We were headed to paradise. I was sure of it. After months of painstaking research, we booked a “villa” in Provence touting impeccable grounds and state-of-the-art amenities. The house, we were told, was an easy five minutes from Rognonas, a “charming” village close to Avignon. What we actually found was a dilapidated farmhouse with dark, dank bedrooms and decrepit pool and tennis areas. The bathrooms—so lovely in the photos—were nauseating (rusted hardware, smelly toilets, threadbare towels). And our “charming” village was boarded up as if it were still reeling from a World War II bomb raid.
We had been duped.
I swiftly contacted a Marseille-based travel concierge specializing in prestige properties in southern France. Within 25 minutes, the efficient Edwige Chevallier of W Travel France (33-4/42-03-15-82; wtravelfrance.com) reserved rooms at Villa Baulieu, a just-opened luxury bed-and-breakfast nestled within a 2,000-year-old vineyard near Aix-en-Provence.
More château than guesthouse, the villa has 11 rooms, each jaw-droppingly chic, a perfect marriage of period details (antique furnishings, silk window treatments, Murano glass chandeliers) and modern comforts like satellite TV, exquisite linens, air conditioning and up-to-date bathrooms. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford sweeping views of the vineyard and the Alpilles mountains.
Upon arrival, a butler—a bottle of the house’s rosé in hand—helped with our bags. Guests, he explained, have much of the grounds at their disposal. We were encouraged to lounge in the sumptuous drawing room, library, music room and rose gardens. (The property is called a B&B because it has no restaurant; breakfast and tea are included in the price, but other meals must be had elsewhere.) A cell phone was proffered in case we needed anything—from dinner reservations to time spent in the hot tub located in a spire on top of the villa—night or day. Other on-site amenities include a pool, a hammam and tennis and pétanque courts.
After a glorious night’s sleep, we realized the irony of our situation. Baulieu is in Rogneswhile the faux villa is in Rognonas. Lesson learned? In France, a few vowels can make a huge difference. Rooms start at $516;13840 Rognes en Provence; 33-4/42-60-39-40; villabaulieu.com.
Orient-Express is giving new meaning to the word “hopscotch.” Next month the company’s old-world-style Royal Scotsman, a luxe 36-passenger sleeper train, will ply the Scottish countryside on an inaugural four-night, five-day trek devoted to exploring some of the best and rarest whiskies on the planet.
In partnership with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (a specialist in the independent bottlings of single-cask single malts), the Classic Whisky Journey will bring guests to many of the country’s top distilleries, offering insider access and expert interpretation at every stop.
“We’ve long stocked more than 50 different varieties of whisky onboard, and guests often ask me to guide them through these to find their perfect tipple,” says Michael Andrews, the general manager of the Royal Scotsman and resident Scotch guru. “This itinerary blends a scenic rail journey with tailored visits to the country’s finest distilleries and exclusive tastings of rare malts.”
Peak experiences include a straight-from-the-cask sampling at Glen Ord, featuring 12-, 15- and 18-year-old Singletons (plus the very rare 23-year-old) and a visit to The Glenlivet’s newly expanded distillery for a flight of seven whiskies and a dram from a cask that has been aging since 1977.
Guests will also visit Tullibardine, which makes its Scotch in the most traditional of ways. A visit to its warehouse reveals a special cask reserved for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, which was filled on the couple’s wedding day. (No sampling of that one, sadly.) The Scotch Malt Whisky Society will have three of its own single-cask single malts on hand for formal tastings, as well as six additional offerings and as-yet-unreleased bottlings from its cellar.
Though whisky is the main event, there are other activities planned. Guests can fly-fish at Rothiemurchus Estate in the center of Cairngorms National Park, meet wild seals that cavort off the coast of the tiny village of Plockton, golf at a private course in Ballindalloch and tour Glamis Castle, where the beloved Queen Mother, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grew up. Trip departs April 21; prices start at $6,877;royalscotsman.com.
After remaining closed for nearly a decade, the Kunstkammer at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum—a wing of the building that holds the oldest selection of treasures and artworks collected and commissioned by the royal Habsburg family—re-opened on March 1. Spread across 20 new galleries, the 2,200 pieces include everything from bronze statuettes to spellbinding automatons to intricately designed game boards to scientific tools.
