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A Perfect Weekend at Lake Braies & The Dolomites

A vacation to Italy doesn’t have to be beach clubs and sea views! A visit to the Dolomites and the picturesque Lake Braies offers a refreshing mountain adventure and perfect weekend!

Man and woman in brown row boat on Lake Braies and Lake is aqua

Have you heard of the South Tyrol Region of Italy? What about the Dolomites? Pretty beautiful right? But there’s more than just skiing for tourists. 

The Dolomites is a perfect (and refreshing) trip to the mountains during your Italy tour. Base your trip around a visit to Lake Braies. Lago di Braies (Italian) or Pragser Wildsee (in German) is an Alpine lake in a UNESCO world heritage site in the South Tyrol, Italy.

You might hear German in the area. It is as spoken there as Italian and you’ll find a pretty cool blend of Austrian and Italian culture. Bring on the mountain food!

Michele surprised me with this trip for my birthday. I didn’t know where we were going until we were there. Family, couples retreat, trip with the homies: a weekend in Lake Braies and the Dolomites is the perfect escape from the summer heat.

Road in the mountain pass of the dolomites with green on the side and mountains in the middle

Getting there: Heading up to the Dolomites is about a 4 hr drive from Bergamo. From Jul 11th – Sept 10th there are seasonal buses to Lake Braies. Online reservation and pre-payment are neccessary. It takes 20 minutes to reach Lago di Braies from Villabassa and about 30 minutes from Dobbiaco. 

infitinity pool with the mountains in the background
Michele in the pool at hotel

Where to stay: Infinity pool in the mountains, yes please! Michele chose Hotel Andermax because of its location and that gorgeous spa area. Great food, there was even a playroom for kids. We did have to switch rooms. The deluxe room that Michele booked was right on the crowded parking lot. We ended up switching to a smaller room, still partially parking lot views but higher up. The parking lot is definitely an eyesore in an otherwise stunning location.

Hotel on the lake between pines
Hotel Lago di Braies is another option for a stay.

To Eat: On the drive we made a delicious lunch pit stop at a vineyard, Cantina Roeno. It was a delicious, light meal in the garden. We’re in the mountains so the food can be pretty hearty. And Austrian. My favorite was a South Tyrolean dumpling-like, canederli with speck in a light broth at traditional restaurant Wiesthaler. A cool place to take in the sunset and an aperitivo, Botanic Wachtler, Bar, Bistro & Shop (0474 913462).

To See and Do:

man in striped shirt walking around edge of lake

Summer in the Dolomites is perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and spa-ing. Enjoy the outdoors. We saw piles of bike at the train station. Rent a bike and go through the area! Lienz in Austria is only 40 minutes away from San Candido!

Made popular by social media in recent years, Lake Braies and renting a rowboat is a bucket list experience. Remember, swimming is not allowed! After rowing, take a walk (about an hr pretty easy) around the entire lake.

man in striped shirt rowing on lake braies
Walking around the edge of Lake Braies

The region has beautiful vineyards that you should experience.

Woman in pink skirt in front of fairytale like Villa in San Candido
view of the Dolomites from San Candido golden hour

Make sure to explore the beautiful town San Candido where you’ll get a glimpse of  lovely Tyrolean style houses and shops and a blend of German and Austrian culture.

woman in boat on blue green lake braies with dolomites in the background

TIP: Boat rental gets crazy (it’s a small lake!) so definitely go in the morning. We were having breakfast at the hotel by 7:30am. Also the benefit of going in the morning, the way the sun reflects on the lake makes it extra pretty!

Like this post? PIN on your travel wishlist!

Italy Announces New Digital Nomad Visa

In order to aid with tourism revitalization and slow tourism in particular, in May, Italy will be announcing a year-long renewable digital nomad visa to non EU citizens.

Years ago, when looking into residency permits in Italy, I found the process a bit archaic in regards to today’s world and digital nomads. One of the standards of self-employment required you to invest a couple hundred thousand euros in a company in the country! More often than not, technology moves faster than bureaucracy and Italy wants visitors to know they’ve heard and received!

The country wants slow tourism and this is another arm of it! Italy’s digital nomad visa will attract talent to the country as well as even revitalize places that have lost residents from brain drain, age, or in the case of Venice, rising housing costs due to tourism.

So who are digital nomads? According to the decree:

“Citizens of a third country, who carry out highly qualified work activities through the use of technological tools that allow them to work remotely on a self-employed basis or for a business, including those not resident in the territory of the Italian State.”

Are you self employed? Proof of your own llc, etc.

Do you work remotely / no longer have to go into your office?

Are you a freelancer?

What’s the catch? Well we haven’t seen the paperwork yet but: 

  • Workers will need to provide their own health insurance.
  • 5% tax rate for self employed remote workers.

Will you be working remotely from Italy?

The Perfect Weekend in Taormina, Sicily

You may have heard of Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily because of its glitzy international film festival or as it’s one of the towns on the magical Mount Etna hiking trail.

The allure of Taormina is easy to understand. It’s a picture perfect Italian town showcasing Sicily’s rich history through its architecture, dating back to all of Taormina’s former rulers: Greeks, Romans, Byzantine, the Arabs, the Normans, the French and the Spanish.

