Montserrat Franco is lifestyle blogger based in Miami Beach, Florida. She lived in Paraguay, Italy, Spain, Israel and the USA, an adventurous traveler, foodie and certified sommelier. She is fluent in 7 languages. Ms Franco represents VOGA Italia in South Florida, Italy's largest privately held winery.
Also known as the Birdland sanctuary; El Portal (from the Spanish “The Gate”; named this way because of the two main wooden gates that were placed at the entrance of the village) is one of the very first archeological sites registered in Miami Dade County.
Because El Portal isn’t a touristic attraction opened to the public; please be cautious if decide to visit, respect the nature, the silence and the neighbors. El Portal is a residential village were peacocks walk free; an almost enchanted forest with hundreds of year old trees guiding the path to a Tequesta Indian Burial site.
The Tequesta Indians; one of the first people of today’s South Florida lived in the areas known as the Biscayne Bay and the South bank of the Miami River including what is today the Village of El Portal. In 1560 Admiral Pedro Mendendez de Aviles took contact with the Tequesta Indians who were later transferred to Cuba, converted to the new faith and later vanished.
Once at El Portal; I had my first encounter with that exuberant vegetation and the endless variety of botanical species; because of my Native American origins I felt the need to visit the site and respectfully give back to the earth what is from the mother earth: I had kept for the longest time a few ritual instruments I received from the Mbya Guarani Indians back in Paraguay which I deposited on to the sacred mound. I prayed in silence and felt in whole harmony with the nature.
In addition El Portal is a certified Wildlife Habitat, as a source of the Four Basic elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover and places to raise the young spices. I discovered signs marking the pathways while numerous butterflies revealed their beautiful colors. This site provides also the necessary milkweed, nectar sources and shelter to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate though North America.
When entering the opulent Faena Hotel is like submerging in to a Cathedral of art; murals and mosaics by renowned Argentinian artist Juan Gatti called the Coined Utopia (Faena + Utopia) a depict of the Journey of Life and a vision of Alan Faena’s magical world.
Alan Faena; the orchestrator of this Hotel Universe; has always been the utopian businessman; when believing in areas that no one will give credit to; decades ago back in Argentina, transforming and making its own empire from marginal to chic; like a Midas touch; everything turned in to gold.
When understanding the Faena’s “cosmovision”; his own style that has been evolving as the Urban Alchemist; dressing in pristine white and a dandy hat but with a humble accessory to complete the outfit: an Indian wayuu crossbody bag. We want to show you more about his fantastic world and here we are for the experience.
Golden columns and red carpet guide us to the Living room, the tropical lounge retreat with a curated live music set nightly; elaborated mixology and that feeling of being on your best friend’s living room.
Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann: A few steps right after we are at Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann; crowned the Ambassador of Fire; Francis Mallmann brings his own South American “Gaucho” mastery for “asado” as the traditional way on his custom designed wood fired grill.
One of the distinctive points at the Faena is the golden mammoth installation by Damien Hirst; “Gone but not forgotten” is an example of the unexpected bringing us back to reality and what is here to stay. The path will take us to the beach on a dreamy oasis of white sands flanked by the characteristic red and white stripped umbrellas with endless tassels; in the Middle East tassels were worn as amulets for protection; tassels can be seen on the decor around the Faena complex.
Pao by Paul Qui: Coming back to the dining areas; we are ready to contemplate the stunning views from the terrace at PAO by celebrity Chef Paul Qui; a James Beard winner brings his Pan Asian flair to Faena’s fine dining arena; from stylish presentations to harmonious flavors; the crudos, kinilaw, ceviche, sashimi or tiradito are once again a delectable sharing experience all paired with a cult and collectible wine list under the tutelage of the sommelier team at La Cava. Another Damien Hirst sculpture of The Unicorn; half gold, half alive in the middle of the dining room is a true expression of the dichotomy myth + reality in Faena’s universe.
