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Let me tell you a tale of Mexico that has little to do with sun and sand, will never use the term all-inclusive, and has not a trace of guacamole or margaritas. This is the tale of Puebla, a colonial city about 75 miles outside of Mexico City.
Puebla, the fourth largest city in Mexico, is a city that is well-known by the avid traveler to Mexico. Its graffiti murals are local artistic expressions, it still hosts live bull fights, and its most famous ambassador is mole poblano (that heavenly mixture of chocolate and chilies). But to the tourist that only knows Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, Puebla is literally a whole new world. But this is why it is a must for anyone’s visit to Mexico.
Tiny colonial streets are flanked with candy stores, clothing shops and taco stands. Outdoor markets offer everything from candied peaches to peanuts to grasshoppers with chilies and garlic, and there are at least three indoor food markets that sell everything from chicken doused in mole to cemitas, which are fat sandwiches stuffed with meat, avocado and Oaxaca cheese.
Hotel options are limited, but that’s the beauty of Puebla. You will be hard pressed to find more than a few other Americans. La Purificadora is, in my opinion, one of the best luxury boutique hotels in the city. The hotel plays with the boundaries of indoor and outdoor, as much of the hotel is open air and is decorated with slate, stone and wood. Bright purple chairs in the lobby accent the subdued, natural tones.
Be sure to visit the terrace, which overlooks the San Francisco cathedral, and has an above-ground, all glass infinity pool. (The best views are at night, when the cathedral glows warmly. If you’re lucky, you’ll see fireworks bursting in the distance.) Order a cocktail and breathe in the balmy air. You’re in Puebla. No need to worry tonight; there’s always mañana.
One of the other great landmarks in Puebla is the Popocatépetl Volcano, an active volcano that lazily watches over the city. In the evenings it is easy to see the heavy cloud of smoke that hangs over the mouth of the volcano. As the sun sets behind the beast, it is even more magnificent.
Puebla is not for everyone. You won’t find tequila shots being handed out on the beach, there is no cOcO bOngO, and everyone’s t-shirt manages to stay dry. This is not America’s Mexico. And this is why we like it.
I know I’m not the first to say it…but what the hell is going on in Battery Park City? What is this magical land adjacent to New York’s financial center and across the West Side Highway? Why are people going there?
If it’s not painfully obvious, I am a Battery Park City neophyte. The area of Manhattan roped off by the Hudson River and the West Side Highway, from Warren Street down to Battery Park, is a 92-acre planned community of luxury high rises and, until recently, not much else. Today, however, passersby will find restaurants (including a Shake Shack), a movie theater, and not one, but two luxury hotels.
Everyone knows the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, but new to the ‘hood as of last year is the Conrad New York, a five-star hotel with modern suites and views of the city and the Hudson River. If you’re visiting NYC, this may be a great spot to rest your bones, as it is close to the bulk of the city’s major subway arteries. But if you’re a local, I highly recommend a stop to the restaurant and wine bar, Atrio.
Delicately touched with whites, creams and browns the restaurant gives off a chic, almost Miami feel, but the views are decidedly New York. I suggest ordering the Crispy Black Kale, which comes with Jersey Ricotta, Black Figs and Pine nuts. A plate of Charred Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Pine Nuts is another great option for the table to share. For your main course, I found the Hand Cut Pappardelle with Osso Bucco Ragout and Gaeta Olives over-the-top tasty, and gut-stuffing (but in the best way).
Prices are very reasonable, considering it is a hotel restaurant. Entrees do not go much above $30, so dinner for two will not be breaking the bank. Atrio also serves breakfast and lunch.
Stay tuned for our Springtime Report from the hotel’s Loopy Doopy Bar, a rooftop bar that opens in May.
The Conrad New York is at 102 North End Avenue.
All-inclusive resorts are both a blessing and curse, especially for someone like me who is equally obsessed with eating and staying in shape. It’s easy to let yourself lose control when anything you could possibly want to consume is laid out before you at absolutely no additional cost. Why, yes, I will have another hamburger. Ohhh sure, throw in another Daiquiri. I’m on vacation!
Suddenly you have returned home 10 pounds heavier and you figure it’s winter, so what does it really matter? And then another five pounds creep on and you’re bummed out. Sound familiar? Don’t lie.
This weekend I’m checking out the newly rebranded Paradisus Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort in Mexico. My willpower is being challenged, what with eight delicious restaurants, a complimentary fully stocked mini bar and a butler on hand to bring me drinks whenever I please. If you are headed to an all-inclusive resort at some point this winter, here are five helpful tips to keep in mind in order to maintain your bikini bod.
