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The Chelsea West began to fail early in the decade and the reason was price. Outside Manhattan, most movie theaters have bargain matinees and reasonable prices. Going to the local Bijou here is really expensive, and it’s usually cheaper to go to one of the outer boroughs or even New Jersey to see the latest releases.
Read more: Venues in Chelsea for Tribeca...
For someone deprived of the experience of a Caribbean vacation, Antigua offers an ideal starting point. There’s all the expected elements to any seaward scenario — beautiful ocean views, fresh air, lots of sun and sandy beaches, but so much more as well. Pronounced "An-tee’ga", this former colony in the Caribbean Sea (17 degrees 5’ north and longitude 61 degrees 45’), is a 108-square mile island of limestone and coral recognized for its many coves, bays, clear turquoise-colored waters and 365 white beaches — one for each day of the year as the natives claim. To its south lie Montserrat and Guadeloupe; to the north and west are Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts and St. Martin/Maarten. Its sister island, Barbuda (Bar-byew’ da) sits 27 miles northeast with a land area of 62 square miles — and then there a scattering of much smaller land masses that are also under its umbrella. Largest of the Leeward Islands and furtherest out of the Caribbean Island arc, this small country was emancipated from England in 1981. Though a young nation, it has an ample history which laces it with an old-world British colonial charm. And, thankfully, that old world heritage means that the country hasn’t yet become overdeveloped so it not only has the luxurious resorts but a good part of both its capital and countryside remains untrammeled.So for those only seeking to slink away from the modern urban hustle and bustle, this location throughly offers all those earthly pleasures easily found through a stay in one of the island’s more sumptuous retreats, in this case, Sandals Grande Antigua, one of the 14 resorts run by this Caribbean-based company.Spread across several acres adjacent to the capital of St. John, a couple could be ensconced the whole time, engorging on all the dishes coming from an assortment of restaurants, cafes and beachside lounges. That’s not to say you have to be fat and horny to enjoy yourself, there’s time to splash and play as well. Any Antigua experience should include some daytime outdoor adventures as well as nightly culinary feasts. And for the first night, that’s exactly what was done, stuffing face at Coconut Grove, a nearby outdoor restaurant perfect for adjusting to the transition from NYC cold to a seasonal temperate climate. Seafood is the speciality and seafood it was — coconut shrimp, conch fritters, crab cakes and of course, a huge lobster.The adventure side of the Island experience meant getting out a New Yorker’s comfort zone. And that too was divided into two experiences — on land and into the sea. Traveling to the southern coast for a watery experience, Horizon Eco-Fantasies had fun in mind if you are able to tax muscles and swimming skills. You begin by kayaking out through the mangroves to a skiff that takes divers out to waters which float 10 feet or so above the reefs. The company offers a guide for participants to paddle out in these sit-on kayaks to a beach where another guide led participants to a boat which brings snorkelers to Cades Reef just offshore from the mangroves. There everyone donned snorkels, masks, and fins while the boat hopped over the warm water -- a relief from the growing heat of a midday sun. For the inexperienced, jumping in can offer quite a challenge, especially because they didn’t really instruct the inexperienced. Both fun and daunting, South Coast Horizon’s Eco Park offers these half-day excursions which also includes snacks, and drinks. Of course any strenuous activity, especially in a place like Antigua, requires a healthy amount of consuming. That was fulfilled at Turner’s Beach Bar where all the sea food can be had sitting under a roof on an open deck with full service bar behind it. After a fulfilling meal -- and a little souvenir buying -- it was time for more earthly activity.What better way to close out a day than with a late afternoon equestrian stroll. Well-equipped to manage small group horseback riding sessions, the Sun Fire Riding Academy — headed by the dreadlocked Sun Fire — offers even the most inexperienced rider a fun experience. Thanks to his able crew, this stroll engendered a pleasant exchange between rider and animal, even if only for the short time. With a stable of friendly older horses by Fort Beach, the experience presented a challenge of managing the reins while connecting with the horse. If you have trepidation mounting a horse, the handlers were pretty experienced in managing tourists of many sizes but they take it all in stride (so to speak). Followed nose to tail, the horse and lead handler took the gang on a leisurely beachside walk. But when they broke into a stride, the real horse riding experience