Monday, October 31, 2011

Paris, France - Hotel Castille

I spent a lovely three-day weekend with my parents at the Hotel Castille in Paris last month. Part of the Preferred Hotels network, this boutique hotel is in an amazing location in the 1st arrondissement, dangerously close (I’m talking one block) to the luxury shops of the famous Rue St. Honore and the Place Vendome. The Castille is located on Rue Cambon, which the fashion obsessed will know, is the street where Coco Chanel lived and worked.

The Castille sits next to the four-story Chanel headquarters: the Chanel store is at street level, haute couture dressing rooms are on the second floor, Coco’s apartment is on the third, and her workshop is on the fourth. She didn’t actually sleep here though, she just used it as a space to entertain, and there is no bedroom in the apartment. Instead, she kept a private suite at the Ritz across the street. You can see photos of her apartment here. A few of the rooms in the Coco wing of the Castille Hotel actually look into the Chanel atelier, so if you are hankering to get a glimpse of Karl Lagerfeld, make sure you stay in one of those (decorated in beige and black, of course).

We stayed in the duplex suite, which had a lovely sitting area and full bathroom on the first floor, and then a king sized bed and another full bathroom (complete with Etro bath products) on the second level.

A pretty ' parisian' view from our hotel room
Our room rate included daily breakfast, which took place in this beautiful room overlooking a small courtyard. Breakfast was abundant and featured everything from eggs, bacon and sausage, to typical french pastries and bread, cereals, fruit, yogurt and cheeses and coldcuts.

The best part of this hotel was the wonderfully accomodating staff. They were always on hand to help with luggage, order taxis, book restaurant reservations, bring extra pillows, in general, happy to fulfill any request.
The breakfast room, which overlooks a beautiful litle courtyard

Each late afternoon, after a long day of sightseeing, we would have a glass of wine (or two!) in the lovely hotel bar just off the lobby area and relax before heading out for dinner in this magical 'city of light'.

The tea room
I would highly recommend a stay at the Castille, as the location, wonderful staff, and comfortable rooms (make sure you ask for the modern ones that have been recently done over) make this boutique hotel the perfect home base from which to explore the city of  Paris. Pin It

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tokyo, Japan - Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel

Shibuya Crossing by day (as seen from the hotel bar, Bello Visto)

There are many fabulous luxury hotels in Tokyo, but for those of you who are on more of a budget, or need to stay for an extended period of time, the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel is a great choice and very centrally located. I stayed here on a business trip and loved how close it was to the famous Shibuya Crossing (featured in the movie Lost in Translation) and the Shibuya 109 (a huge mall with over 100 stores), a great area for both shopping and feeling the frenetic energy of the city. The Shibuya crossing "scarmble" is not to be missed. When the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time in every direction. Traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides. If you are too claustrophobic to take part in this, you can watch from the second-floor of the Starbucks (one of the busiest in the world) on the corner of the crossing.
Shibuya Crossing by night (as seen from the hotel bar)
All of the rooms at the Cerulean Tower are located between the 19th and 37th floors and have spectacular views of Tokyo. There are many different dining options within the hotel as well, and when I was feeling the need to take a break from Japanese cuisine, I ate in the lobby café called the Garden Kitchen Caramelo, as well as in the Italian restaurant, Oli. The hotel bar, Bello Visto, is on the top floor of the hotel, and has spectacular views of Tokyo including Shinjuku skyline, Roppongi skyline, the Tokyo tower and even Mt. Fuji. The bar has an extensive wine list and live piano player on weekends.

Mt. Fuji at sunset, as seen from the hotel bar, Bello Visto 

The lobby of the hotel
The rooms are small, but comfortable and modern, and Japanese beds are hard, so you may have to ask for a mattress topper, as I did. The most amusing part of the room is all of the options on the toilet, even a seat warmer! The view from the hotel room, whether day or night, was simply stunning. We took taxis each night to various sections of Tokyo and none of the popular neighborhoods and destinations are more than a 15 minute ride away from the hotel. The airport shuttle bus even stops directly at the hotel, which is an added convenience.

Our room by day

Our room by night

Some of the many options on the loo!
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

As you may recall, I was in Venice in August for the wedding of my dear friend Cecilia and her husband Federico. After the wedding they departed on a fabulous honeymoon that took them from Hong Kong to parts of Australia to the island of Bora Bora. As Cecilia and I travel together all the time and her standards are even higher than mine, she absolutely insisted I let her tell you about her experience at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. Here is what she had to say:

We stayed at the Four Seasons Bora Bora for 6 days. The hotel picks you up at the airport with a Riva-style motor boat, wood and blue. The hotel is amazing, built in 2008 I think it is the newest property on the island. It's located in Motu and occupies all of the beaches on the lagoon side and mountain view side, and the spa and private residences (to be built) are on the ocean side. Also the resort has a private lagoon within the property with tropical fish and corals and a marine biologist (Oliver) always on site for snorkeling and explanations of marine life of all sorts (snorkel equipment is already provided in your room).

We stayed in an overwater bungalow, there are also beach villas that have two bedrooms or more. All of the bungalows look the same inside and out (apart from 2-3 bungalows at the very end of the pier that have a private pool), the only difference is the view that goes from resort to beach to lagoon to mountain view. We stayed in a mountain view overwater bungalow with a private deck that had lounge chairs, a table and outdoor shower, and steps that lead all the way into the water. The bungalow lights up underneath at night and you can see fish (also from the inside of the room as part of the floor is glass). The room consists of a living room with sofa and chairs, bedroom, bathroom area with separate shower, two sinks and huge (at least for 2) bath tub sided by a door that opens onto the deck for a breathtaking view.

