A Tuscan Itinerary: Val d'Orcia

A Tuscan Itinerary: Val d’Orcia
Courtesy of La Bandita

Located in central Italy, Val d’Orcia is the Brooklyn of Tuscany, thanks to an abundance of artisanal everything. It is home to small-batch pastamakers, dairy farmers and upstart wineries that have created a bold new class of Brunello. Tiny workshops sell hand-tooled leather goods, textiles and ceramics. The scent of local Pecorino wafts from the many specialty food shops. And two stylish hotels have put a decidedly luxe stamp on things.

Val d’Orcia’s neo-Tuscan verve is most evident in two rustic-chic La Bandita properties situated in and around the Renaissance town of Pienza. La Bandita Townhouse (rooms, from $265; 111 Corso Rossellino; 39-0578/749-005;, a former convent, sits smack in the middle of one of the most charming towns in Tuscany. The 12 guest rooms are minimalist yet warm, a fusion of crisp Italian linens, honey-colored stone, wood floors and whimsical accents like a handwoven straw bag to be used for shopping. La Bandita (rooms, from $265; Podere La Bandita; 39-333/404-6704; is an idyllic villa surrounded by verdant, Cypress-and-sheep-speckled grounds with airy lounging areas, shaded terraces for alfresco dining and an infinity pool. The restaurants offer a set menu of fresh, local fare served at oversized tables. The communal setup lends itself to making fast friends with, well, everyone.

Try the farm-to-table experience at Monteverdi (39-05/7826-8146;, where celebrated chef Paolo Coluccio whips up dishes like lavender risotto. At organic farm Podere Il Casale (64 Podere Il Casale;, one crosses peacocks and the random donkey before sitting down to a hearty meal and a drop-dead-gorgeous view of the Val d’Oracia valley. Exquisite cheeses, olive oil, pasta and honey are available for purchase.

Arrange a tasting at smaller, cutting-edge Montalcino/Brunello producers, such as Sesti (, Cupano ( and Fonterenza (

Tucked into Via Dogali, an ancient cobblestone street in Pienza, Officine 904 (16 Pienza Via Dogali;, led by a husband-and-wife designing duo, quietly produces some of the most fabulous (and versatile) bags in Italy. The hyper-modern wares can also be purchased online.

Top-Tier European Wine Experiences

Top-Tier European Wine Experiences
Courtesy of Butterfield & Robinson

When George Butterfield, founder of the active-travel company Butterfield & Robinson, led a group of travelers on a bespoke wine-focused trip through Germany and France earlier this year, he knew he was onto something special. Based on the success of that inaugural expedition, B&R (with its tagline, “Slow down to see the world”) is venturing beyond its standard biking and walking offerings in 2014 with new Wine Grand Journeys (eight or nine nights, from $14,500; 866-551-9090;

The three oenological odysseys—Spain and Bordeaux; Germany and France; Italy—will roll through stunning landscapes, with stays in hotels like Castiglion del Bosco (Località Castiglion del Bosco; 39-05/7780-7078;, an estate in the Tuscan countryside owned by Massimo Ferragamo, and access to wineries that aren’t typically open to the public. Ornellaia and Antinori, a few of Italy’s most distinguished wine producers, are among them.

We spoke with Butterfield about the inspiration behind the trips, what guests can expect and just how much biking is involved.

Q: What is the concept of the Wine Grand Journeys?
I wanted to offer trips that weren’t limited by budget or time and were simply the best of the best. They are for people who enjoy the idea of drinking great wine and enjoying insider access while biking and walking through gorgeous scenery and staying in fabulous hotels.

Q: How do they differ from a regular trip with Butterfield & Robinson?
Instead of being just biking or just walking they blend both, and they offer access into places that no tour group—not even a regular B&R trip—can usually see, like Gaja in the Piedmont region. At least one of the guides on these trips will have a deep wine knowledge, and the local experts we rely on are recognized in their field. Also, the stays are in small properties that will wow even the most seasoned traveler, like Hôtel les Avisés [59 Rue de Cramant; 33-3/26-57-70-06;] in Champagne.

