The Verona Diaries: Yen Kuok’s Bulgari Adventure

Yen Kuok takes in the sights of beautiful Venice

I took a call from my good friend Gordon, and he gleefully told me we had been invited to Verona by Bulgari. I thought he was joking – he often is – but quickly realised the trip was, indeed, going to happen. I was beyond excited because, although I visit Milan a few times a year, I had never been to Verona and Venice. Here is my travel diary.

June 26 – Verona | Byblos Art Hotel and City Tour

We arrived in Verona on a perfect, sunny day. Reaching the hotel, we were greeted by amazing Betty and Beatrice from Bulgari in Hong Kong.

The hotel was unlike any other place where I’ve stayed. It was surreal. The hotel has extremely creative décor and an eclectic collection of art from around the world, with a piece by Damien Hirst; a Maurizio Savini sculpture of a falling man, made out of pink chewing gum, which dangles from the ceiling; gargoyles on the walls; and Takashi Murakami figurines of animé characters.

The Byblos Art Hotel

We proceeded into the garden for a light meal, served by a waiter who was amusing, if a bit overzealous.

Posing on top of the Castelvecchio Museum

After lunch, we made our way into Verona to see the city’s landmarks, including the Castelvecchio Museum. A cool breeze made for an easy climb to the top of this ancient castle for a photo opportunity, although it took an effort to avoid slipping over. What won’t a girl do for a decent Instagram photo?

There was a quick break at an outdoor eatery beside the Arena di Verona before visiting the famous Casa di Giulietta, where I managed a sneak peek into the home of the fabled Giulietta, also known as Juliet of Romeo and Juliet fame. I looked out onto the balcony, hoping to channel my inner romantic and enjoy some peaceful reflection. Instead I was met by a horde of tourists, lining up to grab the breasts of a bronze statue of Juliet. Apparently doing so gives one good luck in matters of love. Good news, I thought, and I leapt downstairs to join the queue of tourists. I don’t know about you but I need all the luck I can get in matters of the heart.

"O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"

We dined at Osteria la Fontanina, an establishment more than 200 years old, on fresh local produce and fish. We were still raring to go since it was our first and only night in Verona.

Eventually sleep finally caught up with us and we dragged ourselves back to the hotel. I needed to catch up on my beauty rest and recharge for our big shoot the next day. I could hardly sleep because I was a ball of nerves. It was to be my first shoot abroad.

June 27 – Villa Sigurtà | The Bulgari shoot

Villa Sigurtà is a grand villa once owned by a noble family. The security there was super-tight because Bulgari had rented the venue for all the top publications around the world to shoot the high jewellery collection. Every corner of the villa had crews shooting the likes of Shu Qi, Jasmine Sanders (also known as Golden Barbie), and top models I knew from fashion weeks and my addiction to Vogue. I was pretty much the only civilian there, so I had to channel my inner Kate Moss and bring my top game.

Getting ready for the shoot

The jewellery itself was gorgeous and, of course, each piece was accompanied by extreme security wherever it went in the villa. Each item had its own designated female security guard, who had a surveillance camera clipped onto her shirt, recording every movement that took place.

The collection really surprised me with its whimsical originality. Apart from a few classical designs, there were many pieces that took inspiration from our shared childhood memories, including ruby and emerald rings in the shape of cupcakes and a gold choker with a Choo-Choo Train motif.

All dressed up at Villa Sigurtà

After a hard day’s work, we made our way to Venice by car and, eventually, water taxi. I kept nodding off, which meant I became the subject of a few unflattering photos, courtesy of Gordon, of course, which will not make it into this diary. While I’m not pleased about Gordon’s pictures, I think the images we shot at Villa Sigurtà turned out well.

See the results of Yen’s dazzling shoot here.

June 28 – Venice | Lunch at Venissa, Burano tour and Quadri Dinner

Staying at the Bauer Hotel meant everywhere we went, we had to travel by water taxi – a small boat with a half-open enclosure so you can bask in the sun while traversing the canals.

In a water taxi, and awake!

On our first full day in Venice, we explored Burano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon that is known for its small, brightly painted houses. The colours of the houses follow a specific system that originated in Venice’s Golden Age. If people wish to paint their homes, they must send a request to the government, which will respond by giving notice of the specific colours permitted for the lot in question. That’s an interesting bit of history there.

We ate lunch at Venissa, enjoying the picturesque life going on around us. The restaurant reinterprets the preparation of traditional ingredients found in and around the lagoon: seafood, home-grown vegetables and wild herbs that grow between the vines. I’ve been to many places as a world traveller, but the canals of Venice and the small, colourful town of Burano were truly unique sights.

Exploring Burano

That evening, at dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting Tamie Toledano, the managing director of Bulgari in Hong Kong and Macau. We had a wonderful time at Ristorante Quadri. The restaurant, it turns out, is quite the monument to Venetian food. It serves up contemporary expressions of traditional dishes and its signature Baccalà, Baccalà, Baccalà was delizioso.

Doing our best poses at Ristorante Quadri

June 29 – Venice | High Jewellery Press Tour and Gala Dinner

We lunched at the Aman Venice hotel, where I spotted Bella Hadid, one of the current spokespersons of the Bulgari brand. We joined a press tour of the hotel and saw a beautiful display of high jewellery on an elaborately decorated dining table. Every stone was crafted to perfection. Tamie kindly offered me a private mini-tour, patiently explaining to me the various signature styles and methods used by Bulgari in crafting its celebrated pieces.

Learning how Bulgari crafts their beautiful pieces, thanks to my private teacher Tamie

Finally, the moment we had been waiting for came: the star-studded gala dinner at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia. As soon as we got off the water taxi, there were paparazzi and celebrities galore, including Alicia Vikander and her beau, Michael Fassbender, and Lottie Moss and Lily Aldridge.

Dressed to impress at the Bulgari Feste gala

The fashion show was among the most breathtaking I’ve been to, including even those during New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks. Each model’s outfit was specially designed to go with each set of jewellery for the show. Even more impressive was that it was conceived, designed and produced by Bulgari. Fashion world, watch out.

We had too much fun on those carnival rides

Dinner was filled with good food and typical Italian hospitality, including performances of dancing, music and juggling. The after-party truly followed the theme of festival fun, featuring a merry-go-round complete with candy-floss machines and carnival games.

With my partner-in-crime, Gordon Lam

After the party, we bade farewell to Venice with a host of happy memories of this unforgettable trip.

Thank you, Bulgari and Gordon at #legend for inviting me on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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