Four Spots Perfect for (Cold) Winter Travel

Winter is an interesting time of year since half of the hemisphere is actually in winter, and technically the other half is in summer.  In this article i’m going to focus on my favorite places that are great specifically during winter.  Not to say that these suggestions aren’t great in the summer too, but in particular going to these places in the Winter will yield better results.  As a person who travels approximately 100 days a year I plan my travel around where I think I’ll yield the best results for that particular place during that time of year.

  1. Iceland – What people often think is one of the coldest places on Earth (I mean, the name kind of connotes it), is actually not that much colder in Winter.  However, what you do get during late Fall to early Spring is the Northern Lights (October to March).  This is because of how dark it stays during Winter, with close to 20 hours of effective darkness in the midst of it.  Combine this with the fact that Iceland doesn’t really warm up that much in the Summer, and put this at the top of the Winter travel list.

    Why they’re green? Not so sure, but damn they’re pretty and mostly visible during winter months
  2. Copenhagen – During the Winter months Copenhagen will warm everyone’s hearts.  That may sound cheesy but damn its true.  Between the mulled wine (known as Glogg) and the feeling of Hygge (which essentially means the warm fuzzy feeling you get), this was a country made for Winter.  Don’t just take my word for it though, because winter is actually the only time that the famous outdoor Christmas gardens of Tivoli open and which are basically a must visit.  Consisting of food stalls, skating, and literal acres of Winter activities it is a Winter Wonderland in the most literal sense.

    Stunning Tivoli Gardens. This is Winter at its Fullest

     

  3. New York – A Winter travel list wouldn’t be complete without New York.  Although New York is a great place almost year round, in the Winter right before Christmas it is a city full of life and bustle.  Come before January though and get ready for some of the best bar and restaurant hopping in the US.  For some reason New York just happens to be a bit more special in November and December as the holidays near.  My favorite places to visit happen to be the market under the Plaza Hotel, and of course Rockefeller Center for the view from the Top of the Rock.  As much as I try to avoid the most touristy spots – the views from the Top of the Rock in a cold dry winter during nighttime just can’t be beat.

    New York in Winter. Possibly one of my favorite times to visit the Big Apple

     

  4. Paris – This is a city that is pretty year round, but during Winter the appeal is similar to that of New York.  There’s a certain romantic quality to Paris that is especially prevalent in Winter, both of the literal and of the traveling variety.  Many people will say that Paris is cold, dreary, and rainy in the Winter, but in my opinion there is a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi during this time of year.  Between the Christmas markets next to Notre Dame, the special Cassoulet’s which are served only during the Winter months, and the lights strewn over Champs-Elysees, Paris is right behind New York on my Winter (Cold) list.

    Paris in the Winter. Romantically beautiful.



Anantara Angkor Review: The Most Luxurious Hotel in Siem Reap?

Siem Reap is by and far the most visited location within Cambodia – and rightly so.  Not only is it the location of the famed temples of Angkor, but it is also home to vibrant nightlife, incredible cuisine, and all the action of a growing cultural destination.

When I decided to visit Siem Reap it was purely at a moments notice, and after scouring the internet for quite a few hours I decided to make my home base the Anantara Angkor Resort.  Having been to well over 500+ luxury hotels at this point I was unsure what to expect as Cambodia is still an evolving destination and as such its often hard to determine whether a resort will be on par with the caliber that is expected in more established locales.

Without having to skip to the end here – lets just say that my expectations were met and exceeded.

Lets start with the first thing I loved – the location.  Located less than TEN minutes from the airport, yet less than five minutes from the center of the city, the Anantara really couldn’t have been more locally situated.

The minute I grabbed my bags from the baggage carousel at the airport, a member of the hotel was there to escort and pick me up.  Upon arrival at the resort itself, I was pleasantly surprised and excited to see an old school Jeep parked in front of the resort.  Little throwback details like that are what still make me happy when I visit a new property.

If there’s an old school vehicle in front of the hotel, you know it’s gonna be awesome

The check in process is handled in the veranda of the exterior, and the service itself was 5-star in quality.  Welcome drinks along with a detailed explanation of the property along with staff already moving bags into the room before I was even handed the key made for a very simple and quick arrival process.

The property has two main areas, a grassy courtyard where three dining areas are located, and on the opposite side a large pool where most of the rooms are situated.

Lets start with the dining options – Even though Siem Reap is known for incredible Khmer Cuisine, the Anantara hotel itself is actually home to three options  – the first is a cooking experience (Yes, you can learn how to make Khmer cuisine with the chefs here), the second is an outdoor restaurant which is actually home to the number ONE ranked restaurant in Siem Reap (Chi), and the third is the main indoor restaurant which is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.

One of two courtyard areas… want a plunge pool or a full size pool? Your call!

The interior of the dining room with its beautiful ceilings, Khmer inspired furniture, and floor to ceiling windows, was both modern yet cozy and overlooks an incredible courtyard garden

The rooms themselves are gorgeous affairs, with wooden flooring, fantastically linened beds, and in my case, a suite with its own pool, outdoor shower, and dining table fit for a party of 8.  I spent a good part of the day between my private pool, the main pool, room service dining (about 3 times in as many hours), and just relaxing in the suite.

Now THIS is a suite

Room service on the patio? Count me in

Khmer Cuisine here is as good as it gets

When it came to public spaces, I explored the property and was pleased to find that not only did they have a rooftop garden where all the herbs were grown for the on site restaurants, but that the spa was a gorgeous affair with stunning views of the main courtyard.

View from the spa side… not too shabby

Overall, I was overwhelmingly surprised and excited by my stay here.  All the boxes were checked at this hotel.  Superb service with attention to tiny details like the way I liked my room service (with extra hot sauce!), concierge service that included a personalized tour of Angkor Wat avoiding most of the tourist trap areas, incredible location, and impeccably designed rooms that were modern, relaxing, and graciously local in feel.

If you’re going to Siem Reap, or visiting Angkor and all the surrounding cultural areas, you definitely can’t go wrong with the Anantara.

 

RATING:

Hard Product:

-Location (How close is this to top attractions in the surrounding area?) 

Absolutely phenomenal, and close to everything you could need.  Not walking distance to the main town but close enough.

9/10

-Cleanliness (Is the grout in the bathroom clean?  How good is maid service here?)

Attention to all the details was key here

9/10

-Upkeep (Is the hotel in need of a remodel, or is it being constantly kept up?)

This is a newer property, nothing at fault here, however the spa was in the middle of a renovation

9/10

-Public Spaces (How unique/inventive/useful are the public spaces?)

As a smaller resort there were not a ton of public spaces, but with enough options of places to lounge around or relax in, this was a great hideout from the hustle and bustle of the city

8/10

 

Soft Product:

-Service (How good is the service here?)

Extremely attentive and kind staff, this was incredible.  Communication in English was incredibly easy

9/10

-Restaurants On-Site (Are the restaurants on site somewhere even the locals would go to?)

Amazing food, actually the best I had while in Siem Reap

10/10

-Concierge (Specifically, how effective is the Concierge at helping you with a new locale?)

Everything was attended to, including tours into the city, drivers and transportation, and even small details like cold towels for use during a hot day in Angkor Wat

10/10

TOTAL: 64/70

(35/70 is average)

 

PROS:

  • Modern yet true to the Khmer heritage
  • Stunning suites that I didn’t want to leave
  • Such kind and amazing staff, from the front office all the way to the wait staff

CONS:

  • At this price point there really are none, just take my advice and stay here

SECRETS:

  • Book your tours to Angkor through the Concierge, and also ask them about their special Jeep tours



Portugal: How to do Lagos | Lisbon | Sintra | Caiscais

Portugal is one incredible place.  A combination of the best parts of Southern Italy and Spain, combined into one beautiful country full of spirit, passion, food, and scenery.  This is one of the most asked about spots in my travel and seems to be a very popular place as people start discovering the magic of Portugal.

If it’s your first time I recommend visiting two main cities and spending about 3-4 days in each.  Those are Lisbon and Lagos, two different towns but both on the ocean.  Caiscais and Sintra happen to be two other suburbs/cities that are right next to Lisbon so they’re worth visiting for a day while you’re in Lisbon and are extremely close.

 

  1. Lagos: This is the seaside village with the quaint atmosphere, cobblestone streets, and incredible gastronomic restaurants.   It’s most known for its beautiful limestone bluffs which seem to consist of a multitude of colors, along with its deep blue and green beaches where you can spot the ocean bottom.  The best way to discover Lagos is just to wander.  This is essentially true of most of Portugal, but here time stands still and days are best spent having grilled seafood by the water, hanging out at the beach, and finishing the day with some wine and dinner in the city.  Lagos is serviced by easily accessible trains that take you to Lisbon so everyone should check out this unique village and seaside town.  When you’re here do NOT miss out on the croissants.  It’s an odd suggestion but for some reason this town is known for them and one place in particular named “Croissanteria 29” is probably the best.

    The Lagos Coastline and its incredible bluffs
  2. Lisbon: Lisbon is a metropolis, but its certainly walkable.  The most well known part of it is the old Jewish quarter called Alfama, with roots all the way back to the 11th century.  There’s a LOT to take in here, but my suggestion is to hire one of the tuk-tuk drivers for a small fee and have them drive you around town in an open air vehicle to see all the sights, and then spend the rest of the day getting lost in the Alfama district.  Port Wine and Ginginha are the most well known drinks and they take food seriously in this city so chances are you won’t find anything that isn’t delicious but be sure to wash it down with the port and Ginginha to get the full Lisbon experience.

