Archive for the Category »Luxury Travel «

  Hotel of the Week: A Touch Of Class In The Southwest Desert – Total Relaxation!


Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, from

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, from

If you are following your festival calendar, you will surely know that the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is coming up Oct 5-12! It is quite the visual event. Hundreds of balloons up in the gorgeous southwest sky… with a  week long of activities and entertainment. The highlight of the week is Mass Ascension is when all balloons (some 600) go up all together, crowding the clouds.



It is sort of like a typical fair – with consession stands of local food – lots of chiles! and different forms of entertainment. Kids are definitely welcome -but beware – the festival starts super early in the morning to get the balloons up, and it can be very cold. I froze the couple years I visited.


Many visitors stay in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the event, however both times I have been I stayed in Santa Fe, about 40 miles north. I didn’t just go for the fiesta, so staying in Santa Fe, where there is more to do, turns the trip into a more diverse adventure.


I was in Santa Fe again recently and stayed at the lovely Four Seasons Rancho Encantado…… I will be straight forward with you and let you know that the Four Seasons is not direclty in the Santa Fe town square like most of the other nice hotels. It is about a 10 minute drive from the plaza, in a more desert-like setting, on 57 acres of the Sangre De Cristo Foothills. For those of you traveling to Santa Fe so you can walk into the town, this isn’t the place for you. However, I loved being away from the plaza, immersed more in nature.


Each of the 65 casitas has a private patio or terrace with a view… and it is more relaxing.


Plus, let’s face it. the Four Seasons service makes any trip truly feel like a vacation. Martha at the front desk was incredibly helpful – after dinner one night we told her we wanted to hike, and see some things off the beaten path. The next morning, we had a packet of ideas with maps delivered to our room.



Another benefit of being away from the plaza is that there is just more space – space enough for an outdoor pool and lounge chairs. Many of the downtown hotels don’t have room for this.


Cocktail hour is lively in the bar, and the restaurant has a nice menu with local flavor.


Even if you don’t come for one of the major Santa Fe-area events like the Balloon Fiesta, Opera Season, or the Santa Fe Indian Market, there is plenty to do in Santa Fe. But – you need to be proactive planning things to do, or you could end up wandering around the plaza for days, shopping in the art galleries and somewhat touristy shops,  and trying some of the tasty restaurants.

Santa Fe Artwalk

Santa Fe Artwalk

Look into other things, like a hike… or visit Georgia O’Keefe’s studio just outside of town… or participate in the Santa Fe art walks – one of my favorite things to do.

Of course, if you stay at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, you can always relax….for a price – the rooms start at around $600-$700 a night.

  Bikinis in Burma

Burma/Myanmar,  has probably not been at the top of your travel list. Until recently, this South East Asia country was boycotted by travelers because of a hard line military government, that disallowed opposition to its rule. Economic sanctions have been in place for decades.

But now, the Burmese democratic opposition is supporting responsible travel to Burma… (avoid tourist establishments with ties to the govt.) & the boycott: lifted.

On the way to Burma

So it’s time to go!

Somewhere in the Andaman Sea..far far from home.

I just went with four girlfriends… although we saw this undeveloped country from a unique perspective: from a boat in bikinis almost 24/7.

Yes, I visited the mainland town of Kawthoung…

Mergui Archipelago, Burma

but I spent most of my 8 days cruising the some of the hundreds of islands in the Mergui Archipelago  in the Andaman Sea, just off the coast of Burma.

How you travel there is up to you. Staying on land: it is very rough. Gotta be careful about what you eat… it is very primitive and raw – not many places like this left in the world. Very little internet service – it is reported on that one tourist at a hotel tried sending a photo via email and was charged $2000. The govt reportedly views all emails as well. But – the things to see on land are incredible.

By sea: Gorgeous. Peaceful. And I admit – totally decadent. Not many people can afford to charter a yacht and do this.

Having said that, going by sea is a subject about worth learning…. There are responsible tours that don’t  have ties to the govt & help locals. These tour groups can assist you plan and even charter your own yacht.

We had a fantastic guide with us the entire time and felt completely safe. The locals we encountered were kind and happy to see us -

some invited us into their homes…

and the fishermen invited us on their boats.

It is an utterly different world, and snatched a piece of my soul.

To travel by boat, you get to visit places where there are no other tourists… we didn’t see any at all, except a Russian dive boat, and probably saw total about 40 other people/locals the entire time we were there.

We were anchoring at uninhabited islands… stand up paddling every morning to a beautiful sunrise…

walking every day on virgin sand littered with whole, unbroken shells.

Our favorite we named ‘Sand Dollar Beach” because curiously enough, only sand dollars littered the shore.

And did I mention oh so blue turquoise waters?

We sailed near dolphins…

and witnessed sunsets that would make even non-believers faithful.

Another advantage of the boat: We also felt safe eating the food because our crew stocked it form safe sources.

In my upcoming posts I will highlight specific islands or attractions from my trip. This is just a brief overview.. I know I can’t do this trip justice, but I will try. :)

If you are at all interested in exploring this region of the beautiful world, here are some sources – I can’t recommend them personally because I’ve never used them, but it is a place to start. Like I always say, “Dream Big.”

Some of the yachting companies I’ve researched charge around $1800 per person for 7 nights… that includes food and water activities – no entry visas, etc. The fuel is really expensive, so with the price of gas going up, so may your chartered yacht experience.

Also a good current resource is

I didn’t find our own government’s website to be as current.

  Hotels of the Week: Those to Watch in 2012

There are so many hotels opening in 2012 – good news for travelers. More rooms = more destinations to explore, & lower prices if there are more rooms than demand.

What are your new year’s resolutions? If to travel fully and transport yourself so completely is one of them, you’ll want to see these special places. Bon Voyage my friends – wake up your passion.

Here are some intriguing hotels that either just opened … or will open in 2012.


On the “off the radar” Turkish Riviera is the new Amanruya. Part of the exclusive Aman Resorts, this hotel on the Aegean Coast is romantic experience.

Amanruya, Turkish Riviera

It is a collection of five-star cottages – each with a pool, private garden, outdoor shower, and lounging pergola. Let it roll off your tongue “I am retreating to my lounging pergola…”

Inside, the design is smashing and classic.

The hotel is on the Bodrum Peninsula…and has a small beach.


Speaking of beautiful beaches, what also comes to mind is the Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam – a country on my must see list.

This is the first five start resort on these Vietnamese islands – remote, but accessible – just take a 45  minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

There are 50 villas on this property – each with it’s own infinity pool… ranging in size from single level to duplex, and one bedroom to four.

Six Sense Con Dao offers water sports, snorkeling, diving, cooking classes, and trips to remote beaches. This will work for Valentine’s Day.


Heading to the country…. we’ve got Castello di Casole in Tuscany. This dramatic 4200 acre estate will open in 2012.

Castello di Casole entices those who would love to vacation among enchanting vineyards and olive groves. The estate has more than 100 acres of organic vineyards dotting its gorgeous landscape.

In addition to vineyard tours, wine tastings, winemaker dinners and events on property with the winemaking team, the resort offers Italian winery tours at some of Italy’s most prestigious wineries.

One can also expand his or her wine cellar, manage a collection and experience the world’s fine wines through the resort’s partnership with specialty wine retailers.

A little bit of luxury in the Italian countryside… and there are residencies too for those looking to spend even more time there.


The British Virgin Islands are near and dear to me… I shot a few shows there and always want to return. Scrub Island Resort would be a good reason!

Ocean view rooms… secluded, crystal clear beaches with seriously turquoise waters.. Can’t ya just feel the gentle breeze? The resort is right ona marina, so for those of you with yachts, ahem,  you are welcome. Water sports abound here, and the resort also hosts weddings.

Scrub Island

The rooms are tasteful and tropical.It is officially an island resort with one of those beautiful ceiling fans.


