Ready, set, sweat! Head to the beach for an early AM power walk, followed by rock-climbing and then a little yoga. After an afternoon of kayaking, get pampered with a deep tissue massage. Welcome to Bikini Boot Camp, at Amansala, an eco-chic resort near the cliff-hugging Mayan ruins at Tulum, Mexico, overlooking the sparkling Caribbean and white sand beaches of the Yucatan. Boot Camp ain't so bad when it's in such a purty place. After Hurricane Wilma's recent devastation, a few Yucatan hotels are back up and running, Amansala included. Set on the beach, 14 palapas are casually elegant: decorated with mosaic-tiled bathtubs, bohemian details and beds draped with mosquito nets. The dining cabana offers delicious communal-style meals, such as fresh caught grilled fish, mangos, jicima salads and other yummy low calorie selections. One-week camp is $1842, and includes six nights accommodations, all meals, two bike excursions, kayaking, yoga and exercise classes, two massages and one Mayan clay treatment, and all entertainment.
Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines just announced a new version of its Big 'S' Sale with prices starting at $19 each-way for domestic and Caribbean travel. Though serious restrictions apply, and the lowest fares are available for midweek winter travel, Smarter Travel investigated and still found savings of more than $300.
Fly to Mexico on American from $198 R/T. Destinations include Cozumel, Cancun, Los Cabos, Monterrey, Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City. Valid through March 31, book by December 15. This sale is hot!
December 8, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
For over fifty years, the Hotel Bel-Air has been synonymous with Beverly Hills elegance. An urban oasis with 12 acres of gardens and fountain courtyards, just minutes from Century City, Beverly Hills and Westwood, the hotel is prestigious and exquisitely luxurious, while retaining an understated glamour. After all, this is a Mobile five star award winner. 91 guestrooms and suites feature private entrances, fireplaces, French doors, and tiled courtyards with private outdoor spas. Toast 2006 at the event of the year: Hotel Bel Air's New Year's Eve Cabaret Gala Dinner. Enjoy a five-course gourmet dinner with wine pairings, imbibe plenty of champagne, and dance the night away to live music. $375 per person.
Hotel Bel-Air, Official Site
Hotel Bel-Air, Five Star Alliance
December 7, 2005
By: Guest Writer
By Ellen Whitman
On a quiet and leafy corner of one of Mexico City's trendiest colonias, the Condesa DF hotel manages to satisfy the most unabashed hipsters, design aficionados, discerning foodies, and even bargain shoppers ($150/night for a basic room). Ian Schraeger-like in feel, this four story triangular hotel is geographically and emotionally focused on its central courtyard, home to its impressive Miami Beach meets Soho restaurant and bar. Whether it be a working lunch, a leisurely Sunday brunch or a last call martini, it is always a scene to be seen in. But unlike so many trendy eateries, the cuisine is just as hot as the clientele; the creative sushi and decadent desserts are of particular note. Stick to the wine list however, as the cocktails are pricey and often disappointing. The service can also be a little spotty, but everyone is so eager to please little oversights are easily forgiven. Thursday through Saturday, a subterranean nightclub continues into the wee hours as does the tropical rooftop bar. As such, Condesa DF is not a hotel for the kiddies, nor is it for those seeking a subdued retreat even if the minimalist white guest rooms do all have sumptuous bed linens, flat screen televisions and iPods. Better to enjoy all that luxury after stumbling back from the beautiful circus of Condesa DF's nighttime offerings.
By: Guest Writer
December 7, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Perfectly located halfway between LA and San Fran, the Paso Robles region is known for its zesty Zinfandel. The wine's celebratory gala is hugely popular, now running for 14 straight years. More than 80 wineries host the three-day festival, packed with events including winemakers dinners, special tastings, food pairings, seminars and live and silent auctions. When? March 17, 18, and 19 of next year, but tix just went on sale, in time for the holidays.
Space available at the inn for Christmas?! Could it be? Indeed, New England's premier oceanfront resort and historic landmark is all spruced up for the holidays, with a few rooms available for a last-minute getaway. In addition to the 205 luxurious guestrooms, there are 34 Cape-style cottages situated around the 25-acres of gardens. Heated pool, full-service spa, heaps of children's activities: this is the perfect spot for a family retreat. The halls are decked, and full of good cheer; enjoy afternoon tea, holiday music, and lots of hot chocolate and cookies by a cozy fire. Christmas day itself is marked by a stunning feast, ice carvings, wine tastings and culinary demonstrations, and pastries from an award-winning French chef.
Chatham Bars Inn, Official Site
Chatham Bars Inn, Five Star Alliance
2006 marks another big birthday; this time on our side of the big pond. January 17, 2006 is the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin—the first founding father to reach this milestone. In honor of this extraordinary man (what career and hobby didn't he pursue?), Philadelphia is hosting year-long celebrations. The most noteworthy is the major international traveling exhibition: Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, which opens in Philly on December 15, and then travels around to four other museums nationwide, before its final showing in Paris in 2008.
