Saturday 5 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 5/8/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

One for the road

Plug in as we take a test drive in Fiat’s new electric minicar before recharging our batteries at an Italian lakeside retreat (without getting water in the sockets). Plus: we visit a new Bottega Veneta outpost in Saint-Tropez that’s a material success and meet the founder of a bustling bistro at the heart of London. But first, Andrew Tuck heads for the hills.

Image: Mathieu de Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Tour de force

Last Saturday we left London, heading for Folkestone as we began the journey by car – with Macy the fox terrier on board – to Palma de Mallorca. We’ve got the route nicely worked out and it takes less than 48 hours before we swing open the door of the apartment in Palma.

Now, motorways and car ferries are hardly the things that most people’s dreams are made of and it’s not as adventurous as the travel treks that many of you will no doubt be undertaking this summer. And yet, I love it. The drive from Calais to Paris isn’t much of a thrill but as you skirt the French capital, catching a glimpse of the Sacre Coeur, perched up high in Montmartre, you know you are on your way. I even look forward to the spectacularly long low-roofed motorway tunnels around the city. And then it’s slowly south.

The town of Bourges is roughly halfway for us and, as last summer, we checked into the Logis Villa C Hôtel. Perhaps she keeps meticulous notes on every guest but the owner Anne-Olivia (along with her partner Aurélian) is there to greet us and wants to know if we are driving to Spain again. Many French people have quizzed my choice of Bourges as a stop-off – “it’s very industrial” – but really, it’s a perfect layover point. At its heart is a medieval cathedral surrounded by a swirl of ancient timber-framed buildings, many of which are held in position by sturdy buttresses that give the impression that the place is one giant theatre set that could be struck at a moment’s notice.. And I am not sure what they put in the water but we return to “our usual” restaurant and the owner also remembers us immediately. He recalls a funny incident from our last visit when two rather inebriated guests misheard Macy’s name as “Messi” and were convinced that she had been named in honour of the revered footballer.

On the first day of driving, the clouds are an unfriendly grey but on day two I watch the car’s thermometer click ever higher and the sky change to a Mediterranean blue. The motorways are now full of French families departing for their holidays, with multiple bikes strapped to the rears of cars and giant quad bikes lassoed to roofs. Every service station offers up regional cheese spreads and terrible coffee but also the glee of kids and families getting away. A country on the move.

Our progress south is swift and we come off the highway at Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dalí. It’s a Sunday and so it’s quiet except around the fantastical Dalí Theatre – Museum where giftshop owners are hoping that at least one more person will buy a melted surrealist clock as reimagined in China.

Then down to Barcelona and the docks, and our ferry – this time to Alcúdia in the northeast of Mallorca. We are in one of the cabins where dogs are allowed but Macy’s not that keen on the clanking of the deck doors above. For much of the night, she keeps a beady eye open.

We drive off the ferry just six hours later. It’s 04.00 and at this time of night, it takes just 40 minutes before the key is in the apartment door. We have come a long way but the journey is somehow magical – you feel the distance, you feel transported. And a dog gets to spend her time with you on holiday.

Image: Shutterstock

The Look / Electric minicars

Pocket socket

Electric minicars really are all the rage (writes Ed Stocker). Maybe it’s because their “whole-different-category” status gives them unbridled access to Europe’s limited-traffic zones. Or maybe it’s because such vehicles suggest that their owners, no matter how ridiculous they might look cooped up behind the wheel, are environmentally-minded and cosmopolitan.

Take the newly launched Fiat electric Topolino (pictured), which literally means “little mouse” and is also the name of Mickey Mouse in Italian. These vehicles have caused quite a stir since their launch late last month. With a retro feel and no doors, drivers who get behind the car’s wheel suggest that they’re playful, a little unconventional and would rather be at the beach – though the Topolino’s top speed of just 45km/h doesn’t imply that they’re a risk taker.