1. (Just One) Cheeseburger in Paradise
Just because you CAN eat everything doesn’t mean you have to. While it’s tempting to go back for plate after plate to try the salad and the sushi and the carving station and dessert, try to keep it to one plate. Also, eat fresh vegetables before you hit the hot stations. You’d be surprised how much veggies fill you up.
2. Don’t Be Cruel to a Heart That’s True
In the age of calorie counting and the Heart Association, most hotels are now putting healthy options on their menus. These are indicated with little symbols like Hearts or Leaves or whatever the hotel feels best represents good health. You’d be surprised at how tasty fresh sea bass with a side of asparagus can be.
3. Pour Some Sugar on Me (or don’t, actually)
Okay. Here is a big one. You are on vacation…at a resort where alcohol is served in unlimited quantities. You are going to want to drink, and you should. But do so with caution. Sugar is one of the major components in weight gain, so that margarita or pina colada is going to kill your diet – and also give you a wicked hangover. Stick to light beers or mixed drinks like vodka sodas, which have very few calories. Of course, it’s okay now and then to treat yourself to a yummy fruity drink with an umbrella in it. Everything in moderation.
4. Don’t Drink the Water (but actually drink all the water)
Drink as much water as you possibly can. This is true even when you are at home. Water keeps nutrients moving throughout the body, flushes out toxins and even keeps you full and prevents excess snacking. Besides, if you’re drinking alcohol in copious amounts you are going to want to stay hydrated.
5. Let’s Get Physical
Most all-inclusve resorts have physical activities built right into their inclusive program. Paradisus Cancun has a complimentary personal trainer, yoga classes, Pilates and more. Other resorts include water sports and other fitness classes. And, of course, it’s always free to use the gym. I’m not talking going crazy here. Just try and get your heart rate up about 20 minutes a day. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.
2012 has been an exciting year – one that has taken me to 11 countries and six domestic cities. Here are the top five posts that you all deemed the most worthy of reading throughout the year. Allow me to get misty eyed and thank you for all the comments, “likes” and views this year. I look forward to more adventures in 2013 and cannot wait to share with all of you.
This journey from last January took us to Cancun of yesteryear, where girls strip down to the very bare minimum and beefcake dudes line up to drink tequila out of their belly buttons. It makes me smile that my readers found this to be the most popular post.
Not surprisingly, my encounter with my hero (and the hero of many of my readers, I’m sure) was worthy of your attention.
We all have been to the airport, so we all know just how much of a hassle they can be. Plus, everyone likes reading complaint pieces where they get to say, “oh yes, that is soooo true!”
I don my snark cap and tell you that those restaurants with the $$$$ rating just aren’t that worth it.
Every summer I make a list of the top 50 things in New York that I would love do between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You all came along on that journey with me this summer. I hope you were able to create some memories of your own!
Last night I hit up Jimmy, the rooftop bar at The James New York down on Thompson and Grand streets. I had never been to The James before, but I had heard rumors of its panorama prowess.
If you are looking for a fancy cocktail and a sparkling view of downtown NYC (and yes, a bit of Jersey…but I’ve always been a believer that alcohol and the night help to overlook flaws), take the trip downtown and visit The James.
Aspen is a very weird place. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. It’s ruggedly stunning, the climate is perfect (in the summer. In the SUMMER), and it’s a foodies’ paradise. That being said…Aspen is a weird place. I don’t understand the affluent outdoorsy kind. You know, the kind whose hiking boots are Armani or some sh*t. I’m not judging. Good for you. You make sweaty hiking couture look good. But what we don’t understand we must learn to embrace because otherwise that breeds ignorance and racism and a lot of other bad voodoo. So anyway, yes, Aspen is absolutely beautiful…but it is a weird place.
I gave up any attempt of trying to find the “local” Aspen while out there this weekend. Truth is, it’s a dying breed. “Our local bars are slowly being eaten up by Gucci and Prada,” said Erik, the bartender at Aspen’s Ajax Tavern (try the pork meatballs. Just do it.). If you are really in need to hang with the locals, I was told that Little Annie’s and the Red Onion are two of the last surviving local Aspen bars.
