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The Road More Traveled

In the Tian Shan Mountains – the Mountains of Heaven, to the Chinese – my guide and I came upon an old man on a white horse. He wore tall leather boots and a splendid white felt hat like an upturned jelly mold. With a jerk of his head, he invited us to come and eat. Beyond San Tash, where Tamerlane left a chilling monument to his slaughtered dead, we found his yurt perched on a bluff above a dark river. Full of the aromas of cooking and wood smoke, it was as snug as a womb. We took our place sprawled on rugs on a raised platform at the rear. Bowls of milky tea laced with butter were handed round and a great plate of petrified cheese was set before us.

 

The old man’s flat Kyrgyz face was the color of walnuts. He gazed at me for a moment without speaking, as if assessing my fate. Then he set about eating, chomping his way through the bread and cheese with a series of deep, throaty growls, before throwing himself back onto the pillows with a grunt and looking at me. “ENGLISH!” he bellowed at me. (I’m not English, but this didn’t seem the moment to quibble about passport details.) “ENGLISH, WHERE IS YOUR WIFE?”

 

I thought for a dreadful moment he knew something about my wife that I didn’t, that he had heard she had run away to the South of France with a member of the Chippendales. Then I remembered I didn’t have a wife.

 

“No wife,” I said, relieved.

 

He made a pantomime expression of surprise. His eyes, the color of tea, widened to the size of saucers.

 

“NO WIFE?” he bawled. Then his voice dropped to pianissimo. “Listen carefully, English. Let me tell you how to get a wife.” And leaning back, he embarked upon an explanation of the intricacies of Kyrgyz romance.

 

I was on the Silk Road, that great trans-Asian route that the English traveler Freya Stark described as “the oldest, the longest, the most romantic, the most persistent of all the checkered streams of trade”. For more than 4,000 miles, it follows various routes from the gates of Xi’an in China to the shores of the Mediterranean. But whichever way you pass, Central Asia is its hub, and the people of Central Asia its middlemen. They share nomadic roots, mercantile instincts and a surprising enthusiasm for splendid hats, from the dainty pillbox job of the Uzbek merchant to the tall felt affair of the Kyrgyz horseman.

 

I had come to Central Asia to understand nomads, and to see the remnants of the nomadic culture that still existed in the remoter regions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I was following the route of the old Silk Road, from the Crimea across southern Russia, watching the rolling steppes from the windows of the Kazakhstan Express. I left the train in the town of Turkestan, where dust from the Kyzylkum Desert coated the leaves of the shade trees along the main road.

 

Turkestan is home to one of the holiest of Kazakh shrines, the mausoleum of the first great Turkic saint, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, the founder of a Sufi order in the 12th century. Its blue dome rises on the edge of the desert, the sole survivor of the town’s more glamorous past. It was built by one of the great names of Central Asia: Tamerlane, the 14th-century conqueror who traced his ancestry back to Genghis Khan.

 

The mosque encapsulates the true essence of the Silk Road. Ideas were packed among the goods in the baggage trains on this legendary route. Culture, art and religion passed from one region to another with breathtaking fluidity. Islam spread here from the Middle East – and the ribbed dome of this shrine is part of the great canon of Iranian architecture, an influence that had traveled eastward along the Silk Road for well over 600 miles. The dome hovers above walls of turquoise and azure tiles and delicate traceries of arabesque. I followed passageways from the central chamber into a labyrinth of tall white rooms, the grilled windows of which filtered the outside world to a pale wash of light and a filigree of muted sound. No other religion has captured the longing for a tranquil soul in the form of architecture as exquisitely as Islam.

 

To the south of Turkestan lie the ruins of Otrar, another ghost on the Silk Road, and the place where Genghis Khan, the great nomadic conqueror, got his start in the business of empire-building. Just beyond a museum cataloging the life of this once-great city, a long featureless mound topped by waves of corn, littered with pot shards and bleached bones. In an excavation pit, where swallows rose in a fluttering cloud, I found the floor of Otrar’s great mosque. All that remained were the shattered bases of brick columns. The layers of sediment exposed in the pit walls showed the strata of the city’s different eras of settlement. Among them, a thick line of ash marked the Mongol era, when Genghis Khan had sent armies to burn this city to the ground, at the very beginning of the Mongol Empire.

 

This conflict between the settled people of cities and the nomadic horsemen of the steppes is one of the central issues of the Silk Road. Time and again, nomads would sweep east and west along the road to conquer settled populations – in China, in Persia, in northern India. Here, in this archaeological pit, in this layer of burnt material, was a moment in history that you could touch. I raked my fingers over it, and the old ash, the ancient antipathies, crumbled onto my boots.

 

 

 Above: Registan Square, Samarkand

(©Ian Berry/Magnum)

 

In the congested avenues of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital, I found myself sympathizing with the nomads. The city was full of city hassles – queues, crowds, traffic. In the midday heat, people seemed to move in sluggish slow motion. But when I lifted my eyes beyond the buildings and the rooftops, I could see the mighty Mountains of Heaven, the mighty Tian Shan. They promised escape.

 

So I set off with a guide, the bumbling Marat, to Kyrgyzstan, and that section of the old road that ran along the northern shores of Issyk-kul lake towards the mountain passes to China. In Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, the main avenue was still called Silk Road Street. Eastwards, the road ran through velvet foothills. Gangs of hay-makers were out in the fields with pitchforks and scythes. On the far side of a pass of poplars and rose-colored rocks, huge flocks of sheep appeared, with young shepherds on horses cracking long whips in the rolling clouds of dust.

 

We passed the 11th-century Burana Tower, like a lighthouse of the Silk Road, marooned in fields of edelweiss. It marked the ruins of Balasagun, a millennium ago a great Silk Road city. In the small museum were the remnants of the ancient trade: Chinese coins, bracelets of Indian cowrie shells, iron swords, bronze lamps, amulets. In the late afternoon, we came down to Issyk-kul. Its glassy surface held the reflections of snow peaks and high wind-torn clouds. A family went by in a wagon, the patriarch in a tall felt hat, reclining on bolsters of new hay among a tribe of daughters. At the end of the lake we drove through apple orchards to Karakol. Tucked away in one of the remotest corners of Central Asia, the town of Karakol still had the cosmopolitan air of a Silk Road town, a place where disparate peoples met and mingled. Blond Russian schoolchildren were trailing home past cottages with blue shutters and white picket fences. Uighurs in their pretty embroidered caps had laid out cheap Chinese imports at makeshift stalls in the main square. In the market, Uzbek butchers were dismembering cows with huge axes. Kazakh men went by on tall horses while old Kyrgyz men with wispy beards gossiped on shady street corners.

 

The next morning, Marat and I took up the trail of Tamerlane, heading east into the Tian Shan mountains. Born in Central Asia, Tamerlane, or Timur, was the last of the great nomadic conquerors, forging an empire in the 14th century that stretched westward along the Silk Road into Iran and much of the Middle East as well as southward into northern India and north into much of Russia. In Samarkand, his capital, he left one of the world’s most beautiful ensembles of Islamic buildings – a model of architectural delicacy and sophistication. Everywhere else, from Baghdad to Delhi, he left vast piles of bones.

 

We rose into high valleys of grass and pine trees, of horsemen and nomads. On the far side of a narrow pass, we came to the valley of Karkara. It was empty and pristine and full of birdsong. A herd of untended horses were galloping through blue twilight. China lay just beyond the passes.

