Insider view on London’s Chelsea neighborhood

by Marina Camilletti

Chelsea may currently be better known for housing slick European bankers and their über-coiffed wives, but at its heart it remains one of London’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, steeped in history. You can eat anything from high-end alfresco Italian (Manicomio, Duke of York’s Square), to mid-priced Lebanese (Al Dar, corner of Lincoln Street), to the classic “Full English Breakfast” for under five pounds (Mona Lisa cafe – cheap, a little grotty, but one hundred percent authentic).

Sylvia Pankhurst's house, Cheyne Walk - - 263337

There are a few boutiques amongst the mid- to high-end shops: Austique specializes in hand-picked accessories, and French Sole, founded in a Chelsea basement, originated the ongoing trend for ballet flats. But the more adventurous shoppers are to be found stalking the cluster of charity shops (thrift stores) at the World’s End, for the best rich-lady castoffs in town.

Parallel to the Kings Road, the embankment to the River Thames houses hidden delights, most especially for those with a penchant for architecture and juxtaposition. From outside Chelsea Old Church, which dates from the twelfth century, one can directly gaze at one of Norman Foster’s modern international headquarters, one of the first glass buildings of its kind in London. Farther toward Sloane Square, past the hidden gem that is the Chelsea Physic Garden, Christopher Wren’s magnificent Chelsea Hospital (home to old war veterans, whom you’ll see walking about proudly in their traditional red uniforms) stands opposite Richard Rogers’ house on Royal Avenue – a perfect Georgian facade which the architect himself gutted and refurbished.

Chelsea Old Church, Cheyne Walk - - 1569945

The Kings Walk Mall, directly opposite on the bustling Kings Road, has the perfect drop-in manicure bar and speedy hairdressers. Yoga classes can be found at Triyoga (corner of Beaufort Street).  And for a quick burst of nightlife, The Pheasantry houses a rather recherche’ jazz club in its basement music room, beneath its pretty decent pizza restaurant.


For a little taste of Chelsea life at its most typical, one of its original 1960s denizens, Dina Wheatley, houses paying guests in her charming period house on Smith Terrace.

S.A.I.D – Artisan Chocolate in Rome since 1923

One of my favorites things in the winter in Italy is hot chocolate (cioccolato caldo), and one of my favorite places to get it in Rome is in the university neighborhood of San Lorenzo, a bit northeast of Termini Station in Rome, at S.A.I.D.

Originally a chocolate factory in 1923 in a blue collar part of town, it’s now a restaurant, made fashionable by keeping most of the original industrial machinery.  Not exactly my first choice for a proper meal (just around the corner there’s Tram Tram which I recommend for dinner), but it’s one of the few places where you can go outside of meal times and just have something sweet.

The front part of the restaurant is the chocolate shop, where they have great gift boxes – lots of different combinations at various prices and the option of choosing a fancy box and filling it as you wish.

Farther in there are some loungey sofas and tables and chairs for those having dinner.

Prices aren’t low, but when you’re unique, and good, that’s kind of par for the course.  Check it out on Via Tiburtina, 135 and if it’s in the winter, get a cioccolato caldo with panna (whipped cream).

by Steven Brenner

Made in Italy – handmade gifts by Florentine Artisans

I once read that the technology involved in making something as common as a nr. 2 pencil is so complex that if one person were left to construct one on their own, they would fail.

This is an interesting symbol of our modern world – we are completely dependent on technologies and the goods and services they produce, but without the collaboration between these different technologies, we as individuals would have to revert to an almost primitive state (imagine all the saffron and turmeric stains!).  In some ways, this is a sign of progress – mass produced goods at cheap prices allow us to have more stuff.  The downside is that without any regard to how the stuff we buy is produced, our vote on which techniques will last is made inadvertently by the low price we’re happier to pay.

Recently in Florence, on the Made in Florence: Oltrarno Artisans tour organized by Context Travel, I learned not only about traditional crafts and the incredible amount of skill and artistry that makes them possible, but I was also horrified to learn about the dismal future these artisans, and their techniques, are destined for.

