Celebs! Views! A Springtime Lake Como Getaway at Grand Hotel Tremezzo

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You would think George Clooney was single-handedly responsible for putting Lake Como on the map. But in fact, this spectacularly scenic hotspot – set in the foothills of the Italian Alps, about an hour north of Milan – has been a celebrity paradise for centuries. In the 1800s composer Franz Liszt and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were drawn to its shores; Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth and Clark Gable holed up here in the 1950s. Today it attracts the likes of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears; John Krasinski and Emily Blunt even married here.

But the true stars of Lake Como are its legendary villas and palazzos – very much among them the Grand Hotel Tremezzo which reopened for the season this month. Built in 1910, this five-star waterfront gem is one of the oldest on the lake…and certainly one of the grandest. Five restaurants, three pools, a private five-acre park, a spa with hammam, tennis courts, a private boat – don’t you feel like Hollywood royalty just thinking about it?

Here’s what we loved.

 

The Rooms

Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s seven floors include 76 rooms and 14 suites – the best overlooking the lake, with views of the gorgeous village of Bellagio on the opposite shore. Others face the gardens, which were designed by Emilio Trabella (who also landscaped Clooney’s nearby Villa Oleandra). Even the smallest accommodations, which measure around 375 square feet, feature plenty of plush details: period furnishings, silk drapes, multi-thread-count sheets, marble bathrooms. If you’re feeling flush, book one of the eight rooftop suites, whose sprawling terraces are fitted with outdoor hot tubs. Swish!

 

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The Pools

The indoor heated pool and the outdoor garden pool are all fine and lovely; but the sufficiently named WOW (water on the water) is actually a floating pool built out over Lake Como…separated from the hotel’s private beach by two wooden piers. It’s as close as you’ll come to swimming in the lake itself — but with the fab factor of poolside drinks service.

 

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The Restaurants

It’s where Greta Garbo used to dine – no wonder, since La Terrazza is as movie-star worthy as they come. Big shot Milanese chef Gualtiero Marchesi serves up lobster pasta, spaghetti with clams, and saffron risotto; while the four-course, 120-euro tasting menu includes heavenly specialties like filet of veal with foie gras and black truffles. One floor below, L’Escale Trattoria and Wine Bar opened last year as the first (and only) place for fondue on Lake Como; this year there’s an expanded menu and a new chef’s table. More casual options include T Pizza (wood-fired pies in the garden) and T Beach, with burgers, skewers, salads and a special sunset menu highlighting local seafood.

 

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The Spa

Without a doubt, the highlight of T Spa is the hammam, where you can book a traditional Turkish exfoliation and foam massage in a steam-filled, white-marble room. Other treatments – facials, massages, scrubs – are carried out lovingly using all-natural ESPA products; a super-private T Spa Suite, set in a separate area next to the garden, is ideal for power-couples.

 

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What’s New

The hotel recently purchased the nearby Villa Sola Cabiati, an 18th-century residence where all manner of Milanese royalty once summered; it’s now open exclusively to hotel guests. The villa – replete with frescoes, tapestries, and original furnishings (including a bed where Napoleon once slept) – will be used mainly for weddings and events; but guests can book a tour of the collections and even have a private dining experience in its ornate private garden. Molto amore!

 

Coming Soon

A new, tailor-made boat, Batt, will be added to the existing traditional water taxi – which means an even more luxe way to zip around the lake.

 

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Next Hip City: Düsseldorf

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Berlin is still considered the Euro capital of bleeding edge; but it’s not the only German city with genuine hipster cred. Düsseldorf, set along the Rhine River in the Ruhr region of western Germany, has a storied artistic history. Director Wim Wenders hails from here; Electro gods Kraftwerk formed here; and Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Thomas Struth attended its renowned art school, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where photographer Andreas Gursky now teaches.

