October 24, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
“Don’t bother with Agra. Actually, keep away at all costs.” Fellow travelers in New Delhi warned me—on my month-long trip to India-- to avoid the grime, pushy peddlers and chaos of Agra. That the Taj is best seen in coffee table books, postcards, even on the internet. I went anyway. Fly half-way around the world and not witness “the most extravagant monument ever built for love”?!? Who were they kidding?
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra was the capital of India under the Mughals, and both the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal date from this era. This majestic mausoleum was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, whose death in childbirth in 1631 left the Emperor so heartbroken that supposedly his hair turned grey overnight.
We arrived in the afternoon, and watched the sunset fade salmon against the walls of the Agra Fort. Emperor Akbar began the construction of the massive red sandstone fort on the banks of the Yamuna River in 1565. I hadn’t pictured that the ferocious Mughal warriors would be such architecture buffs. But the fort is beautifully designed. From slat-like windows in the ramparts, you can see the Taj Mahal rising like a mirage out of the flat plain.
The next morning’s sunrise over the white marble grandeur of the Taj Mahal took my breath away. An hour within the presence of the Taj is nothing short of epic. The smooth stone was soft on our bare feet as we wandered beneath the dome, spellbound as we squinted into the irridescent rainbows shimmering from the sun’s reflection on marble. As the light increased, the Taj seemed to change with each fresh squint, the light dancing across the pearly facade. Apparently the lovesick emperor had originally planned to build twin mausoleums, one brilliantly white and one of daunting black marble. Thank God he abandoned that plan. (And spared 20,000 more artisans and workers.) It’s hard to imagine a duplicate. From sunrise to lunchtime, we could not take our eyes off of it. The only thing that could get us to leave was our growling stomachs.
Where to stay?
Just 600 meters from one of the greatest wonders of the world, The Oberoi Amarvilas is a breathtaking hotel, providing every modern service in a haven reflecting the grandeur of the surrounding monuments. Set among pools and terraced gardens, The Oberoi Amarvilas appears itself to be a Mughal palace, fusing Persian and Moorish influences in its exquisite architecture. The blue and gold domed entranced pavilion provides brilliant views of the Taj Mahal. Check into the regal Kohinoor Suite, with its separate living and dining rooms, private study and enormous walk-in closet. Even the bathroom overlooks the Taj Mahal.
Oberoi Amarvilas, Official Site
Oberoi Amarvilas, Five Star Alliance
October 23, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
These days, Scottsdale is where it’s at. (The NYT weighs in on the hype.) And starting in December, the legendary Hotel Valley Ho will re-emerge downtown as the place to see and be seen. The original hide-away for Bogart, Bing and Marilyn has been made-over into a hip urban resort. First opened in 1956, the Hotel Valley Ho basks in its classic mid-century design. The chic rooms feature all-glass walls opening onto private patios, flat-screen TVs, WiFi, terrazzo tile bathrooms, and feather-top beds with 300-thread-count linens. Lounge on the sofas by the pool, pamper yourself with a massage in the private cabanas, work out in the VH Spa overlooking the perfect circle pool, or slurp a cocktail at the Oh Pool Bar + Cabanas. Plus, Hotel Valley Ho offers dining options aplenty. At Cafe ZuZu, enjoy classic American comfort food. Or head to Trader Vic’s, the Polynesian classic reinterpreted by Chef Charles Wiley, with outdoor dining on the lushly landscaped patio. From December 20th to December 29th, take advantage of the Opening Special of $195.60. (How clever! The hotel first opened on December 20, 1956.) Includes accommodations in a signature guest room, complimentary valet parking, complimentary access to VH Spa, and a Fifties Fun Pack of treats.
Hotel Valley Ho, Official Site
October 22, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Hot off the Newswire! Members of Marriott Rewards can now redeem their points for Orient-Express hotels in locations worldwide. Including the spectacular Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg, Hotel Cipriani in Venice, and the Hotel Caruso in Ravello, Italy. And not just hotels. We’re talking luxury safaris in Botswana also.
