It’s True, Airports Can be Fun! The Fantastical Jewel Changi Opens in Singapore

 

Yes, thank you for the occasional Michael White or Wolfgang Puck airport restaurant to counter those dreary TGIFs. And for those stress-relieving Xpres Spas popping up near our gate.

Yet for the most part, airports are pragmatic affairs, mostly geared towards getting you to your flight without something really terrible happening along the way.

But Singapore’s Changi Airport, feeling the competitive heat from rival hubs in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, has just unveiled a little bit of pre-flight joyfulness in the form the spectacular new Jewel Changi Airport. Designed by a team headed by Moshe Safdie, it is a verdant wonderland connected to Terminal 1, where flyers can enjoy a few minutes of fantastical euphoria before boarding.

 

 

Essentially, it’s a massive glass and steel dome, containing an urban park with eight distinct concepts. For instance, the Shiseido Forest Valley; the HSBC Rain Vortex (a stylish man made waterfall); and the Canopy Mazes, with charming topiary displays (but seriously, don’t get lost before take-off time). There’s even some fun stuff for the little ones, like the Foggy Bowls – though even as adults, we’re intrigued by the idea a spending some time actually playing in the clouds.

Naturally, there is also a retail / F&B component, including the likes of Nike, Apple, Uniqlo, Shake Shack and Pink Fish.

“We hope it will contribute to many more memorable Changi experiences for our passengers,” enthuses Mr Lee Seow Hiang, Chief Executive Officer of Changi Airport Group. “Jewel Changi Airport is a valuable addition to Singapore’s world-class tourism attractions and aviation facilities. We look forward to welcoming the world.”

For our part, we earnestly can’t wait to miss our next connection in Singapore.

 

Dune Bashing, Persian Carpets and a Spectacular Outpost of The Louvre: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part II

 

(Continuing on from Part I of our Abu Dhabi story…)

 

Peckish from sightseeing, we headed back to The Grand Hyatt where we lunched at Verso, a stylish Italian trattoria, that serves outstanding pizzas, pastas like pappardelle ai gamberi, and squid ink risotto – and as New Yorkers, we’re not easily impressed with Italian food. The property will actually boast a total of six international dining options (just two were open when we were there), so you’ll never go hungry. Sahha, an “adventurous market,” is the spot for made-to-order and buffet breakfast and dinner options – don’t miss the big-as-your-head pastel-colored meringues at the dessert station. Pearl Lounge in the lobby provided a sophisticated little stop off when we were feeling parched, as our minibar seemed to be a work in progress (um, empty).

And for those feeling a little more motivated than were we, there was a Dynamic TechnoGym fitness center open 24-hours, with a steam room and sauna to sweat out the night-before’s partying on the hip and happening Yas Island. (N.B., you can drink openly at hotels and nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, but public drunkenness is of course very much frowned upon.)

Never hearing of dune bashing before we visited Abu Dhabi, the daytime sport courtesy of Land Cruisers and their agile drivers, provided some raucous fun. We were told to buckle up, because off-roading amongst the sand dunes gets hair-raisingly bumpy. If you book a tour with Abu Dhabi Desert Safari you’ll also get up close and personal with a herd of very cuddly camels, available for short rides and lots of petting. As part of our excursion, we got to partake in sand skiing, a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, belly dancing and Tanoura (traditional folkloric dance) performances, henna painting, and even the chance to hold a falcon for the ultimate photo op.

For anyone who might be wondering where Whistler’s Mother is currently on view, it was right there at the spectacular, Saadayit Island located Louvre Abu Dhabi. The name is on loan from its Paris counterpart, which was incidentally paid $525 million to license the name for 30 years. Here, the Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel has again outdone himself – the sprawling design is actually comprised of 55 detached buildings.

With a giant overhead canopy ‘woven’ out of 7850 metal ‘stars,’ the structure ingeniously anchors sand and sea. Waterfront views from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s many terraces are breathtaking, while visiting day or night promises dazzling light shows under the dome. And the art? We especially loved the cosmography room and the well-curated collection of artifacts from early civilizations. Currently showing is Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, through the end of February.

Of course, when they go big in the U.A.E., they always go really big. And the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was no exception. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdekly, the glistening white-marble stunner is one of the world’s largest. A massive undertaking at over 20 years to build (2007 saw the completion), a collective of highly skilled artisans using only the finest materials were enlisted from around the globe, coming from India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia…the list goes on.

