Inviato A Luxury Travel Blog. Wed, 10 May 2017 17:09:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Spotlight On: The Vik Retreats in Uruguay and Chile Tue, 11 Apr 2017 14:34:14 +0000 Continued]]> Ever since I first read about the opening of the stunning ranch hideaway, Estancia Vik, seven years ago, it has been on my expansive bucket list. Since then, three more properties under the Vik ‘luxury retreat’ brand have opened, including one in Chile.  Each are completely different but spectacular in their own right.

Ania Wroblewska, a luxury travel consultant with Inviato Travel booking partner & NY-based Virtuoso agency, Classic Travel, was fortunate to visit all four properties this past October. I am thrilled that she agreed to provide us a thorough overview on each of these properties to share with our readers:

Playa Vik Estancia Vik Vina Vik Bahia Vik

I first learned about the VIK properties when, still a lawyer, I was “inspirationally planning” trips that my work schedule would have never allowed me to take. I was dreaming about South America and, as a huge wine enthusiast, I happened upon Vina Vik in Chile. The property, with its own winery and gorgeous vistas, looked out of this world. The internet rabbit hole led me to more and more articles about the Vik family (the owner, Norwegian Alexander Vik was named the Most Interesting Man in the World in 2014 by Forbes – you can read why here) and I quickly learned that there were three other properties in Uruguay. I was hooked and vowed to visit all four properties sometime in the future.

Fast forward to 2016. As a luxury travel consultant at Classic Travel, I was invited this past October to stay at two of the Vik properties and do a site inspection of the other two.  Of course, I jumped on the opportunity. Each property is completely different: Vina Vik is ultra modern and all about wine; Estancia Vik is a Spanish colonial-style hotel/ranch that is all about Uruguayan art and culture; Playa Vik, a contemporary beach villa with stunning views of the coastline, oozes romance;  Bahia Vik are beachy bungalows out on the Uruguayan dunes.


We started our trip with a 2 night-stay at Vina Vik in Chile, the latest addition to the Vik portfolio and the only hotel outside of Uruguay. In order to get there, we flew to Santiago, Chile where we were picked up by the hotel driver for the two and a half hour drive to the hotel (for a quicker and more exciting option, I recommend splurging for the 40-minute helicopter transfer). I woke up groggy from a jet-lagged nap in the car to peer up to a Frank Gehry-esque building surrounded by an emerald lake, mountains and a vast winery.

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As this is not your typical hotel with separate reception space, we were greeted in the living room pavilion of the hotel. The hotel was designed to feel like home (albeit not your everyday home). In fact, Alexander Vik and his family spend time at the hotel each year and utilize it as one of their (many) personal homes.

Photo Oct 17, 10 51 06 AM Abelli Suite Bathroom Photo Oct 17, 10 53 16 AM Game Room

Vina Vik is simply spectacular and clearly no expense was spared in the building and design – from the titanium roof (Titanium has a thermal capacity to withstand the climate of the Chilean wine country), Frette linens and robes in the rooms to the individual design of each of the 22 rooms with custom artwork and furniture.

No room is the same and, when booking, guests are given a room menu to pick the best suited room for them. Make sure you do this as waking up to large portrait of a transsexual homeless woman pushing a trolley full of trash may not be everyone’s cup of tea! You may prefer the whimsical Redonodo Suite with its colorful polka dot headboard, the Azulejo Suite where you will wake up everyday to two Oscar-esque velvet dresses hanging over your bed, or my favorite, the Shogun Master Suite which will transport you to Japan. See the slideshow below to see some of these rooms:

Click to view slideshow.

The rates at Vina Vik include all meals, drinks and hotel activities, with the exception of some specially designed bespoke experiences. Alas, this is not the typical “all inclusive experience” – the food is of the highest quality and the wine served is of course the winery’s own. Breakfast is a buffet with a menu of made to order eggs. Lunch and dinner are casual affairs with no set menu. The chef prepares two main dishes and an appetizer based on what is fresh. During my three day stay, I ate foie gras, beef tartar, garden vegetable tempura as appetizers and duck, octopus and lamb for the main entrees. Everything was fantastic. If you are a picky eater or have food allergies, do not worry as the chef adjusts the dishes to each guest’s preference. If you do not like the options offered, they will find an alternative.

Photo Oct 17, 9 00 46 PM Photo Oct 18, 10 19 23 AM Photo Oct 17, 1 14 37 PM

What I loved most about the hotel the most was that it is not only great for adults looking to combine a vacation with a tour of the winery but is ideal for entire families as well. The hotel offers plenty of activities for everyone: horse back riding, hiking, bike riding, fishing, yoga classes with a view of the infinity pool, paintball, and cooking classes. Kids can visit the garden and pick their own vegetables from the garden or get eggs for breakfast from the henhouse. Even the tour of the winery can be done with kids – the adults get to sample the wines and kids grape juice.

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After our two night stay at this exceptional property we were whisked back to the Santiago airport for a quick flight to Montevideo in Uruguay. We were heading to the Punta del Este area, the ‘Hamptons of South America‘. The three Uruguayan VIK properties are a two-hour drive from the Montevideo airport but the drive did not feel long and I was amazed by how beautiful the countryside was – full of farmland, estancias, and open fields.

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On our way for a 2-night stay at the ultra modern Playa Vik, we stopped for a tour of the sister property, Estancia Vik. As we visited in October, the property was empty and closed, although the manager was in the process of getting the property ready for a weekend buy-out. The Estancia experience begins during the arrival on the long unpaved road through 4,000 acres of pastures and undeveloped lands with the white-washed hotel looming in the distance on a small hill. This may not be one the “hot hip” properties in Punta del Este but it certainly feels special.

Estancia caters to those who want to be close to the beach (only 1 mile from the ocean and 20 miles from Punta del Este, on southernmost tip of Uruguay), but are looking for a respite from the nearby hotspots making it a fantastic choice for families with children who want to experience the best of what Uruguay has to offer. Built in the Spanish colonial style, Estancia offers colonial architectural elements like adobe walls and red tin roofs, accented by clean white lines, expansive public spaces and, as in all other VIK properties, original contemporary art. Just as at Vina Vik, each of the 12 guest rooms is completely different and features 18 Uruguyan artists creating an impressive gallery of modern local art.

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Estancia Vik offers something for everyone – you can partake in horseback riding along the nearby river, canoeing (offering the chance to observe indigenous birds) and even take private polo lessons, play tennis or challenge your family to a paintball match. Or you can simply laze around the spacious main building and pretend you are the owner of a beautiful country estate. A small and scenic outdoor pool provides respite from the hot summer weather and the game room offers pool table, ping-pong table and board games for the perfect family evening. And, of course, with its short distance from both Jose Ignacio and Punta del Este, beach time is only a few minutes away.

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Bahia Vik, opened in 2014 and deemed one of the hottest hotel openings anywhere, did not disappoint. I was immediately blown away by the Klimt-esque ceiling mural by a Uruguayan artist, which welcomes you in the entrance hall. As with the Estancia, local art is seen throughout the property – from larger-than-life portraits of the Vik family in the dining room to vibrantly colored bedrooms and unique bathrooms.


Much like its sister properties, no room is the same at Bahia Vik, enticing guests to want to see each and every room to find their favorite. Ten of the 37 rooms are located in the main building, spread between the first and second floor, which offers stupendous views and can be taken over to form a family suite. The remaining 27 rooms are spread out among 11 stand-alone bungalows with one, two and three bedroom options. Each bungalow is made of different material making them unique. One might be made from Uruguayan staple whitewashed adobe while another one may be clad in titanium or covered entirely in sand. The hotel also offers a four-bedroom villa for bigger families that comes with exclusive use of a private pool in front of it.

Photo Oct 21, 10 47 03 AM Photo Oct 21, 10 51 18 AM Bungalow in Vik Bahia Photo Oct 21, 10 57 45 AM

Estancia Vik offers a small gym and game center room around an interior courtyard as well as four pools with mind-blowing views of the dunes and the water. With 37 rooms, Bahia Via is the largest of the VIK properties and perfectly suited for families with children.

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We arrived at Playa Vik at dusk, just in time to see the dramatic sunset over the rugged coastline of Jose Ignacio while sitting on the edge of the black granite infinity pool protruding from the hill on which the main hotel building is built on. Despite our rush to get out and photograph the stunning views (and selfies), we managed to notice the epic bronze door sculpted by Uruguayan artist Pablo Atchugarry reminiscent of gates that might have protected ancient Rome. In fact, the entire property is a work of art. Thanks to its uber-modern design by world famous Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott (famous for the Paris Opera House, the National Bank of Dubai and the Carlos Curbelo airport in Punta del Este), the hotel is recognizable from a distance due to its “living-roof” planted with Uruguayan wild flowers.

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The Ott-designed masterpiece consists of six grass-topped, glass-and-steel villas that revolve around the main building the Viks refer to as “the Sculpture.” The main building is home to three of the most spectacular rooms on the second floor and public spaces on the main floor, including a comfy living room, a library with a wide selection of books and a formal dining room. As with the other Vik properties, art is everywhere. A stroll into the library reveals a James Turrell wall installation and a striking acrylic bench by Zaha Hadid. The pièce de résistance, however, is the view – stunning and unfiltered view of the azure Atlantic Ocean. At night, the dramatic infinity pool is illuminated by a celestial pattern with small fiber-optic lights lights, making the guests feel as though they were swimming in the Milky Way while listening to crashing ocean waves.

While children are welcome in this property and the hotel offers 2 and 3 bedroom suites perfect for families, the best rooms are stand alone rooms in the Sculpture building perfect for couples In fact, with its Milky Way illumination and a cozy fire pit and its relaxed quiet ambiance, Playa Vik oozes romance, making it the perfect place for couples. Its location in the Jose Ignacio Village allows guests to go for romantic strolls through the neighborhood and along the beach.

Photo Oct 21, 12 00 34 PM Playa Vik barbeque Photo Oct 21, 12 01 36 PM

How to get to the Uruguayan Properties:
The best way is to fly into Punta del Este and drive for 40 minutes or to fly into Montevideo and drive for two hours.

When to go:
Vina Vik in Chile is a year-round destination but the most pleasant months to visit are October to April. Summer (November to April) is warm with lots of sunshine. Over their winter (June to September), you’ll see the Andes wreathed in snow but the weather is chilly and rain can be an issue.  Spring-like September is Chile’s national independence month, and is full of activity.

For the Uruguayan Vik properties, ‘the high season’’ is between Christmas and mid-January when Argentine families escape. There is a 7-night minimum during festive season. Due to the high demand for these properties, we recommend you book at least a year in advance for holiday breaks. As of the publishing of this post, only one suite is available at Estancia Vik during the winter holiday 2017/18. All other Vik properties are sold out.

Post and photos by Ania Wroblewska at Classic Travel and not for reproduction 

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Inside Look: 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge Fri, 17 Mar 2017 12:10:59 +0000 Continued]]> I am embarrassed to say, in all the years I have lived in Manhattan,  I never stepped foot on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. It may well have been another country. Other than knowing this is where the River Café and Girls is located, I’ve been pretty ignorant about this wonderful borough.  So when the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge opened two weeks ago right in Brooklyn Bridge Park, I jumped at the opportunity to do a private tour of this exciting new property and get acquainted with the area. Although the subway is just as efficient from the Upper East Side, I took a short Uber ride down the FDR last Thursday, a sunny but windy day.

