One of the better-kept secrets of the fashion industry is that hidden behind the rows of conspicuously logoed leather goods at Louis Vuitton is Editions, a low-key but excellent selection of travel tomes and city guides. Now, the brand’s busy publishing arm is launching Fashion Eye, a collection of photography books bound in tinted silk-screen cloth covers. Each of the five volumes features a city or a country as seen through the eyes of a leading 20th-century or up-and-coming fashion photographer. Whether the dreamlike sequences of Guy Bourdin’s stark sensuality of 1970s Miami, Henry Clarke’s legendary excursions through India for American Vogue in the ’60s, Jeanloup Sieff’s evocative black-and-white renderings of Paris, or more recent work shot by Kourtney Roy in California and Wing Shya in Shanghai, the 50-plus large-format images in each book are a snapshot into a familiar world from an unexpected angle (US$56). —Daven Wu
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“The Eyes Have It”).
Braving the roads of this ancient Mediterranean island is well worth the effort, especially when the itinerary includes a clutch of small, stylish hotels that steer guests toward some of Sicily’s best food and wine.
Looming above Sicily’s east coast, Mount Etna has erupted more than 200 times since records started in 1500 B.C., making it one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Classical mythology holds that this is the work of Typhon, the father of all monsters, who was entombed under the mountain by Zeus and forever left to menace the world with regular outpourings of fire and ash. The latest eruption, a short but spectacular outburst of lava, occurred in May. But it’s an explosion of a very different sort that has brought me and my husband to Etna’s slopes at the start of this weeklong Sicilian road trip. Boutique winemaking is booming on Italy’s largest island, and perhaps nowhere more so than right here on this volcano.
Sommelier Alessandro Pugliese (left) with winemaker Riccardo Negri in Graci’s vineyards on Mount Etna.
Our guide is Alessandro Pugliese, the enthusiastic sommelier at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, a swanky seaside hotel below the medieval town of Taormina. Originally from Calabria, Pugliese became love-struck with Sicilian wines after discovering the coterie of winemakers that had turned away from the mass-produced plonk the island is known for in favor of crafting artisanal reds and whites from native grapes. He showcases these at the Sant’Andrea, but for a first-hand experience, Pugliese has brought us to Etna’s northern flank to visit the Graci estate, whose ungrafted vines and old stone warehouse lay abandoned before banker-turned-vintner Alberto Graci bought the property in 2004. Planted on rich black volcanic soil between 600 and 1,000 meters above sea level, the vineyards here grow only endemic grape varieties: Nerello Mascalese, Carricante, and Catarratto. Graci’s 2013 Arcuria, a white wine made from a blend of the latter two, is all mineral notes and honeysuckle, but it’s no match for the 2009 vintage that the winery generously opens for us—they only have 20 bottles left.
That evening at Villa Sant’Andrea’s candlelit seaside restaurant, dinner is paired with more unique Sicilian wines. First up is a crisp white from Pantelleria, a tiny Italian island between here and Tunisia that is so windy viticulturists have to dig trenches so the vines don’t fly away. Then comes a Marsala from the legendary Marco De Bartoli winery in the west. Fortified, Marsala wines are usually sweet. This one is anything but; dry and astringent, it is a perfect match for the grouper carpaccio and paper-thin slivers of salty lard that emerge from the kitchen.
Spaghetti with swordfish and clams at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea.
Our next hotel is a half-hour drive away along narrow country roads that skirt Sicily’s east coast. On one side is the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean; on the other, Etna broods under wisps of cloud. Sitting plump on the volcano’s lower slopes near the town of Zafferana Etnea is Monaci delle Terre Nere, an agriturismo (farm that takes guests) with 16 hectares of olive groves and citrus trees and vineyards, as well as 20 stylishly furnished guest rooms tucked into the estate’s salmon-hued 19th-century villa and outbuildings. But the main reason we chose Monaci (as with all the hotels on our itinerary)was for its unique insight into Sicilian traditions. Here, that means a cooking class with one of the hotel’s chefs, who shows us how to make pasta and bread with timilia, an ancient wheat variety that fell into obscurity with the rise of processed flour in Sicily. Supplemented by herbs from the kitchen’s organic farm, the results are fragrant and delicious, even if my arms throb afterward from all the kneading.
