April 05, 2011
Wining and Dining in Australia’s Hunter Valley
Australia’s Hunter Valley, which is located about a two hours’ drive north of Sydney, is the country’s most popular wine region, with more than two million visitors each year. The valley has approximately 140 vineyards, most of which do not sell in wine or liquor stores. For the most part, these wineries are family-owned properties, and their bottles are only available at the cellar door or through wine clubs, guaranteeing a unique experience for visitors and vintages that can’t be purchased anywhere else. The valley is also the oldest continually producing wine region in Australia, and its history, from convict days to modern times, mirrors the country at large.
After our first night in Sydney, our group met up with Steve Thomas of Boutique Tours Australia and set off to spend a few days in the valley. Steve pointed out local sights along the way (a small bridge across a river was built by a construction team from New York, so they named the area Brooklyn. Turns out, there are two Brooklyn Bridges in the world. Who knew?), and gave a very informative (and often, very funny) running commentary on local history and culture.
Our first stop in the valley was Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, which dates back to 1866 and has terrific views of the countryside. Peter Woods, operations manager of the winery, let us sample several bottles while we enjoyed an al fresco lunch from the nearby Smelly Cheese Shop. If you can get some real honeycomb, try it on a cracker with a tangy blue cheese. It’s bliss.
Also good to know: The Hunter Valley is famous for its Semillon wines, so encourage your clients to try some vertical tastings of different vintages, or, for example, to compare a Semillon, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris. Also, warn your clients in advance that most wines in Australia are now bottled with a screwcap top rather than cork. It looks decidedly less elegant, but the winemakers insist that it preserves the wine much better than the natural option.
After lunch and innumerable wine samples (the more samples we tried, the harder it was to remember how many we’d sipped), we toured the inner parts of the winery, learning how wine goes from grapes on the vine to a vintage in the bottle. (It’s a very long and complicated process that involves temperature control, yeast monitoring and lots of time.) Your serious oenophile clients will definitely want to see how wine gets made, and smaller vineyards such as Audrey Wilkinson are a perfect place to get one-on-one instruction.
From Audrey Wilkinson, we drove down the road to Tyrrell’s Wines, another historic vineyard in the valley where we tasted a 1999 Semillon that they have recently age-released. It was delicious, although by this point, I was hitting my limit in terms of wine. Some nice details at the winery include the original buildings from the 1860s that make a powerful, if silent, statement about how rough early life in the valley was, and how strong those early developers had to be.
For pre-dinner drinks (by which point, I was sipping diet Coke), we stopped by Tempus Two, a decidedly post-modern strip-mall-esque collection of high-end dining and drinking options. The Goldfish Bar has a lot of funky cocktails and, naturally, a great wine selection, and there is also plenty of outdoor seating for al fresco dining. For dinner, we went to Bistro Molines, a hilltop restaurant with killer views of the valley—and an amazing wine selection. A cool touch: The labels on the bottles are made of pewter or copper, and make for wonderful objects d’art in their own right.
Our accommodations for the evening were in the Cypress Lakes Resort, a large property that includes several golf courses and swimming pools. The hotel is apparently very popular with families, and the two-bedroom villas are a good pick for groups of up to four.
|Beer tasting at the Hunter Resort|
The next morning, we started out at Hunter Resort, a winery that doubles as a brewery and offers classes as well as wine and beer tastings. The ginger beer is really delicious. If your clients are getting wined-out, the resort offers a very different experience, and is a great option for a break.
The Wyndham Estate is the Valley’s oldest-working winery, dating back to 1831. It offers several notable vintages as well as some nice historic aspects. While the ruins of George Wyndham’s old house are at once beautiful and heartbreaking, operations manager Stephen Guilbaud-Oulton said that they are raising funds for a restoration. The estate is also working to repair the Hunter River, which has been severely damaged by deforestation and other environmental problems. The hillside leading down to the mostly dry river is dotted with new saplings that, with luck, will bring the water back to its former state…in about 100 years or so. The estate is a popular choice for outdoor weddings—we saw chairs all set up overlooking the valley, and it’s hard to imagine a prettier spot for tying the knot.
