England’s Gravetye Manor has it All

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This looks like countless country house hotels, at first blush. But it’s far, far better than them all. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gorgeous Gardens created by a Groundbreaking Designer

The gardens were designed by one of THE GREATS in garden design, Mr. William Robinson, who pioneered the English country garden look. Robinson’s home was Gravetye Manor for many years, during which time he transformed the 1,000-acre property. Today, Gravetye Manor employs eight full-time gardeners, lest you be wondering why your garden doesn’t look quite like this.

Long border view

(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Take a stroll through the gardens, cocktail in hand, as the sun is setting before dinner. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Garden design revolutionary, Mr. William Robinson, on his 94th birthday surrounded by the 94 white peonies he received as a present. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Gravetye Manor grows much of the fruits and vegetables it serves, as well as a profusion of flowers, which you will see on tables, windowsills, desks, everywhere around the house. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor) 

Beautiful Restaurant with a Well-Deserved Michelin Star

Gravetye Manor Hotel & Restaurant

That’s the Michelin-starred restaurant in the glass-fronted room looking onto the garden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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When sitting inside the restaurant after dark, one can see the garden thanks to tasteful up-lighting. (my fab photo)

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Eating at Gravetye Manor’s restaurant is like eating inside of a Monet painting! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

I usually find food photos intensely boring but had to make an exception here.

ALC Starter (Salad)

When I requested a starter with lots of vegetables, they whipped up this beauty with a perfect egg yolk in its center, despite its not being on the menu that night. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

ALC Dessert (Souffle)

Rhubarb souffle with ginger ice cream: Swoon! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Old, Pretty Manor House in Mint Condition

Built in 1598 Gravetye Manor has had many an owner but its most notable was Mr. William Robinson, who lived here from 1884-1935 AND pioneered the English country garden look. He grew up poor, became a gardener, worked on increasingly fine gardens, wrote about them, and gradually saved enough money to buy the 1,000 acres that make up Gravetye Manor today. Read about him here!

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The wood is polished to a sheen and nary a speck of dust is in sight. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Hall

Reception: warm, welcoming, and flower-laden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gravetye Manor has 17 big, handsome bedrooms with beautiful views. Holly and Chestnut are among the best.

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This was our room, called Chestnut. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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This is the view from our window! Despite it being early Spring, the garden is still stunning. (photo courtesy of moi)

Flawless Service

Among THE best service I have ever experienced anywhere, including Asia, which is famous for its service. The managing director is a gentleman who is down-to-earth, has a sense of humor and believes it’s important for the staff’s personality to shine through because only that way does the customer receive genuinely warm service. Perfect! Considerate attention to details included:

  • When I merely glanced in the closet, the lovely woman who showed us to our room volunteered to bring more hangers.
  • When I asked for another soap, she brought two.
  • When we arrived back to Gravetye after a hike, they offered to clean our hiking boots, as if they were the finest of shoes.
  • Room service arrived when requested.
  • When we came back to the room after dinner,
    • the TV guide was open on our bed with the controls on top of it,
    • the tea kettle had been filled with water for the next morning,
    • a detailed map of the local area with the sites marked on them was open on the desk,
    • and a bookmark had been placed by each of our books.

Fun Facts

  • Gravetye Manor is 12 miles from England’s Gatwick Airport…though nary a plane will you hear when staying there.
  • While Gravetye Manor is 30 miles from central London, don’t think about taking a day-trip here, as you will be sad to leave after dinner.
  • We went to Gravetye because I had seen this article in Flower magazine about its glories. Check it out!
  • Things to Do: Many historic houses, famous gardens and fun activities abound nearby, including Winston Churchhill’s home, Chartwell, and Hever Castle, the girlhood home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henri VIII’s wives.
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My photo, of which I am VERY proud!

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

When you go the Gravetye Manor, please try to get that Rhubarb Soufflé recipe from the chef and pass it on to me. So good!

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!

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 (UPDATE, March 2019: I just ate here and while the food and service were excellent, the ambiance was mediocre)
  • 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)

 

 

 

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!

 

Swiss Driving Trip: Yodel-ay-hee-hoo!

 

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(photo courtesy of Jungfrau Region Tourism)

The sights featured on this trip were recommended by my French teacher, who is Swiss, and my father, who lived in Geneva for over a year. They are timeless destinations, rich in history and settings. So, hop in the car and let’s drive around Switzerland! My husband and I just took this trip and it was great.

Geneva to Vevey

Take the Lake Road (La Route du Lac)–not the autoroute–from Geneva to Vevey (1-1.5 hours, depending on traffic). TIP: Be sure to time your arrival for anytime other than rush hour!

Montreux Riviera: Vevey (recommend 4 nights)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Chateau de Chillon–Take on of the many beautiful 1900’s-era steamers from Vevey to the Chateau de Chillon, a highly photogenic medieval castle on Lake Geneva
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Chateau de Chillon (photo courtesy of montreuxriviera.com)

  • LaVaux Vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage Site of terraced vineyards dating from the 12th century, on the north shore of Lake Geneva/Lac Leman): You can bike, hike or see the vineyards while eating lunch aboard on of the CGN Belle Époque steamers that cruise the lake frequently each day.
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Lavaux Vineyards (photo courtesy of REGIS COLOMBO/diapo.ch)

  • Vevey’s old town is small and lovely, has some charming shops, and is located on Lake Geneva.
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Vevey (photo courtesy of montreuxrivera.com)

  • Gruyères is 20 minutes’ drive from Vevey: HIGHLY recommend a visit to this “tres jolie” small town and its castle!
  • Neuchatel/Lake Neuchatel (Vevey to Neuchatel is 1 hour and 20 minutes’ drive)

