Arouca Journal: Soaring New Footbridge Opens Over Portuguese River

New 516 Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

By Ron Bernthal

Authorities in Portugal will shortly open an adrenaline raising suspension bridge in Arouca, just outside Porto, the country’s second largest city. The bridge, called 516 Arouca, is expected to open in late October, 2020, and will become the latest “must see” attraction for visitors to the northern region of Portugal. 

View of walkway on the 516 Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

Suspended 175 meters (574 feet) above Rio Paiva, and stretching for 516 meters (1,700 feet) across the valley (thus the name “516”), the bridge is designed with a transparent base which mimics the feeling of walking through the air with the river directly below.

Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

The suspension bridge is supported by two V-shaped concrete towers with a unique design, combining elements of a pure Tibet-style footbridge with no towers,  and a sagging deck with a more conventional tower supported span with a flat deck. The bridge connects the escarpment of the Aguieiras Waterfall and the area of the Paiva Gorge, two of the 41 geosites of the Arouca Geopark. 

View from below of new 516 Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

Suspended 175 metres above Rio Paiva and stretching for 516 metres, the bridge is designed with a transparent base which mimics the feeling of walking through the air with the River Paiva right beneath. The giant suspension bridge is supported by two V-shaped concrete towers with a unique design combining elements of a pure Tibet-style footbridge with no towers and a sagging deck with a more conventional tower supported span with a flat deck.

The village of Cabreiros in Arouca Geopark (photo

The bridge connects the escarpment of the Aguieiras Waterfall and the area of the Paiva Gorge, two of the 41 geosites of the Arouca Geopark. The park is one hour by car from Porto, about two hours from Lisbon.

The village of Paradinha in Arouca Geopark is one of several small villages in this region just one hour from Porto (photo

The entire municipality of Arouca, all 126 square-miles, is classified as a UNESCO Global Geopark. This huge, green region has 41 interesting geological sites (geosites), and more than half of them are classified as such by the Natura 2000 network.

The restaurant at “Casa no Campo” (house in the countryside) in Arouca region offers a stunning view over the Moldes valley. (photo

Visitors to the Arouca Geopark can stay in Porto, established in the 12th-century, and one of Portugal’s most leisure and business destinations, or in the Arouca region itself, where small hotels and restaurants in rural villages offer a friendly and quiet hospitality experience.

Aerial view of historic district ot Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city and just one hour from Arouca Geopark in northern region of the country. (photo Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Arouca Geopark    

Visit Portugal

Bilbao Journal: Basque Gamble Still Drawing Crowds

Exterior of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (photo GMB)

By Ron Bernthal

In the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, they will come,” and proceeds to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his vast yellow corn field, attracting thousands of curious tourists and the ghosts of baseball players past.     A few years later, in 1991, authories in the Basque region of northern Spain must have heard the same message when they proposed the idea for a Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.  Surprisingly, the Spaniards persuaded the Guggenheim Foundation to take a lot of their money and build an art museum in an industrial wasteland on the west bank of the polluted Nervion River.

No one could have known at the time that the Frank Gehry-designed museum would forever change the fate of this 720-year old city. When it opened in 1997, the $100 million Guggenheim-Bilbao, with its gleaming, titanium-covered roof, and Jeff Koons’ 43-foot tall flowered “Puppy” sculpture displayed outside the bujilding, was the most talked-about structure in the world, a crazy-angled, metal UFO juxtaposed against the bleak surroundings of rusted iron factories, derelict ship yards, and Bilbao’s 19th-century stone buildings.   

Local man with kayak takes a break from the river to view the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (photo Tourist Office of Spain in NY)

Before the Guggenheim, Bilbao was a traditional, hard-working Basque city of 350,000, founded in 1300. By the 1990’s the city’s residents worked in steel factories and shipbuilding yards, fished in the Bay of Biscay, and put whatever extra energy they had into Athletic Bilbao, their beloved fύtbol team. The shining, metallic Guggenheim shattered Basque traditions by calling attention to itself, and, thus, started out quite isolated, not only in the minds of the reserved Bilbainos, but physically as well, standing alone outside of downtown, surrounded by old cranes and shipping containers.   

But, like the miraculous Iowa baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, crowds began to arrive in Bilbao, in dribs and drabs at first, a few wealthy art patrons and groups of student back packers; tour buses with curious Europeans; rental cars with Americans and Japanese. Architects, urban planners, journalists, celebrities, and photographers soon made the pilgrimage to Bilbao as well, heading straight to the Guggenheim from the airport or train station even before checking into their hotel. Eventually, the startled Bilbainos grew to admire, if not love, their strange-looking new neighbor.

Frank Gehry’s daring design of the Guggenheim-Bilbao began what is now called  “architecture tourism,” where tourists and industry professionals follow the world’s leading “Starchitects” (Gehry, Foster, Libeskind, Piano, Calatrava, Koolhaas, Ando, and Kengo Kuma, among others) to wherever they have completed a building. Large  cities and small villages all over the world now compete to pay big name architects for new and exciting-looking cultural attractions. What these cities are really hoping for, of course, is to be blessed by what is now called the “Bilbao-effect” or the “Bilbao-moment,” that period following construction and media hype, when the new mantra, “If you build it, they will come,” is achieved. 

Santiago Calatrava’s Puente Zubizuri (White Bridge) is another archiectural gem in Bilbao. Opened in 1997, the footbridge attrarcts many visitors. (photo Ron Bernthal) .

Fortunately, for Bilbao, Gehry’s innovative building continues to attract not only tourists (1.2 million museum visitors in 2019), but other well-known architects who love the creative challenges of the Basque terrain and have designed their own cultural and commecial projectgs in the city.  It is said that the city’s ethereal northern Spanish light, which turns the museum’s 33,000 titanium shingles into shimmering planes of gold, purple, magenta, and pink, as day turns to night, is another major attraction for artists and designers. 

Although Bilbao has not been immune to Europe’s Covid-19 issues (Spain had one of the highest rates in Europe), as the city has experienced just 21 positive cases, and one death, out of a populaton of 349,000, the city did close many public venues during summer 2020 (the Guggenheim reopened in mid-October 2020).

Before Covid-19 arrived in Spain, Bilbao was benefiting greatly from the post-Guggenheimm economic boom.  It’s current unemployment rate of about 10% is still  less Spain’s overall 15% rate in 2Q, 2020. Local Basque officials calculate that the total direct expenditures in Bilbao generated by the activities of the museum was  over US$500 million in 2019, with much of that ending up in the Basque treasury, which reinvests the money in the form of new technology parks, well designed residential apartment blocks, and a stunning array of public amenities ranging from modern and efficient public transport, pristine city parks, and new mixed-use urban projects.  The Bolsa de Bilbao (Bilbao Stock Exchange), founded in 1890, and local businesses like Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, were instrumental in Bilbao’s early industrial development, and now in its recent economic and cultural revitalization.

Bilbao recorded its highest visitor numbers in its history with close to one million visitors, and more than 1.9 million overnight stays, in 2019. The number of visitors increased by 6.4% (992,890 visitors in 2019) and overnight stays by 5.7% (1,901,622 overnight stays in 2019) compared to the data obtained in 2018.
International tourism grew 8 points, mainly that which comes from France, the United Kingdom and the United States. The percentage of domestic visitors in 2019 also increased, by over 5% in a ranking led by people who traveled to Bilbao from the Madrid, Catalonia and Basque regions. .

This downtown Bilbao Metro station’s entrance was created by the UK-based Foster + Partners, the beautiful glass canopy inspired by Guimard’s 19th-century design of the Paris Metro . (photo Richard Davies/Foster + Partners)

The Bilbao Metro (1996), designed by the British architectural firm Foster + Partners,  is noted for its innovative glass entrances, and the eye-catching concrete and steel Zubizuri Bridge (1997) was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Its white, curved, post-modern lines are set against the rugged former industrial terrain nearby, and the now clean NervionRiver it was built over. Calatrava also designed Bilbao’s new airport terminal (2000), a soaring white concrete and glass structure that is known locally as “La Paloma” (the Dove).

Bibao Airport’s beautiful main terminal was designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2000. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Near the Guggenheim is the Euskalduna Congress Centre and Concert Hall (1999), designed by Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios. Located on the site of the former Euskalduna shipyard, its exterior is said to resemble a ship.  The building is home to the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, and its 2,164-seat performance theatre is the second largest stage in Europe The revitalization of the Abandoibarra district, where the Guggenheim is located, continues to be one of the more ambitious undertakings in Bilbao’s master plan. One of the city’s most visible buildings is the 40-story IberdrolaTower (2012), designed by the Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, and partly financed by Bilbao’s largest electric company. It is the city’s tallest building. 

Bilbao’s Zorrotzaurre district, another former forlorn river-sited parcel, is on ongoing mixed-use project that is turning the site into an urban technology park with more than 5,000 residential units and retail space included in the plan.  It is an integral and sustainable plan that is revitalizing itself into a new urban district, well-connected to the rest of the city, with affordable housing, environmentaly-friendly business areas, social and cultural installations, as well as spacious green areas for residents to enjoy.  The Master Plan for the project was designed by the prestigious architect Zaha Hadid. 

Zaha Hadid Master Plan for the Zoorrettere project (image Zorrotzaurre Management Commission)

The victim of a heart attack, the Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, died in 2016 at the age of 65. Hadid, a Pritzker Prize winner in 2004, and her architectural studio were the main designers of the Zorrotzaurre Master Plan, both the 2004 original version and the review and up-dated plan of 2007, which included the opening up of Bilbao’s Deusto canal to turn the Zorrotzaurre peninsula into an island.

The Basque Museum (photo provided with the permission of Bilbao Turismo)

Although it is the Guggenheim that receives much of the initial attention from visitors, Bilbao’s other unique cultural attractions are also impressive. These include the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, offering classical, contemporary, and Basque art in a beautiful modern building; the Basque Museum’s interesting collection; the historic Arriaga Theatre offers theatre and opera performances;  the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra at Palacio Euskalduna; and Casco Viejo (Old Town), where the bustling crowds in the Mercado de la Ribera’s early morning fish, meat and produce market confirms Bilbao’s dedication to eating fresh food.   

Bilbao’s revitalized and redesigned San Mames Stadium (photo courtesy Athletic Club Bilbao)

Estadio San Mames is the oldest (1913) soccer stadium in Spain and, according to many residents, the city’s true heart and soul. A revitalized and redesigned San Mames opened in 2013, and was built on the same site as the old stadium, continuing its legacy of being one of football’s most revered sports grounds, living up to the nickname it inherited: The Cathedral. Its modern and innovative architecture, as well as its classic location, means that its 53,000 spectators have an authentic Bilbao football experience. Winner of the ‘Sports’ category at the 2015 World Architecture Festival and Venue of the Year at the 2017 World Football Summit, the new San Mamés has become an icon in the city. Athletic-Bilbao’s stadium retail store is open daily, so visitors can buy a red and white striped scarf or shirt and be welcomed in almost any Bilbao bar.

