India: Travel Like a Maharaja

Jai Ho! We’ve been dreaming of a day soon where we can slurp up some curry in India. In the meantime, we’ll plan on arranging our trip on… The Maharajas’ Express, India’s first cross-country luxury train! Making its inaugural journey from Mumbai to Delhi this March 2010, it’ll mark a major departure in luxury train travel and a landmark event in Indian tourism, offering guests never before traveled routes and unforgettable off-train excursions and experiences.

In the grand tradition of the Maharajas of India – who preferred steam engines and railway trains to the motor car, and even installed their own royal thrones in opulent coaches embellished with ivory and gold – the Maharajas’ Express is India’s only train offering a Presidential Suite spread over an entire carriage that caters to the well-heeled traveler, offering a royal experience as they traverse the dynamic Indian landscape. As the first Pan-India luxury train, the purpose-built Maharajas’ Express will cut across state borders to offer distinct, exciting itineraries that provide travelers with unique experiences. Check these babies out!

Princely India (Mumbai to Delhi)

This 8-day, 7-night journey travels through the heart of “royal India,” from Mumbai through to Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal in Agra and on to Delhi.

Classical India (Delhi to Kolkata)

This 7-day, 6-night groundbreaking journey traverses inaccessible destinations that typically require flying to and from Delhi to visit each place. The journey starts in Delhi, and travels through Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Varanasi, Gaya and Kolkata, uncovering India’s spiritual centers and temples throughout.

Both itineraries can be taken in reverse via the “Royal India” (Delhi to Mumbai) and “Celestial India” (Kolkata to Delhi) routes.

Maharajas’ Express’ off-train excursions – including lunch at a magnificent private palace in Jambughoda, a champagne brunch overlooking the Taj Mahal and an elephant polo match in Dera Amer – will expose spectacular parts of Indian geography and culture that are difficult for a luxury traveler to experience by plane, car or current train services.

Rates begin at $800 per person, per day based on two sharing a Deluxe Cabin.  A Junior Suite is $900, a Suite is $1,400 and the Presidential Suite is $2,500.  I know, I know… it’s not cheap, but it will be a trip of a lifetime!  And… these rates also include accommodation, all meals and soft drinks, house brands of wine, beer and spirits, all sightseeing and entrance fees, guides and entertainment. Also included are a wide range of fantastic excursions and events including elephant polo, temple tours and Champagne breakfast.

The train has a total passenger capacity of 84 and features 20 Deluxe Cabins, 18 Junior Suites, 4 Suites and a Presidential Suite, located exclusively in one carriage.  Each cabin features state-of-the-art panoramic windows from which to enjoy India’s magnificent sights, as well as individual temperature controls, air-cushioned suspension, large LCD TVs, DVD players, in-house movies, and environmentally-friendly washrooms.

The Deluxe Cabin is the world’s most spacious rail cabin of its kind – 9’5” by 7’9” with a bathroom measuring 7’9” by 4’9”. There is a choice of twin or double beds. Junior Suites are 13’6” by 7’9”, while the Suites are 21’8” x 7’9”.

Travelers may also convene in the lavishly-appointed Observation Lounge, with its own bar, game table and club armchairs, or the Bar Carriage, offering an extensive collection of finest of wines and spirits. Dining options onboard the Maharajas’ Express include two fine-dining restaurants, each seating 42 people.  House brand wines and beer are served complimentary.

Let me guess… now you’re craving curry and a game of elephant polo too?

We knew it!

Southern Australia: Food, Film… and Wine

Candace Poole, resident Managing Editor, here to share a long overdue film and travel tip from the Award Season…

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been a wild month.  While the Golden Globes and Oscars were taking over Los Angeles,  I happened to catch a G’Day LA film event that exposed me to an excellent film and some stunning countryside. It makes me love my job all the more when things fall into place so seamlessly and I have juice to share.

The event of the season (since I’m a lover of film and wine, of course) was the screening of Beautiful Kate, the brilliant directorial debut of Rachel Ward, about an Australian family who comes together for their dying father only to rediscover the painful secrets of a 20 year -old tragedy. Since I don’t want to give away the family secrets, I will say, this film was a deftly told art house film that touches the soul. Rachel Griffiths is superb as Sally, while Sophie Lowe as Kate shines with her fresh, haunting good looks.  A character piece that reminds me what it’s like to see good, quality cinema in Los Angeles.  It’s a rarity, so catch it while you can.

The screening, hosted by the South Australia Tourism Board, couldn’t have been more appropriate. Australia is as a diverse a landscape as one could imagine, with the environment reflecting the challenging and multi-faced aspects of the characters in the film.  From the extraordinary Flinders Ranges which is a magnificent backdrop for the Yura Muda (Aboriginal Dreaming) to the beautiful vineyards of the South Australia coast, there is enough dazzling natural beauty to fulfill any traveler’s dreams.  And that is only a small region of this awesome continent.

There to take note of what Australia has to offer the traveller,  the news is… ABUNDANCE.  After the film concluded, I headed to the party zone to partake in the delights of Kensington Caterers.  There wasn’t a bad note in the entire service. Then, the bar.  Those Aussies sure were as warm and welcoming as you’d imagine. The wonderful wines provided by Shingleback were a perfect match so I began with a 2007 Shingleback McLaren Vale Chardonnay to compliment the Mongolian shrimp lollipops  along with cleverly presented veggies and noodles in take out boxes with chop sticks that were perfectly rendered.  Next up, the lamb which was heavenly served with a Shingleback Shiraz. Oh, for a bigger handbag!  Who knew? Peppery excellence on the palate.

The superstar of the evening was the astonishingly beautiful Rachel Ward, whose eyes did not dart around the room once while she spoke to me.

