November 14, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
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.
Let’s say you’re stuck on business in San Salvador—one of those alarmingly large, sprawling, polluted Central American capitals. Whatever to do?! And where on earth to eat? (Besides the prolific Burger King and stinking Pollo Campero?) First stop, the English language bookstore, Bookmarks, to wile away those hours with a quality paperback. (Centro Comercial Basilea, Col San Benito) Next door, in the trendy Zona Rosa neighborhood, is fantastic al fresco dining, the white tablecloths overlooking fountains and plenty of pretty people. Zona Rosa is hopping on weekends, with lots of bars and trendy clubs. If your stomach turns at street food (though the local pupusas—cornmeal patties stuffed with rice and beans—are excellent), you can also try La Ventana (Calle San Antonio Abad at Av San Jose, near Boulevard de los Heroes), which serves German and European fare along with Salvadoran tipica, in a convivial atmosphere. To sleep? The Real Intercontinental will suffice (It’ll have to—it’s the best in town.) Is there anything redeeming about this city? Anyone, anyone?
…with luxury pampering deep in the jungle. The director’s eco-resort is graced by the lagoons and tempting waterholes of the Privassion river, which flows through the property. Blancaneaux Lodge is surrounded by miles of lush, flowering trails for hiking and biking. True to its mission of sustainability, the resort features an organic garden, providing 80% of the produce for Blancaneaux and the Turtle Inn. Looking for a perfect honeymoon spot? The Deluxe Honeymoon Package includes horseback riding to the falls, canoeing Barton Creek Cave, an exclusive spa treatment, and candlelit dinner on the deck of your private cabana. The Honeymoon Cabanas are perched over waterfalls, with huge private decks and your own garden paradise. Or choose accommodations in the Francis Ford Coppola Villa, where the director’s personal art and antiques are furnished throughout. Check out the Mountain and Beach Package: three nights at Blancaneaux Lodge overlooking the falls before taking a ride down to the coast for four romantic nights on the Caribbean beach at Coppola’s divine Turtle Inn.
Blancaneaux Lodge, Official Site
October 20, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
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 13, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Phillipe Starck has done it again. After conceiving the Hotel Delano in Miami, Mondrian in LA, and New York’s Asia de Cuba restaurant, the master designer continues to knock our socks off with the extraordinary Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires. Decadent, lavish, imperial—the hotel is a contemporary, stylish masterpiece housed in a historic building. The hotel’s “Universe” is a sophisticated multifunctional space that includes an intimate library, elegant restaurants, a swimming pool (i.e. poolside-pretty-people-watching), a caberet, spa with hammam, and academy, offering tango and cooking classes. Each of the 105 rooms have river views, revealed behind automatic velvet curtains and Venetian blinds. Instead of a concierge, personal assistant or butler, lucky guests get “Experience Managers”— who organize every minute detail of the guest’s Porteño experience, including tango dancing, antiquing or—for the brave—polo-playing. We’re all about the hotel’s flexible check-in/check-out policy. (Guests check in whenever they want, and are guaranteed a 24-hour stay.) And with the peso still weak, the glam Latin capital is enticingly cheap. Thus living it large-- whether for a few nights, or a few months-- is not tough.