CohaneTravels: Angkor Wat

 

One of the traditional Khmer Villas at Sala Lodges.

One of the traditional Khmer Villas at Sala Lodges.

Cambodia has become one of my very favorite destinations in the world. I love the landscape, from the gentle countryside to the white-sand beaches, the people are so gentle and open despite their recent history, and I have found some beautiful small hotels and getaways there. I still find it a very complicated place to visit, the underage sex tourism and proliferation of unsustainable development in certain areas is quite disturbing (see my recent piece on Ethical Travel for the New York Times). BUT I feel that there are so many ways to support the country in the right ways too.

Just one of the amazing details at Angkor Wat.

Just one of the amazing details at Angkor Wat.

On my last visit we went to the South of the country. Kep and the islands nearby were such an exciting discovery (see my article for the New York Times) but this time we went to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. I won’t go into too much detail as lots of travelers have talked about the incredible complex of temples but I have to say I was even more blown away than I expected—the artistic detail, the remarkable architecture, and the setting of the rainforest. I particularly fell in love with Ta Prohm.

I spent my downtime lounging on this day bed at Sala Lodges.

I spent my downtime lounging on this day bed at Sala Lodges.

We set up base at the Sala Lodges, a very appreciated recommendation by Jason Friedman, the GM at Bangkok’s Siam hotel, and it turned out to be one of my favorite finds in Southeast Asia—so much so that I wrote about it for Conde Nast Traveller’s Hot List. The 11 restored Khmer villas were in and of themselves a work of art, perfectly renovated to preserve their original bones, but with luxe adds like huge rainshowers and delicious bedding.

Floating village near Siem Reap.

Floating village near Siem Reap.

I also appreciated that the property was on the edge of Siem Reap, close to the fluorescent rice paddies and small villages of the countryside, and Siem Reap itself, a burgeoning atmospheric town. Biking around the countryside and along the banks of the river made me realize that spending time just enjoying local life was as much a draw for me as the temples. My son and I also really enjoyed a tuk tuk ride and river excursion to one of the floating villages; most visitors go to place like Chong Kneas (with its Disneyfied crocodile farms and kids with huge snakes) but Sala sent us further afield and it was a highlight of the trip. Everything was floating on the water: shops, homes, even a small church.

Loved the design and food at riverside Cheney Tree.

Loved the design and food at riverside Cheney Tree.

Sala isn’t the only new Siem Reap hotel to open its doors: the former Hotel de la Paix has reemerged as the Park Hyatt (read Conde Nast Traveler Hot List review) and they have done a great job of updating the property without destroying the colonial underpinnings like the atmospheric courtyard. And the new Anantara is a little out of main drag but I loved the rooms with little terraces leading into a long beautiful pool. And the food was wonderful: In addition to Sala’s modern style restaurant (with an excellent cross section of both western and Cambodian dishes) we had great meals at Cheney Tree and Cuisine Wat Damnak.

I am counting down the months until our next trip.

 

 

Eat, Stay, Buy Locally: Treading Lightly on the Road (New York Times, April 2014)

For Ethical, Cambodia

Between the intricate shrines of Angkor Wat, the diverse landscapes of the countryside and the kindness of its people — and despite the horrors of its recent history — Cambodia knocks a lot of people off their feet. It certainly had that effect on me when I first visited a few years ago and then again when I returned this winter. Yet it was impossible not to notice the school-age children begging barefoot at the major tourist sites, underage local women escorting Western men on sex tours, and the proliferation of seemingly unsustainable large-scale resorts being built on the pristine southern coast.

It’s a classic traveler’s question, one that is especially pronounced in developing or poor countries: Is your visit to a destination ultimately helping or hurting the place and its people? Is it possible to travel ethically in such places?

