November 9, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
I used to think of historic Healdsburg as Napa sin crowds, the little country town where seekers of great wine could avoid the weekend traffic jams that plague the neighboring valley. (Napa’s long corridor usually jammed bumper to bumper just like 5 pm on the Bay Bridge.) Indeed, Healdsburg’s country stores, fantastic deli, and boutiques embody country charm. Surrounded on all sides by vineyards, Healdsburg is the epicenter of three distinctive growing regions: the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley. After a blissful drive to vineyards like Pezzi King, along country roads snaking through spellbinding scenery, you’d find yourself alone with the vintner, enjoying a delicious glass of wine and basking in the warmth of familial hospitality. Healdsburg is now undergoing a chic transformation, as new restaurants and hotels have added a touch of luxury and decadence to Sonoma County’s charming capital. Opened since March, the $3.5 million Les Mars Hotel is a splendid, European-style inn, full of gracious artwork and antiques. Sixteen guestrooms have been created out of what used to be an auto parts store. Room rates range from $425 to $995 (depending on the season and choice of room). The French-inspired Cyrus restaurant, directly off the lobby, has been called “Sonoma’s answer to French Laundry” in Napa’s Yountville. The owners hail from some of SF’s best restaurants: Gary Danko and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton. Elegant menus are fixed course: three, four or five for $58, $69, and $80, respectively.
November 8, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Barcelo shelled out 31 million dollars for the luxurious La Jolla De Mismaloya, known worldwide as the setting where Ava Gardner and Richard Burton got it on during the filming of The Night of the Iguana. The 303-suite luxury hotel—now dubbed the Barcelo La Jolla de Mismaloya— was built in 1989 on the site of the sets used by John Huston in directing the 1964 film. With this new addition, Barcelo will operate 11 hotels (3,613 rooms) in Mexico, including the Yucatan’s Barcelo Maya Colonial and the Barcelo Maya Tropical, planned for late 2005.
November 5, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
HotelChatter is hilarious. (A guaranteed crack-up if you check this out.) Their latest critique of Zagat’s 2006 Hotel Guide (as also reported by Gadling) is genuinely side-splittingly entertaining. The Zagat lingo sure can grate. And HotelChatter sure gets it right in “Zagat’s 2006 Hotel Guide Gets It Wrong.”
Ahhhhh, the Halekulani Hotel. How best to describe one of the world’s best and most luxurious hotels? (I mean, these digs are truly fit for a king!) For almost 100 years, the Halekulani has proudly sustained its global reputation for gracious hospitality, flawless service, and extraordinary cuisine. The pool alone is a landmark. (Not just for the views overlooking the famous Waikiki Beach. The orchid mosaic on the bottom is made up of 1.2 million pieces of glass tile imported from South Africa. By God—it’s a work of art!) SpaHalekulani has got its own exclusive line of bath and body products, and La Mer restaurant—with its French cuisine created with fresh island ingredients-- is Hawaii’s only Five Diamond restaurant. But the best part of the Halekulani is the Vera Wang suite: arguably the most romantic on earth, and created by none other than the designer herself. Exclusive, stylish, and sophisticated, the 2,135 sq. ft suite is decorated with rare furnishings from Hawaii, the Pacific, and Asia. Each adornment—from the fine-china in the formal dining room to the fragrances and body lotions—were hand-selected by Vera Wang. The expansive deck (642 sq. ft.) overlooks the sea, sand and volcanic landscape of Hawaii. Other details include: private butler service, TOTO deep-soaking tub, master control system (room temperature, lighting, butler and in-room dining), welcome amenity of French champagne and amuses bouche.
Halekulani Hotel, Official Site
Halekulani Hotel, Five Star Alliance
Project CityCenter is the super-creative name for the latest Las Vegas development: a humongous entertainment venue planned by MGM Mirage. Located in the heart of the Strip, Project CityCenter consists of 18 million square feet (a whopping 66! acres) of space for a casino, shops, dining and luxury condos. The multi-billion dollar project is slated to open in phases starting in 2009. Mandarin Oriental just announced plans for its 400-room luxury hotel at the entrance of Project C.C. The 37-storey Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas will feature a Sky Lobby located on the 10th floor, where guests will be greeted with a wall of windows revealing a dramatic panorama of the Las Vegas cityscape. Plans include three Presidential suites of over 3,500 square feet each, seven dining and cocktail venues, 32,000 square foot spa, and 40,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Myriad glass-enclosed sky bridges will connect the hotel with the rest of Project CityCenter.
