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Tuscan Town Triple: Numero Uno – Campiglia Marittima

One mention of Tuscany brings to mind meandering cypress-fringed roads winding their way through fields of sunflowers and olive trees; it is synonymous with old shuttered farm houses and vineyards carefully tendered in perfectly straight rows; and it recalls the typical Tuscan village, all built from crumbling beige stone, with a cosy central piazza and at least one church and campanile ringing out the hour. And these visions of a bucolic paradise are not merely the things of dreams. On my recent weekend in Tuscany, I was lucky enough to ride along the meandering cypress-lined roads, walk amongst vineyards and visit not one, not two, but three stunning little Tuscan towns, all three of which demand a photo essay all of their own. 

In this first, I introduce you to Campiglia Marittima, a hill top citadel just inland from San Vincenzo on the Tuscan coast, benefitting with views not just of wide Tuscan planes, but also of the coast towards Piombino and beyond the island of Elba. 

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This was my first trip to the town, and in it I found the very typique of a Tuscan settlement. Little squares on whose benches the elderly locals lingered chatting in the shadows; consistently charming houses, all built with stone and with windows shuttered in either green or blue, small little cafes creating a bustle in the central square, gently undulating cobbled streets and stairways leading up and down the steep hillsides on which the town is clustered. For photography the town was a gem of a model. Each street offered a multiple overlap of charming features – a distant hillside, an iron street lamp in front; either side quaint window shutters and in the foreground plants and multicoloured flowers grown in every shape and size of pan, can or pot. 

Campiglia Marittima is the very epitome of Tuscan charm, but in the great chocolate box of Tuscany’s multiple offerings, this was a sweet caramel delight in a box of plenty. Come back tomorrow for another of Tuscany’s idylls. 

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Early one Tuscan September Morning

As the summer slips away, I tighten my grip. The onset of autumn is charming in its way, but forewarns of bleak dark mornings accompanying each working day, whole swathes of time when you never see your home in daylight, chilly winds whistling through deserted streets, and evenings stagnating inside before a television with the prospect of much needed fresh but frozen air too perilous to consider venturing out into. 

Of course the Mediterranean is not quite there yet. In Palma de Mallorca, the leaves on its elegant long art nouveau streets are slowly turning golden; even in Marbella, land of the sunshine, the pavements are a little more littered than normal with leaves. But in Italy’s Tuscany, the abundant fluffy pine trees have not changed their cloud like shape or their rich verdant green, the sun still shines a rosy glow upon large expanses of golden sand, the sea has to its waters a delectable warmth, and in the many vineyards the vines are hanging full to bursting point with sweet plump grapes ready for harvesting any day. 

So when I had the opportunity last weekend to make a quick visit to my partner’s family living in the heart of wine-producing Tuscany, I was not about to say no. On Friday night we rushed away from work, boarding a two hour flight and arriving under the cover of darkness. Even then the clarity of the air and the audible swish of the sea told of a summer revisited. But it was the next morning when, waking up to the pastel-soft light of day, that we were able to fully appreciate this reconnaissance with the summer. 

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Outside our window, the most spectacular views of wide almost deserted beach greeted us. The sun, whose passage through the sky had only just begun, cast long peach-tinged rays across the freshly raked bronze-coloured sand, while beyond the beach, the sumptuous pine tree forests that make this town of Donoratico so famous, were clipped with sunshine as though sprinkled with glitter. Meanwhile before us the sea was almost like a mirror, so still, gliding into shore like a glamorous aristocrat of yeah 1920s, ambling into shore for the sake of glamour alone, no rush or fever, just languid self-contentment. 

Despite being one floor from the top of our hotel, we ventured up to the hotel’s roof terrace where the throwback 80s style furnishings had me feeling nostalgic in an entirely different sense. And so with the early soft sun upon it, that terrace caused me equal fascination to the sea and forest views below, and is, accordingly, as much a part of this photo essay as the beach which enveloped us in dreams of the summer that September morning.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Es Baluard: A fine way to enjoy lunch

While Northern Europe starts to edge ever so slowly towards the onset of Autumn, with leaves starting to litter the streets, and the mornings and evenings already getting darker, down in the fine sheltered waters of the Mediterranean, it’s still very much the height of summer, and in fact for some places, the temperatures in September are even exceeding what was enjoyed in July and August. Mallorca, prime island of the Balearics, is chief amongst those places enjoying an extended summer, and when I ventured out there only a week ago, the temperatures were roasting. They were so hot in fact that our many plans to stroll around the thriving Metropolis of the island’s capital, Palma, and its wide expansive port were quickly ditched in favour of the cooler options. And as cool goes, it doesn’t get much better than Es Baluard.

