Posts tagged ‘Madonna’

Barcelona with the A list

I might as well warn you. You’re going to want to live in Barcelona.

6h0p0216Unlike the crack dealer who fails to mention how much you’re going to eventually need him, I prefer to start with the truth. One vacation to this gorgeous Catalan city is usually all it takes to make you desire it….again and again.

With its endless list of hip bars, inspiring food, whimsical architecture and people who know how to carpe the heck out of every diem, Barcelona gets under your skin, provokes a commitment, makes you consider a permanent address.

So here’s what I suggest. Stay in a place that feels like home. A place that oozes everything that’s cool about Barcelona.

37011_el-palauet-living-barcelona_Stay at El Palauet, a five-star boutique hotel right on Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona’s leafy answer to Rodeo Drive.

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Nothing wrong with the W or the Mandarin Oriental or the Intercontinental. Except for one thing. They’re hotels.

El Palauet is where you’d stay if you’re Madonna or Neil Patrick Harris or Lin-Manuel Miranda. Here’s why:

1. It has a fascinating history. Designed in 1906 by the famed architect, Pere Falqués, El Palauet (it means “little palace” in Catalan) is a stunning example of Barcelona’s Art Nouveau architecture. Original stained glass, molded ceilings, carved wooden doors, decorative ironwork and dramatic staircases have all been painstakingly preserved. And each of the boutique hotel’s six suites feature high ceilings, ornate balconies and sleek contemporary furnishings by Charles and Ray Eames, Ero Saarinen, Philippe Starck, Antonio Citterio and other designers you can also find in the permanent collection of MoMa New York.

2. Did I say suites? They’re really more like apartments. Each of El Palauet’s six offerings rings in at a whopping 1600-square feet and has a fully-stocked kitchen, dining room, living room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

3. George Jetson would feel right at home. You’ll be grateful that each suite also comes with a personal assistant, because well, the technology is so space age that, unless you’re Steve Jobs, you might need help. There are mirrors that turn into TV’s, bathroom lighting that adjusts to suit your mood and iPads that control everything from the lamps to the air-conditioning to the in-house music system.

4. You don’t need a cab. La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s Unesco World Heritage Site and the one must-see on every tourist itinerary, is a short fifteen-minute walk. Other Gaudi masterpieces, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo, are also in the neighborhood. And if Gaudi’s name doesn’t excite you, add these neighbors to your Christmas card list: Hermes, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Louis Vuitton.

5. You can be famous without anyone noticing. From the rooftop terrace where you can soak in a hot tub, lounge on chic white leather sofas or sauna the day away, you can look out over your newly-appointed city without anyone noticing. And if you really want anonymity, you can come and go through a discreet back door entrance.

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6. Your wish is your personal assistant’s command. Christian, our personal assistant, had a little black book with gourmet chefs from around the city were just waiting to come to our suite to prepare meals. He also had a line on babysitters, hair dressers, masseurs, personal shopping assistants. As I said, if you can dream it, El Palauet can make it happen.

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Helsinki’s urban castle set right in the heart of the Design District

Attention, Princess Wanna-be’s!

If your sights are still set on a castle, you should probably know that most kingdoms and their palaces are located in the countryside, far, far away from shopping, the latest fashion and a decent sushi bar.

Unless, of course, you go to Helsinki.

Glo Hotel Art, a 1903 Art Nouveau castle, is located right in the heart of Helsinki’s Design District, a 25-street area with upstart boutiques, oh-so-cool galleries and restaurants that put Downton Abby’s Mrs. Patmore to shame.

Without having to call for your squire or your butler, you can easily prepare for a night out with Prince Charming at the nearby design showrooms, neighborhood jewelry makers and antique shops. You won’t even need your horse and carriage to get to the Esplanade, the famous green promenade with parks, free concerts and inspiring shops like Marimekko, Aarikka and Stockman’s. From Glo Hotel Art, it’s a pleasant ten-minute walk.

Renovated in 2012, just in time for Helsinki’s year as World Design Capital, Glo Hotel Art combines the accouterments of a castle (well, maybe not a moat) with the cool factor of Finnish design. The stone lobby with its arches, stained glass windows, soft lighting and mysterious stairways evokes a cool Hogwarts vibe. Or would if Albus Dumbledore had admitted Art Nouveau muggle Alphonse Mucha to paint the walls.

The 170 guest rooms, accessed down a series of long corridors, are contemporary, hip and even have free, fast WiFi, something you can’t say about your everyday garden variety castle.

Although Madonna, while in Helsinki on her Sticky and Sweet Tour, stayed at Hotel Kamp on the Esplanade, Glo Hotel Art is one of six owned and operated by the same hotel group and treats all guests as if they were famous rock stars.

Although they don’t hold up lighters or begin swaying together when guests walk in, they’re unwaveringly kind, courteous and don’t even seem to mind dumb questions.

The breakfast (free to all Glo Art Hotel subjects, er guests) is fabulous, featuring Finnish lingonberries, cheese, pastries, breads and other local dishes. Even foamy lattes are thrown in for the asking.

Glo Hotel Art, Lönnrotinkatu 29, 00180 HELSINKI, Finland, +358 10 3444 100.

Istanbul’s Ciragan Palace home away from home for the A-list

The moral of this story: “Don’t mess with whirling dervishes.”

