My All-Time Favorite Best-Ever Vacation
Did you ever come back from a perfect vacation— a blissful, gorgeous weather, luxurious-accommodations, great food, learn something about-yourself kind of perfect—and just want to walk up to the first person you see and say, “You just have to go to this vacation spot!” Our panel of locals—they include a nationally-known lingerie designer and a famous interior designer with her own furniture line—know just how you feel. Hear their travel tales, and why you might want to squeeze a few more days off this year.
Illustrations by Marta Kujawa
Finding a New Favorite
How to become addicted to vacationing
By Josie Natori (as told to Marisa LaScala)
Throughout the years, my husband and I have been able to visit many different vacation destinations but, for the past four years—until this year—we found ourselves returning to the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli in Gargnano, Italy, each June. We first heard about it when it opened in 2001 from my friend, Nancy Novograd, the editor of Travel + Leisure magazine, and we decided to look into it. I found it interesting because it was actually the villa that housed Mussolini during World War II.
When I finally got there, the Villa Feltrinelli instantly replaced my previous favorite destination—the Grand-HÃ´tel du Cap-Ferrat, in the south of France—which I had been going to for 10 years. The rooms in the Villa Feltrinelli are amazing. There are 21 guest rooms, but there’s only one for me: the master bedroom that overlooks Lake Garda. It feels like having a villa all to yourself. I never brought work. I didn’t do anything—just slept and ate.
Then everything changed this year, when I visited the Aman hotels. Aman has a chain of specialized destination resorts all over the world, and now I’m hooked. I loved the Amanyara in Turks and Caicos and the Amanpuri in Phuket. They’re perfect for anyone who wants to be right on the beach; each of the guest rooms is its own little villa. The feeling is very Zen- and Asian-influenced, and they have incredible spas. They call people who keep going back to these resorts “Aman junkies,” and I guess I’m one of them now!
Josie Natori is a Manhattan-based fashion designer who owns a house in Pound Ridge.
Unearthing Inspiration In the City of Lights
How France became more than just a vacation spot
By Chris Madden
For me, one of the most refreshing and invigorating aspects of going on vacation is the opportunity to look at the world around me with a fresh and inquisitive eye. I learned this lesson acutely during a fateful trip to Paris.
Before I could ever dream that my name would become a brand, that people would actually buy “Chris Madden” products—beds, dining tables, pillow cases, and dishes—and place them in their homes to create, as I urged them to do, their own personal “havens,” before I ever realized I could turn my passion into my life’s work, I stumbled on the flea markets of Paris and a world of “home” that I never had considered before, opened up to me.
I was in Paris with my husband, Kevin, who was then publisher of House & Garden, to visit my sister, Jeanne. Prescient, wise Jeanne had been lost to the wonders and beauty of Paris since her junior year of college when she was absorbed into this “city of lights” that she would never leave—marrying a Frenchman and raising bilingual, but utterly French, children.
It was in her company, while Kevin attended to the magazine business at hand, that we visited the superb antiques shops on Rue Jacob and Boulevard San Germain, where Jeanne had purchased some of the pieces in her Paris home. But it was during a long, heady morning at the flea market at Clingnancourt where I lost my heart—to architectural columns that once graced a ship bound for the New World; to an ancient, paneled triptych of Paris removed from a drawing room during the time of Napoleon; to a pair of the most delicate chairs that ever served the effete bottoms of 18th-century Parisians. I shipped it all back to our cottage in Rye, these pieces that became the bones of my decorating, that have influenced my style, designs, and sensibilities ever since.
My first branded furniture collection for Bassett was inspired by a single piece of furniture that I would first see upon awakening each morning in Jeanne’s guest room—an antique armoire in the style of Charles X. And I named a desk I created in honor of one of my favorite writers who could evoke the French spirit—Colette. And at the moment that I write this, designs for my French Country furniture collection for JC Penney Home are on my desk, and I’m waiting to see the first samples that come from the factory.
A trip that can influence and infuse a home, a business, and a career, and make me fall in love again with each new design that can trace its roots back to that original source—well, that’s what I call a great vacation!
Celebrity home designer Chris Madden, who lives in lower Westchester, is this year celebrating the 30th year of the founding of her company, Chris Madden, Inc.
A Baker’s Holiday:
Adventures in Kayaking
From beating eggs to beating the waves off the Baja coast
By Jay Muse
I’m a baker by choice, and a choice one at that. All year long, I slave in front of a hot oven, so I really look forward to turning the tables by toasting my own buns on some tropical beach. But this year, I knew it would have to be different. See, there’s a lot of sampling that goes with that slaving—a little bite here, a tiny morsel there—and it adds up to a nice little tummy after a year of noshing. That’s why this year I opted for an active, calorie-burning holiday. Sea kayaking off the Baja coast seemed the best way to shed that extra yeast.
