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.

 

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It’s said that timing is everything, and it’s so true when picking a time to visit a destination. Mexico has many festivals throughout the year, but one such is the combination of the Puerto Vallarta’s LGTB May Pride Celebration as it coincides with their Restaurant week, providing many opportunities for both exceptional fun and food.

Puerto Vallarta has long been a friendly environment for the LGTB community and the community coming together to host their fourth annual May Pride Week in 2016 is such an example. Parties and receptions held in and around the town offers the visitor a chance to see venues, they might not know exists.  There is a structured bar crawl (http://gayvallartabarhopping.com) where first time Puerto Vallarta visitors can easily partake of the festivities with a guide, and be in the right venue for special events.

The high mountain lodge at Villa Savana (www.villasavana.com) supplies a panoramic view of the town and beach, and quaint views of the houses of local citizens. The white washed accommodation, offers an historic character to the complex of pool and vista filled terrace.  At such a reception you might be treated to the guitar stylings of Eduardo Leon, and take home his CD for remembering the intoxicating experience again and again.

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An upscale and visually stunning restaurant is the Café de Artistes (www.cafedesartistes.com) There you can have a Chilean wine with a smoked “Mahi Mahi”, a delicate roasted sea bass filet over a confit turnip perfumed with anise, spinach and fine herb sauce, the best Short Rib and Beef Petals duo with creamy chipolte chili sauce and topped off with a desert of “guanaban” sorbet and fried “bunuelos”. All were presented artistically and at times the visual presentation out shinned the taste.

A family owned and indigenous restaurant is the humble and quaint, El Arrayan (http://elarrayan.com.mx/en/) located in the middle of old town. Here the walls are filled with displays of ingenious art presiding over a table of authentic local tastes.

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In operation for fifteen years, the Banderas Tapas (http://barcelonatapas.net/) offers a variety of small dishes fusing traditional tastes with other cultures accompanying wonderful sunset views. A tasting menu is available. The amendable bar tender can prepare exotic cocktails or fill your own personal Martini requests. With gourmet food in an open air vista filled venue and attentive service, who could ask for more?

A true delight is the food and ambiance of the ocean side setting of the Sapphire Beach Club (http://sapphire.mx ), which also hosts accommodations and a fresh water pool, overlooking the palapas of the beach, complete with roaming sellers of local goods.

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Your brunch at the Villa Mercedes (www.hotelvillamercedes.com ) might find a buffet of delights, by a pool and shaded lounge area, adjacent to a more formal restaurant and bar. You might relax here, or stay at this boutique hotel, before venturing over to the nearby Mantamar Beach Club (http://en.mantamarvallarta.com/. They supply food, drink, entertainment, and an expansive pool with cabanas, changing rooms and an upstairs area for viewing the pool and the expansive Puerto Vallarta Beach. You can spend an entire day there soaking up the festival culture with locals and out of town party goers.

For all of the above dining venues be sure to make arrangements before arriving to double check their availability.

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Your home base might be the modern Casa Magna Marriott (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pvrmx-casamagna-marriott-puerto-vallarta-resort-and-spa/) in the hotel zone away from the historic downtown, or stay a short distance away at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta (http://www.hrhvallarta.com/)   Enjoy the VIP section of the beach with wait staff and a special VIP menu, or stroll around the pool areas with cocktail in hand, or relax in the shade, or take in the offerings of their Spa, with salon treatments or a massage, and don’t forget to sample several of their restaurants.

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Despite all the shopping and dining opportunities in Puerto Vallarta proper, it’s easy to recommend a coastal sail along Banderas Bay  with  Mike’s fishing and charter tours ( http://pvmikesfishing.com/ , where with party music and refreshments gives you a chance to feel as if you are on a private yacht. This get a way sail, to a coast beach near of the Marietta’s Islands is where you might enjoy snorkeling. This relaxing day experience is not to be overlooked. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Any time is a good time to experience the safe and tourist friendly resort town of Puerto Vallarta. A sunset stroll along the popular malecon with its iconic Puerto Vallarta Sea horse sculpture is a must. More information can be obtained at:  www.visitpuertovallarta.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

dophons Holo Holo

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

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.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Combining business and pleasure while staying in a luxury hotel, is surely a good thing, but The Clement is also great for vacationers who are seeking a quiet and carefree getaway when visiting California.