    The views from the top of the Alfama district are absolutely breathtaking and unreal

     

  3. Caiscais: Lisbon is only a short drive (or uber) away from the seaside town of Caiscais.  Only 19 miles away, or less than 30-45 minutes, it is a completely different vista, similar to Lagos, but with its own appeal.  It is a more rugged coastline, with massive waves and reminds one of the Southern Cape of South Africa. This is a place to take half a day for lunch or dinner and to take in the rugged coastline scenery.  The most famous point of Caiscais is the blowhole known as Boca Do Inferno (mouth of fire).  Life here is slow and relaxed, so take your time, have some wine, and enjoy the views.  Boca Do Inferno in Caiscais

    Boca Do Inferno in Caiscais
  4. Sintra: The Palatial territory of Sintra is less than 10 miles from Lisbon, and once again looks like a completely different place.  With an exceptionally mountainous regious, fern covered forests, exotic gardens, it is a UNESCO heritage site and home to some of the most beautiful Moorish and Roman compounds- palaces set high up on the hills.  You’ll feel at awe at the dynamic terrain and the architecture.  You could easily spend an entire day just exploring the different mountain peaks and palaces here.  Remember to bring warm clothing because it gets cold out here up in the mountains even in the middle of summer.  Pena National Palace is probably the most well known site to visit here, but get there early because it can get very packed with tourists.

    Palacio De Pena in Caiscais



How to do Tulum Properly: Tips for an Awesome First Trip

It seems that every year Tulum is getting more and more popular as a destination not only for those seeking yoga and vegan food on the beach, but for those looking to discover something other than nearby Cancun and its endless clubs.

This is a quick guide as to what you should (and shouldn’t do) while in Tulum so that you can get the most out of this unique spot down in the Riviera Maya.

 

  1. Where to stay: Your best bet is actually to stay just a little bit north of Tulum town, in the area of Riviera Maya.  My hotel of preference is the UNICO which is an all inclusive and VERY NEW (as of early 2018) hotel with stunning rooms, some of the most delicious all-inclusive meals you’ve ever had, and service that is on par with some of the best 5-star resorts in the world.  However, if you do choose to stay somewhere else, just know that it’s not necessary to stay within the actual town of Tulum as many of the resorts just north of it are within 15 minutes of taxi rides and will often offer better rates and larger accommodations – a win-win in my book.

    The Unico 2087, it’s every bit as nice as it looks.
  2. What to Do: There’s three main things to do in Tulum.  There’s obviously more than that, but the first is to visit the old Mayan ruins.  Now, normally I don’t like tourist traps, but the Mayan Ruins are certainly worth seeing and so unique to this area of the world and so well preserved that they’re definitely worth a visit.  Just know that during the middle of the day there is ZERO shade and it gets quite hot.  I would recommend using a tour guide from your hotel or a local service as they know the quickest routes in and out of the place to make the whole experience a bit more fulfilling.  The second thing you want to do in Tulum is just browse the actual town of Tulum.  The main “row” is essentially a quaint one street town with a road and palm trees overhanging it.  On both sides there’s hotels, stores, and a ton of shopping.  You could easily spend a few hours just perusing this area and going in and out of spots.  Many of the hotels here are worth visiting just for a few hours for a meal or for a day fee to use their “beach clubs”.  Of particular note worth visiting is Habitas.

    This is the main street. Stroll it.

     

  3. Cenotes: The third thing everyone must do is visit a Cenote (or a few).  These are essentially natural water sinkholes which double as swimming holes and are specific to this region of Mexico.  These are amazing for their crystal clear water and incredible diversity of fish and turtles just hanging out.  There are a TON of Cenotes in Tulum but there’s one in particular that is definitely worth visiting and it is called the “Cenote Dos Ojos”.  Now there’s a bit more to this – when you visit Cenote Dos Ojos be sure to take the ride towards the back of the Cenote park and explore the myriad of Cenotes that are beyond just the initial one at the entrance.  Most people make the mistake of just going to the first one they see and miss out on exploring the more intricate caves that are deeper into the Cenote Park at Dos Ojos. 
  4. Where to Eat: Tulum is very much a food destination, with some calling it a rival to Mexico City, because of Chef’s like Rene Redzepi and Eric Werner who have created pop up culinary feasts in this beach town.  There’s a heavy focus on wood-fired foods, local seafood, and Yucetecan inspired cuisine with Mexican influence.  Keep in mind, the food here is NOT truly Mexican, and I say that in a good way, because it has its own unique flavor and style.  There are quite a few restaurants that one could argue are worth visiting here in Tulum, but the two which I highly recommend are Hartwood and Kin Toh.  Hartwood is an original and known for being one of the original high-end wood-fired restaurants – serving locally sourced ceviche and legendary pork ribs.  Kin Toh is the place to go if you want equal parts entertainment to equal parts cuisine.  Located in the Azulik hotel, this restaurant is situated in a treehouse, something straight out of Swiss Family Robison or Tarzan with stunning skybridges, tables nested above the nearby forest, and hammocks to lay around in – all 40 feet in the air.  The food itself is gastronomic and seasonal, and should you wish to imbibe they even offer a hookah program with imported tobaccos.  You’ll want to spend a few hours here at sunset to lounge, relax, and eat and drink slowly.

