The Travel Zone's Blog

 Whether you love Old Havana colonial style, rhythms and cocktails, Mid-Century modern tropical, Rat Pack vibes, or contemporary luxury urban resort on a world's top beach... Puerto Rico's El San Juan Hotel fits the bill.


Following a post-hurricane, $65-million reno, this grande dame of Puerto Rico society and must-visit destination for visitors to Puerto Rico's capital is back - in spectacular style combining all three eras and captivating your travel imagination.
The El San Juan Hotel alone is worth the trip to this US island territory! 

It's ideal as a destination tropical resort for your whole vacation or destination wedding/ vow renewal / business event, or as an extension before or after your Caribbean cruise embarking or disembarking from Puerto Rico; the El San Juan Hotel is 5 minutes from the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, 10 minutes from San Juan Cruise Port… and 15 minutes from historic Old San Juan, on 2 miles of Isla Verde Beach that's been voted the Best Urban Beach.

Start your Trip!


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Think Overwater Villas are the Height of Exotic Luxury Travel? Try This UNDERwater Villa
It puts new meaning into being immersed in the local natural beauty. The pristine waters of the Maldives are epic, surrounding one of the world's most romantic, remote and legendary tropical eco paradise destinations. 

Now you can sleep alongside your sweetheart or family as well as the rich marine life that animates the waters of these tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a pioneering resort: the first international hotel in the Maldives, the first underwater restaurant, and now, the first undersea residence.


It's called the Muraka, or 'coral' in the local Maldivian language, and it is an extraordinary way for up to 9 guests to experience of one of the world's most breathtaking marine environments. Specialized aquarium technology was used to create the 2-story villa, consisting of above-sea-level space, and a spiral staircase to an underwater suite more than 16 feet below sea level with a king size bedroom, living room, and bathing area under a dome with 180-degree views of the ocean.

Sleeping in an undersea dome is an almost surreal vacation, but the overwater part of the villa above is unforgettable, too. More bedrooms, one with an ocean-facing bathtub, more bathrooms, gym, space for a butler and private security, living room, kitchen, bar and dining area with a deck facing the sunset, and another deck with an infinity pool facing sunrise. 

The Muraka butlers are dedicated 24-7 to hyper-personalized service. They are also ambassadors of the Maldivian island experience for undersea villa guests, sharing their passion for culture, the environment and adventure throughout your custom-crafted stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.


The resort is located in the Maldives' best diving and snorkeling locations. It melds harmoniously with the environment, flowing from island, over the ocean, to the overwater/undersea residence.


You can double down on the undersea experience at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island at its trailblazing underwater restaurant. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant is also a world's first, where the fusion local and Western lunch and dinner menus, fine wine pairings, and mid-morning cocktails are accompanied by a panoramic view of coral gardens 16 feet below the surface of the ocean.

 
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant is one of dozen resort restaurants and bars that regularly make 'best of…' lists. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island also features an overwater spa and a Spa Retreat, and experiences inspired by the local environment and culture round out the ultimate island escape. Sunrise and sunset yoga practice. A meditation pavilion. A 5-hour journey to inner tranquility via a unique Zen revelation. A Spa Retreat with over a dozen water villas, its own restaurant, and a selection of therapies including a signature treatment inspired by the beauty practices of Maldivian women, including a heated coconut stick massage and organic, pineapple and papaya body scrub.


Consciously-designed villas and suites, from ultra-private beach villas nestled amongst the rich tropical landscape with direct beach access, to overwater villas ranging from private and romantic, to expansive for an extended group of family or friends, complete with sundecks, hot tubs steps into the sea, spa treatment rooms and more, provide the iconic Maldives vacation.
 
Start your Trip!
 
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7 Castles in Ireland Where You Can Stay
St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle. Dramatic coastline. Historic towns and cobblestone streets. Pubs and parties. Folklore and green pastures… and castles.
 
Hundreds of castles and manor houses dot the Irish countryside. They not only evoke Ireland's storied past. Many allow you to live out your inner fantasy world of warrior kings and legendary princesses during overnight stays.
 
Look for a tour of Ireland that allows you to lay your head at some of these stately homes:

Ashford Castle, County Mayo

 
You'll be joining the illustrious ranks of not only early Irish nobility when you stay at Ashford Castle. British royalty, American presidents and sports and entertainment superstars have all stayed at 800-year-old Ashford Castle. It's a 5-star resort lifestyle in a magnificent French chateau style building on a 26,000 acre estate – complete with is own school of falconry, horseback riding, fishing, archery and clay shooting, as well as more modern pass times like a spa, golf, kayaking, tennis, tree climbing and zip lining.

 
Ashford Castle has been voted the best resort in Ireland and one of the top three in Europe.
 

Bantry House, County Cork

 
Since the 1700's Earls of Bantry have occupied Bantry House overlooking Bantry Bay on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way on the southern coast. You can stay in one of the finest historic manor houses in the country in luxurious bed and breakfast or self-catering style.  

 
As well as the Wild Atlantic Way, you'll want to explore Bantry House's elegant gardens especially when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom. The design is dramatic with seven terraces – the house is on the third terrace - 100 steps, and a fountain.
 

Drumoland Castle, County Clare

 
 Another magnet for global political figures and celebrities, 5-star Dromoland Castle is the ancestral home of the O'Brien family that traces its roots 1000 years back to the famous High King of Ireland Brian Boru. 

 
400 acres of Irish heaven include a top-rated golf course, walking and cycling trails, tennis, hiking, horse riding and pony carriage rides, traditional archery, falconry, fishing and clay shooting. Deluxe décor and luxury living include a spa, afternoon tea, casual and fine dining that once earned a Michelin star.
 

Ballyfin Demesne, County Laois

 
Your travel imagination may picture your castles with gothic towers, but don't miss Ireland's most celebrated Regency / Georgian mansion. With only 20 guest rooms, you'll feel like you're lord of the manor at this 5-star Georgian country house nestled on 600 acres at the foot of the scenic Slieve Bloom Mountains.

 
It's the ultimate mix of old world charm and modern home and hotel comforts – and perfect to take over for a special, destination family or even business event.
 

Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway

 
Voted #1 Irish luxury castle hotel, Ballynahinch is an elegant 17th century castle with magnificent views over 700 acres of woodland and rivers. Relax indoors by one of six open log fires or dine in elegance at one of Irelands' best restaurants. 

 
Take long walks or cycling tours with backdrops against the 12 Bens Mountain range along the Wild Atlantic Way. Or climb onto a boat for a guided trip of its famous salmon and lobster fishery.
 

Crom Castle, County Fermanagh

 
Lord and Lady Erne still dwell at the historic seat of the Earls of Erne, magnificent Crom Castle in Irelands' beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands (pictured top). But the castle's West Wing can be yours, it's available year round for up to 12, with even a cook provided if you wish. 
 
Nearly 2000 acres at Crom are a unique nature reserve with one of the largest semi-natural woodland remaining in Ireland, the largest surviving area of oak woodland in the country, and one of the largest freshwater habitats in the British Isles. You can see two rare butterflies and pine-marten, the largest heronry in Ireland, wild geese and deer.
 

Lismore Castle, County Waterford

 
Some of the most notable names of Europe and the Americas over the last few centuries have visited and stayed at this 12th century castle of the Dukes of Devonshire. Fewer than 30 guests at a time enjoy truly regal hospitality, with use of the castle and estate facilities, and even the Duke's personal butler and staff. The Castle kitchens create formal, informal, indoor and outdoor meals from local and on-site ingredients.

 
Live like the Irish nobility with salmon fishing, golf, horse riding and racing, kayaking and boat trips, even kite surfing, scuba and hot air balloon rides.
 
Make sure your next vacation to Ireland includes a stay fit for a king on one of the Emerald Isle's historic castles.  

(Images courtesy ireland.com)
 

Start your Trip!

 
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Discover Tropical Romance in 3 Overwater Bungalow Resorts on the Caribbean Sea
(Re)kindle the romance close to home – without long flights to the South Pacific or the Maldives!

Overwater villas are the next best thing to a private tropical island of your own – a luxury, bungalow suspended right over top of jewel-toned seas with the rustic-chic experience of living indoors and outdoors. It doesn't need to be Valentine's Day or your honeymoon for you and your sweetheart to deserve an overwater dream holiday.

Here are 3 resorts on the Caribbean Sea - in Jamaica, Mexico, and Panama, where you can live the dream.


Where: Sandals Royal Caribbean, Montego Bay, Jamaica


The Overwater Bungalows and Resort Highlights:

Couples-only Sandals built the Caribbean's first all-inclusive overwater bungalows, inspired by more distant cousins in Tahiti. These secluded villas are just off the resort's private island with private water taxi service. Picture glass floors, butler service, private infinity pools and outdoor soaking tub for two or hammocks over the water where you can dangle your toes and absorb the sun, extended outdoor decks and outdoor showers that blur the line between indoor and outdoor luxury living.


