“I’m so excited! Tanya Heath, a manufacturer of exceptionally stylish yet functional shoes and a longstanding staple of my travel wardrobe, has asked me to serve as a brand ambassador. After turning down several opportunities over the years I finally found a product that I truly adore and, as fate would have it, it seems to think rather well of me too. Whoo-hoo!
It is such an honor to represent a brand for which I am a longstanding and deeply satisfied customer. For me this is about sharing not shilling.
Two things that everyone should know about me is that I love to travel and hate to check luggage. Tanya Heath shoes have been my secret weapon for years. One pair of shoes, several pairs of heels…multiple looks, minimal space!
In case you missed it in earlier blog posts, Tanya Heath shoes come with changeable heels, in multiple styles and a wide spectrum of colors & patterns. They are sold separately so everyone can customize her own unique look for the place, time or occasion. Pop out one heel, click in another. Easy-peasy.
This is no gimmick. They are fabulously designed, skillfully engineered and artfully crafted in small independent ateliers in Portugal and France. The leathers and fabrics are carefully sourced across Europe and each design offers impeccable quality and appearance. See for yourself at www.tanyaheathus.com
In travel, planning can be half the fun. So, I’m picking 10 places I am planning to visit this year. Who knows if I’ll actually get to them all…some are more unlikely than others. But if you don’t dream…
I now assume everyone knows all about Virtuoso. But the truth is I’d never heard about it until I became a travel advisor 3 years ago. And I have been obsessed with travel as long as I can remember. So maybe you don’t know about Virtuoso either.
Virtuoso is a global consortium of luxury travel. That’s the official description. It’s really a club of the who’s who in high end travel. Nice! But why should you care? Well, because there are terrific perks of being affiliated with this club. Not just for Travel Advisors like me but for travelers like you. VIP treatment, special recognition & unique experiences.
And because in travel, as in most things in life, relationships matter. One of the best things about being a member of Virtuoso is the connections, with GM’s at hotels, with the leaders at brands like Aman, Peninsula & the Four Seasons, with the owners of private camps & people creating unique experiences. I have their phone numbers and emails. We connect at exclusive trade shows, on special webinars and when we travel… me when I visit their cities and them when they come to Vancouver. We have meals and meetings. We become friends. Any friend of mine is a friend of yours.
Best of all… YOU don’t have to join anything.
Who are members? Top hotels, luxury cruise lines, private transportation (think limos, private jets, yachts) & exclusive tour operators make up the bulk of the supplier members. Tourist Board wanting to share insights into their destinations also become members. The other big group of members are Travel Agencies. Before anyone (or any company) is asked to join they are rigorously vetted. Once accepted, all members are checked again every year… there is accountability & quality control.
So you know they are good. But again, why should you care? Because it is wonderful to be treated like a VIP. Every hotel agrees, as part of their participation in Virtuoso, to give complementary extras to clients of Virtuoso advisors. At a minimum, these include free breakfast, early check-in/late check-out if available & upgrades if possible. They also give credits or experiences. These can be free massages, airport pick-ups, a lunch in the hotel’s restaurant or a credit to use at the bar or spa. All at no extra cost to you. You can still collect loyalty points from properties that offer them.
Possibly more importantly, you have access to all my connections; the Virtuoso ‘little black book’.
These benefits are not available to just anyone. They are only offered to clients who book through Virtuoso member advisors (like me!).
“Virtuoso” rates usually match a hotel’s best flexible rate. Occasionally, they are lower. You may be able to find cheaper rates that require pre-payment, through special promotions or on low-cost websites. Hey, we all know these can be the best solution sometimes. Still, I advise check “my” rates and compare the value. The special perks can really add up.
You don’t even have to tell me… you can just click here.
But, of course, I’d be thrilled if you let me know.
Many people have financial advisors to manage their investment portfolios. Perhaps now it’s time to get a Virtuoso travel advisor to manage your travel dreams.
Decadent, decrepit and elegant, Palermo is the most conquered city in history, chock full of UNESCO heritage sites and a WOW. It is crowded, crumbling and loaded with beautiful people. This capital of modern Sicily also served as the capital of the Sicilian Emirate and rivaled Cairo for importance in the Arabian civilization. Arab, French, Spanish & Greek influences are felt in the numerous churches & palaces and the famed cuisine. Graffiti here has history. Lots of typical modern tags but also drawings from the Paleolithic age & wall scrawl left by prisoners of the Holy Inquisition. Often boiling hot during the day, the city comes alive at night when people take the party to the streets.
STAY: Villa Igiea (https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/villa-igiea/destination/) is a stunning luxurious turn of the century palazzo recently renovated and restored by the Rocco Forte group with fab Art Nouveau interiors. Built as a private home, it became a hotel beloved by the rich and famous of the Belle Epoque. After some ups and downs (it was a hospital during WWI) it is now back to its original glory with all the necessary modern twists.
