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Dispatch From Paris
Just back from a memorable diversion in Paris where I decided to stop over en route home this week. With all that has happened I wanted to reconnect with the city that we all love and visit some of my favorite friends and places albeit in just a few short hours. Three weeks after tragedy plagued this city I wanted to see first-hand what the situation was really like, absent the influence of exaggerated sensationalist media. And boy am I glad I did.
For some strange reason I had not been to Paris in 5 years and like so many things you love, you forget how amazing they are until you encounter them; Paris being no different. From the minute I entered the city’s outskirts I was smitten with its utter beauty and elegance. From the stately blue mansard roofs and intricate stone facades, I was instantly struck with elation of returning to something special. The city is just beautiful inside and out. From a random corner to a small trash dispenser, it’s no wonder Paris is the world’s muse. Even in the rain (and boy did it rain) Paris is gorgeous -- the shimmer on the cobblestone streets, the glimmer of the lights on towering iconic monuments and the twinkle of the drops on the windows of endless elegant buildings lining the street. Indeed, Paris is like our second home – our escape for a dose of all things fabulous.
I felt just as safe and easy going walking down Rue St. Honoré as I do Fifth Avenue. Any fears were instantly diffused as soon as I stepped on the pavement. There were no barracks, no army men with rifles, nothing was closed or in lockdown mode. There was a heightened sense of security but nothing at all frightening. It felt like an ordinary day in Paris. Of course, anything can happen anywhere at any time, and no place is too far off the map to be a target (like who’da thunk San Bernardino, CA?); but the way I see it we all have two options -- retreat or move on. It is clear Parisians chose the latter. As so many have declared to me in classic French tone “are we going to let them defeat our entire life and crawl under our mattress or will we defy them as move on with life!?!” But the French, whose DNA emerged from the endless defiance of the French Revolution, don’t just move on with life. They savor it. Joie di Vivre – the “Joy of Life” -- as they say… and so it is. Just three weeks after the terrorist attacks, Paris removed its shrouds of morning, brushed off its ashes, and picked itself up – out of respect for those who perished and defiance for those who did it. Surprisingly, Paris was abuzz. Bars were full and there wasn’t an empty seat at any restaurant I passed on an ordinary Tuesday night. Indeed, Parisians were all out and about living their life. The sprawling Christmas market (marché) was bustling and the streets were alive with locals. The Tour Eiffel was illuminated with all its pomp and glory boasting its glittering flashbulbs and bold searchlights heralding the city with an air of freedom and defiance as if so say “F-U….we are still here; we shine. We win. You Lose.”
Walking through the streets and seeing so many friends gave me a sense of ownership and pride, as though that were my flag flying everywhere. And then it occurred to me that Paris was indeed my city and that attack was on me like everyone else walking through the streets. That’s why I think we all feel like this hit home so much and so frightened. I don’t see as many people fretting over the recent incident in Mali as they did in Paris. Just as so many felt connected with New York after 9/11, I feel connected to this global “sister” city that has claimed a piece of so many of our hearts. It seems while we sprang from the British, we have always identified with the French. From fashion to food, the French lead our trends and our values. And though our flags are different, they have the same colors representing the same values of freedom, equality and liberty. From the time they salvaged us from the British during to the American Revolution to our rescue on the shores of Normandy our connection to this country has never dissipated.
Even if you don’t live there, anyone who has been to Paris has a favorite random corner, a favorite café or bistro and most of all, a favorite memory. Just walking down any alley feels like stepping through an epic novel or movie set, whether Les Miserablés or Midnight in Paris. It is the City of Love and a city we all love in one way or another. Indeed, there is a piece of Paris in all of us.
Yes they can be arrogant, but they are also oh so elegant. There is this incredible ambiance in the air whether you are on Ave Montaigne, San Germain-des-Prés or the sprawling Champs. It is a sanctuary for all of our passions, our indulgences and senses. From the fragrances radiating from its luxury hotels, to the opulent edifices, to the sensual fabrics in its boutiques to the orgasmic flavors of its gastronomic temples, Paris inspires something in everyone. Just walking through each hotel and noticing the attentive attention to detail with every random cup of coffee accompanied by a symphony of endless accessories including dainty delights that can be framed as art anywhere else. No one does luxury hospitality like the French. Not the Americans, not the Asians nor the British. From dainty mainstays like a silver ring holder in a bathroom, a delicate china egg holder at breakfast, or even a thoughtful cushioned floor mats set beside the bed at turndown so your sleepy feet emerge on a cloud of comfort rather than a hard floor. The perfume infused air is standard quo and everything just seems to be done with delightful pomp and circumstance. Yes it is fussy, but it is utterly fabulous.
