Laura Hanaford

Laura Hanaford

Monday, 20 November 2017 18:45

Nayara Springs: Secluded Heaven in the Sky

One of the perks of being a travel advisor is that I get to travel to a lot of incredible destinations to scope them out for my clients. After all, the best way to sell something is to have seen it firsthand. Not only do I get to see and experience what is offered, but I also see the other people and get a feel of the overall vibe. You may absolutely love the look and amenities of a hotel or destination but certain elements- that are often not so visible- can turn what you think will be a dream vacation into a nightmare. For instance; if the resort throws raging parties every night and you like to have a quiet sleep at 10; if you need to be constantly connected, but the Wi-Fi is iffy; or if you have a hard time walking and the property is spread far out over a hill; it may not be the best fit. Navigating these less obvious elements is one of the myriad of reasons to use a travel agent.

When I got invited to spend a few nights checking out Nayara Springs in Costa Rica, I jumped on it. Not only was Costa Rica on my short list of countries to visit, but Nayara Springs holds an impressive number of awards, including: #1 luxury hotel in the world Trip Advisor 2016 and 2017, the #1 Resort in Central America by Travel & Leisure 2016, #1 Spa in the World by Conde Nast Traveler 2016, 50 Best Resorts in the World by Conde Nast Traveler, One of the Most Romantic Hotels in the World by Trip Advisor 2017, and 100 best hotels in the world T+L 2016.

Pool at Nayra Springs Pool at Nayara Springs

Located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, snuggled by rainforest, Nayara Springs creates an exclusive private getaway miles away from the rest of the world. It’s so private that the zika mosquitos weren’t invited! Well...in truth, this area of Costa Rica doesn’t have Zika due to the elevation and the volcanic air.

Views of Costa RicaWalkway through Nayara

There are two hotels on property; Nayara Springs, which is adults only, and Nayara Resort and Spa, which is family friendly. Each hotel has their own check-in, restaurants, and facilities. Guests 16 and over can walk freely between the two properties. The hotels are spread over a hillside so there are distances- and some hills- to walk to get from place to place. You can, however, call for a staff member to pick you up in a golf cart.

Both hotels are built in a villa concept; all rooms have individual entrances and a private outdoor area with an outdoor shower. The rooms are large! The Casita Deluxe, the entry level category in the resort side, is 850 sq ft! Villas in the Springs side are a whopping 1500 sq ft, which is admittingly 4 times the size of my New York apartment. The bathrooms are humongous with ample closet space. Couples don’t just have his/her sinks, but full sink areas. 

Room at Nayara SpringsRoom at Nayara Springs 

Villas at Nayara Springs come with all of the standard 5* amenities and also some unique surprises, including free mini bar (not alcohol), free international calling and free laundry. The laundry service is incredible. I sent my dirty clothes out in the morning and everything came neatly folded and sealed in plastic bags. For the first time my suitcase felt less stuffed coming home than when I left! And yes, there’s Wi-Fi throughout the property that really works!

Laundry at Nayara Laundry at Nayara

The outdoor space is truly special. Each villa has a large patio with a day bed, table and chairs, and a hammock. But that’s not all! Each villa also has its own private thermal hot spring plunge pool…with jets! All outdoor patios are surrounded by over 1000 flowers, so yes, bathing suites are optional. Rooms on the Resort side have a hot tub instead of the pool. While they are nice the pool is 100% worth the upgrade.

Nayara Springs Villa Nayara Springs Patio

I spent most every free minute on my patio, even taking my breakfast there. The surrounding vegetation creates a very private slice of heaven. While you can hear the voices of other guests when they walk by, the resort is very quiet. Even at capacity, the resort doesn’t feel full. There are always open cabanas and seats at the swim up bar. While the property is great for groups, it’s not a place where you interact with others and make friends. Guests tend to keep to themselves, enjoying the time with those they came with.

Swim up bar at Nayara Nayara Resort Pool

The staff is unbelievable and very friendly. When the inevitable bug came in my room, a staff member came within two minutes of me calling them. The Costa Ricans are so warm and friendly and were very much concerned with me enjoying my stay. Unlike many resorts, their service felt genuine- not like they were waiting around for a tip.

Cocktail Bar at Nayara Nayara Springs Cocktail Bar  

While there are a ton of adventure activities outside the property, if you’d like to stay put there are still a number of fun things to participate in from taking a cooking class to planting a tree to encourage the sloth population to grow (there are currently about 10 that live on property.) My favorite activities were the mixology class and the coffee class. Even as a non-coffee drinker, the coffee class was fascinating. We learned about the production of coffee beans, the traditional method of pouring coffee in Costa Rica, and sampled several different varieties.

Activities at Nayara Planting trees and cooking classes at Nayara

If you like to stay active there is a gym, but I recommend taking a yoga class in the outdoor yoga pavilion instead. The pavilion feels like a treehouse in the sky, creating a very zen-like aura. My favorite part of every yoga class is corpse pose at the end, but the live guitarist and singer make this corpse pose extra special.