Hotel Place d'Armes has recently added 39 new rooms and 48 suites, as well as a chic spa with four treatment rooms. Housed in an historic building, the boutique hotel sits in the heart of Old Montreal. The 83 rooms and 42 suites are the essence of elegance, some with jetted baths, fireplaces, home theater systems, original brick walls and city views. The new full-service Rain Spa—with private atrium and Vichy shower room—boasts Montreal's first hammam. Additionally, the hotel just opened the bar Suite 701, the newest destination for the city's trendsetters.
Hotel Place d'Armes, Official Site
Hotel Place d'Armes, Five Star Alliance
Indulge in another hedonistic eating spree at San Francisco's world-renowned farmer's market. Forget the fruit-shopping, this is a tourist attraction in its own right. Sitting at the foot of Market Street, the views of the downtown cityscape and surrounding Bay are stupendous. Make the rounds sampling succulent fruits with exotic names: pluots, persimmons, pomelos, and also the more traditional strawberries, peaches, and apples. Extraordinary artisans have also set up shop here: Cowgirl Creamery presents delicious aged cheese, like Mt Tam and Red Hawk; Blue Bottle Coffee Co. specializes in organically-grown beans that they roast themselves in six-pound batches; Primavera offers piping hot gourmet Mexican platters. Inside the Ferry Building, more artisans are housed with permanent retail spaces. Thick Greek yogurt, specialty breads, fancy cupcakes; this is heaven on earth.
The best way to see the city's unique and colorful hoods? Why, eat your way around town! Close to the country's most prized and productive farm land, the organic-minded San Francisco is brimming with tasty delights. A mecca for restaurateurs who know their quality cuisine, the city is jam-packed with gems in every distinctive neighborhood.
Rise and shine, with a California sky that blue, it's impossible to sleep the day away.
For the perfect morning coffee, head to Noe Valley's Martha and Bros., a local Latina-owned cooperative that boasts daily delicious roasts. With its boutiques and neighborhood charm, Noe Valley is picture-perfect-cute. Stroll past Noe's colorful Victorians (and charge up the city’s famous inclines) for the next stop in the Mission. Got to feed that growling stomach! Not far from the sloping green of Dolores Park, with the famous mission glowing white in the California sun, Tartine beckons with its exquisite crossaints (oozing chocolate) and beautiful pastries. The line curling out the door and around the block advertise that this is absolutely the best bakery in the city. While in line-- as the aroma of hot bread wafts out of the kitchen-- try not to eat your arm off waiting for the shortbread, bread pudding or Mexican wedding cookies.
Stuffed with bread, head out the door to enjoy a Mission morning. Walk by walls covered in brilliant murals, or artistic graffiti, storefronts plastered with political profanity. And there's people-watching aplenty: from hipsters, to funkified artists, to dog-walkers, to Mexican futbolistas, and beautiful couples from the vibrant gay community of the neighboring Castro. Tired already? Nothing like a quick pick-me-up in the Lower Haight to lure you on. rnm is a paradox of sorts: outrageously hip, yet mellow and laid-back, like its Lower Haight environs. Like most major metropolises, San Francisco succumbed to the "little plates" invasion a few years ago, and rnm has perfected the trend, with plates-to-share like truffle oil pizza. Just to die for. They're not open this early? Knock, knock. I bet you can get take-out. Beg, plead. These guys are cool—after all, this is the Lower Haight. If you can't score some wanna-be tapas, head to Thep Phenom, the best Thai restaurant in town, just two blocks away, for a small bowl of pad thai.
Continue your hike to Hayes Valley, the recently revamped stretch of blocks that all the mags are talking about these days. The tiny little neighborhood somehow emblematic of a "San Francisco renaissance." As if San Fran has ever been uncool? Though right now, Hayes is the height of hip. Boutiques are full of fashion: from shoes to vintage French posters. Your lunch destination? Absinthe, of course, on the corner of Hayes and Gough. In addition to gourmet burgers with Niman Ranch ground beef, gorgonzola, sauteed mushrooms and onions, the weekend brunch is one of the best in the city. Another option is the glass-walled lunch-destination of Zuni Cafe, for its famous raw bar. Enjoy the signature roast chicken for two (spilling delicious stuffing) and buzzing atmosphere, at this prime spot overlooking Market Street.
Full? Too bad. There's too much good stuff in this town! Afternoon delights await! Continue your walking tour to the top of Fillmore and Broadway in Pacific Heights, for a breathtaking view of the bay, golden gate, and small white-houses of the Marina. The land and seascape are almost Mediterranean. Get your caffeine fix at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and then stroll through one of the city's finest shopping streets.
Continue down the hill to Union Street, for more great shopping amongst the yuppies of Cow Hollow. A fabulous walk commences at Fillmore, continues on Union Street over Russian Hill, then down into the land of Italian bistros and cozy cafes in North Beach. Gawk at another vista point, atop Telegraph Hill with the flock of wild parrots which has made the Coit Tower environs its home. Another afternoon coffee break awaits at the famous Caffe Trieste, where the Beat Generation used to wax poetical. Rest your weary feet and daydream about your dinner options: the exquisite Gary Danko, or long-time city favorite, Boulevard, located on the waterfront in the historic Audiffred Building. Ahhhh, San Francisco treats.