Tag Archives: Buon Viaggio

Hello, my name is Arlene Antoinette Gibbs and I have a Sicily problem.

It’s bad.  Every time I go, i wish I could stay longer.  There’s so much of the island I haven’t seen yet, for example the entire West Coast, the interior, and other islands like Stromboli, Lampedusa, etc. etc.

This time I was on the island for a week, Mt. Etna then Ortigia, for vacation (and to celebrate my birthday).

“It’s good to back,” I said to Rosa, the newish manager, when I walked into the reception room at Monaci delle Terre Nere.   Last year I wrote about Monaci and my first trip to the Sicilian mainland for FATHOM.

This time I stayed in the Floreale room.


The bathroom!


Photos: Monaci

The view from my balcony.


Lunch was served by the pool.

The first time I went to Monaci, it was raining and winter so I had no idea how spectacular the views were. The grounds are gorgeous.


The main villa at sunset.  I would like to decorate a Sicilian villa one day.


One morning I jogged around the forty acre property.  Most of the food served at Monaci comes from their organic gardens. There is a huge chicken coop.  I hesitate to call it a coop.  It’s more like a palace as it’s bigger than my apartment. Lucky chickens.

The breakfast spread was serious.  On the other side were eggs, cheeses, salumi, cakes, breads, cereals, and many other things I didn’t have a chance to try.


I had to buy a jar of their honey.  Fifteen percent of the honey made in Italy comes from this small town.


I had some great Sicilian wines.   I love their aperitivi.  Although there were more guests during this trip (the hotel was at full occupancy) fewer people went to the aperitivi. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t child appropriate?


Several rooms, located a few meters from the main house, have been renovated now. The atmosphere during high season was completely different from off-season. There were lots of families and half the tourists were American.

I had a moment with a fellow American guest who was so rude, it took my breath away.  I believe I had a strong reaction to her snub because it was completely out of context.  The vibe at Monaci is very friendly and chill.  The owners, Guido and Ada, are lovely and as are the other people who work there.  For this basic lady to not understand that said a lot about her.

As soon as I sat down with my book by the pool, I got over it.  I was in a beautiful place and no one was going to put a damper on that.

A slight scent of Sicilian jasmine, and lavender filled the air.  There were roosters in the background and sometimes the volcano “groaned”, loudly.  It was very relaxing despite the sounds coming from Mt. Etna.

A grazie mille to Rosa, Sara, Federico, Nujuan, Salvatore, and of course Guido and Ada for helping make this the best birthday ever.

Note:  My room was in the main villa and on the same floor as the kitchen. I’m an early riser, so I never heard a peep from the kitchen or from the downstairs reception area.

From Monaci, I went to Oritigia.  This time I rented an apartment on the other side of the village.  I couldn’t understand why it was cheaper than my place from last year.  It had a terrace with a partial sea view.

It’s because that side of the town wasn’t completely regentrified, yet.

As you can see in the photos below, some of the buildings are derelict and the empty former prison is on the left.  I liked being only two blocks away from the farmers market but can see how that might not be appealing.

I had to work a bit during my vacation but at least I had a view.


Love the old faded tiles on the right.


Before unpacking, I ran out to get pick up some yogurt, wine, and other important things.  All of a sudden I heard my name and it was X, Erica’s daughter.  Once again, without planning it, our apartments were only blocks away from each other.

The tiny piazza in front of my building at night.


The architecture here is incredible.  Remember to look up.


My friends at Casa Mia wrote about Tabaré (Sicilian dialect for tray) and I had to check it out.  It’s a must.


On my birthday we went to Arenella beach.  We got there early and scored great beach chairs, second row.  It was my first trip to a Sicilian beach and I had a great time.  I love how people of all shapes and sizes rock bikinis and Speedos.


