It’s pretty chilly in upstate New York, but a fine time to find deals.
The Sagamore, an AAA Four-Diamond Award winner and member of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, has some “March Madness” specials taking place. There is a spa package that includes a $70 spa credit if you stay two nights; a buy-one-night-get-the-second-night-free deal; and the suite package, where you pay the price of a room and get a free upgrade to a suite (which also includes a $50 hotel credit per stay).
The offers run through March 31, and room rates start at $129 a night. For info and booking, visit www.thesagamore.com
Harbor View Hotel on Martha’s Vineyard, an official hotel sponsor of the 14th annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival that runs March 13-16, is offering filmgoers two all-access packages. Throughout the festival, guests can go to screenings of more than 20 films, post-screening talks, live music, food and children’s activities, at a starting rate of $439 for the Festival Pass package. Starting at $639, The Couch VIP Pass package provides preferred seating on a couch in each theater. Both packages include a two-night stay, including taxes and guaranteed access to all films.
Films include “Fading Gigolo,” with Sofia Vergara, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and John Turturro; “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory,” a documentary showing the positive effect of music on Alzheimer’s patients; and “Shored Up,” which focuses on issues surrounding East Coast communities dealing with coastal erosion and rising sea levels. For package info and reservations, visit www.harbor-view.com or call 800-225-6005, and for info on the festival, visit www.tmvff.org
In Bermuda, February is the island’s annual “Love Month,” which includes a couples’ golf tournament at Port Royal Golf Course (duos get a 50-percent discount on greens fees); a “Champagne and Strawberries Afternoon Affair” at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art; a “Love Train City Tour;” a “Lover’s Matinees” at Specialty Cinema; a love cruise around Hamilton Harbor; and a “Love Tales Walking Tour” in St. George. Check it all out www.gotobermuda.com
Rosewood Tucker’s Point is running an engagement celebration package that includes an 80-minute couple’s massage; daily breakfast on your balcony; and a private dinner customized by Chef Guido. The package, which offers much more, starts at $3,395 the first night, and $295 a night thereafter. Check it out at www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/tuckers-point-bermuda
More warm-weather offerings include Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas, with its “Lover’s Island Rendezvous,” at 20-percent off, which includes three-, four-, or five-night stay, free bubbly and chocolates, an afternoon on a small, private island, couples’ massage and private beach dinner. Three-night packages start at $2,669. Deal runs Feb. 1-28. Visit www.kamalame.com for details.
Also in the Bahamas, Deep Water Cay has an escape package starting at $5,308 for three nights that includes a stay in a one-bedroom cottage, private beach picnic for two and beachside cooking classes. Visit www.deepwatercay.com for details.
In the British Virgin Islands, you’ll find the “Sweet Surf” and “Sweet Sail” packages available from Jan. 31 through March 3. The surf package, which starts at $2,775 per couple, includes a trip to remote Josiah’s Bay for a private two-hour surf lesson. The sailing deal, starting at $3,425 per couple, includes a romantic, five-hour private boat charter on the Caribbean. Both packages include three-nights lodging in a one-bedroom, ocean-view suite; three-course dinner at Caravela at the resort; a 60-minute couples massage at Ixora Spa with 30-minute peppermint mocha or dark chocolate and coconut scrub; champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries on arrival; and breakfast for two each morning of chocolate pastries, hot items and beverages. Also included are unlimited use of sea kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, Wi-Fi, resort ferry and free airport transfers. Check it out at www.scrubisland.com
Bristol House Bed & Breakfast in Bristol, R.I., has a "Romance for Two" package which runs through February and offers two-nights lodging, daily breakfast, two one-hour massages, $50 dining certificate, flowers and chocolate. Rates start at $558. For info, visit www.bristolhousebnb.com
At Rhode Island's southern end, Ocean House in Watch Hill has its “Romance by the Sea” package, that includes a two-night stay in a deluxe room, welcome bottle of champagne, breakfast for two on Saturday, brunch on Sunday. Rates start at $745 per couple, and for info, visit www.oceanhouseri.com
Up in Kennebunkport, Maine, three hotels offer deals dubbed “Five Shades of Red,” where in addition to a two-night stay, you get a lazy man’s lobster dinner for two at One Dock, bottle of red wine and chocolate-covered strawberries, red velvet whoopee pie and red rose turndown and continental breakfast. Hotels are The Kennebunkport Inn, Grand Hotel and Boathouse Waterfront Hotel. Rates start at $339, $412 and $425, respectively. Package is good through March 31.
At Harbor View Hotel on Martha's Vineyard, they have a Valentine's Day prix fixe dinner deal for $48 per couple, which gets you things like sous-vide local lobster, pork tenderloin, chocolate macaroons and truffles. If you stay, rooms start at $179 a night, which includes dinner. Check it out at www.harbor-view.com.