We stayed at the estate for lunch, and sampled chef Andy Wright’s cuisine at Olive Tree Restaurant. The menu is deceptively simple, with no more than three ingredients per dish, but the food is fresh, locally sourced where possible and absolutely delicious. (The steak, served rare with an herbed butter, was especially rich, but the chicken and chorizo is also a wonderful option.)
|Hunter Valley Gardens|
Taking a break from wine, we spent a nice hour wandering around the Hunter Valley Gardens, a collection of themed gardens that are ideal for weddings or for family outings. While the elaborate Victorian Rose Garden was gorgeous and the Formal Garden was very impressive, we were utterly charmed by the Storybook Garden, which has sculptures of fairy tale characters for children to examine.
For dinner, we went for tapas at Verandah Restaurant, where groups can pick out several options and sample small bites of lots of dishes. (Lots of seafood options, and my companions raved about the pork belly.) Tell your clients to save room for desert: The chocolate-and-chili soufflé was divine.
After checking out of Cypress Lakes the next morning, we toured Tower Lodge, a 12-room Relais & Chateaux property in the Valley that must be seen to be believed. General manager Andreas Breitfuss took us down to the hotel’s subterranean restaurant, Nine, which is only open on weekends for a dedicated degustation menu. Nice touch: While the restaurant is available for locals, several seats are left open for last-minute guest dining. Breitfuss mentioned that the hotel will be doubling in size in the next few years, but will stop at 24 rooms (guaranteeing that there are never more than 50 guests who need his attention.)
|A deluxe room at the Tower Lodge|
We stopped by Brokenwood Wines for a tour of their bottling operations and a private wine tasting with operations manager Grant Radford. If your clients are real oenophiles, encourage them to shell get the 2007 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz—it’s not light on the wallet, but it was one of the best wines we tried all weekend.
To wrap up the tour, we explored Tuscany Wine Estate Resort, a newer property with great views over the neighboring vineyards and a casual pet policy. The rolling hills and fields are great for dog-walking. We had lunch at the hotel’s Mill Restaurant, with some wonderful seafood creations and a delicious Sangiovese. It was a marathon of wining and dining but, for oenophiles and gourmands, the Hunter Valley is a real must-visit.
April 05, 2011
From the ATE Floor: An Update From States and Territories
It’s been a full day of walking around the trade show floor at the Australia Tourism Exchange (ATE), and there is plenty of news from Australia’s states and territories.
Queensland, obviously, has had a rough time in recent months between floods and cyclones, but the state is now focusing on recovery and reminding the world that they are open for business. “The hotels are fine, the reef is spectacular, and the rainforest is lush and green,” said Linda Zaklikowski of the state’s tourism board. “We want to make sure that people don’t generalize. We’re putting things in perspective.”
From anecdotal evidence, Zaklikowski says that many bookings for visits to Queensland were not canceled, but redirected. In fact, she noted, the global financial crisis had more of an impact on the state’s numbers than the recent natural disasters did.
The tagline for the state is "Where Australia Shines," and that’s what the tourism board is hoping to promote. “It doesn’t mean sunshine. It means moments. It could be meeting a local and chatting, or seeing a turtle, or fish in the reef. It’s memories.”
A major new resort, Wildman Wilderness Lodge, is set to open this month in the Northern Territory. In Darwin, Sky City is expanding, and renovations should be complete later this year.
Several safari companies are offering unique tours of the outback and other natural attractions in the territory. Davidson’s Safaris, for example, goes into lands owned by indigenous peoples that are normally closed off to outsiders. Lord Safaris offers nature tours of Kakadu Natural Park, and Venture North offers exclusive tours of the Cobourg Peninsula. Alice Springs Holidays offers multi-day trips through Uluru (formerly known as Ayres Rock) through to King’s Canyon that run three or four days.
Adelaide and its suburbs have several new establishments that have started some buzz. The Stirling Hotel, renovated from a former pub, opened recently, as did The Manna of Hahndorf. Foodies will want to check out the White House, a new restaurant in Hahndorf from the owners of the popular Chocolate 5, and Grace, The Establishment, which opened in Adelaide.
Kangaroo Island is one of South Australia’s most popular vacation destinations, and development on the island has picked up steam recently. Kangaroo Beach Lodges are new luxury accommodations, and new helicopter flights are being offered to and around the island.