  • All-inclusive, unlimited fine dining at 8 restaurants and unlimited wine and spirits at 5 bars, including swim-up, and stocked bars in every room
  • Free wifi, tips, taxes and gratuities
  • Roundtrip airport transfers and BMW private airport transfers for all Butler and Club Sandals guests
  • Professional water sport instruction and all equipment; PADI-Certified SCUBA diving, snorkeling 
  • Hobie Cats, paddle boards, kayaks, beach volleyball, bocce ball, pool tables, day and night tennis, unlimited land sports and state-of-the-art fitness centers
  • Day and night entertainment including live shows
  • PLUS exchange privileges and all amenities and inclusions with 2 nearby Sandals – it's like having 3 resorts in one!

 

Where: Karisma's El Dorado Maroma, Riviera Maya, Mexico

 
The Overwater Bungalows and Other Resort Highlights:

The adults-only resort's 'Palafitos' (pictured top) are not only the first overwater bungalows in Mexico, but are also on Maroma Beach, one of the world's top-rated beaches. Glass-bottom floors give you a view of the sea from the moment you wake up and your feet touch the floor; in the evenings, you'll have an unobstructed view of the setting sun from your own infinity pool on your private deck. And outdoor shower and private butler top off your indulgent beach escape.

 
  • Easily-reached via non-stop flights to Cancun
  • 8 diverse resort restaurants available in the 'Gourmet inclusive' all-inclusive program and 24-hour room service
  • 2 lounges and 3 swim up bars
  • Non-motorized watersports
  • Spanish lessons, yoga, aqua aerobics, latin dance lessons, cooking classes,  beach volleyball, mescal tasting, free wifi and more
  • Daily entertainment and  nightly entertainment including karaoke, live music, circus show and more
  • Shopping tours to Playa del Carmen
  • Fitness center, sauna and steam baths at the spa, aqua fit

 

Where: Viceroy, Bocas del Toro, Panama – opening slated for 2021

 
Overwater Bungalows and Other Resort Highlights:

  • 42 overwater bungalows the first in Central America
  • Accessible via a short flight from Panama City, boat, seaplane or helicopter
  • 457 acres of Caribbean coastline in a famous eco-destination, next to jungle and San San Pond Sak wetlands, a habitat for birds and wildlife exploration via eco-tours and hiking
  • Sailing, paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, biking, walks and lounging on the lengthy beach
  • 42 overwater bungalows and 150 more guestrooms and residences
  • 8 onsite restaurants plus lounges,
  • Multiple pools, spa, fitness center, meditation rooms

 
Tip: If your travel heart is set on the romance of an overwater villa, book well advance as these evocative, one-of-a-kind accommodations are always among the first to fully book especially in high season December – March.

Start your Trip!



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8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama is one of the fastest-growing destinations in Central America, and the Panama Canal is the country's star attraction. Although it's on everyone's list of things to experience, the canal is more important as a global shipping transit than tourist experience. 

Whether you sail the canal on your next cruise or watch in action from land, here are 8 things you need to know about this wonder of the modern world.

1. It's a short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Panama Canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in a narrow land bridge between North and South America. Prior, ships had to sail around the tip of South America. It takes about 8 hours to cross the Canal's 50 miles (77km). That saves days. If a ship had to navigate down and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back up the other side, it would have to travel nearly 12,500 miles (20,000 km).

2. It's over 100 years old.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.  Columbia, France, then later, the United States controlled the land surrounding the canal. In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted due to engineering problems and high worker mortality. The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project with newly available technology ten years later at a cost of $400 million USD. In 1999, control passed back to Panama.

3. Construction cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal at once. Workers had to deal with heat, jungles, swamps - and all the creatures in them, including rats that carried bubonic plague. Plus mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Over 20,000 workers died during French building efforts.

After the scientific links between the insects and disease had been discovered, Americans undertook intensive and successful anti-mosquito initiatives. Even so, another more than 5000 workers perished during the American building phase.

4. It's considered one of the Man-Made Wonders of the World

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also dubbed the Panama Canal one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It's one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.
 
A system of locks at each end of the Canal lifts ships up 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level to an artificial lake. Ships traverse the artificial lake, as well as a series of improved and artificial channels, and then are lowered again in more locks to sea level at the other side.  
 
The locks are 110 feet (33 meters) feet wide and 1000 feet (300 meters) long. About 30-MILLION pounds (1,400,000 kilos) of explosives were used to help clear the land for the canal.

 (That's a view! The Norwegian Bliss is the largest passenger cruise ship to have ever transited the Panama Canal)

5. Over 1 Million Vessels have transited the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships pass through the Isthmus of Panama via the Canal annually. The 1 Millionth ship crossed the canal in 2010, 96 years after it opened.
In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum traffic of the canal would be around 80 million tons of shipping a year, but by 2015, canal traffic exceeded 340 million tons of shipping – over 4 times the original maximum estimate.
 

6. $2 Billion in Tolls are Collected Annually

Every ship that passes through the canal pays a toll based on its size, type and volume of cargo. Tolls are set by the Panama Canal Authority. Tolls for the largest cargo ships can run about $450,000. Cruise ships pay by berths (number of passengers in beds). The per-berth fee set in 2016 was $138; a large cruise ship can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sail through the Canal. 

The smallest toll recorded was paid by American Richard Halliburton in 1928, who paid 36 cents to swim the Canal.

 

7. The Panama Canal was expanded for bigger ships in 2016

The original canal locks are 110 feet (33 meters) wide and ten times as long. For a century, they accommodated shipping, and the term 'Panamax' ships was used to describe ships built to fit through the canal. But ships kept getting bigger, and in 2007, work began on a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Canal. In 2016, a third, wider lane of locks opened for commercial shipping, capable of handling 'Post-Panamax' ships that can carry 14,000 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 3 times Panamax ship capacity).

In spite of that giant leap forward in 2016, the world's largest container ships - that can carry 18,000 shipping containers – can't pass through the Panama Canal.

(A Celebrity Cruise ship transiting the Panama Canal)

8. How you can visit the Panama Canal. 

Many ocean cruise lines offer increasingly popular Panama Canal itineraries that sail through the canal in the approximately 8 hour passage to their next destination in the opposite ocean. 

But you don't have to sail through the canal. If you're visiting Panama City, or taking a resort / beach vacation in Panama, you can take a land trip to see the canal in action.
 
The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, which are close to the Pacific end of the Canal and Panama City. Like the canal, the Visitor Center is open daily. The Visitor Center has large balconies designed for you to get a great view as the lock gates are opened and closed for ships to start or complete their journey through the Panama Canal. 

Engineering buffs and even children will be thrilled at the up-close-to-the-action perspective on this man-made Wonder of the World. 
 

Start your Trip!


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Grain Silo Transformed into Breathtaking Museum and Hotel
Within a year of its breathtaking reincarnation, Cape Town's historic Grain Silo has already been named one of the world's top 100 places. 

When it was originally constructed in the 1920's, the Grain Silo on the city's waterfront was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a symbol of connection to the rest of the world.

A century later, after the Grain Silo was decommissioned, rejuvenation efforts could easily have seen it imploded to make way for bland new builds. Instead, the visionary conversion of the Grain Silo into a breathtaking museum, with a locally-owned and operated luxury hotel above, has resulted in a win for the waterfront district, for African culture, for the local history and people, and for travelers to South Africa. 

Zeitz MOCAA


The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art is the largest in the world. Architects magically transformed the Grain Silo's 42, densely-aligned concrete silo cylinders by carving the concrete inside to create the BMW atrium (photos by museum sponsor BMW) and multiple galleries.


The carved cylinders lend their form to the museum's spectacular design. In places, cylinder tops were capped with pillowed glass windows, each with 56 panels of glass, allowing natural light to filter in.

The result is a complex of over a hundred thousand square feet with nine floors of exhibit space, education areas, a sculpture garden on part of the roof, as well as a restaurant and shop.


It's an architectural and design masterpiece – even before you consider the art. 

German businessman and former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, considered one of the world's leading collectors of contemporary art from Africa and African artists abroad, loaned his extraordinary collection to the museum. 

It provides the founding collection of art from eminent African artists as the museum continues to grow and actively collect and share to locals and visitors art from the vast range of African artists near and far, provide many levels of art education, give back to Africa, and become a leading voice for Africa in the international art world.
 

The Silo Hotel


Above the museum, the former Grain Silo rises to new heights with a six-floor addition housing the extraordinary, 5-star Silo Hotel.
 
Like the museum below, the hotel retains and reflects ties to the local community; the Silo Hotel is the 5th property of the local Biden family hospitality company The Royal Portfolio, with a selection of exclusive boutique hotels in southern Africa.  


