Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sophia Loren stayed here . . .

. . . and Kings and Queens and politicians and other movie stars - in Sorrento's treasury of indulgence
From its clifftop eyrie its front views are million-dollar of the Bay of Naples stretching to the horizon, parts of spectacular Sorrento below and of the Neapolitan Riviera’s coastline sparkling away to right and left. By guest blogger David Ellis.

From around the back they’re out over its own 2ha (5 acres) of parklands, and from one side of archaeological ruins from 50BC or possibly earlier, and from the other a few remains of a one-time Roman bathing pool. Beneath it lay parts of a villa Emperor Augustus once called home, an ancient Roman spa, and a fascinating centuries-old crypt inquisitive visitors can still explore today.

                         Seasonal outdoor dining venues like this offer a choice of regional
                                   Campania, Mediterranean and international cuisines.

And inside, it blends the most contemporary of facilities amid the ambience of an era long past, of modernity and classical elegance, 18th and 19th century works by great masters and contrasting Art Nouveau, furniture from the periods of Louis the XVI and Beidermeier, and painstakingly restored frescoes…
Is all this some grand museum, some coveted Italian government treasure house, a regal palace or priceless residence from Victorian times?


          Children's playground in a corner of the hotel’s 2ha-plus private park with 100
               year old ornamental trees, citrus, olive, vegetable and flower gardens.

No. It is a hotel, conceived by forward-thinking Raffaele Fiorentino in 1834 and managed by the Fiorentino family ever since, the current fifth generation rattling off names of guests like a Who’s Who of royalty, business, the arts, music, literature and film… even an Australian politician who would later go on to become his country’s Prime Minister (our lips are sealed.)
Names like Otto von Bismarck, King Louis of Bavaria, England’s Prince of Wales in 1874 who would later return as King of his country, Catherine Grand Duchess of Russia, King Rama VII of Siam (now Thailand,) England’s Princess Margaret …
And Richard Strauss, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Ritchie, Barbara Streisand, Marilyn Monroe… and Enrico Caruso who in 1921 spent his last days here in Suite 448 that’s now named after him.

          The Blue Salon for taking gracious afternoon teas in an ambience of an era past.

Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills played their parts in the Billy Wilder film ‘Avanti’ here, and Sophia Loren, Edoardo Ponti and Philippe Noiret in ‘Qualcosa di Biondo’
From the very beginning the Fiorentinos wanted their Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria to stand out from the rest for those undertaking the Grand Tour – not just for its clifftop location in the very heart of Sorrento, but for its d├ęcor, services and dining.
So rather than one over-powering monolithic structure they created three smaller interconnecting buildings… and as pioneering firsts back in 1834, installed unique private bathrooms in each of their 92 rooms and suites, new-fangled electric lighting, even a remarkable funicular railway inside a one-time Roman-era tunnel linking the hotel directly with Sorrento’s waterfront below.
Today, guests enjoy a choice of boutique venues and terraces rather than vast restaurants and bars, indoor and seasonal outdoor dining areas offering a choice of Michelin Star regional Campania, Mediterranean and international cuisines… and for those who must have their American-style buffet fix for breakfast, the Vittoria Breakfast Room has that together with a healthy organic corner and a pianist at play.
Other rooms include the Winter Garden with its overflowing flower baskets, the quiet Reading Room with photographs and newspaper cuttings chronicling those who have indulged here, the Music Room adorned with lush green plants and furnishings handcrafted by local artisans…

           Premium Deluxe guest room fit for a Who’s Who of royalty, business, the arts,
                     music, literature and film… and a future Australian Prime Minister.

Large, grand and in many cases over-sized guest rooms and suites reflect the Victorian era with classic antiques contrasted by the latest in contemporary 21st century facilities, almost all having private terraces overlooking the azure Bay of Naples with its flanking hills of olive and citrus groves.
Guests can frolic in the large hydro-jet pool, be pampered in the only Spa on the Amalfi Coast to offer Australian-invented Intraceuticals Oxygen Facials (a hit with the likes of Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Kim Kardashian and Justin Timberlake,) work out in the hi-tech Gym, walk or jog the 2ha-plus private park with its 100 year old ornamental trees, citrus, olive, vegetable and flower gardens, and children’s playground.


            Sorrento's Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria overlooks the town’s marina and
                                    captures million dollar views to left and right.

