Berlin’s Hotel Q! is the epitome of cool. (You’ll swoon at the website alone.) A hop from the trendy boutique- and bar-lined Kurfürstendamm, the hotel takes its name from this same chic avenue. The architects (Graft) are well-deserving of Travel and Leisure’s 2005 Design Award, having created a mod masterpiece in each nook and cranny. 77 cocoon-like rooms have hardwood floors, flat screen TVs and blissful beds with down duvets and Egyptian cotton sheets. CN Traveler’s Hot List 2005 marvels at how guests can roll into bed after soaking in the bath (attached to the side of the bed). The basement spa features a man-made beach with heated sand, Finnish sauna, and vapor bath. Imbibe your cocktails in the very stylish, very red bar (members/hotel guests only).
This year, the Four Seasons Washington D.C. is the only new hotel to join the prestigious list of 32 Mobil five-star hotels in the United States and Canada. The three new five-star restaurants include New York’s per se, the White Barn Inn Restaurant in Kennebunkport, Maine and West Hollywood’s Bastide.
Four Seasons Washington D.C., Official Site
Four Seasons Washington D.C., Five Star Alliance
I’m diggin’ the TravelPost.com blog. Especially their description of Westin’s new Renewal Suite at the Westin New York, Times Square. (This is the same hotel where Martha Stewart’s Apprentice candidates struggled to create their ultimate themed hotel suite.) The Renewal Suite is complete(ly absurd) with DVD spinning classes, bamboo flooring to relieve stress, and Hepa air purifiers. As for Westin’s new mini-bars? TravelPost.com says it all.
In the November issue, Outside Magazine just featured the top ten trips in Australia, including treks in Queensland, sea-kayaking in Tasmania and diving the Great Barrier Reef. My favorite experience down under? Ferrying across Sydney’s Harbor to Manly beach, gaping at the Opera House on the way, then gobbling down those scrumptious little meat pies (washed down with local brew) after sunbathing and surfing in this perfect Sydney suburb. Next stop: the Outback. (Is it worth the blood, sweat and tears to get there?)
Numbers don’t lie. According to the World Tourism Organization, China recently replaced Italy as the 4th most visited nation. Is this due to more tourism among the country’s ginormous population? If anything, an increase in tourism among the Chinese themselves is a fabulous indicator of previously-rigid walls coming down…. (Last year I remember watching the sun set behind snow-capped peaks near China’s Myanmar border, with Chinese tourists who had previously never left Shanghai and Beijing.) And Westerners are discovering that China offers a lot more than the Great Wall and Forbidden City. The southwest province of Yunnan, for example, is a wonderland of geographic marvels, history and cultural tradition. Luxury resorts have already staked an interest in Yunnan; Banyan Tree just opened a resort there, in “Shangri-La country,” complete with heavenly spa.
Banyan Tree Ringha, Official Site
Banyan Tree Ringha, Five Star Alliance
Let’s say you’re stuck on business in San Salvador—one of those alarmingly large, sprawling, polluted Central American capitals. Whatever to do?! And where on earth to eat? (Besides the prolific Burger King and stinking Pollo Campero?) First stop, the English language bookstore, Bookmarks, to wile away those hours with a quality paperback. (Centro Comercial Basilea, Col San Benito) Next door, in the trendy Zona Rosa neighborhood, is fantastic al fresco dining, the white tablecloths overlooking fountains and plenty of pretty people. Zona Rosa is hopping on weekends, with lots of bars and trendy clubs. If your stomach turns at street food (though the local pupusas—cornmeal patties stuffed with rice and beans—are excellent), you can also try La Ventana (Calle San Antonio Abad at Av San Jose, near Boulevard de los Heroes), which serves German and European fare along with Salvadoran tipica, in a convivial atmosphere. To sleep? The Real Intercontinental will suffice (It’ll have to—it’s the best in town.) Is there anything redeeming about this city? Anyone, anyone?
