Inviato http://inviatotravel.com Your Luxury Hotel Insider Wed, 22 Nov 2017 05:11:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.8 Just Checked Out: Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/14/just-checked-out-hotel-santa-caterina-amalfi/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/14/just-checked-out-hotel-santa-caterina-amalfi/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:38:08 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10337 Continued]]> After a whirlwind three-city Europe tour over ten days in June this summer, during an unusual heat wave over most of Europe, my only goal was to decompress somewhere by the sea before we flew back home. While my husband departed with our older daughter to hand her over to summer camp, I stayed on with my younger daughter to enjoy a few last days on the Amalfi Coast. The last time I stepped foot in this scenic area of Italy, I was a college student (and on a much smaller budget, mind you). A reunion was long overdue.

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Choosing Hotel Santa Caterina over other choices on the coast or the island of Capri for four nights was an easy choice. Santa Caterina, a grand and classic hotel, is a long-time favorite among many friends and the hotel is known for being particularly family-friendly. I also loved the fact that the Santa Caterina is one of the few hotels that is still family-owned since this it was purchased in 1880 and opened as a hotel in 1904. In fact, we had the pleasure of meeting three generations of the Gambardella/Gargano family, who still own the hotel, during our stay.

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I vaguely remembered the hair-raising turns on the 90-minute drive to Amalfi from Naples airport the first time I came here. The winding roads, particularly during the last 45 minutes, will make even the most stoic person queasy, especially as you ascend the cliffs towards the hotel.  But trust me, once you arrive at the hotel, any grumpy thoughts will disappear instantaneously as you take in the jaw-dropping scenery before you. Perched cliffside, Hotel Santa Caterina feels as if it is suspended over the Mediterranean sea and the Gulf of Salerno. It’s postcard-perfect (or more appropriately, Instagram-perfect).

But it was the tiered tree groves of lemons, limes, apricots, oranges and bougainvillea, not the views, that won me over. Each morning, as we walked under the groves from our room to breakfast, I reveled in the intoxicating scents of the fruit and flowers. I want to bottle that smell. The visual combination of turquoise sea, dramatic cliffs, and fruit groves makes the Hotel Santa Caterina a Instagrammer/selfie-taker’s dream come true. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of poseurs with their iPhones at the resort.

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As it was just my daughter and I, we booked one of the more basic rooms at the hotel, a Partial sea-view Double Room, and were fortunately upgraded at the time of booking to a Direct Sea View Double with balcony. Our room was located away from the main hotel in an Annex, which was secluded and quiet, with spectacular views. Our room was a bit small but opening the louvred doors to our balcony to the incredible view of the sea and the town of Amalfi each morning was all I could hope for and more. The daily plates of fruit and chocolates  in our room along with a stuffed animal for Justine was a nice touch.

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Another unique feature I appreciated (and most likely other guests too – 40% of the guests at the hotel are repeat bookers) of the Santa Caterina is that it is one of the only properties on the Amalfi Coast with direct sea access. While most other hotels in the area dispatch guests to public beaches or satellite beach clubs, Santa Caterina has its own private beach club with pool. The salt water pool is situated 10 stories below the lobby, which you can access by stairs or the glass elevator from the main lobby. After one or two times up and down the steep steps to pick up a forgotten item in the room, that elevator becomes a godsend. The staff at the pool are eager to please and can be quite entertaining – they like to put on a show for guests.

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We spent three very hot days at the hotel relaxing by the pool, swimming in the refreshing waters of the sea (with is cordoned off for safety and guests are provided floats), and then departing late afternoon to explore the towns of Ravello and Amalfi, staying for dinner at local restaurants. There were plenty of children of all nationalities at the hotel, most of them finding each other and making friends at the pool. Justine made many friends there, playing for hours with the owner’s grandchildren in their villa at the hotel.

Cameo shopping in Ravello Limoncello in Amalfi

Hands down one of our best decisions we made during our stay was to hire a private boat for the day to see and swim the grottos and cruise around the coast. Our boat was arranged easily through the hotel, which offers a fleet of boats in various sizes and rates (ours was about 880 Euros for the day), which conveniently comes right up to Santa Caterina’s dock to pick you up. From 10-5, we enjoyed a speedboat with Antonio, our young and adorable captain who spoke ‘not so much’ English but who was eager to accommodate our ‘hit’ list for the day. As it was a brutally hot day, we canceled plans to walk around Capri and opted instead to go for several swims in the stunning grottos, cruise around the islands and have lunch at La Fontelina ( an incredible restaurant only accessible by boat). It was my favorite day with my daughter on the whole trip – on any trip really. We felt like movie stars. It was a blissful way to end our vacation.

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When To Go

Living large on the Amalfi Coast doesn’t come cheap. The area caters to tourists, especially Americans, and I was disappointed how touristy the town has become. Even in early summer, the area felt bursting with with buses, tourists and cruise lines. I can only imagine how busy (and expensive) it is in high season. To eschew the crowds, I would return in May or September.

The Location

The hotel’s location on cliffside perch overlooking sea is quite stunning. Less than half a mile from the town of Amalfi, the hotel offers frequent complimentary shuttles into town (you can walk but I would not advise it as there is not much room to walk on the busy narrow road. As the shuttle ends at 6:30, it is worth noting that a taxi or car is required to get to restaurants in Amalfi and Ravello, which can be pretty expensive.

The Rooms

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Bedroom Suite

There are 54 rooms at the hotel and 16 suites with various layouts and room categories. Each individually unique, rooms are decorated simply, with traditional Italian furnishings and hand-painted ceramic tile floors. Modern comforts such as USB ports (If I never had to carry a converter again, I would be very happy), flat screen TVs, and blowdryers are provided in every room as are Bulgari toiletries.

Rooms and suites are spread throughout the property – some in the main building, others in an annex a few minutes walk away while other specialty suites are tucked away in the groves.

My daughter and I were in Room 73 – a double room with direct sea view in an annex a few minutes walk from the main hotel.  While I was first skeptical of being away from the hub of the main building, we liked the distance from the main building as it gave us the opportunity to walk through the beautiful lemon and orange groves several times each day.

Rates during summer start at 880 euros for double rooms. Double Rooms are fairly small and basic so we would recommend booking the junior suites or suites which are generously sized and have open plan living and bedrooms. It would be pointless to stay here and not have a direct sea view, so make sure you request one at time of booking.

The Service 

Most of the professional and warm staff from the family-owned Hotel Santa Caterina have been there for decades. From pre planning to end, service was exemplary – attentive to our every need.  The concierge responded immediately and proactively with recommendations for us before and during our stay and was always spot on with his choices.  The only exception to this was one incidence at lunch at Al Mare when our server was perpexingly indifferent and unhelpful – we were one of the only guests in the restaurant.

The Food

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There are two restaurants at the hotel. Restaurant Santa Caterina is the main restaurant for breakfast and dinner and most guests opt to eat al fresco on the terrace overlooking the sea during the evenings. The restaurant serves classic and delicious Italian dishes. While appealing mostly to adults with its elegant atmosphere, the other diners and staff could not have been more welcoming and friendly when we dined there one night. Al Mare is a more casual restaurant located on a shaded terrace overlooking the pool and sea serving yummy fresh pasta, fish and brick oven pizzas during lunch.  Breakfast, included in our rate, is a standout with many buffet options and hot items to please anyone.

Places to Eat in and around Amalfi

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There are plenty of amazing choices in the area. We hit a few, all great, among the many recommended to us by the concierge and friends:

Amalfi

Acqua Pazza

Eolo (inside and outside seating with sea view)

Trattoria da Gemma – an upscale traditional restaurant with view over main square of Amalfi, famous for its fish soups.

Donna Stella – A wonderful and very casual pizzeria located outside under the lemon groves. Delicious pizzas and very family friendly.

Ravello and beyond

Cumpa Cosimo – A classic family fun Italian restaurant run by Grandma Netta – entertaining atmosphere with great ambiance and food. Must go!

Lido Azzurro (overlooking the sea, fish dishes, closed Mondays. Good for lunch)

Rossellini’s in Hotel Palazzo Sasso – Gourmet restaurant with stunning views (in Ravello)

Hotel Caruso – also in Ravello. More formal restaurant.

Lo Scoglio – Decades old institution accessed by boat with simple delicious seafood.

La Fontelina – A must for the people watching and scenery alone but also serves delicious fresh past and seafood! Accessible only by boat. Was our favorite even though it is outrageously overpriced. Maitre d sizes you up to determine what table you get!

La Fontelina
La Fontelina
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Back (again) to Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/08/back-again-to-giraffe-manor-in-nairobi-kenya/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/08/back-again-to-giraffe-manor-in-nairobi-kenya/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 13:00:35 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10318 Continued]]> It was my third time back to Giraffe Manor last month and it’s beginning to feel like my home away from home. Giraffe Manor is my preferred first stop after my plane lands in Nairobi.  I can’t wait to arrive at this special place, say hello to old friends (both two and four-legged) and settle down in one of twelve rooms at the 1930’s English manor.  Even though I am here for a brief stay each time, I always look forward to the warm hospitality of the staff, the crackling fire in the fireplace in the evenings and the first sights and smells of Africa after I land. I love that everything feels exactly the same as I last remember it.

