hotels

The Undeniable Charm of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan

The Old Cataract, now owned the French Sofitel hotel group, sits along the banks of a lazy stretch of the River Nile in the southernmost tip of Egypt

The Old Cataract, now owned the French Sofitel hotel group, sits along the banks of a lazy stretch of the River Nile in the southernmost tip of Egypt

Nothing short of an Arabian fantasy, this historic luxury hotel is the perfect place to stay in Aswan for a day trip to Abu Simbel. If it’s good enough for Agatha Christie, it’s good enough for us.

If that looks like a long walk to the hotel’s entrance don’t worry! A golf cart will take you

If that looks like a long walk to the hotel’s entrance don’t worry! A golf cart will take you

After a brief flight from Cairo to Aswan, Wally and I exited the airport and met our pre-arranged driver. We were dropped off at the main gatehouse of the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract and transported by a golf cart through the well-manicured courtyard to the hotel’s impressive Victorian-era façade. We followed a porter through the grand Moorish Revival lobby to a soft velvet sofa, where we were served complimentary champagne flutes of cool hibiscus tea.

I looked over at Wally. He was grinning from ear to ear.

The Old Cataract Hotel isn’t a time machine exactly, but it was definitely a relaxing departure from ordinary 21st century life.
It was love at first sight for Wally

It was love at first sight for Wally

We were greeted with a flute of chilled hibiscus tea

We were greeted with a flute of chilled hibiscus tea

We chose the hotel as it’s ideally situated near the Philae Temple and a base for the three-hour drive to Abu Simbel. And it's not everyday that you get the chance to stay at a landmark pedigreed property once occupied by Dame Agatha Christie herself.

Created by architect Henri Favarger at the turn of the century and financed by British entrepreneur Thomas Cook, the Old Cataract Hotel perches upon an undulating pink granite bluff overlooking a lazy stretch of the Nile and Elephantine Island. From the hotel, guests can admire the columns of a small restored temple on the island dedicated to the goddess Satis. She was the consort of the creator god Khunm, a protector of the southernmost frontier of Egypt and closely associated with the annual Nile inundation.

The Palace Wing of the hotel

The Palace Wing of the hotel

Join the likes of Lady Diana and Winston Churchill and stay at the Old Cataract in Aswan

Join the likes of Lady Diana and Winston Churchill and stay at the Old Cataract in Aswan

The hotel got its name from its proximity to the first cataract, or branch, of the Nile, where the river narrows and granite outcrops rise above the water, separating Egypt and Nubia. Ancient Egyptians believed that this marked the source of the sacred river and was where the civilized world reached its end.

Agatha Christie was here — in fact, she wrote parts of  Death on the Nile  in this suite

Agatha Christie was here — in fact, she wrote parts of Death on the Nile in this suite

Take a Tour: The Agatha Christie Suite and More

The iconic property is managed by the French luxury hotel group Accor and offers a daily walking tour where you can learn a bit about its storied past as a favorite escape for its prominent guests. During the tour, we saw the Agatha Christie suite, where the mystery novelist stayed for months in 1937, immortalized in her novel Death on the Nile. Scenes from the 1978 film adaptation were filmed here. The suite, now set up as a shrine of sorts, includes a private balcony with river views, fireplace, separate living room, bedroom and dining room.

This painting hangs in the Agatha Christie suite at the Old Cataract. You, too, can stay there for a mere $8,000 a night!

This painting hangs in the Agatha Christie suite at the Old Cataract. You, too, can stay there for a mere $8,000 a night!

A collection of framed photographs of royals, writers, politicians and other luminaries who have stayed at the Old Cataract adorn the hallway walls.

Formal dress is required to dine in 1902, the Old Cataract’s upscale restaurant

Formal dress is required to dine in 1902, the Old Cataract’s upscale restaurant

Also included was a visit to 1902, the hotel’s elegant fine dining restaurant. The architecture, with vaulted ceilings, a dome and Moorish arches, was inspired by the Mamluk mosques of Cairo. Our guide informed us that if you wanted to dine here, formal dress is required.

These colorful arches frame the indoor restaurant, where the breakfast buffet is served

These colorful arches frame the indoor restaurant, where the breakfast buffet is served

In 2011, the hotel reopened after a three-year closure for a complete renovation led by French interior designer Sybille de Margerie. It was the third property to receive the Legend designation, signifying historical properties that have been updated with Sofitel's trademark French touch.

The property is divided into two buildings, separated by a large outdoor swimming pool: the historical Palace Wing with its Moorish striped horseshoe arches and the contemporary Nile Wing.

We stayed in the newer wing of the hotel

We stayed in the newer wing of the hotel

The Nile Wing

We stayed in the nine-story Nile Wing, built in 1961, a bit of a misnomer as it’s actually a hotel in its own right. Decorative patterns and light fixtures from the original structure have been faithfully reproduced here and act as a stylistic bridge between the two buildings.

Our Nile view suite was spacious, with a sitting area, king-size bed and private balcony with a panoramic view of the pool and Nile. The bathroom was luxurious, with a freestanding bathtub, walk-in shower and separate closet for the toilet and bidet, plus plenty of towels and a pair of terry cloth robes.

Our bed, with the sitting area beyond

Our bed, with the sitting area beyond

Bathe in the tub or the shower stall next to it

Bathe in the tub or the shower stall next to it

The ruins of Elephantine Island could be seen from our balcony

The ruins of Elephantine Island could be seen from our balcony

Wally hung out on the balcony a lot — you just can’t beat that view!

Wally hung out on the balcony a lot — you just can’t beat that view!

One evening, just before twilight, Wally and I walked down to the jetty on the hotel grounds, where guests can take a felucca sailboat on the Nile. The unforgettable and magical ride on the waters of the sacred river was one of the highlights of our trip.

Returning to our suite after our felucca ride the first evening, we caught a glimpse of the opulent indoor pool located just beyond the lobby of the Nile Wing in the hotel spa. We stopped to take a closer look and came upon a British couple frolicking, the man giddy with excitement at having the pool all to themselves. The following evening, we followed their lead, reveling in this gorgeous setting, pleased to find the water much warmer than that of the outdoor pool.

Duke before he and Wally hired some local sailors to take them out for a peaceful felucca ride along the Nile at sunset

Duke before he and Wally hired some local sailors to take them out for a peaceful felucca ride along the Nile at sunset

The Nile Wing’s pool is warm, and there’s a good chance you’ll have it all to yourself

The Nile Wing’s pool is warm, and there’s a good chance you’ll have it all to yourself

The hotel has a total of four dining venues, though we ate all of our meals on the terrace. The impressive breakfast buffet includes a chef station, where you can order à la carte. Room service is also available and was especially convenient when we had a lavish feast delivered before our 5 a.m. departure to Abu Simbel.

The bar at the Old Cataract

The bar at the Old Cataract

We ate our meals on the veranda, sometimes joined by a timid but hungry stray cat

We ate our meals on the veranda, sometimes joined by a timid but hungry stray cat

The Oriental Kebabgy restaurant at one end of the Nile Wing

The Oriental Kebabgy restaurant at one end of the Nile Wing

While staying at the hotel I experienced what I dubbed “mummy tummy,” which was possibly a minor case of heatstroke. I hadn’t realized how hot it was at these exposed sites and didn’t drink enough water. Our travel guide Rasha suggested I take Antinal, as we had somehow forgotten to bring Imodium with us. A quick call to the front desk, and within half an hour, the medication was hand-delivered to our suite.

The evening before our departure, the concierge called to ask if there was anything they could improve upon. Wally replied that it would be nice if they had an ATM on site and was told that there’s one in the guest services house out by the hotel gate. “Then there’s nothing you can do to improve,” Wally replied, smiling.

Leaving our room for the last time, I glanced over the palm trees and across the river at the Aga Khan Mausoleum. Neither of us wanted to leave this idyllic setting. The Old Cataract Hotel isn’t a time machine exactly, but it was definitely a relaxing departure from ordinary 21st century life. –Duke

Add Aswan to your agenda to see Abu Simbel and Philae Temple. Of course, you have to stay at the legendary Old Cataract. You’ll never want to leave

Add Aswan to your agenda to see Abu Simbel and Philae Temple. Of course, you have to stay at the legendary Old Cataract. You’ll never want to leave

 

Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel Aswan
Abtal El Tahrir St.
81511 Aswan
Egypt

Al Moudira: A Dream Oasis in Luxor, Egypt

Escape the hassle. This idyllic, under-the-radar Luxor hotel on the West Bank of the Nile has plenty of personality.

This elaborate woodwork forms one wall of the central courtyard

This elaborate woodwork forms one wall of the central courtyard

Wally and I found ourselves on a narrow road, passing children driving donkey carts, wagons piled high with sugarcane and the rugged otherworldly stretch of the Theban Mountains on the horizon.

