Willemstad’s historic Pietermaai area is being reimagined as Curaçao’s vibrant centre for chic hotels, restaurants and bars The most recognizable landmark on the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao may be a row of postcard-perfect pastel buildings that line the waterfront in the capital city, Willemstad. But it’s the even brighter character of the city’s up-and-coming Pietermaai neighbourhood that’s drawing a younger crowd. Within just two cobblestone blocks, more than a dozen bars, restaurants and hotels have recently opened.
Its roster of new establishments includes Miles, a jazz café where patrons – and the sound of live performances – spill out onto the street. For foodies, there’s Ginger, a Caribbean-Asian-Indian fusion restaurant hidden in a courtyard under swooping canopies. Diners chase their meals with a cocktail at Mundo Bizarro, a multi-level Cuban-inspired bar. The lineup of must-visit spots also includes Blessing, a restaurant in a former chapel, and Mosa, a tapas eatery with a seafood-heavy menu.
Real estate in the historic district, which dates back to the 18th century, is seeing an influx of interest and investment. Centuries-old mansions and their adjoining staff quarters once abandoned and left in disrepair are now benefiting from a trend toward restoration (Pietermaai and three other historic neighbourhoods in Willemstad have UNESCO designations). The transformation started in the early 2000s and is still very much a work in progress. Crumbling concrete fences and buildings spotted with peeling paint caused by salt water coming up from below ground through the coral stone walls – a look that the locals call, “wall cancer” – create a charming contrast beside newly renovated colonial structures.
The only thing missing from the nei ghbourhood is beach access. Despite the area’s coastal location, Curaçao’s good swimming is 15 minutes up the coast. – MARYAM SIDDIQI
For more information, visit www.curacao.com.
Portraying everything from a soaring snowy owl to a pair of narwhals braving brisk waters, Hermès’s Into the Canadian Wild scarf is a vibrant homage to Canada’s wildlife and dazzling natural beauty. Although the figures and terrain within the scarf’s design may be familiar to many Canadians – locations from the prairies to B.C.’s rainforests are depicted – they were an untapped bounty of inspiration for Hermès’s collaborator on the piece, artist Alice Shirley.
Shirley, who is based in London, watched a variety of nature documentaries about the country before approaching her multi-coloured design.
“It was quite a responsibility,” she recalls about beginning the project, her seventh scarf motif for the venerable French house. “Initially I thought it would be a more snowy, monochromatic landscape, but they said very specifically that they wanted to have all the seasons represented.”
Christine Duvigneau, the label’s graphic design studio director, notes that this isn’t the first Canadian-focused design the brand has created, but it’s certainly a special one. “Alice has become a very important illustrator for our house in a short time; she’s very gifted,” Duvigneau says. Shirley first met the Hermès team in 2012 and all of her designs for the brand have centered on nature. It was for this reason that she was tapped to commemorate the diverse and verdant wilderness of Canada in a piece that will be available in Canadian stores come June and internationally in August. “We work in exchanges and collaborations; we never buy a design finished,” Duvigneau says. “We always meet the designer to discuss, and that’s how it becomes an Hermès scarf. It’s like an encounter between their hand and our hearts.” – ODESSA PALOMA PARKER
Into the Canadian Wild scarf, $485 at Hermès (www.hermes.com).
Since the country opened its doors to American tourists, Cuba has seen a record number of visitors flock to its quaint towns and capital city, Havana. Those looking to experience the country’s beauty beyond its beach resorts will find no better guidebook than Old Cuba, a new coffee-table release from Rizzoli. Written by Alicia E. García, a Cuban architectural writer and historian, the book traces the island’s colonial history through the architecture of its fortresses, castles, churches, theatres, sugar mills, houses and plazas, all beautifully captured by well-known Cuban photographer, Julio A. Larramendi.
During the Spanish colonial period from 1842 to 1898, religion played a significant role in city planning, with the location of parishes determining the centre of each city. García is particularly fond of the baroque churches, especially the Havana Cathedral, which marries European styles with those derived from Mexico, including polygonal arches and serpentine pediments. On the smaller scale, the author also surveys domestic architecture, from the oldest Spanish-Mudéjar-style courtyard homes built from rock, rammed earth or masonry, to the opulent señoriales homes of the 18th century.
García visits a few commercial spaces such as the meticulously crafted Triolet Pharmacy built in 1882, which operated until 1964 when it was converted to the Pharmaceutical Museum, with its stained glass entrance fully intact.
While Havana is home to the most opulent structures, cities like Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad are equally charming. By surveying the entire island and its built environments, Old Cuba tells the story of the country’s rich, often overlooked history and its pivotal role as a link between the Old World and the new. – ANYA GEORGIJEVIC
Old Cuba, $75 at Indigo (www.chapters.indigo.ca).
A Toronto-based concept spa has found a sunny new outpost in Miami. After calling Bal Harbour home for five years, the south Florida location of Gee Beauty has relocated to Sunset Harbour, a booming neighbourhood where co-founders Celene and Natalie Gee first found their footing in the city. “It was really on Purdy Avenue where we met this community of like-minded people, who love to work out and love to be well in all aspects,” says Natalie.
“We can really be who we want to be here.”
