As part our Grazie series we’re taking a closer look at the most exciting artists, designers, chefs and creatives inspired by Italian style. If you’re looking for an expert on the best places to explore, relax and eat in Italy, you can’t do better than Erica Firpo. A travel journalist with a difference, Erica uses beautiful images (often shared on her popular Instagram page) as much as she uses inspiring words to share her experiences at some of Italy’s most gorgeous locations and unique hidden gems. We caught up with Erica to talk about her love of museums, her favourite spots in Rome and the ingredients for the ultimate Italian summer.
Hi Erica. Can you tell us a little about you and what you do?
I’d love to: I am a bit of a mosaic- a travel journalist and digital storyteller, creating stories through photos, video and words across platforms including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, I create and contribute to campaigns, and teach and consult on digital storytelling. I share the broad facets of my work on ericafirpo.com, and I’ve recently launched ciaobella.co, an Italy lifestyle/travel website.
How did you become a travel journalist?
Thanks to a little nudge from my former editor Christopher Winner, I went from writing art reviews and critique to travel writing – starting out as a columnist covering Pet Travel for Winner’s monthly The American, and leading to contributing writer, editor and author roles for publications including Fodor’s, Insight Guides, The Telegraph, the Guardian, Luxe City Rome and more.
Thank you! I love taking photos and I love telling stories in as many ways as possible. For me, images are extremely important to my story-telling process. Through them, I can draw the viewer into the space, giving a sense of atmosphere, a timely glimpse or a behind-the-scenes idea, and offer more insight into the story. The ultimate goal is that the viewer has the chance to experience and interpret the scene as they want.
You were previously BBC Travel’s Voice of Rome. Can you tell us about your favourite places in Rome?
Ah, there are so many favorite places! I am crazy for carbonara, but only go to two places: Pipero and Trattoria Da Danilo. I also have a very sweet to tooth so I have a line-up of spots. In the mornings I get my latte macchiato and a pastry from Caffe Roscioli (they make pastries daily and always feature some near-extinct Roman recipes), and I go to Caffe Ciampini for hot chocolate in the winter, spritz in the afternoons and wild cherry gelato whenever it is available. I’ll go to the ends of the earth – in this case, the city – for good pizza and love Sforno near Cinencittà. Closer to home I’ll get my favorite napoletana at Pizzeria ai Marmi in Trastevere.
When it comes to exploring, I’ll take on the entire city any day of the week – and preferably underground. Lucky for me my husband, Darius Arya, is an archaeologist who prefers subterraneans more than anything else. If I’m relaxing outdoors, it’s Villa Borghese, a vast green park in the city centre, where I can take a little boat ride, bicycle, roller skate, or just chill out on the grass. It also happens to be home to a few great museums like Galleria Borghese (Carvaggio and Bernini!) and Museo Pietro Canonica (a wacky little spot), and nearby Etruscan museum Villa Giulia and La Galleria Nazionale – my favorite place in all of Rome to relax, with its incredible modern and contemporary collection.
What makes the perfect Italian summer escape?
The perfect Italian summer escape is anywhere by the water, with an ombrellone (big beach umbrella) and a beach-side restaurant with frittura di paranza (fried fish) and spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) on the menu. And it’s even better if there is a little bit of history and art. My favorite summer getaway is always Sicily – in particular Ortigia, a small attached island in the south built on the ancient Font of Arethusa, with temples, duomo and a Caravaggio. Closer to home, I love Sperlonga, where there is an incredible seaside archaeological museum. I also love Terracina, the seaside town and ancient hilltop where the via Appia Antica passes, and of course the somewhat secret Argentario beaches in Tuscany.
You also encourage people to visit lesser-known museums and galleries through your #EmptyMuseo project. What inspired you to start this and why do you think museums are so important?
Museums, archaeological sites and cultural spaces have always been my home away from home. When I need a getaway, I can just walk out of the door because Rome has art everywhere, with every era and every genre represented. And so does the rest of Italy. Unfortunately, many incredible museums and sites don’t get much visibility, as more popular museums (like Uffizi and Musei Vaticani) are bucket list must-sees. I want to change that, or at least make a little dent, by bringing Italy’s museums to small screens. For me, any opportunity to bring people inside an Italian museum, gallery or cultural site is an opportunity to inspire dialogue that spreads outside of the museum and inspires visitors to come back inside.
Erica has led EmptyMuseo all over Rome including La Galleria Nazionale and Vatican Museums, as well as Milan’s Triennale and Galleria Arte Moderna. She’s pioneered Instagram meet ups #instameet in Rome since 2013. She has been personally and professionally covering the Venice Biennale since 2011, and had a fellowship with the Peggy Guggenheim collection. She is La Repubblica’s Digital Influencer and has a strong disdain for red pants.
What do think makes Italy, and the Italian way of life, so special?
Thanks to an enviable location in the Mediterranean, microclimates and microcultures, the inventiveness of ancient Rome and centuries of patrons, Italy has the best of everything. We have food, culture, cars, sports and nature, but most of all Italy has personality, or better yet, distinct, charming and utterly humorous personalities. Each town and neighborhood is unique unto itself, and Italians take a lot of pride in where they come from- be it Rome, Modena, Nicolosi, or Napoli. This combination of factors is what makes Italy so special.