Plaza Nueva (photo provided with the permission of Bilbao Turismo)

Plaza Nueva, a large, arcaded, Neoclassical square built in 1821 is filled most nights with families, young kids kicking soccer balls,  and with almost everyone else participating in the age-old Basque tradition of going from bar to bar with friends, having small glasses of wine at each stop. Many of Plaza Nueva’s “pintxo” (tapas) bars are sheltered within the 189 year-old arches around the square.

The magnificent Basque countryside is just beyond the city limits, easily reached by rental car, or with the modern Metro system, which goes all the way to the Atlantic coast in about 30 minutes. The upscale residential and shopping area of Getxo is a good destination for lunch, or an afternoon of golf at a course overlooking the sea. A slightly longer auto trip will lead into the mountains and valleys of Vizcaya Province, where wineries and historic Basque villages provide great off-the-beaten path adventures.


Doha Journal: City speeds up hotel, stadium and metro construction in time for 2022 World Cup

Doha skyline continues to impress visitors with savvy architecture for new hotels, office towers and cultural attractions.

By Ron Bernthal With a winning bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and a national objective to diversify its economy, Qatar has been gearing up for an expansion of its tourism industry with investments being channeled into the construction of new hotels, malls, conference centers, cultural attractions, and a brand new Metro system. . In addition to the above listed projects, Qatar is building six (and renovating two) World Cup-quality soccer stadiums in Doha, Qatar’s capital,  and four nearby cities. All the stadiums are within a 35- mile radius from  Doha, which will make it incredibly convenient for fans. Unlike past World Cup tournaments, those attending the 2022 event can base themselves in one hotel and attend matches in any of the host  stadiums without having to fly between cities or take overnight trips. It’s a dream for spectators. Adding to the experience are the incredible soccer venues, all complete with cooling systems to combat the desert heat.

Ras Abu Aboud Stadium will be one of the venues during Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 event Nov 21 – Dec 18 (rendering courtesy 2022 FIFA World Cup )

All of these new projects will be needed to satisfy the approximately one million visitors that will descend on Doha for World Cup 2022. If soccer fans are concerned that this small country, just 0.12% the size of the United States, may not be ready for prime time, just remember that Qatar’s profitable oil and natural gas exports make it the world’s richest country. Although Doha had its share of upscale hotels before winning the World Cup bid – think Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Millennium Plaza, Dusit Doha – and others, it was the 100,000 guest rooms that FIFA requires for cities to host a World Cup event that spurred the city’s current frenzy of hotel construction projects. The new competitors are pushing the envelope in terms of amenities, architecture, and culinary offerings, targeting not only 2022 World Cup visitors, but also the growth of international business travelers arriving at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, a group which is expected to increase in the years ahead. Some of hotel projects that opened in Doha in the past several years include the Mondrian Doha, which opened in 2017. Qatar has been interested in all genre’s of design in its commercial structures, and the Mondrian offers fantastical colors, shapes and a somewhat surreal atmosphere. Designed by noted Dutch product and interior designer Marcel Wanders, this lavish hotel tower features a 24K gold elevator, with 211-rooms and 59 suites designed in an opulent fashion. The hotel is home to two new restaurants run by internationally renowned chefs, the Morimoto Doha, with Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto, and CUT by Wolfgang Puck. The hotel’s 27th-floor Rise Skybar offers stunning views of Pearl, West Bay and Lusail City, and a hand-painted glass dome.

Rise, on Mondrian Doha’s 27th floor, is modeled after the Mondrian LA’s Skybar. (photo Mondrian Doha)

One of Hilton’s most familiar brands opened in Qatar in 2019 when the DoubleTree by Hilton Doha-Al Sadd opened its doors to the public. The 139-room property welcomes guests to its location in the heart of the city’s commercial district. It will feature five dining venues, a health club with an outdoor pool, and a selection of meeting rooms.

King guestroom at DoubleTree by Hilton Doha-Al Sadd (image © 2020 Hilton)

Other Doha hotels appearing afterwards include the Staybridge Suites Doha Lusail; Mandarin Oriental; Four Points by Sheraton;  and the Park Hyatt Doha Hotel, among others.

Park Hyatt Doha opened in 2019. (photo courtesy Hyatt Hotels & Resorts)

In 2020 several additional hotels have opened, or plan to open, including The Vyra Suites NH Collection Doha, a property located in West Bay, Doha’s business district. The new-build, 44-story property offers 72 one-bedroom, 144 two-bedroom, and 12 three-bedroom apartments as well as a restaurant, coffee shop, fully equipped gym, indoor swimming pool, kids’ club, teens room, and a number of meeting rooms. The Plaza Doha Anantara Hotel & Suites is located in the Um Ghuwelina area of the city, with 292 rooms and about 15 minutes’ drive from Hamad International Airport. The venue will include multiple dining options and a fully air-conditioned courtyard atrium that is expected to be the centerpiece of the property. Other facilities will include a spa and wellness area, a rooftop infinity swimming pool, as well as an indoor pool, a fully equipped gym and a 12,00 square-foot ballroom along with six meeting rooms.Accor’s first Majlis Grand Mercure Hotel is due to start welcoming guests in late 2020. The 238-room hotel will be housed in a 41-story development and features extensive business, sports and leisure facilities, as well as nine food and beverage outlets.

Majlis Grand Mercure Hotel Doha (image courtesy ProTenders)

The Steigenberger Hotel Doha Airport Road is set to open with 204-rooms, including a number of suites and a royal suite. A 4,300 square-foot ballroom and six meeting facilities will attract both personal events as well as professional meetings. Guests can also enjoy a spa, gym and a roof top pool as well as various F&B facilities. One European-style restaurant, an international all-day dining restaurant with an open kitchen, a lobby lounge and a roof top health bar will be part of the F&B services.

Doha Steigenberger Hotel Doha Airport Road opened in 2020. (rendering courtesy Steigenberger Hotels)

The Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas and Zulal Wellness Resort, are scheduled to open late 2020 and early 2021, respectively.

The two new openings, Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas and Zulal Wellness Resort, will each bring something different to the broad range of amenities and experiences already available to domestic and international tourists.


His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Secretary General of Qatar National Tourism Council and CEO of Qatar Airways, said of the developments: “Throughout this year and in the run up to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 TM, we are expanding our tourism offering to ensure guests can enjoy the very best in Qatari hospitality. Extensive hotel and resort development is key to our strategy, and we are pleased to have two outstanding developments underway, including our partnership with Hilton Hotels and Resorts with the Salwa Beach project.”


The seventh Hilton hotel opening in the region, the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas, is located 50 miles from Doha. The resort is set across two miles of picturesque private beaches and features spacious beach villas, each with private pools and gardens. Thirty villas are now available for bookings, with a further 246 deluxe hotel rooms and suites due to open in early 2021.

Additional amenities include the locally inspired Souk Kitchen to the stylish Octa seafood restaurant, with over 20 other eateries on site with varied cuisine. 


Outside of Abu Samra, the Zulal Wellness Resort is set to be the largest wellness destination in the country, and the first wellbeing resort in the region. Partially opening in late 2020 before its complete opening in early 2021, the resort will be located in the north of Qatar and will offer treatments and facilities for families or couples looking to escape Doha for some time in the Arabian dunes.


A total of 15 hotels are slated to open in Doha in 2020, adding 3,490 rooms to the city’s inventory, and it is likely that most of these projects will open on time. Another 12 hotels are planned for 2021, bringing 3,540 additional rooms to the city. Most of the new properties are four- and five-star hotels, with Accor, Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide leading in the number of guest rooms in the pipeline.

The JW Marriott West Bay is expected to open in mid-2021, with 297-rooms within a towering 53-story skyscraper. A cantilevered swimming pool on the 30th floor will offer stunning views of the city and the Persian Gulf. In addition. there will be several food and beverage venus, state-of-the-art sports and wellness facilities, and perfect location on the Doha’s popular Corniche. Also debuting in 2021 will be Marriott’s latest addition to its Luxury Collection’s portfolio in the Middle East, the Al Messila, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa in an environment that promotes wellness and sustainability. Conveniently located just a 25-minute drive from the airport, and 15 minutes away from Doha’s histsoric oasis district.

Al Messila, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Doha. (image Marriott Hotels & Resorts)

The Al Messila property offers 152 rooms and suites, as well as 30 private villas, each of which has its own pool and garden area. The hotel complex includes eight fine dining venues which have been coordinated by Michelin Star chef Pino Lavarra. A spa and wellness center will have 26 treatment rooms, with space devoted for the use of female guests exclusively. The extravagant Katara Towers Lusail Marina District is now taking shape in the Lusail Marina District in Qatar. This soaring structure will not only house a five-star hotel, but also a luxurious six-star hotel as well. The new 36-story project will tower over the Lusail Marina District, taking the form of crossed swords as they appear on the Qatari seal. The concept was designed by the German firm King Consult, and is due to open in early 2021.

The mixed-use Katara Towers Lusail Marina District will consist of two towers, and include a 5-star and 6-star hotel property, numerous food and beverage venus, retail shoping and seaside amenities (image Katara Hospitality)

The Katara Towers will have direct access to one of the new man-made beaches, located on a satellite island right in front of the harbour, offering visitors food and drinks in one of the Marina District’s many food and beverage outlets. The Katara Towers Lusail Marina District will be a mixed-use development project housing a variety of venues and amenities, spread ovear the two towers and nearby smaller structures. Within Doha’s center and surrounding communities, ten new properties with a total of 3,855 rooms are scheduled to open in 2022 and beyond, not including the 16 temporary floating hotels that will open on the shores of Doha’s Qetaifan Island North in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The floating hotels project is just a 15-minute ride to Lusail Stadium, one of the World Cup venues.

View of temporary floating hotels by ADMARES that will house visitors during the 2022 World Cup in Doha. Rooms at the hotel can be booked online one year before the Nov 2022 event. (rendering courtesy ADMARES)

Constructed by ADMARES, an international firm with headquarters in Finland, the temporary hotels have a unique design – 236-feet long and 52-feet wide, each floating building will consist of 101 guest rooms, a restaurant and lounge bar, and all will be decorated in a clean, Scandinavian style, with shades of white and wood tones. All of the 16 four-story hotels will be identical, offering a total of 1,616 hotel rooms. Following the World Cup, there are plans for these floating hotels to be relocated to a permanent location in Qatar, though no details have yet been announced. The hotels do not have an official name yet — though the developers note that interested guests will be able to book the unique rooms one year out from the 2020 World Cup event. Visitors to Doha should be sure to visit the city’s historic “souq” marketplace, as well as several of the art galleries, museums, city restaurants and desert and Persian Gulf attractions that make Qatar a distinctive, safe and enjoyable destination. Admission to the permanent galleries at the Museum of Islamic Art is free, and indoor and outdoors cafes, a gift shop and IDAM, a world class restaurant run by Alain Ducasse, are also available to visitors. Onsite guides are also available to assist visitors.

Museum of Islamic Art Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect I M Pei (photo Ron Bernthal )

A four-mile long waterfront promenade stretches for the entire length of Doha Bay, the Corniche offers views of the city and the sea, as well as public artworks. The Corniche offers a vehicle-free pedestrian space in the heart of the city, with cafes, restaurants, and a running track, often used by locals and visitors in the early morning hours, before it becomes too hot.

