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Back to the Very Beginning

Two years ago, a friend I hadn’t seen in years phoned me from Washington, D.C. He was in the city on business and knew I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but he said he didn’t have time to visit “the South”. I told him something that surprised him. “You’re in the South, Jonny. Look out of your hotel window. That’s Virginia on the other side of the Potomac River. I live 50 miles west of there. Tell me when you’re free, and I’ll take you on a drive. It’s another country out here – great characters.”

 

I understood my friend’s surprise that cool, cosmopolitan D.C. was a Southern city, largely because I had to amend my own hoary clichés about the South when I moved here from New York five years ago to a historic 1733 Quaker village named Waterford, in the Piedmont region of rural northern Virginia. We could see the Blue Ridge, part of the Appalachian Trail, from our front porch.

 

We’d moved because my wife, a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee, wanted our kids to feel the grass beneath their feet, but still have proximity to D.C. I wanted all the Southern stereotypes: mint juleps, crumbling antebellum mansions, redneck moonshiners tending stills on starlit nights. What we got was something so utterly different it still surprises me today.

 

The land around us turned out to be far more Hamptons than hillbilly. Luminous green meadows dotted with sheep and horses stretched to the horizon; historic country homes with wrought-iron gates and oak-shaded driveways stood sentinel on hilltops, like mansions out of Edith Wharton novels. On any given weekend, we would drive winding, stone-fenced country lanes to our local tavern and run into scarlet-jacketed fox hunters riding to hounds. Loudoun, it turned out, was the richest county in America.

 

But the wider region was rich, too – in history. The land between the Blue Ridge and Route 15, a narrow north-south blacktop that runs 180 miles from Pennsylvania, past Waterford, on down to Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the most historic corners of the U.S. It’s The Place Where America Happened. No fewer than nine presidents have lived on it or nearby; some of the greatest battles of the Civil War, including Bull Run (first and second) and Antietam, took place here, and world historic documents, from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, were either drafted or inspired by events on its route.

 

My friend had two days to spare, and I took him on the drive I take all visiting friends: a 350-mile loop from the Capitol, west on Route 50, through the chic horse country towns of Middleburg and Upperville (where Jackie Kennedy rode to hounds), and down Skyline Drive on the crest of the Blue Ridge into rural Rappahannock County. We would stop at Montpelier, family home of James Madison, father of the Constitution, then loop back up Route 15, Highway of Presidents, arguably the most eventful road in U.S. history.

 

I picked him up at the St. Regis, where he was staying, and we did a brief Capitol tour, cruising past the Lincoln Memorial on The Mall, and the Jefferson Monument along the Potomac. No fewer than eight U.S. presidents were born in Virginia, the Old Dominion, including four of the first five. George Washington’s grand estate, Mount Vernon, stands on a high bluff overlooking the Potomac near Alexandria to the south of us; it’s not on our route but it’s an essential stop for any D.C. visitor.

 

For the first 40 minutes, Route 50 is bumper-to-bumper through the suburban sprawl, but nearing Aldie, a strange thing happens. As if you’ve crossed a border, the development clears, and you’re suddenly in glorious countryside: luminous green fields; forests of maple, oak and birch; the Blue Ridge Mountains shimmering in the distance.

 

Route 50 meanders 3,000 miles from Maryland, through America’s heartland to California, but the 30 miles where it passes through Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville and Paris in the Piedmont are arguably the most gorgeous 30 miles in Virginia. The towns date back to the 1700s, when the road became a busy route for traders from colonial Georgetown and Alexandria accessing the farms of the Shenandoah Valley across the Blue Ridge. Stables, inns, taverns and mills opened to cater to passing carriages and horsemen, and as the settlements grew, grand estates sprang up on their outskirts. Today, Middleburg is a sort of Hamptons for the D.C. set, but with horses instead of beaches.

 

I park outside Country Classics, a raffish boutique selling tweed coats and cravats, and watch as blondes in jodhpurs and leather riding boots step out of mud-splattered Range Rovers. Middleburg is the heart of the Mid-Atlantic show-jumping, steeplechase and fox-hunting scene. Even the coffee shop is called the Giddy Up. We pop into the Red Fox Inn for coffee, the oldest building in town, a low-slung fieldstone “ordinary” from 1729 that reminds me of the Dickensian taverns of London. Above the front desk are gracious thank-you letters signed by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, from visits the former First Lady made here in the early 1980s.

 

It was Jackie Kennedy who put Middleburg firmly on the map, 20 years prior to penning those letters. When J.F.K. was president, she wanted a weekend retreat from the White House for her and the children. The Kennedys rented Glen Ora, a grand estate south of town, one of those sprawling mansions with oak-shaded driveways. Jackie joined the Orange County Hunt, her kids attended the local pony club, and the paparazzi followed. Middleburg was never the same again.

 

We pop across the street to The Home Farm Store, a former bank converted into a gourmet food store by Cisco Systems co-founder turned organic farmer, Sandy Lerner. Everything here is from Lerner’s farm, Ayrshire. After a six-dollar Scotch egg, we motor west. It’s early afternoon and the Blue Ridge shimmers above fields of boxwoods and beech. Then, like a mirage, a red British phone box appears as we enter Upperville. Welcome to the Hunter’s Head, my favorite country pub.

 

The tavern is a warren of cozy, low-ceilinged rooms, their walls covered with cartoons of foxes in riding hats. Built as a farmhouse in 1750, it looks like it’s been serving ale to ruddy-faced regulars since George Washington’s time. We tuck into bangers and mash with fresh bread, then walk off lunch in the village. It’s tiny, with the handsome sandstone Trinity Church, a few stone houses hugging the road, and a gun shop selling vintage muskets and Remingtons. As John Updike noted in a 1961 poem for The New Yorker, Upperville is even fancier than Middleburg:

 

In Upperville, the upper crust

Say “Bottom’s Up!” from dawn to dusk

And “Ups-a-daisy, dear!” at will

I want to live in Upperville.

 

“Mr. Rogers, cocktails in the parlor at 6.45pm. Don’t be late!” It’s time to meet some local characters, including Nat Morison, 76, seventh-generation Virginia Brahmin, owner of Welbourne, a 1770s country estate on a rutted dirt road, 15 minutes’ drive away (near the famous Foxcroft School for girls).

 

Welbourne, a custard-yellow colonnaded mansion on Nat’s 500-acre family horse farm, is a Piedmont mansion that doubles as a guesthouse. It was turned into an “invitation-only” inn back in 1930 by Nat’s grandmother. Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald were invitees, and both wrote stories about it. I stay in Wolfe’s room (creaking four-poster) just past the library, where an imposing portrait of Nat’s bearded great-great grandfather, Confederate Colonel Richard H. Dulany, stares at me from the wall. Dulany rode with the great Gray Ghost, guerilla fighter John S. Mosby, in the war, and road signs throughout the Piedmont still venerate “Mosby’s Confederacy”, as the region became known.

 

American Heartland

Above: Wyant’s store, 12 miles west of Charlottesville, Virginia, lies in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the spectacular 105-mile Skyline Drive. Below: the Hunter's Head, Upperville

 

You visit Welbourne for warmth and character, not frills. Sherry, Nat’s garrulous Connecticut-born wife, gives us “the tour”: three floors of dust-covered armoires, antique travel chests, shelves cluttered with faded Country Life magazines and leather tomes on war and horses. Picture Downton Abbey, if Carson, Mrs. Hughes and the rest of the staff had gone to the village fair 30 years ago and never returned. The music room (Nat collects – and plays nothing but – pre-1930s New Orleans jazz 78s) has a still-working Aeolian Vocalion gramophone and an out-of-tune 1907 Steinway. “It’s the eternal question,” Sherry sighs. “Fix the pipes or the piano?”
 

To me, this sounds like an unmistakably English sensibility, but when I mention this over cocktails (Virginia Gentleman bourbon on the rocks), Nat bellows at me like I’m crazy. “England? How would I know? I’ve never been out of America – except to New Orleans.”
 
In the morning, we motor south, leaving Route 50 for Fauquier County on a narrow, stone-fenced lane towards The Plains. A promising sun is burning off yesterday’s cold, and the land changes subtly here, becoming flatter and drier, yellow grass in open fields making it resemble Montana. The Plains are aptly named. The actor Robert Duvall has a horse farm here and is a regular at the local Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase in May, the Piedmont social event of the year. My Waterford neighbor,Tom, a political consultant, tells me he does more business in one afternoon at the Gold Cup than he does in a month at the Capitol.
 

It’s time to hit the Blue Ridge, and from The Plains we drive due west, detouring through the orchards, hollows and deer-specked valleys of Naked Mountain, part of Sky Meadows State Park, before accessing Skyline Drive at the resolutely blue-collar Front Royal. Built in the 1930s as a public works project, Skyline Drive is a spectacular 105-mile traverse running north-south through Shenandoah National Park on the crest of the Blue Ridge. There are 75 cliff-edge viewing points on its course and low hanging oaks and willows form a natural tunnel part of the way. To me, Skyline Drive is more than a road; it’s a barrier and symbol. Below, to the west, the Shenandoah Valley, its great river a muddy snake on the plains, is the start of the American heartland, while down to the east, the Piedmont, as green and delicate as a country garden, clings to the ways and manners of the Old World.
 
Skyline Drive ends in the town of Charlottesville, home of another Virginia President, Thomas Jefferson, author of the original American document, the Declaration of Independence. His majestic plantation, Monticello, which he built in French Revival-style, stands atop a hill overlooking a sea of green forest. Somehow, 230 years of development in the nation he helped found have not encroached on his view.
 

