Saturday, May 28, 2011

London, England - A Flat to Call My Own in Belgravia

My new digs
I just completed my transatlantic move to London, and phew, was it ever challenging! I arrived with nine pieces of luggage and my parents in tow, and started the manic search for a flat literally as soon as I landed. I never would have imagined that the housing market here in London is as wildly expensive as it is. 310sq. ft. will run you £425, or $690 a week!! We saw some pretty horrific flats (one in Mayfair may have even been a brothel, we are still uncertain) and then by sheer luck, I found a place just off my absolute favorite street in Central London's Belgravia neighborhood: Motcomb Street. The location alone sold me on this flat, which feels more like an English country cottage than your run of the mill square box-like flat.

The one bedroom flat is on the ground floor, off of an adorable mews street and down a little gated cul-de-sac. It has its own entrance flanked by beautiful planters of boxwood. The furnishings are best described as English cottage shabby chic, but the highlights are the ultra modern kitchen with top-of-the-line Gaggenau appliances, sparkling bathroom with double sinks, and three massive built in closets.

My flat features an extensive collection of Bryan Organ artwork (British artist and godfather to Prince Harry), and the only other person to have a larger personal collection of his artwork is Prince Charles. Incidentally, my next door neighbor is the Queen's cousin, Lady Helen Taylor. I am one block from Harvey Nichol's, and two blocks from Harrod's, as well as my favorite burger at the trendy Bar Boulud in the Mandarin Oriental.

I am also about 500 steps from the absolutely fabulous gourmet prepared food shop and caterer Ottolenghi on Motcomb Street. If this window of homemade sweets isn't enough to draw you inside, I don't know what is. Just look at these delicious sweet and savory delectables. I know where I'll be picking up dinner from now on!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Boston, Massachusetts - No. 9 Park and Stella

Before moving to London last weekend, I had to hit some of my favorite Boston restaurants to get my fill of their delicious specialities in order to tide me over until I next return home. Feast your eyes on some of these delectable dishes.

No. 9 Park: James Beard Award-winning Chef Barbara Lynch's restaurant located in Boston's Historic Beacon Hill Neighborhood overlooking Boston Common. The absolute must have plate here: Prune Stuffed Gnocchi topped with slices of foie gras, toasted almonds and vin santo.

Prune Stuffed Gnocchi topped with slices of foie gras, toasted almonds and vin santo

Sliced sirloin steak with carrots, moroccan spices and pureed squash

Stella: Located in the heart of Boston's South End, Stella offers affordable and approachable Italian cuisine in a chic all-white Miami vibe setting. Everything is delicious here, from the pizza to the pasta to the main courses. Here is a look at what we ordered. Prepare to drool.
Bistecca tartare with fried egg, cornichon and grilled focaccia

Tuna Crudo Misto with limoncello vinaigrette and sea salt grissini

Parmesan arancini with buffalo mozzarella and spicy pomodoro fondue

Grilled white pizza with mozzarella, mushrooms and arugula

Spaghetti with meatballs, pomodoro and parmesan cheese

Tagliatelle bolognese with parmigiano reggiano

A scrumptious half roasted duck
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rome, Italy - Bar della Pace and Da Francesco

If there is one caffe in all of Rome you need to visit, it is Bar della Pace. Officially known as Antico Caffé della Pace, this small bar is located in a beautiful little square tucked away behind Piazza Navona. One of the oldest bars in the eternal city, dating back to the 18th century, if these walls could talk I'd really never leave my perch there. The bar has long been a meeting spot for artists, painters, sculptors, poets, politicians, celebrities, actors, musicians, even the famous film director, Federico Fellini and the Italian couturier, Valentino, have all been known to knock back an espresso, a glass of wine or a caffé coretto here. To say this bar is a Roman institution would be an understatement.

The outside tables and chairs with umbrellas sit against an ivy-clad façade in this beautiful piazzetta, and serve as the best vantage point for watching the well-heeled Romans saunter by in their alta moda finest. The interior features a wine bar surrounded by cafe tables, small love seats and venetian plastered walls, and gives off a truly old-world caffe ambience. Keep your eyes open, you just never know who will be sitting next to you.

Right around the corner from Bar della Pace is one of my favorite tiny little pizza restaurants called Da Francesco in Piazza del Fico, 29, a beautiful little piazzetta in its own right. The typical Roman pizzerias are nondescript and no frills, but designed to please the stomach, not the eye.  Warm and friendly waiters serve up mountains of pasta and bubbling pizzas straight out of the brick oven. I'm still dreaming about the prosciutto e fungi (ham, mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato) pizza I ate here on a brisk Sunday afternoon. Come early or be prepared to wait in line, pizza this good has a strong and faithful following.

A perfect afternoon or evening in Rome would consist of a pizza at Da Francesco and then a walk around the corner for an espresso and some lively people watching at Bar della Pace. You'll simply fall in love with the quaintness of the cobblestone setting.

