An amazing hotel discovery in Sicily that's almost too good to share, the guy to design your Norwegian fjord adventure and the ultimate California salad
I’m writing from Monte Argentario, Tuscany—our dear friends Cristina and Lee rented a house here and invited a group of friends to come for a week. On our first night, Cristina posed a question to all of us—it was a way to get to know each other better, and to focus our conversation. For those of us who already knew each other well, it was a rare opportunity to go in reverse, since there is always so much to talk about in the present.
She asked us to share something about our fathers. It turned out that everyone except me at the table had lost their father, so besides hearing their stories (being embarrassed by our dads when we were teens was a common refrain), it was a way to celebrate them and have them with us. The next night we all agreed we wanted another question, so I asked the table to talk about the trip that had changed their life. It’s a group with a range of ages and experiences who’ve been lucky to have seen many places, and the answers boiled down in various ways to trips that had forged deeper connections. One new couple in the group had just made a 12-hour road trip here from Vienna after a canceled flight, where they alternated listening to the other’s favorite podcasts and really learned about each other, their work and their interests—and they both said that this drive had been their favorite part of their month-long journey (which up to that point had included hiking in Alto Adige, visiting Palladian villas, the Venice Biennale, and a modernism tour in Vienna). Another recounted his childhood growing up in a Boston tenement raised by his Greek grandma, who pretended they were in Crete every morning by creating vivid scenes for him in the hallway about the landscape and the people, made all the more special when he finally made it to Crete as a young man and recognized all the places she had told him about. The stories of everyone’s favorite trips all had the same thread—it wasn’t about being at the “right hotel” or a destination like Antarctica or Machu Picchu that has bragging rights. Of course, those places are incredibly memorable, but it was so comforting to hear this group of 12 talk about their most impactful trips, and not one of them involved spending large amounts of money or scoring an entry to the most exclusive places.
I hope you have a wonderful, meaningful summer making great memories—and that you don’t waste a second of time beating yourself up if you didn’t get into the hotel or rental or retreat you wished you could have. Instagram is great for many things, but I worry about how it makes people feel like there is only one place to be. Here in Italy, Il Pellicano has become that place, and while I love it so much, there are only so many rooms and so many summer nights. The world is a big place and there are lots of gems all over! To that end, I found a great place in Sicily that I’m going to share below the Navigator section. I’ve never put content behind a paywall in a Bric-a-Brac, but because this hotel is quite small, with only 50-ish rooms, I am making this info available at the bottom of this post just to paying members—if only to keep it a quasi-secret a little longer.
THE VALLEY’S HIPPIE SALAD
I spend a lot of time in Napa, and one of my favorite spots is Valley in the town of Sonoma. The owner, Emma Lipp, who worked at one of my other favorite restaurants, Estela, has great taste—and makes such good ingredient-led, simple dishes. Exactly what you want to eat, especially on warm days. On a recent trip I ordered the Hippie Salad, which was so good I asked Emma to share the recipe with me!
“The Hippie Salad is a considered version of the ultimate salad bar salad, the fantasy come to life of getting to choose from your dream cold case with abandon. You can make it as ‘loaded’ as you desire. We always aim to maintain balance with the elements—crunchy, fresh, fermented and herbaceous. The base is a lettuce mix, kept cold and crisp. We dress the greens with our Green Goddess vinaigrette. To dress, put a stretched out palm full of lettuces per person into a large mixing bowl, and add 2-3 TB per serving (depending on the greens) of Green Goddess Vinaigrette, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Give them a nice toss (preferably with your fingers). You want the greens well dressed, coated and glistening. While they should not be weighed down, they should be assertively flavored. Taste the greens in the bowl—do they need a pinch more salt? A little more dressing? A small drizzle more of olive oil to get the dressing to emulsify better on the leaves? Did you overdo it and need to add a bit more lettuce? Pay attention. They are not properly dressed until they taste utterly delicious. Then, plate up and garnish accordingly.
