Named after the warburgia ugandensis tree, referred to commonly as the elephant pepper tree, Elephant Pepper Camp offered a genuine bush experience in the heart of the Maasai Mara North Conservancy. The leaves of the elephant pepper tree are spicy hot and a favorite snack of elephants. These pungent leaves also serve as medicinal cures for local Maasai people. Elephant Pepper Camp offered a classic tented bush experience and some of the best wildlife viewing we have seen on safari.
With seven generations of experience in the hotel business, the Sanoner family, who own Adler Thermae Spa & Relax Resort Tuscany in Italy, know a thing or two about running a high end luxury spa resort. The primary aim of the resort is for guests to relax, unwind and feel rejuvenated. Based on our experience, and the fact that 80 percent of their guests are habitual visitors returning two or three times a year, they do this very well.
This contemporary five-bedroom two story rental house, built in a former grain storage barn dating back to 1613, offered many advantages for an extended stay in Burgundy, France. Situated in a historic village of 200 residents sandwiched between the Lochere Stream and the famed Burgundy Canal, the corner house had been lovingly renovated by its owners whose own home was immediately across the fenced in pool courtyard of the rental property.
Over the years we have stayed at this Western Cape hotel named for the Steenberg Mountains, part of the Constantia Berg Mountain Range, three times and each time has been more rewarding than the previous one. On our last summer time visit we stayed at the two-story Khoi Khoi Suite with a private pool, one of three Heritage Suites. The accommodations and facilities were outstanding.
For two days it seemed we were in an Agatha Christie novel. From the two story private train station owned by Rovos Rail in Pretoria The Pride of Africa Shaun, our antique style train with a steam locomotive, set a leisurely pace toward the heart of Cape Town. We departed in the late afternoon on a Friday and arrived at 6 p.m. in the coastal city a little worse for wear though satisfied in the pleasure of the shared luxury train ride.
Named simply La Residence (meaning The Home in French) in honor of the French Huguenot founders of Franschhoek, the village where it is located, this small property within a 30-acre working farm that produces grapes, plums and olives had much to offer discerning and luxury oriented travelers seeking secluded spacious comfort, guest centered service and gourmet features. Although we had stayed at the property years earlier on our second visit to the estate we discovered the Villas section and a whole new level of comfort. We also appreciated the property’s responsible tourism practices.
Staying at Birkenhead House was like staying at a friend’s elegant well staffed beach house. While the interior and accommodations were attractive and art filled and the meals convenient it was the vistas, sea breeze, surf sounds and access to outdoor site specific activities that I especially enjoyed at the boutique hotel. During our stay we made time to explore the coastal area near Birkenhead House and a bit of Hermanus, the well known whale watching town.
The history of Japan reveals a seesaw battle of power between the east and west areas of the country. The Imperial court moved from Kyoto in the west to present day Tokyo in the east. The rivalry between Osaka, western Japan’s major city, and Tokyo, the eastern capital, fumes to this day although never rising anywhere near fisticuffs. Located in the middle is Gifu Prefecture, the heart of central Japan. The Nakasendo Road and other trade routes between east and west Japan had passed through here. It is a strategic area that samurai lords always valued. In Gifu’s Takayama city lies Wanosato, a lovely and luxurious ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I recently experienced a most soothing stay at Wanosato far beyond the warfare and tension of the past. The property charmed me with its excellent service, beautiful scenery and art, and delectable meals.
Travel from Quito, the decidedly 21st century capital of Ecuador, to the Napo Wildlife Center, deep in the Yasuni National Park was an easy journey back in time. It was less than a one-hour flight to Coca, a small town on the Napo River, which seemed to hark back half a century, until I noticed the proliferation of mobile phones along its busy streets and the modern boat dock. I boarded the awaiting Napo Wildlife Center motorboat with my guide Roberto, who had flown with me from Quito, and headed downriver into the timeless immensity of the Amazon Basin. Before long, the Napo River, although still almost 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from its confluence with the Amazon, was already several hundred meters wide, its distant banks a soaring jumble of rainforest. A couple of hours later, we left its cappuccino-colored waters (caused by sediment washed from the Andes Mountains) and turned into the so-called black waters of a narrow inlet; they were actually the color of strong tea, steeped in the tannins of rainforest vegetation. We had entered the northwest corner of the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve regarded by scientists as one of the highest bio-diversity areas on the planet.