    This is Kin Toh. You’ll want to spend a lot of time here.



Hotel Prestige REVIEW – A great Option in the Heart of Budapest

Budapest, a burgeoning city in the heart of Hungary, has long been one of my favorite destinations in Central Europe.  There are a plethora of options when it comes to luxury hotels in this city, especially with its growing popularity as a tourist destination amongst travelers from around the world.  I came across the Hotel Prestige through the app Hotel Tonight, but ended up staying an extra few days because of how much I loved the property and staff!

The hotel itself is nondescript from the outside, with just an overhead sign and two members of staff to greet you at the front door.  However, the minute you walk through the two sets of double doors you are greeted by the lobby right in the center of the hotel’s atrium, with a stunning chandelier hung from the ceiling 6 stories up.

Walk into the lobby and you are greeted by a gorgeous chandelier and elements both modern and classic

 

This is definitely a boutique hotel, so don’t expect a ton of public spaces or a large property, but do expect a high level of refinement and service similar to what you’d expect at any five star hotel chain.  The concierge here was particularly helpful, setting up a house car for a day of sightseeing around Budapest, and the location of the hotel was bar none, being within walking distance to many high end restaurants, museums, and the famous ferris wheel.

English was spoken by all the staff, and requests for things such as extra water, toothbrushes, and other items to the room were handled in an efficient and kind manner.

One of my favorite aspects of this hotel was the bar and restaurant located in the lobby.  Costes Downtown is a one michelin star spot, one of the best in Budapest, and not only did they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but they also had a mixologist on staff during all restaurant hours.  The environment was cozy, relaxing, and fun.

Open kitchen design made for a homey feel to this place.  The cuisine was incredible as well!

The rooms at the hotel were incredibly well laid out with high ceilings, beautiful wood floors that added to their warmth, and great sound insulation and modern showers and bathrooms.  Visiting Budapest near the end of Fall was a colder experience than normal and being at the Prestige Hotel really added to the trip as whenever I got back into my room I just wanted to relax and be coddled.

Beautifully appointed suites at the hotel prestige make for an incredibly comfortable stay

Phenomenal drinks at the bar in the Hotel Prestige

Overall, there are certainly larger hotels with a greater multitude of facilities, but if you’re looking for new modern rooms, impeccable service, a nice restaurant, and great location, you can’t go wrong with the Hotel Prestige.

 

RATING:

Hard Product:

-Location (How close is this to top attractions in the surrounding area?) 

Right in the center of the Buda side and next to major attractions this location couldn’t be any better

10/10

-Cleanliness (Is the grout in the bathroom clean?  How good is maid service here?)

Maid service was great every single day

10/10

-Upkeep (Is the hotel in need of a remodel, or is it being constantly kept up?)

Still a relatively new property, it is being kept in tip top shape

10/10

-Public Spaces (How unique/inventive/useful are the public spaces?)

Unfortunately the gym was a bit lacking ,and the spa small, but as a boutique hotel sometimes space can be an issue

5/10

 

Soft Product:

-Service (How good is the service here?)

Staff were attentive and great to speak to, however the lack of 24/7 room service is something to be aware of.  Not a big deal for most people though.

9/10

-Restaurants On-Site (Are the restaurants on site somewhere even the locals would go to?)

The one restaurant that is on-site – Costes Downtown, is one of THE best restaurants in Budapest, however the selection of food may be considered a bit limited to some patrons

7/10

-Concierge (Specifically, how effective is the Concierge at helping you with a new locale?)

Every member of the hotel was essentially a concierge, giving great suggestions

9/10

TOTAL: 60/70

(35/70 is average)

 

PROS:

  • Modern with a bit of classic
  • Exceptionally new and well mainainted
  • Staff was wonderful

CONS:

  • Could use more dining options and maybe more public spaces

SECRETS:

  • This place is luxury at a great deal



REVIEW: The Conrad Rangali Hotel – Maldives

When people think of the Maldives, what usually comes to mind is clear turquoise water, undisturbed coral reefs, white sand beaches, and the ultimate in relaxation.  Well, that’s pretty much what I experienced while staying at the Conrad on Rangali island.