READ FULL STORY

Following Dylan Thomas in Wales (New York Times March 2014)

Dylan Thomas writing studio

 

Climbing along a steep coastal path through a forest in southern Wales, with russet red and tawny brown autumn leaves crunching beneath my feet, I reached a crest where the trailhead looked back onto a long estuary lined with salt flats. The River Taf ran through the headlands before me, its glacier-cut course unmistakable alongside the grass-covered cliffs on either side. The sea spread out before me, a moody canvas of blues and gray. White-topped gorse and cherry-red currant bushes gave color to my panorama, the plaintive chorus of sea birds the only soundtrack.

I’d come to Wales, and to this spot specifically, to follow in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh-born poet who made this walk famous in his 1944 “Poem in October.” In the piece, which Thomas wrote after taking this trail on his 30th birthday, his mood shifts from ecstatic to melancholic, much like the weather did during his outing. Throughout, he describes the landscape with some of the most lyrical language I have read, and as my 3-year-old son ran joyously ahead, he became a living image of Thomas’s lines:

And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s

Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother

Through the parables

Of sun light

And the legends of the green chapels.

Thomas would have turned 100 this October, and, in celebration of one of Wales’s most famous figures, a year of festivities has been planned for 2014

READ FULL STORY

Finding a Setting That Captures a Scene (New York Times, Feb 2014)

Grand Budapest

 

Wes Anderson’s films are best known for their eccentric characters and rigorously whimsical tone. But just as distinctively captured are their settings. Think of the colors and textures of the Indian landscapes in “The Darjeeling Limited,” for example, or the lovingly rendered Mediterranean locations in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.”

The director’s latest offering, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which opens March 7, tells the story of a concierge (Ralph Fiennes) between the world wars who becomes a murder suspect. The movie takes place in the invented EuropeanRepublic of Zubrowka. But because the primary location plays such a large role, finding the right spot to shoot entailed intricate scouting.

Below, in an edited conversation, is a taste of what that process entailed, and some of the places that have inspired Mr. Anderson.

READ Q&A

CohaneTravels:Update Bangkok

Bangkok at dusk.

Bangkok at dusk.

As many of you know, Bangkok has become one of my very favorite cities in the world. And I am not alone in my desire to visit it frequently: according to the new Global Destination Index it is now the most visited city on the globe, even more than spots like New York and London. I have been four times in the last 20 months and the more I get to know it the more I fall in love with its mix of high design and low-brow kitsch, the incredible, and surprising, range of restaurants, and the great variety of hotels that pretty much suit every taste.

It is at that perfect moment where the city doesn’t feel too gentrified and still has plenty of corners to get away from tourists, but there is a real entrepreneurial spirit blooming in the new generation of hoteliers and chefs. Here was a piece I wrote about the inventive food scene for the New York Times.

The Opposite Mess Hall's eclectic, and delicious, menu.

The Opposite Mess Hall’s eclectic, and delicious, menu.

Restaurants

I love eating in Bangkok. The choices span from the most delicious and cheap street food to unpretentious but tasty home cooking at small family-owned places, to upscale Thai and fusion restaurants.

On this trip one of my favorite meals was at the new Opposite Mess Hall. Owned by the same owners as WTF (a cocktail bar and performance space across the street) this new restaurant completely embodies the kind of spot I like, small plates, great cocktails, unfussy, but fresh and seasonal. Among the highlights there was the steamed Chinese Bun filled with fried tempeh, smoked cheese, srircha mayonnaise and kimchi, a seeming odd combination but a dish so good it stayed on my mind for months. Oh and their Pompelo margherita…We also tried Nahm in the Metropolitan hotel, a restaurant that won the number one spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for Asia this year. It was New Year’s Day and the service was incredibly slow, but the food was mind blowing, especially plates like the smoked fish, peanut and tapioca dumplings, and a fresh water fish curry that was perfectly spiced. We also had to make a return trip to Gaggan (number three on that same Asia list), the incredible Indian-fushion place that has become one of my favorites, not only for Gaggan’s inventive take on Indian classics, but because the atmosphere is fun and the landmark mansion where the restaurant is housed, just lovely.

Trying Thai boxing at the Siam.

Trying Thai boxing at the Siam.

