About Donna Sozio
Author, journalist and publishing consultant, Donna Sozio has been featured in 200+ media outlets including the Tyra Banks Show, Early Show, Fox News, Good Day LA, Seventeen Magazine, Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, Lavalife.com, WeBlobtheWorld.com, EcoSalon.com, OrganicAuthority.com and many more.
Her books The Man Whisperer (Adams Media) and Never Trust a Man in Alligator Loafers (Kensington) were Amazon.com bestsellers, had TV/Film options and were translated into German, Portuguese and Czech.
Latest Posts by Donna Sozio
Finding an amazing Italian meal isn’t always easy. Even in Italy. Some of the finest hotels are often snubbed by locals because the cucina Italiana (Italian cuisine) isn’t up to par and thought to be ‘for tourists’.
Hotel Savoy; photo credit: RobbReport.com.
But not these three Italian restaurants! Each is a beloved favorite for locals and tourists alike where you si mangia bene (eat well). Which indeed is high praise from Italians who in my opinion are the world’s toughest food critics. Each of these top three restaurants has one very important element in common: Italian chef mastermind Fulvio Pierangeli. He is the golden thread that weaves them all together creating mouthwatering menus inspired by the purest Italian cuisine.
Irene: Hotel Savoy, Florence
A fun throwback to a 50’s retro-chic bistro, Irene is colourful and contemporary in Florence’s historic Piazza della Repubblica. The designer, Olga Polizzi, recently transformed the ambiance from a heavy masculine vibe into a feminine feel with elegant flash. Then Fulvio Pierangelini revamped Irene’s menu to perfection. “The bistro is a celebration of woman and the thousands of inextricable facets of the female universe,” says Fulvio Pierangelini, “Irene is a bit insolent, free, contemporary, charming, bold, mischievous, irreverent and cheeky. The kitchen is a part of women’s history: men walked into this intimate world and although we have been successful, we are still intruders.”
Pappa al Pomodoro Ravioli
I joined the fun for Irene’s Sunday Nonna’s Lunch. Upon walking in I knew I was someplace special. It wasn’t just the divine Florentine specialties I saw before me on tables. But also the vibe.
I felt like I belonged to a swanky insiders club and considered myself lucky to be in the mix. In seconds, I was greeted by restaurant manager Paul Feakes, the ultimate social butterfly. He floated around the room making everyone feel like they were the only guest in the world. He offered menu suggestions and I went with every one. Irene’s staff creates the type of magic that you don’t want to end. If I wasn’t leaving Florence that evening, I absolutely would have booked a reservation for dinner. And lunch the next day. I still crave one last bite of the Pappa Pommordo Ravioli. I’d take a train back to Florence to work my way down the menu. Mamma mia … it was that good.
Rustic Panzanella with Mozzarella
What’s also refreshing about Irene are the prices. Incredibly fair. Truth be told, I would have happily paid more. And I have paid more for dishes in lesser Italian restaurants. I’ll be back to try the lemon and parmesan stracciatella soup, tagliolini with fava bean and fresh Tillo’s sheep cheese, Mediterranean fish crudo and small vegetables. Not to mention to bask in Irene’s female universe, which only adds to the delight.
Piazze della Repubblica, 7
50123 Firenze, Italy
Le Jardin Russie: Hotel de Russie, Rome
When the crowds and chaos of Rome become too much, there is one place I always go to escape: Le Jardin Russie. A handsome doorman opens the door and I’m whisked away into another dimension of timeless elegance – a magical Italian cortile where all is right in the world again. What would be Rome without Le Jardin Russie? Between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo on Via Babuino, if you don’t know it’s there you might just walk on by. But don’t miss this luxurious chic oasis in the beautiful chaos that is Rome. It would be a pity not to succomb to enchantment.
