sinuous lines

IMG_3154The former TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport is a significant example of 20th-Century modern architecture and engineering. A masterpiece of sinuous lines actualized out of poured concrete, it was designed by the mid-century modernist Eero Saarinen. Opened in 1962 it was the final terminal built at what was then called New York International Airport, as well as one of Saarinen’s last projects. Revolutionary and influential, it was Saarinen’s intention that the terminal express the excitement of travel and “reveal the terminal as a place of movement and transition.” Fifty years after the fact it remains as exciting and forward-looking as ever. And dare I say it, soignee. When was the last time an airport – or any public building for that matter – made you feel sexy? Saarinen’s building does just that, while sweeping you up in the promise and possibility of a future that, unfortunately, never quite came to pass. After laying dormant for over a decade, it was recently announced that the terminal would be developed into a luxury hotel. Thanks to Open House New York, yesterday was one of those last-chance opportunities to experience the building in full – before getting caught up in the inevitable tide of transition.

TWA terminal


hotel de charme

hotel de charmeI love a good hotel. And yet as I get older, I find myself more and more  drawn to the off beat and the one-off. Here in Pezenas, Hotel de Vigniamont is a prime example of the latter. While not a hotel in the American sense of the word, it’s a chambre d’hote, or bed and breakfast, set in a quaint 17th century hôtel particulier, an old mansion. You enter through a vine-draped door to a cool, central courtyard marked by strikingly dramatic arches. A stone staircase showing the wear of centuries winds its way up to five spacious suites and a roof terrace with chaise lounges. The individually designed rooms are immensely comfortable, stylish, and include the kind of small, thoughtful touches you’d expect from staying with friends. But best of all is the bubbly hostess, Babette. Delightfully friendly, she’s enthusiastic about both her home and her town.

Hotel de Vigniamont


a revolutionary bolthole

vid-s-terrasy-prezidentskogo-lyuksaHome to both royalty and revolution, Rocco Forte’s Hotel Astoria in St. Petersburg has unveiled an elegant, new Czar’s Suite as part of a multi-million dollar refurbishment timed to celebrate the hotel’s 100th anniversary. At more the 3,500 square feet it’s a far cry from the garret where John Reed penned Ten Days That Shook The World, his eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. (In the early days of glasnost I had the serendipitous thrill of finding myself in Reed’s room, which more than made up for the cramped quarters; the bloody mob hit in the lobby … well, that’s a story for another time.) With a lounge overlooking St. Isaac’s Square and its glorious cathedral, a library stocked with Russian classics, and a fully equipped kitchen with a 16-seat dining room that doubles as a boardroom it’s not too hard to imagine what the Bolsheviks might make of such opulent surroundings. Antique pieces dating back to 1912, including gold lamps, candelabra, and red and gold striped arm chairs and sofas were returned to the hotel from President Putin’s Konstantinovsky Palace and installed in the suite alongside contemporary classic pieces, such as dramatic black and white prints of the Mariinsky, which – culture mavens take note – is as conveniently located as the nearby Hermitage. All that’s missing is the beluga.


the brown palace

IMG_1617Completed in 1892, The Brown Palace Hotel is a remarkable piece of Victorian architecture built in the Italian Renaissance style. It’s the Mile High City’s sandstone grande dame, and harkens back to a time when Denver found itself at the center of a social and economic boom brought on by the gold (and silver) found in them thar hills. In the lobby, your eyes sweep upwards past six tiers of cast iron balconies to a stained glass skylight. The elegant atrium – clad in Mexican onyx – provides the perfect respite for a spot of afternoon tea. Or if that’s not your style, a pair of ornate silver drinking fountains draw their water from the hotel’s own artesian well. It seems that even in the once wild west a good hotel considered practical comforts of paramount importance.


home sweet hotel

hotel grande bretagne lobby

Let me pause for a moment and give kudos to the fabulous Hotel Grande Bretagne, easily the best-smelling hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. Athens is a relatively modest and easygoing capital city, so it’s been quite wonderful to lay down at an old-school hotel that’s both meticulously appointed and attentive – without being solicitous – while lacking the pretentiousness that too often comes in such majestic surroundings. I’ve quickly grown accustomed to feeling not so much like an anonymous hotel guest, but a pampered resident. Yet beyond the beautifully intricate floor mosaics in the lobby, or the marvelous marble staircase which traverses eight floors in one unbroken sweep, it’s the GB’s rooftop bar and restaurant which has me seduced: I couldn’t imagine a better spot to sip masticha and ponder the apotheosis of Western civilization.

