November 21, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Thrilling news: the Sunday Herald reports that the Trans-Siberian railroad is about to go lux. The adventure across eight time zones of Europe and Asia used to be about stamina and endurance, rather than Orient-Express style opulence. (Seven days and 5,772 miles across the vast, empty landscape of the world’s largest country.) Manchester-based GW travel is spending $23 million on 12 new carriages, each new compartment to be equipped with en-suite shower, double or twin beds, a sound and video system, individual air conditioning and a safe. And of course there’s the bar car, enhanced by live musical entertainment each evening. Starting in 2007, a two-week journey in the Gold Class compartments will cost $11,000-- while accommodations in the silver class will set you back $9,000.
Business meeting in LA? How about taking it poolside at Shutters on the Beach? It’s got one of the most spacious pooldecks of all the luxury hotels in LA, with full restaurant and bar service along with high-speed wireless internet access. (Not to mention the Jacuzzi with spectacular ocean views.) Shutters conjures images of crisp, white linens matched by whitewashed walls-- the sun-filled spaces the epitome of understated elegance. With a recent interior redesign, the spacious rooms are classy, elegant and reminiscent of a private beach cottage. This is beachfront living at its finest, just minutes from all the fine dining, luxury shopping, outdoor adventure and museums on offer in LA’s neighborhoods. Jog along Santa Monica’s 22 mile beachfront trail, then indulge in a custom treatment by Ole Henriksen at the hotel’s ONE spa. At the Getty Center, forget the art; the building itself is an architectural triumph (comprised of blocks of unpolished marble with imbedded fossil specimens), with a killer view to match. Over the weekend, head to the Santa Monica’s Farmers Market before hitting the luxury boutiques on Main Street or Montana Avenue.
Shutters on the Beach, Official Site
Shutters on the Beach, Five Star Alliance
I did not know how to wield a knife. Did this phase the chef? Not at all, as he smiled graciously, then relaxed into a huge grin, cracked some jokes, and coaxed me into cooking for (almost) the first time in my life. And it was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. The cooking schools in Chiang Mai are world-renowned for teaching delicious menus, hilarious Super-Chefs, and beautiful environments for day-long classes in an outdoor paradise. My pick? The Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, with its terraced garden kitchen, wildly entertaining staff and colorful book of recipes you get to take home with you. A sample menu includes: Thai Hot And Sour Prawn Soup, Green Curry With Chicken, Thai Style Fish Cakes, Phad Thai, Minced Pork Northern Style, Water Chestnuts With Sugar Syrup And Coconut Milk. Did I mention you get to eat all the delicious dishes you prepare?!
Where to stay? This city in northern Thailand has become increasingly upscale in recent years, now offering luxury resorts and spas. (The Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental have both staked their claim here.) Head to the Chedi Chiang Mai, situated on the banks of the Ping River. A GHM hotel, the Chedi Chiang Mai is a modern, minimalist masterpiece. 84 rooms are spacious and have riverview balconies. Set in a split-level colonial house, the restaurant features meals that tastefully blend East and West.
November 16, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
After yesterday’s verbiage—sheesh! I’m wiped out!—I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. There are rumors milling that Tetiaroa-- Marlon Brando’s private atoll in Tahiti—will be an exclusive eco-resort in 2008. The Brando (as it’s been dubbed) will require a $40 million investment, as there’s no electricity or running water on the island. I wonder if there’s a line already queuing for the 30 bungalows?
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.
Third Stop: Tracking the Tigers
This former hunting ground of the Maharaja of Jaipur was declared a national park in 1980. Set between the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges, the park occupies 1,334 sq km of rugged, hilly terrain and deciduous forests. Ranthambore is most famous for its tigers, as the park began a conservation program in 1972 and has now stabilized the tiger population. The park offers opportunities for sighting these elusive predators on expeditions. At the lakes and water holes, visitors can also spot antelopes, sloth bears, wild boars, jackals, leopards and marsh crocodiles.
Where to stay?
Amanresorts has newly opened a wilderness retreat, Aman-i-khas, on the edge of Ranthambore. The 10 luxury tents are set in a quiet rural area, and are decorated in a rich, Mughal style, with king beds and spacious bathrooms (and soaking tubs!) The camp operates from October until the end of April-- the best period for wildlife spotting.
(Aman has a second resort in Rajasthan, called Amanbagh. Opened in February 2005, the resort’s 24 havelis and 16 pool pavilions are set within a walled oasis, within the Aravalli Hills near Alwar. Not far from Jaipur, the resort echoes the region’s Moghul architecture. Swimming pools, gardens, a decadent spa, and a Roof Terrace for dining beneath the stars.)
Aman-i-khas, Official Site
Aman-i-khas, Five Star Alliance
Second stop: The City of Lakes
Founded in 1567 by Maharana Udai Singh on the advice of a sage, Udaipur was the last of the Mewar capitals. Its romance and intrigue are almost mythical, the enduring source of inspiration for poets and artists. (And, um, this was the setting for that James Bond flick, Octopussy.) Surrounded by mountainous terrain, situated next to three lakes-- Pichola, Fateh Sagar and Udai Sagar—the city is like an oasis in the desert. The maze of narrow streets are lined by colorful markets, temples and gardens exploding with color. Set on a hill along the shores of Lake Pichola, the white City Palace seems to soar above the city. Enter through the Elephant Gate, wander the courts with carved arches, through pavilions and terraces with hanging gardens, and notice the blue tiles, inlaid mirrors, and miniature paintings depicting heroic historical scenes. Head to the markets for excellent shopping: pick up a few of the engraved miniature paintings depicting historic battles and epics, and leather books made with handmade paper (pressed with dried flowers).
