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August 19, 2014
By Jessica Flint | Travel, Hotels

Istanbul's New Raffles Hotel
Photo courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

On Istanbul’s European side, nestled above the Bosphorus in the year-old Zorlu Center—a sort of sophisticated bazaar 2.0 with more than 200 high-end shops, 40 restaurants, residential apartments and Turkey’s first performing arts center to host Broadway and West End shows—is a new Raffles hotel, which opens in September.

The design-centric property has 181 rooms, of which 49 are suites, outfitted with contemporary Turkish touches—think locally made glass, crystal and subtle mosaics. All have floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies with panoramic city views. Request a corner Horizon Suite, which has an extra-large terrace and wraparound vistas of the Bosphorus.

As is the case with Raffles’s Le Royal Mon­ceau in Paris, art plays a large part in creating the hotel’s vibe, with a mix of mediums—paintings, sculpture, photography, video installation—enlivening the space, including a commissioned 26-foot-high Jean-François Rauzier mural in the lobby lounge. Even the bed headboards are moody artworks ranging from calming purples to dusty blues.

Don’t miss the spa. It’s one of Istanbul’s largest and has a modern version of an old hammam; the treatment to try is the Rose, Sugar and Honey experience. The hotel also has two restaurants, two bars and two swimming pools, including an outdoor one on the roof. Rooms start at $790; Zorlu Center, Besiktas; 90-212/336-9160; raffles.com.

June 23, 2014
By Jessica Flint | Travel

Easy-to-Access Urban Parks NPS
Courtesy of National Park Service

The NPS has more than 100 parks and recreation areas close to major cities. Here, four to explore.

 

Great Falls

Nearest City: Washington, D.C., a 30-minute drive.
What It Is: In McLean, Virginia, the park overlooks the Potomac River’s, well, great falls. 703-285-2965.
What To Do: Early in the morning, hike the one-and-a-half-mile River Trail, which runs along the river’s stunning cliffs.

 

Santa Monica Mountains

Nearest City: Los Angeles, just outside the city.
What It Is: At 154,094 acres, the country’s largest urban national park is in L.A.’s backyard. 805-370-2300.
What To Do: Go beyond Griffith Park: Hike at Paramount Ranch, where dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed.

 

Harbor Islands

Nearest City: Boston, a 20- to 40-minute ferry ride.
What It Is: A group of 34 islands and peninsulas across the harbor from Boston. 617-223-8666.
What To Do: There are tons of activities: Explore a Civil War–era fort, visit lighthouses, hike, picnic, fish and more.

 

Golden Gate

Nearest City: San Francisco, within city limits.
What It Is: An urban recreational area that’s home to George Lucas’s headquarters. 415-561-4700.
What To Do: Hide away at lux­ury resort Cavallo Point. Rooms, from $400; 601 Murray Cir.; 415-339-4700; cavallopoint.com.

For more on national parks, see U.S. National Parks (Without the Crowds).

June 05, 2014
By Ingrid Skjong | Travel

Golden Eye
Photo courtesy of Island Outpost

Secluded and stunning, GoldenEye, the exclusive resort in Oracabessa, Jamaica, once the home of James Bond author Ian Fleming, is like few other places on earth. On May 28 (Fleming’s 106th birthday), the destination unveiled a new way to experience its charms: For the first time, guests can book either a single room ($2,500) or all five rooms ($5,500) of the legendary Ian Fleming Villa.  

Formerly Fleming’s home and creative headquarters (where he hosted friends like Noël Coward), the villa—complete with a private beach, pool, staff and gardens and numerous remnants of its glamorous history, including the writer’s desk—is the resort’s marquee perch. And on the occasion of such a monumental anniversary, GoldenEye owner Chris Blackwell wanted to expand the opportunities to experience it.

Continuing the good news, there will be more of the resort to love next year: Currently offering 19 accommodation options (nine beach villas, two lagoon villas, six lagoon cottages, an oceanfront villa, the Fleming Villa), GoldenEye will open 25 new ocean-view cottages in winter 2015. Rooms start at $620; 876-622-9007; goldeneye.com.

May 29, 2014
By Lesley McKenzie | Travel

201405-b-celebrity-cruises-wine-geared-trips.jpg
© Celebrity Cruises

Imbibing on the high seas was taken to a new level when Celebrity Cruises introduced its winemaker-hosted cruises in 2009 and, four years later, its brewmaster series. This year’s 18-cruise lineup began in February, and an 11-night tour of the Eastern Mediterranean, featuring Napa Valley’s Clos Pegase winery and its vintner Richard Sowalsky, set sail earlier this month. But there is plenty more in store.

Riffing on Celebrity’s inaugural Great Wine Festival (May 31; greatwinefestival.com), held in Irvine, California, the 2014 California Wine Festival at Sea (November 1–8; 888-609-1178)—a venture through the Eastern Caribbean aboard the Celebrity Reflection—brings the popular vinous event to the water, highlighting numerous Golden State wineries, two private tasting seminars, an exclusive four-course wine-paired lunch and a sommelier-led tour of the ship’s two-story glass wine tower created by renowned designer Adam Tihany. (Ports of call include St. Maarten, St. Thomas and San Juan, Puerto Rico.)

