Claudia Schiffer

1. Paris, 1987
One evening in 1987 I was at a nightclub in Düsseldorf when out of the blue I was asked by a complete stranger if I wanted to be a model. Of course I thought it was a joke and asked him if he meant my best friend, who to my mind was a far better candidate for the job. The stranger insisted he meant me, so I just assumed they were making a big mistake and they’d soon come to realize it. But before long I found myself in Paris. I didn’t speak a word of French at the time, so I opted for the tactic of pretending to understand, saying “Oui” a lot, and making the most of what I thought would be a very short-run thing, in a world I could never believe I’d ever be a part of. I have never been so happy to be so wrong. My career took off and I had suddenly found a place where I felt safe and was becoming the model I’d dreamed of being – although it only worked when I had a camera pointing at me. When I first heard the term “supermodel” I couldn’t help laughing because it felt so apt; there I was playing at being Superman while I was working, when in real life I was actually Clark Kent.


2. Rome, 1994
In the early 1990s, Valentino and photographer Arthur Elgort had the idea of doing a La Dolce Vita shoot for an advertising campaign, inspired by Anita Ekberg’s character in the Fellini film. It was one of those chaotic, crazy moments where life imitates art. There were crowds of people and paparazzi and TV crews following us non-stop as we shot in some of the city’s most iconic spots. Valentino has his atelier in the city center, and for one picture I had to stand on the balcony and wave. I looked down and there were thousands of people waving back at me.


3. Los Angeles, 2008
Shooting the Yves Saint Laurent campaign with photographers Inez and Vinoodh in the Hollywood Hills was another pinch-yourself moment. It’s rare to be able to get close to the iconic “Hollywood” sign, let alone pose against it. The shoot centered on the letter “Y” of the sign (Y for Yves). It was a beautiful day and the view over Los Angeles was remarkable. It changed the way I would see the city forever.


4. Garmisch-Partenkirchen 2015

This magical Bavarian resort is one of my favorite places for skiing. I discovered it when my husband [director Matthew Vaughn] went there to film Eddie the Eagle.


5. Amalfi Coast, 2017
I love the Amalfi Coast in Italy; we went there on our last family holiday. There are so many beautiful little towns as well as the larger ones like Positano and Sorrento. We went to Capri while we were there – it’s so beautiful and the atmosphere is so relaxed and fun, like an old movie.


6. Milan, 2017
When the call came through from Donatella Versace, I didn’t hesitate. It was a tribute for Gianni, and the perfect reason to do a final runway show. To keep the show secret, Donatella booked us all into separate hotels around Milan. Backstage, she arranged for each of us to have our own little make-up room, our own team, a Versace bathrobe with our name on it, and a handbag with our initials on. It was the sweetest welcome. Everyone backstage was half in tears before the show even started, remembering Gianni.


7. Berlin, 2017
I left Germany when I was 17, so every time I go back it feels like a homecoming. Last year I was honored to be awarded the Fashion Icon Award at the BAMBI Awards in Berlin. It was such a full-circle moment, especially because I had received the BAMBI Shooting Star Award when I was 21. When I was just a teenage girl, in Rheinberg, I would daydream about being a fashion model, a fashion designer, seeing my name on products, winning a BAMBI. And today, all of this has come true. I say this not to boast, but to say to all the young dreamers that I’m living proof that if you dare to dream, if you work hard, if you behave with integrity and never give up – amazing things can happen.


Claudia Schiffer, written by Claudia Schiffer is published by Rizzoli



Sweet Dreams

Sleep, wrote Vladimir Nabokov in his 1967 autobiography, Speak, Memory, is a “nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius”. Only dullards do it, apparently. “Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world,” he declares. “It is a mental torture I find debasing.”


Nabokov’s romanticization of the writer as a hyper-alert insomniac forging his creative path while the world is sleeping couldn’t be more off-message today. It is, we now know, smart to sleep. Scientific research points to regular sleep as the gateway to brain function, wellbeing and an optimized immune system. In our 24/7, interconnected, performance-driven, global society, sociologists have identified a sleep and society agenda in which health, aging and life expectancy are key public health issues. We are living longer, and we want to live well. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 150 million of us worldwide suffer from some kind of sleep disorder; two thirds of us living in the developed world fail to get the eight hours per night WHO recommends. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, has said that we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic”. There are over 100 diagnosed sleep conditions, the most common of which is insomnia. Look no further than Shakespeare’s Macbeth to see the detrimental effects of sleep-deprivation. It’s a punishing condition.


