Italian Travel Guide:: One Stop Shop

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After nearly an entire month of writing about traveling to Italy for one of my workshops, I thought it would be a good idea to devote a final post to the topic. Think of this as your go-to Italian travel guide, and a one stop shop for all of the information you need to know. It will be a FAQ page of sorts. Here’s a quick reference to all of my tips for traveling to Italy for a workshop at La Fortezza:

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How to Get the Best Airfare to Italy 

What to Pack in your Carry-on

What to Pack in your Suitcase 

How to Spend a Layover in Milan 

Why Mother-Daughter Trips to La Fortezza are a MUST

I don’t know about you, but the past month has me more ready than ever to get back to my Italian home. I’ll be in Italy for a few weeks in March checking-in on La Fortezza and readying it for guests. Then, after a short stint home in the States, I’ll head back to Italy for the summer. Our 2019 summer workshop and Artist in Residence program are shaping up to be absolutely spectacular. From styling workshops with yours truly to one-on-one painting lessons with Steve, this is going to be an incredible season of workshops.

There are only a few spots left, so if you’re planning on joining us, grab your spot soon! Don’t miss your opportunity to come to Italy for a once in a lifetime experience!

xx Annette

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Grab your flights to Italy! Here’s how to get the best prices.

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I was talking to my web manager, Nicole, about Italy during a meeting last month. We were talking about the workshop website and talking about booking flights to Italy. She’s considering coming, but said she was shocked by pricing to Pisa. She told me that Delta was charging $3000 economy round trip. I almost spit out my espresso. I said, “No way, let me tell you how I fly.” She had never heard about half the airlines I use when I search for flights. I thought everyone knew about these airlines. Apparently not which prompted Nicole to say…

“Annette this would be a great blog post,” and I agreed. So I have written this post just for you! That way you can book your budget flights in and out of Pisa to attend my workshops. When I book flights to Italy, my only mission is to get to Italy and then figure out how to get to La Fortezza – sometimes from Milan, sometimes from Rome, and sometimes flying directly to Pisa from a European city like London or Frankfurt. I save money flying to Italy by looking at tickets online to various cities in Europe with several carriers picking the most affordable and shortest duration. Then I fly with local airlines into Pisa from where ever I land. Sometimes I even take a train to to La Fortezza directly if possible.

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Here are my top tips:

1. The main thing is to be flexible with dates to find the best offers. I use all the discount sites to check if there are any great flights I might catch. Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity and Cheapoair. I set up alerts with Airfare Watchdog.

2. Always check the “my dates are flexible” box. A big tip is that I do not look at flights until I am ready to buy them. I start looking 4 months before I travel overseas. Once I find a flight, I book it on the spot it if it’s cheap and mainly if the duration of the flight is not super long.

3. I always book tickets overseas from JFK airport in New York, not from Atlanta where we live. I use points when I can to book flights from Atlanta to JFK on Delta because most of the time, flights are regular and very affordable to JFK. Timing works because most flights overseas leave starting in the early evening into late night, so timing is great to coordinate.

4. I check all the major cities from JFK Airport. Think Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, London, Munich, Frankfurt and sometimes Zurich and Barcelona (I stay out of Paris at all costs; it’s a horrible airport although if it’s super cheap, I book it). I look at budget airlines like Condor, British Airways, Turkish Airlines Iberian Airlines and  Air Canada.

Here’s an example of selections from Air Canada from JFK to Milan June 2-11th , but other dates are available as well. You can see the difference flying out different days, so flexibility is very important.

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Here is an example of Travelocity’s listing from JFK to Milan. There are lots of choices, so make sure to look at flight duration on both legs…

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5. I travel light which means with a carry on. The truth is that you do not need a lot of clothing in the summer, and if you’re carrying camera equipment you should be good with 2 carry-on bags. Plus this is important if you’re flying with budget flights or taking a train.

6. Fly smaller, European budget airlines to reach Pisa. Once I have my flight to a major European city selected, I look for my European leg to Pisa with a European budget airline. I use Easy Jet, Ryanair, Transavia  and Alitalia  for the connecting European legs. For example if you fly into London, book EasyJet or Ryanair to Pisa airport.

