Archive for Hotel Experiences

Escape From Notting Hill — A London Staycation Adventure

Great Northern Hotel lounge, King's Cross, London

Great Northern Hotel lounge, King’s Cross, London

Each year, over the late August UK bank holiday weekend, residents and merchants in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood batten down the hatches and prepare for a storm of sorts — nailing large sheets of wood to buildings’ facades and sealing off fences and access points to their residences and retail outlets.

Despite the local multicultural traditions that the annual Notting Hill Carnival upholds and its aim of fostering community, many residents experience the raucous event like the prospect of an out-of-control party being held in their homes, and pack up their bags, leave, and brace themselves for the worst upon their return.

Likewise, each year, I join the mass exodus, taking off for some nearby locale. One year it was a stylish B&B in a small Cotswolds town; another, a two-day sojourn in Thames-side Richmond Hill. I have come to realize that there’s no sense fighting it; my annual departure from W11 has become both a personal tradition, and an unexpected means of discovering nearby areas and new hotels and inns — some practically on my proverbial London doorstep.

This year, I got the opportunity to experience a couple of new hotels in two very distinct London quarters — South Kensington and King’s Cross.

I breezed through the former upscale museum-side area for a dosage of culture, fresh, creative food and a visit to the relatively new 111-room Ampersand Hotel. The artistic and botany and ornithology-inspired boutique property (opened in late 2012) is more modern than its 19th century facade reveals.

Staying in The Ampersand’s deluxe room presented the rare London luxury of space in which to sprawl out. For about £40 more than a superior chamber, it offers plenty of room in which to luxuriate; my favorite self-pampering spot being its comfortable and luxe double-sink bathroom with rainfall shower, tub and in-tub telly, featuring handy bath-time accoutrements like a loofah and hotel-branded rubber ducky.

With so much going on in the area — effectively the playground of the young Sloanie set who once partied at nearby Boujis — less socially adventurous culture vultures seeking a tranquil night’s sleep may want to request one of the hotel’s back rooms. However, the property is perhaps best suited to those wanting to zealously drink and dine.

Just steps away from Madsen, a laid-back Swedish restaurant with fresh, clean food and a short walk from lively Old Brompton Road tapas spots like Tendido Cero, and campy after-hours watering holes like the Nam Long Le Shaker, The Ampersand is well-positioned for cool night crawls.

However, visitors stopping by for more low-key creative inspiration thanks to the close-by Victoria & Albert and Science Museums, are likely to revel in one of the hotel’s best features: its charming Drawing Rooms restaurant. There, amidst lilac hues and playful and vibrant furniture, afternoon tea, lunch, coffee are served, including a cornucopia of sweets like raspberry hazelnut meringue slices and ‘Intense Chocolate Tarts.’ Although it’s not specifically offered, breakfast can (and should) be requested in this Wonderland-esque salon.

The next stop on my Notting Hill exodus/London staycation was the Great Northern Hotel. Opened in the spring of 2013 in the burgeoning and culturally exciting King’s Cross/St. Pancras railway station neighborhood, it is an uber-stylish high-end boutique hotel gem. Although there are some intriguing up-and-coming spots worth checking out in this hip quarter — like French chef Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store restaurant and the craftsy-cool Drink, Shop & Do — one could almost use the Great Northern as a city resort and barely leave its pleasant confines.

The hotel’s destination restaurant, Plum + Spilt Milk is lorded over by none other than Mark Sargeant, who did a 13-year head chef stint at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred Claridges restaurant. The rich and tasty food consists of elegant and upscale takes on traditional British fare — a fine example of which is the creamed smoked haddock with poached hen’s egg (a small but indulgent meal in itself).

The cuisine is only perhaps upstaged by the stunning dining setting replete with a privy corner view of the railway station area (soon to be more glorious upon completion of its refurbishing), dangling hand-blown glass lights and neo-Deco furnishings. The adjacent petite bar (also upstairs) with its charmingly cluttered paintings and fragrant signature cocktails feels a bit like a literary lounge in which a contemporary Zelda and F. Scott might imbibe libations and playfully pontificate, sans the undignified distraction of tech devices.

