Emma Krasov

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Emma Krasov is a professional travel journalist based in San Francisco, California. She is a travel columnist for several print newspapers and online publications nationwide, and a publisher of Real Travel Adventures and travel blog Art and Entertain Me www.artandentertainme.blogspot.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

San Francisco is sometimes called an Asian-American city, and judging from the sheer amount and popularity of Asian restaurants in and beyond the oldest and largest Chinatown in the United States, that rings true.

In the currently ascending Year of the Rooster, new happenings in hospitality, art, and culinary scene beacon winter travelers from all over the world to the eternally warm and snowless City by the Bay.

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Americano, Hotel Vitale

Americano Restaurant & Bar at Hotel Vitale just implemented a new menu item – Chinese-inspired steamed buns, called baozi (包子) or bao.

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Puffy baos, made of light yeasty dough and formed in circular cakes, are usually folded in half, and filled with meats, pickles, and greens to look like a half-opened sandwich.

With Executive Chef Josua Perez at the helm, Americano creates two kinds of bao – one with crispy duck confit, another with beef tongue – to bring good luck to the Year of the Rooster.

The meats are accompanied by hoisin sauce, cilantro, and cucumber slices lightly pickled in rice vinegar, chili flakes, salt and sugar.

Even though the baos will be available only through this Saturday, February 4, the restaurant has plenty of wonderful small plates paired with wine, artisanal beer, or handcrafted cocktails.

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Powell and Hyde cocktail is great take on the traditional Manhattan with Bulleit bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, Cynar amaro, and Ancho Reyes ancho chili liqueur.

Notable dishes include deviled eggs with crispy pork belly and pickled chili; tater tots with bacon aioli, and hand-made pasta torchio with oxtail ragu, baby carrots, and horseradish crème fraiche.

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On a dessert menu, mango gelato is a lucky flavor when available – gelato and sorbet flavors change daily.

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Dining at Americano includes sweeping views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco’s busy waterfront. Americano at Hotel Vitale is located at: 8 Mission St., San Francisco. 415-278-3700. www.hotelvitale.com.

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Grill, St. Regis San Francisco

One of the new exciting culinary events at the Grill this year, offered by Executive Chef Franck Desplechin, is called Sunday Table and presents a family-style dinner, fashioned after Chef’s own family tradition.

“My mom was always cooking, and always had great ideas,” says Chef Desplechin. “As a kid, instead of watching TV I was watching her cooking. Now, I cook dinner for my parents every time I go home [to France].”

For the first Sunday Table last week, the Chef picked his mother’s recipes for a three-course meal.

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Winter Salad of Fennel, Orange & Hazelnut, that the mom admittedly made on Sunday nights contained fresh fennel – shaved, braised in orange juice, and cooled in ice water. Peeled orange segments, Parmesan cheese, Italian parsley, and honey-sherry vinaigrette made this refreshing concoction juicy and spring-like, with an added crunch of toasted halved hazelnuts.

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Creative cocktails from the famed St. Regis bar paired perfectly with the elaborate salad – AZ-85 – admittedly Al Capone’s favorite (Barrel-aged Manhattan, Templeton rye, Carpano Antica bitters) and Thyme Out (Distillery No 209 gin, Lillet Blanc, Amaro, lemon, and thyme syrup).

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Cornish Game Hen main course was made for two, but could’ve fed four or more. Two crisp-roasted hens were cooked with rosemary, garlic, and seasonal wild mushrooms – king trumpets, beech, and hen-of-the-woods. Bloomin’ Onion was served on a side with French onion dip.

“Mom was basting chicken for hours,” says the Chef. “Roasted chicken with mushrooms was her traditional winter Sunday dish. For the Sunday Table, my goal is to highlight the everyday foods that people know and love.”

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The dinner ended up with a lavish dessert – White Chocolate Bread Pudding made of croissants and brioche, and embellished with dulce de leche and Jivara chocolate, with chocolate crème Anglaise on a side.

Sunday Table is offered on the last Sunday a month, with the following Sundays already in the planning stages: February 26 and March 26.

The Grill, located in the St. Regis San Francisco, began last year as a pop-up and grew to a permanent fixture at the city’s premier address for relaxed luxury and timeless elegance: 125 3rd St., San Francisco, California 94103 United States. Phone: (1)(415) 284-4000. www.starwoodhotels.com.

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Artist-In-Residence, Fairmont San Francisco

Gold and silver leaf, pastel colors applied in a variety of spontaneous brushstrokes, and an abundance of light are the most striking characteristics of the Michelle Sakhai’s oil paintings currently on view at the Fairmont San Francisco. Born in New York, the artist is a Bachelor of Arts in Art History with minor in Fine Arts from Hofstra University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She divides her time between San Francisco and New York, painting and exhibiting, and uses references to the teachings of Transformative Art and its focus on light and energy in her work.

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Sakhai is the newest participant of the hotel’s Artist-in-Residence program launched in 2013 with the local artist John Waguespack.

“Fairmont San Francisco has supported and inspired artistic talent within our community and from around the world for more than a century,” said Paul Tormey, Regional Vice President and General Manager of Fairmont San Francisco. “We are honored to partner with Michelle Sakhai, whose stunning work complements the hotel’s spirit of classic-meets-contemporary style.”

Fairmont San Francisco’s Artist-in-Residence program with Sakhai offers experiential package options and promotions for art and luxury aficionados.

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THE ART COLLECTOR’S PENTHOUSE SUITE EXPERIENCE

To celebrate its 2017 Artist-in-Residence program, Fairmont San Francisco offers art enthusiasts the unique opportunity to pair an once-in-a-lifetime stay in Penthouse Suite whose guests have included President John F. Kennedy, Prince Charles of Wales, Mick Jagger and Tony Bennett; with the purchase of an original painting by Michelle Sakhai.

The 6000-square-foot Penthouse Suite features three large bedrooms, a living room with grand piano, a formal dining room, a kitchen, a two-story circular library crowned by a rotunda where a celestial map is rendered in gold leaf against a sapphire sky, a billiard room covered in Persian tile from floor to vaulted ceiling, and a terrace with sweeping views of San Francisco. The collector will especially appreciate The Penthouse Suite’s impressive art collection featuring original works by contemporary artists, including David Hockney.

“Art Collector’s Penthouse Suite Experience” includes a one-night-stay in the famed Fairmont San Francisco Penthouse Suite; an original commissioned painting by Michelle Sakhai; breakfast for up to six guests served in the Penthouse Suite; Artist-in-Residence meet and greet (based on availability); a commemorative book showcasing Michelle Sakhai’s latest works. The rate for this special package is $28,000 plus tax per night through Feburary 28, based on availability. To reserve this exceptional package, please call (415) 772-5489.

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THE ART ENTHUSIAST PACKAGE

Fairmont San Francisco highlights its Artist-in-Residence program with Michelle Sakhai by extending a limited-time offer for art appreciators to experience the best of San Francisco’s world-famous art museums while staying at the city’s Grand Dame hotel. Celebrating San Francisco’s diverse selection of art attractions, the “Art Enthusiast” package includes a one-night stay in luxurious accommodations; a pair of VIP tickets to the de Young Museum; Artist-in-Residence meet and greet (based on availability), including two complimentary cocktails/wine; a commemorative book showcasing Michelle Sakhai’s latest works. Starting at $489 plus tax per night Fairmont San Francisco’s “Art Enthusiast Package” is valid through February 28, 2017, based on availability. Please note de Young Museum is closed on Mondays.  For more information or to book package, please call (415)772-5489.

Since 1907, The Fairmont has served as the San Francisco residence for U.S. presidents, world leaders and entertainment stars. The landmark hotel offers 592 newly-renovated guest rooms and suites, three distinctive restaurants, a health club and easy access to the city’s most popular attractions. Fairmont San Francisco is located at 950 Mason St., San Francisco. For reservations, please call 1-800-441-1414 or visit www.fairmont.com/san-francisco.

Photography by Yuri Krasov 

Shanghai. Exciting, exhilarating, accelerating – everything I love about a big city! From the 10th floor of our hotel I observe a busy intersection underneath; eight rows of car traffic, crowds of pedestrians, hundreds of motorbikes and bicycles zigzagging among them. The air is murky, the sky is ink wash, and the sun is dim peeking through a forest of futuristic Pudong towers. Some thirty years ago it was farmlands, now – Manhattan.

The day is mine. Dear husband is here for work, so he leaves at seven in the morning, and returns when it’s dark outside. I’m here to explore and revel in my favorite environment. I’m a big city girl. My strong belief is that happiness is in big cities, and the farther from them you are the less happy you are. That’s my story and I stick to it – take it or leave it.

Jing'an Temple

Trying to find my way to the slew of tourist attractions I study the map of Shanghai Metro – the world’s largest, with more than 360 miles on dozens of lines – surprisingly well marked and easy to navigate. Too bad that above the ground, in most tourist areas the signs in English are still rare, and the majority of passersby during business hours are of non-English-speaking demographic.

