Friday, December 31, 2010

EliteTravelGal's Top 10 Luxury Hotels of 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, it's time to pay homage to 10 luxury hotels that completely blew me away this year. I criss-crossed the globe to preview new hotels, and also to revisit some properties that are new and improved after impressive redos. From Santorini to Sonoma, here's my "Top 10 of 2010" list:

As I'm here in Las Vegas for New Year's Eve, I'll start with props for The Cosmopolitan. In a town where more is more, this hotel exudes elegant style. The stunning Chandelier Bar; an entire floor of celeb chef-driven restaurants (Jaleo to Comme Ca to Scarpetta); a vintage-inspired, chic room decor; two gorgeous pools; and high-tech touches everywhere--coupled with staff that smiles like they mean it--makes this my new favorite hotel in Vegas.

The second US property from AmanResorts, Amangiri, makes my list for its sheer uniqueness and Zen-inspiring setting on the border of Utah & Arizona. Leave it to Aman to bring the best of Asian style to such an All-American setting (pictured). Yoga with a view was just one fun highlight of my stay.

I fell in love at first sight with The Surrey, located on Manhattan's Upper East Side, upon its reopening. Stylish design, spacious rooms & suites, a cool rooftop bar, terrific gym, and a staff that goes above and beyond to please make this my uptown favorite in the city that never sleeps.

My 2010 list also includes a downtown Manhattan fave: The Robert DeNiro-owned Greenwich Hotel. I felt like a special guest in this boutique, residential-style property that also houses the fab Locanda Verde restaurant. Cozy, clubby furnishings, huge rooms, free WiFi + free minibar, amazing baths, a Japanese spa and a living room-styled private bar are reasons I so enjoyed my weekend stay in TriBeCa.

Further afield, The Armani Hotel Dubai, wow'ed me with its uber-sleek design. How could it not, it's designed by Armani after all! I also loved its sister property, The Address Downtown. Warmly designed spacious rooms & suites with fountain views, beautiful restaurants & bars, ultra-friendly staff and an amazing Club Lounge make this hotel ideal for families to business travelers. The location steps away from the 1,200-store Dubai Mall is another selling point!

Santorini is one of those destinations I plan to revisit time and again. The Caldera area of Oia ranks up there with the most beautiful settings I've encountered in decades. The family-run Canaves Oia hotel--with a newly added second wing and a unique-to-Oia elevator--sits in a prime cliffside location to view the famous Santorini sunsets, while enjoying fabulous, authentic Greek cuisine before retiring to your beautifully furnished suite with a view.

On the list of hotels that get better with age, The Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara impresses from the minute you arrive. I love the junior suites with steam showers in the baths as well as the private, individually decorated cottages dotting the oceanfront property. The newly renovated Casino Club--open to members and hotel guests only--is a terrific addition for its oversized pool, beach access and alfresco restaurant. The setting, spa, and Sunday Brunch also impress.

One of the biggest surprises of the year came during my first visit to Sonoma, CA. The family-run, 18-suite Farmhouse Inn sits right in the heart of the Russian River Valley and is worth a visit for the incredible dining experience alone. But you'd miss out bigtime if you don't stay for a few days in one of the new Barnhouse Suites, complete with four-poster beds, fireplace, jetted tub-for-two, steam shower, upscale shabby chic furnishings, and the best concierge staff in the region who will get you VIP'ed at the best boutique wineries in the Valley. One of my favorite weekend getaways of the year, hands down.

Rounding out my list of new hotels I loved this year is Grand Hotel Via Veneto in Rome. My clients also loved this city-center property for its unique art deco-meets-modern style, personable staff (a huge positive in Rome!), and welcoming, comfortable ambience.

It goes without saying that all of the above hotels take amazing care of our clients, and of course that is the key reason we love them all. There are too many others to list that do the same, and we can't wait to see what 2011 brings!

Let us know if we can help you plan an amazing visit to any of our 2010 favorites...or recommend properties worldwide we know will best fit your business or leisure travel needs! Contact me anytime via email, find me on Twitter @elitetravelgal and be sure to like us on Facebook at for insider tips on top hotels all year long. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

ILTM Round-Up: What's HOT in Luxury Travel

Each year that I attend the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) in Cannes, I walk away with so much amazing insider info! Over three days I meet with dozens of general managers and execs from top luxury hotel companies, catch up with old friends and find out firsthand what's hot & happening in the luxury travel world. Here's a round-up of just SOME of what I learned this year:

Hayman Island in Australia has a new General Manager whose resume includes time at Cipriani in Venice. The private island also opens its eight new beach villas this month. Wolgan Valley Resort includes a 60-min massage for our Virtuoso clients and is one of the top Australian properties featured on the new site I love this site, as it showcases the best luxury boutique properties in Oz.

When you arrive at the Upper House in Hong Kong, check-in is by iPad and there's an iTouch in every room loaded with music, games & room service menu. Cafe Gray here just got a Michelin star.Look for sister Swire Hotels to open in Shanghai & Vietnam.

Formerly a top concierge in Florence, Claudio Meli the GM of JK Place Firenze welcomes his guests without a formal check-in process (love this). Benefits of staying at this fashion-forward hotel include connections to the top designers and boutiques in town. Already on T&L's hot list, JK Place Firenze is expected to join sister Capri property on the Virtuoso preferred property list in 2011. JK Place Capri offers private access to the only sand beach in Capri. That, plus a 50 staff to 40 guest ratio, a fabulous GM, and NO charges for internet, breakfast or minibar put it top of my list (and of many celebs') of where to stay in Capri.

One of my favorite Greek island boutique hotels, Canaves Oia, appears likely to join the Virtuoso network in 2011. This Small Luxury Hotel sits on the most beautiful area of the Caldera in Oia, Santorini and has a setting to die for. The hotel's owner and general manager also told me to keep my eye out this year for the unveiling of SeaSky, Santorini's newest ultra-luxe hotel.

In Sydney, the Four Seasons Sydney JUST completed a major redo of its NYC loft-style Presidential Suite. And Park Hyatt Sydney closes for a complete redo April 1. Firm opening date for the completely redone Four Seasons London is now January 31. And, we're hearing June for Four Seasons Marakecch.

Last December, restaurant/catering genius Barton G. spent $2.5 million on the Versace Mansion & transformed it into the Villa by Barton G. The 10-room property in the heart of South Beach, Miami offers opulent suites, beach views, rooftop dining & fabulous Versace furnishings.

Sitting on 34 acres of olive trees just 25 minutes from Nice near St. Paul de Vence, Chateau St. Martin & Spa is currently adding a second restaurant and renovating its open-air gym and three-bedroom villa. The Michelin-starred chef hails from sister property LeBristol in Paris, there's a LaPrairie spa, and all suites feature seaviews and la Prairie amenities. Note to self: Perfect spot to enjoy the best of Cote d'Azur & Provence.

Rocco Forte will open its first Middle East property in Abu Dhabi mid-2011. It will feature a 6th-floor, Mosque-view Sky Bar, 281 rooms and a yoga studio.

Wimco, one of our favorite villa companies, now offers private homes for rent in Mexico, Hawaii and Nantucket. Their new concierge office in St. Barts can arrange for car rentals delivered to guests' villas and shared or private charter flights from San Juan (a nice alternative to St. Martin arrivals).

Six Senses newest Thai island property Soneva Kiri is being billed as "jungle meets beach". The 36-villa resort sits on Thailand's 4th largest island and is just a one-hour flight from Bangkok. All villas have private pools, bay views, and the smallest is huge at 4,000 square feet. Cool features: Tree-top dining with meals served by waiters on zip line (pictured above); a "Chocolate Bar" open 11am-11pm; and direct flights to Angkor Wat, ideal for day trips.

Opening next week is Six Senses newest resort, Con Dao in Vietnam (a 40-min flight from Ho Chi Min). Expect to see a "new generation" of Six Senses here according to execs, who tell us the two- to four-bedroom villas will be "a little sleeker" though still "rustic". Guests are given Vespas to drive around the island, and activities include trekking, diving, snorkeling, visiting local villages (2,000 Vietnamese live here) and enjoying the fab Bamboo spa. Sister property Six Senses Laamu opens April 2 in the southern Maldives (45 min from Male). Billed as bit "younger and larger", the resort will open with 100 villas, plenty of family-friendly sports & activities, a gastrodome/wine cellar and bi-level beach and overwater bungalows.

Look for Six Senses to open three Morocco properties in 2012, Bahia Beach, Brazil in 2013 and their first "non-remote" location in the Turks & Caicosin 2013.

