Luxe City Guides – Hip & Savvy [REVIEW]

Luxe City Guide to Beijing
I've been using the Luxe City Guides for several years now. They are hip and savvy, full of insider tips, travel intelligence and great suggestions for aesthetes like myself who enjoy the finer things in life. These are an Urban Nomad's best friend.

However, they are not for 'Tourists'... but that's why I like them 😉

I say this because they don't have glossy photos, maps and other bumpf. They contain small (hard-to-read) text, like someone's private notebook. They are leaflets full of insider knowledge and secrets. In fact, if anything, the presentation helps to be off-putting to the types of people you wouldn't want to see in the places you visit in these guides.

Does this sound elitist or snobbish? Of course! I don't want to hang out with other tourists when I travel. So, let those people purchase Frommer's, or Lonely Planet, or whatever. I want to hob nob with glamour, see the unseen sides of the city... get to know what the locals know.

Personally, I love the packaging. They are small, durable and fan-folding. You can slip them in a back pocket (or, purse) and pull them out easily when you need to consult them. The print is a little small but that keeps down the bulk of the guide. Slim and sleek.

I recently made use of the Bangkok City Guide and loved the restaurant and bar recommendations.

If you visit their website, you'll see that they've branched out considerably. Now they handle hotel reservations, private tour bookings, bespoke travel and provide mobile apps. They also produce box sets of the world!

Where to Buy (printed editions):
Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Where to Buy (mobile editions):
iTunes App Store
Luxe Paris Kindle Edition (Not sure why there aren't more kindle versions...)

Here are some luscious Box Sets:



Europe-Flight/Hotel Combo

St Barths Diary Part 2 – Car Rental, Hotels, Supplies

StBarths Landing

This Travel Intelligence Report comes in 3 parts...

Arriving in St Barths

Arriving in St. Barths is very exciting. Only small planes are allowed to land on the island and they have to slow their engines, rapidly ascend a mountain peak, then dive-bomb downwards onto a very short landing strip. If they fail to stop in time, they will probably decapitate sun seekers lying on the beach, because the end of the strip is the beach in St Jean.

[this is one of the reasons why I don't recommend staying in St Jean. Even though this is where a lot of the action is, it's also where the airport is... which means you'll be listening to a lot of planes landing throughout the day. Thankfully, the island only allows flights to land during daylight hours.]

St Barths Landing

Here's what a beach landing at St. Barths looks like...

St. Barths Beach Landing

Airport at St Barths

The airport is tiny but very efficient - and, thankfully, air conditioned. After clearing immigration (one policeman sitting behind a window), you collect your bags and head outside to where the car rental agencies are. Those of you renting villas, or staying at swank hotels, will be met by your representatives.

Clearing immigration is a doddle. Have you ever noticed that the more third-world a country is, the more paperwork they require? It's an inverse relationship between sophistication and bureaucracy. When you land in St Barths, there's nothing to fill out (save a recommendation canvassing for but it's not required) and there's hardly ever a queue.

Car Rental in St. Barths

Please rent a car. You're not going to enjoy the island without one.

There is a Hertz, an Avis, a Europcar, Budget, and a bunch of local vendors. DO NOT RENT from MAURICE. They ripped off a friend of mine terribly when his car suffered minor damage. It became a long and very protracted case and I thought they behaved abominably.

Hertz, Avis and Europcar have the best fleet. But that isn't saying much. Most of the cars here look like they've been in major collisions... dents, scratches and damage everywhere. Your rental condition report of the vehicle will look like a braille diagram. Most likely this is because the roads were planned by a drunken roller coaster designer. Plus, the drivers in St Barths are some of the worst drivers in the world.

Agree to all the insurance you can on your rental agreement. Normally, this is a scam. But in St Barths you'll need it. It doesn't matter if you are a careful driver. Other people will use your car as target practice when parking, bumper crunching, smacking off wing-mirrors, knocking over scooters, etc. Mind you, you will probably still end up having to pay 600-1,000 euros in excess even WITH the insurance. This is a nice earner for the rental agencies, as it's not uncommon to come back with fresh dents, scrapes and broken mirrors (see below)... so, factor that into the cost of your rental.

