- Travel Healthy
- TEN OF…
- Contact Us
By Barbara Kingstone
Five star hotels don’t quickly come to mind when you think of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon,) the tear-shaped island at the tip of the south western part of India. Due to various turmoils and battles, it hasn’t been a well-trod tourist destination for many years. But happily, all has changed.
The Dutch, Portuguese and British have all left their marks and some traditions are seen throughout the country in food, architecture and language, where some of the vocabulary gives way to English wording. Tourists now have the opportunity to see this charming, historic and peaceful country at its best.
But with tourism comes higher than expected prices, which isn’t good news to any country that is beckoning travelers. However, there’s always the balance that though this may also curtail tourism, the prices could certainly help this emerging country’s economy. Much thought should go into this conundrum.
Even with all the past troubled times the colorful and now an amazing calm country, does have a few wonderful 5 star accommodations as I experience in the capital city, Colombo. I stayed at the large, elegant, colonial Mount Lavinia Hotel. Although it’s only rated four stars, I have been to higher starred establishments without all the benefits here. On the way of becoming a major statement in the hotel industry and obviously appealing to the affluent locals, in December while I was visiting, there were two swish, posh weddings each of my three day stay.
And then off I went to the seaside area of Galle (population, 91,000 and once the main port in the 16 century). Here the fragrant air of the lotus flower is immediately detectable.
I spent a delightful time at the five star, Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel. Although about 10KM (6 miles) from the centre of the city, it is well located, over looking the ocean and always considered one of the finest hotels in this beach-centric area. The Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel, certainly has all the credentials of the star rating it has received.
The architect, Geoffrey Bawa, created a minimalist environment with an imposing circular bronze and copper curved staircase surrounded by sculptured horsemen, re-enacting,The Battle of Randenlya. It’s a masterpiece and so unique that in this spacious understated decorated hotel, it is certainly the conversational piece of art.
Only 107 KM (approx. 65miles) from Colombo, it does take an incredibly long 5 plus hours to arrive at the 4th largest city due partly to the fact there is only a short highway before driving on a narrow width road (a new extensive of a wider highway is in the works).
Service, for me, is the starting point of any accountability excellent hotel. Here, at The Lighthouse, it is done so well. Hello, good morning, good day, seem to tumble off the lips of absolutely every staff member. Case in point….Seeing me searching for the right spot to take a sunrise photo very early one morning, not only was I told where to go, but guided up three flights of outside stairs and told exactly where to stand. It would have been a perfect photo op. but most unfortunately, the clouds covered the sunrise and when the sun rays did poke out, within the time of a sigh, it was gone.
But there was so much more. The simplicity of the very large spaces were engagingly warm. Perhaps much had to do with the placement of almost every public space all located on the 2nd floor – the reception area,lobby and dining areas, all facing the ocean and the first vista seen on arrival.
One morning at breakfast, several feisty crows wanted their early daytime munch too and one actually hit my head, a reminder, it seemed, to leave something for him/her. But seeing this, the alarmed wait-staff were immediately chasing these aggressive birds with vengeance to protect me. I couldn’t help thinking at the time, of the horrors of a scene in director Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Birds.
The rooms are larger than the usual and happily there were no rugs to contend with, so no worrying about their bug ridden inhabitants in this very warm area of the world. The bathrooms were special with dark grey granite floors, glass bricks separating the loo from the modern glass shower and a contemporary double sink area. The balcony with a view of sculptural rock formation abutting the ocean, was so seductive that I’d have my tea (grown in multi plantations in Sri Lanka), as my Zen place to decompress and think about spending many more days and maybe months here.
Perhaps the only issue I had, were the children who are pleasant enough to have on site at these posh hotels but certainly not with parents who don‘t seem to consider the other guests. The running about and shouting, albeit joyfully, in this simplified, less -is- more spaces that don’t absorb sound, making the echoes something louder, should be addressed by the management. It’s far too expensive a place to hear the constant shrill of kids shrieking, yelling, running and playing ball within the confines of the lobby area leading to the dining and outdoor seating while there is enough green spaces outdoors or in their own suites.
There are, however, two pools, the larger one for adults (although the kiddies seem to be invited by their parents to join them and make ‘nice’ waves) and a special smaller one for the youngsters.
The spa, constantly booked, has a good ‘menu‘ of services at reasonable prices compared to the North American and European 5 star hotels.
There’s little that is lacking at Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel especially knowing that in this area there was the devastated on Dec. 26th, 2004, by the horrendous Tsunami which claimed over 100,000 people in the vicinity .
For sightseeing, although admittedly it’s hard to pull one away from the hotel, a must-go to see are the ramparts of the ancient Dutch Fort, built in 1663 and sitting on 36 hectares (89 acres), now a World Heritage site. Most interesting is the union of European architecture meeting the traditions of south Asia.
The day I was at the Fort, there seemed to be more locals than tourists taking advantage of the incredible view of the seaside and city from here.
And seeing at least 5 cricket games at various fields doesn’t need questioning about the national sport although I’m told that falconry is really considered the national sport.
Galle is a happy place with happy faces and a major mistake not to visit when you’re in Sri Lanka. And with the ancient Persians, Greeks, Indians, Malays and Romans having passed through in the 14th century and later, to purchase cinnamon among other products, they all left a mark that seems to have spiced up this charming seaside area.
Norman A. Rubin
If you are visiting Haifa while in Israel you don’t want to miss the Baha’i Gardens. The design and landscape of the gardens is breathtaking, making it a
one of a kind experience. There are 19 terraces to explore that are completely serene. With every tree trimmed to perfection and every blade of grass seemingly cut to the exact same height, the 19 terraces of the Baha’i Gardens are truly a sight to behold. But the garden’s crowning glory is its breathtaking panoramic view of Haifa Bay and the azure Mediterranean Sea stretching serenely to the horizon.
The terraced gardens on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, testify to Israel’s important place among world’s religions. The gardens enhance the burial site of a major figure of the Baha’i faith. Eighteen terraces honoring Baha’is eighteen disciples, cascade down the hill, nine above the shrine, nine below it, all filled with native plants. Nineteen is a significant number within both the Baha’i and Babi religions. (An Iranian Canadian Baha’i architect, Faribroz Sahba designed the gardens.)