“The Florentine tradition of producing artisan goods has been in existence for centuries and remains one of the cornerstones of Florence’s visual and social history, as much as it did in the times of the guilds. Florentine leatherworkers, silversmiths, shoe manufacturers and hat makers have produced handmade goods for countless generations of kings and queens, princes and noblewomen, and continue to this day, mostly in the area known as the Oltrarno (on the other side of the Arno).”

My three-hour walk explored these private workshops and provided a behind-the-scenes look at the current state of artisan production.  Unfortunately, there are few to no apprenticeships to learn these traditions.  The laws have changed so drastically in modern times that many laboratories where these artisans work will no longer be authorized once these “masters” die, and the rents, which are controlled to a certain degree for artigiani storici, will ultimately be raised and the only businesses that will be able to afford them are the high-end boutiques and hotels.

I was amazed by what I saw and learned  — the amount of training, skill, artistry, and practice that goes in to making these creations.  I’m not a shopper.  I rarely buy anything, but I couldn’t resist.  Seeing how these things were made, and hearing the stories of the people behind them, made a huge impression on me.  I wanted to buy something not just to have the thing, but to be able to pass on that story to the person I gave it to.  I felt like I became part of the process – I felt connected to the hands that produced these things, and could tell my kids or my wife, when I gave them a simple metal box or a bracelet about the person who made it.

When I saw that the Italy Blogging Roundtable was inviting other bloggers to post something on the subject of gifts, I knew this was what I’d write about.  If you want to buy something that is truly Made in Italy, and supports the real people making them, the generations of Florentines who honed these skills, and hopefully the generations to come that will keep them alive, here’s a handful of shops to check out:

1) Ditta Carlo Cecchi di Giuliano Ricchi – Piazza Santo Spirito, 12.  Giuliano makes bracelets, boxes, picture frames, and other gifts in brass and silver.  Over the years he’s sold to Neiman Marcus, Dior, and other worldwide brands.  He even has a picture of Bill Clinton buying one of his business card cases. Now, with imports from China, sales have slumped.  For around 50 euro you can buy a number of beautiful things, and whether you buy something or not, he’s happy to have you there, show you around, and tell you stories.


2) I’Ippogrifo Stampa d’Arte by Gianni Raffaelli – Via S. Spirito, 5R – - Gianni and his wife make original etchings, engraved entirely by hand on copperplate.

The etchings are all made in mirror images.  The detail and accuracy is mind-boggling.

They are then inked, and run through a manual press, one at a time.

They are then colored in watercolor by hand and signed by the artist in limited editions.  It’s impossible to capture how alive these images are.

There are many things I’ve never seen in real life that I’ve seen countless images of — both real and digitally enhanced.  It’s easy to take a beautiful scene for granted because they are so accessible to us.  But when I look at these prints, and think about the period they were used, before photographs and easily accessible images, I can imagine what it would have been like to hear about Florence and to see it for the first time, like this:

These are the same Acquaforte techniques that were conceived and developed in old artisan workshops of Florence more than 500 years ago.


3) Francesco da Firenze – Via Santo Spirito, 62R.  Francesco and his son make shoes by hand.

If you’ve ever owned a pair of handmade, leather shoes, you should be able to relate to the love I feel for these.

I bought this pair for myself.  They have inspired a good deal of envy in others that I feel is well-warranted.

For other posts around the theme of Gifts, visit the other Italy Roundtable Blogs: ArtTrav, At Home in Tuscany, Brigolante, Italofile, and WhyGo Italy.

by Steven Brenner

Food shopping tips in Italy

Watch Giulia, Paloma, and Viola as they take you to a bakery, an alimentari, and a fruit and vegetable market, giving you tips on where to go and what to get for a simple, inexpensive, and healthy lunch.

Holistic Rome

The following information comes from the Beehive Recommends Guide, which you can download for free here.

