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DAY 3 – Soft Seclusion in Umbria

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Italy, Travel Tips

Mar
29
2010

PALAZZO TERRANOVA

Hills of Umbria (near Morra)

The hills of Umbria in late March - imagine the greens of summer

The hills of Umbria in late March - imagine the greens of summer

Today I found myself at a truly beautiful spot, WAY off the beaten path. So far off, the path actually had craters in it deep enough to sink my tiny Fiat Panda entirely. Tucked up in the Umbrian hills with nary a neighbor, Palazzo Terranova is quite the demure lady.

The other side of the Palazzo taken from the pool area

The other side of the Palazzo taken from the pool area

Formerly owned by a vivacious Englishwoman, the hotel has come under recent management in the last three years and as a result, has smartened up a bit. Gone are many of the previous knick-knacks and lace table clothes, replaced with a decidedly more masculine approach, particularly in the bar and ground floor lounge area.  Fortunately the second and third floor sitting rooms maintain the elegant romance of the 8 guestrooms (all so wonderful, I cannot wait to return with my husband someday) and the overall feel of the place is soothing and serene with bouquets of fragrant Lilies and flickering candles bestowing the owner’s heavenly blended scent.

The first floor sala

The first floor sala

I cannot say enough about the soft, pleasantness of the guestrooms at PalazzoTerranova. So, instead, I’ll post my photos of the grande dame of guestrooms; Troviata.

Guestroom Troviata (each are named after operas)

Guestroom Troviata (each are named after operas)

The romantic bathroom of Guestroom Troviata

The romantic bathroom of Guestroom Troviata

Immediately upon entry to my room, Violetta, I was soothed, having been lulled by the room’s violet palette, the gauzy linen curtains, the elegant hand painted designs on the walls, the framed antique portraits and most of all, the enormous, four-poster iron bed with freshly pressed linens and bountiful down pillows. (The room has changed slightly since this photo below and is even more alluring and attractive.)

Guestroom Violetta

Guestroom Violetta

The candle flickering in the corner on the dressing table along with the lavendar-colored silk bench and deep-set linen sofa complimented the feminine feel of the room sweetly while the terracotta floors and high ceilings offered a subtle grandeur.

photo-violetta3 The bathroom was equally as splendid with a darling claw-foot tub, separate marble shower, terracotta floors and similarly stenciled painted wall designs. The large shuttered window gazing out to the hills below was the fine ribbon/bow on a delicately wrapped gift – somewhat expected yet always appreciated. photo-violetta2

Guestroom Bellini

Guestroom Bellini

Another favorite and oft-requested room is Bellini. I found the bathroom to be especially charming. All the rooms can be seen on the website so you may easily choose your preference. I strongly suggest asking for one on the back of the house – facing out to the hills.

Bathroom in the opposing room

The bathroom of Guestroom Bellini

The staff at the property is wonderfully affable – greeting me with smiles and later bidding me adieu all in a line.  I felt deliciously spoiled as I was treated to a massage this morning that was nothing short of superb. Being pregnant, massages are like gold, but can often be too weak if the masseuse is too hesitant given the massive belly. Luckily, this velvet-handed woman was right on target, applying draining techniques to my legs and feet (oh the swelling I endure!) and just the right kind of kneading on my aching back.  She also used pure olive oil for the massage given its non-perfumed scent and high quantity of Vitamin E.  Apparently, the Romans used Olive Oil for skin rituals far before they ever brought it to the dining table.

The vista from the Palazzo

The vista from the Palazzo

After the massage I was offered the distinct pleasure of going on a truffle hunt, a popular pursuit in the surrounding area, along with hunting porcini mushrooms. The hotel arranges both tours for guests with a private guide.  The grounds of the Palazzo are actually prime themselves, filled with white truffles from November to right about now (March) and then the black ones begin in mid-June.

