Beyond Château Versailles: Overnighting in the City of the Sun King

 

 

Versailles holds a curious place in the Western liberal mind. In one way, its infamous inhabitants from Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette perhaps represented the first modern fashion/media celebrities, with both still providing plentiful fodder for contemporary pop culture. Indeed, the former was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask…the latter by Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s quasi-surreal Marie Antoinette. The seductiveness of Versailles remains strangely undiminished.

Yet the Château de Versailles epitomized the sort of shameless profligacy that led to epochal class revolutions. Ironically, the United States of America, birthed by just such a revolution, is these days looking a lot like 18th Century “Ancien Regime” France.

 

 

All of which added up to philosophical food for thought on our most recent trip to the city of the Sun King, just 20 minutes west of Paris – but a world away in so many respects.

The mission was thus: previous visits had always been of the half day sort, never really traveling beyond the Château – and leaving us yet wondering what the town spreading out below it was really like. We appropriately checked into the rather dramatically titled Hotel Le Louis Versailles Château MGallery, before starting down the handsome, tree-lined Avenue de Paris.

Here’s what we discovered.

 

The Architecture

As the town grew around the Château in the 18th Century, neo-classical, the style of the day, very much prevailed. Indeed, we were reminded of England’s great Georgian city of Bath, but without all the puffery and frippery; streets like rue Colbert, rue Georges Clemenceau and Rue Carnot in the quartiere Saint-Louis proved a flaneur’s dream of insouciant strolling. Here were the aristocratic homes that once held ambassadors, vicomtes and marquises – with Versailles Cathedral, dating to 1754, rising gracefully above the Place Saint-Louis.
From the hotel’s windows we gazed down upon the palatial structure that houses the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles, one of Europe’s most prestigious architectural schools. Inside, it contains two exhibition spaces, in which are regularly staged more academically leaning exhibits.

 

Quartiere Saint-Louis

 

The Shops

Since Versailles is not a place one visits on the cheap, splurging for an extravagant souvenir is practically de rigueur. To accommodate, the Château recently opened the exquisitely stocked Marble Court Boutique, those temptations wound through four chicly designed rooms. A selection of books, housewares, jewelry, etc. ranged from the classy (a Le Gobelet du Roy Teapot) to the campy (a Marie Antoinette Rosebush Tray).
Seeking something a bit more personal, we popped into Maison la Varenne, which is sort of the biscuiterie/confiserie of kings. Carrying on the legacy of the exalted royal chef François Pierre de La Varenne, the shop was chic and modern, the selection remarkably playful. To wit, one can take away pastel skewers of essential oil scented marshmallows; dark chocolate lollipops; and, our favorite, wild strawberry and mango macarons.
A couple of blocks away, Art et Chocolat is very much what the name says it is. Isabelle Schneider’s inviting boutique is barely four years old, but the chocolates she sells, designed by Hélène Colas, cheekily reference history – a Louis XIV shoe, a classical Greek vase, an African mask.

 

The Marble Court Boutique

 

Potager du Roi

Staffing the most spectacular château ever built meant also having untold mouths to perpetually feed. And Louis XIV, always ahead of his time, conceived his own farm-to-table concept all the way back in 1678. 341 years later, the Potager du Roi is still in operation, producing more than 50 tons per annum of fruits and vegetables, sold in the city markets and to the area schools. And with more then 400 varieties of fruit trees, it regularly stocks up the locals with the exotic and uncommon.
We were surprised by just how modest it looked, since Louis is most remembered for his lack of it; but it was emboldened by the majestic surrounding architecture, which made the experience of strolling through the gardens just that much more memorable. There was also a stylish little shop attached, where one can inquire about booking a tour – which fascinatingly contextualizes the gardens within the socio-political machinations of the last three-plus centuries.

 

 

Notre-Dame Market

Where the St. Louis is so much dignified formality, the Notre-Dame quartiere buzzes with energy day and night. Its beating heart – and provider of the city’s daily sustenance – is its namesake food market. Considering Versailles’ sometimes stuffy reputation, the place was pure theater, with lively meat, cheese, fish and flower vendors animatedly shouting out the day’s offerings, along with spontaneous discounts and and ephemeral specials.
One could easily while away an entire morning here, just taking in the sights and smells, the infectious energy. And to be sure, we were endlessly entertained. The bounty of unusual fruits and vegetables, cured meats, spices, even local sausages, sweet and savory crêpes and escargot, all just begged for an impromptu picnic on the Château park grounds. But the lure of the lively cafes along the Place du Marché Notre Dame was practically irresistible – especially for the excellent Versailles people watching.

