Le Prince Maurice Hotel

When the lights flick on at sunset at Le Prince Maurice, on the island of Mauritius, there is a moment of dreamy confusion: Suddenly illuminated, the pools scattered throughout the lobby blend so completely with the gleaming marble floors that, in this chimera of light, you seem to be floating, perhaps aboard a ship, adrift. It's an altogether pleasant sensation, and an appropriate one, given the reality of the setting.

Mauritius is hidden away from the world--a speck in the Indian Ocean 500 miles east of Madagascar, off the coast of southern Africa. Despite the distance, Europeans have managed to find their way to this pristine island over the years. Before its independence, in 1968, the Dutch, French, and English colonized it and reaped its spices for trade. Now they escape to its beaches in winter. Since it is just a four-hour flight from Johannesburg, Americans too are discovering Mauritius, as a post-safari rejuvenation stop.

Sprawled across 148 lush acres punctuated by pools and lagoons, Le Prince Maurice is one of Mauritius' newest resorts. Opened in late 1998, it is the creation of Frenchman Patrice Binet-Decamps, who wanted it to be elegant but not ostentatious and to blend in with the island's topography--a pleasing green patchwork of tea- and eucalyptus-clad hills rising above sugarcane and spice plantations. And the Maurice does blend nicely, thanks to a liberal use of natural materials like stone, teak, and the dried sugarcane leaves that thatch the resort's sloping roofs. Overall, the decor is soothing and serene, rich but not fussy. The open-air lobby and bar has dark teak chairs and settees appointed with white silk cushions and pillows in shades of ginger, saffron, and sage. Carefully selected ethnic accent pieces, like the Balinese wedding trunks that line the entrance to the lobby, decorate the public spaces. The private rooms are handsome but pared down, with rattan and teak furniture, carved-wood beds, and teak floors.

The most prevalent aspect of Le Prince Mauritius' design, though, is water. The sight and sound of the fountain at the center of the lobby--streams spilling from four great stone bowls--are mesmerizing. The main swimming pool, an infinity design that extends outward from the lobby, seeming to blend into the ocean, is the heart of the complex. Three of the resort's 88 suites are perched on stilts, South Pacific style, overlooking a mirror-like turquoise lagoon.

But the best rooms have a more conventional relationship with water. The senior suites, with stone plunge pools just off the terrace, border a powdery, well-staffed beach. The largest and most private accommodation is the 1,200-square-foot Princely Suite, tucked away on its own secluded strand, with three terraces and two pools.

Meals at the resort's L'Archipel restaurant, an open-air pavilion surrounded by pools, reflect the island's rich ethnic mix: a hothouse blend of Indian, Chinese, African, English, French, and Creole. The chef makes abundant use of spices--saffron, ginger, coriander, cinnamon--along with tropical fruits and fish from the surrounding waters. (Mauritius, in fact, offers world-class deep-sea fishing for blue and black marlin, mako shark, and yellowfin tuna. For those who prefer peaceful coexistence, the teeming coral reef makes for excellent snorkeling and diving.) Standout dishes include mixed seafood with lemongrass, punchy mulligatawny soup, smoked marlin, and freshwater prawns in Thai green curry.

Even more memorable, for its setting, is Le Barachois, the hotel's casual grill. Crossing the lagoon on a winding, torchlit walkway to this collection of white-tented tables floating on pontoons feels like an escape from even Le Prince Maurice's little piece of civilization.

Rates, $720-$1,440. 800-735-2478; fax 230-413-9129; www.princemaurice.com.

— Laurie Werner

Venice Alfresco

At the new Cip's Club restaurant, on the quiet island of Giudecca (and part of the Hotel Cipriani Y), guests arrive by private launch or gondola and stroll through romantic gardens fragrant with oleander and jasmine. Highlights of longtime Cipriani chef Antonio Gadaletta's menu are fresh Adriatic fish, crisp pizzas, handmade pastas, and updated versions of traditional Venetian dishes, such as calf's liver served with creamy polenta and veal osso buco with mashed potatoes and diced green apples. To share: light-as-air fritto misto. Dolci include sumptuous white-peach gelato and wild-berry tartlets. The pumpkin-colored walls of the attractive 40-seat room display Venetian watercolors, but for a stunning view of the real thing, the seats of choice are on the terrace. There diners can linger over a glass of Chianti Capannelle Riserva 1995 with the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Square directly across the water--making Cip's Club the best place in Venice to dine alfresco. Dinner, $200. Note: The hotel is closed from January 7 to March 15. Hotel Cipriani, Giudecca; 39-041-520-7744; fax 39-041-520-3930.