The third Art Hotel (the Blackman) has opened in Melbourne, as has the Crown Metropol, a new luxury property with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Several properties (the Langham, the Windsor and the Marriott) are undergoing major renovations.
Several new tours have also debuted in the state, catering to very distinct markets. Notable on the list is the Hidden Secrets tours , which takes clients to the city’s best (and, frequently, off-the-beaten-track) cafes and restaurants. Other tours geared for shoppers focus on the brand outlets in and around the city.
Arts and culture are the buzzwords for development in Tasmania, with the January opening of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart, which saw more than 100,000 visitors in its first 60 days.
“Everything an art gallery is, this place isn’t,” said Nadine Ghanem of the state’s tourism board. Rooms have been specifically created to fit certain exhibits or pieces, guaranteeing that each installation will be seen in the best possible light.
The city has also launched ArtBikes, free bikes that can be picked up and dropped off at outdoor art installations, and smArt maps for finding the best museums and galleries.
A new public golf course, Lost Farm, has opened to complement the popular Barnbougle Dunes, and a new hotel (Lost Farm Lodge) is opening with it. And by next year, a new package will highlight Australia’s convict heritage, with tours of notable prisons in Sydney and Tasmania.
New South Wales
Several new tours are in the works for New South Wales, including snorkel safaris, a Grand Pacific Drive using Ferraris (great for the luxury market), Royal Coast walks (great for the adventure market), and tours of the Blue Mountains.
As announced yesterday, the Sydney’s opera scene is expanding beyond the stage of the Opera House, but we’re intrigued by the recent announcement that visitors can book private opera recitals with some of the city’s best singers. It could be a great option for honeymooners or those seeking romance travel.
April 01, 2011
Soaring to New Heights and Tastes in Sydney
In his recent one-man show on Broadway, actor Colin Quinn quipped that certain planets are closer to New York than Australia is. After traveling for the better part of 30 hours to get from New York to Sydney, I’m inclined to believe him … but it’s sure worth the trip.
Upon arriving in Sydney not nearly as jetlagged as I’d expected to be, thanks to sleeping quite nicely in Qantas’ business class, I headed in to the city’s InterContinental Hotel Sydney to clean up and get some lunch before heading out into town. My room, #2404, overlooks the city and the bay and the gorgeous Botanical Gardens right below and, if I press my cheek to the window and look to the left, I can see the famous Sydney Opera House. Incidentally, the hotel’s Café Opera has a really lovely buffet lunch spread but, priced at $67 per person, it’s a wee bit steep. Very tasty, though — I encourage your clients to try the lamb.
|Photo courtesy John O'Neill/Wikipedia|
After lunch, my little group and I departed for Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, which is exactly what it sounds like. Established in 1998, the company escorts people up to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the city’s iconic landmarks. All climbers are tethered to the bridge (though the tether seemed rather thin for my tastes) and are guided by staff with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the bridge, the city and their combined histories. Scott, our group’s guide, was a fantastic guide, by the way: Funny, cheerful and endlessly patient with me. We opted for the Express Climb, which starts on the lower level of the bridge’s arch—and giving a view of its interior design, which nicely illustrates the stories about how the bridge was built—and then moves to the upper level for unsurpassable views of the bay and the city. And yes, climbers do go all the way up to the very top of the bridge, standing right in the center of the arch, so it your clients who are afraid of heights might take some coaxing to give it a go.
Fortunately for me, I’m not afraid of heights. I’m just absolutely terrified of them. We’re talking hyperventilating, knees shaking, white-knuckle scared out of my mind. But as I said, Scott was a very patient and gentle guide, and with his and the rest of the group’s encouragement, I made it to the top. With every step, I reminded myself that I was tethered to the bridge (although, the higher I got, the thinner that tether seemed), that there were sturdy handrails to hold and that the company has taken millions of people safely up the bridge (including Oprah Winfrey and her entourage when they visited Australia last year). If they could do it, so could I, and even if your clients are anxious of heights, encourage them to try it. Once they’re back on terra firma, they’ll get an even bigger rush just from the sense of accomplishment.
