Category Archives: Hotels

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Villa Il Poggiale – from family home to elegant hotel

2017c Villa Il Poggiale

Villa Il Poggiale
Via Empolese, 69
50026 San Casciano di Pesa (FI)
39-055-828311
http://www.villailpoggiale.it
villailpoggiale@villailpoggiale.it

A steady downpour holds me captive inside, but it is Villa Il Poggiale that captivates me. A Florentine Renaissance home, this villa dates back to 1408, passing down ownership from one family to another until it was purchased by the Vitta family in 1960. Three generations enjoyed this, their family home, and when no longer needed as a residence, it was decided that they would convert their elegant mansion into a hotel. The owners have worked hard to maintain the style and charm of the original interior, even as they expanded and re-designed the structure, so that one can still enjoy today the welcome of its shaded loggia, the frescoes that adorn walls and ceilings, and the intimacy of the rooms. Villa Il Poggiale offers all the luxury of a first-class hotel, but has successfully achieved their goal of maintaining the feel of home. This is made clear from the beginning when we are handed the keys to the front gate and the entrance to the villa so that we can come and go as we please.

At the moment, I am sitting quietly in our room listening to the music of raindrops. I am embraced by the comfort of our room, one of the 24 rooms and suites in the villa, each furnished differently with the finest of linens and antiques. I glance out my window from time to time to watch the puddles form below in the garden and in the distance, a purely Tuscan landscape glistens in the mist. I wander through the many little salons, each one beckoning me to sit and read my book within their cozy spaces, and I finally choose one. As late afternoon arrives, and it is clear that there will be no swimming in their lovely pool, I choose to visit the in-house spa and indulge in the warmth of a sauna.

We dine at the villa’s restaurant, La Tinaia, the space where the peasants used to bring the grapes at harvest time. Here, where the emphasis is on taste AND healthy eating, guests are given a choice – not an easy one – from a fixed menu or à la carte that reflects the simple yet refined cuisine of Tuscany. A generous buffet of antipasti leads the way and the entrées that follow include ingredients brought right from their garden to the table. The wine list does the rest.

It is easy to fall in love with this villa and the staff who treat us like family, but the countryside awaits. Villa Il Poggiale offers custom-designed tours of the neighboring towns, with wine-tastings and even cooking classes for those who wish to explore Tuscany in this relaxed manner. Even for the independent traveler, the possible excursions throughout the Chianti region are many: Greve, Panzano, San Miniato and the towered town of San Gimignano await. And then, there is Florence…

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Ancient baths – renewed spirits: at Hotel Posta Marcucci

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Albergo Posta Marcucci
Via Ara Urcea 43
I-53027 Bagno Vignoni (SIENA)
39-0577-887112
http://www.postamarcucci.it
albergo@postamarcucci.it

My eyes are closed and I am melding into a lounge chair, the gentle May sunshine warming my shoulders. The sounds of silence contain a quiet concert of birdsong, of glasses being clinked at the bar counter, of a murmur of hushed voices, pierced by the occasional burst of a child’s laughter. With eyes closed I could be in a sanctuary, a refuge infused with reverence. Resting. Peaceful. I am in the garden of the Hotel Posta Marcucci, having just enjoyed a dip into their thermal pool.

The thermal baths of Bagno Vignoni, enjoyed by the Romans who consecrated these waters to the Nymphs, became even more popular during the Middle Ages, thanks to their proximity to Via Francigena, an important thoroughfare connecting Northern Europe to the Italian Peninsula. From the 12th century and throughout the 13th century, Bagno Vignoni became a stopover point for Christian pilgrims traveling this route on their way to Rome. Bagno Vignoni is described in a document dating back to 1334 as a “thermal spa arranged and surrounded by buildings and taverns with a chapel in the middle. It has a very beautiful square layout, with the spring divided in two parts and a roof for protecting the infirm…” This pool, no longer used by the public, is a massive basin of steamy water, which forms the main piazza, creating an element of pleasurable surprise. Warm reflections of stone buildings, tiled roofs and potted geraniums dance across its surface to delight the visitor.

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When I first visited this hotel, nearly 14 years ago, I was intrigued by its history of hospitality and by the surrounding landscape. In the 1800’s, the Marcucci family operated a small inn with ten rooms and a tiny store. Then in the 1950’s, Grandpa Marcucci dug up his vineyard and began construction of what is now the main hotel. Grandma’s cooking drew guests from the area and eventually from afar. It was Aunt Licia’s idea to create the swimming pool using the mildly sulfurous geothermal waters of Bagno Vignoni. The large pool was dug from the hillside and became a major attraction to their hotel. Guests could swim in the comforting waters, bask in the warmth of the sun and look out over a captivating landscape, a magic potion of beauty and silence that heals the soul.