— Diane Dorrans Saeks

Magnificent Mish

On a quiet side street of Manhattan's Upper East Side is a new boutique as playful and chic as its wares. Like compartments in a jewel box, MISH NEW YORK's lavender, coral, and cornflower-blue rooms display designer Mish Tworkowski's glittering creations: necklaces of LifeSaver-like ruby beads, earclips of South Sea baroque pearls as big as cottonballs, lariats of aquamarines (above) and cascading torsades of sapphires to drape from the neck or wrap around the wrist. "I wanted the store to have an old-fashioned, Palm Beach feel but also to be fresh, almost tropical, like Mustique," Mish says. "Jewelry isn't boring, so why should its environment be?" At 131 E. 70th St.; 212-734-3500.

— Capucine Irato Hoybach

10 reasons to fall in love with JoJo--all over again
  1. Despite the rumors, JoJo has not closed, nor does its owner and chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, have any intention of shuttering this Manhattan brownstone restaurant.
  2. In fact, JoJo has reopened, with a brand-new, very luxe and très chic decor. While more bordello than bistro, it works brilliantly.
  3. The New York Times' critic may have thought the "soundtrack pumps out music that must be at least 40 years too young for the clientele," but not so the night we visited. The crowd was a stylish mix of social butterflies, serious foodies, and young Upper East Side couples.
  4. Elegant and charming as ever, Lois Friedman, who has been with Jean-Georges at his various New York restaurants for 16 years, is back where she belongs--managing the front of the house.
  5. The chicken roasted with ginger and green olives is still on the menu . . .
  6. . . . and still being served with the chickpea frites.
  7. Rare duck served with fig and apple-pear purées.
  8. Panna cotta with peach confit and apricot sorbet.
  9. A window table upstairs, overlooking a verdant stretch of East 64th Street.
  10. Because it just may be the most intime setting for a romantic dinner in Manhattan.
Dinner, $100. At 160 E. 64th St.; 212-223-5656; fax 212-755-9038.

— Richard David Story

On the Waterfront

For a city with one of the world's great harbors, Sydney is curiously short on places to enjoy it over lunch without straying too far from the central business district. That's why Otto's Ristorante Italiano, a trattoria on the lively, century-old Woolloomooloo Wharf, has been so welcome since it opened in May 2000. Diners sit either outside, on Philippe Starck's plastic Dr. No chairs at umbrella-shaded tables, or in the dark, clubby interior, with a private room for 14 created from a former industrial elevator. Standouts on Nino Joseph Zocali's inventive menu are simple, succulent whole baby barramundi, an Australian freshwater fish, baked with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon and a sweet-tart salad of quail saltimbocca, grilled pear, and baby Treviso radicchio. The wine list presents topnotch selections from the Hunter and Barossa valleys. A perfect pairing: the suave pear-and-honey Pieropan La Rocca 1999 and the velvety roast blue-eyed cod. Dinner, $150. At 6 Cowper Wharf Rd.; 61-2-9-368-7488; fax 61-2-9-360-6988.

— D.D.S.

London: A Hotel Update

London is making another pitch to be Europe's capital of cool with a flurry of new hotels. The most surprising hit is the Renaissance London Chancery Court, flanking the financial district. It is glorious: 356 rooms occupying a seven-story Edwardian building, with a Pavonazzo-marble staircase, soaring Ionic columns, and spacious, high-ceilinged bedrooms (opt for an executive double on the sixth floor overlooking the interior courtyard). QC, the hotel's modern and very eclectic restaurant, has a strong French bent and the buzz of the new. Rooms, $255- $1,600. At 252 High Holborn; 44-20-7829-9888; fax 44-20-7829-9889; www.renaissancehotels.com.