Jardin de Russie outdoor dining area
Ready to be romanced by its menu, history and locale.I always dress for the occasion. Service is at its finest with a casual elegance and the menu makes my mouth water every time. Chef Fulvio Pierangelini says, “The simpler the food, the more we have to pay attention because margin of error increases. You need courage for simple cooking.” You certainly don’t need courage to order. Because you can’t go wrong. Octopus and cuttlefish “Cacciucco”, tagliolini with white truffle, fresh fish crudo served on salt slabs and fig tart with Brachetto. A modern twist on the classic “focacina” bread with langoustines, zucchinis and ricotta is a must-have. And I wouldn’t leave without the peaches “Sfoglietta”.
Raw Fish “Crudo” Served on a Salt Slab
I don’t always have time for a sumptuous two hour meal in the garden. But I always have a moment for an aperitif at the bar. Made with fresh juices by master mixologists, I can hardly walk by The Russie without at least stopping in for a Hugo spritz – St. Germain, Processo, with a splash of Pelligrino, fresh mint and lime. On a hot day in Rome, it’s the only way to cool off.
Le Jardin Russie
Via del Babuino, 9
00187 Roma, Italy
BoCConi: Hotel Amigo, Brussels
Hotel Amigo’s City Backdrop
Ask anyone about Hotel Amigo and they’ll tell you it’s the best hotel in Brussels. As its name suggests, this hotel is the opposite of pretense. Instead it’s where friends go to gather. After just one night drinking at the bar and dining at BoCConi, that’s exactly how I felt. Amongst friends.
I wouldn’t miss a before dinner drink at Bar Amigo. Especially their Vintage Negroni created by head barman Davide Trupia. It’s a house specialty – a barrel-aged cocktail that mixed Campari, Martini Rosso and Tanqueray Gin and aged at least two months. Not to mention the lively entertainment with the ever-entertaining Bruce Ellison and the Jellodies. The bar is alway host to a fun eclectic mix of local and international talent.
Bar Amigo’s Cozy and Elegant Interior
After dancing to a few jazzy ballads, I moved the party into BoCConi. I never thought Italian food could be so fantastic outside of Italy. But with Fulvio Pierangelini’s touch spearheading the menu and head chef Marco Visinoni at the helm, my tastebuds danced over dishes like: Seabass, Mashed Potatoes and Wild Mushrooms (recipe below), lightly fried squid with aubergine and zucchini, paccheri with tomatoes and their famous Tiramisu Bocconi.
On the table I found their private label of balsamic vinegar and olive oil sourced from Sicily. Italians are known to travel abroad with a stash of their favorite olive oil. So it made perfect sense that the chefs would provide guests only their ‘personally approved’ best at BoCConi.
Seabass, Mashed Potatoes and Wild Mushrooms
SEABASS, MASHED POTATOES AND WILD MUSHROOMS
Courtesy of Hotel Amigo, Brussels – BoCConi - Fulvio Pierangelini
2 seabass of about 1 kg
1 kg of potatoes
100 ml extra virgin olive oil “Pierangelini”
Wild mushrooms (choose them according to the season: porcini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles …)
Salt and pepper
In a pan, cook the potatoes while maintaining their peel. It is necessary that the potatoes are of the same size so that the cooking is homogeneous.
Once cooked, peel and crush them gently without letting them cool. Season them with salt.
Put the potatoes in a saucepan and mix them with olive oil to transform them into puree.
Chip and prepare the fish and then fillet it.
Season the fillets with oil, salt and pepper and fry them in medium heat to cook well inside the fish.
When the fish is almost ready, clean the mushrooms gently with a damp cloth.
Prepare them and cut them with your fingers if possible.
Toast the mushrooms in a stir-fry with olive oil, thyme and garlic
For making the dressage, place the puree in the center of the plate, add the two fish fillets and top it with the mushrooms.
Finalize with a dash of olive oil.
Rue de l’Amigo 1
1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
*Images courtesy of Hotel Russie, Hotel Amigo and Hotel Savoy
*I was the guest of the Hotel Russie, Hotel Amigo and Hotel Savory. My opinions are entirely my own.
Before Capri became famous, there was Ischia: a volcanic island overlooking the stunning Bay of Naples with views of Mount Vesuvius. During Italy’s La Dolce Vita era, Ischia was the destination for Italian film stars, royalty and the uber glamorous. The five-star L’Albergo di Regina Isabella Hotel and Health Spa permanently secured its place in Ischia’s heyday. Inspired by the island’s healing thermal waters, the legendary Italian film producer Angelo Rizzoli had the vision to build a hotel where glamour and health blend seamlessly.
