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The theme of Paris’ Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour, is love – or rather passion, expressed by celebrated French writers, singers and actors caught in the tumultuous grip of extreme feelings. But this isn’t some cheesy hotel with afternoon bookings – it’s a four star boutique hotel, re-opened in the spring of 2012. It has been redone with the sheen of modern amenities, the background of literary tradition and the chic ambiance that comes from artfully created decor.
Sandrine Alouf, the designer, has created an ode to passion, artistically expressed through brilliant color, lighting, photos and print. She calls herself an “atmospheriste”, which seems to describe the spell she casts. The hotel’s atmosphere begins on the street, for it is perched on a hill below the famed Sacre Coeur Church, in the fabled district of Montmartre. Until l860, Montmartre was to be a village with its own vineyeards. Then it became home or hangout to artists ranging from Maurice Utrillo to Eric Satie. Today there are many sidewalk artists as well as casual restaurants.
“From the moment they walk in, I want to immerse the guests, to put them in a different state”, Alouf continues. Throughout the hotel her paeon to passion continues. It can be passion for the neighborhood, for Paris, for art.
The colors hit you first: the entranceway done in pink and brown gives way to dramatic red and black – the red, seen throughout, has been carefully chosen. The small lobby extends to a library that includes books by some the famous writers depicted in the hotel: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Hugo, Rimbaud. On the library wall you get the first glimpse of the print theme that will continue in the rooms.
“First to love, then to say it, then to write it, then to kiss… on the mouth, the eyes and elsewhere,” wrote Victor Hugo to Juliette Drouet the woman he loved for 50 years without ever living with her.
Among the 24 rooms, eight (deluxe) pay homage to mythic couples including Edith Piaf and the boxer Marcel Cedran, her greatest love who died in a a plane crash. Imbedded in the wallpaper, specially designed by a British company, are retro black and white photos of Cedran and of Piaf, each alone.. Other such rooms depict Sartre and de Beauvoir, Charles Beaudelaire and Jeanne Duval and Apollinaire and Lou. She was indifferent to him, but his passion gave rise to great work – 220 letters and 75 poems. Indeed, a long domestic life is not the hallmark of these couples.
The four “superior” rooms are all about Montmartre at night, with it’s history of the Moulin Rouge..
The twelve “classic” rooms are designed around the themes: Secrets of Love, Stolen Kisses and Paris My Love. But you can’t survive on romance alone, and all rooms have free wifi and flat screen televisions with 50 international channels. The bathrooms, which are in a separate room from the toilets, have both hand held and rain showers, and small glittering tiles.
The rooms, like the hotel and the neighborhood itself are small.
Not so the buffet breakfast, which includes high quality cheeses and cold cuts, eggs and cereal, buttery croissants and very French coffee with steamed milk. A special touch is the heart-shaped waffles.
Among the thirty-something staff, there’s no “attitude”. They are eager to help, whether that means carrying your suitcase up in the tiny lift, printing out a map of the neighborhood or suggesting a restaurant or calling a taxi.
Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour, 7 rue Paul Albert, Paris 75008. phone +33 01 46 06 03 03.
By Subhasish Chakraborty
If ever there was an Eden on Earth, it had to be the Quintas De Obidos Country Club.one of Portugal’s most renowned eco-friendly resort,s located on Portugal’s famed Silver Coast – a region that happens to be one of Portugal’s most beautiful and unspoilt,
In all there are 79 outstanding villas spread over an area of 140 acres in a natural lake setting. This one-of-its-kind resort has truly redefined eco-tourism in Portugal. The Silver Coast is beginning to make its presence felt as one of Europe’s most preferred holiday destinations. The Quintas De Obidos Country Club has roped in Jessica Kurten – world’s number one lady show jumper as their brand ambassador. And why not?
The unprejudiced eye of the architect echoes in every nook and corner of the resort. Here at the Quintas De Obidos Country Club, the virtually impossible seem graceful and easy and I think that’s what architecture is all about. The resort is a supreme adjustment to opportunity and local conditions. All attention has been concentrated on, not collecting art, but on creating art, like one beautiful picture.