It must be said: Sicily’s notorious and no-apparent-speed-limit roads, more often than not incongruously signposted, don’t exactly scream “relaxed driving holiday.” But nor is there a viable or affordable alternative to seeing the island. It is with this in mind that we use Monaci’s proximity to Etna and the relatively subdued switchback road that crosses the volcano’s southeastern slopes for some driving practice. Midway up we stop to stretch our legs. While it is possible to trek or catch a cable car to the upper crater zone and peek into Etna’s blazing red belly, we’re content to admire the arid, ocher moonscape on the mountain’s flanks, where a succession of cinder cones dot the otherworldly terrain.
Overlooking the Baroque town center of Modica from the terrace of a guest room at Casa Talía.
There are countless reasons to brave the roads that lead to Modica, our next stop. A Baroque gem hugging a steep-sided ravine, the town offers an extraordinary setting as well as stunning local food. There’s also Casa Talía, a group of once-abandoned stone houses in Modica’s old Jewish quarter that Milanese architect Marco Giunta discovered while on holiday here in 2001. Deciding to convert them into a boutique hotel, he and his wife Viviana Haddad (also an architect) quit their jobs and began the painstaking process of restoring the ancient dwellings, which are arranged around a Mediterranean garden. Now chicly furnished, each of the 10 rooms has retained its original stone walls, while bamboo ceilings and hand-painted tile floors nod to Sicily’s North African influences. But it is the views of Modica’s historic center from our terrace that take the cake: a labyrinth of cobbled lanes, dust-colored villas, piazzas, and the noble cathedrals of St. George and St. Peter.
From Modica, it is an hour’s drive to Noto, the grandest of southeast Sicily’s eight UNESCO- listed Baroque towns. Giunta suggests we take the “old road,” and I’m glad we heed his advice. The quiet rural lane winds through a pastoral countryside of olive groves and wheat fields framed by adorable drystone walls.
They say there are two things you should never do when hiring a car in Sicily: one, agree to a size upgrade; and two, choose a vehicle that is shiny and scratch-free. Not knowing this at the time, we did both. Rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1693, Noto was never designed to accommodate vehicles, especially not our Fiat 500, a veritable tank by Italian standards. The town is a complex maze of one-way streets and insanely tight corners where many an unwary driver has left paint on the walls. And then there’s the 10-point turn we have to execute to get into the courtyard of Seven Rooms Villadorata, our home for the night.
Noto’s most stunning hotel occupies the southern wing of the Nicolaci Palace, built in the 18th century by a local tuna magnate. Dilapidated, the palazzo had no running water or electricity when Cristina Summa, a former tourism official who spent her childhood summers at her grandmother’s house in Noto, took it over in the late 1990s. There are now seven spacious guest rooms with tile floors, wrought-iron balconies, and exotic tapestries, as well as a breezy breakfast terrace with views that sweep over Noto’s church towers all the way to the sea. Manna, the delightful ground-floor restaurant, serves an all-star lineup of premium Sicilian ingredients in gorgeous dishes like lamb couscous and bread crisps with aubergine cream and mackerel fillet. And the communal drawing and reading rooms—plus a kitchen stocked with complimentary minibar items—make it feel like you’re staying in the apartment of a wealthy friend, which was Summa’s aim. “We want our guests to experience a modern-day version of the Grand Tour,” she says.
A bedroom at Casa Talía, where the attentive service and stylish decor are outmatched only by the views over Modica’s Baroque townscape.
The next day, our trusty, still-scratch-free Fiat brings us to Agrigento and our last stop, the 200-hectare olive, almond, and wheat farm Azienda Agricola Mandranova. One of Sicily’s most loved agriturismo hotels, Mandranova was never intended to be for tourists; rather, they became an economic necessity while Giuseppe di Vincenzo set about making “the best olive oil in the world.”