Other place to stay: L’Olivella (https://www.olivellabb.it/en/) small, charming b&b run by the many great granddaughter of the silver smiths who originally built the palazzo
SEE: The opera at the Teatro Massimo (https://www.teatromassimo.it/eng/) is the largest opera house in Italy; renowned for perfect acoustics. The final scene of The Godfather Part III was shot here during a massive 20 plus year renovation. The Royal Box and flower wheel painting are particularly notable.
Other things to see: The 17th century Catacombe dei Cappucinni (http://www.palermocatacombs.com) were created when the cemeteries were too full…monks began mummifying people in tunnels and being laid to rest here became a privilege of the rich and powerful. Over 8000 bodies now call it homme, the last was added in the 1920’s.
A Street Market (Ballaro, Capo, Vucciria Lattarini) unless your Italian you will not get any bargains, but they are worth the show, vendors sing, yell and tout… fruit, veggies, fish, meat, cooked food and cheap goods are all for sale!
EAT: SushiLab (no real website) for fashionable people and unconventional Japanese inspired dishes made from the freshest ingredients in unusual combinations. Best to just explain what you like and let them take it from there.
Other places to eat: Gagini Social Restaurant (https://www.gaginirestaurant.com) is helmed by a Brazilian-Italian chef whose unique heritage in reflected in his creative rich cooking
Street Food, you’ll find it everywhere, Forbes voted it the best in the world, fried just about everything is great, cannoli are a must.
Most guests come for the gorilla trekking, but you want to stay for the fun. This is summer camp for grownups… only with great food and cocktails. And wine. And comfy beds. And great service. Ok, so not like any camp you actually went to, more the camp of your fantasy. The fun starts with a fantastic welcome by traditional drummers and dancers. So joyful! No one takes themselves too seriously and yet the service is spot on, thoughtful & professional. Lots of smiles and laughter while every need is being met. Of course, gorillas are the prime attraction and One & Only’s Gorilla’s Nest is the closest lodge to Volcanoes National Park. All tourists buy the same permit, but the lodge VIPs up the experience with a deluxe picnic, covetable backpacks & hat which you can borrow or buy and their own wonderful drivers. Many of whom are from the local area. As are most of the staff. And most of the food; the wine is primarily South African. There is a wonderful chef’s garden; meals are truly spectacular. Often Rwandan dishes with lots of vegetables but also the best burger of my life. Lodgings (it’s hard to call them rooms) are very private, hidden amongst the trees and gardens up on stilts with views through the Eucalyptus forest. They were designed by interior decorator Hubertis Feit with subtle African style that never crosses into parody. Even the smallest are spacious with large floor to ceiling windows and every comfort. I loved how much there was to do… in two days I managed to pack in a facial, morning yoga, a nature walk, high tea (seems there was always a chance to eat), a traditional performance and archery which I loved, challenging and full of laughs. And still found chill time. I wish I’d had an extra day or two for foose ball, board games and reading at Jack Hanna house, a bike ride, coffee tasting and village visit. Fantasy camp indeed!
Sweet Suite: I loved the glamour & perfection of my Virunga Suite, very private with a huge deck for outdoor lounging or bathing. Indoors is no less wonderful… a large living room with a fireplace, comfy couches, a dining table, bar area and lots of treats. Meanwhile in the bedroom the pillows were so marvelous I was seriously tempted to stick one in my bag. The bathroom has everything you know you need and a few things you didn’t know like a Dyson hair dryer and outdoor shower.
Favorite Thing: My outdoor rose bath…. I’m a tub fanatic. A long hot soak brings me infinite joy. When the hotel learned of my passion, they surprised me with a hot bath filled with rose petals on my huge deck. A perfect example of the lengths the team goes to thrill and delight their guests.
Near By: Gorilla Trekking, Golden Monkey Trekking, Charming village across the street where you can shop for souvenirs & chat with locals, Volcano climbing (overnight camping can be arranged), hiking
Amenities: Spa my facial erased all signs of jet lag), outdoor yoga (also helped with jetlag recovery), Fitness Centre, Pool, Pool Restaurant, Nest Restaurant, complementary laundry, nature walk, archery, Jack Hanna House (where you can have a private dinner, learn about conservation efforts, browse the library, play games and cards, taste whisky or just hang out), chefs garden, mountain bikes, coffee tasting, adventure runs, cultural performance, private drumming class, personal trainer, birding, Pilates, meditation, banana plantation visit, outdoor movies, basket weaving
Gorilla’s Nest is a Virtuoso Property. When you book through a Virtuoso Advisor like me you receive additional special amenities.
I am so proud to announce I have been chosen as one of Travel + Leisure ILTM’s RISING STAR ADVISORS for 2021.
Each year the Travel + Leisure Travel Advisory Board (TAB), a panel of 27 world-class travel advisors, nominates a new class of Rising Star travel advisors. Rising Stars have the opportunity to shadow the TAB member that nominated them at ILTM Cannes. Thus gaining unparalleled access to meet leaders of the travel industry. Last year I was able to attend the “virtual” ILTM World Tour 2020. I will be recognized at ILTM Cannes in 2021.