We don’t have time for Charlottesville, though, and instead keep it local, exiting Skyline Drive on Route 211 at Thornton Gap, descending into Sperryville, a river-splashed Piedmont farming town somnolent in the shadows of the Blue Ridge. Seventy years ago this was a bustling outpost, last stop before the mountain for traffic heading south-west to New Orleans and beyond. Then, in the 1950s, the highway was built at Front Royal, and Sperryville fell into slumber. In retrospect, it saved the town. Today, it’s a bucolic retreat with a creative subculture of organic farmers, artists, chefs and artisans. I make my way to the River Arts District, former apple-packing sheds on the Thornton River, converted into studios, galleries, and a tapas restaurant.
 

The highlight is the Copper Fox Distillery, where fortysomething Rick Wasmund makes award-winning ryes and whiskeys using a unique technique: he accelerates the aging of his spirits by adding a sachet of small “chips” of charred wood (oak, apple, and cherry) to the aging barrel, increasing the wood surface area. The result is astonishing: rich, smoky spirits with a delicate, fruity finish. I ask him how he came by the method, and he tells me he was caretaker at an old mansion in Middleburg that had eight fireplaces. “I had to light them every night, and I got to experimenting with smoke and wood, which got me to thinking about whiskey.” A brief stint at a distillery in Scotland and, lo, an idea was born.
 

We consider the power of ideas an hour later. We have taken the scenic 231 South for an hour and found our way to another presidential home: Montpelier, home of James Madison, the fourth president. A handsome two-floor neoclassical mansion on a 2,500-acre estate, Montpelier was built by Madison’s father in 1764, and remained in the family until 1840. In 1901, it was bought by the duPont industrialists, who added a garish mural to its façade and a steeplechase track – as you do. But in 2008, after a painstaking $24-million restoration, it was returned to the way it originally looked back in Madison’s day.
 

From the second-floor library, I look out on the same incomparable Blue Ridge view Madison had surveyed in 1786 as he considered all those weighty questions. A towering intellectual, he read more than 400 books in seven languages while he was drafting the documents that would form the basis for the U.S. Constitution, including, as our guide explained, texts in original Latin, Hebrew and Greek. “They don’t make ’em like that anymore,” someone next to me mumbles.
 

It’s late afternoon by the time we double back on to Route 15, now part of The Journey Through Hallowed Ground national heritage area that links Jefferson’s Monticello to the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania, 180 miles to the north. Several other battles took place at points along its route including Manassas, site of the First Battle of Bull Run, the brutal first big clash of the Civil War. Waterford, my own town, lies just off it. I take Jonny to see it before driving him back to the St. Regis in D.C. We sit on the porch sipping a bourbon as the sun sets over Blue Ridge. For some reason I think of New York City and the big move south. I have no regrets. I’m in Virginia, where America began.

Your address: The St. Regis Washington, D.C.

History in the making

Above: a letter from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to the Red Fox Inn in Middelburg. Below: rustic beauty and old-world charm characterize this historical region just outside Washington, D.C.

 

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A Little Place I Know

A South Indian
restaurant in Mumbai
by Naeem Khan

 

Trishna, Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai

I first ate at Trishna ten years ago, and now whenever I’m back in Mumbai I just have to go there. The restaurant is hidden away in a back street in the Kala Ghoda area, which has a lot of art galleries and cafés. It’s been there for about 50 years and is owned by a family from Mangalore, which is on the coast in South India. As Mumbai restaurants go, it’s not particularly cool or fashionable, but it serves the best food in the world. The first time I went to Trishna I was a bit surprised – the furniture is basic, it’s quite dark, with pictures of Mangalore and a large fish tank – but I’d heard so much about it from my brothers I thought, “OK, I’m willing to experiment.” Since then it has become a bit of a hotspot, with a more international clientele, though the décor hasn’t changed. The menu mainly consists of Konkani or Mangalorean cuisine, so there’s a lot of fish and seafood. The best thing is the giant crabs. The way they prepare them with chili and garlic is just incredible. For me, Trishna is the taste of India. It’s not northern Indian cooking, which is predominantly Mughal, it’s South Indian, which means things like light coconut curries, steamed lentils, seafood and grilled fish, so it’s much healthier. It’s spicy though, which I love. For Indian food to be really special the ingredients have to be totally fresh. At Trishna you can tell that the coconuts have just been picked and the spices are all freshly ground. The crabs couldn’t be fresher: they actually bring a huge live crab to your table before they cook it. These days I go to Trishna about twice a year, usually for a family gathering. My brothers and sisters and I have been going there for 10 years, so it has a lot of happy memories. Going there has become a kind of joyful family ritual, with delicious food.


Naeem Khan is an Indian-American fashion designer based in New York
Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai

A vintage perfume
shop in Bangkok
by Simon Westcott

 

Karmakamet, Chatuchak Weekend Market, facebook

This tiny little perfume shop is the sort of place you really have to look out for. Actually, you’ll probably smell it before you see it. Inside, it feels like an old-fashioned Thai pharmacy, full of dark wood shelving with scratched mirrored walls and medicine cabinets stocked with the most beautiful candles, fragrances and perfumes. The brand has been around since the 1970s, and the shop since 2001, selling the most intoxicating melange of essential oils, room fragrances, perfumes and all things scent-related. Although they use ingredients from all over the world, there’s a distinctly Asian influence in their scents, which include East Indian Sandalwood, Silver Needle White Tea and Siamese Lemongrass Peppermint. Each product comes in such beautiful vintage, hand-made packaging that you almost don’t want to open it. I’ve got so addicted to their scents that whenever I’m in Bangkok, I stock up. Products I buy most are the room diffusers, in scents like the earthy, masculine Egyptian Fig and zingy, fresh Pomegranate; travel candles, which I take wherever I go; and stashes of things to give as gifts. Last time I bought a Siamese Lemongrass Peppermint candle, and whenever I light it, I’m transported back to leisurely evenings in Thailand, sitting in the warm, heady heat listening to the cry of a nearby gecko. Lots of brands have tried to emulate it, but this place is the real deal.


Simon Westcott is head of Luxe City Guides, which offers sophisticated, opinionated pocket-sized guides to 36 cities around the globe
Your address: The St. Regis Bangkok

An Istanbul emporium
of objects for bathing
by Rifat Özbek

 

Abdulla, beside Fez Café, Grand Bazaar, abdulla.com

If I had to recommend just one shop in Istanbul it would be Abdulla, on Halicilar Street in the Grand Bazaar. It’s a totally unique shopping experience that offers the best of traditional and contemporary Turkey. The bulk of what Abdulla sells was made especially for the hammam, or Turkish steam bath. He has the very finest quality hand-loomed peshtemals, or Turkish towels, which are 100 per cent natural cotton, luxuriously thick and tasseled. He has such a beautiful range, all neatly folded in perfect little piles. As well as stocking specialist objects for the hammam, such as takunyas (wooden hammam slippers), keten zincir (scrubbing mitts), ponza (scrubbing brushes) and tas (small metal bowls), Abdulla also sells robes, scarves, hand thrown ceramics and a few fun pieces and divine vintage treasures that may include a rare piece of tribal jewelry or clothing. His soaps have a great following because they are 100 per cent natural, made with olive oil and scented with herbs and flowers: juniper, sandalwood, nettle, almond, citronella. He really has done all the work for you when it comes to sourcing and manufacturing using the best local craftsmanship. Once you’ve browsed his wonderful wares you can pop next door to his Fes Café, with its wonderful old brick arched ceilings, for delicious traditional treats such as baklava and sweet apple pie, accompanied, perhaps, by a cup of thick Turkish coffee or fresh mint tea, served on a beautiful old metal tray, with a glass of water and a little toothpick with a square of delicious lokum, or Turkish delight. A lovely way to end a shopping trip.


Rıfat Özbek is a Turkish fashion designer who transforms vintage fabrics into cushions sold at Yastik in Istanbul, Le Bon Marché in Paris and Dwell in New York
Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul

A museum of
Islamic antiquities
in Cairo by Dr. Zahi Hawass

 

Gayer-Anderson Museum, Ahmed Ibn Tolon, sca-egypt.org

The Gayer-Anderson Museum is situated right next to the oldest mosque in Cairo, Ibn Tulun. The building it’s housed in has had many owners over the years, one of whom was a woman from Crete, which is how it became known as Beit al-Kritliyya [“house of the Cretan woman”]. It actually consists of two houses. Between them there’s a passage leading to the eastern door of the mosque. When I was young, I used to travel from my village to stay with my aunt. I would visit the pyramids and then play soccer with friends in the streets around this house. The first time I saw it, something about it touched my heart. Its architecture is truly unique. The museum itself takes its name from Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, an English army officer who in 1935 wrote a letter to the Committee of Arab Antiquities asking to live in the house. He told them he would furnish it in Islamic style, and fill it with precious antiquities. He also promised that, when he died, he would leave everything to them. The committee approved and Anderson began collecting Islamic furniture and artifacts from Egypt, Syria, Asia, Persia, China and Europe. He lived there until 1942, when he was forced to leave Egypt due to ill health. The houses were turned into a museum about 40 years ago. My favorite exhibits are the ostrich egg and the mazwalla [sundial] found in the mosque of Ibn Qalawun, which was used as a watch to announce the time for prayer. I also love the objects that belonged to Gayer-Anderson, displayed in his office, such as his gramophone, typewriter, bottles, personal photographs and a decree from King Farouk. It’s a fascinating window into the past.

