Since my dream trip last summer to Domus Civita — Patrizio Fradiani’s ancient cave house — he’s had professional photographs taken. For those who followed along with the gutsy renovation process, finally a worthy payoff. Chicago photographer Bob Coscarelli captures the magic of the place — the quiet interior, the soft light, the soulful connection between inside and outside, and the depths and history of those miraculous caves. Accessed only by pedestrian footbridge, the town Civita de Bagnoregio is straight out of time. A picturesque mess of cobblestone streets, climbing ivy and a pace that makes the rest of Italy look downright harried, the town and the surrounding landscape (views of the Tibor river valley and clay rooftops out every flung-open window) both play an inextricable part of the experience. The garden… that gazebo, I start feeling euphoric just thinking about sitting out there. But I won’t carry on — I’ve already done enough of that here and here — but I do want to share these photographs, because they do such a beautiful job of finalizing the story.
I first heard about this series of cave hotels from my Italian friend Patrizio, who thought I would love the “diffused hotel” concept: hotel rooms spread across a small medieval hilltop village that maintain their original character (rough stone walls, uneven floors, and old-as-dirt wooden furniture). The mission is to preserve not only the landscape and original architecture of the towns they’ve settled in, but also the history and local tradition–from the craft to the cuisine of the region.
And while Sextantio’s entire concept is pretty special–using tourism to save towns that would otherwise fall into decline– it’s the bit about traditional craft I find particularly inspiring. I didn’t realize, until I spotted photos of the beautiful loom work on Remodelista, that the hotel is so fiercely dedicated to supporting local craft. For instance, linens and coverlets are handmade by ladies who have always made textiles–in a town that has produced textiles for hundreds of years. They’re made with new materials using ancient techniques, often replicated from old drawings and archival photographs. I wish we saw more of this kind of beautiful creative thinking in the hotel industry.
After our Puglia/Civita trip this summer, we made a one-night stop in Rome before boarding the plane at Fiumicino. We snagged a last-minute booking at Arco dei Tolomei in the Trastevere neighborhood–the laid-back, old Jewish quarter–and what luck! I’m pretty sure we’ll never stay anywhere else in Rome. The owner-innkeeper Marco and his wife Gianna are the most hospitable and lovely hosts. And dapper. Marco is a true Italian gentleman, who wears button-down shirts under sweaters and looks absolutely dashing at all times. After insisting on walking to our car to help with bags, Marco shows us to our rooms–two super charming, floral bedrooms at the top of the stairs–and gives us a detailed rundown of the neighborhood (where to eat with kids, what to avoid), highlighting the route on our map with a ballpoint pen and offering historical tidbits along the way. Like the history of sampietrini (the smooth black cobblestones invented by Pope Sixtus V in the 16th century), or how water from an ancient aquaduct still serves the neighborhood–and it’s the best water around! Marco is very proud of this fact, which I verified often during our August stay. We followed local custom and filled our bottles from a stone fountain nearby.
Up until about ten years ago, Marco and his wife and daughter lived a few blocks away, but as the area grew more popular, it became too noisy. So they decided to rehab Marco’s longstanding family home, which has been in his family for more than 200 years, last serving as a college for graphic design. He insists the space was a disaster, but with every parquet floorboard, dark wooden beam, and wallpapered nook and cranny carefully restored, it’s hard to imagine anything less than its current pristine condition. There are six bedrooms in the place, some with terraces that overlook a patchwork of terracotta rooftop tiles, leafy patios and narrow, winding cobblestone streets. There’s a sitting room, decorated with comfy velvet chairs, paintings and books stacked on every available surface, but the airy, sky blue dining room, where breakfast is served every morning, is the star. It’s where Marco holds court, entertaining everyone with stories about the old neighborhood (he’s lived here all his life), politics, culture and art. As guests drifted in periodically, we sat around the long, oval dining room table, blown away by the gorgeous spread of breads, jam, pastries, meats, cheese and yogurt. They brought my little ones chocolate milk–hoorah!–and we felt more like special guests at someone’s home than travelers at a b&b.
Inside this magical town, a magical house. It was the reason for our trip–to see this storied beauty in person. I’ve been following Patrizio Fradiani’s rehab of his Civita cave house for the last six months, but no amount of architectural explanation or in-progress photos could prepare me for what it would feel like to be here–to look out the windows, flung open to views of clay rooftops, climbing ivy and a beautiful, crooked mess of cobblestones in one direction, and the vast, golden Tibor river valley in the other.