Needing to refortify ourselves after our adventure, our group went to Marque Restaurant, one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, which is owned and operated by Mark and Valerie Best. Mark is a multi-award-winning chef and his wife, Valerie, handles the front of the house. The menu focuses on unusual combinations of flavors and surprising ingredients. Encourage your clients to throw caution to the wind and try the Degustation Menu, which offers small plates of such unique dishes as duck egg with black cabbage brussels sprouts and vinegar; almond jelly with blue swimmer crab; almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga; and pickled calamari with ink, wakame and caper water. If your clients have any dietary restrictions, let the restaurant know when you make reservations, and they will create a degustation menu to fit their needs.
March 21, 2011
Three Exceptional Costume Exhibits
Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.
It may be pure coincidence that Fashion Week Fall/ Winter 2011 just ended, but the fashion capitol of the world is hosting three costume/design exhibits celebrating the Orient, the history of fashion, and a legendary couturier.
L’Orient des Femmes/ Women of the Orient
Former fashion designer Christian Lacroix, whose failed business is still being mourned by the industry, has reinvented himself as a curator and designer of fashion exhibits. His current exhibition titled L’Orient des Femmes/ Women of the Orient is an exquisite collection of 150 traditional costumes and accessories from the mid-east, spanning from the North of Syria to the Sinai Peninsula. Many of the festive dresses, coats, veils and headdresses, which comprise the bride's trousseau, are seen for the first time in France. The vibrant colors and the delicate hand-embroidery in cotton and silk on these works of art are not only beautiful but tell a fascinating story of the traditions of mid-east women over the centuries.
Till May 15
Quai de Branly Museum
37 Quai de Branly, 7th arr.
History of Fashion Part II 1990-2000
An ambitious undertaking of showing the history of fashion in the late 20th century has been successfully executed by the Musée de Decoratifs. The History of Fashion Part 1 started last year with the trailblazing French designers who made their unforgettable mark in the 1970’s & 80s with their iconic designs.
In the second part of this informative exhibit, homage is paid to the French, Belgian, and Japanese designers who helped shape fashion with a very different attitude from 1990 to 2000. These designers were bold and uncompromising in their personal vision and changed not only of the face of fashion for a future generation but also changed how the public interacted with them. Each designer has a display in a glass vitrine with several of their key pieces from past collections and designers include Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake, Commes des Garcons, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries Van Noten, and Alexander McQueen. The strongest part of the show is the entertaining videos of the past runway shows.
Till May 8
Musée de les Arts Decoratifs
107 rue de Rivoli, 1st arr.
Madam Grés-Couture at Work
One of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century, Madame Grés, is finally receiving a long overdue exhibit of her exquisite designs. Born in 1903, Grés was trained as a sculptor, which comes across in her elaborately draped dresses and gowns in which you see a strong Greek goddess influence. She dressed all of the most fashionable women of her time including the Duchess of Windsor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo and her couture house was one of the longest running in Paris, dating from 1942 to 1988. A presentation of over 80 of Grés’s designs is from private collections and the archives of the Galliera Museum.
March 25 to July 24
Rue Antoine Bourdelle, 15th arr.
By: Richard Nahem
March 18, 2011
Manhattans in Shanghai
Shanghai, Day 1, Continued...
I never drink liquor. But when you walk into the Presidential Suite of the Fairmont Peace Hotel, the Sassoon Suite, which overlooks the Bund, and the general manager hands you a Dirty Martini, the least you can do is drink happily.
The Sassoon Suite is located on the 10th floor of the 11-story hotel. It was originally the private apartment of Victor Sassoon, the first owner of the Peace Hotel. It has a sizable living and dining area, two bathrooms, master bedroom and master bathroom with one of the largest marble tubs I have ever seen.
After sipping our swank cocktails, the GM, Kamal Naamani escorted our group to the Shanghai Room for a private dinner reception - a blend of east meets west. We dined on traditional drunken chicken (chicken soaked in rice wine), steamed dumplings, marinated vegetables and a deliciously unctuous fois gras.
As if we weren't treated enough like 1920s high society, dinner was followed by a trip to the world famous Jazz Bar, where we swilled chilled Manhattans and listened to the plunk of the bass and the snap of the snare. I felt like I should have been sporting a bob haircut and sipping gin from a flask hitched under my skirt: from zero to high society boozehound in just one night.