Ever since Charles Darwin’s momentous scientific visit to the Galapagos Islands over one and a half century ago, this small archipelago of sun-baked volcanic rocks sprinkled across 45,000 square kilometers (17,000 square miles) of Pacific Ocean has captured the imagination of adventure travelers. I had long yearned to visit this place so remote that its iconic fauna and flora are unique on the planet. But I sensed that, like most of the over 150,000 yearly tourists who have visited recently, mine would be a once in a lifetime trip. Therefore I wanted to plan the ultimate wilderness travel experience, only to be confused by seemingly endless cruising options. Until I came across the intimate, nine staterooms M/Y Grace.
Our week long escape to the Caribbean aboard the SeaDream I was wonderful. We liked the small vessel’s accent on adults, intimate and informal ambiance, friendly and attentive service and gourmet offerings. Sailing with SeaDream I was like a voyage aboard a friend’s large yacht or as part of a social club.
Wedged in historic Downtown Manhattan, surrounded by Soho, Chinatown, the Bowery and Little Italy, Nolita was once considered part of the later. While the area became increasingly gentrified over the past decades, it has retained its cosmopolitan feel and genuine lived-in atmosphere. Here, trendy shops and restaurants mix with utilitarian warehouses and old-time bakeries. Ageless apartment buildings line the streets, traditional wrought-iron fire escapes still running down their brick façades. And the decidedly 21 st century design of the recently opened Nolitan Hotel coexists harmoniously with the century-old structures that surrounded it.
Nestled on a gentle slope overlooking the pristine waters of Squam Lake in the southern foothills of the New Hampshire White Mountains, The Manor on Golden Pond has long been an idyllic retreat from the steamy New England summer. When wealthy British businessman Isaac Van Horn originally built the property as a summer home in 1904, he created an elegant country manor that reflected his English heritage; a pale yellow stucco and wooden shingle two-story residence that blended gracefully within its surroundings of rolling lawns shaded by ancient pine trees. The house remained a private home until the 1940’s when Harold Fowler, Life magazine editor, converted it into the Holderness Photographic Colony. In the 1950’s, it became an inn. During the next half century, it experienced a succession of ownerships and remodeling efforts before being acquired in 1999 by its current owners who painstakingly restored it to its original early 20 th century elegance.
Hidden within the mountains of Izu rests Arcana Izu (the hotel writes it arcana izu all in lowercase letters), a small luxury Japanese hotel that bills itself as an auberge resort with a French influence. The inn, ensconced between the Mount Amagi forest and the Kano River, was designed as an interpretation of the ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel) concept with modern and Western twists. During my stay, I bathed in an outdoor hot spring within the comfort of my spacious room, and later indulged in some of the finest French cuisine I have sampled in Japan at the hotel’s Lumiere restaurant.
I arrived in Cambodia following many hours of travel, several changes of flight and layovers crumpled and tired. My flight landed late in the evening nearly two days after I departed from the United States. As soon as I exited customs and immigration I noticed the humid hot air. I immediately saw a uniformed driver from the Raffles Le Royal, my hotel for the next three nights, and released a breath I had not been aware I was holding. He drove me in air conditioned comfort to the quiet city hotel. Smiling staff welcomed me to the flower scented lobby where, after about 20 minutes checking in, I was escorted up one level to my first floor room.
This well managed hotel, built around a heritage building and former hotel (dating back to 1932), had much to offer. My first and last impressions were very telling. When I arrived at the airport, two uniformed staff were there to pick me up (and drop me off on my late night departure) in a comfortable air conditioned classic model BMW.
