Francesca del Balzo & Alice Russotti in Lisbon
Welcome to the first edition of Alibi! This month, we’re featuring the owners of Brooklyn’s chicest homegoods store.
Francesca del Balzo and Alice Russotti are the co-founders and creative directors of PORTA, a treasure trove of expertly curated tableware and hand-crafted home furnishings.
Before opening the shop this fall, Francesca worked in fashion (including a long stint Moda Operandi) and Alice worked at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, where she launched public art projects (including the inaugural exhibition at The Arts Center at Governors Island).
Though they’re both now settled in Brooklyn, the pair grew up together in London and now travel the world together, visiting a new country every six months to source products for their shop. With a shoe-string budget and a jam-packed itinerary, the pair always try to make time for a delicious meal or a chance to unwind: Enjoying a crisp glass of white wine and a vegetable risotto at Locanda Cipriani after visiting the Basilica de di Santa Maria Assunta in Venice or browsing handmade textiles in a 13th-century monastery at Abbatte in Madrid.
Here, Francesca and Alice share their travel secrets and their favorite spots in one of my favorite European cities, Lisbon.
Do you have a suitcase you love?
What’s the one thing that’s always in your carry-on?
AR: A hoard of magazines from the airport shop (highbrow: The Economist, lowbrow: US Weekly)
FDB: A book I never end up reading
What’s the best thing you read on the plane recently?
FDB: I howled with laughter on the plane on our recent trip to Italy reading Heartburn by Nora Ephron (the one time I *did* read my book!). I gave it to Alice, who read it on the way home.
What’s your go-to travel uniform?
BOTH: Jeans, tailored shirt, oversized sweater.
What beauty products do you never leave home without?
AR: Gucci Westman everything.
Do you have any travel superstitions or pre-travel rituals?
BOTH: checking my bag for my passport 10,000 times.
FDB: Delta because “it pays to be loyal” (sitting in upgraded seat)
AR: I’m much more fickle and opportunistic (sitting in 49J)
FDB: I don’t have one, I hate them all.
AR: Changi Airport in Singapore (where I used to live). You are in and out in 10 minutes!
Most luxurious in-flight experience?
FDB: I’m a sucker for a hot towel (have these been canceled since covid?)
AR: They have me at roasted nuts.
What’s your weirdest airplane story?
FDB: British Airways once collaborated with The Points Guy (or somebody?) And created a scavenger hunt in the airport where the first 5 people to find him got upgraded to first class seats. I love a challenge, and you bet your bottom dollar I got that hot towel and champagne!
What’s the best bar you’ve ever been to on your travels?
Celso y Manolo is a tapas bar in Madrid–we loved it so much we went back twice (which is saying a lot when you are only in a city for bookend nights!)
What’s the most surprisingly delicious food you’ve had while traveling?
A sandwich on the side of the highway in the middle of the Portuguese countryside when we’ve skipped two meals to pack in some meetings with ceramicists is about as good as any Michelin star meal!
What’s the most incredible meal you’ve ever had?
Tapisco in Lisbon. Incredible for the food and the vibe and the fact that it was our first meal on our first PORTA sourcing trip.
What’s your favorite kind of souvenir to bring home?
Unsurprisingly, ceramics, linens, and glassware (from stores like Cocol in Madrid). But since opening Porta, we have actually curbed our enthusiasm somewhat as we now just get them for the shop!
Do you have any art you bought while traveling?
AR: I lived in Singapore for a few years and traveled all over to meet artists and galleries from Indonesia to Myanmar and often picked up things from artists in their studios on those trips. I love that they have made their way back to NYC with us.
Is there anything you’ve bought on a trip that you now bring on all your travels?
FDB: My mother-in-law bought me the most incredible jumpsuit from the little boutique shop at Hotel Raya on Panarea. I don’t go anywhere warm without it–it’s the perfect outfit to throw on and immediately feel amazing.
Where’s the best hotel pool in the world?
AR: Alila in Ubud, Bali.
If you could live in any hotel, which one would you choose?
FDB: Cap Rocat in Mallorca–a castle on the sea to myself, what’s not to love?
Where was your most luxurious hotel experience?
AR: The Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Do you have a favorite warm-weather winter destination?
FDB: I’m currently on the lookout! We are going to Antigua in a few weeks (to see my friend Benji arrive after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a row boat) so I will report back!
What destinations or travel experiences are at the top of your bucket list?
FDB: Backcountry skiing in Jackson Hole.
AR: Back to Morocco! I have been a few times but would love to get to Tangier, Fez, and up to the mountains as well.
Are there any places that you’re eager to return to?
AR: Indonesia. It is so vast and so varied and so magical. I have loved and been amazed by it each time I have been and would love to wander around there more with my family.
Is there anywhere you definitely won’t return to?
FDB: Pisa–nothing to see there (apart from a leaning tower of course).
AR: I second.
What’s the most surprising thing that’s ever happened on a trip?
AR: Francesca bumps into someone she knows literally everywhere we are. It doesn’t matter if we are in the forests of Portugal, someone will come out from behind a tree and know Francesca. I used to be blown away by it, now I just wait for it!
What’s your craziest solo travel experience?
AR: When my son was 1.5 I took him on a yoga retreat with me to Bali. I thought it would be a beautiful, chill, boho experience together, but I forgot that I am not a beautiful, chill, boho person and neither is my son. It became very clear when I got there and the yoga studio was in a treehouse that things were not going to go as planned. Should have been a solo trip after all….but while no yoga was done, we did have a cute time.
Any wild destination wedding stories?
FDB: Well, we asked everyone to take a plane, train and automobile to get to my wedding, and they did! Better yet, everyone got naked at the brunch on Sunday so I think that counts as confirmation of a good time? [Editor’s note: I can confirm that everyone got naked at brunch, even the pregnant and sober people, and it was a very good time.]
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The Alibi Guide to Lisbon
How to spend a perfect 24 hours in Lisbon, with recommendations from Alice and Francesca of PORTA–including a map of hotels, restaurants, shops, museums, and more.
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