And like other hotels in the Royal Portfolio, the Silo Hotel has quickly become a beacon for luxury hospitality in Cape Town.

Multi-paned spectacular pillowed windows overlook the best scenery in Cape Town in every direction, including Table Mountain and the harbor into the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel celebrates its unique architecture with the Royal Portfolio's signature approach to art, style and design. 


Co-founder and family matriarch Liz Biden designed the hotel's public spaces and 28 one-of-a-kind rooms with hand-selected art acquired throughout her travels, a combination of modern and colorfully re-upholstered antique furniture, and unique pieces that make each guest feel at home in this deluxe atmosphere.


The catch-your-breath, stylish bar on the 6th floor provides bubbles, fine international wines and bespoke cocktails along with awe-inspiring views through the pillowed glass windows, and the Granary Café maintains elegant traditions like Royal Tea and Sunday Roast.


Perched at the top of the tallest building on the waterfront, the Silo Rooftop pool, dining, and lounging are the premiere al fresco experience in Cape Town.

 
The visionary transformation of Cape Town's Grain Silo offers a master class for any global city's transition of its waterfront from industrial to cultural and public. The Zeitz MOCAA and Silo Hotel are magnets for international visitors and still retain and reflect deeply local heritage and values, and make a lengthy stay in Cape Town essential before or after your cruise, wine tour or safari.


Start your Trip!


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Las Vegas Has a New Culinary Destination

24 hours a day, 40,000 square feet, 400 types of wines from all 20 Italian wine regions, 2 restaurants, 3 bars, an educational chef's table, 6 food counters representing authentic versions of your favorite Italian delicacies and comfort food plus 5000 retail products you can take home – directly on the Strip. Foodies are asking themselves why Eataly hasn't opened a Las Vegas outpost before now.


The debut of Eataly in Vegas' newest resort, Park MGM, marks the world's largest Italian shopping and dining experience's sixth US location.  Now, there are more than three dozen global Eataly centers celebrating high quality, sustainable Italian gastronomy. 

Eataly's philosophy is 'Eat. Shop. Learn'. Part food hall, part restaurant, bar, cooking school, and culinary education destination, Eataly Las Vegas continues favorite experiences and adds some new ones.

'The Kitchen of the Market' blurs the lines between shop and restaurant. Pull up a seat at one of the 6 fresh counters where you can eat what you shop, and shop what you eat of Italy's most iconic dishes:

  • La Macelleria: Butcher & Kitchen and La Pescheria: Fishmonger & Kitchen: choose any cut of sustainably sourced meats and sausages from the case at La Macelleria, or daily catches, seasonal oysters, and Italian ceviche at La Pescheria, watch chefs prepare it for you to eat there, or package it for you to take back to your own kitchen.

 
All Photos: Francisco Lupini/Eataly USA

  • La Salumeria: Cheesemonger & Kitchen: The best of Italian snacking: meat and cheese boards with salumi and formaggi chosen by an Eataly cheesemonger, or by you.
 
  • La Pizzeria: Roman Handcrafted Pizza alla Pala: Ah, pizza. The Roman variety, served up on a wooden paddle and featuring seasonal ingredients
 
  • More Italian Street Food: Il Fritto, La Rosticceria, and Mozzarella Bar: There's more than pizza to Italian Street Food, and this fresh counter is divided into three areas: Il Fritto, offering lightly fried bites like arancini and fried seafood; La Rosticceria, serving rotisserie roast chickens, seasonal vegetables, and panini; and Mozzarella Bar, offering house-made mozzarella favorites.
  • La Pasta Fresca: Market & Kitchen: Everyone's favorite carbs, kneaded, rolled, cut and formed by expert pasta makers in front of you, covering all the regions of Italy and paired with traditional sauces. In season, you can even order black or white truffles by weight because if there's anything that makes fresh, hand-made pasta even better, it's fresh truffles.
 
Italian wines and spirits and coffee traditions hold place of pride in three new venues:


  • L'Aperitivo – The perfect place to start your exploration of Eataly. L'Apertivo is at the entrance, and a hand-crafted Italian cocktail of your taste, from a Venetian Aperol Spritz to a fortifying Negroni, will get you into the spirit of Eataly Las Vegas.
 
  • Gran Caffè Milano – an upscale, full-service bar inspired by the elegant cafes of Milan, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don't miss the replica of Milan's famous bull mosaic – a good luck symbol helpful to gamblers in Las Vegas when you put one foot on the mosaic and spin three times around.
 
  • L'Enoteca – The 'Wine Bar' is Eataly's premier bar and serves up all of Italy's finest – from more than 80 regional wines by the glass or bottle, craft cocktails, even bitters.  and will feature a wide selection of regional Italian wines by the glass or bottle, craft cocktails, and Amari (Italian bitters).
 
Your wine selection is even greater at the wine shop and tasting table, where you'll find one of the largest selections of Italian wines in the States: over 400 labels from all 20 regions of Italy.

Relax at the table at two classic restaurants: Manzo, La Pizza e La Pasta, or grab take-away pizza by the slice, pastries, all things Nutella at the Nutella bar, true Italian coffee, even pastas, sauces and gifts or souvenirs like Eataly branded clothing, kitchenware and mementos.


Live culinary demonstrations at the interactive Chef's Table inspire visitors of all ages to explore and taste the world of Italian cooking traditions hands on, from shaping gnocchi to understanding the difference between Toscana and Sicilia extra virgin olive oil. And makers at many stations and shops create fresh pastas, bread, gelato, cheese, and more to your wondering eyes.

Eataly's Italian gastronomic playground joins other star power dining and entertainment experiences at the new Park MGM. If you haven't been to the Strip lately, follow the scents anytime day or night to Eataly, which we're predicting will be one of the most iconic, must-do experiences in Las Vegas. 

Start your Trip!


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Champagne Vending Machine at this NOLA Hotel Makes Every Day New Year's Eve
The motto of New Orleans is 'Let the Good Times Roll'. Nowhere is that more true than at the local Ritz-Carlton, which now boasts the area's first permanent champagne vending machine.


This classy, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of lobby fixtures in sadder hotels holds 320 'piccolo' (mini) bottles of liquid celebration, and blends right into the hotel's festive seasonal décor and events.


A nearly life-sized gingerbread NOLA streetcar dominates the lobby, with festive gingerbread making and decorating events throughout advent for the young and their grown up family members who want to sip while they decorate.

Christmas Eve 'Reveillon' feasts throughout December pay tribute to New Orleans' and Louisiana's French founding residents, along with 'Papa Noel' teas and breakfasts, and a Christmas Day 'Jubilee' extravaganza.


As exciting as those are, it's the New Year's Eve 6-course masquerade dinner and ball in partnership with iconic champagne brand Moet et Chandon, that tops out the festive season with champagne taking center stage.

And before New Year's is even over, the Mardi Gras carnival season in New Orleans has already begun.


With a full calendar of festivals and celebrations, never-ending good times really do roll one into another in New Orleans.  The city's 24-hour alcohol serving times plus relaxed policy towards carrying your drinks into the street (a couple of restrictions do apply: only in plastic cups and only in the French Quarter) make the Ritz-Carlton's lobby champagne vending machine not only festive but even practical.  

So whatever celebration brings you to New Orleans, you can let your good times roll in the Big Easy anytime with an elegant bubbly and a hotel home base on Canal Street just a block from Bourbon Street at the edge of the French Quarter.


Start your Trip!


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It's a global buzzword and cultural phenomenon. When the cold and darkness of winter close in, more and more of us go in search of Denmark's signature recipe for happiness: 'hygge'.


Danish 'hygge' (pronounced 'HOOG-uh') is sweeping the world – everyone wants in on Denmark's famously convivial way of life. The Danish are the happiest people on the planet – even during the long, dark days of winter - and it's all about hygge.

So much so, hygge has actually been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. It might be the world's first UNESCO World Heritage… feeling.

But translating hygge – and living it - aren't so simple. A hug? Mindfulness? Cozy?

Hygge is often referred to in design, with tips for creating rooms with 'hygge'. It's been said the Danish buy more candles per capita than anyone else on the planet. Add snuggly wool throws. Nature-inspired materials. A crackling fire. Comfort foods. And the simple pleasures of good company and togetherness.

BestTrip was in Copenhagen at the height of a hot summer on a pre-cruise weekend before boarding our Seabourn cruise… and with Copenhagen Urban Adventures, we discovered 'hygge' isn't just something you find indoors in winter. It happens year round, indoors and outdoors, with people, spaces and activities you love.