 

 

Dining Out in Versailles

Living in the culinary shadow of Paris can prove particularly daunting. How to keep visitors in Versailles, when the Michelin stars and trendy bistronomie of Paris beckon? But we dined like visiting dignitaries, with equal measures of pomp, camp and chic.
We first lunched at Carmen, a stylish little eatery that opens on to the winsome Rue Saint-Honore. Amidst the cool, stark white surrounds, the unfussy menu offered pea veloute with poached egg, farm chicken, roasted cod with basil virgin sauce, and a creamy lemon yuzu dessert that veritably epitomized summertime sweetoothing. Dinner at Le Bistrot du 11 – sister to the more formal La Table du 11 – was a decidedly on trend experience, where a three-course pre-fixe (at just 37 Euro) consisted of a zucchini-sardine-sage starter, poultry-carrot-curry main, and apricot-yogurt-verbena conclusion. The cosmopolitan clientele was of the decidedly fashionable sort.

 

Le Bistrot du 11

 

Most amusingly, we made a spontaneous swerve into camp the following evening, opting for the flamboyant dinner theater of Reminisens. Done up like a baroque era salon, with staff in appropriate period costume, we were treated to the improv staging of a lascivious, 18th Century rom-com, while we dined on quite good asparagus veloute and guinea fowl. It’s not for everyone – but it was certainly proof that Versailles has its cheeky sense of humor, if you know where to look for it.
But le plaisir of lunching at Versailles itself could hardly be overstated. In 2017, the many-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse had opened Ore, a cool, contemporary 1st floor cafe, dramatically looking out onto the Royal Courtyard. Though we were particularly impressed that the food didn’t bow to the setting, with confit duck foie gras, Charlolais beef tartare, and Les Versaillaises, a signature take on the classic religieuse pastry, all being done to the master’s standards. And, well..the view.

 

Ore Alain Ducasse

 

The Queen’s Apartments

Obviously, there is no visiting Versailles without passing through the doors of the Château. And big news, the Queen’s Apartments were opened to the public this spring – which means we were jostling with the crowds for a glimpse of all that boudoir splendor. We have to admit, it was most definitely worth all the tiptoe viewing.
But we made haste for the always ethereal royal gardens. And as we watched the fountains dance amidst the peek-a-boo late afternoon sunshine, we were genuinely happy that we would be spending that night.

 

 

Hotel Le Louis Versailles Château MGallery

To tempt visitors with an overnight stay, Versailles will see the opening of two new five-star hotels in the next year – challengers to the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace, with its notable Gordon Ramsay restaurant. But for obvious reasons, we chose to lay our heads at the more cooly stylish MGallery.
We entered the spacious Art Deco lobby and were immediately struck by the buzzy energy of the hotel – always a good sign. Upstairs rooms had daring color schemes, with opulent chandeliers playing off of contemporary furnishings and headboards, and handsome parquet flooring. Our top floor room had a balcony overlooking the prodigious architecture school building and, much to our delight, the Château beyond.
The lobby bar offers one of the more cosmopolitan nightlife scenes in Versailles, with well-turned out-tipplers arranged around a retro-mod circular bar, under a canopy of lights. Dress to impress, and it’s shaken, not stirred.

 

BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington DC

 

 

These days so much of history is left in the rear view mirror in favor of the Instagrammable immediate: “Look at us in this photo ready environment!” And no bother about the story behind the location. Yet the past is the most learned teacher (because she has experienced, well, everything); and when we let ourselves embrace the historical we are invariably left with a more profound sense of the present – especially relevant in these times of such tense, divisive politics.

A recent outing to DC – where most of that political sniping is goes on – was a decidedly profound one for us, mostly because we had managed to charm our way into front row seats to the Rolling Stones, who just happen to be currently taking the States by storm on their rescheduled No Filter Tour. But we also found a new favorite hotel in the capital, the impressively grandiose, and recently redesigned Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington DC – which, yes, happens to hold quite a bit of history in its walls.

 

 

To be sure, the awe-inspiring neo-classical edifice, once the city’s General Post Office, debuted in the late 19th century, the handiwork of Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument, along with Thomas Walter, one of the architects of the U.S. Capital building. The block-wide, four-story marble masterpiece stills conveys a stately dignity, without being at all intimidating. It being a Kimpton hotel, a low key cool prevails from the moment you enter.

We took off on a long march to our room down a wide boulevard of a hallway that would likely even impress habitués of the Champs-Élysées. Or awesomely spacious room boasted elegantly contrasting patterns, with a grandly proportioned bed and elegant toile wall covering in the enormous bathroom. We weren’t quite sure what the 4-foot-wide white lion head sculpture over the bed signified, if anything – but we went ahead and made it our temporary spirit animal.

Our favorite feature? Just out our window and across F Street was the National Portrait Gallery, with its solemnly majestic Greek Revival architecture. We could have stared for hours.