With a history of pleasing the world’s most refined (and sometimes demanding) guests, today the Regina Isabella doesn’t disappoint. I enjoyed every drop of La Dolce Vita that I experienced there, throughly enjoyed its relaxed seaside chic, and pinched myself while indulging in its Michelin-starred en plein air restaurant Indaco. The legendary spa with healing thermal waters and infused mud washed away every fiber of tension in my body. Days melted away and hours were counted by empty Prosecco bottles. The wonderful staff with their old world service spoiled me like never before. Within hours of my arrival, I was enchanted. And by the end of my stay, I understood why guests return here every summer – some for 40 years – and bring the grandchildren. For what would be summer in Italy without the Regina Isabella? Yes, I came to love it that much.
My day started with breakfast at the Sporting Restaurant where I could show up in my bathrobe or pool cover-up. This is no ordinary breakfast and raises the buffet bar to an entirely new level. The maître welcomed and escorted me to my table with a sweeping sea view of Lacco Ameno. Then I was absolutely fussed over multiple handsome waiters ensuring my cappuccino was just right and that I had tasted the fresh fruit from the island. Add in the seaviews and Prosecco, this is what breakfast dreams are made of. And it’s only ten o’clock!
Breakfast Views from the Sporting Bar
View of the new DolceVita Restaurant
Suites with Art
While still reveling in its history, the Regina Isabella hasn’t lost its sexiness for modern guests. It’s the very best of old world charm with an updated modern chic. Large pieces of provocative art hang in the suites. Add that to custom hand painted tiles and private thermal jacuzzis on the balcony and you just might stay forever. Most of it’s 128 rooms have a balcony and sweeping views of the sea or a charming garden view. They range from a standard single to the Royal Suites with a separate living room and two bathrooms in their own tower on the bluff. Even the amenities are chic with a fun stylish flair. You might want to stash a few in your bag to take home. I did.
The Tasting Menu
I was told by a guest not to check out without dining at the Michelin star restaurant Indaco. I booked that night and was glad I did. It’s not often to see the sun set over the Bay of Naples from my dinner table. I was served the 6-course tasting menu created by executive chef (and Ischia local) Pasquale Palamaro and watched the magical sky turn from azure blue to orange and red and then to twilight and starry black. The tasting menu led me through tastes and textures that were divine and filling. Add in the “Tour of Italy” wine flight and a moonrise and I have to say Indaco was one of my most magical nights.
Once spoiled by the beauty, charm, staff, and cuisine at the Regina Isabella, it’s hard not to image breakfast views at the Sporting Restaurant in my bathrobe and Michelin star diners en plein air at sunset. What soothes my soul, is that I’ll be back in Italy. And yes, back in Ischia at the Regina Isabella. Like a time capsule of La Dolce Vita Italian chic, there is nothing like the iconic Regina Isabella. Some places are you so good, you never want them to change. Because you know that the second time will be even sweeter.
L’Albergo della Regina Isabella *****L
Piazza Santa Restituta, 1
80076 Lacco Ameno – Ischia (Na), Italy
+39 081 99 43 22
*I was a guest of the Regina Isabella Hotel & Spa. This review is a true representation of my experience at the hotel.
*Images courtesy of Donna Sozio and the Regina Isabella Hotel & Spa
Location. Location. Location. The harborside Marseille Radisson Blu is perfectly situated in the middle of Marseille’s iconic Vieux Port, which is walking - or boating - distance from some of France’s most haute museums, fascinating cathedrals, and chic renovated shopping districts.
Marseille’s Old Port at Night
There’s something magical about this little corner of the world. It’s charm changes from sunrise to sunset in bespoke ways. Marseille is a stunning clash of the ancient and modern whose overlapping architecture old and new fascinates me. What can I say? I love Marseille. The food. The wine. The people. Its sea, hilltop castles and neon lights. I found the Radisson Blu Marseille was the perfect place to soak it all in. Why? Because you’re right in the middle of the best of it all.
