Top Miami Ft. Lauderdale Hotels | Reviews

Miami | Four Seasons

A very modern high rise in the Brickel area adjacent to downtown. Clean lines. Minimalist. Great feel for the location with outrageous views and uber-sports facilities.

  • Occupies the top floors of South Florida’s highest building for killer views.
  • Guest have the use of the massive Sports Club/LA facility. A gym rat’s dream.
  • The swimming pool is equally huge. Invite 200 of your best friends or swim laps in the early AM.
  • Rooms are big and very comfortable. Light. Nothing too trendy.
  • If booked through our agency, you’ll receive a fabulous free breakfast,  upgrade if available and likely another very nice amenity. Preferred Partner program.
  • Personally inspected by Josh Friedman in November 2010.

Miami | Mandarin Oriental

  • I haven’t seen this hotel but I understand it’s a very hot spot, a bit trendier than the Four Seasons and not too far from it either.
  • If booked through our agency, you’ll receive a fabulous free breakfast,  upgrade if available and likely another very nice amenity.

Miami Beach | The Setai

South Beach’s super cool Asian inspired oasis of sophistication and tranquility. Like the Four Seasons, outrageous views in this sexy skyscraper hotel with huge 1 and 2 bedroom units.

  • The space in the studio, 1 and 2 bedroom unites is a huge plus for those wanting to entertain or just spread out.
  • The dark wood floors and wall of glass creates a killer aesthetic.
  • The lobby bar is stunning and where I’d be hanging out. Or maybe at the Balinese courtyard.
  • The restaurant transports you to 19th century Shanghai with an unusual breakfast buffet with about 30 choices.
  • 3 simple rectangular swimming pools and a restaurant on the beach.
  • If booked through our agency, you’ll receive a fabulous free breakfast,  upgrade if available and likely another very nice amenity.
  • Spa suites for 2 that are perfect for a couple of blissful hours. Small gym as well.
  • Personally inspected by Josh Friedman in November 2010.

Miami Beach | The Ritz Carlton South Beach

Formerly the swanky 1950s di Lido, Ritz added a few floors, ocean front balconies, 2 wings where once stood pool side cabanas and magnificently restored the lobby with a modern flair. I think I’d just live in the lobby and go up the Club Lounge to enjoy the view and get a snack.

  • Directly on the beach and steps from all the action. From nightlife to Lincoln Road shopping.  A short cab ride to Joe’s Stone Crabs.
  • Club Level lounge has 5 food spreads a day and floor to ceiling windows with sweeping ocean and north city views.
  • Poolside cabanas available to rent for the day.
  • The rooms are a little on the smaller side and more conservative than the Setai.
  • If booked through our agency, you’ll receive a fabulous free breakfast,  upgrade if available and likely another very nice amenity. Preferred Agency.
  • Personally inspected by Josh Friedman in November 2010.

Miami Beach | The Villa by Barton G

Wow! This is a WOW hotel and one of the most unique hotels anywhere in the world. Really. And I’ve been a lot of places. Formerly Gianni Versace’s residence on Ocean Drive, it recently opened more than 10 years after the designer’s death.

  • [for now i cannot recommend it due to service issues. too bad.]

Ft. Lauderdale | The Atlantic


I think if you’re going to take a cruise out of Port Everglades, you might as well enjoy a bit of the beach before you go. This is a little town – just a few blocks long — and has a really nice beach. This is a luxury boutique hotel and it’s great.

  • This hotel is right in the middle of it all towards the northern end of downtown.
  • The lobby is New York chic (read black) so it’s a nice change from the overly white and sea shell studded Ritz Carlton.
  • Service levels were moderately good, but my quick trip to the Ritz was impressive.
  • Rooms are huge. Bathrooms are massive. Views great. Sheets, towels and products all top. Nice clean look.
  • Gym is nice, modern and big enough – and sunny! Spa is across the way.
  • Pool is crowded and rather small. I’d go to the beach.
  • Our exclusive rates include upgrades and breakfast which is served either inside or outside across from the beach. Very nice but noisy due to cars.
  • None of the hotels are on the beach  – the beach is on the beach. So you have to cross over. No big deal, but the traffic can be a bit noisy so the higher up the better.

The Ritz Carlton | Ft. Lauderdale

Opened as the St. Regis just a few years ago. It’s big and reminds me of a typical luxury beach hotel.  It’s nice but nothing out of the ordinary.  Pool area is really nice – big with lots of space for sunning – and has an ocean view. The little service we experienced in the lobby (trying to find the bar) was excellent. Very friendly and over-delivered. Bartender was OK.

