back when air travel was cool

97i-36-huty-8138-20These days being launched 30,000+ feet in the air and flying over earth in a very complex and heavy machine is so standard that we mostly just complain about having to do it. But maybe we wouldn’t if air travel was as cool as it used to be—back in the day. Check out these images courtesy of Gothamist and try to imagine how the trauma of modern air travel was once upon a time actually quite glamorous.

from the archives: rediscovering the hudson

alg-drums-jpgIt’s hard to imagine that we owe our fair city — and state — to the insubordinate wanderings of a Brit in the pay of Dutch taskmasters, a sailor chasing mariners’ centuries-old dream of a shorter route to the Orient. Yet 400 years ago, Henry Hudson encountered bad weather off Norway and, despite orders to return to Amsterdam, opted for a 3,000-mile detour to America instead. Needless to say it was one slow — and lost — boat to China. But he did chance upon “a very good harbor for all windes,” and a river that would eventually bear his name. Hudson’s happy accident gave quick rise to Nieuw Amsterdam and, ultimately, the Big Apple. Modern New Yorkers can tip their caps to Hudson’s pluck and celebrate the quadricentennial of his epic adventure this spring, summer and fall — while discovering the many beautiful facets of the present-day Hudson Valley. READ MORE.

 

from the archives: beachfront bliss

alg-grace-bay-beach-jpgThe most developed of the 40-strong chain of islands that constitutes Turks and Caicos, Providenciales – or Provo, as the locals call it – is no mere gateway, but a destination unto itself. Pristine nature and crystal blue waters coexist easily alongside chic hotels and elaborate spas. And since Provo is also a nonstop flight from New York, the powdery Turks and Caicos beaches are a lot closer than you’d imagine. READ MORE

from the archives: horsing around

Every city likes to promote itself as a destination with “something for everyone,” but civilized Saratoga Springs, sandwiched between the Adirondack Mountains and the Hudson River three hours north of New York City, actually is one of those places. That’s why it’s one of the most popular – and famous – summertime getaways in the country. Blending innovation and tradition, Saratoga is equal parts high society and college town, without the hassle of being stuffy or too rowdy. It’s rich in American history, but there’s also eclectic shopping, the celebrated namesake mineral springs, gourmet dining and world-famous thoroughbred and harness racing. If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping – or the perfect lazy summer weekend for that matter – Saratoga is about as close as you’ll get to a sure thing. READ MORE.

from the archives: massage of a lifetime

Mandarin Oriental Central Park view

High above Columbus Circle in Manhattan, the Mandarin Oriental has an over-the-top spa with spectacular views of Central Park. And while raising the bar for service and ambiance, it is also raising the bar on what the market will bear for a simple rubdown. With the recent surge of affordable qi gong joints popping up all over major cities — not to mention practically every nail salon now offering to rebalance your chakras for $20 — you’d be hard-pressed to pay more than $100 bucks for an hour of qualified deep-tissue attention. Even nearby, high-end day retreats such as Bliss and Sanctuary top out at $200 for a hot stone or lomi-lomi massage. However, in the rarified world of the Mandarin-in-the-sky, a no-frills massage will set you back about a cool $500. Read more HERE.

from the archives: jackson hole strikes a balance

spring creek ranch

Jackson Hole strikes that rare balance between nature and nurture. And for a town of such diminutive proportions that’s better known for its high-octane winter sports than its sedate summers, that’s surprising. But don’t question it; embrace it, and you’ll be richly rewarded by this incredibly scenic little corner of Wyoming. Jackson – the central town in the Jackson Hole valley – is tiny and encircled by the Grand Tetons, the youngest of the Rocky Mountain ranges, in what was once considered frontier territory. Yet one of the many myths it shatters is that size is an accurate reflection of quantity and quality. It’s not. Though the year-round population is a shade under 9,000, the spa choices alone are enough to make you do a double take: organic body treatments at the new LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the ultimate eco-friendly accolade) Hotel Terra‘s rooftop Chill Spa; local ingredients like mesquite-tree powder, sagebrush and red-clay mud put to good use in massages at Spring Creek Ranch‘s Wilderness Adventure Spa, and the inspiration of nearby glacial lakes found in Vichy Waterfall Rituals at Solitude Spa in Teton Mountain Lodge. If your fears are less psychic than political, spending time in Cheney country – the vice president has a place in the area – you’ll be shocked to discover that the valley is like a blue-state island in a sea of red-state dogma. A leaf through the Planet Jackson Hole newspaper gives an accurate portrait of this town’s priorities: Right-to-life ads are far outnumbered by those for the Hemp Film Festival. Read the full story HERE.