Later that night we went to dinner.  In Italy when it’s your birthday and you invite people to celebrate with you, you pay.  It makes sense to me. You’re the host. I have some American friends who really have an issue with this custom but it’s not just an Italian thing. In the Caribbean if you invite people out for your birthday, you pay.  I get it if you’re in your early 20s and you meet at a bar or something. However, by your 40s/50s and up, the whole invite people to celebrate you and then expect them to pay is a little odd to me.


After dinner Erica insisted on treating me to a post dinner drink in the main piazza.  This is probably one of my favorite churches and piazzas in Italy.  It is ridiculously beautiful.


I was worked up about this birthday but in the end, it turned out to be a perfect day.  Thank you, Ms. Firpo and Ms. Arya.

I’ve been back for less than two weeks and I’m already trying to figure out when I can return. I’m tempted to join one of my friends in Rome who has to go to there for work in October.  Seriously.

Photos (except for the first two): me and my iPhone

First, I’ve just returned to Rome from a business trip to the States and the Caribbean.  Below are some random observations:

Los Angeles traffic continues to get worse. How is this possible.

Target is great.

J.Crew.  What is happening? I’ve been a fan since the 80s. Something is amiss.

Why is Ben and Jennifer’s former nanny in the press so much? What is her end game? Reality show?

Speaking of reality shows, what the heck is Hollywood Cycle?

Ina Garten.  Adore.

Guy Fieri. Why so many shows, Food Network? Why?!

My friend Erica posted this TIME magazine article that said Americans dressing like slobs equals freedom.  Perhaps I have lived in Italy too long or I am turning into my Caribbean parents because I think that’s absolutely ridiculous.  Freedom? From what? The tyranny of Dior?

The GOP debate. Fascinating.  Trump was peak Trump.

The flight attendants on Air France were very friendly and cheerful.  It’s a long flight from St. Martin to Paris (8.5 hours).  Meanwhile, the American Airline attendants on the Miami to St. Martin flight (only three hours) not so much.  Why?

Portions in America are too big.  I couldn’t finish a single meal.

The newish Restoration Hardware showroom in West Hollywood is odd. I don’t get it.  Is it just for the trade? Who thought it was a good idea to have a 40,000 sq ft store where you have to buy everything online or from the catalog? The scale is huge. How can any shopper, who doesn’t live in a castle, envision that massive furniture in their home?

It would never occur to me to combine these two things:


Second, in the past I have written about my Ferragosto issues.  Despite living in Italy for seven years, I was very American when it come to vacations and/or taking a break from work.

I said, “was” not “am.”  Finally, this year I get it.  I cannot wait for August 15th.  Truly.

My trip was intense.  I recently signed a Los Angeles based client and flew to Los Angeles direct from Rome. I have NEVER in my life been so happy to sit in a freezing cold plane for a thirteen-hour flight.  The six week heatwave in Rome was warping my brain. There were rumblings about Alitalia striking that weekend.  Thankfully, they didn’t and I got an upgrade to Business Class.  Nice.

That upgrade made a huge difference.  I had horrible jet leg during my trip to Los Angeles back in May.  This time it was much better.  I think it also helped that I walked to the Century City Mall shortly after arriving and stayed up until 10.30 p.m.

While I was running around Los Angeles with my client, I had deliveries and construction happening in Rome for another client.  Given the nine hour time difference, things were a little hectic.  I was only in Los Angeles for a few days and on my client’s schedule so I didn’t see many friends or “do meetings”.

Then I fly to Miami.  It was my first trip to the city.  I need to return and see more of it.  I really liked the vibe. I stayed at the Viceroy which was fantastic.

Unfortunately, the design district is shrinking after LVHM bought out several blocks.  It was still a productive trip. I sourced some great items for my Anguilla project.

From Miami I flew to St. Martin.  I said hello to my parents, and the next day took the ferry to Anguilla.

After all the flying, unpacking, repacking, shopping, meeting with contractors, painters, carpenters, project managers, receiving texts from clients in Rome about things we need to do ASAP, etc. etc., I hit the wall on Saturday.

