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Le Crayon – Parisian Art Hotel

25 Aug

Colouring outside the lines is a fine art.  ~Kim Nance

On your next trip to Paris,  cheat on the familiar and sleep with art. Colour your memories with a special stay at Le Crayon- a daring hybrid that is part guest house, part gallery, but feels like the home of a Parisian artist.

Les gens? (The People?) Soulful curious characters, creative types, and people with a story.

27 rooms for 27 moods – the design concept of Le Crayon is a sensory scribble of mixed styles, genres, textures and colourssantique furniture is twisted into works of everyday art where styles and genres are mixed.

You will also find striking depictions of Paris through the eyes of artists in bold illustrations scattered throughout the building.

Next Stop: Sorrento

24 May

Since ancient times, the  coastline of Naples and it’s islands has drawn visitors from Emperors to bohemians to day-trippers. Locations such as Capri have been the muse for European artists, writers, celebrities and the stage for some epic ’50s films.

Mistake #1

Never make the Amalfi Coast a “pit stop”. You will do it no justice and you’ll start wishing you’d shaved some days off other locations to spend more time there!

Where to stay: You’ve probably realised by now that I’m more of a B&B girl than I am a 5 star Hilton type. I always base myself in Sorrento for easy access to day-trip destinations, atmosphere and quite frankly, the warmth of the community and the limoncello. Bookings can be difficult during peak season so plan ahead.

Check out the following accommodation sites for some ‘off-the-beaten-track’ options:

Booking

Venere

B&B Planet

Homelidays

Only Apartments

When to go: Italy is beautiful all year ’round, but to experience the Amalfi Coast in full bloom, go during the Summer (or Spring at the very least!). This the season where you will experience  la dolce vita, the late evening strolls on a perfect summer’s night, the 00’s of gelato flavours, the beach and lido culture. Contrary to British opinion, the amazing weather (unless you have an aversion to sunshine and heat). You will also find that many restaurants and atmospheric bars close during the ‘off season’.

Day Trips:

  • Mt Vesuvius
  • Pompeii
  • Ischia island
  • Capri
  • Positano
  • Ravello
  • Naples

Where to eat:

Like most popular tourist haunts, Sorrento has not be spared the cheap + nasty Italian restaurants aimed at Americans (they serve ketchup with everything – gross). Ask locals, ask your hosts, have a peak in the window to validate your gut feeling – if there are some local-looking folks, enter, if not.. walk on.

My current two favourites (which are very easy on the pocket also) are: Leone Rosso + Inn Buffalito.

Search for the Lemon Garden in the city centre which is an old citrus farm that has been owned by the same family for generations. You can sample free local liquers (but you will most certainly want to purchase your own). If you can’t find it, just stroll around the city centre and you will be inundated with some gorgeous flavours – I highly recommend the melone, fragolino, limoncello and crema di limoncello.

Shopping Cart: Lace, ceramics, inlaid wood, linen, liquers, volcanic treasures, bespoke leather sandals

To Drive or Not to Drive: Not for the faint-hearted, put it that way! I have driven all over Italy (I am female, but a fiesty one) but would never drive around the Amalfi coast – it’s just not cut out for tourist traffic. Parking is horrendous, streets are very narrow and curvaceous and it is very easy to commute to all the best destinations using other means – ferries, pullmans (fancy buses), taxis and sometimes your hotel or host usually offers some sort of transfer service to rectify Sorrento’s traffic “issues”.

24 Hours to Shop in London

9 Apr
I’ve travelled all of Europe and London is by far my favourite shopping destination. And my god did I do a lot of it in the years I lived there. This post is intended as a ‘London Shopping 101‘ guide as well as an itinerary for those of you who have perhaps (mistakingly) made London a “24 hour stop” instead of a week-long adventure (which it truly deserves). 

OXFORD STREET – it’s long but you can definitely walk the length of it and spend hours there. You can find an online map/guide here. The list is literally endless and take your time to explore the side streets. Make sure you pay a visit to Selfridges (especially lower ground level.. it’s like a vintage dungeon of treasures).