Surrounded by innovative designs, designs that are unusual and minimalist, designs that celebrate, which do not necessarily conform to any set pattern, finishes that are playful – is the joy that this resort breathes into her spaces. Be it the floors, walls, ceilings, doors or even the simple framed windows, the resort manages to evoke in the most mundane things a vibrancy and a happy mood, that reach out to greet you the moment you step inside.
We were lucky to meet master architects – Miguel Saraiva and Costa Lima at the resort. None of us had ever seen a resort of this magnitude before and in course of our dinner with the lights dimmed, the candles aglow, a cosy dinner served, Miguel emotionally remarked – “I feel architects tend to design interiors that are austere – decorators on the other hand produce interiors that are dramatic, often with no sense of discipline. Here though, the synthesis has been perfect, stunning and dignified showcase that exudes an aura of ease”.
Confronting the challenge of developing an eco-tourism project of this magnitude, it is vital to find a language, which would incorporate the traditional architecture within the elements of a contemporary construction. I have been fortunate to personally see my California based aunt who is a high profile architect specializing on tribal vernacular architecture struggle with her pet projects in the North Eastern state of Assam. Most architects find the task of incorporating a traditional vernacular architecture into an eco-tourism initiative challenging. The bottomline is to be faithful to the characteristics of traditional architecture, whilst having regard for the link between interior and exterior spaces and the design brief.
What is so striking about the Quintas De Obidos Country Club is that the landscape for most part is of undulating terrain, which is more prominent in certain areas. And the eye of the architect here has been to incorporate the various plots with diverse possibilities of orientation. As architect Miguel candidly admits – “Opting for an architecture clearly rooted in a traditional Portuguese style was really a challenge”.
Quintas De obidos, email firstname.lastname@example.org
by Barbara Kingstone
After leaving the very mysterious lanes and narrow streets of Siena, I couldn’t imagine enjoying Florence as much as I did with the view of this wonderful terra cotta roofed city. But no sooner had I checked into the 400 year old building,now part of the Royal Demeure Group of hotels, I realized how fickle I was.
This ancient building is perfectly located. Less than a few minutes walk to the magnificence Duoma, this hotel has the charm that Italy is known for. Old charm doesn’t come cheap but it is worth the comfortable and ambience.
With only 65 rooms, all filled even in late September, the suite we had was interior decorated in a very Italian style… yellow and orange patterned stripes, drapes trimmed with similar colored roping. Molded closet doors like these would cost a fortune to purchase if you could find them. The small ante room even featured a Murano chandelier, a small desk, dresser with drawers, a dark burnt orange sofa and floor to ceiling doors leading to the small balcony overlooking, boutiques like LouiLouis Vuitton and Fendi.
With the inner doors closed, surprisingly there’s not a sound from the busy street below but once opened, it’s Italy at its best. Busy, chatty, frenetic traffic but strangely devoid of honking even though one has to hold one’s breath to drive here.
Open the large door, the entrance to the bedroom, though not large,is most convenient with a sizable walk in closet, similar coloration. and a small marble bathroom. One inconvenience is the lack of shelving for someone like me who travels with a pharmacy and a cosmetic section.
The concierge and staff are so pleasant that you enjoy listening to their suggestions, their enthusiasm for their city. The public areas may sound cliche, but really they are like a posh, private residence or palace’s living room and library. It wasn’t unusual to see a few people sitting in front of the extremely high fireplace, (unlit in this steaming weather as the sun streamed into the lobby) reading their newspaper while reclining on the brownish maroon studded leather arm chairs. It’s so elegant that makes one want to do away with white, sleek, shiny, stainless steel decor. which I may add, is my favorite look.
Although small, the dinning room doubles as a bar and the breakfast room. It’s the brass and crystal chandeliers that captured my attentions. Upturned and fluted, they were works of art. The small and covered outdoor area it so typical of how well outdoor space is used. Italians love eating el fresco and no matter size, if only 5 tables, it works This small area right off the hotel, abutting the quiet road and sidewalk seems to be favored but the there are so many outdoor cafes, always filled, that it isn’t a surprise when the hotel’s tables are filled.
I’ll have to rethink and digest my digression about decor, since everything was obviously well thought out and perfect for the building’s architecture and grandeur. Actually, sleek and stainless steel wouldn’t have had the same Italian elegant effect.