Udaipur’s Lake Palace is one of the most romantic spots in the world. It appears like a brightly lit castle floating on water. Though when we visited last year, Rajasthan was suffering a serious drought, so the lake had dried up to nothing. We walked along the treeless plain of the lake-bed and noticed the water buffalo navigating the emptiness. In the distance, women’s saris appeared like billowing sails of color. The white marble palace seemed to be its own solitary island. And to think-- this 250-year old palace has been transformed into a magical luxury hotel. The Taj Lake Palace was originally built as a summer residence, designed with marble pillars, elaborate glasswork, colorful murals, and all the sumptuous details of a royal residence. Rooms offer stunning views of the Lake and Aravali mountain range. The Grand Royal Suites offer Jacuzzi tubs, marble bathrooms with rainforest showers, beautifully detailed artwork and crystal chandeliers.
The Taj Lake Palace, Official Site
The Taj Lake Palace, Five Star Alliance
First Stop: Shop Til You Drop in Jaipur
Known as the “Pink City,” Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727. The rosy color of the city is alluring and magical at sunset, set against the backdrop of desert sky. By decree of the Maharaja, the entire city was painted pink when the Prince of Wales visited in 1876. Today, laws dictate that every building maintain this hue. The walled city of Jaipur was designed with the City Palace at its center, with tiers of public buildings and noblemen’s residences spreading out from it. Main attractions include the Amber Fort—the temple within showcasing the exquisite Sheesh Mahal (hall of Mirrors)—and the Hawa Mahal, the “Palace of Breezes.” This palace’s latticework is like a beehive, the red and pink sandstone intricately carved. The elaborate facade has 953 windows, where the royalty used to glimpse secretly the city life below. The old city boasts some of the best shopping in the world. At the bazaars and markets, visitors find world-renowned jewelry (semi-precious stones, silver, bangles), brilliant fabrics, prints, embroidered textiles, shoes, and rugs.
Where to stay?
Taj Hotels operates the Rambagh Palace, a destination resort that used to be Jaipur’s Royal Palace residence. Spread over 47 acres of gardens, courtyards and fountains, the Rambagh Palace embodies the rich culture and history of the former rulers of Rajasthan. The palace hotel was first built in 1835 as a hunting lodge, converted to a palace in 1925 as the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur and finally converted as India’s first palace hotel in 1957. Pampered by personalized butlers and exemplary service, guests are invited to relive the royal lifestyle within this architectural masterpiece. Rambagh Palace offers 90 opulent rooms including the former chambers of the Maharaja.
The Oberoi Rajvilas is set in an oasis of thirty-two acres of beautiful gardens, pools and fountains, just seven kilometers from the city. Like the surrounding palaces and architectural treasures, the hotel is designed with reflective pools, decorated pillars, cool interiors and tented canopies with hand-embroidered fabrics. The hotel combines the royal elegance of the past with the modern conveniences of the 21st century to provide guests with an indulgent experience. Enjoy the very best of Western, Ayurvedic and Oriental therapies in the fabulous spa.
Taj Rambagh Palace, Official Site
Taj Rambagh Palace, Five Star Alliance
The Oberoi Rajvilas, Official Site
The Oberoi Rajvilas, Five Star Alliance
Opening Scene: Backdrop and History
The Rajasthan landscape flies by outside the car window. A wash of sandy beige interrupted by dazzling color: the bright-orange turban tightly coiled on the head of a passing motorcyclist, women clad in magenta or turquoise saris with water jugs balanced on their heads, carts of lemons piled high. And the ubiquitous water buffalo and Brahmin cows with their cute, dropping ears.
Even on a short trip to India, it’s easy to become intoxicated by the country’s chaotic energy, noise, and cultural history. Rajasthan’s temples, palaces and forts are architecturally magnificent. The bazaars are brimming with handicrafts and clothes you’ll see in trendy Soho boutiques (marked up umpteen hundred times.) But more than that, traveling through Rajasthan is an experience of the senses: tiny clay pots of sugary chai tea, the smells of spices and sweet fragrances, the kaleidoscope of color in the markets, delectable tastes dancing on the tongue. It’s a constant sensory explosion.
Rajasthan’s history is shrouded in myth. For over 1,000 years, the northwestern desert state was fiercely guarded by the Rajput clans. These legendary warriors defended their turf with a serious code of chivalry and honor. Thus Rajasthan remained independent from all the encroaching great empires throughout history. Indeed, Rajasthan’s city of Jaisalmer was the last kingdom to succumb to British colonization.
No longer just a budget backpacker’s paradise, India has become an inspiration for the international jet-set as well. Rajasthan’s beautiful Palace hotels can make anyone feel like a modern-day maharajah. The winter is the perfect time to make the trip; the monsoon rains are kept at bay for at least half a year. Hire a driver, bring out the map, and dream up your perfect itinerary.
November 10, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Bienvenidos to one of the newest members of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, staking its claim on arguably the softest, whitest sand in the Caribbean—the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The 55-room Sivory Punta Canta is scheduled to open by Christmas 2005. The luxury boutique hotel has nothing but suites, each Balinese-style room opening onto its own private garden, with ocean and beach views. Sivory offers three gourmet restaurants and the Aquarea Wellness & Spa. Take advantage of the special introductory offer: From December 22 to January 31, 2006, stay for six nights and the seventh is free! (Rate: from $3,102 per room, per stay, exclusive of 16% tax and service charge.)