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."