An occupational hazard of planning other people’s travel is that one does occasionally become almost numb to how beautiful the actual experience can be. This was a case in point after 18 months of pandemic related cancelations, reshuffles, pivots and night terrors over clients’ testing requirements, ever changing entrance requirements, mask mandates and last minute flight delays. So I did something new, something revolutionary and something I haven’t done in over 5 years – I took a true family vacation.
Having collaborated with two colleagues to cover each and every client need while I was unplugged, after multiple conference calls and e-meetings to assure that every eventuality was covered, I put on an actual “out of office” reply and stepped into United’s amazing Polaris product for an eight hour nap. We emerged into ethereal sunlight, with lush tropical greens and cool ocean blues so vivid that it all almost seemed fake.
We began our trip with two nights at the Four Seasons Ko’Olina in Oahu. This is my recommendation for most travelers to Hawaii – having a couple of days as a springboard to adjust to the time difference in the lap of luxury just makes good sense, but more importantly, getting to experience the awe-inspiring memorial at Pearl Harbor is an important part of the Hawaiian experience. We toured with a private guide from Blue Hawaii who helped make our time at the memorial even more interactive, and followed it up with a city tour, a trip to the King’s Palace, and a sneaky stop for the best hidden shaved ice spot the city has to offer.
Our next stop was Maui, where we lived like celebrities in an over the top private residence at the Andaz Maui in Wailea. This three bedroom villa had a balcony that framed out some of the most epic sunsets any of us had ever seen. During our time in Maui we toured the Road to Hana with Kellen of Local Maui Tours and surfed the waves on black sand beaches and cliff jumped into secluded waterfall ponds, enjoyed a magnificent snorkel charter at the crater of Molokini with Trilogy and devoured exquisite dinners every single night. We fell in love with Maui!
We ended our trip on the Garden Isle of Kauai, where breathtaking cliffs overlooked the ocean at our private home (with plunge pool) on the 15th hole at Timers Kauai. Our private charter with Makana Tours blew our minds when we pulled up next to several pods of dolphins who put on quite a show just for us. We enjoyed some recreation and relaxation at the pool, spa and on the links – and couldn’t get enough of the lush tropical views from every angle.
Not to get too meta, but there’s something truly fantastic about actually experiencing a trip that you’ve planned countless times for other people, and actually vacationing (vs working furtively from my phone while the rest of my family enjoys leisure time) was a crucial reminder of why I love designing travel and being trusted with my clients most valuable memories.
We recently had an opportunity to check out Austin’s buzzy new Proper Hotel – and fell instantly head over heels for this super chic trendy boutique hotel in the heart of the downtown.
This mini skyscraper offers all the amenities of a destination resort seamlessly integrated into 32 stories of compact luxury. From the understated entrance that feels like you’re entering a secret club to the blonde wood, black leather and subtle Texas elements winking around every corner, the vibes of this hotel have a total sense of place while still making you feel that you’re staying at the coolest spot in town.
Room decor is eclectic-cozy, with inviting beds and great touches including a tricked out mini-bar with Nespresso machines, vintage style Vifa speakers and streaming AppleTv in every room. But who has time to stay in the room when the rooftop pool beckons?
By 11 AM we were waist deep in the cool water overlooking the city skyline, sipping craft margaritas and chatting up our new super cool friends made just moments before at the bar. The feeling of community is pervasive, and before we knew it hours had slipped away and it was time for our outrageously delicious lunch at La Piscina – outstanding guac, bacon-wrapped filet fajitas (hello? where have you been all my life) and mas margaritas which ultimately required a disco nap before we could pull it together for dinner.
The Proper has kindly soundtracked your experience throughout the property, so as you drift from Goldie’s Sunken Bar the tinkling jazz escorts you out and down the hall to The Peacock’s welcoming Mediterranean aromas. Had we more time we would have loved to check out the deluxe spa and fitness center – but it’s good to have a reason to come back!
I think it’s ok to admit that I didn’t know what to expect when we booked a last minute family getaway to Nemacolin.
There’s this disconnect – first of all, it’s near Pittsburgh? But it’s an expansive property encompassing a wildlife preserve and multiple golf courses? And also it’s art focused and kind of based on Paris and a bit like a British hunting lodge but also there is a Frank Lloyd Wright building and they filmed the last season of The Bachelor there?
I couldn’t envision it, but having been this week and experienced pretty much everything this amazing jewel has to offer let me be the first to tell you – this spot is complete luxury and you should get there ASAP.
Last minute summer getaway for our multi-generational family with a teen, two adults and two grandparents. However this resort is equally suitable for a romantic weekend, a wellness break, a golf trip or for multiple families traveling together. Let me elaborate.
