Hotels in Bangkok have a lot of competition to get the to top of the list for luxury travelers with a yen for design. The Siam, which opens in June on the precious banks of Bangkok’s Chao Praya River, answers the call for design, location, amenities and old Siamese sentiment with an award-winning, 39-key, all suites retreat.
Set in the style of the 19th century kingdom, you can almost imagine Joseph Conrad or Somerset Maugham penning away by a wood-framed window over the city’s central waterway. But these quarters in what is considered Bangkok’s first luxury boutique hotel contain much more than muses.
Each room is a set of its own with original turn-of-the-century teakwood furnishings and artworks matched with plush appointments and textiles, surrounding guests with a sense of modern and ageless Thai royalty. The suites, villas and Thai House residence showcase the work of renowned creative director Krissada Sukosol Clapp and designer Bill Bensley, one of Architectural Digest’s “Top 100 Designers and Most Creative People” in 2009.
The Siam’s location keeps it central – in the prestigious Dusit neighborhood within easy walking, driving, river taxi or metro to Chatuchak market, Chinatown, the Grand Palace, the Jim Thompson House, the National Museum and Temple of the Dawn.
Naturally, the onsite dining options take in the riverfront views and breezes, offering creative royal Thai cuisine and cooking classes to complete the experience. A traditional Thai coffee room and tea garden provide added calm, complementing a full spa, salon and fitness center that includes ring where guests can refine their Muay Thai techniques.
For those who want to indulge their fitness, spa and wellness interests during a trip to Thailand, Chiva Som, three hours from Bangkok in fashionable Hua Hin beach resort, can make a perfect add-on or immersive Thai destination point.
The property sits on the Gulf of Thailand’s warm blue waters with seven wandering acres of gardens and quiet meditation corners. Several wellness pavilions offering treatments in Eastern, Western, Holistic and local traditions proffer the needed wisdom and work to make a wellness focus penetrating and lasting for guests. Foods, fitness programs, meditation and massage, acupuncture, traditional healing, even aesthetic medi-spa treatment opportunities are all on the menu in all-inclusive programs lasting from three nights to two weeks, customized according the client’s goals and wishes with culinary programs to fit. Guests can choose from detox programs, weight management, yoga, fitness, natural healing, inner peace or just wondrous spa indulgence while getting needed relaxation at this “Haven of Life.”
Rates start at $1,558 for three nights in an ocean view room with all meals, treatments and program sessions, on a twin basis. Single guests pay $2,140.
For romance travel there is nothing more seductive than a suite on the beach – but make that a Uruguay beach on a remote pampa, where celebrated wine from Chile pours, Uruguay art surrounds, heady conversations dangle and delicious foods await – and all within easy driving distance from Punte del Este and Montevideo.
Family travelers can consider the wow factor of a grand colonial manor on a hill overlooking the rugged rolling pampas shore line, with the occasional Uruguayan gaucho galloping by, flocks of sheep grazing and even a private polo.
Playa Vik and Estancia Vik José Ignacio, two separate luxury experiences on the southern tip of Uruguay, provide a tantalizing sense of destination, whether for couples in the throes of romance travel or family travelers seeking the romance of the exotic.
Each property provides something extraordinary that can best be described as vision. In this case, the vision belongs to owner Alex Vik, a Norwegian-born financier who chose the searing shore expanses, and along with the talents of co-owner Carrie Vik and the renowned design skills of Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, produced two precious hotel properties that make heads turn.
Playa Vik* opened in 2010 in the oceanfront resort town of José Ignacio. It’s a study in minimalism and modern art as much as it is a study in the aesthetics of ecology and earth-friendly design. Romantic travelers looking for where to stay in Latin America can indulge in a one of a kind moment here that is both art and life intertwined. Playa Vik takes the concept of art in hotels and makes it come alive in a way that lets guests become part of the canvas.