It should be noted that visitors are required to respect the dress code, traditional Abaya dress for women, or Kandura for men. For us ladies, this meant loose pants (so please do leave your athleisure at the hotel), loose tops covering arms and chest, and head scarf with no hair showing. Our Isabel Marant tunic was deemed too sheer by staff, so we were loaned a hooded, pinkish-colored Abaya, which are available before entering the mosque. And after all, who doesn’t look good in mauve?

Resplendent with the world’s largest Persian carpet (woven by women, we were told by our lively guide, with 2,268,000,000 knots) and the third largest, brilliantly colored crystal-encrusted chandelier in existence, the humbling, grandiose main hall can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. Its benefactor, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted to establish a structure uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, and its historical and modern values of architecture and art. His Highness’ final resting place is actually located on the grounds beside the mosque.

Before we departed from Abu Dhabi, we were determined to visit one of its beaches (and not one of the many man-made ones). Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the shores of Saadiyat, boasted an invitingly pristine, natural beachfront, where gentle waves beckoned us in. A quick dip provided perfect refreshment before winding down and washing up before dinner. The sleek, minimalist rooms here offer our favorite Le Labo products, which will soon become standard across all of the Hyatt properties, we were told.

Reserving a table under the stars at the award-winning Park Bar & Grill, we were thankful for the simplicity of a menu of charcoal-grilled seafood and fine steaks. Dining al fresco on a clear, we took in one last magnificent view, before normal life would take us back to Gotham.

(N.B. ideal travel times to the UAE are December through March, before it gets too hot and humid.)

Scents & Sensuality: A Fragrant Immersion at Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht Hotel

 

When a scent journey is afoot in Amsterdam, you can practically smell the excitement in the air. More specifically, aromas of heritage, hallmark Dutch playfulness and dry-witted humor permeate the spaces of the Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht hotel. And a dynamic duo of noses from The Society of Scent, co-founders and renowned perfumers Frederic Jacques and Jean-Claude Delville, are apparently up to the task of capturing this very spirited essence.

In fact, Andaz Hotels and Resorts recently announced an exciting collaboration with the agency: In their travels to each of the key properties around the world, these gentlemen will create a series of custom scents and experiences to weave into the storyline of each hotel, its culture, and enriched surroundings – thereby bringing to life one of the fives senses of Andaz in immersive and unexpected ways.

We had an opportunity to be on the ground in Amsterdam with the team, and to relish in their raw research, moments of inspired talks with creatives, and the way smell can achieve more purposeful applications in the hospitality/tourism industries.

 

 

The adventure began upon our arrival, where we were wonderfully wooed by our stay at the Andaz Prinsengracht property itself. Formerly a public library, designer and art director Marcel Wanders was tasked with transforming the space along with its current 122 rooms and 5 suites. Described as the “Lady Gaga of Design,” we chatted with his creative team, who explained that the hotel is infused with a charmed sentiment that honors elements of the past, but are depicted with a contemporary sensibility.

Delft blue, the Dutch Golden Age, navigation and adventure all helped inform the vision for the property; these classic components were then interlaced with quirky wallpaper and furniture, mixed media art, 50 video installations (the largest collection of its kind found in any European hotel), and overlaid with a kind of Alice in Wonderland aesthetic. In striking this fine balance of sophistication and whimsy, Wanders activates the imagination all while offering guests a meaningful sense of place.

Once settled in, the narrative of the nose continued with the Society of Scent team fulfilling an essential standard by chatting with the lifeblood at each Andaz – the staff – who live and breathe the property everyday; and here, they spoke with bar manager Martin Eisma and Chef Sander Bierenbroodspot. Both are innovators who nudge boundaries and dazzle the senses with their food and beverages, so it was apparent that scent and memory deeply informs their philosophies and practices. For instance, Eisma makes a potent expression of the four seasons with his Where Everything Grows cocktail. For him, the drink gives provenance to the natural beauty of the city at different times of the year. Just before serving, he sprays the drink with a tincture of whiskey and beetroot to prime your senses and to bring you a taste (and earthy smells) of his memories of the Dutch outdoors.

