Tag Archives: couples retreats

Carmel Valley Spas: Bernardus Lodge and Spa

Bernardus Lodge and Spa Pool

Where to begin? Let’s start with the awe inspiring drive to the Carmel Valley from our hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. One of my favorite things to do in life is to take the top down on my 911 Carrera Cab to drive the 16 minutes from the ocean to the valley. Long stretches of a relaxing winding road, fresh air that moves it’s way through the low languid mountains, and the warmth of the valley embracing my shoulders as we leave the misty cliffs of Carmel to meet the vineyard and spa retreat that is the Carmel Valley.

The Carmel Valley Drive (c) Parker Seibold

During a weekend in Carmel, my partner-in-crime and I decided to book massages as the Bernardus Lodge and Spa along with an All Day Pass to soak up some pool or hot tub time, grab a light lunch, and relax. Unfortunately, we arrived a little too late so only had time for lunch by the pool before our spa appointments were to begin at 3pm (spa closes at 5pm). Alas, we headed to the pool.

Thankfully, it wasn’t crowded. A decent amount of people around gave it some liveliness with couples and a few families. We sat in the full warmth of the sunlight and the spa attendant told us that she would send someone out to take our order. After waiting 20 minutes, we realized that they may have forgotten about us. They had. Instead, they told us to place our orders via a phone by the side of the pool. A little odd that they wouldn’t offer to make the call for us after forgetting about us, but mistakes happen. We dialed in an order for two glasses of New World Sauvignon Blanc and two salads, the Roasted Beet Salad with chicken and a Caesar Salad with chicken.

The wine was cold and the salads substantial, but the chicken, oh the chicken! It was a quarter of a chicken grilled with the skin on, a massive thigh and attached drumstick. Not exactly easy to eat in the hot sun nor as tasty as it may have looked on a salad. We both wished they had served the salad with thin slices of grilled chicken breast. The brunch menu promoted “Where Old World Craft Meets New World Creativity,” but it lacked inspiration or any creativity – Caesar Salad, Burger, Eggs Benedict, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Crab Cake, a few pizza choices, and Huevos Rancheros. Had the chef brought in more thoughtful, interesting seasonal touches like grapefruit, fennel, strawberry, lemon, or kohlrabi and a bit of flair, it has potential based on the beauty and expanse of the property alone, but it wasn’t the sort of menu where you had a hard time deciding what to get because they’re weren’t any stand out choices. It was, for lack of a better word, basic.

The Heated Pool at Bernardus Spa

Onto the spa where the environment was an almost perfect Pottery Barn beige sense of calm. We were kindly welcomed and the spa attendant pointed out candied ginger to aid with digestion, assorted teas, fruit-infused water, and salted nuts as she ushered us inside. When we asked about our lockers and a robe, we were told that daytime spa guests didn’t receive them. That was when, after the large cavegirl leg of chicken on our salads and the spa forgetting to call the server, I realized that Bernardus, as stunning as the property may be nestled in the cozy rustic chic of Carmel Valley, isn’t quite at the level of service nor luxury that you would find at a Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, or Four Seasons.

We headed to the spa for the treatment, took a quick 10 minute dip in the deliciously heated small pool, and were then called to our appointments. The treatment did not disappoint. We had the Bernardus Essential Massage for 50 minutes ($185, approximately $250 with tip; it’s included). My therapist was excellent and the massage was just the perfect amount of Swedish relaxation with a bit of pressure. When we went to pay, the spa director told us – Strike 3 of the experience – that she noticed we had enjoyed the spa pool (this was a mere 10 minutes prior to the massages) and, although trying to be nice, both my friend and I felt slightly scolded when she said, “It’s okay this time, but next time, if you booked a spa appointment for the day, daytime spa guests aren’t permitted to use the facilities.” Not your standard 15 minutes prior nor following the massage that is custom at luxury properties? Que raro! After our confused looks, no doubt because my friend and I, in all of our jaunts to 4 and 5 star properties, had never heard of such a ridiculous rule before, the spa director mentioned something about Covid. It didn’t make much sense as the mask mandate was ending and capacity was minimal. There was no one in the spa pool and we only saw two others in the spa throughout the entire time we were there. It seemed as if it was one of those poorly drafted “rules” that properties implemented to cut corners during Covid to charge the same for less.

