Yolanda Edwards’ Rome
Curious, energetic, brimming with enthusiasm. That’s Yolanda Edwards, who has built a career in the highest echelons of the travel publishing industry on this restless zest for life and her unquenchable thirst for new discovery. Previously Creative Director at Condé Nast Traveler and now the founder of YOLO, a deliciously captured wanderlusters guide to the world, Yolanda is the authority on inspirational travel, period. When we speak, she is in her house in Médoc, France, apologizing as tractors zoom past her open window. But she could have been anywhere. She’s just got back from Castello di Reschio, and has recently nipped to Cefalù, Tuscany, Istanbul and Rome, where she has now become a permanent resident in a glorious ex- palazzo a skip away from the Pantheon. Ask Yolanda where to go for dinner in her new city, and she’ll bubble over with excitement as she runs you through her favorite spots, spelling out the street names and suggesting extensive itineraries with encyclopedic knowledge. “It’s just the way I’m wired,” she laughs. “I don’t even know I’m doing it.” Join us on our fabulous tour of Yolanda’s new world in the Italian capital and discover her oldest, most treasured Roman hotspots.
La DoubleJ: Ciao Yolanda, you are a complete and bonafide travel expert. Have you always been a traveler?
Yolanda Edwards: I didn’t grow up in a traveling family. My parents had me quite young and their priorities were making a living and raising their family - travel just wasn’t on their radar. Maybe we’d go camping for three days somewhere or we would drive back and forth from our house to our grandparents, they just didn’t have the money. So I grew up in a very nose- pressed-up-against-the-glass environment. When I went to middle school I made friends with people whose parents cared about furniture and food and travel and I was like, “Oh. These are the people that I can relate to.” It wasn’t just that they had nice things, they cared about experiences and felt much more free-spirited than my parents who were deeply religious and had a very different set of priorities.
LDJ: From Creative Director of Condé Nast Traveler to Cookie and W Magazine, your career in publishing has been prolific. What have you learnt along the way?
YE: I think you learn the most when the thing you are most afraid of happens, like losing your job. I first started working in magazines in the early 1990s in the accessories department of Elle, and so have watched magazines go from pre-website when you had all the shopping credits listed in the back of the magazine to content creation for web, social media and video. I also watched many people lose their jobs along the way, myself included, multiple times. I remember thinking when I first lost my job in 2009 that I would never work again. When I lost my job the next time it was 2018 and I had my favorite job ever at Condé Nast Traveler where I basically had to pinch myself everyday - how could I be creative director of Traveler? I just couldn’t imagine that there was going to be life after that. I experienced what I thought was going to be the most devastating blow. But when you know you have to make it work you will find that way to make it work. You will always find a way to make a living.
How did YOLO journal start?
YE: Because I had been at Traveler in the 1990s, I have been watching how people consume their travel information for many years, and no matter the content we produced wherever I worked, I would still get texts from people asking me to share my Google Maps or give them restaurant recommendations. When I lost my job, I felt like there needed to be a travel platform to share this travel information. The focus of so many travel magazines is to cover what was new, and I always felt like we needed to do not just what was new but what was good. Yes, I want there to be that intel that comes from the photographer Fabrizio Ferri in Pantelleria, but also from the driver that we had who told us about the best place to stop just off the highway. I wanted to provide a deeper, more local and authentic experience.
LDJ: Like a moodboard for travel?
YE: Yes. I didn’t want to make YOLO this beautifully written travel journal. I wanted it to be a collection of beautiful photographs that inspire you. Then I discovered Substack, which is the opposite of a travel moodboard, so our newsletter is all information. I think the kiss of death with travel is saying: we’re the experts. I’ll do an Italy travel planner and I’ll tell people, ask me your questions, and then I will find people to answer them. Hey, you might like it, you might not. All I can do is say it’s honest and it comes from me or someone I know, and I haven’t had anyone send me a message to say they had a crappy meal or bad experience.
LDJ: You know more about Italy than most Italians, from the secrets to ferry-hopping in Cinque Terre to the best bars for authentic aperitivo. When did your love affair begin?