At a different end of the scale is the just-opened West Street, in the heart of the West End theater district. Appearances here deceive. The floor-to-ceiling streetside windows reveal a sleek, contemporary restaurant and lounge bar--cockily located next door to the much-revered Ivy restaurant--where Cristal downed with abandon accompanies the sophisticated Italian dishes masterminded by Kensington Place executive chef Rowley Leigh. Designed by Wells Mackereth, the outfit that was behind last year's hit eatery Smiths of Smithfield, West Street's combined dining room and bar features chrome, chocolate-brown leather banquettes, and an ingenious twisting two-story corkscrew sculpture.

Meanwhile, the hotel element is tucked away on West Street's upper floors: three rooms, each as large as a top-flight suite, serviced by the butler, Donaldo (formerly on the Rothschild staff). These are being hailed as the most exclusive guestrooms in London. The Stone Room has a private rooftop garden, the White Room is bathed in Carrara marble, and The Loft--the largest of the three--is as spacious as a penthouse, outfitted in black leather and emerald-green slate, with a fireplace in the bedroom. The phone number is one to slip into your little black book of essentials. Rooms, $360- $650. At 13-15 West St.; 44-20-7010-8700; fax 44-20-7010-8601.

Back to business--and Threadneedles, an important opening in the City from The Eton Town House Group, the people behind the well-run Colonnade Hotel in West London. Expect more of the same classic English aesthetic and a hotel that feels like a private home, with soft colors, antiques, and quietly efficient English service. Another bit of good news: The group now has corporate membership in the Classic Car Club. This means guests can rent a vehicle with personality--a 1967 Jag, perhaps, or a 1961 Porsche Speedster--to help put the swing in swinging London, where new openings continue to stave off the sniff of recession. Rooms, $385-$3,500. At 5 Threadneedle St.; 44-20-7657-8080; fax 44-20-7289-4878; www.etontownhouse.com. Four-night stay, including breakfast, two days of Classic Car Club use, and one day of limousine service: $1,800. Classic Car Club: 44-20-7609-2188; fax 44-20-7609-2177; www.classiccarclub.co.uk.

— Sophy Roberts

Roman Grandeur

History. Royalty. Shopping. These elements come together in the Napoleon III Suite of Rome's 16th-century Palazzo Ruspoli, quite possibly the world's most majestic bed-and-breakfast. The apartment where the future emperor lived in 1830 was opened to guests last June, after an extensive restoration returned its three vast rooms to their former grandeur, complete with extraordinary antique furnishings and massive oil paintings worthy of their epic setting. Service is provided by attendants from the noble Ruspoli family, who still occupy part of the palace. The location is one of the best in Rome: at the end of Via Condotti, the prime shopping street, and just two minutes from the Spanish Steps.

Every part of a stay here is dramatic. Enter the fortresslike palazzo through wooden doors 27 feet high, pass an arcade of Doric columns and displays of first-century artifacts excavated on-site, and climb the 100 marble steps, framed by illuminated marble busts, to the apartment. (Less dramatic but more convenient: a small elevator.) Step inside, and it's like moving into a palace museum--one where they'll let you eat breakfast on the antique silver, write out postcards on the 18th-century German marquetry desk, park your Bulgari and Valentino bags on the gilded Neapolitan console after a hard day of shopping, and even entertain guests in the reception salon where Louis and his mother, once a queen, held court.

Principessa Letizia Ruspoli, who oversaw the restoration, has made sure that the rooms have none of the mustiness of a museum. Instead, they're fresh and inviting, with modern conveniences like satellite TV, stereo, and fax machine. Principessa Ruspoli is there to advise, to ring up a friend if you need a guide, and--even in so lofty a setting--to make you feel at home.
Suite, $655. Largo Goldoni 56; tel/fax 39-06-688-080-83.

