March 22, 2013
Litchfield, Connecticut, USA
For a quick birthday getaway, my husband and I traveled an hour north to the rolling hills of Litchfield county in northwestern Connecticut. Known for its prized antique stores, wealthy creative-type residents and relaxed (unpretentious) atmosphere, Litchfield is a bucolic destination ripe for tucked-in, romantic stays amid woodland. So, in other words, it’s ideal for a birthday or anniversary celebration, particularly so since 2007 when the 113-acre compound resort, <a href=”http://www.winvain.com”>Winvian</a>, opened its doors. And what doors they are! Comprised of eighteen individually designed cottages scattered around the sizable land, no one dwelling is even remotely alike. In fact, so distinct are they that it’s absolutely requisite that one take a gander at the website and view each of the stunningly unique offerings prior to booking. My personal favorites are saved for Friend of a Friend clients, but I can safely assure you, dear reader, that they are all worthy of a special night stay.
Chock full of charming colonial architecture and a small main street lined with the odd haberdashery shop and cozy cafes, Litchfield makes for a nice pit-stop should you want to get off campus during the day. However, I highly recommend you return for dinner, as the Chef’s freshly grown (onsite) produce and organically sourced main courses are a treat not to be missed. And did I mention the wine list? I could have taken the heavy book with me to bed and poured over it for an hour, if only to make a wish list of must-try wines before dying.
Much has been written about the funky compound and its demonstrably high-end product – rooms go roughly for $1200 a night and come with all-inclusive and a la carte options, however, what struck me far more than the luxury trimmings and even the eye-popping architecture and zen-like Spa, was the utter devotion paid to the guest experience from the owner, Margaret Smith and her son, Win Smith III. Having been treated to their company on a few occasions during our overnight stay, I am confident in declaring that any guest of theirs would be hard pressed not to feel an instant kinship with them. So welcoming and engaging are they that to it feels almost odd to pay a bill at the end of your stay. Yet, all the while, their company was anything but intrusive. We were only ever approached when already in a relaxed and jovial state – enjoying a raucous game of shuffleboard after dinner or fully satiated after breakfast, dawdling over a second cappuccino. I confess, I already look forward to returning to Winvian, if only to hang out with the Smiths again.
155 Alain Road
Morris, CT 06763
Currently, From my desk in CT
Right now I am in the middle of planning various Caribbean family vacations for some clients. Three years after the debut of my book, Caribbean Hideaways, I find that I’m still just as drawn to those beautiful islands, but now not just for a solo adventure or romantic jaunt, but also for a no-fuss, visually and culturally engaging family trip that won’t break the bank. I’m convinced they exist, it’s simply a matter of matching the client to the right place.
Many of my clients them have young kids, like me, and are eager for a getaway that promises sun, sand and simple pleasures. Shockingly, it’s harder to find than you think. This is where the taste-meter play such an integral role in working with a Travel Advisor. With a gluttony of so-called options and worse, misleading photos and unreliable reports online, planning a vacation feels like a brutal gamble, ultimately fueling the need for one even further. What I try to do for my clients is first, recommend places I know firsthand, which helps that I’ve visited 22 islands in the Caribbean for my book and make annual pilgrimages to my favorites.
Then, second, help them discover places and learn to look at them critically based on what’s online. Having researched places online for almost ten years now, there are various warning flags that I can spot from a website alone – particularly Caribbean or beachfront properties. For instance: if you don’t see a shot of the building or any part of the property showcasing that it’s actually on the beach – it likely isn’t. Websites will lure you will arching palm trees and aquamarine waters, but if you want to ensure they’re right out your door or just steps away, be sure to investigate directly. This tip and others are what, I hope, will lead my client base to grow. I’ve done this for years folks and I hope to get to every place I recommend so that I can feel 100% confident in it being a fit for my clients – especially for those highly-anticipated, annual spring-break trips.
With all that in mind, below is a newly relaunched resort in the Dominican Republic, Balcones del Atlantico, that I’m currently considering recommending to clients and friends. I have yet to go myself, and so I’m looking into a quick jaunt next month to verify its fit. Anyone been? It seems ideal by my research, but nothing matches actually visiting for real verification and vetting.
