Riverside Relaxation in Vang Vieng, Laos

2017c Riverside Boutique HotelRiverside Boutique Resort
Ban Viengkeo
P.O. Box 360
Vang Vieng, Vientiane Province
Lao PDR
+856 (0)23 511 726
http://www.riversidevangvieng.com
info@riversidevangvieng.com

After the long drive from Luang Prabang, it is a treat to sit back on our balcony and watch the Nam Song River flow past the magnificent limestone karsts for which Vang Vieng is known. Better yet, on this hot afternoon, is a dip in their pool, where one can chill out with a glass of ice-cold Beer Lao. Riverside Boutique Hotel does not simply offer luxury in Vang Vieng, it offers guests the chance to learn about the diversity of the Lao culture through its studied décor which showcases the various ethnic influences of the country. There are hints everywhere of this rich diversity – in the design of the rooms, the artwork selected, the textiles used. Their boutique gallery and gift shop gives guests a chance to admire and purchase some of the finest examples of the artisan crafts of the Lao people. Be sure to visit the shop and ask the desk for their brochures that explain the rich traditions of the various Lao tribes.

The Crab d’Or Restaurant provides a relaxed setting in which to sample a tasting menu of Lao cuisine, a great introduction to the most popular dishes of the country or an opportunity to sample them again. The cook is happy to adjust the “heat” of the chilies so beloved by the local people. The restaurant features a wrap-around terrace overlooking the river and the garden, where In the evening, lighted lanterns and fairy lights provide a touch of magic. At breakfast, this same dining room offers sustenance, a rich buffet of both Asian and Continental selections sure to please guests, no matter what their tastes or dietary restrictions might be.

Vang Vieng awaits, luring visitors from the comforts of Riverside Boutique Hotel. There are trips down the river in traditional river craft, tubing and kayaking for the adventurous, villages and rice fields, temples and shops that tempt. Go ahead, explore, or simply rest in the natural beauty that surrounds you.

2017c Riverside Boutique Hotel view

View of the Nam Song River – original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

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Satri House – the Enchantress of Luang Prabang

2017c Satri House Secret Retreat

Satri House  –  original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Satri House Secret Retreat
057-Photisarath Road
Luang Prabang – Lao PDR
+856 71 253 491 2
http://www.satrihouse.com
info@satrihouse.com

Built in French colonial-style, yet deeply influenced by Lao culture, Satri House’s main villa dates back to 1904 when it was the residence of Prince Soupha-Nouvong, known as the “Red Prince” who was later to become Lao PDR’s first president in 1975. Expanded over the years, it was eventually converted into a “secret retreat” hotel featuring 28 guestrooms and 3 suites.

Satri House is an unabashed enchantress; she leads me from garden path to lily ponds, to a still channel of water where Lao sculptures and palm fronds are reflected in its surface, pleasing my eye not once but twice. Pathways through these lush gardens and quiet corridors invite us to the secret retreat that will be our accommodation for the next few days. Our room makes me feel like I have been invited by the Prince himself to luxuriate in his private home. Furnished in rich wood and dressed in delicate silk and linens, our room has a queen-sized bed draped in mosquito netting that while practical, lends a romantic air. Lao in all its beauty is everywhere, but the temptress does not stop here. A shuttered doorway opens to our private garden, a short walk takes us to the pool or the spa, and finally there is the restaurant with a wrap-around terrace that offers an intimate view of the garden from above.

The first evening we enjoy a set menu of Lao dishes, a perfect introduction to the country’s cuisine. Mme. Lamphoune salad is a green papaya – green mango salad with chicken and shrimp in a lime dressing; the Som Ho pomelo salad made with shrimp and vegetables is equally as tasty. For our main course we have Gaeng Phet Bhet Myung, a red curry duck with pineapple and become acquainted with Khabab Paa, grilled Mekong river fish wrapped in banana leaf, one of Lao’s most popular dishes. And for our sweet tooth, we get to sample another Lao specialty – local dark-sticky rice with fresh mango.

Three nights are simply not enough at this hotel. If our enchantress is benevolent, perhaps we will be lured back to her secret retreat again someday.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

The best of two worlds at Savoy Hotel Yangon

2017c Savoy Hotel

Savoy Hotel Yangon    –    original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Savoy Hotel Yangon
129, Dhammazedi Road
Yangon, Myanmar
+95 1 526-289
http://www.savoy-myanmar.com
reservations@savoy-myanmar.com

Nearly everything pales to the experience of visiting Shwedagon, Yangon’s most cherished Buddhist Pagoda that glitters in the sunlight and dazzles one’s very soul. So afterwards, we slowly make our way back to our hotel, where we lounge poolside in a garden-like setting. I have ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Aythaya Vineyards, Myanmar’s nascent wine industry on the slopes of the Taunggyi Mountains in the Shan State. Its crisp, fruity bouquet suits my idle mood. I close my eyes and breathe in the stillness, punctuated only by a splash in the pool and the caw of crows as they swoop among the tall trees perhaps declaring their territorial rights. Who can blame them? There is the hum of traffic – not far from where I sit, but seemingly worlds away.