Es Baluard is in fact a superb contemporary art museum set within the Sant Pere bastion, part of the Renaissance wall that surrounded the city of Palma until the beginning of the 20th Century. Perhaps because of its outer stone casing, or perhaps because of the chic concrete and glass renovation masterfully fitted within these old ramparts ten years ago, Es Baluard is certainly a chillier hangout, with comfortable inside temperatures which leave you decisively less flustered, leaving you with energy to browse the excellent permanent collection which includes only the Spanish greats, such as Miro and Picasso. 

Es Baluard and its surroundings

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But when the sun is hot, but you still want to benefit from the ultimate in views of Palma’s extensive waterfront, from Bellver Castle across to the city’s magnificent cathedral, you need to head to the super chic café-restaurant attached to the Southern-most wall of the Es Baluard complex. With a broad terrace criss-crossed with shade from a line of well-appointed shade sales, you can choose to lounge out adjacent to those winning views in comfy basket chairs, a cocktail or a cup of tea in hand. Meanwhile, next in line, a cluster of simple wooden dining tables mark the more formal dining spot, with perfectly polished wine glasses glinting in the sun, and contemporary white seating reflecting the style and period of art residing in the building next door. Finally behind these tables, there’s a separate dining area, all encased in a glass cube containing further tables and a little sofa runner packed with cushions showcasing the best in handmade Mallorcan fabrics.

Es Baluard’s well-appointed terrace restaurant

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It’s not my intention in this photo essay to talk to you about the food, but rather the extol the virtues of the location and design of this great Mallorcan eatery. However, rest assured that the food is every bit as good as the restaurant’s design, and their trendy lounge soundtrack a perfect accompaniment as you chill besides the seaside. Thinking that I have now extolled those virtues enough, I think it’s time to sign off and let you enjoy the photos. Until next time.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The East London Printmakers Annual Show: You’re Invited

My summer has been so incredibly hectic, full of travels, work and multiple new artistic creations that I have barely had time to promote the fact that several of my print works are about to feature in the East London Printmakers (ELP) Annual group Exhibition at the Embassy Tea Gallery in London Bridge over the next two weeks! And in fact it’s very much a case of better late than never, because the show will open this very night, with an exclusive guest appearance and official opening by none other than British abstract expressionist, Albert Irvin RA.

Amongst 70 artists exhibiting works created over the last year and aptly showcasing the versatility of printmaking as a medium will be none other than yours truly – me! Yes, this show will represent my first significant outing into the exhibiting circuit since my near sell-out show at the Strand Gallery in May, and I am particularly excited to be showing two brand new prints. The works, both of which were inspired by summer travels in Spain and Croatia respectively, mark something of an innovative departure for me. Having learned both the techniques of etching and woodcut, with these prints, I decided to combine the two things, thus taking the mediums in new directions, and printing on a totally different scale.

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The first of the two prints, Malaga Poolside, shows a heady day when my partner and I sunbathed and swam on the incredible rooftop of the Molina Lario Hotel in Malaga. We couldn’t quite believe that up on that hotel terrace, we were able to swim with the stunning surroudings of Malaga’s one-armed cathedral just besides us, and this print attempts to capture that incredible view in a simple black and white etched line drawing, contrasting with the vivacity of the turquoise swimming pool which is almost Hockneyian in nature.

Malaga Poolside (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, etching and woodblock on paper)

Malaga Poolside (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, etching and woodblock on paper)

The second of my prints is entitled Terracotta Sunrise, and illustrates the swathe of terracotta rooftops which so captivated me when I visited Dubrovnik earlier this year. While I opted again for a simple line to illustrate the details of the compact houses and streets of this beautiful Croatian city, I wanted to use a graduating block of terracotta to subtly represent the overarching colour of the city when seen from afar, doing so with a graduating roll of colour which fades off almost like a sunrise.

Terracotta Sunrise (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, etching and woodblock on paper)

Terracotta Sunrise (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, etching and woodblock on paper)

But of course these are only photos (and not very good ones at that) and there is no substitute for seeing the real thing. So if you are able to get down to the Southawk/ London Bridge area of London tonight (for the opening) or any time over the next two weeks, do please come along – the gallery will be open until 6pm daily until 28th September. All the details can be found here. See you there.

