Back to Life
Food writer, visual artist, and “Salad for President” creator Julia Sherman explores the many culinary pleasures of Mexico City.
Plus, finding wellness in Sedona, a Gatsby-esque stay in Spain, and palatial accommodations in Switzerland.
IT OCCURRED TO me recently that I’ve traveled more in the past three months than I have in the past three years combined, an experience that has been both exhilarating and more than a little exhausting. It has also reignited my long-term love affair with hotels. After needing to stay longer than expected on a recent trip to Milan, I bounced between two amazing hotels, both of which helped save my sanity after many weeks living out of a suitcase. In both cases, it wasn’t the in-room amenities that made my stay so great, but rather a savvy concierge and a thoughtful general manager who helped me navigate a crazy travel snafu and made sure I had everything I needed. As the dog days of summer descend on New York City this August, and I once again prepare to hit the road, I’m thinking about all the new hotel bars and late-night room-service sandwiches in my future. Looking at the amazing properties our team has visited lately — a list that includes hotels in Vancouver, Gstaad, Zurich, Tokyo, and Sedona, Arizona — I’m excited for all the new rooms, views, and places that, albeit briefly, will feel like a version of home.
— T. Cole Rachel
I stayed at the Fairmont Pacific Rim a few days after visiting the Fairmont Empress in Victoria. The two hotels could not be more different — and being asked to pick between them feels like having to choose your favorite child. The Pacific Rim, located in downtown Vancouver, is the impossibly chic younger sister to the Empress, the regal older sister. Immediately upon entering the Pacific Rim’s hypermodern lobby, you are greeted by two surreal 7-foot bobblehead statues of children holding smartphones — Douglas Coupland’s “Moneyboy” and “Moneygirl” — rotating above the bustling Lobby Lounge, the hotel’s excellent bar and eatery. I don’t pretend to understand what these statues mean, but you should stop right there and order something from the Lobby Lounge’s raw bar because the fish is fresh and the people-watching is unparalleled. When you’ve had enough of that, visit the Taschen Library upstairs or the art collection and then retreat to your gorgeously appointed room with views of Vancouver Harbor and the city’s surprisingly lush skyline. The hotel has a remarkable spa. I got the “Canadian Wilderness Retreat,” which is a massage and skin scrub inspired by the practice of forest bathing — because why not? — Laura Smith
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Exploring the hotel feels like walking through one of Gatsby’s parties.
Rosewood Villa Magna is a hotel, yes. But it also feels like a local members’ club. From the second I set foot within the sprawling, neo-art deco, art-filled hotel, I was struck by the clusters of Madrileños gathered throughout the property. Handsomely dressed and conspiring over drinks, coffee, or plates of food, they give a vibrant spirit to the place. Rooms are beautiful hushed escapes from the bustle of urban life. But the real dynamism of the hotel lies in its multiple eateries: a white-tablecloth Cantabrian restaurant, a grill spot with breezy gardens, a dark moody bar with gourmet bites, and a high-tea service. Exploring the hotel feels like walking through one of Gatsby’s parties, with different, exciting micro worlds in each room or wing. The location is prime — a stroll away from the best museums and neighborhoods. And for those who’d rather stay put, the spa looked like a true urban oasis. I can’t recommend this jewel box enough. — Sophie Mancini
There’s something special about waking up in Williamsburg, even if only for a weekend, and this is coming from someone who has lived in Brooklyn for well over a decade. Penny Williamsburg, a new boutique hotel named after the owner’s lovable chihuahua, is just a few blocks away from McCarren Park. You can’t miss the building with its brightly colored flags out front, adorned with a large illustration of the hotel’s namesake. Penny’s focus on art and community carries throughout the property and into each room, with the ground floor serving as a gallery space. Thanks to a partnership with local nonprofits Land Gallery and Pure Vision Arts, numerous works are on display by New Yorkers with developmental disabilities. The rooms feel like a close friend’s apartment, in a good way, replete with kitchenettes, modern decor, and flourishing house plants. There’s no shortage of great restaurants in the area, but be sure to check out ElNico, the rooftop bar and restaurant that serves Mexican cuisine with a twist, for their caviar sope and pink mole. Nothing beats taking your drink of choice onto the terrace and soaking up the panoramic views of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. As the hours passed and the pink and orange sunset gave way to the stars, I wondered what other delights were waiting in my own backyard. — Lisa Lok
The Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal is a little slice of heaven nestled between the beach and the mountains in beautiful Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. My arrival felt like something out of a James Bond film, as I entered through a cavernous, private, 1,000-foot-long tunnel built through the mountains. But the real wow was my room, where a spread of chips, guacamole, and refreshing hibiscus water awaited. Relaxing in my private infinity pool, I overlooked the property’s jaw-dropping vistas, the grounds tastefully landscaped with desert vegetation and several lounge pools. Friends had recommended I dine at El Farallon, the hotel’s cliffside seafood eatery, which feels like a scene plucked from a dreamy postcard. The fish are caught daily and accompanied by delectable sides that you can enjoy with views of the mountains and ocean. During my visit, I had the pleasure of enjoying the property’s Festival of Flavors, one of several culinary series that highlight Michelin chefs from around the world. Coincidentally, the chefs from San Francisco’s Osito (one of my top hometown restaurants) were at the four-day event creating dishes inspired by the flavors of Mexico, including chicken-fried squash blossoms and shrimp and corn fritters. The only time I left the property was for a sunset beach stroll, reminding myself that paradise was always just a few steps away if I needed it. — Elissa Polls
Not only is the new Portrait Milano hotel one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed in, it’s also one of the most unusual. The property occupies the former Archiepiscopal Seminary, dating all the way back to 1565, and is among the oldest seminaries in Europe. The property previously housed a library, a printing shop, and a school for children before eventually serving as the personal worksop of architect Mario Bellini. After undergoing a massive renovation, the now five-star property offers 73 suites and rooms, each impeccably designed. One of the most fascinating aspects of the hotel is its shape — a huge square — that wraps around the Piazza del Quadrilatero, a large public space that allows visitors to pass through the hotel, connecting Corso Venezia to Via Sant’Andrea. In addition to an incredible boutique (where I bought a pair of lovely Italian sneakers), there are also two restaurants on site, one for casual dining called Ten Eleven and Beefbar Milano, a fine dining experience that also happens to be one of the hottest tables in town. (Try as I might, I wasn’t able to get a reservation) Portrait Milano is right in the heart of Milan’s fashion district, which means you are mere steps away from literally every luxury store one could imagine, as well as many of Milan’s most famous landmarks. On my first morning at the hotel, I stumbled out of my room in a jetlaggy fog in search of coffee and within a few blocks unwittingly walked right into the Duomo di Milano, one of the most impressive cathedrals ever created. — Cole
Although it was a far cry from my childhood memories of camping, it shared the aspect of it that I remember enjoying most: the experience of being really and truly outside.
On a recent trip to Maine, I had the opportunity to visit Under Canvas, Acadia. The luxury camp is one of 11 locations run by the brand, which has positioned itself as offering a safari-inspired experience stateside, with resorts adjacent to all of the most spectacular national parks. I grew up camping: cold outdoor showers, canned food warmed over a fire, sleeping bags on the ground with armadillos rustling in the underbrush and rubbing up against the tent — that kind of camping. This is most certainly not that. The canvas tents here are set up on wooden platforms and have soft beds, wood-burning stoves, indoor showers, toilets, and even electricity, provided by rechargeable battery packs. There is a large common tent with tables, sofas, board games, outdoor firepits with s’more kits, and a restaurant serving excellent local food. Although Under Canvas was a far cry from my childhood memories of camping, it shared the aspect of it that I remember enjoying most: the experience of being really and truly outside (and a modern update, disconnected, as the property purposely does not offer Wi-Fi). The wind rustling through the trees could be heard through the soft walls of the tent at night, as I lay, tucked into a plush, comfortable bed. — Skye Parrott
Upon arrival at Mii Amo Spa, I sat with other guests for a welcoming ceremony where we were told that our only duty while there was to receive. In my adult life, I’ve never felt so cared for. I started off with an energy-clearing session — a service that combines intention-focused discussion and bodywork. The following morning, an intuitive massage therapist guided me through my personal trauma and pain, ending with a poignant message I’ve needed to hear for years. Later that evening, a cranial sacral massage triggered an almost dreamlike state. I returned to my room bleary-eyed, where I proceeded to sleep for 10 solid hours. In between my services, I lay by the pool and read, hiked through the glorious red rocks, took numerous yoga classes, attended insightful lectures, meditated in the crystal grotto, and was nourished by the food at the Hummingbird cafe. I’m still dreaming about the inventive tuna poke pizzetta, their perfectly balanced mint pavlova, and the endless cold-pressed juices. To top it off, my room was stunning, overlooking Boynton Canyon, which I could also take in from the comfort of my bathtub.