 

The National Portrait Gallery 

 

The next day happened to be the 4th of July, which meant we could also look forward to a front row seat to the spectacle that was the parade of 45 supporters – the likes of which we rarely come across in Brooklyn – there for the tanks and fireworks (not necessarily in that order).

But the 3rd’s main event took us to FedExField for 120-odd minutes of mother****ing rock & roll. And should you be hanging on to any doubts regarding the ability of those four septuagenarian “boys” to shake a stadium to is foundations, we could have confirmed them unfounded by the opening chords of “Jumping Jack Flash,” along with Messrs. Jagger and Richards making their usual grand entrance. Our jaws remained on the floor for the following two hours, and our smartphones remained in our pockets – knowing full well that no image on an Instagram page would imprint the moment in our own historical record as well as affording the Stones our rapt attention.

 

 

Still on our clouds hours later we settled into a booth at the Monaco’s fittingly named restaurant Dirty Habit (of which Keith has had a few), for the post show come down. Laid out in the neo-classical courtyard of the hotel – what the interior rooms look dramatically out on to – the outdoor patio was the perfect setting for a few Keef inspired bourbon based Spruce Gooses, made with the perhaps slightly less rock and roll ingredients apricot eau de vie, acid-adjusted grapefruit bergamot, and amaro nonino. No worries, as we learned long ago not to try to mimic our rocker heroes’ habits too closely.

Even rock and rollers need a good night’s sleep – and we got lost in the prodigious, and prodigiously comfy king bed back up in our room. Waking on the 4th to discover streets teeming with adulators heading to the National Mall to take part in their own brand of hero worship, we managed to entertain ourselves for a bit with the dubious pageantry. Then, having hit the road heading north, and knowing the next Stones show was in Boston, we considered driving straight on through and solidifying our own devotee status.

We’ll let you wonder how it ended.

 

 

 

Openings: London’s Swish New Berkeley Bar and Terrace

 

 

Post-Millennium, the Blue Bar at The Berkeley Hotel was one of London’s hottest of hotspots, the gorgeous, David Collins designed watering hole where the likes of Kate Moss and Victoria Becks could be found swapping gossip and sharing fashion tips.

The Berkeley, of course, is still one of the capital’s most reliable celeb-magnets. Though with the unveiling of its new Berkeley Bar and Terrace this week, the mission seems to be one of luring more sybaritic sorts, regardless of just how boldfaced their names may be.

First off, what you’ll be sipping will very likely come with a heritage, or at last a certain measure of epicurean gravitas. Vintage champagnes (may we recommend that Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut 1996?), an impressive international collection of rare Grand Cru wines, and in-the-know/under-the-radar high-end spirits like Ichiro Japanese whiskey, Fortaleza tequila and Trois Rivieres rum are all on offer. And should you doubt their commitment to said program, the Berkeley has collab’d with Scottish distillers Gordon & Macphail on an exclusive 1972 whisky – a reference to the hotel’s birth year.

 

 

Considering its posh Knightsbridge postcode, the connoisseur’s selection of caviar – Petrossian Imperial Beluga, for instance – and uncommon cigars is reasonably obligatory. But to be honest, we’re most intrigued by the possibility of exciting our taste buds with the Iberico ham toast and (would we kid you?) their signature camembert chicken tulips.

Like all committed Anglophiles, we also do love a bit of history with our exquisite tipple. And Bryan O’Sullivan’s design smartly references the British Army Grenadier Guard, whose stables were built on the grounds the hotel now calls home. There’s also a stylish half-moon marble bar, plush leather seating, and elements of 300 year old walnut wood – pure class.

So, what better excuse to skip the Hoxton hipsters on your next trip to London, for something decidedly more urbane, cultivated and just all around more swish and sophisticated? We’ll see you there, surely.

 

First Images: The Stylishly Revamped W Washington DC Hotel

 

 

 

When the W Washington DC opened in 2009, the capital was abuzz with the excitement of a thrilling new President, one who endlessly extolled, “Yes, we can.” Ten years on, and DC is awash in dreadful ideological divisiveness, the likes of which have never surely been seen.

But the W has nothing but love to give. And a $50 million makeover has left her looking as shiny and new as the day she first threw open her doors.

Fittingly, with the American press now under perpetual attack, guests are greeted at the new welcome desk by artists Amit Greenberg’s ‘freedom of speech’ referencing cartoons, an immediate reminder of what all those surrounding monuments really do stand for. For added gravitas, there’s a replica of the Capital Dome’s ceiling fresco – an impressive show of grandiosity.

