just published: mayan journey

AsiaSpa - Mayan JoureyIf last December’s prevailing wisdom had held true you wouldn’t be reading this. The storied Mayan calendar was famously closing in on the winter solstice and the end of its 144,000-day cycle. Interpreters of the calendar – and a host of New Age conspiracy theorists – predicted the date would coincide with a global cataclysm. Good thing nobody held their breath, because the Maya believed in the cyclical nature of things. The end of the calendar didn’t presage the end of the world; it marked a new beginning.  Call it a transition or period of renewal, but the Maya believed in the necessity of an epochal timeout before moving forward.  Spanish conquistadors might have brought about that break sooner than expected – subjugating the people by the end of the 17th century – yet descendants of the Maya continue to form sizable populations throughout Mexico’s Yucutan peninsula. Plus, many of their cities and ceremonial sites still remain. The wisdom of these ancient Americans hasn’t been lost. It’s laying patiently in wait for a Mayan journey of rediscovery. READ MORE.

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sinuous lines

IMG_3154The former TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport is a significant example of 20th-Century modern architecture and engineering. A masterpiece of sinuous lines actualized out of poured concrete, it was designed by the mid-century modernist Eero Saarinen. Opened in 1962 it was the final terminal built at what was then called New York International Airport, as well as one of Saarinen’s last projects. Revolutionary and influential, it was Saarinen’s intention that the terminal express the excitement of travel and “reveal the terminal as a place of movement and transition.” Fifty years after the fact it remains as exciting and forward-looking as ever. And dare I say it, soignee. When was the last time an airport – or any public building for that matter – made you feel sexy? Saarinen’s building does just that, while sweeping you up in the promise and possibility of a future that, unfortunately, never quite came to pass. After laying dormant for over a decade, it was recently announced that the terminal would be developed into a luxury hotel. Thanks to Open House New York, yesterday was one of those last-chance opportunities to experience the building in full – before getting caught up in the inevitable tide of transition.

TWA terminal

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hotel de charme

hotel de charmeI love a good hotel. And yet as I get older, I find myself more and more  drawn to the off beat and the one-off. Here in Pezenas, Hotel de Vigniamont is a prime example of the latter. While not a hotel in the American sense of the word, it’s a chambre d’hote, or bed and breakfast, set in a quaint 17th century hôtel particulier, an old mansion. You enter through a vine-draped door to a cool, central courtyard marked by strikingly dramatic arches. A stone staircase showing the wear of centuries winds its way up to five spacious suites and a roof terrace with chaise lounges. The individually designed rooms are immensely comfortable, stylish, and include the kind of small, thoughtful touches you’d expect from staying with friends. But best of all is the bubbly hostess, Babette. Delightfully friendly, she’s enthusiastic about both her home and her town.

Hotel de Vigniamont

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moliere is everywhere

moliere is everywhereThough by all accounts playwright-actor-stage manger Moliere spent only a few years of his early artistic life in Pezenas, the small Sud de France town has adopted him as though he were a native-born son. (Without benefit of a beach or other tourist attraction, you can’t really blame them for doing what they have to do.) There’s the Hotel Moliere, of course, and a public monument to the writer in the center of town. (The only one outside of Paris, people are quick to tell me.) In the local museum a chair used by Moliere while he was in residence is proudly displayed – a gift of cultural patrimony purchased by villagers who banded together to rescue the relic at auction.  A summer festival of his plays is one of the big cultural draws.  And though I cannot vouch for the quality of the drink produced, there is even Les Caves Moliere for anyone who likes their wine a bit on the theatrical side. Note to marketing gurus everywhere: even the most tenuous of connections can be made charming when executed with Continental panache.