Far away deals include one at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, with a “Celebration Retreat” valid for all nights from Jan. 20-Feb. 16 and after that, just on Friday through Sunday nights until the end of the year. Rates start at $651, and include in-room breakfast, welcome bottle of champagne and chocolates, restaurant and spa credits and more. For all details visit www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong Paris is arguably the world’s romantic city and two hotels have deals for lovers. At Le Bristol Paris, where rates start at $1,200, you get one night, a welcome bottle of bubbly, chocolates and a special surprise, continental breakfast and a cocktail for two in Le Bar du Bristol. A “Romance in Paris” spa package is also offered, starting at $1,064 for two, which includes treatments, treats from the pastry chef, champagne and scented limited-edition Diptyque candle to take home. For all info, visit www.lebristolparis.com At the Mandarin Oriental, the “Love in Paris” package available for February includes a seasonal “Exotic Passion” cocktail, dinner, spa treatments and more. Rates are from $1,681, and for information visit www.mandarinoriental.com/paris
The Palais Namaskar in Marrakech, between the Atlas Mountains and Djebilet hills, has a romantic package available year round, that includes two-nights lodging; round-trip airport transfers; romantic in-room amenities; sliced fruits with cream; and a romantic bath with flower petals and candles. It also gets you breakfast in bed, a “Sunrise Retreat” with five hours in a VIP cabin with private hamman and two Namaskar Signature massages; and a “One Thousand and One Nights” dinner in the gardens or private terrace. Packages start at $1,344. For info, visit www.palaisnamaskar.com
Wine lovers may consider the Sonoma Coast Villa in Spa in California, with fully inclusive rates starting at $1,150 for the nights of Feb. 14 and 15, that gets you a room with fireplace, roses and chocolate truffles, private three-course dinner and one couples’ massage. Check it out at www.scvilla.com
If you seek more heart-pumping adventure of the adventurous sort, consider the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, South Carolina, where you can get a three-hour Morgan Creek paddle package and get two nights lodging and a three-hour kayaking journey with rates from $219 a night, or the “It Takes Two: Heart-Pumping & Pamper Package,” which gets two nights, massage and pedicure for two and a choice of a full-body conditioning workout or Vinyasa Yoga session. Rates for that start at $339. Visit www.wilddunes.com for info.
Gamble on love and money with “Lights, Limos and Love” at Harrah’s Resort in AtlanticCity, with the package running through Feb. 16 starting at $899 a night, which includes a $100 dining credit and limo ride to a personal light show and bottle of Etoile Rose Brut Champagne. Check it out at www.harrahsresort.com
There's nothing wrong with hanging around a great Caribbean resort like Harbour Village Beach Club in Bonaire. The food is terrific, the sunsets stunning, the beach a long, puffy sliver of silky white, hammocks slung lazily between palm trees, and enough diving and snorkeling and kayaking to keep you busy throughout.
But getting off property is a must, and Bonaire has ample places to check out. Take a drive over to Lac Bay on the southeast coast, the windsurfing capital of the island, and check out the aptly named Bonaire Windsurf Place, where local legend Elvis Martinus has been teaching the sport to island youth for decades. Martinus, all-Antillean champion and Olympic representative for the sport, is so well known in windsurfing circles he’s featured in an award-winning documentary, "Children of the Wind." And he's an immensely easy person to chat up if you run into him there, always eager to talk about the sport he’s done so much to promote.
Lac Bay, one of the clearest bodies of water I've ever seen, is a broad and shallow place of steady trade winds and a beautiful place to watch colorful windsurfers jet across the surface. Next to it is Beach Hut Bonaire, which had been a small snack and fast-food outlet until 2008 when it was replaced by a sprawling, boat-shaped bar, open sided and facing the bay, where you get things like the half-pound Beach Burger and local goat cheese salad. Stick around at night for the music and dancing in the sand.
In the north central part of the island is a very pleasant little village, Rincon, the island's oldest. Pick up a walking-tour booklet and meander about, seeing things like Cinelandia Theatre, long closed but with plans afoot to make it the Bonaire Heritage Center; a house built of "blokkies," one of the few on the island built of these gray blocks; and the Oficina di Number, a betting office.
Satisfy your hunger at Rose Inn, a local favorite in Rincon, open aired and shaded by intertwined brambles over rickety tables where you can drink Polar beer from Venezuela and slurp some iguana soup, a thick creation with bony pieces of lizard, some with skin attached, and if you're lucky, a leathery iguana egg or two. The goat stew is divine, too, abundant chunks of meat with veggies, plantains, corn meal and beans. It's got a kick all its own, but add some table-top hot sauce if you want to ramp up the heat.
For a truly unique taste, walk over to Cadushy Distillery, run by Eric and Jolande Gietman, Eric a big, blue-eyed Dutchman who happily boasts he runs the biggest distillery on the island – and the only one, which by default, makes it the biggest.