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But in fact a few things have changed at Giraffe Manor – the only hotel in the world inside a Giraffe sanctuary – since I was there exactly a year prior. A bit of a baby boom is going on at the Manor. In addition to a 1-month old baby born to Kelly last month, another was born to Daisy just two days before I arrived. The timing is particularly ironic as  Daisy had just given birth to a baby exactly the same time a year ago when I was there.  I must be channeling something. At this moment, there are 12 giraffes on the 12-acre private property:  6 adults and 6 babies, the most ever at Giraffe Manor.

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These aren’t just any normal giraffes. They are the endangered Rothschild Giraffes, one of three different subspecies of Giraffes (Maasai and Reticulated are the other two). There are less than 800 Rothschild giraffes in the wild today. Found mainly in Kenya, Rothschild Giraffes are distinguished by others by their lighter patches and lack of markings on their lower legs, appearing as if they are wearing white socks!

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Another change this time around? This was my first time staying in a room in the Garden Manor, built in 2011. While most guests prefer the original Manor for its authenticity, I love the cozy and intimate Garden Manor. Adjacent to the Main Manor,  the Garden Manor is a smaller replica of the Main Manor and it impossible to tell that it is not part of the original structure. I particularly admired the ‘giraffe’ art hanging on the walls of the manor. This time I stayed in Arlene’s Room, a superior room on the 2nd floor with an ensuite bath and shower that was full of period charm, including the antique loo.

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While Arlene’s Room does not have a balcony or terrace to feed the giraffes from its windows, the windows face the main patio where all the action happens below in the morning. Sure enough at 6 a.m. the giraffes walked up with their elegant gait looking up at the windows to see what guests were up to feed them some food (Tip: the giraffes hang out at the Manor for food until about 8 a.m. so it’s important to wake up early to experience breakfast with the giraffes. 7 a.m. is the perfect time to be at breakfast). I have been at Giraffe Manor three times now and the excitement of seeing the giraffes at dawn has not dissipated one bit. It’s my ‘welcome to Kenya’ moment each and every time.

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There are two new accommodations built this year in an expanded section of the garden wing. Eddie and Salma rooms, named after two resident giraffes (as are the other rooms) are superior double rooms. Edd is a ground floor room with its own veranda in the gardens. Featuring stained glass windows framing a King bed, this is a perfect room for two adults but a pull-out sofa accommodates a child as well. Directly above Edd, is the Salma room which features a balcony overlooking the lunch terrace , perfect for an intimate meet and greet with the giraffes in the morning. This room features two twin beds that can be converted into a double with a sofa couch for a child if needed.

Salma Terrace Salma Room Edd bath Edd Room

Most people choose Giraffe Manor for the giraffes and the ‘Out of Africa‘ ambience (the Karen Blixen Suite even features some of her belongings). The food (high tea in particular aside from the Giraffe breakfast) and the warm, hospitable staff also deserves special praise.

Afternoon tea at Giraffe Manor
Afternoon tea at Giraffe Manor

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But another aspect that I admire about Giraffe Manor, perhaps not well known to guests, is their priority to give back to the communities and wildlife in Kenya. A portion of each guest’s hotel night at Giraffe Manor goes to wildlife conservation projects across Kenya. That’s not all.  Giraffe Manor is one of four luxury lodges that make up the The Safari Collection, run by 4th generation Kenyans Mike and Tanya Carr-Hartley.  The Safari Collection runs and avidly supports a few chosen projects in conservation, education and health. I had the privilege to meet Mark Boyd who runs the community and conservation programs during my stay and was impressed by the impact they have made and their priority to have a positive influence on the people and environment in Kenya. To learn more about The Safari Collection’s projects and impact visit here.

Salas Suite Solio Suite Sasaab Suite Solid Lodge

Getting a room at Giraffe Manor is pretty tough, but not impossible. With only 12 rooms total in the two Manors, accommodations are booked over a year in advance.  Booking through The Safari Collection directly or also staying at another of three luxury Safari Collection lodges in the portfolio – Solio Lodge in Laikipia, Sasaab in Samburu and Sala’s Camp in the Masai Mara – may help your chances. Not a bad proposition as they are some of the best lodges in Kenya offering incredible wildlife viewing.

Catch up our previous posts on Giraffe Manor and other reviewed destinations in Kenya.

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Photos courtesy of Jackie Cittone Magid and Giraffe Manor.

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Postcard from the Watergate Hotel, Washington D.C. http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/06/postcard-from-the-watergate-hotel/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/06/postcard-from-the-watergate-hotel/#respond Mon, 06 Nov 2017 18:41:38 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10333 Continued]]> The nation’s capital holds a special place in my heart – it is, after all where I spent four years of undergraduate school. As my college was in the heart of the city, I enjoyed getting to know the neighborhoods of Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Foggy Bottom. It was cool having the IMF, World Bank and the White House only a block from our dorms and professors and lecturers who worked on Capitol Hill or inside the Reagan administration.  The only thing missing then to warrant it a perfect college town was decent restaurants.

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I have been back only twice to Washington D.C. since college but a college reunion weekend in October (coinciding with family weekends of every school in D.C. and a Marathon) gave me the excuse to catch the 3-hour Acela Express from Manhattan on a perfect Fall/Indian Summer weekend. A lot has visibly changed in D.C.: the construction craziness plaguing the city for the last 20 years was gratefully inconspicuous. New neighborhoods, such as Glover Park, have cleaned up and are thriving with hip restaurants and shops. And, the dining scene is hot, hot, hot  (foodies will not be disappointed) with so many more choices than I ever had as a student. Of course, some things haven’t changed: the White House is still there, two blocks from Thurston Hall. But I am not sure I will ever look at it the same again with the current resident in it.

Barcelona Wine Bar in Glover Park
Barcelona Wine Bar in Glover Park

Walking often from Foggy Bottom to Georgetown, I used to pass by the nearby infamous Watergate Hotel (the site of the greatest American crime scene in history — so far). Then, there was no reason for me really to go inside. But ever since the Watergate hotel re-opened in June 2016 after a major design overhaul, I have been looking for an opportunity to walk through those doors. With 2017 marking both the 45th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and 50 years since the Watergate first opened its doors, this was the perfect time.

The Watergate hotel originally opened in March 1967. Designed by Luigi Moretti (a significant influence on the urban design of Rome in the 60s), the hotel was known for its innovative, contemporary style and was the playground for the Washington elite to mingle with Hollywood royalty. Then the Watergate break-in happened on June 17, 1972 which led to the resignation of President Nixon. The Watergate became infamous (and, unbeknownst to many, the Watergate is also where Monica Lewinsky sought refuge after her affair with President Bill Clinton emerged).  After that, the Watergate was never the same. It fell into disrepair with many different hands taking it over and closed in 2010.

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Now, reopened in October 2016 with a new bold look that was created to compliment the existing architecture of the hotel, the Watergate is once again making headlines  with a fresh look and appeal. The new owners, with the help of London-based designer Ron Arad, have re-designed the hotel’s 336 guest rooms and 24 suites, installed a 15-yard indoor swimming pool and a new 12,500 square foot spa and fitness facility. Three new restaurants and bars completes the new redesign: Kingbird restaurant, a contemporary restaurant off the lobby with outdoor seating on the Potomac riverfront; The Next Whisky Bar, a whisky bar off the lobby; and Top of the Gate, an outdoor rooftop bar with 360-views of the Potomac River, Georgetown, the Capital and Washington Monument. Sounds great, right?

Kingbird restaurant indoor swimming pool

Entering the Watergate for the first time, my first impression was a lobby that felt a bit more ‘nightclub’ than lobby. The mid-century design, with its shiny, sculptural metal reception and curved wall of whisky bottles marking the entrance of the whisky bar off the lobby, was created to make a lasting impression. And it is, honestly, pretty cool. But, for me, the whole aesthetic was a bit jarring to my eyes during the daytime. For anyone experiencing a bit too much drink from the night before, sunglasses are essential here in the morning. 

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I did get a kick out of the staff uniforms designed by ‘Mad Men’ costume designer Janie Bryant especially for the hotel.  A bit ‘Mad Men’ with a modern twist. They give a sense of character to the hotel.

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Nearly all the guest rooms feature views of the Potomac River. My Deluxe King room was perfectly comfortable – contemporary and masculine although a bit generic – more tailored it seemed for a business than a leisure traveler. The bathroom, with floor to ceiling marble tile, was spacious and new. The rooms feature a ‘state of the art in room control system’ but for the life of me I could not figure out how to turn the lights on or off.

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There were subtle, clever nods everywhere to the hotel’s history: Room keys featuring ‘No Need To Break In’, pencils with ‘I stole this from the Watergate Hotel’…even a typewriter font on the stationary evoking newspaper copy from the 70’s.

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For conspiracy-seekers, anyone just interested in the Watergate’s past or someone just looking for a one of a kind accommodation, it’s worth checking into the new Scandal Room. On October 20, the Watergate unveiled room 214 to the public – the official ‘room where it happened’. Opened to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the break-in, the room was designed by Lyn Paolo – costume designer of the hit show Scandal (how fitting) and acknowledges its storied past with subtle and not so subtle touches everywhere.

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I took advantage of the incredible weather by grabbing a quick cocktail at the 5th floor rooftop bar Top of the Gate.  With 360 views (including the neighboring Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) and music piping from somewhere, this is the spot to enjoy the sun set over the Potomac. For me, this was the best feature of the Watergate.

