Tropical Beach Lovers Wedding, Puntacana on Dominican Republic has it all!

Standing knee deep in warm undulating turquoise ocean within minutes of getting off the plane from Atlanta. I took a moment to simply take it in. The sensual quality of wind, sun and miles of gentle waves along the shore of this small part of Puntacana, Dominican Republic immediately infuse your soul with peace and send you right into “island time”.

I had come here to consider this site for a wedding weekend for at least 100 guests, maybe more, followed by a week long honeymoon for the bride and groom. With so many things to consider, I sat by the beach and made a list of parts required for the itinerary of such an event, check boxes and all. In order to be sure that there was everything we would need in the area, I had additional inspiration from the handsome bartender at the Tiki Bar on the beach. Doing this research was clearly going to be tough duty….

With hundreds of people invited, one of the elements of this destination wedding is convenient travel for family and friends. Since there are frequent flights from Atlanta, it should be easy for anyone wanting to fly over to the party. With the resort’s assisted arrival and departure program, it took me under 10 minutes from landing to be in the private shuttle for a 5 minute drive to my room at the Westin Beach Resort of Puntacana.

Lodging required for so many guests could easily be accommodated by where I was staying. Guests could each have rooms in The Westin with each spacious room offering a balcony looking over two swimming pools, hot tub, tall palms swaying in the breezes and paths wandering to the beach. The Westin also has a large formal dining restaurant called Anani, a Tiki Bar by the pool, and a charming bar and restaurant on the sand. Along with a Lobby Bar, there is a Cigar Bar by the pool. All of this nestled against a wide white beach that stretches  as far as you can see in either direction with gentle waves providing background music day and night.

The plan was for the groomsmen and bridesmaids to be together. This seemed to be perfectly suited a short distance up the beach to the boutique hotel Tortuga Bay. Modern rooms recently updated stretched along the beach where rooms were hanging over the sand and sea. Additionally, there is a designated area at Tortuga Bay where any guest of Puntacana who checks out in the morning but has a flight home later in the afternoon can relax after checking luggage, and spend the day enjoying the beach, pool and restaurant until departure time.

The bride’s family and the groom’s family each requested a rental house large enough to host siblings and their children, as well as offering a place for gatherings. The bride’s family wanted to host a cocktail party Friday afternoon, catered at this house before the rehearsal dinner. I saw several lovely homes that are part of the Puntacana property for just this purpose.

Friday evening family members and the wedding party would have a rehearsal of the beach side ceremony followed by a dinner under the stars at the Playa Blanca Beach Restaurant. The menu here is fresh and locally caught, and gives the feeling of “going native”. While luscious island inspired courses are served, toes wiggle in the sand as the moon rises over the glistening sea. It is an easy walk down the tiki lighted beach to the Westin after dinner.

The plan also included the groom’s family hosting a catered Saturday morning brunch at their house followed by golf at the La Cana Club featuring a Tom Fiazio designed 18 hole course for as many as liked to play.

Saturday afternoon is to be left for relaxation at the Six Senses Spa, exploring the 50 acre forest reserve called Puntacana Ecological Foundation which includes swimming in fresh water lagoons that leave your skin tingling with freshness, or riding horses on the beach before the wedding scheduled to begin at 6:00PM.

This would be held at The Grill Restaurant, an ocean breeze infused palm covered patio next to the white beach, with a world famous chef who prides himself on his signature taste and texture combinations. The Grill is adjacent to an elegant spacious indoor spaces of tall white beach side galleries.

Sunday morning, the Westin hosts a huge brunch for its guests. It was undecided if there would also be a brunch hosted for the wedding party, but there were many options for locations and catering styles.

As with any plan, there need to be choices. There is a sweet small catholic church in Puntacana Village if that is the bride’s preference. Each of the restaurants has options for indoor or outdoor dining and dancing. Puntacana has wedding planners who will happily help the families design the wedding that dreams are made of, and locate flowers, delicacies but they are very willing to work with a wedding planner from offsite.

There are so many choices, that if you are interested in planning your own destination wedding, I would recommend visiting this site and then talking to one of the wedding planners who have experience and can make suggestions to make your dreams come true! Puntacana beach wedding ideas.

To select from the many lodging options that Puntacana has to offer:Different lodging options for your wedding party.

 

Movie Star History, Grace and Fine Dining at Chico Hot Springs, Montana

After leaving Bozeman civilization for a stunningly beautiful drive through the mountains of Montana, at the very end of the road lies a surprising oasis. Recorded first in 1865 in an explorer’s diary Chico became a mecca for people weary of body from rugged Montana days, or frail of health from all over the region in the 19th century. The natural heat and earthy minerals of these heated waters developed a reputation for relief from everything from kidney issues to skin disorders, while many just came to “plunge” because it feels so good.

We arrived on a cold blustery Montana day in February of the 21st century, with snow in the air, a chill in the bones and the ground crusted over. As we walked past the “Welcome Home” sign by the door, and into the large old fashioned Victorian main lodge, the fire was roaring in the wood stove, wonderful smells were creeping from the dining room, and returning visitors who were on a first name basis with the clerk behind the desk were signing into their favorite room for the weekend. Clearly glad to be “home”. The settled charm of a place with well over a hundred years experience at comforting visitors was immediately felt by all of us. Though we had never been there before, we did indeed feel welcomed home.

As I walked through the door of my room at the Lower Lodge, its comfortable slightly modern western interior, four poster bed and golden wood walls provided a sense of shelter from the harsh horizontal snow outdoors. My recently married daughter and her husband had a room upstairs that made them wish they had known about Chico Hot Springs when they were making wedding plans. I resisted the urge to ask for details, but they felt very cozy in their room.

