Best-Laid Plans - The Escapist 2024 - Magazine | Monocle
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The Monocle Concierge is our tailored travel service for top tips, off-the-radar finds and delectable recommendations. Whether you’re interested in seeing your favourite city afresh or seeking inspiration for journeys to new shores, our editors have ideas aplenty. Here, we share a few questions from readers and the Concierge’s insightful itineraries. Let’s go!


1
Dear Concierge,

Any tips for Florence and its environs or the Lake Como area would be most gratefully received.

Kind regards,
Martha Black,
USA

Dear Martha,

When it comes to accommodation, we suggest Numeroventi, which is based in a 16th-century palazzo in the heart of Florence. Its modern interiors owe as much to Scandinavian minimalism as they do to Medici-era largesse. Eat at Enoteca Bruni, which boasts one of Italy’s best-stocked natural-wine cellars, before checking out the city’s ateliers. Antica Occhialeria produces stylish eyewear, Moleria Locchi makes decorative drinking vessels and vases, and Castorina 1895 is an ideal stop for elegant wooden décor. For a day trip, head west to Lucca, where Giglio and its sister bistro, Gigliola, are our top tips for lunch.

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On Lake Como, skip the crowded Bellagio but don’t miss the ferry ride along the lake’s shore. And be sure to stop by the pretty town of Varenna. The botanical gardens at Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero are wonderful for a calming stroll, especially in spring.

Across the lake, the gardens of Villa Carlotta and Villa del Balbianello are worthwhile too. Lake Como is home to one of Italy’s most glorious new hotels, the Passalacqua in Moltrasio, which transformed an 18th-century private residence into a resort with antique glamour. Bookings reopen in March.


2
Dear Concierge

What are your recommendations for sexy Rio de Janeiro?

Thank you,

Florencia Gonzalez Deibe,
Mexico

Dear Florencia,

Sizzling Rio drips with sultry appeal day and night. Wake up with a morning dip: Ipanema’s Posto 9 remains the see-and-be-seen stretch of beach. It’s a short stroll from the Alalaô Kiosk, which serves delicious sundowners and has injected a much-needed dose of high design into the beachfront promenade by Brazilian modernist architect Roberto Burle Marx. After your drinks, retire to the seaside elegance of the Hotel Fasano Rio. If you prefer sweeping vistas, head for the hills and pitch up poolside at the Santa Teresa Hotel.

The city boasts more than its fair share of excellent restaurants to help you fuel up before a night out on the town. Tuck in to a modern interpretation of Italian cuisine at Sult in the Botafogo neighbourhood or sample some fine seafood at the white-walled Restaurante Escama near the botanical garden. If you want local dishes, we recommend the contemporary Brazilian cuisine at Lilia in the city centre. For cocktails, try the Arp Bar at Hotel Arpoador or join the fashionable set gathering for film-themed libations at Liz Cocktails & Co in Leblon.

After loosening up, head to the bohemian Lapa district, where you’ll find packed dancefloors most nights of the week at several 19th-century venues famous for Brazilian music, from samba de gafieira to forró. We can vouch for Rio Scenarium, Bar Carioca da Gema and Clube dos Democráticos. On a Monday evening, take a taxi further west to the Renascença Clube for the weekly samba do trabalhador to experience Rio’s music in a traditional communal setting.


3
Dear Concierge,

My wife and I are planning a three-day stopover in Seattle on our way to see family on Maui. Which district should we stay in? Can you also suggest any boutique hotels, restaurants and places of interest that aren’t full of tourists?

Kind regards,
Stuart Pearce,
Sweden

Dear Stuart,

Fortunately, Downtown Seattle’s hotels are rather good. Try out Palihotel or The State for digs in historic brick buildings or check in to Thompson Seattle for something more contemporary (its rooftop bar, The Nest, is excellent too). South Korean brand Lotte’s second stateside hotel is renowned for its crisp service. It’s just a block from the Rem Koolhaas-designed Central Library.