The hotel faces west over the southern Atlantic Ocean and the calm waters of Playa Mansa, with 19 suites on the beach that became palette and platform for an elite cadre of famed Uruguayan artists. But it is in this intellectual St. Tropez setting that artists and celebrities often gather for gourmet meals, creativity retreats and inspiration. Walls of manga silhouettes, poems and abstracts, and spirited spaces of minimal design meet cacophonous corners of riotous musings. Each suite, each space becomes its own artful movement within which couples can find new paths to connection.
Estancia Vik continues the modernist and minimalist themes but in the unlikely context of a palatial estancia or colonial ranch house on a hill with 12 suites overlooking 4,000 acres of rolling green coastline. The art spaces in this hotel showcase the work of some of Uruguay’s leading contemporary artists, including Pablo Atchugarry and Clever Lara. But guests are reminded this is not a museum but a place to go horseback riding across open pampas with gauchos, to explore nature in the rough, to mountain bike, hike, canoe and fish in the Arroyo de José Ignacio or the grand José Ignacio Lake. And for those who must practice their foreshots, the private polo field with Criollo riding horses at the ready, or the adjoining golf green for duffers and putters provide the generous foregrounds.
Both properties put as much emphasis on the art of the meal as they do on the art of structural design, highlighting Uruguay food and Uruguay traditions in the presentation.
Parillero, traditional barbeque of spicy meats grilled over an open fire pit, as well as fresh fish and seafood, locally grown fruits and vegetables and homemade breads and pastries all keep with local tradition in the preparations. But meals are served European style under flickering candelabras illuminating communal tables of hotel guests while Chilean wines pour (Vik is an owner of a vineyard in neighboring Chile, where he is readying to open his third hotel next year) and visitors engage in animated discourse.
It’s possible to stay at one Uruguay hotel or at both – they are less than 6 miles apart. Each offers a wowing swimming pool (don’t miss Playa Vik’s 75-foot-long, black granite pool alight in a celestial map of the southern hemisphere created by small optic light points within the pool floor), romantic fireplaces, a small spa, and unexpected art in forms and fancies that gently push the boundaries as far as the eye can see.
* Wallpaper named Playa Vik the 2012 Best New Hotel in the World
Ahhh … to Spahhhh. Simply saying it is enough to make neck muscles to loosen and for breath to release in a deep, stress busting sigh.
Fortunately, wellness vacations come in all pocket sizes – as simple as a 20-minute meditation in a spot by the ocean and as elaborate as a weeks-long mind-body makeover. At Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, with our collection of seven perfect settings for kick-starting that life-saving adjustment, wellness is more than a state of mind. It is a state of being, available to anyone ready to just say no – and then yes!
For anyone in doubt of what a spa or wellness vacation can do, consider a recent study out of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration that found spa or wellness vacations often lead to:
* The ability to manage business affairs with more acumen, energy and creativity (verses results from non-spa vacations)
* The chance to return to work with significantly more energy — alert and “in the zone” with business matters
* An enhanced ability to make decisions and handle challenges
* A more focused and alert state of mind
The effects of regular and consistent meditation are also well known. But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed people who meditate regularly have less activity in the brain’s default mode network – a place of drifting thoughts that wander onto negative subjects, creating more stress and anxiety. Activity in the default mode has also been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.
A University of Pittsburgh study showed how men who did not take yearly vacations, never mind wellness vacations, had a 21% higher risk of death from all causes, and a 32% higher risk of death by heart attack.
Benefit studies aside, wellness travel is simply an easy and enjoyable way to spend time, get pampered, meet new people, eat well, rest, and get into shape.
Kurtz-Ahler’s Wellness Travel collection presents a convenient starting place for matching resorts and dreams with packages for all budgets…
Rancho La Puerta, Mexico
This boutique treasure just south of the border in Baja brings the clear and temperate weather,
the rolling vistas, the sacred spaces and the perfect ways to enjoy them through pampering programs, fitness boosts and healthy dining. Only 87 guest rooms here, all on ground level each with a colorful private patio. Classic 7-day visits ensure the proper recharge plus some of the best hiking to be found at any spa amid the resort’s 40 miles of trails.
