Ultimate L.A. Guide

Our fashionable guide to the who, the what, and the where of the city right now

Westward Leaning

For evidence that die center of cultural gravity is shifting west, look no further than this fall’s ambitious, Getty-led “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” roster of exhibitions spread across more than 70 regional museums and galleries.

Using Latino and Latin American art as a lens, die comprehensive program—which includes “Found in Translation,” a dialogue between 20th-century Mexican and SoCal design at die Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and “Radical Women,” at the Hammer Museum— explores what it means to be a modern Angeleno.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Indigo Seas

As soon as you lay eyes on the off-the-wall decor of the Ivy, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering how you can take a little piece of it home.

The answer: This antiques and home-goods emporium next door, which Ivy’s Lynn von Kersting also owns and which even stocks the restaurant’s distinctive floral napkins.

One-Pop Shop

By now, Maxfield’s pop-ups are the stuff of local legend. It wasn’t enough to be the one store in West Hollywood that sells Lisa Eisner’s jewelry; in 2015, they actually sweet-talked her into creating an entire installation. Valentino and Gucci are up next.

L.A. Maxfield shop

Think Pink

Run, don’t walk, to the South Coast Plaza outpost of the Webster, the dreamy, Miami-based destination boutique that was pushing millennial pink before it was a thing. The shop has a new exclusive with Repetto, and, yes, they come in its signature hue.

Bunny Hop

In L.A., most infants are better dressed than you. You may not be able to beat them, but at least your offspring can join them.

The new Beverly Hills children’s store English Rabbit features West Coast boutique labels like Flora and Henri and Little Giraffe and designer European brands to make sure they dress the part.

English Rabbit shop in Los Angeles

Inner Peace

Be warned: After a few nights at Nobu Ryokan, a 16-room beachfront inn in traditional Japanese style owned by chef Nobu Matsuhisa, you may never want to return to the famous L.A. hustle.

High Times

Come for the stunning rooftop views of the Hollywood Hills at Beverly Hills’ new Waldorf Astoria and stay for Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s sublime spin on California produce like mole-dressed mushroom tacos and spring-pea guacamole.

The rooftop lounge at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria

Spots and Dots

The only ticket hotter than Hamilton at the Pantages is “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” at the Broad (the 50,000 available for its 10-week run sold out in less than an hour).

If you score a same- day ticket, plan a selfie strategy wisely: You’ll have just 30 seconds to pose in each of its six trippy mirrored rooms.

Manuela

A multidisciplinary experience awaits at designer Rachel Comey’s Fall 2017 venue. While your locally sourced meal won’t come with a fashion show, the restaurant’s unique location, at Hauser & Wirth’s gallery (and its coop of rare-breed chickens), will give you food for thought.

Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Mirrors

Petit Trois

Believe it or not, some of the best restaurants in L.A. can be found in strip malls all over the city—including the finest French bistro outside of Paris. Try the omelet, a perfectly fluffy mound made with Boursin pepper cheese and chives.

Pret-A-Portea

Melrose Place’s oft-’grammed Alfred Coffee & Kitchen has a colorful trick up its #butfirstcoffee sleeve: Alfred Tea Room. It serves turbinado-sugar-sweetened, unicorn-hued boba beverages healthy enough for an Angeleno palate.

Bad Romance

Every rose has its thorn, sometimes literally. Inspired by Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume: A Story of a Murderer, photographer Sascha von Bismarck’s debut exhibition—featuring Georgia May Jagger, Alice Dellal, and other It Brits-at the Eric Buterbaugh Gallery hints at a seamy dark side to the sumptuous arrangements and fragrances that made the eponymous gallerist and floral designer’s name.


Out of Sight – Isla Holbox – Mexico

On Isla Holbox, there’s a beach so perfect it may not stay that way for long.

Before I get into what makes this sleepy, lost-in-time island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula so special, I should acknowledge what a certain set of Instagrammers, wannabe marketers, and editors on the hunt for a headline have been saying: Holbox is the Next Tulum.

There’s a seductive ease to the comparison, particularly for a travel writer like me looking to quickly telegraph the vibe of this place, where silver-gray pelicans sit on weathered wooden poles poking up from aqua-blue water, a faded-red fishing boat slowly hums through the gentle waves, and a Mexican yogi returns from her daily asana class with a bicycle basket full of tropical blooms.

But the parallels for Tulum pretty much end there: The island doesn’t have Mayan ruins a short drive away. It’s not overrun by boho-chic fashion types from New York and Los Angeles.

It hasn’t had a Noma pop-up, a hotel pop-up, a celebrity boot camp pop-up, or any land of pop-up, really. There’s basically nothing to do.

And that’s exactly what I like about it. Less than three hours from the insanity of Cancún—its all-inclusives, its two-for-one margs, its traffic, and its golf courses—Holbox is about as sleepy a spot as one can find nowadays, just a nature preserve, a stretch of beach, and a single small town, also called Holbox, that feels completely out of time.

Hammock in the water on Isla Holbox, Mexic

The question on everyone’s lips, though, is whether the island can hold on to what makes it unlike anything else.

Centuries ago, the area was a hideaway for pirates in search of fresh water. It later became an island of fishermen, whose multigenerational families put down deep roots.

More recently, Holbox became an idyll for people who wanted to disappear, where nothing much happened and expats and Mexicans alike would come to drop out and unplug.

Word of the place was quietly passed among friends and close-knit travel tribes, the way people used to talk about Comporta or Jose Ignacio or Los Roques.

Even the name itself, Mayan for “blackhole” and pronounced hol-BOSH, was (and remains) enchanting.

When the hotels arrived, they tended to look like Casa Sandra, a thoughtfully designed 18-room guesthouse opened in 2003 by Cuban artist Sandra Perez Lozano, who’s since become an unofficial spokeswoman for the island’s burgeoning focus on preservation.