The evening was enough to put my weary, jet lagged bones straight to sleep in my giant king sized bed. I had to be well-rested for my grueling day of spa treatments....I know, you hate me.
Shanghai Day 2
After waking up with a bowl of hot won ton soup (not as good for a hangover as you may think) I was ready to lay back down on the spa table and allow the therapist to do whatever she wanted to do with my lush of a self.
I made my way to the brand-spanking-new Willow Stream Spa, which was added to the Peace Hotel as part of Fairmont's $64 million restoration. The spa has nine treatment rooms, two couples rooms, a fitness center, pool, sauna and steam room.
I was greeted by Spa Director Lyndell Nelis who guided me to the resting area and handed me a cup of hot ginger tea. Linda, my therapist, came to fetch me where she brought me into one of the treatment rooms for a 90-minute Mystic Peace treatment. Dear lord. All I could think during the 90 minutes (or at least for the portion during which I was awake) was 'how much does this cost, because I'm scheduling another one for tomorrow."
The treatment involves a massage that traces a continues knot on the body. Linda worked her way up and down my spine located exactly where my problem areas were and then proceeded to loosen up tension with a blend of essential oils and firm pressure. She had to pry me up from the table after the 90 minutes were up.
Little did I know that this hour and a half of bliss was absolutely imperative to keeping my sanity when I ventured out into the Shanghai night to tackle Yuyuan Garden, one of the largest gardens in Shanghai. It was built in 1559 as a private garden during the Ming Dynasty. Today it serves as a shopper's paradise, built within the Imperial buildings and alleyways. Looking for your Louis Vuitton knockoff? It's there. Jade bracelets? Silk prints? Wood carvings? Check, check and check. Get ready to dust off your haggling skills. It's easy to talk vendors down at least 40 percent. And in some cases, say for instance, when you are taken to the back room on the top floor of a dirty department store and shown the back closet which is lined with designer bags, you are cornered while the vendors shout lower and lower prices at you until you finally agree to buy...but I'm speaking only hypothetically here...anyway....
Did I mention one of the most famous dumpling houses, Nanxing Dumplings, is also located in Yuyuan Gardens? Anthony Bourdain made a stop here in his Shanghai episode of No Reservations. That's enough for me. Twelve yuan (about $2) gets you 12 little soup dumplings.
Tonight we will rejoin as a group at the Peace Hotel's Dragon Phoenix restaurant for a lavish Chinese feast. And seeing as I have to be there in 20 minutes and am still sipping a Heineken, I'd better sign off.
Stay tuned for more from Travel Agent Central.
March 17, 2011
An American in the Paris of the East
|View from Fairmont Peace Hotel, room #221|
It's very difficult to care about a 15-hour flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Shanghai when you are snuggled in a Business Class seat on Continental Airlines, Bloody Mary in one hand and remote with access to dozens of movies and TV shows in the other. (And a handful of Ambien in your purse...but that's neither here nor there.)
I think I have made this point before: I don't care much for flying. Having said that, when it is done like this I'm really a big fan.
After takeoff the passengers in Business Class were treated to nothing short of a feast; I'm talking a five-course extravaganza of breads and salad, a demitasse of more mushroom soup with mushroom pastry and shrimp tempura, grilled pork chops with broccolini and white asparagus, fruit and cheese and an ice cream sundae. This, of course, was incomplete without the endless glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc.
Satiated, though not yet sleepy, I called on my friend Ambien to take care of the rest and was ushered into a very peaceful 10-hour sleep. I only awoke to find a steaming bowl of braised beef with won tons and Chinese broccoli. I swear when we landed I hoped that there was some sort of passport issue and I'd have to be sent back to the States, only so I could relive the experience.
Fortunately for me, the hits just kept on coming.
I'm visiting Shanghai to check out the newly reopened Peace Hotel, which has been taken over by Fairmont and has added a brand new Willow Stream Spa. (Yeah, this is one of those trips where I really, really love my job.)
The small group of journalists were met on arrival at the hotel, which sits directly on Shanghai's swanky Bund, a luxury shopper's paradise (think Cartier, Ermenegildo Zegna, etc.)
