On the Edge of the World

When you see Carmelo Flores Laura, it is impossible not to think about one of the protagonists of Gabriel Garcia Márquez‘s or Isabelle Allende‘s novels. To find him, last August some photographers climbed a 4.000-meter high mountain to reach a village westbound of La Paz. Once there, they met this hobbit-looking, gap-toothed, aged little man, so aged that, according to documents, he would be born in 16 july 1890, which would make him 123 years old by now. His birth certificate has been sent very soon after that to Guinness World Records, and if the date can be confirmed, he would become the oldest person on Earth. But, to this andean little man, records like this don’t mean too much. He is surely a centenary. He has tilled the soil for a whole lifetime, eating lizards and coca leaves; he protects himself from andine cold wearing only a poncho and, between one thing and another, he had three sons, 16 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren. He has already had an extraordinary life.

Carmelo Flores is the emblem of a whole nation, Bolivia, the South American country that, better than many others, preserves its traditional culture. In this part of America, there are places that look like lunar craters, as La Paz, the highest capital in the world, and breath-taking andean landscapes, as Titicaca lake, venerated from Indios Aymara and Tupiza, a city that appears suddenly between mountains, rivers and forests of cactuses. Bolivia doesn’t have any shoreline: this state is a hazelnut of land which rubs shoulders with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Paraguay, craved for hundred years by these countries that saw it as a place to conquer.

Bolivia is a land of contrasts, broken into two parts that almost never collide: one, the smallest, is populated by dangerous gangsters who export drugs worldwide. The other inhabited by people who live far away from richness and illegality. Carmelo Flores, as the most of the bolivians, belongs to this second universe. Poor, illiterate, he spends his days cooking rice and walking around together with llamas, symbols of these old lands that for their tops are known as “The Tibet of Andes”. Maybe it’s because of the heights and for its inner position, maybe for the obstinacy with which indios preserve their traditions: whatever it is, Bolivia looks like a country at the end of the world, from where to start again to appreciate the taste of simplicity, and of life spent day by day.

Antonio Leggieri – Photo credit to Associated Press & Martha de Jong-Lantink 
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Life on Mars

Comparing an island – enclosed by one of the most beautiful seas of Italy and visited every year by thousands of tourists – to Mars could seem weird. But Stromboli, the most savage of Aeolian Islands, is in many ways a place so hostile, that going ashore this island could really give you the impression of being an astronaut who has just set foot on the rocks of “The red planet”.

Even before setting your foot on land, you’ll understand. Disembark from the dinghy (the only way to reach land, Stromboli has no harbors) and you will find yourself on a shore of black lava rocks, parallel to a strip of land on which Bermuda grass grows undisturbed, disappearing only in the zones in which the asphalt and the cement of the houses steal the space. You won’t find street signs, nor cars. The best way to reach San Vincenzo, the main inhabited village of the island, is to follow the tourists or attempt the alleys wedging between houses built next to the sea. Whatever you decide to do, the volcano is there, shadowing upon your head, majestic and threatening.

When you arrive in San Vincenzo, enjoy the small restaurants clinging to the rocks, the houses made of tuff with scraped facades, and the shops balancing incredibly between prongs of rock, populated by lizards. The traffic of Apecars and scooters will give you the impression of being back in civilization, but it fades in just a moment: the feeling of being in an inhospitable place will explode one more time inside you when you reach the slopes of the volcano. It erupts lava gushes continuously, but it can be climbed. The roped parties get on their way when the sun dies down and come back barely before midnight. The island seen from the top, sitting next to the crater, is a sublime spectacle.

The descend will take your last remaining energy. Once down, you’ll discover that Stromboli is dead. Its 400 inhabitants retired in their homes. Restaurants and small shops that just few hours earlier comforted you, are all closed, only few wandering tourists left to occupy the abandoned, pitch black streets; Stromboli has no public illumination. So, the best way to get back to shore is to light the torch of your cellphone, otherwise the return to your dinghy may get trickier that you expected.

