Monday, July 26, 2010

Ferragamo Does Not Only Make Great Shoes

As consumers, we all seem to gravitate toward certain brands we have grown accustomed to whether it is toothpaste or peanut butter or a particular clothing line.  Over the years, I too have developed a preference in hotel brand, especially when we are talking about Florence, Italy.  To this day, my absolute favorite hotel group in Florence is Lungarno Hotels.  Lungarno Hotel Group's Chairman is Leonardo Ferragamo, son of Salvatore Ferragamo of Italian Shoe fame.

View of the Arno River from Hotel Lungarno

Lungarno Hotel Group owns four properties in Florence, all of which I have toured and one of which I have had the pleasure of staying at.  Year after year, I continue to book all of them and only have clients want to return.  Hotel Lungarno and Lungarno Suites are both located on the Arno River but on opposite sides of the River.  I recently had a couple return whom I booked at Hotel Lungarno.  They savored the location right on the River and after a day of touring, enjoyed sitting on their terrace with a nice glass of wine. Thankfully, prior to their arrival in Florence, I strongly suggested they let me know ahead of time if they wanted to visit any of the museums while in the city, i.e. the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery, the Pitti Palace, etc.  It has been my experience that it is better to let the "locals" handle those arrangements.  By that I mean the incredibly valuable, resourceful and knowledgeable CONCIERGE.  I am one person that values a good Concierge.  They are many times able to move heaven and earth and I appreciate them more than you know.  More on that later.
Hotel Lungarno offers 73 rooms and Jr. Suites.  Amenities include free Wi-Fi internet service, satellite TV, minibar and DVD player on request.  They have a fabulous restaurant, Borgo San Jacopo Ristorante.  On the other side of the Arno is Lungarno Suites.   They offer 44 suites and studios with a fully equipped kitchenette with minibar, microwave, espresso/cappuccino coffee machine, dishwasher and refrigerator.  Both of these hotels are members of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World Group.

A third Lungarno property is the Gallery Hotel Art which is literally only steps from the famous Ponte Vecchio.  I stayed here all three nights that I was last in Florence.  This hotel and the fourth Lungarno property, the Continentale, are both members of the Design Hotel Group.  Gallery Hotel Art and the Continentale are more contemporary in design and feel yet very, very pleasing and comfortable.  The Gallery Hotel Art houses the Fusion Bar & Restaurant and offers all of the usual amenities that the other hotels offer with a total of 74 rooms and suites.  Diagonally across the street is the Continentale which is the smallest of the four hotels with 43 rooms and suites.  Unique to this property is a gym which all other Lungarno hotel guests have free use of as well.  The Bar and Sky Lounge offer a panoramic terrace not to be missed. 
Entrance of the Continentale
I am very excited to also report that Lungarno Hotels has opened their first hotel in Rome!!!  That is on the very top of my list when I return to Rome.  It is called Portrait Suites and is located around the corner from the Spanish Steps.  However, it is smaller than any of their hotels in Florence only offering 14 suites and studios.  I cannot wait to see it!
Lobby at Portrait Suites in Rome
All photos courtesy of Lungarno Hotels

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Primo Restaurant in Rockland, Maine

It seems to be a pattern that a number of my New York hotel colleagues are coming to Maine this summer to enjoy everything we have to offer.  Last Friday evening, we were invited by Rob DelliBovi, Director of Entertainment Sales at the Paramount Hotel in New York, to join him for dinner at Primo in Rockland, Maine.  Frankly, this was such a special experience from beginning to end that I am compelled to write about it.

The diverse menu at Primo changes daily and highlights only the freshest ingredients, much of which are grown on a portion of the four-acre property.  We fortunately arrived a little early for our 7pm dinner reservation.  (Absolutely be sure to make a reservation in advance)  This gave us the opportunity to park in one of the already-congested parking areas and walk around the grounds.  The main gardens are located up the hill from the restaurant.  Having cultivated my own vegetable and herb gardens over the years, roaming from garden to garden was nothing short of a delight.  Primo grows more than 30 types of heirloom tomatoes as well as cauliflower, squash, carrots, turnips and beets just to name a few.

As we walked further up the hill past several greenhouses, we were greeted by quite a crowd of hens, the most beautiful red hens which provide the restaurant with farm fresh eggs.

Their neighbors on the other side of the pathway were especially entertaining-the pigs.  These are not just any pigs.  Primo raises Tamworth pigs, a particular breed from England.  They are fortunate enough to enjoy restaurant scraps as well as pea tendrils and rye grass throughout the summer months.