STAY in Vevey

  • Hotel des Trois Couronnes in Vevey (NY Times 2011 & Andrew Harper 2016 & recommended by MySwitzerland.com as “typically Swiss” & gave it 5 stars), 71 rooms, half of which face Lake Geneva; while the bar, two restaurants, and some of the sleeping rooms could use a facelift, the lobby is dramatic, terrace wonderful, and staff is charming and service-oriented; and views onto Lake Geneva couldn’t be better!
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view of Lake Geneva from our room at Hotel des Trois Couronnes

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view from Hotel des Trois Couronnes

  • Grand Hotel du Lac in Vevey, 50 rooms, is a Relais et Chateaux & recommended by MySwitzerland.com as “typically Swiss”& gave it 5 stars; its lobby decor is prettier and more updated than that of Les Trois Couronnes but I read somewhere reputable that its service was not as good. It is also two blocks farther away from the center of Vevey’s old town.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Vevey

  • Ze Fork on the Water is zee place to eat in Vevey and is booked weeks in advance, so call ahead. Lovely terrace looking onto Lake Geneva!
  • Have lunch on board one of the CGN steamers that motor around Lake Geneva. Their dining rooms are very nice and it’s so much fun to cruise by the little and large towns as you sip champagne!
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dining room on CGN steamer

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one of the beautiful CGN steamers that cruise Lake Geneva

Zermatt/Matterhorn (recommend 2 nights)–via Sion

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Rhone River valley–The first part of the drive from Vevey to Sion takes you along the Rhone River valley, which is lush, filled with fruit trees and the Lavaux Vineyards. So pretty!
  • Sion–Stop here for lunch on cobble-stoned Rue du Grand Pont, the main street in Sion’s old town, then walk to the two medieval castles that top Sion’s camel-like hills (see sketch below).
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Sion

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Sion: My photos didn’t capture this so I had to resort to this sketch. The two mountains topped with churches with Sion in between is what makes this small city unusual.

  •  Zermatt
    • Tour the Matterhorn Museum
    • Hike up out of Zermatt around the base of the Matterhorn
    • Shop: NOT! The shops are touristy and totally unappealing
    • Take the cogwheel train from Zermatt up, up, up to the Gornergrat (3,089 m) to see the highest peaks of the Alps and a glorious view of the Matterhorn (30 minutes each way)

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STAY in Zermatt

  • The Omnia Hotel: This is a great hotel! The photos don’t do it justice. Just go! You will love it. Get a room with a balcony facing the Matterhorn. Suggest Room X (that’s right, Room X), as its balcony is very private and it’s a big room. Plus, great service, e.g.: When I called down to the Omnia’s desk to ask for a restaurant suggestion for that night, our wedding anniversary, the concierge said he’d call me back in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, exactly (so Swiss!), he called, told me the time of our reservation, and said a bellman was at our bedroom door. When I opened the door, the bellman presented me with a raspberry enshrouded heart-shaped ice cream, and my husband’s and my favorite drinks. Impressive!
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The Omnia with its perfect Matterhorn backdrop

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The Omnia has a sleek James Bond vibe!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Zermatt

  • The restaurant at the Omnia has one Michelin star and is very good.
  • Restaurant Blatten–Imagine this: You have just hiked around the base of the Matterhorn, far from the madding crowds of Zermatt, and want a genuinely Swiss lunch, like fondue perhaps, up in the mountains. Restaurant Blatten is for you! It’s a 20 minute walk from Zermatt. The owners are fun and welcoming.
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Restaurant Blatten: Those people huddled in the lower right corner of this photo have views of the Matterhorn!

Interlaken area (recommend 3 nights)

Near Interlaken, my Swiss friend recommends Oberhoffen (3 hours drive from Zermatt), Grindelwald & Wengen. We stayed in Grindelwald.

STAY in Grindelwald

  • Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel, 4* by MySwitzerland, an excellent web site for finding hotels, train trips, and restaurants in Switzerland. The Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel (despite its overkill of a name) is up above Grindelwald (5 minute drive), in a small, small village, with big, big views. Get a room with a balcony and make sure you are in the building with the elevator, so you don’t have to lug your steamer trunk up stairs. The corner rooms are the largest. While the check-in area is not pretty, the rest of the hotel is attractively decorated.
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Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel: Check out those views!

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Observe the locals: While gazing at the big valley views from our Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel’s balcony, I saw the local farmers leading their cows down from the high mountain pastures to their homes for the winter on the lower part of the mountain. They walked right by the hotel. For this once-a-year occasion, the cows wore their extra big cowbells (an autumn tradition) and participated in a prettiest-cow contest–in the Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel’s parking lot! The winner was awarded a crown of flowers and a BIG bell, which its owner later mounted on its barn to advertise his fine-looking bovine. So great!
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cow bells awarded to the prettiest bovine

  • Hike the Heidi-like hills and mountains around Grindelwald. They are heaven! We took the cable car from Grindelwald Grund to Mannlichen and then hiked 1.5 hours to the train station at Kleine-Scheidegg. Huge, breath-taking views and relatively flat hike. Once you reach the K-S train station, you can have lunch and then take another train to Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe,” for even higher views of the mountain peaks. Walk a short way from there for lunch at Monchsjochhutte, as recommended to us by a local Heidi.
  • Take the 1.5-hour train trip from Grindelwald to Berne, Switzerland’s capital, for the day. Berne’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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medieval building in Berne’s old town