 

Archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass is the former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities
Your address: The St. Regis Cairo

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Richard E. Grant

1. 1964, London

 

When I was seven, my father went to America for six months on a Carnegie grant to lecture about education in Africa, accompanied by my mother. I went to live on my uncle’s cotton and cattle farm in the south of Swaziland, and, at the end of it, they arranged for me to fly on my own to meet them in London. Never having been on a plane before, I was incredibly excited.

 

2. 1969, Europe

 

My twelfth birthday present from my father was a family “cultural injection trip” to Europe to make up for the isolation of living in the smallest country in the southern hemisphere. It was incredible: Aida in Rome, the ruins in Pompeii, The Sound of Music in Salzburg, and in London, Hair, Oliver, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mame, starring Ginger Rogers. I particularly remember in Piccadilly Circus, which was peopled by hippies smelling of patchouli oil, seeing a woman wearing a transparent blouse. As a little Swazi boy in shorts, my eyes were on stalks!

 

3. 1978, London

 

This trip was my twenty-first birthday present from my parents, when I was midway through my drama degree. In six weeks, I saw 72 plays and films, including Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in Macbeth – both of whom I would work with 15 years later in Jack & Sarah. I diarized everything I saw and knew in my bones that this was the city in which I wanted to spend my adult life.

 

4. 1982, London

 

After my father’s death at the age of 52, I emigrated to England with a couple of suitcases, a Sony Walkman and big dreams. I lived in a tiny bedsit in Notting Hill Gate and worked as a waiter. Having met my future wife, Joan Washington, who coached me to do an Irish accent, I got an agent and began to get work: Shakespeare in Regent’s Park, then an improvised TV film for the BBC with Gary Oldman, which led to me being cast in Withnail & I and ultimately gave me a film career.

 

5. 1987, Los Angeles

 

I was flown to the U.S.A. to film Warlock. The excitement of being in Hollywood was matched by the acute loneliness of landing in a city where I didn’t know anyone and where you had to drive everywhere. Julian Sands introduced me to Jodie Foster, while every agent I met told me they were “so excited!” – something I soon realized they said to everyone, about everything. Working in bright sunshine in the middle of the Californian winter was spectacularly seductive, as was going to the grocery store and seeing screen legends I’d grown up watching in the cinema.

 

6. 2004, Swaziland

 

After five years of script rewrites, financial hiccups and casting challenges, I called “action” on my autobiographical film Wah-Wah, all shot in locations where the key events had actually taken place. It was a journey back into my own lifetime, and both cathartic and surreal by turn. I was particularly struck by the symmetry of having made a shoe-box theatre with cut-out figures attached to lollipop sticks when I was a little boy and then watching – on a monitor the same size as a shoe box – the story of my life being filmed with great actors like Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson and Julie Walters.

 

7. 2012, Grasse

 

Handbag supremo Anya Hindmarch saw me sniffing everything in sight on holiday in Mustique and suggested I create my own perfume. Visiting the olfactory nirvana of Grasse had been a lifelong dream, and the perfumed air when I arrived at the flower distilleries made me feel like Charlie stepping into the Chocolate Factory. I’d tried to make scent when I was 12, to impress an American girl, but my attempts at boiling gardenia and rose petals in sugar-watered jam jars failed. Fast-forward four and a half decades and choosing oils in Grasse to conjure up the scent I’d long dreamt of bottling was a Eureka moment. Jack (jackperfume.co.uk) launched in 2014, combining lime, marijuana and mandarin notes: my signature in scent.

 

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Home Game

In ancient times, the men of the Balearic islands were famed for their skills with a sling, which they tied around their forehead. It was their only weapon, so they honed their skills relentlessly and, legend has it, rarely missed their mark. The modern-day equivalent is Rafael Nadal, whose finely honed technique has allowed him to spend much of his 15-year professional tennis career hitting all his targets – and becoming, in the process, the youngest player ever to win all four Grand Slams.

 

Nadal’s birthplace, on June 3, 1986, was Manacor, a bustling town five miles from the east coast of the Spanish island of Mallorca, an hour’s drive from the capital city Palma. Although the island’s population has swelled substantially since he was a boy – thanks to its pretty coastline, perfect climate and sweet mountain air – for someone who knows it as Nadal does, there is plenty of space in which to retreat from the summer crowds.

 

The 30-year-old still lives a short distance from his birthplace, as do his parents and grandparents, whose three homes not only overlook each other but also the quaint fishing harbor of Porto Cristo. Other than a few small, unpretentious shops and local hotels, plus a handful of cafés and local seafood restaurants, there’s not much to see. But it’s here, when he’s not on the tennis circuit, or swimming and fishing with his friends, that Nadal can be found relaxing and eating grilled fish (one of his favorite places is the nearby Sa Punta restaurant in Son Servera, which he describes as “a perfect spot, given the combination of the sea view, the service and the food”, and where his grandfather, a piano teacher, often entertained the diners).

 

It’s not just the relaxed atmosphere of Manacor that keeps drawing him back, but the weather. Although in winter the town is often enveloped in eerie, hill-hugging fogs, in summer it’s almost always sunny, which the player loves. “Sun is energy,” Nadal told me once, when I asked why he seemed to be fretting about having to play another indoor tournament. There’s nothing he hates more than the sense of being cooped up.

 

Like many others on the island, Nadal’s is a family business. His father Sebastiàn runs his son’s affairs – having encouraged him to play when he was three years old – and his mother, Ana Maria, helms his charitable foundation, the heart and soul of his future. The other people surrounding him have been in his life for years, and are like brothers: his agent, the former Spanish professional, Carlos Costa; his perennial public relations guru, Benito Perez-Barbadillo; and his physiotherapist, Rafael Maymo.

 

Not that he is the only Rafael Nadal, as his eightysomething grandmother, Isabel, pointed out in a delightful interview for El Partido de las 12. “The true Rafael Nadal is my husband,” she said. “As well as him, we have my son, and two grandsons, all of whom are called Rafael Nadal. We call this Rafael ‘The Tennis Player’. And my husband is ‘The Old’.”

 

The handsome white contemporary home of “The Tennis Player”, which he had built in 2013, is just up the road from two of his uncles: Toni, who is also his tennis coach, and Miguel Ángel, the former Barcelona central defender, who played for Spain in the 1996 European Football Championship. It is also near several of Mallorca’s 20 golf courses, which delights the tennis player, who plays off a handicap of four. He is as meticulous about his preparations for golf as he is with tennis, right down to the plasters on the tips of his fingers. I’ve watched him play at Vall D’Or in Porto Colom so late into the December twilight that he could hardly follow the path of the ball – but he kept going, such is his love for the game.

 

Not that the star lives only for sport. Unlike many international players, who emigrate to tax havens or gated communities once their careers wane, Nadal has invested much of his wealth in trying to make the lives of the people around him richer, too. From his successes – the 69 singles titles, 14 of them in Grand Slam tournaments, helping his country to the Davis Cup, winning an Olympic Gold medal – the tennis star has made enough of a personal fortune to set up the Rafa Nadal Foundation. In its eighth year, it offers educational programs to deprived children with what it calls “a single common denominator: sport”.

 

This summer, the first six graduates will also start their training in the Rafa Nadal Academy: a center, equipped with 26 courts, that he hopes will become one of the world’s top training facilities and help sustain Spain’s position as a pre-eminent tennis nation. The idea, he says, is not just to make Mallorca a center for sporting excellence, but a place where local children can learn that the relative isolation of island living does not limit prospects nor potential prosperity. Educational facilities include a brand new American International School.

 

Although the tennis player admits he wasn’t much of a scholar himself, he is proud to have completed his schooling. “At art, I was completely terrible,” he tells me. “I didn’t even know how to paint a house. I was a disaster. I was only ever ‘efficient and borderline’ with music and the other things. But at physical things, I was always good.” The problem, he says, was finding the time to do everything. After five hours a day of schooling, he had almost five hours of tennis practice – from noon to 3pm, then 7pm to 8.30pm – plus 90 minutes of football. “I would arrive home completely destroyed,” he says.

 

Sitting with him in a café overlooking the sea in Porto Cristo, he tells me his reasons for starting the project. “I can’t say that being me is difficult,” he says. “What is difficult is the people who are suffering, trying to find work every week and trying to survive. That’s difficult. Not being Rafa Nadal. It’s a dream for me. I’m lucky and I want to say thanks for my life. If I can help anyone else to achieve their dreams, that will make me very happy. The Academy, the Foundation, they are all a part of that. My career will not be forever, but I hope my inspiration will last for a long time.”