Once upon a time, insomnia sufferers counted sheep to nod off. These days we might just as well recite the latest sleep trends that have sprung up. In our social media age, we use sleep monitors to tell us what is obvious: that we are no longer connected to our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells us when to rest and when to wake. Sleep, the most natural thing in the world, has been commodified, with a competitive sleep industry constantly inventing new ways to enhance, prolong and promote our sleep. It’s big business: the global sleep market is set to be worth $80bn by 2020.


Sleep science is a by-product of this industry, and its researchers point out that electronic media is now as much part of our going-to-bed routine as brushing our teeth. Sleep latency – the amount of time between getting into bed and falling asleep – must now be thought of as the gap between turning off an electronic device and falling asleep. As a recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research earlier this year suggests, it might now be time to replace “lights out” with “media out”.


We would be wise to throw an ancient de-stressor into the mix, whether it’s acupuncture, meditation or a full body or head massage. The St. Regis Deer Valley Resort asks for 110 minutes of your time; that’s what it takes to send you on what it calls a Deep Sleep Journey. A full body treatment, it offers a level of relaxation that toxic time spent on Netflix or Facebook never can. A simple head massage, such as the St. Regis champi head massage, which uses Ayurvedic herbal oils, triggers points on the back of the skull that relieve tension and lessen insomnia. And yet many of us eschew such energy-releasers because we’re time-poor. Why? Because we aspire to do more and to achieve more. Hence the rise of the power nap, the sleep pod in the office and the very modern quest for quantified, quality sleep. Hence the rise of apps that track our sleep patterns and tot up our sleep debt.


One of the very latest offerings is a sleeping device called Somnuva – a sound management solution that looks like a standard Bluetooth speaker and digital clock. It uses sound therapies to break bad sleeping habits and restore natural sleeping patterns. Its USP is a sleep algorithm designed not only to get you sleeping better, but for the recommended full eight hours; it produces tones and pulses which are tuned to match the different stages and brain wavelengths of REM and non-REM sleep cycles. Once these sound combinations lull you to sleep, they supposedly keep you asleep. The brain subconsciously follows the sounds until your eight hours are up.


Even the common mattress has wised up to what media mogul Arianna Huffington dubbed “the sleep revolution”. One particular smart bed raises itself by seven per cent when the sleeper snores and, using air compressors in its frame, adapts to the sleeper’s body movements. Bed-in-a-box, vacuum-packed mattresses feature built-in sensors that sync with your smartphone sleep tracker app. Micro-climate mattresses are another trend; they adapt to your body’s change in temperature as you sleep, so that you are never too hot or too cold. Bamboo, gel or memory foam pillows do the same. Hot sleepers have kissed nights in white satin goodnight, choosing instead temperature-regulating, moisture-wicking sheets laid on top of water-based, app-controlled mattress-toppers. The so-called “performance” sheets use breathable fibers and harness the latest fabric technology. These, in turn, require performance sleepwear. Again, breathable fabric is key here, and nature once again looms large, with silken bamboo, already popular as a sportswear fabric, adapting to your body temperature.


Natural sleeping aids used as part of a winding-down ritual seduce us into a sleep-ready, stress-free frame of mind. Brief meditation or mindfulness sessions, a herbal tea, writing a mind-clearing To Do list or Gratitude list are as de rigueur as wearables and sleeping apps. Time-honored magnesium or – a favorite of The St. Regis Langkawi’s therapeutic bath ritual – lavender and coconut milk in a warm bath, provide the sweetest pillow talk.


