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La Scarzuola – one man’s portrait in stone

La Scarsuola (9)

La Scarzuola
Località Montegiove
05010 Montegabbione
Province of Terni
Tel: 0763-837-463
http://www.lascarzuola.com
info@lascarzuola.com

Designed by the Milanese architect, Tomaso Buzzi, La Scarzuola is an architectural complex in a garden setting intended to represent his vision of the “ideal city.” From humble beginnings as a monastery founded by St. Francis in 12l8, to a fantasy-land in stone, La Scarzuola is a place both sacred and surreal. Tomaso Buzzi purchased the monastery and land in 1957 to build Buzziana, his secular city, beginning his project with the restoration of the monastery and the recovery of the gardens, what he saw as a “holy city.” We enter the grounds by way of the small church of the monastery in the town of Montegiove in the province of Terni. Little remains of the church save for an early 13th century fresco portraying St. Francis.

church

We begin our walk along stone paths in what was once the monk’s giardino, a traditional tranquil garden, with box hedges, flowers, statuary and vine-covered pergolas. It is a peaceful sanctuary and does little to prepare us for the imaginary city that lies ahead, a jumbled landscape of stone structures strewn across a paradisaical playground. There are temples and towers, reflection pools, theaters, and a natural arena. Architectural details have been extracted from every art period of the past and blended into elements of the Neo-Mannerist style. There is a sense of unbalance and disproportion that bends one’s mind. Buzzi’s city is a complex of seven theaters, with the focal point being the “Acropolis,” a chaotic arrangement of buildings with elements borrowed from such structures as the Arc de Triomple, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Vesta, all vacant but not lacking stairways and bridges.

La Scarsuola (5)

 

I find myself seeking some sort of visual and spiritual balance and I find it in the natural landscape that surrounds these structures – the tall cypresses, the vast expanses of lawn, the hedges and olive trees – elements that seem more comprehensible, more enduring. One would have to have known the artist to understand the workings of his mind to understand the complexity of his vision and its subsequent execution. Of this, I have no clue, but like all magic, one need not understand how it was done to enjoy it. Such is La Scarzuola.

 

It was Tomaso Buzzi’s wish at his death in 1980 that nature take over his unfinished city, leaving it to be a city of haunting ruins. His nephew, Marco Solari, however did complete his uncle’s vision and thankfully, these gardens are open to the public today.

Visits by appointment only.
Call or send request by e-mail.

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

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A Simple Feast at Il Granaro del Monte

Il Granaro

Il Granaro del Monte
Hotel Grotta Azzurra
Via Alfieri 7
06046 Norcia (PG)
39-0743-816-513
info@bianconi.com
www.bianconi.com

We feasted at our hotel’s restaurant, Il Granaro del Monte, considered a national culinary monument.  I was in agreement from the very first savory bite.  What makes their cooking so extraordinary?  Ordinary, wholesome ingredients prepared with a love and respect for the land that produces them – Norcia!  The Black Truffle is king and is an essential part of the cuisine of Umbria.  Truffles are best consumed shortly after being extracted from the ground, as their particularly strong scent and taste fade quickly.   At the Granaro, the chef does not allow this to happen and he prepares the truffles in countless ways.  For me, they are absolutely divine simply perched on a mound of handmade tagliatelle.   But a meal would not be complete without sampling Norcia’s lamb and cured pork specialties, the lentils of Castelluccio (presented here in a velvety soup), the spelt, the cheeses…

Picture the sheep as they graze in the flower-filled meadow of Castelluccio, the cheeses made from the sheep’s milk, the honey of a thousand wildflowers.  These are the elements that are used to recreate traditional dishes following ageless recipes, held dear by the Bianconi family and presented daily to their guests.

 

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

 

Salana Boutique Hotel – memories are made of this

2017c Salana Boutique Hotel

Salana Boutique Hotel – original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Salana Boutique Hotel
112 Chao Anou Road,
Watchan Village
Chanthabuly District
Vientiane, Lao PDR
+856-21-254-254
http://www.salanaboutique.com
rsvn@salanaboutique.com

Surrounded by temples, Salana offers more than just a boutique hotel experience. I have been in Vientiane for less than 24 hours; and at dawn following a good night’s sleep I find myself seated on the sidewalk with women preparing to give alms to the procession of monks. I have wanted to see this for myself – not as a tourist – and their kind invitation to join them and share in the handing out of their offerings has pleased me immensely. Sacred and serene, this moment will be my first memory of Vientiane.