Once we arrived at the Hotel Al Moudira and told our guide Mamduh this was where we were staying, he became visibly concerned. He even accompanied us to reception to confirm that this hotel, in the middle of nowhere, was where we really wanted to stay.

We could understand his apprehension. The sprawling Al Moudira is set back from a dusty two-lane road, in the midst of a tiny rural village surrounded by acres of fertile farmland. Mamduh just couldn’t understand why we would want to stay outside the urban center of the East Bank. But Al Moudira’s remoteness is a large part of its appeal.

The minute you enter the confines of the hotel, you’ll know you’re someplace special

The minute you enter the confines of the hotel, you’ll know you’re someplace special

We stopped by the reception room to check in and were each served a refreshing glass of karkadeh, sweetened, chilled hibiscus tea. I quickly asked if there was a bathroom nearby, as we had driven from Aswan to Luxor that day and it was a long distance between our last stop at Edfu and the West Bank. As I passed a trio of colorful wooden figurines, and saw the vintage oil-painted portraits — one of a man with a rather bushy moustache, and the other a silver-haired matron wearing a pearl necklace — outside their respective bathrooms, I knew we had found the perfect place to spend the next four nights.

The reception area

The reception area

Quirky artwork can be found here and there, revealing the proprietress’ sense of humor

Quirky artwork can be found here and there, revealing the proprietress’ sense of humor

For Wally, all he needed to see was the gurgling fountain in the open-air central courtyard, and he was grinning from ear to ear. And that was before he knew we had our own fountain in our room!

Our room opened to a courtyard filled with vibrant flowering bougainvillea, a fountain, and a sitting area

Our room opened to a courtyard filled with vibrant flowering bougainvillea, a fountain, and a sitting area

A Tour of Al Moudira

We passed through the entrance hall, which leads to the stunning central courtyard. The fountain stands in the middle, while at the far side, light filtered through an intricate cedarwood mashrabiya screen integrated into the main pavilion, creating an inviting seating area complete with cushioned banquettes for guests to perch and relax on.

A raised platform in the courtyard is gorgeously appointed and is a great spot to relax before dinner

A raised platform in the courtyard is gorgeously appointed and is a great spot to relax before dinner

Garden paths made of repurposed tile meander throughout Al Moudira

Garden paths made of repurposed tile meander throughout Al Moudira

The man leading us to our room stopped to introduce us to a dark-haired woman. “This is the boss!” he exclaimed. “Al moudira! She is the owner, the designer, the manager — basically, she does everything!”

It wasn’t until later that we made the connection that Al Moudira means “boss,” specifically the female form of the word.

The junior suite Wally and I stayed in was airy and spacious (not so “junior”) and included a generous sitting area, a central fountain surrounded by cushions, air conditioning, a minibar and a king-size canopy bed. The Wi-Fi was weak in our room, but that’s the point. The vibe is low key and has been designed for you to unplug. Don’t worry, though. You can still post to Facebook and Instagram (though don’t you dare check that work email) with the Wi-Fi in the main courtyard.

Our spacious room had a fountain in the middle of it!

Our spacious room had a fountain in the middle of it!

Every morning, light filtered through the colored glass set into the vaulted domes of our enormous en-suite bathroom.

The complex itself is comprised of a maze of open arches, crowned with cupolas and enclosed inner courtyards, each with its own fountain and verdant oasis.

The beautiful objects found throughout the hotel have been collected by Zeina, the owner

The beautiful objects found throughout the hotel have been collected by Zeina, the owner

The Boss Tells Us the History of Al Moudira

One evening while Wally and I were relaxing on the central courtyard terrace, we met Al Moudira again, the charming multilingual Lebanese proprietor, hostess and creative force behind the hotel, Zeina Aboukheir.

I casually asked if anything had stood where the hotel was and she paused our conversation to retrieve a scrapbook that a close friend had made for her, documenting the process and various inspirations for her desert palace. A dedication on the first page caught my eye. It read, “Al Moudira, ou la folie de Zeina” (the madness of Zeina — or as we might say, “Zeina’s crazy idea”).

Construction began in 2000, but the hotel feels old and grand, due to the vintage finds and architectural salvage Zeina has amassed from her travels and effortlessly layered into her labor of love, including Persian carpets, salvaged wooden doors and mother of pearl-inlaid chairs.

I told Zeina I loved the artworks that adorn the walls of the Eastern Bar, hand-colored boudoir images from a series titled Femmes de Bou Saada, and she replied, “Yes, aren’t they wonderful?”

The Eastern Bar has naughty artwork, games and a piano

The Eastern Bar has naughty artwork, games and a piano

Enjoy a cocktail before and/or after dinner

Enjoy a cocktail before and/or after dinner

The bar evokes a cozy parlor in a British mansion

The bar evokes a cozy parlor in a British mansion

Zeina purchased the desolate plot of land and set out to transform it into a storybook refuge. She hired Olivier Sednaoui, who specializes in vernacular architecture, which incorporates traditional regional and indigenous styles. Sednaoui had previously built his own home near Medinet Habu, inspired by the methods and techniques of Hassan Fathy, a pioneer in sustainable mud brick architecture.

The hotel is named for Zeina’s nickname: the Boss Lady

The hotel is named for Zeina’s nickname: the Boss Lady

Zeina and the architect had many spirited debates over the concept of the hotel complex.

“Did you get your way?” Wally asked.

“For the most part,” Zeina said, smiling.

She added, “He was very good at brickwork. But that’s all he wanted to do. When that was finished, he left.”

No shrinking violet, Zeina persevered over the following years, assembling a team of local workers and craftsmen, along with Lebanese artist Mario Dahab, whose flourishes can be seen throughout the boutique hotel. This can-do spirit earned her the nickname Al Moudira. When it came time to decide a name for the hotel, she already knew what to call it.

Lush plants, soothing earth tones, arches and cupolas are all part of the relaxing aesthetic at Al Moudira

Lush plants, soothing earth tones, arches and cupolas are all part of the relaxing aesthetic at Al Moudira

“The Only Place Possible in Luxor”

The hotel’s interiors have a theatrical quality, blending Egyptian, North African and Near Eastern styles. As Zeina told us, “I find things I like…and then figure out where to put them.” For example, the piano in the Eastern Bar was discovered at a flea market in Alexandria.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised when she told us that the hotel has received celebrity guests, including French fashion designer Christian Louboutin, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and supermodel Kate Moss — who we learned, much to our dismay, was there just a few days before we were.

Wally and I ate breakfast and dinner al fresco in the communal courtyard, partly because there wasn’t another option nearby, but also because the meals we had there were delicious. The menu changes nightly and features a variety of Mediterranean, Eastern and European-inspired dishes — all at a remarkably affordable price.

Lunch of mezze, or small dishes, which we enjoyed al fresco by the pool

Lunch of mezze, or small dishes, which we enjoyed al fresco by the pool

The central courtyard is where most guests have breakfast and dinner

The central courtyard is where most guests have breakfast and dinner

Service was warm and hospitable, and we felt like we were guests at a lavish caliphate’s winter palace. I enjoyed hearing the sound of rustling palm fronds and birdsong as well as the occasional call to prayer while exploring the beautifully landscaped grounds. (We got a bit lost on more than one occasion.)

During our stay, the large swimming pool was the perfect place to seek refuge from the strong midday sun, and Wally and I looked forward to spending a few hours reading and relaxing poolside after exploring the hot and arid West Bank.

The pool is where the action is in the afternoon

The pool is where the action is in the afternoon

Get a drink or a bite at the pool pavilion

Get a drink or a bite at the pool pavilion

You will have to share your stay with flies, but there were small brushes placed everywhere (Wally called them shoo-flies), which act like a horse’s tail to swat away the pests. Duke would rest the shoo-fly by his head, convinced that this trick kept the flies at bay.

If you’re planning on visiting Luxor and are looking for the perfect place to stay within close proximity of the ancient pharaonic sites of the West Bank, and prefer a restful refuge not in the midst of the Luxor chaos, look no further than Al Moudira. You’ll soon learn that a stay here is the perfect getaway, or to, quote Louboutin: “For the most divine hotel owner, Zeina, and for the garden — basically the only place possible in Luxor.” –Duke

Forget downtown Luxor — we recommend staying at this refuge on the West Bank

Forget downtown Luxor — we recommend staying at this refuge on the West Bank

Hotel Al Moudira
Luxor
West Bank,
Hager Al Dabbeya
Egypt

 

10 Most Instagrammable Places in Mexico City's Centro

A photographer’s tour of the CDMX historic district, from the Palacio de Bellas Artes to the Gran Hotel Ciudad de México.

CDMX, as the cool kids call it, is full of stunning design, a mind-blowing mix of colonial architecture and modern marvels. Here are some of our favorites to help you get started on a cultural and Insta-worthy tour of the city’s historic heart.

