Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sex and the City - Parisian Style

I had a bit of a Sex and the City day in Paris yesterday. Fristly I went to see lots of lovely frocks at the Yves St Laurent exhibition at the Petit Palais. Over 300 frocks to be precise. It is the first retrospective of the designer's work and is arranged thematically with rooms devoted to such topics as the smoking jacket, evening gowns, and St Laurent's collaboration with Catherine Deneuve on such films as "Belle du Jour":

After a morning filled with beautiful designer gowns, I had a spa at the Paris Mosque. The tea room which serves various teas in beautiful tea glasses, is just how I imagine Morocco to be:

For a very reasonable 58 Euros, I had the Oriental package which includes lunch (I chose a delicious couscous with lamb):

Followed by mint tea and pastry:

Also included is the entry into the hammam, together with an exfoliation by one of the assistants, and a 10 minute massage:

Then it was off to the Marais for dinner with the boys in the gay area of Paris:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Paul Bocuse

Last week we were in Lyon to eat at the 3 Michelin Star restaurant of Paul Bocuse. At the beginning of the evening Paul Bocuse's wife greeted diners at their tables, which was sweet. The decor was very opulent:
The amuse bouche was delicious:

As was the foie gras:

And beef with porcini mushrooms:

The deserts came with complimentary creme brulee:

And the floating island is made the way Paul Bocuse's grandmother made it:
The petit fours had to be smuggled into my handbag because I couldn't fit them in:
My favourite dessert was the fresh raspberries with sorbet:

Chosen from the crowded dessert trolley:
The cheese trolley was also quite extensive:

Overall, the experience was not quite as good as I expected, particularly the somewhat aloof waiters.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lake Como

We've just spent a fantastic three nights at Lake Como. We spent two days taking ferry rides up and down the lake and visiting some amazing villas. Unfortunately we could only see this one from the water as we couldn't afford the accommodation price. It is the Villa D'Este, supposedly the best hotel in the world:

Fortunately, we were able to take a tour of Villa Del Balbianello. It's closed on Monday and Wednesday and accessible only by water except on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. On those days, you can walk to it for about two kilometres from the village of Lenno. The only way you can see inside (as we did) is to take a guided tour, which was well worthwhile. This is the view from the garden:

The villa featured in the film Casino Royale as the place where James Bond convalesces.This is the loggia:

This is the terrace which was the scene of Anakin and Padme's first kiss in Star Wars:

The villa looks very impressive from the water:

We also visited the gardens of Villa Melzi near Bellagio:

And toured both the villa and gardens at Villa Carlotta near Tremezzo:

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Today we found Bramasole, the house from Frances Mayes's book, "Under the Tuscan Sun". The tourist office was very helpful in giving us directions to walk there from Cortona. The trouble was that we tried it yesterday in 35 degree heat and it took so long that we turned back before we reached it. Then today, we found alternative directions on the net about how to reach it by car. We followed the instructions to a gate which opens onto a lavender-lined drive:

This little niche is to the right of the gate:

Then I looked up, and there was Bramasole above me, in apricot tones amidst manicured gardens full of flowers:

Friday, July 16, 2010


We are now in Cortona, two weeks before the "Tuscan Sun Festival" begins. Apparently in two weeks' time, Sting and Trudie Styler, Charles Dance and many more actors, musicians and artists will be arriving for the festival. Even Frances Mayes will be attending the launch of her latest book. But at the moment, the Piazza della Republica is relatively quiet:

Last night, the Piazza Signorelli was busy with quite a few people dancing to a band:

The public gardens:

What a view:

The food is wonderful - veal with mushrooms, vitello tonnato:

Tagliatelle with mushrooms, Pappardelle with wild boar:


And crostini spread with tomato, liver and mushroom:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Obsession

My obsession with Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams continues. How beautiful is this black sink in their apartment?:

Image from Remodelista
There is a fantastic short film on the web, by Brennan Staciewicz, at, in which they discuss their philosophy:

Robin Standefer [speaking about their renovations to the Standard restaurant]:"We try to find that sweet spot, something that's familiar and has a sense of meory that's not a complete recreation. [The global financial crisis] has made people pay attention to real value versus perceived value. [For her and her husband, in going to Europe and Asia] there's a whole other level of old . . . Those issues of a sense of memory and a sense of materiality and materials from the earth and trying to connect a lot of different references to come together to kind of create a new one is an important way that we think you can achieve that sense of timelessness".
Stephen Alesch:"[When they work on a space such as a hotel there is a sense of] who that visitor is".
Robin Standefer: "I think it's for us what we want [the guests] to do. We love the old school Grand Hotel vibe where it's a real meeting hall, a real gathering".
Stephen Alesch: "It's pretty much traditional architecture but the goal is to tear it up, to really . . . use it".
Robin Standefer: "If we create a platform for [guests] to use it and live and eat, then they'll think about the experience they had there the last time, the great day they had reading,. . . that day they sat in the corner of that clubby bar and had that . . . awesome weird drink, and that's . . . pretty inspiring".
Stephen Alesch: "The textures I think are really important . . . because they're not just sight-based, and for an architect and artist, interior designers, I think that one of the limitations of these trades is they're completely focused on sight and it's a very limited way to see things".
Robin Standefer: "There's a million stories in the lobby".
Stephen Alesch: "I think the present is a little shrill sometimes . . . To be in a space and have it be a little transforming, not necessarily calming, justy a different moment, a slightly dream-like moment, thank God for that . . . you shouldn't just dream at night . . . The communication of objects is so important to us, the dialogue that's happening".
Robin Standefer: "It's musical for us".

From these comments, the ideas that I love most are the concept that they want hotel guests to interact with their surroundings in a dream-like way. This made me think about what Clive Bell said in his book Art, almost one hundred years ago, that in certain works of art "lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions".

Another idea I like is that their spaces are not just direct historical recreations, but that they create an entirely new reference from the older ones, which is original yet has links with the past. I love the materiality and tactility of their spaces, as well as they way they value objects and elevate them to the level of art:

Image from Remodelista

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cool Places on the Riviera

We're in Nice for two more days, and have been taking in the sights of the Cote D'Azur. This is the beach at Les Issambres, between St Tropez and St Raphael:

But the true Riviera experience is to be had at St Jean-Cap Ferrat, where we discovered the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. This was built by Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in 1912. Apparently Pink is preforming in Nice tonight not far from us, but frankly we overdosed on pink today. Apparently it was the Baroness's favourite colour, to the extent that flamingoes were her favourite animal. This is the front facade of the villa (see what I mean?):

Even her exquisite collection of Sevres porcelain was displayed against a pink background:

This is the interior, which is designed in the style of Italian Renaissance villas:

Even the furniture has a rosy hue, including these seats for the pets:

The gardens are wonderful, with fountains gushing to music every twenty minutes:

The tearoom. This is what I call a room with a view:
There are several gardens themed after different countries, as the Baroness was a keen traveller. Not sure whether this is the Florentine or Spanish garden, but they're all spectacular:

After our visit we went to nearby Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, to the Villa Grecque Kerylos. This was built by archeologist Theodore Reinach in 1908, and is a reproduction of a first-century Athenian villa, which he and his family actually lived in. My favourite room was this bathroom with a three-foot deep bath:

From every window the view was fantastic. The yellow blob in the water is a guy on a lilo who looks like he has just swum off one of the many luxury yachts:

Who would want to be anywhere else?

Friday, July 9, 2010


We are now in our third exchange, this time at an apartment in the centre of Nice. We were sorry to leave our last one as we loved the house and the local area. On our last day, we went to visit this bookshop in Le Somail, which claims to have 50,000 books. It was quite impressive to see such a place in the small village:

Then we had a degustation at the chateau at Ventenac, and bought some wine:

For our last dinner, Helene baked a beautiful chocolate cake:

But our disappointment at leaving was somewhat reduced by the fact that we would be spending the night at one of our favourite places - Cassis. Unfortunately the Cassitel hotel was booked out, which is where Virginia Woolf stayed in the late 1920s, while her sister Vanessa took a villa in the town:
We did find a vacancy at another hotel a few minutes' walk from the harbour and that night we wanted to try the bouillabaise for which the area is famous. Not far from our table, a fisherman was casting his line:
The bouillabaise was spectacular:

After a lovely night in Cassis, we carried onto Nice. We are in a light airy apartment on top of an old building, and we can see this amazing sculpture from our bedroom window:

This is the view from the kitchen balcony. I love the air of decaying grandeur of the buildings around us:

This morning, I walked down to the beachfront, where the morning haze had not lifted, but it was free of the crowds that come later in the day:

My main purpose for venturing out so early was to make a trip to the Cours Saleya flower market, which opens at 6am every day except Monday when it becomes an antique market:

I didn't buy any flowers, though. About half of the market is taken up with fruit and vegetables, some of which I bought from this lovely lady:

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