The immaculate Baha’i Gardens, completed in 2001, are a tranquil memorial to the founders of the Baha’i Faith. Pilgrims come to Haifa from all parts of the world to pay homage to the first leaders of their religion, which emphasizes unity across cultures and religions.
The gardens have elements of the Persian gardens of Shiraz,Iran, the Nishat Bagh gardens of Kashmir, India and English gardens, isolating the site from the noise of the surroundings and connecting the different Bahב’ם buildings on Mount Carmel together.
You don’t need to know much about the Baha’i Faith to appreciate the beauty of their collective, multi-generational creation. Made up of a giant staircase of 19 terraces, more than 1,500 steps as the Baha’i Garden in Haifa sweeps down the northern slop of the beautiful mount Carmel. The garden’s cultivated plants are numerous and lush, casting the illusion of an eternal Spring.
The centerpiece of the hillside garden, midway down on terrace number ten, is the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab. Completed in 1953, the building contains the tomb of
Siyyad Ali Muhammed – the Bab – a Muslim in Persia who proclaimed the coming of a “Promised One” in 1844. The Baha’i Gardens in Haifa are open from 9:00 to 17:00,
seven days a week, but the inner gardens near the shrine close at 12:00 noon. The gardens are closed on Baha’is holy days and Yom Kippur. In rainy weather, they may
be closed temporarily as a safety measure because the pavements are slippery when wet.
The tours are free and no reservation is required, unless you are a group of 25 or more. Check their website to find out when the tours take place; if you are visitor to Israel your tour guide or the concierge in your hotel can advise you of the tours..
NOTE: The Baha’i Gardens are religious sites that are open to the general public without charge. As in most other such sites, visitors are asked to dress modestly, to help keep the place clean and beautiful, and to behave in a manner that is considerate of the sensitivities of others.
Dress: Please wear clothing that covers your shoulders and reaches your knees. Because of the pebbled paths and occasionally slippery pavements, we recommend wearing comfortable shoes with good traction. During the summer months, consider bringing a hat and sun screen.
Food and drink: Visitors are welcome to bring their own bottle of water, but drinking other beverages, eating, chewing gum and smoking are not allowed inside the gardens. Other prohibitions: Kindly do not bring animals or weapons. http://www.ganbahai.org.il/en/haifa/
SIDEBAR – The principles of the Baha’i faith: (Baha’i is an Arabic and Persian word meaning “Glory” -”Ya Baba Al-Ahaba –
1 ) In July 2008, the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa and ‘Akko were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, in recognition of their “outstanding universal value” as holy places and places of pilgrimage for the followers of the Baha’i Faith.
2) The Baha’i World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Baha’i community, is located in the twin cities of ‘Akko and Haifa in northern Israel. It comprises the Shrines of Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahb, other holy sites of the Baha’i Faith in the area, and the buildings on the slope of Mt. Carmel. These structures include the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre’s building, the Centre for the Study of the Texts, and the International Baha’i Archives, all of which are set in extensive gardens.
By John and Sandra Nowlan
The rum punch at check-in was the best we’ve ever tasted. But perhaps that smooth and spicy Barbados welcome was appropriate at the resort that claims to be the oldest in the Caribbean.
The Crane Resort, situated on top of a rugged 30-40 metre cliff overlooking the open Atlantic Ocean, traces its origins to 1887. The prime attraction then, and now, is the magnificent, wide soft sand beach that spreads out below the resort and slopes gently into the warm, azure blue waters of the South Atlantic that stay a constant 24-27 degrees. There’s nothing to the east but ocean…and Africa. The eye-popping beach has been listed as one of the top 10 in the world by both Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and by the BBC.
Open ocean waves on this east side of Barbados can be dramatic and forceful, unlike the quiet and laid-back lifestyle of the resort itself. The marketing director, Joanna Robinson, told us that this gentle pace of life is not for everyone. “If you want a variety of water sports, a busy night life and lots of constant activity,” she said, “this isn’t the place for you.”
But apparently it’s that peacefulness and relative remoteness that makes it the ideal place for thousands of guests each year, mainly from Canada, the US and Britain, who book one of the 200 generously sized suites for a short holiday or a longer time share. Ranging in size between 800 and 4,000 square feet, all the rooms have full housekeeping facilities, elaborate mahogany furniture including four-poster beds and multi-media entertainment choices that include CBC Television. Several have private plunge pools at their front door and most of the newer buildings (the resort is constantly growing) have a two-story penthouse unit with a personal, oversize rooftop Jacuzzi. The well-maintained property also has a series of cascading swimming pools.
In spite of its age and historic features (the oldest part is well-preserved), The Crane seems determined to remain a top Caribbean resort by adding innovative features like free WiFi throughout the property and a new area called The Village with shops, cafés and even plans for a theatre.
It’s in The Village that an innovative Italian restaurant, D’Onofrios, sets a new standard for cuisine in this part of the world. The resort hired a top French chef from New York, Jean-Jacques Carquillat, to oversee and improve its culinary operation. His first focus was on D’Onofrios and, in our view, he succeeded admirably. He may be French but his pizza was the best we’ve ever enjoyed outside Naples and his antipasti was both imaginative and flavourful. Our two main courses, fresh snapper and Chicken Filini, were both infused with just enough herbs and spices to make our taste buds sing. Delizioso!
Chef Carquillat told us he’s now working on menus for The Crane’s International/Caribbean restaurant, L’Azure, which is perched on the edge of the coral cliff with spectacular views of the beach and open Atlantic. The resort also boasts an excellent Japanese/Thai restaurant called Zen and The Carriage House, the former stable 100 years ago at the Crane Beach Hotel, which has a bar and grill featuring an Island specialty, Flying Fish sandwiches.
