Finally—our Milan hotels list, a great cool-off spot in Rome, and favorite coastal getaways from Tiny Atlas Quarterly founder Emily Nathan
WHEN IN ROME
It’s looking like Summer 2022 will be known as The Great Return to Europe. And since #italiansdoitbetter/best, for many of us, Italy is the spot. I’ve done several posts about Rome–here, here, and here–and I’ll be updating my Rome Black Book with a summer version in the next couple of weeks. But here is a little gem for any of you who are looking for a spot to cool off and can’t handle waiting in line for a gelato at Giolitti. My friend Roberto, who owns Genco Barbiere and who I’ve mentioned before (Mr. Caravaggio), is the unofficial mayor of Via dei Portoghesi. I was getting my hair cut at his shop on a particularly hot day and his lovely girlfriend, Anna, brought us in a té freddo from Caffè Portoghesi just down the street. It wasn’t just any iced tea—it had a small scoop of lemon granita in it and it was the most refreshing, delicious thing I’ve had in….forever. (Apparently it’s a 70-year-old recipe of the owners.) It’s also a great spot for lunch if you’re looking for a quicker option (easy/great sandwiches), and for aperitivo. If you go, say hello from me!
MILAN HOTELS LIST
After we put together our Italian Travel Planners, I realized that I didn’t have a list of hotels in Milan. Usually I’m just there for a night or two, and often for work, so I’ll stay where I am put up. The same goes for my friends–or they live there and don’t really need to know hotels. So I researched the heck out of it, and thought I’d save you the effort of doing the same by sharing my findings here. If you have some suggestions you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear them!
RoomMate Giulia (Urquiola did it!)
Portrait Suites (opening later in 2022)
Emily Nathan, founder of Tiny Atlas Quarterly
We first became aware of Emily Nathan and Tiny Atlas Quarterly when we were at Condé Nast Traveler, and her very colorful and emotionally immediate images of world travel would keep sliding onto our feed in the early days of Instagram. Over the past few years, she has been making books with the Tiny Atlas community, and her new one, Coastlines: At the Water’s Edge (Ten Speed Press), is all about the ocean. We wanted to know what coastal areas are calling her now—as well as favorite beaches and seafood spots around the world.
Tell us about the origins of Tiny Atlas Quarterly.
For many years, I mostly made work for clients as an editorial and commercial lifestyle photographer. After my son was born, I craved space to make something that was more my own. I started Tiny Atlas Quarterly as a blog in 2012. It was a mashup of all of the aspects of photography that I loved. I featured images from trips that were my personal favorites rather than the images you could expect from commercial edit. The Tiny Atlas Instagram feed was an extension of the blog. The feed expanded our audience dramatically, especially after I launched the #mytinyatlas hashtag, which now has over 9 million posts. Tiny Atlas is now known for curated but authentic travel imagery produced by amateur and professional photographers from around the world. Sometimes the feed shares in-depth information about the places where our team is actually located on the ground and often it is culled from the hashtag images. We learn so much by following our community through the images they share of their travels and then researching the locations when they spark our curiosity. We prioritize our commitment to stay informed of world affairs and use whatever leverage we have to advocate for social and environmental justice.
Why did you decide to write a book focused on coastlines?
Like many travelers, I have a deep affection for the ocean. I am a fish! I love to swim. When I was a kid, I would swim for hours underwater in pools back and forth pretending to be a mermaid. While I was working on our first book, My Tiny Atlas, I had to cut out many of the ocean images we received in order to create balance within the framework of the concept for that book. I loved so many of those images and would joke and say, this one is for the water book. That book came out three years ago and after its publication, I had developed a more sophisticated idea for a book focusing on images of coastlines and coastal communities around the world, with a secondary focus on the effects of climate change and personal activism.
What are some common themes that emerged from looking at coastlines around the world?
