Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Meets Old on Three Continents

The following will appear as
with photographs by Paula Sweet

Six months on the road, and much to report to you: Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Italy, Paris, Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. The odyssey continues, and here’s the latest:

Mona Lisa Slept Here
One hundred fifteen years ago Vincenzo Peruggia removed la Gioconda from her frame in the Louvre and spirited her across the Seine to Saint Germain des Pres, to a seedy, top floor apartment. There the most famous painting in history slept unmolested, secreted away from the masses, even evading a visit by Paris police. Today you can occupy the same room (‘Adorateur’) where Mona Lisa slumbered, at the marvelous Hotel Da Vinci, a charming Left Bank 4-star of only 24 rooms which opened in June 2014. Great location aside, steps from Cafe de Flore, ornate Belle Epoque ambience prevails, colored with blue and gold and dark wood accents. Many rooms with private terraces. Leonardo-inspired motifs drawn from his works complete the decor. Can’t take our eyes off the old style room phone, branded slippers and the classy umbrellas available at the entry! Special appreciation for the ornate breakfast room with its groovy marble floor, and the very cool round window table, perfect for people-watching as you sip your cafe au lait. Through the back door you’ll find a little garden/meeting space which seats up to eight. Downstairs a spa and hammam await you, which Da Vinci includes in some romantic package offerings. Very attractive special deals can be found on the website, and a call to the property may yield even better rates. This extremely fun hotel doesn’t have the biggest rooms in the world. But you will always be happy to return to it, especially once you learn the “missing piece”, the eccentric location of the secret release button at the lower left by the entry door.

Star design team does it again
Hotel de Seze, the latest design adventure from architects Anne Peyroux and Emmanuèle Thisy, adds another fine lodging choice to the neighborhood near the Place de la Madeleine. As always, lush fabrics, sleek furnishings and modern carpets contribute to the signature gloss. Telling signs like joyful laughter from the reception area attest to the property’s general amiability, as does the very happy lady who presides over the cozy breakfast room of only 8 tables. Comfort, texture and shopping are the keywords which describe this new boutique hotel of only 22 rooms and suites, set between the Faubourg St. Honore and the department stores of the Grands Boulevards, a stone’s throw from the Boulevard des Italiens and the Opera Garnier. Midst a symphony of calm greys, the brand spanking new 4-star exudes discretion and cool. We loved room 61, a top floor junior suite with skylit bathroom, and priceless view over typical rooftops all the way up to Sacre Coeur. Plop yourself down in the cozy sitting area and empty your shopping bags - there’s abundant space to spread out the choices for your evening’s ensemble.

Theatrically Speaking
Hotel Monsieur, a bright new lodging tribute to Sascha Guitry (Who’s he? Ask any French person!) has opened in a prime location in the 8th arrondisment, near many celebrated gastronomic institutions. A property of only 29 rooms, with 2 exceptional suites, you can get in on the first act of a comfortable entrance to the Parisian hotel scene, set in a typical residential quartier. Decorated with images from Guitry’s greatest plays and productions, and walking distance from the Theatre des Mathurins (originally named Theatre de Monsieur a century ago, from which it takes its name) you’ll find many options in decor. Impresario-grade 602, the Sascha Guitry suite and biggest in the property, takes a bow with 2 bathrooms; breakfast on its private terrace highly recommended, weather permitting. Room 605 features a flamboyant yellow bed, lovely view, and ornate tile details. The romantic 404 is a tour de force of passionate red like a proscenium, scarlet floor accented with black lacquer highlights. The ground floor breakfast room adjacent lounge, and constant coffee bar with gluten-free pastries make the public areas a pleasurable launchpad for your active day. This stylish hotel delivers great value, modern design, and dramatic flourishes well worth your standing ovation.  