Andrée Steel and Don Adams of Ottawa first visited Barbados five years ago continuing their policy of never vacationing in the same place twice. They told us that policy changed when they visited The Crane and fell in love with the property, the rooms, the amenities and the view. “Here on the east coast of Barbados we feel very safe and very comfortable in a warm, friendly environment,” they said. “We come here to relax, not to rough it. On the way from the airport we stop for groceries and some great bottles of wine at prices that are comparable to Ontario.”
For them, and for us, that relaxation starts with a generous glass of the Caribbean’s best rum punch.
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
By John and Sandra Nowlan
The low price was startling. A sign outside the smart looking motel on South Padre Island, Texas, advertised rooms for just $34.99. Other nearby motels were almost as cheap – $36.99. We haven’t seen US prices like that for decades.
But this is a key reason why Canadian visitors told us that the Gulf coast of south Texas is “the best kept secret for sun-seekers.”
This area gives Florida a serious challenge. Summer, when Canadians usually stay near home, is high season in south Texas (big city folks from Dallas, San Antonio and Houston flock to the seashore to beat the heat). So the rest of year – except for a week or two in early March when the spring break college crowd gathers – is off-season with a sub-tropical climate and amazing prices for food, accommodation and attractions. Plus the beaches on the outer islands of the Texas coast are extraordinary.
Our first stop was Corpus Christi, a thriving port city of 300,000, protected by a long, sandy barrier island. Like many cities, the downtown has suffered decay but is being revitalized with more hotels and good restaurants.
Before hitting the beach on nearby North Padre Island it’s worth a day or two exploring some unique attractions in the city. Foremost, in our view, is a giant piece of World War Two history. The USS Lexington, the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world, is now tied up in Corpus Christi Bay as a National Historic Landmark. The huge ship, three football fields long, was known as the Blue Ghost for its apparent invincibility in the Pacific war against the Japanese. It was built in 1942 and served in active duty until 1991 when it was decommissioned and donated to the city of Corpus Christi. Guests can now visit the massive indoor hanger, see dozens of vintage and modern planes spread out on the long deck and climb narrow staircases as the sailors did, to living quarters and the operational areas. There’s even a flight simulator and IMAX type theatre.
Nearby the Lexington are the Texas State Aquarium (remarkable for a small city, with many hands-on exhibits), the gleaming white Art Museum of South Texas and the Museum of Science and History which specializes in marine archaeology. That museum includes the remains of both the oldest recovered French and oldest recovered Spanish ships in the western hemisphere and well as full-size replicas of the Christopher Columbus ships, Pinta and Santa Maria. The Nina replica is berthed at the Corpus Christi marina.
Most people come to south Texas for the beaches so we crossed a long causeway to reach Padre Island, the longest barrier island in the world. Parallel to the coast, the narrow strip of sand stretches almost 200 kilometres from Corpus Christi south to the border of Mexico. The smooth sand is firm enough to handle vehicles so many cars and trucks drive along the beach (15 mph limit) or park by the surf for fishing or a picnic. We drove along the beach and the quiet highway to the small resort community of Port Aransas that prides itself on having no big box stores and no McDonalds. Instead, the town of 3,500 offers relaxation, good seafood restaurants and excellent fishing and birding.
One cannot drive the length of Padre Island (much of it is designated as “National Seashore”) so visitors travel inland on Route 77 to reach the southernmost part of Texas, its “tropical tip”, and the pleasures of South Padre Island.
Boasting the best beaches in Texas, along with world-class birding, fishing and dolphin watching, the community of South Padre Island has fewer than 3,000 residents much of the year but happily handles 60,000 to 100,000 visitors on hot summer weekends. The attractions are many. We visited a sea turtle conservation building on Padre Boulevard where guests learn about the five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico and where injured turtles are kept until well enough to return to the wild. Close by is the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Centre with a five story observation tower overlooking the bay and boardwalks that extend over four acres of wetlands frequented by a large variety of wildlife, including hundreds of species of migratory and local birds. In the afternoon we boarded a boat for dolphin viewing. Seven pods of the mammals, numbering about 250 individual dolphins, frequent the bay and immediate Gulf area. They love to get up close to tour boats and show off.
Food on South Padre Island is inexpensive and delicious. You can bring your own fresh-caught fish to many of the seafood restaurants and they’ll gladly cook and serve it to you, along with salad and dessert, for about 15 to 20 dollars. For breakfast we tried Yummies Bistro (rated a well-deserved number 1 on Trip Advisor) and found a new favourite dish – fresh grapefruit pie. Unique and amazing! Evenings are so pleasant in south Texas, everyone will enjoy the sunset dinner cruise on the Southern Wave Catamaran. The boat glides up the bay side of the island, past beautiful homes, while a talented singer rolls out clever ballads and the chef serves a feast of fresh grilled shrimp and Mexican fajitas.
Our vacation sunset came all too quickly as we headed to the mainland city of Harlingen (along with Brownsville, it has the closest airport to South Padre Island) for a quick visit and a flight home. This city of 75,000, with a small home-town feel, boasts the original Iwo Jima Memorial (based on the famous photograph, it’s 10 metres tall with an 18 metre flagpole) that has a better known brass copy in Washington, DC. The downtown is enlivened with large, colourful murals, including one honouring Bill Haley (of “Rock Around the Clock” fame) who died in Harlingen after spending much of his life here. An old-fashioned soda shop downtown has a showcase filled with Bill Haley and the Comets memorabilia. Near the city are flourishing citrus groves and aloe plantations.
In Harlingen we met John and Lucy Morey of Port Dover, Ontario. Retired for a decade, they’re now known as “Winter Texans” (the term, “Snowbirds”, seems to be reserved for Florida) and spend several months of each year in this part of the Lone Star state. “We tried Florida,” John Morey told us, “ but here in Texas people are just much more friendly and the cost of living is much less.” He and his wife noted that they could play a round of golf for $12 and buy wine or beer in a store or restaurant for less than half the price they pay in Canada. They also love it that Mexico is close by. “I can drive 30 minutes to Progreso, Mexico, and get a thorough cleaning from a good dentist for $20.”
