Courchevel 1850

Last week I discovered the most chic winter destination in France. Courchevel is a ski resort in the French Alps. Part of Les Trois Vallées, it’s the largest in the world. Courchevel alone is made of up of three levels, the highest being 1850 meters up in the mountains. This was where we were headed. Having only skied in the U.S. and Italy, I was looking forward to the adventure.

Just over three hours after leaving Paris I arrived to hotel Le Strato, set high up in the mountains. This five-star alpine hideaway revealed stunning views of the Alps, with skiers passing by on the paths just outside my window. I was in snow-capped heaven! I breathed in the fresh mountain air as I settled into my luxurious room.

This family run hotel is one-of-a-kind. Opened in 2009 by “a young lady of over 80,” it was the realization of a dream for Jeannine Boix-Vives. It’s named for the Strato skis that had contributed so much to the Rossignol brand’s fame, a company once owned by Jeannine and her family. As she so wisely states “dreaming alone will not determine your destiny.” Every detail in the 25 suites is taken into consideration, from the elegant modern decor to the unique comforts (catching up on the news from the bathtub, for one). The unrivaled spa uses Sothys products and features two saunas, a steam-room, jacuzzi, gym and indoor pool. (My signature massage was heavenly!) I was thrilled too, to take an invigorating yoga class, adding to the bliss I already felt.

Symbolic of the three generations running Le Strato, family paintings hang in the library, dining room and along the corridors, complimented by wooden sculptures and artwork collected from around the world.

What makes Le Strato even more of a haute destination is its Michelin-starred gastronomy.  Restaurant Baumanière 1850 is run by Jean-André Charial (owner of the famous Michelin 2-star restaurant l’Oustau de Baumanière in Baux-de-Provence). With executive chef Lowell Mesnier working closely with chef Glenn Viel and Jean-André Charial, the food alone is worth the trip. Having already tasted Glenn’s cuisine on my visit to Baumanière, I knew I would dine like a queen. Every evening I looked forward to the gourmet feast following a cocktail at the cozy bar, live music filling the space. Breakfast in the same regal setting was an introduction into local tastes.

Ready to discover the mountains, I headed to the ski room for my gear, booked a teacher to guide me through the slopes and headed down the hill directly from the hotel. With many blue pistes to choose from, as well as a handful of red for those more advanced, I felt completely at ease. This was paradise!

Guided by the sun, we skied the smooth snow all the way down to the village and took the chair lift back up, with views of Mont Blanc in the distance. It took a few years, but finally I was feeling that ski high unique to those dedicated to the sport. I was elated and couldn’t wait to return with my expert Italian skier!

I even encountered art in the mountains during my first ever racket walk, a healthy alternative to skiing. “Doggy John” by painter and sculptor Julien Marinetti stands 175 cm at 2238 meters high.

Before the return to Paris I took a petit pause on the terrace, filled with gratitude at having experienced this tasteful family chalet that honored one woman’s life, while providing happiness to so many others.

Faena District

Having been to Miami over a dozen times for both work and play (namely Art Basel for the latter), I usually found myself nestled into a hotel in South Beach, along with everyone else who escaped to this sunny enclave. This time however, I explored a new area, removed from the crowds and with a charm and distinction all its own. Ten minutes north of South Beach in Mid-Beach sits the recently coined Faena district, Miami’s latest It spot. Having experienced the Faena Hotel in Buenos Aires, I could already envision the artful grandeur. Making a name for itself in late 2014 thanks to Argentian entrepreneur Alan Faena and his NY based business partner, this district includes two hotels and a performing arts theater.  I was eager to discover the historic boutique hotel Casa Claridge’s, or Casa Faena, once an apartment building built in 1926.

Upon entering you feel transported to another world, one in Spain or even Morocco. The luminous library in the hotel’s inner courtyard is well-equipped with literature and design books. I could easily have spent the afternoon here, or reading on the roof deck, but there was a beach umbrella calling my name. We quickly settled into our room, a spacious King with balcony and views to the beach, the next stop.

Little makes me happier than a shady spot in front of the sea. With so many festivals and activities going on during Miami’s high-season, we were still able to avoid the crowds and revel in what felt like a private beach. Once the sun set we headed to the laid-back Broken Shaker, a stellar bar nearby that opened in 2012, and dined at their new 27 restaurant. The next morning we were back on the beach, with just a quick walk to the Faena family’s latest addition, Hotel Faena, opened a year ago.


