Tea and cake in a secret Italian village…

Rossella di Bidino is back with another guest post in our travel series focussing on Rome and its surrounding areas. This time, its off to an old, once-crumbling city, now bohemian, artisan community, set high above an ancient valley…

Image: An American in Rome

In a the province of Viterbo, less than an hour away from Rome, lies a quaint, medieval village called Calcata. With 924 inhabitants, Calcata is not your typical tourist attraction. It can feel like a ghost city at times,  a sort of secret world where one would arrive and lose touch with time outside.

In the 1930s, Old Calcata, Calcata Vecchia, was abandoned on fears of the city crags crumbling. A new village, Calcata Nuova, was built on a higher plateau, not far away. In the 1970s, however, Calcata Vecchia was rediscovered: creative people from all over the world arrived, almost by chance, and began to to restore the village. Unlike touristic Rome, which is bustling and alive, in Calcata you find silence, a certain sleepy stillness, and glimpses of artisans amongst the ancient architecture.

101 tea room_calcata detail

In the middle of that dreaming village, Gemma, owner of tea house, La Sala, decided to make her home, 32 years ago. “My story began in Paris – I was visiting a friend of mine. Walking around Paris I saw Mariage Freres and decided to spend all my money in tea. I came back to Calcata and almost immediately opened a tea room.” That was 23 years ago.

101 tea room_on the way101 tea room_teapots

La Sala offers 101 different types of teas. After many years of existence, La Sala’s tea list is rather elaborate; it still has Gemma’s first blend, however: the 101 Tea with its scents of vanilla, jasmine, rose, bergamot and tangerine. Other teas on offer include African Sunset (mango, hibiscus and spices),  and Indian Dream (cinnamon, orange, cardamom). There are also classic teas and oriental teas (Oolong tea, for example).

101 tea room_tea and cake (1)

“People told me I was crazy. Tea in Italy. Italians drink only coffee,” Gemma says. Sometimes, it still happens that someone asks for a coffee in the tea house. It is possible to get a coffee in La Sala, although, to be honest, the magic word really is “tea”.

101 tea room_table

“Every day I’m happy to wake up and come here. I love my job”.

La Sala has small, cozy rooms, but on a hot day, the place to be is on the upstairs terrace with a stunning view of the Treja Valley dropping away from Calcata.

“Alas, my favorite tea room doesn’t exist anymore. It was Patisserie Alsacienne chez Bloch in Ghent. I was in my world there with porcelain and silver teapots, great patisserie and special guests.” Despite that, Gemma should be pretty aware of the importance of her tea room for people like me.


– By Rossella di Bidino

For more, visit La Sala’s Facebook page here.

For information on Calcata, see here.


Images: Rossella di Bidino (except first image, from An American in Rome)


Light, breezy interiors with Arlene Gibbs

living room
The Tuscany Project by Arlene Gibbs (images: Mario Flores)

Hello there! I know, it’s been a while! Been busy practising for a music exam and working hard before the end of the year. Now that the exam is over (woohoo!), I am back!

Today we bring you another guest post by the lovely Rossella Di Bidino all the way from Rome, Italy. Rossella kindly took some time out to interview Arlene Gibbs, a decorator and writer, and previously film executive/producer/screenwriter! Curious? Read on…


Arlene Gibbs’ style is “understated luxury” or, as one of her closest Italian friends describes it, “relaxed chic.” Arlene, a decorator and writer based in Rome, was born in New York City to parents from the Caribbean island of St. Martin. Her parents were very traditional and did not allow her to put posters on her bedroom walls like her American friends. However, she was able to choose the paint color for her room. Her bedroom received a lot of sunlight so she went with a cool, light yellow, a feel which still influences her work today.


Arlene studied foreign affairs at Syracuse University. While in college she did an internship at Bloomingdales’ headquarters in Manhattan. Upon graduation she was offered a position in their highly competitive Executive Buyer Trainee program where she worked in the Home Furnishings Division.


Prior to moving to Rome in 2008, Arlene worked in Hollywood for ten years as an executive and producer.

“When I moved to Rome six years ago, I was still working full-time in Hollywood as a screenwriter. After the release of Jumping The Broom, I had to decide if I were going to move back to Los Angeles. I didn’t.

“Instead I did an internship with a prominent Italian interior and furniture designer in Rome and followed up that great experience with an intensive design workshop with interior and textiles designer Kathryn M. Ireland in Los Angeles.”


“My career change is a return to my roots in a way,” Arlene states. “I love my job because is collaborative, creative and not corporate. It can be emotional and not necessarily logical. There is a strong connection between her former Hollywood career and interior design: “Being a decorator is very similar to working on a film set. Both are visual mediums that tell a story.”


Her interior design mantra is “let the house breathe”. “I don’t enjoy rooms that are too minimalist or the opposite extreme, overly decorated. I like my spaces to “breathe” and to be rooms that people can actually live in. For those reasons, I collaborate with my clients to create homes that reflect their style and tastes.”