You arrive into Nemacolin after driving through the rolling hills of the Pennsylvania countryside, and pull into the sweeping circular driveway of the very aptly named Chateau Lafayette – modeled after the Ritz Paris and featuring sweeping views of the mountains in the distance. It’s hard to put into words exactly how on point the Chateau is – is it the glittering chandeliers, or the gilt edges all around you, or the soaring high ceilings or maybe it’s the delicate scent of fresh pear and fig in the air? I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s completely transformative.
This grandeur is not the only option for your stay – another option is their more midrange Lodge – which is styled as a kind of English fox hunt manor, complete with little corner seating areas featuring overstuffed chairs, chess tables and curated bookshelves surrounding you. The Chateau and Lodge give best access to the resort pool complex, restaurants and spa.
The resort also offers multiple townhouses that have two bedrooms upstairs, a well appointed kitchen, cozy living room and back patio. What’s special about the townhomes is that they are located across from the lion and tiger habitats – you can actually see them from the bedrooms and hear them roaring overnight which is absolutely fantastical. There are larger estate homes with multiple bedrooms, outfitted with high end appliances and bathrooms and located throughout the 5000 acre property.
And then, what is in my opinion the crown jewel for accommodations, Falling Rock – designed in a modern style by an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright (the building is a nod to his best-known home, Falling Water, which is also about 15 minutes away from Nemacolin). Falling Rock features oversize, butler service suites with a private infinity pool exclusive to guests staying there, and views of the Mystic golf course.
There aren’t words to describe the captivating artwork that peeks out around every corner. Each choice is whimsical and winky – and they all set the tone for your stay being one of wonder. Even within the main buildings, walking between the Chateau and the Lodge are innumerable opportunities to view captivating artwork, the “pantry” for light grocery shopping and caffeinated beverages, fabulous retail outlets, an arcade, ice cream shoppe, and several of their signature restaurants. The views are stunning in every direction – to the left might be a collection of private cars, and to the right a pastoral scene of donkeys and sheep. Or off in the distance, golfers tee off on pristine greens while a group of 9 year old boys giggle as they fish in the pond you are walking by on your way to visit the black bear. Again, it’s almost indescribable but together it all captivates the senses in the best possible way.
It felt like we did EVERYTHING available but upon reviewing the website, we actually might not have scratched the surface. We enjoyed: two rounds of golf (one on each course), a full spa day, zip lining, ropes course, visiting the Wildlife Habitats, checking out the classic cars and the airplane hangar, skeet shooting, hatchet throwing, enjoying the artwork installations in the Lodge, ice cream at PJ’s, drinks at the Chateau lobby bar by the fireplace, mini golf, hanging at the pool, and the carousel.
What I’d do next time: escorted art tour of the grounds, visiting the Holistic Wellness center, the wildlife safari, paintball, swing analysis at the Golf Academy, cosmic bowling and a paint and sip class.
The Food (!):
Breakfast (included with our Virtuoso amenities) served at Aqueous at Falling Rock, over looking the golf course. Father in law proclaims – the best French toast he has ever had. I was so in love with the stuffed avocado with poached egg that I ate it four mornings in a row. Rockwells – their signature steakhouse, total 21 Club vibe complete with extensive whiskey menu, wine cellar and cigar shop located only a few steps away. Baratollo’s – brick oven pizzeria overlooking the scenic mountains. Aqueous by night serves seafood specialties. And the crowning glory is their Lautrec fine dining option – their “leap of faith” seven course tasting menu with wine pairing defied all expectations. The service and food were completely over the top and exquisite.
Can’t conclude without a nod to the spa – housed in a cozy modern lodge across from the Lodge, we thoroughly enjoyed our services as one would expect at a five star resort – therapists were friendly and skilled and the facilities were cloistered and soothing. What really shined above and beyond were the facilities – eucalyptus hot steam, salt rock sauna and gorgeous whirlpool (segregated by gender for max privacy) and the relaxation room was just insane. Make a reservation for lunch and be escorted from your massage to this tranquil space that feels like an enchanted stone cottage with a large fireplace in the middle. Once you’re well settled in a cushy chaise, the staff brings over a tray table and serves you lunch (and if you’re very smart, a glass of bubbly) so that you can eat while reclining. The absolute height of decadence. We didn’t have time to check out their holistic healing center, focusing on acupuncture, bodywork, cryotherapy and infrared experiences. That will be a must do upon our next visit.
THE FINAL WORD:
To call our last minute escape to Nemacolin a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. We were all completely charmed and impressed by the experience, the resort and the staff. I must add that the story of the Hardy family (owners and curators of the resort) is interwoven throughout your stay – their pride and attention to detail is top notch and almost every employee we came into contact with shared little snippets on the history and development of their little corner of paradise. I’ll end on this note – we’ve taken my teenager all over the world, and there almost always come a point in the vacation where he uses the dreaded B word – in a startling turn of events that surprised all of us (even him) the world bored never crossed his lips or mind – not even once. We were all sorry to leave, and that’s the mark of a great vacation!