View from a 5th Floor room at the 1 Hotel South Beach

Just over a month ago, I stayed at the 1 Hotel South Beach property and was introduced to their eco-luxury concept (You can read my review here as well as the background and premise of the 1 Hotels). The 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is the third (Miami and NYC are the other two) property of this fairly new hotel brand and the first developed from the ground-up. The waterfront hotel, housed in the former Domino Sugar Factory, was a five year undertaking in the making. The drawings were nearly complete for the property when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. Waterfront zoning changes required the building to raise its base by three feet without increasing the overall building height, requiring a massive redesign. The 10-floor 194-room hotel, once fully completed by Fall, will have five restaurants, a spa, fitness center, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor event space. And what about transportation, you ask? A complimentary Tesla house car provides guests transportation wherever they want to go within three miles and provides a complimentary shuttle service to subway stops and Wall Street three times daily. If you want more exercise, you can take one of the Citi Bikes to explore the neighborhood.


The location of the hotel, right on the foot of the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park, could not be more ideal. The restored Fulton Ferry Landing (one of Brooklyn’s most historic sites, marking the first ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan in 1642) and landmark River Café (also recently renovated) are a stones throw away. The beautifully restored 1922 carousel, Jane’s Carousel (above), is open year-round. Bike paths run from Pier 1 to Pier 6 with Pier 2 offering over five acres of basketball, bocce, and other sports as well as a roller rink . And then there are the vistas of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. It’s a photographer’s dream.

Public Spaces


One of the first thing you notice when you walk through the entrance of hotel is the front desk – or rather what is behind it. The massive Jarrod Beck installation is constructed of remains of rubber roofing stripped from a retailer’s roof after a tornado.  Right by it is another installation, this time at the foot of the industrial-style stairs leading to the 2nd floor. The 6,000 rock installation was created to evoke a sense of place – particularly the port and bridge surrounding the hotel.


The industrial aesthetic that continues throughout the impressive open air lobby/lounge (as well as the entire hotel) is softened with luxurious shaggy rugs, ottomans and pillows and natural leather seating. I loved the unique combination of textures – ropes, bricks, marble, stone, glass and wood.  Not just any wood, mind you. Almost everything is reclaimed here (over 50% ratio, I am told) whether it is beams found in neighboring factories, walnut from Brooklyn Bridge Gardens or pine flooring from the Old Crow Distillery in Kentucky. Most of the furniture was designed by the local Brooklyn furniture designer, Uhuru.

A look at 1Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.



Uhuru is not the 1 Hotel’s only Brooklyn partner.  An important part of the 1 hotel’s mission is to create deep ties with the community. Even before the hotel opened, the 1 Hotel partnered with the NYC Restoration Project to locally plant 500 trees. They are partnering with Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy to create joint events and activities. The 25-foot living green wall of plants in the lobby, as well as all the plantings on property and in the guest rooms, was created by the Brooklyn husband and wife team Harrison Green. Works from other local artists such as Olivie Ponce and Daniel Phillips, whose photography, sculpture and video installations using reclaimed items from abandoned and demolished Brooklyn buildings, can be seen in the guest rooms, 2nd floor and even on the chimney roof!


The industrial feel is not just decorative.  For example, those massive pipes you see in the lobby below are actually collecting rainwater to irrigate Brooklyn Bridge Park. Impressive, right?



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There are 194 rooms, including 28 suites, at the 1 Hotel. Worth noting is that there are no twin or queen beds in any of the rooms. Just king beds.

The 1 Hotel’s sustainable architecture ethos continues in the rooms from the recycled wood chips used for your room keys to the repurposed leather scraps used for room numbers. Even Do Not Disturb signs have been creatively replaced with Now and Not Now rocks.  In the rooms (or anywhere in the hotel), you won’t find a single plastic bottle. Triple filtered taps and in-room glassware are used instead, already resulting in 750,000 saved water bottles to date. Likewise, low flow fixtures and optional shower timers have saved 10 million gallons. As a guest, you not only have to respect that but it makes you more conscious about being less wasteful when you get home.



All the rooms feature custom hemp blend-filled mattresses (incredibly comfortable, I might add), natural cotton knit towels and robes, cozy cotton socks to take home (instead of slippers).

I was able to view two of the Skyline Suites 504 and 507 (pictured above). Aptly named, these premium rooms (there are 16 of them) offer unobstructed views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Skyline and the Statue of Liberty. These suites can be connected to neighboring rooms for a family or group and are twice the size of the standard rooms. 



Shortly, the 1 Hotel will feature five food and beverage options: a main restaurant (still under wraps but due to open in May), the Neighbors Cafe, the lobby, the roof, and 10th floor lounge. An outdoor space with fire pit will be opening soon as well.

Already open is Neighbors, a bright and airy floor-to-ceiling windowed café featuring artisanal grab-and-go sandwiches and panini. Local vendors such as L’albero dei Gelati for gelato, The Jam Stand for artisanal jams and Bocce’s Bakery for all-natural dog biscuits are prominently featured. Only the coffee, from farm-to-table Columbian roasting company Devocion, is exotic.

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Similar to the other 1 properties, there is a lobby farmstand providing fresh fruits, nuts and granola daily.

Event and Outdoor Space  

The 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge provides 20,000 feet of indoor and outdoor event space. 11,000 of the event space will be next door in the Meadow Rue, ideal for receptions.

The 2nd and 10th floor holds most of the hotel’s event space. There are several board rooms and meeting rooms  (all named after plants found in the park), all which provide floor to ceiling spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. The hospitality lounge spanning most of the 10th floors makes for an incredible entertainment space with private access to the rooftop.

Which takes us to the 11th floor Roof, one of my favorite spaces of the hotel. I was able to take a quick walk (it was really windy!) on the 3,500 square roof, complete with a three-foot plunge pool for guests. I’m not sure any views get better than this – it’s pretty breathtaking.


What Else? 

I’m very excited for the Fall opening of one of my favorite spas at the hotel: the British-based Bamford Haybarn Spa (also at the South Beach hotel). with nine treatment rooms. A 50-seat screening room one floor below lobby will feature screenings and also be available for private rental. The 24-hour fitness center on the 2nd center,  Field House, offers weights and personal training. Yoga is offered on Sundays (conveniently, there are yoga mats in every room).


I can’t wait to return to the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on a warm Summer evening and take in the stupendous views on the rooftop. Or maybe I’ll come for their Full Moon party on May 10th or one of their candlelit evenings they offer each month to raise awareness for global brightening (next dates are March 27, April 26 and May 25).

The 1 Hotels are taking their eco-chic concept next to China (2018) Cabo San Lucas (2019) and Silicon Valley (2019).  I was sold after my stay at 1 Hotel South Beach and even more so by this visit to the 1 Brooklyn Bridge hotel. I left both properties inspired, wanting to be a better citizen of the planet. I am sure I am not the only one.

Note: The 1 Hotel Brooklyn has a Spring ‘Say Hello to Brooklyn‘ offer valid through June 30th. Receive a complimentary upgrade, $25 to spend on food & drinks at Neighbors and a $10 Lyft credit or 2 ferry passes with your booking.  With every reservation, 1 Hotel will donate to a local organization to plant new trees.

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Inside Look: The Whitby Hotel, New York City Mon, 13 Mar 2017 20:53:43 +0000 Continued]]> It would be hard to find a more devoted fan of Kit Kemp – interior designer extraordinaire and co-owner of the Firmdale Hotels – than me. Over the course of the last few years, I have visited each one of their ten hotels in London and New York. Each luxury hotel has its own unique personality, style, and loyal clientele but all possess the same signature design aesthetic: vibrant prints and colors overlaid with unique antique and modern pieces that Kit Kemp personally discovers or creates.

The Ham Yard Hotel, their most recent hotel in London and flagship property is one of my favorite places to stay (it will be my fourth time this summer. You can read my reviews here and here) – l love its energy, ‘urban village’ concept and prime Soho location. And as a New Yorker, I always make a point to drop in at Crosby Street Hotel in Soho for breakfast and lunch any chance I get.


The opening of the latest Firmdale hotel (its tenth in the portfolio and second in New York), The Whitby Hotel, has been highly anticipated since the announcement it was being developed. Located on prime real estate Midtown on 18 West 56th Street, The Whitby opened two weeks ago on March 1st.  I was fortunate to get a private walk-through two days later. The main restaurant, The Orangery, and adjoining bar, The Whitby Bar, are not open yet (they will open March 20th) and some of the rooms are still being finished.  But I saw enough to be once again blown away by Kemp’s creative design mastery.

I recognized many of the same trademark items at the Whitby as other Firmdale hotels: floor-to-ceiling windows in the guest rooms, mannequins, Rik Rak products and so forth.  But The Whitby Hotel, like each and every other sister properties, has its own distinct personality. I definitely saw touches from the Ham Yard (the back lit vessels on the walls, long bar and hanging baskets in The Orangery, for example) and Crosby Street (the cinema and event spaces in particular). YetI also detected a host of new botanical and floral influences throughout the hotel.  l was particularly enchanted by the whimsical Wedgwood “mythical creatures’ china (a Kit Kemp design you can purchase here) in The Orangery, the fantastic Christopher Farr and Chelsea Textiles fabrics used on the guest room headboards, cushions and pillows and pretty much everything I saw in the downstairs Reading Room.

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Whatever it is, it works beautifully. I instantly felt uplifted the minute I walked in the front entrance. And walked out wanting to completely redecorate my apartment!

I look forward to returning to The Whitby Hotel for tea, on that wonderful china of course, at the end of March!

Public Spaces

On the street level, you will find the main public spaces: reception (below), guest-only Drawing Room and The Orangery and the Whitby Bar.



The Drawing Room below is for guests only and a lovely place for guests to sit by the fireplace, grab a drink at the honesty bar or have a classic English tea.




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The Whitby Bar is simply a gorgeous space with beautiful upholstered banquettes, colorful hanging baskets and a captivating collection of vintage china plates that Kit Kemp collected from her travels – each has a different story.


The impressive 30-foot pewter bar has a collection of hanging baskets originating from different areas of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Orangery, reserved for hotel guests, has vaulted ceilings and skylights that bring in natural light. A spectacular wall of 40 beautifully crafted vessels are lit from within.  A similar aesthetic to the Ham Yard, yet here each vessel features a different landmark New York building or bridges etched into it.



The Guest Rooms

There are 86 rooms and suites on 16 floors, each with their own design and color scheme. No two rooms are alike although you will find the trademark mannequin, granite and marble baths with double basins in each along with Kemp’s line of Rik Rak products (I’m addicted to the lavender, eucalyptus pillow, linen and room mists. I bought a few at The Ham Yard). The Whitby Suite – a 2,000 square foot 2-bedroom suite occupying the entire top floor will be the crowning glory. Disappointingly, I was unable to view it as it is not yet ready.

Junior Suite 404
Junior Suite 404
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(I love these headboards, especially those that are embroidered! Each one is different and exclusively for The Whitby Hotel.)

During my visit I was able to visit several of the Junior Terrace suites and Deluxe Rooms. Rooms start at the Superior Room level – these rooms are located on the 2nd floor and are about 330 square feet.  Luxury Rooms are slightly larger at 350 square feet. Deluxe Rooms are located on the 9th and 10th floors.