While you may have a seriously nice Audi parked at home (or perhaps a second-hand Suzuki Jimny) that you reserve for longer trips, to send a message that you belong in the city, you need another vehicle that looks ready for urban life. A vehicle that will withstand a few bumps and scratches if it needs to and that is small enough to squeeze into the tightest of neighbourhood parking spots. And if it also comes in a cutesy colour? A bonus indeed.

Image: Mathieu de Muizon

How we live / The death of DVDs

Off the reel

It’s a sad week for all DVD and Blu-ray lovers in Australia and New Zealand as Disney has announced that it will be discontinuing its films and TV programmes on physical media formats (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). There is speculation that the company is testing the waters to see whether the move could be replicated across the globe (so do grab your copy of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 before Disney’s final release).

As a fan of physical media, it’s disappointing news. I still buy DVDs frequently and not simply for nostalgic reasons. The discs, with high-quality imagery and audio, are good value. Have you seen the prices of films on streaming services? A trip to the cinema could be cheaper. I recently tried to stream Manhunter, the stylish Michael Mann film from 1986, and the quality was so horrendous that I decided to buy an old DVD on Ebay – the difference was astonishing. Owning these formats makes it easy to rewatch a beloved film at a later date, especially given that Netflix’s roster changes all the time, gaining and losing digital rights rapidly.

While I am not anti-streaming in any way or form (and currently subscribe to a host of platforms), it would be foolish to dismiss the DVD. I hope that the antipodeans will rally against Disney’s decision – the American entertainment conglomerate might have unwittingly created an underground DVD market. Does anyone have an imported copy of The Fox and the Hound?

Image: Alamy

The Monocle Concierge / Lake Como

Make a splash

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. It’s also on hand in audio form on Monocle Radio, with reports and the latest travel news from around the world. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

My husband and I are flying to Milan and would like recommendations for hotels, restaurants and things to do in the Lake Como area.

Kathie Bourque

Dear Kathie,

For an escape to the lake, take a car and head north to Como’s city centre. Start things off lightly with some retail therapy at Agiemme, a boutique that carries niche Italian and foreign labels. Its co-owner, Alberto Monti, has a great eye and brands such as Camo, a smart menswear producer from Biella, feature in the shop.

Given Como’s long history with silk production, be sure to drop in at the family-owned textile company Mantero, which turns print patterns on silk into exquisite scarves and garments. Next, take a trip up the west shore to the charming town of Cernobbio for a spot of coffee at Poletti, a classic pasticceria that makes great berry tarts. Don’t forget to have a peek at the impressive grounds of the Villa d’Este hotel where you can sit by the lake for a lazy lunch, followed by a stroll through the verdant gardens.

To make the most of the morning sun, sip an espresso on the beautiful terrace of Bar Sanremo in Bellagio before hopping across the water to Locanda La Tirlindana, a lively family-run establishment, for lunch. In the evening, head up the mountain for dinner at Al Veluu, which offers panoramic views of the lake below.

For a spot of culture, you can’t miss Villa Balbianello, a stunning property that has provided the backdrops for films in the Star Wars and James Bond franchises. After a stroll through the grounds, grab a cocktail at the T Bar at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo (pictured) and then unpack your bags at Passalacqua, a gorgeous 24-room villa in Moltrasio.

Culture cuts / Watch, listen, read

Track record

‘Exterior Night’ (‘Esterno Notte’)’, Marco Bellocchio. In 1978, Italy’s former prime minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped and later murdered, by far-left terrorist group the Red Brigade. Starring Fabrizio Gifuni (“The Beast”) and directed by Marco Bellocchio (behind The Traitor and a notable 1995 retrospective on Moro’s life), this prestigious dramatic film investigates the circumstances leading up to the event from a range of different perspectives and is an engrossing slice of political history.

‘In the End It Always Does’, The Japanese House. British singer Amber Mary Bain, aka The Japanese House, has released the follow-up to her debut album Good at Falling. This record deals with heartbreak and desire with tracks such as the beautiful “Over There”. The third single, “Sunshine Baby”, is a nostalgic account of how relationships come and go, though Bain’s emotional voice lends a tinge of optimism to proceedings. The powerful “One for Sorrow, Two for Joni Jones” is an endearing ode to how canine companions can lift us out of tough times.

