Category Spa

Luang Prabang Highlights: monks, markets and the Mekong

Orange-clad monks at the dawn alms giving ritual in Luang Prabang

Monks at dawn in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is one of last authentic cities in Indochina. This is the place people expect when they fantasize about South East Asia. What makes it so special is that you don’t have to run around checking off a bunch of tourist sites. It is wonderful to just ‘be’ and enjoy the soul of the city.

In the soft grey light of early morning, we sit quietly on a bamboo mat, wicker baskets of sticky rice beside us, across from a shuttered colonial mansion heavy with bougainvillea.

Around a corner, dozens of barefoot monks appear in a swish of saffron, golden bowls hanging from orange shoulder straps.  Locals show us how to earn merit.  Men adorned with scarves over one shoulder as a mark of respect and kneeling women in traditional shawls put fistfuls of rice into the monks’ bowls.

As in a dream, just as the rising sun gilds the ceramic-tiled temple roofs, the stream of gold vanishes and the monks return inside...

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Amangiri Hotel: Sleek Architecture in the Utah Desert

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Its location is certainly far from Adrian Zecha’s usual hangouts but then Aman is always pushing the boundaries of what defines a great hotel and where it might be located. The multi-award-winning Amangiri, which means ‘peaceful mountain’, is wedged into 600 acres of raw mesa-dotted desert in Southern Utah, not far from the Arizona border.  One of Aman’s most popular properties, Amangiri is all about sleek, minimalist architecture which reflects the drama of the Utah desert. This is only the second Aman property in North America, the first being Amangani in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

In classic Aman fa...

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New York City Boutique Hotels: Soho, Midtown, Upper East Side

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The lobby of the Chatwal Hotel

New York City: so much to do and see, so little time. The general idea is find a good base and sally forth but that almost misses the point. Even though Manhattan is home to 1.6 million people, the island is tiny, just 21.6 kilometers long and 3.7 kilometers wide. But it is far from homogenous and is really a series of small villages that are completely distinctive.

A cool way to explore the city is to base yourself in three interesting boutique hotels that each define their particular neighborhood for three completely different Manhattan experiences. Here is my guide to Soho staying at the Crosby Street Hotel, Midtown staying at the Chatwal, and the Upper East Side staying at The Surrey.

Th...

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Esalen Institute: New Age Adventures on California’s Big Sur Coast

The Esalen Institute opens new horizons on ancient ground in California's Big Sur

Esalen’s Hot Springs are cantilevered over the Pacific in California’s Big Sur

The world’s best massage

It was the best massage I had ever experienced.  And let me set the record straight.  While I have enjoyed massages on four continents, I am no massage junkie.  I find too often that the promise and the pitch fall way short in reality…the touch is too tentative or too uneven, too rote or too rough.

I am also no great meditator.  My busy, restless mind wanders across the white noise of minutiae instead of stilling itself.

But here, now, lying on a table in an exquisitely minimal building wedged into a cliff, its huge sliding glass doors thrown open to the Pacific Ocean crashing onto the Californian coast, I am in the moment, naked except for a towel and a masseuse is kneading my back with long rhythmic strokes that mirror the rumble of the surf a few meters below.  A seagull rides the airwaves at eye level when I gaze for a moment at the sun’s rays...

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Best Luxury Resort in New South Wales: Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa

Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa: luxury and conservation

The Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa offers a beguiling mix of unbridled luxury and environmental sustainability.  If you are looking for the best luxury resort in New South Wales, this is it. Even better, it is immersed in a dramatic outback landscape which the resort has gone to great pains to preserve, restore and protect.

It feels like you have entered a lost world when you arrive. The 4,000-acre conservancy reserve is located at the base of its own hidden canyon surrounded by ancient sun-drenched escarpments in a tucked-away part of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains several hours’ drive out of Sydney.

It is the first carbon neutral resort in the world to be certified through an internationally accredited greenhouse gas program and one of its key initiatives has been to restore the indigenous habitat of the former cattle property, including planting of more than 175,000 indigenous plants and restoring of the original 1832 homestead.

Occupying just two per cent of the reserve, the $125-million resort features a two-story barn-like main homestead building, constructed of wood, sandstone and glass, plus on-site recycled building materials, and an entire flotilla of 40 free-standing luxury Federation-style bungalows.

The r...

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Saffire Freycinet: Tasmanian Luxury Lodge by a Secluded Beach

Saffire Freycinet on Great Oyster Bay in Tasmania

I have always thought that Tasmania’s Saffire Freycinet is one of Australia’s finest luxury lodges, not only because it is in a stellar location by a secluded beach but also because it offers exceptional intuitive service and a wide range of luxury experiences.