Or take the lift directly from the hotel down to Sorrento’s waterfront for outings by car, coach, train, ferry or private launch to nearby Capri, Naples, Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum, Amalfi, Ravello or Positano…
Prices start from Euro220 per room per night including buffet breakfast for two, complimentary Wi-Fi and taxes, and the hotel has its own carpark for self-drive holidaymakers. Book through your favourite travel agent.
(Images: Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria)






Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Get Up & Go: AUSTRIA: I'm a sacher for a good cake

Get Up & Go: AUSTRIA: I'm a sacher for a good cake

AUSTRIA: I'm a sacher for a good cake

Haven't heard of Sacher Torte? Have you been living on Mars or are completely oblivious to a good slice of cake?
The history of the torte (cake) is a sweet one. It was created in Vienna (not Salzburg), by a young apprentice chef Franz Sacher in 1832. The delicious cake is traditionally served with a portion of unsweetened whipped cream and is complimented with a cup of tea or coffee.
The cake has a mysterious air - covered in a shining, silky chocolate coat with a small round motif decorating the side, once bitten into, life takes on a grander meaning. The cake is chocolaty and has a robust texture divided by a sting of apricots glaze. (SEE recipe below)

There are specialty shops all over Austria selling this indulgence, but you'll find the sweetest prize at the Sacher Hotels.
And adding to the pleasure of the Sacher Torte experience is the fact that is it always sitting on the breakfast table/buffet daring you to take a slice to begin the day . . .of course we did.
At the elegant, traditional Sacher Hotel in Salzburg (below) , the Sacher Torte disappeared quickly and there appeared to be a rotating delivery of said sweetie at the breakfast table.
Visit: www.sacher.com/hotel-sacher-salzburg

Sacher Torte 

Total Time:
1 hr 42 min
20 min
2 min
1 hr 20 min

8 to 10 servings

  • Cake:
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 3 ounces butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 ounce sugar, plus 3 ounces
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup flour, sifted
  • Apricot Filling:
  • 1 1/2 cups apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon apricot brandy
  • Glaze:
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 1 ounce butter
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • Whipped cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 by 2-inch cake pan.
In a bowl, combine the chocolate and butter and melt over a double boiler. Set aside to cool. In a mixer, using a wire whisk, whip the egg yolks with 1 ounce sugar until light and ribbony. Beat in the chocolate mixture.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 3 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks. Fold in the flour and then fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites, gently but thoroughly. Pour into prepared cake pan.
Bake for 40 minutes or until done. To check for doneness, insert a paring knife in centre of cake. It should come out dry. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
To make the apricot filling: puree the apricot preserves. Stir in brandy.
Slice the cake into 3 equal layers. Spread half of the apricot filling on the bottom layer. Top with a second layer of cake. Spread the remaining apricot filling and top with the last layer of cake. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
To make the glaze: in a bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Melt over a double-boiler. Bring the cream to a boil. Stir into the melted chocolate. Cool until it reaches glazing consistency. Spread over and around the cake. Chill for another 30 minutes before serving. Serve a slice with whipped cream.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Top 10 Things to do in Ecuador’s Amazon

The Amazon is one of Ecuador’s four distinct ‘worlds’ alongside the Pacific Coast, the Andes and the Galapagos Islands. The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, home to 4000 species of trees and vines, 600 species of birds and 200 species of mammals.
There are plenty of activities that visitors to the equator-straddling country can enjoy in the Amazon. Here are the top 10 things to do in Ecuador’s Amazon region:
1.      Go white-water rafting. Rafting is the most popular adventure sport in Ecuador’s Amazon, with rivers of different levels of difficulty and accessibility available.

2.        Go kayaking. Ecuador is the third best destination in the world for rafting and kayaking, with the rivers flowing down from the Andes mountain range, providing excellent paddling.

3.      Hike through the Amazon jungle. Explore the extensive and diverse Ecuadorian Amazon by foot with the help of a local guide.

4.      Go birdwatching. With more than 600 species of bird, including macaws, toucans and tanagers, the Amazon provides an ideal location to birdwatch.

5.      Experience an Amazon River cruise. A number of itineraries are available which allow visitors to closely observe the flora and fauna of the jungle visit indigenous communities. River cruises provide comfortable floating accommodation while ensuring little environmental impact. 

6.      Try maito, a traditional Amazon delicacy. Served wrapped in a yaquipanga or banana leaf, the tambaqui fish (which lives in the rivers of the Amazon) is cooked using charcoal, with a mixture of onion, salted tomato and coriander used as seasoning.

7.      Visit local jungle communities. Take part in cultural ceremonies and find out a little about the people who call the Amazon home.

8.      Put warrior makeup on. Visitors can be painted with vegetable pigments as part of ritual welcoming ceremonies.

9.      Swim in a waterfall. Guests can visit the Latas Waterfall, where they climb up a river gorge, ending at a pool and waterfall, where they can swim.

10.  Stay in an eco lodge. The Ecuadorian Amazon is home to a number of luxury, environmentally-friendly lodges, providing the ideal base from which to enjoy all the rainforest has to offer.

For information on Ecuador visit the consumer site – www.ecuador.travel