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My favorite swimsuits, the Italian hotel everyone’s talking about, biz class hacks, and packing advice from one of our favorite fashion editors
GUEST BOOK: Portrait Milano
Every year there is a big car show in Lake Como, which Matt, being a car guy, often attends. This year I tagged along, and at the last minute we decided to train from Rome (which has been a home base for the last year) to Milan the night before the show, so we wouldn’t have to wake up at dawn. I’d been wanting to check out the Portrait Milano, which opened in late 2022, and luckily they had a room. I used to spend a couple of days a year in Milan, and had stayed at the Excelsior Gallia (before they redid it and took all the character out of it), the Armani (super modern and equally expensive) and the Bulgari (loved it, but Traveler’s managing editor didn’t love the bill). Most of the hotels in the center of town—unless you’re on the Piazza della Repubblica, with big hotels like the Principe di Savoia or Westin Palace—are tightly quartered, but this hotel, part of the Ferragamo-owned Lungarno Collection, is quite the opposite. The former 16th-century seminary (Europe’s oldest), which had been closed for decades, sits on the largest piazza in the city (3000 sq. meters), which is now open to all and serves as a thoroughfare between Corso Venezia and Via S. Andrea.
The design is very refreshing—it doesn’t read “hotel.” Rather than an expected reception/concierge desk and lobby, there’s a large light-filled salon/library where guests are served drinks while they wait to be checked in. (Yes there is a front desk, but it’s discreetly off to the side—it isn’t the focal point.) Rooms are tastefully done, beginning with the door handle—which seems like something you’d find in a Gio Ponti-era Milan apartment building—and then the rest of the room echoes that, from the rattan walls to the lamps to the very chic deep red accents (a tribute to the cardinal who founded the seminary) throughout. We had a drink at the bar, which was definitely more of a scene than I’m usually into, but the bartender was a total pro and the martinis were terrific. While the four-figure room rate is out of reach for most, there is something arguably democratic about what the Ferragamos have done here: restoring and returning a piece of the city back to the people, locals and travelers alike. You absolutely must go, at least for a drink, or just to walk across that piazza!
P.S. Passalacqua—One Year Later
It’s exactly a year ago that the Passalacqua opened on Lake Como. I felt incredibly lucky to have been among the first guests for its opening weekend. Who knew that it would turn out to be an instant hit?! I mean, I had a strong feeling it would, which I wrote about here after that first visit. But after seeing it in countless magazine articles, IG posts, and the cover of Travel & Leisure (a huge deal for a hotel), it’s clear that literally everyone who steps foot here immediately knows that it’s a new icon. I’ve long been a big fan of Valentina De Santis and her family, who since 1973 have also owned the Grand Hotel Tremezzo up the lake, and also manage the exquisite Villa Sola Cabiati. But again, I’m not alone in my appreciation—this year Valentina was named Hotelier of the Year at the Virtuoso Awards.
So what’s the secret sauce? From my first stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo over seven years ago until now, I’d say there’s a consistent thread of warmth, kindness, tastefulness and a relentless pursuit of the best. Plus it’s family owned, so they run it the way they want to—it isn’t corporate in any way. If they want to have incredible Murano chandeliers in every room, they do it. As the third jewel in their Lake Como family, they consider Passalacqua a villa on the lake, not a hotel per se. There’s just the right of formality (a gorgeous nosegay presented to you upon arrival), waiters in black tie in the evenings, and your Campari spritz arrives almost immediately when you order it poolside. But there’s also a familial feeling—breakfast is served within their kitchen, a large buffet on the center island serving sweet and savory, and if you want eggs, you walk deeper into the kitchen where the chef cooks up whatever you’d like. It feels more like an elegant house party given its villa layout, yet there are plenty of cozy, intimate rooms where you can peel off from the indoor or outdoor dining areas and have dinner served there. While we were only there for two days a year ago, several of the staff recognized us and were genuinely excited to see us, even if they didn’t remember when we had been there. It’s the most elegant/comfortable/welcoming/major-splurge place I’ve ever been to.
