Friday, August 13, 2010

The First Aman Resort in the U.S.

My professional life, as well as my personal life for that matter, takes me to Jackson Hole, Wyoming a number of times each year.  I just returned last week from Jackson where I attended a dear friend's (and co-worker's) wedding.  Having lived there for ten years, I am thankfully familiar with one of the most beautiful venues in this country.  There are so many special aspects of Jackson Hole from the breathtaking mountain range, the Tetons, to the pristine lakes and the mighty Snake River.  It would be foolish of me to mention this western town without highlighting the wildlife that peppers the area.  It would not be uncommon for me to be sitting at my computer by the windows and have a moose wander nearby.  Many times, they would actually settle on our porch for a few hours at a time.  Along with the moose, you can often spot bison grazing when driving to or from the airport.  One of my biggest treats while living there was in the early fall season.  Before dawn, you could hear the elk bugling.  If you have never experienced that before, it absolutely stirs your soul.  Not only does Jackson Hole provide incredible vistas, the grandeur of the Tetons, the wrath of the Snake, but it also offers a few outstanding hotels that I would like to introduce to you.  One of note is Amangani.  It is as dramatic as its surroundings.

Amangani Exterior View in Summer  This hotel was built in 1998 and was the first Aman resort in this country.  Currently, there are only two in the U.S.  The other is Amangiri which is located in Southern Utah and it opened in October of 2009.  More on that later since I have booked clients there in October.  Amangani's location is dramatic.  It is literally built into the edge of the East Gros Ventre Butte 7,000 feet above sea level with three stories containing only 40 suites.  The structure is striking due to its floor-to-ceiling stone columns with the interior ceilings and walls designed with Pacific redwood.
Terrace in Summer

Each suite contains a king bed, fireplace, dining table and woven cowhide chairs.  The bathroom is quite large with twin vanities and a deep-soaking tub.  Included in the 40 suites are 29 Standard Suites, 5 Deluxe Suites, 4 Amangani Suites and the Grand Teton Suite.  The last is aptly named since it is located at the far end of the hotel and faces the Grand Teton.  This suite  has a king bed with a living room area and separate bathroom and dressing area.  It is 625 sq. ft.  Having toured every inch of this hotel, I have to admit that this particular suite is nothing short of spectacular.

Amangani Suite
A few years ago, very special friends and clients of mine flew to Jackson Hole to visit us from New York and West Palm.  I booked them at Amangani and we were invited to join them for cocktails and dinner.  The entrance is on a higher level than is the lounge and dining room, so you descend to the lounge from a grand staircase and you are immediately faced with floor to ceiling windows looking at the mountains ahead of you.

Entrance to the Lounge from the Staircase
As if all of this drama were not enough, the "icing on the cake" is the outdoor 115ft. heated swimming pool and whirlpool.  The views from the pool are staggering and truly cannot be matched.  Amangani's Health Center offers four treatment rooms with separate steam rooms for men and women.  Facials, massages, as well as salt, mud and seaweed body treatments are also available.  The gym is well-equipped also.

Outdoor Heated Pool & Whirlpool
Amangani also enjoys a 65-seat dining room with serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers quite a diverse menu.  While dining in the Grill, you can enjoy a wood-burning fireplace and local artwork which is displayed throughout the entire property as well.  If you are searching for a peaceful, elegant, authentic Western getaway, I would not hesitate to recommend Amangani.
The Grill at Amangani
All photos courtesy of Amanresorts International

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Barging in France

The "Who Knows" cruising in the Burgundy region between Dijon and Vandenesse
If you ever find yourself searching for a somewhat unique and independent way to explore the countryside of France, I have the perfect suggestion for you!  Not long ago, a couple was referred to me whom indicated they might like to cruise the canals of France.  They also explained that they are quite active and enjoy hiking and walking and are anything but sedentary.  After much research, I found a company that has specialized in canal and river cruises in Europe since 1997-Special Places Travel.

Special Places Travel arranges luxury hotel barge cruises in France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Danube River.  I can report firsthand that they are incredibly thorough, informative, knowledgeable and helpful.  Most important of all, they will put your clients' needs and desires first.  One of the most appealing aspects of working with this company is that you can genuinely structure your cruise for either a group of people or you can book individual cabins on the majority of their barges.  Most of the cruises are booked for seven days usually beginning on a Saturday or Sunday.  Another plus is that the barge cruises are "all-inclusive" which simply means that the cost of the cruise includes your cabin with private bath, all meals, wines and escorted side excursions.
The "Who Knows" cruising the Burgundy canal
The particular cruise and barge that my clients chose was aboard the "Who Knows" which travels from Dijon, France in the Southern Burgundy region on the Canal de Bourgogne.  The Who Knows is a six-passenger, 3-cabin 94 foot barge with air conditioning and central heating.  My clients enjoyed the luxury of barging privately with the crew of two.  The crew, Jason and Dawn, are an English couple who own the barge.  Jason is the captain and guide and Dawn is the chef and hostess.  As told by my clients, "Dawn is an excellent cook and Jason is extremely knowledgeable about Burgundy."  She continued to say, "Actually, I believe Jason knew more about American history than I do!"

As a travel professional, I have to point out that every stage of planning this trip with my clients was a joy.  I have worked with many, many companies over the years in orchestrating foreign independent travel, designing vacation packages, cruises, escorted tours, etc. and not one of them compares to the meticulous details and attention paid to my clients in preparation for this trip.  For example, months prior to departure, we were emailed a link describing practically every aspect of the upcoming barge trip.  The link included everything from suggested clothing and toiletries to the barge's electrical system.  Also included was general information on using various appliances in Europe and several other "helpful hints" including travel insurance, phone cards, passports and visas, etc.  As if all of this pertinent information were not enough, Special Places Travel also provided very detailed information on the barge itself including the measurements of each cabin and public space.  The "Who Knows" was built in 1930 and converted to a hotel barge in 1992.  It contains three cabins with a main salon on the upper level.  The dining area is on the lower level with opening brass portholes running throughout the barge.  An added feature is the library with an iPod docking station.

Main Salon aboard the "Who Knows"

Large Double Cabin aboard the "Who Knows"

Tiled bathroom aboard the "Who Knows" offers custom designed cabinetry.
All photos used with permission by Special Places Travel.  All rights reserved.

Shortly after returning home from their barge trip in France, Special Places Travel sent my clients a detailed questionnaire providing them with the opportunity to honestly give feedback on all aspects of the cruise.  I am happy to report that their overall impression of the trip was "excellent".  Also included in their feedback was the following.  "The service was excellent and Dawn and Jason were excellent hosts.  The food and wine were wonderful and our hosts were both very knowledgeable about the Burgundy area.  Jason proved to be quite a student of the area and had answers to any questions we had about the country we traveled through, the people, the buildings, etc.  The trips away from the barge were planned very well and were very interesting.  We also did a wine tasting in the premier vineyard area of Burgundy and we enjoyed that as well.  The French countryside is very quiet and peaceful.  We enjoyed walking along the tow paths as the barge went from lock to lock.  The meals, of course, were a high point of every day."  When asked what they enjoyed the least, they answered, "Leaving"!  In the travel industry, this is what we strive for.  I look forward to working with this company again in the future and hope to introduce many more of you to barging in Europe.