I was able to meet the owners of the Australian winery Shingleback, John and Kate Davey and they could not have been more friendly and forthcoming with the excitement they have for not only their wines, but for the amazing lives they share with a joy that seems to go along with their profession.  Is it the air? Apparently so. The winery is located about 45 minutes south of Adelaide.  From Sellicks Hill Range then east to Clarendon, north just beyond Reynella and west to the Gulf, is the McLaren Vale region. Go there, NOW.

I had so much to think about when I returned home after such a stimulating evening. Not only the film and its profound layers that must be addressed, but how soon can I schedule a JAUNT to the Outback and Shingleback.

Buddhas & Bustle in Bangkok

Sarah Ivens, Founding Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine in the US, is back again to share her Bangkok secrets!

Enticing, exciting, alarming and alluring. There are a thousand more words to describe your first thoughts when you step out into the hustle bustle of Thailand’s capital, but those were the four to hit me. I loved it immediately – but it’s also a shock to the system. I warn you: after 24 hours in the city, your eyeballs will literally hurt from everything you’ve seen.

Racing through the city on a tuk-tuk is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to get around and feel part of the street. As you dart in and out of the traffic (it’s the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world, worse than Athens on a bad day!), exotic smells hit your nostrils and the colors of spices and fish and fruits come into view.

There will be stall after stall of sellers, trying to trap you with promises of a good meal at a good price. Then you’ll whizz past ancient temples as expert salesman wave gleaming jewel tones of fabric in your path, promising to make you the best suit in your wardrobe by 4pm that afternoon.  And  as soon as you step from your tuk-tuk out into the heat, there’s a gaggle of petite, pretty girls, pulling you towards their parlor for the massage of your life – like no other you’ve ever had.

This is all startling and stunning but sometimes, when the shocks come too hard and too quick, you need a sanctuary to escape to. Thankfully the Shangri-La became my very own, well, Shangri-La. Perfectly positioned on the edge of the river Chao Phraya, the hotel’s location not only offers a cooling breeze but a great travelling–without-moving edge. If you get too exhausted getting out into the melee, you can let the madness come to you. Watching the life of the river from the calm of your lounger, cocktail in hand, cold towel and fruit being offered at regular intervals, is bliss. And surely has to be the most charming and luxurious way to witness the people and their comings and goings without having to fasten your seatbelt. If your stomach feels as sensitive as your soul, hideaway in Angelina’s, the hotels Italian brasserie, voted best Italian restaurant in Bangkok 10 years in a row– and serving a very refreshing high tea at the peak of the midday sun.

There are three things you MUST see when you’re in Bangkok, and they all within 15 minutes of the hotel:

1.       Shopping for items you didn’t even know you wanted at the legendary weekend market, Chatuchak. Everything is reasonably well made and reasonably priced, so even if you’re venturing to Thailand in February, stock up on Christmas presents for people back home.

2.       Gawking in wonder at the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is another don’t miss thing on any sensible Siam traveler’s agenda. Wat Pho is the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, dating back to the 16th century, and its famous lazy Buddha is 46m long and 15m high. It’s breathtaking. Imitating the Buddha as he rested before reaching his final nirvana, his eyes and feet are decorated with mother of pearl while the rest of him is covered in gold leaf. He glows! He inspires! He transfixes! Allow for a full morning there as you’ll feel blessed just soaking in the atmosphere (yes, there are a few monks on hand to make it authentic).

3.       Clapping for traditional Thai dancers as they weave their way towards you in elaborate gold costumes and magnificent head pieces (seriously, each head piece is unique, ornate and resembles a temple). Sway to the customary music as they perform a dance that their ancestors have been doing for centuries. Watch their finger tips for the most subtle of movements – they draw attention to the beautiful arching of their hands with finger decorations quite unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the world. We saw a great show at Salathip, the Shangri-La’s Thai restaurant – where by the way I had the most delicious mushroom and lemongrass soup of my life. Ever. I can still taste it now.

So for tastes, sights, smells and of course the odd crazy person on a tuk-tuk that you will never forget, Bangkok is the place. And the Shangri-La is the place to keep you sane once you’re amongst it all. A winning combination of shocking and soothing.

The Nantucket Wine Festival: Wines, The White Elephant, and The Wauwinet

We once knew a boy from Nantucket (really… we did). He had the face of an angel and the heart to match. Though we ended up as friends, as a result of his fine form and gracious spirit, we always like to wax poetic about whatever must be in the waters of Nantucket. And, if you believe in Jesus (or simply think he’s a swell guy), there’s a lot to be said for turning that water into wine.

As such, each year, the Nantucket Wine Festival brings acclaimed vintners and restaurateurs to the island for a week-long celebration of wine and food. Over four days, Nantucket plays host to a variety of seminars, tastings, cooking demonstrations, and receptions – all in the name of food and wine. Bringing in visitors from across the country and globe, the festival is sponsored by many of the island’s best restaurants and supported each year by internationally acclaimed chefs and vineyards.

The 14th Annual Nantucket Wine Festival takes place May 20-24, and this year, The Wauwinet and White Elephant are offering four unique “Sip & Stay” packages for wine lovers:

Spectator Package from $3,700

Friday-Sunday:  Promo Code: SPCNFF10

Connoisseur Package from $2,600 (at White Elephant) & $2,330 (at The Wauwinet)

Thursday-Sunday:  Promo Code: CONNFF10

Aficionado Package from $1,885 (at White Elephant) & $1,615 (at The Wauwinet)

Thursday- Sunday: Promo Code: AFINFF10

Enthusiast Package from $275

Sunday night only: Promo Code: ENTNFF10

For a complete list of inclusions, check out the website below. Who knows? If you don’t bring a sweetheart, maybe you’ll meet your own: