Category: Travel & Hotels

Amangiri – Southern Utah

Amangiri – Southern Utah

A visit to Amangiri is everything you expect -— truly spectacular and serene. Set in the visually stunning region of Southern Utah, Amangiri is surrounded by epic views and vistas. 

Amangiri Desert Lounge at Dusk

Amangiri Desert Lounge at Dusk

The long road leading to the resort is completely isolated. The property has a modern design, and is small and intimate. You won’t find a lot of action on the property and that’s the point. The vibe at Amangiri is a mix of Southwest and Asian influence. Every room looks out at the desert and they are built at different angles so each guest is afforded supreme privacy. Guests come from all over the world to experience Amangiri. The property draws celebrities, rock stars and New Yorkers. Despite the upscale clientele, guests are generally decked out in jeans and boots.

Must Do List:
Tour Slot Canyons with a Navajo Tour Guide: Your guide will share the history of the area, old Navajo tales and introduce you to majestic scenery.

Horses and History Dinner at Raven’s Nest: Raven’s Nest is a natural amphitheater located 45-minutes by horse from the resort. After riding over on horseback, guests meet Wally, a local Navajo elder, who shares traditional Navajo stories. A campfire dinner is served under the stars.

Via Ferrata: The “iron road” is assisted rock climbing for all levels. Using vertical steel rungs attached to sandstone walls, guest experience guided assents.

Private Cooking Class with Chef Anaya: Learn to make tamales with chef-led instructions on making masa and stuffing cornhusks.

Amangiri Swimming Pool

Amangiri Swimming Pool

The Spa
The Spa at Amangiri is a huge draw. There is a marvelous steam room, cold plunge and a special water treatment designed to combat jet lag. Guests float on their back in a very dark, deep cavern for thirty minutes in complete darkness. It’s supposed to be the equivalent of getting three hours of REM sleep, and is perfect for international travelers looking to reset their internal clock.

Art Program
Amangiri partners with German artist, Ulrike Arnold, who does an annual three-month residency at Amangiri. Arnold sets up her easel by the caves and uses pigment from the earth and rocks in her paintings -— she literally uses the pallet of the region.

From the nightly turndown gifts, to the superb level of privacy, to the magic-like service, Amangiri is a spectacular destination.

Getting There
LAX to Phoenix to Page, AZ. Upon arrival in Page, Amangiri guests transfer the final 30 miles in a house BMW.

Amangiri
1 Kayenta Rd, Canyon Point, UT 84741
435-675-3999
www.aman.com/resorts/amangiri

Dubai & Abu Dhabi: The Evolving Hub of Middle Eastern Culture

Dubai & Abu Dhabi: The Evolving Hub of Middle Eastern Culture

Four Seasons Dubai

Four Seasons Dubai 

Destination Dubai 

By Frank DiMarco

Gliding silently above the Dubai desert in a hot air balloon, one contemplates centuries of Bedouin tribal movements from coastal fishing and trading areas to desert oases and date farms. Suddenly a group of Emirati falconers come out for a morning hunt with the treasured birds, a reminder the old culture has strong traditions. Emirates oil made its debut into the world marketplace after WWII. Prior to then, there weren’t many modern buildings. The magnitude of construction today is boggling to behold.

The 16-hour non-stop flight from LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal on Emirates Airlines takes an extraordinary route over Greenland, Central Russia and over the Arabian Gulf with Iran to the east and Iraq to the west. Emirates flies the wonderful, double-decked A380 Airbus providing a clean and comfortable ride with seat-back video screens and three exterior camera views. Upon arriving at Dubai International Airport, passengers enjoy a multi-story waterfall.

Dubai

Dubai

You must visit the old Souk (market) area which includes souks of gold, spices and flowers. Located along historic Dubai Creek, which divides the Deira and Bur Dubai sections of the city, these souks are filled with dazzling intricate gold treasures. Barrels and bins display spices from Iran, India and other exotic locations and fill the air with tangy aromas. The view along Dubai Creek has mosque minarets and wind towers on the skyline. Ride through the quay on a traditional water taxi and imagine the atmosphere of the early trading days when small vessels would ply the waters bringing trade to the souks. The sounds of call to prayer add to the mystical feel. In this older part of Dubai, there are interesting museums: Coffee Museum (remember, coffee originated in this part of the world), Dubai Museum and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding are all worth a visit.

Dubai is a melting pot of cultures with workers from a myriad of origins: Philippines, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere. New buildings and infrastructure construction draw people looking for work. The diversity of faces, accents and styles are a feast for the senses. Expats from all over the world are employed at new hospitals, colleges and sports and tourism facilities.

The man responsible for Dubai’s smart vision and impressive growth is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He is hands-on and an involved ruler, often seen driving through Dubai without ceremony. In contrast to the astonishing architecture and development, Sheikh Mohammed encourages sustainability and stewardship of natural resources, including such diverse projects as seawater desalination, solar power and even a sea turtle rehabilitation facility. His extended family’s leadership and his close ties to other Emirati leaders, including Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Kalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is positioning the UAE to a future less dependent on oil.

Dubai

Dubai

The modern architecture that comprises the Dubai skyline is stunning. The Burj Kalifa — 163 floors high and currently the tallest man-made structure in the world — dominates. The observation deck is on the 122nd floor and provides an impressive view of Dubai, the man-made islands offshore in the Gulf and the desert to the west. Combining a visit to the Burj Kalifa with a trip to the Dubai Mall can be a full day, especially staying for dramatic lighted fountains in the evening. The Dubai mall contains a ski slope, an aquarium and about 1,200 shops.

On the coast, along Jumeirah Beach stands the iconic Burj Al Arab, with its one of a kind sail-like architecture, heliport and restaurant appurtenances.  Viewed from any direction, one just wants to stare at this 5-star hotel, built on an artificial island. Further southwest, the causeway to Palm Island Jumeirah takes off and winds around the sand-made island. Rocks hauled from the mountain areas near Oman protect the island. From air, Palm Island looks just like its name (and can be seen from space). This is one of the world’s largest man-made islands with sprawling villas and resorts. The view back towards the shore from Palm Island’s wide promenades is equally impressive with new buildings by the Dubai yacht harbor seemingly springing up weekly.

Dubai

Dubai

You must visit the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, located just an hour from Dubai. The Grand Mosque is a trip highlight. The scale of the mosque is awesome. Inside, the mosque is at once opulent, intricate and holy. Adhering to tradition, women must be covered and abayas are provided at no charge. Guides take groups of visitors though the mosque and describe construction details, history and rituals of worship. As well as the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi will soon have a branch of The Louvre and the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum Abu Dhabi.

Dubai is trying to get it right for the future. Leadership knows the end of oil is right around the corner. Reinvention is key. A solid, sustainable infrastructure is in place for this growing destination as well as a firm commitment to the safety and security of Dubai’s citizens and visitors. Dubai will host The World Expo 2020 and, based on the progress being made, it promises to be a big success.

Chile – Enchantment on the Other Side of the World

Chile – Enchantment on the Other Side of the World

Santiago

Santiago

 

By Lisa France

There are very few places left on the planet where we can travel and feel as if we are truly far away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, while also feeling the ease and comfort of our own homes. The Chiloé Archipelago, a group of islands off the coast of southern Chile, is a destination to quench the thirst for this particular pleasure. This area is rightly described as enchanting, special and magical.

Santiago

There are no lack of activities in the city. The trouble is choosing which of them to enjoy. To see an expansive view of the city, trek out to the second highest point in the metropolis, Cerro San Cristobal. Atop the famous hill sits a 22-meter high statue of the Virgin Mary. The view of the city is spectacular from this vantage point. In addition, the park is lovely for hiking and drinking a distinctive Chilean beverage called mote con huesillo, which is a non-alcoholic drink made of dried peach liquid mixed with wheat. It is a summertime staple of Chile, so much so that there is a well-known saying, “It’s more Chilean than a mote con huesillo.”

A visit to Santiago would not be complete without a visit to the capital square, La Mondea Presidential Palace. It feels more like a village center where anyone can visit and not feel the concern of secret service personnel. Just a small stroll away from “Chile’s White House” as it were, is one of Santiago’s current claims to fame, the Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis did his Jesuitical Studies. In and around Plaza de Armas, there are many cosmopolitan shops and cafes among a plethora of street vendors.

