Sicily in Paris

The last trip I took to Sicily was both magical and inspirational. After Christmas in Trapani, we headed east to Cefalù followed by Ragusa and Siracusa, the latter being one of our favorite Sicilian cities. The colors and light which are unique to this island led me to create a new bag collection, just in time for the spring and summer seasons. Where better to shoot it than on Paris’s Île Saint-Louis with photographer Catherine O’Hara, who always captures Kasia Dietz handbags so perfectly. Here are a few favorite shots of the new Sicily collection.

By sharing this journey with you in the form of my creations, I hope these bags will inspire you to travel, and maybe even join you. As a special gift, take 20% off all Kasia Dietz handbags using code Sicily. Bon voyage!

Sintra

A quick 40-minute train ride from Lisbon lands you in the picturesque town of Sintra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were immediately taken with the romantic landscape. Following a path away from the masses of tourists, we found a picture perfect lunch spot overlooking the Palace of Sintra, built by the Moors in the Middle Ages. With only an afternoon, we chose two fairy tale scenes to discover.

Our first stop was the Moorish Castle, or what looks like the setting for Game of Thrones. This military fort was built just before the 10th century by the North African Moors. After falling into disrepair, is was restored by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century, and has since become a major tourist attraction.

We walked its lengthy walls and up its watchtowers. From a distance the Pena Palace was visible, our next stop.

The Park and Palace of Pena make up the most important part of Sintra’s cultural landscape. Arriving to this architectural marvel, it’s easy to understand why. The brightly colored palace is a balance of nature meets 19th century Portuguese Romanticism. In a word, stunning! I quickly learned that it was rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed this former 18th century monastery. It was King Ferdinand II who transformed it into a palace, creating the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. We spent the rest of the afternoon discovering the elaborate interior while marveling at the exterior facades. What an extraordinary work of art!

While we could certainly have stayed overnight in Sintra, I was happy to head back to Lisbon and continue our adventure. All the while during our return I wondered, how quickly could we return to Portugal?

Lisbon

We had been planning a trip to Lisbon for years, even before it became the city to visit. Somehow Italy and Spain always took precedence, until recently. A week ago we set off to discover a city, country and culture neither of us had yet experienced. We had no idea what to expect on this three-day jaunt to Portugal. All we knew was that Lisbon would not disappoint.

We arrived to our historic hotel in the Baixa district and began our tour, map in hand. Lisbon is by all accounts a walking city if you don’t mind the hilly cobbled streets. The views are worth the hike up!

A popular mode of transport in Lisbon, and one of my favorites, is the tram, dating back to the 1930s. This is definitely an experience, particularly tram 28 which snakes its way along many of Lisbon’s most vibrant districts. Tourists line up for the ride up the steep hill from Baixa to São Jorge Castle and Alfama district. We opted to walk and hop on at a later stop.

We spent an entire day exploring, or rather, getting lost in the Alfama district, a tangle of streets that come alive in the evenings with traditional Fado music. This quickly became our favorite area, along with the historic Bairro Alto and trendy Principe Real where we discovered local restaurants and fashionable boutiques.

I often had to stop and admire the glazed tiles lining many of the buildings. Inspiration for a future bag collection? These azulejos as they are called locally, originated in Egypt but it’s the Portuguese that use them most creatively. The Tile Museum just outside the city center, details five centuries of these decorative tiles.

What we discovered while wandering the city was how friendly and happy most people appeared to be. The atmosphere in Lisbon was light and welcoming. We also happened to be there on April 25th, their Freedom Day celebrating the 1974 Revolution that ended the dictatorship and started democracy. Even more reason for the locals to take pride in their capital city.

SLEEP: Alma Lusa translates to “Portuguese soul”, and AlmaLusa Hotel has exactly that.  This family run boutique hotel opened in 2016, perfectly positioned in the Baixa district, close to many of Lisbon’s attractions. Our luxurious room with a view of city hall was once a Moroccan showroom, with select elements still intact.

EAT LOCAL: A pleasant surprise was O Cantinho da Rosa in Bairro Alto where we stopped for lunch. It was clear that locals were the main clients of this charming canteen. Never before have I tasted fresh sardines grilled to perfection! The dishes are ample, and the dessert is heavenly. Another local gem near Alfama is Zé da Mouraria.

EAT GOURMET: For innovative brasserie style dining Delfina is the spot. Elegantly set within the AlmaLusa hotel, their traditional Bacalhau dish is a must! Paired with local wines of course. If you’re in the mood for prime locally farmed meat, head directly to Vicente by Carnalentejana. The cave-like decor too is impressive!

EAT SWEETS: A trip to Lisbon isn’t complete without tasting the famous Pastel de nata, a Portuguese egg tart pastry. You can find some of the best at Manteigaria in the Time Out Market. Along with gelato and anything else your heart desires, both sweet and savory. There are even cooking classes offered.

DRINK: We happened to be in town during Lisbon’s first ever Cocktail Week. With so many bars (and very little time) we opted for rooftop views from recently opened Topo. I’ve also heard that Gin Lovers is another hot spot. Next time.

VISIT: One of the main attractions is São Jorge Castle, positioned on top of the city and restored in the 20th century. Belém Tower, a fortified tower and the Jerónimos Monastery not far from Lisbon are popular sights that we left for our next visit. We decided instead to take the train to the town of Sintra. Stay tuned…

 

 

Weekend in Lombardia

Traveling to Italy often, I am well acquainted with certain of its 21 regions including Toscana with its rolling hills and capital city Firenze, Trentino and Alto Adige with the majestic Dolomites, and Liguria, my second home in Cinque Terre. On this trip, I discovered another region that quickly became a favorite, Lombardia.

The journey began in the town of Varese, just 55 kilometers north of Milan. I soon realized that this was the perfect spot from which to tour the region. The first stop to discover the magic of Lombardia was the Sanctuary of the Sacro Monte of Varese, 883 meters high, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the top of the hill stood the Pogliaghi House with its enchanting garden, a museum open to all. An eccentric lover of art, Ludovico Pogliaghi began building his house in 1885 and in the years that followed he collected over 1,500 artworks. An artist himself,  the door of Milan’s Duomo was his most famous commission, with the original plaster door sitting just above his grand piano, which I attempted to play.

With church bells ringing in the distance, I walked along this 2 kilometer long “Holy Way” of Sacro Monte, encountering 14 chapels dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary. This sacred cobbled path dates back to 1604 when Capuchin friar Giovanni Battista Aguggiari set upon creating it.

Each of the 14 chapels are unique in design and feature statues and frescoes created by major Lombard artists of the seventeenth century. With every encounter I felt the mysterious air of a spiritual past.

The following day another grand villa awaited in nearby Gazzada Schianno. Nineteenth century Villa Cagnola was a sight to behold overlooking French and English gardens and views of the countryside. Most impressive were the treasures hidden on the inside. In addition to a large private collection of Italian paintings from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the collection of ceramics, both European and Oriental porcelain is awe-inspiring! Certainly worth a visit and an overnight stay.

From here I walked the historic route Via Francisca del Lucomagno to Castiglione Olona, surrounded by fields of blossoming flowers and the splendor of nature.

The fifth century town of Castiglione Olona charmed even from afar. I couldn’t wait to enter its walls.

A lunch stop at Osteria degli Artisti for a plate of strawberry asparagus risotto? There’s a first for everything!

A site worth visiting is La Collegiata, built where once stood the ancient castle. The Collegiate church along with the Baptistry, makes up the Collegiate Museum. Both were decorated by Masolino da Panicale, one of Florence’s most recognized painters.

From here the afternoon continued to Torba Abbey, a former benedictine convent. The annual flower market was taking place and the entire monastery was in bloom!

The next morning it was time to discover Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake after Lake Garda. How best to tour this majestic lake than by sailboat. This may in fact be my preferred mode of transport.

The views were stunning, as the wind sent us sailing along the coast of Lombardia. Complete serenity as we reached a breathtaking monastery built within a cliff.

Santa Caterina del Sasso is one of the most ethereal sights I’ve ever seen.  Legend has it that after surviving a storm, wealthy local merchant Alberto Besozzi dedicated his life to Saint Catherine and had part of this Hermitage built in her honor. The rest as they say, is history.

My days and nights discovering Lombardia were filled with so many moments of awe and inspiration, both natural and spiritual. Enough to last until the next time. Meanwhile, here’s a video for more bella vistas.

 

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?

Sicilian Adventures : PART II

Our first stop upon leaving Trapani was at a thermal spa, basically a pond in the middle of nature. I was a little skeptical, but when I felt how warm the water was (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), I sank right in to the sulfur bath. Heaven in the middle of winter!

After a quick lunch (and cannoli) stop in the small seaside village of Trabia, we arrived to the scenic city of Cefalù. With the sun ready to set as we walked along the beach, greeted by a glowing row of homes, it was hard not to become enchanted with our new destination. We soon located our B&B within the narrow streets and began to explore.

The following morning we set our sights on the ancient village set high up above the city with views looking down on the Duomo, a majestic two-towered Norman cathedral.

After hundreds of steps, guided by sunshine peeking through a cloudy sky, we made it to the top. What a view!

We could have stayed longer, as there is always more to discover, but it was time to head south to Ragusa, with a stop for Roman history along the way. The Villa Romana del Casale, a vast villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century, contains the largest and most impressive collection of Roman mosaics in the world.

As we walked through the many rooms, learning about the symbolism of each mosaic, I couldn’t believe how intricate and detailed these scenes were, and how well preserved! We even caught sight of what could very well be considered the first bikinis.

A few hours later we arrived in Ragusa Ibla, the old part of Ragusa destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in Baroque style. We soon settled into our home for the night, a charming centuries old B&B. The following day we had a date with one of Italy’s top chefs, 2 Michelin starred Ciccio Sultano, at his famed Restaurant Duomo. This was one meal we couldn’t be late for, even on Italian time.

After a meal to remember, we continued to explore this elegant city. I couldn’t get over how picture perfect the views were, both from high above Duomo San Giorgio, and down below. It was a short but sweet encounter.

