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Hospitality Personified

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Omer Acar

Le Royal Monceau, Paris

I admit, before writing this piece for The Affluent Traveler magazine, Miss Ciao didn’t have a burning desire to go to Paris. But I do now.

The primary subject is hospitality “rock star” Omer Acar, who performs daily as General Manager in one of the most amazing venues in the City of Lights, the uber-swanky hotel Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris. During our interview, he was charismatic and filled with colorful stories about his vast history in the hotel business. It was a delight to hit record and listen to the global adventures that led him there. Acar somehow manages to balance daily operations with a fulfilling personal life. He also finds time to sit with each hotel employee to perfect the inner workings of the hotel. I wonder if the man ever sleeps? Look how refreshed he is in the photo!

And then there’s the hotel itself, remodeled by famous architect Phillipe Starck. Under the tutelage of the Katara Hospitality Hotels Group, its staff strives to provide emotional luxury for each guest. They coined this phrase to describe that warm fuzzy feeling you get years later when recalling your stay. If you’re a lucky traveler, you’ve experienced it at least once. Well, the very idea made me want to book a trip and stay in the famous Ray Charles suite, traipse around Paris on a customized art tour (yes, they do that) and celebrity watch in the hotel’s gorgeous Grand Salon. Click on the photo to read the piece. Vive la France!

Rooting for Revel

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Our mighty fine room.

Our mighty fine room.

I love Boardwalk Empire and wish Atlantic City could recapture some of the glory from its heyday, minus gangstas like Gyp Rossetti, of course. And even though The Borgata and Water Club bring some sophistication, they’re far removed from Boardwalk – prime real estate if you like to casino hop. When Revel arrived on the scene last April, I was hopeful it would breathe some life into the tired Boardwalk. After all, AC can be a fun and convenient getaway…

So on a recent free weekend, I called my MOM (I put it in caps ’cause she’s fun) and suggested we take a little impromptu trip. Now I’m not much of a gambler – ten minutes on a Kitty Glitter slot machine is my limit – but Vera loves AC and playing craps (always say robustly as follows: “CRAAAAAAAPS!”). So we donned our hipster hats, depleted our Amex points and booked us a mighty fine room.

Once you step inside the Revel resort, the AC cheese melts away. It’s dynamically beautiful, reminiscent of The Wynn in Vegas. It’s also smoke free, utter paradise for a contact lens wearer like moi. The striking casino seems much smaller than most others in AC, but still full of action. I had to start exploring the awesome multi-levels immediately…the indoor/outdoor pool, game rooms, spa, gym, mall areas, nightclubs, bars and the “signature” and “select” restaurants, touted as, “A curated collection of Iron Chefs, Michelin chefs, James Beard Award winners…”

Indoor/outdoor pool.

The indoor/outdoor pool.

We dined at Azure by Allegretti that evening, which features Mediterranean Coastal Cuisine. Bright blue décor is accented by natural light that floods in from floor-to-ceiling windows. Our table faced  the mighty Atlantic, and the fare was excellent. I enjoyed the grilled octopus appetizer and Seared Scallops entrée, and mom loved her Crab Cakes and Free Range Chicken (and she’s not too into the “fancy food”). Note: all the servers were wearing Converse sneakers ala Chef Alain Allegretti. Loved that.

After dinner, mom lost $190 playing craps for two hours. So I took her remaining $10, plugged it into the first slot machine I could find and won $115 in 10.5 seconds. Vera was mad, but not for long because I returned hermoney. Free drinks on mom!

I really liked Revel and would definitely go back. I read that they’re adding some lower priced dining options, too. And although struggling like most after Hurricane Sandy, they’re featuring some major acts in the 5,500 seat Ovation Hall this spring, such as Alicia Keys and Rhianna. Plus, Vera just informed me she got some free rooms from them in the mail. Let’s rally some troops! “CRAAAAAAAPS?”

