Originally appeared as cover feature in May 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life
Photography by Chris Plavidal (Stationery, Robes, Slippers) and Mei-Chun Jau (The Joule's tea service)
1. A Sense Of Place
The most incredible feeling comes over you when a hotel embodies a destination on arrival. Take Agra, India’s Oberoi Amarvilas
, for example. You’re greeted by beautiful marble elephants and the staff clasping their hands together as if in prayer, saying namaste softly as they bow their heads. Next comes a special touch (literally), as they place a tikka on your forehead, then offer a cup of rose tea and a cold, jasmine-scented towel. Later, you learn the beautiful orange dust placed in the planter boxes around the property is marigold pollen. The feeling continues when you first glimpse the Taj Mahal through your balcony’s French doors. One morning, I awoke to soft chanting from monks praying in a nearby temple. It’s moments like this that fill you with an immense gratitude simply because you are there. – Julie-Ann Skalko, travel advisor, La Jolla, California
2. Local Recognition
Write about now: There’s nothing quite like firing off a memo or miss-you note on personalized hotel stationery. In the carousel above, you can see a few favorites from London’s Stafford
, Dubai’s Burj Al Arab
, and The Grand Del Mar
in San Diego.
3. Smart Tech
"I love Barcelona’s Hotel Arts
. Its location is great, and the spectacular rooms feature electronic blackout blinds and ultra-comfortable beds – perfect for jet-lag recovery." – Michelle Harvell, travel advisor, Fort Worth
4. The Robe
In the carousel above, you'll see five robes. Left to right, they are:
Yes, these robes are stunning. In fact...
“Mandarin Oriental, Miami’s robe looks like many others, but slip it on and you’ll think you’ve gone
to heaven. We have robe rituals nightly in them chez Goldberg, exclaiming with joy, ‘It’s robe time!’ ” – Karen Goldberg, Virtuoso managing director of hotels and resorts
Nothing says hotel guest like wrapping yourself in the luxury of a hotel bathrobe. It might be Turkish terry. Or waffle weave. Or kimono-style with an understated logo. In the 1950s and ’60s, even the most humble hotel room came stocked with an ice bucket (since the first thing you did after check-in was pour a cocktail). But now the first thing you do, at least if you’re anything like moi, is shed your clothes and try on that robe.
Robes have become so iconic that it’s universally acceptable to wear one riding up and down the elevators of a five-star hotel – whether you’re headed to the spa or not. Stripped of our street identities, we’re free to roam our rooms (and pool decks) like slightly crazed characters who have just stepped out of a Wes Anderson film. Good thing you can almost always find them online – if you haven’t already splurged on one at the gift shop, that is. – Kim Brown Seely, contributing writer
5. Feet First in Dubai
We love the Armani Hotel’s
velour house shoes, but Al Qasr’s
colorful striped scuffs recently claimed our top souvenir-slipper spot.
6. Iconic Bartenders
For a more detailed description of some iconic hotel bartenders, click here.
Look at you, you sweet, somewhat salty, occasionally sassy thing. Owning the room like you’re the flavor of
the night – and that’s not easy in a suite of fast and free Wi-Fi, 40-inch flat-screens, and a jetted tub for two. One tall drink of Fiji water, eyeing me silently from the corner from the moment I arrive. Ir-re-sistible.
You’re the perfect snapshot of local tastes on good days, and a welcome curiosity even on the worst. Sure, you can be an expensive date if things get out of hand: Remember that time with a friend in SF, when the rain came\ down in sheets? We holed up, uncorked both the Central Coast pinot and Sonoma chardonnay, popped Pringles, and giggled through an on-demand marathon like unchaperoned school kids who don’t know not to mix Sapphire with Sprite. Too much…. I finally had to slosh down to the corner market for a deck of cards and reinforcements. Or the week in Vegas, baby, when my bag bumped your shaker off its sensor and I got dinged for 60 bucks? Accounting had a good laugh, but it turns out the truth will set you free. Besides, with that bartender downstairs – Dakota? – who would sit around shaking martinis in their room alone?
