Friday, October 13, 2017

Escape to Roman ruins and the Tyrrhenian Sea at La Posta Vecchia

Twilight at La Posta Vecchia, once the villa of John Paul Getty
LADISPOLI, iTALY  Tucked away on the outskirts of Rome, just a short drive from Fiumucino International Airport, sits a magnificent 17th century villa that was once part of the ancient port city of Alsium. Originally the port was Etruscan but later became Roman.
Overlooking the azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, this grand seaside palace known as La Posta Vecchia (the old post house), was sold in 1693 and devastated by fire in 1918 before industrialist John Paul Getty renovated it into his private resort residence in the 1960s.
The main entrance beckons visitors to enter
(Leading Hotels of the World)
The former carriage house for mail stages traveling along the coast north of Rome, is much more than the contemporary, elegant 5-star hotel it has become since Getty's death, however.
J. Paul Getty
When the eccentric billionaire took ownership, he discovered beneath the floors of his new home, the ruins of two 2nd century Roman villas. 
Intrigued by his discovery, Getty began excavating the property under the supervision of the Archaeological Authority  only to unearth remains of colorful mosaics and a stunning array of African and Greek marble including a vast collection of plates and vases.
Artifacts abound beneath La Posta Vecchia  (Pelicano Hotels)
Further research showed that La Posta Vecchia had been built over the ruins of an ancient Roman City in the town of Palo Laziale. 
Rather than give his priceless discovery to a museum, Getty converted the basement of his villa into a private museum which is now an intricate feature to be enjoyed by guests and visitors to La Posta Vecchia.
Mosaics were part of the
discovery  (Pelicano Hotels)
Given the size of the ruins and the type of artifacts that were uncovered, it is believed that the original structure once belonged to a wealthy and influential Roman nobleman. As such, that part of La Posta Vecchia's legacy continues into the 21st century.
By the 17th century the outbuildings of Odescalchi Castle had been built over the original villa and the two Roman estates disappeared until Getty unearthed his buried treasure.
Entrance to the ruins at La Posta Vecchia  (wikipedia)
In essence, this story is uniquely Italian, for much like the country itself, La Posta Vecchia has undergone its own Renaissance.
Getty, along with art historian Federico Zeri, lovingly appointed the living spaces of the villa with a mixture of contemporary and classical furnishings. Each guest room is unique with a full compliment of 16th and 17th century furniture. Rooms are bright and spacious with magnificent views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Stunning indoor pool
(Pelicano Hotels)
Much of the charm of La Posta Vecchia however, lies in its lack of pretense. Though elegant and sophisticated with its state-of-the-art facilities, it is not ostentatious or pompous in its character. Here is a place where comfort is of the essence, amid a casual atmosphere that blends harmoniously with virtually every century of La Posta Vecchia's history.
Relaxing by the sea
The hotel today is essentially as Getty left it, with few of the trappings of the modern hotel industry other than the necessities required for comfortable contemporary living. La Posta Vecchia thrives within its own authenticity.
La Posta Vecchia specializes in dining and weddings
(Pelicano Hotels)
Amenities include a private beach, a stunning indoor pool where you can watch the sunrise if you like, horseback riding in the surf and boat services along the picturesque coastline.
Seaside luxury and elegance await at La Posta Vecchia
(Pelicano Hotels)
Tennis courts are available on the grounds and golf can be arranged at a nearby course. The spa is also a top-notch facility for those interested in participating in wellness as only Italy can offer it.
The underground treasure of two Roman villas (Pelicano Hotels) 
Rome is only 40 minutes away by car which makes La Posta Vecchia an ideal escape from the "madding crowds" yet accessible to all the sightseeing and artistic wonders of the "Eternal City."

Keep in mind that you are not isolated from culinary delights at the villa however. The Cesar Restaurant has a Michelin-rated kitchen that will satisfy the most discriminating of palates.
Manicured landscaping, Roman architecture and elegant
surroundings are hallmarks of La Posta Vecchia
(Pelicano Hotels)
Here's a tip, even if you prefer a closer proximity to Rome's vibrancy and amenities, consider treating yourself to a gala farewell adventure before departing for home the next day.
Traffic will probably be lighter and so will your heart because La Posta Vecchia is one of those lifetime memories you will never forget.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Grand Hotel Giessbach and its waterfall in central Switzerland

Grand Hotel Giessbach on Lake Brienz recalls a golden age of travel  (Taylor)
BRIENZ, SWITZERLAND  One of the most popular trends in travel these days is finding a central location as a base and doing day trips without having to change hotels. The town of Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland derives its name from being situated between two lakes; the Lake of Thun and the Lake of Brienz. Not only are the lakes beautiful destinations within themselves, they are also gateways to a multitude of things to see and do.
Giessbach Falls is part of the attraction  (Taylor)
Visitors to Switzerland can journey to Interlaken by train from Brienz or they can arrive and depart from Interlaken on regularly scheduled lake steamers that make circular routes around the lake.

