Paris Hotel Crush

I have a crush on Paris’ Hotel Lutetia. Why?

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Swoon! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Built in 1910 & renovated from 2014-2018 (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

The Lutetia was opened in 1910 by famed Paris department store, Le Bon Marché, for its important clients, many of whom lived outside of Paris and needed a nice place to stay while making their semi-annual shopping trip to LBM, conveniently located across the street.

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Let’s go inside…(photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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The Lutetia’s architecture is a mix of Art Nouveau (the style-of-the-day in 1910, when it was built) and the then-emerging Art Deco style. Those details! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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The swirls of Art Nouveau meet the lines of Art Deco. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Sparkling art deco design in the Lutetia’s courtyard: Sit on the terrace below and soak up its peacefulness, far from the madding tourist crowds…just you, your Veuve Cliquot, and great architecture. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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(photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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ceiling of Salle St. Germain (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Salle St. Germain, where old world meets new (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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Brrrr, this feels a bit cold, but on the other hand, it would be a good place to sit and observe the people in the Salle St. Germain. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

Yves Saint Laurent Couture House co-founder, Pierre Bergé, stayed at the Lutetia during his house renovation in 2009. That man knew style!

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Hmmm, this room feels a bit small and chilly…but that view! and the history of the place! and neighborhood make up for it. As with all great loves, one must overlook one or two tiny flaws. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“De Gaulle, then a young officer, spent his honeymoon at the hotel. In June 1940, the General slept there the night before his departure for England,” per Lutetia’s website.

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big room, big view (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

Great location on a stylish, lively street in the beautiful Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of the 6th arrondissement on Paris’ Left Bank…book it!

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I like a view, don’t you? (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“Shortly after the Lutetia opened, its early success was interrupted by the First World War and later again in June 1940, when the French government evacuated the occupied city. The hotel itself (like other palace hotels in Paris) was requisitioned during the Second World War by the occupation forces and used to house, feed, and entertain the troops and officers. In 1944, the Lutetia resumed its intended role and at the orders of General de Gaulle, the hotel became a crucial centre for displaced people and families seeking to be reunited with their loved ones. The hotel welcomed up to 2,000 arrivals each day,” per Lutetia’s website. Fascinating, nest-ce pas??!!

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Let’s have a kir royale in the Lutetia’s Bar Josephine, and ponder those who drank here before us…Josephine Baker, Picasso, Matisse, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince) and more, more, more. Imaginez! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“Originally most associated with literature, just some of the historical and culturally significant figures who lived, worked and entertained at the hotel include Andre Gide and James Joyce, who wrote Ulysses at the hotel with Ernest Hemingway acting as occasional editor, Samuel Beckett, André Malraux and Saint-Exupéry followed,” per Lutetia’s website. Close your eyes and picture them drinking here.

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Bar Josephine: Order a coupe of the Taittinger Cuvée Lutetia, in honor of champagne producing family who owned the hotel from the 1950’s to 2005.  I could go for a coupe right now! Note the circa-1910 fresco on the ceiling.  (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

“Picasso and Matisse took up residence, Josephine Baker was a regular, and during the 50’s and beyond the hotel and its bar became a key part of the emergence and celebration of jazz,” says Lutetia’s website.

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Paul Belmondo (father of actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo) was one of two sculptors to decorate the hotel’s wonderfully undulating Art Nouveau façade. (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

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While the Hotel Lutetia is a little bigger (184 rooms) than those to which I am usually attracted, no crush is perfect! (photo courtesy of Hotel Lutetia)

Literary traveling companions:

  • “Pierre Assouline’s novel, Lutetia, …takes place in the hotel, where he gives life to a vast number of characters that really have lived or stayed in the Lutetia during the war from 1938 to 1945,” according to Lutetia’s website. The daughters of Irene Nemirovsky (see below) are among those characters. Pick it up for your stay at the  Lutetia!
  • Suite Française, by Irene Nemirovsky, which “opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control,” per Amazon. How does this relate to the Lutetia? As the plaque on the front of the hotel explains, “From April to August 1945, this hotel, which had become a reception centre, received the greater part of the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, glad to have regained their liberty and their loved ones from whom they had been snatched. Their joy cannot efface the anguish and the pain of the families of the thousands of disappeared who waited in vain for their own in this place.” The daughters of Irene Nemirovsky were among those who waited, in vain. Their mother was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. And her novel, “Suite Française,” was published posthumously in 2004.

Bissous, chéri!

Argentina’s Mendoza: Let’s Buy a Vineyard

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(photo courtesy of the Vines of Mendoza)

Ever dreamed of buying a vineyard? Not a big one, just a smallish patch to call your own…to squish the grapes, baby your vines, and throw a great harvest wine dinner…at the base of snow-capped mountains, preferably, where the sun shines most of the year.

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Classic harvest dinner among the vines (courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

YOU ARE IN LUCK because you can buy a small vineyard at the Vines of Mendoza,  nestled at the base of the Andes Mountains in Argentina. Plus, when it’s hot-as-Hades-summer here in the States, it’s fall in Argentina.

Let’s go down the “South American Way!” Can you hear the music playing, you swaying, while swilling a glass of sparkling?! I can.

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(photo courtesy of the Vines of Mendoza)

“…lovely squares, wide boulevards, a colonial feel, canals…” (NYTimes), Mendoza  was established in 1651 by Spanish settlers and is the fifth largest wine producing region in the world. IN THE WORLD! “Mendoza itself makes a good base for a visit with new hotels, restaurants and bars in the historic center…Just a short drive away are vineyards, adventure sports and resorts under the shadow of the Andes with wine lists that feature the best of the region.” (NY Times)

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(photo courtesy of the Vines of Mendoza)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Wander Mendoza’s plazas, including Plaza Pelligriani, where you might observe alfresco tango
  • Bike around Mendoza’s Parque General San Martin’s 1,200 acres
  • “Hire a Mendoza travel guide to take you fly fishing for trout in the region’s many streams.” (Travel+Leisure online 2016)
  • Kayaking, mountain biking, and rafting day trips
  • Ride horses
  • Hike Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere
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(photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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Love the hats!  (photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

  • And of course, tour vineyards…
    • Domaine Bousquet (Departures 2016)–4 cottages–“beautiful and the wines were great,” according to my friends who visited last year
    • Bodegas Salentein..”Located in Uco Valley, this strikingly modern winery complex…includes a lavish art museum and gift shop…” (Travel+Leisure online 2016) As reported from MTF’s on-the-ground reporters in Mendoza last year, “heard amazing things about this vineyard – from our close friends and from our private driver who took us to wineries!”
    • Andeluna: Our friends did a wine pairing lunch at Andeluna and “highly recommend!”
    • Vines of Mendoza–“The tasting room features about 100 producers, and it’s the only spot in the city where you can try so many in one place,” per NY Times, 2012. Town & Country (2014) also likes it. Vines of Mendoza is a co-op business owned by wine-making hobbyists (you, perhaps?), professional winemakers and chefs. You, too, can buy one of these plots below and have the joy of working your own vineyard, with or without the guidance of the on-staff professional grape growers and winemakers. A wine-collecting friend of mine just bought one and is loving it!
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(photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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This could be you! (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

“Apparently great deals on buying wine and shipping it back to the States, too!” according to another friend who visited last year and met fellow travelers who raved about Vines of Mendoza.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

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(photos courtesy of 1884 Francis Mallmann)

  • 1884 Francis Mallmann — Francis Mallmann is the “it” celeb chef of Argentina. “The restaurant was born as a tribute to the wines of Mendoza and the Andean cuisine, in 1996,” per its website. “The Escorihuela Winery, which houses the restaurant, was built in 1884… houses the prestigious facilities of the Bodega “Caro” that is born from the union of Chateau Laffite led by the mythical Baron, Eric de Rothschild and Catena Zapata, led by Nicolás Catena Zapata who has been in the last 25 years the leader of the wine quality of Mendoza.” Sounds impressive!
  • Siete Fuegos at the Vines of Mendoza — “chef Francis Mallmann creates inspired regional dishes, showcasing Argentina’s famous beef. From our gardens and the surrounding land, we proudly bring you a natural bounty of local, seasonal ingredients paired with exceptional Argentine wines. From here, the culinary magic begins!” (per Vines of Mendoza’s website)
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roasting the meets and vegetables with the vineyards in the background at Siete Fuegos (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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preparing birds amongst the vineyards for dinner at Siete Fuegos (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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And now, let’s eat! What a gorgeous setting! Note the mountains beyond the vineyards. (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

STAY

  • Finca Adalgisa (recommended by Andrew Harper 2015 & Departures 2016): My close friends who stayed here described it as, “…a perfect oasis. We also did the cooking class there which was awesome. The hotel includes a glass of wine and an appetizer each night from 6-10 at their winery, too! It has so many secluded spots for couples to sit in…” Finca Adalgisa describes itself as a “wine hotel.” I can see why: it is surrounded by vineyards with the Andes Mountains behind them.
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(photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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(photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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Note the grape vine “hedges” surrounding the pool (photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

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My friends who took the cooking class at Finca Adalgisa described it as “awsome.” I bet that sweet toddler (above) learned a LOT! (photo courtesy of Finca Adalgisa)

  • La Pousada–at Carlos Pulenta winery’s Carlos Pulenta winery’s lodge, a spectacular location…at the base of the Cordon del Plata range of the Andes.” (Travel+Leisure online 2016)
  • Vines Resort & Spa –This must be some-kind-of-wonderful because travel guru Andrew Harper included it in his 2016 list of top hotels in South America  (Departures, 2016, Travel+Leisure and Town & Country, 2014 also like it); 22 villas built with local stone, wood and leather surrounded by 1,500 acres of vineyards..
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This is really working for me! (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

Bonus: Yoga is available, as is a pool surrounded by vineyards. Horse back riding is an option, too, as are meals overseen by Argentina’s “it” chef. Yoga at The Vines

After a morning of working your vineyard, get the kinks out with a little pond-side yoga. (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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Note the vines and Andes Mountains in the background (photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

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(photo courtesy of Vines of Mendoza)

London: Chelsea Flower Show + Hot Restaurants

 

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Chelsea pensioner admiring the flowers (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

The Chelsea Flower Show opened in London  yesterday and continues through this weekend. Naturally, QE2 was there to kick off the festivities.