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The only minor hitch during my brief overnight stay at the Watergate was the service. While the reception staff was very friendly and courteous at check in and check out, the lack of service during the morning was embarrassing. A dozen people (remember this was family weekend for almost all the colleges so almost every hotel was fully occupied) were piled up waiting at the complimentary coffee station that was empty in the lobby for over 30 minutes waiting for a cup of coffee. Despite repeated requests by many to the front desk, no one came to advise the frustrated and caffeine-deprived guests. It didn’t leave a good lasting impression.

The location of the Watergate has its many advantages. It’s a short walk from both Foggy Bottom and Georgetown. And on the banks of the Potomac, it is a 2-minute from the Rock Creek Park where you can take a jog or walk along the river. I enjoyed waking early to watch people crewing on Potomac – it felt like the world was out on that particularly glorious Sunday morning.  In the evening, it should be noted, it is advisable to take a quick taxi or uber when leaving the Watergate complex. Virginia Avenue can be busy and most restaurants are a short drive away. 

 

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Spotlight on: Romi Howard’s Montreal http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/01/spotlight-on-romi-howards-montreal/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/11/01/spotlight-on-romi-howards-montreal/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:00:42 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10351 Continued]]> Montreal is one of the hottest destinations this year according to almost any list that matters. A weak Canadian dollar, a 375-year celebration, tons of pop-ups, symphony performances galore, not to mention a très hot culinary scene has helped it propel it to the very top of every list.

We asked born and bred Montrealer Romi Howard, Chef of NY-based culinary business Romi’s Table (any foodie must follow her @romistable on Instagram) and frequent contributor to Inviato to share her beloved city with us as well as what makes the Ritz Montreal her preferred place to stay any time she returns. Read on! 

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Tell us about your connection to Montreal. 

I’ve lived in New York City for 20 years now. I met and married a New Yorker. I’ve raised my children here. Ive ran marathons here. I’ve cooked for my clients in this town.IMG_9748

I’m a New Yorker.

But Montreal will always be home. I maintain a home up in Mont Tremblant. I spend three months of the year both in Tremblant and in Montreal. I recently brought my daughter – a high school junior – to come and tour McGill University in Montreal. Walking around the campus, where I took classes myself a long time ago, was a surreal moment. History possibly repeating itself?  I would be thrilled.

Montreal is enjoying a HUGE economic boom right now. The development both in infrastructure, as well as the myriad shops, hotels and restaurants is staggering. There is an energy –  a pulse to the city – that has not been seen in many years. This is largely in part because of the political instability was due to the constant presence of the parti Quebecois, a political party whose platform is dedicated to separating Quebec from the rest of Canada. Now that they seem to be dormant, there is a renewed confidence in the city.

With its 375-year anniversary coinciding with the 150 year anniversary of Canada, NOW is the time to come and experience one of the best cities on the globe. And, of course, we have Justin Trudeau…

As a native Montrealer, can you share what you love so much about your city?

I’m an avid traveler and fortunate enough to have visited many places around the world. But I have to say Montreal as a city encapsulates the best of everything that global cities have to offer. It’s cosmopolitan, friendly, exceptionally cultured and diverse. It’s a city that has a lot of passion. It has the amenities and services of a big North American city but the feel, warmth and sophistication of a European one. The food might just be the best in the world and I do not say that with bias. The nightlife is fantastic. The people are kind, great looking and they know how to work hard and play harder. It’s a winning combination.

But most importantly it’s a big city that functions as a small town. Everybody smiles at you. Everybody knows your name. The warmth of this city ( ironic given how cold the winters can be) is unparalleled.

Do you have any insider tips about what to see in Montreal? Is there a particular time to go?

Tremblant in the Fall
Tremblant in the Fall

Absolutely, the best time to visit and explore Montreal is in the Fall (late September through the end of October). The weather is just right and the city has an energetic feel to it. If you have time, I would suggest driving up to Mont Tremblant for the day and check out the colors on the leaves. Make a night out of it and stay at Hotel Quintessence, a sublime boutique hotel right on Lake Tremblant.  The rooms, each with its own wood burning fireplace, are just heavenly.

Hotel Quintessence
Hotel Quintessence

If you can’t make it up to Tremblant, then I suggest you walk up to the chalet on top of Mont Royal park (designed by Frederick Olmstead some 14 years after he designed Central Park ) and go to the lookout. Here you will find the best panoramic views of the entire city and of course a great snapshot of the fall foliage. The entire Mont Royal Park is not to be missed. In the Winter, you must go to Beaver Lake and rent ice skates. It puts skating at Wolman rink to shame.

Skaters at Lac des Castor in Montreal, Monday Decemder 26, 2011. Normand Blouin / THE GAZETTE)

really good insider tip: check out the lookout on the summit of Westmount (where I happened to grow up) located at the top of Sunnyside avenue. It’s less touristy and the views are just as great as other more popular hiking spots. And you’ll have a chance to walk through the a part of town where many famous Montrealers (Leonard Cohen, past prime ministers of Canada and current prime minister Justin Trudeau) have made their home past and present.

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Another great time to go is toward the end of June. Of course, everyone wants to go for Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend. It’s super glamorous, super packed and super fun (think Art Basel in Miami ) However they do jack up all the pricing in the city, particularly at the hotels so unless you’re a huge Formula 1 aficionado, my suggestion is to go at the end of June when Jazz Fest starts. The weather is fantastic, and the many musicians and acts are just incredible. And with the exception of the headliners, most of the venues, concert stages and acts are free! The festival spills into the city. It’s just a magical time to be in Montreal.

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What are some of your absolute favorite places to shop, visit and eat? 

SHOP 

Downtown
Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy, the Barneys and Bergdorf of Montreal. Often when something is sold out in NYC, you can find it at one of these stores. They are both excellently curated. Once the Four seasons Hotel and Residences opens at the end of 2018, both department stores will be melded into one at the Ogylvie location on Mountain and St. Catherine street.

Abe and Mary’s
A concept clothing stores that also is a restaurant that makes salads to your specifications. A must stop for lunch and shop.

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Les Touilleurs

Laurier Street (ouest)
Standout stores on this upscale shopping street include Lyla (an extension of the Eres store that sells the best under garments, bathing suits and cover ups) and Ça va de soi, a Montreal-based company that has the best cashmere collection uniquely available only in Canada. The best sweaters at excellent price points. Ça va de soi has three locations but this one on Laurier is the original. Not to be missed.

Louwana Creek
A super cool athletic wear store on Laurier Street that doubles as a tea bar in the back.

Les Touilleurs
One of THE BEST kitchen supply/emporiums you’ll ever go to. Do not miss.

Greene avenue is another street in Westmount that is worth exploring. Highlights include Sox box and Oink oink (for the younger set. Once they step inside they’ll never want to leave).

And my favorite art gallery almost anywhere in the world Gallerie de Bellefeuille, a must go for any art aficionado. You will walk out with a phenomenal piece of art. They added a second location on Sherbrooke street in the heart of the golden Mile, steps away from the museum.

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In Old Montreal, you must check out Cahier d’exercises. Akin to Colette in Paris/Dover street in London or Van Ravenstein in Amsterdam.

SSenses on 90 St. Paul St. West. An incredible website (a mini Net a Porter), this is their only retail space. Do not miss.

EAT 

Arthurs
Arthurs

For breakfast/brunch:

Beauties Luncheonette (the original) on 93 Rue Mont-Royal Avenue, home of the Mish-Mash Omelet and Beauty Special since it opened in 1942. DO NOT MISS.

Arthur’s Nosh Bar on 4621 Notre Dame Ouest (the upstart) in Griffin Town serving Jewish classics with a twist.

Steakhouses

Moishes iconic steakhouse on St. Laurence Boulevard.

Gibbys located in a 200-year old stone horse stable in Old Montreal.

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GIBBYS

Other restaurants in no particular order that are a must on the Montreal culinary scene:

Estiatorio Milos. (the original on Park Avenue. This is the first Mediterranean restaurant of Costas Spiliadis empire established in the 70’s)

Le Filet. Great hotspot known for its amazing seafood and ambience. On 219 Mont-Royal Ouest.

Le Serpent. Contemporary industrial-chic Italian bistro with a great bar on 257 Prince Street.

L’Express.  (the original French bistro on Rue St. Denis)
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Leméac.  Iconic, popular gourmet French bistro on Laurier Street.

Damas. modern Syrian/Persian restaurant with exceptional dishes on Van Horne.

Tuck shop/Grinder/Oxy /Bird bar: all on Notre Dame Ouest, a street with tons of foodie haunts.

Joe Beef/Liverpool House/Le Vin Papillon (all from culinary genius Joe McMillan).

Mandy’s salad. Several outposts serving healthy, delicious salads around the city.

Park. Incredible sushi on 378 Victoria Avenue.

Jatoba or Sous Bois For a fun night scene. Sous Bois turns into a club as the night wears on.

 

SEE

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Musee Contemporain Des Beaux Arts (they recently curated the most incredible Chagall exhibit).

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The Botanical gardens /Biodôme /Vélodrome

The Centaur Theatre (check if they have a play at the time )

Old Montreal and the old port where you can rent bicycles or rollerblades (Old Montreal is a little touristy but worth a stroll and ultimately make your way to the port. Montreal has its own ” London eye” situated at the end of the old port. There is also an IMAX theatre).

Ile Notre Dame. The sight of the 1967 World Expo.

Stroll along St. Laurence Boulevard. Start on the corner of Sherbrooke street and make your way north. This is the heart of Montreal. As you head North, you’ll hit some great restaurants, eclectic shopping and ultimately the home design stores. Meander down some the offshoot streets like Prince Arthur and Duluth. You’ll ultimately hit the hipster areas of Mile End and the Plateau. Laurier street and Greene Avenue are also worth strolling.

