Travel Design Tips & Inspiration

Just Back From: Tuscany

Europe, Food + Wine, Italy


April 23-30, 2016

I just returned from a week in Tuscany, traversing the gorgeous green and yellow patchwork of the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany’s UNESCO World Heritage area renowned for its Brunello and Vino Nobile, as well as it’s fabulous properties. I was lucky enough to stay in a few and tour some others, while fitting in wine tasting to practice for my upcoming WSET Level III course. Not bad for a week’s work. Below are some of my more wistful scenic shots, though sadly none of them quite do it justice. Tuscany, and really, all of Italy, is impossible to capture in an image. It’s not just one single sensorial experience – it’s all five of them, at maximum tilt. And that is why I will return as often as I can, forever.

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Posted in: Europe, Food + Wine, Italy

Published by Meg, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 No Comments

Just Back From: Rovijn, Crotia

Europe, Food + Wine, Friend Of A Friend Consulting


Rovijn, Istrian Peninsula, Croatia

September 9-14th, 2014,

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In mid-September I spent five days on the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. This is not the Croatia that everyone hums about, well at least the American hum. That’s further south, on the Dalmatian Coast (Hvar, Split, Dubrovnik.) Instead, this is the Istrian Croatia, which shares a border with Italy and Slovenia and is far less party / beach-centric than its southern sister. Here the focus is on the slow-lifestyle of tourism with a heavy emphasis on the (quite impressive) epicurean attributes of the surrounding area. It’s the truffle capital of Europe. Who knew?

Thought it feels off the beaten-path for us Americans, I daresay those crafty Germans and other northern Europeans are well attuned to the area, along with neighboring Italians who come mainly during Ferragosto – the August holidays.  The area is nothing but picturesque and the tiny fishing village of Rovijn is the crown jewel. So charming is it, that the area’s top luxury hotel owners, Croatia’s largest Tobacco company, Maistra, believe it to be prime to complete with France’s Cote d’Azur. An ambitious goal, needless to say. However, the two areas do share many similar natural wonders, while the recently revamped, five-star Monte Mulini, where I was stayed is a strong step in the right direction.

Other remarkable elements of the area are the jade-colored Adriatic waters, delicious to swim in and even better to sail around on. Rovijn is, truly,  a rather striking and comfortable little hamlet, whose Venetian roots make it feel wonderfully Italian. It’s waterfront bars and restaurants are ideal for a sun-setting aperitif or romantic dinner while the marble promontory that connects the hotels to the town center is well groomed and makes for easy access either on foot or on bicycle, as many visitors were. (NB. The area is hugely popular with cyclists) I also adored the neighboring parkland, which featured two walking and biking trails, as well as a sheer-face rock-climbing area and various swimming holes.

Here are my top 3 suggestions:

3 Things to Do in Rovijn / Croatian Istria

1. Truffle Hunt – the area is perhaps the best in Europe (so they say, and judging from the bounty, so it would seem.  This lovely man and his ladies below will treat you to a hunt followed by a truffle-filled meal at the restaurant.

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Our truffle hunter and his trusty pooches. They use dogs instead of swine because they’re less likely to eat the truffles. And you wonder where the phrase. “selfish pig” comes from.

2. Olive Oil Taste at Chiavalon – the passionate owner will take you through an informative history on his family-owned, design award-winning olive oil vineyard, followed by an instructive tasting where helpful tips for distinguishing the good from the mediocre were abundant, such as “it should make you cough after swallowing.”

3. Tour the food market stalls – and by tour, I mean sample. Everything. From fresh fruit like stunning peaches to truffle pesto. And then, Climb the St. Eustasis Tower in Rovijn for both the exercise and the tower’s 360-degree views. Don’t mind the rickety stairway – it’s part of the charm.

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Fresh Orata at the market in Rovijn



Posted in: Europe, Food + Wine, Friend Of A Friend Consulting

Published by Meg, Wednesday, September 24, 2014 No Comments

Dining at Newport R.I.’s Vanderbilt Grace

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews


Muse by Jonathan Cartwright
Vanderbilt Grace
Newport, R.I.

Despite the weather turning stormy in Newport last Saturday night, my evening was delightfully warm and cozy –-thanks to the generous staff and tasting menu at Vanderbilt Grace’s Muse restuarant. While the rain beat against the windows, I was happily ensconced in a plush corner banquet surrounded by starched white tablecloths, soft blue walls and flickering glass-shaded candlesticks. Needless to say, I was ideally situated for the weather.

Muse at Vanderbilt Grace

Muse at Vanderbilt Grace

Helmed by chef Jonathan Cartwright, a Grand Chef Relais and Chateaux, Muse is known for seasonal New England fare with an international (read: gourmand) flare. The restaurant has also just been awarded “Best lobster dish in New England” by Rhode Island Magazine for its superb butter-poached smoked Lobster. With such an accolade, I couldn’t resist and made that my first dish of the fairly-priced ($75), prix-fix menu.

The Blue Ribbon Special: The Smoked Lobster

The Blue Ribbon Special: The Smoked Lobster

I followed up the award-winner, which was quite good – though, I confess, lobster with mayo and a buttered roll is more my speed – with an intermezzo of white tomato soup with basil dumpling. Not only is the idea of an intermezzo fantastically indulgent, but the soup itself, was wonderfully light – the mark of a good intermezzo. With a bottle of Frog’s Leap Merlot, I opted for the Veal Medallions and Herb Crusted Cutlet of Spring Lamb with Pea Puree, Ratatouille Ravioli and Madeira Sauce for my main course. Other offerings such as pan-roasted halibut or pan-seared Guinea Hen Breast with Quebec Foie Gras were tough choices to overlook, but I’m a sucker for the lamb and madeira combo. Plus, my husband had ordered the Foie Gras for his starter and dutifully given me half (a spousal kindness, if ever there was one). The veal was perfectly cooked while the lamb was ideally spiced, as in lightly adorned with a smattering herbs that enhanced rather than overshadowed the meat’s natural jus. I closed the meal with their selection of fine ripened New England cheese, which was well-selected and came with warm olive toasts. Despite my order of cheese, my sweet tooth is forever primed. Fortunately, our lovely server brought over a decadent plate of truffles as we handled the bill, capping off an excellent meal with just the right caliber of sweetness.

The bar at The Muse

The bar at The Muse

Indeed the above review reads overwhelmingly positive, but it was truly a lovely experience (says the critic). I confess, I’m a sucker for a restaurant who has embraced modernity (well-lit, fresh decor, efficient service) yet maintained the traditions (full, hearty courses, polite staff) of olde-world fine dining. Given the Vanderbilt Grace’s 100-year old history and elegant, brick facade and traditional interiors, I find it an ideal place to dine when visiting Newport. It’s mixture of classic moldings and modern light fixtures make for an attractive melding of old and new and secure it as one of Newport’s top date spots – particularly if you can reserve the corner banquet.

Rooftop Terrace at Vanderbilt Grace in Newport

Rooftop Terrace at Vanderbilt Grace in Newport

Since Muse is located in the front of the mansion, facing the street, the restaurant’s views are unremarkable. However, start the date off with a cocktail up on their roof deck, preferably during sunset, and then the tucked-away atmosphere of the restaurant becomes a welcome compliment to the evening.

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Posted in: Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews

Published by Meg, Monday, August 6, 2012 No Comments

about meg

About Meg


Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.