sweets of Sicily

Aside from the rich history and varied architecture, it was Sicily’s sweets that remain most in my memory. Being a sweet tooth, we made it a point to find and taste the best of the region. In Noto, we discovered what’s considered one of the best gelateria’s in Sicily, Caffé Sicilia. Here we stopped for lunch, and decided to make it a sweet one, starting with ice-cream, which was indeed delicious!

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From there we moved on to the second course, and what became my favorite dessert in Sicily, the cassata, a cake covered with almond paste and candied fruit, and filled with ricotta cheese. Incredible! We accompanied this decadent cake with coffee and a glass of almond milk, Sicily being the land of almonds. For the third course (yes, there’s more), we tried the almond granita, an icy concoction of almond milk. WOW!

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After the sugar high faded and we returned to a healthy meal of pasta and fish, we ventured to Modica’s famous confectionery, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest (and considered the best) chocolate factory in Sicily. Their chocolate, a legacy of their Spanish history, contains only cocoa beans and sugar. I tried many of their varied flavors, including the most famous, vanilla and cinnamon. But what really blew us away were the cannoli’s. They filled them on the spot, hazelnut and pistachio, the latter being the best Sicilian cannoli I’ve ever tasted!

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A well-known tradition in Sicily is an almond paste known as pasta reale, made with ground almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. These fruit shaped sweets almost look too beautiful to eat. This too is one of my favorite sweets, having grown up eating marzipan.

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Considering how much I love these sweets of Sicily, I can’t wait to return. Until then, detox.

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.

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.

lost at sea

For the last 10 days I’ve been hiding out in Cinque Terre with friends and family. Did I realize that when I met my Italian, this enchanting land would become my home? No, but I am lucky that it is. Though I am most familiar with Monterosso, I love to explore the other villages whenever possible. On an overcast day, we decided to venture by train to Vernazza, considered by many the most spectacular. It will soon be 3 years since the flood, and the village looked more colorful than ever.

IMG_4394This time we walked the many steps up to Castello Doria and the views were breathtaking!

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IMG_4312After happily discovering a local shop to sell my bags, and an aperitif with a view at Gianni Franzi’s new terrace, we headed home to Monterosso. For more photos of our days in Italy, click here.

eating adventures

During my around the world travels I’ve experienced many eating adventures, from street food in Vietnam to yak in Tibet. And let’s not forget bone marrow in China and lardo in Italy. (Delicious!) But I have to admit, the most fun I’ve ever had eating was in San Sebastián. This foodie mecca is home to two of the best restaurants in the world, but what we were after were the pinxtos, the Basque version of tapas. The old quarter is filled with pinxtos bars, dozens lining every street, all attempting to entice you with an array of these taste bites lining the counters.

IMG_0474On our first night we followed our feelings as my Italian would say, or was it our eyes and mouths. And with each bar a glass of rioja or local cider. In less than 24 hours I was hooked!

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Day two we did a little research and discovered that our feelings, and palates, had led us well. The eating adventures continued as we were determined to try as many pinxtos bars as possible.

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By day three, we had eaten at nearly a dozen pinxtos bars, drank many a glass of local wine, over-indulged in calamari and octopus and I even convinced my Italian to try pigs ears. It being our last day, we decided to return to our favorite bars. For those planning a trip to San Sebastián (which I highly recommend for anyone who loves to eat) here is the list of pinxtos bars that will keep us coming back. I’m already looking forward to the next trip!

Bar Zeruko : most innovative and experimental of the pinxtos bars

Atari Gastroteka : the gastronomic version of pinxtos

Borda Berri + La Cuchara de San Telmo : pinxtos made fresh to order (both run by same owner)

Bar Sport : don’t let the name of lack of ambiance fool you!

La Viña : home to the best cheesecake in the world!

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The only rule to remember when pinxtos bar-hopping, the more napkins on the floor, the better!

a work of art

My ideal holiday includes good art and gourmet food. Simple, no? When we decided to embark on adventures in the Basque Country, I knew there would be plenty of both. Our first stop on this whirlwind weekend away was Bilbao, which means the Guggenheim. I had dreamed of visiting this Frank Gehry masterpiece since it’s inauguration in 1997. Finally, it was time.

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I was in awe as we reached the museum, it’s scale-like facade illuminated beneath a cloudy sky.

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Every angle of the grand edifice uniquely reflecting the light.

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Anish Kapoor’s impressive Tall Tree & The Eye standing tall, and observing keenly.

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Jeff Koons’ Tulips filled the outdoor space with color.

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Throughout the day, as the light changed, so too did the reflections.

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One of the most interesting pieces was Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, a larger than life spider.

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What made me the happiest was Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time, a permanent installation of eight sculptures by this artist whose work I have admired for years. What luck to find him in Bilbao!

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Ernesto Neto, a Brazilian artist, was new to me. I enjoyed experiencing his work, quite literally.

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Yoko Ono too, was a featured artist, along with her wishing tree. Yes, we made a few wishes!

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We spent most of the day within and around this museum, itself a work of art. Unforgettable.

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But it was now time for San Sebastián, or Donostia to the locals. The beach and pinxtos awaited…