Overall, the wing boasts an impressive range that exposes the remarkable reach and resources of the storied imperial clan. Lesser-known, never-before-seen items reside in the Exotica gallery, which displays ceramics, ivory and mother-of-pearl creations. But the star object of the Kunstkammer (or “art room” in English) is Benvenuto Cellini’s Saliera—a 10-foot-by-13-foot sculpture from the 16th century. It is the only surviving work by the Italian goldsmith and had been stolen from the museum in 2003, when the wing was undergoing construction. It was eventually found in 2006, buried in a forest about 60 miles north of Vienna. Burgring 5; 43-1/525-240; khm.at.
Why ski at one top Colorado resort when you can hit the slopes at—and enjoy the amenities of—two? The Sonnenalp in Vail (20 Vail Rd.; 970-476-5656; sonnenalp.com) and the Hotel Madeline Telluride (568 Mountain Village Blvd.; 970-369-0880; hotelmadelinetelluride.com) have teamed up to create an unforgettable experience called the Ski Dream package (February 18 to 23). Featuring three nights in Vail and three nights in Telluride, the package offers a unique way to spend nearly a week immersed in pristine winter environs.
A private, chartered jet takes care of airport transfer from Denver. Once settled in at the hotels, let the skiing begin. Along with top-notch runs—ten inches of snow fell this past week, with more in the forecast—Sonnenalp will host a dog-sledding experience for two and Hotel Madeline will stage heli-skiing (best for intermediate to advanced skiers). The combination is a treat, proving that winter, in all its glory, can be unequivocally grand. February 18 to 23; $23,500; 800-654-8312; email@example.com.
As Valentine's Day approaches, these romantically inclined ideas make for a lovely day.
A Chocolate Pop-Up Shop
Prestat—said to be favored by the Queen of England—makes a stateside appearance during a weeklong pop-up chocolate shop at Henri Bendel. Highlights include dark chocolate caramel truffles sprinkled with sea salt and Prestat's signature heart-shape assortment box, with flavors like passion-fruit fondant. Through February 14; 712 5th Ave.; 212-247-1100; prestat.com.
Japanese Food for Two
Cherry, restaurateur Jonathan Morr's month-old Japanese restaurant in Chelsea, is hosting a five-course prix-fixe menu on February 14. Options like foie gras-and-short-rib gyoza and chef's choice omakase sushi—combined with Cherry's dark, sultry decor—could make this one for the ages. From $95 per person; 355 W. 16th St.; 212-929-5800; cherrynyc.com.
A Special Mexican Feast
Food Network iron chef Jose Garces will cook Mexican fare for a guest and 50 of his or her friends in the penthouse at the Mondrian SoHo. Pulling from his new cookbook, The Latin Road Home (Lake Isle Press), Garces and his team will turn out margaritas (spicy and mango) to go along with a taco bar highlighting dishes like beer-and-citrus-braised fired pork and alambres de camarones (flavorful shrimp skewers). After dinner the lucky host will settle in for a three-night penthouse stay. $45,000;9 Crosby St.; 800-606-6090; mondriansoho.com.
Views of Central Park
The Pierre provides a one-night city escape in a Park View room complete with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park (why not?), monogrammed pillowcases, a delectable breakfast in bed and Champagne. On the big day, Sirio Ristorante, located in the hotel, is available for a three-course Valentine's Day dinner. Through February 28; from $950; 2 E. 61st St.; 800-743-7734; tajhotels.com.
A Canadian Sojourn
The Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, a Relais & Châteaux property located in Vancouver, British Columbia, serves up a one-night stay in a room or suite, truffles and sparkling wine and a four-course dinner at Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge. Dinner includes roasted tomato and Nova Scotia lobster velouté, seared breast of Brome Lake duck and lemon chiffon with raspberries and vanilla crème brûlée. From $425; 845 Hornby St.; 604-689-777; wedgewoodhotel.com.
