Archive for July, 2015
In my recent visit to Portugal (beginning of July) I had the opportunity to stay and experience three different Eco-Friendly, Nature-Connected kinds of hotels.
In fact, it wasn’t the first time I stayed in an eco-friendly hotel in Portugal. My first time was last year, when I spent one night at the Eco Suite in Casas do Coro. I remember this experience very well, and since then, I was seeking for more opportunities to stay in places like this.
Eco hotels and Nature connected ones are on the rise these days in Portugal. The tourists who are traveling outside of the big cities such as Lisbon or Porto, might be looking for something different or more unique.
There are the well known Pousadas hotels in Portugal, which are mostly castles and palaces that have been transformed into hotels, and there are also these new eco-friendly, nature hotels, which offer a different type of experience.
The Luz Houses in Fatima
Luz houses is a 15-room village in the city of Fatima. The terra rossa colored houses are located in a garden surrounded with trees, which allows privacy and an immediate connection to nature. There is the ‘mother-house’, which includes the reception desk, the dining area and the comfortable living room with a fireplace. The color scheme is perfect, in my opinion. A combination of redish brown walls outside with light turquoise and white as for the furniture.
The rooms are light and pastel colored, with wood’s natural colored elements and simple concrete floor. They are very opened spaced and airy and the bathing area is an integrated part of the room itself, with no dividing doors. Each room has a small kitchen and a dining area, especially for guests traveling with kids.
The couple behind Luz Houses is Pedro and Ana, who live with their two little girls just next door. They didn’t hesitate to accept a challenge and convert the simple and ancestral houses, into a small designed paradise to those who are seeking to get away from the stress. Ana, who is an architect, is the one who is responsible for the design, the colors, the furniture and the little details that make this place so magical.
For reservations: Luz Houses, Rua Principal nº 78, Moimento, 2495-650 Fátima, Portugal
Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel
I didn’t get the chance to stay in Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel, but I had a delicious lunch under the trees. When I first entered the hotel, I was welcomed by a familiar wall collage made by my talented friend, Margarida Girao. I love seeing her Art in beautiful locations.
The hotel has 12 different rooms, each room is designed differently, expressing a certain emotion. The highlight of this hotel, beside its gorgeous outdoor pool surrounded by nature and trees, is the cooking experience it offers. Dinner can be in the format of a cooking lesson. How fun can it be to cook dinner with your friends or family in a well equipped and designed kitchen and not to worry about the dishes? Grab an apron and join the chef to cook dinner using the best ingredients this region has to offer.
Watch the movie of the hotel here.
For reservations: Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel, Rua Asseguia das Lages nº 181, 2480-032 Alvados – Portugal
Areias do Seixo Hotel
In my last day in Central Portugal I got to stay in quite a magical hotel, called Areias do Seixo. Located in Santa Cruz, an hour drive from Lisbon, the hotel is just about off the sea, separated by some sand dunes and pine trees. I could easily step out of my room and walk toward the private beach of the hotel. Even though weather was a bit grayish, I took off my sandals and walked barefoot on the sand dunes. It felt so good. In a way, it It reminded me of my childhood.
The hotel is definitely connected with Nature. Using materials such as regional stone, pebble, glass and wood, with natural polished concrete floor and olive trees growing almost everywhere, including in my bathroom. I like the simplicity of these bare elements, and yet, every detail of the design was carefully and perfectly chosen.
This hotel is an ecological place using the principles of sustainable tourism: energy efficiency, renewable energies and the use of natural resources.
The hotel has a great restaurant, which is opened to everyone (reservations are highly recommended). The philosophy behind it is to make the most of what our Earth has to offer; whether getting fresh herbs and vegetables from the hotel’s organic garden, or fresh seafood from the sea. While I was having lunch, I could spot the chef stepping out from the kitchen and hand picking some herbs and spices for my salad. When the chef heard I was vegetarian, he made sure to spoil me with some delicious home made bread and aubergine spread. The menu is changed regularly in order to adapt to only the freshest products.
Check out the restaurant website for more info.
The hotel has only 14 rooms in the main building and eight villas for family rentals in a building next door.
Each room of the hotel is designed differently, but they are all overlooking the garden and the sea. (I think only the penthouse suite has a sea view). I stayed in Oliveira Princesa room (the Olive Tree Princess) named (clearly) after the olive tree I had in my bathroom. Needles to say how many pictures I took of this bathroom heaven.