Upon our exit, we were graced with the most stunning vista of Ragusa Ibla, certain that we’d return again, even if only to dine with Ciccio. Our next stop was where we’d settle in for New Year’s Eve, and a place we knew from our last trip to Sicily, Siracusa.

There was something about the island of Ortigia that left an impression on us. Perhaps it was the food, or the warmth of the people, or in my case the cassata… Whatever it was, we were happy to be back, and to begin a new year in this, one of our favorite Sicilian settings. This time we discovered impressive new wine and food bar Cortile Verga set in a gorgeous courtyard, and SunSet cafe, for exactly that.

Following a night of great feasting and mild revelry, we got in the car for a final drive to Punta Secca, home of Montalbano. It was here that my Italian began the year with a swim in the sea following an incredible meal of freshly caught fish and homemade pasta. After one last sunset we were ready to return to Paris.

Sicilian Adventures : PART I

This year we headed south for the holidays, destination Sicily. I fell in love with this vibrant island on our first jaunt two years ago, and decided where better to spend a few days over Christmas with the Italian family, and ring in the new year. For part one of the trip, we made our home the city of Trapani at Sicily’s western tip. It wasn’t the old city’s charm that enticed us (I’ve seen better), but its proximity to so many sights and ancient ruins, not to mention the Egadi Islands. What we quickly discovered is that Trapani is a food haven, with Trapanese specialities including Fish Couscous, influenced by neighboring Tunisia, and Pesto alla Trapanese made with tomatoes and almonds. The many fresh fish dishes were exceptional and every day became a dining adventure, with local wines of course (my favorite being a red blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes). Here’s a list of our top restaurants, all in the old town.

Antichi Sapori for the best traditional dishes (the seafood antipasti alone is worth the visit)

Serisso 47 for fine dining in an elegant setting (rumor has it the chef might be awarded a Michelin star soon)

Sood for live music and small plates of Sicilian specialties with a bio twist (great local vibe)

After settling into our apartments and enjoying the rooftop views, we took to the road. Our first stop was Scopello, a tiny village near Castellammare del Golfo, and what was once a tuna fishing port. The coastline was breathtaking! We also discovered that this is where scenes from our favorite Sicilian detective series Inspector Montalbano were filmed.

From here we drove to Segesta, one of the most notable Siceliot (Sicilian-Greek) ancient cities. We walked the path leading up to the Greek temple, a sight to behold, lit by the late afternoon sun.

Continuing up to the hilltop site where the ancient city was inhabited into the Middle Ages, we discovered the remains of a Norman castle, a small church and a mosque, and a classical amphitheater with admirable views.

The next day we decided to explore another highly esteemed archaeological site, Selinunte. Walking through this abandoned town founded by Greeks in the  7th Century BC, with its main street, homes and temples,  you can imagine the life that once took place here.

The day after Christmas we headed for the largest of the Egadi Islands, Favignana, less than an hour by boat. It being winter and the holidays, the island was quiet and most of the restaurants and shops were closed. We did however find a bakery with some of the most delicious cassata and cannoli to date. (Read more about Sicily’s sweets here.) The most stunning landscape on the island was the little gulf called Cala Rossa.

My Italian and I climbed down the rocks to the turquoise water, completely in awe of this cliffside paradise.

On the last day before the two of us continued our adventures solo, we drove up to the medieval hilltop town of Erice. It was the people of this town that also built the town and  temple of Segesta. I first noticed the Venus Castle, and soon learned that the temple of Venus outlasted the many civilizations who took residence in Erice.

The town itself is eerily charming with its tones of grays and cobbled paths leading to restaurants, artisanal shops and pasticcerias offering sweets made of almond paste. Here too we found a sweet gem!

Our final stop before saying farewell to Trapani was a Marsala cellar tour and wine tasting at the famous Cantine Florio. The perfect ending to part one of our adventures in Sicily. Next stop, Cefalù…

24 Hours in Paris

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My first encounter with Paris was as a student living in London. Having dreamt about the city of love since hearing my parents recount their romantic interludes, I eagerly boarded the Eurostar, having no idea what to expect, and with only 24 hours to spare. Years later, I don’t remember much of where I wandered or what I tasted, but what remained was the feeling. In that brief encounter I became completely smitten with the City of Lights and somehow knew this was my place on earth, or at least one of them. What I didn’t know is that fate would find me living my own love story many years later.

Now, calling Paris my home for the last seven years, I can well advise visitors on how to spend a day discovering much of what this city has to offer, namely food, fashion and culture. For anyone coming to Paris for a quick jaunt, either alone or with a friend, here is how to spend 24 hours in my favorite city, and feel much like a local. Keep in mind that spring and fall are the most enchanting seasons to discover and fall in love with Paris, though it’s shamelessly charming all year round.

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A real Parisian experience begins with breakfast at one of the best boulangeries in this food haven. A croissant is not simply a croissant until you’ve tasted Du Pain et des Idées. Make that a pain au chocolat. The most flakey and buttery you’ll ever taste. (Keep in mind they are only open on weekdays.) If you prefer a more hearty meal, nearby Holybelly is as good as it gets. From here you can stroll along canal Saint Martin and make your way into the trendy North Marais for a café crème at boutique cum coffee shop The Broken Arm, or the uber cozy Boot Café.

After a stop at Paris’s oldest covered market Marché des Enfants Rouges for a quick stroll or early lunch where you can feast on French, Lebanese, Japanese, African or Italian cuisine, continue along rue Vieille du Temple. You’ll discover all the latest trends while passing the French fashion boutiques lining the street. It is here too that the Hotel Salé sits, home to the Picasso Museum, exhibiting the life and work of this Spanish master with an affinity for France. Recently expanded and re-opened, it’s worth a visit.

If you’re in the mood for classic French fare, head south along the same street until you reach one of Paris’s most famous decades old dining haunts, Robert et Louise. In this charming bistro which maintains the tradition of grilling over an open fire, you can feast on escargots, côte de bœuf, and confit de canard among other dishes.

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Part of Paris’s charm is its tangle of narrow streets, my favorite being in the Marais. Once home to the French aristocracy, this is more recently where the Jewish community settled, making it a vibrant neighborhood even on a Sunday, while the rest of Paris sleeps. Stop by for a chocolate tasting at independent chocolatier Edwart or satisfy your sugar cravings with world famous Pierre Hermé macarons. Don’t forget to try my most recent favorite, the heavenly cakes from Aux Merveilleux de Fred. (Did I mention I have a sweet tooth?) If tea happens to be your beverage of choice, skip the desserts and stop by French tea emporium Marriage Frères for an exotic blend. Don’t leave without heading up the antique stairwell to their Tea Museum.

Next stop is a stroll through nearby Place des Vosges, an elegant historic square once called Place Royale. Writer Victor Hugo’s home, now a free museum, is hidden within the brick facade. You can also find one of Paris’s most elegant tea salons Carette, beneath the regal arches. (I won’t mention how decadent their desserts are.)

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Continue walking towards the river and you’ll discover one of the most picturesque spots in the city, and what causes me time and time again to fall in love with Paris, the island of Île Saint-Louis. This is the place to sit along the banks of the Seine and admire the pink and blue hues of an ever changing sky. Now back to sweets, it is here that the famous (and best) French ice-cream shop Berthillon can be found. Well worth the wait on line!

Crossing Pont Saint-Louis to the second of Paris’s islands, Île de la Cité, you’ll encounter 850+ year old medieval treasure Notre-Dame Cathedral. By courageously climbing 387 steps to the top of the South Tower, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city, as well as a few gargoyles.

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You could definitely spend all day walking along Paris’s rues and boulevards, but a faster and equally scenic way to explore Paris is by Vélib’, Paris’s public biking system, or even better, by boat. Just in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral on the south side of the river, jump aboard the Batobus, what can accurately be described as a river shuttle service. With a one-day ticket you can hop on and off as many times as you like, at most of the major sights. Cruise from Hôtel de Ville, office of the mayor, to the world’s largest art collection housed in the Louvre Museum. A stop here will bring you to the well manicured Tuileries Garden where you’ll be in good company with Rodin and Giacometti, in sculpture form that is.

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Continuing along the Seine via Batobus, you’ll enjoy a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower. Where better to savor a sunset than below (or atop) this cultural icon.

Another sight to behold along the Seine is the Musée d’Orsay. Formerly a train station constructed from 1898 to 1900, this left bank museum houses works from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements. Even the facade, one of my favorite Parisian structures, is a work of art.

You can’t visit Paris without getting lost in the rive gauche. Exiting the boat at Saint-Germain-des-Prés will find you in one of Paris’ most charming, albeit touristic neighborhoods. The streets are lined with cafes and restaurants, including two of Paris’s oldest and most well-known, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. Good stop for a glass of wine or chocolat chaud. It was at these cafes that the literary elite would often congregate, Hemingway included.

One of many French traditions is the evening apéro, shortened from l’apéritif, a before dinner drink. There are dozens of terraces in Saint-Germain in which to indulge in a glass of red, white or rosé. My terrace of choice for people watching (a favorite Parisian pastime) is Le Bar Du Marché. For dinner, head to neighboring French eateries Semilla and Fish La Boissonnerie, or latest hotspot Freddy’s for more casual dining.

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With an after dinner walk through the city by night, you’ll quickly understand why Paris is so often called the City of Lights, with the 37 bridges illuminated and antique streetlights at almost every corner.

From here you can head to the rooftop of department store Galeries Lafayette for a first class (and free) view of the city (open until 8:30pm). During the summer months the sun sets late into the night, providing the perfect opportunity to head up to the artists’ quarter, Montmartre. Take a metro or uber to Abbesses, walk up the hill (or take the funicular) to the steps of majestic Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and prepare to be dazzled by the twilight views.  Are you in love yet?

Nice: Top Picks

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After Paris, Nice is the largest city of art and culture in France. And if you like art as much as I do, then you must make a stop in this culturally rich city, where art finds a home, even around the city streets. There is so much to do and see in the capital of the Côte d’Azur, where does one even begin? By stopping in the Tourism Office you can certainly gather enough information to keep you busy for days. Or you can use this list of my top things to do, see and eat. Some of this advice comes from my Nicoise friend, and who better to trust than a local?

