Monday, 09 December 2013
MUTATE AW13 / DIEGO ZÚÑIGA
[ M U T A T E . AW13 ]
The homonymous firm of the Mexican designer returns this Fall/Winter 2013 with MUTATE. The starting point is the beetle, an insect that throughout history has been an inspiration for industrial design, architecture and the military world. With eight all-black looks, MUTATE is characterized by oversize pieces, tailored quality and sporty touches. It surprises us with dynamic and original cuts, mesh details, and for the first time in the brand’s history there is a couple of functional accessories (cap and backpack) to create an outfit that reflects the concept perfectly. The collection? Wide-cut blazers with relaxed lapels, sweaters with wide sleeves, pants with big cargo-like pockets, and short wide pants. The textures reflect inspiration and are mixed with the designer’s characteristic black-over-black detail. The fortress, intellect, routine, and strength of the contemporary man is what emerges from this proposal from Zúñiga.
Make up:Ossiel Ramos
Model: Model: Frederik Tölke @ BANG! MANAGEMENT
Shoes: @ Feminine and Masculine
Monday, 14 October 2013
25hours Hotel in Vienna. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
Last month, during MQ Vienna Fashion Week, I stayed at the quirky 25hours Hotel located at the border of Vienna's newly trendy 7th district and steps away from the wonderful MuseumQuartier (so you can get your fill of Egon Schiele AND hipster thrift shops). The 25hours Hotel reminds me of a few things: the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs, the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam--and a time-traveling Bozo the Clown on acid. But really, it's like no other hotel that I've ever stayed at.
The lively "show" mood of the hotel is right in step with many Vienna institutions: the Prater, the Opera Ball, the Life Ball and the city's many music and theater venues. The building that is now the 25hours Hotel began its life in 1971 as a 6-storey student dorm designed by architect Dr Kurt Schlauss.
25hours--a mini empire with hotels in Austria, Germany and Switzerland--opened their property in Vienna in March 2011 after being refurbished by the Viennese firm BWM Architekten und Parnter. The second phase of the hotel was unveiled in April 2013, with 219 guest rooms spanning 7 storeys--topped by the wildly popular Dachboden bar on the 8th floor.
Headed by Armin Fischer, the Augsburg-based design team Dreimeta was responsible for the hotel's aesthetics and design. A humorous take on the world of spectacle. Sexy and surreal fantasies inspired by Vienna's circus legacy. In 1808, a permanent circus opened in Vienna's Prater amusement park. Throughout Europe, the circus experienced its heyday in the early 20th century when it was a combination of a freak show, a chance to gawk at people from faraway lands, and vaudeville entertainment.
With this in mind, Dreimeta gathered together and revamped vintage finds from this period, without concealing the age of the pieces. They sought out memorabilia with a story to tell. "Juggling clubs, trapeze wires, chairs and desk lamps--we trawled countless flea markets, hunting and gathering," recalls Fischer. "Everything at the circus is temporary and can be put up and taken down quickly. The troupe uses the venue they find themselves in and make the best they can of it with simple means. We wanted to give the hotel an improvised feel too, while still making it seem cosy and not unfinished."
After soaking up the hotel's "Euro hipster backpackers run off and join the circus" mood, I was prepared for whatever my room was going to throw at me....Luckily, I'm not clown-phobic (unlike so many others) so I was delighted by this whimsically frenetic mural behind the bed of my rather spacious suite. I wondered what kinds of dreams I would have in this bed (nice ones, it turned out)....and would it scare off any male suitors who might find themselves in my suite...(no, thank god.)
The mural behind the bed and all of the other 19th-century circus-themed paintings in the hotel are by Berlin-based artist Olaf Hajek, one of Germany's best-known illustrators. They were my favorite element of the hotel.
I liked how this plush blue rug was used to delineate the "living room" area of the suite....the round rug and others around the hotel are an indirect allusion to a typical circus ring.
The office area of the suite (and there's a kitchenette, complete with dishwasher to the right, not pictured). This is a bit of a gonzo aside, but I can't hold it in: the mismatched letters and numeral 1 on the wall remind me of an obscure feud between Barneys New York's former creative director Simon Doonan and artist Jack Pierson. Pierson claimed that this style was his intellectual property and that Doonan had stolen it for displays at Barneys Co-Op.