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Transforming the Gothic – colour sensation in the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca

Some of architecture’s most stunning successes can be found in religious buildings. The eternal repetition of the forest of pink and white marble pillars in Cordoba’s La Mesquita is one of the most enthralling sights of the ancient Islamic world, while at the centre of the Catholic world, the sheer scale and magnificence of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican makes it clear to all who come close that this place is the all powerful centre of Christianity. In Roman times, religion was the instigator of some of the most brilliant of all architectural creations, such as the ground-breaking single expanse dome of the ancient Pantheon temple in Rome, while in more modern times, it has inspired some of the most jaw-dropping creations ever made by man, such as the stunning realisation of a creative genius: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Nevertheless, when you think about the religious treasures of the world, you will find that proportionately few of them are gothic. The reason for this is  clear:  the gothic style is largely synonymous with austerity, with its soaring naves and high-winged buttresses leading to vast expanses of cold space; gothic churches are more often places of fear, with their grim faced gargoyles and sinister dark angels, and even Paris’s Notre Dame, surely one of the most famous examples of gothic architecture, is better associated with the haunting tale of a hunchback living within the cathedral’s inhospitable bell towers than with any illusion that the church is in any aesthetic sense a thing of beauty. Yet while this idea of the gothic has long lingered in my mind, all of my pre-held conceptions about gothic architecture were challenged last weekend when in Palma de Mallorca, capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands, I realised just how stunning the gothic can be.

La Seu’s imposing gothic exterior

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Palma’s Cathedral, known locally as La Seu, is indeed a masterpiece of the catholic gothic style. Completed in 1601, it is a soaring vast temple to christianity, with a dominant position over the waterfront of Palma, and comprising the 7th highest nave in the world. But what makes this palace of gothic architecture different from all of the other churches of the genre, enabling it to dispel the associations of dark, dank solemnity which is inherent in the gothic style, is colour. Pure, dazzling, multi-coloured samplings from every stretch of the rainbow. For in Palma’s Cathedral, there is not a single clear pane of glass. Rather, its many windows are fitted with coloured stained glass so rich in its vivacity and complexity, that when the sun shines on the outside of the cathedral (which it invariably does in Mallorca), the result on the inside is to fill every gothic stone and structure, ever eave and buttress, every flag stone and pew with the most dazzling multi-coloured light.

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The effect is astounding, and dispels every known stereotype about gothic architecture, which is utterly transformed under the warming dazzle of a hundred shades of multi-coloured light. At times, when you are looking directly into the light as it shines through one of the cathedral’s impressive stained glass windows, a moment of epiphany overcomes you, as everywhere you look you see shards of colour bouncing across the vast space. If that was the intention of the architects, it is an objective universally achieved, so that you leave the cathedral if not religiously converted then certainly spiritually touched.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Prague (Part 6): Photoblog Epilogue

My closing photographic miscellany of my series of Prague posts is all about variety. From crunchy caramelised pretzels, hung out on cafe table to further tempt diners, and a troop of soldiers, dressed up in baby blue, to spooky looking decapitated dolls and a stack of dusty old film reels on a staircase in the Golden Lane, this is a selection of photos that bear no common thread other than the fact that they are some of the smaller little details that can be found in the capital of the Czech Republic.

Amongst the shots on show are what have become something of a staple in my photographic oeuvre: street lamps aplenty and reflections in glass; fancy ironwork and keyholes, and shadows cast onto a sunny wall. But here too are some of the more typical views which a tourist may seek to capture on their handheld: the unbroken expanse of the grand Wenceslas Square and the astronomical clock set upon the face of the old town hall tower, its moving apostles and little model bell-tollers delighting tourists on the hour, every hour.

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And so with this post, I bid my farewell to Prague. My experience of the city was not always great – the feeling that I was more of a nuisance to locals than a welcome guest always pervaded my experience leaving me slightly on edge and unable to enjoy the city to the full. But there’s no denying the rich historical beauty which the city exudes from its every glamourous feature and facade, and for that alone, it’s worth the trip.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Prague (Part 5): City of a Thousand Spires

They call Prague the city of a thousand spires, and while I’m sure that a thousand may be a slight exaggeration, it’s probably not too far from the truth. For Prague’s skyline is like a venerable jewellery box of glinting treasures: tall spires, small spires, fat spires and ornate spires; cupolas embellished in gold, and turrets laced with ornate iron work. Some are grey and others the warm terracotta which populates most of Prague’s rooftops; but perhaps the most common are those copper spires, whose metal has turned a pleasing shade of aquamarine. Set amongst this sea of variously shaped ornaments are the baroque treasures which yesterday’s post explored; and so in any one square metre of the city, you may have a delicious overlap of a dome, several spires, gold details, copper coloured tiles, a blackened statue, and a slightly cleaner one – in other words a feast for the eyes.