This modern hotel, a contrast to complement its historic predecessor, was just the place I’d like to check-in to for a few more days. Complete with gym, spa, pool and two gourmet restaurants, there was much to discover. And let’s not forget the neighboring Faena Theater, reminiscent of Old Hollywood. A destination unto itself, was there really any reason to ever leave the Faena District?

Weekend in the 8th

I’m of the opinion that in order to truly appreciate where you live, and not take it for granted or let it wear you down (yes, even Paris) you must once in a while play tourist.  So every year I plan a local weekend escape for my Italian and I. This year it was across town to Hôtel Daniel in the 8th arrondissement. This Relais & Châteaux haven hidden just behind the Champs-Élysées and steps away from rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoréis a four-star gem. We were looking forward to moving in!

Upon entering I felt as though I had been invited to a private home. The vibrant living room was filled with travel artifacts collected by the hotel’s owners during their journeys around the world, which I would soon discover ornamented all 26 of the unique rooms and suites. The decor revealed a unique combination of Toile de Jouy materials with chinoiserie-style motifs. Even the basket for my tea kettle looked like an artifact from the Silk Road.

Once my handsome date arrived we settled into our room on the top floor, overlooking the Parisian rooftops. We both favored the cozy loveseat with a view and knew that would be where we’d sunbathe while reading the morning paper.

On Friday night we happily caroused the quartier, feeling like we were indeed visiting from faraway. At the hotel’s recommendation we dined at 110 de Taillevent, where 110 wines are available by the glass. Impressive! It was a perfect meal on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a nice change from our usual right bank eateries. For breakfast we opted not to part with the views, ordered room service and dined with the sun.

That day we went window shopping on the Champs-Élysées and explored the annual Christmas Market, vin chaud in hand. My Italian went running in new territory and I stopped by neighboring Gagosian Gallery, one of my favorites for stellar art exhibits. After tea time at our new home, we headed out once more for dinner, with no clear plan in mind, only to get lost in our new neighborhood.

Le Negresco

My last trip to the Côte d’Azur was in March. I spent a little time in Nice but was eager to become better acquainted with this, the region’s capital. Aside from its Mediterranean climate, it’s a city of art and culture, another reason to fall in love with it. To properly immerse myself in the world of French art, where better to stay than at the historic hotel Le Negresco. Centrally located between Cannes and Monaco, it sits on the famous Promenade de Anglais. It is here in this National Historic Monument, that the French works of art from Louis XIII to modern art, have a home. I knew I would be in good company.

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Upon entering, the grandeur of this hotel is hard to describe. I’ve stayed in many beautiful hotels around the world, but Le Negresco is in a class of its own. The Versailles Lounge alone takes your breath away, with Louis XIV’s portrait, marble floors, hand-painted ceiling, and elegant furnishings. The fireplace too, is original. I could imagine the decadent events having taken place in this salon since Henri Negresco opened the hotel in 1913, now over 100 years old.

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Next I entered the Royal Lounge, centrally situated beneath a large glass dome. This is Negresco’s soul, and you can certainly feel it. Once an elegant ballroom, it’s now an elaborate event space, displaying portraits of French royalty, including Napoleon III. A stunning Baccarat chandelier provides the centerpiece. Fittingly, the hotel’s 93 year old owner Jeanne Augier’s portrait also has a place on the wall. After all, it is she who welcomes each guest to her home, which she has taken great pride in decorating. She lives on the top floor with her cat, and ensures that this private, family run hotel remains at the highest 5-star level in comfort and cuisine.

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A good friend from Nice had often spoken about the restaurants at Le Negresco, particularly the vibrant and colorful La Rotonde. It’s in fact an 18th century carousel with wooden horses circling the restaurant. My eyes opened wide in amazement as I entered this space and understood immediately why it’s such a warm and welcoming place dedicated to families. The terrace opens up to the sea and this is where I chose to have lunch, accompanied by the sun. Breakfast would be enjoyed in the carousel.

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Le Negresco is also known for its haute cuisine. Le Chantecler is Nice’s finest restaurant, with two stars in the Michelin Guide under the culinary expertise of chef Jean-Denis Rieubland. He defines his cuisine and style as “inspired by Provence, with the respect of its products and traditions”. This is THE place for French gastronomy, boasting a wine cellar of over 15,000 bottles, with woodwork dating back to 1751. After dinner you can unwind at the neighboring bar with live music and a good digestif.