 

 

Chef Sander brought us a humble yet heartfelt palette cleanser of amarena cherries, homemade yogurt dashed with lime, and meringue shards during our multi-coursed dinner. As the syrupy-tangy aroma wafted up into our olfactory cortices, he explained that the smells of these ingredients remind him of his childhood which inspired him to make this creation. For The Society of Scent, it’s experiences such as these that incentivize them even further to “push that needle forward” in regards to harnessing this powerful relationship of scent encoded memories.

To take it a step(s) further, they ultimately wants to implement scent for restorative/holistic purposes, which venture into health and wellness realms, and The Society of Scent explain that these thoughtfully crafted and meaningful expressions will be more appreciated by the well-versed travelers. Although there is nothing wrong with simply introducing a lobby with fragrance, to instead use scents to add value to people’s lives which include opportunities to soothe jet-lagged travelers, to quell anxiety, and to boost energy levels – as an alternative to, say, caffeine – to give a few examples.

Above all else, for the duo, it was necessary to integrate individual signature scents (at each property) in a natural and organic manner. “It must harmoniously mingle with the environment rather than intrude upon it,” Delville explains. “Scent will always be present wherever you go. Here, we’re harnessing its capabilities to transform spaces, but it has to be done with a purpose and fit with the narrative of the hotel and its surroundings.” With this framework in mind, it is about providing options to enhance experiential stays, rather than have the scents feel forced, gimmicky, and/or disingenuous.

 

 

We also ventured outside for more “scentspiration”:  foliage, forestry, and crisp air first greeted us as we rode our city Stadsfiets bikes through the city. Then our senses were tingled from the saline-kissed seas during our canal ride on a vintage salon boat with Stichting Maritieme Zaken. Our visit culminated in sensory sensational florals, with a stroll through Keukenhof Tulip Fields, followed by a chat with famed Director and Head Florist Alexander Posthuma at APBloem.

Both experiences had our master perfumers in a giddy euphoria; and while it was obvious that in The Society of Scent’s 120+ combined years of experience and work with a plethora of flower species (which serve the formulaic basis for their scents and fragrances), Jacques and Delville continue to exude a childlike sense of awe and admiration – behaving as though they were smelling these blossoms for the first time and falling in love all over again.

We’re excited to see this joy and passion translated into the Andaz scents, and The Society of Scent add, “at the conclusion of our research, we’ll develop one custom scent and experience for every hotel and also one ‘product’ that’s brand-wide, in each hotel’s scent.”

Amsterdam carries a special place in our heart, but our trip this time was significantly enhanced by being given a rare glimpse of these artisans in action, as they delighted, played, and gathered their inspired ingredients in the field. We’re in great anticipation to smell the final fruits of their labor.

 

 

 

From Haunted Hotel Bars to Peruvian Conceptual Art: A Genuinely Illuminating Weekend in Santa Fe

Above: Meow Wolf

 

Santa Fe has long been synonymous with turquoise chic and sort of retro bohemian nonchalance. But that is definitely changing. While the red and green chile sauce – called Christmas style – slathered on anything and everything is still a classic, the small city tucked into the mountains of New Mexico is radiating a palpably new energy.

On our most recent visit, the cultural journey began at La Posada de Santa Fe, a Tribute Portfolio Resort & Spa, which was originally the private residence of the Staab family. It is famously haunted by Julia, the last lady of the house. It was eventually turned into a summer arts school, before becoming a private hotel. No surprise that Georgia O’Keefe’s first gallery show was in a small dining room here.

 

 

La Posada de Santa Fe is actually a compound of winding lanes filled with adobe villas. Most have built in fireplaces, the perfect place to lounge in a requisite plush robe. An onsite gym and spa with outdoor hot tub enhance the overall sensory experience. A stop on the Margarita Trail, we dined at Julia’s Social Club, named for the aforementioned spirit, known to make an appearance once in awhile (the elegant Julia restaurant is a bit more formal). The main building is filled with work by local New Mexico artists, and has tours and talks daily.

Just outside of town, Meow Wolf is the booming art space you never knew you always wanted to fall in love with. Named for a game of Exquisite Corpse, a Surrealist drawing game, it sort of stuck in everyone’s minds as a way to showcase local artists in a cohesive project. The space is massive, and consists of a mystery house where refrigerator doors lead to bright hallways, and rooms where waves of lasers make music. Open to all during the day, MW heats up in nthe evenings with the likes of Chromeo spinning sets and performances by bands like Superorganism. (The gallery is also expanding to Denver and Las Vegas).