Q: How much biking is involved?
It is slightly less than on some of our trips—about 20 miles a day compared with 30 to 40. I would say we have a mix of biking abilities as we do on most trips. The Italian trip is hillier than the other two, which is why we are offering electric bikes for those who hate hills.

Q: What is the ultimate inspiration behind the itineraries?
I have enjoyed wine and meeting wine-makers for as long as I have enjoyed biking. The idea of combining my passion for “slowing down to see the world” with biking and wine is the inspiration.

A California Road Trip with Jeff Klein

Post Ranch Inn
Photo by Kodiak Greenwood

Every year following the Oscars, after Vanity Fair has thrown its party at Sunset Tower, I take a little vacation to unwind and decompress. This year, craving natural beauty, I flew to San Francisco and traveled along the northernmost coast. My other half was busy making a movie (this is a California story, after all), so I invited one of my oldest friends, Barry Tropp, for a boys’ getaway.

Sea Ranch: We began with grilled lamb at Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley [1517 Shattuck Ave.; 510-548-5049;]—I prefer the café to the restaurant—before driving north to the rustic Sea Ranch Lodge [rooms, from $250; 60 Sea Walk Dr.; 800-732-7262;]. It’s not the most luxurious place, but it has great character, and the views of the cliffs and the Pacific were staggering. Each morning I ran along the ocean while the seals lay in the sun on virgin beaches.

Carmel: On day three we set off for Carmel, stopping en route at Hog Island Oyster in Point Reyes for the freshest possible shuck-your-own oysters, barbecued and raw [20215 Hwy. 1; 415-663-9218;]. Carmel Valley Ranch [rooms, from $300; 1 Old Ranch Rd.; 866-405-5037;], where they serve s’mores every night around a bonfire, is also rife with beautiful runs and hikes. Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch Hotel is out there [rooms, from $135; 26270 Dolores St.; 831-624-6436;], so we stopped for drinks one evening—a classic beauty from the 1800s with a wild field (complete with grazing sheep) between us and the ocean.

Big Sur: The pièce de résistance was the Post Ranch Inn at Big Sur [pictured; rooms, from $595; 47900 Hwy. 1; 831-667-2200;]: luxe, chic and earthy all at once. My room overlooked the Pacific and had a private porch and a hot tub cantilevered out over the sea. Dining by the fireplace is perfection, like being suspended in Philip Johnson’s Glass House but with a view of the ever-present ocean. After a final day spent at Esalen [55000 Hwy. 1; 888-837-2536;] for a massage and a soak in the natural hot springs (we didn’t realize they were clothing-optional until too late), the hardest part was packing up and heading back to L.A.

A Love Affair with Lake Garda

A Love Affair with Lake Garda
Courtesy of Villa Arcadio Hotel & Resort

Nestled between Milan and Venice, far from the glittering crowds of Amalfi, sits Lake Garda, a retreat so spectacular, one thinks twice about chatting up its riches for fear of spoiling its pristine aura. Its charm lies in the area’s waterfront vistas and its quiet celebration of heritage. The towns are adamantly local; family-run hotels and private palazzos dot the shoreline. The glamour here is found in the distinct absence of glitz.

An ancient convent-turned-boutique hotel offers a slice of Lago di Garda paradise. Villa Arcadio Hotel & Resort (rooms, from $310; 2 Via Palazzina; 39-03/654-2281; in Salo—with its frescoed walls, terracotta floors, vine-laden terraces and salons—imparts a homey, welcoming air that is at once relaxed and refined. But mamma mia, what a view! Every vantage point offers sweeping panoramas of the lake, mountains and olive groves. Mustering the motivation to venture off the property (and away from its glorious lattes) is a challenge.