Your Address: The St. Regis Langkawi; The St. Regis Deer Valley Resort



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A Little Place I Know


A traditional restaurant in Astana by Ryan Koopmans


Qazaq Gourmet, 29 Mangilik El St, Astana

This restaurant is in the main business area, near the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (designed by Norman Foster) and lots of political buildings, so it’s right at the heart of Astana life. Although it’s on the ground floor of a modern luxury complex, inside they try to showcase the best of traditional Kazak food and culture. The staff wear local costumes as well as little hats inspired by those worn by nomadic Mongol swordsmen. There are musicians playing beautiful old instruments and dancers who swirl about in a central space. Although it sounds touristy, it’s not at all. It’s really well done, and feels upscale and interesting rather than cheesy. Visitors get so into it, they sometimes dress up in costumes too. The best thing about this place, though, is the food. It serves mainly meat, because that’s what Kazak people enjoy: lamb, then beef shashlik, and lots of horse meat, which is a staple here. The food is often accompanied by camel’s milk, which is an acquired taste. I prefer the vodka, which comes in little ceramic flasks. People have a really good time here. It’s somewhere you forget all preconceptions, and listen to people playing their traditional instruments and look at beautiful local souvenirs and iconographic paintings of mountains and horses, and just... have fun. It’s a real celebration of Kazak life.

Ryan Koopmans is an award-winning Amsterdam-based photographer (
Your address: The St. Regis Astana


A museum in Mexico City by Roland Herlory


Museo Experimental El Eco, Sullivan 43 Col. San Rafael, Mexico City
I love Mexico City for so many things. Not just for its energy, its chaos, its people’s sweetness, the colors, flavors, incredible food and the mountains. I love it for its architecture, from colonial buildings to art deco beauties and innovative midcentury structures. There’s one building I particularly cherish: the Museo Experimental El Eco. Located in the heart of Colonia San Rafael, El Eco feels more like a living sculpture than a museum. The building was designed in the 1950s by Mathias Goeritz, who was a sculptor before he became an architect – and it’s typical of its time: simple, pure, geometric, ambitious and humanist; a jewel in the middle of the urban jungle. In the past, it’s been used as a restaurant, a club, all sorts of things. Today, it’s a space for spatial experimentation, showcasing a range of different exhibitions. I’m always surprised by the emotion I feel when I walk in. It’s like a sculpture you can step into. Once you’ve experienced it, you can then wander to the city’s canals and take a boat to the city, or to Frida Kahlo’s house. I think it’s the best secret in town.

Roland Herlory is CEO of designer swimwear company Vilebrequin (
Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City


A luxury concept store in New York by Suzanne Syz


The Webster, 29 Greene Street, SoHo, New York
This concept store just opened in SoHo in New York, and it’s already one of my favorite places. The owner, Laure Hériard Dubreuil, who was a merchandiser for Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent, opened her first store in Miami, then others in Bal Harbour and Houston. This one, though, is pretty unique because it’s in a six-story cast-iron house, in an area that was known for its artistic life. It feels cozy and homely, with light walls, pretty wallpaper and beautifully designed furniture, which you can buy. I like the boutique because you can get things here that you won’t find anywhere else: special-edition shoes by Gianvito Rossi and Louboutin, and pieces from labels like Prada and Miu Miu. Last time I went, I bought some of Dubreuil’s own-brand LHD pants and dresses – she does the best range of easy-to-wear clothes. It’s a place where you can wander from floor to floor and find new things: menswear on the third floor; jewelry; bags by Simon Miller or Loewe – pretty much everything a girl needs to be happy.

Suzanne Syz is the founder of her eponymous jewelry brand (
Your address: The St. Regis New York


A contemporary art space in Miami by Thaddaeus Ropac


Institute of Contemporary Art, 61 NE 41st Street, Miami
I’ve been going to Miami regularly for about ten years now for the Miami Beach Art Basel art fair – which is, after the original Art Basel in Switzerland, probably the most important art fair in the world, especially for the American market. And while fun is maybe the wrong word to describe something so intense, it’s a great event. What’s crucial about Miami Beach Art Basel is that everyone from the art world is there – the artists, the collectors, the other gallerists and curators. So if you’re working on a big upcoming exhibition, for example, Miami is a great opportunity to network. It’s a party town, of course – and there was a moment when we were afraid the parties would take over – but the quality is still there. This year I had a wonderful surprise, which was discovering the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. It’s a great space for contemporary art right in the heart of the Design District, where there’s lots of activity, lots of shops, nightlife and restaurants and so on. These wonderful collectors, Irma and Norman Braman, decided to put their money and energy into the project. It’s not huge. It couldn’t rival the big museums in New York or London or Paris. But it doesn’t matter. It demonstrates the great role that contemporary art can play in a city like Miami – and it’s a wonderful place to visit.

