Friday, December 31, 2010

Home or Rome for the Holidays?

Without fail, every December I refer to my very own "Bucket List".  We all have a "Bucket List", various things we would like to accomplish before we "kick the bucket".  Call it what you will.  Books have been written about places we should visit before we die, experiences we should have and people we should meet.  Very near the top of my list is to have the privilege of attending midnight mass at St. Peter's in Rome on Christmas Eve.  I cannot frankly imagine anything that would be more moving emotionally and spiritually.

Hotel de Russie Lobby

A few years ago, I was in Rome during the month of November visiting all of the top hotels there and was struck by the variety and wide range of hotels to choose from in the Eternal City.  I will write about most of them in upcoming posts, but I would like to highlight one very special and unique hotel that stands out - the Hotel de Russie.  I have toured every inch of this outstanding luxury hotel and have sent an endless amount of very discerning clients there, all of which returned singing the de Russie's praises.

Hotel de Russie Purple Chair

The Hotel de Russie is a member of the prestigious Rocco Forte Collection  which, to date, is comprised of thirteen hotels and resorts.  In addition, they have four new properties which are set to open within the next three years.

de Russie Wall Sculpture

To be specific, the de Russie is located between the famous Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo on Via del Babuino.  This would be the perfect place to stay especially if your are visiting Vatican City and St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel.  It is just a ten-minute walk from there.

 The most outstanding feature of this unique hotel is its terraced gardens.  As a guest, you can dine at "Le Jardin de Russie" Restaurant or take a peaceful walk through their "Secret Garden".  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at Le Jardin de Russie by acclaimed two Michelin star chef, Fulvio Pierangelini.  During the summer months, you may dine outdoors in the "Secret Garden".  Hotel de Russie also houses the very popular Stravinskij Bar.  You can enjoy a Mediterranean buffet for lunch or simply relax at the end of your day and sip on one of the many cocktails created by Massimo D'Addezio, whom was named the best Italian Barman in 2008.

Terrace Dining at the de Russie

Along with being home to some of the most beautiful gardens in Rome, the Hotel de Russie also boasts being home to one of Rome's most sought after spas and health clubs.  The de Russie Wellness zone offers a fully equipped gym, a Finnish sauna, steam bath and a saltwater whirlpool bath.  The "Beauty Area" offers various treatments for the face and body using only the top lines of beauty products.

Wellness Zone Pool

Hotel de Russie offers 122 guest rooms which include 33 suites.  A wide range of room types are available depending on your needs.  The Studio Rooms offer a city view with a few that have a Piazza del Popolo view.  These rooms have either twin beds or a king bed and are 484 sq. ft.  Most of the Deluxe Double/Twin Rooms offer a garden view with either twin beds or a king bed as well but are a bit smaller at 430 sq. ft.  If you prefer a queen bedded room, you may choose either the Executive Double/Twin Room or even a Classic Double Twin Room.  The smallest room category is the Classic Single Room which offers a single French bed and is 247 sq. ft.

Deluxe Room

Marble & Tiled Bathroom

As mentioned previously, the de Russie also offers 33 suites ranging from their Classic Suite to the very spectacular Popolo, Picasso and Nijinsky Suites.  Should you book one of these suites, you will also enjoy many complimentary services such as Continental Buffet Breakfast, unpacking and packing service, pressing of garments, internet access and in-house movies.

Executive Suite
Picasso Suite

Popolo Suite
To be sure, the Hotel de Russie tops the list in Rome of luxury hotels offering only the best service, a much sought after spa, some of the best food in all of Italy and most definitely is in one of the best locations the City has to offer.  I spent an entire afternoon visiting hotels surrounding the Spanish Steps and then walked leisurely down Via del Babuino until I reached Hotel de Russie.  I know I have driven this point home many times, but I will say it again.  The proof of a fabulous hotel is its ability to maintain a high level of service year after year and develop a loyal group of guests which enjoy returning again and again.  I can personally attest to the many clients I have booked at this Hotel over the past ten years that are still thanking me for sending them there.  The Hotel de Russie should be on your "Bucket List".