Truffle hunger with his faithful companions and the palazzo in the background

The kindly truffle hunter with his faithful companions and the palazzo in the background

Accompanied by his two faithful pooches (Chiana and Pipa), my guide and hunter-extraordinaire told me about the rigors of training these highly sensitive dogs and how there’s nothing sweeter than spending his early mornings walking the forest with one of them in tow. I was amazed at these dogs’ keen sense (the brown one is older and therefore more proficient). Given that it is late in the season, many of the findings were no larger than marbles yet the dog would sniff them out under layers of thick grass and shrub. To watch them dig away excitedly was my closest experience to a treasure hunt.

The dogs digging at a spot and the hunter protecting their find

The dogs digging at a spot and the hunter protecting their find - lots of "FERMA FERMA and DAI, DAI" can be heard during this moment.

What struck me the most was that the guide would have to run to the dogs as soon as they started digging for fear that the dog may eat the truffle before he can pry it from their jobs. It seems they find them quite tasty as well. We walked around the hills for a good 30 minutes and I never once got bored watching the dogs scour and eventually located various sizes of truffles.

Our loot - the smaller ones are almost more impressive given their tiny size and the magnitude of the dog's nose

Our loot - the smaller ones are almost more impressive given their tiny size and the magnitude of the dog's nose

The food at Palazzo Terranova was inventive and well presented though somewhat spotty for me. This can be easily attributed to my inability to eat rare-cooked meat these days, meaning dinner wasn’t ideal with lesser-cooked pieces of quail with the starter and a rare cut of beef as the secondo. My favorite dish was at the lunch – a shaved zucchini marinated in Spanish vinegar then set under shaved carpaccio with some arugula. It was simply delicious. The Palazzo offers cooking classes with their chef using, of course, truffles and porcinis when they are in season. There are also wine tasting tours available upon reservation.

The dining room

The dining room.

The Palazzo is keen to serve local, Umbrian wines and encourage tourism in the area. The hotel offers set itineraries for surrounding art tours (heading back towards Cortona, as well) and local craftsman.  Weddings are also possible at this lovely villa and would not doubt make a small affair quite memorable. Overall, the hotel is a wonderfully, secluded spot – a hideaway for sure. I would highly recommend it for a two-day stop with the heavy intent on romance and relaxation.

Posted in: Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Italy, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Monday, March 29, 2010 No Comments

The Beach House – its All about the Over Water Villa

Beach, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Nov
07
2009

Maldives

November 1-3

My first stop in the Maldives was the Beach House, a former Relais & Chateaux hotel and soon-to-be member of the Waldorf Astoria Collection. The 68-villa property is located in one of the most Northern Atolls – the lagoon-ringed Haa Alifu Atoll – on Manafuru island. As expected, arriving to the remote hotel is a multi-step process, but it is worth it since it is decorated with the best glow in the dark stones amazon. Once you’ve landed in Male (the Maldives International airport) from Europe (Frankfurt, London) or the Middle East (Doha, Dubai) you must take a 45 min prop-plane to Hanamahndhoo, one of two regional airports. From there you board the Resort’s fishing yacht for another 45 min speedboat ride to the island.  **There are talks of getting a seaplane that will fly direct from Male to the island, but it’s a bit far off.

maldives-map

Despite the many legs of travel, arriving on Manafuru island never disappoints.  The lush, jungle-like fauna of the island is atypical of the Maldives and is more reminiscent of the Atoll’s closest neighbor, Sri Lanka.  I will admit, I  barely noticed the bushes, given I was practically hypnotized by the exceptional turquoise waters and the promise of my over water villa.  I have been dreaming about the over-the-water villa for a long, long time.