Leaving a successful banking career in Milan, di Vincenzo returned to Sicily in 1995 to revive his family’s farm, a sprawling property of rolling hills and ancient stone buildings that sits beside the roar of a busy highway. Throwing out the rule book, along with many unproductive trees, he sought to understand the true essence of olive oil—and how, through heat, sunlight, chemical extraction, and the time between the harvest and press, most of what we buy in the supermarket is actually rancid. It is this story that di Vincenzo tells guests on daily tours, weaving in more than a few anecdotes and theatrics along the way.
Pleasures abound at Mandranova: lounging by the cactus-lined swimming pool; sampling the blood-red fruits of a century-old mulberry tree; partaking in boozy, convivial communal dinners. But tasting the farm’s rich and herbaceous olive oils, their flavors pure and unadulterated, might just be worth a visit in itself.
“Complex, cultured, deep—this is the oil of the gods,” di Vincenzo tells me over the din of traffic. “Sicily all summed up.”
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“On a Sicilian Spin”).
Seared scallops with baby spinach, made at L’atelier Cuisine De Patricia.
It’s only 11 a.m. in Versailles, on the leafy western outskirts of Paris, and we’re already an hour into making lunch. My job is to clean the scallops ever so gently before skewering them on thyme branches to be seared in fragrant butter. Natalie, the student beside me, is absorbed in picking only the best leaves of baby spinach and removing the hard stems. The greens will be served with a red-wine vinaigrette alongside the scallops.
And that’s just the entrée.
I have signed up for a half-day culinary workshop with Patricia Boussaroque at her atelier inside a renovated 18th-century townhouse, just a stroll from the gates of Versailles’ famous palace. She’s the antithesis of what you’d expect from a French chef, a blonde woman with laughing eyes, a welcoming double-kiss, and a pink apron tied around her waist—twice, of course. That’s probably the first thing they teach you at Le Cordon Bleu.
The main dish of bavette aux échalotes confites (flank steak with caramelized shallots) takes much longer to prepare than I imagined. We simmer prime cuts of beef with spices in vinaigre de xérès, a wine vinegar made from sherry, for nearly an hour. I cannot hide my consternation when Boussaroque pounds the cooked meat into a metal strainer to squeeze out the juice, then throws it away. When she catches my look, she explains, “It was only to make the sauce.”
As an accompaniment, we make the crisp potato puffs known as pommes dauphine. This starts off with a mixture of mashed potatoes and savory pastry cream, which we pour into a pastry bag before shaping them into dumplings to be deep-fried. And for dessert, Boussaroque announces that we are making mille-feuille, a complex, multilayered puff pastry sandwiching glistening drops of vanilla-flavored crème mousseline enlivened by the tang of rum from the French West Indies.
I’m surprised to learn that Boussaroque wasn’t always a chef. After 20 years of working at a large company, she left her comfortable job as a human resources manager to follow her passion by studying cuisine and patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Patricia graduated with top marks in 2009, but did not proceed to work at a restaurant as most of her peers have done. Instead, she opened a cooking school in her hometown, just opposite Versailles’ Notre-Dame Market, where she could procure ingredients from the city’s best artisans and producers each day.
Patricia Boussaroque at Versailles’ Notre-Dame Market.
Naturally, Boussaroque’s workshops begin with a guided tour of the market. She effortlessly navigates the maze of open-air stalls and 19th-century buildings like any local resident, but the relationships she has fostered with many of the vendors are truly personal. Below the soaring stone archways of a covered market hall, Garry Guette is her source for the freshest fruits and vegetables, and it’s where I find the largest and most succulent box of raspberries I’ve ever seen. “French cooking is often not just about the flavors,” Boussaroque says, “It’s also about tasting with your eyes.”
Her fromagier at Le Gall offers her the finest cheese selection, alongside suggestions for what to pair with her menus and wine. I am soon introduced to Comté, a French cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk that tastes slightly sweet. It’s become my favorite ever since.