Even though the hotel is technically 3 stars, one of the many things that imbues an overall luxury feel are the bathrooms. My suite had a cavernous rain shower that was big enough for a circus elephant, and included copious amounts of sustainable bath products. The lighting in the bathrooms is reminiscent of a performer's dressing room (and they were flattering) and the taps have a nostalgic feel.
The fixtures, like this stool and the waste bucket, feel like they were plucked from a circus trailer.
I don't drink soda but I love the designs of these bottles from the mini bar. What I did partake in was the complimentary tins of high-end aromatic teas that were replenished daily.
Vintage luggage stacked and repurposed as a display for the flat-screen TV. Clever! And who could not love this turn-of-the-century clothes form.
Each room has its own mascot outside the door....I had the illustrated man snake charmer...
And who doesn't love a good transgendered trapeze artist....
As a copywriter, I couldn't help thinking that this hotel project was some copywriter's dream job....the design of the hotel is very copy-heavy....for each room, instead of a Do Not Disturb/Please Clean My Room sign, there is a BOOK with red and green pages of 25 sometimes-witty, sometimes-annoying slogans to choose from: "it might not look like it, but it was fun" "it's the 25h hotel. i need an extra hour." "police crime scene. move on." "still naked." "imagine the rolling stones stayed in the room." And so on.
The top floor is the very spacious Dachboden bar and the circus-cum-hipster eclectic decorating theme continues in full force...
Out on the deck, it's all about the view....on a clear day you can see Maria von Trapp.
Another view...lovely Vienna....
Normally, hipster vinyl-only DJ booths get on my nerves, but as this is Europe, the taste level is higher and more discerning than in tired America. Case in point: Ennio Morricone's magnificently languid soundtrack for the film VERUSCHKA is displayed totem-like in Dachboden...as it should be.
The spacious and airy restaurant at 25hours, 1500 FOODMAKERS, has a great look, if you love ecleticism (as I often do). The pizza is so good, you'll almost forgive the restaurant's ill-advised official slogan, "Fuck it, eat pizza."
Mirror mayhem in 1500 FOODMAKERS.
The hotel at night....I probably took this photo when I was returning from one of my wurst and/or Kaiserbründl runs....
The 25hours is just spitting distance from Spittelberg, that tiny, charming, cobblestoned Biedermeier festooned pedestrian district that was once--horrors!--a red-light district. Now, for better or worse, you can buy postmodern dirndls by Austrian designer Lena Hoschek and the kind of vintage '70s clothing that Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern first shopped for at a hippie boutique called "Shot Down in Ecuador, Jr." circa 1973.
Me doing my imitation of Christ routine in Spittelberg...
The many charms of Spittelberg...this is basically how I feel inside when my appetite is rampaging Godzilla-like through Europe....
Thanks for reading. I had a marvelous stay at 25hours....danke schön.
Saturday, 12 October 2013
Upstairs-Downstairs at the Hotel Marignan
Diane has spoiled me yet again on my last day in Paris on the opening night of ASVOFF taking place later tonight at the Centre Pompidou. I've duly checked in to the uber-chic Hotel Marignan designed by Pierre Yovanovitch -- a stone's throw from the Champs-Élysées.
Split level rooms with epic bathrooms upstairs and living-sleeping quarters downstairs with balconies both inside the room and out overlooking the street. Of course the ubiquitous bars, restaurants and such. But also a plush cinema downstairs without even having to leave the front door. Of course, cinematic Diane Pernet would make that a requirement, wouldn't she?
Lucky boy I be....Need I say
more? As they say.... a picture truly is worth a thousand words.
Wednesday, 09 October 2013
EGR REPORTS FROM THE MYSTICAL TOWN OF UBUD ,INDONESIA.
DEAR DIANE ,WE WENT INTO UBUD´S TROPICAL PARADISE ON AN ADVENTURE TO SHOW YOU SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MAGICAL AND ECO FRIENDLY PLACES IN THE CULTURAL CAPITAL OF INDONESIA . FEATURING SUNGLASSES FROM CAST EYEWEAR WEAR IT LOUD AND PROUD ! IMAGES COURTESY OF ANGGA PRATAMA AND MODEL HELENE JANSEN STYLED BY FA EMPEL . THANK YOU FOR THE FACILITIES AND ATTENTION TO BAMBU INDAH .
HOPING YOU COME AND VISIT US !
