Friday, December 31, 2010

Sorrento, Italy - La Maison Minervetta

I'm not one for hyperbole, but Sorrento's La Maison Minervetta just topped my list of all time favorite boutique hotels. I stayed here a few weeks ago, during Sorrento's off-season, and truly felt as if I had rented a fully staffed private villa. My room, one of only 12 rooms total, had windows on 3 sides, giving me unfettered views of the entire bay, with Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, as well as the little working fishing port down below in Sorrento. I literally woke up each morning to the sound of lapping waves below. Here is a picture of my room, the spectacular view of Mt. Vesuvius and the fishing port we looked down on:

Morning breakfast was a true delight at La Minervetta. You walk into this amazingly decorated modern kitchen to find the kitchen table covered with treats from the local bakery, fresh ham, salami, italian cheeses and of course your usual breakfast suspects. Francesca, who ran the kitchen and greeted us with the most infectious smile and 'Buon Giorno' each morning was always on hand to make eggs, omelettes, pancakes and frothy cappuccino.

I even got to meet the owner and interior designer, Marco de Luca, while he was dressing the Maison for Christmas. He shared some design secrets (including the phone number of a local artist whom I commissioned a painting from while there) and gave us the wonderful history of his hotel (a villa that has been in the family for years, it used to be a famous restaurant run by his grandfather). He is also the designer behind the breathtaking hotel Capo La Gala.

One should note, however, that it is a good 12-15 minute walk into downtown Sorrento, so if you feel the need to be right in the heart of town, you may not like this location. I enjoyed it even more because it was away from the crowds, and to be honest, Sorrento itself is extremely touristy.

Please explore the hotel's website, their photos of the property are amazing. The interior design is all at once kitschy and inviting, and there must be over 200 fabulous coffee table books to peruse. The owner brings in all the colors and elements of the surrounding sea, the typical Sorrentine pottery and a Madonna here and there. You can discover something new each time you enter the lobby. Here are a few pics I took of the interior.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rome, Italy - Hotel de Russie and Grand Hotel de la Minerve

Finding a place to stay in the Eternal City can be challenging as the options are endless. Location to me is always the deciding factor when choosing lodging. And don't be fooled by hotels that boast "old world European charm"... this directly translates into "we haven't updated our rooms since Nero played the fiddle while he watched Rome burn."

I used to live in Rome and have also stayed in various hotels there as a visitor, so I'd like to share with you my top two favorites.

The Hotel de Russie is a fabulous spot just a stone's throw from the Piazza del Popolo and about a 5 minute walk to the famous Spanish Steps. This is a 5 star hotel with a 5 star price tag, so you may want to sell a kidney on the black market before you pay the bill, you only need one kidney anyway, so go on, indulge yourself! They have a glorious inner garden, known appropriately as the "Secret Garden," where you can dine, have a drink or a stroll and it is a true haven of peace and serenity in such a hectic city. You would never imagine that you are in the heart of Rome in this special space.

Connected to the garden is the famous Stravinskij Bar, where all the fashionable well-heeled Romans hold court for an "aperitivo" or pre-dinner drink. I was there a few Saturday's ago and just sank into one of their purple velvet chairs, listened to the live music and watched the mink coats, stilettos, and huge bobbles glitter right past me. Excellent perch for people watching.

On my last stay at the hotel I was fortunate enough to have a two-room suite overlooking the "Secret Garden." Here is a picture of my room as well as a picture I took of the beautiful tile work in my bathroom:
Photo © courtesy of the Hotel de Russie

My other favorite hotel in Rome is the Grand Hotel de la Minerve. I stayed here this month and had a delightful time getting to know this property. We had a lovely, very spacious (even by American standards) superior room that was on the 5th floor and had windows overlooking the Piazza della Minerva as well as the back side of the Pantheon. The staff were super accommodating and attentive, their restaurant recommendations were spot on (I never take Concierge recommendations because I am convinced that they are paid off, but when I tested them they answered readily with some of my favorite local places to eat in Rome) and you really cannot beat their location. You are literally 500 feet from the Pantheon, which is Rome's living room, and the bells of the stunning Santa Maria sopra Minerva church will wake you gently in the morning.

Not to be missed is the beautiful 6th floor roof top terrace with 360 degree views of Rome. The restaurant on the roof is a quiet celebrity hideaway and a perfect place for an uber-romantic dinner, but comes at a hefty price, so be warned. At least go up for the bird's eye view that includes the domes of the Vatican. Here is a photo I took of the hotel, all dressed up for Christmas, as well as the view of the Piazza below (with the Pantheon sticking out) from our room:

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