really confronts you and your butt.Van drivers then bring tourists back to the luxury of Sandals ready to be well satiated by an extended dinner at flagship restaurant Mario’s. There you can dig deeply into a menu that offers cuisine ranging from seafood favorites, Italian styled dishes, steaks and more.Besides water adventures, there's another chance get into the island experience, jungle style. The expansive rainforest and countryside of the island offered ample opportunity to test one’s mettle -- and the ability to fly. The Antigua Rainforest Zip line Canopy Tour definitely offers strenuous testing. Antigua’s national park has a 13-stage zip line with eight different obstacle courses at the end, especially challenging when the staff test participants as they try to complete it. The zip line goes through a thick mass of trees and vines with the ground maybe 50-100 feet below. So no wonder you bond with other zippers as you fly -- or in some cases, stall -- station to station. As you get to end of the run, and obstacles get more challenging, everyone feels even more securely hooked onto the main cable so no one's likely plunge to the earth below.Trying such an effort makes for an excuse to fill the belly again; Beach Limerz Bar & Restaurant provided ample authentic fodder. Afterwards, this nearby beachside bar provided an authentic taste of local foodie favorites. Dishes include dukuna, saltfish, pepper pot and fungi. Made of pickled beef, chicken or pork, potatoes and broth and topped with greens, pepper pot is the most famous. Fungi are corn fritters and dukuna, a local favorite, is made with coconut, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Hosts/owners Barry and Gail Edwards welcome visitors to sit at its big communal tables, eat and meet other people there; a giant wrap-around bar offers an ample view of the beach.After a relaxing time enjoying the local fare, it was time to taste classic cuisine Sandals style. At night, the various on-restaurants offers time to commune with fellow visitors from all over the world. Daytime offers the challenge of trying all the different choices throughout the day. And one other excursion really gave the best overview of this island sojourn — the catamaran tour sponsored by Sandals itself. For two hours, the boat follows the shoreline stressing just how many beaches Antigua has along with its celebrities — such as designer Giorgio Armani’s — who vacation there as well. But sadly, just as one begins to settle into this life, the trip is over far too quickly.
Luxurious five-star accommodations, prize-winning architecture, world-class gourmet food, and the finest wines. Where are we? St. Tropez? Paris? Rome? Nope – it’s Portugal, the unsung luxury destination at the southwestern tip of Europe. We recently had the opportunity to be guests at a “Five-Star Trio” of hotels in three magnificent regions of Portugal. This cooperative marketing program (http://www.martinhal.com/offers/sites/lisbon-alentejo-martinhal-en.html) is the brainchild of Chitra and Roman Stern, developers and owners of the new (2010) five star resort Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel, as a way to introduce visitors to this varied and enchanting country.
Read more: Portugal’s Five Star Trio
Any time of year, la belle Italia beckons the footloose culture buff with a thing for luxury lodging. I heeded its call in late autumn 2011, stopping at one festival town after another and sampling the most innovative, exquisite and otherwise distinguished hotels in each. Enjoy a vicarious adventure as you share in the splendor:
Venice: A Hotel That Could be a Visconti Movie Set
Dreaming about next summer’s Venice Film Festival? Ready to make plans? Are the famed Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli too showy for you? Too commercial? Too near the bustling Piazza San Marco and Caffe Florian, the only Venetian restaurant and coffeehouse that, in golden days, served female patrons, and where such literary and social lions as Goldoni, Goethe, Lord Byron and Casanova watched the world go by over a steaming latte or un bicchiere da vino?
Just like the hotels on the Lido, where the festival is actually held, these deluxe sanctuaries often sell out well in advance. So be smart and head to the splendid Ca’Sagredo, a five-star pink palazzo dating back to the 15th century.
Though only open since 2007, this former property of the prominent if controversial Sagredo family has redefined the notion of class in hotel service, earning it a special award for excellence from Condé Nast Traveler.
I spent two glorious days at the Sagredo during the last sweet days of September. Situated right on the Grand Canal, the palazzo is around the corner from the Ca d’Oro vaporetto stop -- about 100 feet from the impressive 15th-century Gothic palace of the same name that once belonged to the Baron Franchetti, and which displays paintings from the Tuscan and Flemish schools as well as the work known as its crown jewel, a painting of San Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna.