Yoga at Nayara Springs Yoga Pavillion at Nayara Springs

After your workout, reward yourself with a massage at the spa. Treatment rooms are outside, surrounded by the green of the rainforest. I spoiled myself with a deep tissue massage and I can honestly say that it was one of the best massages of my life. As an avid spa-goes, I don’t give that title lightly.

Spa at Nayara Springs Spa at Nayara Springs

There are several dining options, ranging from buffet to fine dining, and the food was good and diverse. The drinks were absolutely incredible. There’s a vast cocktail list and all the drinks are creatively presented. There’s even a wine bar with automated pouring. I enjoyed trying all of the South American wines that I’m not familiar with. We even got a bachata lesson from the staff.

Drinkings at Nayara Drinks at Nayara 

If you’re looking to make your trip a bit more romantic, you can book Besame Mucho. Besame Mucho is a Moroccan-style private dining pavillion, which comes with personalized waitstaff.

Besame Mucho Aerial view of Besame Mucho

I truly enjoyed my time at Nayara and left feeling relaxed and pampered. While my body left a bit heavier, my mind left much lighter! I look forward to returning and having a little romance at Nayra of my own.

 

Synoposis:

Good for: Couples, adventure lovers, coffee fanatics, those looking to relax, and groups. While it is family friendly, the vibe and activities are much more adult friendly.

Bad for: Party animals, those looking to meet friends, those looking for constant activities.

Starting Price point: Casita Deluxe (Nayara Hotel & Resort)- $390/nt, Springs Villa- $750/nt

Special amenities that you get when you book through me: $100 Spa Credit, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out based upon availability.

 

Contact us to book today!

Friday, 10 November 2017 18:38

Learning to Relax: Round Hill, Jamaica

I am a city girl. When taking online quizzes like, “which country should you travel to next?” or “what’s your travel style?” I always end up with some sort of cosmopolitan destination. I love walking aimlessly through city streets, trying all the food, and- of course- people watching. Always on the go.
But I’m learning how to relax.

It’s a funny concept: learning to relax. Relaxing seems like something that should come naturally, an ability that we’re inherently born with like breathing. But for most people relaxing is hard! There are thousands of books, apps, workshops, and guided meditations yet still most people would say they struggle in this area.

Working by the pool in Round HIll

I had the opportunity to visit Round Hill Hotel and Villas, located in Montego Bay Jamaica, for three nights at the end of October. It’s not a big secret that a good travel companion is worth their weight in gold and can make or break a vacation, so when none of my trusted travel companions could make the trip, I decided to go solo. I’ve traveled on my own before but never for this long and only to cities, never to a resort. Would I feel lonely? Bored? Would all the honeymooners make me depressed and miss my boyfriend at home? I had no idea. But what I did know is that working on the beach would be far superior to my windowless cubicle.

jfk to mbj

The flight from New York to Montego Bay is surprisingly short and fabulously direct. Round Hill is just a half hour cab ride from the airport so you can easily go from grabbing breakfast at the airport to savoring lunch overlooking the ocean, cold beer in hand.

Round Hill Villas

Built on a sugar-turned-pineapple plantation, Round Hill Hotel and Villas is a historical boutique hotel comprised of 36 beachfront rooms and 27 villas. Designed by Ralph Lauren, the rooms are traditional but airy- exactly the blue and white preppy that you would expect. The villas, on the other hand, are all privately owned and individually designed, though they incorporate Lauren’s stylistic vision. Some villas have private pools. Those that do not are close to the resort’s pools and have oversized terraces and lawns. The villas range from 2 to 5 bedrooms, making them perfect for families. Each of the bedrooms has an individual entrance so they can also be sold as separate rooms. The villas come allocated with 3 private staff members, including one that can cook breakfast.

Round Hill Plunge Pool

Ralph Lauren himself owns two of the villas, which are not available for guests to stay in unless he is on property. He’s not the only famous name who has frequented the property; Prince Harry was recently best man in a wedding and it was rumored Paul McCartney was visiting during my stay. The cocktail bar is full of photos of the resort’s many famous guests. John F Kennedy even wrote his inauguration speech in villa 25.

Round hill villa eating

None of the rooms in either the hotel or villas have televisions. You must be thinking; a single girl goes to a resort on her own with no TVs! She must be SO BORED! The absence of television was a conscious choice by the hotel to get guests to truly relax. Should you really need to see the big game, you can head over to the Pineapple room. There’s also a library if you’d like to print your boarding pass.

Though Round Hill is rated the #1 hotel for families in the Caribbean, it’s definitely a family-friendly resort and not a family-centric resort. It’s the perfect place for adults who have kids, but hate other people’s kids. There were no children screaming, running around, or splashing in the pool. In fact, because children spent most of their time in their villa’s pool or the free kids club, I hardly saw children at all. Babysitting services are available for an insanely low rate of $10/hr so parents can enjoy dinner off property if they’d like.

Farm to Table Round Hill

Being a smaller property, the chef has the opportunity to create quality meals instead of the massed produced buffets typical of an all-inclusive resort. Round Hill created the largest organic garden (of this type of establishment) in Jamaica, the products of which the chefs incorporate into their dishes.