While packing (again) I watch Flipping Out.  Can we talk about this show?  I have so many questions.  I wish Bravo aired in Italy.

I’m not complaining but a very strange thing happened during this trip.  I do not feel guilty about looking forward to August 15th. Not one bit.

Of course I’m not going completely cold turkey. There are quite a few back office things I need take care of during the break and meetings I must attend.

I bought a stack of shelter magazines in the States and the book The Bee Cottage Story.  I’m going to cut way back from the Internet and chill. I know September is going to be off the charts busy.  Everyone returns to town and I’m looking for a new apartment.  The latter will be an interesting process.

I may not be able to Dolce Far Niente for two weeks but can try for at least two days.  To prepare I need to put together a killer playlist which will include one of my favorite summer jams from August 1990.

Buon Ferragosto!

I’ve read about La Bandita, a country house near Pienza and have seen photos of it in various shelter magazines/design articles.

A little over a year ago, John Voigtmann and his wife Ondine Cohane opened La Bandita Townhouse converting a former convent in center of Pienza into a 12-room boutique hotel.

My friend Gillian and husband stayed there recently.  She told me I had to see it in person.  Gillian knows my taste and said I would love it.

She was correct.  I know people are sick and tired of decorators using words like swoon! obsessed! and dying! when describing interiors.  However, let me say, I swooned when I saw my room. I was obsessed with the design of the kitchen and was dying over the views.

I’ve written before about the mix.  It’s something you see frequently in French and Italian interiors.  It’s not easy to pull off.  Sometimes the space is too modern for the architecture and it feels cold.  Or the design is so faithful to the past, it’s dated.

Working with Florence based architects, Arianna Pieri and Ernesto Bartolini of DA.Studio, John and Ondine have created a lovely space. In a hotel, all the beauty in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the service is awful. It was fantastic and I will write about a post about that and Pienza soon.

I absolutely adore this type of décor.  The same architects worked on Monteverdi with interiors by Ilaria Miani.

i found out that one of the main resources for La Bandita Townhouse was the store Barthel.  No wonder it spoke to me as we sourced most of the items for the bathrooms in our Tuscany project from Barthel.

This was my room, number 12.  I arrived late afternoon.  The amount of light during the day is unreal.  I love that they retained the stone wall.  The view from the tub was sick.  The Ortigia products were a nice touch, as were the free water and soda in the mini-bar.

In my next apartment I would like a canopy bed. The colors, the lighting, the bed linens, I really didn’t want to leave this room after two days.

I have to ask if they have a room with a desk, because La Bandita is a perfect spot for writers.



Tears of happiness when i saw this huge shower stall.  I really need to move.



Gorgeous.  The main hallway is the first thing you see when you walk thru the door. The convent dates from the 1400s.



Again, stone walls.  A lot of natural materials with pops of orange throughout.



This kitchen is everything.  In the States open-plan kitchens are preferred but not in Italy (or the Caribbean).  Notice the overhead window over the bar?  It drops down.  Once you close the door on the left of the bar, you have a closed kitchen that lets in light.   A friend of mine, who lives in a loft in Rome, did something very similar.  It’s a brilliant idea.



An old map of Italy in the library/lounge.



I was very excited to see so many classic LPs in different genres. I could’ve stayed up all night listening to music.  I still have some vinyl and for my next apartment (I know, I know) I will buy a turntable.



You know how I feel about books and magazines.  It was freezing outside.  It was nice to curl up on the sofa and just chill.



John is former music industry executive.  Some of his gold records sit on top of the bookcase.



Aperitivi time!



John has said he and Ondine wanted to create a beautiful, comfortable hotel where people could come to relax and enjoy Tuscany. They have. La Bandita is a special place. I cannot wait to return during warmer weather so I can eat outside on their fantastic terrace.

Photos: (except for the one of the kitchen and of the bookcase) me and my iPhone.

Click HERE to see more from La Bandita’s great photo gallery.

