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.)
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 7, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Well, I suppose now isn’t the best time to pack your bags for Paris. But I can’t help but wax poetic about one of my favorite hotels in the world, the grandest of the Parisian Palace Hotels: The Crillon. Its location on the world-famous Place de la Concorde can’t be beat. This is the center of the City of Light, man! The hotel is mere steps away from the swanky boutiques of the Faubourg St.-Honoré. Strap on those walking shoes and just a short marche away are the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Champs Elysées, and many more of the city’s most famous attractions. The 103 rooms, 39 suites, and 5 luxury apartments are sumptuous and magnificent, without sacrificing the intimate atmosphere of a private residence. (This is the only Palace Hotel that has retained private-ownership by a French family—the makers of fine bubbly, the Taittingers.) The Leonard Bernstein Suite, named for the great conductor and composer who used to camp out here, is exceptional. Three bedrooms, two living rooms, a sauna, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath and all the modern technology. Its large terrace overlooks the most majestic view of Paris: from the Eiffel Tower to the Musee D’Orsay across the Place de la Concorde. With fully personalized service, hotel guests feel like the royalty who are frequent guests here.
Hotel de Crillon, Official Site
Hotel de Crillon, Five Star Alliance
November 4, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
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
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.
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.