The adventures continue through the fall and winter. Grgich Hills Estate, based in Rutherford, California, highlights a 15-night journey along the Panama Canal (November 4–19; 877-849-2730) and a 12-night venture through Australia and New Zealand brings aboard Oregon’s Ponzi Vineyards, Argyle Winery and Roco Winery (January 27–February 8, 2015; 800-367-5348). We’ll toast to that. celebritycruises.com.

May 21, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Travel

Private River Cruises through France
Courtesy of Belmond

While some people prefer to keep in constant motion while traveling, others elect to put down roots, however temporary. Belmond, the hotel brand formerly known as Orient-Express, gives those who can’t choose a way to do both at once with its Afloat in France river-cruising season.

Guests can select from one of five barges—all available for reservations or private hire through October—for tailored, weeklong experiences along France’s waterways, with stops at sites focused on their preferred activities. Organizers will take note of travelers' interests (golf, wine, art, cycling) and create an itinerary to fit.

Consider, for instance, Alouette ($23,800 a couple), a four-passenger, four-crew péniche that cruises southwest France along the Canal du Midi, hitting vineyards, medieval castles and historic towns along the way. Or Amaryllis ($51,700 for six people), an eight-passenger, six-crew barge that traipses from Dijon to Saint-Léger in the north, pausing in Renaissance villages and an open-air market.

Each barge is richly appointed with large picture windows, an air-conditioned lounge, a sundeck and, in most cases, a heated swimming pool. Gourmet meals, Internet access and charming vistas are also part of the deal. 800-524-2420; afloatinfrance.com.

April 25, 2014
By Melissa Biggs Bradley | Travel

David Tang's Hong Kong
© TangTangTangTang

Shanghai Tang fashion founder Sir David Tang recently opened the restaurant China Tang (1 Exchange Sq., 4th fl.; 85-2/2522-2148; landmark.hk) in the Landmark mall in Hong Kong’s Central district. Inspired by Tang’s eatery of the same name in London’s Dorchester hotel, it serves classic Cantonese and Sichuan dishes like golden prawns with salted egg yolk and traditional roasted duck. The sumptuous East-meets-West decor features a Deco mirrored entry, hand-embroidered wallpaper and eclectic books.

Nearby in Wan Chai, Tang just debuted Tang Tang Tang Tang (66 Johnston Rd.; tangtangtangtang.com), a shop whose name references Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Quirky color choices like taxi yellow add whimsy to the sophisticated spaces designed like an HK apartment—living room, dining room, bathroom, bedroom, dressing room—with everything for sale, including TTTT-labeled clothing along with antiques from Tang’s own collection. Irresistible souvenir: a set of Chinese calendar pajamas ($3,200).

April 23, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Travel

A New Resort in the Bahamas Focuses on Art
Courtesy of Baha Mar Resort

This December a $3.5 billion development called Baha Mar will open on 3,000 square feet of uninterrupted beachfront in Nassau, Bahamas. Situated on the Bahamian Riviera, it will be the largest single-phase resort project in the history of the Caribbean, featuring properties from Rosewood, Mondrian and Hyatt, as well as the Baha Mar Hotel & Casino, golf and tennis facilities and an ESPA spa.

The scope is impressive, but at the heart of the project is a decidedly local touch: Bahamian art is infused throughout the 1,000-acre resort—including guest rooms, meeting and leisure spaces, shops, galleries and the 40 dining options—giving guests a way to engage with and learn about their surrounds.

“I think, in a way, the art becomes cultural wayfinding,” says John Cox, Baha Mar’s new creative artistic director. “I think it’s important that the beacons you put out there have a cultural compass, that they direct you to more and encourage exploration instead of forgetfulness.”

The forthcoming Art Gallery at Baha Mar, which will be located in the Hyatt Convention Center, will showcase the largest collection of local art in the Bahamas, featuring new works by Bahamian artists and exhibits that will occasionally draw from the Dawn Davies Collection and the D’Aguilar Art Foundation (two Bahamas-based art institutions). To further expand the experience and foster the creative community, an artist-in-residence program will provide local and overseas artists the opportunity to create more focused and provocative works in branded studio spaces.

“The best way to describe Bahamian art is by describing what it isn’t,” says Cox. “It isn’t static, predictable or singular. Real Bahamian art is reflective, immediate and diverse and taps into the very essence of the complexity of our collective culture.” Opening December 2014; 242-677-9000; bahamar.com.

February 26, 2014
By Ingrid Skjong | Travel

A Fitness-Focused Stay at Meadowood Napa Valley
Meadowood Napa Valley

Vineyards are the unquestionable stars of Napa Valley, but a new program at Meadowood gives a way to enjoy maximum wellness along with the wine. Healthiest Year Yet, a two-night stay allowing you to train—and recover—while savoring all the area has to offer, fosters healthy habits while acknowledging the ever-growing desire for sophisticated wellness options at hotels and resorts.