Net net: we had a lovely time because the environment was well kept and beautiful, but we’re not sure we would come back for a meal or a massage. Perhaps if I brought my kids for a mini-vacation as the pool was nice. Apparently, the spa facilities are complimentary for hotel guests. Note to Bernardus Lodge & Spa: you have all the makings of greatness, so leverage seasonal California ingredients and bring thoughtfulness to your menu. Don’t disregard the value of loyal Bay Area locals with stingy spa rules that feel a few stars less than what you’re aiming for.

Rating: 8-/10 for the massage and nice spa amenities (points deducted for the chunk of chicken leg and odd very un-luxe spa limitations for day spa guests)

https://www.bernarduslodge.com/

Winter Holiday Travel: The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Après Ski, anyone?

Our favorite time of the year is around the corner! Also known as snow crab, champagne, and slope season! So, when this news hit our inbox we thought, ‘what better way to inspire others than to share these winter wonderland vibes? Sometimes we like to report on a town with a roundup, other times, we like to share property specific news because we’re a bunch of hotel hounds.

Enter: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. A luxe winter wonderland nestled mid-mountain at Northstar California Resort, they’re also presenting a veritable winter world of activities like après ski, gourmet dining, a Claus family meet and greet, Menorah Lighting ceremony, and traditional Christmas dinners.

The Ritz Carlton, Tahoe

As the only ski-in/ski-out destination in Lake Tahoe, the resort is also perfect for families because you can indulge with world-class ski valet services (yes, please!), award-winning dining and culinary offerings (let the diet start on Monday), and, of course, some of the finest hospitality in the world. Insider secret: they’re trained to always say hello to you in the hallways. It’s a small detail that pays off with kindness. The hotel will also host Holiday Days of Magic, special extravaganzas elevating the holiday vibes further. We just love the whole seasonal thing!

A room with a view of the mountains

In addition to deluxe guestrooms and suites, the resort’s two and three-bedroom Luxury Residences are available to book for the ultimate home-away-from-home winter getaway.

Check out this year’s winter and holiday amenities and events below:

Ski-in/ski-out

RESORT & DINING EXPERIENCES

Northstar California Resort

Guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe have privileged access to Northstar California Resort for all their on-mountain plans with its ski-in/ski-out access and ski valet services. This year, Northstar will not require advanced reservations for on-mountain activities, but face masks are required for all indoor activities. Additionally, proof of vaccination and advanced reservations are required for indoor dining.

Après-Ski Experiences

A social and entertaining activity to enjoy after a day on the slopes, après ski in The Backyard is a guest favorite at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe. This year, beginning November 18 and running throughout the ski season, the hotel will host a Whiskey & Waffles Cabin where guests can savor premium, select whiskeys from around the world paired with warm, fresh waffles loaded with gourmet toppings. OMG!! For an even more elevated après ski experience, weekend guests can also check out the Champagne & Caviar Bar, serving a selection of champagne complemented with an exceptional collection of caviar (we are ALL about caviar these days with interesting flavors from Uruguay and California).

Spa Treatments surrounded by tree tops

Spa

The spa at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe will also be offering seasonal treatments like the Chocolate Decadence Facial.

Dining

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers a great selection of exceptional dining spots on site, from the casual Café Blue and The Backyard Bar & BBQ to The Living Room and the resort’s upscale restaurant, Manzanita.

Beautiful 5 star fare at The Manzanita

The Manzanita menu serves up delicious California mountain cuisine like rustic “Woodlands” entrees such as branzino with Caponata, fennel and cucumber chimichurri, pork ossobuco, venison accompanied with sweet potato, blackberry demi and roasted heirloom carrots, braised lamb, and more.

With ski-in/ski-out access, The Backyard Bar & BBQ serves up Texas-style BBQ from Thursday through Sundays. Beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken, all smoked in-house with the resort’s onsite smoker and served with an array of traditional sides and house-made sauces. Yeehaw!

This lobby!

The Living Room, for when feeling like you’re at a posh hotel in the mountains and deserve fun posh fare. It will feature elevated, shareable dishes including cheese and chocolate fondue and creative seafood towers from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can also sip delicious cocktails here.