 

Halfway along the valley floor, we came to the great mound of San Tash, a pile of boulders the height of a house. It was made when Tamerlane embarked on an ill-fated invasion of China. He ordered each soldier to place a stone on the pile as they passed. On their way back from the wars, each took one away again. In this way, Tamerlane could calculate his losses. They numbered in the thousands, a tall cenotaph of stones raised by the fallen to their own memory. I climbed to the top, and the rocks slipped and rumbled beneath my feet like skulls.

 

It was here that we met our Kyrgyz nomad, on his white horse. After supper, he embarked on his matrimonial advice. He was a traditionalist in matters of the heart. In his day, Kyrgyz chaps would cut to the chase when it came to courtship. A young man in possession of a Kyrgyz fortune – numerous sheep – and in need of a wife simply kidnapped the woman of his dreams, and then, through intermediaries, made her family an offer they couldn’t refuse. As soon as the bargaining was completed – quantities of sheep generally needed to change hands – they set a date and the young man and his fiancée emerged from hiding to a welcome from both families. The old man sat back, spreading his hands wide. “That’s the way to get a decent wife,” he said, slapping my thigh. His own wife, and former hostage, beamed her approval.

 

His was the voice of the old Silk Road, of the nomadic cultures that had been central to these regions. But a new Silk Road is emerging in Central Asia. After decades of Soviet hegemony, trade is again becoming the life blood of these regions. A sense of optimism among the new republics of Central Asia, coupled with China’s expansive trade policies, is transforming the region. Rail lines now carry freight from the heart of China across its mountainous western borders to the Central Asian republics and beyond to Iran, to Turkey and to Europe. A new Silk Road is being forged in Central Asia – part of a modern, globalized world.

 

The great trading caravans of the past nurtured the cities of Central Asia: Merv, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. With the new trading realities, the old cities are prospering again, and new cities are emerging. Among them is Astana, Kazakhstan’s burgeoning capital – a city that now stands at the center of the modern Silk Road. Its gleaming skyscrapers rise confidently from the Kazakh steppe, while luxury hotels like the new St. Regis Astana stand as heirs to the old Silk Road caravanserais.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Astana

Above: simple lakeside huts in the Tien Shan Mountain range, which straddles the border between China and Kyrgyzstan, present an idyll of peace
(©Getty Images)

 

Below: trade is booming once again on the Silk Road, where an ancient culture is being connected with the modern world for the benefit of both
(©Getty Images)

 

TheGreatEscape_Hero

The Great Escape

In his day, in the late 1800s, no other man possessed riches to match those of William Waldorf Astor. Having inherited his family’s estate at the age of 42 – encompassing businesses ranging from fur-trapping companies and a Pacific shipping empire to vast tracts of Manhattan real estate – he had access to almost anything he could possibly wish for. The sort of life he led was reflected in the style of the hotels that he built up, including the Waldorf-Astoria: a joint venture with his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, the founder of St. Regis. Building great hotels was something of an Astor family tradition. In 1836, the very first John Jacob, founder of the dynasty and the family fortune – and the cousins’ great-grandfather – had opened the Astor House hotel in New York, the city’s first luxury hotel and the last word in American hospitality for several decades. The hotel that the cousins established together was equally groundbreaking, while John Jacob Astor IV’s St. Regis hotel raised the bar still further when it opened in 1904 – setting the style and standard for St. Regis hotels across the world today.

 

Although William Waldorf Astor was at the heart of New York society, the city wasn’t a place in which he found happiness. As he wrote in his memoirs, published in 1917: “We were too prosperous; we were exclusive, not hail fellows
well met; we liked the amenities of foreign travel; we had been known to employ alien servants, French chefs and English butlers; we were un-American. To the press, we were a shining target. On the 20th of September, 1880, when I was 32, the thought occurred to me that we should fare better in another land.”

 

As a young man, like his grandfather and father before him, Astor had been educated in Europe, and had traveled there widely with his parents. Of all of the countries on the continent, the place he loved more than any other was Italy: its culture, its arts, its food, and its countryside. As a new book about his great homes, Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast, explains: “He was enraptured… Italy intrigued his mind and invaded his soul. All at once, this sensitive, cultivated, and intellectually curious young man was exposed to a new land; a rich history he had only ever read about in books; dazzling art ranging from Roman, through Medieval, to Renaissance and Baroque; and a vibrant political and cultural climate.”


 

Although after a period studying in Rome, Astor returned to America, where he studied law at Columbia University, learned his family business and entered into the world of politics, he still hankered for Italy. In 1882, at the age of 34, he was given the perfect excuse to return: the offer by the American Republican President, Chester A. Arthur, of a posting to Rome as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary: the equivalent now of an ambassador. It was a posting that would change his life forever.

 

Having arrived in Rome, and set up home in the 17th-century Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in the heart of the city, he and his wife Mary lived like royalty, and were frequent guests of the Italian King Umberto and Queen Margherita. When he wasn’t mixing with Italian society, the young diplomat found time to indulge his loves of sculpture, of art, of classical architecture and of literature. The part of the world he particularly loved, though, was Sorrento. This seaside town, in the country’s south, was not only close to the classical ruins of Pompeii and Paestum, which he enjoyed visiting, but had a beautiful coastline, along which friends had villas in which he could stay. It was in the spring of 1905, visiting a friend, that he spotted a villa perched high on a promontory with stunning views across the Gulf of Naples to Vesuvius – and decided to buy it. Although the house was originally known as Aux Roches Grises, because of the volcanic rocks on which it was built, Astor renamed it Villa Sirena, after the mythological creatures that lured sailors onto rocks. 


 

The property had everything he loved: history (the site had been the home of Postumus Agrippa around the time of Christ, and a haunt of Ovid); views of Vesuvius and the coast; seven acres of land with orange and olive groves; monastic ruins and a church; and a grand villa which the art lover could fill with paintings, fine furniture and sculpture. Best of all, it was peaceful, writes his great-grandson, Lord Astor of Hever, in the introduction to Villa Astor.“The light lifted his spirits and he would potter in his orange grove or go for long walks in the hills. He loved the easy tempo of the place, as gentle as a Neapolitan folksong; simple peasant dishes of risotto (which he spelled with a “z”), spaghetti, fried fish or fritto misto, cheese, and rustic wines. And the dry climate improved his gout, which had almost crippled him.”


 

Although Astor owned magnificent homes in America and in England, “the Villa,” his great-grandson explains, “holds the key to my great-grandfather’s happiness. It was the place to which he could escape, be free to lead a simple life, and revel in peace. It allowed him to turn the clock back, reminisce, and dream of what might have been.”
Not that creating his dream villa was a simple job; the restoration took almost a decade. Wainscoting, parquet floors and hand-painted ceilings were added to every room, and a glassed-in dining room added so guests had an unimpeded view of Naples and Ischia. The old church cloister was turned into a gallery, which Astor and the famous Roman antiquarian Attilio Simonetti adorned with some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of classical statuary, columns, mosaics, bronzes, ironwork, stoneware, and sarcophagi. The exquisite garden was planted with exotic flowers and plants from all over Europe and orchards of lemon, orange and olive trees, and a magnificent swimming pool was added. In the grounds where the cloister once stood, Astor constructed a replica of a Pompeian villa, called Villa Florus, with such authentic-looking floor mosaics, ionic columns and wall paintings that for many years visitors thought they were originals, transferred from Pompeii or Herculaneum.