If you are craving city life, you will get your fill of London this year since this world class city is host to the 2012 Olympics. One new hotel opening is the BVLGARI – classy, but hopefully not too stuffy.

BVLGARI Hotel, London

It is a joint venture between Italian jeweller BVLGARI and Marriott International, located in the Knightsbridge area. The BVLGARI stamp doesn’t mean bling comes with the room, and by the looks of the brand’s design, it is not too flashy. This photo is of a room at the Bvlgari in Milan, since the London hotel is not open yet.

BVLGARI in Milan

As always, happy travels and have a great weekend.

  Hotel of the Week: Laid Back, Old Fashioned, Family Retreat where Lighthouses and Lobster Abound.

Inn By Th Sea, Portland, Maine

This hotel is off-the-beaten-path, but still has won accolades from travel magazines… and anyone who knows of it. It is “The Inn by the Sea,” in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I had always wanted to visit the coast of Maine, and this hotel won me over by it’s non-pompous attitude, and location: on the stunning coastline, but just a 10 minute drive into quaint Portland, Maine – the state’s largest city.

I did mention non-pompous didn’t I? When you pull up to this truly grand resort, it has a humble but pretty curb appeal.. and no valet parking. As a matter of fact, the parking is free. How often do you visit an upscale establishment offering that?

The lobby is inviting… and in the bar area there are daily drinks put out – coffee for guests in the morning… tea in the afternoon… and you can have a glass of wine into early evening by the cozy fireplace.

But what captivated my family the most when visiting is the huge grass field in the back, where we spent much time playing soccer and volleyball. The Adirondack chairs dotting the lawn made it feel tranquil… you could sit there to rest and enjoy the view and the sound of children’s laughter.

The games don’t end there – the bocce court is a nice touch – a game everyone can enjoy.

There is a pool near the grass yard – but beware – this is New England, so the solar heating isn’t always generating warm pool water. So when you look at the website thinking you can rest by the pool all day while your kids swim, make sure you visit during a sunny heatwave! On the other hand, the beautiful beach is just a short walk down a path.

The dining room is lovely and the food is gourmet and local fare… can you say blueberry martinis? (Blueberries are big in Maine!)

We did venture out to Portland for dinner it was so close and is a very cute town. If you visit, you really should get out to Portland. Very clean and charming, with unique boutiques and not many chain stores.

Breakfast, well – when you have kids you don’t have as many options – to drive to Portland right when you wake up doesn’t sound to leisurely, and with hungry kids, impractical. We ate breakfast at the hotel on the lovely veranda. It is a beautiful setting – we only wished there was a children’s menu so you don’ t have to pay $7 for a bagel for them.

The service is stellar – some of the nicest and most helpful people work there. My camera lens broke and I wanted to get it fixed, so they looked into it and got me the info. We needed to switch hotels in our next destination when we were there, and the director of publicity researched some options that may be good for our family before I even had an opportunity to think of something.

Overall, staying at the Inn by the Sea is a relaxing experience but there are activities nearby if you want to partake – kayaking, whale watching, lobster fishing are all “so” Maine. The only thing I would have liked to have done is have a clam bake… but that just gives me a good reason to go back. :)

What to do in Maine:

Summer and Spring: all sorts of outdoor activities. L.L. Bean can hook you up with guides for kayaking, birdwatching, etc..There’s also lobster fishing, and hanging out on a beach.

Winter: winter carnivals, snowmobiling,  and ice fishing

Fall: leaf peeping of course!

  Hotel of the Week: A Rare Gem Re-opens and Dazzles

When you are on the road a lot, many hotels start to seem the same. Then, there are those special ones that leave a mark on your soul. I can’t say that about very many hotels, but Hotel Bel Air is one of them. It is a spiritual and romantic retreat hidden high in the leafy streets of the Bel Air neighborhood in Los Angeles, which is part of its non-chain-hotel charm.