from the archives: bathing in bedford springs

Secluded on 2,200 acres in the Southern Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, Bedford Springs Resort is one of the country’s few surviving examples of a time since passed – a time when Americans “summered” and traveled to “take the waters.” Now a national historic landmark, the 18th-century resort hotel sat derelict for a generation before recently undergoing a massive $120 million renovation that restored the once-famous mineral springs, Colonial-era buildings and golf course. How appropriate then, that this piece of American history is returned to its former glory and welcoming travelers once again.

Long touted for its healing waters and restorative environs, Bedford Springs dates back to 1796, when its seven original mineral springs were purchased by Bedford native Dr. D. John Anderson, who built bathing facilities for his patients to drink and soak in the waters. To local residents and the general public he sold “life tickets” and “family tickets.” It was the beginning of something far grander than anyone could have imagined. As word of the healing springs spread – they were rumored to cure everything from gout to rheumatism to “derangements of the liver” – Bedford’s guest register recorded the names of many American luminaries, including Daniel Webster, Aaron Burr and Henry Ford. Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor also came for the cure.

Where celebrities and politicians went, so society followed, and “the Bedford Cure” became part of the social circuit. Outdoor adventure in the lush valley became part of it as well, as guests amused themselves with lawn bowling, badminton, shuffleboard and tennis. After a morning soak at the Yellow, Sulphur or Moss Springs, patrons packed the horse-drawn “Talley Ho” for a ride around the grounds and into town.

With the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 came greater access to the prestigious resort, and it continued to prosper throughout the 1960s and ’70s. But by the 1980s the once-grand grande dame appeared outdated and eventually closed her doors. It was soon deemed one of the most endangered sites on the National Registry of Historic Places.

After 21 years, Bedford Springs Resort has awoken like Sleeping Beauty. There are now more than 200 guest rooms, elegantly restored in historically accurate colors with period details preserved and reflecting the diverse history of the buildings. Sun- and breeze-filled porches are plentiful, with striking views of the grounds. Many of the curiosities discovered during the overhaul are proudly displayed, including photographs of turn-of-the-century merrymakers, guest registers and ledgers noting presidential visits, and a grand Stars and Stripes that greets you in the Federal-era lobby – the only known 39-star American flag in existence. Today, the resort’s fabled waters flow through a new 30,000-square-foot Springs Eternal Spa fed by Spring Eternal, the property’s eighth spring, which unexpectedly gushed to the surface during the restoration. Treatments at the Springs Eternal Spa are naturally focused on hydrotherapies, so be sure to indulge in the classic American spa experience of taking the waters however you can. Both the restored Victorian-style indoor swimming pool and the newly built outdoor pool are spring-fed. The trout stream and miles of nature trails will excite outdoor enthusiasts. Give a nod to the old “Talley Ho” and grab one of the resort’s Cannondale bikes and a prepared picnic from the cafe.

What’s even more engaging about Bedford Springs is the utter lack of pretense. Some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable staff you’ll ever meet are happy to stop whatever they’re doing and share some fascinating factoid. (The central double staircase, for example, is rumored to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson, who installed a similar one at Monticello.) There are nuggets of American history tucked into every nook and cranny of Bedford Springs. However, it’s the five-star service that will leave you feeling positively presidential.  READ MORE

from the archives: hot spas of the caribbean

For too many years, Caribbean spas were strictly amateur affairs. Not anymore: The number of high-tech hideaways scattered throughout the islands has exploded, with each one promising to reinvigorate your body and renew your spirit in new and novel ways. As a bonus, direct flights from JFK abound this time of year, making it easier than ever to escape for a weekend of pampering and be back in time for the Monday morning meeting.