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With each of the 96 rooms and 21 suites uniquely decorated with period furniture, I was eager to take a closer look. Mrs Augier being an art connoisseur and collector, walking through the hotel and up the four floors feels much like being in a museum, with artwork from Salvador Dali and Sonia Delaunay, tapestries from Raymond Moratti and sculptures from Niki de Saint Phalle, to name a few. And the rooms? Timeless perfection.

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I felt very much at home in my room overlooking the Bay of Angels and knew I would return to this Art Hotel called Le Negresco.

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Grand Sud : Part II

The following day it was time to visit the medieval town of Carcassonne, located in the Landuedoc region. I was eager to explore this World Heritage Site. Arriving just in time for lunch, I opted for the speciality of the region. Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole traditionally made with white beans and pork. Delicious! Onwards to the main attraction, the medieval citadel La Cité. First built in Gallo-Roman times, various additions were made in the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s hard even to describe the grandness of this hilltop fortress.

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Within the walled Cité sits Château Comtal, a 12th-century castle. Led by an expert guide, I discovered this castle and its ramparts, which provided an incredible view of the town. I was blown away (quite literally in fact) by all the history. For a view from afar, I headed to the River Aude, followed by a walk around Carcassonne’s center.

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I also discovered the historic Canal du Midi, excavated in the XVIIth century, which links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. I watched as numerous boaters used this main waterway along their route through Carcassonne. In 1996 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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As the sun was preparing to set, it was time to head back to the citadel. Just opposite  the 12th-century Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse, and a 2-minute walk from the Château Comtal, sat Hôtel de la Cité, my home for the night. What a regal setting! I already knew it would be hard to leave in the morning.

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I toured the elegant hotel, where once upon a time Winston Churchill slept, as did Princess Grace and Walt Disney. Now it was my turn to slumber within this Neo-Gothic mansion built in the XIX century. I couldn’t stop staring at the views from my balcony, rightfully so as the light kept changing and dusk settled in, the town illuminated in the distance.

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My next stop was dinner at La Barbacane, their Michelin star restaurant. Yes, I did feel like a princess in a castle. Thankfully, it wasn’t yet midnight and the dream continued.

 

 

Escape to Chantilly

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It rarely becomes extremely hot in Paris. But when it does, little relief can be found. Last weekend we experienced such a heatwave, called a canicule. That was reason enough to leave the heat and flee to the countryside. But who needs a reason. So we jumped on the train and in 30 minutes arrived to Chantilly. We first visited the château with my mom a few years ago, and knew one day we’d return. Now was as perfect a time as any. After a quick lunch stop we headed directly for our luxurious haven in the shade, Auberge du Jeu de Paume.

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This stunning five-star Relais & Chateaux property sits overlooking the majestic Château de Chantilly, bringing new meaning to the term ‘room with a view’. Our suite overlooked the English gardens. Immediately the late summer heat faded into the distance as I relaxed to the calming sounds of the fountains down below, and watched as the swan made her laps in the pond. A perfect weekend getaway.

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This four-year old hotel’s spacious rooms are fashioned with classic toile de Jouy fabrics and handcrafted woodwork, no details spared. The Hermès bath products in the marble bathrooms were a treat. Not to mention the decadence of the plush bed! We both slept very soundly, with the help of a little air-conditioning.

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After a morning of yoga on the terrace and a visit to the full-service spa and fitness room, we splurged on breakfast on our terrace. Heavenly! Not a soul in sight aside from an occasional triathlete running by in the gardens. Little did we know, it was the weekend of the Castle Triathlon Series. What a gorgeous setting! It almost inspired me to join for next year. (I’ll stick to yoga!)

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For dinner we opted for Le Jardin d’Hiver, the chic bistro featuring seasonal fare created by Arnaud Faye, 2* Michelin Chef at La Table du Connétable, their more elegant and gourmet dining option. What a decadent feast! We ended the night with a glass of wine on our terrace, beneath a starry sky. Ah, romance…

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What’s a trip to Chantilly without a visit to the château, a five minute walk from the hotel, and a stop for the very thing the town is known for, aside from lace that is. The BEST and original Chantilly cream is found at Le Hameau on the grounds of the château. (I could write an entire blog post about it, heaven on a plate!)