“It will be a challenge to keep Holbox from becoming another Cancun or Riviera Maya,” she said. “But it’s definitely achievable. We all want this exceptional place to remain so.”

It is exceptional—and yet unassuming. Cheery shops like Hecho Con Amor selling homespun textiles alongside embroidered clothing and bags concentrate around the main plaza.

Open-air bars and restaurants like Basico Cocina de Playa and cafes like Tierra Mia serving fresh-pressed juice and coffee spill out onto sandy streets from behind pastel storefronts and hand-painted signs.

Guacamole dish on Isla Holbox restaurant

Locals do their daily shopping at the fruit-and-vegetable market and at the family-run tortilleria, where tasty corn masa is carefully pressed into perfect little disks.

There’s a whitewashed church that has Mass on Sundays and feast days, and little Virgin Mary shrines turn up along the beach.

But if you walk just 10 minutes away from town, you are remarkably alone, occasionally passing the fuchsia pink flamingos that live here or, like I did, a local teenage couple canoodling in quiet isolation.

Of course, developers are scheming to capitalize on this raw stretch of Mexican beach, despite its protected status as part of the Yum Balam Reserve, a federal designation that should keep it from being built up.

Ambitious plans for a new megaresort called La Ensenada—with as many as 900 villas, plus multiple hotels and restaurants—are seemingly on hold after the Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources said they didn’t pass muster; other, smaller hotels have also had their proposals rejected by the agency.

Meanwhile, hoteliers like Perez Lozano and locals not directly involved in the tourism industry have organized a grassroots movement to preserve the island’s natural beauty.

Officially, buildings can’t be taller than 40 feet, gray water is treated for reuse, and recycling rules are strictly enforced.

“Business owners and townspeople can unite and create projects that consider both the aesthetics and the infrastructure,” says Perez Lozano, contrasting what’s happening here with the build-it-fast, come- what-may development seen elsewhere in the country.

At stake are both the future of the island’s fragile ecosystem and its slowly growing profile among travelers perpetually scouting for the next destination.

One night this past January, I stopped in at the Casa Las Tortugas, the attitude-free hotel that in many ways put Holbox on the map for intrepid travelers looking for the sweet spot between low-key and design conscious.

Beach view on Isla Holbox, Mexico

 

Opened by transplanted Italian Francesca Golinelli and her husband, Patrick Wiering, a former pro kite surfer, the property has a yoga studio behind a Buddha head statue, arrows printed on floorboards pointing the way to the bar, traditional Mexican tiles, and dining tables made from old doors. The hotel is, I have to admit, the sort of place you’d be thrilled to find in Tulum.

Out on the beach, simple palapa-like umbrellas provide shade from the blazing sun, fairy lights hang between palm trees, and double day beds swing between recycled wood poles. The rhythm is incredibly soporific.

Guests slowly make their way to the sea, long lunches turn into shaded siestas under slowly moving fans in whitewashed rooms, and watching the sunset with a margarita before dressing for dinner becomes the day’s main event.

The restaurant here is a destination in its own right, serving ceviche with perfectly tangy purple onions and rare mezcals from small producers.

With the sun already below the horizon, I’m thinking back to my conversation with Perez Lozano. “This is a place without the contaminations of city life,’’ she said, “where mass-market brands and fast food don’t exist, where children can run around town, just as children used to.

Everyone is really connected to nature. They go watch the sunset every night, like a ritual.’’ Whether it will endure is an open question—but I’m now one of the converts who pray it will.

Getting There

Drive two hours from Cancun to the port of Chiquila, park your car, then take the 15-minute ferry ride to the town of Holbox; boats go every half hour during the day.

Once on island, it’s easy to get around by golf cart taxi (fares are cheap) or bike (your hotel can set you up); nothing is farther than a few miles.

Stay

Casa Las Tortugas has 24 simple but well- done rooms, pi us a courtyard pool, yoga studio, restaurant, and bar, and its own stretch of beach. Its restaurant, Mandarina Beach Club, which serves chilaquiles verdes and enchiladas, is one of the best on the island. Beachfront Casa Sandra has spacious suites, many with stand-alone tubs.

Eat and Drink

Rosa Mexicano—no relation to the chain—is a rollicking restaurant that serves coconut shrimp and octopus with black- bean relish. Luuma, a hip but unstudied sandy- floor spot lit by tea candles, does blended tequila cocktails and fresh seafood tapas platters. Viva Zapata Grill is a must for mezcal cocktails and live music.


Tuscany to Piedmont in 6 Days

An aproned waiter stands over your shoulder, impatience tightening his smile. You are sitting with your friend Kara on the terrace of the Osteria del Teatro, in Cortona, Tuscany, a yellow stucco house on a curved cobblestoned street. Now and then, map-toting tourists emerge in pairs or small groups, sometimes arguing over their location.

The waiter explains that cipolla dorata al cartoccio is an onion cooked at a low temperature in a “cartouche”. You look at Kara, who shrugs and nods.

You also order zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and the duck with fennel tagliolini, though not the full Italian coursing. You need to get to the next town by mid-afternoon.

In planning your six-day journey from Tuscany to Piedmont, you knew there’d be echoes of that well-worn genre, the buddy road trip. The fact that you’d be stopping in vineyards along the way brought expected jokes from friends about reprising Sideways, though your route owes more to The Trip to Italy.

On top of which, you’re sitting in the exact medieval hill town that Frances Mayes put on the map with Under the Tuscan Sun (and where the Diane Lane movie was filmed), ushering in herds of middle-aged women seeking romantically crumbling villas and self-fulfillment.

Now that you’re here, you feel a bit embarrassed that your crash course on the Italian countryside relies on so many cultural clichés and beaten paths. You’re a travel editor; any pretense of discovery has vanished with the crowd of sweat-suited Americans entering the church you were going to visit after lunch.

How on earth will you blink away so many familiar images to see this place with fresh eyes? Italy, you acknowledge, can sometimes feel like a chord of music you hear resolving four beats before it actually does.

