Living the Life Right Next Door to Clooney!

The last time I was in Lake Como was 49 years ago!!! Now that makes me sound ancient, which I am.  But in my defense, I was only five.

Dad was directing a couple of movies for Hammer Films in London and during a small break in filming, he took us on a little trip to the Villa D’Este in Lake Como.

Like I said, I was/am spoiled.

My only memories of the famous hotel were of the large swimming pool sitting on a raft in the lake and the ornate fountains that seemed to go on forever.

I was about to return to Lake Como for the first time in almost fifty years and really had no idea what to expect.

Well, I knew enough to know we couldn’t afford the Villa d’Este but I wanted Lake Como to remain the magical place of my youth.

Everyone said, “You gonna say hi to George?” Clooney, of course, who has a residence on the lake. Little did I know that I would find myself in the tiny town of Laglio, just seconds away from George’s, “Villa Oleander.”

I found a wonderful hotel on the Internet—Relais Regina Teodolinda that sits next door to its sister property Relais Villa Vittoria.

Me and My Hubby

 

The photos say it all. The place was exquisite.

We rented a small tug-boat from the owners of the Villa and we toured all around the lake.

Past Clooney’s house,

Past the Villa D’Este,

Past the most beautiful villas I have ever seen.

And we ate well!

I loved the town of Bellagio but was happy we decided not to stay there. From the small town of Laglio we could easily access most of the other charming towns around the lake.

 

And I did wander onto the grounds of the Villa D’Este. It is impressive. But if I had to pick, I would stay at the Relais Regina Teodolinda any day. It felt like I was living in my own villa, not too ornate, but luxurious enough to feel pampered.

Prosecco in an infinity pool is now crossed off my bucket list!

Christmas in Paris

Sometime in the beginning of last November, my husband phoned me and told me we had a bunch of miles that would expire if we did not use them by January 1!

Well, that wouldn’t do. I knew we had to use the miles for Christmas vacation–but Christmas was only 5 weeks away.

The airline we had miles on (American Airlines) was booked for the only days we could use the free miles.

I hate miles.

But I persevered. We had miles to use!

I found an Air Tahiti flight (a partner of AA) out of LAX direct to Paris and I grabbed four seats.  We were going to Paris for Christmas.

Then I panicked. Finding the four of us a hotel room during Christmas was going to be challenging and expensive. I decided to try something I had never tried before and began to look for an apartment to rent. My experience with Paris hotels has never been great. Tiny rooms, bad attitudes, or stuffy old hotels.

I started my search on VRBO and HOMEAWAY but stumbled on a website called www.chezvous.com. I was attracted to it for two reasons, they only had a limited number to choose from thus less overwhelming and they were located in Sausalito, right near my house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I picked a small apartment on Rue Suger in the 6th Arrondissement and one block away from Rue de Buci, the street with all the small food shops in the left bank.

 

Before we left, Paris had been hit by major a snowstorm which made it even more magical.

And there were absolutely no crowds at any of the tourist attractions. Of course I ran out to the Christmas markets and bought trinkets for the family so there would be presents under the tree which also meant I needed a tree. So I stopped at a flower shop on Rue de Buci and bought branches of pine trees and laurel to decorate our apartment.

I really felt like I was living in Paris!

What a great experience to share with the family. Even midnight Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral was remarkable and not the hassle I had heard it would be.

And the evening of Christmas Day comes alive in Paris. I didn’t expect that– all the bars and restaurants re-open and young people fill the streets for yet another meal to be enjoyed with friends and family. And we were happy to comply!

Hit Your Re-Set Button and Discover Cambodia

Cambodia has always intrigued me.  As I child, during the Vietnam War I remember hearing about the US bombing Cambodia (even though we were not supposed to) after the Tet Offensive. The whole region always intrigued me.  If you were a child in the Sixties, Vietnam and Cambodia were part of your vernacular. The People’s Army of Vietnam had utilized a portion of eastern Cambodia as sanctuaries into which they could retreat from the fighting in Vietnam.  I have not yet ventured to this region, but Patricia has. I am not sure there is a region she has not explored.  She is off to Korea at the end of the month.