Call Josh for details, excellent pricing & the ultimate in service

josh friedman luxury travel
in san francisco’s financial district
415.987.0372 | joshfriedmantravel.com
with casto, a virtuoso member agency

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Josh Friedman is a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler.  His personal  relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies often allows for exclusive amenities and VIP status. 

 If you’d like to learn more about luxury travel and our services, please contact Josh Friedman Luxury Travel in San Francisco’s Financial District via phone at 415.987.0372  or email: josh [at] joshfriedmantravel [dot] com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, too.

associated with casto, a virtuoso member and four seasons preferred partner, 500 sansome st., san francisco, ca 94111 cst#1008439-10

[this was originally published in december, 2010]

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Interview | Castello del Nero

Elisa Pepi, Sales & Marketing Manager for Castello del Nero, a small 12th century castle hotel in Tuscany’s Chianti area (near Florence, Italy), was recently in San Francisco, and we met up at my office. She spoke to me about what’s happening at her bucolic Tuscan resort, a favorite haunt of the sophisticated traveler to Italy.

Josh: Elisa, As I told you I lived in Florence when I was in college. I couldn’t imagine staying in a hotel just a half hour’s drive from there. Do your guests often stay both at Castello del Nero AND in Florence, or do they choose one or the other?

Elisa: Americans typically spend 3 nights in Florence and 3 in Chianti. But the ones who would like to live the true spirit of Tuscany spend a full week at Castello del Nero and go for day trips to Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa and Lucca and come back in the evening to chill out among the rolling hills.

Josh: What’s a typical 3 night stay like at Castello. If it were me, I’d just eat, listen to the church bells, stare off into the countryside and drink cafe. What are some of the activities at the hotel for more active people? I know you have a luxurious spa, for instance.

Elisa: If I were you I’d rather drink a glass of our own produced Chianti wine! On our 400 hectares property we do produce Chianti wine and Extra Virgin Olive oil (the same ones we offer at the restaurant). We organize daily cooking classes and wine tastings. On site, guests may use complimentary facilities such as the outdoor heated swimming pool, tennis courts and gym, or go trekking or biking on the private paths around the hotel among vineyards, olive groves and lakes.

This year, our ESPA was voted among the best hotel Spas in Europe, Minor Asia and Russian Federation by Conde Nast Traveller readers in the UK. We perform couple massages as well as signature treatments using our extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and lavender.

Josh: How’s the dining and shopping in the area? Can you walk to town, or does the hotel have a shuttle? How about access to Florence?

Elisa: Our hotel is located in the village of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa that’s walking distance and in the village guests can shop for local food wine and artcrafts or try some typical inns.

We offer a complimentary shuttle bus to and from Florence city centre twice per day (at scheduled times) for the ones who want to visit the city avoiding the driving. It stops in the fashion district of the city. I’d like to remind you that Florence is the home city of Gucci, Ferragamo, Pucci, Cavalli just to name a few

Josh: What type of promotions will we see for 2011? As a preferred hotel within our Virtuoso Travel program, can you explain the complimentary and exclusive perks we can offer our clients?

Elisa: We have an early booking promotion where you stay for 5 nights but pay only for 4. We also have plenty of packages including spa and gastronomy.

Our Virtuoso amenities exclusive to your agency are early check-in and late check-out and room upgrade upon availability, buffet breakfast served at the restaurant La Torre and 50 euro each as credit to be used on spa treatments. And of course all our Staff attention and lots of Tuscan flair and amazing views…and we do not charge for them!!

To contact Elisa with any questions or comments, please leave a comment by clicking the link above.



Josh Friedmanis a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful business or leisure trip.

For more information, to learn about our exclusive benefits, and to book, please contact Josh at 415.248.507, 800.553.4777 or by email. Associated with Casto, a member of the prestigious Virtuoso Travel network.  Be a big fish in our small pond. Castello del Nero’s site.

Interview | with Four Seasons Santa Barbara

Ashleigh Gallego, Travel Industry Sales Manager for the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara, and one of our closest travel partners, was recently in our office and spoke to me about what’s happening at her beautiful Southern California beach resort.  This post is part of our series on various Four Seasons hotels and resorts along the West Coast. 

Josh: Ashleigh, tell me about the history of your iconic resort there on the beach. It’s far from cookie cutter, isn’t it? 

Ashleigh: Yes, far from cookie cutter is right! Before the resort was built in 1927 on Butterfly Beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the land was occupied by the estate of a wealthy copper baron. The Bowman Biltmore Corporation acquired the land along with plans for a spectacular hotel drawn by legendary architect Reginald Johnson in 1925 and the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel opened in 1927. The hotel immediately became Santa Barbara’s preeminent luxury hotel and a favorite retreat for movie stars, presidents and royalty. 