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SLEEP: To wake up surrounded by art and history, and with a view of the sea, stay at Le Negresco. This is the Art Hotel in Nice, and an experience you won’t ever forget. You can read all about my stay, here. If you’re on a budget, another artful option is Hotel Windsor, where each room is designed by a different artist.

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VISIT: With over fifteen museums and dozens of galleries, which are most worth visiting? That remains a matter of opinion depending on interest, but ones that I would not miss are Musée Matisse, exhibiting one of the world’s largest collections of Henri Matisse’s works, Musée Marc Chagall, dedicated to much of the artist’s religious work, and the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art, highlighting the work of more recent artists including sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle. I recommend picking up a 48 hour Museum Pass which will gain you affordable access to these and many other museums and galleries. Keep in mind that most are closed on Tuesdays.

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DO: To really get to know a city, stroll its morning markets. This is where you’ll interact with the locals and simply observe the life of the city. On Cours Saleya in the Old Town, there’s a market every morning from 6:30am. The most famous is the Marché aux Fleurs, or Flower Market, from Tuesday to Sunday. This market is the most well known, since it was in Nice that the first wholesale flower market in the world appeared in 1897. Here too you can purchase fruits and vegetables until around 1:30pm, with the flowers being sold until 5:30. If you’d like an expert guided tour of the food market followed by a cooking class, Rosa at Les Petits Farcis is your girl!

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EAT: The specialities of Nice include pissaladière, bread with a topping of caramelised onions, olives, garlic and anchovies, and socca, a sort of fried chickpea cake, much like the farinata I often eat in Cinque Terre. Both of these you can try at many cafes in the Old City. Here are food expert David Lebovitz’s favorite socca spots in Nice. As for where to dine, one local spot serving the best plate of pesto pasta I’ve ever eaten outside of Italy, is La Merenda. It’s a tiny restaurant in the Old Town that doesn’t take reservations, but worth the wait. Also be sure to stop by Maison Auer for the best candied fruit and chocolate covered almonds in France, among other delicacies!

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WALK: Be sure to walk around the Old Town and get lost in the maze of streets lined with pastel colored buildings. The Promenade des Anglais is the famous stretch in front of the sea. Follow it all the way to Castle Hill for the best views of the city and its surroundings. Climb the free elevator at the seaside; look for the ‘Ascenseur de la Chateau‘ sign. From the top you’ll have a view of Nice all the way to Antibes, and from the other side you can see Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

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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.

 

 

Île de Ré

Is it possible to find the tranquility of the Mediterranean hidden in the Atlantic Ocean? Just west of La Rochelle sits the island of Île de Ré. Having heard much about this natural landscape boasting sandy beaches and 10 charming villages connected by cycling paths, I decided it was time to explore. This French summer hideaway seemed like the ideal weekend away. As is often our preference, we chose to visit off season.

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In just over three hours we arrived via train to La Rochelle. Since 1988 the city is linked to Île de Ré by bridge, providing easy access by car or shuttle bus. We chose the latter, since the main mode of island transport is by bicyle. No car is needed. The afternoon was cloudy and windy, with hints of blue setting the scene for the next few days. We chose to stay in Saint-Martin-de-Ré, the island’s capital and what is considered one of the most picturesque of the villages. We arrived easily by bus and settled into our elegant hotel on the harbor. As it was the weekend, the village was bustling with locals and second home owners taking advantage of the Indian summer. Nineteen miles long and two to three miles long, this small island with a population of 18,000, grows to 130,000 during the summer months. Soon, I would discover its appeal.

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The following day we rented bicycles and began our journey along the coast. Passing marshes and salt farms we made our way to the smallest of the villages, Loix. Thus began our love affair with the island. From there we rode south to Ars-en-Ré, a larger village with an active port. After lunch we met a few friends from Paris (fortunate are those with family homes in such a beautiful natural setting), and joined them at the beach near La Couarde-sur-Mer. On the path home, we rode through countless vineyards, the season’s harvest ripe for picking. The landscapes all so beautifully preserved. As the sun hung low in the sky, we had just enough time to get lost in the tangle of Saint-Martin’s streets.

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The next day we hopped back on the bikes, first stop: oysters. I was in heaven. We sat along the coast during low tide and feasted on tender shrimp and the freshest oysters I’d eaten since our trip to Cap Ferret. A glass of local white wine to compliment. Our next stop was La Flotte, another inviting port village. We were completely smitten by these picture-perfect villages; streets filled with shuttered homes in pastel shades of green, gray and blue; ivy creeping up walls and flowers growing around every corner. The charm was immeasurable. Our journey continued to a long sandy beach close to the village of Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré. I could imagine the surfing and kite-boarding during the summer months. But now it was just us, along with a handful of couples and young families, enjoying the off-season serenity. Perfect timing, if you ask me.

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When evening fell and it was time to return to Paris, we were not eager to leave the island and vowed to return. There were more villages to explore, more local pineau to taste and oysters to savor. I could now understand why Île de Ré was considered such an island paradise. A secret the French keep well, and now one I share with you. Here are my recommendations for island life in Saint-Martin-de-Ré.

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SLEEP: Hôtel de Toiras is a five-star Relais & Châteaux property located on the port of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, providing a luxurious setting for a weekend away, or longer. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with old French charm. The entire setting is regal and elegant. Five years ago, the hotel acquired a beautiful old mansion and created its sister hotel, Villa Clarisse. Set father back in the village, this four-star hotel offers 9 rooms set in a lush garden with a pool. Either location makes a perfect home in the heart of the island.

EAT LOCAL: Le Bistro du Marin is THE local spot, located on the port. They don’t take reservations so prepare to wait by the bar, especially if you’d like to dine outside, or en terrace. Their hearty meat dishes served with delicious home fries and fresh fish specials are certainly worth waiting for! Not to mention their homemade profiteroles. Both lunch and dinner are served daily, closed Thursdays.

EAT GOURMET: Les Embruns is just behind the port and well worth a dinner reservation (you must book ahead as they get full very quickly). This is the place for seafood, with lobster salad worth ordering, and a variety of fish dishes on the menu. For 30€ you can try the tasting menu. It’s hard to go wrong in this charmingly kitschy restaurant. Open only for dinner during the high season, closed Tuesdays.

EAT OYSTERSRé Ostréa is a casual lunch spot along the bike path from Saint-Martin-de-Ré heading west. It’s hard to miss with its colorful chairs, always full in the high season. Here you can dine on an assortment of seafood, including of course, local oysters. The fresh shrimps too, are heavenly! All dishes are accompanied by a glass of local wine. This is a must stop while on the island.

EAT SWEETSLa Martinière is a family run ice-cream and pastry shop. It’s a MUST stop while on the island, though we missed out on this sweet experience since it was closed for renovations. Next time!

DRINK: Ile de Ré is not so much known for their wines as for the French apéritif Pineau, a blend of wine and cognac. As it’s a sweet drink, I quickly became a fan. You can taste it at any bar or wine shop.

CYCLE: With quite a few bike rental companies to choose from, I found Cycland to be one of the best, with a great assortment of bikes and locations in 9 of the 10 villages. Definitely use bicycles to get around the island!

VISIT: Ernest Cognacq Museum is a Renaissance style mansion highlighting the historical, artistic and military heritages of the island. Worth a stop for a quick history lesson!

 

24 hours in Kraków

Last week I flew to Kraków after a long overdue visit with my family in the south-eastern town of Sanok, a three hour drive from this medieval city. With little time to explore a place I already knew and loved, I headed to favorite haunts and discovered a few new ones. So how did I spend my 24 hours? Here are my recommendations for those new to the city or for anyone stopping over for a quick visit. The heart of Kraków is the main square where you’ll hear the clanking of hooves as tourists make their way around the city via horse and carriage. Stop at one of the many outdoor cafes for a local beer, and visit Kościół Mariacki, St. Mary’s Basilica.

NOTE: There’s now a train that will take you directly to the city center from the airport, only 20 minutes at 8 zlotys. Take care not to get ripped off by the taxi drivers! Negotiate ahead of time, especially to and from the airport.

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SLEEP: Minutes away from both the Rynek Glówny (market square) and the Wawel Castle sits the Radisson Blu. This modern 5-star hotel was constructed 13 years ago (and designed by an architect friend of mine). All 196 of its spacious rooms have recently been refurbished. Be sure to ask for a room with a view of the castle, and take advantage of their spa and fitness center.

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EAT: My absolute favorite restaurant is one of Kraków’s historic haunts, Pod Aniołami. Translated to Under the Angels, it’s located in an 18th century building at The Royal Route, leading to the Wawel Castle. Once upon a time the the building housed Krakow’s goldsmiths as well as their workshops. You can feel the history when you enter it’s cellar. And the food? Classic Polish dishes ranging from pierogi to an assortment of grilled meats. Smacznego!

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DRINK: After asking a few local friends what was new in the city, they led me to Zakłady Tytoniowe, a 19th century tobacco factory. Intrigued, I headed there with my cousin for a drink and discovered an entire world in the making. Opened this past July, there were just under a dozen bars and restaurants taking over the industrial space, many more to follow in the months ahead. Shared office spaces looked over the cafes and terraces. I enjoyed a drink at Międzymiastowa while my cousin met her friends at an outdoor bar. I returned the following day for coffee and cake at Bonjour Cava.

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SEE: I can’t count the number of times I’ve visited the Wawel Castle, set on the banks of the Vistula river, its director a close friend of my moms. With each visit I become more enchanted by the castle’s history. (Read more about it here.) For centuries the residence of Poland’s kings, the Wawel is the symbol of Polish statehood, and now houses one of the country’s most recognized collections of art. A must see while in Kraków!

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SHOP: For souvenirs, amber jewelry and wooden chess boards being among the best gift ideas, I recommend the Sukiennice in the main market square in Kraków’s Old Town. Dating to the Renaissance, it’s also known as the Cloth Hall. With dozens of stalls your options are plenty and you certainly won’t leave empty handed.