Regardless of whether you opt to cruise from Interlaken or from Brienz, here's a little travel tip to put in your planning repertoire that is guaranteed to amaze and delight your traveling companions; take time to stop at the Grand Hotel Giessbach and the myriad of waterfalls that spill beside it into the Lake of Brienz.
Boats offer regular service
It's easy to do and well worth a night at the hotel if you can afford the time. At the very least, a brief hour or two stop for a snack and coffee is well worth the diversion. 
From Interlaken, Hotel Giessbach and its breathtaking waterfalls will sneak up on you if you are not prepared in advance. The Brienz side of the lake, though no less spectacular, does give an uninitiated traveler a bit more warning.
High above the Lake of Brienz  (Taylor)
Best of all is knowing about the falls and hotel ahead of time so you can be sure to be on deck when the boat docs at the landing.

Now nearly a century and a half old, Grand Hotel Giessbach was built by noted French architect Horace Edouard Davinet in 1873/74 for the Hauser family of Zurich, one of the great hotel dynasties of its day.
Grand Hotel Giessbach

Set among harmonious landscapes of architecture, parks and waterfalls, the Giessbach Hotel quickly became a favorite hideaway for high society. When World War I broke out in 1914, the hotel was a playground for emperors and kings, statesman and diplomats and celebrities from every discipline of the entertainment world.

Artists, poets and writers spent their summers amid the cool surroundings of forested greenery and plunging waters that spilled into the crystal clear Lake of Brienz.

Original funicular to Grand Hotel Geissbach
Though Switzerland was neutral through both world wars, the dynamics of the conflicts took their toll and the golden age of hotels quickly declined. Grand Hotel Giessbach closed its doors in 1979 with plans for demolition that would be replace it with a contemporary concrete structure in the style of a "jumbo" chalet.
The first split rail track
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and Swiss ecologist Franz Weber was successful in purchasing the 54-acre property with the idea of renovating it and restoring it to its original splendor as a "gift" to the Swiss people.

By May of 1984, Grand Hotel Giessbach had been restored to its historic grandeur including the new Park Restaurant and a small number of unrenovated rooms. Each winter, for the next seven years, the hotel underwent restoration until it had, at long last, regained its proper place among the most beautiful and best known buildings in Switzerland.
Dinner is served at Hotel Geissbach  (Taylor)
Part of the fun of visiting the grand hotel is getting there. Arrive at the landing by boat and disembark to the oldest funicular in Europe that is used only by tourists. Established in 1879, the Giessbachbahn was the first railway in the world to have a passing loop in the middle, a feature that is now standard on almost every funicular.
Arriving is part of the fun

The train connects the lake with the hotel which is partially hidden approximately 110 yards above the lake. Though Europe itself has four other trains that are older, the Giessbachbahn remains the oldest funicular in Switzerland that is still in operation.

Surrounded by mountains, forests and alpine meadows with breathtaking views of the unspoiled Lake of Brienz, this rescued oasis is located far away from hustle and bustle of everyday life and traffic. Since the 19th century, a footpath has led to and under the waterfall featuring 14 steps of the falls themselves. Each step along the route has been named for a different hero in Bernese history.
The quaint woodcarvers village of Brienz  (wikipedia)
Spilling the waters of the Giessbach Brook more that 600 yards out of the high valleys of the Faulhorn area to the Lake of Brienz, Giessbach Falls is a superb place to use as a base to visit the woodcarver's village of Brienz, the Sherlock Holmes town of Meiringen and Reichenbach Falls, the Brienzer-Rothorn train that steams high above both lakes, the Schilthorn, the Jungfraujoch, the Lauterbrunnen Valley and to cruise along its sister Lake of Thun.
Giessbach Falls and its Grand Hotel capture your heart and your
imagination  (Taylor)
The Giessbach Falls and the Grand Hotel Giessbach are the sort of discoveries that make travelers return again and again.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Italy through the eyes and words of others (Part II)

The Duomo in Florence dominates the city from Piazzale
Michelangelo  (wikipedia)
ITALY No destination in the world has a more immediate impact on travelers than Italy. It is a country that thrives on organized chaos and incongruity inspiring more artists, poets, writers and musicians than other place on earth. Anything anyone writes or says about the most famous "boot" in the world is almost certainly going to be redundant.