Centro Histórico

A chandelier hangs above the holy ark

A chandelier hangs above the holy ark

The second and third floors of the Sinagoga Histórica have some beautiful elements

The second and third floors of the Sinagoga Histórica have some beautiful elements

Look up to see the folk art-styled ceiling, with its gorgeous color pallette

Look up to see the folk art-styled ceiling, with its gorgeous color pallette

1. Sinagoga Histórica Justo Sierra 71

Start your tour with this hidden gem, built and established by the Ashkenazi, Eastern European Jews who arrived in Mexico City as refugees escaping persecution in the early 1940s. The Historic Synagogue, or Templo Nidje Israel, is entered through an interior courtyard beyond the building’s colonial façade (and a somewhat grumpy guard).

The interior contains a rather plain assembly hall on the first floor, but the sanctuary located on the second floor is impressive, said to be modeled after a synagogue in Lithuania. Make sure to look up at the vaulted clerestory ceiling intricately painted in hues of rust, mustard yellow, blue and green. An elaborately carved platform stands in the center of the room and faces the richly ornamented aron kodesh, or holy ark, surrounded by folk art elements typical of Eastern European villages. The sacred Torah scrolls were once kept behind the blue velvet curtain panel embroidered with silver thread.

Justo Sierra 71

What seemed to be a bizarre fantasy video game ad was playing in the courtyard while we visited

What seemed to be a bizarre fantasy video game ad was playing in the courtyard while we visited

Open archways line the corridors of the ex-college

Open archways line the corridors of the ex-college

You’ll spot murals all over the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

You’ll spot murals all over the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

2. Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

A block or so down from the synagogue is a former Jesuit boarding school that has since been transformed into a museum and cultural center. After the Jesuits were expelled from the city, the building temporarily served as barracks for the Mexican army before becoming the National Preparatory School. The site is considered to be the birthplace of the Mexican muralism movement and features murals painted by David Alfaro, José Clemente Orozco (Wally’s personal fave) and Diego Rivera.

Justo Sierra 16

La Casa de las Sirenas is located within one of the first colonial mansions in Mexico City

La Casa de las Sirenas is located within one of the first colonial mansions in Mexico City

Our al fresco meal was delicious

Our al fresco meal was delicious

Grab a bite on the rooftop terrace, which overlooks the back of the cathedral

Grab a bite on the rooftop terrace, which overlooks the back of the cathedral

3. La Casa de las Sirenas

The frieze on the façade of this former 17th century colonial abode features a Caravaca cross flanked by a pair of mermaids, which gives the restaurant its name, the House of the Mermaids.

We ate a delicious lunch on the rooftop terrace with a spectacular view overlooking the extremely disappointing Templo Mayor and the back of the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, while an organ grinder played a whimsical tune over and over from the street below.

República de Guatemala 32

The Metropolitan Cathedral organ

The Metropolitan Cathedral organ

This over-the-top golden altar is just one of many inside the massive cathedral

This over-the-top golden altar is just one of many inside the massive cathedral

Saints galore in various niches in this Baroque church — note the highly realistic detail on his hand

Saints galore in various niches in this Baroque church — note the highly realistic detail on his hand

4. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

This massive Baroque-style cathedral dominating the northern side of the Zócalo plaza was built in stages between 1573 to 1873, shortly after Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors defeated the Aztec Empire. Among the oldest and largest cathedrals in the Americas, much of it was built using stones pilfered from the Templo Mayor. (Maybe that’s why the temple’s ruins are so unimpressive.) Step inside to see the large, ornate Altar of the Kings, collection of paintings, pipe organ and statuary.

Plaza de la Constitución s/n

Pop into the lobby of the Gran Hotel to marvel at the stained glass ceiling and ironwork

Pop into the lobby of the Gran Hotel to marvel at the stained glass ceiling and ironwork

The curving balconies and organic grillwork on the cage elevators make this Art Nouveau gem worth a shot or two

The curving balconies and organic grillwork on the cage elevators make this Art Nouveau gem worth a shot or two

5. Gran Hotel Ciudad de México

After binge-watching the Spanish soap series Gran Hotel on Netflix, we had to go inside this historic Art Nouveau gem of the same name. It was originally the city’s most luxurious department store, known as el Centro Mercanti — in fact, you can still see the monogram “CM” in the stained-glass ceiling designed by French glass artist Jacques Grüber as well as the railings. Fun fact: The interior is featured in the opening scenes of the James Bond film Spectre.

16 de Septiembre 82

This building is known colloquially as the House of Tiles

This building is known colloquially as the House of Tiles

This distinctive tiled building is now a Sanborns department store

This distinctive tiled building is now a Sanborns department store

6. Casa de los Azulejos

Meaning “the House of Tiles” in Spanish, the exterior of this 16th century building is embellished with tin-glazed ceramic tilework known as azulejos, from Puebla, Mexico. The property was originally the residence of the Valle de Orizaba counts, one of the wealthiest families in the country. It was purchased by brothers Walter and Frank Sanborn in 1919 and converted into the flagship location of Sanborns, a Mexican department store and restaurant chain.

Av Francisco I. Madero 4

Since you’re in the area, you should pop into the Palacio Postal just to check out the amazing staircase

Since you’re in the area, you should pop into the Palacio Postal just to check out the amazing staircase

Things are looking up at the Postal Palace

Things are looking up at the Postal Palace

7. Palacio Postal

Also known as the Correo Mayor, the Postal Palace was built by Italian architect Adamo Boari and Mexican engineer Gonzalo Garita and has been in continuous operation since it first opened in 1907. The interior was restored to its original gilded splendor with the help of Boari’s granddaughter, who had the original building plans in Italy. The money shot is of a pair of grand interconnecting staircases embellished with vegetal brass balustrades that almost appear to be alive. My only regret is that we weren’t able to send a postcard home while there.

C. Tacuba 1, Cuauhtémoc

To get this money shot, you have to go into the Sears department store across the street

To get this money shot, you have to go into the Sears department store across the street

8. Palacio de Bellas Artes

We didn’t get to go inside on this visit. But the secret to an amazing aerial shot is to head over to the Sears department store directly across the street. (If you don’t want to have a snack or drink on the balcony café, just go up one more floor and press your camera against the glass as we did.)

Designed by the same architect as the Palacio Postal, the building’s gorgeously photogenic Art Nouveau exterior is topped by a lattice of iron and a shimmering iridescent ombre-tiled dome. At the very top, the Mexican eagle perches on a cactus with a serpent in its beak, with the four figures beneath representing the personifications of the dramatic arts.  

The plaza includes various sculptures, including four Pegasus statues designed by Catalan Agustí Querol Subirats, as well as the famous Mexico City Olympics logo — way too popular with tourists to get a good picture of.

Av. Juárez

The Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez monument

The Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez monument

A large green space sits right next to the plaza of the Palacio de Bellas Artes

A large green space sits right next to the plaza of the Palacio de Bellas Artes

9. Alameda Central

This leafy park was created in 1525 on what was previously the site of an Aztec marketplace. Its name comes from the word alámo, Spanish for poplar tree — which can be found in abundance throughout the park. You’ll encounter children playing in empty fountain basins and locals of all ages meandering or sitting on benches along the many paths. The Kiosco Morisco was located there briefly and used as a pavilion to announce lottery winners before being moved to make way for the semicircular Neoclassical Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez monument, dedicated to the former Mexican president.

Av. Hidalgo s/n

This fountain is right across from Alameda Central and is worth a quick visit to get the Insta shot

This fountain is right across from Alameda Central and is worth a quick visit to get the Insta shot

Governmental buildings and the Museum of Memory and Tolerance surround the fountain

Governmental buildings and the Museum of Memory and Tolerance surround the fountain

País de Volcanes  ( Country of Volcanoes ) by Ricardo Legorreta

País de Volcanes (Country of Volcanoes) by Ricardo Legorreta

10. Fuente de Vicente Rojo

Across from Alameda Park, tucked into the courtyard of the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia surrounded by governmental offices is a fountain designed by Mexican visual artist Vicente Rojo and architect Ricardo Legorreta. Titled País de Volcanes (Country of Volcanoes), it features more than 1,000 small burnt red concrete pyramids emerging from a sunken reflecting pool, a reference to the coarse volcanic tezontle stone widely used by the Aztecs. –Duke

Av. Juárez 44

Ignacia Guest House: A Colonia Roma Gem in Mexico City

Looking for Mexico City hotels? Book one of the color-themed suites at this charming and chic boutique hotel in one of CDMX’s safest neighborhoods.

The back courtyard of Ignacia, with its cactus garden and fountain, lies between the old house and the new suites

The back courtyard of Ignacia, with its cactus garden and fountain, lies between the old house and the new suites

In Chicago it had begun to feel a lot like winter and we’d already experienced our first snowfall. So the opportunity for Wally and I to temporarily escape the cold weather for sunshine and 70-degree temperatures in Mexico City (aka CDMX) was just what the doctor ordered.

