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Just Back From...Lake Como, the founder of Shou Sugi Ban House on her favorite wellness retreats & health hacks on the road—and, finally, a good travel planning app!
I just realized that this is the one-year anniversary of Yolo Intel! Thank you for subscribing, asking such good questions, and for sharing our posts with people you think will like them, since word of mouth is how we grow! We have a bunch of ideas planned for Year 2—we’ll continue with our Bric-a-Bracs, Travel Planners, Black Books and, yes, podcasts are coming! But first, we’ll head into July with Postcards from some of our regular contributors so we can spend the summer vicariously traveling the world together, now that we can again!
JUST BACK FROM: Lake Como
Last week I spent two nights each in the oldest hotel on the lake, and the newest! I started at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, which I’d been to once before, but just in a lurker sort of way—we took some pictures, clocked it as a place we thought seemed very cool, and left. Recently, when Matt was putting together his Negroni book, a photo taken at the Serbelloni made it onto the Forward page. So when I was invited by them to come stay, I was thrilled, to say the least. If you’re reading this, you surely know how much I love an old-school grand hotel–and how much I mourn when they get too modernized in an attempt to create a better customer experience. The Serbelloni recently had some renovations, but not too many. Breakfast is served in the Grand Salone, perhaps the most ornate dining room I’ve been in, and filled with gorgeous Thonet dining chairs. Hallways are wide, rooms are actually soundproofed, the beds have silk cushions on them (made in Como), which are essentially leg and feet duvets…but most importantly, the property is directly on the lake–meaning your pool view is completely unobstructed. The hotel is celebrating its 150th birthday next year, along with the Villa d’Este, and it’s been in the same family for four generations.
Some Bellagio favorites: It’s a tough town for food. I’m not one for fancy meals in Italy, so we opted for dinner at La Goletta at the Serbelloni (they do have a Michelin-starred restaurant called Mistral, if that is up your street!) and had a delicious perch risotto (a Lake Como classic) and seafood pasta. We walked by Dispensa 63, which had a farm-to-table-ish vibe, but it was fully booked for dinner and I discovered it too late to work into our schedule for lunch. If we’d been there longer, I would have gone to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo just across the lake for drinks/dinner. Ditto for La Punta, which has a great view over the harbor, and is supposed to be good as long as you stick to the fish and pasta. As for shopping, I love the store Rafaella Galetti–she has a great selection of Aspesi, and across the way she has a shop that carries mostly Massimo Alba, a perfect spot to pick up a linen polo. While the town was packed with Americans–literally every voice I heard on the street, and many of them drinking Aperol spritzes in to-go cups–I still loved it. Many of the stores that seem to be tourist traps actually have been in the same families for generations, and they have the best signage! On the main drag, I picked up several long silk scarves–35 euros apiece–made in Como. Pescallo is a sleepy, charming little village just next to Bellagio and I bet it will be the prettiest 15 minute walk you’ve ever taken. It also has a little hotel/restaurant called La Pergola, which is a true gem of a find with no room more than 200 euros. (You’re welcome!)
From Bellagio, we headed to Moltrasio for the opening of Passalacqua, the latest project of Valentina de Santis, who with her family owns and runs the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and manages the Villa Sola Cabiati. While our friend (and Yolo contributor) Maria Shollenbarger had written about the Passalacqua in a feature for the FT’s “How to Spend It” Travel Issue, I hadn’t seen the article, and went into it blind. And I’m so glad I did: there is something about having no idea what you’re going into, and then literally having your breath taken away, that is so rare. Here is just a little taste of it: you arrive at the 18th-century villa—a tiered property going all the way down to the lake with gardens at every level—and are greeted with a beautiful bouquet, which then goes into a vase waiting in your room. It really doesn’t feel like a hotel per se—with just 24 rooms, there’s no huge dining room or lobby, more like someone’s grand home that you get to play house in. The rooms are, above all, warm and comfortable—yes, they are beautiful and filled with antiques and handcrafted pieces that Valentina’s family sourced from around Italy, but more than anything, they feel cozy and make you feel good inside. Many hotels that I love make me feel like I don’t belong—not this one.
Every single detail from Valentina is like a love note, and her generous spirit is so palpable: the notepad next to the bed inside a beautiful mustard-leather tasseled notebook made in Orvieto, the staff in brilliant uniforms designed by Giuliva Heritage, the Dyson hair products that are discreetly hidden in leather boxes in the bathroom. Plus the delicious nuts and dried fruit snacks, which are actually what you want to eat late afternoon, not some crappy Pringles (although I do love me some crappy Pringles, too). Coffee served in the room comes in the most beautiful silver pot. Beautiful pool area designed by La DoubleJ. I can go on and on, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise—it is a dream of a place to visit, and I hope you make it there someday.