Come on – you know I’m just playing. Mini B, you’re the soothing nightcap after a harried flight, the milk for my morning Lavazza, the jar of organic what’s-it-calleds to ease frustration while I fumble through second and third attempts at a perfect Windsor knot. Lock this up and have housekeeping throw away the key: No matter where my travels take me, I’ll be keeping my eye out for you. – Justin Paul, senior editor
8 (and 9!). Champage in Baccarat Crystal
Two new places to sip in style:
10. Exclusive Access
- You say coupe, I say flute: Pick your preferred stemware at Midtown’s new Baccarat New York – there are more than 15,000 pieces of crystal in use throughout the hotel.
- Slip off to the new Champagne Room, a tiny oasis behind a velvet curtain at London’s Connaught, for rare pours in French crystal.
An after-hours tour at the Louvre, a private breakfast at the foot of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue – we love a hotel that makes us feel as if the world is ours alone. One shining example: Beijing’s Aman at Summer Palace
. Not only can the hotel arrange privately guided hikes on a tourist-free section of the Great Wall, followed by a picnic lunch at a village farmhouse, but the property’s private entrance to the Summer Palace grants you access before the hordes arrive. Make sure to ask for a hotel cell phone: Call and they’ll open the secret door for you when you’re ready to return.
“Having lunch by The Peninsula Beverly Hills’
pool in perfect weather, whether in January or July, is one of the best people-watching experiences in the world – you’re almost guaranteed to see celebrities.” – David Lowy, travel agency president, Vancouver, Canada
12. Virtuoso Amenities
Along with daily breakfast and favorable rates, Virtuoso travel advisors secure hotel perks that range from spa and dining credits to suite upgrades, limo transfers, and more. Here are ten complimentary experiences you’d miss out on by making reservations on your own.
13. Pools That Make A Splash
For more on these pools, click here.
14. Lounge Chair Amenities
Draw your line in the sand with the mini Zen gardens offered to sunbathers at the Big Island’s Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
15. Pet Projects
For more on hotel pet ambassadors, click here.
16. Send Rover On Over
Of course your free-range dog camp with a kiddie pool and ball throwers is great. But your best friends could …
17. Photo Ops
- Sit pretty on The Beverly Hills Hotel’s plush pink dog beds and beg for another house-baked dog bone and pink tennis ball.
- Stay at D.C.’s Jefferson hotel for a host of pet amenities, and see the concierge for pet toys and recommended dog-walking routes and pet-friendly establishments.
- Roll over to Palm Springs’ La Quinta Resort & Club for an hour-long pet massage (they also train owners how to knead their pups), perfect after a mountain trail workout.
- Leave it to the Italians to create thermal baths for dogs (and cats?!). They can take the waters at Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa before the on-demand petsitter arrives.
Finding a framed picture of my dog on my nightstand at turndown during my stay at Belmond Villa San Michele
in Florence blew me away – it was both personal and thoughtful. – Bob Watson, travel advisor, New York
18. Service Saves The Day
“One of my favorite stories is about a family’s Christmas holiday at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas
. A staff member heard the mother mention she forgot her tennis shoes and that the resort had a great tennis club. She found out the guest’s size and purchased a pair as a gift from The Ritz.” – Anne Morgan Scully, travel agency president, McLean, Virginia
“In Jaipur, India, I went trekking in a muddy area and thought I ruined my sandals. While I was out for the day, the staff at The Oberoi Rajvilas
revived them as good as new – no request; they just did it!” – Sylvie Eldridge, travel advisor, Hilton Head, South Carolina
19. The Little Details
20. Service That Goes Beyond
Dear Mrs. Seely,
- There’s only so much sand kids can shovel (although we’ve seen resorts’ complimentary buckets and spades move beaches’ worth). Maui’s Fairmont Kea Lani provides Wailea’s young ones with the tools to build castles and aloha spirit through cultural activities: learning to strum “The Hukilau Song” on a ukulele, stringing orchids for leis, hula hip-shaking, and more.
