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Charlie Chaplin’s Swiss Abode Now a Museum

On the north shore of Lake Geneva, Vevey is arguably one of Switzerland’s most charming towns. With its broad waterside promenade backdropped by the Alps, it’s easy to see why Charlie Chaplin fell in love with the area and decided to call it home when he was banned from the United States in 1952; he spent the last 25 years of his life here. Surrounded by centuries-old trees and expansive parkland, the manor house he and his family (Chaplin had eight children) lived in, high on a hill overlooking the lake, has been transformed into Chaplin’s World by Grevin, an insightful shrine to the actor and political activist. In addition to the grand house, the project—some 16 years in the planning—includes a purpose-built gallery showcasing more than 15,000 photos and 35 cinematic productions tracing Chaplin’s humble beginnings in London and his meteoric rise to become one of the biggest names in the film industry at only 26 years old. The interactive space also features 30 wax figures of Chaplin, his wife Oona, and artists moved by his work, including Michael Jackson (it’s said that Chaplin inspired the moonwalk), Woody Allen, and Federico Fellini. —Natasha Dragun

This article originally appeared in the August/September print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Modern Times”).

Travel Journal: Jamie Cullum

British jazz-pop singer and pianist Jamie Cullum was a globetrotter long before his appointment last year as a St. Regis Connoisseur, which will see him continue to lead the brand’s Jazz Legends at St. Regis concert series at its hotels worldwide. Here, he talks about music, travel, and the virtues of spontaneity.

What’s the first overseas trip you remember taking?

I met a Russian violin player in London who invited me to St. Petersburg to play with him and his band. Getting on that plane at the age of 19 felt really adventurous.

How many countries have you travelled to?

I’ve lost count. I’m on the road all the time.

What’s your idea of a perfect trip?

Coming to the St. Regis Singapore to play in the “Jazz Legends at St. Regis” concert series tonight [March 28] is pretty cool.

What’s your idea of the perfect destination?

I’m blown away whenever I go to Japan. I love the culture: the food, the films, the clothes. They do everything with such attention to detail. I’m looking forward to going on to the St. Regis Osaka tomorrow. I’m also fascinated by the idea of India. My mother’s father was Indian and her mother was Burmese.

What do you never travel without?

My Leica, and a map of the best record stores in the city I’m visiting. I’ve got between 5,000 and 8,000 vinyls, as well as about 5,000 CDs, in my collection. One thing I don’t bring is a set list. It’s important to me as a performer to be spontaneous, inventive and to take risks. Having a set list would put me off.

Jamie Cullum in the lobby of the St. Regis Washington, DC.

Jamie Cullum in the lobby of the St. Regis Washington, DC.

What’s been your biggest travel mishap?

In Dubai once I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, fell on a glass table, broke it and got covered in blood. I still have the scars.

What qualities do you appreciate most in a hotel?

Accommodation is a big issue for musicians and I’ve stayed in some cheesy hotels over the years. It’s not the building that’s important, it’s the staff. It’s about anticipating your needs and making you feel at home. What I like most about St. Regis is that they are bringing live music back to their hotels. For 10 years I was a jobbing musician, my primary source of income was playing gigs before my albums became successful. It’s very important to me as a musician to support live music.

Who are your ideal travel companions?

My wife [former model Sophie Dahl] and, eventually, our two young daughters, Lyra and Margot, when they are old enough to come with me on the road. Having a family has given me less time to think about myself, which is good for me. It’s made me hone in on the important stuff.

What’s your biggest travel peeve?

Same as for everyone else: overcrowding and queues at airports.

No matter where you are, what makes you feel at home?

A piano I can sit down at and play.

–As told to Chris Hanrahan

This article originally appeared in the August/September print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Have Piano, Will Travel”).

An Architectural Renaissance in Valletta

With a clutch of its most historical structures recently restored alongside an influx of dazzling architecture, the Maltese capital is giving its storied past a beautiful new present.