Monday, 07 October 2013
Hôtel de NELL & La Régalade Conservatoire in Paris. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
September is my favorite month to travel in Europe and this year I decided to add Paris to my itinerary so I could visit Diane and other friends. (I hadn't been to Paris in 4 years!) My trip started out on a sweet note when I was invited to stay two nights at the superb Hôtel de NELL, located in the heart of the 9th arrondissement, the center of Paris. And while this is a bustling area, the 5-star luxury hotel is tucked away on the peaceful corner of rue Sainte-Cécile and rue du Conservatoire. A relative newcomer on the Paris hotel scene, the NELL opened back in February.
The hotel, left, and the Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile Church, which was built between 1854 and 1856. Of note: On January 10, 1857, writer Jules Verne married Honorine Viane here. And since 1989, the mass is celebrated in the church both under the Paul VI ritual (that is, in French) and under the St Pius V ritual (in Latin, priest turning his back to the faithful).
I grew up reading Jules Verne novels and would have loved to see the inside of the church--but it was closed for the two days I was staying at the NELL.
Hôtel de NELL was designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte whose objective is not limited to "creating for the sake of creation, but reconciling man with his environment and culture." Wilmotte likes clean lines and warm materials. I really loved the spare look of the room. Very serene and chic without feeling clinical or boring.
This is the bed in the Prestige room I stayed in. Sandy tones are dominant in the room and I found the blonde wood and textured beige floor to be very zen and relaxing.
Wilmotte is a big fan of the "recessed joint principle", which is a vacuum soldering of two walls. The recessed joint connects two masses while reducing their volume and highlighting an architectural approach.
"Not a ceiling, not a desk, not a single line is without a recessed joint. Aesthetic rigor means not a single air conditioning or CMV grate will intrude upon those lines, and the recessed joints themselves become vents in all the rooms and bathrooms."
Exclusive Artemide bedside lamps rise out of the panelled headboard. All the lights are 100% LED. I really like the industrial accent the lamps added to the otherwise clean, monochromatic design.
My room's pièce de résistance: a Japanese bathtub carved out of a single block of raw marble, bathed in natural light. The tray, seat and footstool are made from the lightest Oregon myrtlewood. I thought the seat was a bit strange but then again, I've never taken a bath in Japan! The bath products were superb, especially the body scrub.
I loved the bath's faucet.
There was a fabulous rain shower with stone-colored walls...
...a very design-y, anti-fog mirror...
...and two raw, white-marble basins.
I really liked the office chair with an articulated back.
One of the views from my room: the former Comptoir National d'Escompte with its clasically Parisian dome.
My other view was of this quiet pedestrian street.
I really loved the weathered 13th-century mockup facade of Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile Church which faces the front of the hotel.
I loved the bar lobby because they stocked the kinds of not-so-trendy spirits one might find chez Belverio: Byrrh, Dolin vermouth, Lillet, Chartreuse.
Behind the bar lobby is a lounge with a glass ceiling and Wimotte-designed sofas.
Family portrait time: My friend, the journalist Rebecca Voight (center), joined me in the lobby for a cocktail with her kids, Joe and Jan.
If you know me, you know all about my love for Negronis (mine are known as Belgronis™) so of course I had to try the NELL's drier variation on this classic aperitif cocktail (although the bartender didn't seem to appreciate me comparing it to a Negroni.) The Kina is made with Byrrh, Citadelle gin and Dolin Blanc and it was wonderful.
Rebecca opted for the Nell's Vesper: Lillet blanc, Citadelle gin, Cîroc and zeste de citron. (She loved it.)
Above: Dinner began with some rustic chicken terrine (one of the chef's signatures), bread and cornichons
After cockails, Rebecca's kids left to go out and paint the town rouge, and Rebecca and I relocated to the NELL's formidable restaurant, La Régalade Conservatoire. Unlike a lot of hotel restaurants where breakfast is routine but dinner is ignored in favor of the outside world, La Régalade Conservatoire has become one of Paris's top gastronome destinations. We were seated at 8 and by 8:30 there wasn't an empty seat in the joint. Reservations typically need to be made one week in advance.
The chef, Bruno Doucet, took the reins of the original La Régalade from Yves Camdeborde in 2004 after learning the ropes in the kitchens of Pierre Gagnaire, Charles Barrier and Jean-Pierre Vigato. At La Régalade Conservatoire, Doucet's philosophy is "in-season ingredients that I enjoy waiting for and then rediscovering, and precise, learned, repeated techniques that transform them." In short, haute cuisine at bistro prices.
