Tuesday 7 December 2010
A Secluded Outpost on the Riviera Maya
Location: Yucatán, Mexico

Maroma is a small jewel of a resort on a fragile coast, 30 miles down the road but light-years away from the pumped-up bulk of its coastal neighbor Cancún. Maroma's Mexican architect-owner envisioned it as a marriage between development and ecological preservation. Nestled on its own mile-long strip of wild Caribbean beach near the important Mayan ruins at Tulum, Maroma is a half-Moorish, half-Mayan enclave in 400 private acres covered with mangroves, jungle, and coconut palms. While Cancún continues to grow out of control, Maroma entertains no plans to grow at all. It is the most ambitious (and certainly the most luxurious) small-is-beautiful hotel in the area. From round, breezy, thatched-roof terraces and multicolored hammocks big enough for two, views of the turquoise sea are enough to stop hardened travelers in their tracks. Good food, good wine and margaritas, spa services, and finding the perfect spot on a wide, empty beach make up the average, perfect day. Those looking for glittering nightlife must head for downtown Cancún, but most guests at Maroma are seeking refuge from anything that resembles a crowd.
Tuesday 30 November 2010
A Nostalgic Myth That Never Dies
Location: Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France

St. Tropez was always on the radar of France’s creative class.
Brigitte Bardot lives. since first arriving in 1956 to star in Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman,la Bardot has never left. A parade of nubile Bardot lookalikes, golden boys, and bon vivant wannabes fill the topless--and sometimes bottomless--beaches, some of the nicest and sandiest on the Riviera. "The good old days" and their sybaritic hedonism have dimmed over the decades, but St.-Tropez has survived its fame, success, and ballooning summer crowds and has even become fashionable again. Its flirtatious charm remains evident, especially in the early-morning hours or off-months, when the light and innocence of this old fishing town can still be appreciated. On the other hand, this craziest of resorts is all about its eccentric habitués and impromptu street theater. Maybe Colette started it in the 1920s, when she scandalized the outside world by going around with bare legs. It's not the place to get away from it all. For nonpareil people-watching, turn up for breakfast--or après-beach, when everyone has baked at the popular Plage Tahiti (where topless sunbathing is said to have originated) or at Pampelonne--at the portside Café Sénéquier command post on the Quai Jean Jaurès. This is the perennially "in" place to watch the parade of those in various aesthetic stages of beach and resort chic that they could never get away with back home. The St.-Tropez glamour quotient remains intact, with flair and dare aplenty.
Sunday 28 November 2010
A Sybaritic South Seas Fantasy
Location: Little Torch Key, Florida, U.S.A.

The island, is accessible only by boat or seaplane.
Sometimes you just don't have time to fly to the South Pacific. But when the pressing need for a shot of Robinson-Crusoe-goes-tropical calls, the Gauguinlike experience of Little Palm Island fulfills all expectations. A sleek 1930s-style motor launch brings guests to the hotel's private 5-acre island in the lower Florida Keys, where the first impression is one of exotic perfection. There are fourteen thatched-roof bungalows, sitting on stilts and shaded by rustling palm trees, populated by an international mix of pampered guests lolling in rope hammocks or scattered about the rare-for-the-Keys sandy white beaches like so many washed up sea shells. The tropicstyle accommodations are rustic (there are outdoor showers) but grand (indoor bathrooms have Jacuzzis), and TVs and telephones are purposefully absent to help guests get away with getting away. Little Palm lsland is a special place, and it's not hard to imagine it as it was until the 1960s: an elite fishing camp favored by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy, among others. The hotel will gladly arrange a number of interesting off-island excursions, like a day trip to historic and picturesque Key West or nearby Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary where snorkelers and divers can explore the last living coral reef in North America. There are plenty of other activities available, but most guests choose to do nothing more than indulge in sacred inactivity, nursing a Rumrunner or Gumby Slumber and watching another Technicolor sunset while awaiting the next remarkable meal.
Friday 26 November 2010
Japan's Sacred Mountain, and a Rejuvenating Soak
Location: Shizuoka, Japan

The "goddess" of Japan, Mount Fuji 
Hailed as a goddess, revered as a sacred mountain and the country's national symbol, 12,390-foot Mount Fuji is Japan's highest peak, a perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone that's spellbinding when not shrouded in clouds, and is particularly beautiful when reflected on the mirror-calm surface of Lake Ashi-no. Famous throughout the world, the dormant volcano has always exuded a strong pull on the Japanese, who believe that to experience goraiko (sunrise) on its summit is one of the most moving of all natural experiences. They also admit that while everyone should climb Fuji-san once, only a fool would climb it twice. Still, judging by the huge number of gung-ho climbers who show up every summer-an impressive number of grandparents in their seventies and older among them-a good many of them must be return contenders. Six mountain paths, each with ten stations, lead to the summit, but most climbers begin a five- to six-hour climb to the top from the fifth station (8,250 feet), at either Gogome on the north side or Shin-Gogome on the south. The descent is a breeze.