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the stir at la scene

IMG_2268Chef Stephanie le Quellec is causing quite the stir at La Scene, her debut Paris boite inside the newly reopened Hotel Prince des Galles on Avenue George V. The first female winner of Top Chef France, Quellec is no shrinking violet – neither while commanding her small staff in a pristine open plan kitchen, nor when it come to composing multi-textured, intensely flavored plates. (This is France after all: to be taken seriously as a upper-echelon female chef one must engage in a bit of bark as well as bite.) Embracing the farm-to-table ethos of her native Provence and the current trend for responsible sourcing, as well as employment of methode ancienne, Quellec has created a fine dining experience that’s altogether familiar yet radically new at once. Pearl oysters are simply opened, paired with a fragrant matcha foam, white beans and nori; blue lobster from Normandy is roasted and succulent, with chanterelle, juicy apricots, and a silky sauce of old mimolette; sweetbreads so inviting that I blanched and forget take a photo, supple and toothsome, paired with golden apples, white asparagus, and a mousseline of dates; parfait of verbena: crisply herbaceous, with cherry and fluffy egg white presented with an artistic flourish. The tablecloths at La Scene may be starched, but the food – generous and sensual – is most definitely not. Let’s hope Quellec is at the forefront of a new gastronomic trend. I’d call it the new nouveau.IMG_2272

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the elusive bresse chicken

bresse chickenBresse chicken is one of those seemingly mythological creatures I’ve long heard about it, but never seen (or eaten) myself, kind of like a unicorn. The great poets of gastronomy wax rhapsodic over the flesh of these particular birds, which are raised free-range in eastern France and have the distinction of being the first animals designated with an AOC, or appellation. While I would have loved to chance upon a whole roasted bird, I was still pleasantly surprised to find a version of it on the menu at Camelia, the courtyard garden at Mandarin Oriental, where I’ve been staying on the rue St. Honore. In the hands of Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx the plump breast of the bird is layered in a terrine with black truffle and foie gras de canard, surrounded by fruity girolle mushrooms in a savory jus. I never imagined a bird could stand up to the intense aroma of truffle or the pungent flavor of duck liver, but this poultry more than holds its own. Satisfying as an appetizer, it only serves to make me crave the full bird experience.

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stand your ground

building collapse floridaYet another large sinkhole swallowed up a healthy chunk of The Sunshine State on Monday. Measuring approximately 100 feet across, it opened up yesterday at the Summer Bay Resort close to Disney World, Florida, nearly taking one of the luxury vacation buildings with it while partially crumbling two others. (Fortunately, the 40 guests inside were able to get out in time and there were no injuries, although many – wisely – rushed out leaving everything behind.) Geologists are calling it a classic sinkhole, common in the Florida area due to the lands’ predominant geologic rock formations of limestone, which are water-soluble and susceptible to what’s known as raveling, a vertical and/or lateral migration of sediments to deeper voids or cavities within the limestone. This shifting of that sediment causes the collapse, which creates a sinkhole – and should remind travelers that “stand your ground” has a double-barreled meaning down in God’s Waiting Room.

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friday flashsback: unwinding in san diego

Screen-shot-2012-07-16-at-10.14.39-PMWith year-round perfect climate and unparalleled natural beauty, Southern California provides the ideal backdrop for rekindling the spirit and pampering the body.  The recent worldwide spa explosion is exemplified in San Diego,which boasts a bevy of spas with top-of-the-line treatments, first-class services and indulgent amenities.  These luxurious escapes can be found throughout the region nestled against the dramatic Pacific coastline, perched high above the glittering downtown skyline, tucked into the Cuyamaca Mountains and set amidst the serenity of  lush inland canyons. Get ready to soothe your senses, inspire your soul, invigorate your step and energize your spirit. They don’t call this the Sunshine State for nothing. READ MORE (pdf download)

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die-hard downton

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 11.30.09 AMCan’t wait until January for the next season of Downton Abbey? A new package from Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, London, is the perfect antidote for any fans traveling across the pond this summer in need of a first-hand fix. In partnership with Lords Cars, the hotel is giving guests the chance to take advantage of their exclusive chauffeur service and spend a day in the country exploring Highclere Castle – aka Downton Abbey. The fun begins with selecting your vehicle of choice. Die hard Downton fans will undoubtedly choose the Rolls Royce which recently appeared in the show, though other options include the Queen Mum’s favorite, “The Ivy Baroness,” or a Daimler which was featured in the movie “The Italian Job.” Next, travel in impeccable style to Highclere Castle, the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679, where you can explore the interiors of one of England’s more beautiful Victorian castles and wander the extensive gardens in search of the Dowager Countess. History buffs should take note of the castle’s Egyptian Exhibition, which highlights the achievements of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who famously discovered the tomb of the Egyptian boy pharaoh, Tutankhamen. After a day of Downton-inspired activities – tea, anyone? – return and relax with a cocktail in Brown’s Donovan Bar before turning in for the night with a copy of Lady Carnarvon’s recent book, the bestselling “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.” What’s a weekend, indeed.