Check out the cactus liqueur, easy enough to find the main ingredient for considering cactus is to Bonaire what pine trees are to Maine. They hand peel them, and dry the flesh in hot car windshields, Gietman said. He also makes sorghum alcohol so strong you can't drink it but can run a car on it. I wasn't sure if he was kidding or not.
They don't export, so buy some to take home, good "suitcase liquor," as he called it. Also taste the cactus vodka, which he said is the only one in the world, the Rom Rincon, a rum spiced with yerba, and Captain Don's Whiskey, spiced with aged Cuba tobacco leaves, named after a local diving legend.Rincon is, Gietman said, "the Bonaire of 30 years ago," a collection of pastel buildings, a few businesses, dogs ambling on never-busy streets, children playing freely on them, and old timers drinking beer and laughing on brightly painted patios.
If you dive, Bonaire is the place in general, and Harbour Village in particular. It is home to the Great Adventures Water Shop in an area long designated as a top dive destination, with 86 well-defined dive sites and more than 30 years of environmental protection laws that make Bonaire a place with the most-preserved marine life in the world.(For information on Bonaire, visit www.tourismbonaire.com. For information and reservations at Harbour Village, visit www.harbourvillage.com)
Executive chefs Nathan Gould from Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, and Daniel Kenney from Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, don?t just share their culinary experience with paying customers. Both returned recently from a trip to the Philippines, not just culling talent for their hotels back home, but also helping out victims of Typhoon Haiyan that slammed the islands in November and killed more than 6,000.
The Philippines has a long tradition of providing top-notch culinary students with a chance of working in the United States, the chefs said, and while there they led culinary demonstrations, educational discussions and got to known hundreds of students who study at culinary and hotel-management universities there. In the process, they said, they came full circle, reuniting with former apprentices of both their hotels, and witnessing their success back home. New recruits from the Philippines will arrive on the Cape and Martha's Vineyard this spring.
As importantly, they said, both visited an orphanage that is home to children victimized by the typhoon, where they donated diapers, formula and food, and ate with the children as well, both calling it the highlight of their trip.
If you want to check out some of Gould's creations, the Harbor View Hotel is hosting a New Year's Eve party, with music by the Sultans of Swing and the Mike Benjamin Band, along with a midnight champagne toast on the hotel's wraparound porch, with fireworks set to explode over Edgartown Harbor. Tickets for the event are $95, and guests must be 21 and older, and semi-formal attire is required (a similar party at Sea Crest is sold out, according to that hotel's website). Harbor View is also offering an overnight package, with rates from $349, that includes the stay and two tickets to the party and if you get carried away, late checkout at 2 p.m. the next day. For information, visit www.harbor-view.com
Fairmont Battery Wharf on Boston’s waterfront celebrates its fifth anniversary with a package that includes an overnight stay and $55 food and beverage or spa credit. The package’s starting rate is $255, available through March 31. Guests can upgrade to a suite for per-night rates from $355 for a one-bedroom suite or from $555 for a harbor suite. Winter attractions at the hotel include toasting s’mores or having a drink at the fire pits outside, afternoon tea, live entertainment and treatments at its Exhale Spa. For information, visit www.fairmont.com/battery-wharf-boston
Element Lifestyles based in Los Angeles, a luxury concierge firm you can join – at rates starting at $36,000 a year – has released its first list of must-see destinations, 14 in all for 2014. On the list are places like a cozy former schoolhouse turned luxury lodge in Park City, Utah to a sustainable private island in Cambodia. Element provides a wide range of travel services for the upscale crowd - arranging a three-week trip through seven time zones on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, for example – and the philanthropic, such as facilitating a client’s mission to help build bathroom and plumbing in Rwanda.
Other must-see destinations they list for 2014 includes Kangaroo Island in Australia, San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, the Lamai Triangle in Tanzania and Big Sur, Calif. Check it all out at www.elementlifestyle.com.
If you find yourself in Bangkok over New Year's (and really, it's a much warmer choice than icy Boston), the Tower Club at Lebua, one of the city's most luxurious hotels, is offering specialty menus at its restaurants, Mezzaluna, Sirocco, Breeze and Distil, all high up in the skyscraper hotel and carrying pretty sky-high prices.