REGENT STREET – I think.. one of the most beautiful shopping streets in the world (the way it curves). There is the infamous Hamleys toy store (its HUGE), Ferrari shop, and a gorgeous perfumery Penhaligon’s Boutique with signature scents and vintage bottles. Banana Republic, Armani Exchange, Aquascutum and many other well known brands live here  too. Make sure you ‘get lost in the side streets of Regent. They’re gorgeous.

CARNABY STREET –It’s off Regent street and a like mini village lost in time. Cottage like shop fronts and beautiful cafes and bars adorn the narrow streets. Click here for a guide to Carnaby Street. While you are here, be sure to go to Liberty– a beautiful department store set in an old Tudor building. It’s on the expensive side, but it’s a pleasure to walk through it with waves of inspiration. I love the fabrics and home wares section upstairs and the perfumes, and the scarves and the fashion jewellery. OK, I love it all.

NEW BOND STREET- BYO Sugar Daddy… it’s actually the most expensive retail area in the world. I indulged in a new Francescia Biasia bag each season – beautiful handcrafted Italian leather, wild silk lining with a label that isn’t “in your face”. Pronovias, Dolce & Gabbana, Diesel, Prada.. you name it, you will find in on New Bond.

COVENT GARDEN/SOHO- The perfect Sunday hangout: chill out cafes, tapas bars, awesome boutique stores and my favourite restaurant in London (and one of the cheapest). Italian is their first language (so I got treated like royalty naturally hehe) and the pizza is better than most versions you will find in Italy. Trust me ! At Rossopomodoro, everything on the menu is phenomenal. I especially love their slow food approach and use of D.O.C. ingredients. I know this is sacrilage but I don’t like cheese on my pizza…(if you are the same, or lactose intolerant) try the Marinara pizza (no sea creatures here).. just pomodoro, basilico, extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Heaven. And only 5 quid. While you’re in the ‘Garden’… go to the new age shop and have your  Chinese Birth Chart drawn up for month by month predictions and guidance for the coming year (mine was spot on). A very good wizard friend of mine suggested it. Go!

KNIGHTSBRIDGE – Any self-respecting shop-a-holic must make at least one trip here in their lifetime. Designer label mecca.

Harrods (you have to see it even if you can barely afford a handkerchief). Only got 15 minutes? Head straight for the International Designer Shoe collection and just weep. Go to the Food Halls and buy some Turkish Delight. If it’s Easter or Christmas, visit the events ‘cave’.

Harvey Nichols – some of the most creative shop front designs you will ever see in your life. Complete with a mini Louboutin boutique and floors of everything you could ever want, I like Harvey Nichs because there is a good ‘street wear’ section as well as $$$ designer lines.

While your in Knightsbridge, have a peak at where the billionaires live … the prestigious One Hyde Park luxury development. Next door is the famous Mandarin hotel, a favourite with the Royal family and A-List celebs. If all that shopping has got you hot and bothered, escape to the Serpentine cafe for a pizza or sharing platter and a Campari to regather your thoughts.

Before you leave, go for a strut down Sloane Street... (right to the end). You will master the “oh the sun is so glarey and I am so famous with my big oversized bag” look in no time. You’ll see women pounding the pavement in their Juicy Couture velour tracksuits teamed with Louboutins and a Chihuahua. When you get to the end (towards Sloane Square) take a left and have a drink at the bar on the corner. You’ve “arrived”.

NOTTING HILL – Just get there and explore. You won’t need directions to Portobello road.. just follow the crowd from the station on a Saturday. Take time to wander through the streets of NH and absorb your surroundings. The terraces are picture-perfect and sometimes you can even peer inside to see amazing interiors. It’s constantly reinventing itself and you will be delighted when you just ‘stumble upon’ something wonderful. To sample some exquisite Mediterranean food, go to  Ottolenghi a favourite local haunt.. tiny but wonderful.