…with luxury pampering deep in the jungle. The director’s eco-resort is graced by the lagoons and tempting waterholes of the Privassion river, which flows through the property. Blancaneaux Lodge is surrounded by miles of lush, flowering trails for hiking and biking. True to its mission of sustainability, the resort features an organic garden, providing 80% of the produce for Blancaneaux and the Turtle Inn. Looking for a perfect honeymoon spot? The Deluxe Honeymoon Package includes horseback riding to the falls, canoeing Barton Creek Cave, an exclusive spa treatment, and candlelit dinner on the deck of your private cabana. The Honeymoon Cabanas are perched over waterfalls, with huge private decks and your own garden paradise. Or choose accommodations in the Francis Ford Coppola Villa, where the director’s personal art and antiques are furnished throughout. Check out the Mountain and Beach Package: three nights at Blancaneaux Lodge overlooking the falls before taking a ride down to the coast for four romantic nights on the Caribbean beach at Coppola’s divine Turtle Inn.
Blancaneaux Lodge, Official Site
After five years renovation, San Francisco’s de Young Museum reopened on October 15. The transformation is dramatic; the Pritzer Prize winning architects Herzog & de Meuron (along with SF-based Fong & Chan Architects) have created a state-of-the-art facility out of this landmark cultural institution. (The nifty facade is comprised of dozens of unique copper panels!) The de Young has occupied the same beautiful space of Golden Gate Park since 1895. Collections include American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, and art of the native Americas, Africa and the Pacific.
So you're given the altogether grueling, Herculean task of evaluating the world's best hotels. Fragile orchids float through lobbies, delicacies tease the tongue at Michelin-anointed restaurants, infinity pools evaporate into the blue horizon, spas dazzle both body and spirit. Webster defines luxury as "something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary." How to possibly measure the immeasurable? Ultimately, luxury is an experience of the senses. Hotel guests are immersed in the radiant colors of furnishings, the perfect aesthetics of architectural design, the softness of fabrics, the sensations of comfort and warmth, the fragrances that infuse the air. But beyond this, the true luxury hotels are distinguished by their service, and their uncanny eye for detail. There are many places that boast sumptuous surroundings, but true luxury hotels cater to your every (perhaps childish) whim and desire: particular desires and even some you haven't even thought of yet. And they fulfill those requests with savvy and graceful style. But beyond this, how can one assess this luxury experience? Five Star Alliance travel agency has established a concrete framework by which they examine new hotel properties to add to their comprehensive, handpicked directory. Hotels are assessed by the following tangible criteria: 1. The industry awards (a.k.a. let the other guys work for you). Conde Nast Traveler's Gold List, Travel and Leisure's Top 500, Mobil 5 star, AAA 5 diamonds. 2. Hotels that are part of renowned brands, like Ritz-Carlton, Rocco Forte, Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Fairmont, Mandarin-Oriental, Oberoi, Peninsula, Relais and Chateau. 3. Other categories or brands: Small Luxury Hotels, Luxury Collection, Leading Hotels of the World, American Express Guide, Robb Report, Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report. 4. Significant references: in the press, word-of-mouth, and personal experience. 5. Facts and figures. Sometimes the rates say it all. If a hotel charges less than $150 per night, one can safely assume that it is not of a certain caliber. These criteria provide the matrix, but not the automatic or guaranteed endorsement. For example, Leading Hotels of the World boasts a collection of many superior properties, but a hotel's affiliation with LHW does not signify obligatory inclusion on the Five Star site. So, readers, help us define, like Webster, the meaning of "luxury"; let us know about luxury properties you recommend. Even the sharp eyes of Five Star Alliance editors may have missed something! In the future, Five Star Alliance hopes to provide a feedback tool directly on the website, where travelers can share their own perceptions about a luxury property. For luxury, like beauty, must ultimately be in the eye of the beholder.
I just worked myself up into a real scare reading the latest National Geographic article on Avian flu. Like seriously freaking out. This could be the next world pandemic! Spanish flu to mammoth proportions! The virus jumping from birds to pigs to vulnerable humans! (Can you spy the seemingly innocuous rooster in the pic to the right? The lush tropical garden is just an illusion of tranquility when such a beast lurks in its midst.) Forget this blog-- I’m headed to Kayak.com to look for flights to the Pacific Islands, the only place left unscathed by Spanish flu. Or better yet-- I’m holing myself up in one of those desert caves in Afghanistan!
Not so fast, the ever-rational World Tourism Organization soothes my fears. All the media talk about Avian flu is dangerous hype that could hurt world tourism, especially in Asia and the developing world.