While there are several places to eat throughout the day, dinner is hosted at only one location per night. Twice a week dinner is served in the farm-to-table fine dining pavilion, other nights it’s served on the more casual seaside terrace or as a beach bbq, complete with music, dancing and bon fires!

terrace dining at round hill

Though there aren’t a lot of structured activities, like there are at a traditional resort, I still found plenty of things to do to occupy my time. In addition to the traditional free non-motorized sports, like kayaks and paddle boards, Round Hill offers a daily free glass bottom boat ride. Also complimentary is a shuttle which takes you to the local craft market, Hip Street and downtown Montego Bay.

My days were spent reading or working on the beach or by the pool, or enjoying cocktails at the beach bar. Even when the resort is full, there’s always choice seating available on the beach so you don’t have to rush out at the crack of dawn to throw down a towel. You can also visit the spa or fitness center.

Working on the beach in Jamaica

At four pm it’s time to join the other guests in the cocktail bar for a daily complimentary high tea. Based on the villa concept of the property, one would think that Round Hill is a very private keep-to-yourself resort. And while it certainly can be if you want, most guests are chatty, warm, and eager to meet new people. High tea is just the start of the social activities. The hotel also hosts a cocktail party at the pool bar for guests to mingle and share their newfound knowledge of the island.

Round Hill beach Bar

What makes Round Hill so special are the people that it attracts. Most people I met come annually, giving a sense of family and acceptance. At lunch one day I met a family with three small children from Australia. Each one of their children was born in a different country and we spent hours talking about our lives and the adventures we take. After dinner one night, a wedding group at called me over to enjoy after dinner drinks with them. Suddenly it was 2am! At the cocktail party, I met a Canadian/Swedish couple and a single Greek man. Our conversation spilled from the party to dinner, where we emptied several bottles of wine.

Round Hill is definitely not for everyone. It’s very small; there’s no swim up bar, and definitely no nightclub. It can seem a bit quiet. If you like a lot of scheduled activities, you may be bored. But if you truly just want to relax, can create your own fun, and don’t like overwhelming large hotels, Round Hill is fabulous. It’s not all inclusive, but you are able to charge everything to your room so you don’t have to carry cash. Not having an all-inclusive plan encourages guests to go off property and try local restaurants.

Sunset over Round Hill Jamaica

 

It was a truly relaxing experience. I found freedom being on my own schedule with nobody’s needs to look after but my own. I was able to be alone when I want, to be social when I want, and to eat when I want. After four days, I felt like I was walking on a cloud. As I walked through the Montego Bay airport to my gate all the little things that typically annoy me when I fly didn’t faze me in the slightest. While I know that I can’t just escape for 4 days whenever I feel stressed out, the reset definitely put me in a better position to come back and tackle my life and its stressors.

 

Good for: Families, groups, couples, history buffs, those looking for a quiet, relaxing experience
Not good for: Party lovers, those looking for a lot of onsite activities, those looking for a large resort
Price point: low season starts at $429/nt, high season starts at $959/nt
Special features: Complimentary glass bottom boat
Amenities that you get booking with me: Daily breakfast for two, $100 food and beverage credit, welcome amenity, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability. Guests booking suites for a minimum of two nights also receive a $100 spa credit.

Happy Wellness Wednesday, everyone! Today, we're featuring an incredible package from the luxurious Miraval Resort & Spa in Arizona. For those of you not familiar with Miraval, it is an award winning destination resort & spa nestled in the Santa Catalina Mountians. Through innovative and creative treatments and programs, Miraval's mission is to create and build balance within their client's lives. Hurry! This package must be booked by July 18, 2017! Contact us to book! 

Wellness Wednesday Miraval

Happy Wellness Wednesday, Folks! To celebrate our Wellness Travel Certification, we're giving our clients a fabulous new wellness travel offer every Wednesday! This week, check-out this amazing package from Waldhaus Flims Grand Hotel & Spa in Switzerland! 

 Waldhaus Flims

Thursday, 03 November 2016 00:00

France: The Perfect 30th Birthday Getaway

When I was 12 years old, my grandmother took me to Paris. I had never left the country before and from the moment that we arrived at Charles de Gaulle, I was smitten. I walked the Champs Elysee like I owned it, ate pigeon during a dinner cruise on the Seine, and even went to the Moulin Rouge. Clearly, my grandma wasn't the normal bake-you-cookies type.

My Grandma and I during a di

That trip not only cemented my love of travel, but my love of France. France is my favorite country in the world and I continuously find myself wanting to return to. As I get older, my interests change, which makes each trip fundamentally different; like I'm visiting a completely new city and a dear old friend at the same time.

My Grandma and I during a di

This year I turned 30 and I wanted nothing more than to spend my big birthday in the city that changed my life for the better. I never win prizes, so when I went to a travel agent event at the French Consulate in New York for the Palace Hotels, I never in a million years expected to be the grand prize winner of two business class tickets on Air France, two nights in a suite at the Mandarin Oriental, and 4 nights at the Byblos St Tropez. With tears of joy streaming down my face, I called my mom  and asked her to spend two weeks with me in France.

