Conde Nast Traveler

Can't Miss Travel Tips for 2010

The new Four Seasons in Beirut has 230 terraces

by Ondine Cohane

Is it really already nearing the end of January? Time to think about some can't-miss hotels, exhibitions and goings-on for 2010:

* The Irving Penn exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London starting February 18th. Penn passed away in October, and the retrospective pays homage to one of the most unparalleled photographers in history. Expect shots of notables from Truman Capote to Pablo Picasso.

* The new Four Seasons Beirut, which just opened its doors last week. I have had a bee in my bonnet about visiting Beirut for some time, and the debut of both the Four Seasons and the stylish Le Gray makes a sojourn even more tempting. Look for special weekend and opening offers.

* The opening of Eataly in New York City. There is still no official opening date for this behemoth, but expect the Manhattan outpost of this huge Italian gourmet market to give Whole Foods a real run for its money. Co-owner Joe Bastianich tells me that late spring seems the likely debut.

Continue reading "Can't Miss Travel Tips for 2010" »


Retail Therapy in Paris


Colette on Rue Saint Honoré
Photo: karl_hab / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Ondine Cohane

I didn't get to make my annual Paris expedition last year due to travels elsewhere and I really missed it especially for the killer shopping opportunities (among my favorite stops are Vanessa Bruno for dresses, Paul and Joe for chic separates and suits, Sabbia Rosa on the Rue des Saint-Peres for suitably silky lingerie, Christian Louboutin, natch, for the red-soled wonders, and Colette, that temple of all things cool).

Now there are two more stops to add to the pilgrimage: one of the city's coolest boutique owners, Maria Luisa Poumaillou, who has one of the sharpest eyes in fashion (she was an early champion of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen) has just opened second outpost, a stand alone store in the newly renovated Printemps department store. What's cool about this new boutique is that in addition to her glamorous handpicked selection from designers like L'Wren Scott and Roland Mouret, she is also coming up with her own first capsule collection which is sure to be a hit with the fashion set.

And then there is Merci, the new hot shop from the owners behind the children's brand Bonpoint for people looking for a deal on designer threads who also want to feel socially conscious--basically the way the concept works is that designers and collectors give some of their wares for free, then the store sells the clothes for less than retail prices, and the proceeds go to underprivileged children in Madagascar. Think Burberry, Chanel, YSL etc at a about 30-40 percent off their original price tag.  It's a shopping trip you can feel good about. Now I just have to figure out when to make the next trip.


Goodbye 2009: Ondine's Favorite Travel Discoveries

by Ondine Cohane

Before looking ahead to the most anticipated destinations and openings of 2010, it is time to say goodbye to 2009 and ten of my favorite discoveries of the year:

* The rocky island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast. The clarity and the beauty of the sea here makes up for the parts of Italy's mainland, which have been marred by excessive development.

* Cartagena and the wonderful boutique hotel Agua. Next time I want to check out Tcherassi Hotel + Spa, the brand new property by Colombia's most famous fashion designer.

* Minetta Tavern. There were a number of excellent New York restaurants that opened in 2009, but my favorite had to be this restoration of a West Village classic by Keith McNally. The man has a golden touch and this reinvention has to be his most successful venture yet. I still dream of the potato sides.

Continue reading "Goodbye 2009: Ondine's Favorite Travel Discoveries" »


New York Hotel Restaurants Now Home to Top Chefs

The bar at New York Ace Hotel's Breslin restaurant serves the full menu, from Scotch eggs to fried head cheese
Photo: Melissa Hom

by Ondine Cohane

A decade ago, a hotel restaurant was mostly an afterthought, the sad stomping grounds of weary business travelers and harried families who couldn't make it off site to somewhere better. But in the last few years particularly, an on-site eatery has become a property's star attraction drawing both well-heeled locals as well as discerning out-of-towners. This season it's Manhattan's turn for some new hotel joints helmed by some of the city's top chefs. Last week, for example, I checked out Danny Meyer's new Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel, an inspired take on a typical Roman trattoria. Two weeks before, I had dined at a similar spot in Italy's capital and I have to say that the food in Meyer's place was even better: classic pasta alla amatriciana (spicy tomato and pancetta sauce), lip smacking lamb chops "Scottadito," which literally means finger-blistering, and a delicious whole spigola, sea bass delicately cooked with olive oil and a touch of lemon. The place was bustling but friendly and the wine list excellent, albeit a bit pricier than its more humble Italian counterparts. This week, the restaurant is also launching its breakfast service.

