Louisville: Where History and Goodies Collide

April 16th, 2010

By Paula Conway

Louisville Main

My last-minute trip to Louisville was also my very first — guaranteeing one delightful surprise after another.

As a neophyte, I was urged by a friend to try a Hot Brown (an open-faced turkey sandwich, smothered in cheese, with bacon), to sample a Derby Pie (a cookie stuffed with chocolate chips, walnuts, hot fudge, and whipped cream), and to purchase a Louisville Slugger (which is to baseball bats what Coke is to colas). I hit the ground running in search of all three, only to end up unearthing many more wonders than I could have imagined from Kentucky’s largest city.

Louisville boasts several lively shopping enclaves, starting with the Galt Hotel. There in the Mint Julep store, I picked up some Bourbon candles, chocolate Bourbon balls, and Bourbon bath soak. I then made tracks next door to Koi by Delanor — a jewelry designer who roams the world collecting stones and beads to fashion into unique artifacts. The one-of-a-kind Totem Spirit, a metallic two-tone clay pendant with sterling silver rings on a leather rope, left the store around my neck.

It was then off to The Seelbach, a storied hotel where since 1905The Brown Hotel copy the rich and famous have come to sip Kentucky bourbon and smoke expensive cigars. As an aspiring poker player, I had to play a round with my mother at Al Capone’s table in the Seelbach’s Oakroom. A genuine gangster-in-training with cards in hand, I found myself looking into the oversized mirror against the dark oak-paneled wall to see if anyone was sneaking up behind me — just like Scarface himself did when he was running whiskey along the Eastern shore, anticipating a raid. Of course, Capone’s secret passageways had long ago been sealed off, making a raid unlikely. Still, I enjoyed the thrill.

Lisa Higgins of Mint Julep Tours picked us up in her swanky Mint Julep Tour Bus copysignature bourbon-inspired van, whisking us away to discover more gems of Louisville. Cruising through downtown, Lisa pointed out some unforgettable little treasures. Metal cages guarding each tree feature an iron sculpture representing a business that stood there in the early 1900s. In the iron-cast district, one must pay attention to the lines of bricks set in the opposite direction from those on the sidewalk, which indicate the cast-iron facades that have remained since the late 1800s. The 30-plus downtown bike racks are city-commissioned, functional works by local artists.

For a vegan lunch, we made our way to The Zen Tea House, designed by owner Coco Tran to bring elements of meditation Zen Tea Houseand inner calm to a restaurant. Lisa, mom, and I each ordered a flight of tea. Our assortment of light fare included the glass noodle salad with tofu, turmeric, and peanuts, and steamed rice rolls stuffed with mushrooms, tofu, carrots, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots. Guests sit on squishy sofas or opt for floor pillows, and many simply drop in to absorb the quiet, serene setting.

We made quick trip out to Churchill Downs for a walking tour and to pick up a horseshoe from the 1996 Kentucky Derby. Derby horseshoes are a collector’s must in Louisville, and ours came complete with a little Derby dirt — just the way you want it.

Lisa showed us The Palace Theater, where Elvis debuted “Love Me Tender,” Louisville Slugger Museumthen dropped us off at the Slugger Museum to learn more about the official bat of Major League Baseball. After shipping some Sluggers off to family and friends, we headed across the street to the Frazier International History Museum. This little-known museum houses a permanent collection of arms and armory artifacts created between the 16th and 20th centuries. I always wondered why my grandfather would say “speak softly and carry a big stick” — it all became clear at the Frazier, where President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” is on display. There’s also Daniel Boone’s family Bible and a bow attributed to American Indian Chief Geronimo.