More than once upon exiting a Metro station and looking for a nearby attraction I have to cross a square the size of a football field or walk a mile to the nearest intersection only to figure out that I took a wrong turn…

While it’s easy to spot the golden roof of Jing’an Temple or the spaceship silhouette of Oriental Pearl Tower, some sites are hidden, like the ancient Yuyuan Garden within a bustling marketplace.

China Museum of Art

My most shameful site-seeing episode is happening by the China Art Museum. The bright-red inverted pyramid construction, seemingly easy to identify, is nowhere to be seen, even though the guidebook lists it steps from the Metro exit. I walk one way – an endless fence beside me, I walk another way – nothing in plain view that resembles a guidebook picture. Nothing red anywhere around. Finally, I look up, and there, high above in the clouds I see the lowest red beam of the enormous towering museum roof. Apparently, I’m just crawling along the curb like an ant, and need to go only half a mile more to get to the entrance and the gigantic steps leading to the oversized galleries filled with striking contemporary art.

3. Daniel Newman of Newman Tours

Tired of self-imposed challenges I turn to those in the know, and sign up for a Public French Concession Tour with Newman Tours (www.newmantours.com).

On a two-hour walking adventure, the native English speaking guide, Daniel, meets our group by the South Shaanxi Metro Station on the corner of South Maoming Road and Central Huaihai Road, and takes us through the sycamore-lined streets of the former French Concession that existed here from 1849 through 1943 alongside the British Concession as the result of the Opium Wars.

2. Cathay Theater in French Concession

We hear the most fascinating stories about the 1930s Shanghai – then perceived as an exotic capital of sex, drugs, and glamorous movie stardom, and get a better understanding of Shanghai’s colonial legacy by learning how the Opium Wars and Taiping Rebellion determined the course of the city’s history. Highly knowledgeable and with a great sense of humor, our guide takes us to posh hotels still adorned with Art Deco elements – formerly of Victor Sassoon real estate empire; to a 1920’s hospital where tuberculosis patients were exposed to radical deathly remedies (with the best of doctors’ intentions), and to a gorgeous French Renaissance with Art Deco influences building of Garden Hotel, formerly a French Sports Club, Cercle Sportif Francais (1924-26) later favored by the Chairman Mao and therefore spared during the devastating years of the Cultural Revolution.

4. Jin Jiang Hotel

9. Tai Chi in a park

In a spacious park, one of many in the French Concession, we pass large groups of retirees engaged in tai-chi exercises, chess and mahjong, and other recreational activities. A Zen-inclined older gentleman is meticulously painting calligraphic hieroglyphs with a brush dipped in water. They appear on the asphalt for a brief moment, and dry out as soon as the gathering crowd of spectators manages to read them.

10. Water calligraphy in a park

There’s so much more to see and hear on this tour, but after two hours of walking and listening I don’t feel tired – such is the power of sheer touristy fulfillment!

5. Kyle Long of UnTour Shanghai Food Tours

Inspired by the successful experience, and by the ease of touring Shanghai in the wake of an expert guide I sign up for Hands-on Dumpling Delights Tour with UnTour Shanghai Food Tours (www.untourfoodtours.com).

Here I must say that dumpling in any shape or form is my favorite food item. I hold a strong belief that since dough stuffed with meat exists in practically every culture and goes back down centuries and probably millennia, it can’t be bad for you. My love for dumplings has no limits, even though it rarely extends to making them myself. Making dumplings is a rather tedious chore… or so I think until I meet our tour guide and a supreme dumpling expert, Kyle Long.

6. Shanghai dumplings

Before our tour even starts, he notifies all the group participants to arrive on time, because hot, juicy, freshly-made morning dumplings wait for no one.

We start our tour visiting a number of delightful hole-in-the-wall tiny establishments where different kinds of dumplings are being made in front of our eyes, and distributed to the eager city dwellers hurrying for work, but still forming fast-moving lines outside. Our guide explains the Chinese symbols for “meat,” “big” and “bun,” and notes that for a Chinese eater food is nothing if it’s not fresh. Bursting with freshness!

What a feast of dumpling delights we’re having! Plump round, or chewy crescent, lightly fried at the bottom or all steamed, bathed in soy sauce and topped with chili and ginger shavings, these dumplings are the best in the world – in the dumpling capital of the world, Shanghai!

8. Street food

Making dumplings

We visit Street Hawker Potstickers on Gao’an Lu, Nanjing Soup Dumplings on Jianguo Xi Lu, and Lanzhou Lamian on Gao’an Lu near Hangshan Lu, and head to Chinese Cooking Workshop on Dongping Lu to engage in some serious hands-on dumpling making.

7. I make my own

Under strict guidance of a master chef at the Chinese Cooking Workshop I surprise myself with my own craftsmanship. I manage to mix the dough to the right consistency, roll it properly with a tiny bamboo roller, stuff it with meat, pork fat and onion mixture, and purse it together in a neat little dumpling. I make five of those, feeling happy at my culinary achievement. We all then briefly fry our dumplings on one side, and steam under a lid. They turn out wonderful! It’s a pity I can eat only one after our morning feast. However, now I know that I can make my favorite food myself any time!

12. Shanghai at night

Photography by Emma Krasov

There are still places in our jaded crowded world where time stands still; where serene mountain lakes lie surrounded by the green pines; where you might not meet one person for miles and for hours; where boating, fishing, hiking, kayaking, or golf can take up an entire day; where your soul feels right at home – undisturbed, untouched by the unnecessary harshness of our daily struggles.

The place is Tetherow Resort in Central Oregon – a luxury retreat for golfers and all kinds of outdoor activities, plus a town of Bend, which offers a feast for all senses to art lovers, shoppers, foodies, craft beer drinkers, and nature enthusiasts.

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Tetherow Resort is a 700-acre stunningly beautiful property located in the Deschutes National Forest, and framed by the blue peaks of Cascade Mountains. Besides the 18-hole Scottish links-style, David McLay Kidd-designed golf course with a two-tier driving range (named “the best” by Golf Digest and Golfweek) the resort provides its guests with 50 well-appointed spacious rooms in Tetherow Lodges, special tee time rates, gear storage, shuttle service, pet lodging, and a long list of other excellent services.

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Take for example a fleet of 32 amazing electric one-person vehicles that incorporate features of skateboards and snowboards, and replace traditional golf carts. A four-wheel-drive GolfBoard, as demonstrated by Jeff Dowell, GolfBoard company president, is safe, maneuverable, and designed to turn effortlessly with a slight body movement – much more efficient than the regular golf cart.

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There are two good restaurants on the property. At the Grill, overlooking the golf course, you can have a lovingly prepared breakfast, always started with homemade banana muffins and butter – the best accompaniment to the flavorful Golden Snail black tea. Corned brisket hash is made of Cherrywood smoked brisket, bell peppers, onion, smoked tomatoes, goat cheese and a fried egg topped with fresh cilantro and a lemon-chili hollandaise.

Lunch or dinner at the Row calls for at least a tasting of the many locally produced artisanal beers – each more enticing than the next – like Crux Parkway Pilsner, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Sunriver Coco Cow Milk Stout or Number 6 Strawberry Honey Ginger Cider. For a satisfying small plate, try Scotch Eggs – two farm fresh eggs wrapped in Carlton Farms sausage, fried and served with creamy brandy peppercorn sauce.

Added this year, is the Event Pavilion – a 3100 sq. ft. meeting space with various room configurations  – ideal for all events, from weddings to corporate retreats from 12 to 350 people. It boasts retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open up to natural light, sweeping golf course and Cascades views.

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The brand new open air swimming pool is surrounded by modern cabanas, equipped with heaters, LED lights, movable walls, and rain-sensitive roofs.

Tetherow implements several real estate programs, including vacation rental homes, homesites, townhomes, single family luxury homes, and cabins. All of the construction follows the sustainability rules from the use of natural vegetation to electric car charging stations onsite.

Since its opening in 2008, Tetherow was named “world’s number one resort” by Bookings.com, and received many other prestigious rewards.

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Tetherow is a convenient starting point to all the local attractions – it’s only a five-minute drive away from downtown Bend, the restaurant and shopping Old Mill District, and the Deschuters River with its water sports and great parks.

On the morning of my arrival at Tetherow, Judy Campbell, the principal of Campbell Consulting Group, a big enthusiast of the area, and a local artist, took me on a driving tour along the National Forest Scenic Byway, to see the High Lakes. This 66-mile historic highway follows a path of water through a volcanic landscape studded by 14 Alpine lakes that reflect the majestic silhouettes of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and South Sister. Central Oregon’s high country is ideal for connecting with nature, and visiting the lakes was surely one of my top priorities during a short visit a few weeks ago. I won’t soon forget the turquoise waters of Sparks Lake, Devil’s Lake, Lava Lakes, Elk Lake, and the lush forest on both sides of the highway, filled with the gorgeous specimens of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, spruce, white pine, white fir, and sugar pine. Cultus Lake at a high altitude, with white sandy beaches and a dense forest all around, is probably the most picturesque.

