After reading this travel piece by Charlie Lovett in The New York Times back in December, I realized, somewhat reluctantly, that I might be one of these people. Not about Jane Austen though. While I have no desire to traipse through Hamilton, follow stagecoach routes from London, or elbow my way through Chawton Cottage with busloads of self-described “Janeites,” I would blissfully brave a crush of the most ardent Bloomsbury groupies to visit Virginia Woolf’s homes and haunts. The magnitude of the Virginia Woolf mania is only slightly less immense than that of Jane Austen, yet it feels somehow more dignified, perhaps because of the intimacy of the places and spaces. Most compellingly, Monk’s House with its casually bohemian interiors, original writing shed, Leonard’s conservatory, the fanatically tended garden, fruit orchard, and South Downs trails. In her diary, Virginia wrote about Monk’s House: “I had so much of the most profound interest to write here – a dialogue of the soul with the soul – and I have let it slip – why? Because of feeding the goldfish, of looking at the new pond, of playing bowls… happiness.” I only recently discovered that you can stay overnight in the garden studio at Monk’s House, GASP. The absolute ultimate literary bolthole. And you can visit Charleston Farmhouse and Sissinghurst Castle while you’re there.
A few other literature-related travel destinations worth exploring:
You can book a stay in Keats’ apartment in Rome at the foot of the Spanish steps.
Or stay at this rustic organic goji berry farm in New Mexico, where both DH Lawrence and Aldous Huxley once lived and wrote.
This stone farmhouse in the rural village of Lacam de Loubressac overlooking the Dordogne River Valley is owned by a well-known poet who wishes to remain anonymous, and in case this legitimizes the lit cred, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath have stayed here. It looks beautiful.
I recently got my hands on the renowned Argentine chef Francis Mallmann’s new cookbook, Mallmann on Fire, which is all about… cooking over fire. Wherever you happen to be in the world, with whatever materials you might have handy. This guy’s open-flame chops, while a bit daunting, will make you feel like you can make anything anywhere. Who needs a fancy grill when there are dirt, rocks, branches nearby? In one particularly brazen-looking method, he hangs a half dozen legs of lamb by butcher’s twine from a high-hanging branch of a big tree. Mallmann offers simple-enough recipes for every type of landscape you can think of, from a balcony in Brooklyn to the remote Patagonia mountains. His cooking-by-fire bible would certainly have come in handy when we stayed at Villa Pizzorusso — a masseria in Puglia with a 500-year-old stone oven. We spent five hours getting the temperature just right, only to discover at 10pm that we didn’t have flour and every last local market was long-closed. The whole affair– involving an embarrassing last-ditch attempt with packaged muffin mix — ended very badly.
We’re already planning our outdoor cooking oven at the farmhouse. In the meantime, a few other places to put Mallmann’s techniques to good use:
>>I’ve stayed here a handful of times and can attest: the outdoor oven works as good as it looks. // Casa Ninamu (above)
>>At this sweet country b&b in British Columbia, the handmade outdoor oven is inspiration for the one going in at the farmhouse.
>>Love the fire pit next to the outdoor dining table at this farmhouse, but there’s also a fantastic outdoor kitchen with a grill closer to the house.
>>And if you’re not ready to experiment, you can feast on Mallmann’s specialities at the source, where meat and vegetables are cooked according to an old Andean technique called infiernillo, which translates to little hell.
Last summer, we stayed in this modernist number by the renowned late Chicago architect Harry Weese. This summer, we moved next door to the more rustic log cabin, Shack Tamarack, that Weese designed for his family when he was 18 years old. Yes, 18 years old. It’s a beautiful example of vernacular Michigan lakefront architecture, and you can make out the formative signature details — master of space, cleverly situated bedrooms, modular hidden doors and compartments — tucked inside a traditional log cabin wrapper, made with cedar timbers from a nearby bog. Every detail is purposeful.
Some places were built for making memories, and when it comes to the quintessential family cabin, Harry Weese pretty much nailed it. Weese’s family still owns the house and has filled it regularly with friends and family for the past 82 years. Harry’s sister lives in the third house all summer long, and I love hearing stories that have played across generations of guests.
Here’s the thing: Yes, I am a sucker for smart, storied, well-designed spaces, and yes, I can be expected to properly rhapsodize about Shack Tamarack’s beautiful handmade textiles hanging from walls and slung over benches, antique rocking chairs, old wooden shelves lined with even older stoneware, and the giant stone fireplace built by hand. But I also understand what makes a place special, and it has more to do with how it makes you feel — relaxed and inspired, humbled even — than what it looks like. It’s about how spaces that truly capture a sense of place can transport you.