The hotel has few room types; The Gold Rooms (5 rooms) which focus on the secret world of color, texture and sensation. The Tree Rooms (4 rooms) which has some African inspirations. The Love Rooms (4 rooms) with some North African Moroccan inspirations, and The Land Room (1 room) also called Jasmine. It is the only room that doesn’t have a sea view but instead, has a small private garden with olive trees.
The hotel also offers various SPA treatments with two massage rooms, sauna, Turkish bath and relaxation room, outdoor swimming pool, cinema room (where you can choose a movie from a selection of DVD’s) and a beautiful Greenhouse, which is mostly for events and celebrations.
For reservations: Areias do Seixo, Praceta do Atlântico, Póvoa de Penafirme, 2560-046 A dos Cunhados, Portugal
Another new Eco-Friendly hotel is Vale do Rio, located in the North region of Portugal. The hotel produces its own energy using a mini-hydric system that was on site since the end of the 1800’s. I haven’t been in this hotel, hence there are no images, but I promise to update once I stay there.
If you happen to be in Portugal during the month of July, I highly recommend not to miss the beautiful city of Tomar and the Feast of the Trays celebrations.
However, there is a catch. The Feast of the Trays, or Festa dos Tabuleiros, is taking place only every four years, and the next time will be in 2019.
I was lucky to experience this beautiful festival this year and learn more about the city’s traditions.
The Tray Festival or the Divine Holy Spirit Festival is one of the most ancient cultural and religious events in Portugal. If you want, you can compare it to Thanksgiving, as both holidays’ origin is in the Harvest. It is a very colourful festival, thanks to the beautiful paper-flowers decorations in the streets of Tomar and the flowers tabuleiro (tray) the girls carry on their heads.
The citizens of Tomar are getting ready for the big celebrations a few months in advance. They spend hundreds of hours making endless number of paper flowers to decorate their streets. The residents of each street are coming up with an idea or a theme or colour, and they work together on creating the decorations for the festival. It was great watching them uniting around these decorations; from young kids to the elderly; They were all motivated to have their street the best it can be. (One of my colleagues was joking and said that this is the time there are no arguments between neighbours… )
But beside the paper decorations, the citizens of Tomar are decorating their terraces with their best colourful blankets. I’ve learned it is a Portuguese tradition (not only in Tomar) to put the best blankets outside the windows, when there is a religious festival or a procession. Most of the time, these blankets are hand made and pass from one generation to another, mostly for these religious holidays.
There are several ceremonies of Festa dos Tabuleiros that are still maintained and kept in Tomar and some, that are slightly changed and adjusted to current days. For example, the Butler procession. Originally, the butler procession was a symbol of wealth and abundance, represented by bulls, or ‘The Holy Spirit Cows’. These bulls were paraded in front of the locals and afterwards were slaughtered and their meat was shared among the crowds. Whether rich or poor. This act was a symbol of brotherhood among the locals. However, since 1966 the act of slaughtering these bulls has been stopped and the meat is obtained from the owners of the Butcher shops to the families who need the most.
The parade is followed and accompanied by the local orchestra players. A great honour is given to the Butler of the parade, the City Mayor and the communities members who are dressed black and white, with a red ribbon around their neck.
The most colourful and beautiful part of the parade is the Partial Parade, followed by the Tray Parade. It is when the girls from the different chosen parishes are carrying flower baskets on their heads and march from a location outside of the city centre and pass by the Nobel Court and City hall, where the Butler of the parade, the City Mayor and the Town Council are sitting and observing the parade.
The girls are the ones who carry the heavy flower baskets, decorated not only with flowers but also with bread loaves, which are later on given to the public.
Every girl is accompanied by a guy, who is not allowed to carry the basket but only there for help and support in case the girl is losing her balance or the basket is falling.
The parade passes through Tomar old town, through the City Hall and ends at the park, where the baskets are nicely put and held before the last parade, taking place on the same evening.
If you have the chance to plan your next trip to Portugal, don’t miss Tomar with its beautiful streets and welcoming people.
What if I had less than 72 hours to shoot 20 locations in Antwerpen, the Fashion Capital of Belgium?
It happened last October when I was visiting Flanders and got assigned to shoot a great story for Conde Nast Traveller about the design and creative scene in Antwerpen. It wasn’t about the ‘Antwerp Six’ designers, nor about the Diamond industry the city is well known for. This 10-page article is mostly about trendy hotels, new restaurants, bars, cafe’s, upcoming designers in their boutiques, all perfectly designed.
