Wednesday, November 16 12:51 PM
A luxury hotel opening in China is about as newsworthy these days as a celebrity marriage meltdown. But the newly unveiled St. Regis Tianjin is hard to ignore. The 18-story hollowed-out cube dominates the banks of Tianjin's Hai River like a portal to another world. And in some ways it is.
After passing through the reflective Blade Runner exterior, you find yourself transported to the early 1900s, the heyday of this port city 80 miles south of Beijing. Art Deco-style touches--black-and-white checkerboard floors, crystal chandeliers, geometric French mirrors--abound in some of the public spaces as well as in the 274 guest rooms. And the grand lobby features a mural created by acclaimed ceramicist Zhu Legeng from hundreds of handcrafted tiles. That's what we call future perfect.
Photo: Courtesy of Starwood Hotels
Tuesday, November 15 12:08 PM
You may have noticed that Australia is big. Really big. Only slightly smaller than the United States, in fact, with vast stretches of countryside separating its cosmopolitan cities. Flying around the country is expedient, but on Great Southern Rail's new routes aboard the Southern Spirit, you get to see all the gorgeous landscapes in between.
Passengers on Southern Spirit Whistle Stop Tours can hang ten in hip surfing town Byron Bay, quaff New World wines in the scenic Hunter Valley, pet koalas at Taronga Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo, and go walkabout in the beautiful forests of the Grampians. Now that's the spirit.
Southern Spirit six-day Whistle Stop Tours from $4,235
Photo: Courtesy of Southern Spirit Tours
Monday, November 14 01:24 PM
You like your vacations to be a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll. Well, it just so happens that the hottest number in Paris these days also happens to be its most sylvan: The freshly refurbished Saint James is a little slice of Loire château life in the City of Lights.
Set on the site of the world's first hot-air balloon launch, in 1783, this 19th-century property is all high-flying whimsy, thanks to boho goddess Bambi Sloan's redesign. A riot of patterns--toile and stripes, brocade and herringbone--lends a playful decadence to the 48 rooms. As a hotel guest, you can rub elbows with tony locals at the Saint James's private social club, or visit the luxurious spa that has gemstones as its theme. And after an exhausting day of shopping and Champagne sipping, where better to escape the flurry of Paris than the hotel's perfectly manicured gardens, hidden away behind mature trees?
Photo: Davide Lovatti courtesy of Saint James Paris
Friday, November 11 10:00 AM
When Gogobot, a mashup of Facebook and Yelp for travelers, appeared on the scene last year, we were charmed. And with the introduction of the Gogobot app, you've now got this excellent planning tool to go.
Gogobot crowdsources recommendations and filters what's hot and what's not through your social network. The app loads your travel plans, pulling up what else is nearby, contact info, and maps at a tap. Snap a photo and turn it into an Instagram-like postcard to tweet or send to your mates (for jealousy now) or turn into an on-the-fly review (for helpfulness later). Everything is collected online in your digital Passport, a scrapbook of spoils to annotate and share. Perhaps it's time you took some friendly advice.
Available from iTunes for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Android version coming early 2012.
Photo: Courtesy of Gogobot
Thursday, November 10 01:13 PM
The lure of Barcelona's nightlife has destroyed many a reputation. That's why we find the idea of dedicating a bar to creation--at least in terms of architecture--a refreshing concept. Behold Frank's Bar in the Hotel Arts Barcelona, a homage to the creative mind of starchitect Frank Gehry.
The bar honors Gehry's famous fish sculpture that sits on the waterfront adjacent to the hotel. The interiors draw from the palette of colors that the sculpture reflects throughout the day, from graphite to gold, plum to emerald. The arcs of the sofas, the geometry of the decorative moldings, and the diamond tufting of the ottomans draw lines of order, while signature margaritas (named after Gehry's wife, Berta) blur them. Sounds like the blueprint for a top Catalonian night out.