Where to Stay
Torremayor Providencia Hotel 

The rooms are large with picture windows affording an expansive view of the city. Many of the rooms have a view of Coastanera Center which is the tallest building in Latin America and the second tallest building in the southern hemisphere. The hotel has a rooftop pool, a cozy bar and a solid breakfast which comes complimentary with room bookings. Located in central Santiago.

W Santiago

The architecture is stunning with a delightful combination of modern speckled with hints of the old world. Vaulted ceilings, mood lighting and fireplaces are comforting while also hip. Dine at Terraza for a melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon or smoky, spicy, short ribs paired with Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon.

Where to Eat
L’Astaria

Enjoy the ceviche with a lovely Chilean Sauvignon Gris from Leyda with enough fruit and mineral to create a burst of new flavor. For a main course try the Antarctic Hake paired with Chardonnay from De Martino. Alone they are amazing, but paired, divine.

Bocanariz

Over 30 wines by the glass and 300 different bottles are available

Chiloé

Chiloé

Chiloé

The Chiloé Archipelago is composed of 30 islands, which can be accessed from Santiago by air. LAN now has flights to Chiloé with a quick stop in Puerto Montt. This part of Patagonia, with rolling hillsides and lush green pastures, is reminiscent of the United Kingdom. As in the countryside of England, there are farms, sheep, horses and cattle roaming around the Chiloten roadways.

In general, the island is quite colorful. From the unique cemeteries, where the Huillinco people bury their beloved dead in bright small homes after passing, to the 18th and early 19th century churches, the array of colors light up the partly cloudy skies while also aiding water navigators to locate their ports.

Huillinco Cemetery

Huillinco Cemetery

Where to Stay
Hotel Parque Quilquico

This is an eco-friendly hotel that promotes sustainability — there are even goats on the grass-covered roof. These folks mean business when it comes to using every single resource on the property. Most of the vegetables served are from the garden out back. Decorations, furniture, carpets and other furnishings for the hotel were chosen for their cultural significance. The landscape is stunning. The buildings are embraced by trees, which are sacred to the indigenous Mapuche people. It was paramount to architect Edward Rojasa to incorporate as many native constructs into the hotel as he could, as well as to protect the land. The view of Dalchanue Channel can be seen from nearly every room. The rooms vary in size, but the cottages are a favorite. They are perfect for families or friends traveling together — spacious yet homey.

For dining at Quilquico, order the pulmay, which is one of the native dishes of Chiloé. Each area of Chile has a variation on this dish, but the one at Quilquico is out of this world. The broth! It’s a wonderful combination of salty chunks of pork, clams, mussels, chicken and potato accents that gave rise to a delightful soup.

Tierra Hotel Chiloé

At first glance one may think the structure of the hotel doesn’t quite fit in with the Chilote culture. The hotel could resemble some sort of hip, celebrity owned Malibu home, but upon closer evaluation, it’s evident this hotel was built on the banks of the Rilán Peninsula with great care and consideration for the cultural history. In addition to paying tribute to the rich culture, Tierra takes it a step further by creating a space which is not only visually stunning, but it manages to be contemporary comingled with rustic. There is not an angle on the property that isn’t photogenic.

Curanto Cooking

Curanto Cooking

Dining at Tierra — Curanto!

Curanto is a traditional method of cooking where a fire is made in a pit with large stones. Once all of the wood has burned, the stones are akin to coals. Layers of food are placed atop the stones with mussels, clams, crabs and lobsters placed first. The nalca leaves separate all layers. Foods that require the most time to cook are on the lower levels, while vegetables and breads are towards the top. One hour later there is a feast for more than twenty people. A fine Coyam, an organic red blend from Colchagua Valley, enhanced the smoky flavors.

Activities

At Tierra there are many excursions to choose from which are included in the price of your room.

Tour of Chelín

The Church of Chelín is one of the 16 churches of the Chiloe Archipelago which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a result, this, and the other churches are taken apart, literally, shingle by shingle, named, numbered and restored. It takes years to complete the restoration of these churches, but the result is visually stunning.

Sea Kayaking in the Bay of Quehui

“Ocean view” has an entirely new meaning when gliding alongside these cool tropical-like islands in a kayak. There is a delightful quiet and freedom on the edge of the Patagonian waters that allows you to detach from the tech and frenzy waiting back home.

Chilean Wine

If you can afford the time, we recommend you head out to nearby Cousiño Macul Winery. Founded in 1856, Cousiño Macul is the oldest family run winery in Chile and continues to produce limited quantities of fine Chilean wines. Enjoy a tour and tasting. Be careful not to drive too far east or you will end up in Argentina. Chile is a fascinating place in that it is home to so many climates and this is why wine does very well there.

Getting There

From LAX there is nearly a direct flight on LAN, the national airline of Chile, to Santiago. We had a short layover in Lima, but it’s negligible. Get a window seat if you can. Outside you will either see ancient craggy mountaintops piercing the cloud ceiling on the eastside, or see the endless Pacific to the west.

Art, Food and Culture on a Swing Through Three European Destinations

Art, Food and Culture on a Swing Through Three European Destinations

Barcelona

Barcelona

By Lucinda Anderson and Frank DiMarco

BARCELONA

Neighborhood Overview
Grácia neighborhood is in a great central location — vibrant and away from most of the tourist hubbub.

Grácia Dining
La Pubilla: The food is fresh, indicative of the Catalan cuisine, and the place is filled with happy locals having long lunches.

Rooftop Bar at the Casa Fuster (A gem of a hotel designed by Catalan architect Luís Dominic i Montaner): Time your visit for “the magic hour” when the sun gets low and, while there doesn’t seem to be a dress code, one feels more comfortable in “going out to dinner” attire.

Cafe Godot: Dependable and very friendly, with a good wine list (the wines of Catalunya are delicious — look for the Priorat label on the bottle).

Parks & Culture
The Picasso Museum is remarkable for its breadth of coverage of the artist’s life.

Stroll down to the nearby 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar. The Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar can best be enjoyed sitting quietly in a nave or a pew and contemplating the soaring stone arches and intricate sun lit stained glass windows.

Park Guell, designed by Antoni Gaudi, is the famed architect’s idea of a whimsical place for people to stroll with clever winding paths and the expected Gaudi notes of color and tile.

Parc de Collserola, at nearly 20,000 acres, sits like a mantle along the tops of the hills surrounding the city. Sometimes referred to as “the lungs of Barcelona” its abundant green forests support habitats for an enormous number of species of plants and animals.

At Palau de la Música Catalana, the art nouveau theme pervades the entire building and the magnificent stained glass dome is breathtaking. Attend a performance in the main hall and enjoy its acoustics, which are praised by performers from all over the world. Guided tours provide some insight into how the Palau was built.

Hospital de Sant Pau is one of Barcelona’s World Heritage sites. It was built between 1901 and 1930 and wandering the gardens among the modernist buildings is an experience not to be missed.

Eating & Drinking
The outdoor restaurants by the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar are decent and fairly priced. We recommend Santa Maria del Mar Café for their great octopus!

Travel Tips
Buy the Barcelona Card, which offers multiple benefits such as public transportation and many discounts at tourist attractions.

Bus Turístic is a great value. For the price of a 24-hour ticket, you can ride around, getting on and off all day to get a thorough idea of the layout of Barcelona and how to plan your daily outings.

Lézignan-La-Cebe

Lézignan-La-Cebe

BEZIERS

Located in the heart of the Languedoc wine region, there is the small village of Lézignan-La-Cebe. It is a food lover’s paradise located in Southern France where you can go to a different market everyday.

Food & Villages
Locals go to butchers and small farms to get just the right cut of pork or a chicken, knowing just how it was raised. There are also wonderful fishmongers in Pézanas, just up the road, where fish is bought off the boat in Sète in the dark hours before dawn. Delicious croissants are available at the adjacent bakery and across the street at the coffee store where a complimentary cup is always offered. The organic fava beans and other produce is lovingly tendered for sale nearby in the town of Gignac.

Sète is where you’ll find commercial fishing vessels that come and go from the blue Mediterranean Sea and where the famous Water Jousting has been celebrated since the mid-1600s.

Moureze offers unique rock formations and hardy hiking trails up to excellent viewpoints. This is a quiet village and very picturesque.

Salasc is a charming small town, minutes from Moureze, where you’ll find beautiful hills.

Canals in Amsterdam

Canals in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM

Holland is a charming country full of gracious, direct and humorous people. Most speak English, sometimes better than we do.

