Travel Writer & Author

Author: irvinalew (Page 1 of 24)

Where to Eat on an Italian Road Trip Through Puglia

Coastal views and fresh seafood – what could be better?
My friend’s enthusiasm for a return stay at Borgo Egnazia — an exclusive, village-like, five-star golf and spa resort built in beautiful white stone — influenced my recent first visit to Puglia. We flew via Rome to Brindisi, on the southeastern heel of Italy’s “boot.” Our 30-mile coastal drive north followed the stark, rugged shores of the Adriatic Sea on a flat two-lane autostrada bordered by scraggy shrubs, windswept trees, occasional clusters of white houses with flat roofs, and a silver-hued stretch of centuries-old olive groves.

When it launched in 2010, Borgo Egnaziawas designed to look like an ancient Apulian walled village, built of the dazzling-white local limestone called tufa. Inside La Corte, the 63-room main building, the vaulted entry welcomed with a series of straw baskets filled with walnuts and apples. Outside, pathways lead to Il Borgo — with a central piazza and 92 casitas on narrow streets — and to Il Ville, with 29 two-story villas, each with private pools and gardens. Throughout, the contemporary white-on-white décor features wall hangings reminiscent of everyday items used by farmers and fishermen.

The project celebrates Puglian heritage with its design, its staff, and especially its culinary program. The produce is about 60 percent homegrown – including eggplants, artichokes, friggitelli peppers, and Regina and San Marzano tomatoes as well as pomodorini. Fish, such as spigola (sea bass) and merluzzo (cod); Podolica beef from nearby Bari; and wine are also locally sourced. As for cheese, one of the many white wooden tables at the breakfast buffet displays regional specialties: fresh rounds of mozzarella, braided baby mozzarella, fresh ricotta, and a tub of pungent aged ricotta, and the most typical Puglian cheese: burrata, a mozzarella-like sack filled with curds and rich cream. Local breads, house-made preserves, warm pastries, hot egg dishes, smoked salmon, platters of fruits and vegetables appear atop other tables, plus there are made-to-order entrées and a juice bar.

Pugliese fare also dominates the menu at the San Domenico Hotel Group’s sister property, Masseria San Domenico Thalasso-Spa and Golf Resort.

A fifteenth-century stone fortified farmhouse is the centerpiece of the 47-room, five-star boutique hotel, which is affiliated with The Leading Small Hotels of the World and was formerly the owner’s family getaway. The restored structure topped with a Templar tower tall enough to spot invaders from the sea houses the bar, where I drank a local Primitivo — the Bombino Bianco “Le Valli” by Alberto Longo —served with typical snacks: sliced and fried broad beans, roasted almonds, and olives. (There are 1,000 olive trees on the Masseria estate, which produces its own extra virgin olive oil.) It also houses the restaurant where chef Giuseppe Angelini grilled an Adriatic sea bass for me, according to the spa’s Mediterranean Diet menu; he presented it topped with diced tomatoes, capers, and herbs and served alongside grilled zucchini and eggplant slices. (I also enjoyed a seaweed wrap, a soak in a Thalgojet hydrotherapy tub, and a swim in the heated, indoor pool at the hotel’s seawater thalassotherapy spa later in my visit.)

Puglia supplies half of Italy’s olive production, so there were plenty of olive groves to admire one sunny morning as we traveled along the cypress-lined coastal route, en route to Alberobello. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the medieval città bianche (white towns) which areeach perched on their own little medieval hilltop in the Itria Valley. This particular touristic destination is deservedly famous for its 1,500 iconic trulli, ancient, cylindrical houses. Each is built of dry, local, limestone boulders and has a conical stone roof, which is topped with an individualized symbolic cap. Most impressively, until 1797, the local ruler required that they be constructed without mortar. Though Alberobello is a busy summer destination, it was pleasingly quiet in late October and our driver found it was easy to park, so we could walk to visit churches and get up close to some of the trulli that crowd the town center.

In the historic coastal town of Polignano a Mare, a statue honors the singer (and later politician) Domenico Modugno. From the bridge, we looked down to the ravine between terraced hillsides to the tiny beach, flanked by tall stone seawalls. We strolled under a Roman archway, through a small square beyond the clock tower, and along narrow streets with newly transformed mini-hotels and residences, one brightly painted with a cranberry-colored façade, turquoise doors, and melon-painted trim. Then we lunched within the ancient walls at the aptly named Ristorante Antiche Mura, a popular family-owned eatery, where we walked beyond a table topped with whole fish on ice to our table, under a domed brick ceiling. The traditional Pugliese meal was accompanied by a Così rosé from Polignano and started with a runny stracciatella cheese, a white bean and chicory salad, and an octopus salad “alla Catalana” on arugula, with red onions and Fiaschetto tomatoes. The carpaccio di tonno (tuna) was dressed with basil-topped olive oil and the curvy torchietti pasta was studded with giant shrimp and lobster.