By Victor Paul Borg

In the scaffolded vault of the Church of Our Lady of Victory, dungaree-clad conservators from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art are putting the finishing touches on a restoration of the 450-year-old building’s ceiling murals. Painted by Maltese artist Alessio Erardi in the early 18th century, they depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary—full of drama and suspense, subtle colors and remarkable details. Malta’s oldest church has been long overdue a facelift; when I last visited in the late 1990s, it was gloomy, dank, and moldering. So I am thrilled to see these treasures reclaimed from the pall of decay.

It’s a story repeated across Valletta, which has been undergoing the most extensive bout of urban renewal and construction since it was built in the 16th century by the Knights of St. John. And this is what has lured me back to the compact Maltese capital for the first time in 10 years. I grew up on the neighboring island of Gozo, and though I have spent most of my adult life abroad, I’ve returned there regularly to visit family and friends. But for the longest time I avoided Valletta, a historically rich but not terribly exciting city of government offices and tourist sites. After dark, the streets emptied as workers headed home to the suburbs—40,000 people once lived within the old city walls, a number that has since dwindled to 6,000. While restaurants and nightlife thrived elsewhere in Malta, Valletta slumped into a cultural malaise.

That all began to change about a decade ago with a concerted government-driven effort to revive the Mediterranean city, and the results are impressive. Stepping out of the Church of Our Lady of Victory, I can see recently restored buildings all around me—the Church of St. Catherine of Italy, a Baroque masterpiece dating to 1572; the Auberge de Castille, built to house Spanish and Portuguese knights and now the office of the prime minister; and the bulky tower of the St. James Cavalier, a 16th-century military stronghold that today houses the Centre for Creativity, Malta’s hub for modern arts.

And then there’s the project that has generated the most buzz: an extensive reconfiguration of the City Gate area designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano. Completed last year, the development has created both a dramatic new entrance to the city and transformed the square behind it, which had been damaged by aerial bombardment in World War II and rebuilt with bland shopping arcades and a haphazard car park. Now, more than US$100 million later, the once dour site has emerged as a minimalist gateway that gives pedestrians the distinct sense of transitioning into Valletta.

The project is not without its critics, the chief lament being that modernist architecture is incongruous with the Baroque cityscape, a World Heritage Site in its entirety. To make greater sense of it all, I seek out Guillaume Dreyfuss, a youthful, enthusiastic heritage consultant at Architecture Project, the eminent Maltese architectural firm contracted by Piano to carry out the project. We talk as we walk around the site’s largest feature, a new parliament building, designed on two separate polygonal blocks connected by elevated walkways.

“The building is designed to fit into a context, to reinforce the openness and flow in the area and fluidity in the lines of vision,” Dreyfuss says. “Pedestrians can literally walk underneath the building. It is not an imposition; it’s transparent.” Deliberately smaller than any of the surrounding structures and built with only two corners on the ground—the others are supported by steel pillars—the building feels airy, as if poised for flight. And with the raised scaly textures of the stones cladding its exterior giving the illusion of rippling water, the building feels like an abstract, modernist take on Baroque, like seeing a historical facade reflected in the windows of a glass skyscraper. Perhaps that’s what Dreyfuss is thinking when he talks about the scales mimicking the erosion of limestone on Valletta’s old buildings. Cleverer still, a slanted gap between the two blocks gives pedestrians glimpses of the adjacent St. James Cavalier—an intentional invitation to explore deeper into the city.

There is certainly a lot to explore, even if it only takes 15 minutes to walk down Republic Street, the avenue that bisects the city. Among Valletta’s headline attractions are St. John’s Co-Cathedral (home to Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St. John the Baptist) and the Grand Master’s Palace, built in 1571 as Malta’s administrative center, where state rooms boast coffered ceilings, lunettes and friezes, floors of inlaid marble, and lavish paintings and furniture. And around the corner is one of Europe’s oldest working theaters, the Manoel Theatre. Touring productions are regularly staged here, but the building manages to impress even when the curtains are drawn, with an oval interior constructed entirely of wood and balconies embellished with gold leaf.