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At Elk Lake, there’s a historic guard station in the log cabin built in 1929 which served as a base for a forest guard. Restored as a visitor information center and a restaurant, where we had a pleasant lunch in the rustic setting among groups of other nature lovers, the guard station is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

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Next day, I joined a city tour of Bend with the highly knowledgeable, witty, and engaging guide John Flannery – founder of the Bend Tour Company who conducts his tours in a fun and comfy electric cruiser car. That really helped with frequent stops and taking pictures at the many interesting places. We visited Bend’s historic downtown and the 1912 building of Old Ironworks Arts District with an impressive number of local artists inside, creating unique artwork in their tiny studios.

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Here I met a mild-tempered oversized cat Leonard, whose image is loyally preserved in so many of his loving owner’s Stuart Breidenstein’s handiworks. I marveled at kinetic sculptures of Chris Cole, and at Karen Eland’s paintings made with coffee and beer for art materials.

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In The Sparrow Bakery next door to the art space, we had cardamom-infused Ocean rolls – an addictive treat for which the locals are waiting patiently in line.  We also tasted some seasonal brews at the Silver Moon Brewery – home to IPA 97 (named after 97th highway), Twisted Gourd pumpkin ale, and some remarkable artwork – miniature beer fairies by David Kinker, and curious corgis by Natalie Fletcher looking at the visitors from wall murals.

Fine art feels very fine in Bend, indeed. Back in the 1970s, Art in Public Places program was widely implemented. One of the most notorious outcomes of it was called Roundabout Art, with more than 38 pieces installed inside the roundabout traffic circles throughout the city.

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In a narrow alley next to the historic theater, my guide showed me a remarkable array of art pieces of the Tin Pan Alley Art Collection. Here I spotted my friend Judy Campbell’s fascinating installation, Tomas’ Riddle, made of wood and steel, lit by blue LED dots, and presenting a symbolic heart image repeated in a diminishing spiral pattern. As the artist herself explained, “It’s really about the mystery… The big unknown that we’re all a part of and connected through and experiencing but a lot of times not totally understanding. You know, when you look up at the night sky and you see those stars, you can’t imagine a beginning, much less an end. I was trying to convey a little bit of that sense of the ongoing, the infinite, the mystery that we’re a part of through art. And then I’m fascinated by fractals, which we see in nature.” Judy dedicated her work to her husband, Tom, also an artist.

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That night, Anthony’s Restaurant at the Old Mill District, known for its fresh seafood dishes, great wine list, and boisterous festive ambiance, put out a big sign that read, “Wild Mountain Huckleberries.” That was tempting enough for me. Erath pinot gris, made in Oregon in 2014, pan fried oysters, and Dungeness crab cakes with an enormous amount of crab meat preceded my long-anticipated desert of vanilla ice cream with huckleberry jam and fresh huckleberries, and that was quite a treat!

More information at: www.tetherow.com; www.anthonys.com; www.thebendtourcompany.com.

The symbol of upscale hospitality, and the epitome of elegance and good taste, St. Regis San Francisco recently added a new attraction to its already well-loved and popular with out-of-town guests and city dwellers alike St. Regis Lobby Lounge. This new attraction is called, The Art of Tea, and presents the famed skyscraper hotel’s modern take on the sophisticated tradition of English tea time.

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Historians insist that while the custom of drinking tea in China started millennia ago, and in England – in the 1660s (by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza), the afternoon tea as we know it was introduced to the society by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840.

The fascinating backstory goes as follows, “The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room.”

Later on, the afternoon tea tradition was adopted by the gatekeeper of the old New York establishment, and the major patron of St. Regis New York, Caroline Astor, who entertained her close friends there.

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Very fittingly, The Art of Tea is served in the lavishly furnished and decorated with wall-size murals St. Regis Lobby Lounge that would rival the best-appointed drawing rooms, indeed. While the traditional afternoon tea consists of freshly-brewed teas grown in India or Ceylon, and an array of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and miniature cakes and pastries, the St. Regis version offers so much more! The innovative interpretation by the Executive Chef Franck Desplechin and the Executive Pastry Chef Mie Uchida includes locally sourced seasonal products and teas from around the world.

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The guests might start their St. Regis tea experience with a glass of Schramsberg sparkling wine from Napa Valley, graciously poured by the Restaurant and Bar Manager, Daniel Spingler.

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The tea selection includes black, herbal, green, white, and fruit teas, with the most notable examples of custom-blended Flowery Earl Grey – light-body, uplifting, with floral notes, and Organic Emperor’s Jasmine – delicate golden with bright palate.

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The accompanying food is divided into Savory and Sweet sections. The former includes heirloom tomato waffle cone; porcini mushroom macaron; Santa Barbara Spot prawn slider; and Vande Rose ham croque madame with quail egg and truffle béchamel.

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The latter – huckleberry & blueberry pie shooter; red berry gateau opera with Valrhona Jivara chocolate and hazelnut biscuit; Meyer lemon tower with citrus marshmallow and smoked sea salt; and deconstructed crispy fig scones with dark chocolate glaze.

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For years, St. Regis Lobby Lounge has been a sought-after place to lunch, dine, lounge around with a signature cocktail, or indulge in a late night bite. Now, with the addition of the tea service, its charm becomes complete, and irresistible.

The Art of Tea is served every day from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. by reservation only. Reservations must be made 24 hours prior and for parties up to 4 people by contacting the Grill Restaurant at 415.284.4188.

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Lobby Lounge Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 12:00pm – Midnight; Friday – Saturday: 12:00pm – 1:00am. Food served daily 12:00pm – Midnight. The Art of Tea served daily from 2:00pm – 4:00pm. Reservations required.

St. Regis San Francisco is located at 125 Third Street, San Francisco, California, 94103. More information at: www.stregis.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov. Interior images of St. James’s Hotel and Club and 11 Cadogan Gardens: press images

While the reports of the fall of the British pound caused by Brexit have been greatly exaggerated, and the eagerly anticipated affordability of traveling to London never really materialized, the glorious capital of the United Kingdom remains a highly desirable travel destination.

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During our short trip to this prominent bastion of Western civilization, my husband and I were heavily relying on The London Pass with its free entrance to a slew of museums and sites; Hop-On Hop-Off bus, from which we could observe most of the architecturally stunning city, and the magical Oyster Card that provided unlimited rides on the Tube (www.visitbritainshop.com offers substantial discounts for overseas guests).

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At the time, my slow recovery from a broken ankle wouldn’t allow for much walking, but one thing we couldn’t resist – East End Food Tour, an easy on-foot excursion that combined a culinary exploration of the hippest neighborhood in town with historical commentary and fascinating street art finds along the route.

To show off the diverse cultural tapestry of the neighborhood through its multiple eating establishments, our witty and engaging guide, Harry, from the Eating London Food Tours took us to eight authentic food and drink stops.

We started off with a famous bacon sandwich at St. John Bread and Wine, then went on to the decadent bread and butter pudding at The English Restaurant, a 17th century eatery filled with Dickensian atmosphere. Then there was a tasting and introduction at The House of Androuet, where we were introduced to the chesses made exclusively in England.

At Poppies Fish and Chips, we indulged in the namesake legendary British fare wrapped in newspaper, just like it would be in a mid-century seaside town. At a quaint little pub, the Pride of Spetafields, we had beer and cider, and petted a fat and docile bar cat, friendly with the visitors.

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Then there were delicious mild and hot curries at Aladin, listed among the top 10 Indian restaurants in London; salt beef with hot English mustard and a sweet gherkin on a soft bagel at Beigel Bake – a 24/7 Jewish bakery, and finally, a slice of salted caramel tart at Pizza East, a favorite hangout for the hip crowd.

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For the same reason of my impaired walking ability, while the majority of tourist attractions deemed attainable only from the seats of the double-decker Hop-On Hop-Off bus, I decided to concentrate on the historic places where we chose to stay in London – all three exquisite hotels belonging to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World family of 520 independent properties in 80 countries. More information at: www.eatinglondontours.co.uk.

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St. James’s Hotel and Club

Recently renovated, yet maintaining its original Victorian charm, the five-star St. James’s Hotel and Club is located in a striking red-and-white Italianate building in a cul-de-sac off St. James’s Street in walking proximity to the St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, The Mall, and Green Park that consists entirely of mature trees and a carpet of white daffodil flowers blossoming in their shade.