Hotel Savoy is a colonial-style hotel that easily transports its guests to a by-gone era, when life was unhurried. It is an intimate hotel with 24 light-filled, spacious rooms and six suites, tastefully decorated in Myanmar style, with teak furnishings, fine linens and weavings, with here and there beautifully arranged antiques, paintings and wood-carvings that reflect the culture.

Later in the evening, we dine at Kipling’s Restaurant known for its Green Pan Asian Cuisine as developed by Florian Eberhardt, chef extraordinaire who brings with him worlds of experience. The cuisine is light, using the freshest organic ingredients to be found in the Shan State while going moderate in its use of sugar, salt, butter and cream. The lightness of the dishes allows diners to experience the full, distinct flavors of the herbs and spices that make the food so satisfying and memorable. We start with Shwe Taung Khauk Swe, Golden Mountain noodles with chicken in a creamy coconut soup, bursting with flavor. We sample the Burmese lamb curry and vegetables, savoring the aroma of cumin, turmeric and shallots that steam up from its terracotta pot. The steamed bass is an offering fit for a temple – bathed in spinach with lotus seeds, lemongrass, ginger and Yamasa soy. We could be no place else but in Asia, and there is no place else we would rather be at this moment!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

A Warm Welcome at Mandalay’s Eastern Palace Hotel

2017c Eastern Palace Hotel

View from my room at the Eastern Palace Hotel  –  original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Eastern Palace Hotel
66A, 19 St.
Mandalay, 100101
Myanmar
+95-261-016
http://www.easternpalacehotels.com
reservations@easternpalacehotels.com

A welcome haven to the weary business or leisure traveler, the Eastern Palace Hotel is located several kilometers to the east of the Old City walls and its picturesque moat. After over 24 hours of travel, we were welcomed by the cheerful smiles of its staff at reception and then in their restaurant. Their menu offered a variety of continental and Asian choices, for either light dining or appetite-satisfying meals. We chose two Asian specialties, both generous portions of tasty vegetarian and meat and rice dishes.

Our room was bright, well-equipped, lacking nothing but comfort and rest. Too keyed up to sleep, I wandered to the rooftop terrace to enjoy the view over Mandalay, then back down to ground level where I was tempted to dip into their sparkling swimming pool. Finally I settled on a visit to their Pa Dau Spa and what a good decision that was! I opted to be pampered by one of their treatments. Metu, with her strong hands and gentle spirit, treated me to an invigorating yet relaxing 60-minute foot massage, while I sipped hot ginger tea and dreamed of Mandalay – my introduction to the Golden Land of Myanmar. She spent the final ten minutes kneading the tightness from my shoulders and back, preparing me for rest before taking on the vitality of the busy neighborhood outside our hotel.

We did attempt a short walk, but were too overwhelmed with fatigue to combat the chaos that awaited us during the early evening rush hour. Motorcycles, cars and trucks whizzed by us without pause, as we stood trying to get up the courage and the speed it was going to take to cross the street. Finally we simply asked two locals to accompany us and with genuine smiles they did just that, seeing us safely across the road. Oh, how we are going to like our Burmese sojourn! Oh, how we loved the retreat that the Eastern Palace Hotel offers!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

A Tuscan Lunch by an Ancient Monastery

Antico Ristorante La Certosa

 

Antico Ristorante La Certosa
Via Cassia, 1
50124 Impruneta, (Florence)
39-055-204-8876
info@lacertosa.it
www.lacertosa.it

 

 

When a restaurant occupies what was once the Monks’ Old Pharmacy of the 12th century Antico Ristorante La Certosa - Sala ChiostroCertosa Monastery, it has every reason to attach the venerable attribute “Antico” to its name.  Opened a little over a decade ago, La Certosa, offers traditional Tuscan cuisine and awesome views of the hilltop monastery. Each of the several dining rooms is uniquely decorated with newly frescoed walls that take their inspiration from Tuscany’s artistic past.  We lunched in the Sala Chiostro, an intimate space that wrapped us in the warm colors of the Tuscan countryside – sunflower yellow, golden wheat and wine red, easily putting us in the mood for the wonderful food and wine that soon came to our table.

When we asked our waiter to help us select from their many offerings, he simply shrugged and said, “You are in Toscana, what else? It’s obvious.  Beef!”  His recommendation was obviously the right choice.  If we were to eat nothing else but the main course, tagliata alla fiorentina, the most tender slices of beef, seasoned simply with salt, rosemary and capers, accompanied by roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables, we would have left completely satisfied.  But naturally, we savored assorted antipasti of salumi and crostini, and a sampling of two different pastas, accompanied by an excellent DOCG Chianti from Villa La Palagina vineyards.  La Certosa cuisine has no secrets – it is simply Tuscany country cooking at its best – fresh ingredients, in the hands of master chefs, simply prepared.  And Ecco Fatto! You have a most satisfying meal.