Harbor View Rooms
More Harbor Views
After checking in, which was a breeze, I enjoyed Marseille’s stunning views from my harbor view room. I didn’t feel like I was missing out while relaxing before heading out. Even though I was quite fatigued from traveling, I flooded my veins with coffee as I didn’t want to miss the 2,000 years worth of history to explore. Marseille is both contemporary, chic and old worldly. All the while serving up some of the most interesting French seafood and cuisine. If you only stay one night, make sure it’s not a Monday. Or you might miss the delicious bouillabaisse. It was hard to find fish on Monday.
Of its 189 rooms and suites, you’ll either have a city or harbor view. After a long travel, it’s comforting to know what level of luxury to expect from the Radisson Blu Marseille – even before checking in. Large comfortable beds and bathtubs to soak in. A warm welcome. Someone actually at the check in desk. Although I’m a true fan of the independent hotel, after staying in some rather dubious rooms in France before – sometimes it’s nice to know what’s coming next from a quality hotel group. Rather than risk the unexpected after a long travel.
While it’s fairly convenient to get to the hotel – Marseille’s train station is a 25-minute walk and only minutes from a metro stop – I suggest a cab. The sidewalk is not entirely smooth and can be a bumpy journey with your rolling luggage – which can make an ordinarily short walk feel a thousand last miles.
If the spa is on your itinerary, while there isn’t one on-site, fear not. Just a few steps away the Radisson Blu Marseille has partnered with Cinque Mondes, a world class eco-luxury spa where all your low-cost airline woes can be massaged away. Or, have a cocktail at the Bar Lounge Scirocco, head into the solarium in their fitness center, or make your way straight to the rooftop pool with views of the port and the ancient city.
A Spacious Room at the Radisson Blu Marseille
You could certainly stay the weekend in Marseille and never leave the area except where you can walk to. There is enough to explore just outside the hotel doors. Yet, if you’re interested in day tripping, Marseille is an excellent base. Boats in the harbor will whisk you away to the Frioul Islands and Les Calanques. Or it’s just a short drive from the Abbaye St. Victor.
For some incredible shopping head to Les Docks de la Joliette that just underwent a stunning renovation. It’s the right combination of industrial chic and elegant French seaside that embodies the va va voom late 19th century France. There is even the Théâtre Joliette, a gorgeous home for contemporary dramatic arts.
And for the sunset of a lifetime, the perfect place to be is on the sandy public flat just between Villa Méditerranée and The MuCEM. This very spot is worth coming back to Marseille over and over again. Nights in Marseille are a marvel and are not to be missed. It’s magical as the sunset as the skyline and hilltop cathedrals glow. The lights from The MuCEM reflect neon accents upon the sky and water.
Marseille’s Glowing Hilltop Cathedrals
Neon Lights from The MuCEM
View from the Rooftop Pool at Night
Daytime View from the Pool
The Welcoming Lobby
The Lounge Bar Scirocco
The Super Breakfast Buffet at Café Terracotta
No matter how much I long for night to last forever in Marseille, it always turns to day. My consolation was their famous Radisson Blu Super Breakfast. Even with an early flight, I allotted time for a leisurely breakfast at their Café Terracotta a classic French brasserie. It was even more delicious than I remembered. Fresh squeezed fruit juice, poached eggs, classic Provençal quiche and marinated dried tomatoes. Truly a feast and included in the price of the room. Some hotels in France charge upwards of 30 euros for breakfast.
I checked out and my taxi arrived. I wasn’t sad. Instead, I was still entranced. Once again Marseille had delivered a magical experience; a two thousand year old city steeped in culture and history stirred up with an eclectic mix of modern architecture that perfectly blends to create lasting memories of magical corner of the world.
Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille ****
40 Quai de Rive Neuve
13007 Marseille, France
Marseille, France +33 4 88 44 52 00
*I was a guest of the Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille. This review is a true representation of my experience at the hotel.
*Images courtesy of ©Atout France and The Radisson Blu Marseille
If you fancy private beaches, seaside champagne lunches, panoramic rooftop bars and infinity sea views from your balcony then say Bonjour to the Nice Radisson Blu.