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(photo courtesy of BBC)

Lest you think of the Chelsea Flower Show as a frumpy gathering of old lady tea-sippers, behold the world of floral arts that you will see upon tiptoe-ing through the tulips…

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gorgeous garden created by Hay Joung-Hwang (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

  • Show-Stopping Gardens (like the one above) created in one week’s time on what were the bare grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea pensioners. Click here to read a fascinating article about the relationship between the hospital and the 100-year old Chelsea Flower Show. I am told these gardens can cost $200,000 or more to create. That’s why most of them have corporate sponsors.
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This is the Best Garden Award winner, the Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC (a charity). “Designed to raise awareness of the work of the NSPCC, this garden’s design is a metaphor for the emotional transition that takes place in a child as they experience the positive impact of the NSPCC’s work,” according to the RHS website. (photo courtesy of the RHS)

  • Horticulture: Over 90 nurseries, growers, and florists creatively display their wares in the vast Great Pavilion. Here you will see the best tulips, the best roses, the best lupins, etc., in all of Britain.
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Peony headdress seen in the Great Pavilion (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

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Horticulture: displays of the very best of each kind of flower you can imagine (photo courtesy of BBC)

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admiring the rose display in the Great Pavilion (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

  • Floral design
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bridal designs (photo courtesy of the BBC)

Where to Stay

No wonder the Queen visits the Chelsea Flower Show every year! Let’s hop on a plane and join her! Click here to see my hotel recommendations. The closest are the Draycott, the Sloane Club, and the Sloane Square Hotel.

Where to Dine

Make your reservations at the hottest London restaurants at the moment, as culled from Mimi’s Travel Files, …

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Kitty Fisher’s tiny subterranean dining room feels like a secret club with great food

  • Kitty Fisher’s, in Old Mayfair, stylish, intimate, good press…and I liked it, too!
  • Barrafina, Spanish tapas, no reservations, lots of rave reviews
  • Ottolenghi, “Oh!!! I love Ottolenghi….spectacular food!!! Great deli, too,” says my friend who has lived spectacularly and dined in London for many years. Ottolinghi is haute Israeli cooking from big foodie media star
  • Frenchie, Parisian import in Covent Garden
  • Riva in Barnes
  • Aquavit, in St. James, although my London friend, who has loved Aquavit for a long time,  has heard its service can be a bit off, from time to time
  • Sexy Fish , in Berkeley Square, is “very good,” per my London foodie friend
  • Chess Club, in Mayfair
  • Gymkhana, in Mayfair, perennially lauded Indian restaurant
  • Palomar, in Soho, modern-day Israeli food in attractive setting; “love it, small tasty dishes pretty casual atmosphere but excellent food. ….as is its sister The Barbary,” per my London friend
  • The Greenhouse, tranquil French in Mayfair; “Good restaurant. Good quality. Not amazing but not disappointing,” per my London friend
  • Hawksmore Knightsbridge, art deco/1930’s glam
  • Park Chinois, in Mayfair
  • While these are not  new, they are wonderful!
    • River Café, superb Italian food in a transporting setting
    • Quo Vadis , delicious, creative food & excellent service in intimate setting in Soho.
Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

Quo Vadis (Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk)

 

 

 

Richmond, VA: More than the Jefferson

Going to Richmond? Now you have more hotel choices than the Jefferson. For something completely different—i.e., cheerful, fresh, fun—try Quirk.

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(photo courtesy of Quirk hotel)

Since Departures, CN Traveler, and Travel+Leisure recommended it, Mimi’s Travel File had to go to Quirk. It’s stylish and happy. Built in 1916 as a department store, Quirk’s windows are large and ceilings are high. Recommend room 515, a king suite with vast views of Richmond.

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In addition to its bar and restaurant, there’s an art gallery and stylish store just off of Quirk’s lobby. (photo courtesy of Quirk hotel) 

It has a pretty design palette that carries through from the lobby to the hotel rooms.

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Quirk’s happening rooftop bar (photo courtesy of Quirk hotel)

My sources tell me that nearby Graduate hotel also has a happening rooftop bar, called Byrd House.

Full disclosure: While I loved Quirk and would go back in a heartbeat, the housekeeping had some flaws (missing buttons on the remote, curtain stuck, phone that didn’t ring down to reception). When I brought them to the attention of the staff, they took notes, apologized and reduced my room rate. I plan to stay there again because I loved it.

Bonus: Quirk has valet parking, so you don’t have to mess with a parking lot.

See the Sights

So, now that we have our room squared away, let’s see my two favorite sites in Richmond…

  • St. John’s Church, circa 1741 and the site of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.
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St. John’s sits atop Church Hill, the first neighborhood in Richmond. And what a pretty neighborhood it is! Old, gorgeous houses large and small, and good views. (photo courtesy of St. John’s Church)

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George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence and mentor to Thomas Jefferson, is buried in St. John’s Church’s graveyard. (photo courtesy of St. John’s Church)

  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has an outstanding collection (esp. its art nouveau furniture), gorgeous garden, fab gift shop and two nice places to eat.
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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (photo courtesy of VMFA)

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ garden (photo courtesy of VMFA)

Let’s Eat

And speaking of eating, where shall we dine? I highly recommend:

Brenner’s Pass in the hip, low-crime neighborhood, Scott’s Addition (architects’ offices, craft breweries, etc.). The food is amazing (the highly discerning James Beard Foundation likes it), decor mod and attractive, and service terrific.

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If you prefer a retro-fast food feel, I hear the burgers at nearby Boulevard Burger & Brew are stand-in-line-it’s-worth-it delicious.

For an old-timey box lunch to send you on your way once you check out of Quirk, go to Sally Bell’s.  “Inside each box is a happy meal from a better time,said Bon Appetit magazine. Works for me!

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Marrakech: Come, to the Kasbah!

When I think of Marrakech, I think of…

La Mamounia‘s glamorous big pool and gardens

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La Mamounia’s big, glam pool

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La Mamounia’s long lobby cocktail bar has a terrace that overlooks their garden, above. So relaxing and dreamy!

I think of the serene beauty at the Dar el Bacha Museum of The Three Confluences, whose fascinating exhibits showed me the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism…

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Dar el Basha Museum of the Three Confluences

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Just look at those beautiful carvings above a door into one of Dar el Basha Museum’s exhibit rooms!

I think our lazy, hazy lunch on the rooftop of El Fenn…and the views

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(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

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(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

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The Atlas Mountains as seen from a wedding table on El Fenn’s rooftop

I think of the shockingly wonderful color combinations at Yves St. Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle

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The Jardin Majorelle complex includes a small jewel of a museum dedicated to Berber costumes and jewelry.

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The Jardin Majorelle was designed by painter Jacques Majorelle, son of famous art nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle. YSL bought Jardin Majorelle after Jacques’ death.

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window at Jardin Majorelle

And I will never forget the excellent people-watching at the intimate and sophisticated cocktail lounge at the Royal Mansour, a fabulously upscale hotel built by the king to show off Morocco’s artisans in the most tasteful way. Click here for the story. I saw Middle Eastern women in long, flowing dresses with smashing big jewelry as pretty as the tiles of Morocco.

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Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty….

See the Sights

Founded in 1059, Marrakech has many sights to see!

  • From Town & Country…the famed sites:
    • Jemaa el-Fna, the old market square anchored by the…
    • “the elegant minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia mosque, prototype of La Giralda in Seville (“In those days Morocco was more important than Spain,” he said);
    • the splendid 15th-century Ben Yousseff Medersa (Rue Assouel), or Islamic theological school, which has 132 upstairs rooms where students once lived and labored (the complex is now a museum) and at whose entrance is the inscription, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.”
    • “be sure to visit often the Berber Museum in Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle. (The garden, now public, was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle and later owned and tended by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.) Berber tribes…are renowned for their finery. But nothing prepares you for the magnificence and grandeur of their jewelry and clothing as collected and displayed in this little museum Bergé founded as an homage to Berber culture in 2011, after YSL’s 2008 death.” (Thank you, Town & Country!)
  • Saadian Tombs (aka, Tombeaux Saadiens) gorgeously carved & tiled 16th century tombs located by the Kasbah Mosque
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Even the tombs are tiled in Morocco!