Neighborhood Spotlight
The newly fashionable Oud-West neighborhood is easily accessed by tram from Central Station.

Boat Tours
The iAmsterdam card gives you access to boat tours on either the Blue Boat Company (departing near Museumplein) or the Holland International Canal Cruises (departing near Central Station). These tours — in boats with glass tops — give riders a fantastic sense of Amsterdam’s canals and how the Dutch figured out how to manage the sea and build a city. The boat skippers are an interesting bunch too; they navigate the canals as well as inform passengers of sights passing by.

Culture
At the Van Gogh Museum you will find other artists’ work on exhibit and an extensive collection by Van Gogh.

The Rijksmuseum (the National Museum of the Netherlands) is newly renovated and houses a very good range of Dutch masters including Rembrandt’s famous “Nightwatch”.

Rembrandt House on Jodenbreestraat near Nieumarkt is also a must visit and free with the iAmsterdam card.

The Stedelijk Museum houses a large collection of modern art and designs. Don’t miss “The Beanery” in the Stedelijk.

Visiting the Anne Frank House is time well spent. Some improvements in accessibility have been made but the house remains essentially as Anne Frank experienced it, with the nearby church bells she wrote about still audible in her family’s hiding place. Advance tickets are recommended.

Eating & Drinking
Café de Jaren on Nieuwe Doelenstraat has a unique location at a busy canal intersection. Grab a table outside and watch the parade of boats going back and forth.

Foodism on Nassaukade is simply remarkable for what they can put out of a small kitchen. They offer exceptional food with good portions and reasonable prices including their wine list.

Travel Tips
The 72-hour iAmsterdam card provides you with unlimited bus and tram travel and mostly free or meaningfully discounted entrance to most museums.

“Mind the Bikes”
Bikes rule in Amsterdam and give it much of its character, as do the canals.

RAIL EUROPE

The new TGV line from Barcelona to Beziers takes approximately 2 hours. The TGV generally cruises at around 200 mph between cities and their reservations system is easy to use.

All Images by Frank DiMarco

Palm Springs Thrives Anew, Arts and Cultural Events Drive a Desert Renaissance

Palm Springs Thrives Anew, Arts and Cultural Events Drive a Desert Renaissance

Villagefest in Palm Springs

Villagefest in Palm Springs

 

Don’t worry, if you miss this week’s festival, there’s another one next week, or so it seems in Palm Springs these days.

Music, Theater, Cinema, Photography and other Fine Arts are being celebrated in new, innovative and elaborate ways in this history-rich “small town”, 90 minutes east of Los Angeles. Here are just a few examples, starting with the star-studded Palm Springs International Film Festival in January. MC Mary Hart accurately said from the stage, “Well, nobody is in Hollywood tonight!” The audience included Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey, Bono and his U2 bandmates and producers, directors galore. Streep, Roberts and McConaughey all gave moving tributes to cinema and to a reinvigorated Palm Springs as a cultural destination.

Add in the wildly successful Coachella Valley Music Festival, followed by the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, the nearby Indian Wells Art Festival, the Palm Springs Photo Festival and the weekly music events both in central Palm Springs and adjacent venues, well, you get the idea. Palm Springs is reinventing itself!

Recognizing Palm Springs’ rebirth are some savvy business people, some who showed up a few years ago, such as The Ace Hotel, Saguaro and the terrifically popular Tropicale. Other forward-looking hospitality entrepreneurs like the Kimpton Hotels are partnering with developers to continue the revitalization of a slowly re-awakening downtown shopping district. The long-dormant downtown mall is being rebuilt, anchored by a Kimpton property, and unique shops that will hopefully eschew the cookie-cutter, mind-numbing sameness of the stores-we-see-everywhere.

The pool at Riviera

The pool at Riviera

Speaking of savvy moves, the Noble House group bought the old Riviera Resort in 2006, closed it down and remodeled and refreshed the place without losing the character of this old Rat Pack headquarters. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and the rest would preview their Las Vegas shows for the locals in the Riviera’s Grand Ballroom. Bob Hope held many a fundraiser in the same vast venue. Now, with the fine-tuning of innovative General Manager Marco Perry, the Riviera Resort and Spa is attracting families, hipsters and weekend couples to the 3-pool and easy-going property. The Riviera is also on the vanguard of bringing corporate gatherings back to Palm Springs, taking advantage of the great air service into Palm Springs International Airport and, like other smart Palm Springs hoteliers, working with

Coachella Valley’s spas are often extraordinary, and the Riviera Spa Terre is at the top of the list. Spa Terre is a full service spa, including a hair and nail salon (great for bridal events). It offers one of the most instantly appealing spa areas you are likely to find. It is centered on the harmony of the Buddha Lounge, adjacent to the facial and massage areas. Plan some extra time before or after your treatment just to relax in this dreamy oasis with the sounds of waterfalls and lovely tubs — you will emerge serene and renewed (we loved Sylvia’s massage work).

Palm Springs Tram

Palm Springs Tram

In addition to the hospitality entrepreneurs, artists have been moving back to Palm Springs again, and where there are artists there are galleries to help them promote their work. Some of the gallery owners like Brian Marki Fine Art and Framing, are artists themselves. An Oakland College of Arts and Crafts graduate, Marki has focused on watercolors in his own work, but chose a career representing regional and international artists and framing their work. His new gallery in the El Paseo blocks downtown, is a great example of the area’s new direction. He represents the new breed of business people who live in town and are putting down committed roots.

While the side trips still abound, such as the 8400-foot elevation Palm Springs Tram, the Joshua Tree National Monument and the popular Indian Canyons trail hikes, central Palm Springs has grown into a great “base of operations” for visitors. With the ongoing revitalizations mentioned above, and the existing shopping and great dining, it’s all here. Fly in, drive in, bike in and have some great desert experiences relaxing in Palm Springs.

By Lucinda Anderson and Frank DiMarco

From Grandeur, To  Grandeur

From Grandeur, To Grandeur

Casa Del Mar Presidential Suite

Casa Del Mar Presidential Suite

Adrian Forty, Professor of Architectural History at University College London insisted, “No design works unless it embodies ideas that are held common by the people for whom the object is intended.” If any grandiose beach club property has achieved this feat, it is Santa Monica’s Hotel Casa del Mar.

In the early 20s, Santa Monica was experiencing an economic boom, and soon became known as the “Atlantic City of the West.” During this time numerous beach clubs sprung up along the coast, including the lavish Hotel Casa del Mar. Constructed in the Renaissance Revival style in 1926 by Los Angeles-based architect Charles F. Plummer for $2 million, Hotel Casa del Mar was originally a glamorous beach club for Hollywood’s A-List, and deemed Santa Monica’s “Grand Dame.” Members paid dues of $10-$12 per month to belong; the club was the hub of L.A.’s “see and be seen” elite social club.

In 1941, during World War II, fear of the Japanese invading the area beaches led the military to enlist the club as military housing. Hence, the US Navy claimed the building and used the hotel for a recreation center for enlisted men. In the early 1960s, the club closed its doors after struggling to regain its pre-war glory. The next 10-year chapter of Hotel Casa del Mar continues its fascinating history, as it served as home to the Synanon Foundation, a drug-rehabilitation program. Synanon was the first of its kind; a self-help (no doctors) drug rehabilitation program founded by Charles “Chuck” Dederich Sr. who directed the program for over a decade. In the late 1970s, Nathan Pritikin purchased the building. He developed a nutrition and health-care facility, the Pritikin Longevity Center, which closed its doors in 1997. Finally, the Edward Thomas Company, comprising brothers Edward and Thomas Slatkin, hailing from a long line of hoteliers, purchased the building and infused it with a $50+ million dollar restoration while working in partnership with the Historic Resources Group. The property reopened as Hotel Casa del Mar in 1999. Today, the property is one of the only remaining examples of the 1920s beach clubs that once monopolized the coast, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Casa Del Mar Ocean View Room

Casa Del Mar Ocean View Room

The 1996-1999 renovation, which restored Hotel Casa del Mar to its former opulence and grandeur, was led by HLW International, a New York/Los Angeles firm in partnership with Thomson Design Associates of Boston. Leslie “Lale” Armstrong was the project manager and senior designer. An architect for 35+ years, she is also responsible for the renovation of the Chantilly House in Bel Air. Structurally speaking, Hotel Casa del Mar is actually three structural systems in one. The underpinnings are concrete, while the second and third floors are built like wooden framed houses. The renovations included removal of the beach lockers and the beach/basement level swimming pool (where Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams perfected their swim strokes). In their stead a large ballroom with side spaces was built including insertion of vertical seismic sheer walls and 60” deep beams to carry and balance the weight of the main salon and terrace above. All the rooms and bathrooms were reconfigured, and all electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems were replaced. It was redesigned to be wheelchair accessible throughout the hotel.  As well, a wading pool was built on the terrace two levels above the beach.