And yet you wrestle with the voice of the novelty-chasing snob for only so long before the honeyed, terra-cotta glow of the buildings in the piazza stirs an urge to sit and watch the early September sunlight melt down their facades.

The sound of church bells and the clatter of feet on cobblestones, even the foreign purr of a diesel engine, calm your synapses.

At the table, your dish arrives, a large onion encased in cellophane cinched with a red string. A waitress, not the man who took your order but a woman who meets your surprised look with a laugh, unties it and folds back the plastic so the sweet juices can run out, then nods at you as you peel back the skin with a knife and slice the tender layers. Right, you think. The journey is the point.

Kara is your friend from a previous publishing job—you were “work wives’’—and now that you’re at different companies on opposite coasts, you miss the easy camaraderie.

She is also, flat out, one of the most capable people you know, time and again taking charge when projects threatened to go off the rails. In that peculiar dynamic of the office, you each revealed intimate details of your lives without ever once setting foot in the other’s home.

Aside from the fact that Kara knows a lot about wine (she once dated an importer), you had a feeling she’d make an ideal travel companion, which bore out on the very first day, after you took the wheel of the tiny black Lancia rental and nearly fried the gears shifting up the Tuscan switch- backs, prompting Kara to gently (but firmly) relieve you of driving duty.

“This thing corners like it’s on rails!” she shouted, banking around another turn.

You’ve hit enough of these Tuscan hill towns in two days that you find yourself making snap judgments about their appeal.

Montalcino feels museum like, with polished storefronts hawking Brunellos and neat rows of pecorino, whereas Pienza has an ineffable charm—maybe it’s the shop selling modern versions of the linen tablecloths you see everywhere, or the two young Italian mothers sipping wine over a long lunch while dandling their toddlers on their knees.

Similarly, the sheer number of churches in these towns is overwhelming, and you wander in and out of them—some decked out with Renaissance oil paintings and stained glass, others containing little more than humble wood ceilings and a cross—in a Goldilocks search for the just-right vibe. The things that grab you also surprise you.

After visiting the Basilica of Santa Margherita in Cortona, in which the body of the 13th- century saint is laid out on a red satin pillow, you walk downhill past the tiny 15th-century church of San Niccolo, behind a grassy courtyard. Intending to skip it, you are practically pulled inside by a brown mutt that runs over to greet you.

Inside view of Basilica of Santa Margherita – Cortona

The room is a dusky blue box with a squat side door bored through with wormholes and sized for a child. On the cloth-covered altar sit two cloudy crystal holy water pitchers hand-painted in gold trim, beside which lies a crumpled linen napkin, looking as if it had been dropped by a priest called away in a hurry. You find you can’t take your eyes off it.

You are staying down the hill at the Villa Loggio, a peach-hued estate where statues of classically draped women bake in the sun and a gleaming oval pool overlooks a valley of vineyards.

It is run by Sara Ensing and Fidelis Suttmann, young German siblings living the Tuscany Plan B fantasy— or, rather, expanding on the fantasy of Sara’s ex-husband, with whom she originally acquired the property and vineyards.

Sara, a tall blond whose heels and dress convey a resolute professionalism in spite of her rustic surroundings, runs the inn with the help of her housekeeper, who now works in the kitchen turning out hearty regional home cooking.

You sit outside for a dinner of figs, pecorino, and prosciutto, with a glass of their fruity viognier blend, then pasta with wild boar sauce and bistecca from the region’s white Chianina cows, washed down with a meaty syrah.

The siblings talk about winemaking. It’s been a hot and dry summer; now it’s harvest time, and three of their workers have quit. “Wine is all about expectation,” Sara says, and while you know she’s referring to how its quality is judged, the larger implication hangs in the air.

To find the legendary Super Tuscans, those Bordeaux-like blends that put the region on the global wine map in the 1980s, you have to drive west to coastal Tuscany, or Maremma.

Though you have traveled only an hour from Montalcino, it feels like you have entered another country as the landscape changes from dusty red hills to lush fields with bursts of palmettos.

You stop for a swim and a grilled seafood lunch at Punta Ala, a beach resort town empty but for a few Italian families with little kids; summer’s end is evident in the dozens of empty chaises lined up like soldiers at attention.

You reluctantly press on another hour to the Bolgheri region, home to the great wine houses of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. The day’s driving is starting to wear on you, so you stop again for a coffee, in the hill town of Castagneto Carducci.

Road to Castagneto Carducci

In its small piazza, which you approach via ascending circles like an Escher drawing, the town seems to be holding its breath. Out of sight, a car door slams; an orange cat slinks behind a pot of geraniums. You are grateful for these moments of vivid singularity.

Next to the small cafe, a window display with a half-stitched men’s suit catches your eye. You enter and a stocky man at a sewing machine offers greetings in a cluttered room lined with vintage cabinetry, bolts of fabric, and yellowed tailoring patterns.

He introduces himself as Florin Cristea and explains that the shop opened in 1911. A Romanian immigrant, he trained in Florence and worked for the original owner’s nephew, who left him the business.

Cristea proudly shows off a dark-green moleskin hunting jacket he’d sewn, with a pouch on the back to carry a rabbit or pheasant “But don’t use anymore for this, it’s just for fashion now,” he says.

A student comes to help him, he says, but there’s a law that requires paying apprentices. “In Italy it’s so difficult,” he says, shaking his head. “These kinds of traditions are dying out because they don’t give them the right medicine to keep it. Which is freedom.”

Down the hill at Ornellaia, you find that tradition is thriving. Founded in 1981, the 100-odd hectares are owned by a noble Florentine family, the Frescobaldis, who’ve been making wine since the 14 th century.

The rules to attain a Bolgheri DOC label are strict, as the grapes must be mainly a mix of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, or merlot, with no more than 30 percent coming from other native vines.