Town scene in Taormina

In more recent years Taormina was a favorite haunt of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton and Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Bougainvilleas and plants in colorful ceramics adorn balconies. Nonnas hang laundry to take in the rays of the sun. Luxury stores dot Taormina’s main drag, Corso Umberto, right next to generations old gelaterie and Sicilian artisan shops. It’s the kind of place you want to stroll hand in hand with your bae down romantic side streets, just dodging a guy on a vespa. The stunning cliffside view of the Ionian Sea’s Bay of Naxos is awe-inspiring. The beaches and grottos below beg for a romantic day of exploration, especially Isola Bella.

Michele in Taormina under the moonlight looking over the bay

Here’s your perfect weekend guide to Taormina, Sicily.

Stay at Hotel Villa Belvedere (Via Bagnoli Croci, 79).

How did I choose it? This was my birthday trip and I knew I had the wiggle room to splurge if only for two nights. I wanted beautiful views and a garden pool. I also wanted a bit of tradition.

Nneya in Pool at Hotel Villa Belvedere by Michele Scaglione

Belvedere means beautiful view in Italian and it’s impossible to have a bad view during a stay at this boutique hotel overlooking the Bay of Naxos. Go in the summer, when the properties beautiful gardens around the pool are in full bloom. From some room terraces you can see the Bay, Isola Bella and Mount Etna. There also was a delicious breakfast!

* mid summer 2021, the Four Seasons Taormina opened up in the historical San Domenico Palace. I’d say it would be absolutely worth it to visit, if only for lunch or a refreshing drink. It’s the location for the next White Lotus.

Right next door to Villa Belvedere on Via Bagnoli Croce are Taormina’s public gardens Villa Comunale, a beautiful green space dotted with sculptures, nooks and pathways lined with fragrant magnolias. The gardens were created by Scottish noblewoman Lady Florence Trevelyan, who settled in Taormina in the 1880s after leaving the UK due to an affair with Edward VII, heir to the throne of England! She arrived in the town, married the mayor and started on this beautiful project, which became town property in 1922.

Lady Trevelyan also owned another gorgeous property in Taormina, the “pearl of the Ionian Sea” Isola Bella. The gorgeous island is about 1/2 an hour downhill from the main town. Now a nature reserve, the island has beautiful gardens, pebble beaches, clear waters and gorgeous coves. If you’re more of an adventurous couple, depending on the activity of Mt. Etna — it was spurting smoke and ash while I was there — plan a hike on Mt. Etna.

Nneya Michele Teatro Taormina Kissing

The Greek theatre, Teatro Antico (Via del Teatro Greco, 1) dating from 3rd century BC is definitely worth a visit — it’s where I got engaged! The amphitheater’s stage — still used for concerts and movies — is framed by Greek columns with a backdrop of the Mediterranean. My partner says he chose this spot with the theatre and the Bay of Naxos below as a celebration of endurance and beauty. Yup, he’s Italian.

Take in a sunset granita on Piazza IX Aprile, one of the best viewpoints in Taormina with panoramic vistas spanning the bay and Mt. Etna. Its checkerboard stone surface with the baroque church of San Giuseppe is emblematic of the town. We went to Caffè Wunderbar (Piazza IX Aprile, 7).

Mulberry Granita by Nneya Richards
Nneya Piazza Aprile Taormina by Michele

But for the best granita, head to Bam Bar. Locals say it’s the best granita in town. Sample the creamy slushy delight in flavors like mulberry, peach, and of course the classic coffee or pistachio. (Bam Bar, Via Giovanni di Giovanni, 45)

Scenes of Taormina by Nneya Richards

It’s hard to eat poorly in Sicily and that killer Sicilian hospitality means a waiter will certainly guide you well with the menu.

Giardini di Babilonia by Michele Scaglione

Giardini di Babilonia has this: excellent food, exceptional service. But what sets this restaurant apart is the actual gardens when you go through the gates. The restaurant is nearby to the Teatro Greco and on a clear night you can catch the moon framed by cypress trees and the ruins of the Teatro Greco.  (Giardini di Babilonia, Via Timoleone, 10)

Crudo at Giardini by Nneya Richards

Walk the main street, Corso Umberto I and you’ll see the glitz of Taormina with high-end, chic boutiques, but they are indeed mixed with local artisan ceramics and picturesque side streets.

Nneya in Taormina Town

I didn’t know what to expect regarding Taormina based on what I heard about celebrities, the film festivals, a stop for mega yatchs. I thought it would be like Saint Tropez, Cannes, even Portofino. All charming when you scratch the surface but definitely too glitzy to do so on a short weekend. Taormina was glitzy, don’t get me wrong. We had dinner next to a footballer who docked from his yacht. But he was with his family and dog. The restaurant was charming and quiet with the waiter bouncing back and forth between our tables one and the same.

Taormina’s locals haven’t been bought out by luxury apartments. You’re still welcomed with a granita and a smile. Every moment in Taormina seems to be perfectly curated towards the true dolce vita.

Nneya-Porta-Messina-Taormina-by-Michele

Getting Around

Taormina is very walkable and many of the sights are within minutes of each other. We flew into Catania’s airport (post coming soon) and drove a very scenic route to Taormina that took a little over an hour.

Like this guide to Taormina? Be sure to pin it!