In 1935 the Biltmore was purchased by Robert Odell. One of the improvements Odell made included the addition of the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, originally called the “Biltmore Beach Club.” The club features a pool one foot larger than Olympic size; it was said to be California’s largest outdoor pool and was originally built with a 30’ high-dive and sand for decking. What is now the La Pacifica Ballroom originally featured an exhibition kitchen, dancing under the stars and a spectacular observation deck.  In December 2003, the Coral Casino was designated a registered historical landmark.

In 1987, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts took over management of the property. The most recent renovation took place in 2006-2008 and over $305 million was invested by owner Ty Warner. The restoration involved a thorough guestroom enhancement and complete resort restoration focused on bringing together the benefit of contemporary technology with the historical integrity of the property. 

The classic elegance of the Four Seasons Biltmore’s Spanish Colonial architecture is evident throughout the main buildings and garden cottages. With its red roof tiles, ivory adobe and graceful archways, the Resort provides visitors a luxurious and intimate retreat and boasts striking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Lit by romantic gas lamps, brick walkways guide visitors through 20 acres of lush manicured tropical gardens surrounding the property.

Josh: I have a fair number of clients that might want to spend maybe around 3 nights at your resort – as a quick getaway from their homes in the West. What are some of the activities that would keep them busy?

Ashleigh: Nestled in between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is known as “America’s Riviera” and offers a mild Mediterranean climate and over 300 days of sunshine per year. This fact lends to an abundance of activity options year-round. 

At the Resort, guests can enjoy Butterfly Beach at their doorstep, along with two pools, bicycle rentals, croquet court, 9-hole putting green, three lighted tennis courts, two fitness centers, and our complimentary Kids For All Seasons program. The Spa at the resort offers 11 treatment rooms including four deluxe suites with fireplaces and ocean view terraces, and a whole menu of signature rituals and treatments for rejuvenating and beautifying. 

Exploring the wine country is a must.  Santa Barbara County offers more than 100 wineries and vineyards where guests can enjoy tours and tasting. In addition, the city of Santa Barbara offers the “Urban Wine Trail” with 11 quaint tasting rooms located only five minutes from the resort. Guests can rent complimentary bicycles from the Spa at the resort and spend the day biking and tasting! 

The Santa Ynez Mountain range is only a quick 10-minute drive and offers hiking, biking, rock climbing, hang gliding and horseback riding. 

The Pacific Ocean is a virtual playground with opportunities for kayaking, harbor cruises, surfing, kite boarding, deep sea fishing, whale watching, scuba diving and sailing. 

Golf. Montecito Country Club – private club located less than a mile from the resort; Sandpiper Golf Club – seaside course located 15 minutes north. 

Lots of activities for families, including Santa Barbara Zoo, Ty Warner Sea Center and Stearn’s Wharf. 

Josh: How’s the dining and shopping in the area? I can imagine it’s quite a treat also to eat outdoors in the winter! 

Ashleigh: A question close to my own heart! I’ve lived in Santa Barbara now for almost 11 years and dining and shopping are two activities I enjoy almost daily! 

Santa Barbara offers a wide variety of dining and shopping options. Restaurants focus on local ingredients, from fresh seafood to farmer’s market fruits and veggies. Enjoy Italian, French, Greek, Cajun and more; casual to very fine dining. The resort features two main dining options: Tydes, located at Coral Casino, offers a Mediterranean-influenced menu with a focus on fresh seafood from the Channel Islands. Bella Vista Restaurant showcases organic Italian-inspired California coastal cuisine. Both restaurants offer outdoor dining with uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean and sunset and are conveniently located only steps from your guestroom. 

Downtown Santa Barbara offers dozens of name-brand retailers and boutiques on State Street or at Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center. Coast Village Road also offers many charming boutiques and shops and is located within walking distance of the resort. 

Josh: What type of promotions will we see for 2011? Also, Four Seasons and Casto Travel have a Preferred Partner relationship. What specific and exclusive benefits does that offer our clients in Santa Barbara? 

Ashleigh: We are offering our Stay Longer and Experience More promotions throughout the year. The Stay Longer package offers one complimentary night with two paid nights, all year except July and August. The Experience More promotion offers a $100 to $500 nightly resort credit, all year except July and August. 

By booking with Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara through Casto Travel, clients enjoy these Preferred Partner amenities (almost $400 in added value for a three-night stay): 

– Complimentary full breakfast for two daily
– Complimentary lunch for two once during stay (excluding alcohol & gratuity, an $85 value)
– Complimentary upgrade at check-in based on availability
– Complimentary welcome note and amenity in guestroom 

To contact Ashleigh with any questions or comments, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. 