SHARE CONTACT: The Origin App
I’m a tenacious researcher when it comes to planning family vacations, but once in a while—especially when stringing together multiple destinations—a trip breaks my head. Before we’d done our Greece Travel Planners here at Yolo, I was feeling defeated trying to plan how to bring my family from Crete, where we have a wedding in late June, to a couple of islands that would have something for beach-loving teens and culture-seeking adults to love, then finally to Athens…all during the busiest travel season in 20 years. The ferry schedules alone made me want to cry! So, when I got a pitch about the Origin app, which helps you plan a trip using both tech and human travel experts, I wanted to test it out.
Launched last year by a data scientist with a travel team overseen by Rick Lunt, who previously worked at Remote Lands, one of my favorite Asia travel specialists, the Origin app is available on the App Store (Android coming soon). All you do is create a profile and submit a request with your destination, itinerary, likes/dislikes and estimated budget. (It’s a $400 planning fee for a trip, or $3K/year for unlimited access.) A travel curator gets in touch immediately via the app’s chat function. I told Dean, Origin’s Greece guy, that we wanted good food and traditional culture, beautiful beaches and a cute town or two, and also some fun nightlife for my 3 teen/twenties kids. Dean pinged me hours later with an easy-to-scroll itinerary that integrated ferry schedules with all of our requests in a trip starting in Crete (including a visit to the Knossos Palace with a Greek history professor), then on to Santorini via high-speed ferry (where the teens could have their fun and I could explore the island’s quiet side), Paros with its beautiful beaches and a base in charming Naoussa, and then Sifnos, with visits with small villages with ceramics and foraging experts, before ending on the Athenian Riviera. We refined it some more in a phone call and texts—the whole process was super easy and Dean had very imaginative suggestions. Though I didn’t wind up booking the whole trip (as media, I was able to test the service for free), I definitely would have if my budget for 5 were a little more flexible. Although Origin doesn’t reveal their commissions, Lunt says, “clients are never going to pay more than if they go to a hotel directly.” And bonus: booking with Origin this summer means automatic VIP greeting on landing at the airplane door and a short-cut through customs during what’s stacking up to be the Summer of Lines. —Alex Postman
Amy Cherry-Abitbol, Co-Founder & CEO, Shou Sugi Ban House
I stayed at Shou Sugi Ban House in the Hamptons with my daughter, Clara, soon after it opened a couple of years back. We loved how the day was so filled up with activities like sound baths, beach walks, and yoga. Plus the (mostly) vegan food, by Noma’s chef Mads Refslund, was insanely good. Last year, they opened the Shou Sugi Ban Inn next door, which lets you access the spa facilities. And this summer they are doubling the size of their spa and adding a more science-based wellness and anti aging program, Shou Sugi Ban Lab. We wanted to ask Amy, who spent years in Japan, for her wellness travel tips.
Tell us about you and your property.
Shou Sugi Ban House opened in May 2019 and is located on three acres in Water Mill, a hamlet of Southampton on the East End of Long Island. The property consists of both renovated antique barns and modern flat-roof structures combining the local architectural vernaculars. The main property includes 13 guest studios along with a luxury spa. Our physical structure as well as our namesake refer to the meditative process of Shou Sugi Ban, an ancient Japanese technique that preserves wood by charring it, which ends in a final product that is not only beautiful, but also resilient. Since opening, we have expanded to over six acres, including two residences for short term rentals, and an intimate bed-and-breakfast for overnight stays. We are also in the process of expanding our spa to double its current size for this summer.
The spaces and philosophy of Shou Sugi Ban House are inspired by the Japanese principles of wabi-sabi, specifically an appreciation for the beauty and healing properties of the natural world and an acceptance of imperfection. We offer comprehensive wellness retreats as well as customized stays, which can include meditation, movement, nutrition, skin care, bodywork, and healing arts treatments.
Our mission is to offer wellness programs that incorporate practices based on traditional healing arts, as well as current science and technologies. This season we will be introducing Shou Sugi Ban Lab, which will offer life-enhancing therapies for longevity, performance optimization, and rejuvenation through the use of the latest technology and science. Examples of these would be cryotherapy, red light therapy, infrared sauna, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field (PEMF) therapy
How did you get started down a wellness path?