Cruising the Inside Passage of Southern Alaska aboard the Island Spirit was the next best thing to an invitation from a friend with a yacht and a passion for the pristine wilderness of the Northern Pacific coast. Jeff Behrens, owner and captain of the Island Spirit, was such a man. His powerful 39-meter (128-foot) long ship was just the right size to wend its way between chiseled granite escarpments into secluded coves and get “up-close and personal” with the awesome glaciers and waterfalls that abound in the area. When Captain Jeff acquired the then Magnum Force in 1998, it was a rugged oil rig supply vessel. Over the next decade, he painstakingly repurposed it into the Island Spirit, a comfortable passenger ship with an enthusiastic crew of eight, who shared their skipper’s sense of mission. “We thrive to offer you the opportunity to let the wilderness embrace you,” Captain Jeff told me on my second day on board, when I stopped by the cockpit for a chat (unless we were sailing in especially narrow or challenging passages, the cockpit door was always open and guests welcome to drop in). I nodded knowingly. I had been on board barely 24 hours, and it already had.
This small hotel had many features we liked. Some of the characteristics that stand out are its residential neighborhood location, friendly staff, pretty rooms with a garden view and internet connectivity, intimate ambiance, in house bistro and a lovingly tended one acre garden.
This trendy hotel, part of the large Sol Meliá chain, was located in a 37 story tower building. Its target audience were luxury oriented travelers, especially celebrities and those with a penchant for music, design and gourmet meals. It had a penthouse VIP lounge (a favorite) for Level upper floor guests, meeting space, two restaurants, nightclub, pool area, fitness center and spa. The name Me was designed to convey that Me equals you “because Me becomes you.”
A family friendly Big Five property Thornybush is in the heart of the Thornybush Nature Reserve, a private 11,500 hectare game reserve near Kruger National Park. The small lodge faced north onto the dry riverbed of the Monwana River and offered spacious and comfortable rooms with a riverbed view, modern amenities, meals and twice daily game drives.
After a warm greeting from Tom Rutherford, the lodge manager, we walked from the parking area down a few steps and across a paved pathway through a garden to the doorless entrance of the main building of Singita Ebony Lodge. The first thing I noticed as we walked past the comfortable and worn looking colorful furniture in the main area was the memorable view of the Sand River across the room and the ebony tree for which the property was named that pierced through the wood deck. From where we stood we could see the ochre colored river snake by on its journey east and later south across the Sabi Sand Reserve.
This lodge, named for two lions from the Swahili word Simba for lion and Mbili for two, offered extraordinary Big Five game viewing during our stay. The lodge, situated on the banks of the Manyeleti River facing the Manyeleti Plains, was named for a Bremen, Germany adventurer of legend who was purportedly attacked by two lions on his first night in the bush.
Named for two leadwood trees that frame the arrival area of the property, the &Beyond Leadwood Lodge was a quiet Big Five safari haven when we arrived. We were delighted to be the sole guests at the four room lodge for the first night. Kelli, the lodge manager, and Martha, our butler, greeted us warmly as we disembarked from our vehicle. Martha offered us lemongrass scented refresher towels and sparkling iced lemonade. After sharing information about the property and providing us with the obligatory indemnity form Kelli walked us to our river facing rooms with private plunge pools just steps away from the main building.
Kirkman’s Kamp was named for Lawrence Henry “Harry” Kirkman, a hunter turned conservationist, who established the property as a family cattle farm in the early 1900s. It was one of only two properties we have visited with access to the Sabi and Sand rivers of the well known Sabi Sand Reserve where it is located. Perhaps because of its proximity to two rivers this well run property also offered excellent birding.
Named for Charles-Augustin Meurice the hotel’s history began in 1771 in Calais, where upper-class British travelers on their way to Paris would arrive after crossing the Straits of Dover. There, an enterprising regional postmaster, Meurice (1739-1820), welcomed them to French shores at his Calais coaching inn and arranging rides to Paris aboard his coach service. It was a 36-hour trip, and Meurice built a second coaching inn in Paris in 1817 to welcome the weary travelers on their arrival. The Hotel Le Meurice moved in 1835 to its present site, one of the most fashionable locales in the city, overlooking the historic Tuileries Garden.
One minute we were heading out on a game drive and the next the adrenaline was pumping as we raced to a sighting. We heard there were wild dogs in the area and that if we were lucky we might be able to see them. Our energetic guide had a reputation for being able to stay close to a wild dog pack so we had high hopes we might see the elusive animals. A wild dog viewing is a rare reward on a game viewing trip. Everyone in our game viewing vehicle was excited at the prospect of seeing them.