Additionally, the eight-story property features a brick-and-sandstone facade, red-tile roof, brown iron balconies, and elaborate relief work with escutcheons adorning the front door. There are an array of sculpted figures throughout the facade including cupids, angels and Renaissance personalities. The interior design was managed by several Los Angeles firms using a 1920s aesthetic including simple, soft lighting and classic materials that were preferred in the 1920s such as damask and velvet draperies, and fruitwood and bronze furnishings. The color schemes reflect both land and sea. Today the fine finishes are in elegant gold and green hues complimented by shades of blue and apricot.

Hotel Casa del Mar offers 129 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites, imparting the ambiance of a chic beach estate, with a historic sense of place. Most rooms boast panoramic views of the Pacific coastline from Palos Verdes to Malibu, while others offer cityscapes of Santa Monica. Hotel Casa del Mar offers 5,100 square feet of meeting space, a sea wellness spa and several restaurants including the newly opened Terrazza where guests can look forward to a unique aesthetic and culinary experience inspired by the classic Italian Mediterranean seaside.

This was an enormous project that restored Hotel Casa del Mar to its original elegance. It’s a magnificent destination for a family vacation, an anniversary getaway or just a quick weekend jaunt. The hotel is right on the sand of the Santa Monica Southern California beach community surrounded by the Santa Monica Bay and the famous Santa Monica Pier. It is walking distance to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, the bustling Third Street Promenade, Main Street and the stunning vistas of nearby cliff-top Palisades Park.

In many ways, the architecture and the building itself serves as a link to the past, as the building has come full circle to again host the quintessential grand beachfront club experience. Juhani Pallasmaa, professor of architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology and former Director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture asserted, “A profound design process eventually makes the patron the architect, and every occasional visitor in the building a slightly better human being.” Frankly, who wouldn’t be better for experiencing the grandeur of the Hotel Casa del Mar? Absolutely no one.

Savoring Scottsdale

Savoring Scottsdale

The Omni Montelucia

The Omni Montelucia

By Adrien Field
@AdrienField

Scottsdale has called itself “The West’s most Western town” since its incorporation as a city in 1951. In the intervening 63 years, the Phoenix suburb has swelled in size from 2,000 to over 200,000 and traded in its cowboy boots for the well-heeled patent variety available at its downtown Fashion Square’s luxury boutiques.

While Scottsdale may no longer be the Wild West, it’s on the pioneering frontier of a farm to table movement that’s both elevating the culinary scene and raising consciousness about the provenance of one’s plate. No longer just a spa and golf destination, Scottsdale has forged a place for itself on the foodie map, attracting nationally recognized chefs who work with local small-scale farmers to offer fresh, seasonal dishes.

In nearly all ways, Scottsdale has become a cosmopolitan oasis in the Sonoran Desert with world class dining and accommodations. With its myriad spas, golf courses and the upcoming Super Bowl and PGA tournament in Phoenix – both taking place within a week of each other – there’s never been a better time to visit our neighbor to the East.

GETTING THERE
Scottsdale is just 380 miles from Los Angeles, or an hour’s plane ride into Phoenix with all major airlines providing multiple flights daily. Peak season is January through March, when the weather cools to an average of 70 degrees during the day. Off-season is predictably from June to September, when summer temperatures soar into three-digit territory. Those who don’t mind the heat will find incredible deals on hotel stays and spa packages.

ACCOMMODATIONS
There is no shortage of hotels and resorts lining the city’s 184 square miles, ranging from quaint to opulent. Landmark properties include The Hotel Valley Ho, one of the only mid-century modern resorts built in the 1950s still standing today, the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, a luxurious celebrity favorite, and The Bespoke Inn, Scottsdale’s only bed and breakfast.

The Omni Montelucia is a sprawling 35-acre property at the foot of Camel Back Mountain. Influenced by the architecture of Southern Spain, the hotel inspires feelings of grandiosity with its long courtyards and soaring stone archways.

Rooms are comfortable and well appointed with cloud-soft king sized beds, a workspace and sofa. Our room looked out onto the expansive Camelback Mountain with a double door that opened out onto tranquil garden, home to rabbits and hummingbirds

The main attraction here is undoubtedly the 31,000-square-foot Joya spa designed by Sylvia Sepielli. Men’s and women’s lounge areas are complete with a steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and the only hammam treatment rooms in Arizona. Upstairs is also a private pool for spa-goers with treetop and mountain views.

The Montelucia’s marquee restaurant, Prado, is a stylish and acclaimed breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot serving Mediterranean cuisine. Executive chef Michael Cairns overseas the kitchen that features a wood-burning fire grill. 

Royals Palms
For a romantic getaway, the Royal Palms offers secluded bliss amid lush bougainvillea-scented surroundings. Originally built in 1929 as a private residence, the resort opened its doors to the public in 1997 after an extensive renovation. Couples can lose themselves among the winding stone pathways that lead to intimate garden nooks and fountains.

Each of the property’s 119 guestrooms is situated in bungalow-style casitas with a front entrance and a back patio. Adding to the intimacy are grand four-poster beds and a remote-controlled fireplace in each room.

For a sumptuous dining experience, the hotel restaurant T. Cook’s is not to be missed. The menu by executive chef Paul McCabe features rich continental cuisine with highlights like venison tartare, stone seared foie gras, and a mouth-watering Colorado lamb.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

GO LOCAL
Queen Creek Olive Mill
About an hour outside of Scottsdale in neighboring Mesa, the Queen Creek Olive Mill is an example of the small scale farming operations currently changing the food landscape in Arizona. Helmed by husband and wife team Perry and Brenda Rea, the mill farms some 7,500 olive trees on its property and produces a range of flavorful extra virgin olive oils onsite including specialty infusions such as chocolate, vanilla bean and yes, even bacon olive oils.

An afternoon can be easily spent touring of the facility’s production operations, where visitors learn how the olive goes from fruit to liquid, followed by lunch at the café, which serves up an array of Mediterranean-style salads and sandwiches. Make sure to try an olive oil cupcake before perusing the various olive offerings at the marketplace in the form of oils, jarred tapenades, and even beauty products made by Mrs. Rea.

Bink’s Scottsdale
A true local’s spot inconspicuously situated in a strip mall, Bink’s serves locally sourced organic foods that are simply delicious. The ambiance lends itself more to afternoon than evening visits, but dishes like lobster pasta and 5 spice duck breast make dinner too good to pass up.

FnB
The unlikely pairing of a fast-talking Montenegrin/Columbian oenophile and a shy but extremely talented chef make up FnB (Food ‘N Beverage). Situated in the Art Walk district downtown, the restaurant has received national attention for its seasonal menu that puts Arizona produce front and center. In chef Charlene’s hands, Tuscan kale falafels are a soft and savory delight, roasted tomatoes are dynamites of sweetness, and the chicken au jus entrée is a flavorful classic.

Co-Owner Pavle Milivec serves as front of house and educates patrons on Arizona wines, including some of his own blends, each lovingly nicknamed after his children.

The attached shop next door, Bodega, also sells local wines, cheeses, and other fresh farm produce.

Beautiful agave

Beautiful agave

SPOTLIGHT ON SINGH FARMS

For Ken Singh, a second-generation Arizona farmer, “food grown properly is magic.” It may as well be his mantra; since he took the reigns of Singh Farms from his father, he’s transformed his 60-acre farmland into an organic and sustainable operation growing 50 varieties of produce.

A veritable Garden of Eden rising in the middle of Scottsdale’s arid terrain, Singh Farms draws locals every Saturday morning to its farmer’s market where it serves fruits and vegetables harvested from the earth that morning.

It’s the quality of the produce that keeps food conscious patrons coming back week after week to this hidden gem. “It’s simple. Give the soil what it wants and get rid of chemicals.” Mr. Singh says as he surveys the growth of his Moringa trees. In addition to composting his own soil, Mr. Singh has implemented companion growing, which supplants the need for pesticides since each plant naturally has an essence that protects another.

