TO TRAVEL WELL IS AN ART...part of which is knowing where to stay. Some places become life long memories.
I have my reservations when booking places to stay for somewhere I’ve never been. There’s always research involved as to the whereabouts, cleanliness of the place and of course, the price. All in all I’ve had pretty good luck and have managed to stay in some very special hotels, Inns, and even B+B’s. In fact some of them I’d even consider going back and staying as a holiday in itself, kind of like a staycation away from home. I never thought about that before because usually they’re just comfortable places to sleep while enjoying the rest of the vacation scenery, restaurants, museums, etc. There was one time I stayed in just a decent hotel in South beach, Miami and booked there for a second time because I liked the location and the price was under $300 per night (yeah, high priced South beach). But to my horror the second time around was not so pleasant because they were in the process of making upgrades and the place was in shambles. Luckily for me I was able to get my money back and find a great cosy little art deco boutique hotel only a few blocks away and closer to the beach for only a bit more money. You must do your homework and sometimes crying helps…but don’t count on it! But it has worked twice for me so….
This leads me to one question:
Is a hotel just a place to sleep and store your belongings, or a special retreat?
Thinking back on all of the places I’ve been, I thought it would be a good idea to let you in on some of the more special hotels I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in along the way. Some are classics and some are lesser known but equally extraordinary discoveries. Should you plan to be in any of these locations, dreams are made of this:
In no particular order (because just like ordering a special from Wilensky’s in Montreal, some things don’t change over time):
Speaking of MONTREAL, the RITZ-CARLTON is the place. I’ve always loved it and remember having many brunches here by the garden pond watching the swans swim by. This is the romantic hotel where Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton married, I was a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding and the rooms come equipped with Hermès soaps and lotions. This Ritz is a more intimate little Montreal gem.
Blame it on the COPACABANA PALACE in RIO for spoiling me for all other hotels:
Fit for a KING. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of hotels to know that it’s hard to top this one. Two words: Rolling Stones. Yeah, Mick and the gang have stayed here too. I think this place was partly responsible for his final breakup with Jerry Hall but I had nothing to do with that and don’t quote me. I wanted to live here. The Copacabana beach view, the staff, the pool, the food (particularly the brunch by the pool except I thought they said $17; not $70). Outstanding! Rio itself though, just be wary. Don’t park anywhere you’re not supposed to for more than 15 seconds otherwise a cop might wave a gun in your face and try to extort thousands of dollars from you….just because they can. I worked it down to $50 without one tear and a phone call to the concierge at the hotel.
ALVEAR PALACE, BUENOS AIRES – this 5 star luxury hotel is located in the heart of upscale La Recoleta and combines European elegance with cutting edge technology. Even if you don’t stay there make a reservation for high tea and it will make your visit to the Empress in Victoria seem like.. just toast. Plus there is live music (harp anyone?) while you enjoy.
NILE HILTON, CAIRO – sits right in the heart of the city and offers all the refinement of an old world Hilton hotel but on the banks of the river Nile. Our balcony was facing a panoramic view of the Nile and our suite and the rooms in general are huge and elegantly decorated. This one is a popular meeting place for business travelers, tourists and locals alike. It’s right next to the Egyptian Museum and close to the Khan el-Khalili market and Old Cairo. It’s also only eight miles from the pyramids. The on-site restaurants serve Lebanese, Egyptian, Italian and international cuisine in fantastic locations like a romantic terrace on the Nile and a rooftop deck overlooking the bustling city. Leisure options include a gym, sauna and swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, a disco and a casino. I lived here for almost one month while on business. I got to know the staff quite well, the business centre and the tea room on the roof with time to see all of the Museum across the street. Okay, maybe I wasn’t really working much. Word of advice: don’t wear shorts even if it’s hot out which it will likely be.