But honestly, if you have the money, there is something in Aspen for everyone. EVERYONE. Skiers, hikers, bikers, shoppers and the undeniably lazy and gluttonous (me). And so, I set out to find my inner Aspen. The Chef’s Club by Food & Wine at the St. Regis Aspen has been getting quite a bit of buzz as of late. The Chef’s Club, which debuted at this years Food & Wine Festival in June brings in four up-and-coming chefs per season to design and execute a menu. This season’s chefs include James Lewis, George Mendes, Alex Seidel and Susan Zemanick (plus Jim Meehan, who created the cocktail list. He’s the only mixologist to have won a James Beard Award).
Aspen is a veritable foodie town. And why shouldn’t it be? The town has access to some of the country’s freshest, most obscure and most interesting ingredients. AND there’s money in the town, so you know that obscure things of high quality sell like gangbusters.
Let me tell you. This was one of the best meals I have ever had. And I eat…a lot. I went with the Duck Confit Crostini with fig jam and goat cheese, a Sue Zemanick creation, and the Colorado Lamb Saddle with ricotta gnocchi, baby artichokes and pine nut gremolata, from Alex Seidel. I was also tempted to order the Warm Green Asparagus, but my waitress kindly told me that I would be rolled out of here on a gurney because that would be way too much food. I was disappointed.
Tip: If you do decide to make this endeavor (and I really, really suggest that you do), be sure to sit at the open chef’s table for a view into the kitchen to check out the action.
I’m not outdoorsy. I don’t ski, I don’t particularly get a thrill from mountain climbing, and the idea of biking down a rocky hillside makes me beg the question, “why?” So if you’re like me, all you can do in Aspen is eat and take in the views. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. What kind of Aspen are you?
Here’s the great thing about Montreal: It’s less than an hour flight from JFK. Wait, let me rephrase. It’s supposed to be less than an hour flight from JFK, unless both Delta Air Lines and JFK team up to turn your allegedly brief trip into an epic saga.
It all started when, after boarding the plane in record time, maintenance decided to check the tires only to discover that one of them needed changing (perhaps something to check ahead of time, boys?). After deboarding and reboarding (and another two hours of sitting on the runway due to signal chaos), finally we were airborne (and all a little cranky).
But despite the headaches of JFK and Delta, the arrival in Montreal is so pleasant that it’s easy to transition seamlessly into laid-back European mode.
How could you not love this city? It’s a destination for Francophiles, artists, musicians, foodies, barflies, young, old….the list goes on. Home to four universities, the city has 40,000 college students, which breathes energetic life into sleepy, cobblestoned streets. Case in point: Every Sunday night in the summer, Montreal is home to Piknic Électronik – an all-day outdoor festival with wine and electronic music that only gets more and more frenetic as the night goes on (and inebriation sets in). Around 10 p.m. the scene erupts into an all-out dance party – on a Sunday night. Who doesn’t love coping with the Sunday night blues by grinding up with their fellow neighbor on a wine buzz with a fresh suntan? Ahh youth.
Tomorrow is set aside for a full day of exploration, but this evening we were given a taste of local cuisine at Restaurant L’Autre Version. The restaurant sits in a building that dates back over two hundred years. Inside the atmosphere is modern and urban, while the back garden is more Provence-meets-Miami with ivy-covered walls and canopied daybeds. Chef Pascal Cormier came out to greet our table (and I was not disappointed…hello ruggedly handsome chef with a French accent…) to talk about his menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. I opted for the venison tartare and grilled mahi-mahi served ‘puttanesca’ style with Kalamata olives and capers.
Tonight we crash at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal in the heart of downtown. Tomorrow is devoted to a culinary tour of the city and individual exploration. Not bad for a little taste of Europe just an hour outside of New York…assuming JFK will actually let you leave.
So did someone mention a five-bedroom villa? Why yes, I believe they did. I sit here from the couch at Villa #3 in the Villa Aquamare complex, a community of three five-bedroom villas all connected by gardens with direct access to the ocean.
This ultra luxury enclave usually runs for about $20,000 per week in low season, and upwards of $50,000 per week during the holidays. Each villa is 8,000 square feet with private pools, gourmet kitchen, outdoor showers and balconies. It’s not a bad place to be. Not at all.
The British Virgin Islands are a collection of about 50-odd islands in the Caribbean Sea. The largest four are Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. Some of you may have heard of Necker Island, as well, which is Richard Branson’s private estate.
While the destination caters to mostly couples and families, we have quickly discovered that it is an amazing destination for a group of friends to travel to together. Aside from imbibing heavily, grilling steaks outside and napping in the beach cabana (and a touch of sun stroke or two), we managed to leave the estate to visit The Baths, a national park of beach caves and rock formations. Wriggling through small caverns to find hidden tide pools? What could be better?