A quick blink and you’re there 5-minute drive from the airport and an easy 10-minute drive from both the train station and the port, you’ll be soaking up the Côte d’Azur sunshine just as fast as you can slip on your swimsuit.
Perfectly situated between Monaco and Antibes, Nice is a stunner anytime of year. Staying in Nice is by far the most economical choice in the Côte d’Azur – even in high season. And the Nice Radisson Blu is one of the few hotels that offer overnight parking; that makes day tripping to nearby Eze Village, Grasse, St. Paul de Vence or Antibes even more convenient.
Panoramic Rooftop Terrace
Nighttime View of the Bay of Nice from the Rooftop Pool
The rooms well appointed with flat LCD screens, free ADSL and Wifi. The bathrooms were large and luxurious. And I was particularly pleased that the desk actually faced the window – finally, not the wall. So when I had to check emails and do a bit of work I could still soak in the incredible panoramic sea view. And with double paned glass balcony doors, I would never have known I was 5-minutes from the airport
Room with a Sea View
Sixty percent of the rooms have what I call and infinity sea view of the Bay of Nice. And as blue as the Cote d’Azur is, the hotel is also focused on being green. It the won the Think Planet Award 2014 for its energy savings. I found a great wellness center on the 7th floor with sauna, steam bath, and cardio machines. But I preferred to get my exercise along the famous Promenade des Anglais.
So, what should you do while in Nice? Definitely enjoy all that the Nice Radisson Blu has to offer. Because it doesn’t just give you a place to stay; it also gives you access to some of the most coveted locales of the Côte d’Azur.
Walk across the street to the hotel’s private beach Régence Plage by Radisson Blu and book a front line day lounge. Here time melts away into memories of seafood towers. And you count the hours by empty cocktails. You can even have champagne and fresh fish delivered to your lounge chair.
Régence Plage by Radisson Blu
Lunch at Régence Plage by Radisson Blu
Thursday nights the famous nightclub Bubbles Cave sets up residence on the rooftop and being a guest gets you preferred entrance. Also their private beach doubles as one of the Cote d’Azure’s hottest summer beach parties, where you can rub elbows with some of who’s who of Nice. Again, your room key gives you access.
Make sure to check out the Lobby’s Bar’s cocktail list for an entire page dedicated to champagne cocktails. Most of which I had never heard of before. One particular favorite new champagne was Duval Leroy – so smooth!
For dinner head to their new Le 223 restaurant headed by chef Christophe Vandewinckel serving up Provencal gastronomic fare. It’s rare that a hotel restaurants is excellent – but truly it was. I let my waiter expertly guide me down the menu and pair my dishes from the soup to main to my tarte tartin with delicious wines such as a new favorite: Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre. In the summertime, Le 223 gives way to poolside dinning with a panoramic sea view at La Terrasse on the 8th floor. Either way, pas mal.
La Terrasse on the 8th Floor
During the day take a stroll down the famous Promenade des Anglais on foot or rent a bicycle and people watch as you head to Place Garibaldi in centre ville Nice, which is just a 30-minute walk.
And if you want to go big (you are in the Côte d’Azur, after all) let the concierge arrange for you to arrive in style – by helicopter – to Monaco with Heli Aiz Monaco. Or in winter pop to the Alps for a quick ski, by helicopter. It’s the ultimate way to hit the slops. Talk about ski in/ski out!
A Few Tips for Nice and staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel Nice :
Be mindful about the seasons. In the winter, the pool is not open and the Terrasse restaurant is only open for lunch, weather permitting.
Definitely be open to trying new French wines and champagnes – especially ones you’ve never heard of before. Their drink menu and wine list is exceptionally curated.
Save time for breakfast, even in you have an early flight. It’s complimentary and delicious with perfect croissants and an entire buffet of local fare.
Nice’s beach is made up of pebbles, not sand. If sand is a must, Antibes is the perfect day trip.
