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

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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

 

Top Dude Ranches for The Ultimate Escape

Waunita Hot Springs

Waunita Hot Springs

Courtesy of the Dude Rancher’s Association, if you’re looking for the ultimate winter escape, look no further than these all-inclusive dude ranches, each of which offers cold weather retreat in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of the country.

Latigo Ranch in Kremmling, Colorado
The outdoor activities are just as invigorating as the inside comforts are cozy at Latigo Ranch. Experienced skiers know Latigo has some of the best snow conditions and finest cross-country skiing in Colorado. Other winter activities include snowshoeing and tubing, or enjoy the quiet and seclusion from the front porch of a historic log lodge with a panoramic view of 100 miles of the Continental Divide.

Latigo

Latigo Ranch – Kremmling, Colorado

Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana
Things move a little slower at Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana, and that’s just how it’s meant to be. Treat yourself to horseback riding, sleigh ride dinners, square dances, snowshoeing, ice skating, dog sledding and ice fishing. Cap off the day with a soak in the hot tub, a game of pool, or a relaxing book and some music. And don¹t forget to leave time to enjoy a magical sleigh ride accompanied by hot chocolate or even dinner.

Bar W

Guests ride a horse drawn sleigh at the Bar W Ranch near Whitefish Montana

The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado
When the legendary snowfalls blanket the Elk River Valley in powder, The Home Ranch transforms into a sparkling white wonderland and becomes one of the most beautiful cross-country ski resorts in Colorado. Located just north of Steamboat Springs, the ranch offers some of the best Nordic skiing in the world, rustic accommodations, and a world-class chef that prepares what he calls ‘haute mountain cuisine’ for every meal. A typical day during a winter vacation could even include helping feed the ranch¹s herd of 100+ horses with a sleigh.

Home Ranch

The Home Ranch – Clark, Colorado

Western Pleasure Ranch in Sandpoint, Idaho
A favorite activity of visitors to Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in North Idaho is a scenic horse-drawn sleigh ride powered by one of the ranch’s draft teams. A two-mile loop trail takes passengers through a dense forest, treating them to fantastic views of the Selkirk Mountains. Sleighs are available in sizes ranging from two-passenger to 12-passenger. Western Pleasure also has ski trails for all levels.

Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
An all-inclusive winter vacation to Vista Verde Guest Ranch combines the amenities of a luxury Colorado resort with the relaxed and intimate atmosphere of a ranch vacation. Hide out in a cozy log cabin with a private hot tub and enjoy delicious, freshly prepared meals in between snow-filled adventures. Winter activities include skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, tubing, sleigh rides, culinary classes, yoga and photography classes.

Lone Mountain

Lone Mountain – Big Sky, Montana

Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana
Lone Mountain Ranch offers the ultimate winter adventure. The ranch is perfectly situated just six miles from some of the best skiing in the country and was voted as the No. 1 Nordic Ski Resort in North America by Cross Country Skier magazine. Winter activities include skiing (Nordic, downhill and backcountry), snowshoeing and sleigh ride dinners. Guests can even take a short shuttle ride to explore Yellowstone National Park or the Gallatin National Forest by skis or snowshoes.

C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado
The winter weather is surprisingly mild at C Lazy U, thanks to the bright sunshine. Backcountry snowmobile and horseback riding tours, snowshoeing, private on-property snowcat skiing, ice skating, tubing and the C Lazy U Luge are favorite activities among winter guests. There¹s even ice hockey on the pond, as well as major ski resorts nearby.

Seven Devils

Seven Devils Lodge – Council, Idaho

Seven Devils Lodge Guest Ranch in Council, Idaho
Located in central Idaho, just south of the Seven Devils mountain range, Seven Devils Lodge Guest Ranch lies in a unique area, neighboring jutting canyons, high desert, and soaring mountains. It offers some of Idaho’s finest backcountry boondocking, with terrain for all levels of riders. The ranch tailors the experience to match each guests’ riding style and even offers Back Country Basics riding clinics for those looking to improve their skills.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
Winter is Bed & Breakfast Mountain Lodge season at Sundance Trail Guest Ranch. Guests are welcome to come for one or two nights, or for a week, during which time they can enjoy lodging, meals and morning horseback rides. Even four-legged travelers are welcome during the off-season! Sundance Trail is popular during the winter for family reunions, romantic getaways, and even honeymoons and elopements.

If an escape from the cold and snow is more your speed, check out these two all-inclusive guest ranches this winter:

Hideout

Hideout Ranch – San Simon, Arizona

Hideout Ranch in San Simon, Arizona
See the West the way it was meant to be seen ­ from the back of a horse. Hideout Ranch’s strategic location along the Arizona-New Mexico border provides easy access to thousands of miles of mountain and high desert riding trails ­ trails no other ranch in Southeastern Arizona rides. Prepare to let your stress melt away in the bright blue Arizona sunshine and crisp, clean mountain air.