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Opened just a few months ago in the heart of Silicon Valley, The Clement Palo Alto is one of the distinct quality hotels developed and managed by the Pacific Hotel Management Company that operates a number of franchise brands owned by Clement Chen & Associates (both companies under the presidency of Clement Chen, III).

With a focus on hands-on management and exclusive luxury features rarely found elsewhere, The Clement is a very unusual hotel. It offers all-Inclusive resort-like stays in one of the most business-oriented locations in the nation, and provides highly personalized service by anticipating and meeting the guests’ every request.

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“The inspiration for this hotel came about when my wife and I took a getaway trip to the island of Bali,” says Chen. “We stayed at a small hotel there that left a deep impression on us. Everybody at the hotel – even the gardening staff – knew our names, and everyone there was so warm and personable. And, since all of the staff knew who we were, we never had to sign a check for anything.  We didn’t feel like we were customers at a hotel – we were able to just relax and enjoy our stay, like being at home, only better!”

After that trip to Bali, Chen was convinced that the same experience could be recreated and appreciated in California, and so The Clement Palo Alto concept was born.

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“I want each guest to feel like a guest, not a customer,” says Chen. “I loved the feeling of not having to sign a check or worry about tipping every time I turned around. That is why we have all-inclusive pricing.  We want our guests to feel like they are house guests at a great residence with a terrific service staff.”

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The innovative personalized service at The Clement starts at the front door. This door is not open during business hours. Rather, you should ring a doorbell, and be ushered in by the General Manager Sebastian Stacy or a friendly personal concierge – Linda Romero, Felipe Cutierrez, Amanda Thorne, or Gail Simpson – while your car will be taken to a parking spot, and the luggage – to a room in a quiet, imperceptible manner. All check-in formalities take about a minute at a front desk area, decorated with two hand-painted guitars from Chen’s personal collection that includes about a hundred instruments.

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All you have to do now is marvel at the serenity of the contemporary art-decorated living room, lined with bookshelves over a stone fireplace, or step into the dining room with a well-equipped open kitchen, and indulge in some freshly-made snacks and drinks – the pantry is open 24/7, and everything is included with the room price.

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23 spacious 650 sq. ft. one-bedroom suites at The Clement have elegantly furnished front rooms with remote-controlled motorized draperies, a desk fully stocked with office supplies, a connectivity panel for Internet and charging, 65-inch Samsung Smart TVs, and Nespresso Vertuoline coffee machines. The bedrooms boast Stearns & Foster European pillow top California King beds with Matouk bed linens, and Frette robes and slippers in the lit closets. Frette towels, a soaking tub, a glass-walled shower cabin, two sinks, and two separate toilet facilities with Toto plumbing fixtures are found in every suite. The residential-style atmosphere is enhanced by multiple personal touches, like a mini fridge stocked with your favorite libations, special accommodations for your child or pet, and your name in a welcome message on a bathroom mirror TV.

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The all-inclusive concept means around the clock personalized concierge services; breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room, on the outdoor terrace, equipped with fire pits, in a cabana on the private rooftop pool deck overlooking the Stanford University campus, or in your suite; plus all wine, beer and cocktails (skillfully mixed by the concierges) before, after, or during meals. In fact, The Clement is more than all-inclusive, it is also exclusive, catering exclusively to your personal tastes and desires.

The necessary information about your preferences and needs is collected via an advance online questionnaire, and stored in a personal concierge’s iPad, so any amenities you might request (a yoga mat, a dog toy, even a guitar!) will be taken directly to your suite. A fully equipped exercise room on the second floor is open 24 hours.

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The interior design of The Clement described as “an abstraction of traditional manor house” was created by Stanford Hughes of Brayton Hughes Design Studios, a San Francisco firm.