Zurich area: Braunwald, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen (recommend 4 nights)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Schaffhausen–I haven’t been here but my Swiss friend highly recommends this  town that was an important center of trade from the early Middle Ages. Its Old Town is lined with Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo buildings.
  • St. Gallen (1 afternoon)–Beautiful old town, whose cathedral and library (est. 9th century) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. St. Gallen’s origins go back to 612! The stunning library, called the Stiftsbibliothek, has 170,000 works, of which 400 date from before the year 1000.
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St. Gallen Cathedral

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St. Gallen

  • Braunwald–Our last stop was Braunwald. Park your car Linthal at the base of the mountain and take the 7-minute cable car ride up, up and away to the tiny Alpine village (300 residents) of Braunwald, where the Ahorn Hotel’s taxi will pick you up and drive 5 minutes to the lovely hotel…The main activities in Braunwald are hiking and skiing but it would also be a great spot to “chillax” and observe Alpine village life from the comfort of your balcony overlooking the mountains. The suites come with their own saunas!
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hiking above Braunwald

 

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charming bee houses we saw along the trails in and around Braunwald

STAY

Ahorn Chalet Hotel Braunwald–This hotel consists of two BIG suites in the main building and five chalets. The decor is attractive and chef is EXCELLENT. He and his wife expertly manage this nice hotel with world-class views of the mountains and hikes to match. This is remote and yet, you can be back within reach of civilization in 7 minutes by cable care.

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Ahorn Hotel in Braunwald

Switzerland Summer

(photo courtesy of Switzerland Tourism/Andre Meier))

TIP on Tipping in Switzerland: By law, service is included at restaurants, so just leave a little something (“pour boire”), i.e., round up the bill.

TIP on Paying by Credit Card: You will be asked whether you would like to do the cc transaction in Swiss francs or US dollars. Before departing for SW, ask your credit card company for their recommendation, because it may differ from card to card.

Literary Traveling Companions: “Heidi,” by Johanna Spyri, of course; “Daisy Miller,” by Henry James, takes place at the Hotel Des Trois Couronnes in Vevey; and highly recommend the “Eyewitness Guide Switzerland.”

 

Spain: Madrid & Andalucia-Ándale!

 

Almudena Cathedral

Cortijo del Marques Alumna Cathedral, Madrid, Contents provided by MADRID DESTINO TURISMO CULTURA Y NEGOCIO, S.A. available at www.esmadrid.com

STAY in Madrid

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Ritz Madrid

  • Hotel Ritz Wonderfully stylish designer Carolina Herrera stays here every time she goes to Madrid (per Departures 2012). Elle Decor also recommended it, as do I. Particularly heavenly is the outdoor patio behind the hotel!
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Ritz’s lovely patio

  • Casa de Madrid Carolina Herrera’s daughter reserved this for her wedding (per Departures 2012). Elle Decor also recommended it and described it as, “Antiques and 18th century portraits grace this luxury B&B in a grand apartment near the Royal Palace.” Website currently under construction but the few photos I found (like below) in travel mag’s look very pretty! 7 rooms, moderately priced
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Casa de Madrid

SEE THE SIGHTS in Madrid

  • Prado (Museo Nacional del Prado)world-class & world-famous art collection
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Prado–Contents provided by MADRID DESTINO TURISMO CULTURA Y NEGOCIO, S.A. available at www.esmadrid.com

  • Flamenco–“On Thursdays, Laray (Calle de los Hermanos Becquer 6) is the insider dance venue–but the show won’t start until after midnight,” per Carolina Herrera (Departures 2012)
flamenco

Contents provided by MADRID DESTINO TURISMO CULTURA Y NEGOCIO, S.A. available at www.esmadrid.com

  • Hidden Treasure, per CH–“Cinephiles shouldn’t miss Cine Dore (Calle de Santa Isabel 3) housed in a gorgeous 1920s theater.”
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Las Ventas

  • See a bullfight at Las Ventas–While the tradition and symbolism of bullfights are interesting & the spectacle dramatic, I felt sad for the bull but it’s worth seeing once.

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EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Madrid

  • La Tasquita de Enfrente (Calle de la Ballesta, 6)–“best tapas,” per Carolina Herrera (2012, Departures)
  • Samm (Calle de Carlos Caamano 3)–for paella, per Carolina Herrera (2012, Departures)

Cocktails & Dancing in Madrid

  • Le Cabrera (Calle de Barbara de Braganza 2)–“You can’t beat a gin and tonic at Le Cabrera,” per Carolina Herrera (2012, Departures)
  • The pool at Room Mate Oscar hotel (Plaza Vasquez de Mella 12)–also per CH
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Room Mate Oscar roof terrace: I want to go here immediately!

  • Evaristo Club (11 Calle Marques de Santa Ana)–per Travel + Leisure (2013)
  • Hit the dance floor at Charada Club de Baile —Travel + Leisure (2013)
  • “For one of the city’s most cinematic views, head to the rooftop terrace at the cultural center, Circulo de Bellas Artes  (42 Calle de Alcala),” per Travel + Leisure (2013)

SHOP in Madrid

  • For espadrilles, Lobo (Calle de Toledo 30) “is the place for the more traditional shoe, in every color. For more fashion-forward styles, try Castaner (Calle de Claudio Coello 51),” per Carolina Herrera.
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If & when you buy these sexy Castaner espadrilles, you will look exactly like her!

