Costa Rica: When an All-Inclusive is Awesome

costa-rica-westin-pool

Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

By Josh Levin

As a seasoned traveler, I do not – repeat – do not, do all inclusives. Ever. I want to be free to explore. I don’t want watered-down, bottom shelf drinks. I don’t want to be surrounded by the rabble. But this year, on the advice of a friend, I booked a trip for my wife and I to the Westin Playa Conchal, located on the shores of the Conchal Reserve in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica. It forever changed my view of what an all-inclusive vacation can and ought to be.

Wanting something outside the “standard” Caribbean winter getaway and intrigued by Costa Rica, I booked a five night stay at the Westin. It was my wife’s 40th birthday and our first wedding anniversary so hope abounded that everything would be perfect.

westin-entrance

And perfect it was. The Westin Playa Conchal is part of a (relatively) new breed of deluxe, high end, all-inclusive resorts. The resort features 11 restaurants. We ate at all of them, and none disappointed, including:

Bamboo: Asian Fusion

Catalinas: French Fine Dining

Magla: Mediterranean

Faisanela: Italian

Mitra: International Buffet

Spirula: Pizza and Pasta Bar

Caracola: Poolside Snacks

Las Candelas: Latin American

Cauri: Lobby Bar & Bistro

La Sabana: Churascuria

El Ranchito: Latin American Grill and BBQ

We stayed at the Westin’s Royal Beach Club, which was a designated, secluded spot for adults, offering top shelf alcohol and a private buffet for breakfast and lunch. The rooms in the Royal Beach Club come with private check in and a private concierge who was on call 24/7 to help us make dinner reservations, and plan daily excursions. The Westin also has a Family Club, which offers similar services for families.

westin-room

Bathtub with a view…

Every night at the resort has featured entertainment, which were – and I say this as a complete cynic – amazing. Fire performers armed with poi, magic shows (we saw Costa Rica’s equivalent of David Blaine), and comedians (who were actually funny).

Costa Rican hospitality, I could only liken to Mexico and my experiences there. The staff and the locals are fiercely proud of their country and want you to experience all it has to offer. The Westin’s staff could not have done enough for us, throughout the entirety of our stay, and expected no tips at all…

The resort is also an hour away from all of the adventure activities one could imagine. There are guided ATV tours through the jungle; abseiling down massive waterfalls; and incredible, zip line courses which traverse the canopies of the rain forest.

costa-rica

The lush grounds

 

Travel to the Westin is pretty easy. There are direct flights to Liberia Airport (LIR) from most US metropolitan areas. From there, it takes about 45 minutes to get to the resort. Depending on when you decide to travel, rooms start at about:

$495 (US)/night

A note on the weather. Costa Rica only really has two seasons: dry and rainy. The rainy season occurs during the US Summer, and while it doesn’t get cold, I’m told that most afternoons have down pours.

So there you have it. An all-inclusive resort vacation in Costa Rica. Ditch the DR and check out the CR! I will definitely be going back again.

____________________________

Josh Levin is a recovering PR consultant turned tech entrepreneur and travel writer. A globe-trotter since the age of 13, he has lived in Sydney, Shanghai, and Jerusalem and now calls New York home.

josh-levin

Josh Levin, Jaunt Magazine Contributor

 

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What’s New in Napa

News from the Vines: What’s Cropping up in the Napa Valley this Season 

Meadowood Napa

An Arial View of Meadowood Napa

SLEEP

1.       Just Completed: Five new Harvest Suites in the Harvest Cottage were just completed in September at The Carneros Inn. The new suites make for a total of 800 square feet of indoor living space, as well as 400 additional square feet of private outdoor patio space, which includes an outdoor soaking tub and fire pit. www.thecarnerosinn.com

2.       Just Opened: Meadowood Napa Valley just debuted their new 14,000 square-foot, all-suite spa on November 2, 2015, with eight treatment suites, each offering forest views and a private environment for relaxation. Each spa suite features a private bathroom, steam shower and daybed. www.meadowood.com

3.       Just Completed: Calistoga Hot Springs finished its extensive renovation project in June 2015, including a redesign of the guest rooms with spa-inspired bedding, pebble and Italian porcelain tile showers, kitchenette upgrades and High Definition LED televisions. The focal point, though, are the four geothermal heated mineral pools, with travertine tiles, new pool furniture and vine covered arbor niches. www.calistogaspa.com

EAT

1.       Just Opened: The team from Ca’ Momi debuted their new Osteria on October 13, 2015, with a full bar of Ca’ Momi wines, house-made spirits and beer and a menu of authentic Italian specialties like their certified Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) and Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani pizza. Ca’ Momi Osteria; 1141 First St., downtown Napa; www.camomiosteria.com.