Nneya-Porta-Messina-Taormina-by-Michele

Guide to Black Owned Italy

Last year I introduced Tripadvisor’s audience to my dolce vita with a Guide to Black Owned Italy. But that was just scratching the surface. Immediately after I found out about more businesses and many of you sent me others. The response was exciting and inspiring.

Want to know one thing I wish people knew that I have learned while living in Italy? How diverse the country is.

In both its ancient history — the diverse Roman Empire — to recent history like Italian Somaliland to immigration now, Italy’s diverse population influences much of what it means to “be Italian.” Coffee from Ethiopia and Marco Polo’s China expeditions contributing to the origins of pasta are far too often ignored and unknown. Often, this history is “hiding” in plain site: William Shakespeare’s Othello, Blackamoor art, the stories of Alessandro de’Medici, the Black member of the famed Florentine Medicis. There was even a Black Roman emperor, Septimus Severus from 193 – 211.

To say “there are very few black women in Milan and Italy as a whole” as I saw one Black American blogger living in Italy do speaks to the erasure that Black Italians face on a whole, even from people that look like them. Designer Stella Jean and I had quite a conversation about that blog post.

Maybe you’ve made a commitment to support Black-owned businesses. Why not extend this pledge to how you travel and shop internationally? Italy-born citizens are made up of a variety of ethnicities from Sicily to the Austrian borders. Visiting businesses and exploring goods owned and created by these varied ethnicities can give you a deep dive and range of untold Italian stories. Here’s my guide to exploring Black Italy creatives, business owners and talent throughout a few Italian cities. Currently living here, my dolce vita is encountering more of these voices and sharing them with you. 

As soon as the Tripadvisor article came out I discovered more Black-owned businesses in Bergamo and some of you sent me more. So in efforts to get this running list from my notes app to you, here’s my Black Italy Guide!

The one to know.

Tia Taylor – based in Milan

Published Author, Creator, Consultant living in Italy since coming to University here, Tia is for the culture and has been a Godsend to me here navigating cultural norms in Italy as a conscious Black American. Want to know the good, the bad, the bureaucracy of being a Black American woman living in Italy? Tia’s as real as it gets and beautifully bridges a lot of cultural gaps. Tia Taylor is an expat that has lived in Milan, Italy since her undergraduate studies. Follow Tia for tips on navigating Italian bureaucracy, navigating home ownership, and financial literacy. Tia takes her audience on a journey discussing everything from managing working papers, her first Italian job, handling racism, to recently, the process of purchasing a home in the country! She’s fast becoming a go-to in financial literacy for Italian young people with her IGTV, Una Donna Che Conta

Fashion. Because what’s a visit with Italy without it?

Stella Jean – based in Rome

Haitian-Roman designer Stella Jean has made waves in the fashion industry since her launch almost a decade ago. Wildly recognized as Giorgio Armani’s protege Jean’s designs are sold all over the world and has been seen on the likes of celebrities like Rihanna, Beyoncé and Zendaya. Embracing both sides of her heritage you can see Italian tailoring and pop art as well as Ankara prints and Caribbean scenes in Jean’s pieces. From fangirling to meeting Stella and considering her a friend, I can say she’s truly extraordinary. In the last few years, if I’ve been wearing something eye-catching statement piece you’ve absolutely loved, chances are, it’s Stella Jean. Wearing a Stella Jean coat around NYC, the amount of compliments I get from everyone I truly feel like Stella’s designs are brightening people’s days in these wintry streets.

Laurus & Obi Okoronkwo

Definitely watch this space. Laurus is fast becoming a new name in Italian luxury… for those in the know. Want a fine leather bag but not so into logomania? The Laurus is that bag. It brings back the true essence of luxury with slow fashion. You may have seen them on Whitney Port, Tiffany Haddish and Saweetie. The name Laurus comes from the Greek and Latin words for triumph and this brand is definitely winning. Hopefully soon, you’ll see it on me! I have my eye on one or two styles.

Edward Buchanan & Sansovino 6 based in Milan

Designer, luxury consultant and educator, Edward Buchanan became design director of luxury fashion house Bottega Veneta shortly after graduating New York’s Parson’s School of Design in 1995. In 2009 he launched his luxury cashmere label Sansovino 6. Committed to furthering inclusivity in Italy’s fashion system, you may have noticed his political and eye catching scarves on the neck’s of international fashionistas with slogans like “Resist” and “We Are All Migrants.” During the fall of 2020, he partnered with the Italian Fashion Chamber, Stella Jean and Michelle Francine Ngonmo for a video highlighting 5 BIPOC Italian designers, We Are Made in Italy.

Michelle Francine Ngonmo & Afrofashion Week Milan based in Milan

President of the Afro Fashion Association Michelle Francine Ngonmo was born in Cameroon and raised in Ferrara, Italy. After multicultural studies in France and Belgium she sought to create a platform for cross-cultural exchange through a non-profit, the Afro Fashion Association, fostering the creativity and potential of emerging designers of color. She empowers POC in fashion schools and communities throughout Italy, aiding them in careers in the notoriously tough fashion industry.

Amina Seck, model, based in Milan

I actually met Amina through her modeling for SCAGLIONE! Stunning Amina is killing the modeling game in Italy and runways throughout Europe. Shooting in Italy? Want to cast a stunning BIPOC model? There are a lot of them! You can start with Amina.