Start your day at Monorail Espresso’s kiosk, then slip past the crowds at Pike Place Market in favour of our top food stops: Bacco Cafe for Dungeness crab Benedict; JarrBar for hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs; Sushi Kashiba for omakase; and Zig Zag Café for a nightcap. Head to The Crocodile in nearby Belltown for live entertainment and venture north to Ballard for shopping and dining (check out all-day café Sabine).

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The neighbourhood’s fishing boats might look familiar to you because they’re from Norway. Once a Scandinavian immigrant destination, the Ballard area is now home to the National Nordic Museum. Don’t miss the Ballard Locks, an engineering marvel.

Wander northeast from Downtown and you’ll soon reach Capitol Hill, home to the city’s best bookshop, Elliott Bay Book Company, and the charming dining spot Oddfellows. Melrose Market and Chophouse Row are worth your while too. Walk south to Pioneer Square and a clutch of art galleries. For a day trip, take a Washington State Ferry to the charming Bainbridge Island.


4
Dear Concierge,

We are thinking of heading to Hokkaido and exploring the island solely by public transport. We would love to hear about any local gastronomy secrets and lesser-known cultural or nature sites that are worth visiting.

Thank you,
Clannah Goh,
Singapore

Dear Clannah,

Japan’s northernmost island, which makes up about a fifth of the country’s total landmass, is well worth a trip for its wild, open spaces, climate and fields of wheat, lavender and grazing cows. Hokkaido’s most remote spots will be out of reach to anyone without a car but there is still plenty to see. You will probably arrive at Sapporo, so spend a night at the hot-spring hotel Yuen Sapporo and pick up some walking gear (and an all-important bear bell) at outdoor outfitter Shugakuso. The ursine population in Hokkaido is rather large and not to be trifled with.

Shugakuso’s noticeboard is filled with excursions: think guided Nordic walking, trail walking and canoeing. If you want to learn about the history of the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, visit Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, which is accessible by train from Sapporo. In the other direction, the city of Asahikawa is home to some of Japan’s best wooden furniture-makers, while Biei is a small town that has become a major culinary attraction, celebrated for its rolling landscape and bountiful fresh produce. Book a room and a table at Hokuei Komugi no Oka (Hokuei Wheat Hill), a restaurant, hotel and educational cooking complex based in a former school.

Finally, head to the rugged wilderness of Daisetsuzan, Hokkaido’s largest national park, which boasts soaring volcanic peaks, deer and plenty of those famous bears. Don’t forget that this is onsen (hot-spring) territory. A soothing bath is never far away – just check for bears before you get in.


5
Dear Concierge,

I will be visiting Vienna for its museums, good food and beer. What are your suggestions?

Thank you,
Cédric Jamet,
France

Dear Cédric,

You can’t go wrong in the city’s Museumsquartier. It has good architecture and urbanism, plus contemporary art and canvases by Austria’s fin de siècle favourites Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The Kunsthistorisches Museum across the street sports the world’s largest Bruegel collection. Cross the majestic Burggarten and you’ll find the Albertina Museum, full of works by the French impressionists and the Russian avant-garde.

You’ll need to keep your strength up so grab a käsekrainer (cheese sausage) from one of Vienna’s many street-corner stands. For something more substantial, book a dinner at Skopik & Lohn, which serves sensational Viennese food with a modern twist. The wiener schnitzel with potato salad is unsurprisingly superb. When it comes to beer, you are spoilt for choice: it’s everywhere. For a relaxed ambience and good music, we recommend the Neubau area in the seventh district, which begins right behind the Museumsquartier. Café Europa in the Zollergasse is a monocle favourite. Just in time for your visit, a new bar-cum-gallery called Atlas has opened in the Neustiftgasse. Gute Reise!


Planning your next trip?

monocle’s editors have crisscrossed the globe for more than 15 years. As such, our book of contacts, faultless restaurants, lesser-known hotels and off-the-map escapes is full of recommendations. Every week we answer a reader’s travel request in the Saturday instalment of The Monocle Weekend Edition. Sign up to our newsletters at monocle.com/minuteand submit your Monocle Concierge request at monocle.com/concierge.

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