Charleston Lives Up to its Honor as One of the ‘World’s Best Cities’

There is a reason Charleston, South Carolina holds the honor of being named in Travel & Leisure magazine’s ‘World’s Best Cities’ list for the past five years. The region’s history, architecture, emerging culinary scene, southern charm and strong sense of place are contributing to the city’s success.

My husband and I decided last minute to add Charleston to our East Coast itinerary and arrived from New York mid-afternoon for a quick 36-hour visit. We checked into the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, which is centrally located in the heart of the city. It is a perfect starting point to explore the city by foot, offering the opportunity to see, smell, taste and experience what the city has to offer.

Example of Charleston's unique and beautiful home architecture

Beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Home architecture © Jan M. Smith.

Charleston Walking Tours

Walking tours are popular in the city, designed to provide visitors with interesting history and up-close views of the unique architecture found in homes and buildings. We selected a Charleston Strolls tour based on the suggestion from Explore Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tour guides are sanctioned by the city and required to go through rigorous historical and architectural testing before being certified. Our tour guide, Kim, is a self-professed “semi-Charlestonian.” She shares that the true Charlestonian designation is reserved for those who are born and have family lineage within the confines of the actual city. Kim was born and raised in an area north of Charleston proper, so although she has lived in the heart of town for the past 18 years, she is still considered an outsider. Regardless, Kim is clearly in love with Charleston and her pride is palpable.

The tour began on Market Street where we received a short city history lesson, a warning about walking on cobblestone streets and tips on how to dodge the horse-drawn carriages that were to share the streets on the tour. Well-preserved homes dating back to the mid-18th century lined the street. Confederate jasmine (known as star jasmine in the west) shared its sweet scent and offered a fragrant gift as we passed by the shrubs and walls covered with the beautiful white star-shaped flowers.

The tour meandered through the historic streets past homes and churches standing for over 300 years, and moved on to Charleston’s French Quarter near Broad, Meeting and Market Streets. We walked down a street of art galleries, restaurants and the open-air City Market then stopped in front of the original Old Slave Mart building, constructed in 1859 for slave auctions. The building currently houses the African American History and Art Museum and reminded us of the city’s storied history.

We passed an array of antebellum styled homes, a mix of Italianate, featuring beautiful cupolas and balconies, and Queen Anne, with colorful exteriors and ornate details. Creeping fig covered the brick walls of Georgian buildings with their ornate iron balconies and gates. Colorful shuttered windows, gorgeous flower boxes and the occasional, welcoming red door made me wonder if a house could get any prettier and I considered mine was in for some changes when I returned home.

Picture of Charleston's famed Rainbow Row Homes in Historic Downtown area

Charleston’s famed rainbow row homes © Jan M. Smith.

Strict preservation laws safeguard the authenticity of the neighborhoods in the historic area. A good example of this is the famed Rainbow Row housing in an area referred to as South of Broad. Here, 13 Georgian-style homes reflect the original pastel colors dating back to the 1700s.

Eventually, all roads lead to water in Charleston. At the seawall, we could see a large bay fed by the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. From our vantage point, we looked across the water and viewed Fort Sumter in the distance. Built in 1860, the fort holds the dubious honor of being the point where the first shots rang out in the American Civil War. Today, it is a United States national park open to the public.

Throughout the tour, our guide’s go-to word to describe almost everything we saw was “charming,” which aptly fits this unique city.

Exampleof beautiful iron gate by famed ironwork artist Philip Simmons

Gorgeous ironwork gate in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith.

Artistic Ironwork

The gorgeous ironwork adorning gates, balconies, fences and light posts throughout the Charleston Historic District was designed and produced by renowned ironwork artist, Philip Simmons. Simmons lived and worked in Charleston for nearly 90 years before his death in 2009.

Simmons was recognized with many prestigious awards for his work, including the South Carolina Hall of Fame and most prominently, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a traditional artist. Simmons’ art is also displayed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

One of seven remaining colorful cobblestone streets in Historic Downtown Charleston

Cobblestone streets in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith

Charming Streets and Alleyways

There are only eight remaining streets in the Charleston Historic District still lined with cobblestones, including Chalmer Street in the French Quarter, North and South Adger’s Wharf and Maiden Lane. It is interesting how stones can add charm to a city street – the uniqueness causes these thoroughfares to be heavily visited and photographed by tourists.