There is a private club feeling to the whole establishment with its much-appreciated double-glazed windows and locked (to non-guests) floor entrances. The hotel’s extra-wide hallways are also a rarity. They were fashioned during Victorian times to accommodate the full-style dresses women often wore. An added modern, communal touch: pantries on every floor, stocked with gratis tea, coffee and edibles for guests.

The rooms — masterfully designed by the architects at Archer Humphryes, featuring hand-crafted furnishings– also delicately straddle the line between modern/contemporary and retro (’20s/’30s).

Of the hotel’s three room styles, two pay homage to the property and area’s historical railway past: the Cubitt (named after Lewis Cubitt, the master builder behind the property’s first iconic incarnation in 1854) and the Couchette (a small, contemporary rendition of a train sleeper carriage with a geometrically riveting view of the top of the King’s Cross concourse). The other is the oaky and masculine Wainscot.

Although there is no traditional central front entrance to the railway-side boutique hotel, I originally accidentally discovered it through its downstairs bar, which feels a bit more modern and night owl-conducive than the aforementioned literary lounge. Thankfully, serendipity and happy accident led me there… and continue to lead me to explore new areas and hotels like The Ampersand and the Great Northern, each year at Carnival-time.

Originally Published in Huffington Post | Travel

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Hotel Experience:
When the places you stay at are pivotal to your travel experience–be it by virtue of a uniquely artistic design, a special location, in-house events or unusual services that offer extra insight into the city or town you’re visiting

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles

Photo Courtesy of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel


Contemporary Glamour Meets Hollywood’s Golden Age

By Jacqueline Fitzgerald

Just steps away from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Zorro and Johnny Depp impersonators, tour bus operators and camera-wielding out-of-towners, the Roosevelt Hotel’s lobby provides breezy respite from the hubbub of Hollywood Boulevard. Since 1927, guests have appreciated its Moorish-influenced design (monumental walls, airy arcades, muraled ceilings) and atmosphere of glamorous tranquility.

A favorite of powerbrokers and stars, such as Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, the hotel was built to cater to East Coast movie-makers working in Los Angeles. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Louis B. Mayer were among its backers.

The first Oscars ceremony took place in the Blossom Room on May 16, 1929. Additionally, the Roosevelt has been a location for many films including Charlie’s Angels II (2003), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Internal Affairs (1990) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987).

In 2005, the 300-room hotel became part of the Thompson Hotels Group and underwent renovation by designer Dodd Mitchell. The results managed to preserve the property’s Spanish Colonial Revival character while enticing the Hollywood in crowd and other offshoots of the Beautiful People tribe, whether for overnight stays or an evening’s entertainment.

This isn’t to say that everyone you see is strategically evading the paparazzi. There’s much potential for people-watching of all sorts and plenty of places to explore.

Teddy’s nightclub, for example, bills itself as a celebrity haunt hideaway. At the 1920s-inspired Spare Room, a gaming parlor and drinks lounge, you can bowl, play games or just relax. The Library Bar offers handcrafted cocktails. Public Kitchen & Bar is a casual dining room, and 25 Degrees puts a creative twist on burgers, fries and milkshakes. Outside, at the Tropicana bar, you can cool off with a beverage or a dip in the water and see David Hockney’s work on the bottom of the pool.

Cabana Rooms at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles

Photo Courtesy of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

On a recent visit, I stayed in one of the cabana rooms, which were refurbished in 2011. Clean lines, neutral colors (white, beige, grey) and a blend of textures (brick, blonde wood, glass and leather) catch the eye and create a mellow mood. The room wasn’t huge, but this is almost always the case in older hotels. If poolside lounging followed by a peaceful night is a priority, a cabana is the ideal place to stay.

All rooms and suites feature temperature-control units, two phone lines with speaker and conference capabilities, and in-room pantries. I enjoyed the oversized terry-cloth robe provided as well as the magnifying mirror and blowdryer in the bathroom. Bath products by C.O. Bigelow included conditioner, which is always a nice touch.

Checking in was easy. The pot of Lamill coffee I ordered in the morning arrived promptly and, when the room phone wasn’t working, a technician came quickly to fix it.

Rates vary but you can expect to pay about $290 in the main building and about $350 for a cabana room. My only quibble is that wi-fi/ internet access is an extra $15/day.