 

White sand beaches and beautiful sunsets abound

For those of you who have not experienced the Maldives, it’s quite a unique destination in that it’s hundreds of miles from the nearest continent, and is composed of over 1000+ islands that span 115 square miles which makes it kind of a trek to get there. Most flights into the country will originate from the Middle East or Southeast Asia.  Once you’ve arrived in Male, where the main airport resides on a small strip of land that resembles an island aircraft carrier, you are then bussed to one of dozens of local hotel lounges where you’ll await your next ride (on a seaplane) to your resort.

Luckily, the Conrad has perfected most of this journey and made it as simple and luxurious as possible.  The minute you exit the baggage claim area of Male, a greeter picks you up and takes you in a wifi equipped van to the Conrad lounge. Here they offer you a variety of hot and cold beverages along with some simple snacks and even a shower (should you need to refresh from a long flight).

The seaplane ride to Rangali is a bit longer than to some of the other island resorts, but at only 5000 feet the view from the Seaplane of the clear ocean below is mostly serene and breathtaking.

The quick plane flight to the resort offers tremendous views

Once you arrive at the Resort, you pull up to a dock where your luggage is quickly ushered to your room and you are checked in.  The resort itself is set on two islands, each about a mile long.  Both of the islands have their own pools, restaurants, and even spas, but the main one has a few more facilities and also the gym.  Although this was one of my only Maldives experiences, after speaking to the staff I was told that Rangali was one of the larger resorts with more space.  This proved to be a blessing as it gave me more to do an explore during my stay at the Conrad.

For my particular stay, I was given an overwater bungalow, complete with a clear bottom floor and my own private infinity pool overlooking an endless ocean vista.  The rooms themselves are immaculately kept, and for the most part the theme of the room was tropical.  The balcony was probably my favorite feature, with a large window open to the ocean.  Each villa has a set of walls that surround the residence beyond the balcony in order to facilitate an extra layer of privacy and this was welcome as I noticed many other resorts in the Maldives did not have this feature.

The room is bright, modern, and comfortable

 

Here you can see how they’ve built walls for privacy between villas

I mentioned it previously, but I have to mention it again, this is a VERY large resort.  To get from one island to another you can take the ferry which runs every few minutes and takes about 10 minutes in total, or you can call a “buggy”, which is essentially a golf cart.  Of course you could walk the length of either island and over the bridge but at 2 miles in total it’s definitely a stroll.  The beauty of all of this, though, is that along the way all you have are palm trees and secluded beaches, and it isn’t hard to find your own little private stretch at this resort.  I’ve heard stories of other resorts being smaller and as a result much more crowded and that’s never an issue here.

My favorite part of the property was the spa.  The spa itself is a massive complex, with its own health-conscious restaurant, and each treatment room is overwater with its own outdoor bathtub, adding to the overall experience of relaxation and serenity.

Each room is set in its own overwater bungalow

Beautiful architecture at the spa restaurant

Another incredibly unique feature at this hotel is the undersea restaurant.  There’s only one other Maldives resort that has something similar, and it is the Hurawalhi (also a nice resort but much smaller).  Although a few of the restaurants at this hotel are not part of the “all-inclusive” resort price, they are worth spending the money to discover because the experience is so unique.  I had the chance to eat at each of the restaurants and the inclusive buffet, and I must say that the cuisine at a few of the restaurants was particularly exquisite, while a few experiences did lack in food quality.  This is something that apparently is under constant change so your experience may differ once you visit Rangali.  My recommendation is to try the Tepan-Yaki experience at Koko Grill, and the Chinese dining experience at UFAA.  Both of those were top notch and I would gladly pay to eat at either again.

The Underwater Restaurant is built right into the coral reef and worth visiting for cocktails

 

After my entire experience at Rangali, I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit.  With just a few things lacking, such as the cuisine at a couple of the restaurants, there isn’t much to spoil a vacation in paradise.  Between the stunning views, secluded beaches, incredibly attentive service, and white glove treatment from arrival to departure – a visit to Conrad Rangali will leave you in smiles wanting to visit again!

 

The smaller of the two islands at the Conrad Maldives

 




Tri Lanka: The Best Hotel in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is a land of many things, from gorgeous beaches, to abundant rainforests, to bustling cities, its a fairly sizable island that shares just as much with South Asia as it does with it’s Eastern neighbors.  After spending time at most of the major tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, and feeling a bit run down from sightseeing, I found myself needing what one might call a “vacation from the vacation”.  I found just that at Tri Lanka.

The Tri Lanka is a boutique hotel, with 11 Villas and a very personal touch.  The property is set far back from the main road on the precipice of Koggala Lake, and was built by Photographer Rob Drummond.  Rob’s background shows everywhere, as the property has a certain je ne sais quoi about it.  Everywhere you look, the combination of modern architecture set against the organic background creates a feeling of tranquility and awe.  I was told that many parts of the hotel were built around the “golden ratio” which is a mathematical formulae that can be applied to architecture to create aesthetically pleasing results.  The outcome, in layman’s terms, is a subconscious calming effect, as if nothing is out of place.  There’s also a feeling of tranquility as a result of the golden rule & golden ratio.  As a guest, it was something different and new, as I thought I had seen it all after staying in over 300+ hotels.