Neighborhoods

One of the pleasures of spending more time in the Thai capital is discovering parts of the city away from the more touristy Sukhumvit. We now love older parts of Bangkok like Dusit with its beautiful old palaces. Dusit is also home to the Siam hotel www.thesiamhotel.com which opened last year, a beautiful and intimate new property filled with antiques like a terracotta Tang dynasty horse statue, a Jim Thompson-designed house which is home to the wonderful restaurant onsite, and Art Deco gems from both Bangkok and Burma. The owner, Krissada Sukosol Clapp, is a former Thai pop turned movie star, and funnily enough  his wife Melanie and my husband once worked for SonyBMG’s International Marketing Department together (now they are hoteliers, who would have thought?). Nearby Krua Apsorn on Samsen Road, is one of the old town’s best local restaurants with a light and fluffy crab omelette, crispy fried chicken wings and ‘pad dok krajorn’ with flower buds fried with minced pork.

Kriss and Melanie's landmark home.

Kriss and Melanie’s landmark home.

Kriss and Melanie invited us to their home in Pranakhon near Chinatown on the first night we arrived. The restored hundred-year-old Thai gem has huge open spaces and great original details plus a treasure trove of Kriss’s antiques and market finds. Talk about real estate envy! This whole area of town is a revelation full of chophouses slowly being transformed into private homes and businesses. Once the new extension of the MRT subway is finished it will also be easier to get there from the city center.

Tuk tuk: our favorite form of transport.

Tuk tuk: our favorite form of transport.

For the Kids

You might not initially think that this would be a good destination for kids but Jacopo has fallen in love with the city and over time we have found some really fun things to do with him. He loves taking boat trips on the Chao Phraya river, and Lumpini park has a number of good playgrounds as well as pedal boats to tool around on. And on rainier days, Funarium was a must: the huge inside playground comes with climbing walls, slides, a cycling rink (with bikes, trikes and helmets), a toddler play area, as well cooking classes and crafts. Grown-ups get wifi and a massage station! And don’t miss a tuk tuk ride; Jacopo now says he wants to get one for Pienza although we may have to settle for an ape.

 

 

CohaneTravels: Best of 2013

I haven’t posted a blog for about a month but promise it’s for good reason. I have been on the road for more than five weeks, and have discovered some wonderful new places and spots (watch this space). But before moving on to 2014 here were some of my travel highlights of 2013:

 

Dedon Island Resort: beautiful design and lovely views.

Dedon Island Resort: beautiful design and lovely views.

The Philippines. We went in January of last year and fell completely and utterly in love. With a growing infrastructure, beautiful resorts, spectacular beaches, and some of the kindest people I have ever met, the country was going through a real upswing when we were there. Which made the devasting tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan that much more heartbreaking. BUT many areas have not been affected at all and a great way to show support is to go visit now! Dedon Island Resort, for example, a short flight from Cebu, is an exquisitely designed property with amazing surfing (here is the account of our visit there in the New York Times, and the El Nido Pangulasian Island, the perfect launch pad to explore the stunning Palawan archipelago. For more ideas about where to stay, check out my Filipino round-up in Conde Nast Traveller.

 

The view from Bhutan's new Uma Punakha.

The view from Bhutan’s new Uma Punakha.

Bhutan. The Kingdom of the Heavens more than lived up to its billing, and I will never forget the views of the snowcapped Himalayas against the bluest of skies. Or the quiet mountain-top monasteries that were more than worth hours-long hikes. However I do feel like there is a ton of development taking place in the tiny country now that tourism is expanding there—in other words to see it in its most pristine state get there sooner than later. And don’t miss a stay at the new idyllic Uma Punakha—their accommodations give new meaning to a room with a view.

 

Our son enjoys the view of the sea on Koh Phangan.

Our son enjoys the view of the sea on Koh Phangan.

Koh Phangan. Best known for its Full Moon parties and last visited by this particular traveler back in 1990 (!), this island off Koh Samui actually turned out to be a great destination with our two year old. Who would have guessed? We rented a house that looked like an architectural showcase with incredible views of the Andaman Sea (for a really reasonable price) and had a wonderful week getting to know the charming village alongside Thong Nai Pan Noi beach. There is also a very charming Anantara property there.