Another fun idea they’ve added to the “make it special and easy” vibe: the little ones in the family can enjoy a daily dinner buffet curated just for them with their favorite foods in mind. Priced at $35 per child, the rotating kids’ menu will consist of one cold dish option, choice of two kids’ favorite meals, and two entrée selections.

Airstream Bar

If that’s not cool enough, located at the Fireside Terrace, the hotel will be featuring an outdoor airstream bar – open daily – where guests can stop by to enjoy a warm bowl of soup, while sipping on their favorite winter-inspired cocktail.

Magical Mountains

HOLIDAY DAYS OF MAGIC – December 18 – January 2

Full Holiday Days of Magic Schedule

Thanksgiving Dinners

Manzanita & The Ballroom | November 25

Advance reservations required

A pre-fixed five-course festive meal will be offered at Manzanita for resort guests only.  Menu items include roasted Brussel sprouts, heirloom roasted carrots, roasted turkey, porcini and coffee rubbed-roasted prime rib, and more.  The five-course menu is priced at $180 per person.

A holiday buffet with chef-action stations, harvested vegetable dishes, artisan pastries and kids’ selections will be offered in the resort’s ballroom.  Priced at $180 per guest adult; $50 per child the buffet option will be served from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Menorah Lighting Ceremony

The Living Room | December 5 at Sundown

Christmas Dinners

Manzanita & The Ballroom | December 25

Advance reservations required

Manzanita will be presenting a five-course Christmas menu. Dishes include baby beet salad, seafood duo – featuring scallops and sea bass, Piedmontese filet and more. Priced at $180 per person, guests can book dinner reservations from 4:00 – 9:30 p.m. Kids’ menu option available.

The holiday buffet will also be offered at Christmas and feature harvested vegetable dishes, artisan pastries and kids’ selections offered in the resort’s ballroom. Priced at $180 / per guest adult; $50 per child the buffet option will be served from 12:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

New Year’s Eve Dinner

Manzanita | December 31 | 4:00 – 9:30 p.m.

$210 per person (bubbles included) | Advance reservations required

Pre-fixed, five-course meal in Manzanita. Kids menu option available.

New Year’s Day Brunch

Manzanita | January 1, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

$225 per person | Advance reservations required

Guests can start the new year off right and savor a special recovery brunch menu featuring unlimited bottomless drink selection.

Additionally, the resort will play host to special appearances from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, daily live music, and gingerbread house-making activities for families. The resort will also display a giant replica of the resort made entirely of gingerbread in the lobby, crafted by the resort’s talented pastry team.

www.ritzcarlton.com/LakeTahoe

Reservations: 800-241-3333

 

 

Small Luxury Hotel’s Top Caribbean Picks 2017

This just in from Small Luxury Hotels for 2017…

A Caribbean hotel round up! Check it out, swoon, and book (if you’re anything like me and really need a vacation… STAT).

the_manoah_anguilla_hotels
The Manoah – Anguilla

The Manoah Boutique Hotel: Shoal Bay, Anguilla

Every aspect of the brand new Manoah Boutique Hotel has been designed to celebrate its stunning location on the shores of Shoal Bay.  Opened in December 2016, the 25 bedrooms and suites are decorated in cool neutral shades and each room has a private glass-fronted veranda overlooking the beach. The resort boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool surrounded by lush tropical gardens plus two tropical beach bars. Guests can opt to spend their days at the tranquil Manoah Spa, or relax on the powdery white sands of Shoal Bay taking in the view. Water sports such as paddle boarding, kayaking or scuba diving can also be arranged. Inspired by a delicious mix of global cuisines, chefs at the Ocean Beach Club Restaurant have created a unique menu using fresh seasonal produce, best enjoyed accompanied by the sound and sights of the sea.

SLH Insider Tip: With local stables nearby, spend an evening on horse-back with a sunset beach ride on Cove Bay.

www.slh.com/manoah

Rates: $350/night

anguilla best hotels
The Reef by CuisinArt: Anguilla

The Reef by CuisinArt: Anguilla

Desirably situated on Merrywing Bay on the tranquil island of Anguilla, The Reef by CuisinArt debuted in November 2016, revealing a beachfront contemporary oasis featuring 80 suites, directly on the Caribbean Sea. The hotel offers an array of accommodation, some with sea views and others that are right on the white sand beach with dramatic outdoor Jacuzzis. Fresh locally sourced ingredients from the on-property hydroponic farm and fresh seafood fill the menu at the nautical inspired fine dining restaurant, The Yacht Club, and the casual cool beach front bar and restaurant, Breezes. The architecture and design of the hotel is fresh and modern, with touches of colour and the sea brought inside and ocean views from almost every window.