  • Palais el Badi —  ruins of royal 16th century palace (Elle Decor), near the Saadian Tombs
  • Bahia Palace — “the opulent late 19th-century residence of a slave turned vizier, with beautifully tiled unfurnished rooms and painted wood ceilings” (Elle Decor)
  • Jardin Agdal — “a massive garden of pools, channels, and fruit orchards, near the Palais Royal but south of the medina” (Elle Decor); 12th century; UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Jardin Menara — “acres of olive groves surround a small 1866 pavilion overlooking a vast reflecting pool, southwest of the medina” (Elle Decor); UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • “where Patrick Manac’h, a sophisticated Oxford-educated collector, opened the Maison de la Photographie, the city’s first photography gallery, dedicated specifically to black-and-white images of North Africa (Rue Ahl Fes),”  per Departures, 2016.  The Telegraph (2017) also likes this. I went here and liked it. It is small with evocative photos.
  • Guéliz, a modern district just northwest of the medina, which was built by the architect Henri Prost in the early 20th century, during the period of the French protectorate. Its wide avenues, Art Deco architecture, and buzzing sidewalk cafés are a welcome foil to the narrow alleyways that make up the medina. Guéliz is also home to some of the city’s most interesting galleries, including Galerie 127, which showcases Morocco’s emerging photography talents, and David Bloch Gallery.” (Elle Décor, 2012)
  • “About 20 minutes north of Guéliz is the cobbled-together factory district of Sidi Ghanem, also called the Quartier Industriel. Driving by the battered, nondescript facades, you’d never guess that this is where some of the city’s most innovative artisans are at work. French designer Laurence Landon, for instance, offers his one-of-a-kind Art Deco-style mirrors and lamps…” (Elle Décor, 2012)

  • This doesn’t sound good: “…10 golf courses around its Ville Nouvelle, the modern, Europeanized district established by the French when Morocco became a protectorate, in 1912. It also had a water park with waves, called the Oasira, and in the past decade the access roads to the medina, or old city, have been sprouting sprawling ‘palace’ hotels.” (from Town & Country)
  • Boucharouite Museum – rugs made by Berber women, reminiscent of Rothko and Kandinsky (Elle Decor, 2015)
  • Museum of African Contemporary Art — (aka, MACAAL) a family’s collection, referenced in artnet News article, 2018; also recommended by NYT, 2017, which said, “splashy new Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (Macaal). The center is the latest cultural offering at Al Maaden golf resort, whose course already showcases large-scale outdoor sculptures by international artists”
  • Dar Si Said Museum (aka, Museum of Moroccan Arts) — “breathtaking Moroccan jewelry, woodwork, cedar furniture, and traditional wedding chairs” (Elle Decor)
  • Guide: I highly recommend Mr. Ira Jarna, recommended to us by La Mamounia. A Berber who was raised in Marrakech, Ira is educated, charming, and good-looking. Perfect! Gwyneth Paltrow was one of his clients.
  • Field trip: “venture to the High Atlas Mountains, which begin just 45 minutes outside Marrakech…” (Architectural Digest, 2018)

Shopping

The two most beautiful things I saw to buy in Marrakech are rugs and exotic brass lamps, cut into lace-like patterns that throw beautiful shadows on the walls.

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I covet these lamps! Look for them in the medina.

rug shopping

Les Nomades de Marrakech (Zaouiat Lahder No. 40) is the rug store to seek out in the medina because they don’t haggle. This is a huge relief, if you don’t like to negotiate prices. The most they will reduce their prices is 10-15%.

  • In the medina
    • “The Pajama Shop (in Souk Semmarine Rbaiya No. 18) “Ignore the slightly brighter-colored, commercial pieces at the front of the store and ask owner Sirari Mustapha to show you the ‘plus simple’ children’s and adult’s pajamas in ultra-fine white, gray, or cream cotton. They are just as fabulous for wafting around the pool as for sleeping in. At around $20 per pair, I always bulk buy.”  (Vogue, 2017) no website
    • Topolina (two locations = 436 Z.I. Sidi Ghanem & 134 Dar El Bacha, in the medina)A charming little clothing boutique near the entrance to the souk. Every piece is in a different print, often in wonderful silks and cottons, and cut in circular or square shapes for wonderful volume and swing. The printed turbans are divine, per Vogue, 2017. Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Black Tomato/goop.com also recommend it; no website
    • Tresor des Nomads (144 Rue Bab Doukkala) recommended by Town & Country, 2016; famous home decorating store filled with Moroccan treasures, owned by Mustapha Blaoui
    • Mustapha Blaoui “The quintessential Aladdin’s cave of souk treasures–rugs, lanterns, furniture, and objets.” (Elle Decor, 2015, & Tory Burch, 2018 & Black Tomato/goop.com)
    • A few steps from Mustapha Blaoui is Darkawa, recommended by the NYTimes, 2018, for home textiles; located in the medina, between Dar Bacha and Bab Doukkala, at Arset Aouzal 170
    • Riad Yima  – “A boutique, art gallery, tea room … all at once and in the heart of the medina, a few steps away from Dar Kawa,” per Darkawa owner. NYT, 2017, also recommended it, saying, “a funky and flamboyant cafe-boutique-gallery where every surface pops with radiant hues and crazy geometric patterns. The space was founded by the photographer Hassan Hajjaj, whose color-soaked street portraits of Moroccan dandies and fashionistas line the walls”
    • Popham Design Cement Tiles – recommended by Darkawa owner; located in the medina at Kaat Benahid, Derb Ouali, 18
    • Chabi Chic –  (1 Derb Arjan, Place des Epices, under restaurant Nomad in the medina; & at the Hotel Beldi Country Club, Route du Barrage) “new homewares line…offers a fresh take on traditional Moroccan tableware with stylish patterns and colors,” per Elle Decor, 2015. Travel+Leisure, 2017, & NYT, 2017, also recommend it.
    • “A design district is emerging at Souk Chérifia, courtesy of boutiques like Khmissa, which channels the spirit of the jet-setter Talitha Getty through psychedelic caftans, slippers and accessories with a 1960s feel.” (per NYT, 2017)
  • In Gueliz,
    • shop Studio Lalla (5 rue de Liberte) for boho handbags and jewelry, recommended by Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Elle Decor, 2015
    • Rue Majorelle (“How to Spend It”, 2016) “Our store is the antithesis of the crowded souk,” says Monique Bresson, who with Yehia Abdelnour runs 33 Rue Majorelle in the flourishing Guéliz district of Marrakech. This delightful two-storey space fuses the made-by-hand skills of the medina with the chic, calm aura of Paris boutiques such as Colette and Merci. “We specialise in modern takes on classic Moroccan crafts,” says Abdelnour of the wares by over 90 different artisans – from ceramics and paintings to design-led fashion and beauty products. “Under one roof you’ll find all the vibrant talents that exist in Morocco today, ” The Telegraph (2017) also likes this. Travel+Leisure described it as “a well-edited mini-souk”
    • Anitan – “Savvy carpet shoppers skip the souks in favour of this minimalist atelier adjacent to the Jardin Majorelle where owner Faïza Lahlou has already done a thorough first edit. Upstairs, hammam towels get a neutral hued makeover while Rif tribal ceramics are fantastically lacquered in the full colour wheel,” per Departures, 2016.
    • Maison Artc Fashion (street Mohamed El Bequal, 96 Residence Kelly) these “theatrical designs–ornately embroidered tunics, coats reworked from vintage Berber carpets–have been shown at Paris couture week…prices are steep” (Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Black Tomato/goop.com)
    • “Then wander down Rue des Vieux Marrakchis and Rue de la Rue de la Liberté, where you’ll find fashion-forward trends in Moor (7 rue des Anciens Marrakchis)
    • and candy-coloured loafers in Atika.” (The Telegraph, 2017) I want these!
    • Lalla (35 Boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi) for “fab bags & accessories” (Elle Decor, 2015)
    • Some Slow Concept Store (76 Boulevard Mansour Edhabi) – “A freshly opened villa-boutique dedicated to modernMoroccan craftsmanshop set in a rose-colored 1930’s building,” per Tory Burch, 2018. no website
    • Ben Rahal (28 Rue de la Liberte) “My favorite rug shop in Marrakesh is in the new part of the city.  It’s on the pricey side, but has a truly beautiful selection.  This is where I take my clients—celebrities as well as folks like me—who value quality over quantity and just want one or two really fabulous Moroccan carpets.” (Travel+Leisure 2014)
    • Maroc’n Roll 1432 – “Down a dodgy, snaking lane in the city’s modern Guéliz district, Yves Saint Laurent protégé Robert Merloz teams up with Fez tanners, Berber embroiderers and Middle Atlas carpet weavers to turn out rocker-chic zelig-patterned clutches, silver-studded black-leather babouches and desert-style tunics recast in diaphanous fabric with delicate tribal motifs,” per Departures, 2016. The FT’s How to Spend It (2016) & CNTraveler also like this.
    • Rue de Yougoslavie (recommended by NYT, 2017)
      • Cmooa (Compagnie Marocaine des Oeuvres et Objets d’Art) is an art space that houses…
        •  Macma (Musée d’Art et de Culture de Marrakech)
  • “Where the Medina specializes in artisan crafts, the Ville Nouvelle (new town) prefers to showcase the work of a new generation of Marrakshi artists in contemporary galleries such as
  • Soufiane Zarib (16 Riad La Rous, Dar El Bacha) — “Carpets are everywhere in Marrakech, but the selection here is extra inspiring. It has two spaces, one next to the Yves Saint Laurent museum, and one in the medina,” per Tory Burch, 2018

Eat, Drink & Be Merry!

  • Mimi’s Travel File’s three favorite restaurants in Marrakech were:
    • Al-Fassia — a women-owned, run and staffed restaurant in the new part of Marrakech whose decor is 1940’s Morrocan (made me want to elegantly light up a cigarette and order a Manhattan), whose service and food are very good, and whose prices are surprisingly reasonable.
    • El Fenn‘s swank rooftop bar and restaurant for local wine…and a breathtaking view.” (Town & Country, 2014) Loved this!
    • La Maison Arabe — lunch atop La Maison Arabe after our FUN FUN FUN cooking class there. Do it!
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La Maison Arabe’s cooking class: They gave each of us a tagine as a party favor!