Ownership has changed and the hotel has been renovated, with interior improvements to the rooms and the spa. There are now ten suites and 26 double rooms, spacious lounges filled with cherished family furnishings and artwork and a terrace where breakfast is served in the summer. The Water Rooms bring the thermal waters into a smaller pool inside the building. A Jacuzzi, a sauna and a Turkish bath complete this complex where various types of massage are offered. The restaurant walls were opened up to accommodate panoramic windows, allowing diners to never be far from the breath-taking views. The half-board plan includes a dinner that reflects a refined cuisine of Tuscan specialties, accompanied by an extensive wine list.

The “cure” begins with the journey itself – the road to Bagno Vignoni traverses the Val d’Orcia, past undulating fields of wheat, vineyards, olive groves and verdant hills where green-black cypresses stand tall. It is a visual treasure chest accentuated by dazzling yellow broom and brilliant red poppies scattered along the roadside like precious gems dropped extravagantly by some benevolent prince. This exquisite landscape accompanies you to the nearby towns of Pienza, San Quirico, and Siena. Ancient baths – renewed spirits…

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

A Toast to the Views

2016c-view-from-palazzo-magnani-feroniPalazzo Magnani Feroni
Borgo San Frediano, 5
50124 Firenze (FI), Italy

+39 055 2399544
info@florencepalace.it
www.florencepalace.it

As we rest in our richly frescoed room of the Palazzo Magnani Feroni, I study its long history. Oh, the stories these walls could tell us of this elegant residence, a story which began in the 15th century when it was constructed by the Serragli Family. A century later, the palace was divided into two parts which were later reconnected in 1770 when purchased by the extremely wealthy Marquis Ubaldo Feroni. The Feroni renovations included the widening and refurbishment of the courtyard and of the principal stairwell. The ground floor and first-floor apartments underwent extensive redecoration. The spacious areas of the interior of the ground floor were designed to be used as stables, carriageway and storage area for the coaches. In 1821, the Feroni heirs sold the property to the Magnani, a prestigious family who owned important silk looms and paper mills.

Palazzo Magnani Feroni has remained in the same family for over two centuries and in recent years the decision was made to transform their private residence into a luxury residence where today’s guests could experience an aristocratic slice of life in a Renaissance palace. To maintain the palace’s original style, great care was taken to preserve its architectural features while incorporating 21st century comforts. The family’s heritage is evident in the furnishings, tapestries, and portraits on display. The twelve suites are on the three floors of the palace. The staff can arrange a private dinner in your room or on the terrace, a service we took advantage of on our first night, when we enjoyed a simple feast in the privacy of our suite. The sumptuous salon with its magnificent chandelier centered over a banquet table serves as the breakfast room, where offerings are fit for a prince.

But the treasures do not end here. They are simply magnified from the palace’s rooftop terrace where the panoramic views of Florence could easily make you sing for joy in a voice that only you can hear. Hold your wine glass up to a sunset view and drink in the golden light of this Tuscan city.

Read more about my books featuring other lovely hotels and restaurants:

three-italy-book-covers_modificato-1

Italian Wanderlust

ITALY – the Beauty and the Feast

and Rooms with a View.

More about my other books.

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All content on artfulroomswithaview.wordpress.com/, both images and writing, is copyrighted material © Ginda Simpson unless otherwise indicated. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this content without express and written permission from Ginda Simpson is prohibited.

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

2016c-hotel-pierre-webHotel Pierre
Via De’Lamberti 5
50123 – Firenze

Tel.+39 055 216218
www.hotel-pierre-florence.com
pierre@remarhotels.com

Tucked away on a quiet street off the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Florence is a stately palazzo converted into a hotel several decades ago. By keeping our approach to the sidewalk, we almost missed the simple yet elegant architecture and decor of its facade which welcomes guests to its warm hospitality. But the real selling point is Location, Location, Location. Within a five-minute walk of Hotel Pierre are the key sights of Florence – the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo, the Porcellino Market, making it easy to come back and forth to the comfort of your room and rest between visits.

The breakfast room is bright, its main colors of melon and dove gray seem to compliment and reflect the buildings that are visible outside its windows. One is the beautifully etched building across the street embellished in an architectural decoration technique known as sgraffiti, in which the design is scratched into the colored surface, exposing the white plaster beneath. The colors of this particular structure are a mauve-brown and white, a visually pleasing effect.

But what isn’t visually pleasing about this city? And the pleasure is in the wandering with no purpose but to enjoy its treasures. At some point, though, it is necessary for the visitor to rest from his travels, thoughts of art and cuisine stilled and bone-weary, drop into a dreamless sleep. Hotel Pierre provides each room with quiet comfort, whether for a quick siesta or a full night of restorative sleep.

