All posts by Marc d'Entremont

I travel, cook, eat, observe, interact, live and write. As a chef/food, wine and travel writer, I look for connections among people, their activities, the environment and what they eat that can tell the story of a region/culture, whether that be in the remote Andes Mountains or the streets of Philadelphia. Publications include my travel web site on Argentina (www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com) and articles covering a diverse range of countries and cultures at www.travelpenandpalate.com, Hellenic News of America, Original World Travel, Examiner.com (International Travel, International Dining Examiner, Culinary Travel, Food & Recipes and Philadelphia Fine Dining) and Suite101. Industry experience includes over 35 years as a chef, chef educator, hotel and restaurant manager, catering and teaching: history, writing, theater, culinary arts and business. I lived for many years in Puerto Rico and Canada (Nova Scotia). I travel extensively in southern South & Central America, Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and southern Africa. Member: International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) – Board of Directors & Chair Membership Committee Member: American Culinary Federation (ACF)

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
View of Bay of Banderas from room at Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway

As a chef I usually shy away from all-inclusive resorts. Being a captive audience for a resort’s desire to maximize profits too often results in forced acceptance of less than stellar quality. Yet Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel proves that excellence is by design.

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
hand painted inspirational quotes on the interior walls throughout the hotel
hand painted inspirational quotes on the interior walls throughout the hotel

Hoteles Buenaventura group was founded over 30 years ago in Puerto Vallarta by a family of engineers and architects with three generations now actively involved. A flair for design is evident in the liberal use of original art that decorates public spaces and rooms as well as the ergonomic comfort that dominates the furnishings. Villa Premiere is one of three resorts under the group’s umbrella along the vibrant shore of the Bay of Banderas.

Infinity pool & bar
Infinity pool & bar
private hot tub/pool on balcony of a corner suite
private hot tub/pool on balcony of a corner suite

Villa Premiere, built in 1999, completed a multi-million dollar renovation in September 2016 under the direction of the second generation family CEO and architect José Abel Villa Fernandez. Not only were all 60 rooms and suites refurbished but the public areas including pools and the three restaurants received major improvements. The adult only Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway exudes comfort, serenity and extraordinary customer service even before you arrive. Upon making a reservation an email is sent with a list of pillow, room scent and mini-bar preferences.

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Guests receive a complimentary neck massage upon registration
sweets
sweets

Guests are presented with glasses of champagne before sitting at the reception desk. After the necessary formalities of registration they’re whisked to one of two masseuses who provide a complimentary neck massage. By the time They’re thoroughly relaxed a staff member escorts the guest to their room where the baggage has already been delivered. A platter may awaits in the antechamber of the room next to the espresso machine with an attractive arrangement of welcoming sweets. That’s all within the first hour.

pool
pool

 

the hotel gym
the hotel gym

If a guest has opted for the all-inclusive package – highly recommended – the discrete pampering will continue during their stay. An extensive room service menu and a well-stocked mini-bar may entice one to remain in their room gazing out on the pounding surf of the Bay of Banderas from the balcony. Yet the glass walled and open air restaurants, beachfront pool bar, luxurious Mind & Soul Spa, the spacious well equipped gym and the soft sand beach are equally enticing.

exquisite dishes & presentations
exquisite dishes & presentations

cocktailFrom breakfast to late night cocktails, the Villa Premiere’s chefs and mixologists never cease to amaze. Each dish whether it’s traditional mechaca – northern Mexican dried beef scrambled with eggs – a tropical fruit plate, extraordinary seafood soup or a fanciful dessert of faux sweet fried egg with tulle cookie bacon, the skill, quality and imaginative presentations are outstanding. Cocktails are made with the freshest ingredients from superb fresh fruit margaritas (no mixes here!) to the finest scotch.

Trio of breakfast quesadillas: Huitlachoche (mushrooms that grow on local corn) Squash blossom & Mexican sausage
Trio of breakfast quesadillas: Huitlachoche (mushrooms that grow on local corn) Squash blossom & Mexican sausage

Yet the Villa Premiere/Hoteles Buenaventura’s commitment to service goes beyond the paying guest. I met staff members that have been in the family’s employ for years. The young executive chef has been in charge of the kitchen for five years – since he was 24. In an age when longevity in the hospitality industry is often measured in months, that’s a lifetime.

La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta with Villa Premiere GM Allesandro Stifani
La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta with Villa Premiere GM Allesandro Stifani

One evening we were serenaded at Villa Premiere by the La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta, a youth orchestra consisting of at risk Puerto Vallarta teens. Under the direction of an equally youthful Daniel Oliveros and the patronage of Hoteles Buenaventura, these children are learning life skills equal to their newfound musical talents. The success of La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta bodes well for both the city and Mexico.