After months of anticipation, we were finally at JFK waiting for our flight. The lovely folks at Air France flew us over on business class, so we waited in the lounge for our flight. Waiting in the lounge is night and day compared to waiting in the terminal! It's much quieter and you don't have to fight over a seat- plus the Wi-Fi is significantly stronger. If you have a long layover, I highly recommend trying to buy a day pass, which some airlines allow. I find that I often spend the same amount of money at a bar in the regular terminal waiting for my flight that I would on a pass. At least in the lounge I can take a shower.

Air France Lounge

Our flight departed at 11pm. Air France allows business and first class passengers to eat their meal in the lounge before the flight to maximize sleeping time. The menu was created by David Boulud and was a far cry from the typical notorious air plane mush. After enjoying our fill of lobster, beef tenderloin and several glasses of champagne, we boarded Air France's Boeing 777 with the new business class.

Air France Flat bedAir France Flat bed office

This plane offers business class passengers their own private compartment that combines an office, restaurant table, and an adjustable flat bed. Even though we checked our luggage, we appreciated all of the storage space so we could spread out. A delightful French flight attendant greeted us with a glass of champagne and helped us understand how to use our seat.

The 180 flat bed was perfect for sleeping and I loved all the adjustments that you could make. Unlike the gauze square "pillows" in coach, we were given a down comforter and soft plush pillow. There were a bunch of movies and TV shows to watch, but I knew that I needed to be well rested. I chose a glass of wine from their delicious French wine list to pair with ONE TV show. No sooner was my wine finished then my eyes shut. The next thing I remember was a gentle tap on my arm and a soothing French voice whispering, "we are landing;" the complete opposite of being shaken awake in coach!

Air France business classAir France entertainment

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle at noon the following day and our driver met us promptly at arrivals to take us to our hotel. Usually, I take a 7 or 8pm flight to Paris, arriving at 8am or 9am. However, I really enjoyed taking the later flight; by the time that we arrived at our hotel our room was ready and we could check in. The late arrival also was better for my jet lag as we only had half a day to trudge through before going to sleep at a time in Paris.

We had a great experience flying Air France. While the airline is plagued by a reputation of delays and strikes, once aboard, the French hospitality prevails.

Continue to follow my travels through France over the next couple of weeks! I'm so excited to share with you all.

Concerned about Zika but still want to travel Somewhere warm this winter? We totally understand that you're wary of Zika. We also totally understand that you still need to take a vacation this winter. Never fear! We've compiled the ultimate list of Zika-free destinations along with handpicked resorts to make your holiday postcard perfect!

Uruguay Bahia Vik

Uruguay- Bahia Vik Jose Ignacio

Uruguay is a seriously under-rated destination considering all that it has to offer. Besides numerous beautiful beaches, Uruguay has a vibrant colonial city and growing wine region!

Bahia Vik Jose Ignacio is located on the southeastern coast of Uruguay right on the Atlantic ocean. At just 37 suites, Bahia Vik provides guests with personal attention. Rooms combine indoor and outdoor living that truly compliment the surrounding environment. Don't worry- even though the resort itself is small, you definitely won't be bored! There is a lot to do, including yoga on the beach, bird walks, a game room. Love nightlife? There's a restaurant that hosts a late night party complete with a DJ and steel drums to keep you dancing all night! There are two sister hotels nearby that guests have access to, including Estancia Vik, a countryside ranch resort where you can horseback ride down the coast and through the planes. The hotel owners even have their own wine label, so break out a bottle and enjoy the sunset bonfire on the beach.

Book with us and receive: Complimentary Buffet breakfast for two, one three-step dinner per person, Wi-Fi and, upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

Le Tahaa Relais Chateaux

French Polynesia- Le Taha'a Island Resort

French Polynesia's Instagram-tastic over-water bungalows gives the island the reputation for being a honeymoon haven. Don't let this stereotype knock it off your list! There's more to the island than romance. Visitors can enjoy nature hikes (ending with a jump in a waterfall), local markets, gardens blooming with unfamiliar flora and fauna, and a lively world under the sea. All this makes French Polynesia a paradise for families, couples, and singles alike.

Set on Taha'a Island, where vanilla is cultivated, Le Taha'a's 57 over-water and beach bungalows are built using traditional methods and materials while still maintaining a truly luxurious atmosphere. As a Relais & Chateaux property, you can count on exquisite dining options at the resort's 3 restaurants.

Book with us and get: daily breakfast for two at Vanille restaurant, chef's sweet treats of the day in room upon arrival, 75 euro spa credit and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

Queensland Qualia

Queensland, Australia- Qualia

Home to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the Natural Wonders of the World, Hamilton Island's crystal-clear water and pristine beaches are perfect for active go-getters as well as those who want to sit back and listen to the ocean crush against the shore. The island is safe to explore- which is fortunate as there's so much to see and do! You can even cuddle with a koala!

Set on a lush 30 acres, Qualia has 60 individual rooms each designed to fit perfectly within their surroundings. When you're not enjoying your private plunge pool or sun deck, take advantage of Qualia's two infinity pools, spa, restaurants and fitness center. You can even take a yoga class overlooking the sea or participate in a variety of water sports. As an adults-only resort, Qualia is a couple's dream come true!