Tamu McPherson, based in Milan

Girl about town would be a short sell on internationally known Jamaican born, NY raised Tamu McPherson. Her partnerships with major global luxury fashion brands like Gucci and Zalando (her campaign with the German multi-brand retailer covered a wall of the Duomo last fall) have paved the way for Black content creators. Creator and publisher of All the Pretty Birds is Milan to the international fashion jet-set. Having lived in the city for over a decade after law school in NYC, her seemingly effortless integration into Milanese culture — which she often credits to her Italian mother-in-law — while keeping true to her Jamaica roots and New York City grit is every American’s dream for their own dolce vita.

Pizza and Pasta!

eating pizza with Winta Black Owned Italy
eating pizza with friend Winta, an amazing visuals person in Italy

Ibrahim Songne & IBRIS pizzeria Via Camillo Cavour, 36, 38122 Trento 

There are few foods I like more than pizza so I’m thrilled to add IBRIS pizzeria in Trento to the list. My friend Nina sent me this NPR article and I pretty much yelped with glee. Pizza is so inherently Italian and it’s not very often that you find a Black pizzaiolo. Check out the article; Songne details the honest truth about dealing with racism in such a traditional field as pizza making. IBRIS is definitely on my list when I head to Trento.

Dahlak Restaurant – Via Borgo Palazzo, 82/l, 24125 Bergamo

For a smaller city, the northern Italian city of Bergamo has quite a few Michelin star restaurants. It’s safe to say that the people of Bergamo know great food. Highly rated Ristorante Dahlak is a delicious family-run Eritrean restaurant in Bergamo’s lower city. With mouth-watering Eritrean specialties served on enjera bread, beautiful, authentic Eritrean decor, great conversation with Andom and Haitanot, the husband and wife owners and family photos, you will truly have the feeling that you’re in a family’s home.

Exau Olive Oil, made in Calabria

You may have seen this Calabrian olive oil on Oprah’s list of favorite things for 2020! Black American Skyler Mapes partnered with her husband Giuseppe who’s family has been producing premium extra virgin olive oil from their seaside family estate for almost 100 years. Tradition runs deep in Calabria and a Black American woman in the family business is a novel site! Delicious enough for Oprah, you can take a piece of Calabria and Black Italy home with you!

Kefa Koffee, Via Pignolo 10, Bergamo

Soon after submitting my story to Tripadvisor, I found what became one of my neighborhood gems, Kefa Koffee. I also love to show off Kefa to any friend’s visiting me in Bergamo, honestly even Michele! Owner, Hiwot is very cool and full of stories and the cafe (which also serves delicious food) attracts an interesting creative and international community in the neighborhood. On one of Bergamo’s oldest streets, Borgo Palazzo, Kefa Koffee is also a charming place to people watch on a nice day! Order a cappuccino, fresh squeeze orange juice or a delightfully aromatic infusion. Often, I schedule my errands to make sure I have time for a coffee and chat with Hiw!

*Corey’s Soul Chicken, featured in my original Tripadvisor article is unfortunately closed. However, while I was in one of my favorite places in Italy, Sicily, in Siracusa, I spied a Jamaican restaurant, Emberlee Jamaican Food. And from the photos, this place seems like the real deal with Chef Emberlee being from Jamaica! I see a lot of similarities with Jamaicans and Sicilians so I love this for Chef Emberlee and I can’t wait to try it when I’m back in Sicily!

*Another mention, Abi Pastificio Artigianale is no longer open as of January 2022, but with pasta so beautiful it’s almost a shame to eat, I’m definitely watching the space for future projects. It’s a perfect Italian marriage of beauty and food.

Italians have been doing it for centuries… The Art World

Mr. FLOWERheadZ / Hugh Findletar Murano, Italy

You may have seen Jamaican born Italy-based portraitist and artist Hugh Findletar’s or Mr. FLOWERheadZ’s Murano-glass vases — one of a kind three-dimensional portraits — in the chicest homes in the pages of high design magazines. They are breath-taking. His long career in photography is ever-evolving into different art forms in his Venice studio. Informed by his childhood in Jamaica and old Italian glass working techniques, his pieces are remarkable collector’s items.

Caterina Monda, based in Milan

A fellow New York of Jamaican-Italian background, Caterina Monda is an international PR consultant. She’s worked for top firms and major clients in the art world in both New York and Italy. Keep up with Monda and her clients’ work for a diverse range of art talent in Italy.

Dr. Tamara Pizzoli & The English Schoolhouse based in Rome

Founder of the award-winning boutique publishing house Dr. Tamara Polizzi is an author based in Rome. Her children’s book Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO is currently being adapted for screen by Gabrielle Union’s I’ll Have Another Productions. From Roman goddesses with luscious fros to learning the alphabet through city names like Djibouti, Polizzi takes kids throughout Italy and beyond.

Music

Paola & Pamela Ameyibor

Want to hire a DJ for an event in Italy? Few can get the party started like twins Polly and Pammy.

Tommy Kuti based in Mantua

Signed with USA recording label Universal, AfroItalian rapper Tommy Kuti is an activist, rapper and major talent in the Italian music scene even drawing the attention of controversial Italian politician Matteo Salvini with his lyrics. Through his art and depictions of social realities for many AfroItalians, Tommy Kuti is reaching a wide audience and paving the way for Italians of color in the music industry.