“No does not exist.”
It’s tough to name another hotel where, at the moment you check in under the Premium Program, you are introduced to an individual with the alluring job title of Suite Ambassador. This particular event definitely happens at Florence’s Hotel Brunelleschi where the polymath polyglot Paulus makes you feel instantly welcome to what he calls a “house with a heart.” At 86 rooms,10 of them suites, the Brunelleschi can’t really be described as a boutique property. Yet the hotel successfully delivers on the promise with an uncrowded and personalized vibe. It’s deceptively quiet and calm for a place of such capacity, the majority of guests from US/UK, staying an average of 2-3 nights. In operation for 35 years, the rooms are new, up-to-date and state-of-the-art. It could also explain why the Brunelleschi is a favorite destination for medium-sized corporate meetings- a spacious function room comfortably hosts up to 100, but you hardly know it’s there.
The keywords to this elegant 5-star are History, Service and Location. Built on Roman foundations, its facade preserves an Ottoman-era tower -oldest in Florence - dating from the 8th century, which integrates seamlessly with the modern wings. Many Florentine hotels celebrate the city’s connection with art, but few have such a direct attachment to the living history of the city. The Brunelleschi even maintains a subterranean museum for serious time-traveling back to the Roman era. The past, if not in the walls, is always directly under your feet. The hotel’s optimal location can’t be beat. Step out the front door, make a fast left turn and you’re on the main shopping avenue. Everything wonderful within walking distance.
Paulus says that “no” does not exist at the Brunelleschi, and having tested the claim Lucire can vouch that the statement is a true one. Service was uniformly helpful, positive, attentive.  
Kudos to the breakfast options, twists on classics at good prices- two dining rooms with opulent buffet choice, one with a striking view of the Liberty Lounge’s vintage leaded glass windows, and the amazing private dining Santa Elizabetta room for Premium Program guests in the Pagliazza Tower. The intimate space seats only 20 people, and in the evenings doubles as the hotel’s fine dining room. There you need to taste the Osteria’s flambe selections, where maitre d’ Demetrios hovers at a discreet distance, attentive to your every need. The service aspect continues throughout the Premium Program which includes champagne, macarons, private breakfast, ironing, shoeshine, packing help, flowers, finest grade linens and custom amenities. Paulus will even find you a hot air balloon. Mention needs to made about the American Bar where bar ambassador Beata mixes a picture perfect Cosmopolitan with a twist: the critical ingredient (besides utter professionalism) is spirits from Sicily: well worth a try.
Upstairs, consider the Pagliazza Tower Suite #415, 2 levels, 2 baths, circular bed, spiral stairs, facing the Duomo. It has an outdoor jacuzzi on a private terrace. We could go on with a longer list of super details, but internet search on in-room televisions lends an added window into the present day. If that sounds like a mystery out of a Dan Brown book, you can always ask your kids how it works.

An Ever-Reliable Beloved Friend
There’s no better news than to rediscover a place time and again, which upholds the standards of excellence, service and personality like Milan’s Hotel Baglioni Carlton. Lucire checked in for an update in January 2016. What’s not to love about this delirious five-star with its always-gracious welcome, world-class team, and private portal opening onto the Via della Spiga? Walking distance from the best shopping in Milano, an easy stroll to the Duomo, surrounded by stratospheric restaurant choices, The Carlton can’t be compared to other properties. It’s a well-established watering hole whose public spaces are ideal for business meetings. The incomparable Il Baretto Al Baglioni remains one of the consistently great dining experiences in the city. And familiar faces like Concierge Lino and barman Maurizio make every interaction a pleasure, akin to warm reunions with old and dear friends. Familiar details abound, all reflecting the Baglioni brand’s incomparable eye for Italian style. Hot tip: room service breakfast at the Carlton always a brilliant way to ease into your day.

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Otherworldy escape and legendary waves
Not all surfers shall cling to the grunge fringe. That is to say, you could live quite cheaply at the bottom of the food chain in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, sleep under palm fronds in a budget hammock, carry your board a quarter mile to the beach under your arm, brave the mosquitoes and live on grilled catch of the day at open-front food stands with American price tags. Other shredders prefer to avail themselves of the serious comfort and isolation offered at Florblanca, an outstanding hideaway of 9 luxury villas ideally set on the Surf Coast beachfront, with all the amenities and privacy only a five-star property can deliver. The package includes complimentary daily visits by shimmering green iguanas, who sun themselves on the warm walls adjacent to your breakfast table. Try the signature granola and fruit for a serious power hit to begin your day. The kitchen offers flavorful twists on local produce, with exceptional seafood preparations and the most accommodating barman in the Western Hemisphere. A world-class spa nestled among the lofty overgrowth makes this resort even more of a destination. Twenty years ago Santa Teresa was a sleepy, empty, slow-paced fishing village. Today, filled with surf schools, repair shops, accessory stores and many levels of lodging, the speed of life and no-worries attitude somehow remains. A dusty, rutted main road has many small lanes leading directly to the water, as the procession of wave worshipers comes and goes with the rising tide. Florblanca, a secure, honeymoon-appropriate oasis among the jungle foliage, has all the beauty, tranquility and exclusivity the luxury traveler seeks. You walk from your villa directly to the sand undisturbed and uninterrupted. Within minutes you’ve paddled out into the swaying swells, your panoramic view encompassing one of the most awe-inspiring, lush and verdant shorelines to be found on planet earth.   