The staff serves up a different cocktail each evening at this al fresco bar

The staff serves up a different cocktail each evening at this al fresco bar

The Ignacia Guest House

The first thing I do when planning a trip is secure lodging. In my research, I had discovered a couple of charming neighborhoods, or colonias — one of which was Colonia Roma.

This charming tree-lined neighborhood, filled with a mix of Neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture, is the setting for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest movie, the critical darling Roma. Located on Jalapa Street, one of these historic gems is the Ignacia Guest House, which was our home away from home for five nights. The stylish boutique hotel takes its name from its former beloved housekeeper Ignacia, who lived and worked at the house for more than 70 years.

This woodcut, off the check-in area, shows the beloved housekeeper-cook-nanny Ignacia as a young woman

This woodcut, off the check-in area, shows the beloved housekeeper-cook-nanny Ignacia as a young woman

And here’s the other woodcut of Ignacia, as an older woman. Note the signature cows below

And here’s the other woodcut of Ignacia, as an older woman. Note the signature cows below

Inside the former estate, the palette is restrained to pale pink-colored walls, which truly allows the custom furnishings, lighting and artisanal objects chosen by interior designer Andrés Gutiérrez to shine.

The front sitting room at the hotel

The front sitting room at the hotel

A variety of magazines and other publications are available

A variety of magazines and other publications are available

(Make sure to check out the super-chic bathroom with its oxblood channel tufted wall panels and illuminated vanity mirror located next to the reception desk — you’ll thank me later.)

On every trip I become obsessed with a particular item, and in this case it happened to be the burnished terra cotta vacas, or cows, that could be seen atop the console table beneath a woodcut image of Ignacia in the main house and on the countertop of the patio bar. Romina Argüelles, one of the guest house managers, told us that the artisans who make these only create one or two per year. Needless to say, there’s quite a waiting list.

Across from the breakfast seating area is the small library

Across from the breakfast seating area is the small library

Elements of the historic mansion, which dates to around 1913, have been lovingly preserved and restored, including the window frames, doors, wood floors, ornate plasterwork and pressed tin moldings. That’s thanks to Fermín Espinosa, architect and cofounder of Factor Eficiencia, a Mexico City-based design and construction firm. While the common rooms have been repurposed, the largest and most luxurious suite, Negra, is the only one located in the former mansion and is connected to the additional rooms by an enclosed steel and glass corridor.

This glass corridor leads from the original house to the new modern wing

This glass corridor leads from the original house to the new modern wing

Between the two structures is an intimate central courtyard patio containing cacti typical of Oaxaca, with ivy-covered walls and a rectilinear steel-clad fountain gently gurgling in the middle. The garden also contains a pair of majestic orange trees planted by Ignacia herself after she began working at the house in 1929.

Looking down upon the courtyard patio

Looking down upon the courtyard patio

Wally and Duke, mimicking a shot they had seen of a gay couple taking wedding photos the day before

Wally and Duke, mimicking a shot they had seen of a gay couple taking wedding photos the day before

The view from our room’s door. You can see Ignacia’s orange trees to either side, along with the balcony of the Negra suite

The view from our room’s door. You can see Ignacia’s orange trees to either side, along with the balcony of the Negra suite

The modern two-story addition stands just beyond the original home and is a geometric combination of glass and steel where the other four monochromatic suites, Rosa, Amarilla, Azul and Verde, are found. The palette was inspired by Ignacia’s memories of growing up in the town of Guerrero.

Breakfast is made daily from scratch in the kitchen, the recipes culled from Ignacia’s extensive repertoire. Each breakfast comes with freshly squeezed orange juice, a choice of coffee or espresso drink, seasonal fruit with muesli, yogurt and honey, and a basket filled with buttery puff-pastry orejas — as well as a main dish. One nice touch: They remembered how we liked our coffee the following morning, and every morning thereafter, bringing me a café americano and Wally his latte with leche light, the local colloquialism for reduced fat milk.

Where breakfast is served each morning

Where breakfast is served each morning

The curlicue pastries they call orejas, or “ears,” a main dish (this one with cecina, rehydrated salted dried beef) and coffee

The curlicue pastries they call orejas, or “ears,” a main dish (this one with cecina, rehydrated salted dried beef) and coffee

Another delicious breakfast from Ignacia’s recipe book

Another delicious breakfast from Ignacia’s recipe book

After our first breakfast, the delightful Romina checked in with us to see how our flight was and gave us a quick tour of the guest house, pointing out the two woodcut portraits of Ignacia by the artist Pau Masiques and commissioned by the property’s co-owner Gina Lozado. One depicts the Ignacia at the age of 16, the other at 87. “She was the heart of the home,” Romina told us. As she finished the tour, she let us know that cocktail hour is held between 5-7 p.m. “Maybe we’ll have some local snacks,” she said with a grin. I had a sneaking suspicion of what that might mean.

The Azul room

The Azul room

Azul Like It

We stayed in the Azul suite located off the central courtyard to the left. Our room included a screen print of the Castillo de Chapultepec by graphic designer Miguel Alpulche and maple flooring with inlaid dark walnut arrows that led us to guess, correctly, that it was reclaimed from bowling alley lanes!

There’s plenty of storage in the rooms, including this dresser

There’s plenty of storage in the rooms, including this dresser

A Nespresso machine sat atop the dresser and we were told that the television is set up with Netflix, a nice feature we didn’t bother to use. There’s artesian bottled water from Casa del Agua adorned with line drawings of whimsical steampunk contraptions (never drink the local water, and use bottled water even when brushing your teeth!), and natural bath products by CDMX brand Loredana inside the bathroom, which is covered floor to ceiling in Carrara marble.

When we visited in November, the weather was in the 70s, so we spent a lot of time in the courtyard

When we visited in November, the weather was in the 70s, so we spent a lot of time in the courtyard

Courtyard Cocktails and Our First Crickets

The courtyard patio was also where we returned in the evening to enjoy cocktails and snacks at the bar. Our first evening, the cocktail was a refreshing combination of freshly squeezed fruit juice, mezcal and an ancho chile liqueur rimmed with sal de gusano, pulverized maguey worms with chili powder, and garnished with a sprig of mint, which reminded me of the rebujitos Wally and I enjoyed in Seville during Feria.

We struck up a conversation with Magda Navarrete, another one of Ignacia’s managers, who asked if we’d be interested in trying a local snack. I perhaps too eagerly agreed. When she returned from the kitchen, she had a small ramekin filled with crispy, salted chapulines, or grasshoppers. She was so endearing, we figured what the hell, we might as well try it.

I popped the grasshopper into my mouth. “Respect!” Magda called out. Wally, meanwhile, grimaced as he swallowed his chalupine. “It’s not bad — except when you feel the little legs catching on your throat,” he said.

If you’d prefer to embark on a hands-on culinary adventure, you can take a cooking class and spend the day with chefs Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz at Casa Jacaranda, located in the same building as the Ignacia.

Duke and Wally imitating Ignacia’s pose

Duke and Wally imitating Ignacia’s pose

With so much to see, it was impossible for us to fit everything on our original itinerary into one trip. Wally and I are already dreaming of our next visit to CDMX and staying in one of the suites at 208 Jalapa Street. And while the spirit of Ignacia may have lent the property its character, it was the incredible staff that made our experience memorable. –Duke

A chic and friendly option in one of the safest neighborhoods in Mexico City

A chic and friendly option in one of the safest neighborhoods in Mexico City

Ignacia Guest House
Jalapa 208
Roma Norte
06700 Ciudad de México
CDMX
México

Alila Ubud: A Luxury Resort Nestled in a Jungle Valley

Can we just talk about the amazing infinity pool at this Bali hotel? And the amazing food? And the monkeys scurrying about?

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

By the time I began looking for places for Wally and me to stay in Ubud, Bali, I was faced with an overwhelming amount of choices. I wanted to be close to the town’s cultural center, temples, shops and restaurants, but far enough away that it would feel like a retreat from the inevitable throngs of tourists. One look at an image of the epic infinity pool overlooking a landscape of tropical jungle greenery on the Alila Ubud website and I was hooked.

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside.
The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

When we landed at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, it was well after midnight and buzzing with new arrivals. Apparently we weren’t the only flight to reach the isle of Bali so late at night — or early, depending on how you look at it. After collecting our luggage, we met our chauffeur outside the terminal and asked if the airport was typically this crowded. He replied with a smile, “Yes, always.”

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

Alila Ubud

Our base for our Bali trip was the Alila Ubud, which is just over an hour’s drive from the airport. Located high up in the mountain village of Payangan, our real adventure began once our driver turned onto a private meandering road that led to the resort. It was well after 2 a.m. when we checked in, following a nearly 24-hour journey from Chicago. The concierge warmly greeted us at the reception pavilion, offering us cold towels and jamu, a traditional Indonesian healing tonic.

