Author Archives: C.C.
Author Archives: C.C.
Bordeaux aside, nowhere is as obsessed with vineyards as Napa Valley. This hotel is a big player, full of moneyed San Fran types and serious foodies (there is another Auberge resort nearby, Calistoga Ranch, but it’s more low-key and in Napa that’s not the point). Gone are the hippy dreamers who set out to prove that these slopes could produce wines to rival those of France: today, Napa is a big industry with bottle prices to match. Here, in the forest of Rutherford Hill, there are 11 light-filled houses with two-storey gabled ceilings and glass walls that lead out onto the terrace (front-facing Saint-Tropez and Provence, which overlook the valley, are the best). The design has a relaxed, sparkling California vibe – beige wood, cane furniture, sisal rugs and vast bathrooms.
The gardens are manicured, with plenty of tall grasses for privacy. Squeeze in an early game of tennis or a few hours by the tree-lined pool, where canopies provide shade and the barman is a charmer who can whip up a killer Margarita in his cute poolside shack. Then, let the tastings begin. The hotel can organise a tour of vineyards (you’ll need a driver – ask for Steve, a dead ringer for Donald Sutherland and full of local folklore). Old-school Forman Vineyard is run by the matter-of-fact Margaret who will explain the vintages, whereas Vineyard 29 is a slick machine with a controlled approach to wine making.
For lunch. The French Laundry deserves a visit if you can swing a reservation, but if not, eating at the hotel is no shabby affair. The main, formal restaurant serves up a three- to five-course extravaganza – spiced lamb with dates, scallops with miso and sweet potato, lobster with apple. Wine is chosen from a 74-page book (go for well-priced local greats such as Pride or Far Niente).
And then, of course, there is the spa, built around a courtyard with tinkling fountains. Yoga, qigong and Pilates are on the menu, and the treatment rooms have tall ceilings and glass walls at one end that open onto private gardens so you can hear birds chirping as you’re being pummelled. The gardens contain all sorts of delights: outdoor showers, hot tubs with views of the valley, and calendula, rosemary, lemon balm and other herbs used in the house-infused oils. Treatments range from reiki to craniosacral (ask for therapist Vicki Auerbach, who has been here for nearly 15 years) and scrubs made from grape seeds. The Auberge Head to Toe – a scalp rub, full body massage and foot salt scrub – is its signature triumph, after which a warmed robe is wrapped around you. Even for those not into glugging wine or belt-loosening lunches, the spa alone makes this spot a winner.
Once a sociologist’s paradise of bleak tower blocks and desolate underpasses, Birmingham was commonly regarded as a concrete wilderness. Yet lately, something strange and wonderful has happened here. The city of a thousand trades’, as those virtuous Victorians called it, has become the city of a thousand start-ups. Improbably, boring old Brum has become chic.
So what’s changed? The skyline, for one thing. First the Bullring, the city’s biggest eyesore, got a much-needed makeover. Now it’s home to Selfridges, the most recognisable building. Even the Rotunda, one of the ugliest skyscrapers in town, has been revamped by hip designers Urban Splash. But the biggest change has been at street level. Carved up by motorways, Brum used to be a no-go zone for pedestrians. The flyovers are still here, but today you can actually walk around. And there’s reason to dawdle, the city centre has come alive. The Dickensian canal is a pleasant place to stroll, and the grim thoroughfares I recall from my student days are filled with people having fun.
If one building sums up Birmingham’s renaissance, it’s the new library. The structure is stunning, like an enormous Christmas present wrapped up in gold and silver foil, but the best bit is what’s inside. Part reading room, part rendezvous, it’s an energetic mishmash of highbrow and lowbrow – a lot like Birmingham. When it opened in 2013, replacing a brutalist hulk across the road, the library instantly became a symbol of this rejuvenated city – and the view from the top floor is breathtaking.
Yet this revival isn’t merely a matter of town planning. There’s something in the air that wasn’t here before. Brum now has one of the youngest populations of any city in Europe (almost 40 per cent of its citizens are under 25) and districts such as Hockley and Digbeth are full of creative twenty-somethings making things happen on their own terms. You could say the wheel has come full circle. Birmingham was built on hard graft and enterprise – all those earnest industrialists who turned this modest market town into the workshop of the world. Today’s resourceful Brummies are reinventing an old tradition, turning derelict factories into funky shops and studios. Innovative, eccentric and endearingly self-deprecating, Birmingham is constantly evolving, a metropolis on the up and up.