Antonio Leggieri – Images Luca di Ciaccio, Nanel, M Aquila, Lars Christensen 
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Garden State

Famed as a sandstone-clad Mecca of learning, Oxford has character, charm and leafy archways aplenty. Blending medieval intrigue with the buzz of a thoroughly modern city, Oxford has lent its hallowed name to a dictionary and bitter marmalade and inspired tales of worlds behind wardrobes and bottles that beg to be drunk. It can also boast a university that has educated over eight centuries of philosophers, author, archbishops, politicians, explorers, artists, mathematicians and scientists – many of whom have gone on to make a formidable mark on the world.

Brimming with cobbled alleyways, Venetian-inspired bridges, boats named after lost loves (and literary heroines) and buildings that have witnessed more history than you may think possible; Oxford is a city of whimsy, beauty and academic passion.

Visit wise, begin by staring lovingly at Radcliffe Camera (you’ll yearn to be a student, they’re the only ones who can actually go inside this this circular library). Then enter Christ’s Church College. This aristocratic building, known affectionately as ‘the House’, has bowler hat wearing porters and a dining room overlooked by Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carol) who once taught mathematics here. Catch evensong at 6pm at the college chapel, which is the city’s cathedral. It’s a truly magical experience that becomes more atmospheric as the winter months set in.

Get a little lost in the small yet enchanting Botanic Garden, the oldest in Britain. Found down the appropriately named Rose Lane, this stonewalled haunt offers peace and solitude against a vibrant floral and herb filled backdrop. Take a punt along the river and pass college gardens, the university meadows and the countryside beyond. If you’re feeling bold you can brave the waters yourself or hire a pro (well, student) to do the hard work for you. You can hire a punt from Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, Salter’s Steamers or at the Cherwell Boathouse.

Those with a penchant for indoor attractions are sure to fall for Modern Art Oxford. Opened in 1965, this gallery displays a wide range of contemporary visual arts and attracts a host of international visitors who take sartorial daring to the next level. Ashmolean Museum (the oldest public museum in Britain), Castle Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum, which is packed with a weird and wonderful assortment of knick-knacks from across the globe, are also worth a gander. Excelling on the art, outdoors, literary and history front, Oxford is so much more than a sleepy University town.

Liz Schaffer 
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Summer 2013: Guide to New York City

The High Line
Inspired by Paris’ Promenade plantée, the High Line park in the heart of the Meatpacking District of Manhattan continues to attract swarms of visitors — both tourists and locals — on a daily basis. Originally built in 1934 as a safe alternative to deliver meat, dairy, produce and other perishable goods into the city (the street-level railway tracks on 10th Avenue were killing too many pedestrians, earning the area the nickname “Death Avenue”), the railway fell out of use with the proliferation of delivery trucks once America’s interstate highways were established by the 1960s. The line was shut down in the 1980s and fell into disarray. It was nearly demolished under the iron-fist reign of Rudy Giuliani. The non-profit group Friends of The High Line fought to preserve the land and transform it into the national landmark that it is today.
The park extends from Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking District, all the way up to 30th Street in Chelsea. At certain points you’ll feel like you’re walking through someone’s backyard, when the walkway is directly at the height of fourth-story windows that line the parkway. Look left and you’ll see the Hudson. Look right and you’ll see Manhattan. The view of the city is bizarre and unparalleled. And it’s all free, baby.

Rockaway Beach
Forget Coney Island. Despite being ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, The Rockaways remain home to the finest stretch of beach the city has to offer. Despite having no boardwalk (the piers remain!) and the fact that much of the surrounding community remains half-fixed, boarded up and burned, beach culture is open and thriving, celebrating summer in the wake of unfathomable loss and personal tragedy. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the best surf this side of Montauk. And the food is amazing: Ripper’s, Caracas Arepas Bar, Lobster Joint. And Rockaway Taco. You have to try Rockaway Taco. Even if you hate New York. Even if you hate crowded beaches. Even if you hate fish and tacos, the fish taco at this little shanty is worth the pricey commute from Italy.

