We’ve been here before, Sayulita, Mexico. Every winter for the past three years. I wanted to try somewhere else–Tulum, Merida, Trancoso–I really did, but in the end, we couldn’t resist the pull of Casa Ninamu or the laid-back town with prayer flags and street food on every block or the sounds and solitude of jungle. We don’t go to town much, but when we do, we travel down a long dusty dirt road that winds through bright-green palms, towering old gnarled trees with immense trunks, Higuera boughs, and unexpected pops of orange and fuchsia bougainvillea that cascade down the rare clay wall or forgotten gate. We pass the candy-colored cemetery for freshly grilled shrimp on a stick at Playa de Los Muertos, or oysters with hot sauce and lime, and in town, we gulp down smoothies on the beach and browse the handmade textiles at the hammock store. The organic farmer’s market is bigger and busier than I remember, and there’s a new shop selling dreamcatchers made from ripped leather, which makes me think things are changing around here, but it still feels unassuming, if not undiscovered. And, most importantly, the sun still shines in the middle of winter.
Since my dream trip last summer to Domus Civita — Patrizio Fradiani’s ancient cave house — he’s had professional photographs taken. For those who followed along with the gutsy renovation process, finally a worthy payoff. Chicago photographer Bob Coscarelli captures the magic of the place — the quiet interior, the soft light, the soulful connection between inside and outside, and the depths and history of those miraculous caves. Accessed only by pedestrian footbridge, the town Civita de Bagnoregio is straight out of time. A picturesque mess of cobblestone streets, climbing ivy and a pace that makes the rest of Italy look downright harried, the town and the surrounding landscape (views of the Tibor river valley and clay rooftops out every flung-open window) both play an inextricable part of the experience. The garden… that gazebo, I start feeling euphoric just thinking about sitting out there. But I won’t carry on — I’ve already done enough of that here and here — but I do want to share these photographs, because they do such a beautiful job of finalizing the story.
I first heard about this series of cave hotels from my Italian friend Patrizio, who thought I would love the “diffused hotel” concept: hotel rooms spread across a small medieval hilltop village that maintain their original character (rough stone walls, uneven floors, and old-as-dirt wooden furniture). The mission is to preserve not only the landscape and original architecture of the towns they’ve settled in, but also the history and local tradition–from the craft to the cuisine of the region.
And while Sextantio’s entire concept is pretty special–using tourism to save towns that would otherwise fall into decline– it’s the bit about traditional craft I find particularly inspiring. I didn’t realize, until I spotted photos of the beautiful loom work on Remodelista, that the hotel is so fiercely dedicated to supporting local craft. For instance, linens and coverlets are handmade by ladies who have always made textiles–in a town that has produced textiles for hundreds of years. They’re made with new materials using ancient techniques, often replicated from old drawings and archival photographs. I wish we saw more of this kind of beautiful creative thinking in the hotel industry.
I came across this fantastical, fairytale-channeling property about a year ago in World of Interiors, and more recently mentioned on travelandleisure.com, where the editors referenced its location, Vendee, in the countryside of France, as one Europe’s secret hot spots. It’s not surprising, considering that the owners–the three guys behind London’s much-ballyhooed Les Trois Garcons and Maison Trois Garcons–are the intrepid interior masterminds.
The 1872 chateau, with its floating turrets, spins a whimsical, over-the-top tale on the inside, matching the splendor of the exterior with wit and frivolity. Two-story chandeliers, spiral staircases, anatomical models, stuffed birds, Balinese elephant chairs and century-spanning antiques — everything is an extravagant gesture. Especially those symmetrically mounted horse heads with narwal horns. And a detail that escaped notice the first time I poured over the photos, the holiday chateau can be rented. Well, for a price (ahem, almost $12,000 for a long weekend). After all, the place sleeps 54 across seven ensuite bathrooms (plus 17 more in the ancillary buildings). Beyond the impressively long list of reading rooms, studies and formal dining rooms, there’s an 18-meter pool, 18 acres, and a small forest to frolic in.