La Bandita Townhouse

Corso Il Rossellino, 111
Pienza (SI) 53026
Toscana, Italia
Tel +39 0578 749 005


Anguilla is quite the A-list celebrity/VIP destination these days.  However, the small island has managed to retain it’s relaxed, quiet charm.

My most recent piece for FATHOM Magazine went live today.


ANGUILLA – I wish I could say I have always appreciated this beautiful island. That would be untrue.

When my family moved from New York City to the leafy suburbs of Verona, New Jersey, I knew I had to become a true American teenager. I was hampered by my parents’ insistence on raising their children as if we were a family living in the Caribbean.

My parents are from St. Martin (totally different from the Dutch side, St. Maarten) and both my grandmothers were Anguillian. Whenever we went to St. Martin to stay with my paternal grandparents, we ferried over to Anguilla to visit family and friends. When I was a child it, was fun to hang out with my cousins, go the beaches, and stuff ourselves on Johnnycakes, rice and peas, and salt fish cakes. But as for the stunning white beaches of the island, they were lost on me when I was older. I mean, I was a teenager. Visiting relative after relative while sitting on their verandas for hours drinking Ting was boring.

The final anti-island straw happened one night when I was walking back to my aunt’s house and a mongoose ran across my foot. I was done. I thought, “I could be chilling at the Short Hills Mall with my friends instead of being stuck on this tiny island.”

It wasn’t until my parents moved to back to St. Martin after retirement and I moved to Rome that I began to understand why those trips back home were so important.

To read the rest and see more pictures, click HERE.


The beach at Cap Juluca with the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten in the background.

Photo: Me and my iPHone

Over the summer my friend Annie invited me to spend the weekend at her in-laws.  They live in Fiuggi.  It’s only an hour south of Rome but at least a good ten degrees cooler.

I happened to visit during Fiuggi’s sagra.  It was outstanding.  When a large group of people started to do the Electric Slide, I fell out.  Seriously.  Here I was in a small hill town in the middle of Italy (I saw only one other black person there) and folks were doing this:


Another highlight of my weekend was our trip to Castello di Fumone, (aka Castello di Longhi).  The tour (in Italian) was very interesting.

The castle was built sometime between 244 – 455.   The name means “Big Smoke.”  The area was very strategic given its high elevation.  Large smoke signals were released to warn towns and cities as far away as Rome about invaders.

In 1584 Pope Sixtus V asked the noble Longhi family to take over the upkeep of the castle.  It had fallen on difficult times.  They did and brought it back to life.   Members of the family still live in the castle.

Castello di Fumone has one of the largest roof gardens in Europe and the views are spectacular.

There were many design elements for me to savor.  Annie probably got sick of me not keeping up with the group because I was too busy taking photos.

How gorgeous is this decorative wall painting? It represents the Longhi family’s crest and colors.  I could see a very cool wallpaper inspired by it.



You know one of the buyers at Restoration Hardware has a photo of this chair on an inspiration board.


Castello di Fumone was in the news after Pope Benedict abdicated his papacy.   He was the first pope to do so in seven hundred years and only the second pope to abdicate.

The first pope to resign was Pope Celestine V.    He was captured and locked up in a tiny cell in the castle by his predecessor.  He died ten months later at age eighty-six.

Annie and I could barely fit into the cell.  I pictured this old man sleeping on cold stone floors.   I guess his fate was better than the man who was buried alive in the castle walls.

Thanks to my excessive photo taking, I miss part of the tour in the archives room.  It was for the best.  Annie filled me in later.

In the 1800s Marquise Emilia Caetani Longhi had seven daughters.  She and her husband then had a son, Francesco.  His sisters, worried that they would be cut out of their inheritance (everything would go to the male heir), slowly poisoned him to death.  Nobody knew how he died until years later when one of the sisters confessed upon the death of her parents.

It is said that the ghosts of Francesco and his grieving mother can be heard wailing throughout the castle.

His body and some of his personal items are kept in a wooden cabinet.

