Category Archives: Hotels

Spices Garden – a restaurant and cuisine that dazzles…

sg 7SPICES GARDEN
Hotel Metropole Hanoi Legend
15 Ngo Quyen Street
Hoan Kiem District
10000 – Hanoi
VIETNAM
http://www.sofitel-legend.com/hanoi/en/our-legend/

 

 

 

 

food 3The Spices Garden is one of the restaurants at the Legendary Hotel Metropole in Hanoi.  I can hardly believe it, but here we are experiencing a stay at this fabled hotel with all it has to offer.

Seated at our table, we have a view of the garden and courtyard with their twinkling lights, which seem to cascade everywhere like fairy dust. So too the candlelit interior of the restaurant just sparkles with elegant table settings.

For the first-time visitors to the city that we are, Spices Garden offers us the opportunity to sample some of the finest examples of the culinary traditions of Hanoi as well as the specialties of both the North and South of the country. We hardly know where to begin, so our waiter comes to the rescue and guides us through our multi-course dinner, suggesting that we start with the crab, asparagus and mushroom soup. Cac Mon Cuon offers us a tasty selection of Spring Rolls.

For our main course, we select two different entrees – Cha Ca, Red River fish with rice noodles, shallots, peanuts and herbs and Black Angus beef with lemongrass and garlic. It is easy to see how wonderfully and healthfully balanced the cuisine of Vietnam is, with textures and tastes perfectly paired. We linger, sated with the flavors of Vietnam on this our first night, leaving us eager to explore more. No doubt the chef tonight has presented us with a meal that would satisfy the most discerning native of Hanoi.

sg 9h28

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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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Frances’ Lodge – A Tuscan Treasure

2006c View from the garden - Frances Lodge 2

Frances’ Lodge Relais
Str. Di Valdipugna, 2
53100 Siena
0577-281-061
booking@franceslodge.it
http://www.franceslodge.it

We meander today throughout the countryside of Tuscany, a rich farmland of olive groves, wheat fields and sunny vineyards. The leaves of timeless olive trees glint silver in the shimmering light, their gnarled trunks casting deep purple shadows on the sun-baked earth. Row after row of verdant vines bursting with the sweet promise of wine, march across the gentle hills. This region of Italy is known for its excellent wines. It is a landscape of dreams, laden with blessings, exquisite, nourishing. We are headed towards a Tuscan farmhouse, now a Bed & Breakfast, on the outskirts of Siena.

Every house has a history, every family a story. And so it is with this old farmhouse. There are many good reasons to stay with Franco and Franca (hence the name, Frances’ Lodge). Our accommodations in the portion of the building that once housed the rabbits and pigeons are quite comfortable. As a matter of fact, all the rooms once provided shelter for farm animals. Now converted into living space for guests, the décor of each of the rooms is tasteful, whimsical, inviting – delightful reflections of Franca’s artistic talents. Indeed, our hostess says, “Nothing bothers me more than to see something unappealing to the eye. Why should anything be unattractive when it could be beautiful?”

“So tell me, Franca, your story and the story of the house,” I ask. “That story begins with the villa, then,” she commences. “It has been in Franco’s family for three hundred years. Built in 1729 as a casa padronale, it was used as a summer residence for the Pippi family. The family would relocate from the city of Siena to their country estate during the growing season, a move that enabled them to oversee the various harvests, beginning with the early summer crops of fruit and wheat, followed by the autumn grape harvest and lastly the picking of the olives. They would arrive with a retinue of seven servants,” Franca lets out a sign of envy and longing. “It was a time for the family to enjoy the wholesome freshness of the country air. Going to one’s summer villa was known as “villeggiatura,” a term still used today when referring to a summer holiday.”

Locals often referred to Villa Pippo as “La Cappella,” a name derived from a small shrine or chapel that once existed on the property. It is difficult to date the adjacent farm building because structures of lesser importance were seldom dated. However, records from around 1820 show that an L-shaped structure existed as a casa colonica for the contadino family who worked the land. Besides functioning as a home for the peasant farmer, it housed the granaio, the granaries in the upper story and animal stalls below (cows, mules, chickens, rabbits and pigeons). To house the lemon trees during the winter months, the lovely limonaia with its huge arched windows was added in 1853. This section filled in the L-shape creating the rectangular building we see today.