Here’s our guide to five that know how to turn up the heat: CLICK HERE for the full story.

from the archives: are you ears burning?

Candles were once just pretty accents at the spa – now they’re becoming essential tools of the trade thanks to those pesky ancient Egyptians. Ear candling (or coning, as it is sometimes called) began as a hygiene regimen along the Nile thousands of years ago and is today being touted as a natural way to clean out accumulated wax – not to mention the white, flaky fungus you now wished you didn’t know was building up inside your ears. As you lie on your side, a long hollow taper – candling, get it? -  is inserted into the ear canal and set ablaze. Heat from the burning cone softens the wax and a vacuum created by the rising smoke gently draws the detritus into the absorbent candle.  The meltdown lasts about 30 minutes and the gunk that comes out might just make you shudder. Reportedly popular among singers and musicians, the average spa-goer might find this therapy to be a one-time curiosity, though many swear by its ability to relieve inner ear pressure and infections, as well as noticeably improving hearing quality. It’s also handy for disproving Mom’s old maxim: never stick anything in your ear except your elbow.

 

merry christmas

http://www.michaelnassar.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/p_480_385_9196915E-80AE-47AD-A3A0-A75AE653AD62.jpegI obviously misjudged my dates reviewing  the year in travel.  It should have ended on Christmas Eve and here we are on Christmas Day with two more months to go.  Oh well, I will pick it up tomorrow.

This holiday I wanted to share the post I wrote last Christmas, which is deserving of an annual outing:  Martha Graham’s letter to Agnes DeMille.  A long ago gift from a good friend, it has never failed to inspire me.

“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep it open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you…..No artist is pleased…..There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from the archives: leaf peeping

Something happens as soon as the first chill stirs the autumn air. People instinctively reach for sweaters, the scent of cinnamon and cider wafts through the breeze like a narcotic, and everyone succumbs to the intractable pull of a yearly ritual: piling into their cars to go and watch the leaves turn color.

Don’t wait until the last minute, however, or you’ll find yourself up a tree — without a place to stay. As thousands of leaf peepers across the Northeast suddenly realize their time to spend a lazy weekend glimpsing the fall foliage is running out, a desperate, road-clogging migration begins.

Here’s how to savor the few short weeks of tranquility — and nature’s radiant colors — before the crowds arrive. READ MORE.

from the archives: viva las vegas

Gaudy and glamorous, Las Vegas may not be renowned for its destination spas just yet, but surely that’s only a matter of time.  Like celebrity-chef restaurants, spas here are becoming a fashionable amenity to the mammoth casinos, constantly reinventing themselves for guests in search of the next big thing.

With more than thirty luxury spas along a 6-mile strip where the Empire State Building sits down the block from the Eiffel Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge connects Monte Carlo with a medieval castle, Sin City might better be described as Spa City.   If you know where to look, it might also become your favorite desert oasis for a little relaxation and rejuvenation.  Here’s the best of what you’ll find, so you can leave the gambling for the slots.

Wynn Las Vegas is the newest resort to open along the Strip and it’s obvious that no expense has been spared in raising the bar several notches:  spacious standard rooms feel more like suites, with floor to ceiling windows offering unobstructed views of the desert.  Marble bathrooms, double vanities, opulent flower filled public spaces and a golf course on property make it clear why owner Steve Wynn is referred to as the unofficial chairman of the “new” Vegas.

Available exclusively to guests of the hotel, the Wynn Las Vegas Spa is suffused with natural light – a welcome relief from the harsh florescent lights of the casinos. The solarium-style Jacuzzi area has the atmosphere of an outdoor garden, lush with foliage and flanked by a pair of decadent deluge showers. A pre-treatment relaxation area feels like you’re nestled inside a Noguchi shade.