The infinity pool looks out over the lake and is the perfect place to relax with a book and a drink

One of the lake villas. Notice the proportions of everything in the room, following the golden ratio.

Although a small property, everything here was what you would come to expect from a full service 5-star chain hotel. Meals were delicious and catered to your personal food preferences, the maid and turn down service was impeccable, and the property offered many local activities including a guided bicycle ride around the neighboring forest, romantic boat rides across the lake, and spa/fitness classes with seasonal menus.

It tasted as good as it looks.

My favorite parts of this property, however, were the public spaces.  There’s a library that is open 24/7 that overlooks the lake – the perfect place to lose track of time and read a book or just relax, an infinity pool with gorgeous vistas where I spent hours at, and a water tower replete with a rooftop honor bar and 360 degree vistas.  There was obviously a lot of thought placed into developing this property, and I would say of all of the properties that are available in Sri Lanka this one was the most modern of them all.  It would be a shame to visit Sri Lanka and miss out at an experience at Tri Lanka.

This is the library at the Tri Lanka where you can relax and unwind. During the daytime it overlooks the lake.

 

 

RATING:

Hard Product:

-Location (How close is this to top attractions in the surrounding area?) 

It’s not particularly close to the town of Galle, but it’s not far either.  However, its location right on a serene lake more than makes up for it

9/10

-Cleanliness (Is the grout in the bathroom clean?  How good is maid service here?)

Not a single thing out of place here.

10/10

-Upkeep (Is the hotel in need of a remodel, or is it being constantly kept up?)

Still a relatively new property, it is being kept in tip top shape

10/10

-Public Spaces (How unique/inventive/useful are the public spaces?)

This hotel has so many spaces to explore for what is essentially a boutique property.  Also with only 11 rooms there’s no shortage of peace and quiet.

10/10

 

Soft Product:

-Service (How good is the service here?)

Staff were attentive and great to speak to, however the lack of 24/7 room service is something to be aware of.  Not a big deal for most people though.

9/10

-Restaurants On-Site (Are the restaurants on site somewhere even the locals would go to?)

The food was incredible and their attention to food preferences or allergies was impressive.  The staff was attentive enough to notice items you ate more or less of and catered every meal to that preference.

9/10

-Concierge (Specifically, how effective is the Concierge at helping you with a new locale?)

Every member of the hotel was essentially a concierge, giving great suggestions

10/10

TOTAL: 67/70

(35/70 is average)

 

PROS:

  • The setting is stunning
  • The use of the “golden ratio” to build the property made this an experience in itself
  • Absolutely tranquil and serene

CONS:

  • Only recommendation would be some in-room dining options or a refrigerator for the late night munchies.

SECRETS:

  • This place books up quickly so be sure to plan accordingly!



My Three Favorite Things to Do in London

London is one of the metropolitan melting pots in the world, and in my opinion, the European version of New York City.  With its cobblestone lined streets and modern skyline, it is a mixture of old and new.  Having survived 2000 years, it is a resilient and beautiful city with enough history and culture to woo even the most picky of travelers.  There are definitely far more than three things to do in London, but when I visit, these are the three that I try to do time and again.

 

  1. Have a drink at the Shard at Sunset: There’s a few restaurants and bars in the Shard, which is Western Europe’s tallest building, but my favorite is Gong, which on the 52nd floor – offers better views than the other establishments in the same tower.  My favorite time to come is during sunset, and it’s the perfect place to have a cocktail and relax.  It almost feels as if you are on your own cloud above the city – the view is that expansive.  This place does fill up, so I recommend making reservations ahead of time.

    Highly recommend coming up here!!

     

  2. Have a Proper Afternoon Tea at Claridges in Mayfair: There really is only ONE place to have a proper afternoon English tea time without the touristy nonsense, and it’s at Claridges.  This place has a 150 year tradition of serving the best tea in England, with a tea-melier who travels the globe procuring the best leaves from all corners of the globe.  You can make reservations up to 90 days in advance, and be sure to dress up because this place takes their dress code very seriously!

    This is a serious place, with some serious tea.

     

  3. Grab Fish & Chips at my favorite spot: Ok, so all three of these things involve food or drink.  Sorry for adding to your waistline here!  London is home to some of the best fish & chips (and mushy peas) the world has ever known.  You can’t visit this city without having some, and my favorite place to do it is a simple hole in the wall spot – Poppies Fish & Chips in Spitalfields is a place with 1950’s memorabilia (sort of like the English version of Johnny Rockets), and some of the best fish & chips i’ve had anywhere.  They’re over 70 years old, so they know what they’re doing and the beer battered sole here is so good it’ll fill your stomach and your soul.  Trust me.