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After we had finished our cooking class, La Maison Arabe’s staff served our culinary masterpieces to us on their peaceful rooftop with views of the medina.

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The beautifully clad man provided subtle, transporting musical accompaniment to our lunch at La Maison Arabe.

You will not starve in Marrakech. Just look at all of the recommendations I dug up in Mimi’s Travel File…

  • From Departures magazine (Departures has excellent taste), 2016
    • “the new Salt-Marrakech (108 Rue de la Bahia; 21-25/2438-2740; salt-marrakech.com), which brings guest chefs from around the world to cook for a few weeks in a very lovely, otherwise very traditional riad; and
    • Kanoun (BP 67, Asni; 21-25/2436-8200; virginlimitededition.com), in the beautiful 11-year-old Kasbah Tamadot, which is owned by Richard Branson and is an hour’s drive from the center of town
    • Nomad, in the  spice market, rooftop tables with views of  the walled city (Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, Forbes, 2017 & Travel+Leisure, 2014, & Black Tomato/goop.com say, “two gorgeous terraces, traditional Moroccan food with a modern take;” La Mamounia recommends it as a good place to eat in the medina)
  • Beldi Country Club – “splendid outdoor dining room, encircled by rose bushes” (Elle Decor, 2015)
  • Fellah Hotel — “worth at least a meal is the sparsely elegant, adobelike Fellah Hotel, nine miles outside the city on the  road to the High Atlas. Part Berber farm, part community outreach program, part artist colony, part spa resort with a glamorous pool…it is a fascinating combination of ethics, aesthetics, and hospitality,” per Town & Country, 2015. Departures, 2014, also recommended it.
  • Le Jardin — “While you are at Le Jardin, don’t miss the Norya Ahron Boutique, located on the first floor,” recommended by Darkawa owner, 2018; lush garden patio, near Darkawa, in the medina (32 Souk Sidi Abdelaziz, medina); Black Tomato/goop.com & La Mamounia like this, too
  • Terraces des Epices – rooftop terrace, lively, good for drinks, French-influenced food, per Black Tomato/goop.com; La Mamounia & Forbes, 2017, also recommend it; location is Sidi Abdel Aziz, 15 souk cherifia
  • Yacout – recommended by Black Tomato/goop.com. While the decor is beautiful and very “Arabian Nights,” I thought the food was mediocre.
  • L’ibzar –  in Gueliz, recommended by NYT, 2017; La Mamounia recommends it, too
  • “A night out in Gueliz can take you down the bourgeois or bohemian path. For the former, join the stylish young professional Moroccans who fill the couches at Pointbar, a dimly lighted and laid-back lounge with D.J.-spun mainstream house, soul and R&B tunes.”   recommended by NYT, 2017
  • “For a bohemian vibe, pack into Le 68, a cozy and convivial cubbyhole bar where Moroccans and European expats from the arty-intellectual set soak up wines from an extensive menu of French and local vintages by the glass.” recommended by NYT, 2017
  • “on the lush grounds of the Dar Rhizlane hotel are angular, airy and lined with glass walls. And, like greenhouses, they bloom with exotic and fragrant specimens — in this case from the genus of neo-North African haute cuisine,” per NYT, 2017
  • Jnane Tamsna – “If you’re staying in the Medina, there will be a moment when you need some peace and tranquility away from all the hustle and bustle. Situated in the middle of the Palmerie area — think of the Beverly Hills of Marrakech– Jnine Tamsna is an oasis, 20 minute drive north of the Medina. The area is filled with mega mansions belonging to uber-rich owners who range from Saudi royals to Italian football stars. Jnane Tamsna, however, exudes understated and natural charm. It’s run by a French-educated hotelier, designer and art collector Meryanne Loum-Martin and her ethno-botanist husband Gary Martin.” (Forbes, 2017)Book a table by the swimming pool under the olive trees for the Mediterranean-Moroccan inspired daily menu.
  • Tory Burch (2018) recommends…
    • Restaurant La Famille (42 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid) – “vegetarian food here mixes Moroccan and Italian influences and is served in a peaceful garden hidden in the Medina.”
    • Le Jardin Secret (121 Rue Mouassine) “This private palace and its botanical garden have just been renovated and opened to the public last year. It’s a beautiful haven…” (also recommended by the NYT, 2017)
    • Restaurant Le Grand Cafe de la Poste (Avenue Imam Malik) – “A not-to-be-missed institution in the modern neighborhood of Gueliz. The decor is somewhere between Paris and Morocco and so is the food…” (Forbes & La Mamounia like it, too.) Mimi’s Travel File thought this was not worth the trip, as it was a weak imitation of a Parisian bistro with wan references to Morocco.
  • Cocktails: The absolute best ambience at…
    • The Royal Mansour’s cocktail lounges
    • La Mamounia’s Majorelle Gallery provides a view through its huge open doors onto its terrace and big, lush gardens

Hotels

  • La Maison Arabe (Andrew Harper)
  • Amanjena (Andrew Harper)
  • Riad Orangeraie (Andrew Harper)
  • Jasper Conran’s new L’Hotel in the medina (Vogue & Conde Nast Traveler, 2017)
  • Richard Branson’s sister “bought a riad after her first visit in 2001 and eventually turned it into the cozy-chic boutique hotel Riad El Fenn” (Elle Décor, 2012; Town & Country, 2014) “swank rooftop bar”; Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, said, “If your idea of Marrakech is waking  call to prayer echoing from the Koutoubia Mosque and sipping mint tea in the square, then an Old City riad turned hotel is the way to go, and Vanessa Branson’s El Fenn is the best in the category.”
Extra Large room (1) © Kasia Gatkowska

(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

  • Mandarin Oriental (Departures magazine, 2016; The Telegraph, 2017; Architectural Digest, 2016; Conde Nast Traveler, 2017) 54 villas 20 minutes’ drive from the medina, “gorgeous garden, ” per The Telegraph
  • Riad Joya (Town & Country, 2015) 7 suites, rooftop restaurant with excellent food, in the medina
  • La Mamounia (Town & Country, 2015) Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, says La Mamounia is “one big fabulous spectacle.” While I don’t usually like large hotels, I stayed here for six nights and loved it.
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(photo courtesy of La Mamounia)

  • The Royal Mansour (Town & Country, 2015) 53 stand-alone riads; CNTraveler, 2017, says, “you’ll play out a modern One Thousand and One Nights fantasy in a private riad with our own rooftop terrace and hammam.” This is a very impressive and pretty place.
  • Villa des Orangers (Town & Country, 2015) 27 rooms; Two of my friends went here for hamams and said it’s very pretty.
  • La Sultana in Marrakech. It’s in the heart of the medina and is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Not to mention smelled—they cut hundreds of fresh roses there everyday, and the fragrance is intoxicating,” per AD 2016 article. Town & Country, 2015, also recommended it. 5 riads combined to form a 28 room hotel
  • Es Saadi (Conde Nast Traveler, 2017)
  • Riad Dar Kawa (Tory Burch, 2018)

When  to Visit: “Spring (March-April) and fall (October-November) are the ideal seasons for a visit,” advises travel aficionado Andrew Harper.

Tip: “Make sure to carry small dominations of the Dirham; there are many places to leave a small (coin) tip.” (good advice from our friend, Andrew Harper)

Another Tip: “ Joel Zack of Heritage Tours Private Travel. He has deep insider knowledge of the country (having lived there), excellent local contacts, and terrific guides. Tell him your interests— sightseeing? Shopping? Hiking? Mountain biking? Spa time?—and Heritage will craft the itinerary right for you (info@htprivatetravel.com, 800-378-4555″ (from Town & Country magazine)

What to Pack: While Morocco is the most liberal of northern Africa’s Muslim countries, it is still Muslim. Advise you pack accordingly, i.e., don’t flaunt skin (leave mini-skirts and strapless dresses and shorts at home). In the medina, the little roads are mostly dirt and often dirty, so don’t wear high heels or pants that will drag on the  floor.

DVD Traveling Companion: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

If I had had a couple of more days…

  • Skoura — Dar Ahlam, 14 suites, has it all: luxury, top-notch service, simplicity (you’re in the midst of a working oasis farm), a superb chef, and a rich menu of culturally immersive activities tailored to your interests and included in the price. A night at its desert encampment, Dar Ahlam Nomad, is an add-on—but absolutely worth it. For more information on Dar Ahlam, see “Taking You Higher,” in the March issue of Town & Country (maisondesreves.com).” (per T&C, 2015 & How to Spend It, 2015)
  • Scarabeo Stone Camp — (Travel + Leisure, 2013) less than an hour’s drive from Marrakech
  • Essouiria: “The other blue-infused city, though not in as obvious a way, is Essaouira, a couple of hours from Marrakech on the sea. The fishing village with strong trade winds—a favorite of windsurfers—charms just about everyone who walks inside its walls containing narrow yet vividly adorned cobalt-trimmed alleyways, camel-studded beaches, excellent (and less haggle-riddled) shopping, and food. La Table by Madada has the best Moroccan cuisine in town, while expats who fell in love with Essaouira have opened impeccable French (Umia) and Italian (Silvestro) spots in the vicinity. Where the shop owners in Marrakech are aggressive, sometimes abrasive, here they’re exceedingly mellow, perhaps softened by the sea air. Berber rugs and excessive amounts of vintage jewelry can be found, thanks to many selling wares retrieved from the desert and mountains” (AD 2018)

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Morocco: Fez Fabulousness

The first building I entered in Morocco was my hotel in Fez. Right away, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore!

