Monday, June 27, 2011

An Invitation to Lunch


This is the home of our dear friends Henk and Daniela Blom. There are many such old houses in Lucca, dotted about the hills and facing the ancient city from a stunning vantage point. It's a 17th villa, for the most part, though bits of the house might be even older. This little grotto welcomes you as you arrive in the courtyard, which is a level below the house and main garden.

The garden was originally created by garden designer Francesca Marzotto but the very talented Daniela Sprea Blom has lent the scene her romantic touch, such as this delightful conversation corner under an antique magnolia grandiflora tree, here in bloom

Most of these old villas have what is called a limonaia, a pavilion where potted lemon trees are stored in winter. They always face south and feature these tall windows with shutters, or glass, that open and close as needed—it's enough in this climate that the lemons get sunlight in the coldest months, no heating is required.

The classic gardens in front of lemon houses are where the potted lemons stand in the milder months. An architectural note: an appendage was added to the rear façade of the villa in the 20th century to create a balcony and bathrooms for bedrooms on the upper levels.

These gardens are usually very simple in style, but Francesca Marzotto has added hemerocallis (day lilies, not yet in flower) for summer color and interest.

History is everywhere here, in every old basin, here filled with Nelumbo nucifera—it's the garden's foundation.

This handsome and original fountain fills the rear garden. There are jets of water that play their splashing sounds as you dine nearby on a summer's evening.

This is the scene of Daniela's lunch the other day. Total beauty and pleasure!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sorting Out the Beach Clubs of St Tropez


We've been coming to the same old beach club for more than thirty years. It's called Aqua Club, but it's not a true club at all. You needn't be a member to go there, nor do you need to know a member to get in. You just show up and pay; the pleasure is then yours for the taking.

Concessions such as this are uniquely European.

You're on the beach, but you have all the services you need to have the best time. You arrive and take a lounge chair at the water's edge. It has a comfortable cushion and a parasol overhead, the necessities you didn't have to haul yourself from the parking lot hundreds of yards away. If you want a drink, they bring it to you, coffee, a cocktail, a bottle of spring water in an ice bucket. At lunch time, usually around 1:30 PM, you take those ten steps back to the terrace, which is in fact a proper restaurant with a menu that changes every day. You dine barefoot in your bathing suit. Fresh grilled fish, rosé wine, their famous chocolate tarte, all enjoyed just a short stroll away from the water's edge and with a stunning view of the glistening sea.

Certainly, if you want to do the day up in style there are other clubs along the beach. Les Palmiers is one we'd never choose in a million years. It's right next door to Aqua Club but it's another world. The servers dress as white pirates, look down upon you and are aggressively dismissive of those whom they feel do not measure up to their standards. It's like the old Studio 54 on the beach! While at Aqua Club you pay once, at the end of the day, because they know and trust you, here you must pay cash for each service taken: 30€ for a lounge chair, 8€ for a parasol, etc. When they bring you a drink you have to pay in cash upon receipt.

I have nothing against its design concept; I suppose it's chic. Perhaps they want you to think you're on a $200,000 per week yacht and not at all on the beach.

Every day it fills up with those adrift in a world of overrated pleasures who arrive by water taxi to this safe, imagination-free haven from their enormous yachts anchored just offshore. By noon the disco music can be heard all the way to Corsica. You dine on white tablecloths that fall to the teak floor and drink from high stemmed crystal goblets—it all looks to me like a wedding I'd never be invited to (thank God).

Give me my old Aqua Club any day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Little Hotel with Panache


Hotels such as these come out better when the owner is also the architect or designer. In the case of Le Pre de Mer in St Tropez the couple who created the place are both, he's an architect and she's a talented interior designer. I would dare say that here we have a relationship that functions rather well.

This odd and charming piece of furniture was created just for the project (even if it ends up between the beams). I very much liked this credenza, which looks like an assembly of elements that ordinarily wouldn't happily live together.

There are no surprises in this group of decorative objects, we've seen such chic touches before, but it's the work of a skillful decorator nonetheless and it all invites the eye to delightfully roam.

The sitting room, where breakfast is served in the cooler months, plays with scale and a clever solution to use of space in which you have two conversation areas back to back.

Rustic elements add a natural touch, bringing a bit of the outside in.