— Laurie Werner

Scotch . . . and Cigars
Whisky Business
This winter brings two valentines to connoisseurs of single-malt whisky. For the first time, The Glenlivet is offering its 1967 single malt--bottled straight from the cask, without dilution, filtration, or color adjustment--in a limited edition culled from the cellars of its distillery in Banffshire, Scotland. Master distiller Jim Cryle selected, signed, and numbered each of some 3,000 bottles; 1,200 of these are available at select stores and restaurants in North America ($199; www.theglenlivet.com). From wine-loving Italy comes an unexpected paean in Single Malt Whisky: An Italian Passion (Brioni Books, $75). A glitzy, guilty pleasure of a read, the book launches the new publishing division of Brioni, best known for its sophisticated men's suits. Author Umberto Angeloni, Brioni's chairman, revels in all manner of esoterica relating to Italians' love for the spirit, from a medieval affinity for aquavitae to Puccini's reference to whisky in his opera La Fanciulla del West. Black-and-white photographs sprinkled throughout illustrate a jet set gone by: Tennessee Williams sipping a glass on Rome's Via Veneto; Ernest Hemingway at Harry's Bar in Venice; Josephine Baker after perhaps a drop too many. The cover features a voluptuous Anita Ekberg surrounded by Scotch-drinking admirers in a scene from La Dolce Vita. In Brioni stores or by phone: 800-252-5231.


A Boxed Set
Hand-rolled, using choice Dominican tobacco and well-aged Connecticut wrappers, Gurkha cigars are among the finest in the world, and they're not even illegal. While some of the six varieties are cocooned in individual glass tubes sealed with wax, the bold, spicy Master Select blend comes in a bundle of 25 inside an elegant lacquered mahogany box ($250). A gold seal of authenticity and a numbered brass plate assure you that yours is one of only 3,000 boxes produced each year. Call for select stores: 305-593-2254.


Seattle Restaurants

The dilemma: You've got only three dinners during your sojourn in Seattle. Do you test out the newest places or stick to familiar territory and dine at some of the city's best? On my last visit I chose the former strategy, but I am delighted to report that there was much overlap with the latter.

For my first dinner, I chose Restaurant Zoë, an ambitious newcomer in hip Belltown with a small, convivial bar, a minimalist room, and a stylish clientele. Chef Scott Staples has created a cuisine that combines refined and rustic touches in a way that gives the food a nice balance rather than an identity crisis. The menu changes seasonally, including dishes like fresh ricotta raviolo served with heirloom tomatoes and seared sea scallops with asparagus-herb risotto, but also pork-cheek confit, making Zoë a terrific choice for appetites both high and low. Dinner, $65. At 2137 Second Ave.; 206-256-2060; fax 206-256-9793.

Also in Belltown, in the former Dahlia Lounge's cavernous space, is Toi. The decor may be ultratrendy (red lacquered walls, Buddha projection over the bar, dramatic teak staircase, black-clad servers), but there's one trend the place has wisely avoided: the insipidly "Pacific Rim" or "pan-Asian" brand of cuisine so overdone in Seattle. Toi's Thai-inspired cooking is accomplished. Everything we sampled had the distinct flavors of Thailand's sacred culinary trinity--galangal, lime leaf, and chiles--but with an American sensibility and sophistication. Dinner, $35. At 1904 Fourth St.; 206-267-1017; fax 206-267-1019.

The reservation was for eight o'clock, but we arrived early at Six Seven, built right on Pier 67, in time to catch the last of the pink-gray light fading over the water. The enchanting view of ferries, islands, and parasailers can be enjoyed from the outdoor terrace or a window table in the cozy dining room. Though the cuisine does teeter on that pan-Asian precipice (Alaskan Halibut with pea shoots, lamb osso buco with star anise and cassia), at least here it's done very well. There's also a sushi chef and a separate sushi menu. Dinner, $90. At Pier 67, 2411 Alaskan Way; 206-269-4575; fax 206-728-4280.