But Meyer isn't the only New York celeb chef opening a hotel outpost. The new Breslin in the Ace Hotel, the latest from April Bloomfield (who made a big name for herself at the Spotted Pig and the late John Dory), will be on my must-stop list for the new year.

Continue reading "New York Hotel Restaurants Now Home to Top Chefs" »


The Latest Grand Dame Revamps

The lobby at Milan's Principe di Savoia

by Ondine Cohane

One of the main hotel trends I have noticed in the last few years is the revamp of the grand dame properties. Basically after these places become a little fusty the owners inject a good amount of cash, hire a hot shot interior designer, add a few funky details like a great spa or bar, and voila the place gets a whole new round of buzz and a new generation of guests. Among the impressive models for this kind of reinvention (and there are lots more): La Mamounia's redesign by Jacques Garcia (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston added to the celeb quotient when they went to grand opening over Thanksgiving), the Pierre's $100 million refurbishment and a new Le Caprice restaurant, the Plaza Athenée with its great Champagne bar, and the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat in the south of France. The Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles is currently closed for renovation, but I am expecting the same kind of buzz after its unveiling in 2011, with a new spa and villas among the additions.

Another recent debut that I am excited about is Milan's Principe di Savoia following a $50 million redo. Rock star designer Thierry Despont--who was behind other such reinvented classics as Claridge's and the Dorchester--has given the place new life, added some suitably sexy new suites, and brought in the former DJ from Miami's Delano to pump up the bar scene. But the centerpiece is a new rooftop pool with its great views of the city--and the Alps on a clear day. Of course, the fashion crowd is already jostling for a prime room for the spring shows.


The 2010 It List

"A yurt's-eye view
of the Kyrgyzstan sky"
Photo courtesy of Concierge

by Ondine Cohane

It's that time of year again, the moment to unveil my annual It List for that features the destinations that I think travelers will (or should be) keeping on their radars in the upcoming year. Some highlights:

* A number of the places are spots that I would love to travel to myself, like Burma and Sri Lanka.

* Two destinations that have made big impacts on me: Colombia and Venice, which has a number of recent hotels and museums breathing some new life into the must-see city.

* Black Tomato's Clemmie Harvey turned me on to Kyrgyzstan. At first, I must confess, I was somewhat skeptical, but after a little research, I was completely convinced that it is an adventure person's dream: heli-skiing in the peaks of the Tien Shan mountains (with no other tourists around), horseback riding along the Silk Route. If I wasn't knocked up right now I would head there in a heartbeat.

* Cuba has been on my wish list for years. With a bill going through congress that might open up travel there, it seems like we might be legally able to make the journey in 2010.

Read my It List for more.


Mozambique: Gorongosa National Park Opens Back Up

When I visited Mozambique a
few years ago, villagers
on Gorongosa's borders were
already embracing alternatives to
traditional slash-and-burn farming.

by Ondine Cohane

One of the most memorable trips I have taken for Condé Nast Traveler was to Mozambique a few years back (read "A Once and Future Eden" from the December 2007 issue). The country was spectacularly beautiful, with barely developed tropical islands in the north and south (and some of the best diving I have ever experienced), vibrant cities like Maputo with its Afro-Portuguese influences, and huge tracts of park land at its interior. The richness of both the culture and the landscapes made Mozambique's devastating Civil War that much more poignant--although I was very heartened by the way the country was recovering.

One of the most inspirational of the places I visited was Gorongosa National Park, reputed to be the place where Noah left his ark and animals. Once a glorious wildlife retreat, it had been decimated by the war: most of the animals had been wiped out by the opposing armies who used them as bush meat. Even though the accommodation was very basic at the time, the place had an incredible amount of potential for eco-tourism. So I was very happy to receive word that after three years of restoration, the property has opened a new safari camp, the Explorer's Camp, with trips starting to run there with luxe outfitters like Caznove + Loyd. There are only four tents (so, a maximum of eight guests) with custom itineraries on foot to see the returning populations of elephants, lions and hippos (not to mention the amazing bird life) and to explore Gorongosa Mountain with its beautiful forest and waterfalls. I am so pleased that the destination is opening up for more visitors while being conscious of its impact.