Thaddaeus Ropac is one of the world’s leading gallerists, with galleries in Salzburg, Paris and London (
Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort


Rancho Deluxe

When Argentinian polo player and St. Regis Connoisseur Nacho Figueras set about creating a 30-acre ranch outside Buenos Aires two years ago, his thoughts turned to Cuadra San Cristóbal, the iconic equestrian estate created in 1968 by the late, great Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán. “I have a thing for architecture,” says Figueras. “And I love San Cristóbal – in particular Barragán’s reflective pools.”


For architecture lovers, no visit to Mexico City is complete without a pilgrimage to Cuadra San Cristóbal. The famously pink-hued 7.5-acre property in the north of the capital has inspired artists, designers and architects for 50 years. In 2016, Louis Vuitton traveled there to a shoot an advertising campaign, mustering horses as extras; American fashion designer Michael Kors and shoe brand Nine West followed; and this spring, to coincide with the annual Zona Maco Art Fair, New York-based artist Sean Scully held an exhibition there.


That was the first time the compound had been used to host art, yet many see San Cristóbal as an artwork in itself, its brilliant pink, red and purple walls reflected in two sculptural pools. The creator of this masterpiece, architect Luis Barragán, was a strict catholic with a an equally strict aesthetic. He was also a horse lover, and San Cristóbal, with its delicate fountains, shaded courtyards and elegant stable blocks, has an almost spiritual aura. It was this feeling of calm and tranquility that Figueras wanted to recreate in his own stables.


Figueras, who had visited the Mexican estate many times, hired Argentinean architect Juan Ignacio Ramos to conjure up a striking modernist home for his 44 world-class polo ponies. “I wanted a place that was practical, yet as inspiring as an art museum,” he explains. And while it resembles a living sculpture, connected by concrete, pools and nature, the Figueras Polo Stables is, it should be stressed, also a fully functioning breeding center.


“Seeing our vision come true, and our beloved horses in a place that few could dream about, was a great moment,” says Figueras, who spent three years completing the ambitious project. Oblivious to the architectural pedigree of their elegant surroundings, his pampered beasts graze on a lush grass-topped roof and drink from sculptural pools before bedding down at night. “One of my favorite things to do is to sit on the stable roof at sunset with my friends and a bottle of wine,” Figueras adds. “When you’re up there, you forget about anywhere else.”


Ramos used a palette of exposed concrete and local hardwoods, which are weathering gracefully, while the tack room resembles a gallery space. Near the artfully displayed trophies, saddles and bridles, a monograph of Japanese architect Tadao Ando sits on a coffee table.


Ando is another of Figueras’ favorites and Cerro Pelon, the ranch he created for fashion designer Tom Ford in Santa Fe, was another source of inspiration. Less than a decade old, Cerro Pelon is now on the market for $75 million. In owning what is New Mexico’s most luxurious private property, its new buyer will possess 20,000 acres of untamed countryside, an Ando-designed ranch house and modernist stables for eight horses, plus indoor and outdoor riding tracks. There’s also a landing strip and hangar for a private plane, a reflecting pool, a tennis court, two guest houses and a home and office building for a ranch manager. A film set, Silverado Movie Town, built in 1985 as the set for Silverado and many a Western thereafter, is also part of the plot.


Stable blocks can make good homes for humans too. The no-frills template of these agricultural outbuildings – the lack of decorative detailing and an uncomplicated layout – lends itself to stylish, pared-back living. And such is the need for nature among our equine companions, there’s also the potential to go off-grid. Madrid architects Studio Ábaton converted a crumbling stone stable in the middle of nowhere in western Spain into a family home. Heating is provided by solar panels and the property relies on two nearby streams for its water. Limestone floors, concrete walls and iron beams coexist with well-worn stone and weather-beaten wood.