Rome in Paris

Last December we spent a few days in Rome. The result? Long walks amidst ancient history… and a new Kasia Dietz handbag collection. As you know, my bags are often inspired by my travels. More reason to travel? And as always they are made in Paris, limited edition and reversible. Finally I’m sharing the Roma Collection with you, photographed by the talented Catherine O’Hara and named for some of Rome’s most famous streets. Beginning with the beautiful cobbled Via Giulia. Now you can take the streets of Rome with you wherever you go…

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Onto the busy and fashionable Via Condotti…

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I had to include the main street in Rome’s historical center, Via del Corso.

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Lastly, Via Margutta, home to art galleries and trendy restaurants.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts about the new Roma Collection! For the love of Rome and Paris, take 20% off any bags online using code: ROMEINPARIS, until the end of September. And don’t forget to follow along on Instagram! More travels and bags coming up…

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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Insider’s Guide to Monterosso

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I first encountered Monterosso during my around-the-world journey in October of 2007. On a whim, I took the train from Santa Margherita and immediately became enamored with this soulful village set upon the Mediterranean. I spent five blissful days swimming in the sea; exploring the old town and tasting its culinary specialities; hiking from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, awed by the views. As I wrote in my travel blog, “I had discovered paradise.” As chance would have it, the handsome Italian I serendipitously met on the streets of Soho, NY in 2009, comes from this very land. Monterosso has since become a place I know and love well, through its people, culture and traditions. It was the scene of our wedding in 2011 and every summer we live ‘la dolce vita’. I feel grateful to call this part of the Italian Riviera my home, and to share it with those dear to me. As a Monterosso insider, I’m often asked where to dine, sleep, etc. Hence, I’ve decided to put together this Insider’s Guide to Monterosso.

TRAIN TRAVEL. Arriving to Monterosso al Mare from Pisa or Genoa takes about 1.5 hours via Trenitalia. From Milan allow for 3 hours. I would not recommend driving as aside from taxis and delivery vehicles, the village is car-free, and parking is sparse. Stepping out of the train you are in Fegina, the newer part of the village. Exiting the tunnel on the left will bring you to Monterosso, the old town, and what I consider the most charming.

WHEN TO VISIT. The Cinque Terre is composed of five vibrant villages, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, built upon cliffs and once upon a time accessible only by sea or train. The region didn’t become a major international tourist destination until the 1990’s, thanks in part to Rick Steves who fell in love with the five lands, making his home in Vernazza. Now these villages, some with populations as small as 250, are bustling with tourists during the summer season, mainly due to day tripping visitors and those arriving to La Spezia by cruise ship. My advice is to visit during the quieter yet equally sunny months of April, May, September or October. The season is long and it’s always best to book accommodations in advance, especially for the summer months.

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WHERE TO SLEEP. There are numerous hotels and B&B’s in both Fegina and Monterosso. Here are my recommendations in the old town, all family run and filled with charm, rooms ranging in price from 100€-200€/night.

La Casa di Andrea: Five tastefully decorated double rooms with a garden and views of the village. Well worth the many steps up!

Bellambra: Four comfortable double rooms and one family apartment located in the heart of the old town, overlooking the main street.

Il Timone: Three cozy double rooms classically decorated, with sea views from the breakfast terrace. 100+ steps up from the village.

Il Maestrale: Several double rooms including a superior duplex room, all with views to the street below. Beautifully restored building from the 18th Century.

Hotel La Colonnina: Many double rooms including family rooms, some with terraces and views of the village. (Ask for a renovated room.) Lovely rooftop terrace with sea views.

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WHERE TO DRINK. The aperitivo is an integral part of life in Italy. Just before dinner, it’s a time to meet friends and engage in the life of the village. You’ll always be served a small snack to complement the drink.

Enoteca Eliseo: Follow the classical music to find this upscale wine bar in the heart of the village. With a wide selection of wines to choose from, including a Cinque Terre selection. I suggest the Lemon Spritz, a concoction they created in recent years. (Closed Tuesdays)

Eldorado: Want to mingle with the locals? Head to this pre-dinner or late night hotspot for one of their many cocktails or my latest favorite, the Saint-Germain Spritz.

Bar Alga: Before sunset, make your way to this beachside bar for a fresh Pina Colada served in a pineapple.

Bar Eden: Located right on the beach in Fegina, the sea views don’t get much better. If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, ask for an affogato al caffe, a coffee with ice cream.

Hotel Porto Roca: For the best aperitivo views of Monterosso from above, climb the path leading to Vernazza and you’ll arrive to this 4-star hotel with an outdoor terrace.

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WHERE TO DINE. With so many restaurants serving similar dishes that look equally appetizing, it’s hard to know where to dine. I can’t say that I’ve tried them all, but I do have my favorites that continue to top the list, year after year. During the busy season reservations are a must!

Ristorante Ciak: Opened in 1974, the owner and chef Ciak will usually be found in the open kitchen wearing his signature sailors uniform. Ample space to dine both inside and out. Make sure to try his famous seafood risotto! (Closed Wednesdays +39 018 781 7014)

Il Casello: Situated seaside, this picturesque dining spot for both lunch and dinner serves local specialties including trofie al pesto and fresh anchovies. The owner Bacco will be happy to suggest a dish and might even share the recipe with you. (+39 333 492 7629)

L’Ancora della Tortuga: Located inside a cliff on the path between Monterosso and Fegina, this restaurant is one not to miss. During the summer months you can dine al fresco, away from the crowds of the village. Ask for their divine seafood antipasto misto, you’ll thank me! (Closed Mondays +39 187 800 065)

Ristorante Miky: This elegant family run restaurant opened in 1980, was once a pizzeria, and has since evolved into the destination for ‘haute cuisine’ dining in Fegina. The presentation alone will impress you, not to mention the cooking. I’m a great fan of the constantly changing antipasti and grilled calamari, or try the tuna, or the seafood risotto. Honestly, you can’t go wrong. (+39 0187 817608)

La Cantina di Miky: If you’re looking for something more casual in Fegina, the Miky family more recently opened another restaurant with both seaside seats and a spacious cantina. Their dishes are a creative take on the classics, with a wide selection of local wines to choose from. If you run into the owner’s wife Christine, she’ll be happy to advise you. (+39 018 780 2525)

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LOCAL SPECIALTIES. All twenty regions of Italy boast local products and dishes. Which ones are the Cinque Terre known for? Here are the must try specialties in Monterosso. I tried to keep it short, as you could easily spend all day eating!

Focaccia: The best can be found at Il Massimo de la Focaccia in Fegina.

Anchovies: Fried, stuffed, salted, with lemon, in pasta… try them in all their preparations.

Farinata: Head to Il Frantoio in Monterosso’s old town to try this chick pea delicacy.

Pan Frito con Formaggio: Fried bread with cheese? Yes please! Also found at Il Frantoio.

Pesto: One of Liguria’s  healthiest specialities, a must try is the pasta dish ‘trofie al pesto’.

Rice Cakes: A perfect option for lunch. Go to Midi Bar in Monterosso for a taste.

Sciacchetrà: A delicious local sweet wine. Read all about how it’s made here.

Cannoli: The Northern Italian version of heaven, the best can be found at Pasticceria Laura.

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BEST OF. I couldn’t put together a list of favorites without including my ‘best of’, could I?

Focaccia: Il Massimo de la Focaccia has ‘right out of the oven’ focaccia in many varieties. Perfect for lunch.

Pizza: Il Fornaio is a focacceria in Fegina that recently added pizza to its menu, made with all natural local ingredients.

Gelato: Midi Bar in the old town makes its own artisanal flavors, while Slurp in Fegina will awaken your taste buds with flavors including lemon and fig. Why not have two?

Pastries: Pasticceria Laura is THE spot for anything sweet. Must tries are the aforementioned cannoli and the torta Monterossina. Freshly baked by Laura herself every morning.

Cappuccino: It’s hard to find a bad cappuccino in Italy. Midi Bar and Bar Eden are two of my favorites.

Souvenirs: You can certainly take home jars of pesto and a lemon or two, but what about ceramic anchovies? These and other pottery, all handmade in Monterosso, can be found at Fabric d’Arte‘s two locations in the old town. I already have quite a collection!

Of course you’ll want to explore the rest of Cinque Terre too. You can take a train, boat or hike to the neighboring villages. Definitely worth a visit! If you’re already familiar with the five lands, I suggest a train to the less touristic and charming villages of Camogli or Sestri Levante. By boat you can visit historic Portovenere or Portofino. More information on day trips and hikes can be found here.

In case you need help planning your trip, my friends at Bella Vita Travels will be happy to assist. Buon viaggio and enjoy my home in Italy!

bon voyage

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Perhaps it’s because I grew up traveling that I don’t think much about getting on a plane and visiting another country. Actually, I thrive on it. There’s nothing like discovering a foreign land and getting to know its people, cuisine and customs. The ways in which travel can expand your mind are innumerous! Lately, with so much turmoil in the world, and heartache in my very own beloved countries of France and the United States, fewer people are crossing continents. I understand the uncertainty of being a “stranger in a strange land” and the potential threats we are faced with, but I choose not to live by this fear. Having experienced 9/11 in New York City and more recently the attacks in Paris, I realize how fragile life can be. I’ve also come to realize that it must be lived fully, with caution, but without fear. “Carpe Diem” as the saying goes. In the end, it’s a choice we make. I will continue walking these beautiful streets of Paris in peace, meeting friends for an evening apéro, shopping at our local markets, conducting my workshops and fashion tours… and getting on a train or plane as often as possible. And I hope you too will continue to travel and expand your horizons. If you have any doubts, I’m happy to convince you otherwise.

As you plan your next trip, here’s an informative article about safe travel from Bella Vita Travels. Bon voyage!

summer in the city

For those of us staying in Paris or visiting the City of Lights in August, the month when most Parisians leave town and head to their preferred holiday destinations, where to go to get away from the crowds and relax beneath the late summer sun? Thankfully, I’ve discovered a few favorite spots that I’m happy to share with you.