First, there’s the obvious: Every inch of this five-story stone palazetto built into the cliffside reads like an aesthetic dream–a contemporary rendering of good taste and architectural mastery steeped in deep, deep history. Modernist-leaning furniture is well-picked and well-placed (a white tulip-style table surrounded by mix-and-match white Magis and Panton chairs), but the space really sings when it comes to the highly personal, slightly eccentric layer of detail. Objects like twisted horn candleholders, antique trunks and a marionette ensemble are sparely, cleverly placed alongside artwork and installations Patrizio designed himself. In a series of small, arch-shaped cubbies in the circular stairway, he displays four sculptures he pieced together with dismembered porcelain doll parts and found objects. There’s the installation of 47 tiny bowls painted gold on the inside, and my favorite, a bright-green triptych made from dried mosses–as green as any I’ve ever seen alive–rocks and dirt, all arranged inside three wooden display boxes. I will very likely steal this idea someday.
Head downstairs, under stone archways, through cavernous Etruscan labyrinths that tunnel through tufa rock, and emerge in the most breathtaking terrace in Italy. We ate breakfast out here occasionally, under the wrought-iron pergola, but more often opting for early afternoon proseco, while our kiddos swam in the cave pool. The only pool in the entire town is secretly tucked into one of the Etruscan caves. It’s spectacular. There’s also a little lounge area, wine cellar and a secret art installation squirreled away in the depths of the caves.
The charming, ancient town is a magical, inextricable part of the experience. In many ways, the town–population 22 (200-something in the summertime), accessed only by a slender footbridge–is the experience. You don’t come to Domus Civita without wanting to come to Civita itself. One church, one square, a handful of restaurants (although we went to the same one almost every night) and countless stone alleyways, arches and ivy-covered walls. By the end of your stay, neighbors will recognize you at the cafe in the morning and you won’t get charged the tourist price for a cappuccino. You will pass your favorite restaurant owner on the bridge riding her scooter into town in the morning with her pink helmet, and she will wave. The night before she may have tousled your toddler’s hair or fetched a soccer ball for your kids, so they could play in the square while you finished your wine at the table. You will sit on the steps of the church with men who have been sitting on the same steps for the last 70 years. After a week, you will feel more comfortable than a tourist. Settled in. But just as enchanted as the day you arrived.
The three-bedroom house sleeps six, and there’s plenty of room to spread out and find privacy across four floors. Prices range from $2,950 (low season) to $4,950 (high season) for a week. Patrizio is the consummate host, providing amazing the best recommendations (better than most travel guides) and will help you line up in-home dinners and cooking lessons. Rent it at domuscivita.com.
In Puglia, the flat, silty landscape is dotted with crumbling, abandoned masserias–fortified farmhouse estates (that look more like castles than farmhouses, but there’s not a perfect translation in English), built by landowners more than 500 years ago to protect their farms from pillaging Greeks and Normans and countless other warring factions. Off country roads and highways, you can see the massive, regal-looking structures lording over the olive groves, fruit trees and grapevines. Once they were guarded, fortified with looming towers and giant stone walls, now lopsided and crumbling into disrepair. I imagine they were pretty expensive to keep up, after enemy warfare and looting bandits were no longer a concern.
A few of them have been saved by the lucky, brave soul who takes on a daunting renovation, converting the old stone structures into agriturismo b&bs or vacation rentals. Villa Pizzorusso is one such example–a jaw-dropping, absolutely flawless example–that a San Francisco-based couple (one part Puglian native) bought six years ago and spent three years rehabbing. Parts of which date back to the 1500s, the main level, all stone arches, ancient rough-hewn stone floors and star-vaulted ceilings, retains a rustic simplicity despite being filled with pristine, modern furnishings like ivory horse-hair chairs and an extra-long dining room table made with a beautiful slab of buried teak wood from Bali. Ancient ceramics abound, stone-carved stairs have been worn away in the center from use, and most charmingly, an old olive press that was found in the living room when they bought it hangs above the fireplace. Upstairs, an owner’s wing was added in the early 1800s (the noble quarters), and the Moorish and neoclassical architectural details are far more extravagant: smooth colorful tiled floors, the faded remains of pastel frescos across ceilings, ornate wood-carved chandeliers, and beautiful antiques in every room to match. There’s a turret at each corner; once watchtowers, they’ve been turned into closets (and in one case, a shower), and views from every single window are unfathomably beautiful. Red soil, pink light and silvery green leaves, the agricultural landscape unfolds with vineyards, fields of grain and secolari, those magnificent, gnarled hundreds-of-years-old olive trees, planted in perfect pin-straight lines as far as the eye can see.