It started in the 1850s as St James’s Club for traveling diplomats, founded by Earl Granville and a Sardinian minister Marchese d’Azeglio as a result of a dispute at the Travellers club. Lord Randolph Churchill and Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild were counted among the members. Henry James frequented the Club in the 1890s, and Sir Winston Churchill was seen here in the 1930s and during the Second World War. It was briefly the home of Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond novels, and continued to attract celebrities through the early 1970s when financial problems led to its closure. Only a decade later, the St James’s Club reopened, regained its popularity, and became known for wonderful parties that attracted movie- and showbiz stars, like Liza Minelli, Dudley Moore, Peter Townshend, Sir Michael Caine, Sir Sean Connery, Tim Rice, Sir Elton John, and Christopher Reeve.

 

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Currently an upscale, intimate and elegant hotel, in 2006 St James’s Club underwent a complete makeover by the famous Berlin designer Anne Maria Jagdfeld, and in 2008 reopened as St. James’s Hotel and Club. The inner décor of this unique property reflects its historical past with carefully selected furniture, wall textiles, Murano glass chandeliers, and a significant art collection of Impressionist, Expressionist and Cubist pieces.

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Our contemporaries, Samuel L. Jackson, Cher, Luke Wilson, Keith Richards, Alice Cooper, Elle Macpherson, Robert Redford, Dita Von Teese, Colin Salmon, Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory, Michael Bolton, Jack Johnson, Katherine Jenkins and Liza Minnelli have been visiting recently.

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In 2009, the hotel’s restaurant Seven Park Place by William Drabble was successfully launched, and subsequently awarded a Michelin star only one year after opening. The chef, William Drabble, has created his menu, influenced by classic French cuisine, by using the best British ingredients and following the changing seasons.

At this restaurant, decorated like a jewelry box, we were greeted by the Food and Beverage Manager, Antonio Vigorito, and treated to a house-made berry-based liquor by the Head Sommelier, Gonzalo Rodriguez Diaz. Our dinner started with an amuse bouche of a tiger prawn on crispy dough with tomato puree and avocado mousse.

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Freshly baked breads – brown, thyme, and raisin – were served with three kinds of butter – salted, unsalted, and infused with espelette pepper. Saddle of Lune Valley lamb with peas, onions, and lettuce as well as roast Cambrian grouse with cabbage, mashed potato croquettes, and blackberry jus were great representations of the Chef’s style as well as the dessert – baked apricots stuffed with pistachios.

St. James’s Hotel and Club and Seven Park Place are located at 7-8 Park Place, St. James’s London, SW1A 1LS, UK. Call for more information +44 20 7316 1600 or visit www.stjameshotelandclub.com.

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Dukes London

Discreetly tucked away in a charming courtyard off St. James’s Street, on the edge of Green Park, and across from the Buckingham Palace, Dukes London is positioned at a historic location where in 1532 King Henry VIII built a brick [Tudor] St. James’s Palace.  Serving as a hunting lodge, the palace took its name from a leper hospital dedicated to St. James the Minor which stood here from the 12th century. The King held his secret meeting with Anne Boleyn here, before she became his second wife and was subsequently beheaded by her husband. St. James’s Palace was the death place of Bloody Mary; the official residence of the Monarch since 1699; the birthplace of King George IV, and the location of many a royal intrigue, until Queen Victoria established her residence at the Buckingham Palace in 1837.

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Known as Cleveland Court in the 1660s, named after the Duchess of Cleveland, one of the mistresses of King Charles II, and their three sons – the Dukes of Cleveland, Grafton, and Northumberland – the place contained fashionable coffee houses, gentlemen’s clubs, and finally a small inn, replaced in 1885 with the London Chambers for the sons of Britain’s aristocracy, which then became Dukes in 1908. This place has been home to the many greats, among them Lord Byron, Frederik Chopin, and Oscar Wilde.

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Today, the unparalleled elegance, comfort, and impeccable service of Dukes London greets travelers from all over the world. Period furniture, an impressive collection of art, accumulated in the course of a hundred years, and lavish bouquets of white roses throughout the lobby and hallways immediately transport the guests into a charmed atmosphere of luxury living.

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Among its common areas, the hotel features Champagne Lounge, Dukes Bar, a drawing room, a conservatory overlooking the garden, and a full service restaurant, Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham. Described as “modern British with a classical twist,” Chef Mendham’s cuisine includes seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and is considered one of the best in Britain.

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For our dinner, several dishes were presented as artwork – both in terms of plating and in terms of culinary perfection. A pink round of ham hock was garnished with coral langoustine, and bright-green pea puree, pea pods, and pea oil.

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Goat cheese croquets with flan had a bright side of heritage beets, watermelon radishes, and celery sorbet.

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Spring lamb with white beans was accompanied by chanterelle mushrooms, pearl onions, and roasted garlic.

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South coast plaice (white flaky fish) was lightly breaded and fried, topped with curried cauliflower, crab meat, apple slices, and almond crumbs.

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For dessert, we enjoyed white chocolate with basil sorbet, pine nuts, and chocolate crumble as well as Yorkshire pudding with rhubarb, ginger, vanilla, and rhubarb sorbet.

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Dukes London is located at 35 St. James’s Place, London SWIA INY, UK. Call for more information +44 (0) 20 7491 4840 or visit www.dukeshotel.com. Thirty Six is located at 36 Little St. James’s Street. Call for reservations +44 (0) 20 7491 4840.

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11 Cadogan Gardens

Housed in an imposing red brick building, 11 Cadogan Gardens stands on the border of two posh London neighborhoods – Chelsea and Knightsbridge. Thanks to its location in a prestigious area, in Victorian times, the hotel became a hospitality venue of choice for many traveling aristocrats, politicians, and celebrities – artists and poets – before turning into a private club, and lately into a contemporary home away from home for discerning clientele, with the highest quality accommodations and service.

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Built by Lord Chelsea in the late 19th century, the original establishment occupied four separate Victorian town houses. As a result of this sprawling configuration, the updated and modernized, yet decidedly atmospherically-Victorian hotel still has a few sets of hallways and staircases leading to its different areas, all decorated with old paintings, historical portraits, gilded-frame mirrors and black-and-gold lampshades.11-cadogan-gardens-reception

To get to our exquisitely-appointed room, my husband and I boarded an ancient elevator with a folding accordion door that the guests are so kindly asked to remember to close behind themselves upon reaching their quarters. Otherwise one of the fabulous hotel’s concierges will run upstairs and fetch the elevator for the next party of guests waiting by the concierge desk.

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Not that anyone objects. The first floor of the hotel boasts a welcoming reception area and a fascinating library room, equipped with an extensive collection of historic and antique books. Every great British writer starting with Shakespeare and Dickens seems to be represented here in luxurious tomes bound in leather and parchment, while the surrounding period furniture, plush carpets and draperies, an antler chandelier, and cozy oversized armchairs call for an intellectual repose.

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Here, at the library my husband and I were treated to an elegant tea service while our attentive concierge Emelson was helping us ship part of our luggage home at the end of our London vacation. To us, this little episode became a highlight of the 11 Cadogan Gardens’ dedication to excellent service and wonderful hospitality. Led by Head Concierge Richie Long, the team members, like Paul and William, treat all hotel guests with utmost cheerfulness and respect. Knowledgeable, helpful, kind, and discreet, the hotel concierges take pride in their high professionalism. As they say themselves, “When you need us, we will always be there, but you will never feel our presence when you yearn for some time to yourself.”

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11 Cadogan Gardens is located at 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, London, SW3 2RJ, UK. Call for more information +44 (0) 207 730 7000 or visit www.11cadogangardens.com. To contact the concierge team, email concierge@11cadogangardens.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The city of Oslo – clean, beautiful, and filled with light reflected off the blue waters of Oslo Fjord – exudes so much springy energy that it’s easy to associate it with a statue of a fierce tiger (by a contemporary Norwegian sculptor Elena Engelsen) casually walking across Jernbanetorget (“The Railway Square”) near the Oslo Central Station. In fact, Oslo was called Tigerstaden (“The Tiger City”) by the Nobel Laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) in one his poems…

Largely open to pedestrian traffic, and with a highly developed public transportation system, the capital of Norway holds many sightseeing treasures easily accessible with an Oslo Pass, launched in 1984 as one of the very first city cards in Europe, and issued by Visit Oslo.

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A massive red-brick Oslo City Hall opened in 1950 is richly decorated with murals depicting the life and history of hard-working peaceful people proud of their Nordic heritage; and the legends and fairy tales of the gorgeous frigid land covered with dense forests, granite mountains, and pristine lakes. Free guided tours are offered at the City Hall throughout summer, including a rare Sunday tour of the clock tower with melodiously tolling bells.

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A walking distance away, there’s The National Gallery with the country’s largest collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Edvard Munch’s major works, “The Scream” and “Madonna” can be seen here among his other masterpieces, while the surrounding galleries present a wide variety of Norwegian artists from the early 19th through the end of the 20th century.

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Also centrally located Akershus Castle provides a rare glimpse into the historical whereabouts of Norwegian royalty. Originally built as a medieval fortress circa 1300, during the reign of the Danish-Norwegian kind Christian IV in the first half of the 17th century, the castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style with ornate furnishings and intricate rugs and tapestries. There are also quite a few pieces of stunning public art installed throughout the park grounds around the castle.

