moravola — medieval modernism

While I admit to an unhealthy fascination with hotels in general ( a la distance), and hotel bars in particular (in close proximity), there are very occasionally a few hotels that break through my hazy, pro-hotel glow and beg me to book a flight and a room. Moravola is one of those hotels.

Architect Christopher Chong and his wife, designer Seonaid Mackenzie bought the 9th century Torre di Moravola in 1999 — after it had been abandoned for 50 years.


Before the restoration


The torre is obviously lovingly restored in a sort of  ”medieval modernism”. The website for the hotel has, unexpectedly, a charming  overview of the design process, and shows the work that was required to reconstruct ceilings, add stairs, and smooth walls; an intimate, behind-the-scenes touch that seems to presage an equally intimate stay. It’s only open seasonally, but honestly, did you really want to go to Umbria in February?

Some images to wet your whistle:

2 3 4 5 6 7  9 10 11 12 13  Torre-di-Moravola-03-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-04-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-12-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-26-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-30-1-Kind-Design-600x369 Torre-di-Moravola-33-1-Kind-Design-600x369

the art of the martini

William Powell in his first scene in The Thin Man. 1934.

I’m not a professed connoisseur of cocktails. Wine has always been my game — less fussy, more to-the-point. I can get a glass myself. Whereas with cocktails, I’ve always felt that I needed to understand not just one ingredient (grapes) and one, relatively straightforward process (yes, I understand the complexity, but you know what I mean) but rather multiple ingredients, proportions, processes, and so forth. Making a drink begins to feel like I am performing a chemistry experiment, and one I’m pretty confident will go south at a moment’s notice.  With wine, all the chemistry was done before I arrived on the scene. (I did, in a brief moment of insanity, buy a book of cocktail recipes. I then proceeded to more or less waste a perfectly good bottle of tequila, vermouth and gin over the next few days. Despite my good intentions, I was told, not very kindly I might add, to step away from the liquor cabinet.)

I can really make only one cocktail: the martini. Gin or vodka, I’m your girl. Really. Arcticly cold, with three olives (not two, as so many chintzy bartenders insist on offering) and a very, very little splash of olive juice from the jar. The proportions of vermouth to the gin and the vodka are my special secret, but trust me, they do vary. Significantly. I prefer to pour them into Thin Man-sized martini glasses, but it’s almost impossible to find anything that isn’t closer to the massive, Crate & Barrel species of glass that seems to be in favor at the moment.

When your glass is small, and you need to fill it frequently, many wonderful things happen:

  1. your martini stays cold while you drink it to completion,
  2. you realize you’re enjoying drinking a lot of martinis as martini numero tres goes down the hatch, and
  3. it feels like a party when you’re repeatedly using the alcohol and ice-filled martini shaker as a maraca to provide refills all around.

For a while, I had a policy of dressing for martinis. You know, put on a dress and some sparkle and whatnot. Having a child put the brakes on that particular practice, but I do like the idea of at least applying a little lipstick, and fixing the messily cobbled together bun. (I now think of it as a trendily “casual up-knot,” without really adjusting my technique in any way.) But, if I had it my way, I’d be having martinis, in a gown, at the Carlyle in New York City, enjoying my tipsy compatriot lounging on a leather club chair.

What I enjoy about cocktails is less the actual drink, although I know they can be tasty and fun, but rather the entire hoopla around them. What’s hoped for, what’s expected. An air of rough and sophisticated manners — but manners, anyway — overlapping. Witness Nick and Nora Charles: the trappings of cocktail culture are just as delicious as the drink itself.

mother of pearl earrings

Silvia Furmanovich


Temperly London 1930s-inspired peach silk gown

vintage martini glasses, c. 1935


The Carlyle Hotel, New York City


for a long time I used to go to bed early — proust

I still do, more or less. The mundane complications of life conspire to wake me early, too. Even this morning. But this morning is a little bit different, since I am sprawled in a King size bed, with a dry, soft sage-scented breeze surrounding the sheets, my robe, a newspaper and book in my hands.

It’s silent in this room, and I’m enjoying that sweet tension where one revels in the distance from demands of… a daughter, the dog, the beleaguered cat, kind friends and charming colleagues… while simultaneously missing the very web of responsibilities that one sought to escape in the first place.  It seems there ought to be word for such a feeling.

reading in bed

The truth is I haven’t read in an uninterrupted fashion, in the morning, in bed, in what seems like years. But the joys of doing so haven’t dimmed…even though I’m a little anxious about sending coffee across the pristine sheets.