Hotel de Russie Mosaic Tile Detail
All Photos Courtesy of the Rocco Forte Collection.

A Very Special "Welcome Home" at London Heathrow's Terminal 5

If this doesn't stir your soul or bring tears to your eyes, you may want to check your pulse. You may not be alive!!!!!! Double click on screen for full view.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Four Seasons Milan: Luxury Redefined

One of these years, I will spend a couple weeks in Italy in December, hopefully the last two weeks and ring in a New Year in one of my most cherished places on earth-that would be ANYWHERE in Italy.  One of my all-time favorite hotels in Italy happens to be in Milan and is the Four Seasons.  I have visited all of the top hotels there, but nothing quite stands out like this one and here's why.

What draws me to this particular Four Seasons is the history behind the building itself and the very subtle location.  One of the outstanding features of the building is the cloisters which skirt the courtyard.  This building was formerly a 15th century convent which was transformed into a Four Seasons Hotel in 1993.

The Cloistered Courtyard

I vividly remember walking to my appointment at the Four Seasons not knowing entirely what to expect.  I hadn't been in that part of the city yet.  I knew I needed to find via Gesu and that it would probably be located in a very stylish part of the city.  I had no idea that it would be so understated and located in such an elegant yet quaint area.  It is situated between via Montenapoleone and via della Spiga which are well known as being home to the most exclusive designer shopping in all of Milan.  The Hotel has only five stories and offers 118 guest rooms, 51 of which are Suites. 

Should you arrive by train at the Stazione Centrale, then it is merely a 12-minute ride to reach the Hotel.  If arriving by air into the Linate Airport, then it should take about a half hour, whereas, if you arrive by air into the Malpensa Airport, it would be approximately an hour's drive.  Furthermore, Milan is only about 150 miles north of Florence and the same distance west of Venice.  In the summertime, I would highly recommend driving to the Lake Como area and the Lakes District which is only a 45-minute drive.  Stay tuned for future posts on that area.

The Four Seasons Milan offers 67 guest rooms which are comprised of 20 Superior Rooms and 47 Deluxe Rooms.  The remaining 51 rooms are Executive and Junior Suites.  Should you need a multi-bedroom Suite, then you may choose the Visconti Suite which offers either one bedroom or two ranging in size from 2,098 sq. ft. to 2,650 sq. ft.  The largest Suite option is offered by the Royal Suite which contains three bedrooms all with king beds and is approximately 3,000 sq. ft.

Deluxe Room

Fashion Suite

Ceiling Suite

Royal Suite overlooking the Duomo

You will have all possible creature comforts while staying at this Four Seasons receiving a wide range of services and amenities in each room.  Rooms are equipped with internet access, CD player, clock radio, DVD player, a multi-line telephone and in-room safe.  To add to your comfort, the rooms are stocked with down pillows (hypo-allergenic pillows on request), luxuriously thick terry bathrobes, hair dryer and a refrigerated private bar.  You will also receive twice-daily housekeeping service as well as a complimentary newspaper with breakfast.  As if this were not enough, the Hotel also offers 24-hour in-room dining, 24-hour laundry/dry-cleaning and pressing, complimentary overnight shoeshine, limousine service or valet parking.

La Veranda

As a guest at the Four Seasons Milan, you have several dining options.  I was fortunate enough to be treated to lunch in La Veranda when I was there.  They offer a strictly vegetarian menu which features Mediterranean and local cuisine using all seasonal and fresh ingredients.  La Veranda is on the Lobby level and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as afternoon tea.  Lunch with my new found friend, Olivier Gerber (Director of Sales & Marketing), was spectacular as we sat by the window exchanging stories about Milan and Jackson Hole. 

Il Teatro

A more formal and sophisticated option for dining would be Il Teatro.  It offers an extensive gourmet menu and overlooks the inner garden.  Dinner is served Monday through Saturday as well as offering an "after theatre menu" from 11pm to midnight.  Sunday Brunch is also served at Il Teatro.  Additionally, should you choose to be a bit more relaxed, you can enjoy light hors d'oeuvres and snacks at Il Foyer located next to the Camino Room in the main Lobby of the Hotel.