A nook of Marrakech's Riad El Fenn.

A nook of Marrakech’s Riad El Fenn.

 

Marrakech. I can’t believe it took me until last year to make it to Morocco but luckily I made up for it in 2013 and fell in love, particularly with the hotel Riad el Fenn, the tangled alleys of the Medina and the colors and light of the city (oh and the shop Majorelle 33 has been added to my favorite shops in the world list). Next time I want to head to the Atlas Mountains, and Essouria.

A landscape outside Laugharne where Dylan Thomas lived.

A landscape outside Laugharne where Dylan Thomas lived.

 

Wales. I went to Wales for a New York Times story about Dylan Thomas that will come out this year, but even though I was open minded, I wasn’t quite sure if the country would be among my faves. Instead, the landscapes, particularly around the coast, were drop dead gorgeous, and surprisingly, despite some very unmemorable meals we ate really well at places like the Cors B&B and the Coalhouse.

 

A Penang street during Chinese New Year perfectly accessorized by a vintage car.

A Penang street during Chinese New Year perfectly accessorized by a vintage car.

Penang. Beautiful architecture? Check. Great local and authentic food? Check. Burgeoning and interesting art scene? Check. I went to Penang to do a Conde Nast Traveler review on the Macalister Mansion hotel, and the story was the entry to a city that really got under my skin, from its well-preserved colonial old town to its varied cuisine (Indian, Chinese, Malay), and the fledging art scene. It is a city I would return to in a heartbeat.

Romantic Verona on a moody March day.

Romantic Verona on a moody March day.

Verona. Arguably one of Italy’s most underrated cities with an incredible amphitheater, delicious food and wine, and an easing navigable and charming Medieval center, part of Verona’s charm is the lack of crowds, especially in shoulder season like March when I went. Read more about the city’s attractions in my 36 Hours for the New York Times.

CohaneTravels: London Calling

Every Thanksgiving week for the last fifteen years has been spent in London. We have dear friends who put on a feast every season that is one of my favorite traditions of the year, the Christmas lights and windows are starting to give the whole town a festive feel, and it is an opportunity to discover new spots and favorite venues every November. These were some of the highlights this year.

The Shed: Even the wallpaper in the bathroom recalls the brothers farming roots.

The Shed: Even the wallpaper in the bathroom recalls the brothers farming roots.

Eats: My favorite discovery this trip food-wise was the Shed in Notting Hill. Our dear friends Jamie and Elizabeth Byng raved about it and we were so pleased to find such a unique place. Run by two brothers (the third brother provides most of the produce and meat from their farm in Nutbourne, West Sussex) the spot really is like a refurbished and rambling potting shed but the setting only adds to the authentic, bustling and charming feel. The menu is perfect for sharing: we loved the individual “mouthfuls” of beetroot crisp, goats cheese, confit egg yolk, and Maldon oyster to start, and dishes like golden candied beetroots, almonds, crème fraiche and hake with smoked cauliflower, red onion and mussel salsa. The food was outstanding and the atmosphere so much fun; it will be on my list for future trips too. I only wish I lived down the street so I could make it my regular. Oldies but goodies: Breakfast at the Art Deco Wolseley is always a must and we never miss a long and delicious dinner at the inimitable River Café.

Some of the goodies at Couverture.

Some of the goodies at Couverture.

Shops: I am completely in love with Couverture & the Garbstone, a wonderful store on Kensington Park Road near Portobello Market. Their edit of women’s, kids, and housewares is impeccable, I honestly find myself wanting to buy everything. There are beautiful clutches from Claire Vivier, wonderful pillows, soft throws, as well as whimsical notecards and great toys. This time I got a gorgeous gold bracelet from Lizzie Fortunato in addition to some smaller purchases. I was also so excited to hear from the beautiful and talented swim and eyewear designer, Anna Laub, behind Prism, that she is opening a standalone shop just in time for London’s fashion week in February–down from Andre Balazs’s soon to open hotel in Marylebone. Can’t wait to suit up there. Oldies but goodies: I always pop into Caramel Baby & Child for cozy sweaters for my son, Bodas for their flattering bikinis, and the pop up Kensal Flea for great vintage finds.

