Much of Andros, the Bahamas’ largest island, is uninhabited, connected by a series of shallow canals and cays called “bights”—Andros is, in fact, mostly water. Aside from the occasional tourist, most visitors here are divers or fishermen.
At 142 miles, Andros’s barrier reef is the third longest in the world after those in Australia and Belize, with a wall that begins around 70 feet from shore and plunges 6,000 feet to a narrow underwater canyon known as the Tongue of the Ocean (TOTO).
A unique system of more than fifty blue holes, as these watery caves are called (first made famous by Jacques Cousteau), offers endless opportunities to explore in tunnels filled with shipwrecks and sea life.
All this is just 1 mile offshore from the Bahamas’ oldest dive resort, the comfortable, family-run Small Hope Bay Hotel. If you don’t know how to dive or snorkel, they’ll teach you at your own pace and at no extra cost, but non diving guests are just as happy flopping into the inviting hammocks positioned here and there among the tall coconut palms.
No one puts on airs at this easygoing beachfront colony—no one even puts on shoes very often, except perhaps at dinner, a hearty, convivial affair that might include fresh conch fritters and chowder, lobster, and hot home-baked johnny bread.
If you’d rather catch your own seafood, Andros’s gin-clear waters are the bonefishing capital of the world, with large numbers of trophy-size bonefish (often topping 12 pounds) providing some of the most exciting light-tackle fishing there is. It’s not hard to find a specialist to help you perfect your saltwater angling technique and to guide you to the vast flats in and around the bights, where you’ll often be the only one in sight.
In 1784, a young Horatio Nelson arrived in Antigua, home base for the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. He’d still recognize the landlocked harbor—its restored dockyard, now a national park, is one of few British Georgian-style naval dockyards left in the world, and still serving sailing vessels.
Once a year, the yachting world descends on this otherwise quiet outpost for a kind of Henley Royal Regatta, Caribbean-style. Some 200 boats from 25 countries show up for a week’s worth of serious racing and beautiful-people watching, filling English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard with blue-blooded sailors, curious landlubbers, and a fair share of pomp and circumstance. Look for the seventeen stately pillars, originally supports for a very large loft where sails were repaired, and a number of colonial naval buildings that are now used as galleries, saloons, shops, and inns.
The unofficial headquarters for the sailing week hubbub, and the architectural center-piece of the Dockyard, is the Admiral’s Inn, a Georgian brick building dating back to 1788. Known as the Ads, it’s the island’s most interesting historic hotel, housed in a former engineers’ office and pitch and tar store, wearing the ambience of an old ship.
The well-tanned yachting crowd comes here to cool off in the shady terrace bar/restaurant, from which they can keep an eye on their multimillion-dollar craft. The food is first rate, as is the Joiner’s Loft upstairs, the nicest and largest of the inn’s dozen or so rooms, with a view of the busy harbor.
If you want a quiet retreat from the scene, the Curtain Bluff resort, about 3 miles west, occupies one of the prettiest spots in Antigua, flanked by two beaches. Pounding surf on the windward side lulls guests to sleep at night, while the lagoon-smooth leeward beach serves as the launching place for the hotel’s host of water activities.
Amid impeccably manicured grounds lush with orchids and palms, spacious suites climb the headland bluff step-fashion, culminating with the Terrace Room, whose size and views offer royal accommodations. A genteel, old- money, country-club air prevails; well-heeled return guests don’t count their pennies or calories.
Exceptionally fine food, a stellar wine cellar, and dancing under the stars create a celebratory mood. And if the island is regarded as one of the Caribbean’s foremost tennis enclaves, it is in no small part due to Curtain Bluffs inimitable founder and hands-on owner, Howard Hulford, who sponsors and hosts the prestigious Antigua Tennis Week every May.
Anguilla is a flat, scrubby island that’s light on interior scenery, but its confectionery 12-mile perimeter has some of the most picture-perfect white-sand beaches anywhere. These have conspired with incredibly clear water and undisturbed reefs to make Anguilla a favorite haunt for beach-and-a-book sun seekers looking for the Caribbean’s least-developed islands.
Among Anguilla’s thirty-some beaches, Shoal Bay ranks as anyone’s dream. Although your footprints won’t be the only ones left in the sand, particularly in the high season or on weekends, escapists need merely walk a few feet into the diamond-clear water to submerge themselves in another world, where schools of iridescent fish and magnificent coral gardens are the only crowds to contend with.
Should hunger strike, Uncle Ernie’s is the archetypal shanty beach bar, where a beer and barbecued chicken, ribs, or catch of the day doesn’t get any better—unless it’s Sunday afternoon, when an island band manages to enhance the flavor.
For a more full-on party atmosphere, head out to Gorgeous Scilly Cay, which is on its own coral-sand islet. This popular watering hole/beach-shack restaurant can really get wound up on weekends, when day-trippers from St. Martin descend and a local band warms up; on weekdays it’s more like a Robinson Crusoe fantasy.