Though the population is relatively small, hovering at around 600,000, Düsseldorf has culture to spare: 26 museums, 100-plus galleries, and a large number of artists’ studios. Its pulsing creative heart is Flingern, a district to the east of the city center. Split into two, Flingern-Nord (North) and Flingern-Süd (South), the area, once home to working-class Germans, is today cool kid central. Its streets are lined with buzzy coffee shops, trendy bars, indie boutiques and the ubiquitous stamp of coolness — a taco stand.

Where Anarchy and Instagram Come Together

The best place to begin your exploration of the neighborhood is on its rough edges, along Kiefernstrasse, in Flingern-Süd. In the 1980s, this street was a haven for squatters; it’s rumored that members of the notorious Baader–Meinhof gang (aka Red Army Faction), an underground German militant group, were arrested here. Those turbulent times have passed, but the subversive streak is alive in the local art. The facades of multi-story buildings (where those former squatters now have leases) are covered with wildly colorful artwork; a long stretch of wall nearby serves as a forum for topical, generally anti-consumerist graffiti (recently spotted: “Look at your Rolex, it’s time for revolt!”).

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The most impressive new addition to the neighborhood is Philara, a contemporary art gallery housed in a stylishly converted former glass factory. The cavernous, 20,000-square-foot space, which opened last June, features pieces from the private collection of businessman Gil Bronner; it includes notable Dusseldorf artists like Thomas Struth and Hans-Peter Feldman, top international works – including a mind-bending immersive environmental installation from Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, “Artichoke Underground” – as well as up-and-coming local talent. A rooftop sculpture garden recently opened; the ground-floor bar is set to open late spring or early summer. On view through March 28 is special exhibition of photographs from Sabine Dusend and Alex Grein, two graduates of the Dusseldorf Art Academy. You can visit with a guided tour (Fridays in English) or individually on Tuesdays.

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 An Antidote to Brats and Beer

While most of Düsseldorf’s historic Altstadt (old town) caters to beer-slugging, sausage-eating tourists, North Flingern offers plenty of trendy eateries, most on or around the district’s main thoroughfare, Ackerstrasse. Noha offers a casual, super-fresh Italian menu – but many come for the cocktails, especially the excellent Moscow Mules and well-crafted gin and tonics. Around the corner at Boeser Chinese the hand-pulled noodles are the stars of the show; be prepared to queue, there are no reservations. For street food, there’s An Banh Mi, which serves up quite good (and super-affordable) banh mi sandwiches in a California-cool environment; while tiny Pablo’s does made-to-order tacos, burritos, quesadillas and even burrito bowls. Café Lotte isn’t a café but rather a cozy little corner pub, complete with comfy sofas that make you feel like you’re drinking in someone’s living room. Café Hüftgold is a sleek spot for coffee and cake (a big thing for locals to do at around 5 pm) that is kind to the gluten-free / vegan set.

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Stay

There are no hotels in Flingern, but you can easily get there in 15 minutes by hopping a tram from The Fritz Hotel in central Karlstadt. The three-star design property has chic, serviceable rooms, but the standout is the restaurant, Frau Franzi, with a selection of lovely, innovative small plates (try the fried artichoke with mashed eggplant and the perfectly grilled roast beef). Don’t skip dessert: the chocolate confection is a clever combination of ice cream and hazelnut parfait crafted to look like miniature mushrooms.

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Culture Trip: Rotterdam

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It may play second fiddle to Amsterdam, but Rotterdam—the Netherlands second-largest city—pulses with its own unique brand of creative energy. Mixing urban grit with shiny new architecture, the aesthetically edgy port town boasts a booming art, design and food scene that stands completely apart.

A great time to visit is during Art Rotterdam Week (Feb. 8-12), when art and design fairs, open studios and live performances pop up all over town. The largest is Art Rotterdam, with 130 galleries displaying contemporary works in one of the city’s most striking buildings: the 1930s glass-and-steel Van Nelle Factory. It’s also the setting of the inaugural Open Air show, with site-specific sculptures and sound installations nestled around the factory grounds. And Object Rotterdam also takes place in a groovy setting: aboard the historic SS Rotterdam, where 75 designers will present their work in the former cruise ship’s dining halls, cabins, decks and machine rooms.

