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Glorious sun-drenched villas that have borne silent witness to untold escapades of love and adventure are nestled against a mountainside, a backdrop of turquoise tranquillity. No matter your gender, you are Alice and this is Wonderland. You are gazing giddily from the balcony of the Hotel San Pietro in the village of Positano.
In the south of Italy, it is a little piece of heaven waiting patiently for your arrival, a magical place that excites the senses as you wend your way through a glorious landscape of gentle mountains by a placid sea.
Chiseled into the rock face, in all its glory, San Pietro is paradise high in the Amalfi Cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Rose gardens, lemon groves and wild arugula cover much of the hillside. From your lofty perch, you stand among the stars.The San Pietro has long been a haven for celebrities.
Every magical wonderland has a queen, of course, and the queen of Positano is Virginia Attanasio Cinque, owner of the Hotel San Pietro. Legendary director Franco Zefferelli and acclaimed novelist Gore Vidal, Virginia's good friends, often hold court at the San Pietro and can be found sharing a meal with this illuminated Positanian, sometimes with her two handsome young sons, Carlo [Vice President] and Vito [Manager], who can be seen on premises alongside Virginia running the day-to-day operation of the hotel.
Sometimes they just bring their favorite house guests-for example, Elizabeth Taylor and Jeremy Irons. Virginia Attanasio Cinque and her brothers and sisters have established the gold standard for hotels in the region: the Palazzo Murat is owned by Dr. Mario Attanasio; the Hotel Miramare, owned by Carlo Attanasio and Rosa Attanasio Russo, is one of the first hotels to open in Positano during the early part of World War II; and, finally, the Punta Regina, also owned by Rosa Attanasio Russo, is a quaint little boutique property. Marilù Attanasio Vespoli also is involved in the activities of all the hotels. Hospitality is truly a family affair. The aerial view of the property and its kaleidoscope of flowers will leave you breathless. The hotel's chapel welcomes you. Just a few floors below is a realm of cantilevered terraces and gardens, along with 61 uniquely constructed rooms, all of which provide astonishing sea views. Even many of its bathrooms feature breathtaking seascapes, along with a relaxing whirlpool bath. No two rooms are alike. We know; Virginia had us visit almost every one.There is also a pool, beautifully situated atop one of the hotel's highest terraces. From this elevation you can take an elevator, cut into the mountainside when the hotel first opened, 262 feet down to the sea, then enjoy a champagne Bellini, while lounging in a charming sunbathing area, replete with a bar and private beach. It’s the only way.And if you insist on bringing your helicopter, Virginia will be waiting for you there, too, at the hotel's private helicopter pad.Fitness is important, and there is a tennis court available. For hardcore fitness buffs, there is even a modern exercise center filled with treadmills, hand weights, and musculation machines.Although the property is one of the most breathtaking in the world, it is Virginia who establishes the spirit of the hotel, its sister properties and this historic family. Her presence can be felt everywhere.Once you've entered the San Pietro, it is only moments before Virginia greets you. A warm smile blossoms. Her energy is unbounded, and you will immediately feel adopted-a member of her extended family and entitled to the luxury which abounds. She makes the Hotel feel like home in heaven, whether you stay for weeks or just one night.Her enthusiasm and lust for perfection have attracted many luminaries. Some of the biggest names in politics, Hollywood, the literary world, and society have visited the San Pietro. Isn’t it time your name was added to the list?The mastermind behind The San Pietro was Virginia Cinque’s late uncle Carlo. In the great stone cliffs of the Sorrento Peninsula, just north of the Bay of Salerno, “Carlino,” as he was known, imagined something wondrous, a beautiful villa chiseled into the rock, and offering the most breathtaking views.On a fortuitous day in 1962, Carlino bought an expanse of cliff face south of his beloved Positano. The only structure there at the time was the ancient chapel of San Pietro. With chisels in hand, Carlino painstakingly carved a small apartment into the stone; a beautiful garden soon followed. Still an embryo, they were the humble beginnings of what would become the stately San Pietro.More rooms and terraces were added. More splendid gardens bloomed, and a majestic hotel, etched into the crest of a cliff, began to take shape. After eight years there were 33 rooms, along with an elegant terrace and cavernous lobby. Today there are 61 rooms on 12 ledges, and each room has a private balcony.Carlino was a man of nature and wanted the San Pietro to be at one with the luxuriance of the region. A wealth of flowers, vines, trees and shrubs bathe the surrounding countryside in radiance and color; they also thrive within the San Pietro, and everywhere you look, beauty abounds in verdant cascades and colorful effusions.
Grape arbors overhang terraces and bring shade to the afternoon, and pink-petaled bougainvillea adorns the balconies.Fine terra-cotta tiles are underfoot at most every turn, and although no two rooms are alike, many are decorated with the exquisite paintings of two renowned German artists, Ursula Kluth and Michele Theile.Following Carlo’s death in 1974, his niece and nephew, Virginia and Salvatore, assumed the helm of his palace overlooking the sea. They carried on their uncle's legacy with a great determination to be true to his vision. Salvatore passed away in 1996, and today Virginia and her sons, Carlo and Vito, manage the hotel.
Again the torch has been passed, and once again it illuminates to path to luxury and bliss.
Paradise is not just a word — some illusive garden of idyllic splendor nestled somewhere beyond the second star to the right. It is within reach of all who strive for its glory; it is the ultimate in restfullness and opulence; it is the magnificent San Pietro.
In France, there is a region where nature is marvelously in harmony with the "savoir-vivre" (good manners) of its inhabitants. This is land where the tender green of its valleys and the earl grey of its rivers are preserved and cultivated by farmers who are like proud fathers nourishing their children.
This land is known as Cantal (part of Auvergne), nestled just to the south of the center of France, it would be hard for nature lovers and even the finest gourmets not to be opulently satisfied.
Castles, better known as chateaus, Roman churches, and a brilliant green landscape that is food for the eyes make up the beauty of Cantal (and in between, of course, food for palate at some of the most amazing restaurants we have ever dined in to calm down our appetite for history).
Today, it is extremely expensive to maintain the many chateaus (castles) that line the countryside. And, so, there are only a few options. Some permit visits by tourists whileothers have opened their doors for nightly stays for those who want to experience the spirit of yesteryear.
We visited one of these exquisite castles, the Hostellerie de Chateau de Salles in Vezac. It has rooms for 500-600 francs (about $100 U.S.), junior suites for 700 francs and noble suites for 900-1100 francs (about $200 U.S.) a night.
This chateau also has a wonderful restaurant and for New Year's Eve served a fourcourse meal which includes:
All this including wine, coffee and aperitif only costs a mere 260 francs (about $45 U.S.).
For those with simpler tastes, L'Auberge des Montagnes in Pailherols, 20 minutes from Aurillac, the capital of Cantal, will warmly welcome you and will offer a large choice of activities: swimming pool, health club, game room, horse riding, cross-country skiing in winter, and hiking.
At night, you will rest and sleep in a very comfortable room for one of the most reasonable rates in all of Cantal: 220 francs (about $37 U.S.) a night!
On top of that, the hotel's restaurant is five star all the way. After an active day, you will want to indulge yourself in a six course gastronomic meal for an incredible 120 francs (less than $20 U.S.)!
Try the pounti (soufflet-like with prunes), truffade (puree potatos mixed with cheese), salmon trout, beef tenderloin, a selection of the most wonderful cheeses, and two desserts each! We could barely walk we were so stuffed! (But we'd gladly do it again!)
You may also get the privilege to meet some of the most incredible chefs: Francoise et Laurent Fleys in La Ferme Auberge du Bruel in Saint-Illide (04-71-49-72-27) are listed in the famous Gault-Millau book, listing the best chefs in France, and will prepare for you an amazing meal that your palate will not quite soon forget.
Reservations are necessary as all of France embarks to this restaurant to sample the delicious escargot (snails), canard (duck), foie gras, beef and so much more.
Louis Bernaud Puech is another son of the region. Rated as one of the top chefs in France in the prestigious Michelin Guide, his restaurant can be found in the countryside in Calvinet at his Hotel Beausejour (04-71-49-91-68/Fax 04-71-49-98-63).
This artisan, as he likes to call himself, will cook only the finest meal with the freshest ingredients. Anything less to this brilliant artist de cuisine is nothing short of a crime.
If you go crazy for foie gras, go and visit the Ferme Teysedou a Labrousette in Pailan (04-71-46-10-93) where you will see how the ducks are fed. Why, you even have a chanceto purchase and bring back their wonderful foie gras.
Finally, if you desire to be one with nature, breathing the pure air of the mountains, rebuilding your mental health in the process as you adjust your senses to the purity of the goodness in life, then Cantal will recharge your vital signs and a whole lot more. Cantal offers the true taste of the authentic.
L'Auberge des MontagnesPailherols
The Hostellerie de Chateau de SallesVezac (Phone: 04-71-62-41-41/Fax: 04-71-62-44-14)
La Ferme Auberge du BruelSaint-Illide(04-71-49-72-27)
Hotel Beausejour(04-71-49-91-68/Fax 04-71- 49-98-63)
Ferme Teysedou a LabrousettePailan (04-71-46-10-93)
Italian cities are typically adored for their quaint piazzas, fragrant eateries and florid facades. But some possess a darker allure. Naples — the capital of Campania — both seduced me with its confusion and confused me with its seduction on my recent whirl about town.
Three decades had passed since my last Neapolitan travels, and I was eager to see if it had cleaned up as handsomely as reported. No better base from which to launch my investigation, I figured, than the Decumani Hotel de Charme, smack in the grimy gut of the historic district.
Leftover from Greco-Roman times, a decumano is a central axis of a city. Naples' decumani host the maliolica Cloister of the Santa Chiara Church, the Veiled Christ and the Via dei Pastori, among other reasons UNESCO named it a "museum under the open sky."
I might have flinched at the grit and graffiti lining the alleys en route to the hotel were it not for these cleansing landmarks and my fascination with statuary. Votive displays twinkled from the stone walls, improvised from every sort of bauble you could imagine. Colored bulbs, silk roses and wax figures enlivened the scenes, beckoning me onward to the interior courtyard that houses the Decumani.
Two flights up, an incongruous calm prevailed.
Read more: Where To Stay in Naples:...
Of Capri’s many scandals — central Italy’s swollen sandbar is dubbed the Island of Pleasure for a reason – the steamiest was in 1902, when German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp staged an orgy that made front page headlines back home.
Read more: Places to Stay in Capri: Hotel...
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