Otherwise, my stay allowed me to enjoy the high energy of Hollywood, knowing I could later escape to quiet comfort.

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
323-466-7000

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Rocking the Casbah

Shana Ting Lipton in Marrakech Morocco

Shana Ting Lipton in Marrakech by the Saadien Tombs in the Casbah | Photo by Johara Chambers

My first few moments in Marrakech were like a tidal wave of sweet, exotic fragrances, manic sounds, colourful hues everywhere and a mazelike architecture of nooks, stairs and back entrances. All of this contributed to the mystery that already surrounded the North African city even before I arrived.

A musician friend of mine from LA who was proud of her Berber heritage had set the tone for me with her eccentric tales and the magical aura that surrounded her (she won the lottery, twice!)

But, as they say, you had to be there…in situ, that is, to really take in the nuances of this special place and to even sense–if in hushed undertones–its Ash’ Ari Sufi (regional spiritual form of Islam) influences.

I was in Marrakech on a media trip hosted and organised by the travel company Kuoni, and Angsana Riads Collection/Banyon Tree Hotels. It was short but sweet, yet just enough time to amass inspiration for some broad strokes to come (in the form of an article for The Arbuturian and a video which will be posted here and on Huffington Post | Travel).

The finer strokes–those sweet and bizarre moments–make up my own quirky take on the Red City. My journal of random thoughts…

The culturally mashed up locale (you’ll find mixtures of Berbers, Jews, Arabs from Jordan, Egyptians and French there) is home to the free-roaming feral cat. Like in Greece, these beautiful but wild felines roam the streets in search of food–not affection. I happened upon one that was quintessentially Marrakechi–dipped in henna and trying desperately to lick off the terra cotta hue from its fur.

Marrakech Morocco Cat

A henna-hued cat in the streets of Marrakech | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Everything in Marrakech is dipped in colour–lips, cheeks, textiles, fabrics… The friendlier traders will warn, before selling you a beautiful striped throw, that its dye will wreak havoc on your sofa.

Beeping mopeds navigated by old women in burqas and young men in modern dress zoom through narrow streets, leaving trails of smoke as they nearly scathe distracted passers-by whose heads are always inevitably turned skyward to capture details like the intricate metalwork of windows.

Marrakech Souk Market in Morrocco by Shana Ting Lipton

The souks possess an oddly not-so-subtle sense of mystery all their own | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Marrakech is the perfect blend of chic and earthiness. For every branché francophone visitor marvelling at Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Gardens, hip new lounges like La Salama, and design details worthy of Maison Coté Sud magazine, there are earthy local bonds to be formed down ends of dusty roads over mint tea and marzipan pastries.

Marrakech Morocco Biennale

Marrakech Biennale guests bring art and fashion to ancient riads | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

We got to experience a bit of both–at first cavorting with the Biennale crowd at hot spots like the aforementioned La Salama (where Vanessa Branson and her mum hosted a lovely fete that drew art luminaries and American-Euro comedienne Ruby Wax), then wandering the less touristy streets of the Casbah with our charming and knowledgable guide Youssef Rharrab.

Angsana Riads Collection Marrakech Morocco

The serene and subdued side of a Moroccan riad | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

I could have stayed at our hotel the entire time and been content, so thrilling and diverse were the architecture and decor (and so sybaritic were the spa/hammam treatments). The property consisted of several riads (courtyard homes once resided in by wealthy families) each decorated in its own style.

Angsana Riads Collection Marrakech Morocco

Nooks charm and abound at Angsana Riads | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Two of my colleagues were in Riad Blanc which had a very fashionable, pristine white feel to it as the name implies. My other colleague and I found ourselves in the crimson and orange-hued Riad Si Said. And I lucked out as I had one of the two massive multi-roomed royal suites all to myself.

Angsana Riads Marrakech Morocco

Women never left the riads; I understand why | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

As I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the late night/early morning call to prayer, I imagined being a princess relaxing in my manor. Of course, excluded from that reverie was the not-so-dreamy real life historic notion that riads were built ‘open-air’ with their ladies of the manor in mind (the women weren’t permitted to leave the premises except on rare occasions).