 

With that, as the conversation comes to an end, Nadal and his small entourage clamber back into their cars and drive a couple of miles up into the hills to his sanctuary – where he will spend another night with his family, in the place where he would always rather be.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort

 

Images: Cordon Press/C. Anton Goiri/Camera Press, Alamy, Getty, INF Photo

 

 

Rafael Nadal in Mallorca

 

 

Nadal still lives a short distance from his birthplace, the Mallorcan town of Manacor, famed for its pretty neo-Gothic church and vibrant street market

 

 

 

The tennis star can often be found unwinding with his family on the local beach at Porto Cristo

 

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Another Fine Romance

The classic honeymoon

It seemed to Franz and Samantha that all their friends went to The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort on honeymoon. Thus, they reasoned, The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort in the French Polynesian Islands would be something different to Instagram home about. They’re not disappointed. From the moment Sam’s Bottega Veneta-shod feet alight from the hotel boat on to the private jetty, the couple are equally charmed and seduced. They’ve decided to do it in style, booking the Royal Overwater Villa with its plunge pool and steps down to the ocean, from which Franz, who needs to recover from his 12-hour-a-day job as an Asian currency trader, launches himself daily on a three-mile swim. Sam really doesn’t mind. She’s already thinking about ordering her first Bora Mary of the day (the St. Regis hotel first created the Bloody Mary, aka the Red Snapper, in 1934, so they know what they’re doing) and wondering which sushi to eat for her lunch on the Taki Terrace. She slips into her flimsiest Marysia bikini and heads for her private cabana at the Oasis pool. “No children allowed”, reads the sign. Just how she likes it, thinks Sam – for the moment.
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, that Samantha and Franz considered for their honeymoon: The St. Regis Mauritius Resort, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
 

The baby-moon

With the final months of pregnancy approaching, Dylan and Sacha have taken time out to enjoy a pre-baby celebration in Mallorca. For a couple who adore art and worship the tennis racket, the Spanish island is ideal. Their hotel, The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, happens to be located near Rafael Nadal’s home town – not that Dylan or Sacha ever spot the handsome Spanish tennis god. But knowing he’s around is enough. Luckily for Dylan, there’s plenty for his pregnant wife to do, including massages at the Arabella spa and viewing the art galleries in Deià. Because, alongside tennis coaching, which the hotel organizes for him, he has rediscovered another passion: cycling. “I’d forgotten how much I love it,” he says, as Sacha eyes his Lycra shorts dubiously. “Enjoy it,” she says, “because once the baby comes, there won’t be time for long bike rides.” Dylan, like all advertising types, can read between the lines. “I won’t be too long,” he says. “Excellent,” says Sacha, with a triumphant smile. “Because I’ve booked a table at Simply Fosh for an early supper, then I thought we could talk nursery colors.” As he pedals away, Dylan sees his life flashing before him.
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, that Dylan and Sacha considered for their baby-moon: The St. Regis San Francisco and The St. Regis Bali Resort

The mini-moon

Jed and Susan had been just too busy for a proper honeymoon with all the stress of launching their digital startup. But, six months into their marriage, tempers are frayed. “We’ve just gotta get away,” Jed says to Susan. Well, he doesn’t actually say it. During the day, he and Susan communicate via SMS from consecutive floors of the tiny office building they rent. Susan’s response is as effusive as one might expect from a woman running a website: “OK.” And then, as an afterthought: “X.” San Francisco is the natural choice: confirmed urbanites, they’ve long cast themselves as Silicon Valley-philes, and now they’re going to party like them. Strolling out from The St. Regis San Francisco, they launch themselves into the hip Mission district for tacos at La Taqueria, ogle art at SFMOMA, and in Haight-Ashbury, discover a shop, The Booksmith, that sells ancient artefacts from days gone by: books. “Remember this?” says Jed, picking up a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Susan fishes her iPhone from her Céline Trio bag to Instagram her husband holding the book. “Honey,” Jed says, “Yosemite is only a drive away. Maybe we need to get back to nature?”
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis San Francisco, that Jed and Susan considered for their mini-moon: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, The St. Regis Dubai and The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur
 

The adventure-moon

Lisa can’t really call herself a Buddhist because, well, she’s not 100 per cent sure about reincarnation and she likes a good rare steak. But ever since she saw the Dalai Lama speak at Radio City Music Hall, she’s felt a deep connection. She and her partner Ronald are what they like to call “Big Travelers”. They’ve done the Rajasthan “triangle”, the cherry blossom in Kyoto and salmon spawning in Alaska. But to reaffirm their vows they really want to do something Spiritual with a big S – and what could be more spiritual than visiting the DL’s hometown of Lhasa? That is, if they venture out of The St. Regis Lhasa Resort, with its Gold Energy Spa Pool, its view of the DL’s former home and its fabulous Si Zi Kang restaurant. Dressed in their travel uniform of Banana Republic khaki combats, crisp white Ralph Lauren shirts and Tod’s loafers, the couple take in the sights – a trip to the Rongbuk Monastery at the foot of Everest and the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple – before bartering for Buddha statues, joss sticks and prayer beads in Barkhor Street market nearby. Almost as good for the soul as the full-body massage at the hotel spa. “Now, that,” they murmur, post-massage, as they float dreamily in the Golden Energy Pool, “was truly spiritual.”
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Lhasa Resort that Lisa and Ronald considered for their adventure-moon: The St. Regis Princeville Resort and The St. Regis Cairo
 

The second-moon

James and Sunita first honeymooned 20 years ago in Los Angeles – and remember it well. Both film buffs, they toured Hollywood studios, trekked up to The Sign, and even strolled together on The Walk of Fame. When, two (adult) children later, the couple want to “do it over” and celebrate the fact they’ve made it this far (unlike most of their friends), they want somewhere with a similar feel, but more exotic – like Bollywood. If in Hollywood they felt energetic, in Mumbai they’re positively on fire. This really is a city that never sleeps, and at The St. Regis Mumbai the couple really feel in the thick of it. Having toured the Bollywood film studios and taken a trip out to the 5th-century caves on Elephanta Island, they feel entitled just to hang out in their Gucci outfits in the hotel’s 40th-floor Asilo bar, sipping Aperol spritzes and gazing appreciatively out at the view. Tomorrow they’ll visit the famous Spice Market in the morning, with a synchronized full-body massage at the Four Senses spa in the afternoon. If this isn’t utter New India-style luxury, then they don’t know what is.
 
St. Regis destinations, other than The St. Regis Mumbai, that James and Sunita considered for their second moon: The St. Regis Langkawi and The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
 

 

 

The classic honeymoon

 

 

The baby-moon

 

 

The adventure-moon

 

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City of Gods

It’s those beautiful artists’ impressions of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan that make people say so many unjust things about Mexico City. The emerald-hued lakes, the slender causeways, the story of Montezuma, enthroned in his feathery splendor, warmly greeting Hernán Cortés – only to be betrayed by the duplicitous conquistador, cut down in his prime, and the Aztec empire crushed.

 

It’s true that when you fly into Benito Juárez International airport, you can’t help lamenting that such a wonder has been buried beneath millions of tons of concrete, and a sprawl of houses, apartment blocks, shanty towns and suburbs that shatters the human scale while housing 20 million human beings, or more – no one really knows. Nevertheless, Mexico City, or DF (pronounced day-efay, standing for Distrito Federal) as everyone calls it, is not the impenetrable, car-dependent maze of modern myth. Indeed, a pleasant introduction to the center, and one that subverts several stereotypes about the Mexican capital, is to walk it, slowly, calmly, flaneurishly, from Aztec heart to contemporary barrio.

 

I begin where you have to begin: standing at the center of the Zócalo, the vast main square; officially the Plaza de la Constitución, though no one ever calls it that. This is where Mexicans protest and march, celebrate and stroll, kiss and tell. The Spanish included grand plazas in all the major cities they built over pre-Columbian settlements, and one has to suspect that the Zócalo is one of the biggest of these because it had to symbolically bury the majesty of what stood here before.

 

Parades and expos occasionally invade the plaza, but today there are only strolling locals, a statue of Cuauhtémoc, the last native ruler of the city, and a massive Mexican flag, unfurling in the warm morning breeze.

 

A magnificent vestige of the pre-Hispanic city lies at the plaza’s northeastern corner. The Aztec Templo Mayor was Tenochtitlan’s sacred hub, continually expanded over two centuries by the city’s rulers. The archaeological site is no mere pile of stones, but rises, strangely, magnificently, with serpents greeting you as you turn a corner, and daubs of the red, blue and yellow paint that once glowed under the highland sky. The temple was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, sun god and bringer of war, and Tlaloc, the rain god and source of fertility. Arid death and liquid life.

 

Right next door, the vast Metropolitan Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in the Americas. It’s a squat, hulking edifice, designed to crush any memory of what might have been worshipped here before the arrival of Cortés and his Christian soldiers. A medley of baroque, neoclassical and Spanish churrigueresque (elaborate stucco ornamentation) elements, it too has been built and rebuilt several times over the centuries.

 

Before exiting the Zócalo I duck into the Palacio Nacional to see Diego Rivera’s murals, which decorate the stairwell and the middle story of the central courtyard. The panoramic piece, titled México a través de los Siglos (Mexico Through the Centuries), conflates the dramatic history of this great nation into what looks at first glance like an insane group photograph – with Quetzalcoatl (the plumed serpent) rubbing shoulders with Zapata’s revolutionaries, who are in turn looking down on the dastardly inquisitors, Hidalgo the liberation hero, five-times president Benito Juárez, and many other assorted great and good, plus Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, and Karl Marx, helpfully giving directions to the massed proles.

 

I’m dizzy with names and blinded by colors by the time I get back outside. I grab breakfast at the nearby Café de Tacuba. This handsome institution, all tiled walls and white-aproned waitresses, has been serving good coffee and sublime tamales – chicken-filled corn wraps served with spicy sauce – since 1912. It also lent its name to a well-known Mexican pop group.

 

I continue west along Calle de Tacuba, which lies along the axis of one of the lake-city’s original causeways. It’s an elegant part of the city, with a distinctly European feel, though I occasionally arrive at hectic, aromatic corners where streetfood vendors are whipping up filled tortillas and crispy tacos for the time-poor traders and political aides who work in these parts.

 

Billionaire investor and philanthropist Carlos Slim has been throwing money at the city center, and many facades look new or very well polished. Edifices that were little more than warehouses or squats have been taken over as office space, work-live accommodation and nightspots. Prone to seismic activity, Mexico City is a mid-rise city, though I occasionally catch glimpses of the lofty, 597ft, 44-story Torre Latinoamericana, a glass and steel quake-proof landmark that was once the tallest building in Latin America.