The suites begin at the Junior Suite level which provide a larger seating area at 450 square feet.  I was able to view a few of the six junior terrace suites on the 12th and 14th floors. These are spacious airy rooms with corner terraces, an open plan sitting area and king size bed. My particular favorite was #1408, a corner junior terrace suite that is especially nice for views and light.

Junior corner terrace suite #1408
Junior corner terrace suite #1408
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Event Spaces

Beginning in April the private event space, comprising of two floors below street level, will be open for private events, meetings and screenings (reservations are open now). 

The 130-seat state of the art theater is available for private screenings.


There are three private event rooms – Araminta, Anrep and The Reading Room. The Araminta and Anrep rooms can be combined for one beautiful party or event.

Event Bar
Event Lobby Bar


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Above, the Araminta Room features a fantastical wallpaper mural on its walls by Melissa White, a British designer and painter of decorative interiors.

Below, the Anrep Room is named after Boris Anrep, the late Russian artist known for his mosaic prints featured in the National Gallery and Westminster Gallery. The prints of his mosaics adorn the walls of this room (the originals can be found in the National Gallery)

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My favorite room though is the Reading Room, a stunning 832-square foot room with hundreds of carefully curated books, organized by genre. The space fits about 48 people perfectly for an elegant sit down dinner or 100 people for a reception.  I am just going to have to find a reason to do a private event here.



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Just Checked Out: Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina Mon, 06 Mar 2017 18:53:46 +0000 Continued]]> For our family trip to Hawaii in December, we wanted to experience another island after our experience on the Big Island. Oahu felt like the right choice with plenty of outdoor activities, beaches, and Pearl Harbor.  Choosing to stay at the 371-room Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina, Four Season’s fifth Hawaiian resort which just opened this past summer, was not a difficult choice.

Of course, I was eager to check out any new hotel opening anyway, especially a Four Seasons property. But frankly there were also very few other luxury properties on the island (most are located on the Waikiki strip) that appealed.  Many seemed tired (confirmed by friends and colleagues who have stayed there) and in need of a major face-lift.


Our experience with the Four Seasons Oahu had a bit of a rocky start before we even arrived. Anyone going away during festive season knows how essential it is to book your restaurant reservations, treatments and activities beforehand or you risk missing out when you arrive.  My experience dealing with the concierge staff over e-mail to secure appointments was surprisingly an endless source of frustration. Too many different people at the Concierge got involved in seemingly easy reservations, providing inconsistent information and sometimes not responding at all.

It would be unfair for any place to be compared immediately after the Four Seasons Hualalai, where we stayed before arriving at the Four Seasons Oahu. But as a Four Seasons resort, and new one at that, we still had high expectations.  Visually, it was a shock to our senses coming from a serene oasis to this more urban style beach resort. The resort is more condensed than the sprawling Hualalai compound and felt very crowded in comparison (although granted it was the height of the Festive Season), especially as it shares a small man-made lagoon beach with the Disney Aulani resort. The hotel is housed in a former JW Marriott property and not a new edifice. While everything felt new and looked shiny as it should be after an 18 month renovation, the shell of the former 17 floor hotel is the same (see more below on location).

During our week-long stay, we were very pleased with the overall service and dining options at the hotel as well as the comfort and spaciousness of our rooms. Unfortunately, as we planned to spend most of our week in Oahu exploring the island and its beautiful beaches, the location of the hotel was not ideal.


While we wanted a location away from the Waikiki hotel ‘strip’, we found the location of the Four Seasons Oahu too simply too far (everything is about a 40-60 minute drive) to spend the week as we spent much of our time in the car driving to and from the places we wanted to explore. The remote location also discouraged us from checking out other restaurants we wanted to try on the island for dinner.

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The biggest negative for me about the location is the actual property. The main beach is a man-made lagoon inlet offering a very small sand beach. The fact that it is shared (the inlet is actually roped off and divided in half between properties) by the Disney Aulani property next to it was a huge damper in my opinion. I knew the hotel was next door, but was not prepared for how close it was (it is conveniently not mentioned or photographed on the website or materials). The massive Aulani (819 rooms – more than twice the size of the FS Oahu) and its crowded beach is just such an eyesore, that it ruins any chance of having a typical ‘Four Seasons’ experience here.

Although the Four Seasons does the best it can do with a less than ideal situation and it is a beautiful resort otherwise, the small beach was just overwhelmed during this holiday time between Four Seasons guests, Disney Aulani guests and public visitors for us to bother lounging on it. The best location for anything resembling an exotic island setting here is on the West side of resort.


Adult pool
Adult pool

Like Hualalai, there was an abundant number of on-property amenities and activities but in a much more condensed setting. I was told that the Jim Courier Tennis Centre, offering 5 tennis courts on the 6th floor rooftop of an adjoining building, is by far the best facility on the island. It certainly made my husband very happy and should be enough to attract anyone looking to play while they are on the island They were still refining the center during our stay as it could get windy.

Paddle-boarding, snorkeling and other activities are also offered on the property which you can do on the lagoon, although it appeared very crowded most times. There are other lagoons and a marina (by shuttle) on the property but we did not get to visit them.

You will find four pools on the property: a lap pool at the Spa, a small family pool near the beach and an adult pool tucked away on the West side of the hotel. The adult pool was by far the prettiest and most serene option – a disappointment that we could not use it.

The Food

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There are four restaurants at the Four Seasons all were remarkably excellent with menus serving delicious, inventive as well as popular choices. I was very impressed given the hotel was open only a few months and this was their first festive season with full occupancy.

Waterman's Bar and Grill Fish House La Hiki

La Hiki serves a wonderful breakfast buffet as well as Pan-Asian menu for dinner, serving an array of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai dishes – this is where you can get your sushi fix.  Noe, their Italian restaurant, offers the most serene experience with beautiful indoor/outdoor seating areas and fresh pasta dishes.  Fish House, located off the beach, was our favorite for fresh and inventive seafood dishes (get the Hawaiian Poke sampler). Waterman Bar Grill is a casual outdoor bar that is great for light bites and sunset cocktails (booze soaked popsicles!). All the restaurants had children menus. A taco truck serves up fresh fish tacos on the West lawn during the afternoon.

The Service

Overall the staff, particularly at the restaurants, was very welcoming and hospitable with tons of enthusiasm and energy.  A few areas were in need of polishing, such as pre-arrival assistance through the concierge (a frustrating experience with inconsistent information provided from time to time), housekeeping (inconsistent) and at poolside service.

There were exceptional stand-outs: Joe Witherell with the Concierge staff expertly sorted out all our previous difficulties and Philip Clough, the Resort Manager, who flawlessly oversaw the opening of resort and was ever-present during the Festive Season.

The Rooms

For our family, we chose connecting Ocean Front King to King rooms, shared by a common vestibule. Our hotel rooms were new, modern and very spacious. Oddly, while there was plenty of closet space in both rooms, the rooms lacked adequate drawer storage (one of the porters told us they were still waiting for storage).

As the Disney Aulani property, a massive eyesore of resort in my opinion, is on the East Side of the property, I would ask for an ocean-facing room on the West side of the resort.


The new Four Seasons Oahu is the newest and most luxurious property by far on island of Oahu right now and has raised the bar for some other properties that are a bit tired and in need of a renovation to catch up.

However, the hotel felt atypical to me than many other Four Seasons properties I have been too – less a resort and more of an urban hotel like those high-rises you might find on South Beach in Miami. The service, restaurants, rooms and in some cases, amenities are all 5- star but in a 4-star location and building.  It is still on its own a very attractive resort and as long as you know what to expect, I would recommend it highly for 3-4 nights if you are lucky enough to be in Oahu.



What To Do in Oahu

There is no shortage of things to do in Oahu – beaches, hikes, whale watching, zip lining and more. Here were our favorites:

Waimea Valley on the North Shore in Haleiwa, a 2-000 acre rain forest including botanical gardens, waterfalls, hiking trails and sacred native Hawaiian burial caves, shrines and temples. There are hikes for all abilities. We went here before going to Kualoa Ranch but you can also do on way to North Shore.

The view from the Pillbox Lanikai trail
The view from the Pillbox Lanikai trail

Lanikai Pillboxes Trail in Kailua – a easy/moderate 1.6 mile hike that is great for families.  It’s a 20-30 minute climb to get to the first military pillbox bunker but you only need to hike up about 10 minutes to get your first selfie or family shot with a stunning backdrop of the shore and islands. It can be steep and muddy in some areas.  We liked this hike also because it was so convenient to the gorgeous Lanikai beach and restaurants in Kailua (go for breakfast at Cinnamon’s or Boots and Kimo’s before you hike). Friends have said Diamond Head is also a wonderful hike but that is much farther from the resort.

North Shore. Our favorite time in Oahu was on the North Shore. Pick a beach, you can’t go wrong – Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline or Waimea Bay, the sites of some of the best surfing in the world, sometimes with 40-50 foot waves, and just watch the surfers do their stuff.  Than after having worked up appetite watching (or perhaps surfing yourselves), head for the famous North Shore food trucks. The trucks are all in one spot on Kamehameha Highway: Giovanni’s for shrimp, Elephant Truck for Thai were the ones we recommend. Stop in the town of Haleiwa to browse the cool boutiques and the site of Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice. On your way back, get a drink and catch the sunset at Turtle Bay Resort (Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed here) at the Point.  Or go to Banzai Sushi in Haleiwa for what is considered the best sushi on the island. 


Pearl Harbor – It goes without saying and worth the time at least to see USS Memorial (get tickets in advance for this memorial or you won’t get in due to strict daily quotas). You could easily spend a full day here. It was very moving. See Tips below.


Kualoa Ranch – a 4,000 acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch as well as popular film location for movies and TV shows such as Lost, Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates, the Brady Sequel and so many more. You can do ATV tours here (as Michelle Obama and the girls did the day before we arrived), zip line, horseback riding or a film location tour. We had a lot of fun on our private tour (even though we were the only family who hadn’t seen most of the movies!).


Restaurants in Oahu

There are seriously a ton of great dining options in Oahu – from Honolulu to Kailua to the North Shore.

Monkey Pod – is across the street from the resort and very popular for residents in the Ko Olina community, Four Seasons and Aulalani guests. Worth going  to this family-friendly restaurant with fun, good menu at least once when you are at the resort for a change of scenery. We sat next to Adam Sandler, a guest at the resort, both times we were there.

Cinnamons in Kailua is a popular breakfast spot known for its guava chiffon and red velvet pancakes along with other breakfast fare. Go early or risk a 45-minute wait or more as we did.

Boots and Kimo’s in Kailua, around the corner from Cinnamons, is another popular option for breakfast. They are known for its Banana Mac Nut Pancakes.

132225While you are waiting in line for either of the above, there are a few cute boutiques worth checking out on Hekili Street in Kailua: Guava Shop (clothes) and Island Bungalow (home furnishings) are both beachy-chic boutiques next to each other. Aloha Beach Club nearby is a cool men’s clothing boutique that conveniently also serves crushed ice.


Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice – A hugely popular family shop serving shaved ice (ask for ice cream on bottom, condensed milk on top for a complete sugar fest) since 1951, is always packed. Tons of exotic flavors and colors to choose from but the Hawaiian (a 3-flavor tropical fruit combo) is the most popular. Have someone stand in line so you can explore boutiques in like North Shore Surf Shop which has great creative tees and sweatshirts

Banzai Sushi – Sushi with a Hawaiian twist is the style at this Japanese fusion restaurant in Haleiwa on the North Shore (and the only sushi restaurant on the North Shore). Get the ahi carpaccio, Kobe beef gyoza. Fish is caught fresh daily.

Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu or Agnes Portugese Bake Shop in Kailua for world-famous Malasadas (a Portuguese, creme-filled doughnut). Call before going to make Unknownsure they are open and go early!. We went to Agnes only to find they ran out already for the day!

Pig & The Lady – for lunch or dinner in Honolulu’s Chinatown (ideal after a visit to Pearl Harbor). Communal dining Vietnamese fare. It was closed during Christmas Day when we tried to go but our friends highly recommended. Instead, we found a wonderful restaurant nearby Lucky Belly that served amazing Ramen noodle dishes.

House without a Key at the Halekulani hotel – No reservations but go before sunset and sit outside and eat to live band daily. Very popular.


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Just Checked Out: Four Seasons Hualalai, Big Island Fri, 03 Mar 2017 12:30:35 +0000 Continued]]> Since the Four Seasons Hualalai opened a little over 20 years ago, it has scooped up every type of accolade and award you can possibly imagine. It is one of the top-ranked hotels in the world by both travelers and the travel industry. Naturally, it has been on the top of my list to visit as everyone I know who has been fortunate to stay there has returned raving about it.  In fact, we found many are die-hard repeats who return to Hualalai year after year, explaining why it is so hard to secure a reservation here during the holidays!


I decided last June it was time to explore the Hawaiian Islands for the winter holiday break as it was a destination neither my husband or I had yet traveled to but was high on both our lists. With some determination, we were fortunate to secure four nights at the Hualalai on the Big Island followed by another seven nights at the newly opened Four Seasons Ko Olina in Oahu.

Our trip had a bumpy start with inclement weather in New York delaying our flight departure time by several hours and causing us to miss our connection to the Big Island via Honolulu. Thus we were sadly deprived of one of our four nights at the resort (a costly loss, I might add!). We arrived at the resort in a downpour – the heaviest rain the island had in 6 months we were told – which thankfully only lasted our first day and transformed the resort into a lush oasis. We were greeted promptly with traditional orchid leis and yummy tropical drinks to get us into ‘island mode’. As we were escorted by golf cart to our suite, Richie Sambora smiled as he passed us walking by. Any stress from our journey instantly dissipated for this Jersey girl.


The Hualalai resort, sitting on an ancient land division that was once a fishing village on the North side of the island, now spans a whopping 865-acres with an ocean-paved walk spanning the main areas of the resort. While most of the guest rooms, restaurants and pools are all nestled in the hub of the resort, it did take me about a day to get my bearings (admittedly, I am directionally challenged). Many loyalists of Hualalai proudly boasted to us they come and never leave the resort during their stay and I certainly can see why. With 7 pools, an expansive fitness facility, a 28,000-square foot spa, an 18-hole golf course and more, there is quite enough diversions to keep you entertained night and day inside the resort.

Yet, while there may not be a need to ever leave the self-contained property, it would be a shame not to explore the stunning Big Island (see tips further below). With four days here, we only left once to go on a helicopter tour (a must-do). If we had more time, we would have rented a jeep for the day to explore the beaches and areas of the island.

Flying over one area of the volcano

The Property


The grounds are simply beautiful and lush – a dramatic combination of black lava rock, palm trees and foliage that is devotedly tended to by staff. The beach itself is very narrow and only one inlet is suitable for ocean swimming as the sea can be rough and the reefs sharp. There are plenty of lounge chairs and sun beds oceanside and by the pools. Even at nearly full capacity, it never felt crowded, so there was no need to panic about not getting a spot if we didn’t claim one before breakfast.



There is no shortage of things to do at Hualalai. Yoga, pilates, meditation and spinning classes were offered daily at the Sports Club next to the spa during our stay. The tennis and golf facilities are excellent and several clinics were offered at each during our stay.  Kings Pond, a sea-water snorkeling pond stocked with 4,000 fish and eagle rays, is an obvious favorite for the little kids (but also, quite frankly, for the adults).

4- man and 6-man outrigger canoes and snorkeling rib-crafts are offered on a separate beach, Kukio Beach, on the Southern end of the resort and I would recommend both highly. You are likely to pass by sea turtles basking in the sun and may get lucky to see whales or snorkel with a school of friendly dolphins, as our friends did.  Unfortunately, I cracked my ribs on the side of our Outrigger Canoe my second day at the hotel so the rest of my stay was predominantly in a horizontal position with a book. But if there is one place to chill, this is about as good as it gets. Although I was unable to even get a massage due to the pain, my husband said his 90-minute massage was incredible (grrr).

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As Hualalai is pretty remote from any other hotels or restaurants, you will most likely eat at the resort for all your meals during your time here. And you won’t be disappointed – all the restaurants we ate at were excellent, serving a wide variety of healthy, delicious cuisine and the staff will cater to most any request if you want something off menu.

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There are four main restaurants on the Hualalai property: Ulu Ocean Grill, Beach Tree, Hualalai Grille (at the Golf Club) and the Beach House (for residents). Both Ulu and the Beach House were excellent. Breakfast is served at Ulu each morning with an incredible buffet with live hawaiian music – a wonderful way to start the day after yoga or tennis. Tons of healthy (gluten-free, almond, soy etc.) options are offered and we loved the ‘make-your-own’ protein shakes each morning. At night, Ulu features a wonderful sushi menu as well.

While we did not have the opportunity to go to the Hualalai Grille, we did have lunch at the ultra-casual Beach House, a 5-minute walk from the Palm Grove section of the resort. Typically for residents only, guests are welcome. We loved the casual fare and quiet, beautiful setting on the beach here for lunch or evening cocktails.

Surf Shack Beach House Trading Company

The surf shack, nestled between Ulu and Beach Tree, is a popular choice with the kids for frozen yogurts and crushed ices (while also offering sunscreen and sunglasses). The Hualalai Trading Company, located between the tennis club and the spa, is a great place to stop for casual to-go sandwiches, snacks for the room, coffee and sundries.

Every few nights, a luau is offered on property, a popular event. While we enjoyed the show immensely, this was the only time we left disappointed with the cuisine at the resort. I found the buffet options (we steered clear of the traditional pig roast) surprisingly dismal, especially for the price of attending the luau.


Palm Grove
Palm Grove

243 rooms (51 suites) are spread across the property in low-rise 2-story units in four crescent-shaped clusters facing the ocean: Kings Pond, Beach Tree, Seashell and Palm Grove. All of the rooms and suites have ocean views and are located close to the ocean or the pool (there is a pool or pools in each cluster). Resident Villas, which are located by the Golf Course and farther from the hub of the resort, can also be booked for those looking for more space and privacy.

Ocean Suite
Ocean Suite

Our Suite 2902 was located on the ground floor of the Palm Grove cluster, which is located on the South side of the resort, farthest from Ulu and Beachtree restaurants but closest to the Beach House restaurant. We liked the quiet location although the villas in this cluster have the longest walks to the spa, reception, tennis and other activities. As the pool in this cluster is adult-only (21 and over), we would prefer being in the Beach Tree cluster next time. The Kings Pond cluster is most ideal location-wise for those with young kids as it is the closest to the Kids Club, restaurants and reception.

Kings Pond
Kings Pond

We found our 1-Bedroom suite spacious and comfortable, quite fine for our family of four. Only a little maneuvering was required in the living area for individual cots. In addition to 2 full baths, an outdoor rain shower is provided off the master bath. Two large flat screen TVs keep adults and kids entertained separately although we honestly didn’t turn the TV on more than once during our stay – why would you in paradise? 

Whether you prefer a ground floor or top floor suite is a matter of personal choice but I prefer the ground floor suites with the large patios, enabling us to conveniently enter and exit from either the front door or back sliding glass doors at our convenience. 


Final Impression

Hualalai is a special place – truly a ‘get away from it all’ escape offering every amenity and activity you could want or to do nothing at all. Luxury like this in a paradise setting attracts a certain crowd seeking the same ambiance as you. Yes, you will definitely see a recognizable face or four from the screen or news but no glitz/no fuss is the operative word here. ‘Laid back luxury’ is the best way to describe it – just the way I like it when I go on vacation, seeking to escape everyday life. 

TBH (as my teenage daughter would say), we had barely enough time to experience even a little of what Hualalai had to offer. That is why we are on the wait list to return for a longer stay next winter. Keeping our fingers crossed.

My daughter Justine trying on hats at the boutique
My daughter Justine trying on hats at the resort boutique


Photos courtesy of Inviato and Four Seasons Hualalai

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10 Takeaways from the NY Times Travel Show Mon, 13 Feb 2017 13:16:31 +0000 Continued]]> Now in its 14th year, the annual New York Times Travel Show is the longest running travel event.  Over 250 speakers, 30,000 travelers and industry attendees and 500 exhibitors descended upon New York City two weeks ago to ‘talk’ travel and inspire travelers. UnknownHaving never been to the show, I decided to attend the first day of the 3-day show, which is a special day of workshops, conferences and exhibits for the travel trade before the event opens to the public. Plus, I badly needed a distraction from the non-stop nastiness coming out of the new administration over the past two weeks.

Trade day at the show is an opportunity for industry experts, travel writers and bloggers, and travel advisors to network, discuss and debate on the latest travel news and trends along with outlooks for the future.  Keep in mind that this was the day after the Mexican President canceled a meeting with Trump after renewed tensions erupted over Trump’s tweets and threats but only hours before Trump announced his executive order on the travel ban.  The chaos in the airports from the order would come later that night along with it’s continuing aftermath. The s–t didn’t yet hit the fan, so to speak.

FRINYT_021 Saturday coverage of the New York Times Travel Show.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker)

Given the events that have been taking place, it was more than ironic that the theme for this year’s conference was ‘Welcome to the World‘. Nonetheless, here were my top ten take-aways from the conference.

  • Mexico. On everyones minds was what effect deteriorating Mexico-U.S. relations, as Trump promises to make good on his campaign promise to build a wall, will have on travel to and from Mexico. Yes, some jokes were cracked that we should be more concerned about increased prices on tequilas and Coronas here at home with a possible tax on Mexican imports but the worries about what this all may mean for travel are very real on both sides. In 2016, over 11 million tourists visited Mexico, of which 8MM tourists were from the U.S. Tourism accounts for over $13 billion dollars of revenue to Mexico – that’s HUGE! The concern is that the current administration may tax tourists going to Mexico as a way to punish Mexico and pay for the wall.

The other concern is the negative perception the administration is casting on Mexico which may deter tourists from traveling abroad. Some tourists have already expressed their concern of how they will be treated while they are Mexico. We need to remember Mexico are our strong allies, not enemies. Me? I say all the more reason to get to Mexico now and show our neighborly support. From Tulum to Cabo, Riviera Nayarit to the colonial city of San Miguel de Allande, some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world are in Mexico. Read about some of our favorite resorts, boutique hotels and haciendas we have reviewed in Mexico here including Esencia, Nizuc, Viceroy, Grand Velas, Resort at Pedregal, Cuixmala and Imanta to get you inspired.  