Hotel Grande Bretagne staircase

hotel grande bretagne rooftop



paresa 3

Perched high on the cliff side, over azure blue waters and a picturesque panorama of the Andaman Sea, Paresa is more than just a hotel: it’s Phuket’s best kept secret. Imagine the Swiss Family Robinson, if they were smart enough to build themselves a treehouse made of teak in the tropical forest, an outdoor shower, a fully stocked bar, and a private infinity pool cantilevered over the cliff, and you begin to get a sense of the luxury adventure that awaits. Add a team of Angels on call to do your bidding – plus a private beach club along the marvelously under-crowded Kamala Beach – and your search for the perfect idyll has ended. Or at least my search has ended. What need have I with the rest of this island when my jungle villa awaits? Cocooned, the outside world falls away. And while I’m due at the spa any minute now, for the first time in my life I’m thinking a massage might actually be redundant.

kamal beach - paresa

paresa 2


live blog: room with a view



england on the up

This is the summer Great Britain stakes its place on top of the world. Buoyed by the 2012 Olympic Games, homegrown architects and designers – already recognized for thinking big – have taken the sky as their limit with vertigo-inducing  success. In celebration of all things great and not-so-small, here’s a look at a handful of the country’s newest gold medal views.

Emirates Air Line, London (164+ feet tall), Opened June 28. London Mayor Boris Johnson fulfilled his pledge to build the UK’s first urban cable car with the opening of Emirates Air Line – get it?. The three-quarter mile long river crossing, stretches between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London and has the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction – the equivalent of almost 30 buses. For a “360 degree tour,” there’s an option to make it a non-stop journey.

The Shard, London, (1,016 feet tall), Opening February 2013. The View from the Shard is already one of the capital’s most sought after visitor attractions – and it doesn’t even open until next year! Expect high-speed lifts to transport the public to a dizzying viewing platform, where views promise to extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, it’s not only one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in the UK, but also the tallest building in Europe. Luxury hotel group Shangri-La will launch a new hotel inside The Shard, also in 2013. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about the spa.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (377 feet tall), Opened July 28. The ArcelorMittal Orbit rises over the Olympic park giving a funky new perspective to London from its freshly redeveloped home in the East End. The UK’s tallest sculpture to date, the swirling structure took 18 months to construct and required 1837 feet of tubular red steel to form the lattice superstructure. The result is a bold statement of public art that is both permanent and sustainable. Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and sitting between the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit has become quite literally a beacon of the Olympic Park during the Games, with 250 coloured spot lights individually controlled to produce a digital combination of static and animated effects – including a 15-minute moving light show each evening after the Games.

Up at the O2, London (174 feet tall), Opened June 21. This summer, Londoners are being given the opportunity to climb an icon with this ambitious new attraction combining an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely different perspective on the capital. The 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 174 feet above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in outstanding 360 degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base.

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (174 feet tall), Opened June 22. Situated along one of England’s most scenic stretches of coastland, Weymouth Bay is also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and will host the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions this summer. Soaring high above England’s first natural World Heritage Site the Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower rotates a full 360 degrees for spectacular view of the Jurassic coastline, Chesil Beach and the island of Portland.


last looks: glasgow

My last full day in Scotland is an abbreviated – if typically Scottish – one, marked by lashing rain. (It is the first real rain since I arrived in the UK, incidentally, so I really cannot complain.) I part ways with my friends in Paisley – they have an epic 10-hour drive south to Cardiff – and make my way to the modish Malmaison on Blythswood Square in central Glasgow. Tomorrow’s flight is an early one, so I take advantage of the persistent mizzle to pack (then repack) my accumulated bits and pieces in anticipation of an early dinner and even earlier start. Mission quickly accomplished, I couldn’t let an afternoon in the city pass without a good dose of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It seemed fitting to revisit a pair of nearby architectural triumphs, one high and one low: the glorious Glasgow School of Art and the delicious Willow Tea Rooms. As has so often happened to me in this city, one appetite was spoiled and another thoroughly whetted.


a room with a view

As I’m sure you can gather, I don’t frequent too many bed and breakfasts. I’m much more of a five-star hotel kind of guy. Yet in a small town or village what often passes for the local hotel is invariably dark, dingy, and disappointing. Much better to take the B&B route as I discovered on this trip, where the proprietors are actually homeowners who keep up a certain standard. It is, after all, their house in which you and they are both sleeping. The trick is finding a B&B that jives with your particular standards. I lucked out with Alan and Swan Tomkinson’s Harbour View, which proved the perfect match for me: clean, quiet, a view to die for, and only five minutes hike from the center of town. Swan also happens to cook one of the most delicious breakfasts I’ve ever had – but more on that later.


one devonshire gardens

If people back home know of One Devonshire Gardens it’s likely because many years ago footballer-turned-chef Gordon Ramsay made his name in the kitchen of the hotel’s restaurant. Today, however, it’s the flagship property of Hotel du Vin, a small UK chain of boutique hotels distinguished by their architectural significance – and as the brand name implies, well-stocked wine cellars. One Devonshire occupies a row of five Victorian townhouses in Glasgow’s stylish West End, retaining all of the original features including dramatic stained glass windows, ornate corniced ceilings, wood panelling and sweeping staircases. William Burrell – owner of one of the most famous private collections of art in the world, The Burrell Collection, lived in House 4 in the 1890’s and commissioned the stained glass window above. Within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens and the famous Kelvingrove and Hunterian Museums, I couldn’t think of a more genteel pit stop before beginning a week of arduous hill walking in the Hebrides.


fête (& food) for a queen

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, a menu of right royal pedigree is reigning supreme inside London’s Roux at The Landau. Through June 9th, Executive Chef Chris King – with the input of father and son chefs Albert and Michel Roux Jr. – is showcasing a Jubilee option at the celebrated eatery, marked by a crown on each of the daily lunch and pre-theatre menus, reflecting traditional dishes with blue-blood backstorys that have been given a twenty-first century spin. I recently got a glimpse of three of the dishes, but I’d expect there’s going to be a few more sovereign surprises up this King’s sleeve.