KEEP IT SWEET: Built by Sir Alfred Bird, whose father invented instant custard, The Custard Factory churned out oceans of the stuff until Bird’s moved to more modern premises in 1964. The site stood empty until 1993, when it reopened as Birmingham’s answer to London s Covent Garden. However, unlike Covent Garden, it never lost its rebellious vibe. The City is a Work of Art’ reads a slogan painted on the wall. Daubed in dazzling dayglo, adorned with murals and massive sculptures, this is the way all shopping destinations ought to be. Highlights include several vintage boutiques and a splendid little record shop. Left for Dead.
NATIONAL TREASURES: The historic Jewellery Quarter still produces nearly half of the jewellery made in the UK, but nowadays it’s also a lively cultural hub. Housed in an old factory, Symon Bland’s St Pauls Gallery sells limited-edition prints by British artists, including Peter Blake and David Hockney, but his speciality is album-cover art, particularly the distinctive LP sleeves of Pink Floyd designer Storm Thorgerson. For a really unusual ring or necklace, visit young jeweller James Newman in his stylish shop and workshop. His modern pieces are unlike anything else I’ve seen.
IN THE FRAME: Birmingham’s contemporary art gallery. Ikon, was 50 years old last year, and its Ikon 50 programme, which runs until early 2015, is a greatest hits of its first half century. The shop sells all sorts of aesthetic trinkets, from arty stationery to button badges. The cafe serves British comfort food: boiled egg and soldiers; bangers and mash. Run by charismatic director Jonathan Watkins, the space is avant-garde and challenging. If your tastes are more traditional, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has the biggest Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world.
In 2000 Mark and Sarah Tompkins bought Monkey Valley, a clapped-out sheep farm in the Eastern Cape, and decided to reintroduce the game that once roamed this region’s immense plains. Within a few years, the couple had snapped up 11 neighbouring farms and begun rehabilitating the scarred and eroded land to create what is now 66,700 acres of dense thicket, mountains and valleys and high-plateau grassland that rivals the Masai Mara. From the top of Mount Kondoa, where guests are dispatched with upmarket picnics, there are magnificent views across the surrounding Camdeboo Plains that reset heartbeats and elicit sharp whistles.
Mark and Sarah started bringing back the traditional wildlife by opening a cheetah sanctuary (the population of these endangered big cats was dwindling fast) that remains at the heart of Samara, and they have slowly added antelope and giraffe, Cape Mountain zebra, buffalo and most recently black rhino. There are three intimate and very beautiful lodges, two of which – show-stopping Manor House and the rustic Mountain Retreat – are available as private villas. The third, Karoo Lodge, has just 10 suites. So, with fewer than 40 guests on Samara any one time, it’s a given there will always be plenty of elbow room to kick back in solitude and silence to soak up the sparkling light and blanched blue skies of this astonishing Great Karoo landscape.
Investment banker James Manley saw 500 ranches before he found one that matched his wish list: in a valley to ensure complete privacy; near a mountain on which he could ski; a cool town nearby that still looks like a stage set from a Western. He didn’t want grizzlies, rattlesnakes or cougars (though there are elk, moose, deer, black bears and wolves), nor to be at such altitude that it would cause mountain sickness.
Oh, and he wanted a river teeming with trout, too. Eventually Manley settled on 6,600 acres of spectacular cowboy country in the wilds of Montana’s Anaconda-Pintler wilderness, restored its 19th-century buildings and added a granite lodge, some log cabins (the loveliest are Bluebird, Wrangler, Eagle’s Perch and the former hayloft by the corral) and a row of river-front tents. But the real appeal is that all the riding, shooting, fishing, archery, mountain biking and, in winter, skiing, skating, snowmobiling, sledding and sleigh rides you have the energy for are included.
As are three meals a day and drinks, even in its Silver Dollar Saloon, where the swivel stools at the bar have saddles for seats. There’s nowhere better to connect with your inner Annie Oakley. They’ll even lend you a Stetson and cowboy boots.
This white monolith on stilts stands at the very edge of the raging North Atlantic. The astonishing brainchild of Zita Cobb, a local fisherman’s daughter who left the island and came back a technology multimillionaire, it is otherworldly and homespun, pampering and austere. All 29 rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the ocean, where icebergs, some as big as cities, float in the distance. International designers worked with local artisans and craftspeople to create the rugs, whimsical chairs and long benches in each room, and locals take guests for walks over the rocks to artists’ studios.
The double-height restaurant, fronted by great sheets of glass, is a sensational setting for chef Murray McDonald’s home-churned butter, exquisite snow crab and sea-salt meringue. Cocktails are prepared with foraged berries and cooled with cubes of 10,000-year-old iceberg. Sipped in the warmth of a wood-fired sauna, they make a wonderful addition to the green and blue dance of the aurora borealis outside.