Da Francesco serves up some of the best pizzas in Rome

Men playing chess outside Da Francesco in Piazza del Fico
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Friday, May 6, 2011

Winterthur, Delaware - Point to Point Steeplechase

This weekend, Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur estate will be home to a day of steeplechase racing known as Point to Point, which takes place each May. This is one of the most important dates on the social calendar for Brandywine Valley residents. Thanks to two of my dear friends who are Wilmington, Delaware natives, I have partaken in the festivities of Point to Point for many years. Guests can purchase tailgate spots for their car along the race course, or simply come for the day as spectators. Many assigned tailgate spots have belonged to the same family for generations and generations (like the du Pont's) and the lower the number, the better the position of the spot along the course. My friends have had spot #13 for years and it is a prime location to watch all of the action up close. 

Gates open at 10:30am for tailgaters and 11:30am for general admission. The first pop of champagne corks can be heard shortly thereafter. The tailgates themselves are elaborate arrangements of sterling silver, flowers, candelabras, catered food spreads and non-stop libations. As there is an award presented for best tailgate picnic display, there are some serious competitors! 

Someone in this family must work for Veuve Clicquot!
Preparing the silver at our own tailgate spot 

Apart from the race itself, there are many other activities that take place during the day. Elaborate hat wearing patrons can walk around the grounds and visit the tented marketplace that sells clothing, jewelry, hats and equine gear. There are activities for children during the day as well, including stick horse races and pony rides. In addition, there is a stunning display of some of the most prestigious antique automobiles including Rolls Royces, Bentleys, and even older antique steam autos.
The luxury antique auto show

The day kicks off with a parade of antique carriages led by legendary resident Frolic Weymouth, a renowned artist, du Pont heir and founder of the Brandywine Museum and Conservancy. This is followed by the pony races on the steeple chase course and the release of the horses and hounds, before the actual horse race begins.
The parade of antique carriages

A classic horse and hound scene
The steeplechase is a form of horse racing that involves jumping fences and ditches as well as any other naturally intervening obstacles along the countryside. The name comes from early races where the orientation of the course was set by a church steeple. Today, the official name for this sport is National Hunt racing.
The actual steeplechase race

The steeplechase race flying by us
After a long day of sun, races, bubbly and mint julep's, the coveted after-party invitation is to Frolic Weymouth's 250 year old country home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which is on the National Register of Historical Places. His home, known as Big Bend, is named after a curve in the Brandywine River and is surrounded by acres and acres of gorgeous rolling green hills and miles of carriage trails. The inside of the home makes you feel as though you have just been transported in time back to the late 1700s. 
Big Bend, photo © Philippe Cheng
I have some poignant memories from Point to Point over the years, from a blistering sunburn that kept me out of work the next day, to the year we tailgated out of a friend's brand new Rolls Royce Phantom and then I was surreptitiously elected the most sober to drive the gargantuan $350,000 car through the narrowest of country roads from the steeplechase to Frolic Weymouth's home. Oh yes, and of course, the year I sat near Martha Stewart at Frolic's party.
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Boston, Massachusetts - House of Turquoise Guest Blog

One of my favorite blogs, which I follow daily, is House of Turquoise. The site showcases beautiful and inspiring pictures of interior designed rooms, all of which feature some shade of the color turquoise. As a lover of this soothing blue color myself, I found this site very helpful when it came time to decorate my own condo, and was so ecstatic when the founder of House of Turquoise asked me to write a guest blog featuring my very own living room!  For those of you who are not familiar with this site, here is a copy of my guest blog, which was posted on House of Turquoise yesterday:
A massive 6ft. x 8ft. Caroline Riviere watches over the living room 

Pops of turquoise and coral abound

When I purchased my first condo on Boston’s Waterfront (North End) over three and a half years ago, I did not have one piece of furniture to my name. I moved in with a few suitcases and a bed and then had to begin the task of decorating the roughly 900 square feet from scratch. My mother always says that your home should be a true reflection of yourself. Armed with this advice, I had to identify a style and a color palette that was all my own. Having spent summers in St. Tropez, Sardinia and the New England coastal town of Rockport, Massachusetts, I was most drawn to soothing blue turquoise, pops of red coral, crisp whites and all sorts of sea life associated with the beautiful beaches of my youth, from seashells to octopus to crabs. In addition, I love the elegance, sophistication and glamour of the old Hollywood Regency era; sparkling chandeliers, mirrored furniture, a drink cart with high ball glasses and rich fabrics. Subsequently, my own personal style emerged as a smash up between casual beach chic and the glitz of the 1930s.

