March 23, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
When it opens in 2010, the 450-room luxury hotel will be the tallest in the world. Intercontinental recently signed a deal with Shanghai Greenland Group, one of the leading real estate and property management companies in China, which will add more hotel rooms in Shanghai and Xian, as well as the hot Intercontinental Nanjing. To be located within the Nanjing International Financial Center, the world's tallest hotel will boast pool, spa, dining, and excellent conference and business facilities. Take that, Dubai.
Dubai's got it all. But the mouth-dropping reflex still hasn't been tempered with each new juicy detail I learn about Dubai's growth. (With the progression of developments from the initial underwater restaurant, the globe's unique seven-star hotel, the private manmade islands of The World, and indoor skiing facility at the SnowDome.) Instead, I marvel at the UAE's new craze for speed: the Ferrari theme park slated for Abu Dhabi and the MotorCity Autodrome and Business Park in Dubai. MotorCity is a fully-integrated auto/motor sports facility with racing track, humongous grandstand, surrounding office park with conference facilities, entertainment, dining and retail complex, and-- get this!-- a "destination development" for upscale villas in a residential community called UPTOWN MotorCity. How rad.
That's right: experience the 2006 Giro d'Italia and ride with Lance Armstrong! Trek Travel-- offering cycling vacations of a lifetime on grand tours through Europe-- designs fantastic Italian cycling adventures. From May 9-May 15, savor the best of the Italian countryside, delightful cuisine, scenic cycling, and quality time with badass champion Lance. The trip details for "Giro d'Italia with Lance Armstrong": 7 days, 6 nights, starting in Piacenza and ending in Forli, moderate (40-70 miles per day), $8500 (double occupancy).
It's that time of year again. MGM Mirage-- which now owns over half of the hotel rooms on the Strip-- is spending a whole lot of cash on its Vegas spring cleaning. $800 million on upgrades, in addition to the $7 billion they're shelling out for the Project CityCenter development, expected to open in 2010. After all, you've got to spend money to make money, as the Las Vegas Sun explains: "the idea is to continue to attract big spenders." Last year they spent big bucks on upgrading a wing of MGM Grand, building high-end Skylofts, adding two restaurants from Chef Joel Robuchon, and serious upgrades at Mandalay Bay. What's in store with this year's spring cleaning? Renovation of the outdoor pool and beach area at Mandalay Bay to add a bunch of new deck space and cabanas. Remodeling of the Rumjungle bar and revamping of the 3950 restaurant, with the addition of a celebrity chef. A new nightclub at Luxor. A new restaurant and bar at Excalibur. A new Japanese restaurant at Mirage. And the biggest upgrade of all: a Cirque du Soleil show inspired by the music of the Beatles, to debut in May at the Mirage.
It's not too late to start planning your New Year's Caribbean vacation. The expert travel agents at Five Star Alliance notice that the hot properties in the Carib, Mexico and Central America fill up absurdly fast. Try late Spring/early Summer fast. A trend that is repeated every year. So if you're thinking sunshine for you and your family over the holidays and New Year, especially for places like the Four Seasons Guanacaste in Costa Rica or Peter Island or Amanyara (Turks and Caicos) or anything St. Bart's-- act fast.
Here in Washington we're already going gaga over the annual flowering of the Cherry Blossoms. The festival doesn't get rocking until next weekend, but the flowers are a-blooming and travelers are enjoying the best time of year to visit the nation's capital. Below I've compiled some articles for your perusal and pleasure:
National Cherry Blossom Festival, Official Website
The Washington Post, "2006 Cherry Blossom Guide"
Fodor's Travel Wire, "Think Pink: Spring Cherry Blossom Festivals"
Fodor’s Travel Wire, "Essential Washington, D.C."
The Informed Traveler, "Luxurious DC Cherry Blossom Package at The Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington"
Change is afoot in the Eastern Europe outpost of Bulgaria. Its 20th century history was marked by the power struggle between paternalistic Russia and wary western Europe (which sought to break up the Russian stronghold and thus carved away Macedonia to the Balkans), but the country is now slated for entry into the European Union in 2007. And as the Financial Times reports, the Black Sea coastal beaches have recently become prime real estate for investors:
The Moscow government has already invested in this area of Bulgaria's coast, with plans to build two five-star hotels on a promontory enclosing the south side of the beach. And more buyers – institutions and individuals from Russia, the UK, Ireland, Spain and France – are circling, eager to get in on Europe's latest emerging market property boom.
Investment in upscale development is good news for Bulgaria's economy, and in addition, the government has realized the importance of legislation protecting the coast: banning high-rise buildings, creating new zoning regulations, and setting aside green space. Looks like Bulgaria is on the path to becoming Europe's new second home hot spot.
Holy week in Seville takes place in the eight days between Palm Sunday and Easter (April 9-16 this year): an incredible celebration and melancholy observance at the same time. The cloaked Cofradias (Brotherhoods)-- their eyes and faces hidden by huge conical hats-- process through the city's narrow, winding streets. Some barefoot, burdened with crosses, or huge fantastic floats of the Virgin Mary or Jesus, kneeling in penitence as they circle from their church to the Cathedral of Seville and back-- passing mobs of citizen revelers and eager onlookers. The streets are absolutely packed with extended families (from infants to grandmothers) who gather to watch the processions of 57 brotherhoods carry 116 marvelous floats through the streets. To witness this religious ritual is a once-in-a-lifetime must. Where to stay in the exquisite historical city of Seville? The Hotel Alfonso XIII, of course! Built in 1929, the posh royal palace was inaugurated by the King for which it was named. A fixture on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List, the hotel is the essence of opulence. (Hurry, rooms are still available! My pick are the Moorish-themed rooms, with their tasteful and elegant furnishings.)
Hotel Alfonso XIII, Official Site
Hotel Alfonso XIII, Five Star Alliance
The rumor mills are churning, and our friends at the TravelPost Insider have picked up on this tantalizing tidbit. Stop the press: Brangelina may be tying the knot this weekend on the shores of Lake Como. What's in store at the elegant and perfect Villa d'Este? The 16th century aristocratic residence could easily be the most romantic place on earth. Draped in accolades, and revered worldwide, the villa overlooks 25 acres of picturesque gardens and the heart-stopping blue vistas of Lake Como. Rooms are simply magnificent, with period furniture, sumptuous silk and satin fabrics, some with balconies and terraces.
Villa d'Este, Official Site
Villa d'Este, Five Star Alliance
The beautiful and scenic California coastline near San Luis Obispo is also Cali's fastest-growing wine region. But the cat's not yet out of the bag-- the rolling hills and undulating countryside are still peacefully quiet. No Napa traffic jams here. To explore these tranquil environs-- just about halfway between Lalaland and San Fran-- take a room at the charming Villa Toscana, a luxe bed and breakfast that boasts just eight romantic suites. Overlooking the vineyards, the rooms are opulently decorated, each named for one of the estate's award-winning wines. To really do it right, reserve the private winemaker's residence: a two-bedroom, 2.5 bath suite, with a detached two car garage, private courtyard, patio, and Jacuzzi.