A view of the restaurant a few hours before dinner time--as spare and chic as the hotel's rooms.
As a starter, I had the royal foie gras and chicken wings in a creamy mushroom broth. Orgasmic!
Rebecca had the creamy cuttlefish risotto with chili-and-garlic-roasted prawns and "La vache qui rit" cheese emulsion. It was an explosion of flavors and textures and I couldn't stop digging my spoon in "just to try it."
As my main, I chose the scorpion fish fillet cooked in a bouillabaisse with snow peas and shaved fennel. The flesh of the fish was rich and full of favor--not like a mild white fish at all. The sauce was perfection.
Rebecca with her main: Catfish "stung" with chorizo, cooked beans from Paimpol Xeres and tomatoes. At this point we were past the champagne and well into our red wine--and gossipping up a storm, I'm sure--so I think I forgot to try this one. I'm sorry I didn't because I adore the idea of fish stung with chorizo!
The dessert....the dessert! It was an absolute triumph! Soufflé Grand-Marnier served piping hot and boozy. Later that night in my comfy bed at the hotel, I had a dream about this soufflé--and when I woke up, my pillow was gone!
Rebecca had Kouign Aman served warm, caramelized apples with cardamom and homemade sorbet. A perfect early-fall dessert.
After dinner we wandered around looking for a nice bar to have a nightcap--we didn't find anything that great (Paris sure is sleepy compared to NYC! Not that there's anything wrong with that) but there are plenty of charming locales near the hotel.
This was some kind of financial institution at the end of the street from the hotel. Grand!
The NELL is near a lot of iconic venues, such as the Folies Bergère. I think the scaffolding is up because the gilded tuchas of the theater's famous Deoc dancer was being polished!
Also nearby is the eternal Parisian favorite, the confectioner A la Mere de Famille (founded in 1761). The NELL serves complimentary bonbons from here at their front desk and of course I stopped by to pick up some (expensive) gifts for my co-workers at Tiffany's in New York!
Another view of the NELL's bar lobby.
Thanks for reading!
Monday, 12 August 2013
My stay at Leon's Place Hotel in Rome. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
As you may have heard, I was in Rome last month covering Alta Roma for Diane. The official hotel of the event was Leon's Place, located on the east side of Rome, just south-east of the Villa Borghese and the via Veneto. But despite the proximity to those touristy destinations, Leon's Place is far enough afield that the tourists are nowhere in sight. The location feels a bit far from the hustle and bustle of central Rome, and I found that to be a plus--the area around Leon's Place is very residential, so after a few days, the neighborhood starts to feel like home instead of an open-air museum.
Next door is a quirky pharmacy (convenient!). Across the street is a gelataria that forgoes the whole rustic down-home feel that the tourists eat up and instead feels like a very chic laboratory--spare interior, albino wood benches--with gelato discreetly hidden in sleek stainless-steel containers commandereed by frosty yet sensual scoopers--Amazons who look like they just strolled off a catwalk in Milan. And down the road and around the corner are some excellent trattorias, popular with local lunching Romans in serious suits, with prices far below what you'll find closer to the city center.
At the risk of blowing this well-kept secret of a neighborhood, I will now recommend the hotel, where I enjoyed five pleasurable nights. (Full disclosure: I was invited to stay here as one of the journalists covering Alta Roma.) Let's start with this tidbit from the brilliantly written press release (most American fashion and hotel press releases are horribly written and just plain unreadable. This one is wonderful):
"Is it possible for just one colour with a few dashes of purple to convey not only all the mystery, the fascination but also the malice and to some extent the sensuality of the facets of an ever changing city? Leon's Place has succeeded in doing just that, coating in an elegant pearl grey the four floors of the new four star hotel in Rome [opened in 2010]."
Leon's Place's lobby is famous for the velvet swing hanging from the chandelier. Yes, dolls, swing from the chandelier! It's encouraged here.
"Set in a glamorous, aristocratic palace dating back to the 1800s, the hotel is a new reality....the concept is inspired by that trend of art deco that amalgamated neoclassic and decorative styles. There is an abundance of ironic details, sometimes a bit frivolous, sometimes unusual, to remind that in Rome, where different styles live and merge, nothing seems out of place."