Tierra Santa: The Spa
White for the floors and walls, at “Tierra Santa Healing House” spa but full of vibrant colors of Latin American embroidery and handcrafted objects by Eco Fair Trade designer Carolina K who has been working with different ethnic groups from Mexico to Peru and India with successful collaborations such as Anthropology and Urban Outfitters.
Tierra Santa is America’s first South American inspired spa, combining ancient healing techniques and treatments; hand blended plant oils, rose stones and vibrating singing bowls. Sustainable in so many different levels Tierra Santa’s holistic treatments have been developed respecting the mysticism and rituals of these cultures with their own in-house Shaman.
Spa Director Vivianne Garcia-Tunon explained what makes Tierra Santa Healing House so different from any other Spa experience; a unique collection of seven “Moringa” seed base oils representing the 7 chakras to elevate, calm, restore and heal are used on each specific treatment; Amazonian white clay collected from the Marajo shores and Guarana-maca blend scrubs to purify mind and body; a welcoming scent of Palo Santo and their own custom made soap tower are just examples of the attention to every detail. Once at the Wet Spa; guests can experience the journey of the senses; the hammam, centered by heated gobek tasi stone and incrusted with Faena’s signature South American Rose mosaic.
Back to the spa suites; a rainbow stripped rug representing the 7 chakras and comfy sofas adorned with otomi embroidered cushions make the perfect spot for sipping on blended teas and healing stone infused water while contemplating views of the tropical oasis.
A gracious spa hostess dressed on Huaxacan styled dress by Carolina K guide us to the gorgeous suites covered with Juan Gatti’s murals. There, a choice of therapeutic power oils, healing stones and custom massages are used in conjunction with singing bowls to elevate the spirit.
Now, we don’t want to go back to reality but we can always dream of that fantastic world and yet have it all; right here in Miami Beach at the Faena District.
Faena Hotel Miami Beach
3201 Collins Ave.
Faena District, Miami Beach, FL 33140
Phone # 305 535 4697 http://www.faena.com
Tierra Santa Healing House
Phone # 1 844 798 9716
Pao by Paul Qui
Phone # 786 655 5600
Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann
Phone # 786 655 5600
“Some people look for a beautiful place, others make the place beautiful”
St Barth; an almost unreachable destination in the French West Indies is the perfect hideaway for the jet setter. Surrounded by pristine white sand beaches, unspoiled nature; mountains and the turquoise clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean this associated Island of France had a long history before becoming the top destination for celebrities in search for privacy.
The Beginnings: In 1493 Columbus landed in St Barth and named the Island after his brother Bartolomeo; the first inhabitants of the Island were the Arawak Indians; hostile conditions and the lack of gold were crucial for the Spanish Crown and St Barth remained forgotten for centuries; later ruled by the French; then sold to the Dutch to be returned to the French; St Barth started to be noticed by luxury resort developers just in the 1950’s when Rockefeller built his private home in the top of the mountains in Colombier; West side of the Island.
Today; the most expensive yachts in the world are no strangers to St Barth and every day is almost a competition on size and style.
Shopping: For luxury shopping the Quai de la Republique; Le Carre D’Or; a Caribbean version of Beverly Hills with the most desirable designers and limited edition collections made exclusively for St Barth. I spent many hours at the Dolce & Gabanna flagship store opened just a few months ago with its own Martini Bar for D & G collaboration. The colorful collection reflects the spirit of the Island; floral scarfs; bejeweled mules, oversized sunglasses, embellished straw baskets and wedges and the 1950’s inspired cocktail dresses just makes us want to wear them all and go for a stroll in a Moke (the ultimate transportation in the Island) around Gustavia.
St Barth is the culinary capital of the Caribbean; suddenly we see people walking with baguettes on the streets and freshly made pastries can be found at any of the Boulangeries and Patisseries; at supermarkets all of them carry French brands and is like going to Paris in the middle of a tropical setting.