Chico hourse barnBehind the Lower Lodge we found the Horse Barn, and were greeted by several horses with a layer of snow on their backs, and a sweet dusting of snow in their eyelashes. Chico is famous for horseback trail rides into Yellowstone National Park, carriage rides through the mountains, and ponies to introduce younger people to the ways of horses. The mountains surrounding Chico summon the spirit of exploring on horseback, and the horses seemed ready to answer that call. We also found that dog sledding tours were available there. We were very sorry to miss the chance to see the mountains from a sled with a team of dogs, or from the back of a horse as there is something of that quiet way of travel that stirs the soul in these huge rugged mountains. Every direction you turn the mountains call like a song on the wind.

Chico CottageAfter exploring outside for a while, we decided to take the “plunge” in the hot springs ourselves. Bathing suits in hand we ventured back to the main lodge and through the long winding halls to the huge natural spring pools. On the way we became acquainted with much of the history of this end of the road. The walls are covered with over a century’s worth of photos, maps, newspapers and other bits of history which tell a wonderful story of the evolution of a remote natural resource that has evolved with grace. It also tuned us in to looking at everything inside around us, a real treasure trove of eclectic adventure.

The outer pool is 44’ long and naturally heated with fresh spring water every day. The inner pool is smaller and hotter and under a roof, with “curb” service from the “Saloon” next to it. Both pools make your skin tingle with freshness, your muscles melt with pleasure, and your belief that there could be any problems in the outside world disappear.

After a short nap in my snugly room, we walked back to the main lodge and found the dining room. It is welcoming and comfortable, and everyone seemed to know each other even though they might have just met. We where we were immediately struck by the sophisticated menu.

Montana is famous for its beef, but fresh fish, pork and duck along with their own homemade bread and Chico grown herbs and vegetables were as beautifully prepared as surprising. Perhaps we were seduced by the clean snowy air combined with a long soak in the hot springs pool, followed by the luxuriant and mandatory four poster nap before dinner BUT the offerings in the dining room are a mountain miracle. Beef in Montana has a well deserved reputation, and Gavin’s vanished with barely need for a knife. I ordered the duck, which I try most places that it is offered, and Chico’s was among the best of the best. Crispy outside and richly tender inside. My daughter ordered trout, which she declared wondrously fresh and sweet, with a light lemony salsa on top.

Breakfast at Chico is another distinctive adventure, with three buffet tables laden with everything you can think of for breaking fast, and then some. One whole table filled with fresh pastries, and on top of that there is a menu of specialties! All the offerings were so tempting, so irresistible, that when we left we decided we needed a break from eating for the next 48 hours!

Chico Hot Springs is truly one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen for taking a break from the world. I would like to go back and stay for a week, ride horses, hike in the mountains, sleep in that wonderful nest of a bed and let the universe take care of itself without me. Spend time in the dining room too, did I forget to mention that? I am sure that I would come home ten years younger and a few pounds heavier.

Luscious Dining and then Chico’s Famous Flaming Orange – the Ultimate follow up.

But the most astonishing thing of all though was their signature dessert, the Flaming Orange. I saw columns of fire erupting in the dining room, but I was so focused on the richness of the duck that I didn’t even think to ask what it was. After dinner though, our waitress informed us about the house specialty. She then arrived at the table with what was clearly an orange that had mounds of cream on top settled into what looked like a small iron skillet. With no fuss at all she torched it and yet another 3’ high geyser of flame shot upward and produced that singular campfire smell of burning sugar with the tang of citrus. It was just as interesting to taste as it was to watch too!
How to get there:
163 Chico Road
Pray, Montana (MT)  59065
get directions

Body Heavenly ~ Pink Sands Club Spa, Canouan SVG

spa9

2 of the 9 spas are over the reef, with glass floors

I have been an incredibly lucky girl, somehow growing up to be an experienced spa hound. I have been invited to some of the world’s most beautiful spas and met some of the worlds most talented masseuses. This image was taken when we went snorkeling at the Tobago Key Preserve.

We sailed just outside of two of the spa villas that are free standing over the water. Each one has a glass floor so that you can watch the fish and coral reef below during your massage. The other seven spa villas, dot the hillside to the left  behind, and the main complex of the Pink Sands Club is on the right.

beach10This is the path that goes from the main courtyard along the sand and to the spa villas. It is a beautiful walk with the music of the sea playing in the background as I walked from the pink elegance of my suite and relaxed grace of courtyard to the secluded environment of the spas. Each of the spa villas is accessed by funicular. I stepped onto wide wooden boardwalks that lead through the lush trees and flowers into the privacy of my own villa.

funiculaWhen I first entered the spa villa, on the left I found a covered porch of dark carved wood which faced out to the beautiful colors of the turquoise sea and the barrier reef that protects the wide white beaches below. The sound is constant and soothing, perfect in its compliment to the pampering environment of the spa villa with its surrounding dark green foliage and brilliant flowers.

spaOn my right was a lovely tiled shower that looked out over the porch and out to sea. Also I found a large changing room filled with soft spa robes, and storage in carved dark wooden cabinets.

I met a lovely dark eyed Balinese masseuse named Made (Mahday) who barely came up to my collar bone. She was very engaging in her interest in exactly what I was hoping would happen to my body under her care.

