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.
I just heard about another controversial development project: the first five-star hotel opened yesterday in war-ravaged Kabul. The Kabul Serena luxury hotel offers 177 guestrooms, ranging in price from $250-$1,200 a night. Afghanistan’s capital is being revitalized by foreign aid and investment (and profits from the opium trade). Yet many argue that money invested in development projects—such as the city’s luxury hotel—should be aimed instead at projects to aid the poor. On the other side of the coin, the hotel is providing jobs for 360 Afghans (20% women) and is helping to promote economic growth and international tourism. The hotel itself—as explained by its developer—helps the national economy by accommodating those foreigners who will have a major impact on developing the economy. What are your thoughts?
After 12 months of renovation, this legendary Geneva landmark has reopened as the first and only Four Seasons in Switzerland. Located in the city center on the shores of Lake Geneva, the hotel offers views of Geneva’s most prominent tourist attractions: the Jet d’eau (the world’s tallest fountain) and the Old Town, full of 16th century buildings, cobbled streets and designer boutiques. 83 guestrooms and 20 suites offer floor-to-ceiling windows, Louis-Philippe-style furnishings, ensuite marble bathrooms and LCD flat-screen TVs. Enjoy the finest northern Italian cuisine at Il Lago restaurant, or sip cocktails outside on the lakeside terrace of the Bar des Bergues. Take advantage of the special introductory offer! After all, skiing in the Swiss Alps is less than an hour away! From now until February 28, 2006, Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva is offering an introductory rate starting at CHF 600 for a Superior Room, including breakfast for two, double occupancy.
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, Official Site
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, Five Star Alliance
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.
Both The Washington Post and The Independent UK have recently reported the impossible: the development of a five star, $85 million hotel in the heart of Baghdad. The 23-storey “opulent palace complex”—as described by the Independent—will be the first private investment in Iraq since the U.S.-led war. Not to mention: the tallest building in the capital. (Hmmm, could the target be made any more obvious?) The land is being donated by the Iraqi government, but the (foolish) private financing is being undertaken by an Iraqi businessman. The hotel will be located in the middle of the Green Zone (built to withstand mortar and rocket attack), and will take two years to build. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the project, because most citizens cannot enter the Green Zone, and the hotel would thus be serving only the foreign population. (The plush suites, business centers, conference rooms and golf range accessible to a select few foreigners.) This has got to be a joke. Would you book a room here? PS. Apparently, there’s another plan brewing- to turn Saddam Hussein's former Tikrit palaces into a themed tourist destination. Don't know about you, but I've always fantasized about vacationing at the former-residence of a war criminal...
Fodor’s Editors recently released their Winter 2006 picks for hotels, restaurants and unforgettable experiences. And they’ve got great taste! (Both Esperanza in Cabo and Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires made the cut.) The Fodor’s List includes Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Eco Lodge in Nicaragua, which is beautiful and all, but beware of creepy-crawlies and things that go bump in the night. Big spiders reported. (For those even just a teensy bit squeamish of jungle bugs, steer clear.)
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
The most outstanding new city hotel across all of Asia? The award goes to the Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Hong Kong-- bestowed at the 16th Annual Travel Awards 2005, presented by TTG Asia. The hotel is a business traveler’s dream. With Omnipresent WIFI, IP Telephony and 42 inch Plasma TVs, the hotel is the most technologically advanced in Asia. The hotel’s Chuan Spa—perched on the top three floors of the hotel—is arguably the best in Hong Kong. And with a location directly above the MTR subway station, the hotel provides easy access to all of Hong Kong. (And let’s not forget the 600,000 square feet of shopping at Langham Place Mall, connected to the hotel by walkbridge.)
Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Hong Kong, Official Site
Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Hong Kong, Five Star Alliance
November 6, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
No offense to my kiwi friends. But there’s got to be a good reason to fly halfway around the world to some isolated islands in the colder, less redeeming part of the Pacific. (This is, after all, the jumping-off point for all those crazy scientists doing work in Antarctica). The landscape? Snow-capped mountains, sheep-dotted valleys, blue lagoons, and rivers frothing with white water. Hmmmm, sounds a lot like someplace I know in this hemisphere. The cultural history? Again, sadly similar to the United States (outcast Brits, no longer welcome in England, settling a new land and doing their damnest to marginalize the native peoples. Though the Maoris are thankfully outspoken about the history of repression and have flamboyantly preserved their cultural traditions.) Does this explain why travelers to New Zealand are compelled to do crazy, dare-devil, adrenaline-pumping activities when they get to Queenstown? Like bungee jumping, sky-diving, or jetboating? If they didn’t challenge themselves, they’d be bored to tears. To top it all off-- the icing on the cake confirming my opinions—is a recent article condemning NZ’s luxury lodges. So, dear reader, I challenge you: What are your reasons for heading to the land of the Hobbits?
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.”