Big news: Hotel Bel-Air will finally reopen July 15 after its $150 million renovation. Under the eye of GM Tim Lee, the "new" Hotel Bel-Air will offer 103 rooms and suites (including 12 completely new Canyon View accommodations), each with Bang & Olfsen TVs, contemporary design, heated limestone floors, a chic lobby with a fireplace, a "to be named" celebrity chef, larger bar areas, and a La Prairie Spa & first-class fitness center. Also making news: Two new bungalows at sister property Beverly Hills Hotel will open in February on the site of the hotel's former tennis courts. Look for the new units to offer 5,500 sq feet of indoor/outdoor space and a beautiful, contemporary decor.

Al Maha, an Arabian-style desert resort 45 minutes from Dubai Airport, is now part of Starwood's Luxury Collection as of Nov 1. The 42 "tented suites" each feature a private terrace/pool and new Starwood beds, and rates include all meals and choice of two activities/day (options range from horseback riding to camel trekking).

Owned by the Ferragamo family, Il Borro sits in the middle of a vineyard and offers 25 one- to four-bedroom apartments and three villas just an hour ddrive or 20-minute train ride from Florence (and 15 minutes from the Prada outlet). The newly renovated apartments (complete with separate kitchen/living room) start at just 300Euros/night, villas from 1000e/night. The stunning 10-bedroom main villa rents for 7000Euros/night. Activities include wine tasting, hot air balloons, biking, tennis, a spa/gym, indoor/outdoor pool. PERFECT for families and groups of friends wanting a true Tuscan experience.

Opened this past June, Royal Mansour brings a new level of luxury to Marakecch. Featuring 53 bi-level Riads, the smallest of which is 1,600 sq feet (the largest being 22,000 sq feet), the property took nearly four years to build on eight acres of city center land. Riads each feature private plunge pools on a sun deck, and a very traditional Moroccan decor. Other highlights of the new hotel include an indoor and an outdoor pool, a gorgeous spa, kids/teen centers, three restaurants (two of which are labeled "gastronomic"), and stunning private dining rooms. Rumor has it Royal Air Maroc may add flights next year from Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.

In Barcelona, the fabled Ritz has been reincarnated as El Palace after a $30 million euro refurb. Walking distance to Las Ramblas, this Leading Hotel of the World has been updated top to bottom. Sister property Hotel Rey Juan Carlos offers a huge spa, gorgeous gardens and is ideal for families (second room available at 50% off).

The new Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, located in a former bank building, sits amongst 7,000 square feet of gardens and offers a rooftop terrace, a spa with indoor pool, 100% of its rooms with outside views, and a stunning penthouse.

Want to travel with like-minded women? Ask us about dedicated Tuscan wine, shopping, golf & other trips offered by our new friends at Macana. They've got great golf trips for the guys, too. Great group bike/wine trips for couples AND singles also offered in Europe and Napa Valley by Duvine Adventures. We love their motto: Eat, Drink, Bike, Sleep.

Want to know more about any of the above? Or hear about all of the other wonderful hotels & destinations we saw this year in Cannes? Drop me an email or find me on twitter @EliteTravelGal. We also post hot tips regularly on Facebook at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I am Thankful For...Travel-Related, Of Course

With it being Thanksgiving week, it seems appropriate to list a few things I am thankful for as a frequent traveler. So here goes:

I am thankful for hotels like Four Seasons Maui (pictured)for never ever disappointing my clients. Everytime I book a client here, I get a thank you email telling me how incredible everything was. This hotel simply does everything right and thus, makes me look good in the process.

I am thankful to whoever invented in-flight WiFi. You guys at GoGo Inflight rock. The daytime cross-country flights I used to dread are now uber-productive thanks to you.

I am thankful for luxury properties like Peninsula Hotels, Luxe Sunset Boulevard, Gansevoort Hotels, Marquis Los Cabos, Canyon Ranch and The Greenwich that don't charge me extra to use the in-room WiFi. Charging for this remains my biggest luxury hotel pet peeve.

I am thankful to our NY-based partners at SmartFlyer and for our membership in the Virtuoso network which enables us to pass along incredible perks & special privileges to all of our clients worldwide.

I am thankful to all of the hotel General Managers I've met around the world over the years who consider my clients VIPs & treat them like old friends the minute they step in their door.

I am thankful to Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood Hotels & Orient Express for their Preferred Partners, Stars, Elite & Bellini Club programs. As a member of each, our clients enjoy ultra-VIP status when staying at any of their properties.

I am thankful to Mark Zuckerberg, @Ev & @Biz for inventing the Social Media networks that have changed how we do business. Both Facebook & Twitter are responsible for reconnecting me with so many old friends & connecting me to new friends & new clients all over the world.

I am thankful to the (handful of) airline gate agents who understand that there's nothing wrong with being nice to travelers. After all, these are the people who buy the tickets that keep the airlines in business and the reason they have a job.

I am of course, thankful to all of our amazing clients around the world who trust us with their all of their business & vacation travel plans

Lastly, I am thankful for my good health. Without this, I'd never be able to travel all over the world and share my experiences with all of our clients and with all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow travelers worldwide! I look forward to helping you plan amazing trips in the days ahead. For more information, email me at or follow me on Twitter @elitetravelgal. I'd also be thankful if you'd like us on Facebook
at where we post lots of insider tips and luxury hotel deals.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Loving Los Cabos...Part One

Everytime I fly down to Los Cabos--which isn't often enough given it's only a two-hour flight from Los Angeles--I quickly remember why I love this Mexican destination. The people are unbelievably friendly, the hotels are first class, the food is delicious and the sea-meets-mountain setting is simply stunning.

Accommodation options in Los Cabos run the gamut from small luxurious boutique hotels to larger full-service beachfront resorts, private villas and over-the-top residences (more on this later this week!). The newest addition to my list of favorite luxury hotels is Marquis Los Cabos, a 237-suite property steps from the Pacific Ocean. I especially love the 28 private casitas and the five Marquis suites, each with a private pool, patio or sundeck, spacious kitchen/dining area, huge baths with jacuzzi tub, intricate stone floors, handcrafted woodwork, original Mexican artwork and private butlers. There's no such thing as a "standard room" here; rather, rooms in the main building are laid out like junior suites, and each features terraces, ocean views and pull-out sofas (perfect for families).

Dining options include the oceanview Vista Ballenas and Canto Del Mar, a beautiful intimate restaurant serving Chef Thierry Dufour's six-course tasting menu that changes every three days. Al fresco dining by the three outoor infinity pools is of course, also an option. A holistic Spa Marquis, outdoor yoga classes, unique Mayan therapies, a spacious fully-equipped gym and complimentary WiFi are other things I am loving about Marquis Los Cabos.

Limited availability still exists for Christmas; it's an ideal spot for families, couples and groups of friends seeking a warm-weather holiday vacation option! Note: no minimum stay requirement is in place which we think is a very smart move by General Manager Ella Messerli.

For more details or to inquire about time-sensitive promotions special rates and exclusive perks, contact us via email at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dubai: A City of Extremes

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical about my first visit to Dubai. In fact, I wasn't gung ho on spending time in the Middle East, and I wasn't even sure I'd like anything at all about Dubai. But, after spending two days there, I am more intrigued than ever and can't wait to return to see and do more in the UAE!. Everything about Dubai--with the exception of the original "souks"--is shiny, sleek and new. The architecture of the skyscrapers lining the harbour, the new "downtown", and the beaches are unlike anything I've seen in my world travels. Each office, apartment and commercial building is taller and more stunning than the next, and the hotels are designed with unbelievable style and flair!

Boasting the world's tallest building (Burj Khalifa), the largest manmade island, the priciest hotel suite, and by far the biggest shopping mall, Dubai is definitely ALL about extremes. It's also a gorgeous example of a modern city filled with world-class hotels (including Armani's first and soon to be two in the city by Ritz-Carlton ), incredible restaurants, amazingly friendly people and overall, just a fantastic vibe.

Not to mention, the shopping is outrageous. When the mall steps from your hotel (The Address Downtown)has 1200+ shops, there's no other way to describe it. Not to mention, The Dubai Mall also has indoor ice skating, an underwater aquarium where you can swim with the sharks, a themed Sega adventure park and dozens of fabulous restaurants. It overlooks a dancing fountain that puts Bellagio in Vegas to shame. And of course, there's also the Mall of the Emirates if you prefer to indoor ski or shop at Harvey Nichol's while in town.