She offered me several choices for scented lotions, and with that settled she started a brushing therapy from head to toe. Very stimulating and closely followed by a scented exfoliant which stimulated, refreshed and soothed my well sunned skin with long sweeping strokes.  I slid into the shower to rinse off  the lotions Made had applied, and for a few minutes enjoyed the warm water as it ran over my well stimulated skin which was certainly enhance by the sparkling reflections on the tiles as the water splashed around among the blue tiles.

spa4Then began 90 minutes of one of the best massages that I have ever had. Made moved up and down my body in perfect rhythm, releasing my jet lagged muscles, and easing tension in all the tiny places that I am inclined to ignore. Her firm but gentle treatment was gratefully received my body, and not for a minute did I want to go to sleep and miss any of it! I was so immersed in Made’s gentle ministrations that it was a sad moment when she finished. It was then that I noticed that while my skin was richly soft with emollients there was no trace of oil. Very nice.

If you are lucky enough to be able to treat your body to this most beautiful therapy, this particular treatment is called “Tickle Me Pink” and I promise that there is no tickling involved. Just a most heavenly sensation that will have your body humming for hours and hours after you leave.

Video of Pink Sands Club: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMdwGrPzkeA&feature=youtu.be

Jalousie Plantation on St. Lucia Becoming Tides Sugar Beach

Descending into the Valle des Pitons at night.

Descending into the Valle des Pitons at night.

Driving through midnight darkness on the road from the airport down to Jalousie Plantation on St. Lucia was rather like sitting on a gyroscope. I adapted to the constant shift of climbing up hair pin turns glued to the pitches of the legendary peaks of the island, and then of course there was that going down thing.I never really considered exactly how many of these hairpin turns it took to reach Jalousie and sea level. Couldn’t really make it out in the dark, but rocking from the “going up” to the “going down” got my attention.

My cottage with Gros Piton on the right

My cottage with Gros Piton on the right

Lost in post air travel dimness I barely noticed the lovely white villa under the Flamboyant tree that would be home for the next week.   I disappeared into the most comfortable of beds and snapped off the light wondering at what this intensely vertical terrain must be like by daylight. By morning it did not disappoint. Seconds later the sun came up. Petit Piton was so close and so alarmingly huge that it consumed the window, filled the sky, stopped my brain in its tracks.

My cottage with a private pool looking out to sea

My cottage with a private pool looking out to sea

Through the white French doors at the foot of my bed I saw an elegant patio with a million blossoms around a charming small plunge pool and what was that beyond? Dripping sunlight glistened on the rainforest soaked trees that clung miraculously to the vertical sides of that impossible peak. I was stupefied by these visions until I found the coffee pot on the terrace and sat down to process where I was. Then I was humbled.

Jalousie in the Valle des Pitons

Jalousie in the Valle des Pitons

I had done my homework and learned that the visionary Lord Glenconner had purchased 492 acres between the pitons in the early ‘80s which included the old Jalousie Plantation, then a producer of Royal Lime. Under his guidance the Jalousie Plantation Resort opened its doors to a festive crowd of celebrities and royalty in the fall of 1993. This is the same Lord Glenconner who purchased a chunk of rock in 1968 which his vision evolved into the playground of the royal and elite known as Mustique.

Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach

In 2005 the resort on 192 acres was purchased by another experienced visionary, Roger Myers. He has joined forces with KOR/Tides to launch a $100 million regeneration of one of the most beautiful and unique sites on the planet. In so doing he has created a rare opportunity for investors to own part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tides Sugar Beach Resort project is due for completion in 2011.

In the mean time Jalousie Plantation is open and glorious to visit. The villas are clean lined and elegant and with a cool white living room, huge bath with claw foot tub, separate shower room with garden access. The plunge pool with its flowers, sunny terrace and small bar set up create a lovely laid back way to pay homage to the gods that created the pitons!   The food is fresh, local, interesting, and served in three gourmet restaurants with a villa delivery option. Don’t miss the chef’s tasting menu! Jalousie offers to set up tables and serve your dinner anywhere on site so fire up your imagination and create an unforgettable evening!

buffet breakfast each morning by the beach

buffet breakfast each morning by the beach

Jalousie Plantation Villas offer 24 hour butler service,   a sweet West Indian Spa, a diving center under Petit Piton, the beach club with lounging under the palms, several different lounges inside and out, a children’s club and swimming pools. The list grows as renovation continues creating Tides Sugar Beach Resort. It seems as if every day I was there another inspiration was added to the plan. This very imaginative team of experienced resort creators is focused now on making the most exclusive and elegant complex in history. They intend to blow right by the “5 stars” designation and given the prospectus as designed and this heart-stopping UNESCO site it seems a possibility!

Meanwhile down the beach, our friend Lord Glenconner is not sitting on his laurels. Owning the rest of le Val des Pitons, he has planned a new village where owners and guests get to meet the locals who will run the restaurants and shops there. I heard about a dock capable of handling super yachts and a new wide sandy beach along the shore with paths for access to Tides Sugar Beach Resort.

There are bits of construction going on, but nothing that takes away from the experience of being in such a lush location. Together Jalousie Plantation, Tides Sugar Beach Resort and Glenconner Village nestled between the famous and unforgettable Pitons of St. Lucia seem destined to leave 5 stars behind to mere mortals.