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The annual Paris Plages along the banks of the Seine is back for its 14th year, with plenty of spots in which to lounge, and with some of the most impressive views in all of Paris. Sand at your feet and rosé in hand, not a bad way to relax. You can also take a dance or tai-chi class or play pétanque. From the Louvre to Pont de Sully, this year it lasts even longer, ending September 4th. 

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One of my favorite discoveries has been the Jardin à l’heure d’été (summer garden) at the Swedish Institute in the Marais. By simply borrowing a book, you sit on the ample lawn all day, lounging in the sun. There’s a cafe for snacks and smoothies, Swedish of course. With activities for kids, there are plenty of toddlers running around. Entrance is at 10 rue Elzévir. Open Wednesdays to Sundays from 12:30 to 7:30 until August 25th.

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If sipping cocktails on a rooftop is your idea of a night well spent, then I’ll meet you at Le Perchoir in the Marais. “Hidden” on the rooftop of department store BHV, this urban escape is the hotspot of the summer, if you don’t mind waiting on line to experience the sunset vista. There are a few locations including the new Le Perchoir de l’est, in the east of Paris. Entrance on 37 rue de la Verrerie. Open from Tuesday to Saturday 8.15pm to 2am, and Wednesdays 9.15pm to 2am well into September.

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A new addition to Paris’ rooftop scene is the recently installed terrace at Galeries Lafayette, where the Cube Bar greets you with a spacious lounge, down tempo tunes and breathtaking views. With an assortment of champagne cocktails and Mediterranean appetizers, it’s the perfect spot to take a shopping break and take in the city. Located on the 7th floor at 40 Boulevard Haussmann, from 10am to 8pm until August 20th.

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For those in Paris, enjoy your summer in the city!

villages of the Luberon

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I had last visited the Luberon with it’s picture perfect villages during my around-the-world travels in 2007. Having such vivid memories, I was eager to return and continue to explore this region, this time with my Italian in tow. Our first stop was the village of Roussillon at the foot of the Vaucluse mountains, famous for it’s ochre cliffs and infinite shades of red and orange.

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Without a set plan in mind, we decided to explore Lacoste. Love at first sight! This picturesque old mountain village felt like stepping into a movie set. It was nearly deserted, with so many cobbled corners to explore. We managed to find a little cafe for lunch while admiring the views.

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Our next stop was the equally charming walled village of Ménerbes. Here we stopped for a coffee and chatted with fellow tourists who were also on the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur path of discovery.

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There’s only so much you can see in a day, and it was nearing time to head back to Paris. Along the way we passed the once Roman village of Gordes, with breathtaking views from the road. A must see!

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Our final stop was the Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey, which still houses a community of Cistercian monks. We stocked up on lavender in their boutique and walked the length of  this historic landscape.

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We returned to Paris with scents of lavender and honey and visions of hilltop villages. Until next time…

24 hours in Avignon

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Last weekend we celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary with a trip to Provence. How better to spend such a special occasion than traveling amidst one of the most beautiful settings in France? Our adventures started in Avignon. With only 24 hours to spare, we spent as much time as possible getting lost within the town’s 4.3 kilometers of stone ramparts, viewing modern art, admiring historic landmarks and dining on Provençal specialties. So, how best to spend a day in this 14th century city of art and culture? Here are a few ideas.

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STAY in the heart of the town overlooking the main square at Hotel l’Horloge.

VISIT the impressive collection of modern and contemporary art at Collection Lambert.

VISIT the fortress and palace Palais des Papes, the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century.

DINE at creatively inspired modern bistro L’Agape off the tourist track tucked in a charming square.

DRINK a glass of rosé (or Châteauneuf-du-Pape) in the outdoor cafes overlooking the Palais des Papes.

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The following day we hit the road, first stop the small village of Fontaine de Vaucluse. After the a decadent lunch in the most charming garden, we explored the Sorgue river. France’s most powerful spring (and the world’s fifth most powerful), this river supplies the region with water, emerald green and dazzling to the eye!

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Next it was time to settle into our stunning home in the Luberon…

adventures in the loire

Last weekend we hit the road, destination Loire Valley. This region of France is one of our favorites to explore, both for its proximity to Paris and its regal history. On the way to Orleans via high speed train we reminisced our trips in the Loire, our first adventure being by bike to Château de Blois and the Château de Chambord. Our second trip found us at Château d’Amboise and Château du Clos Lucé. We’ve since been back to visit friends at their family home Château du Petit Thouars. This time we were heading to another friend’s birthday celebrations, with a few visits along the way, including a château or two, but first, home in a pigeon house.

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We arrived to Le Colombier, once a pigeon house from the 18th century, and settled in to our romantic abode.

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A quick drive from our home in Clery-Saint-Andre we discovered the medieval village of Beaugency. I was immediately charmed by the vines and flowers around every corner as we lost ourselves in the tangle of streets.

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Our next stop was Meung-sur-Loire. I was less impressed with this village but the château was worth a visit.

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Château Meung-sur-Loire, once the prestigious residence of the bishops of Orleans, welcomed great names in French history including Kings François I and Louis XI. It also served as a prison for poet François Villon.

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Our last stop was to a castle that has now become my favorite of them all, Château de Chenonceau…

overcoming fear

Fear is defined as “a very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger”. Being a rather courageous girl, there are few things that provoke this feeling. As a child I was fearful of a fast driver, until I became a driver myself and the thrill of speed enticed me. During my around-the-world travels I overcame my fear of water by learning to scuba dive in the temperate waters of Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi. I never feared heights and confirmed this by sky-diving in New Zealand. But skiing? This sport terrified me. It had been three years since our last alpine adventure, and still the fear was intact. And still I was determined to overcome it. With good friends by our side, we headed 2,200 meters up to the Dolomites, the stunning peaks of Madonna di Campiglio to be specific, where I would learn to glide back down… fearlessly.

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Day One. I had to ski down a red piste in order to arrive to the blue pistes. Panic! Somehow I managed to make my way down the mountain, my body recalling what it had learned during my last three attempts at skiing. I fell. I became frustrated. I felt uncomfortable. I got back on my feet. I was ready to call it quits.

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Day Two. My patient teacher met me in the morning and I very clearly expressed my fear, evident in the rigidity of my body. “Breathe” he told me. And so I did. Eagerly awaiting après-ski at the spa.

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Day Three. Another lesson. I almost felt at ease. Could I not stay on the blue pistes forever, please? I tried to meditate high up on the mountain, telling myself that discomfort makes us grow. Doesn’t it? Still not feeling it.

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Day Four. Suddenly my body took control. I could turn. I could begin to ski parallel. I could glide down the mountain, my Italian and our friends’ kids supporting me along the way. I could do it! And I actually loved it.

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Day Five. I felt one with the mountains. Well, not exactly, but I overcame my fear and knew that I was in control. I felt proud and accomplished, having stuck with it, even against my own desire.

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This magical landscape and the company we shared it with, made all the difference. Now back to dry land.

a taste of Beaune

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Last spring I discovered Dijon and became enamored with the Burgundy region. This year it was time to visit the smaller town of Beaune. Our first stop was Hotel Le Cep, a historic mansion where King Louis XIV once slept. This family run 4-star hotel boasts 16th century courtyards with rooms and suites decorated in endless charm. My Italian and I immediately felt at home as we were warmly welcomed by gracious owner Jean-Claude Bernard, who spoke of his family hotel’s rich history. Just outside Le Cep’s doors, Beaune awaited to be explored. Where to go first? We headed directly to the Tourism Office to consult the experts.

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Our main objective being to discover and taste the local specialties, we headed straight to the prestigious wine cellars of Bouchard Père & Fils, once the ancient castle of Beaune. Touring their cave, we found select wines aged over 100 years! Needless to say, those we tasted were quite a bit younger. Here began a weekend of tasting some of the best wines in France.

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Saturday morning the sun shone brightly and we met our new neighbors at the local market. I’ve been to many markets all over the country, but this one appeared to be straight out of a film set. Were we the extras?

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Our next stop was mustard factory Fallot, the last independent family mustard mill in Burgundy. We were met by Marc Désarménien whose family had started producing Fallot mustard in 1840. The mustard making process is a fascinating one as we learned, being led through the factory, chewing on mustard seeds along the way. Afterwards, tasting the dozens of flavors of Fallot mustard was an experience! My favorites being the classic grainy variety with white wine, followed by walnut, and honey and fig.

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Wine and mustard aren’t the only gastronomic delicacies that have put Beaune on the map. This town too is a haven for haute cuisine. Where did we choose among the many options? Here’s my short list:

La Bussionière: Charming husband and wife run restaurant that recently moved into the center of Beaune. Selection of fresh local produce, creating delicious regional dishes.

Loiseau des Vignes: One of highly regarded Loiseau family restaurants, awarded a Michelin star in 2010 under chef Mourad Haddouche, adjacent to Hotel Le Cep. A gastronomic paradise, with 70 wines served by the glass.

Le P’tit Paradis: An intimate restaurant in the heart of the town for over 20 years, where seasonal tastes mingle with inventive dishes. Outdoor terrace for spring and summer dining.

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When not wine tasting or dining, we were educating ourselves to the history of Beaune. It was in a walking tour with history buff and wine expert Kim Gagné that we learned the most. She brought us to the famous Hospices de Beaune, also called Hôtel-Dieu. Built in the 15th century and once a hospital mainly for the poor, it’s now a museum. Every November, an important charity wine auction is held within this historic building.

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Before heading back to Paris, we decided a tour of the vineyards would prove the best lesson of all in wine culture. Our lovely guide Brigitte from Vineatours picked us up at Le Cep and into the villages and vineyards we drove, passing Pommard and Volnay along the way. We stopped at a private vineyard and tasted a small production of premier and grand cru, increasing our home collection of Bourgogne wines.

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This charming town had won my heart. Filled with the sensations of Beaune, and plenty of mustard and wine, we boarded the train back to Paris, a quick 2 hour ride. Next time we vowed, we’ll return for a biking tour.

