usable? Once again HN proves it’s still all skirt and no knickers…