From the moment you are washed in its glorious sunshine that reflects the earth tones of centuries of creativity amid spectacular gardens, landscaping and sensual breezes, you know that Italy is one of a kind.
Stunning Amalfi Coast
As such, it seems appropriate to revisit some of the classic reflections of others regarding this hedonistic peninsula that civilized the world not once but twice in its history.

For those who have had the joy of traveling to Italy at least once, savor the thoughts of others and reflect upon them as you acknowledge their wisdom.
Rugged coastline toward Positano where Hotel San Pietro is
almost invisible  (wikipedia)

“Italians think reiteration is a form of argument, of logic, even.”
-- Barbara Grizzuti Harrison – Italian Days

“Italians have an astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is equaled only by their complete inability to deal with success.”
-- Gore Vidal
The Colosseum  in Rome

 “What do we find in Italy that can be found nowhere else?  I believe it is a certain permission to be human that other countries lost long ago.” 
-- Erica Jong

“The seven deadly sins seem somewhat less deadly in Italy; the Ten Commandments slightly more malleable.  This is a country that not only accepts contradictions; it positively encourages them.” 
-- Erica Jong
Ancient streets of Pompeii remind us of a glorious past (Taylor)

“Being in Italy is rather like being in love.  So what if people have been in love before?  So what if Italy has been a tourist trap for at least a thousand years?   So what if everything you say in criticism – or praise – of Italy has already been said?  Writers and travelers yet unborn will say it all again, blissfully unaware that anyone has uttered the same thoughts before.”
-- Erica Jong

Ravello is like peering down from heaven  (wikipedia)

Italy is the opposite of Russia.  In Moscow nothing is known yet everything is clear.  In Rome everything is public, there are no secrets, everybody talks, things are at time flamboyantly enacted, yet one understands nothing.”
-- Luigi Barzini – The Italians

“Painters have sons and painter’s sons have fathers, and in Italy genius runs in the blood.”
-- Barbara Grizzuti Harrison – Italian Days
"The Wedding Cake" (Taylor)

“Reliance on symbols and spectacles must be clearly grasped if one wants to understand Italy, Italian history, manners, civilization, habits and to foresee the future.  It is fundamental to the national character.  It is one of the reasons why the Italians have always excelled in all activities in which the appearance is predominant: architecture, decoration, landscape gardening, the figurative arts, pageantry, fireworks, ceremonies, opera, and now industrial design, stage jewelry, fashions and the cinema.  Italian medieval armor was the most beautiful in Europe: it was highly decorated, elegantly shaped, well-designed, but too light and thin to be used in combat.  In war the Italians themselves preferred the German armor, which was ugly but practical.  It was safer.”
-- Luigi Barzini – The Italians

The great Roman baths of Caracalla  (Taylor)

“Romans are attuned to beauty, to art, to culture.  They are convinced that the way to a satisfied soul, to a life worth living, is through the expression of creativity.  Romans are convinced that beauty is the best investment you can make in life.”
-- Alan Epstein –As The Romans Do

And finally, who better to quote than one of the greatest artists in history, Michelangelo. When he was in his early 20s Michelangelo sculpted "The Pieta" followed in the next five years by "The David."
The Grand Canal beckons amid the charms of Venice  (Taylor)

At the age of 33, he reluctantly painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The project took four years to complete. Oddly enough, when Japan paid for the restoration of the ceiling, it took 12 years to clean it.

When Michelangelo was in his 80s, he designed the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica using the architectural concepts of Filippo Brunelleschi who had solved the same structural impossibilities while creating the Duomo in Florence, Michelangelo's home city.
Sunset at the Colosseum in Rome  (wikipedia)

In tribute to the genius of Italy, its artists and art, we close with the words of Michelangelo who wrote:

“Nowhere does God, in His space, reveal himself to me more clearly than in some lovely human form, which I love solely because it is a mirrored image of himself.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

Best of two worlds: The Adler Spa and Tuscany

The Adler Thermae and Spa beckons with Tuscan serenity
(Adler Thermae)
Bagno Vignoni, Italy  Some things just naturally belong together: peanut butter and jelly, Popeye and Olive Oyl, shoes and socks, black and white, ham and eggs and, of course, Tuscany and spas.. Which means the Adler Thermae and Spa in Tuscany is as "natural" as it gets.