  • Sunday’s outdoor flea market El Rastro for antiques (recommended by CH in Departures, 2012, as well as Travel + Leisure 2013)

ANDALUCÍA

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Sevilla

SEVILLE (“Sevilla”)–300 miles SW of Madrid, Seville is the capital of Andalusia and the fourth-largest city in Spain (pop. 700,000+). “Though its history dates back to the Roman times, an invasion by the Moors in the eighth century left a cultural imprint that largely defines the city today.”  (Travel+Leisure, 2014)

STAY in or near Seville

  • Trasierra (Cazalla de la Sierra)–“Tucked away in Seville’s foothills, this tiny whitewashed town is a favorite of Carolina Herrera, who stays at the 16th-century hacienda Trasierra. It’s the perfect jumping-off point for exploring nearby Seville.” (per Travel+Leisure, 2014) The town of Cazalla de le Sierra is located 80 km. north of Seville and looks intriguing. Trasierra is a 19-room inn that has received rave reviews by excellent sources (interior designer, Mark D. Sikes, the New York Times Style magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler). I am so in love with the photos and feel of Trasierra that I have posted three photos below, as well as several more at the very end of this post*…check them out!
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Trasierra

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Trasierra

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Trasierra

  • Corral del Rey (Seville) –“a chic, low-key boutique hotel in a restored 17th-century palace”  (Travel+Leisure, 2014). This is a sister property of the Hacienda de San Rafael (Pippa Middleton’s b-day bash location, described below). Its website looks okay, not amazing.
  • Hotel Alfonso XIII (Seville) Built in 1929 and renovated, this is the grand dame hotel in Seville’s city center. The website looks great: lots of Spanish tiles and character!
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Hotel Alfonso XIII

  • Hacienda de San Rafaeltranquil, rustic, luxury hotel set in an olive grove 40 minutes south of Seville; site of Pippa Middleton’s 40th birthday party weekend; 11 bedrooms, three suites, three pools, bougainvillea-lined courtyard, gardens, al fresco dining, plus spa services and flamenco classes  (per Hello magazine, 2013). While at Hacienda de San Rafael, Pippa and her friends visited “Cortijo de Arenales, a traditional Andalusian estate about 45 minutes from Seville. Owned by the Count of La Maza, the beautiful estate maintains the traditions of Andalusian country life. Pippa’s party were given a tour …and taught about the fighting bulls that are bred on the estate and roam around its 7,000 acres.” (Hello magazine, 2013) Check out the other good cultural excursions on HdSF’s website, like touring the great white hilltop towns of the region!
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Hacienda de San Rafael

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Hacienda de San Rafael: I bet Pippa put on a good party here!

SEE THE SIGHTS of Seville

Following is a partial listing to whet your appetite:

  • La Giralda & the Cathedral–12th century bell tower, originally built as a minaret during the Moorish period; a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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La Giralda–Seville

  • The Alcazar –also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Alcazar is a royal palace originally built by Moorish Muslim kings, one of the most beautiful in Spain, and it is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe
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Plaza de Espana, Seville

  • Plaza de Espana – The beautiful Plaza de España, Seville, was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. Its tiled wall, benches, floors and walkways are an example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture. Feast your eyes below…
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Plaza de Espana, Seville

  • Basilica de la Macarena –has one of the most revered sculptures in Seville, the 17th-century Virgin of Hope, which locals call La Macarena. La Macarena is the patron saint of matadors and a favorite of Spanish gypsies.
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Basilica de la Macarena

  • Casa de PilatosDuke of Medinaceli’s 16th century residence with STUNNING arabesque mosaics; considered to be prototypical Andalusian palace

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Case de Pilatos (photo courtesy of Fundacion Casa Ducal de Medinaceli)

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Case de Pilatos (photo courtesy of Fundacion Casa Ducal de Medinaceli)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Seville

  • La Monedatraditional tapas bar near the cathedral that is a favorite with locals (Hello magazine, 2013)
  • El Rinconcillo–for tapas, “the oldest tavern in Seville, dating from 1670…as old-school as it gets”  (Travel+Leisure, 2014)
  • Eslava–“at the other end of the tapas spectrum, Eslava, hip, modern joint, draws a smart urban crowd”…”the tourists come here early; the locals come late.”  (Travel+Leisure, 2014)

Elsewhere in Andalucía

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Granada

  • Granada–I could find no good hotels in Granada proper. Years ago, we stayed in the parador, a former convent called the Hotel San Francisco and it was dumpy, though its website looks as if they’ve made improvements. HOWEVER, it is on the grounds of The Alhambra, which is a sight to behold! It is the only medieval Islamic palace preserved in its entirety, with beautiful  gardens and magical architecture. Another option: Located 18 km. north of Granada is Cortijo del Marques, a former convent turned small hotel in the midst of olive groves.  TIP: Advise you buy tickets to the Alhambra the day before to avoid the lines. Staying on the grounds facilitates that as you can go to the ticket office at off hours or late in the day when there are no lines.
  • Cordoba–This smallish city’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and these are always good. It has been occupied since 42,ooo BC, ruled by the Moors for many years, and then conquered by Christians. Its Great Mosque of Córdoba and current cathedral, alongside the Roman bridge are wonderfully memorable and definitely worthy of one night. STAY  at the 53-room Hospes Palacio del Bailio, as recommended by Andrew Harper and Tablet Hotels.
  • Carmona–Carmona has been continuously inhabited for 5,000 years, is 15 minutes from Seville International Airport, and has a lovely hotel, the Casa de Carmona, where we stayed years ago. Nice hotel and nice little city!