Every year, Ornellaia’s winemakers play with the formula to arrive at their new vintage, which they release after three years. All of this is relayed with polished authority during a tour of the property’s glass-walled production center and then in a villa-style tasting room by Irene, a young guide in black pencil pants and blouse.

You taste three 2014 vintages, from an entry-level wine to a reserve, the three of you swirling and sniffing and sipping and warming your throats with the full-bodied flavor of sun-ripened fruit.

You are sated and sleepy, and now face a 20-minute drive to the B&B. You pull over in the next town to rub your temples, cursing the distances that seemed so close on the map.

After three days in the Lancia—which Kara dubs “the Nugget”—you have found your rhythm and your roles: driver and navigator; shouter atreckless speeders and placatory. Also, your back and legs ache, like you’ve been on bed rest.

As Kara negotiates the terrifyingly twisty roads of the Ligurian coast, you both consider the unlikelihood of your friendship: You are married with three kids, Kara is single. Given the tribal cliquishness of demographics, some friendships don’t deepen.

Yet workplaces can be equalizers, stripping the usual signifiers from our identities; a road trip—which requires a division of labor, organization, and patience- turns out to be oddly similar.

For days, you were outrunning the shadow of cinematic cliché on your adventure; in Portofino, you pretty much surrender, as you step into a Rock Hudson/Gina Lollobrigida fantasia.

Portofino

Pink and yellow villas surrounded by bushy palms dot the steep hillside and overlook a small harbor filled with luxury boutiques and superyachts.

The Belmond Hotel Splendido, the clifftop former monastery where you’re staying, feeds the effect with its old-world reception area and a white-haired bartender of 47 years named Antonio, who mixes bellinis for men in gold-buttoned jackets and sockless loafers, with women in bandage dresses carrying glossy shopping bags.

At the base of the ascent to the Splendido, a tiny, comma-shaped man with corn-silk white hair beckons to you both. He’s dressed in white, down to the suspenders and Crocs. He invites you into his home, and because you are on a road trip and open to serendipity, you go.

The walls are hung with watercolors of two-masted schooners, yachts, and seascapes, many of them painted on maps. Tables are piled with framed and loose artworks; a vintage Louis Vuitton case stands open so visitors can rifle through the paintings.

The artist’s name is Corrado Cohen Luria; he was an exporter in Milan but retired to Portofino 20 years ago to sail and paint. The maps are old nautical charts on which you can still see pencil marks.

Cohen Luria’s studio looks out onto the harbor, which he’s sketching with a chunk of charcoal. He still sails, he says, but only with his sons. One shelf holds a cluster of trophies from regattas “and also some waterskiing from when I was a boy.”

Looking to get away from the crowds and Ferraris, the next morning you hire a water taxi to visit a nearby beach. As the boat pulls out of the harbor, the captain, cigarette in hand, points out Dolce and Gabbana’s blue-shuttered stone house. T

he small cove of San Fruttuoso’s five restaurants can be reached only by water— the best, the captain says, is Da Giorgio, but it’s “closed because the daddy died yesterday— infarcto,” at which he pounds his chest with his fist. You eat at Da Giovanni, overlooking the beach.

There is grilled scampi and steamed mussels and a caprese with pillowy slices of mozzarella, and you wash it all down with a local vermentino. It tastes entirely of its place: crisp and light as it scrubs the salty seafood from your lips.

You are grateful, as the Nugget chugs into Piedmont, for the scenery change. Compared to Tuscany, the weather is gloomier and the hills have an austere geometry, each one topped by a stone castle above ribbons of vineyards. Langhe, about an hour south of Turin, is the land of Barolo, that grandest of Italian reds made from nebbiolo grapes, which droop from their hangman scaffolding.

The castle at Serralunga d’Alba sets the tone—the 14th-century fortress once fended off invaders with a drawbridge over a pit of sharp lances and windows through which boiling urine was poured onto enemies. The hill towns are empty, with narrow streets of béarnaise-colored buildings and Alpine-style clock towers.

Serralunga d’Alba castle

You visit Poderi Gianni Gagliardo in La Morra, one of the region’s older winemakers. Gagliardo himself, an avuncular man in a Polo shirt, tours you through his spartan cellars. He explains that because of the way land is divided among heirs, the wineries in this region tend to be a patchwork of smallish plots.

This is long-game winemaking—aged 18 months in the barrel, then in bottles for a total of 36 months, itis designed to be drunk at least a decade later. In a small tasting room, you try nebbiolos and young Barolos; the dark and spicy flavors and sharp tannins conjure cool weather and braised meat.

You wonder about the taste of a mature Barolo, the way it’s meant to be drunk without entirely meaning to, you pipe up. Kara shoots you a look that says, That’s a $250 bottle of wine.

Gagliardo considers your challenge, then softens and sends his sommelier to fetch a bottle. She returns with a 2005 Reserve, which smells like freshly cut wood and tastes faintly of blackberries. If wine is about expectation, this exceeds it. Kara, at least, looks happy.

In Piedmont you have, finally, the first truly epic meal of the trip, at Trattoria della Posta. If the homey yet elegant farmhouse restaurant—with its terra-cotta floors and white tablecloths with crocheted doilies—looks familiar, it should: It has appeared in film. But as you and Kara have established, avoiding the expected isn’t always the smart move.

Trattoria della Posta restaurant

When you arrive, a heavyset nonna in a navy dress is sitting in the front hall. You have a chopped veal tartare, thinly ribboned tajarin pasta with veal ragout, and braised rabbit—along with a bottle of young nebbiolo from a couple of towns over. “Is it good?” the waiter asks each time he comes over. You notice the shoulders on his wiry frame pulled back in a dancer’s posture.

The elderly Italian couple next to you is celebrating a birthday. You don’t say much, and neither does Kara, which feels comfortable now after six days, the way the best friendships cross a line at some point into wordless ease. You think about how this is what you’d come for—and how you might have missed it if you’d been more clever in your planning.