There are four restaurants in the resort plus special themed dinners by the beach (Polynesian dinner each Monday, etc.) .There is a French gourmet restaurant which is really good (maitre d’ and staff are French), a more casual dining place, which is also open for breakfast and lunch, the sunset bar, which is really cool and features Asian/sushi/fusion cuisine, and the pool bar. The staff are extremely attentive and caring. If you do not feel like walking you can always call the cart service and they'll take you anywhere within the resort. We walked most of the time as nothing is more than 5-10 minutes walk and it is so pleasant among the resort's vegetation (all carefully taken care of!).

The main beach overlooking the lagoon and mountain has enough lounge chairs and umbrellas so you never have to wait and they are also far enough apart so that you don’t have to overhear your neighbor’s conversations (you know, Italian style!). The staff are always around to bring fresh water and complimentary tastings of fruit, ice slush etc. Also suntan lotion and aloe is available in containers with pumps for everyone to use by the beach and pool and there are loads of towels everywhere. The pool is right behind the main beach with nice cabanas, but why use the pool when the beach is so amazing?! Water sports are available for free (apart from jet ski) and my husband said all of the equipment is brand new and top of the line! The spa and fitness rooms are great and use all Monoi natural oils. There is sauna/steam room/jacuzzi overlooking the ocean, also yoga in the morning on the deck overlooking the ocean
Breakfast arrives by boat in the morning (on request)
Breakfast is very abundant and delicious, even Nutella is available (guess what I had every morning!) and an amazing variety of tropical fruits and juices (the juice of the day is always an interesting combination of more than one flavor!), plus croissants and other French pastries along with eggs, bacon etc. The concierge has a catalogue (2 inches high!) of activities you can book that range from jet ski tours, to all forms of snorkeling and diving for beginners and for those more advanced, in the barrier reef with their private boat or in a group etc. The hotel offers free trips to the main city on the island which is Vaitape (half hour boat ride). The city itself is not worth the trip apart from having a good look at black pearls, but beware of stores that sell them too cheap, and hand painted sarongs at the market. Everything else is very touristy unless you rent a bike and explore the surroundings.

Black pearls: Amazing variety of qualities and colors (hues from purple to peacock to silver and blue) definitely more than you can find anywhere in Europe. The nicer qualities have the same prices you would find in Europe. The baroque or circled pearls have more affordable prices and would make a more fun souvenir of this amazing place! I bought mine at Robert Wan, he is the guru of black pearls. What else? Tropical fish, flowers and fruit everywhere, amazing sunsets, amazing colors in the water, and tiare, the island's most famous flower.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paris, France - Hermes Store (Rue de Sevres, 17)

After one hundred and seventy years on the right bank, Hermès has decided to cross the Seine and embrace the future with a new store at 17 Rue de Sèvres in the ritzy Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of Paris. The new store has come to life in a building filled with rich history; a historical monument with landmark status that was once home to the Lutetia swimming pool (one of Paris’ oldest swimming clubs in the 1930s), and a stunning example of the Art Deco period.

The interior was conceived by Denis Montel and the RDAI agency, the architectural firm that creates and designs all Hermès stores across the world. In keeping with the pool theme, the beautiful mosaic tile floor, with colors of turquoise blue, silver, light green, and white gold, almost evokes the sparkling surface of the water, and the undulating wood staircase could be a giant wave.

As you descend the staircase you see massive wooden huts (about 30 feet tall) that extend towards the skylight of natural light above. Each hut houses Hermes brand new collection of home wares, including cushions, furnishing fabrics, fine china, wallpaper, carpets and furniture.

The three floored, 15,800 square foot space has been well used (almost half of it being devoted to their home range) and also includes a florist, a book store (the Chaîne d’Encre), and a tea bar situated on the balcony which has been aptly named Le Plongeoir (the Diving Board).

A close up of the balcony and the wallpaper
The beautiful mosaic tile floor from the old swimming pool
New Hermes furnishing fabrics range

A gorgeous throw from the new Hermes home collection
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Friday, October 7, 2011

Sardinia, Italy (Porto Cervo) - Gastronomia Belvedere

The sea view from Gastronomia Belvedere
Let's face it, when you book a trip to Sardinia's Costa Smeralda, you have to mentally prepare yourself for a disproportionate quality-service-price ratio in most hotels and restaurants. But thanks to Gastronomia Belvedere, you can actually dine with the true locals, eat well at honest prices, and leave the 'VIP scene' behind: both the view and the food will take center stage here.  

One of two dining areas
At Belvedere, you place your order at a large counter inside and then choose any table you like in one of two dining areas. Belvedere's menu changes each day, depending on what is fresh. Hot dishes include homemade pastas with various sauces, meat, and of course, the catch of the day from the sea. You literally pick out the fish you want from a platter and they cook it for you whole. But the real attraction here is the huge cold buffet made up of a myriad of vegetable and fish combinations.

Cold buffet offerings of various fish and vegetables

Homemade pasta, take your pick!

A buffet sampling of avocado and shrimp, and octopus with both potato and artichokes

Avocado and shrimp

Malloreddus pasta from Sardinia with meat sauce

A whole sea bass that was de-boned at the table

Amazing typical homemade Sardinian biscuits
We ate at Gastronomia Belvedere twice over the course of a 3 day weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the Sardinia specialties as well as the same local faces who dine there each day. The owner, who has lived all over the world and has worked at some of the most famous five-star hotels (Le Meurice in Paris, Hotel Cala di Volpe, among others) is extremely nice and a very gracious host. The Belvedere was originally a family home that he and his brothers turned into a restaurant; I, for one, thank them for that. Pin It