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A massive presentation of the entire body of work created by the sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) can be seen at Vigeland Sculpture Park where 200 enormous granite, bronze, and wrought iron depictions of endlessly variable human subjects populate the world’s largest sculpture park with all the art pieces and architectural layout made by a single artist. The sculptures are grouped in five distinct units – The Main gate, the Bridge with the Children’s playground, the Fountain, the Monolith plateau and the Wheel of Life – all actively attended, especially on weekends, by the city dwellers and the visitors alike.

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During our short stay in Oslo at the end of summer, my husband and I found ourselves in close proximity to all these attractions while staying at the Thon Hotel Oslo Panorama with excellent service and panoramic views of the city and the fjord below.

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On a sunny day, the best views of the city can be enjoyed on board the Norway Yacht Charter Båtservice Sightseeing Oslo Fjord that sails past the most important landmarks, including the sprawling glacier-like white building of the Norwegian Opera & Ballet, designed by Snøhetta architecture and design firm, as if floating into the fjord.

We were lucky to attend the season opening at the Opera showing Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice” with bold contemporary staging and costuming, highly talented cast and fabulous orchestra. The angled building, covered with white Carrara marble and white granite, boasts a walkable roof, a white aluminum stage tower, and floor-to-ceiling lobby windows overlooking the water.

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The interiors are paneled with warm oak, and in the main auditorium an oval chandelier is comprised of 5,800 handmade crystals. There’s no supertitles screen above the stage, but instead the seats are equipped with monitors for the electronic libretto system in Norwegian and English in addition to an opera’s original language.

Since the shows start as early as 6 p.m. in Oslo, we had a chance to walk on the building’s outdoor terraces after the performance, and revel in sunset views over the fjord, enhanced by the ever-present clouds.

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This closeness of water everywhere in the city center has a wonderfully refreshing and calming effect, especially pronounced at the famously artsy and extremely comfortable hotel, The Thief. Contemporary art pieces abound throughout the property, rivaled only by the picturesque views of the city architecture and nearby marina from every window and a rooftop bar.

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From our room’s hip triangular balcony along a glass wall, I could watch mooring and departure of numerous small boats, and an occasional couple of white swans nonchalantly gliding by. The room, equipped with modern furniture and a dreamy bed with plush pillows in sea foam, cloudy sky, and sand color scheme seemed especially appropriate in the close proximity to the wonders of Nordic nature.

The Thief Spa is an enchanting getaway with a full-size pool lined with thick candles, lit by multi-colored LED lights, and awashed in soft music for a slow relaxing swim. If it weren’t for a delicious dinner that was waiting for us at the Thief Foodbar I would’ve never stopped doing those lazy laps…

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Our dinner featured mostly fresh local seafood and produce with Nordic condiments – flat Norwegian oysters; snow crab and Swedish cheese on brioche toast, spiced with horseradish and fresh dill; burrata with pork belly, fresh peas and elderflower vinaigrette; fried turbot with horseradish and brown butter; and baked rhubarb with rosemary ice cream.

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Contemporary Nordic cuisine is vibrant and exciting, and plays a big role on the Oslo culinary scene. One of the most interesting restaurants, Smalhans, is led by a creative chef Karl Torbjørn Andersen, known for his dynamic tasting menus that change every couple of weeks or so.

On the night we dined, our server Denisa Sarkozi paired Chef Karl’s exquisite dishes with numerous varieties of Norwegian beer – enticing local brews mostly from small boutique producers.

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The exceedingly lavish menu consisted of charcuterie plate (prosciutto and lamb sausage); toast with mushrooms (chanterelles with onion compote); seasonal vegetables (beet puree with radishes and cucumbers pickled in-house); wine-marinated herring with potatoes, sour cream, and crispy chicken skins; rainbow carrots with pumpkin seeds, dill mayo and carrot top pesto; bone marrow with capers, pomegranate seeds, scallions, and parsley; cod with lemon and herbs sauce, cabbage, kale, and Norwegian seaweed; risotto-style spelt topped with puffed grains and chives; cheese plate with house-made raspberry jam, and a heart-shaped waffle with red currant and chocolate cream!

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The highest-quality seafood, meats, produce, cooked foods, sweets, and various libations from alcohol to coffee are readily available at the upbeat market, food court, and social gathering place – all in one – called Mathallen Oslo. This ingenious product of Aspelin Ramm urban development company represents the popular trend in Europe that attracts local daily shoppers and tourists alike.

The company sees its mission in creating attractive urban environments while reducing energy consumption and facilitating sharing. As Aspelin Ramm proclaims, “Great cities depend on good buildings surrounded by multifunctional urban areas, and responsibility involves emphasizing both of these qualities. We all have a responsibility to make this happen through good city planning. Good architecture, the use of durable high-quality materials and respect for the environment and our surroundings are our hallmarks.”

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Mathallen Olso is located inside a historic 1908 building, and has some very special rooftop beehives designed by the Snøhetta architects. Shoppers like to take a break at communal tables with supremely delicious smoked salmon sandwiches on dark rye, cheeses, sausages, salads, and pastries from the Mathallen specialty shops – or drop in the remarkable “world’s longest bar” with equally long list of local beers and wines.

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The last day of our short trip my husband and I spent at the new, wonderfully equipped spa at Kolbotn on the outskirts of Oslo, called The Well.

Sprawled over 113 022 sq. ft. on three well-appointed floors of the spacious building, surrounded by tall grasses and pine trees, The Well was founded by a billionaire Stein Erik Hagen, and opened just 9 months ago.

The spa philosophy follows a “daycation” trend that many Norwegians came to appreciate by taking a day off here and there several times a year rather than going on one weeks-long vacation getaway (lucky Europeans!)

Designed by architects Halvorsen & Reine in Nordic style with Art Deco influences, and inspired by the different spa cultures, The Well features 11 pools, a Turkish Hamam, Japanese gardens, a Blockhaus sauna, a Maroccan Rhassoul, waterfalls and grottos in addition to the many other relaxation options that can be enjoyed in the atmosphere of luxurious pampering that permeates the intricately lit facilities.

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The Wellness Pool measures 30×75 feet, and maintains a comfy 95 F degree temperature. Small booths with vertical nozzles and submerged beds made of air tubes allow for standing or horizontal bubble bathing.

Northern Light Laconium is a mild sauna with heated walls and benches, and with a glass plate in the middle from which gentle green smoke billows up. The Irish Steam Bath is a modern reference to Roman baths. In the herbal sauna, the herbs vary according to the customers’ individual tastes. The Augfuss Sauna is one of Norway’s largest, for more than fifty people. Here, spa employees perform traditional spa rituals. The Moroccan Rhassoul is authentically built with tiles, with a column of water in the middle, and mud from The Atlas Mountains. In the Nordic Section there is a two floor loft sauna that was assembled in Austria with timber from Siberia, before it was dismantled and shipped off to The Well for reassembly.

A shower by the glass wall is surrounded by pictures of the Norwegian mountains. The Waterfall Grotto has a subterranean feel with cold tiles and relaxing sounds. The Tropical section has a Jungle Sauna of high humidity – complete with jungle sounds, imagery and a plethora of different shower nozzles. In the Japanese gardens, 1000-year-old principles of wellness are followed to the dot. You can sit in the warm Onsen pool, or view the Japanese gardens from the Japanese steam bath with its live coral and running water. There’s also a large outdoor Jacuzzi and a pool in the middle of The Well’s own woodlands.

Between the hydro massage nozzles at the pool, the masterful traditional massage provided by one of the skilled therapists on the premises, and a healthy lunch served in a spa’s own café decorated with birch tree trunks and Nordic folk art, the day just flew by in dreamy relaxation.

For more information go to: www.visitoslo.com.

 

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The northernmost and the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai, got its nickname The Garden Isle for a reason. Shaped like a wide green leaf of a tropical plant, it is, indeed covered with lush ever-blossoming gardens, and in addition to its omnipresent emerald greenery, boasts geological- and biodiversity suitable for a whole continent. From Hanalei Bay in the north to Captain Cook Landing in the south, and from Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon in the west to Fern Grotto and Sleeping Giant in the east, the island is brimming with natural beauty of its jagged mountains and shimmering waterfalls, and impresses visitors with its ancient culture and history.

Hanalei Bay Kee Beach

Add to it the most relaxed laid-back attitude that permeates everyday life, and you’ll find yourself in the most desirable vacation destination where rugged outdoor adventurers, mellow beach bums, and leisurely honeymooners all find accommodations and activities to their liking.

1. Kauai rooster

The Garden Isle can also be called The Rooster Isle, since its dense population of gorgeously picturesque feral roosters (in addition to busy hens and the cutest little chicks roaming around) makes itself heard loud and often. Some poor souls find the roosters’ cock-a-doodle-doo annoying, and for them the island resorts carry ear plugs, but for those who would rather enjoy the natural alarm clock as opposed to the wailing of city sirens, this sound is pure music, reminiscent of the best things in life – childhood, carefree summer, and robust animal life.