I’m utterly enchanted by the story of Hacienda San Angel, as relayed in an AP article this week. Californian buys vacation villa in Puerto Vallarta. Begins to remodel. Construction takes on a life of its own and—voila-- the place is remade into such a fantastic boutique hotel that Conde Nast Traveler can’t resist plopping it on its 2005 Hot List. (And-- *ahem*-- the owner had no previous experience in the hospitality sector.) The luxurious Hacienda San Angel began enchanting guests in 2003. Located in the quaint, cobble-stoned center of Puerto Vallarta, the hotel conjures dreams of colonial Mexico. Tiled courtyards, flowering terraces, pools and quiet, intimate spaces. Romance abounds. The 10 guestrooms are each unique, and showcase views over the red tiled rooftops of Puerto Vallarta and the sea beyond. Luxurious details include: spa and concierge services, high-speed internet access, and daily cocktail hour in the courtyard complete with serenading mariachis.
With its majestic red canyons and rock formations, Sedona lures three million visitors a year seeking desert solitude and inspiration. (Though the town itself may be slightly cheesy, the outlying expanse of desert is worth even a cross-continental trek to reach.) Framed by the towering outcroppings of Red Rock Country, the Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa is a stylish sanctuary, distinguished by its other-worldly spa. Opened in June, the hotel incorporates Spanish Mediterranean architecture and colorful Moorish interiors. The 77 sumptuous guest rooms and suites are equipped with high-speed wireless internet, flat-screen TVs and walk-in showers with overhead rainshower spray. Unwind at the full-service Spa, where each treatment is customized to your individual needs. For the perfect romantic getaway, Sedona Rouge also offers seven exclusive Spa Guest Rooms and one exclusive Suite, all with soaking tubs in the living area, luxurious spa amenities, and dramatic Red Rock views.
The Michelin Guide New York City 2006 honored celebrated chef Alain Ducasse with three stars at the Essex House. He is the only dude ever to have three restaurants earn three stars. Damn. (The other two are Louis XV in Monaco, and my fave, the Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee, Paris.)
Jumping on the blog bandwagon, I’d like to highlight the interesting NYT piece about the ultra-lux perks recently employed by luxury hotels, in order to distinguish themselves and entice repeat customers. Notable extravagant examples include the Four Seasons Manhattan (where a $400,000 Maybach 62 and a $325,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom are parked out front for clients’ use), the Conrad Istanbul (which provides CD players and discs for guests to learn useful Turkish phrases) and the Loews Annapolis Hotel (where guest can “borrow” the hotel’s Labrador retriever, Luke.) Experienced any hotel perk that can top this list?!
November 1, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
In the rugged wilderness of Canada’s Vancouver Island lies the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, its temperate rainforest deemed one of the most important habitats in the world. On show here is a year-round spectacle of some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. Spawning salmon, nesting eagles, otters, porpoises, and migrating whales. Did I mention the bears? Clayoquot Wilderness Resorts offers two luxury eco-resorts within this untouched wilderness. The Quait Bay Floating Resort is Clayoquot’s flagship property, with full-service spa and conference center with gorgeous views. A 30 minute boat ride away, the 18 ultra-luxurious white canvas tents of the Wilderness Outpost at Bedwell River were inspired by late 19th century Great Camps. Who says you can’t get pampered while roughing it? The suite tents are outfitted with Adirondack-style beds covered in down duvets, antique dressers, pressed-glass oil lamps, heirloom accessories, and a plethora of candles. Who needs in-room telephone or flat screen TV when you can lounge in a terry cloth robe, hook up your laptop to wireless internet, and bask in the heat of your remote-controlled propane wood-stove?
The site includes luxurious spa tents, dining tents, and lounge tents. The food is all organic, as regional growers and producers supply cheese, giant oysters and scallops, free-range hens, wild fish and just-picked berries. I’m drooling at the sample Outpost Table d’hote menu: local albacore tuna tartare with grilled vegetable ratatouille. Pan-seared wild pacific halibut with marinated spaghetti squash salad, oven-dried tomatoes and red bell pepper reduction. Or maybe the oven-roasted venison loan with sweet potato tarragon flan? Followed by a white chocolate pumpkin mousse with local organic fieldberry blintz and vanilla sour cream sauce. Mmmmmm. Guided (and unguided) activities abound—from horseback riding, whale and bear watching, salt and fresh water fishing, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, Hot Springs Cove day treks, and naturalist hikes.