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JOURNAL

CAN I TELL YOU ... TAKE A TRIP AROUND THE WORLD AND SEE THE CULTURES THAT INSPIRE MY DESIGNS.

Filtering by Category: Europe

Can I tell you about ... Berlin

Rafe Totengco

STAY

I stayed at Hotel De Rome because the location was ideal with surrounding historic buildings and I love Rocco Forte properties. Set in Berlin's former Dresdner bank, the hotel has been beautifully furnished by Tommaso Ziffer in shades of grey and black with accents of red. They offer a lavish spread for breakfast and the former bank vault is now a fabulous spa to retire to at the end of the day. 
 

DO

The East Side Gallery is one of the most visited landmarks in Berlin because it is a memorial for freedom containing the last remaining section of the Berlin Wall. The site is the longest and largest open air art gallery in the world consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world. I wanted to see Dmitri Vrubel's "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love" based on a famous photo of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing each other. Seeing The Wall and all the murals depicting images of freedom made me realize how lucky I am to be living my life the way I want.
 

EAT

Walking into Berlin's hottest restaurant Pauly Saal, a former Jewish girls' school, is like passing through history from the 1920's bar lounge to the elegant dining room that used to be the school's gymnasium. On the opposite side of the restaurant is a Kosher Deli. The main dining room has a more contemporary feel with four gorgeous Murano chandeliers from Pauly et Cie (hence the name) and a gigantic rocket hanging over the open window to the kitchen. 
 

MUST SEE

The Boros Bunker. The bunker has been used for many purposes. It was originally built as air raid shelter against Allied bombing during World War II, then for fruit storage in the 50s, then in the early 90s for techno-rave parties and today as contemporary art gallery and private residence. A part of the private collection belongs to advertising entrepreneur Christian Boros and his wife Karen.On display currently are installations by Ai Wei Wei, Klara Liden, Michael Sailstorfer and photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans and Thomas Ruff. 
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

Ever since the Wall came down in 1989, I have been itching to see Berlin. Over the past ten years the city has generated a lot of buzz in the fashion industry with the help of Bread and Butter, a trade fair featuring contemporary clothing and accessory brands from all over the world. I would definitely return to Berlin, because there is so much more than meets the eye.

Can I tell you about ... Mallorca

Rafe Totengco

STAY

The Can Cera Hotel. I love history especially grand structures converted into boutique hotels. This building dates back 700 years to when Jaume 1 conquered Mallorca form the Catalan and Aragonese troops. It's in the old part of Palma between two major plazas and a stone's throw away from the Cathedral. 

DO

Drive around and discover all the little towns. Valldemossa is a quintessential Majorcan town that's a short and scenic drive from Palma. The town is famous because this is where Frederic Chopin lived and composed some of his romantic symphonies. Santanyi is another town worth visiting. During the weekends there is a farmers' market selling local produce as well as bohemian beach clothes and Moroccan towels.

EAT

Sitting on the edge of a cliff on a rocky peninsula that protrudes out into the Mediterranean is the best paella restaurant in Mallorca. It's called Sa Foradada, and Lidia Fernandez runs the restaurant with her father Emilio, who has been cooking paella and other delicacies for four decades. Squid, cuttlefish, mussels, prawns, clams, crab legs and sea bream are all thrown into the mix using traditional techniques to create dishes that are mouth watering and unforgettable.

MUST SEE

The Drach Caves or Cuevas del Drach (Dragon Caves). The caves are a spectacular attraction that are comprised of approximately 12 miles of four interconnected caves and one of the largest underground lakes in the world. The stalagmites and stalactites are beautifully lit to great dramatic effect making it irresistible not to take photos even though it's prohibited. 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

Mallorca has become one of my favorite destinations to visit in the summer. There is so much to do, and yet the island is so relaxed that after a few days you'll feel like you've been relaxing for a week. From discovering the different towns on the island to taking in the rolling landscape dotted with olive and almond tree farms, it's easy to fall under Mallorca's spell.

Can I tell you about ... Prague

Rafe Totengco

STAY

The Augustine Hotel is a 13th century monastery converted into a luxury five-star hotel and spa. Rumor has it several friars still live on the property and brew their own beer.
 

DO

No visit to Prague is complete without a night at the State Opera House. Originally named the German Theatre when in it opened in 1888, the opera house was neglected during the communist years but has been transformed into a beautiful landmark.
 