Wellness has always been a part of my life, though career-wise I come from outside the wellness industry, I believe that I bring a fresh perspective guided by my own intuition to do what feels right. I’m most interested in the integration of wellness, nutrition, longevity science, and global healing modalities, along with my appreciation for design and sustainability, bringing them all together in a unique way.
Where in the world do you feel most at home?
I grew up along the New England coast where I developed an appreciation for the water and nature. I feel most at home in the Hamptons. I love the uncrowded beaches here, as well as the farmland, and most of all the light that reflects across the ocean and land.
I also spent several years working in Japan, where my parents had lived and where my sons were born. I still feel a great affinity for the country, culture, and aesthetics which are infused throughout the design and philosophy of Shou Sugi Ban House with its emphasis on minimalism and simplicity.
Where do you go to feel revitalized?
I periodically go on wellness retreats. My recent favorites are the “Alchemy of Clarity” retreat in the mountains of central Portugal, where one of my team members hosted a plant medicine program. I also experienced two retreats in Costa Rica: “The Retreat,” which specializes in Ayurvedic therapies, and a program for energy work at Hacienda AltaGracia which also offers wonderful wilderness excursions.
Last fall, I attended “40 Years of Zen,” a program for brain-mapping and neurofeedback.
What are a few other favorite spiritual/wellness destinations and why?
A few of my favorites would include…
COMO Shambala at COMO Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos for its spectacular private setting on a pristine beach, healthy food, and excellent spa practitioners.
Villa La Coste in Aix en Provence, France, which is set on expansive grounds enveloped by sculpture gardens, and also includes an amazing spa.
Amanera in the Dominican Republic, for its impressive modern architecture teetering on a cliff and beautifully appointed casitas.
Also, Six Senses Douro Valley set amidst the Porto wine vineyards for its wellness offerings, culinary program and spa as well as the magical setting.
How do you approach staying healthy and relaxed when you travel by plane?
I dress comfortably for the flight, typically in a Live The Process sweatsuit and ON Sneakers to easily slip on and off, and constantly apply face and body moisturizers to keep my skin hydrated. I avoid coffee, keep alcohol to a minimum, and supplement with magnesium. I’ve recently started packing I-Pekar’s Balancing Drop, which is a calming, organic full-spectrum CBD tincture in a roll-on.
Any strategies for dealing with jet lag?
Given that our circadian rhythm is influenced by light exposure, I’ve found that wearing TrueDark glasses really lessens the effects of jet lag and can support natural melatonin production, allowing me to sleep better in-flight.
I also take a melatonin supplement to help me to sleep better. I like Goop’s Knock-Me-Out chews, which have a blend of melatonin, L-tryptophan, and vitamin B6; and, GEM’s Sleep Essentials, which combines melatonin with valerian root, l-theanine, magnesium, GABA and other nutrients.
Favorite revitalizing health drink/tonic?
I drink ceremonial grade, organic matcha every morning, specifically Nekohama PINNACLE matcha, which is made exclusively for Shou Sugi Ban House and is coincidentally harvested in Kyushu, Japan, where my parents lived. I stopped drinking coffee long ago, so throughout the day, I drink the herbal teas that we offer, my favorite being the Azul tea, which Nini Ordoubadi of Tay Teas prepares for us in upstate New York.
Do you have any rituals you use while on a trip to reset and ground yourself in a new place?
I often visit the spa straight away for massage or lymphatic drainage and walk a lot!
What are a few things you always pack for your beauty/wellness routine?
I pack a ridiculous amount of beauty products and supplements! I have DMAE, retinol, and peptides compounded by a pharmacy, along with NAD, and products from Renew by Science.
I also bring a few face and body care products from Biologique Recherche, Environ, and Faith, which we use in our spa.
Finally, I bring my cocktail of longevity supplements, including Resveratrol, NMN and Metformin along with a slew of vitamins.
Where are you dreaming of going next and why?
I had planned to go to a new property, Lanserhof Sylt, located on a northern island in Germany in May for its opening week, but will now be going later in the summer as it’s been delayed. The setting is spectacular, and the architecture is some of the most amazing I have seen! It is a medical spa offering all the cutting-edge medical and wellness therapies for cleansing and optimal health.
I’m also planning a trip to Paradero Todos Santos in Mexico to experience in person its mimimalist, brutalist architecture, which I love.
Finally, I am eager to check out Nayara Alto Atacama in the Atacama Desert of Chile, next to the Andes, particularly for hiking and exploration of the dunes, canyons, and volcanos.