Conversely, my wonderful suite could also have been the site of a fabulous circa 1970 rock n’ roll bash thrown by The Rolling Stones and filled with Warhols, Bowies, Monaco monarchs, and obscure psychedelic scenesters. Or better yet, a vast yet–thanks to its nooks–intimate love nest for a poetic and mesmerising romance à-la 1001 Nights.

Angsana Riads Collection Marrakech Morocco

Disappear here... | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island in South Australia

HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Hotel Experience:
When the places you stay at are pivotal to your travel experience–be it by virtue of a uniquely artistic design, a special location, in-house events or unusual services that offer extra insight into the city or town you’re visiting

Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island in South Australia

Photos Courtesy of Southern Ocean Lodge

Eco-Luxury Dreams Fulfilled at The Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

By Shana Ting Lipton

[Originally published on About.com/New York Times Company]

If a consortium of international power elites were to meet to discuss world domination, it would be at a long table in the pristine and sleek restaurant at the Southern Ocean Lodge (SOL). Here, before a breathtaking view of the craggy beach, the Southern Ocean seems to go on forever–or at least 3000 miles until it hits land in Antarctica.

That’s the sort of lofty notion that fuels unrestrained ambition, while paradoxically inducing a sense of peace. In laymen’s terms–in fact, even for a fairly seasoned traveler–this exclusive South Australian retreat feels like the sweeping, remote, near-mythical setting of a James Bond film.

Its positioning, on the largely eco-conserved Kangaroo Island (K.I.), is ideal. Take a flight from Adelaide and you’re at Kingscote airport in less than 20 minutes. A drive and ferry takes a few hours. In a couple of hours one can traverse the island East to West (the Lodge is situated on its southern tip).

The SOL’s design–by local architect Max Pritchard–is such that it blends unobtrusively with the natural landscape. Lodgings sit atop limestone cliffs and all have great views. Each room is named after a K.I. shipwreck (as it’s known as the ‘shipwreck island’). God is in the details here–from heated floors and local amenities like sea salts to tasty treats like the Aussie sweet ‘lamingtons’ displayed on a net-covered dish on arrival.

Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island in South Australia

Life–if you would consider four days (the average stay) at the Lodge ‘life’–is Utopian enough that it’s difficult to imagine leaving the premises. However, for visitors with perpetual wanderlust, the SOL offers activities on or near its 200 acre confines. You can, for instance, partake of canapes and cocktails on the jacuzzi-side balcony and then get whisked away on a nocturnal kangaroo spotting excursion.

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio had mentioned that eating at their restaurant was one of his all time top dining experiences. I myself sampled two particularly memorable dishes: a mouth-watering Moroccan spiced quail with char grilled vegetables and spiced K.I. sheep’s milk yogurt, and the best affogato I’ve ever had (topped with native Island Sting honey liqueur). The eatery’s visual tone is set by South Australian artist Janine Mackintosh’s pieces constructed from dry leaves.

My stay was sponsored by the South Australian Tourism Commission, but I can imagine the cost of a stay for ‘civilians’ would seem jaw-dropping (starting at $1100 per person per night) until you see the place, and consider that meals, guided tours, snacks and amenities are included. The feeling that all–with the exception of on-site spa treatments–is paid for from the start lends itself to a serene stay. The exception, of course, are those heated ‘world take-over’ meetings with your global elite cohorts. It’s hard not to think in such over-zealous terms when a stay in this special spot makes you feel like the world is already yours.

Southern Ocean Lodge

Read Full Review With Rating at About.com Australian and New Zealand Travel

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Base 2 Stay in London’s South Kensington

HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Hotel Experience:
When the places you stay at are pivotal to your travel experience–be it by virtue of a uniquely artistic design, a special location, in-house events or unusual services that offer extra insight into the city or town you’re visiting

Base 2 Stay Hotel in London's Kensington

Hotel Photos: Base2Stay

A Lower-Cost Gem in Posh South Kensington

By Shana Ting Lipton

Don’t let the space-age name fool you. Base2stay is not some sci-fi pod dwelling geared towards contemporary Blade Runners. What it is is a tasteful, chic and central so-called budget hotel for London visitors not keen on battling crowds and notoriously high Central London accommodation costs.

I might put it in my ‘more caché than cash’ category, however, it’s not a dirt cheap budget hotel by any stretch of the imagination either.