Upon reaching our hotel, The Brown, we were greeted by the hotel’s founder, J. Graham Brown. The life-sized bronze statue, sporting a 1940s felt hat and business suit, stands outside the hotel lobby on Fourth Street. His dog, Woozem, stands next to him as if both are frozen in time.The Brown

Inside The Brown, I was overwhelmed by its ornate detail, English Renaissance architecture, and hand-painted plaster relief ceilings. The lavish construction has secured this hotel as a Louisville landmark, and the service has a long-standing tradition of excellence. Everyone here is treated like royalty — staff members spring to accommodate your every need. We settled in to J. Graham’s Café for the famous Hot Brown, invented here in 1926. During its Prohibition-era heyday, the hotel drew more than 1,000 guests each evening for its dinner dance. In the wee hours of the morning, the crowd would gather in the restaurant for breakfast. Bored with the traditional ham and eggs, Chef Schmidt created the Hot Brown.

Lynn's Paradise CafeDay Two, we made our way to Lynn’s Paradise Café for breakfast, a destination that honors all things kitsch. Plastic flowers, disco balls, Chinese lanterns, upside-down lamps, and plastic checkered tablecloths on Formica tables set the scene. We stuffed ourselves on the Bourbon Ball French Toast: thick cinnamon swirl bread dipped in vanilla nutmeg batter with homemade bourbon vanilla custard, chocolate syrup, fresh strawberries, sugar spiced pecans, and whipped cream. Wash it down with a Bourbon Ball Milkshake, a creamy blend of vanilla ice cream, bourbon, semi-sweet chocolate chips with fresh walnuts, and whipped cream.

Ready for a nap but needing to walk, we headed two blocks from Lynn’s to Bardstown Road, an eclectic mix of little shops. The journey began at Kizito Cookies, a store and bakery that’s become a local favorite. The secret to Kizito’s success is the owner, Elizabeth. She learned the cookie business growing up in Africa from her father, who gave her the recipes and taught her how to run a business. Locals line up to snatch her cookies, grabbing eight and 10 at a time. A small storefront space is held for an array of unique little gifts Elizabeth imports from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda, including earrings made from banana leaf and bracelets carved from cow horns.

Schimpff's ConfectioneryWe filled two oversized bags with a combination of cookies and jewelry before making our way to another legendary sweet stop, Schimpff’s Confectionery. A family-owned candy shop since 1891, no trip to Louisville would be complete without stopping here.

We happened to drop in while they were making Anise drops, the sweet green candies modeled in the same fashion as their legendary red hots. Proving that older is often better, Schimpff’s uses a hand-operated, 19th-century drop roll machine and prepares its candy on a 118-year-old table. Antique equipment for hard candy is hard to come by these days, and this store claims ownership of the only candy museum in the United States with old-fashioned candy jars, cases, and turn-of-the-century equipment.

Schimpff’s also has a lunch area serving soup, sandwiches, and fries. We nestled into a booth for an old-fashioned soda — mine a cherry Coke, my mother’s a vanilla diet Coke. The syrup is so fresh and sweet, you’d never guess it was “lite.”

Edison HouseWeighed down with candy, we dropped off our goods at the hotel before moseying on down to the Thomas Edison House. A 19-year-old Edison came to Louisville to work for Western Union in 1866 and rented a room in a cottage, which is now a museum filled with his inventions. Christmas lights from the early 1900s are hung with care, along with a large collection of light bulbs in a variety of shapes and colors. During the tour, the guide plays “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” on the phonograph (which Edison invented in 1877, two years before the light bulb). The album, dated 1909, crackles and pops with the tinny voice of Ada Jones, one of the first singers to sign with the Edison label.

For dinner, our hotel concierge recommended Jack Fry’s, a local establishment founded in 1933 by a local bookmaker and bootlegger who loved boxing and ponies. The worn and unassuming exterior hides a small, dark space that’s alive with the boisterous energy of a 1920s speakeasy. The current din is the sound of the longtime clientele fussing over the menu. Soon after a suggestion of the shrimp and grits, I fell in love with the dish’s creamy pool of grits topped with seared country ham, a red-eye gravy, and sautéed shrimp. The pan-seared sea bass — seared in sweet corn, scallions, and basil in a lobster, ginger, and red pepper broth — had me swooning. But the dessert took the cake. Specifically, the Chocolate Soufflé Cake, which is served with a warm hazelnut ganache center and a mini-chocolate milkshake on the side.