Further reading:
* A Once and Future Eden: Recovered from a civil war and balancing the conservation of great natural beauty with sophisticated resorts, Mozambique is an African hope fulfilled
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Thanksgiving in London

by Ondine Cohane

Thanksgiving in London has become a tradition for me. In fact, this holiday marks my twelfth year of making the pilgrimage and I love it. I celebrate the festivities with my dear friend's family (whose mother is American so they go all out on the turkey, fixings and pies) and then we have plenty of time to check out restaurants, go to the season's blockbuster exhibits, and to do a little retail damage at Topshop. Read after the jump for a list of some of my must-dos.

Continue reading "Thanksgiving in London" »


Piedmont: Italy's Underrated Foodie Destination

Truffle ring
A truffle doubling as my fantasy
wedding ring at I Bologna

by Ondine Cohane

Already visited Tuscany and made the pilgrimage to Umbria? As far as I am concerned, Piedmont remains one of Italy's most underrated destinations, which makes it one of the most pleasant and well-priced regions in the country. November is the perfect time to visit: the wine harvest has recently finished so you can get a taste of the new vintages, the foliage and vines are turning beautiful shades of yellow, red and brown, and best of all it's truffle season. Almost every good restaurant in Piedmont has a special truffle tasting menu. (Not to knock the great truffle offerings in cities like London or New York, but a fresh truffle that travels at most a few hours from dirt to dining table tastes way better than one shipped overseas.) Fresh, delicate, and just slightly pungent--hell, I understand why local prized pigs make whole careers out of foraging them. Maybe I'll sign up for their job.

Last week I dined at I Bologna, an amazing family-run institution near Asti (4 Via Nicola Sardi, Rocchetta Tanaro; 39-0141/644-600) and one of the holy grails of Italian restaurants. Here's the truffle-heavy menu bring served that day: an egg coddled with truffles (sublime), fresh taglierini made by the mother of the chef and topped with shavings of white truffle (they melted into the buttery pasta), and a fresh hazelnut parfait with caramel sauce that was so good I wanted to order two. My husband nibbled on local goat cheese accompanied by a marmalade made out of Barbera grapes and sipped the family's Monte Bruna Barbera Asti wine, which is a veritable bargain at 30 euros. It was one of those meals where I wanted to kneel on the floor and give thanks. (Don't worry, I restrained myself.) I Bologna was the first of a few days of truffle eating, a journey that only ended because, frankly, I couldn't eat anymore.

Further reading:
* Looking for another amazing Italian foodie destination? Check out Patrick Symmes's recent story in Condé Nast Traveler about Emilia-Romagna.
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


The Palazzina Grassi Opens In Venice

The restaurant at the new Palazzina Grassi hotel in Venice is bound to be a hotspot.

by Ondine Cohane

Just back from Venice, where the big news is the opening of the Palazzina Grassi hotel this week. The place wasn't quite finished yet when I took the grand tour, but it was already clear that the property is going to a stylish and intimate addition to the city's hotel scene. The project marks designer Philippe Starck's first foray into Italy, and although there are plenty of modern, playful touches (like his signature oversize lamps and furniture), he used lots of local materials, too. You'll find handmade Murano glass and mirrors (there are about 298 on site, so you better like looking at yourself), Venetian plaster walls in reds and greens, and traditional terrazzo floors throughout the property's 24 rooms. (Those rooms are set out between two buildings dating from the 19th and 16th centuries, but the kick-ass suites are in the older structure overlooking the Grand Canal). In addition to a restaurant and bar that are open to the public, there will be a second bar area downstairs that's reserved for hotel guests only. Supposedly VIP Venetians will be invited there, too, as part of a members-only club--I bet it will become celeb central during the Film Festival and the Biennale.

One of the best aspects to the property is its neighborhood. Near Campo Santo Stefano, the hotel is also nestled behind the Palazzo Grassi, one of the city's best new contemporary art museums, and only a short walk to must-stops like San Marco, the Accademia, and the funky neighborhood of Dorsoduro.

Looking for somewhere to eat nearby? Grab a plate of delicious cicchetti, Venice's answer to tapas, and great wine by the glass at Bacaro da Fiore on Calle delle Botteghe.