Warning:  Photo of a mummified toddler below.

This freaked me out.




Portrait of Marquise Emilia Caetani Longhi


I thought after hearing about poor Francesco, that would be it for gruesome stories and we could return to a discussion about all the incredible art.

That was not the case.  I noticed a well when we first walked into the castle.  I asked Annie about it and she said all would be explained later.

Apparently, back in the day brides had to see the Baron of the castle on their wedding night.  If they were not virgins (how the Baron would know/find out this information, I have not a clue), they would be thrown down the well.  WHAT IN THE WORLD?!

IMG_3738 There is a lot of history (and shenanigans) inside the walls of this castle.  Thanks, Annie for the organizing the trip!



I’ve been to Bologna once before for a very quick day trip with friends.   This time I went for work.

Bologna is consistently rated as one the most liveable cities on the planet.  The cuisine is amazing, there are many companies based in the area in a variety of sectors, and a well educated population (the oldest university in the Western world was founded in Bologna).

I knew this before I started researching my trip.  I didn’t know, however, that there were so many fantastic stores for interiors. I was in décor heaven and I could not get over how friendly everyone was.

My sister’s former colleague, John, is in Bologna writing his dissertation and we had lunch at Drogheria della Rosa.  It was just as delicious as I remembered and it’s one of John’s favorite restaurants in Bologna.

John was kind enough to bring me a bunch of shelter and cooking magazines from the States.  Later I met up with the lovely Tina for an aperitivo before catching the Italo train back to Rome.  It was a nice way to end a long but productive day.

I hope I will be able to return to Bologna soon.

Here are three of the showrooms I adored:


Borgo delle Tovaglie

Borgo delle Tovaglie

Housed in a former furrier’s workshop, this store blends design, art, and fashion.

Borgo delle Tovaglie began as a tablecloth manufacturer in the early ’90s.  In 2005 Valentina Muggia and her husband Giuliano Di Paolo bought the company.  Today the brand is internationally known for it’s quality and style.   

This is their first store and it’s a beauty. They carry a variety of brands in addition to their own.  There was so much to see (and buy).   I loved their plates in a bucket.  Very clever and useful.

Borgo delle Tovaglie

Via Farini, 10

+39 051-330938


Camera Con Vista

Camera Con Vista

This store is located in the very pretty Piazza Santo Stefano. Owned by Matteo and Rebecca, here you find one of kind objects from Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, and other countries.

They carry jaw-dropping antiques and stunning modern pieces that have been refurbished into furniture.

There are always new pieces coming in.  You never know what you might discover during your visit.

Camera Con Vista

Via Santa Stefano 14/2a

+39 051-22468


Interior designer Fabrizio Cocchi’s showroom has an elegant, glamorous vibe.  It’s bold and full of color.  The photo below is of the neutral section.  When I first walked in, there was a lot of orange and red.

Cocchi also had quite the collection of design books.  I would have gladly sat on one of his custom sofas and read for the afternoon.

Okay, that would’ve been weird and rude as it’s a store not a library.

Fabrizio Cocchi

Fabrizio Cocchi


Fabrizio Cocchi

Via Castiglione, 17d

+39 051-264358

“Soon Come.”

This Caribbean expression is very similar to the Italian word, domani.   Technically,  domani means tomorrow, but in Italy it could mean months or years from now.  The concept of time is very different.

Soon come is the same thing.

“When is your tio (uncle) visiting from the States?”

“Soon come.”

When I was a child, I assumed this meant that the gentleman would be on the next flight.  No, he may arrive tomorrow, or December 2013.


Yesterday, I met with my clients and their builder.  The house is moving along.

“When will the exterior be finished?”

“Soon come”.

It’s not easy to build on a tiny island thanks to the elements (hurricane season is no joke), sourcing of materials, and high labor costs.

Depending on a variety of factors out of my client’s hands, the house could be done in eight months or ???.

We’ll see.   Soon come.


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