We plate into a beautiful bowl, because eating salad is a glorious act—treat it and yourself accordingly! We dot in pickles or crudité—sliced cucumber, radish, or slivered fennel stalks currently, but this changes with the seasons. We top the lettuces with a blend of toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sunflower sprouts and sauerkraut—we use a turmeric kraut with golden beets and carrots that our friend Sam of Golden State Pickles makes.”
VALLEY GREEN GODDESS VINAIGRETTE
The Goddess consists of three parts, more or less equal in volume. This is a method, versus a true recipe, and is scalable, customizable and amenable to what you have to work with and how much you want to make. Mix the three parts together in a bowl or crock with a whisk until they are well integrated. Taste and adjust to your liking!
1) A creamy, rich base to flavor. We use whipped tahini, which we make by blending the highest quality tahini (we use Soon) with water in a Vitamix. You can also use yogurt, any acidified dairy, or mayonnaise in place of the tahini.
2) The Green Goddess flavor base. Blend soft herbs and herb stems, tender greens like arugula, and alliums of your liking with salt (and/or salt sources like capers or Bragg’s aminos) and acid from vinegar, pickle brine and/or lemon juice. We keep our salad vegan, but you don’t have to (hello Worcestershire or fish sauce).
3) Olive oil
Knut Flakk, 62°NORD
Several years back, I was invited by some friends to come to Norway with them, as they were working on a collaboration with Devold, a Norwegian wool company that you would probably recognize for their classic Norwegian fishermen's sweaters. After visiting the factory and the town of Ålesund, we did a road and boat-trip combo through the fjords and the countryside, staying at some really special hotels. The whole trip was coordinated by 62° Nord, and I’m so happy we get to hear from the founder, who started this experiential travel company with three hotels—the forested Storfjord Hotel, Hotel Brosundet in the old town of Ålesund, and the elegant 19th century Hotel Union Øye—They also design cycling, rafting, and other adventures through the fjords and storybook villages of Norway’s Sunnmøre region. Exactly the way we want to be escaping the heat right now!
How would you characterize your approach to hospitality and travel—what is the sweet spot of your expertise?
Hospitality and travel are very personal to me and my family! We have been traveling the world, but our roots are here at Sunnmøre on the Northwest Coast of Norway, at 62°NORD. With deep local knowledge, we have been able to create authentic and memorable guest experiences rooted in the heritage and natural beauty of the area.
What was the trajectory that started you down this path?
Twenty years ago, we had to close down our wool mill due to rising labor costs and move production to Lithuania. A long overdue and necessary decision made with a heavy heart, seeing 150 years of textile history come to an end and people losing their jobs. So, what could we do to create new jobs that was sustainable in the long run? The answer was obvious: establish 62°NORD and take advantage of the unique scenery and nature in our region—the fjords, the alpine mountains and the rugged coastline. Something China and other low-cost countries never could copy.
What was the trip that most changed your life?
There have been so many so it is hard to choose, but the first road trip with my wife to be in a Mercedes Cabriolet to Salzburg and Vienna certainly ranks among the highest.
Underrated location, overrated location, personal favorite, new discovery?
Underrated: Sunnmøre, Norway at 62°NORD
Overrated: Las Vegas
Personal favorite: Blackberry Farm in Tennessee
New discovery: Spitsbergen
Favorite hotel in the world?
Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda
Favorite hotel bar?
The Blue Bar (at the Berkeley in London)
The meal from a trip you dream about most?
The Tiger beef at Costes in Paris is smashing!
A destination you go back to again and again?
Skibo Castle in Dornoch, Scotland, is our heaven on Earth
Your hometown favorites?
Apotekergata No. 5 in Alesund is the best restaurant in town
Travel North - South, rather than East - West…
What excites you most about travel right now?
The sheer joy of being able to travel again after two years of lock-down!
What is the one thing you wish we could be better at as travelers?
We need to become much more conscious and respectful about the places we visit.