Further reading:
* Show Stopper: An insider's Venice (CNT, December 2008)
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Switzerland's New Snowy Retreat: Hidden Dragon

A view from the top: Hidden Dragon's living room
Photo: Mark Sanders

by Ondine Cohane

Looking for a snowy retreat with plenty of pampering? I just got an email from Ashlee Benis about her new hideaway in Switzerland's 4-Valley region that seriously piqued my interest. Hidden Dragon, which opened a couple of months ago, is nestled in a forest away from the crowds but close to some of the region's best skiing with ski-in ski-out access to more than 92 runs linking resorts like Verbier, Thyon and Les Masses. Even more interesting, though, is how Benis's Eurasian background has impacted the design and ethos of the place: instead of a conventional chalet approach, she built the lodge using feng shui principles and included an Eastern-oriented spa with yoga and meditation rooms as well as traditional massage areas to soothe ski-weary muscles. Other nice touches include a hot tub overlooking the mountains, a state of the art wine cellar with an emphasis on Bordeaux vintages, and a screening room for cozy evening movies. It seems like the perfect spot to rent as a family or group of friends. Now I just have to figure out when I can make an escape there.

Looking for more Swiss insight? The November issue of Condé Nast Traveler includes a 16 page pull-out on the country with tips on cool spas, cutting edge architecture and the best ski spots.

Hidden Dragon's Meditation Room
Photo: Mark Sanders


The Zeitz Foundation's Getaways That Do Good

"Long Run Destinations are business enterprises, mainly sustainable tourism destinations, committed to maximizing positive and minimizing negative impacts around the world," says the Long Run Web site. This one, Chumbe, is a tropical island situated 8 miles southwest of Zanzibar town, Tanzania.

by Ondine Cohane

Jochen Zeitz is one of the most successful CEOs in the world, and he didn't start running Puma until the ripe old age of 30. So, when he contacted me last year about creating a network of sustainable, socially conscious retreats--including one that he had already started to build in Kenya--I was extremely interested in learning more. I helped Zeitz narrow in on some places that I thought he should consider, like Indonesia's Nihiwatu, but it was clear that the guy had done his research. It was also clear that he was interested in more than a press release; he dismissed resorts that didn't truly help to better their communities.

Last week Zeitz officially launched his foundation with nine spots in Brazil, Tanzania and New Zealand, among other locations. His goal? To "provide and build sustainable, mostly tourism-driven enterprises, community development and cultural stewardship," and "projects that balance conservation, community, culture, and commerce...a model that shows how working toward ecosphere safety can be commercially viable." The new properties try to both protect endangered areas and promote cultural diversity and local stewardship. For a list of the retreats, go to

In both the articles I have read about Zeitz and the conversations I had with him, it is clear that he is a man who travels a great deal for work, and takes the time to learn about various issues and fault lines as he does so. I am very happy that his vision now has an outlet.

Further reading:
* The Zeitz Foundation Web site
* The Long Run destinations
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Brooklyn's Henry Public

The old-school vibe at Brooklyn's Henry Public

by Ondine Cohane

As you may have noticed from my Brooklyn's Own Little Italian Empire post, this former Brooklyn resident hasn't forgotten about her borough or its foodie scene. The latest must try on my list? Henry Public, the recent opening from friends Matt Dawson and Jen Albano who made Brooklyn Social my go-to stop in Carroll Gardens. The tasty panini and painstakingly made cocktails also made it my preferred place to recharge after a long-haul flight.

This new venture brings comfort food dishes like grass-fed hamburgers, turkey leg sandwiches and freshly shucked oysters together with another fab-sounding drinks list--the "Public Smash" with bourbon, mint, maple syrup and aromatic bitters, "Two-cents Fancy" with pear, tarragon honey, and champagne, and "Kings County Sour" with rye whiskey, lemon, sugar, egg white and port float, all sound like they could render decision making difficult. If you are around on the weekend, you can even stop in during the day for an egg sandwich, coffee, or better yet, another cocktail. I was already sold on the concept, but as luck would have it I had dinner this week with a woman who works at Saveur magazine (so good food cred) who went in on the restaurant's opening night. Her verdict: a solid thumb's up for both the food and the cozy 19th century-inspired decor. So if you are in the 'hood, head on in.

329 Henry St.; 718-852-8630



I've Got Sicily Under My Skin

Verdura Resort and Spa is an entirely a new build except for the golf club, housed in an old tower, and the reception in a former railway station house.
Photo: Verdura Resort and Spa

by Ondine Cohane

Sicily has gotten under my skin. This marks my third annual trip to the Italian island--I first covered it on a pilgrimage to find an Italian wine baron and then last year I scouted its best beaches. This year I found myself first in Palermo, and then at Rocco Forte's new resort, Verdura Resort and Spa, for a quick September getaway.

