[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — I see all these Instagram peeps hitting Porto taking pictures of the big bridge, climbing up its steep hills, drinking some port and then bolting. But really what they’re missing is a day trip (or longer) up the Douro River to visit the incredible, hilly stair step vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I dunno, I’m over wine tours, once you see a few, they’re all the same to me — “Is that French oak or American? How long in stainless??” — poke me in the eye with a stick…but that’s just me.. But the Douro Valley is different. Hilly. Steep. Flinty mounds of luscious green heaven pouring down to a mellow meandering river.
[London] — You could feel the early Christmas season in the electric air. It was 4:30 on a Friday and the place was packed in every direction you turned, shoulder to shoulder in most places, everyone dressed up a little more festive than other weeks of the year, smiling, toasting success. It was dark in center of the great grand lobby, ninety four green marble columns rising thirty feet into the air, each with a top hat of shiny acanthus leaves, in a Corinthian way. The whole place felt Corinthian. The whole place was buzzing, swaying to the silky jazz singer. It felt like pre-war London. In the center of this laughing mass rose a band stage, 360 degrees round and trimmed in thick wood
[PIEMONTE, ITALY] — Two hours off my overnight flight, I was still goating and my Terrier hair was going in every direction. My GPS had inexplicably sent me through a frantic detour through the Centro of the Turin on my way to the land of Barolo and I was running late. Pulling down the gravel road and into the parking, my friend and host Jon and his 8 year old son greeted me as he sprinted down the steps of his house, Casa Gialla. “Oh man, glad you’re here. I was just heading to a wine tasting, want to come along?” “Certo.” We raced across the ridges of the steep hills, the sun bouncing off the crazy quilt patterns of vineyards filling every hilltop, valley,
[PYLA-SUR-MER, FRANCE] — I didn’t even know this beast was here. Never heard a squeak of it before. I actually came here in search of a beautiful hotel which mentioned its prime location next to the Dune du Pilat, about an hour south of Bordeaux. Okay. So can I get room? But when I pulled up, holy cow! My dumb fortunate luck led me to yet another amazing natural phenomenon — the largest sand dune in Europe. Almost 3km long and about 110m (300 ft) high, this giant Gibraltar of sand stands between the shimmering Atlantic and an inland pine forest, with fierce winds that add to its height every year, shoving it inland, swallowing up houses and forests in its path. In the 1700s, maps show
[BERLIN] — I’d been working like crazy for the last several months of last year and was itchin’ to go somewhere, like rightnow, over the American Thanksgiving holiday, a perfect time to slip away. Found a cheap flight on Lufthansa five days before leaving and scrambled to find a hotel. I hadn’t had much time to investigate where to stay and scouring Tablet Hotels nearly everything was completely booked by smarter, more forward-thinking people. What was going on in Berlin that weekend? Bank holiday? Everything was coming up goose eggs. I’d been seeing great posts from my Instagram peeps about a cool boutique hotel called Das Stue — it claims to be Berlin’s first boutique hotel. At first, there were no avails. But then I checked back again
[BARCELONA] — I know I’m in the minority in being a steadfast fan of boutique hotels these days, whilst the rest of you are Airbnb’n, but I still am bullish on the whole hotel experience. In fact, I usually book my vacations around the hotel, often traveling far and wide just to visit a special place. Barcelona has been almost overrun by Airbnbs, so much so that whole apartment buildings are being converted by investors into full-on apartment rentals — much to the scorn of local residents, pushed out by reasonable growing rents. But just before the HomeAway trend hit BCN, a flurry of boutique hotels were built, high on style, funky design and cool restaurants, dramatically increasing this great city’s inventory of cool places
[PRAGUE] — This is going to be a pretty easy post for you, more of a postcard travelogue. I think I am the last guy to visit Prague, but I slapped it on to a Christmas trip to Brussels just to see what it’s like and have some beer. Pretty city. Too many tourists for me. I feel sorry that it was so overrun. But it definitely is pretty. These are the best things I’ve found. Click to open the slideshow and follow along. Last visited Christmas 2015
[BRUSSELS] — Trying to do a Mileage Run at the end of the year to top off the tanks, I found a cheap flight to Brussels, perfectly timed between Christmas and New Years, back by the end of the year. The sad terrorist attacks had just occurred and I wanted to show my support but not letting those acts change our world. Plus, my hunch was right that the airfares and upgrades would be cheap with a lot of cancellations. I left on Christmas Day, went to Brussels, a day trip to Antwerp at some of my Instagram followers on-the-ground suggestions, then shot over to Prague for a couple of days. After all these years going to Europe, I’d never gone to either country, so
