There’s a tiny volcanic island in the Mediterranean where Giorgio Armani spends every summer. It’s called Pantelleria, one of the lesser known islands of Sicily. It is actually closer to Tunisia than to Sicily. It was previously conquered and inhabited by Arabs, and much of that Arabic influence remains. The architecture brings to mind Marrakech, or even Bodrum, more than it does Palermo or Naples, and this is the only place in Italy where the alphabet includes the letter k (although locals are as apt to speak French as they are Italian).Following the example set by Armani, the No. 1 thing to do in Pantelleria is simply to lounge in the sun and escape from it all. And eat, of course. Continue reading
Bernalda, Italy (Photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Bernalda probably doesn’t ring a bell. Most Italian guidebooks fail to mention it. Or maybe the guidebook authors just wanted to keep Bernalda to themselves. But thanks to Francis Ford Coppola, Bernalda is now officially on the map, if not quite yet on anyone’s radar. It’s a quaint agricultural village on a hilltop in the Matera province of Basilicata. Looking at Italy as a boot, Bernalda is the hills along the arch, about 15 minutes from virtually deserted beaches. The famous Hollywood director recently opened a luxury hotel here called Palazzo Margherita, which doubles as a Coppola vacation home and where Sofia Coppola got married last spring before the hotel officially opened. Long story short, it’s a tiny town where everyone knows each other. Not surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of restaurants. But what is here is terrific, especially these three: Continue reading
Room service at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita in Matera, Italy (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Here’s a photo I took last month in Matera, Italy. This was the dining table in my hotel suite. You might notice a similarity between this photo and the image that I use for my header. Both were taken at the same place. This was my second visit to Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, one of the most amazing hotels in the world, a property that has flipped the idea of luxury on its head. Built from a series of ancient residential caves, the hotel is truly sublime. Yet also shockingly stark and rustic. I’ll be posting more photos of Sextantio soon. But for now, a single image pretty much says it all.
Rome, Italy (Brad A. Johnson)
I was walking down the street in Rome, Italy, when I saw this scene. I laughed outloud.The people looked like giants next to the tiny car. And the car’s been through hell and back, as if it were a toy Matchbox car. I also love the way the sky was reflecting off the blue paint. Sigh. I love Rome. Continue reading
Damn, this really makes me want to go to Sicily. RIGHT NOW. Perhaps you’ve already seen this viral ad from winemaker Tasca d’Almerita?
This is the Duomo di Firenze, the famous cathedral that dominates the skyline in Florence, Italy. I took this shot on my way to dinner, just as the sun was fading beneath ominous rain clouds. The architectural details are beyond extraordinary. I could sit in front of this church and just look at it all day long.
Naples, Italy (photos by Brad A Johnson)
The goal: Find the best pizza in Naples.
“But hasn’t it already been determined that Michele makes the best pizza in Naples?” asks a friend in London who travels to Italy often just to eat.
“Really?” I ask. “Says who?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Everybody?”
I email a chef with long ties to Naples. He emails back: “Michele makes the best pizza.”
Regina Hotel Baglioni
The Lowdown: Italian owners revamped this 103-room Art Deco diva on the famed Via Veneto just last year. Rooms boast period furniture and lacquered closets. And the new Panoramic Penthouse comes with a private rooftop hot tub and barbecue terrace.
Best for? Service. The bellman, the bartenders, all the way up to the gregarious GM—the best in town.
Insider Tip: The chic Brunello restaurant mustn’t be missed. But beware the sharp nails penetrating the undersides of the tables—ouch!
Caveat: It’s been ages since the Via Veneto was Rome’s most glamorous boulevard. Rates from $502; Via Veneto 72, +39.06.4540.3300 Continue reading
Central Rome is packed with great trattorias and hosterias serving classic pastas like cacio e pepe (spaghetti with Pecorino cheese and black pepper) and bucatini all’amatriciana (in which the tomato sauce is amped with dried red chilies and cured pork jowl). I sampled too many cacio e pepe to count, and the best I found was at Maccheroni (Piazza delle Copelle 44), a brightly lit spot with an open kitchen, charming chef and pushy waiters on a well-trodden path between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. The walls are lined with wine bottles, including some great Chiantis and Super Tuscans. But beware, they often try to stick out-of-towners at the horrible tables in the hallway. Push back with “Are you kidding me?” and demand a seat in the middle of the action. Continue reading
The road into the Sassi di Matera was built for donkeys, not speeding minivans. But my taxi driver punches the accelerator, and our top-heavy shuttle teeters around another curve. The sun has just set, so it’s hard for me to make out the slanted terrain. The right side of the vehicle squeaks past the edge of a house built into the cliff. I peer out the opposite window and see nothing but a deep, black ravine. The van seems far too big for this road, like when a snake swallows a rabbit. Yet another oncoming car forces us onto the shoulder in an unwelcome game of chicken, then the driver nonchalantly slams the brakes and jumps the curb, landing us in a weed-filled slot barely larger than the van. To the front and left, we face the mountain. To the right, I notice a dusty stairway twice as high as the van, covered in weeds and dust. I look at my driver. “Why are we stopping?” Continue reading