The Dilo Kuli Moisture Renewal wraps the body in penetrating Dilo and coconut oils; a Rainstone Ritual combines raindrop treatment – essential oils applied like droplets along the spine – with a full body stone massage.  However, the signature treatment is, a Good Luck Ritual Massage, natch, based on the five elements of Feng Shui and combining heated Thai herbs, lemon verbena foot therapy and a wild lime botanical scalp treatment.  They can’t promise it will bring you good fortune at the blackjack tables, but you’ll keep a sunny disposition even if the chips are drifting in the dealers favor.

Bellagio is the resort that started the trend toward opulence in the 1990’s, making plush accommodations and fanciful architecture the standard for everyone, not only high-rollers. It still has some of the most fanciful, light filled public spaces in the entire city.  A Dale Chihuly ceiling that greets guests at reception is a masterpiece of whimsical blown glass.

Located off the flower-filled Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of the Bellagio’s fantasy Italian palazzo, Spa Bellagio patrons have the added bonus of arriving half intoxicated by the sweet perfume of tens of thousands of blossoms.  A wide array of exotic offerings from around the world await inside:  Raindrop Therapy, Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, aquatic Watsu Massage, Indian Head Massage and Thai Yoga Massage are but a few.  Just be sure to unwind in the redwood sauna – the best on the Strip – or the eucalyptus steam room first.

Gentlemen in tow can enjoy the straightedge Royal Shave in an old-fashioned barber chair, gingerly tucked away in a private – and manly – wood paneled barbershop.  It’s something every man must try at least once:  hot towels, warm shaving cream and a sushi-grade razor make for the closest shave imaginable.  A botanical mask to replenish necessary nutrients follows – as does baby soft, almost buttery smooth skin.

There’s no denying the charm of finding the Grand Canal wend its way through the third floor of The Venetian, replete with singing gondolieri and a powder blue Giotto sky above.  And while standard rooms are in fact, standard, this resort must surely have the greatest collection of tromp l’oeil ceilings outside of the Doge’s Palace.

Canyon Ranch resorts have been on the leading edge of wellness and fitness services for over 25 years, practically inventing the concept at its original Tucson Health Resort.  The Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian (the largest resort spa in North America by the way and soon to be the largest in the world when a planned expansion opens.) refines all they have learned, offering a multitude of skin care and body treatments. Vibrational Therapy in a specially sealed chamber charged with positive ions is a stunner.  But the other options include movement therapy, a 40-foot rock climbing wall, meditation, Ballet, Salsa, a variety of Yoga practices and a medical/wellness center chock full of lectures on such varied topics as Bone Health, Metabolism and Optimal Living.  One to five-day Club Passports mean you need never leave.

Two years ago the Mobil Travel Guide’s “America’s Best Hotel & Resort Spas” named the Ritz-Carlton’s Spa Vita di Lago at Lake Las Vegas one of America’s top spas.  But, don’t be fooled by past laurels – a lot can happen in two short years.  Spa Vita has vanished, replaced by what is now called Ritz-Carlton Spa.  And although the hotel that hosts the spa is as fabulously understated and service oriented as ever, treatments, therapists and general attention to service inside the spa are sorely lacking.

Could it be that the rise in the number of spas in downtown Vegas have created a brain-drain of qualified therapists willing to travel beyond the Strip?  Or has management let a jewel in the crown grow tarnished through inattention?  Either way, top shelf prices demand top-shelf attention.  My recent visit found a locker room valet who would have been more at home as a bouncer at a rowdy nightclub and a young massage therapist who couldn’t answer a single question about a treatment and went so far as to start arguing with me on the massage table.