— Hailey Andresen
Switzerland in the summertime is surely some kind of heaven (I had previously only visited in winter, which is a different kind, so maybe it’s just Switzerland that’s heaven). But summertime on Lake Zurich is blissful: warm days, cool nights, a lake so clean you cannot just swim in it, but see right down to the bottom where the little fish are swimming too. Set high above Zurich is The Dolder Grand. Originally built in 1899 in what looks like a castle, The Dolder Grand is still housed in that castle, but now with a fantastic, super-modern addition. With a regular shuttle delivering you to the center of the city in less than 10 minutes, the property offers a perfect balance of feeling close to but also away from it all. Although Zurich is wonderfully green, sparkling clean, and filled with art — not exactly a place you’re looking to get away from. But in case you still need a break, The Dolder Grand has a spectacular, adults-only spa. I was traveling with a 6-year-old, so while I only got to gaze at the spa longingly through the glass, I found a different diversion while I was on the property: its art collection. With more than 100 works from artists including Keith Haring, Kara Walker, and Joan Miró, the hotel sometimes felt like a fabulous home with a vast, eclectic art collection — you never knew what you would encounter around the corner.
On a recent visit to Milan, I was excited to finally spend a night at the Bulgari Hotel Milano, a property I’ve been hearing about for years. Tucked away on a private street downtown, the five-star property occupies an eighteenth-century Milanese palazzo with an incredible outdoor garden. I knew that the hotel gods must be smiling down on me when, thanks to a fluke of good timing, I was able to snag a night in the signature Bulgari Suite. Boasting two bedrooms and a private rooftop garden with 360-degree views, the suite offers the most elevated version of all things Bulgari: design elements curated by architect Flaviano Capriotti, a library of rare art books, furniture from Antonio Citterio’s Flexform and Maxalto collections, carpets by Altai, a working stone fireplace, and a fully stocked kitchen. Even though it was fashion week and all of Milan was buzzing with parties, I couldn’t bring myself to leave what is arguably the most divine hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. The suite, much like the rest of the hotel, is a swoon-worthy testament to what makes Milan such a magical city. I never wanted to check out. — Cole
T. Cole Rachel is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media. He is currently an editor-at-large at Departures.
Skye Parrott is the editor-in-chief of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor-in-chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
Laura Smith is the deputy editor of Departures. Previously, she was the executive editor of California magazine and has written for the New York Times, the Guardian, the Atlantic, and many more. Her nonfiction book, The Art of Vanishing, was published by Viking in 2018.
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Elissa Polls is the head of production for Departures. A producer who typically stays behind the scenes, she has worked with creatives from around the world, helping bring their ideas to life. Polls has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.
Hailey Andresen is the guides editor at Departures. A New York–based writer and editor, she founded the digital lifestyle publication Household Mag and has spent more than a decade in the hospitality industry.
Lisa Lok is the visuals director of Departures. A Brooklyn-based creative, she enjoys collaborating with photographers and illustrators from around the world.
Jess Rotter is a Los Angeles–based illustrator and artist. Rotter’s work has frequently featured in the Washington Post. Her clients range from Natalie Portman to Questlove.
Food writer, visual artist, and “Salad for President” creator Julia Sherman explores the many culinary pleasures of Mexico City.
Raised around the city's tables, our editor shares her most beloved spots to eat and drink.
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Returning to the road in New Mexico in pursuit of making art.