YE: Because I was so curious about that other world and so enthusiastic as a kid, I had a friend whose parents invited me on a trip to Europe when I was 16. I flew into Paris and somehow figured out getting myself all the way to Greece without a cellphone - it was 1985. That first visit to Italy and that entire trip impacted me in a way that just blew my mind. That you could be in a place where there is so much beauty and history, all the things that are just so different from life in the Bay Area of California. From then on, I saved money to make it to Europe every year. There is something about being an outsider who appreciates a place so deeply that people share things with you. Italy is a country where they are so excited that you are excited about it; the second I show interest in the Roman coast, everybody is opening up their Google Map and passing me off to that guy who knows everything about Ostia.
LDJ: What do you find so magical about Italy?
YE: The people, their openness, for sure their joyous approach to life. The food is just the best, and I’d say you can’t go wrong in Rome - even the touristy places look good. The landscape and how varied and easy it is to get from place to place - the fact that you can be at the coast in 30 minutes from Rome is just a dream. Then there’s that Italian feeling that you deserve a good quality of life. That is your birthright to have access to good quality food and beautiful places. I always wonder why the phrase ‘joie de vivre’ is associated with the French. The French have charm, but the Italians have joy.
LDJ: You have recently moved into an apartment in Rome, the city of amore. Why did you fall in love with it?
YE: This apartment on the most perfect street became available and it’s just so beautiful, we couldn’t say no. I didn’t even see the apartment itself, just the hallway, and we knew we had to have it. The hallway has got these beautiful inlaid Roman marble sculptures because at one point it was owned by a cardinal who would be gifted all these antiquities. You just can’t believe how beautiful it is. We are right across from the restaurant Pierluigi which is the gathering place for anybody who is coming into town so we bump into friends all the time. It’s such a nice feeling to feel like you are a part of a community.
LDJ: What’s the secret to living there?
YE: Rome not functioning in a business-y way is what bugs most people in Milan about Rome. But the dysfunction of it all is so charming to me. Rome is almost more like Athens, you feel like you are living amongst antiquities - and I didn’t want to be in a place that had any type of comparison to my life in New York. Besides the beauty of the city and how different and other it is from our New York life, it’s our friends. You always need somebody in a place to pull you there.
LDJ: How does your Rome home make you feel?
YE: I feel the most curious and alive. I’ll wake up and be like, let's run to a place we’ve never been to, go half an hour in a different direction. I would say I’m at my best because I am in an open curious mode and if somebody asks to meet for lunch, I will. Whereas in New York I get into this mode where I just have to get work done. Actually those deadlines can be moved around, but it’s all of those distractions you give yourself when you aren’t happy. I love that there is so much to discover here.
LDJ: From your YOLO perspective, what do you sense we all want from travel now?
YE: On the one hand, Instagram has incentivized people to travel more, which makes me happy. The thing that I don’t like about it is that stamp of approval: if you are not on the Italian coast this summer do you even matter? We have got to get out of all of these bucket list places that we feel we need to get to and focus on experiencing a place. You could be in the most beautiful, far-away land and you can be so in your head that you aren’t even acknowledging where you are. If it’s literally walking a different way to a restaurant that’s down the street from your house, it’s about seeing things differently and the power of our own brains to be creative and push ourselves to find a sense of discovery wherever we are.
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Yolanda’s Great Gorgeous Guide To Rome
Best farmer’s market – Campo de’ Fiori
Our local farmers market is Campo de’ Fiori, which seems like the most touristy place, and in the middle of the day it certainly is. We go there as soon as we land to buy flowers. There are three flower vendors, the one in the middle has these two dachshunds and is amazing - they always remember us and that’s a very nice thing. Directly across from them is a guy that has the most beautiful fruit and vegetables - everybody who we know in Rome calls him Bulgari because he is the most expensive. Recently we bought some fava and he pulled out a little recipe card for us to try. In that square there is also a really lovely salumeria called Ruggeri that has great cheeses and meats.