Palermo, as always, didn't disappoint; a dilapidated chaotic gritty city that's still home to grand palazzi and amazing examples of Arab and Norman architecture. This isn't a sanitized tourist destination, though: on my first night there, all the street lights went out, leaving me in a small alley in total darkness for a good five minutes. Among my new discoveries was the BB22, a chic bed and breakfast next to the Vucurria food market, another one of my picks. BB22 was great, especially for 150 euros, and the staff was friendly and helpful. I also checked out Cana Enoteca, a little wine bar not far from Piazza Marina that proved a gem for its selection of Sicilian vintages (don't miss the reds from Mount Etna), large plates of cheese and local salamis, and cozy wood-paneled atmosphere. If I lived in town, it would definitely become my favored neighborhood spot.

The following morning I headed on to Verdura, a resort that's been generating a lot of buzz in Italy.

Continue reading "I've Got Sicily Under My Skin" »


Tokyo Gets Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony Tokyo opened with a home section and a café, both new
components of the brand

Photo: Frame Noir

by Ondine Cohane

Have a penchant for fashion and want to travel to get your fix? Opening Ceremony, one of retail's most cutting edge shops and design groups, recently opened a 50,000 square foot flagship in Japan's capital that's already a fashion world darling. Helmed by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim--who have built their concept from a fledgling group of international designers (hence the name play on the Olympics) to one of the most fashion forward and successful undertakings in years--the store certainly seems to fly in the face of recent economic woes. The eight floor extravaganza showcases the duo's own designs alongside a devoted shop to Alexander Wang, a new line from Chloe Sevigny, Rodarte, Proenza Schouler and Acne jeans, among others. The launch party was similarly celeb studded--Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Jason Schwartzman, Kirsten Dunst, and Sean Lennon (and mom Yoko Ono) were among the attendees. And Opening Ceremony isn't the only stateside shop to end up in Tokyo of late; LA's Kitson and a new Tom Ford outpost are also about to open their doors. Get your credit cards ready!

Further reading:
* Etiquette 101: Dress Codes (fanny packs not allowed)
* That Mango Will Blow Your Damn Mind: Adam Platt on Tokyo's fanatical foodies (CNT, September 2007)
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Surf's Up in the U.K. and the U.S.

The "Relaxation Terrace" at Cornwall's new Scarlet hotel.
Photo courtesy of the Scarlet

by Ondine Cohane

One of the trends I've been seeing of late is hotels with a surf theme or barefoot-chic beachy vibe--properties like Montauk, Long Island's popular Surf Lodge and Bungalow on the Jersey Shore.

Now there are two more to keep on your radar. The Scarlet, in England's Cornwall region, just opened a few weeks back and is already making waves for its eco-sensibility and stylish vibe. The 37-room property overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and has an Ayurvedic spa on site. Cornwall has become one of Europe's hottest surf centers--the countryside is gorgeous, and the food is just great--and I have a feeling The Scarlet is going to make the area even more of a draw.

I just found out about a new spot opening October 15 in St. Pete Beach, Florida. The Postcard Inn on the Beach is the latest from restaurateur Stephen Hanson (behind the James Hotel in Chicago), and claims to be "laid-back, beachy, and carefree" as well as affordable. Think surf-inspired accommodations, beers and burgers, and comfy hammocks by the sea. A whole generation of travelers want affordable, chic beachside places--hoteliers should keep them coming.

In the meantime, got a relaxed seaside favorite that has the surfer (or surfer wannabe) vibe? Let us know.

Further reading:
* Stiletto Watch: Montauk
* A New Reason to Hit the Jersey Shore This Summer
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Côte d'Azur's New Generation of Style

A new look for the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat.

by Ondine Cohane

After my visit to La Réserve Ramatuelle, outside St-Tropez, I decided to check out some other grande dame hotels in the South of France that have been recently refurbished to the tune of millions of euros.

The first stop was the storied Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, tucked away in one of the Côte d'Azur's poshest seaside enclaves. Facing the sea, the imposing building has a beach club with an Olympic-size pool and a new spa by Carita and pretty restaurant space for the property's Michelin-starred Le Cap. But it was the rooms that received the most attention during the overhaul: They are now airy and bright (with a cheery canary-yellow and white palette) and feel very spacious. If you stay in the main building, be sure to book a sea view rather than a forest view, and if you can afford to splurge, the newly built suites behind the main hotel are done in the same style as the rest of the guest rooms but some have private pools, which feels wonderfully decadent.