Of Note:

Should you prefer an upscale tour to driving/self-guided exploring, Al Andalus is a renovated, beautiful old train that has several different tour routes through Spain, including an Andalusian route. The Al Andalus is a luxury train finished in 1930 and designed in France for England’s royal family. “There are five routes: two run along the mountain-sea routes of the north, two more traverse the central areas of the country, and one in the south, where the Al Andalus stops in Seville, Jerez, and Granada and at other monuments to Spain’s Islamic past.” (Departures magazine, 2015)

Ole!

Ole!

*MORE PHOTOS FOLLOW OF Trasierra, BECAUSE THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL THAT I COULDN’T RESIST…

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Trasierra

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Trasierra

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Trasierra

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Trasierra

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Trasierra

-Posted May 2016

London (part 2/2): Eat, Drink & Shop

Organized by neighborhood…

NIGHT LIFE

Leicester Square & Soho

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  • The Crazy Coqs (20 Sherwood St., near Piccadilly Circus)– on the edge of London’s theater district–small, attractive, art deco nightclub (above); especially fun is open-mic night, when theater professionals and talented mere mortals perform (while it’s usually on Thursday nights, you may want to check the website to confirm the schedule)
  • Theater: Click here to find out what’s on!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Chelsea

  • Five Fields (8-9 Blacklands  Terrace)–EXCELLENT, excellent food and service in elegant, initmate room on a charming street
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Five Fields restaurant in Chelsea

  • Tom’s Kitchen (27 Cale St.)–deelish comfort food, casual but nice ambience on charming Cale St., which is parallel to the King’s Road
  • The Orange (37 Pimlico Rd.)–The BEST gin and tonic I had on our most recent trip to London! They plopped a date in the bottom of the high-ball glass and draped a bunch of bright red currants on the side=pretty and delicious. Also, good food and convivial atmosphere.
  • Peter Jones department store (on Sloane Square)– has a decent cafeteria on its top floor with amazing views of London; good for a quick bite while shopping

Hammersmith

  • River Café (Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd.)–The River Café has long been adored by many and justifiably so, as it has a relaxing, peaceful, low-key stylish ambience & GREAT food. Plus, the staff are into it in the best way! The taxi ride from central London is long-ish but worth it.
The River Cafe, Hammersmith, London.

The River Cafe, Hammersmith, London.

Kensington 

  • Walton Street–any place on this charming, short street for a good, low-key (but not boring) time, e.g., The Enterprise is nice and fun, and a hip, pulsating bar is just down the street.

Mayfair

  • Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill (11-15 Swallow St.)–Opened in 1916, Bentley’s serves shellfish, classics (fish pie, for ex.), as well as more exotic fare. Sit at the ground-floor oyster bar.

Victoria

  • Thomas Cubitt (44 Elizabeth St.)–nice, informal restaurant on a pretty street

Soho

  • Quo Vadis (26-29 Dean St.)–Departures (2015) highly recommended Quo Vadis, so of course we bee-lined for it and it did not disappoint: SUPERB food, service & ambience!
Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

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

  • Rules (35 Maiden Lane)–Rules is attractive & the oldest restaurant in London. Several scenes from “Downton Abbey” were filmed here, when Lady Mary and Lady Edith met friends in London. Check out the 2nd & 3rd floors.
  • Brasserie Zédel (20 Sherwood St.)–beautiful and very deco w/good food

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The following restaurants get a lot of good press, though I haven’t yet eaten there:

Soho

  • Ham Yard Hotel (1 Ham Yard)–Departures (2015), among others, recommended this happy, fun, stylish décor; buzzing with people when we were there at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon
  • Bocca di Lupo (12 Archer St.)–Departures (2015) recommended it so we stopped by & checked it out between meals. It is small, attractive, Italian, w/welcoming staff.
  • Barrafina (54 Frith St.)–tapas, several locations, don’t accept reservations, lines

Marlebone

The 3 “hippest, of-the-moment spots,” according to The [English] Times food critic (Departures 2015):

  • Dinerama (19 Great Eastern Street, on the edge of the financial quarter & Shoreditch)–“the smokingest ticket in town”
  • Kitty Fisher’s (10 Shepherd Market, Mayfair)–“the atmosphere is classic old-London bohemian” & the food is “at the cutting edge of current style”
  • Colony Grill Room (8 Balderton St., Grosvenor)–very snazzy 1920’s deco décor in a nice hotel (The Beaumont)

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PUBS

Chelsea

  • Fox & Hounds (on Passmore St., @ Graham Terrace, parallel to Lower Sloane near Sloane Square)–Located on a quiet street near Sloane Square, the Fox & Hounds is a small, very pleasant, un-touristy pub, with beautiful summer/spring/fall flowers, as you can see below

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Belgravia

  • Star Tavern (Belgrave Mews West)–charming mews location, nice pub
  • Horse and Groom (7 Groom Place)–close to Buckingham Palace, in a mews, closed on weekends
  • Wilton Arms (71 Kinnerton St.)–really attractive mews pub with tons of hanging baskets of flowers out front

Wapping

Prospect of Whitby (2)

Prospect of Whitby

  • The Prospect of Whitby (57 Wapping Wall, between the Tower of London & Canary Wharf)–London’s oldest riverside (great views of the Thames) pub dating back to 1520, though out-of-the-way. Originally frequented by those involved in life on the river and sea, the pub was a notorious haunt for smugglers, thieves and pirates. Other notable customers included Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and artists Whistler and Turner. Especially memorable: on the water side of the pub is the gallows, where unfortunates were hung and gradually drowned as the Thames rose!

COCKTAILS at Nice Hotels

  • Claridge’s–Claridge’s has two bars. Go to the smaller one with its own, separate entrance from the street. The bartender opens a bottle of champagne every six minutes. Elegant & full of life!
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Claridge’s bar: Shake that thing!