During my brief stay I visited each of the top 15 luxury hotels in Paris and I fell in love with every hotel again as if it were my first encounter. I wanted to move in to each and each was my favorite for the moment I was there. It is no different that loving every one of your children. The one you are with is your favorite at the moment you are with them but yet you love them all the same when apart…. The glamour of Le Bristol with its local ladies doing lunch in the glorious garden and food worshippers savoring flavors in Epicure. The perfect blend of tradition, vibe and whimsy continues to lure me to the venerable Plaza Atheneé wondering who I will see munching on something wonderful along its arcade or in its ultra-cool bar. And then there is the opulent Le Meurice, a longtime favorite overlooking the Tuilleries in a most enviable location. Oh, and who could overlook the refreshed yet historic Ritz Paris, making a strong comeback specializing in making ladies feel like Parisian princesses stepping past a host of fashion elite soon to flood its halls. Around the corner the slick Mandarin with its dainty butterflies is oh-so-chic and then there is the stately Peninsula with its signature aviator rooftop. Both nod to the Asian influence on French culture while the Art Deco temple of the Prince de Gaulle pays homage to the city’s Art Deco era. It has been perfectly restored by Pierre Yves Rochon who is still orchestrating the refresh at the venerable Four Seasons George V, showroom to Jeff Leighton’s indelible creations and forever a place to see and be seen over a power lunch. But then there is the cozy boutique La Reserve with its private salons and endless options in the middle of everything… and of course the dreamy Shangri La set in a former Napolean home with the most dramatic postcard views of the Tour Eiffel. And who could leave without at least a night cap at Le Royal Monceau, with an elegant vibe epitomizing the new Paris. They are all so amazing that it is hard to decide where to stay next. Anyone who has had the privilege to experience these special places knows that it is not just about the beautiful spaces. It is about the heart and soul -- the people behind them that makes it all so special. It is about the thousands of ladies and gentleman who make memories for everyone, who go above and beyond for us all and are the true ambassadors of this city.
As you would expect though, while locals are filling hotel bars and restaurants, tourists have not yet returned. Thus these palaces remained quite empty (some at 20% occupancy) while many shops were struggling without visitor support. And while some may feel like this is not the time to talk about Paris or try to exploit the situation by promoting amazing values in the wake of the great fallout, there is another side to consider. There are hundreds of thousands of people and families who depend on our visits to put food on their tables and clothe their children. People who could be out of a job without a flow of tourism coming back to support them. With over 83 million visitors to France every year, tourism accounts for over 33% of the income for Parisians and over 7% of the French GDP.
The people behind the hotels, the shops, restaurants, and the bars all need us now more than ever and we all need to step up. Remember, Paris does not just belong to the Parisians. Paris is our city.
So this is not about being insensitive to a tragic situation; it is about rising to the occasion and emerging from a crisis stronger than before. It is about brotherhood. It is about supporting our fellow when he needs you most. It is about uniting the world in peace and freedom. No different than our liberation on the shores of Normandy, it is about Liberté, égalité, Fraternité, It is about YOUR Paris.
Join me in participating in a host of upcoming initiatives we will be rolling out with our partners and feel free to step up with any ideas you may have.
The excitement I had to stay at the 1 Hotel was too hard to contain. I literally sprinted out of the office on Thursday evening and went straight to the hotel to check into my room. I did not make detours because all I wanted to do was flop on the massive bed and soak up the fresh smells of the 1 Hotel. You see, I say fresh smells because the entire hotel is made from re-purposed and natural materials and sprinkled with greenery in every corner. It is also very modern – I would say it is geared towards traveling millennials but not limited to this demographic. It also caters to the adventurer, the yogi, the nature lover, and also the luxury traveler. The feeling you get when you stay at the 1 is similar to being in a peaceful oasis. Well, that was how I felt at least. I am simply in LOVE with this hotel. It recently just opened its grand doors (which are made of thousands of branches and twigs). Upon entering, the nicest front desk staff greets you and checks you in to your room then hands you a welcome present. The key for the hotel is a recycled circular piece of wood. Some say the rooms can be a little small, but for me, being only 1 person at a whopping height of 5 feet and 1 inch, it was the perfect space. If you had a time lapse of the room it would have consisted of me lying on the bed , in the window alcove, standing in the all glass cubed shower, sitting on the ground, sitting in the chair, and milling around in the bathroom, for a straight 14 hours.
