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.

adventures down south

In mid-August my Italian and I decided to do like the Parisians, leave Paris to the tourists, and venture south. I had heard a lot about the unpretentious charm of France’s Cap Ferret, and was eager to discover it for myself. It has been likened to Montauk, the most unspoilt part of the Hamptons, where I grew up. Our first stop was lunch in a rainy but elegant Bordeaux. I know little of this city, this being my second visit, but look forward to becoming better acquainted in the future.

IMG_5619Rather than head directly to this trendy enclave, we stopped in Arcachon for a few days. Just enough time to meet with friends and climb the highest sand dunes in all of Europe.

IMG_5737The Dune du Pilat measures 107 meters high and I felt rather accomplished reaching the top!

IMG_5697We spent the afternoon climbing, jumping, running… and sitting beneath the late summer sun.

IMG_5968Our next stop was Cap Ferret. We settled in with a plate of oysters, local wine, and a view.

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The dominant mode of transport is by bike. And that is how we explored this little French paradise.

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I could immediately understand why it was compared to Montauk with it’s chic yet relaxed vibe.

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After many great meals including at the highly revered Chez Hortense, it was time to bid adieu.

IMG_6006Via boat and train we made our way back to Paris filled with sounds and tastes of the sea.

Auvers-sur-Oise

This past spring when my mom came to visit, I thought about where to bring her. Last year we had explored Chantilly, and while it would have been a lovely time of year to visit Giverny, I opted to be more creative and we ventured to Auvers-sur-Oise. This commune, only about 27 kilometers northwest of Paris, was once home to the Impressionists. More specifically, Paul Cézanne, Charles-François Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and, Vincent van Gogh.

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IMG_1742This was a trip into Van Gogh’s life. It was incredible to be amidst the church that he once painted.

IMG_1744It is here that he rests alongside his brother Theo, who passed away only 6 months after Vincent.

IMG_1750The next stop was Château d’Auvers where we discovered a most insightful interactive journey into the lives of the Impressionists. A unique experience! Not to mention the breathtaking gardens…

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As the sun was setting we walked the length of the estate, reflecting on years long gone.

IMG_1820It was time to bid farewell to Auvers-sur-Oise. Like the artists before us, we headed back to Paris.

adventures in the keys

Admittedly, I’ve seen much more of the world than of my own homeland. My dream of driving cross-country to experience what is truly America remains to be realized. One day. For the time being my American adventures remain in New York and Florida with family and friends. During our recent trip to the Sunshine State, we did have the good fortune to take a mini road trip to the Florida Keys, along with my mom and her husband, final destination Key West.

IMG_5166Our first stop after nearly 3 hours of driving was just past Key Largo, which left much to be desired with it’s multitudinous strip malls and pharmacy’s, a kitschy fish restaurant in Islamorada. Savouring the catch of the day (and not thinking too much about which day it was actually caught), we continued on our way until we reached our destination for the night in nearby Marathon.

IMG_5224 Our secluded refuge was Tranquility Bay Resort, also home to the iguanas.

IMG_5232And tranquil it was, surrounded by clear blue stillness.

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That evening we experienced a magical sunset along the 7-mile bridge… that alone worth the drive.

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And still in time to sit beneath the glowing sky with a bottle of French wine.

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The following morning we got back on the road, crossed the infamous bridge and made our way to Key West. First stop, Hemingway’s House. Not to mention his cats, all 45 of them.

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Here is one of the 6-toed wonders, drinking from a urinal Hemingway ‘installed’ in his garden.

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We also explored the infamous brothel Blue Heaven, where Hemingway spent many an evening.

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After carousing the scenic town and indulging in key lime pie like proper tourists, we headed south.

IMG_5614To the southernmost tip of the USA. Last stop before the long drive home.

IMG_5697Guided by the setting sun alongside the historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge… filled with memories.

fit for a king

A few weeks ago a dear family friend was in town. Since she’s already seen much of Paris, I planned a day of historic elegance in a landscape not too far away. We boarded a bus on an overcast morning, and soon arrived to the legendary, and now private estate, Château de Vaux le Vicomte.

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Here began our adventure into the life of Nicolas Fouquet, who created this 17th century castle.

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This majestic masterpiece was a collaboration between architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. A ‘home and garden’ to be admired by all.

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Yet the story behind Monsieur Fouquet and his château is a unique and tragic one.

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In brief, after throwing a lavish party in his new home, Fouquet was arrested by Louis XIV (who had plotted against him out of jealousy), and spent his remaining days behind bars, unlawfully so.