The name Fuji means "fire" in the Ainu language, and in the resort area of Hakone, within the Mount Fuji National Park, intense volcanic activity can be observed from the funicular that passes above the Valley of Great Boiling (or Ojigoku, Big Hell) and its steaming sulfurous gorge. Public baths tap into searing-hot, mineral-rich onsen (hot springs, which abound throughout Japan) and promise to cure everything from stress to rheumatism to muscles sore from climbing the mountain. Despite the modernization and Westernization of Japanese cities, onsen are a tradition that refuses to die, and on weekends the wonderfully scenic area of Hakone fills with Tokyoites who come for a long, hot soak. Of the handful of traditional ryokan inns with their own indoor and outdoor onsen, Gôra Kadan, the former summer residence of the Kan-In-No-Miya imperial family, is one of the nicest in the country. The renowned Hakone Open-Air Museum houses sculptures by Henry Moore.
Wildflowers and Vineyards
Location: Western Australia, Australia

Leeuwin Estate Concert
In the last twenty years, Australia's sophisticated wine industry has given a cosmopolitan veneer to this remote and beautiful corner of the worldo with its dazzling landscape of stunning surf beaches, manicured vines, and awesome forests. Prestigious wines produced by the Vasse Felixo Cape Mentelle, Cullens, and the venerable Leeuwin Estate are world renowned. The latter hosts the Leeuwin Estate alfresco concerts, a heralded summer event in January attracting world-class performers and evergrowing crowds. Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, the Margaret Valley area is also graced with the annual spring wildflower season in September and October, when the countryside is filled to the horizon with a kaleidoscope of color. More than 1,000 wildflower species have been identified, including almost 70 species of orchid.

Happily, Cape Indge, one of Australia's most tasteful and relaxing country retreats, is located right in the middle of the region. The Dutch Cape-inspired main house is surrounded by rolling lawns and magnificent gardens, and overlooks a lovely lake, where guests can swim or paddle about in a canoe. Morning wake-up calls come from a chorus of kookaburras-so no one misses the gourmet breakfasts in the sun-drenched glass conservatory. It's a short drive to Margaret River, a delightful town full of antiques stores and crafts shops. Local restaurants with young and innovative chefs make this a culinary corner of Australia to be reckoned with.
A Walled City and Architectural Feast
Location: Cheshire, England

Chester's city center
In 1779, author James Boswell wrote of Chester: "It pleases me more than any town I ever saw" Important in Roman times (England's largest amphitheater is here), the Middle Ages, and during an l8th-century revival, Chester has much to show for its three historical heydays. A well-preserved fortified walln one of the finest in England, surrounds much of the historic city: built during the Roman period, and rebuilt at different times after that, it is topped by a lovely 2-mile footpath. Parts of the wall bypass the city's important red sandstone cathedral on two sides and lead to the 19thcentury Eastgate, where Chester's famous wrought-iron clock tower proudly stands. Chester's greatest attraction is the city itself: within the walls is one of England's best collection of black-and-white "magpie" buildings, some facades a riot of striped patterns. Anticipating today's high-rises, the two-tiered decoratively timbered buildings with a connecting walkway above street level make up the Chester Rows, a popular double-decker shopping area that is feature. After a day the city's most famous full of history and architecture (and the crowds they attract), repair to the serenity of the city's premier hotel, the Chester Grosvenor. This handsome 19thcentury building in the heart of Chester's historic neighborhood can trace its origins to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It is owned by the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estate, and as a sophisticated hotel featuring its own gourmet restaurant, the Arkle, the Grosvenor knows no competition in this area of the country.
Thursday 25 November 2010
An Unmatched Setting, Part Villa Life, Part Island Lore
Location: St.-Jean's Bay, St. Barthelemy, Lesser Antiles (French West Indies)

Eden Rock: almost an island
Jutting dramatically from a quartzite promontory between two perfect white-sand beaches and sunounded on three sides by water, this muchphotographed, castlelike landmark was built as the home of onetime St. Barts mayor Remy de Haenen. The first pilot to land on the island (in 1947) and father of the island's tourism industry he found this spot, recognized it as a piece of paradise, and named his house accordingly. Many of Eden Rock's nine tasteful guest rooms seem to be suspended over St.-Jean's Bay-St. Barts's best swimming beach-with the sound of crashing waves serving as background music, and behemoth mosquito-netswathed four-poster beds standing so high you'll need a stepstool to jump aboard. The atmospheric terrace bar/restaurant has long been a legendary rendezvous for whiling away the late-afternoon hours before an artful and ambitious meal at the hotel's stylish Eden Beach Restaurant.

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