This boutique property in the northern Sabi Sand Reserve was a gem. Built lovingly on a former family farm the lodge was ideally situated on the banks of the Chitwa Dam, providing a magnificent birding and wildlife setting. In addition to very good wild life viewing with a personable ranger we enjoyed the many qualities of the property itself.
Our stay at Africa House, an exclusive use six bedroom house within a luxury Big Five safari lodge property in South Africa, was superb. While we much appreciated the well appointed and comfortable house itself, its décor and furnishings lovingly hand picked by the owner, and wireless WiFi connectivity it was the staff that made our stay special. They were always there at meal and game drive times when we might need something. Between activities and meals the staff allowed us private time alone to relax in our luxury bush home. More than once we were tempted to skip a game drive to just relax lazily by the pool and enjoy the house. We plan to return for a slightly longer stay when we can do just that without feeling we are missing out on precious few game drives.
In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria decreed the demolition of the obsolete 13 th century walls that surrounded the city of Vienna. In their place a broad boulevard, the Ringstrasse, or simply the Ring as it is now most often called, was laid out to circle the city. It was then lined with splendid public and private buildings intended to showcase the glory of the Habsburg Empire. The Ring Hotel was part of this grand urban renewal undertaking: a residential hotel that provided bachelors of the Viennese aristocracy with in-town pieds-à-terre at the very edge of the vibrant inner city. The building experienced varied fortunes through the ensuing century and a half, going from bank headquarters to just another vacant building, before being meticulously restored a few years ago to its original purpose of elegant home-away-from-home hospitality. After 13 months of extensive reconstruction, The Ring Hotel reopened in November 2007 as an intimate luxury property just a few minutes’ walk from most of the cultural and artistic treasures Vienna has to offer.
Serena Mountain Village was a welcoming haven of tranquil elegance on the outskirts of Arusha, the bustling gateway city to the famed safari destinations of northern Tanzania. Set on a slope overlooking the shore of Lake Duluti in the verdant foothills of Mount Meru, the Mountain Village was designed to recall its previous incarnation as a colonial era coffee plantation. At the highest point of the property, the lodge, a gracious country manor built of pale local stone, held all the public areas. In every room, French doors opened onto a covered terrace that ran the length of the façade and led to the tree-shaded lawn a few steps below. From the lodge, paved walkways ran through lush gardens down to clusters of stone and thatch roundavels in the style of African villages, which held the guest accommodations.
Well aware that in recent years, the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge figured on some of the most sought-after “best” magazine lists, I approached it with high expectations. But no anticipation could have measured up to the magnificent setting and no-indulgence-barred luxury of this unique property.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge was the ideal finale to a lengthy safari trip that had taken me to the farthest reaches of Tanzania. By now, I felt travel-weary and a bit jaded. After all, other than the welcome opportunity to relax in the secluded luxury of the Tree Lodge, what could this tiny park offer that I hadn’t already enjoyed several times over in some of the most famous safari destinations in the country? I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The lodge, the only one within the boundaries of the park, was a gem.
Located in the far northern reaches of the Serengeti National Park, Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp delivered everything I had imagined a safari in this legendary park to be, and more. Foremost of course was the open grassy plain known to the Masai as Siringitu (“the place where the land goes on forever”) with its omnipresent herds of zebras and white-bearded wildebeests; and lions nonchalantly awaiting dinnertime under the meager shade of an occasional thorn acacia. But a few minutes’ drive from the edge of the endless plain, this intimate luxury camp revealed a more verdant face of the Serengeti. It was nestled into a strip of lush riverine forest on the bank of a permanent oxbow pan of the Grumeti River. Here the rare pied colobus monkeys darted through the treetops, and large pods of hippos noisily claimed the river under the malevolent glare of huge crocodiles.
Lienz is a lovely little medieval town in the farthest reaches of southern Austria. Tucked away in a picturesque valley between the Grossglockner (one of the highest peaks in the Alps) and the Dolomites, it is prime four-season vacationing country for mountain sports aficionados. But for me, despite the 13 th century castle, the ancient churches with their well-preserved frescos and the pristine alpine landscapes, the city’s main claim to fame was in the remarkable Grandhotel Lienz. This newly constructed luxury retreat and its unique spa came as close to perfection as any boutique property I have ever come across, and more than justified the few hours’ journey from Vienna.