Lucy Morey noted that more and more Canadians seem to be discovering south Texas. “Actually, we’re taking over,” she laughed. “We have friends here from all ten provinces.” John Morey agrees. “We come here because it’s warm and I think it extends my life. I don’t have to deal with cold weather.”
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
Beach, beaches, birding, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, dolphin watching, dolphins, fishing, Gulf coast of south Texas, Gulf of Mexico, Harlingen, North America, North Padre Island, Padre Island, Port Aransas, Route 77, South Padre Island, South Texas, Texas, Texas State Aquarium, United States, USA, USS Lexington
The theme of Paris’ Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour, is love – or rather passion, expressed by celebrated French writers, singers and actors caught in the tumultuous grip of extreme feelings. But this isn’t some cheesy hotel with afternoon bookings – it’s a four star boutique hotel, re-opened in the spring of 2012. It has been redone with the sheen of modern amenities, the background of literary tradition and the chic ambiance that comes from artfully created decor.
Sandrine Alouf, the designer, has created an ode to passion, artistically expressed through brilliant color, lighting, photos and print. She calls herself an “atmospheriste”, which seems to describe the spell she casts. The hotel’s atmosphere begins on the street, for it is perched on a hill below the famed Sacre Coeur Church, in the fabled district of Montmartre. Until l860, Montmartre was to be a village with its own vineyeards. Then it became home or hangout to artists ranging from Maurice Utrillo to Eric Satie. Today there are many sidewalk artists as well as casual restaurants.
“From the moment they walk in, I want to immerse the guests, to put them in a different state”, Alouf continues. Throughout the hotel her paeon to passion continues. It can be passion for the neighborhood, for Paris, for art.
The colors hit you first: the entranceway done in pink and brown gives way to dramatic red and black – the red, seen throughout, has been carefully chosen. The small lobby extends to a library that includes books by some the famous writers depicted in the hotel: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Hugo, Rimbaud. On the library wall you get the first glimpse of the print theme that will continue in the rooms.
“First to love, then to say it, then to write it, then to kiss… on the mouth, the eyes and elsewhere,” wrote Victor Hugo to Juliette Drouet the woman he loved for 50 years without ever living with her.
Among the 24 rooms, eight (deluxe) pay homage to mythic couples including Edith Piaf and the boxer Marcel Cedran, her greatest love who died in a a plane crash. Imbedded in the wallpaper, specially designed by a British company, are retro black and white photos of Cedran and of Piaf, each alone.. Other such rooms depict Sartre and de Beauvoir, Charles Beaudelaire and Jeanne Duval and Apollinaire and Lou. She was indifferent to him, but his passion gave rise to great work – 220 letters and 75 poems. Indeed, a long domestic life is not the hallmark of these couples.
The four “superior” rooms are all about Montmartre at night, with it’s history of the Moulin Rouge..
The twelve “classic” rooms are designed around the themes: Secrets of Love, Stolen Kisses and Paris My Love. But you can’t survive on romance alone, and all rooms have free wifi and flat screen televisions with 50 international channels. The bathrooms, which are in a separate room from the toilets, have both hand held and rain showers, and small glittering tiles.
The rooms, like the hotel and the neighborhood itself are small.
Not so the buffet breakfast, which includes high quality cheeses and cold cuts, eggs and cereal, buttery croissants and very French coffee with steamed milk. A special touch is the heart-shaped waffles.
Among the thirty-something staff, there’s no “attitude”. They are eager to help, whether that means carrying your suitcase up in the tiny lift, printing out a map of the neighborhood or suggesting a restaurant or calling a taxi.
Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour, 7 rue Paul Albert, Paris 75008. phone +33 01 46 06 03 03.
by Barbara Kingstone
From the front of The Hazelton Hotel in Toronto’s Yorkville area, it’s small wonder that guests can be a bit confused which door leads to the hotel. Firstly, there’s the door to the costly condos on the 4th and 5th floor, then to the exclusive retail store and then for one of the city’s most popular restaurants, called One. Finally,in the lobby there’s a small greeting staff, waiting and ready to assist.
Once inside the lobby, it quickly becomes clear that Yabu Pushelberg, one of the most sought after interior designers world -wide, who just happen to be Torontonians, have set up a singularly stunning, subtle venue. And also added is a secret scent that is so encompassing, one can’t help being aware of the freshness of the delicate presence of lavender and jasmine in the air. After all, there is only one first impression and it may as well be the best there is to offer if you want to be considered in the highest rung of global luxury ‘digs’.
Here bronze colour velour (don’t shrug. This fabric is luscious) and seating groupings are separated from each other in quiet sections of this airy but not large area. Small gold-leaf coffee tables separate the chairs with dark grey velour. It may sound staid but to break up the traditional, there are unique designer tan leather chairs, silver mesh window coverings that take on the impression of chain mail, huge and important bronze sculptures which have a major presence. It’s in the style of a1940s Hollywood Gentlemen’s club, with a touch of black and a lot of class.
And the important art work, I soon discover, continues throughout the hotel and the rooms.
Off the lobby there is a dimly lit niche for the reception area.
One doesn’t expect Madonna and Elton John to have to register here but those lesser known, or regular clients, don’t have to be concerned about who sees them in this pricey hotel.
And yes, the celebs love The Hazelton so there’s no mistaking that this 62 room, 15 suite boutique hotel is up there on the list of where to stay in this booming city where the world’s second most important film festival- TIFF- takes place annually and yes, the stars do come and rooms are reserved months ahead of time.
The palette of ecru, cream and grey are shot throughout the entire premises. And what great suites, enough to take photos and want some of the aspects and ideas duplicated in own their home.
It was during the Toronto International Film Festival that I met with the General Manager David Mounteer and his assistance Katerina . Most rooms were occupied and Madonna and her very large entourage were about descend. But that said, I was taken to a few of the suites to see a few layouts. Stunning, large, and but with the modernistic, lucite/stainless steel edge that many of the new hotels have. It’s a softer rendition and the flow of each room, each different, all have similar textures walls, counters and floors
The larger suites like #220, have a dressing area that leads to the bedroom and the bathroom. Here the doors, looking like part of the wood paneled walls when pulled closed for privacy. The sinks and counter space is separated by the bathroom’s entrance. No cost was spared with the Galaxy marble counters, a top- end espresso machine, the finest linens, European imported modern faucets in all the bathroom, frosted glass areas where needed.
