Monday, November 21, 2011

WiTList: Drinks With A View, Europe


My picks:

5. Des Alpes terrace, Interlaken, Switzerland

From your sidewalk chair the range of heaven rushes at you. You’re sitting in an emerald valley, quaint Swiss chalets all around, and yet the soaring, craggy sentinels are all you can look at. If the Alps don’t take your breath away, the schnapps will. Perfect for warming your bones after a day hiking down from the Jungfrau Stay til nightfall and the jazz band under the bar’s trellis will provide ample soundtrack to the show put on by the infinite bright stars in the sky.

4. Poolside at Castello Banfi, Montalcino, Italy

Relaxation is reality in Tuscany. And you’ll never lose touch with it at Castello Banfi, home to the world-renown Banfi vineyards and winery. The entire estate is lined with rosemary shrubs, pomegranate and plum trees. Not to mention a few hundred thousand rows of grape vines that spill down from the hilltop where the castle (hotel) reigns, into the Tuscan forests and countryside. It is by the pool, however, that Banfi wins you over for good. Surrounded on three sides by citrus and fruit trees, all it takes is a slight reach to grab a snack: a few fresh figs would go nicely with the complimentary bottles of house vino that sit underneath the stone archway. Right next to the slippers and robes. A glass of brunello, a slice of fig and the Tuscan countryside stretching as far as you care to look and your reality is relaxation. 

3. BYOW(wine) under the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Eiffel Tower is always far away. I don’t care where you are in Paris, when you walk to it, you’re always almost there. Once you get to it, but remember you’re always far away from it, but once you do get to it, the famous landmark doesn’t disappoint. It may be touristy and clich√© but impress you, she will. Especially because it took so long to get there in the first place.

Which makes it all the more important to make a few stops along the way. There’s the cheese shop, let’s pick up a stinky wheel. Oh look, patisserie, how about some delicious treats. Some meat here, a jar of fruit preserves there and that smell – oh that smell of fresh baked bread can only mean a warm baguette in your near future. Of course, don’t forget the vino.

When you do reach the Tower, walk to it, near it, under it and pop out the other side, away from the crowds onto the greenway. Pull up a square of grass and mimic the other lovers basking in the shadow of arguably the world’s most famous landmark. The view is of the tower, yes, and as awe-inspiring as that may be, the more interesting scenery is created by your fellow gawkers, cuddlers, readers, photographers, painters, Parisians and hustlers scattered around. Look up in wonder. Look around and wonder. Look at your empty wine glass and wonder if it gets any better.

2. Hotel Boscollo Bellini, Venice, Italy

This spot was one procured out of luck and utilized out of necessity. Because sometimes the view doesn't have to be of wide, sweeping vistas. 

Hotel Boscolo Bellini is a classy, smallish establishment near the Venice train station. Any visitor would do well to stay there. But any visitor would do even better to get the room we got (and as soon as I remember the room number I’ll let you know. It’ll probably be right around the time I remember the exact day I learned how to read, or when I remember anything about Trigonometery or when I remember my wedding anniversary – we all know the odds aren’t good).

Two large floor to cathedral ceiling curtains covered what I assumed were windows. Upon further investigation, however, I discovered large doors that opened onto the roof of the first level of the hotel. Whether or not this private roof deck was meant for human relaxation, I know not. But the rickety wrought iron bistro table and chairs suggested it was. The hotel itself is worth staying, regardless of the room and we weren’t the only ones with a balcony, just the biggest.

Skip ahead to that night, strolling home from dinner in Murano. A liquor store about halfway down the Rio Terra Lista de Spagna was hawking local hooch in the road. I couldn’t resist and walked away with the most delicious aperitif – a creamy, potent pistachio liqueur. Two bottles, in fact.

Venice can be done in one day. The canals, the pigeons, the people. When you’re lucky enough to be handed a private roof deck, it’s necessary to turn your back on the Grande Canal to sit and sip in peace. The outdoor area faced the opposite direction from the water, but rather looked out onto a much more real part of Venice. The rooftops faded into the sunset and a quite neighborhood crowded around a small courtyard. There were no sounds of water taxis or yelling tourists. Rather, clanking dinner plates and idle Italian chatter. Clotheslines strung between homes swayed effortlessly. It was a view of Venice not on the pages of a guidebook. No map names the neighborhood we watched power down for the night. And a bottle of pistachio booze helped bring hectic Venice to a peaceful close. 

1. A Pie de Mar - Lovers walk bar, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

There are no poor views in the Cinque Terre. There are simply personal favorites. Anchoring one end of the famed hiking path that strings these five seaside towns together like grapes on a vine is A Pie de Mar. As you ascend from Riomaggiore to begin the “Lovers Walk” portion of the trail, a stone stairway peaks out seemingly leading down off the cliffside into the rocky waters below. But take the plunge and you dive into a patio bar with nothing but blue sky blocking the oceanic panorama. Grab a table at the edge and lean against the short rock wall buffeting the patio perimeter. Order a carafe. It doesn’t matter what it’s filled with; could be wine made from the tiered hillside vineyards, limoncello from the local lemon trees dotting the slopes or Cinque Terre’s infamous Schiachettra. Like the views, there are no poor drinks in Cinque Terre. Just personal favorites. Here, it’s all made within shouting distance so there’s a good chance you can express your fondness for a specific pour its maker, or at least someone who knows him.

As you watch the residents set out across the sea in their multi-colored fishing boats that match their multi-colored houses, you’ll start to question whether or not you actually want to get up and continue the hike. You should, it’s a good opportunity to discover your personal favorites, perhaps in the midst of an olive grove or atop a rocky outcrop. But there’s no harm in coming back to A Pie de Mar when you’re done. Just to see if it’s your personal favorite.

Your picks:

- Sarah Shemkus: "The Caffe Poliziano in Montepulciano in Tuscany. Beautiful inside, has a couple of tiny balconies with amazing views. Fellini used to hang out there. Like many cafes and bars in Italy, they do coffee and food and drinks." Check Sarah out on Twitter @Shemkus

- Liz Paciello Rappa: "Old city Antwerp....I once stayed in a castle that was converted into a hotel. The restaurant overlooked the castle grounds. Amazing."

- Monica Golik Manhoney: "The vineyard right outside the old Prague castle! Tim and I got a carafe and stared out onto our lands ... I mean admired the landscape."

- Bren Sullivan: "There was a bar near the Globe Theater in London, right on the banks of the Thames. It was actually a beautiful summer's day when I was there, and we ate and drank outside."

- Dianne Morad: "Bateaux Parisiens,'s not an especially fancy place, but it sits on the Seine. We took a river cruise on Christmas night and had dinner and drinks afterward at the restaurant. The view was beautiful."Check out Dianne on Twitter @DiMorad 

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