The cobblestones originally arrived on English ships in the late 18th century and were used as weights (ballasts) on the incoming empty boats. Once in Charleston, the stones were removed and tossed into the bay, replaced by cargo returning to England. As the city grew, city planners surfaced the beautiful cobblestones to line the local streets.

The cobblestone streets are still used today by horse-pulled carriages, cars and pedestrians, although they are a good challenge to maneuver by foot. In addition, a few equally charming historic brick-lined streets and pedestrian alleyways, including Philadelphia Alley, are still present in the city.

Charleston’s Emerging Culinary Scene

Charleston’s burgeoning food scene is heating up fast. Last year there were as many restaurant openings as there were closures. The popularity of this tourism destination has caused a spike in rent for both business and housing, which in turn, is affecting the cost of living and sustaining business in the city.

Regardless, Charleston’s food and beverage scene has attracted top chefs from around the country. Acclaimed restaurants require reservations months in advance to secure a table, so plan accordingly for your next trip. A visit to Charleston should include experiencing the unique flavors of the South. Here are two of our favorites to consider.

Bricklined exterior of Historic Downtown Charleston's McCrady's Tavern

Historic downtown Charleston’s McCrady’s Tavern © Jan M. Smith.

McCrady’s Tavern

A mainstay in Charleston, McCrady’s Tavern once served President George Washington. Located off a brick-lined pedestrian alleyway, the building dates back to 1778 and is on the National Historic Register. Although recently remodeled, the tavern still maintains the original brick-lined arches, fireplaces and wooden beams.

Executive chef and James Beard Award winner Sean Brock offers an innovative menu that changes often based on the availability of local ingredients. The familiar low country she-crab soup and a uniquely named side dish, ‘A Pie called Macaroni’ (Thomas Jefferson, c. 1802) top the list of regional offerings. Served on vintage mismatched china, the meals are uncomplicated and flavorful. The restaurant is open for dinner and weekend brunch.

The South's famed Sweet Tea can be enjoyed at Butcher & Bee Restaurant in beautiful Charlerston, SC

Freshly-brewed Sweet Tea from Butcher & Bee © Jan M. Smith.

This hip industrial-looking restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating and a healthy menu of various mezze platters, sandwiches and salads, each creatively designed with a Middle Eastern influence. Daily menu specials depend on locally sourced fish, meat and vegetables. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A visit to Charleston would not be complete without experiencing the South’s famous sweet tea.
My first sip detects a distinct sweetness overpowering the tea itself. I ask the hospitable and friendly server the secret to making this classic southern beverage and she replies in her charming accent, “Bless your heart, it is actually simple freshly-brewed green tea and an extra helping of block sugar.” Unquestionably, this tea’s namesake is accurate!

If You Go

Renaissance Charleston Historic District
Explore Charleston
Charleston Strolls Walking Tours
McCrady’s Tavern
Butcher & Bee

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10 Reasons to Travel to Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Talk about planning a beach vacation to Greece, and inevitably, the question will surface of which islands are best to visit.  But what if an equally beautiful place in Greece isn’t an island but rather a peninsula in the north of the country called Halkidiki? Compared to the famed Greek Islands, Halkidiki is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination. But it’s worthy of consideration when planning a beach vacation, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Unique And Diverse Landscapes

Halkidiki is one enormous peninsula that begins on the mainland near Thessaloniki and divides into three smaller peninsulas extending into the Aegean Sea.  The three sub-peninsulas (known locally as “legs”)  are Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos, each distinctly unique geographically.

2. The Beaches

Depending on the peninsula, the beaches range from protected coves with calm, clear water to rocky shores backed by rugged cliffs.

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou | Halkidiki, Greece

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

3. The People

The land is gorgeous, yes, but so are the people. The locals in cafés are quick with a smile and warm greetings, and English is widely spoken. The hospitality professionals are refreshingly attentive, enthusiastic, and genuine.

4. Stress-Free Travel

The easiest way to get to and around Halkidiki is by flying into Thessaloniki International Airport “Macedonia” and renting a car. The roads are in good shape, and highway signs are well-marked in both Greek and English. A rental car allows travelers to not be limited to one location.