Here’s an example of the choices on Easy Jet  from London to Pisa:

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8. Sign-up for alerts. If you’re on an alert system like Airfare Watchdog, you should be able to find flights from JFK to Pisa sometimes as cheap at 700 dollars. So it takes a bit of time, but the effort is worth it. Honestly, I rather enjoy it. Who doesn’t love a challenge?!

If you’re coming to one of our workshops in June or July you may want to start actively looking for your flights now. The key is to look at every option, and be open to travel routes, new airlines and flexible dates.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you loads of other travel content to help you plan your trip. June workshops and July’s artist in residence program will be here before we know it! Stay tuned for packing tips, plane essentials, layover must-dos and more! Have a safe flight xx

 

 

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Swedish Death Cleaning and Musings on Marie Kondo

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WARNING THIS IS LONG POST, GRAB A BEVERAGE OF YOUR CHOICE AND HAVE A SEAT.

As you all know, I am a stylist. I edit objects for the camera, so I am great at making sure everything looks perfect and edited at all times. I am not bragging when I say that people look to me for answers about how to style and organize their spaces. I have a big prop collection that I regularly cull and edit. I go through my closet every 6 months, I used to do it every 3 months, but spending 6 months in Italy has really changed my point of view about clothing. Since I am in Italy in the summer, my summer wardrobe in the US  has shrunk considerably. I am cleaning up, throwing out, scanning and donating all of the time. It is part of my weekly routine, sometimes 4 or 5 times a week. I am always editing, asking myself, “Do I need this? Have I used this? Have I worn this?”

I like to think I am a minimalist, but I am not really a minimalist. The truth is that, like everyone, I do have hidden corners in my house, and some things I don’t want to let go of emotionally. I am a prop stylist after all, the collector of beautiful interesting objects that all have a story. So here’s my true story…

Recently our daughter temporarily moved back in with us, and she seriously lives like a monk. No stuff, very, very pared down. She is here with us for a few months while she settles into a new job and looks for a house to buy with her husband. She looked at me about 2 months ago and said, “Mom you have too much stuff.” I thought she was kidding! After all, we had just done a huge purge in the past year thanks to her. But according to her, it was not enough…

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Last year, our daughter had talked to her dad and I about Swedish Death Cleaning . I know, horrifying concept right? Dying. But it’s actually a great concept. You can read about it here.

Here’s the concept in a nutshell: as you age you should simply your life. When you’re young and have kids, it’s natural to have clutter. But as you age, you should work on getting rid of possessions. This is the ultimate kindness to your children and family.

With my daughter living at home and pushing for another purge, I decided we needed to revisit the entertaining pantry (I have 2 of them)–lots of platters, plates, coffee makers and cups and saucers and bowls and decorative trays, baskets and bowls and bowls and bowls. She and I tackled the pantries. It took us 2 days to excavate the items and rearrange everything. Believe me, it was not smooth sailing. She was merciless and ruthless in her editing. Yes it’s true, even I have to have some things pried out of my hands.

I love organizing, and I think everyone needs to do more of it, everyday and every week of the year. That’s why I was very excited to see that Marie Kondo was getting her own organizing show on Netflix.

Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizational guru. Her show “Tidying Up” started streaming January 1st on Netflix – perfect timing for organizing and cleaning right?

A little about Marie… Marie Kondo achieved worldwide fame in 2014 when her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, was translated into English and published in the United States, where it became a New York Times best seller and sold more than 1.5 MILLION COPIES!!!

My take on her show...anything that brings awareness to cleaning up your stuff brings me great joy! Anything that makes YOU think about purging and cleaning is a good thing in my book.

On to the show…Marie shows up with her translator and briefly speaks to her clients through a forced smile. First things first, she “introduces herself to the house” by doing some kooky made up woo woo ritual which involves her meditating when kneeling on the floor.

I am an organizing freak and wanted to love the show! But honestly, I found the show very boring. Her offerings are superficial fixes. She never addresses the real issues–like what to do with paperwork? She never talks about technological fixes like a scanning paper and becoming paperless. Instead she has people put things in paper boxes? Huh? She’s very simplistic, and of course, very Japanese in her approach. No one ever reminds her that Americans do not live like the Japanese, we have larger spaces and as a result, MUCH MORE JUNK. Her show features clueless band-aids on the epic problems of the obsessive, non-stop-buying culture of America.