The Atwater food market right by the Lachine canal. You can rent a bixi bike anywhere in the city and bike right up to it.

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Atwater

Beaver Lake. Walk up one of the paths on Mont Royal to the top of the mountain until you hit Beaver Lake. It is also accessible by car and public transportation. In Winter, you can rent ice skates.

The underground city (but only if you’re there in the Winter. You can virtually get anywhere downtown without having to go outside. It was designed to combat the sometimes devastatingly cold temperatures in Winter time. You can attend McGill and not have to step outside to get to class.)

You’re a serious foodie and chef  – What is unique about Montreal cuisine?

I became a chef and ultimately started @romistable largely in part of the influences of the food scene in Montreal. I can never get enough of it. Montreal takes their food very seriously. And every cuisine is fantastic. For some authentic Montreal dishes, below are my favorites:

Go for a Wolensky’s special at Wilensky’s Light Lunch.First opened in 1932 as a cigar store and barbershop, Wilensky’s luncheonette is a fixture on the Montreal foolscap. It’s  a time warp serving the same signature baloney/salami sandwich for over 80 years, hand-mixed sodas, green paint, stuffed bookshelves…You DO NOT want to miss a Wolenskys special trust me. Ask Richard Dreyfus …

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Montreal is famous for their smoke meat sandwiches. Most will tell you to go to Schwartz’s on St. Laurence bvld. They would not be steering you wrong however my personal favorite is Snowdon Deli. It’s a little out if the way in the sense it’s not in a trendy nor touristy part of town but hands down my favorite smoke meat as well as a myriad of Jewish delicatessen delicacies not to be missed. Been going since I was a child and continue to do so every time I’m home.

Don’t forget Poutine. Nothing better then this local delicacy at this ’50s-style greasy spoon, The Green Spot, with  27 different poutine available ( locals call it the G spot). You can also get it at Frites Alors (several locations ), Au Pied du Cochon (fancy poutine) or La Banquise.

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Eat a Mish Mash omelet or a Beauty’s Special at Beauty’s Luncheonette. One of the most iconic places in Montreal.

Fairmount and/or Saint Viateur for bagels (Coke or Pepsi ) but I give the edge to Sainte Viateur. Try walking in there without salivating just from inhaling the overwhelming aroma of the bagels cooking. Try it.

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You have stayed at the Ritz several times. I know it is a special place for you, why? 

This is no ordinary hotel. The history and lore make it quite unique and special.

It’s here that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton arrived in 1964 and were married in the hotel with two hours notice. It’s here that The Rolling Stones rented out the entire 6th Ritz-Carlton_Hotel,_Montreal,_Luggage_Labelfloor for over a week. It’s here that Sophia Lauren would cook her own pasta in the royal suite. And it’s here where heads of state and celebrators would insist on staying:  Winston Churchill, the Queen of England, Charles de Gaulle, Nixon, Trudeau (senior), David Bowie, the Rolling Stones ….the list is endless.

I love a hotel that still offers proper high tea – here it is served in the Palm Court every day. They have two seatings: 12:30pm and 3:30pm.

The roof top pool is glorious. A must do while you’re staying there

You must have brunch or lunch on the terrace of Maison Boulud. Only place I can think of that has a duck pond. The back terrace ( completely covered) is one of the most iconic spots in Montreal.

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I love how personalized the service is. I think it might be the best service of any hotel I’ve ever stayed at around the world. They go above and beyond.
Veronica calls me prior to our arrival to see what is needed in our rooms. Every single time. There’s nothing she won’t have arranged for us.  Irene at the front desk. The warmest smile. The most solicitous service. Andre who helps us with our bags. The nicest man always willing to accommodate any request.

If you have an event and you need a blowout, get one at the St. James Spa downstairs. Request Hana. She’s the best blowout I’ve ever had.

How has the Ritz changed in the last decade since you stayed there for your wedding?

I was married in 1999 and stayed in the Royal Suite for the entire week leading up to my wedding. So needless to say the Ritz holds a lot of meaning for me. Having said that,FullSizeRender-5 prior to closing its doors to undergo its renovation, the hotel was in need of a major facelift.

In 2012, the Ritz completed a $150 million restoration and renovation and reopened their doors in May of that year. The transformation was perfection. They retained the old world charm that makes the Ritz so special (Palm Court, the Oval Room, entranceway of the hotel) while completely elevating the degree of sophistication. The rooms and bathrooms are exceptionally spacious and the amenities are fantastic. The technology in the rooms is a welcome improvement without making you feel like to can’t figure out how to use it.

Any particular tips you can offer for travelers looking to come to the Ritz?

  • Bathrooms are all same size in all category of rooms except in standard rooms. In standard rooms there are no tubs. They do maintain the double sink though.
  • Some people have preferences of wood vs. carpeted floors. If you are getting connecting rooms, all of them are wood floors only. Non connecting rooms are carpeted.
  • Suites: There are only two Executive Suites (918, 1018) that are corner units with a fireplace and spacious living area. Junior suites are not much bigger then Signature King or Queen (two queen beds) rooms so from a price standpoint, you are better off with a Signature King or Queen room
  • If you are traveling with a family, get two connecting rooms UNLESS your kids are a little older. Then I would suggest getting the 05 (king)/07 (2 queen) combination. They are NOT connecting but they are beside each other and have city views (opposed to the courtyard)  and are exceptionally generous in size. These are the rooms we take as a family. Note: the king room is carpeted while the queen room has wood floors.

Ok, so you love the Ritz. But there must be other places to stay worth checking out in this fabulous city? 

I mentioned before there was a lot of construction. Part of it is a 18-story Four Seasons is being built (opening set for late 2018) around the corner from the Ritz on de la Montagne street on the foot of Mont Royal park, marking its return to Montreal after two decades of absence. In addition to a 163-room hotel, there will be 18 new luxury condos ranging from $4-$20MM and a direct walkway to the 250,000 square foot-luxury Ogilvy/Holt Renfrew department store.

Near both the Ritz and Four Seasons, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel just reopened its doors this July after a $114 million renovation. It’s a massive hotel (over 1,000 rooms) in the commercial district with three restaurants, an indoor pool. I can’t speak for it, but it’s worth mentioning this was the hotel used by John Lennon & Yoko Ono in 1969 for their “peace bed-in”.

If you wan’t old world, St James on Rue St. Jacques in Old Montreal is a good choice. The 61-room hotel is known for eclectic style. 

Sofitel is a popular hotel located downtown very popular with both business travelers and vacationers – it’s sleek and modern in the heart of the Golden Mile.

St Germain (a small 101-room boutique hotel ) is very well appointed. Fantastic price and a great location.

William Gray is a new hotel that opened last Summer 2016. It is housed in two historic 18th century buildings with a modern design inside. I have not been there but a friend who did loved it.

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William Gray
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Just Checked Out: Angama Mara in the Maasai Mara, Kenya http://inviatotravel.com/2017/10/10/just-checked-out-angama-mara-in-the-maasai-mara-kenya/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/10/10/just-checked-out-angama-mara-in-the-maasai-mara-kenya/#respond Tue, 10 Oct 2017 13:06:16 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10259 Continued]]> Just a few days ago, I had the privilege to return to the Maasai Mara, one of the most beautiful and popular national parks in Kenya where the stunning grassy plains seem to go on endlessly and the abundant and varied wildlife seems to appear at every turn of your head. The last time I was in the Mara, I stayed at Mara Plains (one of the amazing safari camps of the Great Plains Conservation portfolio), located on the 30,000 acre Olare Orok conservancy on the Northern part of the Mara.

The Maasai Mara is where one goes to experience the annual migration (the largest migration of animals on the planet) of over 2 million wildebeest and zebra from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Kenya’s Maasai Mara and back. I tried twice, unsuccessfully, to time our safari during this great spectacle but you just can’t predict mother nature. I did get to see many herds though – just not the frantic river crossings one sees on National Geographic.

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This time, I was excited to spend two nights at Angama Mara, a new luxury safari camp that opened in summer 2015 under the experienced hands of Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald (both are formerly of andbeyond, Steve having served as CEO there for 15 years until his departure in 2009). Appearing on almost every new hot list since it opened, Angama has received heaps of praise for bringing a refreshing new approach to the luxury safari experience.

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Angama translates ‘hanging in the air’ in Swahili, aptly named as it is literally perched on an escarpment 6,233 feet above sea level overlooking the Great Rift Valley and the Mara Triangle. Covering over 300 square miles, The Mara Triangle (managed by the Mara Conservancy) makes up one third of the Masai Mara National Reserve, with the Mara River separating it from the rest of the reserve to the East and the Tanzania/Serengeti border just to its south.

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Enjoying the end of a sunset in the Mara Triangle

What I love about this particular area is that it has the lowest density of visitors of anywhere else in the Mara yet possesses tremendous numbers of game grazing on the plains. As only a few lodges are located here, you don’t have to jockey for position with other vehicles during your game drive (we only saw a few others during our entire stay – sometimes none) to see the wildlife.  I viewed herds of buffalo, zebra, giraffes and elephants along with a few lions on just one game drive. And the variety of birds, like the one pictured below who looks like an undertaker, was impressive.  If you want to enjoy the Mara to yourself, this is the spot to do it.