So what if it’s just the way you imagined it?

It’s not about the Destination

Planning Your Route

We flew into Rome and out of Turin, but you could just as easily (if more expensively) fly into Florence or Pisa and rent a car at the airport. Along the way, we decided to skip the cities (Siena, Pisa, Genoa) in favor of hopping—perhaps too ambitiously— between small towns.

Tuscany and Liguria can get extremely crowded in July and August, so spring and fall are your best bets.

Southern Tuscany

Many of the medieval hill towns in the Val di Chiana (Cortona) and Val d’Orcia (Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino) are 20 to 40 minutes apart by car. While that may not seem like much, negotiating the narrow, winding roads and aggressive Italian drivers, especially at night and after some wine, can be stressful.

We started outside Cortona at Villa Loggio, the nine-room, German-owned vineyard-hotelina Tuscan – estate with minimalist, white-slipcovered interiors (they also run a small tasting room).

Then we moved west to La Bandita Townhouse, a chic boutique property in the perfectly preserved Renaissance town of Pienza (between Montalcino and Montepulciano), with an open- kitchen restaurant and a convivial common room filled with vinyl records, books, and an honor bar.

While in the area, detour to the hot springs at Bagno Vignoni: an unmarked dirt road one kilometer outside of town takes you to a cluster of mineral pools where you can steep while overlooking a lush valley.

Around Montepulciano there are several producers serving the region’s namesake wine; we stopped at Icario, a loft like, art-filled space, to taste its sangiovese-based reds.

Any number of local trattorias serve Tuscan classics like bistecca fiorentina and pici with wild boar sauce, but you’ll be well fed at the nostalgically rustic Osteria del Teatro in Cortona, or Locanda al PozzoAntico, off the plaza, for tasty home-style cooking.

Sette di Vino in Pienza (try the spectacular white-bean soup) has tables in a tiny piazza; in Montalcino. Drogheria Franci does a delicious risotto with pumpkin or local white truffles, and Locanda Demetra is an old cowshed turned cooking school/ restaurant that uses produce grown on property.

Southern Tuscany

Coastal Tuscany/Maremma

Driving from Montalcino, you’ll know you’re near the sea when the landscape turns quasi-tropical. At the tip of a peninsula, Punta Ala has a boat-dotted harbor and several largely indistinguishable beach clubs that, for 30 to 60 euros, will let you rent a chair and towel for the day.

From there, head north an hour to the medieval hamlet of Bolgheri, approached via the stately cypress- lined avenue that runs right into the fairy-tale-turreted Bolgheri Castle.

Inside the town’s walls you’ll find cafes and chic shops like Acqua di Bolgheri, also a fragrance made from regional botanicals, and Villa Toscana, which carries a smart selection of cashmere and handicrafts, like olive-wood cutting boards.

The store owner runs the charming antiques-and-toile-filled B&B where we stayed in nearby Bibbona, La Locanda di Villa Toscana, though the area has many small 3- and 4-star hotels. This is your base for visiting the wine house of Ornellaia for lush Super Tuscans, by appointment Monday to Friday.

Coastal Tuscany/Maremma

Liguria

Portofino is nearly three hours from Bolgheri, so we broke up the drive with a stop in Lucca, a gorgeously and historically layered, walled city with a pedestrian-only center ideal for exploring the old Roman amphitheater (now a cafe-lined piazza) and a multitude of churches and shops, as well as the house museum of Giacomo Puccini, whose Steinway is on display.

The coastal drive into Portofino is hair-raising, with narrow, twisting roads that require skillful coordination with oncoming traffic. The dreamy Belmond Hotel Splendido is on a steep hill overlooking the harbor—the outdoor dining room has a staggeringly good view. Once there, you can ditch your car for the hotel’s shuttle.

We had excellent fritto misto at Ő Magazin by the harbor; Puny is ideal for people (and boat) watching. Don’t miss the nightly show back up at the Splendido, when Vladimiro the pianist (and sometimes Antonio the bartender) gets the crowds singing and dancing past midnight.

For the 30-minute trip to San Fruttuoso for lunch and a swim, we rented a water taxi from Giorgio Mussini for 150 euros an hour.

Liguria

Piedmont

To manage the nearly three-hour trip north to the Langhe region of Barolos and barbarescos, consider a pit stop in Ovada, whose old center is a model of colorful Genoa-republic architecture, and Acqui Terme, a sulfur hot springs town with a Gothic cathedral.

Or, if you’re pressed for time, take the autostrade directly to Serralunga d’Alba, a mountain town topped by a 14th-century unfurnished castle with a chilling “well of torture” (at one time, a pit filled with swords) and a stunning view overlooking valleys of vineyards.

From the summit you can see the nearby hill town of Castiglione Falletto: a little farther out is Grinzane Cavour, with an engaging castle museum of winemaking plus an in-demand enoteca.

There are a number of small properties and B&Bs in the area, but the 18th-century Hotel Villa Beccaris in Monforte d’Alba stands out for its pool and private park.

We had our most memorable meal at the family- owned Trattoria della Posta (you’ll need to book a reservation, through info@trattoriadellaposta.it); as an aperitivo, try the pink sparkling wine from Parusso, made from nebbiolo grapes.

Also worthwhile is La Cantinetta in Barolo, which serves an excellent panna cotta. Poderi Gianni Gagliardo in La Morra runs a one-table dining room in a converted farmhouse that can be booked for simple or multicourse meals, accompanied by tastings of the producer’s elegant nebbiolos and Barolos.

Piedmont, Italy

For Help Getting it Done

We traveled with an assist from Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours, a 31- year-old, Salisbury, England-based company that maintains a deep network of wine producers and unique properties throughout Italy (and beyond); they’ll arrange cellar visits and activities that include truffle hunting and cooking classes.