 

 

That carries on upstairs, with neo-classical design elements in the rooms, which contrast smartly with sexy, mod red, white and grey color schemes. But there’s also plenty of fun to be had, with Greenberg’s presidential pillow caricatures presenting the perfect irreverent selfie opportunity. In the Extreme Wow Suite (which easily lives up to its name), mirrored ceilings dramatically capture reflected views of the National Mall below.

For mealtime power schmoozing, the new Cherry restaurant does epicurean woodfire grilling in elegantly stylish, candlelit surrounds – including dramatic archways framing majestic views of the capital just outside. And after the those epoch-shaping treaties have been signed, there’s gourmet pizza, craft beers and bocce ball to celebrate with at yet another new eatery, the cheekily named Corner Office.

But up on the rooftop, POV is where the gossip-worthy rendezvous will surely be taking place. Or you can take a moment to glance solemnly down upon 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, while sipping cocktails named for once great presidents, and recall those times when hope actually did prevail.

 

 

The New Order: 48 Hours in the Revitalized Manchester City Centre

Manchester Corn Exchange

 

 

Visiting Stockholm in 2010, we were expertly tipped off that the newly minted SoFo was the Swedish capital’s most happening new neighborhood. To be honest, we’re always a bit skeptical of such things; and, indeed, SoFo turned out to be just two cool kid cafes and a vinyl record shop. But such is the urgency to declare the next “hip” whatever.

Just prior to our latest trip to Manchester, we were similarly informed that its Ancoats neighborhood had recently secured the distinction as one of the 10 most buzziriffic hoods in the known universe. And our first night out, at a significantly happening new restaurant called Elnecot, seemed to confirm just that.

Ancoats in the 19th Century epitomized the promise of the new industrial age, which England had embraced with uncharacteristic gusto. Majestic rows of Victorian factories urged Manchester towards a new era of technological prosperity. Alas, by the mid-20th Century, that promised had all but disappeared – and decades of downturn and, well, greyness, followed.

 

National Football Museum

 

But as is the 21st Century urban drill, developers began converting those same factories into iconoclastic living spaces. In fact, we became quickly, palpably aware that Manchester City Centre had been undergoing a radical transformation upon checking into the stylish new AC by Marriott Manchester City Centre hotel – where the international media had gathered for the launch of AC Unpacked: A Conversation, a new series that brings together creative visionaries for inspirational discussions.

But we have to say we found ourselves most inspired as we actually traversed the new cityscape of this infamous birthplace of Factory Records and the Gallagher brothers. Here was our takeaway.

 

The Music

Being as we were unshakable American Anglophiles, for us Manchester’s allure has revolved entirely around its illustrious music history. It was here that Joy Division, The Fall, New Order, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, The Hacienda, Stone Roses, Take That, Oasis and their considerable like all rose up from tower block dreariness to international exaltation. Two post-Millennium films -Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007) – captured all the bleakness, humor, drugs, mayhem and musical genius perfectly brilliantly.
To set the mood, we programmed a playlist of Manc classics, which we left blaring in our room at all hours throughout our stay (“You and I are gonna live forever…”). And it was the contemplation of that very music that emphasized just how much everything had been changing in Manchester, for better or worst. Surely there would never be another music scene like it…so, as they say, on to the next.

 

New Order 

 

The Architecture

For as long as anyone can recall, most workaday Mancs retreated to suburbs like Didsbury or Burnage at the end of each business day. But SimpsonHaugh architects have spent the last two decades reshaping the City Centre for full-time habitation, careful not to follow the crass contemporary model of shameless, mercenary overdevelopment. One of their latest projects was the aforementioned AC hotel, where we met partner David Green for a tour of the Manchester’s landmark structures.
Since a 1500 ton IRA truck bomb devastated the area around the famous Corn Exchange building in 1996, the firm has been instrumental in moving the city forward to a new contemporary reality. Without a doubt, striking edifices like the residential No. 1 Deansgate (which, when completed in 2002, was a watershed for City Centre development), Great Jackson Street apartments/retail, the Manchester Civil Justice Centre (by architects Denton Corker Marshall), and more recently the Manchester Town Hall Extension and the Library Walk have visually transformed the city into the 21st Century urban success story that now decisively has the world’s attention.

 

Manchester Town Hall Extension

 

The Derby Day rivalry between Man United and Man City dates all the way back to 1881 – and possibly only Brazilians and Italians take their footy teams more seriously. But the National Football Museum (another headline-grabbing SimpsonHaugh project), whether you’re a fan or not, is at least a must architectural visit – as it stands like a modern Great Pyramid above Todd Street. And, well, the exhibitions are a genuinely fun afternoon’s diversion.
Still, history does ground the city; and we were riveted as we roamed the stately rooms of the neo-gothic John Rylands Library, first opened to the public in 1900. It’s considered one of the most important collections of books in the world.
But a visit to the Manchester Cathedral (dating to the 15th Century and built in the Perpendicular Gothic style), turned surreal, as we stumbled upon a “family” of teddy bears set up in a corner for an imaginary…tea party? Leaving us to wonder if it was something metaphorical, or just meant to keep the little ones occupied while the grownups ogled all the religious grandeur. Later we stumbled upon a chap setting up a full bar at the back of the church – and our curiosity netted the information that it was for some sort of music performance that evening. Only in Manchester?