Highlights of my recent visit of course included a stay at the much-buzzed about Armani Hotel Dubai. This is THE place to stay in Dubai if you're moved by fashion, technology, service and ultra-sleek style. All of our Virtuoso clients booked at the Armani enjoy complimentary passes to the TOP of Burj Khalifa, the 160-story, 2700-foot-high skyscraper with the highest outdoor observation tower in the world.

I also absolutely LOVED The Address Downtown, just a few blocks away from the Armani. It's perfect for families as well as clients wanting a true luxury resort (the infinity pool is stunning) and business travelers desiring well-appointed spacious rooms and suites. The staff and service at The Address Downtown is up there with the best in the world, and sending us off to the airport in a Bentley was also a nice touch!

The only problem I had with Dubai was too little time to see and do it all. Shopping was certainly fun, but next time I'll be trying a desert safari, dune bashing, camel riding and maybe even sand boarding, as these activities are at your doorstep in Dubai. I'm also hearing a lot of great buzz about the new Banyan Tree Wadi Rum and I'd love a few days to totally chill by the Arabian Sea at Six Senses Zighby Bay in Oman. With nonstop flights on Emirates now available twice-daily from LAX, I'll definitely be planning a return visit to the UAE soon!

Want to know more or plan your own trip to Dubai? Contact us at 310.979.9036 or via email

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Memories of India: Part one

It's been a week now since I returned from my whirlwind two-week trip to India--inclusive of visits to Delhi, Varnasi, Udaipur, Jaipur, Agra & Dehra Dun--and I'm still processing much of what I experienced on my first trip to this fascinating country. I'd heard so much about India but until you actually see for yourself the unbelievable colors, the cows in the streets, the extreme mix of wealth & poverty and meet the people who call India home, it's nearly impossible to understand what life is like in this part of the world.

India is a confusing destination to put into words, if only for the sheer organized chaos that greets you at every turn. Cars share the roads with mopeds, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, goats, dogs, elephants. Cities and towns are crowded with impromptu street festivals, traditional markets, street vendors blending with the locals trying to get from point A to point B. All of this aside, it is a beautiful destination and images of Udaipur (the lake city), Jaipur (the pink city) and the Taj Mahal are forever engrained in my memory bank.

There's simply too much to write about in one simple experience in Delhi alone will comprise a separate future post. From the Oberoi Delhi to the Aman New Delhi (Aman's first city hotel!) to The Imperial and the Taj Mahal hotel, each property offers unique selling does the city itself. And then there's Jaipur, Udaipur & Agra...elephant polo, shopping for handmade clothes and gems, visiting forts and castles, seemingly endless Indian feasts! More on all that to come soon.

My absolute favorite part of the trip was the weekend I spent at Ananda Resort and Spa in Dehra Dun. Located in the Himalayan mountains just outside mystical Rikishesh, Ananda is a former Maharaja residence-turned-ultimate health and wellness retreat. While here, you can immerse yourself in Indian/Ayurveda-focused spa treatments & cuisine, yoga, meditation, and life-changing Vedanta seminars...or you can enjoy chilling by the spa pool in your Kurta pajamas (given to each guest on arrival for use during the stay) while resident peacocks casually stroll by. Extra nice touch: Morning wake up calls take the form of knock on your door at a pre-arranged time accompanied with a steaming pot of fresh ginger lemon tea.

The centerpiece of Ananda is its 24,000 square-foot spa offering nearly 80 variations of body/mind/skin treatments with a blend of modalities incorporating Tibetan, Ayurvedic & Asian techniques. My personal favorites included a four-handed Abhyanga massage, a Reiki and crystal energy session, a rose and honey facial, and the signature Ananda fusion treatment. And of course, I loved the early morning yoga classes and the late-afternoon meditations in the Palace.

An incredible selection of Ayurvedic, Indian and international dishes is offered in the mountainview main dining room, and guests fully wanting the most out of the "wellness" experience can choose an entirely Ayurvedic menu (following a private session with the on-site Ayurvedic doc to determine whether you're a Pitta, Vata or Kapha personality & body type). According to Ayurveda everything is made out of the five elements of air, space, fire, water and earth, including our bodies. The three body types are a combination of these - Vata constitutes air and space - Pitta is made up of fire and water - and Kapha is water and earth. While at Ananda, your treatments and menus can be customized to best suit your body, soul and mind.

A weekend at Ananda was indeed the perfect antidote to the bustling pace and chaotic way of life we experienced elsewhere in India. Dehra Dun is an easy, hour-long flight from Delhi and is an incredible way to end a multi-city, fast-paced India experience. I only wish I'd had a few more days but know Andanda is a place I will definitely return to again.

Contact us for more details on planning a visit to India and Ananda Resort & Spa by phone at 310.979.9036 or email

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Canyon Ranch Tucson: My Happy Place

We all have our Happy Places. You know, the type of place that makes you smile and take a deep breath the minute you arrive; the type of place that simply put, makes you happy. Topping my list is Canyon Ranch Tucson, one of the original "destination spa resorts" which I recently visited for the fourth time in six years.

Founded 30 years ago by Mel & Enid Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch has a loyal following who come to the desert spa for various reasons...some come to kickstart a health & fitness regime, others to relax get away from it all and some, like me, who need a blackberry break and a gentle reminder of how beneficial a few days in this environment can be. I liken it to summer camp for adults, only there's no one waking you up early (unless you want to be for the 6 am hikes) and your daily schedule & activity pace is in your hands. It's a well-deserved break and a perfect way to take a time-out from the craziness of everyday life.

Personally, I love the fact that I can choose from dozens of classes--everything from yoga to cardio to stretch to funky and fun dance options--all day long. I can feel the calories--and more notably the stress--melting away during my entire stay. It's such a luxury not just squeezing in one yoga class or work out per day, but having the opportunity to enjoy several each day in between delicious healthy meals, spa treatments, energy/spiritual sessions with renowned authors, top doctors and other amazing health & wellness professionals. An energy session or "Shamanic Journey with the Ranch's Director of Spiritual Programming and "Return to the Sacred" author Jonathan Ellerby is a was a highlight of my stay.

Other highlights included the delicious gluten free mesquite-flour blueberry pancakes for breakfast; the evening seminars on integrative health & cancer prevention; lounging by the pool before a walk on the underwater treadmill; the fact that I was able to bring Mikey my maltipoo (love pet-friendly spa resorts!); and the new classes including "Desert Drumming" and one involving a lot of killer exercises to tone the lower half. A few weeks later and I'm already looking forward to my return visit next year!

Want to join me and experience Canyon Ranch for yourself? You can take advantage of our special Elite Travel group rates with a choice of arrival the last or second to last Sunday in August. Four- to seven-night stays are available, with all-inclusive four-night rates from about $2,000/person based on double occupancy (single rates just slightly more). Our special rates include all meals, accommodations, airport transfers, taxes/gratuities, classes/activities and a minimum $520 spa credit (will be higher for longer stays).

As an added incentive, reserve your spot before Dec. 31 and receive an added $50 spa credit as a gift from u to use during your stay. Contact us for more details at or 310 979 9036. Space is limited, and of course, we also have rates for two- to three-bedroom casitas if you'd like to travel with family or friends! Hope to see you next August at my Happy Place, aka Canyon Ranch.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Luxury and Health Go Hand in Hand at Four Seasons Westlake Village

How is it that a full month has gone by since I've found time to blog? I guess this is a good thing, as luxury travel is back and we're busier than ever. That said, I'm overdue for a post on the Four Seasons Westlake Village and the adjoining California Health and Longevity Institute (CHLI)as it's an incredible place...and just 40 minutes from my home in LA.

More than just another fabulous Four Seasons hotel with a terrific spa, this property takes it to the next level when it comes to the health/wellness options available. I confess: I really wasn't that interested in meeting with a fitness consultant at 8am on a Monday morning but after meeting Michael Brazeal, the Center's Director of Fitness, I quickly changed my tune. While I had enjoyed a very relaxing Sunday by the hotel's adults'-only spa pool followed by a "healthy" room service dinner in my spacious one-bedroom suite, my true appreciation for the hotel and CHLI came after tasting the latter's offerings the following day.

In less than an hour, Michael had me saying "I can do that" to his suggestion of adding one more day of cardio to my existing gym routine. Same to his suggestion of cutting 100 calories/day out of my total diet. He didn't tell me to do these things because I am horribly out of shape, but because I'd asked him during our consult how to best maintain my weight and rev up my metabolism as I inch up there in post-40 years. Michael's tips are now stuck in my brain forever and I've found myself making time for (and looking forward to) my now nearly-daily cardio work outs. I've also broken my green tea soy latte habit and cut down on luna bars as a way to easily reduce daily calorie count.

