Aspen Has Re-Opened for Summer: A Report From the W Aspen & Sky Residences

 

 

Though the near future of travel remains a maddening riddle, it’s safe to say we’ve got a good six months to begin to tell exactly how the ski season will be shaping in a world still haunted by the coronavirus crisis. Colorado was not hit terribly hard (though nearly 1500 deaths have been reported), so expect an urgency for the major resort towns to get back some measure of normalcy—Aspen especially, which officially resumed business on May 29,

Last August, of course, we reported on the notable opening of the new W Aspen & Sky Residences, which quickly became one of the region’s hottest destinations, with its Wet Deck, Living Room, and 39° nightlife hotspots. As its first summer season approaches, the hotel has undertaken its post-pandemic re-opening, with restaurants and bars, of course, operating at 50% capacity.

To better understand how this was accomplished, we caught up with General Manager Greg Durrer for the lowdown.

 

 

What are the safety measures you’ve put into place for re-opening?

W Aspen & the Sky Residences at W Aspen have closely coordinated with the Pitkin County Board of Health, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Marriott International to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 cleanliness and safety plan for all of our overnight guests, residence owners, local customers and employees. We have extensively modified and elevated our cleaning processes and procedures prior to our guests’ arrival, during their visit and post departure. Upon arrival, we have installed protective plexiglass barriers at high contact spaces, including our registration desks. In accordance with Pitkin County Board of Health Guidelines, all guests wear masks when traveling through hotel common areas.

And employee / guest interaction?

Employees wear masks and, in some cases, gloves, as positions require. Currently, our pools, hot tubs and fitness center remain closed in accordance with published guidelines. Overall, there is a heightened focus on employee training, cleaning, and following all social distancing protocols and providing our guests with peace of mind so they can truly enjoy their visit to our beautiful mountain destination.

What is different about the sort of bookings you’re getting for this summer?

As business returns, we have noticed that our drive leisure markets are returning first. We are also seeing a wide diversity in travelers from individuals and couples to extended families reconnecting as quarantines are lifted around the country and globe.

 

 

How do you feel the social experience at the hotel will play out in the coming months? Including bars and restaurants.

Guests are looking to escape and enjoy all that Aspen has to offer in the way of outdoor activities, fresh mountain air, a vibrant culinary scene and world class galleries and shopping. There is a high desire from travelers to see that restaurants are following all published safety guidelines and protocols and outdoor dining is in high demand. We have made significant adjustments to our dining spaces to ensure that we are able to accommodate every guest in a clean, comfortable and safe environment. W Aspen is very fortunate to have an 8,000 sq. ft. roof top WET Deck that offers stunning 360-degree views of the Aspen skyline and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. Our WET Deck is unparalleled in Aspen and offers a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Our acclaimed Executive Chef, Jackie Siao, prepares globally inspired and locally sourced cuisine. This fare, combined with our views, creates an unmatched mountain lux experience.

What do you think the Aspen experience will be like this summer? What will be different?

The Aspen experience this summer will be focused on the outdoor adventure and access to the magnificent spaces that surround Aspen. Breathtaking views, the abundance of outdoor activities and an opportunity to reconnect and recharge with loved ones, extended family and friends. Hiking Maroon Bells, Hunter Creek Trail, Sunnyside Trail or Ute Trail offer our guests the chance to clear their minds, while taking in natural landscape that has made Aspen one of the most desirable summer destinations in the world. People travel from all over the globe to take on some of the most challenging mountain bike terrain and these trails are all just steps away from the resort that sits in town directly at the base of Aspen Mountain. W Aspen & the Sky Residence at W Aspen is perfectly positioned to host guests looking to enjoy the clean, fresh mountain air and wide-open spaces that the Rocky Mountains offer to all of our guests this upcoming summer.

 

Beloved Tuscany Artist Residence Villa Lena Will Re-Open in June

 

 

After eight weeks of finding ways to cope with stay-at-home measures through virtual visits and such, cities around the world are slowly beginning to come back to life. Of course, our personal readiness to brave that new world will surely be getting a boost from our eagerness to get out and begin to experience again those things we most missed most during our solitude—travel surely being one of those things.