Luxury linens & appoinments
Luxury linens & appoinments

Puerto Vallarta, unlike many resort cities that I’ve visited worldwide still maintains the charm of its humble beginnings as just another village on the Mexican coast. When discovered in the 1960s it attracted artists, writers and sport fishermen looking for tranquility. Although luxury resorts, condos and beachfront nightlife along the Malecon now entertain thousands, it’s still the gentle rhythmic sound of the surf while drifting off to sleep at Villa Premiere that’ll remind you life is good.

contented cats & craft sellers on La Islita del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta
contented cats & craft sellers on La Islita del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway, Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board and Latitude International

Parasailing on the beach in front of Villa Premiere
Parasailing on the beach in front of Villa Premiere

 

You can read more by Marc d’Entremont on Puerto Vallarta:

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Cedar planked salmon: the Pacific Northwest on a plate

Cedar planked salmon & fennel
Cedar planked salmon & fennel

A trip to the Pacific Northwest inspired this dish. It’s hard to ignore the glistening salmon, the allure of the sea and the moist forest scents of cedar. The forests and rivers provided the ingredients for this dish, common to the Native American cultures of the Salish Sea. Here it’s fused with ginger from the east captured in English inspired preserves. Most grocers sell ginger preserves, and it’s available through mail order.

ginger preserves
ginger preserves
pure apple cider
pure apple cider

The rich oils of wild salmon are excellent for absorbing flavors, and the aromatic wood pairs well with the tangy sweetness of the ginger and lemon. The slow caramelizing with sweet onion enhances the anise flavor of fresh fennel. The apple cider syrup napping the vegetables compliments the ginger glaze on the fish.

Cedar planks for cooking are available from kitchen supply stores, upscale grocers and by mail order. Never use cedar that has been treated for construction. Follow the instructions for soaking the cedar plank before proceeding with cooking.

 

cedar plant soaking in apple cider
cedar plant soaking in apple cider

 

Ginger Glazed Cedar Planked Salmon & Cider Glazed Caramelized Fennel 

Ingredients for the cedar plank:

  • 1 cedar plank
  • 3 to 4 cups apple cider (water or wine may be substituted).

Preparation:

Two hours before grilling, place the cedar plank in a roasting pan large enough to fit.

  1. Pour the apple cider over the plank and soak, turning once. Soak for two hours.
fresh fennel
fresh fennel

Ingredients for the fennel and sweet onion:

  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup simmering water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Cut stalks off fennel bulb. Remove and reserve fronds, discard the stalks. Slice bulb into 4 to 6 slices.
  2. Peel and slice the onion into 4 to 6 slices.
  3. Melt the butter in a 12-inch sauté pan, or one large enough to fit the fennel and onions in a single layer.
  4. Arrange the fennel and onions on top of the melted butter.
  5. Add the simmering water and cover. Reduce heat and gently steam for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid and cook an additional 15 minutes allowing the water to evaporate and the vegetables to lightly brown. Turn at least once.
salmon ready for the grill
salmon ready for the grill

Ingredients for the salmon

  • 1 pound wild caught salmon fillet, ideally with the skin on
  • olive oil to coat
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons ginger preserves

Preparation:

  1. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to about 350ºF or a medium heat-setting.
  2. Remove the plank from the apple cider and place it on a baking sheet. Reserve the apple cider for the fennel glaze.
  3. Place the salmon fillet, skin side down, onto the plank. Lightly coat the top of the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Mix the lemon juice and zest into the ginger preserves and spoon over the salmon.
  5. Place the cedar plank on the grill and cover the grill. Cook for 12 to 18 minutes. The salmon is done when it is uniformly pink in the center.
grilled salmon
grilled salmon

Preparation for the fennel’s cider glaze:

  1. reduced cider
    reduced cider

    While salmon is grilling, pour the reserved apple cider into a sauce pan and reduce over high heat until it’s a light syrup, about a 75 percent reduction.

 

Plate the salmon and fennel:

  1. When the salmon’s cooked, remove the plank to a cutting board. Slice the fillet into three portions and, using a thin spatula, separate the skin from the fillet.
  2. Arrange on plates with the fennel and onion. Drizzle the apple cider syrup over the fennel and decorate the dish with chopped fennel fronds.

Usually cedar planks can be re-used once or twice until they become overly charred, cracked or impossible to clean. Clean under hot running water – do not use detergent – scrubbing off the skin and loose ash. Allow to dry on a rack and store with the grill.