Available for one night only, the menu features things like Japanese Kyushu beef, Petrossian Imperial caviar, red king crab from the Okhotsk Sea and New Caledonia Pacific Ocean blue shrimp. The experience starts with free champagne at Flute Bar on the 64th floor, with spectacular views of the Chao Phraya River and city skyline. Prices are $980 per person at Mezzaluna, $903 at Breeze, $829 at Sirocco and $678 at Distil
Got $40,000 to spend on a drink? We didn’t think so. But for $18, you can sip something much cheaper but with the same theme.It’s all part of the White Barn Inn’s 40th anniversary weekend May 31-June 2, when the luxury Kennebunkport, Maine is holding events such as a nine-course dinner, wine from 1973 and charity auction. Part of it is a $40,000 ruby cocktail that indeed comes with a four-carat ruby, which is the 40th-anniversary gemstone. The one in the drink is a lasting keepsake for those ordering, and the drink is available through the end of the year. If you don’t want to spend that much, the inn offers a Ruby Rose martini for $18, Hangar One vodka, St. Germain Elderflower, fresh grapefruit juice, pomegranate and a spoonful of rosewater. The menu for the nine-course dinner will be created by Chef Jonathan Cartwright, and costs $400 per person, served on June 1, with the dishes taking diners back 40 years to mark the occasion, Cartwright said. With dinner, guests will drink a 1973 D’Oliveiras Verdelho wine. And during the dinner, there will be an auction of a bottle of 1973 Hanzell Vineyards pinot noir, with proceeds going to “Share Our Strength,” which fights childhood hunger. The bottle is valued at approximately $200. There will also be a special VIP cocktail reception May 31, and on June 1 at 11 a.m., a historic tour of Kennebunk with food and drink along the way. Through the end of June, the inn offers room specials and a $40 spa service. For information, visit www.whitebarninn.com
Call it barefoot chic: At the new Beach House Turks and Caicos, slated to open Oct. 22 as Grace Bay's first boutique hotel, "No Socks Allowed" signage will be found on specialty items throughout, reminding guests to kick off their shoes and socks and relax. Beach House has 21 one- and two-bedroom suites (each a minimum 1,150 square feet) with what hotel officials call interior designs melding Caribbean with New England, showcasing crisp whites and blue hues. French doors frame views of the expansive beach and open to oversized patios that have daybeds. Suites also have culinary nooks where private chef dinners and surprise treats can be placed in the refrigerator.
The hotel also has a 90-seat Beach House Restaurant, run by Chef Eric Vernice, a native of France, who has created eight-course meals. According to hotel folks, menus will focus on one item, such as lobster, a unique spice or a country, with each course more unique than the last, paired with wines and cocktail teasers.
If it sounds pricey, it is: Nightly rates run from $532 to $1,038 on weekends and holidays, with special rates available in shoulder seasons. For more information, visit www.beachhousetci.com or call 855-946-5800.
Affinia Manhattan in New York City is offering a "Miracle on 31st Street" holiday package, Nov. 1 through Feb. 26, with rates starting at $209 per night. The hotel is located at 7th Avenue and 31st Street, and the package includes a VIP ice-skating package for two at Bryant Park; 10-percent off your tab at Celsius Restaurant at Bryant Park; a free bottle of wine; 20 percent off holiday dinner at Niles NYC Restaurant and Bar at the hotel; a Macy's 10-percent off savings pass; two winter "rescue kits" with lip balm, ear warmers, hand sanitizer and hand warmers; and an in-room DVD of the classic film, "Miracle on 34th Street."
Affinia Manhattan recently underwent a $25 million redesign with Rockwell Group, transforming the historic, pre-war property into what hotel officials called an urban retreat. Check it all out at www.affinia.com/miracle, or call 866-246-2203 and mention promotion code 31st.
I've probably driven up and down Memorial Drive in Newport a million times, and have long heard of the upscale Chanler at Cliff Walk, but never put two and two together and realized the Chanler was so close to Cliff Walk. OK, so it's smack dab on Cliff Walk, but my reason for not knowing that is a big one: It is completely hidden behind a giant hedge, affording it remarkable privacy and quiet despite being steps away from one of Newport's busiest streets. Set back on a cobblestoned drive, it is a magnificent building, loaded with charm, elegance and a pretty neat history: Built in 1865 as a summer home for New York Congressman John Winthrop Chanler and his wife, Margaret Astor Ward, it was the first mansion built on Cliff Walk and hosted the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was later a museum and then a girls' school before becoming a hotel in the 1940s.
We had the occasion to stay there one night and got the Empire Room; each of the 14 mansion rooms in the main building are decorated and named for an historical period based on the furniture design and architecture of that time, themed from Gothic to English Tudor to Greek Revival. One of the many beauties of this place is no two rooms are alike. And throughout, some of the furnishings from the Chanler Museum are sprinkled throughout. There are also three separate garden villas and three ocean villas.
Our Empire Room in the mansion was gorgeous, on a corner facing Easton's Beach and Cliff Walk. The room had a sizable living room with a two-person Jacuzzi on the far wall, which doesn't exactly befit the historical period on which the room is based, but was a very relaxing respite after a long stroll on Cliff Walk. Here, for an extra cost, a butler will come in while you're at dinner, run the bath and leave rose petals strewn about, and lighted candles surrounding the tub set in a mirrored alcove. A more romantic setting we could not imagine.
The fireplace mantel is of antique slate, taken from a mansion in Michigan and painted to look like granite. Empire decor, inn officials said, often used a faux treatment of materials to look like granite or marble. Several antique tiles with figures on them in ochre and lime green are embedded into the mantel, making it more unique and interesting. The room itself is unique; being on the corner, the ceiling height varies from corner to center, from around six feet to more than eight, with a stained-glass skylight in the ceiling. The room's feel is decidedly Victorian but with modern touches such as a triple-head shower in the gold-hued granite bathroom, and iHome docking station.