Before five each afternoon, we headed to the Vair Spa at Borgo Egnazia, where barefooted therapists, dressed in Roman-like garb, personalized services in which olive oil is the main ingredient. (My scrub, for example, combined brown sugar and honey with olive oil and a bit of hot water.) Vair Spa is a 20,000-square-foot, two-level sanctuary with 12 treatment rooms, a relaxation lounge, a yoga studio, and hydrotherapy pools. The hotel also has a fitness room, an indoor pool, and multiple outdoor pools.

Executive chef Domingo Schingaro oversees the Borgo Egnazia restaurants. Pasta and pizza appear from the open kitchen in the casual Trattoria Mia Cucina; chef stations add to the menu at Il Cortile; and rustic traditional dishes predominate at La Frasca, including a fresh tomato soup topped with burrata. At the 18-hole San Domenico Golf Club, Mimina, the former Melpignano family chef, is the messaia, (or homemaker-cook), and she prepared the fabulous Apulian focaccia (dressed with cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano), orecchiette with turnip tops, panzerotti, sautéed vegetables, mozzarella cheese, artichoke salad, and a sponge cake with custard cream. Familiar dishes, including braciole, gazpacho, lasagna, and parmigiana, appeared on menus; others were new to me, including the panzerotti (fried dough pockets similar to ravioli and stuffed with tomato and mozzarella) and taralli (dry, round, pretzel-like biscuits).

The contemporary creations served during a fixed menu at the resort’s gourmet restaurant, Due Camini, were paired with regional wines introduced by the wine experience manager, Giuseppe Cupertino: D’Arapri Metodo Classico Rosé Brut San Severo and Rampone Minutolo Valle d’Itria, Leone de Castris Five Roses from Salento, and Gianfranco Fino Es Primitivo di Manduria. I sampled those and others, from spumante to moscato di Tranithe local dessert wine. Puglia is a major Italian grape producer and is known for its popular, fruity-sweet primitivo, negroamaro, and verdeca, the best white wine grape in the red-dominated region. Some Apulian wines have earned the Gambero Rosso guide’s highest prize, tre bicchieri (three glasses). Winemakers from other wine regions also blend Pugliese grapes with their local varietals.

The final pleasure was participating in the chef-run cooking class, where I actually learned to make fresh pasta — if not to master the skill of properly shaping the orecchiette into individual, ear-shaped bites. What a delight it would be to return to make ricotta in a farmhouse, lunch in a trullo, and harvest grapes or olives. One thing is for sure: There are ample Apulian culinary adventures to be had that showcase the region’s impeccable indigenous ingredients!

The Hotel Jerome

For more than a century, this historic hotel has been a cornerstone of the community in Aspen, Colorado

Jerome B. Wheeler moved to Colorado for his wife

Harriet’s health in 1882. They were cultured New Yorkers: he, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s third cousin, and she, the niece and heir to Macy’s Department Store. While he became enchanted with the soaring mountains, towering trees and pristine landscape of Aspen, she decided not to move into the gracious 1880s Queen Anne-style residence he built there.

But that didn’t prevent Wheeler from selling his share of the department store and investing in the railroad, silver mines and real estate during Aspen’s silver boom of 1879 to 1893.

In 1889, he built the Hotel Jerome, a four-story, 92-room, red-brick and limestone structure with imposing arched windows. The luxurious inn emulated the five-star luxury of London’s Claridge’s hotel. International socialites who arrived on Pullman sleeping cars found “modern” conveniences: electricity, indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, steam heat and an elevator. The classic lobby displayed locally made floor tiles, columns, a fireplace and a rose-and-green-colored glass ceiling. The décor featured East Lake furnishings, grandfather clocks, marble-top buffets and mahogany-framed mirrors. Guests also discovered culture at the nearby Wheeler Opera House, which the entrepreneur built above his Romanesque Revival and Italianate bank and gave to Aspen in 1899.