    Look at that beautiful batter job, not too thick, not too thin, crispy and textured for just the right bite!



THREE Must Do’s in Buenos Aires!

So you’re in Buenos Aires, and you are obviously overwhelmed by this city so full of life and passion, food and wine, and don’t know where to start.  Well after spending a week here (which was not enough btw), I would like to suggest a few things which stood out to me and which I believe every traveller to BA needs to check out:

 

  1. Steak & Wine: This is a pairing that is made in heaven (and if you’re vegan/vegetarian/pescetarian substitute fish or veggies for the red meat but don’t skip the wine).  South America has regions renowned for their grapes and Argentina is especially known for its Malbecs. With its inky dark colors, and heavy tannin flavoring, Malbecs are perfect for rich foods, and for ridiculously low prices I had some of the best wines (comparable to the best that Napa Valley has to offer) down here in Buenos Aires.  You’re selling yourself short if you don’t try out a wine tour or a nice steakhouse down here, I recommend Don Julio for steaks (they’re cooked over a wood fire to perfection), and “Wine Tasting Buenos Aires” for your wine tours.  You can’t go wrong with that pairing 😉

    Wine is everywhere in Argentina. Don’t miss out on it!

     

  2. Go to Uruguay: So this might seem a bit odd, you’re in Buenos Aires and I’ve told you to visit Uruguay.  Well, its only a short 1 hour fairy ride away, and worth a day trip.  This was one of the coolest things I did when I was in Buenos Aires.  It’s so close, and its another country with its own feel.  There’s cobblestone streets, quaint little restaurants, and you can rent a golf car to putt putt around town in.  You won’t be short of things to do if you come here and the exchange rate is even better than that of Argentina, and you can use the same currency here.  I particularly liked having lunch at Charco Bistro which is located inside the Charco Hotel.

    The food was superb, the view was phenomenal, and the wine..well I forgot about that :)

     

  3. Eat Lots of Empanadas: Argentinians LOVE their Empanadas here, and for good reason, they’re exquisite.  They come in all shapes/sizes/flavors (check the chart below for reference).  Just like other parts of the world where there’s a common cuisine and everyone has an opinion on which establishment serves the best version of it, you won’t get a single answer if you were to ask the locals which place serves the best empanada, but i’d recommend you start at these places: Punto y Banca, El Sanjuanino, 1810 Cocina Regional, and Gourmet.

    You know when your mom told you it wasn’t what’s on the outside that counts? Well that’s wrong for empanadas.



FIVE Sights in Marrakech worth seeing!

So you’re in Morocco and you want to see a million different things.  After spending a few weeks there, including about a week in Marrakech, time in Fez, Chefchaouen, Rabat, and Casablanca, I was able to check out most of the top sights in this beautiful North African country.  Out of all the cities, I believe Marrakech offers the most sights, and is the only one worth spending more then 2 days in.  After taking part in about 20 of the top Tripadvisor suggestions, I’ve listed the top attractions in Marrakech below and tell you why you should visit them!  Keep in mind that many of these sights are incredibly close to each other and you can actually visit the Medina, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, Jemaa Al Fnaa, and Le Jardin Secret all in one full day.

 

  1. The Medina: Every city with a history has an old walled city center, cobble-stone walkways, skinny corridors, and the smells/sights/sounds of locals going about their day.   The Medina in Marrakech is the same way, and walking through the Medina makes you feel as if you were spun back in time to 1000 years AD.  This is a place you can spend quite a few hours in, wandering and checking out the various wares and tasting local cuisine.  This is also close the a few major sights which I have as must-do’s listed below.

    The spiderweb of coridors in the Medina is a place you’ll spend hours exploring

     

  2. Jemaa Al Fnaa: This is the square of the Medina, and if you haven’t seen enough in the Souk’s of the Medina you’ll also spend some time here, this is also where the famous snake shows are along with numerous other vendors selling almost anything you can think of that’s local to Morocco.  You won’t need much time here, but it’s worth looking at.  In the summer’s I’d recommend coming here at night because during the day time it is ridiculously hot and not many vendors will be around.

    The center of the Medina is a marketplace that is an all day attraction
  3. Ben Youssef Madrasa: This was one of the first Islamic College’s constructed over 1000 years ago.  It’s an interesting place to visit as architecturally everything is built geometrically symmetrical, and the ornate work done by the builders is evident as the place looks as pristine as if it were built yesterday.  This is right next to the Medina and doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to look at so I wouldn’t allocate too much time but I would certainly drop by.

    The architecture here is worth the visit.

     

  4. Le Jardin Secret: This garden is similar to Jardin Majorelle, but in my opinion is a better visit because it’s less crowded and has a really cool belltower that is worth going to the top of to get a view of the Medina and surrounding neighborhood.  The garden is composed of two large courtyards lined with beautiful foliage and a few spaces with artwork and other rotating exhibits.