The place is over-the-top stunning inside and out, but we were happiest outside, and spent 90 percent of our waking hours in the courtyard, cooking in the 500-year-old outdoor oven, eating figs we picked right off the trees, swimming in the extra-long pool running along the fortress wall that flanks the citrus grove. There’s a dining table under a pergola, a hammock under the fig tree, lounge chairs around the pool, an outdoor living room with cushy furniture, and smaller tables with chairs scattered about. For anyone with kids, there cannot be a more perfect spot in all of Italy (the photos don’t begin to do the scale or beauty of the place justice). They never tired of exploring, catching geckos or swimming in that long, rectangular pool (yes, even under the stars). One evening we took them out into the olive groves at dusk, and it felt like some kind of enchanted fairytale, where they could climb trees, scale old walls, create makeshift forts, and duck in and out of old, empty outbuildings once used for storing fruit and olives, a blacksmith shop and additional sleeping quarters for farm workers. Although we fell pretty hard for Puglia, which is garnering a well-deserved reputation as a beautiful, more real/authentic (we didn’t see a single other American traveler) and reasonably priced alternative to Tuscany, it was difficult to leave Villa Pizzorusso to explore. I guess that’s the magic though–you really don’t need to.
Sleeps up to 14 across six bedrooms. Prices start at $5,135 during low season and $10,250/week during the high. Also included: two bikes, cleaning service and a wonderful welcome basket full of local specialties–wine, cheese, and taralli. Rent it at villapizzorusso.com or by emailing info@villapizzorusso.
It’s been almost two months since I posted about Patrizio Fradiani’s rehab in Civita. There’s been a lot of under-the-hood work going on, like plumbing and electrical, so the progress isn’t as visual as it will be in the coming weeks. The facade is getting restored and all the wooden ceilings and painted brick sandblasted. Interior walls are being built, while old ones are restored, scraped and replastered. They’re installing new stairs, which will allow access to the caves and the garden, and restoring a pair of beautiful old doors Patrizio found in the house. And the most grueling projects so far: Patrizio decided to “rescue” a portion of the yard, which had inadvertently become a dump for the last 50 years for an entire section of town. “It all had to be done by hand–three guys, three weeks to remove the dirt and debris, but now it has doubled in size and the views are amazing,” he says, like it was nothing. In the process, they uncovered a remnant of an old butto, which is a well that collected old broken pottery for each house, so if you’re lucky enough to come across one, you can see the history of the house through the broken pieces. It’s like an archeological dig. “The one we found in our garden belonged to a house that had long ago collapsed, leaving us with remnants from the 16th century.” I love watching the space take shape. Even in this condition, the light has such a magical quality.
Patrizio Fradiani can’t help himself. A full-fledged serial vacation house renovation junkie, he and his partner, Mark, were in Italy last summer at their amazing Tuscan farmhouse (which I’ve written about here loads of times) when they took a day trip to the storybook hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio accessed only by footbridge, fell into its charming clutches–all ivy-covered stone arches, cobblestones and etruscan ruins–and bought one of the original stone houses sitting on top of cisterns. The house is pretty dilapidated, but like Patrizio’s previous vacation house projects, it’s sure to be unfathomably stunning, designed down to the most intricate detail and full of heart. Below, these images of the place–an ancient wreck dating back to 1300s–make it hard to believe it will be finished in August and ready for guests. He has orchestrated an aggressive design, build and decorate schedule, and he just returned last week from the initial stages, including some pretty grueling work like ripping out the long-neglected overgrown garden (to find grottoes). From now until August–when I’ll be staying there for a week with my family–I’ll be posting behind-the-scenes reports of his progress. Not only is Patrizio the very best kind of character (funny, charming and passionate), he’s also immensely talented and hard-working and for anyone interested in architecturally significant renovation, the transformation will be a thrill to watch.