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Also worth checking out are Rotterdam’s stellar museums, many of which focus on contemporary art.

The Nederlands Fotomuseum, located on Wilhelmina Pier, puts on approximately 10 exhibitions annually. While curators draw from the 5 million photos in its permanent collection, many shows also feature international photographers’ work. Starting Jan. 28 and running through May 7 is “Europe, What Else?,” documenting the Continent from both contemporary and historic perspectives. Amsterdam photographer Nico Bick shot the interior of every parliament in the EU, while Rotterdam’s Otto Snoek snapped crowds of people celebrating public occasions across Europe. Rounding out the exhibit is French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s renowned 1955 photo series “The Europeans.”

Designed by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and renovated just two years ago, Kunsthal Rotterdam, on Museumpark, is a glassy showcase for contemporary art and photography. On view through Feb. 12 is fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh’s groundbreaking black-and-white candids of 80s supermodels – Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford – along with his portraits of superstars like Tina Turner and Pharrell Williams. Next up is “Hyperrealism: 50 Years of Painting” (Feb. 24 to June 4), which features more than 30 artists from Europe and the U.S. – including Chuck Close and Richard Estes – depicting everyday American scenes, from diners to ketchup bottles. And mark your calendars: a huge retrospective of the life and work of Robert Mapplethorpe will run from April 22 to Aug. 27.

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On the opposite side of Museumpark, Het Nieuwe Instituut is a fascinating space devoted to new developments in architecture, design and digital culture. The forward-thinking shows here examine how the world is changing through the lens of design and technology. Beginning Jan. 27, “Designing the Surface” examines how varnishes, coatings and other surface treatments like Teflon are used in the making of modern materials and objects.

Without a dominant native food culture, Dutch cities are notable for their international culinary offerings – and Rotterdam is no different.

Newly opened Mediterranean hotspot Ayla serves excellent Greek, Moroccan and Spanish-influenced small plates all day long (8 a.m. to midnight); but it truly excels at breakfast. In the colorful, lofty interior – featuring a huge graffiti mural in Arabic – you can indulge in fluffy pancakes with dates, pistachios and salted caramel, or, for a healthier option, try the acai bowl with homemade granola and fresh berries. Its central location on the Kruisplein means you’re just a 10-minute walk from Museumpark.

The casual, Latin-themed Supermercado opened last spring on a corner of the trendy Witte de Withstraat thoroughfare, and quickly became one of the city’s hottest tables. The airy wood and white-tiled space is packed with hipster sorts sipping margaritas and munching on gently priced tacos (from 3.50 euro). Along with well-executed Mexican fare (chips and salsa, quesadillas, enchiladas), there are also South American specialties, including a trio of ceviches and a hearty sliced ribeye with chimichurri. Come for a late lunch (the restaurant opens at 3 p.m.) or arrive early for dinner—there are no reservations.

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Worth the haul to the north side of town, Bird is a buzzy venue – part jazz club, part restaurant – tucked inside a converted railway station. The open kitchen turns out excellent Neapolitan-style pizzas and pastas but also has a flair for more complex dishes; so put yourself in the chef’s hands and order the three-, four-, or five-course menu (33 to 43 euro). They change weekly, but you can expect locally sourced products and a creative fusion of flavors.

STAY: Ideally situated just a few blocks from Witte de Withstraat, the Mainport Hotel is a five-star waterfront property that offers stellar views of the river Maas and the famed Erasmus Bridge. From around 140 euro.

 

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Banksy Takes Over Amsterdam

Banksy in Amsterdam
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“If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.” — Banksy

How does a street artist stay relevant for more than 25 years? It’s a particularly important question to ask, as a monumental dual retrospective of Banksy’s work has just taken over two Amsterdam galleries.