Which is a shame, since Lake Las Vegas is a wonderful triumph of engineering over nature, 20 minutes east of the Strip, with a pair of exceptional golf courses and expert guided programs in stargazing, hiking and mountain biking.  A two-resort complex of Italianate architecture situated around a man made lake replete with gondolas – half of this beautiful Ritz-Carlton is built atop a replica Ponte Vecchio; condos are situated nearby in gated enclaves such as Tuscany, Capri, and Sorrento; and Celine Dion’s house is across the lake – and surrounded by red rock mountains.  You could spend a week at the resorts’ relaxed restaurants and small casino and never hunger for the neon glare of Vegas proper – unless of course, you were looking for a decent massage.

TI is the resort formerly known as Treasure Island.  Actually it is still officially known as Treasure Island, but TI is a much more hip and trendy appellation, no?  Once the family resort known for its pirates, it has become ground zero for the twenty something crowd looking to shake their groove thing in the nightclub, Tangerine, and watch the scantily-clad sirens duke it out in the lagoon along the Strip.

Innovative aquatic design echoes the refreshing nature of the water-based services at WET – the Spa at TI, which include everything from aromatic seaweed baths to the signature seawater wrap – about the closest you’ll come in America to the French Thalasso therapy.  There’s also a specialized line of evening treatments – the only such offerings on the Strip – including the Renight Facial, a bedtime ritual designed to give your skin a better chance of repairing itself from the effects of environment and stress while you sleep.  And at the opposite end of the spectrum, The Heiress, featuring gold-flecked body products:  a golden scrub followed by a rich golden wrap, golden oil massage, and topped with a sprinkling of gold dust that will leave you feeling 24-karat sexy and ready for a night on the town.

THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is an attempt to create a brand within a brand and it works spectacularly, functioning as the boutique arm of the giant Mandalay Bay resort.  Heightened aesthetics, monochromatic color palettes and personalized service are the hallmarks of this hotel which would not feel out of place in Soho or Shinjuku.

bathhouse at Mandalay Bay’s THEhotel is rightly being heralded as one of the trendiest spas on the Strip – and not only because of its über lowercase spelling. The gym and spa offer a calming refuge of dark slate walls, rainfall corridors and minimalist design coupled with soaring cathedral ceilings.  It feels like not so much a spa as a temple – and you’ll worship the multitude of exquisite treatments ranging from champagne facials and crème brulée body wraps to Ayurvedic herbal baths and cinnamon mud masques.

MGM Grand is a city unto itself.   The most expansive property in Vegas, with over 5,000 hotel rooms, it’s one of those wonders of the world that must be seen to be believed.  To paraphrase the Eagles, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never find the exit!  Not that you would necessarily want to leave – everything you can think of from shopping, restaurants and nightclubs to a lion habitat are under the same grand roof.

Known for its cutting edge treatments and innovative techniques, modern science and ancient ceremonies converge at the grand MGM Grand Spa.  Try the DDF Resolution Facial to harness the power of growth proteins to significantly reduce post-travel puffiness and the fine wrinkles that are exacerbated by the dry desert heat. Japanese Yuzu, rich in organic acids that aid in pain relief, circulation and skin smoothing, are put to invigorating use in the Yuzu Awakening.  The refreshing ritual begins in a private spa suite with an exfoliating body scrub, followed by a Sake and White Tea body wrap and a Shiatsu scalp massage. (Both Sake and White Tea are known for their anti-oxidant properties.) Finally, unwind with a 50-minute Shiatsu-Combination massage performed with Yuzu body butter and you’ll be forgiven for drifting off into the land of nod.

To look at vintage pictures of Caesar’s Palace from the 1960’s is to realize this is the red velvet granddaddy of all Vegas resorts, swanky and sophisticated and as decadent as the fallen Roman Empire.  What’s most impressive is how the frolicsome bacchanal has managed to keep its competitive edge, looking fresh and fabulous some forty years on.

Inspired by the baths of ancient Rome, where people gathered for personal reflection and social connection, Qua Baths & Spa at Caesar’s Palace is the first spa in Las Vegas to introduce the concept of “Social Spa-ing.” Amid dark wood décor and relaxing waterfalls, the communal areas such as the Laconium (providing ultra-heat therapy), the Arctic Ice Room (complete with falling snow), and a tea room staffed by a sommelier skilled at pairing teas with treatments, you can move freely between group interaction and quiet solitude. The therapeutic circuit of three Roman Baths of graduated temperatures also has one of the niftiest amenities in town:  a robe sauna.  Few things beat a steaming robe when climbing out of a frigid plunge pool!