It Takes Two – Tango in Buenos Aires

It’s Midnight in Buenos Aires when the couple climb the dark stairs, she in a dress that flares like a flower, he in jeans and a white shirt. They find themselves in a dim, vaulted room, a former silo turned milonga, or tango club, known as La Catedral.

They kiss and setoff in opposite directions. A new song begins: voluptuous bandoneon, melancholy violin. Couples glide across the parquet floor, the women swiveling on the balls of their feet in strappy tango heels, ankles flicking around their partners’ legs.

Sipping her wine at one of the small tables, the wife sees her husband make eye contact with a woman in a red sequin dress. She waits until she herself gets a look, returns it, and soon she and her husband are crossing each other on the dance floor, their temples pressed against a stranger’s.

Meanwhile, a young blond woman sits at another table, alone. She’s an agile dancer, she gets plenty of invitations, but she waits patiently for the man she deems the best tango dancer in the city to arrive.

Tango is all about flirting with the forbidden. Born in the late 1880s among urbanized gauchos in houses of ill repute at the edges of Buenos Aires, tango, like jazz, is a fusion of elements: the jerky, athletic contortions of the candombe, a dance developed by enslaved Africans; European imports such as the polka and mazurka; and the Cuban-Spanish rhythm habanera.

Once considered an over sexualized, low-life dance, tango was initially rejected by Argentinian society, until the rich kids, who also frequented the casas malas, brought it to Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg, where it became all the rage before World War I, provoking the Argentinian elite to reclaim it.

Led by Carlos Gardel, the singer “with the tear in his throat,” its popularity peaked in mid-century, only to be revived more recently with innovations like electronic tango and queer tango, inspiring young people to flood back to the dance.

At one recent tango matinee, two women with their hands on each other’s sacrum floated across the room, the younger one, in jean shorts and tango shoes, with a tattoo of a butterfly on her bade, taking the lead; the other, in black high-tops, striding swiftly backward.

But the music is not only played at the 30-plus balls that thrum into the early morning on any given day. It permeates the city’s cafes and bars and any taxi you step into. A tango, it is said, is a Greek tragedy in three minutes.

Tango on the streets of Buenos Aires

The lyrics tell stories of nostalgia, sweet and bitter. A man has been wounded by a woman, once a simple girl who lived in a boarding house but has gone on to embrace a life of luxury in the arms of many suitors.

The Argentine exiled in Paris longs for his beloved Buenos Aires—the street corner, the general store. “To study tango is to study the vicissitudes of the Argentine soul,” Jorge Luis Borges wrote.

With their Italian roots, Argentines have inherited a taste for intensity and drama, though standing outside the European tradition has given them a playfully transgressive edge.

According to the tango dancer and choreographer known as El Pulpo, “Tango is not just about sadness, it’s about the pleasure of being sad.”

Finally, at three in the morning, the dancer whom the pretty blond has waited for all night makes his entrance at La Catedral. He’s 70 years old, short, balding, a bit portly, but none of that makes any difference in tango.

The more experienced two dancers become, the more they can say to each other, as with a foreign language. You start with stock phrases, you understand the literal meanings of the words, then the more you know, the subtler the communication gets. The music begins: “First you learn to suffer / Then to love, then to leave, / And finally to walk without thinking.”

The so-called tango face that professional dancers don for performances is all fiery gazes and brooding mouths. But as the blond woman is spun around the room, her eyes remain closed above a serene smile.


India – Full-On Experience

On a bustling Mumbai street comer, knee-deep in tiffin boxes, I stand with Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, and photographer Andrea Gend, mesmerized by a flurry of men in white cotton caps who are stacking the tin boxes onto bikes with military precision.

We sidestep awkwardly, trying not to get in their way as they work in busy silence to ensure that each box is delivered to its rightful owner.

These are the dabbawalas, the couriers who each day ferry some 200,000 hot lunches to workers across the city from kitchens in the countryside where wives and mothers make food each morning for their loved ones.

The scene is arguably not as Instagrammable as many other moments on our trip, with little of the color of the intricately painted murals at the Jaipur City Palace, or the yellow marigolds spilling from hot-pink silk sacks at the flower market.

Yet each humble tiffin box (a typical one might include spicy vegetables, dal, rice, yogurt, bread, chutney, and dessert) is, in its way, a deeply moving celebration of culture and tradition—a defiant triumph of the freshly cooked over the fast or convenient.

Like the hectic fish market we’ve just come from, hidden away in Mumbai’s naval base, a visit to the dabbawalas is not a standard stop on the itinerary of the naive tourist in India.

But we’re traversing the country with David Prior, an anything-but-naive explorer, who’s test-launching a series of custom-designed trips drawing on his unrivaled little black book of contacts and an uncanny instinct for sussing out unique experiences in any locale.

He has led us off the well-worn tourist path and brought us to places from Mumbai to Maheshwar in search of something different—a taste of modern-day Indian food culture in all its rich, complex, and enigmatic glory.

David gathered an eclectic group of friends for this trip, many of them alums of Chez Panisse (where he worked with Alice for a few years), including winemaker Cristina Salas-Porras Hudson and food writer Fritz Streiff, along with chefs Seen Lippert and Gilbert Pilgram, now of San Francisco’s Zuni Café.

Australian environmentalist Judy Stewart and New York photography duo Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers also joined. For all of us, food is a lifelong passion—and for many of us, it is our first experience of India.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that our days played out as a sequence of meals. Or rather, it is the meals that monopolize my recollection of our trip. From the dabbawalas we proceed to Kyani & Co., one of a handful of cafes opened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Parsi settlers—Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran. Improbably little has changed since the restaurant first opened its doors in 1904.

The intimate interior is all dusty, faded grandeur, the walls lined with shelves of glass biscuit jars, each labeled in neat cursive with flavors that read like something out of an Enid Blyton children’s book: milk biscuits, banana cheese wafers, badam or coconut jam biscuits.

