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FSA LogoThe Luxury Hotel Insider: Exclusive luxury hotel deals, features and special rates from the luxury hotel experts at Five Star Alliance. 
Named one of Tripbase's Best Luxury Travel Blogs for 2011, below are Five Star Alliance's newest articles featuring exclusive information on luxury hotels worldwide including special offers and deals at the world's best hotels.

Beware the Avian Flu (Hype)

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Rooster in Tonga

I just worked myself up into a real scare reading the latest National Geographic article on Avian flu. Like seriously freaking out. This could be the next world pandemic! Spanish flu to mammoth proportions! The virus jumping from birds to pigs to vulnerable humans! (Can you spy the seemingly innocuous rooster in the pic to the right? The lush tropical garden is just an illusion of tranquility when such a beast lurks in its midst.) Forget this blog-- I’m headed to to look for flights to the Pacific Islands, the only place left unscathed by Spanish flu. Or better yet-- I’m holing myself up in one of those desert caves in Afghanistan!

Not so fast, the ever-rational World Tourism Organization soothes my fears. All the media talk about Avian flu is dangerous hype that could hurt world tourism, especially in Asia and the developing world.

Special Offers: Thailand’s Le Meridien Khao Lak

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Le Meridien Khao Lak

Found out some good news from Gadling today. The Le Meridien Khao Lak has reopened its doors after last year’s devastating tsunami. The celebratory rates? A steal at $75 per night (plus tax). From now until Dec 22, enjoy that famous Thai hospitality in style at Khao Lak. P.S. The spa rocks.

Le Meridien Khao Lak, Official Site

Le Meridien Khao Lak, Five Star Alliance

Trends: Solo Women Travelers and Female-Friendly Hotels

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Emergency Kit

Everyone’s talking about women’s travel these days. This month, Travel and Leisure reports on female-friendly hotels: the Sanctuary South Beach offers discounts for women traveling solo, the St. Regis Shanghai offers a Ladies Floor staffed by female butlers, the Mandarin Oriental, New York has created the whimsical Girl’s Guide to Glamour in Gotham (a Chanel makeover, a manicure at Bergdorf’s and a shopping tour by limo), and London’s Berkeley offers the Girls Night In weekend, a pampering extravaganza complete with in-room manicures, Cosmopolitans, Bliss products and late-night snacks.

My pick for solo women travelers? Vancouver’s Le Soleil Hotel, with its Elle Suites specifically designed for the female business traveler. Amenities available include office supplies, soaker tubs with bath bombs and essential oils, Aveda body products, make up mirror, small wooden body massager, a selection of women magazines, low fat and low carbohydrate snacks in the mini bar and a selection of nylons and feminine hygiene products. Hotel Le Soleil's concierge will also provide an up to date list of around town events that may be of particular interest to women.

Also, be sure to check out Tango Diva—an online magazine devoted to women travelers.

And for women on the go... A fashion crisis on the road? Check out Diane Von Furstenberg's emergency kit (pictured) sold at W Hotels online store.

The World… in Dubai

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

The World in Dubai

In the luxury resort market of Dubai, nothing surprises me. Home of the only 7 star hotel in the world (Burj Al Arab), the latest SKI? resort (as Gridskipper reports today about Ski Dubai), and the development of The World-- in miniature man-made islands shaped like the continents of the world. The US$1.8 billion project, expected to be complete by the end of 2005, consists of 250 to 300 private artificial islands divided into four categories—private homes, estate homes, dream resorts, and community islands. Hell, you could even buy a continent! The World is located four kilometers offshore from Jumeirah, close to The Palm Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab.

When in India, Don’t Miss the Taj Mahal

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Taj Mahal

“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

The Chic Make-over of Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Hotel Valley Ho

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

Orient-Express Joins Marriott Rewards as a Redemption Partner

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Orient Express in Venice

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.

Take Your iPod on the Road (or in the Sea)

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

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. Most Expensive Resorts

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Turtle Island, Fiji released their list of the world’s most expensive resorts. Hmmmm, a mere $10,000 at Rania in the Maldives? Bring it on! But does expensive necessarily mean the best?

New Spas in the Swiss Alps: Palace Luzern and Beau-Rivage Palace

By: Mary Winston Nicklin

Palace Luzern

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