October 19, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
The walls have come down. For centuries the Kingdom of Bhutan has been closed to the outside world, its cultures and customs a mystery to the West. Sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south, Bhutan straddles high mountain valleys and remote, unspoiled wilderness. The kingdom has preserved its beautiful Mahayana Buddhist way of life, uninfluenced by the outside world. Forget coffee-table books; now is your chance to see this marvel with your own eyes. By decree of the king, visitors are now allowed to step inside the mountain walls and experience Bhutan in style: Amanresorts is the first foreign company allowed to open a series of luxury properties throughout the kingdom. Amankora opened its first location in June 2004 in Bhutan's Paro Valley. Located 2,500 meters above sea level, the luxury hotel features magnificent wood-paneled interiors, traditional wood burning stoves and glorious views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. The eight-suite Amankora Punakha is the second resort property, accessed by crossing a suspension bridge over a river. It is situated in lush rice fields near one of Bhutan’s most significant fortress monasteries.
Take advantage of the tailor-made Aman Journey, a circuitous route through the country’s diverse landscapes, for guests to experience and discover the ancient traditions of the Himalayas at each of four luxurious Aman hotels. In November and December of 2005, the Amankora circuit will be further extended with the openings of Amankora Gangtey in the remote Phobjikha Valley and Amankora Thimphu, in the Thimphu Valley, the site of Bhutan's capital city. Amanresorts will book all flights, ground transportation and take care of visas on behalf of guests. Double suites from $900, with an additional $289 for the Tourism Development Fund tax.
Amankora, Official Site
Amankora, Five Star Alliance
October 13, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
When I last visited China’s old Portuguese colony in May 2004, it was sleazy, shady, and—I’ll admit—a teensy bit scarey. Granted, there are plenty of interesting historical sites in the old city—its historic heart full of narrow streets, pastel facades, and Chinese courtyards lined with the signature Portuguese tiles. The East-West cultural exchange is awesome, proudly manifest in the architecture: Chinese temples standing side by side the remnants of the first Christian churches in Asia. But the view from my window in the dated Hotel Lisboa was downright depressing; the casino strip seemed caught in a time warp of aged, cheezy opulence. The hang-out for the dregs of Hong Kong. So I’m amazed by the latest buzz-- that Steve Wynn is scheduled to open a sophisticated hotel and casino in Autumn 2006. Looks like Wynn follows another Vegas based gaming resort. Last year the owner of the Venetian in Vegas opened the US$240 million Sands Macau. Indeed, Time Asia has predicted an explosive gaming boom for Hong Kong’s lesser known neighbor. Is Macau the next luxury hotspot for the world’s highrollers?
October 12, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Taj Hotels and Resorts has created a seemingly ephemeral paradise—smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Situated on one of the largest lagoons in the Maldives, the all-new Taj Exotica Resort & Spa will open in early December. On the 20 minute boat ride from the airport, you’ll think your eyes are playing tricks on you. The Taj Exotica is glorious. The resort seamlessly blends with the island’s natural beauty, creating your own private sanctuary in the middle of the ocean. Each of the 62 villas is built entirely over the lagoon and sea. Balconies, sundecks, and even private freshwater plunge pools open out onto the vast, surrounding turquoise. Get this: the Rehendi Suite even boasts a glass bathroom providing infinite views of the sea. Plus, there’s diving, snorkeling, fishing-- galore. But what we’re really drooling over is the authentically Indian spa. The Jiva Grande Spa is like its own private island, accessible by a bridge from the main resort. Spa Pavilions-- each containing private sundecks and relaxation space—include two luxurious Couple Suites. But on top of this, the Jiva Grande offers a Signature Indian Royal Mud and Bathing Experience Pavilion (with Hammam and couple experience showers), an Ayurveda Sanctuary Pavilion (with traditional Ayurveda treatments), and Heat, Hydro and Relaxation Experience Pavilion. Wow.
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Official Site
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Booking at Five Star Alliance
October 11, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
It’s that time of year again. The hordes rubber-necking along the nation’s Interstates are the most obvious clue. Fall is upon us, and though you may have missed the stein-clunking, beer-guzzling merriment of Munich’s world famous Oktoberfest, it’s not too late to soak up the season’s best pageantry in other spots around the globe. The Fall leaves are only just peaking. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some top world destinations to check out the autumn leaves.
