Miguel Flores-Vianna

A photographer who chronicles the great homes of the world, Miguel Flores-Vianna shares with Conor Burke his favorite roadside store in Morocco, what lures him back to Hydra, and memories of Aleppo’s grand bazaar.

Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna.

For those of us whose eyes linger at the entryways and windows of grand homes and apartment buildings while abroad, the work of Miguel Flores-Vianna grants the voyeur’s pleasure of glimpsing a very private side of the world’s cities and towns. The Argentinian-born, London-based photographer travels between Europe and America chronicling the work of noted interior designers for publications like Cabana and Architectural Digest, in the process gleaning a unique insight into the places he visits. “To see a city like this is priceless, because ultimately what the tourists get is accessible, but to be able to get into someone’s house, someone who lives in a completely different place, in a completely different way to the one you’re used to, to me, that is the treasure,” he explains.

Miguel’s celebrated book Haute Bohemians captures the idiosyncratic and eccentric residences of global creatives, collectors, and aristocrats, while championing his belief that a home can reveal much more about a person than their sense of style. It was a visit to the West Village home of photographer Francois Halard, early in his previous career as a magazine editor in New York, that this particular notion first struck. “It was a house that made me tingle,” he recalls. “I realized the reason why is because the house is him—an extension of the way he is. That’s what I have always strived to photograph: to try to show the house as an extension of whoever lives there rather than just a place or a bunch of stuff.”

When not on assignment, reading is the catalyst for Miguel’s travels. Often a single sentence sows the desire to visit a destination, his imagination building a dream of the place and its people from there. Right now, Persia and Uzbekistan are high on the list, as well as the countryside of Japan for the fleeting vision of a hotaru matsuri (firefly festival). One constant in his itinerary is the Greek island of Hydra, which he visits every August for quiet, afternoon hikes, and fresh-grilled fish.

What does your ideal day look like on Hydra? This year we have started frequenting a very small taverna in Kamini named To Pefkaki. Our Greek friends told us it is the most home-cooked-like meal one could have on the island and with a beautiful view of the Saronic Gulf. After our first visit I realized that it was all very true and much better even. It is family-owned, with the wife cooking while the husband and sons take care of the serving. The fish is always fresh and grilled and the vegetable dishes plentiful. I usually order my food and go for a swim on a small bay surrounded by some rock promontories directly below the restaurant. I am back ten minutes later to the served food. People say I am crazy but in the afternoons I love to hike under the hottest sun. My favorite hike is to the Profitis Ilias Monastery, the largest and most important on the island with commanding views of the sea and the Peloponnese.

Hydra, Greece. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna.

Your favorite swimming spot? Most of the time I go to Avlaki Beach. It is a ten-minute walk from the harbor and, surprisingly, there aren’t many people there. It is a charming cove you access through a steep and never-ending staircase that winds its way through a pine forest. I am there until just before sundown when I start my way back home. But first, I stop for a Campari soda at Techne, a restaurant with a terrace that commands the best views of the sunset on the island and the waitresses and waiters are cool young Athenians.

A local dish that shouldn’t be missed? We eat every night at Xeri Elia, a wonderful taverna which has been in business since the 1840s. On summer nights all the tables are outside on the square in front of it, under a centenary mulberry tree. I must add that in Hydra there are only three motor vehicles: an ambulance, a fire truck and a garbage collector, that is it! So eating on a square under a mulberry tree feels like eating in someone’s garden. Of course, we always tend to have the fresh catch of the day, usually just grilled, and at the end of each meal the sweetest karpouzi [watermelon]. I love the largesse of the Greeks, their incredible generosity and joie de vivre, and that is what I witness night after night at Xeri Elia. It is probably my favorite restaurant in the world.

Do you collect anything on your travels? I do. Sometimes seeing something in a house will inspire me to try to get something similar. At the beginning of last year, I was in Tangiers in a home and I saw an eighteenth-century print of these men walking on the mouth of a volcano, and I became absolutely obsessed by it. I spent the first half of last year looking for something similar, without any luck. And then last August, I was with my partner in Athens, and we went inside an old bookstore and I looked at some prints. The owner realized I was interested in them, brought out a huge folder and started showing me. All of a sudden I saw this print of eighteenth-century men with torches, exploring a cave, and I said, “Oh my god, that’s amazing.” So I ended up getting it.