2.       Just Opened: Launched by AvroKO and chef Matthew Lightner (who received two Michelin stars when he oversaw the kitchen at Atera in NYC), NINEBARK opened in October 2015 in downtown Napa with California-focused, market-forward cuisine using innovative techniques like smoking with local hardwood and shrubs and marinating in herbal, fruit and floral broths. 813 Main St.; www.ninebark-napa.com.

3.       Upcoming: Opening late 2015, Tannery Bend Beerworks will brew and serve their own beers, born from a unique collaboration between a brewer (Matthew Cromwell) and a chef (Tyler Rodde) within blocks of downtown Napa. An upcoming crowdfunding campaign be established to engage members of the community. www.tannerybendbeerworks.com

4.       Upcoming: Miminashi, Napa Valley’s first and only “Izakaya-style” (Japanese pub) in downtown Napa, is set to open this month by chef and owner Curtis Di Fede. The menu will feature classics like Kara-age (Japanese-style fried chicken), binchotan grilled porterhouse with uni shiso butter and the space will focus around an open binchotan grill.

DRINK

1.       Just Opened: In the center of Yountville, K. LAZ WINE COLLECTION opened on October 7, 2015 by former Dean & Deluca Wine Director, Kerrin Laz. The 12-seat tasting room and retail shop features a curated wine collection, local Napa Valley landscape photography shot by Kerrin and fresh flowers and terrariums from nearby Evermore Flowers. www.klazwine.com.

2.       Upcoming: JaM Cellars is coming to downtown Napa this winter, with wine flights, by the glass and by the bottle programs available for Butter Chardonnay, JaM Cab and Toast Sparkling, plus several guest wines and special releases only available at the downtown tasting room. Designer Richard Vonsaal is creating a unique space with reclaimed materials and contemporary twists. www.jamcellars.com

CELEBRATE

1.       Flavor! Napa Valley – March 16 – 20, 2016: A five-day celebration featuring farm-to-table cuisine, world-class wines and culinary star talent, with local and celebrity chef demonstrations, intimate winemaker workshops, Grand Tastings and exclusive experiences that bring out the best flavors of Napa Valley. www.flavornapavalley.com

2.       Superbowl 50 – February 7, 2016: In celebration of the Bay Area’s hosting of Superbowl 50, Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, is offering a “GAMETIME” package for Superbowl weekend. The package includes a one-night stay in a Maison king room, GAMETIME welcome party snacks paired with a bottle of former pro Dick Vermeil’s Proprietary Red, wine tasting for two at Vermeil Wines in Calistoga or Napa, a GAMETIME sampler in the Bistro & Bar, a $100 resort credit and a 10 percent discount on any 60 minute service at Auberge Spa (including the GAMETIME sports massage and “heat-to-toe” treatment). The package starts at $898 and is valid through Feb. 12, 2016.

Traveling Zanzibar: Spices and Culinary Delights at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar

Culinary Discovery of Zanzibar’s Spices

Did you know that Zanzibar was one of the world’s largest producers of spices such as clove, nutmeg and cinnamon in the 19th century, after the abolition of the slave trade?

Interestingly, culturally, little has changed in Stone Town over the last 200 years. The town’s unique blend of Arabic and African cultural influences originate from the 19th century when Zanzibar Island served as a center for the trade of spices. During this period, Zanzibar, also known as the “Spice Island,” was the most important trading hub along the east coast of Africa. Today, the streets of Stone Town are filled with rich aromas of spices, perfumes and local handcrafts.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar Pool

Park Hyatt Zanzibar Pool

Celebrating this unique history, Park Hyatt Zanzibar, situated on the beachfront in Stone Town, the historical center of the city and a designated UNESCO Heritage site. Park Hyatt Zanzibar is housed in two buildings, one of them Mambo Msiige, a UNESCO heritage building steeped in history, grace and mystique with roots dating back to the 17th century. Mambo Msiige is a typical Zanzibari mansion and an architectural gem, featuring intricate carvings and centered around a peaceful courtyard. The name alone meaning “not to be copied or imitated,” embraces true uniqueness. The new and purposefully built Zamani Residence of the hotel connects to Mambo Msiige, blending old history and contemporary charm, while embracing Swahili culture with a blend of Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences.