The Sagredo also looks directly across the water at the Rialto Market, which sells fresh fish and veggies daily. A gondolier in a broad-brimmed hat and tight black and white T-shirt, looking like a leftover from the movie Summertime, will shuttle you there in a sleek black and gold gondola for a mere Euro.
The Ca Sagreda offers unparalleled Old World luxury, whether you are ensconced in the enormous Presidential Suite, with its up-close-and-personal views of the canal, magnificent Murano glass chandelier and impressive drawings collection, or are enjoying a more modest suite facing the street, as mine did.
Even so, it was gorgeous: I had a sitting area in the foyer (where I rarely sat), a living area and a king-size bedroom and bath, all in gold and ivory gilt decor – very Italianate, with lovely original moldings.
The hotel is chock-full of exquisite and surprising art around every corner. Its magnificent double-storied Music Room boasts architectural wall frescoes depicting Venus and Minerva, work attributed to the 15th-century muralist Gaspare Diziani. Even in the palazzo’s grand ballroom and breakfast rooms, intricate high-ceilinged frescoes serve as a rich canopy.
Ca Sagreda is well located, too – within walking distance of Piazza San Marco and the Accademia on the one hand, and of the Venetian Jewish Ghetto on the other.
But the most spectacular thing about the hotel, other than its grand marble floors and rich appointments that suggest the art decor of Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, is its Bar L’Incontro, on the small landscaped terrace. Here, at one of six tables overlooking the canal, you can have a lovely meal or simply a cocktail as you listen to the boats put-put-putting across the water.
And at the wonderful Alcova restaurant, try the house special – ravioli with sage. It is perfectly simple—and flavorful.
The Sagredo too conveniently situated. It's a 10-minute walk from the Jewish Ghetto, with its Jewish Museum, Holocaust Memorial and beautiful old synagogues; five minutes from the excellent local restaurant, La Vecia Cavana (where for 21.50 Euros I ate the best spaghetti Bolognese I’d ever tasted, accompanied by a fine Chianti); and 15 minutes from the bustling, yet majestic Piazza San Marco.
While here, I recalled over olives and wine, the sweepingly romantic reconciliation scene between Susan Anspach and George Segal, played against a background of pigeons, the majestic architecture of that square and a swelling sound track provided by Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Paul Mazursky’s extraordinary 1973 Blume in Love.
But perhaps the Venice Film Festival is too celebrity-rich for your blood.
Try the equally important Biennale – with venues near two vaporetto stops, Giardini and Arsenale. This vast series of art exhibitions and happenings come together as a world’s fair of art in which numerous countries (89 this year) display the work of their home-grown artists.
Much of the art in the 54th International Art Exhibition, held between June and November 2011 and titled "Illuminations," was conceptual and architectural. My favorite pieces were a pair of American works by the witty artist and musician Lynn Foulkes: Mr. President features a cartoonish painting of George Washington, with a Mickey Mouse snout superimposed on his face; and Where Did I Go Wrong? depicts Superman sitting on a cold stone in a dreary Beckettesque landscape, reading a newspaper called The Outlook, which sports the headline: “WAR!”
Okay, so you’ve missed both the Film Festival and the Biennale. Venice will still deliver history, luxury, art and pasta to stir both your heart and palate.
Hotel Ca SagredoCampo Santa Sofia, 4198/99 Ca' D'Oro Venice, 3012139 041 2413111Rates: An unbelievable bargain of $229 during Christmas holidays; twice and three times more during summer high season.
Florence: Traditional Art, Hip Digs
When we think of film festivals, we think of Venice, Cannes and New York. As it turns out, Florence boasts its wealth of movie celebrations. Known as “the cradle of the Rennaissance," this beautiful city on the Arno is not just home to the sublime Ufizzi Palace, with such major works as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but also to the Pitti Palace, which was once owned by the Medicis and now features five museums as well as the serenely lovely Boboli Gardens.
Florence has willed itself into becoming a major film festival town. So if you want to combine the traditional arts with film art, plenty of opportunity awaits you. The 50 Giorni di Cinema, or 50 Days of Cinema, is an international festival that runs every year from October to December. Its sections span women’s films, lesbian and gay films, docs and features, international films and contemporary art films.
And the River to River Indian Film Festival at the Cinema Odeon in the Piazza Strozzi (from December 2 - 8 this year) is that rare cinema event that focuses solely on movies from India. (Bollywood, as you may recall, is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of films.) The festival not only imports the latest in Indian films, but also Indian directors, actors and producers.
For the perfect hotel for festival-goers in Florence, I recommend the sleekly modern and completely cool Gallery Hotel Art, which celebrates the artistic spirit not just via its choice of a name, but also via its architecture and the revolving art and photography exhibits featured throughout its lobby, library/breakfast room and other public spaces.
In the past, works by photographers of the quality of David LaChapelle, Steven Klein and Elliott Erwitt have been shown. When I stayed here in late September, artist and art director Su Blackwell’s enchanting trees, made from the paper in books, stood guard in the library. (Blackwell insists that she reads every book before she deconstructs it.)
The Gallery Hotel Art, part of the Lungarno family of hotels, is conveniently located right off the Ponte Vecchio, about two blocks south of the Ufizzi and a stone’s throw from the Palazzo Strozzi and half dozen or so gelato shops as well.
The vibe here is young, hip, and prosperous. I stayed in an offbeat, gleamingly modern duplex room featuring, on the upper level, a bedroom and bath and, on the main level, a compact living room and smaller bath. Although this particular suite did not have a view (many, in fact, face the Arno), it managed to be simultaneously cozy and elegant.
The hotel also boasts the Fusion Restaurant and Bar, which is a jumping joint from cocktail hour into the wee hours. The restaurant serves the latest combinations of seafood, and they're as yummy as the decor.
I ordered an imaginative sushi/seafood combo called “From the Sea,” for 29 Euros, a trio of dishes including fresh sushi and braised sea bass that was out of this world.
For dessert I chose a superb apple tart with apple crème brulée and green apple sorbet. The reasonable price was an extra bonus in a country where the Euro continues to lord it over the dollar, especially considering the hipness of the restaurant and the creativity of the menu.
Gallery Hotel ArtVicolo dell’ Oro 550123 FirenzeTel: 055 27263
Positano: Elegance on a Cliff Overlooking the Sea
If you’re longing for the more offbeat Positano International Film Festival, usually held in June, book now for Il San Pietro Hotel. Located on an imposing cliff two kilometers above the tumult of shops and tourists, this small but spectacular venue runs a free van service transporting guests into and out of town around the clock. Of course, when you’re at the Il San Pietro, it’s hard to tear yourself away.
Here the views of the sapphire waters of the Amalfi Coast are magnificent, both from the main terraces, tiled in jolly Italian mosaics with blooming scarlet and fuschia bougainvillea climbing up and punctuating the festivities, and from the rooms and suites. Mostly done in spacious, summer-white and beautifully appointed, each room and suite sports a bay view and terrace.
By day the attentive staff cheerily serves a whatever-you’d-like breakfast on crisp pink tablecloths dotted with pretty floral arrangements. Evenings, guests sip cocktails or indulge in romantic candle-lit dinners under a canopy of stars (I savored a lovely pasta Bolognese and a Montepulciano one evening).
For beach lovers, the San Pietro offers a panoply of spa and wellness treatments, among other special facilities. Even nicer, in about 45 seconds an elevator scoots you down the cliff to the hotel’s private beach – the only one on the coast.
It was here that The Carlino, a wonderful open-air beach restaurant reserved only for guests, served me and my friends deliciously fragrant, crunchy grilled anchovies along with a mozzarella and tomato salad.
Two extra perks: a tennis court about 100 yards from the water and a free daily boat ride at 11:30 a.m., where hotel guests can experience the beauty of the sea and this privileged view of Amalfi, Positano, Ravello and, in the distance, Capri.
While 10 of us sat on the deck, snacking on olives and rosé wine under a sparkling Amalfi sun, the Capitane, who looked like he'd been hired from central casting, Italian-style, noted local points of interest, namely a whitewashed villa owned by director Franco Zeffirelli and another by the late ballet star, Rudolph Nureyev.
I could have stayed on the water all day – which is, indeed, possible, since the hotel will aid you in hiring a private boat to take you touring wherever you like.
Il San Pietro HotelVia Laurito 2/84017 Positano39 089 875 455www.ilsanpietro.comRates: From 420 Euros in low season.Because the hotel sits on the side of a dramatic cliff, only children over 10 are welcome.