The main culinary draw is the Spiced Pear, a restaurant with incredible ocean views, some of the best in Newport, and cuisine to match. Give the Spiced Pear martini a shot, with Absolut pear vodka, Amaretto DiSaronno, pear nectar, cinnamon and lemon juice. We also had local chilled oysters, wild burgundy escargot, Narragansett Bay striped bass and the menu's highest priced item, the exquisite butter-poached Maine lobster for $42, worth every melt-in-mouth cent. Before and/or after a meal like that, a long jaunt down nearby Cliff Walk is almost a necessity. Or you could wait until the next day, because breakfast here is insane, too; check out the salmon and goat cheese omelet.
We retired to the bar of hand-rubbed mahogany for a nightcap before heading back to the room where that rose-petal strewn tub awaited, and got more proof of how renowned the Chanler is: The following weekend, it would be closed to the public, privately booked for the wedding of the creator of the Facebook logo. And yes, Mark Zuckerberg was scheduled to attend.
Newport used to go to sleep in the off season, but no more. At the Chanler, a fall two-night special ($425 per night) includes full breakfast, a bottle of Spiced Pear sparkling wine, two tickets to a Newport mansion of your choice, and one, three-course meal for two in the Spiced Pear. Wait until winter and you can get the two-night "A Chanler Christmas," ($375 per weekday night, $430 per weekend night), available Nov. 28-Dec. 29 which gets you the same as the fall special, minus the bottle of wine; instead you get a minted Chanler Christmas ornament. All prices include room taxes, food taxes and dinner gratuity. And if you want to check out other parts of the city, you can get a free ride any place in Newport, up until 11 p.m., first come, first served. Check it out at www.thechanler.com
All that behind a hedge? I have to start paying attention where I'm going.
In Great Britain, afternoon tea is a tradition, a relaxing way to recharge the body's batteries while savoring a three-tiered silver tray usually laden with three-bite sandwiches; scones ready to lavished with clotted cream and jam; and exquisite pastries and chocolate bonbons.
While gadding about on a BritRail pass, I used afternoon tea as a way to immerse in the United Kingdom's rich heritage and indulge in five-star experiences, without coughing up $500 or more for a hotel room. Almost anyone willing to ante up 15 quid (about $30) can do the same. Even better for the budget bound, afternoon tea can substitute for a late lunch or an early dinner. I experienced each of these properties simply by sipping afternoon tea. You can, too.
The Arch, London: On the exterior, these seven Georgian townhouses facing Great Cumberland Place appear quite ordinary and stiff upper lip British. But inside this five-star boutique hotel, just a couple of blocks from Hyde Park and Oxbridge Street and across from Madonna's London pad, designers let loose with contemporary vigor, vibrant colors and patterns, and original works by emerging British artists.
After a boutique binge in Marylebone or along Oxford Street (where you might get lucky and see Princess Kate), celebrate your finds over afternoon tea in the casual yet chic Library, where you can thumb through art books, or in the tony Le Salon de Champagne, with its champagne ceiling mural, modern armchairs, and secluded leather banquettes. Be sure to wander the public rooms to check out all the art - and see who might be lounging about.
Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Wales: The stone pine tree in front of Bodysgallen Hall, one of three historic hotels owned by The National Trust, is approximately 600 years old. The hotel's oldest section was built in the late 13th century as a guard tower for Conwy castle. Over the centuries, it's expanded to a 220-acre estate with wooded parklands and an exquisite, private, 20-acre formal garden, dating from 1678.
Book afternoon tea and be rewarded with a double treat: Experiencing Bodysgallen both inside and out. Sit in the entrance hall or upstairs drawing room, both with elaborate fireplaces, magnificent oak paneling, and stone mullioned windows. Request a copy of the historical brochure from the front desk, and browse through the history while sipping and nibbling. Afterwards, mosey through the other public rooms. Having tea entitles you to explore the gardens and parklands, usually reserved for overnight guests. Highlights include a rare 17th-century herb-filled boxed hedge parterre, rockery with a water cascade, walled rose garden, several follies, and 17th-century Terrace Walk with views to Conwy Castle and Snowdonia.
Plas Maenan Country House, Maenan, Wales: After a day poking around the Conwy Valley countryside, finish up with tea at James and Caroline Burt's masterfully restored Edwardian manor house overlooking Snowdonia National Park and the Conwy River. Tea is served in the elegant living room, near doubletake-producing life-size faux sheep lounging by the fireside. I shared tea with Paul Wakely of Cambrian Tour Guides, who introduced me to slathering clotted cream and jam not only on the scones, but also on the homemade shortbread, "brilliant!" as the Brits say. If the service seems a bit royal, that might be because James is retired from service to the Queen.