Hygge has caught on as a catchphrase with its appeal as an antidote to the ails of the modern world. Travel to Denmark, and you'll discover not only the scenics that stand out in Scandinavian style. Danish food and drink, obsession with cycling and life balance… a concept that's been around for a couple of hundred years has new and more powerful relevance in a busy, connected-yet-impersonal, disengaged and over-programmed world.

Hygge might be the very best souvenir from Denmark of all: once you learn how to capture hygge like we did from Mie at Copenhagen Urban Adventures, you'll be able to take that feeling home with you and implement its practice into your and your family's life.

Start your Trip!


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This Macau Hotel is the World's First 'Exoskeleton' High-Rise

Macau is anticipating a surge in visitors with the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge that links the two cities and mainland China together by land for the first time.

The Morpheus hotel will be a big part of the allure of a trip to Macau. Designed by the acclaimed celebrity architect Zaha Hadid before her passing, the hotel at Macau's new City of Dreams complex is the world's first high-rise held up by a free-form 'exoskeleton'.

Imagine: no need for internal structural or supporting walls! That innovation literally opens up the interior to entirely new design opportunities. And the hotel's design takes full advantage.

First: the outside. It's a visionary feat of architecture and technology. The extraordinary exoskeleton that gives the hotel its structural integrity itself becomes sculptural design. Two towers connect at the base, separate, twist, then merge together again 40-storeys up. Where they separate, abstract voids appear, suggesting a figure 8 that of course is a lucky number in Chinese culture (especially helpful if you're in Macau to gamble!) The towers are even connected by a breathtaking sky bridge.

This architectural masterpiece was inspired by traditional Chinese jade carving techniques that create fluid forms from hard materials. The Morpheus appears light and delicate but in fact contains four times the weight of iron used in Paris' Eiffel Tower! And the ridges of the exoskeleton provide shade for heat control.

Inside this art-like skyscraper, freed from structural walls, a design like you've never experienced before. The hotel atrium occupies the height of the entire hotel between the two towers! And the voids create vast interior spaces, and along with high-speed glass elevators, guests have breathtaking views of both the city and the unique interior with high tech solutions and art installations by famous global artists and even street artists.

Restaurant lounges and bars occupy bridges running through the structure' central void.

Alain Ducasse at Morpheus, City of Dreams (photo credit: Pierre Monetta)

If you can tear yourself away from the view, you'll be in another world first, this one culinary. The World of Ducasse at Morpheus is a partnership with iconic chef Alain Ducasse. For the first time ever, an entire hotel floor is devoted to two Ducasse restaurants and bar.

Alain Ducasse: Small Spelt from Haute-Provence, Seasonal Vegetables, Shaved Black Truffle (photo credit: Pierre Monetta)

There's also a partnership with Parisian chef Pierre Herme, also known as 'the Picasso of Pastry', as well as Yi at Sky Bridge, the world's only Chinese fine-dining restaurant serving a mix of Chinese regional dishes in Japanese omakase-style.

You'll find other world-firsts in the spa, with its in-house Spa Butler concept and the first spa in the world to feature real snow in its 'Snow Garden'.

The spa and the appropriately-named Sky Pool top the 40-storey hotel, over 400 feet above the hotel interior below, a spectacular view of the Macau skyline.

Then there's the gaming salons and world-class collection of retail stores. Morpheus and the City of Dreams cement Macau's status as the one of the world's top grown-up fantasy escape/entertainment destination.


Start your Trip!


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'Glamping' in Laos: Luxury Tented Villas are a Rosewood Resort First

Laos may be one of the last, best-kept secrets in South-East Asia. Now, travelers looking for an immersive vacation in the unspoiled environment, unique culture and French-Laotian heritage of Laos have the perfect ultra-luxury destination: the tented villas of the new concept Rosewood Luang Prabang.

It's Rosewood's second resort in Southeast Asia – and its very first world-wide to feature tented villas.

It's a dream 'glamping' (glamorous-camping) destination. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the heart of Laos, where the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. It's the ancient capital and current cultural center of Laos; surrounded by misty mountains with waterfalls and pools of water in the forest, countless temples and a lifestyle true to both traditional Laotian and colonial French culture.

The Rosewood Luang Prabang fits right into this idyllic escape. Nestled in untouched forest just outside the city, the resort is harmonized with the terrain, centered around a natural waterfall and river.

Its designer was inspired by the tradition of Laotian hill stations, a French colonial tradition where gracious hosts welcomed travelers to the remote corners of Laos.

Sleep: River, Forest, and Tented Villas

The resort still retains that feel of intimate but luxurious isolation in a dense, tropical forest. 23 accommodations meld into the terrain adjacent to a river or waterfall, or float above the ground amongst the treetop foliage. Some have private swimming pools, oversized balconies and outdoor wooden bathtubs. There are 6 tented villas.

That already makes them one of a kind. But each space also has its own unique design, evoking French-Indochine ambiance and hospitality with original artifacts and antiques of bygone Luang Prabang.

Tented Spa Villas with Traditional and Holistic Wellbeing Programs

Even spa services take place in the other-worldly environment of 3 tented villas in a peaceful corner of the property overlooking the river. All mind and body therapies draw from nature, and guests are guided to select herbs and plants from resort gardens for tailor-made treatments. In addition to Western techniques, nearly lost local healing practices have been resurrected and are provided by a respected local healer using ingredients he forages in the surrounding forest.

The wellness program also offers holistic experiences and retreats.

Dining in a Laotian Forest

Farm to table? How about forest to table. Or fishing boat to table. Dining at the resort reflects the harvest at hand: local farmers, fishermen and foraging, transformed into authentic local cuisine and even dishes influenced by historic Laotian royal court entertainment.

There are two dining venues: Laotian farm-to-table restaurant called The Great House and a relaxing river-view spot with the evocative name The Elephant Bridge Bar for light bites and hand-crafted cocktails with a tropical flair and local botanicals and spices. But reflecting the fluid arrangements of tents, villas and other buildings on the resort by the river and in the forest, guests also have the option of poolside dining, from sunbeds, cozy cabanas or breezy tables on the terrace, even custom-designed meals served at scenic places on the grounds – the ultimate luxury picnic!

Play and Explore

The leafy tropical environment surrounding the Rosewood Luang Prabang is ideal for relaxation and activity on and near the resort. In nearby gardens, you can enjoy classic games of petanque or croquet. A forest-enclosed swimming pool is next to a natural waterfall – not to mention the famous nearby waterfalls and series of natural pools in the forest that are one of Luang Prabang's claims to fame.

In addition, the resort creates customized experiences for guest interested in immersing themselves in local Lao culture: local traditional artisans, ethnic hill-tribes and farming communities, historic mansions, ancient Laotian temples, and lifestyle of the communities along the Mekong river. Adventurous and hands-on travelers can trek through the forest and forage for a meal prepared with those ingredients, take a guided mountain bike tour through remote landscapes, weave textiles or form ceramics, harvest seasonal produce alongside local farmers, or take an elegant Laotian river boat cruise along the Mekong.

Giving Back

Rosewood Luang Prabang is also the site of the first hospitality school in Laos, a philanthropic project providing students with professional hospitality training.

The Rosewood Luang Prabang is not only one of the most truly one-of-a-kind resorts you will ever stay in Asia or the world; it's also on the ground floor of a growing interest in travel to this fascinating and evocative country.

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7 Places Not to Miss in Indochina

Two hundred years ago, Europeans started referring to the region between India and China as Indochina.

Already, it was recognized as one of the most beautiful, exotic, culturally unique destinations on the planet. With its very strategic position, Indochina was also center-stage in some of the defining conflicts of the 20th century including the Pacific theater of WW2 and the Vietnam War.

Fast-forward to today, and the legendary countries of South-East Asia - SEA for short - are magnets for travelers by land and sea. Dense tropical jungles and one-of-a-kind plants and wildlife, fabled rivers and waterways, beloved cuisine, some of the world's most beautiful beaches, mountains tiered with rice terraces, gilded temples and Buddhist monks, dizzying markets and spectacular sunsets are hallmarks of these nations.

The term Indochina, or the French Indochine, is still used particularly to refer to traditional or colonial culture in the region, which you'll still find preserved in these rapidly-growing economies and modernizing nations.

Lynn Elmhirst, producer/host of BestTrip.TV shares the must-see sites in the 7 SEA countries:

Thailand

This nation tops nearly everyone's SEA travel bucket list, from backpackers to those in search of 6-star luxury exotic escapes. The Land of Smiles is a smorgasbord of South-East-Asian culture. You won't want to miss Thai cuisine at the source in fabulous restaurants or from street vendors or markets. There are 40,000 temples in this kingdom, including one containing the world's largest solid gold Buddha in Bangkok.