 

My next stop, in the shadow of the Torre, is the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Built during the 1876-1911 Porfiriato – the modernizing, if sometimes brutal, regime of Porfirio Díaz – and facing the Alameda Central, it’s one of Mexico City’s most beautiful palaces. Begun in 1904 and overseen by Italian architect Adamo Boari, a fan of neoclassical and art nouveau lines, its construction was interrupted by subsidence issues and then the Mexican Revolution. It was completed by Mexican architect Federico Mariscal in the 1930s, with the interior leaning towards the then-fashionable art deco style.

 

The three expansive floors of Mexican and international art merit a day or more, but I limit myself to viewing pieces by Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera, including the celebrated El hombre en el cruce de caminos (Man at the Crossroads), originally commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center. The Rockefellers had the original destroyed because of its anti-capitalist themes, but Rivera recreated the work here in 1934.

 

The Alameda Central is one of relatively few green spaces in the Cuauhtémoc quarter. Created by Viceroy Luis de Velasco at the end of the 16th century, and enlivened by paved footpaths, decorative fountains and statues, it occupies what was once an Aztec marketplace. The name comes from álamo, Spanish for poplar tree.

 

These elegant gardens provide a natural border between old, romantic DF and the Paseo de la Reforma, the throbbing heart of modern Mexico’s economy. Skyscrapers loom over every block of the Reforma, including impressive landmarks such as the Torre Mayor, owned by George Soros, Torre HSBC, the Angel of Independence monument and César Pelli’s sleek Torre Libertad, home of The St. Regis Mexico City.

 

I make a slight detour to the Plaza de la República to admire the Monument to the Revolution, a towering neoclassical triumphal arch that doubles as a mausoleum for several heroes of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, including Francisco “Pancho” Villa.

 

Diego Rivera’s panoramic mural, ‘Mexico Through the Centuries’, conflates the dramatic history of this great nation into what looks at first glance like an insane group photograph

 

Street life

A hop away at Calle Antonio Caso No. 58, is the Cantina La Castellana. Established in 1892, it’s one of a dozen or so traditional cantinas left in the ever-evolving, fad-hungry capital. It has 13 big TV screens, six of them showing a soporific, scoreless Mexican football match, six an overacted soap opera, and one a grisly news bulletin. There’s a cheap buffet, into which the clientele of working class men is diving with gusto, filling soup bowls and piling up plates of potato, meat and beans. I opt for the daily special, which today is the very Mexican chamorro enchilado al horno – oven-baked, chilli-peppered pig’s leg – superb with a well-iced bottle of beer.

 

Buzzing, cozy, laid-back, this cantina, like all the best ones, is timeless. Some of the men are playing dominoes. Several are just having beers and botanas – salty snacks. Mariachis sometimes drop by, usually in the afternoon, not because they think tourists will reward them but because they are appreciated here. La Castellana also has some cultural cred: past visitors included author Renato Leduc, who hung out with Antonin Artaud in Montparnasse, and songwriter Álvaro Carrillo, who composed more than 300 songs, most of them romantic boleros. Poet Pablo Neruda, Communist activist and essayist José Revueltas and poet Efraín Huerta were also habitués.

 

After lunch – the match still at zero-zero, the dominoes still clacking – I’m back on to Reforma, which is busy with lunchtime traffic. The thoroughfare was commissioned by Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I to seal his authority on the city after overthrowing Benito Juárez in 1864. Designer Ferdinand von Rosenzweig’s intention was to grace the imperial capital with a grand boulevard equal in grandeur to the Ringstrasse in Vienna. It would also serve as direct route to – and an imposing sightline for – the Castillo de Chapultepec, the imperial residence.

 

Reforma these days feels very modern, with police zipping along the wide pavements on Segways, and the mainly modern and functionalist architecture and bank and brokerage HQs attesting to the power of commerce rather than conquering viceroys. After the narrow grid of the old city, it’s good to see some sky, too. I don’t generally do shopping, but I decide to stop briefly at Fonart at Paseo de la Reforma No. 116. Buying local handicrafts is a minefield for travelers, but these government-run, fixed-price outlets are a joy: superlative textiles and art are on display and browsing is more like a museum visit rather than mere retail.

 

The Altar a la Patria, six white marble columns honoring six teenage cadets who died in the 1846-8 Mexican-American War, marks the entrance to the Bosque de Chapultepec – a name that means Chapultepec Wood but doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of this verdant megaspace. Spreading over some 1,695 acres, it’s one of the biggest city parks in the world. Made especially delightful by its hilly contours, it invites you to breathe deeply, take in a view over DF and enjoy a few minutes of silence – well, subdued traffic hum, anyway. Native carpenter birds and hummingbirds sing and tweet, and the park is a refuge for migratory birds from Canada and the U.S., including the red-tailed hawk and Harris’s hawk. Dozens of tree species provide shade, including the Montezuma bald cypress, Mexico’s national tree.

 

Overlooking all this is the Castillo de Chapultepec, accessed via a winding, gently inclined road. A sacred spot for the Aztecs, the mansion we see now is a reminder of Mexico’s bygone aristocracy. It was begun in 1775 but not completed until after independence, when it served as the national military academy. When Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota arrived in 1864, they gave it a regal refurbishment and it was the presidential pad until 1939 when it was converted into the Museo Nacional de Historia.

 

The displays chronicle the periods from the rise of colonial Nueva España to the Mexican Revolution. Even more impressive than the sumptuously furnished salons, swords and banners are the dramatic interpretations of Mexican history by muralists Juan O’Gorman and David Siqueiros. Huge, overpowering and full of the everyday chaos of humanity, Mexican mural art enfolds and moves the viewer in a way sedate, framed gallery art can’t. I leave the museum feeling uplifted as well as informed.

 

It’s only a 20-minute walk to my final cultural pit stop, one of the world’s greatest museums. This is only my second visit to the Museo Nacional de Antropología but I know what not to do: try to take in 23 rooms and more than 4,000 years of pre-Columbian art and culture in a single sweep. Instead I focus on a couple of eras. The Olmecs – the first major civilization in Mexico, present from the 16th to the fifth centuries BCE – tend to get less attention than the Aztec and Maya but, as the colossal heads, clay dolls, vases and figures on show demonstrate, theirs was a bold and brilliant culture.

 

The museum’s building is an artwork in its own right. The umbrella-shaped edifice was designed by three visionary Mexican architects, and when it opened in 1964, the soft, tropical brutalism was considered audacious. The exhibition halls surround a courtyard and a large pond so that as you move between rooms you find yourself suddenly in a serene, airier space. It readies the spirit for the next bout of learning and awe.

 

My second specialism for the day is the Maya. While I’d seen many of the magnificent sites around Yucatán, it filled in gaps to see the altars and artworks shipped from the peninsula to be exhibited in the capital. Indeed, when it comes to everything in sprawling, multi-faceted Mexico – from food to art to music to commerce – in the end all roads lead to DF. The capital sucks in energy and creativity and concentrates it here.

 

The sun is slipping away and the gardens around the museum are cooling down, breathing out their evening perfumes. I walk slowly towards the north, exiting into Polanco – Mexico City’s most upscale neighborhood. As barrios go, compared with the shabby chic of Condesa and the hip, emerging buzz of Roma, Polanco is sedate and civilized. Which is a relief – because after a longish walk (only about six miles but lots of zigzagging and art-filled corridors along the way), I need some leafy luxury and lounging.

 

Polanco was originally a hacienda (rural estate) and then a suburb until the early 20th century, when mansions began to pop up surrounded by old-growth trees and high walls. First retail moved in and then, from the Seventies on, companies fed up with the gritty flavor of the Zona Rosa relocated here. Embassies, restaurants and boutiques followed, and sleek towers were erected to house their well-heeled employees. As a result, Polanco has also become one of the city’s best spots for high-end dining.

 

Before I partake, I need a drink. Jules Basement prides itself on being Mexico City’s first speakeasy. The term means very little nowadays but there’s still something exciting about passing through a big fridge door and some rubber drapes to find yourself in a shimmering space – all black, white and silver: cool in the shivery sense – with cocktail tables inspired by Mexican skull art. A bit industrial, very theatrical, and somehow very Mex-urban, it’s a good spot for a pre-dinner cocktail. I have a mescal-based Negroni that wipes out the day’s toils and then a cool artisanal beer.

 

My last stop is a place I first read about in the influential S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants listings. Polanco boasts three top-rated places within a few blocks. Quintonil and Biko are two, but I opt for Pujol, where El Bulli-inspired chef Enrique Olvera specializes in refined versions of native cuisine. He cooks with ant larvae and grasshoppers and, in a nod to local streetfood culture, prepares one dessert with a 20-day-old banana.

 

The tasting menu is a series of taste volleys, from fried pork to delicate sweetbreads to a succulent tamal (closing the circle I’d begun at breakfast) to a range of moles – Mexican sauces, some with chocolate and sweet spices – and a glass of Baja Cal white. The meal is deeply indigenous, and as exquisite on the palate as anything the Old World has to offer. A DF mini-banquet. A megalopolitan treat. A fitting finale to one of the world’s great city walks.

Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City

A relief sculpture of an Aztec calendar, in the Museo Nacional de Antropología,
showcase for 4,000 years of pre-Columbian art and culture

A church doorway

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A Little Place I Know

A stylish menswear
boutique in New York
by Jonathan Adler

 

Grahame Fowler, 138 W 10th Street, grahamefowler.com

Grahame Fowler is located in Greenwich Village, which happens to be where I live and where I have one of my four New York stores. I may be biased but I think it’s the best neighborhood in the city. When I first moved to New York in the early 1990s, the Village was an alternative universe where any creative dream could become a reality. That spirit still infuses the neighborhood. The store is a petite little thing with curiosities piled up in the single window. It’s tiny, twinkly and alluring, filled top to bottom with everything you need – and everything you didn’t know you needed – to be a smart, stylish dude. Even if you’re not naturally smart or stylish, if you shop here, no one will know. The owner, Grahame Fowler, is as divine as his West Village jewel box of a shop. I hate it when people use the word “curated” for anything other than an art exhibition, but Grahame has done an impeccable job assembling the best bits and bobs from around the world. He’s the nicest guy and has the best taste. With everything piled high, it’s like the chic-est yard sale you’ve ever been to. It’s my go-to shop to stock up on Trickers wingtips. They’re simultaneously chunky yet refined and if you re-sole them they’ll last longer than you will. Whenever I’m there I also look at the vintage Rolexes (but never buy) and I’ve never said no to a cardigan. Your granny had it right when she warned you that you never know when you might catch a chill.


Jonathan Adler is a potter, designer and author
Your address: The St. Regis New York

A Room at the National
Air & Space Museum
in Washington
by Nick English

 

NASM, Independence Ave, 6th Street SW, airandspace.si.edu

Having grown up in and around aviation, and being a pilot myself, one of my favorite places is the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  I love the juxtaposition of the old and new in there, the earliest inventions and the latest in aviation and aerospace technology. When you first step through the doors, above you is the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, which is thrilling, and then up on the first floor is the backup lunar module, which gives me chills every time I see it. Although the building is enormous – holding more than 60,000 objects, as well as photographs, videos and documents – within it is a small space that’s particularly special. This is the room in which the 1903 Wright Flyer is kept: the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft made by the Wright brothers. Around the pavilion, there are illustrations, artifacts and instruments associated with the Wrights’ pursuit of flight, and in the center of the space is the plane itself. Although it appears to have little in common with today’s aircraft, resembling a bundle of wire and cables, parts of which are covered in cloth, there’s much of it that remains the same in aircraft today. It’s an extraordinary piece of engineering – and one I love so much that we persuaded the Wright Family Foundation to give us some of the original material from it to put into a few of the limited-edition watches we make. I can visit this room time and time again, to see the plane and hear stories about it, told by volunteers. These folks exude the same passion for aviation that drove many of the pioneers of flight. Whenever I leave this museum I feel even more inspired to achieve my goals.


Nick English is co-founder of aviation-themed watchmaker Bremont
Your address: The St. Regis Washington, D.C.

A Lebanese sheesha
restaurant in Doha
by Dominick Farinacci

 

Lebanese Village Restaurant, Salwa Road, facebook.com/lv.qatar

This sheesha restaurant on the busy Salwa Road is easy to miss; the best way to identify it is by the sign above the door, which is in the colors of the Lebanese flag, decorated with a cedar tree. Inside, the first thing you see is a cloud of delicious-smelling sheesha smoke, and then beyond that, a lovely Lebanese man with slicked-back hair who finds you the perfect table, takes your order (my favorite is Double Apple), then delivers a three-foot-high sheesha. Another man walks around with a cast-iron pot full of glowing charcoal to make sure everyone’s sheesha is perfect. You often hear people shouting “Fahem, fahem”, calling him over to replace their charcoal. Because everyone knows it’s one of the best sheesha places in town, it’s always filled with locals and Gulf residents in national dress, either relaxing on weathered white leather couches or passionately conversing beneath walls lined with photos of Lebanese icons. The menu is illustrated with beautiful photographs of Lebanon, and the dishes are equally appealing, from hummus and spicy potatoes to kibbeh neyah. The latter is something I thought I’d never eat and now adore: raw beef or lamb with spices, to which you add olive oil, a mint leaf and a piece of raw onion before wrapping it in bread. Delicious! Another thing I love here is that everyone is treated like family; having lived in Doha for two years, I have come to realize how hospitable, caring and respectful the Arab community is. For me, coming here with friends, hanging out on the couches with great food and service, all make for the perfect night out.


Dominick Farinacci is the former Global Ambassador
to Jazz at Lincoln 
CenterYour address: The St. Regis Doha

An East meets West interiors
store in Kuala Lumpur
by Evelyn Hii

 

Ambiance, G Village, 35 Jalan Desa Pandan, ambiance.com.my

Ambiance is a fabulous collection of Asian furnishings, paintings and curios that I discovered only recently. Located in a new building, G Village, with stunning views of Kuala Lumpur’s city center, it’s a large, airy space stuffed full of treasures, many of them small enough to put in your suitcase if you’re just visiting KL. The atmosphere in the store is very relaxed; you’re free to browse to your heart’s content, which you really need to do – even on the  fourth circuit I always discover special something that I hadn’t spotted before. The owners, Jim Moore and Jason Long, are Scottish and Malaysian respectively, a character mix reflected in the fusion of products they sell. They personally source every item – many of which are one-off discoveries they’ve made on their travels around Asia – and they can always give you a great deal of detail about each piece. Jason’s mother, sister, brother, niece and brother-in-law also work at Ambiance, making it a real family business, in classic Asian style. The whole shop bursts with color in its lamps, furniture, ceramics, fabrics, candles, gems, trinkets. They have two other stores in KL but, like a box of chocolates, I’m saving each to savor separately. Best of all, twice a week Jim and Jason open up their home in Damansara Heights to regular customers for coffee mornings. Ambiance is unique to Kuala Lumpur, a treasure trove of all things Asian. That makes it a very special place for me.


Evelyn Hii is the owner of No Black Tie, Kuala Lumpur’s
most famous jazz club. 
Your address: The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur

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Prosper Assouline

1. Seville, 1962

 

I was born in Morocco, but my earliest memory of traveling was going to Seville with my parents when I was five. I can still remember the scent of orange blossom. I love Seville because it’s a crazy city. The people are so full of life. They enjoy every day because they have a constant tension between life and death: flamenco is life and the corrida [bull-fighting] is death.

 

2. The Louvre, Paris, 1972

 

When I was a teenager we moved to Paris. At the age of 15 I visited The Louvre for the first time. It made a big impression on me, and after that I went there nearly every week. My favorite place was an amazing room with 13 paintings by Rubens. The walls were a deep red. Today, we have 20 Assouline stores around the world and in all of them the walls are that same red.

 

3. St. Paul-de-Vence, 1976

 

I was 19 when I first discovered La Colombe d’Or [a restaurant in the Provençal town of St. Paul-de-Vence where famous artists would settle their bills with artworks]. It was my first real understanding of what luxury means. It’s not necessarily marble floors and vases of flowers but a simple restaurant with good tomatoes and great olive oil, where you’re surrounded by wonderful art and there’s an amazing view. I took my wife Martine there for the first time in 1992, a year after our wedding. She said, “We should do a book about this place.” So we did. We did it just for ourselves, as a hobby – I had an advertising agency at the time, Martine was a lawyer – but it was thanks to that book that we ended up going into publishing and working together.

 

4. New York, 2001

 

My first memory of New York was sitting on a step on a sunny day in SoHo eating a hot dog. It’s kind of a cheesy, touristy thing to do, but for me, that was a real New York moment. That was when I decided to set up an office in New York, and after that I was back and forth from Paris every two weeks until 2008 when Martine and I finally said to each other, “OK, New York is going to be our home.” I didn’t speak English at the time, but in a way that’s not a problem, because lots of people in New York don’t speak English.

 

5. Capri, 2006

 

I resisted Capri for a long time. I thought it would be superficial and snobbish. But then 10 years ago I decided to go there with my wife, to see what everyone was talking about. Now I can’t live without going to Capri every year, because it’s the most beautiful place on the planet. The best time to go is in June – you feel like you’re on the Côte d’Azur in the 1950s. There are no cars, and we enjoy being on our own, just strolling around, swimming and eating pasta. That’s true luxury.

 

6. London, 2013

 

I never liked London. I had nothing but bad memories of the city. But the first time I saw the building that would later become Assouline’s first “maison”, it was a revelation. This building [196A Piccadilly] had been a bank for nearly 100 years and then an art gallery, so it was completely empty and it had no windows, but for me there was something magical about it. I had always dreamed of combining a café, a cocktail bar, a gallery and a bookstore – and here my dream became a reality.

 

7. Costa Mesa, California, 2009

 

Henry Segerstrom was one of the most impressive people I’ve ever known. He was a true visionary – he created a mall in Southern California called South Coast Plaza, which became the most important mall in America. I met him eight years ago – when he was 84 – and he invited me to visit him in Costa Mesa, where he gave me a tour of the mall at night, with a glass of champagne. What impressed me most was that even in his eighties, he still had the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old. He was still dreaming every day. He died two years ago, but I think about him a lot.

Mumbai-beyond-issue-7

Mumbai Style

Since the 15th century, when Vasco da Gama discovered the direct sea route to India, Mumbai has become a vital link between East and West. Today, this former cluster of islands is a vibrant megalopolis of more than 20 million people: India’s largest, richest and fastest city, which adds its own unique cultural spin to all aspects of fashion, design and haute cuisine. 

 

While Mumbai is home to Asia’s oldest stock exchange and some of the country’s wealthiest tycoons, it’s Bollywood that provides the city with its glamour. The Indian film industry predates the birth of Hollywood by a decade and is the world’s most prolific, releasing more than a thousand movies every year, and celebrating with parties that set the style of the city’s fashion scene. Sponsored by Lakmé Cosmetics, Mumbai’s two annual fashion weeks, in March and August, create a buzz and energy unlike anywhere else, mixing local style, color, music and design in a way that make them pulse with unmistakably Indian energy. 

 

For anyone tempted to get a taste of the fast-moving and fashionable character of this intoxicating city, a place I’ve called home while writing my Love Travel Guides, here is my pick of Mumbai’s hippest haunts, from Colaba to Kala Ghoda.