As for the area's history, it is steeped in 19th-century turmoil instead of the weight of Ancient Rome. The street that Leon's Place is on, via XX Settembre, is named after September 20, 1870 when the Porta Pia--a massive gate designed by Michelangelo to the right of the hotel--had a hole blown in it, allowing Unification troops to march through and down this street. They then proceeded to evict the pope from his last residence in Quirinal palace. This marked the end of Italy's long stuggle--starting around 1815--toward Unification.
Dario Argento, in his only departure from the horror genre, made a film about the First Italian Independence War, which started in 1848. Filmed in Milan and Rome, The Five Days is an obscure, left-wing satirical gem. “I wanted to show how false the 'birth of Italy' was," Argento told me in Rome in 2005. “Because it was a revolution conducted by the rich and by the nobles. That is why six years later there was another revolution, an anarchist revolution.”
I really liked the lobby's metallic details, such as the mesh lamp and the chrome candelabra.
Me waiting for my room to be ready as my flight arrived rather early. I loved the ostrich-feather-tufted chandeliers and sconces. Ironic details!
Chic and slightly sinister chandelier.
The rooms at Leon's Place are on the small side (as they are in many Rome hotels and most Paris hotels) but fortunately I was awarded a Junior Suite and a long terrace, so there was plenty of room for me to do my jumping jacks and karate moves--and swing my long-chained handbags around.
My terrace view included this lovely color palette.
The bed was superbly comfortable and the mirrors around it do serve a function--if you know how to work it ;-)
I appreciated the understated, elegant touches like these swirled knobs. The bathroom, not pictured, is big and bright with a large tub. (The smaller rooms only have showers.) The bathroom's floor is precious Carrara polychrome marble, preserved from the building's original 19th-century incarnation. The shampoo and shower gel are a sexy combination of what I think was vanilla and musk.
Staircase to the breakfast room. Italian hotels almost never seem to get breakfast right. So, I'm happy to report that the breakfast at Leon's Place is rather excellent and the staff is very friendly and attentive.
I never had time to have a drink at the bar but they've done a splenid job with it.
Leon's Place is a short walk away from the tranquil Villa Borghese Gardens. The hotel will make an appointment for you at the wildly popular Galleria Borghese, as they did for me. But that was before I knew I was being invited to the dinner held there for Jean Paul Gaultier and we had the museum all to ourselves.
While I was exploring the area near the hotel, I discovered a wonderful restaurant called the Trattoria Cadorna, opened in 1947, on the via Raffaele Cadorna. I had the heavenly saltimbocca alla romana: tender veal wrapped in cured ham and cooked in white wine, butter and sage. It's lunches like this that make me feel sorry for vegetarians.
In New York we have a plethora of bland, generic Duane Reades. Rome has this. (Located next to Leon's Place.)
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
Laura Urbinati's "My Room in Rome" at Hotel Locarno at Alta Roma. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
Last week while I was in Rome, I attended the opening cocktail for designer Laura Urbinati's multimedia installation "My Room at Room", held at the splendid Hotel Locarno, an Art Nouveau/Art Deco/Belle Epoque gem near the Piazza del Popolo. The installation was designed by the artist couple Ottonella Mocellin and Nicola Pellegrini and it showcased Urbinati's Winter 2014 collection. The installation inhabited several of the hotel's gorgeous rooms. I will definitely want to stay here during my next trip to Rome.
"There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl she lived alone except for a nameless cat" - from Paul Varjack's story about Holly Golightly in the film version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
The "Breakfast at Tiffany's" theme continued with "Moon River" playing on the soundtrack in this room. To show her clothes, Urbinati either scattered them around the rooms, as if tossed aside by a woman who was either very busy or very lazy, or showed them on models in video projections.
"This is a collection for an upbeat modern woman who is curious, lives a full life, is a traveller and who always wants to feel at ease by simply mixing a few items that lend themselves to infinite interpretations, depending on the occasion. " - Laura Urbinati
The Hotel Locarno is split into two buildings. These rooms are in the older wing, which dates back to the Belle Epoque, while the other wing was inaugurated in 1925 by a Swiss company.
Susan Sabet, editor of Pashion magazine in Cairo
Laura Urbinati is originally from Rome, Milanese by adoption, and trained in the U.S. The Gambrinus bathing establishment is one of the family businesses, with famous clients like Audrey Hepburn and Patty Pravo--so Laura grew up breathing in the natural elegance of the leading members of the jet set.