The capital is firmly in the world's top-three global travel destinations every year, and also home to floating markets, tuk tuk taxis, royal palaces and massive shopping malls. Thailand's rural attractions include jungles and elephant sanctuaries, legendary beaches and island destinations like Phuket, Koh Samui, the famous Sunset Beach on Koh Kradan and the Golden Swan Temple (pictured top).

Watch Video: The Real Name of the Capital of Thailand… is Not Bangkok

Vietnam

The tragedy of the Vietnam War is in the past for modern Vietnamese who are among the warmest people in Asia, if not the world. The still-communist country welcomes growing numbers of American and Western visitors. Many travelers – especially Americans - find it hard to believe the country permits and even promotes interest in Vietnam War-era sites like tours to the Viet Cong's legendary Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City and the famous American R&R China Beach near Danang. Everyone visits Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City and its ornate, French colonial public buildings, famous historic hotels and the top-ranked Saigon market. But don't miss other cities in Vietnam like historic imperial Hue and the ancient canal town of Hoi An – stay in town long enough to have some custom-tailored clothing made! 

An day trip or even a journey on the mighty Mekong river, with its floating markets, and entire communities is unforgettable. And UNESCO World Heritage site Halong Bay's emerald waters and mystical islands are a traveler's dream.

Watch Video: Kayaking in Mystical Halong Bay 

Laos 

This is the only land-locked nation in Indochina, and perhaps that's why it's later to the tourism party than other SEA countries. For many travelers, the path least traveled is exactly where you'll want to go next.

The highlight of any trip to Laos is Luang Prabang. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been inhabited for thousands of years, nestled in a valley where the mythical Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. Luang Prabang is a cultural and religious center with historic temples, serene Mekong river scenery, the magical Kuang Si waterfalls with its series of swimming holes, falls and ideal picnic sites, and even an Asian black bear rescue center.

Cambodia

For travelers, Cambodia's has two claims to fame: one joyful, the other very dark. Travelers to neighboring SEA countries take trips into Cambodia solely to visit iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat. This 12th century temple is part of the largest religious monument in the world – a 400-acre complex isolated by a dramatic moat that is a top global bucket list destination.

Equally compelling but difficult to experience are the museum and sites associated with the Khmer Rouge genocide known as The Killing Fields. But there's more to experience in the capital Phnom Penh: Cambodia's position where Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet made it the natural center for both Khmer and French colonial regimes. Today, its busy riverfront, art deco market, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda make it worth an extended stay to explore.

Myanmar

The country formerly known as Burma is fast becoming a country that adventurous travelers want to see before the tourist scene gets very busy. The capital city Yangon is home to ancient Buddhist sites, including the oldest pagoda in the world. The Shwedagon pagoda dates back 2500 years, and is the national symbol and holy site of the nation.

Outside the capital you'll find one of the world's greatest archaeological wonders: the 2300 pagodas and temples on the plains of Bagan. You can even get an overview of the entire complex on a hot air balloon ride.  Inle Lake, surrounded by misty mountains, is a time capsule of local people who still live with the land in stilt houses, with floating gardens and a famous fishing technique. Rudyard Kipling coined the phrase 'Road to Mandalay' to refer to the majestic Irawaddy River. Some major cruise companies offer river cruise tours on this exotic waterway.

Malaysia

Mainland Malaysia occupies the southern end of the SEA peninsula, as well as parts of the nearby island of Borneo. The wilderness is famous for wildlife reserves protecting endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants, the beaches of Langkawi, and storied tribes of head-hunters whose villages on stilts over rivers in Borneo you can still visit. Cooler Cameron Highlands are home to tea plantations where you can do a tasting tour. Colonial European heritage landmarks include the sites in colorful Malacca, and Penang's landmark Eastern & Oriental hotel – a sea front sister hotel that pre-dated the famous Raffles in Singapore.

Don't skip Malaysia's ultra-modern capital Kuala Lumpur. KL is a fascinating vision of the future of SEA, not to mention the record-breaking Petronas Twin Towers connected by a sky-high bridge that's featured in action films and many an Instagram post.

Singapore

This city-state and global financial center at the end of the Malaysian mainland is the only island nation of SEA. Singapore has preserved a core of its colonial past, with high rises surrounding the historic cricket field and colonial buildings, including nearby, one of the world's most famous historic hotels. Legends are still told of the early days of the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented. Take time to wet your lips with one of the world's most famous cocktails and soak up the bygone atmosphere.

But Singapore is more famous now for its almost surreal ultramodern vision and skyline. The symbol of modern Singapore is the already-iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino's three-pillar towers topped by a surfboard-like top floor with the world's largest infinity pool overlooking the city. The 250-acre Gardens by the Bay, with the grove of futuristic super trees takes Singapore's love of green space to a space-age level. Singapore is a popular SEA cruise port of embarkation/ debarkation, and well worth extending your trip pre- or post- cruise to explore.

Indochina is no longer a place on a map – but it's still one of the world's top travel destinations. 

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How does a hotel become the most photographed in the world?  Many hotels have spectacular architecture, magnificent and dramatic settings... but very few hotel silhouettes define the destination. 

Fairmont's Chateau Frontenac is to Quebec City what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.  The hotel not only evokes the grace and elegance of the French castles that inspired it.  It is literally the high point of this historic, 400 year old city's UNESCO world heritage site.  Although it appears to rise from the French Middle Ages, in fact, it dates from the late 19th century, and in 2018 celebrates 125 years of being a can't miss experience of a trip to Quebec City. 

Join BestTrip.TV's exploration of the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac's historic character and anniversary multi-million dollar makeover.

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What Happens to Worn-Out Hotel Sheets? A Good News Story

How many times can your hotel sheets be slept in once, then washed, and slept in again before they're too worn to use one more time?

We don't know.

But we do know that there's now a better end story for used sheets than landfill or being tied together to form an escape route out the back window in a romantic comedy.

Westin Hotels has decided that there's more to their famous 'Heavenly Bed' sheets than thread count. In fact, their new upcycling program for used linens is making every thread count.

The hotel chain's Project Rise: Thread Forward transforms dated bed linens into all new fabric: a soft, breathable jersey material. Then it's made into kids' pajamas.

It's a sustainability program, yes, but it speaks to even more than a commitment to the environment. Westin has embraced and established groundbreaking Wellness programs for its guests. 'Sleep Well' is one of the pillars of that program, and Westin has been inspired by studies that show a third of adults and majority of children don't get enough. Westin also recognizes that for more and more of us, giving back is also important to our sense of well-being.

These kids' jammies hit all those buttons.

It's the first large-scale textile upcycling program in the industry. In the first 5 months, 50 Westin hotels world-wide collected a mind-boggling 30,000 pounds of linens, that were turned into thousands of sets of children's sleepwear.

Westin is working with charities to distribute pajamas to children in need, whose insecure circumstances contribute to poor sleep. New York, Toronto, Mexico City, and Cape Town are among the first cities where Westin is sharing the gift of sleep outside its hotels. Sadly, pajamas are among the most-requested items of charities that support low-income families. Putting on pajamas contributes to a bedtime routine that can help provide children with the healing power of sleep.

Which is why Westin guests will also be able to buy a pair of pajamas for kids in their own lives, with proceeds benefiting the program.

The jammies come in kids' sizes 2-8, all in a playful, unisex design of a child rising over a moon with a book – a nod to a better sleep empowering a better day.

It's a multi-level wellness win: for the environment, the well-being of Westin hotel communities, guests and hotel associates who came up with the idea and whose participation makes the program possible.


Westin hopes their program inspires change and textile upcycling throughout the travel world. It's certainly a way you can feel good about being kind to the planet, and to others, when you travel.

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40 New Ways to Score Marriott Rewards in 2018

If you're collecting Marriott Rewards points, 2018 is a very fine year.

Marriott International is launching 40 hotels across its 8 luxury hotel brands in 2018.  That's 40 new places around the world to accumulate points towards Marriott's loyalty program, from Savannah to Tel Aviv to Hobart, Tasmania.  

It's all part of a busy couple of years for the world's largest hotelier, which is opening at least one hotel every 14 hours! in a three-year period.

2018's new luxury hotels span your favorite places to see the world in the ultimate comfort with the most supreme travel experiences: The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, EDITION and JW Marriott. 

The group of hotels and resorts already has a footprint in 60 countries, and with 200 more hotels in the pipeline, it's expanding to include 25 more countries, from Iceland to Cuba, from Nepal to the Philippines.

Whether you're traveling for business, leisure, or 'bleisure', a stay in one of Marriott's luxury hotels or resorts is an experience in living your best life. That may be creating a signature dish at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Culinary Studio, prioritizing wellness tapping into on-demand fitness with JW Marriott’s Behind the Barre program, recharging in an over-water villa at The St. Regis Maldives or exploring one of the world’s most energetic cities through a W Insider.  The hotels occupy remodeled palaces, skyscrapers, and breezy beachfront escapes.

