I travel for a living, but that doesn’t mean I get bored with traveling.
On the contrary: Every time I board a plane, it’s almost as exciting as the first. “What about the hassle, the lines at security?” people ask me, the relived horror of some recent bad experience writing itself in clearly visible longhand across their agonized faces.
For me, no horror. All I see is the miracle of flight and the brilliance of serving lunch or dinner to 400 people at 30,000 feet, even if the food isn’t all that great. (After all, I can barely manage serving dinner to four on the ground). To be honest, I find traveling the 30 miles from my home in Westchester County to Manhattan on Metro-North more stressful than the 3,000-mile hop across the Atlantic, which perhaps is why my travel scoreboard in the first three months of this year read, “Europe: 3, New York City 0.” And don’t just write me off as a pampered hack with business class bragging rights, because nine and a half times out of 10 I fly coach.
The payoff for knee-to-chin airline seats — not, as you know, that I’m complaining — is that I do get to stay in some pretty lovely hotels. Among my top half dozen in the last few months is the spiffy new Four Seasons London at Ten Trinity Square, with a picture-postcard view of the Tower of London. A view to lose your head over, you could say.
This is the hotel you want to stay at if you have business in the City — which is what London calls its Financial District — or even if you don’t. No other hotel in the area comes close. It has beautifully appointed rooms and bathrooms, with the sort of attention to detail usually lacking in trendier “design” hotels, a terrific, full-service spa and a buzzy rotunda bar, where they mix a martini so darn dirty it should come with an R rating attached. I’m also a fan of the on-site restaurant, La Dame de Pic, run by celebrity chef Anne-Sophie Pic, who has three Michelin stars at her stylish gaffe in Valence, southeast France, and another at her Paris restaurant. It’s swoony stuff.
In Paris itself, the Shangri-La Hotel, while not new — it opened in 2009 — is new to me. Located in the patrician 16th arrondissement, opposite the Eiffel Tower, this ornate — one could almost say excessive — mansion has a sumptuous interior, by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. Extravagant moulding and plasterwork, with monogrammed RBs raised in gilt, attest to the fact that this was once the home of Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-nephew. If you’re feeling cash-happy, you can actually book La Suite Impériale, which was Roland’s own private apartment.
Shangri-La’s L’Heure du Goûter, its weekend teatime extravaganza served in La Bauhinia restaurant (and a snip at 48 euros, or $52, as you will not need to eat for another week) is spectacular, with its kaleidoscope of cakes, pastries and other sweet dainties. The cuisine in the hotel’s Shang Palace, the only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Paris, is the equal of anything I have eaten in Beijing or Shanghai. I thought I had a handle on Paris grand hotels, but the Shangri-La, with its Asian-inspired service coupled with French savoir-faire, blows even the stiffest competition right out of the water. Please stay here if ever you have the chance.
In Paris on a more modest budget? La Clef Louvre — in a super-central location between the Comédie-Française and the Palais-Royal, just off Rue de Rivoli — may be the one for you. One of a small chain from the prestigious Crest Collection — La Clef Tour Eiffel and La Clef Champs-Elysées are its two sister properties — this apartment hotel, housed in a beautiful 1908 Art Nouveau townhouse, comes with full concierge services but otherwise leaves you pretty much to your own devices. I stayed for five nights, felt like a Parisian doing my own grocery shopping and loved it. (I loved the price, too.) A fully fitted kitchen and charming small salon are standard, along with the bedroom, of course, with its ample closets. And La Clef’s breakfast, included in the room price, is excellent. For anything longer than a two- or three-night stay in the City of Lights, La Clef has to be a serious contender.
Dublin has long been one of my favorite cities, and it’s certainly no slouch in the hotel department. The Irish capital is full of good places to stay across the spectrum. But I’ve only recently been introduced to the Westbury, a minute’s walk from Grafton Street. This hotel is a veritable grande dame, only I suspect it would not like to be called that, because while on the one hand it is luxurious and old-fashioned (in the best sense) as well as exceptionally comfortable, it is also quirky, original and extremely stylish. The Westbury’s afternoon tea is a good enough reason alone to visit Dublin and the head concierge is a walking encyclopedia. The guy puts Google to shame.
Back on this side of the pond, Rosewood Mayakobá sits on one of the most beautiful beaches on Riviera Maya, Mexico, a few miles from Playa del Carmen. Even the most modest rooms here are vast, while the oceanfront suites have you out of bed and into the warm turquoise water of the Caribbean in 15 seconds flat. Heaven.
The Punta Bonita restaurant specializes in regional Mexican cooking, and I happily whiled away a couple of evenings in the resort’s Agave Azul, a sushi bar with a rather sophisticated tequila “library” attached. But at the end of the day, Rosewood Mayakobá’s greatest asset is its smiling staff, for whom nothing is too much trouble. They are warm and sincere, each and every one devoted to making your stay as enjoyable as possible. It’s Mexican hospitality at its most natural. No, you can’t teach this kind of thing and nor can you buy it, at least not in the conventional sense. It comes straight from the h eart.
The day to book a vacation, say I, is the day you come home from one. I realize this flies in the face of reason, good housekeeping, financial accountability and general restraint. I’m also aware that one shouldn’t wish one’s life away waiting for the next great thing to happen. But dammit, I like vacations, and not for nothing do we say that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. The looking forward is all part of the fun, which is why, although I’m all for spontaneity, when I can I like to book my travels some way out.
So where next? Later this year, the covers will come off the fabled Hotel de Crillon in Paris, after a three-year mega-makeover. And early next year, in Lyon, France’s second city, InterContinental will open the Hôtel-Dieu, a 15th-century former hospital, as a luxury hotel. The recently unveiled Hotel Eden in Rome, with its peerless views across the Eternal City and magnificent two-year refit, should go to the top of your must-see list, while Sikelia, an upscale, sophisticated and thoroughly chilled new property on the volcanic Italian island of Pantelleria, “the Black Pearl of the Mediterranean” — between Sicily and Africa, where I’m told the sunsets are like nowhere on earth — is certainly going right to the top of mine.
Almost as dramatic, there are exceptional sunsets to be had, too, at the gorgeous new Park Hyatt, St. Kitts, thoroughly in tune with its Caribbean environment; and, half a world away, at the new W in Jaffa, as urban chic comes to the ancient and beguiling port of Old Jaffa, with thrumming Tel Aviv on the doorstep. Speaking of doorsteps, the “new” Lowell, with its fabulous new restaurant, Majorelle, is right here on our own doorstep, on 63d Street in Manhattan. I haven’t yet been but June is the month I plan to go. I really must get to the city more often.