Sala Camino
All Photos Above Courtesy of the Four Seasons Milan

After you have spent a day of shopping in Milan, you will definitely want to enjoy any one of the Spa services this Four Seasons has to offer.  An added bonus is having the option of arranging a massage or any other spa treatment in the privacy of your own room which should definitely be booked in advance with the Concierge.  Various massages offered are Aromatherapy, Ayurvedic, Swedish, Traditional Thai or Shiatsu.  Manicure and pedicure treatments are offered as well.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this Four Seasons Hotel if you are in Milan and are looking for a very special experience.  Treat yourself to an elegant stay here and take in the centuries-old frescoes and Renaissance cloisters as well as much, much more.  The staff will tirelessly try to accommodate your every whim and make sure you are well taken care of.  Under no circumstances, will you forget your stay here.  I can't wait to return!

Leonardo Da Vinci Last Supper Art Print Poster - 24x36 Poster Print by Leonardo da Vinci , 36x24
As most Italian cities are, Milan is also steeped in several historic sites with a multitude of historic buildings.  The Four Seasons Milan is literally steps from the famous La Scala Opera House, the Duomo and the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church which houses Da Vinci's "The Last Supper".  If you would like to view "The Last Supper", I strongly suggest booking tickets well in advance because of the hundreds of visitors that come to view the masterpiece.

In the last decade, La Scala Opera House underwent a four-year renovation reopening again in 2004.  This very famous opera house was built somewhere between 1776 and 1778 and is perched upon the ruins of the old Santa Maria della Scala Church.  It was destroyed during the Second World War and was rebuilt and reopened in 1946.  During this month of December and into January, the Swan Lake ballet is being performed at La Scala.  The Opera House is only a ten-minute walk from the Four Seasons.
Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake [DVD Video]
Another real treat that is only a ten-minute walk from the Four Seasons is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  This is the Italian version of a 19th century mall which was built in order to connect the squares of La Scala and the Duomo.  It is a strikingly beautiful iron and glass building that was built from 1865 to 1877.  Sadly, the architect, Giuseppe Mengoni, fell to his death from the glass dome in 1867 just two days before King Vittorio Emanuele arrived for the opening ceremony.  This amazing Galleria is filled with very unique shops and boutiques, restaurants and cafes.  It is a joy just to walk through this magnificent place lined with marble walkways.

Entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan

Another true architectural highlight in Milan which dominates the heart of the city is the Duomo.  I remember walking around a corner and seeing this enormous Gothic structure for the first time.  As history tells us, the Duomo's construction began in 1386.  It is massive and towers over every building near it.  Breathtaking!!  It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and is the second largest Catholic cathedral just behind St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.

The Duomo in Milan
Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan
From Milan, if you are traveling by car, a must is to drive north to the Lake Como area and take the ferry to Bellagio.  If you would like to head south to Florence and the Tuscany area, the train is very, very simple.  I took the train between Milan and Florence.  Little hint:  definitely worth traveling in first class just for the drinks and snacks, but most of all for the additional seating room.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on Lake Como and surrounds.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

SUNDANCE...not only a Film Festival

Mount Timpanogas, the backdrop at Sundance Resort

Since all of my friends in Jackson Hole have been giving me daily and weekly weather reports about their already banner snow accumulation, I am reminded of another very special place that is also blanketed in snow this time of year.  We all certainly equate the name Robert Redford with the Sundance Film Festival, however, I am not sure how many people have been fortunate enough to actually visit the Sundance Resort in Utah.  This one-of-a-kind Resort is situated at the base of Mount Timpanogas.  If you have not yet made the effort to visit this over-the-top heavenly place, then it needs to go on your "bucket list".  My family and I have visited this extraordinary place in every season of the year and have always walked away feeling enriched. 