 

 

Macao – Looking Forward In A Historical Place

Macao – Looking Forward In A Historical Place

Colors of Macao

Colors of Macao

In the opening scenes of the 1952 movie “Macao,” starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, the announcer describes Macao as “the Monte Carlo of the Orient.”  If that movie were to be re-made today, we would likely hear, “the Las Vegas of the Orient.”

On the reclaimed land of Macao’s Cotai Central district, a new gaming paradise is glittering up the region and gamblers from all over Asia (many with their families) are showing up for vacations and testing their luck at lavish casinos. The Venetian, The Sands, The Galaxy, MGM Grand, Wynn have arrived with more to come. And, yes, there will be an Eiffel Tower in Macao by 2015, in the new Parisian resort. In 2012 the gambling revenues of Macao exceeded the total gaming revenues of the State of Nevada.

We will come back to all this new-ness later, but first, a little history and a little geography. Macao (or Macau) is comprised of both a peninsula and an island on the south side of the vast Pearl River Delta. Hong Kong, to the northeast on the other side of the Pearl River, is a one-hour trip by fast ferry and arguably a world apart.

While evidence shows human presence dating back over 4,000 years, early Portuguese traders arrived in the early 1500s and Macao’s long and fascinating history is rife with clashes between the Chinese and the Portuguese. Things became stable in 1582, with an annual “lease” arrangement. The agreement also established the Portuguese administration of Macao, which lasted until 1999, when it became, like Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region (S.A.R.) of the People’s Republic of China. Portuguese influence lives on today, with many families having mixed cultures in their histories. Macanese cuisine reflects this culture as well.

Artful Details

Artful Details

Gambling (politely called “gaming”) became legal in the 1800s to help the local economy. Gambling is illegal in Mainland China but resonates in the cultural makeup of many Asians, as they themselves happily acknowledge. If you build it, they will come. They did, and they did.

A few words about getting there:  Our EVA Air flight from LAX to Taipei was interesting for some comfortable reasons. What EVA has done is create what they are calling Elite Class premium economy. They have managed to create unique comfort with a chair that reclines as though in a socket. This accomplishes two things:  It allows you to get the feeling of more recline — with the use of the foot rests — and does not cramp the passenger behind you as much as a regular recline. We thought it was clever and reasonably comfortable (as much as a 12-hour flight can be called reasonably comfortable). The crew on the clean B-777 aircraft worked very hard to demonstrate an appreciation of our business and was clearly trying to deliver the best onboard product they could. The plane was full (one of two departures from LAX-TPE within 20 minutes of each other) so the Elite Class really helped. An easy EVA Air connection to Macao followed uneventfully…the best kind of flight. The Taipei Airport is modern, clean and traveler-friendly, as is the newish Macao airport.

So, we wondered, what are they doing in Macao’s Cotai Strip to attract families, other than the lavish, elegant casinos? For one thing, resorts like the Sheraton Macao Hotel are innovating with a connection with DreamWorks. Take in the “Shrekfast” — a lavish buffet which surrounds a stage full of bigger-than-life characters such as Shrek, Puss in Boots, the cast of Madagascar, with Alex the lion, penguins and many more.

Whether or not you know these characters already, they become even more lovable when surrounded by a lavish buffet of fresh and exotic fruits (dragon fruit!), juices, breads, pastries, dim sum, Macanese dishes, omelettes made to order, bacon and sausage, excellent coffee and tea — pretty much everything you might want for breakfast or brunch, and then some.

We watched tables full of youngsters dazzled as the characters came to their tables and posed for photos with them. Further, the Sheraton Macao has themed some rooms, with bunk beds and other fun amenities for kids, all related to the DreamWorks animated characters.

Chef at the Sheraton

Chef at the Sheraton

The Sheraton has nearly 4,000 guest rooms and suites and frequently is 100% booked, so some trip planning is important. There will soon be a fast rail line from the heart of Guangzhou to Macau, which will greatly increase accessibility from major parts of Mainland China. Convention and event business is growing as well and The Sheraton Macao has vast, beautifully appointed ballrooms that can handle meetings and events on a large scale.

As we have always suggested to our readers, become a Starwood Preferred Guest and be eligible for benefits and upgrades such as access to the lounge for breakfast or cocktails. SPG membership is free and the benefits are a real value. The roomy Starwood Club Lounge at the Sheraton Macao is a major enhancement to the resort experience here, and includes an elaborate breakfast buffet, a bar, indoor and outdoor seating and orchids everywhere. Packages are offered that include some great Starwood benefits. The staff at this property is simply wonderful.

The Sheraton’s restaurants are excellent and include Bene (Italian), Xin (hot pot and seafood) and Feast (international). Poolside dining in the semi-tropical air of Macao is offered from the Sheraton’s healthful menus.

The Sheraton Macao is linked to the other elegant resort casinos by covered walkways, taking you through multi-storied shopping areas with all the top global names represented. You could arrive in your bathing trunks with a credit card and emerge from these halls of retail in a gorgeous suit or dress, with an elegant new watch or necklace and spectacular shoes, carrying the rest in a new handbag or roll-aboard.

Be sure to get tickets for “The House of Dancing Water” in the adjoining City of Dreams. This aquatic/acrobatic love story extravaganza will leave you breathless — a treat for all ages.

And what about seeing the sights of Macao? From the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral (built 1582-1602) to the A-Ma Buddhist Temple (1488) and all the wonderful vibrant streets and parks in-between, Old Macao has a rich experience waiting for the visitor. The old Red Market is a chance to see where local Macanese shop for fresh fish, poultry, beef, pork and vegetables. Chinese cooking culture demands freshness so be prepared to see live chickens looking on as their freshly-butchered brethren leave, under the arms of home and restaurant chefs. There are two fresh fish deliveries per day so a great deal of slapping and flapping can be witnessed at the Red Market as well.

We also enjoyed two museums that share the same address. The first is the Macao Grand Prix Museum, which celebrates the annual world-famous Formula Car race through the streets of Macao. The Grand Prix marked its 60th year in 2013. The museum is full of classic race cars of various vintages and detailed dioramas of pit crews and drivers at work. Outstanding historical racing photographs line the walls and videos show dramatic highlights of past races.

Its neighbor, the Macao Wine Museum, is a surprise and a delight. The museum goes on and on, with real winemaking equipment from another age on fascinating display. Mannequins in vintage regional dress of Portugal line some of the hallways. Because of the continued relationship with Portugal, and her influence on Macao culture, the museum’s tasting room offers dozens of varieties of Portuguese wine to visitors. These two museums are world-class in how they present their subjects. It is clear that a great deal of time and money went into their development.

Macau is small, unique and diverse. It could be “China for beginners.” We were told, more than once, by China experts that it is not “the real China.” We understand that to mean that Macao is not the huge, overwhelmingly vast mainland and, yes, it has westernized aspects. That can be a good thing, especially for first timers. You can stay in contemporary luxury in Cotai Central while also having easy access to the culture and history of old Macao. It is a delightful and friendly destination.

Tokyo in San Francisco

Tokyo in San Francisco

Hotel Kabuki Lobby

Hotel Kabuki Lobby

 

So you have visited San Francisco many times? Seen the wharf, walked through the Ferry Building, enjoyed the Bay? Well, for a completely different international spin, try out a stay at Joie de Vivre’s, Hotel Kabuki located on Post Street in Japantown. For an extra special treat, request one of the signature suites, which come with a sauna and a Japanese-style soaking tub. The hotel also features an Izakaya restaurant with a large selection of skewers and small plates for happy hour. Japantown is like a trip across the Pacific, featuring many traditional Japanese shops and restaurants. You can pick up a great esoteric English language Manga comic novel (we sampled a comic series explaining Japan’s traditional cuisine, for example) at Kinokuniya Book Stores, a new bento lunch box at Nippon-Ya or elegant hand-made ceramics at Shiki. The center has regular special events, such as Kimono shopping days, the J-Pop festival and drum performances by the world famous Taiko Dojo. Sundance Cinemas theater allows you to reserve individual seats and enjoy evening shows with a full service bar and private screening rooms if that’s your pleasure. The city has so many facinating neighborhoods to experience; it’s a fun way to take a break from the routine.

For more information on Japantown, go to sfjapantown.org.

Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Punta Cana, Hard Rock  Hotel & Casino

Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Tropical white-sand beaches, the best rum known to man, world-class cigars, and fine dining in a bathroom — you really can have it all in the DR! (That last part about the bathroom will make sense soon, I promise.) While historically the Dominican Republic hasn’t enjoyed the same influx of tourism as many of its Caribbean neighbors, scores of new resort construction and development along its picturesque east coast is rapidly increasing its appeal to the western traveler. And with culture as rich, people as friendly and indulgences as decadent as the DR has to offer, we’re astounded it’s taken this long to catch on.

Having opened just three years ago, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana has bolstered that effort by providing us Americans a recognizable brand with a reputation we can trust. In true Hard Rock form, the entire compound is immaculate and looks like it could’ve opened yesterday — which is no small feat, considering the acreage over which it sprawls. Whether you’re taking a short stroll or riding one of the shuttles clear across the grounds, you’ll be hard pressed not to stumble upon someone scaping the land.

Hot tub in the bedroom

Hot tub in the bedroom

Equally gorgeous as the landscape of the property are the over 1,700 rooms which scatter across it. Picture white marble floors offset by luxurious dark-hued walls, gigantic bathrooms with party-sized showers, not to mention a Jacuzzi in every suite; it’s hard not to feel like a rock star at the Hard Rock. Even though the LCD TV’s, ridiculously comfy beds and fully-stocked mini-bars could’ve kept me happily holed up for as long as I’d desire, there’s way too much going on at this resort to be staying in for long.

When it comes to play at the Hard Rock Punta Cana, all I have to say is good luck trying to do it all. If relaxation’s your thing, they have twelve swimming pools, many of which are equipped with a swim-up bar (heyo!), but I say why bother with a pool when you have nearly half a mile of turquoise Caribbean coastline at your disposal. In case of sunburn from excessive lounging, the Hard Rock has your indoor entertainment covered. With one of the largest Casinos in the Caribbean, dim light and A/C will have you forgetting that you look like a lobster in no time! Once recovered and ready to get back at it, there’s an 18-hole Jack-Nicklaus-designed golf course (and also mini-golf, in case you find the full-sized version as intimidating as I do), a rock climbing wall, multiple tennis courts and a fitness center that’ll put your local Equinox to shame. Should you be outlandish enough to exercise while on vacation, please feel obliged to reward yourself with a treatment at the 60,000 sq/ft Rock Spa. Complete with 35 spa suites and the most complete hydrotherapy circuit in the Caribbean, there’s not a kink in your body they’re incapable of fixing.

After a day of activity there’s nothing better than a delicious meal to top it all off, and when we say the dining options are limitless at the Hard Rock, we mean just that. Featuring nine all-inclusive restaurants and three café/deli style eateries, it’s nearly impossible to try them all. Not because of the quantity, simply because of how arduous the task is to explore other options once you’ve fallen in love with your first sampling. And though the all-inclusive dining choices are equally revered and nothing short of delectable — the experience of dining at their signature restaurant is not to be missed.

Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Designed to mimic the eclectically-chaotic beauty of a rock star’s abode, Simon Mansion and Supper Club’s décor beckons you before even entering the front door. With seven distinct dining areas, guests can feast on fixtures of American-Caribbean cuisine from Chef Kerry Simon’s menu in either the Living Room, Library, Studio, Patio or Dining Room — or come with a group and dine privately in the Bedroom or aforementioned Bathroom; don’t worry, there isn’t an actual toilet. With a variety of sections ranging from fresh local seafood and sushi rolls, to twice-fried chicken, basil-crusted racks of lamb and Kobe beef hamburgers, even the most discerning of foodies will feel catered to. The next best part: after dining like a rock star, you can party like one at Oro nightclub just a few steps away.

Star Alliance Lounge

Star Alliance Lounge

Star Alliance lounge outdoor seating

Star Alliance lounge outdoor seating

As you know from reading LAX Magazine, Tom Bradley International Terminal is undergoing a massive, $1.5B renovation — the biggest public works project in the history of Los Angeles. The first passenger lounge to open in the new space has just been unveiled from Star Alliance. The lounge is gorgeous with fire pits, mountain views and experience zones. The lounge is welcome to all First, Business and Star Alliance Gold Card passengers who are departing on a Star Alliance airline from Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT).

The 18,000 square foot facility was built to host up to 400 people with a special section for First Class passengers. Built by global architectural firm Gensler, the lounge boasts an outdoor terrace with views from the northern runway where you can watch planes land as well as views of the Hollywood Hills. The terrace includes fire pits and a huge water feature.

Star Alliance lounge

Star Alliance lounge

The space is designed to provide comfort for all types of passengers. If you’re looking for a social scene, there’s a bar or if you are looking for some quiet time then you can head to the library. There is a den, a study and a media room. With USB and power ports throughout, you can be assured that your devices will be can charged and they have iPads available to borrow if needed. Eight shower rooms are available to freshen up before or in between flying.

The décor of the lounge is inspired by modernist architecture in L.A. during the 50s and 60s. New guidelines for Star Alliance branded lounges call for introducing a local flavor into each location. Our new lounge in Los Angeles features black and white L.A.-inspired photos, shot by renowned photographer, Peter Lik. Star Alliance used locally sources products and furniture where possible and the walls are lined with gorgeous glazed ceramic tiles created by local artisans. They are currently working towards their Gold LEED Certification.

Eight Star Alliance carriers operate out of Tom Bradley International Terminal including ANA, Asiana Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, THAI and Turkish Airlines. Air New Zealand was selected to manage the lounge, as they will be moving from Terminal 2 to TBIT next year.

One of the benefits of Star Alliance Gold, First and Business class customers is access to this lounge and thousands of lounges throughout the world. Day passes are not available for purchase.

www.staralliance.com

ST JULIEN HOTEL & SPA

ST JULIEN HOTEL & SPA

St. Julien cuisine

St. Julien cuisine

The St Julien Hotel and Spa in Boulder, Colorado is the perfect place to stay while visiting the idyllic college town located at the base of the Rockies. With breathtaking views of the magical Flatiron rock formations, the hotel is situated in the best part of town, right off the Pearl Street Mall. And better yet, within walking distance to such drinking and dining staples such as the Rio Grande Mexican restaurant (best margaritas on earth!) and other fantastic area bars and eateries.

When you’re ready to explore Boulder even further, a great way to see the area is on bike. The St Julien offers guests a selection of cruiser bikes available at no extra charge, allowing you to tour the city the way the locals do. Not a biker? No problem, the hotel offers a courtesy chauffeured shuttle service within the Boulder city limits to all guests! The hotel is also located within driving distance of the nation’s best ski slopes and hiking trails.

St. Julien bathroom

St. Julien bathroom

After touring the town, you can unwind at The Spa at St Julien, which features twelve treatment rooms outfitted with the latest spa therapy equipment and personal care and an inner relaxation lounge. By incorporating fresh herbs from St Julien’s on-site herb garden, the Spa at St Julien has created a variety of unique treatments and products found nowhere else in the world. The Spa at St Julien offers a full-service salon that includes the latest hair care, makeup, nails and also body, facial, massage and anti-aging treatments. It also contains a 60 ft. indoor lap pool and relaxing hot tub, offering mountain views and high-altitude patio relaxation; and a complimentary fitness center featuring the latest aerobic and cardio equipment. Sunday mornings at the St Julien are kicked off with a complimentary yoga class offered daily at 9 a.m. Yoga sessions are led by an on-staff therapist and yogi who guides guests of all ability levels (novice to intermediate) through an hour-long yoga class.

One of the ideal benefits of the St Julien experience is dining at the unique and popular Jill’s Restaurant.  Showcasing contemporary American cuisine, Jill’s places a special emphasis on sustainable, organic farming, providing the highest quality meals. You can eat in the restaurant, dine al fresco on their patio, or better yet order it for room service!  An annual recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, Jill’s Restaurant is fantastic and they have a great Sunday morning brunch offering their new Tableside Service featuring dramatic creation of select dishes adjacent to each party’s dining table.

Every Saturday, you can enjoy St Julien’s Afternoon Tea, which takes place by the fireplace in their Great Room with lovely views through the floor to ceiling windows. And bonus, Grammy-award-winning pianist Ralph Sharon entertains guests during Afternoon Tea! Held in the lobby from 2 to 4 p.m., guests and locals are invited to a modern tea service featuring teas from Tea Forte as well as scones, tea sandwiches, and a selection of seasonally inspired fare. During the summer months, iced teas are offered in addition to hot teas, and often feature ingredients from the herb garden. During the holiday season, Gingerbread Teas are featured and include gingerbread decorating for children along with the usual selection of teas.