If I sound a bit moony, my apologies: I really love the story of this beautiful mountain lodge, which owners Stefano and Giorgia first bought as a holiday house before deciding to quit their jobs in the fashion industry, uproot their lives in the city and and move to the Italian countryside full-time with their three children. After rehabbing the 16th-century hunting house, the interior was thoughtfully decorated by Giorgia, who traveled around Europe picking out special pieces, both antique and modern. It has a humble farmhouse feel with lots of natural materials and a quiet, understated luxury. You have to rent the entire place; it’s not a bunch of rooms rented to different parties, and because they have kids, they understand how to design a space that truly caters to families (a big bunk room, outdoor whirlpool perfectly sized for kids, and activities like learning to chop wood). Guests come with loads of off-site plans, but once they see the place (and its steam room, ancient spruce sauna and magnificent grounds), Stefano says they end up ditching their itinerary to relax. And who’d blame them? Stafano and Giorgia are 100 percent-dedicated to doting on their guests–cooking dinner, picking out wine, leading mushroom-hunting excursions, and recommending hikes in the surrounding forests, mountains and meadows of the Dolomites. Rent it at welcomebeyond.com.
When I spent a week at Podere Palazzo almost four years ago with my family, all the fresh plantings on the grounds were teeny-tiny nubs, and a few of the spindly cypress trees had wooden tree crutches to help hold them up. We didn’t mind; the surrounding views are breathtakingly beautiful in every direction. But the owner (and my dear friend) Patrizio, who is relentlessly passionate about his native landscape, had always dreamed of having a formal Italian garden like the historical villas of Italy. “At some pont I started fantasizing of a hybrid garden that was at once formal yet more rustic than most formal gardens,” says Patrizio. “I wanted to create a viewing axis from the south side of the house towards the valley that would become an experience of its own. Most successful Italian formal gardens create not just a special oasis, curated to the max, but also an amazing dialogue with the landscape around. And that became my main goal: getting the beauty of the landscape around the house to ‘speak’ to the home with an intermediate element that was both architectural and natural.”
The formal garden project started hand-in-hand with a more naturalistic garden project for the remaining four acres. “Despite my enthusiasm and desire to get it all done fast, it has become the most fun work-in-progress of my life. Gardening requires a lot of patience and the game is in the waiting. Every year I say, ‘The garden this year looks great, but next year will be better.’ And that’s because you learn how to trim a rose bush better, learn which plants do better with the dry summers and wet winters, which are more subject to pests…” He also wanted to create a modern farm, where the grounds are not just beautiful but also edible. In the more naturalistic part of the land, where there were already Oak trees, Elm trees, and wild pear and plum bushes, he planted 106 olive trees on one side of a hill and 50 fruit trees on the side, plus every herb you can think of.
“The formal garden is more extravagant in the plantings and aside from classic staples like Lavenders, Santolina, Viburnums, Cotoneaster, Artichoke plants, we infused it with edible herbs, hundreds of flowering bushes and roses and an organic vegetable garden that in each season grows and produces a bounty of goodies,” says Patrizio, who has grown into a self-professed countryside and garden addict. The knowledge and skill he’s garnered is so inspiring. But most of all, I love how he rhapsodizes about every single individual plant (way too many to include here). “The creeping Rosemary is a beautiful plant that requires lots of patience but is extremely rewarding (that is the creeper you see falling down on the pool rock wall). It is so elegant and slow in the way it grows down on a wall, and it blooms all year round. It also provides the only flowers in the months of January and February–how precious is that? And we use it to cook and roast in the fireplace.”
I’m inspired by the story of this beautiful property for so many reasons. First of all, the couple who owns it fell in love with the town (for its slower way of life) while on holiday and decided to change their own lives. Marco Giunta and Viviana Haddad bought one of these cave-like rooms built into the landscape of Modica, a Sicilian town that’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Every time they visited, they’d buy another, and within eight months, they owned 12 of them. Both with architecture backgrounds, they started stringing them together through the interiors. “Every single room used to be a family home. We renovated them to be one single property, with all of them connected through the garden.” Most of the furniture in each room was either built or restored by them, and now that they live there full-time, Marco has left architecture for furniture design and running the beautiful property.
And here’s the kicker: The emphasis of the place is on taking it easy. I mean, really taking it easy. I like to call it slow travel–and it’s my favorite way to spend a vacation. “We want people to come here and take their time to enjoy the view, the air, and relax,” says Marco. Each room is inspired by a different country on the Mediterranean Sea… the walls are made of stone, caves or locally made tiles. And they just want to make sure everyone is enjoying the air. Perfect.
Each little room-house has an entrance from the garden (at different natural levels) and a private terrace that overviews the historical center of Modica. Prices start at $180 a night. Rent it at welcomebeyond.com.