Similarly remote is Crackenback Stables in the Snowy Mountains of southeastern Australia. Sydney-based Casey Brown Architects redefined the classic corrugated shed to create a two-bedroom property with staff accommodation and stables for five horses. Wrapped in a shiny metal shell, its futuristic form has garnered countless design awards since it was completed in 2015. Meanwhile, on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, London-based Seth Stein Architects and local practice Watson Architecture + Design have teamed up to create an equally striking stable block using local rammed earth and Tasmanian oak. It seems that providing architecturally sophisticated shelters for our four-legged equine friends is a trend that’s here to stay.


Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City




Nacho Figueras' modernist polo ranch uses reflective pools to create a sense of elegance and tranquility



Bedouin man in Petra, Jordan.

Sands of Time

Travel and the Middle East were made for one another. Over the centuries – and no region on earth this side of Africa has been around for so many of them – the land has been criss-crossed by Nabateans, Romans, Crusaders and pilgrims. Its dunes and deserts have enticed writers and wanderers, from Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton to TE Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia), while its Byzantine mosaics are still points of pilgrimage for modern travelers.


Having only ever studied Jordan – as Edom – during the course of a theology degree back in the mists of the 1980s, I thought it was high time I joined the caravan of explorers, mystics, dreamers and divines. They went on foot and by camel. I used these too, and a horse, and a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned 4WD. My mission: to see the ancient – and to arrive at the modern, and make contemporary sense of these biblical lands.


I crossed the Allenby Bridge from the West Bank behind buses heading to Mecca. Behind me, Jericho; beneath me, the River Jordan; a little way along on my right, Mount Nebo, from which Moses was allowed a view of the Promised Land. Not bad for a start. From here, the Jordanian river Kazem followed the magnificently dubbed though meandering King’s Highway south, following the contours of the Dead Sea Rift. At Madaba, I saw a large fragment of a map of the Holy Land made for an unknown Christian community in the 6th century. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea and Nile Delta were all clearly depicted. What could be more stirring to a travel writer than an exquisite map, laid out on the floor of the Byzantine Church of Saint George, linking faith with landmarks and long journeys?


We traveled slowly for 220 miles all the way down to Wadi Rum, passing through arid plains and desert canyons. I saw few major towns and no cities, but plenty of shepherds and goatherds, donkeys and camels, as well as numerous Bedouin encampments. The land was parched and bleak. But wherever a trickle of water persisted, crimson poppies and black lilies – Jordan’s national flower – had burst through the dun crust.


I saw an old steam train left sleeping on the Hejaz railway at Wadi Rum – a southern, narrow-gauge spur of the old Orient Express. Here my path diverged from the great thoroughfares of Arabia as I made for a tented camp at the foot of a sandstone massif. A hot towel and fresh pomegranate juice awaited, as well as a basic if spacious Bedouin tent. Set amid a maze of monolithic rocks, this was to be my home for three nights; the first one began with a beautiful moon and a delicious barbecued lamb and meze supper around an open fire.


Deserts are utterly formless at first, and it takes time to get your bearings. A dawn drive in a sturdy 4WD took me first to a row of towering peaks nicknamed the Seven Pillars of Wisdom after the book of that name by TE Lawrence. There were no roads, but the driver-cum-guide followed ruts in the sand, which took us to high viewpoints, down through broad Martian valleys and into narrow natural cuttings dotted with tiny oases.


In the morning the heat was mild enough to set on short solitary walks. My drivers had the good sense to give me space and time to enjoy the silence, the surreal rockscapes and the play of the light on the mountains. I hiked to see the low-slung redbrick ruins of a Nabatean temple dating from the first or second century AD. The Nabateans were an Arab people who spoke a language related to Aramaic – Jesus’ native tongue – and ran a large trading network across the Levant. As well as inscriptions in their own language, Latin writing has been identified on an altar while marble columns were overlaid with graffiti in a poorly understood proto-Arabic tongue known as Thamudic.