In case you ever wonder what it looks like when your travel advisor goes on a scouting trip, picture two of us parked in front of the fifth resort of the day, one frantically scribbling down notes about the amazing views and epic tuna we just scarfed down while the other is sweet talking a yacht broker into adding an extra day for his clients’ charter next month. The floor of the car is strewn with water bottles, charging cables and Starbucks napkins (because yes, even in Cabo we still needed our fuel), and our little day bags are crammed to the gills with business cards, hand sanitizer, Advil (too much tequila) and band aids (too much walking). We aren’t sure whether our next stop is north or south, and we each have over 40 new emails to attend to in our inboxes. THIS is what a travel advisor “FAM” (familiarization trip) looks like when done properly.
Over the last week of March, Mauricio and I explored 18 of the most luxurious properties along the Cabo coast. As with our previous explorations, the images captured are all courtesy of his excellent eye…
Adults only at le Blanc – this chic but playful resort is glam from the moment you pull up and enter the expansive white marble lobby. The super cool pool cabanas, luxurious spa and Instagrammable views make this resort a perfect destination for bachelor/ette parties, mother/daughter spa weekends or a quick couples getaway.
Baja California – separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California – everywhere you look, the glittering Sea of Cortez provides amazing water color and temperatures with shades of turquoise, emerald, azure and glassine blues that you wouldn’t envision in the west coast and close to the Pacific
Chileno Bay, an Auberge Resort – Vibes for days – super young, on trend and stunning with an expansive multilevel infinity pool, this resort is perfect for a lively and social escape with family or friends. Family friendly – kids and teens areas are inviting, as is their private screening room. Bonuses of this resort – cool multi bedroom units with plunge pools, BBQs and kitchens – perfect for extended stays! Private access point to one of the most coveted public swimmable beaches on the coast, and uests can also access the most “exclusive” golf course in the area, only available to guests and residences of the Chileno Bay resort community.
Drivable – we were so happy to rent a car and drive around, it enabled us to experience some local flavor, do some shopping, and get that all important Starbucks boost!
Esperanza, an Auberge resort – Nestled in between two scenic bluffs on the Baja peninsula, this gem boasts some of the best views, secluded private beach and outstanding food on the coast. Choose from 59 ocean-view casitas and suites with private terraces to enjoy sweeping ocean vistas. Pro tip: make sure to enjoy some fresh off the boat tuna as you overlook some of the most incredible views on the coast at Cocina Del Mar.
Four Seasons Resort at Costa Palmas. This stunning resort (located in a new development 45 minutes north of San José Airport) envelops you in legendary Four Seasons comfort and service in a desert modern style with an expansive beach and great room decor. Their spa, gym and tennis provide for more comforts or activity while you can also indulge in the sumptuous delicacies offered at restaurants around the property.
Grand Velas – legendary for all inclusive luxury, the Velas Los Cabos is no exception. The rooms are simply amazing in terms of their comfort level, size and views. The food defies every stereotype of an all Inclusive resort you may harbor. Their teen club is designed to make young adults feel at their most glorious maturity level; and their “baby concierge” program means that even parents of the tiniest tots can arrive with basically no gear and still be all hooked up. We adored every moment of our time here!
Hilton Los Cabos – inviting, easy and adorable are great ways to describe this resort with a friendly price point, outstanding service level and a lovely swimmable beach. The rooms are well sized and clean with fabulous views, and the resort itself is a manageable size (compared with some of the more expansive properties along the strip, the Hilton is a great option for those that don’t want to walk 5-10 minutes to traverse from the beach. The open air lobby, fun beach bar and eager to please staff made this resort stand out to us as a winner!
Incredible variety to choose from in terms of resort options – work with your travel advisor to design the perfect vacation for your desires. Whether it’s romance, family, friends, or fun, there’s a perfect fit for every trip!
JW Marriott – this expansive resort in modern style has a big social vibe, perfect for groups and weddings and features a variety of stunning pools with amazing views, tons of options for great dining and youthful, fun atmosphere (note that the beach here is not swimmable).
Kids Rule at the Hyatt Ziva – their brand stands for family friendly, all inclusive experience – and the Ziva Los Cabos features it all – with multiple pools, a small water park, multiple dining options and their famous kidZ club, your whole family can enjoy the sweeping views and a fantastic vacation!
Las Ventanas el Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort – arguably the most romantic of the resorts we visited, the scenery here was so other worldly it felt as if we had wandered onto a movie set (cue the honeymooners on horseback riding along the beach – for real!). This elegant property is intimate (with only about 80 rooms) and ultra-luxurious. While all of their rooms were magnificent, we were especially blown away by their villas – with retractable glass walls in both bedroom and living areas, an integrated infinity pool with unbeatable ocean views and an expansive terrace, and full time butler, you’d be hard pressed to leave to explore the rest of the resort. This is one spot where pictures really do more justice than words!