Rehearsal Hall at Sundance

I don't want to mislead you with the word "Resort", but I am compelled to point out that whatever image you have in your mind when you hear that word, is probably not what you should expect to encounter.  That is not to say that you won't receive the most incredible service,  have the most exquisite surroundings, enjoy the best amenities or even be able to dine from a spectacular menu, because you will.  What I am trying to describe to you is a place that combines nature and everything it has to offer with an understated elegance in its simplicity.  The lodging, the restaurant, the General Store along with most structures are all fashioned with rough-hewn wood accented with the most tasteful and authentic Native American flair.

The Tree Room at Sundance

From all of the articles I have read about Robert Redford and interviews I have seen with him (rare though they are), I have always been struck by his unwavering commitment to the preservation of this earth and the responsibility we each hold in protecting, nurturing and enjoying it.  Here is a man whom had a vision focused on conservation long before it was fashionable.  Over the years since Redford purchased the land in 1969, he has managed to create the most incredible community which brings people together for many different reasons.  It is a place for families like my own to visit and enjoy several types of recreation.  In the summer months, you may want to set out on one of their hiking trails or go mountain biking on their more than 25 miles of single track biking trails.  Horseback riding is obviously popular as well since they have their own stables.  One of our favorite things to do was take the scenic chair lift ride to the top of Ray's Summit.  Breathtaking!!!!!

Scenic Chair Lift at Sundance

We often made a day trip of it from Salt Lake City, but you can certainly spend a few nights there in one of their several lodging room options.  They offer Standard and Studio Rooms with queen beds that are 450 sq. ft.  If you need a larger suite, you have a choice of a Sundance Suite with a fireplace, deck or patio with 750 sq. ft. or a Mountain Suite which offers a full kitchen, living and dining area with 900 sq. ft.  Also of interest might be one of their Mountain Lofts which offers everything the Mountain Suite has plus an additional loft space.  Each room is equipped with complimentary wireless internet access and an I-Pod/MP3 docking station.  A few years ago, one of my clients rented one of the Sundance Mountain Homes during the Holiday Season.  They offer nine homes that you can rent by the week offering either 2, 3, 4 or 5 bedrooms.

Mountain Suite

Should you choose to visit Sundance in the winter months, you will not be disappointed either.  Quite the contrary.  Whether you are an alpine skier, snowboarder or cross country skier, you will find terrain and trails suitable for all levels.  Sundance offers 41 runs which span over 450 acres.  Night skiing is offered on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights as well.  This year's ski season actually OPENS TODAY, December 4th and runs until April 3rd.

Another treat at Sundance is to enjoy dining in the Foundry Grill which first opened in 1996.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served Monday through Saturday and brunch and dinner are served on Sundays.  Of recent note, the Foundry Grill won Utah's 2010 Best of State for Best Buffet Brunch!  For a more romantic atmosphere, you may choose to dine in the Tree Room in the Resort's main building.  It is the recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award and the Wine Spectator Award.

The Foundry Grill at Sundance

Located above the Sundance village off Timphaven Road, is the Spa at Sundance.  Sundance proudly points out that "the Spa is a place that was inspired by the Sioux concept of Hocoka-a sacred environment for the restoration and healing of the body and spirit".  They offer treatments with all natural products in one of their six natural wood treatment rooms.  They do advise booking your desired treatment in advance.

You may or may not be aware of the famous Sundance Catalog.  If not, you need to be.  As the story goes, when Sundance was first created in 1969, there was a small store called the General Store at the base of the Resort.  After years of requests from previous visitors and guests wanting to purchase items they had seen at the Store, Redford realized that perhaps a mail order catalog might satisfy that thirst.  The first Sundance Catalog was mailed in 1989.  Believe me when I tell you that shopping in the General Store IS A MUST!  I have personally purchased everything there from unique pieces of jewelry to baseball caps to hiking shoes and am happy to tell you that I have been receiving the Sundance Catalog for more than a decade.  In the usual Sundance tradition, they carry organic clothing as well as fair trade clothing and strongly support local artists.  One of my saddest stories is the demise of a gorgeous kilim runner rug we purchased from the Sundance Outlet Store in Salt Lake which our then-puppy Chocolate Lab, Tucker, proceeded to chew up.  That was a sad day!!!!!!