Alternative Summer Escapes: Lanzarote

“When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the more beautiful places on the planet.” So said 20th-century artist and architect César Manrique of Lanzarote, the easternmost of Spain’s Canary Islands, where his legacy as a champion of low-impact development lives on in darling villages awash in white and rising no taller than a palm tree. Juxtaposed with windswept beaches and lush pockets of vegetation, the arid, volcanic terrain of Timanfaya National Park is like nowhere else on the planet; it often draws comparisons to the surface of the moon, or even Mars. Manrique’s abstract sculptures around the island complement the surreal setting, as do Lanzarote’s unique vineyards, planted piecemeal in rock-walled semicircles that shelter them from the winds. Wine tours are obligatory, and more than a thousand visitors come for the Lanzarote Wine Run & Traditional Cuisine Festival (June 18–19), an annual race-cum-wine-tasting extravaganza. The toasts continue with the St. John celebrations on June 23–24, when bonfires and festivities mark the beginning of summer. —Gabrielle Lipton

Getting There
Direct flights connect Lanzarote with London, Frankfurt, Madrid, and other major European cities.

Where to Stay
Built with the island’s volcanic stone and a sustainable ethos, La Isla y el Mar (doubles from US$200) opened in Puerto del Carmen late last year with 81 contemporary rooms overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Be Sure to Try
A volcano-cooked meal at Restaurante El Diablo, which uses geothermal heat to barbecue an array of meats and fish.

What Else?
Divers can look forward to exploring Museo Atlantico, Europe’s first underwater sculpture park by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who finished installing its 300 statues on the sea floor in February.

This article originally appeared in the June/July print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“The Allure of Lanzarote”).

10 Music Festivals to Visit This Summer

Didn’t get your Glastonbury or Tomorrowland tickets 
before they sold out? Worry not. One of these 
10 summer music festivals is sure to suit.


By Gabrielle Lipton

 

For Beachcombers:

Beaches Brew, June 6–10

Head to Marina di Ravenna on Italy’s Adriatic coast for five sun-kissed days of folk rock. Acts including Cate le Bon, Destroyer, Ty Segall & The Muggers, and Dirty Fences play on stages stuck in the sand.

 

For a Weekend in the Park:

Field Day, June 11–12

Celebrating its 10th edition this year, London’s Field Day couples the biggest names in alternative music—James Blake, PJ Harvey, Air, and more—with old-fashioned games like tug-of-war and relay races in Victoria Park.

 

For Techies:

Sónar, June 16–18

Barcelona’s Sónar is a digital-creative’s wonderland, with top electronic artists—from pioneers New Order and Jean-Michel Jarre to younger faces like Oneohtrix Point Never—alongside tech development and networking events.

 

For Staying Up All Night:

Secret Solstice, June 16–19

Capitalizing on its annual 72 hours of continuous sunlight, Reykjavík throws a massive music festival, this year headlined by Radiohead and Iceland’s own Monsters and Men. Geothermal pools and pagan Norse stage names add to the atmosphere.

 

For Families:  

Festival d’Été, July 7–17

Street art festivals, Québécois cuisine, and cross-generational artists like Sting and Peter Gabriel make Quebec City’s 11-day festival ideal for all ages.

 

For Countryside Carousing:

T in the Park, July 8–10

Scotland’s Strathallan Castle is the backdrop for three days of camping; listening to artists ranging from Spanish guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela to DJ Calvin Harris; and sipping whisky well into the night.

 

For Hipsters:

Pitchfork Music Festival, July 15–17

Anyone who’s anyone in the indie-music zeitgeist can be found in Chicago’s Union Park for Pitchfork, run by its namesake blog. FKA Twigs, Blood Orange, and Kamasi Washington are among this year’s many artists.