Montage Los Cabos – this mountain-meets-sea cove was arguably the best of the swimmable beaches we enjoyed on our trip. With a distinctly mediterranean coastal view featuring powdery sand and turquoise waters, we were impressed by the view, and also the “desert chic” aesthetic, a spectacular set of infinity pools overlooking the cove and fabulous food outlets.
Nobu – the feeling of zen tranquility envelops you as soon as you step out of your car and into the soaring, open air lobby. Blending into the desert around you, this wellness focused resort emphasizes the natural beauty in its surroundings. The spa is a feature, as is (of course) the signature Nobu dining on site.
One & Only Palmilla – arriving into the O&O Palmilla feels like taking a step back in time to a glamorous Hollywood version of Cabo. The winding pathways and mature, lush landscaping makes you feel that you’re staying in a small village rather than a resort. The crystal clear waters are visible from almost every spot at this fabulous resort; and the dining outlets maximize those views. Attention to detail in the rooms – from the handcrafted margaritas in the minibar to the bespoke ceramic basins and super luxurious shower bath set up – have made this resort a favorite of sophisticated travelers visiting Cabo. Sitting by the infinity pool and watching the whales frolic really was the epitome of a Cabo experience!
Pedregal, a Waldorf Astoria Resort – the arrival experience lets you know that this resort is really going to be something special. You enter what can only be described as an underground tunnel of craggy rocks, magically lit with twinkle lights, and emerge into daylight and the open air lobby of this mountain-side luxury resort. All the rooms have infinity pools overlooking the water, gas fireplaces create an ambience which is both intimate and cozy, and the bathrooms have every detail attended to (a comfy covered bench for resting and reading between the bathtub and the shower? brilliant!). The spa at Pedregal is world famous, and for good reason. Pro tip: make sure to dine at El Farallon, a magical restaurant built into the side of a mountain, bespoke seafood dishes and a hopping champagne bar where you can enjoy a spectacular sunset or moonrise.
Rock and Roll all night at the Hard Rock Los Cabos – a great option for fun loving and active families, this resort (only a couple of years old) has a Vegas vibe with glitz and glam around every corner, and features nonstop entertainment, multiple outlets for drinks and dining, and oversize rooms.
Solaz – one of the newest additions to the area, this expansive and stunning modern resort has something for everyone! Featuring a small swimmable beach, lovely rooms and a happening scene around the pools and bars, the Solaz is an easy choice for a family or couples getaway. Pro tip: make sure to check out their on site museum featuring relics and fossils from the area!
The Cape, A Thompson Hotel – a super cool, bohemian surfer’s paradise, this slick and fun resort is perched on craggy shoreline overlooking the famous arch of Cabo San Lucas. Rooms have ample balconies with spacious chaises, the views are incredible – and the rooftop bar is buzzy and features an amazing sunset view. Pro tip: traveling with friends? Make sure to check out their multi bedroom residences with private patios!
United and others: nonstop flights offered daily on United, American and JetBlue, and Saturdays and Sundays on Delta.
Velas Resorts: Mar del Cabo – this charming boutique property is simple and elegant, with a white expansive staircase that enhances the rich azure blues of the sea behind and the scarlet flowers adorning the hallways.
Whales – from mid-December to early April, these playful giants can be observed leaping, playing, spinning and spouting along the coast!
X-tra amenities available for our clients at all of these resorts – including breakfast and spa credits!
Yes! Cabo is a destination where you can travel beyond the walls of your resort. We enjoyed time in town shopping and dinners off property.
Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve – this stunner distinguishes itself from the moment of check in, when you are greeted by your Tosoani (private butler for the duration of your stay) who guides you through the check in process and to your room privately – no traditional lobby or reception area here! In keeping with the Reserve brand, this expansive resort is perfectly built in harmony with the surrounding desert environment, features signature dining experiences and every creature comfort you could desire. A standout experience was the spa – almost indescribably lovely and tranquil, with a central bubbling pool beckoning to all who walk by to breathe slowly and take it all in.
This is not going to be a normal trip report, but this hasn’t exactly been a normal year.
Those of you that follow me know that generally I don’t post pictures of myself or my family, but this particular vacation is really best expressed in the family photos – it was a celebration of life, of my parents being thankfully both vaccinated and healthy, of our being able to fly again, of the bad dreams we’ve been walking through slowly starting to recede as we collectively awake and begin anew.
And it felt that way, from the moment we landed – greeted at the door of the plane by a golf cart and whisked through customs in air conditioned comfort; our time from touchdown to enjoying a tropical cocktail on our balcony was less than an hour – for real.
The Hyatt Ziva in Cap Cana was built in late 2019, and it’s decor is completely on trend – reclaimed wood, super funky coffee outlets and rum bars, and shimmering through the open air lobby is the long white stretch of Cap Cana’s white sand beach and glittering turquoise water.