Unique Jewelry Sold at Sundance

One very unique thing that Sundance offers is daily creative workshops including photography, pottery, drawing and painting to name a few.  These workshops are held in the Sundance Art Shack and are offered to not only their resort guests, but also offered to day visitors.  You may also enjoy a visit to the Glassblowing Studio to watch the resident glass blowers create exquisite glasses, plates, vases and much much more.  Many of the pieces created in this Studio are used in the Resort's restaurants and other locations at Sundance. 

Of all of the times we have visited Sundance, there is ONE favorite thing we like to do and I strongly encourage you to do this if you can in the autumn season.  If you continue to drive up the hill past Sundance on State Road 92 commonly indicated as the Alpine Scenic Drive, you will find yourself embedded in the thickest most beautiful wooded area full of Aspen trees.  In the fall, the Aspens turn a brilliant yellow and literally glisten in the sunlight.  With the yellow Aspen leaves shining against their stark white bark, the result is almost impossible to describe.  It touches your soul.  I can close my eyes and transport myself there. 

Deer in the Aspen Grove

Whether it is spring, summer, winter or fall, this is a place that is not to be missed.  It is set in one of the most pristine, awe-inspiring places I have ever visited and is definitely worth making the effort.

All Photos Courtesy of Sundance Resort

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Minute Suites: The Wave of the Future

Minute Suites Entrance
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport-Concourse B

In early May of this year, I happened to be in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport changing planes on my way back to Maine from Jackson Hole.  Sadly, I had a very long layover.  As friends and family often point out, I am one of those people whom cannot sit idle.  As unappealing as it sounds, I figured this was my opportunity to truly "explore" the Atlanta Airport.  To be specific, I was in Concourse B.

Since I am not a "shopper" at heart and since I try to avoid "airport food", I found myself roaming aimlessly through Concourse B.  As I glanced to my left, I noticed what appeared to be a miniature hotel lobby.  Not paying close attention, I wandered on.  I tried to sit and relax for a while and let my kindle entertain me.  That didn't last long.  Struck by my own curiosity, I strolled past the "miniature hotel lobby" AGAIN.  Now I had to stop.  I was quickly introduced to what I think could be a revolutionary concept in one's airport experience.  I grabbed one of the glossy brochures sitting on the counter.  Let me introduce you to Minute Suites.  Immediately intrigued, I explained to the attendant at the desk that I am a travel agent and would be very interested in seeing one of the "suites".

Minute Suite Interior

Like most new concepts, it took me a while to wrap my head around what I was seeing.  As the attendant slid open a nearby door, in front of me was a very comfortable room with a daybed, desk and chair and HDTV.  Fresh blankets and pillows are provided as well as hot tower service.  With your remote control, you can access either satellite programming or computer services which include internet access and flight tracking.  The Suite is also equipped with plenty of electrical outlets and room temperature controls as well as a sound-masking system.  As I took all of this in, I started to regret that I hadn't hatched this concept myself.

Obviously, as with any "hotel", the Suites are subject to availability so reservations are strongly advised.  To make your Minute Suites reservation, simply visit  Each reservation has a one-hour minimum at a rate of $30.00.  After the initial hour, the Suite can be reserved in 15-minute blocks at a rate of $7.50.  If you book a stay of eight hours or more, you will receive a 25% discount.

I am happy to report that last week Minute Suites celebrated their one-year anniversary at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport.  In a recent press release, they reported that the company has grown an average of 9% per month since they launched and that October sales increased 15% over September.  Further good news is that they are already in the process of obtaining design approval for the Philadelphia Airport where they would like to open sometime next year.  Nice work, Minute Suites!!!!!