In hard-hit Italy, striking a balance between staying safe and living la dolce vita will become the new way of life for the next several months. As the country slowly reopens the cultural and culinary destinations that we always relied on to feed our souls and bellies, it’s particularly encouraging to learn that Villa Lena, the stunning 19th century retreat located in the Tuscan Province of Pisa, will indeed be in operation once again in mid-June.

 

 

With its offerings organized passionately around food and art, it’s situated amongst the olive groves and vineyards synonymous with the region—and will be reviving the farm-to-table dining schedule in the acclaimed San Michele restaurant, which is regularly stocked from its on-site Organic Orto garden.

The property, which operates the Villa Lena Foundation, an artist-in-residency program, will re-open its 2020 season, of course, with modifications to comply with safe distancing measures. This year’s art slate will include a ceramics workshop led by Canberra based ceramicist Eloise White, outdoor sketching lessons with illustrator Charlotte Trounce, and collage masterclasses with contemporary artist Katy Kirbach.

 

 

“Being a hotel in Italy, the first Western country to issue a total lockdown, means that there really hasn’t been a playbook for us to follow over the past few months,” explains founder Lena Evstafieva. “We are positive, however, that there will be a hunger for being amongst nature, for open and beautiful spaces, and for that joy of life that Italian sunsets and cocktail hours bring. Through making small changes to our service offerings, we are excited now to be in a position where we can safely welcome back guests this year.”

Villa Lena will be open again from June 15th, and 10% of all 2020 proceeds will go to UNICEF to support vulnerable children affected by the coronavirus in Italy. They are also offering opportunities for long-term stays in self-catering apartments.

 

BlackBook Virtual Travel: Digitally Touring the Châteaux of France’s Loire Valley

 

 

As various corners of Europe begin to cautiously open up, a note from a colleague in Switzerland who was ambling through virtually empty museums there, reminds us that this is all going to be a very slow, cautious process. Americans, especially, will not be jetting to The Continent in any great numbers in the coming months.

So we thought it a good time point out the virtual touring opportunities for one of our favorite European summer destinations, France’s glorious Loire Valley. Just about a hour southwest of Paris by TGV, it is a land of time-transporting châteaux, lavish cathedrals, ethereal landscapes, and vineyards as far as the eye can see—those which grow the grapes for the Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines that fulfill so many of our most Francophilic epicurean desires.

As one might expect, digitally moving through those opulent châteaux alone would make for a long afternoon or evening of riveting escapism. First up is the Château de Chambord, with its striking mix of Renaissance and French medieval architecture (love those turrets), and 426 rooms full of 16th Century aristocratic living; it is surely the most spectacular hunting lodge ever built. To possibly tap into a bit of genius inspiration, the Château du Clos Lucé was where Leonardo Da Vinci lived out his last days, in service to King Francis I.

 

 

With its sculpture-filled gardens, Château du Rivau is for cultured sorts, especially considering its provocative mix of classical and contemporary art pieces. But surely the most breathtaking of them all is the Château de Chenonceau, with its magnificent collection of 16th and 17th Century tapestries, and its stunning position above the River Cher.

For those whose cultural purview is more focused on the last fifty years or so, it’s very much worth taking a digital roam through The Contemporary Art Center (CCCOD) in the city of Tours—where the holdings include works by the likes of Daniel Buren, Alain Bublex and Per Barclay.

Of course, the Loire is ultimately about le cuisine et vin. So we strenuously recommend popping the corks on a couple of those aforementioned wines, and whipping up a spread of tarte flambée, confit de canard, and poached eggs au Chinon—so that your virtual touring comes with a savory side of the actual.

For more information on the Loire Valley, visit the France Tourism site.

 

Posh Post-Pandemic Travel Splurge: Rooftop Dinner at Rome’s Hotel Hassler

 

 

Surely, some will react to the lifting of the social-distancing restrictions with reasonable caution—which we would certainly applaud for its careful pragmatism. But alas, we fear we may ourselves be overcome with an irrational exuberance, especially where travel is concerned.