Art space that isn’t bustling with tourists – Villa Farnesina
If you are coming to Rome for the first time there are certain things you just have to do, including going to the Gallery Borghese. For something quieter, I really like Villa Farnesina that has beautiful frescoes by Raphael. Yes, there are tourists, but it’s timed so there aren’t going to be many people at the same time. Afterwards go to the Corsini botanical gardens, then you are right there in Trastevere, one of Rome’s best neighbourhoods to eat, so you can go and find somewhere for lunch. The other gallery I love is Doria Pamphilj, it’s never super crazy overcrowded. There is some amazing modern art in Rome, but I’m not there yet. I’m in Rome to be in the old world. (villafarnesina.it; doriapamphilj.it)
Best book store – Porta Portese flea market
I love to go to the Porta Portese flea market to buy books – they are always vintage, hard- bound and in Italian. I bought a beautiful one on the Gallery Borghese, it’s in Italian but you can kind of figure it out. The market happens on Sundays and is one of those that has many different blocks. You could spend all day there and be in one corridor that has just socks and weird electronics and polyester sheets. It's raw and intense and chaotic, but it's an urban myth that you have to get there at 6am for the good stuff. I go at 9am and there’s everything from vintage linens to paintings, ceramics and sunglasses. My best score ever was a Gucci green leather and brass intray for 15 Euro. I didn’t even have to bargain for it.
Best cacio e pepe – Al Pompiere
For the best cacio e pepe I would say Al Pompiere, but make sure somebody orders the amatriciana too – you will be mad if you don’t. Lots of restaurants in Rome are family run, but every time I go to Al Pompiere it’s the same people working there for lunch or dinner. They notice people – by my third visit they were like, “It’s so nice to see you again”. They aren’t besieged with tourists so they are friendlier, plus they don’t have a turn so you own the table for the meal and can sit there and not feel rushed. (alpompiereroma.com)
Best spritz – Caffe Dei Portoghesi
Caffè Peru', which many people call my husband’s office, is on our street and is the home of the five euro cocktail. For a proper aperitivo where you will eat delicious things that can double as dinner is Caffe Dei Portoghesi. Forget old pizza that has just been cut into squares, they make everything fresh that day – it’s beautiful. They also make tè freddo, an Italian version of ice tea, and mix in delicious lemon granita. So many people in summer will go and queue for gelato at Giolitti by the Pantheon – just go down the street to Caffe Dei Portoghesi and get yourself a tè freddo. It’s so special, and there’s no line! It will make you feel so much happier. (Caffè Peru', Via di Monserrato 46; Caffe Dei Portoghesi, Via Dei Portoghesi 7)
Passeggiata – from Rocco ristorante to my house
My favorite walk is at nighttime, going from Rocco ristorante (which is so good) down past the Forum, past Campo de' Fiori and Piazza Farnese to my house. To experience the Forum lit up beautifully at night is crazy, you just can’t believe it. That’s about half an hour walk and it’s just glorious. If you weren’t starting at Rocco you could start at the Colosseum and then go to the Pantheon via the Forum. That’s a beautiful night walk.
Best day trip from Rome – the Roman Coast
It’s always surprising to me how many of my friends haven’t been to Florence. If you are in Rome and have never been to Florence, you should go as a day trip. It’s so easy: hop on a train for an hour and 15, go to a museum, do a lunch at Cammillo, do a walk, get on the train and you are back in time for dinner. The Roman coast is also a beautiful day out. I often catch a lift to Orbetello, go have lunch at La Posta Vecchia Hotel or get a train to Santa Severa and find a beach club like Gambrinus. In general the overview is to book a beach club, have a nice swim and a great lunch. (Cammillo, Borgo San Jacopo 57, Florence; postavecchiahotel.com; gambrinusbeach.com)
Best vintage shopping – Pifebo and Humana
I like to go over to Monti for a really good vintage store called Pifebo. Also check out Humana, there are three or four in Rome, which is kind of a thrift store of sorts but it's all clothing. I’ve found some vintage Ellesse shorts in there, one time I bought a beautiful silk robe for 15 Euros. If I go by it I’ll stop and usually buy something. (@pifeboshop; humanavintage.it.)
Best random find – Antica Cartoleria
Near the Pantheon there is an amazing stationary store called Antica Cartoleria. What I love about it is that they have new pens and everything you want from a stationary store but they also have all this deadstock that has been around since the 1930s. You’ll find boxes of gorgeous covers and amazing fonts and think everything is much more expensive than it actually is. It’s pretty special.