Speaking of splurge, that’s all I’ve been talking about above. But fear not, there’s a wave of relief coming your way. I’ve always resisted the word “budget.” Maybe it’s because my mom always had a bulging coupon wallet and we were those people at the grocery store who took forever at the cash register. Or maybe it’s just a word that’s overused and nobody wants to think of themselves as a budget traveler—they prefer to think they’re a smart, discerning, creative traveler who’s on the lookout for great finds that don’t cost a lot. I know we put a lot of these discoveries in our posts, but we haven’t done one specifically about places that are the opposite of splurge. In June, we’ll be doing a post on Italy’s Costa Meno. No, it’s not actually a coast—it has the double meaning in Italian of “costs less.” (Okay, I’m taking liberties with wordplay here, but I want to find a way to speak in an elevated way about the B word. Let’s be real: no matter how much money you have, if there’s a special place that isn’t expensive, you want to know about it. So we’re starting with Italy, and then we’ll do Greece’s Costa Meno, and go from there—nothing more than 300 euros per night, with plenty that are much cheaper than that. When the new luxury normal in much of Europe and the U.S. is 4 figures, I want to make sure we share our finds that are for real people who aren’t honeymooning or just IPO’d. We aren’t asking our friends, because we know they keep these for themselves, so it’s a ton of research. Some places we’ve been to, some we’ve read about, and some just look good—so if you go, we want your full report!
It’s the time of year when, if you want to travel and haven’t booked, it seems that everything is totally out of reach. In late March I was trying to find a one way ticket to Rome, and found everything to be so expensive, in every class. It was around the same price when I plugged in a return date, but I knew that my return was likely to move, then I’d wind up spending at least $500 per ticket just to change it, and probably much more. Then I remembered Flight King, an agency that I wrote about here once before, and I reached out. They got us business-class seats on Swissair from NY to Geneva, and then on ITA to Rome. Sure, it wasn’t nonstop, and I didn’t get my Delta miles, but I spent around $2,500 per ticket, which was less than any of my other options in coach. Plus, I got to drink some good Swiss wine. (The nice folks at Flight King—yes they are a small but mighty operation—gave me a personal link so they can see if I’m actually influencing you—I don’t get any cut!) Another interesting site I learned about recently is Roame Travel, which is an airline redemption search engine specializing in business and first class seats. I haven’t used it yet, but it is interesting to study and see what kind of credit card, hotel and mileage programs have the best deals.
This is the most highly personal swimsuit roundup possible. These are swimsuits that I personally like and have owned. For the longest time, Eres was always my favorite—and it probably always will be—but the price tag is…a lot. I know the quality is great, and I have some Eres bikinis that I’ve been wearing for literally close to a decade, but it’s hard to fork over that much for a new swimsuit and it’s always nice to have a new one for the summer. I’ve found this French brand DNUD, which has great colors (for the most part muted, which I like), in good fabrics, and at least 100 euros cheaper. Laura Urbinati has great basics with a nice little twist. And Left on Friday has really well-priced bikinis in solids and great fabrics as well. On the one piece vs. bikini debate: I used to only wear bikinis, even if I always felt thick in the middle. Matt would always say that we should use the Italian nonnas as inspiration—they always look so great all tan in their bikinis. But when I’m grabbing a swimsuit to have in my bag just in case there’s a pool or sauna where we’re going, I’ll reach for a one piece.
HOW I PACK
What’s your go-to luggage for this kind of trip?
I always try to avoid checking a bag if I can help it, but if I'm traveling with my family, usually my daughter and I will share a large-ish Rimowa, and my husband and our son will share another. If I'm traveling alone, it's carry-on only, and usually the bigger size carry-on Away roll bag. I hate checking bags.
How do you approach the basics?
I own a lot of crazy clothes, but my personal style is pretty streamlined. It's mostly navy blue, gray, white, black and denim—so the things I pack tend to naturally work together. I usually only bring one pair of jeans, then one pair of nicer pants—maybe some High Sport or my favorite Thilde leggings from The Row. Then I'll typically bring a Row slip dress, and two or three simple button-downs. I'll fly in jeans, an extra button down with a tank underneath (I hate wearing a bra), a sweatshirt or cashmere sweater, and a blazer or light jacket over that. I get cold on flights, so I layer up and that also saves room in my suitcase.
If I'm traveling for a specific work purpose or event, I'll pre-plan outfits and try everything on, and sometimes even take pictures so that I only pack exactly what I need and nothing extra. I prefer to not schlep around things I won't need.
Are you a roller or a folder?
Hahaha, my mom will die laughing reading this; she's been trying to teach me to pack forever. I'm like, a thrower-inner? A feral mess? I am honestly terrible about getting everything to fit in a way that makes sense, so I'm some kind of a blend of folding and rolling, but with a lot of scrunching too.
Any other packing tricks or hacks?
I always make sure to have the bases covered in the most simple, minimal versions I have, so that they'll go with everything else and can be dressed up or down. I pay close attention to the weather where I'm going and try to be as practical as possible. I'm not someone who brings a gown just in case or anything like that. I'm more like: how can I get away with packing as little as possible so I can either shop where I'm going, or I won't have a ton of stuff to unpack when I get home? Unpacking is the worst!