Also, important in this lively part of the city, most rooms have balconies that overlook the fashion or the residential streets.
But perhaps the most innovative is that each floor has a business centre where in this smallish area, there’s a, computer, a printer, fax, copy machine..no charge.
And there are various categories from Superior rooms which are their standard ones, but are larger than most that exist in other hotels. Deluxe, Luxury, Junior suites, an Executive suite, and The Hazelton, The Avenue, The Bellair, all one of a kind. The last three suites are named after bordering or nearby streets. Rates are expectedly high. starting in the $500 range up to a few thousand dollars a night.
What is the big surprise for this small stately building is that there is a spa. Four treatment rooms using the Swiss made creams and lotions, Valmont, have top estheticians. While waiting for my facial, in a small, candle lit niche, I was served herbal tea. Katherine only available during the TIFF week, was so very knowledgeable and also mentioned throughout the1 1/2 hour facial, which product she was about to apply and why. It’s complimentary to the VIPs at this time. I did come away looking a glossier with my now baby soft skin.
The floor below has a salt water filled lap pool. Although narrow, it’s long enough for a good swimming work-out and the gym, again not huge, is filled with the best equipment to be had.
As a New Yorker told me in the black-etched, mirrored elevators. “It may be my first time here and in Canada, but it certainly it won’t be my last. It’s a great city and the hotel is one of the most stunning, well serviced I’ve ever stayed at,” he said, his cap just perfectly placed as though a stylist may have given him some hints. And this recommendation from a jaded movie mogul, here to see the film offerings and from a man who has probably stayed at the best around the world. Toronto’s The Hazelton Hotel, is now fair competition for the world’s top rated boutique Hotels.
by John and Sandra Nowlan
James Bond would feel right at home.
To enter this secluded piece of paradise at the extreme south end of Mexico’ s Baja California peninsula, visitors must pass through a 300 metre tunnel that’s lit by chandeliers and torches. Instead of a shark tank and 007 villain, the other side of the small mountain presents a unique 66-room luxury resort built on a narrow strip of sand and arid land between the granite cliff and the pounding Pacific surf.
The Capella Pedregal was completed just three years ago on a 24 acre site surrounded by the Pacific to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east.
This area has boomed in recent years as a safe and secluded playground for travellers from the US, Canada and overseas. We’ve visited many areas of Mexico but the Capella excels in its level of luxury and sophistication.
The resort is built in a series of one to four story gold and brown-toned stone and stucco buildings that blend perfectly into the rocky landscape. Instead of lush, tropical foliage, the property is dotted with gardens of desert cacti and tall grasses with several large infinity swimming pools and lots of comfortable loungers. Service is provided by a staff of 300 (including maintenance and groundskeepers) for a maximum of 200 guests. An amazing ratio, but service is never intrusive. The beach is wide and clean (the private access to the resort assures no peddlers) but unfortunately the heavy surf and dangerous undertow make it unsafe for swimming.
The oversized rooms at Capella Pedregal are particularly stunning. Each faces the broad Pacific Ocean and has a private plunge pool, gas fireplace, showers with both a rainfall head and traditional nozzle, a giant soaker tub, a small fridge with water and juices and free WiFi. Authentic Mexican touches like hand painted dual sinks, hand-tooled leather headboards, traditional lamps with leather shades and heavy mesquite doors add to the feeling of comfort and privacy. Every afternoon an attendant leaves an ice bucket with two Mexican beers and dishes of guacamole and salsa with homemade corn chips. Especially enjoyable while relaxing in the plunge pool and watching the surf thundering against the beach.
The town of Cabo San Lucas is just a short walk away (through that amazing tunnel) with excellent shopping (bargaining expected) and some fine restaurants. But the cuisine is so good at the Capella resort that we preferred to eat all our meals at one of the three restaurants. Executive Chef Marco Bustamante (a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and formerly of Per Se in New York) brings a modern twist to traditional Mexican cuisine.
“I want our food to have local, organic and sustainable ingredients,” he told us.
“It’s rustic but refined and I’m always looking for something new.”
Breakfast at the signature Don Manuel restaurant can be a la carte (the pecan waffles are extraordinary) or buffet style from a traditional hacienda at the back of the restaurant (that’s also the room for tequila tasting and where Chef Bustamante gives Mexican cooking lessons). Lunch and dinner at Don Manuel are special treats with cuisine and service at the highest levels. The fresh sea bass with a thick macadamia nut crust was the best restaurant seafood we’ve ever enjoyed.
The El Farallon restaurant (built on a cliff at the west end of the resort, it literally and accurately means, “a rock that comes out of the ocean”) is unique in its location just above the pounding Pacific and in its format. Guests choose their seafood (or beef) from a display of fresh fillets and then they’re cooked to order along with side dishes and brought to your table. We especially enjoyed the perfectly prepared amber jack and parrot fish, two of the choices that the chef receives daily from seven local fishermen.
The third dining option is the casual Beach Club for lunch. We couldn’t resist the sea bass tacos with spicy mango margaritas. The ceviche – bass, tuna or shrimp – are also outstanding.
For a small, secluded resort the Capella Pedregal has one of the biggest and most complete spas we’ve ever seen. Including the tradition of Mexican folk healing, the 12,000 square foot Auriga spa has eight treatment “pods” floating on a private pool along with couples suites and steam, sauna and ice rooms. The spa also has four unique signature treatments based on the phases of the moon. All treatments begin with a foot scrub using sea salt and fresh herbs.
The Capella Pedregal is not cheap but none of the guests we met felt it was overpriced. For Martha and Randy Cass of Toronto, this was their third stay at a Capella property. “We love the west coast of Mexico,” they said. “The property here beautifully reflects the rough and wild nature of the landscape. The private tunnel is fantastic and the service here makes us feel very special.”