Healing happens quickly when you are perched on white bluffs over the Mediterranean coast of Spain. An 80-minute drive from Valencia or 40 minutes from Alicante, this newly opened spa resort (2009) showcases all the latest treatments in a setting of high design and macrobiotically focused cuisine. All foods served are organic and chosen for their immune-building properties, while beauty and fitness programs ensure rejuvenation inside and out. SHA’s menu of age-busting beauty treatments coupled with a generous list of medical aesthetics options mean guests can arrange for some life-altering programs that go well beyond the realm of pampering.
It’s possible to live like a maharaja and maharani in this former palace set on 100 acres of virgin forest in the foothills of the Himalayas. The healing that happens here follows ancient principles of Ayurvedic traditions while the setting remains as authentic as it was in its colonial hey day, a place of light and beauty. Meditation, yoga, massage, mindful walks, harmonious foods – all is geared toward bringing the mind, body and spirit into perfect balance
through carefully planned regimens that infuse the wisdom of the ages. Find Ananda near New Delhi, easily accessed by train, road or air.
Guests have it all within this 57-suite retreat located on a beachfront stretch in Thailand’s royal resort town of Hua Hin. Within easy reach of Bangkok, Chiva Som provides a comprehensive, but relaxed immersion into Eastern philosophies and healing arts, offering choice at every turn. Weight loss programs, fitness regimens, meditation, cooking classes, yoga, t’ai chi – guests wrap themselves in a mélange of activities or simply sit back for generous pampering and care. Total relaxation is as assured as the gentle waves curling through the Gulf of Thailand and onto the palm-shaded sands of Hua Hin.
It’s possible to disappear into this 650-acre paradise in Miami, FLA and come out nearly reborn: healthy, thin, relaxed and armed with a chest of new tools to make the changes last. The setting is the Doral Golf Resort, a vast layout of tropical gardens, swimming pools, tennis courts, a world-class spa, and championship golf courses. But there is much more. Guests can choose programs to fit their goals and get to work making the changes in their lives that will matter most toward a healthy heart, healthy weight and healthy lifestyle. It’s a working vacation where transformation is guaranteed within a prescribed comprehensive program full of classes, therapies and proper cuisine. Your day at Pritikin.
Going to the Oscars and need to fit into that hourglass Valentino? This is your spot. In fact,
celeb spotting is not uncommon in this hidden and private 120-acre ranch in the mountains above Malibu, CA. It’s a take no prisoners camp for those who must become beautiful in a hurry. Couch potatoes need not read on. Programs are weeklong, 10 hours a day, strength gaining and invigorating. Cooking classes, low impact aerobics, hiking, yoga, massage, delicious and healthy eating come as daily inclusions leading to a new body at week’s end, a new level of can-do and a welcomed elevation of mental clarity. Check out the possibilities.
Canyon Ranch is the original name in trusted destination spa vacations, made famous by the flagship Canyon Ranch resort outside of Tucson, AZ.
In Miami, it’s a total luxury all-suite hotel dedicated to wellness and all on its own little piece of the coast near the Bay Harbor Islands. Guests embrace the Ranch’s total immersion philosophy with a cascading menu of classes and lectures, a fitness facility that includes Pilates, rock climbing and yoga, beach boot camp for those who want it or beach bicycling for those who don’t — and just the beach for others who want to settle into the setting. The 70,000 square foot spa is not just about the menu of treatments. The facility is a destination in itself with myriad water therapies, mineral rooms, saunas, reflexology chambers and thermal suites. Mix/match or manage a customized program here. Choice abounds, fun is guaranteed, relaxation happens. (package)
Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud is colorful indeed, especially when you consider New Zealand has more species of ferns, flightless birds and baying sheep per square mile than most cities have people. So it’s not surprising that many resorts on these north-south isles will encompass views that barely contain roads or cars, much less humans.