Kilauea Lighthouse

Heading north from Lihue Airport after a comfortable non-stop flight on Alaska Airlines from Oakland, California, we turn off the road to the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse – a 52-foot white tower under a red tin roof, positioned on the 180-foot precipice. My husband is interested in historical structures, and this lighthouse was built in 1913. I’m more attracted to The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refugee where hundreds of sea birds can be seen in flight, and nesting in the coastal rocks.

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Our next stop – Limahuli Garden & Preserve, National Tropical Botanical Garden. Here, in a 1000-acre valley overlooked by a spectacular Makana mountain, a footprint of the ancient Hawaiian civilization is lovingly preserved in archeological complexes and 700-year-old stone-faced agricultural terraces surrounded by native plants – some on the verge of extinction. A native forest and an invasive forest growths vividly show the difference between historical landscape of the island and its newly acquired characteristic.

Past the bustling little village of Hanalei we cross a couple of one-lane bridges carefully watching for the upcoming traffic, and continue to the end of the narrow road (a scenic roadway on the National Register of Historic Places), and across the Wainiha River bridge to reach our destination. I remember that Avis clerk told us not to go too far north in a rental car, but she mentioned that we’re fine going to Ha’ena, and that’s where Hanalei Colony Resort is located.

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This serene and beautiful beachfront resort lives up to its motto, Unspoiled. Unplugged. Unforgettable. 13 neat two-story cottages with 48 deluxe two-bedroom suites, all with fully equipped kitchens and private lanais, are circling a big lawn lined with palm trees and Cook pines on the five-acre property that emits a secluded intimate feel. The suites don’t have televisions, stereos, or phones (however, free WiFi is available). The only sound heard through the night is the soothing sound of the ocean waves.

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Three large windows in our living room opened up to Hanalei Bay and a sandy beach framed with tropical shrubs. I could’ve spent days just sitting by the window, but we headed for a weekly poolside mai tai party thrown by the administration so the guests could meet up, and later on – to a lavish dinner at Mediterranean Gourmet – a multiple award-winning restaurant on the premises.

8. Sashimi at Mediterranian Gourmet

Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Imad and Yarrow Beydoun, the restaurant has a casual yet upscale ambiance, ocean views from every table, and an enticing menu of Mediterranean specialties, like hummus, babaganoush, and tzatziki, served with pita bread, falafel and kafta, next to Hawaiian fresh fish prepared in a variety of ways from sashimi to fish kabobs and grilled filet with saffron rice and tropical fruit salsa.

Island-made cheesecake, homemade baklava, and Turkish coffee come as a sweet finale for a delightful evening, especially if accompanied by soulful guitar music, or other live entertainment offered here five nights a week.

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Adjacent to the resort is Halalei Day Spa with various massages that can be provided beachside; scrubs, body wraps, facials, and other spa services, including couples’ packages.

For outside excursions, Hanalei Colony guests can use a complimentary shuttle service in a comfortable 13-passenger van, daily from morning until sunset to and from nearby beaches and Hanalei Town with shops and restaurants. While staying at the resort, we visited the wind swept Ke’e beach with exposed ironwood roots looking like a fairy-tale gnome forest, and Tunnels beach, where surfers from all over the world hone their skill.

Hanalei Colony is the closest resort to the famed Na Pali coastline – hikers’ ultimate challenge with unparalleled views, but we took an easier route to visit this enchanting coast.

5. Na Pali Coast

Holo Holo Charters start their tours daily at Port Allen on the west side of the island. A sparkling-white 65-feet power catamaran takes vacationers on an unforgettable seven-hour Niihau-Na Pali Super Tour that shows off the most mysterious and fascinating part of Kauai – the only sporadically accessible from land of water north-western coast.  Its majestic sharped-faced mountains, shrouded in fog or bleached by the sun, play-back to the times immemorial when they were formed by the powerful struggle of volcanic fire and ocean water. The catamaran slows down and ventures into coves between the mountains for better views. The smiling crew provides breakfast, lunch with cocktails, in-between snacks and soft drinks, and plenty of valuable information about geological processes that formed the miracle of the emerald Kauai and rocky Niihau.

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In-between breakfast and lunch, the crew members distribute snorkeling equipment, life jackets, and detailed safety instructions, and let passengers enjoy the most amazing discovery of underwater life. Reluctant at first, I was persuaded to jump into the bottomless azure after a crew member offered me a mask with prescription lenses (Holo Holo thought of everything!). In the water, the whole new meaning of snorkeling opened up to me. Instead of my usual blurry visions of brightly colored fish silhouettes, for the first time I was able to see the details of the pattern and appreciate the exquisite painterly craftsmanship of Mother-Nature on the tiny creatures suspended all around me in the thick glass of sunlit ocean.

3. Waimea Plantation Cottages

Soon after the Holo Holo tour, we were checking in at the Waimea Plantation Cottages, a short drive away from Port Allen. This quaint little resort consists of comfortably refurbished historical cottages, furnished in the bygone era style, but with modern conveniences, like hot shower, fully-equipped kitchenette and air conditioner. Scattered among the coconut palms and blossoming plumeria trees, the cottages have outdoor terraces with rocking chairs, making it too tempting to stay in, dine on papayas and apple bananas, and just watch how the shadows of the trees by the beach lengthen and darken at sunset…

Waimea Canyon view

The next morning we ventured to Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” a 3567-foot marvel with red Martian cliffs, malachite greenery, and long streaming waterfalls, stretching for 14 miles from north to south. At the Waimea Canyon State Park we spent a good hour at West Kauai Technology & Visitor Center studying its comprehensive exhibitions on history, geology, and biodiversity of the island supplemented with historical maps and photographs, models of volcanos, and taxidermy of indigenous birds and small beasts. A flock of busily roaming in the grass golden hens and chickens guarded by the colorful roosters met us outside.

The rest of our Kauai vacation we spent at Koloa Landing Resort in the southern part of the island – a large luxurious complex with a meandering free-style swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, golf course, and track lines. One of the biggest advantages of staying at this upscale and beautifully appointed property is its location. It’s mere minutes away Kukui’ula Village shops and restaurants; Spouting Horn and Tunnel of Trees natural attractions; and golden-sand Po’ipu beach, where we spotted a sleeping monk seal – a zealously protected endangered inhabitant of Hawaiian Islands, usually surrounded by plastic cones and clear markers for humans to stay away while it’s asleep.  

9. Music at Smiths Garden Luau

On our last night on the hospitable island, we headed for the famous Smith’s Tropical Paradise Garden Luau that unfolded on more than 30 acres of flowering trees and waterbird lagoons in the eastern Kauai by the Wailua Marina State Park. A lavish banquet with a traditional imu ceremony was followed by an extensive entertainment program of Hawaiian hula and music and dance numbers from the other regions of the Pacific Rim.

6. Opaekaa Falls

On the way to luau we made a short side trip to glance at Opaeka’a Falls in the Kapa’a region nearby. While standing on a small observation landing by the highway, I looked at the glorious picture in front of me, and could hardly believe my eyes. In the middle of a deep emerald valley rose a stocky dark-green mountain. Twin waterfalls were streaming from its top, sparkling in the sun. Above them, against the blue sky backdrop, several snow-white Koa’e Kea birds with long curled tails were flying back and forth. Enchanted, I was watching them with only one thought in my head, “I see paradise.”

Find additional information at: www.kauaidiscovery.com, www.kilaueapoint.org, www.ntbg.org, http://www.hcr.com, www.kauaimedgourmet.com, www.hanaleidayspa.com, www.holoholokauaiboattours.com, www.waimeaplantationcottages.com, www.koloalandingresort.com, www.smithskauai.com.

Photography by Emma Krasov

During my stay at Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina last month, on more than one occasion I’ve caught myself contemplating the high art of mixing business and pleasure at this part business hotel part vacation resort.

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I attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new grandiose event spaces, with speeches from the city Mayor and Marriott executives; brass band, circus acrobats, stilt walkers, and a lavish champagne reception.

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I walked the newly unveiled Marina Walkway on my way to a professional mixer/boating tour on the luxury catamaran Adventuress with stunning views of the city and an amazing spread of treats and libations onboard.

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I took part in a monthly Wine Hangout at Marina Kitchen with the restaurant’s GM Michael Miller, and enjoyed an exquisite five-course dinner prepared by the award-winning hotel Chef Aron Schwartz who puts high emphasis on farm-to-table concept and loyally supports local farmers creating fresh seasonal dishes, full of flavor and artfully plated.

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(At dinner, the Southern California bounty was represented by San Diego-style lobster roll with shaved celery, spicy mayo, and bread crumbs instead of bread roll; Chino Farms artichokes with preserved Meyer lemon, tomato jam, and olive oil; pan-roasted halibut with local squash and black bean puree; Brandt Beef steak with Chino Farms corn pudding, grilled asparagus, and bone marrow vinaigrette; and lemon tart with Chino Farms strawberries, toasted meringue, and shortbread).

