Tag Archives: europe

Manos Small World – a wonderful small world in Santorini

It may seem very difficult to decide on where to book your hotel on Santorini, especially if you are looking for one that combines it all – perfect location, breathtaking views, quality accommodations, and the spirit or heart of the island.

After we landed on Santorini and collected our luggage, we were taken by taxi (arranged in advance by the hotel) to Manos Small World, where we were surprised to be greeted by name.  My first reaction was “Ahem, do I know you?” Imagine my embarrassment when I realized that the person who had walked up to greet us was the owner of the hotel, Thanasis. Like a modern day Hercules, he schlepped our two heavy pieces of luggage down the steps to the hotel.  Hard to imagine that he has been greeting his guests and carrying their luggage this way for over 20 years since he opened the hotel in July, 1990 at the age of 24. Today, almost 50 years of age and the father of two grown up children, he is still full of positive vibes for his small world and guests.

If you were disappointed by the drive from the airport towards Fira and the other villages, you will be very happily surprised or relieved when you arrive at the Manos Small World. This is the Santorini you have seen in pictures or heard of from descriptions of the island. It is complete with white washed cave houses decorated with blue window shades and almost blinding bright bougainvillea flowers.

Manos Small World reflects the personality of Thanasis himself – calm, warmhearted, attentive and full of positive emotions for his guests or friends, as he likes to call them. I had the privilege and honor to take a look the pictures and memos he has collected since the first day he opened his small world for business. It was very touching to read the messages left by guests who came for single visits or returned time and again. The memories include the pictures he has received from all over the world thanking Thanasis for his hospitality and the wonderful stay at his charming place.

Today, Manos Small World offers 11 rooms on three different floors, all facing the Caldera, with views of Firostefani and Fira, as well as Imerovigli and in the far north- west Oìa. The rooms are all plenty large, with a small kitchenette, a sitting area complete with a small welcome bottle of white wine, and a relaxing sofa area. The bathrooms are close to the sleeping area, equipped with hair drier, and basic amenities. Breakfast is served at your dedicated table, in front of the room, from 8am until 11am or even later. The breakfast is simple but of high quality, much better than any buffet breakfast at large hotel chains, prepared from traditional Greek dishes with care and lots of love.

Book your vacation on Santorini directly with Thanasis on www.manos-santorini.com

Thanasis is happy to help with any recommendations for lunch or dinner in any town on the island, information about which beach is good to visit (depending on the wind direction) and organization of sailing trips, rental of car or bikes or anything else you can possible imagine. If you ever think of getting married on Santorini, I am sure that Thanasis will make your dreams come true in his little world.

Tips:

  • 3-5 days on Santorini is enough time to explore the whole island, best by scooter or four-wheel bike.
  • Oìa is famous for the sunset, but beware that the whole island will be squeezing into the tight passages around the areas with a view.  Either you get there early in plenty of time to get a nice drink on one of the many terraces or prepare yourself for a mad rush that feels like “this is the last sunset we will ever get to see” situation.
  • Driving on the island is ok, although you shouldn’t trust too much on the driving rules. As long as you are safe and watch out for the other crazy drivers, you’ll be fine.
  • Santorini compared to other islands may not really offer the best Greek food.  Prices are quite high and quality is average as we found out on the three nights. Fresh fish of the day is always a good choice just beware as many of the seafood options may be frozen.
  • Ask Thanasis for restaurant recommendations to make sure you do not step into the bad tourist food trap and mistakenly take that for traditional Greek food.
  • Recommendations: Mama Thira, Remvi, Aktaion.
  • Room 8 is on the top floor at the end so you have your silence and people are not walking by your door or table. But as guests seemed to be a little like Thanos himself, calm and respectful, any other room is perfectly fine.
  • Rooms 8 – 11 are all on the top floor with the added benefit of no noise from moving chairs in the rooms above.

 

Follow the Medicis’ steps – Ponte Vecchio Suites Florence

It is no surprise that the Ponte Vecchio Suites, in the heart of old Florence, are only a few steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio itself. Opened in 2008 by manageress Valeria Raspini, the nine available Ponte Vecchio Suites offer apartment like rooms of different sizes, including all the comforts and luxury you would expect from a high-class hotel, without feeling overloaded and too busy.