The week before Christmas we had to go to a wedding in Florida. Not great timing, but we loaded up the car and made the most of it with a road trip through the Smoky Mountains (we flew back). One of the most outstanding highlights was the historic Mast Farm Inn. A restored farm inn that dates back to the early 1800s, the place was decorated with antiques, quilts, old farm tools and a countrified array of awesome folk art and crafts. The Loom House, named for Aunt Josie Mast who turned it into a loom house for her coverlets and rugs (some of which are in the Smithsonian), is the oldest log cabin in North Carolina.
We stayed in the old post-and-beam Woodwork Shop with its tin roof, Vermont casting stove and rock terrace. This place is amazing for families. Farm animals, a sprawling organic garden that feeds the restaurant, and impeccable service. Our littlest guy became very sick during our stay, and the staff could not have been more accommodating and doting. They brought dinner (farm-fresh roast chicken, heritage farms pork chop and shaved brussels sprouts) to our room, and made special dishes for our picky eater at breakfast the next morning (what child does not like french toast made with potato and raisin-cinnamon bread with caramelized fruit, egg custard and heavy cream… topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar?). Custom designed with our names dropped into each dish’s description, the menu was such a fun treat for our six-year-old to read. It was pouring rain when we were there, but we can’t wait to make it back during better weather–and health–to take advantage of the beautiful property and all the nearby hiking trails.
A couple weeks ago, my talented baker friend Jess and I drove to Wandawega to spend two days making Christmas gifts and crunching around in the woods. We left on a Sunday afternoon and arrived after dark. I really wanted to sleep in the treehouse, which was in mid-construction phase during my last visit, but there’s no heat up there, and well, we’re wimps. Instead, we stayed in the charming (and heated) two-bedroom cabin with sweeping views of the lake. The place was closed (officially), so unofficially, we were the only lucky ones at the resort, and the silence was magic, exhilarating even. Nothing but bird songs, the dull clamor of wooden spoons to ceramic bowl and the sound of own voices.
Since Jess makes a living in her kitchen and I usually have two little boys circling my legs in mine, it felt like such a luxury to set up shop in someone else’s kitchen– especially one with an oversized oven, uncluttered counter space and more antique dinnerware and beautiful vintage utensils than you can ever imagine. Soon enough, it smelled like roasted pecans and ginger, and the days went by in a slow, comfortable rhythm of measuring oats, refilling coffee cups, collecting evergreen branches and cutting fabric squares. In between, we knitted, took long walks and even managed to get a canoe in the water at dusk. Walking the property and ducking in and out of the buildings (Jess had never been and I think an appropriate description of her reaction would be blown away), I can’t believe how much has changed in the last two years. There’s a tiny new cabin, two really enchanting teepees, a vintage tin can trailer waiting in the wings for Tereasa’s magic wand, and my favorite, a Harry Weese-designed shower house. That’s right: Harry Weese designed a shower house for a girl scout camp down the street (!!), and David and Tereasa rescued it this summer (like so many boy and girl scout camps, it closed, sadly). They wheeled it down the road, spruced it up and there it stands–a Harry Weese shower house at Wandawega.
We left feeling immensely productive and equally relaxed–two polar-opposing conditions that don’t coexist easily during the holidays–and in addition to a chunky cream seed-stitch scarf I knitted for a friend, we took home a couple dozen mason jars of the very best granola I’ve ever tasted. It was a good trip. See below for the recipe. Go, bake and be merry.
Holiday Granola by Jessica Hicks of Astro
Mix together in a large bowl:
14 cups rolled oats (about 3lbs)
4 ½ cups pumpkin seeds
4 ½ cups coconut
1 ¼ cups brown sugar, packed
1 ½ Tbls cinnamon
4 tsp fine salt
2 ½ cups pecans, broken
zest of 3 oranges
In a separate bowl, whisk to combine:
2 cups maple syrup (grade b or c has more flavor)
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups apple sauce
1 tablespoons vanilla extract
Add the wet mixture to the dry, fold to thoroughly coat the dry mix. Spread on 2 or 3 baking sheets and bake for 50-70 minutes at 330 degrees (times vary greatly depending on your oven), stirring a couple of times to ensure even baking, until the mixture is golden brown. Ten minutes before the end of baking time, stir though:
2/3 cup maple syrup, extra (optional). This will give the granola a lovely glisten.