I'm staying in room #221, and my first reaction on entering was to laugh. Seriously. All I could think was "I'm a 23-year-old kid from New York....and this is a paradise fit for royalty." The room just kept going! I walked into the vestibule, off of which is a half bathroom, and immediately was awed by the Asia-meets Art Deco-Paris style. The room then opens up into a living room/office/dining area, all with wraparound windows showing off a bird's eye view of the Bund, river and futuristic Shanghai skyline.
Further into the room still I found the master bedroom, vanity/dressing area and bathroom with deep soaking tub (to be used in just a few minutes).
This is my first trip to Asia. So far so good.
Stay tuned as Travel Agent reports live from Shanghai through the weekend.
March 14, 2011
On Site: Paddleboarding Craze Set to Sweep Sandals' Jamaican Resorts
Sandals Resorts across Jamaica are gearing up for a "March Madness" of their own as employees and guests get set to wet their feet in the world of paddleboarding, a new offering by the all-inclusive giant that is sure to be an instant addiction among water sports junkies.
And Travel Agent was on hand to be the first to try it out.
Royce Hanamaikai and Todd Caranto, co-founders of the California-based Pau Hana Surf Supply, along with Josh Schwartz, president of Watersports Direct International and water sports consultant for Sandals Resorts Inc., hosted yours truly at the Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort and Private Island in Montego Bay, Jamaica last week. The three-man crew attracted a large audience as they passed the craft along to myself as well as water sports directors from the other Jamaica Sandals properties.
“The coolest thing about it is seeing all the people who line up to watch. There is always a big audience,” Caranto says. “People are just curious. They see people basically walking on water and wonder what we are doing.”
I consider myself pretty athletic, but balance and water usually make me look like I’ve had too many Red Stripe beers. Just ask the folks at Cap Juluca in Anguilla how my little water skiing lesson went two years ago. But these surfer dudes made me look like a professional in just five minutes. If only golf worked that way.
And like the water sports instructors from the other Jamaican Sandals Resorts that Hanamaikai. Caranto and Schwartz were training the same day, I was instantly hooked.
|From left, Josh Schwartz, Watersports Direct International and water sports consultant for Sandals Resorts Inc., and Royce Hanamaikai and Todd Caranto, Pau Hana Surf Supply.|
So much so that I took up Hanamaikai and Caranto on their offer to be among the first people to ever paddle board down Jamaica’s famous Martha Brae river. Sure, I may have taken a few nasty spills, but in my roughly 16 or 17 times visiting Jamaica, this will definitely be one of my fondest memories.
“The most satisfying thing is seeing how fast people usually catch on to this,” Schwartz told us. “In five minutes, they are doing something they probably never imagined doing in their whole lives.”
The best way to describe the sport is if kayaking and surfing got drunk, hooked up and conceived a child. The board is vertical as opposed to surfing. The board is extremely sturdy so balance isn’t an issue. You kneel on the board, stand straight up and then use both hands to grip the oar, paddling on either the right or left side, depending on which way the wind is blowing that day.
Schwartz says that he, Hanamaikai and Caranto have been trying to bring the sport to Caribbean resorts for two years until Hanamaikai and Caranto literally began knocking on doors in Jamaica when Sandals bit. Caranto says Sandals evaluated several board manufactures and then chose Pau Hana and the Big EZ Hawaiian board.
|Author Joe Pike take his new-found paddleboarding hobby to the Martha Brae river.|
“We were literally going door to door, just knocking on doors and seeing if there was interest,” Hanamaikai told us. “When we came here, there was instant interest and we knew we had a winner. Everyone here was really welcoming to the idea. I just knew the hotel had a great sense of water sports and what their guests would enjoy it. From there, everything basically just went really smoothly and now we plan on having this great activity at every Sandals resort that wants it.”
The program at Sandals is expected to be launched to Sandals Royal Caribbean guests this week. After that, it will be rolled out at the other Sandals properties in Jamaica. The program will come to Turks and Caicos in about a month and then throughout the rest of Sandals’ Caribbean properties shortly after.
“I really think the Sandals brand of water sports is really different than any other water sports offerings at other resorts,” Schwartz says. “And Sandals is really the first resort to officially brand its water sports. Those ‘Sandals' logos on the boards aren’t stickers. That's the real thing. I don’t think any other resort is branding their water sports the way Sandals is. It’s really exciting to be a part of.”