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“The decor is contemporary, elegant and comfortable. It offers a warm, alluring ambiance in an intimate residential scale,” says Hughes, whose firm’s award-winning designs include Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe. “The interior design offers a perfect blend of contemporary and classic elements. The palette of warm neutral colors and natural materials creates a soothing, cozy and relaxing environment. It is elegant and minimal, yet highly livable.”

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In this home away from home, all meals are prepared on the premises, with Executive Chef Pierre Arce presiding over the menu, and culinary concierges (personal chefs) making sure all your dietary needs are being met. Cory Lemon, Chris Southivongnorath, and Phillip Pagan take turns in the kitchen to produce such delicacies as organic eggs Benedict on brioche toast with Norwegian smoked salmon and truffle hollandaise for breakfast, foie gras torchon with figs roasted in Cointreau with balsamic reduction for lunch, and Arctic char with saffron rice and asparagus or free-range organic chicken breast with Yukon Gold pesto mash, market vegetables and crimini mushrooms in port reduction for dinner.

 

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If you fancy going out, downtown Palo Alto is within a walking distance, with its award-winning restaurants, world-class shopping and upscale spas.

To enhance your shopping experience in the area, The Clement is now offering an exclusive shopping trip to the iconic Bloomingdale’s in the Stanford Shopping Center. This trip can include a complimentary style advisor (personal shopper) appointments and beauty consultations (with advance reservation); a welcome Little Brown Bag; 15% off savings certificate, exclusive event invitations, and car pick-up service.

Guest Experience Specialist Oscar Gonzalez or any other staff member will be happy to take your reservation and make sure your stay at The Clement is exclusively comfortable and luxurious.

The Clement Hotel is located at 711 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California 94301. Call for more information 650.322.7111 or visit: www.theclementpaloalto.com.

 

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The state of Florida has many popular and well known resort destinations, where you can find gourmet dining, beautiful ocean front vistas and upscale comfortable resort hotels. Undiscovered by many frequent Florida vacationers, is Vero Beach and the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, which has all any tropical traveler requires.

Located on Florida’s East Coast an hour’s drive from Melbourne and about an hours and a half from Orlando, the Vero Beach community, with entertaining attractions, art and jewelry galleries is worth the travel time. (You might also consider flying into the Vero Beach Regional Airport.) Crossing the bridge over the Indian River from the mainland you might be surprised at the commercial development. Once you reach the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, conveniently located in the middle of the action, you can be secluded on the beach as with the best of any ocean side resort. You will discover beach activities that accommodate family needs, seaside casual dining and beverages, near the outdoor pool.

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The twin tower hotel hosts the indoor/outdoor Cobalt restaurant where breakfast and gourmet dinners are served. They are happy to prepare a breakfast Eggs Benedict to your tastes and the evening sea bass is a light and delicious repast. Adjacent is the Cobalt bar and lounge, where the cocktail wait staff and bar tenders are eager to prepare your Martini or other exotic cocktail, to your specific specifications. This added attention to your request is a rare commodity at many exclusive lounges. The Vero Beach Hotel and Spa prides itself on its attentive and congenial service. The happy hour specials are not to be missed, are not watered down and come at a friendly price point. You can also partake of specially priced appetizers as meet other congenial travelers looking for a relaxed yet lux atmosphere.

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The Vero Beach Hotel and Spa includes the full service White Orchid Spa and salon where you could spend an entire day taking in their many services. You may find an amendable spa partner when having an expert and extensive Mani-Pedi. Your fellow Salon patrons might include a fascinating personality such as Toronto’s, Barbara Reed, who as a successful professional, also creates exotic one of a kind jewelry pieces, which she is happy to share.  It’s this kind of serendipitous happening that keeps resort travelers returning to discover a happy encounter with like-minded persons.

For an evening or matinee be sure and check the schedule of the Riverside Theatre about 3 blocks from the hotel, accessible by taxi or a leisurely fifteen-minute walk. If your call for a taxi is too long a wait the front desk has a secure list of Uber drivers eager to please with prompt timing. Expert Theatre plays and elaborate musicals are presented year round, such as this spring’s Sister Act, and next season’s Mame and Chicago. Good last minute seats are usually available.