Remove from oven and immediately stir through:
3 cups dried cranberries
2 cups finely chopped crystalized ginger
Cool on trays, turning occasionally so as to keep the granola from sticking to tray, and store in airtight jars.
In the September issue of Martha Stewart Living, I put together a tight little visiting guide to Corktown — my neighborhood for living and inn-keeping (in this post, some bonus photos by Joe Vaughn that didn’t make the story). When I opened Honor & Folly, I was excited about stepping out from behind the computer screen and introducing travelers to the neighborhood-centric Detroit I know — not the Detroit you see from 17th story of some mid-rise hotel downtown. I never gave much thought to the community of neighborhood business owners I was going to be part of, and turns out, that’s a hugely rewarding facet of owning a small business. I’m proud to send guests downstairs to Astro, because the owners, who are my neighbors in real life, are such good people and amazing at what they do. I tell guests to save room for brunch a few blocks away at Brooklyn Street Local, and to make sure to go to Mudgies for a humongous sandwich, the Lager House for a music show, and St. Cece’s for the best unassuming farm-to-table food in the most quirky, unlikely setting. I love bragging about my friend Ryan, who started an urban farm in North Corktown, and rooting on some other friends who are opening a distillery down the street. My brother-in-law runs Pony Ride–an incubator for artists, designers and entrepreneurs–and it’s been fun to watch that grow. If you could have seen this neighborhood when we moved here eight years ago, you would have never believed it would one day in the not-so-distant future end up in the pretty, iconic pages of Martha Stewart Living. There were no working streetlights, hardly any businesses, almost no one walking down the street while I pushed my baby stroller over broken glass. And now. Now I’m giving away a weekend to hang out here for fun! Excuse me while I pinch myself.
In honor of the first-year anniversary of Honor & Folly, I’m giving away a weekend in the neighborhood I love so much. The winner will get two nights at Honor & Folly*, breakfast at Astro, two drinks at Sugar House, and a $50 gift certificate to Slows. I will also give you a personal tour of the city, including stops at some of my favorite places in Detroit, from Eastern Market to Belle Isle. To enter, just leave a comment below, and I’ll announce a winner — picked at random — at the end of next week. Cut-off for entry Thursday, December 6th at 5pm EST.
[Photos, all by Joe Vaughn, from top to bottom: Honor & Folly (top three), Acre, Mudgies, Hello Records, Le Petit Zinc, Green Dot Stables, Sugar House]
*Contest assumes mutually agreed upon dates, which must fall between January and the end of March 2013. The sooner you pick dates, the more likely it will be that the dates are available, as the inn tends to book up a month in advance on weekends. If you decide to book mid-week, you will get an extra night.
It’s common knowledge that the Shakers had a dedication to craft and commitment to quality, but while visiting the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, where you can bed down and spend a day or two wandering the pastoral landscape and absorbing their agrarian, communal lifestyle, something occurred to me: the Shakers were like the original hipsters (without booze and sex, of course). Despite the whole celibacy thing, the Shakers are a pretty hip lot by modern standards. They dry herbs, jam, can, craft, carry worn leather bags of their own design, and even make their own shoes!
Anyone interested in simple Shaker architecture and traditional handcraft methods will flip to explore these beautiful grounds, where the Shaker devotion to the marriage of form and function is a natural extension of their honest, hardworking ideals. Messy with the business of creating–fabric scraps, worn leather, spools of colorful thread, baskets spilling wool–the workshops are perhaps the best testament to their credo, “Beauty is in utility.” I’m still in awe. The East Family Sisters Shop, with walls covered in tapestry, cross stitch and fabric, is dedicated to preparing wool, spinning yarn and working on some of the earliest American looms, while the men’s workshop turns out handmade brooms of endless variety: large brooms, buddy brooms, whisk brooms, pot scrubbers, tailor’s brushes, and cake testers. To this day, they’re still one of the largest producers of handmade brooms in the country; you can buy them at the shop. At the Cooper’s shop, the woodworker makes handsome-looking wooden vessels, including buckets, barrels and butter churners. And in the three-storied Centre Family House, the village’s impressive living museum where herb sacks hang on beds to protect the straw mattresses from insects, basketmaking and tanning/cobbling workshops are set up for demonstration, and to admire the old, beautiful tools and original (aesthetically pleasing) results of their labor. I’d know plenty of people who’d buy those leather uppers today.