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

5. Suitable for All Budgets

Accommodations range from national forest campgrounds to opulent resorts at the pinnacle of luxury, from half-board packages to self-catering rentals.

6. Suitable for All Types of Travel

With various levels of accommodations and diverse dining options, Halkidiki accommodates all types of travelers. Whether for the annual family beach vacation or a couple’s romantic getaway, it’s the perfect place to create memories.

7. The Food

Being surrounded by water means an abundance of fresh seafood. A common sight at beachfront restaurants is a server filleting whole grilled fish, tableside, for patrons. There is also no shortage of meze and traditional Greek dishes at the countless restaurants and tavernas.

8. Air of Mystery

Athos has been the exclusive domain of monks and hermits for more than 1,000 years, and women are not allowed on the peninsula past the town of Ouranoupolis. Men are allowed on Athos but must have advance permission. Piques the curiosity, no?

Mount Athos | Halkidiki, Greece

Mount Athos © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

9. Distinct Personalities

There are three peninsulas, all very different from one another. Kassandra is known for its nightlife and party beaches. Sithonia, teeming with thick pine forests, is more laid back and rugged. Lastly, there is Athos and its air of mystery.

10. So Much to Do

The beaches are what draw many to Halkidiki, but once there, travelers realize that outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Among the most popular activities are hiking, biking, fishing and boating.  Of course, lying on the beach and soaking up the Aegean sun is perfectly acceptable as well.

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Cats of Jordan: Recommended Feline Pairings

cats of jordan

According to the video marketing website ReelSEO.com, YouTube hosts more than two million cat videos, which people have viewed more than 25 billion times. But in Jordan, the cat watching is so excellent that I suspect they don’t need cat videos. On my recent trip, I found that the adorable semi-wild cats perfectly complemented the cultural sites, just as many people enjoy the perfect pairing of wine and food. Here are a few of my favorite cat pairings in Jordan.

Dana Biosphere and Orange Cat

The Feynan Ecolodge is a 26-room, candlelit lodge in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This area preserves wildlife, including the Nubian ibex, and is a last stronghold of traditional Bedouin culture. Ever since opening in 2005, it’s been making top ecolodge lists on all the major magazines and websites.

Feynan ecolodge

Feynan Ecolodge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Three darling orange striped cats live at the ecolodge, where they eat breakfast with guests and generally look adorable.

cats of Jordan

Cat at Feynan ecolodge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Wadi Musa and water cat

Wadi Musa, or Moses’ Spring, is supposedly where Moses struck a rock with his staff, releasing a rush of water. This historic, spiritual spring is now housed to protect it.

Wadi Musa Jordan

Moses allegedly brought forth this spring by striking a stone with his staff. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

This cat, just outside the little building that houses the spring, gives visitors a friendly welcome. You can’t drink out of the old spring, but this cat will probably let you have a bottle of water.

cats of Jordan

Wadi Musa cat. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Petra Monastery and rugged outdoors cat

Thirty thousand people may have lived in Petra back in its 1st century A.D. heyday. Now it’s populated by tourists and cats. I met quite a few friendly cats while spending the day trekking through this Unesco site. It takes a rugged cat with a deep appreciation for archeology to make its home in Petra.

Monastery Petra Jordan

The Petra Monastery. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

cats of Jordan

Cat of Petra. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Desert camp and desert cat

I loved the desert camps that dot the Wadi Rum desert. You feel like you’re out in the middle of sandy vastness with nothing around, then suddenly you see a group of striped tents among the rocks.

Captain's desert camp

Captain’s Desert Camp. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

We stopped at one called Captain’s Desert Camp for lunch one day. The restaurant was in a huge, pillow-strewn area with walls open to the air. Musicians played on a stage and adorable cats lounged on the colorful textiles. A perfect setting for the regal cats of Jordan.

cats of jordan

For me, this guy or gal epitomized cats of Jordan. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Umm Quais and Finley

Umm Qais, a village in northern Jordan, is the epicenter of a sustainable tourism movement. Ever since Baraka Destinations opened the Beit al Baraka B&B and started offering the chance to partake of activities like beekeeping, basketry and cooking, the village has seen an uptick in visitors. Because the locals needed to learn enough English to share these experiences with foreign tourists, Arabic student and jack-of-all-trades Roddy Boyle came to Umm Qais. This young man from Scotland has a soft spot for cats. When he found the handicapped Finley, whose back legs are paralyzed, he adopted him. Now Finley lives in the Beit al Baraka garden. He hung out with me while I did yoga one morning and was the sweetest of the many cats of Jordan that I met.