Yes, we’re talking about the Ciragan Palace Kempinski. This Imperial Ottoman palace turned five-star hotel offers intrigue, romance, history and its own jetty and heliport for bringing in the A-list celebs who make the $40,000 a night Sultan’s Suite their “home away from home” while in Istanbul giving concerts (Madonna stayed here during the infamous breast-baring concert of 2012), hosting parties (Oprah threw a giant bash for her employees and their families in 2009) and resting up between basketball gigs (Kobe Bryant has stayed here twice).

Last month, it knocked Parisian landmark Hotel Le Bristol off its vaunted perch as the best hotel in Europe at the 2013 World Travel Awards–think Oscars for the hotel industry.

But this stunning palace alongside Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait hasn’t always been so lucky. Allegedly, when Sultan Abdulaziz had it built between 1863 and 1871, he got a bit overzealous, co-opting a monastery of whirling dervishes which resulted, curse or not, in a string of unhappy consequences.

Even though Abdulaziz hosted French Empress Eugenie de Montijo at the palace hamam (and, according to rumor, might have snuck in a dalliance with Napoleon III’s wife), he was only able to live at his luxurious new digs for a few short years before being deposed and found mysteriously dead at the tender young age of 46. His heir, nephew Sultan Murad V, lasted but 93 days before being declared mentally incompetent and forced to live under house arrest in the palace harem.

Disaster struck again in January 1910 two months after the second Imperial Parliament convened on the palace grounds. Except for its high marble walls and bridges, one leading to Yildiz Palace, and the famous hamam that hosted the French Empress, Ciragan burnt to the ground with all its luxurious furnishings, art work and rare books.

Luckily, luxury hotel group Kempinski broke the dervish curse when it restored the baroque palace, re-opening it to glorious fanfare in 1991. Today, the former palace, back to its original opulence, is divided into 11 ooh-la-la suites complete with 24-hour butler service and the famous Tugra restaurant.

And the decadence doesn’t end there. Lush lawns with gardens, palm trees and gazebos line a long promenade leading to the new “wing” of the palace where guests can enjoy a Moet & Chandon champagne bar, heated infinity pool and rooms with handmade carpets, spacious balconies and pillow menus.

Fidel Castro, Madonna and the Superbowl, Montreal-style

If you’re one of the 114 million (a new record) that caught Madonna’s Super Bowl half-time show, it may interest you to know that the all those Vogue covers, flashing lights, booming loudspeakers and interactive stage effects were designed by a Montreal multimedia studio named Moment Factory.

Since 2001, this hip studio and its team of 12 designers has created installations for more than 300 events from Latin America to the Middle East. Madonna found them through her association with fellow Montreal company, Cirque du Soleil.

Whenever she’s in Montreal, either to talk flash or just enjoy a little Canadian je ne sais quoi, Madonna stays at the Hotel Le-St James, a 60-room boutique hotel in Old Montreal. A former 19th century bank, this five star hotel was chosen by PBS as the most romantic hotel in North America. With exquisite marble, inlaid wood floors, Ming urns, Victorian paintings and hundreds of valuable antiques from owner Lucien Remillard’s eclectic art collection, this swanky hotel exudes European refinement. Oh, and Madonna’s not the only celeb that likes the 3500-square-foot penthouse, the private hidden table at XO Restaurant and the discreet spa located in the old bank vault. Arnold Schwarznegger and the Rolling Stones are just a couple names you might recognize.

Here are a couple other great Montreal spots for star gazing:

Built in 1967 for Expo 67, Montreal’s World Fair, the Chateau Champlain offers by far the most stunning view in Montreal. From the arched windows of its 611 rooms, guests get a panoramic view of most everything worth looking at in this gorgeous city.

Fidel Castro most certainly uttered a few “que lindos” and “muy magnificos” when he stayed here the first week of October 2000 while attending the state funeral of his good friend, Pierre Trudeau who was, if you believe a former associate of mobster Meyer Lansky, nearly the target of a mafia hit for associating with the Cuban dictator. Enforcer Mike Craft told the Toronto Star that in the summer of 1974 he was ordered to off the former prime minister for trading with Cuba despite an American boycott. Although the hit was called off before “mission accomplished,” Craft reported that the mobsters were hoping to get back at Castro for closing down their Cuban gambling operations in 1959.

But by 2000 when the cigar-smoking dictator made the trip to Montreal for the funeral in Notre-Dame Basilica, all was forgiven. In fact, the tour buses that stop out front of the hotel are not carrying concealed weapons. They’re simply listening to their guides explain the hotel’s nickname: the cheese grater, so named for those arched windows that provide the breathtaking view of Place du Canada. George Clooney and Rihanna have also looked out those windows.

It’s undergoing a major overhaul at the moment, but you can expect significant tongue-wagging this spring when Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton reopens. This historic landmark was the site for the first of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s many weddings. On March 15, 1964, just a year after meeting on the set of Cleopatra, the famous couple checked into this iconic Montreal hotel for Nuptials Number one. The bride wore yellow chiffon and an $180,000 diamond and emerald necklace while a Unitarian minister did the honors. Located smack dab on Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, this hotel, that has also hosted Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, is within walking distance of many of this historic city’s high end boutiques, galleries and museums.

Another historic event that would have been covered by People magazine had People magazine existed back then was John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous “Bed-In for Peace” at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth. When the celebrity couple checked into the hotel at midnight May 26, 1969, they’d already made headlines with a honeymoon Bed-in at Amsterdam’s Hilton two months earlier. But it was at the Montreal Bed-In, also attended by Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark and a group of Canadian Radha Krishnas, where the song “Give Peace a Chance” was composed and recorded, eventually reaching No. 14 on the Billboard chart.

Today, it’s a one-bedroom suite with framed gold records, pictures and other memorabilia.