January 27-February 1st
This week I am in Jamaica, an island I have know for a long, long time. I realized on the plane down here that this is my 36th (!!) visit to the former Banana Republic. And still, I know I will be back for more. This trip brought me to spots I don’t usually visit: Dunns River Falls, Runaway Bay and Port Antonio. Each remind me of the richness of Jamaica and its people. I am always inspired when I am here. That said, best I get to writing.
Here are some of my favorite snapshots (a confessed Instagram junkie) thus far.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
It seems you can’t walk a block in the Palermo neighborhood, BA’s district of cool and happening, without tripping over a boutique hotel. Each one offering a similar brand of intimacy, charm and entré into the city’s most cosmopolitan areas. However, with so much of one type of product how does one choose? Honestly? Ask a professional. Having just spent an entire week combing the streets, trying desperately not to consult my iPhone map every few minutes for fear of the city’s renowned motor scooter thieves, I can truly say that one needs a proper canvassing in order to distinguish between the many similar offerings.
In the upcoming posts, I will highlight a few of the standout properties that I toured and help make sense of the intoxicating jumble. The good news, though, is that the city is thriving – so much more than when I lived there in 2000 and despite recent political turmoil. The streets are buzzing, cafes are full and the clothing boutiques are plenty. Plus, summer is approaching, so why not go see for yourself. Just call me first, okay? (Last plug, I swear).
News and Reviews you can use, to come!
She’s baaaaack. Yup. After 12 years I finally return to the lovely Argentina. Much has changed since I studied abroad in Buenos Aires – so much so I have yet to lock on something truly familiar. Of course, I, too, have changed. No longer a twenty-year old student eager to prove my hardiness and passion for the hispanohablante world, I now travel with my family, including my 2-year old son. Instead of hunting out the perfect café or bar, I am on the lookout for playgrounds and grassy stretches. Fortunately the city is forthcoming on both searches, and even better, in the case of Palermo Soho, right alongside one another.
Old Greenwich, CT
They’re calling it the perfect storm. The trifecta of a full moon, hurricane level winds and heavy rains created water level surges that devastated waterfront areas across the NYC metro area – particularly southern New Jersey. The storm is reported to cause up to 50 billion dollars in damage and further tragedies are being reported by the hour. I feel very lucky that despite our location near the water in southern Connecticut, our house and more importantly, my family, are safe and sound. Unfortunately, I cannot report the same for our neighbors on Binney Lane in Old Greenwich, whose houses were destroyed by a transformer explosion, whose sparks spread with the high winds burning three houses to the ground – truly devastating.
The flood waters came up to our mailbox and have filled our basement with murky, garbage-filled water. Our yard is littered with debris left by the high waters and our windows look as if a wave crashed right into the house. Though, luckily the inside of our house remained unscathed. Once again, though, in the wake of disaster, the effort shown from people pulling together is wonderfully reassuring and heartwarming. Numerous outfits, including the Red Cross and the ASPCA, have options for volunteering and donations.
I wish everyone touched by this disaster a speedy recovery and strength during this challenging time.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Heeding the words of that fabulous James Taylor song, “Mexico,” I hopped aboard a Delta flight down to Cancun, Mexico last week for an impromptu 3-day trip of hotel hunting and beachside indulgence. Between checking out hotels in neighboring Mayakoba, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, chatting with the friendly locals and soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible, I found myself rather quickly at ease. No doubt, this was due to the lack of company and tremendously inviting scenery. The majority of pictures below come from my iPhone.
As a guest at the newly renamed Viceroy Riviera Maya (former Tides property), I was given one of their coveted ocean view villas, which offered a single traveler plenty of space to spread out, plus enough creature comforts to keep loneliness at bay: Free wifi, television, small library of paperback thrillers. Nestled into the surrounding natural jungle, the Viceroy’s 41 villas feel tremendously private despite sharing less than 3 acres of space. This is likely due to the careful staggering of the villas, tucked along winding pathways and the frond-laden landscaping.
