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For over 30 years, we have traveled all over the world and experienced many different types of properties. That's why when we visit properties that especially resonate with us we have to write about them!
We just returned from a trip to the “Two Macedonias,” the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian region of northern Greece. Two properties we visited stand out as outstanding places for exotic destination weddings.
Popova Kula (meaning Priest's Tower), located in the Povardarie region in Macedonia, is a unique paradise. When you arrive, you won't feel like you're staying at a hotel. You'll feel like you're coming home again! The warmth of this place will hold you in its grasp and you'll hope it will never let you go.
First of all, the landscape is breathtaking. The restaurant, on the second floor attached to a majestic tower, gives visitors a backdrop of lush greenery, with the spectacular mountain ranges of the Demir Kapija Valley. It is the central nervous system of the property, where all guests come to meet, eat, drink the impressive Popova Kula wines and talk about life. There is magic in this place, as you will find yourself losing track of the time and suddenly realize six hours later you've spent your whole afternoon there.
If you are a couple who has popped the question (or are thinking about it), has imagination, believes in fairy tales, wants a destination wedding in an exotic location and does not have a billionaire’s budget, Popova Kula is the perfect place to hold your wedding. Weddings are frequent here, although many people from outside Macedonia are not aware of it as a wedding destination. They should be!
Popova Kula is nicknamed the “Temple of Wine.” The wines of this place are to be taken seriously! Owner Jordan Trajkov has created an impressive portfolio of more than 23 different wines, including some wines made from the Stanushina grape, which is unique to his property.
And with wine, of course, comes celebration. Jordan will hand the property over to you and your party and will cater sumptuous wedding feasts, arrange activities and create a unique and unforgettable experience.
The ancient concept of the “unworldly dreamer,” a person who lives contentedly in an ivory tower, can be envisioned for a couple who decides to take their vows at Popova Kula. Wedded bliss is possible right here, tower included. The Popova Kula staff will work with you to plan a wedding that will leave all who attend breathless and in awe.
To learn more, go to:
Popova Kula Winery and Hotel“The Temple of Wine”Address: Bulevar na vinoto br.1 Demir Kapija, Macedoniahttp://popovakula.com.mk/
Lake Ohrid is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, rivaling such wonders as Lake Geneva in Switzerland or Lake George in upstate New York. The best time to visit is in September or early October, when the crowds have gone and the weather is still perfect -- you will have the entire lake almost to yourself! There are polite boatmen waiting to ferry you around at very reasonable prices. The cafes aren't crowded, and the entire lake front promenade will be almost yours.
You can take boat trips up and down the lake and have lunch right on the water. Also Ohrid Pearls, manmade from the scales of the Plasica, a fish unique to Lake Ohrid, are some of the most beautiful pearls in the world! They can be found in the jewelry collections of the Queen of England and many other celebrities. And they are not expensive! What better way to add to your romantic honeymoon than with a string of pearl beauties that will keep your newlywed wife in the most romantic of moods. Yes, Ohrid Lake IS paradise. So come and enjoy the crystal clear waters of this stunning, ancient lake. And do not forget to also enjoy the views as you walk up and down the hills to visit some of Europe's most ancient churches.
During your first day visiting the town of Ohrid (a UNESCO heritage site), it is a must that you visit Saint Jovan Kaneo. You will find a lovely lakeside path which takes you to a breathtaking view of this church, with the blue lake beyond it. This has been a holy place for centuries and Orthodox visitors treat it with enormous reverence. The history of the church is very interesting and the changes of use it has seen has fortunately not destroyed its wonderful frescoes. The stunning location is equally impressive when seen from a boat on the lake.
For other Sites near Lake Ohrid, don’t miss St. Sophia Church, an 11th century church that is regarded as the most beautiful and best preserved church in the Republic of Macedonia. The church has fantastic ancient restored frescos that during the Ottoman occupation were painted over. Ohrid also has a beautiful Roman theater (now used for performances during the annual Ohrid Festival) and an ancient fortress on top of the hill overlooking the town.
If you are a couple looking for opulence for your destination wedding, then the Eagles Palace in Hakidiki is your place! Located near the gate to Mount Athos (sorry girls, only men are allowed to visit the ancient monasteries, but you can see them from a boat!), the Eagles Palace has been the luxury beach resort of choice for the rich and famous ever since it opened its doors in 1973. It was Maria Callas’ summer resort of choice and to this day is the favorite destination for movie stars, world leaders and other celebrities. And yet it is also very welcoming to the less famous!