The smell of freshly baked bread that permeates the cafe is not only sweet relief from the polluted bustle of the city’s streets but intoxicatingly wistful.

Huddled around a few wooden tables, we indulge in mugs of milky sweet chai tea, biscuits, and soft buttered white bread, and delight in the eccentricity of the vintage signage that adorns the restaurant’s walls: NO LAPTOPS and NO FLATULENCE ALLOWED.

It was, however, an unexpectedly good lunch at a working-class thali café that proved the highlight of our time in Mumbai. We would never have found the no-frills spot on the second floor of a cinder-block building—nor thought to eat there—had it not been for our guide that day, the celebrated Mumbai restaurateur and chef Rahul Akerkar.

“McDonald’s clean” is how David describes the restaurant as we clamber apprehensively upstairs to a sterile room with Formica tables and strip lighting. At first glance, it certainly has the soullessness of a McDonald’s.

But we eat so much and so well (Gujarati thali platters laden with creamy lentils, saffron-scented basmati rice, and bhakri—flatbreads made with sorghum flour and laced with ghee) that when we are done, Alice asks to see the kitchen.

There, behind closed doors, we discover a culinary whirlwind: pans of steaming-hot dal and rice; baskets of fresh coriander and red chilies; the overwhelming, deliciously foreign scent of spice; and a gaggle of women clad in saris, sitting on the floor, chatting away and deftly malting naan on the boards at their feet.

It is unlike restaurant kitchens any of us have ever seen, and the beautiful informality and conviviality of the cooking here goes a long way toward explaining the excellence of our meal.

I had joined the group late, along with Suzanne Goin (chef-owner of the Los Angeles restaurant Lucques) and her husband, David Lentz (chef-owner of the Hungry Cat in Hollywood), at Ahilya Fort, an 18th-century palace set in the 4,000-year-old town of Maheshwar, in Madhya Pradesh.

Formerly a private home, Ahilya has operated as a boutique hotel since 2000, a bohemian oasis in a part of India otherwise untouched by tourism. With no other guests staying there, it feels like a relaxed house party.

On arrival, we are whisked off onto the Narmada River in wooden boats by Prince Richard Holkar, the son of the last Maharaja of Indore, who now runs the hotel.

As the sun sets, a thousand flickering candles float peacefully on the water. We each place a votive nestled in a leaf holder into the current, adding our wishes to the cluster of glimmering flames.

We spend our days at Maheshwar lounging by the secluded pool, strolling through the fort’s shady organic gardens, and exploring the majestic ruins of the nearby abandoned 13th-century city of Mandu.

If we travel to escape the mundanity of our own worlds, to experience that elusive magic of elsewhere, then in Maheshwar we find a fairy tale.

On our last night at Ahilya, we dress for a banquet—the men in red turbans and women in rain- bow-hued silk saris, each beautifully woven by women in a nearby cooperative we visited that morning.

Standing in the palace’s turret at sunset, Judy, Cristina, and I, in blushing pink, deepest blade, and ice blue, are princesses in a tower, if only for a night.

Dinner is served at a long, lantern-lit table in the fort’s garden, the hum of cicadas trilling in the background. Our guide, Sameer, talks us through the plentiful and unfamiliar flavors on the thali plates in front of us, and he regales us with stories of his own family’s kitchen. His mother, he insists, makes an even better curry—in fact, she makes the best curry.

We observe that the kitchen at Ahilya, like the one at the lunch joint in Mumbai, is utterly basic.

And yet out of it comes dish upon dish of exquisite beauty: duck in pomegranate sauce, jackfruit biryani, banana in smoked yogurt, tomato curry, many varieties of naan and chapati, still warm to the touch.

Our various meals in India have excited us with the possibilities of new spices and preparations.

At the same time, the food tradition’s emphasis on family and history, as well as its seeming contradictions—deriving complex flavors from elemental ingredients, eating with your hands in even the finest settings—is a useful reminder to us all of what we have long believed in: the value of simplicity and humility in cooking.

Varanasi, where we fly next, is another ancient river town, on the banks of the Ganges in the north of India. But whereas Maheshwar is dreamy, Varanasi electrifies. Open pyres burn along the waterside, their bright flames dancing in the air with all the drama of a scene from Game of Thrones.

Varanasi – City of Gods

It is here, the holiest place in India, that the Hindus burn their dead; and, as tradition dictates, it is here that many come to die, believing that death on the Ganges will free their souls from the bonds of reincarnation.

Yet life—vibrant and raw—is what most defines Varanasi: the children playing cricket along the ghats; the boisterous monkeys who unashamedly steal into your bedroom should you leave the window open; the cows and the stray dogs that amble through the streets; the heaving crowds; the busy shopkeepers; and the saffron-robed priests who congregate along the water’s edge, washing, praying, and selling their blessings under the shade of faded umbrellas.

On our last afternoon, a small group of us take a boat to the burning ghats. We moor a few feet away from the pyres—no cameras, no iPhones, just us and the fire. As we watch, a gaggle of men carry a body, laid out on a bamboo stretcher and bound in ceremonial yards of brightly colored silks, and set it onto the flames. I’ve never been so physically close to death.

“At the end of the day,” our guide tells us, “the locals take the embers from the pyre and use them to cook their chapatis.” In India, death, life, and the next meal go hand in hand.


Mexico City – A Thriving Metropolis

Mexico City is known for its inclusive vibe, vibrant cultural offerings, varied architecture, and exploding culinary scene.

A hub for entertainment, Mexico City attracts only 8 the best of the best. Renowned musicians from around the world Global sporting events like Formula One.

Big businesses that come to town for meetings and conventions. There is so much to do and see. It is no wonder that Mexico City is a popular Latin American destination.

Between October 31 and November 2, The Day of the Dead holiday is celebrated -a tradition that dates back more than 3.000 years. The festivities begin with an enormous parade in which locals, adorned in different colorful native garb, march through the streets.