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Next door to the theater is the Vero Beach Art Museum with special exhibits and a convenient Museum café with fresh sandwiches, before or after your viewing of the esoteric museum exhibits.

With all this actively you can take many leisurely strolls along the clean and constant surf along the beach, where a stroll lets you really appreciate the beauty and power of nature. Be sure and ask at the front desk, or at the other establishments you visit for the current Inside Track Almanac, the official guide to the Treasure Coast, which is filled with attractions you can consider to entertain you in your leisure time. While you may not have heard of Vero Beach, it is highly recommended for putting on your list of Florida’s favorite resort destinations where Vero Beach Hotel and Spa can be your resort oasis.  All Vero Beach’s specials can be found at:  http://www.verobeachhotelandspa.com/vero-beach-hotel-deals.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

There were times when we haven’t even heard about it. We just lived our lives and once in a while turned back to weed out the bad memories and dwell on the good ones relaying them to our friends and family for the umpteenth time. Nowadays we’re much more sophisticated! We plan great experiences in advance and gift them to our loved ones and to ourselves instead of material goods that eventually lose their appeal anyway. Some of the greatest and most memorable experiences are found in Northern California – the best looking part of America – and yes, I’m biased!

Afternoon Tea at the Claremont, a Fairmont Hotel in Berkeley/Oakland

2. Lobby Lounge

The 100-year-old historic hotel that looks like a white castle in the hills, the Claremont is known for its long and glorious culinary tradition. Executive Chef Chad Blunston, responsible for all meals to be had on the premises of this 276-room grandiose luxury hotel, admittedly favors the weekend Afternoon Tea at the Claremont Lobby Lounge & Bar, and for a good reason.

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“We’re creating memories,” says the Chef who once witnessed a six-year-old girl turning to her mother with the words, “Mom, I like everything here so much, I’ll remember it all my life!” There’s a lot to remember about a spacious sunlit room with a great view of the San Francisco Bay visible through the manicured palm fronds, and the amazing treats offered at the Afternoon Tea.

4. Etoile at Claremont Tea

So let’s start with a glass of exquisite Etoile rose champagne from the bar (Schramsburg, Blanc de Blanc, California, and Domain Carneros, Brut, Napa are on offer with the tea menu). It sparkles in the afternoon sun, and sets the mood for a very special date, be it a couple’s getaway, a family outing, or an elegantly dressed woman’s solo retreat.

There are so many teas on offer – black, green, white, and mélange – that the list is presented on an iPad, with photos of the leaves and an option to read extensive blurbs about their origins and characteristics. Then, upon your choosing of a particular kind, a cart with multiple glass jars filled with tea leaves will make an appearance, and your favorite tea will be brewed in a white porcelain teapot in front of you.

Then an amuse bouche will arrive – a goat cheese and walnut gougere in our case, followed by a three-tiered serving tray, filled with traditional finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries prepared with a contemporary twist.

5. Claremont tea food

On Tier 1 there are Blueberry Almond Whole Wheat Scuffins and Citrus Thyme Scones accompanied by the innovative Quince preserve and Crème Frâiche. Tier 2 offers the most unusual Peas and Carrots (Minted Pea Butter, Heirloom Carrots, Crunchy Peas); Santa Barbara Smoked Salmon (Pumpkin Seed Butter, Horseradish Curds, Crispy Croissant); Dungeness Crab Salad with watercress, wrapped in cucumber ribbon; Chino Ranch Egg Salad (Laurel Mayonnaise, Brioche fingers), and Vadouvan Chicken Salad on Hazelnut Turmeric Crostini. Tier 3 presents Eucalyptus Posset, Crunchy Coconut Profiteroles, Olive Oil Madeleines, and TCHO Chocolate Financiers.

If you can name a fancier array of tea treats, let me hear about it!