Entrance
entrance to Palais Faraj hotel
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Palais Faraj hotel’s courtyard

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This door at Palais Faraj shows off Morocco’s decorative arts in one fell swoop: painted and carved wood, tiles in many patterns, lace-like plaster work…a rich and happy visual heritage that is centuries old.

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This is Fez’s medina, founded in the 9th (!!!) century, as seen from the rooftop terrace of the Palais Faraj.

Now let’s go into the medina…

Fez’s medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site…all 540 acres of it! Hold onto your hats because wandering around the medina is fascinating and fun. Here you will see the major cultural sites of Fez, observe its medieval lifestyle, and see the exotic wares for sale in its little shops.

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Men in djellabas (long robes with pointed hoods) are ubiquitous, not to mention evocative! Djellabas are long coats, worn over clothes: made of wool in winter and cotton for summer.

See the Sites in the Medina

  •  Al Qaraouyine (aka, Karaouinne), is a Koranic college founded in 859, the oldest continuously operating university in the world!
  • Al-Attarine Madrasa (Koranic school) founded in 1325 (adjacent to Al Qaraouyine)
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Note Al-Attarine Madrasa’s gorgeous tiles, woodwork, and carved plaster!  (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Bou Inania Madrasa

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architectural detail at Bou Inania

  • Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts “housed in a beautifully restored caravanserai, a rooming house for traveling merchants.” (Financial Times) This multi-tiered, wood-paneled caravanserai was built in the 14th century.
  • Batha Museum of artisan objects (peaceful garden, pretty carved and painted doors, pottery, etc. with interesting history)
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Our guide, leading us through the medina: Every few hours when the call to prayer was broadcast, he would duck into a mosque to pray for 10 minutes.

A Note about Tour Guides: While I prefer not to be herded around by a guide, I highly recommend hiring one to navigate Fez’s medina because (1) you will most definitely get lost otherwise (2) the merchants will leave you alone (3) our guide, Mohamed,  advised us how much to pay while haggling with various merchants. Hire a guide:

  • Through your hotel. That’s how we got our excellent guide, Mohamed.
  • Hire Mohamed directly (Cell: 0661 2524 88 or mohamedalami410@gmail.com)
  • “…sign on to a savvy local tour: the four-hour “Hidden Fez” offered by Plan-it-Morocco, a travel company run by two women — English and Australian — who live here and know the city inside and out. The tours, usually led by Moroccans, visit the city’s exquisite private palaces, enchanting hidden gardens, spaces where weavers work hand looms, the odoriferous tannery quarter and other places you would probably never find or gain access to on your own. The tour requires a minimum of two visitors and costs 1,600 dirhams. More information is available at plan-it-morocco.com.” (NYTimes, 2017)
  • “there is nothing like a tailor-made tour from Fez-based New Zealand novelist Sandy McCutcheon, a contributor to The View from Fez blog (riadzany.blogspot.com), one of the most useful resources on the city, or his colleague Helen Ranger to give you the inside track on Fez, while showing you the best places to buy Berber rugs and the rest of Fez’s traditional crafts.” (“How to Spend It,” 2011)

TIP: “Many maps of the medina are either poor or incorrect (plan de Fez is the exception),” according to The Ruined Garden restaurant in Fez medina

TIP: “Most of the souks and cafes in the Fez medina are closed on Friday” (NYTimes 2017)

Shopping in the Medina

The things to buy are leather and suede (made by tanneries in the medina), pottery and tiles, carved & inlaid wood, Berber rugs, and metal lamps cut in lace-like patterns. Argan oil is big, too.

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Poterie de Fez

  • Poterie de Fez (Quartier de Poterie, 32 Ain Nokbi Route Sidi Hrazem) — Love this place because they showed us how tiles are made, how tile designs are laid into place, and how pottery is painted. They can make anything your little heart desires.
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artisan at Poterie de Fes

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Got to have this sink from Poterie de Fez!

  • Terrasse de Tannerie, El Haj Ali Baba (no. 10 Hay Lblida Chouara) for a huge array of leather and the softest suede clothes, purses, wallets, belts…plus the proprietor offers an interesting explanation of the tanning process, complete with views from its terrace of the dying vats in the square below.
  • Au Coin du Bois (20, Derb El Hammam, Guerniz) for gorgeous carved and inlaid wooden items
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Au Coin du Bois: This soaring courtyard is typical of Fez’s palace architecture. Today, the palaces are used as riads (small hotels), elegant shops, and private homes.

  • Talisman Art Gallery (No. 150 Sidi Moussa Guerniz) for many beautifully sophisticated antiques like this chest, for which my husband is still longing…
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bureau of inlaid mother of pearl and camel bone from Talisman Art Gallery

In addition to these beautiful things are others, exotic and intriguing. For example…

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Yep, that’s a real camel’s head hanging in front of this butcher’s stall. I was not tempted. I don’t think this woman is interested, either…although they do have similar profiles!

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The local Coke distributor: While walking through the medina, we had to step aside numerous times for donkey-drawn carts to pass. The streets are too narrow for cars.

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A realtor’s display: Not exactly like the glossy photos of houses in our realtors’ windows!

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We saw numerous little stores like this. Can you guess what these are??? Portable thrones for carrying a bride about on some poor men’s shoulders. Who wouldn’t want to be queen for the day?!

Sights Outside of the Medina

  • Royal Palace – While you can’t go inside, this is fun to see. It is one of the king’s 45 palaces.
  • “an afternoon stroll takes you past the swarming Bab Bou Jeloud gate and into the Jnan Sbil gardens, recently reopened and a delicious respite from the city’s pressure-cooker heat…,” per How to Spend It. We recently visited this and while it’s not world-class, it is a nice, open green garden that one can walk through in 15 minutes.
  • “While the Ville Nouvelle, the administrative quarter invented by the colonial French, has wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees, shiny modern cafeterias, office blocks and ATMs, the soul of the city resides in that gigantic medina” (How to Spend It)

Day Trips

  • Field trip: “From there (Fez), a three-hour drive gets you to Chefchaouen, the famed Blue City that is even more dreamy in reality than in photographs. Imagine if there was fresh snowfall in Santorini, in every shade of periwinkle, indigo, sky, and powder blue. There, you can almost feel sustained off the visual stimulation without food, but when hunger sets in the best (casual) meal can be had at Bab Ssour, while prime views of the stacked blue city are had from the top of Lina Ryad, the prettiest riad in town.” (Architectural Digest, 2018) My friend, who went to Chefchaouen this month, says there’s not that much to do here so recommends one night only.
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on the road from Fez to Volubilis

  • Field trip #2: See the beautifully preserved Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site…Easy day trip from Fez (1+ hours drive) and fun to drive through the countryside, which is covered with acres of olive and fruit trees.
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Volubilis

  • To be Combined with Volubilis: One hour’s drive from Volubilis is the 17th century capital of Meknes, one of Morocco’s four imperial cities & a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the FT recommends seeing the mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, Bab Mansour gateway, the ruins of the Sultan’s stables (built to accommodate 12,000 horses!), the Granaries, the Dar Jamai Museum (19th cent. palace) w/collection of ceramics, jewelry, and textiles; nearby is the holy city of Moulay Idriss. The drive back to Fez takes about an hour.
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one of 20 gates interspersed among Meknes’ 40 km. of walls around the city

I recommend our driver, Karim Khalil, of Transport Touristique VIP (karim2011khalil@gmail.com). Our hotel, Palais Faraj, arranged for him to drive us from Fez to Volubilis to Meknes and back, which was a great day.

Let’s Eat!

Cocktails & Restaurants

When you make dinner reservations in the medina,  the restaurant asks “with or without a porter?” Take the porter. Otherwise, you will be fruitlessly wandering the medina, hungry and confused!

  • “…it’s an adventure in itself to venture—with a porter to guide you—into the medina after dark to savor the six-course prix fixe menus at Nur, open in September for its second “season” of fine modern-Moroccan-with-a-Mexican-twist cuisine, made from ingredients purchased each morning in the market and formed into innovative dishes later (they’re closed in summer),” per Architectural Digest, 2018). CNTraveler (2017), Wall Street Journal (2017) & NYTimes (2017) also recommend Nur, as does Mimi’s Travel File. The decor is modern, elegant medina.
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Our best meal in Morocco was at Nur. This is an aerial view. The restaurant has extremely high ceilings and is small. Stylish and deelish!

  • “The candlelit tiled courtyard of the five-room riad hotel Dar Roumana (House of the Pomegranate) offers a romantic setting in which to discover the excellent cooking of Younes Idrissi. The changing prix fixe menus are inspired by the French and Moroccan kitchens.” (NYTimes, 2017) Mimi’s Travel File can attest to the food and romantic ambiance of this traditionally beautiful riad in the medina.
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Dar Roumana is a beautiful riad with good food in an elegant setting.