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In the famous words of Voltaire, “On 17 August at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was King of France; at 2 in the morning, he was nobody”.

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As we wandered the château and landscape, the gray sky set a sobering mood. At once in awe and aghast at the history lesson upon us. Certainly a castle fit for a king, perhaps even too much so.

wine country

Having just returned to an empty Paris, I am filled with visions and tastes of Italy. Surprise adventures began as we boarded the plane, enroute to Turin but unaware of the final destination. What was my Italian up to I wondered? With map in hand I tried to search for the secret spot in which we would celebrate. Several hours of suspense along the open road, with nothing but vineyards in sight… And then it dawned on me.

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We were entering the Piedmonte region, land of some of the best wines in Italy.

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Our home was a charming agriturismo near Barbaresco, with views, vines and of course, local wines.

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We explored the region, stopping to admire the views, and taste the local delicacies. Spectacular!

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The following day our adventure began in the village of Grinzane Cavour.

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Shouldn’t everyone spend their birthday at a castle?

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In Barolo, we indulged in a wine tasting and met with one of my oldest friends from the Hamptons. What a perfect setting in which to meet! But it wasn’t until dinner that the real wining began.

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We entered a michelin starred restaurant boasting a breathtaking view, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Was this all an illusion? By far one of the most memorable meals, and days, of my life. From the first glass of prosecco to the trumpet serenade. I will forever look back, and smile.

viva Italia!

Anyone who knows my Italian (or reads this blog) know’s he’s a romantic, and like me, loves to travel. He also loves to plan surprise romantic escapes. Yes, I chose well! For the last few years my birthday was spent in Italy, destination unknown, until we arrived. A few years ago it was a charming agriturismo in Tuscany… and last year hiking in the Dolomites. Both adventures I smile upon. Once again this year, we are enroute to Italy to celebrate. I’ve never before so much looked forward to my birthday! I suspect we are heading south, but haven’t a clue where. Any ideas? Wherever it is, July 29th will certainly be a day to remember!

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After our journey to places yet unknown, we are heading to Monterosso, home on the riviera. You can follow my adventures via instagram and I promise to post photos as soon as I can. Until then, wishing you all a wonderful summer wherever you are in the world!

Château de Chantilly

During my mom’s recent visit to Paris, we decided to take her for a day trip. Where else but to a château? Less than 30 minutes by train lies the town of Chantilly, home to a spectacular château spanning the 14th to 19th centuries, not to mention chantilly cream, which in itself is worth the trip!

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Our first stop was the Grand Stables. Yes, horses do still live within this admirable structure!

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At first sight the Château de Chantilly exhibits an air of serene magnificence.

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The Musée Condé boasts the grandest collection of paintings in France, after the Louvre of course.

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I could not stop admiring (and photographing) the château from every angle, both near and far.

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Chantilly

A idyllically regal day spent beneath blue skies and the historic charm of France.

marble mountains

Do mountains made of marble really exist? But of course. Naturally, in Italy, where most surreal beauty seems to originate. I have observed these white tipped mountain peaks many a time enroute to Monterosso. But it was just recently that I had a chance to explore them up close. The same marble that so many years earlier Michelangelo hand selected for his sculptures.

It was a spontaneous trip. We drove and drove… into the white of Cararra.

Alone on the road. The majesty of the mountains became ours to savour.

Even a few chipped pieces of marble became ours to save. Next stop, Colonnata….

weekend in the Loire

The Loire Valley is quickly becoming one of my most beloved areas of France. Ever since our first Loire by bike trip amidst the grand château earlier in the year. Last weekend we planned another Loire adventure, this one to the scenic village of Amboise, festive and calm in it’s off-season charm. A perfect escape from the pre-Christmas chaos of Paris.

We arrived to a scene reminiscent of a painting.

And there it was, the Château d’Amboise, nestled into the skyline, awaiting our arrival.

But first, a quaint village waiting to be explored. (Would we find a restaurant open? Barely.)

A tour of the Château d’Amboise, home to many of France’s nobility, proved a regal experience.

To say nothing of it’s grounds. Enchanting!

Our last day, guided by the sunshine we visited the Château du Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci, along with Mona Lisa, had spent the last four years of his life. It was here that we entered not simply the home but the mind of this genius. Within the château and it’s gardens are displayed many of da Vinci’s creations. I was struck by how advanced he was for his time. A painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, botanist, musician, writer… My Italian smiled proudly at the brilliance of one of his own.

It was an ideal weekend. Already we are planning the next trip… a château or two remain.