Luxury Hotels

ITALY – 3

Good for road signs. Well, how else would you know which way to go round an olive tree that has probably been here several hundred years, certainly longer than the road around it. We’re in Puglia, approaching Masseria San Domenico, the country estate that a Rome lawyer, Sergio Melpignano, bought in 1976.

Later it was expanded, and turned into a hotel. Including new additions as well as bits of fortified farmhouse that date back to the 14 th century, it has 40 bedrooms in all. Girlahead was in a two-floor new block, finished about ten years with a heritage look that was inspired long before.

Room #132 was about 30sq m, with marble-look stone floors and cream-painted walls. The main decoration was on the long wall facing the bed. There, a back-lit quartet of metre-high sculptures held court. Two male and two female sculptures, two male and two female, glazed white ceramic statues, with almond-coloured features – holding court.

The bed had a bedhead formed of linen strips hanging from a horizontal wrought iron rod on wall. The bed was actually how one imagine a holy person would live, humbly but stylishly (no bulky duvet allowed) Linens have a golden peripheral stripe – see on the footmats, ready for night turndown on a housekeeping trolley temporarily parked outside #132.

The beauty of the linens gave a particularly Italian feel to the whole stay. The china is Richard Ginori. The room maids have a pale-coloured uniform by day but for the evening they change into Upstairs, Downstairs gear, full black and white ‘tweenie’ togs, with starched aprons. Come to think of it whenever there possibly could be starched linen there was. Linen napkins have crocheted edges. They’re laundered and starched and ironed and folded so exactly that each napkin presents as four ‘mountain tops’.

Read more
Luxury Hotels

ITALY – 2

Yes, Michele Bonan, designer of the 73-room Portrait Milano, beautified every nook, cranny and courtyard space of the hotel that started out as a convent. The outside areas are not forgotten. See above.

At Portrait Milano the typical hotel lobby is replaced by a high-ceilinged centuries-old room with dozens of arty tomes, from Gaudi to Versace, and comfy seating where Milan’s chicest Gen Zs are glued to their laptops. Some are local WFHers calling in for a regular break. Others, recognised by discreet signs, are hotel staff, concierges or lifestyle agents, perhaps preparing the next edition of the hotel’s excellent A3-sized full-colour Weekly Tips newsletter.

The hotel certainly seemed to have everything Girlahead could possibly want. The Longevity Spa TLS is a growing European cult, attracted by minus-87° cryotherapy (Longevity Spa TLS was started by a Milanese couple and is said to be expanding throughout Europe, and Dubai).

There’s a beef restaurant here, and Milanese also flock to the hotel’s own restaurant, 10_11, inside or out, in gorgeous gardens. No Michelin here, intentionally. It’s authentic food with a bit of fun. Panini and pizzas vie with Longevity Spa items – low-carb pizza with smoked salmon, avocado and burrata – and real food. Perhaps start with a Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Cuvee Brut from Lombardy and a signature, a cooking tray holding eight bite-sized meatballs with saffron mayonnaise blobs atop, go on to seabass baked in a salt crust and finish with gelato with salt crumble atop.

And oh, the breakfast buffet. Whole ricotta, artichoke tart, those squat white peaches that one associates with the Medicis. See the image below. There are well-labelled Venice pastries and at least a dozen varieties of croissants (which other hotel has a master pastry cook who gave up practising medicine to follow his passion?).

Read more
Luxury Hotels

ITALY – 1

Sum up Portrait Milano in two words and they could be heritage-sleek. See the courtyard view above, showing the 73-room hotel’s GM Diego Roggero in the courtyard alongside a Julian Opie. The UK artist has eight silhouettes on display summer long. Themed Walking In Milan, the exhibition is curated by Valentina Ciarallo of Galleria Valentina Bonomo, with financial support from Banca Patrimoni Sella sc. Locals come and see the shapes, which brighten up the all-grey vista of a typical mediaeval ecclesiastical courtyard. This one goes back to the year 1500.

Girlahead needed to check out Milan, quickly. The influential Sunday Times in the UK yesterday had a major business article ‘City dealmakers head for the tax havens of Milan’, which has extremely generous tax benefits for high-earning foreigners (pay €100,000 to avoid paying any income tax on non-Italian income).  It seems that the two year-old Portrait Milano, fashioned from a seminary, has come at exactly the right time.

Thank god Valeriano Antonioli, then 13, was expelled from that venerable seat of ecclesiastical learning on the grounds that he was ‘too creative’. Without that life-changing act, Portrait Milano, already being talked about as Europe’s best hotel even though it’s only 18 months old, would never have happened.

Fast-forward to 2016. Antonioli, now CEO of the Ferragamo family’s Lungarno Collection hotels, saw a boarded-up five-storey building in Piazza del Quadrilatero, the hub of Milan’s Montepoleone golden triangle, some of the most expensive real estate in Europe. Built in the year 1500 as a convent, it was still owned by the Church and they definitely didn’t want it converted to an hotel. Ever a creative sleuth, the former seminarian found out that the good brother who had expelled him all those years ago was now the high and mighty decision-maker on the Montepoleone property.

After a democratic bidding process against 16 other interested parties – think all top global luxury hotel names – and never-ending civil and historic hiccups, Lungarno won (the Ferragamo name gave comfort to the Church). Italy’s top residential designer Michele Bonan has produced 73 stunning suites, bottle green and Champagne, obviously Italian furniture, Salvatore Ferragamo shampoo, velvet and dozens of all the latest art books you would indeed love in your own home. Check the YouTube video of Girlahead’s overnight home, suite 405, overlooking the garden.

Michele Bonan is brilliant. He even has an eye for making corridors, usually the nadir of any hotel look, fascinating.  See the image below….

Read more