Doha’s four-mile long waterfront promenade offers public art and views of the sea and city skyline (photo Ron Bernthal)

Visit the busy alleys of Souq Waqif, which provides an interesting taste of Doha’s traditional shops, art galleries, architecture and culture. The maze of small shops offer a dazzling array of Middle Eastern products, from spices and seasonal delicacies such as fresh dates and nuts, to hand-made jewellery, clothing, and local crafts. Traditional Qatari cuisine can be found at Souq Waqif, as well as at nearby hotels and in excellent fish restaurants near the sea. Winter nights can be quite cool in Qatar, but during the long summer, visitors are advised to browse Souq Waqif in the evening, when the heat is less intense and families are out and about under colorful strings of lights and a star-filled sky.

Grilled fresh fish and seafood is always available at many Qatari restaurants.  Waiters and shop workers are friendly and helpful to visitors navigating their way through Doha and other areas. . (photo Ron Bernthal)

The Katara Cultural Village is the largest and the most multidimensional cultural project of Qatar. It is a place where people, both Qatari’s and visitors, come together to experience the cultures of the world. With beautiful theaters, concert halls, exhibition galleries and cutting-edge facilities, Katara has become a world leader for multi-cultural activities.

Katara Cultural Village on a rare, rainy night in Doha. Qatar averages just three inches of rain per year. (photo Alex Serseev)

Doha Mall, a $450 million project, opened its door in February 2020. Located at Abu Hamour, the only super-regional mall in the southern part of Doha, it is hoping to fulfil consumers’ growing appetite for fashion, new age entertainment and new restaurant choices. At the intersection of F-Ring Road and Wholesale Market Street and 10 minutes from Hamad International Airport,” Rony Mourani, general manager of Al Mana Malls told a press conference. “One of the Qatar Rail Metro stations can be easily accessed within the mall vicinity,” said Rony Mourani, general manager of Al Mana Malls. “We also plan to have shuttle bus service to leading hotels so that tourists can access the mall at their convenience. We expect Doha Mall to host over one million visitors each month, owing to its location and other features”

The multimillion-dollar Doha Mall opened in February, 2020, one of Doha’s largest retail projects. (rendering courtesy Al Mana Malls)

Doha Mall is home to more than 250 retail stores, with over 14 anchor stores, a new FLiK Cinemas concept, 10 cinema screens, world-class bowling center, high-tech family entertainment centre, a trampoline and adventure park for children, and a wide range of dining options with more than 60 food and beverage venues. Doha’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) has been voted the ‘Best Airport in the Middle East’ for the sixth year in a row and ‘Best Staff Service in the Middle East’ for the fifth year in a row. HIA also continues to retain its five-star airport classification since 2017. It is also rated as the ‘world’s fastest growing airport’. During 2019, the airport served a record 38,786,422 passengers, the most since the start of its operations in 2014. “Every year that we move up the ranks is particularly rewarding as this honor comes directly from our passengers who have shared their experiences travelling through our airport through SKYTRAX surveys,” said Engr. Badr Mohammed Al Meer, Chief Operating Officer at Hamad International Airport. “Despite all the challenges that the aviation sector faces today, we are committed to our primary role of helping travelers reach their home countries safely.”

Doha’s modern Hamad International Airport has received top ratings in many airport categories since it began operations in 2014. (photo courtesy Hamad Internationjal Airport)

HIA commenced its recent airport expansion project in early 2020. Phase A of the expansion will increase HIA’s capacity to more than 53 million passengers annually by 2022. Phase B which will increase the airport’s capacity to more than 60 million passengers annually. Designed to seamlessly integrate with the existing terminal, the expansion will also target to be a LEED Silver certified energy efficient building. The tropical indoor garden and water feature will allow passengers to benefit from the calming effects of nature, and its award-winning Al Safwa First Class Lounge and the Al Mourjan Business Lounge offer some of the best lounge amenities in the world.

Doha Metro Msheireb Station (image © Hufton+Crow)

A new metro network for Doha, designed by the Dutch architecture firm UNStudio, working with the  Ministry of Railway Construction of Qatar, established the vision of creating a new Doha metro network that is expected to help the city with its addiction to private cars, and make travelling both more streamlined and cleaner in terms of carbon emissions.  Visitors will enjoy the speed and efficiency of the system, and the modern stations and trains, but wealthy locals will find it difficult to shun their Mercedes, Porsche’s, and Maserati’s for public transportation.  .

Doha Metro DECC Station (image © Hufton+Crow)

Qatar Rail opened Doha’s first-ever metro network in 2019, having enlisted UNStudio to work on the concept design and branding. Construction started in 2013, and when the first three lines of the Doha Metro Network opened in 2019, it created one of the most advanced and fastest driverless metro systems in the world, capable of reaching speeds of 60 mph. . The Doha Metro Network serves both the capital and the suburbs with all major locations within easy reach. Most of the Doha Metro lines are underground, so tunneling played a major role in the construction, which means that there is very little disruption to street life above ground. .The Red, Gold and Green lines are now complete, with 37 stations and a length of about 45 miles. The Blue line is expected to open in 2025, and with expansion of the existing lines, an additional 60 stations will be completed by 2026.

Partial map of Doha Railway Metro System (Image © Qatar Railways Company/designed by UNStudio)

Stations play an important part, practically and culturally, of any metro system, especially in Qatar.. Architecturally, the stations reflect the heritage of the country, with a ‘vaulted spaces’ design plan inspired by traditional Bedouin tents. The largest station, Msheireb, will be the heart of the Doha Metro with the Red, Green and Gold lines all meeting at this point. “We set up a unique series of “elements” that you could use, mix and match, mirror and reposition in order to make a variety of stations shapes and sizes,” said UNStudio co-founder Ben van Berkel. “There’s a manual with everything in there, from construction details, to how materials and light in the station needs to be placed, how wayfinding becomes part of the system, so every architect and subcontractor who is called to work on a station in the future can use it and create from this manual.”

“The station designs by UNStudio include swooping curves and defining geometries. ‘We have a fascination for complex geometries and we knew that only with a few key, carefully designed elements you can make many variants but also keep the identity of the stations similar,  that’s part of what the client had asked for,” said van Berkel.

Doha Metro Al Riffa Station (Image © Hufton+Crow)

This new Metro project is also a component of creating new public spaces in the city. The Doha Metro Network, “should be a space for social interaction, exercise and encounters, as much as a valuable bit of infrastructure:”  Encouraging people to leave their cars behind, walk more and meet, was important, and having retail spaces in the bigger stations will help support the expected interest among locals and visitors. .

“This project will make Doha a metropolitan city,” said van Berkel. “‘I like the idea that the Doha Metro Network will generate an enormous amount of activity. It is made for the city first, but also ease transit between stadiums, hotels and attractions during the upcoming World Cup.”

UNStudio has designed eye-catching and easily recognizable subway station signs at busy road intersections, always reminding people that there are more efficient means of transportation that can replace private transportation. The extensive geographical coverage of the subway network makes the transportation in Doha more comfortable and convenient. At the same time, the new subway line network also sets up safe passages across busy road intersections on the ground to provide safe and convenient services for passengers and ordinary pedestrians.

Doha Metro Msheireb Station entrance (Image © Hufton+Crow)

Ben van Berkel said “In the future, our way of travel around the city will be very different. The methods of travel will change very quickly, from electric cars to city cable cars to super high-speed rail. The future transportation hub must respond to and adapt to these changes. In order to encourage people to use For more sustainable transportation, these stations must not only ensure the smooth flow of passengers, but also need to be truly attractive to the public. Make them places that people want to visit and are happy to go to and from.”


Berlin Journal: After many delays, the new Berlin airport is set to open. Really.

Terminal 1 facade at new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, official opening is October 31st, 2020. (photo Berlin Brandenburg Airport)

By Ron Bernthal

In 2006 the German government announced the commencement of construction of a new airport to replace Berlin-Tegel, a 1948 built airport that was constructed as part of the Berlin airlift following World War II, and then as a military airport before beginning scheduled commercial flights in 1960.  Berlin-Tegel  was hopelessly overcrowded and outdated, but loved by Berliners because of its convenient location, just five miles (15 minutes taxi drive) from the center of Berlin.

The new airport, named Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt  (English version is Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt) was expected to open in 2011.  Willy Brandt was both the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (1964-87) and served as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) (1969-74), and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 . He died in 1992 at the age of 79. The new airport is expected to overtake Dusseldorf as Germany’s third busiest, behind Frankfurt and Munich.

Unfortunately, especially for Germany’s reputation for punctuality, serious airport construction and infrastructure delays piled up.  Every year since the expected 2011 opening date, the airport’s construction firm had to publicly announce another delay, often due to logistics, or personnel issues, or equipment breakdowns, or financial problems. As the years went by, many German and international air carriers with routes into Berlin had soured about having to change their own operational move-in timetable every year, and the German government continued to spend millons of euro’s just to maintain the site’s structures, security, and environment. To put things in perspective, and to better understand the length of the construction, modern airport terminal technology, like self-check-in kiosks and cellphone charging stations, did not exist when the original plans were drawn up, but had to be added before it’s official opening. Final construction costs are expected to reach 7 billion EUR from the original 3 billion EUR estimate.

View of Terminal 1 exteerior gate in 2011, almost ready for passengers, but a series of delays would push opening to late 2020. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The airport construction delays caused politicans to lose their posts, businesses to file for bankruptcy, and comedians to flood the airwaves with jokes about Germany’s ongoing construction scandal.  If got so bad that Willy Brandt’s descendents requested his name be removed from airport signage and documentation, as they did not want his name to be associated with such a disaster.  Apparently, they reconsidered. 

Berlin Brandenburg Airport’s runway 07R/25L, 13,123-feet long, awaits the airport’s official opening date in October 2020. (photo Ron Bernthal)

On October 31, 2020, however, all the bad feelings will be mostly forgotten as the new Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport (code BER) is, yes, finally scheduled to open, with all the bells and whistles that German technology and creativity can provide.

How do we know it will really open this time?  Because on October 1, 2020, the Joint Aviation Authority of Berlin-Brandenburg presented Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH with permission to begin operations as well as the official airport operating certificate for Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt (BER). The completed project is a large, modern, and beautiful facility and, in time, German government officials will forget the expense, trouble and embarrassment that everyone had to go through for more than a decade.

Of course, opening day will not be the first time that aircraft will land on BER’s long runways.  Because the new facilities were constructed adjacent to Berlin-Schӧnefeld, a small airport that opened in 1934, and used mostly for charter flights, many Berliners were already familiar with driving, or taking the train, from downtown Berlin to Schӧnefeld.  After the official opening, the older Berlin-Schӧnefeld will merge its charter flights and other operations into the new Berlin-Brandenburg, and share the BER airport code. With the opening of new terminal T1 (and T2 in early 2021, depending on the increase in passenger and flight operations), the second runway on the southern side of BER will also be inaugurated, and the existing Berlin- Schӧnefeld will terminal will become Terminal 5 (T5), all operated by BER.

Terminal 1 baggage check-in area. (photo Berlin Brandenburg Airport)


With three terminals and two runways on a total area of 3,632 acres, the new BER has an initial annual capacity of 27 million passengers, and the plan is to gradually increase that capacity to an annual 45 million passengers by 2040, creating an estimated 60,000 new jobs by 2035.