Most wilderness adventures follow a leave-nothing-behind philosophy. But in the case of WorldServe, a mountain-bike trip down Mount Kilimanjaro led by Trek Travel, making a mark is the ultimate goal. Led by Doug Pitt, goodwill ambassador to Tanzania (and, yes, Brad Pitt’s brother), the venture will donate 90 percent of trip fees to water projects.
“[You will] have your own sponsored water well that will provide a lifetime of water to thousands, saving lives, reducing suffering and giving people a future,” says Pitt, who aims to provide clean water to 150,000 Tanzanians.
Twenty participants will climb the mountain before embarking on a two-day ride down; the trip marks the first time that bikes have been allowed on the loftiest peak in Africa. Along the way an initiative called Clean Up of Kilimanjaro will enlist the help of 100 porters to pick up trash. The fundraising donation levels vary: a hike-only option, including a gear package and one bore-hole well ($25,000); a package encompassing one solar-powered pump project, a Trek bike and gear ($55,000); and the sponsorship of two solar-powered pumps, plus bike and gear ($85,000). (One bore-hole well, for instance, will give 1,200 Maasai a generation of drinkable water.)
Needless to say, going in unprepared is not an option. “Kili is not a technical climb but arduous at 19,340 feet,” says Pitt. “Fitness is important and training is essential. The biking is rated intermediate to professional, flowy in parts and extremely tough is spots, but it should be—it’s Mount Kilimanjaro.”
Other highlights include a visit to a Maasai village and a hot-air balloon ride over Serengeti National Park, and the lasting memories are sure to endure for as long as the fresh water flows. February 22 through March 5; from $25,000; 1-866-464-8735; trektravel.com.
Few know how to pack a suitcase better than a fashion designer. Anna Sui, the indomitable fashion force known for her flirty-with-an-edge designs, is one of the best. And she shows off her skills in a short film for Tumi’s Case Studies video series, shot in honor of her new luggage collection for the brand.
The film, which debuted this week (other installments in the series have featured industrial designer Dror Benshetrit and cookbook author Dorie Greenspan), shows how she tackles the job of filling her bags. Those bags, which launched January 1, are festooned with a Sui floral print that first appeared on the spring 2009 runway. Striped inner linings and mini flower-appliqué details dress things up further.
The new offerings represent an expansion of a smaller collection done with Anna Sui Japan for the department store Isetan last spring. Items range from the International carry-on ($495) to the Geneva carry-all (pictured above, $345) to an iPhone cover ($65), and all make a statement—no matter how one chooses to pack it all in. tumi.com.
When it comes to members-only clubs, the benefits normally behoove the member alone. But in the case of the Getaway 2 Give (G2G) Collection—an exclusive vacation club that channels donations to charities of participants’ choosing—the wealth is effectively spread.
“People are attracted because they can ‘give’ and at the same time ‘get,’” says Adam Capes, president of G2G’s parent company, the Giving Plan, which aims to raise $1 billion for charity every 10 years. “We all have a need for significance and impact, and this satisfies those needs.”
Members pay $15,000 for access to an array of destinations and travel opportunities. Half of the initial fee goes straight to a charity the participant wants to support, as well as a share of each nightly rate from there on out. (Travelers can also choose one of the club’s partners, including Faith’s Lodge and the Starkey Hearing Foundation.)
Villas and homes are available in places like Anguilla; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Deer Valley, Utah; Palm Springs, Chicago and New York. Castiglion del Bosco in Tuscany, the Pierre in New York and Thanda Private Game Reserve in South Africa are all on board, and yachts are also an option. And the giving portion isn’t the only customizable piece—member-experience and destination managers can help plan trips down to the last detail.
“Members know they’ll be staying in a spectacular residence or hotel or yacht, the fridge will be pre-stocked with their groceries, dinner reservations will be made at the best restaurants…and they’ll have access to all the best activities and amenities in the area,” says Capes. Seems like a win-win to us. g2gcollection.com.
The summer before last, my family and friends embarked on the Camper & Nicholsons yacht Helios for a weeklong journey through the Greek islands. After spending one night in Athens, we left from Piraeus Port and sailed to Kythnos, where we docked in an inlet separated from a bay by a thin strip of sand. It was a perfect stop for some swimming and our first of many courses of feta. That evening we dined under a colorful sunset that seemed to dye the bleached buildings of the island.