SHOP IT!

St. James

  • Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly)–SUCH a nice store! You will simply have to visit. Several floors, over 300 years old and stylish, F&M sells food, home goods & some fashion. WAY better store than Harrod’s!
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This recent window at Fortnum & Mason will give you an idea of its style.

 

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another Fortnum & Mason window

 

Fortnum & Mason Ground Floor

This photo of Fortnum & Mason’s ground floor does not do the store justice. Go up to its other floors for the best eye candy…clothes, gifts, a sweet tea salon. Go down for a small, refined, ladies-who-lunch restaurant.

  • Jermyn Street–See the beautiful men’s shirts, suits, and socks shops, plus George F.  Trumpers for elegant, old-fashioned shaving products; shop the arcades off Jermyn, as well as Lock & Co. Hatters  around the corner; above Lock, see Rachel Trevor-Morgan’s  millinery (she has designed over 65 hats for Queen Elizabeth over the past decade) at 18 Crown Passage, one of the oldest pedestrian streets in central London

Knightsbridge

  • Walton Street–short, quiet street w/some lovely, little boutiques, including Departures (2015) fav, Alex Engle (91 Walton), which is “laid out like the home of an impossibly chic friend.” Sounds great!
  • Beauchamp Place–Check out the pretty dress shops, as well as the Map House, which sells charming prints.

Chelsea

  • John Sandoe (10 Blacklands Terrace, just off the Kings Rd.)–perfectly wonderful small store, with knowledgeable staff…just what a bookstore should be!

Sandoe green bicycle

  • Sauntering down the King’s Road: lots of good boutiques
  • Sloane Square–tempting stores on and off the square, including on Ellis Street, West Halkin and Sloane Streets, as well as Lower Sloane
  • Oliver Brown (75 Lower Sloane St.)–very British: OB rents and sells top hats and waistcoats (in gorgeous colors and patterns) & also sells some ladies’ clothes, including hunting skirts (long, of course), as well as other traditional English attire, of the finest quality
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Oliver Brown–Lady Mary and Matthew would have bought their hunting clothes here.

  • Pimlico Road (between Lower Sloane & Ebury St., which runs into Elizabeth St.)–sophisticated, small decorating shops with living-large style. For example, Linley (as in, nephew of QE) is a beautiful store with especially intriguing furniture (the look=sleek, masculine, updated-deco) and everything stylish to accompany it, including stunningly-crafted wooden boxes for cigars, jewelry, and must-have “vice boxes” (all yours for the low, low price of 7,000+ pounds!)

LINLEY Belgravia Flagship Store

Between Victoria & Belgravia

  • Elizabeth Street (between Ebury Mews & Chester Row)–lovely, elegant boutiques, including Philip Treacy, the “king of royal wedding hats,” per the Irish Independent (2011); click through to read his fascinating bio
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stunning Philip Treacy creation

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and yet another PT stunner

Mayfair

  • Maggs Bros. Ltd. (46 Curzon St.)–has one of the largest collections of antiquarian books in the world. Departures magazine dedicated a whole article to Maggs in its 2015 issue focused on the joys of London.
  • G. Heywood Hill (10 Curzon St.)–Wonderful bookshop with an interesting past: “Nancy, eldest of the famous Mitford sisters, worked here during the second half of World War Two. Her gregarious character and witty repartee helped establish Heywood Hill’s shop as a centre of English social and literary life during the 1940s,” (from GHH website). QE awarded GHH the Royal Warrant in 2011.
  • S. J. Phillips (139 New Bond St.)–stunning, stunning jewelry

Soho

  • Liberty (Regent St.)–In addition to its famed small flower-patterned scarves, this beautiful store sells cutting edge fashion, as well as housewares, notions and even books.

Notting Hill

  • Portobello Flea Market–really crowded but lots of interesting things; go to nearby Geale’s (2 Farmer St.), circa 1939, afterwards for a nice lunch/dinn post-shopping
  • Independent bookshops (per Departures 2015)–
    • Notting Hill Bookshop (13 Blenheim Crescent)–click through and you will probably recognize this as the bookshop owned by Hugh Grant in  “Notting Hill”

For HOTELS & SIGHTS to See, go to my London (part 1/2) post.

-posted May 2016

 

 

.

London (part 1/2): Hotels & Sights

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Pip Pip, Cheerio, Let’s Go! Here’s the scoop, based on many articles in my travel file and over 30 trips to London:

STAY

Chelsea

Sloane Square Hotel 2013

Sloane Square Hotel

  • Sloane Square HotelIf modern décor in a great location is your thing, the SSH is attractive and sits right on Sloane Square, with its wonderful shops off the Square on Kings Road and on Pimlico Road, plus plays at the Royal Court Theatre right on Sloane Square, plus the nearby & lovely Chelsea Physic Garden, good restaurants, and a tube stop on the Square). Request a room overlooking always-buzzing and stylish Sloane Square.
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The Draycott

  • The Draycott Hotel–Two blocks from Sloane Square, the Draycott is refined, homey elegance, with traditional décor. This article from the HuffPost describes it best.The rooms are named after famous stage actors and your name will be inserted into the discreet name plate on your guest room door. Nothing flashy here, plus it is reasonably priced (though not cheap, because nothing good in London is). Request a  room with a balcony looking onto beautiful quiet Cadogan Square.