The Brooklyn Smorgasburg
If only humans could eat forever without exploding.The Brooklyn Smorgasburg is where food porn lovers come to fill their beautiful dark twisted fantasies after a night of drinking PBR and watching the sun from their friend’s friends’ Bushwick rooftop. There’s all kinds of food from over 80 purveyors in the New England region. Bring $20 cash and listen to your gut and you’ll be in heaven. Get donuts from Dough, fried fish from Handsome Hanks, homemade ice cream sammys from The Good Batch, smoky bbq from We Rub You, and… you get the point. Just go hungry. (For a full list of vendors, click here. The Brooklyn Smorgasburg runs Saturdays at the East River State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront and Sundays on the DUMBO waterfront. 11AM–7PM. Entry is free. Rain or shine.

Lane Koivu 
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Summer 2013: London Lunch in the Sun

In history-soaked, character-filled and eternally elegant London there is one rule. When the sun shines, you dine beneath it. So, to help take advantage of the English summer we’ve found five sun-bathed, gastronomic wonders that are sure to delight and deepen the tan.

Inn the Park
Found in St James’s Park, the oldest Royal Park in London, this elegant, calm and cozy haven offers up the most delectable peach and vanilla Bellini this side of Venice. Eco-friendly and architecturally fascinating (it seems to blend into its verdant surroundings), Inn the Park is part of the Peyton and Byrne restaurant group and is known for its innovative, seasonal dishes. Dedicated to showing off the finest British ingredients, meals are vibrant, artistically arranged and focus on individual flavours and textures. Just be sure to save room for dessert – the Eton mess will make you a fruity meringue convert.

The Jam Tree
If you’re after an authentic Chelsea gastro-pub experience (with a slightly spicy twist) make for The Jam Tree. Filled with miss-matched furniture, it rocks a ‘rule Britannia’ theme and not-so-secret garden. Leafy, blissful and filled with wooden furniture and locals keen to keep this hunt under wraps, hours pass here as you sip on their inventive collection of cocktails and dine on British fare with a Caribbean edge. Exotic yet oh-so London, this venue is cool, calm and sun ready.

Coq d’Argent
Perched high on a rooftop near Bank Station, Coq d’Argent offers a panoramic view of the City of London that’s sure to astound. This architecture filled vista (you can see all the way to the Shard) is accompanied by a delectable French-style menu and friendly staff who know their way around a wine list and help you feel, just a little, as if you’ve been transported to the opulence of Bordeaux – the indoor mahogany paneling and rich leather armchairs strengthen this inkling. The food is rich, flavoursome and lovingly prepared. Created from seasonable ingredients, lunch here is a contemporary culinary adventure.

The White Horse on Parson’s Green
When it comes to country-style pubs in the heart of London The White Horse on Parson’s Green excels. This chic yet inviting local haunt is packed year-round with post work visitors and flavor savvy diners. Drenched in sunlight in the summer months and elegantly warming in winter, dishes here are as English, hearty and fresh as they come. The pea soup is an absolute delight while the brownie and peanut butter ice cream dessert will leave you defeated yet feeling utterly blissful.

Maison Blanc
For something a little different grab a rug and basket and head north to Old-World Hampstead. Pay a visit to Maison Blanc, London’s French bakery specialist, and stock up on their colourful salads, sun-worthy smoothies, towering sandwiches and as many of their classic cakes and pastries as you can manage (be warned, these delectable creations are dangerously moreish). Then, armed with all the supplies you could possibly need, make for Hampstead Heath and indulge in a rather delicious continental picnic.

Happy summer dining – all you have to do now is to pray for a spot of London sun.

Liz Schaffer – images Liam Eldret, Leonard Bentley, Herry Lawford 
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Summer 2013: London’s Hidden Treasures

London is absolutely brimming with artistic and architectural wonders, green spaces that lift the soul, vintage haunts and museums aplenty. But it’s the lesser known delights that truly astound. So, to get you through the English summer, we’ve found five fab London treasures worth checking out.