Book with us and receive: Daily breakfast at The Long Pavilion, welcome bottle of champagne, and complimentary talk and taste experience.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

Cape Town One  Only

Cape Town, South Africa- One & Only Cape Town

Where do I even begin talking about the myriad of things to do in Cape Town? From beaches to The Garden Route to hiking to whale watching to museums to wineries, Cape Town really has something for everyone.

Located in the heart of Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the One & Only Cape Town offers sweeping views of Table Top Mountain, impeccable service, and luxurious accommodations. Don' t be afraid to bring the kids; the One & Only's kids club teaches kids and teens about South Africa in a fun and enriching fashion. They will have a fabulous time so you can guilelessly have the freedom to enjoy some much-needed adult time.

Book with us and get: Daily breakfast for two, one complimentary select menu lunch or dinner for two in Reuben's, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

Bermuda Elbow Beach

Bermuda- Elbow Beach

Just a short flight from the US, Bermuda is an easy, quick getaway. Bermuda is safe to walk around and begs to be toured. Bermuda has two main towns, Hamilton and St George, where you will find shops and restaurants lining the picturesque streets. You can even make your own perfume and have high tea at the local perfumery. Love history? Let your inner explorer thrive while exploring Bermuda's old forts and maritime exhibits. We can even organize ship-wreck diving!

Elbow Beach is one of the few ocean front properties on the island. At Elbow Beach, you will have the luxury of feeling the sand between your toes minutes after waking up. The resort has its own private pink beach, so you won't be competing for space. You can even get an ocean side massage!

Book with us and get daily breakfast and $150 spa credit!
Additional promotions may be available.

 

Belmond Napasai

Thailand- Belmond Napasai Koh Samui

Can't decide between a culture-based trip and a beach location? Look no further than Thailand! Discover ancient temples adorned with enormous gold Buddhas, immerse yourself in the daily markets, or take a Thai massage class. Once you've had your fill, head to the islands for some much needed R&R!

Located on Koh Samui, one of Thailand's famous islands, Belmond Napasai is a romantic island haven. All villas have sea views with private balconies perfect for watching the sunset. Traveling with a larger group? Belmond has oceanfront villas which hold up to 8 adults. Don't miss the massive infinity pool that appears to pour into the gulf.

Book with us and recieve: daily breakfast at Lai Thai, One Hour Massage for two at Napasai Spa, One Way Airport Transfer by Private Car and upgrade upon availability.

Additional promotions may be available.

 

Andaz Maui

Hawaii- Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort

No passport? No problem! Hawaii is an easy destination with no language barriers or foreign currency to navigate. Investigate underwater craters, drive up the Hana Highway at dawn for an unbelievable sunrise, hike through the jungle to discover cascading waterfalls, and let the day slip by on some of most picturesque beaches in the world.

The Andaz is a gorgeous, modern resort situated right on the ocean. If lounging poolside is more your thing, the Andaz has 4 infinity pools! Finish your day at one of their two restaurants- splurge and book the chef's table!

Book with us and get daily breakfast for two at Ka'ana kitchen, $100 spa credit, Wi-Fi, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

San Diego Hotel del Coronado

San Diego- Hotel del Coronado

Coronado Island is a resort town just off the coast of San Diego. It's a perfect destination for those who can't sit still and need the city life as well as a beach to relax on. Added bonus: San Diego has some of the best Mexican food in the US!

Hotel del Coronado is the premier resort on the island. With over 120 years of happy clients, the hotel has hosted numerous celebrities, royal parties, and presidents. The hotel offers guests plenty of activities, including beach yoga and spinning, shopping, sailing and much more!

Book a room with us and get: daily breakfast for two at Sheerwater, VIP services, commemorative book, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.

Book a suite with us and get: daily breakfast at Sheerwater, $100 spa credit, VIP services, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

The Maldives Six Senses Laamu

The Maldives- Six Senses Laamu

The Maldives are the ultimate exclusive luxury island getaway. They are what island dreams are made of; a place so beautiful that you have to keep pinching yourself to make sure it's real.

Experience true luxury and relaxation at the eco-friendly Six Senses Laamu, which is set on its own private island. Choose between a picturesque over-water bungalow- complete with a glass bottom bathtub- or a free standing bungalow nestled in the surrounding lush green. The resort even has its own organic garden, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the onsite restaurants.

Book with us and get daily breakfast for two, $100 food and beverage credit, Wi-Fi, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

Chile Vina Vik

Chile- Vina Vik

Nestled in a vineyard, Viña Vik is the ultimate relaxing getaway. There are only 22 rooms, each unique, with modern artistic decor. Floor to ceiling windows give sweeping views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. Viña Vik is a true wine themed resort; enjoy a wine bath or grape seed massage at their holistic wine spa or have a picnic in the vineyards.

Chile is a country as diverse as it is long; you can visit the driest place on earth and go skiing without leaving its boarders. There's incredible hiking and incredible wines to reward yourself with after.