In 1989, Laura opened her first boutique in Sunset Plaza in Los Angeles, "between the glamour of Hollywood and the surfing philosophy of life."
"It gives me great satisfaction that the women who choose my clothes are people who think, who reflect the values that I believe in. For me, fashion is an interlude of beauty and unconcern that can lighten your mood, without excluding ethical values." - Laura Urbinati
The hotel's check-in foyer with lampshade by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The hotel's bar is very popular with international sophisticates and elegant Romans alike. Such a well-behaved crowd I observed. Nothing like the ostentatious, pushy riff-raff one must deal with at popular hotel bars in New York. Perhaps it's time for me to move to Rome.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, 09 July 2013
NATASHA GORNIK GIVES GOOD KINK
Please go check out Natasha Gornik at the first exhibition of her photography in Paris. Natasha is a Brooklyn based artist who describes herself as a professional Experiencer. For the past decade, she has been photographing the kink culture and capturing the dynamism of the individual through portraiture. Her photography is a visual journal of sexuality, her travels and the individuals that she meets along the way. Still life plays an important role in her work especially in contextualizing the more visceral images. Her goal is not to document but capture the essence and experience of the scene through the camera. She also participates, making her images part of a personal narrative. Natasha's blog is a diaristic mix of my words and photography which are about food, fuck and a couple things in between. She has been included in numerous group exhibitions throughout the United States and her photography exists as limited edition fine art prints.
Sunday, 07 July 2013
In Rome for Alta Roma & to visit friends. By Glenn Belverio
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I'm having a Roman holiday for an extended 4th of July weekend. Relaxing on my terrace at Leon's Place Hotel and later going to the Jean Paul Gaultier couture show at Santo Spirito and the Gaultier dinner at the splendid Galleria Borghese.
Last night was amusingly Robert Altman-esque during a very long cocktail party at the Palazzo Firenze aka the Società Dante Alighieri in which a cast of zany, prosecco-fueled characters engaged in tipsy, overlapping dialogue with long-lost friends and strangers as we wandered around and around a rambling garden, losing each other, finding each other and trying to make sense of each other in the Roman heat.
Rebecca Voight and I caught up on 5 years of gossip and the long, languid party eventually drew to a close when a large, well-suited man pushed me aside and stood at the end of the bar that was covered with empty champagne flutes. Was he going to throw us all out of the garden? The bum's rush in melody? Then he announced in a booming voice that he had lost a book--a book! -- and everyone in the crowd became VERY concerned and we all looked around in vain for his book.
Now you know that sort of thing hasn't happened in New York since the '90s! No one carries books around in NYC anymore. The crisis would be if someone lost their smart phone.
Susan Sabet of Pashion magazine in Cairo and me in the front row at the Ethical African fashion show this morning.
Even though this fashion week is like a Robert Altman film, Rebecca Voight turned out her best Diane Keaton in ""Annie Hall" swagger...
Rebecca and Nunzia Garoffolo at breakfast this morning. They are holding up the Andy Warhol notepads from MoMA that I gifted to Rebecca. One of them says, "Everybody should like everybody."
Me sunbathing on my terrace. I'm exhausted from my private tour of Medieval churches with Roam Around Rome and last's nights cocktail, pizza and gelato hijinx.
Ciao for now,
Monday, 18 March 2013
My stay at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
Because wintering in St. Bart's or South Beach is so two decades ago, I now winter in the south of Egypt, in Aswan, ensconsed in the Nubian Desert and on the most beautiful part of the Nile. Here, the culture of the Nubian tribes and the proximity to Sudan gives this part of Egypt a more African feel than the rest of the country. The days are hot and dry, the air is clean, the breezes from the Nile are refreshing and the desert nights are bracing. It is a divine place to pass the days away when much of the West is submerged in frozen February gloom.
The grandest, and most famous, place to stay in Aswan is the Victorian palace known as the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel--"old cataract" referring to the first waterfall one encounters as one travels up the Nile. The Sofitel brand is known for buying and revamping colonialist legacy hotels--like the Metropole in Hanoi, where I stayed in 2004. The Old Cataract was founded by Thomas Cook and built in 1899. Through the years, famous heads of state, dignitaries, authors, actors and jet-setters have stayed here, from King Farouk of Egypt to Francois Mitterrand, from Winston Churchill to Agatha Christie (both of whom have suites dedicated to them at the hotel--more on that later.)