 

John Rylands Library 

 

Ancoats

It’s hard to argue against the allure of loft-like apartments in Victorian era factories – and row after restored row now makes up one of the most visually striking neighborhoods in all of England. Sure, it’s still a little early to declare Ancoats the next Shoreditch; but along with Elnecot, groovy new spots like The Counter House, Canto, The Jane Eyre, Panda, Sugo, and a super mod bakery called Trove (with its corresponding restaurant Erst) were abuzz with media types. Here and there outside tables gave the streets the hum of emerging energy, and most of the aforementioned places shared a sort of unifying rustic-industrial aesthetic, many with factory windows gloriously framing the surrounding architecture. Yet despite the newness, it all felt very, distinctly English.
For urban trend watchers, Ancoats is most definitely worth keeping an eye on.

 

 

Epicurean Manchester

The dearth of new generation restaurants in the UK was a stark reality until chefs like Marco Pierre White and Fergus Henderson began celebrating Britishness in cooking in the swinging new post-Millennium London. That culinary revolution eventually spread north, until cities like Leeds and Birmingham were boasting Michelin stars.
In Manchester, though, we steered clear of the haute in favor of the happening. And indeed, the aforementioned Elnecot is as cool as anything in New York or London’s Chelsea or Soho, with its Corbusian aesthetic, and clever menu divided up by Nibbles, Fish, Meat, Veg and…Balls (who wouldn’t love wild mushroom pearl barley arancini?).
Elnecot
The hyper-fashionable 20 Stories is exactly what is says it is, and is surely the city’s most international scene (we detected Israeli, Balkan and Latin American accents). But for all the flash, and heart-stopping views, the modern British cuisine was also a genuine revelation, with Shetland cod, roasted Goosnargh duck and slow cooked pork belly all rising to the heights of the lofty location.
But easily our favorite was Mackie Mayor, a trendy but mad fun food hall in an 1858 Grade II listed building. Spread over two industrial-chic floors under a massive skylight, vendors like Baohouse, Honest Crust Pizza, Fin Fish Bar and Pico’s Tacos make it a pretty much non-stop party. From our experience, bring as many friends as possible, and don’t skimp on the gluttony.

 

Mackie Mayor

 

AC Hotel by Marriott Manchester City Centre

A sudden tourism boom leaves Manchester now playing catch up when it comes to the contemporary boutique hotel races. The AC Hotel by Marriott Manchester City Centre is a good start, opened in early 2018 at a perfect midpoint between burgeoning Ancoats and the City Centre of its title, which now hums both day and night.
As is always the case with AC, it’s very much about design, with a lobby done in urbane, earthy tones and stylishly clean lines. To the right is a lounge area that is very much the nerve center of the hotel, with creative and business types mingling and working away by day, giving the hotel a persistent sense of energy. By evening, it transforms into a lively bar, where we had the privilege of gin tasting with the Manchester Gin Company, responsible for the hotel’s signature AC G&T. It’s a “must” order – as is bringing home a bottle of their inimitable Wild Spirit gin.
Upstairs the rooms are all understated chic, with warm woods and elegantly contemporary furnishings. But best of all, generous windows frame a new Manchester skyline, one that has changed at a manageable pace – and that leaves one genuinely wondering just where the fabled music city will go next.

 

 

First Images: The Standard, London Hotel Opens in King’s Cross

 

 

It was a seeming inevitability that Standard Hotels would eventually open a London outpost. And this week, the doors have indeed at last opened on its first UK property, the Standard, London, located in the now nicely tidied up King’s Cross – whose once insalubrious streets and railway station were immortalized in song in 1987 by The Pet Shop Boys.

The building itself is a brutalist construction from the early 1970s, the former Camden Town Hall annex. But, as you would surely have guessed if you’d ever set foot in a Standard hotel, the London edition is not intending to take itself quite as seriously as its architecture would suggest. Indeed, as one enters the sort of ’70s-retro lobby, an installation titled Perfect Time, by North London artist Lubna Chowdhary, immediately reminds of the passage of time – perhaps urging guests to make the most of it while visiting.