Of course, I was a little nervous about trading in my 12-month toque for a 10-day soak, even in paradise. When I first laid eyes on the sleek, lithe bodies of my fellow vacationing kayakers cavorting in the surf, I was ready to head back to the bakehouse. A kayak to Nyack might have better suited my doughboy physique. I felt like one of those physically disadvantaged contestants you feel sympathy for on reality shows, like that doughnut-dipping retired cop contestant on The Amazing Race, or the nerdy cubicle potato who can barely do three pushups, let alone shimmy up a coconut tree on Survivor.
But then I remembered that our expedition tour company assured me that my voyage consisted of “moderate” physical activity and was “novice-proof,” which is Touroid-speak for “Don’t worry if you’ve never set foot in a kayak in your life; you’re built like a blimp so you won’t sink no matter how inept you are.”
The tour leaders tried to ease our anxieties by getting our feet wet with some harmless sightseeing junkets before plunging us into the swirling waves. It was nice of them to escort us around the lovely city of La Paz before we set out for paddling miles north to our final destination, the small fishing village of Loreto. Still, I couldn’t totally rid my mind of the horrors to come. It was akin to sitting in a cushy dentist’s chair with the soothing music piped in. You try to relax into some fluty Ravel, but your teeth are on edge knowing that it’s all going to segue into “Sonata for Needle and Drill” at any moment.
What was there to worry about, really? I’ve had my share of travel adventures, after all. Been within a tail’s swipe of lions in the Serengeti, been lost in the snake-filled jungles of Costa Rica, even waylaid in a malfunctioning hot-air balloon over Siem Reap, Cambodia. But I was svelter then, with my pre-confectionery physique. Were my tush and tummy up to the challenges of sea and surf? Why didn’t I elect to stay in Scarsdale and enjoy the safer pleasures of icing cakes or stirring batter?
All my fears evaporated the moment I stepped into my kayak. Every last hedonistic nerve ending snapped to attention as soon as I surrendered myself to the tranquil azure of sky and sea. If my idea of heaven had once been measured in crumbs from the cake pan, it now had entirely different ingredients—visual gems that metamorphosed from turquoise to cobalt blue that splashed across my tummy, which seemed miraculously to have lost its paunch and paleness.
As I heard the skiff (the “emergency” boat that follows the kayaking fleet at a distance) puttering behind me, I realized that I was in good hands—a well-trained and knowledgeable crew was within paddling distance. Even our seaboard menu was up to my usual gourmet standards—much superior to the bugs and monkey meat my fearful imagination had conjured up. We cooked the most amazing lunch, prepared with local ingredients just plucked from sea and vine. The fresh fish Vera Cruz-style rivaled some of the finer meals I’ve had at four-star restaurants in Manhattan. At the end of the day, we even raised ice-cold margaritas and shots of tequila to toast the spectacular sunsets. That’s how it went for the next 10 days as we kayaked our way up the coast camping on secluded beaches and in small fishing villages. We bathed in the sea, of course. Even the soap they gave us was rich in lather, rivaling the foam of the sea itself.
It didn’t take long for me to relax into the new routine. The Hudson may be pretty to look at in Westchester, but snorkeling in it is not. And who’s ever gone whale-watching on the Palisades? Or angled your supper from a fishing pole slung over your shoulder? Before long, I was back in pre-modern times, trading in rush-hour madness for the gentler rhythms of sky and sea: frolicking with great gray whales, friendly and magnificent; watching flocks of pelicans doing their grocery shopping for the evening’s dinner; snorkeling with tropical fish whose vivid bodies are brighter than the most lavish cake frosting I can imagine. Hiking through cactus patches amidst flocks of wild, whinnying donkeys—like melting into the colorful pages of a Speedy Gonzales comic book. The friendships we forged with fellow kayakers will last a lifetime. After all, these were the dudes who helped me find my snorkeling fin after a pair of playful sea pups decided to sport off with it. The little buggers love to cavort with these humanoid toys.
Finally, we arrived in our destination town of Loreto. As we said goodbye to our lovely Baja, I realized that I wasn’t jittery anymore, just sad to be leaving this sensual paradise. I came, I saw, I conquered. Bring on the root canals, the cold cruel winters, and the hot, hot ovens of home.
Jay Muse is co-owner of Lulu’s Cake Boutique in Scarsdale. He lives in New York City.
Seeking a Namesake
Connections in the City of Lights
By DeLaunÃ© Michel
What struck me first were the colors: the soft browns, warm creams, and velvet grays of the buildings. Being in Paris was like landing in a Cubist painting. I finally understood Picasso’s palette. But I had never before seen so much beauty packed into every bit of space until that trip. A number of years ago, my mother called me at my home in LA and asked if I wanted to meet my sister and her in Paris to celebrate her birthday. A week later, I was on a plane. It was October, a glorious time to be there. A golden, languid sun subdued the chilly days, and the famous lights illuminating the buildings and bridges enlivened the deep nights. We barely slept. Every hour was for walking and exploring and indulging.