Primo is also home to hives of Italian bees that produce up to six gallons of honey each fall that is then incorporated into their teas and desserts. 

As a passionate herb gardener, I particularly enjoyed walking through the gardens closest to the restaurant which are home to a wide array of herbs, edible flowers, fruits and berries.

When Rob and his friend, Jeff, arrived, we were quickly seated in one cozy corner of their lovely restored Victorian home.  The service we received from beginning to end was unsurpassed.  I assumed the unfortunate or fortunate responsibility of choosing a bottle of wine for our table.  That was a challenge given the incredible selection they offer.  Between the four of us we ordered their Rigatoni with hot sausage, the Sea Bass special and their most famous Sauteed Scaloppini of Pork Saltimbocca!  For dessert, we enjoyed their house made Cannoli and Gelato. 

Primo is open for three seasons of the year from spring through the New Year.  I strongly urge you to dine here if you are ever near the Rockland, Maine area.  You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

When in Rome.....

A few years ago, I designed a trip to Italy specifically to familiarize myself with various hotels in Rome, Florence and Milan.  At the time, we had several production companies shooting various commercials in Italy.  I toured all of the top luxury hotels while in Rome, but also managed to find a few gems of my own.  I recommended one of these gems to Jeff and Katie for their 5-night stay in "The Eternal City".  It is the Hotel Condotti.

The beauty of this hotel is, frankly, its location.  It is just 20 meters from Piazza di Spagna, the famous Spanish Steps.  Hotel Condotti offers only sixteen rooms which are all equipped with air conditioning, satellite TV, direct dial telephone, fully stocked minibar and private bath.  The Condotti Hotel Group in Rome also owns and operates two deluxe Bed and Breakfasts, the Antico Condotti and the AL 55.  Each B & B offers five rooms.  All guests are welcomed by their multilinqual staff at the reception desk at Hotel Condotti.  Since returning from Rome, I have booked this hotel many times and have only received excellent feedback. Jeff strongly recommends requesting Room No. 414 as it is a large room with a terrific private balcony.

Yesterday, Jeff and Katie sent me the following photographs of the Pantheon and the Roman Forum.  Enjoy!

All Photos Courtesy of Jeff Zwart

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Herding Horses in Iceland

One of my biggest joys that keeps me going in this business is when I have clients traveling to interesting parts of the world and they actually take the time and make the effort to send me photographs.  These are photographs taken last week by a father and his daughter on a trip to Iceland. Jeff explained to me that he and Katie would be herding horses while there. I booked their tickets in April and for the past couple of months, we have all been worried due to the volcanic eruptions.  They flew into Reykjavik the evening of July 1st and on the 7th, they flew on to Rome.

 Photos Courtesy of Jeff Zwart

Friday, July 9, 2010

Olson House in Cushing, Maine

I recently spent a Saturday visiting the Olson House in Cushing, Maine which Andrew Wyeth made so famous in many of his works. The most famous of his paintings which included this house is entitled "Christina's World". Wyeth painted it in 1948 and it is now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Many drawings and paintings were produced by Wyeth depicting life on this saltwater farm, Christina Olson and her younger brother, Alvaro, from 1939 through 1968.   Hours of operation are from 11am to 4pm daily from 29 May through 11 October.  Admission is $5.00. 

The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine purchased six works by Wyeth in 1944 and now has more than twenty-five pieces by him. The Olson House was gifted to the Farnsworth by John and Lee Adams Sculley in 1991.    A drive to visit and tour this house is a must if you find yourself in midcoast Maine.  The Farnsworth Museum has been a terrific steward of this incredibly historic property.  As well as visiting this site, I would encourage you to then drive to Rockland to tour the Farnsworth Museum.  This is an other true gem.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monhegan Lighthouse

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Journey to Monhegan Island

Having returned to Maine after a decade in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I am reminded of how very special and unique Maine truly is. As I have told many, Maine is part of my soul. I have, in every sense, returned home. Since my kids are now in college, I find myself continually searching for new adventures, new places to explore and many more talented people to meet. My career in the travel industry spans the last 16 years and over that time, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy several fabulous clients. To be honest, I live vicariously through many of them. Most of my clients are very well-traveled and fortunately are able to enjoy exquisite pockets of the planet. I will not only share my own travels with you, but will share special places and people and things that I have been introduced to along the way.