 

 Above: a great admirer of ancient Rome, William Waldorf Astor adorned his home with classical statuary

 

One of the villa’s greatest pleasures for Astor, though, was its location. Situated on a rocky outcrop, far from prying eyes, the house was, as the Villa Astor book explains: “A sanctuary from the day-to-day cares of business and family. It was a place to revere nature, thanks to the spectacular panorama of the sea and mountains surrounding the property: a series of thoughtfully placed windows embellished with fragments of antique columns and sculptures romantically framed the view beyond, leading the eye to the horizon.”


 

Between 1905 and 1914, before the outbreak of war, Astor visited the house every year between November and March. Although much of this time was spent alone (his wife had died in 1894), he had eight staff to attend to his needs, including a prized French chef, who was responsible for ordering what he considered “indispensible” items: foie gras terrines, potted French green peas in butter sauce, Brie and Camembert cheeses, truffles – all furnished through his agent in Paris, Fernand Robert. 


 

When he did socialize, he did so in considerable style. As one account, taken from the new book, recalls: “Astor’s house parties are organized exactly on the same order as royalty, only a trifle more so… For example, each morning every lady of the house is sent a superb bouquet of flowers to her room. With them is a huge box of chocolates… Not infrequently, within the inner recesses of the flowers or of the box of sweets is some exquisite trifle in the way of a charm or trinket. In order not to show favor to any one guest, flowers, sweets and jewels are the same for all. Astor has the finest private collection of automobiles in Europe, and each guest reads over the mantelpiece that by telephoning to a garage, a ‘car’ is always at his or her disposal.”


 

But mainly, though, Astor spent his time there alone: walking, exploring, eating at local restaurants. As he wrote to his American-born daughter-in-law, Nancy, who became the first female Member of Parliament in Britain: “We have had such exquisite weather that I took advantage of it recently to visit Pompeii and Paestum. I have also amused myself by lunching at odd places within driving distance to feast upon the spaghetti and risotto, which the plainest Italian cook prepares in such perfection... I take good walks and can easily do six miles – to Massa [Lubrense] without over-fatigue. On stormy days I seek my gymnasium or trudge up and down my garden walks for an hour.” 


 

When World War I made traveling to Italy impossible, he took refuge in his homes in England and to his dismay he never made it back to the Sorrento bolt-hole that he’d spent decades creating. The day before he was finally due to return to it – in October 1919 – he died, and his family subsequently sold the property.

 

Today, more than a century later, the house is owned by another family who still clearly take delight in Astor’s style and historical artifacts. Not only have they employed the leading French architect Jacques Garcia to renovate what is now called “Villa Astor”, keeping its classical elegance and 19th century interiors while updating its amenities, they also rent it out to modern-day travelers who dream of living as Astor might have. Walking into the home, it’s as if the man still lived there, surrounded by his precious antiquities and furnishings, in the land he called his spiritual home.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Rome, The St. Regis New York

 

All images © Eric Sander, from Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast, by Curt DiCamillo, published by Flammarion

Above: the villa has been restored to its full glory by leading French architect Jacques Garcia

 

HookedOnFishing

Hooked on Fishing

Have you ever seen a leopard? A giant sloth? A tiger? How about a manta ray or a great white shark? Ever experienced a humpback whale breaching so close that it rocked the boat? Or had your toothpaste stolen by monkeys? I’m not talking about watching those sad-eyed animals that pad endlessly around their cages in zoos, or joining dozens of others on a whale-watching boat. I’ve been lucky enough to see all these creatures up close and personal (in certain cases, a little too close). But I’ve seen them because I go fishing.

 

Why go fishing anyway? Research suggests that more than two-thirds do so to get away from it all. In our increasingly stressful lives, it becomes harder and harder to seek escape. Fishing doesn’t take place in cities, with honking cars and constantly ringing cellphones. It’s best enjoyed in the world’s wilder and less exploited places. Peace within peace.

 

Fishing, you see, is about much more than outwitting a creature with the brain power of a sliced loaf (although you’ll notice that anglers like to attribute superhuman intelligence to their quarry). Angling can be solitary and contemplative; it can break your heart or make it soar like an eagle. It can be restful or exhausting, aesthetic, poetic or scientific. Best of all, you can choose. And as I get older (if none the wiser), I’m not even sure that catching fish is actually the point of it all.

 

I was fishing on a nearby lake when a kingfisher chose the end of my rod as a convenient resting place to gulp down the minnow it had just caught. There it sat, this glorious iridescent-blue bird, just feet from me. I can’t remember what I caught that day, but I’ll always recall that kingfisher, ignoring me and concentrating on lunch. Because I sat there quietly, it took me as part of its world. I’d become part of nature rather than an intrusion.

 

Would I ever have seen that leopard, gliding ghost-like across a ridge at dusk, if I hadn’t been in the Indian jungle fishing for mahseer? Would I have seen that sloth moving in slow motion through treetops in Guyana unless I had traveled to South America hoping to catch an arapaima, the fish I had read about in David Attenborough’s 1956 Zoo Quest to Guiana, and dreamed for 40 years of seeing?

 

Earlier this year, I was fishing in Norway’s Lofoten Islands (a great place to watch the Northern Lights). A group of us were after halibut and giant cod, but we stopped fishing when a pod of killer whales with young came within feet of our little boat. We followed them for miles, marveling at their grace. And what about that time in Belize, when our family spent a couple of hours spotting manatee, then saw a whale shark swim ponderously past the hotel jetty as a bonus? Or that holiday to Puerto Rico, where a pelican came into the pool at 5pm every day, and the staff fed it with fish? That was the trip where, on Christmas Day, I dangled a line off a jetty, attracting children of several nationalities, who took it in turns to catch the dazzling multi-colored, Rothko-esque fish that swarmed at our feet. Surrounded by these excited youngsters, some no older than three or four years old, I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. That they didn’t speak English didn’t matter – we found a universal language of joy.

 

For me, a fishing trip anywhere in the world – whether it’s Langkawi, Vancouver or the Maldives – is my way of experiencing things that most people see only in nature films. The American author John Gierach put it far better than I can. He was once asked, “How was the fishing?” and replied, “The fishing was wonderful. The catching wasn’t up to much, though.”

 

You may be reading this in one of St. Regis’s elegant resorts, perhaps in Shenzhen, Bora Bora or Puerto Rico. You’re probably gazing out to sea, wondering what to do besides sipping mojitos and putting on more sunscreen. Why not go fishing, and see at first-hand the wonders of nature? We’ve just returned from Costa Rica where, on a half-day fishing trip off the Pacific coast, we were entertained by dolphins, saw shoals of migrating stingrays jumping from the water, manta rays sunning themselves and a huge leatherback turtle drifting on the current. As my wife poetically put it, “And most people think the sea is just a big, empty mass of water.”

 

This makes it sound as if I spend all my time fishing, to the exclusion of everything else. Wishful thinking, but sadly untrue. Family holidays need to be just that – although, if there’s water nearby, I’m always peering into it, wondering what lurks beneath the surface. There’s usually a local boat you can hire for a day, and in more sophisticated resorts you’ll find sleek vessels that will transport you to areas where the fish are big and hungry.

 

If you happen to be staying at one of the St. Regis resorts in southern China, your hotel can set up a trip through Simpson Marine, which runs two boats year-round.
The Thai Lady is ideal for a group of four friends, while Fortuna can accommodate up to 30. The crews are vastly experienced and in these waters you’re likely to catch anything from yellowfin tuna and snapper to sailfish and black marlin.

 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know which end to hold a rod. Fishing really isn’t difficult – it’s only fishermen that try to make it so. You can go out to sea with a $1,000 space-age reel and a box full of colorful lures in all shapes and sizes (fishing, after all, has more accessories than the others sports put together), but the person next to you – who could be your 10-year-old grandson or a 75-year-old novice – may still catch the big fish, using tackle supplied by the boat.