- “During a staycation for my son’s birthday weekend, the Four Seasons Seattle’s pastry chef invited my son back-of-house to make cotton candy. It’s cemented in his mind as ‘what you do’ at a Four Seasons.” – David Kolner, Virtuoso senior vice president, consumer
- Roll with it: Toddlers cruise Madison Avenue in style in The Mark’s bold Maclaren strollers.
- In the know: On request, Aspen’s Little Nell will surprise kids with a complimentary storybook by local author Jill Sheeley.
I hope you are having a comfortable stay with us. I have taken the liberty to place a pouch for your hairbrush. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
I returned to my suite one night and found it alongside my cheap plastic travel hairbrush, which had been cleaned for the first time in its long-suffering life and enthroned atop a blue velvet pillow. I was so stunned by Vijay’s initiative that I kept the note as a reminder that no job is too humble when performed with aplomb. Vijay was my housekeeper. But my suite also came with its very own butler – a discreet gentleman in fancy dress who would magically appear to welcome me with a chilled towelette. Would I like my suitcase unpacked? My laundry pressed and shoes shined?
Trekking pants and hiking boots hardly seemed worth the effort, but I would never have made the 4 am departure for our flight to Bhutan without my butler’s heroic assistance. Though still relatively rare, a growing cadre of Jeeveses (technically a valet) and Mr. Carsons (Downton Abbey’s devoted butler-in-chief) tend top hotel suites and cruise-ship cabins worldwide. As Mr. Carson pointed out, “Keeping up standards is the only way to show the Germans that they will not beat us in the end.” If service is the name of the game, the art of standards-keeping is here to stay. – Kim Brown Seely, contributing writer
21. Pack It In
Some travelers are shy about having butlers pack and unpack their suitcases. Trust us: try it once, and checking in and out will never be the same.
22. Not Your Grandmother's Tea
You don’t have to be British or afflicted with raised pinky-itis to enjoy a fine cuppa. Three high teas that put the fun in finger sandwiches:
23. Ode To The Hotel Breakfast
- Fridays and Saturdays in Dallas, The Joule serves an intimate 22-person tea in its Taschen Library; participants receive ten percent off all coffee-table books during the service. “Go for the coconut assam tea from India if it’s on the seasonal menu – one of the most unique and delicious teas any in our party of four had ever tasted," says Korena Bolding Sinnett, associate art director of Virtuoso Life.
- The Berkeley’s daily Prêt-à-Portea takes cues from the fashion runway. Spring looks include Alexander McQueen’s “armadillo” shoes as heeled chocolate biscuits, an homage to his Savage Beauty exhibit at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (through August 2).
- The most recent installment of ARTea Time at Shangri-La, Paris pays tribute to painter Diego Velázquez. A painting-like mousse topped with candied fruits and framed in chocolate highlights the Wednesday-afternoon events (through July 8), which include fast-track tickets to the current Velázquez exhibit at the Grand Palais.
Other than turndown service, my favorite thing about hotels is breakfast. As a mother living in New York’s fast-paced world, I believe most people’s breakfasts are like mine: typically eaten on the run, often little more than a cup of coffee, at best a fun meal made with the kids on Sundays.
Rare is the special breakfast: an elegant setting serving exactly what you want with a bonus item or two – the perfect omelet, toasted breads, freshly squeezed juices, yogurt with granola and fresh fruit, and, of course, a pot of coffee. Once you’re done, someone else cleans up. To sit down to a beautiful breakfast – prepared, served, cleaned up, and enjoyed over the course of more than five minutes – is something to cherish. For me, it’s one of life’s unsung little joys. – Julie Danziger, travel advisor, New York
24. Breakfast Items Worth A Red-Eye
25-46. Lots Of Love To Give
25. Watching live performances on the state opera house’s giant outdoor screen from your private
terrace at Hotel Bristol, Vienna
26. “J.K. Place Capri’s
stylish lobby was the inspiration for redecorating my living room.” – Melanie Fowler,
art director of Virtuoso Life
27. Scoring a fountain-view room at the Bellagio
on Las Vegas’ Strip.
