Tag Archives: La Dolce Vita

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!

Of course there was drama.

My friend Marta and I decided to get the heck out of dodge as this heatwave is one of the worst on record.  There are no signs of relief.  I understand week or so with these kind of temperatures.  It is, after all, July in Rome.  However, an entire month of highs in the 90s and low 100s is not a good thing.

Did I mention that I don’t have air conditioning? I cannot keep my windows open at night as my pretty side street is filled with demonstrative high school Italian students, and drunk American exchange students until dawn.

I’m waking up at 4:00 a.m. as it’s impossible to sleep.  One of my clients is started a major construction project this week so I cannot work remotely in the mountains or at the beach as some friends have suggested.

All this say Marta and I were READY to get out of here on Saturday but alas, Trenitalia had other plans for us.

It was one of those classic only in Italy moments.  The train was on time but then got stuck on the track just a few yards away from Termini Station.  There was something wrong with the current.  We couldn’t get off the train as we were on the tracks.  There was no place to safely walk.  They worked on the train and tracks for TWO hours.  Mind you, the train ride to Fondi is an hour or so.

At last, the train returns to the station and that’s when all hell broke loose.  Folks were not happy.  One woman was going off on the police.  I thought if she were in the States they probably would’ve tased her, then arrested her.

It’s funny, when we on the train things were pretty calm.  While there was some muttering, “ma che cazzo sta dicendo” (but, what the fuck is he saying?) when the conductor walked through our car to give us updates, people kept reading or chatting with their friends instead of complaining.

They did have another train waiting for us, on a different track, right away.  Trenitalia employees handed out bottles of water, which I thought was a nice touch.

Finally, we were on our way.  Instead of waiting for the bus (at this point we were starving) we hopped into a taxi mini-van with several other women who were going to Sperlonga.  They had been on the same train as us. When we saw the beach, they started clapping.  We kept cracking up because the driver was having a super animated conversation.

In a bizarre way the timing worked out better for us.  We arrived in time for lunch.  The restaurant, Scylla, was on the north side of the Historic Center and we wanted to be on the south side beach.  To climb back and forth wouldn’t have made sense.  So we sat down, had a lovely lunch, and then braved the sun to walk up and over to the other side.

Everyone was snapping photos of this sign.



I forgot all about the start to our day once we arrived.



Still thinking about this dish.



Sperlonga is a Blue Flag beach between Rome and Naples.



Starting our climb back up to the Historic Center.  I have written about Tiberius’s ruins HERE. It’s a great day trip from Rome.



A quick aperitivi in the main piazza before returning to Rome.  I didn’t want to leave the fresh air and cool breeze.



Fantastic signage.



The view from the bus stop.





A few years ago I wrote about how much I adore the boutique accessories label founded by Andrea Ferolla and Daria Rein, Chez Dédé.

There has been a lot of retail space turnover in our neighborhood.  Antique stores, artisans, etc., are shutting down and Subway fast food restaurants, and other weird sandwich shops are taking over.  There have been some great additions, like the Suppli spot but for every one of those there are four or five  places that leave locals scratching their heads.

Via Monserrato is one of the prettiest streets in Rome.  When I saw the large for rent sign where Ilaria MIani’s showroom used to be, I became very nervous.  What kind of janky business would set up shop on this street?

Then I saw this:



The store had its opening last week. Erica and I walked over and bumped into a bunch of our neighbors. One of our favorite bartenders, Fabrizio from Pierluigi, made the Kir Royales.

Unfortunately, for me, the store is stunning.  I should just leave my wallet there and let them take my money.  All of it.

Erica completely fan-girled LInda Rodin. I don’t blame her.  Ms. Rodin is a style icon for a reason. She was so gracious and didn’t give us the side-eye for geeking out.

I think I need to treat myself to a nice Grand Sac bag for my birthday.  It’s a big one (no, I’m not going to say which birthday it is as I still work in Hollywood).  I haven’t decided which bag yet. The island of Salina is one of my favorite places in the world but I also love the colors/style of the Portofino, Kenya, and Dubai bags.  I haven’t been to any of those places, so I think I should go with the Salina bag.

Below are photos from the opening.  Grazie mille, Daria for the invite!


Okay, I wrote this yesterday with the plan to publish today. I like to proof read before publishing yet, some typos still make it through. Grrrr.