My morning at the Spa and at CHLI included the best facial I've ever had (an 80-minute anti-gravity facial) in a Zen-like spa setting followed by a session with the incredible Barbara Savin, an energy healer/hypnotherapist. I've had energy work done in the past, but never with the effect of my session with Barbara. I can't really explain how her work works...but I do highly recommend it to everyone as we can all benefit from the removal of energy blockages. My favorite part of the day was meeting with Siobhan Palmer, director of CHLI, who showed me around the facilities once I was worked out, spa-ed and energized. The Center has a full suite of top-notch doctors, dentists, radiologists and beyond, all who work together to prescribe a program that incorporates a "360 degree approach to health".

Many corporations contract CHLI to provide day-long comprehensive physicals for their execs, with the goal of reducing long-term health care costs. It's a genius concept. As is 87-year-old owner David Murdock locating CHLI on the grounds of the gorgeous 270-room Four Seasons Westlake (across from the headquarters of his Dole Foods Corporation)!

One night/day at Four Seasons Westlake/CHLI has had the same effect on me a weeklong visit to a destination spa resort did several years ago. I'll return for sure...on many occasions, to be pampered and energized as well as checked up by the on-site doctors (they even include mammograms in physicals for women over 40). Other fave features of the property include Onyx restaurant with sushi by Chef Masa AND a hands-on wellness kitchen for anyone who wants to boost their healthy cooking habits), as well as the stunning Oriental-inspired Zen garden (complete with a full-scale pagoda Murdock imported from Beijing). The pet-friendliness of the property is another plus.

Our Preferred Partner rates at Four Seasons Westlake include daily breakfast for two (if you go Saturday night this means Sunday brunch!) as well as an $85 lunch credit and an upgrade if available.
Contact us at 310.979.9036 or via email for more details or to set up your stay!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Santa Barbara to Sonoma....via San Francisco

How is it that I've traveled all over the world, yet had never experienced a self-drive trip up and down the stunning California coast until this weekend? All I can say is better late than never...and it's a trip I'll be doing many times again. Breaking up the drive from LA by booking stays at fab hotels in Santa Barbara, San Francisco & Sonoma County was the smartest idea I've had in a while...and I'm already planning my next visit in my head.

The perfect road trip started with a leisurely afternoon drive up Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) through Malibu to Santa Barbara. It took just 90 minutes or so to reach the beautiful Four Seasons Santa Barbara, where we checked into our spacious executive suite (fave touch: heated floors & steam shower!) and headed across the street to the Coral Casino Club (part of the $300 million recent renovation). Reserved for members and hotel guests only, the Club features the largest hotel pool in the US and an oceanview bar/restaurant (ideal for enjoying a pre-dinner snack of Skinny Margaritas and truffle-infused popcorn!) From here, we headed out to La Super Rica, the local taco stand made famous by fan Julia Child. The long lines are worth it as the authentic Mexican food is homemade, the beer is cold and the experience unique to Santa Barbara.

Day 2 of the "perfect road trip" consisted of a 5.5 hour drive up the 101 North straight into San Francisco. It's a scenic drive (especially if you've not seen this region before) as you pass through small, vineyard-lined roadways and towns including Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo & on up through Palo Alto. In a city filled with great hotels, the Four Seasons San Francisco stands out as an oasis from the constant buzz. Located on Market Street just steps from Union Square, the hotel's sophisticated decor (neutral tones, eye-catching artwork) and the five-star service are a welcome antidote to the hilly walks through must-see tourist-filled spots like Fisherman's Wharf and Ghiradelli Square.

Stroll down Geary Street in the evening for drinks and dinner at Clift Hotel, designed by Phillip Starke. Cocktails in the hotel's original Redwood Room (a former Prohibition-era hang out) followed by an amazing dinner at the brand new Velvet Room (occupying Asia de Cuba's former home) was the perfect way to spend our one evening in San Francisco. If one's prefence leans towards chic boutique style over sophisticated zen-like decor, Clift is the perfect spot to stay in SFO.

Next stop on the agenda was the one I'd most been looking forward to: 2 full days in Wine Country, specifically, Sonoma County. The scenic drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to The Farmhouse Inn in Forrestville took just over an hour and gave us a taste of what was to come. Vineyard after vineyard lines River Road leading to the 18-room, recently restored Farmhouse Inn, owned by brother and sister Catherine and Joe Bartolomei.

The brand new Barnhouse Suites (housed in an authentic barn that's been totally transformed) give new meaning to "barnhouse chic". Spaciously laid out with a separate living/bed room, the suites feature textured wood walls, high ceilings, comfy sofas and chairs, heated marble bath floors (perfect after a steam shower or soak in the jetted tub). I also adored the plushly appointed four-poster king bed, our own very private patio, and the indoor/outdoor fireplace. The staff (notably Anna and Tamera on the concierge team) went above and beyond to ensure we had an incredible stay--from booking a table for us at Healdsburg hot spot Spoda to pre-booking our couples' massage at the Inn's own lovely spa.

Unique and fun touches offered at the Inn include complimentary self-serve snacks , sodas, waters & even fixings for s'mores(ideal for winery outings & evenings in the suites. Boxed gourmet picnic lunches can be arranged for guests, as can priority reservations at Farmouse Restaurant, the dinner-only (Thurs-Sunday) on-site Michelin starred restaurant where I had one of the best meals of my life (soft shell crab with summer corn succotash followed by seared line-caught halibut and topped off with a Valrohna souffle & caramel toffee gelato).

Of course, what's a few days in Sonoma Wine Country without visits to area wineries? The Farmhouse Inn has preferred relationships with nearly a dozen of the area's best winemakers--this translates to VIP treatment and in some cases, comped tastings & additional pours upon mention of who referred us. A few of our favorites included J Vineyards, Copain & Lynmar Estate. The latter is the perfect spot to stop for lunch--we loved our freshly prepared gourmet picnic ($35/person including two tastings) overlooking the estate's gorgeous gardens surrounding the family-run vineyard.

While sad to leave the cushy confines of Farmhouse Inn (I could have used another day to simply laze by the pool!), it was indeed a special treat to drive home along breathtaking Highway 1, stopping for lunch seaside at Schooner's in scenic Monterey, and continuing south through Carmel (pictured), Big Sur, and on down through San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara before ultimately ending up back where we started, at home in LA.

I feel like there is still so much to see--like the famous fried artichoke stands in Castroville, the Hitching Post restaurant featured in "Sideways" near Solvang, the cute shops of Healdsburg, and of course, many more boutique wineries. Next time, I'll insist we also make time to enjoy a night or two in Carmel--it's too pretty a place to simply pass through.

For more information on the perfect California coastal trip, contact us at or phone 310.979.9036. Also, feel free to friend me on Facebook ( to see photos from my trip and followe me on twitter ( for live tweets from upcoming adventures.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Food For Thought

What do Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Wilshire, the Fairmont Miramar, Malibu Beach Inn, Four Seasons Westlake , The London West Hollywood & the Peninsula Beverly Hills have in common? Other than being hotels in LA, each has an amazing restaurant--so good you might even forget you're dining in a hotel! Gone are the days when hotel dining was nothing more than a necessary evil as these properties offer up seriously great fact, the meals I've had at these hotels rival some of the best I've had anywhere in LA.

Take for example, the newly opened Culina at Four Seasons LA. Billed as "modern Italian cuisine", the chic spot is a far cry from the traditional Four Seasons "Restaurant" that formerly occupied this space. Think crudo bar (Italian-style sushi), homemade pastas, freshly grilled fish (the yellowtail with artichokes and olives is a personal fave), thin-crust pizzas and creative desserts served in a stylish & warm ambiance, indoors and out. Evening cocktails on the patio (pictured) by the fireplace are a lovely start or end to any meal prepared by the charming Chef Victor Casanova (and yes, that's his real name!).

Sister property Beverly Wilshire wins my award for best breakfast spot in LA. Not only does its BLVD restaurant pack in more powerful Angelenos than typically gather in one room, but outdoor tables with a Rodeo Drive view and amazing dishes like an exotic mushroom omelette, steel cut oatmeal brulee & fresh dairy-free smoothies of the day. (side note: For a gluten-free glutton like myself, I love the fact that they have homemade gluten-free bread!!). BLVD is the ultimate all-day dining spot and I'm not kidding when I say I'd be happy eating breakfast, lunch and dinner here. Added bonus: Full breakfast comes included in our Four Seasons Preferred Partner rates!