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The concierge escorted us to our room and instructed us to secure the patio doors leading to the balcony to prevent a wild monkey infiltration. “Does it have a name?” Wally asked. To which the concierge replied, “No, there are many.”

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

Alila, formerly the Chedi, was conceived by the acclaimed firm Kerry Hill Architects. The sprawling, tranquil complex is surrounded by rice terraces and is roughly 15 minutes from Ubud, the enclave that exploded exponentially after Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir and subsequent movie, Eat, Pray Love.

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

The hotel’s layout was inspired by traditional Balinese hillside villages and has been adapted to the site’s topography. Paths meander past the property’s rooms and private treehouse-like guest villas. Stepped walkways evoke the surrounding terraced rice paddies. Paying respect to traditional Balinese architecture, local materials have been thoughtfully incorporated into its design, including hand-cut volcanic stone, alang alang grass thatch and coconut wood. Stones from the Ayung River were used in the steps and exterior walls. As a result, the Alila’s earthy palette harmoniously blends with the landscape surrounding the resort.

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The elongated open-air dining pavilion, Plantation, is located beneath a grass canopy supported by soaring palm pillars and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The executive chef behind the signature restaurants creations is Erwan Wijaya, whose menu features regional Balinese and international cuisine using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Service was friendly and impeccable. We had the pleasure of being attended to on more than one occasion by the lovely Marianthi.

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Wally likes pink drinks best

Wally likes pink drinks best

Breakfast options changed daily and we were always excited to try the trio of shareable juices and smoothies, tropical fruit plate, assorted pastries and varieties of nasi goreng. Plus, the coffee was excellent and brewed to order. We tried to exclude Western fare, but one morning we did cave. I tried the bostock brioche French toast with almond cream and Wally the eggs Benedict, which were equally delicious.

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

A Room With a View

We stayed in an understated superior room, which was cozy, with its vaulted thatched ceiling and limestone floors. Our king-size bed was shrouded in netting, which Wally loved to close in the evening, picturing himself, no doubt, as a Victorian-era naturalist traveling through the tropics. Also sharing our room was a gecko who chose to evaluate us from afar, perched high upon the wall. One night, we were awoken by a couple of monkeys fitfully skittering across our rooftop.

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Our room included small touches with a big impact, including refillable glass bottles of water that were replenished daily and eco-friendly reusable bamboo straws.

After sightseeing and wandering Ubud, the private balcony attached to our room was the perfect perch to unwind and enjoy a quiet moment to read. We were happy that our room was centrally located, near the pool and restaurant. The complex, which seems to stretch for miles, required a few guests to be transported in golf carts to reach their rooms.

We hired a driver and ventured out daily, but if you decided to stay on the resort grounds, the Alila offers bikes for exploring the outlying area, an art gallery that features regional arts and crafts, a small boutique and a spa.

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

To fill in time between meals and relaxing, the Alila offers complimentary afternoon coffee and tea with an assortment of bite-size desserts. They even offer nightly entertainment, including movies by the pool.

The stairs are lit at night

The stairs are lit at night

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The hotel’s shuttle service has fixed arrival and departure times, but we found it fairly easy to hire a cab for about $6 to return us to the resort. The staff was personable and always wished us a good morning. When we would return after a day’s exploration, they welcomed us back, addressing us as Mr. Duke and Mr. Wally.

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

To Infinity and Beyond

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside. Our room’s proximity to the pool made it easy to have a quick swim every morning before breakfast, steam rising from the water as the sun rose.

Morning yoga classes overlooking the pool were held at the Cabana Lounge, where guests can take in views of the forest while holding a warrior pose.

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

A minor criticism is the internet system, which required entering a complicated code for every use. This is particularly irritating on a smartphone, when you are logged out every time the phone goes idle. On top of that, the signal was weak at every time but the middle of the night. Our jet lag-induced insomnia was the only time we were able to use wifi.

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Looking out at the mist-covered tropical greenery as we left on our final morning, Wally and I reflected upon our stay, knowing we had been somewhere special, a place we wouldn’t soon forget. –Duke

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

alilaubuddetails.JPG

Alila Ubud
Desa
Melinggih Kelod
Payangan, Gianyar
Bali 80572
Indonesia

Plataran Borobudur: A Luxury Resort in a Dream Setting

Looking for a Borobudur hotel on Java? Pamper yourself at a private villa with your own pool in the hills above the scenic Buddhist temple.

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

The Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa ticked all the right boxes for Wally and me. From its proximity to the iconic 9th century Buddhist monument Borobudur, which could be seen in the distance from our private villa’s very own infinity pool, the decision was easy.

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

Owned and developed by Indonesian entrepreneur Yozua Makes, the secluded Plataran Borobudur Resort, part of the Plataran hospitality group, is a one-of-a-kind luxury retreat nestled in the hills in Tanjungan Village in Central Java.

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

Even though it was late at night when Wally and I arrived, weary from our delayed flight, after a 90-minute drive from the Yogyakarta International Airport, we were greeted with a smile and offered cool towels and welcome drinks at reception. While completing the check-in process, I heard a melodious chirping and asked if it was a nocturnal bird. I was informed that it wasn’t birds at all — it was geckos!

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

The concierge assisted us with our luggage and escorted us to our Executive Pool Villa, which would be our oasis for the next few days.

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

Set back from the path leading to the villa were a pair of weathered wood doors, with stone steps beyond that led down to our private courtyard. The spacious, airy interior featured minimalist décor, a king-size bed and a bathroom with a dramatic tub and rain shower. The bottled water wrapped in natural cotton fabric sleeves atop the dual washbasins was a nice touch.

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

A pair of sliding wood shutter doors leading into the villa regulates the amount of sunlight when closed and allows daylight in when open while still maintaining privacy.

Wally basks in the sun

Wally basks in the sun

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

On our first day, we decided to keep our itinerary open and barely left our villa. When we awoke that morning, it was the view that struck us first. Mist hung heavy over the lush greenery surrounding our villa. The sun’s rays bathed Borobudur temple in golden light, and one of the local volcanoes, Mount Merapi, made a brief appearance before coyly disappearing behind the clouds.

Birds splashed in the water at the edge of our private pool while butterflies fluttered by and dragonflies whizzed through the air. We didn’t waste much time before changing into our swimsuits and jumping in.

This planter once served as a signpost

This planter once served as a signpost

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

The name Plataran means “God’s favorite courtyard,” and it’s easy to see why. Hidden amongst the palms and towering teak trees, each of the 21 standalone villas blends in with the stunning local landscape, and are modeled after the traditional Javanese joglo house. Their steeply pitched pedestal clay tile rooftops are built to resemble stylized mountain peaks.

We opted to spend the afternoon exploring the grounds and stopped off at the reception lobby to confirm the details for our sunrise visit to Borobudur. A gamelan musician with a serene smile was playing a xylophone-like instrument.

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

Each location offers a variety of pre-arranged tours including a driver and guides. Wally and I threw in 60-minute spa treatments. If you’re going to relax, you might as well to go all in, right?

While wandering the grounds, we stumbled upon a menagerie of animals at the foot of a hill, including a flock of adorable spotted deer, a bashful peacock, a strutting male turkey that Wally named the Colonel and more than a few wild grouse roaming freely.

If you’re interested in horseback riding, a stable and riding compound is available. It’s visible from the reception area.

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We did of course leave our room every morning for the impressive breakfast buffet served at the Patio Joglo, an open-air pavilion with a telescope smartly positioned for viewing Borobudur. This amazing spread included assorted pastries, fresh tropical fruit and juices. One of my faves was the jamu kunyit, a blend of galangal, tamarind and turmeric. A main course of traditional Indonesian or Western fare is included.

The scruptious breafast buffet

The scruptious breafast buffet

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

Breakfast was served with coffee, and Wally’s request for an iced latte was happily accommodated. On our first morning, we met the lovely Ni Komang Darmiati, the resort manager, who goes by Mia. While deciding what to get, she suggested an off-the-menu item, the delicious nasi goreng magelangan, a local riff on the country’s national dish. The aromatic meal included a mix of rice and glass noodles topped with a banana leaf hat. Small but potent green peppers were distributed into the dish and packed a pleasantly surprising amount of heat.

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

The resort’s signature dining restaurant, Patio Colonial, overlooks the resort’s pool and was constructed as a Dutch Colonial plantation house with a wraparound porch. Filled with historic memorabilia, it serves a tasty mix of Indonesian and international cuisine.

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The dining room

The dining room

The bar

The bar

Complimentary afternoon tea is served with a variety of Indonesian snacks on the open-air rooftop deck atop the three-story reception building, offering compelling views of the Menorah Hills and Borobudur.

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

Wally and I were well taken care of by the friendly and courteous Haris, one of the servers we spoke with on more than one occasion during our stay. Like all the staff at the resort, he consistently and courteously replied, with an ever-present smile, “My pleasure” after every request.