Thanks to my father’s belief that a vacation must do more than provide pleasure, our next stop was Delos, for a bit of Greek history. The mythical birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis, this island is one of many historic sites around the Aegean Sea. Our next port of call was Koufonisia, three small islands known for their beautiful rocks that tower above the crystal-blue waters. A tender ferried us through caves and up close to the mountain goats and sheep who seem to outnumber humans there. Then we went to Paros, where we were the only Americans and the only visitors—a rare and truly cherishable experience. It was my mother’s Mamma Mia fantasy: Lit by the sunset, we wandered through the maze of streets and enjoyed the figs and feta.
Next stop was that iconic white city found on postcards and pictures of Greece: Fira, Santorini. Perched above the Aegean, the city offers views so spectacular that I volunteered to climb up a steep hill alongside hundreds of donkeys just so I could take in the vista. We finished the day with a sampling of Greek desserts.
Our captain then took us to Milos, where the statue Venus de Milo was discovered in 1820. Our final stop was Hydra, outside the Cyclades, which offered a stark contrast to all the other white village islands. Hydra would have easily pleased us at the beginning of our odyssey, but the unfamiliar sight of red roof shingles signaled it had come to a close. Everything, from our impeccable yacht and knowledgeable captain to the figs and olive oil to the fish and lamb, surpassed our expectations. We found a beauty in the simplicity of it all.
“Memories?” asks Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born, 90-year-old filmmaker from off screen in the opening of Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man. “They say my images are memories. No, no, no. It is all real, what you see.” Called the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema,” Mekas premiered Outtakes earlier this month at London’s Serpentine Gallery (Kensington Gardens; 44-20/7402-6075; serpentinegallery.org) for his eponymous and long overdue retrospective (on view through January 27, 2013).
Outtakes will unspool alongside six other films and walls of photographs, poems and installations culled from 64 years of work—from the hundreds of binders and boxes that line the walls and windowsills of his New York studio to his thousands of hours of film. “If It Moved, Jonas Mekas Shot It,” read a headline in The Times when the retrospective opened. And he did: John Lennon’s birthday parties, Salvador Dalí’s happenings, friends at dinner, a baptism, a cat.
Over the title card of As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, he reflects, “I have never been able, really, to figure out where my life begins and where it ends.” A light flashes on and dims in a window. He confesses that he wanted, at first, to make meaning by giving order to the moments he caught, these seemingly random glimpses of lives led. But then, “I gave up. And I began splicing them together by chance, the way I found them on the street.”
A more traditional form of collection is on view at the Michael Hoppen Gallery (3 Jubilee Pl.; 44-20/7352-3649; michaelhoppengallery.com) in “Finders Keepers” (through January 31, 2013), which features three floors of 130 photographs from the private collection of director Hoppen. It is the largest public exhibition the gallery has put on to date. “I found these images in markets, other dealers, auctions, meeting families of photographers and, of course, pure chance,” he explains. They are hung with notes that describe the incidents surrounding their creation (“A large stag hangs outside an ice-cream parlor somewhere in the Midwest”) and the encounters that led Hoppen to find them (“When I took over the lease at 3 Jubilee Place in Chelsea in 1984, I was clearing out an old cupboard there and came across a group of pictures”).
“I am always looking for interesting things to look at,” says Hoppen. “Pictures that change my point of view or inform a particular attitude. For the show I wanted to select mostly unknown pictures.” Some moments in these images are caught at random—a powerful mobster or an image of nude legs in the sun by Jacques Henri Lartigue—but most are artful, staged scenes, like the anonymous portraits of boxers or chimney sweeps and Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants.
There is something delectable about seeing it, the same naughty delight one would get from riffling through the file cabinets of a museum. The show neither fears the grotesque nor disdains beauty, but it delights in surprise: Garry Winogrand’s Park Avenue, New York involves a convertible, a fashionable couple and a monkey.
As Mekas puts it in Outtakes, “I like what I recorded with my camera… Why else would I show it, share it with you? I like these images. This reality of images.”
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