 

Worried about seasickness? Buy a Relief Band, a watch-like device that truly works. It generates electric signals (actually, small shocks) that, once transmitted to the body, convince your brain that all is steady. Strap it on to your wrist, set the dial and, suddenly, a rocking boat holds no fears. Mal de mer used to wreck my Hemingway dreams – there’s nothing worse when you’re eager to tangle with ocean giants like marlin, shark and tuna. The moment the horizon started to move, so did my stomach. Not any more.

 

When people ask my greatest memory, I recall a day in Outer Mongolia, hundreds of miles from anywhere. I was relaxing on the riverbank, feeling content after catching two taimen, the very rare salmon that were the primary focus of our trip. A bright yellow sun rested in a flawless blue sky, as if the whole scene had been painted by a child using a palette of primary colors. In the distance, snow covered the hills. Then a group of herders, who had lived the same way for hundreds of years, crossed the river. It was an achingly beautiful scene and I thought: “It doesn't get more wonderful that this. OK, God, take me now.” Thank goodness He wasn’t listening.

 

simpsonmarine.com

 

Your address: The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico; The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort; The St. Regis Macao, Cotai Central; The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort; The St. Regis Shenzhen; The St. Regis Langkawi; The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

 

Fishing doesn’t take place in cities with honking cars; it’s peace within peace
(photo: Getty Images)

 

ALPIK_1

A Little Place I Know

 

An Ottoman palace
in Istanbul
by Leon Jakimič

Dolmabahçe Palace, Visnezade Mahallesi, Dolmabahce Cd, Istanbul
The palace is set between the ports of Besiktas and Kabatas and overlooks the Bosphorus, in which the old Ottoman fleets used to anchor. You can arrive here either on foot, through the little cobbled streets, or by boat, on the glittering waters. Either way, it’s an impressive building – a testament to the opulent life of the Ottoman sultans and the power of their empire. Outside, it’s embellished with intricate white carvings. Inside, every centimeter is decorated with marble, gold and crystal. Built in the 19th century, it’s full of history. Because of my interest in crystal, I was particularly impressed by the world’s largest Bohemian chandelier, in the Ceremonial Hall, which was sent to Istanbul by Queen Victoria of England. It’s an extraordinary example of what can be made by master craftsmen. Of course it’s not the only beautiful thing: each room is different, whether it’s the harem – which was the Sultan’s private area – the study room, the alabaster baths or the throne room. The building is filled with references to other great nations: it was the intention of the Ottoman emperors to build a palace that would match the success of European emperors, culture and architecture. If you’re visiting, it’s also worth going to the neo-baroque Dolmabahçe Clock Tower, the Dolmabahçe Mosque and the Palace Collections Museum. But allow a few days: there’s so much culture and history, you could spend a lifetime here.


Leon Jakimic is founder of the Czech crystal brand Lasvit (lasvit.com)
Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul

 

A tea shop in Chengdu
by Asa Eriksson-Ahuja

Yao Li Cha Shi, Tiexiangsi Road, Chengdu
This little tea house, located in the more commercial south side of Chengdu, is surrounded by modern structures that accentuate its more traditional architecture and materials. Even the entrance – a wooden porch with a thatched roof – makes you feel like you’re entering an ancient garden house. Step inside and you find an airy, Zen-like room, lit by rice-paper windows. The interiors are all tastefully decorated with potted trees, teapots, hanging calligraphy and fans. The owner wanted to create a space that honored the rich traditions of China’s tea-drinking culture, and he sells only premium-quality Chinese tea, as well as refined teaware and tea-serving garments from Japan. One of the best products sold here is a green tea called Meng-Ding Yan cha, found only in Sichuan province on the slopes of the Meng Mountain. My favorite place to drink it is the Japanese-style space on the third floor, sitting on a tatami mat. Before this shop opened in February 2017, there were only traditional Chinese-style tea houses in Chengdu. The combination of Chinese and Japanese elements in this new one makes it very special.


Asa Eriksson-Ahuja is the co-founder of the tea-humidor brand Lotusier (lotusier.com)
Your address: The St. Regis Chengdu

 

A compendium of global
treasures in New York
by Pippa Small

De Vera, 1 Crosby Street, New York
This store is in a part of Soho that’s forever changing – you might walk one block and it feels quite grimy, and the next it’s impossibly glamorous. It’s an area that’s always in a state of flux. From the outside, it’s pretty difficult to guess what it sells: it’s dark and unreadable, like a treasure box. Inside, it looks part cathedral, part museum and part eccentric collector’s home. It’s lined with 19th-century museum displays stocked with pieces from around the world. There’s Catholic iconography and kitsch Japanese ceramics, found objects, architectural details, little boxes, curiosity cabinets, jewelry made from old stones, seals, ancient beads, pearls, diamonds, antique pieces remade into modern wonders. It’s an appreciation of the natural world. Everything is curated with a strong point of view and vision, and the line between display, decor and product seems blurred in a deliciously “unshoplike” way. You just wander, brushing past some things and peering intently at others as you discover them. I’ve found all sorts of things I love in there: ancient baroque pearls strung into a bracelet, a huge mirror-like old Moghul diamond ring, and strings of colored gems that looked like a child’s string of plastic beads, but actually turned out to be a collection of rubies, corals and emeralds. I often come here just to look. I don’t have to buy anything to feel happy and enriched.


Pippa Small is an ethical jeweler who works with marginalized people, from Afghan lapis craftsmen to Kalahari Bushmen. She has a New York boutique at ABC Carpet & Home (pippasmall.com)
Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

A traditional souq in Doha
by Jeremy Morris

Souq Waqif, Doha
There has been a souq in the vibrant Al Souq area of Doha for more than a century. It was originally a place where Bedouins and locals came together to trade, near the water’s edge, but in 2006 it was renovated in traditional Qatari architectural style, with cobbled lanes and whitewashed buildings, mud-rendered walls and exposed timber beams. Inside, it’s a brilliant assault on the senses: a maze of alleyways with market stall-holders selling brightly colored fabrics, spices and exotic birds, Arabic coffee-sellers and uniformed porters carrying shopping. There’s an amazing choice of restaurants and wonderful coffee shops, with the smell of shisha wafting above it all. You can get pretty much anything from the region here: traditional spices and herbs, preserved lemons and Yemeni honey, Iranian bread and dates from Qatar, as well as incense and perfumes, handcrafted goods in leather, gold, clay or wood. The bird souq is particularly lovely: there are exotic birds chirping away next to magnificent hooded falcons. And I love the vivid colors of the textiles – the deep reds, vibrant greens and ocher yellows always give me inspiration when I’m designing with our precious gemstones. Business colleagues introduced the souq to me, and we had a wonderful traditional meal with soccer on the TV screens behind us – memorable and great fun.


Jeremy Morris is the third generation of jewelers at David Morris, which has outlets from Doha and Moscow to Baku (davidmorris.com)
Your address: The St. Regis Doha

GreenShoots_Gallery_2

Green Shoots

Bali has long attracted free-thinkers: travelers seeking a tropical escape from the usual routine, with a spiritual dimension. When John Hardy arrived in the 1970s, he was struck by the beauty of the island, the lush landscape, the kindness of the people. When I visited the island, it was the unique institution that he and his wife had created there that entranced me: the Green School. This bamboo structure is impressive not just because it’s made from sustainably harvested materials from the surrounding forests, but because of its green ethos and the family behind it. Which is why I am writing this from a balé in the Balinese jungle: I was so inspired by the Green School that I decided to move to the island for three months and enroll my daughter in the school. As she runs around in the sunshine, I can work in the café.