Book with us and receive: complimentary Buffet breakfast with homemade cold meats, pastry and bread for two daily, $100 spa credit, Wi-Fi and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available

 

Montage Laguna Beach

Southern California- Montage Laguna Beach

Love the outdoors but still want to enjoy a chic and stylish dinner? Laguna Beach is your place! Just outside Los Angeles, Laguna Beach provides an escape from the hustle and bustle, while not feeling remote and desolate. In a social mood? Stroll down the boardwalk, meander into a local art gallery, or join a volleyball game on the main beach. Need a break from it all? Wander down the trails and through the gardens at Heisler Park or explore the canyons in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Built on a cliff looking over the ocean, the Montage Laguna Beach offers a myriad of activities, including golf, shopping, tennis and water sports. After a day in the sun, rejuvenate at the resort's 20,000 sq ft spa before enjoying one of several restaurants on site.

Book with us and get: daily breakfast for two, $100 spa credit, welcome gift, and upgrade/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

St Regis Mexico City

Mexico City- St Regis Mexico City

Mexico City has received a ton of press recently for its fabulous restaurants, spectacular shopping, and vast art and culture scene. It's become one of the trendiest cities to visit. With many direct flights from the US, Mexico City is an easy long weekend getaway.

Located on one of the cities main streets, The St Regis is perfect for exploring all that the city has to offer, though, with a spa that has an infinity pool overlooking the city and numerous restaurants, it might be difficult to leave the hotel! Be sure to book a table at La Table Krug, a 12 chair French restaurant serving an elaborate 11 course meal.

Book with us and receive: daily breakfast at Diana Restaurant, $100 hotel credit, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.

Additional promotions may be available.

 

Dubai Fairmont The Palm

Dubai- Fairmont The Palm

There's something positively seductive about Dubai. Maybe it's Dubai's reputation for being the playground to the wealthy. But if gold vending machines (yes, really) aren't your thing, there is plenty more to see and do! Scour through the souks in search of local treasures and spices, climb to the top of the Burj- the tallest building in the world, or try your luck at indoor skiing. Escape to the dessert for camel riding and dune bugs followed by a candle lit dinner under the stars.

Located on Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's man-made island, Fairmont The Palm's private beach boasts a fantastic view of the skyline. The hotel has several restaurants to satisfy every craving and a cigar bar. You can even take a cooking class!

Book with us and receive: daily breakfast for two, $100 restaurant credit, Wi-Fi, and upgrade/early check-in/late check-out upon availability.
Additional promotions may be available.

 

Fall is here and winter is right around the corner. Don't let Zika keep you stuck in the cold! Contact us today to book!

 

From the moment that I exited the plane, I realized that India was nothing like I anticipated. We landed in the middle of the afternoon and the airport was empty! where were the crowds that I heard so much about? (I now know more about India flight patterns) Nothing smelled like curry!!!

Delhi Airport

My guide, Jai, met me after arrivals and we began our adventure into the city. The drive to our hotel was surprisingly calm. In many ways, the layout of Delhi reminded me a lot of Mexico City. Similarly, upscale neighborhoods were guarded by tall walls with high security gates. Apparently, the traffic in Delhi is also similar to Mexico City. Lucky for me, it was Saturday so the roads were clear.

We arrived at my hotel, the gorgeous Leela Palace New Delhi, and I had my first experience with the infamous strict security of India; TSA style screening to enter a luxury hotel. Watching hardened security guards roughhousing my belongings outside a 5* palace hotel was a strange dichotomy.

One of my favorite India customs is the hotel welcome greeting. In this greeting, several beautiful women dressed in decorative saris greet you with a bow and Namaste. One of the women, holding a tray of power, approaches and places a bindi on your forehead. Another woman approaches wrapping a flower garland around your neck. You would think that a princess entered the hotel, not an ordinary girl from New York. I couldn't have asked for a better welcome to India.

Leela palace new delhi

Unlike hotels in New York, hotels in India can be over the top without feeling pretentious. My room was decadent yet comfortable. I resisted the urge to face plant on the plush bed and instead rejuvenated with a fresh watermelon juice and headed out on the town.

First stop was the Fab Shop in the Khan Market in Delhi to stock up on clothes. I imagined that by donning typical Indian garb, I would somehow not look like a tourist. It didn't occur to me that there aren't many blond, blue eyed Indians. Fab is a government-owned store that carries clothing and goods made throughout the country. The clothes are of good quality, much better than clothes sold on the street, and the prices are set. Haggling lost its fun for me after living on Canal Street in NYC for years.

Laura Sari at Khan Market 1 Laura Sari at Khan Market 2

A couple outfits later, Jai, Nidhi (the representative from my tour operator) and I had a quick lunch at the lovely Latitude Good Earth Cafe. The menu was full of healthy western dishes like quinoa and kale- but, no curry was in sight. Nidhi interchangeably spoke the waitstaff in both Hindi and English.

earth latitude khan market India Wallpaper

 

Half of the women around me were dressed in traditional clothing and half of them looked like they had just come from the Mall of America. The past, present and future all coexist peacefully in India.

dusk-at-lodhi-garden-delhi 

As the sun was setting, we walked through the lush Lodi Gardens. The park was comfortably full of picnickers, kids playing, and families and friends enjoying the last few days before the heat becomes intolerable. The biggest dahlias that I've ever seen decorated the pathways, leading you towards the Lodhi Mosques. A small child ran past me, parents quickly in tow, ruined a family's photo and I laughed to myself thinking that maybe this place that I thought would be so foreign isn't so foreign afterall. This was just the beginning of my journey, though, and there were still many crowds to come... though not so much curry!