‘Rental Person Who Does Nothing: A Memoir’, Shoji Morimoto. Shoji Morimoto started his unusual business back in 2018: getting “rented” to accompany strangers to situations in which they simply appreciated a person being present. Now he has written a book charting the rich and varied experiences that followed, from having a bowl of noodles with a recently divorced man to visiting a woman in hospital. Other than being a study of Japanese society and its unwritten codes of behaviour, this is a quirky account of finding meaning and companionship in life.

Image: David Robinson

The Interrogator / Tom Cenci

Serving suggestions

After beginning his career in Turkey, Canada and France, working in restaurants such as the two-Michelin-starred Parisian joint Laurent, Tom Cenci has cemented his status as one of the UK’s best young chefs. His newest venture is Nessa, where he is executive chef. Located in central London, the bistro has become known for serving unusual takes on modern classics. Here, Cenci tells us why he likes sifting through car boot sales and why Cornwall is a surprisingly sunny summer destination.

Which news source do you wake up to?
I don’t have much time for TV or radio in the mornings so I usually browse through Apple News. I find it easy to grab the headlines and, as it’s customisable, it also shows me topics that interest me.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Always a coffee in the morning, I need a caffeine boost. My go-to is either an espresso or a cold-brewed coffee and I nearly always have a banana to accompany it.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
I love going to car boot sales. There are so many hidden gems to be found out there and I love discovering old cookbooks for inspiration or vintage plates to use. Who doesn’t like finding a bargain?

Favourite bookshop?
I was recently on holiday in Cornwall and visited a small village by the sea called Fowey. There was a tiny bookshop called Shrew Books, which had such an amazing collection for such a small shop. It embraces new and exciting releases while still paying attention to Cornish writers and settings.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
A trip to the kiosk. I sometimes buy publications from abroad to read up on places that I have lived in before, such as USA Today, which is an easy Sunday read.

Which radio station and DJ do you listen to?
On a Sunday morning, I listen to CountryLine Radio when they have Kix Brooks do the American Country Countdown with the week’s biggest tracks. It’s not to be missed.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
Top Chef. It’s an American reality cooking show. I have watched it religiously for many seasons now.

Any movie recommendations?
The Menu. I have not always been a big fan of cooking films but this one hits the nail on the head when it comes to portraying the industry while mocking its cliches at the same time.

What about books?
I’m currently reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s a fictional story about William Shakespeare and his family life. She writes in such a beautiful style and it’s a captivating read.

What’s the first thing you pack in your suitcase?
My running gear. It allows me to go to new places and see a different side of a city, coast or countryside.

Any good recommendations in the Mediterranean?
Go to Cornwall instead. St Ives is a great place to visit with multiple sandy beaches and a vibrant town. If you want to get away from all the hustle and bustle, I would recommend dining at St Eia, an intimate wine bar tucked away in the back streets of St Ives that also does some fantastic small plates of food.

Image: Bottega Veneta

Fashion update / Bottega Veneta

Open season

Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta’s latest outpost in Saint-Tropez embraces its creative director Matthieu Blazy’s wide range of influences, which are communicated through everything from the brand’s runways down to its newly designed shop floors. This boutique on the French Riviera is the latest edition of Bottega Veneta around the world to have been updated with wooden furniture, striking brutalist features and sculptural details that pay homage to Romanian modernist artist Constantin Brancusi.

Blazy has added a statement curved staircase and shelving made from plaster sourced in Italy’s Veneto region to the Saint-Tropez shop. The brand’s woven-leather accessories are available in bright, summery shades alongside the most recent resort collection and the label’s popular Arco tote bag, rendered in raffia for the season. The new boutique is an elegant example of a logo-free retail development that allows craft and artisanal quality to take centre stage. It’s a worthy stop on any Med holiday itinerary.


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