 

 

Upstairs, the 266 rooms have playful color schemes – lavender window seating, Mondrian-like bedspreads – and windows framing grandiose views of the imposing, Victorian gothic St. Pancras Station. For a particularly cheeky visit, book one of the suites equipped with (no kidding) an outdoor bathtub.

It being a Standard, however, guests are vigorously discouraged from holing up in those rooms, tempting as that tub may be. Adam Rawson’s Double Standard does classic cocktails and bar bites; but Isla is a more involved affair, drawing on the hotel’s garden for a particularly verdant dining experience. The obligatory rooftop bar opens in September – and should be expected to be the post-summer scene of all scenes.

 

 

But, as we’ve come to expect, the new Standard’s soul is an artistic one. So its in-house library comes complete with a real, live librarian (who can perhaps help you brush up on your Evelyn Waugh and Emily Brontë). And the signature Sounds Studio will act as an incubator for local musical talent – which London, let’s face it, is never really at a loss for.

By the way, that aforementioned Pet Shop Boys song notably contained the lyric, “Murder walking round the block / Ending up in King’s Cross.” It’s come a long way, obviously.

 

Stunning New Hotel Alert: The Belmond Castello di Casole Opens in Tuscany

 

If you had to be dropped somewhere in the middle of Tuscany, you could surely do worse than to find yourself in Casole D’Elsa. Just 60km from Firenze, 30km from Siena, and dancing along the edge of the ethereal Chianti wine region, it dates all the way back to the 10th Century. The surrounding area also boasts lofty cultural cred, its grounds being trod by the likes of Helen Mirren and Helena Bonham Carter in Where Angels Fear to Tread; Judi Dench and Cher in Tea With Mussolini; and Keanu Reeves and Kate Beckinsdale in Kenneth Branagh‘s Much Ado About Nothing.

Into this now comes what is surely Toscana’s most opulent new hotel, the Belmond Castello di Casole – which opened last month after a very careful restoration. No mere converted farmhouse, make no mistake, this is a castle (thus the name). And its wondrously sprawling estate of 4200 acres literally contains an actual game preserve, where you may find yourself crossing paths with a friendly deer or bunny or two.

 

 

A cypress-lined path (ah, Tuscany) leads to the entrance, and once inside, you’ll find stone walls, wood beams, handsome terracotta, Carrara marble…all richly preserved. And for all the visual and sybaritic glories that are just a short taxi ride away, the possibility that one might check in and never leave the grounds is a distinct one. Indeed, 39 rustically elegant rooms are done up in earthy yet regal tones, graced with antiques and uncluttered layouts – with beds designed for long periods of flopping lazily.

Elsewhere, an Essere Spa boasts seven pampering suites, offering such transformative sounding treatments as the Etruscan facial lift, detox lymphatic massage, and the Di-Vino body scrub. And since Tuscany is for epicures, breakfast and dinner indulgences can be taken amidst the ornate Murano chandeliers at Tosca; while an outpost of Venice’s celeb-magnet Cip’s by Cipriani offers casual cool lunch and dinner looking out over the rolling Tuscan hills – a cliché of the very best kind.

Still and all, nothing in this ineffable region of Italy has ever so moved us as watching the sunrise over the Elsa Valley down below. So we strenuously suggest rising early, securing the perfect vantage point, and letting your life be changed forever. As one might expect, the view is included in the room rate – but it’s worth at least a small fortune.

 

Tiki Trending: Exclusive Summer Cocktail Recipes From Brooklyn’s New ‘Yaki Tiki’ Pop-Up

 

 

Confirming a fairly reliable but welcome cycle, tiki drinks are one of this season’s hottest imbibing trends; and no surprise, as temps continue to soar, the crushed ice and rum begins to flow. But leave it to the impressively creative team behind Sunday in Brooklyn to combine their love of both tiki and yakitori to conceive Yaki Tiki, which will surely be an insanely popular pop-up at the A/D/O building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn every weekend this summer.

Here, their award winning cocktail magic highlights whimsical takes on classics – to wit, using shochu, a classic Japanese liquor, as well as traditional rum. Kitschy tipples are served in hollowed out pineapples, empty honey bears or even frozen into boozy popsicle form. And JT Vuong, one of the masterminds behind the Yaki Tiki concept enthuses of the inspirations, “one of the most beautiful aspects of living in New York is being situated at a cultural crossroads.”

 

 

 

And of course, the yaki portion of the menu is a selection of Japanese yakitori: assorted meats and vegetables that are skewered and grilled to order.

It’s all a warm up for when the Sunday Hospitality Group opens Rule of Thirds later this year. There, Brian Evans, Director of Bars, plans on featuring, “American classics that draw on Japanese influence for techniques and flavor.” Chef George Padilla (Okonomi / Yuji Ramen) calls it, “a dream project for me that connects the dots between so many talented people.”