You know how you can read 100 picture books out loud to your kids on the same tufted L-shaped living room sofa, and they all sort of run together, like one big memory unit, each story folding into the next? Yet reading One Morning in Maine while actually in Maine, piling five deep in a queen bed looking out a giant picture window at the evergreen tree-lined coast — the same pointed evergreen trees and craggy coast in the book’s pages — is something you’ll never forget? Like you can still taste the salt in the air when you think about it? Or how you can grill fish 100 times in your own backyard, but somehow that freshly caught whitefish covered in herbs you picked from the garden next to the farmhouse you were staying in Northern Michigan will remain forever epic in deliciousness and culinary bravado. Therein lies the power of pulling yourself out of your everyday life and allowing even the littlest experiences — like, at Shack Tamarack, reading Mathilda by Roald Dahl on the porch swing and laughing until your side hurts, watching a wicked storm roll in from the pier, and cannonball contests off the dock — to live large in your memory as some of the most seminal of the trip.
I know I won’t remember all the details of how everything looked at Harry Weese’s family cabin (well, maybe the set of deer hooves that cradle a couple fishing rods over the dining room table), but I will never forget what we did there and who we were at that moment in time. Rent it at vrbo.com.
This month in Food & Wine, I contributed to a feature about new American farms. Apricot Lane Farm in Moorpark, California (photos above), owned by Molly and John Chester, is new biodynamic farm that is developing something of a cult following among LA foodies (including a wait list for their eggs at Farmshop). After they get their product line off the ground (which will be a giant success if their cinnamon-peach butter and roasted garlic hot sauce are any indication), they plan to open a farm inn, which they refer to as a “luxury farm stay” — the kind of place where you get your hands dirty by day and sleep on high-thread count sheets by night. Guests will be able to take in the bucolic farm setting, while pitching in to feed the animals and harvesting fruit from the 80 varieties of fruit trees — walnuts, macadamia nuts, avocados, grapefruits, lemons, mulberry, persimmon, plums and pluots, pomegranates, cherries, figs. Molly, who also just released a cookbook, Back to Butter (with an intro by former client Beck), is chatty in all the best ways — interesting and generous with details — so I have no doubt she’ll make an amazing host.
In the meantime, here are a few other farms on my radar lately (in addition to these from the archives):
>>LIBERTY VIEW FARM. Who doesn’t want to stay in an adorable, tricked-out yurt in the middle of an apple orchard in upstate New York?
>>CHEF’S GARDEN. This Ohio farm is the place for beautiful, uncommon vegetables– more than 600 varieties of heirloom, herb, microgreens and edible flowers. It’s also where stressed-out chefs from around the country have been known to come to relax and regroup.
>>WORLDS END FARM (all photos below). The flower farm where the owners of Brooklyn’s Saipua have planted roots.This one is for the wish list category. Not a lodging option for everyone, unfortunately, but they do operate apprenticeships and opportunities to participate in work days.
Lazy hammocks, oversized porches with worn wicker armchairs, poolside citrus groves, outdoor ovens. Here, a collection of places, that for a host of individual reasons, live in my memory as the epitome of summer vacation. The perfect trifecta of summertime haunts: Michigan, Maine and Italy. There’s no place I’d rather be.
My secret for test-driving a hotel or inn without committing to an overnight stay: Brunch. And The Pelican Inn didn’t disappoint. Outside: clinging, trailing wisteria. Inside: dark, moody and welcoming; windsor chairs; a fire in the hearth; and all the broodiness of a proper British tavern. I’m sure this seven-guestroom Tudor, with every bit of dark wood and heavy drapery channeling the romantic spirit of a 16th-century coaching inn in the English countryside, is a lovely place to stay. So lovely, in fact, that it’s thronged on weekends with outdoor weddings and dinner guests toiling away on the grassy lawn waiting for a table. Get there when it opens on a Sunday, and you’ll be rewarded with a quiet, dim corner in front of the fireplace and a beautiful spread of English country fare — bangers, corned beef and hash, scones and jam, the works. Beyond-full and sublimely satisfied, my husband still wanted to stick around for the Ploughman’s lunch and a stout in the pub. Maybe we should have stayed the night after all.