Radisson Blu Hotel Nice ****
223 Prom. des Anglais, 06200
Nice, France +33 4 97 17 71 77
*I was a guest of the Radisson Blu Hotel Nice. This review is a true representation of my experience at the hotel.
Some kind of magic happens when everything is easier than expected and better than you hoped. That’s what I experienced whilst staying at the Hotel Nice Excelsior. It’s an easy hop from the Nice airport (even on public transport) and less than a 2-minute walk from the train station. Which should leave enough Euros in your wallet for a fresh fish dinner along the Promenade des Anglais.
The Hotel Nice Excelsior
Arriving with my carry-on in tow, the Hotel Nice Excelsior had me at bon jour with its gorgeous Belle Epoch facade and an inviting modern entrance that had me thinking, ” I’m really going to like this.”
A Welcoming Entrance
Its 42 rooms are light, bright and brimming with French chic while each floor is themed with old world travel glamour. I found all the modern comforts I appreciate today, like an actually powerful hair dyer, which in France and Europe in general, is quite a rarity. And a bathrobe that actually fit, rather than the ridiculously enormous ones I trip over.
The Ground Floor
It’s the details that count and there is so much to appreciate at the Hotel Nice Excelsior. The rooms are spacious and filled with light. Balconies overlook a lovely courtyard. The beds are amazing, no stiff neck in the morning. And the bathroom looked brand new. Which isn’t always the case in Europe, even at four star hotels. I’ve often opened doors to rooms that felt more like a dark cave r hallway and slept in lumpy beds that creaked all night. But not here at the Hotel Nice Excelsior. There wasn’t one sore thumb sticking out. Not one oddity.
Perhaps their exceptional attention to detail is due to ”atmospherist” Sandrine Alouf and her part in the hotel’s recent top-to-bottom renovation. She encompassed all the charm of the bygone Belle Epoch era that travelers still long for with everything you need for a comfortable stay. As her title suggests, it’s all about atmosphere. And dare I say, emotion. Every hotel makes me feel a certain way and that’s what I remember. The Hotel Nice Excelsior made me feel… well, French. And I loved it.
Each of the Hotel Nice Excelsior’s 4 floors is artistically themed with a different mode of transportation: plane, train, car and boat to invoke the fun of travel. Chic yet whimsical wallpaper with stylistic postcards and sketches by illustrator and graphic designer Frédéric Arnold adorn the walls to give the hotel a fresh and fun throwback retro feel.
My room featured a postcard written by the infamous R. Nietzsche from Nice in 1885. Whether is was an actual postcard or a artistic representation is a mystery to me. It added to the charm and fun of staying at the hotel because I actually enjoyed staying in my room.
Room with Postcards from Nietzsche
Even the staircase was part of charm of Hotel Nice Excelsior. Yes, there’s an elevator. But taking the stairs was much more fun.
There are two areas to relax. One was the courtyard with modern patio furniture where you could appreciate the architecture and facade of this classic building with vines climbing up the wall. The other was a comfy reading room and common area with a computer for guests to use.
Comfy Common Area for Guests
Breakfast was a treat with speciality French butters, artisanal jams, chestnut flower honey, delicious cheeses, charcuterie, fresh baked breads, juices and… actually great coffee. As much as I love France, finding a good cup of coffee here isn’t easy.
There isn’t a restaurant in the hotel. But, no matter. I just walked outside and was minutes away from Vieux Nice and the Promenade des Anglais lined with fresh fish restaurants featuring Nicoise specialities. After a charming night in Old Nice dining on a slanted table, where the wine was in danger of sliding off (and it did!), I actually looked forward to returning to the hotel, flop down on the perfect bed, don my bathrobe and relax. I wanted a night in and to enjoy the room. After all, there was a really nice bottle of French rosé waiting for me in the minibar.
Hotel Nice Excelsior ****
19 Avenue Durante – 06000 NICE FRANCE
+33 (0)4 93 88 18 05
I was a guest of the Hotel Nice Excelsior. This review is a true representation of my experience at the hotel.
Luxurious. Elegant. Sexy. Historic. That’s Florence’s Guelfi e Ghibellini Restaurant.