While Boussaroque is on a first-name basis with the fishmongers at L’Espadon, she considers Véronique of the upscale grocer Olives et Temptations a personal friend. Véronique’s épicerie stocks indulgent ingredients such as vanilla pods and sucre casson, the large-grained sugar that’s essential for making chouquettes.
With another day to spare in Versailles, I decide to join one of Boussaroque’s pastry classes, where I learn of the seemingly negligible but often crucial techniques in French cooking, like putting the dough or cream into a cooling apparatus to rest before baking. Or slamming a tray filled with macaron batter a few times on the table to release air bubbles. Over the course of these workshops, Boussaroque often exclaims “Délicatement!” as we mix creams or work with pastries. Instead of overworking the batter, we must delicately put air into the mixture.
And yet, the most memorable part of my experience goes beyond tasting a freshly baked meringue or honing my culinary skills. What remains with me is Boussaroque’s excitement, an unchanging constant in each of the classes she conducts.
“My dream,” she says, “is to show people the pleasure of cooking with only the best ingredients, giving them new ideas and allowing them to discover new flavor combinations. What drives me is the joy of coming together around a meal cooked with love.”
Successive waves of latter-day colonizers have rolled over Canggu, a now-bustling (and villa-studded) beach area to the north of Seminyak on Bali’s southwest coast. First came the surfers, then came the expats, and more recently the hipsters, each group leaving its mark on the place. But while the atmosphere remains laid-back and the waves beckon as always, Canggu’s food and drink options have recently expanded well beyond the offerings at neighborhood stalwarts Deus ex Machina and Old Man’s.
Smoked marlin with Waldorf salad and capers at Salumeria Tanah Barak.
For starters, there’s Shady Shack (62/819-1639-5087) on paddy-fringed Jalan Tanah Barak. From the team behind nearby Betelnut, it’s a textbook-perfect vegetarian and vegan café that’s executed with real sophistication. The Halloumi Bowl, replete with quinoa, beetroot, toasted limes, olives, and rocket, is a standout; coffees are excellent; and healthy juices and power shots run from bee pollen to a vegan turmeric latte.
A short wander down the road, Salumeria Tanah Barak (62-361/300-3463) offers a thoroughly Balinese take on Italian spuntini, or sharing plates, complete with single-estate espressos and Campari cocktails. Chef Geoff Lindsay sources all his cheeses and meats (excluding prosciutto) from within Indonesia—though from the perfectly ripened “Camembert,” crumbly soppressata-style sausage, and toothsome Sumatran oysters, it’s impossible to tell.
On the easternmost of Canggu’s three main roads, Jalan Pantai Berawa, is One Eyed Jack (62/819-9929-1888), whose discreet frontage belies the sophistication within. Part-Japanese owned, with one chef from Kyoto and another via Nobu in New York, the contemporary izakaya is all polished concrete and exposed brickwork. Next-generation sashimi is a standout here, while the Japanese-influenced cocktails, such as the whisky-citrus One Night in Roppongi, also impress. Worthy of note on the same street are a couple of combined retail and eatery options: Peloton Supershop (62/859-5413-1451), a vegan café that also sells delectable fixie bikes and accessories; and Bungalow Living (62-361/844-6567), which dishes up appealing homewares and distressed furniture alongside cakes and juices.
When it opened on Batu Bolong Beach in 1997, the luxurious, antiques-strewn Hotel Tugu Bali was Canggu’s solitary landmark. But even this classic is moving with the times, as witnessed by Ji at the Bale Sutra(62-361/473-1701), the Tugu’s new restaurant, sake bar, and rooftop lounge. Expect solid Japanese fusion fare served within a salvaged 18th-century Chinese temple hung with vintage Balinese art and photos; the dashi ceviche is a standout. Or enjoy spectacular Asian-influenced cocktails on a romantic roof terrace illuminated by old lanterns.
The main dining room at Hotel Tugu’s Ji at the Bale Sutra.