NOTE: If you are staying at the Draycott, drop by the nice bar at 11 Cadogan Gardens, a Small Luxury Hotel half a block away. Here’s what it looks like:

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11 Cadogan Gardens bar

  • The Sloane Clubis my personal fav, so if you can swing a letter of intro to this private club, go for it! In addition to individual rooms, they also have apartments. Great location just off of Sloane Square on Lower Sloane.

Knightsbridge

  • The Knightsbridge (10 Beaufort Gardens)–stylish, cheery, townhouse hotel decorated by its owner, the fabulously creative and successful Kit Kemp!
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The Knightsbridge Hotel

St. James

  • The Stafford (16-18 St. James Pl.)–VERY nice, old-school townhouse hotel with cozy, elegant bar. This photo shows the mews rooms (left). Ours was called The Daisy room because, in a former life, it was a stable for a horse named Daisy.
Blue Ball Courtyard

The Stafford

Following hotels get lots of positive press:

Mayfair

  • Claridge’s (Brook St.)–formal, traditional, fabled past, art deco, très élégant! Two beautiful bars. “…the suite with the prettiest of all balconies is 406,” per Departures (2015).

Claridge's lobby

  • The Connaught (Carlos Pl.)–very nice, with a buzzing, snazzy bar! This is where the Middletons stayed for Kate’s wedding. “The Apartment suite is London’s best example of making a hotel feel like a private home,” (Departures 2015)
  • Beaumont Hotel (Brown Hart Gardens)–Masculine art deco, upscale, nice neighborhood very near Grosvenor Square.

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Soho

  • Ham Yard Hotel (1 Ham Yard)–“the happiest hotel in London,” per Departures magazine (2015) PLUS beautifully decorated by owner Kit Kemp. The lobby was a-buzz with stylish people drinking tea and tasting champagne at 3:00 pm on the weekday afternoon when we popped in. It is a fun, happy place!
HYH Bar Orangery with plants MR

Ham Yard Hotel

SEE THE SIGHTS

London has too many fascinating sites to list here. Following are my fav’s, organized by neighborhood, from least obvious to most:

Embankment

  • Somerset House–history, fashion, art, good food, sublime terrace for drinks overlooking the Thames…it’s all here; SH is a former royal palace on the Thames, with four huge buildings and a central courtyard, in which Fashion Week’s fashion shows take place; the four buildings house art and fashion exhibits. PLUS Departures (Oct. 2015) recently named Spring restaurant at SH as one of 25 “tables of note.”

The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House © Jeff Knowles 2

Chelsea

  • Chelsea Physic Garden–LOVE this walled garden founded in 1673 to provide plants for medicinal purposes to the neighboring Royal Hospital; today, a section of its garden is organized by plants with healing ingredients for specific ailments. The CPG has a simple café, the Tangerine Dream Café, with very good food; suggest you make a reservation if you want to dine in the garden on a weekend, as fashionable Londoners fill up the tables for pastoral lunches…nice gift shop, too!
CPG August 20th-105

Chelsea Physic Garden

  • Chelsea Flower Show (every May): HEAVEN ON EARTH because so fabulously over the top, the best-of-the-best horticulture specimens and garden designs, beauty and brains meet creativity. The photos below say it best!
RHS Chelsea Flowe Show

Chelsea pensioners look at ‘Peter Beales Roses’  at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London

RHS Chelsea Flowe Show

Two men look at a flower display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London

Westminster

  • The Houses of Parliament–in session: House of Lords and House of Commons (the H of C is better because they have more meaningful debates). Be sure to get tickets in advance through the U.S. Embassy because you do not want to wait in those long lines. The very best ticket is for the “Prime Minister’s Question Time,” though hard to get. No line or ticket needed for the House of Lords, whose ceremonial chamber is worth a short visit.
  • Westminster Abbey–lots of famous people buried here, gorgeous in and of itself, PLUS Kate and Wills were married here, so you gotta go!
  • Buckingham Palace–The public is allowed inside once a year, in summer when the royal family is in Scotland. Otherwise, you are limited to watching the changing of the guard (not a life-altering experience), visiting the Queen’s Galleries (traditional, top quality, art), and the coach collection in the Royal Mews.
  • St. James Park–In front of Buckingham Palace, this is one of London’s several beautiful public parks.
  • The Tate Britain–fantastic, traditional collection in classic building
  • Churchill’s Underground War Cabinet Rooms–I found these fascinating. My husband, who reads a lot of history, found them superficial. Go anyway! They’re great.
The Map Room at IWMCMCWR. 7th October 2009. Shot for Film Location.

The Map Room at Churchill’s Underground War Rooms

©IWM

Directly Across the Thames from Westminster

  • The Eye–This is a ferris wheel whose views are like looking at a giant map of London. It takes about an hour to go around and that’s because it does so verrrrrrrrrrry slowly. Each “car” is clean and big, so not claustrophobic. I did not wait in line either time I went, so you probably won’t have to, either.

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Southwark

  • The Tate Modern–art museum in a very modern building with very contemporary exhibits/collection

Kensington

  • The Victoria & Albert Museum (“V and A”)–has exhibits on any and everything related to design, be it design of wrought iron hinges, sterling silver or fashions; huge and something for everyone here; they even have an ice skating rink in the winter

St. James

Holborn

  • British Museum–historic artifacts on a major scale, e.g. THE Elgin Marbles are here, as is THE Rosetta Stone=fascinating and transporting; if you are short on time, the museum has a Top 10 pamphlet that directs you to the highlights.

Street walking: Yes, I am listing walking as a sight in and of itself because it’s a great way to soak up the many, charming details of London streets and architecture and style and history.

TIP: If you like to see the sights on foot, pick up a London A-Z, the small, detailed map book with every street in London, available at most bookstores and newspaper kiosks.