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

Our four days at the Plataran Borobudur was the relaxing break that we both needed before heading back to reality. The wonderfully helpful Fuad and Merry made us feel as though we were guests at a friend’s luxurious estate for the duration of our stay.

A fruit bowl at our villa

A fruit bowl at our villa

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

You could stay at the hotel adjacent to Borobudur, or you could pamper yourself at a first-class resort with your own private pool. Really, the choice couldn’t be more simple. –Duke

Kovalam: A Hippie Haven in Kerala

This small beach town in South India isn’t your typical Indian experience — but it has its own intensity.

A stay in Kovalam isn’t your typical Indian experience. As a beach town, it’s much more laidback

A stay in Kovalam isn’t your typical Indian experience. As a beach town, it’s much more laidback

Most people who travel to India don’t do so on a whim. But Kelly was at an impasse in her yoga practice and sought a spiritual kickstart. So when she saw that David Garrigues, a yoga instructor she admires, would be in a small beach town in the South of India, not five minutes had passed before she had booked her ticket.

Here Kelly shares her life-changing Indian spirit journey. –Wally

Kelly had a magical time on her solo adventure in Kovalam

Kelly had a magical time on her solo adventure in Kovalam

In Kovalam, all of the sidewalks have very high walls built up around them. If you are passing someone, and they don’t turn their body, you will touch them. That is how tight the space is.
All sorts of interesting people flock to Kovalam for its beaches and focus on wellness

All sorts of interesting people flock to Kovalam for its beaches and focus on wellness

Tell us about Kovalam.

It’s a small town on the beach, but super touristy. Apparently, Kovalam used to be this hippie haven. I remember on my second day there, I was sitting in this restaurant overlooking the ocean and looking around and being like, What are all these random people doing here at the edge of the world? You have these old ladies from Russia who are decked out in all of this costume jewelry, and you have the beautiful, sleek yogis and the Brazilians who are there backpacking through India, and it just seemed like such a strange group of people who had gathered there.

Hints of the chaos of India slip into even this idyllic town

Hints of the chaos of India slip into even this idyllic town

The other thing that struck me was the overwhelming sense of anonymity. This was a place I could navigate as my true self versus the self that I have cultivated here with my friends and work.

Most of the locals spoke English, which I didn’t expect. I’ve heard a lot about India, but I think the experience of this town was a lot different. Though I will say there was a certain amount of chaos — leaving the airport in Trivandrum and getting to Kovalam was insane: people on rickshaws and bikes weaving in and out of traffic.

It seemed like everything was in a different stage of being constructed or being torn down. And there were people burning garbage, fires lining the street, and all this new construction, and in front of that, there’d be old men in loincloths selling fruit. It was this bizarre mix of new construction and old tradition.

Johny’s Beach House is like staying in a treehouse

Johny’s Beach House is like staying in a treehouse

Where did you stay in Kovalam?

I stayed at a place called Johny’s Beach House. It was like stepping into a jungle. It’s only four rooms. But he has this huge garden — there are literally monkeys that will climb through the trees there.

Johny himself — his warm heart is why his B&B is a top-rated place to stay in Kovalam

Johny himself — his warm heart is why his B&B is a top-rated place to stay in Kovalam

The garden at Johny’s is filled with lush greenery — and the occasional monkey

The garden at Johny’s is filled with lush greenery — and the occasional monkey

Johny built Johny’s Beach House, this hilarious, quirky treehouse, four years ago and he’s been running it ever since. He comes from this really small village and worked his way up in the tourism industry in Kovalam and now he’s the highest-rated place to stay. Which all of the other hotels are really baffled by because they don’t understand why this tiny little treehouse four-bedroom B&B is the top-rated place. But the thing is, when people stay there, they aren’t rating the B&B itself — they’re rating Johny, because he is such a personality, with this quirky sense of humor and is super engaging and really creative. That is his space, and it’s completely a representation of him.

Breakfast at Johny’s

Breakfast at Johny’s

Every morning Johny would make me this porridge with bananas and cardamom and different nuts when I’d get back from yoga. And I’d eat it on my balcony and read my yoga books. It was beautiful.

 

Did you ever feel unsafe in Kovalam?

There was only one time. I was coming home late. In Kovalam, the way that the town is structured — all of the sidewalks have very high walls built up around them. I bet they’re 7-foot walls. If you are passing someone, and they don’t turn their body, you will touch them. That is how tight the space is.

That was the challenge: getting anywhere. Google Maps doesn’t have all those tiny twists and turns, so I would literally allot 40 minutes to get to a place because I was like a mouse in the middle of a maze — even if it was a 5-minute walk away. Because the sidewalks were built around the homes, there would be dead ends; the sidewalk would turn into a dirt path that would go into somebody’s house. I got lost a bunch of times and one time had to be rescued.

It’s actually sad. Johnny told me that as the tourism industry took off in Kovalam, a lot of these hotels and restaurants and visitor homes built up the walls to prevent locals from entering their properties. And so in way, it was this discriminatory measure, to appeal more to the tourists.

It was a problem if you were coming toward a group of men and they didn’t make any sign of moving. That happened a few times, and it’s very intentional — people do that on purpose with women.

A strange encounter in the walled labyrinthine sidewalks in Kovalam

A strange encounter in the walled labyrinthine sidewalks in Kovalam

There was one time I was coming home late. There was a little dog I made friends with while I was there and it hung out outside of Johny’s Beach House and it would follow me around everywhere. I would go find it in the morning and he would follow me to the market or the beach. So he was my little buddy for two weeks.

This little fella followed Kelly everywhere she went in Kovalam and acted as her guard dog

This little fella followed Kelly everywhere she went in Kovalam and acted as her guard dog

Did you name the doggie?

He was just little Sweeters. So this one night I was walking home and there was a drunk man who I think was maybe following me. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I was starting to get that danger feeling, and a few moments later, I heard the dog start growling. Sweeters was snapping at the man. So I ran to the gate, opened it really fast and shut it.

 

What was it like being in such a small town?

Everyone watched your every move. The locals would ask, “Where are you from? Where are you staying? What are you doing?” And then they’d track me. They’d say, “Oh, I saw that you were at the blah-blah-blah the other day.” Or I’d meet somebody at a restaurant and they’d say, “You’re studying with David.” Everyone knew everyone’s business, which was really crazy.

People would ask me, “Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend?” It was very intrusive.

You’ll see offering bowls, like this one at Johny’s Beach House, all over Kerala

You’ll see offering bowls, like this one at Johny’s Beach House, all over Kerala

What was the most interesting Indian custom you encountered?

I really like the head bob. I had to ask Johny, “What does this mean?” And he was like, “Sometimes it means yes. Sometimes it means no. Sometimes it means they didn’t understand what you said.” And I was like, “Oh, that clears it up. Thanks.”

But I also found myself kind of doing it.

Because Johny and I became friends, I was able to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to as a tourist. I spent a lot of time on the back of Johny’s motorbike, clinging on for dear life, struggling to breathe through the pollution. But it was like seeing this area through the eyes of a local.

We went to this really bizarre restaurant in Trivandrum. It seemed like this restaurant was a converted version of a twisty parking garage ramp. There are all these booths along the far wall as the restaurant spirals upward. I guess it’s the place to go in Trivandrum if you want coffee or dosa, which is like a crepe.

Kelly likes to play with her food, as seen on this houseboat restaurant

Kelly likes to play with her food, as seen on this houseboat restaurant

What was the food like in Kerala?

I’m obsessed with food. But surprisingly, I was underwhelmed.

The yoga studio that I go to in Chicago, the owner was coincidentally in Kovalam at the same time, doing a completely separate retreat. So I spent a lot of time with his people, and he had a house and has been going there for 20 years. He knows everything about Kovalam. And he had a neighbor friend, this woman, who made all of this food for us for our final meal. It was thali [the Indian version of tapas] served on a banana leaf — it was definitely the best meal that I had.

Thali, presented on this banana leaf, consists of small bites of different dishes, much like tapas

Thali, presented on this banana leaf, consists of small bites of different dishes, much like tapas

Kelly: What does the head bob mean?

Johny: Sometimes it means yes. Sometimes it means no. Sometimes it means they didn’t understand what you said.

Kelly: Oh, that clears it up. Thanks.

Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette: Your Oasis in Chiang Mai

East meets West at this chic boutique hotel.

The open-air lobby of the Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The casual chic 19-room Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette is perched on the east bank of the tranquil Mae Ping River in the Wat Ket district of Chiang Mai. The premises are a 15-minute walk from the Old Quarter, where ancient Buddhist wats (temples) and winding sois (side streets) await. It’s close to the action and yet seemingly a world away from the tourist hordes.

What makes the hotel even more spectacular is its saltwater infinity pool. We made it a priority to immerse ourselves in its refreshing water once a day.