Flamandes: The lifestyle of the Island is resort chic with impeccable service and attention to details, the French touch is notorious; For lunch I truly enjoyed The Cheval Blanc in Flamandes; it was also the best beach for swim and great cuisine by Chef Yann Vinsont. The Cheval Blanc is part of the LVMH Luxury Resort collection.
Grand Cul de Sac: Lunch at Le Sereno in Grand Cul de Sac is another must on my list; from its sister 5 star hotel “Il Sereno” in Laco di Cuomo; Le Sereno exudes style; designed by renowned Parisian designer Christian Liaigre.
The lagoon at Sereno Beach is also perfect for paddle boarding or canoeing in the afternoon. Great place to spot the turtles swimming on the water or picking up giant conch between the rocks.
Next to Le Sereno; Le Guanahani is another impressive luxury resort with a Spa by Clarins and its distinctive tiki bars by the beach; Le Guanahani offers true island feeling.
St Jean: Dining in St Barth: a must is the Eden Rock at the “In” Beach of St Jean just next to the airport; with two signature restaurants: “On the Rocks” at the top of the cliff or “The Sand Bar” both headed by Michelin starred Chef Jean-Georges.
St Barth preserve its Colonial charm from the Dutch era; the Creole and the French; signs on the streets are both in Dutch and French.
Shell Beach: Walking distance from the lively port of Gustavia and just steps from divine dining spots like Bagatelle and Bonito; we are in Shell Beach; a small portion of the Island covered with shells of all types and colors; you never know when you’ll find a unique one in the middle of all these shells.
St Barth has it all; from hiking thru the mountains and spotting baby turtles on the way to incredible views of the secluded Island in Colombier to infinite white sandy beaches in Saline or the freshest catch of the day to your table.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” – Anonymous.
Feeling nostalgic about that trip to Paris when you visited Angelina or Laduree or maybe even the calissons in Aix-en-Provence? Well fear no more, in Miami you can certainly have some options for French specialties. I updated this post from years ago with the newest additions in patisseries around town so this one is the updated version as of May 2017. Enjoy!
Here are some of my picks:
Atelier Monnier (848 Brickell Ave.)
Laduree ( 1118 Lincoln Road)
Bachour (600 Brickell Ave.)
Le Roy Rene (701 South Miami Ave. 35B – Brickell City Center)
We hear all the time that Miami isn’t a romantic city just because is considered mostly a party destination but in the magic city you can still find the perfect spot to dine at candlelight while overlooking at the Biscayne Bay with Miami’s fantastic skyline or maybe just that intimate and charming atmosphere. I updated this post from years ago as of May 2017. Restaurants have changed or closed and I wanted to keep my most recent picks up to date. Enjoy!
The Lido Bayside Grill @ The Standard (40 Island Ave. Miami Beach)
Casa Tua (1700 James Ave. Miami Beach)
Juvia (1111 Lincoln Road. Miami Beach)
Crazy about you (1155 Brickell Bay Dr. Brickell)
If you are looking for that place with a view which is affordable: “Crazy about you” maybe the answer. Located on 1155 Brickell Bay Dr. at The Mark building with convenient valet parking on location.
With so much to do in Miami it is hard to decide where to start your day but if you are in the Downtown area, need a great cup of coffee and at the same time support your local roasters stop by Eternity Coffee Roasters on 117 SE 2nd Ave. They have a roasterie and tasting room where you can choose your grains, make your own blends and they will roast it and brew for you on site. I took my European friends to the tiny shop and they all agreed the coffee was superb, the espressos made just right, the aromas and the blends fantastic.
Just like in the wine world, the coffee can be tasted and appreciated, today there are more coffee connoisseurs who are showing interest in the “art of the barista” (coffee barman) So now you know, when you need your Java dose try Eternity Coffee and get the whole experience of coffee tasting.
If you didn’t make a trip yet to Miami’s newest Museum the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) there’s no better time to do it then now and there are no excuses to be immersed in the contemporary art world with all this Museum has to offer. Arrive to the Museum by car, foot or take the Metro Mover stopping at the Museum station and you will be right there on 1103 Biscayne Blvd. Each second Saturday of the month there’s a free admission for everyone, a program sponsored by Target.