Pack your bags now for:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de La Paix, Geneva as well as China’s scenic Jiuzhaigou Valley, plus renovations of key properties including The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin and The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul.

The debut of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Los Cabos, distinguished from the Ritz-Carlton brand by an intimate, culturally immersive experience with a caring, human touch.

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts celebrates the opening of St. Regis Rome in 2018, as well as openings in destinations such as Cairo and Amman.

W Hotels, the 'luxury rebel' brand, has an unprecedented year of openings in 2018, from Tel Aviv, and Dubai to Brisbane and Panama City. (W Hotel Singapore pictured below).

EDITION – the collaboration between Marriott and boutique hotel innovator Ian Schrager – sees 7 new hotels across 3 continents in 2018. The hotel brand's timeless design, uncompromising quality, true originality and impeccable modern service, expands with two additional properties in Shanghai and Bangkok in Asia, Bodrum and Barcelona in Europe, its first outpost in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, plus two more US properties in Times Square and West Hollywood.

The Luxury Collection's more than 100 hotels take you to some of the world's most inspiring places.  Authentic and indigenous experiences are the hallmark of the brand, which sees 10 new hotels in 2018 around the globe, including Los Cabos, Savannah, Vail and Okinawa.

JW Marriott's modern luxury finds new homes in Nashville and the Maldives, and renovates more than half of its 79 hotels and resorts, including Bangkok and Grosvenor House. (JW Marriott Venice pictured, top)

So if you have a taste for luxury, 2018 gives you 40 more ways to pad your Marriott Rewards points tally and get that much closer to indulging in more travel with the authentic, immersive, local access these luxury hotels and resorts offer their guests.

 

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Montreal's marquee hotel in the heart of the city has been restored to its 50's and 60's roots in a stunning makeover that marries the sexiest elements of sleek mid-century design - with some modern interpretations that take this landmark hotel to the forefront as a travel and lifestyle destination.

Pick up a dry martini and join us on a tour of the very sexy, redesigned hotel with our friend, Ulya Jensen, principal designer of Ulya Jensen Interiors.  She shares with us her favorite spaces in the newly-renovated Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel.

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Viva Versace: 4 Travel Destinations to Commemorate the Fashion Legend

Gianni Versace's dramatic and random murder over 20 years ago on the steps of his Miami home continues to capture public attention in continuous movie, TV and pop culture references.The Italian fashion impresario changed the face of high fashion and became a symbol of popular culture, dressing 90's icons like Diana, Princess of Wales, linking the music and fashion worlds in his association with Cher, Sting, and Elton John, as well as breaking new ground as openly gay, accompanied by his partner on the international party scene.

The fashion house Gianni Versace founded became synonymous with opulent designs and vivid color, and the Greek mythological Medusa head symbol of Versace is unmistakable. Following his 1997 death, Gianni Versace's sister Donatella famously took over as the face and creative force behind Versace, so her brother's vision lives on for us to experience today.

Versace Flagship Boutique, Milan. Photo Credit

Of course you can make your way to the Versace flagship store in Milan, or other high-fashion global capitals.  But Versace is not just about shopping. Here are 4 travel destinations where you can live the opulent Versace lifestyle.

 

Photo Credit

Miami, Florida: The Villa Casa Casuarina 

Gianni Versace was killed on the doorstep of his Miami residence: a Mediterranean Revival mansion surrounded by the Art Deco pastel buildings on Ocean Drive in the heart of South Beach.

Before his death, Versace had added an entire new wing and a pool, restored the property, and undertook a redesign in true Versace style. After his death, the Versace Mansion was sold, and today, it's a luxury boutique hotel.

The name reflects its original identity when it was built in the 1930's – but guests at today's Villa Casa Casuarina discover many elements from Gianni Versace's restoration and redesign. It's a unique experience of the fashion figure's personal and private expression of style.

If you stay at the Villa Casa Casuarina, you can swim in the Million Mosaic Pool that Versace had lined with thousands of 24 carat gold tiles. The villa's Mediterranean Revival style dovetailed with Versace's famous Greek mythology inspiration; the pool he designed features the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. And of course, the fashion house's Medusa emblem also makes appearances. The new owners take their stewardship of Versace's vision seriously, securing a resident artist to maintain the mosaics and frescos Versace created for the villa.

Photo Credit

Versace's former dining room is now a celebrated restaurant 'Gianni's', and the rooftop views of the ocean on the across iconic Ocean Drive are the same the designer would have enjoyed during his stays.

Gold Coast, Australia: Palazzo VersaceThere are two Versace branded hotels in the world, and a third on the way. The first Versace hotel is on Australia's beach holiday destination, the Gold Coast. Its founders call it the world's first fashion-inspired hotel.

The concept was proposed in 1997 and was inspired by Gianni Versace's well-known love of architecture, plus the fact that Versace - alone at that time – was the only fashion house with a home collection that covered all hotel needs from dinnerware to linens to upholstery fabric. Of course, it also had an unmistakable aesthetic synonymous with over-the-top luxury.

Since 2000, the Palazzo Versace has been a beacon of style and decadence on the Gold Coast. The architecture pays homage to Versace's fascination with ancient Greece: a postmodern building interpreting neoclassical architecture, on an exclusive waterfront setting.

Inside, it's all Versace with bespoke furnishings, décor, ambiance, and Italian craftsmanship that respects the couture roots of the Versace brand. Award-winning restaurants, spa and wellness center, a private marina, the country's first water salon cabana lifestyle… and of course a Versace Boutique are all part of the Palazzo Versace experience.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Palazzo VersaceDubai's epic extravagance mirrors the Versace opulence, so it's no wonder that the second Palazzo Versace was built in this extraordinary city.

Neoclassical architecture meets elegant regional Arab influences in the building's design. Three pools showcase elaborate mosaics, and landscaped gardens have glorious views of the surreal Dubai skyline. The iconic Versace Medusa head is a constant reminder of the fashion house's influence.

Donatella Versace personally designed exclusive interior bespoke furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and décor items for the hotel, its 215 rooms and suites, and 8 restaurants and bars, each of which has an alfresco terrace, reflecting the classical, Mediterranean inspiration of the hotel, as does the internal courtyard. Versace design is even reflected in the kids' areas.

Hand-crafted is almost an understatement: Nearly a dozen Italian artists were brought in to hand-paint designs on walls, and 1.5 million marble tiles were hand-laid to form the extraordinary lobby floor mosaic (top image).

At Sea: Regent Seven Seas CruisesThe Regent Seven Seas Explorer has been called The Most Luxurious Ship at sea, and its designers also tapped into Versace's unmistakable iconic style for the ship's signature restaurant, Compass Rose.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

As you dine on European-inspired Continental cuisine in the elegant, glittering setting, you'll be dining from Versace porcelain. Four hundred specially-designed Versace place settings are featured in Compass Rose on the Explorer, with other ships in the fleet featuring different Versace dinnerware designs and their signature Medusa head symbol.

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What is the Top Golf Travel Destination in the Asia Pacific Region?

Twice in a row, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators has named New Zealand the golf destination in Asia Pacific with the best experience for golf travelers.Do you think of New Zealand as the golf world's hidden gem? In fact, only Scotland has more golf courses per capita in the world. This island nation has 400 golf courses ranging from ocean-front, subtropical courses in the north, to alpine terrain and vistas in the south. So getting on the tee is never a problem. 

New Zealand loves its golf. And New Zealanders love to share golf with visitors. Local volunteers run small country courses, and of course the country boasts exceptional world-class championship courses. 

Thinking of a trip to this golfer's paradise? Here are 5 of New Zealands' most spectacular marquee golf courses for the ultimate golf travel experience.

Kauri Cliffs Kauri Cliffs ranks in Golf Digest's list of the world's top 50 golf courses. Perched above the bay in New Zealand's Bay of Islands, this championship course has five sets of tees for all levels of golfers. You'll be challenged by native rough, stands of fern and intimidating forced carries over gorges. Four of the 18 holes run parallel to the Pacific on the top of dramatic cliffs.

The Lodge at Kauri is famous in its own right, with top-shelf accommodation and the Pacific Rim cuisine that rivals the views over the ocean.


Cape KidnappersThis poetically-named golf course (Photo Credit: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers) in the country's famous Hawke's Bay wine region will steal any golf lovers' heart.  The course is dramatically perched on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Pacific and ranks in the top 20 of Golf Digest's list of top 50 courses.

The par 71 course is not for the faint-hearted.  Here's one description: a “stratospheric Pebble Beach, high atop a windswept plateau some 500 feet above the sea”. Imagine yourself taking challenging tee shots over deep canyons. And its luxury lodge is one of the country's most exclusive and talked-about resort destinations.