[JOSE IGNACIO, URUGUAY] — It’s 3pm, the day after Christmas. It’s 82 degrees and sunny, with a light breeze gently flapping the white canvas awnings, fanning the cool shade underneath. The place is packed, everyone’s knee-to-knee. Cool pitchers of Clerico — the local Uruguayan version of a white sangria — are flowing past above the heads of the crowd, headed toward an antsy, thirsty table. There’s a DJ tucked in the back, but affecting moods in the front; like the breeze, causing everyone to gently sway along with him in a cool, mellow vibe. The smell of woodsmoke wafts out onto the beach. The best smell there is. Large wood cutting boards burdened with a grilled whole smiling fish swim by, browned at the edges, flaky
[MILANO, ITALY] — There are so many great hotels I wanted to try in Milano. Scouring through Tablet Hotels, I found this totally groovy little boutique hotel called The Yard in the totally happening, canal-laden Navigli neighborhood — a once derelict area of shipping canals that were constructed as way back as the 1100s that has been recently been gentrified and updated to be a lively night time and retail area. (also have seen is spelled Naviglio) The area feels like Östermalm in Stockholm or Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, with a bunch of intersecting canals, lined with restaurants and bars and thousands of roving people. I had no idea this even existed in Milano. They Yard is a collector’s paradise, with an insane collection of
[MILANO, ITALY] — You’d never think there’d still be an old farmstead smack in the middle of Milano, but there is. Cascina Cuccagna is an old forgotten complex that a group of food lovers got together, hauled away the junk and turned the place into a cool food-centric hangout. After reading about it in Maisons Côté Sud, I made a special side trip just to check it out. It’s a restaurant, an event center, an educational urban garden, meeting place and even a 16 bed hip hostel, all in the delightfully crumbling ochre walls just down the street from Porto Romana. Un Posto a Milano — “A Place in Milan”– is the groovily elegant restaurant and cafe part of the complex and what I specifically came
[SANTIAGO, CHILE] — I only spent two nights in Santiago, so didn’t have a chance to eat around much, but here are places that I liked and would recommend. In Bario Lastarria, which is where I’d just go an walk around, there are lots of cool places to duck into. In prime spot right on the corner is this nice little place with prime outdoor tables for great people watching, right on the corner of Paseo Barrio Lastarria…I think it might be called Gatopardo, but not sure. You can’t miss it, by the awnings and cool building backdrop below. Mercado Central — located just off the city center, Mercado Central is really outstanding. A huge lumbering Victorian iron structure with
(Lake Travis, Austin) — Seriously, almost every night, perfect sunsets. This is one money-maker, a ginormous restaurant on a hilltop overlooking the leaky Lake Travis outside Austin. The Oasis. Drinks are cold, lots of room, the drinks are better than the food. But well worth the jaw-dropping sunsets and the jaw-dropping size of this joint. It really is cool. Get their early, the sun drops fast.
(MADRID) — Dry Cosmopolitan Bar, the cocktail bar from Javier de las Muelas. I’d read about it when I was in Barcelona last Christmas, put spaced making it there. But this year in Madrid, I saw they’d opened an outpost there and heard it was the bomb for cocktails. It was eerie walking in, almost like “The Shining”, but instead of Lloyd, it was just me and Ricardo. Nobody else in the place. I heard it was packed, always, but maybe it was the holidays, lack of tourists or Spain’s economy. In any case, I had Ricardo all to myself to understand the mysteries of making the perfect martini. The man was a master, going into detail of each step, from “dee ice must be
(Chicago) — I”ve stayed now a half-dozen times at the Public hotel and it still ranks as one of my favorite places to stay in Chicago and certainly my favorite Ian Schrager hotel. One of the coolest lobby designs I’ve seen — that great combination of classic architecture and modern design — with good looking people as props. Come in at night and all the wealthy black-dressed Chicagoans are silhouetted against the perfectly lit white whiles. It’s almost an optical illusion. The rooms are really big, with huge windows and awesome amount of sunlight. Gigantic baths. Love the quiet stretch of upper State Parkway, quiet with gorgeous townhouses lining the blocks. And if you’re a Tablet Plus member, they’re really good about upgrading you
[ROMA] — There are fancier places to stay in Rome, but one of my favorites is the Albergo del Senato, directly across from my favorite building in the world, The Pantheon. It is small, Old School, but delightful. You can’t beat the location, smack in the heart of everything good. And right around the corner from the best gelato in Rome, Giolitti. If you can’t get a guarantee from the hotel for a Pantheon view, then there are other hotels I’d choose. (I once had a broom closet of a room once that wasn’t and it looked out onto a blind alley.) But if you can secure a room that overlooks the Pantheon, there is no place better to stay in Rome. If you can