Considering the particular level of devastation the coronavirus has wrought on Italy, when things do get back to some sense of normalcy, they will need us more than ever. And something about the very idea of returning to the Eternal City, just might begin to psychologically ease us away from our close brush with mortality—considering its overarching aura of immortality.

A good start to planning that first post-quarantine trip would certainly be scheduling some manner of glorious epicurean splurge. And what better place in Rome than the extravagantly luxurious Hotel Hassler (a member of The Leading Hotels of the World) at which to accomplish just that? To that end, the city’s plushest sleep has just announced a rare and generous offer at its exalted rooftop restaurant Imago.

 

 

Having debuted a full five years before Fellini’s 1960 classic La Dolce Vita, the Michelin-starred eatery has also far outlasted the fleeting fashionability of the nearby Via Veneto. To this day, a six-course dinner is yet one of Europe’s most coveted dining experiences—which can now be purchased in advance for just €250 Euro for two people of obviously impeccable taste, as opposed to the normally lofty price tag of €200 per head. Included are wine and aperitifs, to sublimely complement such delectable menu items as Red Mullet w/ Foie Gras & Pomegranate, and Sea Urchin w/ Saffron Risotto, Clementine & Bone Marrow.

Of course, there’s no charge for the glorious view from your elegant table perched just above the Piazza di Spagna…a view which sometimes seems as if it stretches all the way to Milan. Afterwards, retire to one of the equally stately room just downstairs—in which the likes of Gwyneth, J-Lo and David Becks have previously slept. We hope to see you there.

 

Epicurean Quarantine: Seven International Wines for Overcoming Travel Withdrawal

 

 

Perhaps the most curious paradox of this current coronavirus crisis, is that a global pandemic has taken a rapidly globalizing world, and forced it into nearly complete isolation. Indeed, record travel numbers across the seven continents have been speedily reduced to barely being able to cross state lines in America. And many have not even left their own neighborhoods over the last six weeks.

Of course, this leaves many of us missing the exhilarating discoveries of travel—a First World problem, surely. But we are not speaking of it in regards to pampering and luxury, but rather in terms of the possible enlightenments that come with journeying to new places.

Food and wine, certainly, are particularly evocative of their origins. And so while we are all compelled to shelter-in-place, we asked our friends at New York’s T. Edward Wines to compile something of a “world tour,” comprising four continents—for which they chose bottles from Napa to South Africa to Mallorca and beyond. The highly respected Tribeca-based company was launched in 1994 to represent small local producers; it has since grown into an international concern, though their commitment to special artisan winemakers remains at the core of everything they do.

For your own purposes, perhaps plan to match each bottle up with a new recipe you’ve been mastering during quarantine. And don’t be afraid to pair, say, a Chilean wine with a French or Japanese dish—since travel is still very much about surprising the senses.

Stay safe, wherever you are.

 

Tuscany, Italy

Vichingo Costa Toscana IGT 2019 

Classically salty and sagey with quince-like orchard fruit, you feel the Tuscan sunshine on the palate as the wine is slightly more broad than direct-to-press vermentino. This isn’t cypress tree-lined Tuscany, but the rugged, overgrown coastal edge of the appellation. Originally cattle country known for its ribeye, Maremma is the wild west of Tuscany where winemakers can still afford to experiment. It comes from the impeccably farmed certified organic vineyard of Anna Maria Cruciata which sits five miles from the sea. The winery and family home perch on their estate alongside olive groves, and a vibrant vegetable garden.

Rhône Valley, France

Matthieu Barret “Petit Ours” Cotes du Rhone 2018

“Petit Ours” is a negociant bottling from Matthieu Barret who purchases organic Syrah from his friend Remi Pouizin in Visan. For this wine, Matthieu and Remi select younger vines to get a better expression of fruit. 100% de-stemmed grapes, 15 days of maceration in a concrete tank, racking and pressing when fermentation is complete, 9 months of aging in a concrete tank.