Josh Friedmanis a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful business or leisure trip. 

For more information, to learn about our exclusive benefits, and to book, please contact Josh at 415.248.507, 800.553.4777 or by email. Associated with Casto, a member of the prestigious Virtuoso Travel network.  Be a big fish in our small pond.

SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills | The Bazaar by Jose Andres

the bazaar by jose andresOn my recent trip to Los Angeles to visit my family for the holidays I had the opportunity of dining at one of L.A.’s hottest restaurants in one of L.A.’s most unusual and unknown hotels. This was an 180 degree difference from where I stayed at the Four Seasons Los Angeles on Doheny. [read that blog post here]

I didn’t see the rooms so I won’t comment there, but if the lobby and restaurant are any indication (and they actually are from the photos I’ve seen) be prepared for a very sexy modernist experience.

The Bazaar is bizarre to a degree. Visually, operationally and gastronimcally it’s different from anything I’ve experienced before. The space, in LA style, is huge with many rooms with divergent styles creating the whole. We sat in kind of a library setting, while other areas were more steak house, bar or wine cellar. Everybody then moves to a Las Vegas style fantasy patisserie for dessert.

Operationally the food is prepared in 5 kitchens and is delivered to your table by a host of servers, each one describing in detail what they are delivering. This was quite handy since it was pretty unclear from the menu exactly what we were ordering. In one quite amusing mistake, the server told me that my gazpacho’s garnish (somewhat traditional but super intense tomato flavor and spicy) was a watermelon ball. Not being a fan of watermelon and since one of my dining companions was my 13 year old nephew who loves the stuff, I gave it to him. His expression was priceless.  Just imagine a big yuck!  About 30 minutes later we found out from another server that that was actually a cherry tomato, skin peeled, and soaked in some type of vinagrette.

The food style was tapas, about half traditional Spanish and half modern, not necessarily Spanish.  Like phily cheesesteak vs jamon iberico or “Butifarra” pork sausage with white beans and ceps Senator Moynihan.  I’m not a restaurant critic so I won’t go into details. My partner John thought the meal was reminiscent of Comerc 24 in Barcelona, which he loved. I’d describe it as nouvelle tapas – each dish loaded with contrasting intense and delicate flavors. And portions were small (typical tapas) so I tended to eat slowly to savor each morsel. I will admit that the couple next to us was thinking of going to In-N-Out Burger for dessert. Oh well.

Josh Friedman is a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler and management of study abroad groups. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful business or leisure trip.

For more information, to learn about our exclusive benefits, and to book, please contact Josh at 415.248.507, 800.553.4777 or by email. Associated with Casto, a member of the prestigious Virtuoso Travel network.  Be a big fish in our small pond.

Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles Review

 

four seasons los angeles at beverly hills

 
 
 

Four Seasons Los Angeles Review
aka Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Doheny

 
 
 L.A. is huge but despite its reputation it’s not that hard to get around. You have to be patient because of the traffic but besides that it’s not bad. That said, this particular hotel is in a great location, with easy access to Rodeo Drive (e.g. Van Cleef and Arpels or Nate n Al’s — a 4 minute drive by complimentary Rolls Royce or 20 minute walk), West Hollywood (minutes), Beverly Center (minutes or walk), the Valley or Downtown (30 minutes).
 
Here’s my personal review from my stay there over Christmas 2010. 
  • Unique location in a residential area allows for a quiet stay. Walking and jogging are easy. If you want privacy, it’s easy in and out. There is no walk-by traffic.
  • With 16 stories you can get awesome views of LA, with either a Pacific sunset or Downtown sunrise over the Hollywood sign.
  • The lobby is like the neighborhood. Quiet and discreet. The feel of the hotel is old-fashioned 20th century Beverly Hills. It, like the rooms, is very comfortable but not going to win any design awards. But the flowers and holiday decorations were worth the price of admission.
  • Power brokering goes on in the nearby bar and restaurant which are very contemporary in a departure from the rest of the place. I liked the healthy breakfast options too.
  • Good size pool for fun and laps.  6-8 person hot tub.
  • Adjacent indoor/outdoor fitness area. Gets a bit nippy in the winter and a bit on the small size. Nearby spa is also small but how much space do you need for a massage.
  • And service. Four Seasons knows how to knock it to you. Everywhere the staff is stellar. The doormen, the bell guys, Front Desk. The housekeepers. Almost everybody we came into contact with really shined. There was one lapse, but I suppose even a Four Seasons employee can have a bad hair day.
  • If booked through our agency, you’ll receive a fabulous free breakfast,  upgrade if available and likely another very nice amenity. Preferred Partner program.