The book is organized around the themes that come up time and again through images from the Tiny Atlas community: Briny, Tranquil, Remote, Wild, Rugged, Social, and Vast. Each theme becomes a chapter that is explored through images and brief essays. Social, for example, is about humans coming together at the beach; so, there are images of urban city beaches in the middle east, a paddle-out memorial of hundreds of surfers in Waikiki, a cat overlooking the vast metropolis of Istanbul, crowded vacation hamlets in Italy, and day trips to outer islands in Colombia. Briny represents the salty essence of the sea and the food we harvest from the sea. Think bright circular fishing boats in Vietnam, freshly caught lobsters piled in a cooler in the Cuban Keys, fisherman on stilts in Sri Lanka, a just-cracked-open urchin.
How did you choose your contributors?
Tiny Atlas has been as much a study in community building as anything else. We started with my network of professional photographer friends, mostly in California and New York City. From there, the community that grew after I started our hashtag #mytinyatlas attracted people who were drawn to the beauty and authenticity of travelers' experiences from around the world. After the first year, I started sending other photographers on press trips and projects, which eventually led to taking photographers and community members on rare and epic adventures in small groups: we have traveled to places like Tahiti and Tofino, British Columbia; Tamil Nadu in India; Chilean Patagonia; Dalmatian Croatia; and the Sea of Cortez in Baja just recently.
Instagram seems to drag everyone down these days, so I am beginning to meet photographers via Discord, Twitter and Tiktok. We all miss the old instagram where friendships were made and it wasn’t just about people feeling bad because they’re artists putting their work out there and feel like no one is seeing or caring about the work. I am very much an IRL person, so I like to meet new people in the San Francisco Bay Area where I’m based, or I reach out to locals when I’m traveling.
What were a few surprises or new discoveries for you – coastlines that sparked your curiosity, or that you’re dying to visit?
The coast of Albania surprised me with how much it felt like Greece; I didn’t quite realize that it had Adriatic and Ionian Sea coasts. Also, I love seeing imagery from Antarctica and Svalbard. Lamu is a place I learned about on IG and the design and cultural influences are fascinating to me. I have always wanted to spend time on the African continent, but no one has ever hired me to go there. Generally, I am always looking for unique travel imagery from artists like Sam Vox, who tells such a rich visual story.
What are some of the most beautiful beaches/coastal locations you’ve ever set foot on?
Oh wow, I’m lucky to have been to so many extraordinary beaches. Tetiꞌaroa stands out in my mind. It’s an atoll, a circular ring of islets and coral reef, in Tahiti. (We did not get to stay at The Brando hotel, which is the only accommodation.) We visited on a day trip from Teahupoʻo via boat on a project with Adobe. The water in the lagoon was unreal–the clarity and color and warm temperature. We spent a few days in Mo'orea for the water too; it’s so clear and gorgeous.
My family visited the South Island of New Zealand after I was invited to speak at a conference on the North Island. We spent the night on Milford Sound. It was summer in the northern hemisphere, so it was winter in New Zealand. All the green mountains were covered with fresh snow. There were countless waterfalls and tons of sea life on the coast. It was pristine and at the same time accessible wilderness.
Caraiva, a tiny town a short drive from Trancoso in Brazil, is super special. The town sits on an Amazonian river that flows into the warm and bright Atlantic Ocean over soft golden sand.
Speaking of sand, the most amazing sand ever was on Boracay in the Philippines. My friend Magda Wosinksa (a photographer now but assisting me on a Travel and Leisure shoot at the time) said it was 1000-thread-count sand and that was perfect. The sand is super white and so fine it never gets hot. The water is an electric blue and the traditional boats docked have bright sails that feel very much not like Oakland.
I just went off the grid to a remote island in the Sea of Cortez and it felt (while not necessarily the most beautiful) like a life-altering reminder of how we are supposed to live. It was remarkable to have no connectivity for three days. There is so much noise our nervous systems absorb and I loved being present in a way that’s impossible when we are tethered to the internet or the availability of the internet at all times.