The Wallace Collection

Found within a stunning, time forgotten stately home in Central London, The Wallace Collection is famed for being a repository of l’ancien regime at its most opulent. Here you can amble through expansive rooms, delightfully furnished halls and ponder the Rembrandts, Watteaus, Titians and Fragonards that line the walls. An art and armour filled haven, the Wallace Collection is also a fab foodie find – it has a roofed, sun-bathed courtyard where you can indulge in petal adorned cocktails and salads that let you believe summer continues all year round. Tranquil, a tad self-indulgent and, for now, a London secret.

Petersham Nurseries

Leave the city behind (sort of) and make for the verdant haven that is Richmond, one of the most picturesque, history-rich pockets of the capital. Here you’ll find the quaintly delightful Petersham Nurseries, set in the actual Victorian nurseries of Petersham House. There is an attached Michelin starred restaurant, housed within a greenhouse and boasting a dirt floor. As soon as you tire of the food or magical floral setting you can simply make for the surrounding Thames-side water meadows. London at its most bucolic.

Regent’s Canal

Built by a creative with no experience of Canal’s (London architect extraordinaire John Nash) and the idea of a gentleman deported to Australia for embezzlement, the Regent’s Canal is nothing short of a design feat. 22km long – the entire system stretches from Little Venice to the Olympic Park (via the Thames) – the Canal leads walkers and cyclist past changing London landscapes, Regent’s Park, the newly re-developed King’s Cross, water-hugging restaurants, galleries, bustling basins and secretive spots touched by history. Wander here and encounter an untouched, unexpected London.

Camden Passage Antiques Market

Everyone knows the vintage wares of Portobello Road and the retro finds of Spitalfields. But what most are yet to discover is Camden Passage Antiques Market – London’s real antiques treasure trove. Found in the north London area commonly referred to as The Angel (oh, the whimsy), this narrow pedestrian passage is filled with oversized jewels, delicate earrings, floral headpieces, and locals keen to chat about their wares and the world. With an array of characterful restaurants and boutiques leading onto the passage itself, this is the ideal spot to dream (and shop) away a Saturday.

Kensal Green Cemetery

One of London’s earliest (and smartest) cemeteries, this out-of-the-way north west landmark is quite often empty, yet never unnerving. Containing over 250,000 bodies in a jumbled assortment of poetic gravestones and gallery-esque monuments, this crammed, uneven graveyard is the final resting spot of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thackeray and Harold Pinter. To bask in the hidden rose garden in the summer sun or wander beneath chestnut trees on a winter afternoon is unexpectedly blissful.

So get out, get discovering and encounter the very best of lesser-known London.

Liz Schaffer – Images Kris Atomic, Stephanie Wolff, Garry Knight, Kotomi 
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Cosmopolitan Wonderland

Tel Aviv is not what you’d expect. Hugged by the Mediterranean, a hub of innovation and all about design, this city is as cosmopolitan as they come. And it’s Israel’s baby, founded in 1909 by 66 families keen to create something different. Filled with galleries, boutiques, boulevards and artistic architectural feats Tel Aviv is homely, cutting edge and sure to delight.

The city’s most iconic feature has to be its abundance of Bauhaus buildings – there are 4,000 to be exact, the highest concentration anywhere in the world. This prompted UNESCO to declare Tel Aviv a World Heritage Site (which is astounding given the city’s relative youth) and motivated it to adopt the name “The White City”, with white being a hue particularly adored by the Bauhaus school. To celebrate this honour, each year Tel Aviv celebrates ‘White Night’, an all-night event featuring lectures, silent discos, illuminated walks, outdoor concerts and bliss aplenty. You can appreciate the Bauhaus buildings at any time though by simply wandering down the leafy and prestigious Rothschild Boulevard.

Architecture lovers will also adore Bialik Street, a peaceful cul-de-sac that’s home to the Old Town Hall, now the city’s museum, and Bialik House, the restored historic residence of Israel’s national poet Chaim Bialik. The latter attraction is an air-conditioned, cultural haven within the Tel Aviv chaos.