I rented from Island Car Rental. They were half the price of Avis. There is a reason for this. They have fewer vehicles in their fleet, so you'll have less choice. And their vehicles are even more smashed and trashed than the competition. But you save money. And, besides, everybody is driving a trashcan... so you're not going to look silly if you are, too. Okay... there are the occasional flash cars. I did see a Porsche Cayenne on the island once but this is very rare.

Beware when parking near La Plage in St Jean. I had my wing mirror taken off when my car was parked there. The rental agent told me that this was fairly common in that location.

Best Hotels and Luxury Resorts in St. Barths... A Few Highlights

There are lots of great St Barths resources on the Web, so I'm not going to re-create them here. I will only give the highlights in my experience.

I've stayed at Eden Roc and Le Toiny. Both are very nice hotels that will charge you a fortune for the privilege. I have not yet stayed at Ille de France, although I've been there many times for meals and beach time, and I imagine it to be in the same category. I know someone who did and was very happy there. You might even see the owner - a British priest - tooting around the island in his massive Turkish Gulet.

Ille de France is on Flamands beach - one of the nicest beaches on the island (but the waves are frequently high, making it less appropriate for very small children to swim in). The Hotel has a nice stretch of beach, a beach-side bar and sun loungers, making it a wonderful destination for lunch and beach. It's very tastefully decorated in a French plantation style.

It also seems to be the place where celebrities love to stay. I sat at a table adjoining Uma Thurman the first time I went. Then, last week it was Courtney Cox. Whether this is a good sign or not, it's hard to say. At least their PA's believe it's the best place on the island.

Casa de L'ille @ Ille de France

The restaurant does a great lunch service with a well-conceived menu. The Wok of the Day is great (especially when they offer a seafood mix). Dinner Service is mediocre and the menu very disappointing. Prices are as high as they come (wine is marked up 4x). Service is friendly but somewhat ineffectual - certainly not as attentive as they should be at a hotel of this calibre. This is St Barths chic - for mature and calm sun seekers.

Casa de L'Ille Menu

St Barths Nikki Beach1
Table 24 at Casa de L'ille

Ask for tables 23 or 24 which are partially inside, partially outside the restaurant. They have lovely views and are sheltered by palm fonds. It will make you feel as if you're island living all the more.

Eden Roc in St Jean

Eden Roc is right in the middle of St Jean. There's lots to do in the area and the hotel is very tightly managed. Unfortunately, they've been on a bit of an expansion spree, which has compromised the feeling of exclusivity that they once cultivated long ago. Now, you'll find beach villas, time shares, a real estate office, Sand Bar and all sorts of other people coming and going. Much more hectic than it used to be.

The Beach at St Jean is one of the calmest on the island and great for small children. The Sand Bar restaurant is right on the beach and you can rent some sun loungers to sleep off a heavy lunch by the water's edge. Expect to spend 30 euros a day for loungers. This is pretty much the deal everywhere with a few exceptions. The menu at the Sand Bar is small but adequate. They recently lost their main chef, so food quality isn't as impressive as it used to be.

One of the rare occasions of stormy weather

 

Brave windsurfer - St Jean

The rooms are very simple but elegant French chic. Shame about the airplanes taking off and landing overhead. But you get used to it after awhile. It doesn't happen all the time, thankfully, but comes in waves.

Approach to Room - Le Toiny

Le Toiny is a bit of a fading star in my opinion, yet still in the top five. I first stayed there ten years ago and there's no doubt that it was a top-notch hotel at that time. The furnishings were fantastic and the food always outstanding. Their restaurant is still one of the few, truly gourmand eateries on the island. But staying there a week, as I did, was hard going. Eating michelin star meals every day and night is too much of a good thing. You start to crave simple dishes and the chef did not oblige. It was his way or the highway. I remember begging him for a burger that wasn't smothered in foie gras but to no avail. Anticipate gaining 10 pounds or more if you lodge there for a week.

Unfortunately, time has taken its toll. The restaurant is still one of the most expensive and tasty but it's not as innovative as it used to be. Service is terribly ssssllooooooowwww. The location of the hotel is unfortunate, as its on the windiest sides of the island, perched on a hill. There are no beaches immediately nearby and you will feel a bit isolated from the rest of the island. If you drive in one direction, you will face powerful headwinds and a landscape that looks very tortured. Don't go that way; go the other way.