 

 

On the more trad side of things, the Museum of International Folk Art is a defining feature of Santa Fe – with a bit of history from local artists, as well as a global collection of folk art. Founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett, a wealthy philanthropist from Chicago, she fell in love with New Mexico in the 1920s and turned it into a mecca for art representing people in their day-to-day lives. Her motto was “traditional folk arts from around the world were a means of demonstrating a common bond.” (We admit we did feel the connection.)

Bartlett created spaces like the Hispanic Heritage Wing and Gallery of Conscience to showcase art that exemplified those archetypes. A recent exhibit by Aymar Ccopocatty, a Peruvian artist known as the “plastic bag weaver,” was particularly fascinating. He turns plastic bag waste into traditional but larger-than-life Peruvian hats to show the abundance of waste material woven into the culture. Another exhibit contained wedding attire from around the world – including indigenous tribes in Africa and the Americas – through the centuries. Each show is thoughtfully curated and engagingly thought provoking.

 

 

Having fed our souls, we moved on to a whole other sort of sustenance. And a visit to the Santa Fe School of Cooking did indeed demystify those aforementioned red and green chiles that New Mexico is so famous for. Founded by Susan Curtis in 1989, the place is perpetually booked up, and a few mega celebs are known to be regulars – though specific names are kept effectively hush hush. Sarah’s daughter Nicole now runs most of he business, which teaches courses in making tamales and other traditional New Mexico cuisine, and also leads local restaurant walks – some of which, like La Boca and Paper Dosa, are bringing a new creativity to the dining scene.

Admittedly, we’re mostly drawn to Santa Fe for its timeless, unspoiled charms. But these days, those charms mingle comfortably with high-tech multimedia installations and fashionable DJs.

 

San Diego to LA, SF to Seattle to Vancouver: Where to Have a Most Fascinating West Coast Tipple

Above: Raised by Wolves

 

If you need legal advice, you go to a lawyer. Illness or injury? Ask a doctor. So it only makes sense that if you are seriously needing an urbane night on the tiles, best to turn to a real professional. Particularly one who’s spent a long and illustrious career mixing, serving, and of course, imbibing, from Sydney to Kenya and pretty much everywhere in between.

In Los Angeles, that would be one John Gakuru, the venerable director of sales and marketing at Sweet&Chilli, a specialist drinks agency that consults on all things beverage-related. Gakuru knows his way around the scene…and the world. After spending his early years bartending, he went on to manage Lab Bar, a renowned destination in London’s Soho. He was also the global brand ambassador for Sagatiba Cachaça, taking the spirit from a small, South-American production to a go-to drink on six continents.

He’s also, obviously, a great guy to grab a bevvy with. So we ordered a few rounds, and got him to spill on the most fascinating places up and down the West Coast for fab cocktails, jaw-dropping interiors, and generally interesting company. 

 

San Diego

Polite Provisions

It has almost no back bar (the shelves behind the bar that hold all the liquor). Instead, most cocktails come on tap. It ‘s an upmarket vibe – a great spot to let your guests know that you know… you know?! Suggested drink: Elizabeth Taylor

 

 

Raised by Wolves

As the name suggests, off the beaten path – actually in a strip mall. Highly unlikely anyone in your circle has ever heard of it, though it is owned by San Diego bar industry royalty (CH Projects co-founder Arsalun Tafazoli). In the middle of the carousel-esque bar is a marble fountain with sculpted representations of the bar’s namesake and, well…just go. Suggested Drink: Pelvic Sorcery

 

 

Jaynes Gastropub

Just across the road from Polite Provisions you’ll find a go-to for San Diego locals. On a warm, balmy evening, get a table in the garden out the back and enjoy some of the best service and hospitality in all of Southern California. They have a full dine-in menu as well as an extensive list of wine and bubbles. Suggested drink: Dirty Martini 

 

 

 

Los Angeles

Bibo Ergo Sum

One of those spots that you’d only know existed if someone brought you. In addition to the stunning art deco interiors, visitors can enjoy an expertly crafted cocktail menu designed by the Death & Co. legends. The entire service staff knows their stuff, so you’re guaranteed to find a tipple to knock your socks off. Suggested drink: L’Appel du Vide