If you’ve got a soft spot for 4000-year-old history, then make for the ancient port town of Jaffa, found at Tel Aviv’s southern edge. Pass a hazy afternoon bargaining at the eclectic flea market, investing in local produce purchased from farmers’ markets found within converted waterfront warehouses and getting completely lost in the iconic Artists’ Quarter – a maze of silversmiths, sculptors and painters hidden along cobbled alleys. The modern world feels a million miles away.

It’s a well-known fact that history and architecture lead to hunger, so it’s good to know that in Tel Aviv there’s no shortage of foodie haunts. When it comes to French pastries and Israeli iced coffee (ice chips and a shot of Italian-worthy coffee) Dallal bakery, which is packed with locals and bougainvillea, excels. Alternatively, the ultra elegant Alma Lounge offers a delectable degustation-style experience and feels a little like something left over from the Belle Epoch. Mirror-covered and all about intricate flavours, hours here slip away into a food-filled haze. Then there’s Olive Leaf, which offers up traditional fare with a nigh on incomparable view of the ocean. Or keep things chic and sweet by indulging in a full Israeli breakfast (it’s never too early for salad) at Eden House, where all things floral, vintage and somewhat English and embraced.

Simultaneously modern and ancient, architecturally stunning and food loving; Tel Aviv is fun, beach going and a true contemporary wonderland.

Liz Schaffer – Images from Alex Jilitsky, Jaime Silva, Jonas K, Vincen T, Copelaes, Fabcom. 
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Wild at Heart

You don’t need to venture to the Scottish Highlands to find something stunning. The Scottish Borders, a collection of fairy-harbouring groves, dry stone walls, stately homes, impossible sunsets and crumbled Neolithic stone huts, is a particularly magical pocket of the world.

It does feel like something that’s fallen from a fantasy novel. The only change this landscape has witnessed in the last few decades has been locals realising they can set sail on St Mary’s Loch (which proves that not all great bodies of water are restricted to Scotland’s north). To prove the fantasy point, if the weather gods and electrically charged solar particles are on your side you may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. A mecca for bike enthusiasts, hills walkers and foodies alike, this region will have you writing poetry, reaching for the water colours and brushing up on your British history. Which is absolutely everywhere. Even the roads, which were shepherd tracks made car (well, cart) worthy by French prisoners, come with a story.

On the literature front the Yarrow Valley, filled with signs warning you to watch out for ‘slow young lambs’, was made famous by Wordsworth while Sir Walter Scott used to stomp these grounds and exchange notes on poetry on life with local farmer James Hogg.

Then there’s the more dramatic history, after all, the Scottish Borders were the original wild west of the United Kingdom. The region’s Ettrick Forest was the hiding place of William Wallace while the infamous Reivers treated the entire region as their personal playground – their towers are still dotted amongst the tree line. Known to cross into England and take what they wanted, Reivers roamed these hills for close to 500 years, and are responsible for the term bereavement – which gives you a sense of what they were up to. Hard to imagine an area currently filled with gravity defying sheep, shaggy cows and deer could be so turbulent!

Nowadays the region is deliciously civilized and filled with local treasures, such as Eddleston’s The Horseshoe Inn. Frequented by Scotts after a foodie break and a comfy bed, this opulently inviting (not-so-out-of-the-way) hideaway is dedicated to keeping things small, friendly and elegantly quaint. Start up a conversation with any of the staff and you’re sure to expand your mind, whether you’re keen to learn more about the intricacies of Scottish gin or national history. The real stand out here is the food, which sums up what this area is all about: boldness, beauty and local flair. Suppliers deliver right to the door and are as local as they come with ingredients hailing from the organic Peelham farm at Foulden, Dryhope Estate in the Yarrow Valley and the Ettrick Valley Smokehouse. Essentially, game hails from the surrounding hills, Salmon is from the Tweed and honey comes from just down the road. An evening here is enough to justify a journey north.