Overnight Stay at La Belle Epoque Bed and Breakfast in Napa

6. La Belle Epoque BandB

Among so many cute historical bed-and-breakfast inns in Napa Valley, La Belle Epoque stands out. It’s surrounded with flowering fragrant rose bushes planted along the sidewalks on both sides of the street corner; it’s freshly painted in whimsical colors, and through the wide first floor windows you can see lace curtains, period furnishings, and Tiffany lamps even before entering the charming Victorian house.

7. Inside La Belle Epoque

Inside, it’s a beautifully appointed estate still bearing the memories of the original owners, the Shwarz family, who lovingly built and maintained this Painted Lady house in 1893 – now on the National Register of Historic Homes.

8. Glass

There are six rooms in the main house, each adorned with the period stained glass windows, and antique furniture and art pieces, plus four suites in the recently added The Buckley House across the street – all with tasteful turn-of-the-century decor.

 

9. Tracy Mahr

As is always the case, the best memories are created by people. The inn’s GM, as well as a hospitable greeter and a chef, Tracy Mahr, makes this place very special for everyone by taking care of all the guests’ requests, providing knowledgeable concierge services, and including a three-course gourmet breakfast and a light afternoon tea with her own wonderful baked creations.

10. Breakfast

Day Trip to Eureka and Humboldt County

11. Author in Rockefeller Forest

California’s Redwood Highway actually starts immediately after San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge with the Muir Woods National Monument. It’s an enchanting place, if you have the ability to ignore enormous crowds of tourists seeking solitude in the majestic redwood grove. But drive farther north, past Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino (surely each one gorgeous in its own right) and you’ll find an unspoiled wilderness of giant redwoods in the many national and state parks of Humboldt County, like Redwood National Park, a World Heritage Site.

15. Roosevelt Elk

The world’s tallest trees can be seen here, as well as rare Roosevelt Elk, named after President Theodor Roosevelt, and found only in this area.

12. Carson's Mansion

Eureka (founded 1850), the central city of Humboldt County and a historical seaport, in its heyday on par with San Francisco, boasts a beautifully restored Old Town of gorgeous Victorians, and a recently renovated waterfront boardwalk along Humboldt Bay. Here, in the oldest part of the town start Haunted History Ghost Tours (company owner Eric Vollmers) led by local historians and actors, like Dr. Alexandra Service. The tour includes extensive sightseeing, fun tantalizing ghost stories, and some seriously important facts about the area’s not so spotless history.

In Eureka’s open air museum of architecture, the Victorian Seaport, there’s the famous Carson’s Mansion, “the most photographed house in the world” faced by the poetic Pink Lady across the street.

More wonderfully restored Victorians, called Butterfat Palaces are found in the nearby Ferndale, formerly known as Cream City due to its abundant pastures and fast-developed dairy industry.

13. Lighthouse in Trinidad

To the north of Eureka, there’s a tiny town of Trinidad, named after the Caribbean island, with dramatic cliffs, a red-roofed Memorial Lighthouse, and overgrown with cypresses and forget-me-nots walking trails with stunning views of the ocean, and then the breathtakingly beautiful rocky shore of Patrick’s Point State Park.

14. Patrick's Point State Park

To the south, there’s the world-famous redwood preserve, Avenue of the Giants, with an especially memorable Rockefeller Forest, delivered to us intact by lumber industry thanks to a million dollar donation, shelled out by the millionaire touched by nature.

16. Samoa Cookhouse

And if you really want to walk down the memory lane and get a good piece of authentic experience, head to the historic lumber camp restaurant, Samoa Cookhouse – the last surviving cookhouse in the West, where the tradition of communal tables covered in oilcloth and huge portions of fried chicken with all the trimmings at miniscule prices is alive and well. The Historic Logging Museum next door contains a comprehensive collection of period tools and household items, and historical photographs.

Dinner at Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco

17. Farallon

One of the legendary San Francisco restaurants, Farallon on Union Square, founded in 1997 by the celebrity restaurateur Pat Kuleto and star chef Mark Franz, continues to wow its guests with the freshest seafood, an excellent international wine collection, and the magical atmosphere of underwater world conveyed by the art glass chandeliers inspired by octopi and jellies.

