The Majete Wildlife Reserve in southern Malawi was a rare game viewing destination as yet mostly undiscovered by tourists. Originally proclaimed a protected area in 1955, the 70,000 hectare (270 square mile) swath of Africa’s Great Rift Valley in the lower Shire River had suffered such extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s that it had been all but written off as a wildlife reserve. In 2003, African Parks, an international nonprofit organization committed to the rehabilitation of Africa’s national parks took over the management of Majete. They have since methodically restored the park’s bio diversity and reintroduced over 2,500 animals including rare and endangered species. With the recent reintroduction of lions and leopards, Majete became the only Big Five park in the country. Nestled within a 7,000 hectare (27 square mile) private concession with exclusive tourism rights in one the most spectacular areas of the reserve, Mkulumadzi achieved a perfect balance of idyllic seclusion and first class accommodations in the repopulated wilderness area.
Little Garonga was the last stop on a recent extended trip to southeastern Africa. After three weeks of dawn game drives, hectic transfer schedules and all around high voltage excitement, I was feeling somewhat depleted by the time I arrived. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to replenish my flagging energies and gently say goodbye to the wilderness before the long journey home. Set deep into the self contained 22,000 hectare (85 square mile) Greater Makalali Conservancy, west of the world famous Kruger National Park in South Africa, Little Garonga was a relatively recent luxury addition to the long established Garonga Safari Camp.
In a city that is home to 50 Five Star hotels, many of them so firmly entrenched in their luxury status that they have long become legends, the relatively new Le Burgundy (opened in 2010) stood out for its privileged location first of all, on a relatively quiet street just a few steps away from Place Vendome, Rue Royale and Rue Saint-Honore, in the enclave of prestigious Right Bank addresses that are the pulse of Paris fashion. Then there was its already established reputation for personalized service, the kind only an intimate boutique hotel can provide. This was confirmed the instant I reached the property, by the doorman’s attentive welcome and the instantaneous check in process. I barely had time for a passing glance at the glassed in winter garden that is the heart of the public spaces or the art gallery like reception area with its bright mural sculpture behind a long white leather and marble reception desk before I was graciously escorted to my suite.
When I think of my stay at Tongabezi Lodge in Zambia, I can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia. Tucked away in a lush green setting along the Zambezi River 40 minutes upstream from Victoria Falls, this luxury lodge with eleven rooms included meals, drinks, and an impressive array of activities. With a ratio of three staff members per guest, the personalized care was top notch.
One of few lodges in the Livingstone Zambia area with striking views of Victoria Falls, the Stanley Safari Lodge was a tranquil haven of beautifully landscaped gardens and uniquely inspired architecture that blended naturally with its African bush surroundings. Located on a hillside away from the hustle and bustle of Livingstone it was a few minutes drive from Victoria Falls.
My husband and I were delighted with our stay at the Luangwa Safari House, a private four-bedroom bush-style home with dedicated staff near one of Zambia’s best known national parks. Situated in the bush on private land the property had an estimated value of nearly one million dollars. The house was a 15-minute drive to the main entrance of the South Luangwa National Park and a five-minute drive to an alternative entrance via a pontoon crossing. The close proximity to the South Luangwa National Park facilitated safari activities within it. Staying at the House provided us plenty of opportunities to see hundreds of animals, in the national park and from the comfort of the House. Our head safari guide Jacob Shawa shared his wealth of knowledge, clear explanations of the animals we encountered, and a genuine enthusiasm for the bush. He went above and beyond the call of duty to heighten our chances of seeing animals during our bush excursions, making him our favorite guide during our 12-day stay in Zambia.
When we visited Chinzombo it had just reopened in June 2013, after many years of closure, as a luxury bush camp with six riverfront tents. Meals, beverages and safari activities were included in the daily fees. Geared toward those just dipping their toes into the world of safari and not quite ready to commit to a more remote bush camp experience, the luxury camp offered many of the perks of exclusive accommodations alongside optimal game viewing next to the Luangwa River in Zambia.
Nestled in a grove of evergreen mahogany trees on the bank of Zambia’s majestic Zambezi River, Chiawa Camp seemed more remote to us than other safari camps we had visited. To get there we had to fly to the Royal Airstrip, drive 20 minutes to the Zambezi River and take a 20-minute ride in a small motorboat while watching a gorgeous sunset against the backdrop of mountains and green trees along the riverbed. Situated in the Lower Zambezi National Park, Chiawa Camp offered luxurious tent accommodations in an iconic riverside setting with impeccable service and good game viewing. We saw three of the Big Five.