Ravello: A Stylish Hilltop Town
And if you’d like to combine a tony spa holiday with a smaller festival, such as those held in Ravello, Capri and Giffoni, don’t hesitate to book the Palazzo Sasso, around the corner from Ravello’s main piazza.
For one, the Sasso is the pride of this tiny, mountainous town, whose itsy-bitsy square is dotted with Italian pottery shops, cashmere and leather stores, a charming Duomo built in 1087 (yes)! with its accompanying museum, and, a few steps down a side street, a super-popular, ridiculously reasonable restaurant called Compa Cosima, where the pasta is fresh and authentic.
The rooms at the Sasso, a converted 12th-century palace, are small but impeccably designed, with pretty princess balconies, 18th- and 19th-century antiques and soft Frette sheets. The public spaces – gardens, terraces and a lovely lobby bar and salon featuring a baby grand piano – manage to be both grandly pretty while also warm and inviting.
And for what it’s worth, this hotel had the best breakfast pastries of any hotel I stayed at during my travels. It has also won a truckload of awards from tough-to-please magazines such as Travel & Leisure.
The Sasso, which has been open since 1997, is so centrally located that it's only a 10-minute (slightly steep) walk up the hill to the beautiful 15 acres of gardens, crypt and cloisters of the Villa Cimbrone.
The Cimbrone is also the site of a charming small hotel that once hosted Greta Garbo and her then-lover, the conductor Arturo Toscanini. What’s more, the view of the Amalfi Coast from gardens that Virginia Woolf’s lover, Vita Sackville-West, is said to have tended, and the little tea-room tucked under one terrace, are more than worth the hike.
Palazzo SassoVia San Giovanni Del Toro 28/ 84010 RavelloTel: 39 089 818181www.palazzosasso.comRates: From 224 Euros in low season.Open from mid-April until late October
Naples: Earthy yet sleekly modern
The rich, gritty history of Naples is reflected in its atmospheric port, which docks both big ships arriving from foreign lands and limber little ferries transporting day passengers to and from Capri and the Amalfi Coast for a super-reasonable fee of between seven and 15 Euros (but only between Easter and the end of October).
So rather than drive from town to town on the Amalfi Coast for absurdly high car-service and taxi fees (between $75 and $100 per jaunt), staying in Naples and taking the daily ferry service to various festivals can be a smart and pleasant choice.
Indeed, Naples has its own film festival, which, in 2011, took place from October 13 - 18 at the 14th-century Castel Sant ‘Elmo, a venue that happens to have the best views of Naples and its port. One of the festival’s highlights was the retrospective honoring the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky with a retrospective of all his features.
In Naples I booked a room at the super-hot, super-modern and spanking new Hotel Romeo, which overlooks the port and ferries to Capri, but has become the chic home-away-from-home of the local fashionistas, film folk and design mavens who come to town. The rooms, streamlined and beautiful, include a Japanese suite with a soothing Japanese rock garden designed for meditation – and celebrities.
Other attractions: An outdoor swimming pool overlooking the city and a cigar bar.
My room there was paneled in rich dark wood, as is the rooftop seafood restaurant, Il Comandante, chosen Naples’ best restaurant of 2010 by the Espresso Guide, the hotel’s Beluga Skybar, where you can order a common sandwich or an uncommon sampling of fine caviar; or the (self-explanatory) mostl-marble Zero Sushi Bar, located in the hotel lobby. The restaurant and Skybar both have spectacular views of the port and, at night, of the city’s twinkling lights.
Competing for distinction with the Romeo’s state-of-the-art restaurants is its large spa, featuring a small pool, a gorgeous sauna and a unique salt room, as well as various salt-based treatments.
The evening I arrived, a conference of health specialists and salt-loving physicians was taking place, with participants extolling the health benefits of all things saline. Apparently these must have extended to the heaps of excellent sushi and Champagne being served in the lobby at a party marking the spa’s debut; indeed, the local fashion press was scarfing these items down as though they too held the key to immortality.And who knows, maybe they do?
Hotel RomeoVia Cristoforo Colombo 45Naples 80133 39 081 0175999www.romeohotel.itCheck out the Romeo’s special off-season offers.
Note: All these hotels offer pricey excellence. Rates, however, vary according to season and to special offers. Buona fortuna!
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