The 10,000 square-foot artwork “Magic Carpet” by artist Pae White is among many art pieces throughout Terminal 1 (photo Berlin Brandenburg Airport)

With the opening of BER airport, all air traffic in the German capital region will be concentrated in one location. Berlin is a major tourist magnet, political center and trade fair city, and in the past decade the German state of Brandenburg has been gaining economic importance, attracting major global companies, such as Arcelor Mittal, Bombardier, Daimler, Fielmann, Goodyear Dunlop, MTU, Oracle, Rolls-Royce, VW Logistics and Tesla –  all with locations in the Berlin/Brandenburg region.

The new BER will become an important hub for linking the strong economic and tourism growth of the region to more than 150 destinations. During the ceremonial opening day, a Lufthansa aircraft and an easyJet plane will be landing simultaneously at the new airport, while dozens of additional airlines will follow with thousands of arrivals and departures.

For airport passengers, BER is connected to the region’s excellent autobahn system and its high-speed ICE and local rail networks, connecting the airport with center city Berlin in 20-50 minutes, After the official opening, up to 14 trains per hour will be available for passengers. Deutsche Bahn (DB) has integrated the BER rail station  into its current network and will offer long-distance and local rail connections from the airport  station.

Express train at the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport Station (photo Berlin Brandenburg Airport)

“We had already completed our tracks and platform facilities in time for the original scheduled opening date in October, 2011, and we will be ready again when the flights begin in late October, 2020,” said Alexander Kaczmarek, DB’s authorized representative for the State of Berlin.

Hi-Speed Deutsche Bahn express trains will connect BER with downtown Berlin in 20 minutes, and with other German and European city rail stations. (photo DB)









Since 2011, DB has had to continuously monitor and maintain the new facilities for safe operation and has been running empty trains to keep the tunnels and station ventilated. Rail times to the center of Berlin are presently 28 minutes for Airport Express services and 51 minutes by S-Bahn. (The Airport Express time will shortly be reduced to 20 minutes when DB completes a project to lay two additional tracks for regional and long-distance trains alongside the existing S-Bahn tracks on the Dresden main line.)

Terminal 2 is a departure and arrival terminal and has an annual capacity of 6 million passengers. It is connected to Terminal 1 via two bridges. Terminal 2 was completed in September 2020. (photo Berlin Brandenburg Airport)

Opening a new airport during a worldwide pandemic will not be easy, but airport management is making passenger safety of paramount importance. As of August 20, 2020, all passengers arriving from high-risk areas into Berlin-Tegel have  had to undergo a free COVID test within 72 hours and isolate in a private environment until the results arrive. At the new airport, all passengers will be required to adhere to RKI (Robert-Koch-Institute) guidelines and official government recommendations to contain the virus. These can be found in hygiene protocols and include keeping at least six-feet  distance, wearing a mask, and washing / sanitizing their hands regularly. In addition to that, it is recommend that all passengers inform themselves regularly about new safety measures taken by German officials.

Terminal 1, with its long glass facade, forms the center of the airport complex designed by Meinhard von Gerkan, Hubert Nienhoff and Hans Joachim Paap. The guiding principle for the central terminal was the “one roof concept”, with all the key airport functions bundled together. The new passenger terminal consists of a main, two story hall, spanned by a filigree steel-and-glass roof. Facades feature clear geometrical lines, inspired by architectural concepts from Schinkel to Bauhaus, as well as using materials from local pine forests. The interior is dominated by warm wood tones and natural stone.

The visual centerpiece of the check-in hall is a large, seemingly floating, red wave made of metal mesh flutters. Designed by Los Angeles-based artist Pae White, the work might be reminiscent of a flying carpet or membrane between the known and the unknown.

The airport will eventually feature 39 restaurants and 20 service companies, with an almost 100,000 square-foot retail plaza in the heart of the main terminal.

View of new airport buildings. . (photo Berlin Brandenburg Airport)

The Steigenberger Airport Hotel is located adjacent to the terminal, within close walking distance to departure/arrival facilities and the train station. The property is currently taking reservations for stays beginning on October 15, 2020.  The hotel offers 322 rooms as well as a conference center with meeting space for up to 500 people, a fine dining restaurant and a spa.

Entrance to Steigenberger Berlin Brandenburg Airport Hotel (photo Steigenberger Hotels)

The new airport’s commissioning will begin with the opening of BER’s Terminal 1 on  October 31, 2020.  On this day, an easyJet aircraft and a Lufthansa aircraft will arrive at the same time and be the first to be received and handled at the new terminal’s Main Pier. On the morning of 4 November, the airport will start operations on the southern runway with a Qatar Airways aircraft landing, while BER’s new night-time flight restrictions will also apply starting on this day. The last flight from Berlin-Tegel will be operated by Air France, from Berlin-Tegel to Paris, on November 8, 2020.

Germany’s 30-Year Reunification Celebrations Begin in Oct 2020

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, 1964 (photo © Ron Bernthal)

By Ron Bernthal

With Germany’s reunification on October 3, 1990, Berlin was reinstated as Germany’s united capital city. The five states of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Extensively restored historic towns and cities became popular travel destinations, as well as places renowned for sustainability, originality, culture, nature, UNESCO sites, art, and art history. According to a study by IPK International’s World Travel Monitor for 2019, Germany became the number one culture destination for Europeans.

Part of the Berlin Wall along Bernauerstrasse. (photo ©Ron Bernthal)

On October 3, 2020, all of Germany will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the German reunification. The peaceful revolution in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the opening of the internal borders finally led to the unification of Germany. These historic events also provided the opportunity for the German National Tourist Board to market all the cities and towns of the 16 federal states in Germany as one, unified entity.                                                                                     

Berlin’s Brandenberg Gate (photo © Ron Bernthal)

Shortly after reunification, 31.3 million international overnight stays were counted in the Federal Republic, and in the former GDR, including Berlin, 3.4 million overnight stays were recorded. By 2019, incoming tourism to Germany had increased to 89.9 million overnight stays.                                                                                                 

The former East German town of Wismar offers visitors a beautifully restored city center for biking or walking ( photo @ Hanjo Volster & Presse Wismar)

 Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board (GNTB), recognizes the events of 1989/90 as a milestone for the successful development of incoming tourism in the following years: “The success of the reunification is particularly reflected in the immense growth of the new states, including Berlin,” said Hedorfer. 

Scenic golden fields on the island of Poel in the Baltic City, Northern Germany (photo Markus Frick)

In Berlin, the number of overnight stays by tourists has risen by 6.2 times over the last three decades, reaching 21.1 million. Simultaneously, the share of the new states in incoming tourism for all of Germany has more than doubled from about 10% at the beginning of the 1990’s to 23%. In particular, extensively restored historic cities have become popular travel destinations, such as Saxony’s capital Dresden, which recorded 960,000 overnight stays from abroad last year, and nearby Leipzig, with more than 500,000 international visitor overnights.                                             

Leipzig, St Thomas Church, view from the Petersstraße (photo Andreas Schmidt/Leipzig Tourismus und Marketing GmbH)

However, the Corona pandemic in the anniversary year 2020 represents a rare setback in Germany’s incoming tourism success story. According to an analysis by Tourism Economics, the number of overnight stays in Germany is expected to fall by at least 51.1%, as compared to the previous year, to 44.1 million in 2020. This number is roughly identical with the statistics from 2004.

In 1964 drivers coming from West Germany had to pass through East Germany, wikth no stopping along the way, before reaching the security checkpoints to enter West Berlin. (photo
© Ron Bernthal)

“According to the recovery scenarios of Tourism Economics, we can return to the level of 2019 for incoming tourism by 2023,” said Hedorfer. “With our strong tourism offers in all 16 Federal states, and Germany’s excellent positioning as a travel destination in the international competition, we are confident that we will meet this challenge and emerge stronger from the crisis.”

German National Tourist Board (GNTB)

New 2020-2022 Hotel Openings in Italy

View of restored 14th-century Barco house at Castello di Reschio Estate in Umbria, Italy (photo © Castello di Reschio)

By Ron Bernthal
Italy is showing enthusiasm for a leisure and business travel revival as Covid-19 has relaxed its grip on the country.  Seventy-three hotels, totalling 11,391 rooms, are expected to open during the 2020-2022 period. 
For the remainder of 2020, there are 22 openings scheduled, with 3,071 rooms, and five of these properties are already  in the pre-opening phase as of September, 2020.  In 2021, 14 new hotels will open their doors in Italy, with another 13 properties launching in 2022, and 24 hotel projects scheduled for 2023.  Of Italy’s 73 new  properties, all will be listed as either four-star or five-star venues.

DoubleTree by Hilton Rome Monti, lobby view (image courtesy Hilton Rome Monti)

Hilton Hotels & Resorts is scheduled to open three new properties in Italy, including the 133-room DoubleTree by Hilton Rome Monti, set to open in December, 2020. The Monti neighborhood, with its art galleries, cafes and cute shops offers a great location for visitors. The hotel is close to the Bank of Italy, Quirinal Palace and various ministries and embassies, and within walking distance of the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.   
The 439-room Hilton Rome Eur La Lama has an expected opening date in late 2021.  Nicknamed ‘The Cloud’ because of the unique fiberglass and silicone shape hung on a steel frame and suspended inside the building, the hotel  will contain an auditorium for 1,800, conference and congress halls seating 6,000, restaurants, and an underground car park. The complex is designed with the latest energy-saving materials and uses renewable sources for heating and air conditioning.
The hotel brand citizenM has confirmed plans to expand into Italy with properties in both Rome and Milan.The company is partnering with the independent asset management company Antirion, which has purchased a detached building of architectural and cultural interest of about 75,000 square-feet in the center of Rome. The property is currently being used as office space, but will undergo a renovation project to convert it into a 160-room citizenM hotel. The Rome property will open in 2021 or 2022, followed by a second hotel in Milan.
Radisson Blu, the upscale brand of the Radisson Hotel Group, will open a new property next to Rome’s international airport.  The Radisson Blu Hotel, Rome Fiumicino International Airport, will be the fourth Radisson Blu to arrive in Italy, the new hotel will be part of a long-term plan to strengthen the brand’s presence in the country. The hotel will be linked to the terminal and will feature 289 rooms, an all-day restaurant, lobby bar, gym and meeting and events space including a ballroom. The airport property is expected to open in 2024. It will join the Radisson Blu Hotel Milan, Radisson Blu Resort Hotel in Terme di Galzignano near Padua, and the Radisson Blu es. Hotel Rome.

The Leonardo Express is a Trenitalia train connecting Fiumicino Airport with Rome’s central rail station. (photo Juan Enrique Gilardi)

“Rome Airport has transformed itself and recently took pole position in Europe in terms of customer service and experience,” said  Elie Younes, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer, Radisson Hotel Group. ““Italy is now a key focus market for our organic growth and will soon see a wider range of Radisson Hotel Group properties arriving in key cities and destinations. This is a journey that we’re sure will excite all of our stakeholders.”
Italy’s largest airport, Rome Fiumicino (FCO), sits a little less than 20 miles from central Rome and guests staying at the new Radission Blu airport property can easily get into Rome’s center for business or leisure activities using the train from the airport train station, a short walk from the hotel.