Tasmania’s Saffire Freycinet was named 2014 Grand Award Winner in Andrew Harper’s world renowned luxury Hideaway Report. Harper describes Saffire Freycinet as a “superb contemporary 20-room resort nestled in a eucalyptus forest beside Great Oyster Bay. Floor-to-ceiling windows in three-story main lodge grant magnificent views of the pink-hued Hazards Mountains across the bay.”

This is another huge stamp of international approval for Luxury Lodges of Australia, which is a collection of independent luxury lodges and camps offering unforgettable experiences in Australia’s most inspiring and extraordinary wilderness locations.

The award is richly deserved.

Saffire Freycinet offers a design-rich but low-key and sophisticated retreat in exquisite natural surroundings on the edge of Tasmania’s Freycinet Peninsula. The name itself conjures up its setting with the merging of the sapphire blue waters of Coles Bay with the fiery hues of the pink granite Hazard Mountain Range at sunset…ergo the jewel of Tasmania.

With its swooping stingray-shaped roof, its dramatic ceiling made of ribbed golden celery-top pine and its wall of windows overlooking the water and mountains, the main lodge makes a grand statement but is also warm and welcoming. The lounge area offers comfortable couches and chairs, with Tasmanian Huon pine stumps for tables, lots of games and a long gas fireplace providing warmth in wild and wintry weather.

While the design is stunning, it is...

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Kusatsu: a classic Japanese hot springs town

Kusatsu is Japan's number one hot springs town

With more than 100 hot springs producing 36,000 liters of hot water per minute, Kusatsu has the highest volume of naturally discharged hot water in Japan. Its Hot Water Field is almost a national onsen shrine.  In fact, Kusatsu onsen has been chosen by the Japan’s top travel agents as the country’s number one hot spring for 10 consecutive years in the 100 Best Hot Springs in Japan. Here is my guide on how to enjoy both the indoor and outdoor onsen is this classic hot springs town.

Bathing evokes an almost religious fervor in Japan. Since it is very active geothermally, more than 28,000 onsen hot springs dot the length of the country, the styles varying from a water hole on the side of a river to complete onsen theme parks. While many hotel and ryokan hot springs deliver a five-star experience, municipal bath houses and foot baths offer everyone the opportunity to take the waters...

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Melbourne’s Best Weekend Getaway: Mornington Peninsula

Millionaire's Walk in Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula

Millionaire’s Walk in Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula

About an hour’s drive from Melbourne and wedged like the boot of Italy between Port Phillip and Westernport Bays, the Mornington Peninsula can make you wonder, at times, whether you are in Australia. Great swathes of blue water peak out between horse studs, alleys of pines and vistas of vines making it feel like a playground more Mediterranean than Melbourne.  But then those rolling green hills dotted with sandy bunkers could easily be in Scotland. Yet one glance at koalas lazing in aromatic gum trees and sun-drenched beaches with brightly colored bathing boxes and you realize you are in in the middle of one of Australia’s most appealing holiday destinations. Up until now, it has been a well-kept secret amongst Melbourne’s savvy insiders, but the Mornington Peninsula has so many world-class wineries, restaurants, beaches and gardens that it’s time the rest of the world discovered what it has to offer. For most of the p...

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Bali’s Original Luxury Hotel in Seminyak

Inside a villa compound at the Oberoi Bali

The Oberoi Bali is the Grande Dame of Bali’s resorts, setting the benchmark for classic understated luxury in Seminyak.

Starting life as an exclusive private club in 1974, The Oberoi Bali was the first five-star luxury resort in Seminyak that has been continuously upgraded to maintain its superior standards. The hotel is such a landmark that the street outside the hotel is now known as Oberoi Street.

What sets the Oberoi apart from its many luxury competitors is its exceptional levels of service and genuine engagement by all the staff.

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Kangaroo Island Luxury Retreat: Southern Ocean Lodge

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The multi-award-winning Southern Ocean Lodge is the master of the wow factor and sets the Australian benchmark for luxury…and environmental sustainability. It is well worth the splurge and makes a perfect base to explore Kangaroo Island, which is often nicknamed Australia’s Galapagos for its remarkable collection of Australian animals and birds.

Designed by Kangaroo Island local and Adelaide-based architect, Max Pritchard, Southern Ocean Lodge, a member of Luxury Lodges of Australia, is an organic set of buildings with a bold, wave-shaped Grand Room as its epicentre, a spa facility perched in isolation and 21 spacious split-level suites cantilevered along the cliffs overlooking its namesake ocean that stretches all the way to Antarctica. The views of the ocean…whether it is calm and aquamarine or wild and choppy…dictate your experience at all times.

The Grand Room features a semi-circle of floor-to-ceiling windows that encourage guests to look outward and embrace the natural wor...

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