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 stacy@elitetravelinternational.com.

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 post...my 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 points...as 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 stacy@elitetravelinternational.com.