The room I stayed in was sheltered from the winds but that made it a mosquito paradise and I was nearly eaten alive. Click here for photos.

I'd recommend going to Le Toiny once in your life for a blow-out dinner. Take someone you care about - preferably in a romantic way - and spend a relaxed evening eating dinner in elegant surroundings.

Other Hotels in St. Barths worth considering...

Guanahani is a very family-friendly place and quite enormous. It has a large swimming pool and tennis courts. The beach gets wonderful breezes and is located inside a sheltered lagoon. Unfortunately, the sheltered bay is full of sea kelp, so it isn't as pleasant to swim in as, say, St Jean.

Tom Beach Hotel (at La Plage)

La Plage is really one of my favourite beach hangouts on the island, because it's low-key and bohemian in a way that St Barths was when I first discovered it. It's located in St Jean, so it's very central, calm and collected. Sun loungers are 20 euros a day - but an additional 10 euros for an umbrella (bizarre). Food is good. Service so-so but friendly. But - very important - they had the coldest beers on the island.

I don't know what the hotel's like but given its good location and happy beach set-up, it's worth considering.

Francois Plantation

This is an interesting, boutique hotel for people that like something a little tucked away, ethnic in design and family-run. I stayed in one of their cottages a few years ago and enjoyed the quiet location and close proximity to Flamands with fantastic views (Flamands and Colombier being my two favourite parts of the island for beach and nature). Their main hotel area and restaurant has a lot of dark, teak furniture with French-Caribbean influences. It's a tad bit on the 'heavy' side design-wise but, nevertheless, it feels more authentic and local.

Supplies

There are a few supermarkets on the island, the best of which are the Supermarche U by the airport and the one in Gustavia Harbour. People argue over which of these two is best but it doesn't really matter, because if you cook a lot and plan to be on the island for awhile... you'll be shopping at both. Why? Because they have different delivery schedules and good produce is really hard to come by here. When there is a fresh delivery, the locals descend like locusts and strip the place.

The Supermarche U by the airport has the best booze selection - tons of fine (and not so fine) wines, champagne, beer, etc. They also have Fischer Beer (thank God). Why? Because some idiot has the stranglehold on beer distribution on the island and has decided that people should only drink Heineken, Caribe, Corona, Presidente and Amstel Light... and NOTHING else! Every bar on the beach you go to will only serve a selection of these. I'm sorry but Caribe only tastes good ice cold. Otherwise, it should be used as a cleaning product. Thankfully, the U has a couple of other beer options. Hooray!

Food is going to be really expensive and not in good condition. Grapes covered in penicillin fur, scary fruit and rotting produce are not unusual. There will be the occasional amazing find, so persevere. Not everything is as bad as it sounds - just keep looking. Complain for a little while, then get over it. This is the way things are on the island. When a fresh delivery of green beans come in - get them fast, pay the exorbitant price and be thankful for it. You were one of the lucky ones who got a handful.

La Petite Boulangerie

This Bakery is located on the road between the Roundabout (Gustavia / Airport) and the road to Flamands & Colombier. Get to know it. It will become your best friend.

It's on a steep hill opposite a school. Don't go during the morning or afternoon school run. It's a death trap of irate parents, crazy cyclists and pedestrians all trying to avoid killing one another.

It opens obscenely early (6am?) and most of the best pastries will sell out immediately. But it stays open until roughly midday. They sell savoury food as well - sandwhiches, pasta salads, rotisserie chicken, etc. The food is reasonably priced and the bread and pastries seriously fantastique.

A Moment of Silence

The Cafe Sandwhich shop on the steep incline as you drive from St Jean to Saline - the one that had fabulous wraps - is no longer with us. Let us lament its passing with a moment of silence.

Okay... I'm signing off now. Next week, I'll cover the restaurants!

Go Back > to St Barths Diary Part 1

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HotelsCombined.com
LastMinuteTravel.com - Travel deals to top destinations

Taj Falaknuma Palace – Hyderabad, India


The Taj Hotels group has obtained a 19-century palace from Hyderabad royalty, who personally oversaw the restoration of this impressive monument.