A hybrid lifestyle boutique and spa designed by Lloyd Ralphs, Gee Beauty represents Toronto style with its selection of Canadian fashion and accessories brands, from Jenny Bird jewellery to Tkee flip-flops and Markoo leather jackets. Skincare and cosmetics by natural brands including Tata Harper, Goop and Sunday Riley are complemented by an expanded offering of dermatologist-backed skincare lines such as Dr. Sebagh, SkinCeuticals and Colbert MD.
Aesthetic services at the 1,200 square-foot location include high-tech treatments featuring LED light therapy, intense pulsed light and micro-needling. Gee Beauty follows the principle of stacking, where multiple treatments such as microdermabrasion, an oxygen boost and a glycolic peel are layered into one service, a regimen that Natalie says “ignites and accelerates results.”
For visitors looking to get SoBe-ready in a hurry, manicures, pedicures, waxing, sunless tanning and lash extensions are all available. The finishing touch before a hot night out is a Florida-inspired makeup application, a transformation that takes you from snowbird to peacock. “Everything we do, we put a little Miami twist on it,” says Natalie. – CAITLIN AGNEW
For more information, visit www.geebeauty.ca.
The tight, cottage-lined streets of Dashilar are the closest Beijing comes to a design district. Its old grey-brick courtyard houses have been conquered by artists, remodelled by architects and swarmed by students in dark-rimmed glasses. On a slim laneway buzzing with cafés, Meeting Someone is the latest local It spot, and probably the most Instagrammable locale too, provided you can find it.
Hidden behind antique-wood doors, Chinese power-ballads beckon from a deep windowed tea room encased in polished concrete. An art installation of suspended paper chits seems to float in the thick Beijing air. They’re an elusive reference to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki, and a conversation-starter during the afternoon tea featuring home-dried leaves and exotic fruit. Drinks arrive under bell jars.
The space’s dark interior walkways are connected by peek-a-boo glass courtyards, and a floating perforated-steel staircase climbs up to a shadowy dining room with an ebony ceiling dripping with filament bulbs. Inspired by the English-language film noir, My Blueberry Nights, by Wong Kar Wai (considered a classic in China, if not in North America), its view plunges down to the kitchen, where chefs plate tapas such as goose-liver spring rolls and crispy sea bass.
Carry on to the rooftop deck, decorated in a futuristic all-white scheme, or squeeze past iron-mesh doors into the basement bar, where multiple thin fibre-optic lights hang. Reflected by backlit black glass, they recall Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s spectacular Infinity Mirrored Room and provide a suitably chic setting for consuming fruity cocktails. – ELLEN HIMELFARB
Meeting Someone, 99 Yameizhu Byway, Xicheng District.
Even as the once-dusty Ruta del Tequila in Mexico’s state of Jalisco becomes increasingly luxurious and accessible (thanks to the government and Big Tequila spending serious pesos), there will always be more independent-minded imbibers looking for a trail less taken. These travellers are in luck, since, just west of tequila territory, heading towards Puerto Vallarta, dozens of charming raicilla haciendas are cropping up.
Raicilla, sometimes called “moonshine mezcal,” is another agave distillate. Fans appreciate the funky character and wildly inconsistent flavour profiles of these hard-to-find bottles. Some words used to describe a few of the more popular commercially available raicillas – almost all from La Venenosa, the best-known brand – include herbaceous and briny, with accents of stinky cheese, avocado and game meat (not all in one bottle, of course).
Haciendas in the hills produce raicilla with a rich minerality and peppery-citrus, whereas spirits from the coastal region are known for their pronounced smoke and fruit flavours. The latter are the ones visitors to Puerto Vallarta are most likely to encounter, either in plastic bottles from locals enthusiastically sharing the region’s hooch, or on visits to the region’s distilleries.
There are several clay-tiled haciendas suitable for day trips from Vallarta, most offering tastings as well as tours of the clay ovens, fermenters and small, rudimentary stills. Some, such as Hacienda El Divisadero, also offer overnight stays for those who want to fully sample the mezcal without worrying about driving home. This sweet little resort has charming villas, a full restaurant and bar, as well as live music and horseback tours of the region’s springs and petroglyphs. – CHRISTINE SISMONDO
For more information on visiting Hacienda El Divisadero, visit www.haciendaeldivisadero.com.
Nestled between Signal Hill and the Atlantic Ocean – and filled with luxury hotels and high-end retail – Cape Town’s Victoria & Albert Waterfront is a deluxe part of the city that lacks some of the personality of grittier neighbourhoods including Bo-Kaap and Woodstock. April’s opening of The Silo Hotel, a property built in a former grain-elevator complex, will add some much-needed industrial flair to this otherwise glossy area.
The site was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa when it opened in 1924. Its revamp, which divides the space into 28 rooms, was designed by London-based architect Thomas Heatherwick. Through what the hotel calls “pillowed glass windows” that puff out from floor to ceiling, guests will overlook the city, taking advantage of views towards Table Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape Town Stadium. Higher up is a rooftop restaurant and swimming pool.
“We hope that it will be a destination hotel in its own right,” says Liz Biden, the owner and founder of The Royal Portfolio hospitality group, who intends for the establishment to appeal to locals year-round, too.
What’s on tap to occupy the space below the hotel is equally intriguing. In September, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will open. A partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, the former CEO of sports brand Puma, its collection will be spread over 65,000 square feet of exhibition space on nine floors and represent the first major contemporary art museum on the African continent. – MARYAM SIDDIQI
Room rates start at 12,000 R per night.
For more information, visit www.theroyalportfolio.com.