After being welcomed into the air conditioned club lounge with a cold drink, we were checked in, current Covid protocols were reviewed, and we were shown to our rooms. Our suites on the club level were oversized and super well appointed – the one bedroom has two bathrooms so nobody has to wait or share. Our double balcony over looked the pool with the ocean in the distance.
Highlights of our trip included luxurious breakfasts in the Club-exclusive cafe, ocean water that was clear as glass and warm enough that strolling in required no encouragement, family time in the lazy river at their all new water park with loop de loop slides, and a vivid pool scene with bumping music and chaise-side cocktail service.
As with all the Ziva resorts, while there is one “buffet” (now fully staff-served from behind plexiglass barriers), the majority of dining outlets are a la carte – we found the Italian spot, Noodles and Thread, to be particularly exceptional. Note that reservations are not taken and all dining is first come first serve. Nightly shows included pop music cover acts, a magician and an acrobatics troupe.
The question I know you’re asking is, what did it feel like – and that’s an easy answer. We felt extremely safe and protected in all circumstances. The resort requires masks in all common areas, including walking to and from the restaurant tables. Seating for the nightly entertainment was studiously placed six feet apart. All staff wore masks, and the testing process prior to leaving the resort was handled in a completely professional and organized fashion.
All in all we couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to emerge from our yearlong cocoon together. You can tell, I think, from the smiles on our faces that we were eager and enraptured with our time together in the sun as a family.
Escaping from reality is on all of our minds these days. So we in the northeast are super lucky to be able to hop on a plane and in less than two hours emerge in a warm, sunny climate full of southern hospitality, charming scenery and outstanding food around every corner. To reset our cabin fevered brains and get one last gasp of summer, two seasoned travel advisors and great friends traveled to South Carolina where we found, to our great delight, that there is indeed life outside our own homes!
I’m going to deviate from my usual format of free-form narration in this entry, rather, you’re getting an inside peek at the “trip report” my colleague and I put together to share with the rest of our advisors. Report Collaboration and Photo Credits: Mauricio Buenaventura, Smartflyer
Duration: 7 days, 6 nights
We Love it For: Couples, Families, Mother/Daughter or Bachelorette getaways, Bachelor/Gentlemen’s parties, Golf Groups
Trip Style: Relaxation, sightseeing, golf and culinary
Agent Notes: From the beach to the links to charming mansions, Low Country has a LOT to offer!
TRIP HIGHLIGHTS: 1. Sunset views on the beaches of Hilton Head and Kiawah
2. Discovering the hidden secrets of Savannah’s many squares on a city tour
3. Play like the Pros at Kiawah
4. Exploring the Gastronomy and Craft Brewery Scene in Charleston
Day 1: Rolling into Town in Style Touch down in Savannah and pick up your rental car – a convertible isn’t strictly mandatory, but absolutely encouraged! Especially coming out of the cold rain of the northeast fall, we were so happy to let that southern sun warm our arms and shoulders! A short drive to Hilton Head Island, where you enter Sea Pines island and smile at the kids riding bikes all around you. After checking into your room overlooking the impeccably groomed links; freshen up and head down to the beach for a sunset cocktail and dinner under the stars. Day 2: A Resort for All Seasons Spend your day enjoying all Sea Pines has to offer – stroll the marina and harbor, lounge on their private stretch of beach and wiggle your toes in the sand, get out and golf on one of their three exemplary courses or spend the afternoon playing tennis, biking, kayaking or horseback riding! This resort offers a Virtuoso Inn with a pool, Condo-style set up apartments, Villas, and Homes in countless different sizes, locations and configurations so there’s an option for any travel party to stay comfortably. Day 3: Exploring Savannah After enjoying a bakery breakfast at the local sweet shop on Hilton Head, ease the convertible back on the road and into Savannah. A guided tour is a great way to get a feel for any city, and this one is no exception. Some favored sites included the park bench where Forrest told the world that “life is like a box of chocolates,” and the original home Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction used as a model, as well as the many historic square parks with inviting shade under centennial trees around homes which are all historic architectural gems. A great way to spend the afternoon is strolling along the riverfront with quaint stores and waterfront places for dessert, shopping and hanging out. A lunch at Vic’s is a must do! From Savannah you’ll continue on to Kiawah Island. This sweeping island resort offers a variety of residences (beachfront and waterfront houses widely available due to the many inlets, and villas of two, three, four and more bedrooms in private communities, as well as a The Sanctuary at Kiawah, a Virtuoso five star hotel. Not to mention some of the best golf the east coast has to offer. Kiawah Island Resort offers 14 dining outlets so options abound to taste local southern cuisine, more continental fare as well as traditional country club style meals without even stepping out of the gates of the Resort. Make sure to take time on the way to stop and see the world famous Angel Oak – this massive tree has a branch span of about 160 feet, and is estimated at almost 500 years old. There is something undoubtedly magical about stepping under its vast canopy.