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I explored a rare and interesting concept in the food industry – catered sushi for private events at the Sushi on a Roll with Chef Aron Schwartz and Chef Jeff Roberto.

I tried to lose some of the delicious calories in an early-morning Spinning with Sydney class at the hotel’s Fitness Center. (This year, the hotel debuted in-room yoga program. It streams original content from Marriott’s onsite Wellness Warrior Hella Neumann. With yoga mats delivered to the rooms, guest can choose from six workouts including sunrise yoga, morning flow, sun salutations, meditation, core session and cool down. Adding to the benefits of fitness, spinning, and yoga, Marina Kitchen offers healthy food items and drinks).

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And speaking of health, I had Body Relax (Gommage Vegetal) treatment at Hideaway Spa. (This botanical exfoliation is free of abrasive particles and uses carob and citrus extracts to hydrate and eliminate rough patches. With the stimulating effect of a loofa saturated with the 5 essential oils of Yon-Ka Paris Quintessence the skin becomes smooth, silky and toned).

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I also luxuriated in a poolside cabana; joined my colleagues for a casual dinner at the outdoor Tequila Bar & Grille by the fire pits, and was having the most wonderful time working in my room and then relaxing swimming in the pool until dark…

Curved in a sinuous wave-like line, the two 25-story majestic glassed towers of Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, owned by Host Hotels & Resorts and managed by Marriott Hotels International, look onto the city’s downtown on one side, and waterfront on another, over the sparkling San Diego Bay.

With 1,360 guest rooms, 280,000 square feet of event space, a 446-slip marina, the hotel serves as a perfect venue for all sizes of business meetings and conferences as well as for ultimate relaxation easily achieved at the many resort-style facilities.

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Two free-form heated pools with whirlpools and private cabanas; the Hideaway Spa providing massages, skin care, and body treatments; the Fitness Center with yoga, spinning, and fitness classes; bike and boat rentals, walking and jogging trails, and of course, the hotel’s award-winning dining are found on the premises.

Marina Kitchen Restaurant & Bar featuring American cuisine, Tequila Bar & Grille with Mexican fare, Roy’s – Asian Fusion, plus Exchange snack bar and Starbucks keep the guests well fed and happy around the clock, while the hotel’s extensive wine program is implemented by a team of professional sommeliers led by the hotel’s own manager, Steve Pagano. Marriott Marquis also has a dozen of bartenders with Level 1 Bourbon Master certification.

On the roof of the hotel a thriving beekeeping operation is going on, with honey and pollen used in Chef Schwartz’s kitchen, and also in the new Honeycomb Harvest Cream Ale. The restaurant also features unique, oak barrel-aged batches of specialty cocktails, like Old-Fashioned made with bourbon, simple syrup, water, and bitters.

The recent expansion of the meetings and events spaces that amounted to $107 million resulted in the new building with two 36,000 square feet ballrooms (Marriott Grand Ballroom and Pacific Ballroom), each accommodating up to 3,700 guests. Both ballrooms have grand foyers awashed in natural light that can be used to extend the space.

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The new building’s interior, created by tvsdesign, and inspired by the Southern California nature, features crystal wave patterns on the ceilings, coral-reef color scheme on carpeting, seaweed-themed wall décor, and a unique Swarovski chandelier “Tidal” in the front foyer designed by Mark Smith – a dazzling airy art piece consisting of 44,000 crystals arranged in asymmetrical motif and visible even from the outside Harbor Drive.

“We drew inspiration from the host community with its iconic coastline, which we incorporated into the design, capturing a sense of fluidity and movement throughout,” said Patricia Richey, lead designer and principal of tvsdesign.

Two 9×16 feet LCD digital video walls, exclusive to the hotel, bring in cutting-edge technology capable of high level live time projections visible from every corner of the Marriott Grand Ballroom foyer.

There’s also a brand-new 27,000 square feet outdoor Marina Terrace, accommodating up to 4,000 guests, and a landscaped public walkway, Marina Walk, that connects downtown and the Bay, with decorative paving, public art installations, and views of the waterfront.

Two public artworks at the Walk were produced by Los Angeles-based art collective, After Architecture –“Tide” sculpture comprised of LED-illuminated waves made of powder-coated aluminum tubes and ceramic tile pavers, and “Kelp” installation constructed of painted steel strips with LED lighting, symbolic of sunlight kelp on the ocean floor. Marina Walk is wheelchair accessible, and equipped with bike racks and benches.

Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina is located at 333 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101. To book event space, call 619-230-8314. For more information, call 619.234.1500 or visit: www.sandiegomarquis.com.

 

Photography by Emma Krasov

This fantastically golden full moon setting behind a rocky Fijian isle, I saw at six in the morning from a terrace of my bure overlooking the ocean at Tokoriki Island Resort. Partially jetlagged, partially too excited to sleep, I watched the sky getting rosier and the moon larger and shiner as it descended into the Pacific to give way to a new day. Every day in Fiji is magical, and the recently introduced non-stop flight from San Francisco to Nadi is now busily transporting honeymooners, Fijians working in the Bay Area, and vacationers to their dream destination, a.k.a. home.

2. Likuliku Lagoon Resort room

“Bula – welcome home” message spelled out across my bed in leaves and flowers was the first thing I saw when I first entered my bure at Likuliku Lagoon Resort on Malolo Island. That was the best home anyone could ever dream about.

3. Tokoriki Island Resort

At Yasawa Island Resort & Spa I was met like a dear family member with a salusalu necklace, fresh coconut juice, and a lovely song performed by the resort staff. Later I’ve learned that every greeting and farewell were accompanied by an appropriate song on Fijian Islands, but every time it sounded like a wonderful gift just for me. When I was leaving Yasawa, I knew every staffer by name, and I knew that I will miss their warm smiles and their genuine care…

4. Ribbon cutting at SFO

…The inaugural flight SFO-NAN mid-June started with a festive celebration at the gate before departure, thrown by the Fiji Airways and Tourism Fiji. A giant blue-and-white “wave” made of colored balloons framed the gate entrance; an inflatable palm tree marked the “Fiji selfie area,” and the word Bula! (“life” in Fijian – a greeting for “hello” and “good-bye”) was prominently displayed throughout the entire space. This energetic word also sounded in the rhythmical folk songs, performed by the indigenous choir, and was repeated by the masculine real-life “Fijian warrior” in traditional attire, adorned with tribal tattoos and shell necklace.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was accompanied by a champagne toast, cupcakes, and kava – a ceremonial Fijian drink, derived from a native plant – with a mild calming effect. Probably due to this effect, or to the fact that I was luxuriating in the business class, I slept through almost the entire 10-hour flight, waking up only to accept a rum cocktail, a Kokoda coconut-marinated fish, mango-coconut cheesecake, or other delicacies from the airline chef Lance Seeto, offered by a smiling stewardess with a hibiscus flower in her hair.

5. Kava at Nadi market

I arrived at Nadi airport at dawn, rested, and ready for my Fiji adventure. A driver from Rosie Holidays – a reputable award-winning Fijian tour agency – was waiting for me at the exit.  After briefly unpacking and refreshing in a swimming pool at the Fiji Gateway Hotel across from the airport, I took a little excursion to the bustling city market, overflowing with tropical fruit, seafood, and flowers. An entire section of the market was reserved for the kava plant sold in bunches with roots wrapped in newspaper.

Lunch at the Bulaccino Café in the city center included fresh island fish with rice and vegetables, good coffee, and European-style pastries, baked on the premises.

6. Landing in Yasawa

Soon I was back at the airport, waiting for my flight to Yasawa at the Island Hoppers office. A smiling clerk asked me to step on the scales, and then weighted my suitcase. When I boarded a small plane, there were no other passengers inside, only a pilot. In a few minutes we were airborne. Feeling like a private jet owner, I leaned toward my window. The ocean was dark-blue, changing to light turquoise around the white sandy beaches on the edges of green islands.

7. Yasawa honeymoon suite

Half an hour later we were taxing along a grassy landing strip of the Yasawa Island Resort & Spa – the all-inclusive property on one of the remotest pristine islands. It has only 18 luxury bungalows hidden among tropical greenery, each opening to a sandy beach. The farthermost bungalow, Lomalagi (“honeymoon”) has an open floor plan with a living room, bedroom, closet/bathroom area and an outdoor shower cabin. A private infinity pool is on the edge of a sundeck overlooking the ocean. My first order of business was to spend a few meditative minutes swaying in a hammock, and thanking my lucky stars for being here, in the fragrant and colorful dream world of Fiji!