 

Bombay Electric

Mumbai’s answer to Colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in London or Barneys in New York, this cutting-edge store, located in a heritage building, is more like a gallery for the New Indian Cool than a boutique. Creative director and founder Priya Kishore curates India’s best fashion and design and mixes in bold jewelry and vintage collectibles with exclusive capsule collections from emerging designers. Look out for established talent such as Manish Arora, Péro and Gaurav Gupta as well as hot local labels like NorBlack NorWhite and Bodice. The in-house brand Gheebutter features wonderfully soft cotton shirts, shorts and pants, and has acquired cult status among the city’s best-dressed men. 

1 Reay House, Best Marg, Colaba; +99 22 2287 6276; bombayelectric.in 

 

Le Mill

Founders Cecilia Morelli Parikh and Julie Leymarie worked at Bergdorf in Manhattan and L’Oréal, respectively, before joining forces to create this luxury concept store with an Indo-European aesthetic. Located in a splendid Victorian building, it showcases international designers and selected Indian labels, including Shift by Nimish, Bodice, Dhruv Kapoor, Anushka Khanna and NorBlack NorWhite – plus local teas from No. 3 Clive Road, homewares from Bar Palladio Delicatessen and a wall of cashmere scarves from Janavi.

1st Floor, Pheroze Building, C.S.M. Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba; +99 22 2652 2415; lemillindia.com

 

The Table

In the five years since its opening, this restaurant has grown in stature so much that there are whispers of The Table deserving India’s first Michelin star. Husband and wife team Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf gave up corporate careers to pursue their dream of creating a restaurant, and lured the supremely talented chef Alex Sanchez from San Francisco. He creates innovative dishes based around fresh, seasonal produce, much of it grown on their farm, a short boat trip away. At lunchtime, fashionistas and socialites dominate; the communal table is a great option for singletons, and is particularly lively at cocktail hour.

Kalapesi Trust Building, Apollo Bunder Marg, Colaba; +99 22 2282 5000; thetable.in

 

Kulture Shop

This cool studio shop features the creative talents of cutting-edge Indian graphic artists from around the globe. Founders Arjun and Jas Charanjiva and Kunal Anand have a great eye for outstanding graphic art, and their shop is an unerringly cool celebration of urban culture from more than 40 artists, displayed on a wide range of objects from limited-edition prints and T-shirts to mugs and phone cases. 

2nd Floor, Hill View 2, 241 Hill Rd, Bandra West; +99 22 2655 0982; kultureshop.in

 

 

The entrance to Priya Kishore’s celebrated Bombay Electric fashion boutique

 

 

A carefully curated edit of international and local designers at Le Mill

 

 

Freedom-fighter badges from hip graphic design emporium Kulture Shop

Kala Ghoda Café

The heritage precinct of the Kala Ghoda area in South Mumbai has become one of the city’s coolest areas. Home to the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Jehangir Art Gallery, the narrow lanes behind them has become the epicenter of India’s contemporary art world. Between the galleries are stylish boutiques and hip cafés, including KGC, as it’s affectionately known, which was founded by photographer Farhad Bomanjee, who returned from Europe to create his perfect coffee shop. The few tables are set in an early 20th-century barn with vaulted ceilings and whitewashed walls that are perfect for displaying small art shows. The compact menu features fresh simple food and the best coffee in the city, made from organic, South Indian arabica and robusta coffee varieties grown on sustainable plantations.

10 Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda Fort; +99 22 2263 3866; kgcafe.in 

Sabyasachi

Acclaimed Bengali fashion designer Sabyasachi, who is known for his opulent fashion, has created one of the most extraordinary shopping experiences in the country. The stunning 8,500ft showroom has 22 vintage hand-painted chandeliers, 52 antique rugs, 400 old glass ittar (perfume) bottles, antique plates from Kolkata, as well as clocks, antiquarian books, vintage calendar prints and more. The store is a testament to Sabya’s love of the rich aesthetics of India and a visual and sensual feast for those who visit it. The two-level space stocks Indian and Western fashion, ready-to wear saris and menswear, as well as a bridal jewelry collection created by Sabya and jeweler Kishan Das and Co. of Hyderabad, which has been in business since 1870.

Ador House, 6K Dubash Marg, Kala Ghoda; +99 22 2204 4774; sabyasachi.com

Good Earth

India’s most acclaimed lifestyle store is a one-stop shop for beautiful design and a celebration of India’s craft legacy. Created by Anita Lal, a designer and potter intent on preserving India’s rich design aesthetic, the first Good Earth opened in Mumbai 20 years ago and now has stores across India. This flagship outlet is located in a sensitively converted textile mill, with dramatic interiors and a stylish café. Although the store stocks a wide variety of items for use throughout the home, and clothes made using natural fabrics and embellished by traditional craftsmen, it is particularly famed for its hand-decorated tableware and bed linens.

Raghuvanshi Mansion, Raghuvanshi Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel; +99 22 2495 1954; goodearthindia.com

 

The Bombay Canteen

This recent addition to the Mumbai dining scene is located in the historic mill area, which is now also home to tall office blocks. Tucked away in a low-rise building, the restaurant is a recreation of an old Mumbai bungalow, with meticulous detailing such as traditional tiles and stained glass. The menu features seasonal produce and contemporary twists on classic regional Indian dishes, all ready to share, including a trio of desi tacos, which use Indian flat bread, and large-format dishes like tandoori red snapper in a coriander and chili marinade. Specials at the bar include martinis made with gooseberry juice and jaggery (cane sugar) and punches served from handcrafted brass bowls.

Unit 1, Process House, Kamala Mills, S.B. Road, Lower Parel; +99 22 4966 6666; thebombaycanteen.com

Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra

Celebrated author and restaurateur Jiggs Kalra and his son Zorawar opened this restaurant in late 2013 to offer their guests a gastronomic adventure through the past, present and future of Indian cuisine. The unique and entertaining dining experience is carefully orchestrated with wonderfully flamboyant service and innovative presentation, embracing elements of molecular gastronomy, regional cooking and dishes inspired by both royal kitchens and Indian street food. The tasting menu is the best way to experience the restaurant, with small signature dishes that can be paired with wines.

First International Financial Center, Bandra-Kurla Complex; +91 22 6642 4142; masalalibrary.co.in

 

Obataimu

Obataimu’s creative director Noorie Sadarangani believes in the art of slowness; the boutique’s name translates from the Japanese as “overtime” and the shop celebrates the process of making an object. A school of tailors sits at the heart of the establishment, producing its Shibui line of relaxed, androgynous pieces and its Wabi Sabi line of conceptual, often laboriously handmade, art pieces. Open for just six months annually, the rest of the year it pops up in spaces such as Rue Vertbois in Paris and Selfridges in London.

Military Square Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort Sameeya; +99 84 5484 5854; obataimu.com

The Gem Palace

The Mumbai outpost of India’s most iconic jewelry chain is run by ninth-generation jeweler Siddharth Kasliwal. Having created jewelry since 1852, and been court jewelers to the Mughal royals, the Kasliwal family still has royal clients as well as loyal fans in both Hollywood and Bollywood. This exquisite boutique is perhaps the most beautiful store in the city; the magical interiors – including a private salon upstairs – were laid out by Dutch designer Marie-Anne Oudejans and hand-painted by artisans from Jaipur.

D8, Ground Floor, Dhanraj Mahal, Apollo Bunder, Colaba; +99 22 2288 1852; munnuthegempalace.com

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai 

 

Rasa glasses from Good Earth

 

 

The Bombay Canteen’s Chicken Chettinad desi tacos

 

 

Discover “the art of slowness” at fashion boutique Obataimu,
which also boasts pop-up food areas

 

 

Big_Feature_To_Rome_with_Love_1060x560

To Rome with Love

When Mary Shelley sat down to write her letters home in the early spring of 1819, she had already fallen in love. The author of Frankenstein and the wife of the famous poet had arrived in Rome a few days before, and the city had seduced her. Basking in the warm Roman sun, contemplating countless masterpieces across two and a half millennia of history, she was enthralled. “The delights of Rome have had such an effect on me that my past life appears a blank,” she wrote breathlessly, “and now I begin to live.”

 

Mary knew well the Piazza del Popolo, the square in which I am sitting at the Caffè Canova, enjoying a croissant and the best coffee in the world. A wide oval, the piazza is framed by curving balustraded roadways and centred on fountains spewing curtains of silver water. To the south, twin churches mark the entrance to the city. On the opposite corner, by the Dal Bolognese restaurant, where film stars dine on Saturday evenings and cardinals have Sunday lunch, two carabinieri pose in uniforms that are more Gilbert & Sullivan than constables on the beat. Two nuns glide by, twins in wimpled black, passing a young couple locked in an embrace on the rim of the central fountain. The shadow of the obelisk that Augustus brought back from Egypt after defeating two of the great lovers of antiquity – Antony and Cleopatra – stretches across the cobblestones to touch my feet.

 

Cavalcades of ghosts roam this piazza. Before trains and airplanes gave us more mundane backdrops, the square was the grand stage for Roman arrivals. For more than 17 centuries, all those who made the journey to Rome from elsewhere in Europe – kings and popes, armies and emissaries, merchants and pilgrims – entered the city through the great Porta del Popolo opposite. Martin Luther lodged here while formulating ideas that would lead to the great schism of the Protestant Reformation. Queen Christina of Sweden – libertine, libertarian and lesbian – rode through Porta del Popolo opposite, waving to welcoming crowds, believing she was escaping the constraints of a northern throne for the freedoms of southern indulgence. Bonnie Prince Charlie – pretender to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland, and born in this city – paused here to splash his face in the fountains after another drunken night.