Most of the Latin American Art collection including Botero, Diego Rivera and Wilfredo Lam comes from Colombian-born developer Jorge Perez who donated $40 million in cash and art to earn naming rights. Perez, the son of Cuban exiles, has been a major force in Miami’s urban redevelopment.
A visit to the PAMM will definitely open new ways to look at art and think twice when labeling Miami as a less cultural town.
Time for lunch? Visit the Historic Miami River neighborhood, one of the oldest in Miami. At a settlement from the early 1840’s is where you will find Garcia’s Seafood and Grill Fish Market located on 398 NW North River Dr. you will find fresh fish and seafood from the boats to your plate served with the traditional Caribbean seasonings and flavors. For over 40 years The Garcia’s (a Cuban-born family of 11 kids) have been offering affordable dining with fresh catch grilled to order on a casual riverside setting.
Now is time to visit another great unconventional Gallery on a Historic site in Downtown Miami, CU1 Gallery at the Security Building on 117 NE 1st Ave.
“Eye to Eye” is the current exhibition at CU1 Gallery on view until February 14 2014. What are you waiting for? take a look at one of the newest innovative galleries in Miami.
Now get ready for the next art exhibitions on board of the SeaFair docked at the Chopin Plaza next to the Intercontinetal Hotel from January 16th to the 20th of 2014. it is a unique experience to appreciate works of local and international artists showcasing installations, paintings, photography and sculptures. See you on board Miami !!!
Take a stroll in Downtown Miami like a local and if you live in Miami discover or revisit these great spots once again. Start with a good coffee at The Urban Öxy proudly brewing Panther coffee , a local roaster located on 101 NE 2nd Ave. I really love this coffee shop where everything is made from scratch so you can have your coffee the way you want it.
Prices are reasonable and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, try some of the grill sandwiches made to order with roasted artichoke, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, provolone, Swiss or for the sweet tooth the mini cupcake selection or the homemade oatmeal cookies with pecan, dark and white chocolate chips, cranberry or macadamia nuts, absolutely delicious.
Now that you’ve got your coffee and read your newspaper why not taking a visit to the Freedom Tower, just at walking distance located on 600 Biscayne Blvd. across the American Airlines Arena, the Freedom Tower is one of Miami’s magnificent landmarks constructed in 1924 on the Spanish Colonial revival architectural style, conceived originally for the Miami News, serving later as center for Cuban refugees during 1962 to 1964. Today is home of the Miami Dade College Museum of Art and Design and you can enjoy the contemporary art and photography exhibits as they are free and open to the public from Wednesdays to Sundays until 5 pm.
And for those who are craving of cultural things to do in Miami there are no excuses, this is exactly what we will do if we were in NYC going from one Art Gallery to another and then stopping for some coffee and cupcakes, really? At least I will.
Now having fulfilled your cultural appetite why not going for lunch just a few blocks away on another historical building of Downtown Miami, yes I am talking about ‘Soya & Pomodoro” a truly hidden gem, a place were you can seat and relax like in NYC’s SOHO while enjoying comfort Italian food on a very particular setting.
Soya & Pomodoro is also great to visit on the evenings for dinner, Thursdays
or Fridays when they have live jazz and… talking about live Jazz another
great place to visit in Downtown Miami is “Le Chat Noir” this intimate suburban spot next door to Soya & Pomodoro has anEpicurean market section were you can get your selection of cheeses and charcuterie and a bottle of French wine, then go downstairs to listen to jazz and blues truly soulful musicians. If you are looking for
an alternative atmosphere, this is the place to be.
Hope you enjoy this short Downtown Miami tour for a day, keep coming to the blog for new places to dine, shop and live a cultural life in Miami. See you soon !!!
(C) 2014 Montserrat Franco. All pictures by me, except for the ones with credits.