SAROVA STANLEY, NAIROBI– fit for a QUEEN. In the early 1900s when the Sarova Stanley opened its iconic doors, Queen Victoria presided over the largest empire in history, Conrad penned Lord Jim, Picasso painted Le Mouline de la Galette, and American R.A. Fessenden transmitted human speech over radio waves. The first luxury hotel in Nairobi, it has launched itself into Kenyan history. The gracious host of prominent world leaders, renowned authors, and international celebrities – a beacon of luxury and unrivalled hospitality. And they had a famous Thorn Tree where people including Hemingway used to leave notes for each other. We saw it. It was there for over 30 years but sadly It has been replaced by a small sapling and there are bulletin boards surrounding it. This sits smack in the middle of the Thorn Tree restaurant. The mystique is no longer.
The verdant location for numerous films over the years, the Sarova Stanley welcomed classic Hollywood luminaries such as Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, and Gregory Peck, and offered them a quiet repose under the shade of the acacia trees that frequent the outdoor gardens. A lavish oasis in the undisturbed Kenyan desert, the hotel entertained royal guests, including the resplendent ball for their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Gloucester in 1928, and a regal luncheon banquet for Prince Philip and, then, Princess Elizabeth during their world tour in 1952, shortly after which Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne to become queen.
ROYAL LIVINGSTONE HOTEL, VICTORIA FALLS, ZAMBIA – a dream vacation.
Overlooking the spectacular Victoria falls, is where 5-star luxury meets nature’s majesty. Easily accessible from Johannesburg, South Africa, The Royal Livingstone feels like it is a million miles from ordinary. Offering guests a once in a lifetime experience right on the banks of the Zambezi River overlooking the thundering Victoria Falls with lots of zebra and monkeys on the property. Renowned for its colonial-inspired décor, The Royal Livingstone owes its existence to its named in honour of the explorer David Livingstone. Who’s that knocking at the back door? Oh, a monkey – how cute! Word of advice: do not feed the monkeys candy.
SEA CLIFF HOTEL, Dar es Salaam, TANZANIA
A privately owned hotel with unmatched personal service, immaculate grounds, great staff, excellent food, pampering atmosphere close to amenities and you can watch them roasting coffee beans in the little shopping mall right next door. The aroma is amazing.
A little closer to home:
INN AT THE OPERA, San Francisco
Located just steps away from the city’s civic centre, Opera House, Symphony hall and a great little trendy neighbourhood called “Hayes Valley”. A place for foodies and performing arts lovers. But I booked this on a whim when I had to find a place when I was running the Nike Women’s half marathon in San Francisco. I made sure to stay here for the second run. Rooms are small but comfortable and the boutique hotel has a luxurious French-style and antique European ambiance. It was built more than half a century ago to house visiting opera stars. The illustrious opera house is just outside your door, and the diverse charms of the city are all within your reach. It took us about a 20 minute walk from here to Union Square where the start of the run takes place (not to mention all fabulous shopping you can ever imagine). Can you imagine?
The Algonquin Resort St. ANDREWS BY THE SEA, New Brunswick
This hotel for the second year in a row has made Condé Nast Traveler’s list of Top 20 Resorts in Canada: Readers’ Choice Awards 2015! It’s a beautifully located resort complete with golf course. The town is lovely and very quaint. We stayed in a room on the 4th floor where Joan Collins previously stayed in. When we went out for dinner the radiator in the room exploded. I can’t remember the room number but found this out:
According to the website “Haunted North America”, Room 473 is haunted by a jilted bride who died in the room in the early 1900s. Hmmmm
WICKANINNISH INN. TOFINO – stormy weather!Super, Natural British Columbia – like the ads say, this is it! Experience total relaxation too. Enjoy island nature at its wildest during storm watching weather while enjoying the comfort of this world class Tofino hotel with ocean views, cd player & library in each room, Pacific Northwest Cuisine (in the restaurant with piped-in live ocean sounds) and Ancient Cedars Spa (used to be Aveda) services in a smoke-free natural environment.
More to follow…