Relaxing in the Lounge

Relaxing in the Lounge

Park Hyatt Zanzibar provides the ultimate haven amongst Stone Town’s labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling markets, mosques and famed Zanzibari doors, featuring magnificent ornate wooden carvings that bring you back in time. The town’s key attractions are easily accessible by foot from the hotel’s ideal location, including Forodhani Gardens, the Old Fort, Old Dispensary, Peace Memorial Museum, Palace Museum, and the House of Wonders.

hotel rooms zanzibar

During this experience, discover the vibrant spices of this magic island through a visit to a local spice farm, where you can both taste and purchase. Afterward, return to Park Hyatt Zanzibar’s kitchens and embrace the art of traditional cooking with a Swahili cooking class. To finish, gourmet creations can be enjoyed as a sumptuous meal overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Not too shabby, indeed.

Prices starting @$280/night

http://zanzibar.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html

Off the Beaten Path: Brunch in Chicago

Taste Savant

Brunch in Chicago is not simply a pastime. It is an art. Each Saturday and Sunday Chicagoans flock to the smart restaurants that offer the perfect cure: time to gossip about the week’s adventures, pure comfort food, and the hair of the dog. We like to have our perfect cure without the hour-long waits and unfortunately packed tables and head to these hidden gems instead:

Broadway Cellars

5900 N Broadway St

broadway cellars brunch

A little out of the way from the bustling streets of Lincoln Park and River North, this Edgewater joint is well worth the walk from the Thorndale station. Nestled in the middle of a neighborhood, there is no better place to sit and people-watch than on their tree-lined patio. Not only is the atmosphere the perfect mix of upscale and family-friendly, their portions are also generous and the menu is simply mouth-watering. With time-tested classics like Steak’n’Eggs next to innovative dishes such as Honey-Brined…

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NIZUC Resort and Spa – Mexico’s Sexiest Luxury Beachside Resort

Nizuc's Beach

Nizuc’s Beach

We’re obsessed with Mexico and won’t deny it. The array of different dishes from cochinita pibil to ceviche, the aqua colored waters off the Caribbean coast, and, of course, the nightlife. If you think it’s all Senor Frog’s and ponchos, you haven’t seen what this great country and her people have to offer. Enter one of our latest favorite indulgences: NIZUC Resort & Spa.

Once a base station for Mayan astronomers and a presidential retreat for world leaders, it opened in March 2013 on a 29-acre exclusive beachfront escape and just 15 minutes from the Cancun Airport on the secluded Punta Nizuc. Numerous artistic talents collaborated to create a destination that fuses a uniquely modern sensibility with an essentially Mayan ethos – a perfect blend of site-specific architecture and design that is evident throughout the property’s 274 suites and villas (most with private plunge pools), as well as its meticulously appointed public areas.

The resort’s amenities allow guests to customize their daily experience to range from sunning at one of the multiple pools (Adults Only and Family Friendly) to indulging at one of the six world-class restaurants including Mexican, Peruvian, Italian, Asian and a beachside Grill.  Or simply rejuvenate at the 30,000 square foot ESPA facility complete with male and female hydrotherapy areas and 10 indoor/outdoor treatment rooms. For the active set, paddleboards and kayaks await on the beach, while two on-site tennis courts and the nearby TPC Cancun are ready to test their skills.

Set within a paradise of protected mangroves and lush local foliage facing the white sands of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the second largest coral reef in the world – Nizuc is home to two secluded white sand beaches and is surrounded by the region’s natural wonders, archeological sites and amazing attractions including the world’s first Underwater Art Museum. Nizuc is a place to enjoy the luxe life where the warmth of the Mexican spirit envelopes each guest upon arrival and extends to every interaction from that point forward.