Should you have no plans to be anywhere near Greenpoint between now and September, we asked Evans to turn us on to the secrets behind some of his grooviest Yaki Tiki drink creations.

 

Umami Grog

1.25 oz Tequila Reposado
0.75 oz Lustau Amontillado Sherry
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz miso-honey syrup*
0.25 oz cinnamon syrup**
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
MOP: Whip ingredients with a few pellets of pebble ice until combined. Pour contents into plastic Honeybear bottle and pack with pebble ice. To garnish, wrap a long pineapple frond around the neck of the Honeybear bottle and pin with umbrella skewer to hold in place.
*For the Miso-Honey Syrup:
200g honey
100g yellow miso
200g very hot water
MOP: Stir miso and hot water until combined, then add honey and continue to stir until combined.
**For the Cinnamon Syrup:
400g very hot water
400g caster sugar
50 grams crushed cinnamon sticks
MOP: Bring crushed cinnamon sticks and hot water to medium heat and let steep for 10 minutes, then stir in sugar until combined. Keep in the refrigerator overnight unstrained until ready to use.

 

 

 

Blue Kawaii (pictured top)

0.75 oz Plantation 3-star Rum
0.5 oz Wray and Nephew Overproof Jamaican Rum
0.5 oz Giffard Blue Curacao
0.5 oz Jokigen Yuzu Sake
0.25 oz Coconut Milk
0.25 oz Coco Lopez
0.25 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Mango-Pandan Shrub*
MOP: Whip ingredients with a few pellets of pebbled ice until combined. Pour into tiki mug, top with more pebble ice, and garnish lavishly.
*For the Mango-Pandan Shrub:
2 pandan leaves
300g mango, cut in small pieces
300g rice wine vinegar
300g caster sugar
MOP: Combine pandan leaves and rice wine vinegar into a medium-sized pot and heat on medium for 15 minutes, then stir in sugar until dissolved. Reduce to medium-low heat and let mango chunks cook down for an additional 15 minutes. Let ingredients steep in the refrigerator overnight, then strain.

 

Watermelon Popsicles (Boozy)

Makes 20 3oz popsicles
6 cups strawberries, tops removed
6 cups watermelon, rind removed and cut into cubes
2 cups kiwi, skin removed
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 cup white rum
1/2 cup water
1 cup chocolate crisps pearls
MOP:
  1. Cook strawberries, sugar, and salt in a pot on medium heat until strawberries begin to break down.
  2. Transfer to a blender and pulse until smooth.
  3. Add cubed watermelon and rum, and continue to blend until fully incorporated.
  4. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until fully cooled.
  5. Mix in the chocolate pearls.
  6. Fill popsicle molds leaving approximately 1cm unfilled at the top. Freeze for 1 hour.
  7. While the watermelon mix is freezing, blend kiwis and water until smooth.
  8. Once watermelon mix is frozen to the touch, fill the remaining space in each mold with the kiwi mix.
  9. Now that the popsicles are firm enough, you can insert the popsicle sticks and they won’t move around.
  10. Continue to freeze for at least 4 hours.
*To make this non-boozy, just add an additional 1.5 cups of watermelon.

Stopover in Copenhagen: Where to Shop, Stay, Eat + Play

Vesterbro

 

 

After an amazingly ideological time in Iceland recently, we took advantage of the wonderful Icelandair Stopover program, to spend a few days in Copenhagen, arguably the coolest city in Europe now.

The airline righty describes the program thusly: “When you fly Icelandair across the Atlantic, you can Stopover in Iceland at no extra airfare. That gives you the opportunity to explore Iceland, both country and culture, without adding to your ticket price.”

Flying Icelandair’s Saga class makes it also highly recommended, especially as Saga members receive a special wildlife themed toiletries kit (with puffin footprint pattern). Filled with the usual sleeping mask and socks, we really loved the 100% natural, cruelty-free beauty products from Icelandic brand Hannesdottir (we’re still using the perfect lip balm). Lingering in the tastefully appointed, savories and sweets-filled Saga Lounge at both JFK (New York) and Reykjavik airports was also a particular pleasure.

Saga Lounge, Reykjavik

 

Once in Copenhagen we checked into the playfully stylish Andersen Boutique Hotel, located in the heart of hip hood Vesterbro. From the Andersen (and its sister property Absalon, just across the street), it was easy to get anywhere in Copenhagen – whether by foot, bicycle, taxi or train (the station is only a block away).