  • “The casual Café Fez, in a walled, lushly planted garden, is run by the renowned French antiques dealer Michel Biehn…Reasonably priced, friendly and serving fresh, inventive Franco-Moroccan cooking, this place is especially popular with local expats.” (NYTimes 2017) Mimi’s Travel File recommends CF (it’s fun!), as does CN Traveler, 2017.
  • Eden, the restaurant in the Palais Amani, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017. If you would like a break from traditional Moroccan decor, this modern, white and pretty (slightly cold in feel) restaurant is a good get. I liked the bar at Palais Amani.
  • The Ruined Garden, in Riad Idrissy, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017
  • Cafe Clock  was suggested by Travel +Leisure, 2015

Hotels

  • Palais Amani (Andrew HarperNew York Times, 2017 & Mr. and Mrs. Smith recommend this; Mimi’s Travel File visited it and thought it attractive)
  • Palais Faraj (Abercrombie & Kent, 2016 and Travel+Leisure 2015) – highly recommend! We stayed here for a week last month and loved the decor, location and nice staff. PF is built up against the medina, on the outside the wall.
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Palais Faraj bedroom: note the Berber rugs on tiled floor, carved wood door frames and terrace

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fountain in Palais Faraj’s courtyard

  • Architectural Digest (2018) said: “It should be required to stay at a riad (the Moroccan term for a house with gardens) inside the medina, many of which have been lovingly restored into intimate boutique hotels. There are handfuls of particularly pristine and transportive ones to choose from, including
    • the Relais & Chateaux property Riad Fes, with its peaceful pool and incredibly chic wine bar, and (Departures, 2016 likes this, too)
    • Palais Amani, the regally outfitted 17th-century bolt-hole of stained glass and Technicolor tile work whose ceilings are sky-high and whose rooftop is being transformed for open-air cooking classes and dining.
    • Karawan Riad opened two years ago after a painstaking ten-year restoration and renovation that comprises intricate moucharaby paneling and a lounge wallpapered with rich red rugs. (T+L, 2015, also recommended it) A friend of mine stayed here this month, loved it & said, “It’s gorgeous!”
    • The food at all these riads is mouth-watering…”
  • “Overlooking the medina, the 50-room Sahrai became Fez’s first real boutique hotel when it opened in 2014. Using rich local materials like biscuit-colored Taza stone and custom-made décor like copper-framed lanterns, the Parisian designer Christophe Pillet coined a new decorative idiom of contemporary Moroccan chic that has made this stylish establishment a favorite of the local beau monde. Join this cosmopolitan crowd for cocktails either in the curtained open-air gallery near the bar or in the rooftop bar overlooking the city.” (NYTimes, 2017) Travel+Leisure (2016) also recommended it.

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BTW, while many Moroccans speak English, more speak French, and all speak Arabic or Berber. How’s your Berber?

Bon voyage!

Fascinating article on the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair: Had to Share it with You!

The contemporary African art fair 1-54 made its African debut in Marrakech, Morocco, in the Grand Salon of the ritzy La Mamounia, one of Winston Churchill’s favorite hotels. Held over the weekend, 1-54 welcomed 17 international galleries, which exhibited more than 60 contemporary artists from across Africa and its diaspora. Sales were strong but, with the…

via Strong Sales at the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair, But Don’t Talk About ‘African’ Art — artnet News

Amalfi Coast, Mi Amore

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(photo courtesy of Getty Images)

The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage sight for many reasons…mountains shooting up out of the deep, blue sea; pastel villages on the two-lane road that hugs the mountains along the water; long, languorous, al fresco lunches of fish just-plucked from the sea; lemon groves; medieval villages rich in history; colorful ceramics galore; water gazing and big, bright views. Let’s go!

Stay

BOOK NOW: “By March, the best hotels start to sell out.” (I can personally vouch for this great advice from Andrew Harper)

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Il San Pietro di Positano: Definitely go for a drink on one of the world’s more beautiful terraces!

  • Il San Pietro and Le Sirenuse hotels are the two grandes dames of the Amalfi Coast, and both are in Positano. While Positano is crowded, these hotels are glorious.
    • Il San Pietro di Positano   Il San Pietro sits by itself just outside of Positano, clinging to a cliff overlooking the sea.  Decor is classic Italian. Definitely go for a drink on this spectacular terrace, as I did. This uber-glamorous hotel is recommended by Vogue and Andrew Harper, although you will probably run into a lot of Americans.
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Il San Pietro di Positano

  • Positano
    • Le Sirenuse (recommended by Andrew Harper, the NYTimes, goop.com & me) is super glam, with a lemon tree scented terrace overlooking the deep, blue sea; you will run into lots of Americans here. Decor is old world Italian. An extremely well-traveled and good friend of mine recently stayed at Le Sirenuse and loved it! Read the Sirenuse Journal on their website for excellent tips on the Amalfi Coast. (58 rooms and suites)
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Le Sirenuse

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Le Sirenuse’ beautiful dining room overlooking the water

  • also in Positano
    • Villa Treville looks beautiful and stylishly decorated. No wonder Gwyneth Paltrow (see her goop.com) recommended it! This is your place if you are afraid of heights because it is not as high up as some of the other hotels.
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Villa Treville

  • in Ravello (relaxed pace, less crowded than Amalfi & Positano)
    • Belmond Hotel Caruso , former 11th century palace recommended by impeccable sources: Town & Country, Vogue, Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop.com, and Andrew Harper
    • Palazzo Avino (formerly Palazzo Sasso) Travel aficionado Andrew Harper recommends this 33 room hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant in a former 12th century private villa
    • Villa Cimbrone Recommended by Elle Décor, Vogue & NY Times, the Villa Cimbrone is noted for its beautiful gardens
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Villa Cimbrone

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Villa Cimbrone

  • In Conca dei Marini (not crowded)
    • Monastero Santa Rosa (recommended by the NY Times, Town & Country, Bazaar, How to Spend It, & Vogue–pretty impressive!) — This is the place to stay if you want to get away from the crowds in Positano and Amalfi. This former 17th century monastery, whose decor is not overly sophisticated, is in a tiny town with a charming little church, breathtaking views AND a great-looking Michelin-starred restaurant. I think it would be a peaceful, beautiful experience. (20 rooms and suites)
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Monastero Santa Rosa – a former monastery – reminds me of those monasteries sitting atop cliffs in Tibet – but with waaaay more services

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Pretty hard to beat this view from Monastero Santa Rosa’s pool!

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Oh, waiter! I’d like a Limoncello mojito, por favore. (photo courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa)

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Let’s order lemon risotto for lunch! (photo courtesy of Casa Angelina)

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Casa Angelina’s jr. suite terrace

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Take an elevator down through the cliffs (so cool!) to sit on Casa Angelina’s beach.

Mangia, Mangia

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Il Refettorio — This has to be the most fun Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Nothing stuffy here!

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Il Pirata

In an excellent article in Food & Wine, Mario Batali recommends:

  • in hard-to-find Massa Lubrense, La Scoglio, Taverna del Capitano, and Quattro Passi
  • La Tagliate in Montepertuso – “
I love this town dearly as a relief from the chichi beach and Armani crowd,” said Mario Battali in Food & Wine.Vogue likes it, too!
  • in Positano, Il Capitano (“high above the sea”), Chez Black (“right on the water” & Vogue magazine also likes Chez Black), and “the restaurant in Le Sirenuse is quite tasty.”
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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse

 

da Adolfo, “a hippie spot” on Laurito Beach where Carla Sersale, who runs Emporio, the boutique at her family’s hotel (the fab Le Sirenuse), spends some of her time off, according to an interview in Veranda Magazine. Click here for details. This place looks like so much fun! The Financial Times‘ excellent “How to Spend It” magazine also recommended it, as do goop.com and Vogue magazine.

See the Sights

Drive the Drive: The drive from Vietri to Positano along the Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s how spectacular it is!!! While nerve-wracking at times, you MUST do the  drive as it is gorgeous. We had to back up on this narrow, two-lane road with STEEP drop-off to make room for a truck; take your time!).

Village Hop along the Way: For a great article by Elle Decor on which towns to visit along the Amalfi Coast, click here

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(photo courtesy of Casa Angelina)

Boat the Coast: For a  different perspective, see the Amalfi Coast by boat! Take the Travelmar ferry to points along the coast

Hike for Views: An alternative way to take in the stunning sea views is suggested by the NYT: “For better views and less congestion, head to Bomerano, a mountaintop hamlet, to hike Il Sentiero degli Dei, or the Path of the Gods. As the name suggests, the up-in-the-clouds views are spectacular along this well-marked trail. Though not recommended for anyone prone to vertigo, it’s a relatively easy three-hour hike to the town of Nocelle, where hundreds of steps then lead down to the beach at Arienzo and a well-deserved dip in the sea.”

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

See Amalfi’s Duomo’s façade of mosaics and striped arches and Chiostro del Paradiso, a 13th-century cloister

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

 

BTW, have I mentioned that Positano and Amalfi are crowded?! The NYTimes  (“36 Hours on the Amalfi Coast” ), Vogue and/or Elle Décor (recommend seeking out these following charming smaller towns:

  • Cetara (medieval village, anchovy sauce)
  • Vietri sul Mare (ceramics, majolicas)
  • Praiano (click here to read the NYTimes‘ article on Praiano & click here to read Vogue‘s article)
  • Conca dei Marini
  • Maiori (has a sand beach, unlike most of the other AC beaches, which are all pebbles; Collegiate di Santa Maria a Mare)
  • Minori (Villa Marittima, a first-century Roman villa ruins)
  • Ravello (Click here to read Vogue‘s article on Ravello; Villa Cimbrone’s gardens; Villa Rufolo — the inspiration for the magic garden of Klingsor in Wagner’s “Parsifal;” Ravello Festival attracts world class music talent from July-September)
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Ravello Music Festival (photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

 

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

Day trips

  • Pompeii is an easy day trip by train from Sorrento
  • Capri — Take a day-trip on a Riva speedboat

SHOP

Lucio Liguori, Via San Vito 49, Raito, 84019 Vietri sul Mare. Tel +39 339 310 7071. Studio visits on request.