Mount Shuksan, North Cascades National Park, Washington
Mount Shuksan, North Cascades National Park, Washington

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Thessaloniki at the crossroads of Greece

Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki
Greek students at the Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki

As Thessaloniki has been at the crossroads of Greek history for 2,500 years then by all means walk the city. It’s not a small city but easy for anyone who enjoys a good low-impact hike. When that stroll includes stops at world-class historic sites, vibrant centuries old markets and unique cafes, the discoveries that are in store can be amazing.

What to visit:

triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius
triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius

Roman archeological sites: the 4th century triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius still has a direct road connecting his palace to the Rotunda. For over 2,000 years the Rotunda served as a Greek/Roman temple, Christian church, mosque and now an Orthodox Church treasure.

 

Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki
Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki

The Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki houses a wealth of culture that both Macedonia and the city fostered from pre-historic times to the golden age of Alexander.

 

 

Heptapyrgion
Heptapyrgion

Towering above downtown Thessaloniki up the foothills of Mount Chortiatis where the ancient acropolis was located, the massive fortress of the Heptapyrgion guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and Ottomans in the 15th.

Monastery of Vlatadon
Monastery of Vlatadon

Down the hill the Monastery of Vlatadon in Ano Poli was built on a site already sacred where St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians in the year 51.

 

 

Ladadika
Ladadika

Until its near destruction in the great fire of 1917 the historic Ladadika district was the heart of Thessaloniki’s commercial activity and Jewish heritage. What survived both the fire and Nazi extermination is the heart of tradition and the city’s elegant beaux-arts pre-World War II rebuilding. Today it’s a trendy neighborhood of cafes and shops. Centuries old market arcades, the Modeano and Bezesteni in particular, still ply traditional goods such as textiles, flowers and jewelry.

Bey Hamam
Bey Hamam

Cafes surround the 15th century Bey Hamam, a preserved Ottoman public bathhouse.

 

 

 

 

The White Tower
The White Tower

The White Tower, built by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century on Roman and Byzantine foundations, is a popular icon and focal point of the new seaside promenade.

 

 

Restaurants:

Ouzou Melathron
Ouzou Melathron

Ouzou Melathron is classically Greek as well as trendy Ladadika.

 

 

 

 

Agioli Restaurant
Agioli Restaurant

Agioli Restaurant serves fusion Greek on Thessaloniki’s seaside promenade.

 

 

 

Oval Cafe
Oval Cafe

Oval Café is surrounded by the city’s Parisian style architectural splendor.

 

 

 

Hotels:

Mediterranean Palace Hotel
Mediterranean Palace Hotel

Mediterranean Palace Hotel, traditional elegance in the Ladadika on the waterfront.

 

 

 

kosher honey, almonds & grilled fish, Astoria Hotel
kosher honey, almonds & grilled fish, Astoria Hotel

Astoria Hotel, in the Ladadika, is modern and kosher.

Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki,
Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki,

 

 

 

 

Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki and Hotel Nikopolis   are elegant resorts near the airport with superb cuisine.

 

 

Hotel Nikopolis
Hotel Nikopolis

Day excursion:

Follow the Wine Roads of Northern Greece and visit Domaine Anesti Babatzimopoulou.

Domaine Anesti Babatzimopoulou.
Domaine Anesti Babatzimopoulou.

 

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of the Halkidiki Tourism Authority and the Thessaloniki Hotels  Association

Moon over Thessaloniki
Moon over Thessaloniki

 

For additional detailed articles on Thessaloniki by Marc d’Entremont please see:

Thessaloniki’s layers of civilization
Following threads in Thessaloniki

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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A surprise pairing: vanilla, pineapple, salmon, scallops

Sautéed salmon and scallops with caramelized pineapple and vanilla sauce
Sautéed salmon and scallops with caramelized pineapple and vanilla sauce

Vanilla sauce and pineapple certainly don’t seem like they ought to pair with fish and seafood. Yet this savory sauce along with caramelized fresh pineapple accent the natural sweet notes of salmon and scallops in surprising ways. Just as in desserts, the vanilla highlights the natural flavors of this dish.

As a chef I enjoy playing with food especially deconstructing dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants. The recipe I’ve created for this dish was inspired by several variations of these four ingredients over the years. For this dish please resist substitutions.

vanilla bean
vanilla bean

Vanilla extract will be too intense whereas the natural bean provides a subtle essence of vanilla. Sweet unsalted butter will coat your mouth with flavors in a way oil will not. Canned pineapple is too wet to properly caramelize; seek out a ripe fresh fruit.