 

For my complete set of photos from this trip and others, visit my photo home page.

 rolls royce beverly hillsJosh Friedman is a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises and customized vacations.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful trip.

For more information, to learn about our exclusive benefits, and to book, please contact Josh at 415.248.5079, 800.553.4777 or via email.  Associated with Casto, a member of the prestigious Virtuoso Travel network.  Be a big fish in our small pond.

St. Regis Princeville in Kauai | A Visit

This hotel on Kauai’s north shore is the perfect beginning for a discussion of what really defines 5 stars and the term ‘luxury.’  I’ve said it before and now I’m reminded again – but what looks great on paper and on the Internet, isn’t necessarily so.  Trip Advisor can fall short of comparing hotels within the same class. – just because somebody writes that their hotel stay was or wasn’t great doesn’t mean that they have much (or any) experience comparing it with other similar hotels.  The traveler has to go beyond these tools – ask friends, read Virtuoso Life, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, ask your preacher or ask a good travel agent who specializes in what you’re looking for.

Here’s a non-exhaustive look at some of my impressions of the St. Regis Princeville in Kauai.

SERVICE
 The bell staff was probably the best of any hotel I’ve ever stayed out. They were friendly, fast and helpful. You couldn’t ask for more.

The Front Desk staff were good too. I didn’t like my initial room directly over the pool so within a couple of minutes we had something preferable. But they didn’t go out of their way to greet you when you walked by or otherwise make you feel ‘at home.’

The Concierge Desk is very odd. They share staff with the Starwood time share people so you don’t know if you’re speaking to somebody who wants to help you or sell you something. As soon as I got into my room on the first day, I had a phone call from the “Starwood Preferred Guest” person telling me to come down for a gift. Turns out they were the afore-mentioned time-share people. I felt like I was at a cheap hotel in Mexico [so I’ve heard – I would never stay in one]. This was very disturbing.

The first day at the pool we were asked by the server to order our ‘last call’ drink because she wanted to go home. Now that I write this 2 weeks later I still can’t believe she said that. The next day a different server said the same thing.

– The last day at the pool I was never approached by a server asking if I even wanted a drink.

DESIGN & SETTING
This older 80s Sheraton was gutted and reopened a year ago as Starwood’s upscale brand, St. Regis. Apparently they put all their allotted time in planning for service issues to design issues. The hotel is absolutely beautiful. The entrance, lobby, bar, rooms and hallways are all done in a very sophisticated modern aesthetic with Hawaiian accents.  They used native Hawaiian material as well as stone from Egypt.  I really enjoyed walking around the place as it was so beautiful to look at.  And when you couple that with the natural setting  – which is one of the finest settings for a resort hotel in the world – it’s really, really nice. No wonder there were so many honeymoon couples there.

ROOMS AND SUITES
They have the perfect rooms for honeymooners – as long as you’re young.  Amazing views of Hanalei Bay, and in the junior suites, a shower overlooking the bay. Black marble bathrooms with silver furnishings are quite continental.  Rooms don’t have balconies, but the window do open and they have a very nice long window seat. If you’re familiar with Seabourn’s original ships, it’s kind of like that.

But you have to be young because the bathtub/shower combination is raised and you have 2 steep steps to get in there. Once you and your partner are inside you can flip a switch and the opaque wall becomes transparent with a view of the mountains as well as your entire room. Very sexy. But if you’re over 40 there are 2 problems. The first is that you may not be able to make it into the tub/shower without killing yourself and two, if you need you use the bathroom in the middle of the night as soon as you turn on the bathroom light the entire room lights up, opaque or not. Also, there’s no shower door – it’s your European style half glass style. This room is not big on modesty.

The amenities were pretty wonderful. By Remede.  I much preferred them over Bulgari or even L’Occitane which seem to be popular lately. Housekeeping was responsive and very good.

RESTAURANTS.  PUBLIC SPACES.
We had breakfast in the main restaurant overlooking Hanalei Bay. If you were the honeymooners from Arkansas we met, you probably would have loved it. But I’m from San Francisco and I found the food to be mediocre and the service was slow. I missed the Macadamia Nut pancakes that I had at the Grand Hyatt Kauai on my last trip.  Or give me the buffet at the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island anytime!

And other than a little café you can go to for morning coffee (room coffee was awful) and a yoghurt, there are no other shops in the hotel at all. Actually there’s an entire area near the Concierge/Timeshare desk that is deserted.