To add to the enjoyment of a dinnertime meal, La Certosa offers entertainment in the evening – traditional folkloric music or arias from Italy’s beloved operas.  On occasion, La Certosa looks to its past and offers a special dinner with a monastery theme, recreating an ancient refectory atmosphere where the waiters dress as monks.  In addition to the several indoor dining rooms, an outdoor patio becomes an enchanting setting for dining alfresco in the warmer months, whether for a romantic dinner for two or a festive dinner for a large group.

 

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

B&B Villa Diana – a Sicilian country house

2017c B&B Villa Diana

 

B&B Villa Diana
S.S. 122 n.14 (Km. 5.4)
92100 Agrigento (AG)
Sicily
http://www.villadiana.ag.it
info@villadiana.ag.it

Villa Diana is not an Italian villa as one might imagine the Tuscan-red villas nestled among the vineyards of Chianti, or a rose-colored villa in a lush garden perched high above the sea on the Amalfi Coast. It is rather an unpretentious country house on the rocky terrain of sun-drenched Sicily and herein lies its charm. One is immediately struck by the contrasts that meet the eye and give pause for contemplation. Inside, the warmth of our host and owner of this cherished family home spills out the minute he opens the door and introduces us to his home. The sunshine of his welcome illuminates an elegant interior, a sweeping staircase that leads to four guestrooms, each gracefully decorated in typical Sicilian fashion, and each equipped with an attention to detail that will provide restful comfort.

Agrigento (17)

The color of our bedroom walls reminds me of the lemons that grow not far from where I am standing, the furnishings a tasteful blend of wrought iron, fine wood, and a pleasing mix of decorative items, both contemporary and traditional. I love the presence of family portraits, landscape paintings, whimsical ceramics, and religious art – a selection that beautiful celebrates the essence of Sicily. In the central parlor, antiques, old and new books, shimmering glassware and small decorative collectibles offer warmth and welcome to a weary traveler.

Agrigento (11)

On the other hand, on a generous balcony that wraps around two sides of our room, we are offered another view of Sicily – that of its land, its light, its labors. The family who still reside in the home raise sheep, goats, donkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens. These provide the music of country life, lived according to the seasons, in a timeless landscape of olive groves, fruit orchards, umbrella pines and thorny Indian figs that take root with abandon among rocky crevices of the hillside.

Agrigento (31) copia

This abundance of the land is brought to our table at breakfast, where a grace-filled buffet invites us to indulge in fresh ricotta, organic yogurts, pecorino and salamis, homemade jams and preserves, as well as freshly baked goods and sun-ripened fruit.  One is tempted to linger if it weren’t for the temples of Agrigento that lure us into action.  After a day of excursions, we are comforted by the knowledge that we will be returning to a fine Sicilian home that will provide us with rich repose.

2017c Sunrise in Sicily

Sunrise in Sicily – View from Villa Diana                     Original Watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

 

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Titigliano Estate – platters and platters

Titignano (33)Titignano Agricola
Loc. Titignano
05018 – Orvieto TR
39-0763-308000
http://www.titignano.it
info@titignano.it

Not even a forecast of heavy rains could keep us away from our appointment with adventure – lunch in a fortified stone structure dating back to the 1100’s. The original castle overlooking the Tiber River is now in ruins but Titignano, its supporting fortress, remains. Built of stone from the Travertine quarries, it was transformed into a palace and small village in the 16th century, and in 1830 it was purchased by Prince Don Tommaso di Filippo Corsini of Florence. It is still owned by the Corsini Family heirs.  Together with the Tenuta di Salviano, the Titignano Estate comprises 2000 hectares, situated between Todi and Orvieto overlooking the Corbara Lake.

Titignano (31)_modificato-1

Titignano (6) It is indeed a dreary November day and a very wet one, keeping us from fully exploring the estate. But inside, the castle both warms and charms us. The main hall of the castle with its original stone hearth is now the restaurant. We have brought large appetites with us and it is a good thing, a sneak preview of this hall reveals tables laden with countless platters.

In short order, those same platters are brought to our smaller dining room, where families and friends have gathered for Sunday lunch, to be consumed with great gusto. Our enjoyment of the meal unfolds in equal measure to theirs. But can we possibly keep up? The wait staff delivers endless antipasti in a practiced choreography around our tables, delivering focaccia and pizzette, crostini and cheese brioches. There is a tris of pastas: risotto with apples, baked lasagne, and pappardelle with Wild Boar sauce. The food reflects a road map of Umbria, its fields and forests, its valleys, farms, and orchards. The cooking reflects the simplicity and wholeness of the traditional dishes that the grandmothers of Umbria have made for centuries. The beef stew and porcini mushrooms are accompanied by green beans, and the platter of mixed grilled meats is followed by a simple tossed green salad. True “farm to table” cooking – we saw the sheep grazing in pastureland on our approach to the castle.

Titignano (3)

Fortified by glasses of local Salviano wines, we eat like warriors, refusing to surrender. We reach dessert, a light tiramisù and biscotti with vin santo. Wouldn’t it be nice to surrender to one of their cozy guest rooms that now rent out to travelers?

Titignano (36)

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com