The owners bought an existing hotel, which had apparently been done in a Spanish/Provence theme, and made it refreshingly new without changing the original style.

River stones cover a wall in the garden where there's a wooden door, somewhat Asian inspired.

Birch wreaths bring "bio" to the composition.

An oversized chair in the reception room lends an element of whimsey to the clean geometry of the scheme. This is a lovely hotel with cordial service just outside the town of St Tropez. If it had a sea view, or if the rooms had more garden to enjoy, people like me wouldn't be able to afford to stay here. But if you're like us you might opt for something like this over throwing money away. It's stylish and all new, and that means comfort!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Me on the Beach


For us its just four hours away by car, and that's not bad. And the beach is a dream, as you can see by the above photo. A perfect 72 degree water temperature and clear as crystal on this early summer day.

You can stay in forever under this bright St Tropez sunshine.

You must understand that I hadn't left the hotel in this outfit—I'd had on white Bermudas. I felt I'd had enough sun, and this was the shirt. Forgive me.

But some in certain fashion worlds might have thought it intentional.

Luckily we weren't at the smartest of beach clubs.

We were at Aqua Club—more on this later!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda


I suppose the old (1970s) Yacht Club Costa Smeralda at Porto Cervo was in welcome need of a serious makeover in 2003 when it was expanded and redecorated by Peter Marino, the famed New York designer known for his Chanel boutiques. It's more than a little unusual for an Italian institution such as this to go to the States for style—after all, some of the best designers in the world are Italian. But perhaps a yacht club might require that American touch, evocative of the Hamptons, or Newport, Cape Cod, or Bar Harbor, yachting venues that have become synonymous with the "look" of the sport.

It's to the great credit of the Club's direction that they felt this need to be international—it could all so easily have failed with a generic Milan high style that had little to do with what a club like this is all about. This fine boutique, for example, in the club's lobby, is state of the art "class," as opposed to state of the art "bravura."

The pallet, the modern classic armchairs, the teak, the mahogany, the blue casual cushions with an embroidered club logo, all of these thing Marino got right.

I very much admired this impressive arts and crafts style staircase and the sailing collectibles exhibited club style.

This extraordinary center table is made from the saved bits of a decommissioned 18th century ship. The floor, in hand made tiles, employes a simplified version of the club's flag as a geometrical motif.

I can't help but think that the marine paintings were already on the premises before Marino arrived—they're not quite up to all the rest, I feel.

This is an American Bar if ever there was one. Only problem is, Italians are not bar people. If this were in Newport all these chairs would have been occupied by members chowing down on hamburgers, fries and beer, watching the football game on a wall-mounted TV above the bottles in the back (there was no TV here, I'm happy to say). Italians don't "drink." Of course they consume great quantities of wine over meals but sitting at a bar with a cocktail, as we Americans do, they'd be fish out of water.

Someone recently remarked that I never show people in this blog. Well here goes: l. to r., Gil Cohen, Henk Blom, Isabella and Giorgio Vincenzini, our hosts at the Yacht Club, and Daniela Blom.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Porto Cervo


It's the product of a dream and not at all the result of natural occurrences, a gradual accumulation of population and increase in activity. This is a town of tone and luxury, as witnessed by the elegant waiters on their way to work. What happens here, in the homes and shops and restaurants and hotels, bears little resemblance to daily life as most of us know it. This, after all, is Porto Cervo!

The streets are paved, if not with gold then with fine materials most communities can't afford. On the upper floors are residential flats while on the ground floors we find Prada, Hermes and such curiosities as "The Billionaire," the new men's clothing line by Fabio Briatore, of all things!

The harbor is perfect for mid-sized yachts—the big ones go to the Yacht Club one bay further along.

Handsome sailing yachts like this one—this is for me!

And there are the expected sea-view condominiums where the only allowed color is the magenta of bougainvillea.

With views behind you and in front of you, they're worth a high price.

The natural landscape is preserved by decree—no palm trees are permitted, no cypresses that might bring to mind the Italian mainland.

And on this rainy day in June in the town's main square the umbrellas are closed but everything's ready—and so where are all the people? The local newspaper that morning was complaining about the lack of reservations in the Costa Smeralda's famed hotels, wondering if the island as a holiday haven had lost its appeal.

It appealed enough to Gil (in his paper hat).