King Gorgeous (a.k.a. owner Eudoxie Wallace) entertains swim suited diners with tall tales and powerfully delicious rum punches while preparing an alfresco feast of simple grilled lobster or crayfish marinated in his secret and justly legendary curry-based sauce. Most diners come for the better part of the day, snorkeling and swimming before and after lunch.
The ballfield-size cay now accommodates a helipad for the St. Martin set, but from Anguilla you can take King Gorgeous’s ready-when-you-are motor launch. Just stand at the pier at Island Harbour and wave, and someone will be by to fetch you.
Maybe it is the special clarity of the light that heightens the mirage effect of Cap Juluca’s Moorish turrets, arches, and domes. Like a sensual Saharan casbah nestled within 179 flowering acres near Anguilla’s southernmost point, and braced by a magical, mile-long curve of sugary white sand—one of the island’s most beautiful—the ultraromantic hotel Cap Juluca employs an artist’s palette of intense primary colors: green gardens, whitewashed villas draped in brilliant bougainvillea, and everywhere the deep azure sea and sky.
It can be almost too much for the winter-weary eyes of newly arrived guests. The oversized rooms are minimally but exotically appointed; many have enormous bathrooms with tubs for two and adjoining private sunning patios. Be sure to head out for dinner at the hotel’s acclaimed Pimm’s Restaurant, the only time and place guests wear anything more elaborate than a swimsuit and a suntan. At sunset Cap Juluca is the most glamorous vision west of Fez.
Not far to the north, the bluff-top Malliouhana Hotel boasts exquisite decor; a two-to- one staff-to-guest ratio; attentive, hands-on involvement by the gracious father and son British owners; and, perhaps most significantly, one of the most extensive wine lists in the western hemisphere, with 25,000 bottles and 1,500 selections, including more than 60 varieties of Champagne.
The dining pavilion sits above the gorgeous sweep of Meads Bay and faces west for unequaled sunset viewing. The kitchen and menu are supervised and designed by the acclaimed Paris-based chef Michel Rostang. The classic French cuisine with an island accent is a marvel, particularly when one considers it is created on an unspoiled island where traffic lights are still a fairly new concept.
Farther north, in the area known as the Valley, Koal Keel is a romantic alternative to Anguilla’s beachfront eateries. The open-air restaurant can be found in what used to be the garden of a sultry, sensual, and breezy 1780 plantation house, now beautifully restored. It’s one of the oldest and prettiest West Indian homes on the island, with cool, heavy stone walls providing the theatrical backdrop to your meal, aglow with candlelight and the palpable aura of centuries past.
This hillside charmer has created its own interpretation of delicious Euro-Caribbean cuisine. Try ginger- barbecued lamb, scrumptious lobster crepes, or delicate callaloo soup made with chard, coconut milk, and crab. Even if you drop in just for tea, you’ll be hooked.
The great composer Gioacchino Rossini was so fond of his hometown, Pesaro, that he left an ample fortune to the municipality, which honored him by establishing a Rossini Foundation. From this grew the annual Rossini Opera Festival, devoted exclusively to his work (die rarely performed ones as well as the famous) and now one of Italy’s most popular summer music festivals, a favorite among purists since it was founded in 1980.
Even when the festival is not in town, life centers around—where else?— the animated Via Rossini. Pesaro is a popular, attractive seaside resort, and its piazzas and cafes are always full. For the quintessential festival experience, stay at the handsomely refurbished but still old-world waterfront Hotel Vittoria, the meeting place for the stars of the festival.
Check out the culinary’ genius of Otello Renzi, a genuine scholar of food and wine whose restaurant, Da Teresa, is named after his mother, who oversees the kitchen. The house specialties of fresh pasta and fish draw the festival’s performing artists annually.
The old-world hotel where Ernest Hemingway’s tragic WW I hero Frederic Henry trysted with his goddess, Catherine Barkley, in A Farewell to Arms still dominates the banks of Lake Maggiore, in a setting that only grows more gorgeous with age.
The enormous 19th-century Grand Hotel et des Iles Borromees is as romantic and princely as in the days of the young American soldier, and the lobby bar still serves a stiff Hemingway martini to help guests slip into that mood of being “faint with love.”
The views alone are enough to warrant a certain lightheadedness: ask for any of the lakeside rooms for a priceless view over the 40-mile sweep of water toward the snow-dusted Swiss Alps and a glimpse of the four Borromean Islands.
The tiny but fabled Borromeans are named after the aristocratic Lombard family that has owned them since the 12th century. They consist of two Baroque palaces, a tiny fishing village, and two lavish gardens, whose springtime display of rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, resident peacocks, and golden pheasants is world renowned.
“What can one say of Lake Maggiore, and of the Borromean Islands,” wrote Stendhal, “except to pity people who do not go mad over them?”