It’s a good thing there’s an inn with 70 rooms spread across the grounds–above the restaurant and in old washhouses and sex-separated dormitories–because it would be a mad rush to to take it all in during an afternoon viewing. I was so disappointed when the inn was booked solid in October, but the unintentional silver lining: it was all but deserted at the end of November. We had the place to ourselves, and fall lasts longer in the Bluegrass State, so there were still brightly colored leaves in trees and a 10-degree bump in the weather. My six-year-old and I spent two days obsessing over the giant old wooden looms, carding wool, riding in horse-drawn carriages, petting the animals, feeding the ducks, smelling herbs in the medicinal garden, and touring some of the most beautiful old buildings I have ever seen. And because we stayed the night, our pace was slow and unhurried, leaving time to climb atop old farm equipment, linger in the sun-dappled lanes crisscrossing the rolling property, hop up on the wooden swing overlooking a pasture with two white horses, and take a short walk out to the crumbling cemetery at the edge of the village. We ate meals in the Treasury Building restaurant, and at night, after the last bit of sunlight dropped beneath the hills, we read books and played board games in our no-frills Shaker-style room, its white walls marked only by painted trim and peg rails. I think we did the Shakers proud (full disclosure: I may or may not have donned a woven bonnet on occasion).
Welcome Beyond is one of my favorite vacation home booking sites. Based in Berlin, co-founders and brothers Chris and Oliver Laugsch find the most fantastic, tucked-away retreats for their superbly curated site. In really thoughtful owner interviews, they manage to suss out meaningful details that go well beyond the standard list of amenities. They understand that these places have stories. And that the owners have a desire to share those stories–from family legacies to passionate renovations–so the guest can more fully appreciate the experience of staying there. I relate to their approach so much that I listed Honor & Folly on their site, and for awhile, it was the only US-based listing. However, I was clicking around the other day, and discovered this beautiful addition: an old stone mill in the Hudson Valley.
Owned by Ariana Salvato, a designer and stylist based in New York City, the mill belonged to her father and mother–an architect and designer, respectively–who bought the historic, crumbling property when Ariana was a baby and spent a lifetime renovating it. “When I was growing up,” says Ariana, “there was always a table saw going and the sounds of hammer and nails. It was always a work in progress. Aside from my father being an architect, he was also an artist. It’s almost as though the house is the embodiment of his biggest art piece. There’s a sentimental and emotional connection. Everywhere I look, I see his work.”
Since inheriting the house, she hasn’t changed much, besides adding her collection of Catherine Holm Scandinavian enamelware from the ’60s and ’70s. Simple midcentury furnishings and her father’s artwork still hold aesthetic court. Ivy and moss creep down the sides of the rustic stone walls, helping it blend further into the green of the surrounding forest. It’s the kind of place you go to reconnect, cook a heady meal with friends and take long nature walks everyday. For those who need more entertainment, the mill is located near vineyards, farmer’s markets and antique shops, and less than an hour’s drive to a bunch of little towns along the Hudson River–Saugerties, Rhinebeck, Hudson.
Four bedrooms; sleeps up to nine people. Prices start around $3,000 for a week and go up depending on season (also available for weekend rentals). Not only a vacation rental, it also serves as an event and wedding space, and location for photo shoots (as seen in Elle). Rent it at welcomebeyond.com.
After staying in a masseria this summer in Puglia, I’ve been thinking about how fun it would be to stay in a castle in Scotland or Ireland. The ultimate living fantasy, for anyone, like me, with two boys in serious long-running knight phases. Here’s the thing though: you can’t stay in a castle alone. That’s creepy, right? In all their turreted glory with proper keeps, lookout towers and torture chambers, they were built to protect royal types and their entire staff/community, as well as show off their wealth and power. Some of the smaller ones, relatively speaking, are at least–at least!–10 bedrooms gigantic and sleep 25-plus people. If you don’t want to travel with 20 of your closest friends, there’s the quainter version of a full-blown castle, a tower house– a single tower built for smaller land-owning lordships with five or six floors and similar architectural details and defense systems.