Côte d’Azur

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Last week I joined Mediterranean travel aficionado Megan of Bella Vita Travels for a whirlwind tour of the Côte d’Azur, leaving grey skies in Paris for golden hues in the French Riviera. I hadn’t been down south for almost five years, since our journey to Bormes les Mimosas. Six hours via train, there I was in Nice, ready to discover just what makes this part of France so enchanting. Our first stop was the Medieval village of Mougins.

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I was immediately smitten by this hilltop artists commune, once inhabited by creative elite including Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Yves Klein, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf & Jacques Brel. This too is where Picasso spent his last 12 years of life.

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From there it was a short drive to Cannes, where many of today’s film stars can be found strolling along the boulevards, particularly during the famed film festival. Did we spot any? None that I could recognize…

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The next stop was Antibes, a charming old town enclosed by 16th-century ramparts. Here we spent a glorious afternoon with a glass of rosé and views of the town Juan-les-Pins. Picasso too made his mark here; the castle where he stayed is now the Picasso Museum.

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Not far away was a small medieval village perched atop a cliff, 1,401 feel above sea level to be exact. Thus, Èze is often called an “eagle’s nest”. Again, I was smitten.

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Before returning to Nice we stopped in the harbor town of Villefranche. Now I understand why so many choose to make this colorful spot their home while visiting the riviera.

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Back in Nice I was eager to explore this Mediterranean city, feeling very much at home on the French Riviera. With the sun leading our path, we discovered delicious farm to table dining at Le Canon, and local cooking school Les Petits Farcis, should we choose to take a market tour and cook our own Niçois meal. Next time!

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I could have easily spent more time exploring this city of art and culture while savored more sunsets in the south, but it was time to return north for adventures in Burgundy. Next stop: Beaune.

36 Hours in Florence

Last week I had a meeting with bespoke travel company Bella Vita Travels at their home base on the Italian Riviera. Since it fell just before Valentine’s Day, my Italian and I decided to head to Florence for a quick stop. Having recently fallen back in love with Rome after over ten years, it was now Florence’s turn. With only 36 hours to spare, here are the highlights on where to sleep, eat, visit and shop. Feel free to follow in our footsteps!

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SLEEP : Just steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio, in the very heart of Florence sits Gallery Hotel Art, a modern boutique hotel, part of the four luxurious Lungarno Collection hotels by fashion icon Ferragamo.

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EAT : Italy is all about the food, isn’t it? Recommendations are always welcome as not to get stuck in a tourist trap. Luckily, we met local artist and friend Kevin Berlin, known in Firenze as Giovanni Rossi, who directed us to traditional Florentine spot Osteria del Porcellino. Delicious! A more gastronomic favorite was Il Santo Bevitore, a tip from local expat Georgette, aka Girl in Florence. She also pointed us towards new hotspot Gurdulù where we enjoyed an after dinner drink.

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DRINK : The aperitivo is taken very seriously in Italy, much like the apéritif in France. Thankfully, Giovanni knew just the spot next door to his home in Piazza della Signoria. Rivoire is the oldest bar in Florence, and almost where the negroni originated (that bar unfortunately no longer exists). If barman Luca is there ask him to mix you a Negroni while you peruse the book he wrote on this very cocktail. Incidentally, some of the best chocolate and sweets can also be found here!

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SEE : With little time and much to see, we made a plan. Having already been to the Uffizi years ago, we paid a quick visit to Florence’s Cathedral, also known as the Duomo with it’s majestic dome, and set out to explore the city. We passed by Dante’s home (photo above) and south of the river Arno to the Oltrarno neighborhood. One afternoon was spent at the Basilica di Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, featuring sixteen chapels. Here is the final resting place of Italian greats including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini. The three cloisters too are worth a visit (photo below).

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SHOP : On my last visit to Florence I bought a leather jacket in one of the local leather markets. (I still wear it.) This time, I wasn’t looking for any souvenirs but did stumble upon the most beautiful perfumerie Aqua Flor, with scents unique to their shop. I couldn’t resist!

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After a last negroni we ran to catch our train, enroute to the riviera, while dreaming of the next visit to Florence.

 

Mont Saint-Michel

Last week I decided it was time to venture to Brittany. Having heard so much about the charming walled port city of Saint-Malo, I boarded the train headed west, and three hours later was welcomed by gray skies and sea. And so began my scenic sojourn in the land of crêpes, cider, oysters from neighboring Cancale, and rising tides.

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The historically independent Saint-Malo, known in the past for privateering (a privateer was often considered a pirate), is still referred to as “cité corsaire”. During World War II 80% of the city was destroyed and rebuilt between 1948-1960. With few tourists in sight, I was happy to explore this walled hideaway. But what I was most eager to discover was Mont Saint-Michel in nearby Normandy. As soon as the sun rose, that’s where I headed.

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At first sight of Mont Saint-Michel I was in complete awe. This wonder of the Western world truly takes your breath away. How did this Abbey come to be, perched atop a rock? At the request of the Archangel Michel, Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. Here is more history and information about Mont Saint-Michel.

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Join me in this scenic journey as I climb up the steps leading to this UNESCO world heritage site.

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The views from the top are simply stunning! Where does sky end and sea begin?

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Not to mention what lies on the inside.

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I will certainly return, and next time stay the night. I hear it’s particularly stunning at sunset…

Roman Holiday

The last time I was in Rome was the first time I was in Italy, 13 years ago. A good friend and I took a trip to visit this historic land. Little did either of us know that we would both marry Italian men years later. Foreshadowing? I had not been to Rome since, and those who read this blog know I travel to Italy quite often, so my Italian and I decided it was time to return to the roots of Italian history. Our Roman Holiday began in the charming neighborhood of Trastevere, with a view of the Tiber river. With only a few days to explore the city, and endless sights to fall back in love with, we hit the streets, guided by blue skies and our trusted Lonely Planet.

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Just steps away on the other side of the Tiber we found the sunlit and flower-filled Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, one of the most enchanting of Rome’s many squares. I immediately fell in love with the vibrant colors, illuminated by the sun, a stark contrast to the neutral tones of Paris. Kasia Dietz handbags Rome collection?

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From one majestic fountain to another, we stopped to admire them all. Just don’t drink the water they say…

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, one of Bernini’s masterpieces, depicts Gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as  were then recognized by the Renaissance geographers, including the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America.

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The Pantheon, a Greek adjective meaning “honor all Gods”, built and dedicated between A.D 118 and 125, is one of the most preserved and influential buildings in Rome. Not to mention majestic!

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Newly restored and sparkling, I was tempted to jump into the Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vita style. I resisted.

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On one of our exploratory walks, we climbed to the top of the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II in honor of the first King of a unified Italy.

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The views from the top were impressive, to say the least. Rome glowed in the late afternoon sun. I swooned.

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One day was spent with friends, a Roman power couple you could say. Erica being a travel journalist and Rome expert, and Darius an archaeologist who digs on this very land. Who better to explore the Roman Forum with?

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Once the center of Roman public life, we tried to imagine the events that took place here many centuries ago.

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By chance, we gained access to sights that haven’t been made public yet. For my (and your) eyes only…

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We walked from the Roman Forum up 40 meters to Palatine Hill… Our expert guide Darius Arya leading the way.

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From there we saw the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater ever built. An engineering & architectural marvel.

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I stood for a while admiring the Colosseum before we went inside, in complete awe. To the right of it is the apartment from film La Grande Bellezza, not a bad view…

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Enamored with sculptor Bernini, we spent an afternoon at the Villa Borghese. I’ve learned to always look down.

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Our last stop was at Saint Peter’s Basilica which will leave even an atheist marveling at this Renaissance structure, both inside and out. Already, we couldn’t wait to return. Rome had captured our hearts.

merry everything

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It’s that time of year to slow down and look up. To spend time with those most dear to us, reflect on the year coming to an end, and the one soon to start. The past year has been challenging both personally and globally, and I for one am looking forward to beginning a new one. But first, Christmas. My Italian and I are heading to Rome for a little pre-holiday celebration. I’m looking forward to rediscover this city that I haven’t visited in nearly 15 years. And who better to explore it with than my favorite travel companion! Join me on my adventures in Rome followed by the Italian Riviera, via Instagram and Facebook. Incidentally, I was recently named one of the 20 Paris Instagram Accounts to Follow by Bonjour Paris. I’m honored!

For a little year end news, here’s my holiday newsletter. I’ll be back in the new year sharing more of life and love in the City of Lights, and who knows where 2016 will find me. Thank you for joining me on this beautiful journey.

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Wishing you and yours merry everything! Happy new year from the City of Lights!

gratitude giveaway

The holiday season is upon us, as the clock ticks down to the new year. To thank you all for following along on my adventures, (it’s been over six years of love in the city of lights!), and to wish you a very happy new year, I have a few goodies for you that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do. Certainly they will compliment any travels you take in the new year.  Which leads me to the giveaway… Firstly, you have your choice of Kasia Dietz handbags from my many collections. I’m always  happy to share my wearable art, inspired by my travels to Andalucia, Bali, Istanbul, Provence, Giverny… Secondly, to remain on time in whatever timezone you’re in, win $129 towards any hand-crafted Jord Wood Watch. Lastly, what better way to stay in top form in the new year than with mantras by Diana Antholis? Win her latest book Sanity is Sexy: Mantras to Inspire a Healthy Mindset.

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To enter, simply mention your favorite Kasia Dietz handbag or clutch and Jord Wood Watch in the comments below, and where you’d like to travel with them in 2016. Winners will be chosen randomly on December 20th. Good luck!

Fall for France

Sometimes life brings you full circle. Last spring I was invited along with Leah Walker, by the France Tourism Board Rendez-vous en France, to join their annual campaign in which they highlight and promote select cities in France. In my many years as a print producer in New York, (in which field I still work from time to time), I often traveled to foreign locales, managing campaigns for various advertising agencies. This time however, my role was as blogger and social media marketer. Wow, no production work! Though I was more than happy to assist whenever needed. The campaign, shot by talented photographer Braden Summers and assisted by a well curated crew stemming from all over the globe, began on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Some of the best views of the city of lights!