EAT

U Modre Kachnicky or the "blue duckling" is known for their updated takes on traditional recipes and, of course, for their duck dishes. The menu is loaded with an array of wild game and other Czech favorites. It's tucked away on a quiet street in Lesser Town, making it the perfect location for an intimate dinner.
 

MUST SEE

I loved wandering the narrow cobbled streets around the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter. The area is filled with synagogues, churches and buildings that were erected over the centuries and are a stunning collage of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles.
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

The beauty of Prague. Prague was one of the few European cities that wasn't bombed during World War II, and it was under communist rule from 1945 until 1989. Because it's been trapped behind the Soviet's Iron Curtain, much of its old-world charm has remained largely intact and undiscovered until these last 20 years.

Can I tell you about ... Venice

Rafe Totengco

STAY

Palazzo Stern in the Dorsoduro area. Our room had a fabulous view and it was such a luxury to have breakfast and early evening cocktails on the terrace facing the Palazzo Grassi across the Grand Canal. Not to mention, the location couldn't have been more ideal being a hop and skip away from the Accademia and Saint Mark's square.
 

DO

A visit to the Ghetto. Established in 1516, it was the first Ghetto in the world. Napoleon Bonaparte is credited for freeing the Jews back in 1797 when he opened the gates and allowed them to live outside of the Ghetto. To this day, the Ghetto is still the epicenter of Jewish life in the city and has a beautiful kosher hotel.
 

EAT

Osteria da Fiore is a cozy Michelin star rated restaurant that well deserves it. Mara Martin, the chef, is known for combining traditional Italian cooking with a contemporary twist. Both the cuttlefish risotto and the steamed sea bass with aged balsamic vinegar are worth returning for.
 

MUST SEE

The Punta della Dogana museum. Designed by Tadao Ando and commissioned by Francois Pinault, the museum opened during the Venice Art Biennale after 14 months of restoration. The former customs house was meticulously restored to showcase a selection of Pinault's massive contemporary art collection. Only 141 out of 2,500 pieces made the cut to be permanently exhibited here.
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

I love to meander and get lost in a city and Venice is perfect for that. There are so many tiny ancient streets that end abruptly or at a canal, and to make matters even more confusing, street names are repeated in different neighborhoods and house numbers seem to be allocated at random. But then, in Venice, getting lost is part of the fun.

Can I tell you about ... Capri

Rafe Totengco

STAY

J.K. Place Capri is the chicest boutique hotel in Capri, bar none. It's away from the hustle and bustle of the Marina Grande and Piazza Umberto. It's like staying at a private villa complete with a spa and a pool. All the rooms are elegantly furnished with antiques and art, plus have sweeping views of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius.
 

DO

Rent a private boat to take you around the island, go through the Faraglioni then Marina Piccola and Marina Grande. If the sea isn't rough, go in the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto). You'll have to transfer to a smaller boat because the entrance is so miniscule that you'll have to lie down in the boat just to get in. You'll never forget the color of the turquoise waters once you're inside. It's surreal!
 

EAT

Paolino! This Caprese institution lives up to its reputation for traditional Italian cuisine infused with hints of lemon. I love dining al fresco under an arbor of lemon trees. Everything is simply prepared and molto molto buono!
 

MUST SEE

See a quieter side of Capri, head to Anacapri on the other side of the island. It's quaint, relaxed and down to earth. If you're lucky you can flag the only red vintage Fiat Cabrio taxi driving around the island. You'll feel like you're really living La Dolce Vita!
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

Capri is a contradiction of high octane glamour and rustic charm at the same time. There is so much to do and see; from hiking down perilous limestone cliffs to having lunch overlooking the spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea. It's such an inspirational destination. It's no wonder why stylish women like Jackie O and Sophia Loren kept coming back for years.

Can I tell you about ... Amsterdam

Rafe Totengco

Last Thanksgiving I decided to treat myself and go Dutch. I hopped on a plane and flew to the Venice of the North, Amsterdam.

STAY

Hotel Pulitzer offers stunning views of the canals and is in The Nine Streets, which is the most picturesque and charming part of the city. 

DO

Visit the Van Gogh museum. There are over 800 works by the artist. Seeing his paintings made me want to go to Provence. That's on my list for this year.

EAT

Amsterdam is a city for foodies. My favorite restaurant is De Kas; located about twenty minutes outside the city center in Frankendael Park. The restaurant grows their own vegetables, herbs and edible flowers which they grow in an old greenhouse that used to belong to the Municipal Nursery.

MUST SEE

Stroll through the streets in The Nine Streets area. There's a diverse selection of small boutiques, cafes and bars.

