Panama celebrating 500 years

Panama celebrating 500 years

Panama celebrating 500 years in 2019

European conquest, a Welsh buccaneer, pirates, treasure, elegant hats and a disputed canal all conspire to create the modern story of Panama.

These days, with a gentle stroll  you can circumnavigate the peninsula of Panama in less than an hour. And yet, it was once the second largest city in the Western hemisphere.  Away from the waterfront you’ll discover a thriving living museum of colonial heritage.

Its original wealth sprang from its ideal location for shipping the gold and silver stolen by the Spanish to send back to Spain.

In 1671 Welsh born buccaneer, Henry Morgan and his ruthless band of pirates sacked and burnt the city to the ground.  They were supported by the English in their rivalry against Spain for the riches of the New World. Unluckily for them, most of the treasure had already been shipped out but they left complete devastation in their wake.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Panama became a byword for very distinctive hat wear.   Actually made in Ecuador the hats were shipped from Panama to Asian and European customers.  The international sales point became synonymous with the hat forever after known as the Panama hat.

The original concept for a canal was first muted by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V back in 1534.  The first attempt was made by a French engineer. In 1881 work was commenced to link the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean however, the company was forced into bankruptcy. The challenge was taken on by the Americans who subsequently claimed ownership of the canal for almost a century.

Finally, in 1999 it was returned to Panamanian sovereignty.

To celebrate its 500th birthday the city is undergoing major works of renovation and construction and the results to date are impressive.  The National Theatre, Civic palaces and old hotels are receiving a major face lift, and being rendered anew.

We’re excited to be including Panama with our tour to Costa Rica in February 2020. Both countries are recognized for their focus on creating sustainable eco-tourism at the highest level.  With a maximum group size of 10, no single supplement and fully escorted there’s no better way to experience these two fascinating countries in the heart of Central America.

Genuine Mexican Art

Genuine Mexican Art

The Fair that Supports Genuine Mexican Art and Artisans

Artisans from Oaxaca, Mexico

The Mexican art scene is undergoing tremendous change. A culmination of circumstances which include low-cost machine-manufacturing, cheap import copies from the far-east, and artisans moving to urban areas to earn a living (and thus abandoning their crafts) are causing original artworks to yield to second-rate, mass-produced pieces which are neither authentic nor a true reflection of genuine Mexican art.

Chapala Lake local, Marianne Carlson founded an art festival that seeks to raise awareness for genuine Mexican art and the Master Artisans who bring it into being. Feria Maestros del Arte, now in its fifteenth year, has become an important stage for genuine Mexican art.

Mexican art has a long and rich history that stretches back to pre-Hispanic times, with artists applying techniques and styles to their works which have been handed-down through countless generations: these are the works which retain and reflect an authenticity that only hand-made original art can convey.

Marianne and her team scout all of Mexico seeking the best art and artisans, and invite them to Feria Maestros del Arte. The artists have their expenses covered by the organization, and are not charged any fees for attendance, so they keep every peso in income from the sales they make at the fair.

The fair is unique. This is an art market where you’ll find a carefully curated collection of Mexican art works, crafted and sold in-person by the country’s finest living artisans, and where you can be assured that the art you purchase is hand-made in Mexico, and authentic in every sense.

Over 100 artisans will be present, offering an abundance of high quality and diverse art pieces for buyers to choose from, including:

Panama hats, the classic and timeless hat, made in Bécal, in the state of Campeche on Mexico’s Gulf coast

Handmade footwear, including fashionable ethnic shoes from Oaxaca

Kitchen utensils, including knives from the famous José Ojeda family

Wooden art works, including Alebrijes which are hand-carved wooden animals, individually painted and every one unique

Catrinasskeleton dolls, hand-made in plaster and individually painted. They are one of the most traditional artwork displays for celebrations around Day of the Dead

An abundance of ceramics, including barro betusbarro canelobarro bruñido, black ceramics, and high-fire ceramic

Unique Mexican jewelry, including silver Yalalag crosses, pieces made from recycled aluminum, cloth, and other materials

Woven art including beautiful rebozoshuipiles, blouses, and more

Straw art, including papier-mâché, hand-made paper amate, and hand-made hammocks using traditional materials

Furniture made of chuspata (a type of reed), and equipales (traditional Mexican furniture)

The artisan fair is held on the second weekend of November in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.