18. Entrance

The recently hired new Executive Chef Jason Ryczek and Wine Director Luke Kenning create memorable pairings of skillfully prepared seafood and meat courses with rare wines.

20. Abalone

Young and tender Cayucos farm-raised abalone with house-cultured brown butter and white balsamic seafoam finds its perfect match in 2013 Albarino, Alberto Nanclares, Rias Baixas, Spain.

Sonoma foie gras torchon is especially succulent with 2008 Royal Tokaji from Hungary.

21. Tokaji

A paella-style saffron rice served in a cast iron skillet with clams, Spanish octopus rings, and Devil’s Gulch rabbit shreds, is complimented by 2014 Gobelsburg Kampal Gruener Veltliner from Germany.

Oak-grilled Dixon lamb with fiddleheads, ramps, and morel yogurt goes nicely with 2013 Cabernet Frank, Long & Reed, North Coast, California.

19. Dining room

Exquisite desserts include port-pouched rhubarb with shortbread, frangipane, caramel, and brown butter ice cream, paired with a 5-year-aged madeira, and lavender-lemon grass panna cotta with tapioca, huckleberries, and poppy seed tuile, paired with late harvest pinot gris from Carneros.

 

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The most popular vacation destination on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, Cancún boasts so many hotels that they form their own territory, Zona Hotelera de Cancún – a narrow strip of land protruding far into the turquoise sea and covered with sugar-white sand.

Cancun is a favorite with all kinds of vacationers from newlyweds and extended families to corporate execs, because one thing is always certain – here, like nowhere else everyone will get what they are looking for – full relaxation or active adventure, the joys of leisurely care-free life, and excellent service.

In the last few years, the fast-growing company, Excellence Group Luxury Hotels & Resorts, became a symbol of the quintessential Cancún hospitality. It operates three all-inclusive brands – adults only Excellence Resorts, all-ages Finest Resorts and boutique Beloved Hotels.

Excellence beach

My personal experience includes only the first two brands, and only for a couple of days each, but what I’ve learned about the Excellence Group in this short period of time speaks of unsurpassed perfection and keen attention to detail in every aspect of accommodating the resort guests.

As it happened, my husband and I were delayed by the carrier for our connecting flight, and after sprint-running to the gate only to discover we were four minutes late, stranded at the LAX for another 12 hours. Distraught, I asked my husband if we should venture into the city and try to make the best of it… “We’ll spend so much time in traffic you won’t be able to really enjoy Los Angeles,” he said. “One Delta delay is enough. You don’t want to miss our Cancún altogether!”

No, I didn’t want that. When we finally landed on the blessed land of Mexico close to 7 a.m. after a tiring red-eye flight, we quickly discovered that the tropical sun, the cloudless sky, and the ocean breeze provided a boost of energy sufficient to sustain us for the day. Who needs sleep if an endless sandy beach is awaiting you just beyond the swaying palms, and the five-star luxury is at your disposal every step of the way?

Excellence pool

Excellence Riviera Cancún is located in the vicinity of Playa del Carmen, 15-20 minutes from the airport. Its multi-million dollar renovation was completed only last year, and the creamy-white buildings with open terraces, the gorgeously appointed restaurant entrances, and open air fountains and sculptures throughout the entire territory surely look inviting.

Upon a quick efficient check-in we were escorted to our room – an oasis of calm and coolness decorated in aqua and sandy color scheme, with a balcony overlooking a free-form swimming pool running like a blue ribbon between manicured lawns and flowering bushes.

After a much needed full breakfast, during which we couldn’t get enough of freshly-squeezed tropical juices, smoked fish, meat and vegetable stews, omelets to order, yogurts and flans, and freshly-baked pastries, we embarked on a stroll around the resort.