In nearby Monaco, the Monte Carlo Beach hotel got a similar revamp in time for summer thanks to India Mahdavi, the talented interior designer behind such projects as London's Connaught and Mexico City's Condesa DF. In a matter of months, Mahdavi transformed the Monte Carlo from tired to chic, giving the interiors a nautical feel with porthole windows, 1930s black-and-white photos from the hotel's glam days, and custom-made furniture that makes you feel like you're heading out to sea on a retro cruiser.

Further reading:
* La Réserve Ramatuelle
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


La Reserve Ramatuelle

La_Reserve_Ramatuelle_Saint_TropezViews from rooms at La Reserve Ramatuelle reveal a seemingly endless expanse of the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo: La Reserve Ramatuelle

by Ondine Cohane

Last week I had the good fortune to be in the South of France scoping out La Reserve Ramatuelle near Saint-Tropez. The property opened in May and, as the name suggests, it's a true retreat. What I think made it stand out most was the fact that even though it was close to the action of celeb central Saint-Tropez and the pretty medieval village of Ramatuelle, it felt a world apart from the tourist crowds with only 23 rooms perched over the Mediterranean. The resort was masterminded by French designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte who focused on creating airy, light-filled spaces that were still very luxurious, the perfect aesthetic for a place where the focus should be on the view.

Some European "beauty centers," while they look good are a little lightweight on treatments, but the spa at La Reserve Ramatuelle was a standout. It was obvious that my technician was just as concerned with my alignment as making sure I was relaxed as I was. And I loved the spa's internal pool, the counterpoint to the huge outdoor swimming pool that also seems to hang above the sea. It was hard to leave my room, but I did manage to make a couple of stops into Ramatuelle for the market and also to Saint-Tropez to admire the über-yachts (if the economy is bad, these seafarers didnt seem to have gotten the memo). If you are heading to the South of France you'll want to make La Reserve a part of the itinerary.

Further reading:
* Feather Down Farms Getaways
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Feather Down Farms Getaways

Feather Down tents lie on working farms in New York and Illinois, among other locations.
Photo: Feather Down Farms

by Ondine Cohane

There is nothing like difficult economic times to make you want to disconnect from urban stimulation and all things wired. At least that's the case for me; when I am on a long country walk with no cell reception or iPhone on hand it's infinitely easier to forget what's happening with the Dow or the job market. So I like the idea of the Feather Down Farms getaways, a European company come stateside that basically has you spending your holiday doing farm chores and eating meals of organic, fresh-picked ingredients.

The farm-stay chain is decidedly high-end, with accommodations in spacious tents with wood floors,  bathrooms, wood-burning stoves, and comfy beds that are more B&B than rustic. But outdoorsy activities are salt of the earth, including picking organic vegetables, gathering hay, and milking goats before making cheese that might end up on your make-your-own pizza. There are a number of different farms to chose from in rural spots like the Catskills and Illinois, and the company plans to have 20 to choose from in the next year.

Feather Down Farms sounds particularly good as a family getaway--what kid doesn't like to pet a farm pony or feed the sheep? And I have recently heard of a number of investment bankers and CEOs who have left the rat race to start organic farms--this kind of vacation gives you a taste of whether country living is really for you or an idyll best just dreamed about.

Read after the jump for a look at the tent's interior.

Continue reading "Feather Down Farms Getaways" »


Marrakech On My Mind

Beautiful hand-painted doors, just part of designer Jacques Garcia's vision for La Mamounia in Marrakech.
Photo: Alan Keohane

by Ondine Cohane

Morocco is a big gap in my travel education. Somehow I just haven't had the chance to get there. The hotel scene in Marrakech is one of the most exciting in the world, with a mix of small riad properties converted into boutique hotels and bigger--but still stylish--resorts. Here are some hotels opening in Morocco this fall that you should keep on your radar: 

* Few hotels have as storied histories as Marrakech's La Mamounia. It seems that almost every celeb who comes to town has bedded down there--Winston Churchill and Mick Jagger are just two who come to mind. But the property had started to feel a bit run down, so the grand dame has undergone a multi-million dollar face lift. New additions include three restaurants, a 27,000 square foot spa, and glam interiors by Jacques Garcia, who designed Paris's chic Hotel Costes and the Metropole in Monte Carlo. I am betting that this will be one of the hottest hotel openings of the fall and winter season. Doors are set to open at the end of this month.