By: Joe Pike
March 10, 2011
Four Seasons London, Day Two: Meeting with the General Managers
This morning began with seven meetings with eight heads of Four Seasons hotels around the world, and with several members of the corporate team. I’ll be writing up a long story about what they had to say later on, so for now, here are a couple quotes from the conversations:
Rene Beauchamp, General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Prague: We’re always innovating with new ideas. We try to set one big goal each year for something new. You can’t stay still. You have to see what’s happening around the world.
Cesare Rouchdy, Regional Director of Marketing—Egypt: Hotels in Cairo are seeing business in the teens. Sharm El Sheikh and Alexandria are seeing numbers in the 20s…Corporate business is trickling in. They’re looking to rebuild. Leisure business will take longer.
Michael Purtill, General Manager, Four Seasons Canary Wharf: London is moving east. People are looking for a unique experience, and the east end is innovative, young and edgy.
Jim FitzGibbon, President, Worldwide Hotel Operations: We’ve built a reputation for service, buildings and consistency. Now we need a brand personality…New markets need to establish style, and older ones need to establish consistency.
Charlie Parker, General Manager, Four Seasons Hampshire: I like hotels where people choose the hotel instead of the destination. You have their full attention. It’s a live interface—it’s not just breakfast. That’s what our industry is about.
Yves Giacometti, General Manager, Four Seasons Gresham Palace, Budapest: I was previously based in Buenos Aires, a city of vibrant passion. Budapest is a more passive passion…It’s the Paris of central Europe.
Susan Helstab, Executive Vice President of Corporate Marketing: Markets don’t control the brands anymore. It’s shifting to the consumer. It’s a power shift, so make sure that you exceed expectations…Guests have more platforms to voice their complaints, so you must check every medium for expressing opinions. Nothing is so valuable as a room-service person who mentions that a guest does or doesn’t want something.
After the meetings, we headed over to Westminster Abbey for a quick tour of the thousand-year-old building. Our guide, Peter Craggs, walked us through all of the different rooms and pointed out the many tombs and memorials of famous Britons, and even plenty of foreigners who have been honored with a plaque. (For example, Henry James, the American novelist, has a memorial, as does President Franklin Roosevelt.) The most notable tomb, of course, is not Queen Elizabeth I or Henry V or any of the other royals and legends who are buried in the abbey…but the poppy-covered Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the only tomb that no one ever steps on. If Kate Middleton follows tradition when she marries Prince William next month, rather than toss her bouquet to the single ladies in attendance, she will leave the flowers on the tomb.
Sadly, details about the upcoming wedding are rather scarce, so we didn’t get much gossip about who will be in attendance and what will happen at the ceremony. Be up bright and early on April 29 to watch the festivities on TV, and enjoy the arcitecture of the Abbey while you watch the nuptuals.
Oh, and in case you thought I was exaggerating about the size of my room's terrace, here are two photos:
March 09, 2011
Day One at the New Four Seasons London Park Lane
Since most flights to Europe leave the East Coast in the evening, and only run around seven or eight hours, British Airways has come up with a clever plan to help their business- and first-class guests get as much sleep on their flights as possible: Guests can have a proper dinner in the airport’s lounge, and go to sleep onboard immediately after takeoff. If they want to stay awake, there are snacks and drinks available, but for those who just want to get a good night’s rest, it’s a great option.
Before heading off to London, I returned to the British Airways lounge at JFK’s Terminal 7. It was just as I remembered it from May, but this time I tried two things I missed last time: I stopped by the complimentary Elemis spa for a 15-minute back, neck and shoulders massage, which Joe, my therapist, executed very deftly. (A sitting-up massage through clothing is very different from a full lie-down massage, however, so while it's certainly worth trying, make sure your clients know what they need before you make an appointment for them.)
I also checked out the Sleeper Service dining room, where I had what may well be the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever tried: full of vegetables rather than sauce, and very flavorful. When the flight boarded, the business class section of the plane (called Club World) was arranged in a strange honeycomb formation that has half of the guests seated backwards. Privacy screens are nice, but when all of them are up each little “suite” can become a little claustrophobic. But the flat beds were comfortable, and we landed much earlier than expected. (The pilot might have mentioned something about flying at 700 miles per hour, but I may have just dreamed that.)