In decorating my condo, I used the same rules as those I follow for fashion: invest in a few expensive and timeless pieces and then mix in some cheaper accessories to make a bold splash. The big-ticket key staples in my living room are the high-backed white boucle sofa from Kravet Fabrics and Home Furnishings, Emilio Pucci throw pillows purchased in Sardinia, Italy, a vintage turquoise Hermes Grands Fonds fish scarf I had custom framed, a sea-foam green Persian rug from the personal collection of the former Khan of Kalat (a housewarming gift), a beautiful sea-life painting I had commissioned on a recent trip to Sorrento, Italy (for a close up of my painting, click here), and an absolutely massive reproduction of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ 1806 painting of Caroline Riviere (the original hangs in the Musee de Louvre in Paris) which was printed on fine silk, purchased in Paris, and then framed by hand here in Boston. Luckily my 12ft. ceilings can carry this off!

As for the accessories, lots of velvety turquoise throw pillows from Pier 1 Imports, a glass, mirrored and croc leather trimmed coffee table with silver camel feet from Cabot House Furniture , two custom upholstered white armchairs with ottoman from Bassett Furniture, twin coral lamps (that I painted myself) and various turquoise vases from Home Goods, twin mirrored cinema side tables from Target, Versace Les Tresors de la Mer vases and matching porcelain, as well as sea glass, seashells, and crab shells collected from various vacations.
Mirrored side tables hold treasures from the sea as well as coral lamps I hand painted myself and sprayed with a high gloss lacquer

Shelves above the television hold an Alessi coral bowl, porcelain by Versace Les Tresors de la Mer collection, a handmade seashell picture frame bought in Venice, Italy, birch tree branches I painted red to mimic coral branches, a glass vase full of pearlized shells and a painting I commissioned of a famous square in Padova, Italy

A white boucle couch from Kravet holds Emilio Pucci pillows bought in Porto Cervo in Sardinia, Italy mixed with velvety turquoise throw pillows from Pier 1 Imports
A turquoise and white glass vase rests on the mirrored bottom of a croc leather trimmed coffee table, while a framed vintage Hermes Grands Fonds scarf hangs on the wall

Lovely views from the roof deck of the Boston City Skyline

If anyone wants real proof of where a love or even a hobby of interior design can lead you, I have just been offered and accepted a job to be the new product manager for Liberty of London Furnishing Fabrics in London, and professionally, I come from a footwear background! This is just further testament to the fact that your passions can lead to your destiny. Unfortunately, this means that, as of June, I have to rent out my beautiful condo, but the new tenants have asked me to rent the apartment furnished, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a nicer compliment.

Alexandra D. Foster is the founder of Destinations Perfected and currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Pin It

Monday, May 2, 2011

St. Tropez, France - Hotel Villa Belrose

The pool at the Hotel Villa Belrose, our room was on the top balcony seen above with the single umbrella

The nice weather has me thinking about summer vacation destinations, and one of my favorite spots is the small coastal town of St. Tropez in the south of France. This little port was originally made famous by Brigitte Bardot and has since become a playground for celebrities, billionaires, international socialites and the well-heeled in general. St. Tropez can be defined in two words: luxury and excess. As relevant today as ever, Karl Lagerfeld just held his Chanel 2011 Cruise Collection runway show on the streets of the famous port. Guests sat in the famous red chairs of the Sénéquier cafe and watched as models sashayed past, many barefoot.

My favorite hotels in St. Tropez are the Byblos (luxury) and the Hotel Sube (budget - if there is such a thing in St. Trop), though on a recent stay, when both of these hotels were booked, I had the chance to discover a truly lovely new property: the Hotel Villa Belrose.  Part of the Relais & Chateaux chain, the Hotel Villa Belrose sits on one of the small hills of Gassin, just at the start of the road into St. Tropez (about a five minute drive to the port). The hotel architecture is inspired by a Florentine villa, is surrounded by beautiful green pine trees and commands a spectacular view of the entire Bay of St. Tropez.
View of the Bay of St. Tropez from our hotel room balcony at the Hotel Villa Belrose

The property has all the makings of a luxury resort: attentive staff, beautiful heated pool, a spa, a bar and pool cafe, as well as a Michelin star restaurant with an alfresco dining room overlooking the sea. I found the hotel a truly peaceful haven away from all the chaos of the port. Having rented a car at the Nice Côte d'Azur airport meant that we could drive to the beaches or the port at anytime we wished if we needed to be amidst the action, or simply stay put and relax at the Villa Belrose. It was the best of both worlds.

When we checked in to our hotel room we had an ice cold bottle of the local rosé wine and two chocolate tarts waiting for us (which we enjoyed in the shade of our balcony), and it served as a lovely welcome mat for our stay.

The one Michelin star Restaurant Villa Belrose alfresco dining overlooking the bay
We were lucky to be at the hotel in mid-August and enjoyed a spectacular fireworks display from our hotel room balcony. The fireworks show took place right on the Bay of St. Tropez and was most likely in honor of the August 15th holiday (Assumption of Mary).

On our last night in St. Tropez, we partied at the local discos until the sun came up! When we returned to the hotel room to fetch our luggage before heading to the airport for an early morning flight, we were greeted with one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. It was so magical to catch St. Tropez at this sleepy hour, silent and beautiful, and basked in the first rays of the morning's golden pink light.
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