Check out his EP #AfroItaliano

David Blank based in Milan, Italy

Son of a pastor, R&B & Nu-Soul musician David Blank grew up in the Italian seaside region of Marche. Having toured Europe as a background singer with famed Italian singer Laura Pausini, Italian-Nigerian Blank is a must-know on the Italian music scene. Singing about love, growing up, feeling lonely, as a Black, queer man in a small town in Italy, David Blank’s soulful music resonates with a wide audience. 

Special mention? Nati at Texture Hair Salon comes highly recommended from Tia and I had a friend recently go to him during Milano Fashion Week.

Venice Will Charge Tourists to Enter the City Soon

Starting sometime this year, Venice will charge tourists to enter the city.

Black woman looking over her shoulder in floral dress in Venice with water and gondolier in background
Visiting Venice in the summer of 2019

There have been murmurings of this plan since around 2018. Now updates have been announced that the Italian city of Venice will charge tourists to enter the city, particularly, day-trippers later in 2022.

Most Americans visiting Italy stay around 7-10 days with their time divided between Florence, Rome and Venice (add Capri or the Amalfi Coast in the summer). The city welcomes around 30 million tourists yearly and this has totally changed the social fabric of it.

gondoliere veneziano, tourists and ponte by Nneya Richards
Quiet lane in Venice with tourists renting a gondola

The negatives that you’ll hear? Crowds, floods, the price gouging of tourists, misunderstood inhospitality or lack of true Venetians in the city (around 50,000) are just a few. But guess what? Despite all of this, Venice is absolutely worth it. I will never say Venice is overrated because… just WOW. The floods? They just add to the urgency of “Venice is sinking! Get there now!” During my mother’s last pre-pandemic visit to Italy, despite a train strike, being exhausted, I insisted we go to Venice. “Mom! It’s a world wonder. You can’t come here and not see Venice!”

Michele hasn’t been into Venice since he was a kid. I last went in the fall of 2019 and I’m dying to go back and visit a few workshops in Murano and other Venetian islands. Venice is close enough to us in Milan / Bergamo that it is an easy day trip. But, if Venice will charge tourists to enter the city, will that change some regional tourism?

If you saw those videos of dolphins in the lagoon during 2020 (they were fake by the way), it seems that Venice received a much needed break and clean up in these last years. If you’re going to go there now, be prepared for some changes that the city hopes will combat over-tourism.

  • Sometime this year the city will begin requiring tourists to reserve a ticket in advance of visiting.
  • This would not apply if you’re staying there over night, in a hotel, airbnb etc.
  • How much? From €3 to €8
  • The Goal? “to discourage day-tripping and encourage high-quality, experiential tourism” – Venice City council member Simone Venturini told this to AFAR
  • How will they enforce it? There are discussions about an app for booking. Turnstiles are also on the table. 500 CCTV cameras will be installed throughout the city and the police will use mobile data to monitor tourist comings and goings.
  • Downsides of the turnstiles? This isn’t cute! What is this an airport? Disney World? Why not something like the Green Pass?
sunny day reflection in Venice

So, what do you think? If Venice will charge tourists to enter the city, do you mind? Will a charge and reservations change your idea of a last minute day trip to Venezia while you’re in Italy?

See my video of Venice’s city scapes and just how crowded it can get, particularly in the summer high season. So, with a fee, is it worth a day trip?

I’d say absolutely. But let’s distinguish between an open air museum and Disney World.

10 Romantic Getaways for Valentine’s Day (And How to Recreate them at Home!)

Valentine’s Day 2022 is coming up and while we all thought we’d be traveling the world by now, Omicron is rearing its head.

A couple kissing in front of brick column on Lake Garda

Here are 10 Romantic Getaways near and far for you to consider for Valentine’s Day. And, if travel is up in the air for you right now, here are some tips for you to recreate that special getaway at home!

Verona, Italy

Verona is naturally one of the most famous cities of romance, ever. Immortalized by Shakespeare as the setting of Romeo & Juliet, the city really leans into its reputation, even once partnering with Air Bnb on a romantic stay. I love the city of Verona, with it’s beautiful old town and romantic side streets. Check out my guide for a perfect stay in the city.

Can’t make it to Italy? Open a bottle of Amarone wine, a rich dry Italian red from Veneto. Pour a glass and roll up your sleeves because you’re making a Verona specialty, risotto all’amarone. Here’s an easy to follow recipe from Food & Wine. Cue up Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet on Disney+ and finish that bottle of wine. Sounds like my kind of night!

Paris, France

This is a no brainer. As you know, Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world and I cherish the time I’ve been able to spend there. It’s a world renowned city for romance and amour.

Grand Hotel Amour by Nneya Richards

One thing I love about NYC is how many cute French-style bistros that we have. They still are the perfect place to pop in for a glass of wine and a delicious roast chicken. While I was up at Amherst studying it was Chez Albert. One of my favorites at home in NYC? French-Senegalese Cafe Rue Dix on Bedford Ave. in Crown Heights. What’s the French spot in your town?

Savannah, Georgia

With its 22 historic squares, Italianate mansions, cobblestone alleyways, and stately oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, Savannah is a romantic must. It’s always been on my bucket list. Spend a leisurely afternoon in Forsyth Park. Be sure to take a picture in front of the park’s grand, ninth-century cast-iron fountain, which was modeled after the fountains at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Holding hands while taking a carriage ride or joining a historic walking tour are two more ways to soak up the charm of this beautiful Southern gem.