 

The story behind the Green School offers many lessons, not just about what can be achieved by one family with a vision, or what we should be teaching our children, but about the buildings in which they learn. In the past, bamboo was thought of as something to be used in constructing scaffolding, simple huts or basic fishermen’s shelters. But thanks to John and his wife, Cynthia, who opened the Green School in 2008 – having previously operated a successful jewelry business on the island – the plant has been given a dramatic brand repositioning.

 

When the forward-thinking Hardys built their ambitious eco-minded school south of Ubud, nothing had been done like it before. It took the combined brainpower of an engineer from New York, an architect from France and many local artisans to produce this three-floored masterpiece from 2,500 pieces of this light-yet-strong wood. Today, in this stilted 200ft-high, corkscrew-shaped construction, shaded by a sculptural helical thatched roof, you’ll find no glass, no metal nails, no air-con. Air flows through it, and natural scenes flood in from all around. It is one of the finest examples of environmentally-friendly design in the world.

 

The resilience and versatility of the material and the ingenuity of the Balinese people have made this bamboo project an enlightening educational environment in every sense. When it was first built, this kindergarten-through-high school was an attention-grabber because of its innovative, undulating looks. Now it has become a benchmark for environmentally friendly building practices that help not only to foster a collaborative, forward-thinking ecologically-minded community, and contribute to the local economy in a way that empowers Indonesia’s islanders, but that lead by example on an international stage.

 

Bamboo is now being considered not simply as a green material with which to build homes, but also to create furniture. In 2010, the Hardys’ daughter Elora established Ibuku, a structural and decorative consultancy that has grown into a highly respected collective of architects, engineers, and craftspeople known for their surprisingly sleek creations. A former designer for Donna Karan in New York, Elora has never formally studied architecture. Yet today the craftspeople at Ibuku are regularly commissioned to build magnificent multi-story bamboo mansions, as well as elegant custom-made furniture. Its beautiful handmade objects, such as the teardrop hanging-seat or graceful double bed, are a natural fit with upscale homes. Elora also hosts courses on how to harvest and manage bamboo and invites participants to design and craft their own furniture through old-fashioned carpentry with the help of 3D-printing technology.

 

 Above: Elora Hardy, founder of Ibuku, has set out to demonstrate that bamboo can be used to make a vast range of products, including beautiful furniture (photo: Tim Street-Porter)

 

Elora’s design business – creating new bamboo buildings with her local artisans and exporting natural furniture to eco-homes and green schools around the world – is, if you like, a continuation of what her parents started, but expanded across the globe. “With Ibuku’s architects and craftsmen, there’s an entire new dialogue unfolding with people who have never been to Bali before,” she says, explaining how homes in Florida, Japan, Canada, South America might now be furnished with Ibuku’s pieces. “I’m lucky I can be a connector between them all.”

 

Her younger brother Orin is also involved in putting environmental principles into practice and educating others about permaculture at his Kul Kul Farm, neighboring the Green School, which he runs with his partner Maria. Here they grow organic produce, which feeds the children and is sold through a stall at the bi-weekly farmers’ market, and leads courses to teach families about organic farming methods. He also helps run a small fleet of BioBuses that run on used cooking oil collected from hotels and restaurants, and to supply power for the campus from alternative energy sources — solar panels, a bamboo-sawdust hot water and cooking system, and an ambitious hydro-powered vortex generator.

 

There’s no better way to get a crash course into John Hardy’s vision of how we all might live better than to take a “trash walk” with him through Sayan in Bali’s jungle-covered highlands. As I spear garbage that has washed up from the river, I hear his plans for tree houses and T-shirts made from organic fabrics, his plans to make our world greener. Sarong-wearing John is not shy when it comes to pointing out how we could all be living greener lives. He believes engineers, designers and architects are foolish to fear using bamboo. “Bamboo is truly sustainable: cut it and more comes up,” he declares. “It’s the fastest-growing renewable building material in the world and it has greater tensile strength than steel. You can grow enough to build a building from nothing in five years. It’s beautiful: there’s no ugly bamboo, just as there’s no beautiful concrete.”

 

Brutalists might disagree, yet there’s no denying this grand grass’s sustainable credentials. “And there’s enough for everybody,” he adds. “We can promise every child on the planet a beach hut and a city house made from bamboo.” He pauses for a moment before adding, “Do you know the Queen?” It seems he would love the chance to persuade HRH to send her great-grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, to the Green School, to learn about environmental principles. “When Michelle Obama planted gardens at the White House,” he says, “thousands of gardens sprang up all over the world. Great things happen if people lead by example.”

 

Your address: The St. Regis Bali Resort

 

(All images courtesy of Ibuku)

 

 

Steve

Steve McCurry

1. London, 1969

 

I had never traveled outside America before, but in 1969 I spent a year backpacking through Europe – France, and Spain, and Amsterdam – ending up in a youth hostel in Soho, London, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. There were people camped out in the lobby, in the recreational area, on the floor. I slept under the pool table. I remember the pubs, which were amazing, and thinking how weird it was buying a soft drink that wasn’t cold. In the US, everything was on ice.

 

2. Panama, 1972

 

Hitchhiking was pretty common in those days, and I wanted to learn Spanish, so I caught lifts from Philadelphia to Panama. There wasn’t a real plan; I just wandered, taking it all in and talking Spanish. The country was fascinating: it’s partly on the Caribbean, partly on the Pacific, with lots of Spanish festivals and parades. I took a camera, a Miranda, and took lots of pictures, in black and white, which I still have, loose in boxes.

 

3. Africa, 1973

 

This was my first trip to Africa – and a big one. I took a boat with a buddy from New York to Haifa, then to Cyprus. He stayed there and I went to Athens, then Cairo, and took a boat down the Nile to Aswan, went to Sudan, Uganda, Nairobi, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. No one did that in those days, so it was difficult. The Sud swamp was particularly crazy. We were in this old steamer, going on a path through the swamp that narrowed, then opened. If you got stuck you could be there for ever, just you and the mosquitoes.

 

4. Asia, 1978

 

This was the trip that launched me into the world of photography. It was meant to be a short trip round India and instead ended up being a two-year journey through India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand, all over Asia… The thing that impressed me most was the immensity of the Subcontinent, from Calcutta to Ladakh, with its extraordinary variety of people and cultures. By then I had a Nikon, which I’ve stuck with since, and was shooting in color.

 

5. Yemen, 1997

 

The thing that struck me about Yemen was that here was an Arab country, but with a culture unlike any other. It was so distinct, unlike the Emirates or Saudi Arabia, which are really quite western. Everything about Yemen – the architecture, the food, the way people dressed – was original and individual. I ended up staying three or four months, getting great images.

 

6. Tibet, 2001

 

I went twice into Tibet, once flying into Kathmandu and once overland from Chengdu. I’m very interested in Buddhism and Tibet is its epicenter, the heart of the culture. I stayed at lots of monasteries and found the people’s devotion incredible: very profound and moving. You’re also surrounded by the Himalayas, which is the mightiest mountain range in the world, so going there is always quite an experience.

 

7. Ethiopia, 2012

 

This was my first trip to the country – with a friend who runs an NGO called OMO Child – and what struck me was that the way all these tribes live traditionally, like they have always done for hundreds of years. I was lucky – my friend has a great rapport with the tribes, so wherever we went they were hospitable and relaxed, with a great sense of humor, and I was able to take photographs all over the region.