 

For Mountain Magic:

Fuji Rock, July 22–24

Aside from its misleading name, Japan’s largest music festival is a sure pleaser. Set among the mountains of Naeba Ski Resort, it has a lineup of perennial all-stars (Sigur Rós, Beck, Wilco) and ryokans as lodging options.

 

For Celebrity Sightings:

Panorama, July 22–24

New this year from the creators of Hollywood’s favorite festival, Coachella, is this three-day fête in New York City. Arcade Fire and Kendrick Lamar will headline, though the people-watching is sure to be performance art in its own right.

 

For More than Music:  

Splendour in the Grass, 
July 22–24

Cocktail bars, art installations, tipi villages, stand-up comedy, even a massage lounge make this Byron Bay rock fest one of Australia’s most beloved annual events. Oh, and The Strokes, The Cure, and Band of Horses will be there as well.

This article originally appeared in the June/July print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Sound Advice”).

A Little-known Indian Hill Station Worth a Detour

With farmers’ markets, Himalayan views, and flora galore, Kalimpong is West Bengal’s best-kept secret of a hill station.

By Kalpana Sunder

Darjeeling may be India’s quintessential colonial hill station, but nearby Kalimpong, a onetime Bhutanese trade town, was also developed by the British as an alternative escape—and it remains one today. Straddling the Durpin and Deolo hilltops above the Teesta River valley, it’s an untouristy market town with streets radiating from a clock tower and a claim to fame as being home to Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother and author of the 2015 novel The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong.

View from the Top
Kalimpong is home to several monasteries. Zang Dhok Palri Phodang, the largest, stands atop Durpin Hill, and it’s well worth the hike to see its exquisite murals, beautifully painted woodwork, mandalas, and young monks chanting scriptures. When the weather is clear, the views stretch all the way to the snow-clad peak of Nepal’s Mount Kanchenjunga.

To Market, to Market
The town’s pulse is best felt in the bustling central market or the haat bazaar (open Wednesdays and Saturdays), both on Rishi Road. The latter draws farmers down from their mountain homes to sell their fresh produce and herbal medicines; look for cubes of dried Tibetan cheese and white yeast cakes made of millet, which is also fermented into the local tipple, chaang.

Flower Power
Kalimpong grows India’s best orchids in more than 20 nurseries around town. But a rare botanical experience awaits up Atisha Road at the hillside Pineview Nursery (91-3552/255-853), where Mohan Pradhan has defied nature to create one of the largest cacti collections in Asia, with nearly 1,500 different succulents in multiple climate-controlled hothouses.

Time for Tea
Café fare here comes as fragrant Darjeeling tea grown on nearby estates, hot vegetable-stuffed momos (steamed dumplings) with red-chili chutney, and thukpa, a noodle soup. On the main road near the bus stop, Gompu’s Bar and Restaurant (91-3552/255-818) is a good place to sample these local delicacies.

Riding High
For an adventure and a photo-op, head to the park atop Deolo Hill. There are activities such as paragliding, horseback riding, and even Zorbing, and benches among flower beds to relax on after. Filled with mountain kids with sunburned cheeks, dogs with big furry coats, and local women in Tibetan costumes, it’s the spot for a slice of local life.

This article originally appeared in the April/May print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Indian Idyll”).

Travel Journal: André Fu

Name: André Fu
Occupation: Interior architect and founder of Hong Kong design studio AFSO and lifestyle brand André Fu Living
Home Base: Hong Kong

What is the first trip you remember taking?
Going to Bangkok when I was six years old. I can still picture how the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok looked then, in 1981—it was my first hotel stay.

How would you describe a perfect trip?
Going to a place that allows me to rejuvenate, ideally somewhere with a lot of heritage.

Do you have a particular packing style?
One piece of hand luggage (usually an AFSO tote bag), if I can get away with it.

What do you never travel without?
A bundle of pencils and a small pile of paper.

What has been your biggest travel mishap?
I always seem to run into trouble when changing planes at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited?
Marrakech, for its exotic juxtaposition of colors and patterns.