One day, after a long morning at the Louvre, we found ourselves at Le Grande VÃ©four, the oldest restaurant in continuous service in Paris where, among others, Napoleon and JosÃ©phine had dined. The 18th-century dÃ©cor was resplendent with crystal chandeliers and gilt-edged mirrors reflecting the elegant clientele that filled every table. My sister explained, in her perfect French, that it was our mother’s birthday and, after a short wait, made pleasant by the complimentary Champagne that the maitre d’ had brought, a table was magically procured. After we were seated, we noticed a small plaque informing us that this was where the French writer Colette had eaten every day, even being carried down from her apartment upstairs after she was too infirm to walk. As I ate the sumptuous meal, I imagined she would have crawled down if she had to, just to get to that incredible cuisine.
Another afternoon, we took a long taxi ride from our hotel in the Marais out to the Paris Flea Market. After hours of poking around stalls that seemed to hold every sort of antique in the world, and buying a nice cache of vintage Chanel jewelry, we were deliberating over sets of linen sheets when I turned and saw a friend from LA, a fading film star from the seventies who was perpetually staging comebacks. It felt so normal to run into her there, while she was frantically searching for antique door knobs, as if the Paris Flea Market offers not only anything you could ever want, but chance encounters as well.
On the last afternoon of our trip, we went to Sainte-Chappelle, a small chapel built by Louis IX in the 13th century to house relics from the Holy Land and for the royalty to worship in. My namesake, Helene DeLaunÃ©, was in the court of Marie Antoinette before she and her husband fled—with jewels that Marie Antoinette had given them—to the wilds of South Louisiana. A chamber concert was about to start in the chapel and, as we sat down in the wooden chairs placed about, I looked up. The upper level was entirely surrounded by high stained-glass windows that were letting in a refracted, gemlike light as if God himself were opening Heaven for us and we were being led up. The music began, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” and as I listened to its elegiac notes, I imagined my namesake here, praying at Mass, with no idea how numbered her days in that life were and where she would end up. I thought of the beauty of Paris that she never saw again, and, for the short time left that I was there, I looked at the City of Lights for her.
DeLaunÃ© Michel is the founding producer of Spoken Interludes (www.spokeninterludes.com), a reading series here in Westchester. Her first novel, Aftermath of Dreaming, is in stores now, and her second novel will be out in January ’08.
A return to innocence in Maine
By Suzanne Chazin
There is a spit of land several miles off the coast of Maine, perched between sea and
sky, both so often pewter-colored that I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. I love this island, Monhegan, for all it doesn’t have: paved roads, cars, stop signs, streetlights. Here, kerosene lamps are more common than light bulbs and green steel lobster traps are stacked like children’s blocks along the island’s only dirt road. The ten-mile trip from mainland to island takes perhaps 45 minutes. But the psychological distance is much further. Monhegan is a journey back in time. Television is rare, cellphone reception sketchy. There’s no nightlife save for a mean game of Risk, which my son always wins, and a phenomenal view of the aurora borealis shimmering across a diamond-studded sky.
But, oh, how I love this place. The thickets of spruce that blanket the island, the trailing yew and wildflowers that hug the craggy cliffs, the coves full of sea glass and crushed shells, the rusted remains of the shipwrecked D.T. Sheridan, a reminder of the Atlantic’s fury, even on the calmest days. I wake to the kettledrum clang of buoys. I sleep to the rhythmic sweep of the beam from the lighthouse. There are no trophy houses on the island, no marinas, no tennis courts—just little cedar-shingled cottages scattered like marbles along the hilly pathways overlooking the harbor.
My husband first took me to Monhegan when we’d been dating only a few months. If I could love the island as much as he did, perhaps we had a future together. We came back to the island nearly every year, honeymooned there, and brought our son, Kevin, first as a baby on our backs, and later, as a boy, scampering eagerly ahead of us on the trails. Nowhere else could I offer a child that young so much freedom. No cars to dodge, no roads to get lost on, no crowds to get lost in. He needed no escort to walk to the island’s only ice cream store and buy himself a cone. He came and went as he pleased, gaining an independence my husband and I fondly recalled from our own childhoods that had been sorely lacking in his.
Now, as I write this, late to pick up my daughter at her babysitter’s house, my son staring at his computer screen, a list of chores that I can’t seem to finish, I think, as I always do, about an island where time is measured in seasons, not minutes, where children live in a world of their making, and where a walk in the pines is the best part of the day.
Suzanne Chazin of Chappaqua is the author of three novels: The Fourth Angel, Flashover, and Fireplay. Her most recent short story, “Burnout” will be appearing in the anthology Bronx Noir this fall.