The Burgenstock Hotel is not just a place to sleep it is an experience like no other. From the second you get on the boat you can sense the magic that awaits. Ok, you can also drive, but trust me and take the boat. And then the funicular. Which opened in 1888. The development of the resort started in 1873. It became a favorite of European elite; Queen Ingrid of Denmark was a regular in the 40’s. During the heydays of the 50’s, Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in the tiny chapel which you can still visit. In the 60’s Sophia Loren made one of the villas her home. It’s now a restaurant. Sean Connery and the cast stayed for a month in 1964 while filming Goldfinger. By 2007, things were a bit tired. New owners invested $550 million reopening in 2017. WOW! WOW! WOW! The whole resort consists of 4 different hotels: the classic belle-epoque Palace Hotel, the wellness & health focused Waldhotel, the charming old school Swiss Taverne 1879 and the over the top wonderful, five star Burgenstock Hotel where I stayed. It is a very modern cube miraculously hovering on the side of the mountain 500 meters above Lake Lucerne. The views are beyond anything you can imagine. The hotel has been meticulously designed to fully take advantage of this incredible outrageous location. There are views from everywhere, even from the bath. Full length windows, double tubs with fireplaces…magic! Rooms have seats built into the huge window that make you feel like you are floating in midair. Dragging yourself away from this view is nearly impossible. Luckily you can enjoy it from the bed, the shower, the sink, the desk, the loo. And from the delicious Spices Kitchen & Terrace. And most importantly from the Alpine Spa… which is another must. Entrance is included with the room. 108,000 square feet of heavenly pampering and divine pools including the famous infinity pool which has, you guessed it, amazing views. Alpine Spa is the largest in Europe. They take spa-ing to a whole new level. It’s not just a massage and mani/pedi. Rather it is fireplaces, candles, fitness classes, steam, sauna and treatment rooms decorated in the same soothing contemporary style as the rooms. Just in case I haven’t gone on enough, there are also pools….indoor, outdoor, hot plunge, cold plunge, alpine eco and the Hollywood Garden Pool… a kidney shaped bit of old time glamour with an amazing windows-under-the-water bar beside it. I stayed one night, regretted having to leave and can’t wait to return.
Ah Berlin… where the party goes for 24 hours, there are more canals than in Venice or Amsterdam and museums (180) out number rainy days (106). 70 million curried sausages are eaten each year. Bits of the infamous Wall sit beside glamorous 18th century palaces, a constant reminder of the cities long and checkered history. So much wall remains because there was so much wall built…it was actually two barriers built with a 140 m death strip between them to discourage anyone planning to hop this nasty fence. JFK’s speech was grammatically questionable but he never actually said “ I am a jelly donut”. For the gentleman on the go Berlin is packed with places to tempt and entertain. Start by withdrawing a gold bar from the ATM at Galeries Lafayette.
Top ten travel experience of the last ten years… no problem…this will be easy. I could not have been more wrong. Turns out this was one hell of a decade…narrowing it down incredibly challenging. After all, I went to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics, drank Dom Perignon out of the Stanley cup twice (two years apart), drove across Canada three times and visited 70 countries. I moved to Beijing, became a blogger and started a career for the first time in my life. After much deliberation here are ten of my top travel experiences in no particular order.
Mathieu Germond is one of the world’s great sommeliers though it is likely that you have never heard of him. He doesn’t have a column in the FT, write books or appear on reality tv shows. But finding the perfect wine is Mathieu’s super-power. Tell him what you like to drink, your budget and what you’re eating. He will find the right bottle. He is a wine savant.
While others were building their personal brands, Mathieu spent the last two years building Noize, a gem of a restaurant offering the best of French cuisine and English ingredients in the burgeoning central London neighborhood of Fitzrovia.
Mathieu has an extraordinary palate, a great memory; little formal training. He grew up in Montlouis-sur-Loire, famous for its Chenin Blanc. He attended restaurant school learning to manage front of house. He worked in the Basque country, a convenient hour or two from Bordeaux. He started visiting, tasting wine and learning. He took a couple of courses but nothing too rigorous or academic. “I’m too lazy to do a masters of wine course” he tells me. “I care more about how it tastes than where it comes from or how it was made”.
Figuring out where to go is easy, figuring out where to stay is not. I have carefully curated this list of places to sleep. I have stayed in each and every one. I have slept in the bed, eaten the breakfast and visited the pool, spa or ice machine. I have chatted with the who’s who in charge. These are the places I recommend… you don’t need to know about the others! Trust me!
I’d be delighted to connect you… my friends, my clients, my readers… with these hosts. Some offer special amenities due to my affiliation with the Virtuoso network and some offer perks because I am providing your introduction. Either way let my goodwill be your goodwill. Alternatively, you can click on the link and book or explore further on your own.
Some pay a commission to travel advisors, many do not. I’m transparent. I’ll tell you if you ask me.
Walking distance to just about everything, Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg is a dream place to stay. A wonderful mix of 19th century lavish and 50’s inspired chic the hotel screams fashion lives here. The hotel was once two mansions, one…
The Michelin Guide has long been my bible. As a kid my parents used it to pick every hotel, every restaurant when we traveled. We would stay several days in various towns throughout Europe Always on half board (breakfast &…