Describe the qualities you most appreciate in a hotel.
I admire a place where the hotelier had a clear vision and mindfully curated the entire experience down to the smallest details—places that give me a focused, whole experience.

Who is your ideal travel companion?
Anyone who dares to explore the lows along with the highs of a destination.

What is your biggest travel pet peeve?
Airports with poor signage.

And favorite souvenir?
A set of cutlery I bought from an artisan in Jodhpur.

How many countries have you visited?
Too many to recall.

Which destination surprised you the most?
Prague. The city has a wealth of Cubist architecture, which I found unexpectedly fascinating to the eye.

Where do you want to go next?
Rio de Janeiro, to see Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture.

What lessons have you learned from traveling?
Lifestyle is rooted in location.

No matter where you are, what makes you feel at home?
A cup of tea. —As told to Gabrielle Lipton

This article originally appeared in the April/May print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Journal: André Fu”).

Tune in to these 3 New Music Museums

Listen up, music-lovers: three music museums are soon to open in the Americas. First up is the Grammy Museum Mississippi, opening on March 5 at the Delta Music Institute in the small city of Cleveland. Why here? The Mississippi Delta is one of the most musically rich parts of the United States, but it also lacks arts education in public schools, giving this deep-South sister to the original Grammy Museum in L.A. a deeper purpose. Another ode to the Delta comes April 2 with the debut of the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, using interactive technology to walk visitors through the history of the States’ most foundational genre of music, and a theater to hear it in. And in Rio de Janeiro, it’s worth sticking around after the Olympics to catch September’s reopening of the city’s Museum of Image and Sound at its new home—a Diller Scofidio + Renfro masterpiece on Copacabana Beach with a “vertical boulevard” zigzagging up its front, a rooftop cinema, and galleries dedicated to the sounds of Brazil. —Gabrielle Lipton

This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Aural Fixation”).

Relishing Rishikesh: the Beatles’ Ashram, a Yoga Festival, and More

Perhaps nowhere embodies Indian spirituality more than Rishikesh, a small city of ashrams and temples, yogis and astrologers set on the Ganges in the foothills of India’s Garhwal Himalayas. Hindu pilgrims have long come to meditate and make offerings here, but global consciousness awakened to Rishikesh after the Beatles visited in 1968 to study transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, famously writing some 40 songs during their stay. Now, the town draws solace-seekers from far and wide, especially in March when its annual International Yoga Festival (March 1–7) sees some of the world’s most renowned yoga teachers holding 60-plus hours of free classes. What’s more, the jungle-shrouded ashram where the Beatles resided, closed since 1997, has recently been reopened to the public, with a museum and nature paths soon to come. Ob-la-da! —Gabrielle Lipton

Getting There
Air India and Jet Airways fly daily from Delhi to Dehradun, and from there it’s about 30 minutes by car to Rishikesh.

Where to Stay
A short drive from town, Ananda in the Himalayas (doubles from US$710) offers a full program of yoga and spa therapies in a former maharaja’s palace.

What Else?
In between practicing your downward-dog pose, explore the great outdoors: activities in the area include rock climbing, rafting, and trekking. Red Chilli Adventure is among the town’s top outfitters.

Of Note
In keeping with its status as a Hindu spiritual center, meat and alcohol are banned in Rishikesh.

This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Om for the Holidays”).

Finding Serenity on the Still Waters of Kasaragod

Kerala may have its crowds, but they don’t typically make it as far north as the serene backwaters of Kasaragod. You should.

By Isobel Diamond 
Photographs By John Hooper

A pocket of palm-strewn bliss, soulful and sleepy, Kasaragod moves to an unhurried tempo. Its beaches, backwaters, and outlying towns and villages occupy the northernmost reaches of the state of Kerala on India’s Malabar Coast, well off the radar for most travelers. But change is afoot. Stylish resorts are springing up in the district and soon a sleek new international airport will open in neighboring Kannur, bringing with it an influx of tourists. For now, though, getting here typically involves a seven-hour train ride from Kerala’s commercial capital, Kochi. And so I arrive, giddy from the humidity and somewhat rattled by the journey, intent on spending a leisurely paced week exploring Kasaragod’s highlights.