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It is in an attempt to serve that banquet of architectural delicacies up into manageable bite-size pieces that I devote a whole post on today’s Daily Norm to the seductive skyline ofPrague. For while the city at ground level, with its tourist hoards and stag parties may do your head in, keep on looking up and you may well find that Prague fairytale that all the guidebooks have promised you.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Prague (Part 4): Baroque Brilliance and a Stained Glass Symphony

Having spent my first day in Prague thoroughly put out at the bad customer service, the horrendous gangs of British stag parties cluttering up the best squares and cafes, and the poor state into which the city has so often been left to decline, I started my second day afresh, determined to focus on the beauty for which the city is otherwise famed. For you don’t need to look far beyond the tourist hoards and the badly serviced cafés to find what everyone is making all the fuss about: a city filled with beautiful bubbling baroque sculptures, elegant architectural amplifications, pastel coloured building facades and a skyline littered with turrets and cupolas of every shape and size.

While last week’s photo post concentrated on the art nouveau which replaced vast swathes of the “new” town and Jewish Quarter at the turn of the 20th century, today’s turns more to the predominant feature of the city – the endlessly extravagant, unapologetically dramatic artistic showpiece that is the Baroque.

And it is everywhere. Perhaps the most famous sight of the city’s baroque virtuosity is the Charles Bridge. This pedestrianised bridge harks from the 14th century, and is a mecca for tourists and street musicians, artists and souvenir sellers; and there is little surprise why that may be. For on each of its 30 pillars stands a statue so superbly executed in the baroque fashion that it is more than rival for the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome, whose Bernini sculptures this collection was intended to emulate. With depictions ranging from the patron saint of the city, St Wenceslas, to a 17th century crucifixion adorned by hebrew words forcibly paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy, the bridge is an art gallery to some of history’s best sculpture. It’s just a shame they are all too filthy to be properly appreciated. Yet two of the sculptures in particular are in need of less cleaning, so polished are they by the hands of tourists who touch them repeatedly in the hope of the luck they may bring.

The Charles Bridge

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We resisted touching the sculptures – the queues to do so would have taken up half the day after all, and instead crossed over the bridge to the area of Prague they call “the Little Quarter”. The Little Quarter (Mala Strana) is indeed quite little in terms of scale compared with the grander “new town” across the Charles Bridge with its multi-storey classical faces and gilded theatres and boulevards. Here, the streets are all together more charming, with shorter pastel coloured buildings, cobbles and even little canals which separate the mainland from the little Kampa Island. There in turn are little relaxed gardens from which views of the city can be caught from shady benches, and beyond those, small cobbled squares are gently decaying as their paint flakes away and the whole place feels laid back and somniferous.

But amongst those small streets is one building which certainly does not match the title “Little”. For with its imposing great dome and matching campanile, the Church of St Nicholas is no shrinking violet. Rather, it is the next stop on the tour of baroque jems, for as the baroque goes, it doesn’t get much more extravagant that this church. Built by father and son architects Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, Prague’s greatest exponents of the High Baroque, the church is filled with an outlandishly extravagant array of excessive decoration, with gold capitals, marble pillars, great towering statues of popes and bishops, and cherubs everywhere you look filling the space. Although amusingly enough, scratch beneath the surface of all this opulence and you notice that much of it is mere theatre: the marble pillars are actually painted plaster; the gilded details simply painted gold. But then wasn’t the baroque all about the first stunning moment of theatre, when your breath is audibly taken away by the magnificence of the scene created?