Tombstone Monument Ranch in Tombstone, Arizona
Travel back in time to the era of the cowboy at this unique ranch, which is set up like an 1880s Western frontier town. Each of the ranch’s 18 rooms has a special Western theme and is decorated in turn-of-the-century style. Explore miles of open country by horseback, enjoy live music around the campfire, or take a walk to the monument of Ed Schieffelin, the founder of Tombstone, located right on ranch property. The ranch offers trails for all levels of horseback riding.

True Wine Lovers Sleep Right In The Vineyard

Mendoza wine country

The Pool at Entre Cielos – Mendoza, Argentina

You think you are a serious wine drinker? Maybe you have a few glasses each week, swirl it around your glass rejoicing in the “body” and “tannins” and even can taste the differences between a California and a French Pinot, but have you ever slept in a vineyard? Well, we have… and let’s just say that there’s no substitute from drinking from the vine, resting your deliciously weary head, and then rising in the morning to drink/eat/repeat.

One of our top picks is Entre Cielos Luxury Wine Hotel + Spa in Mendoza, Argentina. This luxury boutique hotel and member of Small Luxury Hotels lets you sleep amongst their eight acres of Malbec grapes in a Limited Edition Vineyard Loft. The pod-like designed loft rises 30 feet above the vines making oenophiles feel like they are growing in the vineyard themselves.

Argentine vineyards

The Pool at Entre Cielos – Mendoza, Argentina

The one of a kind “suite” has an outdoor terrace complete with jacuzzi and unobstructed views of the vineyard and snow-capped mountains off in the distance. Although the views during the day are incredible, the ones at night are just as awesome. The loft has numerous skylights allowing you to stargaze right from the comfort of your bed.

argentina wine country

The Pool at Entre Cielos – Mendoza, Argentina

Located in one of the largest wine regions in Latin America, often recognized as the second home of the Malbec grape, the 16-room Entre Cielos sits on 20 acres in the Mendoza countryside and is a modern day retreat with ultra-modern architecture, sculpture and zen garden, two restaurants and the only six-stage circuit Hamam in Latin America.

Don’t worry, wine reigns supreme in the spa to with Vinotherapy treatments. Where else can you  – detox and retox – at the same time? We highly recommend the Hamam circuit combined with a Grape Seed Exfoliation and Wine Bath. Imagine soaking in a bubble bath infused with red grapes while drinking the hotel’s very own “Young” 100% Malbec Rose? Magical.

best mendoza spa

The Pool at Entre Cielos – Mendoza, Argentina

As the property does have their own vineyard, they produce their own three labels of Malbec- Marantal Young, Marantal Classic and Gran Marantal (voted one of the 20 best Malbecs in 2013 by Descorchados). They also, of course, coordinate onsite tastings of their wines, as well as others. If you want to venture out on a tasting mission, the hotel can also arrange tastings at an array of nearby wineries. Bring your wooden leg… you’ll need it.

If drinking all day seems like overkill, there is definitely plenty of other activities nearby. You can horseback ride through vineyards, hot sir balloon over vineyards… ok, fine, it all still revolves around winemaking but hey, when in Mendoza!

The Limited Edition Vineyard Loft starts at $700 per night but there are other rooms in the main building that start at $315 per night.

www.entrecielos.com

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.

The Top Sailing Destinations Around the World

This week, Guest Contributor, Nicole Noel, shares her Top 7 Most Fabulous Sailing Destinations around the World with our Jaunt Magazine readers.

The fact that you love to sail speaks volumes about you. That is what you will find if you listen to the experienced sailor, Super Calin. He states that, according to his experience, people who enjoy sailing are smart and confident. They are adventurous and they know how to enjoy life (Super Calin, January 2015). All these traits are enhanced if you try to enjoy sailing at some of these seven amazing places.

Capri

Capri, Italy

1. Capri, Italy

One of the most amazing things happens in Capri. It is the annual Rolex Sailing Week. It takes place in May because of the amazing sailing weather. Enjoy the view of inshore racing around the volcanic sceneries and Aeolian Islands. If you have what it takes, join the races and make the most o this event.

French Riviera

Who doesn’t love the French Riviera?

2. French Riviera

The charm and the luxury of the French Riviera are reserved for those that enjoy the luxury. The Gulf of St. Tropez needs to be a part of your itinerary. Explore the lagoons and visit the Medieval Cogolin. You can also just stay at the port and admire the stunning, luxurious yachts docked there.

