BELLA, CIAO!

Fall in love with Milan and Venice with OHLALA’s editor’s memorable trip to these two cities, where she explored their cultural aspects while staying at two Avani Hotels & Resorts properties.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, Italy is recovering strongly post-pandemic and is ranked the fifth most visited country in the world. There are plenty of reasons that Italy is one of the most popular destinations: it’s an encounter of history, art, architecture, fashion and splendid cuisine. For me, it is the place that I wouldn’t mind going back to over and over again. There is something about Italy that makes everything better – maybe it’s the air, the water or the Italians. I had the chance to visit two iconic locations this time: Milan and Venice, two cities I had already been to, but this time, I was introduced to them in a unique and unforgettable way.

MILAN

Known as the capital of fashion and design, this busy city has many facets. It gives off cosmopolitan vibes but is full of Italian charm and hidden gems.

The Hotel

We were in a group of ladies and stayed at Avani Palazzo Moscova Milan, which has one of the best locations in town. If you know Milan, you know exactly what I am talking about. It is located in the Porta Nova area in the heart of Zone 1 and is within walking distance of the fantastic Brera neighbourhood, where you will find cute shops, cafes and art spots. And if you enjoy long walks while travelling like me, you can easily reach the Duomo.

The hotel has a charming façade like a grand old farmhouse but with modern amenities. The light green window shutters add loveliness to the building, which offers 65 rooms and suites. My room was on the second floor, and I comfortably reached it by using the stairs which had contemporary glass handrails and many windows.

The room was not big (don’t forget it’s Milan, not the Middle East), but big enough to accommodate my belongings and myself comfortably. The king-size bed was pristine white and so snuggly that sleeping there felt like a big hug. I loved the double-height ceiling with massive old-style windows filling the room with natural light. There were stairs that took me to the mezzanine area, where I found a sofa, coffee machine and TV – such a cosy space. The bathroom was stocked with all the necessary toiletries, and everything was spotless. As part of the AvaniFit concept, a personalised yoga mat is available in every room to inspire a morning of meditation and stretching. In the hotel’s basement area, you find the amaTi wellness and beauty spa, where I had a facial treatment. For the first time in any spa I have been to, the treatment was carried out on a water bed. How unusual is that?

Dining Scene

Eating in Italy is an unmissable experience. I think it is very hard not to have amazing food memories from this country. The first night, we dined at Forte Milano (they have another branch in Miami), located on the ground floor of the hotel. The restaurant is a seafood paradise and the décor takes you to the ocean with maritime-inspired paintings and other items. The red velvet curtains and dimly lit room create a cosy and intimate ambience that I absolutely loved. We had a wide selection from the Raw Fish section on the menu, including tuna, red king prawn, langoustines carpaccio and wild seabass, avocado and lime and langoustines tartare, with the latter being my favourite for its fantastic texture. I am gnocchi obsessed, so for my main I opted for the gnocchi with red shrimp, cherry tomatoes and Pecorino cheese. I was very happy with my choice as the flavours were so comforting, balancing the sweetness of the prawns and the acidity of the tomatoes – I can say I went to bed feeling very happy.

Our lunch on the following day was at Stendhal Milano, an eatery that proudly serves Milanese cuisine. The restaurant is painted green with lots of antique items decorating the space, such as old radios and books. We did have a fabulous spread but the highlight goes to the zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese and pesto, a historic dish by Stendhal and everyone’s favourite. For the main, I had the Pizzoccheri from Valtellina, a traditional dish from Valtellina, a valley in northern Italy. At first, I was a bit sceptical because it’s made with buckwheat pasta, cabbage, potatoes and loads of cheese, but it was highly recommended; not everywhere offers it, and I am glad I took the opportunity to try it. It was completely different from anything I’ve eaten in my life and absolutely delicious; the comforting flavours of the creamy cheese sauce with pieces of cabbage and potato unexpectedly make an exciting marriage of flavours. I ate every morsel of it, and I will definitely order it again if I see it on any menu.

Dinner was at Osteria Serafina, a trendy dining spot with a daily waiting list. The décor is minimal, but the attention goes to the many bottles of vintage grape stacked on the walls – the place is cosy with a laidback vibe. The star appetiser was undoubtedly the Pappa e Burrata, a creamy round burrata from Caseifificio Artigiana, one of the best dairy producers in Italy. It had a delicious tomato base that I was actually eating by itself. I haven’t been to all the countries in the world, but tomatoes in Italy are just the best! Serafina are very famous for their Tajarin Al Tartufo, a simple dish of fresh tagliolini pasta (super thin and fresh as can be) and black truffle. But I opted for the Raviolo Porro e Funghi, packets of fresh pasta filled with grilled leeks and sauteed mushrooms. A gorgeous dish, comforting and light, with the pasta cooked to perfection and smooth textures.

Milanese Experiences

But this trip was not just about food. The team from Avani prepared unique and out-of-the-box activities. We had a fascinating tour through vintage stores guided by lovely Sara; we visited Humana, Vesto Milano, Brivio and the iconic Cavalli e Nastri with second-hand pieces from high-end brands such as Gucci, Prada, Valentino and much more. As a fashion lover, I wanted to stay in each store for hours and buy half the inventory – I ended up with just a few purchases. The tour ended with gelato at Ciacco, a fantastic way of exploring the fashion scene in this capital ‘de la moda’.