We headed right over to the brand-new Four Seasons Park Lane, where our rooms were not yet ready, so we relaxed in the hotel’s unique dining facility, Amaranto. The space contains a bar, a lounge and a traditional restaurant, but all menus are available at all spaces, so if guests want a full meal at the bar or just cocktails in the restaurant, they can get what they want. (And the scrambled eggs were delicious. I’ve heard good things about their homemade porridge, too. Must try that in the morning.)
Finally, I was brought up to room 229, a one-bedroom suite. I’ve frequently quipped that bathrooms of hotels I stay in are larger than my first apartment in New York, but this is the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel room with a terrace that’s as large as my current apartment in New York. The bathroom is its own suite of rooms, with the toilet and the dressing room/closet tucked away behind doors for privacy, and a separate shower and tub.
And as for the terrace…It’s too cold for me to explore right now, but in summer, it would be ideal for a corporate event or small party.
Rather than get a tour of the other suites and popular spots, general manager John Stauss took us behind the scenes to the security offices (huge TV screens with closed-caption monitors), the kitchen (one of the few in London with a window for the outside world to peer through), the wine cellar (every wine can be ordered by the glass), the tenth-floor spa (killer views) and up to the top floor, which holds a large portion of the hotel’s air and water filtration systems. (The building is remarkably eco-friendly, with recycled heat and highly-filtered air.) We ended up back at the Amaranto bar, where Manager Davide Guidi let us sample some of his unique libations. (Word to the wise: Any drink that involves infused bourbon and/or rhubarb liquor is a must-try.)
Tomorrow: I meet with seven Four Seasons GMs over the course of two hours, and then tour Westminster Abbey.
February 10, 2011
Sugar and Spice in Paris
In recent months a former three-star chef and the son of one of the greatest chocolatiers in Paris have both opened two unique boutiques.
Un Dimanche a Paris
|Un Dimanche a Paris|
Pierre Cluizel diligently worked for his father Michel Cluizel, one of the top chocolatiers in France, for 25 years roaming the globe to find exotic new chocolate sources. Fifteen months ago he gave it all up and sold his share of the thriving family business to follow a new chocolate dream. His new brainchild is Un Dimanche a Paris, a total chocolate concept store. The modern, elegant shop is located in an ancient cobble-stoned passageway off the Blvd. St. Germain and incorporates a restaurant, retail shop, and cocktail lounge all dedicated to the art of chocolate.
Chef William Caumisson was commissioned to use his imagination to create a sophisticated menu where all the dishes from entrees to dessert contain some form of chocolate. Dishes like 3 types of foie gras with Venezuelan chocolate and sea salt and codfish with cocoa powder served with mussels and saffron risotto are already winning accolades.
Upstairs in the sexily lit lounge and private meeting rooms, cocktails are served with a hint of chocolate.
Next to the restaurant in the spacious retail space, pastry chef Quentin Bailly has filled the showcases with dazzling, decadent French pastries and chocolates including many flavors of macarons, tarts, cakes, cookies, and chocolate covered glazed fruit. Hot chocolate to surely write home about is served in a specifically designed pot of white porcelain with a wooden handle.
Un Dimanche a Paris
4-6-8 Cour de Commerce Saint André, 6th arr.
Tel. 01 56 81 18 18
In 2008, master chef Olivier Roellinger decided to close his super successful three-star restaurant in Cancale after 30 years, citing health concerns. Not one to rest on his laurels, he decided to channel his passion for food in a different form. He opened Epices Roellinger, a spice shop with spice varieties from around the globe. He recently opened an outpost on the rue St. Anne, a street crammed with good but cheap Asian restaurants.
Dark wooden planked floors give way to tall shelves stacked with hundreds of spices, sea salts, powders, and peppercorns from Uganda to Tahiti. The bottles and jars have red, easy to read labels in bold print. For avid bakers there is a selection of 20 different types of vanilla beans. Classic salted butter caramels from Brittany, top quality olive oils, cookbooks, condiments, and aprons are also stocked. Be sure to check out the antique sailboat made entirely out of cloves in the showcase in the middle of the shop.
51 bis rue St. Anne, 2nd arr.
Tel. 01 42 60 46 88
By: Richard Nahem