I think it’s remarkable to think about Cambodia as a region all about serenity and well-being.  I love that!  Patricia said, “I had never felt as peaceful and happy in my life. You are surrounded by Monks with gorgeous orange saris and people with big smiles on their faces no matter what…”

If you think about our culture, it is rare we find big smiles “No matter what.”

“Kids , everywhere,” Pat told me. “Kids who want to touch you, feel the fabric of your clothes. Kids curious to know where you are from.”

Angkor Wat is the main attraction in Cambodia, and I’m not surprised to hear from Patricia that she found it very touristy.  Despite the buzz of people, Patricia felt unbelievably serene.

“There is definitely a mystical and magical atmosphere that is very tangible. Whether or not you are a religious person, spirituality envelops you with every step you take.”

As always, Patricia does her homework before she travels.  And it pays off. “One of the highlights of this unforgettable adventure was the splendid little gem of a hotel I stayed at in Siem Reap, La Residence d’ Angkor  http://www.residencedangkor.com. Impeccable service, close to the city if you wish to visit the markets and galleries and a few minutes from all the temples.”

Although Patricia is very thin, food is always on her mind. “Cambodia may not be on the radar for foodies, but I had the best chicken curry of my life in a small village in the middle of nowhere.”

“In the same village I was talked into trying various bugs and cured lizard meats and I complied…

The cockroaches were crispy on the outside, yet tender and juicy on the inside.

It was tough but I lived and now I’m ready to take on anyone on Survivor!”

“The french cuisine influence was a nice surprise,” Patricia who hails from France delighted. “Especially with respect to their desserts. I came across the most amazing street vendor run by a mother-daughter team who were making the best beignets I have ever had.”

I believe Patricia when she says, “If you need to hit a reset button in your life to get a different perspective, take the first plane to Cambodia.”

Sounds like sage advise from a woman with a bit of age and tons of wisdom!

The Côte d’Azur on a Budget???

I hadn’t been to the Cote d’Azur for years. I had decided years back that I loved Provence and I avoided the French Riviera like the plague.

I think I felt that the beaches were not all that pretty, and it was just too crowded in the summer months. Living in California, I must admit that I am quite spoiled by beautiful beaches. So this summer when I decided finally to take my teenage kids to the Riviera I did my research. I knew of the grand hotels like the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat and Hotel du Cap Eden Rock.  I spent two nights in the ‘Grand Lady’ in Cap-Ferrat on my honeymoon. My lovely mother gave my husband and I two nights there as a wedding gift. Earlier in my life, I spent days at the pool at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, doling out twenty Euros to sit on a beach mat by the pool.

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Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat

Hotel du Cap Eden Roc

Hotel du Cap Eden Roc

Today these grand hotels are way out of my budget. So are most things in the Riviera. I had to figure out a way to enjoy the area without spending a fortune. The problem is I’m spoiled. I have traveled a lot. As a kid my father took me all over the world, and the motion picture studios he worked for would put us up in the most amazing places. Then I worked for The Travel Channel and I flew for free and stayed in some equally spectacular places. I wasn’t going to let my pocketbook get in the way I liked to travel. This meant doing my homework. I spent months figuring out this trip. It became an obsession.  And it paid off!

I finally settled on Antibes for the first part of our vacation. I have stayed in Cannes and Nice and knew that these weren’t right. Antibes, which is situated between Cannes and Nice, seemed to have the right feel of charm and sophistication that I was looking for.

 

And then I stumbled upon a little hotel called La Place that was right on the edge of Vieil Antibes–the old town of Antibes. And it is close to the sea.

La Place Hotel and Restaurant

The reviews seemed too good to be true. I was skeptical. We booked two rooms. Our room was 120 Euros a night and the boys’ room was 130 Euros. For 250 Euros we had two rooms with lovely linens on the beds, air conditioning that was the perfect temperature, double pane windows, and a very modern bathroom.  It was lovely.  There is no lobby but there is a small restaurant that fronts the hotel. It could not have been a better choice.