For special occasions, yet another Four Seasons takes the prize. I had one of the most memorable Thanksgiving meals last fall at Four Seasons Westlake, where a three-room buffet filled with Thanksgiving fare also included amazing sushi and seafood creations courtesy of Chef Masa Shimakawa. Chef Masa oversees the Japanese-inspired Onyx restaurant, where Asian BBQ Thursdays & "Sushi on the Rocks" Happy Hours are fun ways to try out unique hotel dining. Families also love the Sunday brunch at Hampton's with its special VIK (Very Important Kids') surfing-inspired display.

For dining with a view, Carbon Beach Club at the Malibu Beach Inn is the hands-down winner. Simple and fresh California-style cuisine--lunch & dinner faves include crab & avocado salad, a lobster club, veggie (or real) burger, Asian chicken salad & Ahi Tuna tartare--is best enjoyed at an oceanfront table as close to the beach as it gets in SoCal. It's one of the best true beachside dining options, and one that should be experienced more often buy both locals and guests. Beachside breakfast is also a great option, as are desserts (trust us, the rasberry cobbler is sinfully good).

A few additional lunchtime faves, which I've enjoyed on numerous occasions are FIG at the Fairmont Miramar , Boxtree Cafe at the London West Hollywood and Belvedere at The Peninsula Beverly Hills. Funny enough, the Peninsula's former chef is now at the helm of FIG, which offers the most fun & creative (not to mention delicious) dishes using nothing but the freshest farmer's market ingredients. Chef Ray Garcia's takes on gourmet grilled cheese, homemade (cream-free) tomato soup, grilled fish tacos & no-pasta veggie lasagna were hits at our table, while another diner told me the ultra-fun Sunday "kegs & eggs" brunch is his favorite weekend treat. The Belvedere's garden patio is not only discreet and peaceful, it's the perfect backdrop for indulging in creative comfort food (truffle mac & cheese, crispy fries, cobb salads, and my fave, grilled barramundi). Should you prefer something lighter, simply head upstairs to the Roof Garden where you can dine poolside on organic, healthy cuisine. Another great choice for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and weekend brunch is Gordon Ramsay's Boxtree Cafe. While he may not be in the kitchen, the unique menu is definitely Ramsay by design. Beautiful presentations and creative takes on California-inspired served in a light-filled bistro setting are reasons to remember Boxtree when the lunch locale choice is yours.

Book stays at any of the above hotels through Elite Travel International and we'll ensure you'll not only be VIP'ed during your stay, but you'll enjoy one of the best tables in the house! For more information, visit, email or call 310.979.9036.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mexico in Style

Mexico’s always been top of my list of places to go when I totally need to chill, and want to do so in a luxury hotel on a gorgeous beach. A recent journey south gave me the chance to do so, as I checked into the newish (opened fall ‘o8) St. Regis Punta Mita for sheer R&R then headed to old town Puerto Vallarta, the region Richard Burton & Liz Taylor put on the map with their longtime love affair.

Pairing a few days in Puerto Vallarta (with its cute shops, hip nightspots, great restaurants and unique history & culture) with downtime at the beach in sleepy Punta Mita, to me, is the perfect combination. And while I’ll always have a soft spot for Four Seasons Punta Mita (it’s one of my all-time favorite family resorts with its multiple family pools, tons of connecting rooms and amazing kids’ club), the 120-room St. Regis Punta Mita stands out at the destination’s newest star.

Sitting on 22 acres between two Jack Nicklaus golf courses overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the stunning resort features 24-hour butler service, a 10,000 square-foot Remede spa and three infinity pools--including one for adults only. Rooms are housed in traditional Mexican casitas, and offer a minimum of 600 square feet, while outdoor showers, huge bathrooms, ocean-view patios and a chic Mexican-meets-Mediterranean décor all add to the overall appeal. Beautifully designed, residential-style beachfront suites range up to 3,100 square feet and have up to three bedrooms, private pools and plenty of space for oceanfront entertaining. Mexican breakfast at Las Marietas is a delightful way to start the day, while the best way to wind down is over cocktails and a delicious meal in Carolina (named for Caroline Astor, founder of The St. Regis New York).

Side note: While in Punta Mita, be sure to check out the nearby surftown of Sayulita. Save room for homemade smoothies at one of the funky cafes (my faves are Rollies and Choco-Banana) and bring pesos to shop for handmade silver jewelry.

Only an hour away by car but within a totally different world, sits Puerto Vallarta, home to one of my favorite hotels, Hacienda San Angel. This charming gem of a property sits on the site of the original “Villa Bursus”, a gift from Burton to his then wife Susan (thus the name Bur-Sus). Over the years, owner Janice Chatterton has expanded this Small Luxury Hotels property to comprise five gorgeous Mexican villas featuring 14 unique, antique-filled suites. There’s an amazing gourmet Mexican restaurant with Bay of Banderas views and three heated pools on property. Plus, all rates include a fabulous (and free) in-room breakfast delivered by one of the ultra-friendly staff who treats you like an old friend (and you will be by the time you leave!). You’ll especially love this cliff side hotel three blocks from the Malecon if you’re a dog lover like me, as Chatterton is a major supporter of the local ASPCA. Her adorable rescue pups even serve as the hacienda’s official welcome committee.

Not topping everyone’s list, but also very worth a visit, is the country’s capital of Mexico City. Just a quick flight from Vallarta, this city of 22 million-plus is captivating to say the least. The Saturday afternoon bazaar in San Angel, a visit to the Diego Rivera/Frida Kahlo house, an afternoon at the rodeo and visits to the fabulous Archaeological Museum and the Franz Mayer museum are all must do’s if you’ve got the time. And if business brings you this way, you’ll love the centrally-located St. Regis Mexico City, which just opened six months ago. Sleek and chic, with spacious butler-serviced, high-tech rooms, and an eager to please staff, the hotel offers a warm, welcome respite from the bustling city. Also brand new and fabulous is Las Alcobas, an ultra-swanky boutique hotel located in the hip and happening district of Polanco.

Book any of the above through Elite Travel International and you’ll enjoy exclusive perks, priority upgrades, breakfast-inclusive rates and special VIP treatment during your stay. For more information, email or phone 310.979.9036

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Amangiri Puts Page on the Map

Leave it to Aman Resorts to put a small town like Page, Arizona on the map. Seriously, unless you like house-boating with throngs of tourists on Lake Powell, there’s little chance you’d choose Page as your destination of choice. That is, until now, with the recent opening of Amangiri.

Just over the Utah border, 20 minutes from Page, Amangiri opened last fall as Aman’s second stateside venture. The secluded 34-suite resort sits on 600 acres of wilderness 4,000 feet above sea level in a canyon setting ideal for hiking, exploring and of course, in true Aman style, chilling out and spa-ing. Highlights of a recent stay included yoga classes in a glass-walled pavilion, Thai massage in an outdoor treatment cabana, and dining poolside—all with phenomenal views of the mesas and canyons that date back millions of years.

An open kitchen and residential-style lounge/living room lend themselves to lots of mingling among guests. Sounds silly, but it’s that kind of place regardless of whether you’re a Wall Street banker or a California yogi. The staff, many whom grew up in the area--including the nearby Navajo Reservation--add an air of authenticity not often found at remote resorts.

Each of the 34 suites feature a private courtyard with outdoor furnishings, a sleek, Zen-inspired bedroom/living room area with lots of natural light and views of the mesas and surrounding desert—best seen from the suite’s private patio appointed with its own fire pit. Sage green tiles line the suite-long bathroom/dressing area, and the twin rain showers plus soaking tub add to the overall design appeal. White stone floors and concrete walls compliment the natural landscape while colored cushions and cozy soft throws add a dash of warmth to the suites. Larger suites feature such added touches as private pools, outdoor day beds, larger dining areas and even outdoor sky lounges, ideal for stargazing.

During your stay, venture off property to enjoy a day trip to Bryce Canyon (two hours away), and/or the Grand Canyon and the funky town of Flagstaff. For sure, also stop by Horseshoe Bend as it’s one of the most scenic parts of the country —equivalent in level of striking beauty to the Hoover Dam. Guests have complimentary access to house BMWs (they’re available first come, first served on a reservation basis) so once you have your bearings, enjoy the scenery in style.

Based on a recent experience, we recommend flying into Page privately, so as to avoid the somewhat inconsistent turboprops operated by Great Lakes Aviation out of Denver and Phoenix. Other options are to fly into Phoenix or Vegas, and book a private transfer for the scenic four-hour drive in one of Amangiri’s luxury SUVs.