Napa, CA, USA

Robert Sinskey POV 2014 

Like striking a major chord, the three varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, harmonize brilliantly…like they were always meant to be together. The wine opens with floral aromas of violet and rosemary, followed by a fruit stand of aromas and flavors reminiscent of blackberry, black plum, currant and black cherry. The primary fruit notes lead into more complex and earthier notes of black olive, sage, star anise, cocoa and a hint of vanilla that softens an otherwise youthful flavor profile. Consistent with other RSV wines from the 2014 vintage, this is a wine that can be enjoyed now or cellared for the long haul. Lean beef or wild game like venison are the perfect match for a young POV while a few years under its belt will lend the wine the flexibility to work with a broad range of lighter meats like pork and poultry as well as non-meat-centric dishes like pasta with tomato sauce and roasted veggies.

South Africa

Lubanzi Chenin Blanc 2019 can 

A wine that’s as beautiful as Cape Town itself. 100% handpicked Chenin Blanc grown in South Africa’s famous Swartland region. Made using a blend of grapes that come from a diverse collection of Swartland soils, with each piece of land putting its own mark on the final product. Made for those warm sunny days that don’t seem to end.

Central Valley, Chile

Echeverria “No Es Pituko” Chardonnay 2019

‘No es Pituko’ is Chilean slang for ‘it ain’t fancy’ reflecting the fact that this wine was vinified naturally, without any additions at any stage. The Chardonnay grapes for this wine come from a single vineyard in the Entre Cordilleras area of the Curicó Valley, situated at 243 meters above sea-level. These are ungrafted 37 year old vines that are cultivated according to sustainable agricultural methods in order to respect the land and its environment. Pale and slightly cloudy due to the natural vinification, this Chardonnay offers intense aromas of banana, apple and pear blended with toasted brioche. The full bodied, rich and creamy palate is balanced by a refreshing and fruity finish.

Minho, Portugal

Gota Azahar Vinho Verde 2018

“Vinho Verde is clearly unique in the world. From the evergreen region, where the temperatures are never too high, rainfall on the 1500mm average and high humidity, around 30 thousand small growers take care of their small plots of land where beside the grapes kiwi is grown. Our wine comes from vineyards 15km close to Atlantic. Those conditions create acidic but subtle, fresh and fruity wines, and Azahar is the perfect example of what the region is capable of.”
“Beyond almonds and olives, the Moors also gave Portugal fragrant orange trees. Come Spring, these delicate white flowers perfume the entire country, this is why we named the wine Azahar, meaning citrus flower in Arabic. Bright and lively with delicate orange blossom aromas, green fruit flavors and vibrant minerality, consider this your summer relaxing wine.”

Mallorca, Spain

4 Kilos “motor américa” 2018

In August of 2006, Francesc Grimalt and Sergio Caballero set up 4Kilos Wines in Mallorca, a company dedicated to producing wines that reflect the strength of the grape and its nuances but with a different approach and different presentation. Their concept is not only that of variety but of the importance of the combination of strain-soil-climate-growth.

BlackBook Virtual Travel: Three London Museums Go Digital

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, Courtesy of the Tate Modern 

 

 

For those of us for whom travel is a necessary component of our psychological stability, lockdown has forced us into a mode of daydreaming of distant lands, while we wait out this harrowing coronavirus crisis.

Naturally, our Anglophilic tendencies have found us re-binging Downtown Abbey and The Crown…which in turn has pitched our longing for our feet to be touching down once again on sacred UK soil. But virtual visuals have kept us surprisingly engaged, especially where museum exhibitions are concerned. And three hallowed London cultural institutions specifically were already featuring shows that should have been decisively logged into your calendars.

So while we wait for word of their hopefully imminent re-openings, we highly recommend making fascinating digital visits…and perhaps timing them to a proper sheltering-in afternoon tea.

(N.B. – Find more virtual tours at VisitBritain.com)

 

The V&A

One of our most exalted museums period, the V&A has long helped us to understand how style and aesthetics have played into our ability to comprehend art, history and humanity itself. Current exhibitions for viewing online include Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, which explores the visual and social significance of perhaps Asia’s most identifiable garment; and Bags: Inside Out, a survey of the most coveted fashion accessory in history, from Chatelaine to Louis Vuitton.