Beit al baraka

The garden at Beit al Baraka in Umm Qais. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

cats of Jordan

Finley, sweetest of all cats of Jordan. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

If You Go

If you visit, I can’t promise that these particular cats will be there to greet you at these sites. But if not, their cousins surely will be. For help planning your trip, check out the Visit Jordan website.

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A Visit and Tasting at a Japanese Whisky Distillery

Sled to move whisky barrels in the winter.

A wee dram in the highlands is one thing, but great Scotch whisky from the mountains of Japan? I was about to find out, entering the gated grounds of the Nikka Distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost principal island) to learn about the Japanese distilling industry.

Japanese whisky’s star has been soaring in the spirits world lately. With many similarities to Scottish whiskies, even its name follows Scotch tradition by dropping the “e,” at least when spelled in English. If you have a penchant for detail, call it Japanese whisky, not Scotch, which must come from the land of heather and moors.

History of Japanese Whisky

Nikka Whisky Logo

Nikka Whisky Logo, © Debi Lander.

In 1918, a young Japanese traveler, Masataka Taketsuru, journeyed alone to Scotland. He was the son of a “sake” brewery owner. Already an expert in the use of fermented rice to make the quintessential Japanese drink, he studied chemistry at a Japanese university.

However, Scotch whisky captured his imagination. Masataka wanted to learn the secrets of whisky-making, so he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, the first Japanese to study the science of whisky making. Additional chemistry courses, distillery apprenticeships and training as a blender led Masataka to the designation of a master blender.

He met and married a Scottish lassie, Jessie Roberta (Rita), returning to Japan with her in 1820. He went to work for a company trying to produce Scottish-like whisky, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome.

Turns out he just needed a better environment. In 1934, Masataka established Nikka Whisky in Yoichi, Hokkaido.

He chose a site with a latitude similar to Scotland, surrounded by mountains bordering the Sea of Japan.

Nikka became one of Japan’s best producers, earning Masataka the title of “Father of Japanese Whisky.” In 2001, Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt whisky was named the “Best of the Best” in a whisky magazine international tasting, beating entrants from the mother country for the first time.

The Tour

Visitors strolling the grounds of the Nikka distillery.

Visitors strolling the grounds of the distillery, © Debi Lander.

Nikka Distillery offers free guided tours, only in Japanese. Multilingual self-guiding pamphlets let visitors follow the whisky production process tour. The site’s nine historic buildings mimic Scottish architecture and don’t look anything like traditional Japanese structures.

Yoichi’s climate augments the traditional distillation method of using coal, producing a rich, peaty malt. The whisky’s distinct aroma and body come from copper pot stills heated with finely powdered natural coal – the traditional method rarely used anywhere today. Japanese religious ribbons adorn the pot stills to provide blessings.

Visitors can peek inside Rita and Masakata’s home (sadly only Japanese signage) and tour a whisky museum highlighting Nikka’s history, production methods and awards.

A satisfying tour end brings free tasting of three varieties: Pure Malt Whisky Taketsuru, Blended Whisky Super Nikka and Apple Wine. The Whisky Club offers rare tastings for an additional price. The “Rita House” room, named after Masakata’s wife, offers English-style tea (scones and all).

If You Go    

Nikka Distillery

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Go Big: Luxury on the Island of Hawaii

Sunset at Waikoloa Beach © CT Shier.

The Big Island

If you have visited more than one Hawaiian island, you will have noticed each island destination has its own vibe. While Oahu is “the gathering place” and often a gateway to experiencing Hawaii, Kauai is known as “the garden isle” for its lush landscape and sparser population. The largest island, Hawaii, offers luxurious resorts along the coastline with a breathtaking, diverse topography perfect for day trips. The Big Island is known for its active volcanoes, lava fields, rainforest, tide pools, and beaches. You’ll immediately feel a world away from the ordinary when first setting foot on Hawaii, yet completely at home at the island’s world-class resorts.

Mauna Kea Beach on Kaunaoa Bay © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach on Kaunaoa Bay © CT Shier.