The Hotel Jerome has been intrinsic to the Aspen community for more than a century. In the 1940s, Chicago philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke and her industrialist husband, Walter, established a ski town and launched a cultural renaissance centered around the “Aspen Idea,” dedicated to the body, mind, and spirit. Paepcke leased the hotel for 25 years, during which time they founded the Aspen Institute and the annual Aspen Ideas Festival. In addition, the hotel was also where the Aspen Music Festival and School, the International Design Conference, the Aspen Center for Physics and the Aspen Skiing Company were founded.

The Hotel Jerome, the Wheeler Opera House, and the Wheeler-Stallard House have each been meticulously restored and upgraded beyond their Victorian-era grandeur. Todd- Avery Lenahan, of TAL Studio, refurbished the hotel in 2012 and brought a joyful spirit to the décor. Using a light, neutral palette, small checks and plaids, some animal prints and lots of studded and tufted leather, he created a warm and gracious ambiance in gracefully proportioned rooms (with cashmere drapes) and public spaces. Stylish elevator walls are lined with bronze-framed leather belts in a patchwork pattern. Throughout, there are period pieces and historic artifacts, including a striking, hand-stitched, 38-star American flag which dates from 1876, when Colorado became the 38th state.

Currently, the gracious hotel, which is part of the Auberge Resorts collection, is completing an expansion, with a new outdoor pool, garden, underground speakeasy, two three- bedroom residences and an event space in the adjacent former building of The Aspen Times. The Hotel Jerome is an example of the relaxed elegance for which Aspen is known and remains a landmark amid the community’s mining heritage and history.

Spa Getaways: Lisbon Havens 

Lisbon, where the appealing topography descends from park-covered hillsides to a riverfront promenade. Everywhere, people walk, jog, cycle, push strollers and climb hillsides carrying groceries or discovering neighborhood charms. Locally grown farm-to-table fare features fresh produce, wild-caught sh and seafood and made-in-Portugal olive oil, canned sardines and wine, offering healthy culinary pleasures.

The city’s architectural beauty adds to the serenity and rejects its cultural heritage. In Alfama, narrow cobblestone streets surround the medieval São Jorge Castle, where Islamic Towers top ancient Roman walls, andred-tile-roofedd buildings are fronted with hand-painted blue and white Azulejo tiles. Christian history flourishes in Romanesque churches, Gothic monasteries, and cloistered convents. Construction after the devastating earthquake of 1755 includes the jacaranda-bordered Eduardo VII park and the Avenida da Liberdade, with its central treed pedestrian promenade lined with splendid belle-époque buildings with wrought iron balconies. Theatre, opera, and museums abound, including The Tile Museum within a historic 16th-century cloister, the Foundation Gulbenkian, a seven-acre, park-like art complex named for the art-collector donor and the Museum of Art, Architecture & Technology, a riverfront, contemporary cultural center with a walk-up rooftop terrace, which opened in 2016.

Whether you receive a beauty or body treatment at a spa within a posh city hotel or take the half-hour drive or train ride

to one on the beach or in the mountains, Lisbon offers a multitude of wellness options, including public safety, at a less costly price tag than in most Western European capitals.


The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon is a classic, mid-century Modernist structure established by Portuguese Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar. The luxe, art hotel is known for its stylish Varanda Restaurant, its staffed, rooftop center with an outdoor running track and its exceptional spa. The four-treatment-room facility includes a stunning couple’s suite and a lighted indoor pool, where chaise lounges are backed by a glass window wall, which separates the pool area from an exterior fountain. Full- and half-day programmes offer a variety of face and body treatments, some use organic ESPA products, and there’s a selection of facials incorporating nourishing Swiss Perfection cellular products. Among the sensual signature treatments, the most supreme indulgences are the 80-minute, four-handed Symphony Massage, and the Portuguese Retreat, which features regional almonds and honey for the scrub, followed by moisturizer and massage.

In spring 2017, the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade reopened, just a year after becoming part of the Minor Hotel Group, with a US$16 million renovation that created a classic lobby, of newly remodeled rooms, stunning eateries, a striking Sky Bar and, for warm weather, an outdoor swimming pool set in a lush tropical garden. The contemporary classic is well located amidst the restaurants and designer shops on the city’s major pedestrian-centered promenade. In October last year, the rst Tivoli spa in the city made its debut. The spacious facility accessed via a lift or flight of marble stairs from the lobby, has luxe, marble floors, state-of-the-art equipment in the new Tivoli Active Fitness Centre and oversized treatment rooms, each with its own changing room, bathroom and shower and at least one with a marble platform dedicated to shiatsu treatments and Thai massages. All personalized treatments begin with a foot ritual, whether followed by an Organic Hydrating Body Scrub, Aromatherapy Massage using essential oils or the indulgent Biologique Recherche Facial.