St. Julien exterior

St. Julien exterior

And let’s not forget a main perk of staying at the St Julien……drinks! The hotel offers live music on most nights in the T-Zero Lounge, which is a fun place to enjoy music and cocktails. It also offers one of the best wine programs in Boulder as well as handcrafted signature cocktails and martinis, many made with local Colorado liquor. Or sit outside at The Terrace at St Julien, which showcases one of the most breathtaking views of Boulder’s famous Flatiron Rock formations with the Rocky Mountains in the backdrop. You can dine on the Terrace for lunch, happy hour and dinner, and it is an ideal location for private parties.

The St Julien experience is a luxurious, yet comfortable, and most importantly, authentic to Boulder.

900 Walnut St

Boulder, CO 80302

(720) 406-9696

www.stjulien.com

Visiting Vancouver

Visiting Vancouver

Beautiful Vancouver

Beautiful Vancouver

Ah, Canada. Where everyone is so civilized. One of my favorite cities in Canada has got to be Vancouver. It’s like the North America version of Hong Kong with water, mountains and skyscrapers. There is so much to do in Vancouver from checking out the food truck movement to exploring all of the public art on display to incorporating some physical movement into your visit with a jaunt or a saunter around Stanley Park — a massive park located in the middle of the city with water on all sides.

There’s so much to do in Vancouver, BC but first let’s talk about where to stay. There are four different versions of fantastic Fairmont Hotels in Vancouver; Fairmont Vancouver Airport (luxury at the airport), Fairmont Waterfront (with the honeybee apiary), Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (the historic one) and the latest and most exciting, Fairmont Pacific Rim. We recently checked out the Fairmont Pacific Rim and we found it to be cosmopolitan and modern with a kind and talented staff who make you feel right at home.

Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby

Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby

The architecture of the Pacific Rim is quite stunning. Done by well-known Vancouver architect James K. Cheng, the structure is a mass of glass and metal. Stretching to 44 floors with diagonal cut outs at the top, the building offers incredible views of the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park and Coal Harbour. Set along Coal Harbour, adjacent to where the cruise ships dock and looking out over the roof top garden of the convention center sits the Fairmont Pacific Rim. The rooms offer beautiful views, Japanese soaking tubs, gorgeous Stearns & Foster beds and bedside touch-screen controls for lighting, temperature, curtains and entertainment.

Culinary Options

The Fairmont Pacific Rim is blessed to have an incredible chef running their food and wine program. Chef Darren Brown was born and raised in B.C. and has established solid relationships with farmers, fishmongers and purveyors of fine cuisine. The Fairmont Pacific Rim is his playground and he’s making the most of it with several dining outlets. He’s even perfecting the craft of large wedding or convention dining using the latest technology to eliminate dry chicken.

Darren is just fabulous and has experience cooking for some of the most distinguished palates in the world. He was the chef for Merv Griffin’s 150-yacht. They would summer on the Mediterranean and winter in the Caribbean, hosting celebrities and dignitaries. He traveled the world and prepared meals from ingredients gathered from the local markets. “I learned that the food needs to speak for itself,” says Darren. “Guests would be paying up to one million dollars for a week’s stay. I would have two hours on shore to purchase whatever I could cook. This forced me to play with the food and cook with what was appropriate and available.”

Fairmont Pacific Rim Bathroom

Fairmont Pacific Rim Bathroom

After spending a few years at sea, Darren became the Executive Chef at our own Trader Vic’s inside of the Beverly Hills Hilton. Then in 2002, Darren headed to Vegas to open Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay. While overseeing operations at Mandalay Bay he was responsible for China Grill, Blue Blanc Rouge Bistro and Red Square. Darren caught the eye of legendary Michelin chef, Alain Ducasse. From Ducasse, he learned about sourcing and “being true to the product, knowing where it comes from, doing the right thing and the least with it,” says Darren.

In 2004 he opened the exclusive Mix Restaurant, and in 2005 he was appointed Assistant Executive Chef of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, which required him to oversee the culinary operations of 1.8 million square feet of event space, in-room dining for 5,500 guest rooms and more than 20 restaurants.

Upon hearing about the impending birth of his son, Darren decided to raise his family back in Vancouver. He headed home. Darren brings his global culinary experience to Fairmont Pacific Rim in the form of several interesting restaurant and a booming event business.

At the base of the hotel is Giovane, an Italian eatery offering morning coffee and pastries to wine tastings and pasta in the evenings. Adjacent to the restaurant is a fabulous market stocked with the best ingredients out of Vancouver and Italy, such as a beautiful Salsa di Pomodoro from Viragi. They have an extensive charcuterie program at the hotel, which is available for purchase at the market.

On the second floor is upscale, Japanese style restaurant, ORU. The ORU team has developed a culinary journey with a new menu, offering an abundance of flavors ranging from British Columbia’s coast, to the French Polynesian Islands, and all the way down the southern regions of Chile. The setting at ORU can feel intimate or party central, as huge tables are available to be set up in front of their grand open kitchen. Seafood is the main draw offering the latest and greatest out of the nearby waters. Huge platters of sushi and creative shrimp broth soups prepared tableside in beakers and flasks add to interesting dining experience.

At the lobby level of the hotel, you’ll find the people-watching epicenter of the Fairmont Pacific Rim. From happy hour until 2AM, you’ll be amused and entertained by all of the interesting characters there enjoying delicious cocktails prepared by award-winning bartender, Grant Sceney. It’s fun to people watch Vancouver’s flashy crowd with distinguished men in classy suits and fortune seeking women putting it all out there.

Trendy Restaurants Galore 

Vancouver is like a Canadian version of Portland, Oregon when it comes to their food scene. With better access to seafood direct from the Harbour and Pacific Ocean, Vancouver restaurants are also embracing urban gardens located within the city blocks to feed their guests the latest seasonal fare. Restaurateurs in Vancouver are using DIY tactics to build tables, chairs, and lighting to offer an eclectic, made-with-love feel to the décor.

Wildebeest is run with hipster flair. Cool characters describe their meaty specials. A vegetarian could get by at Wildebeest but you’ll enjoy more if you can eat meat for the night. Typical vegetable pairings include seasonal offerings of hearty root vegetables that are marinated and cooked to work with rich meats or seafoods.

Another notable restaurant new to Vancouver is PiDGiN, which is operating in a part of town that is best not walked alone. Once you pass through the doors you are safe and ready for your dining adventure. PiDGiN offers a variety of Asian inspired dishes that are perfect for sharing. Exotic flavors abound and check your inhibitions at the door. Also available are interesting cocktails and an expansive sake list.

General Information

Vancouver has a light rail system that is easy and cost effective. It will take you from Vancouver International Airport and drop you in the center of town where most hotels are within a walkable or a $5 cab ride away. Stanley Park is your playground and backyard. It is THE place to enjoy a bike ride or a morning jog. It’s beautiful and green and surrounded on three sides with water, think of a miniature, unpopulated land mass like San Francisco. Trails abound. The main downtown area is just southeast of Stanley Park. This area includes the seaplane airport with flights to Victoria, the convention center, cruise ship docking, and two Fairmont hotels including the Pacific Rim.

One of the best ways to take in the beauty of Vancouver BC is to explore the area in a seaplane. Soar above the water and try to spot whales and huge shipping boats. One a clear day the islands between Vancouver and Victoria are a mass of green and blue. It’s an exhilarating ride capsulated by a dramatic landing right into Coal Harbour.

There is a lot of public art in and throughout Vancouver and you’ll find yourself staring and smiling whimsically at a sculpture of a happy Asian man.

¡PURA VIDA!

¡PURA VIDA!

Sweeping views from the private residences are a highlight at Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo. Photo by Frank DiMarco

Sweeping views from the private residences are a highlight at Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo.
Photo by Frank DiMarco

 

Costa Rica’s Dreamy Peninsula Papagayo: Relaxation, Environmental Stewardship and World Class Golf in an Audubon Sanctuary

By Frank DiMarco

“Costa Rica!” That’s what Christopher Columbus called it in 1502 when he showed up on Costa Rica’s east coast, looking for gold in the New World. Greeted by beautiful maidens bedecked in gold, cleverly sent out by the local chiefs to greet him, “Rich Coast” immediately came to Columbus’ mind and the name stuck.