Salana Boutique Hotel also offers a place to feel at home while visiting the capital city of Laos. It is elegant in its simplicity of décor, complete in the thoughtfulness of its amenities, and gracious in its hospitality. “Sabaidee” and a smile of welcome meet us as we come and go. Our breakfast is generous and we appreciate the array of choices, both Asian and Western to meet the cravings of an international clientele. Both the lobby and the restaurant are decorated for Christmas, another thoughtful touch for their guests who find themselves far from their home countries where this is the most cherished of holidays.

After a full day of sight-seeing, we retreat to the comfort and quiet of our room. But not for long – I have decided to indulge in a spa treatment, a two-hour package that includes a full body scrub followed by an aromatherapy massage. At the Sarila Spa, I feel like I have been rescued from the cares of the world.

The hotel location is ideal for visitors who wish to watch the sunset on the Mekong, to visit nearby temples, or shop at the night market. There is street food to tempt and restaurants galore all within walking distance, but we come “home” and dine at the Salana Kitchen Vibe Bistro. One need not go any farther for a fully satisfying meal, followed by an hour or so in their “living room” listening to music and reading a good book. Ahh… all is well with the world.

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

The Pierre – a New York icon

 

2018 The Pierre for webThe Pierre
2 East 61st Street
New York, New York 10065-8402
1-212-838-8000
http://www.thepierreny.com

As I sit here in the lobby of The Pierre looking over the New York Times edition of February 9, 2018, I try to imagine what it was like when the headlines of this same paper on February 2, 1929 announced the plans for the new hotel to be built on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, replacing an existing mansion. The $15-million project was a joint venture to create an exclusive hotel, reflecting simplicity yet the ultimate refinement within a club-like environment. It opened on October 1, 1930 and became the toast of New York society, until the Depression hit and years of financial struggles ensued. But the Pierre is a survivor. In 1959, The Pierre became a cooperative of permanent resident owners, while the remaining guest rooms, restaurant and bars remained open to a devoted international clientele. A series of reincarnations in the form of restorations, renovations and innovative social venues have made The Pierre what it is today – an historic icon of New York residential and hotel luxury. The Pierre has 140 rooms and 49 suites. Eleven Grand Suites have apartment-like quarters and private terraces.

We could opt to have afternoon tea at the Two E Bar & Lounge, an Art Deco room that was originally the Gentlemen’s Library but instead we choose to “lounge” in our room and enjoy its panoramic view of New York’s skyline and a tree-top view of Central Park. It is with pure pleasure and much anticipation that we dress up and wander through the Rotunda on our way to Perrine’s Restaurant. We linger to admire the 1967 murals by Edward Melcarth, painted in a palette of soft pastels, reminiscent of the frescoed rooms of European palaces. Opposite the Rotunda is the Grand Ballroom restored in 2006. It remains one of New York’s most sought-after settings for gala events and weddings.

The restaurant, on the other hand, is unpretentious, quiet, inviting. Sait, our waiter, orchestrates our dinner like an experienced conductor, leading us through a symphony of dishes created by Indian-born executive chef, Ashfer Biju. The cuisine is French-inspired and is superb. Appetizers, such as tuna tartare, steak tartare, a winter citrus salad and crab imperial flatbread are worthy of an imperial table. Sait knows just the wine to accompany these delectable treats. To continue on our culinary passage, we have lamb chops with polenta and roasted root vegetables, with a sampling of winter mushrooms and sweet corn and kohlrabi gratin. Finally, the ultimate in sweet indulgences leads us to the decision that we must now stroll through Central Park in the cold crisp air of early evening. We head to Wollman Rink, where skaters have glided across the ice since it opened in 1949 – a most enjoyable ending to our first day in New York. Tomorrow, our walk will take us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms_withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

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

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