Day 4: Fore! Or in the alternative, FOUR hours in the spa Today you can start with a great round of golf in one of the magnificent 5 courses. The Ocean Course is home to the 2021 PGA Championship and the most coveted by visitors for its sweeping views bordering the Atlantic Ocean. If you are not a golfer, you can might instead choose to luxuriate at the Spa, offered at The Sanctuary hotel, where multiple treatments are on offer in a serene but modern setting. Onwards would be great to have No stay on Kiawah Island would be complete without experiencing lunch at the beautiful Ryder Cup Bar which offers panoramic golf course and ocean views. The afternoon could be used to stroll or bike around the resort or spend at the expansive stretch of powdery sand beach that goes for miles. Avid golfers and spa-goers alike will delight in meeting at the “19th hole” at one of many bars around the island enjoy magical sunset views and craft cocktails after a relaxing day.
Onward to Charleston! Welcome to Charleston – the Holy City (so named for the myriad churches and steeples visible across the sky line – but to us it was more like – HOLY MOLY is the food here amazing! The beautiful thing about Charleston is that there is a hotel for every personality type – and they all have tremendous history. From the Wentworth Mansion and Zero George – both five star experiences with every modern convenience lovingly retrofit into homes built in the 1800s to the Belmond Charleston Place, which was the the first luxury resort built in the city to the newer additions of the Bennett, the Dewberry and Emiline which are modern in decor and are more lifestyle hotels with bars and rooftops.
Fortunately this city is completely pedestrian friendly, so a great way to find your bearings is a guided walking tour, offered by many companies arranged by your helpful hotel concierge. These entertaining and lively tours will highlight the main streets and attractions, while giving you a perspective and sense of history and culture that surrounds this incredible city
Want to live it like the locals do? Enjoy a stroll on historic King Street which traverses the city with great authentic, locally owned shops (as well as some popular brand names) as well as trendy restaurants and bars in the heart of the city center. This is a great spot to choose one of the various traditional southern fare spots for an amazing lunch.
After this you can head to the Charleston City Market, which stretches 4 city blocks full of arts and crafts, opportunities for all important souvenir shopping and a surrounding vibrant neighborhood. With all of the days purchases in hand, head to one of the great rooftop bars/restaurants to round up the day. The rooftop at The Dewberry has all the cool vibes at this time – and your travel advisor has the inner connection to get you one of their coveted reservations at sunset. If interested in a nighttime activity, you could take one of the Ghost Tours that visit mansions and locations that are famous for being haunted, or return to King Street for the nightlife – jazz clubs, spiked slushee pop ups and a rollicking energy make this the place to be.
To get the blood going in the morning you can gear up with sneakers and comfortable clothes and head to the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, a spectacular cable-stayed 2.5 mile bridge with an impeccable walking and biking path that provides the best views of all of Charleston – river, ocean, Naval bases and beyond. After the walk, reward yourself by heading to Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, which offers a wide variety of delicious breakfast (and all day) meal options .
Chill Now might be a great time to chill at your hotel – many of the resorts in Charlestons have fantastic pools, and with weather in the 80s well into November, it’s a great perk! After relaxing for a bit to catch your breath, get ready for a late lunch at Leon’s Poultry and Oyster Shop, the place for some of the best fried chicken and every variation of oyster imaginable in an authentic lively set up. A boozy afternoon can always start with their frozen gin tonic or frose as well as their extensive beer list.
With a full belly you can now proceed to enjoy the wonderful Craft Brewery scene that Charleston has to offer. You can design your own tour (at least 6 breweries are walking distance) or let an organized company like Charleston Brews Cruise haul you around in a vehicle to the best breweries in town. The piece de resistance – ending your day at Revelry Brewery to catch Sunset at their hopping rooftop terrace with great selection on tap and friendly staff. Back to King Street to your hotel and maybe a farm to table meal one of several James Beard-award winning restaurants around the area. Your concierge can provide recommendations from the most down home casual to elevated fine dining.
All good things must come to an end – we recommend a strong coffee and french pastry at the Bennett Hotel, to fortify yourself for the fifteen minute car ride to the airport where you’ll head home with your heart full of wonderful memories, your body full of incredible food and an short flight to return from having experienced a whole different world just 2 hours away from your home in the Northeast.
For my husband’s 50th birthday, we were supposed to go to Greece.
Greece. Mediterranean waters, outrageous cuisine and epic sunsets… as the world has changed so dramatically around us, we had to let that drift away.
But we still wanted to celebrate; still wanted a family vacation that would be luxurious, engaging and have great food. So we packed up our car and headed for Boston!
Of course it’s not going to compare to Greece, but we definitely pulled out a pretty amazing trip; it felt great to be back on the road and staying in such lovely hotels, experiencing wonderful fine dining and learning a ton about our nation’s history.