* Royal Mansour Marrakech, owned by the King of Morocco, sounds like it will be indeed palatial with 53 individual riads (ranging in size from 1,400 square feet to over 21,000!) set into the ancient wall of the city and covering eight acres of landscaped gardens. The property includes a huge spa with an indoor pool and three restaurants under the helm of Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno. The project is part of the King's "Vision 2010" initiative to promote tourism and jobs in the hospitality sector. When it opens in November, riad prices will range from ¬1,500-¬20,000 per night.

* Later in the year, a new 161-room Mandarin Oriental is opening in the residential area of Palmeraie, about 20 minutes away from the center of town. I saw a few early photos yesterday and it looks gorgeous, with beautiful views of the Atlas mountains and ornate interiors--I call dibs on the blue room! And, of course, the Mandarin Oriental spas are always excellent so I would definitely book a few treatments.

Do you already have a favorite Marrakech hideaway? Let me know your tips.

Further reading:
*"Morocco to the Max" (CNT, June 2006)
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


Giglio, Italy and Pardini's Hermitage

Pardini's Hermitage in Giglio can only be reached by the sea.
Photo: Pardini's Hermitage

by Ondine Cohane

This past week I continued on my quest for new Italian discoveries (an undertaking that is far from disagreeable, I may add) with a jaunt to Giglio, a small island off the Tuscan coast, the lesser known sister to Elba and an hour ferry ride from Porto Santo Stefano. It's a lovely spot, a mostly mountainous stretch that drops into some of the most beautifully clear water in Italy--when you snorkel you can see about 20 meters below you and the diversity of the fish is a testament to how the Tuscan coast has really campaigned to clean things up in the last few years.

I stayed at Pardini's Hermitage perched on its own little bay above the Tyrrhenian Sea and I loved the vibe of the place; it's old school, eccentric, slightly madcap and bohemian, and somewhere you really feel away from everything despite being only a fifteen minute boat ride from Giglio's main port and having free WiFi access. I was also very impressed by the quality of the food (a delicious pappa al pomodoro soup, just-caught orata, and creamy risotto with fresh seafood) and the overall organic ethos of the place--the homemade vinegar is made with local thyme and other herbs, the olive oil comes from the owners' other farm in Grosseto and the ricotta and yogurt are from the owners' goats just up the hill.

Apart from eating, swimming and snorkeling, reading, visiting the animals on the property's farm (including a donkey named Spartico) and hiking, there wasn't a lot to tempt me away from the area. (Not to mention it is still high season in Italy, which means the main beaches and towns were crawling with people.) I'll save my sightseeing for next spring when the wildflowers are blooming and the island is blissfully empty, though at the Hermitage things already felt that way. Just a couple of words of warning: the place isn't ideal for toddlers (think steep stone paths and drops into the sea off rocks) or people who like a jam-packed itinerary, and don't be alarmed by the Web site, which could do with a bit of an update.

Further reading:
* Ondine on Vernazza, the budget-conscious crowd's Portofino.
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide.


The Green T. House: Beijing's Bathing Beauties

You can stay overnight in Green
T. House's Beijing bath house.

Photo: The Green T. House

by Ondine Cohane

I am a bath fan. It could be because I spent my first decade on earth in Ireland and England--drafty houses and infernal cold rain make them a must--or the fact that I am a water sign, or that lying in a tub with a fashion magazine and a glass of wine is one of my favorite ways to relax. But regardless, tubs (and steam rooms, saunas, and Jacuzzis) are a mania for this correspondent.

So it was with great interest that I found out about a newly opened "bath house residence" on the outskirts of Beijing. Set in the Green T. House living complex, which is also home to a funky restaurant and tea house, this new private villa has a huge bath area based on those favored by the Tang emperor, and a 20-person Jacuzzi as well as a circulating mineral pool with a waterfall on the roof terrace. You can book the place for the day, enjoying spa treatments and a meal, or throw a high-end slumber party by renting it for the night (the house sleeps up to eight in loft bedrooms). I like the idea of an overnight, especially with the option of getting an eight-hand massage in front of an open fireplace after dinner, and languishing in a bath before falling asleep. If I were heading to Beijing anytime soon, I would certainly take a dip.