At this lodge in the Patagonian Steppe there’s an elasticity of time where hours crystallise into months of extraordinarily vivid memories, thanks to midsummer golden dusks that linger until midnight. The charismatic guides – one for each of the 12 log villas – have a vast knowledge of the region that unlocks the magic of nearby Torres del Paine national park in a way that would be impossible on your own. The staff are an essential element because, although breathtakingly beautiful, the rugged wilds can be forbidding, and the key to Awasi’s success is the ability of its close-knit team to make this stylish outpost feel welcoming.
Housekeeper Rosa awaits with mate tea and orange-blossom biscuits to hear tales of hiking treacherous peaks or galloping with the gauchos across moody purple plains, and unseen house elves light bedroom hearths and leave bottles of berry liquor while guests dine on king crab and crisp Sauvignon. But the clincher is the complete newness of it all; it’s so far removed from humdrum reality that it’s a recharge for the mind, body and soul. So, as you wallow in the alfresco wooden hot tub, watching horses silhouetted against the magnificent sunset, it’s easy to forget that you’re on a holiday and pretend that this is forever.
This is by no means the biggest or fanciest camp in Kenya, but its strength lies in the fact that it’s a real home. Created by a Norwegian family in love with Africa, it has six canvas-and-stone rooms with roaring log fires and hot-water bottles popped between the sheets on chilly nights. Wake up to spectacular views across the plains to a watering hole where elephants, gazelle, zebra and wild dogs gather as they travel the game-rich corridor that passes through camp. Days can be as adventure-packed as you like: there are game drives where you won’t see another vehicle, helicopter trips for trout fishing at Mount Kenya, a resident pride of lions that can be tracked.
There are also think tanks, excursions or simply chats round the campfire with specialists including rock-art experts, conservationists and Kenyan policy makers. And if that sounds a little taxing, there are long lunches with binoculars at the ready, an orphaned cheetah to play with or the option of an open-air massage. Unusually for a safari camp, guests can do anything whenever they want, because Enasoit feels like it’s your own and, quite frankly, that’s worth far more than anything big and fancy.
BEST FOR DESIGN
PIA PAURO – Pia trained at the London School of Fashion and her boutique is a gem, with rails placed under the canopy of a maharani’s tent; the beaded, jewel-bright mini-dresses and languorous kaftans pair local tailoring with a European cut, and are great for sloping around St Tropez and Ibiza.
EN INDE – The showroom for this innovative jeweller is a cool loft space with painted brickwork and floor-to-ceiling windows – an aesthetic that matches the label s chunky, industrial steel collars and tribal beads, as well as curated homewares including rustic woven baskets and wooden butcher boards.
NAPPA DORI – Leather-goods-maker Gautam Sinha combines modern and traditional design for his own label, making delicious ikat-fabric satchels, canvas overnighters printed with vintage photographs, and lacquered steamer trunks, hat boxes and desk trays.
MANAN DESIGN – Kurtas, loose-fit bed jackets and ankle-sweeping skirts of Indian traditional dress are reconceived in a muted palette of navy, white, black and cream, and given a sleek silhouette.
BEST FOR INTERIORS
ARTISAN LUXE – An airy, elegant store that showcases a mix of Indian decorative talents, with beaten-tin lamps, engraved glass. Jaipur dhurries and applique-embellished table linen.
COTTONS AND SATINS – Just down from Artisan Luxe, this stocks heavenly fabrics in paisley and Suzani patterns and a rainbow of colourways, available by the metre, plus matching ready-made cushions.
NAVYA – The sign makes the boast ‘Everything beautiful’ – which indeed it is. Walk past the twee reproduction French furniture (there’s a lot) to find printed, quilted, appliqued fabrics stacked up to the ceiling, glass coasters painted with hummingbirds and Aubusson cushions embroidered with the directive ‘Kiss’ (and an eighth of the price of something similar at The Rug Company).
SOMA and FABINDIA – Both are stalwarts of India’s shopping scene and their Delhi stores have much to recommend them, including block-printed cotton on everything from tablecloths to duvet covers and. at Fabindia, pretty lacquered dishes in sorbet colours.
NIVASA – Designer Rohit Kapoor’s eye for style has given a high-end update to Indian handicraft, with marquetry coffee tables, mirrored sideboards and carved wood chairs. (Staff can arrange delivery for larger items.)