 

 

Accomplice

Located in the heart of Mar Vista, Accomplice is one of those quintessential neighborhood bartenders’ bars. Lots of locals, insider banter, a beautiful craft cocktail list (try the Space Walk), and a bar menu loaded with tasty Taiwanese classics courtesy of Little Fatty’s. Suggested drink: Red Hook

 

 

Broken Shaker

It’s located on the rooftop of Freehand Hotel, in the historic Commercial Exchange building. Take in the views, the tiki cocktails, and the total lack of pretension. No venue sums up what’s great about Downtown better than this one. If you like pool parties, drinking outside, and spectacular vistas of DTLA, then you’re bound to love this place. Suggested drink: RuPaul’s Baby

 

 

San Francisco

Tommy’s Tequila Bar

If you happen to love all things agave then this is the place for you – their tequilas are made from 100% fermented blue agave sugars. We’re talking nectar of the Gods here, smooth, pure, and an absolute pleasure to drink. Also, the hospitality is second to none. Suggested drink: Herradura Añejo 2008

 

 

Smuggler’s Cove

Escapism perfected. Leave the rest of the modern world behind as you descend downstairs into a space that feels like you’re in a sunken pirate ship. And if the scene doesn’t get you there, the tiki-inspired cocktails absolutely will.  Suggested drink: The Dead Reckoning 

 

 

Trick Dog

The cocktail selection is a case study in how it should be done. This is a legitimate bartenders’ bar. They pay homage to the local scene, collaborating with tattoo parlor Idle Hand on a tricked out menu. And if you need further proof of their skill with a drink, in 2017 they took home the Spirited Award’s “World’s Best Cocktail Menu” – no small feat. Suggested drink: Rose of Death

 

 

The Buena Vista

Has been around since the dawn of time. Honestly, it’s a bit touristy, but for good reason. Go here for an Irish coffee and enjoy the bartending show. The number of boozy coffees they punch out will make your head spin. Kudos if you make it through more than two or three drinks. Suggested drink: Irish Coffee

 

 

Seattle

Rob Roy

Low-key yet sophisticated, a refreshing change of pace in the heavily craft brew dominated scene of Seattle. Also the owner Anu is the best of the best! She serves up killer cocktails and keeps you entertained while she does. Suggested drink: Saffron Sandalwood Sour

 

 

Canon

The walls are lined, floor-to-ceiling, with over 4,000 labels of spirits (If you’re into whiskey, Canon definitely has you sorted). Check out the Captain’s List for a bottomless inventory of any type of liquor you fancy: agave, juniper, rum, whiskey, vodka, absinthe – you name it. Suggested drink: La Femme Du Monde

 

 

Vancouver

Royal Dinette

An absolute gem, they make farm-to-table cool again (and not just in the restaurant). The bar commits to a minimal waste ethos, and of course, the drinks are excellent. Suggested drink: New Order

 

 

The Lobby Lounge @ Fairmont Pacific Rim

If you want to have a fancy night out, this is the place to do it. I’d argue that this is the best cocktail bar in all of Vancouver – and that’s saying a lot. Incredible drinks and exceptional service. While you’re splurging, I’d definitely reco getting into the sushi menu too. Suggested drink: Fig Tree Sour

 

 

D.R. Tippling: Three Days of Luxury Rum Swizzling in Santo Domingo

 

The history of rum, that intoxicating spirit birthed in the sugarcane plantations of Barbados in the 17th century (we’ll leave mention by Marco Polo of a similar distillate discovered in ancient Iran 300 years prior to real historians), very much parallels that of the colonization of the New World, and thus, is steeped in tales of exploration, drama, and violence.

With the rise of the cultivation of sugarcane alongside that of the slave trade aside, rum’s proliferation in the 18th century was so extensive that consumption was estimated at three gallons a year for every American, including children; over the course of the ensuing centuries it has grown to become one of the most regularly consumed tipples worldwide. Its influence on popular culture, of course, is fully evidenced in the likes of a massive franchise of Johnny Depp movies; and the classic 1985 Pogues album just wouldn’t have been the same if it were titled Vodka Sodomy & the Lash.