WHAT I LOVED MOST

The shopping. If you didn't already know this, I'm slightly addicted to vintage clothing and accessories. Fortunately, The Nine Streets neighborhood has a handful of unique shops that stock amazing pieces from the 50's to the 80's.

Can I Tell You about ... Sintra

Rafe Totengco

After my first trip to Portugal several years ago I knew it wouldn't be long before I returned. Every local I had met in Lisbon said I must go to Sintra, so who was I to disagree. "Going to Sintra is like stepping into a fairy-tale!" my concierge exclaimed.
 

STAY

I stayed in a rented home on the outskirts of Sintra in a small town called Colares.
 

DO

The Pena Palace is definitely on top of my list. It's a fabulous pastiche of nineteenth century neo-moorish and neo-medieval styles; a great example of Portugese architecture during the Romantic period.
 

EAT

Buy food from the local farmers who set up roadside stalls selling produce fresh from their gardens. Everything tastes so good!
 

MUST SEE

Check out Boca do Inferno (literally Hell's Mouth). During high tide view the spectacle of the violent waves crashing on the rocks, you can see why this spot earned its name.
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

The collection of magnificent palaces, grand homes and gardens coupled with the narrow and winding streets which lives up to Sintra's mysterious, fairytale reputation.

Can I Tell You about ... Paris

Rafe Totengco

STAY

The Notre Dame Hotel is a boutique property, boasting interiors designed by Christian Lacroix - I'm a huge fan of his sense of color and pattern mixing. The interiors paid homage to his haute couture collections with their bold colors and unexpected mélange of prints. The location was perfect, right along the banks of the Seine. Second hand bookstores, sidewalk cafes, the Luxembourg Gardens, Isle de la Cite and the trendy Le Marais district were all within walking distance. My room had a beautiful view of the famous Notre Dame cathedral, which was quite a sight to behold at sunrise and sunset. 
 

EAT

I crave Moroccan food whenever I'm in Paris. I'm not sure why, but fortunately there are plenty of establishments to choose from! Chez Omar is an old standby and conveniently located in the north end of Le Marais. It's easy to miss because the façade is quite unassuming, so keep your eyes peeled. The menu is limited to the classics, but if you're not sure what to get, the waiters will happily decide for you. Be ready with cash because they don't take credit cards. Nor do they take reservations so try to arrive early since the restaurant is always packed.
 

SHOP

At the edge of Le Marais, set in an old converted factory is a fabulous store called Merci. You can buy flowers, read a second hand book in their café, shop for home furnishings, children's clothing and exclusive items from the chicest fashion labels. The best part about patronizing Merci is that the owners are using all profits after breaking even to operate a co-op for young women in Madagascar. Who doesn't love charitable shopping? 
 

MUST SEE

The Musee D'Orsay is one of my favorite museums. It's not as overwhelming or exhausting as the Louvre; you can fully explore it in a few hours. I usually prefer to go in the late morning so that by lunchtime I can head to the restaurant that has the most incredible painted ceilings and grandiose crystal chandeliers. It's very Belle Epoque, quite glamorous. 
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

Paris is the one city I never tire of coming back to year after year, season after season. It first captivated my imagination during my formative years when I first saw Brassai's evocative photos of cafe society. Now I come twice a year for work to observe trends, do a little shopping, and of course, to be inspired. There's always a new store to visit, an exhibit to see, a bistro to try. It's a wonderful walking city; I love how you can wander aimlessly for hours from one neighborhood to another. And of course there's that certain "je ne sais quoi" about Parisians that makes people watching at cafes a sport!

Can I Tell You About ... Aigues-Mortes

Rafe Totengco

STAY

Villa Mazarin is situated in the heart of the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes. The structure was built in the 15th century and furnished with Provencal antiques. There's a heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi that come in handy, perfect after a full day of walking and sightseeing.
 

EAT

The restaurant Le "S" is a quaint spot located on a narrow little street off of the main square. The proprietress was charming, self-deprecating and hilarious. She was a one-woman show! When we told her where we were from, she reminisced about her trip to New York and how much she enjoyed it. She offered three different types of prix fixe menus and everything we chose was delicious, truly authentic Camarguaise cuisine. For after dinner drinks we crawled across the street to Bar Le Tac Tac. It is the tiniest and most well stocked bar I have ever been to. Glasses and people were on top of each other, but it was wonderful. You have to see it to believe it!
 

DO

You must walk around the city walls and up the towers. From there you can see the pink salt marshes and the rooftops of the houses within this medieval city. You can almost imagine what it must have been like in the 13th century during Louis IX. The town's rectilinear streets have stayed intact and are considered one of the best examples of 13th century military architecture.
 