The Kinloch Club This Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course enhances the Kinloch Club's (Photo by the Kinloch Club) natural environment and is a test of true links golf. Internationally-renowned, this par 72 course rivals the panoramic views of New Zealand's largest fresh-water lake, Lake Taupo, and the surrounding rugged rural landscape.

The Lodge at Kinloch is just as known for golf as well as romantic couples' escapes.


Jacks PointThis 18-hole, par 72 championship course with five tee positions to choose from is an unforgettable golf experience only 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown. 

But the view is even more spectacular. Lake panoramas and the breathtaking 2300 vertical meters of the aptly-named The Remarkables mountain range are the best possible distraction from your game. 

The natural landscape remains as part of the course architecture. Native tussock grasslands, dramatic rock outcrops and native bush are 'par for the course' at Jacks Point on the edge of Lake Wakatipu.

The HillsThe Hills is a magnificent golf course surrounded by snow-capped mountains near Queenstown providing not only a dramatic landscape but a challenge to all golfers.

The Hills occupies a former deer farm near Arrowtown, Queenstown (image credit: Gary Lisbon). Native plants including native brown top grasses and wild mountain tussocks are preserved in the design. But there's an even more unique course design story here: sculptures crafted by New Zealand artists are integrated into the course’s lakes, waterways and wetland areas.

With a reputation that includes its position as co-host of the New Zealand Open, The Hills is a course that's a destination for both player and spectator. So on or off the course, this will be a lasting memory of a golf trip to New Zealand.

 

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Cowboys. Wild white horses.  Wild black bulls. And pink flamingos.

Hard to imagine any place on earth where you'll find all of them together, but the vast Camargue delta in the South of France is home to all of these colorful creatures.  You can't miss BestTrip.TV's introduction to French cowboys and the beautiful wilderness of the Camargue.

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5 Reasons to Travel to the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is still one of the most exotic and unknown locations on the planet.  This federation of absolute monarchies on the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula was established in 1971. Since then, it's made its mark on the world, first as one of the top ten oil producers, then with the lavish lifestyle of all that oil money, and more recently, as an increasingly popular travel and cruise destination.

Here are 5 things you might not know about the UAE:

1. There are 7 emirates in the United Arab Emirates.

They are: Abu Dhabi (which also serves as the capital) Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al Quwain.  The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, is nearly 90% of the UAE's land mass – over 67,000 km squared (26,000 sq. miles).  (Abu Dhabi Skyline photo, top. Credit.)  It and splashy Dubai are the best known. The smallest emirate – Ajman – would fit into Abu Dhabi 25 times.  Saudi Arabia surrounds the UAE to the west, south, and south-east, with Oman on the south-east and northeast, and the remaining border is a 650 km (400 mile) coast along the Persian Gulf.  The emirates' largest natural harbour and cruise port is at Dubai.

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About 10 million people live in the UAE.  Only 1/10th of those are Emirati citizens and the rest are expatriates; laborers and domestic workers from mostly 3rd world countries, and some business expats from the West. 

2. It has the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Even in a region known for surreal cities of glass and steel sprouting out of the desert that surrounds them, the Burj Khalifa (Khalifa Tower) stands alone.  Inspired by traditional regional architecture, this mega-tall skyscraper tops out at 829.8 meters (that's 2722 feet).  Imagine this: it's so high above the earth that, standing on higher floors of the tower, you can still see the sun for a couple of minutes AFTER it has set at ground level.

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The Burj Khalifa has blown away dozens of world records, including tallest structure, tallest structure ever built, building with the most floors, highest elevator, highest outdoor observation deck, highest nightclub, and highest restaurant.  It's the centerpiece of a massive mixed use development that includes an artificial lake and parkland fed by water from the vast air conditioning units of the tower. You simply will not get a more spectacular view over Dubai than from the tower.

3. And the world's largest artificial island.

You've probably seen photos of this.  The Palm Jumeirah artificial archipelago of reclaimed land on the Persian Gulf coast of Dubai, part of a development to increase Dubai's shoreline by 520 km (320 miles).  In a complete break from any previous land reclamation project ever undertaken, the development's encircled palm tree design not only takes your breath away, it also maximizes beachfront.  Privately-owned villas, hotels and resort areas occupy the palm fronds and circle. 

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Hotels, resorts and hotel residences in this spectacular setting include: The Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort, St. Regis Hotel – The Palm, Kempinski Hotel & Residences, Sofitel Dubai, The Palm Resort & Spa, The Langham, Palm Jumeirah, Waldorf Astoria, Dubai Palm Jumeirah, W Hotel, Viceroy Palm Jumeirah Dubai, and dozens of independent properties.  There is no other hotel / resort destination in the world like the Palm Jumeirah.

4. And the largest man-made marina.

The man-made Dubai Marina is built along a 3 km (2 mile) stretch of shoreline on the Persian Gulf.  This artificial canal city is said to be inspired by Concord Pacific Place along False Creek in Vancouver. When complete, it will overtake the current world's largest man-made Marina del Rey in California and be home to over a hundred thousand people in its residential towers.

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Dubai Marina is a completely new waterfront.  Engineers brought the waters of the Gulf into the site of the man-made marina.  A large central waterway runs the 3 km length of the site; marine wildlife, including whales, are known to travel inland from the open sea into the marina. The waterways of the marina are complemented by 8 km of landscaped public space.  12% of the land surface of the Dubai Marina is devoted to public space. You may not think of a desert country as a place to go to the beach, but places like Dubai Marina do give you the opportunity to swim in the local waters. (Carefully check and follow designated areas to avoid breaking strict public dress codes).

5. But the Emirates aren't just ultra-modern cities.

There is still Nature in the Emirates.  Outside the futuristic, man-made environments of the UAE's cities, are vast deserts with rolling sand dunes, oases that provide water for settlements, and grow date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees. The desert itself is not barren; grasses and thorn bushes continue to support wildlife. 

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Conservation programs initiated or supported by the Emirates' royal leaders are helping ensure the survival of wildlife species near extinction from hunting, including the Arabian Onyx, Arabian camel and even wild leopards.

Police Car in Abu Dhabi.  Photo Credit

The United Arab Emirates is one of the most astonishing, contradictory, ultra-traditional and futuristic, spectacular travel destinations in the world. 

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Travel like a Rock Star: W Hotels' Sound Suites

You know it's something you've always wanted to say: "I'm with the band".

You and your friends may have never realized your high school dream to be famous recording artists. But it's not just actual rock stars, indie bands and electronic music creators who can have the ultimate 'destination recording experience'.

W Hotels' Sound Suites allow anyone to go on vacation, and lay down some tracks as well as work on your tan. Four W Hotels around the world: Bali, Barcelona, Seattle and Hollywood, all have the one-of-a-kind Sound Suites.

It's just the type of development we'd expect from the hotel chain that set the bar for modern, stylish, artistic lifestyles. W Hotels feel more like independent design hotels, but as a chain, they have celebrated, empowered and integrated the works of creators of music and the arts, with a global music director and advisors, signature music experiences and an immersive experience of the local creative scene in each hotel.

Their North American Music Director, Chicago-based producer DJ White Shadow, known for his work with Lady Gaga, came up with the idea for W Sound Suites, and the brand has run with his concept, implementing W Sound Suites with professional grade sound equipment and top technology for audio production. You'll find Native Instruments and Shure state of the art sound equipment like a keyboard, DJ system, professional-grade headphones and microphones, as well as Yamaha acoustic guitar and Fender bass for professional musicians and aspiring guests to use in music sessions.

The professional sound studio set up lives in W Hotel signature style. The W Hotel Barcelona, for example, which has Europe's first W Sound Suite, features murals from local visual artist Ricardo Cavolo. A 'fire' for music and design come together in the original art that inspires Sound Suite musicians. W Sound Suites have space to accommodate your entourage with a lounge, a living room, as well as soundproof recording and mixing space, so you can raise the roof with your sound.

Support for music creativity goes beyond the space to hold your own private recording session with amenities like stylish restaurants, room service, pools and gyms and spas and bars of the hotels. Musicians booking a W Hotel Sound Suite may also have access to Master Classes, sound engineers and other local experts through the hotel's Music Curator.

W Hotels Sound Suites bring out – or resurrect - the music creator in us all. We love the idea of booking Sound Suites for guy and girlfriend getaways or bachelor parties… for the musically-inclined, it's a once in a lifetime blast! W Hotels see the suites as not just for recording artists on creative retreats, but as a way to support amateur and emerging talent – all within the artistic, creative vibe of the signature W Hotels environment.

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There's a New Tallest Building West of the Mississippi

With a hotel. And the highest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere.

The Wilshire Grand Center on famous Wilshire Boulevard towers 73 stories over downtown Los Angeles' historic, entertainment, financial, arts, and sports districts and added new texture to the city skyline.