So what about that Derby Pie? I had to leave it out. I wanted a reason to come back.

Vancouver, British Columbia

February 15th, 2010

By Paula Conway


Having never seen a Fazioli piano before, I was stunned when I nearly walked into one inside the new Fairmont Pacific Rim. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, because Vancouver is full of one incredible gem after another. Still, a close encounter with a handmade Fazioli — arguably, the greatest grand piano in the world, with only 100 made every year — in this Canadian hotel lobby was quite the shocker.

And as nobody was playing her when we met, I furtively strolled over to tickle the ivories — not so much to produce music as so I could proudly say I had touched such a treasure.

Then it was off to attend class in this unforgettable waterside hotel, finished just in time for the Winter Olympics with its amazing Coal Harbour views, waterfalls, rooftop pool, outdoor fireplace, and meditation pods. My aim: to make a treasure of my own.

As an aspiring baker, I had enrolled in a private desserts class, where four hours of instruction with the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s pastry chef resulted in an impressive chocolate concoction (intermingling three kinds of chocolate) — true icing on the cake of a great afternoon.

In fact, all four afternoons I spent in Vancouver were memorably enjoyable, especially this one with a sweet slant and the chance to flaunt my new, Fairmont Pacific Rim personalized chef’s jacket once I returned home. But that would come later; for now, I was bound for an evening out.

The pickings are plenty in Vancouver, known these days as Canada’s favorite foodie destination, with Asian cuisine a specialty. In fact, many gourmands say this Pacific Rim metropolis boasts some of North America’s finest. I certainly know that my experience, at the legendary Tojo’s, was nothing short of top notch.

Vancouver – Tojo'sChoosing Tojo’s in the first place proved quite the process. Because Vancouver has more sushi restaurants per capita than Japan, I arrived armed with a list of the best thanks to an Asian-food-savvy friend back home. Among them were Miku, Toshi, and Kibune — with Tojo’s her first pick. When I ran all the names past an equally discerning friend in Vancouver, this expat local was quick to send me there directly. Decision made.

Perhaps the secret to this restaurant’s success is that raw fish combinations and preparations are all in Hidekazu Tojo’s head. Wielding the proper blade of a seasoned sushi chef, the Osaka-born Tojo came into town in 1971, trained some more, then opened his namesake eatery in 1988. From that day forward, this Canadian jewel has been dubbed the city’s best Japanese restaurant by Vancouver magazine.

Tojo’s is also cited in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die — an accolade so well-deserved that I happily made Tojo’s my dinner destination for my second night on the town. My selection of what to eat was left to Tojo, because I ordered the omakase, a tasting menu of all the fresh and fabulous fare the famed chef chose to conjure that evening. My favorite? His appropriately named Golden Roll, a mixture of crab, scallop, salmon, and shrimp all woven inside a crepe thin wrap.

Dinner done (and delectably digested), I returned to my hotel of choice, The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver,Vancouver – Fairmont Pacific Rim one of four Fairmont hotels in the city. This accommodation was a natural for me, situated at the heart of the vibrant metropolis and sporting the unmistakable architecture of a 16th-century French chateau. I felt like a princess by just looking at the facade.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect for this visitor is the traveler’s theme at the hotel’s main entrance. Above the Georgia Street doors at the top of a large window is an oversized carving of the great messenger Hermes, the Greek god of travelers. Above Hermes, the traveler’s theme continues with intricate stone carvings of a ship and of a train. I was home.

This sense of comfort became more evident inside, where the Art Moderne styling suited my fancy, up to and including the nickel trim, painted elevator doors, curved doorways, and marble chip terrazzo flooring. Original geometric designs and bright colors stay true to this gracious hotel’s Deco beginnings.

Then there are the Griffins, the Fairmont Vancouver mascot. Part lion, part eagle, this mythological creature was said to hold the job of guarding treasure — which, in this case, are the hotel’s guests. Griffins are everywhere for that purpose, on the lobby carpet, in the elevators, even embroidered onto staff uniforms. I felt safe.