Farm activities ceased after the war and the villa and farm buildings were all but abandoned except for the casa colonica where the farmer remained to look after the land, until his death in 1984. His wife, Pierina stayed on in the house she had come to as a bride in 1945. She remained another twenty years and not a day went by that she didn’t wrap her black shawl around her shoulders and walk to the cemetery of S. Regina to visit and place fresh flowers on her husband’s grave.

Franco and his Florentine wife decided to move to the family estate after twenty years of working in Florence and living in rented apartments. It was time to search for a home with a little plot of earth but the only affordable properties involved traveling quite a distance from Florence. So why not return to the land that belonged to his family? His parents live in the villa, but the farmhouse, abandoned for decades and in disrepair fired up their hearts and their imaginations. So they set to the task of restoration. Today it is their cherished home and a lovely B&B.

2005c Frances' LodgeI watch Franco who, with a warm smile and friendly handshake, wins over his guests the minute they arrive, immediately making them feel at home. He graciously sees to their comfort, while generously sharing his knowledge of and love for his native city. “And,” he invites each of us, “enjoy a last swim on this unseasonably warm afternooon.” Where else can one dip into a swimming pool and gaze at a panoramic view of Siena spread out before them like a master’s painting; its colors ever-changing with that special Tuscan light? Before leaving for the city, Mike and I stroll in the garden outside the limonaia. The glossy leaves of a magnolia tree glint in the sun and a rose, the color of coral, catches my eye. Beyond the garden walls, where wisteria and jasmine climb with abandon, another spectacular view greets me. I close my eyes to see more clearly and it’s easy to imagine the Pippi family here in villeggiatura. How did they ever manage to pack up their trunks at the end of the season and move back to the city? How do Franco and Franca get any of their guests to leave?

Read more about my books featuring this and other lovely restaurants and hotels, Rooms with a View and Italian Wanderlust, by clicking on their covers:

Rooms cover      italian wanderlust 2

More about my 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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Living the Dream – at the Old Cataract, Aswan

The Old CataractSofitel Legend Old Cataract
Abtal El Tahrir Street
Aswan, Egypt
+2-097-231-6000
http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-1666-sofitel-legend-old-cataract-aswan/index.shtml

A chilled glass of karkade, a beautiful ruby-red hibiscus tea, is offered as a welcome treat the moment we arrive at the legendary Old Cataract. I cross the terrace, entranced. How often have I sat on this terrace in the past, brief visits, dreaming that someday I would have the privilege of staying here as a guest? A friend once suggested that dreams should be marked on our calendars – appointments with our destinies. I liked that idea and here I am. I am thrilled to discover that we have been given a large suite, with a stunning view of the Nile from our balcony.    Within our gaze, on the western bank, are reminders of Aswan’s multi-layered past – we overlook Elephantine Island, home of the ancient Nilometer and witness to the cult of Khnum, god of the cataract and inundation. Remains of ancient temples stand solid, silent testimonials to Egypt’s glorious past.   In the distance, we have evidence of the Islamic in the domed mausoleum of Agha Khan III, leader of the Ismaili sect of Islam and there too are reminders of Coptic Christianity in the fortress-like ruins of the Monastery of St. Simeon founded in the 7th century. My eye travels a little further north and finds the colorful mud-bricks homes of a Nubian village.    History, religion, culture – it is all here.    I take it in ever so slowly, but what really captivates me is the overall view – the distant mauve-colored desert backed by an infinite blue sky, the rocky islands, the great river iridescent in the bright sunshine, and most of all the triangular white sails of the feluccas drifting lazily with the winds, the only movement that breaks the stillness of the morning. It is a banquet for the senses.