If you still dream of the Raj, here is one way of experiencing it. This colonial, Indian palace - The Taj Falaknuma Palace - offers 60+ rooms of anglophile opulence with European touches, obsequious staff, and, according to the reviews, a fantastic boutique shopping experience.

As one review on Trip Advisor puts it, "This is truly an opportunity to reside in a museum." This may or may not be a good thing, depending upon how you look at it... but, suffice to say, that the 10 year restoration and decor is truly exquisite and extensive.

The Grand Presidential Suite features its own private swimming pool and salon for entertaining.

Prices start from $700 USD a night.

For Additional Information:
Taj Hotels home page for Falaknuma Palace
Wikipedia article on Falaknuma Palace
YouTube video of exterior and public interior spaces from TV 9 in India - a lot of night shooting, though.
Trip Advisor reviews of Falaknuma Palace

Other Resources you might consider:

The Golkonda Hyderabad, India, Hyderabad
The Golkonda Hyderabad is a refreshing stylish new hotel located in a prestigious and convenient location, at the foot of Banjara Hills and only moments away from the city’s main commercial shopping and entertainment hubs. Beautifully furnished in contemporary style with lavish use of glass, wood and steel, provides a distinctive level of luxury and comfort with the impeccable service. An ideal hotel for both business and total indulgence. Central location with a contemporary style but featuring Indian specialities with Modern facilities, including a swimming pool.


The Residence, Hyderabad, India, Hyderabad
The rooms’ interiors have been fashioned by designer Deepika Govind who is known for her understated luxury and exquisite detailing. Wenge and beach wood furniture with silk, Egyptian cotton and handpicked original paintings and sculptures from young artists from around the country, have been used to create an intimate ambience. Overlooking the Hussain Sagar Lake - an Indian style, Boutique hotel with a Rooftop restaurant.

HotelsCombined.com
Intrepid Guerba Ltd.
LastMinuteTravel.com - Travel deals to top destinations
Haglofs and Mammut sale

The Chatwal Hotel, Manhattan, New York

The Chatwal is a new boutique, luxury hotel in the heart of Manhattan. $100 million later and the 83,000 sq foot (now, 10-storey), Stanford White-designed building has been restored into a travel destination for the global JetSet. Originally home to America's first professional theatre club, The Lambs, until the 1970's it has finally passed on down to Sant Chatwal - Chairman and CEO of Hampshire Hotels & Resorts - who has made it a five-star sleeper in the heart of the city's theatre district.

The job of redefining the interior of this historic site was given to architect, Thierry Despont, who is no stranger to hospitality design: Claridge's and The Dorchester in London, The Carlyle in New York, Boca Raton Resort in Florida, Hotel de Crillon in Paris and Principe di Savoia in Milan... just to name a few.

Despont has given the property a very lush, reflective and lacquered look with deep reds, blues, blacks, cream and amber. A feeling of subdued opulence permeates throughout, very in keeping with the Deco & Empire State style of yesteryear's Manhattan JetSet. His office has also designed all of the bespoke furniture, fixtures and fittings. Despont has said in interviews that the room interiors were inspired by the phrase, 'The Art of Travel', and include motifs and cabinetry inspired by the artisan craftsmanship of vintage, seaworthy Louis Vuitton travel trunks and the like.

The compact hotel houses 83 rooms of which 37 are suites. The Barrymore Suite penthouse has a heated terrace with a 1,000 square foot roof deck overlooking 44th street. There is also a Spa with three treatment rooms, changing suites, relaxation lounge and saltwater lap pool.

Additional Resources:
The Chatwal NY website


New York Luxury & Character Hotels

HotelsCombined.com

Principe Forte dei Marmi, Italy and Sky Bar [REVIEW]

Principe Forte dei Marmi

Forte dei Marmi is a well-kept secret amongst Italians. It is packed in summertime - primarily by locals - although there are waves of Russians coming in thick and fast.

It has all the rustic charm of the region, combined with the Italian seaside. What a great combination.

It is well located just a few blocks away from the centre of town and a couple of blocks away from the beach. It's fun to ditch your car and bicycle around town - and the hotel has plenty of baby-blue bicycles with a front-mounted basket for you to use during your stay.


The Principe is very hip, very stylish and very contemporary. There are 28 guest rooms and suites, dressed with B&B Italia, Armani Casa and the like.