Only have 2 hours to shop?

Head to Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush. For Aussies who equate Westfield with an ordinary/mainstream shopping experience… think again. This Westfield has Tiffany’s, Miu Miu, Dior, LV and a Champagne bar outside the designer label stores so you can brag about your purchase or try and erase the amount you spent from your memory.

MARKETS

Portobello Road on a Saturday (it is crowded) but there is stall after stall after stall. If you walk right to the end you see some quirky independent vintage stall owners for fashion and random pieces. Time it so you get there around 10 .. Linger around the stores then eat street food for lunch.

Spitafields Market – Great for antique treasures and quirky objects and clothes, and surrounding with vintage boutiques and even a fairy shop. Check the day you’re going to ensure the markets are running.

Camden Markets – Disclaimer: You will see the weirdest people on earth here but it’s so cool you’ll want to get a piercing or a tattoo before you leave. Set among the canals, there are hundreds of stall you can ogle over. Make sure you check out the Camden Stables Market.

For an memorable ‘Jamie Oliver’ enthusiastic food experience head to Borough Markets for wholesale fruit and veggies as well as lots of organic international food stalls.

After writing this post, I remember a whole of list of things I missed out!

Please add your favourites by commenting on this post and don’t forget to hit the ‘Like’ button, if you do!

208 | Duecento Otto, Hong Kong

3 Apr

Image source: Duecento Otto

I’m rewriting my review of 208. The first night I went was quite frankly,  as we Italians like to say, “un casino” (a mess). My experience since then has proven that it was definitely a one-off. Giulio, the manager, has since ensured an unrivalled Italian dining experience in Hong Kong. For honest, authentic and creative flavours of Italy, this is the real deal. After watching the Milan derby at 2.45 am, a perfectly mixed Negroni sbagliato cocktail of Italian sweet vermouth, Campari and Prosecco was just what the doctor ordered.

Rarely are Italian restaurants able to balance a sophisticated menu and superb pizza. 208 does both.To start, we enjoyed an ‘Arugulasalad of peppery rocket in an aged balsamic vinaigrette, sharpened with shavings of  matured parmigiano reggiano and delicate specks of broken roasted garlic. The pizza is perfection. The dough was light and airy with a slightly puffed crust, wood-fired with D.O.C quality ingredients. You can (and I do) eat one on your own. For me? A Margherita.. 3 toppings – tomato sauce, mozzarella di buffala and basilico- unviolated by any other ingredient. My husband ordered the Diavola (spicy Italian sausage, chilli, tomato sauce and mozzarella).

Easily, two of the bests pizzas we’ve had out of Italy (and we travel a lot). Compliments to the pizzaiolo. 208 has become a fortnightly regular for us, and each time we promise to try other dishes but we’re so deprived of decent pizza in Hong Kong that we keep coming back for more. Next time.

I suggest you don’t eat before you come. You absolutely have to make room for perhaps one of the most simple, yet exotic desserts I’ve ever tasted. My husband and I have nicknamed it “The Med on a Plate”. The Roasted Figs in Saba dish presents caramelized figs served with homemade cookie crumble and a chunk of gorgonzola dolce. The perfect marriage of textures, tastes and fragrances. If you prefer something a little less naughty but equally delectable, try the Campari Orange Sorbet for an icy treat that is not too sweet and has a bit of kick. To finish – an espresso which is ‘ristretto’ with the perfect layer of crema.

Image source: Duecento Otto

The interior design is a fresh fusion of east and west, Chinoise wall tiles and warm dark timber are perfectly framed  by a striking iron façade. The connection between indoors and the external environment makes for a wonderful alfresco dining experience or apertivo setting.

Image Source: Habitat Property

The Verdict? A rockstar menu, and attentive service in an intimate, yet very cool loft-like setting. It’s also refreshing to see Italian staff bouncing around the place who always has time to stop for a chat. Buon appetito! Well-done 208.