The Fiat 1971 500C tour was, without a doubt, an exciting way to visit this cosmopolitan city. Federico, the man behind the wheel, calls his tiny car the Old Lady, and he took us around town to see some landmarks in this iconic automobile. Not even the rain disturbed this superb trip; we took spectacular photos in front of the Arco della Pace and the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) building, which is usually covered in plants during the warm months of the year. We also explored a hidden gem, the rainbow district, with colourful small villas and secret gardens – more like a South American neighbourhood. But what really caught our attention were the pink flamingos in the Villa Invernizzi in the heart of the Quadrilatero del Silenzio (silent district) which is home to many Art Nouveau constructions. The birds have been living there for many years, and some of them are 25 years old. The residence is private, but you can admire these non-native birds from the street.

VENICE

We then got a train and headed to this floating city known for its canals, gondolas and 417 bridges – one of the most picturesque locations in the world.

The Hotel

The team at Avani Rio Novo Venice were waiting for us with big smiles and warm hospitality. The hotel is eye-catching with its glass and stone building angled in such a way that you have a privileged view of this enchanting city. It has a key location, near the train station, but also very close to the area where cars are allowed to enter. This means it is perfect for reaching and exploring the city. The property offers 144 rooms and suites with on-site gym and meeting rooms. Ideal for a relaxing holiday or business purposes.

The room was absolutely perfect, with everything you need and more. With windows that go from ceiling to floor, the natural light and canal view were a highlight for me. A comfy bed full of pillows and a big mirror with a welcome note were the other top features, with the big shower with perfect water pressure competing as the best element.

The hotel décor is inspired by cinema (influenced by the Venice International Film Festival), with black and white photographs of film stars taken in the city. The whole vibe is vibrant and lively, with an outdoor socialising area that will be open during the warmer months for an al fresco experience.

Dining Scene

The 8millimetri restaurant is where the fabulous breakfast happens with a wide selection of pastries, breads, smoothies (following the hotel’s healthy lifestyle concept), fruits and delectable Italian coffee. It is also where we had amazing dishes, such as a charcuterie board in a very Italian way with an array of cold cuts, a selection of delicious cheeses, nuts and juicy cherry tomatoes. We also had a memorable dinner there with a spread prepared by the chef in a five-course repast that impressed our palates with ingredients such as cassava covered in charcoal bites, fried polenta accompanied by traditional Venetian style Baccalà (a creamy spread made with cod fish) and local grilled Ombrina fish as the main course. Everything was well-cooked and with an incredible balance of flavours and textures.

To better understand Venetian cuisine, we dined at Osteria alla Bifora. As a city by the ocean, the seafood offerings are many. Staples such as Baccalà prepared in different ways and Figato’ alla Veneziana’ (Venetian liver) are the traditional picks on the menu, but you also find Bolognese lasagna for those looking for homemade comfort food.

But one of the dining spots that must be mentioned is Harry’s Bar, probably the most famous restaurant in Venice. The Cipriani restaurant empire dates to 1931 when Giuseppe Cipriani Sr. opened Harry’s Bar. We even had the pleasure of meeting Arrigo Cipriani, Giuseppe’s son, who still greets guests with a smile at the height of his 91 years. The place is where carpaccio and the well-known drink Bellini were created. They have a selection of signature dishes, but I have to say that the Paccheri di Gragnano alla Sorrentina, in simple words, pasta with tomato sauce, was the best of them all and worth the trip.

Venetian Experiences

Venice is known for its carnival and iconic Venetian masks and we had the chance of meeting Augusto, an artist who has produced the masks used in the TV series Gossip Girls and movies such as Fifty Shades Darker and Spider-Man: Far from Home. With Augusto’s help, we created our own by choosing the base and Baroque elements made with hot glue and paint. I felt like an artist and ended up with a unique Venetian mask of my own.

Murano, an island close to Venice, is known for glasswork, so we hopped in a boat to make our own glass beads. The lovely couple Andrea and Cristina from Penzo + Fiore Glass Studio welcomed us for an afternoon of glass, fire and beautiful beads. The couple worked with FENDI for a collection of glass accessories and humbly share their knowledge in private workshops. An experience that I will take with me in the form of my own glass beads. But I have to say that from all the amazing experiences the team from Avani prepared for us, the best, and unarguably the simplest one, was an early morning run crossing the numerous bridges and stone pavements of Venice. Denis, our energetic guide, not only took us on a magnificent expedition but also shared fun facts about the city. The visit to the fish market and empty Piazza San Marco were the highlights of this sensational run.

We ended our journey in the most Venetian way, onboard a gondola, a trip that will stay in my memories for years to come. I have to say a massive thank you to the stupendous team at Avani Palazzo Moscova Milan and Avani Rio Novo Venice. And, of course, I could not finish my write-up without mentioning Ruth Alejandre, Director of Public Relations for Minor Group, who accompanied us everywhere; she was the cherry on top and made everything better.

For more information or to book a memorable Italian experience
of your own, please visit www.avanihotels.com
@avani_hotels

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