8. Yasawa sunset palms

Then I headed to Baravi Spa right on the beach, for an aromatherapy massage. When I walked back to my bure along the beach, an early winter sunset just started in the Southern Hemisphere, and unfamiliar constellations soon pierced the night sky. Knowing that I was traveling by myself in this honeymooners’ paradise, the gallant resort owner-director, James McCann, invited me for cocktails at the poolside Manasa’s Bar named after a long-time employee, and to a beachside seafood dinner.  

9. Local seafood

The next morning, after a substantial breakfast, served at an elegant alfresco restaurant with views of the pool and the ocean, I joined other guests on a visit to Bukama Village where we attended a Sunday church service. The church choir, as good as any professional highly trained ensemble, was singing a capella, one hymn after another, with abandon – I could’ve listened to this heavenly sounds for hours.

10. Bukama Village church choir

When the service was over, and we were about to board our bus back to the resort, we were surrounded by a lively group of the village children whose mothers were singing in the choir. Well-spoken and well-mannered, they asked each of us about our names and ages, and if we were all coming from China.

The rest of the glorious day I spent swimming and snorkeling at the resort, while other guests were sea kayaking, trying stand up paddle boarding, or playing tennis and beach volleyball.

At night, a sunset cocktail party, provided by the management for all the guests, was accompanied by the staff choir performance – another uplifting a capella concert that’s a big part of Fijian experience.

 

14. Tokoriki pool

In the morning it was time to say good-bye to the hospitable resort, and after a heartfelt farewell song, I headed for the same grassy airport to fly back to Nadi, and from there board a Pacific Island Air helicopter to the island of Tokoriki.

After a short ride over the sparkling lapis lazuli ocean studded with malachite islands, we landed at the end of a wooden pier leading to the adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort.

Once again, I was greeted like a dear friend, with a necklace, a cocktail, and a choir song, performed by the smiling uniformed employees under the giant pointed roof of the new reception/bar/restaurant area with artful décor, overlooking a large infinity pool.

11. Tokiriki bure

A winding path lined with blossoming hibiscus bushes led to my spacious bure with a day bed and a plunge pool on a sundeck. After a sunset swim and quick unpacking in the luxurious romantic hideaway with a glass-door living room, a canopy bed, and an outdoor shower walled with lava rocks, I met with Patrice Belle, Director of Sales and Marketing, and a dedicated “heart-and-soul” of the resort, for a nightly torch-lighting ceremony and white-tablecloth al fresco dinner under the Southern Cross.

12. Tokoriki beach side view

From her, I’ve learned about the 36 freestanding bures and villas – all beachfront – that constitute the resort; a host of water and land activities, available to the guests; a tropical garden spa, which I was about to visit the next morning, and South Pacific/Asian fusion cuisine presented to the guests in daily changing menus. Our oceanfront dinner included traditional Fijian Kokoda reef fish ceviche, New Zealand beef tenderloin with spiced pumpkin puree and red wine demi-glace, and a crowd-pleaser dessert of Tokoriki sundae ice-cream with nut praline, brandy snap, and Bailey’s cream.

13. Tokoriki spa

The spa, situated among the lava rocks, lush greenery, and tiny streams, greeted me with immediate calming sensation. Jane, my highly-skilled masseuse, showed me around, and after a wonderfully-invigorating massage invited me to lounge in a relaxation room with a cup of guava tea.

Soon it was time for me to continue my journey among the enchanting Mamanuca Islands. Treated once again to a farewell song, performed by the resort’s amazing musical band and the staff choir, I was taken to the beach where I boarded my next transportation device – Mamanuca Express Speedboat.

15. Likuliku pier

This boat in less than an hour delivered me to my next stop – Likuliku Lagoon Resort. Even before we landed at the tip of a long wooden pier I rapidly fell in love with this unique establishment when I glanced a row of over-water bures on stilts, and then under the crystal clear wave caught a sight of a dark-blue starfish spread on a coral reef.

I didn’t have a chance to stay in one of the over-water bures (available only at Likuliku in Fiji) but I never tired of admiring them from my own luxurious beachfront bure on the opposite curve of a crescent-shaped beach, especially at sunset…

16. Likuliku pool

Likuliku (“calm waters”) – the couples’ resort – combines the natural beauty of the legendary Blue Lagoon with upscale accommodations, impeccable service, and sophisticated culinary program. The resort manager, Tulia Seru, knows every guest by his/her name, and watches many of them come back to their favorite vacation spot year after year. Couples with young children spend their time on the same island, in a sister resort Malolo Island Fiji – also a part of Ahura Resorts Group.

This kind and considerate woman took special care of me, making sure I wouldn’t feel lonesome among the honeymooners and return couples. I suspected that she extended the same level of care to everyone around! Each time she and I sat down to a meal in the multi-level indoor-outdoor restaurant Fijiana with lacquered wood and folk art décor, Tulia was greeted by other diners, answered their questions, enquired about someone’s well-being, or took on various requests regarding menu options and activities for the next day.

17. Likuliku sunset

After I settled down, we had tropical cocktails at a bar on the pier, and then dinner at the restaurant that consisted of an amuse bouche of summertime tofu and chicken in sesame seeds; a starter of steamed prawn dumplings in aromatic broth of garden herbs, and a main course of salt and pepper reef snapper with cucumber salad and three-flavor sauce with a side of honey-roasted pumpkin.

The next morning, after a breakfast that included a mud crab omelet with chili and papaya relish in addition to fresh-squeezed fruit juices and house-baked pastries, thoroughly impressed, I asked to be introduced to the chef.

Executive Chef Shane Watson, originally from Sidney, Australia, is a multiple award-winning chef, whose successful career in big city restaurants became less satisfactory when his family started growing, and so one day he and his wife decided to take their two children back “home” to Malolo Island, where Watson worked during the opening of the resort and designed a food concept for it.

“We set a benchmark of where we want to be,” said Watson. “I’m from a restaurant background. Resorts aren’t necessarily my thing. I didn’t know hotel, so I brought my restaurant concept with me.”

And it worked! The Chef carefully composes daily menus so there would be something for everyone on them from the simple grilled fish and vegetables fare to lobster cocktails, and from Asian smoked pork noodles to duck confit with hazelnuts. The Chef took me on an excursion to his kitchen garden, from where fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables make it straight to his chopping board. Behind the spinach beds I saw several beehives that produce enough honey for all the kitchen needs.

18. Mana sand bar

While in Likuliku, I also had a vigorous massage treatment at the Tatadra (“House of Dreams”) Spa, and an unforgettable Modriki Island Tour originated at the resort.

At the crack of dawn, before the wind picked up, Tulia and I boarded a speedboat that took us to the beautiful Mamanucas – Castaway Island, Mana Island, Matamanoa, and Monuriki, where the film “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks has been shot. We had a short walk on the white sand of Monuriki, and then snorkeled in the blue depth of the South Pacific before going around Monu and Yanuya islands, past Tokoriki and Tavuad, and stopping at Mana Sand Bank – a wondrous shiny stretch of land in the middle of the ocean, before heading back to Likuliku.

19. Likuliku inguana

Another surprise was awaiting me. As Steve Anstey, General Manager of Ahura Resorts, explained to me, the resort group adopted Iguana Rescue Program to protect the critically endangered Fijian Crested Iguana.

“Operating in a pristine, sensitive environment such as ours, with ocean and coral reefs on one side, and land flora and fauna on the other, we recognize the importance of sustainable tourism,” said Anstey. “Our aim is not only to minimize our impact on the extraordinary nature that surrounds us, but through a range of activities, programs, and initiatives, to improve and enhance the environment for challenged species and future generations.”

The iguana preservation initiative is being implemented in partnership with US Geological Survey, Taronga Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and Mamanuca Environmental Society.

Adam Clause from the University of Georgia, who works on the research project within the program, took me to the iguana enclosure not far from the front desk of the resort, where I could have a good look at the a jewel-like creature with striped jade-green and white skin, smart beady eyes, and bright yellow nostrils.

20. Sunset from South Sea Cruises boat

The next day, followed by the fascinating sounds of Isa Lei – the national farewell song, “Isa, Isa, vulagi lasa dina/Nomu lako au na rarawa kina/Cava beka ko a mai cakava/Nomu lako au na sega ni lasa,” performed by the Likuliku staff choir, I was boarding a South Sea Cruises boat to Port Denarau in Nadi. At the Denarau Marina I had my last Fijian supper of sweet slipper lobster at the Rhum-Ba restaurant inside the Denarau Yacht Club.

Then I headed for the Nadi airport to take another easy flight with Fiji Airways home, to San Francisco, but just like the Isa Lei song says, whenever I think of Fiji, “Every moment my heart for you is yearning.”

Look for additional information at: www.fijiairways.com, www.tourismfiji.com.fj, www.fiji.travel, www.rosie.com.fj, www.raffehotels.com, www.yasawa.com, www.tokoriki.com, www.ahuraresorts.com, www.mamanucaexpress.com, www.pacificislandair.com, www.ssc.com.fj, www.rhum-ba.com.