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the best best western

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a revolutionary bolthole

vid-s-terrasy-prezidentskogo-lyuksaHome to both royalty and revolution, Rocco Forte’s Hotel Astoria in St. Petersburg has unveiled an elegant, new Czar’s Suite as part of a multi-million dollar refurbishment timed to celebrate the hotel’s 100th anniversary. At more the 3,500 square feet it’s a far cry from the garret where John Reed penned Ten Days That Shook The World, his eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. (In the early days of glasnost I had the serendipitous thrill of finding myself in Reed’s room, which more than made up for the cramped quarters; the bloody mob hit in the lobby … well, that’s a story for another time.) With a lounge overlooking St. Isaac’s Square and its glorious cathedral, a library stocked with Russian classics, and a fully equipped kitchen with a 16-seat dining room that doubles as a boardroom it’s not too hard to imagine what the Bolsheviks might make of such opulent surroundings. Antique pieces dating back to 1912, including gold lamps, candelabra, and red and gold striped arm chairs and sofas were returned to the hotel from President Putin’s Konstantinovsky Palace and installed in the suite alongside contemporary classic pieces, such as dramatic black and white prints of the Mariinsky, which – culture mavens take note – is as conveniently located as the nearby Hermitage. All that’s missing is the beluga.

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liquid lunch, and then some

0U7G9103Remember when The Paramount was the slickest, chicest hotel in town? (I’ll forgive you if you don’t; it has been a while.) Along with Morgans it started the craze for the now ubiquitous design-forward, boutique hotel experience. The pioneer eventually became a victim of its own meteoric success as new hoteliers came on the scene and pushed the envelope even further. Good news to report, however: the theater district stalwart is in the middle of a 40-million dollar re-imagination. And while I can’t speak for the guest rooms – which were always disparaged for their lack of elbow room – or Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, which will reopen in fall 2013 after a 61-year hiatus, I can say that the Paramount Bar & Grill is a welcome return to stylish form. Dramatic lighting brings the restaurant to life and raised banquettes with a view of the restaurant set the stage for an intimate dinner. Or lunch. There’s an extensive wine list but it’s the craft cocktails that whet my whistle, most notably the Moscow Mule, a mix of Citron vodka, fresh lime and ginger, which – like a proper Mint Julep – comes in its own metal cup. The deceptively simple food from Executive Chef Jason Kallert – late of Le Cirque – is equally attentive to detail: classic American bar and grill cuisine with modern twists, like tuna tartare enlivened with curry, a perfectly dressed not-too-chopped chopped salad, and grilled whole branzino with old-style salsa verde atop roasted fennel. I was tempted to keep yesterday’s visit a secret; we wouldn’t want the crowd at the W Times Square up the block to spoil things for the rest of us. But sometimes a good thing is too good not to share.

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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

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silver queen of the rockies

IMG_1725Georgetown, the “Silver Queen of the Rockies,” is often described as the most picturesque town in Colorado. Founded in 1859, it grew from a small mining camp tucked into a scenic valley to the state’s first great silver mining boom town – and its third most populated city. With more than 200 historic Victorian buildings still standing in the historic downtown, it’s hard to argue about its scenic charm. The most intriguing building of all is the Hotel de Paris, built by a mysterious Frenchman called Louis Dupuy. Richly furnished, it became noted for continental delicacies and the literary bent of its proprietor, a philosopher, social rebel and master chef. Now a museum overseen by the Colonial Dames of America, the building retains its original 1890’s decor and furnishings and is – unfortunately for me today – open by appointment only.hotel de paris

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the brown palace

IMG_1617Completed in 1892, The Brown Palace Hotel is a remarkable piece of Victorian architecture built in the Italian Renaissance style. It’s the Mile High City’s sandstone grande dame, and harkens back to a time when Denver found itself at the center of a social and economic boom brought on by the gold (and silver) found in them thar hills. In the lobby, your eyes sweep upwards past six tiers of cast iron balconies to a stained glass skylight. The elegant atrium – clad in Mexican onyx – provides the perfect respite for a spot of afternoon tea. Or if that’s not your style, a pair of ornate silver drinking fountains draw their water from the hotel’s own artesian well. It seems that even in the once wild west a good hotel considered practical comforts of paramount importance.

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