In 1952, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, Albert Roux moved to London from France and worked as an apprentice at Cliveden, the illustrious Berkshire country house where he often served soft Cotswold Legbar Hen’s Egg à la Reine  to the likes of Lady Astor. Sporting the title à la Reine, meaning “to the Queen,” the dish is a combination of chicken and foie gras poached in Madeira then bound with truffled mayonnaise and used to fill a traditional brioche a tete. A soft-poached Cotswold Legbar hen’s egg is perched on top and garnished with slices of summer truffle. Roux went on to earn three Michelin stars at Le Gavroche, yet still recalls the dish as one of his most refined – and who can blame him.

Often referred to as the “King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings,” the great Chef Escoffier was born in France but resided in London for many years. He took great delight in naming his dishes after famous people or places, but one dish in particular proved to take the fancy of royalty: Gewürztraminer Poached Var Salmon Royale. And not just because of the royal honorific – when any of Escoffier’s fish dishes ended with the word royale it meant the garnish was crayfish. In this version wild Var salmon is poached in an aromatic Gewürztraminer court bouillon and served with a kingly version of Escoffier’s original garnish – shelled crayfish tails, tiny quenelles of herbed salmon mousseline, and a parisienne of potatoes flavored with crayfish essence.

Hereford Strawberry Queen of Puddings sounds like a champion bitch at the Westminster Show but it’s actually a dessert made famous by Queen Victoria – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – following a trip up north to Manchester. The local residents felt their custard and strawberry jam pudding was too plain for the Queen so they added meringue to dress it up. Her Royal Highness loved it so much it became a staple. The Roux version is much lighter than the original recipe yet calls for rich custard thickened with brioche crumbs. It’s offset with a lightly-set fragrant jam of Hereford strawberries from Oakchurch farm and a mound of glazed Italian meringue.

Roux at The Landau  is in the legendary Langham, which opened in 1865 as Europe’s first Grand Hotel. The hotel also happens to serve one of the swankiest afternoon teas in town in collaboration with luxury goods brand Asprey – yet another excuse to toast British heritage and 60 years of The Queen.


live blog: doonbeg panorama

To say The Lodge at Doonbeg is dramatically situated is a bit of an understatement. You’re going to want to click the image  – then click it again – to get the full effect of the Clare coastline.


live blog: just ducky

Back in 1933 Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas full of too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey and thought it would be funny to deposit some of their live duck decoys in the hotel fountain. As a result three small English call ducks spent the night swimming in the lobby while their owners snored away in their beds. By morning the reaction of the other hotel guests was nothing short of enthusiastic and voila, a now-famous Memphis tradition was born.

Bellman Edward Pembroke took things a step further a few years later when he offered to help deliver the ducks to the fountain each morning. A former animal trainer with the circus, Pembroke brought considerable flair to bear on the ceremony, ushering the drake and four consorts from their rooftop aerie, down a red carpet, and into the lobby fountain to the delight of those who soon began gathering to witness the Peabody Duck March. The original ducks have long since gone. So, too, Mr. Pembroke, who for 50 years held the honorific of Duckmaster until his retirement. Yet after more than 75 years the ceremony continues – and the lobby fountain daily hosts a quintet of Memphis’ famous feathered friends. A local farmer and friend of the hotel now raises the mallards. They live in a Duck Palace atop the hotel and once fully-grown are retired and returned to the wild. A few lucky ducks guests such as myself are tapped each day to serve as Honorary Duckmaster and assist with stewarding the most famous ducks since Donald. Trust me: it’s everything it’s quacked up to be - and then some.


the same – only better

When Hurricane Omar slammed into Nevis back in 2008, the island sustained limited damage and was up and running in relatively short order. One resort, unfortunately, got positively thwacked: Four Seasons Resort Nevis. As a long-time fan I know I wasn’t alone in feeling terrible about what happened. The intimate retreat was special: not only did it sport a low-key vibe, effortless chic and unspoiled environment, it was also the largest employer on the island. Forced to shutter for almost two years it put a serious damper on the local economy while leaving regular guests to wonder if what returned could ever live up to the original. Well, I hope the past few days of teases have whet your whistle because after a two-year, $100-million dollar renovation my favorite Caribbean resort is back.  And it’s blissfully the same – only better.


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