I feel like a child that has been taken by the hand to the pastry shop, given permission to choose as many sweets as I want. Do I choose to walk in the shaded gardens amid the date palms, mimosas, broad-leaved banana trees and oleanders or sunbathe by the pool that overlooks the Nile, with a frosty lemon drink in hand, and watch the languid passage of the sailing vessels?   Built in grand Victorian style in 1899, the Old Cataract is indeed legendary, its existence forever linked to the British occupation of Egypt. We dine our first evening at its 1902 Restaurant.  Back in its day, there was an orchestra discreetly seated in a gallery hidden from the view of its 200 elegantly-attired guests who came to dine and to dance.  The opening ceremony of the restaurant was held in 1902, hence its name, and was attended by men and women of prominence, including the sovereign of Egypt, the Duke of Connaught, Lord and Lady Cromer, Sir Winston Churchill as well as many other dignitaries.  The restaurant has recently undergone an extensive renovation, restoring every detail of its original design – a Moorish hall with red and white traditional interior arches supporting its 75-foot dome.   It is softly lit and simply magical.   There is no orchestra, but the piped-in classical music succeeds in transporting us back in time, to a more graceful, less stressful era.

I try not to miss even a single detail of its interior – the mashrabeyya, the colorful stained glass, the pierced brass Oriental lanterns, floating like stars above our heads. The arrival of an amusebouche brings my attention back to the table. The chef has prepared a little something to tease our taste buds before embarking on a culinary journey at his most capable hands – a delectable goat cheese salad, lobster bisque, baked sea bass, and duck with Marsala.   The cuisine is French, artfully plated, and excellent by any standard. We have left no room for their selection of cheeses or rich desserts, but cannot say no to the chef’s offer of a fresh strawberry granita served in a tiny stemmed goblet.

There is such pleasure in the details, none of which seem overlooked here at the Old Cataract. Breakfast on the terrace is the perfect way to begin one’s holiday.   We are welcomed with a chilled glass of guava juice to sip as we drink in the most beautiful vista on earth!   We enjoy an assortment of breads and pastries, fruit and cheese, eggs and coffee. We are in no hurry to be tourists. We have been blessed with the opportunity to see the sights many times in the past – Philae Temple, Elephantine Island, the Aswan Dam, the unfinished obelisk….. This time, we are simply going to savor the Old Cataract as our destination and Aswan as if it were our neighborhood. We are simply going to live the dream…

In the words of Khalil Gibran:

“The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remain hovering over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves.”

This story appears in my book, “Afternoon of Honey” which you can preview and order by clicking on the link.

Afternoon of Honey  cover Afternoon of Honey

 

 

 

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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Florence – A Terrace with a View

2014c - Plaza Hotel Lucchesi

Original Watercolor by Ginda Simpson View from Plaza Hotel Lucchesi

Plaza Hotel Lucchesi
Lungarno della Zecca Vecchia, 38
50122 Florence
39 055 26236
http://www.hotelplazalucchesi.it
lucchesi@toflorence.it

In a city where terrace views are astounding, the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi offers a panorama that simply takes one’s breath away. Imagine lounging poolside on a terrace with a vista that includes the exquisite Duomo, the stately tower of Palazzo Signoria among other turrets and domes, the sacred structure of Santa Croce, and the elegant copper cupola of the Jewish Synagogue!

What’s more, the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi offers a proud history, beginning in 1860 as an inn when Pensione Lucchesi was named after its founders. It was during this period that Florence was made the capital of the newly formed Italian Republic. From 1865 until 1871, the city tore down their medieval walls and grew to be an urban center of great importance. The inn attracted many renowned guests, artists and writers, and of particular note, the Italian King Umberto I.

In 1952, it became the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi, following the annexation of the adjacent building and the addition of two floors. Despite two world wars and the devastating flood of 1966, the hotel has not only survived, but also thrived. Under new management, it is undergoing a thorough renovation, adding back some lost architectural features, placing it among the most beautiful hotels in the city, with all the amenities of the 21st century. Its position along the Lungarno della Zecca Vecchia has always been a favorable one, even more so today, offering a quiet respite from the bustle of the city center, yet within easy walking distance of all the sites.