Built on a beach on the Aegean Sea, with its rooms cascading up a hill, the Eagles Palace offers luxurious accommodations, a spa and four magnificent restaurants that only serve seafood caught near the property together with locally sourced meats, fruits and vegetables. Most importantly for couples looking for the perfect destination, Eagles Palace specializes in creating the ultimate wedding experience for you and your guests. There is an Orthodox chapel on the property (for non-Orthodox, a ceremony can be held in front of the chapel).
Sommelier Christos Fragotsinos, one of the world’s leading experts on Greek wine, will curate the wines (including some exclusive wines made on Mount Athos) and the chefs can put together magnificent feasts in modern Greek, traditional continental and/or Asian styles. Your guests will be hypnotized by the beautiful beach and enchanted by visits to local historic sites and magnificent scenery. And the boat ride around Mount Athos is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
When you go to Eagles Palace you will probably fly into Thessaloniki. This lively, interesting and beautiful seaside city is worth a 2-3 day stay. And you can stay overnight at one of the Eagles Palace’s sister properties, The City Hotel or the Hotel Excelsior. Recently renovated, both hotels have great energy and charming rooms. The staff is very helpful and always smiling and willing to help. And, although the hotels are in the center of the city, the rooms are quiet. City Hotel is the older and simpler of the two properties. The rooms are well-appointed and there is a gym and spa facility in the basement that offers sauna, massages and skin therapies. The five star Excelsior, across the street from the City Hotel, is a new boutique hotel that offers luxury and comfort in uniquely decorated and furnished rooms. Breakfast in the penthouse is a must!
Check out the wedding video at http://www.eaglespalace.gr/weddings-events-ceremonies to see how special a wedding at Eagles Palace can be!
For more info, go to:
Eagles PalaceOuranoupolis, Halkidiki GR - 630 75, GreeceTelephone: +30 23770 31101-4, 31047-8
CITY HOTEL THESSALONIKI11 Komninon St.Thessaloniki GreecePhone +30 2310 26 94 21
THE EXCELSIOR10 Komninon St.Thessaloniki GreecePhone: +30 2310 021 020Reservations: +30 2310 021 000
Hollywood Loves Corsica!
Where do actors George Clooney and Kathy Bates, singers Tom Jones and Alicia Keys, and even socialite Paris Hilton (just to name drop a few of Hollywood’s elite) go to escape the rigors of being in the spotlight day in and day out? Why the tiny Mediterranean island of Corsica, that’s where.
Each day we read stories of Hollywood’s creme de la creme going on holiday to such esteemed destinations as the tony island of St. Barts in the Caribbean or to Hollywood’s backyard playland, Cabo San Lucas in Mexico's Baja Penninsula, or skiing in the chi-chi slopes in Aspen, Colorado. I could go on and on.
But now, there is a discreet group of Hollywood stars who’ve discovered the crown jewel of the Mediterranean. This writer has known about this island paradise for over 20 years when there was only one automatic car on all of Corsica that was reserved for your’s truly. [Everybody drives a stick shift outside of the U.S.] Well, I knew my secret couldn’t stay hidden forever... Just last year, George Clooney joined friends for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle adventure around the entire island, including Clooney’s business partner and collaborator, Grant Haslov, and were spotted all over the island during their one month getaway.
Singer Alicia Keys married boyfriend Swizz Beatz near Portovecchio with the marriage ceremony performed by Deepak Chopra with friends Bono and singer/actress Queen Latifah there to lend their support. And Keys was seen in a bikini fully pregnant at the time which had paparazzi from around the world trying to capture the next hot tabloid cover.
Stooges rocker, Iggy Pop, performed in the village of Patrimonio [where they also make some of the best red wine on the island]. Pop was so smitten with Patrimonio he openly mingled and visited a few restaurants in the area the following days.
Actress Kathy Bates stayed in Saint Florent a year before receiving the bad news that she had breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy immediately. Now the actress, who had TV show “Harry’s Law,” has expressed her desire to "friends" that she would like to spend some more quality time in “the heart of paradise.”
Singer Tom Jones is a regular vacationer on the island having fallen in love with Bonafacio in the 1960s while at the peak of his career. “Right after ‘It’s Not Unusual’ came out, a friend took me on his yacht and we went to Calvi. What a beautiful island and I keep coming back year after year,” Jones told an interviewer recently.
And socialite Paris Hilton was busted for marijuana possession at Bastia airport in Corsica a few summers ago. (Oh well.) [Hilton was unavailable to talk about her love of Corsica and... ahem....]
Love and Marriage
It's one thing to be a celebrity. It's another thing to live the "normal" life. Regardless, to those of us betrothed whose names are not lit up on a movie marquee -- and even those whose names are -- we all understand, unequivocally, that an enduring marriage is somewhat of an art. These days with all the economic stress, to be happily married for many may seem like a mini-miracle. Not that it doesn't exist. It does. And I'm thrilled to report that I am in that group. But like any relationship, it's requires effort, prudence, imagination, romance -- and, most of all, true love -- to keep it flourishing.
My wife, Irena Patar, and I, met in June of 2002. It wasn't love at first sight. Of Georgian descent (The Republic of Georgia, NOT the Georgia Peach kind from the south of the U.S.), family means everything to her. In fact, on our first date, we went to a local restaurant and had a glass of wine. The VERY first question she asked me was, "Do you want to have kids?" Taken aback, I quipped, "Sure. But can I finish my wine first?"
Humor in our marriage has been the key to our love. From the very moment we met, till we both decided that we liked it each other, what really made us fall in love and why that love is at its strongest today -- humor. We can't live without it.
With love and laughter, you'll find it hard to lose. For our 10th year anniversary, I applied a gentile dose of both and added a sprinkle of romantic shock and awe, and it was the perfect cocktail.
Corsica is a wonderfully enigmatic country. Its attraction lies in nature, not in artifact. It's a rock-hard fragile paradise.
Corsica is also for beach lovers, culture buffs, hikers and divers. It combines vast stretches of shoreline with the beauty of the mountains, plenty of activities for your body and some rich history to engage your mind.
Jutting out of the Med like an impregnable fortress, Corsica resembles a miniature continent, with astounding geographical diversity. Within half an hour, the landscape morphs from glittering bays, glitzy coastal cities and fabulous beaches to sawtooth peaks, breathtaking valleys, dense forests and enigmatic hilltop villages. The scenery that unfurls along the island’s crooked roads will have you constantly stopping to whip out your camera.
Though Corsica’s been officially part of France for over 200 years, it feels different from the mainland in everything from customs to cuisine, music, language and character -- but that’s part of its appeal.
Renewing Our Vows: The Magic Day
With all its incredible beauty, Corsica for me has many hidden roads to paradise. Literally. If you see one, don't hesitate to take it. It will lead you to a beach or a mountain view that will leave you breathless.
Of all of Corsica's magnificence, it is the southern part of the island, Bonifacio, where, for me, the beauty is the most prolific. A citadel that towers over one of the most beautiful natural ports in the world, with Italy's island of Sardenia in the distance, prehistoric rock formations jutting out from the sea -- it is truly paradise on Earth.
Upon my many visits to the island, long before I met my wife, I discovered a man-made balcony that had been built into the mountain face. When I stumbled upon it, I knew one day I'd either propose to the woman of my dreams, get married or one day renew my wedding vows there. (Hey, one out of three ain't bad!)
On that day, October 30th 2013, with a bottle of one of the great champagne wine growers of the world, Jacques Selosse, we descended on our balcony to speak our hearts and forever proclaim our love. This balcony would make Romeo and Juliette glee with joy. It provides a view and a feeling that is nothing short of spectacular. Our dearest friends who live on the island, Delphine Gueritee and Oliver, joined us. They are the reason why we were on this glorious island in the first place. It was Delphine who introduced me to Corsica 15 years earlier. So it was only fitting that they bear witness and share in the joy of this incredible moment.
As far as what we wore, we actually kept it simple. No dressing up. Just a light white cotten top for my wife (she'd look beautiful in anything), me in jeans.It was an unusually warm day, about 28 degrees celsius, 85 degrees farenheit. I popped open my bottle of Jacques Selosse and poured everyone a glass and Irena and I spoke. No prepared speech. No written script. Words from our hearts. Of course, we both broke down in happy tears as we spoke. Words that will forever remind us of the power of love. We have it. And we cherish it.
Our identical twin girls, Evangeline and Annabelle (now 7), were there, too. In fact, they were so moved to see us express our love to each other with such raw emotion that, they, too, said one day when they get married, "We want to come to this place and share our love." And can only hope that my wife, Irena, and I, will be given this gift to see our children speak their hearts to their spouses, once again.
Corsica IS For Lovers
Travel to Corsica with your paramour, or your wife (as I did) or the one closest to your heart. This stunning French island just off the coasts of France and Italy is so beautiful, you’ll want to return year after year.