My family spends a lot of time on the Big Island of Hawaii. My husband and I used to spend a lot of time in Hanalei on Kauai. We were married there and we love it. Waking up to lava, doves, plumeria, and views of volcanoes is our family’s happy place.
Closer to home, the San Juan Islands are a dream in the summer, especially when traveling with chef Stephanie Eburah of Ebb and Co, who we worked with on two trips there. The water is freezing, but I don’t mind cold water–I will go in anything as long as it is hot outside.
My husband’s family is from Vermont. We are spending more time there in the summers now, which has led to some visits to coastal Maine. We visited Monhegan Island on a couple day trips last year and it was so quaint and unique, we are going back this summer. Ideally you rent a cottage for a week (but book a long time in advance, because summer sells out by March or April).
Finally, I am from Michigan and moved to the Bay Area in high school and I will never get over the beauty of northern California and San Francisco. I am a fair-weather Bay Area surfer and love being able to enjoy the freezing ocean from a board, cozy in a thick wetsuit. Traffic on the Bay Bridge at sunset is one of the most beautiful places in the world as long as you are not late for something on the other side. There are pictures (some mine, some others) from most of these places in Coastlines.
What are a few favorite seaside hotels or inns around the world that you have loved visiting?
I love what Amanda Ho and David Leventhal are growing with Regenerative Travel. It’s a curated group of independent properties that are doing good work for the people and places where the properties are located. Tiny Atlas led a trip at one of their properties, Playa Viva, near Zihuantanejo, and I was in heaven in the treehouse overlooking the ocean with river stones in the en-suite massive indoor-outdoor bathroom, lovely linens, a mosquito net, with light and power next to the bed.
Helenkilde Baden in Tisvilde, Denmark, is a simple and stylish grand house getaway overlooking the sea just a short drive from Copenhagen in a tiny village. The restaurant has delicious and simple fresh fish and local veggies. Timber Cove on the Sonoma County coast in California, because Sonoma is a place where it’s very hard to be directly on the ocean.
My family often spends a day or two in Waikiki to surf on the way to or from other islands. It’s great to not need a rental car and also to just grab a rental surfboard on the beach. No lugging, no lines.
The Moana Surfrider is where I captured the image from the book cover. The hotel is right on the sand in front of the surf and is the oldest hotel downtown, the centerpiece of which is a massive banyan tree, and I mean massive. Like the size of a small hotel. We also love the bright and stylish Alohilani (and their delicious bao and ramen at Momosan) and classic Halekulani.
On the Big Island, we always stay in a house or smaller place, but the Mauna Kea hotel is in a perfect spot. I love having a snack and drink at the beach bar Hau Tree right on Kauna’oa Bay, which is a famous stretch of sand and the property is a notable mid-century open design. In the winter you will almost always see whales swinging by too.
At the eastern edge of Australia and beach town Byron Bay sits Raes on Wategos. A surfer’s paradise.
We just stayed at the new Baja Club hotel in La Paz and it is a special little place. The historic street-facing building is merged perfectly with new construction through a beautiful courtyard with ceramic firepots lit in the evenings with aromatic wood, rooms overlooking the Malecon, and a vivid blue sea, a gorgeous outdoor room with a perfect lap pool, a great rooftop bar, all in a property with approximately 30 rooms.
What are a few things you always pack for a trip to the beach/ocean?
Water bottles, always. I like the easy to carry handle on Camelbacks and the cold water stays super cold. I love that there are so many sustainable brands for clothing and travel products now. Some favorite travel sneakers are the Ashores from Soludos, a responsible brand making products with sustainable methods. These sneakers, which are made from recycled plastics, are also super cute and comfortable for the beach. You can throw them in the washing machine when you get back and they get pretty darn clean. Along those lines, I also got a couple new favorites from a shop called Understory in a local shopping zone in Oakland called Temescal Alley. I found these Teva-esque hiking sandals that are super lightweight from a small brand based in Montana, Bedrock Sandals. They are a 1% For the Planet company. I took the sandals on a big day hike to a waterfall and felt super stable crossing rivers and rocks. I got a little bag from a Scandinavian mountaineering outdoor company that is super lightweight and cute, Klattermusen.