GRAND HYATT KAUAI

It’s been about 3-5 years since I was last in Kauai and stayed at the Grand Hyatt.  The hotel is located on the sunnier (and much more active side) of the island, in the area of Poipu Beach.  It’s about a 45-60 minute drive to Princeville/Hanalei Bay. It’s much bigger, a bit more commercial and decidedly less snazzy than the St. Regis, but it worked better.  The restaurants are nicer as I remember, and the spa is much nicer. The beach isn’t good at all for swimming, but it’s not so great in Hanalei either. And the service at the pool bar was great!

HANALEI

A fun part about staying up north is that your vacation has to be relaxed. There is little to do besides hike, kayak and hang out.  And we did all three. Restaurants are good enough and Tahiti Nui does have awesome Mai Tais and healthy size and tasty dinner entrees.  All the restaurants are super casual and almost all are indoor/outdoor. Try Bubbas Burgers, Kalypso and Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant.  The Kauai Grill (by Jean-George Vongerichten), in the St. Regis, was too austere for my tastes so we didn’t go.

COMPLIMENTARY HOTEL PERKS & BEST WAY TO BOOK

The one-two solution for learning more about Kauai is to 1) call me (415.248.5079) or email me; and 2) have me book you on your honeymoon or next vacation there. And remember, we offer fabulous perks at all top hotels in Hawaii (even the St. Regis), such as complimentary breakfast, upgrades, late check-outs, spa credits, etc. Amenities differ depending on the property. Best rates (if not better) guaranteed at all of Hawaii’s top hotels and resorts.

For photos of this trip to Kauai, please visit my Flickr site.
And for current vacation and cruise promotions, visit my site or click here to go there directly. Or call me.

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY? TO LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG, CLICK HERE

Josh Friedman is a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler and management of study abroad groups. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful business or leisure trip.

If you’d like to learn more about Kauai and the St. Regis or Hyatt Hotels, other luxury hotels in Hawaii, or anything else about luxury travel, please contact me in San Francisco’s Financial District via phone at 415.248.5079 or email: josh [at] joshfriedmantravel [dot] com

hanalei kauai church

 St. Regis PrincevilleKauai Bridge

perugia and umbria | the giotto report part ii

PART I  covered Orvieto and Todi.  This next part of my report from my July 2010 trip through Italy with my partner and young nephew, continues through Perugia and into the province of Le Marche  

PERUGIA

The capital of Umbria, I lived here for 6 weeks in 1976 while I studied at the Universita’ Italiana per Stranieri, aka the Italian University for Foreigners. The town structure hasn’t changed a bit, but then it was built around 1200 so what’s 34 years? The shops were all grown up – gone were the local places, now replaced with boutiques and chain stores.  Alas, the store where I bought my green and yellow Rosignol ski cap was gone, but the memory of my ski weekend to Cervinia [the Italian side of the Matterhorn near Zermatt] is still pleasantly alive.  

Perugia | Fontana Maggiore

 

 Perugia is still a University town. There’s the local university for Italians and another where foreigners go to learn Italian.  The latter one is housed in a spectacular Baroque building adjacent to an Etruscan gate to the City. The road leading into the center of town from there winds around the edge of the city, and it’s as dramatic now as it was when I was 20. Combining 13th century charm and the buzz of students discovering the world outside of their home towns for the first time, makes this a great place.  [Amanda Knox, the American unfairly convicted of murdering her British roommate , probably doesn’t feel this way, but that’s another story – I didn’t see her, although I did write to her.]  

We were in Perugia during the annual Jazz festival and the FIFA World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands which added a lot of fun, too. While dining on the main square, we were treated to great American jazz on a stage set up adjacent to the Fontana Maggiore.  And the evening of the FIFA final, a huge crowd was hanging out in front of the (still there!) Bar Medio Evo on Corso Vanucci. The Dutch were a quiet lot, sitting quietly in their orange sweatshirts, while the Spaniards were running up and down the street, waving their country’s flags. Not a huge surprise, I suppose. And this was before the game ended!  

Logistics for Visiting Umbria

Since 1976 when Perugia was just a small town, a whole city has sprung up in the valley next to it. Don’t stay there! Find a hotel in the historical center, on top of the hill, and either bite the bullet on the expense of a 4/5 star property or stay in a basic hotel. We stayed in a 2 star with the most amazing view. So what if it was like a prison cell.  We made up for it in nearby Castel santangelo at Il Giardino degli Ulivi. That’s the subject of my next post.  