While Bintang beers remain the order of the day in most of Canggu, Black Shores (62/813-3987-4055), nestled by the Echo Beach junction, is the area’s first dedicated cocktail bar, a brushed-concrete emporium of contemporary good times and classic, London-style old-fashioneds. Craving margaritas? The ones at nearby Mexican bar and kitchen Lacalita (62/822-4731-2217) will hit the spot.
Big and bold, the sinuous, sunset-facing bamboo curves of Finn’s Beach Club (62-361/844-6327) now dominate Berawa Beach: high-powered spotlights enable night surfing, a novelty that adds drama whether you’re dining, drinking, or enjoying the infinity pool. The food here is Mediterranean-influenced, with well-presented sharing platters—think dips, grilled veggies, meats, and cheeses—alongside similarly classic mains.
Of course, a beach break wouldn’t be a beach break without ice cream, and Canggu now has plenty of options in that regard. The Echo Beach branch of Gaya Gelato (62-361/846-9246) is one, serving the shop’s trademark organic gelatos and tangy sorbets. Or head to Creamery (62/819-9982-5898), where mix-ins from cookie dough to Snickers bars are whizzed up into custom-flavored ice creams amid a cloud of liquid nitrogen—a piece of theater that’s as emblematic of Canggu’s current buzz as anything.
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Canggu’s New Crop”).
It’s been 100 years since the foundation of the Dada movement, and cultural institutions across Europe are holding a clutch of retrospective exhibitions on leading artists whose ideas and stylistic roots grew out of Dadaism. Here are four of the biggest you should visit.
One hundred paintings from the Belgian surrealist master René Magritte—with many on loan from collections around the globe—have been mounted at the hallowed halls of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, as the latest installment in a series dedicated to major figures of 20th-century art. The exhibition offers a fresh take on Magritte’s body of work, inviting the viewer to explore each painting through the artist’s keen interest in philosophy. One highlight is the seemingly contradictory but fiercely logical La trahison des images, painted with the famous words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe) below a realistic depiction of the smoking device (Until Jan. 23, 2017).
Heavily influenced by the close connections he enjoyed with both Cubist and Surrealist painters, Wifredo Lam sought to revive Afro-Cuban culture by expressing themes such as Santería (a syncretic religion developed in the Spanish West Indies) with avant-garde techniques learned from his European peers. London’s Tate Modern is now showing a comprehensive study of his life and work, spanning a long career that saw major political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic. A Cuban painter of Chinese, African, and Spanish descent, Lam challenged the prevailing perceptions of other cultures held by western Modernist artists (Until Jan. 8, 2017).
Jean Tinguely with Méta-Matic No. 17 in front of the Eiffel Tower, 1959. Photo: John R. Van Rolleghem, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam, 2016
Amsterdam’s pre-eminent venue for modern art has opened a showcase on this playful Swiss sculptor, whose Dada-inspired kinetic artwork satirized the excesses of consumer society. Over a hundred machine sculptures—including his trademark self-destructing installations—are on display at the Stedelijk, along with a trove of videos, photos, and drawings that detail his artistic development. The grand finale is the haunting installation Mengele-Totentanz, a danse macabre of moving sculptures made with objects salvaged from a fire in 1986. Timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of his death, the Tinguely retrospective is billed as the largest exhibition on the artist ever held in a Dutch museum (UntilMar. 5, 2017).
Best known for his elongated, blade-like human figures in bronze, Alberto Giacometti’s artistic footprint went far beyond his native Switzerland. Kunsthaus Zürich will mark the 50th anniversary of his passing with a major exhibition focused on Giacometti sculptures made with other mediums such as marble and wood. Artworks drawn from every stage of his career will be shown, while 75 original plasters donated to the museum from Giacometti’s estate form the centerpiece of the display, providing a rare glimpse into his technique and creative process (Oct. 28–Jan. 15, 2017).
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Eye Candy”).