“Wellness and fitness are such great complements for travelers who are trying to create a more well-balanced visit to the Napa Valley,” says Kerry Brackett, Meadowood's health spa manager. “We strive to present inspiring and energizing experiences that send our guests home with a renewed sense of vigor.”

Things start off with a 90-minute fitness assessment and personal-training options. There is unlimited access to classes (yoga, cardio, Zumba, TRX suspension training), sports (golf, swimming, tennis, croquet) and instructors. And a custom Eco-Fitness session takes full advantage of the resort’s 250 acres, guiding you through workouts that could include uphill sprints, a jog on the four and a half miles of hiking trails, push-ups and planks on the golf course and strength training by the pool.

Of course, all facets of the resort are available. The spa offers a variety of treatments that can also be done privately in-room; the dining options, including the Grill and the elegant Michelin three-star Restaurant at Meadowood, are not to be missed. The package is clearly balanced, aiming to leave you feeling strong, relaxed and satisfied.

“Our goal,” says Brackett, “is to be a place of rejuvenation for both the mind and body.” Rates start at $1,800 a couple; 900 Meadowood Ln.; 855-625-7546; meadowood.com.

January 28, 2014
By Deborah Frank | Travel

The Ultimate Winter Escape
Courtesy of Whiteface Lodge

Snowstorms do not translate to cabin fever at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, New York. On a recent stay during the holidays, the 94-room Adirondack resort, made up of one-, two- and three-bedroom suites and duplexes with fully equipped kitchens, proved the place to be when temperatures fall below zero at night and run in the single digits during the day.

Despite the town’s numerous offerings—everything from bobsledding on a World Cup track to ice-skating on an Olympic oval to dogsledding on Mirror Lake, not to mention downhill and cross-country skiing—time spent at the lodge can be as adventurous or as relaxing as one wants it to be. Skipping the complimentary five-minute shuttle service into the village, we opted for a morning “yogalates” class (a combination of yoga, Pilates and body resistance training) on a terrace overlooking snow-capped mountains. Afterward we plunged into the 87-degree pool with its massive, 104-degree hot tub, steam rising up into the five-degree air outside. (The lodge has an underground passageway to the pool, which is partly indoors, so there’s no need to freeze getting in and out of it.)

An 80-minute deep-tissue massage ($180) at the recently enhanced spa, with its new Spa Café and hair salon, prepared us for a cozy retreat to our suite for some downtime by the fireplace. The spa’s menu of services features HydraFacial MD facials (from $125 for 25 minutes), which we recently experienced and highly recommend as a quick and effective way to deeply cleanse and intensely hydrate skin. The take-home kit (available with the purchase of a six-treatment series) helps the detoxifying and rejuvenating effects last even longer.

Dinner at restaurant KANU consisted of oxtail soup and wild-boar stew cooked to perfection, plus a dessert of homemade ice-cream-cookie sandwiches topped with fudge and whipped cream. Drinks in the KANU lounge, where entertaining local musicians played, closed out the day. And there was even the option of watching the film Avatar that evening in the resort’s movie theater, located next to the old-fashioned arcade. (Earlier in the day it screened Madagascar 3 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to keep the kids entertained.)

There is no doubt plenty to do at Whiteface. But one of the best parts of staying at the lodge is the comfortable at-home feel you get from the beautifully rustic Adirondack Great Camp decor and the exceptional, welcoming service. Here, everyone knows your name. Rooms start at $375; 7 Whiteface Inn Ln.; 518-523-0500; thewhitefacelodge.com.

December 18, 2013
By Sasha Levine | Travel

A New Place to Ski in the French Alps
Courtesy of L’Apogée Courchevel

Just in time for the start of peak ski season, the Oetker Collection opened L’Apogée Courchevel in the French Alps last week—its seventh hotel and first ski resort. Perched atop a former Olympic ski jump in Le Jardin Alpin on Courchevel 1850, the five-star, ski-in-ski-out destination sits at the highest, most exclusive point of the Three Valleys, which, with 370 miles of slopes connected by 172 ski lifts, is the largest linked ski area in the world.

Along with skiing, guests can enjoy other activities like snowshoeing, tobogganing, vertical ice-climbing and pilot-led scenic tours. If après ski is more of interest, the resort—designed by celebrated architect Joseph Dirand and architect/interior designer India Mahdavi, who envisioned the property as a luxurious family chalet—has an on-site caviar bar, a Champagne lounge and a 7,000-square-foot state-of-the-art spa, with a Jacuzzi and an indoor pool.

For an ultimate stay, a private, five-bedroom chalet (from $24,494) for up to ten people sits next to L’Apogée and comes complete with a spa, a personal chef and butler, a home theater and a proprietary ski lift. Rooms start at $1,200; 33-4/79-04-01-04; lapogeecourchevel.com.

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