She gives us some suggestions on how improve our homes: “Even something as small as a throw pillow adds a personal touch. I suggest not buying all your furniture from the same store, whether it’s B&B Italia or IKEA. The room will be too homogenous, without personality. Look at what you already own with fresh eyes. For example, try to put an old table in a different room or paint it with a different colour. That will give it a new life”.


When Arlene isn’t busy with new decorating projects, she is trying to learn the dolce far niente (‘the sweetness of doing nothing’). Not bad for such a multi-talented, busy woman!

outside pool


For more of Arlene Gibbs’ style, visit her at http://www.arlenegibbsdecor.com/.

Visit Rossella’s blog at http://machetiseimangiato.com/.

Images: Mario Flores via Arlene Gibbs

Travel Edit: Via Guilia, Rome

Hello there! How was your weekend? It felt like all the best fairs and shows were taking place this last week+weekend: 100% Design at the London Design Festival, Kirstie Alsopp’s Handmade Fair, Decorex, The London Foodie Wedding Fair… We wish we could’ve been to all of them but there aren’t enough days in a weekend!! 😦 We did make it to a couple though, which were fun and energising, and we’ll post about them here soon!

Meanwhile, we’ve been wanting to feature posts to draw inspiration/ideas from beyond the UK, so we have invited the lovely Rossella Di Bidino (author of Ma che ti sei mangiatoto share with us some of her favourite spots and buildings in her city, Rome. First up, Via Giulia. Take it away, Rossella!


Via Giulia. A never ending story.

I have the honour and the pleasure of walking along Via Giulia almost every day. It’s an endless love affair; she, Giulia is a female name in Italian, is always gentle, noble, and able to hide her age.

More than 500 years ago, Via Giulia was just an idea in Pope Julius II’s mind. Via, or Strada, Giulia was one of the first experiments of urban planning. The aim was to guarantee a direct and easier connection between the Vatican, Palazzo Farnese and major institutional buildings of 16th century in Rome. The Farnese Arch was expected to connect Palazzo Farnese with Villa Farnesina on the other side of Tiber. Pope Julius II commissioned the project to the famous Italian architect, Donato Bramante, who worked with other well-known designers: Raffaello lived and worked in Strada Giulia, while Michelangelo worked on the project of Farnese Arch.

Via Giulia_view

Some history about the place:

Once upon a time, one could find bears, acrobats, concerts all along the Via Giulia. At the beginning of the ‘80s, the Friends of Via Giulia Association decided to make her a central part of Roman life, and received the support of Renato Nicolini, an important figure in Rome’s cultural life.

In May and June, free classical concerts were organized in Via Giulia’s hidden courtyards and churches. In the same years for some days the street was animated with jugglers, clowns and acrobats. In Piazza Farnese you could face a bear on a ring. Unbelievable! During the Christmas season, in windows of antique shops cribs from all over the world arrived. Those years were crucial for the current “fama” (reputation) of Via Giulia.

via Giulia_2Via Giulia courtyard.jpg

Now, in the 21st century, Via Giulia is a straight, one kilometer street. Alas the bridge that connect it with Vatican was lost a long time ago. You can, however, still admire the Farnese Arch, even thought it no longer reaches the other bank of the River Tiber.

Hungarian Academy Via Giulia

When you do visit the Strada Giulia, you will probably take the same walk that I do every day!

Look out for:

  1. Hungarian Academy at no. 1. The enormous white building pretty closed to the Arch was made on a project signed by Borromini;
  2. Not less elegant, but on the other end of Via Giulia, S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini Church hosts Borromini’s grave, which was mentioned in Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”;
  3. Take a look at Raffaello’s place, Palazzo Sacchetti, which has changed many times over the centuries;
  4. If you need an aperitivo or just a quick drink, stay on Via Giulia. You can choose between a roof garden at Hotel Indigo or a quick stop at Da Alfredo Caffè;
  5. Finally, try to peer inside buildings and archways, and imagine a piano playing inside the now silent courtyards.

Via Giulia_1Via Giulia_archWindow on Via GiuliaUntitled1Untitled2

Places to Stay

To experience the magic of Via Giulia all day, you can stay at the Maison Giulia or Relais Giulia. For 5 star lovers at Hotel Indigo and the newest DOM may host you. Welcome to Via Giulia!


Thank you for showing us round your favourite street! We loved Rome so much the last time we were there, can’t wait to go back!

For more of Rosella’s adventures, visit her here: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, GooglePlus

Images: Rosella Di Bidino

Off to Rome!

We are off to Rome for a nice long weekend. Can’t wait! Preliminary research and the comments of friends have been encouraging – it looks like such a great city with a real mish-mash of ancient and contemporary in one walkable, diverting city. Here are some of the things we are looking forward to, from blogs on Rome. Enjoy, and we’ll check in soon!


From Top:
A Dusty Green Olive
Kayture: Gelato
Rome Daily Photo
Kayture: Vintage