Wait till the afternoon crowds thin, then cross the drawbridge to this fairy-tale castello almost entirely surrounded by the deep blue water of Lake Garda. All towers and fancy battlements, the 13th-century castle was built by the powerful della Scala (or Scaligeri) princes of nearby Verona, 2 miles out into the lake. Garda is the largest in Italy and considered by many to be the most beautiful in the Lake District.
Just as Bellagio is known as Como’s Pearl of the Lake, fans of Garda call Sirmione the Jewel of the Lake. Beyond the castle are the narrow streets of the boutique- and cafe-lined Old Town, a pedestrian island still redolent of medieval times. In ancient times, the Lake District served as the cool summertime destination of Rome’s VIPs, in particular the hedonist poet Catullus, who was drawn to Sirmione as much for its natural sulfur baths as for the lovely setting. The panoramic Grotte di Catullo is said to be the ruins of his villa.
By comparison the 19th-century Villa Cortine Palace Hotel seems downright modern. Palatial, colonnaded, formidably decorative, and just this side of over-the-top, it is the area’s finest hotel, with impeccable gardens, lapped by the lake’s edge.
Where else can you tell a taxicab driver the name of a painting as your destination, and expect to get there? Every self-respecting Milanese, cabbie or not, knows the location of Leonardo da Vinci’s II Cenacolo (The Last Supper), one of the world’s most famous images, tucked away in the Gothic church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The entire country closely followed the painstaking twenty-year restoration that was completed in 1999. On a wall in what once was the refectory of the church’s adjacent convent, Leonardo created this powerful 28-foot mural.
Capturing the emotion-packed moment of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, it began to deteriorate almost immediately following its completion in 1495. Its recent restoration was as controversial as that of the Sistine Chapel, with some historians claiming that precious little has survived of the original painting or coloring, having been re- (and mis-) interpreted a little too zealously over time by countless restorers (there have been seven restorations since 1726); others herald it as a milestone of patience and craftmanship.
There is no dismissing that it is one of Leonardo’s finest works, one whose every brushstroke revealed the “intentions of the soul.” He searched for years among the city’s criminals for Judas’s face; the result, art historian Giorgio Vasari declared, was “the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity.”
For sheer size and shock value, few buildings surpass Milan’s Duomo. It is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral (the only larger cathedral in any style is St. Peter’s in Rome), begun in 1386 under the Viscontis and not completed until 100 years ago.
Its 135 marble spires and 2,245 marble statues could keep you busy looking at it for days, though well- heeled Milanese women, Zegna-suited gents, and too-cool teens pass through the spacious piazza without giving this mad wedding-cake confection so much as a fare-thee-well.
An elevator to the roof offers the chance to stroll amid the fanciful forest of white marble pinnacles (which take on a rose tinge if the light is right) and to study the flying buttresses up close. There are stunning views over Italy’s most frenetic city, while a glimpse of the Swiss Alps 50 miles away can be had when the notorious Milanese fog and pollution aren’t obliterating the view.
The interior is spartan and almost always virtually empty despite the potential seating for 40,000—whom were they expecting? Shelley swore this was the best place anywhere to read Dante as it remains naturally cool even during the hottest of afternoons. True, if you can ignore the gruesome statue of St. Bartolomeo who, flayed alive, is depicted holding his own skin.
A must-see for shopaholics, the incomparable Via Montenapoleone and its offshoots are at the heart of the single most fashionable retail acre in the world. Shopping this exclusive “golden triangle” of showcase-studded streets is heaven for those with deep pockets and purgatory for those reduced to windowshopping.
The city’s tireless preoccupation with fashion, interior design, architecture, and food is showcased in this chic neighborhood—from the sleek boutiques of the high priests and priestesses of la moda italiana to landmark 19th-century tearooms and gourmet food stores.
Window displays are either over- the-top extravagant or Zen-like in their simplicity, ditto the stores’ interiors—everything is up to the nanosecond in this city that sets the trends and blazes the trail.
Whether you’re laden down with designer-labeled acquisitions or just plain exhausted by the day’s visual overkill, the only place to park your bags is at Milan’s Four Seasons Hotel, a quiet oasis at the very hub of Montenapoleone’s shopping strip.
The order of nuns that established this former convent in 1450 did not take leave until the late 18th century. The cloistered villa has been transformed into a top-class 21st-century hotel—a unique space both calming and luxurious.
This means fragments of exposed frescoes, ancient columns, and vaulted ceilings, but also exquisite guest rooms with spacious marbled baths and heated floors, acclaimed restaurants, and the casually elegant lobby (the convent’s former chapel) that attracts local Milanesi and hotel guests alike—both a mirror of the city and a haven from it.
Top off a stylish day with dinner at the delightful Aimo e Nadia, located in a nondescript comer of the city. The well-known husband-and-wife owners have been together since their childhood in a village near Tuscany’s Lucca, and today they share the cooking and tending of the garden that provides the kitchen’s wonderfully fresh and savory ingredients.
Much of the daily-changing menu hints of their Tuscan roots, but to dine here is to experience Italian cuisine at its purest and dishes that keep the house full of loyal patrons.