MUST SEE

The Parc Ornithologique in Pont de Gau is a vast bird sanctuary filled with their famous pink flamingoes. The trails are marked with hidden observation posts so you can witness the birds in their natural habitat and take photos without scaring them away.
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

Aigues-Mortes (meaning dead water) is a quaint medieval town with a fascinating history marked by the crusades and the Templar Knights. This medieval city sits on the flat marshes of the Petite Camargue and was a small hamlet for salt gatherers and fishermen. To the south of the town you can see the rose colored salt marshes where they produce beautiful salt, Aigues-Mortes' most famous export. I love that you can see everything in a day and visit other towns within the vicinity.

Can I Tell You about ... Arles, France

Rafe Totengco

STAY

We initially booked rooms at L'Oustau de Baumaniere, famed for its discreet location and chic interiors as well a Michelin-starred restaurant. But when we checked in, we were informed that we had been upgraded to stay instead at their sister property, La Cabro d'Or. Upon arriving at our new accommodations we immediately felt at home. The proprietors, Jean-Andre and Genevieve Charial, have turned a former 18th century stone farmhouse into an elegant and comfortable boutique hotel with sprawling lavender gardens, a swimming pool, tennis court and a lavish spa. Genevieve handles all the interiors while Jean-Andre runs the hotel and restaurants. Our suite was luxurious and inviting, complete with a living room filled with books and a balcony overlooking the garden.  
 

EAT

Prix-fixe menus are very popular in France and this is definitely true when it comes to Michelin-starred restaurants. A friend who was in Provence recently was raving about L'atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel so I made reservations. It was a wonderful long, leisurely lunch. Every dish was presented so creatively I couldn't help but take photos of every plate! Chef Rabanel is known for using fresh ingredients including flowers from his own garden and concocting them into complex, delicious combinations. 
 

MUST SEE

The Arles Amphitheatre goes back as early as 90 AD when it was built by the Romans, and is still in use today. Over the years it has been used as a theatre, fortress and even as housing for over 200 families. Today the arena is used for plays, concerts and bull fights during the summer months. Climbing to the top you are rewarded with sweeping views of Arles and you can almost imagine what it must have been like during Roman times.
 

SHOP

I always say, "I haven't met a print I didn't like", and at Souleiado I fell in love with every single one I saw. This company has a strong history and is known for prints that evoke Provencal motifs and color combinations. In fact, the name is Provencal for "sun shining through the clouds after the rain". The store even houses a photo of Pablo Picasso wearing one of their shirts. Despite my meager attempt at self-control, I walked out with enough printed shirts to make a quilt!
 

DO

Follow the Vincent Van Gogh Trail. He painted and drew over 300 images depicting his impressions of scenes and landscapes during his time in Arles. The trail has 21 stops, each marked with a reproduction of the art he painted there. These allow you to enjoy the vantage point of where the artist set up his easel. 
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

While walking along the narrow streets one afternoon we chanced upon Musee Reattu. The museum was a former Grand Priory of the Order of Malta and owns a sizable collection of 17th-19th century old masters as well as drawings and paintings donated by Picasso. Coincidentally, the museum was holding a costume exhibit curated by Christian Lacroix. The exhibition showcased Lacroix's work as a costume designer for the opera. I was enthralled to be able to view the garments up close and see the craftsmanship that went into each piece. The setting was like a costume party for  Scheherazade and was fabulously extravagant! Before leaving I stepped into the museum shop where they were selling limited edition lithographs of fashion illustrations by Christian Lacroix. Naturally, I had to have one!

Can I Tell You about ... Copenhagen, Denmark

Rafe Totengco

STAY

The Hotel Axel Guldsmeden is located at the edge of the former red light district in Vesterbro. It's known for serving the best organic buffet breakfast in the city and for their own organic shampoo and cream products. The look of the hotel is eclectic; a fusion of Balinese teak furniture, ikat pillows and bed spreads with Persian rugs and original art on the walls.
 

EAT

Noma. Before you even book your flight, make sure you've secured a reservation at this Michelin two star restaurant. Getting a table was no easy feat but perseverance finally paid off! It was certainly worth all the trouble. The food was inventive, delicious and awe inspiring. The total experience was better than I had imagined. I walked out satiated and completely giddy! Believe the hype, it's true!
 