Plas Maenan has an interesting history, but perhaps most intriguing is that it is home to one of the largest colonies of endangered lesser horseshoe bats in the British Isles. If you stick around until dusk, you might see as many as 500 emerge from an old tunnel complex under the hotel's terrace. About that tunnel complex: Reputedly, it was used to store treasures from the National Gallery during World War II.
Chester Grosvenor, Chester, England: Top-hatted doormen welcome guests to this five-star hotel, owned by the Duke of Westminster's family and located within the walls of Chester, a city with a history dating back to its origins as a Roman fort in the first century. The hotel's black-and-white timbered facade fits in well with Chester's numerous Tudor buildings, some original, others Victorian-era restorations. Inside, the décor is contemporary, but accented with a half-ton, 28,000-crystal Georgian chandelier and original artwork selected from the Duke's collection.
Afternoon tea at the Arkle Bar And Lounge or upstairs in the gallery is a treat. While the Traditional Afternoon Tea is a decadent offering of scones, finger sandwiches, and sweets, the Gentleman's Afternoon Tea is a far heartier affair, with crusty sandwiches, addictive chips (fries), Cheshire cheese, and more substantial sweets, and it's not limited to men. A friend and I ordered one of each tea to share, which resulted in a decadent and quite filling meal. Afterwards, even if you're full, pop into Rococo Chocolates, the only non-London shop for one of England's finest chocolatiers.
Great Fosters, Egham, England: The royal connections for the mid 16th-century main house (converted to Elizabethan design in the early 20th century) are deep - witness the original royal crest of Queen Elizabeth I inscribed above the main porch and dated 1598 Great Fosters served as a hunting lodge by King Henry VIII, so there's some irony in taking tea in the Anne Boleyn Room, where the magnificent 16th-century ceiling include Boleyn's personal crests.
While the interior is reason enough to visit, the gardens are the real calling card. A moat, likely of 6th-century Saxon origin, now forms a border for the gardens, including yew hedges and a knot garden created in the 1920s in the Arts and Crafts style. Cross the wisteria-dressed Japanese bridge over the moat, and arrive in the circular sunken rose garden, a masterpiece that when in full bloom is an especially sensual treat. Keep wandering to find hedges with secret rooms.
Want to linger at any of these properties? Specials, off-season rates, and online deals often bring room prices down to within splurging range: I've found rates of less than $250/night double, with breakfast.)
The Fairmont Copley just finished a $20 million renovation, in celebration of the historic building's 100th anniversary. The renovation included all 383 guestrooms, suites and the Fairmont Gold Lounge, and also the introduction of eight themed suites, which hotel officials call "Mini museums," each celebrating one of the city's iconic institutions, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Pops, The Freedom Trail and the JFK Library and Museum.
Most noticeable are the public areas, including the lobby lounge, the walls of which are graced with signed lithographs by Matisse, Picasso and Chagall. Catie Copley, the hotel's canine ambassador, has a new custom-made dog bed as part of the renovation, and adjacent to the lobby, in Peacock Alley, the original hand-laid mosaic tile floor from 1912 was restored. Also new is the hotel's rooftop health club, some 3,000-square-feet in size, with TechnoGym gear, floor-to-ceiling windows affording Back Bay views and an outdoor deck.
And that old smoky room is now the OAK Long Bar + Kitchen, a neoclassical space with vaulted ceilings, original beaux arts plaster and restored copper mullions which contrast a lighter, more contemporary cerused oak palette - which officials said is the first real oak to actually be brought into the space. Fireplaces sit alongside a state-of-the-art wine room and tufted leather bar stools sit next to a most impressive, 83-foot copper-topped bar.
The 100-year-old space has been many things over the years - The Oak Room and Oak Bar most recently, and also Plaza Bar & Dining Room, Merry-Go-Round Bar and Copley Cafe - and was redesigned into its current iteration by designers Dayna Lee and Ted Berner of Powerstrip Studio in Hollywood. There is also a seasonal patio, with bistro tables custom made in France, with rattan seating under umbrellas, and lantern lit at night. For more information, visit www.oaklongbarkitchen.com
All that luscious dark moodiness is now light and airy thanks to 17-foot Palladian windows and original stained glass, and the menu reflects that new lightness, said Suzanne Wenz, director of public relations. The old menu here was meaty, literally, heavy on steaks and such. The modern American menu is now much lighter, with a wide range of seasonal, locally sourced food, she said, heirloom ingredients from regional farms. The day I visited we had a whopping charcuterie platter with tasty meats including prosciutto and porchetta, regional cheeses and Copley-brined olives, and I ordered a Kobe American burger, sans bun, that was simply the best ever. The kitchen is run by Chef Stefan Jarausch, a native German, who once cooked at the Ritz-Carlton Boston.
The hotel, which opened on Aug. 19, 1912 with Mayor John F. Fitzgerald presiding over a reception, is known for industry firsts: The first completely air conditioned hotel in the city, the first hotel with an international reservations system and the first to accept credit cards. It was built on the original site of the Museum of Fine Arts and named for painter John Singleton Copley at a cost of $5.5 million.