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Braden and crew continued from Paris to Poitiers, Nice and Marseille before I caught up with them in Dijon. What a magical city filled with history, wine and of course mustard. Read more about my Dijon adventures here.

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Our next and last stop on the France tour was Reims, the land of champagne. After a private tasting at the famous champagne house Taittinger, Leah and I joined the group for the final day of photography. Our last scene took place at a gorgeous private home with a grand picnic a la Française. You can even spot me running off in the distance with Sophie from Atout France.

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For those heading to Miami Art Basel next week, stop by the France Pavilion to discover this years stunning traveling photo exposé of “Top French Cities”. The campaign can also be viewed here. Or better yet, come to France!

olive harvest

As those of you who follow me on Instagram know, I’ve been in Italy recently, specifically Cinque Terre. A combination of work & family/friends visit, timed around the olive harvest. In past years I’ve eagerly assisted with the grape harvest, going as far as stomping the many buckets of grapes with my bare feet. What fun! But olives? I had never before taken part in the harvest, choosing instead to busy myself with work while my Italian labors in the land. This year however, I decided to find out exactly how this homegrown oil is created. IMG_3248

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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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simply Symi

With a quick stop at Kos, another world entirely with it’s myriad of beach bars and rock music, attracting day trippers in search of a spot in the sun. We boarded the next ferry to Symi, my thirteenth island on this, our fourth Greek Island adventure. But who’s counting?

IMG_0092I had no idea what to expect as the ferry approached Symi, part of the Dodecanese island chain. I did know it was a gem with a complex history, occupied by Italy in the 20th century, which could explain it’s colorful facades, and still a favorite to Italians and British.

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gone sailing

One of my longtime dreams has been to go sailing. To experience the open seas, rising with the sun and rocked to sleep by the light of the moon. I had overcome my fear of water by learning how to scuba dive in Thailand. When one of my dearest friends (being in possession of a 47 foot sailboat) suggested we sail the Aegean Sea this summer, how could we resist? In late August we flew to Bodrum, Turkey and sailing adventures began.

IMG_9147 IMG_9210With plenty of wind, we set out to explore the charming Turkish coastal villages.

IMG_9280Often, in sight of a hidden paradise, we would anchor in the middle of the sea and swim.

IMG_9314IMG_9296 What I loved most was sitting aboard the boat, passing one beautiful vista after another.

IMG_9306The “captain” showed me the ropes and even let me sail. What a pleasure it was!

IMG_9413Most evenings were spent dining on land, the sunset marking the end of a memorable day.

IMG_9434Before we returned to Turgutreis, we stopped to explore Ancient Greek ruins of Knidos.

IMG_9564It was here that we discovered one of the most beautiful “ancient” swimming spots.

IMG_9550Our sailing trip was a great success, confirming my love for the sport. Five days and nights on the Aegean, adjusting to sleeping in a small cabin surrounded by noises and motions of the sea, staying calm while the yacht tipped to one side. What I can well describe as a thrill! I’m already looking forward to the next sailing adventures… But first the Greek Isles. A destination that my Italian and I have grown to call paradise. Next stop Symi & Rhodes…

adventures in Essaouira

On July 29th I celebrated my birthday. In true leo fashion, I toasted grandly with friends in Paris. Meanwhile, my Italian, forever the romantic, planned another surprise getaway. The last three were in Italy, but this one, he hinted, was to foreign landscapes I had often dreamt of. I arrived to the airport unaware of where I would be spending the next four days. Tears of joy collected in my eyes as I saw the boarding sign: Essaouira, Morocco! In just over three hours we landed and soon after arrived to gorgeous views from our riad.

IMG_7474That evening I experienced my first Moroccan sunset. I was already enamored.

IMG_7587The following day we explored the Medina of this mid-eighteenth century fortified city.

IMG_8147I learned that the prominent blue covering many of the doors and windows were remnants from a Jewish past, and also the symbolic color of a port city.

IMG_7478 IMG_7484IMG_8004I was interested in learning about the local products of the artisans, and even met a few.

IMG_8012The port of Essaouira, known for it’s myriad of blue boats and hundreds of local fisherman, was the most important trading port between Europe, Africa and the Americas from it’s foundation in 1770 until the first half of the nineteenth century.

IMG_7739 IMG_7772 Having first ridden a camel in the desserts of Rajasthan during my travels in India, I thought what better way to discover the Moroccan landscape, with it’s miles of sandy beaches.

IMG_7940With the winds in full force, we boarded these gentle dromedary and began our tour.

IMG_8414Our guide stopped to show us the ruins of an ancient Sultan palace from the 18th century.

IMG_7954We continued until we reached the town of Diabat, where Jimi Hendrix’ legacy lives on.

IMG_7957The last day I experienced a local hammam, and we spent the afternoon in the Medina, a place I had grown to love for it’s vibrancy. Many tagines later, it was time to return to Paris.

IMG_8158But not before one last sunset, ending a magical adventure in Morocco.

Portovenere and the poets

In my dozens of trips to Cinque Terre, I had never visited the town of Portovenere, until now. We boarded the tourist boat, filled with anticipatory visitors from around the world. For that afternoon, I became one of them. In just under an hour we arrived to a breathtaking sight. The Church of St Peter originates from the 5th century, both Gothic and Christian, with most recent additions in the 13th century, marked by black & white stripes.IMG_5677 IMG_5679 IMG_5682As our boat turned into the port of this tiny peninsula, a row of vibrant colors greeted us.

IMG_5687These houses were built by the Genovese Republic as a fortress to protect from invaders.

IMG_5810Portovenere, part of the Gulf of the Poets, is where the likes of Lord Byron (whose name was given to a now collapsed sea cave Grotta dell’Arpaia), George Sand and Alfred de Musset spent lengthy periods of time, writing, dreaming, swimming…

IMG_5778 IMG_5795  It was here too, where Percy B. Shelley drowned in a storm and his memory lives on.

IMG_5830It was a summer afternoon steeped in history, and eagerly we returned to life on the sea.

life on the sea

Ever since my first visit to what I then called ‘paradise found’ during my year of travels, I fell in love with Monterosso al Mare. Little did I know that I would meet a man from this very land and come to call it my home. Recently we spent nearly two weeks living on the sea. Blissfully. Days began with yoga beneath a kiwi canopy and visits to the bakery for cappuccino and a fresh cannoli, followed by picking capers in the garden, or lemons in the grove (that task was left to my Italian). A family lunch followed a siesta beneath the shade of a beach umbrella. Evenings spent with friends. Every night I fell asleep to the lullaby of the sea, some nights it bellowed to us, other nights it whispered. I rose to the church bells.

IMG_5638IMG_5932IMG_5374IMG_5277 As I wrote five years ago during my third visit, I have come more deeply to cherish this land where nature reigns and life is valued in the most basic and beautiful of ways.

IMG_5377IMG_6308 IMG_6315 IMG_6318How important it is to slow down and appreciate the art of living.

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Until we meet again… and life on the sea continues.

discovering Dijon

Not long ago I was invited to join Rendez-vous en France, the official site for France Tourism, as a select few traveled the country to create their new campaign Fall For France. Considering there were several regions of France I hadn’t yet explored, I eagerly accepted the adventure and boarded the train with Rail Europe. In under two hours I arrived to Dijon.

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Dijon being the capital of the Burgundy region, naturally day one was spent wine tasting.

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Bourgogne being my top choice in wine, I discovered new reds and even a few whites.

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Being in the expert hands of the Dijon Tourism Office, our next stop was a special one.

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The Clos de Vougeot vineyard was created by Cistercian monks of Cîteaux Abbey in 1336. This medieval wine farm was highly recognized for centuries. The Château de Clos de Vougeot, sitting regally within the stone wall, was added in 1551.

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Since 1945, it is the seat of the Order for the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.

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Wine is no longer produced, but this historic Château holds many stories within it’s walls.

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It was now time to enjoy the city, and why not from the 46m high La Tour Philippe de Bon?

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The sunlit views were stunning, and I was eager to explore by foot down below.

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I spent countless hours walking, looking up, admiring the architecture, the historic details.

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I discovered a new love for a city and it’s neighboring landscapes. With local products in hand, including a few bottles of Bourgogne, Dijon mustard (I couldn’t leave without a tasting), and gingerbread (another specialty), I vowed to return when the vines are filled with leaves. Maybe even with a certain someone. There is much more to see… and taste.

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My next adventure is taking me to Italy…feel free to follow along on Instagram + Facebook!

 

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?

around the world in a day

One week after the opening of the World Expo 2015, Feeding the Planet, we traveled to Milan to see what all the talk was about, the expo being a topic of much controversy.

In brief, Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, hosts from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan becomes a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries show the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.

Both my Italian and I were curious to see, learn, and taste, starting with the Sudan pavilion.

IMG_0817IMG_1070I felt at home in Poland, watching a film about my country’s history, and meeting a local.

IMG_0934_2IMG_1065 IMG_1060 IMG_1049One of the most impressive pavilions was Oman, a place I hadn’t experienced, until now.

IMG_1026 IMG_1017 IMG_1016_2Turkmenistan was elaborately designed, as was Turkey, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit either pavilion. One day was simply not enough to take it all in.

IMG_1008_2IMG_1067_2IMG_1006Loyal to the US & France, we visited both pavilions, the latter filled with wine and cheese.

IMG_0965_2IMG_0883_2We were most impressed with China, where we feasted on peking duck and dumplings.

IMG_0904 IMG_0884 IMG_0871IMG_1108_2In Italy we tasted fine wines and caroused Eataly, exhibiting foods from all twenty regions.

IMG_0849 IMG_1113IMG_1084Our day ended with the Tree of Life, agreeing that the experience was one to remember.

the grandest bazaar

IMG_6481 One of my favorite places to get lost in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. I could spend hours walking the ancient aisles, searching for souvenirs, spices, sweets… With 61 streets in one of the world’s largest & oldest covered markets, and 3,000 shops, there is plenty to see!

IMG_6488  Most of the salesmen try to entice you into their shop, “Lady, one minute to look!” I smile.