Isola Maggiore | Lago di Trasimeno

 

Plan on spending 2-3 nights in Perugia. Enjoy the town itself, and then discover the nearby villages of Assisi, Spello, Gubbio, Todi, Panicale and Lago di Trasimeno. At the lago (lake) you can take a ferry from the cute little modern town of Passignano to the wonderful and very historic island “Isola Maggiore.”  

And one last word about driving to/from Perugia. IT’S A BLAST. But it’s very difficult and you have to have a small car. I’m from LA and loved it. Never had so much fun in a car, not even with my new BMW.  But for others, I absolutely would not recommend it.  

Part III, Castel S. Angelo, Le Marche and Bologna are next  

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Tambo del Inka Hotel | Peru’s Sacred Valley

One of the goals of this blog is to bring you news from around the world as to new and exciting hotels and resorts.  From Starwood’s Luxury Collection, here’s a very cool and luxurious hotel opening up in December (2009). It’s right on your way to or from Machu Pichu in Urubamba, the Sacred Valley.  Our “exclusive perks” haven’t been anounced yet but, as always, you can be sure they’ll be worthwhile and combined with our attentive service, a double plus.

A Mystical Destination

In the very heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Tambo del Inka will debut as a luxury resort and spa featuring exclusive adventure tourism experiences, historical and cultural surroundings of the Incas and innovative dining.

Unique Style

Lending its contemporary style to the greatness and wealth of Andean culture, we will feature 128 elegantly designed rooms and suites with mesmerizing views of the Andes and the Vilcanota river

Lavish Spa Treatments

Unwind and relax in our luxurious spa where you can choose from a stunning array of pampering massages and exclusive therapeutic treatments featuring ancestral Incan ingredients, all surrounded by sweeping views of the Andes

World’s Best Hotels 2010 | Our Annual Review


Enjoy our annual list of the world’s top hotels. And of course they’re all in our network so you’re assured of the VIP respect you deserve. Not to mention complimentary upgrades, breakfast, cocktails, spa credits and the like. Each hotel offerings are different. Thanks as always.
 


JOSH FRIEDMAN LUXURY TRAVEL AT CASTO
415.248.5079 OR 800.553.4777. Or email.
In San Francisco’s Financial District

    

Sent with my compliments, please enjoy the 2010 Best of the Best, your guide to the world’s greatest hotel experiences. To access this digital edition, simply click any image, article link below, or click here.There’s simply no substitute for expert advice and personal service. Contact me today for everything from a weekend getaway to the trip of a lifetime.   

6:: Annual Best of the Best Award Winners
Singled out by Virtuoso travel advisors as truly extraordinary..hideaways- Create your own travel dreams at these exclusive    

   

  

18:: Africa & Middle East – Explore wildlife-filled plains, architectural masterpieces and timeless cultures.   

  

42:: Asia & Pacificdragons, and dazzling reefs.Komodo- Venture to a land of gilded cities, great walls,    

   

  

 

  

8:: Virtuoso Lifestyle: Villas & Private Retreats 

102:: Caribbean & Bermuda – Stroll miles of soft-sand beaches and turquoise waters.   

  

236:: Europe – Enjoy enchanting stays in medieval castles, mesmerizing estates and metropolitan sanctuaries.   

  

346:: Mexico, Central & South America – Wander colorful markets, wonder at ancient Mayan cities, and hike through the rainforest.   

  

380:: Introducing the Newest Virtuoso Hotels & Resortsnamed among Virtuoso’s Best of the Best.to be- Meet the most recent hotels    

   

  

 

  

124:: Canada & United States – Escape to coastal resorts, cosmopolitan hotels and romantic Rocky Mountain lodges. 

    

© 2010 Virtuoso, Ltd.
Casto Travel | San Francisco 

Report from Spain | Madrid Valencia Alicante

The Giotto Report | de Espana

A very happy new year to you! I truly hope it’s a good one for you, your family and friends.

Thought I’d start off the year by sending out a report on my trip to Spain last month.  I was invited by a group of Spanish government entities and one of our top travel partners in Madrid to a week long fact finding trip to the Iberian peninsula.  Yet another tough assignment that I was coerced into taking.

reina sofia madrid

Where in Spain | What about Spain?

The Costa Blanca  extends south along the Mediterranean from Valencia (which is about 4 hours south of Barcelona), in the eastern part of the country.  It’s north of Granada and the beach resorts of MarbellaAlicant, as it’s known in the Catalan language, is about 90 minutes south of Valencia.  And it really is pronounced Valen-thia and I now know that the lisp is genuine, which was hard for me to say growing up where I learned Mexican and Cuban Spanish.  Cuenca is half way to Madrid from Valencia, in the region of La Mancha.  Madrid is in the geographical center of the country so that’s easy.