For reservations and information on special events marking the hotel's 100-year anniversary, visit www.fairmont.com/copleyplaza or call 800-441-1414.
The Isle of Eriska is a 300-acre private island at the mouth of Loch Creran in Benderloch, West Argyll. It's tethered to the mainland by a tidal causeway and a bridge that rumbles your arrival when crossed. The access road ebbs and flows through a woodland colored by giant rhododendrons, before arriving at the Big House, a magical 19th-century Scottish Baronial mansion that's now a five-star, Relais & Chateaux-member, family-run hotel.
While some exclusive hotels are undeniably stuffy, the Isle of Eriska is warm and welcoming, with a genteel ease that matches the soft patina of age. It's the kind of retreat where well known British actresses can escape, and other guests will pretend not to recognize them; the kind of place where a slew of Wellington boots is available at the door for guests to borrow while walking the island's trails. While staying here admittedly is a splurge (from $536 per room in summer, including breakfast and afternoon tea; check for specials), it's possible to experience the island without booking a room. Many of the hotel's amenities are open to the public, allowing anyone a peek at this magical property, with its expansive views over Loch Linnhe and the Morvern Mountains.
The Big House is everything you'd expect, grand in stature, expansive, and country-house elegant. Wood-burning fireplaces warm the public rooms: cozy nooks and grand salons, a piano room, paneled hall, book-packed library lounge, and glass-in conservatory, and a fine dining restaurant. A former stable has been converted to a spa, with an indoor swimming pool, and a restaurant serving lunch. Another outbuilding houses an indoor putting green, full-size tennis court, three badminton courts, and facilities for other sports. Outside are gardens and woodlands, with nature trails dipsy-doodling around and across the island. Sightings of deer, seals, and even otter aren't uncommon. And everywhere are jaw-dropping views of mountains and sea.
Non-guests may have lunch in the casual Veranda Restaurant, with its dream views; enjoy a spa treatment; or play a round on the recently refurbished nine-hole golf course, on which nearly every hole has a water view. Of note: A special golf academy, Sept. 7-9, will include indoor and outdoor group lessons with a PGA professional, lunches, and mini competitions.
Also open to the public for dinner is the hotel's main dining room, named Hotel Restaurant of the Year in the 2011 Scottish Restaurant Awards. Chef Simon McKenzie's menu emphasizes locally sourced foods and changes daily. A four-course gourmet meal with tea or coffee is $73, and that includes the farmhouse cheese trolley, with about 40 cheeses sourced from Britain and beyond. Afterward dinner, retire to the lounge for the nightly entertainment: A family of badgers arrives at the conservatory door for their 10 p.m. milk and bread.
While you can easily drive to the Isle of Eriska, I recommend the West Highland Line train to Oban, a spectacularly scenic route that edges the River Clyde and Loch Lomand, passes through glens and villages and by castle ruins. It eases you into the Scottish Highlands and sets the stage for arrival at the Isle of Eriska. Passage is included on BritRail passes, but due to the train's popularity, it's wise to reserve a seat.
The inn is no stranger to the luxury-accolade world: It is a long-time recipient of the Forbes 5-Star and AAA Five Diamond awards. Check it out at www.mayflowerinn.com
The Inn at the White Elephant Village on Nantucket opened on July 4, with 20 units, including 14 suites and six deluxe rooms, and is offering introductory prices throughout the summer. Stay two nights, get the third free, and summer rates start at $750 from July 15-31, and fall rates start at $475 from Sept. 3 to Oct. 27.
As part of the newly created White Elephant Village, the new inn, along with the existing White Elephant Residences, offer guests use of the heated outdoor pool, workout room and free bicycles. Also includes is access to the White Elephant Spa and a 15-percent discount at the Brant Point Grill.<
When booking at www.whiteelephantvillage.com, use promotional code INN, or call 800-475-2637. Caveats include the deal being subject to availability, not being applicable to the Residences or the hotel, or on Columbus Day and other event weekends.
The inn, with the Residences and hotel, is part of the newly created White Elephant Village, and as part of the expansion, the village will have its own lobby, concierge, fireplace, gift shop and business center. Nantucket interior designer Kathleen Hay did the work creating the décor, which features oversized windows, Nantucket wainscoting and linens by Pratesi.
Nantucket Island Resorts owns the village, as well as other island properties including The Wauwinet, Jared Coffin House, the Nantucket Boat Basin marina, and The Cottages & Lofts at the Boat Basin.