Although Diwali is observed across India, the Hindu festival of lights is arguably at its most mesmerizing against the backdrop of the Golden Temple, Amritsar’s architectural centerpiece and the holiest pilgrimage site in Sikhism. A Punjabi adage has it that “home-cooked food and Amritsar’s Diwali have no parallels,” and it’s no accident that the latter coincides with the Sikh festival Bandi Chhor Divas, which this year falls on October 30. After sunset, tens of thousands of revelers will stream into the temple’s vast marbled complex—by then festooned with a multitude of shimmering lights—to watch a blaze of fireworks over the gilded shrine and its surrounding spring-fed pool, from which the city takes its name. —James Louie
Getting There Apart from air connections to India’s major cities, Amritsar can be reached by nonstop flights from Singapore on Scoot and from Kuala Lumpur on Malindo Air.
Where to Stay Housed in a 250-year-old mansion, the 19 rooms and suites at Ranjit’s Svaasa (doubles from US$87) recall a bygone era when the property served as a guesthouse for foreign dignitaries.
Be Sure to Try Amritsar’s dhabas (roadside eateries) are a must-do for the dedicated foodie; start with vegetarian-only Brother’s Dhaba for some of the city’s best kulcha flatbread.
What Else? Dedicated to the founder of the Sikh empire, the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museumoccupies the ruler’s summer palace in the Ram Bagh gardens.
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Passage to Punjab”).
While most galleries are built out of the need to house existing, perhaps expanding, collections, the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., had nothing to its name when it was conceptualized more than a decade ago. The framework was there: to become a space for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, to learn about the richness and diversity of the African-American experience. Armed with this and little more, the gallery’s director Lonnie Bunch set off on a 15-city roadshow of sorts, calling on people and communities to donate heirlooms and memorabilia from their closets and attics. A jaw-dropping 36,000 pieces were collected—an eclectic and often moving compilation that ranges from shards of tools and leg irons used by escaped slaves to one of Chuck Berry’s red Cadillacs and films detailing the atrocities of the Ku Klux Klan—with some 3,500 currently on show. Deep in the basement, a narrative history runs from the beginnings of the slave trade to the presidency of Barack Obama, while on the upper two floors, galleries shine a light on religion, music, and sport. British architect David Adjaye is behind the equally ambitious 37,000-square-meter triple-decker structure of inverted pyramids, which is topped by a corona recalling the celebratory headpieces on Yoruba sculptures from West Africa; an exterior cladding of bronze with filigree patterns nods to the decorative metalwork of African-American craftsmen from New Orleans and South Carolina. In the words of Bunch, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.” —Natasha Dragun
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“History in the Making”).
Jacques Cousteau once said, “The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.” Free diving allows you to do just that, offering a completely different experience without the constraints of scuba equipment, and the possibility of even closer encounters with marine life. This is especially true of the Maldives’ Hanifaru Bay, where manta rays and whale sharks gather in huge numbers for a feeding frenzy between May and November each year. While the area has been off-limits to scuba divers since 2011, snorkeling and free diving are still allowed. Enter the new PADI-accredited free diving center at the nearby Anantara Kihavah Villas, which is only the second such facility in the country after the one launched in May by sister property Anantara Dhigu in the South Malé Atoll. Here, guests can learn the sport under the tutelage of marine biologist and competitive free diver Talya Davidoff. The hardest part? Holding your breath amid such a breathtaking underwater spectacle. —James Louie
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Into the Blue”).
Dubai has attracted Hollywood’s top sci-fi filmmakers of late (most recently, J.J. Abrams shot scenes from Star Trek Beyond here) and as soon as you step out onto this 43rd-floor rooftop bar you’ll see why—the 180-degree panorama of skyscraper-lined Sheikh Zayed Road (pictured above) is staggering. In tune with its futuristic surrounds, Level 43 glows an ambient blue; order the teapot sake cocktail and settle in for snacks to prolong the view (971-56/414-2213).
With the arrival of the airborne arm of the ride-hailing app, customers in Dubai can look forward to hitching a helicopter ride almost instantly via their smartphones. But don’t expect door-to-door service just yet. For now, UberChopper only offers 20-minute scenic tours, departing from Atlantis The Palm, for a mere US$176 per person. Suit up like Bond, but leave the stunts to the pilot (Uber is available to download on iOS and Android).