The villas, white beach and infiniti pool

The villas, white beach and Infinity pool, cleverly named "infiniti"

Spread across the tiny island are 68 thatch-roofed villas and suites, half of which are on the beach and the other half, over-the-water. Between them are three restaurants, a massive kid’s club, a games room with Wii, a golf simulator and billiards, a lagoon pool set aside for families plus an adults-only infinity pool and of course, a spa.

the curvaceous stone path (walking on it was like mini-reflexology) of the spa

the curvaceous stone path (walking on it was like mini-reflexology) of the spa

Set in the middle of the island, the spa menu features everything from Ayurvedic (oil on the third eye) to Swedish to Thai massages and a litany of body scrubs and facials. I enjoyed a relaxing aromatherapy massage (having chosen the lavender oil) and a pedicure, which was well done though a tad overpriced (particularly when it chipped the next day). C’est la vie, I was in the Maldives after all.

The over water villas at the Beach House

The over water villas at the Beach House

For me, there was no question which of the two villa types I preferred. Only one style is indigenous to the Maldives, constantly adorns magazines and brochures and has been taunting me since first glimpse, many years ago. As I set down the path above towards my own villa, I couldn’t help but asses which would be the preferable side (one is geared towards sunset, the other sunrise). I was thrilled to learn I was staying in one of the sunrise villas knowing that sunrise would be when I would be in my room for sure (we had a busy schedule) and allow me to wake up with the sun thus, the correct time.

My darling villa (a tad close to my neighbor for my liking, but remarkably quiet)

My darling villa (a tad close to my neighbor for my liking, but remarkably quiet)

The 143sq meter room was not large but with windows, decks and open areas it felt like more than enough space.  Drawn to the view and the water I was content to spend most of my time out on the deck with its black-bottom plunge pool and stairs down into the water or in the tub in the bathroom. They were easily the two best features by far. The bathroom’s toilet room and shower area both were missing 2/3rds of the wall (though discretely sheltered from the path by louvered walls) ensuring communication with nature at all times.

my afternoon - bliss save for the annoying greenhead flies -eventually I succumbed to the infiniti pool

my afternoon - bliss save for the annoying greenhead flies -eventually I bailed and headed a to the resort's infinity pool where they served me water and mango sorbet without request - yum!

The spacious deck - ideal for room service breakfast

The spacious deck - ideal for room service breakfast

The villa’s decor is contemporary and fairly basic (though with the forthcoming of the Waldorf Astoria moniker (March 2010), is set to be upgraded with new linens and artwork). The current beds are firm with Frette linens and ample pillows while the rattan furnishings complimented by tropical colored cushions are easy and do the job of holding your draped clothes and wet suits with zero reaction.

The bed and artwork (both set to be removed)

The bed and artwork (both set to be removed)

I would have preferred more intimacy with the view from my bed (as in – closer to the actual windows) but overall, it was comfortable and I slept quite well. Despite the inclement weather, two of the three days saw lots of rain, I was mesmerized by the 360-degree water views, constant sloshing soundtrack of the water and the peepholes in the floor showcasing the underwater world. I figure if you can like your room in bad weather (especially bad weather in a spot that promises none) then that’s the ultimate vote of confidence for a  guest room’s quality.

Our elegeant dinner set up

Our elegant dinner set up

The staff at Beach House could not have been friendlier nor more international – two Italians, a Frenchman, an African, a Maldivian, etc.  On our last night there was a beach party in our and the German press trip’s honor. There were also some German contestants from their Top Model show. To our delight, the camera crew filmed a photo shoot scene with the pair frolicking in the waves.

Germany's Next Top Models (my friend Bob threatened to tackle them right into the water, which would have clearly made the episode)

Germany's Next Top Models (my friend Bob threatened to tackle them right into the water, which would have clearly MADE the episode)

Overall, the Beach House is a lovely property with an even better location. I found its secluded spot to be ideal and appreciated the level of quality they’re reaching towards. The property officially becomes part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection on March 1st. I would wait to book until then, though do recommend going. I have every confidence the property will be top-notch by then –  the quality of the infrastructure is already there, it’s just waiting on the refinement of all the details.

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Posted in: Beach, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Saturday, November 7, 2009 No Comments

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About Meg

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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.