A 15th-century Gaelic tower house that has been exquisitely renovated, Ballyportry Castle seems like the optimal size for two families or an extended family. It spans six floors and six bedrooms, with beds dressed in Irish linens and wool blankets, pottery made on the way into town, and furniture that reflects the time of late medieval Ireland–”a time of hospitality, song and poetry.” Located in watchtower-viewing distance from the Burren, the five-acre property offers plenty of its own natural beauty. Thick with moss and lichen, the trees provide plenty of hiding spots for retreating knights, who might want to steal a few minutes from battle to admire the red barked cricket willow or try to spy a pine marten, swan or donkey known to pass by.
Here, a few more castles also on my radar:
>>This stone Scottish castle is as tasteful as they come. The exact right parts medieval, rustic, plaid and Scottish eccentricity.
>>Exquisite. And there’s an ivy-covered manor house next door.
>>Frillier than most, the super-grand Castle of Lisheen. This sucker sleeps 16 and has the most beautiful Trompe L’oeil-style vaulted ceiling in the drawing room.
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After our Puglia/Civita trip this summer, we made a one-night stop in Rome before boarding the plane at Fiumicino. We snagged a last-minute booking at Arco dei Tolomei in the Trastevere neighborhood–the laid-back, old Jewish quarter–and what luck! I’m pretty sure we’ll never stay anywhere else in Rome. The owner-innkeeper Marco and his wife Gianna are the most hospitable and lovely hosts. And dapper. Marco is a true Italian gentleman, who wears button-down shirts under sweaters and looks absolutely dashing at all times. After insisting on walking to our car to help with bags, Marco shows us to our rooms–two super charming, floral bedrooms at the top of the stairs–and gives us a detailed rundown of the neighborhood (where to eat with kids, what to avoid), highlighting the route on our map with a ballpoint pen and offering historical tidbits along the way. Like the history of sampietrini (the smooth black cobblestones invented by Pope Sixtus V in the 16th century), or how water from an ancient aquaduct still serves the neighborhood–and it’s the best water around! Marco is very proud of this fact, which I verified often during our August stay. We followed local custom and filled our bottles from a stone fountain nearby.
Up until about ten years ago, Marco and his wife and daughter lived a few blocks away, but as the area grew more popular, it became too noisy. So they decided to rehab Marco’s longstanding family home, which has been in his family for more than 200 years, last serving as a college for graphic design. He insists the space was a disaster, but with every parquet floorboard, dark wooden beam, and wallpapered nook and cranny carefully restored, it’s hard to imagine anything less than its current pristine condition. There are six bedrooms in the place, some with terraces that overlook a patchwork of terracotta rooftop tiles, leafy patios and narrow, winding cobblestone streets. There’s a sitting room, decorated with comfy velvet chairs, paintings and books stacked on every available surface, but the airy, sky blue dining room, where breakfast is served every morning, is the star. It’s where Marco holds court, entertaining everyone with stories about the old neighborhood (he’s lived here all his life), politics, culture and art. As guests drifted in periodically, we sat around the long, oval dining room table, blown away by the gorgeous spread of breads, jam, pastries, meats, cheese and yogurt. They brought my little ones chocolate milk–hoorah!–and we felt more like special guests at someone’s home than travelers at a b&b.
Inside this magical town, a magical house. It was the reason for our trip–to see this storied beauty in person. I’ve been following Patrizio Fradiani’s rehab of his Civita cave house for the last six months, but no amount of architectural explanation or in-progress photos could prepare me for what it would feel like to be here–to look out the windows, flung open to views of clay rooftops, climbing ivy and a beautiful, crooked mess of cobblestones in one direction, and the vast, golden Tibor river valley in the other.