 

Steve McCurry’s photographs for Vacheron Constantin can be viewed at overseas.vacheron-constantin.com

3

A River Runs Through It

Early evening on the Nile in Cairo, and the sail of our felucca, the traditional Egyptian sailing boat, was swollen with pink light. Mohamed – guide, boatman, sage – was standing in the stern, balanced against a stay, guiding the tiller with his bare foot. Caught up in the arms of the river, we were talking pyramids.

 

“You are mistaken,” he said. “There are no secrets on the Nile.”

 

From vantages all over Cairo, from the windows of the new St. Regis Cairo to the ramparts of the Citadel, the great pyramids of Giza are visible beyond the rooftops, icons of the city standing on the edge of the western desert. Their scale is staggering; Napoleon calculated that the stone from the three pyramids could build a wall 9ft high around the whole of France. Their antiquity is scarcely creditable; they were already 2,000 years old when ancient Rome was still a collection of thatched hovels. But as much as anything, it is their silence that intrigues.

 

The pyramids tell us almost nothing about their occupants, about the lives they lived, about the world they came from. Only diligent archaeological detective work has discovered the names of the pharaohs buried within them. There are no inscriptions, no reliefs, no wall paintings. By the time the ancient Greeks turned up to swoon at the feet of the pyramids, even the contents were missing; the tombs had been looted centuries before. As a window on ancient Egypt, they are closed, shuttered and secretive.

 

Mohamed pushed the tiller starboard and we tacked towards the eastern bank, the direction of medieval Cairo. The old city, now a World Heritage Site, is the antithesis of the pyramids. In the warren of narrow lanes and alleys, vociferous life swirled around traditional Cairene houses, past some of the greatest buildings of medieval Islam. There seemed to be so few secrets here among crowds surging towards the clamor of Khan el-Khalili bazaar in search of everything from a cradle to a camel saddle, from perfume to chamber pots, from junk to jewels.

 

“But there are no secrets in ancient Egypt either,” Mohamed insisted. ‘Everything you want to know about the pyramids, about the men once buried in their chambers, about the world of ancient Egypt – everything, you will find along the banks of this river. The Nile is an open book.” Laughing, he scooped a handful of river water and splashed me. “Follow it,” he said. “It will answer all your questions.”

 

So follow it I did, though the idea of traveling the length of the Nile had occurred to me long before I had met Mohamed. A giant among rivers, the world’s longest and mightiest (though some claim this title for the Amazon), it runs almost 4,000 miles from its headwaters in the Mountains of the Moon in Central Africa to its twin mouths on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. To anyone who loves travel, and the challenge of a grand journey, an expedition up the Nile is irresistible.

 

Beyond Egypt, it curves through Sudan and Uganda. But that perhaps is another river, and another story. In Egypt itself, a country that Herodotus described as the gift of the Nile, the monuments along the banks, and indeed the river itself, tell the story of the lost world of ancient Egypt in detail so graphic that we come to feel a part of it.

 

I followed the Nile from its mouth at Rashid on the Mediterranean to its source at Lake Victoria in Central Africa. For nine months I traveled in antiquated buses, in freight trains, in the backs of lorries, and wherever I could, on the river itself. I drifted to the tombs of Beni Hasan in a leaky boat piloted by an ancient fellow with the creased and leathery features of a pharaonic mummy. I traveled from Asyut to Luxor in a barge carrying cement, sleeping on a mat on the decks with the three-man crew. I sailed upriver in a felucca from Luxor to Aswan, stopping at the great temples of Edfu and Esna and Kom Ombo, picturesque on its bluff above the river.

 

I fell in love with the Nile, and the timeless life along its banks. In the early mornings, the surface of the river was glassy as egrets flew upstream, their yellow legs skimming their own reflections. Small boys shepherded dusty buffalo down to the water’s edge. Men appeared among the reeds, climbing into fishing skiffs. Caryatid women followed paths through the fields with water pots on their heads, moving like belly dancers – their bodies undulating, their heads perfectly still.

 

As the morning sun polished the river, voices drifted from the banks, elongating across the surface of the water. Blue-domed shrines rose from fields of sugar cane. An old man passed on a donkey. In the palm groves, between the aisles of tall trunks, flocks of sheep wandered through latticed shade, trailed by robed shepherds. On the Nile, past and present intersect; the fascination of these river banks, and of the fellahin or farmers who mine its waters, is how little has changed since the days of pharaohs.

 

Without the Nile, Egypt would not exist. The country is a desert, the eastern reaches of the Sahara, and its inhabited territory merely a long thin oasis, a line of irrigated cultivation, framed by dry wastelands. The border between the two is so distinct that you can straddle it, one foot in lush grasses, the other in sand. I wondered if ancient Egyptian anxieties about death might owe something to this tenuous geography, to the proximity of the enveloping desert, traditionally the land of the dead.

 

At Abydos in middle Egypt, I went ashore to see the great Temple of Seti. This was the journey every ancient Egyptian longed to make, just as Muslims today all wish to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. If they didn’t manage to come to Abydos in life, they believed their soul would travel here in death. Up and down the Nile on the painted walls of tombs, on the carved reliefs of temples, under the lids of sarcophagi, is this theme of river journeys, of boats, their sails hoisted to the north wind, all traveling to Abydos, the center of the Osirian cult of resurrection. The painted river scenes are eerily familiar to the modern traveler.

 

 

 Above: a felucca in Aswan, on the banks of the Nile

(©Tuul & Bruno Morandi/4Corners)

 

Largely intact, the temple is like the set for an Indiana Jones film, the remnant of a lost civilization. The disembodied voices of other visitors echoed between the stone walls. Figures flickered like ghosts in the shafts of light between the massive columns. The gloom deepened as I passed from one hall to another towards the inner sanctuaries where the gods lived.

 

Here, on the wall reliefs, some of the most beautiful in Egypt, all the secrets of the sacred rituals are displayed, rituals that would have been known only to the high priests and the pharaohs. We see the royal figure washing and dressing the statue that represents the God’s soul. We see the rituals of purification and the presentation of offerings. Finally, we see the pharaoh withdrawing, scattering sand on the floor, and sweeping away his own footsteps as he backs out of the sanctuary. These are works of art, masterpieces of the ancient world, and they appear on these walls like faded and cracked film footage from a world that flourished four millennia ago.

 

At Luxor in Upper Egypt, any lingering notions about the silence of ancient Egypt were soon overturned. Known as Thebes in ancient times, Luxor is a treasure trove of antiquities, and they come with a language, a history, a pantheon of identifiable gods, a list of kings, not to mention the endless tales of warring dynasties, of hopes and despairs, of political intrigues, and family conflicts, culled from inscriptions. On Luxor’s east bank stands Karnak, the colossus of ancient Egyptian temples, that has dazzled visitors for centuries. On the west bank, the funerary side of the river, I explored the Colossi of Memnon, the Ramesseum, which inspired Shelley’s Ozymandias, the Temple of Hatshepsut, a magnificent elegy for Egypt’s first female pharaoh, and Medinet Habu with its ithyphallic gods.

 

But it is in the Valley of the Kings that you come face to face with the fears and hopes of the ancient Egyptians. Sixty-three tombs and burial chambers are tunneled into the soft earth of this remote valley, their corridors lined with paintings that depict the rituals of death, and the images of paradise.