As you probably know I lived in Italy and  have toured around a fair amount.  I’ve seen some of France, and was in Barcelona for 2 days in 1984 when I worked for Royal Viking Line.  I haven’t been back since. So I was expecting the Spain that I saw to be like “Italy 2” or “France, the Sequel.” But it wasn’t.  The people were more ‘northern’ in temperament and very friendly.  A little less jaded than others and  they were excited to see American tourists, who are in much shorter supply than in Italy or France.  And that was a huge plus.  For example, we were in a church and one of the priests showed us 500 year old vestments that were just sitting in a drawer. You wouldn’t see that in Italy’s third largest city.  Because the parts of Spain I saw were built of granite and came off quite severe, the charm factor was less than I was expecting.  And one must avoid the beaches where I was because they’re horrendously overbuilt. Benidorm is probably one of the ugliest places I’ve ever seen – at least from the highway.

Alicante

The old town is beautiful. Charming small streets, cafes, boutiques, churches. Just like one would hope to see in Spain. The Hospes Amerigo  hotel is straight out of Metropolitan Home which appealed to my design sense, but the lack of attentive service didn’t appeal to my 5 star sensibility. The food in the hotel, however, was fantastic and worthy of my snobbish San Francisco foodie palate – especially the mushroom soup. Just another reminder to my clients – looks aren’t everything and you need to know the whole story before deciding on a hotel based solely on photos.   Outside of the charming historical center, and the very sixties mosaic promenade along the harbor (I loved it), the town is overbuilt with buildings better suited for the Eastern Bloc.  I’d probably recommend Sicily instead.

Cuenca

Valencia

Did you know that Lladro is made here? It’s true and we went to the factory to check it out. OK, Lladro really isn’t my style but how they make it was very interesting and I think worth a visit. Valencia also hosts the Americas Cup and a Formula One racing venue.  I’m an Urban guy and Valencia, Spain’s 3rd largest city, has a very nice mix of old and new, northern African and European. We had 2 of our most memorable dinners here, too. We ate at arrop richard camarena, a super chic 1 star Michelin restaurant. I’d kill for a house that looked like this place. But the food was a little strange. Our other dinner was at a small tapas restaurant apparently not in the best part of town – and that was the best meal we had in Spain. Go there – it’s called Casa Montana.

Cuenca | La Mancha

This is the cool part of Spain I got to see – the small towns that I love going to Europe for. After slugging through the modern ugly part of the city (which was weird), you’re transported back about 1000 years to this charming hillside village which is now a center for contemporary art. Ever been to Jerome, Arizona? It’s a little like that.  The only hotel in this part of town is a centuries old parador – a very cool place to stay. The paradores were old convents that were turned into hotels by the government about a 100 years ago. The government wanted to generate tourism, the country was short on hotels and there was a glut of unoccupied convents! To this day, they’re still run by the government. Most are 4 star but a couple are very high end. The one in Cuenca is about a 4 star, I’d say.

Madrid

Everybody has been to Madrid, right? I’ll add that my favorite things were the Royal Palace, the Reina Sofia Museum and El Escorial. The Palacio Real is a truly opulent old palace. Everything from the wallpaper to the chandeliers to the drapes are dazzling. It’s unique in Europe.  The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofiais a modern museum which houses the newer stuff, after the Prado. Picasso’s Guernica is now here (I hadn’t seen it since it was at MOMA in New York) and it’s breathtaking. And the ante-room has a huge collection of studies which were fascinating – many in color! Who would of thought that once of the most famous b&w works in the world would have such a history!. In the next rooms were a documentary of the Spanish Civil War with photos by Robert Capa and others – a very sobering display. San Lorenzo de El Escorial was compared (as an opposite) to Versailles in my UCSD art history classes. It’s severe. It’s cold. It’s really cold. And, true to Spain versus other countries, it’s very much in its original condition without too much restoration. You can actually see the (now) dilapidated chairs that Phillip II sat on.

Hotels in Spain

The memorable hotels on this trip were the Westin Valencia (remember, Westin in Europe is better than it is in the USA), the Ritz Madrid (old world wonderful), the Villa Magna (new world wonderful in Madrid), the AC Santo Mauro and it’s sister hotel the AC Retiro (both in Madrid, ultra chic but historical). Of course, we have the contacts at these hotels to add much value to the room rate.

For More Information on Spain & Europe

No matter if you’d just like to be put on my newsletter list, if you’d like to throw vacation ideas around, or if you’re ready for some concrete information please feel free to contact us either via phone or the quick form to your left. Or email.

Photos of Spain & Around the World

Please visit my Flickr page for photos from this and all my trips.

reina sofia museum madrid