For more information on visiting the Jalousie Plantation Resort http://www.thejalousieplantation.com/content/87.htm Tel: (758) 456 8000 reservations@thejalousieplantation.com

For more information on Tides Sugar Beach Resort contact Lisa Basire, Post Office Box 251, Soufriere, Saint Lucia,+ 44 (0) 208 812 4761,+ 44 (0) 7917 701486, + 44 (0) 208 874 8205, lisa.basire@sugarbeachvillas.com

How to get to St. Lucia and Jalousie Plantation:

There are two airports on St. Lucia, Hewanorra Int. Airport (UVF) in the south and the George F. L. Charles Airport (SLU) in the north. American Airlines flies direct from Miami daily. US Airways and Delta have staggered schedules in. Jet Blue is starting to service the island. From the UK British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have flights. LIAT offers local flights between the islands. There is a departure tax of EC$68 ($26 US) per adult which is built in to a round trip ticket. A taxi from either airport to Jalousie Plantation is roughly EC $120 ($50 US) for up to 4 people.

Between the Pitons and Under the Stars; Jalousie Plantation Becomes Tides Sugar Beach, St. Lucia

The Pitons of St. Lucia with Jalousie Plantation in between

Driving through midnight darkness on the road from the airport down to Jalousie Plantation on St. Lucia was rather like sitting on a gyroscope. I adapted to the constant shift of climbing up hair pin turns glued to the pitches of the legendary peaks of the island, and then of course there was that going down thing. Lost in post air travel dimness I barely noticed the lovely white villa under the Flamboyant tree that would be home for the next week.  I disappeared into the most comfortable of beds and snapped off the light wondering at what this intensely vertical terrain must be like by daylight.

My cottage facing Petit Piton first thing in the morning

Seconds later the sun came up. Petit Piton was so close and so alarmingly huge that it consumed the window, filled  the sky, stopped my brain in its tracks. Through the white French doors at the foot of my bed I saw an elegant patio with a million blossoms around a charming small plunge pool and what was that beyond? Dripping sunlight glistened on the rainforest soaked trees that clung miraculously to the vertical sides of that impossible peak.  I was stupefied by these visions until I found the coffee pot on the terrace and sat down to process where I was. Then I was humbled.

Lord Glenconner, still charming as always

I had done my homework and learned that the visionary Lord Glenconner had purchased 492 acres between the pitons in the early ‘80s which included the old Jalousie Plantation, then a producer of Royal Lime. Under his guidance the Jalousie Plantation Resort opened its doors to a festive crowd of celebrities and royalty in the fall of 1993. This is the same Lord Glenconner who purchased a chunk of rock in 1968 which his vision evolved into the playground of the royal and elite known as Mustique.

In 2005 the resort on 192 acres was purchased by another experienced visionary, Roger Myers. He has joined forces with KOR/Tides to launch a $100 million regeneration of one of the most beautiful and unique sites on the planet. In so doing he has created a rare opportunity for investors to own part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tides Sugar Beach Resort project is due for completion in 2011.

My cottage, bedroom door on the right, living room on the left, Petit Piton at my back. Pretty Fab!

In the mean time Jalousie Plantation is open and glorious to visit. The villas are clean lined and elegant and with a cool white living room, huge bath with claw foot tub, separate shower room with garden access. The plunge pool with its flowers, sunny terrace and small bar set up create a lovely laid back way to pay homage to the gods that created the pitons!  The food is fresh, local, interesting, and served in three gourmet restaurants with a villa delivery option. Don’t miss the chef’s tasting menu! Jalousie offers to set up tables and serve your dinner anywhere on site so fire up your imagination and create an unforgettable evening!

Breakfast beachfront

Jalousie Plantation Villas offer 24 hour butler service,  a sweet West Indian  Spa, a diving center under Petit Piton, the beach club with lounging under the palms, several different lounges inside and out, a children’s club and swimming pools. The list grows as renovation continues creating Tides Sugar Beach Resort. It seems as if every day I was there another inspiration  was added to the plan. This very imaginative team of experienced resort creators is focused now on making the most exclusive and elegant complex in history. They intend to blow right by the “5 stars” designation and given the prospectus as designed and this heart-stopping UNESCO site it seems a possibility!

Lots of fun aside from the beach….

Meanwhile down the beach, our friend Lord Glenconner is not sitting on his laurels. Owning the rest of le Val des Pitons, he has planned a new village where owners and guests get to meet the locals who will run the restaurants and shops there. I heard about a dock capable of handling super yachts and a new wide sandy beach along the shore with paths for access to Tides Sugar Beach Resort.

Entrance to the Rainforest Spa

There are bits of construction going on, but nothing that takes away from the experience of being in such a lush location. Together Jalousie Plantation, Tides Sugar Beach Resort and Glenconner Village nestled between the famous and unforgettable Pitons of St. Lucia seem destined to leave 5 stars behind to mere mortals.

For more information on visiting the Jalousie Plantation Resort http://www.thejalousieplantation.com/content/87.htm Tel: (758) 456 8000 reservations@thejalousieplantation.com

For more information on Tides Sugar Beach Resort contact Lisa Basire, Post Office Box 251, Soufriere,  Saint Lucia,+ 44 (0) 208 812 4761,+ 44 (0) 7917 701486, + 44 (0) 208 874 8205, lisa.basire@sugarbeachvillas.com

How to get to St. Lucia and Jalousie Plantation:

There are two airports on St. Lucia, Hewanorra Int. Airport (UVF) in the south and the George F. L. Charles Airport (SLU) in the north. American Airlines flies direct from Miami daily. US Airways and Delta have staggered schedules in. Jet Blue is starting to service the island. From the UK British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have flights. LIAT offers local flights between the islands. There is a departure tax of EC$68 ($26 US) per adult which is built in to a round trip ticket. A taxi from either airport to Jalousie Plantation is roughly EC $120 ($50 US) for up to 4 people.