Stepping through the pillared entrance of the Grand Hotel Wien was a journey back to the glittering days of Austria’s 19 th century imperial splendor. Designed by Karl Tietz, one of the most celebrated architects of his time, it was, when it opened its doors in 1870, the first luxury hotel in the city. With the new Imperial Opera House (now the Vienna State Opera) opened the previous year just one block away, and the nearby Musikverein concert hall (now home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) also inaugurated in 1870, it quickly became a hit with the aristocracy. It retained its status as a place to be seen until the Second World War. Although its fortunes waned during the second half of the 20 th century, it re-opened in 1994 after four years and 100 million euros of renovations to quickly become once again a pinnacle of Viennese social life, and to welcome amongst its guests many international celebrities, political figures and business leaders.
Perched on a rocky knoll in the heart of the Mikumi National Park in southeastern Tanzania, Stanley’s Kopje was a vivid reminder of what compels me to endure endless flights in crowded airplanes and chaotic airport layovers to return time and again to the African bush. It had only been a few hours since the Cessna light plane had delivered me to the tiny airstrip at the edge of the park, but it could have been light-years earlier. I was lounging on the broad thatch-shaded veranda of my tent, taking in the sweeping view of the Mkata Floodplain below as it slowly melted into the dusk. At the far edge of the plain, the sunset sky was ablaze against the distant outline of the Udzungwa Mountains. Now and then, a powerful roar rippled up the hill, and with it recollections of our exciting lion sighting earlier in the afternoon.
Stretched along a bluff overlooking the Rufiji River at the especially scenic eastern tip of the famed Selous Game Reserve in southeast Tanzania, the Rufiji River Camp delivered an outstanding variety of game viewing opportunities. First identified as a protected area over a century ago, Selous expanded over time to become the largest faunal reserve in Africa. In 1982, it was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its wildlife concentration and diversity and its undisturbed environment. The profusion of wildlife was obvious even as I made my way from the airstrip, turning the relatively short distance to the camp into an extended game drive.
Strung along the rocky bank of the river that gave it its name, Ruaha River Lodge was one of only a handful of permanent accommodations within the rugged immensity of the Ruaha National Park, in the highlands of central Tanzania. The 3,980 square mile (10,300 square kilometer) park is the second largest in the country after the Serengeti. It is reputed for its craggy scenery as well as the abundance and variety of the species that can be found there. Yet visitors are relatively few so that the park retains a great wilderness atmosphere.
Katavi Wilderness Camp delivered the ultimate safari experience, a pristine African environment unchanged for millennia, teeming with game and mine alone. The camp was an intimate enclave of comfort and gracious hospitality deep within the Katavi National Park, in the far western reaches of Tanzania. It took determination to reach Katavi, its main link to the 21st century being a twice-weekly light airplane connection with the Ruaha National Park. Road travel, for the daring souls who might consider it, was assessed in days. Which explains why despite its reputation for pristine wilderness and exceptional game viewing the 1,7270 square mile (4,471 square kilometer) park, the third largest in the country, only receives a few hundred visitors per year. The privilege of being one of them was obvious to me by the time I reached the camp.
This historic hotel originally opened in 1915 and had just remodeled and reopened in December 2010 shortly before we stayed there. We found the location of this hotel, in Davenport just a few blocks from the riverfront, to be excellent for access to the Quad Cities.
Named for the Comte de Crillon who bought it in 1788 the Hotel de Crillon property remained in the family until 1907. We had an opportunity to revisit the property recently and remembered the many reasons we liked it the first time we stayed in the former palace now one of the better known addresses in the European capital.
This small hotel, named to honor Louis II de la Tremoille and the Tremoille Family dating to the time of the crusades, had many pluses and made fans out of us for a second time (we had stayed there several years earlier). In addition to the accommodations and pretty interior, what we liked most was its wonderful location in a quiet street in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of the city, and within walking distance from the famed Champs Elysees.