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Angama is one of those places when you first arrive and see the expanse before you from the main deck, it literally takes your breath away. The scenery feels straight out of a scene from the Meryl Streep/Robert Redford film Out of Africa — which is not surprising as many scenes from the film were filmed right in this particular area including not far from where I stood on the deck of the Angama Mara. In fact, the backdrop in the movie poster (the picnic scene in the movie) is on the site of the Angama lodge. Hopeless romantics may request a picnic in the very same spot. Watching the film again after so many years on my return flight home, it was exciting to see on screen a few of the spots I had passed by just the previous day. Fortunately not has much changed in the landscape since the shooting of the film.

Out of Africa movie poster The same location Plaque onsite of the Angama Mara

Angama is essentially split into two camps – a North and South Lodge.  Each have their own reception, pavilion with fitness center and pool and 15 spacious 750-square foot tented suites. We were located on the South Lodge. Each tented suite provides a king-size bed, a sitting area, separate enclosed entry way, and a bath area with twin vanities, a claw-foot tub and large shower. Perched on the edge of the escarpment, each tent offers uninterrupted views of the plains, maximized by floor-to-ceiling glass panels and a massive deck that spans the length of the tent.

North side Tented Suite

As I checked into my tent, I was greeted at the entrance by this cute furry fellow, a hyrax who took residence under my tent. Tents are designed in a contemporary style as one open room to keep the feel light and airy – even the claw foot bath is separated by a simple but stylish folding screen. I loved using the sliding screen doors out to the deck to enjoy the sounds and chill in the air at night (it can get quite warm during the day).  The heated mattress pad on the bed provided an Ahhh moment the second I slipped under the covers.

My tent mate

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From a design standpoint, Angama is not your typical colonial style/Hemingway luxury safari experience you might experience at nearby Mara Plains, Andbeyond Bateleur or Singita Sabora tented camp in Grumeti. The style here is more modern/eclectic with distinctive splashes of Masai red throughout the camp. Everything is meant to be simplistic and uncluttered, with lots of glass panels (the main living/dining area panels open up to create one outdoor/indoor living room) to take in the incredible views. And, after all, that is the main draw here at Angama.

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Meals are mainly served inside, on the deck  or in the private dining room but breakfasts are also offered on morning game drives and you can opt for a family-style bush barbecue in the forest, complete with lanterns. The cuisine at Angama is noteworthy – everything is freshly made, delicious with many options to please anyone. The chefs deserve much praise … as does the warm and friendly staff in general.

Our timing at Angama was ideal as we had the full moon both nights during our stay. It’s a sight not easily forgotten and brings a unique serenity to an otherwise turbulent world these days. Although I missed them, spectacular morning sunrises come full frontal here and should not be missed.  However, I did wake up early enough to watch the hot air balloons get inflated on the valley below and lift off.

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Watching the hot air balloons lift off from my deck
Watching the hot air balloons lift off from my deck

In between game drives, guests can use the fitness center or pool, both located in the pavilion with dead on views of the Mara below. Massages are also available on your tent deck. In the same pavilion, a gift shop offers some wonderful curated items with an adjoining beading studio where you can watch local Maasai women make intricate beaded jewelry. Back at the main public lounging area, there is a tucked away library/private dining room (which also serves well as a conference room) where guests can borrow a book and read up on Denys Finch Hatton or Beryl Markham at their pleasure.

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Agama Beading Studio

 

Images courtesy of Angama Mara while others are our own personal photos. 

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Just Checked Out: Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire http://inviatotravel.com/2017/09/29/just-checked-out-soho-farmhouse-oxfordshire/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/09/29/just-checked-out-soho-farmhouse-oxfordshire/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 11:45:33 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10073 Continued]]> Ahh, the Cotswolds. Featuring some of the most charming and picturesque villages in the world, the 800 square miles of rolling hills (‘wolds’) in South-Central England has been on my ‘to visit’ list for way too long. The late 2015 opening of the Soho Farmhouse (a new format than the eleven global ‘houses’ already under the Soho House brand) in Oxfordshire, one of the six counties in the Cotswolds,  gave me further impetus to visit this bucolic locale sooner rather than later.

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As my older daughter was doing a summer student exchange program in nearby Oxford in June, it was a perfect excuse to visit the Soho Farmhouse with my husband and 10 year old daughter before the whole family met up in London. I booked our reservation nine months out knowing it was nearly impossible to get a reservation here. I was fortunate. Departing from Paris, we took the Eurostar through the Chunnel to London and then met with a driver who took us to the Farmhouse, less than two hour drive there (driving on the other side of the road? no thank you!) from London. It was all so easy.

With about 40 cabins on 100 bucolic acres, the Soho Farmhouse has been enormously popular from the day it opened.  While built as a haven for adults in mind, it has naturally evolved to appeal to both the beautiful, young and single crowd driving to the farm for a weekend from London and for families, particularly those who live in the surrounding area. I really had no idea what to expect other than I was hopeful to get some riding in at the on-site stables.

My ride Handsome fellow!

Upon check-in at the Farmhouse, were were warmly greeted by the friendly staff members at the gatehouse check-in who all looked like they stepped out out of Ralph Lauren ad – everyone was gorgeous!  We were given a quick tour of the farm in one of the BMW i3s on property and checked into our 2-bedroom cabin (#38) where we would be staying for three nights. From the outside, our cabin could have been a replica for the Ingalls farm in Little House of the Prairie (I could envision a young Michael Landon walking around the corner with pile of firewood in his arms). Bikes (the main form of transportation here aside from walking) and wellies, perfectly sized for each of us in advance, were ready and waiting.

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Our pre-sized wells. No need for them during our stay!

But it was the retro shabby-chic cabin itself that won me over, head over wellies. Our large cabin was outfitted with everything you could imagine. The first floor featured a mudroom (complete with blankets, picnic baskets and flashlights – hmmm), a country kitchen stocked with freshly baked bread, granola, cookies as well as goodies in the retro fridge, a living room complete with working vintage record player (which we had fun showing our daughter how to use), cocktail bar and old fashioned wood burning stove, bedroom with bunk-beds and large bath and a patio overlooking the farm. Upstairs featured a massive master bedroom and bathroom to just die for.

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Master Bath
Master Bath

The 40 guest cabins are spaciously dispersed throughout the property. Location-wise, our cabin could not have been more ideally positioned – right in front of pasture with a mare and her few weeks old foal who just arrived at the farm the week prior. Just beyond, more horses and sheep dotted the landscape. Waking up to the sounds, sights and even smells of the countryside as we picked up the fresh delivered milk from our door each morning (thank you, local cows) was just everything.

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As we took our bikes to explore the property on our first day, I could not stop marveling about how beautiful and well designed the Farmhouse property was. It was like Blackberry Farm meets American dude ranch… but distinctly different than any place I have visited.  Flowers were in bloom everywhere we went. And, while it was seemingly very quiet (almost everybody was gathered at the pool on the unusually hot and humid week we were there), there was so much going on.  The multitude of activities and amenities offered is mind-blowing. In our few days there, we only experienced a small sampling of what was offered.

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Each evening, a ‘Whats On’ at the Farmhouse sheet is delivered to your cabin for the following day, including specific fitness and spin classes, special events (such as Meditation with Horses, book readings with authors or garden walks) IMG_9624and nightly screenings. On one day during our stay, nine different fitness classes, two events and two film screenings, including a live transmission of Salome from the National Theatre, were offered. And that was mid week!  More specifics are to be found below.

Aside from the abnormal humidity that hit the region (and most of Europe) that week, our three days at the Soho Farmhouse was simply blissful. We had the opportunity to ride horses, play tennis, exercise, swim, check out two of the on-site restaurants, play a little ping pong and do a little ‘crazy golf’. As we had to see some of the Cotswolds, we also visited some of the towns and dined outside at two amazing pubs. Daylesford Organic, a foodie paradise 15 minutes drive away from the Farmhouse, was well worth the visit. There is nothing else quite like it.

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We loved almost every thing about this ultimate hip countryside getaway.  Some (particularly older locals) may feel it is a bit contrived  – that it is not the ‘authentic’ Cotswolds. And that may be so, but I fell for it hook line and sinker.  More importantly, my hard-to-impress 10 year old daughter claimed it was her favorite stop of our European vacation and she wanted to know if we could move there. Competing against the destinations of Paris, London and Amalfi, that says a lot.  You can’t ask for a better reception than that!

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FARMHOUSE POLICIES

Like other Soho Houses, Farmhouse has Ps and Qs which it asks guests to abide by such as discouraging phone calls or taking photos (I only did for this review, I promise!). Point being, this is a place that embraces privacy and simplicity (dress is casual but the crowd is chic – its not unusual to see a celeb or two in your midst) where you can relax and enjoy your surroundings. Nonetheless, I did see a lot of younger guests taking selfies.

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GETTING THERE

Traveling to the Soho Farmhouse from London is extremely easy. The drive is less than two hours from the city but you can also take a train to Charlbury (about 25 minutes away). For those who prefer to make an entrance or get there quicker, there is a landing site for helicopters.  Once you are at the property, you can order a taxi to take you to dinner at some of the excellent taverns in the towns nearby.

GETTING AROUND

Walking and biking is the preferred mode of transportation here but you can flag a horse and cart sometimes seen on the property as well as one of the reconditioned vintage milk floats and tuk tuks.  Definitely worth taking a ride!