IMG_6500But it’s the fabrics that I am after. Two years ago I first fell in love with ikat prints and designed my Istanbul Collection. What else could I have called it? On this trip, I fell in love again, with the newest assortment of silks in vibrant colors and prints. It was tough to choose! After a friendly chat about life in France, and the cost of sending kids to private schools in Turkey, over a cup of tea of course, I selected fabrics for a new collection.IMG_6512I can’t wait to create new clutches! Keep an eye out via instagram and facebook

art of the hammam

On my recent trip to Istanbul, my friend and I decided to indulge in the Turkish bath culture, the hammam. In the tradition of physical and spiritual purification, the body is cleansed and purified from toxins, blood circulation increases and the immune system is stimulated. I had tried a few hammams in my day, but this one, the Ayasofya built in 1556, was special.IMG_6259Historically, hammams were social centers where special occasions were often celebrated.

IMG_6238Most hammams had spiritual components, and in many cases, washing was an essential part of worship. Through religious influence, hammams became a part of everyday life.

IMG_6240The sicaklik (also known as the hararet, caldarium or hot room) is a large marble-tiled room with a Göbek tasi (marble slab called a belly or navel stone). Here the soaping takes place.

IMG_6244I lay on the heated surface post scrubbing, and experienced my first bubble massage.

IMG_6254We had the hammam to ourselves, and I could have spent hours dreaming beneath the ancient starry ceiling, intoxicated by the warmth of the marble and the heavenly massage.

IMG_6255Alas, it was time to go as I was abruptly woken from the dream. Next stop, Grand Bazaar.

colors of Andalucia

During our recent trip to Andalucia, I became enchanted with the tilework of the Alcázar of Seville. These press-moulded tiles inherited the Islamic love for geometry while taking on figurative compositions inspired by fabrics during the Gothic and Renaissance periods. I was inspired by the colors and shapes and sought to create a modern version in bag form.

IMG_3095IMG_3091IMG_3094The range of motifs produced in Seville was varied, and their use in architecture diverse.

IMG_3163 IMG_3200 IMG_3187 As soon as we returned to Paris I set to work on a new Andalucia handbag collection…

Adventures in Andalucia : Tarifa + Cádiz

Our first stop was Setenil de las Bodegas, a small town once famous for it’s vineyards and unique in it’s position. While most of the pueblos blancos were built on protective bluffs, Setenil grew out of caves dwellings in the cliffs above the rio Trejo, north-west of Ronda.

IMG_4458 IMG_4461For lunch we drove up to Zahara de la Sierra, a charming village nestled in the mountains.

IMG_4544Once a moorish outpost, Zahara’s Arab and Christian history is evident in it’s architecture.

IMG_4535Our next destination was Tarifa on the southernmost coast of Spain, the Costa de la Luz. We were tempted to board the ferry to Morocco, but saved that for another adventure.

IMG_4626This became home for a few days, as we explored the coast by foot, and on horseback.

IMG_4748Not wanting the pueblos blancos tour to end, we discovered Vejer de la Frontera. This quickly became my favorite of the villages with it’s unassuming charm and maze of streets.

IMG_4773 IMG_4781Our last stop was one of the oldest cities in western Europe, Cádiz. We became happily lost in the myriad of historic sights, the uplifting sounds of flamenco, and the local tapas.

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IMG_5118Beneath an Andalucian sunset, we ended one year and began another. In love & gratitude.

Adventures in Andalucia : Córdoba + Ronda

Knowing little about Córdoba other than it’s ancient charm, that’s where we decided to spend Christmas. Tucked away in a cozy and chic apartment in the historic center, we immediately felt at home. The city lay calm beneath the early winter sun.

IMG_4271We lost ourselves within the maze of streets, once the capital of the Arabic caliphate.

IMG_4040Christmas was spent at la Mezquita, a cathedral within a mosque, followed by a hammam.

IMG_4227This quiet city grew on us in it’s unimposing way, the perfect setting before heading south.

IMG_4280One last view of the Roman bridge and we bid farewell to Córdoba. Next stop Ronda.

IMG_4333I had no idea what to expect in Ronda, but knew it was the favorite stop of many.

IMG_4347Ronda’s New Bridge was impressive, towering 120 metres (390 ft) above the canyon floor.

IMG_4354So this is what makes Ronda so spectacular! Time now to head to the Pueblos Blancos…

Adventures in Andalucia : Seville

This year we decided to embark on an adventure in celebration of one year ending and another beginning. Where better than beneath the Spanish sun? Our journey began in Seville. Home became Hotel Casa 1800, a historic palace-house turned boutique hotel, located in the heart of the Santa Cruz barrio. The views of our new city were breathtaking!
IMG_3045Neighboring our hotel sat the Cathedral de Seville, the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world. Within this noble space Christopher Columbus was laid to rest.IMG_3068The views from the Giralda, the bell tower originally built as a minaret, were incredible!

IMG_3732Our most memorable day was spent at the Alcázar of Seville. Once a Moorish fort, this palace, known to be the most beautiful in Spain, is the oldest still in use in Europe.
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IMG_3179 Walking through it’s many chambers and courtyards, we were well impressed. I became enamored with the Muslim architecture and colorful tile mosaics. (New bag collection?)IMG_3331 The Alcazar’s gardens were uniquely magical. We spent hours walking their paths beneath the Spanish sun, hidden within a palatial world, walled in the center of a charming city. IMG_3386Our wanderings took us to the Plaza de España, located in the Parque de María Luisa and built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, now mainly government buildings.

IMG_3583Much of the reason I love to travel, is to try the regional specialities. For dinner and lunch, we opted for tapas, and many conversations centered around food. Where were our favorite spots? Here is a list of our top three tapas restaurants in Seville. And we tried many! In no particular order, La Brunilda, El Pasaje & Vineria San Telmo. Buen provecho!IMG_3816Soon it was time to leave Seville for Córdoba. Adventures in Andalucia continue…

scenes from Sicily

Last weekend my Italian and I ventured to Italy’s most southern region, Sicily. This was my first trip and his second. I had no idea what to expect in this island rich in culture and cuisine. After taking a swim in the still warm waters of the Mediterranean, we headed to our first destination, the island of Ortygia in Syracuse. This charming city reveals baroque facades with Greek,  Roman and Arab influences in it’s centuries old architecture. With Sicilian hospitality, we immediately felt at home.

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One morning we spent at the archeological park where a massive Greek theater from 5th-century BC awaits it’s visitors. During the summer season it’s brought to life with classical concerts.

IMG_9897Being adventure seekers, we decided to drive to Noto. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, it was rebuilt to become the grandest baroque town in Sicily. Noto was recently added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, certainly worth a visit! And did I  mention that Noto is known for it’s gelato? More on that later…

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IMG_9790The next stop on our Sicilian adventures was Modica. This multi-layered medieval town is uniquely atmospheric with it’s high and low levels, allowing for an incredible view. Here too, you find the most delicious chocolate and confections. How could I resist?

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Our last stop was Taormina, the chic, sophisticated town that seduced many an artist and writer in it’s day. Here was the capitol of  Byzantine Sicily in the 9th century, and today it remains an international hotspot boasting views of a still active Mount Etna.

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Four days spent beneath the Sicilian sun, learning about ancient history, discovering hidden beaches… dining on fresh pasta, fish and local sweets (the latter of which I’m devoting the next blog post to). A perfect holiday.

the end {of summer}

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When I was a kid, Montauk was home to fisherman, a place where surfers would congregate to ride the waves and locals would take day trips. It was a tourist destination with it’s mysterious lighthouse, even for those of us who grew up on the east end. When I brought my Italian there five years ago, this was the place he found most charming and authentic. A sleepy village just steps away from gorgeous sandy beaches, considered to many ‘The End’. There was nothing chic about it, until now. But it’s not simply Brooklyn’s hipsters who discovered this surfer haven, it’s Manhattan’s social elite too, who have made this their summer home, thus creating Montauk into a surfer chic enclave. (Cap Ferret, where we recently spent a summer holiday, is often called the ‘Montauk of France’.)

IMG_7496 Just after Labor Day we drove the length of the island, eager to see the village’s evolution.

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What we found were designer boutiques and chic hotels, seemingly abandoned after a full season.

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Montauk was left to the locals once more, just as I had remembered it.

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The once trendy but now tranquil Surf Lodge was an ideal spot to enjoy an end of summer sunset.

New York from above

As much as I love New York from afar, there’s something uniquely magical about the city from above, as it appears to rise forever into the sky, and you rise with it. During these days of meetings and mingling with friends, I tried to catch a glimpse of day turning into night from as many roof decks as possible. As I discover others, I have a few that shall always remain my favorites.

The Peninsula Hotel sun terrace sits on the 21st and 22nd floors with a view of the regal St Regis.

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Here I spent a humid New York day high above the bustle of the city, swimming and lounging in the sun, following a dynamic yoga class. Paradise found in midtown!

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Soho House New York is not only a chic members only address, but the place to be seen. A haven for creatives, the perfect spot to meet a work friend and catch up on the goings on of the NYC ad scene.

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A60 bar located on the 13th floor of 60 Thompson has stunning sunset views to compliment your cocktail. Where better to meet with a girlfriend who just flew in from LA?

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I may never have my fill of looking at New York’s skyline from afar or from above. Until next time…

 

 

New York from afar

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I love New York. It’s the city I called home for many years, and still do. And it’s where I became who I am. When I return now, after living in Paris for 5 years (hard to believe!), I often find the city chaotic and cold, from the inside. It lacks the charm and class of Paris, in which you can walk the streets and lose yourself in it’s beauty. Certainly the energy and dynamism of New York makes up for anything it lacks. The skyline of NYC is unlike any in the world. And now, with the Freedom Tower standing tall, the city truly stands alone.

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When I arrived to NYC I was invited on a Circle Line tour with fellow travel bloggers.

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I very happily felt like a tourist and enjoyed the views as night fell upon the city that never sleeps.

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It was upon this vessel that I met Kirsten, a travel photographer & Stephen, who runs walking tours.

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And is was here, with lady liberty aglow, that my love for this urban jungle was felt most deeply.

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Once a New Yorker, always, whether near or far.

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