After hours of flying and connections at two airports I was tired when I landed in Bangkok, Thailand. The 11 p.m. arrival and 11 hour time difference made things worse. Instead of spending time in Bangkok I had opted to stay in the coastal town of Hua Hin, a two and a half hour drive from the airport, to ease my way through the jet lag in a quiet resort town instead of a city of millions. As I exited the customs area and thought of spending more time en route to my final destination I wondered if it had been the right decision.
By 3 a.m. I was comfortably settled in a handsome two-level beachfront suite at the Rest Detail Hotel Hua Hin, one of the property’s premier suites. A shower and some sleep did wonders to improve my jet lag and the next morning I approached the restaurant with a ravenous appetite. Although the staff spoke limited English and I spoke no Thai I perceived a warm welcome. With their help and some exploring on my part I easily discovered the property and its facilities as well as the surrounding beachfront. I spent a few hours walking around the town, visiting a silk co-op store, the shopping mall, and a Thai night market.
Built on a steep amphitheater-shaped hillside at the northeastern tip of the island of Koh Samui, Thailand, The Tongsai Bay was a secluded resort that successfully balanced the natural beauty of its environment with modern comfort and luxury standards. The suites blended so seamlessly they all but disappeared into the exuberant tropical garden rippling toward the sea. My own Villa was a vast contemporary space thoughtfully designed and appointed to ensure optimum enjoyment of my natural surroundings. Its large, partially roofed deck featured a king-size four-poster bed swathed in pristine mosquito netting for afternoon siestas or a night’s sleep under the stars. I found a welcome basket of frangipani and orchid blooms on the ledge of my oversized bathtub in the center of the deck and I promised myself a moonlight blossom-scented bath later that evening. A few steps up from the deck, the rear of the Villa featured all the air-conditioned appointments of a more conventional luxury suite. Both deck and suite had a spectacular view of The Tongsai Bay’s lovely private beach, a gently curved cove protected at each end by rock promontories, and the open waters of the Gulf of Thailand beyond.
Named after the 200-year-old tamarind tree that dominates the property, Tamarind Village was a haven of rustic tranquility in the heart of the lively historic center of Chiang Mai. Designed by award-winning architect Ong-Ard Satrabhandhu, it translated distinctive northern Thai architectural elements into an inviting contemporary version of a traditional village. A pathway shaded with arching bamboo led to the front entrance of the verdant walled compound with its public areas and private guest quarters laid-out around a series of serene internal courtyards filled with flowering trees.
Santhiya Resort and Spa was an exceptional property that placed in a contemporary context the mystique of the exotic kingdom of Siam. Its secluded location at the northern tip of the remote island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, coupled with its ethos of conservation of its cultural heritage as well as the natural environment made for an experience that was a highlight of my recent visit to Thailand.
Set among the craggy limestone cliffs of the Phranang Peninsula at the edge of the Krabi Marine National Park in Thailand, Rayavadee could barely be discerned from its luxuriant environment of tropical gardens and coconut groves when I approached it from the water. And that’s precisely what its founders had in mind when they developed this luxury, family friendly property on what is considered one of the most spectacular coastlines of the Andaman Sea. Taking their inspiration from the traditional villages of southern Thailand, they created a contemporary resort of circular two-story guest pavilions scattered throughout a verdant haven bordered by gorgeous white sand beaches. A network of winding brick-paved footpaths crisscrossed the property. It was a pleasant 15-minute walk along gardens filled with flowering shrubs and the occasional lily pond to reach its farthest confines. It frequently took me longer, as I kept getting distracted by the antics of macaque monkeys high in the palm trees, or the play of light in the stunning cliffs that surrounded the resort. On the rare occasions when I was not in a walking mood or a random tropical squall threatened, one of the ubiquitous bakis (electric golf buggies) could be summoned at a moment’s notice.
Unique location high within the fortifications of one of the most picturesque hilltop villages of the Luberon Valley in France; luxurious accommodations in the understated traditional Provencal style; warm and intimate ambiance; La Bastide de Gordes had it all. Perched on a rocky ledge at the very rim of a steep valley, the property was a minute’s walk away from the heart of the village, a fortress originally built a millennium ago. It was expanded over the next few hundred years before extensive reconstruction in the 16 th century added some Renaissance elements and gave it the appearance it has retained to this day.