Perched seven stories above the Dubai Marina at Pier 7, this chic French lounge and dining spot is not nearly as dizzyingly elevated as the Burj Khalifa’s 124-floor At.mosphere, the world’s highest restaurant. But what it lacks in such superlatives it makes up for in style, flavor, and views of the sparkling waterfront (971-4/450-7766).
There’s skydiving, and then there’s skydiving in Dubai. With a scenic coastal jump over the Palm Jumeirah islands, Skydive Dubai offers one of the most spectacular free-falls on the planet. Those who book the VIP tandem service get a private plane to topple out of, a VIP room, and arrival to the Palm drop zone via boat, helicopter, or limo for an additional fee. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe this bucket-list experience (971-4/377-8888).
This ornate spa hovers on the 18th floor of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s most exclusive hotel. Treatment rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows, so between massage strokes (rubdowns range from Balinese to Thai to Ayurvedic) you’ll want to sneak a peek at the magical Gulf view. Inside the men’s sauna and steam facilities, fog-proof glass ensures uninterrupted panoramas all the way to the World Islands and downtown Dubai (971-4/301- 7365).
Taking the plunge with Skydive Dubai, which offers tandem jumps above Palm Jumeirah.
This article originally appeared in theOctober/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Dubai on High”).
It’s three days until the Sinhala New Year and downtown Tangalle is bustling in anticipation. Loudspeakers pump out pop music and sales promotions, villagers hawk rustic clay pots and braziers on the sidewalks, and the morning vegetable market is in full swing, its tables groaning under a bounty of fresh produce. I’m here with an affable young chef from the nearby Anantara Peace Haven resort to pick up some vegetables for the curries he is going to teach me how to make, but unlike the swirl of sari-clad shoppers around me, I have no idea what I’m looking for. “Anything, anything you like,” he tells me. “You can put anything into a Sri Lankan curry and it will be delicious.” Ten minutes later I climb back into one of the Anantara’s shiny new electric tuk-tuks for the return drive to the resort, a modest haul of okra, green beans, bitter gourd, eggplant, and bright-red tomatoes on the seat beside me.
The curries we make during the “Spice Spoons” cooking class that morning are, as promised, delicious. I can take no credit for this. Though I do a bit of chopping and grating, most of my time is spent thoughtfully sipping a glass of chilled Prosecco as the chef explains and executes the preparation of five different curry dishes (one involving the plump tiger prawns we acquired on an earlier foray to Tangalle’s fishing pier) and a dynamite coconut sambol. And since I’m his sole student, the resultant feast is mine alone to devour. So I stuff myself—and spend the rest of the afternoon lying in torpor next to my villa’s pool like an engorged python. But my appetite for this corner of Sri Lanka has only just been whetted.
Spices on display in the Anantara Tangalle’s lobby.
Tangalle, a 90-minute drive east of Galle on the island’s south coast, is blissfully free of the tourist crowds that fill beaches closer to Colombo. But it isn’t exactly terra incognita either. Backpackers and intrepid surfers have long appreciated the area’s laid-back charms, as have the cognoscenti who frequent its handful of luxury villas and boutique hotels like the 30-suite Amanwella, which opened way back in 2005. The December debut of the eight-hectare Anantara, however, has put Tangalle firmly on the map.
“This is the future for Sri Lanka,” says Tamir Kobrin, the resort’s suave, Panama-hatted general manager, as he walks me through the grounds, where phalanxes of tall palm trees testify to the estate’s former life as a coconut plantation. “The beaches around Tangalle are beautiful. Now that the expressway from Colombo goes as far as Matara [an hour’s drive away], you’ll see a lot of resort development along this coast.”
That expressway, the E01, has cut the traveling time between Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport and Tangalle from six hours to three and a half. For those who still balk at the idea of spending that much time on the road—even in the comfort of one of the Anantara’s plush SUVs)—Cinnamon Air, an island-wide seaplane service, can fly you to the lagoon at Dickwella in just 45 scenic minutes, from where it’s a short drive to the resort.
