November 18, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
From now until February 28, 2006, check out an exclusive exhibit at The Gallery at Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C. Renowned French painter Jean Marc Huss explores themes that span thousands of years; his works of oil on canvas depict Buddha images dating back to the Khmer Empire. How cool. After you check out the exhibition, check into the hotel’s Presidential Suite, voted one of the best in the world by both USA Today and Elite Traveler. After all, the three-bedroom suite is the choice of heads of state when visiting the nation’s capital-- the very height of luxury. Details include: panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, two balconies, living room with grand piano, chess table and telescope, a kitchenette, exercise area, and a truly spectacular bedroom. Get this: the master bedroom features a TV above a windowed, infinity-edge SOK tub that fills from a ceiling height nozzle. Wow.
Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C., Official Site
Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C., Five Star Alliance
Business meeting in LA? How about taking it poolside at Shutters on the Beach? It’s got one of the most spacious pooldecks of all the luxury hotels in LA, with full restaurant and bar service along with high-speed wireless internet access. (Not to mention the Jacuzzi with spectacular ocean views.) Shutters conjures images of crisp, white linens matched by whitewashed walls-- the sun-filled spaces the epitome of understated elegance. With a recent interior redesign, the spacious rooms are classy, elegant and reminiscent of a private beach cottage. This is beachfront living at its finest, just minutes from all the fine dining, luxury shopping, outdoor adventure and museums on offer in LA’s neighborhoods. Jog along Santa Monica’s 22 mile beachfront trail, then indulge in a custom treatment by Ole Henriksen at the hotel’s ONE spa. At the Getty Center, forget the art; the building itself is an architectural triumph (comprised of blocks of unpolished marble with imbedded fossil specimens), with a killer view to match. Over the weekend, head to the Santa Monica’s Farmers Market before hitting the luxury boutiques on Main Street or Montana Avenue.
Shutters on the Beach, Official Site
Shutters on the Beach, Five Star Alliance
I did not know how to wield a knife. Did this phase the chef? Not at all, as he smiled graciously, then relaxed into a huge grin, cracked some jokes, and coaxed me into cooking for (almost) the first time in my life. And it was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. The cooking schools in Chiang Mai are world-renowned for teaching delicious menus, hilarious Super-Chefs, and beautiful environments for day-long classes in an outdoor paradise. My pick? The Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, with its terraced garden kitchen, wildly entertaining staff and colorful book of recipes you get to take home with you. A sample menu includes: Thai Hot And Sour Prawn Soup, Green Curry With Chicken, Thai Style Fish Cakes, Phad Thai, Minced Pork Northern Style, Water Chestnuts With Sugar Syrup And Coconut Milk. Did I mention you get to eat all the delicious dishes you prepare?!
Where to stay? This city in northern Thailand has become increasingly upscale in recent years, now offering luxury resorts and spas. (The Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental have both staked their claim here.) Head to the Chedi Chiang Mai, situated on the banks of the Ping River. A GHM hotel, the Chedi Chiang Mai is a modern, minimalist masterpiece. 84 rooms are spacious and have riverview balconies. Set in a split-level colonial house, the restaurant features meals that tastefully blend East and West.
I overheard a conversation in the airport the other day, in the waiting lounge for a South African Airways flight. The subject at hand? The best hotel in Africa. Naturally my ears perked up, and I listened with glee to the descriptions of heavenly suites and excessive pampering at The Palace in Ethiopia. But it’s a mystery! My research has turned up… nada! Have you heard of this mysterious, sumptuous hotel in Addis Ababa? Can anyone point me in the right direction (since—alas—Google has failed me)?
The cat’s been out of the bag for sometime about this perfect Mission trattoria, but I still start salivating when someone mentions the menu. Even just a nibble of antipasti will suffice. Especially when it’s prosciutto San Danielle with fuyu persimmons and Parmigiano. And believe it or not, the all-organic menu’s not even the best part. Despite its chic clientele and happening atmosphere, this place remains true to its Mission environs—the staff friendly, tattooed, and down-to-earth.