Though entire show, I wondered what she really thought of our culture of hoarding and buying beyond our means compared to the pared-down lifestyle in Japan. I am sure she thinks it is horrible! But her face cracking smile never lets you know what she is thinking. Mostly it just got on my nerves. Basically, Marie offers small boxes to people that have BIG box problems.

The best thing about this show is that purging and cleaning is now the part of a larger discussion in America. And people are indeed looking at their stuff and assessing and tossing and donating it. For us, the Swedish Death Cleaning lifestyle is a better fit, but if Marie’s method is your style, go for it. The truth is: We all need a complete paradigm shift in how we shop, how we consume, and how we teach our children to live.

*to read more about the mental effects of clutter click here

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Last of the La Fortezza Workshops, end of the season

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I must admit the last 2 workshops in October were amazing. The first workshop was a private group. All I can say is that it was the most amazing group of friends. It was comprised of four ladies that really supported each other and enjoyed each other’s company. I have never seen anything like it.

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Philip and Suzanne prepared a pizza lunch for the group.

We tried a new chef, Philip Meeker, a classically trained chef with tons of restaurant and teaching experience. He was a fantastic addition to the La Fortezza workshop team. He was genuinely enthusiastic about our garden and local vendors like the dairy and the various butcher shops. He loved shopping at the Tuesday local market in the square in Fivizzano, and he became quite the local celebrity as he speaks great Italian and is quite charming, not to mention easy on the eyes.

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His food was absolutely delicious, creative and seasonal. His high regard for great ingredients is exactly what we look for in the meals we serve at La Fortezza – high quality, beautiful and delicious.

Our private group’s organizer, Suzanne Vizethann , is the Executive Chef and Owner of Buttermilk Kitchen. She brought all her best friends with her, and we had an amazing time touring Modena with my sweet friend and stylist/editor Barbara Pederzini. She even gave us the VIP tour of her hometown. As an aside, Barbara will be joining me next year for a couple days to teach the Italian side of styling during my Strictly Styling Workshop 2019; we have lots of surprises up our sleeves, so stay tuned.

We stopped for a bit of power shooppingat Oro Nero a custom design shop in Modena

We stopped for a bit of power shopping at Oro Nero a custom design shop in Modena

We began the workshop with Suzanne’s group with truffle hunting. It was a gorgeous morning trekking through the forest.

Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

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Suzanne treated all of us to her Nonna’s sauce and meatballs at our Sunday supper. Philip rounded out the meal with amazing handmade pasta noodles along with sides and dessert. Private workshops have been very exciting and so fulfilling.T hanks to Katie, Janie and Kristy for joining the adventure and making the dance party so fun.

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For our final workshop of the year, Angie Mosier brought an amazing group of photographers to La Fortezza. We had a wonderful time touring and photographing. Angie is a gifted teacher, and she brought so much energy and expertise to her workshop. Chef Rebecca Wilcomb joined her friend Angie, and we all visited local food purveyors and introduced Philip, Angie and Rebecca to local fare, like panigacci and testoroli. My Italian girlfriends, helped introduce them to all things local in food stuffs. Thanks to Giovanna, local food ambassador, and Federica of China Clementi. We had professional barman Simone join us one night to create cocktails with China Clementi a locally produced Amaro, created in Fivizzano by the family.

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Panigacci made the traditional way on the open fire.

Testaroli being made

Testaroli being made

Me with Giovanna

Me with Giovanna

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Testaroli

Testaroli

Testaroli tasting

Testaroli tasting

We toured the China Clementi Amaro factory earlier in the day, so it was such fun to do a cocktail tasting later that evening for aperitivo with Angie’s group.

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Philip was enamored with our outdoor pizza oven (il forno). He and Rebecca opted to cook a few of our meals in it as well as a pizza lunch for our attendees. It was really an honor to have Rebecca cook in our kitchen, and she and Philip had a blast using fresh local ingredients. Phillip taught handmade pasta to many of our attendees. His charm and ease in the kitchen made him an instant hit with our guests. He’ll be back next year in June to create more exciting meals in our kitchen.