Next morning, refreshed, I woke up early, ready for a long day tromping around Vancouver. A good friend who lives there told me to meet her in front of the Lord Stanley statue at noon, so when I dressed to embark on a day of exploration I put on my sneakers. Even though Vancouver is a fashionable town, I wanted to be comfortable.

Vancouver – Lord Stanley statueWe started at Lord Stanley’s statue, the landmark entrance to Vancouver’s biggest patch of nature. This urban forest, named after the Governor General of Canada whose reign began in 1867, is a vast network of trails among cedar, fir, and hemlock.

Then it was on to the Seawall, a stonewall hugging Stanley Park’s shoreline, for a chance to take in an array of Vancouver landmarks, including Lion’s Gate Bridge, the Stanley Park Totem Poles, and Brockton Point and Lighthouse.

I love the Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture, depicting a life-sized woman gracefully posed on a big boulder. When the tide is high, it looks as if she is floating on top of the water. Those who spot her think she resembles the mermaid in Copenhagen’s harbor, but if you peek down at this one’s feet, you’ll see she’s wearing flippers, while on her head there’s a diving mask.

Hungry and in need of a brief rest, we grabbed a log on the beach at English Bay, part of the lively West End area, and enjoyed an impromptu snack from a friendly hot-dog vendor. Had we more time, we could have tasted nearby fare from India, Brazil, Italy, France, Mexico, Asia, and Africa. For another visit.

Our next stop, the Vancouver Aquarium, became a learning center for me as we watched and soaked up Vancouver – Vancouver Aquariuminformation about everything from beluga whales to sea anemones. We took the Salmon Stream Tour, and yes, in the process, we did swim upstream — only I was still wearing my sneakers.

Changing to heels, I had dinner back at my original post, the lovely Fairmont, starting with a superior martini that the in-house 900 West Lounge calls “After the Frost” — a combination splash of BC Ice Wine, shaken and poured over frozen grapes. Dinner at Griffins was divine, with a la carte favorites focused on fresh ingredients from the West Coast.

Another afternoon in Vancouver meant a refreshing 10-minute water taxi ride to Granville Island. At the Vancouver – Granville Islandfamous market there, I checked out the work of local artisans. I also sampled local cheeses and literally smelled the hundreds of dozens of freshly cut flowers. It was a leisurely, lovely time away from the fray.

Back in the city proper, I made a point of making the shopping rounds on Robson Street, as well as taking in the designer stores near my hotel: Tiffany, Hermes, and Coach, among them. In the hotel, the Louis Vuitton’s flagship store showed off the latest collection, a bright bunch of luxury items I coveted.

My credit card burning (OK, I made some small purchases at Coach), I designated my last shopping stop at Holt Renfrew, this time just to see what’s in style in Vancouver. What I found beyond all the jewelry, shoes, accessories, and cosmetics was a fabulous three-story department store I would need to revisit for some serious buying. (Americans consider Holt Renfrew the Neiman Marcus of Canada.)

Shopping under my belt and beyond my budget (no regrets!), it was finally time to relax. That I did at the Vancouver – Absolute SpaFairmont Hotel’s Absolute Spa while indulging in a decadent pedicure. The surroundings for such pampering include unique chairs equipped with large, flat-screen TVs that also act as computer screens, complete with Internet access.

Strange thing was, despite my usual 24/7 addiction to the ether, I didn’t want Internet access just then. Instead, I wanted to soak up memories of my brilliant trip to Vancouver while I soaked in the warm water, my toes thanking me after so much walking.

No, I’m not complaining, just remembering. In fact, I plan to go back again next year to do another round in this wonderful Pacific Rim city — where I intend to wear out at least one pair of sneakers alone on a repeat visit to Vancouver’s incomparable Stanley Park.

Vail, Colorado

December 15th, 2009


By Paula Conway

Not many people start their winter getaway to northwestern Colorado in a botanical garden, but feeling the stress of holiday madness, I did. In my defense, this wasn’t my idea. I followed directions from my insightful Vail Valley author friend, Jodi Jill, who, when asked, advised me where to decompress.