And in the early morning, it is tempting to slip away from your hotel to share the deserted streets and squares with the pigeons. Hotel Pierre offers you its immediate neighborhood, beckoning you to savor its delights at leisure. Then simply wander back to your room and ready yourself for their generous breakfast buffet. You will be glad you did.

Read more about my books featuring other lovely hotels and restaurants:

three-italy-book-covers_modificato-1

Italian Wanderlust

ITALY – the Beauty and the Feast

and Rooms with a View.

More about my other books.

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All content on artfulroomswithaview.wordpress.com/, both images and writing, is copyrighted material © Ginda Simpson unless otherwise indicated. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this content without express and written permission from Ginda Simpson is prohibited.

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Hotel Continental Saigon – a place of memories

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Hotel Continental Saigon
132 – 134 Dong Khoi St., Dist 1,
Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam.
(84.8) 38 299 201
http://www.continentalsaigon.com
continentalhotel@vnn.vn

Built in 1880 and named after the Hotel Continental in Paris, the Hotel Continental Saigon is considered one of the city’s architectural monuments, designed in the French style of the era, with thick walls, a tile roof, and spacious public areas for the French elite of the day to gather and relax after a long cruise to the new continent. The thick walls and high ceilings served to relieve the heat of the tropics by making use of the natural elements of wind and light. The exterior of this three-story building is painted the palest of butter yellow with white trim, lending an air of stately elegance, placing it in good company and perfect harmony with the nearby Opera House built in 1898. Refurbishments have been made over the years, but the essential architectural elements have been preserved. In the central courtyard, a large garden was planted with frangipani trees that still blossom today. Here one discovers a true refuge for the soul and a perfect place to have an afternoon tea and late evening aperitif.

During both the Indochina War and the Vietnam War, Hotel Continental became the meeting point for news correspondents, politicians, and businessmen. During the Vietnam War, Time and Newsweek Magazines each used the second floor of the hotel as their Saigon news bureaux. Hotel Continental has always attracted writers, artists, and the social elite as a place to stay or simply meet for cocktails. The hotel plays a prominent part in Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, and was used in the two film adaptations.

The rich history of this hotel and its unfailing beauty keep me company as I sit with my husband in this romantic garden all these years after this hotel was first conceived and built. Indeed, as we sip our coffees flavored with sweetened condensed milk, the staff is busily preparing for a wedding reception that will take place this evening. What a magical setting it will be for the 200 or so guests who will attend. We, however, feel fortunate enough to have this quiet moment to daydream before we head out on foot, to admire several of Ho Chi Minh’s renowned sights of the same period – Notre Dame Cathedral built in 1880 and the City Post Office built in 1891 and still in use today.

As we sat down to an enormously inviting breakfast buffet the following morning, we were amazed that the staff had not left a trace of last night’s wedding reception. The only thing that lingers is the memory of how beautiful the setting was as viewed from our bedroom above the courtyard.

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All content on artfulroomswithaview.wordpress.com/, both images and writing, is copyrighted material © Ginda Simpson unless otherwise indicated. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this content without express and written permission from Ginda Simpson is prohibited.

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The Governor’s Colonial Dinner in Hue, Vietnam

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La Residence – Hue
5 Le Loi Street,
Hue City,Vietnam
+84 (0)5 43 83 74 75
http://www.la-residence-hue.com/
resa@la-residence-hue.com

 

 

food bWe arrived earlier today in the ancient imperial city of Hue, Vietnam. Dark clouds hover above the facade of La Residence, but the hotel is in a festive mood, with the Christmas holidays just around the corner.  We have planned a special evening – to dine outdoors enjoying what the hotel refers to as “the Governor’s Colonial Dinner.” We go down early to spend some time in the garden, sipping an aperitif. Even at dusk, I can see that the grounds are lush with flowering shrubs and frangipani trees, illuminated with lantern-like fixtures. The song of the cicadas lures us to wandering along the lighted pathways. Fortunately, the skies hold back and we are treated to the experience of dining outdoors in this romantic setting, made even more magical by countless flickering candles placed around the terrace and on our table.

It is a decadent meal of many courses, the portions just the right size and presented like works of art. How masterful is our chef, Dong Hai, who creates such delicacies as Orange Marinated Prawns and Green Papaya Salad with Ginger Dressing. His gallery of dishes, an exquisite fusion of Asian and French cuisine, has us tasting local fish on a Confit of fresh vegetables and a Fine Herbs Salad & Citrus Sabayon. And oh, the “Young Rice Ice Cream with Vietnamese Sweet Rice Wine” is enough to make us sigh with pleasure. Something we do often during this meal.

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Chef Dong Hai

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All content on artfulroomswithaview.wordpress.com/, both images and writing, is copyrighted material © Ginda Simpson unless otherwise indicated. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this content without express and written permission from Ginda Simpson is prohibited.

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