Next month (July 11-15) the Capella Pedregal will be hosting its own Food and Wine Festival with several celebrity chefs on hand. Among them will be Iron Chef winner Kent Rathbun of Dallas and Johnny Iuzzini, New York City’s top pastry chef and, according to Forbes, “one of the 10 most influential chefs in the U.S.”. Guests will enjoy cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, gourmet dining and a barbeque party on the beach.
by Barbara Kingstone
When uber fashionista, the late Diana Vreeland, told the fashion world, decades ago, that “the new black is pink”, she was referring to her colorful experience of seeing such vibrancy in India.- miles away from the black -clad style mavens of Manhattan and Paris.
This phrase has become so overused and it was my immediate reaction to emphasize my own interpretation of the recently opened Trump International Tower Hotel and Tower, in downtown Toronto. My instant reaction was “the new black is black”.
From the doorman and the rest of the staff, it’s done as though a top fashion designer had taken the reins.
From the granite floor design of most intricate interwoven squares of black mixed with shots of grey and ecru, this is a well thought out mixture of pattern and texture. It was easy to understand that the inspiration for the palette was champagne and caviar.
This is an obvious thread from the sensuous, curved black door framing to the elevators -one section for guests, the other for condo owners- and black was the ‘it’ hue. This played well against the lightest panels of white semi-precious onyx walls and the greige upholstered black framed chairs. One can’t miss the exquisite crystal sculpture, on an interruption of a dark aubergine wall that backs the reception desk. At night, when lights are dimmed to meet the outside dusk, this monumental crystal has noticeable purple which plays with the facets of the stones.
The sleek color scheme was indicative of the theme throughout the hotel. So it was no surprise when I visited a few suites that even the wide luxurious hallways had these shades. Another constantly seen theme but in a variety of colors, is cherry blossoms shown on some of the rugs, ceilings, over the bed photographs, on the filigree steel balustrade, all playing with the lighter shades which are often in damask silk panels.
So skillfully done, the palette throughout the hotel with the shots of dark and lighter shades is well thought out, and usually seen in the most modernistic decorated hotel. One has to think that this isn’t a building of the ultra modern genre of only glass and steel but sends a feeling of warmth with the stonework set off by the glass.
For me, one of the most impressive decor treeats,is a mural that greets guest at the porte cochere- the tip-off that this wasn’t just any hotel. All done in gold dotted, multi colored, mosaic tile, until you stand away from the 55,000 tile masterpiece, entitled, “A Small Part of Something Larger” by Canadian artist, Stephen Andrews, do you see that it’s a cross-section of people in seats at a sports venue. The cheers, well deserved.
Although there is a feeling of deja vu… of mid century furnishing combined with a most updated look, there are statement pieces seen in the choice of various chairs, some completely in gold leather near heavy crystal chandeliers. A plus to this eclectic mixture that works so terrifically, is the location in the Toronto’s financial area of Bay and King Streets. Every detail has been thought out and expense seemed not to be a concern. It is, after all, a perfect introduction to the wealth of this always growing city.
If, by chance, you had one too many and you didn’t know where you were except for the fact that you were in a nifty bar, you’d realize it quickly enough with the ticker over the mirrored back wall. This has to be a financial district with a very affluent crowd seated or standing along the bar which you’d probably transmit this evidence to your somewhat soused brain.
After 4PM, the small space is packed with the very upwardly mobile set of deal makers of all ages.. The name? Wait for it….SUITS. It’s the meeting place for those who have deep pockets from their investments in the good old times or those who were astute enough to know when to sell. It’s a bar that easily matches in price rates per flute, any 5 star Manhattan hotel. Decor and great service costs.
The long narrow restaurant…STOCK.. has a smoky screen of dainty lace inserted between the glass, the banquettes are theme-ready with light beige tufted velvet backs and black leather seats, the coffered ceiling, herringbone pattern wood flooring, black wood tabletops, fabric paneled walls, windows draped in light sheers and black on black velvet damask, side drapes. This creates an airy feeling but there’s also a sense of La Belle Epoque and a hint of romance at many of the tables. Who wouldn’t feel romantic?
While some are having their favored drink, many guests opt to stay in their majestic suites. The panoramic view is like a kinetic sculpture from just about every window..either a busy street scene below or Lake Ontario, where on a clear day you could make out Niagara Falls.(not the Falls but the silhouette of the city, about 2 hours from Toronto).
I’m a ‘newsy’ so having a TV in the bathroom is a plus. But here it’s not just any TV that swivels but a flat insert into the mirror.When turned off it becomes a black (of course) square set in the mirror.
And even the smallest detail is looked on as an important feature. A great example happen to be in the closet. A safety box is large enough for a lap top and there are four varieties of hangers …padded for the dainty dressed and tops, another set for heavy coats, also hangers for pants and suits.
Of course, there’s a spa. Quartz Crystal Spa has 19 treatment rooms and is on two levels. And now it seems that Trump is in the skin care business since shelves have a namesake selection of creams and lotions.
One thing is for sure, Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto may be theoretically black tones but there isn’t a dark area in this grand building. Guests depart knowing that they were well serviced by an amicable, friendly, well trained staff that happens to work in outstanding surroundings.
Black it may be, but there’s a lightness due to the quality and a definite dedication to class and comfort that trumps other Trumps.
By Subhasish Chakraborty
If ever there was an Eden on Earth, it had to be the Quintas De Obidos Country Club.one of Portugal’s most renowned eco-friendly resort,s located on Portugal’s famed Silver Coast – a region that happens to be one of Portugal’s most beautiful and unspoilt,
In all there are 79 outstanding villas spread over an area of 140 acres in a natural lake setting. This one-of-its-kind resort has truly redefined eco-tourism in Portugal. The Silver Coast is beginning to make its presence felt as one of Europe’s most preferred holiday destinations. The Quintas De Obidos Country Club has roped in Jessica Kurten – world’s number one lady show jumper as their brand ambassador. And why not?
