Tag Archives: historic hotels

A “Star” Hotel in the heart of Florence

2018c Helvetia & Bristol

original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

Helvetia & Bristol
Via dei Pescioni,
50123 Firenze

They say location is everything, and it certainly is true for the elegant Helvetia & Bristol in the heart of Florence, steps from Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Republica, the Duomo and the Uffizi. But a stay at this renowned hotel gives you so much more. Built in the early 1800’s, it opened its doors on June 28, 1885 by Giacomo Mosca, as the first hotel in Florence. It quickly attracted artists and writers, with its Winter Garden becoming the place for society to meet. It did not take long for it to become a much sought-after hotel during the days of the Grand Tour.

Restored and updated over the decades, it has maintained and even celebrated its original Art Deco features. Upon entering its lobby, guests are enveloped in an atmosphere that whispers of its aristocratic past. Period antiques, fine woods, graceful fabrics all add to its elegance, providing a warm and cozy welcome. A chilled pitcher of lemon-ginger spiced water awaits the hot and weary tourist upon his or return each day. In our room, we discover a pretty dish of sweets to add to our welcome while the décor and amenities add to our comfort. From our private balcony, we can look over the terracotta rooftops of the city, or close the shutters and retreat into a darkened stillness, a relief at the end of the day.

The Winter Garden serves as our breakfast room. Beneath its Art Deco pastel-colored stained-glass roof and wrought-iron chandeliers, a sumptuous buffet tempts us at every turn – from the savory selections of salami and cheeses, to hot servings of eggs, bacon, and vegetables. There are enough sweet choices to move a saint into sinful indulgence. Yes, the Helvetia & Bristol offers more than location. It delights, it soothes, it pampers…

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

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

Hotel Continental Saigon – a place of memories

hc 3

Hotel Continental Saigon
132 – 134 Dong Khoi St., Dist 1,
Ho Chi Minh City
(84.8) 38 299 201

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.


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.


Art & Cuisine in Historic Prague

2013c Art Nouveau Palace Hotel

Art Nouveau Palace Hotel
Panská 12
11121 Prague 1

 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? 

The View from Hotel Bernini Palace – Florence

The view from Hotel Bernini Palace - Florence original watercolor - copyright Ginda Simpson

The view from Hotel Bernini Palace – Florence                                             original watercolor – copyright Ginda Simpson

Hotel Bernini Palace
(Piazza della Signoria)
50122 Florence

Hotel Bernini Palace occupies a 15th century classic Florentine palazzo, which originally belonged to the Pera family, presumed ancestors of the Peruzzi family, powerful Florentine financiers.  According to old records, in the mid-19th century, it was already a hotel, named Albergo dello Scudo, for the stables it provided below for both horses and carriages. For five years, between 1865 and 1870, the building became the Hotel Columbia Parlamento, hosting Senators and Members of the House when Florence was capital of the young Kingdom of Italy.

Over the years, the name of the hotel has changed several times, and the building, of course, has been restored, undergoing renovations still today, ushering in all the comforts and conveniences that one would expect from a renowned hotel, while preserving the architectural elements that make it so unique.  Throughout the hotel, lobbies, corridors and rooms are graced with period antique furnishings.  Its best feature, without a doubt, is its proximity to ALL of the key sites of this Renaissance city.  Located behind the Signoria, the hotel is within walking distance of the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Galleries, the Duomo and Baptistry, Santa Croce and a few steps farther bring you to the Accademia and San Lorenzo markets.

Our room on the fifth floor offers the ultimate in the pleasure of travel.  Small and intimate, elegantly furnished in antiques, the room is restful.  Its shutters, when opened, offer an unobstructed view of the Dome of the Cathedral, the spire of the Badia Fiorentina, and the tower of the Bargello – a view to be savored in shifting lights throughout the day and early evening, when it eventually is cloaked in a blue velvet mantle, illuminated by street lights.  Night and day, the clamor of San Firenze Square reminds us that this city is very much alive with the activities that fuel this 21st century, a hubbub that is blessedly erased with sound-proof windows, leaving our romantic hearts to imagine the city of Dante, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi.

An ample breakfast buffet is served in a lovely dining room with frescoed ceilings and parquet wood flooring, known as the Sala del Parlamento, so named for the paintings uncovered during the hall’s restoration – portraits of the protagonists of Italy’s Risorgimento, the movement that led to the unification of Italy.   Tables are beautifully set, inviting one to linger over a cappuccino before beginning the business of business or of sightseeing.  For guests, who wish to dine at home, La Chiostrina offers light lunches or more substantial dining in an enclosed courtyard setting, minimally decorated, a restraint that is welcomed after feasting one eyes on the abundant visual treasures of the city.  A good Chianti Classico paired well with our lunch of ravioli alla zucca and pappardelle con straccetti di vitello e pecorino.  Duck breast with a caramelized orange sauce was an excellent choice for our main entrée, leaving just enough room for a shared ice cream made with vin santo.  Oh the pleasures of table in Florence!  And what a pleasure it is to dine “in” and simply take the elevator upstairs, close the curtains and take a siesta.  A dream within a dream!

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.

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.


San Domenico Palace Hotel – Sinful Pleasures?

original watercolor paintingcopyright Ginda Simpson

         original watercolor painting
          copyright Ginda Simpson

San Domenico Palace Hotel
Piazza San Domenico, 5
98039 Taormina

A former Dominican monastery of the 15th century, San Domenico Palace was transformed into a hotel in 1896 and although reminders of its monastic past are preserved throughout the structure – the cloister, the choir stalls, the sacristy and the friars’ cells – this is not a place where one withdraws from the pleasures of the world.  The heart-stopping views of both the sea and of Mt. Etna, the enchanting gardens, the terrace restaurant framed by bougainvillea, the well-appointed rooms and a staff that is dedicated to spoiling its guests make the San Domenico experience, might I suggest, sinful?

The cuisine of its restaurant, thanks to Master Chef Massimo Mantarro, satisfies in every way.  Using only the freshest produce and fruits from the sea and the land, Massimo creates dishes that are simple and authentic, with an emphasis on delicate flavors and good health, and therein lie the riches of a meal at his table.  

As an artist, I was gratified to see the Monastery’s treasures preserved and incorporated into the décor of today’s hotel, where careful attention has been paid to also preserving an environment of restful retreat.  If one can bring oneself to leave the premises, San Domenico’s proximity to the sights and shopping in Taormina, all within walking distance, make it a perfect base from which to explore the city and to enjoy the environs of Mt. Etna.  A stay at San Domenico is nothing short of pure magic.

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.

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.