Cartagena, Colombia

To visit Cartagena, Colombia is to be immersed in the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez’s prose. The Spanish colonial style balconies dripping with bougainvilleas often appear in my dreams. I had an incredible trip to Cartagena with someone who will love me always and forever — my mom and this Caribbean city is relatively close to New York (a shorter flight than Europe) making it such a great option for Valentine’s Day.

bourgainvillea in streets of Colombia
San Diego, Walled City of Cartagena, Colombia. December 2015

That spicy opening scene of Mr. and Mrs. Smith is set in Cartagena. Looking for a more classic romance? Throw on a glamorous Hill House Nap dress, cue up Love in the Time of Cholera and fill up on limonada de coco. Winter what? We’re in Colombia!

St. Augustine, Florida

Want the Spanish Colonial vibe but on US soil? Located on Florida’s Historic Coast, St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and is known as the oldest city in the U.S. Due to Henry Flager’s, a founder of Standard Oil vision of creating a new American Riviera, the city’s Historic District is steeped with Gilded Age romance. Think cobblestone streets, centuries-old Spanish-influenced buildings, hidden courtyards, ornate fountains, and grand monuments. Visit the Lightner Museum, an architectural masterpiece built in 1888 as the Alcazar Hotel with exquisite Victorian art glass and stained glass works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. A couples’ carriage ride through the streets or a self-guided tour of the town’s collection of magnificent churches add to the European allure of St. Augustine.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Let’s head state side. Naturally, we have the city of Brotherly Love on the list. A visit to Philadelphia is not complete without a stop at the famous LOVE Park, located in the heart of the city. Formally known as John F. Kennedy Plaza, the park is now affectionately referred to as LOVE Park thanks to Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue, where couples flock to get an iconic selfie since 1976! It’s like the Love Lock Bridge in Paris! While you’re there, have a meal at Philadelphia’s The Love restaurant. Just steps away from beautiful Rittenhouse Square, this bilevel sanctuary features an exciting drinks menu inspired by personal travels to vineyards, breweries and cideries in the region, and the creative cuisine is equally as enticing. I want a burger with a heart seared in the bun. Burgers are Michele’s love language.

Sedona, Arizona

Having just had a wonderful trip to Sedona, I think the energy in this town could be a different way of experiencing romance on the metaphysical plane. Road trip through the Red Rock Scenic Byway and keep an eye out for romantic stops along the way like Cathedral Rock Vortex. The vortex energy is said to be feminine and delivers feelings of softness, receptiveness, and compassion. 

Mendocino, CA

This charming town located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean is an enchanted, unspoiled gem. Imagine Victorian homes, saltbox cottages, well-kept gardens, and artsy shops. Stop for an artisanal indulgence at the Mendocino Chocolate Company or enjoy dinner at Cafe Beaujolais, a laid-back white-tablecloth French restaurant located inside an 1893 Victorian farmhouse.

Just down the road in Fort Bragg, visit Glass Beach, one of the most romantic places in the area. Stroll a beach pebbled with smooth sea glass treasures of all shapes, colors, and sizes just waiting to be discovered.

Views and Cobblestones in New York City

New York City is one of the most romantic cities in the world that has inspired countless love stories. Start the night at one of the most gorgeous restaurants in the city dripping in history, One If By Land, Two If By Sea in The Village. It is in a 1700s former carriage house that was once owned by Aaron Burr. Stunning fire places, exposed brick interior, breathtaking candelabras and chandeliers. One If By Land, Two If By Sea was actually voted the number 5 most romantic restaurant in the world by Arch Digest.

After a delicious dinner, catch a cab for a romantic ride over the bridge and head to Cecconi’s Dumbo for desert and a glass of wine with a view of the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge, the cobblestone streets, a romantic night in old New York. Get a taste of that classic New York at home with a New York love story movie night pizza and red wine. My favorites? Love Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sylvie’s Love and Serendipity. Maybe by Valentine’s Day this year you’ll be able to catch Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story on Disney+

Beck’s, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Giraffe at Sunrise by Nneya Richards

If 2020 taught us anything for 2021 it’s, “do that bucket list.” These last few years, once in a lifetime have properly converted to YOLO. The most romantic bucket list experience I’ve ever had that made me really wish Michele was on the trip — and you guys know I don’t mind solo-dolo — was safari in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Beck’s safari was extremely romantic. Sunrise and sunset safari runs, luxury tent life, 5 star dinners around a fire and being in the midst of nature with the best lighting. Wow. Surprise that special someone or treat yourself with a trip to South Africa. Trust me, they are doing well after that Omicron slander. Trevor Noah was just there living his best life!

Metal glasses for Happy Hour
Happy Hour on the Game Drive

Pin this story for great Valentine’s day ideas!

Featured in Drew Barrymore’s DREW magazine

It was an honor for me to be featured in the Holiday 2021 issue of DREW, Drew Barrymore’s magazine. It’s always amazing to have my work published and be recognized for my work. I also love any opportunity to showcase my love of Italy!