We began our trip by checking into the first of two hotels – the Mandarin Oriental Boston, located in the historic Back Bay and freshly renovated as of this summer! The lobby is grand and sweeping with an inviting fireplace and a warm greeting by name from the friendly staff. It feels a bit like you’ve wandered into an elegant jewelry box – shiny surfaces and glittering lights.
After our socially distanced check in, the front desk staff invited us to “follow Mobi” to our rooms – to our surprise and delight, Mobi, the Mandarin Oriental’s robot mascot – literally escorted us along our path to the elevator where he selected our floor for us, rode up with us in the elevator, and led us directly to our door! The room was lovely – freshly renovated, warm and inviting, with an array of sweet treats awaiting our late night snack cravings as well as complimentary “safety kits” with masks, sanitizer and gloves.
We had a great night’s sleep and had a marvelous room service breakfast (included with our stay under Mandarin’s #FansofMO program). We were so excited to stretch out legs and walk the few blocks to the Boston Common where we met up with our costumed historian guide for a theatrical tour of the history of our great nation. History truly came alive for our son as we visited Paul Revere’s tomb, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall. I cannot recommend our guide from History at Play enough – Judith was a fabulous and engaging entertainer. One on one with a local guide is such a great way to learn about a new city.
After our tour we checked into our next hotel – the fabulous Four Seasons One Dalton Street. This sleek, chic resort brings a winky bit of fun to the traditional five star luxury experience we all expect from the FS brand. Social distancing practices were evident upon check in with a mandatory questionnaire and temperature check for every person walking in the front door. After our warm greeting we we shown to our room – which a truly epic marble bathroom – the centerpiece being a massive white soaking tub with a city view! Outstanding!
About a half hour after check in we had a knock at the door and opened it to find a cocktail cart and our own private bartender who mixed us craft beverages from the hallway – the presentation was great, old school and so fun. We spent the late afternoon at 60 foot indoor pool, coming down in time to change for our amazing Italian dinner in the famous North End.
The next morning we enjoyed our Preferred Partner breakfast from room service, and headed to meet our amphibious Duck Boat – these super cool buses actually turn into boats and float up the Charles, giving you a coastal view of the city. Our tour guide was hilarious! After the tour we swung by the front desk and picked up a fall themed picnic basket – lovingly prepared by the chef at the Four Seasons. We strolled along the Esplinade until we found a spot under a willow tree, and enjoyed sunset views with our delicious charcuterie, and then spent the early evening strolling on Newbury Street and people watching.
The next morning was our departure day, but we just couldn’t go home without experiencing the high tea offered at the resort’s Trifecta lobby bar.
Author’s note: This was our first really trip since the pandemic began. We were a little nervous – less so about the protocols because we chose our hotels carefully, but more about whether there would be enough for us to do and how it would “feel” to be tourists right now. It was a marvelous escape, as the pictures hopefully show, and we are already planning our next city escape to Philadelphia – so stay tuned!!!
“You’ve got to be KIDDING me!” That was my reaction when I checked into my room at Miraval and was handed a soft cloth ‘sleeping bag’ for my cell phone.
Just a short four hour flight from New York, Miraval shouldn’t feel that far away, but arriving there and being told that my constant electronic leash/companion/security blanket was going to have to stay in my room made me feel like I was on a different planet. However, as instructed I set my intentions for my stay (break iPhone addiction, drink more water), threw on some yoga pants and flip flops and fully committed to the program.
Miraval is a well established spa and immersive wellness resort that recently opened their newest outlet in Austin, TX. I was invited there as a guest to check out their programs and facilities in October.
Unlike some other wellness-focus resorts, Miraval does offer alcohol, making it a super popular option for bachelorette parties, mother/daughter getaways and other special and fun occasions. However, there’s also plenty of space here for quiet meditation, holistic healing therapies and self reflection that make it perfect for those getting back to themselves after a life changing event.
The highlights of Miraval are plentiful – including amazing food and beverage outlets (all meals and non alcoholic beverages are included in your stay) that are thoughtfully located and offer delicious and healthful options throughout the day. For example, one therapist suggested to me to grab a yogurt and granola on the way back to my room in the evening so that I could sleep late in the morning and not miss breakfast. It was a great tip and the “grab and go” bar had plenty of other guilt free options for late night and early morning snacking.
The resort boasts two pools with phenomenal views; one more social with a great bar and cafe, and the other more intimate and quiet, located behind the spa. And the spa!!! Definitely the centerpiece of the property, this lofted tranquil space defies description, after the magicians there render you speechless with their expert treatments, you curl up in a decadent lounger with a tea overlooking mountains and valley and have to fight to keep your eyes open – that’s how relaxed this place makes you feel.
The fitness and meditative offerings are too plentiful to enumerate; amongst the most popular are floatation meditation (done in the yoga barn where you are suspended from the ceiling on silk scarves), their “horse of a different color” equine therapy in which you finger-paint directly onto a horse’s flank, and guided visits of their working farm and apiary where you can literally pick what you’ll eat for dinner that night.