    The larger of the two courtyards in Le Jardin Secret
  5. La Mamounia Spa: This is the famous spa and hotel that everyone in Morocco takes pictures at when they’re visiting Marrakech.  I got spa services for myself, and can’t say they were really that great, but the spa and property boast some really intricate moorish interior design and architecture.  You can pay for a cheap day pass here to use the pools (indoor and outdoor), and I highly recommend it.

    This is probably the most popular image of Morocco on Social Media



TWO THINGS YOU MUST DO IN TOKYO, AND A THIRD THAT MOST PEOPLE DONT KNOW ABOUT!

Tokyo, a city always on the move, and a city of the future.  Nowhere else on Earth will you find such modernity and culture shock.  The Japanese people have figured out how to enjoy modern life, from Cat Cafes, to Michelin star restaurants, there’s something for everyone in Tokyo.  Here’s my quick guide of must see’s that I find to be uniquely original to this amazing city:

  1. Harajuku: You’ve heard the name before.  This is where people from around the world come to consume.  I’m not a mall person, but Harajuku is so full of sights and sounds that you won’t feel like you’re trapped in a strip mall looking at the same shops you’d find anywhere else. To be fair, Japan is a consumer nation and Tokyo has many places to shop, but Harajuku dethrones them all.  There’s stores dedicated to “Kawaii” or cute items, there’s fetish shops, there’s stores that are dedicated to Lady Gaga outfits.  If you want different and special, this is the place to go.  On top of that, you can’t go wrong with the numerous restaurants in Harajuku.  This really is a place to wander and get lost in, think of it as a modern Souk.

    Your head will spin with all the stuff to look/buy/eat in Harajuku

     

  2. Have some Ramen: I’ll refer over to the Eater guide for the full list, but if you come to Tokyo, you have to try the Ramen.  There’s national competitions here for this stuff, it’s the national dish and akin to Chili in the US – each region has something different to offer.  Even if your connotation of Ramen is Top-Ramen noodle microwaved in a dorm room, you should get over it and check out some of the concoctions made in Japan.  My personal favorite is Tanaka Second, where they serve a soup made with abalone.  You’ll be having Ramen more than once if you’re a foodie, and Tokyo is the place to do it!

    This is the Abalone soup Ramen at Tanaka Second. My personal favorite. However YMMV.

     

  3. Golden Gai: This is something that just shouldn’t be missed.  Looking like a shantytown tucked away in a little corner of Shinjuku, Golden Gai is a cluster of small buildings leftover from old Tokyo, with merely six streets and alleyways so small they can only fit people walking through them.  A magnet area for celebrities and artist types, this is the “cool spot” of Tokyo.  Bars are hidden upstairs and are just a quick ladder climb away.  Most of them are so small that they only seat 6-7 people, and many only serve regulars, but be nice, make some friends, and you’ll be sure to have an awesome night bar hopping in this area.

    You can’t miss this secretive bar area. Believe me.



3 Things to do in Dubai & Abu Dhabi on a layover

So you are spanning the globe, either to the African continent, or from Asia to Europe, or somewhere else in the Middle East.  Whatever it is, you probably have a stopover in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and you should extend your stay for a little bit if you haven’t checked out these desert locales.  The best way to describe the UAE is a mecca of modernity that rises out of what seems like extraterrestrial conditions.  Here are the spots I recommend you check out while you’re in Dubai:

  1. The Sheikh Zayad Mosque: Singlehandedly one of the most beautiful architectural sights i’ve ever witnessed, this is probably on the same level as the Taj Mahal.  Built to be the most incredible mosque in the world, I think the builders reached their goal.  Gorgeous and stunning from every angle, you could stay here for a few hours and still be mesmerized.  This is a must see.

    In all its gloriousness, 180 degrees of beauty

     

  2. The Dubai Mall & Fountains: I usually shy away from places I can find elsewhere when i’m traveling, and the malls usually fall into this category, especially if they don’t carry goods only found locally (this is tough nowadays with the internet and easy shipping).  However, the Dubai Mall is a very cool place, with water fountain shows every hour, and an indoor aquarium that looks like a who’s who of sea creatures.  It’s worth visiting this place for these two spots alone.

    Not your average mall. I guarantee it.

     

  3. Hang out at Jumeirah BeachThe Burj Al Arab is here, the sail looking hotel, but what I found more interesting was just spending some time at the beach.  The gulf waters are warm and saltier than most other oceans, and the sand is incredibly nice.  It’s a unique experience being at the beach in the middle of a desert, and something that is quite different from spending beach time on a tropical island per se.  For that fact alone, I think it’s worth checking out Jumeirah Beach.

    It’s not the prettiest beach, but its unique. You’re in the middle of the desert, but you’re also at the beach. Think about that.