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The rest of our afternoon was spent watching the triathlon and cheering them on, picnicking in the garden, and admiring the history surrounding us.

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Before returning to Paris we made one final stop to the Grandes Écuries for a horse show and visit to the museum. Also known as the Living Museum of the Horse, here can be found the largest stables in Europe. It was constructed in the 18th century as an actual horses’ palace, how fancy! Growing up horseback riding and with a love for these gentle creatures, this was quite a highlight for me. I would gladly have galloped back to Paris.

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Coquillade Village

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Arriving to Coquillade Village feels like arriving to a majestic Tuscan villa, welcomed by cypress trees, only this 100 acre Relais & Châteaux property is located in the heart of the Luberon in Provence, with views of the Vaucluse Mountains and Mont Ventoux. It’s location was historically the site for migrating birds, including the crested lark (Couquihado in Provençal), hence the name. Surrounded by vineyards and fields of lavender, this complex of 63 rooms and suites dates back to the 11th century, with most of it augmented and restored in recent years. Very eagerly we settled into our new home, ready to take in the views and its many luxuries.

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It was hard to leave our Luxury Suite as we relaxed on the terrace, tasting the local rosé grown in their 89 acres of vineyards. I made a mental note to take a tour and arrange a tasting session during our stay. Back to the room… did I mention we had our own jacuzzi and sauna? More reason not to leave. No attention to detail or comfort was spared! While my Italian went for a run through the vines, I made sure to visit the Coquillade SPA, 1500m2 of serenity for both mind and body, created in 2015. It was hard to leave the eucalyptus hammam! But I was eager to explore the premises and discover exactly what lay within the walls of this “village”.

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What I discovered were charming Provençal villas discreetly scattered throughout the property, all revealing private rooms with terraces. There were three restaurants on the premises, Gourmet run by two Gault & Millau head chefs, Ristorante, an Italian establishment, and Bistro with a Mediterranean inspired menu. The latter of these is where we opted to dine al fresco, our backdrop a pastel colored sunset beyond the vineyards. Chef Christophe Renaud certainly left an impression, not to mention pastry Chef René Solnon with his masterful desserts. I’ve always had a weakness for sweets.

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Following a visit to nearby Roussillon (more on that later), we spent a sunny afternoon lounging by one of the two heated swimming pools. I envisioned a game of tennis or perhaps the beloved French game of pétanque, but time was limited. We eagerly visited the “BMC Cycling Center” with ambitious goals to ride to a neighboring town, I planned to test out an electric bike, but we chose instead to relax within the charm of Coquillade, followed by a driving tour. We were on holiday after all.

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It was certainly hard to bid farewell to Coquillade Village with its friendly staff and luxurious amenities. But we were in the Luberon after all and had come to explore. Where to next? Stay tuned…

 

Melenos Lindos

We arrived to Rhodes and immediately fell under the spell of its majestic medieval city, the largest walled city in Europe. We explored the tangle of roads which led to the Jewish Quarter and paid a visit to the impressive Archaeological Museum. But our main destination was the town of Lindos, an hour by bus and a world of difference.

IMG_0884Rising over the traditional white homes of Lindos sits an acropolis dating back to the 10th century BC. As we ventured up the hill, we arrived to our home, Melenos Lindos, what appeared to be a village within a village; a world of its own that I was eager to discover.

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night at the library

Once upon a time, in what now feels like another lifetime, I worked on Madison Avenue. Just down the street from my office sat the Library Hotel, and I would often pass it during my lunch break, wondering what lay beyond it’s scholarly doors, was there really a library? On this trip to New York, being an avid reader, I booked a room and planned to find out.

IMG_2479Stepping into the hotel feels like entering a library, books and card catalogs lining the walls.

IMG_2435_2What I soon discovered was that the concept of the Library Hotel is inspired by the Dewey Decimal system. As per this famous method of classification (developed by Melvil Dewey in the US in 1876) each of the 10 guestroom floors is dedicated to one of the 10 categories of the Dewey Decimal System. In turn, each of the 60 rooms are filled with books and art concerning their unique topic. With over 6,000 books, there is plenty to read!

IMG_2481 3The theme of our room was mysteries, how fitting for a mysterious night in Manhattan!