Now, after a two year remodel, (which it did need by the way) it will re-open this month with even more class and exclusivity. The iconic swans in the hotel’s lake are still there, as well as the signature Spanish Colonial buildings in “Bel Air pink,” but beyond the deliberate scene stealers, there are other new charms to disarm you.

The new design is amazing- Hotel Bel Air with a fresh, glamorous, and youthful face-lift in public spaces…

…and rooms.

There are 12 new accommodations, built into the hillside offering sweeping canyon views, expansive sliding glass walls, outdoor fireplaces and spacious decks with private spa pools.

Also new to the hotel:  a 12,000 square foot Spanish mission style structure featuring a new bell tower, fitness studio, three unique “Loft guestrooms” with open floor plans, double sided fireplaces and dramatically high ceilings as well as the brand new 4,134-square-foot Spa by La Prairie, the luxury Swiss beauty company.

I have always enjoyed the restaurants, or late night drinks at the hotel, and now there are expanded dining and drinking options, as well as famed Hollywood chef Wolfgang Puck taking over the restaurant services. Room rates start at $565, with a $100 food credit through the end of the year… If you can’t swing a full stay at the hotel, try to get there for lunch or dinner to experience something so special to LA, it doesn’t feel like LA at all.

If you don’t take my word, just check out the reviews on TripAdvisor. Have you ever seen more 5-star, rave reviews?

The legendary hotel is officially reopening October 14- but it is accepting dinner and room reservations now. I look forward to the return of something special…don’t we all? Life is too short. Enjoy it and have a great weekend wherever you are.

  Hotel of the Week: Where the US Open Stars Stay

My son was thrilled to bump into defending US Open champ Rafa Nadal in the elevator of the St. Regis Hotel in New York. He was staying there at the same time we were on a recent trip. We got a brush with athletic greatness on his way to the 2011 Open…

We also had a brush with hospitality greatness at the St. Regis. I understand why Nadal stays there. Location? Perfect. Can walk to Central Park, shopping on 5th, Time Square, and Magnolia Bakery :) Rooms? Not my style – very traditional and old NY, but lovely and spacious! Bed? I want it! Had the best night sleep when I finally went to sleep.. Service? Spectacular.

The St Regis butler service is legendary – 24/7 a butler can assist you with anything. Toothbrush? No problem. Shoe shine? At your service. French Press coffee to my room every morning, along with the NY Times and Wall St Journal? Done.  The expense is – a nice tip for them at the end of your stay.

Warning: The only down sides to the hotel are that since it is on UH-MAZ-ING 55th and 5th Ave,   it can also be loud – two nights the jackhammering on those busy streets lasted until 12:30AM. I don’t think that’s what Frank meant when he referred to the Apple as “… a city that doesn’t sleep.”

The other down side: we didn’t find any truly good NY bagel places nearby. ( H & H was about 10 blocks away)

But let’s not be too picky! I’m just sayin…If it’s good enough for Nadal it’s good enough for me.

You wont find the style of the hotel many other places- it is rich and detailed, with marble floors even in the elevators. As I said before, elegant but of a certain era. A brand new suite  the Tiffany suite, conjures up memories of my favorite Audrey Hepburn classic…

and brings a newer vibe to the hotel…

…but at a price. Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly may have talked her way into staying in that suite….but we regular girls can only look. It is reportedly $8500 a night. 1700 square feet, and beautiful Tiffany & Co blue….and hmmmm it was occupied the entire week we were there – possibly a stay only a pro tennis player could afford?

Whether it be the US Open.. or the 9/11 10 year anniversary tributes this weekend… NY is ready for it’s spotlight with special luxury hotels like this. Have a great weekend – pray for the victims and families of 9/11.

  Hotel of the Week: A Picture Perfect Setting for Romance… or Rug Rats

View from Terrenea Resort

This was the ocean view from my room at Terranea resort in Ranch Palos Verdes, CA… about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. That’s one of the things that makes this Mediterranean style 582 room resort special – all of the rooms offer private balconies, and most have ocean views. I could have stayed there all night and watched the sun set on this gorgeous only in So Cal summer night.