Sautéed salmon and scallops with caramelized pineapple and vanilla sauce

wild salmon fillets over fresh tarragon
wild salmon fillets over fresh tarragon

Ingredients for two generous servings

  • 2 six ounce wild salmon fillets with skin
  • 6 sea scallops, approximately ½ pound
  • 3 one inch thick slices of fresh pineapple, skin removed
  • 7 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
  • kosher salt and white pepper to taste
vanilla bean infusing wine
vanilla bean infusing wine

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 1/3rd cup (5 ounces) white wine
  • 2 tablespoons grated sweet onion
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons white wine
  • kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Preparation

Place one large cast iron pan and two medium size cast iron or heavy stainless steel sauté pans into a cold oven and preheat the oven to 425° F.

pineapple caramelizing
pineapple caramelizing

For the salmon, scallops and pineapple

  1. Lightly season the salmon on both sides with kosher salt and white pepper.
  2. Dry the sea scallops with paper towel.
  3. Remove the pineapple skin and cut 3 one inch thick round slices. Slice each round in half. (reserve and refrigerate the remaining fruit for other uses).
  4. Pull off 1 packed tablespoon of fresh tarragon leaves

(Set all these ingredients aside and make the vanilla sauce before proceeding with step 5).

  1. Using a thick potholder remove the large hot cast iron pan and place it on the stove over high heat – leave the other 2 pans in the oven. Melt 3 tablespoons of sweet butter in the pan, add the fresh tarragon leaves and top immediately with the salmon fillets skin side down. Sauté the salmon for 2 minutes.
  2. Using a thick potholder, remove the medium pans from the oven and place on the stove. Using the same potholder place the large cast iron pan with the salmon into the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. Leave the salmon skin side down as it will become crisp and flavorful.
  3. Place the medium cast iron or stainless steel pans onto high heat and melt 2 tablespoons sweet butter in each. Sauté the pineapple in one pan until lightly caramelized for 5 to 7 minutes turning half way through.
  4. While the pineapple is cooking  sauté the sea scallops in the other medium pan for about 2 minutes per side.
  5. When the pineapple and scallops are finished remove the salmon from the oven and follow the plating instructions.
fresh tarragon in the pan ready to be topped with the salmon
fresh tarragon in the pan ready to be topped with the salmon

For the sauce

  1. Slice the vanilla bean in half and gently scrape the seeds into a small saucepan and add the pod. Pour the wine over the vanilla. Over medium heat bring the wine to a simmer and reduce to 4 tablespoons (2 ounces). Discard the pods.
  2. In a small sauté pan melt 2 tablespoons sweet butter over medium heat and add the grated onion. Gently cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Do not brown.
  3. Add the onions to the reduced vanilla wine and pour in the almond milk.
  4. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons white wine and stir into the almond milk. Simmer gently for 1 to 2 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.
  6. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and strain the sauce into a small heat proof bowl and keep warm by placing into a larger bowl containing enough hot water to reach half way up the side of the sauce bowl.

(Continue with steps 5 – 9 of the salmon, scallops and pineapple).

To plate the dish

  1. Cover the bottom of a dinner plate with vanilla sauce. Place one salmon fillet in the center of the plate. Arrange 3 sea scallops on top and/or to the side of the fillet. Arrange 3 half slices of pineapple to the side of the salmon and scallops.

Enjoy this mélange of flavors from the tropics and the sea with a crisp green salad and a dry white wine such as a sauvignon blanc.

Sautéed salmon and scallops with caramelized pineapple and vanilla sauce
Sautéed salmon and scallops with caramelized pineapple and vanilla sauce

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

El Faro Seafood Bisque
El Faro Seafood Bisque

Hotel El Faro’s Executive Chef Ali Garita Fonesta makes the finest seafood bisque that I as a chef journalist has ever tasted in all my international travels. Besides the talent necessary to create such a delectable dish, location to the freshest fish and seafood is essential. Quepos on Costa Rica’s central Pacific Coast is that ideal location.

fish tacos El FaroThe Pacific Ocean coastline of Costa Rica is a veritable super market for some of the freshest sustainable seafood available. Costa Rica has strict laws governing commercial fishing – catch and release only for sports fishing.

Only forty some miles south of Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose, the Central Pacific Coast has been popular with locals and expats for decades. Besides the warm water of Manuel Antonio National Park and the shrikes of the holler monkey, Quepos is a quintessential beach town. Lush vegetation surrounds a jumble of beach houses, B & Bs, hotels, restaurants and bars.

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica

From the waterfront the landscape rises dramatically up tropical forested hills. Sitting high up the hills is Costa Rica’s unique shipping container Hotel El Faro. From every balcony is a view of the dramatic swimming pool and its namesake the El Faro (lighthouse) clearly visible on its small rock island in the harbor.