It is only appropriate that this entry begins my blogging venture. Until two days ago, I had never visited Monhegan Island here in Maine. This was what I would coin a "Banner Day". I don't bestow that title lightly. This was a day of pure adventure for me. I left my home at 5:20am and drove to Port Clyde where I boarded the 7am ferry to Monhegan Island. The cost was $32.00 for a round trip ferry ticket plus $5.00 to park my car on the dock for the day. One of the greatest joys of the day was that I had previously planned to meet my friend and colleague from New York, Philip Truelove, to take the 7am ferry. Philip and his partner, Howard Weilbacker, have owned the Island Inn on Monhegan for about 15 years.

Since it was a Saturday and the ferry was loaded to the "gills" with cargo, we had to be creative with the remaining space. Fortunately, Philip and I found a seat outside on one side of the "Laura B". The "Laura B" was originally launched in 1943 and was in the Pacific during World War II. For the past 50 years, she has been ferrying passengers, cargo and mail from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island. The ferry delivered us an hour later to the famous Island which I have heard about since childhood.

As we disembarked, many of those waiting on the dock welcomed my friend with big smiles, handshakes and hugs and kisses. I was with a rockstar for the day! Once on the wharf, there she was in front of me dominating the Island. The Island Inn. We slowly made our way past all of the passengers to treat ourselves to a cup of coffee at the Inn. Philip kindly placed a trail map of the Island in my hands and I was off. I promised him that I would stay out of his hair until we would meet for lunch back at the Inn.

Thank God for the Trail Map or I would still be climbing the cliffs on Monhegan. The map is provided by the Monhegan Associates whose mission is to preserve and protect the wild lands, educate the public and support their way of life on the Island. Since I would only be on the Island for the day and returning on the 4:30pm ferry, I was told that it would be realistic for me to be able to hike at least half of the Island before lunch. I set off with Howard's sister, Kris and her husband, Robin. We headed south for Lobster Cove.

Depending on your pace, one could spend hours sifting through sea glass, shells and driftwood. My goal was to take in as much as possible in the short amount of time I had. Kris and Robin returned to the village and I ventured on alone. Following my trail map, I headed northeast to Burnt Head and on to Gull Cove stopping at White Head. White Head is one of the highest elevations on the Island and is nothing short of breathtaking. I was standing on a very high cliff overlooking the Atlantic with only the sound of the seagulls above me. There was not another human being present. I paused to enjoy and savor the moment and continued on. The trail would now take me back to the Western part of the Island where I would end up at the still functional Monhegan Lighthouse.

At the end of the trail, there before me rose the lighthouse. There is something so elegant about the simplicity of the lighthouse and attached white, shake-shingle house which now serves as the Island's museum. The Museum contains many exhibits including objects donated depicting the primary island industries of lobstering and fishing. The Lighthouse Museum and Art Gallery is a must if you visit Monhegan.

A definite highlight of the day was then enjoying the most delicious lunch at the Island Inn. We were joined by Krista and Dan, the innkeepers. As a person from the mainland, I was particularly interested in hearing about all of the aspects of island living and how they keep an Inn like that running so smoothly. They explained how and when all of the fresh foods are ordered and delivered; how guests and inhabitants cope with various medical emergencies; how gasoline and fuel comes to the island to service the various vehicles and generators on the island; how laundry is shipped off the island to be processed, etc. These are all things that most people never think of when visiting an island.

Lunch was outstanding. We enjoyed fish tacos, lobster rolls and crabmeat rolls only to be topped off by fresh Maine blueberry pie and strawberry shortcake!! After lunch, we strolled to various galleries and up to the Lighthouse Museum and Art Gallery. As an art major in college, I was very pleasantly surprised by such an extensive collection of paintings. Some of the artists represented included Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, A.J. Bogdanove, James Fitzgerald, Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth as well as many, many more.

As 4:30pm approached, I found myself feeling sad that I was leaving this incredibly rich island full of so many enchanting people, places and things. For that, I have Philip to thank. To all of you reading this entry, I encourage you to find your way to Monhegan Island. A day is not nearly enough, so plan to stay at the Island Inn and truly enjoy what Monhegan has to offer.

As if my day had not already been fulfilling enough, on the ferry back to the mainland, we passed between two islands, Benner and Allen Islands. These two islands are owned by Betsy Wyeth, widow of Andrew Wyeth. Having been raised in Maine, the Wyeth family and their artwork is part of my blood. When I boarded the "Elizabeth Ann" at the dock on Monhegan, I fortunately situated myself at her bow. As we slowly passed between these two pristine islands, I glanced to my left and was not prepared for the sudden emotions that stirred within me. There she was waving at us all as we cruised past her islands. Betsy Wyeth was standing in the doorway of her beloved home waving to all of us. Does it get any better?