The baroque spectacle of St Nicholas’ Church

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And talking of theatre, we couldn’t help noticing the latest Chinese craze of wedding couples getting married in China and then travelling to Europe to photograph themselves in full wedding regalia in front of some of Europe’s most famous monuments. We saw this couple all over prague – wherever we went, so did they, and their camera, their photographer and their make-up team…

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As the day went on, we felt ourselves becoming steadily baroque-saturated, and as the sun made its daily passage across the skies, it was to Prague Castle where we ascended, the great complex of royal palaces and the city’s main cathedral, St Vitus, and it was there where we laid witness to what must be one of the city’s greatest artistic treasures of all – its stained glass windows. When you walk into St Vitus (having queued like us for almost an hour to get tickets from the ridiculously inefficient ticket desk), you are almost overcome by the coloured light that fills the place. For in each of the cathedral’s large windows is stained glass in a panoply of colours, and depicting scenes of stunning detail which is just brought alive by the light shining through it, projecting the image like in a cinema across the imposing stone interior.

Stained glass symphony

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My favourite of all the windows has to be that designed by famous Czech art nouveau artist Mucha towards the end of his life, and many of the photos here feature that brilliant design. But here too are a selection of the other windows, both old and new, all exhibiting a kaleidoscope of colour which was incredible to behold. But just in case we had forgotten it, the trusty Baroque made sure that it had its day inside the cathedral as well, as these photos of the sensational royal mausoleum of Ferdinand I, and the opulent tomb of St John Nepomok aptly demonstrate.

Mucha’s window

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St Vitus’ baroque

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Naturaleza Muerta

Despite many years of painting, drawing and (most recently) printmaking, and just as much time treading the boards of art galleries around Europe, I have been guilty of a great crime: I forgot all about still lifes. Subconsciously I have somehow discounted them, despite knowing them to be a great staple of art history and art collections around the world, and having enjoyed still life masterpieces such as Cezanne’s various compositions of oranges and apples, and the brilliantly photorealistic depictions of bouquets of flowers and lavish feasts from the Dutch golden age. Yet when I went to the Joaquin Peinado museum in Ronda last month, what really struck me above and beyond the majority of his wonderfully original cubist-inspired paintings, were his still lives. In particular I noticed his deceptively simple depictions of fruit and the odd household item such as a coffee pot, and an idea struck in my head: why don’t I paint a still life?!

By coincidence, before we left for Ronda from Marbella, I had already begun an oil painting – a surreal looking desert landscape which was to be the base of another germ of an idea which was developing in my head. But as soon as my still life idea struck, I realised that the combination of collected objects on a somewhat surreal deserted background would make for the perfect twist on the traditional still life composition. So as soon as we got back from Ronda, I started work.

Naturaleza Muerta: Still life with coffee pot, dorada, tropical fruits and a ceramic elephant (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

Naturaleza Muerta: Still life with coffee pot, dorada, tropical fruits and a ceramic elephant (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

The objects I collected for my work were not really the result of coincidence. Rather, I carefully planned my selection so that I could achieve a colour balance within the two main colours of the palette chosen for this work: red and green. The ceramic elephant was already a feature of the garden in which I was doing my painting, and the various fruits were chosen specifically for their colour, shape and what they represented: the watermelon represents the global profile of Marbella; the elephant our time out on the terrace. The kiwis represent our constant furry travelling companions Fluffy and Bilbao, and the cactus fruits represent the extensive work we did on redecorating our Marbella terrace. The beautiful silvery sea bream represents all the pleasure we took in eating out; while the cherries represent my partner and I, never separated, coming as a pair. Finally the coffee pot is there in homage to Peinado who gave me the idea of a still life; and because coffee culture is surely one of the most enjoyable aspects of life in Marbella.

So after several days painting this work in instalments after visits to the beach, my first Still Life was complete. Now I’m hooked on the idea and can already imagine doing so many more. The question is, what will I paint in my next Still Life?

Creating my still life in our garden in Marbella

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown 2000-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included on this website without express and written permission from Nicholas de Lacy-Brown is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Prague (Part 3): Buddha-Bar Chic and delectable places to eat

When a city trip is turning into something of a damp squib and you’ve realised you should have brought a winter coat despite its being late summer, sometimes all you need is a little luxury to make things right again. When the squares and museums are packed to the rafters with no-budge tourists and the cafes are full of larger-lout British stag parties, it’s the escape to the finer side of things that will put a smile back on your face. And so it was, when my partner and I ventured recently to Prague in the Czech Republic, that ever optimistic of having a happy holiday experience, we were able to turn round the somewhat disappointing experience of an ever so cold, damp weekend in tourist-packed Prague into two nights of luxurious hedonism, thanks to the hotel where we were staying, and some of the great restaurants we were lucky enough to find during the trip.