The Music Room
I arrived for dinner an hour early to enjoy a cocktail from the bar in the Music Room on the piano nobile in the historic Relais Santa Croce Firenze Hotel. I slowly sipped my negroni taking in its true grandness. The parquet floors. The vaulted ceilings. The enormous glittering chandelier and the removable panels in the wall that once hosted a full orchestra when the Marchese Baldinucci entertained in the 1700’s. I pinched myself. It’s 2015 and now, I’m here. Really? Fancy that. You can’t help but to feel special in a such a beautiful and truly historic palazzo that invites you to experience and enjoy it as you would your own home.
Guelfi e Ghibellini Restaurant
Once seated in the restaurant, we were swept away with the elegance of fine dining. Service was relaxed but excellent as we were guided through the Mediterranean menu and its excellent wine list.
As beautiful as the Guelfi e Ghibellini is I wasn’t here to just to admire the art. I was there to indulge in some serious Florentine cuisine with their signature Mediterranean twist. And so our three hour dinner began.
Honestly, I’m not sure how the Italians do it. Antipasto. Primo. Secondo. Then desert, fruit and coffee. Mamma mia! For me it’s always a bit too much but I put on my game face and tried my best. Everything on the menu was truly tempting such as: Chianina beef tartar with artichokes and pecorino cheese slivers and crisp vegetable strudel with ewe’s ricotta and Mediterranean gazpacho. There were even some classic Roman favorites such as: Spaghetti with ‘Cacio’ cheese and black pepper and Amatriciana spaghetti with tomato sauce, bacon and hot pepper.
Il Primo: Paccheri from Gragnano with seafood, tomatoes and lemon zest
For the primo, I opted for my favorite type of pasta: paccheri, which are very large tubes that collect the sauce expertly. Fantastic! The slightly nutty flavor of the Gragnano flour with the seafood was a lovely combination. It was a shame but I had to leave some in my bowl to make room for the secondo.
When in Florence it’s obligatory – at least for me – to try the Grilled Florentine T-bone steak, which was cooked to perfection and very juicy. The flecks of salt on top brought out even more flavor and blended perfectly with my bold Chianti.
Il Secondo: Turbot fish in a pistacho crust with potatoes from Cetica and sweet peppers
If steak isn’t your taste, try the fish. Although Italians aren’t famous for their seafood, truly they are masters in its preparation. After all, Italy is surrounded by the sea.
Il Dolce: Trio of crème brulée Pistachio, Passion fruit, Strawberry
Then after una pausa (little break) it was time for desert. I’m a fan of all things citrus and I love that flavors that it gives to deserts. Not too sweet, like the Cantucci parfait with orange, ginger and vin santo sauce. And for cherry lovers the variation of cherries: cheese cake, broiled custard and sorbet is a must try. Fruity and refreshing, it was the perfect end to the truly memorable three hour meal.
For its elegance, fine dining, and historic setting dinner at Guelfi e Ghibellini Restaurant is a Tuscan experience to hold and remember. I know I will.
*Images courtesy of Relais Santa Croce Florence
*I was a guest of Relais Santa Croce Florence and Guelfi e Ghibellini Restaurant
At the Relais Santa Croce Florence, I channeled my inner contessa when I stayed in this meticulously restored palazzo filled with Italian treasures and majestic frescoes.
Entrance to Relais Santa Croce
Evidently, it’s good to be the treasurer of the pope. At least it was for Marchese Baldinucci, who in the early 18thcentury built Palazzo Ciofi Jacometti, that is now the Relais Santa Croce Florence.
As the saying goes, “God is in the details” and I had an inspiring – almost religious – stay.
Perhaps it was the views of Basillica di Santa Croce, the original frescoes and vast parquet floors? Or the exquisite gold leafing? Even just walking in the front door between two Roman columns was an experience in itself and had me at hello.
I felt both a part of yesterday’s Renaissance and today’s timeless chic.
One of Italy’s premiere Baglioni Hotels, this five-star gem embodies luxe and refinement. Dare I say, it’s one sexy palazzo. Pack your silk dress and well-fitted suit because here you’ll be inspired to embody your Italian-style. Comfy wrinkled travel clothes just aren’t the right vibe. Not under these vaulted ceilings.