Literally around the corner you stumble on the most lovely old town with amazing restaurants, boulangeries, bars, and even a covered market every day in the summer months. The fresh spices and olives looked amazing.

And it was a short stroll to the beach.

Because the rooms were affordable we could spend the days renting lounge chairs and umbrellas at some of the sleekest beach clubs on the Riviera. Remember you can have lunch and reserve lounge chairs and umbrellas.  In the summer months be sure to book ahead.

Plage Keller is well known for its yellow umbrellas and wonderful setting. We loved it.

La Belle Rives is another hotel on the opposite side of Antibes in a small seaside town called Juan les Pins, but this hotel was too expensive for us–instead we spent the day at their resort.  Perfect!

The ramparts that surround old Antibes are really beautiful.  The stunning antiquity is complimented by a modern sculpture created by Catalan artist Juame Plensa– Nomade. This man of made up of letters looking over the Mediterranean Sea was a nice place to stop and enjoy the surroundings–I mean each other!

Three restaurants are worth mentioning in this post and again I did my research.  Les Vieux Murs sits right on the ramparts of old Antibes overlooking the glorious sea.  It is a picture perfect location and the food is wonderful though not inexpensive. We sat outside on the patio but the interior of this restaurant is pretty special as well. But how can you pass up an opportunity to sit in an ancient ruin overlooking the Mediterranean eating glorious French food?

To off set the price of this lovely jewell of a restaurant we ate a baguette with ham and cheese and a perfectly ripe tomato for lunch.

Anjuna Bay in Eze Bord de Mer was one of the most unique dining experiences of my life.  And I have had many.  I think its location on the sea, I mean literally on the pebbled beach below the lovely hill town of Eze, makes it unforgettable. The atmosphere is totally cool, music playing and incredible design surrounding you, and the hippest people I have ever seen in one place.  To say it’s a bitch to get to is an understatement. But go anyway.  Get lost like we did.  And enjoy Anjuna Bay! It is also a beach club by day.

 

The third restaurant, La Taverne du Safranier, sits in a charming square in the heart of old Antibes. I don’t know if it was because it was our first evening in Southern France or because the food was so good, but I was happier sitting in this tiny square than I have been in a long time. The shrimps were the biggest I had ever seen. The fish was delicious and the portions huge. If on a budget, share!

Now not only can’t I wait to get back to Antibes, I am considering moving there!

A Woman Alone in Jordan

I am not sure I have the guts to do what Patricia does. Patricia is an amazing traveler.  She approaches travel like she approaches life: fearlessly. I am so far from fearless. So I wasn’t surprised when she set off by herself to visit Jordan.  As she says, “Jordan is not the first place it come to mind when you want to travel as a woman alone, but you should!”

It’s exotic yes. And I’ll take Patricia’s word for it being safe.

“Amman, the capital of Jordan,” Patricia adds “is a clean version of Cairo with amazing food. Hummas, pita, olives, marinated tomatoes, pomegranates, dates, falafel, baklava are found everywhere and are a delicious part of any meal.  Patricia did say eating a falafel everyday takes on new meaning. We will have to ask her what she meant by this.

The history of Jordan and its people are what brought Patricia to Jordan. She found a fantastic hotel, two hours from Amman called Evason Ma’In Hot Springs–a Six Senses Resort and Spa.

“Lying 264 meters below sea level, this resort is an oasis of tranquility and luxury. I have never been so pampered in my life! Dead Sea salt wrap, olive mask, argan oil, you name it, they have it!! And the food was sublime.”

“But Petra is the place to visit,” Patricia insists, “and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Patricia had the unique opportunity to meet bedouins. “They are a beautiful and peaceful people. I was lucky enough to share their meal and tea under their tent at the end of the unforgettable day I spent in Petra”

“The patriarch wanted to exchange me for 4 goats and 2 camels. He thought my husband would be thrilled but I was kind of disappointed: I thought I was worth much more!”

Patricia is definitely worth more.

I wonder what falafels taste like mit-schlag?