On the Road

Why the MERCEDES c320 is not a station wagon Because a station wagon is a clunky vehicle with fake-wood sides that Muffy used to drive to the commuter railroad to pick up Biff at martini time.
What it is A sports wagon or, as they call it in Britain, an "estate." What it looks like The top-of-the-line S-Class supercars, notably in the headlights. Wildly romantic by Mercedes' sober standards, these headlights are high-tech orbs--like two bubbles that miraculously merged as they floated up out of a bubble bath.
Where those curves come from The studio of Mercedes design chief Peter Pfeiffer. The wagon was created at the same time as the sedan and coupe but by a separate design team. It's not an afterthought, with a box added on in back to make a wagon. And the curves of the swooping roof perfectly match those of a country road.
Where the sound comes from The engine. Its 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 makes it drive like a sports car.
Neatest gadgets The advanced electronic stability control smooths the ride on tight curves. The innovative automatic transmission becomes a manual with a flick of the wrist.
Cleverest feature A filter to thwart the diesel exhaust coming from the 18-wheeler you're stuck behind. Also note the amazing Teutonic engineering of the C320's cupholder: With one touch of a chrome button, it blossoms like a time-lapse flower on the Nature Channel.
Competition Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3 Series wagon, Lexus Sportswagon.
not big enough? Have a look at Mercedes' E-Class wagon, introduced a couple of years ago and stylish enough for Ralph Lauren, who has one in navy blue.


Object Lesson

piece de resistance Chippendale parcel-gilt mahogany bonnet-top chest-on-chest, from the Lammot du Pont Copeland collection of American furniture and decorative art. John Nye, director of American furniture at Sotheby's, calls it "one of the last great collections of Americana" assembled during the "golden age" of collecting, from 1935 to 1955. Pieces date from the late 1600s, the so-called Pilgrim Century, through the Federal Period, ending in the 1820s. On auction January 19 at Sotheby's, New York.
Provenance The chest, with carvings by Philadelphia master craftsmen Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez, dates from the third quarter of the 18th century. The Copelands--a prominent couple from Wilmington, Delaware, and heirs to the du Pont fortune--bought the piece in 1954 from the Auchincloss family of Marietta, Pennsylvania.
Distinguishing characteristics "It's in a terrific state of preservation, with the majority of the carving on the tympanum and finials being original," says Nye. "The chest also has a grungy, dirty patina." In this case, "dirty" is a good thing. The grunge factor can mean the difference between a piece's selling and really soaring, he explains. "It guarantees that the object's surface is original. It's often a good indication of age--like finding an archeological site and knowing that the ground underneath is intact."
Estimate $1.5 million to $2.5 million. Sotheby's, 1334 York Ave.; 212-606-7000; www.sothebys.com.


Nouveau New Orleans

Maison Orléans, a new boutique-style offspring of The Ritz-Carlton, is a hybrid: a midsize hotel that's meant to feel like the intimate, idiosyncratic inns of the French Quarter while providing service in line with its five-star parent. And the Maison Orléans pretty much delivers. The conscientious service starts with a call a few days before guests' arrival to find out if they have any special requests, and continues on arrival with 24-hour butler and room service. The decor is lush, particularly in the four public rooms. Like the grand salons of a plantation house, they are filled with luxurious touches: Louis XVI furniture, antique crystal-and-gilt chandeliers, breakfronts showcasing vintage Limoges, oil portraits, and tufted silk or leather settees. The 74 guestrooms and one suite are handsome if not quite as distinctive, with cherry-wood floors, framed engravings, and sumptuous fabrics like the green brocade half-canopies over the beds. The identical furnishings in each room are a function of the hotel's parentage. Being part of The Ritz, which opened in fall 2000, also means direct access to the excellent restaurant, Victor's, and the atmospheric 20,000-square-foot spa. Rooms, $385-$795. At 904 Rue Iberville; 504-670-2900; fax 504-670-2864; www.maisonorleans.com.

— L.W.

Stillwater Spa

Actually, the water is anything but still at the Park Hyatt Toronto's progressive new spa, where soothing sounds of waterfalls spilling over tiles and streams that run under the glass floor send a subliminal message to frayed nerves. The theme continues with the Aqua Massage ($90), in which guests float in a 98-degree pool while being treated to light stretching and shiatsu pressure-point massage. For the Anti Jet Lag Massage ($70), guests lie back in a deep tub infused with eucalyptus, sage, and rosemary while a therapist wielding a hand-held water jet smooths the seams between time zones. In the waterless Massage Suite, two can be pummeled simultaneously over house-made truffles as a roaring fireplace helps warm the muscles. While waiting for a summons from the spa concierge, guests can retreat to a private cabana to watch the Maple Leafs storm the ice; meditate in front of the Tea Room's tropical fish tank with a hot cup of lemon-and-linden herbal brew; or complete the spa experience with a low-fat lunch: a bento box of seared ahi tuna drizzled with wasabi. At 4 Avenue Rd.; 800-778-7477, 416-926-2389.