The Leonardo Express is a Trenitalia train connecting Fiumicino airport with the main train station in Rome, Termini. It takes roughly 32 minutes and leaves the airport every half-hour, or every 15 minutes during peak hours. It’s non-stop service from the airport to Termini, with the first train leaving the airport at 6:38 a.m., and the last of the day at 11:38 p.m. Tickets cost €14 (about $16) each way.

Radisson Hotel Group also announces the opening of the fifth Radisson Collection Hotel in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the heart of the Dolomites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The new partnership will include a repositioning of the existing Grand Hotel Savoia and Savoia Palace, which will become respectively a Radisson Collection Hotel and a Radisson property. The Grand Hotel Savoia Cortina d’Ampezzo, A Radisson Collection Hotel, will open in December, 2020.

Rendering of guest room at Grand Hotel Savoia Cortina d’Ampezzo, A Radisson Collection Hotel (image courtesy Radisson Hotel Group)

This hotel will have 126 rooms, including 19 junior suites and 8 suites. The leisure and catering amenities include an exclusive restaurant, a lobby and Cigar Bar, as well as a wellness area and SPA. With about 6,500 square-feet dedicated to high-tech meetings and events, the property will be the largest conference area in Cortina.

Cortina d’Ampezzo has a thousand-year history and a long tradition as a year-round tourist destination  Cortina was the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics, and continues to be an important mountain destination, as it will host the World Ski Championship in 2021, and the Winter Olympics in 2026. It is also one of the largest ski areas in the world with 12 ski areas and over 745 miles of skiing terrain. 

In terms of hotel growth markets, Rome takes the lead with 16 new hotels and 3,278 rooms. Five properties will launch in both Milan and Venice, adding 568 and 498 rooms respectively, with Florence next with just four new properties on the horizon, but a with a larger total room count of 768.

Paragon 700 Hotel

In Ostuni, in the Puglia region of Italy, the deluxe, boutique property  Paragon 700 opened its doors in June, 2020, and features 11 luxurious rooms and suites, perfect for a romantic getaway or a luxury buyout for the ultimate socially distanced family vacation. The former Italian palace is complete with all the royal amenities, including lush, private gardens; cathedral ceilings; period frescoes; rare green space in the heart of the city; and an impeccable location that’s just a five-minute walk to the city square.
A high-end restaurant and bar, tastings in Paragon 700’s carefully curated wine cellar, private voyages by boat, and a spa that houses a Turkish bath and a Himalayan salt wall are just a few of the amenities found at this property. Guests who fall in love with the eclectic interior decorating items can actually purchase select furnishings for their own homes.  Any sold pieces will quickly be replaced by  by the owners, who have collected unusual artistic and colorful pieces from around the world.

Hotel Castello di Reschio, Umbria, Italy.

(Above)  HOTEL CASTELLO DI RESCHIO, UMBRIA, ITALY (© Castello di Reschio) 
Another unique Italian hotel project is at a restored 11th-century castle in Lisciano Niccone, located between Umbria and Tuscany.  The renovated Castello di Reschio  has been coverted into a beautiful, 36-room bedroom hotel, surrounded by the classic Umbrian landscape of rolling hills and tall Cypress trees.

Swimming pool at Castello di Reschio (photo © Castello di Reschio)

The 15  historic, stone farmhouses (15 others have not yet been restored) offer guests and small groups a different experience, including rooms with period furniture, artwork, custom-made mosaics, and fine linens. While other structures offer a private dining venues, swimming pool, fitness and spa, and onsite tennis court, guests can explore the 2,700-acre estate by car or horseback.
In Florence, The Student Hotel Florence Belfiore will open in 2022 with 670 rooms. Situated in Viale Belfiore, in the former Fiat headquarters, the TSH project will also include residential units, supermarket, retail stores and a 600-space parking lot.  A former apartment building will be fully renovated to create the brand’s signature hybrid co-living/co-working community. The hotel’s amenities will include rooftop garden, running track, swimming pool, outdoor gym and expected affordable rates.  

A former Fiat factory in Florence is being developed into The Student Hotel Florence Belfiore, a large mixed-use project expected to open in 2022 (image courtesy TSH)

The Student Hotel in the Belfiore district, will have 30,000 square-feet of co-working office space,  the inhouse Commons restaurant, a supermarket and parking for 600 vehicles.  The hotel’s large events space and roof garden will be accessible to all.  This extensive mixed-used development will accommodate additional third-party retail and food & beverage units, and hotel guests and locals will be able to work-out in a 50-meter (160-feet) lap pool and a gym.
The development will result in the complete revitalization of the site, a former Fiat factory and office, with the integration of more green public spaces also substantially improving the local environment. Florence has the third largest student population in Italy and a large international contingent following the 27 international educational programmes held annually in the city.  
Florence is also getting a new luxury hotel with the March, 2021, opening of Il Tornabuoni.  The 62-room hotel on Via Tornabuoni is in the historic 13th-century Palazzo Minerbetti, one of the city’s oldest palazzo residences.  The name comes from its first owner, Andrea Minerbetti, who in 1470 acquired a portion of the street, Via de’ Tornabuoni for a series of construction projects.
The palace had already been in his family for a decade prior. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, the house had a balcony on the corner of street ‘Via del Parione’ which was restored by sculptor and architect Girolamo Ticciati between 1737 and 1740. The balcony is still documented in some of the early 19th century engravings.
A rooftop restaurant overlooking Santa Maria Novella and the city’s famous skyline, as well as a Champagne bar will attract guests and locals looking for something new and exciting in the neighborhood.

Airport City Manchester Journal: A large, mixed-use development ent to Manchester Airport in England satisfies business and residential needs.

Green space, office, retail, hotels, and residential housing are part of the Airport City Manchester project, located adjacent to Mancester Airport in England (rendering courtesy Airport City Manchester)

By Ron Bernthal

With little fanfare and just modest media coverage, the total planning area of the Airport City Manchester project now comprises about five-million square-feet, with a total development value of over $1.3 billion. The project, situated next to Manchester, England’s busy internatinal, is one of the most connected, intelligent and enterprising business destinations in development today. The site encompasses office buildings, hotels, advanced manufacturing, logistics facilities, retail space, and d ybrid and ancillary retail space, hotels, retail space, along with transient and permanent residential units.

Aerial view of Airport City Manchester project with Manchester Airport shown at top of image. Multiple business campuses, hotels, logistics and manufacturing building, as well as access to rail lines and major highways (image courtesy Airport City Manchester)

The project is not only helping to expedite the airport’s own terminal’s expansion program (a separate project, using different funding), but the area surrounding Manchester Airport is now offering a very desirable lifestyle for business executives and employees who are relocating to the Manchester suburbs, with outstanding residential, education and leisure facilities.

View of one of the business campuses being developed at Airport City Manchester, a new development project adjacent to Manchester Airport (rendering courtesy Airport City Manchester)

Adjacent to the UK’s third biggest airport, the largest of the two sites, ‘THQ’, is a new landmark business campus being developed by The Hut Group (THG), one of the world’s largest online retailers in beauty and nutrition with many lifestyle brands. The site will be built over 16.8 acres in four phases, with phase one comprising office buildings totalling 280,000 square-feet. Construction on the ‘THQ’ should be completed in 2022. At a second site nearby, THG is building a new development called ICON, the Group’s new content creation studio. Following THG’s acquisition and integration in 2017 of the UK’s leading content studio, Hangar 7, THG has acquired an 11.6-acre site in the Manchester Airport area.

The Hut Group’s new business campus for Airport City (rendering courtesy Airport City Manchester)

The ICON development will provide an extra 104,000 square-feet of office space over four floors as well as additional content creation facilities totalling 168,000 square-feet, ICON will house 2,000 people who will focus on video production and photography, to be used across THG’s digital offering. THG already has a presence at Airport City after renting 79,000 square-feet of office space in the Voyager and 4M buildings earlier this year. In total, THG now has about 1,000 staff that are currently based at their Airport City Manchester sites. The $1.3 billion development over the firm’s two sites at Airport City Manchester is the UK’s biggest ever bespoke office project outside of London.

A significant milestone at Airport City Manchester was reached in spring, 2020, as its landmark pedestrian and cycle bridge, 312-feet long, was installed over the M56 spur airport approach road. This latest piece of infrastructure took 12 hours to install, and is a striking addition to the landscape at Airport City Manchester. Featuring more than 21,000 perforations across its length, it was constructed from Cor-Ten steel which develops a rust-like aesthetic after several years’ exposure to weather and eliminates the need for painting.

View of new pedestrian and biking bridge that provides access to Airport City Manchester locations (rendering courtesy Airport City Manchester)

The pedestrian and cycle bridge, partly funded by the Manchester City Council, will deliver a sustainable connection from the Airport City Manchester site directly to rail, bus and tram links, as well as providing direct access to pedestrians and bicyclists travelling to and from Wythenshawe and surrounding areas.The bridge, possbily the only exclusively pedestrian/bike aiport bridge in the world, is expected to open in late 2020.

The brand new bridge at Airport City Manchester will blend into the neighboring buildings with extensive landscaping, as well as providing ramps and passenger lifts to elevators it is accessible to all. “This bridge is a landmark in the development of Airport City Manchester, which will link Wythenshawe people with the jobs and opportunities being created there,” said Sir Richard Leese, leader of the Manchester City Council. It’s a symbol of that connection as well as another boost to walking and cycling facilities in the city.”

Rendering of office area design scheme by Cartwright Pickard Architects for interested project tennants (image courtesy Airport City Manchester)

Work on Airport City’s new $234 million hotel district is also progressing, where three new hotels with 1,500 new rooms, will open by 2022, including a 280-room Holiday Inn and a 262-room Ibis Budget to be located immediately adjacent to Terminal 2 at Manchester Airport.

Rendering of proposed Hotel District being constructed at Airport City Manchester development project (image courtesy Airport City Manchester)

In addition to the above hotel properties, a new planning application has been submitted to Manchester City Council for a nine-story, 412-room hotel and restaurant, operated under the TRIBE brand, which is part of the Accor Group, whose other brands include Mercure, Sofitel and Novotel.

Old Trafford, the Manchester United football club statium, is just 20 minutes (about 10 miles) north of Airport City Manchester. Constructed in 1910 the stadium has undergone several expansions and renovations, its present capacity is 74,879.

Airport City Manchester’s joint venture partners will act as the developer of the $235 milion hotel district which will become home to the four new hotels by 2021, providing 1,171 new hotel rooms within the Airport City North footprint and supporting the creation of around 500 jobs.

Cabo Verde Journal: Sunsplashed islands off African coast wait patiently for prosperity

The town of Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente is one of the prettiest towns in Cabo Verde. It is attracting tourists and European residents with its warm winters, new cultural venues and unique accommodations. (photo Ron Bernthal)

by Ron Bernthal

Césaria Evora, Cabo Verde’s “Barefoot Diva,” often sang about her home, the stunningly beautiful island of São Vicente, one of the nine inhabited islands that make up the nation of Cabo Verde. When Ms. Evora died in 2011, at the age of 70, all of Cabo Verde mourned, as did much of Europe, where she spent the last months of her life.

