Saturday, 24 January 2015

Byblos

Just outside Verona, surrounded by the vineyards of Valpolicella 


is a hotel which from the outside appears a gracious, classical Venetian villa



with landscaped gardens, a marble fountain and traditionally designed pool.



And although there are some startling, unexpected features


and a foretaste of eye-popping, intense colour



still, none of it quite prepares you for what you see when you walk in the front door.



At the Byblos Art Hotel every public space and bedroom suite is filled with an extraordinary permanent collection of contemporary art and design.



The work of Italian architect and designer Alessandro Mendini (see here and here)


it's a fabulous eclectic design mix of iconic 20th century furniture design and works by contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Cindy Sherman and many others, against a backdrop of 17th century Venetian architecture.


Your head is constantly turning in this place, craning, noticing not just the big startling visuals in a riot of colours, but the small unexpected details that surprise you everywhere you look

psychedelic trompe l'oeil passage leading to bedrooms

the conference room is tamer, calmer, but beautifully designed in Byblos's signature intense orange

Dali's lips meet Keith Haring's dogs

a winking, talking, disembodied head keeps guests company in the dining room 

blinking electric sculpture on the stairway down to the spa

If contemporary art and design are your thing this place is heaven, and even if not, it is definitely one of the most unusual and memorable hotel experiences you're likely to have. I totally loved it.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Portofino

Just over an hour's drive along the Ligurian coast towards Genoa from the rugged and remote Cinque Terre gets you to the heart of the Italian Riviera.


Driving through beautiful Rapallo to Portofino, the views of intense blue-green sea are still spectacular, but peeling tumble-down village houses are traded for elegant mansions and fishing boats for expensive yachts.


Portofino, on a rocky promontory overlooking a protected cove, is a holiday home for some of Italy's elite and a favourite spot to park luxury yachts. 


But its basic appearance has apparently changed very little over the last half century, probably due to the intervention of powerful people who like to keep it exclusive and discreet.


The harbour is lined with heavily flowered, terraced, shuttered apartments, discreetly tucked-in designer-brand shops and chic restaurants, all with views to the ongoing entertainment of this busy little port. 




Topping the hillside that overlooks Portofino is the legendary Hotel Splendido (just visible top left in the pic below), where film stars and politicians have stayed since the days of Churchill, Bogart and Bacall.


We walked all the way up a winding footpath from the harbour to reach it, rewarded with sights like this on the way.



to have a cold prosecco on the garden terrace of the Splendido, and reflect on how the very rich live.


Portofino, September 2014

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Cinque Terre

Five ancient fishing villages tucked into the base of mountainous cliffs on the Ligurian coast: Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola.


Terraces carved into the sides of mountains have been cultivated for centuries with grapes and olives, and until not so long ago the villages were connected only by mule tracks. 


Access is still difficult today. 
From inland you can drive down to certain villages via a hectically winding road, in places so narrow that only one car can pass, through miles of protected national park ...


And to travel between the cinque terre you can walk for hours along a cliff path that is in places not for the faint-hearted ...


or travel by boat from one village to the next ...


or, more practically but less scenically, by a train that links the villages.


From Monterosso, the oldest village, with a history going back to 643 AD, the views across a calm Ligurian sea at sunset are spectacular (from higher up you should be able to see right across to Corsica on a clear day) ...


and down the coastline from Monterosso's beaches the inlets sheltering the other terre are just visible.


My favourite was the smaller Vernazza. Having missed the ferry (below right), we whizzed, bumped and flew into Vernazza's little harbour in a little dinghy care of enterprising  sailor Angelo.


for a drink and aperitivos in the sun next to the stone wall separating village from harbour.




It was hard to imagine in this peaceful setting the devastation caused by floods in 2011 when a landslide of mud tore down the vertical cliffs behind Vernazza and Monterosso, almost destroying both villages.


From the central piazza on the sea-front, the village rises up along steep alleyways, and some of the homes seem to grow out of the cliff face


The church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia and the small Belforte castle, built to protect the village from pirates, look over Vernazza.



Liguria, Italy, September 2014



Sunday, 28 September 2014

Montefalco snapshots

Montefalco was a wonderful Umbrian discovery - a quiet, warm, unspoilt medieval hilltop town, centre of the Sagrantino wine-producing area.

Steep narrow roads lead upwards like radials to the central Piazza del Comune at the very top of the town, where on Sunday it was market day.


Tables were laid for dinner on the piazza  (black truffles with pasta, crispy vegetable lasagne, ricotta & honey, all locally produced, and Sagrantino wine) - with blankets ready to take the edge off the chill of a September night.







Montefalco, Perugia, September 2014

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