“Head for Betty Ford’s Alpine Gardens,” she said unequivocally.

Neither the snowboarder nor skier type, yet still yearning to get up-close-and-personal with a winter Vail – Ford Parkwonderland after arming myself with plenty of padding, I pointed my rented Pontiac toward Ford Park.

Fluffy flakes were falling when I arrived at this at this high-altitude garden about 8,000 feet above sea level. Obviously, perennials were not in bloom, but the Rocky Mountains were in all their splendor, especially after I reached the top of Mountain Meditation Garden. There, a wall of Colorado blue spruce wore heavy snow shavings, a vista out of a picture book and just the right place for me to Zen out before nature’s most magnificent view.

Next stop: Inside, for some warmth and the chance to imbibe without having to explain my liquid intake in the middle of the day.

Forgoing the typical big Colorado brewery, I instead chose a micro version. Located about 10 miles west of Vail Village in Edward, Gore Range Brewery is a non-touristy pub with a spirited carte offering a sassy samplerVail – Gore Range Brewery selection. I liked the full-bodied Biker Stout and the suggestively named Great Sex Honey Ale — which, surprisingly, was very mild. Without a doubt, the Gore Range motto — “Microbrews, macro-fun” — is fitting.

Because I also sampled some peanut-crusted mahi-mahi at my brewery of choice, I wasn’t hungry for a big meal, so supper wasn’t anything fancy. Still, my watering hole stop did entail a new gastronomic experience: elk stew. Enjoyed at a popular local night spot called Half Moon Saloon in the West Vail Mall, this homemade concoction was hearty, if not entirely to my liking. Thankfully, I was full enough from the fish consumed earlier.

Vail – Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch spaBack at my hotel room in perhaps the Vail Valley’s best digs, The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, I opted to finalize the day on a spa note.

And what a note it was, and a sweet one, at that. My treatment of choice was the very vividly dubbed Apple Pie a la Mode, a scrub of just what the name promises, to start the exfoliation process. Also good for hydration, my masseuse’s magical mixture included cinnamon, apple extract, and a slew of natural oils. Afterwards, I felt — and smelled — delicious.

And, thanks to the invigorating dessert without calories, sleep was sound. Still, I arose early the next morning, eager to start my final day by taking part in The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch Loan-A-Lab program.

Being a bit homesick for my own pooch, a Potcake named Marley, I took the luxury hotel’s resident pup — a gentle golden Labrador retriever called Bachelor — out for a long walk around the Rocky Mountain hotel’s storied grounds. The two of us ended our winter stroll by sitting by the Ritz’s fire pit, enjoying the crisp air together and having the warmth hit my cold back. This was a very bonding time for canine and human — especially so since, good dog that he is, Bachelor sat on my frozen feet.

All too soon, it was nearly time to end my three-day Vail Valley stay. So, at the 11th hour, I finally decided to whole-heartedly give into the snow — but not before being appropriately attired.

Translation: I went shopping, finding a fabulous boutique where outerwear is chic.

Although One Track Mind in Lionshead Mall is known as a serious snowboard shop, winter clothes and Vail – One Track Mindaccessories are what attracted my attention. Of special interest were a pair of trendy Vans boots, warmly adorned with a fluffy sheepskin-style lining (no sheep sheared for these beauties).

Then it was off into the wild blue yonder in the Colorado backcountry, cozying up to the mountainous lower levels via snowmobile. Passive exerciser a plus, the zippy machine took me over the trails and through the woods to Piney River Ranch.

Along the way, we stopped to play in what is known as Fox Farm, so named because the groomed area’s original purpose was to do away with the furry animals for their pelts. Happily, no animals are skinned there anymore, although an original early 1900s homestead cabin is still on site, taking me back to a time when life was certainly simpler than worrying about where to find gas for my snowbound vehicle should I get lost.