The Mandarin Oriental has a sublime location on Hyde Park.

The Mandarin Oriental has a sublime location on Hyde Park.

Stay: We are very lucky to have close friends who lend us their house (kitted out for a boy my son’s age) each year but for the first two nights we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Location location location. I walked out and there was Harvey Nichols right in front of me (bad for the wallet) and behind beloved Hyde Park, with its trees full of beautiful autumn colors. From our room’s window we could see the twinkling lights of the Christmas Ferris Wheel, and I had a fabulous lunch at Café Boloud. They will be unveiling a new spa and pool soon.

While the boys hit Winter Wonderland I brought Jacopo a new sweater at Caramel Baby & Child.

While the boys hit Winter Wonderland I brought Jacopo a new sweater at Caramel Baby & Child.

Kids in tow: I really do love London (we lived there for two years when I was a kid) but somehow when we travel with Jacopo it is even more magical, the lights of the city through his eyes, the rides on tubes and double decker buses, the walks in the parks feeding the ducks, like I did with my mother.  This year we also took him to Winter Wonderland, the annual Christmas market with its stalls, amusement rides, and his first Santa’s grotto. He ended up going three times and here’s a good tip, if you go in the morning during the week,when London kids are at school, there is no wait for the rides, even for the beloved Ferris Wheel. He also adores the Science Museum and visits to many incredibly well maintained playgrounds like the Diana Memorial.  I am honest about which cities are not so great with children (I am glad I left him home when we went to Marrakech) but London, I find, is just perfect.

 

 

Tactical Retreat (South China Morning Post)

 

 

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Holistic approach shifts focus to concentrate on the well-being of the mind and soul,

writes Ondine Cohane

It can be very hard to change a lifelong habit or deal with stress and still maintain a daily routine, but extra help is at hand. Destination spas and retreats are now attending to their clients’ psychological and emotional issues, and offering fitness guidance and aesthetic treatments. These extra services have created one of the fastest-growing niches in the travel/spa industry.

READ FULL STORY

 

The Daily Traveler: Antinori’s New Cantina in Tuscany (Conde Nast Traveler)

The dramatic flying spiral staircase from Antinori's new cantina in Chianti

The dramatic flying spiral staircase from Antinori’s new cantina in Chianti

At This Italian Winery, the Architecture’s as Amazing as the Chianti

Antinori is one of the biggest names in Italian wine, but it’s not just the Chianti that’s drawing visitors to their hillside winery near the village of Bargino, 20 minutes outside Florence. The winemaker’s new state-of-the-art, cantilevered headquarters, Cantina Antinori, is luring architecture buffs who are as interested in the Archea-designed structure as they are in a fine Super Tuscan. Archea, one of Italy’s leading architecture firms, gave Antinori a space that both makes a statement, and alludes to the colors and terrain of the surrounding, gently hilly landscape. Here’s how to make a weekend out of your visit.

Stay

The new 41-room Castello di Casole occupies a restored tenth-century castle in the heart of Tuscany and is surrounded by 4,200 acres of vineyards and olive trees. Don’t leave before taking a plunge in the infinity pool overlooking the spectacular valley (888-548-9429; doubles from $440).

Eat

Oreade is the newest addition to Monteverdi, a collection of rental villas, a hotel, and a bar in the tiny hilltop hamlet of Castiglioncello del Trinoro. It has sweeping views of the Val d’Orcia and classic Tuscan dishes like bistecca alla fiorentina (Via di Mezzo 8; 39- 0578-268-146; entrées from $33).

Drink

The brainchild of the owners of Siena’s well-known Osteria le Logge restaurant, Un Tubo is part wine bar and part performing arts space tucked into an ancient cellar. There’s jazz, theater, and readings throughout the week (Via del Luparello 2, Siena).

