Saturday, September 3, 2016

Casa Kimberly offers Old Hollywood glamour in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta was a small Mexican fishing village until it became a Hollywood backdrop. When John Huston filmed The Night of the Iguana here in the sixties, big name stars such as Ava Gardner, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor came to stay, and the little village became a major tourist destination. Even now, despite the growth and the proliferation of holiday condos, PV retains the romance of the village it once was. In the heart of the old town, in the Zona Romantica, a visitor can find cobblestone streets, outdoor taco stands and busy local markets. And now there’s a new hotel that is an homage to passion and glamour: Casa Kimberly, an intimate nine-suite hotel built on the ruins of the house that Richard Burton bought as a birthday gift for Elizabeth Taylor.

Casa Kimberly, built atop the ruins of a house Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor, is a cross between old Hollywood glamour and sturdy Mexican comfort.
Casa Kimberly is snugged into the side of the mountain in the Zona Romantica, overlooking Our Lady of Guadeloupe Church and steps away from its sister property, the Hacienda San Angel. Guests can nip over to the San Angel for breakfast or a swim if they like. The hotel is a short walk from the beaches and the Malecon, where locals and visitors do their evening paseo. Nearby markets offer good shopping for local artisanal products, such as silver and turquoise jewellery and Mata Ortiz pottery.

The hotel's interior is stunning, with marble staircases and blue-and-white tiles.
Behind an anonymous exterior, the hotel is visually stunning, combining traditional Mexican design with antique oriental carpets and crystal chandeliers, a cross between old Hollywood glamour and sturdy Mexican comfort. There are marble staircases, blue-and-white tiles, and white carved statues of saints and putti in niches, and everywhere, echoes of Liz and Dick. I woke one morning to find a Hollywood star on the floor of my bedroom: Not the tipsy ghost of Richard Burton, but a sunny outline cast by the star-shaped window above the shower. An appropriate wake-up symbol as I was staying in the Velvet Suite, named after Liz’s role in National Velvet, where French doors open to a sun-washed terrace with views of the Sierre Madres, the terracotta roofs of the city and the blue water of Banderas Bay.

The Velvet Suite, named after Elizabeth Taylor's role in National Velvet, features French doors that open to a terrace with views of the Sierre Madres.
The largest and most opulent room is the Liz Taylor suite, occupying approximately the same space where Liz’s bedroom would have been. There’s a large sitting room/dressing room, with a heart-shaped tub like the one that Liz ordered – there was a breakdown in her communication and the tub is an anatomically correct heart shape, kind of Frida Khalo-like.

The Richard Burton suite.
In all the suites, white plaster walls, honey-coloured marble floors and gauzy drapes means there is little need to use the air conditioning. And the bridge that Burton built to discretely connect Liz’s casa to his – they were both married to other people at the time – is still there. It connects the main part of the hotel to the Richard Burton suite, two smaller suites, and the hotel pool.

The best time to eat at the hotel's Iguana Restaurant is at 6:30 p.m., when the sun is setting.
There’s a staggering choice of excellent places to eat in Puerto Vallarta, but it would be a shame to miss the hotel’s Iguana Restaurant. (Hint: Book a sunset table for 6:30 p.m.) I had a lobster taco that may have been one of the best things I have ever eaten in Mexico, a beet-and-tomato gazpacho with green-apple julienne, slow-simmered pork shank and, to finish, a silky chocolate mousse zinged with chilli. The wine list leans toward Mexican wines, which can be a gamble, but there are some good Chilean and Californian choices. There is also a tequila bar where guests can explore the intricacies of the country’s most famous tipple.

The bridge Richard Burton built to connect to Elizabeth Taylor’s casa now links the main hotel to the pool.
A selection of locally made chocolates by the bedside was both delicious and culturally appropriate, as chocolate has been popular in Mexico since the Aztecs.
I would have loved an espresso maker in the room. I’m an early riser, and ended up on the terrace at sunrise watching the light hit the roofs of the city. A good coffee would have been perfect.
Casa Kimberly, Calle Zaragoza 445, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 9 suites from $589, includes breakfast.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux, France, Opens Its Doors To the Wine Lovers of the World

It's Official! 

The World's First Wine Playground 

Opens to the Public 

June 1, 

in Bordeaux, France




La Cité du Vin is a brilliant new facility, opened officially by French President Hollande on May 31, and opened to the public on June 1. It is a museum, a wine bar, a wine-rich restaurant, a multi-sensory wine experience, and a totally immersive journey into the culture and history of wine, from Man's first sip of fermented liquid to the latest trends in winemaking, from all areas of the globe. It's ambitious in reach and completely and delightfully entertaining. whether you are a wine connoiseur or an infrequent sipper.

Situated on the left side of the Garonne River, in the Bacalan district of Bordeaux, this architecturally dramatic building is more than a shrine to wine. It is designed to be an immersive journey, an entertaining 'degustation' of wine history and its place in our culture. There are twenty two different modules, all interactive and controlled by hand held devices that give the visitor the ability to activate the many layers of sound, sight and even smell that each module can present.

 Open headsets, with output available in eight different languages, allow attention to the presentation, as well as permitting the wearer to still hear ambient conversation.
When I toured the facility, the workers were in countdown mode, almost done but finishing the last jobs to prepare for the French president's visit and the grand opening. And while all the details were not completely finished, it was obvious that this museum would not be a solemn or solely academic place of meditation on wine. Rather it is a living and energetic exploration, with opportunities to engage, to experiment, to taste and enjoy and, in the best way possible, to learn.

The restaurant on the seventh floor is a soothing and calm place to dine, with a rotating array of wine choices, and with one of the best views of the city of Bordeaux.

 The Belvedere, on the top floor, will be the place where visitors can choose a glass, from twenty different wines, that is included in their ticket price, and enjoy the wine while drinking in the 360 degree view of the city, the river  and the surrounding area.

There is also a wine bar and more casual eating area on the main floor, as well as a 60,000 bottle wine store and a centre where visitors can plan and book a tour of wine country. The terraces outside lead down to the river, and boats will take visitors on tours of wine chateaus that are close to the river.
The state of the art tasting rooms can be booked by groups, or individuals can join scheduled group tastings in one of the three tasting rooms. A library and reading room, the Thomas Jefferson Auditorium and an exhibition gallery are also part of the experience and will present wine culture from many angles.
If you love wine, are interested in the history of wine in world culture, or if you just enjoy a an entertaining culinary experience, La Cité du Vin is your kind of venue.

Entrance fees for La Cite du Vin are 20 euros pp, and include the hand helds and headsets, as well as one glass of wine in the Belvedere. Tickets can be booked in advance online.