We just got back from Northern California, and I can still feel the vibrant spring in my bones. Point Reyes is a nationally protected, majestic, dream-like cape teeming with wildlife, meadows full of flowers, and foggy shoreline vistas that will make your heart stand still. During weekends, the outdoor enthusiasts (and their backpacks, kayaks, bicycles) arrive by the throngs, but we were there mid-week, and it could not have been more peaceful. Long, quiet hikes paid off with up-close sightings of tule elk, deer, bobcats, snakes, groundhogs, harbor seals and far-off glimpses of elephant seals and whales. We hiked every single day, nearly all day, and ate oysters for every meal. Next week, a post about the old storied boathouse where we soothed sore legs in front of the oversized hearth or beside the window watching the birds swoop and gather on Tomales Bay.
Even though the Fogo Island Inn is a real looker–with architecture and design that’s as slick as it gets–it’s all about the intentions here, folks. Nutshell: An unlikely group of people come together to preserve a way of life in rural Newfoundland. And in a refreshing break from the sales-y marketing talk of so many socially responsible entrepreneurial efforts, the Fogo Island Inn’s mission feels straightforward and honest: enriching the lives of the locals and sustaining local craftsmanship and tradition. In the handful of months since it opened, more than 60 islanders are being trained to make quilts, rugs and textiles. On the homepage of the inn’s website, photos of locals and hotel employees outnumber photos of the knockout-beautiful hotel, showing exactly what they value: the artists, carpenters, boatbuilders, fisherman and foragers who make up the community. The inn is run as a charity (there are no investors who need to be paid), and the primary mission is to reinvest in the community. And since we’re being honest, the simply and thoughtfully decorated rooms with wood-burning stoves, rocking chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows with staggeringly beautiful views of the rugged, wild coast don’t hurt either.
While visiting a dear friend in New York City a couple weekends ago (well before this weekend’s rainy winter solstice), we decided to scoot upstate for a night or two to hole up and catch up. We needed some space, we both reckoned, to spread out and breathe and walk in crisp air over crunchy leaves. Once we got to our destination–a beautifully rehabbed girls’ camp building with lots of natural wood, plants, and mismatched textiles–it was a foregone conclusion: We asked if we could stay another night before the first 24 hours had passed. It’s that kind of place.
Owned and rehabbed by Brooklyn-based architect Kevin Lindores and his partner Daniel, who also works in design, the three-bedroom hideaway could not have better suited our weekend of unapologetic lounging, eating and talking. I did much of the cooking, and my friend was the designated fire-builder–the extent of our duties, save for the welcome, shared responsibility of baby-holding (and cooing and cheek-pinching). My living room throne was a custom linen-upholstered, daybed-inspired bench that stretches the entire length of the living room. There was a lot of wine, and a lot of landscape gawking through perfectly placed windows, giving way to knockout views that, on this particular weekend, made the Manhattan skyline seem almost trivial in comparison. Behind the house, a forested view of the mountains stretched out with colors that seemed to change by the hour. When we arrived, it was the tail-end of autumn–crispy, tawny leaves underfoot against a foggy backdrop of bright green evergreens. By the time we left, there was a magical dusting of snow covering the backyard, the branches, the old stone hedges, and it felt like we had endured the changing of the seasons through one meandering, endless conversation in front of the fireplace. It made me think about how much I’ve come to appreciate the in-between-ness of the seasons–those uncharacteristic days that seem to defy, waffle between and hover, and how I so rarely get a chance to consider such frivolities.
Sometimes you have to remember to stop moving–a place like this certainly helps. Clum House is available for reservations at airbnb.com.
Remember a couple years ago when I wrote about architect Sabrina Bignami’s gorgeous frescoed Tuscan apartment, where she hosts guests in one of the extra bedrooms? Since then, we’ve stayed in touch a bit; call it a mutual affinity for beautiful, creative spaces. I was drawn to her strong preservation ethos, juxtaposing original interior architectural elements with a modern design sensibility, and she became a regular reader (the highest compliment). So I was thrilled to hear that she and her partner Alessandro Capellaro decided to start renting out their renovated Box House in Florence. If it looks familiar, the former carpenter’s workshop–once a giant, open-plan mess of dust, wood and machines turned cozy loft–made rapid-fire rounds through design magazines when they finished the project a few years ago. And now, I have the privilege of introducing it to travelers.