Getting away from it all is what New Zealand offers, even if that means escapes to Middle Earth or the lands of Aslan. Some 15 hours of flight time from the U.S., arrival happens in what seems to be a parallel universe but the differences pop out amid colossal Kauri trees as old as the Bible and volcanic lakes that boil and blow – as if viewing the world from inside a time traveler’s mirror.
In real terms, a visitor can rent a car and self-drive to such places as 90-Mile Beach, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, the Remarkables and Franz Josef Glacier. New Zealand is roughly 1,550 miles north to south on two great swaths of land managed by an excellent road system and plenty of easy transport options that do not require the extra expense of a tour company or inbound assistance to arrange.
At Kurtz-Ahlers, we view New Zealand as nature at its purest. New Zealand is nature left to do what it does as humans stay on the sidelines and watch the marvels unfold. And we have chosen three places where luxurious accommodations, fine dining and pampering all play a part in perfecting the best ways to take in this unyielding performance at close range.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers on the North Island, an easy six-hour drive from Auckland (although private flights and heli-transfers are at the ready), overlooks Hawkes Bay with 180-degree views of the roiling South Pacific. It’s all about the land here, 6,000 undulating acres of it on a working New Zealand sheep farm that supports an award-winning wine cellar along with gourmet dining, spa (ever had a jade and crystal facial?) and golf (par 71 and considered #27 on Golf Magazine’s “Best” list) on a seemingly endless spread. But this farm is a Relais & Chateaux presentation that combines the rustic and the modern, the craggy and the comfortable, the wide spaces and the 22 cozy cottages along rocky cliffs overlooking relentless waves. Check out the four-bedroom Owner’s Cottage, a world unto itself.
Sister property at the Bay of Islands, less than four hours drive from Auckland with air options cutting that time down to one hour, the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs presents a lush setting with astounding pans of the Pacific and its islands off the coast. Find more than
6,000 acres of prime New Zealand landscapes to wander within an environment that easily compares to Bali. Another property by Relais & Chateaux, a stay at Kauri Cliffs can be an active experience of biking, bushwalking, beach combing, golf and tennis. Day tours to nature reserves near and far come as options on a daily activities menu, as do swimming in the ocean, sunning by the pool and having old-fashioned picnics amid a wonderland of magical scenery.
Find 22 guest suites (plus the two-bedroom Owner’s Suite), each with its own private porch, bedroom with sitting area and open fireplace, abutting a native forest and overlooking the golf course and the Pacific.
Ah, but sweet stays here come in “threes.” Rounding this triple play is Matakauri Lodge on New Zealand’s south island just minutes from downtown Queenstown on stunning Lake Wakatipu. While this area along the Remarkables and Walter and Cecil Peaks is considered the New Zealand capital of adventure travel with its abundance of bungee jump-off spots, hiking trails, mountain biking tours, jet boating, paragliding, and river runs, the Lodge lasers in on the scenery as a modern oasis of calm.
Unlike its more traditional sisters, Matakauri’s design and layout makes a statement. The Lodge is an art piece carefully crafted by celebrated New Zealand Designer Virginia Fisher. Lines are clean, light is given a stage and each of the Lodge’s eleven cottage suites is a testament to the blending of high style with comfort, convenience and the complete agreement between the elements — inside and out. The scenery is the star here and the riveting interiors only serve to give natural New Zealand her close-up.
Dining means fine New Zealand wines and menus that change daily with the weather and the word about what’s fresh. Unlike other parts of the country, town and what comes with civilization is an easy walk away. And getting away from it all is just as simple, whether that means water, peaks or a forest of virgin pines.
What’s the Ultimate New Zealand Deal? A nine-night package that includes three nights at each resort: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, and Matakauri Lodge. Three fabulous lodges, three spectacular settings, and nine glorious nights adding up to a savings of roughly NZ$1,695 (around $1,300 USD) per couple.