The unprejudiced eye of the architect echoes in every nook and corner of the resort. Here at the Quintas De Obidos Country Club, the virtually impossible seem graceful and easy and I think that’s what architecture is all about. The resort is a supreme adjustment to opportunity and local conditions. All attention has been concentrated on, not collecting art, but on creating art, like one beautiful picture.
Surrounded by innovative designs, designs that are unusual and minimalist, designs that celebrate, which do not necessarily conform to any set pattern, finishes that are playful – is the joy that this resort breathes into her spaces. Be it the floors, walls, ceilings, doors or even the simple framed windows, the resort manages to evoke in the most mundane things a vibrancy and a happy mood, that reach out to greet you the moment you step inside.
We were lucky to meet master architects – Miguel Saraiva and Costa Lima at the resort. None of us had ever seen a resort of this magnitude before and in course of our dinner with the lights dimmed, the candles aglow, a cosy dinner served, Miguel emotionally remarked – “I feel architects tend to design interiors that are austere – decorators on the other hand produce interiors that are dramatic, often with no sense of discipline. Here though, the synthesis has been perfect, stunning and dignified showcase that exudes an aura of ease”.
Confronting the challenge of developing an eco-tourism project of this magnitude, it is vital to find a language, which would incorporate the traditional architecture within the elements of a contemporary construction. I have been fortunate to personally see my California based aunt who is a high profile architect specializing on tribal vernacular architecture struggle with her pet projects in the North Eastern state of Assam. Most architects find the task of incorporating a traditional vernacular architecture into an eco-tourism initiative challenging. The bottomline is to be faithful to the characteristics of traditional architecture, whilst having regard for the link between interior and exterior spaces and the design brief.
What is so striking about the Quintas De Obidos Country Club is that the landscape for most part is of undulating terrain, which is more prominent in certain areas. And the eye of the architect here has been to incorporate the various plots with diverse possibilities of orientation. As architect Miguel candidly admits – “Opting for an architecture clearly rooted in a traditional Portuguese style was really a challenge”.
Quintas De obidos, email email@example.com
by Subhasish Chakraborty
A holiday in New Zealand is always very special and I have seen a number of my friends migrating to this country in search of greener pastures and promise of a good life. During my days as a student of
Tourism Management at the Trade Wings Institute of Management, Guwahati (Assam), quite a number of my close friends opted to migrate to New Zealand, given the fact that the Tourism industry in New Zealand is booming and the prospect of jobs in the Tourism industry is quite encouraging.
Rajesh Goyal was one such buddy who left India lock, stock and barrel. Hailing from a business family and given the fact that terrorism was eating into the vitals of Assam’s economy, the Goyal family decided enough was enough and after successfully overcoming the rigorous immigration procedures, finally settled down in the city of Auckland.
Its been almost a decade now and with Goyal family’s burgeoning spices business doing really well in the promised land, Rajesh decided it was about time he tied the nuptial knot. In spite of the fact that I was engrossed with my job as a Travel Writer, crisscrossing the subcontinent, I simply couldn’t say no to him when I received the Invitation Card.
So off I was, first to Auckland to attend the marriage ceremony and later on at the fabulous Cavalli Beach House Retreat, which is one of New Zealand’s most isolated secret beach hideaway. The four hours drive from Auckland was exhilarating and I was received at the Resort’s lobby by one of Rajesh’s colleague – Ankit, who is of Indian origin and a business partner of the Goyal family. Ankit would be my guide cum companion for the next few days and a lot of outdoor activities were planned in advance.
The Cavalli Beach House is an exclusive beach retreat and the remote location along with the unusual architecture was every bit interesting. I took a deep breath and as I opened the windows, the breathtaking beach panorama left me stupefied, as if the world was at my feet. I felt like I was at home. Its not a profanity. Its not a cliché. Any hotel or resort that makes you feel at home has to have an identity, a bearing and a sense of security, all of which I found at the Cavalli Beach House.
There is an old saying that man is a master of his home. This could not be a more appropriate aphorism, when it comes to the sublime and aesthetically done up Beach Retreat. Whoever provided the architectural blueprint to this one-of-its-kind retreat has to be a man of exquisite tastes. Just like music, I could see and feel the rhythm and harmony, in everything that was laid out in every single room. Be it the furniture, tapestry, artifacts, glassware, lamps and carpets, it was elegance personified.
My friend Rajesh is a widely traveled man and he is always on the lookout for either an antique or contemporary work of creativity when it comes to choosing hotels and resorts. I am glad he choose the Cavalli Beach House as my place to rejuvenate.
What was striking to me about the retreat was the “Color Harmony”. Colors are silent communicators, yet they say a lot. The color harmony at the Cavalli Beach House was a pleasing application of colors as you have in paintings. There was a sense of order and balance. The intelligent choice of colors that adorned the walls gave the retreat a sense of space and grandeur.
At the Cavalli Beach, world-class visitor amenities set in a sylvan rural setting and a life enhanced by boundless activities awaits you. The first night, me and Ankit sat by a beach fire lit up by the resort’s friendly staff and let me tell you…. the resort’s wine collection is not only rich but honored guests are also offered award winning New Zealand wines to keep them in good spirits. A traditional three course dinner under a starlit sky followed.
Given the breathtaking natural panorama, replete with secluded bays, exclusive fishing zones and a host of adrenalin pumping watersport activities, its not surprising that the Cavalli Beach House has its own Environmental policy. The landscape in this part of New Zealand is ecologically fragile and even the designing of the retreat took into consideration the link between the local ecological balance.
The retreat supports Eco-Tourism that is sustainable in nature and the retreat’s staff too seemed well aware of the ecological issues not only facing New Zealand, but the rest of the world as well. I was told by one the resort’s amicable Front Office Executive that the Cavalli Beach House works in tandem with Tourism New Zealand as well as Qualmark in its efforts to popularize and put into practice Eco-Friendly norms.