In the early 1850s, France’s newly minted Emperor Napoleon III commissioned Baron Charles-Eugene Haussmann to undertake an ambitious urban modernization program throughout Paris. Entire popular neighborhoods of medieval alleyways were razed to make way for the broad boulevards and airy streets lined with harmonious residential and public buildings that we know today. In the center of the Right Bank, the ninth arrondissement flourished as a center of artistic and intellectual life. Most of the Romantic elite, Edgar Degas, Eugene Delacroix, George Bizet, Hector Berlioz, Frederic Chopin and George Sand among them, made their home there at some point. To this day, this tony neighborhood off the familiar tourist circuits has retained virtually intact its harmonious 19th century architecture, tranquil courtyards and Belle Epoque charm. But it was notably lacking luxury hotel accommodations; until the recent opening of the exquisite boutique Hotel de Nell.
Widely recognized for over a century as one of the crown jewels of the much-vaunted Amalfi coast, the Santa Caterina Hotel has consistently garnered so many accolades from the travel press, industry rating organization and its own delighted guests that I approached it with the highest of expectations. All of which were surpassed by the time I was ushered into my suite.
This new looking boutique property named for Juliette Récamier, a historic figure known “for her beauty and the way she used to welcome people in her salon,” had plenty of features to win us over. We loved the location on a quiet street in the city’s coveted Latin Quarter.
Added to that were the nostalgic yet contemporary décor, friendly and helpful English speaking staff, organic foods, yummy breakfast and snacks, cozy common areas, and wonderful small basement level spa with sauna and swimming pool (extraordinary in Paris).
Art Deco? That was the last thing that would have come to my mind when thinking of Rome, until my most recent visit to the Eternal City. It was for its location rather than its design that the Hotel Mediterraneo first caught my attention. I was to arrive by train for a three-day stopover between two legs of an extended tour of the region, with no other plans than just being in Rome, to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. The Mediterraneo was 250 meters (820 feet) from Stazione di Roma Termini, the main railway station and public transportation hub in the city; and within reasonable walking distance from the most popular landmarks including Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, the Coliseum, Forum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Via Veneto and the Piazza di Spania (and its famous Spanish Steps). The location seemed ideal for my purpose, and it proved to be. But it was the grand, impeccably preserved Art Deco property itself that made my short stay in Rome a memorable experience.
We traveled from Nairobi to the Samburu airstrip in a Cessna Caravan. Once we landed at the Samburu airstrip our bush adventure began. A small group of Samburu women gathered in a half-circle on the ground, selling beautiful beaded jewelry made by women in their village. The contrast between the vivid colors of their clothing against the colorless, arid background made these women a feast for the senses. They were quiet, their faces gentle. A young Samburu warrior strolled by, his turquoise wrap floating in the breeze. He wore the traditional tribal clothing of a Samburu warrior; beaded neck pieces, a headdress and other brightly-colored accessories cascaded down his chest and back. These handsome people took our breath away.
Named in honor of Joy Adamson, a well-known naturalist, artist and author, Joy’s Camp is located in the Shaba National Reserve north of Nairobi. Joy wrote the famed book, Born Free, in which she describes her experiences raising a lion cub named Elsa. She raised a leopard named Penny and introduced her back into the wild. The camp was built near that location. Joy later wrote a book about this experience entitled The Queen of Shaba. The camp features photos and memorabilia from Joy Adamson in the common areas.
The Romantik Hotel Spa Les Violettes was our last stop on a tour of the Route des Vins. Today my enthusiasm at exploring Alsace’s famed Wine Road was dampened, literally, by a bone-chilling drizzle that had been falling since morning. Even the traditional half-timbered villages with their bright window boxes overflowing with red geraniums looked forlorn. Then as we were making our way along a remote country road, as if on cue a pool of sunshine bathed the onion-bulb steeple of the Thierenbach Basilica rising from the trees. Halfway up the hill beyond, an imposing pink sandstone façade seemed to glow against its backdrop of dense blue-black forest. How did Les Violettes manage that? I fleetingly wondered.
In a city that exudes at every turn the allure of a millennium of rich historical memories, Romantik Hotel Le Maréchal stood out as a gem of timeless romance. Located in the heart of Colmar, in the medieval neighborhood known as La Petite Venise (Little Venice), the property consisted of four adjoining 16th century houses built on the remains of 11th century fortifications overlooking the River Lauch. The rear of the hotel faced the river, while the three-story façade opened onto a small private courtyard. At every window a riot of red geraniums tumbled from windowsill flower boxes. Above it, the impossibly steep red tile roof that is a trademark of Alsace housed two additional stories of chiens-assis (sitting dogs, as dormers are called in French). Inside, common walls had been opened into passageways that jogged and slanted between the various parts of the property to form a welcoming maze of cozy nooks filled with local antiques. Most inviting of all was the restaurant, L’Echevin (a medieval title for a high-level magistrate) at the rear of the first floor. In addition to superb cuisine, this noted bastion of local gastronomy offered a lovely view of the tranquil river and the colorful ancient homes that lined the opposite bank.
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.