Escape to Kohala Coast

The thirty mile drive from Kona International Airport to resorts along the Kohala Coast offers an introduction to Hawaii’s lava fields. Queen Kaahumanu Highway is surrounded by evidence of volcanic eruptions, yet tucked along the water is a sandy beachfront where you’ll find Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The resort property has all the appeal of a luxurious getaway, yet is far removed from the tourist vibe you’ll find along the Kailua-Kona waterfront.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is the island’s first resort, built after Laurance S. Rockefeller fell in love with the picturesque qualities of Kauna‘oa Bay. Contemporary island-inspired decor welcomes resort guests, and the serene beachfront location makes this a go-to destination for swimming and snorkeling. Calm bay waters attract manta rays to a small cove at the resort and moonlit snorkel sessions are available for guests who wish to swim alongside these gentle gliders.

Seared Dry Rub Scallops at Manta © CT Shier.

Seared Dry Rub Scallops at Manta © CT Shier.

Carrying the marine life theme into the resort, a must-visit dining venue on site is Manta. The open-air restaurant offers panoramic bay views and fresh seafood, from Mac Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi to Seared Dry Rub Scallops. Koi ponds dot the path from the main building to the oceanfront pool where palm trees tower overhead and cabanas offer relief from afternoon sun. The five-star property also offers immediate access to the crescent-shaped beach, with resort chairs, umbrellas, and other amenities available to guests.

Waikoloa Beach Luxury

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, located on South Kohala Coast, is a beachfront destination with ample options for shopping and dining. Directly across the street from the resort is Kings’ Shops, an open-air plaza with high-end retailers and restaurants including The KOA Table by Food Network star Chef Ippy Aiona. Around the bend, Queens’ Marketplace offers a series of boutiques, souvenir shops, and grab-and-go eateries.

Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriot © CT Shier.

Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriot © CT Shier.

You won’t go hungry on site at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, though, as menu options are abundant morning through night, from the breakfast buffet at Hawaii Calls to the Sunset Luau. The luau features a Polynesian dinner and show set amid spectacular sunsets blending into ocean surf.

Unearthing the Kalua pig at Marriott Sunset Luau © CT Shier.

Unearthing the Kalua pig at Marriott Sunset Luau © CT Shier.

For mild adventure, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa offers on-site equipment rentals including snorkel gear, boogie boards, kayaks, hydro-bikes, and stand-up paddle boards. Between the resort pool decks and the beach, you’ll also find ancient Hawaiian fishponds with information to help identify the critters below. If you prefer to bask in the sun poolside, it’s worth noting the expansive pool deck is open into the wee hours of the morning, perfect for a dip under the stars.

Island Exploration

While the Kohala Coast offers five-star resorts to call home during your time in Hawaii, you’ll want to rent a car for a day or two to explore more of The Big Island. One requisite destination is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the glory of two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Park rangers are available to share the history of Hawaii’s volcanoes, but much of the park can be self-explored.

Guide at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park © CT Shier.

Guide at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park © CT Shier.

If you’re a wine lover, be sure to stop at Volcano Winery, in the town of… you guessed it: Volcano HI. The small vineyard has a tasting room open 364 days annually. If unique outdoor adventure is on your bucket list, head to the southeast corner of Hawaii to experience the island’s tide pools. About an hour east of the Volcanoes, you’ll find Kapoho Tide Pools and other pools where warm water is protected from crashing waves. Some tide pools are perfect for relaxing during an afternoon soak, while others offer an incredible snorkeling experience.

Tide Pools on The Big Island © CT Shier.

Tide Pools on The Big Island © CT Shier.

If You Go

Thanks to the diverse landscape on The Big Island, weather patterns may change throughout the day. Plan for sunshine along the coast during the day, but keep cooler evening temperatures in mind. Layer up for misty rain patches when you visit higher elevations en route to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii Tourism Authority: www.gohawaii.com
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Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa: http://ift.tt/1hGk16k

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Professional Headshots Denver

Selecting a professional headshot photographer in Denver can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Proper studio lighting is paramount to shooting top-quality headshots. Natural lighting from a window or skylight is often the way to go but if need be lighting umbrellas can also be used for proper shadowing effects on the subject. An experienced Denver headshot photographer needs to be able to connect with his or her clients in such a way to make them feel relaxed and confident. Body language is a huge part of headshot photography. Professional headshots are hard enough to capture when the subject is having a pretty good day emotionally but can be a nightmare when they are having a really bad day, as most of us have a great deal of trouble when it comes to hiding our emotions. For more on having your headshot taken in the Denver area please peruse our other videos

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Inspired by Bawa – Sri Lanka’s Nisala Arana Resort

Lake Dedduwa, Lunuganga

I like the fact internationally-famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa bottled out of a legal career in his mid-20s, judging himself dangerously incompetent. It’s a crisis of confidence you don’t typically pair with a high-flyer. The irony appeals to me.