Book your stay at Amangiri through a Virtuoso agency like Elite Travel International and rates will include complimentary daily breakfast (the selection of teas and fresh-squeezed juices is outstanding, as is the morning buffet with bowls of fresh cut berries, housemade granola, smoked salmon, homemade pastries plus cooked to order eggs) plus a complimentary lunch for two and a priority upgrade upon availability.

For more information, email or call 310.979.9036.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Four Seasons: Preferred Partner Perks...

Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch simply hasn’t yet met a Four Seasons Preferred Partner. Not that any of us NEED a free lunch, but why refuse it (especially at top restaurants in some of our favorite hotels worldwide!?). Simply book your next Four Seasons stay through a Preferred Partner (like Elite Travel International) and enjoy a complimentary lunch at the hotel OR a $100 spa or golf credit (note: perk varies per property). The Four Seasons in San Francisco, Miami & Palm Beach, for example, offer the free lunch, while the Four Seasons Los Angeles and the Beverly Wilshire extend the spa credit. Regardless which Four Seasons you book, your exclusive Preferred Partner rates will always include daily breakfast for two plus an upgraded room or suite if available. Late check out, early check in and other special requests are always prioritized for Preferred Partner clients, while suite guests also enjoy free internet access.

Speaking of free, Preferred Partners are first to hear about which Four Seasons offer comp nights to priority clients. Costa Rica, Hawaii, Bora Bora, Thailand & Punta Mita, Mexico currently have fifth-night free promos in place, while Bali, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Jackson Hole, Buenos Aires offer a free fourth night (date dependent). And why stay only two nights in your city of choice when the third is free? This special promo exists in NYC (this summer), Chicago, Boston, Vegas, Scottsdale, Seattle, Santa Barbara, Austin, and San Francisco. Promos do vary based on the dates of stay in each city.

Keep in mind too, that a number of the Four Seasons—including those in San Francisco & Los Angeles—are fresh from major facelifts inclusive of all guest rooms and luxury suites (up to the Presidential level). The newly redesigned 17th floor Presidential Suite at the Four Seasons San Francisco is highlighted by a custom-made Brunschwig & Fils sofa; lounge chairs from William Switzer’s Lucien Rollin collection; Barbara Barry’s “high back shelter” chairs by Baker; a Berman Rosetti coffee table; handwoven custom rugs; and a 50-inch flat screen TV.

The Four Seasons Los Angeles—which was sorely in need of a room redo for years—recently got all that and more when $33 million-plus was spent on a full-blown renovation that included all rooms/suites, the outdoor pool (love the new cabanas!), the ballroom and main restaurant. The duo of new Presidential Suites (east and west) offer a choice between elegant, romantic glamour (think crystals, blacks, mirrors, creams, plum, hand tufted carpet)and modern design (clean lines, contemporary furnishings, bold artwork and a palette of rich browns, blues, smoky grays and cream). And, complimenting the Doheny Drive Grande Dame’s new look is a refreshing restaurant concept, Culina. Its chic, indoor/outdoor décor (complete with smoking area loved by cigar aficionados, a waterfall and a fire pit), and modern Italian cuisine is reason alone to stop by when in LA.

It would be silly to miss out on the benefits extended exclusively to Four Seasons Preferred Partners worldwide. For more information, email or visit

Friday, April 2, 2010

Trust in Travel

Here in LA-LA Land, the only award most people care about winning is an Oscar or Emmy. But for me, taking home the title of "Most Trusted Online Travel Authority" is truly an honor. Not only am I flattered to know that more people trust me than a number of top national travel journalists, bloggers, analysts & travel industry CEOs, but it proves the point I've been preaching for years: There's nothing like a knowledgeable, professional travel consultant to help consumers navigate the cluttered world of travel--be it online or offline.

The poll, conducted by Robert K. Cole on his "Views from a Corner Suite" blog ( asked consumers to partake in a "Trustularity" contest by voting for their most trusted source of online travel info. Says Cole: "Travel is an intensely personal decision. So is the question, 'who do you trust?' That is exactly why I asked the question. There is no simple answer."

Cole, a longtime hotel/marketing executive (, adds: "This one of the key questions facing travel organizations engaged in media, both social and traditional -Who do people trust, and why do they trust them? Is a well produced ad, someone with the most followers, an expert travel agent, a literate journalist, or a dedicated friend most worthy of a person's trust?"

To my surprise, despite the serious competition from industry heavyweights (whose analysis, articles & blogs are at the top of my own reading list), I topped the poll with 19 percent of the total vote! Not surprisingly, right on my heels with 17 percent of the vote was Forrester Research's Henry Harteveldt and close behind Henry with 14 percent was Randy Petersen, the well-known founder of FlyerTalk & Inside Flyer.

What this poll really proves however--more so than that myself, Henry & Randy top consumers' "trustularity" list--is that actual "online travel agencies (OTA's) are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to trust!! Combined, the CEOs of Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor captured less than 5 percent of the total vote.

So, am I the person you should trust most with your travel decisions? That is entirely up to you and I wholeheartedly agree with Robert Cole who says: "Popularity should not dictate who should be trusted. Trust should always be earned."

If you'd like to give me a chance to earn your trust, please follow me on twitter @elitetravelgal or friend me on Facebook at

It's no Oscar, but in my world where trust is everything, this award is the equivalent. Thank you to all of you who did vote me your "Most Trusted Online Travel Authority."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New York Stories...

I have a love/hate relationship with New York City. I hated living there (too crowded, too loud, too cold, too much for me) but I love visiting. I love the luxury hotels in Manhattan as well as the amazing restaurants--not to mention, some of my favorite people in the world live there. I love that there are so many different neighborhoods to explore, and so many options for a luxury hotel junkie like me to check out.

On this particular trip, I chose to stay for two nights at three very different hotels. Keeping in mind that we have clients with a wide variety of style, budget & neighborhood preference, I started my week uptown at the newly redone Surrey Hotel before heading down to the Meatpacking district (which didn't exist as a tourist zone when I lived in NYC. There I spent two nights at the members-only Soho House (which many don't know is also a hotel!) then crossed the street for a stay at the equally cool Gansevoort Hotel.

Loved The Surrey for its elegant uptown charm. The vintage-inspired, grey and white (with touches of black( decor is a refreshing change from your typical five-star hotel, and the unique furnishings, intimate ambience, and Duxiana beds makes it a winner in my book. The proximity to Central Park and Madison Avenue shopping are other selling points, as is the room service by Daniel Boulud.

Just as I was falling in love with The Surrey, it was time to head to the opposite end of the city for my SoHo House stay. Gotta tell you, I liked it equally as much--for totally different reasons. The personality of the small property rivals the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Lounge (which I love). Cowshed spa products and the dresser drawer filled with "minibar" items ranging from guidebooks to accessories to stationary offer much more than your typical bathroom experience + drink/snack set up. Platform beds, a red tub & quirky furnishings add to the fun ambience. Best part about staying here though, is the entree to the hip, members-only Bar/Lounge/Club, where free WiFi is a given and the atmosphere is perfect for everything from breakfast meetings to late-night cocktails.

For those who want to experience the happening Meatpacking district location but prefer a slightly different style of hotel than SoHo House can't go wrong at The Gansevoort. It's steps awway from Pastis (my fave bfast & late night dinner spot), has its own Exhale Spa (with yoga classes) on site, as well as a rooftop pool & one of the most popular night spots (Plunge) in town. Not to mention, I loved my Grand Deluxe room (pictured) with its oversized corner window nook that was a great spot to people watch & check out who's wearing what (as in, do I need an umbrella and/or rain boots). Overall, the chic decor is cool without being cold. The staff was super friendly and the location truly ideal for a "new to downtown" type like me, as the shops of 14th streets, the food & flower-filled Chelsea Market and area restaurants like Spice Market, Fig & Olive & The Standard Grill were all within a two minute walk.

For more information or to book your next NYC trip, contact us at 310.979.9036 or via email

Friday, March 5, 2010

A few of my FAVORITE spots...