28. Pelican Hill’s
ceramics, hand-painted in Faenza, Italy, for the Newport Beach resort.
29. Bush walks with cheetahs – one of the wild activities organized by The Royal Livingstone
30. “Dinner at Laucala Island
resort’s private teppanyaki table. Picture Benihana, with Fiji’s waves crashing below.” – David Lowy, travel agency president, Vancouver, Canada
31. Hole No. 3 at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s
golf course on the Big Island – send your tee shot flying over the Pacific Ocean on its way toward the green.
32. The on-site glowworm cave at New Zealand’s Treetops Lodge & Estate
33. “Burj Al Arab’s
full-size bottles of Hermès perfume, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion – in my favorite scent, Kelly Calèche!” – Barbara King, travel agency copresident, Leawood, Kansas
34. Alvear Palace
, Buenos Aires – for its dreamy butlers.
35. Rooftop bars: “I love Portrait Roma’s
360-degree views and comfy sofas. Day or night, it’s a highlight of a trip to Rome.” – Luis García, contributing photographer
36. Wooden bathtubs at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto
37. Rubber duckies at Seattle’s Hotel 1000
38. “Hotel Santa Caterina’s
lemonade, made from trees on the Amalfi Coast property. I have no idea how they make it, and the staff won’t tell me, but I fantasize about it all the time.” – Shelby Donley, travel agency owner, Phoenix, Arizona
39. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers’
gannet colony on New Zealand’s North Island.
40. Classic, custardy pastéis de nata at Lapa Palace
41. The beach at Maine’s Inn by the Sea
– you’ll find more sea glass than you can tote home.
42. Bamboo treepod dining at Thailand’s Soneva Kiri
43. Tennis lessons served up by a former U.S. Open doubles champ at Rancho Valencia
outside San Diego.
44. Trump SoHo’s
corner suites: floor-to-ceiling windows with views stretching north to Central Park and east over the Hudson River.
45. Nightly Champagne sabering at St. Regis Hotels & Resorts
46. Guest rooms’ Andalusian tile floors at San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Hotel El Convento
47. Sun Showers
Step outdoors in your birthday suit at The Viceroy Anguila, The Carneros Inn
, and L'Auberge de Sedona.
48. Comfort Food
At Kruger National Park, my little sister – a very picky eater – didn’t want any of Singita’s
sophisticated dishes. On night two, they brought her a menu with her name and everything she loved on it: burgers and club sandwiches! – Evelyn Molina, travel advisor, La Jolla, California
49. Turned Down
For more on our favorite pleasing pillow presents, click here.
50. Pillow Talk
Sometimes I want to send a postcard about an outstanding hotel pillow I’ve slept on. There was the goose-down beauty awaiting me at the Hotel Shangri-La, Paris
years ago after an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles behind a colicky newborn. In Bora-Bora, my wife and I rode out a colossal overnight thunderstorm with puffy St. Regis
pillows as MacGyvered noise mufflers. At The Benjamin in Manhattan
, I once availed myself of the hotel’s sleep team – yes, they’re an actual thing – to choose between a five-foot body cushion for side sleeping and a water-filled bolster for those who slumber on their stomachs. (I opted for both – it’s vacation!)
Recently I spent several days on silent retreat at a friary in the hills above Malibu. The sad, skinny sponge inside my pillowcase had but one function: making it easy to get out of bed for 5:30 am meditation. Call me a pillow snob, but life is too short to sleep on a waffle. The Peninsula Beverly Hills
, for example, personally monograms its pillows for returning guests and those in suites or villas, then stores them until your next visit. Now that’s a pillow to write home about. – David Hochman, contributing writer
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