Cuixmala Resort
Cuixmala Resort
  • U.S. Travel. Likewise there are concerns about the negative image the United States is projecting around the world. It is likely that inbound tourism will sharply decline, as it already has since the temporary travel ban was implemented (and even after the halt to the temporary ban due to the unknown of what is next). Travelers abroad are already diverting their voyages to elsewhere, such as Canada or Europe. New research shows there has been a steep decline in flight demand and bookings to the U.S. and overall flight searches have declined in 94 out of 122 countries analyzed just since the inauguration. That was only 3 weeks ago! What can we do?  Think of the positive role you can demonstrate as Americans when traveling abroad as well as here to tourists coming from abroad.
  • River Cruising. Onto lighter subjects, river cruising is hotter than ever.  Get rid of any thoughts of river cruising being just for your grandparents – it is changing…booming, actually. In fact, river cruising is the fastest-growing travel segment and one of the hottest trends to hit the travel industry in years. Seeing the uprise of multi-generational travel and trend towards more authentic and unique travel experiences, companies like Adventures By Disney are targeting the family market and introducing river cruising to a new generation. Healthier cuisine. More modern ships with bigger cabins and connecting rooms. Shorter sailings. More active and more itineraries specific for families.

But that’s not all, popular river cruise companies such as Cunard, Viking (the ship you saw on Downtown Abbey all the time), Crystal and Uniworld are not only expanding their fleets on the Danube, Mekong, Rhine and beyond but are also adapting their itineraries to be more flexible based on customer demands. Shorter schedules, new locales, better technologies, more fitness-based options (check out Backroads collaboration with AmaWaterways here offering biking and cruising) and so forth.

Once a skeptic, I am now a convert: I was among the first passengers to experience the new AmaWaterways ship on the Danube last summer with my daughter – you can read my review here.  One thing I love most about river cruises?  You get to see many new places without having to pack and unpack your bags more than once – that’s a big deal.

 Amawaterways cruise on the Danube
Amawaterways cruise on the Danube
  • Culinary Travel. Another hot topic and trend talked about quite a bit in the trade show. If there was anything Instagram made for, it would be food and travel. Combining the two is plain irresistible. I wrote several posts over the years about unique culinary travel opportunities  – from an exclusive ‘Kids in the Kitchen week at Blackberry Farm to truffle hunting in Italy to a culinary yoga retreat in Mexico. Now more than ever you can find incredible array of culinary offerings.  From exclusive week-long culinary tours such as the Flavors of Provence with New York Times Journeys to food-market tours and chef workshops to a home-cooked meal at a local’s home, there a ton of irresistible options to choose from.

I was drawn especially to one exhibitor at the show, Fabiolous Cooking Day, which allows you to discover Rome by a multitude of interesting hands-on culinary experiences with a top chef including an excursion to a medieval village. Another culinary option we did in Rome two years ago that I avidly recommend is Trust Ever Tastes where you can take a group or private class with wonderful Chef Paola in her charming professional kitchen in Trastevere making gelato, pizza or pastas – it was by far our favorite activity during our week in Italy. I’m looking forward to our Carmel Market tour with Delicious Israel in March when we are in Tel Aviv – the city that Forbes has recently declared as the ‘World’s Best Restaurant Scene’!

Baking at Esencia Carmel Market Tel Aviv Truffle Hunting A market... Fabiolous Cooking Day
  • Nature.  Now is the time to detox, get out of the suburbs or city and reconnect with nature. We live in a fragile world, where many of the most incredible places are disappearing before our eyes. Climate change IS real and it’s mostly human-driven – glaciers are melting, reefs in Australia are dying, rainforests are being destroyed for palm oil and land is disappearing due to over population and over-development. It’s depressing, I know. But we can reverse it. People need to get out more and remember what it is that we risk losing forever as once it is gone, it can not be recovered.  By traveling to many of these locations (as a responsible tourist with a low-carbon footprint, of course) you are helping protect these places as local communities depend on tourists to help them. So go and explore the spectacular National Parks in the U.S. and abroad (National Parks Revealed is one outstanding travel company that provides private tours and gives back to conservation of the parks). Go on safari. See the gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda, discover Costa Rica and Belize, Borneo, Hawaii, Alaska or Australia.
Kenya Yosemite Rwanda Costa Rica
  • Experiential vacations. More and more travelers, particularly families and millennials, want to go on meaningful vacations that feel authentic and are more attuned to the local culture of the country. Many hotel, cruise and tour suppliers are meeting this demand through more add-on experiences (including home stays, charitable projects, and language immersion programs) as well as dedicated travel experiences.  For example,  you can go on a river cruise on the Mekong River and bike through Cambodian and Vietnamese villages with Aqua ExpeditionsEleven Experiences, a villas/adventure travel company, offers a host of activities along with stays in luxury villas in Bahamas, Colorado, Iceland and the Alps. At Four Seasons Golden Triangle in Thailand, you can spend the day walking or bathing rescued elephants at the on-site Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation. Safari lodges in Africa such as Great Plains and Singita are adapting as well, providing unique offerings such as explorer-style mobile camps, equestrian activities and photography weeks with expert photographers. Another interesting trend related to this: the growing desire of post-high school students like Malia Obama (and growing acceptance by prestigious universities) to take a GAP year before college to do something meaningful, most often involving travel.
Great Plains Conservation Eleven Experiences Golden Triangle Elephant Program Aqua Expeditions
  • Emerging destinations.  Places like Iran, Mongolia, Myanmar, Laos, Cuba, Iceland and Uganda are largely unspoiled to tourism. These destinations have become more accessible to tourists due to a multitude of factors: travel restrictions have eased and diplomatic relations are being restored, in-country tensions have dissipated and are now safe to visit or airlines have created new flight routes to make ‘difficult to get to’ destinations more accessible. In the case of Iran, this was before the travel ban and things are now uncertain: Iran has vowed to retaliate and close the doors on American tourists and rising anti-American sentiment there should be of some concern.

In other cases, take heed: some destinations don’t have the supply or infrastructure yet to satisfy the demand of the influx of explore-hungry travelers. In the case of Cuba, you still need to carry cash for everything and there are no 4-5 star hotels. Luxury hotel brands such as the Four Seasons and Kempinski are buying, updating and opening historic hotels – some expected to be open as early as this Summer.  Be cautious though to all the hype. If you are a real explorer, by all means go. Others may wait a little bit longer or go with a reputable specialist tour operator who knows and specializes in that destination for the time being.

Cuba Iceland Iran
  • Millennials, Millenials, Millenials.  Everyone was talking about the Millenial Generation (those who are born 1982 through 2002), the fastest growing travel segment, and how to best tap into this niche (ahem, social media and technology). Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history and reshaping the travel market. The recent survey estimates that 20% of all travelers are younger travelers, representing 200 million annual travelers and $180 billion in revenue each year.

Millennials, yearning for a better work-life balance, have a thirst for travel and prefer to splurge on experiences over material things. They often travel in groups (interesting coined ‘tribal travel’) of friends or family and as such are more often interested in renting villas or homes than hotel rooms. And, surprising to some, they rely on travel agents who have the expertise and relationships to get them extra perks (ahem again, Virtuoso) and provide them options after they have started their own research online.  Also, this group is more apt to do destination weddings – a growing trend that is relatively untapped.

  • And, on the other end of spectrum. The 65+ age segment – the Seniors Market – is also changing drastically. Forget the stereotypes of out-of-the-box packaged tours and cruises that were once so popular when you hit a certain age.  The senior segment today is more healthy, physically fit and active then ever before.  As such, they are seeking adventurous and cultural activities and want more freedom, flexibility and choices during their travels.  Many luxury cruise lines and tour operators have recognized this and are adapting their itineraries as such. This is a golden segment that has been relatively ignored – there is no other demographic with so much spare cash and spare time and they are eager to travel!
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Just Checked Out: 1 Hotel South Beach Fri, 20 Jan 2017 12:50:04 +0000 Continued]]> As the U.N. has declared 2017 as the international year of sustainable tourism, it is only fitting that my first review this year would be the eco-focused 1 Hotel in South Beach.  Housed in the former space Gansevoort Hotel, the South Beach hotel opened in March 2015 as the first hotel of the new 1 Hotels brand founded by Barry Sternlight, former Chairman and CEO of Starwood Hotels. This new lifestyle brand is creating something truly exciting with the mission to be the ‘ultimate eco-focused’ hotel with a low carbon-footprint – taking eco-consciousness to a level that I’ve only seen myself employed at boutique safari lodges in Kenya and Tanzania. And they are doing it an away that makes it hip and trendy.

Mind you, to execute such a concept is no easy task. It was a massive undertaking to develop the South Beach hotel, costing $500 Million along with thoughtful design and implementation. 


When we had an opportunity for a quick family trip over MLK weekend to Miami, I set my sights instantly on this 425-room hotel, eager to see what it was all about. I’ve stayed in South Beach several times before on girl weekends at the Setai, W and Shore Club along Collins Avenue but this would be the first time visiting with my family and I was not altogether sure if South Beach was going to be ‘family-friendly’. But I was won over by the whole concept of the hotel and the fact that this beach-front property had four pools. I found the room rates more reasonable than some other luxury neighboring properties on the strip such as the Faena, Soho House, and Edition.images

Upon arrival at the hotel, we were greeted warmly by attendants at the front entrance and hosts at the front desk and check-in was a quick and easy (and most notably, paperless) process. I instantly loved the Zen-like lobby accessorized with bleached driftwood, oak and teaks and furnishings in varying shades of ivory. The airy light-filled interiors with plants and terrariums nestled throughout set a calming tone and is a refreshing change from the art-deco and club-like lobbies you typically see in other hotels in South Beach. People were lounging on the couches listening to live music as we passed by (there was live music each night). We were introduced to the elevator system which requires you to take a recycled wood chip that is your guest key and tap it to be assigned an elevator.  It took a bit to get used to this but it is really an efficient system. If only we didn’t lose these small, round keys so many times during our stay. I just found one in one of my pockets, two days after I returned home!

Seeing pictures of the accommodations prior to our stay, I had booked a 1-bedroom suite for our family. We were thus surprised when we were shown to a much smaller suite than we expected – nothing at all like the photos on the website. While we were upgraded to a suite with a balcony with partial ocean views, it was obvious this confining layout would not suffice for our stay (in addition, we were told we would need to pay $100 per cot for each child). After a pleasant conversation with the hotel manager, we were offered a different suite in the same category. We were much happier when we moved to a much more spacious and inviting corner suite with kitchenette. Our corner unit #423 had a generous living area with 1 1/2 baths, floor-to-ceiling windows (2 sides in the spacious master bedroom), a terrace and a small open kitchen with Nespresso maker, water filter/tap and flat screen TVs in both the living room and bedroom – perfect for a family of four.  The same design aesthetic was carried over from the lobby. The master bath had a long teak vanity with concrete trough sink (although not much room for cosmetics and such) and a wonder rainfall shower.  Although we didn’t have an ocean view, we were delighted with our new setup (similar to the photos below).

