When I think of love — and who doesn’t, in the month of February? — my thoughts invariably turn to Rome. As Sophia Loren likes to say, Roma is the city of love, even when you spell it backwards. Yes, without a doubt, Rome is all about love.
First and foremost, romantic love — and Romantic love. Think of John Keats — in my opinion the greatest of the Romantic poets — who even died in the month of St. Valentine, on Feb. 23, 1823. And subverted love. Remember poor Mrs. Stone’s unfortunate Roman Spring? Or love gone hopelessly awry. I can’t look at Castel Sant’Angelo without envisaging love-crazed Tosca hurling herself from its heights to her death.
I can admit to my own love affair in the Eternal City, but it was with a hotel, not a person. Right at the top of the Spanish Steps, the Hotel Hassler Roma, where I was first taken as a precocious 13-year-old by an overindulgent father, has the best address in the city, which is saying something in a city in which there are very few “bad” addresses. Service here is of the “Ask and ye shall receive” kind. Only at the Hassler the truth is you barely have to ask. They just know what you want, usually before you know it yourself.
I have looked in at the Hassler over the years, the way old lovers like to check up on each other occasionally (so easy these days, via the internet), and I must say the flame was rekindled last year when I ate at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Imàgo. Chef Francesco Apreda creates dishes like cacao e pepe risotto and “Mumbai” penne, which reference his stints in kitchens around the world, setting them in an Italian context. They are all ambrosial. But even so, it’s the room that steals the show, with its delicate columns and ceiling, made seemingly of twinkling stars, and a view — the Quirinal, the Aventine, the Capitoline and the Pantheon — that would surely melt the stoniest heart. Now, that’s amore.
So much for love. When I think of sex, on the other hand, my thoughts turn to Rio de Janiero. Let me put that another way — WAG is, after all, a family publication. What I mean is, Rio is a very sexy city. Brazilians are sexy — they can’t help it — and if that’s a “sexist” thing to say, well, guilty as charged. I love Rio, and I especially love the Belmond Copacabana Palace, an Art Deco beauty, originally opened in 1923, where the lobby is pure theater, with its panoply of the beautiful and tanned, and where, poolside, every girl who passes seems to be the one from Ipanema. And as for those local Brazilian guys, even the straightest North American or European alpha male guest can’t help but gawp. Copacabana Beach is just across the street from the hotel and, while it’s certainly true that there are parts of Rio where you should think twice before venturing, you get the impression that in this gilded part of town there’s not much that can’t be sorted out with um beijo (a kiss) and um abraço (a hug). (Hint, hint, Ryan Lochte.)
There are myriad other hotels and resorts that do the beach and body-beautiful well, of course. Paul Gauguin may have been a useless husband, but he knew a think or two about Polynesian sensuality. This would be a great year to visit the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, the world’s first over-water resort, as it turns 50. There the “rooms” stand on stilts over the lagoon. The poolside strut has been mastered to an art at the InterContinental David in Tel Aviv, the city that will host the biggest party in the Middle Eastern bar none in June — Gay Pride Tel Aviv. They’ll be no shortage of bodies on display there, I suspect.
Meanwhile for snow bunnies, the just-opened, majestic Hôtel Barrière Les Neiges in Courchevel, France, the European ski resort du moment, is another gorgeous property and not short of eye candy (oh, and great skiing, too — did I forget to mention?)
Hotels, of course, can be sexy in their own right. The jewel-like Franklin Hotel, in Knightsbridge, London, has just reopened, with a stunning new design from Anouska Hempel, whose iconic 1970s hotel, Blakes, is credited as being probably the world’s first boutique hotel. The Franklin’s guest rooms are sexily monochrome, if that is not an oxymoron, and its intimate restaurant, with ambrosial food from Michelin-starred Italian maestro, Alfredo Russo, is so cozy it’s just made for bad behavior. And newly launched in Milan is the wonderful Fifty House, small, chic and very sexy. Surprisingly, it’s the first truly comfortable design hotel for this city, which is synonymous with great design but too often at the price of comfort.
Closer to home, meanwhile, the new Ace hotel in New Orleans takes the prize for sexiest hotel I visited last year — black sheets, black bathroom, black soap and a little packet by the bed containing a single (black) condom, saying, “Use in case of fire.” Naughty.
And can there be a sexier restaurant anywhere than Keith McNally’s Augustine, in the beautiful new Beekman hotel in Manhattan’s FiDi? No, there cannot. It’s just the place for a liaison dangereuse. And, let’s face it, since 2017 is going to be the year of living dangerously, February may as well be the month of living sexily (and safely). Happy Valentine’s Day.