IMG_2488_2With an impressive view of the New York Public Library, I truly felt surrounded by literature.

IMG_2425Venturing outside, the city lights shone brightly, with regal Grand Central in the distance.

IMG_2476_2During the complimentary buffet breakfast we met fellow travelers from around the world.

IMG_2430_2Most enchanting of all are the views from the Writer’s Den and Poetry Garden on the 14th floor rooftop. By night it becomes Bookmarks Lounge, serving literary inspired cocktails.

IMG_2549Where better to read the New York Times or a good book, over a cup of coffee and a view.

IMG_2500_2I can’t wait to return to the Library Hotel, a literary haven in the heart of New York City. Next time the romance room?

first class dining

I don’t often write about dining, but this meal was one to remember! Last week I had the pleasure of joining France Today website editor, a site and magazine for which I write, for a decadent lunch at Le Cinq. Five-courses. Two Michelin stars. New chef Christian Le Squer, (who himself holds three stars). Does it get much better than this? Actually, it does. We had the privilege of touring the famed wine cellar. Now, that is a something to write about.

IMG_6768I couldn’t wait to try Le Squer’s menu, this “creator of savors and composer of tastes.

IMG_6764 The amusebouches were incredible! Each a unique melange of flavors to fill the palate.

IMG_6775The meal started with a sweet onion filled with oysters and carmelized onions.

IMG_6776 Next, Mont Blanc as Egg Soufflé with black truffle. Heavenly!

IMG_6783My main dish was wild sea bass with caviar in ‘fermented milk from my childhood’.

IMG_6791A little cheese before dessert? My choices included soft truffled brie and Mont d’Or.

IMG_6799This sweet caramel concoction was simply divine!

IMG_6805My dessert was an original work of art, and truly had to be tasted to be understood.

IMG_6813Breton specialty Kouing-Amann to end the meal on a sweet note.

IMG_6850Having tasted a variety of wines with our meal, each carefully selected to complement the dishes, it was a privilege to tour the cave. Built during WWII, Four Seasons George V‘s wine cellar is hidden 14 metres (45 feet) below the ground. With nearly 50,000 bottles, it’s filled with vintage treasures, including over 2,800 French and international wines.

IMG_6843Here’s one I wouldn’t mind tasting! (The magnum Petrus 1964 is valued at 40,000 euros.)

IMG_6828The oldest bottle in the collection is a 1792 Madeira. Impressive!

IMG_6891Every time I pass by hotel George V, I will fondly recall this first class culinary experience.

Peninsula paradise

In 1908, at the height of the Belle Époque, one of Paris’s most luxurious hotels opened at 19 Avenue Kléber in the 16ème arrond. Hotel Magestic was among the most elegant addresses in Paris and certainly a place to see and be seen! In the decades to follow, this late 19th century Haussmanian building lost it’s luster as it’s hotel doors closed and instead it housed various organizations.

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It was in 2008 that Katara Hospitality group decided to restore the building and create in it’s grand space the Peninsula Paris. I was lucky enough to be invited to the preview of this, the first Peninsula Hotel in all of Europe, and the 10th in the world.

Kleber EntranceI arrived to a red carpet, jazz musicians and champagne flowing! Following a presentation on the building’s history and the meticulous attention to detail in the restoration and modernization process, we met the highly skilled chefs & pâtissiers in charge of the hotel’s six dining options. Executive Chef Jean-Edern Hurstel’s “farm to table” philosophy is certain to please many a palate.

L'Oiseau Blanc Terrace copyPerhaps my favorite of the restaurants is L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird) situated on the rooftop. Is it here where I met the Marchand brothers, the hotel’s fromagiers, and tasted an exquisite goat’s cheese with a hint of rose. Following this dairy decadence I was served a dessert that I cannot even begin to describe, a creation by award-winning Chef Pâtissier Julien Alvarez. With a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, I could envision the many lavish evenings that were soon to come to life in this new found paradise.

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As I toured the hotel, I took note of the many historic details. Some of France’s finest artisans were hand-picked to restore this grand structure to it’s former glory. Needless to say, what resulted in the 6 years of restoration is the ultimate in French craftsmanship.

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On August 1st the Peninsula Paris will welcome it’s first guests, in regal style. And in the days to follow I will certainly be one of them, at the least sipping a cocktail on a familiar terrace.