Simple Beauty: The Farmhouse B & B

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Birthday Muffin

For Miss Ciao’s 29th birthday (again), we visited The Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast on Depot Lane in Cutchogue, open for about a year. Since it was my 29th birthday (heh heh…again) we wanted to check it out before booking, but I had a good feeling about it. After all, there were baby chicks, a horse, dog and a kitty on the property. Right off the bat the animal lover in me was hooked. It also helped that the website did a good job in conveying the beauty of the property and rooms. In Suite 1, there’s a real fireplace complete with log – not one of those lame stoves you plug into a wall advertised as authentic (a gripe from a bad B & B experience a year before).

The comfy living room…

Shortly after we settled in, co-owners Joyce and Robert Barry sat and chatted with us in the cozy living room and we learned all about the property’s fascinating history and transformation. I listened intently, flipped through before-and-after photos and munched on chocolate chip cookies Joyce had just baked. With her background in interior design and construction, she was able to take what was a broken-down house built in 1865 and realize a spectacular version of the home that stands there today. Together, the husband and wife team flipped it from the ground up, totally refurbishing it and reinventing themselves as B & B owners.

Their hard work is evident. The Farmhouse is a warm and comfortable home filled with special touches and antiques. Each pristine and lovely room spares no detail. It’s pleasing to know that anything that could be salvaged from its previous incarnation was used in the new construction, including the bricks from the former fireplace that now serve as a spectacular radiant-heated kitchen floor. The plank wood floors are also original.

You know how in some B & B’s you don’t feel quite so at ease? Not here. This duo couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming, full of friendly smiles, good humor (Bob often refers to himself as “George the handyman”) and useful tips to make our stay as pleasant as possible. At their recommendation, we checked out Braun Seafood for a casual counter lunch, a quick convenient walk from The Farmhouse.

The spacious grounds are lovely, offering a pasture and chicken coop coming this summer. Movies are shown on the barn wall in warmer months and a popcorn machine is rolled out. Breakfast was scrumptious. Everything was made from scratch, using local ingredients wherever possible. We were served homemade muffins (a thoughtful candle was put in mine), a poached pear with honey, walnuts, Greek yogurt and a touch of cinnamon, and finally, a spinach and potato strata with chicken sausage and slices of fresh tomato. Coffee and tea are always available, and if you’re feeling snackish there are plenty of treats on hand. I loved this place and am sure to return…perhaps on my 29th birthday (again) next year!

Calabrisella Mia

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A glimpse of Sant’Andrea

My mother was born in a small town in Calabria, Italy called Sant’Andrea Apostolo Dello Ionio. She gets a “kick” out of the fact that Calabria is booting Sicily on the map because this is where my father’s family is from. Mom, my two uncles and my grandparents made the trek across the Atlantic when she was just 6 years old – just of age to retain the language. I am proud to have such a close connection to my roots, and have been very lucky to have visited Italy and this ancient little town a total of four times: when I was 17, 18, 20 and 30. I’m definitely due for another trip!

Some of my family is based in Rome, and the trip from there to their summer home where my grandmother was raised (now their permanent residence) is about a 10 hour drive or an hour and a half plane ride via puddle jumper. Once you’re there you’re transformed. Nestled atop the slopes of a mountainside – below is the glorious beach and marina, above is the Pinetta, or heavily-pined mountains. Entering Sant’ Andrea is the equivalent of stepping back in time, yet there’s modernity all around in the form of electronic devices.

The homes are narrow and tall with steep staircases ranging from refurbished comfortable abodes with surprising conveniences to ancient stone dwellings. The cars are tiny, careening like mad on steep cobblestone streets that were meant for horse drawn carriages. On the narrowest paths, scratches of car paint streak the primeval walls. On one street is my great-grandfather’s shoe store, now an abandoned building with faded lettering that still bears his name.

Aside from the rich history, Sant’Andrea is filled with friendly (aside from those scary toothless Italian ladies in black) townspeople who go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Most delight in sharing in something delicious, whether it’s a jug of homemade wine, a wonderful cheese, or a full out meal – most of which was acquired from the earth or sea that very day – with antipasti, pasta, a main course, dessert and espresso.