Growing up, Ms. Evora experienced the ubiquitous poverty of Cabo Verde, an island nation with few natural resources and high unemployment. It saddened her that almost 70% of the country’s skilled workers had to leave their homes for work in other countries, disrupting family lives and cultural ties. For many Cabo Verdeans, now living abroad in Europe or the United States, sending money back to their island families is a monthly ritual, but they are hoping that current tourism and cultural development projects will finally bring true prosperity to the isolated archipelago. For the residents São Vicente, and on the other islands where overseas investors have bet on the future, that day of salvation, which looked so promising just a few years ago, has not yet arrived, and some wonder if it ever will.

Cesaria Evora – Tchintchirote [Video]

Although the official language of Cabo Verde is Portuguese (Portugal ruled these islands for 500 years) the language of the streets is Creole, a mixture of Portuguese and West African tribal languages brought to the islands when Cabo Verde became a major slave market for the hundreds of thousands of African slaves brought here before being sold by traders and loaded onto large ships for the Atlantic crossing.

With its band of sun-drenched islands assembled in a backward C shape “)” Cabo Verde lies more than 300 miles off the coast of Senegal, bathed under a warm sun for 360 days per year. In the past two decades the spectacular white or black-sand beaches of the islands have attracted a few international hotel chains, as well as middle class Europeans looking for inexpensive second homes in a destination that offers plenty of sea and sand only 4-6 hours flying time from London, Berlin or Zurich.

In the mid-2000’s the pace of tourism development accelerated, as residents of Western Europe, flush with cash from booming economies, sought exotic vacation spots. Along Cabo Verde’s once virgin beaches, and in the empty dry hills behind them, the outlines of new streets were bulldozed into the sand, and grey concrete foundations for new hotels and residential villas offered a promising future for local residents.

In Santa Maria, on the island of Sal, where tourism was once confined to a few blocks within the center of town, ribbons of new asphalt now stretch for miles into the flat desert-like terrain surrounding the town, but the number of cement trucks and construction vehicles that had once moved noisily throughout the island, leaving sun-splashed mini residential communities and hotels in their wake, has slowed considerably since spring 2020.  These days Sal has more than 10,000 guest rooms to offer visitors, and is beginning to compete for leisure visitors with the Atlantic Ocean islands in the Canaries or Madeira. Still, it is a good start for a destination that hopes to emulate its Spanish competitors, at least after the investors return whenever international travel picks-up again after the pandemic eases.

With some of the highest levels of GDP contribution from tourism in Africa, it is not surprising to see that Cabo Verde, at least before the pandemic, has experienced fast growth in international arrivals. From 2005-2015, Cabo Verde arrivals increased 163% at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3 percent, well above its African competitors.

If the transformation of these out-of-the-way, volcanic islands into a major tourist destination succeeds, it will be because the Atlantic Ocean is the backdrop here, and ocean view prices for land on Cabo Verde are much lower than in southern Europe and the Caribbean. For thousands of sun starved northern Europeans, and for more and more Americans priced out of Hawaii or coastal California, the lure of Cabo Verde’s relatively affordable water-view property will become harder to resist.

The island of Sal is flat and dry and can seem quite desolate when seen for the first time. However, visitors on vacation, or those considering purchasing second homes, appreciate the beauty of its deserts and volcanic calderas, and enjoy the two main towns on the island, the fishing village turned tourist town of Santa Maria, and the island capital of Espargos.

Most tourist accommodations, including vacation properties available for purchase, are located in self-contained resorts, with some new five-star developments that have sold quickly for about $175,000. Other, less deluxe units in the center of Santa Maria were selling for a third that price.

Of the other islands, Boa Vista offers 30 miles of white sand beachfront, with a slightly greener interior than Sal. It also has a new international airport with more and more tour operators and airlines offering it as a vacation destination. Prices for small apartments start at around $65,000, with villas from $263,000. Visitors and expats seem to enjoy the nightlife and music found in Sal Rei, the largest town on the island.

The largest island in Cabo Verde is Santiago, which is more lush, tropical and mountainous than the others, with plenty of green vegetation and a eucalyptus forest. It has agricultural industry, with exports of bananas, mango and coffee. As the nation’s capital, Praia has government buildings, and is where many Cabo Verde businesses are based. It is a lively town, with many historic residential and office buildings, and with 128,000 residents it is by far the largest city in Cabo Verde.

Small house in Praia, on the island of Santiago. (Photo Ron Bernthal)


Real estate prices in Praia range from about $105,000 for a nice apartment, to around $330,000 for a spacious, private villa. Because of the large inventory of houses available for sale in the capital, and with neighborhoods having great differences in terms of amenities, views, access to beaches, proximity to restaurants and cultural venues, etc., buyers should use a trusted agent when looking at properties.

For most non-residents looking to purchase housing in Cabo Verde, nice properties on the island of São Vicente is in high demand, with its historic, colonial-style houses in and around Mindelo, fetching the highest prices. A restored, 2-bedroom colonial can cost $475,000 and higher.

Street scene in Mindelo (Photo Ron Bernthal)

In 1991 there were only 19,000 tourist arrivals into Cabo Verde. In 2015 the number of visitors to the islands reached one-million, but the recession of 2008-09 and the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak in Europe has slowed the pace of international arrivals.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control the Covid-19 risk in Cabo Verde is high. During summer, 2020, the CDC recommended that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Cabo Verde, although weekly flights are still operating between Praia (Nelson Mandela International Airport – RAI) and Lisbon, Dakar (Senegal) and Casablanca (Morocco). These flights are available only to individuals traveling for “essential” reasons, which include business, family, education, or professional purposes. Americans planning to visit Cabo Verde should check the official website of the U.S. Embassy in Cabo Verde for updated information.

The opening of new hotels and resorts on Sao Vicente and other islands, as well as other new developments in the aviation, food and beverages and cultural sectors, has prompted a significant rise in employment in Cabo Verde. In 2017, 37,500 jobs were directly supported by the hospitality industry, which accounts for 15.8% of total employment. This direct contribution rose by 2.8% in 2018 and may rise by 4.5% per year by 2028 to 60,000 jobs and 21.2% of total employment.

Traditionally, many Cape Verdeans went to Portugal or the United States to find employment. Their work ethic, and experience in the fishing industries specifically, helped them establish long term positions in Lisbon, or in the coastal towns south of Boston.

Fishing boat on Sao Pedro island . Fishing still offers local residents a way to make money. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

But with the opening of new hospitality-related jobs on the islands, as well as other new developments in the aviation, real estate, agricultural and fishing industries, there has been a significant rise in employment in Cabo Verde. In 2017, 37,500 jobs were directly supported by the travel and tourism industry, which accounts for 15.8% of total employment.

Young men display fresh fish on pier in Santa Maria, on the island of Sal (Photo Ron Bernthal)

Cabo Verde, with a population of about 550,000, had ranked among the world’s countries with the highest emigration rates, but with the expanding tourism and second-home communities on the islands, the migration pattern is reversing, new hotels, restaurants, and construction projects have brought more jobs to Cabo Verde, and many Cabo Verdeans have returned from overseas in the past decade.

View of Mindelo Bay from a room in the very affordable Hotel Sodade. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

Paulo Abu-Raya grew up in the port city of Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente. Mindelo is a beautiful town with a charming, 19th-century downtown and a scenic, deepwater harbor that serviced merchant ships in the 19th century. During its entire history, however, São Vicente’s rocky hillsides and extremely dry conditions meant that it was difficult to sustain itself with no natural resources or local manufacturing. For São Vicente, as well as some of the other islands, the ever-present sun, the laid back atmosphere and relatively inexpensive real estate is spurring a small but growing tourism and second home market.

Two entrepreneurial brothers, Paulo and Ary Abu-Raya, opened a real estate office in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, to develop and sell real estate to Europeans and Americans looking for leisure and commercial properties. (Photo Ron Bernthal).

In 2008, just when tourism development on the island began to take off, at least in the blueprint stage, Ary Abu-Raya left Boston and returned home, to Mindelo, opening a real estate office in the center of town with his brother, Paulo. In those days, Mr. Abu-Raya and his brother, both in their early 30’s, took overseas buyers around the island, showing them everything from charming Portuguese colonial homes with harbor views for 250,000 Euros (about $300,000), to large tracts of pristine beachfront property a few minutes outside of town. The Cabo Verde government makes it easy for non-residents to purchase land here for residential or commercial use, and while the infrastructure on some of the islands is not yet ready for mass tourism, it is hard not to notice some of the residential development projects that had started on São Vicente.

Concrete foundations for second home sites with ocean views on São Vicente. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

One morning during my visit I took a self-guided tour of the island, visiting an area called Baia das Gatas, a beautiful beachfront property where a five star hotel resort and residences, Fortim Mindelo, part of the well known Nikki Beach brand, was under development, along with an Ernie Els-designed PGA golf course. Nearby, the concrete shells of vacation homes protruded from the dry, rugged hillsides overlooking the Atlantic.

On another part of the island San Pedro Village is a posh development on São Pedro Bay. Its 408 apartments and 114 townhouses are modern and refined versions of Cabo Verdean Creole architecture. Some buildings surround a large tropical pool, while others line both sides of a narrow street facing each other. About 60 ground floor units of the 2- to 4-level apartments are used as commercial spaces, housing restaurants, cafés, shops, boutiques, bars, and snacks stations. The picturesque village is designed for tourists with boats or yachts. There is a marina, a shipyard, a fisherman’s port, and a fuel station. Although some of the Baia das Gatas units have been completed, many have not, or are being rented out as AirBnB’s.

Painted fisherman’s house in Sao Pedro (Photo Ron Bernthal)

Mindelo in São Vicente is possibly the prettiest city in Cabo Verde. Towering over it is the island’s highest peak, Monte Verde. The area around the port is a busy, with a curving harbor filled with fishing boats and, often during winter, a few large yachts as well. Pastel-colored buildings and houses line the shaded, cobble-stoned streets.

Beautifully painted historic homes in Mindelo.have attracted weathly Europeans looking for a winter, second-home retreat (Photo Ron Bernthal)

The town, which is the country’s cultural center for music and art, hosts a steady flow of tourists coming to check out festivals or mingle with locals in bars and restaurants. It becomes particularly lively and crowded during the country’s popular Mardi Gras festival.

A new cultural venue on São-Vicente is also about to be completed. NLÉ and Kunlé Adeyemi have designed a prefabricated floating music hub currently in construction just offshore in Mindelo Bay. (See banner photo top of page)

Work is progressing on the Floating Music Hub, NLÉ’s latest incarnation of the Amsterdam- and Lagos-based architecture studio’s Makoko Floating System (MFS™). The project, which is set to complete in December, 2020, is designed to host a variety of activities with musical performances, lectures and music classes, enhancing the region’s cultural infrastructure and showcasing Cabo Verde’s creative output and heritage.

The Floating Music Hub on Sao Vicente will offer music preformances, classes and contributes to the island’s cultural environment. It is expected to open in December, 2020. (Image ©MMLinesProductions/NLÉ)

The timber structure consists of three vessels of varying sizes, which will be anchored around a triangular floating public plaza, creating a little creative ‘village’. These distinct floating wings will host a multipurpose performance hall (in the MFS™ large), a professional recording studio (in MFS™ medium) and a service bar (in MFS™ small). They all feature the system’s signature triangular shape and pitched roof.