The Sweet Seduction of La Samanna, St. Martin

Seductive is the best word. I am a serious luxury hound and have had the great fortune to visit many astonishing, well thought out and pleasurable places. Each has its distinctions and the word that I would use for St. Martin’s La Samanna is  “seductive”. The whole environment of La Samanna wraps itself around you and whispers to you long after your tan fades.

The ultimate.

Arriving at around 10:30 PM we were escorted to our two bedroom villa in the dark. We could hear the surf sweeping up the beach through the three tall arched French doors open onto the terrace. Beyond the tall palms rustling in the evening breeze lay the wide white sand glowing in the moonlight. Beyond that the ocean glittered, disappearing into the night sky. I couldn’t resist, had to feel it on my skin. Wading out into the sparkling warm sea as it gently massaged my tired legs, I got my first look at the elegant moorish white columns, arches and terraces hanging on the cliff several hundred yards up the beach. So began the sweet seduction of La Samanna.

Warm air slid smoothly over my skin as I returned to our gracious living room. Knowing that we had traveled all day, our hosts had placed covered chargers laden with a variety of small sandwiches, bowls of exotic salads and a serious chocolate dessert on the large dark wood table between cozy stuffed couches. Breezes wafted tall white diaphanous curtains through the open doors, and at that moment it occurred to me how much this place stirs the senses. We moved to the terrace to enjoy the chocolate and Veuve Cliquot left chilling for us. Later in the silky sheets of my comfortable bed the waves lulled me to luxurious sleep with salty breezes whispering promises of more to come.

The beach in front of our villa.

Being an early riser, I was knee deep in the now tranquil brilliant blue water as the tall shadows of the palms on the beach grew shorter. One of the graceful doors opened to the terrace with a voice asking if I wanted the coffee prepared in our sparkling blue and white tile kitchen. Tough choice. Wading in the magical solitude of the early morning sea with the empty beach curving out of sight in either direction, or coffee in the sunlit living room. OK, coffee and a leisurely stroll up the raked sand to the dazzling cliff restaurant I had seen by moonlight.

We climbed the stone steps up the cliff, passing a shimmering blue pool with its half shell fountain as we left the brilliant sunlight for the cool tiles and arched shadows containing a breakfast buffet with seemingly endless selections and an ocean view that stops when it hits Spain. Between high white walls and glossy dark floors we found cobalt blue glasses and sparkling silver with the deepest of skies behind them practically humming with an invitation to breakfast. A crisp white linen covered table sat hanging over impossibly blue water. Sipping fresh coffee with every perfect bite from the endless buffet made lingering over breakfast the only way to go.

Breakfast awaits

This dining room is available for all meals, but there are equally luscious alternatives. Through the week there were pool parties, a torch lit lobster bake on the beach, and casual dining in the tavern. On the beach there is a raised deck with a small but complete bar and light lunch menu. Dinner in our suite was charming and we enjoyed dining in privacy on our terrace followed by swimming under the moon. The menu at La Samanna makes you want everything on it. Each meal is an adventure, distinctive in its blend of flavors and textures, infused with fresh local fruits, vegetables and fish enhanced by a lavish wine selection to compliment your choices. Of course the ultimate seduction is revealed in the decadent desserts.

Friar’s Beach, St Martin

Daily we explored St. Martin, a place that not only has an abundance of long white wide beaches but an astonishing variety of shops, places to hike or ride horses, and restaurants. You hear a variety of languages as you walk through the streets, energy and excitement flow everywhere. We went to a farmers market to buy fresh Caribbean spices one day and visited a recovering rain forest and had a wonderful lunch there on another. You could eat your way from one end of orient beach to another without hearing the same language twice or seeing both parts of a bikini all day!  We took in an outdoor street fair where we bought hand made silver jewelry, silk and cotton clothing, presents for friends at home, and delicious fresh drinks served in coconuts with native rums. We had lunch on a tiny island where the chefs kept fish and shellfish in live traps in the shallow water and cooked it fresh from there. I think you could roam around St. Martin for years without seeing anything twice. In fact, I bet you could sit still and let the life of the island swirl around you without seeing anything twice!

beachside fare

Of course we thought of La Samanna as home, having dinner with some people that we met there, and getting to know the names of some of the staff. One morning a gardener found me photographing particular flowers dripping dew in the early light around the grounds and then took me on a short tour of some particularly luscious flowers that he loved. When I headed back towards our villa, he came around the corner with a huge bouquet of mixed flowers for our living room. The people in the dining room learned our preferences, and on the breakfast table as we approached there was already one coffee and one tea, one orange juice and a grapefruit. This kind of intuitive and unobtrusive service is a hallmark at La Samanna.

Massage room at the Elysee Spa

One afternoon we came back from our wanderings with the express purpose of indulging in the Elysee Spa. Being an outdoors kind of girl I found the massage rooms perfect, only two solid walls for one thing. The louvered doors set into the walls to the south and west both opened wide onto a sunken garden protected from view by thick tangles of flowering vines growing into a tall stone wall that surrounded the entire back of the spa. One of the doors led to an outdoor shower with a trellis wall barely able to support the enormous vine flowers weaving through it. Steam released exotic scents into my shower while blossoms dripped as tiny crystals of color. I had a massage first and then heated stones were placed along my spine on places of tension. I went from fully charged to completely relaxed to practically disconnected from the planet in 90 minutes. We were taken by golf cart back to our villa so as to prolong this heavenly balmy state. Chaises on the terrace for the evening sunset, cold tart margaritas and a wonderful dinner being delivered.  Sweet seduction complete.

