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

 

1_BacktoBeginning_issue8

Back to the Very Beginning

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In Upperville, the upper crust

Say “Bottom’s Up!” from dawn to dusk

And “Ups-a-daisy, dear!” at will

I want to live in Upperville.

 

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

 

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

 

American Heartland

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History in the making

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

 

Karmakamet final

A Little Place I Know

A South Indian
restaurant in Mumbai
by Naeem Khan

 

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

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


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

A vintage perfume
shop in Bangkok
by Simon Westcott

 

Karmakamet, Chatuchak Weekend Market, facebook

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


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

An Istanbul emporium
of objects for bathing
by Rifat Özbek

 

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

 

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

richard_grant_2_EDIT

Richard E. Grant

1. 1964, London

 

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

 

2. 1969, Europe

 

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

 

3. 1978, London

 

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

 

4. 1982, London

 

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

 

5. 1987, Los Angeles

 

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

 

6. 2004, Swaziland

 

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

 

7. 2012, Grasse

 

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

 

h_02533283_EDIT.Web

Home Game

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort

 

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

 

 

Rafael Nadal in Mallorca

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

a

Another Fine Romance

The classic honeymoon

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

The baby-moon

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

The mini-moon

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

The adventure-moon

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

The second-moon

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

 

 

The classic honeymoon

 

 

The baby-moon

 

 

The adventure-moon

 

cityofgods-beyond-issue7

City of Gods

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Street life

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City

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

A church doorway