The entire ride was memorable experience, one that I found both exhilarating and easy to negotiate. All that was needed was a good ending to the snow-filled afternoon, say a sit by a blazing fire with a cup of hot cider in hand. As if reading my mind, our tour guide provided the very thing following our mighty snowmobile journey that had me traverse some 30 miles of Rocky Mountain terrain.

This mindful respite invoked a nostalgic return to the prior’s night’s Ritz-Carlton apple dessert massage, a soothing pastime I never knew existed until my very first Vail Valley visit was almost over. Now, that’s what I call icing on the Rocky Mountain cake, er, I mean pie. Good, old-fashioned, American apple pie — with a new-fangled, New Age twist.

Sonoma, California

July 27th, 2009


In Sonoma, California, the folks are friendly, the grapes outnumber cars, and the relaxed small-town atmosphere makes Mayberry look like a vibrant metropolis.

There is one caveat about vehicles, however: Sonoma is home to a world-class racetrack, Infineon Raceway, that occasionally hosts some of the most prestigious motor sports in America. NASCAR visits once a year, as does the Indy Racing League and its celebrity driver Danica Patrick. The loudest tourists by far are the drag racers of the National Hot Rod Association, which served as the occasion for my visit on a beautiful July weekend.

Some have called it a culture clash as loud, fast cars scorch their way down an asphalt track nestled in pastoral wine country. I, on the other hand, prefer to think of it as the best of both worlds.

Locals will tell you that, whether or not you’re a car fan, race weekends are among the best to visit Sonoma’s peaceful downtown, about eight miles north of Infineon. The reason? Radio traffic reports warn Bay Area commuters to avoid the highways surrounding the track, leaving historic Sonoma to a lucky few.

Even counting for traffic, the Saturday and Sunday at the track are half-day affairs at most. I arrive at 11 a.m. (ear plugs in tow) and stay for about five hours, keeping score of the winners and losers in my program. Walking around the trailers behind the grandstand isn’t a bad between-race diversion — drag racers are more accommodating to autograph seekers than their NASCAR and IRL counterparts.

Sonoma – Infineon Raceway

Following an afternoon of adrenaline-fueled entertainment, it’s time for something more organic. Downtown Sonoma is far enough into the valley to be completely removed from any hustle or bustle — and noise from the track. Start at City Hall, in the center of historic Sonoma Plaza, and you’re within easy walking distance of shopping, restaurants, art galleries, and more wine tasting than your taste buds may be able to handle.

Wine tasting is by far the city’s main attraction, and navigating the variety of vino is a delicate proposition. Many tasting rooms close their doors by 5 or 6 p.m.; others are free (just look for the “free wine tasting” signs); still others require reservations.

If you’re new to the game, Sonoma – Sonoma City Hallduck into every open door, get ready to learn about wine, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If your palate is more refined, do some scouting at the Visitors Bureau next to City Hall, which can provide a master list of wineries and tasting rooms in the area.

Not surprisingly, the best thing about the neighborhood restaurants may be their expansive wine lists.Sonoma – Cafe La Haye Walk east down Napa St. to enjoy the refined California cuisine at Cafe Le Haye, where a $20 dinner entree is guaranteed to be paired with the perfect red, white, or sparkling. A great bang-for-the-buck Thai restaurant, Rin’s Thai, offers more wine and $10 dinner entrees across the street.

Just around the corner, on 1st St., I relax in the open-air lobby at Sonoma – Ledson Winery and Hotelthe Ledson Winery and Hotel as jazz streams from its grand piano over wine from the house label. At this point in the night, the sights and sounds of cars zooming past at 300 m.p.h. is well in my rear-view mirror.

The beauty of Sonoma is that no two races, and no two sips of wine, will be exactly the same. How it managed to fit so many possibilities into such a small town is beyond me.

Until I figure out that one, I’ll keep coming back.


J.P. Hoornstra

St. Andrews

May 7th, 2009


Greetings from St. Andrews, Scotland

Before I get into the thick of my trip, I need to make one thing perfectly clear: Even though I am visiting St. Andrews — the birthplace of golf — I have absolutely no intention of swinging a single club during my week in Scotland. Sacrilegious as this may seem, golf is not for me.