“Ticos” (Costa Ricans) love their country, and rightfully so. This flower of democracy amid the banana republics of Central America has no army and no navy. Their “Guardia Civil” receives less funding than their schools and their roads. The right to vote is treasured and public education through college is free, as is universal health care for citizens and permanent residents. Their National Parks are legendary and eco-tourism basically started here. Everyone speaks English from passable to articulate and Costa Rica’s literacy rate is over 90 percent. Of particular interest: Costa Rican presidents can serve unlimited, non-consecutive 4-year terms.

Costa Rica is divided into provinces and this trip takes us to a beauty:  Guanacaste, on the northwest coast, just south of Nicaragua. It is here, on the breathtaking Peninsula Papagayo that Four Seasons Costa Rica coexists with the natural habitat and, equally important, with the local residents.

Most guests fly into nearby Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, on one of the many daily flights from the United States. Schedules can be seasonal but service is regular. Delta begins non-stop service from LAX in December 2013. The terminal is new and clean, immigration officers are polite and friendly. The Four Season folks will make arrangements to meet you at the airport outside the arrivals door. I was met in the terminal by Four Seasons representative, Eddy, who escorted us to their van, piloted by Esteban. All the guests in the van checked in on a provided iPad via SKYPE en route to the hotel, so no front desk rigmarole was necessary. Nice.

After a scenic 30-minute drive beside sugar cane fields, pastures and out along the spine of the Peninsula Papagayo, I was greeted at the hotel entrance by the charming Pascal Forotti, General Manager and his colleague, Yerilyn, and presented with a small glass of “Juego de Bienvenido” (“Welcome Juice”), a tasty mixture of orange juice, cilantro and ginger.

Four Seasons staff member Oscar Aguilar dressed as “El Pipero” serves up some coconut water. Photo by Frank DiMarco

Four Seasons staff member Oscar Aguilar dressed as “El Pipero” serves up some coconut water.
Photo by Frank DiMarco

To behold the entire Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, I suggest giving yourself over to the experience of The Spa, the Trail of Giants Tour along the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course (set in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary) and the plethora of water sports available. The latter includes kayaking, paddle-boarding and boat rides on the beautiful Bahía de Culebra. Custom trips are easily arranged with local, licensed boat captains.

Serious surfers can head over to numerous, seasonally good, surfing spots, including nearby Playa Tamarindo. Four Seasons partners with Tropicsurf, staffed on-site with experienced guides and instructors. Tropicsurf can set up customized surfing experiences with local, licensed boat skippers, for those not familiar with the best surf spots.

Costa Rican wildlife is abundant and, seasonally, you’ll see tribes of monkeys, iguanas and amazing avifauna (birds). In fact, nearly 900 bird species have been identified in Costa Rica — more than in the United States and Canada combined.

The resort wants you to relax and enjoy yourself. It is obvious that they want you to come back, and go to great strides to make the experience incredible. Hence the activities. No shortage here. For example, the schedule for Mondays through October 31 includes: Guided Kayaking Tour, Spa Exercise Class, Bay Cruise Tour, Spa Boot Camp, Guided Morning Hike, Coco Water Taxi, Cardio Tennis, Spinning, Beach Volleyball, Cooking Class, Dance Class “Latin Rhythms,” Explore Scuba Diving, Guided Snorkel Tour, Artisan Market and a Guided Nature Hike.

One of my favorite activities is Quiet Poolside Sitting. And then along comes staff member Oscar Aguilar as “El Pipero,” the guy who lops off the top of a coconut with a machete, pops in a straw and hands you a delicious fresh container of coconut water with a smile.  !Pura Vida!

A word about the Spa and its facilities at the resort. I chose the Rainforest Aromatherapy Massage with one of the 15 professionally-licensed staff. It was a very tranquil experience, with choices of ambient music and scented massage oils. The hydrotherapy pools, hot and cold and gender segregated, are part of the Spa facilities. They are open, free of charge, to all registered guests, as are the dry and steam saunas. The menu of Spa services is extensive and catalogued nicely in the brochures provided in each room.

Children. They are more than welcome, as demonstrated by both the Kid’s Club or the Camp Papagayo Program (these for the age 4-12 group) and the Tuanis Teen Center (12 years and up). These supervised activities and locations give kids a great place to bond and be engaged and are a credit to the meticulous thinking and attention to detail of the resort. It is one of the reasons families return to Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo year after year.

Early one night during my stay, some Four Seasons staff gathered children on the beach and launched paper lanterns, taken aloft by small flames. The staff explained that the early local tribes used this custom to send off the souls of departed tribal members. We all made a wish as the lantern kites were launched and the sky filled with ethereal bright objects as they drifted off in the night breeze.

Food. Yum. Drink. Yum Yum. Because of its central location right below the stairs from the main lobby, Tico’s Lounge is a natural place for guests to congregate for lunch, cocktail hour and beyond. They’ve got a zesty drink here called the Guajito, made with Cacique (“chief of the tribe”) rum, mint, Midori and lemon juice. Wow, where did that first one go? Like that. The local brews are respectable, with rich ales and pilsners. Tico’s features a mixology class I found to be fun and a good way to meet your fellow guests. A couple I met at the class was on a journey to play the most beautiful golf courses around the world and agreed that they picked a good stop.

Four Seasons will cater a romantic sunset  dinner  on the beach for you. Photo by Frank DiMarco

Four Seasons will cater a romantic sunset dinner
on the beach for you.
Photo by Frank DiMarco

Adjacent to Tico’s is Papagayo Restaurant with a great breakfast service. If you want to dine a little more formally, Di Mare Restaurant, also at the resort, is an elegant, Italian-influenced establishment with some creative platings of local, fresh seafood.

Another equally elegant restaurant is Caracol, located at the dramatic Ronald Zürcher-designed Golf Clubhouse. At Caracol I had a remarkable comparison offering of local and imported grilled beef, prefaced by a poke-like Ahi dish, and a mouthwatering salad with greens locally-sourced, many right from the restaurant’s nearby herb garden.

Overseeing all the menus and preparation at the resort’s five restaurants and lounges is Executive Chef Mario Alocer, who shares nearly 25 years of Four Seasons experience with his guests.

Another highlight of this trip was a Chocolate Making Class, conducted at the resort by Henrik Bodholdt, owner of the nearby Beach Chocolate Factory.  You’ll be taken through the history and the preparation of making chocolate, which I found both interesting and informative.  Very hands-on and delicious.

Be prepared to experience what returning guests have found:  Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo doesn’t fit into any traditional resort niche. Sure, there is the usual attention to detail that comes with a world-class destination; but beyond this is the destination itself.  The feeling of inclusion in the culture and the environment of this treasure of a country, even during a short stay, is palpable. The “Ticos” really love that you are visiting their country and want to let you know it. ¡Pura Vida!

Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo 

Playa Tamarindo

Tropicsurf

Costa Rica Surfing Spots

The Beach Chocolate Factory

 

 

Stay Here Now – Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey

Stay Here Now – Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

The closest luxury hotel to LAX is undoubtedly the Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey. Located just ten minutes away with no traffic and boasting all that you know and  love about Ritz Carlton hotels: an amazing spa, great pool, bar and restaurant and the highest quality rooms with views of the marina. The rooms themselves are perfect to prep for your trip or enjoy a few days while checking out Los Angeles. The hotel is good for singles, couples and families with active pool days, tennis and kids camps as well as a fun restaurant and bar scene at night. They are about to undertake a huge renovation in their dining program and this January we’ll have a new restaurant to enjoy. In the mean time the current restaurant offers upscale dining, a casual patio area perfect for happy hour with friends, surrounded by the boats of Marina Del Rey. If it’s cold then they will bring around heat lamps and fluffy blankets.

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

Both the hotel and the spa offer packages specifically for LAX travelers. The hotel will arrange for a town car pick up at LAX, transportation to and from the hotel, a room for a half-day and a dining voucher. The spa offers a separate package that is directed to the weary traveler whose body may be stiff from 10-hour flights. The spa package includes an incredible massage (ask for Carlo), lunch with selections such as lobster Cobb salad with huge chunks of lobster prepared by the Ritz Carlton dining team lead by Executive Chef Umit Kaygusuz. The package also includes a glass of wine, access to the pool and spa facilities, and a gift bag including product such as tonics to spray on your face while flying to help eliminate dehydration of your skin.

 

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

4375 Admiralty Way

Marina del Rey, CA 90292

(310) 823-1700

www.ritzcarlton.com