First, there’s the obvious: Every inch of this five-story stone palazetto built into the cliffside reads like an aesthetic dream–a contemporary rendering of good taste and architectural mastery steeped in deep, deep history. Modernist-leaning furniture is well-picked and well-placed (a white tulip-style table surrounded by mix-and-match white Magis and Panton chairs), but the space really sings when it comes to the highly personal, slightly eccentric layer of detail. Objects like twisted horn candleholders, antique trunks and a marionette ensemble are sparely, cleverly placed alongside artwork and installations Patrizio designed himself. In a series of small, arch-shaped cubbies in the circular stairway, he displays four sculptures he pieced together with dismembered porcelain doll parts and found objects. There’s the installation of 47 tiny bowls painted gold on the inside, and my favorite, a bright-green triptych made from dried mosses–as green as any I’ve ever seen alive–rocks and dirt, all arranged inside three wooden display boxes. I will very likely steal this idea someday.
Head downstairs, under stone archways, through cavernous Etruscan labyrinths that tunnel through tufa rock, and emerge in the most breathtaking terrace in Italy. We ate breakfast out here occasionally, under the wrought-iron pergola, but more often opting for early afternoon proseco, while our kiddos swam in the cave pool. The only pool in the entire town is secretly tucked into one of the Etruscan caves. It’s spectacular. There’s also a little lounge area, wine cellar and a secret art installation squirreled away in the depths of the caves.
The charming, ancient town is a magical, inextricable part of the experience. In many ways, the town–population 22 (200-something in the summertime), accessed only by a slender footbridge–is the experience. You don’t come to Domus Civita without wanting to come to Civita itself. One church, one square, a handful of restaurants (although we went to the same one almost every night) and countless stone alleyways, arches and ivy-covered walls. By the end of your stay, neighbors will recognize you at the cafe in the morning and you won’t get charged the tourist price for a cappuccino. You will pass your favorite restaurant owner on the bridge riding her scooter into town in the morning with her pink helmet, and she will wave. The night before she may have tousled your toddler’s hair or fetched a soccer ball for your kids, so they could play in the square while you finished your wine at the table. You will sit on the steps of the church with men who have been sitting on the same steps for the last 70 years. After a week, you will feel more comfortable than a tourist. Settled in. But just as enchanted as the day you arrived.
The three-bedroom house sleeps six, and there’s plenty of room to spread out and find privacy across four floors. Prices range from $2,950 (low season) to $4,950 (high season) for a week. Patrizio is the consummate host, providing amazing the best recommendations (better than most travel guides) and will help you line up in-home dinners and cooking lessons. Rent it at domuscivita.com.
In Puglia, the flat, silty landscape is dotted with crumbling, abandoned masserias–fortified farmhouse estates (that look more like castles than farmhouses, but there’s not a perfect translation in English), built by landowners more than 500 years ago to protect their farms from pillaging Greeks and Normans and countless other warring factions. Off country roads and highways, you can see the massive, regal-looking structures lording over the olive groves, fruit trees and grapevines. Once they were guarded, fortified with looming towers and giant stone walls, now lopsided and crumbling into disrepair. I imagine they were pretty expensive to keep up, after enemy warfare and looting bandits were no longer a concern.
A few of them have been saved by the lucky, brave soul who takes on a daunting renovation, converting the old stone structures into agriturismo b&bs or vacation rentals. Villa Pizzorusso is one such example–a jaw-dropping, absolutely flawless example–that a San Francisco-based couple (one part Puglian native) bought six years ago and spent three years rehabbing. Parts of which date back to the 1500s, the main level, all stone arches, ancient rough-hewn stone floors and star-vaulted ceilings, retains a rustic simplicity despite being filled with pristine, modern furnishings like ivory horse-hair chairs and an extra-long dining room table made with a beautiful slab of buried teak wood from Bali. Ancient ceramics abound, stone-carved stairs have been worn away in the center from use, and most charmingly, an old olive press that was found in the living room when they bought it hangs above the fireplace. Upstairs, an owner’s wing was added in the early 1800s (the noble quarters), and the Moorish and neoclassical architectural details are far more extravagant: smooth colorful tiled floors, the faded remains of pastel frescos across ceilings, ornate wood-carved chandeliers, and beautiful antiques in every room to match. There’s a turret at each corner; once watchtowers, they’ve been turned into closets (and in one case, a shower), and views from every single window are unfathomably beautiful. Red soil, pink light and silvery green leaves, the agricultural landscape unfolds with vineyards, fields of grain and secolari, those magnificent, gnarled hundreds-of-years-old olive trees, planted in perfect pin-straight lines as far as the eye can see.