The rooms are horrendously expensive in high season, as you might expect - but I think that 800 euros a night is steep for a broom closet. But - they are very stylish broom closets!

Sky Bar

The rooftop of the five story hotel features a panoramic view of the Alps and the sea, while offering guests a pleasant backdrop to some Prosecco, sushi, dim sum and more local Italian dishes. Very chic.

I had a drink here in July and the views are pretty stunning. You can just see an expanse of sea over the treetops - a great way to watch the sun set.

The decor of the Sky Bar is not as chic as the photos suggest. Furniture is a bit 'IKEA' in places and iron railings aren't as chic as glass would have been. The DJ was mixing up a strange medley of Tom Jones and Frente - playing both too loud. The venue ambiance is more "Cafe del Mar" than "Sex Bomb" in my opinion...

Still, the bar snacks are delicious. You basically order cocktails at 18 euros a pop and then enjoy a large plate of tapas (cold cuts, scampi, risotto balls, etc).

You can't argue with the view. And, there is eye-candy. When we went, there were mostly fashionable, middle-aged jetsetters. Not as young a crowd as you might expect from their marketing but - with those prices - you can understand why.

The nearby Marechiaro Club offers butler service at a private beach, plus access to the hotel's private yacht.

 

Click here to go to the Principe Forte dei Marmi website.

Additional Resources:
Review of the Principe Forte dei Marmi from the Independent
Review of the Principe Forte dei Marmi on TripAdvisor
Principe Forte dei Marmi on Mr and Mrs Smith

Sponsors:

Aspinal Leather & Canvas Suit Carrier

American Travel Collection

Buffalo Cabin Bag

Portofino Rolling Cabin Bag

Travel Bag

Europe-Flight/Hotel Combo

Borgo Egnazia – Puglia, Italy

Borgno Egnazia Reception

This is a 49-acre retreat built by the Melipignano family (owners of neighbouring Masseria San Domenico and Masseria Cimino) over the course of 10 years and at a cost of more than $200 million. And it shows!


The result is a thoughtful cross between clean (very cream-coloured), minimalist and modern design with Italian heritage style. Currently on offer are three different room types: 63 rooms inside the main hotel, 93 suites and town-houses within a Borgo ('village' like setting), and 28 3-bedroom villas complete with their own private swimming pools.

There are four restaurants on site, several communal swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course and, of course, a spa (which is based on an ancient Roman design). For additional entertainment, you can book cooking classes in order to learn how to prepare local Italian dishes. Otherwise, you are a stone's through away from the nearby towns of lecce and Alberobello.

Click to see the Borgo Egnazi website.

Additional Resources:
A Luxury Travel Blog - Borgo Egnazia
Borgno Egnazia on TripAdvisor.com
Borgno Egnazia on Charming Puglia
Borgno Egnazia on ScottDunn

Find vacation travel Deals in Rome!

Borgo Egnazia Hotel - Ville - Golf - Spa Borgo Egnazia Hotel - Ville - Golf - SpaBorgo Egnazia Hotel - Ville - Golf - Spa > BRI > Contrada Masciola > Savelletri > > 72010>

Location.
This property is located in Savelletri, Italy.

Features.
Borgo Egnazia Hotel Ville Golf Spa has a golf course, tennis courts, an outdoor pool, and an indoor pool. Borgo Egnazia Hotel Ville Golf Spa features a full service spa. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in public areas. Borgo Egnazia Hotel Ville Golf Spa has a restaurant and a bar/lounge. Event facilities at this 3.5 star property consist of conference rooms and banquet facilities. This is a smoke free property (fines may apply for violations).

Guestrooms.
Amenities featured in guestrooms include iPod docking stations and minibars. Business friendly amenities include desks and complimentary wireless Internet access. Bathrooms feature bathroom phones. All guestrooms at Borgo Egnazia Hotel Ville Golf Spa are non smoking.

Notifications and Fees:

Additional fees and deposits may be charged by the property at time of service, check in, or check out.