I may not be a notable guest, but I do feel privileged to be a guest at the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi, a place where the preservation of history and modern innovation are so seamlessly stitched together. Our room is comfortably furnished, in a color palette of white, sandy beige and taupe, providing a very restful ambiance – that is if one can sleep with such an up-close view of Santa Croce from one’s private balcony!

View-Lucchesi3c (21) copia

Read more about other lovely hotels and restaurants in Italy,  Rooms with a View and Italian Wanderlust, by clicking on their covers:

Rooms cover      italian wanderlust 2

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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Vicenza – Staying in a Palladian Palazzo

2014c Palazzo Valmarana BragaPalazzo Valmarana Braga
Via Fogazzaro, 16
Vicenza
http://www.palazzovalmaranabraga.it
Contact: Francesca Braga Rosa
Tel: 347-720-4658

What better way to discover Vicenza and experience the Palladian architectural treasures than to book a stay at the Palazzo Valmarana Braga? The palace was built in 1565 by Andrea Palladio, the renowned Italian architect whose outstanding buildings have contributed greatly to the city that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Greatly influenced by classical Roman architecture, Palladio adhered to these same principles in his own designs and he is considered the most influential individual in the history of Western architecture. The majority of the palaces he conceived are concentrated in this city and I can hardly believe I am staying in one of them!

The façade of Palazzo Valmarana Braga is held to be one of Palladio’s most extraordinary and remains intact with its giant pilasters and bas-relief sculptures. The roof, attic and most of the main hall of the piano nobile were destroyed by an Allied bombing in the second World War. The ruined palace was purchased in 1960 by the current owner Vittor Luigi Braga Rosa and it is due to his vision and sheer force of will that the palace has been restored and is lived in today. His daughter, Francesca, an architect herself and a woman much inspired by her father, has many interests, not the least of which is her devotion to the palace. A hostess extraordinaire, she sees to the comfort of her guests that now have the honor to stay in any of several apartments within the original palace.

Our apartment is large; its floors are the original terrazzo so typical of the Veneto, and the ceilings coffered and beamed. With windows open to catch the cross-breeze, the large soggiorno offers a perfect place to relax and to dine – that is if one wishes to use the kitchen while on vacation!

During our stay we have the honor to meet Francesca’s father, Vittor Luigi, an old-world gentleman who is kind enough to guide us through the halls and magnificent rooms of the piano nobile, showing us the hall where he painstakingly commissioned the reproduction of the terra cotta floor originally designed by Palladio, but destroyed in the bombing. He has filled the rooms with an impressive collection of 16th century paintings and Murano glass chandeliers. The décor of the rooms is rich without being opulent, and what’s more, they are truly “lived” in, put to use for grand events or just as readily for the family to enjoy an informal dinner with friends. We experience the warmth and relaxed geniality of the family when Francesca invites us to join them for a wonderful home-cooked meal. The children scamper about, playfully at home in their surroundings. An intimate layer of Vicentine life and we got to taste its sweetness!

Read more about other lovely hotels and restaurants in Italy,  Rooms with a View and Italian Wanderlust, by clicking on their covers:

Rooms cover      italian wanderlust 2

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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A View of Duomo Square in Parma

Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati

Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati

Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati
Strada al Duomo 7
43100 Parma, ITALY
39-0521-386-429
http://www.palazzodallarosaprati.it
info@palazzodallarosaprati.it

Positioned in the heart of Parma, the Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati is an elegant building with a venerable history.  It dates back to the 13th century when the building was already part of what was to become the Piazza del Duomo.  In the 15th century it became the property of the noble and illustrious Prati family and later assumed its present name following the joining through marriage of the Marquis Prati family and the Marquis Dalla Rosa family.  In the middle of the 18th century, the palazzo took on its present appearance; the classically elegant façade was further embellished with the rich wrought iron balcony we see today and the arches of the courtyard were added. 