So what are you waiting for? The arrival of Quetzalcoatl?

www.nizuc.com

Indiana’s Surprising Charms: The French Lick Resort

The French Lick Hotel

The French Lick Hotel – West Baden, Indiana

What a Wonderful World!

By Sarah Ivens

I nearly called this article ‘Weird and Wonderful’ for never have I stayed in a place so uniquely fascinating, bewildering and beguiling. Set off a leafy, twisty road in a hidden part of quiet Indiana, the French Lick Resort is as beautifully strange as it’s name.

As soon as I checked in at the enclave’s top notch hotel, West Baden, time stood still and I fell down the rabbit hole. Leaving modern cars, computers and cares outside, guests stumble into a gigantic glass atrium, the largest freestanding dome in the United States. A woman is playing the harp in one corner. A gigantic fireplace, big enough to hold 14ft logs, crackles in another. Clinking cups echo musically as an elegant English afternoon tea, complete with fine china and divine cakes, is served for the peckish. Pacing the ornate tiled floors are dapper looking gents clutching golf clubs, wearing big grins; while ladies doze on chaise longues under sparkling chandeliers, paperbacks resting in their hands.

There are no clocks, no televisions, no overbearing tour guides whipping people into action. Guests are left to be in the moment – or in 1902, when the resort first opened for business, with journalists of the day declaring it the eight wonder of the world.

The French Lick

The resort’s natural mineral water and spa baths were alleged to cure almost anything and had been drawing crowds to the area for 100 previous to that, but when the slick new owners started investing their fortunes at the turn of the 20th century, it soon became the place to be – a palace of parties Gatsby would have been proud of. Clark Gable loved it there, as did John Barrymore and Bing Crosby and from it’s opening to 1931, it ran like a dream. Amenities included a casino, a live theater and an opera.

Tomato juice was served for the first time ever at the hotel in 1917, invented by chef Louis Perrin when he ran out of orange juice and needed an alternative at breakfast for his demanding guests. When not dining, lucky guests had their choice of a natatorium, two golf courses, bicycling on a double-decked covered oval bicycle track that was the largest in the country, and horseback riding. To cater to their well-heeled clientele, the hotel even provided a bank, a stock brokerage and a trolley bus between amenities. Back then, the enchanting glass dome that had hypnotized me when I arrived was filled with palm trees and free range exotic birds.

Legend has it that today, at night, ghosts of depressed money men, not birds, have free roam of the atrium. According to locals, many of the country’s richest men were staying there, in bedrooms overlooking the lobby, the day of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, and decided to jump from their balconies rather than face financial ruin. The beautiful people were finished, and sadly two years later, so was the hotel.

But in the nineties, an Indiana local – who happened to have a few hundred million to spare – polished this sparkling gem back to life and turned it once again into a decadent resort fit for kings, queens… and Willie Nelson, who was a recent guest.

A Building with a View

An Enchanting Glass Dome Fit For a King… or a Traveling Band of English Misfits

Famous golf course architect Pete Dye designed his masterpiece and namesake course here in 2009, and it’s now a constant winner of top venue awards in golfing magazines and will play host to next hear’s Senior PGA Championship. The two spas, one at West Baden and one at French Lick, are homages to taste and tranquility, each possessing outdoor swimming pools, which provide perfect settings for a re-read of Tender Is The Night, and a cheeky swig of an Old Fashioned. The resort steakhouse, named 1875 after the year the Kentucky Derby first ran, is a haven of comfort food and worry-erasing wine, while supper up at the Pete Dye Mansion offers mouthwatering BBQ and sundaes overlooking rolling green hills and the 18th hole. Horse-drawn carriages can trot you back to your bed at night, or can deliver you to one of the many white rocking chairs lined up overlooking the fragrant English garden fountains, waiting to swing you to sleep at sunset.

The most remarkable thing about this decadent step back in time for me was remembering how to unwind properly. With patchy network reception and a plethora of old school pursuits to indulge in (anyone for billiards?), it was easy forget the mad dash of the world around me and slow down and relax. In my little slice of old Indiana, I found a new me. And I liked it.

www.frenchlick.com