If you don't care for beef, other options include things like Fire and Ice, which combines a selection of chilled shellfish with grilled lobster, and "Bacon and Eggs,'' a appetizer that marries grilled pork belly with a poached egg and bearnaise aioli, and lots of other seafood options, all of which you can wash down with a choice of more than 30 local craft beers. Check it all out at www.chathambarsinn.com
Those packages include: Two nights; two breakfasts; one ticket for a concert in the TD Jazz d'ici La Presse series (subject to availability); one ticket for a concert in the Rythmes series (subject to availability); 15 percent off any indoor concert ticket (subject to availability); one accreditation offering free admission to the jam sessions at Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan and to the Montreal Guitar Show; a festival t-shirt, shoulder bag with logo, souvenir book, three hours of music to download and a $10 rebate on a culinary walking tour.
There are a number of activities connected with the festival, including a jazz dinner cruise aboard the Bateau-Mouche, $136 per person; a culinary walking tour of Little Burgundy, birthplace of Oscar Peterson and the first jazz and blues bars in Montreal, $55 per person; and Star Wars Identities - The Exhibition, at the Montreal Science Center, $23 per person.
For info on all activities, packages and specials, check out www.montrealjazzfest.com
The Bangkok luxury hotel, the five-star Tower Club at lebua on the Praya River, is now offering guests an authentic Thai cooking-class package that includesa stay in a luxury Tower Club suite and learning how to cook a five-course Thai meal at the hotel's Cafe Mozu. The package, with rates starting at $769, includes two nights lodging, a five-percent discount card for Bangkok's Emporium and Paragon shopping centers, and a three-hour cooking class at the poolside Mozu. The cooking class is available for up to four guests when a two-bedroom suite is booked, and up to six when a three-bedroom suite is booked. The package is available through Nov. 30.
I stayed at the hotel last spring, and advise anyone going there to not miss the Sky Bar on the 63rd floor, reportedly the highest outdoor bar in the world. It's located just below Sirocco, a super-luxurious restaurant and the world's highest al fresco eatery. Both have jaw-dropping views of the city, especially at night. Try the signature "Hangovertini;" much of the movie "The Hangover Part II" was shot at the hotel, including at the Sky Bar.
Cafe Mozu is glorious as well, by the pool and serving one of the most comprehensively ethnic breakfast buffets I've ever seen. Sure, they cater to American tastes (think fried bacon, omelets, home fries and other tedious, caloric items) but on a small scale. Much more prevalent is food you may not recognize, but simply have to try, the things the Thai people eat for breakfast - which is what they eat for dinner or lunch, and can include many rice dishes, soups, chicken or fish. There is also a wide range of other international foods to satisfy the hotel's worldwide clientele, and it's all worth trying yourself.
For information on the culinary program, visit www.lebua.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +66 2624 9999
It wouldn’t be Memorial Day holiday without a trip to Vermont for the fabulous statewide Open Studios weekend with scores of potters, glassblowers, fiber artists, furniture makers, wood artists, jewelry designers, painters and printmakers welcoming visitors to their work spaces. As part of the event’s 20th anniversary celebration earlier this month in Montpelier, the Vermont Crafts Council honored glassblower Harry Besett of Hardwick and furniture maker Robert Gasperetti of Mt. Tabor for participating every year. Recalling the first weekend, VCC executive director Martha Fitch told the audience, “We didn’t even have a map that year. We assumed people would know where to go.” Since then VCC publishes a detailed list and map with directions to all locations; this year there are 259 craftspeople and visual artists participating. The map is available at Vermont State Visitor Centers on major highways, online at www.vermontcrafts.com, and galleries. The map is organized regionally making it easy to select areas to explore Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Photo of glassblower Harry Besett by Wendy Besett
The Great American Steamboat Company's revitalized American Queen chugged to her home port of Memphis April 26, to the revitalized Beale Street Landing, after her first voyage up the mighty Mississippi since 2008. The US flagged steamboat's appearance marks the return of overnight cruises on one of America's great rivers. Originally built in 1995 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., the American Queen is the largest and, company officials said, the most opulent steamboat ever built, which accommodates 436 guests and features palatial public spaces, elegant staterooms and Southern cuisine of Chef Regina Charboneau.
The company hired more than 300 employees from the Memphis area, including crew, to outfit the ship and estimates its appearance and rolling up and down the river to have an economic impact of $89 million for the region. On the first journey to its home port, celebrations including having Priscilla Presley, wife of arguably the most famous resident of Memphis, the late Elvis Presley, serving as the godmother of the American Queen in a christening ceremony.
After the festivities, the ship was heading out on her inaugural voyage up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River, with stops in Kentucky and Indiana before arriving in the disembarkation city of Cincinnati. She was to take part in the Kentucky Derby Festival's Great Steamboat Race with the Belle of Louisville and Belle of Cincinnati on May 2.
A variety of voyage lengths from three to 10 nights are available on the American Queen, with fares starting at $995 per guest, from departure cities of Memphis, New Orleans, St. Louis, St. Paul, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. A pre- or post-cruise luxury hotel stay, bottled water and soft drinks, wine and beer at dinner and free shore adventures are included in each port of call. For info, check out www.greatamericansteamboatcompany.com or call 888-749- 5280.