Postcard from Prague

Rooms with a View New last year, the Four Seasons is set on the Vltava River--Smetana's Moldau--with romantic views of the medieval Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. A fusion of four buildings, ranging from a Baroque villa housing a pair of two-bedroom suites (all four bedrooms can be rented for $3,500) to a brand-new contemporary entryway, it delivers seamless Four Seasons service, though the choice of a turquoise-and-yellow color scheme for the hallways and drab brown and tan for some rooms is puzzling. The suite to get is number 701, handsome in dark woods and gilding, offering the perfect visual vantage point: high up and right next to the bridge. Rooms, $245-$3,500. Veleslavinova 2A; 800-819-5053, 420-2-2142-7000; fax 420-2-2142-6000; www.fourseasons.com.

Food with a View

Prague has surprisingly few good restaurants that take advantage of the city's waterscape. One of the best is Kampa Park, with a newly enlarged and enclosed terrace on the river near the Charles Bridge. Presided over by chef Marek Raditsch, veteran of New York's Nobu and Café Boulud, the menu is decidedly eclectic, including well-executed offerings like tuna with black truffles, coconut-lime soup with mussels and crab legs, and grilled duck breast with fig sauce. Dinner, $72. Na Kampe 8b; 420-2-5753-2685; fax 420-2-5753-3223.

Views from relative newcomer U Zlaté Studne--set on a hillside near Prague Castle, overlooking the whole city--are even more exceptional, particularly at night. Though the building (the hotel of the same name) is 16th century, the top-floor restaurant is spare, contemporary, and stylish, with vast windows on one side of the long room and a lustrous gold wall on the other. Tables on the terrace share the fine views. The menu offers a small selection of updated classics, such as chicken with tarragon and roasted tiger prawns with Parmesan and garlic butter. Dinner, $60. U Zlaté Studne 166/4; 420-2-5753-3322; fax 420-2-5753-5044.

Art Nouveau Masterpiece
Municipal House--once home to Bohemian kings and now a center for the arts--is an architectural wonder. Of special note: the ornate Smetana Hall, base for the Prague Symphony; the domed Mayor Hall, with frescoes by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha; and the ground-floor café, with huge gilded chandeliers, a nymph relief in Carrara marble, and estimable coffee and cakes. Namesti Republiky 5; 420-2-2200-2100.
Masterpieces in Glass
Arzenal specializes in the baroque, imaginative designs of celebrated glass artist Borek Sípek (whose works have been commissioned for President Vaclav Havel's villa). The store also showcases his ceramics and idiosyncratic furniture, as well as the clothing designs of his friend Yoshiki Hishinuma. Diners can try out Sípek's tableware at the Thai café in the back. Prices range from $7.50 for a juice glass to $4,800 for a multicolored, tendriled chandelier. Valentinska 11; 420-2-2481-4099.

Key to the City When Prince Charles sent a few guests to tour the gardens of Prague, Olga Savelková showed them around. She has also served as guide to several heads of state. Knowledgeable, flexible, and infinitely patient, she can structure any tour--even a three-hour whirlwind, which she recently designed for a busy CEO's visit. Her fee: $20 an hour. 420-2-4143-0098; olga.savelkova@iol.cz.

— L.W.

A Sterling Idea

The first of its kind, Puiforcat's sterling silver Champagne goblet delivers design marvels and aesthetic pleasures in equal measure. Created under the guidance of master oenologist and noted Reims winemaker Bruno Paillard, the cup indulges the senses. Sterling's conductive qualities keep Champagne cool, a wide bulb allows it to breathe, and the indented neck concentrates the aroma. Lines engraved on the lip denote Champagne's three grape varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. At the cup's bottom, a conical point pushes bubbles up in a geyser effect. Cost: $735. From Puiforcat: 800-993-2580.