Situated between the Italian wine regions of Montepulciano and Montalcino, the Adler Thermae Resort and Spa features 90 luxurious room and suites, all of which have a balcony or terrace overlooking the Val d'Orcia.
Relaxing in pristine surroundings  (Adler Thermae)
Val d'Orcia features pristine, untouched landscapes filled with rolling hills covered with vineyards, sunflowers and grain surrounding the Orcia River which are the hallmark of this yet to be discovered region in southern Tuscany.
Twilight in Tuscany
(Adler Thermae)
Owned and operated by the Sanoner family which has been in the hotel business since 1810, the Adler Thermae Resort and Spa is one of four resorts managed by the Sanoners, with the other three located in the Dolomite mountain region of Italy.

Now in the family's seventh generation of ownership, Adler Spa is as beguiling as it is welcoming with hospitable charms which set it apart with distinctive flair.
Shopping for wine and cheese
(Adler Thermae)
The Adler Thermae Resort is more than a spa however. It is a pioneer in wellness and relaxation featuring a menu of more than 120 treatments that combine superb natural products with state-of-the-art equipment to provide the maximum in homeopathy, herbal medicine, nutrition and alternative healing techniques.
Taking the plunge Adler style  (Adler Thermae)
As 2017 comes to a close, three popular aspects of the Adler Thermae are the innovative yoga-based holiday packages which have been designed to accommodate all levels of experience. The yoga programs compliment the five-star property's 1,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor pools, baths and saunas that even male the ancient Roman baths at Caracalla pale by comparison.
Home suite home
(Adler Thermae)
Yoga workshops will be held in November and December with each program led by English speaking experts in their field. The seminars are open to spa guests from all levels of knowledge.

Yoga Experience – The Goddess Whisperer (November 26 through 30:  from approximately $1,060 per person) will be led by Anna Lisa Tempestini, who will work with guests looking to reconnect with their female energy by,  “exploring feminine mythology and archetypes and learning asana sequences to refine the perception of energy in the body.” Tempestini, who lives near the Montalcino region in a 16th century villa, is also a winemaker and cooking instructor. The four-day retreat begins on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
The retreat includes:
  • Seven 90-minute yoga classes with Anna Lisa (two daily between Monday and Wednesday, and a final morning class on Thursday)
  • One €100 spa gift certificate
  • One Adler welcome gift
Every room has a view of the Val d'Orcia (Adler Thermae)
Yoga-O (December 3 through 7; from about $1,170 per person) will help participants start their yoga practice anew (the “O” stands for zero, or “new beginning”) with yoga instructor Massimiliano D'Apolito. The yoga workshops will focus not only on traditional poses, but also encourage guests to practice proper alignment in their daily activities, whether they’re driving, sitting at a desk or lounging on a couch. Ayurvedic specialist Dr. Nahrendu Babu will also be available to share expertise on diet, exercise, meditation and more.

The program includes:
  • Four 90-minute daily yoga classes
  • Two yoga massage sessions, with the instructor both assisting the student in various poses and performing massage techniques
  • One private session with Dr. Babu to define the dosha, or mind-body type that’s responsible for physiological activity
  • One Euro €100 voucher discount for treatments recommended by the practitioners
  • One Adler welcome gift
Thermal waters and primeval surroundings eliminate tension
(Adler Thermae)
Ashtanga Yoga & Ayurveda (December 10 through 14; from $998 per person) will be led by Elena De Martin, director of the Ashtanga Yoga School in Milan. Ashtanga is a vigorous, physically challenging style of yoga that synchronizes breath and movement and helps strengthen all areas of the body, especially the core. De Martin spent many years studying with and assisting Lino Miele, one of Italy’s leading yoga teachers who was a direct disciple of Ashtanga founder K. Pattabhi Jois.

  • Half board (breakfast and one other meal)
  • Seven two-hour yoga classes with Elena (two daily between Monday and Wednesday, and a final morning class on Thursday)
  • One 50-minute Ayurvedic treatment (guests may choose the Abhyanga Massage, a full-body treatment using warm sesame oil; the Udvarthana Massage with deep-cleansing herbal pastes; or the Haki Flow massage to support proper body alignment, performed in thermal water)
  • One Adler welcome gift
It just doesn't get any better than this  (Adler Thermae)
Adler Thermae's three yoga packages are the ideal way to relax between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the glorious surroundings of Tuscany.

The Adler Thermae Spa is guaranteed not to be your "last resort."  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Baptisms in the River Jordan

For Christians, being baptized at the site where Jesus was
immersed is a meaningful experience  (Taylor)
YARDENIT, ISRAEL — One of the great joys of travel is having an experience that is completely out of the realm of your every day routine. Whether it is joining in with locals at the Palio horse race in Siena, Italy or kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland or racing through the Channel Tunnel at 186-miles an hour, the memories last forever.