If you like your hotels non-hotely, this place is for you. In other words, if you like to experience the sensation of what it might be like to actually live in Kensington (who wouldn’t?), base2stay will appeal.

Instead of returning from a day of city-touring to a busy hotel lobby with an adjacent mega-priced touristy restaurant, you return to a pretty little townhouse in a quiet mostly residential area. You get buzzed in, and when you enter, the small reception area is tucked away to the left. Straight ahead, a flight of stairs beckons.

My double-twin room was nicely sized. It had rather high ceilings and a spectacular view. One of the windows looked out onto a small, charming building across the street; the other onto a private garden (which most romantically inclined Americans would associate with the film Notting Hill).

Base 2 Stay Hotel in London's Kensington

The decor is clean, contemporary and bright–nothing too artsy and outrageous, but there are definite chic undertones.

Technically considered an ‘aparthotel,’ base2stay boasts a compact, hidden kitchenette in each room which includes a sink, refrigerator, microwave and shelves filled with dishes–which is perfect since, as mentioned earlier, there is no restaurant on-site. They do make up for the latter by offering 10-30% discounts at local neighborhood eateries though.

There is a wireless keyboard by the TV screen in each room and free Internet usage (there is a small charge for unlimited downloads via broadband). Most people will probably find the free wi-fi the most practical. The latter is a bit slow at times; then again whose wi-fi isn’t?

And if you’re eco-conscious, you’ll be pleased to hear that this is also a certified green hotel.

The location is damn near unbeatable. As I mentioned, you’re smack dab in the middle of a very pretty (especially when the flowers are in bloom in Spring and Summer) largely residential block in Kensington. The Earl’s Court and Gloucester Road tube stations are roughly equidistant from the hotel. And it’s about a seven minute walk from some great Spanish tapas spots on Old Brompton Road.

In summary, base2stay delivers on the promise implied by its name. I enjoyed daily walks around the lush gardens of lovely Kensington, only to return to a charming and oh-so-civilized home base.

Base2stay
25 Courtfield Gardens
London
SW5 0PG

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Hotel Basico in Playa Del Carmen Mexico

HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Hotel Experience:
When the places you stay at are pivotal to your travel experience–be it by virtue of a uniquely artistic design, a special location, in-house events or unusual services that offer extra insight into the city or town you’re visiting

Hotel Basico in Playa Del Carmen Mexico

The Hotel Basico in Playa del Carmen Takes Adaptive Re-use to New Levels

By Shana Ting Lipton

Sometimes hip hurts…but in a good way. Like that vintage Rietveld chair that gives you chiropractic problems later in life. The Hotel Basico is located somewhere between painfully hip and fun; and in Playa del Carmen, Mexico to be exact.

It’s an industrial design boutique hotel in the Mexican resort town in the Mayan Riviera; and a sister property to the Hotel Deseo. Everyone incidentally swears by the latter as a cool place to get drinks while in Playa.

What the Basico may lack in comfort and privacy, it makes up for in cool. Fashioned by Central de Arquitectura/ José Sánchez and Moisés Ison, the design is a study in adaptive reuse. Tires, plastic and be warned (if you have a strong sense of smell), a whole lot of latex.

The accommodation cubes (i.e. rooms) all have glass faces and some not entirely effective (but again, hip) coverage via latex blinds. If you’re shy this may not be the place for you. But if you don’t mind a little spice and you’re even a bit exhibitionistic, the Basico is your spot.

In lieu of a pool, the Basico has giant metal industrial vats for your dipping pleasure (bigger than a jacuzzi, much smaller than a pool). Yes, I know, that sounds a bit Chernobyl. It is atypical; but I’m a lover of quirk and funkiness. If you’re not, be aware that the Basico has been known to give guests the green-light to swim at the Deseo. They also dispense passes to their private beach (which is usually stocked with DJs spinning nice house tunes).

The roof lounge is laid-back and swank with delicious fresh tasting Caipirinhas on the cocktail menu. The restaurant also serves incredible fresh ceviche. And because this is a resort town (and a hotel catering to a cosmo crowd), you can trust the water in salads and such.