But, honestly, I don’t even qualify as a duffer — even though I’ve been assigned a delightful room with a bird’s-eye view of the famous links’ 17th hole (known as the Road Hole) inside the Old Course Hotel, Golf Course & Spa. So, in a way, I am in the game — and without so much as chunking even one divot out of this hallowed course.

Then, too, from my balcony, I can see the Fife coastline, the familiar background for the recognizable Swilkin Bridge, an ancient stone span traversed by every golf great I can think of, from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods. As is tradition, new players snap photos of each other there, proof they have completed a round at St. Andrews.

I guess I won’t be crossing that bridge.

Instead, my focus will continue to be on the castle-like, five-star Old Course Hotel with its newly renovated accommodations. The current owners, the Wisconsin-based Kohler Company, brought their guest rooms into the 21st century with such up-to-the-minute infusions as chromatherapy tubs and handsome, one-of-a-kind, ceramic basins — all looking like they’ve leapt from the pages of Architectural Digest. The same goes for the dazzling bedrooms with red-and-white striped wallpaper, privacy curtains, and upholstered chairs. My favorite furnishings are the sleigh beds, one of which cradled me into last night’s deep sleep.

Another reason I slept so well is probably thanks to yesterday’s session at the Kohler Spa, a sanctuary of regimes I was told are based on the theory of thassalotherapy — the therapeutic benefits of water. I understood once I set eyes on the overflowing infinity bath, the open-air pole showers, and the mesmerizing RiverBath waterfall.

My treatment of choice? Why, the Highland Fling, of course. During this extensive experience, I was covered in finely ground, mint-scented coffee, and then drenched by spine-tingling Vichy showers that traversed my entire body to exfoliate and rejuvenate. I felt as good as the taste of a decaf iced latte.

I could go on forever about this place, since there’s so much to enjoy about the Old Course. The Conservatory is perfect for High Tea, heralding all kinds of brews, including chocolate. The Jigger Inn pub is another Old Course mainstay for a Scotch and some lively conversation. Open hearths sizzled yesterday while a bunch of us Americans took on a rowdy discussion with a few Scots about U.S. politics, all in good spirits (the Scotch always helps).

Even with all these delightful adventures to keep me busy, I have been fighting back the urge (or is that a sense of obligation?) to partake of St. Andrews’s sport du jour. Finally, I caved in, making an appointment with the resident PGA pro. However, this decision does require a confession. You see, rather than hitting the links, this great Scot golfer and I hit the Duke’s Course Clubhouse restaurant, where I had a terrific time learning about a fascinating game I would probably never play — all the while dining on fish and chips the scrumptious like of which I will probably never consume again.

All in all, short of meeting the Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, I don’t think I missed a single marvelous experience in St. Andrews, the gateway to the Highlands. But who knows? That illusive creature may just turn up — and if she does, she can have my golf club.

My very best,
Jane Lasky


March 31st, 2009


Often called the Chicago of Italy — to Rome’s New York — Milan is a world capital of fashion and design, and whose very name inspired the English word “millinery” for women’s hats.


Delicate Balance


Combining Old World luxury with every sleek, modern convenience, the five-star Hotel Principe Di Savoia graces the Piazza della Repubblica like the grande dame of a Visconti movie set in the 1920s. Only no stuffy dowager, she: Her lobby is the sort of lively spot one might except to find AC Milan’s David Beckham checking in — or being checked out. The intricately tiled bathrooms boast oversized Acqua di Parma soaps, shampoos and lotions, while the regal bedding is so plush that you may run the risk of sleeping through your fashion show.

+39 02 62301



Fit for a Prince


Granted, we’re biased. But stepping outside the neo-Classical Hotel Principe Di Savoia leaves us feeling like we’re abandoning Shangri-La, so any excuse to remain within its borders is welcome. Besides the Winter Garden Bar, a repeat retreat is the Club 10 Fitness & Beauty Center, atop the all-knowing hotel. Except for the complicated, hi-tech locker security device in the dressing room, this is the gym of your dreams. The pool overlooks the city, while the star-lit grotto housing the sauna and steam room is worthy of Fellini. Massages and other treatments available by appointment, as are couples’ packages.