 

 

We were recently afforded the chance to not just ramp up our rum intelligence, but also for an up-close look at the process of its production – which happily included generous samplings of the end product – at the distillery of one of the world’s premiere purveyors, Ron Barcelo. That said distillery happens to be located in the tropical Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo, made the experience distinctly authentic.

After an easy flight from NYC we settled in the city’s charming Colonial Zone, where every corner exhibits an example of the area’s history. Santo Domingo, in fact, contains the oldest remains of gothic architecture in the ‘New World.’ With the stylish Hotel Billini as home base, we ventured forth to explore the local churches and cafes, eventually, converging for dinner at Pat’e Palo on the Plaza Espana, where we were introduced to a dazzling assortment of Ron Barcelo cocktails – learning just how smoothly the stuff goes down.

 

 

The following morning had us donning hardhats and heading to the aforementioned Barcelo distillery, to witness the magic firsthand. The process is surprisingly simple – apparently the devil is in the details of blending and ageing – and basically involves massive truckfulls of sugar cane being ground up and mulched and watered and magically turned into rum. Back at Barcelo’s Centro Historico Museum and tasting room we were at perhaps even more rapt attention when it came to sampling the finished product; said museum, which exhibits the history of rum development, is understandably the main tourist attraction in the region.

With all that note taking over, it was time for lunch, and more rum cocktails. For the rest of the afternoon we decamped to the splendid Boca Marina, a beachfront restaurant where dining, sunbathing, and swimming merged to create a fully immersive D.R. experience.

 

 

That evening, after some downtime at the chill Billini (it’s got a pool with an awesome view of the Basilica Santa Maria Cathedral), we ventured out to explore the more South Beach like vibes of downtown SD, where velvet ropes and valet parking are de rigueur. Our first stop was the plants and flowers festooned Central Gastronomica, where we were feted with a variety of Ron Barcelo cocktail creations, including a Stormy Daze of Barceló Añejo, lime juice, and ginger beer. Eventually yearning for the quiet of the Colonial Zone, we headed back for a simple late-night dinner at the charming Falafel Colonial, where we showed remarkable restraint regarding our rum consumption.

We capped off our weekend with a day of sightseeing, memorable meals, and of course more rum. Our charming guide Tirso gave us an insightful walking tour of our new home, Zona Colonial to the locals, where amongst other sites we made an interior visit to the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the oldest such house of worship in the Americas. Walking was followed by eating, and we lunched at the equally charming – thanks in part to the lashings of Ron Barcelo – El Mesón de Bari, where the rum paired particularly well with the local ceviche.

Our last dinner in the D.R. was at Peperoni in downtown SD, where an alluringly young and fashionable crowd had us checking our outfits in the opulent loos; the place was as swank as it gets. Combining select dim sum with traditional dishes such as waldorf salad and crab cakes, the menu was as good as the scene.

And, naturally, we capped the evening off with a few final rounds of Ron Barcelo…the good stuff.

 

Après-Ski Season: A Rather Sophisticated Springtime in Vermont – Part I, Manchester

Kimpton Taconic Hotel 

 

There are few places more idyllic than Vermont (and they’re probably much further away). In any season, its winding roads dotted with rustic covered bridges, villages seemingly untouched by time, and family-owned farms beckon with the promise of escape from the sometimes soul-crushing pace of New York City. But beyond bovines and Bernie, Vermont offers the best opportunity for a genuinely off-the-beaten path adventure, a rich arts and cultural history, and a revolutionary approach to often misrepresented farm-to-table cuisine.

 

 

We set out on a recent weekend to take in the pleasure of the Green Mountain State. And Land Rover was kind enough to loan us a Range Rover Sport Hybrid PHEV to get us there in style. While the vehicle isn’t yet available in the U.S., its agile handling and luxurious feel are the familiar hallmarks of Land Rover’s entire range of SUVs. We actually felt pretty cool tooling up the Taconic in the shiny red vehicle – and it was a dream to drive. In fact, when we set the cruise control, it almost drove itself.

We went first for bags of New England charm in Manchester, then a bit of rustic sophistication in Burlington. Here’s how Part I played out.

 

Manchester, Southern Vermont

The tiny village of Manchester is just three-and-a-half hours from New York City, yet it genuinely feels like a world away. Sweeping views of the Green Mountains to the east, and the Taconic Range to the west set the scene for all manner of outdoor adventure; but there’s a lot more to Manchester than skiing or wilderness hikes.