In fact, it wasn’t my first time visiting Antwerpen. Some of the locations I shot, I knew from a previous visit to Antwerpen. You can read more about it here, so it helped me to navigate faster throughout the streets. This current assignment was hectic and busy.
But beside the tight schedule, the challenge was the weather. Grey sky and rain didn’t really help to portray a story which would run in July… I prayed for some Sun, and when it came out, I shot outdoors as much as I could.
To download the full article, please click here. To get some of the highlights addresses and top locations of this stylish city, please scroll down.
Where to Stay:
* Owners Ilse Cornelissens and husband Tim Van Geloven lived on the upper floors of concept store Graanmarkts 13 until they moved out and opened The Apartment (Summer 2014). The interiors are distinctly Scandi-slick. The bathtub is marvelous and the sunny terrace compensates for rainy days.
* More ‘bed and coffee’ than anything else, Room National‘s three rooms are perfectly placed for shopping on Nationalestraat and checking out fashion exhibitions at MoMu. The room to book is 01, an all-white suite (designer and stylist sisters Vera and Violetta Pepa did the interiors)
* Hotels in Antwerpen can be a bit hit and miss, but contemporary boutique Hotel Julien is the exception, with a busy bar, small spa and fantastic views of the cathedral from the roof terrace.
Where to Eat and Drink:
* Fresh in flavor and though, simple dishes by chef Seppe Nobel incorporate honey from Graanmarkt 13‘s bees and vegetables from the kitchen garden. Gin and Tonics are artfully garnished with basil and violets grown on the roof. Seppe is extremely friendly and helpful in choosing the right dish. Highly recommended to make reservations.
* Eye-catching interiors and exquisite cooking make The Jane to be the hottest table in Antwerpen. Located in a renovated chapel in one of the up and coming areas in Antwerpen,designed by Piet Boon and ran by chef Nick Bril, this restaurant is a mix of design, designed food and amazing music, which set up the atmosphere. Reservations are a must.
* Konditori is a hip bakery which supplies The Apartment with breakfast of Paris-quality croissants, fresh bread and cloud-light custard cream pastries.
* If you are looking for a relaxed neighborhood restaurant in Berchem area, try Veranda. Simple, yet cosy design with some low-key fashion crowd.
* You might need a taxi to get to Het Pomphuis, but this place worth the travel. A formal dining in an unusual setting, housed in an old-dry dock pumping station by the docks. Peer over the banister of the grand stairway to see some of the old iron pumps below.
* Up for a coffee place? Try Normo. A micro-roastery, shop and cafe serving proper drip-filter coffee and cold brews for those who take coffee seriously. (Like me).
* And if you are more of a cocktail person, and even if you are not, you must head to Dogma Cocktails. The young mixologist Didier Van den Broeck is cracking tiki cocktails based on your preference. His knowledge and memory is phenomenal.
* When I entered Korsakov Cafe, I couldn’t stop shooting. Simple, wooden furniture and colorful tile, this is a corner cafe where you might see a local model hanging out there, or even Mario Testino popping for a Vogue’s shoot.
* Dome sur Mer is a relaxed seafood restaurant and sister of Michelin starred restaurant Dome.
Where to Shop:
* Buy into the Graanmarkt 13 lifestyle, with ceramics and glassware from the restaurant and The Apartment. Various local designers in this A-list curated store.
* This place might look like a film set props warehouse, with industrial lights, chesterfields, hanging model planes and mannequins. If you are in favor of vintage style, Loft Styles, is the place to go. Better go there on a Sunday when the whole street comes to life and crowded with locals and tourists.
* At the same street as Loft Styles, Recollection was one of my favorite. It is a smart store for modern lifestyle essentials; From Maison Martin Margiela homeware to art and design books and Aesop products. I felt like I stepped into one of Alice in Wonderland’s holes.
* In contrast to the city’s many traditional diamond sellers, Wouters & Hendrix is a unique jewellery line by two young Academy graduates. Don’t be surprised to find pieces with unusual chicken-feet clasps and jagged edges.
* Helder is an interior design studio which spills into a shop for sleek lamps, handmade jewellery and chic embroidered badges.
* Just across the street there is Magazyn, a black and white, copper, glass and leather design objects for the home.
* One of the most talked about boutiques is Atelier Solar. Located in a less stylish area of the city, this beautiful store is setting the tone for this up and coming area. Great space, with a small garden and a kitchen, when temporary parties and some cooking are taking place. If you are lucky, you can catch the owner/designer Jan Jan Van Essche or the co-owner Pietro. Young and artistic crowd. Great Space.