Piazza della Repubblica

+39 02 62301



Big Deals


Hard to believe, but even with the dollar in its depressed state there are still enviable bargains to be found at FoxTown Factory Stores, in Mendrisio, Switzerland, just over the border via rental car or special bus from your hotel. Among the dozens of outlets are those for Armani, Bally, Burberry, Diesel, Fendi, Ferragamo, and Valentino. Our happiest finds: at Gucci, where the classic men’s loafers in three shades of suede, $500 stateside, were $239. Ladies’ Gucci bags: $250 here, $1,200 at home. You, too, may have to be dragged away, kicking and screaming.

A. Maspoli 18

+41 0848 828 888


Brand Name


Being so close to Modeno, we were dispatched to Peck for balsamic vinegar, where the top-of-the-line, in-store brand sold for $80 a bottle. And what a store — a worthy rival to London’s Harrods Food Halls. The Peck name, established in 1883, also drew us to Cracco-Peck, said to the best restaurant in Milan for business lunches and dinners. No skimping, either, when it comes to desserts or the magnificent wine list.

Via Victor Hugo, off Via Orefici

+41 02876 774



Label Table


Take two high-profile tastemakers, combine their names and place inside the monolithic, white stone Armani World on Via Manzoni, and you’re at Armani/Nobu. Favorite dishes among the ultra-chic clientele: black cod in miso sauce, downed with sake accented with gold leaf. Reservations necessary.

Via Pisoni 1

+41 02 6231 2645.


Best Pizza Trattoria


Perhaps it’s the fresh ingredients, or the lack of preservatives, or possibly even all the walking we did to get there, but after several days of devouring various of the 86 toppings at Pizza OK, we hadn’t gained an ounce. The homespun hospitality and reasonable prices were the icing on the pie. Cash only, but worth the inconvenience.

Via Lambro 15

+41 02 2940 1272


Cover Up


It took five centuries, starting in 1386, to construct the city’s giant gothic cathedral, the Duomo, so give yourself at least an hour to explore it — or longer, if you wish to attend a service. Mark Twain wrote of its beauty: “What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!” Reminder: Modest dress is the order of the day; no bare arms and shoulders, and mind the length of your skirt.

Piazza del Duomo

+39 02 8646 3456

Last-Minute Supper


Because of the enormous demand to see DaVinci’s The Last Supper, inside the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, booking tickets well in advance of your visit is mandatory — unless your hotel concierge is extremely well-connected. A call to him in advance of your trip is suggested, as is the expression, “When I arrive, I look forward to thanking you personally for your trouble.” Otherwise, there is an official Italy Tourism Web site to assist with reservations.

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2

+ 39 02 8942 1146


Vocal Coach


Dating back to 1778, Teatro alla Scala — or, La Scala — begins its season Dec. 7, St. Ambrose’s Day, in honor of the patron saint of Milan. Other traditions worth heeding: All performances must end before midnight, which can prompt early curtain times for longer works. Also be warned: Once a performance has started, latecomers will not be seated. As for procuring tickets, there’s always the box office, but, as with any popular tourist site — and this one even has a strong appeal for the locals — demand is great. See advice above for the Last Supper on how your hotel concierge might be convinced to lend a hand in landing a treasured ticket to La Scala.

Via Filodrammatici 2

+39 0288 791


By George


Lake Como is as scenic as it can get, and makes for a wonderful day trip from Milan. This glacial lake, one of the deepest in Europe, prompted Shelly to write in 1818: “It is long and narrow, and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and the forests.” Little has changed since. A stroll along the shore is therapeutic, whether you’re simply gazing at the mountainside funicular railway, contemplating a ferry ride, or guessing which of the gorgeous waterside villas belongs to George Clooney. We’re still waiting for our invitation, too.


New York



St. John



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