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FACILITIES

There are just too many facilities on the premises to list here but below are a few that we had the opportunity to check out. Some, such as the Farmshack (offering curry on weekends) are Barwell Barn (offering weekend Feast Roasts) were not open during our stay midweek.

Boathouse: The boathouse comprises of a small lake (where you can do boating, sort of), and an indoor and outdoor pool. Note, there are specific hours when children under 13 can use the pool in the morning and late afternoon (on weekends, guests children can swim 9:30-11:30 only).

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Adjoining the boast house is the Cowshed Spa for facial and body treatments, a 22-bike cycling studio, fitness center and exercise class studios. I took a spin ‘rhythm’ class which admittedly was much better than Soul Cycle (the cold towels offered to guests at the end is genius).  The spacious fitness center was one of the nicest I have been to with the latest equipment.

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Teeny Barn: This is the Soho Farmhouse version of a Kids Club but here children ages 2-16 can pick eggs from the resident chickens, mini zip-line, do arts and crafts and more.

Main Barn: The hub of the Soho Farmhouse. Open from 7 am everyday, this is where guests go to drink, eat, relax or enjoy some old-fashioned pursuits such as boules or ping pong. The Mill Room (the pub), Farmshop and Deli (where you can pick up specialty grocery items, pressed juices and milkshakes, coffee, sandwiches and salads), and restaurants are all located here.

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Electric Barn Cinema – Screens new and classic films daily with a kiosk serving cocktails, beer, snacks and ice-cream.  We didn’t get a chance to stop in as we were too busy checking out the local pubs and taverns.

THE CABINS

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Each cabin on the property has its own distinct layout in a retro-chic design (Love the style? You can buy pretty much all the furniture and accessories, conveniently, at the onsite Soho Home boutique). Each cottage comes equipped with everything you can imagine: washer/dryer, toothbrushes, Cowshed bath products, flip flops (which you can take home), even a flat iron, for gods sake!  The only thing it doesn’t come with is air-conditioning. Not ideal when there is a heat wave.

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Soho Home

Our cabin was a 1-bedroom/Bunk Bed set up, ideal for a couple with young children. Cabins are well spread out across the 100-acre property – some in front of creeks, some in front of horse pastures (like ours) and others closer by the Boathouse.

SERVICE

Overall, the staff is extremely friendly and eager to please. Service only fell short at the restaurant at the Main Barn once during our stay where some of the staff seemed overwhelmed (ours forgot about our order and drinks).

FUN ACTIVITIES

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Each day brings a slew of new offerings to guests. It could be cooking workshops and demonstrations, book signings, beer tastings or garden tours. Sadly, we missed them all….just too many other diversions!

Crazy Golf – Soho Farm House’s version of mini-golf, this is a challenging but fun nine-hole course by the horse fields. Most guests, evident by the empty cocktail glasses left behind, play with drinks in hand.

Breakfast and Cocktail Floats – Definitely a must-do while you are here, book ahead when you check in as both are enormously popular. The chef makes anything to order for breakfast.

Horse Rides  – There are 11 gorgeous draft horses at the stable. Private and group hacks and lessons are available. Group rides are based on experience level and on ours we got to post through beautiful meadows and trails off property.  No need to bring riding boots – just bring your wellies!

Breakfast Cocktails

Cooking Classes – The cooking and cocktail (yes!) school offers regular classes and demonstrations as well as private lessons. Next time…

RESTAURANTS

There are several eateries at the Farmhouse. Some, as mentioned above (curries and Sunday Feasts) are only offered on weekends. The Main Barn, Fancy Farm and Comfy Farm offer indoor and outdoor seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pen Yen is a Japanese Grill open Tuesdays through Fridays but not open to children under the age of 13.  This was rather frustrating with our 10 year old as the only option was to eat at the Main Barn (and it is only open to children up to 9 pm only). This can be disappointing for family with a tween like us, particularly if you are still on a U.S. time zone and prefer to eat later. However, we found once we were there, the rules are more relaxed, especially if your child is older and well behaved. As we ate outside the property for two nights, it wasn’t that big of a deal for us but I would have liked to have been able to try Pen Yen!

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GUESTS

Built primarily as an adult getaway, the Soho Farmhouse attracts a young urban clientele who also frequents their member clubs in cities worldwide. But unlike the city clubs, the Farmhouse has been a hit also with families looking for a rural escape with  rich amenities and activities for everyone and lots of land to roam. The farmhouse manages now to offer something for both demographics but is still evolving as it understands the needs and desires of its guests.

Outside The Farmhouse

While there is more than enough amenities and activities to keep you from wanting to wander off property, it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to explore the charming villages and gorgeous countryside. Soho Farmhouse is closest (about 7 miles) to the villages of Chipping Norton and Kingham which is home to the popular Wild Rabbit pub and inn (reviewed here) and Daylesford Organic Farm (who incidentally owns the Wild Rabbit).  We ate dinner one night at nearby gastropub The Chequers Inn in Churchill and lunch at Hollow Bottom Inn in Midway. Both offered a wonderful ambiance, delicious food and were very welcoming to children.

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Daylesford Organic (above) is not your typical organic farm. In addition to the the artisanal restaurants, cookery school, market and shops, various walks of up to five miles are offered around its orchards, fields and rivers. We enjoyed sending a few hours here for lunch and walking around. It’s a foodie heaven with a chic-looking crowd.

We hired Nick Long, an experienced private driver/tour guide who runs the Original Cotswolds Touring Company for a half day to explore beautiful Cotswold villages, each one lovelier than the next. He took us to a few key villages, special sights, driving past poppy fields and meadows of cows and sheep.  We could have easily spent an extra day or two exploring more towns like nearby Oxford and Bath, and checking out antiques stores and pubs.  Still, it was an excellent orientation to the Cotswolds.

All photos by Jackie Magid 

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Postcard From: Nobu Hotel, Ibiza Bay http://inviatotravel.com/2017/09/27/postcard-from-nobu-hotel-ibiza-bay/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/09/27/postcard-from-nobu-hotel-ibiza-bay/#respond Wed, 27 Sep 2017 20:42:31 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10155 Continued]]> Ahh Ibiza… the chic, white Balearic island where music, boho fashion and spectacular seafood is practically a religion. The hip island saw a major boost in tourism this past summer due to Nobu Hotels latest hotel opening in June (other Nobu Hotels can be found in Miami, Las Vegas, Malibu and London with 10 more on the way). I hopped the first plane I could once my kids were off on holiday with their Dad to check out all the buzz about this ‘ultimate playground for grown-ups’.

The Lobby

If a five-star hotel opening is not enough for you to make the 30-minute jaunt from any major Spanish city, then the nightlife attractions are surely worth it as Ibiza has recently taken it up a notch. While the clubs that Ibiza is known for are still going strong and popular with the beautiful young things, sophisticated yet racy cabaret shows are drawing in upscale older crowds.  And, luxury family-friendly beach clubs have just about popped up on every corner of the island appealing to families. Still not enough?   Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic islands and a hippie paradise, is only accessible from Ibiza so there you have it!  #sold

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The Hotel

Taking a page out of DeNiro’s restaurants and movies, the hotel is exactly what you might expect.. effortlessly chic in terms of decor (think lots of white with a mix of soothing shades of blue). Plus a show stopper crowd who goes to Nobu for the scene but appreciates not being seen as no one cares about celebs (everyone is either a celeb or a person who does not put a value on that status).

Lobby Low Res

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The pool is the epicenter of the resort, filled with ridiculously cool European families – music moguls, celebs such as Bruce Springsteen and Bethenny Frankel (not that I am in any way putting her in the same status as Bruce) and Victoria Secret models (I had to sit next to Doutzen Kroes and vowed never to eat again…still working on that).

Pool Deck

There are 152 rooms and suites (1-3 bedroom) in the hotel which either face the main street or the pool/bay. We chose the latter.  I highly recommend the pool/bay view rooms as the view is far more gorgeous, especially at night when all the trees are illuminated. And, frankly it is less noisy.

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Junior Grand Suite

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Key Features

Pool Bar

  • Daily kids club for kids ages 4-14 from 9-4
  • Six Senses Spa
  • John Frieda Hair Salon
  • Regular yoga sessions
  • Juice Bar
  • Adult Pool and Family Pool
  • 4 onsite restaurants and bars including Peyutito, Chamber and Celicioso.
  • The beach. Good To Know: Talamanca Bay is full of seaweed and shallow in depth so you cannot lay on the beach. The hotel brought in sand and created a faux beach (the hotel is slightly raised above the beach) which works well aesthetically.
  • Private yacht rentals

The Beach Clubs not to miss

  • Blue Marlin
  • El Chiringuito Es Cavallet
  • Cala Bonita
  • BEACHOUSE
  • Cotton Beach Club (best sunset views)

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Favorite Eats

Nobu

Amante

La Muella

Maison Le Vrai

Peyotito

La Casita

Hot Nightlife

Heart

Lio

Must-Visit Shops

Galeria Elefante

The Rose

Los Enamorados

 

Review by Inviato contributor Elisa Carbone Brown.

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Just Checked Out: Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky Montana http://inviatotravel.com/2017/08/11/just-checked-lone-mountain-ranch-big-sky-montana/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/08/11/just-checked-lone-mountain-ranch-big-sky-montana/#respond Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:55:54 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10110 Continued]]> For years I have been wanting to take my children to a dude ranch and have an authentic western experience. While I love our summers spent at the beach, the glorious instagram photos of Big Sky and Montana’s landscape had been giving me some serious fear of missing out. There’s a reason why they call it God’s country.