Land Rover Experience Driving School

Quite a lot of New Yorkers don’t often have the opportunity to get behind the wheel – and when they do, they’re not typically driving up a rugged mountain trail. We did an exhilarating half-day driving lesson with one of Land Rover’s professional off-road driving instructors, and seriously put our skills to the test (we also pick up a few new ones) as we crawled over boulders, waded through three-feet-deep ponds, and descended steep inclines – of course, all accomplished in our super-smooth-but-tough, luxurious Land Rover. You can’t do that in NYC.

 

Orvis Fly-Fishing School

Here we were taught how to cast like a seasoned angler. A half-day class at their state-of-the art schoolhouse will introduce you to the art and science of this beloved (and relaxing) activity. Before casting our reel, we learned how to choose gear and tackle, tie essential knots, learn about stream entomology, and how to read water and currents. And, on Orvis’ fully-stocked casting pond, you’re almost guaranteed to hook a fish worth bragging about.

Boorn Brook Farm

If you’ve gotten hooked on the current authenticity trend, it honestly doesn’t get any more authentic than Boorn Brook Farm, a private estate and working farm just five minutes from downtown Manchester. The restored barn, with soaring, hand-hewn beamed ceilings, offers magnificent views of the property, has two cozy bedrooms, an open floor plan, and wood-fired stove in the kitchen. The grounds are also home to the Green Mountain Falconry School where you can book a private lesson or take a hawk walk on the property’s three miles of groomed, wooded trails. And seriously – what could possibly be cooler than falconry?

 

 

Hildene

Of course, we also appreciate the more intellectual adventures. And we later made our way to Hildene, the historic Lincoln Family Home, originally the summer house of Robert Todd Lincoln. The Georgian revival mansion and 14 historic buildings have been fully restored, including much of the original furniture, and it functions as a campus for environmental and agricultural education. We toured the house and explored the grounds (making sure to visit the farm and goat dairy) and took a stroll through the gardens. You can also hike the many peaceful, meandering trails through the 412-acre property.

Southern Vermont Arts Center

The recently renovated Southern Vermont Arts Center is a gateway to the impressive cultural history of the region. Originally established almost a century ago by an eclectic group of local artists, the Center has evolved to become a multidisciplinary arts organization that includes music, dance, education, and workshops with visiting creatives. This season, the museum’s curated exhibits dive into culturally relevant issues; Unusual Threads: Stitching Together the Future of Fashion takes on sustainability in the fashion industry, and Everything is Still: Photographers Working in Motion Picture Film explores storytelling through the creation of single, still images made through the medium of motion picture film. Fascinating stuff.

 

 

Retail Therapy

Although you’ll not want to miss Manchester’s high-end outlets (Ralph Lauren, Yves Delorme, Theory), we found Manchester’s most memorable shopping at its independently owned stores. You can easily spend hours browsing the shelves at the Northshire Bookstore – make sure to check out the staff picks and selection of locally-made gift items. The Mountain Goat is great for deals on outdoor apparel, and at Above All Vermont, an old-fashioned country store, we loved the handcrafted, quirky, and delicious Vermont-made goods.

Kimpton Taconic Hotel

Our home base, the Kimpton Taconic Hotel, perfectly captures the cozy-chic aesthetic one would expect from a Vermont hotel, but with a bit of big-city sophistication. The lobby’s soaring stone fireplace, wide-plank floors and carefully curated local artwork distinctly nod to the character and voice of the community, and each of the 86 rooms and three private cottages offer luxurious accommodations and amenities including in-room spa services.
The hotel’s excellent restaurant, The Copper Grouse, reinterprets classic American tavern fare and regional dishes with ingredients sourced from local purveyors. We started with shareable snacks: the house made soft pretzel bites tossed in duck fat and served with a spicy cider mustard, hand-cut fries with truffle oil, sea salt, and fresh herbs, and crispy chicken wings with maple sriracha and blue cheese mousse.
For the main event, we loved the Copper Grouse Burger topped with local cheddar and house-made pickles and the maple plank roasted Atlantic salmon accompanied by charred root vegetables. Desserts included a formidable goat cheese cheesecake with cider caramel and maple walnuts, and a classic apple crisp (yes, it’s all very, very Vermont). After dinner, it was cocktails – they made a killer espresso martini – at the hotel’s blazing outdoor fire pit.