Our hotel of choice was the 5 star Buddha Bar hotel situated a few minutes from the centre of Prague’s Old Town. Being what it suggests on the tin – a concept hotel with a strongly oriental-influenced twist – it was an unusual choice for us. We love chic little boutique hotels, but I would usually go for something that at least resembled the local culture. But Buddha Bar are a long established brand that stands for the quintessence of cool: of dark chic surroundings, of sumptuous self-indulgent luxuries, all pulled together by the classic asian-inspired lounge-bar melodies of the famous Buddha bar soundtrack. Consequently when I discovered that there was a hotel of the brand so well situated in Prague, and probably half the price what a 5 star would cost in capital cities elsewhere, I was seduced and decided to take the plunge into the orient. And I’m so glad we did.

Our room at the Buddha Bar Hotel

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In our luxuriously pampered room, every detail had been taken care of. On the wall, a Bang & Olufsen TV pumped out a selection of Buddha Bar groves through expertly mastered surround sound speakers extending to all parts of our room. In our extensive bathroom, a free standing bath benefitted from its own dedicated TV, floor to ceiling windows overlooking Prague, and remote controlled electric blinds should you prefer a little privacy from amongst your bubbles; while the his and hers sinks were accompanied by a panoply of l’Occitane branded bath products. In the bedroom, an indulgently soft bed was plied high with luxurious throws and cushions, while beside it, a seating area already came fully stocked with gifts of chocolate and a complementary cocktail each – the perfect antidote to the tourist scrum outside. Meanwhile, across the room, on the surfaces and alongside notes and information booklets, little fresh orchids had been delicately placed – the height in attention to detail, which followed through to the whole hotel experience.

For beyond our room, the hotel of course enjoyed its own Buddha Bar restaurant, a large cavernous place camped up with a huge oversized golden Buddha around which densely candlelit tables glittered in an otherwise dark and seductive atmosphere. We enjoyed an abundance of creative sushi whose innovative flavour combinations buzzed and zinged in a way that the bog standard California role could never hope to replicate. Meanwhile upstairs, a daily breakfast combining buffet treats and a choice of hot dishes always came accompanied with a glass of chilled prosecco. Now that’s my kind of breakfast.

The Buddha Bar restaurant – images courtesy of www.buddhabarhotelprague.com

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But of course we had to leave the hotel sometimes, and when sightseeing got too much, we managed to find two equally exquisite restaurants in which to enjoy the classier side of life. The first, a discovery quite by accident, was Zdenek’s Oyster Bar, an exceptionally chic little place, filled with brass fittings and lamps made from champagne bottles, that more closely resembled an upmarket Parisian bistro than a traditional Czech eatery. Being as Prague is very much inland, we were at first sceptical of a seafood restaurant in the heart of the city, but our doubts were put to rest by a main of succulent grilled prawns in a creamy sweet peppery rich sauce, with buttery toasted brioche served to be dipped into the tasty liquor. Never have I lavished so enthusiastically over a dish of prawns. I was completely won over on the one dish alone, let alone the other details which made the meal so special – an oyster shell filled with creamy salted butter; delicious crisp local white wine, and steaming muscles each ripe and juicy and a joy to eat.

Zdenek’s Oyster Bar

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The second of our restaurant successes was likewise a departure from the Czech theme – this time George Prime Steak, which was less traditional steak house than a high class boudoir decked out with highly polished chrome and black lacquer interiors all made to sparkle with modern chandeliers and low lighting. The only real nod to America was the extensive Californian wine list, one of which we enjoyed to the full, despite the waiters leaving the bottle on a far away table and then neglecting to refill our often empty glasses. But they can be forgiven – for the real star of the show was the steak. We opted for fillet which, they told us, was fried in temperatures so hot that it immediately caramelised the outside into a rich sweet crust – a delectable exterior encasing soft tender flesh. It was almost certainly one of the best steaks I have ever eaten.

My only drunken picture of George Prime Steak’s opulent interior…

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But we were in the Czech republic after all, and my final nod of this post has to go to what must be my favourite aspect of Prague gastronomy – the multi layered Czech honey cake “Medovnik”. Without looking at a recipe, I can only guess that this cake comprised thin layers of honeyed sponge interlaid with a honey and gently spiced gingery, cinnamon cream. Oh it was truly to die for, hence why I must have eaten around 5 slices before the trip was out. Now that really was worth fighting the tourist scrum for.

and that honey cake to die for

medovnik

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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