Instead of jumping headlong into some outdoor activities, the “Lazy Indian” syndrome caught up with me and I kind of delayed my stint outdoors for a day, choosing instead a therapeutic massage at the retreat’s cool parlor. I meet Gabriella Fischer, the retreat’s in-house Massage Therapist – very amiable and well mannered. After a brisk Question & Answer session through which she arrived at a conclusion to impart the 90 minutes “Deep Tissue Relaxation” therapy that promised to rejuvenate my body and soul.
The next day Ankit, my companion, woke me up early as we planned to get involved in outdoor activities. After a warm shower and light breakfast, we headed to the retreat’s jetty and boarded a launch that would take us on a sightseeing trip. After an enthralling 2 hours sea voyage, we decided to have an impromptu lunch onboard.
Although I am not an avid adventure sports freak…. No guts really! On one of my visits to Goa, I did take a few days’ lesson on Scuba Diving at the Barracuda Dive Center that is located at Panaji’s magnificent Marriot hotel. However, unless you practice at regular intervals, you tend to forget the skill sets that are required in deep sea diving. Any which way, I mustered some courage and decided to give it a shot, since a qualified diver was at hand.
As I put on my diving gear, I could sense a tinge of nervous sensation engulfing me and I got hold of Mike (Diving Specialist) as we splashed on the azure blue waters. I had the notion that India was by far the most captivating country in terms of diving spots since we have fabulous diving destinations like Lakshwadeep, Daman, Diu, Goa and Andaman Islands that are unrivalled. But after an hour, as I rose up to the surface and put my foot onboard, there was a sense of fulfillment. Post diving, I can say with certainty that be it the “Rainbow Warrior” wreck or the bewildering coastal conservation reserve in close proximity to the Cavalli Beach House, they are amongst the best diving sites the world has to offer.
Apart from the usual beach activities, the Cavalli Beach House is ideally located in close proximity to the famed Mahinepua Conservation Reserve that offers some incredible hiking options. We spent one full day hiking in the forest cover of Mahinepua, which was refreshing to say the least.
One great way of romancing New Zealand is by hopping on to a helicopter flight. I know the worth of Heli Tourism as I have first hand experience of embarking on Mountain Flights that are operated in Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim. In Nepal it is the Mount Everest, while in Sikkim it is Mount Kanchenjunga that are the focal points of attraction.
Here in New Zealand though, it is Cape Reinga, popularly referred to as “Top of New Zealand” which draws the discerning visitors to go onboard the breathtaking 1 hour Mountain Flight. As we sat onboard the Salt Air helicopter and fastened our seat belts, the copter slowly started its ascent and within minutes we were flying on top of the West Coast. The scenery below was surreal to say the least and made for a truly kaleidoscopic vignette.
We landed at Far North where a coach was awaiting our arrival and we were whisked away to the panoramic Pouto where we had an impromptu lunch in the ethereal backdrop of the spectacular sand dunes. Late in the afternoon we made a few more rounds of the stunning landscape before our flight back to Cavalli Beach House.
Although Helicopter Tourism sounds great, it comes for a price. The 6 hours Cape Reinga/Pouto trip is pegged at NZ $ 4,300 – NZ $ 4,600 depending upon the number of passengers. There is another trip operated by Salt Air – this one takes you to the enchanting Waitiki region and can be covered in 4 hours and is competitively priced at NZ $ 375.00 per person. Unfortunately due to paucity of time, we gave the later a miss, much to the dismay of the retreat’s Manager.
For those unable to board high altitude helicopter flights, the Cavalli Beach House does offer breathtaking day trips by car to some of the most exotic locales of New Zealand. I was especially stupefied by the sheer grandeur and panoramic natural vistas of Cape Karikari and Mangonui. Time permitting, first time visitors would do well to visit the heavily forested regions of Waipoua and Puketi forest as well as Paihia and Russel, all within driving distance from the Cavalli Beach House.
According to my companion Ankit, no trip to New Zealand is ever complete without a stint at one of New Zealand’s superbly landscaped golf courses. On the penultimate day of our stay at the Cavalli Beach House, the retreat’s friendly Manager arranged for our trip to the fabulous Carrington Golf Club, which is an hour’s drive from the retreat. The drive itself was beautiful as you pass by the scenic New Zealand countryside.
The Carrington Club is ideally nestled in Northland’s Karikari Peninsula. The resort’s world class facilities a heated swimming pool and an exclusive spa pool, a well stocked bar, two championship tennis courts, Olympic standard clay and skeet target shooting range as well as a gymnasium.
Carrington Club is spread over an area of 3000 lush green acres and what impressed me the most was the natural setting of 4 Kms. of exclusive balmy beach stretch. There is also an exclusive wetland site and the region is rich in avian life.
We meet a group from far away Los Angeles, who were out to have fun in cool, cool New Zealand. They were truly enchanted by the excellent golfing ambience at Carrington Club. And why not! The course is all of 6417 meters with a par 72 and offers a terrain ranging from green undulating vales and testing water holes. What makes the Carrington Golf Course truly spectacular is that it has the longest par 5’s in the whole of New Zealand as well as the shortest par 3’s.
As we indulged in the mouth watering Sea Food fare at the Retreat’s exclusive multi cuisine restaurant, the ethereal sight of the picturesque and make belief world of a rural New Zealand with its dimly lit lights appearing like a million studded diamonds sparkling or should I say flickering, reminded me of those eternal words of Rishi Aurobindoo –
“When you and I, we played together,
Who my playmate was I did not know.
Without a fear, without a shame,
Life in quiet ease did flow”.
Traveler’s Fact File:
New Zealand being a small country is well served by International Airlines’ like Air New Zealand, Qantas, United Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai International.
Reaching Cavalli Beach House:
The Cavalli Beach House Retreat is ideally located in a remote waterfront locale in East Coast. From Auckland one can reach the retreat in four hours driving time. However, if you happen to board a commuter flight from Auckland, you will reach the Bay of Islands airport in 35 minutes. Alternatively, if you choose a helicopter ride, you will reach the retreat from Kerikeri in 45 minutes.
For further information and reservations at Cavalli Beach House Retreat, please feel free to contact – firstname.lastname@example.org