One of our many favorite spots at this charming boutique hotel was the saltwater infinity pool

Inside, the minimalist, airy central courtyard opens dramatically, serving as the main architectural element that connects the main floor with the restaurant and guest rooms. Composed of concrete walls, the clean-lined contemporary structure was designed by the Bangkok-based husband and wife team Sitt and Preechaya Therakomen of Studio Agaligo. Along one wall, crisp white quatrefoil porticoes offer a glimpse of the outside world, contrasted against a dark gray wall. A rectangular pool containing goldfish is flanked by a pair of Tang Dynasty-style horse statues.

Taking cues from the enclave’s Chinese merchant past, Thai interior designer Rachan Chokenana has woven elements of chinoiserie throughout the hotel’s public spaces.  

What makes the hotel even more spectacular is its saltwater infinity pool. We made it a priority to immerse ourselves in its refreshing water once a day.

 

We stayed in one of the Willow Suites, with our own patio in a quiet courtyard

Get a Room

We stayed in one of the Willow Suites, located on the ground floor. The room was intimate, but the 14-foot-high ceilings made it feel spacious — plus we had our very own private terrace with a nook to relax with a good book. The room’s interior is thoughtfully laid out and included a mini refrigerator that’s stocked with bottled water daily, a real plus when you are heading out first thing in the morning and don’t want to stop for provisions.

Our bed at the Ping Silhouette

Luxurious textures and materials like quartz, marble and brass make up the bathroom. A sculptural vessel sink and a dark green tiled shower, complete with a rain shower head, gave us serious bathroom envy.

We dined on the patio every morning in the Café des Artists

Café des Artists

 The hotel has an onsite restaurant that occupies the ground floor off the courtyard. Named Café des Artists, the interior references the merchant shophouses that once occupied the alleyways of the Wat Ket neighborhood. A black steel and glass wall serves as a partition with glass louvers that open to the outdoors.

Breakfast kicks off with these delicious beignets

This fresh basket is just one of three courses included with breakfast

You can get a rice dish for breakfast — or eggs, if you prefer

Accents of green and blue used in the restaurant echo the narrative of the hotel’s public and private spaces. Vibrant touches, including bursts of freshly cut brightly colored orchids displayed in blue and white ginger jars, are balanced by the staff’s monochromatic cement gray three-quarter sleeve jersey cotton shirts paired with modern-cut linen wrap pants.

Turn left to the coffeeshop; turn right for the restaurant

We sat on the covered outdoor patio every morning and gazed out onto the terrace, which is filled with graceful willow trees whose branches flutter gently in the breeze, or are perhaps swayed from the weight of a lone squirrel racing from one branch to another. In the early morning, the sound of myna birds is replaced by an orchestra of cicadas.

It didn’t take long for the friendly and attentive staff to learn our coffee preferences

For breakfast, Wally and I enjoyed the delightfully decadent fritters served with a delicious dipping glaze in a small bamboo steamer basket. These were followed by an assortment of fresh fruit, sliced into wedges, including dragon fruit, watermelon, honeydew and papaya. Toast is served in a small paper bag with a silver butter spreader. Wally particularly liked the creative variation on eggs Benedict, which are perfectly paired with a curry twist.

A bright blue floor and chair offer a delightful surprise at the top of the stairs

Above you, pink paper lanterns offer a bit of modern whimsy

By blending local elements with modern amenities, the Hotel Ping Silhouette provides a comfortable and memorable stay. Honey and Bird, who manage reception and concierge duties at the hotel, are outstanding and found us an excellent driver to take us to take on a day trip outside the city.

Duke peeks from an opening in the three-story lobby

The waitstaff, including Ball, Keng and Tan, remembered our room number and our afternoon coffee preference: an iced unsweetened latte for Wally and a Thai iced coffee for me.

Duke rests by the Ping Silhouette’s front door

Wally plays in a detail off the lobby

If you’re visiting Chiang Mai, we highly recommend Ping Silhouette, where the grounds are gorgeous, the style astounding and the service impeccable. –Duke


Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette
181 Chareonraj Road
Wat Gate
Muang, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand

137 Pillars House: Where Luxury and History Meet

Searching for Chiang Mai hotels? How’s a personal butler, serene grounds and an epic pool sound?

The Drawing Room at 137 Pillars, a lovely spot for tea

The Drawing Room at 137 Pillars, a lovely spot for tea

While researching our trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I came across the fascinating story of the meticulous restoration of the former Borneo Trading Company headquarters, which was transformed into the stunning 137 Pillars House luxury hotel. As luck would have it, this special place was located in the Wat Gate enclave, where we were staying. 

Upon our arrival at the property, we stopped in at reception, where we were welcomed by a lovely woman named Charm, who led us along a footpath through the lush and serene compound to the original teak homestead where the eponymous Jack Bain’s Bar, named after its previous inhabitant, is located.

The plan was to have it as a vacation home. But the new owners decided, we can’t keep this to ourselves. We have to share this with everyone.
The Jack Bain’s Bar got a whole new look (and an actual bar!) last year

The Jack Bain’s Bar got a whole new look (and an actual bar!) last year

A Trip Back in Time at the Jack Bain’s Bar

The spirit of the past still lingers in the air, and you feel as though you’re stepping back in time as you enter the intimate space. A photo of two of the home’s illustrious past residents, Jack Bain and Louis Leonowens, hang behind the bar.

Louis was the son of Anna Leonowens, the tutor to Prince Chulalongkorn, son of King Mongkut, from the fabled story of Anna and the King of Siam, or more famously known from the fictionalized 1950s Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I. Louis joined the Borneo Trading Company in 1886 and established its Chiang Mai headquarters in 1889. He was the first resident of the home.

 The bar is named after Jack Bain, whose father bought the compound from the company.

“Jack was a colorful character and a bit of a playboy. He loved drinking and loved the company of women, which was quite the opposite of his Scottish father, William” said Santhiti Arunsit, who goes by San, the director of sales for 137 Pillars.

His family compound remains close by.

The bar’s interior was refurbished in December 2016 — it used to have more of a library feel, and there wasn’t an actual bar. A luxe leather-tufted bar was added, giving the interior the aura of a prestigious British gentleman’s club. Black and white images documenting the history of the Borneo Company hang on its richly paneled walls, and jazz music plays through the speakers.

We sat upon an avocado green leather grid-tufted sofa and met with San, our cordial host for the afternoon.

One of the most luxurious hotels in Chiang Mai, 137 PIllars has a rich history

One of the most luxurious hotels in Chiang Mai, 137 PIllars has a rich history

He had recently visited the 32-story sister property in Bangkok, which includes 179 residences and 34 suites on the top nine floors. Located in the capital’s Thonglor business and shopping district, the hotel boasts a rooftop infinity pool with 360-degree views of the city.

“It carries the same DNA as 137 Pillars but is more modern,” with such features as a freestanding circular bathtub that comfortably fits two, San told us, adding that every property will have a Jack Bain’s Bar.

I contemplated getting the theatrical Signature Cocktail, which is served in a flaming coconut, but in the end I’m a sucker for a well-crafted old-fashioned. The Jack Bain’s Bar version does not disappoint and is appropriately named the Aged Teak, which Wally and I both chose. 

The Aged Teak cocktail is a take on an old-fashioned — but with cinnamon smoke in a cloche for a dramatic reveal

The Aged Teak cocktail is a take on an old-fashioned — but with cinnamon smoke in a cloche for a dramatic reveal

We were captivated as we observed the bartender masterfully prepare our drinks. After mixing the cocktail, a piece of cassia bark, the tree that cinnamon comes from, was burnt over the boozy beverage and a glass cloche placed atop. This imbues the cocktail with a slightly smoky note and makes for a spectacular presentation. Like a genie leaving its bottle, a wisp of cinnamon-scented smoke escapes the glass when the cloche is lifted.

 

The grounds of the hotel are gorgeous and quiet

The grounds of the hotel are gorgeous and quiet

The History of the 137 Pillars House

When Bangkok-born Panida Wongphanlert arrived in Chiang Mai looking for a relaxing getaway from the capital city’s frenetic pace, I’m betting she had no idea the role a centuries-old colonial teak estate would play.

After enjoying the laidback northern city of Chiang Mai as a casual visitor, Wongphanlert began putting some serious thought into purchasing a weekend home there, where she could stay when she desired an escape from urban life.

Encouraged by her family, she repeatedly revisited the northern city intent on finding the perfect vacation home. On one of these sojourns, she discovered the historic residence referred to by locals as the Baan Dam, Black House — so called as the teakwood had acquired a sinister and charred hue, due to natural weathering and the repeated application of linseed oil by its previous inhabitant to ward off termites. It’s located in the Wat Gate district, where foreigners, many of whom were involved in the teak trade, were required by law to live at that time.

These bicycle tuk-tuks sit out front of the 137 Pillars hotel

These bicycle tuk-tuks sit out front of the 137 Pillars hotel

Wongphanlert was told that the property belonged to the Bain family, and when she was granted permission to the visit the compound, the house was vacant, neglected and hidden by dense tropical overgrowth. The walls of the structure sagged, but despite this, the charm and character as well as original features, including detailed fretwork, remained intact.