Who cares about the iPod nano when you can dress up your iPod with a snazzy underwater case?! For the next kayak or surf adventure, bring all your tunes-- with the protection of the indestructible polycarbonate case made by Otterbox. And beyond the nifty gadgets…Check out the travel podcasts created by itoors: exciting audio walking tours covering all range of subjects. And the leader of guidebooks just launched its own serious of podcasts, including conversations with Lonely Planet authors across the globe.
Bliss out this winter in two spectacular Alpine spas. The Palace Luzern – a fixture on CN’s Gold List—is an elegant Belle Epoque hotel, perched on the edge of Lake Lucerne. The new Palace Spa includes 800 square meters of saunas, steam rooms, lifestyle showers and treatment rooms. After you hit the slopes, bask in an ESPA treatment such as ayurvedic hot stone massage, body wraps or detoxifiers, inspired by ancient cultures worldwide. Or ditch that snow bunny gear and choose a full-day program in the spa. The Private Spa Ritual is a totally personalized experience in your own suite facility, with sauna, two person steam shower and couples bath with floating flowers. Includes welcome foot ritual, three hours of treatment time per person, light spa lunch and herbal tea and fresh fruit. Euro 867 for two people.
The landmark Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne just spent CHF 12 million on development of their cutting-edge Cinq Mondes spa, set to open this autumn. The 15,000 square foot signature spa is novel in design; its concept derived from its creator’s 10-year global quest for treatments from some of the great healing traditions. Fully equipped with nine treatment rooms, including a private spa suite, and fitness center overlooking Lake Geneva, with a diverse range of holistic massage and treatments (like micronized marine algae body wrap and facials featuring the latest Swiss cosmetic treatments).
Palace Luzern, Official Site
Palace Luzern, Five Star Alliance
Beau-Rivage Palace, Official Site
Beau-Rivage Palace, Five Star Alliance
The die’s been cast; road warriors have picked the world’s best airlines and hotels—published in this month’s issue of CN Traveler. In the United States and the Americas, Mandarin Oriental tops the charts, while Ritz-Carlton takes Europe and Africa, and Peninsula (surprise, surprise) prevails in Asia. Singapore Airlines still reigns supreme as the best business-class service in the world.
The observant folks at Luxist brought our attention to the upcoming Starwood Hotels auction: an extraordinary benefit for the Starwood employees affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Bidding will take place October 20-27. The items (all pretty sweet) include exclusive stays in luxurious Presidential suites at the best hotels worldwide, a walk on role in The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep, and an insider pass to the PGA tour and year golf passes to the world's most famous courses.
Cobble-stone streets, graceful colonial churches, pastel facades, flowering courtyards: Antigua is almost too picturesque. A stroll through the streets is to wander through time-- in a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial city. Framed by volcanoes, Antigua offers cute restaurants and bars, historical attractions a-plenty and a glimpse (albeit touristy) at traditional Mayan culture.
And while exploring the colorful local markets (intoxicatingly full of inexpensive fabrics, handbags, clothes, you name it…) forget that buyer’s remorse! What a better way to help the local economy, recently ravaged by Hurricane Stan.
Where to stay? Follow the presidents and movie stars to Casa Santo Domingo, housed in a former historic convent, now draped in bougainvillea and heaps of charm. Senator Hilary Clinton glowed, “Thank you for your warm and gracious hospitality in beautiful Casa Santo Domingo, a unique blend of the old and the new, I hope to return.” Any place that the Clintons and Oscar de la Renta rave about-- is bound to be a good hideaway.
For an adventure (and a really good scare), take a hike up the (active) Volcano Pacaya. I doubt the tourist police in the US would allow visitors this close to sputtering volcanic ash and flaming red lava. Trips depart twice daily in the wee AM hours or early afternoon.
Casa Santo Domingo, Official Site
October 19, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Leave it to HotelChatter to add some spice to T&L’s hotel recs for your family feast this year. Get the inside scoop on the best Thanksgiving grub, whether you’re craving roasted scallops or some traditional turkey with all the fixin’s. My vote's for the Ritz-Carlton New York-- what about you?