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

in Positano

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(photo courtesy of Emporio Le Sirenuse)

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(photo courtesy of Emporio Le Sirenuse)

For more shopping opp’s, see goop.com

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You  will see lots of beautiful tiles like this for sale in boutiques along the Amalfi Coast. (photo courtesy of Villa Treville)

When to Visit

Elle Décor recommends May-June and Sept-Oct, when the weather is slightly cooler.

My husband and I spent part of our  honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast 20 years ago, so I thought it would be the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day post.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Hong Kong

“Hong Kong makes New York City look sleepy,” said my globe-trotting father. I could not imagine any place more energized than NYC…until I got to HK. Let’s hop on a plane right now and go! Here’s what we will see…

The Rolls-Royce Fleet on Tsing Ma Bridge (horizontal - mid)

Here we are, being driven to the Peninsula Hotel in one of its famous Rolls Royces! Click here for more on the Rolls Royces.

Naturally, we will stay at the Peninsula Hotel. In addition to its consistently best-in-HK rank, the Peninsula has great views of the sparkling Victoria Harbour and an interesting history. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, they took over the best rooms at the Peninsula, until an American bomber pilot smoked them out! Click on the image at the bottom of this post to watch a beautiful video that will give you a feel for Hong Kong and the Peninsula.

Victoria Harbour View from The Pool (mid)

This is the Peninsula’s rooftop pool. One wall opens up to the outside, with its spectacular view of Hong Kong Island. My husband and I swam here, sipped cocktails here, and had this heaven all to ourselves.

See the Sights!

Walk the streets of Kowloon near the Peninsula to get a feel for the city. Look up and you will see factories on second, third and fourth stories of skyscrapers with laundry hanging from the windows. On the street level, you will see tiny storefronts offering everything under the sun, including reflexology. Such an exciting city!

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Get oriented (no pun intended): Hire a car and driver for a day-long tour of Hong Kong to see the major sights. Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which are separated by Victoria Bay.

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Situated between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, Victoria Bay is the third largest in the world.

The Peak — The Peak is the highest place on Hong Kong Island and a good place to get your bearings.  Click here for more info.

Mong Kok Bird Market — One of the most memorable sights we saw, birds are sold at this charming market and Chinese congregate with their pet birds. Chinese people believe that caged birds need fresh air and the company of other birds to stay healthy. Click here to learn more about this market, from the vantage point of the senior security agent of the Peninsula Hotel, who grew up in HK

Ride the Star Ferry “For less than 50 cents, grab a Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, a service that’s been in operation since the 19th century. It’s essential to get out on the water (you’ll see myriad fisherman motoring home with their daily catch), as there’s nothing quite like the view of Victoria Harbour…you can almost imagine what it would have been like back in the tea trading days,” according to Gwyneth Paltrow on her goop.com. We rode this ferry night and day and loved it.

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Take the Aqua Luna harbor tour Gwyneth recommends it, despite its cheesy-ness, and my father still remembers it fondly, 20 years later.

Hollywood Road, Cat Street & Man Mo Temple —  “Hollywood Road was the second road to be built when the Hong Kong colony was established by the British. Today, it is an intriguing collection of shops, from high-end Chinese antiques shops to sculpture and rug galleries to Maoist memorabilia shops.” (per the Peninsula’s website)

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Man Mo Temple, the oldest Taoist temple on HK & dedicated to the gods of literature and war…curious combination! (photo courtesy of stripped pixel.com)

Click here to learn more about Cat Street and Man Mo Temple from the Peninsula’s general manager, who grew up in HK.

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Man Mo Temple’s interior: The gold cones hanging from the ceiling are incense sticks that have been molded into this upwardly spiraling shape. When lit, the incense sends your prayers–in the form of scented smoke–up, up, up to the gods in heaven. (photo courtesy of stripped pixel.com)

Ginseng and Bird’s Nest Street, Dried Seafood Street, and Herbal Medicine Street — the tourist names for Wing Lok Street, Des Voeux Road West, and Ko Shing Streets — make up a neighborhood of small streets selling delicacies and remedies. “Traditional Chinese medicine is still very popular with the local population, and this is where they come to shop.” (per FathomAway.com) Most memorable was a shop with large, clear, glass jars filled with several birds’ nests, each jar from a different kind of bird. This shop sold skin remedies. When I told them I would like softer skin, they mashed up parts of several different nests, added some secret ingredients, and presented this tailor-made new skin potion to me.

Tour Western District — “Hong Kong is losing much of its past. However, there are still places to savor this vanishing world. Go on a walking tour through Western District, one of the most atmospheric parts of the city. There the streets are dedicated to sellers of specific products: Queen’s Road West has herbal remedies and temple goods; Bonham Road is dried seafood; and Man Wa Lane sells beautifully carved “chops” in a variety of material,” per trusted travel expert, Andrew Harper. Chops make good souvenirs! We had one made for my father, who uses it to this day on letters and his email signature.

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Hong Kong Park

See the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware — “Hong Kong Park contains a fascinating small museum. The Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware is dedicated to the history of tea ware…Steps away, the newer K.S. Lo Gallery wing houses an extraordinary collection of Chinese name seals, or “chops,” per Andrew Harper.

PMQ The initials stand for Police Married Quarters. Formerly living accommodations for police officers and having stood vacant for years, PMQ has been refurbished and transformed into studios, offices and shops for the creative industries, including those involved in fashion, furniture design, jewelry and food, including restaurants and cafes, per Andrew Harper.

Exterior

(photo courtesy of PMQ)

Asia Society Hong Kong Center — “a three-and-a-half-acre site has been converted to house the Hong Kong branch of the Asia Society, with spaces for performances, exhibitions and screenings. The visually striking AMMO restaurant was once a 19th-century ammunition storage depot for the British army. (You can still follow the rail tracks used for transporting munitions.)” per Andrew Harper.

Tour the Hong Kong Museum of History — “From prehistoric times to the modern era, the Hong Kong Museum of History squeezes 400 million years of the city’s history under one roof, ” according to USNews.Travel.com. While I haven’t been here, it sounds promising.

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Happy Valley Racecourse — “Every Wednesday from September to July, thousands of Hong Kong residents flood the stands of the Happy Valley Racecourse…Even if you’re not into betting, you should visit this local institution simply for the electric atmosphere, not to mention the surrounding city skyline, which sparkles once the sun goes down.” (usnews.travel.com) We went to the track in Bangkok and it was a blast!

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Happy Valley Racecourse (photo courtesy of scmp.com)

World’s Longest Outdoor Escalator — “The Central-Mid-Levels Escalator — an 800-meter-long chain of moving stairs and walkways…it’s a series of 18 reversible escalators and three travelators, all covered to protect against sudden downpours…Snaking through narrow streets in the busiest neighborhood in town, it’s actually a great way to tour Hong Kong’s dramatic cityscape — from dai pai dong food stalls in small alleys to the trendiest bars in Mid-Levels, from colorful old walk-ups to sleek modern skyscrapers,” per CNNtravel. I loved this! So memorable to ride up, up, up, passing different neighborhoods.

To read the NY Times “36 Hours in Hong Kong,” click here.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For cocktails, I recommend the Lobby Lounge at the InterContinental Hotel for its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the spectacular Victoria Harbour.

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Lobby Lounge at The InterContinental (photo courtesy of nextstophongkong.com): My mother stayed up most of one night watching the non-stop harbor activity & twinkling lights beyond from their IC hotel room. That’s how beautiful it is!

Gwyneth Paltrow loves Sevva. It’s website looks beautiful! Elle Decor raved about its outdoor wrap-around terrace with big, gorgeous views of HK’s harbor.

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Sevva’s transporting  terrace

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In addition to its lovely, imaginative decor, Sevva has great music, too!

For recommendations by Andrew Harper of authentic restaurants and those with spectacular views of the harbor, click here.

The Financial Times’ excellent “How to Spend It” magazine (2017) recommends:

  • Mak’s Noodle — “this restaurant serves wonton noodle soup and is a slice of Hong Kong heritage…has been in the same family for generations” (no website)
  • Cheung Hing — “a traditional tea house in Happy Valley…opened in 1951…pale green and grey mosaic tiles are quintessential 1950s Hong Kong.” (no website)
  • Fook Lam Moon — “another Jong Kong instituion, which has been serving traditional Cantones food since the 1940s.”

China Tang — (Departures magazine, 2014)

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beautiful dining room at China Tang Harbour City

Travel + Leisure (2015) recommended:

  • Little Bao (the NYTimes and Forbes also like LB) –“What Momofuku’s David Chang has done for the steamed pork bun (a.k.a.bao) in New York, the rising chef May Chow is emulating at her Little Bao restaurant in Hong Kong,” per the NYT.
  • Ho Lee Fook — pan-Asian food around the corner from Little Bao
  • Mott 32 — “Cantonese cuisine takes a luxurious turn at Mott 32, a chic subterranean space”; Forbes Travel Guide also likes it, as does Vogue magazine (2017)
  • Seventh Son — “The stylishly restrained dining room serves Cantonese mainstays without the cliquey, club-like vibe”

Additional Hotels

Hotel Indigo (138 rooms) has a bright, locally inspired décor—goldfish pillows, Chinese lanterns–along with a glass-bottom, rooftop pool cantilevered over the bustling sidewalks 29 floors below.” (NY Times 2016)

The Pottinger — “is a boutique hotel with a beautiful and subtle Chinese aesthetic” (Travel+Leisure 2015)

The Upper House — “a beautiful world-class hotel with a fabulous restaurant,” per Vogue magazine (2015); Andrew Harper likes it, too (“occupying floors 38 through 49 of the stylish Pacific Place complex, which is home to one of the city’s most luxurious shopping malls.”) The Upper House’s Cafe Gray Bar on the 49th floor has great views of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Gwyneth Paltrow likes the UH but I think it’s website looks cold.