When you do leave, rent a Riva boat (complete with a captain) at Arcangeli Centro Nautico (85 Via Pietro da Salo; 39-03/654-3443; and jet around the lake James Bond–style, stopping only for dips in the crystal-clear water. Be sure to visit Pasticceria Vassalli (84/86 Via S. Carlo;, a renowned pastry shop featuring sweets made with citrus fruit grown around Lake Garda, and stock up on local products (leather, honey, olive oil, limoncello) at Salo’s weekend market. For a high-wattage lakeside meal, book a table at the sumptuous Villa Feltrinelli (38–40 Via Rimembranza; 39-03/6579-8000; for exquisitely prepared local cuisine.

Northern Italy is known for otherworldly olive oils and wines. A tasting at centuries-old olive-oil producer Azienda Agricola Comincioli (10 Via Roma, Frazione Castello; 39-03/6565-1141; in Puegnago del Garda offers some of Italy’s brightest flavors. Spa enthusiasts should stop at the mineral springs at 120-year-old Terme di Sirmione (7 Viale Marconi, 39-03/091-6261;—the recently upgraded Aquaria Thermal Wellness Center has a cutting-edge range of heat experiences and body treatments incorporating the famed sulfurous waters.

On the Slopes at Ski Portillo

On the Slopes at Ski Portillo
Courtesy of Ski Portillo

Tradition reigns at Ski Portillo in the Chilean Andes. The first lift went up in the early 1930s, making it South America’s oldest ski area. Located about a hundred miles from Santiago, the resort has been owned by Americans (the Purcell family) since 1961. Today guests who book annual all-inclusive ski weeks at Portillo’s rambling, sunshine-yellow hotel appreciate seeing old friends, the red-jacketed waiters who greet them by name in the restaurant and the morning light playing off Laguna del Inca at the base of the mountain. They also appreciate the stellar skiing. August is peak season—the slopes close October 5—and recent heavy snows have left the runs in prime condition.

That’s not to say things don’t change. The first phase of a four-year guest-room remodel debuted in June. Streamlined furniture and wall coverings made of native Chilean lenga wood mix with artisan-crafted wool blankets and rugs. Skiers can now rent several private, classic alpine chalets that sleep up to eight (from $4,950 for four people, including meals and lift tickets; $1,100 per additional guest). Snowshoe routes have been added. But the old-world charm remains: When the road between Santiago and Mendoza (the resort’s main access route) reopens after a snowstorm, a staffer walks through the hotel ringing a bell to announce it.

Ski Portillo lodges just 450 skiers and daytrippers are rare, giving it the feel of a private club. Despite only 35 named runs, the mountain seems much bigger, with above-treeline slopes that offer many ways to the bottom and a wealth of hike-to terrain. Helicopters take off daily (weather permitting) from the hotel, ferrying skiers to untracked slopes 15 minutes away. Après-ski ranges from soaks in the outdoor heated pool and wine tastings to movies, talks and late nights at the disco.

Another Ski Portillo tradition is that several national ski teams train here, including the U.S. men and women and the Austrian men. (Seeing Olympic champ Lindsey Vonn out on a run or recent World Cup winner Tina Maze of Slovenia at dinner isn’t out of the question.) And with the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, approaching, this might be one of the best places in the world to get a look at rising stars, both on and off the slopes. Seven-night stay starts at $1,950, including four meals and lift ticket; Renato Sanchez 4270; 56-2/2263-0606;

Golfing and Fishing at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

Golfing and Fishing at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Courtesy of The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

The North Island of New Zealand is a difficult part of the world to compete with when it comes to gorgeous natural surroundings. And with golf and fishing at the centerpiece of an offering at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, the stunning assets of the region are highlighted even more. The Fish ‘n’ Chipping package, anchored by a three-night stay in a suite, allows guests to experience two of New Zealand’s most beloved pursuits in grand fashion.

The lodge itself, located on a 6,000-acre sheep and cattle farm, houses 22 suites and a double-suite Owner’s Cottage. Guests are encouraged to enjoy the three private beaches and waterfall (a particularly ideal picnic spot), as well as the two pools and tennis courts. The walk to the spa passes through a forest of totara trees. “Everything here is about the individual, personal experience,” says managing director Jay Robertson.