Photo: Davide Lovatti, Courtesy of Hotel Arts Barcelona
Wednesday, November 09 11:34 AM
The '60s have Mad Men, and the '20s have Boardwalk Empire. But what about the golden intervening years? Mr. Sorkin, do we have a pitch for you: a drama based at the 103-room Hotel Bel-Air, that glam hideaway of Hollywood stars of the '40s, '50s, and today. Fresh from a two-year restoration, the French Deco-meets-Spanish Colonial set is ready, Wolfgang Puck is on craft services, and the extras are already boldface.
New additions to the lush 12-acre property include a La Prairie spa and fitness studio, seven open-plan suites (some with grand pianos and private pools), and 12 loftlike hillside accommodations with canyon views and outdoor fireplaces on spacious decks. Like the hotel's signature swans, the faultless service remains the same. It's a wrap.
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air
Tuesday, November 08 01:52 PM
Flying is so complicated these days that we're always on the lookout for a simple carry-on. That's why we're ready to pack up one of Incase's new pared-down Terra bags (from $49.95).
This eco-friendly line of carry-ons (tote, backpack, and computer case) employs lightweight padded material to protect your precious cargo. External passport-size pockets have large zippers for quick draws, and straps are cushioned for comfort; we dig the contrast of monochrome tweedy fabric against the poppy red interiors. Just because your style is grounded doesn't mean it can't be fly.
Photo: Courtesy of Incase
Monday, November 07 01:13 PM
Glitzy high-rises. Minuscule swimsuits. Endless sunshine. Australia's answer to South Beach, Surfers Paradise is a dazzling strip of beachfront populated by hunky surfers and aspiring models and laced with a distinctly laid-back Aussie flavor. The only flaw, until now, has been the stuck-in-the-'80s hotel landscape. But a boutique hotel newcomer, Sea Temple, is set to shake things up.
Spread across levels 4 through 39 of the skyscraping Soul Tower, the two- and three-bedroom suites feel like swanky private apartments, complete with high-tech gadgets, full kitchens, Miami-esque white-on-white decor, and balconies that catch ocean breezes. Both the poolside cocktail bar and the restaurant, with its panoramic views and pan-Asian menu, are sure to be the town's most preen-worthy hot spots. Finally, a scene that lives up to the scenery.
Photo: Courtesy of Sea Temple Surfers Paradise
Friday, November 04 11:35 AM
The dramatic landscape of Patagonia can feel like the final frontier. And if you want to explore the region, the new Singular Patagonia hotel, near Puerto Natales, Chile, is ready to indulge your intrepid side. Fourth-generation descendants of European settlers to the area spent ten years restoring this 1915 sheep-farming building. The industrial-chic result offers five-star room and board, plus primo expeditions, wrapped in nearly 100 years of history.
Days are spent trekking, condor watching, visiting caves on horseback, kayaking past glaciers, or just relaxing in the spa. Evenings call for red wine, king crab, and Magellan lamb in the brick warehouse turned dining room. The 57 guest rooms beckon in a new wing outfitted with soaking tubs and a distinctly masculine mix of concrete, brass, marble, and polished wood. And the in-bed views out to the Fjord of Last Hope? Well, you'll understand why the owners' ancestors settled here.
Photo: Courtesy of Singular Patagonia
Thursday, November 03 11:52 AM
Los Angeles's edgier side sometimes gets lost among the Botox and bling of tabloid Hollywood. Yet SoCal has long been a locus of left-field creative endeavors. That's why we're loving Pacific Standard Time, an ambitious six-month project exploring the often turbulent history of art in L.A. Sixty cultural institutions in the area are taking part by hosting exhibitions, performances, and concerts now through March 2012.
The Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival, meanwhile, slated for January 19-29, will restage performance pieces and seminal works. For Accidents in Abstract Painting at the Armory Center for the Arts, for example, Richard Jackson will load a large-scale model airplane full of paint and then crash it into a wall. We can't wait to see whether the performance--originally staged in 2003 at Zurich's Hauser & Wirth gallery--makes as much of a splash this time around.
Photo: Courtesy of Harry Gamboa, Jr.; © 1974 Harry Gamboa, Jr.