Join us in November 2019 for our annual tour which includes a guided tour of the Fair to meet and spend time with the individual artisans.   We also have a not-to-be-missed tour to Chiapas in southern Mexico in February 2019 focused on textile and pottery artisans who we’ll meet in their village homes to see them at work. A deep insight into the time and skills required to create these unique pieces using the ancient traditional methods. In both tours you will have an opportunity to purchase investment level art direct from the artisans.

Amalfi Coast – Views to Soothe The Soul

Amalfi Coast – Views to Soothe The Soul

Capri – Villa San Michele

“I want my house to be open to sun and wind and the voice of the sea, like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere”

The words of Alex Munthe, Swedish physician, when he fell in love with the idyllic island of Capri off the Amalfi Coast.

He wanted to create a home for the soul, because

the soul needs more space than the body”.

Villa San Michele, the home he created,  is surrounded by an impressive garden, colonnades, pergolas and cypress trees with a view that extends forever. Behind the villa, in the Barbarossa mountain, Axel Munthe created a sanctuary for migratory birds.  A place to rest on their journey from one continent to another.

Henry James, who visited the villa, wrote that it is “a creation of the most fantastic beauty, poetry and inutility that I have ever seen clustered together.”

Ravello, Villas Cimbrone & Rufolo

The two other stunning villas we’ll visit during our May 2019 tour to Puglia and the Amalfi coast are located in one of my favourite places on earth, Ravello.  Perched high above the Mediterranean Sea, where the perfume of lemon blossoms and the spectacular scenery combine to seduce the visitor.  Here, we’ll find the Villa Cimbrone with its expansive gardens and dramatic views from the belvedere, known as the Terrace of Infinity.

Terrace of Infinity, Villa Cimbrone, Ravello

Its origins date back to the 11th century.  The villa and gardens were extensively renovated by Lord Grimthorpe in the early 20th century. It became a popular retreat for London’s famed Bloomsbury Group. Other notable guess included Winston Churchill and D.H. Lawrence.  It’s a view , once seen, impossible to forget.

Next, Villa Rufolo, the historical and cultural centre of the beautiful town of Ravello.  Built in the 13th century the villa and its owner featured in Boccaccio’s Decamaron, published in 1353.

Scottish botanist, Sir Francis Neville Reid, fell in love with its Moorish towers and expansive views and in 1851 began an extensive renovation of its rooms and gardens.

View from Villa Rufolo, Ravello

Visiting the villa in 1880 Richard Wagner was so inspired by the gardens he lingered in Ravello long enough to complete the second act of his opera Parsifal.  The spirit of Wagner remains as Ravello has become known as the ‘city of music’.  It hosts an annual summer concert series on a stage built jutting out over the Mediterranean Sea with the rugged Amalfi Coast below.

The Amalfi Coast deserves to be on everyone’s bucket-list.  Why wait?  Join us in May and discover for yourself the enchantments of these three stunningly beautiful villas and the towns in which they are located.  Space for the soul, indeed.

 

 

New York City – beyond the tourist hot spots

New York City – beyond the tourist hot spots

 

New York City where one visit is never enough. When you’ve ticked off all the ‘must-see’ sights it’s time to go beyond the tourist hot spots.   Here are some of  my favorite  things to do and see.  This is a city constantly on the move but the list below contains some perennial favorites that survive the test of time.  In no particular order …

Don’t Tell Mama amazingly talented singing waiters and bar staff. My preference is the piano bar but you also have the choice of a restaurant or cabaret .  W46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue.

Brooklyn Bridge  Why not walk one way and catch the ferry back to Wall Street.  Under the bridge check out the coal oven pizzas at Juliana’s at 19th Old Fulton Street and the Best Ice Cream on Front Street.

Chelsea Market & High-Line Park  It’s great to see the old overhead rail structure re-made into a park and Chelsea market the local residential area are worth exploring

Chelsea Harbour Line  When your feet need a rest head to Pier 62 and join the Around Manhattan Architecture tour.  In 2 hours 45 minutes you’ll circumnavigate the entire island of Manhattan and be introduced to the history and architectural highlights of each of the Boroughs.

Red Rooster Harlem  Perfect place for Sunday brunch with great music and traditional southern style food.  Work off the meal with a stroll around the  neighbourhood which has been undergoing a renaissance with many of the traditional brownstones being restored. 125th & Lennox Avenue

 The Met Cloisters Located on 4 acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattans Fort Tryon Park this museum is dedicated to the               art, architecture and gardens of Medieval Europe.