Floating Music Hub (Image ©MMLinesProductions/NLÉ

The project was conceived by NLÉ principal and founder Kunlé Adeyemi, and is the latest version of his Makoko Floating System (MFS™), a prefabricated design engineered to higher performance specifications and quality for marine environments. A prototype was first launched to the public in 2012 with the Makoko Floating School in Nigeria, and was conceived “to generate sustainable, ecological, alternative building systems and urban water cultures for the teeming population of Africa’s coastal regions,” said Mr. Adeyemi.

The concept has since been modified and perfected, with the Cabo Verde’s upcoming completion marking the system’s first edition to be created in the Atlantic Ocean, a new territory for the NLE team’

Orésimo Silveira is a well-known figure on São Vicente. A spry and vibrant gentleman close to 80 years old, with deep-set eyes and a frizzy gray beard, he helped lead Cabo Verde’s independence movement from Portugal, becoming the Cabo Verdean ambassador to their former colonial overseer following independence in 1975. “Large scale development plans have been underway on São Vicente for the past 10 years, and there are lots of investors still coming in to look around, but big changes will not happen overnight, there is still a lot of ground to cover, ” said Dr. Silveira.

Orésimo Silveira, a resident of São Vicente, helped lead Cabo Verde to independence from Portugal in 1975. He says that the local economy will benefit by increased tourism, but it will not happen right away. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

The terrain on São Vicente is typical of Cabo Verde, stunning but raw. These desperately dry islands have suffered drought for what seems like centuries, and fresh water is scarce and expensive. Desalination plants help somewhat, as do wind turbines, which catch the ocean breezes and create electrical power for deep wells.

Cabo Verde has set itself a very bold renewable energy target. As part of its “sustainable energy for all” agenda, it has pledged to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Almost all of the islands’ 550,000 residents have access to electricity, but about one-third still rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. Cape Verde’s per capita electricity consumption of 727 kWh per person per year is substantially higher than the sub-Saharan Africa average of 488 kWh per person per year. But electricity prices are high.

Although most of its electricity is produced by generators, which run on imported petroleum products, Cabo Verde has started to diversify its energy portfolio. A quarter is now provided by renewable sources. This is good news because between 2015 and 2020, Cabo Verde has will almost doubled its annual electricity consumption due to new residential and hotel projects on the islands.

With cutting-edge technologies and innovative business practices, Cabo Verde can achieve its 100% renewable energy goal in a way that is cost-effective and equitable. One research report suggested that a system based on solar, wind and energy storage (as batteries and pumped hydropower) could meet Cabo Verde’s goals. It certainly has a wide range of options for increasing its share of renewable energy to achieve this, while some small countries obtain almost all of their electricity from renewable sources, these countries usually have substantial hydroelectric resources. But Cabo Verde, lacking large hydropower resources, would be unique in achieving 100% renewable energy with a diverse resource mix.

A young girl rides her bicycle along one of the residential streets in Praia, Cabo Verde’s busy capital city. (Photo Ron Bernthal)



Cape Verde’s northeasterly trade winds are considered excellent for wind power production. A wind farm typically requires wind speeds of at least 6.4 m/s at 50m above ground. Cape Verde’s average annual wind speeds exceed 9.0 m/s at the wind farm. Already three of the islands, including the two most populated, produce about 25% of their electricity from wind turbines. But without energy storage there is little opportunity to expand wind energy on these islands.

Another technology that could be integrated into the electricity generation offering is the country’s desalination systems. Many of Cape Verde’s communities depend partially, or entirely, on these for drinking water. Desalination systems require electricity and can be run at times when the wind turbines are operating, but electricity demand is low, such as at night.

Like many African countries, Cabo Verde’s tropical location also has good potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity. One study says that the solar PV capacity potential is more than double the currently installed electrical generating capacity. Most of the potential development is on the densely populated island of Santiago. The challenge, as with wind, is integrating irregular flows into the grid.

If the islands expect to keep building luxury resorts and year-round housing units for the overseas market, however, the water supply, as well as the fragile electricity service, will need to be upgraded in order to keep up with the additional amenities that big-time destinations need… gas stations, shops, supermarkets, golf courses, spas, and easily accessible high speed WiFi. The Cabo Verde government is presently working with overseas firms to develop large solar and wind farms on the islands of Sal and Santiago.

The Cabo Verdeans, descendants of African slaves and 17th century seafarers from Europe, seem to be both patient and anxious as they wait for all the large scale development projects to come to fruition, and for the changes in their lifestyle that will surely result. “We are a mix of cultures here on São Vicente,” said Sueli Duarte, 27, a teacher who works with children from Mindelo’s poorest families. “It is sad that so many of our citizens still must leave the island to work overseas, it is bad for the psyche. If the economy can be improved on the island, many more people would return from Europe and the U.S. to work here, and live with their extended families,  in their own culture.”

Sueli Duarte is a teacher in Mindelo, Sao Vicente (Photo Ron Bernthal)

When I was leaving São Vicente for my short flight to the island of Sal, I noticed the new international terminal building at  Sao Pedro Airport, which allows the facility to handle overseas cargo and passenger flights directly from Europe and Brazil, Cabo Verde’s Portuguese-speaking trading and cultural partner. This will help to increase passenger arrivals into São Vicente and spur additional commercial and residential investment.

For the island of Sal, which has been receiving direct overseas flights for 20 years, mass tourism has been the island’s economic engine for decades, and Sal is poised to host even larger numbers of visitors. The island’s salt ponds were first harvested in the 15th century, but that ended in the early 1900’s and today most of Sal is hot, dry, and flat, with starkness reminiscent of the American southwest desert. Since jets began ferrying tourists to the first beachfront hotels here, Sal has earned a reputation as a pleasant, care-free island with plenty of excellent fishing, windsurfing, and scuba diving, an inexpensive holiday for middle-class British tourists needing to escape the U.K’s dreary winter weather.

Club-Hotel Riu, on the island of Sal, is a popular destination for European visitors seeking sun and sea vacation in Cabo Verde. The Riu hotel chain has opened additional properties in the country. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

The busy, but quiet, ambience of Sal, however, is changing dramatically. The expanse of desert-like terrain near the tourist town of Santa Maria is cluttered with construction equipment, cranes, and half-built condos and shopping centers. New vacation and resort communities, with names like Cotton Bay, White Sands, Calheta Bay, Paradise Beach and Murdeira Beach have sprouted up all along the wide sand beaches outside of Santa Maria. Although many new properties have already opened, others have suspended construction, waiting for financial markets and international travel to return to 2019 levels. .

New construction in Santa Maria, on the island of Sal, is attracting visitors from the UK, Germany, and other northern European countries who wish to purchase affordable seaside residential or commercial properties in Cabo Verde. (Photo Ron Bernthal).

The largest island in Cape Verde, Santiago, is the country’s economic center, and Praia, its largest town, is the country’s capital. Although Santiago has two mountain ranges, lush agricultural valleys with banana plantations, and more water than the other islands, it is mostly a business destination, with few tourists electing to spend their two-week vacation in the gritty capital city.

Woman carries basket in outdoor market in Praia, capital and largest city in Cabo Verde. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

There are several upscale hotels in Praia, where business travelers and government workers enjoy the proximity to embassies and the parliament building, but it is in the hot and busy streets of Praia where Cape Verde’s African influence really becomes apparent. The barefoot school boys playing soccer on dirt fields; women selling clothing, fruit, music CD’s, t-shirts, and buckets of fresh fish at the outdoor market; small barbeque stands offering inexpensive fresh grilled fish and chicken that appear on the streets at sunset; and the lively and gracious nature of the Cabo Verdeans bring the culture, sounds, and smells of West Africa to visitors.

Boys play soccer on a dirt field in Praia. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

It is from the government offices in Praia that the country’s plan for major tourism development is being pushed forward. With real estate marketers calling the country the “Caribbean of Europe,” and the International Monetary Fund praising its safe and liberal investment opportunities, Cabo Verde has managed to maintain economic growth during Europe’s economic problems; although perhaps not at the pace everyone had been hoping for.


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Nice Journal: New “Joia Méridia” Quarter Adds Architectural Gems to Cote d’Azur Lifestyle

Méridia Tower by Sou Fujimoto overlooks Metropolitan Plaza in Joia Méridia, the central town of Nice Méridia. (rendering courtesy Sou Fujimoto Architects)

By Ron Bernthal

Nice is well known for its scenic coastline and the lush hills above the city, but it has as many architectural delights as it does natural wonders. From Roman remains to its famous Promenade des Anglais, and from the city’s distinctive Mediterranean orange roofs to the grand villas of the Belle Époque period, the entire city is eye-candy for the soul. But during the past few years new, strikingly modern architecture has been popping up all over this sunbaked city. Designed by notable French and international architects, these projects range from historic restorations to stunning new-builds, creating business, residential, cultural and recreational venues that blend function and form to take advantage of the region’s Mediterranean climate and its envious work/live/play lifestyle.

Terrain in Nice Méridia is tropical, with mountains and lush vegetation (photo Oliver Amsellem)

The Var River, which winds 70 miles through the Maritime Alps and then south along the west side of Nice, eventually flows into the Mediterranean. Before entering the sea, local developers and Nice municpal officials located acres of disused agricultural land to build an environmentally friendly ‘urban technolpolis’ known as Nice Méridia, with a newly designed, very livable community zone called Joia Méridia. Globally, this new type of development is called ‘intelligent urbanism. (Construction of the Arénas district, within the same region, is also ongoing)

Joia Méridia takes up about 60 acres in the heart of Nice Meridia. Located 15 minutes by tram (via the future line 3) from Place Masséna, in center city Nice, and between Grand Arénas, a new international business district being constructed nearby, and Allianz Riviera stadium, the urban technopolis imagined by the architect Christian Devillers is one of the driving forces behind the innovation and economic development in the entire Nice-Ecovalle region.

Map showing locae of Eco-Vallee Nice Meridia, new development project for mixed-used Joia Meridia central town. (map from Éco-Vallée Organization)

A new district in the French city of Nice is being organized around a eries of plaza’s, using a select group of architects and designers to create a visually exciting and user-friendly environment. The Metropolitan Plaza on the north end of the new Méridia district is defined by a number of mixed-use high-rise buildings, beautifully designed by several French architectural firms, with the height of the buildings gradually going down until it reaches the central Méridia Plaza, a reinterpretation of the traditional Mediterrean squares that can be found throughout the Cote d’Azur.

Joia Méridia mixed-use district (rendering courtesy Zucchiaritti Architetti)

The new district, to be composed of gleaming white structures and lush vegetation, is called Joia Méridia, a stunning mixed-use urban project coordinated by French architecture firm Lambert Lénack, and designed by a multidisciplinary team from all around the world. The Méridia project is just one of several new and revitalized building projects in the city that has brought a wonderful jolt of vibrancy and astonishing design to France’s second largest city.