In fact, so adept at offering seclusion, the Viceroy might as well be a couples-only resort (that, and they don’t accept children under the age of 16.) Nevertheless, as a singleton surrounded by swooning couples, I felt perfectly comfortable in my spacious room, and fell immediately into a welcome routine of spa, yoga, poolside dining and beach walks. I was blissfully unaware of others actions just as they, likely, were unaware of mine. I imagine a celebrity would feel similarly at ease at this resort, since everyone seemed equally invested in the self-absorbed tasks of relaxation and scenery appreciation. Of course, Pepe, one of the beach attendants, encouraged such hedonistic behavior with frequent offerings of piña coladas and daily distribution of a house speciality served in a shot glass.
The staff at the Viceroy were another pleasant highlight, incredibly generous with their recommendations, local knowledge and quick to smile. Eating by yourself can get tiresome quickly, yet at the Viceroy I never minded, always satiated by the staff’s conversational abilities and the stunning view. Although the Viceroy was truly a standout property, I must reconcile my positive review with my deep need to unplug. Nevertheless, the Viceroy delivered and event went above in its nourishment of my depleted energy. I highly recommend it for a quick getaway, whether its with your significant other or not.
The Greenwich Hotel
Tribeca, New York City
For an upcoming story on where to eat Italian in New York City, I spent the night at Robert De Niro’s fantastic Tribeca hotel; The Greenwich Hotel. Having heard only good things from friends and colleagues, I was looking forward to finally spending the night in a place that has earned such consistent rave reviews. I was also excited to finally eat at the equally vaulted Locanda Verde, the hotel’s tangential restaurant run by Andrew Carmellini.
Usually when expectations are set high, end results are lackluster. I am happy to report that this was firmly not the case. Both my overnight at The Greenwich Hotel and my dinner at Locanda Verde were excellent. From the warm, personalized check-in to the buzzing energy at the restaurant (one of the few times a 30 minute wait wasn’t a major irritant), I was delighted the entire time. (This may have something to do with the fact I was spending the night in the city on a school night.) The staff played a big part of my sense of contentment. The woman who checked me in was sweet without being overly so. She noted my clear proficiency with televisions and light fixtures and didn’t dawdle over silly explanations. She also likely noted my big smile when she mentioned everything in the minibar was complimentary. What can I say? Free Minibars are truly one of the best hotel perks (besides Wifi) I can think of. Then there was the woman at breakfast, who sensed my short time frame and brought a cappuccino – perfectly frothed with foam floret and all – in under 2 minutes and then followed up with equally swift service of my eggs dish. I enjoyed my breakfast fireside in the hotel’s cossetting library while thumbing the NYTimes and feeling particularly spoiled with such a decadent start to the morning. Note to self – get up earlier next time to enjoy cappuccino number 2. It’s well worth the loss of sleep.
A few things of particular note about the Greenwich that put it firmly in the must-return category: There’s a distinct aroma in the hallway of the guest rooms that has an earthy, woodsy (likely due to the wood door frames) appeal. It is such an unexpected scent in the depths of NYC that it was instantly intoxicating. Then, my guest room (room 303) was surprisingly cozy despite rather masculine details such as an exposed wood plank wall, iron grate shower door, low-slung mahogany bed, leather settee and simple white linens. Usually a sucker for an abundance of pillows and soft billowing drapes, I was surprised to find how immediately comfortable I felt in the room. Perhaps it had something to do with the free minibar.
Side-note: I know this whole minibar discussion is making me sound like all I want to do is eat candy and drink mini rum bottles, but I do think there’s something intrinsically off putting about sleeping alongside forbidden fruit, which is what the minibar is when it’s so costly for a juice in the morning or a late night chocolate nibble. So having that issue removed made me feel increasingly more at home.
As with all top-seeded hotels in my book, the bathrooms is a focal point that can either make or break its status. Here, the bathroom earned points for being proportionally spaced and having perhaps the strongest water pressure – from an overhead rain shower – to be felt in a long time. The all marble clad bath also featured a small sign boasting that the bath fills in 60-seconds flat – the ferrari of tubs, so it would seem. The bath products are signature to the spa and carry a similar mixed scent of woodsy, orange blossom and ginger tones. You can’t help but smell Asian influences (which are clearly intended given the spa is Japanese).
Though I’m fortunate to visit hotels often and it’s a professional goal and imperative to stay somewhere different each time – I must admit, I can’t wait to return to The Greenwich.