Croatia

Croatia

3. Croatia

You will pass thousands of islands once you enter the waters of Croatia. You can take your pick and visit the great, history packed city of Dubrovnik, or you can opt for some small, village taverns. Let the locals show you their fish specialties and do not forget to ask for a glass of a homemade Dalmatian wine.

Turkey

The Turkish Coast

4. Turkey

Definitely start at Olympos and head to Gokkaya Bay. The waters are amazing and everywhere you chose to make a stop, the Turkish cuisine will spoil you for any other. Two stops are necessary, though: the sunken city will be underneath you as you sail over the ruins of the city that was destroyed 2000 years ago. It is the part of the World Heritage. Also, dock and go to explore Simena Castle, once you reach it.

Whitsunday

Whitsunday Island, Australia

5. Whitsunday Island, Australia

This place is famous for its amazing white beaches and jaw-dropping color of water around it. It is a secluded place where people come to relax and spend a day in perfect nature. You can make this a perfect chance to let somebody do your boat detailing while you spend a day on this beach. That is why you need to make this a part of your trip. Forget about activities and adrenaline rushes and let the nature itself amaze you. It is a tropical paradise of peace.

TahitiS

French Polynesia

6. French Polynesia

Tahiti and Bora Bora are the destinations where the rich and famous go for their honeymoons and hedonistic trips to unwind and relax. The nature and the waters are awesome and full of wildlife. If you want to get in close touch with the nature, seek for a guide that will give you the shark feeding experience. That definitely adds to the thrill of sailing at this natural paradise.

Nile

Sailing the Magnificent Nile

7. Nile, Egypt

The Ancient river of Nile is the cradle of all life. Just by going down this river, you can meditate on that fact alone. However, to experience the ancient culture, make a stop in Sudan. Visit the wonderful ancient Meroe Royal City. You will see the tops of over two hundred pyramids. This was the ruling place of the Black Pharaohs.

The waters will take you to the most amazing places if you let them. Exploring the world from the sea is a perfect way to learn more about nature, history and world in general. Therefore, take that chance and make this list your checklist for the future.

Nicole

Nicole Noel

 

Nicole Noel is an avid traveller. She enjoys discovering different cultures, exploring new things, and sharing her ideas with others. You can find her on twitter and FB

Your Istanbul Travel Cheat Sheet

Istanbul at Dusk (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Istanbul at Dusk (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Turkey, the site of two wonders of the ancient world, is a present-day marvel – the cradle of many civilizations, the very center of world history and a modern republic which, at times, struggles between embracing the relics of her past and a forward-seeking future. A country of fascinating contrasts, antiquity is juxtaposed with the contemporary, the familiar with the exotic, and sun-swept beaches beckon less than an hour away from snow-capped mountains. Everywhere, however, visitors say they are often treated to the extraordinary warmth of the Turkish people. Istanbul is the most popular 1st stop for those visiting Turkey and it’s a clear winner among people of all nationalities and religions. If  you only have a few days or a long weekend, here’s a quick cheat sheet of the Top Things to Do and See in Istanbul, to soon be followed by the Wonders of The Turkish Coast.

The Bosphorus

The Bosphorus

What to See

In addition to the well known sites of the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, two years ago, Istanbul was rated Travel + Leisure‘s #1 European city to visit, so, to celebrate Staff of the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF) compiled a list of the 10 places every visitor to Istanbul must experience which we wanted to share.

  1. Sip the best Turkish coffee at Mandabatmaz
  2. Browse the sustainable, locally-made, high-end contemporary Turkish goods at Armaggan Emporium
  3. Indulge in centuries of Anatolian culinary tradition at NAR Gourmet and NAR Restaurant
  4. Absorb the work of Turkey’s greatest contemporary artists at Istanbul Modern
  5. Hop on a Bosphorus ferry to Kadikoy for people watching and Alinin Dondurmasi’s famous ice cream
  6. Experience the centuries-old tradition of raki and fresh fish at İsmet Baba in Kuzguncuk
  7. Relax in the pleasure of a traditional Turkish hamam bath at Cağaloğlu Hamamı
  8. Shop the collection of critically acclaimed Turkish designer Simay Bülbül
  9. Soak up the sounds of Turkey’s thriving jazz scene at Nardis Jazz Bar
  10. Enjoy cocktails and conversation in Münferit’s quiet garden before returning inside to dance until dawn with locals
Istanbul (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Istanbul (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul

A few years ago, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul because we always know we’ll get top-notch service and food, but Istanbul has several fantastic properties that are unique and special (Note: Ciragan Palace). The Ritz is located at one of the most exciting cultural crossroads in the world in a city that bridges the continents of Asia and Europe along the banks of the Bosphorus Strait. From the outside, it may look like another skyscraper, but once inside, international recognition for its commitment to exceptional levels of service becomes clear. You’re not simply told where the Ladies room is located, you’re escorted there, after being offered some warm Turkish sahlep, a delectable sweet warm drink reminiscent of yogurt and cinnamon. The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul was voted “Best Overseas Business Hotel 2009” by readers of Condé Nast Traveller UK and it’s no surprise. It’s about as stress free as you can get. In addition to 244 rooms and 23 suites, there are 57 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms (since I’m obsessed with the Club Level) and The Ritz also offers the award-wining Laveda Spa that includes ten treatment rooms including a not-to-be-missed Turkish Hammam where you will feel transported back in time, dreaming of the days of Suleyman the Magnificient.

Ritz Carlton Couples Hammam

Ritz Carlton Couples Hammam

At the Laveda Spa, the experienced therapists apply the miraculous methods of massage and skin care with Aromatherapy Associates offering all natural plant oils and the high-end line of Carita products. Apart from that a variety of holistic massages like the relaxing “Sultans Royal Six Hands Massage” applied in synchronization by three trained artisans, there are also exclusive body treatments like the “Hot Chocolate Seduction”, “Caviar Therapy”, “Milk & Honey Bath,” or an intoxicating wine therapy called “The Gift of Bacchus,” all infused with natural ingredients.

The Indoor Pool at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The Indoor Pool at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The indoor pool, the biggest of all indoor hotel pools in the city, is another alternative for more sporty activities or a few lazy laps. You’ll have the feeling of soaking under the Turkish sky when swimming in the mosaic pool as twinkling “stars” on the ceiling illuminate the pool area and highlight the impressive architecture of the Byzantine period of Istanbul.

But perhaps the most stunning section of the Spa is the authentic Turkish Hamam modeled on the 16th century Baths of Roxelana. The Hamam ritual entails a process of complete surrender to scrubbing, washing, and relaxation where you enter a private hamam room and lay a warm slab of marble. Once there, you’re exfoliated and cleansed like a goddess with copious amounts of warm and cool water, followed by a thorough body wash, and a bubble massage where the therapist creates clouds of bubbles with the use of a special towel that surrounds you like a daphine-scented cloud (an exotic flower from Western Asia).

This was, in many ways, the highlight of my luxurious vacation.

Ritz Carlton Cooking

Ritz Carlton Cooking

After our Turkish Hamam, we headed to the Ritz Calrton Istanbul’s Çintemani restaurant for dinner, an exciting autumn menu designed to celebrate local seasonal produce and showcase a unique approach to the culinary traditions of Turkey. Highlights on the autumn five-course degustation menu from then Chef de Cuisine, Ali Ronay (now at Raffles). His menu included Turkish puff pastry with pumpkin and pomegranate, lamb from the Thracian region and Turkish pancakes, while the à la carte menu was a whirlwind journey around the country’s regional flavors from Thracian beef fillet, prawns from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, tuna and octopus from Dardanelles, veal from Balikesir, and chicken from Bandirma on the Sea of Marmara. The fusion of local flavors and innovative cooking techniques made the dishes so unique and mouth-watering that I can honestly say I’ve never quite tasted food like this before. Prawns were infused with Turkish Raki brandy, Bosporus bonito fish was prepared in traditional tomato and onion ragout, while mullet from Dardanelles was dressed with virgin olive oil from Bodrum. Innovative techniques included lamb prepared à la sous vide (a method of cooking vacuum-packed food in a plastic pouch at a set temperature often in a water bath) and cheesecake created from Aegean curd and seasonal pumpkin.

Now are you hungry to check it out?

Rates from $269/night

www.ritzcarlton.com/istanbul

Other amazing places to stay in Istanbul:

  • Kempinski Ciragan (truly historic and palatial)
  • The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul (can’t go wrong with the always solid Four Seasons)
  • Pera Palace (a Jumeirah property so expect proper opulence)
  • Georges Hotel Galata (a unique boutique property with an intimate vibe)
  • Hotel Ibrahim Pasha (another boutique property in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul on a quaint quiet street)
  • The House Hotel Nisantasi (a smaller elegant modern hotel)

Bars and Restaurants to check out:

  • 11:11 (open Wed. – Sat. this hotspot is owned by the son of one of Turkey’s famous singers)
  • Public (where you want to people watch and party)
  • Poseiden (one of the top fish restaurants in Istanbul with classic mezzes & raki in an upmarket terrace atmosphere)
  • Casita (late night peruhi aka. vegetarian Turkish pasta with yoghurt & mint… yum!)