Flowers at Lodhi Garden New Delhi lodhi-garden-new-delh

To celebrate exploring places that are different from our own, our friends at GPS My City are giving away a free city walk download of your choice to the 20 best travel stories about getting lost or discovering something unexpected. To enter, post your travel story in the comments below. The winner will be chosen June 25th!

Thursday, 05 May 2016 00:00

Introduction to India

In the last year, I've been able to call myself a true jetsetter. The nature of my job has me traveling to new destinations almost monthly. I am living the dream! However, the more that I traveled to new places, the less foreign they felt. Destinations that would have once felt unfamiliar now felt quite comfortable. Despite having some absolutely phenomenal experiences, I've found my travels were lacking that punch in the stomach of glee that travel used to give me.

laura in a sari india

I feel somewhat guilty even confessing this as I truly am grateful for my incredible life, but when travel becomes your job, it changes. My clients are always in the forefront of my mind as I travel, and I nit-pick, judge and notice details that the average tourist may not. I miss the months of planning, the weeks of packing, shopping for special clothes, and the giddiness that keeps one up the night before the trip begins. I am chasing that first high.

Laura in udaipur

To many, India is considered the holy grail of the "fish out of water" countries - countries that we in the western world classify as a "shock destination." Countries where life is not only chaotic, but so fundamentally different from our own that we feel like a fish out of water. "India changes you," claimed my colleagues. Naturally, it was at the top of my bucket list.

 

Laura on bus india varanasi

The trip to India was my love child. I sit on the board of the Young Travel Professionals FAM and Global Events team. Our job is to orchestrate trips for young travel agents. These trips familiarize agents with a destination so they can better sell it to the young (or young at heart!) traveler. About a year ago, during a meeting where we were discussing potential trips, I saw an opportunity to make my dream a reality.


"What about India?" I said.


"Go for it." The team was enthusiastic.


And so I began to work with my best operator, Pierce & Leslie to develop an itinerary. The process of organizing the trip and its participants was long and involved. I had to apply for a visa that asked more questions than a bank does when you buy a house. With each stage the trip I gained momentum and generated greater excitement.

laura at oberoi india

The week before my trip Murphy's law reared its ugly head, turning me into a total, stressed out wreck. I lost sleep and was visibly agitated at the office. As my stress levels increased, I suddenly remembered a slew of things that I hadn't taken care of in preparation for the trip. I even texted my husband from the AirTran, freaking out about the lease that we were supposed to have signed days before. Were they going to start showing our apartment while I was away? Did I remember to turn on my out of office notification? A panic attack was surely on the horizon.


The 15 hour flight to Delhi gave me an opportunity to relax and by the time my guide and driver met me at the airport, I was wide-eyed and eager for adventure.


India sucker-punched me in a way the few other places have. I was equally mesmerized living in the moment as romanticizing the aftermath. In a land of such contrasts, the incredible coexistence of rich, poor, and cow was inspiring. Hospitality was unparalleled; the hotel cleaners even put a bookmark in my book! Between the incredible service in hotels and specially-created surprises from Pierce & Leslie, I felt like a princess.

laura in jaipur


I found the Indians that I interacted with had an innate gift of relating to our group and were able to participate in our conversations fluidly while still retaining their unique and timeless culture. In fact, our conversations were so fluid that I often forgot that I was a foreigner and that I should adjust my Americanized conversation. Our guide played an integral part of our journey in a way that guides in "exotic" countries typically cannot. He understood our idiosyncrasies and could really read the crowd. He knew when we were losing interest in a particular site and when we needed more time. My newfound relationships with our Indian colleagues brought comfort amongst the chaos.

Laura in agraBy the end of the trip, I was told that I had a calm presence. I could hear my friends laughing thousands of miles away as "calm" is the last adjective that anyone would ever use to describe me. As a type A travel advisor, I have a hard time relinquishing control over logistics.

laura at Taj Mahel
Our amazing operator played a paramount role in creating my calm mood. It took me several days to notice and reflect upon how seamless the complicated logistics were. Transportation appeared out of nowhere - from boats, to rickshaws, everything was just waiting for our arrival. I was able to let go of control and trust that all the i's were dotted and t's were crossed and was truly able to relax and enjoy myself. For a type A person knowing that everything is under control is a true luxury.

laura elephants india
I look forward to sharing my experiences with you city by city. It was important for me to post this prologue so that you can understand the circumstances that resulted in the planning of this trip and comprehend the impact that this incredible country had on my heart.

Monday, 21 December 2015 00:00

Emilia Romagna Day 2: The Casentino Forest

If you missed your first day in Emilia Romagna, you can read all about it here.

The morning came a bit too soon, but I was lucky to be greeted by sun and warmth. Typically the weather is not so nice in November and there is a lot of rain. Like a good travel agent, I spent some of the morning touring the hotels in town. Bagno di Romana is very popular as a tourist destination for Italians, so there are several great choices.