I loved every inch of my room. I felt so warm and cozy. The hotel was designed by nature. Everything is inspired by what is around us every day. This is why it feels and smells fresh when you walk inside. The hotel also uses as much natural light as they can, with giant windows all around the hotel. Some rooms have a view of central park which adds to the oasis feeling. You could step out of the nature and go right into nature again merely steps away. I had a city view which I really enjoyed because I could sit in the alcove and people watch. Even though it was a short stay, I wanted to experience it completely so I utilized the accommodations and worked out in the gym (which has the best state of the art work out equipment) and ordered room service from the hotel restaurant, Jams, which is an entity in of itself. I ordered a delicious burger with the most amazing toasted bun and fresh French fries. I highly recommend this burger but then again, I am a burger girl. I definitely gobbled it up faster than I should have. The coolest part about room service was that I ordered it all from the smart phone on the bedside table. I also controlled the TV, lights, and texted the front desk from this smart phone. This system is actually becoming very common in luxury hotels. It is a lazy person’s (i.e. me) dream. The service at the 1 was perfect and accommodating. I was so relaxed staying at the 1. My crush on this hotel is very real and I am thankful for getting to stay the night!
On September 14, 2014, Hurricane Odile hit Los Cabos like a bull, injuring hundreds, flattening homes, and wreaking havoc on the coastline with winds up to 125 mph. Over 30,000 tourists were stranded to weather out the storm without electricity, phone service, and drinkable water. The vicious hurricane tore off the roof of the Terminal 1 in the Los Cabos International Airport, making it difficult for the Mexican authorities and U.S. State Department to airlift tourists out of the ruined city.
Although it seemed as if Los Cabos has reached one of the most destructive points in its history, most of the destination has been repaired and improved, and is now looking better than ever. Only 17 days after the hurricane, Los Cabos was already back in the game. The airport, streets, marina, beaches, and even the power, were are all back in business in no time.
Many hotels endured major damage to their properties, but they seized the opportunity to take on all-new repair and renovation projects and come back better than ever. Three of our favorite hotels have undergone major improvements to their resorts:
One&Only reopened with a new steakhouse called ‘SEARED by Jean-Georges Vongerichten’, completely refurbished rooms and suites, new adult outdoor lounging areas, and a brand new spa and fitness center. With the added enhancements, along with the warm and genuine service that they are known for, The One&Only Palmilla is better than ever.
Esperanza, An Auberge Resort
Esperanza’s extensive re-design was led by acclaimed interior designer Mary Alice Palmer of HKS Architects and landscape architect George Girvin. The 57-room beachfront resort features completely transformed guest rooms, a refreshed Cocina del Mar restaurant and Lounge Bar, an enhanced pool along with a terrace with new cozy lounge spaces and cabanas, and a revitalized spa. The resort is even offering a travel package and special spa promotion titled, “Rediscover Esperanza”.
Las Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort
Las Ventanas reopens its legendary Five-Diamond resort and resets the bar for luxury. Several unbelievable guest experiences and comforts have been added to the personalized service that Las Ventanas is known for. The highlights of the enhancements include the all-new team of Villa Hosts, who make it their job to deliver the most luxurious experience to guests staying in the resort’s Signature Villas, along with the brand new Las Ventanas 2015 Rio GT56 luxury Yacht, which offers guests the opportunity to explore the seas of Los Cabos. Many new winter experiences have launched, including a unique Whale Safari to discover the magnificent whale species that migrate to Baja California each winter, and the all-new Bulgari Tea Bath, which includes Mexico’s first and only Tea Sommelier to curate a special tea to compliment the guest’s chosen fragrance. New summer experiences include an authentic cooking class in the pre-Hispanic technique of “barbacoa,” a personal tequila tasting and consultation with an expert Tequila Master, a thrilling treasure hunt through scenic Baja, a unique opportunity to create a pearl at Baja’s only pearl farm, and new “Dog Butlers” to care for the resort’s four-legged guests.
1. Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
This small village on the southern coast of Uruguay is currently one of the chicest spots in South America. During our New York winter, the sun is shining in full force in Jose Ignacio. The scene is glamorous but laid back with sunbathers enjoying late lunches at superb restaurants.
Top pick: Vik Retreats Bahia, Playa and Estancia Vik
2. Puglia, Italy
The “boot” of Italy is one of the best places in Italy. From authentic dining, to wineries to sandy beach clubs – Puglia is a great mix of culture and relaxation for travelers of all ages. Biking is the ideal way to explore the region because of the flat landscape.
Top pick: Borgo Egnazia
3. Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos has been gaining popularity, and is back and better than ever. With hot beach clubs like Nammos Beach, with guests partying into the evening and restaurants serving fresh caught fish, Mykonos is for party people and sophisticated travelers alike.