Further reading:
* Ondine on Vernazza, the budget-conscious crowd's Portofino.
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide.


Vernazza: The Budget-Conscious Crowd's Portofino

"The only way I can bear to leave Vernazza," says Ondine Cohane, "is if I have another excursion already planned."
Photo: anroir on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Ondine Cohane

Looking for an inexpensive Italian coastal getaway that's got plenty of charm, sun, and beautiful backdrops? Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre, is one of my favorite towns in the country. I'm even loath to write about it because it's such a gem.

I was just back there for my annual pilgrimage, and despite being on the Rick Steves trail, crowded with day-trippers during high season, the place still has its own unspoilable charm--pastel-colored buildings with laundry hanging from the windows, old geezers who make a living room out of the seafront piazza, local kids diving off the pier, and rooms that can still be booked for 100 euros or less. Admittedly, most of the accommodations are not luxurious, and you have to climb a hundred steps to get to Gianni Franzi's rooms, where I usually stay, but I hardly spend time there except to sleep.

There is too much to entertain outside: I stay busy eating at Gianni's trattoria (plates of marinated anchovies in lemon juice, fritto misto, spaghetti al vongole, whole fish in the oven and the pesto the region's famous for), swimming off the aforementioned pier where a swimming-only lane in the cove means undisturbed laps, reading at an outside table at the bar in the main square, and taking hikes between the five picturesque villages that have given this area a UNESCO heritage designation. My favorite of the trails is between Vernazza and Corniglia--it is ruggedly beautiful and the views are spectacular (try to time ending your walk as the sun sets). At night, the town becomes more peaceful when travelers from La Spezia and Porto Venere head to their hotels and only residents and people staying in the village remain.

Next time I want to try Vernazza's La Mala, a newish boutique hotel that overlooks the sea. It's a bit more pricey than the other hotels, but reviews are good.

Further reading:
* Ondine on Brooklyn's own little Italian empire
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


The Shangri-La Villingili Opens in the Maldives

Prefer to be stuck in the trees instead of on the beach? The new Shangri-La property has Tree House Villas.
Photo: Shangri La's Villingili Resort and Spa

by Ondine Cohane

It may be summer in the States (or at least some semblance of it), but if you are like me, you're already plotting where to escape when ice, snow, and heavy jackets hit in a few months. Top of my list? The just-opened Shangri-La Villingili in the Maldives, with overwater bungalows (my dream accommodation), postcard-perfect powder white sand, and crystal-clear water. There's also a spa with a yoga pavilion overlooking the Indian Ocean--yoga with a view is, naturally, more conducive to a deep meditational state. I also like the idea of the 11-mile bike path that leads across five islands past villages and lush jungle. The cherry on the travel sundae is the great diving in the reefs nearby--or maybe the boat trips across the equator (always a good trophy). The only question now is to how to fund such a blissful getaway. . . . 

Further reading:
* Condé Nast Traveler's 2008 Dream Trip winner stayed in overwater villas at the One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives. Read the Perrin Post blog for her favorite moments from the trip.
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide.


Flight Patterns: A Century of Stories about Flying

Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion are
among the writers whose
stories make up
Flight Patterns.

Photo courtesy of Open City

by Ondine Cohane

Flying provokes myriad emotions for many of us: excitement, fear, the thrill of adventure, discomfort, a sense of escape and claustrophobia among them. A newly released anthology, Flight Patterns: A Century of Stories about Flying, edited by Dorothy Spears, features writings from aviation pioneers like Orville Wright, Charles A. Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart to more contemporary musings on this mode of transport from authors like Thomas Beller, Walter Kirn, and David Sedaris. It's a good read, from tragic military tales to a teenager's awkward introduction to the mile high club to the final chapter of Beryl Markham's memoir, West with the Night, where she writes, "I could ask, 'Why risk it?' as I have been asked since, and I could answer, 'Each to his element.' By his nature a sailor must sail, by his nature a flyer must fly."

This particular correspondent has a real fear of flying. I dislike the lack of control; at each bout of turbulence, I worry that my future plans will be lost in an instant. I muscle through, though, because I love traveling too much. Reading the anthology was a good exercise: I realized how psychologically loaded flying is for most of us, and also how it provokes great writing. Available from Open City Books, $15.95.

Further reading:
* Ondine on the importance of a good GM
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide


About this blog
The editors at Conde Nast Traveler answer questions and share travel secrets, tips, and dispatches

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