Magazine spread Drew magazine Holiday Issue Taormina for Lovers
magazine spread Drew magazine Holiday Issue Taormina for Lovers
Contributors page of Drew magazine

In this package edited by Jeralyn Gerba, the magazine round up perfect vacations for families, solo travel, couples etc and I’m discussing Taormina, Sicily and why it’s the perfect holiday destination for couples. Taormina is where Michele and I were engaged and it was wonderful to be able to share the photos from such a wonderful time in my life. Check out my full page spread and my photography actually opens the package as well!

Here’s the cover. Look out for Drew Barrymore’s DREW magazine on your newsstands!

magazine cover with Drew Barrymore

Sedona Energy Vortexes – A Guide to Perfect Vibrations

Here’s a trip to consider for the start of your new year: the Sedona energy vortexes. Sometimes you travel for enlightenment or peace of mind. To find yourself. This can happen on any trip but there are certain parts of the world that are known as spiritual centers to “speed up” the process.

Pilgrimages to Mecca. Seekers in India. The metaphysical vibrations with the Sedona energy vortexes.

Woman Looking over Bell Rock Trailhead in Sedona Red Rock scenery behind her
Looking over Bell Rock Trailhead in Sedona

Long before the psychic Page Bryant named the energy vortexes of Sedona in 1980s, Native Americans recognized Sedona as a spiritual and healing center. The Yuvapai, Navajos, Hopi and Tonto Apaches only used the land as sites for sacred ceremonies. They came to heal in the red rocks of Sedona. Within these energy vibrations they found their hearts.

But I’m not into all of this New Age stuff

That’s why Sedona is a perfect trip. You don’t necessarily subscribe to visiting a place because an 80s psychic says it’s a hotspot? Understandable. But I definitely wouldn’t call centuries old Native American traditions, “new age.” If nothing else, there is a power in connecting with the intense beauty of mother nature in an area like Sedona. Come to the Sedona energy vortexes without expectations, without preconceived notions, only attuned with yourself and your feelings and they may benefit you more than most seekers.

So what is an energy vortex?

Let’s think in the metaphysical. Vortexes are places of heightened energy. Almost as though in these Sedona energy vortexes, there is a crack line in the earth.

While in Sedona with AdventureElevate 2021 I went on a vortex tour with Crystal Starrweaver. She explained the Sedona energy vortexes’s alignment with our chakras – energy points in the body that connect to our emotional and physical wellbeing. For example, Table Top mesa is the solar plexus chakra of Sedona. Cathedral (a vortex) is considered the sacral part of Sedona; Bell Rock, the root chakra.

Crystal Starrweaver Leading Ceremony in Sedona Energy Vortexes
Crystal Starrweaver Leading Ceremony in Sedona Energy Vortexes

Can you feel it when you’re in the Sedona energy vortexes?

Yes. Some people feel it physically. A tingling sensation. Heightened energy. Mental clarity. Peace. Some people meditate while there. Others perform a ceremonial offering with tobacco signifying gratitude and peace.

Sacred Tree near Bellrock Sedona
Sacred Tree near Bell Rock Sedona

Pro tip: Have we been saging wrong?

The practice of saging has gained popularity in recent years. Michele does it, even my Italian sister-in-law gave me sage for Christmas. Burning sage is an ancient spiritual ritual practiced by the Lakotas, Romans, Egyptians etc. One of the goals of smudging is the cleanse the negative energy from a space. But Crystal pointed out, once that space is cleansed, what’s there? Our group was silent. Once you’ve saged, use something else to bring in positive energy, comfort or productivity like lavender or palo santo.

Red Rock Canyon Sedona Energy Vortex
Red Rock Canyon Sedona Energy Vortex

So, not sure you’re into energy work? I’d still suggest you go to Sedona, go for the beauty, take in the good vibes, learn about ancient practices and if good intentions catch you, well, why not?

BellRock Energy Vortex
Bell Rock Energy Vortex

While visiting Sedona, I stayed at The Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock. Here is the view from the parking lot.

Follow more of my adventures on Instagram!

A Perfect 2021 Travel-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Nneya in front of Pendry Christmas Tree

Here is a 2021 perfect travel-inspired holiday gift guide for the wanderer in your life.

We’re in the throws of the holiday season with a week left until Christmas. If you’re anything like me, shopping is easy breezy and then last minute express orders. People often wonder what to get for travelers as they spend time touring the world and seeing cool stuff. Well, sometimes, it’s just the little things. Really, they’ll appreciate the travel size. Here’s our perfect 2021 holiday gift guide.

If they have a travel blanket. Get them a big, cozy cashmere scarf!

SCAGLIONE scarf, €149

So I have a travel blanket. Actually, a beautiful Chanel one. But I hardly use it. Why? Because I more often than not live from my carry on. And my “personal item” is a tote that’s jammed packed with my laptop, camera and essentials. So while my travel blanket is super cozy, I usually travel with my SCAGLIONE knit duster and a SCAGLIONE cashmere scarf. It’s comfy, doesn’t take up as much space as a blanket and I’ll wear it at my destination.

For the health & wellness wanderer Ankle Weights!

Inspired by a photo of my friend Alexandra exploring Athens temples in ankle weights. Ankle weights are a great idea for your friend who loves to get in their steps when exploring a city. Tell them to wear them in the airport though — every pound counts when packing.

A piece of home for the luxury hotel lover in your life.