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Roasted in the forno

Roasted in the forno

Wrapping up the workshops with such great people was so rewarding, I am back in the US for a few months. I’ll be on book tour and of course producing a few editorial stories. I will be back to Italy next year. A heartfelt thanks to all who attended. I loved meeting you all and showing you my Italy.

xx Annette

 

 

 

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Announcing:: Our 2019 Italian Workshops at La Fortezza

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LA SERRA MK TEXTILE ATELIER

As some of you may know, we bought a dreamy medieval fortress aptly named, La Fortezza in the countryside of northern Tuscany,  a region known as Lunigiana. Over the course of the past few years, we have worked tirelessly to create a stunning atmosphere for our guests to attend workshops and retreats, create alongside the best instructors in the business, enjoy long dinners under the Tuscan sky, and rest their heads after a day of exploring.

This past summer, we completed our guest quarters and additional guest rooms, and we hosted several inspiring creative retreats for visionaries from around the world. We’ve enjoyed meeting everyone and working with attendees from all over the world.

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And now, I am delighted to announce our spring and summer 2019 Italian workshops roster. Beginning next spring, we will offer our traditional styling workshops and several one on one experiences with me. We will also offer, for the first time, a once in a lifetime artist in residence program, and an amazing styling workshop with three of our best instructors: Eliza Honey, Joanna Hawley, and Maren Ellingboe.

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Perhaps most exciting announcement is our Artist in Residence opportunity with Steve McKenzie. Steve, an accomplished interior designer, textile designer, and abstract painter, will spend the entire month of July painting under the Tuscan sun. As a guest at La Fortezza, you will be able to paint and or assist Steve, shop with him for supplies at an charming art store in the artsy town of Sarzana, discuss his style, or learn more about your own painting techniques. You can book as many days on our property as are available. I’d love to have you join us during this magical artistic experience.

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If you are an aspiring stylist, new blogger, experienced stylist, or experienced blogger looking for some new inspiration, you must book a one on one workshop with me. This workshop will consist of styling lessons, prop shopping at all of my favorite haunts, cooking, and even discussions about styling and production, including the business side of things and making your brand stand out to get clients. If you want to hang out with me and learn all of my styling secrets, plan to book this one of a kind experience.

During all workshops, we go on many excursions to flea markets and local farmers’ markets to buy food and products to use in our shoots and at our cooking lessons. You will meet the locals and experience Italy Italian style. We have so many amazing resources including our neighbors who run various food artisan businesses. Because we live here, we are so well connected. We have a wide array of resources for flea marketing, antiquing and prop hunting, too, so those excursions are always a part of our workshop experiences. Day trips to Florence are an easy 2 hour drive. Cooking lessons with our workshop chef is possible as well, yoga is also available on request.

Making our workshops even more unique is that you will stay on the Fortress compound with us surrounded by breathtaking views. We pride ourselves in offering everyone newly renovated and comfortable accommodations. Rooms are simple and authentic. We like to think of the design aesthetic as bohemian and monastic, a unique countryside take and pared down design. All rooms feature wifi and their own bathrooms. We have a private chef and all workshops include cooking lessons in our stunningly outfitted commercial kitchen.

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We pride ourselves on providing one-on-one personalized instruction for everyone, therefore classes are limited to 6-8 students max. Our instructors have 10+ years of real life experience in the professional photography field, or field of study, working for real publications, and with commercial clients and in the fine arts. We are very selective about who we bring to teach in this very exclusive learning experience with seasoned professionals.

Of course, as always, there will be plenty of eating and wine drinking especially since we are now the owners of our own vineyard. Drinking our own wine is really something special!

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Visit our workshops and retreats page to learn more about each of our 2019 summer workshops! There are only a few spots available, so act fast!

A Note about La Fortezza’s Guest Instructors Program: We will have a few surprise guest artisans/instructors cooking and styling and teaching art in 2019. Our goal is to network and create beauty with amazing talents from all over the world. We want La Fortezza to be worldwide creative haven where the best of the best teach and mentor other creatives from all over the world. A real creative cooperative where like-minded people can meet and create in the most gorgeous, untouched region in Italy. If you’re interested in conducting a workshop, please email me. We are welcoming all sorts of workshops and retreats next year!

photo cred: Infraordinario

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