Italy Now, Safely

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sunny vineyard in Italy (photo courtesy of Yosika @ happy holiday.travel )

Picture yourself sitting outside in a balmy breeze…ever so slightly buzzed with a glass of wine from a small Italian vineyard, of which only the cognoscenti have heard.

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under-the-radar vineyard in Tuscany (photo courtesy of Poggio Rubino Winery)

Wine from the Gods

You have cleverly chosen a bottle from Poggio Rubino, a winery in Tuscany recommended by Mary Ervolina, my friend who goes to Italy every year to find the best food, wine and hotels. It’s her business! More about Mary in our next post.

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Montalcino, Italy (photo courtesy of Poggio Rubino)

Basking in the warmth of the sun, you are contemplating…Montalcino…ancient, hilltop town, with big green views of Tuscany. Can you see the vineyard that produced your wine?

Music Transports You

Gently playing in the background is lilting, Italian music. You are transported to those heady post-WWII days made for dancing, when Italian consumption boomed and life was beautiful.

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Domenico Modugno sings, “Volare!” (photo courtesy of issimoissimo.com)

“After exiting the war in shambles and starting from that moment, Italy boomed…mothers decided that each kitchen needed a refrigerator, fathers lined up in front of the Fiat dealers…an age made for dancing, playing pinball, drinking Coca-Cola and listening to music in the jukebox. This is the soundtrack of the miracolo italiano (Italian miracle).” (from issimoissimo.com)

Tuscany Food Bliss

Montalcino’s hills are alive with vineyards, cheese makers and olive groves, owned by families who’ve been lovingly perfecting their products for generations.

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Tuscany’s hills (photo courtesy of Travel Across Italy)

Cheese from Heaven

A second glass of the Poggio Rubino? Certo! Who can resist? A little cheese would taste sooo good with this. How about some Pecorino from Fior di Montalcino?

I wonder how they make cheese, you muse. After watching this lovely, short video, you now know, and are inspired. “I want to go meet the goat from whence this glorious Pecorino was produced!” Surrounded by sunflowers, Fior di Montalcino is near “your” winery. No wonder they go so well together!

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Sunflowers surrounding our Pecorino cheese producer (photo courtesy of Fior di Montalcino)

Olive Oil with Clout

Homemade bread and olive oil would be perfect right now. The Frantoio Franci family has been producing olive oil in these hills for generations. And won over 500 awards!

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olive groves in Tuscany (photo courtesy of Frantoio Franci)

Saffron and Pasta

By now, you’re contemplating your third glass of wine.

Basta!” It’s time for pasta…with saffron, of course! Why saffron? Because it’s a product of Tuscany.  You’re going to have trofie with saffron and zucchini, a recipe from Pura Crocus, a saffron producer in nearby Val d’Orcia.

Buy the Best 

And this is how we go to Italy now, safely: We buy the best wine, olive oil, cheese and saffron from the best small producers in Italy! We create a little bit of Italy in our homes now, after downloading that great playlist

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Because it’s a whole lot more fun to buy from a small producer in Italy than Whole Foods (photo courtesy of Discover Italy)

Click here to buy, buy, buy! And, remember, Mimi’s Travel File makes nothing on your orders…although, I would be happy to come over for dinner.

Italy Later, Safely

My next post will feature a great itinerary by Mary Ervolina for our in person trip to Italy!

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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.

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(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

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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)

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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!