Playa Del Carmen Mexico

Photo: Shana Ting Lipton and friend in a private eco-reserve near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

One of my favorite parts of staying at the Basico (besides the cool factor) is the friendly and helpful staff. They organized a driver to pick me up and take me to a nearby privately owned eco-preserve where I had the most enjoyable playa-side horseback ride of my life.

At a leisurely pace, on a white (feisty) horse, I trotted with my two guides along the beach of the private property. One of them even stopped at a coconut grove, grabbed a coconut, sliced it with a knife and gave it to me so I could drink the Ambrosia-like liquid. Ok, later when I thought about being alone on an equestrian tour with two guys, one of whom pulled out a knife, I had some more alarmist thoughts.

The Basico will also connect you to tour operators if that’s your thing. It’s generally not mine, but on this particular trip I did not rent a car and wanted desperately to see Chichen-Itza (three hours away) so the best solution was a mini-bus tour–on a bus loaded with Italians in my experience.

The interesting thing about Playa del Carmen is that–although it’s near the college-rowdy boozy town of Cancun (you fly into their airport), it tends to attract a European crowd rather than a traditional ‘American on a Tequila-fueled Mexico vacation’ tourist. That’s not to say that you’ll never see such travel pariahs. But in Playa, you have just as much of a chance of hearing Italian or French spoken as you do ‘Jersey’–especially if you stay at the Basico or Deseo.

Hotel Basico
4879 4448

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Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong

HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Hotel Experience:
When the places you stay at are pivotal to your travel experience–be it by virtue of a uniquely artistic design, a special location, in-house events or unusual services that offer extra insight into the city or town you’re visiting

Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hong Kong

Hotel Photos Courtesy of Vivian Li, Landmark Mandarin Oriental

An Oasis in the Heart of Hong Kong Action

By Shana Ting Lipton

Hong Kong is a riveting mile-a-minute kind of city, replete with high octane sights, sounds and smells (from exotic perfumes to not so pleasant scents). It could almost be called the South Chinese Manhattan–minus the notoriously quirky, eccentric residents that characterize the American city.

All frenetic pacing aside, the Chinese believe strongly in the simple principle of balance. So it stands to reason that my most prized hotel experience in Hong Kong would be a poised mesh of different elements: the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.
Part of a traditional illustrious hotel brand, the Landmark’s is a decidedly hipper take on the usual luxury stay.

Located on Queen’s Road in Central, the hotel at once pulsates with the heartbeat of HK, while also acting as an oasis from its maddening tempo. Shopaholics be warned: the Landmark is right next door to the famous Landmark shopping center–so it’s a bit like sending a gambling addict to the Bellagio Las Vegas.

The hotel is also a nice short walk from the ’antique street’ Hollywood Road, and the gallery-dotted neighborhood of SoHo. I loved taking a jaunt over to this favorite quarter and discovering funky little eateries with experimental prix fixe lunch specials. And if you can’t resist checking out the black market knock-off luxury goods at the infamous Ladies Market, the spotless metro is also right next door to the hotel (beneath The Landmark shopping center).

Lanmark Mandarin Oriental Luxury Hotel Hong Kong

Usually, when I’m in Hong Kong, I sojourn at my family home in Repulse Bay. There’s nothing like a beach adjacent locale, and staying with locals–in this case my faraway relatives. I did once stay at the opulent Grand Hyatt–which certainly lives up to its name. But the Landmark is more my speed–hip and swank but not so hip that it puts you on edge, and not so swank that it’s stuffy.

The nice-sized rooms are Zen chic–airy and modern punctuated by minimal, exotic flora and fauna. Your sleeping quarters and bathrooms feel like a spa-away-from-spa. Pop in their provided relaxation CD–which wafts through speakers in the bathroom as well as the main room–light a candle, draw yourself a bath and lose yourself in jacuzzi jets. Their amenities, from their hotel spa, are amazing as well. If baths are not your thing–the standard doubles have twin walk-in showers with rainfall shower heads.

If you think the rooms are relaxing, wait until you experience the spa. And a bonus: it houses one of the cleanest most pristine hotel gyms I’ve ever worked out in.

The only non-relaxing part of the hotel (which they may have changed since I was there last–as I did mention it in their guest survey) are the harsh CFL bulbs in the lobby. The lobby interior is nicely decorated and laid out so it’s a shame to ruin it with bleak–albeit eco-friendly–lighting.