What do Fiji, Bali, Mexico and St. Barts have in common apart from being a beautiful destination? Each is home to some of the most romantic luxury hotels & resorts we’ve uncovered in our worldwide travels! From private islands in Fiji to chic hotels in Cabo, here’s a look at some of our favorite spots on earth:

For the ultimate in luxury, romance, privacy and pampering, Laucala Island, Fiji is choice number one. A total of 25 villas, each hidden from the next, offers up the perfect hideaway for honeymooners seeking serious R&R in a setting that blends peacefulness with playfulness (think outdoor baths, huge wooden circular tubs, brightly colored rugs, handcrafted wood furnishings from Thailand, Fiji, Bali and beyond, as well as iPod docks, satellite TVs, fully-stocked bars & outdoor pools with separate living/dining space). Couples need never leave their villa if they desire; the 350-person staff is at your beck and call to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner. Though, it’s highly recommended to check out the Beach Bar, Seagrass Asian restaurant, The Plantation House, not to mention the incredible spa (all have ocean views). And what’s more romantic than horseback riding on a private beach? Did we mention you can also get married on Laucala? There’s a wedding chapel on site and all paperwork/ceremonies can be completed within four days. It’s the perfect spot for a total destination wedding takeover, or a honeymoon a deux. Managers Thomas and Maja Kilgore will ensure you feel like part of the Laucala family from the minute you arrive.

Another favorite property that oozes romance is Las Ventanas, in Los Cabos, Mexico. The chic setting (think lots of white against a backdrop of sparkling blue) coupled with stylishly designed, oceanview suites and an uber-friendly staff anxious to please and the recipe for romance is delivered without a glitch. There’s even a “Romance Director” on site who can pre-arrange special activities, private beachfront dinners, or even entire weddings.

Bali is another beautiful destination where romance is in the air, at modern beach resorts like Amankila to the more traditionally designed, Ubud-based hotels like Amandari. A perfect getaway might combine stays at the two Aman properties, both totally different yet equally special in their own right. While at Amankila, wake up to views of the stunningly blue Indian Ocean and enjoy a private beach club with boating and other watersports at your disposal. In contrast, Amandari in the heart of Ubud offers an authentic taste of traditional Balinese village life in a charming setting that’s lush, green and within close proximity to temples, amazing hikes, local shops and restaurants. The female general managers of both properties go out of their way to ensure honeymooners receive extra-special treatment, and in these two unique settings, it’s not difficult to keep the romance alive.

Last but not least, one of my all time faves in the Caribbean is Le Toiny in St. Barts. The property features just 15 private oceanview suites, each decked out with private pools, gorgeous furnishings, stunning views and access to the best restaurant on island (it’s here at the hotel). This is the kind of place you choose when peace and quiet top the list of priorities, as do top notch service, incredible cuisine, and proximity to the rest of a beautiful, beach-filled island.

For more information on booking getaways, honeymoons or weddings at any of the above resorts, contact Elite Travel International at 310 979 9036 or via email All clients of Elite Travel International receive the best possible rates as well as many exclusive VIP perks and value added amenities at each of these properties.

Monday, February 22, 2010


It's not often I get asked to help a hotel name its new suite, but I have been...and the only way I can do so is with your HELP! I've been asked by Hacienda Tres Rios, a luxury all-inclusive property in Riviera Maya, Mexico to participate in its "Name That Suite" contest.

I've been selected, along with five other Twitter travel specialists, to represent & promote one of the six possible suite names. The name I need you to vote for is "Centario" which loosely translates to "Centennial". My translation: This is the perfect name for the hotel's newest is extremely unique since a centennial only comes along once every 100 years!

The premise is simple: Starting at noon (CST) on Monday, simply go to the Facebook fan page of Hacienda Tres Rios and look for the "Name That Suite" contest tab. Click the "LIKE" icon under my name & photo. Every vote counts!!! The winner is the one whose suite gets the most votes (in the form of Facebook "Likes") and if I win, not only will the beautiful suite be named CENTARIO but I'll also win a 3-night, air-inclusive stay at Hacienda Tres Rios!

The contest officially begins today (Monday, February 22nd) at noon (CST)and ends March 1st. Please vote for Centario & help me win the Twitter travel prize! The competition's tough and I really need your vote (please tell your friends too!!).

Click here to link to the Facebook Fan page of Hacienda Tres Rios where you can vote for my suite, Centario. Thank you in advance for your support and your vote!! I love that Hacienda Tres Rios is using such a creative form of Social Media to name its newest suite...please spread the word and help me win the contest!

Monday, February 8, 2010

With the new year comes some exciting news! While some of you may have already heard about our exciting new alliance with NY-based SmartFlyer, here's the official scoop:

Elite Travel International Teams with Smart Flyer in
Bi-Coastal Alliance

2010 brings a new alliance for luxury travel entrepreneurs on opposite coasts

Los Angeles-based Elite Travel International has teamed up with New York-based SmartFlyer to form an east coast/west coast alliance of their luxury travel businesses. Elite Travel International is now operating as the West Coast affiliate of SmartFlyer’s 10-person Manhattan agency (whose Virtuoso membership became official on Jan. 8th, 2010).

The alliance will allow both firms to combine their strengths, from airline contracts and negotiated hotel rates to marketing prowess and high-level contacts worldwide. Together, they will operate as a one-stop shop for high-end business and leisure travelers worldwide.

In addition to worldwide Virtuoso benefits, clients of both firms will enjoy additional perks & amenities granted exclusively to members of Orient Express’ Bellini Club, Ritz-Carlton STARS and Rosewood Elite.

SmartFlyer, in business for 19 years, is run by Michael Holtz (recently referred to by the NY Post as a ‘travel mogul’). Elite Travel International was launched five years ago by Stacy Small, an award-winning travel journalist and the founding editor of Elite Traveler Magazine. The two entrepreneurs have nearly 40 years of combined experience in various aspects of the luxury travel industry and their combined network of high-level travel industry contacts covers the globe.

Both Holtz and Small travel frequently to review and preview the chicest and hottest luxury properties worldwide. Holtz has recently been to Bhutan, India, Peru and China, while Small’s passport has recent stamps from Australia, Peru, Morocco, Bali & Fiji. The two boast a strong presence in the social media world, as well as a following of high-end clients that range from high-tech execs to CEOs, entertainment executives, celebrities and affluent families worldwide.

The two entrepreneurs are frequently quoted in the press as experts on luxury travel trends and share a similar business philosophy of catering to a new generation of luxury travelers -- those who demand service, value and easy accessibility anytime of day by cell phone, text, Twitter, Facebook or BBM.

Small and Holtz can be found on Twitter at @elitetravelgal and @mrsmartflyer , respectively, or reached via email at or

Friday, January 29, 2010

Love is in the Air: Hotel Vday Packages

There’s something about luxury hotels that brings out the romantic in all of us. So, with Valentine’s Day just weeks away, now’s the perfect time to book a romantic trip to a fabulous spot from Mexico to Manhattan. Here are a few ideas:

Hacienda San Angel, an intimate boutique hotel overlooking Banderas Bay in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico offers a 2-night “Heavenly Escape” including a couples’ massage, sparkling wine, evening margaritas, breakfast in bed & airport transfers for $845 per couple.

Twin Farms, (pictured), a stunning restored farmhouse-turned-luxe-resort in Vermont features a three-night Valentine’s weekend package including all gourmet meals, drinks, hand-dipped chocolates, a bottle of Dom Perignon & a couples’ massage. All-inclusive price of $7,400 per couple includes accommodations in a cozy, plush Farmhouse room.

Plaza Athenee in the heart of NYC, pulls out all stops on Valentine’s Day with the booking of a deluxe balcony suite ($1,795/night). The one-night package includes a romantic dinner for two on private glass-enclosed terrace, a La Perla gift bag, V-day breakfast in bed, rose petal turndown, Champagne, roses, chocolate dipped strawberries & other special treats.

Dunton Hot Springs, tucked away in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, features a three-night Valentine’s Day getaway inclusive of three daily gourmet meals, a spa treatment of your choice, Champagne, flowers, chocolate-covered strawberries, and accommodations in a luxury cabin surrounded by Dunton’s mineral hot springs. Priced at $2,140 per couple, the weekend package also includes activities from snowshoeing to ice skating to cross-country skiing.

Cabo Azul, an all-villa luxury hotel in Los Cabos, Mexico, features a five-night Romance Package for $1,759, inclusive of accommodations in a stunning 1,200 square-foot villa, a couples’ massage, chocolate strawberries, sparkling wine, and a romantic dinner for two.

For the ultimate in romance, Paris is the place to be! We love the chic blend of classic style with modern design at Le Meurice, and the hotel’s “Pretty in Pink” package is made for Valentine’s Day. Priced from 580 euros/night, the package is filled with fanciful gifts like a bouquet of roses, pink petit fours, rose Champagne on arrival and upgraded accommodations.