The place is over-the-top stunning inside and out, but we were happiest outside, and spent 90 percent of our waking hours in the courtyard, cooking in the 500-year-old outdoor oven, eating figs we picked right off the trees, swimming in the extra-long pool running along the fortress wall that flanks the citrus grove. There’s a dining table under a pergola, a hammock under the fig tree, lounge chairs around the pool, an outdoor living room with cushy furniture, and smaller tables with chairs scattered about. For anyone with kids, there cannot be a more perfect spot in all of Italy (the photos don’t begin to do the scale or beauty of the place justice). They never tired of exploring, catching geckos or swimming in that long, rectangular pool (yes, even under the stars). One evening we took them out into the olive groves at dusk, and it felt like some kind of enchanted fairytale, where they could climb trees, scale old walls, create makeshift forts, and duck in and out of old, empty outbuildings once used for storing fruit and olives, a blacksmith shop and additional sleeping quarters for farm workers. Although we fell pretty hard for Puglia, which is garnering a well-deserved reputation as a beautiful, more real/authentic (we didn’t see a single other American traveler) and reasonably priced alternative to Tuscany, it was difficult to leave Villa Pizzorusso to explore. I guess that’s the magic though–you really don’t need to.
Sleeps up to 14 across six bedrooms. Prices start at $5,135 during low season and $10,250/week during the high. Also included: two bikes, cleaning service and a wonderful welcome basket full of local specialties–wine, cheese, and taralli. Rent it at villapizzorusso.com or by emailing info@villapizzorusso.
A couple weekends ago (breaking up the drive back from Maine) we stayed in Brooklyn artists Frantiska and Tim Gilman’s Catskills log cabin, and the place is an absolute dream — especially for people with kids. It rained much of the weekend, but it didn’t matter — our boys were as happy catching frogs in the pouring rain as they were playing board games at the big farmhouse table on the covered front porch. Our last night there, the weather cleared up and we made a fire in the fire pit, surrounded by tree-stump seats, while the boys waded through the stream until we lost the last bit of dappled sunlight streaming through the trees. There were roasted marshmallows and a sky full of stars.
I could go on ad nauseum about the grounds–a stream, three ponds, little trails through tall wildflowers brimming with butterflies, the best climbing tree in the whole-wide-world (direct quote from my six-year-old)–but the actual cabin was just as special. Frantiska refinished many of the well-worn antique furnishings herself, and the walls are covered in pieces that speak to their artistic leanings as well as tell stories about their history. They bought botany and biology posters from a man with a whole cellar full of them in a village in Czech Republic near the Polish border where Frantiska’s father grew up. And the stunning, oversized map in the living room was pieced together by her father who reproduced it from an old 18th-century map he found in the Prague library where he worked as the curator of contemporary art exhibitions. In the living room, an antique glass cabinet is “our ‘wunderkammern,’ filled with birds nests we collect on the property, an ostrich egg, and the bits and pieces of porcelain and crystal services we get from local antique shops.”
They bought the place five years ago and over the years, they’ve replaced the roof, refinished the floors, reconstructed rotting porches, and installed a bathroom upstairs. But they were already working with some beautiful stock: The cabin was originally built using all local materials (red pine felled right on the property and hand-hewn), as well as reclaimed barn wood, which the original owner/builder got from disassembling barns. Other details–like the slabs of local bluestone for the fireplace, a bathroom floor made from reclaimed bricks from a kiln chimney, and a kitchen island countertop made from a barn door–add layer after layer of rustic character.
There are three bedrooms (sleeps up to eight), and it’s extremely kid-friendly. Prices start at $450 for a weekend. The town of Andes is adorable, with lots of little shops and cafes along the main drag, and the area is known for its amazing hiking trails. Rent it at vrbo.com.