DAY TRIPS

  • Hampton Court: Henry VIII’s castle with beautiful garden; recommend you go one-way by boat (depending on the tide) & the other way via rail.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew–impressive and historic
  • Greenwich’s Royal Observatory–as in, Greenwich Mean Time! Go if you’re interested in clocks, longitude & the British Naval Museum. Take a boat (make sure you’re going with the tide; recommend you pick up at Westminster or the Eye, for best city views) one way and the tube the other way,

WARDROBE

London is dressier than most US cities. You will see more women in heels and skirts here than in US cities. Also, they are not big on bright colors…except for men’s shirts, socks and waistcoats. Lots of black and grey assembled with panache.images

For RESTAURANT & SHOPPING recommendations, go to my “London: part 2/2 post.”

-posted May 2016

 

 

Malta Love Letter

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http://www.viewingmalta.com(image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

The immense, fortified harbor of Valletta is the vision most often associated with Malta–and it is there, in all its glory–but there is so much more. Recommend five full days here to explore its charm, history and grandeur.

STAY

  • Xara Palace (Mdina)–Our friend-who-lives-in-Malta describes the XP as “a lovely, old, classic palazzo hotel in the center of the oldest walled cities in Malta (& one of the oldest walled cities in Europe, pre-dating the Knights of Malta by at least 1,000 years).” He says it’s the best hotel in Malta. More important 😉, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed here when in Malta. Big views of the countryside from nice hotel rooms. Lovely to walk around Mdina at night after the tourists leave. Mdina is a 30-minute taxi ride from Valletta. We stayed at this Relais & Chateaux hotel last month and loved it. (17 rooms)
FACADE

Xara Palace

  • Casa Ellul (Valletta)-Despite the tacky art in its lobby, this is an attractive hotel in Valletta’s center, near the main tourist sights. It is a member of the usually-great Small Luxury Hotels group and Mr. & Mrs. Smith like it, too. (8 suites)

SEE THE SIGHTS

Air Malta’s website provides an excellent overview of the sights to see. Here’s what Mimi’s Travel File recommends you do on your fabulous trip to lovely Malta…

Hire a guide to drive you around the beautiful countryside. The Xara Palace can arrange this.

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17th cent. chapel on dramatic Dingli Cliffs (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Walk along the Dingli Cliffs to see the small farming plots sweeping down to the beautiful rocky coastline…and be swept away to another time
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Hagar Qim Temple (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Visit 5,000 year old temples, like Mnajdra and Hagar Qim (above)!
  • See the beautiful Blue Grotto (below)…
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Blue Grotto (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Have your guide deposit you in Marsaxlokk, an old fishing village, for lunch at a restaurant on the harbor, filled with colorful fishing boats.
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Marsaxlokk (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Mdina-Spend the afternoon wandering around Mdina, the first capital of Malta and small enough to cover in an afternoon.
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Mdina (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

Mdina is a hilltop, walled, city fortified from as long ago as 1,000 BC by the Phoenicians. The Arabs arrived in the 9th century and named the town Medina (“medina” is Arabic for “walled city”).

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Mdina city gate (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

Lots of beautiful buildings (17th cent. mansions of Maltese nobility), peaceful streets, serene feel…

Mdina

Mdina (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Valletta — Explore Malta’s clean, low-crime, very attractive capital city, Valletta (pop. 7,000)
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Valletta’s fortifications (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

One of the first things you will notice about Malta is its massive forts, especially in Valletta. Due to its strategic location in the  middle of the Mediterranean and its deep, safe harbors, Malta has been fought over, time and again, for thousands of years.

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Valletta’s Grand Harbour (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

The fortifications that can be seen today come from two distinct periods: those of the Knights of Malta and those of the British era. Visit the National War Museum at Ft. St. Elmo. Malta was awarded the St. George Cross for heroism by King George VI for having withstood over 3,000 air attacks during WWII…a far greater number than the air attacks experienced by London.

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Valletta: Prime Minister’s office building (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

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Valletta: distinctive enclosed balconies on 16th & 17th cent. buildings (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

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Valletta: Renzo Piano-designed Parliament Building (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For the scoop on Maltese cuisine (traditional meals, etc.), go to Air Malta’s website, as it provides detailed background info. The following were our favorites…

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view of Harbour Club from the water

  • The Harbour Club–Sitting right on Valletta’s grand harbor, this restaurant provides beautiful views, good food, attractive interior decor, indoor and outdoor seating, stylish & upscale…glorious!
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view from Harbour Club of the water

  • Trattoria da Pippo (136, Melita Street)-FUN, small, in the heart of Valletta, lots of locals lingering over tables of good food

Recommend five full days, as follows: There is so much more to see and do on the Maltese islands. I have merely scratched the surface of its fabulousness.

Day 1: Tour the countryside (SE & central Malta, including Marsaxlokk, pre-historic temples Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, Blue Grotto, and Dingli Cliffs); wander Mdina after tour

Day 2: Valletta

Day 3: Wander Vittoriosa, the city across harbor from Valletta

Day 4: Tour NE Malta, then hop evening ferry to Gozo & spend the night at either the Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort (Our friend-who-lives-in-Malta says, “I am told that the Kempinski is the best…& most attractive”) or Hotel Ta’Cenc (click through to view website)

Day 5: Explore Gozo (“small, easy-to-reach via a ferry every 15 minutes from mainland Malta; clean, well-managed island with authentic feel,” per our friend-who-lives-in-Malta)

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Gozo (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

-posted May 2016