The setting for this huge-but-doesn’t-feel-too-big resort is spectacular – on one of the most gorgeous parts of the California coast… and it really is secluded from major developments or traffic, as it sits right at land’s edge on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Although it is along the coast, the stretch of beach for guests is not that large, but pretty.

At certain times of year you can see the sun both rise and set thanks to it’s location…. you have views from the pools as well as the guest rooms.

My favorite place to catch the view is at one of the restaurants: Nelsons, which sits right on the cliff. It is a casual environment… with an outdoor deck that also boasts a fire pit.

We went at sunset – the best time – but you really do need to get there early as it fills up fast. We were told it was a two hour wait to eat… but it ended up only being 30 minutes.

Like most of the restaurants at Terranea, Nelson’s has a children’s menu. The upscale resort could easily have catered more to an elite, adults only crowd, but the management was smart enough to realize more adults are traveling with their young children.

They have a number of activities for kids – My kids spent all day at the family pool with a 140 foot water slide and a water play area…. they barely came up to our lounge chairs for a break.

There is also a kids camp where you can drop in,  a family-friendly Par 3, 9 hole ocean front golf course, and a s’more party at night by the pool. (By the way for you golfers – the 9 hole course is brilliant in my opinion. When traveling, golf can eat up a big chunk of your day – 9 holes allows you to have a great round, then leave some time for relaxing too. If you want a longer course, Trump National Golf Club is a public course about three miles away.)

As a critic, I often see hotels that try to do too much – Terranea gracefully can accommodate and satisfy couples as well as families – There is an adult only pool that is quiet and has ocean views, and also a spa pool near the 50,000 sq foot very-adult indulging spa.

Another nice touch for adults and couples: You are welcomed at check in with a glass of champagne. They won me over right there – a really nice touch.

Another nice touch was a bottle of Paraiso Pinot noir and incredible chocolate covered strawberries in our room!! (Note: sorry – but that was a personal touch from the manager.) But you can order the Pinot in the restaurants and although I’m not a huge Pinot fan, it was darn good.

If you rent one of Terranea’s two, three, or four bedroom villas, you can keep the wine in your kitchen. These rooms are great options for families, or groups traveling together.

There were a lot of locals at Terranea – especially for dinner- and with good reason.

If you are visiting Los Angeles, and want to take in all the sights of Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Universal Studios, Santa Monica and Malibu beaches, Getty museums – Terranea is not the most convenient location, especially since  – shocker – Los Angeles has a little traffic problem.

But what I always do when booking a trip to a big city is find a relaxing resort or waterfront hotel that provides a balance in your trip. If your budget allows, I would add a few days here to stay planted, unwind, and enjoy the golden sunshine on our stunning coastline.

Why can’t summer last forever?

  Ever Dream of Spending a Week on a Beautiful Deserted Island with Every Amenity Possible?

It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

See the latest in therapeutic spa treatments on your own private island…”Islands For Rent” airs this Saturday August 13 at 3PM E/P time on the Travel Channel…(some Time Warner customers on Pacific time may see it air at 6PM.) You won’t believe some of these islands – turquoise blue water, and no one else around.

  Hotel of the Week: Just the Right Amount of Wrong

Vegas is infamous for it’s slogans… but this slogan “Just the Right Amount of Wrong” advertising the Cosmopolitan Hotel in on the strip has to be my favorite. Especially if you’ve ever been to the hotel – very hip and sexy, just tempting you to be a little bad.

It is a newer hotel in Vegas… and since there are so many that are over the top, this hotel does a great job keeping up with the competition  – but this is not OTT in a cheesy way – more in a seductive, glamorous way. The whole ambiance is EYE CANDY to the max. The lobby, bars, game tables, restaurants, pools , everything.

Check out this bar off the lobby – it sparkles and glows.