Wednesday, November 02 09:23 AM
When you reminisce about a vacation, the atmospheric collage of sights you recall isn't always consistent with the true-to-life, megapixel-perfect scenes that your camera captured. But there is a tiny little thing that can change that.
Traveler, meet the Double Exposure Digi Cam ($130), a wee 1.1-ounce photographic magician that mashes up images, layering that Brazil beach nap with the clubbing that preceded it or a Central Park close-up with its skyscraper surroundings. Even single images get the dreamy treatment with saturated colors and soft-focus edges, making your photo album every bit as mellow as your memories.
Photo: Courtesy of Photojojo
Tuesday, November 01 11:14 AM
For decades, American citizens with a hankering to see Havana had to engage in some serious (and not recommended) 007 business to make that happen. But now, with the launch of Austin-Lehman Adventures' "the Real Cuba" itinerary, visiting Castro country is easy and--more importantly--legal.
The ten-day trip, a far-ranging intro to Cuban life, includes visiting private homes, helping out with community projects, and meeting artists, artisans, and Santería practitioners. After exploring Old Havana, you'll travel via old steam train, vintage car, and even horseback to tobacco farms, coffee plantations, and rural villages. Best of all, Austin-Lehman arranges the charter flight from Miami or Cancún and handles the visa process.
Austin-Lehman Adventures' ten-day trips starting February 2012, from $4,998 per person
Photo: Courtesy of Austin-Lehman Adventures
Monday, October 31 01:50 PM
If well-executed design is music to your ears, tune in to Amsterdam's latest triumphal symphony of style: the Conservatorium Hotel's transformation of a 19th-century bank-turned-music conservatory into a five-star modernist escape. Soft-opening on the Museumplein opposite the Royal Concertgebouw and near the tony P.C. Hooftstraat shopping strip in mid November, it'll reach a galloping allegro by December. The hotel's most harmonious note? Over half its 129 rooms are double-height duplexes.
Italian design maestro Piero Lissoni has combined vintage decorative elements (Asian rugs, tribal masks, Delft plates) with exposed beams, wood floors, and oversize windows to create a homey, loftlike feel. Common areas are equally lively. A glass ceiling tops an eight-story atrium lobby with a cocktail bar and restaurants by Dutch chef Schilo van Coevorden. There's also a 10,000-square-foot holistic spa (Watsu pool included). Apropos of everything, classical music echoes throughout. We think that deserves a standing ovation.
Photo: Courtesy of Design Hotels
Friday, October 28 07:00 AM
New York has had its share of exotic love affairs--it's fallen for Japanese and Thai, Brazilian and Cantonese, Mexican and Korean. But this fall, the Big Apple only has eyes for Peru. Two of the city's new restaurants have serious South American cred: La Cervecería in the East Village and La Mar Cebicheria in Gramercy.
The former marries American craft beers with Peruvian tapas in a playful downtown setting of mod minimalism. The latter takes it up a notch, bringing South American celeb chef Gastón Acurio's modern take on Peruvian ceviches, tiraditos, and anticuchos to a fancy $5.5 million dining room. Both make liberal use of spicy little chile peppers. Because if you're gonna hook a city like New York, you've got to bring the heat.
Photo: Courtesy of La Cervecería
Thursday, October 27 07:00 AM
It's impossible to guess what lies beneath the new Herta and Paul Amir Building of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (opening November 2) when viewing it from outside. Architect Preston Scott Cohen's prismatic shiplike structure, made of 430 polished cement and glass panels, hides a library, an auditorium, and almost 30,000 square feet of gallery space in its unassuming angular belly. Ramped promenades and staircases spiral around a top-lit 87-foot-high atrium, its complex geometric surfaces bouncing the Mediterranean sun three floors below ground.
A temporary exhibit of works by Anselm Kiefer plus 250 pieces from the museum's permanent collection (prints, drawings, photography, design, video, and sculpture from 1906 to the present) will inaugurate the $55 million cultural hub--as well as Tel Aviv's Art Year festival.
Photo © Amit Geron. Courtesy of Tel Aviv Museum of Art