To book any of the above, or for additional ideas on luxury hotels offering romance-inspiring packages, contact Elite Travel International at 310.979.9036 or via email

Saturday, January 16, 2010


As we criss-crossed the globe in 2009, my colleagues & I checked into luxury hotels we loved from Mexico to Peru, Italy to England, Bali to China & beyond. There are way more than 10 that we recommend, but we'll start with a Top 10 list of Where To Stay in 2010:

1) SONEVA GILI, THE MALDIVES: In addition to being visually spectacular & one of swankiest over-water-style island resorts in the world, the 45-villa, private-island property prides itself on having a staff that fully understand over-the-top. Just ask my client who proposed to his girlfriend here, in a seaplane circling a private beach where "Will You Marry Me?" was spelled out in coconut shells. Awesome spot for a honeymoon or any sort of romantic getaway.

2) AMAN AT SUMMER PALACE, CHINA: A must visit for anyone wanting the best of Beijing but in a setting different than a city business hotel. A peaceful retreat on the outskirts of the city, Aman at Summer Palace is a series of historic historic dwellings--some 100-years-plus--sitting next to the East Gate of Summer Palace. An incredible spa and a design inspired by the Ming Dynasty era are other reasons to stay here when Beijing bound.

3) Four Seasons Hampshire: This country-style estate just 30 minutes from Heathrow Airport has been on my "to visit" list for years. The style is pure traditional English countryside, while the service, food, setting and spa are five-star modern all the way. The presidential suite is a study in style with a blend of high-tech touches and classic yet ultra-tasteful furnishings. The just-outside-London property is truly the perfect spot for an authentic taste of English hospitality (and of course, be sure to book time at the Spa).

4) LAS CASITAS DEL COLCA, PERU: To say this is a special place is an over-exaggerated understatement. Located in Southern Peru, the stunning Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world (yet it sits high above sea level in the Andes). On a river bank in the Canyon, the 20-casita Orient-Express resort property offers a serious glimpse into true Andean life--from the farm-fresh cuisine to the unique culture. Combining this property with a visit to Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco and Hotel Miraflores in Lima is definitely the way to go. There's just nothing quite like waking up in the Colca Canyon to find baby alpaca strolling outside your private Peruvian casita.

5) AMANKILA, BALI: One of my all-time favorite beachside resorts in the world, I've been hard-pressed to find a prettier spot throughout my travels. Cliffside suites, three infinity swimming pools overlooking the Indian Ocean and the private Beach Club stand out as memorable features of an ultra-romantic property that's a must-visit in combination with Amandari in Ubud & Amanjiwo (just a short flight away in Java minutes from Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist temple).

6) THE SURREY, NYC: Opened just since last fall, the new version of this newly redone classic Upper Eastside hotel is winning raves for its no-expense-spared style and accoutrements including Duxiana mattresses, Sferra bedding and Pratesi robes. The hotel's 190 salons and suites & white marble baths are luxe to say the least, and room service catered by Cafe Boulud is certainly a nice touch.

7) MAROMA RESORT & SPA, MEXICO: Located in a quiet corner of the Yucatan jungle on the Riviera Maya, Maroma Resort is just 45 minutes from Cancun. The traditional Mayan, residential-style property boasts one of best beaches in the region, and sits on a 25-acre jungle preserve where privacy is a given. All rooms have a distinct Mexican flavor,and we love the junior suites which offer fab thatched-roof terraces and both jungle & ocean views. The Kinan Spa, plus incredible food & a warmth felt property-wide are reasons to book a special getaway here in 2010.

8) TWIN FARMS, VERMONT: Where else can you possibly enjoy a solid dose of Vermont/New England hospitality in posh, beautifully decorated luxury cottages with food so good it's almost reason alone to book a stay at Twin Farms, a private country estate set on 300 acres just 10 miles from Woodstock, VT. Any time of year, the picturesque, garden-filled setting is spectacular, whether you prefer fall foliage, a white Christmas or a summertime adventure.

9) BAGLIONI ROME, ITALY: What can I say about one of my favorite Rome hotels other than it's better than ever after a massive (and much-needed) redo last year. The city center location on Via Veneto is as perfect as it gets for a serious shopping/dining/cultural escape, and the new suites are stunning Art Deco gems. Beautiful furnishings & artwork line the newly expanded lobby lounge while the on-site Brunello restaurant rivals some of the best spots citywide.

10) FOUR SEASONS COSTA RICA at PENINSULA PAPAGAYO, COSTA RICA: Add this property (pictured) to my list of favorite all-time warm-weather beach resorts. The lush setting, featuring a mix of low-rise buildings that blend into the natural background and stunning suites and private homes, is flanked by two serene beaches and features multiple swimming pools (including my fave, a quiet one). It's probably the best family resort in North America, with lots of connecting rooms/large suites plus separate kids' and teens' centers as well as plenty of off-site activities on offer. That said, couples should book their stays during non-holiday periods,as it's a very romantic setting and those who golf & spa will especially love it here. It's hard to top the incredible, genuine, high level of service and foodies like me will rave about the delicious options--everything from Latin to sushi to Italian and even a fabulous steakhouse. Most notable: the service and food both rate many notches above any luxury Caribbean resort competitors.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Happy New Year! Am just back from a fabulous week in Bali--with a sidetrip to Central Java thrown in for fun. Well that, and to experience Amanjiwo--one of the most unique properties in AmanResorts' collection--and of course, to see the sun rise at Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Suffice it to say this was a memorable trip (how could it not be with stays at 4 of the 5 AmanResorts properties in Indonesia?).

Bali's changed a lot since I last visited seven years ago--there's now a total of 51,000 hotel rooms island-wide, and plenty more traffic as well--but the culture, beauty and friendliness of the Balinese people truly sets the destination apart. From the beaches of Amanusa and East Bali , where Amanusa & Amankila are located respectively, to historical Ubud (home to Amandari), the diversity of Bali is highly underrated.

Beyond the beaches and beautiful resorts, there is plenty of trekking and biking for the active set, yoga teachers & healers island-wide, hand-crafted furniture, art galleries & temples nearly everywhere you look. Amazing cuisine (lots of fresh seafood, fresh fruits and Indonesian specialties like Nasi Goreng & Gado Gado), handmade clothing, jewelry and home furnishings are found throughout the island as well.

I only wish I'd had more time to enjoy all of the above, but being the luxury hotel junkie I am, much of my time was spent visiting many of the top properties on Bali. I loved each of the AmanResorts we stayed at, including Amankila (pictured), for its stunning Indian Ocean setting; Amanjiwo, for its gorgeous design and overall uniqueness (including views of Borobudur); Amandari for its authentic sense of place in the middle of Ubud; and Amanusa for its peaceful setting and beautiful suites. We loved the food at each of the properties, as well as the spas and the oversized swimming pools (especially the three with oceanviews at Amankila). The genuine warmth & consistent high level of service experienced at each of the Aman properties is something every luxury hotel worldwide should emulate.

A few other hotels I really liked for various reasons include The Bale, a chic Small Luxury Hotel located nearly next door to Amanusa. Beautiful spacious suites with private pools, a "Wellness" menu, yoga programs, a gorgeous swimming pool and terrific GM make this property one I'd definitely recommend to my yoga/health-minded clients. Those who want to enjoy the healthy living concept in the Ubud area should also consider Como Shambhala (formerly known as Begawan Giri). Here, guests stay in one of Como Shambhala's four main residences (each is nearly a hotel within the hotel)or a spa retreat villa and can enjoy a full program of health/wellness/yoga & spa treatments along with healthy cuisine on the grounds of a beautiful private Estate. Sister property Uma Ubud, a few minutes away, is a great option at a great price. Rooms are good sized, the property intimate and pretty, the food terrific and the location ideal.

Those who love glitz & glamour will find it (and ultra-high prices) at Bulgari Bali, a sophisticated blend of Italian style with Balinese beauty. The views from the "inclinator" leading to the resort's Beach Club are to die for, and service here is also over the top. Four Seasons Sayan, the Ubud property where Julia Roberts stayed during the filming of Eat, Pray, Love, is a good option for travelers who enjoy the high level of comfort (often geared to Americans) that's standard at all Four Seasons properties worldwide.

Highlights of my trip? Here goes: Waking up at 4 am to see the sun rise over the mountains at Borobudur in Central Java; private yoga classes at Amanusa's Beach Club and overlooking the river at Amandari; massages by the best masseuses I've experienced in the world at Amanjiwo & Amandari; Celebrating New Year's Eve with great friends over a fantastic dinner at Amankila (16 hours ahead of my friends in LA!); meeting amazing people at Bali's best resorts. No matter how pretty a property is, it's the people, the culture and the service you remember long after the vacation ends.

For more information or to chat with me about an upcoming visit to Bali, one of my all-time favorite destinations, email me at or call 310-979-9036.