My itinerary begins with a cruise on the Valiya-paramba backwaters. Early in the morning, this labyrinth of canals and lagoons is shrouded in mist and an eerie stillness. My vision may be hazy, but my ears quickly attune to the soundscape—the swoosh of a fisherman’s oar, the flick of a fish’s tail—as these olive-green waterways slowly wake up. I’m about to embark on a 24-hour expedition aboard the Honey Dew, a kettuvallam (thatched-roof houseboat) operated by the Oyster Opera, a quirky resort of bamboo cottages on Thekkekadu, one of the seven islands that dot the backwaters. As I wait for our departure, I sit with the resort’s owner Gul Mohammed, who plucks at his white, ankle-length lungi as we talk. “More and more people are asking for houseboats,” he tells me. “There are 12 in this area now, and they’ll keep coming.”

The Honey Dew takes me down the spine of this 30-kilometer-long waterway, which is named for its largest island, Valiyaparamba. Some canoes and a few other kettuvallams inhabit the channel, but most often we’re alone. From the boat’s shaded deck, I spot a profusion of bird life: cattle egrets and pond herons, brahminy kites and whiskered terns, all seemingly oblivious to our passage. Compared to mid-Kerala’s backwater hub Alleppey, where high season can see more than a thousand boats cruising its waters daily, this is the epitome of serenity. Waving to an excited band of village children who call to us from the banks of an island is the most active pursuit of the day.

With a double en-suite bedroom and large open-air deck, the Honey Dew is comfortable and modern, and the food is exceptional: karimeen river fish, sea crab, squid, and prawns served in an array of fiery dishes. “It’s all straight from the backwaters and the sea,” says the chef. As if to underscore his words, we soon see the bamboo frameworks of mussel farms. There are hundreds laid in neat rows along the water, hung with coir ropes on which spat—mussel larvae—is grown. Gul introduced mussel cultivation here in 1996 as a way to improve the lives of coastal communities, and the farms have since grown to employ some 6,000 people. Together, they harvest about 15,000 tons of mussels every four months, selling them to local markets. “Mussels have thrived,” Gul had told me earlier. “These farmers now have a crop which is theirs, so they keep 100 percent of the profits.”

Accompanied by the late-afternoon sun, we dock at Monkey Island, so named for the tribes of macaques that reside here. We arrive just in time to see mussel-farming families bring in a harvest. It’s an engaging sight; the green shells shimmer jewel-like against the sand. The islanders speak only Malayalam, but we manage to communicate in other ways as I sit with them and help to pull bunches of muddy bivalves apart, placing the live ones in hemp sacks.

Later, we cruise northward to the mouth of the Arabian Sea, which feeds into these backwaters. At the widest point where sandbanks have formed, we watch as men in canoes, their heads wrapped in cotton scarves to protect them against the sun, shuttle buckets full of sand back to the mainland for building. Soon the light begins to change, and the day that began as an ethereal haze is now winding down with a rosy pink sunset, the lingering mist turning everything sepia like an old photograph. Soon after night falls, I retire to my cabin, where I’m lulled to sleep by the gentle waters.

My next adventure proves more strenuous: a kayak and bike expedition with a local outfit called Muddy Boots. “Northern Kerala is the only place where you can experience the sea and backwaters so close together,” enthuses the company’s manager, Syed Mehaboob, who’s also leading my tour. We begin in the kayaks, managing to travel a few kilometers up and across the waterway before docking at Valiyaparamba Island. It’s a lively day here. Boys ride motorbikes along pathways, and young children playing among the palms come to greet us. And everywhere, it seems, is decorated with an abundance of butterflies. “There are over 400 species here,” Syed tells me, “from the Malabar Rose to the Grass Jewel.”