All in all, for location and service, elegance and stately majestic ambience, it wouldn’t be too awful to call this home.
by Barbara Kingstone
Some tourists sigh when they hear the word Roma, I take a deep breath and exhale with pleasure at the word Siena, now a UNESCO World Heritage city. This truly glorious city has it all and most is within walking distance with all roads leading to the exquisite Duomo with the tolling bells. So it was special to discover our hotel, Grand Hotel Continental was the best location.
There on via Banchi Di Sopra 85, on a pedestrian street surrounded by terrific shopping and the joyous non stop talking and exaggerated hand gestures, this five star hotel has a long heritage and certainly emits a feeling of being part of the street scene. Of course, the twice yearly Palio is a busy and very crowded time and the streets are even fuller and the noise level like a lively opera chorus.
It is the first and only five star hotel within he ancient walls of Siena . A relatively ‘new’ hotel, it opened on February 2002 although originally designed by the Baroque architect Giovanni Fontana. The 51 room hotel was once a palace built in the 17th century. What is so remarkable is that the clever modern architects chosen for the renovations, placed glass and stainless steel elevators amidst the antiquities, near the once courtyard that is now covered with a glass covered roof over the hotel’s fine restaurant.
But equally impressive is that while renovating, well preserved,15th century frescoes were uncovered. Also, where there were once windows, when designing the hotel and needing more space for each room, they had removed the windows only to be replaced with most effective trompe l’eouil windows matching the real ones beside them. All this seen from the glass elevators.
But with so much to see nearby, one could get a guilt complex if they dallied and didn’t take advantage of seeing the shell shaped Piazza del Campo, the Duomo and the nearby Palazzo Pubblico. These attention grabbers make Siena one of the most visited cities in Italy.
The hotel’s concierge staff were so very helpful that after the long flight and train ride from Naples, I was having a really bad hair day and in this very chic city, I felt I owed it to myself to do something about the frizz. No problem, as I was pointed to various salons to choose from. And I was delighted with the outcome. Although certainly not a splashy salon, (the other side a barber shop), it was unexpectedly expensive as was almost everything in Siena. Perhaps the best deal is the gelato stores, always filled, always the need to make a decision which of the dozen flavors you would like to taste. Those shops have the most imaginative ways of displaying gelato, certainly worthy of a snapshot.
The Grand Continental’s grandeur extends to the rooms with deluxe heavy draping and bed covering, grand curved and carved headboards and deep luxe seating. There are touches of modernity but what one wants when they choose The Grand Continental is the grandeur, service and location which is certainly there for the taking. One of the unique features is the superb, modern wine cellars where you can reserve the area for an evening of fine wine tasting.
Breakfast was a treat every day with tables laden with fruit, cereal, salamis, a variety of bread and rolls and some hot dishes, giving you the energy to discover the small lanes and alleys with their cobble stone walkways. (See Cuisine section for Chef’s recipe of his choice)
Although there is constant competition between Florence and Siena’s arts, certainly, even for the connoisseur, there is a plethora of museums, monuments and public art that won’t and don’t disappoint the most knowledgeable.
And best of all, after a day of sightseeing, heading back the The Grand Continental is always something to look forward to.
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com
by Barbara Kingstone
It took some navigating of car and twisting and turning the city map trying to discover the discrete signage of Residenza de Ripetta. But once located after driving past it for at least three times, it was well worth the effort.
The former monastery turned 5 star hotel now part of the deluxe Royal Demeure Hotel Group, has a lot going for it so little wonder that it was fully occupied, most surprisingly, at the end of September.
Firstly, the location is minutes from the famed Piazza Del Popolo and Piazza di Spagno. And then there’s the entrance to this 15 century former monastery. It is so cool Roman-chic yet still with major old guard grandeur -a hard combination to make work, but this hotel has done it.
To one side of the lobby there’s a perfect, well used, serenely decorated, quiet library with shelves of books and deep, comfortable chairs and well chosen artwork. However, the nearby bar is obviously a trendy hang -out for the well dressed- to -the -hilt trendy, obviously wealthy Roman youths who love to laugh and, of course, talk and talk and talk.
One evening at least 150 ‘twenty somethings’ were there for an engagement party and suddenly the sophisticated area would have had the monks rolling in their graves as the group grew larger, louder and happier. There was no way the hotel staff could do anything about it, this being a pre- reserved party. La Dolce Vita is alive and well in Roma. It certainly had a few New Yorkers, who should be used to boisterous activity, bothered to the point of complaining to the sole receptionist. But a bit after midnight all was as it should be…complete quiet and nicely grand again. I saw this as a manifestation that the Italians, of any age, still love to have fun. Financial problems be damned!
This baroque building is up on modernity and convenience with all the necessary up to date needs from air conditioning to non smoking rooms and internet accessibility. However,I’ve never seen so many young people smoking on the streets and in any open area as I saw during my stay in Roma.
Within the confines of the hotel there are enough sights such as grand ancient sculptures and a superb garden with ivy (fake but looking like the real thing) neatly trimmed around all the windows of the rooms that overlook the garden, to enjoy. Brunch on Sunday is a hard ticket to get. It’s so civilized to see casual chic locals as only Romans know how to do, line up at the well ladened buffet table discussing the offerings. Food seems to be second only to opera, a constant part of conversations.
The garden bar section has colorful pillows on dark rattan sofas under a canopy and the area near the restaurant, also covered, has tables and chairs suited for eating. The taupe and beige linen place mats and napkins should be on sale, they are so stunning.
Now to initial impressions of the rooms. I must admit that on first sight of my down- the-hall, hidden away room, I wondered how Residenza could this be a five star rated hotel. Happily, the best part is the space was painted and decorated in white. Any pattern would have made this small ‘cell’, really confining. Had it been for two very tiny people or one slightly large person, it would have sufficed. The size was one obstacle, then the surface of the cupboard doors could have produced a handful of splinters if rubbed and to complete this dismal picture, the bathroom was so small that if you tried to swing a cat,it would be headless and the shower stall was akin to what one finds in most roadside motel rooms.
On the other hand when I visited my daughter’s suite, I couldn’t believe we were in the same hotel. Here I was standing in a lovely, elegantly decorated large suite. Bottom line? Just stunning. So what was the reason? No vacancies. I just happened to get the ‘runt’ of the litter. Apologies given by the staff, were profuse, and we were offered another room. However, since it was the last night, the thought of repacking after two weeks of packing and unpacking, didn’t seem worth the effort. My daughter loved every minute of her stay, her room, the food, the bar, the garden, the staff and everything else that was within sight. And except for the room, I concur with all her conclusions.
Residenza Di Ripetta is a most conveniently located, stunning building, accessible by walking to almost every city treasure and shopping areas and for me, worthy of another stay.
Just thinking of sitting in the perfectly manicured garden and dining in their restaurant where we did have one of the best meals in Rome, (and that’s a mouthful of credit since almost every restaurant is wonderful) is a stamp of approval for this fine grand residence.
via di Ripetta 231
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com
by Barbara Kingstone
Over a ‘ladies lunch’, the quartet discussed their recent travels. Then the destination, the fabled, Isle of Capri came up. As a peripatetic travel writer who has been around the world several times and to the most exotic destinations that most people just dream about , I blushingly had to admit that I had never been to Capri. However, timing is everything and I was about to embark, with my spouse, on a two week trip to Italy, including that famous Isle of Capri.
Naturally, the next question was about my accommodations. I had already booked at a well known property near the bustling Piazetta, the heart of this island, since I like to feel the pulse of a city, meet the locals and see the activity.
However, Shaenea, one of the chicest woman I know, suggested an hotel where she and her husband stay annually, I hadn’t heard about it..
Her description so intrigued me that as soon as I returned to my computer, I Googled J.K. Place Hotel Capri. Although all brochures, publicity pamphlets and photos look glamorous, they often don’t come close in reality. But the relatively newly opened J.K. Place had all the markings of a unique hotel so that’s where my husband and I opted to stay.
Once a private villa turned hotel in 1891, when it was finally sold to the present owners, it was a deteriorating edifice. Now, not only has it recaptured the essence of true luxury, it has all the fabulous statements of the decor and needs of today as J.K. sits majestically overlooking the Gulf of Naples.
The 45 minute hydrofoil (15 minutes by helicopter) ride over the waters of the Bay of Naples went smoothly , even giving us the opportunity to see the silhouette of Vesuvius . And just as we were in sight of this renowned island, I knew it would be one of my great travel highlights. Just seeing the cluster of white estates, some clinging to the hillside, others perfectly perched on the hilly terrain plus the greenery and the colorful florals is reason enough for the constantly filled 22 room hotel. Just a ‘baby’, in the hotel industry on this revered isle where the famed singer, Gracie Fields gave it legendary recognition and Jackie O was known to have her sandals and shoes made, J.K. turned out to be even more than expected.
Waiting for our room, away from the ‘madding crowd’, mulling the location, sitting on the stylishly decorated terrace overlooking a panoramic view of the port and restaurants, but far enough away not to be aware of the hoots and various noises, the vista was astonishing.
As for the hotel, I’m picky and very attentive to detail but obviously so was the architect/designer, Michele Bonan. He turned this estate into an incredible mix of modernity without grandeur and tossed in some historic statues and exemplary two 3 metre Oriental vases which seem to be the centre of attraction in the JKitchen Lounge and Restaurant. The menu is definitely authentic Italian, essentially Caprese cuisine.
At first glance, the stunning simplicity is the first impression. But soon the details become visible. The Library was adorned mainly with art and stylish books creatively placed as though no one would dare to touch the shelves they were on. But in fact, the room is the perfect venue to read and many of the tomes were taken off and then neatly set back by the staff as though the room was never touched.
Crisp white is the dominant color but then deep blue has a place as though it is part of the sky and the sea. Some walls are artfully decorated with great black and white vintage photos of well known guests and along the curved stair case wall there’s a colorful break with a portrait of Portrait of Lady Ashley. The staff member I spoke with didn’t know how it became part of the collection of if the Lady was a frequent guest. Anyway, it’s placement and color plays off the stair carpets. Well chosen is the color oyster grey, in one of the public rooms where the trimming is pure white and one wall is adorned with a sensational series of white framed inserts of small photos.Perfect design everywhere made guests aware of how perfection could add to any venue.
Each morning brought more gushing from us since one doesn’t get tired of beauty. Even the slight sprinkling of rain drops seemed to be a great background for a film. The short spray couldn’t keep us from walking to the heated pool and one of the only private beaches on the island.
The staff was in a class of its own. There was nothing that you asked for that couldn’t be done. ..phone for a dinner reservation at one of the top restaurants in the center-done. Ask where to find great Italian linens or the famed designed jewelry (I disclose this fact that since I also write about jewelry and openly admit that it is an occupational hazards) – and of course, a few suggestions although there are so many jewelry shops in the city, one wonders if there are more than even leather wear stores. Need a lift to the city? The hotel’s shuttle service is always available to take you down the hill for the approximately 5 minute trip and then meets you for pick up whenever you call or have pre planned.
And we learned that on ‘never on Sunday’ applies to Capri. There are masses of day trippers and cruise liners from Naples that it becomes elbow to elbow along the streets and square. One Sunday while we were there, 20,000 tourists had descended here, making it an ideal day to return to J.K. as quickly as possible.
It was pure joy to return to a cup of great coffee, sit on the terrace watching the activity at the Marina Grande and know that J.K. Place would offer us the serenity and the warm greeting on the return from all our excursions.
So for Shaenea, I thank her for suggesting this small, exquisite truly boutique hotel with the finest staff and decor that made me want to return home and renovate my house.
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com
by Barbara Kingstone
“Naples, you’re going to that city of crime and mugging?” I was asked by a friend. It wasn’t defiance that my spouse and I had decided to return after decades but to visit a city that had history, surrounded by sparkling water. O.k. I left my jewellery at home but now having been there, it certainly wasn’t necessary. However, all that talk about crime so over done. It just is not so. Of course, I’m sure it exists in various parts of this large city but that’s true in every major city in the world. It’s just a matter of thinking smart.
What we discovered was a very civilized destination, absolutely beautiful old ruins, great shopping and informative trips on the “On/Off buses, especially the coastal trip. What is so very impressive- better still skilful – is even though the traffic is as bad as it could get, cars buses and trucks squeezing into a inch of space,there was little honking. More clever drivers were those on the thousands of motorcycles and bikes that whizzed this way and that, nerve making for any foreign onlooker but very natural to the locals.