The hotel had a facelift a few years ago with a chic makeover by French interior designer Sybille de Margerie (Moorish arches, Persian carpets, ruby red chandeliers, modern Italian lamps) which resulted in the original building being renamed the Palace Wing. I stayed in the new building, the Nile Wing, which has a more contemporary feel (and a spa) and overlooks the Victorian-era building. The Old Cataract is probably best known for being the place where Agatha Christie wrote part of "Death on the Nile" (the hotel is a backdrop in part of the story) and also where scenes for the film version (featuring Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in an S&M relationship, and the divoon Jane Birkin) were shot.
One of my glorious views from my suite's long terrace. Here you can see the original hotel, now the Palace Wing.
I took this photo as soon as I arrived. In lieu of a check-in desk, guests are escorted upon arrival to a tufted sofa in the plush salon near the bar and offered a choice of cold drink. I can't remember what I had, but it was something like Nectar of Isis.
And voila, my Master Bedroom in the Prestige Suite where I stayed for 4 ultra-relaxing nights. I was mad for the pale-green and white color palette.
While bathing in my freestanding tub by Villeroy & Boch (I love the colored tiles), I had a lovely view of Elephantine Island through the terrace doors of the bedroom. It was espeically enchanting at night when the Nubian tribes were playing their drums and when the Muslim Call to Prayer (which sounds more supernatural here than in Cairo) started up. I took to referring to the result as the "Nubian Desert remix of the Call to Prayer." Spellbinding.
There was a living room and off to the right by the lamp, a study and library.
This is what I woke up to every morning....the Nile, Elephantine Island (with the Ruins of Abu) and the golden Nubian Desert.
I zoomed into the Ruins of Abu from my terrace (and also strolled around them one morning before visiting the Nubian Villages). It is said that Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, lives here. I should have liked to meet him.
View from the famous terrace of the Palace Wing.
All hail the heroic Gin Fizz! I thought this was the proper British colonialist cocktail to sip while watching the hotel's famed view of the sunset
Beyond Elphantine Island is the Mausoleum of Aga Khan.
The sunset viewed from the terrace.
I felt quite regal walking through the gilded entrance of the Nile Wing to my suite.
The pool in the Nile Wing's spa. I never got around to using the spa, alas. I couldn't tear myself away from all the spectacular views around the hotel. And then of course there were expeditions, like my 8-hour trip to the Temples of Abu Simbel.
View of the hotel at night, with Coptic church in the background.
I dined at 1900, the hotel's exquisite French restaurant that was built in 1900 to commemorate the premier of the Old Aswan Dam.
Glazed duck breast with hibiscus and marmalade sauce served with a tarragon brioche and garnished with a stalk of lemongrass. Superb. It paired nicely with a glass of red Jardin du Nil, my favorite wine du moment.
View inside 1900
On another night, I dined in The Oriental, the hotel's Egyptian restaurant, and had pigeons stuffed with two kinds of rice, a traditional Egyptian dish.
The hotel's general manager took me on a tour of the property, which included a requisite stop in the Winston Churchill Suite.
The foyer of the Churchill Suite.
A view of the suite's giant living room.
Churchill master bedroom
The private terrace of the Churchill suite is very spacious.
Onward to the Agatha Christie Suite....
I much preferred Ms. Christie's living room....the throw pillows are dreamy.
The French version, naturallement.
I adored the view from Agatha Christie's desk. But of course those divine Italian lamps were not there during her stay back in the 1930s.
Another view of the Agatha Christie Suite's living room. I was positively over the moon for the gold-leafed cabinet in the background, which served as Ms. Christie's personal mini bar....
As the Suite has a kitchen, if you're in the mood to whip up some French delicacies, Ms. Christie thoughtfullfy left behind her cookbook.
The price per night in the Churchill or Christie Suite? $8,000 USD. A mere bag of shells, doll...
Feluccas on the Nile. I took a felucca ride one idyllic afternoon.....Aswan really transports one back to the past....
And if you're still nervous about visiting Egypt....you couldn't be in a safer place than Aswan. If you're worried about the political tumult in cities like Cairo (which is also safe) and Port Said, fear not--there is nothing going on in the southern part of Egypt. It's the most peaceful place on Earth.
Sunset at the Aswan airport.
Thanks for reading.