But dropping out like that can’t have been easy coming from a well-to-do family and with your dad a wealthy, influential Sri Lankan judge. Just what his parents thought when Bawa then took off overseas for two years to find himself is anyone’s guess. It was the 1940s after all.

But something happened on his overseas jaunt that would change the direction of his life – and the trajectory of the architectural world – forever.

Bawa discovered a passion for Italy’s extraordinary Renaissance buildings and gardens. It’s this revelation that spurred him to take up architectural studies in his 30s. And it’s this revelation that led to Bawa ‘the architect’ and an entirely new design genre melding East and West known as tropical modernism.

Guest house interior at Lunuganga Gardens. Geoffrey Bawa. FWT Magazine.

Guest house interior at Lunuganga Gardens, Bentota, Sri Lanka (c) Jacqui Gibson.

I first come across Bawa’s brilliance in Bentota, a coastal resort town located 64 kilometres south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. I’m staying at Nisala Arana, a boutique hotel run by Aussie-born manager Ben Pereira. It’s a tucked-away, four-and-a-half acre, walled heritage property styled on Bawa principles.

Purchased in 2000 by Pereira’s mum Jill, a Melbournian, and dad Kevin, a Burgher (Sri Lankan of Portuguese descent), Nisala Arana was once home to an Ayurvedic doctor noted for curing snake bites more than a century ago.

Gateway to Nisala Arana resort. FWT Magazine.

Gateway to Nisala Arana, Bentota, Sri Lanka (c) Jacqui Gibson.

To soothe their ills, the Sinhalese doctor would concoct medicines from the various trees and plants on the property. For venomous bites, he’d reach for neem leaves. For asthma or general coughing, the mandarin trees probably came in handy.

It’s difficult to know exactly what potions the doctor administered. He’s long gone now. But Ben says the decision to keep Nisala Arana’s heritage trees was as much a nod to Dr. Leonora’s natural healing legacy as it was part of the garden’s overall Bawa-inspired design aesthetic.

He says it was his mum, Jill, who led the six-month renovation, which included upgrading the grounds, as well as renovating the doctor’s original Dutch-style colonial home and Buddhist shrine room.

Nisala Arana owners Jill and Kevin Pereira. FWT Magazine.

Nisala Arana owners Jill and Kevin Pereira, Bentota (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Walking the property today, guests are treated to Bawa in miniature. There are crafted lawns across which squirrels, mongoose and white herons dart for cover. There’s Bawa’s seamless blend of house and garden and his deft sequencing of outdoor and indoor spaces connected by lawns, classical glazed pots and intimate seating areas.

Grounds and pool of Nisala Arana. FWT Magazine.

Grounds and pool of Nisala Arana looking into the main pavilion (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Nisala Arana bungalow. FWT Magazine.

Nisala Arana bungalow (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Nisala Arana has a central, open-air pavilion for dining. And each of the resort’s bungalows (including the original 165-year-old doctor’s house) is styled in mostly mahogany and teak antiques to capture Bawa’s preference for simple, masculine interiors. And yet Nisala Arana – now registered as a heritage home with the Sri Lankan Tourism Board – is no Bawa pastiche.

Ben explains: “Mum took a lot of time to understand Geoffrey Bawa’s work. She used to meet Geoffrey here in Bentota at Lunuganga gardens, his private retreat. She had a personal relationship with him and sought out his head gardener for advice and input into the grounds here at Nisala. She also made sure we had local craftsmen work on the restoration. From memory, the entire building team of 40 workers stayed on site for more than half a year.”