The Pestana Group purchased and restored The Pestana Palace, once the palatial residence of a well-traveled 19th-century

nobleman. The Portuguese family-owned group installed its own branded standalone Magic Spa, which boasts a Turkish bath, Jacuzzi, sauna and heated indoor pool, located in an ower corner of the estate gardens beyond the charming Tea House. For an idyllic day, savour the Magic Exotic Fruits Body Scrub, which exfoliates with sugar and Algarve-grown citrus in an almond oil base, followed by a 60-minute Magic Serenity Massage, which incorporates sweet orange, lavender and a

hydrating base of almond oil. Finally, the 75-minute luxury Magic Facial Flash Effect uses anti-aging antioxidants and features a unique Asian-inspired facial massage technique. A second, smaller Magic Spa, with its own indoor pool and solarium and similar treatments, is located within Pousada de Lisboa, an art historic 18th-century, mustard-yellow hotel in a former government building on the city’s major waterfront square.

by Irvina Lew

Warm Up with Winter Fun in NYC

Don’t let the cold and snow throw you: January is a great time to be in New York. Fortunately, there are countless fun adventures to share, inside, as well as at least one classic outdoor activity. Here are some wonderful ways to pass time with or without kids and whether or not the weather cooperates.

The most natural way of embracing winter is by getting out in it, as in a visit to The Rink at Rockefeller Center, now celebrating 81 years of the most glamorous ice skating in the world. Nearby, the FDNY Fire Zone has great wonderland. The on-site DiMenna Children’s History Museum intrigues little New Yorkers (3-5 year olds) on Tuesdays and Friday afternoons with songs, stories, and crafts between 3:30 and 4:15 pm.

The Times Square area is ground zero for family-friendly fun activities, with a plethora of intriguing venues that entice folks inside. Selfie lovers flock to Madame Tussauds to photobomb A-list celebrities. At the newly opened Gulliver’s Gate, visitors see a world in miniature that reminds us all that we share one planet, even at a time when we seem ever more divided. This ambitious $40 million extravaganza allows visitors to travel the Earth and see Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe in incredibly well-crafted detail.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square is a venue where open-minded family members—those who accept the unusual and delight in surprise—appreciate the one-of-a-kind art Kids of all ages will be entranced by Holiday Express at the New-York Historical Society.

Souvenirs of New York’s Bravest, including toys, shirts, and outerwear. It’s also
a multimedia fire safety learning center where kids pick up fun, lifesaving lessons from real live FDNY firefighters. Try on FDNY “Bunker Coats,” explore a life-like fire engine, and bring home one of the fantastic collectibles.

Fans of trains will be delighted at The New-York Historical Society. New York’s first public museum—which recently opened its new Women’s History Center and gallery of stunning Tiffany Lamps—brings back Holiday Express, featuring hundreds of toy trains and related items from the Jerni Collection’s toy train facts, including up-close photo ops with an authentic New Year’s Eve Waterford crystal ball, the eerie tunnel that’s the Black Hole, the chance to dodge laser beams, and looks at beyond-the-ordinary bodies, including authentic shrunken heads and a two-headed animal or two.

New to Times Square are two more terrific destinations: the underwater world of National Geographic Encounter:

January is a great time to be in New York…


After philanthropists saved the USS Intrepid from an impending scrap heap in 1976, it journeyed to New York City to a berth at the end of 42nd Street; by 1982, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum was established to showcase exhibits both inside and on deck. This maritime- museum-on-the-Hudson covers his-
tory since World War I, and displays
the Enterprise space shuttle, the submarine Growler, and dozens of important, restored aircraft. The current exhibit Ports of Call shows the photos, souvenirs, and film footage of young sailors traveling the world as part of the Intrepid crew.

On the Lower East Side, a guided tour of the Tenement Museum is compelling no matter where you currently live, or where your family originated. Special tours feature costumed “residents” representing immigrants from various countries, as they describe their daily lives in this re-creation of a typical tenement building in eras ranging from the mid- 19th to the early 20th century.

Serendipity 3 is a charming Upper East Side re-creation of an old-fashioned sweet shop, complete with stained-glass lamp-shaded chandeliers and either hot (or frozen) chocolate, depending on your mood. The food menu features hamburgers, chicken, shrimp-stuffed avocado, and lemon sole, plus desserts made from the finest international ingredients like Tahitian vanilla beans or Caribbean chocolate. (The boutique menu offers just as much for folks looking for souvenirs as it does take-home treats!)
by Irvina Lew

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