From such sites sprung many European languages, as well as the fundamentals of Western culture. The temple is believed to contain remnants from the 14th century BC, when it was dedicated to two Mesopotamian deities: Hadad, the god of thunder and rain, and Atargatis, goddess of fertility, fruit and foliage. Standing behind one of the low walls and looking out over a plain littered with rocks and tufts of dry grass, I could imagine generations of locals looking up to the cloudless sky, yearning for rain and a few green shoots to feed a goat or camel.


But, lo and behold, just a little way along from the temple were springs bursting from the ground, framed by mint bushes. Close by was another waterhole shaded by green-leaved trees and ferns. In his Seven Pillars, Lawrence recalls pausing here to “taste at last a freshness of moving air and water against my tired skin. It was deliciously cool.


It was indeed, but there was so much else to see. I walked up to an outcrop, and then through another narrow wadi – or ravine – dotted with more pools, before joining the driver and continuing on to the Canyons of Umm Ishrin – the “Mother of Twenty”, supposedly named for 20 Bedouins killed on the mountain, or a mad, bad woman who killed 19 suitors before settling on the twentieth. On several rocks I saw depictions of Lawrence of Arabia, looking suspiciously like Peter O’Toole. Fittingly, the passage of the archaeologist-cum-military man-cum diplomat through these parts is largely shrouded in mystery.


Camels and hot tea welcomed me back to the tented camp, where I was able to shower and sit back and take in the deep peace and the huge dome of the darkening sky. There was electricity, hot water and beer, and my tent had a ceiling, but it still felt right to be in the desert. Little wonder that the most famous book in Arabian history is dedicated to the night – or that dreams figure so prominently in the region’s legends.


The canyons and ravines of Wadi Rum shaped only by weather and age, are a sort of divine overture for my next stop, Petra, where human craft has taken the raw material of sandstone and created one of the world’s true wonders. Desert travelers like to invoke Shelley’s Ozymandias. Well, Petra is an antidote to the expectation of decay. Where there might have been ruins and the scattered sands of time is truly spectacular architecture, carved out of the rocks – or perhaps “into” is more accurate. For this famous city, built as early as the 4th century BCE as Raqmu, the capital of the Nabeatean world, is like the imprint of a powerful imagination that saw shapes where others saw only cliff walls and untidy lumps of dead rock.


The path into the site, known as the Siq or “shaft”, follows a narrow, winding gorge through towering rocks. At times it’s barely ten feet wide, and is narrower at the top than the bottom; as you step from shadow into light, and then back into the murk again, it feels as if it was built for theatrical, rather than defensive, purposes.


On exiting the cleft – a geological fault smoothed by water – you meet with Petra’s stunning centerpiece: the Treasury, or Al-Khazneh in Arabic. You might know the colonnaded Greek-influenced facade from its appearance in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The name refers to a local legend that bandits hid their loot in a stone urn placed high on the upper level. But the building was originally built as a mausoleum and crypt. The wind and seasonal rains have eroded many details but archaeologists have located mythological figures representing the afterlife, as well as dancing Amazons with double axes, and Castor and Pollux (twin brothers from Greek and Roman mythology).


Pliny wrote of Petra’s importance as a trading crossroads. As I walked on to visit dozens of rock-cut tombs, temples and a Roman-style theatre – the Romans occupied the site from 64-3 BCE – I began to get some sense of just how big and permanent, not to mention affluent, it must have seemed to its original residents and travel-weary visitors. Under the noonday sun, the 800 steps up to the Ad-Deir Monastery were slow going but at the top was another beautiful classical facade. Once it would have been a major crossroads linking China with Rome. On the main colonnaded street there was space to think and wonder: for centuries, caravans laden with silk, spices, incense and other exotic wares could be stored and animals rested safely here. Once a tax was paid, the merchants were free to continue their journey west or east.