 

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk

 

The Tate Modern

Tragically, the Tate Modern was enthusiastically planning its 20th anniversary, whilst we were enthusiastically planning to attend the corresponding festivities. And indeed, featured works were to include the estimable likes of Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama and Lee Mingwei. Yet we doubt the museum will be able to reopen by its scheduled May 11 celebration date. However, the Tate in the meanwhile has just launched a virtual tour of its recently opened Andy Warhol exhibit, which includes his infamous 1986 Self-Portrait, and 1962’s storied Marilyn Diptych.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Chandelier of Grief

 

The British Museum

What The Met is to New York, the British Museum is to London, certainly. To be sure, its current/postponed exhibitions included everything from Edvard Munch: love and angst, all the way to Inspired by the East: how the Islamic world influenced Western art. And in conjunction with Google Street View, one can now virtually visit more than 60 galleries, taking in the Rosetta Stone and even a Michelangelo or two. The museum also has a series of podcasts, dating back to 2016—and we highly recommend the episode about the history of their beloved in-house cats, for a necessary bit of levity.

 

Pippin, Maisie and Poppet

Shelter-In-Place Cinco de Mayo: Rather Exotic Cocktail Recipes From the Andaz Mayakoba

 

 

As the days and weeks morph into the perpetual Groundhog Day abyss that we now are pithily referring to as “the new normal,” we find ourselves looking for creative ways to stay sane—dare we say optimistic?—until we can at last un-pause our lives. Assuredly, we don’t need to justify looking to a tipple or a few to take the edge off; but the upcoming Cinco de Mayo holiday is the ideal muse to summon our proclivity for the twin Mexican spirits of tequila and mezcal.

To help get us into the festive mood usually stirred up by the May 5 holiday, our friends at the glamorous Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya were generous enough to share some of their signature cocktail recipes for the sort of authentic, at-home fiesta we really and truly need right now. The stylish resort, a BlackBook fave, not only boasts some of Mexico’s best beach/ocean views, but the Mediterranean cuisine at the shipwreck-chic Sotavento restaurant is also a magnet for the epicurean set.

 

 

To wit: the Bacon Margarita, a savory and sweet riff on the classic, replete with bacon syrup and pineapple; the Citric Seahorse, a grapefruit-centric concoction of mezcal and passion fruit; and the Don Carlos, aged añejo, agave nectar, and orange bitters.

For full-effect, we recommend shutting off that overrated new Netflix show, dusting off those maracas, cueing up some old school mariachi tunes, and pretending you’re in Riviera Maya instead of Chelsea or West Hollywood…at least for a couple of hours.

 

Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya Tequila and Mezcal Cocktails

 

Bacon Margarita

1 ½ oz mezcal
½ oz Cointreauliqueur
½ oz bacon syrup
¼ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple or maple syrup
1 piece pineapple, for garnish
1 piece bacon, for garnish
Shaken. Add all elements with ice, shake, and strain twice. Serve in an old fashioned glass and garnish with a piece of grilled pineapple and bacon.

 

Citric Seahorse

2 oz mezcal
½ oz vanilla syrup
¾ oz passion fruit juice
3 drops of angostura bitters
½ grapefruit (edible vessel to serve cocktail in)
Cut grapefruit in half, scoop all fruit and flesh out. Add all elements into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake, and strain twice. Serve in grapefruit vessel.

 

 

Pueblo Antiguo

1½ oz tequila Patrón Reposado
1½ oz mezcal
½ oz lime
½ oz angostura bitters
1 oz Mexican chili agave syrup
Fill a mixing glass with ice, pour the tequila, mezcal and Mexican chili agave syrup into the glass, mix with a spoon for 30 seconds, add the bitter, stir for 15 seconds, pour/strain over ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime peel.