About 15 years ago, I read a book about people who love books. I can’t remember the title, or even the author, but I do remember one sweet essay about what you choose to read when you travel, and where you choose to read it. Are you the kind of person, she wonders, who reads about the place where you are when you travel? Or are you the kind of person who reads about other places?  And do you do so in the plaza or by the pool? On the top of a mountain, after a hike, or at a cafe table?

I stay in bed, unmoving, looking at the desert, reading about Aix-en-Provence. It’s pretty much heaven.




three out of the four seasons: santa fe

hotel encantado

I’m currently — mostly  — happily ensconced in Santa Fe’s only 5-star hotel: The Four Seasons Encantado. It’s a lovely little place (more of a compound, really, in the Kennedy sense of the word) with desert sunset views, dry earth, loads of sage and lavender in the landscaping, and a pretty fancy pants spa-slash-fitness-center.  The linens, as you would expect are lovely. The room is filled with delightful smelling body lotions and shampoos, and the tub is big enough to drown a donkey. The steam room is attached to an outdoor shower (always a joy; seize the chance if you should ever find yourself in such life circumstances) and there are single-sex hot tubs which encourage, nay, demand, skinny dipping after dinner.



It’s so hard to say critical things when one has one’s bed turned down every night and there are fresh, oversized, super-plush bath towels in one’s bathroom every day. But sadly, sometimes, it’s required.

Let me put it this way:  As I write this, a very, VERY loud backhoe is driving, ever-so-slowly toward my little piece of paradise. With the beeping and the rumbling and the whole business. I want to throw dried apricots and almonds at it, but then I won’t have anything to eat, and I don’t think I can hit it from here, anyway.  That sense of luxuriating in perfect serenity…gone. Other small, but niggling observations:  the water for the shower in the middle of the day was lukewarm at best;  the construction of the casitas — large, multi-room affairs — are designed to share walls without sharing much sound-proofing;  the world’s slowest wi-fi that isn’t available in the fitness center. It’s as if the resort ticked off the “luxury” list and felt satisfied.  Result? Crabby husband who had to listen to our neighbors do, at all hours, whatever it is that people do in “fancy” hotels in the middle of the desert and me, thinking about expectations around “luxurious” experiences, and their relative worth.

hotel encantado sunrise

Why point this out, when really, I’m in mostly marvelous digs? Am I simply tapping into my hidden malcontent nature? I’ve been considering, since I’ve been here, the reasons why this experience doesn’t feel like the kind of high-end experience one would expect from the Crillon in Paris, or, as I experienced during a recent stay, Calistoga Ranch.  I’m unsure if it is the location (Santa Fe is pretty casual) that has left me feeling disconnected from the very nice environs. Maybe it’s the lack of attention to some of the details that has derailed the seamlessness of the experience.

Because submerging yourself into a 5-star should be accompanied by a sense of effortless grace in achieving the life that the hotel provides. Before I realize it’s time for a cocktail, one arrives.  As I consider going to bed, the covers are turned down. Here, the effort that is expended to bring this level of service is palpable, although, I must concede, not always visible. And it should feel rooted in a place. Service + terroir = luxury of experience.

Let me be clear: I love Santa Fe.  I love the harshness and sublimity of the mountains and the mesas. And I’m very aware of how lucky I am to be staying in such a peaceful place in one of my favorite cities in the world. This is not everyday life for me; in fact it’s the first vacation I’ve had in years. To its credit, the Four Seasons Santa Fe has a pretty phenomenal location. It feels remote, but it’s very accessible. Which makes this disconnect even more pointed.

It’s less about lounging at the pool and having a massage (any hotel can start checking off the requisite amenities), than finding yourself living fully. Not so much consuming luxury, but providing the quiet structure and space to allow a guest to fully feel alive. In a way that is authentic to the geographic place you’ve chosen to visit.


wonderful napa weekend

Hall Rutherford

I spent the weekend with some of my favorite bloggers and pinners…it was, in a word, magical. Our dinner on Saturday was at the glorious Hall Rutherford winery, in their caves. A truly spectacular way to spend an evening.