Hotel El Faro
Hotel El Faro

The use of shipping containers as unique modular housing, given the tiny house movement, is in line with Costa Rica’s drive for ecologically sensitive living. The repurposed containers provide all the amenities any guest would desire. Sizes range from compact to suites with efficiency kitchens.

stream at El Faro
stream at El Faro

Although the location is positioned on a dramatically steep location the hotel provides transport from its reception area and parking lot to the hotel rooms. The reception area is at the base of an impressive tropical plant and rock landscaped stream that flows from the hotel high on the hill. It’s a favorite habitat for Costa Rica’s impressive garrobo lizards which are virtual pets of the El Faro.

Yet it’s the restaurant that’s the El Faro’s most impressive feature. Under the talented hands of Chef Ali Garita Fonseca this open air venue at the edge of the hotel’s infinity pool is ideal. The location is perfect and the cuisine equals the view. All the selections I sampled were superb, but the Pacific Seafood Bisque was outstanding.

garrobo lizards at El Faro
garrobo lizards at El Faro

Chef Ali Garita Fonseca’s El Faro Seafood Bisque – 2 to 4 servings depending if it’s a first course or the entrée.

Notes: This is not inexpensive for the average North American but well worth the cost, time and effort. Although a cook can substitute packaged seafood stock, the dish’s unique flavor begins with a home made fish stock. Since it’s best to purchase a whole small red snapper simply ask the fish monger to give you the head and tail after filleting the fish.

Ingredients:

For the fish stock:

  • Head and tail of a filleted red snapper or other firm white  fish
  • medium onion peeled and chopped
  • 2 to 3 stalks of fresh celery
  • small bunch of rinsed cilantro
  • 1 to 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 peeled carrot
  • 6 cups cold water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a pot and cover with the cold water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 to 60 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. Discard the solids.

Soup ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 large sweet bell green pepper chopped
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4 chopped celery stalks
  • 4 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 2 ounces chives chopped
  • 1 ounce of fresh chopped cilantro
  • 4 ounces shrimp in the shell
  • 8 to 12 ounces of red snapper fillets or other firm white fish
  • 4 ounces of cleaned clams in the shell
  • 4 ounces of cleaned mussels.
  • 8 ounces of lump crab meat or 16 ounces of crab legs in the shell
  • 6 ounces of sliced octopus – tubes &/or tenticles
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the peppers, onion, celery and gently cook for 5 to 8 minutes until soft but not browned.
  2. Add the white wine, fish stock and herbs. Bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Add all the fish and seafood. Cover and gently simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until the clams and mussels open.

You may want to garnish the bisque with additions of steamed rice, common in Hispanic cuisine, and spritzes of fresh lime.

El Faro restaurant & pool
El Faro restaurant & pool

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Hotel Villa Caletas on the Central Pacific Coast region of Puntarenas is an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel El Faro,  ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Ca’ d’Zan: an impresario’s palace

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

John Ringling was the greatest impresario of his day. He created the iconic circus venue of 20th century legends,  and he knew how to make money.

(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John's sterling silver office phone at Ca' d'Zan
(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John’s sterling silver office phone at Ca’ d’Zan

Commenting on a huge portrait of Ringling in the grand hall of Ca’ d’Zan, the incisive social commentator of the 1920s, Will Rogers, said it was the first time he saw John’s hand in his own pocket…

(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room
(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room

The love of his life, Mabel, was also a savvy art lover especially of the popular Italian Venetian Renaissance era. With unlimited funds, John and Mabel prodigiously purchased great master artist of the era , furniture and a queen’s entire opera house. They employed top artist to paint original works of art throughout Ca’ d’Zan on ceilings, inside bathroom cabinet doors, on pillars – every square inch of this Venetian palace is art.

interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art
interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art

Ca’ d’Zan was Mabel’s project. It was meant from the outset to be a showplace, just like her husband’s circus. At a cost of $1,500.000 ($20,000,000 in 21st century dollars) the mid 1920s Venetian palace on the shore of Sarasota Bay is a palace.

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

Although Mabel died nearly a decade before John, he respected her wishes donating Ca’ d’Zan  and its priceless art collection in his will to the state of Florida. Florida State University maintains the mansion, its art museum and the opera house as an integral component of its Sarasota campus.

Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d'Zan
Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d’Zan
original Volcun gas stove in Ca' d'Zan kitchen
original Volcun gas stove in Ca’ d’Zan kitchen
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca' d'Zan
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca’ d’Zan

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Louis Comfort Tiffany: reinventing interior design

Garden doors, 1905, August Heckscher house
Garden doors, 1905, August Heckscher house

Tiffany conjures images of ultimate luxury. Diamonds and gleaming silver flood our minds at the sound of that name. Yet Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles, was an artistic polymath who put his stamp on paintings, shimmering glass, mosaics, architecture, pottery, bronze and objet d’art. He was the genius that reinvented interior design for the generation of the Gilded Age.

Louis Comfort Tiffany glass & lamp, Morse Museum
Louis Comfort Tiffany glass & lamp, Morse Museum

For lovers of Art Nouveau in America as envisioned by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) mecca is the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of Tiffany art in the world. Like the era that fostered both Louis Comfort Tiffany and affluent Winter Park, the museum is the product of a vast Gilded Age fortune.

Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

Jeannette Genius (1909-1989) was the granddaughter of Chicago industrialist Charles Morse. Charles had a keen appreciation for art and warm Florida winters. First wintering and then retiring to this wealthy suburb of Orlando in the late 19th century, Charles Morse became a major benefactor and real estate baron in Winter Park.

A glimpse at Winter Park, FL
A glimpse at Winter Park, FL

Jeannette’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius, was an accomplished artist and patron of the era’s modern art – American impressionism, and Tiffany Studios. Jeannette inherited both wealth and an artistic passion, pursuing her own successful career as an interior designer. After spending much time with her grandfather in Winter Park she chose the town as her permanent residence.

recreation at the Morse Museum of the entrance fountain & display at Laurelton Hall
recreation at the Morse Museum of the entrance fountain & display at Laurelton Hall

Her family’s philanthropy had already made a mark on Winter Park’s Rollins College, and at the age of 27 Jeannette started a decades-long association on the Board of Trustees. More importantly she met and married a dashing Rollins art professor, Hugh McKean (1908-1995) who himself had an intimate connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Tiffany had designed his magnificent Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall, in 1903 as a showcase for everything he loved. He intended that it would eventually become a residential institution to foster young artists. In 1930 a young Hugh McKean spent months at Laurelton Hall as one of Tiffany’s students. Although Hugh’s family was well to do, it was the match of love, art and Jeannette’s vast fortune that allowed the couple to fulfill their dream.

(top) jewel mosaic necklace & detail (lower) Opel mosaic box & detail
(top) jewel mosaic necklace & detail (lower) Opel mosaic box & detail

It’s difficult to believe that even before the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1933, his designs had become passé. During the 1940s and 1950s Jeannette and Hugh amassed a personal collection in every medium of  Tiffany Studios designs. They established the Morse Museum and the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, which owns and funds museum operations. More importantly, through their work they revived the keen international interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany that grows stronger as time passes.

Byzantine Chapel, 1893, at the Morse Museum
Byzantine Chapel, 1893, at the Morse Museum

Upon hearing in 1957 of the tragic fire that destroyed Laurelton Hall they set out to salvage and restore everything they could from stained glass windows, architectural artifacts and Tiffany’s masterpiece, the Byzantine Chapel he designed for Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. The chapel was a creation of love and a marketing tour de force that catapulted Tiffany’s career to international fame. From its hand carved door, shimmering mosaics, stunning blue baptistery window to the revolutionary eight by ten foot, three dimensional Byzantine cross, the Electrolier, electrified with the aid of Thomas Edison, the chapel alone is worth a visit to the Morse Museum.

The Electrolier, Byzantine Chapel, Morse Museum
The Electrolier, Byzantine Chapel, Morse Museum
How Tiffany Studios assembled a lamp shade, Morse Museum
How Tiffany Studios assembled a lamp shade, Morse Museum

A visit to the Morse Museum is more than just gazing at beautifully displayed art. It’s meant to be an educational experience on Tiffany’s life and genius. Free detailed booklets in each gallery meticulously explain the exhibits. The lighting is stunning, illuminating objects in the manner intended for their original owners and eliciting sounds of awe as glass comes alive in shimmering glory. Archival videos and displays demonstrate the actual methods used by Tiffany Studio artists to create these magnificent objects.

The iridescence of Tiffany glass
The iridescence of Tiffany glass

An entire wing of the museum recreates as much as possible the feel of Laurelton Hall as Louis Comfort Tiffany would have wanted his guests to experience from the impressive entrance hall, his very modern dining room and what was salvaged of his beloved Daffodil Terrace. The Daffodil Terrace highlights Tiffany’s love for that flower and his skill in ceramics. In a glass walled enclosure complete with comfortable wicker chairs, the terrace invites museum visitors to relax, read and contemplate beauty. Contemplating beauty is the successful legacy of Tiffany, Jeannette, Hugh and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

Daffodil Terrace installation at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Daffodil Terrace installation at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

When you go: Winter Park is 15 miles north of Orlando International Airport. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is open six days a week, closed on Monday and most major holidays. Parking is free.