Top pick: Santa Marina Mykonos
Montenegro’s rocky coastline is one of the most beautiful in the world. With no lack of history nor luxury hotels, Montenegro is one of this summer’s up and coming destinations.
Top pick: Aman Sveti Stefan
Voted one of the top destinations by Travel and Leisure, Kyoto is both beautiful, exotic and serene at the same time.
Top pick: Ritz Carlton Kyoto
Ibiza is about so much more than nightclubs and famous DJ’s. The beauty of Formentera beach, the quality of restaurants and incredible villas on the island are cementing its place in the luxury travel market.
Top pick: Private Island Tagomago off the coast of Ibiza, complete with yacht.
Rustic in all the right ways, Nicaragua provides adventure (biking through the rainforest), culture (visiting Grenada) and relaxation (beach) all in one.
Top pick: Mukul Resort and Spa
8. St Barth
Nothing new to the scene, St. Barth is still one of 2015’s top destinations. Providing the perfect mix of a European island with a laidback beach feel – It is the only island that has a reliable nightlife scene.
Top pick: Cheval Blanc Isle de France
Known for its blue lagoons and pristine beaches, Fiji’s provides some of the best diving in the South pacific. With the opening of Laucala, Fiji has joined the ranks as one of the most exclusive places to visit.
Top pick: Laucala Island
With the world expo in Milan and new hotel openings, Milan is not only the center of Italian fashion but also an underrated cultural center.
Top pick: The Mandarin Oriental Milan
Back in December, I had the chance to explore one of the most exotic and foreign countries I’ve traveled to; Thailand. A visit to Thailand is a once in a lifetime opportunity that should not be overseen or missed out on by anyone. It is the perfect place for all travelers. Whether you’re a beach bum, adventurist, or culture junky, Thailand has it all and is the place for you!
I was fortunate enough to visit four different places in Thailand and experience a little bit of everything it has to offer. My journey started off in Bangkok, the capital and bread-and-butter of Thailand. If you think Manhattan is the city that never sleeps, you obviously have not been to Bangkok! We stayed at The Banyan Tree Bangkok which has one of the best rooftop bars in the city! The hustle and bustle never ends and the music never stops! The highly populated city not only has great nightlife and restaurants, but there is also a ton to learn and see. The Grand Palace and Wat Pho are just two “must-see” highlights in Bangkok. The climax of my visit was when we took a Long Tail speedboat through the residential neighborhoods of the city which was an eye opener and culture shock!
Next, we went to Khao Sok which is a national park in Southern Thailand. This is where I scratched my adventure itch. We stayed 3 nights in at Elephant Hills in a luxury tented camp; one night in the jungle and two nights in a floating tent over the Cheow Larn Lake. At these camps you can do just about anything! We went from bathing and feeding elephants to canoeing and hiking through bat caves!
The third stop on my journey was Phuket, a completely different experience than the previous two. After a full week of adventure and touring, Phuket was the perfect beach spot to settle down, relax, and take it all in. The beaches of Phuket are beautiful and the tranquil sunsets cannot be captured in a photo. It is THE perfect place for honeymooners or families who are looking to visit an exotic beach destination. Phuket is even known for its amazing surf conditions so if you’re an avid surfer, Phuket should definitely be on your list! A highlight for me was taking out a boat for the day and visiting the surrounding islands with a quick snorkel in the Andaman Sea! It was also cool to visit Phi Phi Island where the movie The Beach, as well as many others, was filmed. We stayed at The Banyan Tree Phuket which truly captured the Asian sense of place.
Our last and final stop was the city of Chiang Mai. I loved Chiang Mai because it is a city mixed with culture and adventure. You can choose to stay in the heart of the city where you will have the Night Bazaar and the city center just outside your door, or you can stay just outside the city where you’ll have one foot in the action and one foot in a muddy rice field planting some rice! You will be able to go on some cool adventures like zip-lining through the jungle and hiking over suspension bridges. We stayed at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai which is a resort outside of the city. It offers a ton of activities on property (such as rice planting, authentic Thai cooking classes, etc) as well as off property. When visiting Thailand, Chiang Mai is definitely a stop you want to take. A visit to the Night Bazaar will not send you home empty handed!
Sadly, after an amazing 12 nights in Thailand, my journey came to an end but the memories and adventures I experienced will always make Thailand one of my favorite places in the world. Despite the long 18 hour flight, I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Julie Danziger, Director of Luxury Travel Services
Ajax Tavern at the Little Nell
Renee Fallack, Luxury Travel Concierge