Excellence room

There are ten restaurants on the premises of Excellence Riviera Cancún – Agave (Mexican cuisine, art glass décor, and nightly mariachi music), Barcelona (our lavish breakfast was had here), Basmati (Indian cuisine, Indian art décor, and the chef is from India), Chez Isabelle (French, upscale, live music every night), Flavor Market (food from all corners of the world), and others – equally enticing. The amount of love and creativity invested in food preparation and plating is simply astounding!

Excellence Treats

Ten bars include a pool bar, a non-alcoholic juice-and-smoothie bar (try O-Vi with guava, peach, mango, grapefruit, and pineapple), an exclusive Excellence Club bar, a coffee bar, a martini bar, and the list goes on.

Excellence spaExcellence Hydrotherapy

Miilé Spa looks like a white palace on an island formed by the resort swimming pool. Long white curtains at the entrance billow in the wind like sails. Inside, there’s a complex system of 17-step hydrotherapy massage, guided by an attendant, and of course all kinds of regular massages provided by skilled therapists.

Every morning, the resort guests get a newsletter, titled, The Excellence Times, that lists restaurants and bars, massage specials of the day at the spa, tours and excursions departing from the hotel lobby, romantic specials, like champagne breakfast in bed, fresh flowers service, and dinner for two on the beach, as well as tons of daily activities from tennis and beach volleyball to cooking lessons, Zumba and Texas Hold’Em.

Finest Golden bar

After two glorious days at the Excellence Riviera Cancún, we made a short ride to the brand-new Finest Playa Mujeres on the opposite side of the Zona Hotelera, located among the sandy dunes across from the beautiful island Isla Mujeres.

In the light spacious lobby of the hotel we found ourselves right in front of the imposing Golden Bar, actually made from copper, but shiny nonetheless. Here, an attentive bartender created lychee martinis for us, decorated with a little butterfly, carved from a carrot, sitting on a glass rim.

Finest cocktail

Later, for lunch at Le Petit Restaurant, served on a white table cloth, the most delicious pumpkin soup was delivered to the table in a white porcelain teapot, and poured over grilled shrimp and croutons.

Pre-dinner cocktails at Tinto & Tapas included a rainbow of mixed drinks, Spanish red wine, and an array of hors d’oeuvres, like imported from Spain jamon Serrano, gazpacho, and potato omelet tortillas.

Our multi-course dinner at Lizo Cocina Mexicana started with a tasting of hot sauces used in traditional Mexican cooking. I’ve always favored chipotle and arbol, but now discovered even more exciting varieties – la costena, cuaresmeno and habanero diablo!

The Lizo dinner, prepared and presented with the same perfection as everything everywhere in Excellence Group, continued with crab cocktail (onion, tomatillos, plantain chips); guacamole tortilla with shrimp, dried cheese, and chili; beef ribs in chipotle sauce; and for a sweet finale – a decadent caramel flan with pineapple candy and Mexican vanilla.

Finest food

There are ten restaurants on the territory of Finest Playa Mujeres and more than a dozen bars, including Piano Bar & Cigar Lounge, where we spent a joyful evening dancing to the disco music alongside hotel guests of all ages hailing from all over the world.

Finest spa inside

One Spa at the Finest is a very special place, where the hydrotherapy massages, saunas, steam rooms, and contrasting pools and showers (one, called the Cuban shower, features a wooden bucket of icy cold water overturned overhead at a pull of a rope) conclude with the most skillful and relaxing massage of head, neck and shoulders, administered by the talented therapists.

Finest pool for kids

A very special attention at the Finest is paid to the littlest vacationers. Kid’s Plaza includes mini-theater, mini-spa with hair, nails, and massage services, and an amazing swimming pool/playground with waterslides, waterfalls, fountains, and no borders, like a sea lagoon. At The Market Kitchen restaurant there is an entire area with low counters for children to pick their own food, and even to fill their own ice cream cone. The Finest Day newsletter defines all the daytime activities and nighttime entertainment for the guests of all ages.

The Excellence Club, only for adults, and The Finest Club, for all ages, offer heightened levels of luxury, customized services, more privacy, and more pampering (if that’s even possible).

For more information on The Excellence Group and its brands of resort properties, go to www.excellencegroupluxuryresorts.com.