The Frick  Housed in one of NYC’s few remaining Gilded mansions this relatively small museum is rich in Old Masters and European sculptures..  You’ll find works by Bellini, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Goya and Whistler.

Russ & Daughters Cafe Known for its ‘haimishness’ which is a Yiddish word expressing warmth, comfort, authenticity, conviviality and lack of pretence is a perfect place to eat at any time of the day.

Greenwich Village with Context Travel join a local walking tour with one of the guides from Context Travel.  They specialize in local tours for ‘the intellectually curious traveller’.  The guides are full of knowledge and great local anecdotes.

Weekend Brunch Try SOHO or West Village.  The hot spots change but Sunday brunch remains the most important meal of the weekend.  An accompanying glass of champagne is de rigueur.

Tenement Museum An 1863 preserved tenement brings to life the stories of the immigrants who made this city what it is today. 97 & 103 Orchard Street, Lower East Side

Off-Broadway With seats to the hit shows becoming more and more expensive why not try your luck at spotting the next big thing at one of the Off-Broadway theatres.

McCorleys Old Ale House Decisions on what to drink made easy.  They only serve two kinds of Ale – light or dark.  With sawdust on the floor this is NYC’s oldest continually operated saloon.  Everyone from Abe Lincoln to John Lennon have ventured in.

And  there’s more.  NYC is the home of cocktails and there’s no shortage of bars to choose from to watch these cocktail artists at work.  Up for a challenge, visit a Speakeasy if you can find the secret entrance.  Please Don’t Tell is entered via a phone box at 113 St Mark’s Place or visit Angel’s Share at 8 Stuyvesant Street in the East Village. Stuyvesant Street is one of the oldest streets in NYC borough of Manhattan often used in movie shoots depicting ‘old New York’.   If jazz is your thing then NYC is the place to be with  a number of excellent jazz clubs including the Blue Note Jazz Club, West Village.

Brooklyn Bridge
Ajijic small group tours – well worth a visit

Ajijic small group tours – well worth a visit

Ajijic small group tours

I fell in love with, Ajijic, this little village beside Lake Chapala on my first visit some years ago.  With its friendly local and ex-pat population, artistic community, some great restaurants, wonderful views and an almost perfect climate – what’s not to love.  Above is a work by local artist, Efren Gonzalez whose stunning murals can be enjoyed as you wander the cobble-stone streets of Ajijic.  Click on this link  and read a first-time visitor’s impressions and why they decided to make Ajijic their new home.

Mexico is an endlessly fascinating country and should be on everyone’s  bucket list  who love history, culture, art, traditional artisan work,  stunning  and varied scenery, fascinating colonial towns, maya pyramids with some amazing murals,an extensive biodiversity and a friendly and welcoming population .  It’s why I go back every year and have made it my mission to introduce as many people as possible to the joys of Mexico.

 

 

An Extravagance of 20th Century Art

An Extravagance of 20th Century Art

From the images of Montmartre nightlife and the iconic artistic posters of Toulouse Lautrec in Albi to the home of Salvador Dali in Catalonia via a small medieval town home to the most important movement of modern painting of the twentieth century.

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The Palais de la Berbie, once the home of the powerful bishops of Albi, houses the largest collection of the work of Toulouse Lautrec.

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The mild climate and golden light of the medieval town of Ceret proved irresistible to painters such as Picasso, Chagall and Matisse.  The Museum of Modern Art boasts a wonderful selection of some of the major artists of the twentieth century.

salvador dali

Across the mountains into Spain and Cadaques where we’ll find the somewhat bizarre and labyrinthian structure that Dali called home and was his main place of work and inspiration for 50 years.  The home, now a museum, is packed full of personal objects and work.

chateau-queribus

Add in the castles and fortifications from the Catholic and French Crusades against the Cathars, the wonderful food and wine on both sides of the border, hill top medieval towns and an exploration of the region from the mountains to the sea and the result is a very special one of a kind small group tour.

 

Greenwich Village – and the beat goes on …

Greenwich Village – and the beat goes on …

10 not to be missed highlights of ‘the Village’.

On its way to being gentrified Greenwich Village, artists’ haven, Bohemian capital and the birthplace of the 60’s counterculture is still home to some of the best music, food and architecture.

greenwich-village-nyc-map

Home to some of the city’s best if over-priced restaurants you’ll also find great cafes filled with locals enjoying a coffee or lazy weekend brunch.