Moroccan Notes
Atlas Mountains
A modern spa at a first class traditional resort
An easy one hour’s drive from Marrakech, set in a wooded mountain valley, a new facility for luxury indulgence will surprise you. La Roseraie Spa Retreat specializes in herbal remedies, all locally sourced. This marvelous discovery will delight on every level. The factor of comfort is optimal, and the setting and decor will enhance your experience. Luxurious cushions, blankets and rugs in the bright Berber palettes, cool cottons and artisan textures surround you. World class professionals operate the spa with highest standards and unique treatments, many which can be taken outdoors when weather permits.The little details like foot or hand massage in relax areas add to the welcoming environment. La Roseraie boasts the only salt table in Morocco, a therapeutic bed of local crystals used for exhilirating rubs. Best of all, there’s a VIP treatment room ideal for a couple, an exclusive wing of the spa featuring private bath and hammam, secluded balcony with seating under the boughs of ancient trees. Most of all, it’s your chance for indulgence, reconnection with body and spirit in a totally holistic setting. A fantastic discovery, highly recommended.

La Roseraie Spa Retreat is set in the grounds of Domaine de la Roseraie, a nostalgic resort property with sprawling rose gardens and exotic plantings. You’ll find apple, quince, plum and peach trees, cactus and herb gardens, a thousand trilling birds. This is a traditional property operated in the old style, with huge suites and very comfortable accommodations. Some private villas. Many luminaries have stayed here- you would not believe the names inscribed in the livre d’or. Mostly UK visitors, staying an average of 2-3 nights. Two excellent restaurants and al fresco terrace dining. Lucire will take a deeper look at this property in a later issue, so stay tuned.

Luxury Rediscovered in La Kasbah
You never know what you find behind closed doors and ancient walls in La Kasbah. Friends introduced us to a sparkling new property of 12 suites, Riad  Almaha, a pretty amazing place. Sleeps up to 30, huge rooms, full renovation, totally modern plumbing, impeccably decorated. All the upstairs suites have private terrace access. Once you’ve passed through the secret entrance behind a display shelf of craftsman baskets you stray into a fusion of contemporary art with traditional craft in utterly beautiful, tranquil surroundings. A huge tiled courtyard surrounded by greenery allows fantastical leaps to an era of magnificent palaces and ultra luxury. You will love the library room with its folded-page book art. The Pixel Room with its massive mosaic walls of diamond shaped upholstered pieces resembles no place you have ever seen before. There’s even a private tiled pool tucked away in its own corner on the roof. Below ground level you’ll discover an elegant hammam and spa. This is definitely a discreet and private riad experience, and one whose exclusivity is meant to be enjoyed privately. We recommend taking over the whole property and inviting a group of friends. Two small downsides: it’s well-hidden in a location which requires a driver or at least a guide, even though it is no more than a 10 minute walk from the Jmaa Al Fnaa- you don’t want to be wandering the Kasbah’s labyrinthine streets in your evening wear; and though the property has an outstanding kitchen with 24-hour room service, there’s no restaurant, and the public isn’t allowed. Almaha transports you, there is no doubt, and we definitely want to stay there.

Ministers of Taste
Alessandra Lippini and Fabrizio Bizzari are an expatriated Italian power couple who have lived and worked in Morocco for the last 20 years. She’s former Style Editor of Vogue Italy, and he is a visionary architect. Together they have realized a group of amazing projects under their Ministero Del Gusto business banner. Their gallery in the Marrakech medina, near the Mosque Moassine is a required stop (appointment only) on the art tourism circuit, and their many residential and hotel projects are the mythological stuff you find in coffee table books with titles like “Marrakech Style” and “Elegant Moroccan Homes.” Today the duo handles a full complement of projects for both corporate and private clients. We visited a number of their works, inspired by their respect for heritage, love of materials, Italian sensibility. Their latest project, a total rebuild of a classic riad in the beach city of Essaouira demonstrates a level of virtuosity and fidelity rarely seen. It’s all about vision, and the projects of Lippini and Bizzari always transcend.