The best bread I’ve ever tasted comes out of Sant’Andrea’s tiny bakery – it’s dense and crusty, yet light and slightly chewy. Maybe it’s the pure air and water, but the flavor is something that’s unmatched. I was addicted to their fiscottini, which are crunchy Italian biscuits, and enjoyed them each morning with my espresso and milk. This alone placated me after being woken up at 6am by either a fish or fruit peddler bellowing, “Pesce! Pesce!” or “Frutta! Frutta!”

Other simple things I loved? Latte di Mandorle, or almond milk. With ice on a blazing hot day it’s unbeatably refreshing. I could get the almond paste mix in the states, but it’s not the same because I’m not enjoying it there. And another? Pizza at Jacks near the tiny town square on Main Street. Four tables and a giant brick oven in a tiny little pizzeria that churns out the most heavenly thin-crust Margherita pizzas I’ve ever had with vibrant sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil…my tummy’s growling just thinking about it.

During the summer months, Sant’Andrea is bustling with visitors seeking to enjoy the glorious beach and marina, which is about a 5-10 minute drive from town down the windiest road ever, but the view from its top is breathtaking. The mountains, littered with olive, fig and prickly pear trees, give way to pristine blue green waters. At the marina, there are snack bars and areas near the water to take a break from the fierce sun. The waters are rarely rough and reminiscent of a therapeutic warm bath.

There are many little towns that resemble Sant’Andrea all throughout Italy, but this one has a charm and a feel that’s unmatched – almost like a warm, nurturing grandmother who loves you unconditionally. I’m pining for my paese and need to revisit my roots soon.

A Food Coma in Vermont

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All-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Chocolate and cheese. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Jambalaya at Hatties. After the carnage, I couldn’t move, breathe or even think.

I suppose I got what I deserved for consuming these items with reckless abandon over a 3-day getaway in Manchester Village, Vermont at the Equinox Resort & Spa just a few weeks ago. Granted, we did work out a lot by hiking, playing tennis, swimming in the indoor pool, and exhausting the state-of-the-art gym, but that ain’t nuthin against 3 million calories in 72 hours. On day 3, I went into a deep food coma. The only thing that saved me? Some creamy risotto. Just kiddin’! Seltzer with bitters did the trick.

The Equinox Resort was rich in history (four U.S.Presidents totally slept there) and haunted. You could practically feel it when you walked through the halls. The hotel’s warm, sophisticated interior was tastefully showcased within an updated, yet classic colonial. Over the decades, The Equinox has expanded, adapted to modernity and managed to preserve its charisma against the lush Green Mountains’ backdrop. The fresh air is complimentary, but beware. It tends to ignite the appetite like a flame to spirits.

The cozy fire pit.

Equinox had an outdoor fire pit that seated about 20 which featured libations, soft live music, gourmet chocolates and assorted Vermont cheeses, making this our favorite spot. Next in line was the Falcon Bar and the vast, upscale breakfast buffet at the Colannade. A must have was their Old Fashioned cider donuts, warm and tender inside, crispy outside. Heavenly with coffee!

Just hour’s drive away were the ponies at the delightful Saratoga race track, the oldest organized sports venue in the U.S. and open only 8 weeks per year. Ladies in giant hats, men decked out in old fashioned garb, music, food and fun make it easy to slip into Olde Tyme atmosphere. And right in Saratoga Springs is Hatties Chicken Shack, a landmark that since 1938 that serves authentic southern and Louisiana cuisine. Chic hipsters will enjoy the dimly lit back patio, families will love the noisy, super cute main dining room. Work off dinner by exploring the bustling main street, or try to…this is heavy fare.

I just loved this historic getaway. After just a 5-hour scenic drive, the Equinox Resort, VT provided much to do with worthwhile adventures very close by. We never got to shop at the many outlets, but that’s ok. I was too busy eating.

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