La Samanna is a place that you could happily never leave, but St Martin will always deliver something new when you do leave the grounds. Getting to St. Martin is relatively easy from almost anywhere. Of course the nicest way to arrive is on one of the Superyachts you see in the harbor.  They always stop when they are in the area as this is the best place in the Caribbean for provisions from all over the planet. In a perfect world I would spend happy weeks exploring St. Martin and living in the sweet seduction that Orient Express has created called La Samanna at the far side of the Caribbean.

La Samanna
PO Box 4077
97064 St Martin CEDEX
French West Indies
Tel: + 590 590 87 64 00
Fax: + 590 590 87 87 86
Emailreservations@lasamanna.comReservations:
Tel: +1 800 854 2252
Tel: +1 212 575 7030
Fax: +1 212 575 7039

 

Scrub Island – Newest Island Fantasy in the BVI

The BVI is the epicenter of fun in the Caribbean, and Scrub Islands Sunshine Madness is a fine way to start!

In the Caribbean beautiful blue water, warm tropical breezes and a slow appreciative way of life are assumed, old news. What is new though is a private island, the first new project the BVI in 15 years, where you can design your own fantasy get away from the world left behind.

Amid the many pristine white sand beaches, 4 restaurants in different locations, coral reefs, pools, kayaks, yachts, fresh seasonal foods, you can choose sailing, snorkeling, spa treatments, fine or casual dining, fishing, kayaking, hiking or just doing nothing in style. Fortunately there is also a talented  staff to help you put together an itinerary to make your fantasy come true! They are serious about these custom itineraries, so wind up your imagination because everything is possible here in paradise!

Glorious bathroom to the left, french doors to the porch over the harbor, luxury bedroom in between.

I love beautiful high ceilinged rooms with slow turning fans and  comfortable,  graceful furnishings. I adore huge luxurious tiled bathrooms and beds that are so comfortable that you think about them over dinner and linger beyond reason  in the morning.

Pools with infinity edges, swim up bars, fountains and even water slides are delicious.  Mainsail’s new Scrub Island has all of that, plus the unique quality of being a self contained island. My favorite is a beautiful restaurant that hangs over the lower pool, and also has a swim up bar. It is hard to describe the feeling of indulgence when you float slowly with your fresh fruit & rum drink in hand. It is impossible to believe that there could possibly be a phone call demanding your attention somewhere in the world.

One Shoe Beach has been left in its natural coral reef state, but with bar service.

To me the distinction that I found on Scrub Island was the job that they have done at integrating the un-contrived nature of the island with the ability to offer a luxury guest experience. They have accomplished a nice blend of celebrating the beauty of the natural Caribbean, while enjoying the enhancements of 4 distinctively different ways to dine through the day plus the pools, the spa, and the interesting mix of public and private spaces that they have created. Scrub Island is an arena for you to decide on your own perfect island fantasy, the kind that warms your mind while you are donning your winter coat. It is the experience that will whisper in your ear, reminding you that there are alternatives to shoveling snow!

I really appreciated the beautiful area that they opened up for weddings as it juts out into the Sir Francis Drake Passage.  A level area that can be decorated with tents and flowers and chairs if you wish, or you can be wed there in the simple elegance of the Caribbean islands. Mainsail’s approach to letting that be the magic rather than trying to fabricate it shows wisdom that is not found at every destination resort.

2 Restaurants facing the harbor at night.

Additionally, Scrub Island has a network of private residences along the harbor that you can rent for a wedding party of almost every size! Romance abounds here, you would have to work really hard to ignore the simple beauty and natural comfort of everywhere you turn in the Caribbean.

I was also surprised at how easy it was to get to Scrub Island. Fly to Beef Island on Tortola, and they pick you up in their own private ferry for the mile long cruise across Trellis Bay. Arriving by boat couldn’t be much easier, there are 3 channels into Trellis Bay and many slips waiting. From that moment on, you make your own fantasy on a private island in the paradise of the Caribbean.

Video Welcome to Scrub Island

Website: http://scrubisland.com/

Reservations (877) 890-7444
Fax (813) 269-4802

Spa Hopping Down the Riviera Maya

Spa destinations are evolving all over the world. Essentially a spa destination is a resort that is dedicated to lifting you completely from the familiar patterns of daily life with the expectation that when you do return you will be refreshed and invigorated through the use of their spa. In each resort the mind is offered a different surrounding atmosphere ranging in style from soothing massage and relaxation to an active schedule for fitness. One spa destination I visited believes that the key to renewal is to be dramatically romantic and offers an all adult environment. Another focuses on family interaction combined with active sports followed by relaxation, aromatherapy and fine dining.

In each the body is nurtured by its fabulous food which runs all the way from light, lean and fresh meals presented with creative elegance to rich dining that is practically an immersion experience. In each resort the soul is nourished with its spa. Each spa specializes in treatments of massages, wraps, soaks and scrubs to offer the best of beautification, purification and rejuvenation. The whole experience at each place I visited is about renewal, being refreshed, pampered and reborn, made ready to face the rigors and disciplines of daily life with a fresh eye. It is left to you to choose the location, style and atmosphere in which this will be accomplished.

I was searching for a mind, body and spirit rebirth surrounded by wide white beach and perfect blue water. The reason I chose Cancun, Mexico is because it is easy to get to with generally inexpensive fares. I left Burlington Vermont at 7:25 AM and was in Cancun in time for lunch. No hassles, perfect. Each of these spa destinations I found is within a half hour of the Cancun airport.