The common rooms are anything but common. They’re an elegant mix of period pieces and restored elegance, splendor, and charm. It’s not often I use the word splendor to describe a hotel. But I do here with full regale.
The Music Room
The Music Room, the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail before dinner, is where the Marchese Baldinucci entertained Florence’s A-list in the 170o’s under a particularly enormous chandelier with an orchestra that emerged from behind removable panels in the wall.
The Sala Fumoir
And not that I advocate smoking but if you ever wanted to have an elegant puff, the Sala Fumoir is the place to light up in an atmosphere of restored sophistication with a view of Florence below.
De Pepi Presidential Suite
The rooms were just as I had expected whilst staying in a palazzo – gorgeous! Of the 24 rooms and suites the most famous are the Da Verazzano Royal Suite and the De Pepi Presidential Suite with priceless antiques and 18th century frescoes to keep you company.
Da Verazzano Royal Suite
I fell in love with even more details: the ironed linen sheets and the softest bathrobes were definitely in alignment with the hotel’s five stars.
As much as the Relais Santa Croce had me at hello, the next morning came and after a delicious hotel breakfast and cappuccino under vaulted ceilings, it was time to check out and say goodbye to my Tuscan Contessa fantasy. After all this gold leafed elegance, I knew it would be uncouth to cross my arms and refuse to leave. Although I admit the thought absolutely crossed my mind.
For me, it wasn’t just the beauty of the palazzo but also the feeling I had staying at the Relais Santa Croce that I never wanted to forget. Thankfully, you can take all your feelings with you. And when feelings turn to memories, they are yours forever. Such is my memory of contessa for a night at the Relais Santa Croce Florence.
*Photos courtesy of Relais Santa Croce Florence
*I was the guest of Relais Santa Croce Florence
Palazzo and Michelin star are three of my favorite words. At the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze in Palazzo della Gherardesca, these three words deliciously collide at the famed Il Palagio.
You can dine al fresco on the verdant garden terrace and watch the sun reflect in your glass as it sets over botanical gardens. Or indulge in modern Tuscan elegance inside under the light of its many chandeliers. Either way, even before your meal begins, Il Palagio is a feast for the senses.
It was a hot May day so we opted for the terrace, which absolutely was the right choice. The gardens were lush and magical. A stunning backdrop to an incredible meal.
I let the sommelier choose the wine. We started with a Tuscan Fattoria Di Montechiari “Donna Catherine” and then moved on to a Gavi di Gavi white that sang out of the glass.
Once our dishes arrived the negotiations began. “Can I have a gnudi, if I give you one of my prawns?” These flavorful negotiations are always a win/win.
Here are a few of the dishes that we battled over with our forks.
Warm ‘francesina’ stewed beef salad on swiss chard cream
Gnudi: traditional ricotta cheese and wild asparagus dumplings served with San Miniato saffron sauce
Cavatelli pasta ‘cacio e pepe’ with marinated red prawns and baby squid
Pigeon from Assisi with Vin Santo and thyme scented caramelised fruits.
What I enjoy so much about fine dining is that every forkful, dab, swirl, or smear on your plate offers a new experience of flavor. You never know what direction those mysterious three green dots are going to take you. Which only adds to the fun of discovering new flavors.
By now the sun had set and twilight had faded into black. Which meant it was time for dessert.
With desert came even more negotiations and fork fighting over ‘Amedei’ chocolate and cardamon mousse with coffee ice-cream and the Mascarpone lingot with salted caramel pecan nuts and ‘Malaga’ ice cream.
Like the last page of your new favorite book that you don’t want to put down, this was a dinner that I didn’t want to end. More than just delicious. It was dreamy. A pinch yourself surreal “La Dolce Vita” moment. I was even tempted to leave behind an earring. Something to come back for.
But then I remembered how beautiful Il Palagio was also on the inside. And how it would be an entirely new experience to dine under its chandeliers.
Tonight, I could keep my earring. I had found my reason to return.
*Photos courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
*I was a guest of the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze