The ingredients are simple: prosecco – the very best comes from the Veneto, just to the south of here; sparkling mineral water – the Dolomite mountains produce their own, and very good it is too; the all-important elderflower syrup – elder grows quite happily here and comes into flower in early summer; a sprinkling of fresh mint leaves – ditto; and ice – and there is, of course, no shortage of that either! It comes as no surprise then to learn that this zesty, refreshing aperitivo is the adopted drink of the Dolomites. It goes by the name of Hugo… and Hugo is someone you will see a lot of in Val Gardena, and a very welcome figure he cuts too.
All across the peaks here, above Val Gardena and the three main villages of Selva, Ortisei and Santa Cristina, you will find winter skiers pausing for one before lunch, summer hikers stopping off at huts for a Hugo refresher, and diners enjoying it before an evening meal throughout the year. A drink for all seasons, it has come to be symbolic not only of the region’s gastronomic wealth, but also of its true uniqueness, youthful liveliness, and versatility as an all-year-round playground.
WARM SEPTEMBER DAY – It was a warm September day when I first arrived in Val Gardena; the sun was strong and summer still clung to the mountains. Half a year after our late-summer hike, in the middle of March, I returned to Val Gardena to discover a new sheen to the terrain: crisp snow pierced by grey splinters of dolomite rock. Ever since the World Ski Championships of 1970, Val Gardena has been recognised as one of the leading winter resorts of the South Tyrolean Dolomites. As a ski area, Val Gardena offers variety, excellent continuity with long and exhilarating runs, and a range of challenges from blues and reds to blacks and World Cup downhill courses.
Half the fun of visiting Isola Mad re lies in the approach. The great passenger boats rumble across the lake towards the island, slackening their speed as they near the landing stage. This gives pleasure-seekers on the foredeck the opportunity to read the composition in front of them. The villa, large and plain, presents its rectangular front at the top of the picture, thinly screened by palm trees, oleanders (Nerium) and climbers. Below it, several big terraces descend towards the visitor, one of them covered entirely, like a green render, in the foliage of the creeping fig (Ficus pumila).
But best of all is the vegetation scattered along the rocky shore, where romantically tilted outcrops of slaty grey rock sprout curtains of pink and green, with the giant rosettes of variously coloured Agave hanging out over the lapping waves. As an overture, this is hard to beat, and, like all good overtures, it sets the tone for what is to come. The crown of a silver-grey gum or Eucalyptus leans elegantly over the staircase as the visitor climbs on to the first terrace past massed bedding, always of the first quality, and steps into this floral wonderland through the pedimented arch.
The whole island is taken up with the garden and house. Nothing could be more different from the atmosphere on the sister island of Isola Bella, just a short distance away. There, all is splendour, nobility, state and parade. This, by contrast, is carpet slippers and afternoon tea. Both are unmissable, but the order in which they should be seen is quite clear. Some visitors feel that the crush and blaze of Isola Bella is such a knockout blow that it quite does them in, so they skip Isola Madre for a lie down in a darkened room. How wrong they are. What is seen now in a walk around Isola Madre is the result of a series of modifications over many centuries.
The lasting impression is of a richly planted ornamental garden in the English taste, laid out like soft furnishing over and around a thoroughly Italian framework of steps, clean lines and regular rhythms. The combination is a very happy one, with neither format quite gaining the upper hand, so that honour is retained on both sides. Above all, in this happy mingling of contrasting styles, the real victor is the view, framed at intervals across the dark blue lake to mountains, promontories, other islands and lakeshore promenades. It is easy enough here to find a quiet corner to contemplate the scenery and gather thoughts.
Many cities have the lion as an emblem or mascot and the ‘king of the jungle’ is exceedingly loved when it comes to heraldry. But the winged lion belongs to Venice. The winged lion is the Republic’s guardian angel and he, in some form or another, is watching every step you take in the city. He is the symbol of Saint Mark the Evangelist; when the Venetians stole the body of the Evangelist in 828 from Alexandria and brought him to Venice for safekeeping, Mark became the patron saint of the Republic, knocking Saint Theodore and his dragon off their patron perch.
The winged lion became the most loved symbol of the city. All four Evangelists -Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – have wings on their attributes, which could symbolise the sacredness of their writings and the holiness of the first four books of the New Testament; how their attributes were allocated to the four men in the first place, however, remains a mystery.
One thought is that they refer to the beginning scene in each of the Evangelists’ gospels. For example, Mark begins his book with Saint John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, and the lion is a wilderness animal; Luke’s symbol is the bull because he starts his gospel with Zechariah in the temple, where sacrifices are made, and the bull is symbolic of sacrifice. Another explanation comes from the Old Testament. It is written that the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a winged creature with four faces, those of an eagle, a bull, a lion and a man.
THE ISLAND OF THE SEA – A 20-minute ride on a hydrofoil takes me to Procida, the smaller, sea-faring island that lies between Ischia and Naples. Procida had a brief flirtation with fame when the harbour and village scenes of the 1994 Oscar-winning film Il Postino were set here. The little port of Marina Grande is a film-maker’s dream with its brightly coloured houses – each painted in a different pastel shade so that they could be recognised from the sea by returning sailors.
There is an abundance of jaw-dropping views on this island. And the fishing village of La Corricella has an abundance of steps. The houses here are so tightly clustered together that descending a stone staircase like the Gradinata del Pennino is the only way to get to the village. Film fans might recognize its steep Via San Rocco from The Talented Air Ripley. Jude Law’s character, Dickie, rode his scooter down this street to meet up with his secret Italian girlfriend.
Tiny, volcanic Procida has an abundance of drama. Tales of shipwrecks and pirates abound and the little museum in the Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo in Terra Fermata has several paintings done by sailors grateful for rescue. Terra Fermata itself is the island’s fortress – a sombre medieval village clinging to the edge of the island.But Procida also has a peaceful cosiness probably best experienced at the smallest of the island’s three marinas, at Chiaiolella. A meal of fresh fish at the hotel and restaurant Crescenzo, right on the port, finished off with a limoncello liqueur is a perfect Procida evening.
Here on Ischia we turn our backs on the sea,” says Riccardo d’Ambra, the owner of II Focolare restaurant high atop the island. “Ischia has always lived off the land,” explains this exuberant bear of a man as he leads me through the labyrinth of caves that make up his wine cellar.
“We leave the fishing to the other islands.” He waves a hand towards a stunning view down his hilltop in the direction of what I assume is either little, lesser-known Procida, or glamorous, cosmopolitan Capri. All I can see is the deep, serene blue of the Med on this late spring morning. Like travellers for thousands of years, I am tempted to just gaze at the view from his rustic, eyrie-like restaurant but Papa Riccardo wants to talk rabbit. It’s the speciality of his restaurant, where the walls are lined with posters of the films made here – Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor being the most famous.
Even if you don’t eat rabbit, and I don’t, II Focolare has other excellent dishes, but more than that, its owner’s dedication to the land, to rabbits, mushrooms, fresh herbs and fine wine confirms that Ischia digs and cultivates, while Procida sails and fishes, and Capri? Well, Capri is like the glamorous aunt just a bit past her prime who can still make you feel that life is full of elegance and romance.
There is a road that runs straight as a stretched string from Sansepolcro, in the Tuscan Valtiberina, across the valley and then steeply uphill to the most perfect Italian hilltown you are ever likely to visit. There are magnificent medieval walls, towers, cobbled lanes, arched passages, stairs, and views over the countryside. Although tourists are few, the town is famous, because of what happened down the hill, along the same straight road, long ago.
Piazza Baldaccio boasts an excellent gelateria, and splendid views of the valley below. You can eat your ice cream, and imagine the scene on 29 June, 1440, when the brave Florentine soldiers defeated the fearsome Milanese in a titanic struggle. Or so it was said. It lives in history as the Battle of Anghiari.
Actually, according to Niccolo Machiavelli, it was a fairly sedate event lasting four hours, between hired armies on both sides, in which the only casualty was a man who fell off his horse. Machiavelli disliked mercenary armies, who often waged their battles carefully, to fight (and get paid) another day. Possibly Niccolo was exaggerating to make a point. There is a museum in town about the battle; you can decide for yourself.
The clock has just struck 12 on a beautiful late spring day. I am walking through the narrow cobbled streets of II Ghetto, the historic Hebrew neighbourhood in Rome. When I arrive at Piperno, one of the capital’s longest-running restaurants, the doors are still closed. A well-dressed gentleman is already waiting there. “It will open in a few minutes,” he tells me in a reassuring tone, smiling politely. “I’ve been a regular here for about four decades. There are not many places like this one – have you tried their artichokes?”
This is the reason for my visit here. Piperno is rightly considered the ‘grandfather’ of all artichoke restaurants in Rome. The owner, Pier Paolo Boni, has something truly delicious in store for me: a super-traditional menu starting with carciofi alla giudia (crisp and crunchy, deep-fried, Jewish-style artichokes), followed by carciofi alla romana – a lighter, Roman-style version slowly stewed with wild mint, parsley and garlic – and vignarola, a spring stew of artichokes, peas and broad beans.
We all want to get married in a magical location, where the hospitality knows no bounds. That’s why you should choose to hold your nuptials at The Novotel Goa Resort & Spa. Located among lush paddy plantations, close to Goa’s nightlife at Candolim Beach, it has a combine inventory of 206 spacious rooms and suites, with 85 additional rooms five minutes away at the The Novotel Goa Resort and Spa, ensuring that your guests can rest in luxury during their stay here.
What sets The Novotel Goa Resort & Spa apart from its contemporaries is its 12 banqueting facilities, including Goa’s second largest event space – Marquee. With a capacity of a maximum of 350 in a round table set up and a floating crowd capacity of 1,000 people and spread over 8,000sqft, it serves as the ideal space to host the reception. For the sangeet, choose the Tulip banquet space that’s interconnected to the Lily event area, for a total of 80-100 guests while Ivy and Iris are perfect for functions that need to accommodate 170 people. However, if you wish to take your vows by the beach, choose LaBrise that has both an indoor and outdoor area for that picture perfect backdrop of the Arabian Sea. And to while away time in between functions, guests can head to the Mediterranean Vera Cibo restaurant or The Vitality Pool deck and Alfresco to unwind.
What’s more, The Novotel Goa Resort & Spa has a dedicated Banquet/Event team to help you with whatever you desire. From arranging make-up artists and booking the decorator to contacting outside vendors, they do it all. For the buffet, choose spreads from the hotel’s seven restaurants. From traditional Indian and Italian to grills and wok counters, they have it all. Indian weddings are all about variety and getting spoilt for choice, and their in-house maharaj knows it well. Right from Dal Bhatti Churma to a choice of Farsaans, authentic Chaat stalls or Indian street style food stations, they have all this and more.
In the days building up to your wedding, indulge in The Novotel Goa Resort & Spa’s special experiential services like a private Cabana dinner by the pool with sparkling wine and a three-course meal. On your wedding night, the hotel decorates the room, along with providing chocolates, a bottle of sparkling wine and a complimentary couples’ massage at the Warren Tricomi Spa & Salon. If you choose to stay on post your wedding, the hotel will organise a catered breakfast on board a private yacht that travels to an exclusive beach in the Divar Islands across the Mandolvi River with a live band and sparkling champagne. And if you want to relive the memories post your wedding, you can make use of the hotel’s Anniversary Package to re-visit the resort on your anniversary, which is valid for two years after your wedding.
Situated on the south-western tip of the idyllic Thai island, the beautiful 25-acre luxury resort is built into a dramatic hillside, framed by azure reefs of Aow Thai Beach below, and the beautiful cerulean sky above. 81 free-standing pool villas, all with private balconies will offer you breathtaking views of white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters and heliconia-red sunsets.
Look inside, and you will be enveloped in luxury and comfort that is overwhelming. Each villa has tropical hardwood floor and is elegantly decorated with Thai artwork, silk and local stone features. Amenities include LCD flat screens, high-speed internet connections, floor-to-ceiling windows and bathrooms with oversized bathtubs and glass-walled rain showers. The finest of them all, the Conrad Royal Oceanview Pool Villa, has a 22.5m infinity pool, a luxe living room and lawn, a king-sized master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom featuring spa-quality amenities, a dining table and fully-equipped kitchen. Plus, there’s a 24-hour butler service, private chef and grocery shopping service available on request – giving you very little reason to leave.
Unless it’s to indulge in the amazing choice of culinary delights. The Cellar, perched on top of the resort offers private dining and interactive wine sessions, while Jahn is known for its contemporary Thai cuisine. For those craving something different, the Mediterranean-inspired Zest – an all-day dining option with a unique ‘Food Library’ – promises to satisfy. For an open-air feast, drop into Azure Bar & Grill, or for cocktails and beautiful sunsets, check into the Lobby bar. The resort also arranges destination dining excursions for unique experiences.
Or if it’s to pamper yourself with one of the best spa experiences of your life. Focusing on personal attention and sensory engagement, the treatments here unite contemporary luxury with ancient healing traditions to enhance the well-being of your body, mind and soul. The Conrad also houses an on-site diving and sailing booking centre for those who want to go on a nautical adventure, a fitness centre with Tai Chi and Thai boxing classes, a Kid’s club and two retain shops.
If all this wasn’t enough, the resort even has its own concierge app for personal luxury at your fingertips. Download the complimentary app and customize the details of your stay before and during your visit. Here you will find luxury, beauty, bliss – which will make you think, you haven’t truly lived, until now.
The EDITION is a wonderful mixture of showiness and subtlety. It’s sly, decadent and amusing. Even its beach is a little bit honesty, a little bit of artifice: reportedly, almost a million dollars worth of rocks were shipped in to form a small breakwater so guests could still swim on a rough day.
Just south of The EDITION is a hidden walkway, set between the hotels and the beach boardwalk. Easy to miss, it runs half a mile south towards the Metropolitan by COMO. At this small, cool, oasis, you won’t find a DJ playing by the pool, although during Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in March, you’ll see plenty of turntablers staying here, soaking up the peace and quiet and impeccable service, perhaps by the relaxation pool on the roof. The rooms, too, have a cool mood: mint-green walls, monochrome floors and frosted mirrors.
The Metropolitan may be all about restraint, but it’s an attribute that has long been in short supply in Miami Beach, where you can check into a five-star hotel wearing nothing more than a thong. People tend to think of Miami Beach and Miami as one and the same, but in fact, they’re two separate cities connected by four bridges. Miami Beach was incorporated as a city in 1915.
Having failed as a coconut and avocado plantation, this glorified sandbar soon found its natural calling as a holiday destination with an early string of small hotels. Within a decade, the rapidly growing city received its first presidential visit: Warren Ci Harding on vacation in 1921. In what was already becoming the regular Miami Beach overkill, he was given a special caddy for his first round of golf: a three-ton elephant called Rosie. To this day, Miami Beach hotels will try to give you something different for your dollar.