Designtripper contributor D. Graham Kostic gives a special report on Milan’s 3Rooms, owned and decorated by former Italian Elle icon Carla Sozzani.
3Rooms is a mini-hotel concept in the heart of Milan. And as the name implies, it has just that, only three rooms. But these aren’t just any rooms; these are three beautiful apartments all decorated by Carla Sozzani, the publisher and gallerist behind the renowned 10 Corso Como, a group of gallery-like spaces with an international reputation for fusing fashion, art, books, music and design. The interiors here read like a rolodex of famous designers that includes Charles and Ray Eames, Joe Colombo, Kris Ruhs, Sebastian Matta and Arne Jacobsen. Each apartment consists of a lounge space, a separate bedroom and a huge bathroom–all with the perfect mix of pattern, texture and restrained color. And it’s not just the interiors that are so appealing: The hotel’s surroundings and its romantic ivy-covered patio are also hugely appealing. With hardly any signage and hidden within the 10 Corso Como boutique and restaurant, the bed & breakfast is a perfectly discreet home base to come and go as you please. And the design echoes this hush-hush vibe, as the apartments, although outfitted with important design pieces, remain unstuffy and livable. My advice? If you’re going to stay here, try to stay for a long period of time, so you can fully take advantage the large and spacious rooms with their massive walk-in closets.
I’ve been dreaming about this this magical 18th-century palazzo ever since I saw it on a Yatzer a couple years ago. On a whim, I decided to get in touch with the architect homeowner, Sabrina Bignami, who restored the interiors and decorated the amazing space covered with frescoes by famous 1800s painter Luigi Catani. As luck would have it, Sabrina lets guests stay in the frescoed pink bedroom and offers breakfast on the terrace (during the summer) or in the magnificent dining room with fireplace (in the colder months). “We like to give hospitality as the architects of the house,” says Sabrina, who specializes in restoring period buildings. The firm she founded, b-arch, is also located in Prato, a textile town just outside Florence.
Stay in this magical palazzo for $150 Euros a night, breakfast included. Email Sabrina.firstname.lastname@example.org to organize your stay.
This AD 1112 Tuscan castle, situated in an olive tree grove and endless gardens between the mountains and the sea, could not possibly be more revered among travel editors. I first read about it in Vogue, where Vicki Woods describes the fairytale spread as “a thing of vast antiquity and beautiful proportions that floats above the ancient hills.” Once it snagged my attention, it seemed to crop up everywhere (from Travel + Leisure to Remodelista; there are 18 pages of press clippings on the website). And for good reason. The castle was brought back from ruin by the owners, Aurora and Carlos Baccheschi, who found cows in inside the castle when they bought it a couple decades ago. Since then, they’ve slowly rehabbed Vicarello, decorating it with a charming mix of midcentury and Indonesian antiques, then landscaping the sprawling, cypress tree-lined grounds into some kind of epicurean fantasy–medieval courtyard, cobblestones, organic vegetable gardens, two freshwater pools (one that’s made of travertine and looks out over the lush Tuscan landscape, the other nestled in the olive trees), more than 1,000 rose bushes and a nearby forest where you can hike and forage for mushrooms.
Prices start at $500 a night, meals included. All seven rooms are different. The kitchen is all about traditional Tuscan fare, and much of the ingredients are grown on site, using traditional growing methods and organic guidelines. They offer cooking classes, and there’s also a spa. Book it at Welcome Beyond.
Kelly spotted a photo of Monastero in W magazine this summer, but it wasn’t until we looked it up that we realized how unbelievably beautiful and sprawling and visually all-consuming this place is. Fashion photographer Fabrizio Ferri bought the entire village in Pantelerria (a rustic island off the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia in the Mediterranean) 22 years ago, and transformed the crumbling stone, cave-like dwellings with help from local architect Gabriella Giuntoli. It’s been attracting industry creatives, high-profile artists and even celebs who want to steal away in a super-private, luxe-but-full-of-character place oozing ancient charm ever since (oh, you know– Sting, Madonna).
This year, Fabrizio and his wife Alessandra tapped interior designer Barbara Frua De Angeli to give the place a makeover. The result, according to W: Nine unique rooms, some with private gardens, others with frescoes, and all with large baths and shaded verandas. Gem-toned linens, antique beds and sculptural lamps mix with sleek, modern consoles and the occasional African textile.
There are no prices available; not usually an encouraging sign. I’m pretty sure I’ll never visit, but looking at these photos kind of feels like taking a little vacation to paradise.