For luggage, I often am given the opportunity to try new brands. Paravel is my current setup made from recycled plastic and they are a carbon-neutral product. I have the carry-on plus the Weekender tote that attaches with leather straps to the handle and I can actually get away with not checking a bag while still bringing my camera and computer on occasion. I almost always check a bag, so not checking a bag on a flight (or driving) is a true delight.
When I go to warm weather places, I always bring sarongs from Hawaii. I usually bring a straw hat (always bring hats), just got a new one I love at Island Boy Shop in Honolulu made by milliner Brookes Boswell, who uses responsibly sourced materials. I always bring swim goggles because I am that person. I usually bring my Axisgo Aquatech water housing, dome, and grip for my iPhone 13 pro so I can shoot in the water too. I always buy the iPhone upgrade plan because a subscription to the best phone-camera on the market is a great value to anyone who cares about photos.
The most memorable seafood meal you’ve had?
A couple meals come to mind. One was in Orosei on Sardinia with chef Efisio Farris, his daughters and his mother for a travel food shoot for Cooking Light. We were there for the feast of the seven fishes, as guests of their family table. The first course was a delicate shrimp pasta and it was so delicious that I ate way too much of it. But then the courses did not stop. My friend Eden Batki (who is a chef and producer now) was photo assisting me, thank god. She loves food enough to keep eating after I felt I couldn’t eat anymore. They also served these super thin flat rounds of pane carasau (Sardinian music bread) on the table and incorporated bottarga long before I saw the ingredient on a menu anywhere in the states.
Another favorite was on a solo trip to Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil. I went out on a boat ride for the day. When our tourist boat passed a fisherman, our captain bought a fish and then fried it for our lunch. It was so hot it burned my mouth but tasted sweet and delicious.
You must have feelings about the Coastal Grandmother trend….
I love the recent Glamour article on the trend by Jenny Singer. Coastal grandmother is a lifestyle apparently, not just a tiktok trend. I would love every coastal grandmother to own a copy of Coastlines so they can leaf through it at 6 am while enjoying fresh coffee with local cream, real or imagined salty air wafting into their real or imagined screened-in beachfront porches. I am definitely an aspiring coastal grandmother (but I live in Oakland with the port of Oakland being my closest stretch of beach).
You end each chapter with a “How you can help” section to address everything from plastic pollution and coral bleaching to rising seas and over-tourism. Do you have any pet projects or favorite organizations that you have worked with?
So many of the people and projects we have worked with circle back to these themes. Regenerative Travel, Playa Viva, working with local organizations and tribes on trips, hiring photographers who are environmentally mission driven when we can, such as Meg Heywood Sullivan and Tasha Van Zandt. Some environmentally aware brands I admire (some I’ve mentioned above) are Soludos and Paraval, who are also collaborators. In Baja on our recent trip, we partnered with a small local organization focused on coastal conservation called Conserva Collective and we also partnered with Gray Whale Gin, which is a California-based company that donates a portion of each sale to ocean conservation organization Oceana and is also a 1% for the planet company.
What is a place we should put on hold because it sees too many people, and what is a place we should consider traveling to because it could really use our dollars?
This is a cool list ofideas, but in general consider the places where tons of tourists are and choose not to go to those exact spots. Or plan to visit in the off season or shoulder seasons. Making travel plans with this awareness is a great start. There are countries focused on responsible tourism at the national level. Norway, Costa Rica, Slovenia, and Rwanda are examples. Aiming tourists’ dollars on nations and properties doing the work is helpful for building momentum. Additionally, think about taking longer trips, road trips, and booking stays at properties that are gentler on the environment as well as making reservations with large chains and airlines who are putting in the work to make better choices for the planet (Alaska Airlines is one) is also helpful.