  • Pet deposit: EUR 50 per stay

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Sponsors:

Aspinal Leather & Canvas Suit Carrier

American Travel Collection

Buffalo Cabin Bag

Portofino Rolling Cabin Bag

Travel Bag

Europe-Flight/Hotel Combo

Travel without any luggage – First Luggage Baggage Service

The best luggage for airplane travel in my opinion is no luggage. Suitcase luggage can be a really pain to drag around, especially for large families with babies. Despite their small size, babies require more kit on holiday than a whole platoon on tour. But jetSetting without luggage makes life so much easier. You can sail through security with only carry on bags. First Luggage offers a great luggage collection and delivery service for sending your bags ahead of you, so you can travel without any luggage. It's a true door-to-door service that will pick up your bags from home and have them delivered directly to your hotel, villa, or wherever you happen to be staying. And, obviously, you can do the same thing in reverse.

It's important to plan ahead, though, as the service isn't overnight. In our experience, it takes roughly 4-5 working days to send bags to most destinations in Europe, the USA and Asia. The actual cargo service is handled by Federal Express but the First Luggage staff will manage the whole process on your behalf.

You start by downloading the necessary paperwork from their website and filling out customs forms that detail the contents of your luggage. After sending back the forms, First Luggage will handle collection and deliver.

The price of the service varies by destination and weight but a 30KG suitcase sent from the UK to the USA will cost £120, or as little as £60 for a pair of ski boots. Frankly, it doesn't make much sense to send smaller items but the rates for sending several suitcases can be offset by the convenience factor.

In our experience, the best use of the service is to avoid carrying lots of luggage when you are travelling with small children who need extra supervision (and often require large luggage for themselves). Read Mrs W's post on this when it comes to travelling with baby. Also, if you have lots of tight connection flights and are worried about your bags making it on the plane with you, this could be a smart alternative. Finally, there are often small commuter flights (in the Caribbean, for example) that have very strict weight allowances. You might find yourself unable to board them with all your luggage in which case this service can be a real life-saver.

Aspinal of London (US) - mens luggage
eBags, Inc.
Haglofs and Mammut sale

Louis Vuitton Andrei Bag – fits iPad like a glove

Louis Vuitton Andrei

Here's a gift of distinction for the most discerning iPad owner and JetSetter: an LV bag for iPad.

The Louis Vuitton Andrei bag comes in Taiga leather and has the perfect dimensions to fit an iPad like a glove (we should know - we have one here in the office and nobody wants to give it up).

Designed as a satchel bag (similar to a messenger bag), it has two inner pockets - one flat pocket for keys and other gubbins, plus a mobile phone shaped pocket. On the outside, there is another flat pocket for thin items. The clasp is a simple snap on the bottom.

The top flat folds over to hold everything inside and clasps at the bottom.

The Viktor messenger bag will hold larger objects (like a laptop) but it suffers from its size: the top flap often creases in the middle, because it isn't very stiff, which makes it look unsightly after awhile. Furthermore, the bungee clasp will fray over time. The Andrei, on the other hand, doesn't suffer from any of these shortcomings and holds its shape.

Louis Vuitton Andrei Bag for iPad

Aspinal of London (US) -men's luggage

Louis Vuitton Andrei Messenger Bag + iPad

www.OCTOVO.com

Calabrese Rotolo canvas tote bag – rolls up to pack easy


Calabrese Rotolo

The Rotolo canvas Tote, travel bag from Calabrese Cravatte is stylish in that it's easy to pack away, thanks to its roll-up feature. Two clasps from the bottom of the bag can be wrapped around the corners to secure it into a roll-up position when not in use. Fashionable travel gear for the style-conscious.

Otherwise, it makes a fashionable beach companion.

Try not to spend too much on it, though. Not wanting to set overly high expectations, it's worth pointing out that this is a predominantly canvas bag. The canvas is very thin and the leather straps feel quite delicate. This isn't an Hermes or LV bag, so it will feel a bit 'cheaper' in your hands than something similar from those other vendors. Still, this makes it light-weight and easy to pack. The leather handles are very long and can be bent in half but will always stick out like a pair of rabbit ears.

Where to buy - CALABRESE ROTOLO NAVY CANVAS/LEATHER 153 from FarFetch

Additional Resources:
Calabrese Cravatte Website - main page for manufacturer.

Rolled up


CALABRESE ROTOLO ORANGE CANVAS 450


CALABRESE ROTOLO KHAKI CANVAS/LEATHER 153

Aspinal of London (US) - women's leather handbags

farfetch.com