Europe Summer 2011? Tips to get you started

28 Mar

As this is my travel guide post, I need to insert a few disclaimers so we understand each other.

  • I’m generally not a fan of hotels
  • I gravitate to off-the-beaten path
  • I want to live like a local… even if for a day
  • I support local tourism with careful accommodation choices
  • The thought of Contiki makes me weep (although this is a perfectly sensible option if you need a quick, whirlwind tour of the world on a shoestring budget)

    Living in Europe taught me a lot about the ‘road less travelled’. It also taught me about the terrible mistakes brainwashed unseasoned travellers continue to make. Over the next new weeks you’ll see ‘city guides’ for Europe’s star line-up of ‘must sees’ according to moi.

    Here are some of my Top Tips to get you started:

    * Use your extended network – most of you reading this blog have about 5 social networking accounts with hundreds of friends of friends all over the world. You’ll be surprised what recommendations and opportunities arise.

    * Travel guides will only get you so far – talk to real travellers for advice before you go and ask locals when you get there. I use a combination of Tripadvisor , Virtual tourist and special travel blogs and magazines. Try and find one specific to your destination.

    * Book early – This is the key to getting not only the property you want, but at a good rate. Don’t have the cash at the moment? Not a problem. There are many good websites that allow you to book ahead of time without taking any sort of deposit. There is no penalty for cancellation provided you give sufficient notice. Check out Booking.com and Venere as a starting point. Always filter your search results by review score, not necessarily by the stars the property is rated. Read the reviews!

    * Devote yourself to learning at least one other language – the more limited your language, the more limited your world.

    * Timing is everything –  try and time your holiday to coincide with seasonal highlights. You will be surprised how the weather or the vibe of certain months shapes your view of a destination. There are hundreds of festivals throughout the year in Europe – there is something for everyone – such as San Fermin, Pamplona ( The Running of the Bulls), La Tomatina, Il Palio, Carnevale, Semana Santa, Oktoberfest, Ferragosto.. the list goes on. There are also seasonal highlights relating to wine, olive oil and many food festivals.

    * Don’t underestimate the value of a good host – call me paranoid, but I think of  hotel concierge staff as programmed robots with sinister intentions who only recommend the bloody obvious. Bed and breakfasts and other boutique accomodation options offer a more rewarding experience. Much like staying with relative who’s lived there their whole live but won’t make you have lunch with every cousin and aunt you haven’t met.

    *Alternatives booking websites – Try a new type of accommodation for your next holiday – a B&B, a local’s apartment or a farmhouse. Some good websites for Europe are B&B PlanetHomelidaysOwner’s Direct VRBO and probably one of my favourites Italy-accom.

    *Cheap flights – Depending on where you live in the world, you may be more familiar with cheap flight sites. Some good ones to compare flight options are; Which Budget, Skyscanner, CheapFlights and Expedia. Low cost airlines are not always the best options as they slug you with all sorts of ridiculous charges for extra luggage, name and flight changes and even forgetting to print your boarding pass (40 quid for a piece of paper.. cheers RyanAir!).

    Over the next few weeks, you’ll see city guides for many popular summer European destinations.. first stop Italy.

    Slow food. La Dolce Vita. Guaranteed sun. Bless the Mediterranean.

     

    Private White Villa – Tinos, Greece

    23 Mar

    Tinos is a tiny Greek island blessed with quite a few things actually (and literally). The traditional Cycladic landscape of Tinos is decorated by an impressive variety of architectural marvels including charming white villas similar to the one I’m about to share with you.

    A famous annual destination for pilgrims devoted to the Virgin Mary, Tinos also boasts more than 50 villages and a whopping 750 churches and chapels. Designed by Zege architects, but perfected by the age-old Mediterranean tradition of ‘white’. Climate accommodating and a  blank canvas for exotic ornaments .It uplifts the soul, restores clarity and it undeniably stunning. This white jewel on Tinos is adorned with eclectic treasures with added drama of negative space. Enjoy.

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    Image source: Living With White

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