Personal Pursuits

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



Italy

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.” 


Germany

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! 

 

Miami

Adam Colberg, Personal Trainer

His clients include television personalities, business moguls and even teenagers who want to build their self-esteem to ward off bullies. Westport native Adam Colberg’s been in the business of getting people into the shape of their lives for twenty years. Working out with Colberg is more than just strength training, hoisting kettlebells or boxing with him. It’s an hour of motivation from a high-energy former Marine who actually makes sweating fun, thanks to his relentless encouragement and great humor. So where does he go when he needs motivation? Not to a woods-shrouded wellness retreat for deep contemplation and Spartan cuisine. Colberg heads to Miami’s glitzy South Beach, “an international city,” he says, “that feels like an adult playground.”

1. Art-Deco Dream

That’s how Colberg describes the iconic Delano Hotel on Collins Avenue, his favorite place to stay. You might remember the splash this oceanfront hotel made when it opened in the 1990s under Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager. Last year, the hotel, now owned by the Morgans Hotel Group, got a facelift from designer Phillipe Starke, who created an indoor/outdoor lobby and assembled an international collection of furniture and art, but preserved the hotel’s famous infinity edge pool and its reputation for drawing celebrities. Colberg says once he checks in, the vacation feels “surreal,” as “life slows down.” He relishes Sunday nights on the patio, where you can hear “seductive sounds” spun by the city’s best DJs.

2. Best Workouts: Beach and Boardwalk

Dancing to a DJ might burn calories, but the beach at Ocean Drive and 9th Street is where Colberg heads for a quick workout on the boardwalk’s pull-up, dip and monkey bars. He also likes to run along the boardwalk from the Delano down to South Pointe Park in Miami Beach. “It’s a magnificent setting for a run.” Colberg recommends sunset as the best time, when “the lights on Ocean Drive light up the horizon in art-deco fashion.” He adds that it’s as if “the city breaths for you, as you focus on your run.” If you want to take your workout a step further, Colberg recommends a training appointment with his mentor, renowned boxing coach Luis Lagerman at the Sobekick Gym in Miami Beach. “He’s even better than me if you can imagine that!” he jokes, explaining he works out with Lagerman to “re-energize as a trainer.”

3. Churrasco!

While Colberg enjoys a healthy breakfast of granola, yogurt and fresh-cut Florida fruit at the bustling twenty-four-hour News Café on Ocean Drive, his dream dinner is at the Texas de Brasil Churrascaria on Alton Road in Miami Beach. “Because I’m a fan of Latin culture and my wife is Brazilian, there’s no better place than this steakhouse for a healthy and satisfying meal.” He says their churrasco is “the tastiest steak I’ve ever had.”

4. Getting There is No Workout

Another reason Colberg loves South Beach is its easy access. He usually visits between January and March, flying JetBlue out of Westchester.


American West

Michelle Weber, Chocolatier, Barista and Entrepreneur

“Life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” This Gumpian maxim could apply to the business ventures of Michelle Weber, a.k.a. Cocoa Michelle. In 2006, she opened a gourmet chocolate shop on Main Street. She closed it in 2010 but this fall opened a new Riverside Avenue gourmet market with a casual but elegant bistro. If Westport was a box of chocolates, Weber understood that it was one short—there was no gourmet market in the revitalized Saugatuck Center. So what type of vacation does the woman who signs her name with “truffles and hugs” chose to embrace?

1. Go West, Young Foodies

Weber says she grew up in the restaurant industry, “with a gourmet mother,” and her husband is a chef and consultant in the business, “so our love for food and travel plays a large role in our lives and what we do.” Among her favorite destinations: Utah and Colorado. “When traveling, I try not to work,” says Weber, “but I’m always looking for new and different things I might be able to incorporate into my business, whether it’s food or décor.”

2. Mad About March

In Utah, Weber loves skiing “a truly amazing mountain with views to die for,” Alta, as well as Snowbird and Deer Valley, especially in March. “Spring skiing in God’s country!” she exclaims. Weber and her husband like to visit The Montage, which opened in Park City in December 2010. Guests to this mountain craftsman resort can enjoy a perch atop Empire Pass, with ski-in/ski-out access, just forty minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport. The resort is not only beautiful, says Weber, but also the service is “impeccable.”

3. Apres-Ski Cuisine

Weber’s favorite restaurant is located at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon: La Caille in Sandy, Utah. It’s on a twenty-acre plot, which also boasts a pavilion, gardens, a chateau and a three-acre vineyard perfect for a post-meal stroll. Weber says the food is fabulous.

4. Aspen: Anytime

There’s no bad time to go to Aspen. When she’s not skiing, Weber also enjoys fly-fishing there, saying, “It’s a great feeling being in the river,” being one “with your surroundings.” Aspen offers the sport year-round, in waters, including the Roaring Fork River. If you’re throwing ’em back, no worries—first-class dining abounds in Aspen. Weber’s favorites: the Northern Italian cuisine of Casa Tua and Cache Cache Bistro, where Weber recommends the veal ossobuco.

5. I Love the St. Regis!

So says Weber of Aspen’s mountainside manor, which keeps adventure seekers and arbiters of food and wine enthralled in equal measure. Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award winners rotate the menu annually and the editors customize the wine and cocktails. Weber says the experience is “a real treat for the foodie.”

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