Our bellies full from the Andersen’s awesome breakfast buffet, we first made our way to the storied Tivoli Gardens. It is a must-do, since however touristy you’ve been told it is, it is in the best way possible. We strolled the park’s magnificent gardens, stopped by the Mallows kiosk to sample the local brand’s flavorful, taffy-like marshmallows, then hopped The Demon rollercoaster (there’s a VR experience for an additional fee). For something uniquely spectacular, hit the famous Star Flyer – its swings carry riders 80 meters above the park for a stellar view.

 

We then hit the shops, starting with Langsamt, a beautifully stocked sustainable clothing shop in Vesterbro that carries cool brands like Fub, Armor Lux, and Portugal’s organic cotton t-shirt Colorful Standard, as well as dozens of other like-minded designers. Owner Johanne Kjaerum, along with her mother, have curated a lovely selection of fashions, accessories and modern ceramics (made by mom, by the way).

HAY House was another fave for modern furniture and design. Founded in 2002, this exceptional shop occupies the second and third floors of the most gorgeous building along Stogen (Copenhagen’s main shopping street). Where sophisticated industrial manufacturing meets good design, you’ll find irresistible objects and functional pieces for the home. We tried to figure out how to get their seriously good matte olive green outdoor furniture – designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for HAY – back to the New York…and were told they ship to the States. Joy!

HAY House

 

We then spent an afternoon and evening in the Meatpacking District, one of the city’s most happening neighborhoods, with cool restaurants, galleries and nightlife aplenty. We loved Butchers and Bicycles, even though we weren’t actually in the market new wheels. And dinner at Bob Bistro, an edgier organic restaurant housed in a former appliance store (look for the neon Bosch sign out front), followed by the boisterous Jolene, for a very Copenhagen take on the DJ-and-dive-bar thing.

We started another day with the plentiful smorgasbord-style breakfast at the cool, curiously named Mad & Kaffe, on Sonder Boulevard in Vesterbro (you can do the same at their other locations in Amagerbro and Frederiksberg).

 

We got our Copenhagen culture fix at Design Museum Denmark. The Danish know and love design, certainly, and this is their place of exultation – all very intelligently curated. The Hall of Danish Chairs was a highlight. Currently on view, an impressive Bauhaus survey, coinciding with the movement’s 100 year anniversary.

Then we toured the canals, an experience which allows you to really comprehend the singular beauty of this city, offering a whole new perspective, after we’d spent all our time walking. We just jumped on one of many passenger boats taking off every 15 minutes. Though we specifically recommend Hey Captain.

If it’s too cold or rainy to be on the canals, we would definitely suggest catching a movie at Grand Teatret, featuring a smartly curated selection of European and American films, in a gorgeously maintained historic space – and with a full bar to boot.

Design Museum Denmark 

 

Craving an afternoon snack, we popped in to Cafe Norden for the city’s best ‘hindbaersnitte”. Translation: raspberry slice, and that’s exactly what it is. We enjoyed some serious people watching as we bit into two layers of sweet shortcrust pastry sandwiched with raspberry jam, topped with a simple pink icing and real sugared raspberry bits.

Of course, Copenhagen is now the universe’s most exalted culinary destination. And 108, affectionately called NOMA’s little brother, dazzled our taste buds with it’s awesome foraged and farm-to-table fare. Reasonably priced and unpretentious, we loved the whole lacquered quail, for its presentation and crunchy goodness, the soft leeks with salted plums and aged cheese (like savory little pillows), followed by the “hot dough not” – you guessed it, tiny donuts filled with caramel and seaweed ice cream.

For the adventurous, there is an excellent tasting menu to experience the full flavor of the cooking at 108. We were most intrigued by the ‘livretter’ offerings, asparagus with smoke Osietre sturgeon, raw lamb with last year’s pickles, and steamed egg yolk with 10g of Royal Belgian Caviar. If you’re feeling decadent, we suggest a dessert of Rausu Konbu ice cream, again accompanied by 8g of Royal Belgian Caviar.

Yum.

108

Andersen Boutique Hotel

A chic and charming Vesterbro boutique hotel, ee stayed in the “Amazing” suite, which was, yes, actually pretty amazing. All 69 rooms and suites feature wallpaper, cushions and curtains by Designers Guild, while the interiors are bold and bright, yet super comfy. Little touches like Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom, Jasper Morrison garbage containers, Philippe Starck toilets, and Muuto hangers by Lars Tornoe meant we were surrounded by good design during our entire stay. Photographs by German-Iranian photographer Patricia Parinejad adorn all of the rooms.

Heading back to the hotel at the end of each sightseeing day, we were warmly greeted by a communal happy hour. Guests are invited to the hotel’s version of “hygge,” where drinks are served from a makeshift bar in the lobby, and all are encouraged to socialize. One evening we sat next to two gigantic stuffed bears, who appeared already to have imbibed. But their silence was welcome after our brisk touring of one of the best cities in the world.