Napoleon’s birthplace boasts breathtaking views and a plethora of charming corners. Take a boat out of the resort village of Porto to see the bright white Calanques, steep-walled bays with their dramatic backdrop of stone cliffs rising up over the sea. Visit the thirteenth-century Calvi Citadel, then wind your way on mountain roads toward the tiny village of Calvi for a romantic dinner before heading out for a morning excursion on the scenic Route de Bavella.
Corsica is the dream you read about in novels. The romantic escape you only thought was fantasy. But Corsica and all its beauty is very real. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up writing my own romantic adventure about this beautiful paradise on Earth one day. In the meantime, my wife, twin girls and I are planning our return later this year. And we are even thinking of buying our own little piece of paradise there. Hey, remember, you just never know...
Hotel Bonifacio: The Cala di Greco
Within Bonafacio's old wonder of the well-known marine Mediterranean cliffs, beaches and caps, there is a place that all lovers and families should stay: Hotel Bonifacio: The Cala Di Greco. Elegance and warmth blended together with the perfect geographic location afforded to all who stay there: a view of the citadel and the angels who guard this place.
It was Homer in the Odyssey of Ulysses, which provide the inspiration for the suites of Hotel Bonifacio: The Cala Di Greco. Nestled in the jungle of southern Corsica, these luxurious cottages are surrounded by oaks, olive trees, juniper phénicie, arbutus... you are truly one with nature while able to have all the modern conveniences one could possibly desire.
The hotel features suites with their own front gated front courtyard and backyards with patio. The back wall opens completely to the yard. The rooms are nicely furnished and the hotel's website represents what you will actually experience pretty accurately.
The pool is elegant and has such a nice view of Bonifacio and the citadel, you might end up bathing a lot longer than you intended as the feeling will hold on to you.
Breakfast is served by the pool, the perfect place to start your day.
We stayed for three nights. From the first moment we arrived, we were taken by the scenery, architecture and the fantastic service provided. This is the perfect hotel if you want to be close to nightlife and the city of Bonifacio while at the same time have tranquility in your close surroundings. This hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels we have ever experienced, with your own garden and the room layout was exceptional. You immediately feel at home like a Relais & Chateau property.
The owner was very service-minded and he took his time to talk to his guests each and every breakfast and often was seen recommending restaurants, excursions and beaches that were spectacular (according to the guests who we spoke with).
To feel welcomed and important by any hotel is the art of being in the service business. Cala di Greco does it quite well.
Our family felt like super-stars. So will your's.
Every year, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center opens its doors to the public for its annual guest season which takes place from May 1 - September 14, 2014. San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) continues its spiritual engagement and community building with the public opening of its Tassajara center every.
Zen and meditation seekers, yoga lovers, artisan foodies, and everyday people looking to unplug and rejuvenate come to experience a truly serene environment at Tassajara, the most remote and oldest Zen monastery in the United States.
Located 25 miles southeast of Big Sur, CA, the 2014 Tassajara program offers disciplinary retreats led by expert teachers in six specialty areas
Among the many 2014 guest season standout retreat leaders are the following
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (Founder of San Francisco Zen Center, Author of the the modern spiritual classic and seminal Buddhist book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind) founded SFZC in 1962.
In 1967, he established Tassajara as the first Zen training monastery outside of Japan. Suzuki Roshi searched for a mountain temple similar to the monasteries in Japan and China, and was able to purchase Tassajara through the support of the Zen community, friends, and patrons.
Today, Tassajara is internationally recognized as the most remote Zen center in the United States and beckons as a top destination for Buddhist practitioners and vacationers alike.
The retreat has come to host celebrity guests (Steve Jobs, CA Governor Jerry Brown, Joan Baez, etc.) and vacationers alike for more than 47 years. Tassajara is known to many through its widely popular hot springs, acclaimed vegetarian cuisine and celebrated artisan bread baking book by Ed Brown, The Tassajara Bread Book.
Nestled in a mountain valley, inland from the Big Sur coast in a remote part of the Ventana wilderness, Tassajara has been long known as a place for self-discovery, healing and an escape from the stresses of everyday life.
Only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles via a 14-mile dirt road, Tassajara is an eco-efficient paradise garnering 100% of its energy from solar panels and the local hot springs. The hot springs have proven to be a main attraction of the Monterey/Salinas area following the native Esselen people's discovery of the springs in the 1870's; generations of settlers and visitors have come ever since seeking renewal and tranquility.
Please see the list of retreats below, and for more detailed retreat info, visit: www.sfzc.org/tassajara. Various images of Tassajara can also be downloaded at this link.