 

Veneto + Liguria Luxe: 5-Star Splurging in Venice and Portofino

Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino

 

As we’ve come to know so well, summer in Italia means heat and crowds. But the scents, the sights, the culture and cuisine always seem to “spring” to life in springtime – as we so magically experienced on a recent luxurious whirl through Liguria and the Veneto, stopping in two of our most beloved cities.

Firstly, we cannot emphasize enough that if you’re thinking of returning to the Amalfi Coast, consider heading north instead, were we found solace and wonder in the magic that is lovely Portofino. An elevated oasis just about two hours from Milan, it’s the sort of place people are talking about when they speak of the Italian dream vacation.

 

 

We were in the mood for a splurge, and so booked a three night stay at the gorgeous Hotel Belmond Splendido. An historic property perched on a hillside overlooking the Portofino harbor, rooms come with balconies and breathtaking views of the Italian Riviera (for aesthetes, some have original frescoes). We were in good company, as the hotel has hosted a glittering parade of real and Hollywood royalty, from The Duke of Windsor to Madonna to Elizabeth Taylor and Steven Spielberg; there’s even a suite dedicated to regular guest Ava Gardner.

From Splendido it’s just a short stroll to the town’s famous Piazzetta. But with so much glamour and tranquility, we found it often difficult to leave the hotel. To wit, the hotel’s in-house spa offers a signature treatment program that is one hour and forty-five minutes of plush pampering – complete with cocktails matched to your nail color.

And for epicures, dinner at La Terrazza offers seafood risotto, crunchy king prawns and quinoa/pistachio crusted tuna with those breathtaking vistas.

 

 

We later took the train from Milan to Venice, to splash out not at some or other crowded San Marco hotel, but rather the legendary Belmond Cipriani, across the way on the much more private Giudecca. This is the sort of place where you might just bump shoulders with George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Donnatella Versace or Lady Gaga. Though we were so warmly welcomed by legendary greeter Roberto, you would think we were movie stars.

And indeed, the Cipriani is equal parts enchantment and luxury. We dined at the casual-chic Cip’s Club along the water’s edge with a view across the Lagoon to Piazza San Marco in the distance, happy to be just far enough away from the crowds. (It’s only a five minute boat ride to the main island, but you feel miles and miles away.) The food – roasted codfish with rosemary, risotto with turmeric and scampi – somehow manages to equal the setting.

 

 

For something a little more fancy, Oro boasts a Michelin star.

The property is surrounded by abundant gardens and the rooms have awesome vistas of perhaps the most ethereally beautiful place in the world. Another big plus? Cipriani boasts the only Olympic size salt water swimming pool in central Venice.

Truman Capote once famously said, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” And at Belmond Cipriani, those chocolates come with the most breathtaking views in the city.

 

 

 

First Images: Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing

 

In the perhaps overambitious lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a zealous program of hotel development left the city afterwards with too many places to stay, and not enough people to stay in them. Especially as Shanghai was emerging as the new hub of contemporary Chinese finance and business.

Eleven years on, that situation has carefully righted itself – and so the arrival onto the scene of the plush new Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing is being met with the requisite enthusiasm. Named for the shopping street of the Gods on which it is located (in the Dongcheng district), it appropriately offers a luxuriously zen retreat from all the chaos just outside its front door – and at just 73 rooms and suites, something decidedly more intimate than the gilded five-stars it will be competing with.

 

 

Those rooms flaunt elegant color schemes – subtle greys, blues and greens – plus patterned carpets, marble-tiled bathrooms, in some cases four-poster beds, and the most coveted, unobstructed views to the breathtaking spectacle that is the Forbidden City. On the average, they’re amongst the most spacious in Beijing.

Downstairs, Cafe Zi has a kind of tearoom-chic about it, with beautifully patterned screens, and an inviting pan-Asian menu – go for the urbane lunchtime dim sum service. In the evenings, the signature Mandarin Grill + Bar will do classy steaks and seafoods…while the MO Bar will be a bit more revved up, with nightly DJs and creative cocktails.

But most characteristic of Mandarin Oriental, wellness is…well tended to, with four spa suites, a high tech fitness center, and 25-meter pool. Which will come particularly in handy on those dodgy air-quality days.