Shop!

Gwyneth  Paltrow has a good guide to HK shopping on her site, goop.com. Click here to see her recommendations. Lala Curio looks especially good.

Have a suit or dress or whatever tailor-made!

  • The Peninsula recommended Fat Tai Eddie Siu Custom Tailors Co., where my husband had a couple of jackets made and our friend ordered a beautiful sky-blue cheongsam dress. So happy with both price and quality! They have kept my husband’s measurements and he has since ordered additional jackets from afar over the years.
  • Gwyneth recommends William Cheng & Son. 
  • TIP: Avoid the cheap tailors on the street level on many of the main streets in HK, as they tend to produce low quality clothes. Fat Tai Eddie Siu’s shop is on the second floor.

Click here for Vogue magazine’s most recent article on shopping in HK.

Tai Ping Shan Street..”is lined with independent shops and studios” (recommended by Lane Crawford’s chief brand officer in Travel+Leisure, 2015)

Field Trip

“Tai O village is about as far as you can get from central Hong Kong — both literally and figuratively. On a remote bay on lush, mountainous Lantau Island, Tai O is one of the last surviving fishing villages in Hong Kong — a relaxing relic of a bygone era, with simple homes on stilts fringing the water and narrow, car-free lanes lined with stalls selling shrimp paste (one of the village’s best known industries) and all manner of dried seafood. After strolling through town, sit down for seafood fried rice with local shrimp paste ( 98 Hong Kong dollars) at the Tai O Heritage Hotel, a renovated former police station built by the British in 1902 to safeguard Hong Kong’s border with China. It’s here, perched above the waters of the South China Sea, that one can appreciate what Hong Kong was like before its transformation to global commercial center — a sleepy outpost, deeply traditional and dependent on catches from the sea.” (NY Times 2016)

“Hong Kong is home to more than 260 outlying islands — each with its own personality. A few of the easiest to reach are Lantau Island, home to water buffalo and amazing hiking trails; Lamma, known for its laid-back village life and alfresco seafood restaurants; and Cheung Chau, which is perfect for a bike ride or hike through the mountains. Many of the islands can be reached from the Central Ferry Pier, with rides ranging from about 30 minutes to 1 hour.” (Forbes Travel Guide 2017)

Don’t Bother Going to nearby Macau: It’s not that interesting, unless you like to gamble.

Best Time to Visit: October-March is warm and dry; May-September is rainy, hot and humid.

Literary & DVD Traveling Companions:

  • “The World of Suzy Wong,” by Richard Mason, is well-written and will get you in a Hong Kong frame of mind.
  • James Bond’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”

Watch this Evocative Video from The Peninsula Hotel to get you in that HK frame of mind…

 

 

Washington, D.C. Christmas

Christmas is Washington’s most wonderful time of the year. Why? No crowds (like during spring break), no overpowering humidity (like during the summer), and most important, distinctly DC sights that are all dressed up for “the festive season.” I am a native Washingtonian and have picked out our very best sights and described them here, as my Christmas present to you!

Downtown DC

Behold the National Christmas Tree at the White House! Note how perfectly perfect it is…almost too perfect to be real (though it is) or visually interesting…but you have to see it at least once.

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National Christmas Tree on the White House lawn

The very first National Christmas Tree was decorated in 1923, when “First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House…That Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and “pushed the button” to light the 48-foot Balsam fir, as enthusiastic spectators looked on,” according to nationalchristmastree.org. Click here to read more about the history of the National Christmas Tree. To find out how to attend the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, click here.

To tour the sumptuous Christmas decorations inside the White House, click here.

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Can’t get tickets to tour the White House at Christmas? No problem! Just order Laura Dowling’s book, A White House Christmas. Laura was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House during the Obama administrations. Her book will give you an up-close-and-personal look at the WH Christmas decorations, plus how to make some of them. Let’s look at pictures from it…

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The Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, decorated for Christmas by Laura Dowling (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

The gorgeous wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room (above) was installed by Jackie Kennedy in 1961. For more on Jackie’s renovation of the DRR, click here.

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Laura Dowling does the Red Room: What could be more festive or elegant?! (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

In her book, Laura takes us behind-the-scenes of the highly detailed,  year-long planning process for creating Christmas decorations befitting the White House.

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Laura Dowling’s Christmas tree in the White House’s Blue Room (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

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This is the main hallway on the first floor of the White House, decorated by Laura and her team. (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is the Prettiest

The Capitol’s Christmas tree is the prettiest outdoor tree in DC. It stands alone in a peaceful place at the base of Capitol Hill. It doesn’t have the commercial, for-tourists feel of the National Christmas Tree at the White House. There are no crowds of admirers…I don’t know why. Gazing at its simple decorations with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop is a lovely, quiet sight. When you turn your back to the Capitol, you will look down the National Mall at the Washington Monument.

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(photo courtesy of rainforestsislandsferry.com)

“The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964 when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. McCormack (D-MA) placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage…Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide “The People’s Tree.” (from the Capitol Christmas Tree website)

U.S. Botanic Garden: Trains & Plants

Just a few steps from the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree is the Botanic Garden. Every Christmas, they create a model train exhibit whose tracks are laced in and out of the fabulous plants in the BG. The US Botanic Garden is small and beautiful.  Go!

USBG holiday show - Holiday tree train detail“Take a trip across America as our annual holiday show, Season’s Greenings, showcases Roadside Attractions! In our model train show, trains will chug around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights from across the United States. This year, the theme is “Seasons Greetings: Roadside Attractions.” (from the BG website)

USBG Holiday Show - U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol

USBG Holiday Show - Capitol building and poinsettias

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The Botanic Garden even has a miniature of the new National African American Museum on the Mall

Sample itinerary: Downtown

  • Visit the trains at the Botanic Garden
  • Take in the quiet beauty of the Christmas tree at the base of Capitol Hill
  • Stop for a drink at the Willard Hotel, where “Kentucky Statesman Henry Clay first introduces the Mint Julep outside of Kentucky in the Round Robin Bar,” according to the history of the hotel on the WH’s website. It’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, of course!
  • Walk the Pathway of Peace to see the National Christmas Tree and state trees.
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lobby of the Willard Hotel

Georgetown

The Washington National Cathedral sits at the top of Wisconsin Avenue, which leads into Georgetown, a hop skip and a jump away, so let’s start here. If you don’t have the Christmas spirit, visit the Cathedral and you will get it! Its gorgeous decorations (the altar guild ladies have great taste and talent), charming Creche Collection (of nativity scenes from around the world, on display from late November to early January), and gift shop will infuse you with the spirit. The Joy of Christmas concert is a Washington tradition that is particularly festive, cheerful, uplifting, and beautiful in this glorious setting.

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The Washington National Cathedral

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The Washington National Cathedral

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Charming creches from around the world each reflect where they were made. The one above is from Bolivia, I believe.

Since you’re at the Cathedral and the Cathedral is so close to Georgetown, saunter on down Wisconsin Avenue towards the Potomac River to do a little…

Christmas Shopping, House Gazing and Merry-Making

  • Everards’ Clothing in the 1800 block of Wisconsin Ave has nice clothes for men and women, despite its somewhat austere website.
  • While Georgetown has it fair share of chain stores, plenty of boutiques abound. The 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue is especially good. Patisserie Poupon is a nice little place in this block for a quick lunch. Look at the beautiful things (plates, serving pieces, jewelry, linens, and lots more) in A Mano
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A Mano boutique in Georgetown

Dine at 1789

1789 Christmas

A long-time DC favorite, every table at 1789 is full at Christmas-time (photo courtesy of 1789 Restaurant)

Dine at wonderful, old 1789 Restaurant, right next to Georgetown University, on a night they have carolers (December 15-24). They are tuxedo-clad and stand in front of this fireplace…this is an important point because they don’t saunter from table to table, forcing you to smile encouragingly while staring at them for an entire song sung in front of your table. So festive and elegant! Plus, very good food and warm ambience.

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(photo courtesy of 1789 Restaurant)

Mt. Vernon

And last but not least, cross the Potomac River to visit our first president at Christmas at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. Click through to explore Mt. Vernon’s numerous and varied Christmas-themed tours.

MV Illuminations IMG_3557 by Buddy Secor

(photo courtesy of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon)

Voici some fun facts about our first president and Christmas:

  • “44-year old George Washington made one of the boldest decisions in military history when he led his troops across the icy Delaware River on Christmas evening, 1776″ (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
  • Click here for an intriguing list of GW’s whereabouts on various Christmases, including the detached kitchen of his burned-down boyhood home; on a ship returning from Barbados to Virginia; visiting an “Indian Queen;” and hauling in fish nets on the Potomac River. Did George ever sit still?!?
  • “On December 23, 1783, George Washington resigned his military commission in Annapolis and returned to Mt. Vernon in time for Christmas, bearing gifts for his family.” (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
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(photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!