 

In the tomb of the Pharaoh Merneptah I made my way down the long tunnel towards the burial chamber. Along the walls were reliefs of elegant gods and their attendants with images of the dead pharaoh preparing for his journey to the next world. The carvings seemed as clean and precise as the day they were made. Their colors, after more than 3,000 years, glowed in the dim light.

 

I paused to examine the lithe figure of the Western Goddess. She was wearing a rather fetching topless frock. In the sloping tombshaft I passed the Hour Goddess, the different forms of Ra, the jackal Anubis, alert and watchful, past the sun disks and the scarab beetles, past the exquisite registers of hieroglyphics that unlocked the secrets of eternity.

 

At the bottom I emerged in the tomb chamber. All that remained was the granite lid of one of the four sarcophagi that had enclosed the mummy. Across the top was an effigy of the pharaoh, his arms folded across his chest. He was ageless. Beneath the lid was the beautiful Nut, goddess of the sky, stretched above the wrapped mummy like a lover. In one of these Valley tombs, some 19th-century graffiti captures the Egyptian anxieties as simply and eloquently as a dozen ancient reliefs. Scrawled on the hull of a royal barque is a single line: “You must not forget me.”

 

For ancient Egyptians, the next world was not a cloud-strewn heaven of angels and harps. Their paradise was simply the Nile. Their images of the next world were images of their beloved river. In the tombs we find feluccas with sails set, fishermen casting nets, boatman waiting for fares. If they were to live forever, what could be more divine than the banks of the Nile?

 

Over two millennia later, the third Aga Khan agreed. One of the world’s wealthiest men, he spent his winters in Aswan, and asked to be buried here on the banks of the Nile when he died in 1957. Every evening his mausoleum, standing on the west bank, darkens to a silhouette against a colored sky.

 

Now emphatically the end of Egypt, Aswan was for millennia the limit of the known world. Even in the early years of the 20th century, European visitors, enjoying cocktails on the terraces of the Old Cataract Hotel, could still thrill to the idea that beyond lay a barbarian darkness, little known and largely unexplored. Yet Aswan has none of the melancholy transience of a frontier town. It is a delightful and sophisticated place. If Luxor is a town of archaeological sights, an intense immersion in ancient Egypt, Aswan is a place for aimless meandering, where people come and go on boats.

 

One day I took a boat across to Elephantine Island, and strolled through villages where women sat on their doorsteps sifting rice and gossip. Another day I went upriver to the ruins of Philae, a temple that seemed to have sprung from the Nile itself. Through the empty windows of the Hall of Nectanebo were views of boats and water birds. Yet another day I explored the sprawling ruins of San Simeon Monastery, on a bluff, half a mile into the desert. Founded in the seventh century, it was originally dedicated to Saint Hadra, a cheery fellow who encountered a funeral procession on the day of his wedding. Seized suddenly with the tragedy of life, he went straight to a hermit’s cave without ever consummating his marriage.

 

In the evenings the feluccas spread swallow wings to the north winds that have carried boats up the Nile, against the currents, since before they built the Great Pyramid. Nowhere in Egypt is the river in such picturesque form, threading through islands between banks of desert sands and smooth granite. It looks, as the ancient Egyptians believed it to be, a kind of paradise.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Cairo

 

Above: fishermen on the banks of the Nile, between Luxor and Aswan
(©Günther Grafenhain/4Corners)

Below: the 3,000-year-old Great Temple of Abu Simbel, on the west bank 
(©Tuul & Bruno Morandi/4Corners)

 

Splashing

Splashing Out

Scroll through your social media feed and you’re bound to see it: an envy-inducing photo of a friend soaking up the sun on a giant swan-shaped pool lilo, cocktail in hand. Or a heart-pounding video of a daredevil with feet strapped to a hover board, performing tricks over the water. From extravagant to the futuristic, water toys are not what they used to be, with innovations ranging from motorcycles that morph into jet skis to electric wakeboards that don’t even require a boat for you to catch air.

 

John Courtney of FunAir, which has inflatable slides, floating islands with climbing walls and James Bond-worthy jet-packs among its offerings, says the water-toy industry is a fast-expanding one. “People are always looking for a new experience,” he says, “whether it’s at a resort, yacht or their home.”

 

One of the first serious jetsetter toys was the JetLev personal flying machine: a contraption that straps on your back, siphoning a jet ski’s power through a hose to send you 50ft into the air at 47mph. Another was Zapata’s Racing’s Flyboard, which uses similar technology, but with a board strapped to your feet, allowing you to soar 40ft into the air and do flips.

 

Today, almost as cool are electric-powered surfboards and wakeboards, which negate the need for a boat, or even waves: the Onean electric surfboard, for instance, which cuts through the water using jet-propulsion at speeds of up to 32mph, and the Radinn Wakejet Cruise, which gives boarders the freedom more commonly found in surfing – except controlled by a wireless remote.

 

According to Jessica Engelmann of Northrop & Johnson charter broker, having an ample toy chest is the key to a successful boating holiday. “A good toy chest has at least two waverunners, a tender, towable rafts, paddleboards and wakeboards,” she says, “and a really great toy chest might have something like a drone, and a waterslide and flyboard.” The company’s 39m Revelry, for instance, comes with an inflatable blob launcher, a hoverboard and a waterslide.

 

A key trend, says Sam Powell, director of Superyacht Toy Shop, is toys that are easy to transport and easy to use, like the latest Live Paddle Board, which is hard to fall off, and the new Hobie Mirage Eclipse Stand Up Pedalboard, which combines a paddleboard and bicycle.

 

Dual-purpose tenders have also become popular in recent years. Although they’re not a new concept (in 1961 the first German-built Amphicar made a splash at the New York Auto Show, and one even crossed the English Channel in 1968), today’s land-to-water vehicles are substantially faster. Today’s Gibbs Biski motorcycle can travel at a speedy 80mph on the highway and continue into the water at a respectable 37mph.

 

The shape of boats has also transformed substantially. The futuristic-looking Kormaran, for instance, can morph from a monohull tender to a catamaran or a trimaran, and by unleashing hydrofoils can fly more than 3ft above the sea. The 13m Wider 42 can be transformed from a high-performance, narrow carbon hull to a vessel 18ft wider in anchorage, at the flick of a button, “so you can not just get there before your friends,” says Jeremy Roche of Wider Yachts, “but be relaxing on a spacious deck, with your champagne open, as they arrive.”

 

And while it’s pleasurable to have a yacht, it’s not essential in order to enjoy water toys. There are plenty to have fun on for landlubbers, says Engelmann, ranging from “fun floats in your pool, like the swan lilos and Seabobs that are easily transported, to GoPros and drones, which keep getting more sophisticated.”

 

Not all the drones she recommends are airborne. The Orak Hydrofoil Drone from by Parrot, for instance, works much like a vamped-up boat, controlled by your smartphone, which can do stunts and take photos as it glides at 6mph: all ideal fuel for Instagram. And once people have seen something on social media, Courtney adds, and imagined themselves taking part, “it’s a small step to wanting a water toy themselves.”

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mauritius

1

Esther Freud

1. Morocco, 1967

 

My first big journey was when I was four, to Morocco, where I lived until I was six, and wrote about [in Hideous Kinky]. For the rest of my childhood I felt I had a secret, exotic, colorful Moroccan life inside me that nobody else in gray, rainy England understood. It affected me in another way: I spoke a muddle of English, French and Arabic, but couldn’t write until I was 10. I thought that stories and tales I’d heard in Morocco were more magical than putting letters in a certain order. I think they politely called me “vague”.