Another first in spa services is the Crystal Body Art Room, offering customized designs of tiny Swarovski crystals artistically adhered to the body, making for the ultimate personal accessory for a night of partying.

The hushed atmosphere of the casino-less Four Seasons Hotel is a welcome relief from the non-stop gaming found at every other resort along the Strip.  It is a hotel first and foremost, not a casino with hotel rooms.  That subtle distinction makes all the difference.

A sculpture of Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, stands at the entrance to The Spa at  Four Seasons Hotel as a totem of relaxation and personal well being.  Intimate and bijoux, the gorgeously appointed spa is all about personal attention for a limited number of guests, making it far and away the most dramatically different experience in a city where the average hotel has well over 2,000 guest rooms.

The Spa features the new JAMU product line used in the signature JAMU Massage – a meditative combination of percussion and exotic oils and Hindu, Chinese and European techniques. Asian Spa Rituals blend exotic ingredients and celebrate tradition to create a unique cross-cultural experience. A Four Seasons four-layer facial applies layer upon layer of pure, fresh European seaweed, leaving parched, sun-dried skin nourished, healthier and younger looking.

“Serenity in Las Vegas does exist,” is the motto at this Four Seasons, “you just have to know where to find it…”  Here’s a hint: it’s discretely tucked behind the big tower at the south end of the Strip.

in living color

These fascinating images come via the photo blog at the Denver Post.  Taken by photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, they are some of the only color photographs which document the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are now the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit titled Bound for Glory: America in Color. See more of them HERE.

The Faro Caudill family eating dinner in their dugout. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide.

Farm auction. Derby, Connecticut, September 1940. Reproduction from color slide

A store with live fish for sale. Vicinity of Natchitoches, Louisiana, July 1940. Reproduction from color slide.

Distributing surplus commodities. St. Johns, Arizona, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide.

Children stage a patriotic demonstration. Southington, Connecticut, May 1942. Reproduction from color slide

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago and Northwest Railway Company. Clinton, Iowa, April 1943. Reproduction from color slide.

ultimate caribbean

Here’s a copy of the NY Daily News story that led to yesterday’s posting.  Click each image to view larger or you can view a modified version of it online HERE.

Continue reading

from the archives: sunny st. barths (part 2)

During the winter months the capital harbor town of Gustavia may play host to a bevy of luxury yachts, but the summer finds mostly locals enjoying a little leisure time.  Walking – the only way to enjoy the charms of town – through the streets of this quaint little town, you’ll experience the island’s Swedish heritage amid all the old architecture.  Start at the Museum, located at La Pointe, on the far side of the port.  It boasts documents tracing the island’s history back to the times of the evil Monbars, whose legendary treasure is still believed to be buried on the island.  Another interesting point of reference are the hurricane maps which trace the numerous Caribbean storms.

There are a number of beautiful buildings in the capital, waiting to be discovered along the tiniest of back roads:  the restored Wall House, the Old Swedish house, the Old Bell Tower (which was part of a church destroyed in a hurricane), and Town Hall (the Governor’s home during the Swedish occupation).  Take a walk to the Anglican Church, its evocative exterior slightly beaten by the tropical weather.  The Catholic Church, built in 1822, lies just down the road; its architecture continuing to inspire many local painters.  Similar to the church in Lorient, its bell tower was erected higher than the rest of the structure to enhance the sound of the chiming bells.  Fort Gustavia, next to the weather station, dates back to the Swedish occupation.  Here you can discover the former defenses of the island:  the nightwatchman’s cabin and the gunpowder works.  For a little bit of local color stop by the Guadeloupean ladies’ market (commonly referred to Dou-dous) on Rue Oscar II.  The produce is brought in fresh:  mangos, figs, tamarinds, as well as a number of exotic roots, and spices.