Though UNESCO-listed Petra receives some 500,000 visitors a year, making it Jordan’s number-one visitor attraction, it’s expansive enough not to feel cramped. Once you’ve seen the major architectural landmarks, your gaze falls on shadows, caves, crevasses and windows offered by rocks that afford surprising vistas over the complex. Too many people rush through; I’d recommend a morning and then a late afternoon, to see how the sun works its own wonders on the sandy rock. You can easily escape the hubbub and the donkey-ride sellers, and there are several cafés and a restaurant serving delicious falafels. You can even pop back after dark for Petra At Night, when thousands of candles are lit in front of the Treasury for a session of music and storytelling.


Over the course of their long stewardship, the Romans diverted most of their lucrative trade routes away from Petra. That’s one of the main reasons it was overlooked even during the age of the Grand Tour. The site celebrated the 200th anniversary of its rediscovery – by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt – in 2012. Those two centuries saw seismic political shifts across the Middle East and the establishment of many new nation states from former tribal territories. Jordan, which became a British protectorate and then gained its full independence in 1948 as the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (shortened to Jordan the following year) is one of these.


The drive from the ancient capital of the Nabatean empire to its modern capital, Amman, takes only three hours on Highway 15 – the main trunk road. The city sits in a deep bowl, its residential neighborhoods of cream-colored blocks spread over the slopes, with the main commercial centers along the lower reaches. More than four million people live in the fast-growing city (there were only about 5,000 in the 1920s), and the expanding sprawl now stretching over 19 hills, with many suburbs hidden behind the high ridges.


Amman lies close to ’Ain Ghazal, one of the oldest settlements in the near east, and stands on the site of the Greek city of Philadelphia (meaning “brotherly love”. As a Beta city on the global index, a cosmopolitan and liberal cultural center, an important banking hub, and a tourist destination popular with Arab and European travelers, it has risen to prominence with remarkable speed.


The best overview by some way is from the Citadel, a collection of Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad ruins that sits at the top of the city’s highest hill, Jebel Al Qala’a. The most significant extant structures are the 2nd century Temple of Hercules and partially reconstructed Umayyad Palace, but the poetry resides in the juxtaposition of ancient columns, podiums and arches – which act as a series of frames – and the modern apartment blocks beyond. A wonderful breeze made a walk around here late in the afternoon especially pleasant, and as there were only two dozen visitors spread around the extensive site, I could easily find tranquil spots to sit and stare. As at the Tels of Palestine, you have a strong sense of being on top of layered history, of belief systems and world-views that come and go. The feeling was compounded when I had one of those rare epiphany-like travel experiences – when the call to prayer commenced around the city, and live voices and recorded ones overlapped and echoed all around the valley.


There are regular evening festivals and concerts at the Citadel. As they’re the only way to see the site, and those views, after dusk, keep an eye out in the local listings via your concierge.


Down below is a hillside amphitheater from the same period as the temple. But I was ready for some 21st century city life. In Amman, there’s plenty of this, from the American-style eateries, power lunch and realpoliticking rendezvous of the western hotel districts, to the slick coffee shops and trendy bookstores of Rainbow Street, to the throbbing heart of downtown, where you can take your pick between old markets, traditional food stalls – Jordanian beef and pasta, bean dishes and fresh khubz breads are classics of Levantine cuisine – and street traders pulling carts loaded with olives, tomatoes, peppers and fresh juices. At times, its energy reminded me of Cairo, but it’s far less hectic and less dusty. It’s also untouched by mass tourism, a rare thing in a major capital.


The local Carakale microbrewery claims the Sumerians invented beer some 5,000 years ago and it is merely bringing it home. Around Darat al Funun, I found a fabulous contemporary art space. These are not the delights one expects to discover in an Arabian city. In the new Abdali district, two million square meters of office space are being developed to transform Amman, a safe and strategically important city, into a business hub. The blurb declares the project’s aims of “catapulting Amman into the 21st century and placing it on a par with most of the world’s renowned city centers”. Well, from Petra we know what happens to those in the end – but right now, Amman, and Jordan are happening and hopeful.


Your address: The St. Regis Amman





At the end of a narrow gorge, hewn into sandstone cliffs, stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh, known as The Treasury

(© Aurora Photos)



Bedouin man in Petra, Jordan.


Looking out over Petra 

(© Aurora Photos)



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)



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



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.


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)



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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
Your address: The St. Regis Doha


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)