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 9.50.27 AM guest room

We only had two full days to acquaint ourselves with the hotel and honestly needed a lot more time to thoroughly investigate what the 1 Hotel had to offer. The hotel impressively occupies a full city block although it never felt massive. Only when I was strolling on the beach looking back at the hotel from a short distance, could I get a sense of how expansive the 425-room/155-residence hotel truly is.


At the Lobby level, you have a wonderful Tom Colicchio farm-to-table restaurant Beachcraft that also serves delicious continental and buffet breakfasts (included with our rate). We had dinner the first night by the restaurant’s open kitchen and everything was delicious. Unfortunately we were paired with a server an attitude who was more interested in himself than us. I’m happy to say that was an exception to the rule as the hotel’s staff was otherwise extremely friendly, eager to engage and accommodating during our stay – whether at breakfast, the pool or front entrance. You also have two boutiques (Big Drop being one of them) and lobby bar Tom on Collins, an inviting area to lounge with live music in the evenings.

During the day, fresh fruit from local farms is offered daily and complimentary from the Farm Stand. Right across, café Nativ Made, serving light bites, juices and coffees, is particularly busy in the mornings post-pre workouts. Instead of the typical gift shop, Plant The Future store features terrariums, plantings and moss wall art that I wanted to take home with me. I was particularly happy to see (and others were too, judging by the logo outfits in the lobby) a Soul Cycle studio onsite.  Lastly is the popular eatery STK where Sasha Obama visited (along with her secret service) during our stay. And this is just in the lobby!

Beachcraft Nativ Made Farm Stand

On the 2rd floor, guests will find the  24-hour 14,000 square foot Spartan Gym (available only to guests) featuring Peloton bikes and classes, and the newly opened Bamford Haybarn Spa, the first U.S. offspring of the delightful English country holistic spa brand.  Sadly, I was too limited in time to go to either other than to take a quick peek inside.

bamford haybarn Spa



The 3rd floor is pretty much the outdoor hub of the hotel (particularly for guests with children) – this is where you access the beach club and three of the four hotel pools along with the myriad cabanas, daybeds (which also purposed as diving boards for the kids when not occupied!) and lounge chaises. The Sandbox, the poolside cantina, serves up excellent tacos, guacamole and cocktails.  We saw equal amounts of champagne in ice buckets as we did ice teas and waters besides lounging guests. Additionally, there is a small beach boutique (teen daughter-approved) and Seedlings kids club for the younger set (younger daughter-approved).  The whole area is generously laid out and only steps away from the beach and private hotel beach club. A running path along the length of this strip was perfect for a morning run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_7031 IMG_7029 running paths Pool Boutique IMG_7075

You will find the hotel’s fourth pool on the rooftop – one of the signature spots of the 1 Hotel – along with a very good (so I’m told) seafood and sushi restaurant, Watr, and bar. Note: the rooftop is open to guests only 21 and over. I tried unsuccessfully to sneak my 13-year old in but no dice. Next time.



Our whole family equally loved the look, vibe and energy of the 1 Hotel – it was hip for sure but not overly so that any guest would feel out of place. I loved that the hotel partnered with specialty brands (Soul Cycle, Spartan, Bamford Haybarn etc.) inside the hotel, each unique in their category. You can stay here for a long weekend and never feel the need to leave with so many excellent options at your disposal.

But let’s get back to 1 Hotel’s eco-consciousness because to me this is truly what sets this hotel apart from others. It’s not treated just as a term to proudly boast on their website or press materials but put into action everywhere you are as a guest. In your room, not a plastic or piece of paper is in sight. Instead you will find cardboard hangers, reclaimed wood keys, reusable socks instead of slippers, ‘Do not disturb’ signs made out of cardboard boxes, chalk notepads on the nightstands, and large toiletry dispensers (instead of the small bottles we are all used to and often steal!) in the bathroom.  Triple clear water filters in the kitchen replace plastic water bottles you typically would find on your nightstand. A mobile ‘1’ guide’ serves as both an in-room ‘do it all’ (ie. thermostat, TV) and a communications tool with hotel staff. I am still old-fashioned in this respect and never used it – instead sticking to the remote control and phone.


In the public spaces, the thought and care is evident as well – from the 3,000 foot ‘living’ wall of 11,000 green plants at the front entrance to the fleet of Tesla electric vehicles standing by which guests can use for a 3-mile radius (ironically placed next to two Ferraris I saw out front – a bit of an oxymoron).  Ceilings, walls and furniture are made from reclaimed and salvaged wood and terrariums and plants are placed throughout instead of cut flowers.

All this really made me aware of how much waste there is in the hotel industry and how it can and needs to do better. While plenty of luxury hotels are ‘eco-friendly’ (more and more I’m pleased to say), they are not necessarily eco-focused. I hope the new 1 Hotel brand will serve as a model and source for inspiration for other properties to follow. Sternlicht’s vision for 1 Hotels to be places ‘to celebrate and protect nature’ has already extended beyond South Beach with  the recent opening of the 1 Hotel Central Park in Manhattan and a 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (in the former Domino Sugar factory) to open next month.  12 more locations are in the pipeline. It’s simply time be more green and help protect our planet.


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Just Checked Out: The Betsy Hotel, South Beach Fri, 13 Jan 2017 12:40:23 +0000 Continued]]> The Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive has been a landmark for over 75 years in South Beach. Last month, after acquiring neighboring Carlton Hotel on Collins Avenue and undergoing a 2-year transformation, the family-owned and independently-operated hotel made its debut as the new The Betsy South Beach. The massive undertaking combining two hotels into one now includes 60 new guest rooms (bringing the total accommodations to 130 guest rooms), two signature restaurants, an expansive new rooftop pool complex, a new outdoor courtyard and a complete refurbishment of the interiors. Inviato contributor, Karen Larrain, reports back from her recent short stay at the iconic hotel. 


‘Over this past holiday season, my travel plans included a stop in Miami Beach where I decided to give the Betsy Hotel a second try. I had first stayed in the property last summer but was disappointed as it felt a bit run down and in need of a renovation (the prior renovation was in 2009).


I was very impressed by all the improvements and surprised to find a new hotel in Miami that is promoting culture, the arts and education, instead of another omnipresent night club or bar as most other hotels in the area. The Betsy is a member of the PACE program, which stands for philanthropy, arts, culture and education. If you want a small, four-star boutique hotel in Miami Beach that is quiet and promotes culture, this is your spot.

The last time I stayed at the hotel, there was only one pool (which was not terribly inviting) on the ground floor inner courtyard and a very small, dark and cramped gym with sparse equipment. On this visit, I stayed in the new ‘Art Deco’ wing, which had large, newly finished rooms and suites with big bright, bathrooms as well as a third-floor library full of books and seating areas where guests can lounge and read. A 3,200 square foot roof deck with pool and fully outdoor spa. A writer’s room where guests can linger, write, meet or watch the news on big screens all day long. Complete with an espresso bar during the day that turns into a wine bar for evenings. The twenty-four-hour gym is much larger now and features a few of the amazing live stream spin class Peloton bikes.



The Betsy is attempting to improve the community by bringing lots of art and culture into the mix. It’s impossible not to notice all of the incredible black and white rock and roll photographs that line the corridors as you walk to your Unknownroom. You’ll see Mick Jagger and the Beatles amongst others. In fact, during Art Basel, the public is invited to roam through the hotel and browse all of the art as well. There is even a 1,700 square foot art gallery with a revolving list of artists. Two nights a week, you can listen to live jazz in the lobby. Jazz greats from Latin Grammy award winner Ed Calle and Roxana Amed (who won Argentia’s coveted Fierro Award for Songwriting) to Lenard Rutledge, a past “best Jazz artist’ winner in the Miami New Times have all performed here.


The city of Miami is particularly excited about the hotel’s renovation as it will be the first property in Miami beach that stretches from Ocean Drive all the way back to Collins avenue simultaneously. There is even a rejuvenation underway of the alley that connects the previous wing on Ocean Avenue to the new ‘Art Deco’ wing on Collins Avenue. This is where you will find two new restaurants, LT Steak and Seafood (spinoff of the well know BLT restaurants) and Poeti, a trattoria-style Italian restaurant in addition to a “grab and go” window where guests and pedestrians can stop and purchase gelato or crepes and stroll through the alley while enjoying the poetry rail and the ORB.

LT Steak
LT Steak

The poetry rail is a railing made of several panels containing water blasted words from several world known poets and the ORB is a gigantic round sphere sculpture that surrounds the interior “bridge” that connects the two wings of the hotel. Presumably turning what was once a filthy alley filled with garbage and vagrants into a bustling alley full of life, pedestrians and public art.’

Rendering of the ORB currently underway to connect the two buildings


Review by Karen Larrain. Photos courtesy of The Betsy South Beach and Karen Larrain. 


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Our Favorite New Hotel Openings for 2017 Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:02:36 +0000 Continued]]> Hello 2017! It is a New Year and with it comes Inviato’s annual list: the hotel openings and re-openings in 2017 that intrigue us the most. There were so many exciting ones to report on last year’s list (you can view the hotels on our 2016 list here). We were fortunate to be able to visit two on that list and plan to be visiting more in 2017. The places to visit only seems to get longer not shorter each year and so many of them I want to revisit again.

Over the past month, it seems like every magazine or website has published a new list of their hotel favorites for the year. I culled through them all, devoured all the trade news, and spoke to top luxury agents and hotels. Essentially, I did the research and stripped it down to bring you the places that, in my subjective opinion, are the most fascinating. Some are classics that are opening their doors again after extensive renovations (Hotel Lungarno, Little Dix Bay, and Hotel Eden to name a few) while others are opening for the very first time.

In no particular order here are our favorite top 20 hotel openings in 2017 to keep your eyes on:


Hotel Eden  – Rome

Opening April 2017.

After an extensive 18 month renovation, the historic 128-year old Hotel Eden in the heart of Rome will be reopening its doors this Spring. The Dorchester Collection hotel group has taken over this classic hotel and there has been quite the anticipation for this opening. Everything has been renovated – from the 98 guestrooms and suites to the rooftop restaurant, La Terrazzo dell’Eden, which offers stupendous panoramic views of the Eternal City. A new spa has been added as well.

Penthouse Suite at Hotel Eden

Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square and The Ned – London

Opening January 26th and Spring 2017, respectively. 

There are so many wonderful hotels in London to choose from already, what’s two more?

The 100-room Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square, housed in the former imposing beaux-arts headquarters of Port of London Authority, is sure to please any Four Seasons aficionado. The hotel, located near the Tower Bridge, opens late January 26 with three restaurants and an 18,000 square foot spa. It will surely be a great addition to the London hotel scene.

Four Seasons 10 Trinity Square
Four Seasons 10 Trinity Square

Even more exciting is the Spring opening of The Ned. It would take a lot to divert me from my perennial favorites – Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair or Ham Yard in Chelsea – but this one has caught my attention. This new hotel and club is by the folks behind the Soho House Hotels in partnership with Sydell Group. Housed in the former impressive Midland Bank Headquarters, The Ned will have 252 guest rooms, nine (yes nine – including a Cecconi’s!) restaurants, pools (again, plural), a spa and hammam. Oh, and there will be a bar in the vault that inspired the James Bond film Goldfinger (the Fort Knox scenes for any Jane Bond fans out there).

Midland Bank HQ - soon to be The Ned Rendering of the members club behind the Vault

Hoxton – Paris 

Opening Spring 2017. 

