Every year Venice, Milan and Cinque Terre are stops on the fall circuit: The Biennale is still up in Venice but the crowds have dissipated, autumn shopping in Milan is outstanding, and Vernazza is still warm but has an end of season crispness. This year’s trip brought new discoveries too:
Gritti Palace. I checked out the revamp of this Venice grand dame following two years of renovation and an almost $50 million price tag. Every piece of artwork and each room had been restored by local artisans and you could see the results from the wallpaper to fabrics to the wood-paneled bar—in our suite, for example, a beautiful harpsichord was an original but painstakingly preserved heirloom.
Aman Venice. Just in time for the Biennale, the Asian hotel heavyweight opened their new outpost set between two palazzi (one from 16th century and one from 19th) with original details like frescoes from the likes of Tiepolo. I found the bedrooms a tad too minimal (especially for the price), but the public areas were truly museum worthy, with epic views of the Canal. And the service was outstanding too.
Barbiere Franco e Davide. I adore an old school barbershop and think they give a neighborhood real character. This spot, in Venice’s Castello, was worthy of central casting: the barber Franco held court on Italian politics as he gave amazing haircuts for the bargain price of 18 euros. If you need a close shave, or just a dose of authenticity in a mostly touristy destination, don’t miss this spot (San Provolo Castello 4716/C). For more on what do while in Venice check out my 36 Hours for the New York Times.
El Refolo. While the cafes set up for the Biennale are fine for a quick snack on the run, far more atmospheric and local is this bar and cichetti spot only a few streets over from the Arsenale. In addition to their delicious spritzes and glasses of local wine, they make wonderful little Panini, stuffed with ingredients like gorgonzola and radicchio, and plates of cheese and sliced salamis. I love watching the regulars who cram into the tiny space at lunch (Sestiere Castello 1580). For more of my favorite spots to eat and drink in Venice check out my picks in Conde Nast Traveler.
Kan Xuan at the Arsenale. The Biennale is up until the 24th of November this year, so if you find yourself in Venice in the next few weeks, make sure to visit the Arsenale. Kan Xuan was a new find for me, and her installation was the highlight in my opinion. Called Millet Mounds, the 173-video screens focus on imperial tombs over China, showing a culture and country in flux through stop-action images. Here are five other museums and sites that are perennial highlights in Venice for me.
Magna Pars. Housed in a former perfume factory in Milan, this new boutique hotel has a modern and fresh feel, and provides a great base in the wonderful neighborhood of Tortona, home to many of the city’s fashion headquarters and the base for Design Week. I loved how light-filled the spaces were, and how the garden with its trees and flowers provided a green oasis in a city that can feel quite grey.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre. And now onto one of my favorite little towns in Italy. Two years ago on the 25th of October, heavy floods turned this UNESCO-protected village into a disaster zone. Thanks to organizations like Save Vernazza and architect Richard Rogers, the spot is back on its feet and it felt truly inspiring to sit in the main piazza on a balmy late October night, and to witness how much its citizens have rebuilt. For my tips on where to stay and eat in town check out my round-up in Architectural Digest.