The new offering extends the charm, starting with a round of golf on the 18-hole, par-72 course designed by David Harman, which is considered one of the best in the world. (Harman traveled to Kauri Cliffs 46 times from his home in Florida while building it.) Fifteen holes provide stunning ocean views—the Cavalli Islands and Cape Brett can be seen—and six of those are located along cliffs.

The fishing leg of the stay offers either four hours of land-based fishing or a four-hour trip in the Bay of Islands, and a private driving tour of the North Island results in a proper fish and chips lunch at Mangonui restaurant, which is known for the specialty. And those who want an even greater immersion can get just that, choosing either a private fish and chips cooking lesson with Kauri Cliffs chef Barry Frith or a golf tutorial—focused on the chip shot, of course—with a local pro. Rates start at $3,190; Matauri Bay, Northland; 64-9/407-0010;

A Definitive Guide to Outdoor Sites

A Definitive Guide to Outdoor Sites
Courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation

What do Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey, Biscayne Boulevard in Miami and the sculpture “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson near Rozel Point, Utah, have in common? Each is an outdoor heritage site recognized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation in its online database What’s Out There (

Now newly optimized for smartphones and other handheld devices, the website includes a GPS-enabled What’s Nearby function that signals which of the more than 1,300 cultural landscapes identified in What’s Out There thus far—including public parks, scenic highways, historic cemeteries, industrial campuses and landmark malls—are within a 25-mile radius and worth a visit.

Charles Birnbaum, the visionary landscape proponent who founded TCLF in 1998 to raise awareness of the value of designed landscapes and outdoor spaces, spoke with us about his vision and what is next on his agenda.

Q: Let’s start with the basics: What is a cultural landscape?
It’s a broad category that covers designed landscapes, like New York’s Central Park, and vernacular landscapes, like Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon. As opposed to a natural landscape, a cultural landscape demonstrates some sort of cultural overlay or human involvement and can be ancient or modern.

Q: Why did you create What’s Out There?
There are lots of architectural guides about designed structures, but there is nothing comprehensive for designed landscapes. The U.S. has an outstanding landscape legacy and What’s Out There, which is free, online and loaded with images and information, makes this fascinating American heritage readily available to millions of people.

Q: Have you visited every site in the database?
No [with a laugh], not all the sites. But at least 75 percent.

Q: You live in Washington, D.C. Do you have a favorite landscape there?
In my top five is Meridian Hill Park, a glorious 12-acre park just a mile north of the White House. It’s an elegantly terraced, early-20th-century park by George Burnap and Horace Peaslee that features a spectacular cascading fountain inspired by the one at Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati, Italy. There is also the stunningly beautiful Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown by Beatrix Farrand, the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1899.

Q: Last year you added 150 sites in the state of Maine alone. What’s next
Virginia and Texas are our target states this year, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. We’re also planning an international cultural landscape conference for 2015 in Toronto, which has some of the most exciting new parks in North America. And readers should check out "Landslide" on our website, a watch list for at-risk cultural landscapes.

An Authentic Indian Tea Trip

An Authentic Indian Tea Trip

“This is not your usual India itinerary,” says Susan Geringer, founder of Geringer Global Travel. Indeed, the outfit’s 15-day culinary-and-tea tour is far from ordinary. Winding through the northeast section of India, it includes stops in Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kolkata, Kalimpong and Gangtok, as well as a visit to a Darjeeling tea estate, offering guests the chance to interact with locals and to visit areas rarely seen by travelers.

Northeast India is famous for its tea production, and the Geringer trip showcases the specialty at every turn. In addition to dining in the home of a local aristocrat in Lucknow, tasting fried delicacies from Kachauri Gali’s legendary food stalls, eating a traditional vegetarian dinner with a Brahmin family in Varanasi and taking part in an open-kitchen cooking class at the Glenburn estate in Darjeeling, travelers will visit plantations across the region, learning about the intricate process of producing tea and sampling different varieties along the way.