Photos Courtesy of Minute Suites

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Favorite Boston Boutique Hotel

Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston

Famous Acorn Street on Beacon Hill, Boston

Having lived in Boston for over a decade myself, I have an unusual fondness for this City!  I was fortunate enough to live on Beacon Hill, commonly known as "The Hill", and walk to work every day in the financial district.

DeLuca's Market on Charles Street, Beacon  Hill, Boston

Boston, as everyone knows, is steeped in history and tradition.  It is a city full of historic buildings as well as many significant monuments and historic sites.  My daily route to work would take me past Boston Common, the State House that crowns Beacon Hill and down Beacon Street.  It is here, at the very beginning of Beacon Street (15 Beacon Street to be exact) that I would like to introduce you to one of the most welcoming and well located hotels Boston has to offer.  Over the past decade, many clients have enjoyed this property and have returned many times since.  Last week, a client celebrated his birthday there with his wife and thoroughly enjoyed their stay.  The hotel is called Fifteen Beacon Hotel.

Fifteen Beacon Hotel Entrance

This hotel is truly a gem and nothing about it is ordinary.  The building itself is a 1903 landmark.  In the years I would walk by it, the building was occupied by the Boston School Committee.  In 1999, this unique structure became the Fifteen Beacon Hotel.  Fortunately, upon renovation, many of the original architectural details were saved and this historic building breathed new life as a luxury boutique hotel in one of the best locations in Boston.

King's Chapel near Fifteen Beacon Hotel

Fifteen Beacon offers 62 guest rooms with yummy Frette linens, working gas fireplaces, 24-hour in-room dining and a 24-hour workout room.  Each guest room is equipped with surround-sound stereo, a cordless phone, an iHome alarm clock radio, a 42-inch flat screen television as well as complimentary wireless internet access.  An added plus is their restaurant, Mooo, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner along with offering an all-day bar menu.  Fifteen Beacon also offers a private dining room called "The Wine Cellar" which provides a perfect location for a business meeting or private party and can accommodate up to 75 guests.

Rooftop Deck at Fifteen Beacon Hotel

This one-of-a-kind hotel enjoys six different room types with only seven rooms per floor.  Their Classic Rooms have a queen four-poster bed and are 315 sq. ft.  The Traditional Rooms offer a queen canopy bed and are 395 sq. ft.  The Studio Rooms offer either a queen or a king bed and are 485 sq. ft.  Alternatively, the Corner Studio Rooms offer a king bed as well as a queen pullout sofabed and are 475 sq. ft.  The largest rooms are the One- and Two-Bedroom Suites which have a separate parlor with a dining table and range in size from 900 to 1400 sq. ft.

Studio Room

One Bedroom Suite

I am always happy to point out that a hotel is pet friendly!!!!!  Fifteen Beacon welcomes your furry canine friends where they will enjoy dog biscuits, a comfy bed of their own and "turn down water".  The hotel also points out that dog sitting and dog walking can be arranged prior to arrival.  Should you choose to make a $25.00 pet donation, 100% of it will go to the MSPCA Angell Memorial Hospital.  I can personally tell you that this is a worthy cause since my own dog sadly was a guest at Angell Memorial.


As I mentioned previously, the location of Fifteen Beacon could NOT be better.  Being situated where it is, you are able to comfortably walk to many different attractions and areas of Boston.  It is a short walk to the famous Faneuil Hall area where you will find many boutiques and eateries and street side entertainers.  You are also very close to Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden.  In summer months, you may choose to ride one of the very popular swan boats in the Public Garden.  Charles Street, on Beacon Hill has many unique shops and some very good restaurants within walking distance. 

Faneuil Hall

Old Boston State House

Another favorite thing to do is to wander down Newbury Street.  If you walk through the Public Garden, then you will reach Arlington Street and Newbury is just off Arlington Street.  This is a very popular shopping area with some of my favorite shops!

"Make Way for Ducklings" in the Boston Public Garden
I could go on an on about Boston and everything it has to offer.  There will definitely be more future posts on this fabulous City I miss so much.

State House on Beacon Street

All Fifteen Beacon Hotel photos are courtesy of Fifteen Beacon.  All other photos are my own.