The recent restoration of the building transformed a large part of the palazzo, which is still residence to the Dalla Rosa Prati family heirs, into a series of grand suites.  In addition to beautifully appointed bedrooms and spacious bathrooms, each accommodation has the added convenience of a small kitchen for those who wish to prepare small meals during their stay.  And although I can’t imagine not dining out while in Parma, it was nice to have this available for the preparation of a simple snack, a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

Ours was the ultimate “Room with a View” as we overlooked the Duomo Square with a spectacular vista of both the Cathedral and the Baptistery.  Beneath our window, cafés, sophisticated shops, galleries, a bookstore and a fragrant bakery flank the Strada al Duomo.   Plus there are the many unexpected pleasures so generously scattered throughout the rest of the pedestrian center of Parma.  An evening at the opera is easy; the magnificent Teatro Regio is a short stroll away.  At the Palazzo, your home away from home, Vittorio Dalla Rosa Prati cares deeply about the guests who stay in his home and likes to help them create tailored holidays in his beloved city and its surrounds. 

Read more about other lovely hotels and restaurants in Italy,  Rooms with a View and Italian Wanderlust, by clicking on their covers:

Rooms cover      italian wanderlust 2

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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Art & Cuisine in Historic Prague

2013c Art Nouveau Palace Hotel

Art Nouveau Palace Hotel
Panská 12
11121 Prague 1
+420-224-093-111
http://www.palacehotel.cz
info@palacehotel.cz

 A Prague architectural treasure, the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel is located between the Old and New Towns, the UNESCO-protected center of Prague.  Records confirm the existence as an aristocratic residence at this very location, not far from Wenceslas Square, as far back as 1378.  Over the centuries the structure’s owners and its use changed many times, until it was eventually razed at the end of the 19th century.  In 1903, the new owner rebuilt, designing the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel as a luxury property that was to become the focal point of social and cultural life in the city.

In 1986, the hotel closed to undergo extensive renovations, reopening three years later.  Its architectural character was preserved, and the hotel remains a fine example of the Art Nouveau structures that grace this beautiful city.  In this architectural style, sculptural figures and flowing ornamentation, ideally suited to wrought iron and glass, were the hallmarks of the early twentieth century.  The entrance to the hotel embodies these elements and the warm colors of the foyer are enlivened by mirrors and crystal chandeliers. 

It is a privilege to be a guest at this historic hotel, where history meets modernity, elegance blends with efficiency, and the timeless traditions of hospitality are honored.  Beyond the comfort of our bedroom and the pleasures of an abundant breakfast buffet, Prague awaits, the principal sites within easy walking distance.  I am delighted to discover the Mucha Museum directly across the street from our hotel.  Alphonse Mucha was the most renowned Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, best known for his distinctive paintings, illustrations, and designs – over 100 of which are on display in this little gem of a museum.  It is a great way to start one’s visit to Prague and to appreciate the architectural and decorative details of the buildings that adorn the neighboring streets of our hotel.

At the end of the day, I must admit, there is no greater pleasure than eating at home.  At home, this evening, is at the Cafe Palace Restaurant of our hotel.  The warm deep red color of its walls and carpet encloses us in an atmosphere of cozy and casual comfort and the pop music that plays softly in the background simply relaxes.  Christmas lights sparkle inside the restaurant and on the nearby buildings outside our window.

Cafe Palace - saladCafe Palace - main 2Cafe Palace - main 1The menu offers a limited but welcome choice of traditional comfort foods that are by no means ordinary.  A salad of crisp greens and Cafe Palace dessert 2Cafe Palace - dessert 1red radicchio is dressed up festively with spiced pears – do I detect cloves? – Gorgonzola and walnuts in a balsamic vinaigrette.  Two traditional Czech dishes, beef in sour cream sauce with dumplings and pork schnitzel with pureed potatoes, are delightfully satisfying.  Add the apple strudel and almond crusted fried ice cream with black currant sauce, the two desserts we shared, and we feel totally spoiled.

Throughout our meal we study the large display of framed photographs and signatures of the many notable guests who have stayed at Hotel Palace Praha over the decades – musicians, artists, actors, writers, politicians, etc.  Yes, this fine hotel has hosted many renowned guests.  Who wouldn’t want to stay where each guest is valued and made to feel special, regardless of social status or notoriety?