Dragon Fly lamp shade, Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Dragon Fly lamp shade, Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

 

 

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Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

Sunset from Villa Caletas ampitheater
Sunset from Villa Caletas amphitheater

Denis Roy emigrated from France with a dream somewhere in his head that materialized into creating a fantasy in Costa Rica. On over 700 acres of improbable, undeveloped coastal and mountain wilderness, using building methods that hearkened back to the days of the pyramids, the hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over time. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian architecture, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.

Villa Caletas ampitheater
Villa Caletas amphitheater

Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary and views encompass forested hills and ocean from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation due to cattle overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Fifteen hundred trees were planted from the beach up the mountain, and Villa Caletas continues to spearhead major reforestation projects in the region.

Ten percent of electricity is solar powered and all hot water is provided through a system of air conditioner heat transfer. Each room’s air conditioning system uses smart technology reducing the temperature automatically when no one is present and increasing it to a guest’s pre-set comfort zone when they enter their room.

Villas Caletas ocean front
Villas Caletas ocean front

Twenty-five years ago this lush location had no roads, no water and no electricity. Denis had an initial concept to construct a 25 room hotel on this spectacular site with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean’s Herradura Bay on Costa Rica’s Central Coast. But cost and engineering reality limited his first venture to eight rooms. Yet Denis was not deterred.

view from suite 88
view from suite 88

Denis Roy is a dreamer who understands that demanding clients will pay for luxury if unique. Waking in the king size bed of my suite, room 88, a panoramic view unfolded through the expansive glass wall overlooking Herradura Bay. After a quick call to the front desk I was picked up in an electric golf cart to meet General Manager Frederick Nepveu and whisked off in a four-wheel drive car down the mountain to the beach for breakfast.

Villa Caletas room 88
Villa Caletas room 88

The slow drive down the steep hill passed Villa Caletes’ hydroponic farm growing herbs and produce. No contact with soil controls pest infestation of the produce. The lush forest teemed with animals and birds in the cool of the early morning.

El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas

The beach complex offers privacy, the well designed El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach and an array of comfortable beach chaise lounges. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Breakfast included fresh extracted organic kale juice, an artful fruit salad and a typical Costa Rican breakfast plate – gallo pinto (black beans and rice) eggs, sautéed sweet plantains, fresh avocado and a wedge of fried white cheese. The gentle lapping of Pacific Ocean waves was the only music necessary.

breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas

Villa Caletas is a complex of buildings set among the lush restored mountain landscape. Small Distinctive Hotels are not for the budget traveler, but if seeking bang for the buck, Villa Caletas delivers in spades. While river stone buildings dominate most of the complex, a graceful Victorian glass and wood filigree building with the Mirador Restaurant tops a jungle of exotic plants and expansive window walls that bring the outside indoors.

Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas
Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas

A massive traditional open air palapa with hand carved wood pillars set on the edge of a cliff is dedicated to Denis’ passion for yoga, yet has become popular for events up to 300 guests. The Serenity Spa, tucked behind the palapa, is a haven of calm. Providing all the services one expects from a luxury spa, I nearly drifted off to sleep under relaxing hands, scented oils and the soft sounds of water fountains.

The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

The Zephyr Palace is the crown jewel of this luxe property. Seven massive individually designed and decorated suites provide luxury befitting a palace. Private dining rooms, hand painted ceilings, in room exercise equipment, hand crafted furniture, exotic woods, marble tiles, original art, private infinity pools and televisions that slide into the foot of king size beds at the touch of a button are among just a few of the luxuries in the Zephyr Palace. On the day of my visit the suites were fully booked by a wedding party, not an uncommon occurrence.

Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

Providing an atmosphere of effortless comfort requires attention to detail from the eyes and hands of dedicated employees. Many of the managers live on site, including Denis Roy and general manager Frederick Nepveu. Over 150 employees, including 20 gardeners, maintain the 50 room Villa Caletes/Zephyr Palace complex.

wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas

For a culinary travel journalist Denis Roy, Frederick Nepveu, Chef Fernando Adaniz and food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo oversee a cuisine that matches the style of Villa Caletas. Lunch started with a trio of ceviche: mango, sea snails and fish paired with a light and lemony chardonnay. Grilled rare yellow fin tuna was accompanied by a timbal of yucca and napped with pipian sauce – roasted pumpkin seeds. A salad included flor de Itavo (yucca) leaves that taste like artichoke hearts. Dessert was a light and cooling sorbet of nancy mirabelle plum.

Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas

Pre dinner drinks at sunset commenced with an orange martini cocktail created especially for me. A long peel of orange rind twisted around the stem of the glass and dipped into the fragrant drink. Its color mimicked the setting sun’s display. The steep Greek inspired Villa Caletas amphitheater adjacent to the open-air Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant is a local destination for observing beautiful sunsets for which Costa Rica has a well deserved reputation. Soft ambient music added to the charm.

Segueing to a cliff side table Chef Fernando Adaniz opened dinner with an amuse bouche of avocado and salmon with crème fraîche on toast. Seafood terrine of lobster, shrimp and mussels with chipotle mayonnaise was followed by an entrée of red snapper rolled around lobster. It was napped with a light egg and mustard seed sauce. A smooth pinot grigio with citrus hints tied together this dinner of fresh seafood.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

Befitting a luxe hotel dinner, dessert was preceded by a mouth cleansing sorbet of passion fruit. Dessert was an appropriately dense chocolate cake garnished with strawberry and kiwi sauce and cubes of fresh pineapple, papaya and watermelon. Did you know that Costa Rica is the world’s largest grower of pineapples? Villa Caletas, naturally, makes all its breads, pastries and desserts in house. Food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo’s Mexican roots shined when he presented an after dinner tasting of smooth premium tequilas.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

I had to remind myself that with the gentle evening breeze and lush vegetation surrounding all that it was not long ago that this site was a barren wasteland. That’s why the many infinity pools dotting Villa Caletas become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotel owners, managers and chefs this travel journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour – the visions they conjure gazing into infinity. Villa Caletas and Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica provide luxury with a conscience transforming what we destroy into what we desire.

Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz & Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace
Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz &
Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Hotel Villa Caletas on the Central Pacific Coast region of Puntarenas is an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel Villas Caletas, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Animals find refuge at Florida’s Homosassa Springs

Bald Eagle, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida
Bald Eagle, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

There are many parks in the United States but Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an animal refuge. It’s also enjoyable to visit.

Great Horned Owl, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Great Horned Owl, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

From the Florida brown bear to iconic bald eagles, these animals were rescued after injury. What may at first seem like a zoo is a haven for these beautiful creatures.

Lucifer, an African hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Lucifer, an African hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floating on the Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floating on the Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

What was once a zoo-like Florida attraction starting in the 1940s became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the ‘80s. The goal was to give refuge to animals indigenous to the tropics of the western hemisphere with one exception. Lucifer, the locally popular African hippopotamus, first purchased by the original developers, was designated a Florida citizen by the state legislature. The 50+ year old hippo enjoys a charmed life at the park.

Abundant varieties of fish at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Abundant varieties of fish at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
some of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park's animals, such as this squirrel, simply enjoy living at the park
some of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s animals, such as this squirrel, simply enjoy living at the park

The Homosassa springs bubble up from the depths of the Earth at a constant 72° F. This warm water attracts an abundant variety of fish and aquatic animals. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory provides a unique experience to view life under sea level.

In some cases the animals heal enough to be released back into the wild. A park ranger told a story of one owl they thought would not be able to fly after its injury. To their surprise, it was gone one day. Yet the owl seems to miss this refuge. She returns frequently and sometimes stays the night.

A manatee through the underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
A manatee through the underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Of great importance is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s manatee program. The endangered manatee, the object of many fatal encounters with Florida pleasure boats, receive expert health care in a state of the art facility. The park is one of the finest locations to view this massive gentle mammal.

Your visit to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park starts with a slow and picturesque barge trip from the visitor’s center on the Homosassa River. Thickly lined with vegetation the fifteen minute trip is visually beautiful with sunlight creating mirror reflections in the slow moving water. The barge docks at the entrance to the mile-long path that meanders through the various wildlife habitats.

Barge from visitor's center to animal park at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Barge from visitor’s center to animal park at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The park is well designed for disabled visitors, and given the reality that Florida summers are hot and humid, there are sitting areas and concessions selling items from bottled water to ice cream. The air conditioned reptile house is a quiet place to cool down. Knowledgeable rangers are eager to share their stories.

A day at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an enjoyable education of what our Earth can be like when humans live in harmony with nature.

flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

When you go:

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located 85 miles north of the Tampa Bay area  or 100 miles west of Orlando – both easy 90 min to 2 hour drives.

There are admission fees and the park is well equipped and accessible to accommodate visitors with a wide range of disabilities.

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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