Blissful, beautiful and seemingly forgotten by time, this land of history and contradictions remains delightfully wild at heart.

Liz Schaffer – Images Sylvia Duckworth, Richard Webb, Alastair G, Brian Holsclaw, Stuart Meek 
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Fresh Linguini With A Tuscan Breeze

What happens when four food loving friends spend a weekend in a beautiful countryhouse? We went to Tuscany, a few steps from the beach of Porto Ercole, the wonderful sea of the Argentario, in an area rich with vineyards, local delicacies and wine. In the garden of the house hosting us, right behind the pool, big ripe zucchini and squash flowers, tomatoes, fresh mint and basil were waiting for us. Thus was born the idea of a fresh, fragrant and delicious pasta accompanied by excellent white wine; squash flowers, crisp and delicate, embellished by fresh mint. To add a hint of saltiness to accompany the local hand-made egg pasta, we used dry-cured ham sliced by hand. This delicious dish is to be enjoyed in the silence of the countryside, accompanied by exceptional wine, fresh at the right point, saline and fruity.

Ingredients for 4 persons
400g fresh hand-made linguini

2 round zucchini

20 squash flowers
4 slices of Parma ham (aged for 24 months)

olive oil



fresh mint

Slice the zucchini coarsely and braise it in a large skillet with extra virgin olive oil, a lot of mint leaves, part of the ham and the squash flowers, cleaned and private of the base and the stalk. Meanwhile, boil water and cook the pasta for few minutes. Stir-fry the pasta with the dressing, add pepper and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan. Add on top of each plate a squash flower filled with ham and baked in the oven for 2 minutes in 200 degrees. Serve with fresh mint leaves and a drop of oil.

Stefano Tripodi 
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Red City Calm

The alternative city of love, Marrakech has infused the lyrics of Crosby, designs of Yves Saint Laurent and tales of Orwell. Found in North Africa, the Red City has hints of Europe and the Middle East and is populated by French and Arab speakers, which all helps to make it an intoxicating pocket of passion, verve and colour.

While the Marrakesh bustle is utterly captivating – hours lost in the ancient Medina’s souks are a noise filled delight – true Moroccan bliss is obtained when you escape the sound and discover something serene. So, while this is a spice-scented city where snake charmers and monkeys rule the square, peaceful escapes are surprisingly easy to uncover.

Your first traditional relaxation option is to opt for a hamam – an ancient ritual of scrubbing and polishing the skin, using Morocco’s famed black soap and an exfoliating mitt that means business. It’s ideally followed by a lengthy massage. This process takes place in an extremely warm room and is alarmingly intimate (they’ll scrub everywhere). But the sweltering bizarreness is precisely why it is so calming – the sheer alien liberation of it all.

If you’d rather keep your clothes on then brave the bustle of New Marrakech and bask in the brilliant blue and perfectly arranged floral, cacti and tortoise arrangements of the Majorelle Gardens. This twelve-acre garden and artist’s landscape was designed by French expatriate Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s and was famously owned by Yves Saint Laurent (who made the gardens his final resting place.) Tranquil and uplifting, here time slips away and everything, especially the ‘bleu Majorelle’, proves to be impossibly photogenic.

But the ultimate way to unwind and fall in love with all things Moroccan is to discovering the perfect riad – the calm within the exotic storm. The most boutique option of them all is Dar Les Cigognes. Admired by Yotam Ottolenghi and found in the shadow of the Royal Palace, this luxurious haunt began its life as the home of a wealthy merchant and is now filled with quiet corners, opulent rooms and oranges aplenty. While the cooking courses offered are exceptional – and a tad unconventional – the riad’s most idyllic feature is the roof terrace where the call to prayer washes over you and the scent of bougainvillea is everywhere.

Relaxed, indulged and ready to face the city’s craziness, it’s impossible to ignore Marrakech’s ability to rejuvenate and inspire.

Liz Schaffer – Photos Diego Ajassa 
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