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But Big Sky is not just about scenic beauty and dude ranches. It boosts some of the best skiing trails in the USA, and trout fishing is practically a religion here (Brad Pitt filmed A River Runs Through It here). It’s bragging rights include some famous part-time residents … ever heard of a guy named Tom Brady? Ben Affleck or Bill Gates?

My youngest child Hadley spent a fair amount of time this year in third grade studying National Parks and fell in love with Yellowstone Park. She was desperate to see wildlife up close, so I planned a mother-daughter wild wild west vacation. We donned our cowboy hats, dusted off our boots and headed out to the 100- year old Lone Mountain Ranch over 4th of July week.

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The Ranch

Lone Mountain Ranch (LMR) was originally a cattle ranch and was the first place in Montana to offer electricity, so it is not surprising that wifi is challenged in most areas and there is no phones or televisions in the cabins. They take the word unplugged here to a whole new level and while it took 24 hours to adjust, I ended the week feeling connected to nature and well rested. I survived without CNN!

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While the all-inclusive LMR does not offer some of the luxurious trimmings (such as room service or spa) that you would find at, say, The Ranch at Rock Creek or Brush Creek Ranch, it is accessible via a direct flight from the east coast and runs at half the cost (the other two lodges can run well over 5K a day for a family of 4). Additionally, LMR is a recent addition to the National Geographic Unique Lodges of The World, offering daily private tours of Yellowstone National Park with the best guides in the world. It is also an Orris-Endorsed fly-fishing lodge.

Cabins

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There are 27 cabins, ranging from 1-6 bedrooms, to choose from on the property. In 2016, the ranch underwent a renovation that is still taking place in the off-season (the ranch closes Oct/Nov and April/May). We were lucky enough to stay in Bitterroot, one of the renovated one-bedroom cabins.

I personally loved the Pendleton accent throws and pillows as well as the collage of Montana license plates that served as wall art. The difference between renovated and older cabins is night and day so request in advance for a freshly-renovated cabin.

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Cuisine

I have never stayed at an all-inclusive property that had decent food which is why I tend to avoid them at all costs, but LMR’s Horn and Cantle farm-to-table restaurant delivered at every meal. While Montana is known for its meat dishes, there were plenty of options for vegetarian and vegan guests.

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Horn and Cantle restaurant

The Saloon on property was a nice spot for an after dinner drink while the children made s’mores around the campfire.

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After a few days into the trip, the same rotating menus began to lose their luster so we decided to leave the property and check out Big Sky’s food scene. We absolutely adored our meals at Lotus Pad (Asian) and Ousel and Spur for pizza. 

Amenities/Activities

There is an endless list of activities (horseback riding, archery, whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, mountain biking and so forth) to do at LMR and the outlying area. A kids club is open from 9-4 for younger kids, allowing you to do some activities on your own as well.  See tips below for recommendations.

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The daily room rate at Lone Mountain Ranch includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks; non-alcoholic beverages and most activities on property. White water rafting, fly fishing and off property hikes are extra. The ranch provides complimentary transportation in their new Suburbans or Mercedes Sprinters to/from the Bozeman Airport to the property, about an hour drive.

Review by Elisa Carbone Brown

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Ivory Only Belongs On Elephants http://inviatotravel.com/2017/08/04/ivory-only-belongs-on-elephants/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/08/04/ivory-only-belongs-on-elephants/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 19:13:03 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=10079 Continued]]> Four years ago I witnessed my first, and what I hoped my last, Ivory Crush. I had the privilege then of attending a private event in Denver where six tons of ivory – representing what once was about 1,000 elephants – were to be crushed. This was ivory confiscated over the years from illegal wildlife trading, now the 4th most lucrative and corrupt organized business in the world.

The purpose of this and other crushes held world-wide (270 tons of ivory have been crushed to date in 22 countries), aside from honoring and mourning the fallen victims, is to send a global message that this brutal business will not be tolerated. That these elephants did not die in vain. Witnessing all these pieces of ivory displayed – once living breathing elephants – broke my heart. It was an emotionally draining day.

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Ivory Crush 2013

On my flight home from that event, I wrote a post ‘The Trip That Crushed Me’ which subsequently and unexpectedly went viral. My intention then was to educate people about what was happening, why this crisis should matter to them and how each and every person has the power to help end the aimless slaughter of elephants. If you want to know what you as an individual can do to make a difference, please give it a read.

Yesterday, I attended another Ivory Crush – my third held in the United States. The prior one was held in Times Square in 2015 where one ton of ivory was crushed. This one was held in Central Park where another two tons of ivory confiscated since 2014 were destroyed. All of the ivory was discovered due to the admiral undercover work of 300 New York officers – 95% of it from New York City! And half of it from one store in particular, Metropolitan Fine Arts and Antiques right on 57th Street off of 5th Avenue. Over $4.5MM of ivory was discovered and confiscated in that location. The fact that this store is still open, despite the penalties the owners had to pay, infuriates me.

One piece confiscated from the Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques store in Midtown
One piece confiscated from the Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques store in Midtown. How many elephants died for this?

The ivory displayed at the event yesterday were once 100 or more elephants. Babies, juveniles and mothers (poachers don’t discriminate) that were either gunned down, speared or poisoned for their tusks. Even a measly inch of ivory. Most of the 200+ orphans that have been rescued at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an incredible wildlife conservation organization and sanctuary for orphaned elephants in Kenya, are victims themselves of the ivory trade. They arrive traumatized, having watched the brutal murder of their mothers and other members of their herd. Some, despite heroic efforts, do not recover from their loss.

A few of the orphans from the DSWT in Kenya
A few of the orphans from the DSWT in Kenya

The ivory on display yesterday would be worth over $8MM on the black market.  As I walked past table of endless ivory trinkets, the word consistently mentioned by speakers before the ivory was destroyed came instantly to mind. Disgusting. There was nothing pretty about these intricately carved statues, jewelry and trinkets. I picked one up to personally bring to the crusher (it was probably valued at a few thousand dollars). All I saw was a ghost of a beautiful, intelligent and peaceful animal that was killed to make that pathetic carving.

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Since the first crush I attended, so much progress has been made in the U.S. in the battle to safeguard elephants from the poaching crisis. While the global ivory trade was banned in 1990, the illegal industry has thrived illegally due to the insatiable demand for ivory from a growing middle class in Asia. In the U.S., the ivory trade is banned and loopholes state to state have been tightened as individual states such as New York, California New Jersey and Hawaii have enacted their own statewide bans.  This is important as the United States is the 2nd largest importer of ivory and New York State is the largest state. The bans are making an impact. The ivory displayed today are from the largest ivory busts in NY State history.

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But the fight is way from over. In the last seven years alone, the African elephant population has dwindled 30% to an estimated 350,000 today. Almost 100 elephants a day, or 35,000 elephants a year are killed for their ivory. In addition to poaching, elephants also face the daunting challenges of worsening droughts (climate change is real), human population growth and dwindling habitats, all escalating human-wildlife conflicts. They are not the only ones by the way: tigers, lions, rhino, wild horses, pangolin and so many other treasured species are at the risk of extinction at our hands.

Two jumbos observed at a watering hole on my last trip to Kenya
Two gorgeous jumbos observed at a watering hole on my last trip to Kenya

I, like so many others, remain hopeful and committed to endlessly fight for these majestic elephants – the most iconic, the largest and most intelligent animal on the planet.  It is truly a battle against good and evil. And I believe good will ultimately prevail.

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With some of the orphans at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Visit dswt.org to foster an orphan!

 

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Just Checked Out: Le Saint Hotel, Paris http://inviatotravel.com/2017/07/31/just-checked-out-le-saint-hotel-paris/ http://inviatotravel.com/2017/07/31/just-checked-out-le-saint-hotel-paris/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 15:54:50 +0000 http://inviatotravel.com/?p=9998 Continued]]> I am definitively a Left Bank lady. Since I was a college student doing a semester abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris (eons ago), I have always felt most comfortable navigating the quaint streets of St. Germain than any other arrondissement. Like an old favorite sweater, St. Germain just feels comfortable.  Each time I return, I love to just stroll around revisiting favorite boutiques, bistros and parks (some sadly gone, others exactly as they were) and discovering new ones.

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Every once in a while, I am tempted to stay in a new locale such as the hip Marais or chic Faubourg St. Honoré. But then, I always change my mind.  I prefer to stay in the neighborhood that feels like a home away from home, even though the challenge of finding a place with larger than post-card stamp accommodations has often left me frustrated.

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The last time I was in Paris with my 10-year old daughter (see an older post Paris with a Tween) and strolling around, I passed by the quiet street of Rue du Pre aux Clercs and a beautiful flower-adorned facade of a hotel I had never seen before. I took a picture (below) for future note.

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Photo I took in 2013 of Hotel Saint Vincent now Le Saint

I was pleasantly surprised to read sometime last year that the owner, Bertrand Plasmans, had also purchased the two adjoining hotels on both sides and merged the three entities as one address, Hôtel Le Saint, in January 2016. The timing was perfect to check out this ‘old/new’ address out as I planned a long weekend in Paris with my younger daughter for a repeat mommy-daughter trip.

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The Saint identifies itself as an intimate property of 54 rooms and suites decorated in the style of an elegant Parisian family home. Bertrand Plasmas, also the decorator and director who lives in St. Germain, has painstakingly chosen every fabric, antique and furniture for Le Saint, most from neighborhood merchants. As such, the hotel embraces a very distinct Left Bank personality welcoming to travelers and locals alike.