On Saturday my friend Courtney called me and said she had to speak with me urgently on Sunday.  I asked what was wrong. Why couldn’t she tell me over the phone?  I was working all day on Sunday but said I would meet her in the afternoon.  Erica wanted me to stop by her daughter’s lemonade stand. I said I was on my way to meet Courtney but would stop by. I was worried about Courtney.  Erica said she was too and hoped that everything was okay.

I show up at Etablli.  Courtney sends a SMS saying she’s on her way and she asks me to order her a glass of wine. What the heck was going on? Was her news so heavy she needed to have a drink in hand?

She walks in and Erica (!) is right behind her.  They say, “Happy Birthday” and then this happened:


I had no idea they were planning this!  Erica thought I was going to buy the bag before my birthday so she and Courtney went into action over the weekend.  My birthday isn’t until August 26th.

I was/am floored.  I am not an easy person to surprise and they totally got me.  Well played ladies, well played.  I love my bag.

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Andrea is a very talented illustrator.



Linda Rodin. Fabulous.


Erica and Linda.



So true.

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Photos: Me and my iPhone

The song UMBRELLA is playing on a loop in my head.

Finally, we had a sunny day in Rome today. I try not to complain too much on Twitter given what my friends who live on the East Coast in the States are dealing with.  I love snow but it’s easy to say that when you don’t have to commute in it or shovel it.

There are tiny signs of Spring busting out in Rome.  Flowers are starting to bloom, tourists are wearing T-shirts while locals still wear winter coats, and the Farmers Markets are filled with artichokes.

I have Spring Fever.  Hardcore.

Villa Borghese Park.




I was jogging in the park and saw this peacock enjoying the sunshine.



Another sign of Spring, the Rome Marathon.



Blooming tree in Villa Borghese Park.












Springy colors.



These strawberries from the Testaccio Farmers Market were delicious.



A clear sign of Spring.  Roman artichokes.



And spring peas at the market in Campo dei Fiori.


Photos:  Me and my iPhone


Earlier I wrote about the interior design of La Bandita Townhouse.   Clearly the owners, John and Ondine, have put as much thought into the service as they did into the décor.

From the first email to book my room, until the day I left, the service was (as the young folks say) on fleek.  This is something I do not take for granted.  Unfortunately, too many people have no idea what it means to work in the hospitality business. Why they would open or work in a hotel/restaurant/spa, etc. is beyond me.

Pienza is small hilltop town with a population of approximately two thousand people.  It was the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, who would become Pope Pius II. Piccolomini rebuilt the entire village, starting in 1459, after he became Pope.  He saw it as a lovely Renaissance retreat from the Papal capital.  In 1996 Pienza was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s a perfect base from which to explore this region of Tuscany (with a car).  Montapluciano, Siena, and other towns are close by.  If you’re a Pecorino cheese fan, a visit to Pienza is a must.

Since I was only staying for two nights, I didn’t rent a car and spent most of my time close to the Townhouse.  It was FREEZING.  I’m not exaggerating.  I haven’t been that cold since my days at Syracuse University.

I was elated to see these fire pits around town.  I love how in this country even a simple and functional thing, like a fire pit, is well designed.  I mean, look at the darn logs.  Did the person who built the fire make sure they were “just so” or what?  Also, as I said before, it was beyond freezing.  Who has time to worry about aesthetics in sub-freezing weather?   If the logs were janky, would the fire builder be called out?

I truly appreciate this attention to details.



The views were spectacular.  Sunset.



Sun rising. View as I started my epic walk three and a half-hour walk.



Remember this road from the movie GLADIATOR?  No, I was not entertained. I was a little freaked out because I didn’t see a single person for kilometers.  I started to think, “what if a wild boar attacked me? Nobody could hear me scream. Where the heck is the next farm house?”



Seriously, NOBODY was around.



The top of this well, stylish simplicity.



Pieve dei Santi Vito e Modesto Church.  It was built sometime during the 11th and 12th centuries.   Notice the distinctive carvings above the door.  Several of these small country churches were built above Etruscan sites and used some of the same imagery.



I had a fantastic dinner at the hotel, after I defrosted.  The restaurant is open to the pubic (you need reservations).  Chef David and his sous-chef, Jacopo, knocked it out of the park.



Martina pours some Prosecco.



During high season, Pienza is very popular with tour groups.  This charming video about La Bandita and Pienza helps explain why.

A big Thank You to everyone at La Bandita.  Sometimes it’s not so easy to travel alone and they made me feel at home.

Photos: Me and my iPhone.



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



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