However you get there, the Anantara impresses from the get-go. On arrival, guests are greeted by smiling staff under a pillared portico that leads to a lobby designed to evoke a traditional courtyard house, its blue-tiled reflecting pools flanked by whitewashed colonnades. The breezy lounge area behind overlooks the resort’s two-tiered swimming pool and a swath of grassy, palm-studded beachfront, beyond which Indian Ocean waves roll in gently against a sloping stretch of golden sand bookended by rocky protrusions. This view is shared by many of the 152 guest rooms and pool villas, all of which are done up in a pleasant 21st-century colonial style accented by hand-loomed textiles. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to snag one of the beach villas at the western end of the property, you’ll feel like you have the pandanus-edged seafront all to yourself, even if the cove next door is shared with a low-key clutch of cabanas and cottages. I spend most of my down time in my pool, reading or gazing out to sea or watching the ubiquitous chipmunk-sized palm squirrels that dart across the grass from tree to tree, their chirping calls mingling with birdsong and the crash of waves.
Villa host and experience guru Kanishka Sandaruwan posing in the Tangalle countryside.
Villas also come with the services of a butler—or “host,” as they call them here—and mine is Kanishka Sandaruwan, a genial 29-year-old who, like most of the resort staff, hails from the Tangalle area. Kanishka books my treatment at the standalone spa complex and appears at the appointed time to whisk me hence on one of the resort’s cycle rickshaws. He consults on my dining options, which range from Dining by Design—a selection of private, customizable dinners set up on the beach or elsewhere around the property—to meals at Il Mare, the dramatically perched Italian restaurant whose authenticity is underscored not only by a bevy of imported Mediterranean products, but also by a chef and the maître d’ who are both Italian. With a recent award from Wine Spectator magazine under its belt, it’s one of the finest restaurants in Sri Lanka.
Kanishka also serves as my “experience guru,” advising on local attractions and activities and personally guiding me for a day out in the countryside. There is much to see. Tangalle and its surrounds are an agriculturally rich and diverse area, and our drive takes us past rice paddies, spice gardens, orchards, and even a buffalo paddock where cows are being milked to make curd. We pass Kanishka’s village school and detour along an empty dirt road that traverses a reservoir, halting midway to watch the reflection of clouds move across the water’s still surface. Kanishka tells me it’s one of his favorite spots, and I thank him for sharing it with me. Walking to the base of a giant tamarind tree, he lobs a stick at the branches until one of the pod-like fruits falls to the ground, then peels it open so that I can taste the sweet-sour pulp within. Later, we drop in unannounced on a rope factory, where chugging machines spin coconut fiber into thick, bristling lengths. It’s hardly your standard tourist attraction, but then, that’s the point.
Twenty kilometers north of town, the rock temple of Mulkirigala is the area’s headline attraction, though I have the great granite monolith almost to myself. Little wonder, I think, as I haul myself huffing and puffing up the 500-plus steps to the temple’s intricately frescoed grottos and stupa-crowned summit. Still, the view from the top is reward enough, a vast panorama that stretches across green plains and forested hills all the way back to the coast.
Il Mare, the resort’s Italian restaurant, sits on a rocky outcrop above the beach.
I rise early on my last morning for the drive to the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary, an expanse of brackish lagoons and mangrove swamps navigable only by canoe or simple pontoon boat. I’m escorted into one of the latter by an Anantara staffer, who comes equipped with binoculars and a well-stocked picnic basket. The sun is still low and orange on the horizon when the boatman pushes his pole against the bank of the lagoon and slides us into the still waters. Over the course of the next two hours, we spot all sorts of birds—egrets, ibises, herons, kingfishers—and hear the calls of many more. In one reed-fringed channel, we drift past a group of wallowing buffalo; in another, gray langur monkeys stare back at us from the branches of a gnarled tree. Except for the occasional bird cry and the low rumble of the surf beyond the lagoon’s sandbar, all is quiet and serene. It’s every bit the peaceful haven as the resort up the road.