Last night we were treated to a private dinner of garlic shrimp, smoked salmon and home-made pecan pie, along with copious amounts of white wine. I never really considered myself to be a connoisseur of luxury, but after my earlier Alpine adventure and then this trip to paradise, it seems this could be a lifestyle I’m very much on board with.
Just a day and a half left to soak it all up, but I don’t think anyone is ready for it to end.
Planes, trains and automobiles. That’s Caribbean island hopping for you, except forget trains and substitute boats. Inter-island hopping can be a major pain in the ass. At least, that’s how the rumor goes, seeing as everyone runs on “Caribbean time,” a warped sense of reality foreign to cosmopolitan dwellers who schedule their days down to every bathroom break.
I may be one of these people. So you can imagine the agita I was feeling when I heard that the airline I was flying from St. Maarten (SXM) to Tortola (EIS), LIAT Airlines, was known by the locals as Leave Island Any Time. A quick search on Lonely Planet left me reeling as I read horror stories of lost luggage and a common theme that the airline always manages to at least “arrive on the day it is supposed to.” I had a noon ferry to catch in Tortola to take me over to Virgin Gorda, and the next one was not for another six hours.
Well, fortunately, this is a story that turns out well. The flight landed early and it was a very brief walk from the airport to the dock to catch the ferry. When taking a ferry off of Tortola, you will usually be embarking from Trellis Bay. As soon as you leave the airport doors, make a left and keep walking straight for about five minutes and you’ll come upon the piers. A small market is available that sells snacks and cold beverages so you can wait comfortably for your ferry.
There aren’t a whole lot of options to get off of Tortola. The BVI caters to a very upscale community and most of the luxury resorts have their own private transfers, which come at an astronomical fee. There are a few low budget ferries, but because they are the only options they tend to leave when and how they want to. I recommend using Speedy’s. A one-way ticket to Virgin Gorda is $20 and they run on a pretty reliable schedule. It’s about a half-hour ferry trip.
All in all, not a bad day for travel. I left St. Maarten at 10:30 a.m. and arrived at Villa Aquamare at 12:45 p.m. Not too shabby.
Now I sit in this 8,000-square-foot, five-bedroom villa drinking a Carib beer looking over the private plunge pool out toward the ocean, wondering what on earth I did in my previous life. But that, my friends, is a story for another day. Until Monday.
What I have always loved about this job is, despite the loneliness of being in some of the world’s most beautiful places alone, you usually meet other solo travelers and for a brief moment you are able to connect with people who completely understand how comfortable it feels to be anywhere but home.
After debarking in St. Maarten, I was able to tag along with a couple of friends I have made along the way in this biz. They were renting a car and driving around the island with no real destination in mind. The point was to just see.
It’s easy to rent a car from the cruise terminal – a station is literally right at the pier. So we made our way, sans GPS and new-fangled technology (just a shitty little road map) all the way around the island, stopping periodically to gape at the water – a perfect gradient from aqua to sapphire. But anyone who has ever been to the Caribbean admires the water, so for me the real joy was having no plan whatsoever, tooling around the island’s dusty back roads with three other victims of wanderlust.
St. Maarten is divided in two: the French side and the Dutch side. The cruise ships and the main airport are both on the Dutch side, but it is less than a half hour’s drive to make your way over to the French area, which is much more beautiful and charming. On your way around the island you will pass through Oyster Bay, which is quite trafficked as you come upon it, but slowly becomes more and more desolate the further you go down. Stop by Boo Boo Jam (yes…that is the name) for an ice cold Presidente beer and a few glimpses of the topless lades (because, yes, that is allowed on St. Maarten).
Stop for lunch in Grand Case, a tiny community flanked with beach-side restaurants serving up the local catch and grilling ribs on giant outdoor racks. We stopped at The Rib Shack and for $9 each sucked on juicy ribs and devoured plates of side dishes. A beer is also a lovely $1.50. (Prices are in Euro and Dollars, but the ratio in St. Maarten is one-to-one, so it’s favorable to pay in dollars.)
Unfortunately my companions had to embark back on the Oasis of the Seas to finish up the conference we were covering. I hung back in St. Maarten for the night and I’m writing to you from my balcony at Simpson Bay Resort & Marina, bottle of wine, loaf of bread and cheese at my side. I need to be well rested for my early flight to the British Virgin Islands tomorrow, where I will give Richard Branson a run for his money in the meaning of luxury. On to Villa Aquamare.