(packaged food, fresh vegetables & fruit, cleaning supplies, personal care products)


Canestro (3 locations)
via S. Francesco a Ripa, 106 (Trastevere)
viale Gorizia, 51 (Trieste)
via Luca della Robbia, 12 (Testaccio)

il Salice
via Reggio Emilia, 61/a (Trieste)

viale delle Milizie, 7a (Prati/Vatican)

Al Sole d’Oro
Lungotevere Mellini, 44 (Prati/Vatican)

Solo Natura
via Petrarca, 1 (Piazza Dante/Piazza Vittorio)

L’Albero del Pane
via Santa Maria del Pianto, 19/20 (Jewish Ghetto)

Citta dell’ Altra Economia (this is a large fair trade complex that has an organic grocery store, fair trade retail shop, bar and restaurant) Largo Dino Frisullo inside the former city slaughterhouses, also where the new MACRO is located (Testaccio)

Mercatino Biologico
Vicolo della Moretta & via Giulia (centro storico).
Outdoor Sunday market, Fall to Spring.



L’Officina Naturale – centro storico
best erboristeria in Rome with excellent selection of all natural body care products including Neals Yard Remedies and a wonderful Tuscan line called Officinali di Montauto/OM)
via della Reginella, 3 (Jewish Ghetto)
via dei Coronari, 190 (Piazza Navona)


(with farm shop, Saturday and Sunday lunches, animals and nature walk)

Agricoltura Nuova Cooperativa
via Valle di Perna, 315 (just south of EUR)


Eco Wear (standard cotton, hemp clothing)
via del Vantaggio, 26 (Piazza del Popolo)

Dimensione Natura (clothes & shoes)
via dei Falegnami, 66/a (Jewish Ghetto)

The Natural Look (Birkenstocks in many styles, colors, designs)
via del Vantaggio, 21 E/F (Piazza del Popolo)

Angelo di Nepi (clothes & shoes)
via dei Giubbonari (Campo dei Fiori)
via del Babuino, 147 (Piazza del Popolo)
via Frattina, 2 (Spanish Steps)

Croce Franco (shoes)
Piazza Madonna dei Monti, 9


The Beehive (vegetarian & organic) – breakfast, Sunday brunch and snacks
via Marghera, 8 (Termini) 06 44704553

Bistrot Biologico (organic)
La Casa del Parco via del Casaletto, 400 (southwest of town near Villa Doria Pamphilj park) 06 45476909

Arancia Blu (vegetarian)
via Prenestina, 396 (Pigneto) 06 4454105

Naturist Club (vegetarian)
via delle Vite, 14 (Spanish Steps) 06 6792509

Margutta Vegetariana (vegetarian)
via Margutta, 117 (Spanish Steps) 06 32650577

Tidiro (macrobiotic)
via del Mattonato, 42 (Trastevere) 06 5810626

Pugliamonti (vegetarian specialties from Puglia region)
via Urbana, 104 064742772



Anusara & Iygengar style yoga:
Centro Parmananda, Lungotevere Flaminio, 48 (Anusara inspired yoga)
Contact Paula Moss 06.7009646

Hatha yoga:
Accademia Yoga, via XX Settembre, 58 (Porta Pia)

Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga:
Scuola Ashtanga Yoga, via Annia 54 (Celio)

Power yoga, ashtanga and anusara yoga:
Ego Yoga, via Cola di Rienzo, 162 (Prati)




Various yoga styles:
L’Albero e La Mano at via Pelliccia, 3 (Trastevere)

Iyengar yoga:
Studio Iygengar via Tagliamento, 45 (Trieste)

Bikram yoga
Bikram Yoga Roma via Aurelia, 190

Various yoga styles
Arya Yoga via Umberto Giordano, 99/c14 (Infernetto)

Kundalini yoga:
Centro Naad (Monti/Esquilino) via Giovanni Lanza, 125

Budokanin via Properzio, 4 (Prati/Vatican)


Jenifer Vinson at The Beehive by appointment (Swedish style)
via Marghera, 8 (Termini) €45 for 50 minutes

Baan Thai (Thai massage)
Borgo Angelico, 22 (Prati/Vatican)

Acanto Day Spa
Piazza Rondanini, 30 (Pantheon)

Acqua Madre (Hammam/turkish style spa)
via di S. Ambrogio, 17 (Jewish Ghetto)

by Steven Brenner