Once she learned the layered history of the Black House, Wongphanlert fell in love with the property and felt compelled to share its story. With the vision to return the homestead to its former greatness, and the permission of Bain’s eldest daughter, she acquired the compound in 2005, and the Wongphanlert Holding Company was established.

 

Scale and Potential

“The original plan was to have the home as a vacation home,” San told us. “But they decided, we can’t keep this to ourselves. We have to share this with everyone.”

To get it right, Wongphanlert, herself a trained architect, sought to restore the weathered teak homestead, which took over four years, enlisting the expertise of Chiang Mai University architect and lecturer Julaporn Nathapanich. She also collaborated with Habita Architects on the design of the surrounding British colonial-style structures to create a relaxing 30-suite luxury hotel. The suites are named after three of the original founders of the West Borneo Trading Company.

The distinctive heritage Anglo-Malay-style structure that houses the Jack Bain’s Bar gives the hotel its name: 137 Pillars (alluding to the number of teak posts that once elevated the structure to protect it from flooding). Architectural elements, such as the ornamental fretwork, had to be painstakingly repaired, revived or created anew.

Step into another world behind the whitewashed wall 

Step into another world behind the whitewashed wall 

This approach maintained the integrity of the original teak house, which involved moving the house via hydraulic lift — “slowly,” San says — to the middle of the property. Deteriorated parts that were unsalvageable were removed and faithfully reproduced, keeping the historical features intact. The pillars were replaced, and the structure was raised, allowing adequate air circulation beneath the building to avoid rot. Load-bearing steel beams were added to ensure structural integrity. If floodwater comes, it doesn’t compromise the structure above.

During this process, an odd mix of relics was discovered, including an Edison light bulb, crockery fragments, ornate wood carvings, bottles and even a bathtub. A few of these curiosities are now displayed under the home next to the glass-walled gym.

The Dining Room serves up breakfast and Asian dishes

The Dining Room serves up breakfast and Asian dishes

The homestead now accommodates two restaurants. Palette is so named as it features the works of local artists, and the striking Dining Room, in an adjacent building, with indoor and outdoor seating, is where breakfast is served daily. Palette offers Western cuisine and the Dining Room serves Asian food.

137 Pillars also offers a cooking class where guests can learn how to prepare Thai cuisine. Appropriately named the Kitchen, you are not simply shown how to prepare a dish but are taken to a local market, accompanied by the instructor, to shop for ingredients.

 

Two of the hotel’s cabañas

Two of the hotel’s cabañas

Garden Sanctuary

The grounds were transformed by landscape design studio P9. The old house provided the starting point and conceptual foundation, making it the foremost element within. The courtyard includes mature native trees that were incorporated into the design, with plaques identifying their genus.

A dramatic five-story living wall of climbing green vines cleverly obscures the view of the world beyond the hotel walls. If you want to cool off, take a dip in the sapphire blue pool beneath

A dramatic five-story living wall of climbing green vines cleverly obscures the view of the world beyond the hotel walls. If you want to cool off, take a dip in the sapphire blue pool beneath

The stunning swimming pool is shielded on one side by a 50-foot-high living wall of vines.

 

The Suite Life

Guests can experience accommodations reflecting the stately colonial era, with the comfort of modern amenities. Each room has a personal butler and a spacious suite set amid the tranquil tropical grounds.

San showed us two of these opulent suites, which any guest would be remiss not to let their worries float away in the idyllic setting.

 

Rajah Brooke Suites

The Rajah Brooke Suite’s bedroom

The Rajah Brooke Suite’s bedroom

The charming porch is a highlight of the Rajah Brooke Suite

The charming porch is a highlight of the Rajah Brooke Suite

Who wouldn’t want to take a bath in this adorable tub?

Who wouldn’t want to take a bath in this adorable tub?

There are a total of three Rajah Brooke Suites. The rooms include a personal bar, pre-loaded iPod, four-poster king-size bed and walk-in wardrobe. The tiled veranda has a daybed and a rattan rocking chair. The spacious bathroom with dual washbasins leads to a private garden patio with an outdoor rain shower.

 

Louis Leonowens Suite (the Pool Suite)

The sitting room of the Louis Leonowens Suite, better known as the Pool Suite

The sitting room of the Louis Leonowens Suite, better known as the Pool Suite

The Leonowens Suite’s bedroom

The Leonowens Suite’s bedroom

This spacious suite is as luxurious as it gets. Consisting of a large sitting room with a library of curated books and comfortable sofa and chairs, it would be easy to never want to leave. This room even comes with a private plunge pool. Elephant-motif sculptures and black and white framed photos of old Chiang Mai on the walls evoke the city’s history.

If you’re looking for distinctive luxury lodgings with a glimpse into Chiang Mai’s colonial past, 137 Pillars House has it all and then some. –Duke


137 Pillars House
2 Soi 1, Nawatgate Road
Tambon Wat Gate
Muang Chiang Mai, 50000 Thailand

The Ups and Downs of Running a Somerset Inn

The Bowlish House, a gem of Georgian architecture near Bath and Wells, honors the past, while the English village of Shepton Mallet marches into the modern era.

The Bowlish House in the village of Shepton Mallet is a beautiful inn and wedding venue

 

I met Len and Martin many years ago when they were living in a three flat they owned in Evanston, Illinois that they had lovingly restored. Their home, on the top floor, was tastefully appointed with a mix of traditional furnishings and antiques (Martin ran an antique business, which I briefly worked for, and Len ran the Chicago Children's Memorial White Elephant Resale Shop).

According to Len, the property was haunted, particularly the front entrance hall and basement. “I never saw the bearded man who walked up and down the front stairs, but others did. In the basement, you would get an occasional sighting of a woman in 1920s dress. You always knew when she was around, as the scent of patchouli was in the air.”

The Bowlish House’s drawing room was featured in the compelling BBC series “Broadchurch.”

Len and I caught up recently and it was not a complete surprise to discover that he and Martin had moved to the U.K. and purchased the Bowlish House, a storied historic guesthouse in the town of Shepton Mallet. The drawing room was featured in the compelling BBC series Broadchurch. –Duke

You don’t have to be staying at the Bowlish House to enjoy tea or a drink in the Georgian Room, modeled after an English country house

What led you to the village of Shepton Mallet?

When we first moved to Britain, we tried to find jobs that we thought would be satisfactory, but what we were used to does not exist. So we decided to either run a pub or an inn. After looking for a year, we found the Bowlish House listed on an online real estate site. It was the right size and also the right price.

 

How’d the town get its unusual name?
The town got its name from two brothers, Roger and Robert Mallet (pronounced “mal-lay”) who fought with William the Conqueror when the Normans invaded England in 1066. Shepton is an old word for a sheep enclosure. All the money here was made in the woolen trade.

One of the bedrooms at the Bowlish House

How did you decide to start a B&B?
We actually bought the business that was up and running, though not doing well. We then set to turning it around, which has been quite successful. However, the downside is that the amount of maintenance required on a 300-year-old house is shocking.

 

Did you renovate at all?

We are continuously working on the house to upgrade it and also to bring back the look of a country house in the 18th century.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available in the Cape Cod Room at the Bowlish House, where diners can enjoy panoramic views of the gardens

Are there any fun local traditions?

Unfortunately, the most popular local activity seems to be getting drunk and brawling on the high street, with an occasional bit of Morris dancing thrown in.

 

What is there to do in town?

The town is minute and suffers the same fate of most rural English villages have: the shopping mall. All the little shops are gone and have been replaced by Chinese takeaways. It is much better to drive 10 minutes to the city of Wells. Farther afield are Bath and Bristol, which are worth a visit.

 

What’s Bath like?

Bath is second only to London where style, fashion and the arts are concerned. Lots of beautiful and occasionally quirky architecture, interesting museums and nice restaurants. It is also very expensive to live there. I like going there when I need to reconnect with my inner city persona.

 

Any interesting or funny stories about guests or running the inn?
Yes there are stories — most are gross or indecent or both, though.

 

What’s the most charming part of British village life?

Nice pubs, when you come across them. Market days, some of the antiques shops, castles and gardens and the most amazing wildlife. You can see foxes and hedgehogs in the wild. I’m not too wild about the giant slugs, though. Some of the smells are not so good, particularly from the pig farms.

 

Has Brexit affected you at all?

It’s too early to tell about Brexit. The pound has certainly dropped, but it is a benefit to me, as my pensions are in U.S. dollars (yes, I am that old), so I get more than I did a few months ago.

 

And what the heck do Brits think about Trump?

The Donald is considered a huge joke here.There is a sort of horror and amusement regarding him and his politics. There is absolutely no way that any politician here would ever get away the stuff he does. Another aside is that is any politician here started in about their religion, it would be total political suicide.