BEST FOR VINTAGE
LOVEBIRDS – As sweet as its name, with jewellery by young Delhi artisans alongside owner Amrita Khanna’s covetable shirt-dresses and the designer cast-offs of Delhi’s fashionable locals. There’s even a tiny cafe on a balcony at the back for mint tea and walnut cake.
BEST FOR CULTURE
CMYK – This concept bookstore has an impressive selection of photography editions, cookbooks, novels, design catalogues and works of Indian history. It also hosts documentary screenings, photography workshops, calligraphy lessons and readings.
BEST FOR STAYING OVER
THE LODHI – The hotel’s shop has a well-edited mix of textiles, silverwork, carvings, kaftans, jewellery, cashmere shawls – even paintings. The suites have daybeds for watching the sun melt over Lodhi Gardens.
SCARLETTE – For a Paris-meets-India vibe, this four-room chambres d’hote is furnished with framed Rajasthani textiles, rattan rugs and wicker chairs; it’s run by 26-year-old Pauline Bijvoet, who moved here to work in the fashion industry.
I CALL IT “WINTER ON demand”. As a desert-dweller with a serious distaste for temperatures below 21 °C but a just-as-serious passion for winter sports, I enjoy brief flings in cooler climes – at my discretion. Jetting into the cold for a week each year works well, but with such a narrow time frame to enjoy the snow, the importance of selecting a destination where the most can be made of winter is paramount. As I exited Geneva’s airport, all cosy in my transport heading for the hills as fat snowflakes swirled down to earth, I had a good feeling about Val d’lsere.
A scenic three-hour drive through the mountains later, the car pulled up beside a quirky hang ten statue in the driveway of Chalet Husky – my not-so-humble abode for this excursion. Located a short walk from the buzzy centre of town in the quiet Le Petit Alaska hamlet, from the outside the Jean-Charles Covarel-designed chalet seems typical of the Alps’ many luxury stays. But step inside and the off-the-wall style is immediately apparent with a ceiling covered in intricately painted.
Arabesque floral patterns and a glass walkway under-lit with vibrant disco colours. Husky’s mix of traditional and eclectic, rustic touches alongside modish decor, continues throughout: retro pop art hangs on walls next to hand-carved chests and wardrobes; fringed lampshades bundled into playful chandeliers cast a glow on the rough wooden flooring; a sofa made from dozens of denim pillow’s sits tinder a glass roof with classic Alpine views. Somehow; it all mingles harmoniously in the large open-plan space.
The seven bedrooms – three of which are accessed from an indoor garden atrium – have en-suite bathrooms and are hooked up with Apple TV and iPad controls; quirky elements, like a sofa printed with The Beatles or a mirror framed with coloured pencils, give each its own personality. The master bedroom includes direct access to the spa, and all guests can take advantage of the hammam, steam room, Jacuzzi, gym, technicolour infinity pool with a waterfall, indoor archery and rifle shooting, and a climbing wall fashioned from the stone that naturally forms one of the chalet’s walls. A full roster of staff run the show; including chef Leo, who tailors meals to guests’ preferences and whims (with a sudden desire for greens one morning, I requested a rather vague “breakfast salad”, which he created off the cuff: crisp radicchio, sauteed asparagus, carrots, potato and mushrooms topped with a perfectly poached egg, which ended up being precisely what I wanted even though I hadn’t known it when I asked).
In the beautiful suites of London’s Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel, timeless elegance has been given a fresh twist.
One of the most celebrated grandes dames among London’s great hotels, Grosvenor House has been a hub of the city’s social life ever since it opened in 1929, as well as an elegant refuge for international travellers. Distinctively British in both its style and atmosphere, it sits in splendour on Park Lane, overlooking the vast green expanse of Hyde Park. But this most distinguished of hotels has never rested on its historic laurels; over the decades it has been updated and adapted to remain in step with society’s changing tastes. Marriott understands that while a grand hotel will inevitably need rejuvenating and refreshing over the years, it should maintain its unique style.
The hotel’s newly reopened suites and all-new Executive Lounge are a fine example of this approach. Exuding the quintessentially British elegance and charm that Grosvenor House is so renowned for, they have a sense of freshness, calm and light that perfectly captures contemporary notions of luxury. The decor is based on a palette of creamy neutrals with splashes of colour that echo the changing seasons in Hyde Park, bringing a touch of nature indoors: warm golds for autumn, silvery tones for winter, daffodil yellow for spring and myriad shades of green for summer. It’s clear that tremendous thought has gone into every element of the hotel, from custom-made furnishings to the art on the walls – and yet nothing is overdone. This attention to detail is what makes guests feel cared for and want to come back time and time again.