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Sorrento, Italy: In the tower of the Saracins, luxury travel

Sorrento, Italy: In the tower of the Saracins, luxury travel

Over cocktails Lionello -- who owns a luxury hotel in Sorrento -- insists we go to his friend Gennaro’s restaurant. “He is a master, he has a gift,” he says enthusiastically, advising us away from his own dining room which had, the previous night, offered food that redefined the word sublime. “But is he...

Venice, Italy: The face of a footnote

Venice, Italy: The face of a footnote

The narrow lane leading from Venice’s Piazza San Marco -- the Merceria as it is called -- is narrow and crowded. But it has always been so. This was once the main street in this city of eroding beauty and remains the shortest route between San Marco and the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge). That means lots of tourists, designer label...

Naples, Italy: You have been warned

Naples, Italy: You have been warned

"The thing with Napoli," said Alfonso leaving a pause for effect, "is the tourist people they love it or they do not. But I understand why they do not. The city, she is . . . " To be honest I can't remember exactly what he said next about his birthplace, but it could have been something like this: that Naples is noisy and...

Alberobello, Italy: Toytown in late summer

Alberobello, Italy: Toytown in late summer

The undistinguished slice of autostrada is almost deserted. Just us, and a gun-metal grey Mercedes -- a minute ago but a dot in the rear-view mirror -- disappearing into the distance ahead. We're in no such hurry so pull off to the Adriatic Coast which has been somewhere to our right this past hour as we have driven up this east coast of...

Sorrento, Italy: Where life takes a holiday

Sorrento, Italy: Where life takes a holiday

Giuseppe the concierge welcomes us with a slight bow and a broad smile, then waves us towards the front desk. I am flattered and surprised that he knows our names, but the reason becomes apparent as we sign in. We are the only two guests in the 50-room Grand Hotel Cocumella which occupies a balcony seat in the pretty town of Sorrento across the...

EUR, Italy: The facades of fascism

EUR, Italy: The facades of fascism

The view at sunset from these steps is spectacular. Old men have gathered to smoke cigarettes and silently watch the orange orb sink below a horizon punctuated by distant spires and domes. The view the other way is more problematic. And pretty ugly. This is EUR -- Exposizione Universale di Roma -- a district on the southern outskirts of Rome...

Sydney, Australia: Family, friends and fine dining

Sydney, Australia: Family, friends and fine dining

Lucio pauses mid-stride as he passes my table and then – perhaps because he can recognise the colour and bouquet, or maybe he cheated and peaked at my order – says enthusiastically, “Ah, but you are drinking a wine from my region, Liguria”. He claps his hands gently then stares at me for a moment. What...

Rome, Italy: When in Rome

Rome, Italy: When in Rome

I don't know his name, never did, and it isn't important anyway. Let's call him Big Marco because that's who he looked like. I arrived at Big Marco's small hotel in Rome early one morning having been directed there by a sad-eyed gentleman at the hotel bookings booth in the nearby railway station. I had said all I wanted was a cheap room,...

New York, USA: Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning

New York, USA: Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning

Stanley liked to talk but, to be fair, he had a lot to talk about. Stanley -- portly, smiling, intense -- was the manager at New York's famous, notorious even, Chelsea Hotel at 222 West 23rd St. He had inherited the position from his father David Bard who bought it in 1940, and Stanley had grown up in the corridors of this building which...

Mendocino, California: On the road again

Mendocino, California: On the road again

Sal introduced himself in the lounge bar of the Hotel Mendocino in the mellow seaside town about four hours north of San Francisco. "I'm a Ferrari doctor," he said. That figured. The hotel dining room had been fully booked by those on the Mille Miglia, a 1000 mile tour for cars manufactured between 1927 and 1957. The street...

Florence, Italy: A long way from Footscray

Florence, Italy: A long way from Footscray

The instructions on how to get to her hotel were quite specific: she said they were located directly opposite Cartier. Which was true, but it might have been equally easy to describe it as being just down the street from the enormous Palazzo Strozzi which dominates this block in central Florence 10 minutes walk from the Major Attractions: the...

Rome, Italy: The only sure thing in life

Rome, Italy: The only sure thing in life

It's all in the odd juxtaposition really. Just off the Piazza Barberini in Rome with its magnificent Fountain of Triton by Bernini -- and only a short walk from the more famous Trevi Fountain -- is the Autocentri Balduini on Via Vittorio Veneto. In the window glistening Lamborghinis are displayed like shop mannequins in a clothing store....

Florence, Italy: The passing strange parade

Florence, Italy: The passing strange parade

Ever been in a place where everything is the same, but different? Let me illustrate. It was close to midnight in Florence and after a fine dinner I went for a lazy stroll through the lamp-lit streets, then stopped at an outdoor cafe in Piazza della Repubblica for a nightcap of grappa. From across the broad square the distant sound of a...

Rome, Italy: The healing doll

Rome, Italy: The healing doll

There are few churches in Rome more interesting, or more overlooked, than Santa Maria in Aracoeli, tucked in beside the famous Vittoriano, the massive white monument which dominates Piazza Venezia and looks like an old Olivetti typewriter. But walk up a very steep flight of old steps and after a wheezing climb you enter one of the more...

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