Located five walking minutes from the historical centre on a quiet street, there are so many important details that make it a great place to stay (a big cooking kitchen, interior courtyard, and fireplace, for starters), but I’m in complete lockdown mode on the old wooden boxes everywhere, creating the most clever display of reuse I’ve ever seen. They bought more than 300 antique wooden ballot boxes used in Italian elections from the 40s-80s at a flea market, and used them to build out the space, fashioning the boxes into cabinets, tables, shelves, sofas, counters, walls, beds, you name it. “Like 300 bricks, or Lego pieces, they can be transformed and reused,” says Allessandro, who approaches architecture the same way–honoring history, repurposing space. I really love that they left all the scratches, stickers, signatures and signs of the time on the surface as a visible reminder of their history. To stay at the Box House (prices starting at $160/night for two people), email Alessandro at alessandro.capellaro
A couple months ago, I read a beautifully written travel piece in The New York Times magazine. It’s about writer Michael Paterniti’s regular pilgrimages to a small, nondescript village in Spain, initially in search of a cheese, later in search of himself. I urge you to read the entire story. In one of my favorite paragraphs, he writes:
“But something happened to me. Even now, I’m not exactly sure what. I have a friend who once told me about the first time he ever took a ferry to an island off the coast of North Carolina, and how he knew, right there on the ferry — with the salt spray and the light off the ocean — that he’d come back to this same spot every year. He’d come to relive that feeling of leaving his old self behind. That annual renewal, the reacquaintance with the person he felt himself to be on that island, was something he wanted to organize his life around. Similarly, Guzmán instantly and improbably became my place.”
It made me think of Maine, and how we missed our annual summer trip this year. It made me think about how Maine, where I’ve been spending summers since I was a kid, is my place, and its absence felt like a tightening in my chest, like I needed the crisp salty air, the dense evergreens, the craggy rock beaches, the indescribable Maine-ness that makes me feel more, well, like me. We decided to make it happen in the fall. Yes, the water was freezing. But when isn’t it in Maine? Less ice cream, more clam chowder. Less laying in the sun, more snuggling under blankets. There was so much beauty in the silence of the off-season; it was exactly what our newly expanded family needed. We did a lot of hiking through the woods, exploring under rocks, collecting shells, building sandcastles and early morning fires, and taking long, meandering, two-hour walks along the beach. Most days, we saw few people but counted foxes, deer, turkey, porcupine, and crabs among encounters with living creatures. Below, some photos from our quiet week. The red and yellows popping out amid a backdrop of towering evergreen trees and blue sky still makes my heart leap.
So the weather’s been a little unpredictable this summer–sweaters in July?– but of course, now that the precious season is nearly over, it’s all endless, cloudless beauty. Sunshine for days. In a little round-up to honor these final weeks of summertime, I’ve pulled together some favorite posts from the archives (and elsewhere)–about places you need to contact right now for one last gasp of summer. Right now! Because there’s still time. To buy a plane ticket. To pack a duffel bag, gas up the car and hit the road. To go bird watching, beach combing or body surfing. To float down a river on an intertube or walk through a field of flowers. To wear your salty bathing suit to dinner. To shuck oysters and eat lobster. To sit on a giant rock, looking out at the great vast ocean, contemplating how small you are and how good it feels to be alive.
Popham Beach, Maine: This place is as magical as it gets. I don’t say that lightly. And the beach it sits above could not be more quiet, natural and majestic.
William Brown Cabin, Roscoe, New York: For the outdoor shower alone.
Inn Paradiso, Los Robles, California: Laid-back homebase (with killer outdoor porches) for exploring the nearby farms and vineyards, or just lazing about.
Villa Pizzorusso, Puglia, Italy: This stunning 500-year-old masseria is the backdrop of last summer’s dream trip. The palatial compound is surrounded by olive groves, the pool surrounded by citrus and figs.
Le Leiu Perdu, Montazeau, France: Those wildflowers at the top of the post? Right here.
Casas da Areia, Carrasqueira, Portugal: A collection of thatched-roof huts with dreamy views and sand floors.
And go here for the…
pool with intertubes.
teepees with rocky coastal views.
little stream and best climbing tree in the whole wide world.
island life and front porch living.
infinity pool overlooking patchwork Tuscan landscape.
Are you tired of Michigan yet? I’m in a travel holding pattern right now, spending time with my new babe, and only in the very beginning stages of dreaming up where I’m going to take this sweet little bundle. So in the meantime, more photos of our time in Northern Michigan. We’re missing the Maine coast pretty desperately about now, but we’re so lucky to have this magical escape so close to home. Lake Michigan, farmland, farm stands, cherries, Tandem Ciders, dunes, what more?