The Day of the Dead on the streets of Mexico City

The celebration continues with the exposition of hundreds of traditional alters that are made to honor deceased loved ones. This ritual is a highlight of the year.

The arts and culture scene of Mexico City is also a reason why it is one of the most important destinations in the country.

It’s home to a plethora of museums as well as classic and contemporary architecture—a mix of pre-hispanic and colonial, European and modern structures.

The culinary scene is sublime as well. The flavor profiles that come from the chefs of Mexico City merge traditional Mexican cuisine with other worldly dishes.

And as if all this weren’t enough. Mexico City is also filled with opportunities to experience thrilling adventure activities-from kayaking through the canals of Xochimilco to conquering the largest climbing wall in Latin America to cycling through the city.

There is really something for everyone.


The Eden Roc Miami Beach – An Oceanfront Treasure

With an oceanfront location in the heart of Miami’s Mid-Beach and just minutes from Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive, and the Wynwood Arts District, Eden Roc Miami Beach offers travelers a beachfront retreat synonymous with contemporary Miami luxury.

This oceanside treasure boasts 418 spacious guestrooms and suites. 3 stunning pools. 22,000 square foot spa and fitness facility, a signature Nobu restaurant, and the farm-to-table restaurant. Malibu Farm (open late 2017).

Eden Roc’s ocean-facing suites offer savvy travelers, relaxation seekers, beach lovers, and culinary enthusiasts the chance to indulge in a truly immersive setting and enjoy curated experiences throughout their stay. Eden Roc provides a truly one-of-a-kind experience.


Find Luxury in South Walton – Florida

Located in Northwest Florida South Walton is continually recognized as a premier destination that boasts 26 miles of sugar-white sand, turquoise water and 16 acclaimed beachside neighborhoods, each with its own personality and style.

In South Walton, luxury accommodations, challenging golf, eclectic shops, unique art galleries, and award winning dining are part of the area’s distinctive character and relaxing atmosphere.

Both on the beach and off, outdoor activities are naturally abundant in South Walton.

Beyond traditional sunning and swimming, adventurous travelers will enjoy stand-up paddleboarding or fishing on the stunning water of the Gulf of Mexico or one of the area’s 15 rare coastal dune lakes.

With more than 200 miles of trails, nature lovers are invited to observe rare birds while hiking through state parks and forests.

The 19-mile Timpoochee Trail beckons runners and bicyclists past New Urbanist neighborhoods and coastal dune lakes. Challenge yourself to a game of tennis or golf on one of several acclaimed courts and courses.

Is shopping your passion? Indulge in some retail therapy at one of the nation’s largest designer outlets, and then browse an eclectic mix of chic and sophisticated boutiques and galleries.

Foodies will relish the fusion of flavors created by award winning chefs using fresh-from-the-Gulf and locally sourced ingredients. As the sun makes its spectacular evening splash into the sea, enjoy live music and dancing at one of the local hot spots

An upscale, yet casual area to unwind. South Walton is the place to rejuvenate, build lasting memories, and find your perfect beach.


The Palm Beaches – America’s First Resort Destination

Indulge in the finer things in life as you explore a destination recognized for its sophisticated elegance and lavish offerings.

In The Palm Beaches, you can immerse yourself in luxurious accommodations, fine dining, high-end shopping, and upscale spas-all within a glamorous setting of the Atlantic Ocean and South Florida’s picturesque Intracoastal Waterway.

Those who desire exceptional service and hospitality will find what they are looking for in one of the many luxury boutique hotels, inns, and resorts that grace The Palm Beaches.

As one of these oases as your base, you can wander out and lounge on a piece 47-mile, sun-soaked beachfront, explore the lush green landscape by bike or foot on one of numerous trails, or navigate one of the fascinating waterways to experience the essence of The Palm Beaches.

But the destination is more than just beaches. You can taste the fresh flavors of the farmland and the fresh-caught seafood from the Atlantic coast, indulge in shopping at traditional malls or along historically charming avenues, enjoy one or more of over 200 cultural and family-friendly attractions, and catch a match at any of the many sporting events-ranging from golf and polo to baseball and croquet.

Conveniently positioned one hour north of Miami and two hours southeast of Orlando, the destination is accessible via three International Airports (Palm Beach International Airport, Miami International Airport, and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport).

As the “Best Way to Experience Florida”, The Palm Beaches offers visitors everything from classic luxury to natural wonder, and the options are limitless and often surprising.


The Mulia, Mulia Resort & Villas – Nusa Dua – Bali

Located on the breathtaking coastline of Nusa Dua in Bali, The Mulia, Mulia Resort & Villas continue to receive awards from Condé Nast Traveler year after year as it offers three luxurious experiences within one spectacular beachfront resort.

The Mulia Nusa Dua, Bali is a boutique, all-suite property that truly exceeds expectations for style, comfort, and service. Revel in serenity as you relax in a Jacuzzi, located on the private patios of each one- and two-bedroom suites.

Add to that the spacious living areas, state-of-the-art entertainment systems, and a personal on-call butler, and you may never want to leave your room.

But you should as The Mulia boasts one of the most luxurious pools in Bali, the Oasis beachfront pool.

Or, if the beach is your preference, you can relax in the sugary sand or try canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding.

The grand Mulia Villas range in size from one to six bedrooms, with interiors that are inspired by traditional Balinese homes.

Spend your day staring at the spectacular views of the Indian Ocean or wandering the pathways and private gardens for a transformative escape.

With your private hydrotherapy pool in your villa, you won’t have a care in the world.

From the moment you arrive at The Mulia & Mulia Villas, you are welcomed by a feeling of exclusivity, luxury, and activity.

Located on the first designated purity reserve in the world, the resort delivers a five-star, authentic Balinese hospitality experience

The Mulia & Mulia Villas offer a truly opulent escape in the world’s most famous oasis.