 

But the journeys and the arrivals that fascinate me are those of the early tourists, the travelers on what came to be known as the Grand Tour, a phenomenon of the 18th and 19th centuries in which gentlemen and sometimes ladies of means toured the continent to add some polish and sophistication to their manners and education. With its wealth of artistic treasure, Italy was always the highlight of these European journeys, and Rome, the ‘Great Crown of the Grand Tour’, the ultimate destination.

 

Among them were famous writers and artists. John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron all hurried across the cobbles of Piazza del Popolo. Stendhal, Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens – all went “reeling and moaning about the Roman streets”. Henry James echoed Mary Shelley’s passion for the city. “For the first time,” he wrote to his brother on the evening of his arrival, “I live.”

 

The journey to Italy and to Rome started with the Alps, “those uncouth, huge, monstrous excrescences of nature”, according to one 18th-century traveler. Some visitors, like Horace Walpole, whose King Charles spaniel was carried off and promptly eaten by a wolf, rode mules along the snowy precipices. Others, like James Boswell, were carried in palanquins by sure-footed porters. Boswell was said to have crossed the Alps “with mingled feelings of awe and adulterous anticipation”. Italian women were one of the attractions of any journey through Italy.

 

Boswell was probably anticipating Venice, whose courtesans were famous. The Frenchman Charles de Brosses described them as a cross between fairies and angels; heroically, he tried eight in order to get a decent sampling. But nuns were generally considered to be the most passionate lovers in Venice; there was a famous incident of a nun fighting a duel with an abbess over a mutual lover. Someone should have told Boswell. His adulterous intentions towards a promising Venetian woman “of some social standing” met with a sad rebuff.

 The Colosseum

Lovers on the Pincio Hill

From Venice our travelers crossed the Apennines to Florence. The journey could be difficult (in one wayside inn William Beckford was offered a dinner of mustard and crow’s gizzards) but everyone loved the city on the Arno. As always, there seemed to be too much to see: one 18th-century guidebook listed 160 public statues, 152 churches, 18 guildhalls, 17 palaces, six columns and two pyramids, without even mentioning the countless paintings. Tired of the sights, Sir Horace Mann was fortunate to catch the Carnival with its masked balls and its bacchanalian amusements. “I have danced,” he cried. “Good Gods! How have I danced!”

 

As the travelers turned south to Rome they followed the Via Cassia of the Roman legionnaires and the Via Francigena, the centuries-old pilgrim route to Rome. Both led directly to the Porta del Popolo, where, stretching their legs, they marveled at the theatrical entrance to the city. But the piazza was hardly journey’s end. Rome, which Lord Byron called “the city of the soul”, awaited them.

 

I finish the last of my croissant and coffee and set off to follow the travelers on their ramblings around the city they knew as Caput Mundi, the Capital of the World. A short walk round the corner into the Via del Corso, once the scene of riderless horse races, brings me to the rooms where Goethe lodged. The great German writer came to Rome in search of classical art. But in the humble rooms in Via del Corso, where he once lay writing verses on his lover’s naked back, he found love, passion and erotic emancipation. By his own account, Rome and his love affair with his Italian mistress changed his life. “Eros has arrows of various kinds,” he wrote. “Some seem just to scratch us… others, strong-feathered and freshly pointed and sharpened – right to the marrow they pierce.” His love nest is now a small museum, the Casa di Goethe, and its exhibitions trace the transformations of the man known as the German Shakespeare. Pick up a copy of his Roman Elegies; erotic poetry was never so exquisite.

 

From Goethe’s apartment I cross to Via del Babuino and the entrance to Via Margutta, one of the most charming streets in Rome. Long associated with visiting writers and artists, it was home to people like Sir Thomas Lawrence, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts, who lived here in the early 19th century. It is the street itself, as well as its associations, that is so seductive. Rising rents have forced most artists to look elsewhere for studios, but this pedestrian backwater, with its small galleries and antique shops, retains the atmosphere of an earlier Rome. The tiny Osteria Margutta at number 82 is my favorite place for romantic candlelit dinners. Bring along a copy of Goethe’s Elegies to read over the dolci.

 

Back in Via del Babuino I’m on the trail of Keats, the tragic young poet who arrived in Rome in 1820. At the end of the street I emerge in the Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish Steps, strewn with flowers, rise to the double spires of the church of Trinità dei Monti. In the 18th and 19th centuries the area was known as the English Ghetto. As early as 1740, Horace Walpole was complaining that the English in Rome seemed numberless; the Italians had taken to calling them milordi.

 

Just to the left of the Spanish Steps is one of their favorite haunts, Babington’s Tea Rooms, still serving English afternoon teas between the beveled mirrors and the palms. Not far away, in fashionable Via Condotti, is another of their haunts, the Caffè Greco. After two and a half centuries, the fittings and the paintings still evoke the long-lost world of the Grand Tour.

 

Hard by the Spanish Steps is the Keats-Shelley House, now a museum to the two Romantic poets. Already suffering from tuberculosis, a lovelorn Keats came to Rome in the hope that a sunnier climate might provide a cure. With its book-lined rooms, the house is a wonderfully atmospheric place. I climb the stairs to the narrow chamber where Keats lay day and night gazing at the ceiling that his friend, the painter Joseph Severn, had decorated with flowers for him. He died here, on a dark winter day in February 1821, barely 25 years old, still dreaming of his beloved Fanny Brawne, left behind in London. It remains one of the most moving places in Rome.

 

Back outside I climb the Spanish Steps to the district of the visiting French. Architects routinely praise the way the steps are visible from all angles. But the builder, Francesco de Sanctis, did not have aesthetic considerations in mind. “I will make the steps visible from everywhere,” he sniffed, “because the reverend fathers [of the French church atop the hill] have alerted me to the gross indecencies committed on that shrubbery slope by couples who often hide there.”

 

The French always have an eye for the best real estate, and the area at the top of the steps enjoys some of the finest views in Rome. I follow the Viale Trinità dei Monti to a wonderful Renaissance creation, the Villa Medici, “acquired” by Napoleon for the French Academy. Visiting artists are still granted studio space here, but for the general traveler there are tours of the apartments and the gardens that feel like a secret retreat. A little farther along the Pincio Hill is the Casina Valadier, named after the man who designed the Piazza del Popolo. Its elegant terraces are the ideal place for lunch with a view over Roman rooftops where domes rise like hot-air balloons.

 

Away to the left, you can see the white “wedding cake” creation of the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, commonly called the Vittoriano, and just behind it, the Forum of ancient Rome. In the days when Latin and Greek were still part of a normal school curriculum, most travelers on the Grand Tour had read Cicero and Virgil, Ovid and Horace, and were thrilled to be wandering the streets where they had lived and died. Many enlisted the services of guides to show them around ancient sights. The great German guide Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who became the leading 18th-century authority on classical art, was much sought after. He was a man of considerable tact. Showing John Wilkes around the Forum, Winckelmann kindly pretended not to notice when he and his mistress, overcome by lust, disappeared for some moments behind a ruin. All the more obliging, Wilkes commented later, because he had to pass the interval with his mistress’s mother, “who had as little conversation as beauty”.

 

But no visitor is more closely identified with ancient Rome than Edward Gibbon. I climb the long steps to Michelangelo’s glorious Piazza del Campidoglio, centred on the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Just beyond the piazza in the far left corner is a balcony overlooking the ruins of the Forum. Gibbon came here one fateful evening in the autumn of 1764 in reflective mood. The sound of the friars chanting litanies in the Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli wafted across the piazza. As he looked down on the Forum “where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell”, he conceived the idea of writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, one of the seminal works of European history.

 

Keats’ great friend Shelley also found inspiration in Rome’s sprawling ruins. Shelley adored Italy and spent several years here, where his curious domestic arrangements – in addition to his wife Mary he seemed to travel at different times with two mistresses – didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows. The spring of 1819 found him lodged with Mary, Claire the “nanny”, and his son William in the Palazzo Verospi in the Via del Corso, not far from where Goethe had lived some decades earlier.

 

The Shelleys spent their mornings exploring the ruins and the art collections and their afternoons riding through the gardens of the Quirinale and the Villa Borghese, the latter still Rome’s great green oasis. In the churches, Mary wrote, “we see the divinest of statues and… hear the music of angels”. Shelley loved to wander the city alone by moonlight, when the evening breezes brought sweet aromas from the country. His favorite destination was the vast Baths of Caracalla, the most spectacular of Rome’s ruins. It was here, beneath the arches, that he wrote Prometheus Unbound.

 

I hop on the No. 3 tram from Trastevere to the Protestant Cemetery, one of the stops on Shelley’s moonlight rambles, by a southern gate of the city, close to the Pyramid of Cestius. “It might make one in love with death,” he wrote, “to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” Pines and cypresses separate the rows of tombs. The colony of cats that has lived here for generations has its own charity box just inside the gate. You can find Keats’ grave in the far left corner, shaded by trees, inscribed with a single line: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

 

In July 1822 Shelley drowned after his boat capsized in a storm off the coast at Livorno. Mary accompanied his ashes across the Piazza del Popolo and through the city to burial in the cemetery. His gravestone is inscribed with Ariel’s lines from The Tempest: “Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea change/Into something rich and strange.”

 

It reads like an epithet for the city itself, the Eternal City, still rich and strange, still unfaded after the many sea changes of two millennia. For generations of visitors, Rome has been a revelation. No city in the world has been the destination of so many journeys, or has transformed the lives of so many travelers.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Rome

 Catching up with the news outside the Pantheon