The most memorable moments of my stay at the Landmark were the teas and breakfasts I enjoyed with my mother. The hotel has a small but post-modern hip restaurant/lounge (with a diamond ‘rock candy’ buffet bar) called MO Bar. It is next to the lobby and hosts wonderful brekkies and high teas. In HK, the latter is a hold-over tradition from the British colonial days. It gets a refreshing renewal at the Landmark–and the hotel is in fact known for this service (‘tea with a twist’ as they call it).

Be sure to buddy up to the staff so they keep you posted on live invite-only music events. Of course, the hotel’s resident DJs are also on-hand (or hands-on-decks) to deliver chill grooves Wednesdays through Saturdays at Mo Bar. Or you can just order a couple of their signature cocktails (like the MO-tox), retire with your date to your chambre, and relax with their MO music CD mix.

Lanmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel
15 Queen’s Road Central
Hong Kong

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Alisal Guest Ranch and Spa in Solvang, California

HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Hotel Experience:
When the places you stay at are pivotal to your travel experience–be it by virtue of a uniquely artistic design, a special location, in-house events or unusual services that offer extra insight into the city or town you’re visiting

Alisal Guest Ranch and Spa in Solvang California

In ‘Sideways’ Wine Country Even City Slickers Relax at the Alisal Guest Ranch

By Shana Ting Lipton

[Originally Published on About.com/New York Times Company]

As a city slicker sleeping at a working cattle ranch for the first time, I must admit to an adjustment period on my first night at Alisal. A symphony of croaking frogs–that I had only previously known from my Sharper Image sleep/noise machine–serenaded me throughout the night. I awoke to another sound I had become so familiar with in the digital world–that of a rooster saying ‘good morning’ in his own special way.

It’s sad to say that many Angelenos like myself are so distanced from nature that it’s become something of a novelty. Thankfully, the Alisal Guest Ranch and Spa is the perfect ‘antidote to civilization’ as the commercial saying goes. Yes, it’s separate from its Danish-founded town of Solvang–which is rife with kitschy faux Danish architecture and windmills (which are technically Dutch). But the ranch allows curious urbanites to dip into the rustic side of things, one step at a time.

TV is verboten. Why would you want to watch American Idol when you can experience real Americana with a fireside sing-along, in real time? Yet, the ranch is hip and smart enough to offer wifi…a minor link to ‘civilization’ for lap-top toting Internet addicts.

This is mostly a family-friendly spot, but couples will find it plenty romantic with lots of beautiful walks, cute little nooks, and on-site ranch activities–like lakeside boat rides–and nearby wine tasting to spice things up. Ah yes, wine, something that has made the Solvang environs of the ranch world-famous in pop culture since 2004 when Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne sought women and the perfect pinot noir in Sideways. Today, it is not uncommon to hear of a Sideways wine tour of the area.

Alisal Guest Ranch and Golf Resort in Solvang California

Photos Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch and Golf Resort

Alisal has its own label featuring a nice pinot noir, available at its lounges and restaurants, and also for purchase along with other ranch treats. You can buy a bag of Alisal’s pancake mix as well–the results of which you can preview at one of its hearty ranch breakfasts. Or if you’re health-conscious, the ranch’s own brand of granola can be your sojourn takeaway.

Save room in your luggage. There is plenty of fun culinary shopping in town as well as adjacent Buellton: olive and grape seed oils, hand-crafted soaps, vinegar, etc. I personally love this kind of shopping as I return to LA with the ‘spirit of Steinbeck.’

In conclusion, the Alisal is a must for LA tech/ media burnouts who need to revitalize to the sound of a running river and distant cows. Its land is virtually untouched by Hollywood. I say ‘virtually’ because of an anecdote that one of the wrangler/guides told us about its history, over an outdoor breakfast.

One of the ranch’s early owners, Raimundo Carillo is the great great great grandfather of TV western sidekick Leo Carillo of ‘50s TV show The Cisco Kid fame. Some things, like Hollywood, are hard to evade. But Alisal does a heck of a job of keeping them at [shooting] arm’s length, hombre.

Alisal Guest Ranch Resort
1054 Alisal Road
Solvang, CA 93463

Read Full Review With Rating at About.com Los Angeles

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