Most of the Paris hotel buzz this year will surely be focused on the long-awaited opening of Le Crillon, closed since 2013 and opening sometime this summer. But I’ve not been a fan of theirs after an occurrence with their staff that was so rude to us a few years ago when we stopped by for tea. I’m more focused on the opening of the newish hotel brand (since 2006) of unique boutique hotels, Hoxton Hotels which has opened hotels recently in Amsterdam and London. Hoxton Paris (another hotel is coming this year in NYC) will be located in the city’s 2nd arrondissement in a 16th Century building that was designed by a counsellor to King Louis XIV. The Hoxton will have 172 guest rooms, a restaurant, speakeasy, and a café-cum-tabac. This opening has already generated a buzz among the hip crowd looking for someplace different to stay.

Hotel Lutetia – Paris

Opening Sometime in 2017. 

I’m more of a Left Bank than Right Bank kind of girl and particularly excited of the transformation of the only ‘palace’ hotel on Left Bank – the historic Beaux-Arts Hotel Lutetia on Boulevard Raspail. The folks of The Set hotels have taken it over (they own the Conservatorium in Amsterdam and Cafe Royal in London so let your imagination go with the kind of transformation you might expect!) and have been restoring it top to bottom over three years. Everything is getting a major overhaul along with the addition of a courtyard and spa with pool. I can’t wait to check this one out!

Lutetia, Paris

Almanac –  Barcelona

Opening Summer 2017.

Opening in Barcelona this summer (followed by Vienna and Prague), this new design-oriented and stylish boutique hotel brand is coming off the heels of another recent hotel opening in Barcelona, the Cotton House hotel. Located on the Gran Via de les Corts Catalans, Almanac will have 92 rooms and suites, a rooftop pool and lounge and an onsite mediterranean brasserie, Linia.

hotel-almanac-barcelona-02 hotel-almanac-barcelona-01

Hotel Lungarno – Florence

Opening June 2017.

A long-time Florentine favorite among many for its style, location (ideally located along the Arno river) and ambience, Hotel Lungarno reopens this summer after extensive renovations.  All public areas will be fully renovated along with a new car drop off area. Many of the rooms will be redesigned with a more contemporary look, while others will keep a more traditional style. Let them know which you prefer when booking!

Hotel Lungarno, Florence
Hotel Lungarno, Florence

Adare Manor – Ireland

Opening September 2017. 

I have been yearning to visit Adare Manor since I was a kid – this place is horse heaven! Coming off an 18-month multi-million dollar renovation, this 19th century net-gothic manor will open in September with a revitalizing spa, a new swimming pool, a new cinema, an entire new wing of luxurious bedrooms and a championship golf course.  Couple this with the recently renovated Ashford Castle for a trip to Ireland this year – you can’t go wrong!

Adare Manor


Silo Hotel – Cape Town, South Africa

Opening March 2017. 

This luxury 11-story hotel will occupy the elevator tower of a 90-year-old grain-storage complex on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, sharing the space with a new contemporary art museum. The 18-foot spectacular geometric windows from Silo’s 28 rooms and suites (along with the rooftop pool, restaurant and bar) featuring views of the ocean, city and Table Mountain really set this place apart from others in Cape Town.

Silo Hotel

Duba Plains –  Botswana

Opening March 1, 2017.

Having already experienced two of Great Plains Conservation camps in Kenya, Mara Plains and Ol Donyo, I am looking forward to visiting the new Duba Plains camp in Botswana sometime in the short-term future.

Built on the site of the old dismantled camp of the same name, Duba Plains promises to be like no other in the Okavango Delta. The camp will hold five spacious guest tents, plus a two bedroom tented suite, each with private plunge pools, rosewood decks, inside and outside showers and bath. Canon professional camera equipment and Swarovski binoculars are yours during your stay so no need to pack heavy. The central mess tent will have a private and communal dining areas, an interactive show-kitchen, wine cellar, library and media room. The outside deck will be the camp’s focal point, with a fire pit, day beds and dining overlooking the water. One word: Divine.

Duba Plains

Bisate Lodge in Rwanda

Opening June 2017. 

When I was in Rwanda just less than 2 years ago, the only choices near Volcanoes National Park (where you go to see the gorillas) were Volcanoes Virunga Lodge and Sabinyo Silverback Lodge  (I stayed at the latter, which I was very pleased with – read the review here). I know Bisate Lodge will take lodging in Rwanda to whole new level as Wildernesss Safaris, who will run the lodge, is a top-class operation with a local, conservation-centric travel approach.  Opening in June, the Lodge will have six thatched villas set inside a eroded volcano cone surrounded by forest. The lodge will be partnering with farm owners to rehabilitate gorilla habitats right next to Volcanoes National Park.

Bisate Lodge


Inglaterra – Cuba 

Opening March 2017.

Cuba may be open for tourists but still notably lacks any 4-5 star properties. Travelers yearning to take this destination off their bucket list will be pleased to hear that the first American luxury property will debut in Cuba this Spring. The iconic 83-room Inglaterra (operating as a hotel since 1875 makes it the oldest hotel in Cuba) will reopen as a Starwood luxury collection property under the same name offering guests true luxury experience in a historic colonial-style building. The location of this historic Old Havana hotel – opposite Parque Central and a minute’s walk from the Gran Teatro de La Habana – could not be more ideal.

Inglaterra, Cuba
Inglaterra, Cuba

It’zana – Belize

Opening late Spring, 2017. 

I have had my eye on this one newcomer for a while. Slated for a soft opening in Spring, It’zana will be best to visit in the Fall when both the resort and residences will all be fully finished. Located near the beach town of Placencia on the Eastern tip of Belize, this ‘retreat’ will have a bohemian look and feel paired with amazing amenities: a sea-to-table restaurant, pool, roof deck, rum bar and library will open in April along with the first 20 of its beach-chic rooms and penthouses. By Fall, another 27 suites and loft cottages, plus 47 larger villas residences (for sale now)  along the lagoon or beach should be completed. All this just feet away from the world’s 2nd largest coral reef.

Great House at It’zana Belize

Auberge Chileno Bay – Cabo San Lucas 

Opening February 2017.

Auberge Resorts will debut their next major resort opening in Cabo San Lucas this Spring. Chileno Bay will have 60 guest rooms and 32 two-four bedroom villas, a three-tiered infinity pool, taco and tequila beach bar and a water sports center built into a beachside cave on Cabo’s only year-round swimmable beach. There are some great opening offers from February on in case anyone is still looking to book something for Spring Break.

Rendering of Auberge Chilean Bay

Ariel Sands – Bermuda

Opening Spring 2017. 

Bermuda always seems to be overlooked as a destination in my opinion and the properties have been pretty unexciting until now. Word is many hotel properties, such as the Hamilton Princess are renovating to entice travelers back to this quaint island. Worth a look at is Ariel Sands which Actors Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta Jones are undertaking a complete restoration of the former Ariel Sands resort. Plans show that the new resort will have 26 two and three bedroom cottages (buyers of cottages can put them into a rental pool) and 28 luxury suites. Combining the traditional architecture of Bermuda with modern amenities, the resort will have an ocean-front restaurant, spa, restored beach and salt-water tidal pools with an adjoining beach club.  It’s sure to have some celebrity power.

Rendering of Ariel Sands

Rosewood Little Dix Bay – British Virgin Islands. 

Opening December 2017. 

Rosewood’s Little Dix Bay – a timeless resort on the island of Virgin Gorda with a fiercely loyal clientele – will be reopening after a complete renovation since May 2016 and be open in time for the 2017 festive season. The current renovation is the resort’s biggest upgrade since it was founded by Laurence Rockefeller in 1964. What to expect?  New amenities, and services are promised in addition to a re-built Beach Grill and fully renovated Sugar Mill and the Pavilion restaurants.  The renovation will reduce the number of rooms at the resort from 95 to 79 but will include two Beach Houses and new Two Bedroom Suites with direct beach access.  On the western side of the resort, seven new One Bedroom Suites with plunge pools will also be added.

Rendering of Little Dix Bay

United States 

Our favorite openings in the U.S. all happen to be in the state of California:

Las Alcobas – Napa Valley, California 

Opening January 27, 2017.

Sure to be the talk of Napa, this new hotel that will be part of the Starwood’s luxury collection is ideally located off Main Street, in the heart of the charming town of St. Helena.  The new property, housed in an 1907 Georgian style mansion,  will have 68 rooms and suites, most with a beautiful outdoor terrace and fireplaces and vineyard views of neighboring Beringer winery (interestingly, few hotel properties in Napa have views of vineyards). Las Alcobas will also feature an on-site restaurant, Acacia House, a 3,500 square foot spa and wellness center. Check the website for special opening rates.

Las Alcobas

Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, California

Opening June 2017. 

A new property will make its way into this tony hood to shake up the other 5-star properties, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel, Montage and Peninsula. The 170-room 12-story Waldorf Astoria is scheduled to open in April on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica (across from the famous Electric Fountain and in front of the Beverly Hilton). Touted as an ‘urban oasis’, the hotel will have a 5,000 square foot La Prairie Spa, a premier restaurant featuring Michelin chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and rooftop pool and lounge.  Reservations are being accepted already with lots of Virtuoso-exclusive amenities and opening offers.

Rendering of guest room in the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills
Rendering of guest room in the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

Pendry Hotel – San Diego, California

Opening January 2017. 

From the founders of Montage Resorts, a new hotel brand – Pendry Hotels – has arrived on the scene combining modern, swanky design, excellent service and lower price points to appeal to a new generation of energetic and savvy luxury travelers. In sum, a hipper version of the Montage Resorts we all know and love.  The first hotel and flagship of the new brand opens this month in San Diego’s historic gaslamp district. There will be 317 rooms including 36 suites, six restaurants and bars (Nason’s beer hall serving local craft beers and comfort food, all-day eatery Provisional Kitchen), a nightclub and a rooftop pool. A second Pendry Hotel is planned for Baltimore in February with more to follow in secondary urban markets.

Rendering of Pendry in San Diego


W Hotel – Tel Aviv, Israel

Opening May 1 2017.  

We will be heading to Israel this Spring but sadly too early to check out this new hotel opening in May in Tel Aviv.  The new 127-room W Hotel and 32 Residences in the ancient district and seaside port of Jaffa occupies a former French convent and hospital. Apparently, 2,000-year-old historic foundations were discovered during the construction of the public spaces. While the guest rooms are located in the main building, all residences will be located in a newly constructed wing adjacent to the main building with a private entrance. An ultra-minimalist design that is the signature style of W hotels is expected while keeping the architectural integrity of the building, blending old (vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows from the old chapel, for example) and new throughout.

W Hotel Tel Aviv Guest bath W Hotel Tel Aviv


Rosewood Phnom Penh – Cambodia 

Opening Sometime in 2017.  

This new Rosewood property will occupy the top 14 floors of the Vattanac Capital Tower. With 175 rooms and suites, the ultra-luxurious Phnom Penh will be one of the largest hotels in the city. A 120-seat bistro, lounge, two specialty restaurants and an outdoor sky bar is planned. Also expected on property is a spa, swimming pool and a fitness center.

Rendering of Rosewood Phnom Penh
Rendering of Rosewood Phnom Penh


Park Hyatt, St. Kitts

Late Spring 2017.