Here are some highlights of ‘the Village’ as it’s commonly known.

  • Stroll the streets – West 10th has been described as the most beautiful block in the city with its elegant architecture. Or for the more ghoulishly inclined you’ll find the most haunted house with 22 ghosts the most famous of which is Mark Twain at 14 West 10th
    14 west 10th street
    The small Jones Street is where the cover was shot for Bob Dylan’s album ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
  • Ready for a snack check out La Lanterna di Vittorio at 129 MacDougal Street and if you’re in the mood wander to the bar next door and listen to some jazz.
    la lanterna di vittorio
  • Talking of jazz, the Village is home to two of the best – The Village Vanguard and the Blue Note.
  • For foodies the stretch of Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenue is a magnet for gourmet food lovers.
  • Washington Square Park is the place to go to relax in the sunshine and watch the passing parade or maybe play a game of chess in the north west corner of the park. It’s famous as the home of the 1961 Folk singers protest against an ordinance prohibiting singing in the park.
    washington square park
  • Better than karaoke – head down to Marie’s Crisis at 59 Grove Street – a piano bar where you can join in the sing-a-long to all your favourite show tunes.
  • Greenwich Village is home to the Barrow Street Theatre where you can check out the next potential big hit at an Off-Broadway show.
  • Head to 51-53 Christopher Street. Barack Obama has just announced this small park as a national park to commemorate the historic events at the Stonewall Inn across the street which launched the Gay Liberation Movement and now home to sculptures created by George Segal.
    stonewall park
  • There’s no shortage of independent bookstores to explore many housing cafes where you can while away some time catching up on the latest titles.
  • In the mood for more entertainment then check out Café Wha – the original stomping ground of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Kool and the Gang. Today it is still showcasing some of the greatest of the NYC bands.
East Village, Manhattan – 9 must see sights and experiences

East Village, Manhattan – 9 must see sights and experiences

Once the home of hippies, beats and punks it’s an area ripe for increasing gentrification.   So, don’t wait, see it while it’s spirit is still alive and kicking.

east village map

Here are some not to be missed sights and experiences.

  • 96-98 St Marks Place. These tenements were used for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Physical Graffiti’.  St Marks Place is the ‘face’ of the East Village and a good place to start to gain a feel for the place and its history.
    led_zep_psychical
  • Two Michelin-starred restaurant Mamofuku Ko is located here when you’re in the mood for a culinary treat.
  • The Merchant’s House Museum built in 1832 offers a view of life in the 19th century for the well-heeled.
  • McSorkey’s Old Ale House has been in business for more than 150 years and served the likes of Abraham Lincoln and John Lennon.  You’ll need a taste for house-brewed light or dark ale as this is all they serve.
    mcsorleys
  • For something more stylish head to Angel’s Share, a speakeasy style parlour tucked away behind an unmarked door inside Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho and serving some of the city’s best cocktails.
  • Interested in vintage fashion then wander down to 9th street between Avenue A and 2nd Avenue where you’ll find several small but well-stocked boutiques.
  • Can’t resist a good ice-cream then you’ll want to try the some of the unique soft-serve offerings from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. Sea salt and toasted curry coconut anyone?
    biggayicecreamshop
  • A seven-storey stack of off-kilter ethereal white boxes houses the New Museum of Contemporary Art with a mission to showcase new art and new ideas.
    new-museum
  • Don’t miss the Lower East Side Tenement Museum re-creating life in the tenements at the turn of the 20th century.  The tenements provided a home and workplace to waves of immigrants all pursuing the dream of life in the new world.
7 Reasons to Visit Brooklyn, NYC

7 Reasons to Visit Brooklyn, NYC

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan and you’ll end up in DUMBO – Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  This relatively small and walkable neighbourhood punches above its weight in must do experiences.

dumbo

Here are a few of my favourites:

1. Whether you’re a pizza lover or not Juliani’s owned by the undisputed king of the coal-oven baked pizza, Patsy Grimaldi is definitely worth a stop for lunch.

2. Being a chocaholic I can’t go by master chocolate maker, Jacques Torres.  If you’re game the ‘wicked’ hot chocolate comes spiked with ancho and chipotle chilli peppers.

dumbo4

3. Regardless of the temperature give yourself an ice cream fix at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.

4. You’ll think you’ve been transported to France when you taste the croissants and baguettes from owner and pastry chef, Herve Poussot, in his bakery, Almondine.