Strategically located only a short walk from the name giving Ponte Vecchio, it also provides easy access to the Piazza Signoria and Uffizzi, the Duomo, Palazzo Pitti (with it’s magnificent gardens), and the Borgo San Jacopo. You can enjoy the nearness to all the main sights, but also experience the relaxation offered by the boutique suites only a short walk away.

The suite we stayed in on the first floor had two separate rooms for the bedroom and living area. The living area included a sofa, dinner table, and small kitchenette equipped with basic utensils and dishes as well as a Nespresso machine. The only downside was the fact that you had to pay for the coffee capsules and sugar was from Mc Donald’s, but the nice fruit basket made up for that small inconvenience. Breakfast, ordered in advance, is served directly to the room from a nearby bar. As an alternative, you can decide to take the short walk to the bar itself and eat there.

The spa and gym at the Ponte Vecchio is in the basement and has to be booked in advance, as it is for exclusive use. It is rather small and cold, but probably very comfortable after a hot day in the city. You can also book a massage if you desire. Highly recommended is Alessandro (+39 303 76 278) who is an experienced therapist. Beauty treatments are available as well, but need to be booked in advance as the person is external. Not sure if I would recommend the beauty service, so beware when you book it.

The excellent booking service provided by Larisa, and the very friendly personnel Elena and Tatiana at reception deserve a special mention. All three ladies went the extra mile to make sure that you feel at home, gave good recommendations for restaurants, and made any requested bookings with a smile. They were very helpful regardless of the request.

In addition to the room, we also booked a private tour through the hotel with a local guide named Paola. While her tour of Firenze was informative and provided a local view on Firenze, the one we would really recommend was the one we booked (with Paola’s help) the following day. The tour was through via florencepass.com, and Maurizio (the company’s founder) was an extraordinary tour guide. He is passionate about Firenze’s history and arts and we could have listened to him for days. In addition, he has a delightful sense of humor. On our private tour we did the Uffizi, accessed by a side entrance that saved us a ton of time avoiding the normal entrance lines. The Uffizi is great on it’s own, but with Maurizio, who knows where to go and what to look for, it became an exceptional experience.

The Vasari Corridor though was the icing on the cake. The corridor tour is private and not something you can buy a ticket for at a ticket office. It’s very limited and we felt special having the opportunity to pass beyond the locked doors into the corridor while everyone in the Uffizi looked on and wondered why we were allowed in there. It was incredible to see all the artwork hidden behind the doors that most people will never see in addition to walking the exact path that the Medici family walked from the town hall to their palace.

Tipps:
Book a private tour with Maurizio: www.florencepass.com
Park your car at Garage Lungarno, but make sure you call in advance because spaces are limited. The hotel staff will help you with that.

Garage Lungarno
Borgo San Jacopo 10/R – 50123 Firenze (FI) – Italy
Tel: +39 055 28 25 42

www.pontevecchiosuites.com

Seek and hide truffles in Siena – Taverna San Giuseppe

The choice of restaurants in Siena is just as large at the hotel choice. Some of the restaurants you can find on TripAdvisor or other sites catering to frequent travelers. Luckily we had recommendations from a friend’s wife (with support from her local colleagues) presenting us with an exclusive list of local favorites to choose from. We trusted our friends’ direct and especially authentic, Italian suggestions and were rewarded with a special experience at the Taverna di San Giuseppe. This is how fromfriendsforfriends.ch works.

The Taverna di San Giuseppe is a short walk up an inclined street leading away from the Piazza del Campo. It is somewhat hidden and a nice surprise when you find it as you are in an area where you don’t expect a restaurant anymore.

The interior is warm and inviting and really feels as though you are in a Cantina with its wooden tables and rustic walls. The owner’s son Matteo told us that the current building dates back to the year 1100 and older still, the wine cellar housed in the tufa rock of an old Etruscan house dates back to 200 BC. Opened in 1998 by Marco Neri and Lorella, a Sienese family, the restaurant used to be an auto garage and a carpenters’ workshop. Matteo could still remember the cars lined up for repair and mechanic parts hanging off the walls.