After living all over the world, how do you create a sense of home in each new place? I always move with my things, so all those layers get put together again in a different room. Then I make small roots that make me feel anchored. For example, now that I live in London, I go to see my favorite bookshop, John Sandoe—it is really cozy and its owners always know every book you are looking for. And I have my favorite restaurant, Daquise, where I go at least once a week. It’s a Polish restaurant that has been operating since the 1940s when it mostly served to the Polish emigre community, but is now a classic in my South Kensington neighborhood.

Where was your last vacation? Piedmont in Italy for Christmas.

Where will your next vacation be? Sicily for Easter.

The thing you can’t travel without? My passport.

Plane, train or automobile? Train, for the romance, or whatever it is left of it.

The people you’d most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight? I think either Alexander von Humboldt or Patrick Leigh Fermor would have been able to keep me entertained.

What is your inflight ritual? I count the hours till landing.

The language you wish you spoke? Greek.

Desert island or downtown? I am greedy, I want both.

If you could live at any hotel which would it be? I did live in a hotel—the Hotel Presidente in Buenos Aires—for a whole year when I was in my early twenties. It was a presidential election year and the man who went on to win would also stay there whilst campaigning. I remember telling a waiter the morning after the elections that I was very surprised our fellow guest was the winner. “I am not,” he replied, “every time his aides were being served at the restaurant, Don Carlos would have his meals with us in the kitchen. I knew then that he would win.” Although I did not like his policies, I have to admit that “Don Carlos” [Carlos Saúl Menem] was a man of great charm and charisma.

What is your room service indulgence? I don’t like room service. There is a whole world out there, why would I stay in my room whilst on the road?

The strangest place you’ve spent a night? Once, as a twenty-five-year-old and after having read The Station by Robert Byron, I set out to see Mount Athos in Northern Greece. The only way to get there was by a small boat that would carry pilgrims every morning from a small city called Ouranoupoli. The night before my departure I arrived in the town and found no accommodation, so I headed for the beach where I tried to force myself to sleep. The mosquitoes were horrid I kept being awakened by the sounds of club music coming from some party along the coast. At dawn I gave up and went to for a swim in the sea under the pinkest of skies.

What is your favorite market? I loved the bazaar in Aleppo. I was there just a few weeks before the civil war started.

If you could travel to any place in any epoch which would it be? Afghanistan with the troops of Alexander the Great, around 300 BC.

What are the spots you like to show-off in your hometown? The view from my parents’ terraces in Posadas, which looks towards the Paraná River, which at that point is three-kilometres wide and separates our town from Encarnacion in Paraguay.

Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year? Weekend: Paris.
Week: Tbilisi.
Month: Cairo.
Year: Athens.

Your biggest extravagance on the road? I always want to see more and often find myself dragging out-of-breath travel companions to see yet another monument.

Describe a memorable meal from your travels. Roast chicken is my favorite meal and the best one I ever had was in a very unremarkable restaurant in the ruins of Petra in Jordan. I will never forget it.

Travel hell is? The red eye.

Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? Japan.

Three favorite stores on earth? La Librairie des Alps, a bookshop in Paris that specializes in Alpine vintage books and objects. A mineral shop named Atlas an hour outside of Marrakesh on the road to the Mosque of Tin Mal on the Atlas Mountains—they have amazing minerals and fossils all personally collected by the store’s owner. And the gallery of the antiquities dealer Oliver Hoare in London.

Most treasured travel memento? An eighteenth-century ink drawing of an oak tree I bought in Rome. I love trees, they are such noble beings.

Why do you travel? It does not get any better than that.

Conor Burke

Conor Burke is a creative director and photographer living in New York, by way of Sydney and Dublin. He oversees PRIOR’s creative, having previously run photographer and interior artist Martyn Thompson’s design studio. Before that he was the market editor at VOGUE Living and a contributing editor at GQ Australia.

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