5. For fashion and accessories head to Trunk, all designed locally and part of the made in Brooklyn, sold in Brooklyn movement.

6. Chamber music fans can enjoy free one-hour recitals on Saturday afternoon at Bargemusic – a decommissioned coffee barge.  Music with a view.

dumbo 6

7. An art gallery not to miss is Masters Project, specialising in relatively unknown local and international artists.

Enjoy!

7 Reasons to Visit Brooklyn, NYC

If you’ve ever dreamed of spending Xmas in New York read on

If you’ve ever dreamed of spending Xmas in New York read on

Could this be the year the dream comes true?  Having spent the last 2 out of 3 Christmas’s in New York visiting friends I decided on the spur of the moment it was time to head back there again and this time to share.

I’ve booked a hotel and put together a fantastic range of options to make the most of this magical time in New York.  It will be first in best dressed as the tour is limited to a group of 6 people ready to experience the best this city has to offer.

We’ll discover the villages of Manhattan from Harlem to Brooklyn, SOHO to Greenwich and Chelsea.  We’ll be experiencing NYC like a local.

Highlights will include a visit to Harlem for a traditional brunch and gospel performance; a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to discover the exciting new precinct of DUMBO; shop in SOHO as well as 5th Avenue and discover the amazing discounts on offer at this time of year; visit the Christmas markets; check out the shows On and Off Broadway; head down town for a walking tour of Greenwich and the East Village and have lunch at the famous Katz’s diner.

With no single supplement and a superior queen size room in the Club Quarters Hotel opposite the Rockefeller Center this is the best way to experience NYC whether you’re a first time visitor or, like me, can never get enough of this exciting and vibrant city.

brooklyn bridge

 

Traditional Handcrafts from Mexico

Traditional Handcrafts from Mexico

huiplies 2A group of women in a small town in the Mexican State of Guerrero is working to preserve their ancient handcrafts.  Using the traditional techniques of hand-spinning, dyeing and weaving they create the most beautifully embroidered and colourful huipiles, (highly decorated blouses) as well as shawls, table runners, napkins and cushions.   All feature the traditional designs of the region.

huipiles 6In 1969 a co-operative was founded in the town of Xochislahuaca with a mission to rescue, preserve and promote the ancient handcraft techniques of spinning, dyeing and hand-weaving.

In November they have been invited to attend the Feria Maestros del Arte in Chapala, Jalisco to demonstrate their skills and display and sell these stunning and highly collectible handcrafted textile products.

We are really excited about attending the Feria again this year.  It’s fantastic to be able to meet these and other artisans who are all working to preserve their ancient skills.

With no intermediaries and being able to buy direct not only guarantees extraordinarily good bargains it also contributes to support these artisans, their families and villages and their traditional handcraft skills which would otherwise disappear.   Mexico is a vibrant and exciting destination and Ajijic, where we stay, is home to a lively group of ex-pats and a vibrant artistic community. Guaranteed to surprise and delight.  Easily accessible with flights to Guadalajara from L.A. where you will be met and hosted for 9 gloriously relaxing days.  It’s slow travel at its very best.

huipiles 3

huipiles

 

8 Reasons why Costa Rica is the Happiest Country on Earth

8 Reasons why Costa Rica is the Happiest Country on Earth

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With a population of less than 5 million this small country positioned between Nicaragua and Panama and the oceans of the  Pacific and Caribbean punches well above its weight in the world.

There’s much that our Governments could learn from this hard working, friendly and sociable people.

Here are just 8 reasons why they have so much to be happy about:

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  1. A 96% functional literacy rate across their population.
  2. The first nation in the world to source 100% of its electricity needs from renewable energy for 75 days in a row.
  3. A well-developed health system.
  4. A stable democratic government for the last 80 years.
  5. A free and effective system of public education.
  6. No standing army and the defence budget re-directed to pay for welfare, healthcare, pensions, and investment in sustainability and in becoming a world leader in eco-tourism.
  7. Life expectancy of 82 for women and 78 for men with more people over the age of 90 than in any other country in the world.
  8. Costa Rica requires a gender balance among candidates in elections for public office.

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All this before we mention the extraordinarily rich diversity of flora and fauna, the rain forests, volcanoes, rivers, beaches and natural resources all safeguarded by national parks and reserves.

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This is a destination not to be missed.  The itinerary for our intimate and unforgettable small group tour to this magic country can be found by clicking here.

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