The rooms are spacious and airy, the food is nutritious, plentiful and lovingly prepared and the vibe is luxurious, contemplative and fun.
PS By the time I was zipping up my suitcase to go home, I was going as long as four hours without checking my emails! I slipped that “cell phone sleeping bag” into my carry on to bring some of my newly found inner peace home with me.
In March of this year I was lucky enough to be hosted by One&Only Resorts on a life changing trip to the mountains of Rwanda. This quick five night jaunt wound up being the last long haul traveller this lifetime frequent flier undertook before the pandemic gripped the US and grounded us all – I couldn’t have picked a more important, culturally significant or visually amazing “last trip” to have taken.
Upon arrival in Kamembe, we were transferred by private car and driver to One&Only’s Nyungwe House – located in southwest Rwanda (on the Burundi border south of lake Kivu) this luxury resort is set amongst acres of tea plantation. As we pulled in we were greeted by tea pickers moving at lightening speed. The House is on the edge of Nyungwe National Park, and covers over 1000 km of some of the last mountain rainforest habitats on the planet.
After a leisurely lunch, we shook off our jet lagged cobwebs from a dizzying perspective – a canopy walk on hanging bridges 75 meters above the forest floor.
The mornings in Rwanda do necessarily start before the sun rises – but it was well worth it to encounter one of East Africa’s last intact chimpanzee population in their natural habitat. Guided by expert trackers, we took a challenging hike to observe these playful and fast moving creatures as they dashed through the flora wild and free.
The afternoon was well spent in the spa, because that hike was no joke. And our dinner was an epic and singular traditional African BBQ at the Boma, where we gathered around a fire pit and enjoyed vibrant music and dance performed by a local cooperative under the stars.
The following morning I skipped the hike in favor of a private tour of Chef Treasure Makwanise’s gardens. The gardens themselves were wonderful, lush and bursting forth with delicious offerings; but more impactful by far was listening to Treasure talk about his family background and experience immigrating from South Africa to Rwanda as a homeless teenager, and the hard work and perseverance that went in to making him the Executive Chef at such an esteemed resort at the young age of 27. His journey was poignant, remarkable, and was shared with me so easily and simply that I’m not sure he realized what a gift it was to hear it.
The following morning we began our transfer bright and early to our next stop – One&Only Gorilla House. The trek begins with a short flight to Kigali.
Kigali is a sparkling city – you could search high and low and see not a drop of litter, graffiti. Our driver guide proudly tells us that what keeps the country clean and organized is ‘Umuganda,’ or community service. Umuganda is practiced on the last Saturday morning of every month: a member of each household in Rwanda must participate for at least three hours in cleaning, fixing or maintenance of public spaces. The activity is more than just community service, it’s seen as a social gathering and woven into the fabric of their community.
It’s important for context to remember and consider the all to recent complex historic events that shaped Rwanda’s current culture. We spent the afternoon at the Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial, which is a must to gain even a peripheral understanding of the country.
The memorial was opened in 2004 to mark the tenth commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It is the final resting place for up to 259,000 victims of the genocide and serves as a place where people can grieve for their lost loved ones and remember them. It also serves as a museum where both local and international visitors can learn about the history, implementation, and consequences of the genocide. The memorial also runs a number of education programs, both onsite and in communities across Rwanda with a mission to prevent mass atrocities from ever occurring again in their communities.
After that prolific experience, we finished our journey to Gorilla House. Cushioned in the foothills of the breathtaking Virunga Volcanoes mountain range, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest makes the magical possible – five star luxury with every creature comfort in the middle of an other worldly exotic natural habitat.
A pre-requirement for gorilla trekking is a meeting with a Gorilla Doctor or conservation experts, these Doctors are dedicated to conserving wild mountain and eastern lowland (or Grauer’s) gorillas through life-saving veterinary medicine and a One Health approach. The international team of veterinarians is the only group providing these critically endangered animals with direct, hands-on care in the wild. We learned about what to expect during our trek, the proper gear to wear, and the terrain that we might be assigned to.
Once again we were up before dawn, but so excited that coffee wasn’t even a necessity. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is often described as “life-changing” and with good reason. With only an estimated 880 Gorillas left in the world, to see these gentle creatures in their natural habitat are a truly unique moment. Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours+ depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but we were totally carried along by the euphoria experienced after coming face to face with a Silverback. We were lucky enough to see a family with a baby, two young “toddlers” and an adolescent male. The pictures are incredible but even they don’t really do the trip justice.
The next morning we grabbed a jeep ride back to Kigali for our flight home – after being off the grid for five days, it was surreal to hear about COVID and come into JFK where many people were wearing masks already. The memories of this special trip carried me forward these past months, and I’ll forever be grateful and changed by the opportunity to experience this amazing country.