Geringer believes the best way to get to know a culture is by meeting locals one-on-one. What better way to go about that than over tea? Prices start at $5,415, including lodging, internal flights, meals, tours, entrance fees and guides; 877-255-7438;

A Proper English Manor

A Proper English Manor
Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire

The highbrow trappings of English country living—personified in the oeuvres of writers like Nancy Mitford, Jane Austen and D.H. Lawrence—have been tempting Americans for decades. But for most, invitations to grand manor houses are few and far between. Happily, those with a penchant for the aristocratic life can tap into their imperial dreams by checking into the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire at Dogmersfield Park.

Located about an hour from London, the Georgian estate-turned-hotel offers a perfectly curated rural retreat, complete with lodging at a former medieval palace, elegant afternoon tea served in an airy library and sweeping views of 500 acres speckled with stables, grazing cattle and pigs.

Dogmersfield Park’s impressive royal affiliations include being cited as the first meeting place of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Today, the hardest choice you’ll face is which pursuit to pursue. Choose from fly-fishing, narrow-boating, clay pigeon shooting or horseback riding (known as “hacking” around the estate). Swim in the indoor-outdoor pool, relax in the spa (converted 18th-century stables) or visit flea markets in the neighboring villages.

In the late afternoon, borrow a Barbour coat and wellies from the concierge and meander Elizabeth Bennet–style through the lush meadows. We highly recommend a falconry session; engaging with birds of prey is a magnificent and moving experience.

The integrity of the property is spectacularly preserved even though the rooms and bathrooms have been renovated. The food is also up-to-date. The British-inspired fare served at Seasons and the more casual Bistro is delicious and almost 100 percent locally sourced. Guests are even invited to visit the hotel chicken coop to collect morning eggs. How idyllic. Rooms start at $434; Dogmersfield Park, Chalky Ln., Dogmersfield, Hampshire; 44-1252/853-000;

Just Opened London

Just Opened London
Yuki Sugiura

There is something to be said about being the first to know—and a new website focused on London allows for just that. “There is a lot of social currency in checking out new openings before the masses,” says editor Kirsty Hathaway, who started the site Just Opened London with cofounder Lauren Scott. “[We allow] readers to be a step ahead with minimal effort.”

The premise is simple. Instead of creating a compendium of all the restaurants, shops and bars in one of the world’s most traveled towns, the duo zeros in on the best new offerings. A click on the site’s calendar reveals an up-to-the-minute guide on where to be and what to see—a useful service for scene-loving locals and visitors alike. “Given the fast-paced nature of the world, travel guides tend to be outdated before they’re printed,” says Hathaway. “We’re all about the now.”

The pair plans to expand the model to New York, Los Angeles and Shanghai. For now, they let us in on the most anticipated spring restaurant openings in their inaugural city.

Bird of Smithfield (Opening May 1)
Alan Bird, the former executive chef at The Ivy, ventures out solo with this eponymous restaurant and bar. He serves up his famed shepherd’s pie in a five-floor Georgian townhouse alongside an intimate live-music venue called The Birdcage. 26 Smithfield St.;

Casa Negra (Opening in May)
Following the overwhelming success of its sister eatery La Bodega Negra, which serves Mexican street food, Casa Negra will take over the old Great Eastern Dining Room in Shoreditch to dole out its own Mexican cuisine. 54-56 Great Eastern St.;

The Clove Club (Opened March 4)
This is already becoming London’s must-book eatery (pictured above). Daniel Willis, Johnny Smith and Isaac McHale, founders of the restaurant Upstairs at the Ten Bells, settle into Shoreditch Town Hall with a nightly tasting menu. 380 Old St.; 44-20/7729-6496;

Restaurant Story (Opened April 19)
Tom Sellers has worked alongside the likes of Tom Aikens and Thomas Keller—and now he’s opening his own place. His Bermondsey restaurant has two kitchens (one within the dining room) and cooks up a six- or ten-course menu for dinner and a three-courser for lunch. It is British food with simple ingredients. Perfection. 201 Tooley St.;

Social Eating House (Opened April 18)
Jason Atherton's third venture offers a delicious contemporary bistro menu paying homage to the best of British cooking with international influences. Atherton wants the Social Eating House to be, well, social. 58 Poland St.; 44-20/7993-3251;

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