FRETTE robe, $317

There was a point when I was traveling a lot. A work trip 3 times a month. In and out of hotels. I wanted some consistency and I missed home. So, I brought some of that home consistency to the road! I splurged on a luxurious Frette robe. I actually got a great deal at an outlet, so always be on the look out for those and I haven’t found one I love as much as mine (hooded) on sale since. But these plush ones will do just fine and provide a pretty stable transition.

For the gastronomic traveler. The tradition of tea.

MAGIC HOUR TEA, $44

For your friend who enjoys slow travel and the gastronomic delights of it. Here’s a gift that combines intention, relaxation and tradition. Get them an assortment of delicious beautiful teas from Magic Hour

Because as we say here are ‘N A Perfect World, let’s bridge gaps. We are all ambassadors.

Give back this holiday season with celebrity backed charity Choose Love. Choose Love, does whatever it takes to help displaced people around the world. Give gifts with heart to those who need it most. Choose Love offers iconic merch worn by celebrities such as OprahJulia Roberts and James Corden. 100% of profits from Choose Love’s merch goes to support refugees and displaced people in 15 countries around the world. Additionally, the Choose Love shop offers a unique shopping experience which is split into three sections. Each area explores a different stage of a refugee’s journey, from Arrival (emergency blankets, warm clothing and food) to Shelter (tents, sleeping bags and hygiene packs) all the way to Future (education supplies, LGBTQ+ support and mental health care). The experience can even be given as a gift with a downloadable gift card to be printed at home and wrapped up for gift giving. 

Help them get organized! A passport case has never felt more useful!

SMYTHSON passport cover, $325

There may be a few more documents when we travel now making a passport case, with a slip for say your vaccination card, even more handy!

For the one who raves about summers on the Med.

TORMARESCA CALAFURIA ROSÉ, $47

Treat them to this delicious bottle of rosé from Salento. A special edition from the Antinori wine family, this Calafuria wine is perfectly enjoyed over the holidays! For a Secret Santa, Hannukah, any holiday party? It’s the perfect addition to the 2021 holiday gift guide!

Jet Luxe Loungewear

SCAGLIONE joggers, $285 | SCAGLIONE round neck, $226

There’s nothing that says luxe like beautiful loungewear. Of course, my favorite is from SCAGLIONE. A comfortable yet elevated alternative to your standard travel leggings. It’s also a chic look for hotel breakfast. Let me upgrade ya! Here’s a full range of SCAGLIONE loungewear for men and women — by the way, the green ones are mens small that fit me!

For the Traveling Naturalista

Let’s be honest, most hotels can’t even begin to come close to the products that we afro, kinky, curly, coiled folks need. It always feels like a win when I see some of my favorite hair products in the travel section at Target. Heading on a beach vacation soon? This Naturalicious travel set (Black woman owned!) has a perfect moisturizing traveling pouch that I wish I had with my right now to revitalize my curls after this long flight!

For the pro packer

CALPAK Luka Duffel, $110

Still on the hunt for the perfect carry on? This efficient Calpak duffle made Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2019. The countless slips and pockets, even an underbelly for shoes make it the perfect carry on for the traveling pro in your life. 

So comfy they can walk 1,000 miles

FREEDOM MOSES slides, $50

This summer, I fell in love with these Freedom Moses slides and they were the perfect companion for our road trip through Sicily. So of course they made it to my 2021 holiday gift guide. Easy to pack, these stylish shoes are now a travel essential of mine. Use my code FM15NNEYA to get a special discount!

For the Italophile

Another perfect present for a holiday party, especially with Italians. Familiar with the panettone but not one for a fruit cake? Try this deliciously light and airy fugassa, an ancient Venetian dessert. This Cipriani version is delicious. After I got some my mother-in-law then ordered for Christmas!

Due to Omicron Concerns, Biden Announces New U.S. Travel Requirements

For a brief moment, it seemed like even with the Delta variant the travel industry was on the comeback. The U.S. opened to the EU, summer and holiday spending on travel was on the up. New U.S. travel requirements seems to be on pause.

And then in the 20th month of the global pandemic, the WHO announces a “variant of concern,” the Omicron.

Due to Omicron concerns, President Biden announces new U.S. travel requirements. When the Omicron variant was announced, the US quickly banned entry from non-citizen travelers from countries in Southern Africa. This was in effort to gain reaction time and slow down the spread. On Wednesday, the President announced new U.S. travel requirements in an effort to prep for holiday travel season.

Starting December 6, all international arrivals, vaccinated or not, will need to test negative for COVID no more 1 calendar day before flying to the U.S.

Sure, this seems like a minor adjustment. But it leaves the travel industry concerned about whether or not this will dissuade travel during a time they were hoping for a rebound. It will definitely take a little bit of extra planning. For example, I usually take a Monday flight from Italy back to the US. My local testing site in Bergamo is actually not open on Sunday, so I usually take my test on Saturday afternoon. Maybe I’ll fly on Tuesday instead? Find a different site that does rapid private tests on a Sunday — not likely in Bergamo.

Will this drive an uptick in domestic holiday get aways in the US? Puerto Rico? US Virgin Islands?

Other updates?

The mask mandate on public transportation, though set to expire on January 18th, has now been extended to March 18th.

Duh! The TSA is extending the requirement to wear masks while in all transportation hubs and on public modes of transportation, including in and on airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, rideshares, airports, seaports, and train, bus, and subway stations.

Have these announcements changed your travel plans at all? Tell me about it!