This little country is all the rage right now, perhaps because of the filming of the cult classic The Da Vinci Code. Devoted fans have been pursuing the film-makers from pillar to post since they begin filming the thriller in June. But Autumn is the best time to visit: the rolling green landscapes are highlighted with distinctive autumn foliage, the northern lights are on show, the whale-watching is stupendous, and most of the tourists have departed with the end of the Edinburgh Festival. Of course, the icing on the cake is off-season rates.
Where to stay? Check out the world’s best golf at Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa in St. Andrew’s. As can be expected from the home of Golf, the resort’s championship course is spectacular and challenging, offering sweeping views of the coastline and sea.
Lucky us-- the Loire Valley is packed with more châteaux than French residents. (Only kidding; my partner-in-crime is French.) In the Autumn, the Valley’s charming villages are blazing with autumn colors, and the vineyards are turning all kinds of crazy colors. It’s also the annual grape-plucking time, and the harvest brings lots of festivals and activities.
Where to stay? Head to the ultimate palace of extravagance: perfume millionaire François Coty’s Château d'Artigny. Like the great historic châteaux of the Loire, the hotel is set in a 65 acre estate with marvelous formal gardens. Hey—if it was permitted—I’d even stake out a room in the cellar-- brimming with 20,000 bottles of delicious Loire Valley wine.
What could be better than wine-tasting in autumn in Tuscany? Now that the summer crowds have thinned, take an autumn stroll through striking Mediterranean scenery. The days are still hot, and the landscapes dotted with olive, cyprus and colorful deciduous groves. As the cultural capital of the region, Florence mesmerizes with historic treasures, artistic masterpieces, and shopping extravaganzas.
Where to stay? Located in the surrounding hills of Florence, Villa San Michele is a magically-restored 15th century monastery, with its façade attributed to Michelangelo. Orient-Express Hotels undertook the massive, comprehensive restoration, with the cooperation of the Florence Fine Arts Society.
Can’t make it to Europe? Take a weekend trip to Montreal, a European style city complete with a vibrant café culture and passion for joie de vivre. Starting in September, Fall’s pageant opens and travels down to the Canadian border, leaving a full color spectrum in its wake.
Where to stay? The fashionable Windsor Arms hotel is decidedly hip. Just thirty yards from the Golden Strip, the 28 luxurious suites are tucked away in luxurious calm. Service is exceptional, with personal butlers discreetly in attendance 24 hours a day.
This is where it's at for fantastic fall foliage. It’s hard to predict the peak of the colors, but this year the eager forecasters are calculating that the colors will be at their best until October 23. (For you avid Foliage Fans, they are even some hotlines you can call for precise forecasting.) Most of the region is covered in woodland, so the landscape is utterly transformed by color.
Where to stay? Head to Boston’s classy and eclectic suburb of Cambridge, where you can stroll through the ivied courtyards of Harvard Yard. The Charles Hotel is luxurious and contemporary, and offers the best Sunday brunch in the nation, at its restaurant Henrietta’s Table.
Leave it to the Chinese to launch an actual “Red Leaves Project” to beautiful the outskirts of Bejing. In 2000, the government meticulously planned a 230-km swath of red leaves which is just now on show. It gets quite cold in late October, so hurry up and book those flights today. (Avoid the Fragrant Hills, 28 kilometers north of Bejing, because of the crowds and traffic. Likewise, the Badaling stretch of the Great Wall resembles a Disney Land Park with tourists and vendors galore.)
Where to stay? The Peninsula Palace Bejing is ideally located just a short walk from The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and all the tourist treasures of the capital. Following a US$27 million renovation, the hotel is the premier address in Bejing.
Forget the leaves. The attraction here is the incredible wildebeest and zebra migration that occurs every October without fail. During the summer months, the herds (made up of millions of animals!) hang out on the savannas of Kenya’s Masai Mara, before returning to Tanzania’s Serengeti plains with the inauguration of the October rains.
Where to stay? To enjoy this spectacle, check in to one of the luxurious camps along the Mara River, like the Mara Serena Safari Lodge. Even the swimming pool and restaurant overlook a watering hole where wildlife congregate to drink.