MUST SEE

The Statens Museum for Kunst / The Danish National Galleryhouses over 9,000 paintings and sculptures as well personal collections from past Danish kings. An art installation entitled "We the People" by Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo was on exhibit. I also enjoyed viewing the fragmented full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty. These pieces were scattered all over the world and some were placed in the Danish museum.
 

SHOP

Illums Bolighus. This is heaven on earth for any interior design aficionado. Their roster is a who's who in the world of Scandinavian design from Arne Jacobsen to Georg Jensen and Verner Panton. If you can't buy an actual chair don't fret because they sell miniature versions of these modern classics!
 

DO

Rent a bike. Copenhagen is famous for its biking culture and is has officially been deemed the first bike city in the world. The Danes are well known for their love of cycling and cities all around the world are now looking at ways to emulate this phenomenon. Last year, it was also voted the "Best City for Cyclists" and the "World's Most Livable City".
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

The Danes believe that "only the best is good enough" and design is a way of life. This aesthetic consciousness permeates in everything from lighting, furniture, clothing to waste cans. Each store, gallery and restaurant has a restrained elegance in the way everything is presented. Nothing is superfluous and everything is carefully thought out and resolved.

Can I Tell You About ... San Sebastian, Spain

Rafe Totengco

STAY

Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra has the best views of Playa La Concha at any time of the day. Morning, noon and night you can sit at the cafe in front and watch people promenade along the bay. The rooms at the top floor each have a balcony where you can relax and watch the sunset before heading out to dinner. Every morning we woke up to the beautiful vista of the beach and the sea.
 

EAT

Dining at Arzak was a dream come true - but it wasn't easy to get a table. It took a few emails and connections to squeeze us into one of the world's best restaurants but it was so worth the trouble. Believe the hype, this family run restaurant is a must if you're in Donostia. Chef Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Chef Elena Arzak Espina have a culinary research lab on the premises where they have a comprehensive library of spices collected from all over the world and use them to experiment with new dishes. I was privileged enough to get an inside peek of the laboratory and the cavernous wine cellars that hold over 100,000 wine bottles. The cuisine honors traditional Basque cuisine but with a modern twist. They procure the best local ingredients and have some producers who sell exclusively to them. My favorite dishes were the Beet Root blood apple, apple injected with beetroot accompanied with creamy foie gras and potato “mother of pearl, the Ovo-lacto, egg with semi crunch shell with lactic leaves and curds and the grilled monkfish fillet with a crispy lobster roll and sea buckthorn. Each dish came with a glass of wine that complimented it. Needless to say it was an unforgettable feast.
 

MUST SEE

The Balenciaga Museum is a must if you're interested in seeing couture clothes from a bygone era. The trip to the town of Getaria is a pleasant drive along the coastline and if you leave in the morning you'll be back in Donostia by early afternoon. The museum is a modern statement built right next to Palacio Aldamar, a historic residence in the town. The foundation owns over 1,600 garments of which some are displayed through several floors according to themes and eras. A highlight worth noting were the digital animations showing the complexity of construction and patterns of some of the pieces on display. Through these micro-movies you could begin to understand and appreciate how his creative mind worked.
 

SHOP

Espadrilles are the footwear of choice for men, women and children all over Spain. Kokekoko is conveniently located a block away from the beach and is stocked with a rainbow of colors and patterns like a candy store. The prices are so reasonable it would be a crime to leave the store with just one pair.
 

DO

Pintxo Crawl is the equivalent to bar hopping. Start at Atari Gastroteka then move on to Bar Zeruko and A Fuego Negro as you work your way down the alley zig-zagging from one bar to another and end at La Cuchara de San Telmo . Each spot has a different specialty written on a chalkboard behind the bar. We tried a few items from every bar and took cues from what the locals were ordering. In case you're wondering how we made it to the end of the night without getting smashed: order the small beers called Zurita to make it through all the bars with your sobriety at least partially intact. We had an incredible evening, mingled with the locals, enjoyed little bites of decadence and lived to tell. The best dish we had was a plate of local mushrooms lightly fried in butter, with a raw egg cracked onto the plate, perfection!
 

WHAT I LOVED MOST

I love nothing more than to meander when I'm on vacation and Donostia is the perfect city for that. Everything is walking distance, especially from the Hotel Londres. We started down the promenade along Playa la Concha all the way to El Peine del Viento to see Eduardo Chillida's sculptures then made our way through the quaint area of La Parte Vieja lined with pintxo bars and shops, hiked up Monte Urgull, checked out the excellent San Telmo Museum , had a long lunch at La Cuchara de San Telmo, and ended the day watching the sunset with an Aperol. That's my idea of a vacation.