St. Barths is a duty free port so perfumes, silver, watches and the like all sell at tax-free prices.  Plus during summer, as the solde signs go up in all the windows, there are definitely enough bargains to warrant dragging yourself out of the water or off the beach; particularly for high end goods that cost a fortune back home.  Hermes , Gucci, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana are just a few of the uber-boutiques lining the harbor of Gustavia.  For something a bit more homespun, there is delicately executed straw work unique to St. Barths – baskets, handbags, broad brimmed hats – braided and woven of lantana palm by the camera shy women of Corossol and nearby Colombier who sell their wares in the street.  The village of St. Jean – considered the tourist center of the island with its five small shopping centers along the main road – has a number of small shops filled with the work of local artisans, from artwork to jewelry to homemade lotions and edibles, as well as the requisite seashells.  There’s even a local outpost of the French food shop Hediard should you need to stock up on tins of pate and escargot.  Wine lovers may find themselves shopping for extra luggage: $30 for a Grand Cru that would easily cost triple that back home.  Try La Cave in Marigot or La Cave du Port Franc in Public where the fine vintages are stored in temperature controlled cellars.  The last minute shopper should hit Match, a supermarket across from the airstrip carrying a fine selection of wine at equally fine prices.  Perhaps the chicest memento of the island (don’t ask why, its like the Black Dog t-shirts on Martha’s Vineyard) is the off-white and olive canvas tote bags stamped Loulou’s Marine from the nautical shop in Gustavia.

Dining  – as you’d expect – is another stellar attraction of St. Barths.  Season after season, young chefs from France’s greatest kitchens choose to forgo the formality of Paris and work on the island.  Combining local ingredients with traditional French, they have made the island a gastronomic showcase.

A leisurely evening meal at La Mandala, overlooking the harbor, combines a zestful mix of local fish and Thai style spice.  Try something you’ve never heard of before like the cool Wahoo Ceviche or pepper-crusted Tataki.  For a real thrill you can reserve a table for eight – floating in its own pool above the harbor.  Bartolomeo at Guanahani is a prime example of the classic Mediterranean-inspired French fare on the island.  Sublime foie gras terrine, thyme roasted saddle of lamb, and plump sea scallops seared to perfection on a bed of porcini risotto are a few options to get your juices going.  Dining outside at Le Repaire with the trade winds blowing makes for an ideal lunching spot on your way in to or out of Gustavia.  With an arm’s length menu of fruity rum drinks you’ll be tempted to spend the afternoon starting off at the ships in the harbor.  Be certain though to try the warm crab salad — mounds of fresh crab atop fresh greens, topped with a tangy mango-citrus vinaigrette.  From the road, the unimposing Ti St. Barth looks like something you’d find on Gilligan’s Island – a flourish of palm fronds and bamboo stalks haphazardly lashed together.  Descend the gentle stone steps, however, and you enter an eclectic mix oriental rugs, twinkling fountains and quite  the photo collage of celebrities who’ve spent the night atop the tables.  Gloriously thick steak is a highlight here as is the grilled marlin.  Wherever you go be sure to finish the meal with the local specialty, rhum vanille, a warm, soothing digestif that trickles down the back of  your throat like syrup.

Last, yet far from least, an ordinary hotel room just won’t do in St. Barths – you need a villa.  Preferably overlooking the spectacular water.  Guanahani, the island’s only full service luxury resort, is all colored cottages, from yellow to purple to bright green, scattered among bougainvillea, hibiscus, and a coconut grove that stretches between the lagoon and the sea.  As active or relaxing as you wish, the resort has all you need:  a pair of gourmet restaurants, fitness center, cars to hire, tennis courts, two pools, Jacuzzi, two beaches and all you could want to experience the emerald waters:  snorkeling gear, windsurfing boards, peddaloes and catamarans.  More to the point, during low season, an indulgent sliver of the island’s best is available with an off-season package where dollars and euro are traded at 1-for-1.

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