Other bars are enchanting too…

I loved the pool table lounge areas just in the middle of open spaces.

The dining is to die for – so many choices you will find yourself wanting to try a new one each night.

From sushi, to steak, to Sicilian, most of the restaurants are all on one floor so it is a smorgasbord of gastronomy..each restaurant more stylish than the next.

We ate at STK – a contemporary steak house with  cozy, intimate seating in petite booths, and a a happening bar with a sexy vibe. The booths could be a little farther apart for more privacy with your date. The menu:  you order a steak or other dish and then order all your side dishes from a long list. Make sure you ask for the pre-dinner bread.

The shopping is unique- once again, the Cosmopolitan is trying to make a statement that “we are different, but cooler” by offering boutiques that offer eclectic items – for instance, one reportedly sells limited edition sneakers.

There are three pools… Day Club Pool is for adults only, and at night becomes an extension of the night club. We’ve come a long way since the Rat Pack.

Then there’s the Boulevard Pool.. which has a laid back vibe, with fusbol and a bar on the deck. Great place to hang out.

The only caveat: while many hotels are practically giving away rooms this summer,   the Cosmopolitan is still charging $350-$450 a night for a basic room on a weekend.  Go to their website for special packages.

One last note- not my usual type of recommendation, but I saw an acro-cabaret show while in Vegas that was everything that Sin City is- provocative, fun, funny, wild, – and warning: RAUNCHY. It is called Absinthe and it is definitely not for everyone – don’t bring your mother – but if you can tolerate the totally shockingly crude humor – you are in Vegas so it is somewhat more palatable – then you will marvel at the extreme stunts that are performed almost in your lap.  It is  at Caesar’s Palace – we walked from the Cosmopolitan.   It satisfied my craving for something out of the ordinary… as if that is difficult to find in Vegas. :)

Here’s a little taste. Happy travels.

  Hotel of the Week: Top of the “World’s Best List.”

I am always curious to see what the regular readers of “Travel and Leisure” magazine choose as their favorite hotels in the annual “World’s Best Awards” edition of the magazine.

Triple Creek Ranch, Montana

This time, one hotel caught my eye because it’s in the top 6 of ALL the hotels in the world – The only hotel in the U.S. to make the top 20. That hotel is the Triple Creek Ranch in Darby Montana. It is also one of the exclusive Relais and Chateaux fine hotels.

Billed as “relaxing and romantic,” I immediately understood that as “no kids,” and I was right. There are months like Oct, Dec, Jan, Feb and May where kids under 16 are allowed with family reunions. But otherwise, it is an adult get-away, with plenty of interesting activities, set in the raw natural beauty of the Montana Rockies.

The accommodations are rustic – the exteriors are impressive, but inside honestly they don’t seem like anything luxurious – perhaps part of the charm.

You can stay in cabins or suites… and each one comes with a fireplace, private hot tub or one nearby, stocked wet bar, wireless internet service – but if you can’t be away from your cell phone – this is definitely the place for you!! It is time you stop checking every seven minutes and check in here – there is no cell phone service!

The activities and the great cuisine and the state-of-the-art and award winning wine cellar are what intrigue me, and frankly, set it apart from other high end ranches.

Summer and winter there is plenty to do – This is a nature lover’s paradise. With two of the most outstanding national parks nearby, the resort can organize helicopter tours of Glacier and Yosemite… (although both should be explored on foot also,) river rafting, horseback riding, fishing and fly fishing, golf, biking and in winter – cross country skiing and snow shoeing.

The hotel also has special themed days – vintner wine weekends, artists workshop weekends and cooking school weekends.

Triple Creek is in Western Montana, along a panorama of beautiful mountains. The setting is full of wildlife- you may find yourself rafting alongside a bald eagle or hiking near a young buck. Bring a camera- there are many safari-like opportunities to snap  – not the Big Five, but the Big Sky critters.

All this adventure doesn’t come cheap -  rooms start at $750 a night. For more info, go to