Bring Back

The soft leather bags at Pienza’s Officine 904 are the embodiment of Tuscan artisanship (Via Dogali 16).

SEE FULL POST

 

CohaneTravels: Brunello 101.

Living in Pienza close to the Brunello-rich vineyards of Montalcino has its oenophile advantages: a supply of some of the best vintages at prices that are a fraction of those on wine lists in places like London or New York.

Pierre-Jean Monnoyer leading the wine tasting.

Pierre-Jean Monnoyer leading the wine tasting.

This weekend we had the opportunity to do a wine tour with Lauren Cicione, the owner of Tuscan Auteur, an outfitter that specializes in taking clients and collectors to smaller producers in Montalcino, and all over Italy, as well as organizing villa rentals and private chefs. Our first stop was Casa Raia, a tiny (only 1.5 hectares) but outstanding organic vineyard that only recently started their production of wines. Owner Pierre-Jean Monnoyer led us through the cantina and then a delicious tasting; I loved the 2008 Brunello, smooth and gentle, with soft tannins. The area is always gorgeous, but the orange and reds of the vines in fall made the landscape a particularly amazing sight.

The church at the Sestis where we ate lunch and drank a lot of wine.

The church at the Sestis where we ate lunch and drank a lot of wine.

Our next stop was to Castello di Argiano, a producer I know very well (as my husband and I had the great fortune to get married there). A visit to the estate is heavenly in itself: the former medieval hamlet overlooks vineyards and Monte Amiata in the distance, it has a picturesque castle sitting on top of the cantina, and the owners Giuseppe, Sarah and Elisa Sesti are the most hospitable hosts in town. But the vintages here happen to be also some of Montalcino’s best: organic, distinctive and an example of a gentle and unintrusive way of making wine. We ate lunch and drank wine in the estate’s 8th century church, surely one of the world’s most unusual and beautiful tasting spots.

He won't be drinking soon but no reason not to start an education at Sesti.

He won’t be drinking soon but no reason not to start an education at Sesti.

Here are five things you need to know about Brunello:

Brunello is specific wine made in a specific place. All brunello comes ONLY from estate grown Sangiovese grapes within the tiny Comune di Montalcino

With any fine wine, it’s always advisable to wait a few years to drink it. But Brunello is the only wine where BY LAW you HAVE to wait. Brunello must stay with the producer at least five years before becoming commercially available.

Brunello is a relatively recent phenomenom. In the 1980s there were just a few dozen producers making it without much fanfare, but now there are over 200 producers.

Some of the best brunellos are now made by women whereas the wine business used to be a man’s world.

There is a whole new generation of young and up and coming producers with tiny productions of just a few thousand bottles, from organic grapes, that are biodynamically cultivated, and use only natural yeasts and a minimum amount of sulfites.

Here are my other favorite producers (in addition to Sesti and Raia); snag them quickly if you see them on a wine list:

Poggio di Sotto: A Montalcino standout.

Poggio di Sotto: A Montalcino standout.

Poggio di Sotto: This estate has my very favorite Rosso di Montalcino; think of it as the baby brother of the bigger bodied Brunello, that is also one of my top five preferred Brunellos.  The estate was recently sold but I am hoping the quality remains the same.

Cupano: We love this French style producer that uses small yields and no pesticides or fertilizers. Cupano’s Brunellos have gained a cult following for good reason, and the estate, complete with its draft horse, is one of the area’s most charming.

Stella Di CampaltoOwned by the beautiful producer of the same name, and just a stone’s throw from the abbey of San Antimo (one of the most gorgeous landmarks in Southern Tuscany), bottles from this tiny producer are hard to snag simply because of the quality and limited quantity of their crus.

Fonterenza: This is the estate where Raia’s producer got his start. Run by twin sisters on the southern side of Montalcino, the biodynamic wines are particularly impressive as Margherita and Francesca had no previous wine-making experience.