What’s your shoe strategy?
I bring one dressy shoe, one sandal, and one walking shoe. Depending on where I'm going, the dressy shoe and the sandal are the same, but if I was going to the beach I'd bring a pair of Birkenstocks and a pair of nicer sandals, and that's it. If I have to bring closed-toe or bulky shoes, I'll pack them full of socks on the way out to save space, and pack them full of my dirty clothes on the way home.
How do you think about accessories?
I usually bring a large carry-on tote bag (the Métier Market bag) with my computer, etc, and then I'll bring a smaller crossbody in there that has my passport, wallet, phone, etc., so I can find that stuff easily in the airport. Then, that crossbody is the one I use the whole trip. I also only bring as much jewelry as I tend to wear everyday. I don't like swapping out my jewelry at home, so why would I do it while traveling?
Do you have a great travel hat?
I love the Magic Hat! I also love my baseball caps.
What’s always in your Dopp kit/toiletry bag?
Sunscreen! Always. I like to bring face wash, a face exfoliant, and moisturizer. Then a razor, deodorant, my electric toothbrush, and mascara and concealer to wear under my eyes. Sometimes I'll bring a red lipstick, but I usually don't end up using it. I don't wear fragrance, but if I'm going on a really amazing trip, I'll sometimes bring a special scent and wear it during the trip, so when I go home I can smell it again and be transported back!
On a plane, what essentials does your carry-on bag always contain?
Lip Balm (VMV Hypoallergenics Boo Boo Balm), sunglasses (Celine Mini Audrey), my phone charger, my Kindle, my meds, and some Weleda Skin Food for my hands. I pack it in lots of little pouches—one will have my chargers, another will have my headphones, wallet, etc, and another with lip balm, lotion, etc.
What’s your pharmacy kit? How do you deal with sunscreen if you’re a carry-on only and it’s a beach vacation?
I LOVE to buy a silly sunscreen wherever I'm going—I get a special thrill from spending a stupid amount of money on luxury sunscreen at the hotel. But other than that I'll bring just enough for my face and hands, and when we arrive we'll go to a pharmacy or grocery and buy a big bottle of something useful.
Any wisdom on traveling with electronics?
I like to keep all my chargers in one pouch. I need them all to be super contained, otherwise the cords drive me nuts! I like to use Airpods, and I always bring my Kindle fully charged, so that I can read and not bring a huge book. I also bring my iPad loaded up with shows for myself, or my kids, and then my air laptop.
What’s your strategy when you’re on the road for long periods of time?
When we were living abroad, we were in South Africa for six months, then London for six months, and traveling a lot in between. I think I checked like 3 huge suitcases for that trip. Otherwise, I'd just probably check one large suitcase with warm weather basics, and cold weather basics. I would go nuts if I had so many things I needed to ship in advance.
Do you have a travel uniform?
My High Sport kick pants, an oversized button down, and a blazer or a Jil Sander car coat I have with large pockets. I love to have large pockets when traveling to keep essentials close at hand. Then my Métier Market tote, and usually cotton-ribbed socks and my classic New Balance gray sneakers.
Laurel Pantin is a creative consultant, stylist, and writer with two little kids. A veteran of the magazine world in New York, she is now based in LA and writes two newsletters: 'Earl Earl,' which focuses on personal style and identity, and 'Your Mom,' which delves into motherhood.
Our favorite IG account of the week.
Portofino may conjure yachts and Ferraris, but La Portofinese is its flip side. This eco-farm, osteria and mill in the hills above the sea are reviving ancient traditions and offering them via tailor-made activities throughout the area.
Annie Waterman of AOW Handmade is always sharing her amazing craft finds in places like Portugal and Greece with us. Now she’s designed a 9-day trip exploring traditional craft, culture and cuisine throughout Romania. You can book it alone or as a group—email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re ikebana-obsessed here at Yolo, and this retreat around Tokyo and the Japanese countryside this fall focused on the art of flower arranging looks pretty amazing.
Our friends at Prior are hosting three trips this fall that sound great—exploring the terroir of Piedmont, crafting in Oaxaca, and experiencing Diwali in Northern India.
Heidi Gustafson is an artist and ochre specialist we’ve featured in Yolo Journal whose Book of Earth is just out—it explores the world of natural color with an archive of over 600 pigments collected from around the world.
Our friend Jenny Walton, who moved from NYC to Milan last year, recently launched a Substack covering her vintage finds, sources, and travels throughout Italy.