San Francisco Zen Center Presents Tassajara Zen Mountain Center(25 miles southeast of Big Sur, CA)
Guest Season 2014May 1 - September 14, 2014
300 Page StreetSan Francisco, CA, 94102phone: 415-863-3136
A couple of hours after my arrival in West London, this adventure starts with me, comically overdressed and clutching a precisely wrapped bouquet of pink (as was instructed) roses in the cavernous Baker Street station. Two stops later, the District line train becomes the stage for more guests, all with varying types of pink flowers, dressed in their finest ’30s evening wear. It’s 11:45 am on a Saturday, and we are heading for the Grand Budapest Hotel.
Based and so far operating exclusively in London, Secret Cinema is likely the most elaborate way to see a film. The premise is simple, but it’s out there: you buy a ticket, and then you receive (in this case) neurotically specific instructions including a map to a secret location no less than two days before the event.
With the exception of these Grand Budapest Hotel screenings, the film is also kept under wraps. Secret Cinema has become a ritual of sorts for film fans in London: my companion at the screening of the film recounts with joy her experiences with the company, noting the staging of The Shawshank Redemption was a standout. (Free pints all around during the rooftop scene is just one part of it.)
The Grand Budapest Hotel was a must for me, being a Wes Anderson obsessive and having been a temporary Londoner during my semesters abroad. This particular screening was my fourth for this film, which I have deemed one of the director’s masterpieces and certainly marks a degree of maturation for him. As a result, I couldn’t have been more elated to live, even if just for a few hours, within his imagined reality in my favorite city. Though, for the sake of honesty, I try to live in a Wes Anderson film every day.
Going back about a month, my inbox chirped during one of my film classes. I had not been expecting an email from Secret Cinema until a day or so before my flight, but there it was, styled as if on old parchment and containing a page’s worth of meticulous instructions.
I’m not keen on spoiling the surprise for anyone who plans on attending, but I will say that the aforementioned flowers and black tie attire are key to the aesthetic. Also recommended is committing to learning a brief poem to recite back to one of the hotel’s fellow eccentric guests. The sappier, the better.
A few minute’s walk from the tube, some lobby boys and grisly men clad in black leather stand waiting at the mouth of an cruelly narrow alley (which isn’t an uncommon feature in central London, the global city built on cow paths of the Roman Empire). By 12:10, about a hundred men and women garbed in vintage black tie stand in the queue, much to the bewilderment of tourists who’ve somehow strayed from the path of the usual tour bus route.
Periodically, a mock-up of Willem Dafoe’s character snatches an unsuspecting guest out of line, demanding to see immigration papers. It is the exactly correct measures of camp, wit, and commitment to the atmosphere of The Grand Budapest Hotel. In this massive group, we are then led to the site of a retired factory, where this Grand Budapest Hotel finds its home.
Upon entry, smartphones (those perpetual fun-ruiners) are checked by lobby boys and girls into small velvet pouches to be held at the door for the duration of the event’s four hours. Two bars occupy a lobby which is otherwise kept open for dancing.
Due to its setting, the hotel is less polished, but rather takes on a more bare-bones look, halfway between the hotel’s two appearances in the film. Throughout the three hours we are given to roam around the levels of the building which are opened to guest access like acts in a play. We are free to peep into hotel rooms, chat with Dmitri, the vitriolic son of Mdm. Desgoffe-und-Taxis, pay our respects to Mdm. D.G.u.T. with our pink bouquets, attend the reading of her will, or dip our toes in the Roman baths. In the final act, one can scale the Alpine Sudetenwaltz whilst the other guests waltz below.
On the whole, the production is an extraordinarily faithful adaptation of both set and character. Milling about are about 50 actors, all of whom are loose adaptations of the film’s cast.
For me, they are the key element in this incarnation of the Grand Budapest Hotel. They instigate trouble in many forms, peddle drinks and pastries, and in the final act before the screening, they lead a waltz in the lobby, surrounding the circular concierge desk with a flurry of feathers and patent shoes shined by the crippled shoeshine boy himself. They love causing scenes in the most delightful ways: at one point, the Countess suffers a melodramatic fainting spell in the middle of the lobby.
Secret Cinema gave themselves a challenge when they lobbied to screen this film, but the care with which they produced the eponymous hotel was a privilege to behold. If you are in love with cinematic drama and are keen on living in it for a night, Secret Cinema screenings are the definitive way to see films in London.
Matinee and evening tickets (£53) are available at secretcinema.org
Secret Cinema presents The Grand Budapest Hotel Currently running until 30 March at a secret locationLondon, UK
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