Visitors to the Holy Land travel there to see sights and shrines that have been a part of their lives since the day they were born. Christians, Jews and Muslims share many of the same stories and locations regardless of their beliefs.
Nearly half a million people from around the world come each
year for the baptismal ceremony  (wikipedia)
For Christians, the two most popular destinations are Bethlehem where Christ was born and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where he is believed to have been buried before the resurrection.

But there's a third locale which brings more than half a million travelers and pilgrims each year to celebrate a ritual that is truly meaningful for everyone who participates. The site is Yardenit, situated at the entrance to Kibbutz Kinneret where the Southern tip of the Sea of Galilee flows into the River Jordan.
Taking the waters

The attraction? The opportunity to be baptized in the waters where Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist.
Built with the blessing and help of the Ministry of Tourism of Israel in 1981, Yardenit was established to offer a haven and sanctuary for visitors wishing to be baptized in the River Jordan. Founded in 1913 by immigrants from Eastern Europe, Kinneret is the second oldest kibbutz in Israel.
Upon arrival, one of the first things visitors experience at Yardenit is a verse from the Gospel of Mark describing the baptism of Christ in hand painted tiles by Armenian artist Hagop Antreasssian. The "Wall of New Life", written in over 80 languages and dialects reads:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven; ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

Like the Ganges in India, the River Jordan is considered one of the world's most sacred rivers, for different reasons, of course. It is mentioned approximately 175 times in the Old Testament and about 15 times in the New Testament.
The source of the River Jordan near the Syrian border  (Taylor)
"Jordan" is derived from the Hebrew word "Yarden" which means "descender." "Yardenit" translates to mean "little Jordan River."

Named after the Sea of Galilee, nearby Kibbutz Kinneret operates the baptismal site where entry is free for all who wish to watch and/or participate. There are also several quiet areas for meditations, prayers and contemplation.

Watching and waiting
Other than the infrastructure for viewing and crowd maintenance, the banks of the river are as pastoral and serene as they would have been 2000 years ago where tranquil greenery and wildlife abound. Playful Otters are frequent visitors to the river without intruding upon the rituals at hand.

In addition, there are handrails and wheelchair accessible ramps leading into the river and the river is constantly monitored for water quality and safety.

Of course, there are gift shops and places for food and, though the baptisms are free, there are small charges for some facilities and services. For example, participants are required to wear special white robes, which can be rented or purchased at the site.

Dressing rooms are available and swim suits or other clothing can be worn under the robe, but participants must don the robe in order to take part in the rite.
Yardenit is a quiet place where solitude is ideal atmosphere
Groups are commonplace at Yardenit, and many guests wish to have a priest perform the ceremony. The kibbutz has no resident clergy on site, however there are local priests available who can perform the services upon request.

The Jordan was a relatively desolate area for centuries, which made adventurous travelers even more appreciative of the opportunity to experience one of the great moments in religious history.
Bethlehem is the most visited
site for Americans (Taylor)

In 1932, with the construction of the Naharayim hydraulic plant which harnessed the Yarnukh and Jordan Rivers for electricity, the area underwent a dramatic change that allowed the Yardenit site to be constructed.

Despite that, as with so many things in the Middle East, the Yardenit baptismal site is not without controversy.

For obvious reasons, Israel has long maintained that Jesus was baptized on the Israeli side of the river rather than the opposite shore which is the country of Jordan. Thanks to archaeological research, scholars are increasingly leaning toward the Jordanian site rather than that of Israel.

In fact, when Pope Francis visited the Holy Land last year, he purposely held a Mass at the Jordanian location, which added credibility to the claim.
Dhows still ply the waters of the Sea of Galilee much as they
did in the time of Jesus Christ  (Taylor)
Though a predominantly Muslim country, Jordan relies heavily on tourism revenue for its economy. Because the baptism of Jesus is generally considered the beginning of Christ's ministry, Jordan has even gone so far as to use the slogan "Jordan, the birthplace of Christianity." 
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the second most visited
site by Christians in the Holy Land  (Taylor)
The primary baptismal site for Jordan is just downriver from Yardenit where the river widens. There is also slightly better access to the waters for those who wish to be baptized at that location.
Renewing faith  (wikimedia)

One other important difference is the baptismal font which has been restored in Jordan for those who prefer to be sprinkled rather than totally immersed.
Whether you choose Israel or Jordan, the River Jordan baptism is a truly unique experience provided, that is, that you can look beyond the presence of soldiers from each country standing guard as pilgrims sing hymns, pray and get baptized in the holy waters that flow into the Dead Sea.