Though he first gained attention when his stenciled rats and monkeys began showing up on walls and signs across England in the 90s, he has since proven himself to be a master of mixing social commentary with arresting images. Bluntly anti-war and anti-establishment, Banksy’s work calls out the power and ineffectiveness of governments in confrontational yet often humorous ways. (He once placed a life-sized replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee inside a Disneyland ride.)

His commentaries on middle-class consumerism are as fresh and incisive as ever: “Christ with Shopping Bags,” with a crucified Jesus holding ribbon-wrapped gift boxes, is perhaps his most pointed. And though boldfaced names snap up his work—Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera among them—he can’t resist poking fun at the cult of celebrity (Kate Moss, for instance); though ironically, he’s the only graffiti artist to make Time magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People.

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The girl with the heart-shaped balloon, the British cop brandishing his middle finger, Churchill with a fluorescent green mohawk, a rat with a paintbrush: these iconic Banksy images are now fixtures in the street art lexicon. But not until now have so many of his works—150 prints, paintings, sculptures and original graffiti—been seen together at one time, and never in a museum setting. Indeed, two major Banksy exhibitions simultaneously mounted in Amsterdam, at the Beurs van Berlage and the Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum, offer the most comprehensive view of the artist’s work to date.

It may seem contradictory that a guerilla street artist would exhibit in such highly curated spaces. Especially since Banksy, whose identity remains unknown, taunted the established art world by illegally hanging his own paintings—a framed image of a woman in a gas mask, a can of tomato soup—in the Louvre, the Tate Modern and the Brooklyn Museum back in the early oughts. But in fact, his graffiti has become so valuable that the images can no longer survive in their original setting: people cut them out of the walls to sell at auction; those that do remain are typically covered in Plexiglas. (The artist himself condemned the 2014 Stealing Banksy exhibition.) And if you consider that many Banksy pieces aren’t executed in spray paint but rather in traditional oil on canvas—though the subjects are just as controversial—perhaps it’s not such a stretch that they’ve been moved indoors.

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At the Moco Museum, Laugh Now is the first Banksy exhibition in such a formal space. It runs concurrently with an Andy Warhol show, and it’s a clever conceit, as the similarities between the two—one the master of street art, the other of pop art—are apparent. Curators have hung Banksy’s Kate Moss portrait near its obvious homage, Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe; a Campbell’s Soup can painting from the 1960s clearly inspired Banksy’s rendition of a Tesco-brand soup can.

The 50-odd Banksy works on two floors include “Tortoise Helmet,” a rare stencil on metal; “Cardinal Sin,” a bust of a man with his face covered in tiles; and several spray-painted rats—on a traffic cone, a bus sign and a chunk of wall. The standout is found on the mezzanine: the eight-foot x four-foot “Forgive Us for Our Trespassing,” a work of spray paint on glass that depicts a young boy praying in front of a graffitied wall. Surrounded by stained-glass windows, the painting takes on a distinctly churchlike aura.

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The bigger of the two shows, The Art of Banksy, is set in the city’s former stock exchange, Beurs van Berlage, an ornate 19th Century red brick building. Nearly 100 works on are view on the vast lower level; you’re guided through reconstructed London streets by black bootprints (modeled on Banksy’s perhaps?) superimposed on the floor. The show includes two key pieces that established the elusive artist’s reputation: “Flag Wall” and “Media Canvas.” The former is a play on the infamous Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, with children climbing atop an abandoned car; in the latter, a crying girl holds a teddy bear on a bombed-out street as a cameraman dispassionately films the scene. Neither painting has been shown publicly for a decade.

Among the well-known rat and monkey images and still-powerful “Girl with Balloon” prints are several pieces that won’t fail to shock; namely “Barely Legal,” depicting a pregnant Demi Moore from the famous Vanity Fair cover, her face replaced by a smoking “Simpsons”-like character.

And after you’ve toured the exhibit, wouldn’t you know? You will, indeed, have to exit through the gift shop.