SLH Insider Tip: Head to the other end of the island and take a boat out to tiny coral island, Scilly Cay, for live music, delicious lobster and for what many hail as the best rum punch on the island.

Rates: $500/night

www.slh.com/thereef

st barts best hotels
Le Barthelemy Hotel and Spa: St Barths

Le Barthélemy Hotel and Spa: St Barthélemy

This exclusive oceanfront resort is SLH’s first property in St Barth’s. The hotel opened its doors in November 2016, welcoming guests to its 46 rooms and suites with interiors by celebrated designer Sybille de Margerie and cuisine by Michelin-starred French chef, Guy Martin. The elegant boutique hotel perfectly captures the laid-back luxury of St Barth’s, with light airy interiors and genuine island hospitality. The bright and airy rooms and suites are decorated to reflect the white sands and turquoise blue of the ocean and each one opens out onto a private terrace with ocean or garden views and private swimming pool. Aux Amis, the resort’s restaurant serves a light menu during the day and in the evening the space opens onto a beachfront terrace where guests can enjoy French and international cuisine overlooking the bay. The hotel’s spa has partnered with luxury French skin care brand La Mer and offers a wide array of treatments in its open-air atrium.

SLH Insider Tip: On the south-east tip of the island sits Anse de Columbiere – this undeveloped bay is only accessible by foot or by boat and is a peaceful haven for those seeking somewhere secluded to swim and sunbathe.

Rates: $648/night

www.slh.com/barthelemy

nevis luxury hotels and villas paradise beach nevis
The pool at Paradise Beach Nevis

Paradise Beach: St Kitts and Nevis

Exclusivity, intimacy and personal service are key at this beachfront resort on the utopian island of St Kitts and Nevis. Boasting an idyllic location – nestled into a glorious white-sand beach and overlooking St Kitts and Mount Nevis – Paradise Beach Nevis has the distinction of being the only villa resort on the Caribbean island of Nevis. The resort is child friendly and the villas for up to eight people make it a great option for a family getaway. Each of the seven villas is its own personal palace with a marble or limestone bath, king beds, a sound system which allows guest to stream their own music, fitness studio, dining rooms for private meals, a private pool, a sea view and kitted out with Hermés bath products. The hand woven, palm roofs were designed to mirror the Nevis Peak, which, combined with lush gardens and an amazing beach, provide a paradise of luxury and tranquillity. 

SLH Insider Tip:  Probably one of the more well-known attractions but still well worth the hype is the Sugar train –the last scenic railway in the West Indies. The double decker carriages have open sided top decks for guests to enjoy the breeze along with their rum punch and the sounds of the trains own choir.

Rates: $876/night

www.slh.com/paradisebeach

turks and caicos hotels
Point Grace Resort and Spa: Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

Point Grace Resort and Spa: Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

An all-suite hideaway surrounded by perfect sandy beaches as far as the eye can see, Point Grace Resort and Spa overlooks the stunning Grace Bay and is SLH’s first hotel in Turks and Caicos. The tropical resort is turn-of the-century style with a contemporary twist and consists of 25 suites all spanning over 1,000 square feet, two restaurants and the Thalasso Spa, where treatments are inspired by the ocean. Grace’s Cottage, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant is an architectural gem featuring picturesque outdoor seating where old world elegance meets modern gourmet cuisine. Guests can also enjoy lunch and breakfast at Hutchings, which is nestled in a tropical garden and serves casual food with a Caribbean influence. A unique collection of African tribal crafts and artwork can be found dotted around the hotel, most of which are locally sourced from the island and lend an insight into the culture and travel experience of the turn of the century West Indian traveler.

SLH Insider Tip: If you’re a wildlife lover visit the Leeward settlement, an uninhabited islet known as ‘Iguana Island’ – a sanctuary for the endangered Turks & Caicos Rock Iguana.

Rates: $460/night

www.slh.com/pointgrace

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