Place Méridia in the new town of Joia Méridia (rendering courtesy (Lambert-Lénack)

One of the most striking of the structures in the Joia Méridia district is the 177-foot Méridia Tower, where architect Sou Fujimoto will create a building comprised of wavy stacked planes and perforations that let sunlight filter down to ground level. The complex is being constructed on a currently vacant plot of land in the western part of Nice, and will be serviced by rail line that will take commuters to and from the city center in about 15 minutes. At its heart is “Méridia Plaza,” a gathering place filled with palm trees that will offer views of all the surrounding buildings and landscaping. Landscape architect Alain Faragou is working with Roland Carta to develop a green “Patio” with rocks, trees, and a water feature.

The Patio will be a public space within a block of high-rise residential buildings (rendering courtesy Zucchiaritti Architetti)

The luxury Méridia Tower residential building will have an amorphous brise-soleil at each level, controlling light and heat. It will overlook the Var River Valley, botanical gardens and is not far from Nice’s Cote d’Azur International Airport, southwest of the city center. The contribution of Italian architect Cino Zucchi to the tower is noteworthy, as it will also include housing, retail and a hotel. Zucchi has enclosed each liveable space in the main tower with a system of loggias that encourage outdoor living, socialising and gardening. He has also added a communal garden on the roof.

Balcony view from Méridia Tower (rendering courtesy Sou Fujimoto)

The Joia Méridia district will also include an aromatic plant garden, an experimental garden, and a 21,500 square-foot vegetable garden. The entire project’s main theme is “freshness,” as exemplified by many “green” areas and the extensive integration of plants into the buildings themselves.

The development, which also includes designs by architects Laisné Roussel Architects, Cino Zucchi, Chartier Dalix, and Anouk Matecki, will cost about $336 million, will have taken about six years to complete since its conception, with the first structures being expected to open in 2021.

Night view of Joia Meridia (rendering courtesy CZA- Cino Zucchi Architetti)

ChartierDalix Architects is taking care of private and social housing around Joia Méridia’s main square. The architects have designed everal low-rise buildings, joined by elevated walkways and semi-private meeting places. Deep balconies wrap around the buildings for outdoor living, but the concrete, contemporary materials are softened by vast awnings that somewhat replicate the traditional fabric sunshades on Nice’s main Promendade des Anglais.

Residential building in Joia Méridia (rendering courtesy ChartierDalix)

Another Méridia structure, by Nicolas Laisné Architects and Dimitri Roussel of DREAM architects, is Anis, an office building completed in 2018 that pushes the internal environment of the building into the open air. Stairs zig-zag up the tower’s façade, linking break-out spaces where workers gather for business meetings or socializing. Deep overhangs regulate the strong Mediterranean sunlight. Within the building itself are vast, flexible open-plan spaces that the office tenants modify as needed.

Anis, office building in Nice Meridia (Image credit courtesy Nicolas Laisné & Dimitri Roussel, architects; photo by Cyrille Weiner)

In 2019 the Université Côte d’Azur, located just north of Nice city center, about 20 minutes from Méridia, launched its new Institute for Partnerships and Innovation, a school for sustainable business, at its satellite campus on the edge of Méridia. Architect Marc Barani (Atelier BARANI) surrounded his energy-efficient building with opalescent glass louvres that allow diffused light, but not heat or cool air, to penetrate the structure, and the open-plan main floor acts as a flexible exhibition and workspace.

Institute for Partnerships and Innovation at Meridia satellite campus of Universite Cote d’Azur designed by Marc Barani (image courtesy Atelier BARANI)

Bold and colorful architecture is occuring in other areas of Nice as well. Studio Libeskind, in collaboration with Fevrier Carre Architectes and landscape architect Jean Mus, was selected to design the “Gare Thiers-Est” (East Thiers Rail Station), as a result of an international competition sponsored by the City of Nice.

Gare Thiers-Est (East Thiers Station) (rendering (c)MORPH)

The area around Nice’s rail hub, about one mile from the city’s center, and the rail station itself, was getting seedy-looking, dangerous and fragmented by train tracks. The new project will link the North and South neighborhoods and Pierre-Mathis road with new pedestrian walkways radiating from a sculptural station pavilion.

Gare Thiers Est (East Thiers Station) (rendering (c)MORPH)

Inside the main station building will be two-levels of high-end shops, an auditorium and a roof terrace landscaped by Jean Mus. The project involves designing about 215,000 square-feet of high-end commercial space, including a 120-room hotel, office spaces, a sculptural entry pavilion, a 200-seat auditorium below grade, and a restaurant offering an open rooftop terrace with views of the Mediterranean.

Gare Thiers Est (East Thiers Station) (rendering (c) MORPH)

The result will be a sculptural, concrete, steel and glass structure, cut like a diamond, with multiple faces rising nearly 131 feet-high to obscure the rail tracks. The strong architectural identity of the project will be visible from the avenues Thiers and Jean Médecin, as well as from the railway area. Construction, which began in early 2019, is expected to complete in 2021.

Just a six-minute walk from Gare Thiers-Est is the Gare du Sud (South Station). The historic Gare du Sud was once a small, early 19th-century train shed, but is now the centrepiece of a vast renovation project that has transformed the Liberation neighborhood. Located on the edge of the Liberation outdoor market, the revitalization of the Gare du Sud has retained the beautiful features of a previous 19th-century renovation, and added modern amenities and design flourishes.

Historic 19th-century Gare du Sud (South Station) was restored and redesigned (photo courtesy Reichen & Robert Architects)

Inspired by Gustave Eiffel, the station’s original interior was transformed from its historic “shed” style just before the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, creating a larger and more spacious metal train shed, and adding a new glass roof. After years of restoration work that began in the early 2000’s, the grand opening of the new Gare du Sud took place in May, 2019, and was an immediate success among locals and visitors to Nice.

Gare du Sud (South Station) former 19th-century train station now offers popular food hall and other amenities (photo courtesy Reichen & Robert Architects)

Because of the meticulous restoration and design work by Reichen & Robert Architects the main entrance to the venue is again through the station’s original 19th-century facade. The old waiting and ticketing rooms now house the Raoul Mille library and several exhibition spaces, and the big attraction of the venue is Nice’s first and only gourmet food court (La Halle Gourmande) and public market, located in the station’s former train shed. The 1,600 square-foot interior is a soaring composition of cast iron and glass, mostly the same interior that Gustav Eiffel designed (some of the iron spans came from the original Russian and Austro-Hungarian pavilions of the 1889 World’s Fair, others were re-created).

Gare du Sud (South Station) exterior facade (photo courtesy Reichen & Robert Architects)

A wide staircase links the ground floor and mezzanine area on each end. Burnished wood, gleaming metal fixtures and a winter garden help create a stunning and inviting space. The 700 seats include tables and chairs on the ground floor, stools and counters above, plus terraces on each side for al frescodining.

Gare du Sud (South Station) with new residential buildings nearby (photo courtesy Reichen & Robert Architects)

In addition to the restored train station, the project involved the construction of four new residential buildings, shops, a multiplex cinema and an underground car park on three levels.

Nice Meridia skyline of new development project (image courtesy Fevrier Carre Architectes)

Oslo Journal: Modern Waterfront Library Opens Next to Opera House

New Deichman Bjorvika Central Library (left) on Oslo Waterfront close to the Oslo Opera House (right) (photo Einar Aslaksen)

By Ron Bernthal

The library of the future has finally opened. Located between Oslo Central Station and the Oslo Opera House, the new Deichman Bjørvika Central Library is now part of the city’s 235 year history of the public library in Norway’s capital city. Designed by the Oslo-based studio Atelier Oslo and Lundhagem Architects, the group won the international competition to design the library in 2009.

Stretching over six floors and about 145,000 square-feet, the building will house over 450,000 books, and offer lots of meeting spaces, learning rooms, and lots of activities for adults and children. Visitors can watch movies, learn to make podcasts, take piano lessons, use 3D printers, enjoy the view of the Oslo Fjord, or just admire the architecture and design of Lundhagem and Atelier Oslo.

In early 2020 about 1,000 Norwegian schoolchildren moved 6,000 books from the 1930’s-era Deichman library to the new Deichman Bjørvika. With colourful rucksacks full of children’s books on their backs, the children filled the streets of central Oslo and brought the library’s new building to life with cheering and dancing. The original plan was to open Deichman Bjørvika to the public on March 28th 2020. However, Covid-19 and the national lockdown in March put a stop to that. After a successful country lockdown eased the Covid-19 crisis, however, Library Director Skansen was able to open the building’s doors to the public on June 18, 2020, just three months from the original date.

[caption id="attachment_5871" align="alignnone" width="6720"] Deichman Bjørvika , interior space (photo Erik Thallaug)

“We are looking forward to letting this house fill with people. Opening a building such as this in Oslo is a great event. Finally the people of Oslo and visitors can come to us and start using the library. We are looking forward to show people this building which we are so proud of. I think everyone in Oslo will be proud themselves because this is after all their building”, said Skansen.

Deichman Bjørvika’s ambition is to host two million visitors each year — in a Covid-free situation. Among the safety measures regarding infection control is a temporary limit on the number of visitors who can be present in the library at the same time: 1,000, compared to the usual limit of 3,000. This restriction has been determined after consultations with local infection control authorities.

Deichman Bjørvika interior (photo Jo Straube)

“The library is a very special place,” said Governing Mayor Raymond Johansen.
“It’s an open door to the world of literature. An open door to a meeting place across history, class, gender, and age. The new Deichman library has been built on one of the best plots in Oslo and that shows that we as a society and as a city prioritize culture. That we prioritize people and that we prioritize meeting places that are open for everyone.”

The artwork BRAINSTORM by Lars Ø Ramberg inside the library. The artwork took over three years to produce. The result is a gigantic piece of conceptual art, comprising over 1,200 feet of handmade glass (photo CF-Wesenberg)

The area around the inlet of Bjørvika east of the city centre has been completely transformed. Around the year 2000 this area was known for a major highway junction and a container port. Today, the highway is gone and the containers have been replaced with design-savvy residential and mixed-used buildings. Bjørvika Barcode is now a vibrant district with fascinating architecture and great outdoor spaces.

One of the modern buildings in the Barcode district (photo Ron Bernthal)

Bjørvika Barcode consists of twelve narrow high-rise buildings of different heights and widths. The buildings are built with some space in between them, thus jointly resembling a barcode. The Barcode district buildings house leading national and international businesses, and 10,000 people work here on a daily basis. The buildings also contain 400 residential units and a daycare center. On street level, there are many good restaurants, shops, art galleries and other services.

Art galleries and street art, like these metal bicycles, can be found on the streets of the Barcode district, close to the new library. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The Barcode district architecture concept was developed by the Norwegian firms DARK and a-lab, in collaboration with the Dutch agency MVRDV. The “barcode” concept is designed as a geometric system that stands out architecturally. The concept incorporates values such as openness to the fjord, admittance of light and airiness.

Formerly an old container dock, Sørenga has also been transformed into a brand new neigborhood by the Oslo Fjord. The area consists of residential complexes with unique architectural details. A green park with several channels stretches through the whole area. At the southernmost tip you’ll find the Sørenga Seawater Pool, a popular recreational spot for Oslovians in summertime. Several waterfront restaurants offer great food in maritime surroundings.

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