However,that said, after a long flight to Rome then the train to Naples, we hit the golden target with our hotel, The Excelsior Hotel. The location can’t be beat. At a corner, it overlooks the marina,seaside promenade, ancient monuments and well known mountains like Vesuvius and the facility to walk to transportation, cafes, the Galleria and other notable cited sites.
The lobby of the Excelsior Hotel is the perfect introduction of what to expect. Grand in the most traditional way yet still with all the modern conveniences. This massive entrance with the always present and helpful concierge and luggage handlers, gives way to a small, discreet reception area with the very well informed staff. And one can’t overlook the amazing slightly curved staircase with the marble balustrades and ancient bust.
If the walls of this century old building could tell tales, they’d be gossiping about the aristocrats, royals, celebrities who have stayed in this regal oasis in the heart of the city. This isn’t usually the case. One has to go far out of the core to get the serenity but The Excelsior exceeds in the quietude. A great addition is the view the top floor’s intimate outdoor small La Terrazza Bar which by 5PM is always filled, to the turn of the century charm of the rooms. The grandeur is in being there with the stunning Murano glass chandelier, the burnt orange striped damask padded silk walls, the completely redone sizeable fine brownish marble bathroom. That said, any sprinkle of water on those shiny luxe marble flooring would have a guest take a terrible tumble. After all, Naples is not the city one wants to spend in an emergency hospital rooms. What is so unusual in older buildings is the availability of handicapped accessible rooms and The Excelsior has one. The balcony off the room offered a view of the marina and not until we crossed the small bridge did we discover a village of some of the city’s finest restaurants, all bustling with locals, usually with freshly caught fish as their secondi after the pasta order. However, if you’re exhausted after a day of sight seeing, then the hotel restaurant has a perfect menu even for the fussiest eater.
Breakfast was always a treat to be able to sit outdoors and just stare at the marvellous view.
The name Excelsior is perfect. In Latin it means the best and it is.
Address via Partenope 48
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com
by Jacqueline Swartz
In Paris’ Right Bank, around the corner from the high fashion Place de Vendome, is the Hotel Edouard7, a four-star “couture hotel”. It was built in 1877 and named after Edward VII, the Prince of Wales who later ruled England. He was a francophone with huge appetites – for food, theatre, and most of all, for women.
Five years ago, the hotel, then down at the heels, was sold by a French family and bought by another. Last year, the little-known classic was redecorated by hat designer Marina Besse, who transformed it into a chic, 70-room hotel that both honors and plays with its history.
There are boutique hotels, design hotels, and now a couture hotel. Designer Besse has “dressed” each room in lush fabrics and striking colour combinations. While everything – the furniture, the fabrics, the floors – is new, you won’t find sparseness or minimalism here. Some rooms have geometric art deco furniture, while others offer a fanciful take on the Edwardian Age.
Edward was known for his trend-setting male attire of top hats and morning suits. His many mistresses, some of the most famous actresses, singers and courtesans of their day, included Sarah Bernhardt and Nellie Melba. Their vivid, seductive qualities inspired Besse’s decor. In one of the suites, for instance, a thick velvet curtain is used instead of a door to the bath. The wc is separate, and many of the rooms have stall showers and deep tubs, high tech luxury that can still evoke a more opulent time. Materials are velvet, silk and leather signed by Lelievre, Pierre Frey and Carlucci. Purple, red, chocolate and gold are some of the palettes.
“Each room should be read like an opera or a concert performance”, remarks general manager Laurence Guinebretiere. In the bar, she points out, the small square tables stand for Edouard’s cufflinks, while the lamps signify hats. Of course, you don’t need to know this to enjoy the artful ambiance of the hotel.
The atelier-sized lobby is dotted with chairs, from purple leather to a high, red velvet seat in oversized, Alice-in-Wonderland proportions.
In a small salon off the lobby, there are computers with free internet access; wifi in the rooms is also offered gratis.
On the top floor, the rooms have their own terraces and view of the Opera Garnier, Sacre Coeur or the Louvre. The feeling is one of a chic Paris apartment where you might want to carry out a secret assignation.
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com
Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken, Switzerland: History meets luxury among the mountains of Switzerland