Spanning from the corner of Rue de l’Université to the middle of Rue du Pré aux Clercs, there is no denying from the outside that this is a beautiful hotel. The flowers adorning the windows are even more abundant than when I passed by last time, along with the classic shutters flanking the tall French windows to all the rooms. A few small tables are now positioned outside for those who want to enjoy a cafe or cocktail during good weather.

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Internally, Le Saint did not disappoint. Even though it is now operating as one hotel, you can still see the distinction of the former three hotels which in my view lends to its charm. On the corner (the former Lenox Hotel) is the jewel-toned Kult restaurant and lounge, while on the other end is a more Provencal-style lobby with a grand limestone fireplace (I imagine it is a perfect place to lounge on a cold winter day). Flanking the two ends is the small but welcoming reception desk.

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If Monsieur Plasmans sought to achieve this as a distinctive hotel in style of an elegant family home, he IMG_9349succeeded. If you are more into modern and trendy hotels, you won’t like it here. But if you want a place that is authentic, freshly renovated top to bottom with a sharp attention to detail, Le Saint deserves a look.

From old-style room keys (no electronic cards here), fresh flowers in your room (you can pick your own in the lobby or they will create a bouquet for you) to the hand-selected fabrics, materials and fixtures, you are in old-world Paris. But don’t confuse old world to mean outdated. When the hotels were combined, a complete overhaul and neo 19th century renovation ensures guests of all the modern conveniences they could want.

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Location-wise, I could not imagine a more ideal base to be with all my favorite haunts no more than a 10 minute walk away (see a list of them below and in our Paris City Guide). Le Saint is conveniently situated a few minutes walk from Boulevard St. Germain (and equi-distant to two metro stations – St. Germain, Rue du Bac) and the Luxembourg Gardens on one side, the Seine and the Louvre/Tuileries directly across from it, and Musee D’Orsay to its left. A local neighborhood map created exclusively for Le Saint guests came in extra handy with some great new places I would never had otherwise known about.

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Complimentary bikes at the front of the hotel make it easy for guests to explore further on their own. And while there is a small fitness center in the hotel, I would eschew it for a scenic jog along the Seine. For any of you with a teen, a new Golden Goose store is just around the corner (embrace or avoid). While the hotel is in the heart of St. Germain, it is on a very quiet street. After a long day enduring crowds, I welcomed the serenity of this sanctuary with open arms.

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During our stay in June, the hotel was completely full with a nice mix of guests. While many were Americans (couples and families), we met a few locals who regularly came by Kult for breakfast or coffee. There were also some very stylishly dressed guests staying there for Men’s Fashion Week.

The staff couldn’t be more hospitable and were refreshingly gracious and friendly during our stay. My husband was committed to finding a place to play tennis with a pro, no easy feat to find in Paris where the  few tennis clubs around are private. The staff met to the challenge who found us a terrific pro and court time in Luxembourg Gardens (who knew!). Best, I had a very happy husband.IMG_9284

We had the opportunity to meet the amiable owner during our stay who often can be found greeting guests and making sure everything is in its perfect place. Monsieur Plasmas takes great pride in his hotel, deservedly so, and happy to give guests a bit of history behind the hotels as well as local neighborhood tips.

The Rooms

There are 54 rooms throughout the five-floor hotel – one suite with a private terrace, 10 junior suites and 43 rooms. The 43 rooms are distinguished in size as Classic (most interior courtyard rooms), Prestige and Superior. About half of the rooms have wood floors, while others are carpeted so if you have a preference, ask ahead of time.

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While it is one hotel now, there are still three elevator banks accessing guest rooms. The first section (rooms beginning with 1-4), formerly the Hotel Lenox, is closest to Rue de l’Université.  The second section (what was Hotel St. Vincent) is accessed through the middle elevator (rooms beginning 5-7). The third section (rooms beginning with 8-12) is the former Hotel St. Thomas Aquin which has a Provencal-style sitting area with fireplace. These are the more traditional style rooms for guests who prefer a more traditional style. Unlike the other two sections, less physical construction was done here during renovations so rooms tend to be smaller than the other sections.

I stayed in the 1st section in a Junior Suite #304 which I requested based upon a photo I had seen on Instagram. Just as depicted in the photo, our suite was beautiful with large windows looking over the Rue du Pre-aux-Clercs, plenty of space (Although we were three and the suite accommodated a small cot, I would recommend it for two people) with a separate water closet from the bathroom. The bathroom, tiled attractively in a gray marble, was modern and light (thanks to a full window) although a bit smaller than some of the other baths I saw in other Junior Suites.

Our Junior Suite #304
Our Junior Suite #304

I had the opportunity to visit a few other rooms in the other categories. Some rooms have lower ceilings than others (particularly on the first floor or the top floor)and vary in size. The Junior Suites are my personal favorites, especially the corner suites, as they are the most spacious. For families, I recommend the Junior Suite combination #302 or #402 (corner suite) connecting to #303 or #404. These are the brightest rooms and have particularly spacious baths.

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Suite with Terrace

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The owner personally supervised the renovation of all the  rooms (I am told he presided over every fabric, paint color and hardware choice). All are decorated in a universal Parisian style but in six different ambiances – blending varying combinations of Japanese, English and neoclassical. Beautiful black and white prints by photographer and artist Pierre-Elie de Pibrac commissioned for Le Saint give many of the rooms a whimsical modern touch, as it did ours.

The Junior Suites are refreshingly spacious for left bank standards. I particularly appreciated the fresh cut flowers and daily local handmade chocolates on our bedside.

Restaurant

Open daily from 7 am to 1 am, the stylish and attractive Kult serves as Le Saint’s onsite restaurant, cafe and bar. Breakfast, which was included in our rate, comprised a small but delicious buffet of hot and cold items as well as anything you would like to order off the menu. I also liked coming here at the end of the day for a cocktail.

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Other

A hammam, small exercise room and treatment room are offered in the basement but this is not the focus of the hotel. Best to walk or jog along the Seine, which is so close by. Or better yet, borrow one of the complimentary bikes conveniently place at the entrance of the hotel, a popular choice among guests!

I instantly fell in love with Le Saint the moment I stepped through its doors. Simply put, it has a lot of soul. The combination of a warm welcoming staff, beautiful interiors (and spacious suites) and a quintessential location is compelling. This may be my new home away from home.

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Revisiting some favorite Paris haunts and discovering new ones

Although our visit to paris was for a brief three nights, it was enough time to revisit some of my favorite spots. Chez Julien, still pretty as ever with some of the best people -watching, was a disappointment this time. Short-staffed and packed (more tables are outside now than inside during good weather), the service was awful.  I would still go back and give it a try, but not on a Saturday night.  Relais d’Entrecôte, around corner from hotel on 20 Rue Saint-Benoit, serves a good steak frites experience although I am sure there are better, it is convenient, quick and always a hit with the kids. Cafe Marly, inside the courtyard of the Louvre, is still one of my favorites for breakfast or lunch (request a table on the patio overlooking Pyramid). Sushi is he menu! Breizh, a Marais stronghold for crepes, is still going strong and rezzies are a must. It’s a perfect stop for lunch before battling the crowds in the Marais.

View from Cafe Marly
View from Cafe Marly

We also discovered two new spots we loved. Daroco, a new trattoria in the former Jean Paul Gauthier boutique, serves amazing focaccia and truffle pizza. Eggs & Co, not far from the hotel, is a great spot to know when you are craving a classic American breakfast. Walk in only, go around 10 am to avoid waiting in a  queue.

Aside from food: The newly opened Le Grand Musée de Parfum, housed in a 19th-century mansion across from the Bristol on 73 Rue Faubourg, just opened in December . It’s a unique and wonderful sensory experience over three floors that was a nice alternative to traditional museums. Even my husband, essentially dragged there, approved. Merci, the concept store on 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, never disappoints. I always stop by Jamin Peutsch to check out their creative, hand-made bags and never leave empty handed.

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For any first timer new to Paris, Bateaux Vedettes, which departs hourly from the Pont Neuf,  is still my favorite way to go to show off the city. Get a ticket in advance and go for 10:15 p.m. cruise to make sure you are perfectly situated in front of the Eiffel Tower when it starts sparkling. It’s a sight to behold that never gets old.

But for the most part, I am happiest with no particular itinerary and can aimlessly walk through the streets of the Left Bank. A special map created for Le Saint guests (available at the front desk) of 60 unique spots in the St. Germain kept us intrigued. We found some really cool places we would never have discovered such as Magasin Sennelier (a tiny store providing art supplies since 1887 on 3 Quai Voltaire), Buly 1803 (a gorgeous 1803 pharmacy providing all sorts of special body care products in beautiful packages on 6 Rue Bonaparte) and Librairie Alain Brieux on 48 Rue Jacob that would fit right in a Harry Potter film with all sorts of potions, books and artifacts.

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Many people have asked me if we felt safe while we were in Paris. With recent terrorism incidents in London and Paris, it is understandable to be a bit nervous. We couldn’t have felt more safe during our visit. The weather was beautiful and it seemed like everyone was out on banks of Seine. The restaurants were full. We hung out late, in a large crowd,  at night watching street performers in front of Notre Dame. While admittedly I kept my family close and was a little on edge, it dissipated quickly. People were enjoying themselves, as they should, in the City of Lights.

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