“Mum’s got a great eye, but she wanted craftsmen with an in depth knowledge of local materials and techniques to work on the property. She wanted to achieve a style that was in keeping with the original buildings on the place, while maintaining a contemporary vibe. In that sense, Nisala Arana is very much mum’s take on Bawa’s notion of tropical modernism,” says Ben.

Interior of Nisala Arana's main bungalow. FWT Magazine.

Interior of Nisala Arana’s main bungalow (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Not everyone who stays at Nisala Arana is treated to the property’s backstory or its connection to Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous architect. Stay at Nisala Arana and you can go bike riding, visit the local Buddhist temple and dine on chef Aroy’s signature white fish curry as the sun goes down to the sound of croaking frogs.

Buddhist temple. FWT Magazine.

Buddhist monk tending the the grounds of Nisala’s local temple (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Guests commonly daytrip to nearby turtle sanctuaries, swim at local beaches and grab an air-conditioned car and driver to explore the ancient fort city of Galle. Nisala Arana is also a popular yoga venue for small groups wanting a retreat from the world in the literal sense.

Turtle, Sri Lanka. Geoffrey Bawa. FWT Magazine.

Turtle sanctuaries dot the southern coast of Sri Lanka, close to Nisala Arana (c) Jacqui Gibson.

In my Bawa-obsessed state, I opt to spend my final afternoon at Nisala Arana touring Lunuganga Gardens, Bawa’s 10-hectare homestead bought in 1948 and re-fashioned over a period of 50 years.

It takes just a short drive in the Pereira’s vintage Morris Minor to get there. There’s no signage, just a winding dirt road that takes me past rice paddies and emerald green jungle to a clearing of parked cars and chattering drivers.

These days Lunuganga is run as a country hotel of six guest rooms and cottages, with the gardens open to the public. My guide meets me at the main entrance of Lunuganga in the dappled shade of towering tamarind trees.

But soon I am out in the unforgiving heat, trundling down skinny stone pathways, flanked by rippling lilyponds, taking in the story of Bawa’s life’s work. My guide explains how Bawa purchased the property as an abandoned rubber and cinnamon plantation furnished with a modest bungalow, which he promptly turned into his creative HQ.

Geoffrey Bawa's Lunuganga Gardens, Bentota. FWT Magazine.

Lunuganga Gardens, Bentota (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Lunuganga gardens and wildlife. FWT Magazine.

Lunuganga gardens and wildlife (c) Jacqui Gibson.

It took him over half a century to move hills, transplant woods, cut terraces and experiment with landscaping, essentially making a series of outdoor rooms from the property’s jungle setting. Out of local materials he created courtyards, water features and generally expressed his love of combining traditional and modern forms.

Moving between the portico and the Cinnamon Hill house, it’s easy to trace Bawa’s trademark style of black and white interiors and the clever lines of sight that take you from one outdoor courtyard to another or draw your eye to the edges of the majestic Dedduwa Lake.

Lake entrance, Lunuganga. FWT Magazine.

Lake entrance, Lunuganga (c) Jacqui Gibson.

What is extraordinary is that Bawa had time to design such a place given his frantically successful 40-year career. In total, he designed about 70 private homes (though fewer were built), 35 hotels, as well as schools and many commercial, religious and public buildings, including Sri Lanka’s Parliament House. Possibly, then, Lunuganga was his muse.

Dotted throughout the property, my guide tells me, are some of Bawa’s favourite sitting spots – modest bench seats with bells attached. He’d simply sit in these spots, take in the views, then ring the bell to indicate precisely where he’d like to receive the pen and paper he needed to jot down his next big idea.

Lunuganga seating. FWT Magazine.

Lunuganga seating (c) Jacqui Gibson. FWT Magazine.

IF YOU GO

  • Get to Nisala Arana or Lunuganga by taking the two-and-a-half hour drive from the international airport or the one-and a-half-hour drive from Colombo (alternatively, Nisala Arana or Lunuganga will arrange an airport pickup if required).
  • Take a Lunuganga garden tour for $10.00 (tours take place at 9.30am, 11.30am, 2.00pm and 3.30pm daily).
  • Stay at Nisala Arana or Lunuganga Estate.
Doorway, Lunuganga. FWT Magazine.

Doorway, Lunuganga, Bentota (c) Jacqui Gibson.

The post Inspired by Bawa – Sri Lanka’s Nisala Arana Resort appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

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