The San Giuseppe menu features several classics such a Ribolita (a hearty potage made with bread and vegetables), Brasato (braised beef or stewed with vegetables), and Bistecca Fiorentina, but the recommendation we selected was the fileto with truffels and Prunetti olive oil and the cinghiale (wild boar). Of course you will also find a great variety of homemade pasta including Gnudi, Pici, and Tagliatelle, choices of meats such as prosciutto, salumni, sausages, and finally a great choice of cheeses from the wine cellar.

When you order your food, ask Matteo for a recommendation on the wine in combination with the meals and then take a walk down to see the wine cellar while the food is being prepared.

The cellar is indeed tremendous with more than 500 labels of national and local wines, of course mostly Tuscan ones. The wine cellar can be reserved for private parties and events as well as private wine tastings and wine classes.

La Taverna di San Giuseppe is indeed a restaurant worthy of a recommendation in Siena. While the choices on the menu are vast, it is the small things that matter in the end, and for me it was the attention of the service (one waiter even brought me a little stool for my handbag), the excellent quality of food and the comfortable environment.

Tipp: Book a table after 9 pm and you will get the local environment, rather than the non-Italian visitors.

Address:
La Taverna di San Giuseppe
Via G. Dupré, 132, 53100 Siena
Tel +39 0577 42286
www.tavernasangiuseppe.it

 

Lisbon is like Fado…

It has multiple souls. One is serious, straightforward and dramatic like the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the discoverers, artists and monarchs, following Henry the Navigator. Another soul is light, colorful and international like the different districts of Alfama, Baixa or Bairro Alto. And there is the sad, in pain but powerful one, like the fado singers, clenching their fists against their chests, with their eyes shut, singing out their pain.

The best location to fly out and experience all these different souls of Lisbon is the historical downtown Baixa-Chiado district. This is also where our reviewed hotel is located, in the heart of Lisbon, within walking distance of Santa Justa Elevator and Rossio Square, and in decent strolling distance from Bairro Alto, the Castle of Sao Jorge or the Lisbon Cathedral.

Browns’ has decided to focus on providing a hip environment with 36 individually decorated rooms, combining simplicity, elegance, comfort and Hi-Tech featuring Mac computers with working stations, LCD TV, docking stations for Apple products and free Wi-Fi access. All rooms have kitchenettes with fridge, kettle and coffee maker and some have balconies, overlooking the Rua dos Sapateiros.
While the hotel does not offer dining amenities, there are some excellent cafès and restaurants nearby where you can experience Portuguese culture and cuisine. The staff at the front desk will be happy to recommend somewhere or help with any query you may have while at Brown’s DownTown.

7th Heaven in Venice – Settimo Cielo

Spend a couple of days in Venice, dive into the streams of people wandering the streets, but then retreat to the wonderfully refined boutique B&B located just a short walking distance away from major attractions like Saint Mark’s Square, Rialto Bridge, Palazzo Grassi, Accademia Galleries.

Hidden on the second and third floor of a private palazzo that dates back to the 13th century, two B&Bs share the same service, style of accommodation and a communal breakfast area as well as a delightful roof terrace with spectacular views across the rooftops of Venice.

delightful roof terrace with spectacular views across the rooftops of Venice

The lower floors belong to Settimo Cielo’s,  owner Paolo Battistetti, while the upper floors belong to Bloom’s, owned by Alessandra Vazzoler. The two business partners worked with a local architect to design the B&Bs tastefully, merging old with new.

At Settimo Cielo, the B&B selected, rooms are all styled differently, each featuring elegantly original and successful mix of classical Venetian style and modern design, from rich reds and purple brocades to more calming beiges and creams.

While there’s no in-house restaurant, there are lovely areas where you eat breakfast, and, best of all, the breathtaking roof terrace with great views over piazza Santo Stefano. The rooftop is accessed via a cosy lounge, whose fridge stores complimentary bottles of Prosecco – perfect accompaniment to the sunset over Venice.