Rick Steves is the guru of European travel. With superb guidebooks and a website to match, the man knows his Continent. Now, you can also download podcasts of his new public radio show, “Travel with Rick Steves.” Ranked in iTunes “Top 100 Podcasts,” this dude’s a hit. Check it out.
After yesterday’s verbiage—sheesh! I’m wiped out!—I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. There are rumors milling that Tetiaroa-- Marlon Brando’s private atoll in Tahiti—will be an exclusive eco-resort in 2008. The Brando (as it’s been dubbed) will require a $40 million investment, as there’s no electricity or running water on the island. I wonder if there’s a line already queuing for the 30 bungalows?
Beautiful white sand beaches framed by tropical forest. A small-town Caribbean vibe. Marine parks with abundant coral reefs attracting marvelous fish and animal life. A snorkeling and scuba-diving paradise. Welcome to Bocas del Toro, Panama. To reach these islands off the country’s Caribbean coast (close to the Costa Rica border), one could opt for a short flight. Or one could be more adventurous and choose the water taxi, an experience in and of itself. The boat ride travels through old canals formerly used by the banana plantations. Peer down into the clear Caribbean-blue water, and you can see fish swimming beneath the gnarled roots of the mangroves. Where to stay? The (still-quaint) town has undergone development in recent years so that there are luxurious accommodations aplenty, in addition to cheaper hospedajes. Check out the environmentally-friendly Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge, which topped Luxury Travel Magazine’s 2005 A-List. Each bungalow is built on stilts over the crystal clear sea, your own private terrace providing vistas of jumping dolphins at sunset.
I admit it; I’ve never done it. But after a few beers the other night with a couple who lead springtime Heli-skiing tours in Alaska, I was well on my way out the door. Who needs the tropics when I could ski snow-capped peaks and glacier-carved mountains all by my lonesome?! (And I’m no ski junkie.) Up in Alaska, the winter season runs from late February until May. Heli-skiing operations like Points North Heli-Adventures (utilizing over 1,000 sq miles of skiable terrain in the Chugach mountains) provide an average of 20-25,000 feet of vertical per day. (Excursions average 6-10 heli runs and $850-900 a day.) I checked out a feature in Outside Traveler’s Winter issue, which was equally as convincing about heli-ski tours in the central Alps. Apparently heli-skiing trips in Switzerland used to be rather boring—a daytrip appended to a traditional lift-skiing vaca at the big resorts. But this season, adrenaline hounds can experience SwisSkiSafari’s Ultimate Journey, as described by the Outside author:
“a four-day, five-night, fine-wine-and-slide luxury tour that zips skiers around the country’s top resorts in privately chartered B3’s and Bell 407’s. You start in Verbier (about 1,000 miles east of Geneva), then fly east to Zermatt and Saas Fee, making backcountry drops in between—wherever the snow is best. Doing 5,000- to 7,000-vertical-foot runs in a single push can hurt, but returning every evening to top-notch digs and massages blunts the pain.”
Bring it on! Can anyone advise me-- additionally-- about good operators in the Rockies?
A recent article in The Guardian got me thinking about the hotel rating system—those hotels that strangely surpass five stars. The best-known example worldwide? Why the seven-star, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab takes that prize. Perched on its own island, its tower soaring above the skyline, the hotel is the landmark visible for all of Dubai. What’s so special about a pad here? Personalized butler service, a laptop and private fax in every suite, an underwater seafood restaurant (reached by a simulated three-minute submarine ride), and an 18th floor spa with sweeping views of the Arabian Sea. The price tag starts at $1,000 a night.
With such over-the-top perks at luxury hotels these days (personal iPods and PSPs, and all the good stuff I’ve recently blogged about), it’s no wonder that hotel PR departments are getting creative with their rating systems. After all, there is no global, standardized rating system. Sure, different tourist boards around the world have their own ratings, and Mobil and AAA are widely known, but a universal system? Nope.
That’s pretty bogus if you ask me. What should we do about it?