Good things come to those who wait.  This resort was on our annual list for 2016 (and we were booked to check it out in March) but there have been a few delays of this much-anticipated opening which will now be in the late Spring. This is the first Park Hyatt in the Caribbean and the resort is located on a gorgeous island fairly untouched by development. The 125-room hotel is set along the beautiful beaches of Christophe Harbour’s Banana Bay and overlooks The Narrows, a narrow 3-mile strait that separates the island from Nevis. The resort will have 125 guestrooms, with many suites offering individual rooftop pools and spectacular views of Nevis. What’s best is there are direct flights from JFK to get there!


Park Hyatt St. Kitts
Rendering of Park Hyatt, St. Kitts

The Whitby, New York

Opening February 27, 2017.

This is the 9th Firmdale hotel property, the 2nd in the U.S. (and New York. The first is the Crosby Street Hotel in Soho), was also on our 2016 favorites list, but a few delays has now moved the opening of The Whitby to a firm opening date in late February. With Kit Kemp, co-owner and Design Director of Firmdale once again at the helm designing all the public spaces and rooms, I can’t wait to see what she whips up here with her trademark mix of colors and patterns. The 16-floor hotel will have 86 suites (all with their signature floor-to-ceiling windows), a 130-seat cinema, courtyard and all-day Whitby bar and restaurant. The top floor is entirely dedicated to one 2-BR suite. You may have to fight your way through Trump security to get here though – the hotel will be located on 56th and 5th. 


The Whitby guest room
The Whitby guest room

A FEW KEY OTHERS ON THE HORIZON (2018 and beyond): 

One & Only Mandarina, Riviera Nayarit 

December 2018

Puerto Vallarta, once known for day-trippers from mammoth-size cruise ships (remember Love Boat?) and honeymooners, is coming back with a vengeance. A new One and Only resort (its 2nd resort in Mexico. The other is the Palmilla in Cabo San Lucas) is planned for Riviera Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta in 2018. The resort will offer approximately 145 luxurious villas as well as private residential estates.

Rendering of One & Only Mandarina

Hotel Ajax, Telluride 

Opening August 2018. 

There is not a lot of information just yet on the new Starwood property coming to the ski town of Telluride but when it does open, it should be a much welcome addition to the ski town. In addition to the Hotel Ajax, there will be 11 penthouses for purchase occupying the top two floors. Planned is an infinity pool, rooftop bar and a chef-driven restaurant.

Rendering of Hotel Ajax, Telluride
Rendering of Hotel Ajax, Telluride

Montage, Cabo San Lucas

Opening Early 2018.

Montage Resorts opens its sixth resort in Cabo San Lucas and, if similar to its other properties, it will likely be the most luxurious property in an area already filled with some of the most beautiful resorts in the world such as Las Ventanas, One & Only Palmilla, and Esperanza. The resort will be located on the former site of the Twin Dolphin resort where I stayed over 15 years ago and I can honestly say that it is on one the most beautiful beaches in Los Cabos. The new Montage resort will feature 122 spacious guestrooms and suites, along with 52 Montage Residences situated on 39 coastal acres. Luxury amenities will include a full-service spa and fitness center, several restaurants, a 20,000-square-foot main pool, tennis courts (which are few and far between in this area) and of course, its stunning beach!

Montage, Cabo San Lucas

Four Seasons, Megève France 

Opening December 2018. 

The historic ski village of Megève will be the Four Seasons first mountain destination in Europe. Slated to open in time for the 2018 winter ski season, the mountainside hotel will include the mountainside Four Seasons Hotel Megève as well the conversion of a collection of traditional chalets in the heart of the medieval Mont d’Arbois village. The 55-room Four Seasons will be Megève’s first hotel to offer direct access to the Mont d’Arbois slopes.

Aerial View on Ski Resort Megeve in French Alps, France
Aerial View on Ski Resort Megeve in French Alps, France

See all our previous annual top hotel lists here and stay tuned for upcoming reviews on Vik Hotels in Uruguay, Four Seasons Hualalai and the new Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina, One Hotel in South Beach and more.

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Just Checked Out: Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland Thu, 15 Dec 2016 13:26:00 +0000 Continued]]> For our yearly get away from the kids to celebrate our anniversary, we were looking for something a little off the beaten path this year where we could just get away from it all. I had been reading and hearing such wonderful things about the Fogo Island Inn over the last two years and have been dying to go there and see first-hand what this place was all about. The opportunity finally came up and we took the plunge.


Even the many accolades of this place really do not do justice to Fogo Island Inn. You must at least once in your lifetime come to this magical place. It is not so much a holiday as really an experience of the senses. The topography changes by footsteps let alone miles exploring the eye popping natural beauty of the place.  Your taste pallet is constantly overwhelmed by the incredible selection of  locally sourced food offered at the Inn and your body feels incredible after all the insanely beautiful daily hikes and walks on their myriad trails. To hear the ocean and the crashing waves just outside your window as you fall asleep at night was the icing on the cake. The gracious staff, largely made of up locals from the island, could not have been more warm and welcoming. They really go out of their way to make your stay special and bend over backwards to make sure all your wishes are met.

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The Inndsc02226

The Inn is explicitly tied to the Fogo Island way of life, its architecture a reflection of the traditions of Newfoundland yet with clean lines, a high degree of modernity and sophistication. The Inn is a 40,000 square foot structure that rises above the horizon as you approach it from a distance. It just appears out of nowhere and unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. This place is a mash up of Iceland and the Na pali coast in Kauai. The topography changes on a dime. I felt sometimes while I was hiking as if I was on the moon.

There are 29 suites at the Inn. Our first night, we had this entire building to ourselves. The ensuing nights there were many guests from St. John’s Newfoundland (a dental convention if you can imagine) while other guests were from Toronto and photographers visiting from Vancouver and New York. Gwyneth Paltrow visited here over the summer as did the Prince of Monaco, our handsome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his family and a few aristocrats from England which the staff left nameless for privacy sake.


You essentially come to Fogo Island to drink in the spectacular scenery, hike, eat and relax. I have to say this was one of the first times I can remember where everyday I went on a hike, I could not wipe the grin off my face. You’re in such awe of what lays in front of you, it makes you grateful and gives you a sense of peace that places like this do exist.

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Joe Batt’s Point
A rigorous 7 km walk leads you ultimately to the ocean’s edge with a great Auk bird sculpture waiting to greet you. Imagine you are literally at the end of the earth and in the middle of absolutely nothing is a giant sculpture of this incredible yet now extinct bird.

Lions Den
This is the ultimate in hikes – not too strenuous but certainly lengthy.  This was the hike where your eyes adjust almost by the minute as the topography and the natural beauty of the place keep changing and changing. One minute you are on a cliff and around the next corner you are in the forest and then a lake or volcanic rock. Just astounding.

The 4 artists studios (Squish, Bridge, Tower and Long) designed by Todd Saunders in various locales on the island are an absolute must to visit. They are an integral part of the ‘Fogo Island Arts Initiative’ established in 2008, which supports local artistic exploration. Artists from around the globe come here to live in residence, work and potentially exhibit their works in the art gallery located at the Inn. These studios are really an architectural vision of beauty in the middle of nowhere. You come upon them and are completely blown away by how they just exist in the natural landscape. We were fortunate enough to meet one of the artists hiking his way to the bridge studio who allowed us to come inside and take a look.

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The Food

The Inn serves the most incredible food and we anticipated each meal. Before you go down to breakfast, there is a the breakfast caddy waiting outside your door each morning with two fresh juices, thefogoisland-interiors daily baked good of the day and huge pots of tea and coffee. In the dining room, there is one communal table designed to seat larger parties and plenty of two and four top seatings. The menus have a combination of a few constant dishes while other items change daily.

Every meal was a culinary delight – a sensory experience not easily replicated anywhere else in the world. The food is all locally sourced with chefs coming from near and far to spend 3-6 months at a time at the Inn. Breakfast was sublime – the granola parfait was a standout.  For dinner, there is always 2-3 main dish options such as filet mignon, snow crab or lobster.  My husband said the moose burger was delicious. If there is something not on the menu, you just have to ask and they’ll make it happen. In the private screening room, the staff will happily put on a movie or TV show you would like to see, serve you freshly made popcorn, and provide you a selection of local taffy and candies to eat to your heart’s content. 

Getting There

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It is a long way to get to Fogo Island and can feel a bit like planes trains and automobiles, but each stint is short and really the trip to get there is worth it. You can fly in the morning directly from Newark to Halifax (or connect via Montreal or Toronto), approximately a 90-minute flight, then connect from Halifax to Gander, a 60-minute flight which flies daily around 2:00pm. It’s then an hour drive to the ferry and another 45 minutes on the ferry to get to Fogo Island. The Inn’s SUV will drive you to the ferry and ultimately to the island for a fee. It is possible to charter a helicopter from Gander to bypass the 2-hour ferry business, but I know it’s expensive. The Fogo Inn website explains the various charter options available.


It is not necessary, but we chose to spend the night in Halifax – a bustling yet quaint university town of just under 500,000 people that is undergoing a culinary renaissance. The food scene is highly recommended and generating lots of buzz across Canada as well as North America. We had a lovely dinner at the Bicycle Thief and incredible oysters at Shuck. Other recommended places to eat are the Highwayman, Edna, Gio and King of Donair. We did not love the choices for hotel accommodations though. We stayed at the Prince George hotel – Halifax’s version of a boutique hotel.

Getting Around The Island

Guests have access to garden variety SUVs to toil around the island (included in your rate) but very basic ones. Nothing fancy. The SUV that comes to pick you up ($800.00 roundtrip if you choose this) is a much bigger and nicer SUV of the Yukon or Denali variety.

The Rooms

Loft Suite

All 29 suites at the inn have floor-to- ceiling direct views looking out to the ocean. Simply breathtaking. There are three categories of suites:

  • Labrador suites: located on the first and second floors only, these are the smallest suites at the inn. They do not have bathtubs in the bathrooms rooms nor wood-burning stoves.
  • Newfoundland suites: located on floors 3 and 4, these have much larger bathrooms with a separate soaking tub and wood-burning stoves which was an incredible addition.
  • Corner suites and Family suites:  these are the most expensive and spacious suites which are located on the 3rd and 4th floors and have different layouts.

We stayed in Newfoundland suite #17 located on the third floor. Our suite had a wood-burning stoves and each night an innkeeper came and lit it up for us and placed additional wood for us to add to the stove late. This in itself is a reason to reserve a Newfoundland suite as the Labrador suites do not have wood-burning stoves. See more details in ‘Rooms To Get‘ below.

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Overall Impression

Fogo is not for everyone. It’s not glitzy, there’s no spa and there’s no nightlife other then on the property. It’s difficult to get to. It’s expensive. Not to mention it’s rather desolate. The weather can be tough, depending on when you go. Going in November might seem an interesting choice of time but I absolutely LOVED the timing. Despite all these drawbacks, for those who want to appreciate a sense of place, immerse themselves in nature, have a culinary experience with unbelievable service, or travel to a place to get off the grid and reconnect with whoever you are with, this is the place for you. For us, Fogo Island Inn was a singular, magical experience that we will not soon forget and a place we hope to return to sooner then later.


Photos and Review by Romi and Jeff Howard 

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