Thalasso Spa at Paraiso de la Bonita

40 miles south of Cancun lies the spectacular Riviera Maya, miles of wide white beach, and a Caribbean blue ocean that has you taking off your sunglasses to check the reality of the color.  Past a small sign and down a long sandy road lies the inclusive spa resort of Paraiso de la Bonita. Freshwater pools of harmonized blues and the rolling luminescent ocean is instantly soothing. Walking between ponds swirling with multi colored coy under a high peaked grass roof to pass through the 15 foot tall adobe walls I saw an enchanting world, very far from my normal life.  Glistening white beach and graceful palms and beyond that the tropical turquoise ocean merging with the clear dense indigo sky. Very far from my normal life actually.

Leaving the mid day sun the cool adobe spa area is the first step into a timeless physical refreshment. I had my first Thalasso therapy at the spa at Paraiso de la Bonita, and it was a stunning demonstration of the befits of the nutrients, minerals and phytoplanktons from seawater.

The 80 minute treatment begins in a dark quiet room with an aggressive sea salt scrub that I found invigorating, leaving my skin tingling and receptive. This was followed by the gentle sensation of salt water rain delivered by the Vichy shower set at the perfect temperature as the granular salt rinsed away with long smooth strokes.  lotion with emollients and phytoplankton from the depth of the sea was then massaged into my thirsty skin. I felt fresh, silky, almost langorous for days afterwards.

Our favorite dining area is open to the breezes where the menus offer a wide spectrum of taste and texture including the most delicious avocado salad I have ever tasted. There are three choices of places to dine, including in your suite. The suites at Paraiso de la Bonita are airy, spacious and instantly welcoming. They all have places designed to sit out in the evening by candle light and let the ocean work its magic. The total experience is designed to create memories completely disconnected from stress of outside life. Services are delivered with such invisibility as to appear telepathically .

Safely tucked between the mangroves and the pristine beach, surrounded by the perfect colors of the Caribbean sea, exquisitely fed and pampered by very talented hands it is hard to even remember that there is an outside world.

Spa del Mar at La Meridian Cancun

At the heart of La Meridian Cancun is its Spa del Mar, which is deservedly famous as a transforming experience. I had the most rejuvenating facial of my life at the Spa Del Mar, given by a tiny sweet mayan lady named Aydeth in 50 minutes that seemed to last forever and was too short all at once. The treatment rooms at Spa Del Mar are dark and quiet and made me feel as if I was alone in the universe being pampered by thoughtful kind people to the sound of gently falling water and soft ethereal music. Afterwards we visited quiet rooms where we sipped chlorophyll water in complete relaxation, and lingered in the peace that we found from our treatments.

The hotel rooms are large, each one with a view of the ocean as well as the swirling blue pools with islands and waterfalls that drift in sequence down to the perfect turquoise ocean isolated from the outside world by the resort itself. There are several restaurants available to guests at La Meridian Cancun, each with its own style and presentation. We had breakfast one morning in a glass sunroom which had the benefits of feeling outside without the heat or direct impact of the tropical sun. The Spa Food part of the menu included fruits cut into beautiful shapes and blended with mint and yogurt, followed by poached eggs on delicious thin toasts covered with rich cheese sauce that left us feeling deliciously satisfied and eager to relax at La Maridien Cancun.

Spa Aqua

Located in the heart of the busy downtown area of Cancun, Spa Aqua is an immersion into renewal of the spirit from the instant we stepped out of the bustling of the city.  Just up the hill from the sounds of traffic, the smell of hot asphalt and the intense tropical sun we entered a 30 foot tall glass atrium. The interior was filled with the calm green light of a jungle grotto, the gentle sounds of water falling into a shallow pool surrounding the black water mirror in the center bringing refreshing cool of a woodland stream to our senses. At the same time the faint sounds of ethereal music quietly infuse peace of mind. Just walking into the atrium removed us gently from the ways of the hot busy world.

Spa Aqua is a spa with the added facilities of handsome rooms, graceful fresh water pools and four different styles of restaurant, not to be confused with a hotel that has a spa. The spirit of the people who work there is reflected in the way they greet each other in passing. A hand to the heart, very slight bow and the mayan greeting “in la ceche” meaning “I am you, you are me, we are friends”. It is a small gesture, but once we got used to seeing it we really began to appreciate a world where people stated such communion as casually as we say “hi”.

The spa is dark, tall and mysterious, filled with spare woven furniture and tall black pottery candle holders as it wanders around with the passages cool and tranquil, offering seemingly entrance randomly to softly lighted treatment rooms. I had an aroma sensory massage that did in fact take me away from the life I knew outside. Worlds away, 80 minutes seemed truly timeless in its peacefulness, followed by lingering in quiet candle lighted meditation.

Kayanta Spa at Ritz Carlton

“Ka a yaan tah” is a mayan expression meaning “to be reborn” and is the core philosophy of the Ritz Carlton Cancun. The 5500 square foot spa sheltered from the intense tropical sun, offers welcoming quiet and diffused light of the Kayanta Spa folded itself around us as we entered from the beautiful pools and gardens in the center grounds of the hotel.

I had the aromatherapy massage. It began with a detoxifying massage which not only left me feeling completely cleansed and removed from the elements of every day life, but also calm and relaxed within the scent of herbal oils. The flow element seemed to produce a balance of relaxation and excitement about the future which either came from or was reflected by the different blend of herbs used in the treatment. And finally, the tonic of fresh invigorating and stimulating therapy that filled me with excitement. I wanted to write, paint and stimulate my senses with water, wind and laughter. I enjoyed this spectrum of sensations enormously.