 

2. New York, 1979

 

When I was 16 I went to visit an American friend who lived in New York for Christmas. I couldn’t believe there was a city like it. They were a wonderful arty Jewish family on the Upper East Side; for Christmas morning we went to a diner for pancakes. It seemed so exotic. I took my sister Susie once, when our plane made an emergency landing; we ended up at a place called The Happy Donut. We still talk about it.

 

3. Italy, 1980

I’d just spent a year in London, at 17, getting to know my dad [the painter Lucian Freud], as I’d never lived in the same city before, and he invited me to go to Italy by train. We spent two weeks together, which was so precious. In Florence, he was wonderfully playful and badly behaved. Then there was the unbelievable beauty of Italy. And I fell in love. So it was a blissful adventure
 

4. India, 1984

 
In my early twenties, with tips I’d made from waitressing in a pizza restaurant, I went to India for three months with a friend and her father. We were naive and ill-prepared, so it was terrifying. My friend’s father was appalled by the rats and beggars; to him we’d entered a Bruegel painting of hell. It got better when we went south to Kerala and Kochi beach, which was paradise, and Jaipur and Rajasthan, where we had a magical time. I’ve been back often; it’s become an important part of my life.
 

5. Suffolk, England, 1985

 

Because I missed the English countryside, my father suggested I rented an old family cottage by the sea. Often seaside towns are barren, and the countryside overly cute, but Walberswick is so gentle that I immediately felt I belonged. The house was cold and bare, with terribly uncomfortable beds. But my architect grandfather lived there after they left Germany, and he renovated many of the houses in the village, so even now it feels like part of who I am.

 

6. South Africa, 1995

 

Three months after our son was born, my husband [actor David Morrissey] got a job in a tiny town called Upington, several hours from Johannesburg, in the desert, and persuaded me to come with Albie. It was dismal; really lonely and dreadful. But the director’s wife had a small child too, and she and her friends, and now their children, have become my most important of friends.

 

7. Germany, 2000

 

I knew, for my book The Sea House, that I needed to go back to a house in Hiddensee, off the Baltic coast, where my grandparents had taken my father and his brothers for their summer holidays. It was lovely: a sandy flat island with a lovely cold sea, beautiful old houses and bicycles, but no cars. A fishing family who remembered my grandfather invited me in, and cooked me eels: oily and pretty disgusting.

Esther Freud's latest novel, Mr Mac and Me, set in Walberswick, is published by Bloomsbury

1

A Little Place I Know

 

A linen shop in Mumbai
by David Linley

 
Khadi Stores, 145 Prathana Samaj, Ram Mohan Road, Mumbai
I went to this shop primarily because Amin Jaffer, international director of Asian art at Christie’s in India, took me there – so it’s really his Little Place I Know, which I’ve learned to love too. Like all the best places, it’s in a nondescript alley, in a nondescript building. But once you’ve gone up the stairs, you find yourself in an Aladdin’s cave of linens; it’s a purveyor of the finest khadi (or hand-woven) cloth in India. What’s interesting about khadi is that it’s not just cloth. In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi encouraged everyone in India to spin and weave, as a way of reducing dependency on Britain. So the cloth also has political resonance (hence Khadi Stores’ motto: “The Original Freedom Wear Since 1937”). The Maheshwari family has had Khadi Stores for four generations, and the father and son who run it are always dressed beautifully with their crisp white shirts, waistcoats and Nehru jackets. All their cotton is exquisite, from dhoties and kurtas to tablecloths and bedspreads, and all neatly stocked in one big room. Should you want to see something, it’s extracted and shaken out: a very good sales trick, because you then feel obliged to take it. Most things are hard to resist, anyway. Amin Jaffer always ends up buying all sorts, and I keep thinking about a beautiful throw. I haven’t given in... yet.


David Linley, a nephew of the Queen, is an English furniture-maker and honorary UK chairman of the auction house Christie’s
Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai

 

 

A trattoria in Rome
by Anna Fendi

 
Trattoria Al Moro, Vicolo delle Bollette 13, Rome
This will always be my favorite place to eat in Rome; it’s where my husband took me on our first date, and we discovered we had the same favorite dish. It’s like stepping inside a time capsule, with the walls of its three smallish dining rooms covered in newspaper clippings and photographs. It’s full of history: Mario Romagnoli (whose nickname was Il Moro) started it in 1929, and it’s now run by the third generation of Romagnolis, who have served every artist, performer and filmmaker who has come to Rome. The staff are also part of the restaurant’s appeal: older Italian men, who are kind and attentive, especially with difficult customers like me. Although they’re well known for their spaghetti al Moro (a piccante reinterpretation of carbonara), my favorite is zuppa di arzilla, a humble Roman soup with fresh vegetables and stingray, which is incredibly delicate and delicious. They also have an extensive wine list, handwritten in a giant book. Everything about it is special, which is why it’s full of Romans.


Anna Fendi is head of development for her family’s fashion brand.
In 2016 she launched her own tableware and wine company
Your address: The St. Regis Rome

 

 

A Scandinavian
gallery in New York
by Eva-Lotta Sjöstedt

 
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, New York
The American-Scandinavian Foundation, established in 1911, opened the Scandinavia House at the start of the millennium as a showplace for Scandinavian culture and life. Today it has several exhibitions a year, ranging from photography and painting to fashion and literature. From outside, it’s quite modern-looking: a discreet entrance, near the best shops in and around Madison Avenue, framed by flags from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Inside, you see extraordinary things that you’d never see elsewhere; a few years ago, for example, there was a beautiful exhibition of paintings from the Danish Golden Age from the private collection of John L. Loeb Jr., the former US ambassador to Denmark. The center puts on exhibitions that explore nature and sustainability, concerts, panel discussions and film screenings that focus on Nordic life. It’s very special to me; not only is it a place to keep in touch with my Nordic heritage, it’s also a Scandinavian sanctuary in the middle of the hustle and bustle of New York.


Eva-Lotta Sjöstedt is CEO of the Danish design brand Georg Jensen
Your address: The St. Regis New York
 

 

A Tibetan café in Lhasa
by Jean-Michel Gathy

 
Mayke Ame, Barkhor Street, Lhasa
In Tibet, everything people do has a religious and spiritual value. The most important temple in Lhasa is the Jokhang, which is surrounded by sub-temples, and a long path, about a kilometer long, which goes around the edge of the complex. Tibetan pilgrims walk around it, clockwise, praying and turning prayer wheels as they go, and perhaps stopping off for some refreshment afterwards. Of many restaurants near the temple, I particularly like a very Tibetan one that is always full of local people. It’s two levels high: on ground level is the owner’s house, and about 12ft above that, a mezzanine restaurant. Its architectural language is simple, unadorned – it’s merely a place to stop and eat after you’ve finished your prayers. Unlike the temples below, which are incredibly peaceful, up there it’s chaotic: packed with tables and Tibetans in religious dress. There’s a real spirit about it, a real soul. You could stay there three hours just watching people come and go, and walking around below, doing their prayers in an uninterrupted line. You don’t go for the comfort, or the food. They eat yak, which they cook in yak butter, so it’s incredibly fatty and rich, with a local big fat potato from the Himalayas, and beans with a tomato sauce. I try not to eat – you wouldn’t unless you were incredibly hungry; I usually have tea. The people serving are all lovely Tibetans: high-cheekboned, black-haired, smiling people with reddish skin. It’s a bit like going to Café de Flore in Paris; you don’t go for the food, you go for the street life.


Jean-Michel Gathy is a leading hotel designer
Your address: The St. Regis Lhasa