The tower is spectacular. A glass-clad skyscraper topped with a spire that makes it 1099 feet (335 meters) tall, more than 80 feet higher than the US Bank Tower it has overtaken for top spot in the West. (But nowhere near the height of America's tallest building, One World Trade Center in New York, that's a U.S. record-breaking, symbolic 1776 feet (541 meters) tall).

In a nod to its status as a landmark of America's West, the skyscraper's silhouette is inspired by Yosemite’s Half Dome, with an iconic sail for the West's pre-eminent oceanfront city. (Top Photo Credit). Programmable LED lighting illuminates the peak and down the spine of the building for a riveting and changeable evening cityscape.

Inside, take a high-speed, double-decker elevator for a 50-second ride, and you're transported into the breathtaking setting of the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown's Sky Lobby on the 70th floor.

Magnificent panoramic views and L.A. –inspired design in the Sky Lobby set the scene for your visit to the 900-room hotel, restaurants, bars, open-air observation deck and rooftop pool where global travelers and locals can mingle amongst some of the city’s new and most coveted venues – with the best view in town.

Each hotel room has floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramas of the West Coast sunsets and the City of Angels.

Restaurants make the most of the one-of-a-kind scenics, with VIP booths, floor-to-ceiling privacy screens and private views of the L.A. skyline – as well as foodie features like a cheese atelier, a charcuterie cave and a 1200-label curated wine list.

And at the very top of the tower, imagined as a 'city in the sky', the highest outdoor perch in the country and even the hemisphere. On top of the 73rd floor is Spire 73 – the tallest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere. This rooftop lounge offers surreal views of the entire city, chic fire pits, signature cocktails and a wide selection of whiskey, and culinary experiences to rival the view.

Plus, in eco-friendly California, sustainability take center-stage, and the building is LEED Gold certified. It was constructed using recycled, locally sourced materials, hotel guest room pods were fabricated off site to reduce waste materials, and on an ongoing basis, building orientation, lighting and thermal energy storage reduce energy use, water-efficient landscaping and storm water collection used for cooling ensure the smallest environmental footprint for the tallest building in the West.

Ideally located in the heart of a revitalized, dynamic downtown, the Wilshire Grand Center and InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown have added a new and spectacular way to experience the United States' second-largest city.

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If you're looking for a room with a view in Marseille... this is it.

The Hotel Dieu might be the the best piece of real estate in Marseille. Part way up the hill next to the historic harbor, occupying the best vantage point overlooking the iconic view of the old port and the church on the opposite hill, Marseille's Hopital Dieu dates back to the 1700's.

As a hospital, it served the oldest neighborhood in all of France, where sailors, immigrants from around the Mediterranean, nuns and beggars, artists and artisans thronged. The care center of the community finally closed its doors, and the building sat empty for years...

Until a city-wide renaissance of style, design and culture included the transformation of the hospital building into a luxury, design hotel where the historic architecture meets stunning contemporary design, and a view without rival in France's largest port city.

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A New Place for the Best Views of Old Havana

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has opened in Havana. It's the Cuban capital's first five-star luxury hotel, located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Havana. And it is the first foray into the Americas for Europe's oldest luxury hotel group Kempinski.

The hotel is a revival of an historic six-story colonnaded building begun in the late 1800's. It lived through various incarnations as Cuba's first European-style department store, a silent film theater, and later, government offices, slowly decaying like much of the historic architecture in isolated Cuba. Its re-imagination as a luxury hotel brings the Manzana building back to its glory days… and then some.

Now as a 246-room urban lifestyle hotel, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, with its whitewashed façade, is again a landmark and beacon of style in Old Havana. A cool, pale color palette, with vivid tropical hits of pinks, teals and purples, cements its design hotel credentials.

Rooms all have ceilings 4-6.5 meters ( 13-20 feet) in height, contemporary furnishings and many have large French doors/windows perfect for admiring the patio and city views. Worth mentioning is the air conditioning and wi-fi, which, along with truly luxury levels of service, you can't take for granted in the up-and-coming tourism destination of Cuba.

A 100 square meter (10,000 square foot) spa by Resense, and a business center round out amenities that include six bars and restaurants covering every whim of entertaining around the clock.

When in Cuba, as they say… so of course there had to be a cigar lounge. You are guided through a Cuban cigar experience by a cigar sommelier who also suggests a perfect beverage pairing – with Cuban rum, naturally.

And the spectacular roof top bar is the best place in the city for incomparable scenic vistas day or night over Old Havana’s Parque Central, and El Capitolio (a replica of the U.S. Capitol). The panoramic rooftop views are icing on the cake of this hotel that is at once majestic, high-style, and fun.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has reclaimed the building's position as a hub in the centre of the Old Havana. As Cuba continues its upward trajectory towards full-fledged modern tourism, it provides an international urban lifestyle hotel experience for that luxury group of travelers, visitors to its bars, restaurants and spa. It also sets a high bar for new arrivals on the luxury travel scene in Cuba's capital.

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Paris Landmark Hotel Re-Opens after $200-million Renovation

When you renovate a palatial, historic landmark on one of the most famously elegant squares in one of the most fabled travel destinations in the world, there's a lot at stake.

The Hotel de Crillon has dominated Paris' storied Place de la Concorde since the 1700's. Originally the Parisian home of the illustrious Count de Crillon, the palace has been the site of world-changing events, where Marie Antoinette had music lessons, international treaties were signed (including French recognition of the American Declaration of Independence), and a hotel since 1909 where celebrities, aristocracy, royalty, politicians and artists continued to make history. Now after its 4-year renovation, its latest re-invention has been revealed.

We aren't disappointed. With incredible vision and work by world-renowned architects, designers, artists and artisans - even an artistic director – the Hotel de Crillon is back, a palace reinterpreted for the modern day luxury traveller. Imagine the challenge: to strike a balance between conservation and transformation. But the hotel has emerged as an elegant expression of the spirit of Paris and a celebration of French art de vivre.

The opulence remains. It is awe-inspiring, bridging the 18th and 21st centuries – and still oh so very Parisian: exquisite, elegant and a bit irreverent.

The exquisite Neoclassical façade and grand reception rooms on the second floor are classified heritage landmarks, so designers were working with a heritage building. But everywhere you can discover a fresh and modern twist, even as beloved and unique objects, that are symbols of the hotel’s history, can still be found throughout the property, from the amethyst chandeliers to gold and crystal Baccarat decanters.

Today's Hotel de Crillon features:

124 Guestrooms: 78 Rooms, 36 suites, and 10 signature suites elegantly decorated with bespoke furnishings, beautiful antiques and carefully chosen objets d’art.

  • The hotel’s 10 signature suites are the crown jewels of Hôtel de Crillon, and considered among the very finest in Paris. The Louis XV boasts a stunning private terrace with picture-perfect views of the Eiffel Tower, while the Marie-Antoinette suite reflects a regal, feminine spirit with pearl-gray décor and touches of rosy pink.

  • Karl Lagerfeld, renowned designer of the house of Chanel and a great 18th century admirer, decorated the two exceptional suites on Place de la Concorde which embody his personal vision of French chic and modernity.

3 heritage landmark salons for meetings and functions:

  • The salons are listed heritage landmarks, with soaring six meter ceilings dating from 1775-1776; French interior palace design of adjoining rooms allows them to be opened and joined for larger events.

5 distinct dining and drinking venues including:

  • Gastronomic restaurant L’Ecrin, where you can savour bold, unexpected, creative dishes of the young and Michelin-starred chef in the intimate 18th century décor of the Salon des Citronniers;

  • La Cave's intimate wine room;
  • Brasserie d’Aumont with an eclectic, quintessentially Parisian atmosphere complemented by revisited brasserie classics;
  • Jardin d’Hiver, casual garden-style gathering place, one of the hotel's most historic spaces, where you can relax at teatime, sip post-shopping champagne, or indulge in exquisite sweets;

  • Les Ambassadeurs, the chic 60-seat bar that is the new place to see and be seen in Paris. A festive vibe animates the heritage setting (the ceiling is a registered landmark) thanks to live music nightly, meticulously crafted cocktails, and an exclusive carte of prestigious champagnes.

Whimsical courtyards by a renowned French landscape architect.

A newly created swimming pool graced by a mural by a noted ceramic artist, fitness studio, and full-service Sense, A Rosewood Spa for wellness-conscious and stylish guests.

Sophisticated style and grooming venues for men and women, including Hair Salon by David Lucas, Barber by La Barbière de Paris, and Shoecare by Devoirdecourt.

Hôtel de Crillon has long since secured its iconic status as a one-of-a-kind hotel destination, a living testament to the very best way of life France has to offer. Its rebirth radiates timeless, chic contemporary French lifestyle in an undeniably luxuriant historic setting.

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