Surrounding this Kayanta Spa is a lovely hotel, in grand Ritz Carlton style, with a series of blue tiled pools with different temperatures so that we could find our preferred relationship with the day’s weather. Large raised and shaded palapas are for guests use between the pools and the ever present glowing Caribbean. These are a purely delightful way to spend a day, lunch was delivered and of course cocktails. We were asked to reserve them in advance as they were very popular and you would be wise to book one ahead.

The Spa at Secrets Excellence

We arrived at this spa at night and it could not have been a more dramatic impression if we had landed on another planet. Secrets Excellence appeared as a regal ethereal city, with tall clean lines, sweeping curves and blistering white walls reflecting the glittering turquoise from the lighted pools as we approached what seemed to be a temple in its center. With arches 30 feet tall the billowing white curtains gracefully drifting in the evening breezes promising secrets and mysteries within.

This combination of pristine white walls and reflecting water carried through to the inside of the spa, with its many types of hydro therapy, massages and wraps. We saw some of the most beautifully designed and crafted pools that I have seen anywhere in this spa, blended with slender pillars, tall arches filled with graceful white drapes gently shifting in the breeze that inspires the soul as well as nourishes the body.

Romance is everywhere. This is an adult only resort where the assumption is that you came to have your senses seduced in every way. There are seven restaurants within this mystical city, each with its own style and variety of menu united in the passion elevating concept. Doors passed in the hallways had banners that said “honeymoon” or “anniversary” in gold letters proclaiming the joy of those within. Many small places within this city were created for two, to sit and talk, caress or share a glass of wine.

These were all places for a spiritual make over, each in their own way. Each very beautiful, full of the undeniable glory of the Mexican coastline manipulated by talented designers into a distinct retreat from the world. Each has a magnificent team in the kitchen, exquisitely trained spa staff and delivers pretty much perfect services to their guests. None is inexpensive. A stay at any of these is truly a pampered experience, good for all parts of you and one that you will certainly want to repeat. As the famous commercial says “Go ahead, you are worth it!”

Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso Spa
www.ParaisoDeLaBonita.com
reservations: (52)998.872.8320

Spa del Mar at Le Maridien Cancun
http://www.lemeridien.com/mexico/cancun/leisure_mx1658.shtml reservations: 1.800.225.5843

Spa Aqua
http://www.cancun.com/Cancun/Hotels/Grand_Aqua/
reservations: 52.998.881.7620

Kayanta Spa at Ritz Carlton Cancun
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/cancun/spa/default.asp
reservations: 52.998.881.0808

The Spa at Secrets Excellence
http://www.preferredhotels.com/values/hotel_descr.asp?id=55386
reservations: 52.998.872.8500

Wrong about Cruises

The doors of the cruise ship open and out pours a stream of polyester in loud tacky prints. That had long been my concept of what cruise travel was about.

Ocean going bed platforms on steroids. I had seen them ruin a beautiful day on a Caribbean island, and I was certain that no one could say anything that would make me get on one. But this Radisson 7 Seas Navigator was very small and the sun would be out where it cruised and the snow was three feet deep at the time the subject came up.

My first hint at how wrong I could be came by FedEx. A package arrived containing a fully customized 25 page itinerary handsomely bound with the ship’s name, my name, the dates of the cruise. There was also a leather ticket & passport wallet containing a very specific packet of tickets for excursions, massages and all the pre-planned adventures that we had signed up for. That wallet also contained a leather luggage tag, and several laminated luggage tags with our cabin number on them. “OK, that is impressive organization and a handsome presentation from Radisson” I thought but skeptic that I am, I was sure that the “cattle barge” element would appear eventually.

The following morning it was a short hop by land to the berth of the Seven Seas Navigator. Boarding was my second hint that perhaps our preconceived notions might be in error. Stevedores took our luggage out of the taxi, and the next time we saw our bags they were in our room. While security is evident everywhere, we followed their protocols and boarding was just a walk through. A steward showed us to our suite and that is where we met our butler William!

Our particular seven day itinerary began in Fort Lauderdale, stopped at Progresso, Mexico then on to Cozumel, followed by Georgetown, Grand Cayman and then offered a day in Key West before heading back to where we started. Each shore day had several different excursions to see the area offered, as well as tips about the area, all explained in the newspaper the evening before. There are actually four 7 Seas cruise boats, in different parts of the world and with different itineraries so be sure to check the web site.

In between shore days there were whole days and nights at sea. These were easily filled with time spent in cooking classes, bridge tournaments and lessons, spa treatments, working out in the gym, tea parties, evening cabarets, a casino,  and a whole host of other activities. You could fill every minute of the trip with the offerings and events aboard. I chose to give considerable time to working on my tan with a good book and a seemingly bottomless iced tea.

I have lost my preconceived notion that meals on a cruise ship were reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. There are five choices of where you might decide to have breakfast, three options for lunch including an elaborate poolside buffet with a different theme each day, formal and informal tea, and three possibilities for dinner. I don’t think there is an hour of a day when you can’t order a cocktail. The food was artistically presented in each situation, and in every single case, scrumptious.

After my week aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator I surrendered to being wrong about cruises. We did see much larger boats that had that “teeming masses” style about them, but just as William promised “hour by hour, day by day” we were having a luxurious and pampered experience on our cruise. Coming ashore is a very harsh reality when you have spent a week being so beautifully attended to. There are many things I will miss about life aboard a cruise ship, especially William.

Contacts:

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
http://www.rssc.com/home.jsp
600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33334
(800) 477-7500 toll free