Driving through Bagno di romagna
We packed up our things and drove to the nearby National Park of The Casentino Forest. Most photos of Italy portray the country as rolling hills dotted with vineyards so it was strange to see forest. One thing still rings true; even in the forest, the country is still full of hills. Instead of vineyards though, picture full grown trees. This area is a cycler's dream!

Cyclist in Bagno
The forest is huge and took almost an hour to get to our first destination: Antica Farmacia. Antica Farmacia is famous for their incredible beauty products which have been made by monks since the 12th century. Driving through the windy roads the monastery looked like a smoky fortress.

 monastery antica farmacia
I was thrilled because I had visited the Santa Maria Novella store in Florence during my past trip in August. Naturally, I was excited to visit the actual monastery where the goods were produced. The Florence store is known for its beautiful baroque moldings and the shop at the monastery is just as lovely. The product line at the monastery even extends to chocolate and ceramics. I was excited to find items cost about ¼ the price of the Florence store! 

Antica

Inside the shop is a museum showcasing the tools the monks used as well as old books filled with recipes and drawings.

antica farmacia 2 antica farmacia

Walking through the monastery, you will find an unassuming stone church. The ornate inside of the church hardly matches the austere outside. 

Inside monastery church
In the afternoon, we headed to the monastery of San Francisco. Even though I am not Catholic, I felt a magical feeling when walking around the buildings.

San Francisco san francisco monastery

The sky made the monastery extra mystical; walking to an overlook you felt suddenly over the clouds- like the monastery was close to Heaven.

Cross at San Francisco Cliffs at San Francisco

The cliffs surrounding the monastery looks they were once used as places of prayer. Hundreds of tiny crosses are carved into the wall as if they were put there by a divine force of nature. Religious or not, you could not help but feel like you were somewhere special.

crosses at San Francisco Inlets of San Francisco

 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 00:00

Emilia Romagna day 1: Bagno di Romagna

The best part about being a travel agent is having to pre-test experiences for my clients. As Italy is my #1 destination, I spent five glorious days in the Italian countryside- mostly in Emilia Romagna. Emilia Romagna is widely regarded – by Italians- as the gastronomy capital of Italy. As food in Italy is amazing everywhere, it's hard to imagine how fabulous it is in this particular region. You'll just have to plan a trip (or take my word for it!)

Italian Countryside
I flew into Bologna and was picked up by my colleague, Riccardo. The hour and a half drive to Bagno di Romagna was breathtaking and even though I was SO jetlagged, I trudged through to not miss out on the gorgeous landscape.

Bagno di Romagna

Riccardo is a great guide; throughout the drive he was telling me tidbits about Italian life that only a local would know, like that fresh spaghetti is really only eaten in Naples. I felt like Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations!

Hotel Tosco Romagnolo

We arrived in Bagno di Romagna in mid afternoon just in time to grab a quick lunch at my hotel, Tosco Romagnolo. Despite having visited Italy before, I still had many misconceptions of the country and its people. Unlike Spain, Italians have relatively strict hours for meals. Arrive for lunch after 2 and you might be SOL.

bagno di romagna street Bagno di Romagna clothes

After lunch, I had some free time. I probably should have slept. Instead, my giddiness overcame me and I took a walk through the little town. My hotel stood on end of the main street. The cobblestone streets were lined with typical small town European buildings- some dating back to medieval time. In the main square was a stone church.

Bagno di romana church Bagno di romagna midieval

Hotels in Bagno di Romagna specialize in spa holidays due to the presence of thermal waters from Mount Comero in the nearby Casentinese National Park. My room even had a Jacuzzi! After the long flight, the spa was a welcomed activity. I enjoyed a massage at the hotel in one of the treatment rooms. The room was huge and unlike anything I've ever seen before. It was set up for a couple with two massage tables, a shower, private steam room and a large tub where you could take a joint Jacuzzi. It was the size of ¾ of my New York apartment. The strangest part of the room was the giant movie screen posted on the wall. When the massage began, the lights dimmed and a star-like pattern illuminated from the ceiling. The screen began to glimmer with relaxing images timed to typical pan-flute music.

Bagno di Romagna Spa

I felt revitalized after my massage, just in time for dinner. Italy is littered with Michelin restaurants. For months, Riccardo had been telling me about how the Michelin restaurants in the countryside differed from the fancy hotel $300 plus theatricals in the cities. They are less expensive, more casual. We met in the lobby to dine at Pret a Porter, one of the hotel's restaurants. The restaurant was very traditional Italian in its décor- very Godfather-eque. I would never guess this was a Michelin restaurant, though it may be more obvious during high season when the city is livelier. That's kind of what I loved most about it; so unassuming, so local-fancy. I felt like I was in the real Italy.

Pret a Porte calamari Pret a Porte Noodle Dish

The food was incredible; modern twists on classic dishes. My favorites were a creamy calamari dish and a brothy noodle dish which is typical to the area. By the main dish, I was stuffed. Riccardo explained that chefs get offended when you don't finish your plate because they think you don't like your food. Not wanting to upset anyone, I did my best. By the end, I was thankful my bed was only an elevator ride away.

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