Personal Pursuits

Indulge your passions by traveling to the destinations that inspire local pros in design, theater, education, food and fitness

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Mark Lamos, Theater Pro

When you’ve been called “a poet of the theater” by the New York Times, where do you go to imbue your art with the poetry of nature? Mark Lamos, artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, finds it on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, in Positano. Lamos, born and raised in Chicago, began his forty-year career as an actor on stage and screen. The director of the Playhouse since 2009, the Tony award-winner also directed at the Metropolitan Opera and picked up an Emmy for his direction of Madama Butterfly in PBS’ Great Performances. “From Fellini films to Verdi operas,” he says, “all things Italian have informed a lot of my work.”

1. Positively Positano

Long before the paparazzi ever snapped George Clooney gambling along the Amalfi Coast, John Steinbeck paid homage to Positano in an essay: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” Lamos, too, waxes poetic in describing Positano’s natural beauty, calling it “ravishing,” “staggering,” “beyond peaceful” with its “lemon groves on steep mountains that perfume the air.”

2. The Best Thing About it: it's Italian

So says Lamos, when asked why this is his favorite vacation retreat. “I love Italy. It has always nurtured me,” he explains. “From Italian opera through Italian cuisine as well as…the treasure troves of art, architecture and music that are an intrinsic part of its magnificence.” He adds, “The beauty of the language and the energy of the people inspire me, make me laugh, excite me.”

3. At the Shrine of a Saint

At the end of the season, in October, Lamos likes to stay at Il San Pietro di Positano, which, he points out, was built near a shrine. One travel site notes that the only clue the hotel exists is a discreet sign near that ancient chapel, which conceals the elevator to the lobby. Maybe that’s why celebrities love this cliff-top hideaway, where flowering veils of bougainvillea, hibiscus and grapevines hide the terraced rooms.

4. Almost Anywhere in Town

How’s that for a restaurant recommendation? Lamos says Positano’s cuisine is simple, unfussy; he loves the fresh fish and pasta. “There’s great food in almost every restaurant there.” He cites Donna Rosa as a stand-out. “Very small, very special. Figs for dessert.” And for lunch, Lamos likes to dine outdoors at the San Pietro, “under a canopy next to crashing waves.” The food? “Brilliant.” The view? “Glorious.” Lamos also enjoys lunching in the town of Ravello, and afterward, “walking everywhere, planning nothing.”

5. An Amadeus Destination for Inspiration

To further inspire him artistically, Lamos says he would like to visit the more rural parts of England and make a trip to Budapest. He’d also love to return to Vienna: “It was very inspiring.” Lamos says he based a production of Hamlet on the end of the Hapsburg Empire and visited Mozart’s humble apartment. It made him appreciate “how badly artists in those days were treated.”

Cayman Islands

Lori Friedman, Jewelry Designer

Not intending any offense to her husband or three children, but the wallpaper on Lori Friedman’s smart-phone is a picture of a crab. “Cayman Crab,” she says, “who looks like a character out of SpongeBob.” It’s not there for comedic effect but, instead, to help her conjure the azure water and sugar white sand of the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Friedman is a jewelry designer whose gorgeous line (on display at Mitchells and Marshs on Long Island) combines collectible vintage with the beauty of nature. “I work with a lot of organic material and much of my creativity is inspired by nature.” Indeed the beauty of nature abounds on Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands, renowned for reefs that are equal parts awesome and accessible.

1. Snorkeling Sojourn

Although divers flock to the Caymans, for Friedman, it’s snorkeling that allows her to leisurely “enjoy the exotic landscape of the colorful tropical fish and coral.” Snorkelers and divers alike can check out the Kittiwake Dive Site, a shipwreck attraction that has no shortage of rooms and reefs to explore.

2. Crustacean Compatriots

Friedman says she and her husband take walks every day along Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand often rated as one of the more beautiful and less populated in the Caribbean. The sand “feels like velvet beneath your feet,” she says. When not stopping for a bite along the shore or photographing crustaceans, Friedman likes to get close to the other marine life the island offers. Stingray City allows you to wade in the clear waters as a fleet of stingrays glides past you, looking for bits of squid, their favorite snack food. Friedman calls being surrounded by the friendly creatures “amazing,” especially when they “swim up to you and occasionally give you a snuggle.” If you prefer mammalian marine life, you can “swim, ride and even kiss the sweet bottlenose” at a dolphin encounter. Friedman also suggests visiting the Grand Cayman Turtle Farm, home to more than 11,000 green sea turtles, ranging in size from six ounces to 600 pounds each.

3. Treasure Trove of Shops

When designing her jewelry, Friedman handpicks every gemstone and artifact with an artist’s eye, so it’s interesting for her to see what other designers have created. George Town in the heart of Grand Cayman offers duty-free shopping at luxury stores. “A great place for jewelry lovers.” says Friedman.

4. Luxury and Gastronomy

The best time to visit the Caymans is between December and April, thus avoiding the rainy and hurricane seasons. And the Ritz Carlton on Seven Mile Beach is perfect for a romantic getaway, featuring Silver Rain, a La Prairie Spa; a Greg Norman-designed golf course; and a signature restaurant (a cousin of New York City’s Le Bernardin). But Friedman’s favorite restaurant on the island is Ortanique with its “eclectic fusion of Caribbean flavors, in a romantic setting by the water,” she says, advising that you “don’t miss the Blue Mountain Coffee & Cocoa Encrusted Salmon.” 


Carol Kochefko, German Teacher

Her students know her simply as “frau.” And they are many, as Carol Kochefko has been teaching German at Staples High School since 1986. In her lifetime, she has visited nearly forty countries, but every year she travels to the German-speaking world, either to enrich her knowledge of the culture she brings to life with colorful Geschichten in her classroom, or “for the sheer pleasure of being in a beautiful vacation spot.” She’s seen Germany’s and Austria’s verdant valleys and magnificent mountains in every season and has often served as tour guide to the students lucky enough to travel with her.

1. Ricer Rejuvenation

In the springtime, Kochefko loves to visit the Rhine River with “its splendid fortresses popping up everywhere.” Hotel Auf Schoenburg in Oberwesel is her favorite. She says she feels as though “an apparition of a knight” could materialize at any time. Aside from taking a traditional Rhine River tour, it’s fun to traverse the local vineyards by bicycle. As you travel south on the Rhine and the adjoining Neckar River, legend has it that if you spit into the waters, you will be sure to return to Germany. Kochefko, groaning at the ritual, laughs, “Indeed, that has happened to me!” Another Rhineland gem is the great university town Heidelberg, where Kochefko recommends venturing to the Philosophen Weg, where professors and philosophers gathered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to contemplate life.

2. Summertime Spa

You might know it as Lake Constance, but to people in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (the three countries that surround it), it’s called Bodensee, and Kochefko recommends staying in Ueberlingen in Germany and visiting a Kneipp Therapy and Wellness Center (Kneipp- & Vital-Hotel Röther), inspired by the nineteenth-century Bavarian priest who claimed to have cured himself of tuberculosis with short dips in the freezing Danube.

3. Falling Into Berlin

The dramatic backdrop to the media coverage of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the Brandenburg Gate, is a must-see in this ever-evolving city. Kochefko says one constant in the city is the lush Hotel Adlon Kempinski. If you’re bringing the kids, make sure to check out the AquaDom, a cylindrical glass aquarium and the main attraction of the Berlin Sea Life Centre.

4. Winter Wonderland

If you’ve been to Disney’s Cinderella castle, you might know that it was modeled after Bavaria Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, built by the eccentric King Ludwig II in 1886 as a refuge, but opened to the public after his death. “It looks especially pretty in the Alpine snow,” notes Kochefko. During holiday time, she’s also ventured to Innsbruck, Austria (home of the ’64 and ’76 Winter Olympics), and stayed at the Grauer Baer Hotel, which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding Alps. Kochefko fondly recalls strolling along Innsbruck’s cobblestone streets and listening to carolers at holiday time.

5. Skip the Strudel

When dining in Deutschland, Kochefko says go straight for the Maultaschen, a German ravioli, or sample a multicultural kebab called currywurst. In Austria, forget the traditional apfelstrudel and sachertorte, and instead satisfy your sweet tooth with germknoedel with vanilla sauce. Guten appetit! 

Westport Agenda

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