 

Don Carlos

2 oz tequila añejo
1½ oz orange or angostura bitters
½ oz agave nectar
Fill a mixing glass with ice, pour the tequila and the agave nectar into the glass, mix with a spoon for 30 seconds, add the bitter, stir for 15 seconds, pour/strain over ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

BlackBook Virtual Travel: Three Vienna Museums Go Digital

 

 

One of our favorite places to be in Europe—or anywhere—is Vienna in springtime (though as the late Anthony Bourdain finally had to admit, it’s pretty bloody charming at Christmas, as well). And though our recent plans to visit were shelved by the coronavirus outbreak, we’re making every effort to feel like we are actually there right now, via the miracle of 21st Century technology.

Of course, the Austrian capital is a wealth of art and culture at any time of the year, thanks to 600+ years of Hapsburg rule. And the city has deftly reacted to the worldwide travel lockdown by virtually opening up its magnificent museums for utterly fascinating digital viewing.

Certainly, we’ll miss the view of St. Stephen’s while nursing a glass of Zweigelt at the Onyx Bar at the Do & Co Hotel; or sweating to the grooves at canalside club Grelle Forelle. But right now, a bit of Klimt and German Expressionism will do just fine, thank you—while we look forward to our inevitable return to Österreich.

(N.B. Vienna tourism has a full complement of virtual tours available for viewing here.)

 

 

Albertina Museum 

Housed in the striking 18th Century palace of Duchess Maria Christina and Duke Albert of Saxen-Teschen, the Albertina holds some of the most exalted works of German Expressionism, the Russian avant-garde, and the greats of Cubism and Surrealism. But it is also boasts one of the most important collections of Old Master prints, and modern graphics and photography. The virtual tour features beautifully provocative works by Albrecht Dürer, Egon Schiele, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Fragonard…we could go on. It will keep you rapt for hours.

 

 

Museum of Applied Arts – MAK

An internationally renowned arts and crafts museum housed in the 19th Century Stubenring building, it is a regular pilgrimage for architecture and design aficionados. But two current exhibitions that have been moved online convey the artistic range of this always surprising institution. First, the Hamazanama is a 16th Century heroic epic from India, telling the story of Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib, who was, believe it or not, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, with strikingly transporting imagery. While Gustav Klimt and the Palais Stoclet allows for an edifying peek into the working methodology of the visceral Vienna Secession master.

 

 

Schönbrunn Palace 

The opulent Schönbrunn Palace is a World Heritage Site, and Vienna’s most visited cultural institution. Once the summer playground of the Hapsburg princes, its more than 1400 lavishly Rococo rooms now make it one of Europe’s most significant architectural treasures. The virtual tour takes you through hundreds of historical furnishings, porcelains, ceramics and, of course, canvases. Plan to primp up a bit before signing in, for a properly aristocratic experience.

 

The New ‘Buy Now, Stay Later’ Program Allows You to ‘Invest’ in Future Hotel Stays

Hotel Providence, Paris 

 

 

In a time of anxiety-inducing news streaming at us at warp speed, any glimmer of hope that we will once again be able to wander both near and far in the foreseeable future is a welcome excuse for daydreaming. And while confusion reigns, leave it to our nomadic friends at the dynamic young Lion & Lamb restaurant-and-travel PR agency to create a startlingly forward-looking “hotel bond” program, in a valorous attempt to support the industry’s housekeepers, concierges, and other hospitality staff, and to give our sheltering-in-place selves something to genuinely look ahead to.

Taking a page out of the certainly less glamorous world of financial textbooks, the Buy Now, Stay Later program functions like a traditional bond, only with a globetrotter’s yield: a future night’s stay in fabulous locales like the Hamptons, Palm Springs, Tulum, Bali…even Paris and Chicago. Unlike its market counterpart, however, it comes with the spirit-boosting decision of which destination to choose…whether your first post-quarantine trip will be New York, DC, Cape Town, etc. Each bond is a $100 investment in your travel plans, and after 60 days—the maturity date—you have a $150 in booking value. (No other security is going to yield a 50% return, trust us.)

Bonds are available for purchase through August 31, 2020, and new hotels will continue to be added. Multiple bonds can be secured, just check with each hotel for specific details.

So when your fuzzy slippers and unkempt hair begin to get you down, your mind can drift away to new destinations and old favorites. Your near-future self, and struggling hotel staff around the world, will thank you.

 

Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa, St Barth